Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. The spiritual paternity of the apostle. St. Paul addressed the same words to those Galatian Christians whom he had spiritually begotten (Galatians 4:19). He referred with great tenderness and force to the same relationship in writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:14, 15). Probably many of those to whom St. John was writing were his spiritual children.
2. The spiritual affection of the apostle. The use of the diminutive indicates this.
3. The spiritual authority of the apostle. His fatherly relation to them, his tender affection for them, and his venerable age combine to invest his words with authority. Our text teaches -
I. THAT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST DISCOURAGES SIN. "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not." The "these things" are the statements made in chapter 1 John 1:6-10. The fact that sin exists even in the Christian is there affirmed, and gracious provision for the forgiveness of sin and for the sanctification of the believer is set forth. And now, in order that no one by reason of these things should look upon sin as inevitable, or regard it with tolerance, or fail to battle against it, St. John writes, "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not." St. Paul guards against the same misuse of the provisions of the rich grace of God thus: "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid" (Romans 6:1, 2). That the provisions of Divine grace for the pardon of sin afford no encouragement to its commission is proved by:
1. The object of Christ's mediatorial work. To "save his people from their sins." "He appeared to, put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14).
2. The cost of Christ's mediatorial work. The great price at which pardon and salvation were rendered possible should powerfully deter from the practice of sin. "God spared not his own Son," etc.; "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,... but with the precious blood of Christ," etc. Since redemption from sin is so expensive a process, sin must be not a trifling, but a terrible evil.
3. The influence of Christ's mediatorial work. The love of God manifested in our Lord and Saviour is fitted to awaken our love to him. Love to God springs up in the heart of every one who truly believes in Jesus Christ; and love to God is the mightiest and most resolute antagonist of sin.
II. THAT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST RECOGNIZES THE LIABILITY OF EVEN GOOD MEN TO SIN. "And if any man sin." This liability arises from:
1. Our exposure to temptation. Sometimes we are confronted by our "adversary the devil, as a roaring lion." But more frequently are we in danger by reason of "the wiles of the devil." "Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light," that he may deceive souls and lead them into sin. We are also assailed by temptations in human society - temptations which are plausible and appear harmless, but which are full of peril to us.
2. The infirmity of our moral nature. There is that in us which is ready to respond to temptation. Thus temptations which appeal to our sensual appetites sometimes prove too strong for our spiritual principles, the sensual in us not being in complete subjection to the spiritual. Temptations which promise present pleasure or profit, but involve the risk of some of our most precious interests in the future, are sometimes successful because of defective spiritual perception or of moral weakness. This liability to sin is confirmed
(1) by the history of good men, e.g., Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, Peter;
(2) by our own experience.
III. THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST ANNOUNCES GRACIOUS PROVISION TO MEET THE LIABILITY OF GOOD MEN TO SIN. "And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father," etc.
1. Jesus Christ is our Representative with the Father. "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." The word translated "advocate" means one who is called to our side; then a Comforter, Helper, Advocate. "Representative" is a word which, perhaps, expresses the meaning here. Jesus Christ "appears before the face of God for us." He stands by us with his face directed towards the face of God the Father, obtaining for us the forgiveness and favour, the stimulus and strength which we need. As Professor Lias puts it, "We have One who stands by us παρά, yet looks toward πρὸς the Father, and who, one with us and with him, can enable us to do all things through his all-powerful aid." And he is "righteous." In this he is unlike us. We are unrighteous, and therefore unfit to appear before the face of God. But he, being perfectly righteous, is fitted to appear before God on our behalf.
2. Jesus Christ is also the Propitiation for our sins. "And he is the Propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." The primary meaning of "propitiation" was that which appeases or turns away the wrath of the gods from men. But we must take heed that we do not rashly apply the ideas of heathenism as to its gods, to the only living and true, the holy and gracious God. So much has been said and written concerning the propitiation, which seems to us to have no warrant in the sacred Scriptures, and much that has not been honourable to the holy and ever-blessed God and Father, that it is with diffidence that we venture upon any remarks concerning it. The New Testament does not give us any explanation of the propitiation; it presents us with no theory or scheme concerning it; it simply states it as a great fact in the Divine way of salvation. And it would have been well if the example of the sacred writers in this respect had been more generally followed. Here is the declaration of St. Paul: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a Propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to show his righteousness," etc. (Romans 3:24-26). Jesus Christ himself is said to be the Propitiation for our sins. No particular portion of his life or work, his sufferings or death, is specified in our text as constituting the propitiation. Christ, in the whole of his mediatorial ministry - life and work, sufferings and death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession - is our Propitiation. We venture to make two observations.
(1) The propitiation was not anything offered to God to render him willing to bless and save us. If proof of this were required, we have it in chapter 1 John 4:10: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins." God did not provide the propitiation to propitiate himself. Our Saviour is the Gift of the Father's love to us, not the Procurer of that love for us. It is nowhere said in the Scriptures that Christ reconciled God to man. Such reconciliation was never needed. The great Father was always disposed to bless and save man.
(2) The propitiation was designed to remove obstructions to the free flowing forth of the mercy of God to man. Here was an obstruction: man had broken the holy Law of God, had set it at naught, and was still doing so. But man cannot be pardoned while he stands in such an attitude and relation to Law. Love itself demands that Law shall be obeyed and honoured. True mercy can only be exercised in harmony with righteousness. The well-being of man is an impossibility except he be won to loyalty to the Law of God. Jesus Christ vindicated the solemn authority of God's holy Law by his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. Again, there was an obstruction in the heart of man to the free flowing forth of the mercy of God to him. Man regarded God with distrust and suspicion, if not with enmity. "Alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works" is the apostolic description of unrenewed man. The propitiation was designed to reconcile man to God, and dispose him to accept the offered salvation. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." The sacrifice of Christ is the supreme manifestation of the infinite love of God towards man (cf. John 3:16; Romans 5:8). When that love is heartily believed in, man is reconciled to God; he no longer regards him as an enemy, but as his gracious and adorable God and Father. This accords with the statement of St. Paul that Christ Jesus is "a Propitiation through faith by his blood." "The true Christian idea of propitiation," says Bushnell, "is not that God is placated or satisfied by the expiatory pains offered him. It supposes, first, a subjective atoning, or reconciliation in us; and then, as a further result, that God is objectively propitiated, or set in a new relation of welcome and peace. Before he could not embrace us, even in his love. His love was the love of compassion; now it is the love of complacency and permitted friendship." And this propitiation is for all men. "The Propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." If any are not saved, it is neither because of any deficiency in the Divine purposes or provisions, nor because the propitiation of Christ is limited to certain persons or to a certain number only. The salvation of Jesus Christ is adequate to all men, and is offered freely to all men. If any are not saved, it is because they refuse the redemptive mercy of God in Christ Jesus. - W.J.
I. DIVINE PROVISION AGAINST EXPERIENCE OF SIN IN BELIEVERS,
1. Advocacy as far as our need for it is concerned. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye may not sin. And if any man sin," etc. John addresses Christians in the circle of Churches of which Ephesus was the point, in whom he was deeply interested, as his little children. This term of affection, which Paul only uses once in his Epistles, John uses seven times in this Epistle. It is in accordance with affection being the strongest element in his nature, and also in accordance with his advanced age in comparison with Paul. The addition of the personal pronoun is found only here and in chapter 1 John 3:18. In presenting the contrast, John would naturally have gone on to say, "If we sin." But that would have had the appearance of treating the experience of sin in believers too much as a matter of course. He therefore considers it necessary to interpose words in which he states it to be the object of his writing to them, that they should not sin. It is important to note, in view of subsequent statements, that he does not write to them as sinless, but as those who have the ideal of sinlessness before them. Struggling on toward sinlessness, we have yet the experience of sin. It was not thus with the Master, who, in his struggle on toward perfection, could say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" "No mere man since the Fall is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed." This applies even to those who are assisted by grace. Our nature is not thoroughly renewed, and so, as the language bears here, there are acts of sin which, according to a former thought, we have to confess to God. How, then, with the constantly recurring consciousness of sin, are we to he advanced to sinlessness? In the answer which the apostle gives to this we are not to understand that he excludes our own pleading; for he repeatedly in this Epistle assumes that it is our duty to ask of God, which must pass into earnest pleading. But, in bringing in the advocacy of Another, he views our own advocacy as being insufficient by itself. It is not difficult to see how this should be. It is really involved in that which gives rise to constantly recurring acts of sin. It is one and the same disposition which leads us to shut our eyes to our need, and also makes us lukewarm in seeking the remedy. It unfits us for our being our own advocate, that we have an insufficient knowledge of our case. We cannot go into it with that thoroughness and skillfulness with which an advocate should go into a case which he undertakes. We do not know precisely the stage to which we have already come in our deliverance from sin, nor have we an adequate conception of the goal of sinlessness to which we have yet to come. We are, therefore, more or less working in the dark, and our pleading for ourselves must partake more or less of ignorance. "So find we profit," says Shakespeare, "by losing of our prayers." We have not a right idea of the blessings which we really need. We are like children, who ask many things of their parents which it is not wise for them to grant. Again, it unfits us for our being our own advocate, that we have an insufficient earnestness in urging our case. To be delivered from sin, from particular sins which beset us, from the love of sin, is a matter essential to our well-being. We ought to plead for it as for our life, and this continuously. We are not to plead as though we would rather be refused, or in the more earnest tone only by fits and starts. But how can our advocacy be up to the mark of what advocacy should be, when what we have need to plead for is earnestness of the whole soul, and this in every successive moment of life? If, then, we are to have perfect advocacy, we must look away from ourselves.
2. The advocacy that we need. "We have an Advocate." It has sometimes happened that a person against whom a charge has been laid, for whom a good plea could be presented, has suffered materially for want of an advocate properly to present the plea. This cannot be said of us, for we are told here that, it' we sin, we have an Advocate. The Divine love has been beforehand with us, and the case of our falling into sin, as we do, notwithstanding our covenant position, and notwithstanding our struggle after sinlessness every day, is met by the provision of an Advocate. There is the same word here which in John's Gospel is translated "Comforter." It is literally one who is called to our side. There is no inconsistency in the translation; for in the Gospel we are to think of One who stands by us in our distresses, whereas here we are to think of One who stands by us so that we do not sink under our experience of sin on our way to sinlessness. The Paraclete in the Gospel is the Holy Ghost; but he is said to be another Comforter. Christ had been the Paraclete of his disciples, ever at their side to keep them from sinking of heart. He had been their Paraclete even in the sense of Advocate. What are we to understand by the night spent in prayer before the ordination of the twelve? While it was for himself, was it not also for them, "that they might rise to the height of their high calling, not puffed up, but divinely filled with grace and lowly power; till all - all save one - should be found finally not unworthy of this ministry and apostleship? And for us, and for all the long line of Christian generations to be built up on those twelve foundations, believing through their word: may we not so read that long night-prayer of consecration and of intercession by our Priest and King? What are we to make of that prayer for Peter on the last night of our Saviour's earthly life: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not"? Have we not here an open vision of the manner in which he was engaged in his private devotions? The Spirit makes up in this respect for the want of Christ's earthly presence; for be is with us to help our infirmities in prayer, and is engaged himself in intercession. The Spirit's advocacy on earth does not, however, supersede our Lord's advocacy in heaven. For even the sending of the Spirit was to be an answer to Christ's future intercession. "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." When we sin, then - which is the experience of all believers in this life - this is the heavenly advocacy that we are to take advantage of. Our minds may turn to the inexhausted power of Christ's work on earth. But, according to what is laid down here, we are to turn our minds more immediately to our Savior's advocacy. The high priest did not stop with the offering of sacrifice in the court of the temple; but he followed it up by going into the most holy place, and going with incense, which is to be regarded as the symbol of acceptable prayer. So "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." His appearance there means continued priestly service in the form of advocacy for us. As acting for us he takes up our individual cases, with a view to our being brought forward, each in our own way, to sinlessness. Christ has all the knowledge of our case that is needed for advocacy. We have to make up for the deficiency of our child. He has to be educated for all the relations of life - educated even physically, educated for business, educated for society. With our larger acquaintance with life we superintend his education; and there is much which he does not comprehend or see the use of now, but which, we hope, he will feel the benefit of hereafter. Christ occupies a similar vantage-ground with regard to our life. He can take up all the threads of our life. He can comprehend its working, in view of the past and in view of the future. He can follow out in detail the whole struggle with sin. And he can judge infallibly how our outward circumstances need to be arranged, how our hearts need to be influenced, with a view to our complete deliverance from sin. All this he turns into matter of intercession for us, and we have the comfort of thinking that the ignorance which cleaves to our prayers is covered by the perfect knowledge of his intercession. He has also all the interest in us that is needed for advocacy. It is said that Jesus died once for all; but the spirit in which he died was not momentary and evanescent. We sometimes attain to an elevated state of feeling, and then we fall back into an habitually lower state. But the same intensity of interest in us which led Jesus to die for us he has carried into his risen life, and the form which it takes is intercession. We are given to understand that his life on high is directed to the carrying forward of the work of grace in believers; and is this not the guarantee of its completion? "If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." "Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." The latter Scripture is sometimes quoted in the sense that, while there is life there is hope; hut, in accordance with the other Scripture, it is to be understood in the sense that there is, in the living interest and unfailing intercession of the Saviour, covering all deficient interest in our prayers, guarantee for our salvation being carried to the uttermost, i.e., being thoroughly completed in sinlessness.
3. Explanation, of its sufficiency. "With the Father." Christ is our Ambassador at the court of heaven. He is there to represent us, and to protect and advance our interests. But we are not to think of any reluctance on the part of the First Person needing to be overcome, or of all the desire to save us being on the part of the Son. Rather is the Saviour's advocacy to be regarded as the manifestation of the earnest desire of God (without distinction of Person) for our salvation. For it is with the Father that Christ intercedes. Does not this suggest to us his being easily reached? Christ tells us of a judge who seemed unreachable, and yet he was found to be reachable by the very lowest of considerations. If there is a way of reaching the worst kind of mind, how much more must there be a way of reaching the Father's heart? Will he take no heed of his children who cry unto him day and night? Will he not interpose for their deliverance from sin when their case is taken up by their heavenly Advocate, who, from all eternity, stands to him in the most intimate of relations? Will the face of his Son turned toward him, and his continual pleadings on our behalf, be unheeded?
(1) Our Representative. "Jesus Christ the Righteous." He is Jesus, i.e., in our humanity, and, at the same time, Christ, i.e., the Anointed of God promised to men. He has, therefore, the qualification of nature that is needed for our Representative. But he has also the qualification of character, being here called the Righteous. He does not need to shrink from standing in the presence of God as our Advocate; for he has all the righteousness in our humanity which God demands. He has met the Divine requirement all round, even as the Representative of sinners. God, therefore, looks upon him with infinite pleasure. And will he not be willing to bless us for the sake of so righteous an Advocate?
(2) His work. "And he is the Propitiation for our sins." The character of Christ had to do with his work. It was because he always pleased the Father that his work could have value. He is here called "the Propitiation." He was also the Propitiator, but he is called the" Propitiation," as being more distinctive. For whereas a propitiator has usually the means of propitiation outside himself, in Christ both are united. From the sacrificial association of the word, there can be no doubt that the reference is to his death. It was of the nature of a propitiatory offering. The heathen idea was that there was the feeling of revengefulness on the part of the gods toward men. Therefore men had, by their offerings, to propitiate them, i.e., to appease them and to make them favourable. The Christian idea is essentially different. It is that God always and necessarily is benevolently disposed toward men, and desires fellowship. But sin has placed an obstacle between us and the Divine love and fellowship. On account of this sin God is angry with us. But Christ is the Propitiation, i.e., receives into himself in his death the desert of sin, so that now, as is most pleasing to God, the Divine love and fellowship can be enjoyed. This is properly God reconciling the world unto himself - he who never had thought of evil toward men himself graciously removing the obstacle which sin interposed between us and him. It is the propitiatory work of Christ that is the base's of his advocacy. He does not plead our desert, which would tell against our happiness; but he pleads his own offering, the virtue of which was not exhausted in his own age, but is as great today as it was eighteen centuries ago. He is the Propitiation absolutely, i.e., has atoning virtue without stint - one with his Personality. It is as natural for him to give forth atoning virtue as it is for a rose to give forth fragrance. He is an Offering and a Sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. As incense is grateful to the sense of smell, so, in an infinite degree, is Christ, in his atonement for sin, pleasing to God. Our Advocate, then, in his own inexhaustible sacrificial worth, does not want a plea, and a very strong plea, for the Divine love breaking forth upon us sinners with all blessing. "And not for ours only, but also for the whole world." There is a difference which does not seem to be unintentional. Christ is the Propitiation for the sins of believers: he is not the Propitiation for the sins of the world, but for the world itself, as not so much sinning as being in a state of sin. With this difference, he is the Propitiation in the same sense. It is said in a way that is liberating to thought, that he is the Propitiation for the whole world. Most perversely Calvin attempts to limit the reference of the atonement here. Luther gives the evangelical exposition: "It is a potent fact that thou too art a part of the whole world, so that thine heart cannot deceive itself and think, 'The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me.'" The meaning of the universal reference of the atonement is most precious, viz. that love, which is inseparable from God, has found outlet in the provision of suitable means for the salvation of all sinners of mankind. It is not said that Christ's advocacy extends to the world. "We [believers] have an Advocate." And yet it is worthy of notice that it is in connection with Christ being the Propitiation for the whole world that Christ's advocacy is so plainly taught. If, then, we have an Advocate, what is our duty? It is not to forbear paying ourselves, but rather to join our prayers to our Saviour's advocacy. When difficult matters have to be taken into a court of law, there requires to be the employment of an advocate. It is no easy matter for us to be carried through constantly recurring experiences of sin up to complete salvation. The action which we require to take, and, with new experience of sin, to renew, is to put our case into the hands of our Advocate.
II. EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE PROVISION AGAINST EXPERIENCE OF SIN IN BELIEVERS BEING PERSONALLY EFFICACIOUS.
1. The sign of knowledge. "And hereby know we that we know him, if we keep his commandments." The second "know" (which in the original is in a different tense from the first) is to be understood of the experience of covenant love and fellowship. John wishes to class himself, as we should all wish to class ourselves, with them that know God in this way. But how are we to know, i.e., have the consciousness, from moment to moment, that we are thus classed? The sign given here is obedience. This is the first "hereby" of the Epistle. There are commandments of God, i.e., instructions laid down by him who not only has supreme authority, but supreme knowledge and love. These we are to tend as we would tend a plant. There are certain rules founded upon observation which must be attended to in horticulture. So we have to apply the maxims of past experience and Divine wisdom to our conduct from moment to moment. We are to see to their having their proper place in regard to the development of our life.
(1) Issue of disobedience. "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." There is not here a classing with others, but a singling out. The person singled out is bold in his assertion, "I know him;" but he belies it by his conduct. He does not see to the Divine pleasure being carried out in his life, but makes his own pleasure his rule. And, as his assertion is bold, so is his characterization bold. He is described, both positively and negatively, as to his permanent state. He is a liar, i.e., lives in an atmosphere of lies; and the truth is not in him, i.e., does not rule his thoughts and actions.
(2) Issue of the activity of obedience. "But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected." Instead of singling out, there is now throwing wide the door. Let every one be included in this class who fulfils the conditions. Instead of his commandments we have his Word, by which we are led to think of the commandments in their unity, and especially in their vitality. The Word is the Divine revelation, ever instinct with Divine power, which, entering as a vital principle into us, ever comes forth in new manifestations in our life. This Word we are to tend, so as to bring it forward to all beautiful forms. What, from the Divine side, is the issue of our tending the Word? It is not said, as the contrast would have led us to expect, that the truth of God is in us; but the truth is carried forward into the personal relation. "In him verily hath the love of God been perfected." As love to God is included in what we are to cultivate, this must be God's love to us. According as we cultivate the Word does the love of God toward us reach its end. When our obedience is no mere outward form, but is active, then it can be said that God's love is having its way. Let us, then, in the activity of our obedience, allow freedom for the carrying out of the Divine thought and desire regarding us.
2. The sign of union. "Hereby know we that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as be walked." There is here, first, classing with others, and then singling out. The sign of our union to God is here declared to be the imitation of Christ. The assertion which each of us makes is that we abide in God, i.e., are in God, and mean to continue in God. This assertion brings with it no little obligation. What is the "ought" by which we are bound as making the assertion? It is to walk, even as that Person walked. That is the literal translation, and there is only One to whom it can refer. It is he in whom God sees all his thought and desire regarding men. It is he who perfectly kept the commandments, perfectly kept the Word, was the living realization on earth of all that God demands from us. While we go for comfort to his heavenly life of advocacy, we are to go for direction to his heavenly life. He has left us in great detail a pattern of purity, of unselfishness, especially of central obedience. Let us look upon this pattern and then upon our blurred, blotched lives; and, if there is thereby produced in us a deep sense of our own deficiency, let us take encouragement from the thought that he who asks us to copy into our life such a picture of holiness will also supply the needful grace. - R.F.
I. AN EXALTED SPIRITUAL ATTAINMENT. To "know him," i.e., God. This is not to be altered and weakened into knowing certain doctrines concerning him; it is the knowledge of God himself. We may know, or think that we know, much about him, without knowing himself. This knowledge of God is not intellectual, but moral and spiritual. It is not the trained and vigorous intellect that sees God, but the pure heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." This knowledge is that inward and spiritual acquaintance with him which arises out of our faith in him and our love to him. Our Lord speaks of it as identical with eternal life. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God," etc. Again, this knowledge is intimately and vitally related to love. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." It is by love that we know Him. Without love we cannot know him; the more we know him the more we shall love him, and the more we love him the more clearly and fully shall we know him. Yet, fully and perfectly, we can never know him. The ocean cannot be contained in a tea-cup. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite. To the most advanced and holy of created intelligences God must ever remain incomprehensible. But we may know him truly, savingly, progressively, blessedly.
II. THE PROOF OF THIS EXALTED ATTAINMENT. "Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments," etc. The sure evidence that we know him is "keeping his commandments" and" keeping his Word." The idea of the word ἐντολή which St. John uses here is "that of a charge laid upon us by one whom we ought to obey, a charge which love and duty urge us to fulfill, instead of the old idea of a law enforced by penalties, under which the slightest dereliction of duty constituted us transgressors. In short, he regards the Christian's duty as of personal rather than legal obligation "(Professor Lias, M.A.). It is certain, as Ebrard says, that "his Word" (verse 5) means essentially the same as "his commandments." "Nevertheless, 'his Word' is not perfectly synonymous with the 'commandments,' but denotes the revelation of the Divine wilt as one whole." The word translated "to keep" τηρεῖν will repay notice. It means "to watch, to guard, to watch over protectively" - "guarding as some precious thing." Thus it comes on to signify "to observe practically" - "observing to keep." When it is used to express obedience, it is obedience because the commandments and the Word are esteemed as precious, and are regarded as treasures not to be broken. "The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good."
1. This keeping is habitual. This is indicated by the use of the present tense in verse 3: "if we keep." It does not denote the perfect keeping of the commandments without any omission or defect, but their habitual observance. It does not mean sinlessness, but that he who knows God, as a rule obeys him; he does not "walk in the darkness," but "in the light."
2. This keeping is the development of love. "Whoso keepeth his Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." There has been much discussion of the question whether the love of God to man or the love of man to God is here meant. The discussion seems to us unnecessary. God is the great Fountain of love. All love flows from him. "We love, because he first loved us." Our love to him and. our love to each other are effects of his love to us. If, therefore, we say that the love of God in this verse is our love to him, we speak of his own love in one of its effects. The love of God has been perfected in him who keeps his Word. This cannot mean that the love to God of that man who keeps his Word is so perfected as not to admit of further growth or progress. We may get at the meaning thus: love aims at obedience, delights in obedience. Our Lord demands obedience as an evidence of our love to him (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24; John 15:10). If we take "perfected" as meaning that which is appropriately developed, that which has attained its end, then we see how love is perfected in keeping his Word. Our love to him is the effect of his love to us, and his will is that we should express our love to him by keeping his commandments, and when we do so his love attains its design - it is perfected.
3. This keeping is joyous. It is the keeping, not of that of which we would fain be rid, but (as the verb implies) of a prized treasure in which we delight. It is joyous, too, because it springs from love. Obedience to those we love is delightful. God's "service is perfect freedom." Where this obedience is not, the profession of the knowledge of God is false. "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." A man may be well versed in theology, may hold an orthodox creed, may be a member of a Christian Church, and may profess that he knows God, but if he does not heartily keep his commandments he "is a liar." "They profess that they know God; but by their works they deny him" (Titus 1:16). Let us examine ourselves by these inspired tests. Are we vindicating our Christian confession by our obedience to Divine commands? Are we expressing our love to God by a life conformed to his holy will? If we are, let us rejoice that we have in this a well-founded assurance "that we know him." And let no one dishonour God and delude himself with the false profession that he knows him. - W.J.
I. A PROFESSION OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. "He that saith he abideth in him," i.e., in God. In the paragraph of which our text is a part there is a gradation of ideas as to the relation of the Christian to God: to know him; to be in him; and to abide in him.
1. The Christian is in God by spiritual fellowship. Through Christ the Christian is brought into intimate and hallowed communion with God - he believes his revelation of himself, he endeavours to apprehend his thoughts, he accepts his gracious will, he receives his best inspirations from him. Thus he has his spiritual being in God. He derives his inner life of thought, affection, purpose, and power from him.
2. The Christian is in God by mutual love. "We know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love, abideth in God, and God abideth in him." We may obtain help to the understanding of this by considering how our trusted and beloved friends dwell in us and we in them. Distant from us locally and corporeally, yet they are with us truly and spiritually, How the child dwells in the being, occupies the thoughts and affections, of the loving parent! These are imperfect figures of how the true Christian lives in God the Father through Jesus Christ his Son (cf. John 14:20, 21, 23; John 15:4; John 17:21-23). And to say that we abide in him is to profess fidelity and perseverance in this exalted and sacred relation. It is a great profession.
II. THE CONSEQUENT OBLIGATION OF CHRISTIAN CONDUCT. "Ought himself also to walk even as he walked." We have here a change in the pronoun, indicating a change of person. The former personal pronouns from chapter 1 John 1:5 to this clause point to God the Father; the present one denotes God the Son. The Christian is to walk as he walked. It cannot be said that the eternal God walks. He is ever the same. His being admits of no advancement or progress. Man is said to "walk in the light;" but of God it is said that he "is light," and that "he is in the light" (chapter 1 John 1:5, 7). But Christ walked this earth as our Example. He spake of his life in this world as a walk: "I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following" (Luke 13:33). He hath left us "an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). It is the moral, not the miraculous, in his life that we are called to imitate - his devotion and reverence, his truth and righteousness, his humility and self-sacrifice, his love and holiness. In his character and conduct we have the clear and complete expression of the will of the Father. To walk as be walked is the obligation of every one who professes to be in God. This includes:
1. Living after the example of Christ. "Learn of me;" "I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:13-15); "Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you," etc. (Ephesians 5:1, 2). Let us endeavour to act in our lives as our Saviour and Lord would act if he were in our place.
2. Growing in likeness to Christ. Walking implies advancement. The Divine life in man is a progressive thing. We are summoned to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." "Let us go on unto perfection" (Hebrews 6:1-3). In this respect let us copy the example of St. Paul: "I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus," etc. (Philippians 3:12-14). And let us endeavour to prove the reality of our Christian profession by treading in the footsteps of our perfect Exemplar. - W.J.
I. THE COMMANDMENT OLD. "Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the Word which ye heard." The commandment indicated in the previous verse, viz. to walk as Christ walked, is in this paragraph identified with the commandment of brotherly love. His heart warming to his readers, he addresses them as "beloved." What he has in his mind to lay upon them by his letter was no new commandment. It was an old commandment, older than his connection with them. From the beginning, i.e., from their first contact with Christianity down to his connection with them, it had been presented to them. It was no subsidiary matter, such as the form of Church government, which could be held back for a time, but was the very essence of the message which had been delivered to them.
II. THE COMMANDMENT NEW. "Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth." Changing his point of view, he calls it a new commandment. Its being new is contemplated as inhering both in Christ and in them. It is new, because the darkness is passing away and the true light already shineth. What was this but the new light of Christianity, viz. the light introduced by Christ and spread among Christians? Granted that the duty had been known before, it had been greatly obscured. What an obscuration had there been of it in heathen life! And the light that had been shining in the laud of the Jews had been partial. It was only when Christ came and showed its perfect realization, that it could be said to be light having all the elements of truth. Realized in Christ, it was also being realized partially in his people. Thus, not in all places, but in many places, was the darkness giving place to the light, giving promise of the ultimate entire displacement of darkness and prevalence of light.
III. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, ABSENT. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now." It is to be inferred that the condition of our loving our brother is our being in the light, i.e., as the element in which we live. It is not enough to say that we are in the light; saying must be taken along with acting, or the state of the feelings. Let a man's character be this, that he hates his brother (is even unsympathetic), he may say that he is in the light, but it is a moral impossibility. The light may have been shining widely around him, may have been shining around him for long years, but it has never yet penetrated his being and displaced his natural darkness. He is in that darkness even until now. This is John's way of putting the Master's lesson, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord." Let us demand from ourselves reality.
IV. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, PRESENT, WITH BENEFIT. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." The commandment is now stated positively; the condition is stated with a modification. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light," i.e., is so related to the light as to have it continually penetrating his being. The advantage of being thus made loving by the light is that he has guidance at every step. He sees what lies in his path, and does not fall over obstacles.
V. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, ABSENT, WITH DETRIMENT. "But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes." To the state formerly mentioned is added the corresponding walk. The walk of the unloving is in the darkness. He does not see what lies in his path, and may be tripped up at any moment. This follows with a double certainty. The surrounding darkness keeps him from seeing what is immediately before him; but that is not all. The darkness in which he has been moving has operated to destroy his spiritual vision, just as fishes in a dark subterranean cave are known to have become eyeless through long disuse of the organ. - R.F.
I. THAT THE EXERCISE OF BROTHERLY LOVE IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." To be "in the light" and to "abide in the light" is to live a true Christian life, a life in harmony with the light of God. By the "brother" we are to understand here neither our fellow-man nor our neighbour, but the members of the Christian community, those who by profession are Christian brethren. We say, "by profession," because it is clear that in verses 9 and 11 persons are spoken of who are professedly but not really Christians. We show that we are in the light by our affection for those who are in the light. "God is Light" and "God is Love;" if we are sharers in his light we shall also be sharers in his love. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35). "In this one thing," says Stier, "and in no other, is discipleship approved. It is not knowledge which avails, not a so-called faith, even though, like that of Judas, before the devil entered him, it could cast out devils and remove mountains; rather is this knowledge and this genuine faith known by this love. As little avails the confession of my Name, or of all the truth concerning my Person and my kingdom. Where this walking in the truth is not found, the confession becomes an all the more frightful lie. As the disciples of the Pharisees were known by their phylacteries, and as the disciples of John were known by their fasting, and every school by its shibboleth - the mark of the disciples of Christ is to be love. And that a genuine love, as Christ loveth."
II. THE EXERCISE OF BROTHERLY LOVE PROMISES THE STABILITY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." Love is an expression of faith; it also increases and invigorates faith. The outgoing of the heart in holy affection to the Christian brotherhood strengthens the new life within the heart. Pure affection for others augments the wealth of our being. "The heart grows rich in giving." The exercise of brotherly love promotes the sanctity and strength of the entire Christian life, the susceptibility of the soul to Divine influences, its firmness in holy principles, and fidelity and facility in Christian practices.
III. THE EXERCISE OF BROTHERLY LOVE PROMOTES THE SECURITY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. "There is none occasion of stumbling in him."
1. Brotherly love will give no occasion of stumbling to others. Love will keep us from doing any wrong to others, from giving any cause of offence to others, or from doing anything whereby they may be led astray from the path of rectitude or caused to stumble in that path. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour."
2. Brotherly love will preserve us from stumbling ourselves. Love is not quick to take offence. Love is forbearing, patient, humble; and humility walks peacefully and safely where pride painfully stumbles and falls. "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself," etc. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
IV. THE ABSENCE OF BROTHERLY LOVE IS AN EVIDENCE OF A LIFE OF SIN, NOTWITHSTANDING A PROFESSION OF LIFE IN THE LIGHT. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now He that hateth his brother is in the darkness," etc. St. John mentions no middle condition between love of the brethren and hatred of them. As Dusterdieck says, "On the one side is God, on the other the world: here is life, there is death (1 John 3:14): here love, there hate, i.e., murder (1 John 3:15); there is no medium. In the space between, is nothing. Life may as yet be merely elementary and fragmentary, love may be as yet weak and poor; but still, life in God and its necessary demonstration in love, is present really and truly, and the Word of our Lord is true, 'He that is not against me is with me' (Luke 9:50): and on the other side, the life according to the flesh, the attachment to the world, and the necessary action of this selfishness by means of hatred, may be much hidden, may be craftily covered and with splendid outer surface; but in the secret depth of the man, there, where spring the real fountains of his moral life, is not God but the world; the man is yet in death, and can consequently love nothing but himself and must hate his brother, and then that other Word of the Lord is true, 'He that is not for me is against me' (Luke 11:23). For a man can only be either for or against Christ, and consequently can only have either love or hate towards his brother." Mark the characteristics of this life from which brotherly love is absent, as they are here sketched.
1. Darkness of moral condition. He "is in the darkness" - in it as the element of his moral life.
2. Darkness of moral action He "walketh in the darkness." His course of life and conduct is in keeping with the gloom of error and sin.
3. Darkness as to destination. He "knoweth not whither he goeth." He knows neither the way he is walking in nor the end to which it leads.
4. Darkness of the spiritual being. "The darkness hath blinded his eyes." Persons who have long been imprisoned in darkness have frequently lost their physical vision. So here it is said that the moral darkness in which the sinner dwells has destroyed his spiritual vision; and he walks on in moral night, imagining that he is walking in the light of day (cf. John 9:41). - W.J.
1. That the revelations of redemptive truth are adapted to every season of human life. St. John writes to little children, to young men, and to fathers. To each of these classes the Bible has much to say, and much that is appropriate to each class. The Bible is the book for the little child, for the venerable sage, and for all the intermediate seasons of life.
2. That there should be an appropriate relation between the physical seasons and the spiritual experiences of human life. Some of these seasons and experiences are mentioned in our text; and to these we now turn our attention.
I. AS EXPERIENCE COMMON TO ALL CHRISTIANS. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his Name's sake." In this place we regard the "little children" as addressed to all the apostle's readers, irrespective of age. The word which he uses τεκνία is employed seven times in this Epistle, and always as comprehending the whole of his readers.
1. The great blessing enjoyed. "Your sins are forgiven you." This forgiveness is an accomplished fact, and is realized by the Christian as a present blessing. And how great a blessing it is! He who receives it is set free from the guilt of his sins, delivered from their condemnation, exempted from their punishment; and there is imparted to him a blessed consciousness of the favour of God - "the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost." Dr. Maclaren has well said, "Not putting up the rod, but taking your child to your heart, is your forgiveness And pardon is the open heart of God, full of love, unaverted by any consequences of my sin, unclosed by any of my departures from him."
2. The medium through which the blessing is obtained. "For his Name's sake." The Name is that of Jesus Christ, the Saviour and the Anointed of God. The Name is suggestive of all his work for us and for our salvation - his perfect redemptive work, with which the Father was well pleased. We have forgiveness and "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. AN EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO CHILDHOOD. "I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father." The word used for "children" παιδία here is not the same as that in the preceding verse; and we think, with Ebrard, that the apostle does not now address all his readers, but those only who were children in age. One of the first indications of the intelligence of a child is its recognition of its father. Very early in life the heart of the child knows its father. Not as the result of teaching or reasoning, but in the natural unfolding of its powers it makes the recognition. And those who are children in the Christian life know God as their Father, not by evidences or arguments, but by the trust and love of their heart, which have been awakened through Jesus Christ. They know him as their Father, not only because they are his creatures, but by the gracious, loving, tender relations which he sustains to them, and by the existence and exercise of the filial spirit in themselves. They have "received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father." It seems to us that "little children" in many cases apprehend and realize the Divine Fatherhood more clearly and fully than Christians of mature age; and that they do so because their faith in him is simpler and stronger.
III. AS EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO YOUNG MANHOOD. "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one."
1. The possession of spiritual strength. "Ye are strong." Strength should characterize young manhood. Strength of body is a good thing; strength of mind is better; strength of soul is best. Spiritual strength is the strength of confidence in God, of love to God and to man, of worthy purposes, of righteous principles, and of vital accord with truth. And this strength finds expression in patient endurance, and earnest labour, and resolute resistance to wrong and battling for the right. The last aspect of this strength is probably prominent in the clause under consideration. The young men were strong in moral conflict, The interpretation is confirmed by the use of the same word in Luke 11:21," When the strong man armed," etc.; and in Hebrews 11:34, "Waxed valiant in fight," or, as in the Revised Version, "mighty in war." And this strength is derived through Jesus Christ. Apart from him we can do nothing. We can do all things in him that strengtheneth us. "Therefore be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
2. The possession of Divine truth. "The Word of God abideth in you." The Word of God is the revelation of his mind and will which he had made to man, with perhaps special reference to the gospel. They had received this Word, and it was prized by them; they retained it as a treasure (cf. Psalm 119:162). It dwelt within them
(1) as an illuminating force (cf. Psalm 19:7; Psalm 119:105, 130; Proverbs 6:23);
(2) as a regulative force (cf. Psalm 37:31; Psalm 119:1-11, 101).
3. The attainment of spiritual victory. "Ye have overcome the evil one," i.e., Satan. He is the wicked one, "because the first in wickedness, because most industriously wicked, and because most obstinate and persevering in wickedness." St. John cannot mean that the young men had completely and finally vanquished Satan. He does not so readily accept and submit to defeat, but renews his attacks again and again. The apostle writes of the victory achieved in conversion. There is a sense in which all who have become new creatures in Christ Jesus are already conquerors of the wicked one. They are "delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Colossians 1:13; and cf. chapter 1 John 5:18). As Alford says," Whatever conflict remains for them afterwards, is with a baffled and conquered enemy."
IV. AN EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO MATURE MANHOOD. "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning," i.e., Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1). The appropriate occupation of age is not conflict, but contemplation; not stormy strife, but serene meditation; to penetrate mere deeply into the heart of truth, to get clearer and deeper visions of the Eternal and the Divine, to know more and more of Jesus Christ, and of God in Christ. Maturity in the knowledge of Christ is becoming in Christian fathers. "The whole sum of Christian ripeness and experience is this knowledge of 'thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.'" Let each of these classes addressed by St. John seek to realize its own appropriate experience. - W.J.
I. How ADDRESSED.
1. First time,
(1) Generally. "I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his Name's sake." In accordance with verse 1, we are to understand by "little children" all his readers. It is a designation expressive of affection more than of subordination. Christians are addressed according to their fundamental position. What we need first of all is to have our sins forgiven. As unforgiven, our position is fundamentally wrong; we lie under the Divine condemnation. As forgiven, our position is fundamentally right; we come into the Divine favour. The ground on account of which we are forgiven is here said to be his Name (Christ's), i.e., what he is declared to be. Because he is declared to be Saviour, to be the Source of all atoning virtue, by believing on him as such we have our sins forgiven by the Father. Those who are thus forgiven can be appealed to against the encroachments of the world.
(2) Older section. "I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning." While all Christians are forgiven, they are divided into the class of the fathers and the class of the young men. There are those who have been a long time Christians. These, the fathers, are addressed as having the fruit of experience. They know him which is from the beginning, viz. Christ. They have a large amount of peculiarly Christian experience. They know him who best reveals the deep things of God, who was at the beginning, and entered into the Divine counsels about redemption. They know the love of him who, having an unbeginning existence and glory, entered into time and into the midst of sinful men, and devoted himself in shame and anguish and death - the love this which passeth knowledge. Those who have attained to this experience may well be appealed to against thinking of substituting for it a more worldly experience.
(3) Younger section. "I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one." There are those who have not been a long time Christians. These, the young men, are addressed as having victory, the prize of strength. They have not had time for experience, but are in the midst of the conflicts which give rise to experience. Their adversary is here called the evil one, i.e., one who, as the great impersonation and champion of evil, heartily wishes their destruction, and seeks, by all stirrings within and solicitations from without, to compass their destruction. Especially are they exposed to his assaults as having, in their youth, strong passions and illusionary views of life, without the counterpoise of experience. But Christ has always his representatives among the young men. They have not been deterred by their powerful adversary from taking up their position on his side, and showing an active interest in his cause. These youthful victors may well be appealed to against thinking of throwing away victory for the sake of a few worldly pleasures.
2. Seceded time.
(1) Generally. "I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father." There is not the same Greek word here for "little children" that there is in the twelfth verse. It is a word which points to his hearers not so much as objects of his affection, as placed under his authority and care. There is not sufficient reason for destroying the symmetry of the passage, and supposing the reference to be to those who are literally little children. These are an interesting class, for whom Christ cared separately when he said, "Feed my lambs;" but they are to be regarded here as falling under the class of the young men. For even the little children may win victories over the evil one, by taking up their position on the side of Christ, and standing by his side in all that he requires of resistance to evil, and, beyond that, though their equipment is but small, of aggression on evil. Christians, both old and young, are addressed according to what essentially belongs to them. Being forgiven, they also know the Father, i.e., they have been adopted into his family, have his authority and loving care exercised over them, and are endeavouring to fulfill their duties to him as their Father. That is the basis on which their life goes forward, and they may well be appealed to against taking a worldly basis for their life.
(2) Older section "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning." In writing to the fathers there is no change in his language. We need no new object of knowledge; for the knowledge of Christ comprehends all that we can know. What we need is to have our knowledge of him deepened, extended, cleared, ordered into a more complete whole; and this admits of endless progress. When we have known Christ for years, do we feel that we have exhausted the meaning of his words and his love? The fathers, then, may well be appealed to a second time, not to go aside, like the first human pair, to a forbidden knowledge.
(3) Younger section. "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one." In writing to the young men, to the fact of victory he adds the conditions of victory. The immediate condition of victory is strength. The condition of strength is the indwelling of the Word of God. When Christ was in his youthful conflict he opposed a decisive word from the Old Testament to the devil's lie. Three times he conquered by the use of the same means. Young men are to have their inexperience and rawness made up to them by their grasp of what God has spoken. The Word as a whole, and in its parts, must be in them - in their memory, in their understanding, in their heart - ready for use. And when the needed word is brought up clearly before them, they are rendered invulnerable. Young men who have felt this to be the secret of their strength may well be appealed to not to allow the strength they have acquired to be sapped by worldly compliance.
II. HOW WARNED.
1. Worldliness forbidden. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." We must connect with the world here the idea of that which is abnormal, or separated from God. But we are not to think of the morally corrupt world, the world that lieth in the evil one. We are to think of the world of created good as apart from God; for it is represented as passing away. What, then, is to be our feeling, the feeling of all Christians - for there is now no distinction of old and young - or rather, what is not to be our feeling with regard to the world? The feeling which is most peremptorily vetoed is that of love. Some would say, "Love not the world too much;" what the writer of this Epistle says is, "Love it not at all." Nay, he is yet more explicit. With regard to the various things which constitute the world, as though each passed before him in succession, he says, with the same peremptoriness, "Love them not at all."
2. Worldliness incompatible with love to God. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Earthly things, such as a living, money, art, office, may be sought legitimately and worthily in connection with God. But when they are sought as complete, as ends in themselves, they become rivals to God, and love to them can only be cherished at the expense of love to God. Love to the world and love to the Father (who adopts us in Christ) are so contrary that one heart cannot contain them both.
3. Three aspects of the worldliness that cannot be traced to God. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." We have not here all sin; for such sins as hatred of the brethren, heresy, spiritual pride, are not included; we have only three aspects of one sin, viz. worldliness. "The flesh" points to that in which worldly enjoyment has its scat; "the eyes" point to means by which there is a ministering to worldly enjoyment; "life" (means of living) points to there being guarantee of worldly enjoyment. Within the flesh there is the stirring of desire for worldly enjoyment; the eyes are ministers to the flesh, presenting objects for desire. Objects not desired, but possessed beyond what we can appropriate of them for worldly enjoyment, produce a feeling of vain-glory. All this stirring within the flesh, this desiring through the eyes, this gloating over possession, has no high origin; it is not of the Father, but of the world.
4. Worldliness linked to the transient, not to the abiding. "And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The transitoriness of the world is brought in as a dissuasive from worldliness. There is a constant flux in earthly things, and the pleasures connected with them are momentary.
"But pleasures are like poppies spread -
Or like the borealis race,
I. THE APOSTOLIC PROHIBITION. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
1. The world is not the material universe. This is a creation of God, and it vividly illustrates some of his infinite perfections. "The heavens declare the glory of God," etc. (Psalm 19:1-6). The light is the garment in which he robes himself (Psalm 104:2). The fertility of the earth is an illustration of his bounty and beneficence. A divinely inspired poet, having surveyed the creations of God, exclaimed, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." We read, "The Lord shall rejoice in his works." There is in nature endless significance for our instruction, much that is vast and sublime to awe us, much that is beautiful to delight us, much that is bountiful to supply our needs, and much to lead our thoughts to God. There is a sense in which we may love this beautiful creation, and with all the more of warmth because our Father made it and sustains it!
2. The world is not the world of men as such, or mankind. It is not the world of John 3:16, "God so loved the world," etc. With the love of benevolence and pity God loved the world of sinful men. And we should cherish feelings of kindness and pity for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ - should love them as God loved the world.
3. The world here is the world of sinners as distinguished from those that are true Christians, or, as Ebrard expresses it, "unchristian humanity." By "the world" St. John does not mean the material, but the moral world, the heathen world. In his view, as Dr. Culross says, "the world is in sin. Its sinful condition is variously represented. It is in darkness; it knows not God; it finds his commandments grievous; it lies in wickedness; it is in death - not merely exposed to it as a penalty, but in it as a condition. The 'things' of it are such as these - 'the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.'... The 'world' of John's day we know, as to its actual condition, from other sources. Let any one turn over the pages of Tacitus, Juvenal, Martial, or Persius, with their often-unconscious disclosures of prevailing licentiousness and cruelty; and what he learns will put 'colour' into John's outlines. The same world - at heart - we still find in the present century, under modern conditions. It has grown in wealth. It has become civilized and refined. Law has become a mightier thing. The glory of science was never half so bright. But, looking close in, we still find the old facts - a dislike of God and love of sin, pride and self-sufficiency, a godless and selfish use of things, men 'hating one another,' selfishness fighting selfishness, an infinite mass of misery." "Neither the things that are in the world,... the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life." By "the lust of the flesh "we understand the inordinate desire for sensual indulgences, the longing for the gratification of the carnal appetites. How prevalent is this lust! We see it in the epicure, in the wine-bibber, and in others in still coarser and more degrading forms. It is most terrible in its effects upon the soul. "The lust of the eyes," interpreted by the aid of other Scriptures, seems to mean the eager desire of possession directed towards temporal and material goods, or covetousness. It is not the desire to look upon pleasing, or beautiful, or sublime things, which is here condemned, but the sinful look of avarice. In confirmation of this view, see Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 27:20; Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Luke 14:18, 19. Probably there is also a reference to the feeling of hatred and the desire of revenge, as indicated in Psalm 17:11; Psalm 54:7; Psalm 91:8; Psalm 92:11. "The vain-glory of life" is "the lust of shining and making a boasting display." It points to that which is so prevalent in our day - the desire for grand houses, and costly furniture, and fine horses and carriages, and rich and fashionable dresses; the effort to give luxurious parties and splendid entertainments, and to outshine our neighbours in our mode of life. These things are of the world, worldly; and- these things Christians are exhorted not to love.
II. THE REASON OF THIS PROHIBITION. The reason, is twofold.
1. Because the love of the world excludes the love of God. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Man cannot love the holy Father and the unchristian world. These two affections cannot coexist in one heart. Either of them, by its very nature, excludes the other. And "the things that are in the world," the love of which is prohibited, are "not of the Father, but of the world." They do not proceed from him; they are utterly opposed to his character and will; and, therefore, affection to them cannot dwell in the heart that loves him. Sensuality and covetousness and vain-glory are irreconcilably opposed to love to God.
2. Because the world and worldly things are transient. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." "The world" is still the unchristian world. It has in it no elements of permanence. The darkness of moral error and sin must recede before the onward march of the light of truth and holiness. The principles and words which oppose the Church of God are transient; they are passing away. Shall we set our hearts upon such fleeting things? And the lusts of the world are evanescent also. The gratifications of the flesh and. of the senses quickly cease. The things which many so eagerly desire and pursue, the pleasures and riches, the honours and vain shows of this world, are passing away like dreams of the night. And even the appetite for some of these things fails. The time comes when the desire for sensual gratifications ceases. Indulgence in the pleasures of the world tends to destroy the capacity for enjoying them. When that time comes, the man of the world, sated, wearied, disappointed, regards these things bitterly and cynically, finding that he has wasted heart and life upon them. Therefore let us not love them. But, on the other hand, "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The doing of his will is the evidence and expression of our love to him. Here, as so frequently in the writings of St. John, we see the importance of action. It is not love in profession that is blessed, but love in practice. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." It is not the creed that is commended, but the conduct. He who thus acts out his love to God abides for ever. He is connected with a stable order of things. He is vitally related to God himself, and is an heir of immortal and blessed life. He is now a participator in the life of Christ; and to all his disciples he gives the great assurance, "Because I live, ye shall live also." By all these considerations let us not love the unchristian, unsatisfying, and perishing world; but through our Lord Jesus Christ, let us seek to love the Father with an ever-growing affection. - W.J.
I. PERIOD OF ANTICHRIST. "Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour." The apostle addresses his readers with the authority of age and experience. He has been referring to the transitoriness of the world; from that he passes to the last hour. What was designated in Old Testament times the age to come, extending from the Incarnation to the second coming, is here called not "the last age," or "the last days," but, more strongly, "the last hoar," to emphasize the fact that we know not the hour when the present order of things is to terminate. The solemnity of the end is fitted to have a salutary impression; and it is kept dark, that we may always have the feeling of its being the last hour. The present era is for the Christian manifestation; but opposed to it is the antichristian manifestation. John is the only New Testament writer who uses the term "antichrist." Paul's designation is "he who opposeth himself." Antichrist is more than Opposer; he is one who opposes under the guise of Christ. He is one who would supplant Christ by assuming to be and to do what Christ is and does. Our Lord had said that many would come in his name, saying, "I am Christ." This was doubtless the foundation for the teaching about the coming of antichrist. John follows the Master in referring to a plurality of antichrists. It would seem to follow that the personal element changes; the spirit remains. Those who represent separate anti-christian manifestations are antichrists; the whole of these manifestations, personally represented, is antichrist. In the apostle's day there were not wanting quasi-Christian movements; they are not wanting still. When Christianity is active, attempts are made to meet the demand it makes, with something spurious, resembling Christianity, but not really Christianity. There is a displacing of Christ by priestly pretension, by the multiplication of rites, by the authority of the Church, by the merits of the saints; or there is, on the other hand, an explaining away of the Incarnation and the substitution, hero-worship, the gospel of mere science. Such antichristian developments, however much to be regretted, are only to be expected. John would seem to say that they are the writhings of the last hour, the rising up of evil against him by whom it is being destroyed, increasing in bitterness as the end approaches.
II. RELATION OF THE ANTICHRISTS TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest how that they all are not of us." The same idea is brought out by Paul when he describes the development as an apostasy, i.e., a falling away from the Christian position once occupied. The leaders were apostates, perverts, men who used the intellectual quickening, general enlightenment, and even the forms of thought they had got from Christianity, against its essential principles. The leaving of the Christian society by the antichrists of John's day was to be accounted for by their not being animated by the common sentiment, or rather, as it is put, by their not being sustained in their life from the society, but from some other source. They had never been able to say that all their springs were in the Church (Psalm 87:7). If they had thus derived from the Church, they would have remained in the Church. But not being the Church's true progeny and upbringing, they went out. By this there was served a good probationary purpose. Their true character and position were clearly brought out. They were known as persons whom the Church did not own. It is well, when there is so much life in Christian societies, that those who are not of them feel the necessity of going out. It is well, also, when it is made clear with whom we have to do.
III. CONFIDENCE IN THE CHRISTIAN DISCERNMENT OF HIS READERS. "And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth." Christ has not left his people without suitable provision against deception. He is here called the Holy One; and we may conclude that his own holiness has to do with his discernment. It is through his own holy experience, acquired in this world, that he sees things. And so it is the good who have true discernment. "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." Without holy experience, intellectual giants and the most successful men of business are blind. Christ's provision is closely allied to his own name, viz. chrism. It is he who is himself the Christ, the Anointed of God, that supplies the chrism, the anointing oil for his people. After the tabernacle had been constructed, it had to be consecrated by the application, to all its parts and furniture, of the holy anointing oil, for the preparation of which special instructions were given. When Samuel poured the vial of oil on Saul's head he said, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee." The anointing of David is thus described: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." What was conferred on prophets and priests and kings is now conferred on Christians, viz. the anointing Spirit. The Spirit gives us a pure, deep, rich experience through which we can see things. We are here described ideally, as those who, with the anointing of the Spirit, know all things. As we are said to be omnipotent within the sphere of our doing, so we are said to be omniscient within the sphere of our knowing. As in the one case we must think of what is proper for us to do, so in the other case we must think of what is proper for us to know. We are to regard this as guarantee against deception. "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." But it is not possible with what provision we have secured to us. There is no false appearance beneath which it is impossible for us to see, no truth into which it is impossible for us to penetrate. In writing, John recognized the favoured condition of his readers as qualified to know the truth, and to detect every lie as belonging to another category.
IV. ANTICHRIST DEFINED. "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also." Having recognized their power to detect every lie (passing from the abstract), he asks vividly, "Who is the liar?" i.e., the utterer of the supreme lie, the denier of truth by pre-eminence? His answer is virtually a definition of antichrist, viz. "he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ." Jesus was a historical Person, who had been seen, heard, handled; what was to be predicated of him? As there was a definiteness about Jesus, so there was a definiteness about the Christ, or the Messiah, i.e., there were certain ideas which the Old Testament put into the word, and which the Jews were trained to associate with it. There were these ideas in the Jewish mind as to the work of the Messiah - that he would tell all things (John 4:25), that he would be a King, that he would be the Saviour of the world (John 4:42), in a word, meet all spiritual need. There were these ideas as to his Person - that it would not be known whence he was (John 7:27), that he would abide for ever (John 12:34), that he would be the Son of God (John 1:49). These ideas were far from being distinctly or consistently held; but they were founded on the Old Testament. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ, it was according to the pure Old Testament conception. The distinguishing part of the conception was his being the Son of God. This was understood by Peter (Matthew 16:16), and also by the high priest (Matthew 26:63). The liar here is defined to be he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ; and then this denier of Christ - named antichrist - is regarded as denying therewith the Father and the Son. The antichristian lie, then, comes to be the denial of the Incarnation, which is the key-note of the Epistle, viz. the union of the Son of God and man. The Jewish antichrist refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, declared him to be an impostor, and thus set aside the Incarnation. The Gnostic antichrist, which is more pointed at here, taught that the aeon, Christ, descended on the man Jesus at his baptism, and left him before the Passion. The antichrist is not confined to one shape or to two shapes, but is protean; its inmost character, however, always is the setting aside of the Incarnation. If God has not formed the connection with humanity, which is pointed to in the Incarnation, then his Fatherhood is not revealed; and we do not have the Father, i.e., possess him in living fellowship. Denying the Incarnation, we cannot have the joy of the thought that he has gone the length of sacrificing his Son for us. But, confessing God Incarnate, we have the joy of the Son dying for us, and of the Father giving him up to the death for us.
V. ADVANTAGE OF HOLDING TO THE CHRISTIAN POSITION. "As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal." That which they heard from the beginning was the truth about the Incarnation. If that abode in them, constantly mingled with their being, then they would also abide in the Son and in the Father - would have constant communion, not only with the incarnate Son, but with his Father. The promise contained in the Incarnation is the life eternal. What could such condescending love mean but that, in communion with the Son and the Father, we should have our highest well-being inalienably secured to us? Let, then, the Incarnation dwell in our minds. Let it elevate our conception of God; let it touch our hearts; let it be motive-power to our wills. According as it takes possession of us do we advance toward the goal of our being.
VI. RENEWED EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN HIS HEARERS. "These things have I written unto you concerning' them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him." The antichristian teachers were busy at their work, trying to lead them astray. That was his motive for writing to them as he had done. He did not thereby intend to convey any want of confidence in them. They had immediate communication with Christ, access to his thoughts through the reception of the anointing Spirit. The anointing abiding in them made them independent of any human teacher such as he was. Christ was present, in his Spirit, to teach them as every new occasion required - to teach them what was truth and what was no lie, to teach them always in the way of opening up the meaning of the original message. Thus taught by his Spirit, they abode in him, notwithstanding the attempts to lead them astray. This doctrine does not exclude new developments; but these must be developments of the original teaching. We have thus a safeguard against extravagances. We are not to despise human helps; but it is well that we can all have the truth witnessed in our minds. Our teachers are not intended to see for us (which is the Roman Catholic idea), but to help us to see for ourselves.
VII. EXHORTATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR KNOWLEDGE, IN WHICH TRANSITION IS MADE TO A NEW SECTION. "And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not he ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." In this hortatory part he addresses them, not as under his care, but rather as objects of his warm affection. They knew, as we have seen, how to abide in Christ; let them, then, abide in him. It was a great fact that Christ was to be manifested, i.e., in glory, though there was uncertainty as to the time of the manifestation. What was their relation to that manifestation? Were they prepared, the moment of its occurrence, to pass into his presence with boldness, and not "as a guilty thing surprised," to shrink with shame from him? They knew what was required. It was a requirement founded on what they knew God to he, viz. righteous. "The righteousness of God is the Divine attribute of an active nature, by virtue of which God wills and performs all things which are conformable to his eternal Law, prescribes suitable laws to his creatures, implements his premises made to man, rewards the good, and punishes the ungodly." The requirement, then (to which there is no exception), is doing righteousness, i.e., actively fulfilling our duties. The inner abiding in Christ must pass into the outer life of God-defined and God-like activity. Only thus can we show ourselves to be begotten of God - with which idea the new section begins. - R.F.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS BLESSING. "Ye have an anointing from the Holy One." The "unction," or "anointing," does not signify the act of anointing, but the material which is used in the anointing - the oil, or ointment, or unguent. Here it denotes the Holy Spirit, whom the Christians to whom St. John was writing had received. Prophets, priests, and kings were anointed, and Christians are spoken of in the New Testament as "kings and priests" (Revelation 1:6); but we cannot see in our text any reference to either of these aspects of Christian character and life. The apostle is rather contrasting his readers, who had received the anointing from the Holy One, with the antichrists, who were opposed to the Anointed. As Alford expresses it, "The apostle sets his readers, as χριστούς, anointed of God, over against the ἀντίχριστοι." They possessed the Holy Spirit. He was within them as their Teacher, Comforter, Sanctifier. This blessing is of unspeakable and inestimable worth.
II. THE SOURCE OF THIS BLESSING. "Ye have an anointing from the Holy One;" i.e., Jesus Christ. In verse 1 St. John speaks of him as "the Righteous." In 1 John 3:3 he says that "he is pure." St. Peter said to him, "We know that thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6:69). And he afterwards spake of him as "the Holy and Righteous One" (Acts 3:14). And he spake of himself to "his servant John" as "he that is holy, he that is true" (Revelation 3:7). He baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). He sends the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is ascribed to him (Acts 2:33). Therefore we conclude that he, our Lord and Saviour, is the Holy One from whom Christians receive the anointing; i.e., the Holy Spirit.
III. THE EFFECT OF THIS BLESSING. "Ye know all things And ye need not that any one teach you." The "all things" calmer, of course, mean all things in science and art, in history and philosophy. An examination of the context will lead us to the true meaning. In verse 20 St. John says, "Ye know all things;" in verse 21 and the next sentence he says, "Ye know the truth;" and in the following verse and the next sentence he shows what the truth of which he had spoken is, viz. "that Jesus is the Christ." By the "all things," then, the apostle means "the truth... that Jesus is the Christ." All things in the Christian system are comprised in that one great fact. "He who knows this one thing," says Ebrard, "that Jesus is the Christ, knows already in that one thing all; there is no most distant height or depth of truth which is not contained or involved in that simple proposition." This interpretation includes other interpretations which are not so clearly drawn from the context; e.g., Alford, "All things needful for right action in the matter under consideration;" Barnes, "All things which it is essential that you should know on the subject of religion;" and others, "All things necessary to salvation." These and others are comprised in the knowledge "that Jesus is the Christ." This knowledge they attained by means of "an unction from the Holy One." We do not understand that the Holy Spirit had communicated unto them new truths, or directly revealed any truth to them. But by reason of his influence they saw the truths which they had received, more clearly, and grasped them more firmly. This is well illustrated by Dr. Chalmers: The Spirit "does not tell us anything that is out of the record; but all that is within it he sends home with clearness and effect upon the mind. When a telescope is directed to some distant landscape, it enables us to see what we could not otherwise have seen; but it does not enable us to see anything which has not a real existence in the prospect before us. The natural eye saw nothing but blue land stretching along the distant horizon. By the aid of the glass there bursts upon it a charming variety of fields, and woods, and spires, and villages. Yet who would say that the glass added one feature to this assemblage? And so of the Spirit. He does not add a single truth or a single character to the book of revelation. He enables the spiritual man to see what the natural man cannot see; but the spectacle which he lays open is uniform and immutable. It is the Word of God which is ever the same." So the Holy Spirit had brought into clear and impressive light the things which they to whom this letter is addressed had learned from the sacred Scriptures and from St. John and other Christian teachers, and had enabled them to realize their importance and power. And as a matter of fact, in our own day we see persons whose educational advantages have been of the slightest, whose powers and opportunities for study have been must limited, who yet have a clear and comprehensive acquaintance with the essential truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the reason of this is, they "have an anointing from the Holy One," they are enlightened by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:26; John 16:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 2:13-16). But St. John writes further, "Ye need not that any one teach you" - a statement on which Alford remarks, "His assertions here are so many delicate exhortations, veiled under the declaration of their true ideal state of unction with the Holy Spirit who guides into all truth. If that unction were abiding in them in all its fullness, they would have no need for his or any other teaching." The reference is to their knowledge of the great comprehensive truth "that Jesus is the Christ." They were not dependent upon any one for teaching concerning this vital and fundamental fact. But generally speaking, "the Divine unction does not supersede ministerial teaching, but surmounts it."
IV. THE OBLIGATION OF THIS BLESSING. More fully stated this is the obligation which is inseparable from the possession of this anointing from the Holy One. "Abide in him," i.e., in Christ, as the context clearly shows. The person spoken of in verses 27 and 28 is evidently the Lord Jesus. The exhortation to abide in him is based on the assurance that the anointing which they had received abode in them (verse 27). The "in him" must not be toned down to his doctrine, or his system, or anything of that kind. "In him" by the exercise of the faith of the heart, by the attachment of holy love, by intimate and reverent communion with him, and by participation in his life and spirit. Thus are we to abide in him (cf. John 15:4-7). From our subject we learn:
1. That the illumination of the Holy Spirit is indispensable to a clear and correct apprehension of the great truths of Christianity. "Words and syllables," says Cudworth, "which are but dead things, cannot possibly convey the living notions of heavenly truths to us. The secret mysteries of a Divine life, of a new nature, of Christ formed in our hearts, they cannot be written or spoken; language and expressions cannot reach them; neither can they be ever truly understood, except the soul itself be kindled from within, and awakened into the life of them" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
2. That the "anointing from the Holy One" - the influence and presence of the Holy Spirit within us - is a preservative against the seductions of error. "If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father.... but the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you," etc.
3. That the possession of this Divine preservative is not an encouragement to presumption, but a reason for perseverance. Because the anointing which they received of Christ abode in them, St. John exhorts his readers to "abide in him." - W.J.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com