1 John 3:1-8
1. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon
us, that we should be called the sons of God! Therefore the world knoweth
us not, because it knew him not.
1. Videte (vel, videtis) qualem charitatem dedit nobis Pater, ut
filii Dei nominemur: propterea mundus non novit nos, quia non novit ipsum.
2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear
what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like
him; for we shall see him as he is.
2. Dilecti, nunc filii Dei sumus; et nondum apparuit quid erimus:
scimus antera quod si apparuerit, similes ei erimus; quia videbimus eum
3. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even
as he is pure.
3. Et omnis qui habet hanc spem in eo, purificat seipsum, quemadmodum
ille purus est. 1
4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin
is the transgression of the law.
4. Quicunque facit peccatum, etiam iniquitatem facit; et peccatum
5. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and
in him is no sin.
5. Porro nostis quod ille apparuit ut peccata nostra tolleret; et
peccatum in eo non est.
6. Whosoever abideth hi him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath
not seen him, neither known him.
6. Quisquis in eo manet, non peccat; quisquis peccat, non vidit
eum, nec novit eum.
7. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness
is righteous, even as he is righteous.
7. Filioli, nemo vos decipiat; qai facit justitiam justus est, quemadmodum
ille justus est.
8. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth
from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that
he might destroy the works of the devil.
8. Qui facit peccatum, ex diabolo est; quia ab initio diabolus peccat:
in hoc manifestus est Filius Dei, ut solvat opera diaboli.
1. Behold. The second argument is from the dignity and excellency of
our calling; for it was not common honor, he says, that the heavenly Father
bestowed on us, when he adopted us as his children. This being so great
a favor, the desire for purity ought to be kindled in us, so as to be conformed
to his image; nor, indeed, can it be otherwise, but that he who acknowledges
himself to be one of God’s children should purify himself. And to make
this exhortation more forcible, he amplifies the favor of God; for when
he says, that love has been bestowed, he means that it is from mere bounty
and benevolence that God makes us his children; for whence comes to us
such a dignity, except from the love of God? Love, then, is declared here
to be gratuitous. There is, indeed, an impropriety in the language; but
the Apostle preferred speaking thus rather than not to express what was
necessary to be known. He, in short, means that the more abundantly God’s
goodness has been manifested towards us, the greater are our obligations
to him, according to the teaching of Paul, when he besought the Romans
by the mercies of God to present themselves as pure sacrifices to him.
(Romans 12:1.) We are at the same time taught, as I have said, that the
adoption of all the godly is gratuitous, and does not depend on any regard
What the sophists say, that God foresees those who are worthy to be
adopted, is plainly refuted by these words, for, in this way the gift would
not be gratuitous. It behooves us especially to understand this doctrine;
for since the only cause of our salvation is adoption, and since the Apostle
testifies that this flows from the mere love of God alone, there is nothing
left to our worthiness or to the merits of works. For why are we sons?
Even because God began to love us freely, when we deserved hatred rather
than love. And as the Spirit is a pledge of our adoption, it hence follows,
that if there be any good in us, it ought not to be set up in opposition
to the grace of God, but, on the contrary, to be ascribed to him.
When he says that we are called, or named, the expression is not without
its meaning; for it is God who with his own mouth declares us to be sons,
as he gave a name to Abraham according to what he was.
Therefore the world. It is a trial that grievously assaults our faith,
that we are not so much regarded as God’s children, or that no mark of
so great an excellency appears in us, but that, on the contrary, almost
the whole world treats us with ridicule and contempt. Hence it can hardly
be inferred from our present state that God is a Father to us, for the
devil so contrives all things as to obscure this benefit. He obviates this
offense by saying that we are not as yet acknowledged to be such as we
are, because the world knows not God: a remarkable example of this very
thing is found in Isaac and Jacob; for though both were chosen by God,
yet Ishmael persecuted the former with laughter and taunts; and Esau, the
latter with threats and the sword. However, then, we may be oppressed by
the world, still our salvation remains safe and secure.
2. Now are we the sons of God. He comes now to what every one knows
and feels himself; for though the ungodly may not entice us to give up
our hope, yet our present condition is very short of the glow of God’s
children; for as to our body we are dust and a shadow, and death is always
before our eyes; we are also subject to thousand miseries, and the soul
is exposed to innumerable evils; so that we find always a hell within us.
The more necessary it is that all our thoughts should be withdrawn from
the present view of things, lest the miseries by which we are on every
side surrounded and almost overwhelmed, should shake our faith in that
felicity which as yet lies hid. For the Apostle’s meaning is this, that
we act very foolishly when we estimate what God has bestowed on us according
to the present state of things, but that we ought with undoubting faith
to hold to that which does not yet appear.
But we know that when he shall appear. The conditional particle ought
to be rendered as an adverb of time, when. But the verb appear means not
the same thing as when he used it before. The Apostle has just said, it
does not yet appear what we shall be, because the fruit of our adoption
is as yet hid, for in heaven is our felicity, and we are now far away traveling
on the earth; for this fading life, constantly exposed to hundred deaths,
is far different from that eternal life which belongs to the children of
God; for being enclosed as slaves in the prison of our flesh, we are far
distant from the full sovereignty of heaven and earth. But the verb now
refers to Christ, when, he shall appear; for he teaches the same thing
with Paul, in Colossians 3:3, 4, where he says, “Your life is hid with Christ in God: when Christ, who is your life,
shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glow.” (Colossians
For our faith cannot stand otherwise than by looking to the coming of
Christ. The reason why God defers the manifestation of our glory is this,
because Christ is not manifested in the power of his kingdom. This, then,
is the only way of sustaining our faith, so that we may wait patiently
for the life promised to us. As soon as any one turns away the least from
Christ, he must necessarily fail.
The word to know, shews the certainty of faith, in order to distinguish
it from opinion. Neither simple nor universal knowledge is here intended,
but that which every one ought to have for himself, so that he may feel
assured that he will be sometime like Christ. Though, then, the manifestation
of our glory is connected with the coming of Christ, yet our knowledge
of this is well founded.
We shall be like him. He does not understand that we shall be equal
to him; for there must be some difference between the head and the members;
but we shall be like him, because he will make our vile body conformable
to his glorious body, as Paul also teaches us in Philippians 3:21. For
the Apostle intended shortly to shew that the final end of our adoption
is, that what has in order preceded in Christ, shall at length be completed
The reason that is added may, however, seem inappropriate. For if to
see Christ makes us like him, we shall have this in common with the wicked,
for they shall also see his glory. To this I reply, that this is to see
him as a friend, which will not be the case with the wicked, for they will
dread his presence; nay, they will shun God’s presence, and be filled with
terror; his glow will so dazzle their eyes, that they will be stupefied
and confounded. For we see that Adam, conscious of having done wrong, dreaded
the presence of God. And God declared this by Moses, as a general truth
as to men, “No man shall see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20.)
For how can it be otherwise but that God’s majesty, as a consuming fire,
will consume us as though we were stubble, so great is the weakness of
our flesh. But as far as the image of God is renewed in us, we have eyes
prepared to see God. And now, indeed, God begins to renew in us his own
image, but in what a small measure! Except then we be stripped of all the
corruption of the flesh, we shall not be able to behold God face to face.
And this is also expressed here, as he is. He does not, indeed, say,
that there is no seeing of God now; but as Paul says,
“We see now through a glass, darkly.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12.)
But he elsewhere makes a difference between this way of living, and
the seeing of the eye. In short, God now presents himself to be seen by
us, not such as he is, but such as we can comprehend. Thus is fulfilled
what is said by Moses, that we see only as it were his back, (Exodus 33:23;)
for there is too much brightness in his face.
We must further observe, that the manner which the Apostle mentions
is taken from the effect, not from the cause; for he does not teach us,
that we shall be like him, because we shall see him; but he hence proves
that we shall be partakers of the divine glory, for except our nature were
spiritual, and endued with a heavenly and blessed immortality, it could
never come so nigh to God yet the perfection of glory will not be so great
in us, that our seeing will enable us to comprehend all that God is; for
the distance between us and him will be even then very great.
But when the Apostle says, that we shall see him as he is, he intimates
a new and an ineffable manner of seeing him, which we enjoy not now; for
as long as we walk by faith, as Paul teaches us, we are absent from him.
And when he appeared to the fathers, it was not in his own essence, but
was ever seen under symbols. Hence the majesty of God, now hid, will then
only be in itself seen, when the veil of this mortal and corruptible nature
shall be removed.
Refined questions I pass by: for we see how Augustine tormented himself
with these, and yet never succeeded, both in his Epistles to Paulus and
Fortunatus, and in the City of God, (2:2,) and in other places. What he
says, however, is worthy of being observed, that the way in which we live
avails more in this inquiry than the way in which we speak, and that we
must beware, lest by wrangling as to the manner in which God can be seen,
we lose that peace and holiness without which no one shall see him.
3. And every man that hath this hope. He now draws this inference, that
the desire for holiness should not grow cold in us, because our happiness
has not as yet appeared, for that hope is sufficient; and we know that
what is hoped for is as yet hid. The meaning then is, that though we have
not Christ now present before our eyes, yet if we hope in him, it cannot
be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for
it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of
4. Whosoever committeth, or doeth, sin. The Apostle has already shown
how ungrateful we must be to God, if we make but little account of the
honor of adoption, by which he of his own goodwill anticipates us, and
if we do not, at least, render him mutual love. He, at the same time, introduced
this admonition, that our love ought not to be diminished, because the
promised happiness is deferred. But now, as men are wont to indulge themselves
more than they ought, in evils, he reproves this perverse indulgence, declaring
that all they who sin are wicked and transgressors of the law. For it is
probable that there were then those who extenuated their vices by this
kind of flattery, “It is no wonder if we sin, because we are men; but there
is a great difference between sin and iniquity.”
This frivolous excuse the Apostle now dissipates, when he defines sin
to be a transgression of the divine law; for his object was to produce
hatred and horror as to sin. The word sin seems light to some; but iniquity
or transgression of the law cannot appear to be so easily forgiven. But
the Apostle does not make sins equal, by charging all with iniquity who
sin; but he means simply to teach us, that sin arises from a contempt of
God, and that by sinning, the law is violated. Hence this doctrine of John
has nothing in common with the delirious paradoxes of the Stoics.
Besides, to sin here, does not mean to offend in some instances; nor
is the word sin to be taken for every fault or wrong a man may commit.;
but he calls that sin, when men with their whole heart run into evil, nor
does he understand that men sin, except those who are given up to sin.
For the faithful, who are as yet tempted by the lusts of the flesh, are
not to be deemed guilty of iniquity, though they are not pure or free from
sin, but as sin does not reign in them, John says that they do not sin,
as I shall presently explain more fully.
The import of the passage is, that the perverse life of those who indulge
themselves in the liberty of sinning, is hateful to God, and cannot be
borne with by him, because it is contrary to his Law. It does not hence
follow, nor can it be hence inferred, that the faithful are iniquitous;
because they desire to obey God, and abhor their own vices, and that in
every instance; and they also form their own life, as much as in them lieth,
according to the law. But when there is a deliberate purpose to sin, or
a continued course in sin, then the law is transgressed?
5. And ye know that he was manifested, or, hath appeared. He shews by
another argument how much sin and faith differ from one another; for it
is the office of Christ to take away sins, and for this end was he sent
by the Father; and it is by faith we partake of Christ’s virtue. Then he
who believes in Christ is necessarily cleansed from his sins. But it is
said in John 1:29, that Christ takes away sins, because he atoned for them
by the sacrifice of his death, that they may not be imputed to us before
God: John means in this place that Christ really, and, so to speak, actually
takes away sins, because through him our old man is crucified, and his
Spirit, by means of repentance, mortifies the flesh with all its lusts.
For the context does not allow us to explain this of the remission of sins;
for, as I have said, he thus reasons, “They who cease not to sin, render
void the benefits derived from Christ, since he came to destroy the reigning
power of sin.” This belongs to the sanctification of the Spirit.
And in him is no sin. He does not speak of Christ personally, but of
his whole body. Wherever Christ diffuses his efficacious grace, he denies
that there is any more room for sin. He, therefore, immediately draws this
inference, that they sin not who remain in Christ. For if he dwells in
us by faith, he performs his own work, that is, he cleanses us from sins.
It hence appears what it is to sin. For Christ by his Spirit does not perfectly
renew us at once, or in an instant, but he continues our renovation throughout
life. It cannot then be but that the faithful are exposed to sin as long
as they live in the world; but as far as the kingdom of Christ prevails
in them, sin is abolished. In the meantime they are designated according
to the prevailing principle, that is, they are said to be righteous and
to live righteously, because they sincerely aspire to righteousness.
They are said not to sin, because they consent not to sin, though they
labor under the infirmity of the flesh; but, on the contrary, they struggle
with groaning, so that they can truly testify with Paul that they do the
evil they would not.
He says that the faithful abide in Christ, because we are by faith united
to him, and made one with him.
6. Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him. According to his usual manner
he added the opposite clause, that we may know that faith in Christ and
knowledge of him are vainly pretended, except there be newness of life.
For Christ is never dormant where he reigns, but the Spirit renders effectual
his power. And it may be rightly said of him, that he puts sin to flight,
not otherwise than as the sun drives away darkness by its own brightness.
But we are again taught in this place how strong and efficacious is the
knowledge of Christ; for it transforms us into his image. So by seeing
and knowing we are to understand no other thing than faith.
7. He that doeth righteousness. The Apostle shews here that newness
of life is testified by good works; nor does that likeness of which he
has spoken, that is between Christ and his members, appear, except by the
fruits they bring forth; as though he had said, “Since it behooves us to
be conformed to Christ, the truth and evidence of this must appear in our
life.” The exhortation is the same with that of Paul in Galatians “If ye live in the Spirit, walk also in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
For many would gladly persuade themselves that they have this righteousness
buried in their hearts, while iniquity evidently occupies their feet, and
hands, and tongue, and eyes.
8. He that committeth sin. This word, to commit, or to do, refers also
to outward works, so that the meaning is, that there is no life of God
and of Christ, where men act perversely and wickedly, but that such are,
on the contrary, the slaves of the devil; and by this way of speaking he
sets forth more fully how unlike they are to Christ. For as he has before
represented Christ as the fountain of all righteousness, so now, on the
other hand, he mentions the devil as the beginning of sin. He denied that
any one belongs to Christ except he who is righteous and shews himself
to be such by his works; he now assigns to the devil all others, and subjects
them to his government, in order that we may know that there is no middle
condition, but that Satan exercises his tyranny where the righteousness
of Christ possesses not the primacy.
There are not however two adverse principles, such as the Manicheans
have imagined; for we know that the devil is not wicked by nature or by
creation, but became so through defection. We know also that he is not
equal to God, so that he can with equal right or authority contend with
him, but that he is unwillingly under restraint, so that he can do nothing
except at the nod and with the permission of his Creator. John, in the
last place, in saying that some were born of God and some of the devil,
imagined no tradition such as the Manicheans dreamt of; but he means that.
the former are governed and guided by the Spirit of God, and that the others
are led astray by Satan, as God grants to him this power over the unbelieving.
For the Devil sinneth from the beginning. As before he spoke not of
Christ personally, when he said that he is righteous, but mentioned him
as the fountain and the cause of righteousness; so now, when he says that
the Devil sins, he includes his whole body, even all the reprobate; as
though he had said, this belongs to the Devil, to entice men to sin. It
hence follows, that his members, and all who are ruled by him, give themselves
up to commit sin. But the beginning which the Apostle mentions, is not
from eternity, as when he says that the Word is from the beginning, for
there is a wide difference between God and creatures. Beginning as to God,
refers to no time. Since, then, the Word was always with God, you can find
no point of time in which he began to be, but you must necessarily admit
his eternity. But here John meant no other thing than that the Devil had
been an apostate since the creation of the world, and that from that time
he had never ceased to scatter his poison among men.
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested. He repeats in other
words what he had before said, that Christ came to take away sins. Hence
two conclusions are to be drawn, that those in whom sin reigns cannot be
reckoned among the members of Christ, and that they can by no means belong
to his body; for wherever Christ puts forth his own power, he puts the
Devil to flight as well as sin. And this is what John immediately adds;
for the next sentence, where he says that those who sin not are born of
God, is a conclusion from what is gone before. It is an argument drawn
from what is inconsistent, as I have already said; for the kingdom of Christ,
which brings righteousness with it, cannot admit of sin. But I have already
said what not to sin means. He does not make the children of God wholly
free from all sin; but he denies that any can really glory in this distinction,
except those who from the heart strive to form their life in obedience
The Pelagians, indeed, and the Catharians did formerly make a wrong
use of this passage, when they vainly imagined that the faithful are in
this world endued with angelic purity; and in our own age some of the Anabaptists
have renewed this dotage. But all those who dream of a perfection of this
kind, sufficiently shew what stupid consciences they must have. But the
words of the Apostle are so far from countenancing their error, that they
are sufficient to confute it.
He says that they sin not who are born of God. Now, we must consider,
whether God wholly regenerates us at once, or whether the remains of the
old man continue in us until death. If regeneration is not as yet full
and complete, it does not exempt us from the bondage of sin except in proportion
to its own extent. It hence appears that it cannot be but that the children
of God are not free from sins, and that they daily sin, that is, as far
as they have still some remnants of their old nature. Nevertheless, what
the Apostle contends for stands unalterable, that the design of regeneration
is to destroy sin, and that all who are born of God lead a righteous and
a holy life, because the Spirit of God restrains the lusting of sin.
The Apostle means the same thing by the seed of God; for God’s Spirit
so forms the hearts of the godly for holy affections, that the flesh and
its lusts do not prevail, but being subdued and put as it were under a
yoke, they are checked and restrained. In short, the Apostle ascribes to
the Spirit the sovereignty in the elect, who by his power represses sin
and suffers it not to rule and reign.
And he cannot sin. Here the Apostle ascends higher, for he plainly declares
that the hearts of the godly are so effectually governed by the Spirit
of God, that through an inflexible disposition they follow his guidance.
This is indeed far removed from the doctrine of the Papists. The Sorbons,
it is true, confess that the will of man, unless assisted by God’s Spirit,
cannot desire what is right; but they imagine such a motion of the Spirit
as leaves to us the free choice of good and evil. Hence they draw forth
merits, because we willingly obey the influence of the Spirit, which it
is in our power to resist. In short, they desire the grace of the Spirit
to be only this, that we are thereby enabled to choose right if we will.
John speaks here far otherwise; for he not only shews that we cannot sin,
but also that the power of the Spirit is so effectual, that it necessarily
retains us in continual obedience to righteousness. Nor is this the only
passage of Scripture which teaches us that the will is so formed that it
cannot be otherwise than right. For God testifies that he gives a new heart
to his children, and promises to do this, that they may walk in his commandments.
Besides, John not only shews how efficaciously God works once in man, but
plainly declares that the Spirit continues his grace in us to the last,
so that inflexible perseverance is added to newness of life. Let us not,
then, imagine with the Sophists that it is some neutral movement, which
leaves men free either to follow or to reject; but let us know that our
own hearts are so ruled by God’s Spirit, that they constantly cleave to
Moreover; what the Sophists absurdly object, may be easily refuted:
they say that thus the will is taken away from man; but they say so falsely:
for the will is a natural power; but, as nature is corrupted, it has only
depraved inclinations. It is hence necessary that the Spirit of God should
renew it, in order that it may begin to be good. And, then, as men would
immediately fall away from what is good, it is necessary that the same
Spirit should carry on what he has begun, to the end.
As to merit, the answer is obvious, for it cannot be deemed strange
that men merit nothing; and yet good works, which flow from the grace of
the Spirit, do not cease to be so deemed, because they are voluntary. They
have also a reward, for they are by grace ascribed to men as though they
were their own.
But here a question arises, Whether the fear and love of God can be
extinguished in any one who has been regenerated by the Spirit of God?
for that. this cannot be, seems to be the import of the Apostle’s words.
They who think otherwise refer to the example of David, who for a time
labored under such a beastly stupor, that not a spark of grace appeared
in him. Moreover, in the fifty-first Psalm, he prays for the restoration
of the Spirit. It hence follows that he was deprived of him. I, however,
doubt not but that the seed, communicated when God regenerates his elect,
as it is incorruptible, retains its virtue perpetually. I, indeed, grant
that it may sometimes be stifled, as in the case of David; but still, when
all religion seemed to be extinct in him, a live coal was hid under the
ashes. Satan, indeed, labors to root out whatever is from God in the elect;
but when the utmost is permitted to him, there ever remains a hidden root,
which afterwards springs up. But John does not speak of one act, as they
say, but of the continued course of life.
Some fanatics dream of something I know not what, that is, of an eternal
seed in the elect, which they always bring from their mother’s womb; but
for this purpose they very outrageously pervert the words of John; for
he does not speak of eternal election, but begins with regeneration.
There are also those who are doubly frantic, who hold, under this pretense,
that, everything is lawful to the faithful, that is, because John says
that they cannot sin. They then maintain that we may follow indiscriminately
whatever our inclinations may lead us to. Thus they take the liberty to
commit adultery, to steal, and to murder, because there can be no sin where
God’s Spirit reigns. But far otherwise is the meaning of the Apostle; for
he denies that the faithful sin for this reason, because God has engraven
his law on their hearts, according to what the Prophet says (Jeremiah 31:33.)