Father MacEvily’s Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 1, 2012
This post includes the Bishop’s brief analysis of the entire chapter 3, followed by the notes on verses 7-10. In addition, I’ve also included (in purple text) the Bishop’s paraphrase of the text he is commenting on.
A analysis of 1 John 3~In this chapter, the Apostle continues the subject, upon which he entered in the last verse of the preceding, and extols the great love of God, manifested in our spiritual regeneration by sanctifying grace (verse 1). He shows the great privilege of Divine Sonship, conferred on us at present, and points out the glory we are to enjoy in future (2); and also what we are to do here, in order to enjoy this glory hereafter (3). He next shows how opposed the commission, of sin is to the sanctity of the Christian state, to the economy of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and to the true knowledge and love of God (4-6).
He then guards them against the leading error of the heretics of the day, respecting the sufficiency of faith without good works, and declares, that the performance of good works, and the avoidance of sin, are the real qualities and characteristics, whereby the sons of God are distinguishedfrom the children of the devil, and among the principal sins of the latter, he specifies hatred of our brethren (7-10).
He points out, how stringent, from the very beginning of the gospel, has been the precept of loving one another (11), and cautions them against following the example of the fratricide, Cain (12). The love of our neighbour is a probable sign that we are in a state of spiritual life, while the man who loves not his neighbour is in a state of spiritual death (14); and the man who hates his brother, with a hatred involving a wish for his death, the Apostle calls a murderer like Cain. In such a person, the grace of God cannot reside. (15).
In continuation, he points out the extent to which the precept of charity obliges. It binds us to lay down our lives for the spiritual good of our brethren, after the example of the charity of Christ for us; and also to relieve his corporal wants out of our worldly substance (16, 17). In every case, our sympathy should be practically matiifested in works of beneficence (18). It is by the possession of this beneficent charity, we can tranquillize our conscience against all fears, and feel confidence tfiat God will rescue us from damnation on the day ofjudgment (19-21); and we shall merit to obtain all our requests, because we observe his commandments regarding our believing in Christ and loving our neighbour (23). He concludes, by sfiowing tfie advantages of keeping God’s commandments.
1Jn 3:7 Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doth justice is just, even as he is just.
My dearly beloved children, let no one seduce or lead you astay (as is attempted by the heretics); he only, who does the works of justice, and no body else, is just before God, possessing the true justice similar to the justice of Christ.
“Little children,” a term of endearment, “let no one deceive you,” as the heretics of the day were attempting to do, viz., the Nicolaites and Simonians, whose fundamental error, as is also the case with modern heretics, was, that faith, without good works, confers justification. “He that doth justice,” i.e., performs the works of justice or good works, “is just, even as he is just,” i.e., as far as a comparison can be instituted between the Creator and the creature.
But, it may be asked, how can this be? May not a catechumen, before baptism, or a penitent, before the reception of the Sacrament of Penance, “do justice,” i.e., perform good works, observe the commandments, have faith, hope, initial love, sorrow, such as is insufficient to remit sin without the sacrament, and still not be just before God, his sins being yet unremitted?
Some interpreters say, the word “just” does not here imply the state of sanctifying grace or friendship with God. The word, according to them, means, the man who does the works of justice, is just, as far as the justice of works is concerned, as far as they can confer justice; and they confer initial justice, which serves as a disposition for consummate justice, or sanctifying grace; or, if there be question of persons already in the state of sanctifying grace, then, these works of justice will preserve that state in the soul; for, by the contrary works, the state of justice would be lost. So, then, the words mean, according to them, such a person is in perfect justice, if a state of sanctifying grace be united to his good works; in imperfect justice, unless sanctifying grace be added.
It is, however, far more probable, that the proposition is to be understood in an exclusive sense, (as in Paraphrase). He only, who doth the works of justice, and nobody else, is just, and one of the sons of God; as contra-distinguished from the children of the devil, in the following verses. This is what the Apostle intended to convey, when he employed the words, “let no one deceive you,” with reference to the sufficiency of faith only; nobody will be justified, except he do the works of justice. In this interpretation, there is not a shadow of ground for the preceding objection; for, according to it, the Apostle does not say, that every one, who does good works, is, eo ipso, justified, but only that good works are indispensably necessary conditions for justification, the point he intended to prove against the heretics.
1Jn 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whosoever commits grievous and deadly sins is of the devil; for, the devil sinned soon after his creation, or, was the first to commit sin, in which he still perseveres, and tempts others thereto. It was for the purpose of destroying sin, or the works of the devil, that Christ assumed human flesh, wherein he could offer atonement for our sins, and merit grace to prevent our future relapse into them.
“He that committeth sin is of the devil,” i.e., whosoever commits mortal sin is one of “the children of the devil” (as in verse 10). Similar are the words of our Redeemer to the Jews (John 7), “you do the works of your father;” you are of your father the devil.” It is the devil that tempts to sin, and even in eases where the temptation proceeds immediately from our own concupiscence, it proceeds, still, from the devil, as its remote cause; for, it was owing to the sin, to which he first tempted man, that we are troubled with this corrupt concupiscence, this fomes peccati.
“For the devil sinneth from the beginning,” or, soon after, but not at his creation, having been created just; or, the words may mean, the devil was the first who sinned. “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He says, the devil “sinneth,” rather than, sinned: because, now he tempts and impels men to sin, and is himself obdurate and hardened in his hatred of God. “For this purpose the Son of God,” &c. So far is such a person from being a son of God, when he commits sin, that it was to destroy and abolish his sins, which are the works of the devil, that Christ assumed human flesh.
1Jn 3:9 Whosoever is born of God committeth not sin: for his seed abideth in him. And he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
But everyone who receives of God a new birth, through sanctifying grace, commits no grievous sin; for, the seed of this new generation, which is sanctifying grace, resides in him by way of a permanent habit, and he cannot sin mortally, and, at the same time, continue a son of God; the state of divine sonship and mortal sin, being perfectly incompatible.
“Whosoever is born of God,” that is, receives of him the new nativity of sanctifying grace, “committeth not sin”—mortal sin—for, it alone destroys the divine sonship resulting from sanctifying grace. “For his seed abideth in him;” “his seed” is commonly understood to refer to sanctifying grace, which is the seed of future glory and the principle of our new spiritual nativity; and this grace abideth, permanently in the soul. This is a point of faith. That it abides, or adheres, by way of habit, is not defined as a matter of faith; but, it is a most probable theological opinion. “And he cannot sin, because he is born of God;” the words “cannot sin” are to be understood, as logicians say, in sensu composito, in the sense, that he cannot continue in mortal sin, and be at the same time, a son of God, both being as incompatible as “the association of light with darkness, or of Christ with Belial.”—(2 Cor 6:14, &c.) This verse, however, by no means conveys that grace is inamissible; for, if so, that is to say, if men could not fall away from the state of divine sonship, why should St. John so often exhort the sons of God not to sin? Did not David, although a son
of God, fall into sin, as he himself humbly confesses and deplores in his Psalms?
1Jn 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever is not just is not of God, or he that loveth not his brother.
It is by their committing or avoiding mortal sins, that the children of God, and the children of the devil, are manifested and distinguished. Whosoever is not just by the justice of works, or whosoever does not perform good works, is not a son of God, and he especially is not a son of God who does not love his fellow-creature.
“In this,” viz., in their committing sin (verse 8), and their not committing sin (verse 9), the children of the devil, and the children of God, are manifested; such is the mark for distinguishing them. “Whosoever is not just,” that is, does not perform the works of justice or good works. That such is the meaning of “just,” is clear from the following words, “for he that loveth not his brother,” in which is specified a particular instance of the injustice to which he refers in the words, “not just,” which must, therefore, refer to not doing good works, or to doing evil works. The words of this verse also throw an additional light on the exclusive or negatively exceptive meaning of the proposition, “he that doth justice,” &c. (verse 7).