NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXVIII) 02/15/23
5:11 This is what God told us: He has given us eternal life, which is in His Son.
With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) supposes that the Apostle John had in mind his Master’s words which he recorded in his Gospel. Though John spoke particularly of the three in heaven and the three on earth who bear witness continually, he deferred mentioning it till now. So, what is it they are witnessing? Perhaps John felt that by introducing it last, and after so much preparation, it might make a stronger impression on the mind of his readers. In this, as in other passages of scripture, the expressing action, for example, “God has given,” is used instead of the future, God will give us eternal life, to show the certainty of obtaining that great blessing through His Son.
After skillfully scrutinizing the Apostle John’s theme, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) describes the sum of God’s witness concerning His Son – that, in infinite love, made a full and free offer of grace and glory to us sinners in the everlasting Gospel; and, according to His eternal and infinite love, has graciously and tenderly conferred upon us who believe in him a full right and title, and beginnings, earnests, and foretastes of eternal life. It is secured, inhabited, communicated, and enjoyed in a state of union and communion with the Anointed One.
More concerned with the church than the sacraments, William Jones of Nayland (1726-1800), a British clergyman and author, treats verses six to eleven as one statement. Jones sees the fourfold witness to the Divine Sonship of Jesus in it. John states that by faith, Christians overcome the world. We have the most convincing testimony that confidence in Jesus as the Son of God is well-founded. That testimony is manifold. His homily is extensive, so I’ve included the main points here. (See Footnote #1960 to locate the full text.) Jones says we have —
I. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BAPTISM. We regard his coming “by water” as referring to His baptism by John the Baptizer. That baptism was: (1) The inauguration of His great mission. When Jesus went to John for baptism, He finally left His private life and was just about to enter His public ministry, and His baptism was a fitting introduction to that ministry.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS CRUCIFIXION. The reference is to the blood He shed on the cross for the redemption of humanity. But how did His death witness the truth that He was God’s Son? By the extraordinary phenomena associated with His death. He voluntarily submitted Himself to death for the salvation of the lost world. He freely surrendered Himself to the most painful and shameful death, not for Himself or his friends, but for sinners and rebels against Him and His Father so that they might have eternal life. Such self-sacrifice was more than human, more than angelic – but Divinely orchestrated to fulfill God’s Word.
“This was compassion like a God,
That when the Saviour knew
The price of pardon was His blood.
His pity ne’er withdrew.”
III. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS SPIRIT. At our Lord’s baptism, the Spirit witnessed that He was God’s Son. Our Lord said, “The Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father shall bear witness of me.” Again He said, “The Spirit of truth … He will bring me glory by telling you whatever He receives from me.” He bore witness to the Messiahship of Jesus by coming down, according to His promise, and making the Gospel of the Anointed One, which they preached, saving power to thousands of souls.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BELIEVING PEOPLE. All genuine believers in Jesus the Anointed One have their conscience as a witness that God gave them eternal life, and this life is in His Son. They are conscious that the life of love – love to God and mankind – is theirs. “We know that we have passed out of spiritual death into everlasting life because we love our fellow believers.” And we know that this life was activated within us through the exercise of faith in the Anointed One. To us individually, this is the most convincing of all witnesses. “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
V. THE TESTIMONY OF ALL THE BEFORE-MENTIONED COMBINED. All the preceding witnesses are united and concurrent in their evidence. “The three agree in one.” We may say that the four agree as one. Their testimony is unanimous. There is no contradiction, no discrepancy in their evidence. They declare, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God.” 
At age fifteen, a potential young theologian who preached while holding cottage prayer meetings, Joseph Benson (1749-1821), sees the Apostle John identifying the water and blood as emblems of the offices Jesus sustained and of the salvation He obtained for His people. The water is a symbol of the purity of His doctrine, instructing people in the highest morals, and of His righteous and holy example; and, what is of still greater importance, of the purifying grace of which he is the fountain, sanctifying and cleansing such as believe in him, from all filthiness of flesh and spirit: while the blood which issued from him was an emblem both of the sufferings which awaited his followers, who were to seal the truth with their blood, and of his sufferings, whereby he hath made atonement for the sins of the world and procured for his followers a free and full justification. ”
Considering everything the Apostle John has said, Adam Clarke (1774-1849) states that the great truth to which the Spirit, the water, and the blood bear testimony is now part of the record. God has given us eternal life – a right to endless appropriate glory. And this life is in His Son; it comes by and through Him; He is its author and purchaser; it is only in and through Him. No other plan of salvation can be produced; God provided no other, and a person’s invention is vain indeed.
Ranked highly by other theologians on the doctrine of the atonement, John McLeod Campbell (1800-1872), Scottish minister and Reformed theologian, writes that someone spoke of the difficulty in joining, in anticipation, “themselves and glory in one thought.” The greater difficulty is to unite ourselves and eternal life. God has already connected us in the Anointed One in an authentic way. But, we are alike slow of heart to receive the Anointed One’s revelation of ourselves and His revelation of God – to believe that God has given us eternal life in His Son and believe that God is love.
Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) describes verse eleven as a summation of the testimony God gave respecting His Son. Through Him, God gave eternal life o those who believe in Him. And this life is in His Son. Therefore, I would suggest to Dr. Barnes an amendment: “And His Son in us is eternal life.” It is treasured up in Him and obtained only through Him.
With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) points out how highly the Apostle John values that which we call Christianity. According to him, it is the possession of an eternal life bestowed by God and by no means merely a kind of moral illumination. It is not a mere doctrine or hope; it is not a simple sum of new ethical motives and impulses but a complete, perfect life. It is a life, too, that is eternal and consequently independent of the conditions of our present physical existence. Furthermore, it is not directly affected by the decay of our biological natural organism. On the contrary, it has its real foundation because it is spiritual life.
It is not something we created in ourselves, says Rothe, God bestowed it on us. It is also wholly dependent on Jesus, the Son of God, as its source, dependent on the person of the Savior, not merely on an individual. It can only be received and possessed with the Son Himself; Christianity is an actual living union with the Anointed One. There is no such thing as Christianity detached from the Anointed One. We can do Christianity no worse than to lower it from this height to make it more compatible with people’s intelligence and bring it under the same categories as other religions. If that happens, it must suffer the fate of all. It must decay once it has served its purpose and raised people’s minds above its standpoint.
On the contrary, states Rothe, a Christian must be born again into the eternal life of Christianity. It does not utilize an idealism of the human spirit but faith in the historical individual, the Anointed One. Here it is, where a lofty idealism is inseparably united with an equally definite realism. 
Consistent with the Apostle John’s advice, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) shares how God’s witness shows itself internally to the believer. Those, who, by believing, have the experiential witness of God, it is no longer just a feeling but a divine power, which God has given them. Hence the Apostle John says in verse eleven: “And this is in the record,” with “to us who have believed” to be mentally added.
According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) way of thinking, we should read the Apostle John’s words, “Here is what God told us.” So, what did God tell John? The apostle leaves no doubt. God said He gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Thus, to have eternal life, you must have God’s Son. It means that as the second Adam, God’s Son, God secured this life for us. We would have lost it like the first Adam if it depended on us.
In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) makes the point that the testimony here in verses eleven is this, that, namely, that “God gave,” not “has given.” It is essential to notice that it is not the gift’s endurance but the gift itself is highlighted. We can see the present assurance of our possessing this gift when we combine verses eleven and twelve: “This is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”
As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) asks, what is the sum and substance of all the testimonies of God as revealed in the Gospel of the Savior? Hear what the Apostle John says, “This is the record, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” From this record, we learn much about the nature of the Gospel. The Giver is God. He is the source and fountain from which all the gifts of providence and grace flow. The Creator and the creature come directly into contact in divine grace. He gave His Son, He shares His Spirit, and from Him, eternal life flows. On no other terms could we receive, and on none other could He dispense His blessings. If God offered salvation for our benefit, it must be free; otherwise, it is not a gift.
Hence the attitude which God assumes in the Gospel dispensation is that of a sin-pardoning Father seated on a throne of grace and freely dispensing His blessings to the nations. Eternal life is the splendid gift that the God of heaven reaches down to every person from His throne on high, inviting, commanding, and entreating us all to receive it from His hand. It is a gift worthy of God, for it contains pardon and peace here and now and the complete and blissful enjoyment of the divine glory hereafter. As opposed to the punishment and consequent death upon sin, it is the eternal gift of life, as opposed to the transient, perishable enjoyments of this temporary world. The full blissful vision of the indescribable Yahweh, into which the ransomed will enter at the return of the Lord; nor does our language contain any term more expressive of the enjoyments of the heavenly sanctuary.
With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (811-1875) states that God’s witness is the subjective confirmation of the reality of the objective evidence of the Anointed One being God’s Son. The Father’s testimony consists of this: according to the plan of salvation, He has given us everlasting life; and this gift is in harmony with the higher instincts and desires of the soul. Therefore, the soul acknowledges its truth, just as it recognizes and acknowledges, proprio motu, the existence of God. Thus, according to the Christian economy, eternal life depends on the Son of God having sacrificed Himself for us.
 John 17:2
 Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, pp. 114-115
 Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 506
 See Matthew 27:45, 50-54; Luke 23:47-48
 John 10:17-18; Galarians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3:18
 Christ’s Dying Love, written by Isaac Watts, 1770, Stanza 2
 Matthew 3:16-17
 John 15:26
 Ibid. 16:14
 Acts of the Apostles 2; 4:31
 Ibid. 3:14
 John 9:25
 Acts of the Apostles 5:8
 John 1:49
 Matthew 16:16
 Jones, William: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 161-162
 Benson, Joseph: Selections from Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, op. cit., p. 347
 Clarke, Adam: Wesleyan Heritage Commentary, op. cit., Hebrews-Revelation, p. 397
 Campbell, John McLeod, The Nature of the Atonement Ch. VII, p. 168
 Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, p. 4885
 Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, May 1895, p. 375
 Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical and Exegetical Handbook on the General Epistles, op. cit., pp. 613-614
 Cf. John 1:4; 11:25; 14:6; Colossians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:10
 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p.720
 Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV., p. 507
 Matthew 25:46
 Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., p. 329
 Proprio motu is a Latin term meaning: “on one’s own initiative”
 Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 75