Overcoming The World
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1st John 5:1-5
I. The Children of God
The apostle having, in the conclusion of the last chapter, as was there observed, urged Christian love upon those two accounts, as suitable to Christian profession and as suitable to the divine command, here adds a third: Such love is suitable, and indeed demanded, by their eminent relation; our Christian brethren or fellow-believers are nearly related to God; they are his children: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, v. 1. Here the Christian brother is,
1. Described by his faith;
He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ That he is Messiah the prince, that he is the Son of God by nature and office, that he is the chief of all the anointed world, chief of all the priests, prophets, or kings, who were ever anointed by God or for him, that he is perfectly prepared and furnished for the whole work of the eternal salvation-accordingly yields himself up to his care and direction; and then he is,
2. Dignified by his descent:
He is born of God, v. 1. This principle of faith, and the new nature that attends it or from which it springs, are ingenerated by the Spirit of God; and so sonship and adoption are not now appropriated to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, not to the ancient Israel of God; all believers, though by nature sinners of the Gentiles, are spiritually descended from God, and accordingly are to be beloved; as it is added: Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him, v. 1. It seems but natural that he who loves the Father should love the children also, and that in some proportion to their resemblance to their Father and to the Father’s love to them; and so we must first and principally love the Son of the Father, as he is most emphatically styled, 2 Jn. 3, the only (necessarily) begotten, and the Son of his love, and then those that are voluntarily begotten, and renewed by the Spirit of grace.
II. The apostle shows, How we may discern the truth, or the true evangelical nature of our love to the regenerate.
1.The ground of it must be our love to God, whose they are:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, v. 2. Our love to them appears to be sound and genuine when we love them not merely upon any secular account, as because they are rich, or learned, or kind to us, or of our denomination among religious parties; but because they are God’s children, his regenerating grace appears in them, his image and superscription are upon them, and so in them God himself is loved. Thus we see what that love to the brethren is that is so pressed in this epistle; it is love to them as the children of God and the adopted brethren of the Lord Jesus.
2. How we may learn the truth of our love to God—it appears in our holy obedience:
When we love God, and keep his commandments, v. 2. Then we truly, and in gospel account, love God, when we keep his commandments: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and the keeping of his commandments requires a spirit inclined thereto and delighting herein; and so his commandments are not grievous, v. 3. Or, This is the love of God, that, as thereby we are determined to obedience, and to keep the commandments of God, so his commandments are thereby made easy and pleasant to us. The lover of God says, “O how I love thy law! I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart (Ps. 119:32), when thou shalt enlarge it either with love or with thy Spirit, the spring of love.”
3. What is and ought to be the result and effect of regeneration—an intellectual spiritual conquest of this world:
For whatsoever is born of God, or, as in some copies, whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world, v. 4. He that is born of God is born for God, and consequently for another world. He has a temper and disposition that tend to a higher and better world; and he is furnished with such arms, or such a weapon, whereby he can repel and conquer this; as it is added, And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, v.
4. Faith is the cause of victory, the means, the instrument, the spiritual armour and artillery by which we overcome; for,
(1.) In and by faith we cleave to Christ, in contempt of, and opposition to, the world.
(2.) Faith works in and by love to God and Christ, and so withdraws us from the love of the world.
(3.) Faith sanctifies the heart, and purifies it from those sensual lusts by which the world obtains such sway and dominion over souls.
(4.) It receives and derives strength from the object of it, the Son of God, for conquering the frowns and flatteries of the world.
(5.) It obtains by gospel promise a right to the indwelling Spirit of grace, that is greater than he who dwells in the world.
(6.) It sees an invisible world at hand, with which this world is not worthy to be compared, and into which it tells the soul in which it resides it must be continually prepared to enter; and thereupon,
III. The apostle concludes that it is the real Christian that is the true conqueror of the world:
Who is he then that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? v. 5. It is the world that lies in our way to heaven, and is the great impediment to our entrance there. But he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God believes therein that Jesus came from God to be the Saviour of the world, and powerfully to conduct us from the world to heaven, and to God, who is fully to be enjoyed there. And he who so believes must needs by this faith overcome the world. For,
1. He must be well satisfied that this world is a vehement enemy to his soul, to his holiness, his salvation, and his blessedness. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world, ch. 2:16.
2. He sees it must be a great part of the Saviour’s work, and of his own salvation, to be redeemed and rescued from this malignant world. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, Gal. 1:4.
3. He sees in and by the life and conduct of the Lord Jesus on earth that this world is to be renounced and overcome.
4. He perceives that the Lord Jesus conquered the world, not for himself only, but for his followers; and they must study to be partakers of his victory. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
5. He is taught and influenced by the Lord Jesus’s death to be mortified and crucified to the world. God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world, Gal. 6:14.
6. He is begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to the lively hope of a blessed world above, 1 Pt. 1:3.
7. He knows that the Saviour has gone to heaven, and is there preparing a place for his serious believers, Jn. 14:2.
8. He knows that his Saviour will come again thence, and will put an end to this world, and judge the inhabitants of it, and receive his believers to his presence and glory, Jn. 14:3.
9. He is possessed with a spirit and disposition that cannot be satisfied with this world, that look beyond it, and are still tending, striving, and pressing, towards the world in heaven. In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, 2 Co. 5:2. So that it is the Christian religion that affords its proselytes a universal empire. It is the Christian revelation that is the great means of conquering the world, and gaining another that is most pure and peaceful, blessed and eternal. It is there, in that revelation, that we see what are the occasion and ground of the quarrel and contest between the holy God and this rebellious world.
It is there that we meet with sacred doctrine (both speculative and practical), quite contrary to the tenour, temper, and tendency of this world. It is by that doctrine that a spirit is communicated and diffused which is superior and adverse to the spirit of the world.
It is there we see that the Saviour himself was not of this world that his kingdom was not and is not so, that it must be separated from the world and gathered out of it for heaven and for God. There we see that the Saviour designs not this world for the inheritance and portion of his saved company. As he has gone to heaven himself, so he assures them he goes to prepare for their residence there, as designing they should always dwell with him, and allowing them to believe that if in this life, and this world only, they had hope in him, they should at last be but miserable.
It is there that the eternal blessed world is most clearly revealed and proposed to our affection and pursuit.
It is there that we are furnished with the best arms and artillery against the assaults and attempts of the world. It is there that we are taught how the world may be out-shot in its own bow, or its artillery turned against itself; and its oppositions, encounters, and persecutions, be made serviceable to our conquest of the world, and to our motion and ascent to the higher heavenly world: and there we are encouraged by a whole army and cloud of holy soldiers, who have in their several ages, posts, and stations, overcome the world, and won the crown.
It is the real Christian that is the proper hero, who vanquishes the world and rejoices in a universal victory. Nor does he (for he is far superior to the Grecian monarch) mourn that there is not another world to be subdued, but lays hold on the eternal world of life, and in a sacred sense takes the kingdom of heaven by violence too. Who in all the world but the believer on Jesus Christ can thus overcome the world?
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2452–2453.