“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”
This is the third exhortation the apostle tenders in this immediate context. In the first he exhorts his readers to gird up the loins of their mind and to hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the second, he exhorts to pass the time of their sojourning here in fear. And now in our text he exhorts to love one another with a pure heart fervently.
How important it is that the child of God and the redeemed church of Christ understand this practical aspect of their calling!
But what does it mean? And how is it possible to heed it?
Love one another!
All true love is, of course, of God!
Of God Who loves Himself! He loves Himself perfectly. In fact, in God love is a bond of perfection that unites a perfect subject and a perfect object. This can be and is so because God is triune. The perfect subject seeks and finds its perfect object, while the perfect object responds by seeking and finding its perfect subject. Thus a bond of perfection exists in the divine being which is love.
God not only loves Himself, but also His people for His own Name’s Sake. Eternally He loved them. Never did He not love them. This He could do because He always beheld them perfect in Christ.
Also in time He loved them while they were sinners and ungodly. Then, of course, that love was one-sided; and it lay in the very purpose of that love to perfect them even as He is perfect. Because He loved them He sent His only begotten Son into the world, that He might die for them. Having suffered and died for them, He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven where He received the Spirit without measure, and poured out that Spirit into their hearts. So the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts, and we are able to respond to His love.
And with the love which He spread abroad in our hearts, we are enabled to love one another. Even the love of the brethren is the love of God. Therefore the Scriptures inform us that he that says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Here the apostle says: from the heart love one another. Love of the heart is the only true love there is. And by the heart the apostle means, as we shall see more perfectly in the sequence, the regenerated heart (verse 23). Not only did God demonstrate His love towards us in the cross in the giving of His only begotten Son; but He also did this in our hearts. When He sheds that love which was demonstrated in the cross abroad in our hearts, then we know that love, we taste the love of God to us. The reaction of that love is twofold; then we love God as the fruit of the operation of His love to us, and we also love the brethren. The apostle John tells us, when we love Him that begat, we also love those that are begotten of Him, i.e., the brethren in whom that same love of God dwells.
See that ye love one another with a pure heart!
The apostle means, with all the effort of your heart love one another. The word translated “fervently” comes from a word which means to stretch out, to expand to its fullest extent. Here it means to love intensively. Negatively the apostle means to say: do not allow that love in your heart to become shriveled up; but rather, let it be stretched out with all the effort of your heart. This is not an appeal to the natural man to become what he is not; but it is a practical admonition to the living church of Christ to live out more and more what she is in Christ Jesus her Lord. In the heart of God’s people is the love that must be stretched out to all others who likewise possess this love. So a bond of perfection is realized also among the children of God. And when we consider how this heart of love dwells in a sinful, hating flesh, this admonition becomes constantly necessary. When the redeemed church shall have attained to her perfection in glory, no longer will such an admonition be necessary.
But how shall we love intensively?
The text says, “seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth into unfeigned love of the brethren.” This is precisely the sphere in which that love of the brethren operates. It is impossible to love one another fervently unless we have purified our souls in obedience to the truth.
Notice must be given to the fact that the text here says “souls”—not “hearts.” We cannot purify our hearts, for God alone can do this. But by the grace of God we must constantly purify our souls, i.e., our minds, our wills, our desires; all of which issue from the heart, for out of the heart are all the issues of life. Do not misunderstand this! Sanctification must never be understood as our work alone; nor is it our work in cooperation with God. It is strictly God’s work, as all the work of our salvation is. Nevertheless, by the grace of God we become active in that sanctification. And it is to this that the apostle refers when he says: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, etc.”
Notice, too, that the apostle conceives of this sanctifying process as complete to the moment. It is constant. Should there be a moment when we do not sanctify our souls, if it is imperfect at the present moment, then at the same time that brotherly love is imperfect. And so it should never be!
The sphere in which that sanctification takes place is in obeying the truth. The truth is the truth of the gospel. Not just a general truth, which has nothing to do with Scripture. But the truth of the gospel, which is the revelation of Jesus Christ, or the revelation of God in Christ. In the sphere of the truth the believers are to live. As the fish lives in the water, and the bird lives in the air, so the believers by grace live in the sphere of the truth. Out of that sphere the believer cannot constantly sanctify his soul. Only walking in that sphere is sanctification possible. Doing what that Word of the truth says, demands of us, can we sanctify our souls.
Through the Spirit!
This phrase does not appear in the original text, except in a second reading. We see no reason to omit it and therefore agree with the translation which has included it. It stands to reason that only by means of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ can the believer know the Word of truth, and walk in the truth. That Spirit is the Spirit of sanctification.
Unto unfeigned, that is, unhypocritical love of the brethren—that is the end purpose. It would seem that it should be superfluous for the apostle to say “unhypocritical” brotherly love, for the simple reason that all true brotherly love is unfeigned, unhypocritical. Yet the apostle adds it here because in the world, and in our own sinful nature there is so much hypocrisy, sham. “Unhypocritical love” emphasizes the genuine, true, pure love of the brethren. We call attention here also to that little preposition “unto” which introduces this paragraph. Better it is to say “into” unfeigned love of the brethren. If it is to signify the end purpose of the sanctifying process, it must lead us not merely unto, but into the unfeigned brotherly love. If it led us merely unto, we might not yet attain unto it. But “into” brings us where we must be, namely, within and to the end.
Being born again of incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever!
This indicates the indispensable source of this love!
That is, regeneration, the second birth!
From above! It is heavenly!
The believers are not renewed in the sense that they are brought into a state wherein they are delivered from all sin, guilt, and pollution, unto righteousness, holiness, and purity, such as Adam possessed in the state of innocence. But through the second birth from above they are become citizens of heaven. An altogether different life. they have received, far above that which Adam ever knew.
This regeneration is the indispensable, deepest subjective ground and source of all the life and activity of the child of God. Apart from this rebirth they lie in the midst of death. They are incapable of doing any good, and inclined unto all evil. Out of this regeneration which is not only implanted in their hearts, but also wrought in their consciousness, they live and act. They purify their souls, and love one another fervently.
This regeneration in its broadest sense does not originate from corruptible seed, but from incorruptible. Evidently here the apostle is comparing our new birth from above with our first birth from human seed. That human seed is said to be corruptible. That is, it is subject to corruption, and corruption enters into it from without. At the time of conception in the physical, earthly sense, corruptible seed is inseminated. Hence we are conceived and born in sin. This seed has in it the principle of death.
In distinction from that the seed of the second birth is incorruptible, from heaven. It is not subject to corruption and therefore to death. The reason for this is, of course, to be found in Christ, the incorruptible Christ. When Christ arose from the dead as the Prince of life, He brought forth immortality and life. Regeneration is really the implanting in our hearts by the Spirit of Christ of the life of the resurrection that overcame death, and is incorruptible. It cannot be corrupted from within, nor from without.
And this incorruptible seed of new life is implanted in our hearts by the living and abiding Word of God!
This cannot possibly refer to the Word of the gospel which is preached unto us. The preached Word in itself is not living, neither is it abiding.
O, do not misunderstand! This Word of God is preached, all right. Of this we may take note in verse 25 of this chapter, to which we may call your attention later. Yet the living and abiding Word of God whereby we are born again is to be distinguished from it.
This living and abiding Word of God He continues to speak after we are born again from above by that Word, much in the same way that God in His providence continues to speak the Word of creation to each creature that was brought forth, and so it continues to exist. So in the same manner God speaks His efficacious Word that causes our new birth, and He continues constantly to speak it, or we would not continue to be.
God, of course, is the living God, and the God of all life. As such He constantly speaks His Word, His recreative Word, and we are not only brought into spiritual being, but constantly kept alive by that living and abiding Word of God. The moment God should cease to say: “Light,” that moment the light would discontinue to be. The moment God would cease to call efficaciously by His Word to the regenerated child of God, that moment he would cease to live.
It is by means of that living and abiding Word which God continues to speak, that we are made alive, and therefore are enabled to purify our souls, and to love the brethren fervently, and unfeignedly.
As we said at the beginning of this Meditation: How important it is that we understand this practical aspect of our calling!
Having been regenerated, this life is kept constant by the living and abiding Word of God, and the child of God lives out this life consciously and constantly. It is in the constancy of that life that he never ceases to purify his soul in obeying the truth through the Spirit. This must lead unto unfeigned love of the brethren.