For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things (1 John_3:20)
There are some texts of Scripture, and this is one of them, which are very generally misinterpreted. This does not speak of a condemning God, but of a God whose name and character we love. As commonly and perhaps naturally understood, the whole verse has to do with condemnation. We rise from the condemnation of ourselves to the far severer scrutiny of God. If our own imperfect consciences condemn us, how much more awful must the condemnation be of One who is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. Now if the verse stood in any other context, that would be quite a reasonable rendering. We know that the heavens are not clean before Him, and that He chargeth even his angels with folly. But let any one meditate upon the context here and note what the apostle has in view, and he will see that such a rendering is impossible. The apostle is not writing to condemn. The apostle is writing to encourage. He wants to give the believer, in his despondent hours, something that will encourage and assure him. And so he says, if our own hearts condemn us, there is still one thing that we can do; we can fall back on the omniscience of Love. There are hours when our hearts condemn us not, says John, and then we have confidence towards God. We do not doubt Him then—we know we are His children—we have a childlike liberty in prayer. But when the sky is darkened and we lose assurance, when we hear nothing but self-accusing voices, then the only way to peace is to remember that the God of love is greater than our hearts. He knoweth all the way that we have travelled. He remembereth what we have quite forgotten. He is the light, and dwelleth in the light, above the spiritual darkness which engirdles us. In those condemning hours when we see nothing except our own exceeding great unworthiness, our Father sees the end from the beginning. That is unquestionably the apostle’s meaning, and that unquestionably was the apostle’s comfort. From an accusing conscience and a condemning heart, he casts us over on an omniscient God. And the unfaltering teaching of this letter is just that that omniscient God is love, who, knowing everything, will pardon everything, in the infinite sacrifice of Christ.
It has been thought by many, and I believe with truth, that there is a beautiful reminiscence here—a reminiscence of that scene beside the Sea of Galilee. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” Three times over Simon had denied; three times over was the question put. Who can doubt that on that summer morning, faced by the Lord whom he had treated so, Simon Peter had a condemning heart. Only a week before the Lord had looked on him, and he had gone out into the night and wept. He had promised to play the hero in the crisis, and he had proved the veriest of cowards. And now, with all these memories of betrayal crying out to condemn him in his heart—”Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” What was there that Simon could appeal to? His word? His word had broken like a straw. His past—when only a few days before he had been false and recreant to the Master? But Peter cast himself in his despair upon the perfect knowledge of his Lord—”Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” John was present when these words were uttered, and words like these can never be forgotten. They haunt the memory and deepen in significance and live again when the hour of teaching comes. And I for one believe that that sweet hour was vividly present to the mind of John when he gave the Church the comfort of our text. When our heart condemns us we are like Simon Peter, and like Peter we have naught to plead. But when our heart condemns us, we can still turn to God who is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things—knoweth what no one else could ever know, judging us by our failures and betrayals, that we still love Him, and still desire His presence, and still want to follow and to serve.
Our Only Refuge From Despair
Sometimes these self-condemning seasons come when a man has fallen into shameful sin. He has been walking unguardedly and prayerlessly, when lo, his feet are in the miry clay. Perhaps the most deadly sins in a believer’s life are sins for which his heart does not condemn him; sins so habitual and so customary that conscience long ago has ceased to warn. But there are other sins in a believer’s life so false to all that he has struggled for, that to commit them is to be self-condemned. In such a season the whole world is darkened. We cast our moral shadow on the universe. In such an hour our hope in Christ is dimmed, and all that we have striven for seems vanity. In such an hour when our heart condemns us, our only refuge from despair is this, that God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. He knoweth all the past and all the future, knoweth that we were meant for better things. He knoweth that in the bosom of the prodigal there is still to be found the memory of home. He knoweth that the precious blood of Christ is able to cleanse the very vilest stain, and that though our sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow. All that, when our heart condemns us, we forget. All that the God of love never forgets. He knows how weak we are—how we are tempted—He knows our frame and remembers we are dust. Things which are blotted out when we have sinned, the faith and prayer and toil of long ago—He knows, and knowing will be merciful, and being merciful will lead us home.
Times of Fear and Regret
Another season of self-condemnation is the silent season Of the night. When the eyes are sleepless and the brain is busy, a very common visitant is fearfulness. There is a vivid picture in the Song of Solomon of the terrors which beset an eastern king. Threescore mighty men stand round his tent because of fear in the night. But one does not need to be an eastern king, haunted by visions of poison or dagger, to know the fear that lurketh in the darkness. Dim and shadowy and ill-defined anxieties are the worst of all anxieties to bear. Troubles wholly known are bearable; it is when half-known that they sap the heart. And such are the forms that visit us by night when the eye is sleepless and the brain is busy, oppressive shadows, spectral and illusive. In the light of day we see things as they are. We see things in their just proportions then. And perhaps the essential quality of courage is just to see things in their true proportions. But in the nighttime there are no proportions; everything is confused and undefined; we lie at the mercy of vague and spectral terrors. Sometimes that fear in the night regards our health; sometimes our future or our children. Sometimes it overwhelms us in the silence with an utter hopeless sense of our unworthiness. And it is in such seasons, when our heart condemns us, that from the verdict of our heart we should appeal to Him who is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. It is the duty of every believer to abstain from judging in an hour of gloom. The verdict of a desponding hour is the most worthless verdict in the world. Only He who dwells within the light can see things as they are and as they shall be, and He is greater than our heart and knoweth all things: knoweth all that tomorrow shall bring forth, knoweth all that we shall need tomorrow; knoweth our children and how we pray for them, and how they were dedicated to Him in infancy. And He who is thus omniscient is Love, and willeth not that any man should perish. He is the Lord God merciful and gracious.
Times of Self-Accusation
Another self-accusing hour in life is the hour when opportunity is over; the hour which is always striking for humanity when the home is empty and the grave is full. Such a season, like all life’s greatest seasons, is compact of very diverse feelings. There is the sorrow of parting in it; there is loneliness; there is a strange unreality about familiar things. But always, in such seasons of bereavement, there is the arrowy feeling of remorse for what was never done or done unkindly before the pitcher was broken at the fountain. It is not when love has been shallow that it hurts. It is when love has been real that it hurts. It is when the service of love has never faltered that love feels, when all is over, its unworthiness. It is the mother who has loved her children, and laid her life down daily for her children, who feels, when the flowers are fresh upon the grave, what a far better mother she might have been. There is a remorse which is as black as hell and has no refuge in Almighty God. It is the remorse of cruelty— of base neglect—of shameful desecration of life’s sanctities. And yet I question if that satanic misery, falling as it does on hardened hearts, is half so keen or arrowy or exquisite as the remorse of love. The hour of sorrow is an hour of darkness, and in darkness we do not see things as they are. Out of a million words that we have spoken, one word—perhaps a bitter one—remains. Out of a thousand days of quiet happiness which leave no living memorial in sorrow, one day abides in which the tongue was bitter or in which the deed was unthinking or unkind. Beloved, when our hearts condemn us so, there is just one thing that we can do. When our hearts condemn us, we can turn to God who is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things. We can appeal to Him. He knows it all. He has been watching through the forgotten years. And there we can leave our cause in quiet confidence till the day break and the shadows flee away.
Times of Spiritual Privilege
In closing, let me point out to you that there is another self-accusing hour in life. It is the hour of spiritual privilege, like that of the holy season of the Lord’s Supper. Will you recall that scene upon the Sea of Galilee when the nets were filled till they began to break? Will you recall how Simon Peter cried, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man”? Faced by the wonderful goodness of the Lord to him; treated with a love that was magnificent, Peter was conscience-stricken and ashamed. I do not know how you may feel, my friend, when people are wonderfully good to you; but I can at least answer for what I feel—I feel an unworthy and undeserving wretch. And if the wonderful goodness of our fellowmen to us gives us often the self-condemning heart, how much more the goodness of the Lord! That is why, at the table of the Master, conscience so often wakes within the breast. “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,” and seeing thee face to face my heart condemns me. Beloved, if thine heart condemn thee, make thine appeal to the eternal Father, for He is greater than thine heart and knoweth all things. He knoweth that thou art not satisfied. He knoweth that thou art hungering and thirsting. He knoweth that thou art poor and needy, and that other refuge hast thou none. Sursum corda. Up with thine heart to Him. Cast thyself on His omniscient love. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
source : e-Sword