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, εξ αυτου γεγεννηται, should be translated hath been Begotten of him, which is the literal signification of the word, from γενναω, 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, Romans 8:17; elect of God - adopted of God - saints - a royal priesthood - a holy nation - a peculiar people, 1 Peter 2:9; the following observations may be of use.
"This appears from God's own words, Exodus 19:3-6, etc.: 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. Deuteronomy 14:1-2, etc.: 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, Exodus 4:22, chiefly because they were the descendants of Isaac, who was supernaturally begotten by Abraham, through the power which accompanied the promise, Genesis 18:10; : Lo, Sarah shall have a son. So St. Paul informs us, Romans 9:7; : 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.
"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 Thessalonians 1:4, Knowing, brethren, beloved of God, your election, he could not mean their election to eternal life, since many of them were living disorderly, 2 Thessalonians 3:11, 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.
If ye know that he is righteous - This is not said as if there could be any doubt on the subject, but merely to call their attention to it as a well-known truth, and to state what followed from it. Everyone who has any true acquaintance with God, must have the fullest conviction that he is a righteous Being. But, if this be so, John says, then it must follow that only those who are truly righteous can regard themselves as begotten of Him.
Ye know - Margin, “know ye.” The Greek will bear either construction, and either would make good sense. Assuming that God is righteous, it would be proper to state, as in the text, that it followed from this that they must know that only those who are righteous can be regarded as begotten of Him; or, assuming this to be true, it was proper to exhort them to be righteous, as in the margin. Whichever interpretation is adopted, the great truth is taught, that only those who are truly righteous can regard themselves as the children of God.
That everyone that doeth righteousness is born of him - Or rather, is begotten of Him; is truly a child of God. This truth is everywhere taught in the Bible, and is worthy of being often repeated. No one who is not, in the proper sense of the term, a righteous man, can have any wellfounded pretensions to being regarded as a child of God. If this be so, then it is not difficult to determine whether we are the children of God.
(1)if we are unjust, false, dishonest, we cannot be His children.
(2)if we are indulging in any known sin, we cannot be.
(3)if we are not truly righteous, all visions and rapture, all zeal and ardor, though in the cause of religion, all that we may pride ourselves on in being fervent in prayer, or eloquent in preaching, is vain.
(4)if we are righteous, in the true and proper sense, doing that which is right toward God and toward people, to ourselves, to our families, to our neighbors, to the world at large, to the Saviour who died for us, then we are true Christians; and then, no matter how soon he may appear, or how solemn and overwhelming the scenes that shall close the world, we shall not be ashamed or confounded, for we shall hail him as our Saviour, and rejoice that the time has come that we may go and dwell with him forever.