Verse 29. "If ye know that he is righteous" - That God is a holy God, ye know also, that every one who doeth righteousness - who lives a holy life, following the commandments of God, is born of him, BEGOTTEN of him - is made a partaker of the Divine nature, without which he could neither have a holy heart, nor live a holy life.
This verse properly belongs to the following chapter, and should not be separated from it. The subject is the same, and does not stand in any strict relation to that with which the 28th verse concludes.
THE titles bestowed on Christians in the New Testament have been misunderstood by many. What belongs, strictly speaking, to the PURE and HOLY, is often applied to those who, though bound by their PROFESSION to be such, were very far from it. This has been strongly denied by writers who should have known better. Dr. Taylor has handled this point well in his Key to the Apostolic Writings, from which I have given a copious extract in my preface to the Epistle to the Romans, from the conviction that the subject had been most dangerously misapprehended; and that several of the worst heresies which disgrace religion had sprung from this misapprehension. With some, Dr. Taylor's being an Arian was sufficient to invalidate any testimony he might offer; but it is no discovery of Dr. Taylor; it is what every attentive, unprejudiced reader finds on reading the Old Testament in connection with the New. Perhaps the testimony of a judicious Calvinist may be better received, not that this truth needs the testimony of either, because it everywhere speaks for itself, but because those who have too little grace, sense, and candour to search for themselves, may be pleased that Dr. Macknight saves them the trouble.
After having remarked that the words born of him, ex autou gegennhtai, should be translated hath been BEGOTTEN of him, which is the literal signification of the word, from gennaw, genero, gigno, I beget, (BORN of God being nowhere found in the Scripture,) he goes on to say:- "To understand the import of the high titles which in the New Testament are given to the disciples of Christ, viz.: the begotten of God, as here; children of God, as in the next chapter; heirs of God, Rom. viii. 17; elect of God-adopted of God-saints-a royal priesthood-a holy nation-a peculiar people, 1 Pet. ii. 9; the following observations may be of use.
"1. These high titles were anciently given to the Israelites as a nation, because they were separated from mankind to be God's visible Church, for the purpose of preserving the knowledge and worship of him in the world, as the only true God.
"This appears from God's own words, Exod. xix. 3-6, &c.: Tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. Deut. xiv. 1-2, &c.: Ye are the children of the Lord your God-for thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. In particular, the title of God's Son, even his first-born, was given to the whole Israelitish nation by God himself, Exod. iv. 22, chiefly because they were the descendants of Isaac, who was supernaturally begotten by Abraham, through the power which accompanied the promise, Gen. xviii. 10: Lo, Sarah shall have a son. So St. Paul informs us, Rom. ix. 7: Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; (namely of God;) but in Isaac shall a seed be to thee-the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of promise are counted for the seed. The apostle's meaning is, that Ishmael and his posterity, whom Abraham procreated by his own natural strength, being children of the flesh, were not children of God; that is, they were not made the visible Church and people of God. But Isaac and his descendants, whom Abraham procreated through the strength which accompanied the promise, being more properly procreated by GOD than by Abraham, were the children of God, i.e. were made the visible Church and people of God, because, by their supernatural generation and title to inherit Canaan, they were a fit image to represent the catholic invisible Church of God, consisting of believers of all ages and nations, who, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, are the true children of God, and heirs of the heavenly country of which Canaan was a type.
"2. As the promise, Lo, Sarah shall have a son, which was given to Abraham when he was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety, implied that that son was to be supernaturally procreated; so the promise given to Abraham, Gen. xvii. 5, A father of many nations have I constituted thee, implied that the many nations of believers who, by this promise, were given to Abraham for a seed, were to be generated by the operation of the Spirit of God, producing in them faith and obedience, similar to those for which Abraham was constituted the father of all believers. This higher generation, by which believers have the moral image of God communicated to them, is well described, John i. 12: As many as received him, to them gave he power to be called the sons of God, even to them who believe on his name; oi egennhqhsan, who were BEGOTTEN, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. That is: Men become the true sons of God, not by their being naturally descended from this or that father, nor by their being called the sons of God by men like themselves, but by God's bestowing on them that high appellation on account of their faith and holiness," (which were produced in them by their regeneration through the Spirit of God.)
"3. If the Israelites, of whom the ancient visible Church and people of God were composed, were all called the sons of God because Isaac, from whom they were descended, was supernaturally begotten by the power of God; certainly the believers of all ages and nations, of whom the visible Church is composed, may with much greater propriety be called the sons of God, since they are begotten of God, and possess his moral nature.
"4. Thus it appears that the high titles above mentioned, namely, the sons of God, the children of God, the elect of God, the adoption of sons, the election, saints, holy nation, royal priesthood, peculiar people, were anciently given to the Israelites AS A NATION, merely on account of their being the visible Church and people of God, without any regard to the personal character of the individuals of whom that nation was composed.
It appears, also, that under the Gospel the same high titles were bestowed on whole Churches, merely on account of their profession of Christianity, without any regard to the personal character of the individuals who composed these Churches. But these high titles, with some others of greater importance, such as the begotten of God, the heirs of God, the adoption, were given in an appropriated sense to individuals likewise, on account of their faith and holiness. When given to whole Churches, these titles imported nothing more than that the society to which they were given was a Church of Christ, (i.e. professed Christianity,) and that the individuals of which that society was composed were entitled to all the privileges belonging to the visible Church of God. But when appropriated to individuals, these titles implied that the persons to whom they were given were really partakers of the nature of God; and that they were the objects of his paternal love, and heirs of his glory.
"Wherefore, in reading the Scriptures, by attending to the different foundations of these titles, and by considering whether they are applied to Churches or individuals, we shall easily understand their true import.
Thus, when St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says, 1 Thess. i. 4, Knowing, brethren, beloved of God, your election, he could not mean their election to eternal life, since many of them were living disorderly, 2 Thess. iii. 11, but their election to be the visible Church of God under the Gospel; whereas, when John, in the verse before us, says, Every one who doeth righteousness hath been begotten of God, by restricting the title to a specific character he teaches us that the persons of whom he speaks are the sons of God in the highest sense, and heirs of eternal glory." How forcible are right words! See also the introduction to the Epistle to the Romans.