William Kelly Major Works Commentary
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:1 John Chapter 2
1 John 2:1-2.
My dear children, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin. And if any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ [the] righteous; and he is [the] propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the whole world."
These two verses properly belong to the first chapter; they are its necessary supplement. Though there is the connecting particle in the beginning of the third verse, it loads to a new subject - the application of the truth that is in the first chapter, in ways of the greatest importance and of deep interest, to guard souls from self-deception and error. These verses remain untouched at present. But we have ample matter for our searching into the word, and the meditation of our souls, in the two verses immediately before us.
We have seen that the first chapter consists of two parts: the outflow of the love of the Father in the Incarnate Son flowing from divine grace, without cause from without - save our sins! The energy of His nature is love; and the purity of His nature is conveyed by the expressive figure - word "light." What word could suit His purpose so well? Thus it was written for our instruction, and meant not to be beyond our comprehension under the Holy Spirit's succour. For there is no element which refuses corruption more than light, as it is also in itself absolutely pure; at any rate, the light of God's nature is. Such is the portion in God's grace, His nature, we receive as Christians; and this is what the apostle was led to tell them when the church outwardly was becoming a wreck. Here we see that it was so then: this Epistle itself proves it. The worst form of evil that can be conceived in Christendom is what is called "antichrist;" and at this time there were "many antichrists." There are many more now. Thus God took care that at any rate the germ of the very worst evil should be thoroughly out before the last apostle wrote, in order that there might be a divine pronouncement on its evil and its danger. It was not to be left to spiritual judgment alone, although this is surely required for any profit through the word of God. But we have God's authority expressed in His word: no inference even, no argument of men, no result of the saints' experience; but what directly commends itself on God's authority to the conscience and the confidence of every child of His. He by His word therefore took care, in His wisdom, that as all these evils were to be, the very worst of them should be in existence for God to designate and condemn it before His saints.
Hence it is that this Epistle has a very peculiar character. It is not like the Second to the Thessalonians, looking to another epoch which is not present, at that which had not arrived but must be before the day of the Lord - the apostasy or "the falling away." The apostasy means the abandonment of Christianity altogether, and as this will surely come, one of the evil factors in bringing it to pass is what is strangely called the "higher criticism." It is the preparation of men for that unbelief which will be far more thorough, complete, and undisguised. And where is the honesty of officials, whose very position is to maintain the authority of God's word, reaping earthly honour and emolument from the very thing which they are undermining, and which they ought to, if they do not, know they are undermining? But that apostasy is future; whereas antichrists were already come. It was the "last time," and the sign of the last time was "many antichrists;" and here they were. It was not merely the future evil. The antichrist is coming, but many antichrists are the precursors of the antichrist.
But in the verses which are now before us it is a much more general evil. It is, alas! what has to be taken into account as to every professing Christian. The flesh is enmity against God, a near and constant danger, because it affords a ready handle to the enemy to act upon, and to act upon it not merely in those that have nothing but flesh, but in those who, although themselves in the Spirit, have the flesh in them. It is true that they are distinctly said not to be in the flesh, that is, they are by faith in Christ delivered from the flesh; they have got another nature altogether new, and are not left helplessly in the old. There is adequate power in the Holy Spirit to keep every saint of God from sinning.
We know as matters of fact that we may sin, and that we all often stumble; but it is our own fault. Hence the believer is the one that ought to be ready, and I might say glad, to vindicate God against himself. It is humiliating, truly; but, dear brethren, have we not derived blessing, and great blessing, from what humbles us? There is not a single trial of the sort, however unhappy it may be, however painful, however unjust sometimes, but, if accepted from God, is by His grace turned for good. "All things work together for good to those that love God, to the called according to purpose." And we know that as every good gift and every perfect giving come from the Father of lights, so we are inexcusable when we misrepresent Him; for we are His children, and are called to keep up the family character.
Hence therefore the apostle ought not to be mistaken when, in the second part of the first chapter, he shows the marvellous starting-point of the believer. For the seventh verse, so much and widely misunderstood, really refers to the standing of the believer. It is constantly turned to his de facto conduct, to the actuality of his walk; whereas it is the character of the walk that is normal to us, because we have eternal life; and further, because that eternal life has both the powerful guard and the ground of infinite comfort in the sacrifice of Christ. "But if we walk in the light:" it is an abstract statement applicable to the Christian if he is one. This is enough to show the perversity of such an understanding of it. In reality no question is raised of an actual point of time or fact in a believer's walk, but of its character according to God.
This is precisely what our apostle is so happy in presenting, and so constant in applying to us. "If we walk in the light" means in effect if we are Christians, if we have seen the light of life, if we are following Christ. It is the Lord who says, "He that followeth Him shall not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). Does He mean that this belongs only to some saints? He asserts it to be true of every one that follows Him; "he shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." Great as the privilege is, it is wholly of divine grace, and in no way attainment through our fidelity; it is solely the fruit of God's incomparable goodness, that even now as believers we have to do directly with God as He is. And where is God known as He is? In the light; certainly not in the dark but in the light. There it is that we not only have eternal life, but along with it we walk in the light, instead of in darkness like a heathen. Fallen man walks in the darkness necessarily, because he does not know God. The believer walks in the light, because he does know God, having seen Christ, the light of life; and this light of life is not merely a little gleam which soon vanishes away; it is a perfect and a constant light. The true light already shines, and where does it shine? On the Christian, and into his very heart. The apostle Paul even adds "the light of the glory," because he is occupied with Christ on high; but here it is rather the light of life in Christ, the true light of the divine nature. Hence, when we are converted and rest upon redemption, where are we brought? Not yet to heaven, but "brought to God" (1 Peter 3:18). And is God darkness? "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Therein it is that we walk.
People confound walking in the light with walking according to the light; but this is quite another thing. For if you say "we walk according to the light," it means practical conduct; but if it is said "we walk in the light," it is where we are brought by our Lord Jesus Christ - to God, walking from that moment till we are with Him where that light has absolutely no hindrance more. Here we are surrounded with till kinds of drawbacks, obstructions, and dangers from the flesh, the world, and the devil. Yet by faith we walk in the light of God's presence already.
The Enemy has what one may call a personal spite against the Son, the Lord Jesus, in particular. From the first too Satan had a spite against man, as God had a compassionate and tender feeling for man. And no wonder, since it was the purpose of the godhead, that the Son would become Man. But besides mere man was of interest to God. He was a creature of dust only, till God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life - into man alone, and into no other creature on earth; none but the earthly head received in this immediate way the breath of God. Other creatures began to live without anything of the kind, and consequently they perished in death. But not so man; he in dying certainly returns to dust; but what about the breath of God? Therein is the ground for the immortality of the soul. One is not now speaking of the new life of believers, but of the souls of men. If any person denies the immortality of the soul, is he not thus far (and it goes far) an infidel, because he makes man's soul in this respect no more than a dog's? Can anything be a greater affront as well as unbelief, in face of what God has done even to man and for man? No other animal is made in God's image, or after His likeness. So much the more unbelieving and ungrateful in putting a shameless slight on God and His word - the God who has been so good to him, and put such remarkable honour upon the entire race in its head. Man is made to rule. Not even an angel is allowed any such position; they are all servants. No angel will ever wear a crown or sit on a throne, no matter what poets or theologians dream; but those who believe undoubtedly shall. The saints are to reign with Christ.
There is thus what is extremely important even in the creation of man; and Satan's work is to make him a mere creature for present things, shutting his eyes to all that is coming, and thus denying God's word and judgment. Many no doubt are, especially in our day, the varying degrees of infidelity; but its first degree, we may assume, is denying Scripture as God's word, if it be not rejecting His testimony to Christ in the preached gospel; then lowering his immortal soul to a brute's, effacing hell and heaven; and so throughout all the ever darkening clouds of infidelity. But here there is also and always a danger of presumption, for the flesh will abuse anything and everything. The flesh most of all strives to pervert grace, and likes to do so unless there be a new nature. And even where there is that nature, the believer is only kept right by dependence upon God in faith of Christ's work.
On the other hand God is active. If light be the moral nature of God, love is the energy of God's nature going out in goodness, and working with the deepest affection and concern. It is not, abstractly speaking, the case with anything but love. Undoubtedly it is an easy thing to abuse love; and we should not only abuse it occasionally, but go on from bad to worse, were it not that God in Christ is not only life and light, but love. Yea, the Saviour in it died for us and shed His blood to make us whiter than snow in the sight of God, as He is the Advocate that we have with the Father, who is holy and righteous.
You may notice here that the writer is not now pursuing the nature of God as in the latter part of the first chapter. We return to His character as Father, the gracious name of relationship with a Christian. For the grace shown to the Christian is the highest grace that God has ever shown or ever will. His word is now complete. No more revelation is given by God, no further revelation has man to gain. Not only has God brought out His last word and deepest in Christ His Son, but also now the Holy Ghost is here to supply present power. We have not to go to Jerusalem or Samaria, to Rome, Canterbury, or anywhere else, to know the word of God or its meaning. As the Scriptures are the sole standard of the truth, so the Holy Spirit abides in every Christian for this express purpose - to guide into all the truth.
But also this supposes a suited condition of the soul. The high and blessed condition that we find looked at in the early part of the first chapter is fellowship or communion. And Christian communion means sharing the Father's mind and affection, His work, and His purposes, whatever their extent, as concentrated in the object of faith set before us. They are all in the Word personal and in the word written, and they are there for us to apprehend. We learn thus what God has done for us in Christ was what He had in His heart before anything was done; and this as revealed in His own Son, and applied as only the Holy Spirit could. We have the best God could give us, His own everlasting delight in His Son, and that delight now communicated to us. For when He said "This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased," is it not, as another has observed, much more wonderful than to say "In whom you ought to be well pleased?" Even this would have been a great favour as we ought to feel; but there He shares with us the chief joy of His own heart. For God's complacency centres in the Lord Jesus, and all the more because the Son was born of woman, because He deigned to become man - as necessary a thing for our blessing as that He had always been God. There could have been no link with man except through the incarnation of God the Son. And what is it not for God's glory?
It was so not merely that the Lord Jesus Christ came to die. This no doubt is what brings us in, superior to all the disabilities from our sins, and all the consequences of our fallen nature. Yet to enjoy God as He is, to have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, is notoriously left out for the most part by the modern Christian; and is it not the best part? Is it not where believers come short? They think it quite enough if they are saved; or even have a humble hope of being so at last. It is there Calvinism is so incurably hard and selfish. "If I am saved, this is the great matter. To he elect, or not to be, that is the first of questions to be settled." All circles round self. The first question with God is that I should believe on the Lord Jesus. Then the heart can go out fully, naturally to the Father and the Son in the power of the Spirit, not only to all saints, but to all sinners, that they too may believe and be saved.
No; the first question is not my safety. Blessed as it is to be saved, my safety is a small part of what Christianity really is, and still less of divine glory. It is doubtless essential for the believer to begin with, when he receives Christ; and that beginning suffices to show that he had not the smallest desert for any blessing; God gives it free and full to him. But to enjoy His own love, and His delight in the Son of His love, what could give higher joy than this? What is there in heaven greater than that? There will be the absence of all the bad, and the presence of glory; but nothing in heaven exceeds fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Is it not an enigma how a Christian could actually put down on paper that we shall have no fellowship in heaven? Of course, "ecclesiastical" fellowship was not meant; for it would be mere idiocy to talk about such a thing in heaven, however precious on earth. He meant what he said, "No fellowship "; and we may leave it to be, weighed. The wonder is that fellowship with the Father and with the Son should be given us on earth; yet it is only one of God's crowning mercies that we should here be fitted to enjoy it in the Spirit.
But, however blessed the fellowship of the Father and the Son may be, it is easily interrupted; a single foolish thought or word interrupts it. For how could the Father and the Son have fellowship with sin? And we need restoration. For this reason here we have this gracious supplement: "My dear children, these things write I to you that ye may not sin." It was not fear lest they might be lost. There the Calvinist, hard and narrow as he may be, is perfectly right. Life eternal means eternal life, nothing less; but a great deal more than what is commonly drawn from the two words thus put together. They contain far more than many saints and martyrs drew out of these words of God in compass and depth. On the very surface of the words, it is not a question of mere safety. We all know that not a few lively Christians think it is even less than safety; and we are sorry for them. But is there anything too foolish, even if contrary to the word, to gain currency with Christians, save the foundation truth of Christ Himself? God watches as to this the heart and the mind and the tongue of His children. Here it was necessary that there should be no abuse of His incomparable grace, no slight of His adorable person.
The communion with the Father and with His Son, based on eternal life in Christ, fits us for the light, making us capable of walking in the light; and God graciously imparts not merely intelligence but peace, and also fills us with joy. Do you think that most of the children of God really believe that such is their title now, and that this is the mind of their Father about them? Does their practical Christianity at all approach it? "Fulness of joy!" And it is not only here; the same thing is true of Paul's experience and witness.
Look at that experimental Epistle written to the Philippians; yet none other has such joy overflowing on every hand. The apostle both had it in his own heart, and looked for it in the hearts of these saints so beloved of him as he was of them. Indeed he had carried on the work at Philippi, as one may say, in a prison at midnight, and under a great deal of abuse from man, and suffering and shame inflicted upon himself and Silas. In no place did the gospel work commence so manifestly with triumphant songs to God in the midst of sorrow. And God heard them, not only the prisoners as we are told, but God heard; and he answered by an earthquake, the like of which, one safely presumes, never appeared in any other spot since the world began. The effects that followed had a character altogether unprecedented. It loosed all their bands, yet nevertheless not a prisoner escaped, nor was there a life lost, or a limb injured. But the gaoler, waking up, was awakened not only to learn that all his charge was safe, but to something incomparably better: to the Saviour and his own salvation in sovereign grace. Evidently he was a rough, hard, reckless man, as gaolers so often are naturally, in those days undoubtedly. But there he was, a mighty trophy of divine mercy, and a witness of God's answer, not merely in rebuke of abused authority, but to the patient faith of His servants who sang His praise in the prison. And thence rose up to His ear acceptably their songs of joy, which their many stripes made to be all the sweeter. Surely in ordinary circumstances, and in the midst of all the peaceful enjoyment of divine grace and truth, songs ought to be every moment accompanying them in spirit. Not that one means every Christian always singing, but praise going up at all times from their hearts; and so it would surely be if saints had Christianity as it was once for all delivered to their faith, and enjoyed in the spirit, themselves separate from the darkening embargoes of unbelief.
Our verses open with the touching appeal to the loving confidence of those at length addressed as "My dear children." He had abstained from any such endearing term before; now he uses it. "These things write I unto you." Nor is it any longer the appropriate form of joint testimony, "write we;" but here his speech becomes definitely personal; he was writing to each and all of them, as God led yet from himself individually. No doubt he was inspired just as much to say "We write," in the first chapter, as "I write" in the second; but in the first chapter it was what chosen witnesses testified by divine grace, and what all the saints were meant to enjoy to the full. If they could speak to Him in songs at midnight, surely they sang their spiritual songs in the light of mid-day also.
But here it is a serious warning that he enjoins These things write I to you that ye may not sin." Who can wonder that this becomes a personal appeal, and not without need? Why? Sin deeply touches, especially if a saint of His be the one who might thus compromise Him. If we know the gospel, we should believe that eternal life goes right through till time is no more, and eternal life the Christian has, the now communicated life of Christ; as he also has the everlasting redemption of Christ (Hebrews 9:12), not temporal as that of Moses of course was in coming out of Egypt. Like our other Christian privileges, ours is everlasting redemption. In 1 John 2:1 it is no question of such a fear arising as for an Israelite. By grace we are made to feel, as alive with Christ's life and character, for what lowers Christ's name, and grieves the Holy Spirit of God in virtue of whom we were sealed for a day of redemption. And we go further here: "the Father" as such is alleged. For not merely have we now partaken of a divine nature, but we stand in the relationship of children to the Father.
If you think of a poor orphan that never livingly knew its own father or mother, seeing with pain its loss of a tie which bound others together, you could better judge the great blank that must be felt there. Here we are precluded from any such feelings. Not only have we a divine nature which is given by grace to abide through every strain and difficulty; but our title holds good as having received Christ to be children of His Father and ours. And what is sin in His sight? Nothing less than a direct stroke at God's nature. The nearness of our relationship only aggravates the insult done to God. It is one acting in his own will, against God's will, for that is the true character of sin; not a transgression of the law, as wrongly in the Authorised Version of 1 John 3:4. So theologians have mistakenly made him say, because they are all apt to sink more or less under the law. What the apostle really wrote there is, that sin is lawlessness. This is both larger and deeper than a breach of the law. Such breaches might be by a Jew under carelessness or provocation without realising God's authority in it; whereas lawlessness has an awful character. Hence Gentiles who know not the law are characteristically thus guilty, so that "lawless" is used to describe them. But this is the definition of sin revealed to the Christian: "Sin is lawlessness." Transgression of the law is sin; but the converse is not true; for sin has a far wider bearing; it is lawlessness, unrestrained self-will.
Here therefore, after all this unfolding of a divine fellowship and divine nature, the apostle with earnest affection writes to his dear children that they should not sin. If I sin, far from the exercise of life eternal, I affront in the deepest may the love of the Father and of the Son; and I violate the moral nature of God Himself. It is not merely a broach of the law given by Moses to Israel, momentous as this is in itself, and of deep value for everybody that knew it. The commandment is holy, just, and good; but we, even if we had been Christian Jews, died with Christ to the law, and are brought into another standing altogether; for we are under grace, and not under law. Such is the revealed position of the believer since our Lord died and rose. And consequently, as Satan is ever alert to entrap the Christian to His Lord's shame, we read, "These things write I to you that ye may not sin." Few, but very solemn words! and the marked simplicity and tenderness with which they are introduced add to their weight. "And if any one sin." "Man" might give the idea of a generality not at all intended, for there "man" is not expressed in the case at all. "If any one;" if any saint, if any having this relationship and divine nature should sin.
It is supposed to be only an act of sin. It is never contemplated that the Christian deliberately lives in sin. Scripture affords no reason or excuse for such laxity. There may arise in some minds a vicious theory whereby sin is denied to be in us; but, as we have seen, it is ruled to be misleading themselves. The truth is not in those who thus theorise. But to deny that we have sinned goes a great deal farther it evinces a seared conscience, and a total absence of that divine light which makes manifest our entire life of self-will. What. idea can there be more opposed to the word of God about us? "If any one sin (that is, shall have sinned), we have an Advocate." Is not this last clause a singularly beautiful expression of a comforting truth? It is not that "he hath an Advocate," but that "we" have. Nor are we warranted, great as this boon may be, to confine the advocacy of Christ to annulling the sorrow and shame of a believer's sin.
"Advocate" is a word of much more general value than simply meeting a particular act of sin, though this is the case here raised; and as in a Christian, so much the greater dishonour to God for the Advocate to meet. What did not the bearing of sin and sins cost Christ? It was when "made sin" that He went down under all depths and endured at the hand of God its judgment, that we might not have it to endure. "But if any one sin, we" - the entire Christian company, all the objects of divine grace, "have an Advocate." There He is on high to meet this need. There as He is for us always, so we too have Him. As we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, as we have eternal life in Him, no less have we Him as Advocate with the Father. It is a wondrous provision of grace. "Advocate" is the same word (παράκλητος) that the apostle John applies in the Gospel to the Holy Spirit, which is conveyed not so correctly there as "the Comforter." This would require παρακλὴτωρ, as in the Sept. Version of Job 16:2. Whereas the very formation of παράκλητος, and above all its meaning as understood from its application in Scripture, rather signify one called on our behalf who can perfectly do for us what we are and must be incapable of doing. This alone shows that we must not put a narrow limit to it, and imagine that the only thing for the Advocate is to meet sin; He is also the Comforter, and sees to our every want.
Evidently comfort, though the gracious issue, would be a strangely imperfect way of meeting a Christian's sin; perhaps a human device, and a way that the flesh would like, that is, "Say as little as possible about the sin: spare the feelings of our poor failing brother, who could not help it." An upright soul, on the contrary, wants the sore to be probed, prays that the insidious mischief may be thoroughly sifted out to the bottom, and is self-judged before God because he had been drawn into a wrong so unworthy of the Father and the Son, and such a grief to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, before the sin was yielded. to, and to turn so sad an occasion to the best account, we have an Advocate with "the Father," Jesus Christ the righteous. It is not in His quality of "God." This would have been properly said, if we had lost our place as Christians; but, sad as the sin was, we do not lose the relationship of grace. We are entitled still to hold it as ours. Indeed, there is no time that we need more to remember our place as Christians than when we have fallen through our folly into sin. For how else could we be made profoundly ashamed of ourselves without despair? How overwhelming that, after having God's incomparable mercy and blessing, we should have tampered with iniquity, guilty of forgetting both the love and holy nature of our Father, and the sin that we have still indulged in, the old man!
For is not indwelling sin like a wild beast within, that must be kept under lock and chain in order that it may not break out? It is indeed a deadly enemy; which, nevertheless, we are entitled to keep under death - the only efficacious death - the death of Christ and our death with Him. Therefore, what exposes to the fall is a lack not only of watchfulness for ourselves, but of faith in Him, our present exercise of faith in what Christ has done for us on the Cross. For it was not merely to clear away the sins, but also to have sin in the flesh sacrificially condemned in Him whose flesh was altogether holy. God condemned it there, and such is its end to us by grace, to be condemned, not pardoned. Sins need to be pardoned, but sin God condemned in Christ made sin. Sentence was executed on sin in Christ crucified, that we might be set free in Him. And this is what we wanted, and we have it by grace (Romans 8:3). Therefore are we always to be on our watch, for power to condemn the flesh whenever it shows itself, or consciously works within without being shown to others.
But here it is sin committed. The saint, the child of God, myself, you, or another, has sinned; and what then? The nature of sin is to get worse and worse, to work unto greater ungodliness; and it must do so, were it not that we have such an Advocate. But the Advocate works, and the effect of His working is that we are brought to feel and judge the sin with humiliation before our God and Father. It may seem to many very remarkable that it should be said not if any man "repent," but "if any one sin, we have an Advocate." The former, we need not question, is the way in which legalism in its unbelief of grace would put it. For does it not seem right, "If any man repent, we have an Advocate"? But the word is, "If any man sin." Surely God hates the sin with an infinite hatred; but He loves the saint, and as Father loves His child with a love rising above every difficulty. Further, His object is to bring that saint into His own thoughts, His own hatred of that very sin. We have an Advocate therefore, and not merely with "God," as if one had to begin again, and lost everything by the sin. No; but I have brought shame upon His grace and His truth; and He is bringing me to condemn it and judge myself accordingly. And who is He that effects so gracious an end? The Advocate above. He works in us too by another Advocate who is here below, the Holy Spirit.
It will thus be apparent why one ventures to affirm that the right translation in our tongue for the word (παράκλητος) is "Advocate," and that it is as much required in the Gospel for the Holy Spirit, as here for the Lord Jesus with the Father above. The "Advocate" is meant to cover everything we cannot do ourselves, even in the extreme case of a sin. It answered (as has been often shown as far as a poor earthly illustration might furnish it) to the "Patron" among the early Romans, when they were not so selfish, luxurious, and corrupt as they became afterwards; but when there was among them at any rate a moral feeling strong for heathen people. Their clients could look up to their chiefs, the various members of the family, of the "clan," as they call it in another part of our country. The "clan" could claim the aid of the "Patron," and he was bound, by the very fact of being their chief, to take a personal and active interest in every one needing his help that belonged to the clan. At any rate this was the theory; for we must not expect it fully in practice, which is quite another thing in man and this world. But advocacy was the idea. And now in the Lord Jesus, what was an idea greatly failing among men, the Christian finds its perfection.
Nor is it merely in the Advocate with the Father, but also. in the Holy Spirit who has come from the Father and from the Son to be the advocate within us. Part of His action is that He carries on intercession for saints according to God. It is not precisely in the same way; but there is constantly going on the intercession of the Spirit, as we read in Romans 8:26-27, no less than Christ's above in ver. 34. The twofold divine advocacy covers all our need effectually. Wherever we have a difficulty, wherever a trial, a sorrow, the Spirit never fails. Wherever we are weak or ignorant, the Spirit comes to our rescue; working one way or another, not always directly in ourselves, but through one another. Is not this a way most happy? Far be it from us to be independent of one another. We are made now in the power of the Spirit, as members of the one body of Christ, members one of another too. And it is the will of God that we carry this out here below; but how are we doing it? At least we know that the Advocate above never fails, any more than the Advocate below; and thus, in the wonderful grace of God, we are doubly encouraged and cared for, that we may be faithful, however feeble. These two provisions are disclosed one in the Gospel of John and the other in this Epistle of his. Oh, how doubly we are indebted to God for such support!
The apostle Paul did not supply all, though there never was a greater steward of God's mysteries, never a mightier labourer in the gospel and in the church, among those that wrought and lived and suffered for the name of our Lord Jesus. Still the apostle John had a place that none could fill but himself, inspired by the Holy Ghost for it. And no wonder! He did not lie in the bosom of the Lord for nothing. There were grounds and reasons why he should enjoy so blessed a privilege; and we reap blessing through the disciple that Jesus loved, thus formed and fashioned by divine grace for the work given him to do so many years after, in the most distressful circumstances that the church of God knew till then. What is it now? Are not those distresses heightened, deepened, and multiplied since? Yet abides the Advocate above, and the other Advocate abides in and with us. Do we simply, truly, fully believe in both?
It is important to see the difference between the advocacy and the priesthood of the Lord. We never have him brought forward as Priest by John, at least now for Christians. The Advocate partakes of a more intimate character by a great deal. The Priest had a most necessary place; and it is particularly brought out, where it ought to be as most needed, to the Hebrew Christians, who (many at least) had been hankering after the old priesthood and ritual. The needed truth they were taught, singular to say, by the apostle Paul. He was not their apostle; and his Epistle takes the shape of a teaching, rather than of apostolic authority, brought to bear upon the Hebrews. He effaces himself not giving his name, and will have all the help by passages, wrought with incomparable skill, out of the Old Testament. But that skill was what the Holy Spirit gave him for the purpose. No doubt he too was a suitable vessel for this work of Jesus, the great Priest on high; as John was for the other task we have been looking at - the more intimate form of the advocacy.
But one can see clearly what is very helpful to the difference of these two Epistles, the one to the Hebrews, and this one of John with which we are now occupied; for the distinctive line of truth is not merely in a single point, but runs through each of the Epistles. The Epistle to the Hebrews treats of our approach to God, access to His sanctuary. It is not relationship to the Father. There is indeed reference in Hebrews 12 to God speaking to His saints as sons, and of fatherly chastening as the Father of spirits reserved to those real. But the character of the Epistle is to speak throughout of "God," as far as saints are concerned; hence it is a question of how, being what we are, we can approach to God in the holies. Consequently here we have the sacrifice of Christ brought out most strikingly, and in its perfect efficacy. It is shown to be peculiarly marked by one feature, and in constant contrast with Israel - "one offering" accomplished once and for all; for there is the utmost care to stamp unity upon it, and completely exclude all notion of a fresh application of the blood. And why must it be so? Because Christ's blood has a character that no other blood did or could possess. It does its work perfectly, and therefore once for all. But this truth is exactly what it would be hard now to find anywhere fully and unqualifiedly believed.
Different forms of church government are in evidence, and also different shades of doctrine; but they all agree, even among evangelicals, in maintaining fresh recourse to, or fresh application of, the blood of Christ. Substantially this is to be like a Jew, and it amounts thus far to a revival of Judaism, after being hunted out more particularly by the apostle Paul. Not the least trace of it appears when he wrote to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians or Philippians. To the Jewish believers, the Hebrews, he peremptorily excludes such a thought. As he says in Hebrews 9:26, in such a case He must have suffered often. He was offered once, not often. And there not only the error, but the folly, of the Roman mass betrays itself. It is avowedly sacrifice without blood; a sacrifice continually repeated day by day for the remission of sins. It is a sacrament which declares that Christ's blood has failed; and that offering of the Mass is needed to effect remission. But it is a mere sham; and an invention of the most blundering kind, the most pretentious for the earthly priest, and the most dishonouring to the Lord Jesus both here and in heaven. But even among the keenest Protestants, are they not all under the mist of a constantly needed recourse to the blood time after time?
Shall I tell you how the error rose, and with what it is connected systematically? Because the washing of water by the word is habitually left out. They do not see this truth, except so far as they apply it to baptism. But Scripture applies it to the constant need of the saint after he rests by faith on the blood of Christ. And that washing of water takes two forms in Scripture. The washing of regeneration we have at or about the same time that we rest upon Christ's blood. This too is never repeated. There is no such thing as re-regeneration. There is no repetition of regeneration any more than of the sacrifice of Christ. It is and can only be once. So too Christ's blood always abides in its efficacy with God and for us; indeed if it did not always so abide, we are lost; Christ cannot die again for us. But after resting upon Christ's death for us, men suppose that its efficacy is interrupted by sin, and that a fresh application of the blood is required to cleanse us. If it be so, where are you to find it? He died once and for all, and its value remains for ever, and even without interruption or in perpetuity (εἰς τὸ διηνεκές). But there is also the washing of water by the word continually, wherever there is need.
The necessity for our being habitually cleansed is set forth in a very striking manner, not in the Hebrews, nor in the Gospels generally, but in that of John only. Our Lord took basin and water and towel, to wash His disciples' feet, showing in that symbol what He is now doing in heaven whenever our feet get defiled here below; as He also intimated that they should understand it afterwards. It is to meet the defilements in the walk of the Christian. There we have the Advocate, as is plain. The Lord gave its sign in stooping down, not to die for them, but to wash their defiled feet, astounding Peter and no doubt the others too. Peter let out their common ignorance, and showed how foolish he was in trusting his thoughts to preserve the honour of his Master. His deepest moral honour is in that humiliation which He accepted in His own love, and that the Father's love should be gratified to the utmost, and for the saints to enjoy fully also. Thus the washing of the feet in John 13 answers to his own words here, "We have an Advocate with the Father." It is not blood but water; and "this is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not in the power of the water only, but in the water and the blood." So writes our apostle in 1 John 5:6, referring plainly to John 19:34-35. Christ's death both atones for and morally cleanses the believer: the blood once for all, the water (typifying the word, John 15:3) not only at the first but to the last here below; but the word applying His death for purifying us by faith.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, as explained, access to God is secured by a perfect sacrifice, "the blood of the cross," and by His entrance into the holies as the Great Priest over the house of God, the Forerunner is for us gone in, that we may enter boldly. But His priesthood is to succour the tempted, and to sympathise with our infirmities, that we may receive mercy, and find grace for seasonable help. In heaven He appears before the face of God for us. Thus He cheers and strengthens us against all the trials of the wilderness, and in our weakness and exposure. But nowhere is His office as Priest above applied to our sins. Here it is that His advocacy applies expressly. If any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, the same Jesus, but in a different function, and this to restore the interruption with the Father through sin. It is to restore that communion which is interrupted by a sin.
But there is another thing to which your attention is drawn. The Advocate here is Jesus Christ the righteous. That is very significant. More than that; "and He is the propitiation." Notice the double ground. First, the advocacy is founded upon His being the righteous One. We had no righteousness; He is the righteous one, and from God made to us, not only wisdom, but righteousness. Secondly, He is the propitiation for our sins, and sent by God the Father for this very end. He bore all that was necessary to expiate our sins in divine judgment once for all. But as Advocate He meets the Christian's sin that interrupted his enjoyment of communion with the Father and with the Son. This has nothing at all to do with His suffering once in divine judgment (for all that is finished on the cross), but everything to do with restoring communion with the Father and the Son when interrupted, as is easily done. Oh how sad, beloved brethren, when we slight that communion, so as not to feel these interruptions, to which any levity of word or deed in our folly exposes us! But "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Christ is above in all His grace. Righteousness remains in all its undiminished worth; and so does the propitiation through His blood. It is the joy and boast of the Christian that nothing touches either the risen Christ or the efficacy of His work on the cross for us. If the earth is blind and deaf, heaven never forgets what these are for God's glory and our purification. Only here we have another thing to observe. The apostle says that the propitiation of Christ is not for our sins only. It is also "for the whole world." Now we never find the propitiation for sins, except definitely for those that believe, as of old; now for those that are God's children. Christ is a propitiation in a general way for the whole world, but only "for our sins." There is a marked distinction, when he speaks of the whole world. This makes the putting in of "the sins" objectionable, when the world is in question. It is going beyond Scripture. If the Lord had been the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, the whole world would get its fruit and go to heaven. If He bore their sins in the way He bore ours, what has God against them? He is the propitiation for our sins; He has annulled them for ever, blotting them out with His blood. Were it thus for the world, it would stand clear.
There Calvinism again is shallow, hard, and wrong. Propitiation is not merely a question of God's children. God Himself had to be glorified as to sin, apart from our salvation, His nature in love vindicated as to His worst enemies. We may see the instruction afforded on the two truths by the type on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). On that day there were two goats for the people of Israel. One of those goats was Jehovah's lot; the other was the people's lot. Now it was only in the people's lot that all their sins were confessed. This was not the case with the first goat; and it was sacrificed. In this there appears a marked difference. As to one goat, Jehovah's lot, it was for His glory, tarnished in this world by sin, by His grace, to satisfy the exigencies of His nature. He must needs be glorified about sin. But this did not as yet take up definitely the burden of the sinner. For his remission the sing must be confessed distinctly and positively; and so Aaron did, laying both his hands on the head of the live or second goat, the people's lot. The first goat was killed, and its blood brought into the sanctuary as everywhere, within and without. Here is the propitiation in a typical way, which so far makes it stand good for the whole world, that the glad tidings might be preached to every sinner.
The doctrine is here and elsewhere. The type of it helps to illustrate the marked difference. The sacrifice of Christ has perfectly glorified God's nature, so that He can rise supremely and send forth glad tidings to every creature. But there is something more needed for sinners to be saved. "Christ bore their sins in His body on the tree." This is never said about "the world "; there is always a sufficiently careful guard. But because God has been perfectly glorified as to sin in the sacrifice of Christ, He can by His servants, as it were, beseech and entreat even His enemies: Be reconciled to God. God's love is the spring. Christ's death is the way and basis for the gospel. It does not necessarily save every creature, but declares God is glorified in Christ. If there were not a soul converted, God would be glorified in that sweet savour of Christ.
But it is well to note that the difference is great between the two. If God left all to man, not one could have been saved. It is by grace that we are saved. To the elect He gives faith; and there is where the propitiation for our sins comes in. None with the fear of God thinks all are to be saved, or denies that grace makes the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. The Day of Atonement bore witness that the first thing was to glorify His own nature; and this apart from effacing the sins of His people. It was of still higher moment that His truth should be vindicated, His holiness and His righteousness, His love and His majesty in Christ's cross. Therein as nowhere else good and evil came to issue, for the judgment and defeat of evil, and for the triumph of good, for the reconciliation not only of all believers to God, but of all things (not of all persons), and for new heavens and a new earth throughout eternity. The basis of this was laid in what the slain goat (Jehovah's lot) typified. But in order to extricate the people from their sins, He would show them His great mercy; and so they are in the second place taken up definitely, and their sins laid on the live goat, which carried them away into a land of forgetfulness, that they might be remembered no more. It is the distinction of propitiation and substitution.
Here we read that our Lord is the propitiation for our sins, "and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." Particular care is taken not to identify God's children and the world. Hence it is not said "for [the sins of] the whole world." There the translators were rash.* There is the danger of adding to Scripture, and the duty of believing Scripture only. Man's addition makes the difficulty; adhering to God's word solves it, while it says enough to proclaim divine mercy to the whole world. There God's nature and love are vindicated. That He is a Saviour God appears to all men. He sends the message of grace to every creature. He charges all men everywhere to repent. But in order to be saved, first is the effectual call of the sinner according to the divine counsel; secondly, the working of the Holy Ghost, in the heart of the believer in receiving Christ. This is not the case with "the whole world"; and it is vain to deny that which is a fact. But here we have the Scripture that explains it.
* The Revisers give the difference correctly.
When you believe in our Lord Jesus, we too can say, following the word, He bore your sins away; but we are not entitled to say so to the unbeliever, nor to "the whole world." Faith only is entitled to speak thus.
The fact is that this type is only a particular witness to the great principle of Scripture, dogmatically laid down in the clearest terms of the New Testament. Take the distinction between "redemption" (Ephesians 1:7) and "purchase" (2 Peter 2:1): the true key, which opens the Calvinistic and Arminian dilemma. For they both confound the two truths, so that each is partially right, and partially wrong. The Lord by His death "bought" all creation, and every man of course, "false teachers" and all. It is at their everlasting peril that they deny His rights and rise up against their Sovereign Master. But none are "redeemed" save those who have through faith in His blood the forgiveness of their trespasses. Hence the Calvinist is as right in holding particular redemption, as the Arminian in maintaining universal purchase. But they are both in error when they fail to distinguish purchase and redemption. By His death on the cross the Lord added to His creator rights, and made every creature His by that infinite purchase. All are His, and not their own, as the believer only and fully acknowledges. But redemption delivers from Satan and sins: and this is nowhere the portion save by faith.
Take again another form of the truth in Hebrews 2:9-10. Christ by God's grace tasted death for every thing (ὑπὲρ παντὸς), including of course every man (compare vers. 7, 8). All were purchased. But the language quite differs from ver. 10, where we hear of God, in bringing "many sons" to glory, perfecting the Leader of their salvation through sufferings. When the two distinct truths are confused, not only precision is lost, but the truth suffers from the heart's lack of enlargement through knowing universal purchase, and from evaporating into vagueness through ignorance of the speciality of redemption.
May God bless the truth which has been before us for the Lord Jesus's sake.
1 JOHN 11: 3-6.
"And herein we know that we have known (or, have the knowledge of) him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I have known him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily the love of God hath been perfected. Herein we know that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought, even as he walked, himself also to walk."
Every Christian who reflects must be conscious in reading these words that the verses come in singularly to outward appearance where they do. The word that introduces them might give the semblance of continuance with what went before. There is indeed a vital connection; but it is not in the ordinary way in which men bind their various subjects together; for it speaks clearly of quite a distinct thing from what preceded. Nevertheless there is a link, and a most interesting link, between them. It is expressed by one word, "life." It is not any longer simply the divine life, but His nature in the absolute purity of the image-word "light," into which the Christian is brought from his conversion.
This light it is that thenceforth acts powerfully upon the conscience, for not merely it is awakened but purged conscience; and the new nature responds to the light of God, all the more because of being made painfully conscious how evil that old nature is in itself. But one already has a new nature which is of God. We who believe are declared by the apostle Peter to have a divine nature, and this is from the first moment that the life of God acts in our soul, and it does act from the very time that we are converted to God. We might not have peace yet; it might even be rather long before we enjoy it fully. But there is no little joy in believing that God has solemnly spoken to our souls; and there is immense relief in thoroughly bowing to the light of God which manifests and condemns our life in the past.
But how is this? Because a new life is ours from God, and life in Christ is the light of men. Elsewhere is it called eternal life; but His are not two lives. There is a significance and an impressiveness in "life eternal," but it is the selfsame life; there is none other for the believer. And we see how fitting it is that so it should be, because Christ is Himself the eternal life, as is spoken of Him in the second verse of the first chapter. Nor does the apostle Paul in his Epistles hesitate to say (Colossians 3:4) that Christ is our life. and again (Galatians 2:20) no more I live, but Christ liveth in me. Thus there can be no doubt about the truth. Christ had not two lives, neither has the believer: I say this only of the life spiritual, not denying the natural. In Him was life from eternity; and, coming down from heaven, He gives life, through faith, not to Jew only but to the world (John 6:32). It was to be given to Gentile that believed as fully as to Jew. Hence the believer has that life; and when he is a little more awakened to understand, it is a great joy to know that it is eternal life.
In 1 Peter 1:2 we find the same substantial truth in the sanctification of the Spirit there spoken of. This has been ill understood by the theologians of every school, ancient and modern, Romanist and Protestant, Calvinist and Arminian. They almost universally interpret it of practical holiness, and this in turn misled Beza, for instance, into the grossest mistranslation. Error once sown ends in a crop of confusion. But the context renders it plain and certain that the Spirit's sanctification here can only mean that setting apart of the believer to God which is effected in his being born of God, because it is "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" That is, it precedes, instead of following, an obedience like Christ's and His sprinkled blood, in contrast with the law and its sprinkling of blood (Ex. 24). We are called from our first start in the new life, by which the Spirit set us apart to God, to obey as Christ obeyed, sons in all holy liberty, and with the sprinkled blood which proclaims our sins cancelled and forgiven. Israel, on the other hand, began their effort to gain life by obeying the law under penalty of that death which the victims' blood attested, as sprinkled on book and people. The same sense explains why the apostle in 1 Corinthians 6:11 puts "washed and sanctified" before "justified," instead of after, as must be if it were here a question of practical holiness. The Spirit's sanctification, of which the two chief apostles treat, means the separation to God which takes place when we are born of God (John's way of speaking) before the sprinkling of Christ's blood applies, and in order to our obeying God as He did. Archbishop Leighton is almost the only one known to me as having an inkling of its real force.
Under the law life was offered to the Israelite conditionally on his obedience. Yet it was not really his, but forfeited, and must pass under the power of death, as the first Adamic life did. It is not said to be under the power of annihilation; for who knows anything of extinction for man, but the contrary? All the power of Satan could not annihilate the feeblest human being. No doubt there were things created that were not intended to live again. There is but separation of soul and body in man's death. Guilty man must die and be judged; and is it not just that he should suffer for his iniquity against God and man? But believing man learns from God that the eternal life he has here in the Son is the same life that he will have when he is changed or raised from the dead; it is that which fitted him for communion with the Father and the Son while in this world, as it will fit him for enjoying the Father and the Son throughout all eternity.
The Spirit of God too is the divine power as well as person who works for good in this life against all that opposes it. He thus glorifies the same Christ who in grace gave it to us. For we need the Lord Jesus always, as the object and strength of our souls, as we did as the life-giver; and we shall need Him for ever to serve, adore, and enjoy. But in heaven He lives now for us; so that we cannot say that we want Him as if we had Him not. We would ever delight in Him who laid down His life for us; we now would, above all things, please Him; and as we love to carry out God's will on earth, so it will be above when all opposing influences are done with for ever.
But we begin here already with what is eternal while we are in the world of time. Is not this blessed for us, not to look at eternity as merely the future, but to know from God that he who has eternal life has in a real sense entered on what goes on for ever? We look not at the things that are seen, which are but for a time; we are privileged to look at the things that are not seen, the eternal things. The unseen things faith knows to be much more real and unchanging than all we see. Evidently the link of our association is that the same Person who is Himself Eternal Life is our life; and how is this life to be known? Here we know that Satan often endeavours to bring one down into what a believer ought never to allow - a doubt. But we who believe God's revelation ought to treat doubt as a sin. For what is the doubt about? Surely not about ourselves. Till we heard the voice of the Son of God, were we anything but sinners? As such we were lost: so scripture tells us. Neither, again, is there any doubt about God's love. The proof is - Christ given for us, yea, and crucified; not merely in all the value of His blood to blot out our sins but risen and in glory, where He is not ashamed of us but owns us as His brethren. By grace we have Christ now, and Christ evermore: so at least He assures us (John 10:28).
Life eternal is like everlasting redemption, the wondrous boon in Christ that remains essentially unchanged. Christ went down under death to give it the blessed character of being life risen and not only eternal. Quickened together with Him, we know that our offences are all forgiven (Colossians 2:13). "Risen with" means that He who died is alive again for evermore; and we now are entitled to stand according to His position, and to know that grace makes it our present portion. But if challenged by the Devil, we give him occasion by our negligence, unwatchfulness, lack of prayer and of making the word our daily food. People feel the need of meals for the body; but has not the soul as much need or yet more, to say nothing of its incomparable importance?
What then is the bread of life? It is Christ revealed by the word; the word making Christ our food in the Spirit. Nothing save Christ so feeds the soul. Still, when a soul has yielded to temptation, and fallen into sin, then is the enemy's opportunity. This he generally uses for dragging one down to doubt God's word, under the frequent plea of doubting himself. But in truth it is doubting God. It is to doubt His grace in Christ. How shameful such doubts are, though the Lord stands evidently crucified before our eyes! There He is, presented in God's word to our faith as the crucified One, to completely abolish doubt. Was it not for ungodly and powerless enemies that He died (Romans 5:6-10)? Indeed if we were not so bad as we are, we should not have needed such a divine Saviour. In point of fact it is because we were so bad that it is difficult to conceive we could be worse. Moreover we know the treacherousness of the flesh in the believer. This it is which troubles many a saint: not what he did in the days of his darkness and death, but his too often failing in grace and truth, in outbreaks of self-will or folly, in vanity, pride, or worldliness, or whatever else may grieve the Holy Spirit, after all the mercy God has shown him. How sad, after experiencing grace so plenteous, to be sharp and unkind, or careless and light-hearted! Thus it is that the failure of the believer produces difficulties in his soul about himself before God. Nor this only; but if one compromises the Lord by sin of which other people know, they are ready enough sometimes to raise a question.
Therefore, after the doctrinal basis of the Epistle was laid down in the first chapter, with the supplemental two verses of the second chapter, we have the question broached: How can I ascertain the true tests of life? Certainly the philosophers say much but know little about natural life: why wonder if Satan can readily raise doubts about spiritual life, particularly after one has been ensnared and the conscience is not clear?
From verse 3 we have searching tests applied in order to make plain to ourselves, and to others also, how life manifests its reality or its absence. The object of faith was first fully presented in Christ; next the necessary working of God's nature in such as are His; then (after the brief supplement of grace to restore the fallen) we come to the revealed tests of life. Verses 3-6 furnish the first test. What is this primary test for any soul? That which distinctly and at once, from the very beginning, stamps a man as having life, and which, if he lack it, means the absence of life, is obedience. "And herein we have known (or have the knowledge of) Him; (it is a continuous result that we have the knowledge) if we keep His commandments." This is none other than obedience. It is not the only form in which the spirit of obedience is proved; but as a rule it is the earliest. It begins without delay. It suits the youngest saint. He is sure to be forthwith tested by the question of obedience. And it is exactly what the new life prompts to.
Observe this in him that was to become the great apostle of the Gentiles. Directly that the voice of the Lord reached his soul, and identified the true God with Him who died on the cross, He could not but cry, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" He judges his error, and wants to obey This is the instant spiritual instinct of life. Converted in heart, his mind is to obey Him whom he without hesitation calls the Lord. Accordingly, if we look at it throughout the word of God, we see how comprehensive obedience is, and how all-important. Take the case of the soul's submission to the righteousness of God: it is what is called in the Epistle to the Romans "obedience of faith;" by which is meant, not the practical obedience which faith produces in the walk, but the prime act of believing God's word. This is really the heart's obedience. It is the person's obeying the truth, the soul's acceptance of God's testimony to His Son. The man hitherto ungodly owns it truly, bows to the word of God, accepts the truth of Christ's person and work, and is justified. Therefore is the gospel preached to all nations, not like Israel for obedience of law, but for faith-obedience. Such is the true force in order to make the scope somewhat more clear: not an obedience produced by faith, but submission to the gospel in faith. And this is in many forms carried out throughout the Scriptures.
But there are other signs and proofs of its importance; and we do well to look to the very beginning of mankind. What have you there? The first Adam, the father of the race. Alas! the beginning of man's moral history was the fact that he disobeyed. For the command in Eden was simply and entirely a test of obedience under penalty of death. Eating of the tree of knowing good and evil was not an intrinsically moral or criminal act like stealing, murder, covetousness, or any of the various breaches of the Ten Commandments. These prohibitions suppose an innate evil proclivity; but it was not so then. Adam was as yet innocent and upright; and God told him not to eat of the fruit of that tree. This prohibition had nothing at all to do with the quality of its produce, nor implied in the least that the fruit was a poison. This is the way that man likes to look at it: how would it affect himself? But the command asserted the LORD God's authority. It was meant to test man's obedience, his trust in God's word and goodness, in short, his absolute submission as a creature of God. For Adam as yet could not be called by grace a child of God. He was son of God like the Athenians, the offspring of God. That is, he was not a mere natural animal without reason, a brute beast; he had from the first his soul from God's inbreathing, an immortal soul. In that sense of course he was God's offspring; but he was not yet a child of God born of Him by grace through faith. Such a birth is never the fruit of anything but of His grace in Christ. Thus only one receives the life in His Son; and Adam had nothing of that kind, whilst simply an innocent man in the paradise of Eden.
But the plain fact which quickly appears and characterises his ruin is his disobedience. He disobeyed unto death; the grand contrast of which is the Second man, the Last Adam, who became obedient unto death. Yet in His eternal being, in His proper position, in His inalienable personal dignity, the Son was a divine person, and, as such, had nothing to do with obedience. For this very reason it is said in Hebrews 5:8, that He learned obedience from (or, by) the things which He suffered. He did not know what it was to obey till He came down to be man. He knew perfectly well what it was for others, for every creature; but He was no creature but Creator. Nevertheless, having become man, He loyally undertook the duties of man; and the very first duty of man is to obey God.
The Lord manifested obedience as no one ever did, and glorified His Father in every feeling of His heart, as well as in every word of His mouth, and in every step of His way. He overruled John the Baptist by "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." He met Satan's temptations by nothing but obedience. This indeed is the profound difference between the Lord Jesus as Man and every other man. Never was there another who invariably obeyed. This is a much greater distinction than working miracles: anybody could do miracles if God gave him the power. Judas wrought miracles; and many will say to the Lord in that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy name, and by Thy name cast out demons, and by Thy name do many works of power? And then will I avow to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work, lawlessness" (Matthew 7:21-23). To work miracles only is in no way a necessary sign of moral excellence. As a general rule it did go with those righteous servants of God who inaugurated His revealed will, or vindicated it when apostasy betrayed itself. But God, for His own wise purpose, shows us the most wicked of men working great signs, even the traitor to the Lord Jesus, as already mentioned. Another indeed is to be referred to presently but the first one of those called "the son of perdition" unmistakably showed that he had not the slightest appreciation of Christ. He was invested with power, but there was neither obedience nor the faith that leads to it.
Therefore one naturally looks from that first son of perdition to the last - the antichrist. And what is it that stamps the antichrist, what is it that fits him to be a vehicle for Satan's taking possession of him to the most exceptional degree? Nothing could be a greater affront to God than the way in which Judas showed his revolt in betraying the Beloved of God. So the antichrist will be the ruin of both Jews and Gentiles beyond any man that ever lived. What is it that marks him before that power of Satan is allowed to work in him so mightily for a little while? What prepares him for it? His self-will, the spring of disobedience. He is described therefore as the king that shall do according to his will (Daniel 11:36), not the will of God but his own and Satan's. He is "the man of sin," the "lawless one" (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2Th 2:8). Alas! whenever you do your own will you become Satan's slave; but he pre-eminently will be so.
Thus we see in the most opposite way what an essential place obedience has from first to last. At the beginning the first man abandons it, and all ruin follows. And then the Second Man, when He came here, is just the obedient man, Who brings in not only blessing, for man, freely and fully, but also atonement and peace by the blood of His cross. For He blots out the sins of sinners on faith completely and perfectly; and from heaven is sent the Holy Spirit as the witness of Himself and His work for everlasting redemption, and the reconciliation of the universe when He comes again. Hence obedience is the soul's bent and resolve and joy when Jesus is known and confessed. The proud, careless, dark heart is arrested by the word and the Spirit of God, who fills him with horror at his wickedness, presents Christ with the goodness of God in giving Christ for his soul, and he bows to his Lord and Saviour, earnest to obey from that moment. As the all-importance of obedience from the first beginning of life in the soul is evident, so it is in all the public ways of God, as we have. seen even to the future antichrist at the end of this age.
The principle is thus shown to be of the widest extent and of the deepest moment for God's glory and for man, and indeed far beyond man. Consider that the angels who fell were once heavenly beings. It was through their disobedience, through their pride, that they left the place God had given them, and assumed another that God gave them not. Obedience of God, on the other hand, is everywhere and always true blessing.
Therefore we cannot be surprised that the Spirit of God introduces it at once in our Epistle and in this part of it. If a man doubts his relationship to God, or if other people doubt him, the Spirit applies obedience as the first great test. Has that soul the spirit of obedience as his own? In our dark days we know how justly we were described as "the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2); but when the turning-point of conversion to God comes, we become "children of obedience" (1 Peter 1:14). It is from the first the real expression of the heart purified by faith. Thenceforth the inward and fixed desire is to obey God, long perhaps before one may have solid peace; though this might come in a comparatively short time. There is the hatred of sin, the judgment of self, and the grace of Christ making one not only desirous but capable; because nobody is ever converted without some little gleam of grace. Alarm will never convert, though it may arrest and point the way. No terror ever converted a soul, though it may induce one to hear the gospel. There must be more and other than such fear to win us to God. It may be ever so little of Christ, but there is this, as we doubt not, in order that faith should have divine light and eternal life. And this life works in obedience; and shows its reality by the inner man set on obeying God, as a law of liberty, not of bondage. The life of Christ in us, as in Him perfectly, delights to do His will and nothing else.
Hence the remarkable divergence, as it might appear, from the previous part of the Epistle. But to press obedience here is just in its right place. We have seen the divine source of the blessing in the Father made known by the Son, and fellowship with them becoming ours. We have had the message from Him of the character of God in all its purity accompanying this necessarily. If we receive the blessing, we cannot avoid but welcome the responsibility of having the light of God, and walking there. How is this effected in us? The eternal life which He was in Himself is also the life to us. And both light and life show themselves in obedience. And as obedience shone all through Christ's walk, so it is essential in the saint, and holds the first place as a test here below. "And herein we know that we have known him, if we keep His commandments."
It is not zeal in preaching. This is often put forward in modern practice. Directly a soul is converted, the person wants sometimes to become a preacher; perhaps he is only a little boy; and it appears that there is a young boy parading in this capacity just now. Nor is it cultivating what some call "a gift of prayer," and especially in public, where a keen observation of others suggests a fluent rehearsal of wants to be supplied and faults to be corrected all over the world. However these things may be, altogether different are the revealed ways of God. We know that, in particular, preaching is a snare to the vain. It seems to be a service that many covet, if one may judge from the prevalence of the desire without the power. But where there is the gift, it is an admirable work of faith and love. Only there should be a proper basis for it, and love. of souls rather than of preaching impels, after God has wrought in the heart to know what we really are, and, above all, what God is in Christ toward the lost.
Here the apostle begins with obedience; what is more due to God, more meet for us? It is distinctly personal; it applies to everything and always. It demands and maintains lowliness while it gives firmness. It requires dependence on God, and guards against self and undue influence of other creatures. There must be a personal dealing of the soul with God to have real value and avoid self-deception. But we have first the form of "keeping His commandments." This brings in a notable feature of the Epistle before us. Very frequently you cannot tell whether "He" is God or Christ. The apostle glides from the one to the other: and the reason is because both are true for though Christ became man, He never ceased to be God. And, therefore, if you say "God's commandments" it includes Christ's. Often, if he clearly begins with Christ, he as clearly passes on to speak of God. But Christ is God, and the Word of God, the One who personally brings out the mind of God, as His great declarer, in deed as in word. The Holy Ghost, as He ever wrought in Christ, makes it real in the believer also; that it should not be merely his own mind, still less his will taking all up, but that he be guided of God; for such is the function of the Holy Spirit in this and more also.
Thus we begin to learn, so far as babes naturally do in this life. They may understand little at first; but it is of the greatest moment that, before they understand fully, they should learn to obey. And if they are taught to obey, it must be in a plain manner to suit their opening mind. You cannot expect a child to apprehend easily an abstract principle. Nor can one look for the force of example to tell always on a child. It might be quick enough to say, "That is all very well for mama or papa, for this man or that woman;" but it is another thing to see how it concerns its own little self.
Accordingly the first form of obedience is simply, properly, and necessarily - bowing to His commandments. Yet they do not mean the Ten Commandments of the Law. This is never what John refers to when he speaks about commandments as here. For it is all connected with Christ, vitally bound up with Himself. One may briefly say that the difference between the trial by the law, and the test of these commandments, lies in this: that the law was the proof of what man is; whereas the gospel is the revelation of what God in Christ is. Under law, therefore, man was put to the proof whether he would give up his own will and do God's demands in order to get life. Life was proposed to those under law on their obedience of the law. But this is a contrast with what God now gives the believer. The life is supposed to be already possessed on faith, as truly as the life was in Christ before He came into the world. He was the eternal life with the Father; and, when He took manhood, He was the eternal life still. And here He was manifested not only as a divine person come to show love as the true God and God's Son, but as life eternal to give life to those that have nothing but death, and sin which brought death in. It is thus manifest that the commandments here direct the given new life, instead of being a moral standard to obey in order to gain life. They are the exercise of the life in Christ which grace has already imparted to the believer. But the form of obedience first taken is, "If we keep His commandments."
God graciously puts things in an authoritative manner in order that the child, the babe-like child of grace, should feel the solemnity, the importance and the need of it. God therefore in many cases lays it down, one perhaps may call it, peremptorily, certainly with all plainness and authority. Is not this good and right? How could any thoughtful or sober creature imagine that God could speak otherwise than with absolute authority, or that God's authority is not concerned in all that He thus imposes upon man? Do not assume that the commandment of God is always something for man to do. Has He nothing that He has done for man to believe? In 1 John 3:23 to believe the name of His Son is made a matter of commandment, no less than to love one another. That is, He commands people to believe the gospel in fact, as well as the saints to love each other. Thus He makes it a matter of commandment, so as to show how thoroughly His authority is concerned, not only His love but His title to command. It is evident that obedience is incumbent on man according to God.
Take another instance: the apostle Paul, in Acts 17:30, told the Athenians that God enjoins men that they all everywhere shall repent This corresponds with believing on His Son Jesus Christ. It is not a question of Nineveh's escaping destruction, but of sinners to be rescued from hell. Neither Jonah nor the men of Nineveh thought of deliverance from eternal judgment, or of receiving life eternal to enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son now, and to be with Christ for ever on high. But we have His commandment now to this express end, and with a right state of soul it would have and has the greatest possible weight. For thereby is shown how earnest God is about us. And is it not good news to a soul in dust and ashes about his sins, to know He is in earnest to bless freely and fully of His own grace one that so deeply needs to repent and believe? At the same time His own majesty is concerned: this He cannot give up to please vain man, as poor as he is proud. Men must be utterly blind to their own sins and enmity against God through their whole life, and thoroughly vicious in their self-will, to find fault with God - the God who gave His Son to save the vilest.
Where we love a person, we delight to do what might be put in the form of a command; and where there is authority, a command is the shape that it takes even among men. But how much more so with the God who never lies nor in the least deceives, the God who is full of goodness, mercy, and long-suffering, even to the careless and rebellious? Here it is for the soul's blessing, and for ever, if we keep His commandments. Indeed the sinner long inured to evil needs everything that is good. The whole course of life is meant to be changed when one really repents toward God and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. And God graciously makes His will and mind to be clearly and positively stated. But this care on His part makes man's self-will and indifference to His commandments the more evil, especially if he bear the Lord's name professedly.
In the next verse (5), the apostle opens to us something deeper. "But whoso keepeth His word." This is a different thing from His "commandments." It advances the nature and scope of obedience. For it supposes spiritual progress to have been made, and that there is growing intelligence as well as purpose in exercise; so that it is not merely a plain "commandment" that governs the soul's obedience, but "His word." His word might not take the shape of a definite command, but would undoubtedly disclose what pleased Him, what He valued. It would therefore, where the spirit of obedience was strong, be sufficient intimation to be faithful in this also, even though He uttered nothing like an express command in the matter.
Is it not painfully curious how the legalism of the heart works in the opposite direction? In Christendom, and among Baptists in particular, what is more prevalent than to reckon Baptism and the Lord's Supper as His commands? But they are nothing of the kind. Where is His command to the person to be baptised or to take the Lord's Supper? A command puts things altogether in a wrong point of view. Christian baptism is a favour conferred upon the soul on the authority of the Lord Jesus. The Ethiopian asks, "What hindereth my being baptised"? and Peter in the case of Cornelius, etc., says, "Can any man forbid water"? It would be strange to talk thus if it were a command. Who would think of hindering or forbidding a command of the Lord? But here they of the circumcision did vehemently contend against it. Nevertheless, search where you will, it is never presented as a command. No doubt he who had the case of the Christian confessor in hand might baptise or direct the candidate to be baptised. But this is not their meaning: they make it the command of the Lord Jesus to the candidate. But the Lord does not put it thus. It is a favour that He is pleased to confer according to His own word, and therefore it is no question of a command in the moral or legal sense. It is the same with the Lord's Supper. The Lord says, "Take, eat." Does this make it a command? Suppose me to be dying, and some dear friend came by the bedside, where my Bible lay, and I said, "Take, and keep my Bible." If you call this a command, you must be simple-minded or perhaps crooked-minded. It is not a command; but a mark of love. No doubt it has the effect of a command, yet a great deal more and different. It is associated with the affections and the remembrance of one that was loved long and tenderly till his departure. So it was given from a dying bed, and it was taken in that spirit, and so must it be understood by men of discernment.
A case which I have often used before will perhaps make it to be clearer. We will suppose a humble little family dependent on daily labour. The head of the family, the breadwinner, has to go to his work very early in the morning. I am not at all sure that it is a common demand in these easy-going days; but it used to be so at any rate. Let us however suppose that he has to leave early in order to reach his factory or wherever else he toils. But the mother of the family is on a, sick-bed, suddenly taken ill. Then occurs a great difficulty. She that used to rise so gladly to prepare his breakfast, and perhaps also what he needed in the course of the day, is too sick even to be spoken to. What is to be done at this sudden strait? One child of that family appreciates the dilemma at once. She has not been commanded in any way, yet she sees through it all; she knows that circumstances are quite changed; and as there is no mother to take the lead, she does. She had often helped her mother, and now she takes the initiative. herself. Accordingly she is up early, makes the fire for the father, puts the kettle on, and has the coffee or the tea all ready hot for him, with the other necessaries for the time of his absence from home. Here too there was no command; but it helps to illustrate "His word." As the word though not a command expresses the will of God, so she knew what was wanted to do the will of her mother, if she had been able to speak. The father was so overwhelmed with the illness of the wife that he could do little or nothing toward his meals; and yet he was bound to work as usual. She understood it all, and without more ado there she is doing the work that her mother would have done. This was not keeping a commandment, but it shows what "keeping His word" means.
Thus the believer grows in the knowledge of God, and delights in pleasing Him. It is not merely what is put in the shape of a command; but if we know what the good will of God is in any way, this is enough for the obedient heart. It is not seeking a director of one's conscience without, any more than consulting something that is within you. No: I am called to be subject to God, and this by keeping His word. I am to do the will of God; and this is now given in His written word, the Scriptures. They are written for our admonition as well as our comfort. So the apostle commended those who were no more to see his face to God and the word of His grace. If we seek that all saints should do the will of God, let us see to it that we humbly begin and do it ourselves. There it is all plainly laid down in His word. The best of all means for reading it aright is to see Christ Himself as God's object throughout. It does not mean merely what Christ said, though this is immense; nor what He commanded, which is of the highest worth; but what Christ manifested every hour. There you find Him up, before it was day, with God. Has this no voice for you or for me? Observe Him how, when something serious had to be done on the morrow, He was in prayer all night to God. Surely this ought to tell on our souls. We may not, ought not, to think we can carry it out in such a way as Christ did; but who can deny that in this He was leaving an example? An example is not a command; but none the less is it meant to act powerfully on the soul's heed and obedience.
Accordingly "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (ver. 4). There is the total absence of the spirit of obedience. It is not merely that he does not keep His word; he does not even keep His commandments. He violates his obligations; he sets aside divine injunctions, and this not merely in the Old Testament, but - what particularly bears upon him - the New. For these new commandments are the first form of the prescribed test of his Christian profession. And if he has no conscience to keep His commandments, we need not inquire how he treats Christ or the New Testament as a whole.
In ver. 5 we come to quite another step. "But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." Therein is evident heed to the whole mind of God, and it is carried out, because His word is loved. It is a heart that proves its obedience by keeping not merely His commandments but also His word. The word is not only authoritative and energetic on the soul, but precious. All the word is therefore sought into with delight and profit; and, where this is the case, John does not hesitate to say that the love of God is perfected in such a man.
This again affords opportunity to remark in a general way about the manner of the apostle not in this Epistle only, but indeed in all his writings. He looks at things according to the revealed divine principle, without occupying himself with hindrances and shortcomings according to the man's state and behaviour. He does not treat of the failures that are incident to our carelessness. When the genuine Christian is before him, he regards him as carrying out God's mind. He therefore does not impair and weaken principle by bringing in a little drawback here and a little caution there. He says plainly out what is pleasing to God and becomes His child; and this even for the youngest is to keep "His commandments;" whereas for those that are no longer immature but spiritually experienced, it is not merely His commandments but "His word" generally, that which fully and in any form expresses His will.
Therefore it is that we read, looking at our Lord again, "Lo! I come to do thy" - Law? No. Thy commandment? No. Yet He assuredly kept His law and did His commandment; but withal He honoured, vindicated, and gave such a scope to His law as none else ever did. But He came to do God's "will." Nor does He merely say thus much, but, "In the volume of the book it was written of Me." It was the roll of a book (for God figuratively uses the terms of human habit) that only the Father, the Son, and the Spirit knew; there it was, in His secret counsels, the mind of God; what afterwards was written in the Book of Psalms. What is said is rather in contrast with the law and its ordinances; but there it was always. And when He came as man, this is what He came to do - the will of God. And the will of God went far beyond what people knew as the Ten Words or Commandments. Ineffable grace was its announcement. Nor was His work merely doing but suffering the will of God. For He obeyed unto death, even the death of the Cross. When did the law ever ask or look for such a sacrifice as that from the righteous? Did it even think, or conceive, such a thing as the Holy One of God dying for the unrighteous? But no less than this was the will of God; and He knew it before time began.
It was useless to talk of creature sacrifice and offering. God says in effect, that "These will never do." The blood of ox, sheep, or goat, cannot take away sins, can effect no escape from the lake of hell-fire, cannot deliver a wicked man from the judgment of God. No rite can ever change a bad man into good or bring him without a spot to God, as white as the snow. What then? "It is written of Me." And so it was that He even abolished the first, the law, and established the second, the will of God. The will of God in infinite grace here is to save the worst of sinners through the death of the Lord Jesus. Does not this show what wonderful power there is in that which God has given in the Scriptures? It was therefore a cherished purpose of God before everything. And the Lord knew it in eternity, and, when the fulness of the time arrived, came to do it, and in doing it suffered to the uttermost. No work of power, however great, could suffice for it. Was He willing that God should make Him sin, and endure all the consequences in order to glorify God even about sin, and make it just on God's part to grant plenary forgiveness, yea, to justify and glorify us? He must suffer for sins under the holy hand of God Himself, armed against sin, and dealing out what sin deserved. Yet He bore it all with perfect submission, whatever it cost Himself. Thus between law and grace is the complete difference most marked.
For the Christian it is the same principle as for Christ, save only that He is God and wrought atonement for us. We have life too before we enter on practice, as the Lord had it in Him throughout eternity. Ours is therefore acting from life, not for life as a man under the law. Christian walk is the exercise of the new life, impossible for any who have not life, and only possible for the one who has that life by his eye being fixed upon Jesus. Otherwise the eye is no longer single; it may be occupied with this one or that thing, when the walk can no longer be according to the light. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light"; and it is only Christ that makes the eye single.
This is intimated clearly enough here, but John adds more. "Herein we know," not "that we know Him" only, but "that we are in Him." This supposes a great accession of privilege; and such is the way in which God encourages those that are truly obedient in spirit. Not only do they know Him, but that they are in Him. Oh what a wonderful thing for a saint to be assured that he is in Christ! He infinite, we finite and very feeble, however blessed of grace. Life here hangs in dependence on God and His Son. And the Spirit of God strengthens the sense of dependence, and uses the word to confirm us in that very attitude. And what do such words show? His pleasure in assuring the obedient saints that they may know they are in Him. What happiness then for us, knowing what He is to us and has been for us! What cheer and strength does it not give in our sense of weakness!
If we compare John 14:20, we learn that to be in Christ is part of the rich cluster of Christian privilege which He assured to the disciples in and from the day that the Holy Spirit was given to be in and with them after He went on high to the Father. "In that day ye shall know that I [am] in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you." There is first the wondrous yet righteous position of the risen Lord in His Father, not wondrous that He the Only begotten Son should be there, for this was inherently His in the Godhead, but now first disclosed to them as true of the risen Man as He was and will never cease to be. It is His place on ascension, His righteous award on the world's rejection of Him (John 16:10); and we who believe know by the Spirit of the Father in His name that He is in His Father there, a position far transcending His place as Messiah on David's throne or even as Son of man ruling all the nations of the earth in the future kingdom. This is His place and could be His only as a divine person one with the Father, yet risen man after accomplishing redemption; and this gives Christianity its unique grandeur.
But next they should know that they were in Him. It is not only that, in virtue of His death and resurrection, they were to be part of the much fruit springing from the grain of wheat that fell into the ground and died. They should have intimate and heavenly position in Him as far as this was possible to the creature, not risen life only but the place of assured nearness in Him there, known as ours now while on the earth. And again they should know Christ in them: a truth as characteristic of the Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 1:27), as their being in Christ is of that to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 2:6; Eph 2:10, etc.), save that the apostle treats it as individually true, Paul as connected with the unity of Christ's body, the church. It is the portion of every genuine Christian; and not to know it is the disgrace of unbelief in Christendom. This alas! clouds the apprehension of many a saint now, and almost ever since the apostle's death, who shows here that its realisation depends on keeping Christ's word, and God's love perfected within. But this is no more than what becomes every Christian, and the lack of it grieves the Holy Spirit of God by whom we were sealed into redemption's day, that is, the body's redemption. Lack of faith or fidelity dims the spiritual eye to our best privileges.
"He that saith he abideth in Him." Here is a further thing which might be only a boast, and an empty boast. This he meets in a way quite different from that in which he dealt with the careless despiser of God's authority. For he pronounced him a liar and the truth not in him. He was stamped as having nothing of God really. But where the profession of abiding in Him is made, how quiet and yet how conclusive is the inference! Do you say that you abide in Him? Then you ought to walk as He walked. Here is no pretence of having no sin. But if we say that we abide in Christ, the effect of abiding in Christ is immediate and powerful on the walk. The walk is the expression of life in the light of God; and if I abide in Him that is the Life and the Light, what is there to hinder my walking as Christ walked? In His presence we do not sin; out of the sense of it we do. By grace it is the same principle of walk, though far from the presumption of the same measure. Not the law but Christ is the standard.
Now we know as a matter of fact how easy it is to slip out; how readily we forget the Lord for a little; how apt to allow the activity of our own nature. This is not abiding in Him; but the apostle does not turn aside to bring in these modifications. He looks at principle; and a principle is absolute. As for any who refuse to look at the absolute truth because man is in a mixed condition, it is to give up faith for feeling and sense. How can such understand the truth of Christ here and elsewhere? It must be absolute in Christ and in His work. Grace must be absolute for a ruined sinner to profit by it. If God gives me justification, it is not a questionable one. If God justifies the ungodly, it is as absolute as His giving eternal life in Christ. And the believer has eternal life in order to obey as well as to enjoy fellowship with the Father and His Son. So here we read, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." He leaves this to act upon the conscience; for no higher claim is here made than to say that one abides in Christ. It is not the blessedness of knowing that I am in Him, but that I profess to make Him the home of my soul for every joy and sorrow, for every danger and difficulty. For this is to abide in Him. If it be verily thus with me, I ought to walk as He walked. But is it so in deed and in truth? The failure in real abiding in Him is shown in the shortcoming of our walk. But as Christians, we own Christ as our true standard, however it may humble us. Nor do we pretend that one ever walks in the measure of Christ's walk, but seeks by grace to walk after that manner.
1 John 2:7-11.
"Beloved,* no new commandment I write to you, but an old commandment, which ye had from [the] beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard.† Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not where he goeth, because the darkness blinded his eyes."
* The best authorities in every kind warrant this reading, not "brethren," as in many later manuscripts.
† So it is here also. The preponderance of weight rejects the addition. The sense is implied as in the previous clause.
We have already seen in the verses preceding these, that obedience is the first and most essential sign of possessing divine life. Its essence is not merely doing what is right in itself but doing it on God's authority and to please Him. One need not hesitate to say that, if a man were always to do what is right simply because it is right, he is always doing wrong; because he leaves out the most important element of all for God Himself and the believer too as His child. The first of all rights is that God should have His rights; whereas to leave out God is exactly what a man does if he acts only because he himself judges what is right. Who, in such a question, is he? What is man to be accounted of? No; God's will is in question, and therefore the fear of God is always the beginning of spiritual wisdom. Obedience accordingly is the first test of the new and divine life, as just given by the apostle, and particularly in view of lawlessness at work even then among the Christian professors. When man considers himself to be the person to judge, forgetful of the God that is not seen, the entire ground of sure and holy judgment is abandoned. For even supposing him decently moral and correct outwardly, a man walking simply on his own judgment of what comes before him is necessarily without obedience rendered to God. And without obeying Him all is wrong, and radically inconsistent with the responsibility of a Christian.
But there is another moral principle that comes after that in point of treatment here, but goes along with it also from the first. The reason is plain: both flow from Christ. For He is the life; and Christ's expression of it here below in word and deed gives the standard for knowing what life eternal really is, but does not speak merely of a theory or a doctrine. Life is the most intimate of all things for the creature, the most absolutely necessary in order to feel or judge, be anything, or do anything in spontaneous existence. All men have the natural life of man fallen under the power of sin and death; what can this avail with God or for us? It may do a deal of evil, but it can never lead to what will please God. Christ alone and always pleased Him perfectly; and it is the life of Christ which is our life now. He is the giver of life to everyone who believes with the heart. The first man brought in death; the Second Man is a quickening spirit. It was in the eternal Word; and as man He received from the Father to have life in Himself, but He gives life to those that receive Him. He quickens equally with the Father.
There is nothing that more characterises God than creating and giving life; but the philosophers that lack faith have not yet got to know what life is, or where it is. Some are looking with eager desire for its trace in the crucible. They expect to learn the secret from chemical experiments. Metaphysicians are not a whit wiser in interrogating reason, excellent for testing inference, but incapable of discovering the truth. But these and the like devices of men may be all well enough in matters elemental which belong to the material or the mental domain. But think of life, and what the judgment is worth that expects or at least longs to discover it as the result of any such research!
No; the life of man originally and immediately came from God; it was given by the inbreathing of God. This is the reason why he alone has an immortal soul. Other animals had a suited soul and life, but this did not come from God's breath; it was merely of God's will and power. He allowed their temporary existence; but this is wholly different from breathing personally into the nostrils of man, a way never applied to any other creature on the earth. Man only was thus favoured. The recognition of this difference clears up the ground of man's moral being and accountability; namely, the immortality of his soul.
But there is a privilege immeasurably greater than simply being immortal in the sense of the soul's perpetual existence. For it may have an issue unspeakably awful. Think of a perpetual existence in the lake of fire! Every one must come under the everlasting judgment of God, if he reject His Son: never-ceasing existence to suffer, and to suffer at the hand of God, because one stubbornly and wilfully refuses to believe that He in grace suffered thus judicially that the guilty might never suffer from Him, but only be blessed for ever! How rich God's mercy to proclaim salvation to the lost because Christ bore sin's judgment on the cross! And if I believe not on Him, nor in the glad tidings of what God wrought by Him, where am I? Under the power of Satan, the unrelenting power of the enemy that hates both God and man. But man cannot have non-existence. This becomes the terrible guilt of the sinner who would if he could make himself non-existent. He may commit suicide; but he must give account of it to God. For God gave him life; and who gave him licence to make away with that life by his own hand? How could such wicked folly work for any good? If murder in any shape be such as to denote a dark and deadly crime, self-murder is one of its worst forms, and a direct and extreme insult to God. As Jesus was ever the perfectly obedient One, it flowed from a life expressly eternal. In us who believe this does not always act, because flesh may work to our shame; but the new life, being eternal, always remains for due activity. The old life may break forth through unguardedness and lack of watching to prayer; for the old life, or mind of the flesh, is there too, and enmity against God (Romans 8:7). It is man's own will; and whom is he obeying then? Satan. For man's will surely becomes Satan's service. Such is man's boasted free-will.
We must never cease to reiterate that life eternal every believer receives at once from Christ. Its first breath in us is when faith begins in the soul: when the sinner bows to Christ as given of God's grace. Even this, as we have seen, He makes a matter of obedience to our God. It is pointedly His commandment that I shall believe the gospel as well as repent. There is thus true subjection to God in the soul; obedience in this case does not refer to what I am henceforth to do for Him, but from the first time my soul bows to God as a Saviour God through His Son. How blessedly He is giving me life! How wondrously He makes me the object of His love! And what love could be greater than giving His Son to live here for me, that I might have life eternal, except it be giving me the same One who was eternal life to die for my sins, that they might all be completely effaced by an everlasting redemption?
But this new life is the spring not only of obedience but of divine love. For the love here looked for is not merely to God. This last cannot but be when the soul really knows that God in sovereign grace has given him both eternal life, and propitiation too for his sins, in His Only-begotten and beloved Son. But loving one another is what is pressed here, the love of our fellow-Christians.
When saints are young and like the Corinthian Christians not spiritual, they think it an easy thing to love one another. One could wish that they would only try in earnest day by day. If they would but search themselves before God, they might soon learn how much passes for love that is only with word and tongue. It is all easy enough perhaps where everything goes smoothly the right way in our eyes; but when things go contrary to our wishes, there is the rub for such as count it easy to love. This kind of love you may find in any amiable human being, nay in a dog or a cat; but there is nothing divine whatever. But loving our brethren is in the face of a vast deal in us to hinder, and a great deal, it may be quite as much, in them too. It is not with the Christian as it was with Christ. "In Him is no sin." Sin is exactly what now is in us by nature. It is a pity for any who do not believe it; for they are living in a fool's paradise about themselves, when fancying themselves perfect now in the practical sense. They are far from perfect in this way. They have not even learnt the Christian perfection of abandoning self, and of finding everything in Christ; and still more when you come to practice every day. We shall never have perfection in ourselves till absolutely conformed to His image. When we judge ourselves in the light, we soon have to grieve over our failure, and with good reason.
Nevertheless the Lord laid it as a solemn injunction on His disciples to love one another. Faith in Him did not stand up for the Jews more than the disparagement of all nations. The love of one's own people has no small pride in it. We identify ourselves with what we consider peculiar merits, and shining honours. Certainly the Jews were as proud as any nation could be; nor can it be disproved that they had far better appearance for it than their foes. The truth is that no man has any just reason to be proud, but in the dust for his sins against God.
If one may abundantly wonder at what God has wrought, without doubt Israel had incomparably more than any other people. But the truth remains, that the moment we regard things in the light of God, if faithful, we cannot but be humbled for our unworthiness before Him. We find sin in ourselves and in one another. Therefore it must be of the Spirit of God to lift one above all that provokes and tries, all that is contrary not only to what we like but to what we seriously judge to be wrong.
Then comes the severe test of love. Do we persevere in loving even so? We ought not to be indifferent to Christ's dishonour, nor to the betrayal of God's truth, nor to unrighteousness, or to any other form of overt sin. But we are called to bear and to forbear, strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to suffer hardness as His good soldiers, to endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. And this is what love really does. There is a rising up to share God's patience, what Christ proved to the uttermost, as He showed it every day, in almost everything through the day. This did not hinder His denouncing evil against God; nor was this any failure in love. Not to have hated evil would have wronged God's nature and word; for indifference to evil is the very reverse of holiness. The love of what is good, and the honour of what is righteous, is part of the practical holiness of everyone who is born of God.
But love rises superior to that which is ever so trying to us personally, ever so opposed to our mind or wish. This we in faith can leave to God, and ought to leave it in love. We may reprove, and ought to reprove, what is wrong, save in cases where our doing so would be uncomely; but no matter what may be deplorable, we are called to keep ourselves in the love of God (Judges 1:21). Nor is this for our own spirits only, but will assuredly flow also toward one another.
It may be also just mentioned that the first word here shows the tendency of man to slip away from the exactness of the word of God. In our Authorised Version the seventh verse begins with "Brethren." But the apostle does not bring in that designation yet. He will and does say "Brethren" time enough, and but once (1 John 3:13). Our mutual relationship is not his prevailing thought. "Dear children" and "beloved" are his common terms. Here his word of address is exquisitely adapted to the love of which he is going to descant. The true reading means "Beloved." "Beloved, I write no new commandment." Can we not see the propriety of it? He is going to speak not of their relationship one to another, though of course this is true in its place; but the form here employed reminds them that they are beloved. It is not necessary to say by whom, though indeed grace had made them dear to the apostle. God Himself also loved them, as Christ manifested it; they were objects of His love who changes not. What so mighty for drawing out love toward one another, the objects of the same love! "Beloved, I write no new commandment, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning."
This old commandment we have in the Gospel of this inspired writer. It is he that brings it out more than any other, if not he only in terms. The. Lord laid it as His fervent injunction on the disciples that they should love one another. This He enjoined in the first of those remarkable chapters of the Gospel wherein He speaks to His disciples in view of His quitting the earth and going to the Father. In John 13:34-35, we have the new commandment. Let us refer to the context for a moment. "Little (dear) children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said to the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you." His going away is a necessary condition of Christianity. The absence of Christ is from earth in heaven. Till then Christianity did not properly begin, as far as the relationship of the disciples was concerned; though the root of the blessing was in Himself. But their true position as to the Lord and everyone else consequently, their full relationship, was new and learnt consciously after the Lord died, rose, and ascended.
As He intimates His leaving them, He expresses what He desired to be in them and from them. "A new commandment I give unto you" (plainly the reference is direct to the Gospel of John), "that ye love one another; 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." That is what is applied here in the Epistle. The Lord gave a commandment which John had already made known in the Gospel. It was given by our Lord when here. Thus we see the ample confirmation of what was said in expounding the first words of the Epistle, that "from the beginning" is altogether distinct from "in the beginning." Yet there could have been no such "from the beginning," unless there had been first the Word and Son "in the beginning" before the heavens and the earth. But "from the beginning" means from the time that the eternal Word was here, and in fulness of grace and truth with the disciples, the Word become flesh and tabernacling or dwelling among them. He refers to that very time, "an old commandment which ye had from the beginning." "The old commandment is the word which ye had from the beginning." "The word which ye heard" certainly was not "in the beginning."
They heard it from Christ. There never was such a command given before. It was not loving one's neighbour; the measure and manner as different as its objects, whatever its source. His was divine love going out from and to those that had received life eternal in Christ, and were about to obtain everlasting redemption through His death, objects alike of this divine love. It was a new company, the individuals of which were being prepared for all that was to be theirs, formed as far as could be then in accordance with the eternal life which each possessed in Him. But there was imperative need of His death and resurrection to give it a divine basis which would meet all difficulties and wants, and warrant all privileges whatsoever. But these counsels and ways of God are not particularly the province given to our apostle: we must search the Epistles of Paul for them. John looks at the abstract principles for saints personally and without modification, though modification there is to some extent because of what we are, and because of what the world is. The principles abide however in their own place, and John fully leads the faithful into them. He insists on the divinely given principles to which we are intended to hold fast; and we must depend on a faithful God to get all the difficulties solved by the word through him who wrote for this purpose, chiefly the apostle Paul.
Here our apostle takes his stand on the command to love after the pattern of Christ's love to us. It was "an old commandment," because before the death and resurrection of Christ He was still alive and with them on earth. They were as yet Jews; but they had received in their souls that which was infinitely above Judaism. Outwardly they continued going up to the temple. They might offer sacrifice and pay vows Levitical. The disciples went on in that way for a long time after - many, if not all, in Jerusalem. We even read of the chief apostles (after receiving the Holy Spirit of promise on the day of Pentecost) going up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, just as they used to do before and after they followed the Lord on earth.
"The old commandment is the word which ye heard" ["from the beginning" being rightly not repeated here]. This cannot refer to eternity. It was not commanded "in the beginning"; nobody heard it in eternity. It would have been altogether out of time, place and person, when there was nobody to love then existing. In short it is an evident mistake to confound "from the beginning" with "in the beginning," as so many perversely do.
But now in the next or eighth verse we read what sounds somewhat paradoxical. John never minds this, because what seems a paradox may be perfectly true. The uncircumcised ear counts it intolerable and contradictory. But the way to understand the Scriptures is always to believe them; then we begin to understand. If we do not believe them, how can we understand? It is simply the natural mind which prefers self to God, and refuses to learn what is immeasurably above its span. It is wholly incompatible with faith in God's inspiration to prefer our own mind, our own way, and our own word, to God's word.
The only thing that becomes the believer is resolutely to take his side with God and His word. He may feel that he cannot explain this difficulty or that. He believes God and distrusts himself. Therefore he waits. He believes the Lord will give him light on the enigma if it be good for him. If the light never comes, he is confident that the Lord has excellent reason for that. God, he is sure, is always right; but as to himself, how has he not been wrong! Here then the apostle says, "A new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in him and in you." What looks hard at first sight explains all exactly. One has not long to wait, nor far to seek, to understand how the old commandment could be the new commandment. Very probably the mere scholars could never find out the sense till doomsday. They would understand without believing; and consequently they remain dark and dull, no matter what their learning may be. The old commandment was true in Christ. When He said it, He loved them all, as none could love but God. He loved them perfectly. Do you conceive that they loved one another at that time? Were they not as jealous of each other as you could well imagine pious people to be? We find them ever apt to quarrel, certainly and keenly striving which of them should be greatest. Was there any love in this? Such rivalry is the antithesis to love, and indicates the activity of flesh.
Love would have felt that it was for God to decide the place of each. And scripture shows that God sets in the church as it pleases Him. But they each. and all wanted to be greatest, which of course they could not be. Can any desire be more opposed to love than everyone to be greatest, wanting the best place for himself? How contrary to the mind of Christ as set out in Phil. 2!
Here then it is shown that what was the old commandment when He was there is now a new commandment, because now it is true not only in Him but in them. And what was it that made it to be true in them? The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This it is that makes all things new. Resurrection could not be without death; nor could the old things pass away without Christ's death, any more than the new things come without His resurrection. But He is the resurrection and the life. And such is the great and glorious principle of Christianity. It all turns upon the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This it is that made the old new; this made it true in them as in Him. He indeed was and is the truth; but how is it with me or you? Are we in the Spirit? Or am I still looking out for myself? If so, it is neither Christ nor love.
How blessed that the old commandment is now new, and true in Him and in His own! And why so? Because Christians all stand alike, as having life in Him; but now that evils are dealt with on His cross, all things that hinder the working of divine life, the exercise of it in love, and its free display one with another - those evils have been all judged in the cross of Christ; and as the word reveals this, so the Spirit makes it good in each. The apostle speaks here again according to the principle. He does not take into account any passing qualification through the particular state of a Christian; which has its own corrective in the word elsewhere. But John gives us the true principle in all its absoluteness for faith to enjoy, and by grace reduce to practice in the measure of our spirituality. He declares it is true in us, that is, in all Christians as well as in Christ.
This is a cheering, yea, astonishing fact in the spiritual realm; but never is the blessing of it effectually known unless it is believed on God's word, and believed about others as well as about one's own soul. "Which thing is true in Him and in you." The old commandment was powerless till He died and rose; but when He died and rose, the fulness of the blessing being shown in Himself, it was then communicated to His disciples. The corn of wheat abode alone until it fell into the ground and died; but if it die, said the Lord, it beareth much fruit. And where is that "much fruit"? In all Christians, in everyone that is real. Modifications may come in sadly to hinder; and it is important that we should learn how the things that hinder us can be overcome, and how we may and ought to rise above them. Never should we allow ourselves quiet, never seek any relaxation of earnest crying to God, and of using the means that His word and Spirit supply to meet the difficulty in ourselves, or, it may be, in others. For Christ has given us the example: we also ought to wash one another's feet.
Here then we have the principle, Christ's commandment in power. It was ever perfect in Christ. When it was but the old commandment, He alone carried it out. But when He died and rose, behold the difference among them. "Then stood up Peter with the eleven," just like one man: no more carnal strife, rivalry, or self-seeking. We never hear of this before; never was such a change during the days of our Lord's ministry in the flesh, or what is called here "from the beginning." It was only true in Him. Now through His resurrection power it was true in them as well as in Christ. See the reason given: "Because the darkness is" not exactly past. Here again one must regret to appear critical; but bear with me if it is the truth, which I know and declare it to be. For it is no mere guess or subjective feeling or opinion. The word which the Spirit of God employs here means "quite passing," but not "past." To say the darkness is past says a great deal too much. The darkness will never be past till Christ comes again. "Arise, shine! for thy light is come." Then shall be light for all the earth. It may be more brilliant in Jerusalem, but it will reach the whole world, as His glory shall fill all the earth.
It is clear that such is far from being the case now. There is and will be heathenism and Mohammedanism in the present age. There will be Babylon as there is now, even Rome, besides all kinds of special enormities even in Christendom. And worst of all the lawless one impends, who will sit in God's temple, showing himself that he is God. Even now think of the scepticism that is preached every Sunday in London, and this notoriously in the Anglican body, among Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists, etc; and not by eccentricities but by some of their most eminent men. And there are few to say a decided word against this guilty trash, except some troublesome people who make themselves more and more disliked by their sounding the trumpet of alarm. For no matter how separately and simply they conduct themselves, their testimony is that all this unbelief is the deception of the devil, and the harbinger of the coming apostasy, and of the man of sin to be destroyed by the Lord's appearing in glory.
The darkness then is not past, indeed far from it; but it is passing. Where? In every added Christian. There might be some to believe in Kamtschatka; there might be more in Japan, or even in poor and proud, tricky and aggressive Russia. But wherever grace acts, and no matter where, if there be fresh saints of God, the darkness so far passes away. It passes effectually in every Christian. The apostle here too looks at the principle. He is not examining how far it has been realised; for this is not his work. He looks at things as they ought to be in the Christian, acting and carrying out the divine principle that his soul has received.
But he adds, "and the true light already shineth," to give the force as exactly as possible. There are Christians who do not like accuracy. But is it not better to have the truth as simply and clearly and fully as any can help? The important point here to remark is that this comes in after Christ's death and resurrection. Did not the world quench that light in His death? As far as it could, so it sought. But His resurrection gave the lie to the world's effort; for the light shines more powerfully than ever. "The true light already shineth." The saints, so weak before, become strong, and forget themselves and their follies in their joy at the risen Saviour. The Spirit given thereon is one of power and love and sobriety. Hence we may see how true the command to love is in Him and in them. For "in them" lay the difficulty. It was undeniably in Him, but how could it be true in them too? Risen to bear much fruit we see the darkness quite passing away and the true light already shining. Christ banishes the darkness for each Christian, and Christ is already shining for and in them all more than ever.
Accordingly in ver. 9 the reply is to him who says he is in the light, and yet hates his brother. "Saying" has a bad character in this Epistle. The true saint of God does not talk lightly of being in the light. He knows he is, he blesses God for it, but he is serious about what is so solemn. He leaves it to others to say boastingly - "I am in the light" when he means of a real saint, "You are in the dark." What can be more derogatory to the Lord, or less worthy of a Christian? The right and true course is not saying but manifesting that one walks in the light by a godly conversation. "He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother" manifests that he is not in the light. The hatred toward his brother is incompatible, not only with love, but with light and life. For these all go together and cannot be separated. The life is shown in obedience, but so it is in love; and the true light which already shines makes such darkness visible. Certainly if a brother be hard, impatient, or otherwise faulty, this is meant to test yourself: be all the more careful, if anything in him is grievous in your eyes. But why should not your heart go out to win him? Why give up love where it is so much needed? You ought also to pity, if you believe a brother has done serious wrong. Should he not be an object for your earnest supplication to God, however you may reprobate the evil?
"He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now." How summary and trenchant! So it is with loving John; nobody more tender, but who more decided? Here is the bright contrast with indifference. He does not say, "I love my brother;" but he does love him. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light;" and he loves, even though there were painful inconsistencies to make a heavy demand on his love. Thereby love is only the more proved; "and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." It was a trying case; but he loved. Such a one "abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." Had retaliation wrought, or ungracious desire of evil to one that had failed, there would be an occasion of stumbling. Such is under provocation the natural feeling of a man, but it is the negation of Christ, and consequently of the Christian.
"But he that hateth his brother" (ver. 10). Here we have the evil thoroughly shown out in its violent character. "He that hateth his brother is in the darkness." This is his state, which really decides the matter. One that hates his brother is a murderer in principle, as John shows afterwards (1 John 3:15). "He that hateth his brother is in the darkness." It is not merely what he does or how he walks, but he is in darkness. This he manifests by his ruthless behaviour. Words and deeds proclaim his state. What are his words? "He hateth his brother." And what his deeds? "He hateth his brother." "He walketh in the darkness." The walk brings in the reality of the man, just as it flows out of being in the light that we walk in the light. It is not a theory but a deep reality. Nothing less is conveyed by the word "walk." "And knoweth not where he goeth." He deceives himself. Unhappy but seared, he does not realise that he is a prey to the enemy. He is not aware that he is going into perdition. But there he is bound; and all the more, because he blindly took the place of a Christian. For if nothing can be more blessed than to be a Christian, nothing is more miserable than to take the place without being one truly; yet how many are thus misleading souls today?
How then can one be sure? I am sure that I am a lost sinner; and I am sure that God welcomes the lost sinner in the name of Jesus; for God gave the Son of God to be the Son of Man, to seek and to save the lost. I need Christ for my salvation, and believe on Him because of God's word concerning Him. Am I not entitled therefore to take the place of a Christian? If we receive Christ, we receive His life; and He is to faith the only propitiation for our sins. The title is thus given, children of God, to those that believe on Christ's name. Only He secures to all such the Christian portion and blessing. All the privileges of grace in Him come practically together.
On the contrary, if one merely takes up the Lord's name lightly, without just consideration of one's sins and the abject need of deliverance and salvation, clearly one walks in darkness all the while. It is to be in darkness and to walk in darkness and not to know whither one goes because the darkness has blinded one's eyes; and all the worse because of taking the place of a Christian. "For if the light that is in thee be darkness, then how great the darkness!" saith the Lord. One is born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God. It is through living faith in Jesus.
This is not said to discourage the weakest believer. Why should it? There is not a word in all the New Testament, or the Old either, to make persons doubt; everything is said to engage them to believe. If they believe, if they submit to God's revelation - the word of His truth and of His grace, the blessing is theirs. The word of truth is the gospel of salvation. Only there you have that which lays you bare as a wretched sinner, at the same time that it removes every stain, blots out your every sin, and gives you to stand consciously possessed of life eternal, and justified before God. It is not self that justifies me; I condemn myself. God justifies the believer in the Lord Jesus. It is only Christ that could make my deliverance from all condemnation a reality. If I have Christ, I can let myself go altogether; everything of which I was vain or proud, whatever may have been the form of my folly, I dismiss it all as utterly false and wrong. Oh the bliss of finding that all God's blessing is in Christ, and that He gives it all of His own free grace! not of works, lest any man should boast. But here is a person that ventured under that holy Name without any real sense either of his sins or of God's grace. It was mere presumption and self-deceit; or nowadays clerical pressure on giddy masses and classes. He passes somehow into the brotherhood but fails entirely; he hates his brother. He is just a natural man, and so is in the darkness; and he walks in the darkness and knows not where he goes, because, as it is said, "the darkness blinded his eyes."
But we see clear after we believe. Faith in Christ takes away our blindness, as it removes every other impediment. For the grace of God gives us Christ not merely as life and propitiation, but for every day's walk and for every day's danger or difficulty. Oh what encouragement there is in the simplest yet deepest way in which the apostle urges those two tests or signs of the real Christian: first obedience, and then love; in both no longer walking in darkness like the world, but having the light of life; because we follow Christ believingly and obediently, we also walk in love.
Accordingly we learnt first of all that obeying God is the primary and most essential mark of the Christian. To obey is meant to cover every act of our life, connecting what is set before us with our intentions or our wishes, or the like, and judging them all by this standard, Is it God's will? would it please God? In this is God calling me to do or bear, whatever it may be?
To be subject to His word settles all questions; and so Christ ever walked. Absolute submission to His Father's will makes it sweet for us. As He says, "Take My yoke on you and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." My brother, do you accept it loyally? Oh how comforting! For what makes it easy? Nothing but Christ. If the eye be upon Him, His yoke is easy if the eye be off Christ, whether on myself or on anything else, His burden becomes intolerable, and under unbelief one wholly breaks down.
We can see also the Spirit's wisdom in giving both tests, and in the order in which they stand; first obedience, then love. You may generally find as I have done, that when Christians talk about one another, they are apt to give love the first place in their practical scheme of Christianity. Their confidence rests on their opinion that such a one is a most loving brother. It would be wretched indeed not to be a loving brother; but what about his obedience? Is he, once self-willed, now marked by obeying God?
All may recollect in the early trial of the apostles (Acts 4, 5) this was their one plea - they must obey. Their preaching and teaching Jesus as the Christ gave great offence to the Jewish high-priest and the Scribes, the Elders, and the Sadducees. Hence they were commanded not to speak in that Name. But God appeared for them when imprisoned to the astonishment of all that had their charge. For out of prison an angel brought them, and commanded them to speak again in the temple. It was not like Peter alone led out, wonderful as that miracle was. But previously the whole of the twelve were rescued, whilst the guards walked up and down without the least perception of what God was doing. For well He knows how to blind eyes, and rescue from bonds if it pleases Him. Directed to the temple, there they delivered His message; yet, insensible even to this sign, Jewish leaders insisted on their silence. But the apostle Peter could say that God must be obeyed rather than men. This is the all-important claim of God, and the Christian's inalienable duty - obedience. If we do not obey God, we do Him utter wrong.
It is allowed that there are those here below who are entitled to command, as there are those who ought to obey. A child for instance should obey its parents; and every soul is to be subject to the civil authority. But their obedience differs greatly from the character of obedience here laid down for the Christian. External or natural obedience may be rendered in spite of repugnance. This never entered the obedience of Christ, nor ought it ever to be in the Christian's. He is sanctified to Christ's, obedience. He is exhorted to fix his view on a perfect law of liberty, as having a new nature which loves to do God's will as revealed in His word, in contrast with Israel under a law of bondage and the penalty of death. The new nature finds its motives in God's will, as Christ was the perfect pattern.
We may suffer for obeying God, but this is then an honour; as the apostles were scourged because they were resolute to obey God, and meekly bore the consequence. It was counted a great disgrace for a Jew to be whipped in the council. But they bore it quietly, and went out even rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonoured for the Name. This was not "passive resistance" but saintly obedience, and suffering the consequence without a murmur and full of joy. Obedience then supposes the will broken and submissive to God's word, and thus to Himself. There is no true lowliness without it; yet it arms the soul against all counter-attractions, and gives firmness to the weakest against every adversary. So we see in Christ Himself, who honoured Scripture as none ever did before, and fashions the Christian after His own model. It concentrates the moral mind on God's will, and is jealous to maintain His authority in whatever fell from His mouth, knowing that He has that divine perfection of majesty, holiness, truth, faithfulness, which was fully displayed in Christ, His image.
But love is not that purity of nature though altogether consistent with it, which light expresses so vividly, which manifests itself and manifests everyone and everything else where it shines. Love is the energy of the Godhead in intrinsic goodness, not only where relationship and congeniality with Himself exists, but rising and going out actively above all barriers, and in sovereign grace rescuing the vilest who receive Christ from the worst evils by virtue of redemption through His blood, and with eternal life, which is in the Son but given to the believer as his new life, with the Holy Spirit henceforth to guide him as a son of God, and to work in and by him in the unity of Christ's body, the church, as he awaits His coming to receive him to Himself, and introduce him, with all heavenly saints, into His Father's house on high. It one may be allowed the phrase, as obedience in the light is the centripetal force, of the Christian, love is the centrifugal, in being imitators of God as beloved children, and walking in love, according as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for an odour of sweet smell.
May the Lord grant that not merely this, the first mark, may be true in us, but also the second mark, even love, the energetic principle of the divine nature. It will be borne in mind that the Thessalonian saints were young in the faith. Yet the apostle told them, "Concerning brotherly love ye have no need that we should write to you, for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:9). We have been ranch longer in the way than they. The Lord give us grace that we, taught of God, may abound in love still more. Thankfulness always accompanies love. Anything else is but "good-nature," as people call it, a kindly benevolent spirit that does not like to trouble or be troubled, and is willing to let everyone have his own way; and this is accounted love! May the Lord enable us to discern the things of the Spirit of God.
1 John 2:12-13.
"I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven you for his name's sake. I write to you, fathers, because ye have known him [that is] from [the] beginning; I write to you, young men, because ye have overcome the wick one; I write* to you, little children, because ye have known the Father."
*There is preponderant witness for "I wrote" here, as there is occasionally for as evident blunders of early date in copyists. So it is here, where the context utterly forbids it, and its introduction brings in nothing but confusion, as is abundantly clear from the commentary of Dean Alford swayed by it.
Here we have an evident departure from the course of the tests applied to the question of spiritual reality as to life eternal, and fellowship with the Father and the Son. For it is evident that an analogous line is resumed in another form from the 28th verse of this chapter. There we have a strain substantially akin to that which was before us from 1 John 2:3 to ver. 11 in discussion of the two grand principles that distinguish a real Christian from everybody else. The first, as already seen, is obedience, and the second, love - both of them capital and indispensable. They are not wisely comparable for a moment one with another, except that obedience properly takes the first place; because it means obeying God and He must and ought to have the pre-eminence. The love, on the other hand, that is looked for here is not love to God, but love of our brethren. Though this is a cardinal principle of Christianity, and its absence fatal to anyone's Christian profession, nevertheless obeying God has a necessarily prior claim to loving our brethren, and in certain circumstances may seriously affect its claims. In point of fact they both begin at the same moment, when the soul receives life eternal through faith in our Lord Jesus. From that beginning it is no longer the old "I" that lives, but Christ who lives in me, which is true of every Christian without exception.
But here we turn, after the introductory ver. 12, to the spiritual gradation between Christians; and this is pursued from ver. 13 down to the end of ver. 27. First of all he carefully prepares the way by setting all on a common platform by saying "I write to you, dear children." Thus he addresses them altogether, and purposely brings in their universal privilege as introductory to the different classes among believers, because of their varying development spiritually. For although the word of God is now complete, and there can be no development in Christ who is absolutely perfect, there may and ought to be growth in the Christian by the knowledge of God. But in the spirit of grace, before entering on these special differences among Christians, we are shown the necessary foundation on which the faith of the gospel puts us, where we are all alike, and this too from the very threshold of our confession of Christ. Surely it is helpful and interesting to see what is laid down as the first step that the believer takes after he has received life, and has had the principles of obedience and of love implanted in his soul, along with life and in fact of essence inseparably involved in it. Who that knows the Lord Christ can doubt that He was always obedient, and always walked in love? Now the Christian cannot in principle be separated from Christ, being one spirit with the Lord. He owes everything to Him, and Christ is his all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).
Now there is a privilege of the greatest moment which ought to be known and enjoyed from the earliest days. This may not always be from various causes, though the gospel proclaims present and complete forgiveness to the believer through faith in Christ and His work. Yet many saints fail herein, as we too well know; and so it has been for very many years, one might say ever since the apostles left the earth. The grace of God in salvation soon yielded here to human reasoning, and so to legal conditions; thus to impair even the plenary forgiveness of sins, and gradually make it the end for the Christian instead of his starting-point. In short the Galatian error, in spite of the Epistle that denounces and refutes it, overspread the Christian profession; and the gospel fell under law, which always presents life as something for which we must work in order to earn or keep the blessing. On that ground one retrogrades to Judaism, having abandoned the distinctive grace of the gospel. For it is God's glad-tidings that a Christian starts with divine grace, giving to faith both life in Christ and also His propitiation for our sins. If the life cannot be extinguished, the exercise and enjoyment of it may be much hindered by the error which puts off or hides the forgiveness of sins by making people labour for it, and groan because they have not got it, and are troubled with natural doubts and fears.
"Am I His? or am I not?" is unworthy of Christ and deplorable for the Christian. Yet, singular to say, it is held by earnest Christians. And it is surprising that not merely Arminians cherish this hesitation about it, but the highest Calvinists also. There are those who go as far as to say, "If you do not doubt about yourself, I doubt about you." Can there be a narrower or more extreme school? One hardly conceives of a Roman Catholic darker in his thoughts than that. Yet some of these are hyper-Calvinists, pre-occupied with self-inspection and judging every one save themselves. But the fact really is that, if they did judge themselves, they would be forced to fall back on the grace of the Lord Jesus, and forget themselves in the riches of God's goodness in Him.
His grace does strengthen as nothing else can under the Spirit's teaching of the soul. The forgiveness of our sins Christ has secured to us by His blood which cleanses us from every sin. This is what the gospel proclaims to every creature that he may believe. The worst sinners on the earth can be truly and righteously, earnestly, lovingly, and perseveringly addressed with a call to believe on Christ and His precious blood for the remission of their sins. Scripture declares this to be through Christ's work, not God's grace only but His righteousness. Yet as a matter of fact there are very many Christians who do believe in the Lord Jesus, but do not apprehend that His work on the cross entitles them to present and full forgiveness. Believing in Him they put their sins between Christ and themselves. Besides and in particular they are troubled by the sense of indwelling sin. The latter one readily understands: sin in the flesh is a great difficulty to believers at and after the start. They find that, though truly converted, their experience is of a deeper evil within than they ever suspected before. They are surprised that then should be the time when they realise it with grief. Yet it is the light of life in their soul, which makes them conscious of that self which inheres intimately in their old nature.
The soul by grace comes to the knowledge then, as he is led on, that there is not only the new man which he expected to be alone in him, but the old too, and lively. For it constantly seeks to break out, and needs therefore to be kept by faith in the place of death to it, the cross of Christ, wherein God condemned it. Nothing else could completely settle the account of the old man; only Christ's death. When His blood is spoken of, it is rather applied to our sins or our guilt; but Christ's sacrificial death covers far more than acts of sin. There the mind of the flesh was judicially dealt with. There sin in the flesh had God executing sentence on it by sacrifice for sin; not for sins only but sin indwelling. This is learnt not only by faith but experimentally also.
For many, when they are converted, perhaps almost all more or less, are shocked to find indwelling sin after they believe in Christ. Full of joy at having received a perfect Saviour, they do not apprehend that their sins are completely blotted out, and they have to experience an evil within which never so troubled them before. But if it is not met by the death of Christ, what is there to add for it? What more fully dealt with sin? There is a powerful examination of Christ's work in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the gist of which is that, as there is but one divine Saviour, so there is only one efficacious sacrifice; if more be required, He must suffer often. But this seem to subvert and deny the truth of Christ's cross; it annuls His work who died once for all. "Death hath no more dominion over Him;" as sin never had. But sin, that dwells in us, even after we believe by grace, had to be and was condemned in His cross. What is needed for sin indwelling is God's condemnation of it; and this we have in Christ's death on the cross. The fire of judgment in the sacrifice for sin must consume sin before God according to the well-known figure. The New Testament gives us the full truth of what the Old Testament gave partially in the type. All these figures, with a great deal more that no figure could set forth, centre in Christ and His work.
The apostle alleges a blessed issue in plenary forgiveness as his reason for writing the Epistle, on which he builds much more. He does not call it his only reason, but it is his reason for writing to them; and we may add, that his reason for writing to them remains in all its profit to us. All Christian doctrine, all teaching of the saints, is grounded on this basis: that we have by grace the forgiveness of sins. We are not on proper Christian ground till we accept from God that in virtue of Christ our sins are forgiven. "I write to you, dear children" (thereby embracing the entire family of God, of which there is a good deal to say presently), "because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake." Can anything be more simple? In order to be fully blest there is nothing, to begin with, more necessary to know personally. It is for the Christian to begin the day with it, and with it to go through each day, and to retain its comfortable certainty as our last waking thought. For indeed our sins are forgiven for His name's sake. There is no miserable fear that something remains in the dark or uncertainty to cloud: the glad tidings which we received in our ungodly state declared on God's part our sins remitted on our faith. Hence it is a great slight to the gospel, and a very great dishonour to the Lord Jesus, to doubt it. Clearly such a feeling sets aside the plain words of God; for what can be clearer than what is before us? Does not this ground abide? Are we under temporal and conditional promises like Israel of old in the law?
Peter proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in early days. "To him bear all the prophets witness that every one that believeth on him shall receive through his name remission of sins'; and the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to all that believed among the Gentiles, as before on Jews. There is indeed no reception of that divine seal without the known forgiveness of sins (compare Acts 11:17). Somewhat later and in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia Paul preached just the same. "Be it known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man is preached to you remission of sins, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses by (or in) him every one that believeth is justified." Thus the two great apostles, of circumcision no less than of uncircumcision, thoroughly corroborate what the last surviving apostle propounds at the close to counteract the seducers growingly at their evil work. It is not even that he announces the privilege for them to learn it, that their sins were forgiven for the sake of Christ's name; he writes the Epistle to them, because their sins are forgiven them. If they were not forgiven, the ground presupposed and essential for the Christian is taken away. Without its known certainty there could be no peace with God, nor fitness of soul to receive or profit by further divine communications.
There is no "if" brought in here. The "ifs" in Scripture are important, and not to be explained away where they occur. But here there is no "if;" because an "if" in the gospel would bring entire ruin on its nature, character and aim. For the blessing of redemption (whatever the grace it brings, and the new responsibility it creates) depends not on the redeemed but on the Redeemer. Nothing can be simpler than this truth, which seems its essence in a few words; and faith receives what God declares about it. He has taken the greatest pains, not only by the two great apostles Peter and Paul, one of the circumcision and the other of the uncircumcision, but here also by John, the last of all. The truth of the gospel remains "in the last hour," as fresh to the end as at the beginning. In scripture it is entirely unimpaired by the practical ruin of the church and by the awful intimation which the apostle Paul gave comparatively early, that there is to be "the falling away" before the day of the Lord in judgment. This was made known in one of his earliest Epistles, the second to the Thessalonians, the first to them being the earliest of all his Epistles. The second was written not long after, perhaps within the same year; and there is predicted the awful climax of lawlessness, apostasy from the truth, and this not for Jews nor for heathen, but sad to say for Christendom. If reunion come, this will be its character.
The Jews had already apostatised when they gave up the Lord God of their fathers for idols, and crowned it with the rejection of their Messiah, the Lord Jesus. This we may call their apostasy, though they will proceed to greater enormity before the end. The heathen had been always in a state of apostasy from God from the time that they set up false gods. But the awful end disclosed in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians is, that the apostasy is to fall on Christendom before the day of the Lord comes. And you have only to look at the daily papers, or the monthlies or the quarterlies of our time, and you will find evidence in the religious organs as much as in the worldly journals, that the apostasy is impending. They cannot hide but betray the preparation for it.
"Higher criticism," falsely so called, is the devil's device to throw dust in people's eyes about scripture. Where is the word of God left for faith? If scripture be denied to be the word of God, where is the church, the believer, or the lost sinner? Where is Christ the Lord, or God's testimony to His grace and truth? No ground at all abides for faith. Make it an uncertain thing, the word of man (Elohists and Jehovists senior and junior, with redactors too!) really rather than the word of God, and you lose God's saying love, grace, and controlling power which kept infirm and erring man from a single error, that there should not be a flaw in all Scripture as originally given of Him. This is what God intended;. as it is what the apostle Paul pronounces authoritatively in his latest Epistle (2 Tim.). That too was the proper time for it. He says that not merely all Scripture in a general way is given by inspiration of God, but "every scripture," every part of the Bible, each part of the Old Testament, and each of the New Testament, every bit of it is God-breathed. Blessed be God that so it is. Can God lie? Has God any need to repent, or alter His mind?
Oh the wickedness of man, and in particular of Christendom! For it is most distressing to see this scepticism unjudged in all the denominations, great and small. Not one of them escapes its withering influence more or less, and especially in their leading or energetic men.
Here then, in ver. 12, we have the commonplace or initial privilege which every Christian is supposed to possess. It is not merely to have life, for all the Old Testament saints had life; but none of these, though having life, could say, "Our sins have been forgiven for His name's sake." Christ had not yet come, and still less had He yet suffered. The atoning work was not yet done; the full proclamation of grace could not yet be made. Now all things are ready, even for Him to judge living and dead; and "I write to you, dear children, because your sins are (have been and are) forgiven you for His name's sake." It could not be before He came. The words "His name's sake" are all-important. It was not necessary to express more fully who "He" was; every Christian understands it at once. They particularly apply when He is not here. The revelation of His grace and truth is come and abides. "His name" means what God has revealed of Him and His work. It takes in not only what the Lord was when here, but what He suffered and accomplished before leaving the world for the Father. And the Spirit of God came down at His request, and also on the Father's part, not only for rich blessing of the saints but to His glory, that the proclamation of the gospel might go forth to every creature in His power. Nobody was shut out from its blessed sound. Many individuals, through their hostility or their carelessness, might refuse to bear. This is their sad affair, for which they must give account. But it goes out to all: Jew or Greek, circumcision or uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free; not one is excluded from God's word of reconciliation. It is His righteousness and not grace only; whereas conscience work, if we stray, is a question of holiness in the soul's state and practice. One needs to have the fellowship restored which sin interrupted. Nevertheless none derive effectual blessing from the reconciliation except they believe on Christ by divine grace; and this requires the action of the Spirit of God in conscience and heart. Yet it is by the faith of God's word that the Holy Spirit thus works livingly.
But among the saints in the church of God, wherever it may be, it is ever assumed that all within knew their sins forgiven. How else could there be happiness individually before God? How else singleness of eye to discern His will and courage to do it in the face of all the snares from the world, the flesh, and the devil'? How could there be real fellowship in worship? How fitness to take their part in the assembly's obligation to deal with evil, and in the last resort to purge it out? They could not otherwise bear to know, and firmly act on it, that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." For the lack of enjoyed forgiveness implies not merely a bad conscience, but one never in fact purged from dead works to worship a living God, so that spiritual power falls and uncertainty cannot but darken and enfeeble the soul. When the grace that gives the cleansing by Christ's blood is seized by faith, the Holy Spirit makes it known as a primary corporate duty to "purge out the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, according as ye are unleavened." Practice must be ruled by divine principle: else the assembly becomes an offence to the Name, and exists only to deny and disgrace it. "For also our passover, Christ, hath been sacrificed. Wherefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth." There might be sad failure where, as among the Corinthians, there was no question that all Christians have, through the faith of the gospel, their sins forgiven; but without that forgiveness the Epistles in general fail to apply. The unforgiven are not addressed in them. They are not on the ground of Christianity, still less of the church.
Where is even this now insisted on? The Reformation did not require it for the assembly (if we can speak of "the assembly" then); for it did not in the least set things in church order. It did what was a far more needed and important work; for it gave people the Bible, which had been taken away, particularly by the proudest of those religious corporations which call themselves churches without the right to it. Scripture had long been hidden away. A priest might give leave, but he rarely cared to give leave; and people could not get it otherwise.
A person in London was extremely anxious to read the New Testament. Being a Romanist and what is called "a good Catholic," he would not break the law of "the church," which as the rule forbade it. But it did not forbid reading the Greek Testament; and so he in a roundabout way attained his end. Although foreman in a factory (and you know what such a post implies, what a responsibility rests on his shoulders and how his time is taken up), the man learnt Greek for the express purpose of enjoying God's word direct in the New Testament. The fact was told me by the master, who was a well-known and respected Christian and had all confidence in his zealous and conscientious servant. It was Christian feeling in a Romanist struggling against the impious and tyrannous zeal of its misbegotten authority. If he had not light to judge the wickedness, it is evident that he had a conscientious desire after God's latest word; and he took no little trouble to get it; and we may hope it was blessed to his soul. No more can I say than was told me, except that in all his workmen none was more reliable than the poor Romanist who learned Greek in order to enjoy the New Testament as it came from God. Who can wonder that he feared God and loved His word?
At length we come to the different grades, after being shown what is common to them all. The first is, "I write to you, fathers," that is, the most mature in spiritual power and knowledge. Is it not worthy of our grave attention? What saith the Scripture? Notions of government or of doctrine have nothing to do with this. It is depth of spiritual entrance into the mind of God about Christ. It is a higher measure of apprehending the Lord Jesus which constitutes a father spiritually, the first of the three classes in God's family distinguished by the apostle. First there were "fathers"; secondly "young men"; and thirdly "little children." As "dear children" correctly rendered includes all the three, it is necessary to use some such word as "little children," or "babes" definitely for those least mature. For it must be remembered that quite different words are employed and kept up throughout. In the 12th verse the term "dear children" (tekniva), as is invariable, means all the family; and as this word introduces the parenthetic portion, so in the 28th verse the selfsame word introduces the resumption of what follows all these various classes. For, this done, he again turns to the ordinary course which was interrupted in order to show that, on the same ground-work of grace, differences there are among the children of God in spiritual maturity, the only kind of difference that is recognised. But within the parenthesis (viz. the last part of verse 13), "I write to you, little children" (παιδία), it is a different word.* This occurs nowhere else in the Epistle except here, and a second time at the beginning of ver. 18, where its repetition commences. There are just these two occasions. Our Lord in a general way used both these terms, as given in John's Gospel; but we do not enter into that now, as it seems to have no bearing on the special usage of the First Epistle, of which the importance is made perfectly plain. No man is asked to give an opinion when God has told us the truth with all clearness. There need therefore be no doubt about it. Nor can one allow the validity of, or room for, difference of judgment; because God in His word is, and ought to be, the end of all controversy.
* It is extraordinary that any Christian of the least intelligence should blunder, as Dean Alford did here. In the third edition of his last volume p. 440, he still talks of "three classes of readers, denoted the first time by τεκνία, πατέρες, νεανίσκοι, and the second time by παιδία, πατέρες, νεανίσκοι. But this is mere oversight of the common portion of the τεκνία, followed by the three divisions into πατέρες, νεανίσκοι, παιδία, which is repeated with greater detail (except for the πατέρες) in verses 14 to 17 for the νεανίσκοι, and in verses 18 to 27 for the παιδία. Afterward τεκνία is the address to all from verse 28, as he addressed all in verse 12. What misled Alford was one of those mistakes (too often in the oldest uncials, A B C L P, etc.) which give ἔγραφα in the last clause of verse 13, from the scribe's confusion with what follows. It is not even true in fact; for the apostle had not written yet to the παιδία. The true reading, though not so well supported, is γράφω, for all three on the first mention, ἔγραφα, for all three on the second. Muddle is the result for the exposition founded on an evident misreading. To say that παιδία is here "addressed to all the readers" is to ignore words, context and sense.
Here then in verse 13, as in 18 only, the "little children mean the babes of the family. After the "fathers" and "young men" come the "little children," if one may so render, this being the triple division of the "dear children" or God's family in general. It is necessary in some way to distinguish them; and all the more, because the lack of it has exposed excellent and learned men to error here. It must ever be so where erudition is not subject to the revealed truth, and consequently does not enjoy the guidance of the Holy Ghost according to the word. Where this is unhappily the case, learning instead of being useful may do a great deal of harm, and can do no good. For where is the good spiritually of anything into which the Spirit of God does not enter and guide? But if the Spirit of God speaks in words taught of Himself, we must be submissive to the word. Then we have the blessed certainty of revelation, but not otherwise.
It is obvious how far reaching this verse is, and like the one preceding in the simplest and clearest form. Here the three distinct classes stand out with remarkable brevity. But the Spirit of God goes over the ground again, when He enlarges, with one marked exception, in a truly instructive manner, which will come before us in its own place.
Now let us be content to take the few words which the Spirit of God gives on their distinctive differences.
The "fathers" are so designated here "because ye have known him that is from the beginning." Who can mistake Him? It is Christ, and none other. But He is not here called by His usual name. He was the Word and Son, before the time described as "from the beginning." He was Only-begotten of the Father through all eternity. The Eternal Son of the Eternal Father no human mind can fathom; and the incarnation necessarily adds to its inscrutability. But this is not the least ground for not believing what is infinitely above and beyond us; it is revealed without a doubt. And the reason why men break down upon it all is that they reason from man up to God, which is always false. You must reason down from God to man, if you are to be in the truth; for who knows the truth but God? And who can reveal the truth but God, as He has done in Christ? In the Gospel John is most careful to say that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." It matters not how far one essays back in thought into the depths of eternity. Imagine millions of years! These are not the beginning, though of course one cannot with propriety talk of "years" before the measures of time apply. But go back in imagination into these unmeasured depths, there He subsisted. No beginning had He who is eternal, and in His own personality also He was "with God."
Again, not only was He with God as a distinct person from the Father and the Spirit; but He was God. Nor is there any property of God more distinctive than His being eternal; if not eternal, not God.
But quite a different thing is referred to here. It is not knowing Him that was in the beginning with God, but knowing "Him that is from the beginning." It is the beginning of His taking flesh, the incarnate Word, in this world Such is the absolutely new fact. From the beginning is reckoned from His manifesting Himself as Emmanuel, the God-Man. This was He whom the "fathers" knew. What can you know about the Son in eternity except that He was the Only-begotten Son in the Father's bosom, the object of His everlasting delight as even Prov. 8 tells us? Such He was when not a creature existed above or below, neither angel nor man nor lower being. There was only the blessed God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as we know now; and there were divine counsels which were afterwards to be divulged to us who now believe. What do we know more than this? But if we look at "Him that is from the beginning" there is, one may say, almost everything to learn and know.
And where do we find this illimitable subject? In the New Testament generally, in the Gospels particularly. There we have Him on earth, there shown as man, not a mere human being, but God and man in one person, truly a divine person. There was He born of the Virgin, not only Messiah but God's Son, Elohim and Jehovah (Matthew 1:21; Mat 1:23). Oh what a deal there is to learn even at His birth! For we here only touch the fact of His person when He became incarnate. If we are told a good deal about Him as a babe, we have even more about Him when He was a child twelve years old. And what significant silence is kept over all the years thence to thirty! There were no trumpets blown, no beating of drums, no pomp or ceremony, no such thing as the birthday remembered by a single soul except His real mother and His legal father, and perhaps their acquaintance; nothing of further recognition now; just as at the inn there was no room for Him at His birth. Who takes a shrewder worldly measure of a person of consequence than a waiter at an hotel? He soon appraises the person that appears; he guesses well who is good pay for the house. No; the manger will do very well enough for such folk. The stable is at hand, but "no room for them in the inn."
One wonder is the entire obscurity in which He moved who was the Father's delight, when simply working at the carpenter's bench with His legal father. But there and then He was doing the will of God. "Must I not be in my Father's things?" And here He was in the temple, hearing the teachers, and asking them questions. He did not mount a chair to preach, like some of the foolish boys put forward by more foolish men and women. But there He was, in the most lowly and lovely manner, hearing them and asking them questions, with far more knowledge than all His teachers. And was it not a testimony to their consciences, to learn how this could be? For there was no pretension: become man He remained as yet simply a boy, but this boy the Lord God, the Creator of the world. Such was the One on whom the Father looked down to find what met all His mind and His affections, not merely as a divine person but peculiarly a divine person become man. Become man! The Word become flesh! What? Entered the family of man! Yet man as he is and has long been is the most wicked, the vainest, the proudest of all creatures in God's creation. Other animals stick to their habits from the time that man's sin wrought havoc even with them. But man only goes out of one wickedness into another, always getting worse and worse as time went on; and the more light they received outwardly, the more they perverted it really.
After much, when the world as a whole was at the worst point at which it had ever arrived, the Lord was born in the fulness of time. And when He entered upon His public service, what did every day disclose to Him! What lessons fell from His lips and His life! With men, women and children, He was familiarly conversant; with elders and lawyers, with Scribes and Pharisees, and with Herodians and Sadducees, with hypocrites and with the self-righteous, with wicked women and wicked men, and habitually with pious men and pious women. For the Lord had to do with every class. Never was any one brought more variously into contact, never one taking such loving pains with everybody, none showing divine grace and truth as He to everyone that came. Nothing is here said about His miracles, wonderful as they were, and signs of yet deeper things. Nor need one now enlarge on His words; though He spoke as never man did. He could say, when asked who He was, "Absolutely (κατ᾽ ἀρχὴν) that which I also speak to you" (John 8:25). He was what He said. He is the truth, as no other man. And who are those that relish all this, who enjoy it, who appreciate Him thus presented and know how to apply it? The "fathers." "No one hath seen God at any time: the Only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father - He declared [Him]." He too showed the Father. Their hearts were filled with Christ.
As you know well, this is not what generally satisfies even real Christians, nor can it be expected as things have been since primitive days. Without a total breach with man and the world it can never be for the Christian, who must have personally and in the Spirit gone through all kinds of difficulty in himself and all outside him. How often the Lord's work becomes all-absorbing to some devoted souls; as the church becomes to others, though by no means so frequently. But Christ, known as He was, detects and disperses all that is undue, and abides better known and with deepening sense of the fulness that dwelt in Him bodily.
Of course the "father" had once been "a babe," and "a young man," before he could be a "father." He had fully tasted the early joys in all their freshness; he had taken part in the conflicts which demand spiritual energy and courage. But after passing through every kind of experience as a man of faith and love, the result of it all is this: nothing but Christ, and Christ all. But, let it be repeated, it was knowing "Him that was from the beginning." It was not merely the Son in heaven throughout eternity, however owning the eternity of His person, but He, man on earth among men. What particularly characterises the fathers is knowing the Son incarnate, the Christ as He was seen and heard every day of His public service in Galilee, Judea, or Samaria. It was Himself, God and man, God in man, the Son revealing the Father in all He said and did. This is what won and fixed and filled their hearts. It is what delighted God's heart. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I found my delight" or "my complacency." It was here in His grace (Matt. 3) and in the witness of the coming glory (Matt. 17) that the Father's voice was thus heard; and it is in Him manifested here that a "father" enjoys fellowship with Him. For they had truly fellowship with the Father and the Son, and in the most profound and practical way. Those are the "fathers."
One might have a great gift, and not at all be a "father." One might be not only a great preacher of the gospel but also a powerful teacher, yet not a "father." It depends not on gift in any way, but on that spirituality which has learned the valuelessness of everything but Christ. Profit there had been by other things; profit even by what humbled and inflicted the keenest pain. One might have entered with wonder, joy, and gratitude into our blessing in Christ in the heavenly places, members of His body who is the Head at God's right hand; into union also with all the saints which flows from our union with Him. But the issue of all that mystery, and of all profitable experience is to find that the all is in Christ Himself; in the Christ that our Father loves and honours. The same is He who occupies and delights our hearts too; and this, as He was manifested in the world. This is to know "Him that is from the beginning," the last and the best portion of the "fathers."
The apostle turns to the second class. He says, "I write to you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one." They are characterised by energy, energy that went out in faith and love. They had thoroughly discerned and judged sin, to which they knew they died with Christ. They knew that they were also risen with Him, to set their mind on Him and His things above, and to mortify their members on the earth. They had got beyond occupation with self. They had learned the power of Satan, and they faced it. They resisted the devil, and he fled from them. Thus they overcame the wicked one. But they were in the midst of that kind of conflict, and they were strong. They too had profited by the first place. Everyone of course begins as a "babe," and goes on perhaps to be a "young man;" but very few reach the place of a "father." Perhaps it may be allowed me to say that, knowing a great many Christians, I have known few "fathers" in my pilgrimage, nor have I even heard of them except very rarely. But "young men" happily it is not so uncommon to find. But it is very little if at all found in the religious world. Indeed even the full and proper character cannot be developed where the world necessarily exercises the influence it does there. Hence it is, as it remains to be shown that not even babes have the proper stamp of "little child" as affixed by the apostle. How sad not even to possess or recognise distinctly the signature that God gives the "little child!"
But we have had the second class sufficiently defined, we may hope, for every Christian to appreciate and understand, even if he can hardly claim it himself. It is vigorous Christianity, upright and decided, and knowing well that contention with flesh and blood, with which most are familiar, is short of what Satan's power is. They need the whole armour of God, and they put it on as essential to such warfare. They know both how to withstand, and, having done all, to stand. They have overcome the wicked one. Their conflict is clear enough in a general way. They are not ignorant of the enemy's devices, but resist him resolutely and are enabled to overcome. It is a vigorous Christianity with power in faith and in practice. Here too gifts are not in question. It is purely spiritual attainment. The forgiveness of sins has nothing to do with attainment, any more than the possession of life and light in Christ. It is a matter simply of faith in the gospel. But the world and man being what they are, the believer, when he receives the privileges of grace, cannot be without the experience of self and the world, and of Satan also put to the proof and silenced. They are not deceived by the secrecy or the silence of the great enemy. But they set themselves firmly by grace on the ground of His unaided victory who is their Saviour and Lord, and thank God who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ. We thus prove that in all the things which seem against us we more than conquer through Him that loved us. Thus have the young men overcome the wicked one.
Thence we come to the very interesting and far more numerous third class - the "little children." "I write to you, little children," that is, the least ones of the "dear children" (in ver. 12, as in 1 and 28), "because ye have known (or, have the knowledge of) the Father." Have you ever tested how far this character belongs to the children of God whom you have known? It is to be supposed that many of us have met not a few children of God in the course of the Christian life. But if you had made it a point to ask, "Have you known the Father," what answer would be most frequent? Is one going too far to anticipate that most would feel it too much to claim? "Know the Father! Alas! I could not presume to say such a thing of myself." Most Christians evidently think that this would be a really wonderful attainment on earth - to have the knowledge of the Father! Who can have such knowledge in this life and world? For it means that they do know themselves to be His children now; that they have no hesitation about it; that it is a truth received from God, settled and sure in their souls, not because of dreams, feelings, or ideas; and as far as possible from any merit on their own part. This they have been taught of God, and they gratefully believe it for their own souls. They already knew their sins forgiven, as we have seen. They could not know the Father without resting on redemption in Christ. But how few saints thus rest always in peace on His redemption!
Holding the soundest doctrine on redemption is in no way your soul at God's word resting on Christ's redemption. It is very possible to receive the truth of redemption abstractly, and to say "I have no hold of it before God for my sins. Sometimes I have a humble hope; but at other times I am utterly cast down as to my soul." Clearly this is not real peace; still less, settled peace. Settled peace is that which, being founded upon the blood of His cross, never changes, because its ground never changes. There is also the known relationship to the Father, which is by the Holy Spirit given because we are sons. Even the babe is characterised by more than known forgiveness of sins. This is a vital truth of Christianity. Plenary remission of sins through the blood, no matter how assuredly realised by faith, does not constitute what the "babe" in God's family is expected to know. Were this all, he is without the essential blessing of relationship, and of known relationship, to the Father.
Hence another apostle (Galatians 3:26) insists to the Galatians, "Ye are all God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus;" as here our apostle says, "I write to you, babes, because ye have known the Father." This they could only know. because they were sons, and God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Galatians 4:6). None can so feel and utter it to God, unless they have received, not a spirit of bondage unto fear, but a Spirit of adoption. Then as divine power works the sense and affections in us as in that intimate relationship, so the duties flow out of it toward our Father and according to His will. Thus is this blessed privilege given and stated with all simplicity. Many in our day have faith in Christ Jesus, who are afraid to believe that they are sons of God, and that they abide so. The Holy Spirit is grieved at such unbelief, and can but reprove it while it lasts, instead of giving them the joyful liberty proper to such a relationship.
But here you have the youngest portion of the family of God in known relationship with the Father. Never can any one have this constant sense of being a son of God unless he have the Holy Ghost sealing him. There He dwells, because our sins have been forgiven us for Christ's name sake, and thereby the babes know the Father. So the apostle says to the Ephesian saints (Ephesians 1:13), "in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." These were not then advanced Christians. They had not as yet made progress in the truth. They had only just received the truth of the gospel as God sent it to them. They believed. in the efficacy of Christ's death, and accepted the fulness of His grace; and that fulness included both their sins blotted out, and themselves made sons of God, and receiving the Holy Spirit, so as at all times to cry, Abba, Father. And Christian blessing is not conditional or temporary like a Jew's. Legal thoughts swamp Christ's work for us under the Spirit's in us, and thus shake the peace made through the blood of His cross.
Assuredly that is a wondrous place for one to enter by faith who had been, perhaps a short time before, nothing but a lost sinner. Now by virtue of Christ's redemption the believer has the knowledge of the Father. This changes all to him, and leads him to the confiding intercourse of a son with his Father. If a father after the flesh is dear to his children, particularly if he is an affectionate and faithful father, there is near and bright intercourse. There can be no doubt about the Father. There all is blessed and considerate; for He is as tender as He is true and faithful. There follows then loving intercourse between the sons and the Father. And who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God. It is not merely crying, Abba, Father; but as many as are led by God's Spirit, they are sons of God. And the Spirit bears witness with their spirit that they are children of God. Thereby too they taste the comfort and the certainty that their Father loves and blesses them day by day, though if need be chastising for profit, that they may partake of His holiness, called to His everlasting glory in Christ Jesus. Thus then we see the babes of His family; and in this way they are characterised, "They have known and knew the Father."
It is not merely that you look in vain through Christendom for "fathers" in Christ, and that very few "young men" appear with the true stamp of God; but where can we find the "little children" or "babes" thus according to revealed truth? Is it not most saddening? For when were men more self-satisfied? How one would hail "little children" such as the apostle describes, and seek to cheer them on their way, to become valiant against the foe, and to learn more and more of Him who suffered unspeakably for our sakes! But it is hard to find them. From the first century, if we may judge from the earliest Fathers, things got sadly wrong; and one plain proof of the departure is the want of fully appropriating even the truths that "Your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake," and "I write to you, little children, because ye have known the Father."
Take the prevalent idea of a frequent recourse to the blood of Christ to restore from failures. How could men speak thus if they believed that Christ obtained everlasting redemption? or that the worshippers once purged have no longer conscience of sins? They cannot have the truth of the gospel in their soul, else they never would think after such a fashion. Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree, not merely those before we believed; His blood cleanses from every sin, not from some only. The saints ought to know that there is the washing of water by the word to meet any defilement in the Christian by the way, but no annulling of redemption through Christ's blood. "For by one offering He (Christ) hath perfected" not only for ever but continuously (εἰς τὸ διηνεκές) the sanctified. There is no such thought in God's gospel as our needing a fresh propitiation through His blood after the first; for it was plenary and all-sufficient. But we need to have our defiled feet cleansed by Christ's word and advocacy. And we confess any sin wherever we act inconsistently with Him; we confess our sin in that particular to God, and judge in ourselves that which exposed us so to fail. That is quite true and right; but not to shake the ground of His one sacrifice and of redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our offences.
If our sins were not all effaced, what would be the value of any? If only one were not forgiven, it would be fatal. But to the believer, forgiveness or remission of our sins means a complete clearance of the sad burden. Only if one should sin, conscience acts under the Spirit's dealing, and there follows a real humbling of ourselves due on any failure; for every such thing is a shame to us and a grief to the Holy Spirit of God whereby we were sealed unto the day of redemption. This however cannot touch the accepted work of our Lord Jesus. Author as He is of everlasting salvation. So also the knowledge of the Father and of our relationship as His children are quite unshaken. For "we have an Advocate with the Father" who is on high expressly to meet effectually all these difficulties, otherwise insuperable. We are thus ever indebted to Christ; but His advocacy is not His bloodshedding, nor is His blood again His advocacy. Risen and in heaven with the Father, He lives to intercede for us. His blood had quite a different aim and effect. His sacrifice has done its own work perfectly; and His advocacy has its proper place for our need afterwards; and woe to all those that ignorantly unsettle the truth, and insinuate what undermines the gospel of Christ, even though they believe in His person!
1 John 2:14-27.
"I wrote (or, write, the epistolary aorist) to you, fathers, because ye have known Him [that is] from [the] beginning.
"I wrote to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him: because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride (or, boasting) of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing, and its lust; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
"Little children, it is [the] last hour, and even as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now many antichrists have come, whence we know that it is [the] last hour. From us they went out, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have abode with us, but [they went out] that they might be manifested that none are of us. And ye have anointing from the Holy One, and know all things. I wrote not to you, because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that [or, because] no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son. Every one that denieth the Son hath not the Father either; he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.* As for you, let† what ye heard from [the] beginning abide in you: if what 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, life eternal. These things I wrote to you concerning those that lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received from Him abideth in you, and ye have no need that anyone should teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye (or, do ye, or, ye shall) abide‡ in Him."
* The last clause is unquestionable scripture, and sustained by the best witnesses. It was probably omitted from having the same ending as the clause before; a common source of error in the MSS.
†"Therefore" should here be dropped, as relying on inadequate testimony.
‡The best MSS. and Vv. give "abide ye," or "ye abide," rather than "ye shall abide."
Here we have clearly the same ground trodden again: the different stages in spiritual growth which mark the family of God. Their threefold distinction is here enlarged on. But the remarkable fact that meets us at the start is this: that the fathers, whom we might think properly entitled to have what concerned them still more fully stated, as being able beyond the others to enjoy the truth of God, have just the some words said over again. This is the more striking because repetition is in no way a rule in Scripture. There are some cases where similar or the same words are repeated, but they are quite exceptional, and this is one of them.
The reason is of a very touching kind. In verse 13 we read, "I write to you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning" - Christ as He was manifested here. He does not enter into divine counsels from all eternity, nor look forward to future glories of Christ, or even to His place at the right hand of God which is a central truth for the apostle Paul. But the beloved disciple was directed to meet the declension which had set in, and to minister best to the fathers, the most advanced of all spiritually, by simply repeating "I wrote (or, write) to you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." There is not one word different but in the verbal form: in verse 13 he says I "write," and in verse 14 he says "wrote," referring to what he had already said. And why this? Why has he no more to say to them? Because not emanations from God as men conceived, but here all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. It was now in Him, a Man, that God embodied and manifested the fulness of His grace and truth in a way that never had been, and as it never needed to be here again. The very notion of something more denied that fulness, and was a lie of Satan.
Here we are in presence of that which is infinite. And having the infinite, not merely in the divine nature of the Godhead, but in the divine person of the Son become man, we find therein its chief wonder; for it is His manhood that has given its necessary element to the wonder. It would have been little indeed without the Godhead; but God, as really manifesting Himself in man and as man, presented that which is above all other marvels, unless it be His death and this in atonement. In Him it was that the "fathers" found their all. Characteristically they had been once "babes" as knowing the Father; they had been "young men" in the vigour of spiritual power, a new, intimate and blessed privilege, which, it is needless to say, is never lost; for through this experience they reaped a blessing which does not pass away. But after passing through difficulties and dangers of all kinds, leaving its rich profit of growth by the true knowledge of God, that which most attracted them, and fixed their affections for ever, was the Lord as He walked up and down, spoke and wrought, manifesting God and His Father in every motive and act, in every word and deed of His life here below. Such is the force of knowing "Him that is from the beginning." We can find outside Christ thus proved nothing so deep and real, we can learn nothing so high and holy and immediate. It is not the exalted Man in heavenly glory; which is Paul's special teaching, and of all moment for spiritual energy. Here it is God manifest in the flesh here below, Jesus full of grace and truth in the midst of evil to separate us from it, and to act according to Him in us by the Holy Spirit's power.
Then we come to the second stage - the "young men and here the Spirit of God does enlarge somewhat. "I wrote (or, write) to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one."
Observe, first of all, that there is an addition not found in the 13th verse, giving the real secret of their strength. The word of God abides in them. This is a weighty truth, which yields immense courage and spiritual power. It is not merely repairing to the word on emergency under pressure of difficulty and trial, but His revelation they had always abiding in them. This is exactly and perfectly what we find in the Lord Jesus. It did not matter whether one was friend or foe; it made no difference whether he appeared high or low: what people heard from Him was God's word. Even if the devil tempted Himself, the word was His answer; and if the enemy quoted it for evil, He replied with scripture for good and truth. If the disciples needed to learn what they were to expect, He brought out the word of God. Never was one who showed the word of God abiding in Him at all times, and for all persons and circumstances, like the Lord Jesus.
We do not find it so even in the apostles, though there were apostles, as John himself, who treasured the word most deeply; and Peter too with his abundant and fervent love; but none like the Lord, not even the apostle Paul, though we may be perfectly sure there never was any mere man that honoured God's word more than he. Notwithstanding in this respect as in others no one equalled the Lord Jesus. Indeed subjection to the word characterised Him peculiarly, and makes therefore the Gospels, which show the Lord in daily life, so richly profitable and humbling, and for this reason beyond most of the children of God in their actual state.
Most when converted are apt to betake themselves to the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, and some of them never advance much into Romans either. They are attracted by and delighted with the strong foundation which God has given in its earlier chapters; they wonder if they find that it is not only His grace but His righteousness. They stand on the ground of accomplished righteousness. They apprehend Christ Himself as their righteousness. For they are taught to distinguish this as their standing, from their holiness in practice. This is what the Spirit of God works in us because we are Christ's. But righteousness is what the unrighteous sinner needs, as well as the mercy that assures of the remission of his sins; and in Christ it is in all its fulness for him. He has only to take the place of a lost sinner, and cast himself on the Lord Jesus, who is made to him righteousness. This he can take to the very throne of God; he can henceforward in faith stand securely there; and while he condemns himself utterly for all Ins sins, he has in Him a righteousness that satisfies and glorifies God. For it is His own justifying righteousness, because of what Christ has done and suffered for the poorest of sinners; and he is one of them. Perhaps he like the tax-gatherer might say, "I am 'the' sinner, if ever there was one"; but even so the apostle did say that he was chief; and this was true. The very fact of his legal righteousness made him to be more abundantly the Lord's enemy, and the hater of all that called upon His name. It was purely the religion of man in the flesh, to use his own phraseology. It was a Hebrew of Hebrews assuming his competency to keep it, and walking most conscientiously according to his darkness, which made him so bitter against the Lord Jesus and all that were His. What could be more opposed to the righteousness of God in Christ?
In John 16 is shown that it is not the question now of the law for either sin or righteousness or judgment. So great is the change of standard created by His presence and rejection, that, as He tells us, the Spirit when come will make proof to the world in respect of sin, righteousness, and judgment: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness because I go to the Father, and ye shall behold Me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged. The proof of judgment is not in some outward display of divine retribution as in Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, or Rome. It is in the judgment pronounced on him that led the world to crucify the Lord of glory. Thereby has the prince of this world been judged: execution is deferred, but the case is decided finally. The great sin is not to believe on Him; the true righteousness is in the rejected One going to be with the Father. The world has lost Jesus. He came into the world to win sinners wherever He went; and they would not have Him; and the worst in refusing Him were His own people. This ended in the Cross; and because of the Cross not only is God exalted, but in receiving Him into glory is the real righteousness against man, Satan and the world with Israel to boot.
The next display of God's righteousness is in His glad tidings of salvation to the poor sinner coming in His name, the only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved. Therein is God's righteousness manifested through faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all those that believe. After justification begins practical holiness. For life is given in His name as well as the forgiveness of sins; and this new life is that which produces good fruit. This however is a matter of holiness. What meets and saves us as sinners is Christ and Christ's work for us with God; but what works in our souls self-judgment and honouring God by confessing our sins thoroughly is part of his holiness who is now accounted righteous in Christ and for Christ's sake.
Here then we have the secret of these young men being characterised by vigour. It was not natural energy, for there is nothing of grace in that. It was spiritual courage and power; and what maintained and regulated it was the word of God abiding in them. They so loved the word that they had it always not merely by them but abiding in them. They never pretended to what one has heard some dear brethren say: to spend an hour or two over the word. These had the word always over them. This is the true way, not ourselves sitting over the word which often ends in a good deal of talk; but the word over us puts an end to our thoughts, and strengthens as much as it governs us, and rebukes our presumption. Thus were the young men marked, as we have read, by the word abiding in them. It was not the mere searching of it, nor looking into it for curious questions, nor trying to know what perhaps is not the will of God for us to know just yet, if ever in this present time. But there they were, subject to all the word. Depend upon it that the Scriptures were pondered prayerfully from beginning to end as far as they had them; for it was a more difficult thing then than in our day. But in our day, if you look at any one's Bible, you may find it is well marked in a few parts, but rather too clean in others. Is this the word abiding in us? In such a case all the word is valued and diligently sought, for we never know what word we may want next. Therefore the pious, wise, and due thing is to have the word abiding in us.
But more than this follows. "Love not the world." Why is this warning particularly laid on them? It is not said either to the fathers or to "the babes." We shall find a great deal else said to the babes, but to the "fathers" not a word more than to repeat what he first said. Their special characteristic was like Mary's to sit at the Lord's feet and hear His word. Was not this to be absorbed and filled with Christ? The word of Christ dwelt in them richly in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. But it was not merely that. Christ Himself, as He was manifested here, was habitually before them as the prime object of delight and of fellowship with the Father. But these young men are warned "Love not the world." Does this seem strange for souls spiritually so vigorous? Nay, this very vigour, albeit spiritual vigour, creates a danger. They went forth earnestly desiring to spread the truth; fearlessly testifying of Christ by the word that abides in them, and in the Holy Spirit working through them. The very victories won prove a danger, and commerce with men exposes to loving the world before knowing where they had got. For we are not to suppose that loving the world is merely a taste for show and pleasure, music, or the drama, hunting, shooting, horse-racing, gambling, or perhaps what is even grosser than any of these things.
The world is a subtle snare far more so than the flesh. For many lusts of the flesh a man despises himself, and others that are intensely devoted to the world might be ashamed of such ways. But worldly lust is quite another thing. It looks eminently respectable; for is it not what is done by everybody of consequence? It is to covet what society likes; what is thought by those of light and leading and sweetness to be the proper thing for men and women. This has an immense influence, especially on the young and the vigorous young who know the Lord, and have sincerely at heart to spread the knowledge of the truth. But this leads them boldly to venture here and there, thinking that they can go anywhere, one may say, because they have got such glad news to tell. At least they know the Saviour who is not known; and where may they not go? In this zeal they are guarded particularly as to the world.
But not in that sense had God made the world. "The world," morally speaking, was what the devil made after man fell. The first beginning of "the world" was in Cain and his line. For what do we see in Cain? Sentenced to be a wanderer and a fugitive on the earth, he strives to efface it, and built a city: not content one to live here and another there, they must all herd together. Union is strength, say men. Besides, a man of ability soon manages to get at the top; and this many a man hopes to get some day or somehow, at any rate in a measure. God and sin are easily forgotten in such efforts. Accordingly Cain builds a city, and calls it after the name of his son. Pride comes in directly, and self-pleasing or pleasing others without a thought of Him. In that family began the great inventions. A man of spirit none found in Abel; nor yet in Seth who is substituted for Abel, but abundantly in Cain and his progeny. There the verses of society commenced - Lamech writing in tasteful form to his wives; for the same man brought in polygamy, and justified killing in self-defence in what we may call a sonnet to the objects of his affection. Not God was in his thoughts even at such a sad event, but his wives; and the dealing with Cain he made not an apology alone but a ground for sanction in his own case. Again there we find the bold nomad life originated, and the more civilised delights of wind and stringed musical instruments: so very early was "the world" at work. Is not this "the world"? Undoubtedly many conveniences found in the world can be used by a Christian. But one black mark stamps it - the absence of a despised but all the more beloved Christ. Tell me one thing of it that Christ puts His sanction on. Where is all that Christ valued? all that Christ lived in and loved?
There is the criterion which will prove sharp enough to cut off a great deal, as, on the other hand, all that is outside Christ can be an object for the heart of fallen man; and such is the world. Some as we know take up science; some prefer literature; some affect politics. Alas! it is possible even to take up religion, the work and the worship of the Lord in a worldly spirit and a selfish manner, seeking either profit or fame out of it; and in how many ways do not men court popularity therein! Is not this too the world? The Lord's name apart from His will and glory carries no safeguard with it. This has been done by some of the wickedest poets that ever lived. They have written on scriptural subjects, but were none the better for it, as they still remained altogether without God, and often enemies of Christ without doubt.
Therefore it became a serious peril for the spiritually young, vigorous as they might be, if they did not retain an ever-growing sense of their relationship to the Father; for this knowledge even the babes had. They were characterised by the sense of that blessed relationship, and they enjoyed it. They as all had the assurance of forgiveness. Even as babes they added to this joy that they knew the Father, which is indeed a precious privilege, as we may see from so many Christians who think themselves and are thought advanced, yet not venturing to take any such way. They are not quite sure; and for the most part they call upon God, but not as Father in the fullest way, but as the Almighty, as Jehovah, and as the God of Abraham, etc., just as if they were Jews. All ought to see such is the state of Christendom now, especially in those who boast in antiquity and multitudinous religion. It has a Jewish character. But Christ in Christianity takes one out of everything that is earthly, whether of Jews or of Gentiles, and stamps His name on him from the beginning of his new life and throughout its course. As He says Himself of the men given Him by the Father, They are not of the world as He is not. Therefore it was the spiritually "young men" in particular who were to beware of the world, lest, in their ardour, it might become a valued object. They might say that they only wanted to win the world to Christ; that their motive was making Christ and His gospel known to the world. But do you not need dependence on Him and His Spirit's guidance when and where and how you go? It is not enough that our design or aim should be ever so good. The chief danger we have to watch against is in the manner of doing things. In "how" we do it we are apt to fail. The object may be right, but the means too must be according to God's will and word. And who can guide us and guard us in the means to be adopted? Only He to whom we belong, working in us by His word and Spirit.
Now it is not merely in general that we find the "young men" put on their guard another caution to them follows. They are told to love not the things that are in the world." This may be even more insidious and subtle than the world itself. Take the religion of the world, of the multitude, of the great, the noble, the wise, the learned.. What natural man avoids this snare, unless he be utterly profane? Even Cain had his worship no less than his world in his darkness and his distance from God. And is not this most ensnaring to many a saint, and inviting to his vigour? For many a Christian would say, "I dare not love the world; but here is an eligible offer whereby I may be enabled to do very much more good anywhere and everywhen, and even be allowed to speak, no matter what the circumstances or the company may be." But it involves compromise of the truth. It is therefore one of the things "that are in the world" which we are not to love. Again, what more common than the mistake of having a peculiar object that attracts us, a hobby of one kind or another, which has no real link with Christ? All such things become idols, because, along with known duties and relationship, Christ is entitled to supreme love.
Christ is the object our Father sets before us; and if we have the eye single to Him, we may be quite sure that the body will be full of light. It is impossible for a soul to be true in looking to Christ and making Christ the object of his everyday work and walk, if he take up that which He does not approve. The word of God must abide in him. If one is content to undertake only what pleases Him, He would surely help. But there may be the world's blinding influence, and zeal may run into self-importance and our own will. Hence real earnestness lays us open to danger; and therefore they are cautioned, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," followed by a most solemn warning, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." John loves to present a thing in its absolute principle without noticing circumstances which modify. In laying down, "If any one love the world," he introduces no alleviation. There stands the principle; and if loving the world be your principle and practice, the love of the Father can hardly be yours as a reality.
But in having to do with Christians, as they now walk, there is often a sad mixture. There may be good and bad motives at work. Here we do not look at such a picture. Other parts of God's word may deal with it; but the particular task assigned here is to present the thoroughly right principle, and the thoroughly wrong one. Hence it is settled that if one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. This is sound and true; because it supposes the principle on either side carried out. Then he comes to the special differences of the desires after the world. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh" (what works in one's self), "the lust of the eyes" (what attracts me outside myself), with the third snare, "the pride, or boasting, of life." It may be the maintenance of station and habits and feelings belonging to it, in the world. Supposing, for instance, one a nobleman or a gentleman, or of the much larger class that would like to be such. Where such is the case, where is Christ? Is it assumed that Christ sanctions in His disciples the natural rank or the place that one may acquire somehow or other? What did the Lord mean when He said, They are not of the world as I am not of the world? Is the world what the Christian is to preserve as an offering acceptable to Christ?
Many a Christian thus keeps his dignity, and gives it, as he says, to Christ, as if He valued it! Is this what our Lord laid down, or how the apostles and other faithful walked? To the unsophisticated heart purified by faith what so appeals in practice as Christ's separateness from the world to the Father? That the very reverse is seen in many Christians is but too well known, as it has ever been a deep sorrow and burden to those who feel for His name and word. The pride of life in a Christian is heartless to man and hateful to the Father. It was not so that He sought high and low in the midst of sins and follies, vanity and pride, or whatever else ruled men; not so did Christ meet us but to uproot and put sentence of death on all vanity. Was any one of these things spared in His Cross? Hence His servant says here that not one of them in particular, still less as a whole, is of the Father, but is of the world which hated Him and His Son. What pleasure has the Father in any of the things which men think so much of, and adhere to with such tenacity, whether envying them in others or seeking them for themselves? In few words the pride of life is not of the Father; but, what is more, it is of His enemy, the world.
For what is the world? It is the system that Satan planted amongst fallen men to blot out the memory of a lost paradise; and it has gone on enlarging, embellishing, and progressing ever since, in spite of the awful catastrophe of the deluge, until it rose up rebelliously against the Son of God and crucified Him on the tree. This is at length what the world did, with all its arts and letters, its religion and philosophy. The world then consisted of both Jew and Gentile. They both loved the world, and they both united in rejecting with the utmost ignominy the Lord of glory. Is the world then an object for a Christian's love? or anything that is part and parcel of the world? anything that is its boast and its delight? Is it not treason against the Father and the Son?
But the world here has another characteristic that is pressed. It is evanescent, having God's sentence of death upon it. It is wholly to pass away. It is passing and its lust, for who can keep it? It does not matter whether it be riches or rank, pleasure, power, or aught else; it comes to nothing - its pride sometimes even in this age finding itself in a workhouse. For all that, men are devoured with the desire to be something greater than they are, so that under the surface lies unhappiness which pleasure cannot dispel.
"The world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." It is not only that the word abideth for ever, but he that does God's will. This is of far more importance than any doctrine deduced by men, any article of faith, as it is called. It is no doubt needful to oppose what is false and evil, and we are bound to submit to the revealed word and will of God. But error easily glides into the doctrines which the best men formulate, against or for which men contend. But here we are told that the doer of God's will abides for ever. This none does without cleaving to Christ, and loving the Father. Surely "the Son abideth for ever." The Christian may fall asleep, but he abideth for ever. The Lord is coming to wake him up from the sleep of death, or to change him if he then survive, into His glorious likeness manifestly then for over. But he is called to recognise it now, and to act on it every day, that he be not drawn into the defiling paths of the world that are thought so pleasant, but are, on the contrary, each and all covered and filled with evil and ungodliness.
Now we come to "the little children" in verse 18. It is not the whole family, but an inexcusable error to confound the family with that particular part, the youngest class or grade of the whole, the babes. Yet these, the least mature group of God's family, are they who are said to know the Father. Think how far saints now are fallen from such knowledge! And is it not worthy of note that for them the Spirit of God takes the fuller room to enlarge? There was not a word more for "the fathers"; there was but little more for the "young men"; but far the most for "the babes." Can we not feel the good way of grace therein? It is not the manner of man; but God by His Spirit enters most of all into the requirement of the "little children." They need it most, and they have most. It is with them that the Spirit of God dwells with a great deal more detail than even with the young men. The little ones were exposed to great danger.
"Little children, it is the last hour," for is it not well to keep to literality here? Evidently this is beyond "latter times" (1 Timothy 4:1), and "last days" (2 Timothy 3:1). Yes, it is a "last hour:" a very long hour doubtless; and the reason is not delay but the long-suffering of God not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Grace has some more souls to save and bless, some more to make members of Christ's body; and therefore God waits. But from the apostle's day it is the "last hour." What made it so? Not Christ known, but "many antichrists." Christ's coming the first time is said to be "at the end of these days," the days that began with God's dealings with His people on earth, and at the end of them, in the consummation of the ages, Christ. So we read in Hebrews 1:2; Heb 9:26, "when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son."
Here it is a peculiarly solemn phrase: it is the "last hour." The time is short. The Lord is at hand. He is ready to judge the quick and the dead, as the apostle Peter said; ready not merely to take us up to heaven, but, as far as He is concerned, to execute judgment on the quick and the dead. But even so God prolongs His blessed grace in saving more. When the last member of Christ is added in, what then? The Lord will come and take on high those that are His, and then begin to work among Jews and Gentiles too as such, and especially to prepare His people for their place on the earth. They were unprepared the first time; the Lord will accomplish it the second time. There will then be a people made ready for the Lord and His Kingdom. He will do what John the Baptist failed to do; He will do what the church has not done; He will turn the heart of Israel to welcome their long-rejected Messiah, whom to their amazement and grief they find to be none other than Him whom they crucified. Therefore in that day will Jehovah assign Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; whereas now it is the foolish and the weak and the base things of the world that God chose to exalt His grace in Christ. But in the day of His appearing He will have mercy on the long-abased Zion, and the nations shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings of the earth His glory. Some may anticipate that discovery; others will learn it when He appears; for there will be differences among them.
But now is the "last hour" for us: not the prevalence of Christianity, nor the mission of the gospel of the kingdom to all the nations, but the arrival of many antichrists. There is to be a mission of converted Jews to all the Gentiles; and they will find their way where Christians did not (for divine grace will strengthen them); and then the end of the age will come.
But is this the Christian hope? It is not for the end that we are waiting, but for Christ, and for Christ to take us up to be where He is now. They also await the Lord to come down and bless the earth, as He surely will. But this is another and an after thing. It may not be long, but still there is a little interval between the two parts of His coming - the heavenly part and the earthly.
Here it is the solemn announcement that the last hour is come. "Little children, it is the last hour." How this must have sounded in their souls and made them wonder! Many think that such truth is not at all the right food for babes. It is much to be wished that Christians would read their Bible, and not only read but in all simple confidence believe it. What they will find there puts an end to these human thoughts and theories. "Little children, it is the last hour; and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now are come many antichrists." This stamps it as the "last hour." No evil is so flagrant as antichrist. It is direct, personal, antagonism to the Lord. He may imitate the Lord Jesus, yet to oppose Him; he may claim what belongs only to God, but to exalt himself and deny God. Certainly it is the worst and most audacious of all evil against Himself; "and even now are come many antichrists." There are many antichrists in London, as throughout Christendom; and they preach and teach there with crowds to hear them, who have no suspicion that they listen not to Christianity but to anti-christianity. The reason that real Christians take all this lightly is that the Bible is so little pondered with the Spirit of God working in them.
What helps on this evil is the German adoption of old English Deism; for this much of the "higher criticism" is. It is old English Deism, drummed out of the country some 200 years ago, but of late come back again burnished and brightened up by German ingenuity and show of learning. This is what people swallow as something new, great, and advanced. Alas! it has taken captive alike the old and the new seats of learning, and made them a citadel against the Lord Jesus, centres for propagating unbelief to ruin with its poison the young men destined as many are to be the clergy or ministers of one sort or another. For there is little difference as to this among the denominations. Broad-churchism and Dissent are perhaps equally corrupt in this matter, and becoming more and more destructive. High church, which with Pusey, etc., once resisted, now caves in. People do not believe this, and the consequence is they too get corrupted in all directions. Even believers are deeply injured thereby. But the Lord knows how to deliver, as He works to clear dim eyes, and will make them sensible of the snare. For it is plain enough that learning is no check to nor barrier against the evil. Yet God will guard "the babes" in His grace. To this their knowledge of the Father supplies a blessed foundation. What do those critics care for this? Have they the word of God abiding in them? Do they look to the Spirit of God for power to receive His truth and to walk in it? How could this be in those who deny Scripture to be His word? Yes, many antichrists have come, "Whereby we know that it is the last hour."
What intelligent Christian does not know this now? Many can remember the time when there was no such prevalence as there is now, nor anything to be compared with it. Incredulity is rapidly growing. But its germ at the least has shown itself ever since the apostle was here. "They went out from us, but they were not of us." For this is its apostate character Some of the leaders of present antichristianity were once professing Christians. One or more of them was known among us - a clever and scholarly man, eminent since in this religious scepticism; yet (what commended him to many) a vegetarian, a moral man, a teetotaller, and a revolutionary. How ready many are apt to think there must be something good in such a person! But no, it is an antichrist.
"For if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that they might be manifest that they were not all of us."
This last is a very strange and incorrect rendering: "they were not all of us." But really it has no just meaning whatever. It should be regarded as only a slovenly translation, or rather mistranslation. For what the Greek text actually says is that "they all were not of us"; and the English idiom of this is that "none of them were of us." But if you say, "they were not all of us," it would imply that some were. Some of these antichrists were of us! This the apostle expressly contradicts. The fact is that we see in this how the most learned men, when they come to the Bible, seem to close their eyes. It might be interesting to search into the cause which exposed men of piety and learning to so strange all error. But it suffices to say positively that the only right sense is the quite different thought that none of them - none of these antichrists - "were of us." The unlearned reader may be assured that such is the true meaning on the strictest grammatical ground, which scholars certainly ought not to fail in, as they sometimes do and have ever done.
"But ye have anointing from the Holy One." This is their new endowment from on high, which even the "little children" possessed, on whom a dead set was made by one or other of the many antichrists. They were anointed by the Spirit of God given to them, an unction from the Holy One, even the Lord Jesus. But what about you that read? For you it is of great moment whether you are thus anointed. For this is distinctive of the Christian, not only to be established in Christ but anointed by the Spirit, as we read in 2 Corinthians 1:21. Immature as the little children were, this was true of them. Is it so with you? Do not waste your time in thinking about others till you know this privilege yours from the Holy One; then with good conscience and happy heart you are fully entitled to seek their good. But if we are safely and wisely and zealously to labour for others, let us first consider our own need and state before God.
Here take notice that "ye" is emphatic, though addressed to the spiritually youngest of Christians, which of course proves it to be the privilege of them all. "And ye have anointing from the Holy One, and know all things." Is not this a very remarkable word to say about "the little children "? But why should it be doubted when we recollect that they were members of God's family? They were God's children who had received already in common with all the rest the blessed certainty that their sins were forgiven. This removed guilt and dread, the necessary hindrance of happiness and progress. Till our sins are known to be forgiven, how can we enter into all the truth? Only with an unpurged conscience. Even men admit that a bad conscience makes cowards of us all. The conscience once divinely purged gives boldness. See it in Peter, who was known to have denied his Master. Yet when restored and resting on redemption, he could charge the unpurged Jews, "Ye . . . denied Him in presence of Pilate, when he judged to let Him go." The soul being sin-laden shrinks from hearing, the truth which must condemn self more and more. We must be consciously clear before God before we can grow by the knowledge of Him, or have true courage with others.
Hence the Epistle was written to all, because their sins are (or, have been) forgiven for His name's sake. It was not to make it known first. They knew it since they believed the glad tidings. Christ had procured it for them through His blood; and thus it is a settled state for all saints. It is in vain to reason and talk about forgiving all your sins before conversion. What then becomes of any sins committed afterwards? The Lord is surely not to suffer again; nor did He suffer for some of our sins merely but for all; and this is the meaning of the remission of sins. Christ's sacrifice availed not to a certain point but for the entire body of our sins, which once and for ever were borne by Him. This indeed constitutes the blessedness of that primary boon of divine grace. It is not a doctrine hung up as a prize to be attained, or a truth outside to be rehearsed publicly or to admire, but a personal privilege of faith taken home to our own conscience, applied to our own soul, and received from God as His incomparable favour with which we start on our Christian confession.
But, as we have expressed it, "the little children" were characterised by an advance on that which was the common portion of all Christians. The very speciality that they began with was the knowledge of the Father. They were His children. It was not merely that they knew (or had known) God as Creator; or as the Almighty God that cares for poor pilgrims, or Jehovah God as the Governor; but they knew Him as the Father. The risen Lord Jesus had made Him known as His Father and theirs. They knew that He was their Father and their God, as truly as His Father and His God. And they had it on His own word, as well as in the power of the Holy Ghost sent into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father. How can Christians overlook a truth so nearly concerning them, which runs through the greater part of the New Testament? It is distinctive of Christianity. Through Christ all the evil gone is judged in His cross; and unworthy as a Christian may be, he is from that early moment of faith in the gospel given to know Him as His Father. Even the babes knew that this is no temporary blessing, such as the law held out on obedience to Israel. In the gospel God gives to faith an abiding gift. This is what the law could not do. The law is conditional: "If you obey the law of God, you shall live, and not die." But the gospel is not that if I love God He will be faithful to me (on which ground no sinner could be saved); but that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life."
There is the great spiritual fact confronting all; and if I disbelieve God as to His Son, I ensure perdition for my soul: the wrath of God abides upon me. But if I receive that immense and direly needed boon, God's love in giving the believer eternal life, and thus bringing me not merely into the pardon of my sins but into the relationship of His son by faith in Christ Jesus, I am on the only and truly Christian ground as a babe. Yet here, as being babes, they are warned of their danger. There abound seducers and antichrists. We shall find a little about the special features of their leading astray lower down; but let us proceed with what comes before it, the gracious provision to forewarn and forearm. "I have not written to you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth."
Without anointing from the Holy One (i.e., the Spirit of God from the Holy One, Christ), they could have had no fitness to withstand snares so subtle and perilous. The gift of the Spirit characterises the Christian. The Lord spoke of it as "living water," which He would give the believer. It was not Himself only. He gives the Holy Spirit as the continually fresh source of living water within us springing up, not exactly "a well" but "a fountain" of water springing up into life eternal. Thus it is not only that we have life eternal at the beginning of faith; but we have in us for a glorious condition the power of the Spirit which we have now in a condition of grace.
The apostle, having here shown that this divine privilege already exists, tells the "little children" that they "know all things." How can this be said of them? They have Christ as their life, who is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. "They shall be all taught of God." To have Christ is to have the key to open all things. More than this, they are anointed by the Holy Spirit to realise the truth, making it their own with all certainty and liberty. And wherefore such favour as this? To separate us from the world unto the Father above its human thoughts, and our own among the rest. For what are we apart from Christ and dependence on Him?
"I wrote not to you, because ye know not the truth but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth." How full of cheer and comfort! The teaching of tradition is ever vague, and leaves the soul uncertain, even as to what we most need - assurance in order to abiding peace with God. But the pretension to new truth where Christ is simply received and fully enjoyed opens the door to the evil one; and he soon appears. This is a sign for the babes to beware: because no lie is of the truth, and one manifest lie may betray the falsehood of the entire system, as the truth is a consistent whole; and God makes it known even to the babes. But these misleaders denied any such knowledge to them; they themselves alone knew the truth. "We have the new light, you have no more than the elements we have quite left behind. All that you have from your old teachers is but the scraping of the instruments for the concert; but now we have the music in earnest: no tuning more; but the full score and chorus." Such is the self-complacent spirit which the men always feel who yield to the deceit of the enemy. "Who is the liar?" says the indignant apostle. "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" In one or another way they undermined and destroyed His person. How awful that such a lie should be counted a new and great truth among those who once confessed Him! For "the liar" here is not Satan, but such as once passed for a Christian. They now deny that Jesus is the Christ.
But the apostle traces the lie farther. "He is antichrist that, [not only denies Jesus to be the Christ, which he does, but] denieth the Father and the Son." An antichrist supposes more truth abandoned than Jews knew. In a general way even the Jew, that heard of but rejected the Lord Jesus, might be "the liar." The Law, the Psalms, the Prophets all pointed to Jesus. But the Jew would not have a Messiah who, instead of establishing His world-kingdom, suffered for sins on the cross; he preferred what the devil offered and the Messiah then refused. The pseudo-Christian might be the liar in a subtler way. But there is more in "the antichrist." His place had once been with the Christian profession. He had heard the truth of the Father and the Son, but now rejected and denied it.
No Jew ever hears anything of the eternal relationship in the Godhead, but remains a stranger and an antagonist to the truth and privileges of Christianity. For its principle is involved in those words, and indeed more explicitly in the words expressed in Christian baptism, the only authoritative formula for which is "unto the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Not that one would leave out the name of the Lord Jesus; but the right form is so clearly stated by our Lord that one may doubt that their omission leaves valid baptism. It appears anything but the reverence due to the words of our risen Lord. The argument founded on the historic mention of baptism throughout the Acts of the Apostles is without bearing, because none of these professes to give the actual formula employed. The only apparent exception which ostensibly supplies it has not the smallest authority. For it is certain and commonly acknowledged that Acts 8:37 is spurious. There at least Philip is supposed to ask of the Ethiopian treasurer a confession of his faith, which the latter renders. But all this must be given up as a gloss of an imaginary kind, and not really in the ancient MSS. It was probably a marginal note which crept into the text by a later scribe who fancied it to be part of the original. But in the Acts of the Apostles there is really no formula of baptism, and therefore no right ground for dispensing with our Lord's injunction. And the hypothesis of its being provided for a future Jewish remnant consists neither with "all the nations" concerned as said immediately before, nor with the spiritual condition of that remnant whose knowledge it quite transcends.
Here he that professes Christ denies the Father and the Son; doubtless he had too much contempt for the Spirit to need a word said about it. But he denies the Father and the Son: to spiritual souls no greater mark of antichrist. And the solemn announcement is that out of the Christian body came these antichrists. None should wonder therefore that where grace has given a large and special measure of truth, and zeal too in making it known, and in carrying it out practically, if it be lost by yielding to notions subversive of it, such wanderers are beyond the common. As runs the well-known adage, the corruption of the best is the worst. What can be so terrible as to apostatise from the highest and fullest truth? This characterises the antichrists.
But if we have the warning that "Everyone that denieth the Son hath not the Father either," there follows also the cheer to "the little children" that "He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also." This, on each side, is much to be weighed both for its own importance, and for the light cast on the wiles of the devil. The Unitarians profess to honour the Father, but they deny the Son; the consequence is that their profession of the Father, according to the scripture before us, is utterly worthless. Not the Father is the test of the truth, but the Son. Therefore, if one acknowledges the Son, he hath the Father also. They go together; but the Son is the sole criterion, and the one Mediator. If you deny the Son, the Father rejects altogether your acknowledgement of Him to the dishonour of the Son. The Father owes the vindication of His glory to the Son who emptied Himself of the glory due to Him, and humbled Himself not only to become man and a bondman, but to the death of the cross. Therefore whoever slights Him does it at his penalty for eternity. For ample testimony has been given by God to man who is without excuse.
It may here be added that the words printed in italics (in the latter half of ver. 23) are authentic and genuine scripture.* It is the more remarkable, because, in 1 John 5:7-8, the words from "in heaven" to "in earth" have no real warrant, as is well known to those versed in the grounds of the text. Thus the Epistle suffered doubly from the faulty text which our translators had before them; for they did not know the true readings here when they made the Authorised Version of 1611. The italicised words in this verse are real scripture; whilst the words indicated in 1 John 5 have no authority worth notice and are beyond doubt spurious. But this last awaits fuller explanation in its own place.
* The oldest MSS. (technically designated A B C, P) and some 35 cursives with the better ancient versions, and ample citation by the early ecclesiastical writers, leave no doubt as to it.
Next we come to a point of some interest, on which a word must be said here. "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye heard from the beginning." It is not "Him that is from the beginning," but "what (or, that which) ye heard from the beginning." He goes back so far to the opening words of the first chapter. The difference between "Him that was from the beginning" and "that which," etc., is very small; and in point of fact they are both true, each perfect in its own place. But there is an emphasis lost in the Auth. V. which ought to be reproduced at the beginning of ver. 24 in some such way as the Revisers and others do. "As for you, let that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you." What he presses is this: abiding in what they heard from the beginning.
There is no new thing admissible. If new, it is not Christianity: development is Satan's work. Whatever is added to the revelation of God in Christ is a falsehood. Man hates to be subject to God's word. Hence the effort to get rid of divine authority not only in the Old Testament but in the New. The "higher criticism" is mere rubbish, and even worse; it is poisonous and destructive to the faith. Take also the opposite school who talk of "the church teaching"; though some combine the two errors. But where in scripture have we any such thing? The church teaching! According to God's word the church is taught through apostles and prophets, and then ordinarily through teachers, etc., the gifts given by Christ the Head for the purpose. The church is taught, but never teaches; it believes, and enjoys the truth, and is responsible to walk and worship in truth. The church hid better see whether itself believes the truth in these days of incredulity.
But it is a dangerous phantom that the church teaches. We are bound to hear the church in discipline. But teaching is quite another thing. The church needs the truth. but the idea of the church teaching soon leads to men hearing what is not revealed in the scriptures. Thereby are they given up to the working of their own mind and imagination in human theories or in legendary additions to the Bible; in dreams about the Virgin and the saints, apparitions and the like; or in rationalistic hypotheses, on which sceptical men live or rather on which they die. But God is the sole infallible teacher; as His prophets wrote, His children, believers, shall be all taught of God whom the Word declared, without the church pretending to teach. There is no development of that which was heard from the beginning. All such "development," which is now the rage of the day in religion as well as in science, is a myth and a very bad one, particularly on the religious side. One scientific myth we may leave to die by the hand of the next which succeeds to its place; but religious lies have a Satanic power, not only of corruption but of permanence over souls.
Where then is the truth, and what? It is Christ; and it is Christ as He was manifested here. How can there be development of Him? or of God's written word which reveals Him? Nothing can be added to make the truth more perfect than it is; nor can anything be plainer than what they heard when our Lord was here, or the Holy Spirit wrote beyond what they could then bear. For all was spoken, not in words taught by human wisdom but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spirituals by spiritual (i.e. the truths and the words equally of the Spirit). How blessed the result practically! It is the same word. "If what ye heard from the beginning abideth in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and the Father." The truth is inseparable from Christ, and from Christ as God had revealed Him in His word. "And this is the promise which he promised us, life eternal," and this in as impressive a phrase here as is used about its personal source in 1 John 1:1-2.
"These things I wrote (or, I write) to you concerning those that lead you astray." The babes need and receive the most vigilant caution against innovators that subvert the truth by promises as false as God's promise is true. Take the contemptible error against which so many of us had to contend, and all true-hearted saints felt so deeply, during the last decade and more. Is it not about this very thing - life eternal? The recent seducers endeavoured to persuade themselves and others that, instead of having (really having now) eternal life in the Son, they can only receive it at the resurrection. But this is to forget and abandon what we heard from the beginning; it was a lie, and no lie is of the truth. The passage before us shows that these and all novel ideas about it are untrue; the Lord's word proves them to be false; for this is "that which we (the inspired witnesses) heard from the beginning." What can be more sure or momentous? The seducers therefore are not dead but still go on to reproduce the falsehood, whether they pretend or not to apostolic succession (Revelation 2:2).
But the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you." The "ye" is emphatic, as in vers. 20 and 24. He had said that the word heard was to abide in them: the sole and written standard of the truth. Now he repeats the other blessed truth. The holy unction, the Spirit given to them, abides. His anointing abideth in you, "little children": this He faithfully continues. Now the anointing of the Spirit is to understand and enjoy in power the truth of God in Christ.
"And ye need not that any one teach you." They had received Christ, the truth no less than the way and the life. They knew it already from God the Father by the Holy Spirit. "But as the same anointing teacheth you about all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, abide ye (or, ye abide) in him." It is not merely what they had; but there He was in them to teach all else which the word contained in detail and application, by God's gracious care over the babes. They need not heed or fear seducers. They did not depend upon men who were only preaching themselves and not the Lord Jesus. Oh what assurance, what blessing even for the spiritually young of God's family! It was for them to abide in Christ as He taught from the beginning.
1 John 2:28-29; 1Jn 3:1-6.
And now, dear children, abide in him that, if he be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him.
"See what (or what manner of) love the Father hath given us, that we should be called children of God [and we are]. For this reason, the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we God's children, and not yet was it manifested what we shall be. *We know that if he should be manifested we shall be like him, because we shall see him even as he is. And everyone that hath this hope on him purifieth himself even as he is pure.
"Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that he was manifested that he might take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Every one that abideth in him sinneth not; every one that sinneth hath not seen him, nor known him."
* "But" here lacks authority.
We return to the general doctrine of the Epistle. After the remarkable parenthesis of the varieties among God's children, we come to His children all grouped together. So it was before the parenthesis introduced by ver. 12, and now in what addresses them all; ver. 28 leads us forward again into the ordinary and regular course of the Epistle. The word to all here is, "And now, dear children, abide in him."
This is the true condition of Christian practice. It is faith in His person, which leads to abiding in Him; not merely in truth, work or doctrine, but in the living and divine person of Christ. For it is all the more magnetic (if one may so say), because He is Man as well as God. Yet it is not in the way some are disposed to look at it, that when He is man, it is apart from His Godhead, or when He is spoken of as God, that it is apart from His manhood. There is in truth but one person, two natures united in His person: herein lies its immense peculiarity; for this makes it impossible for man to sound its depth. He Himself tells us, "No one knoweth really (ἐπιγινώσκει) the Son but the Father." Let us remark indeed that it is not so said of the Father, though the Father never became man as the Son did. But the Son reveals the Father; yet it is not said that the Father reveals the Son. Compare Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22: John 17:3 means process of learning. In the Lord Jesus is the inscrutable; and therein is the peril for the mind of man, in all else proud and daring, and particularly so where it is irreverent presumption, in the things of God - the very realm in which the first man is nowhere; without righteousness, without understanding, not even seeking after God. Therefore man as he is only flounders about from one error into worse. "For who of men hath known the things of a man, except the spirit of the man which is in him? Thus also the things of God knoweth no one except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:11). And the Holy Spirit is given us as believers in Christ to glorify Him. For the Lord Jesus is the truth; and the Lord in this two-fold way, God and man yet in one person. If we believe, our wisdom, our happiness, our power for service or worship, our very safety is to "abide in Him."
No divine person was revealed when God constituted Israel as a people. There were commands which came out from the majesty of God, suitable to the terror that God inspired in an earthly people, for the most part not even converted. Yet the law was for every one of them; but in it was no such thing as the revelation of a person. Righteous commandments came from Him; and institutions were established by Him. Rites and ceremonies were imposed of a most impressive and important kind, which spell the name, offices and work of the Lord Jesus. Still there was no revelation yet of any divine person. The law stood on the authority of God who dwelt in the thick darkness. But the essential truth of Christianity lies in that the Son of God comes to man from the Father. We know the things freely given us by God in One who is Himself God and man, He might thoroughly represent man as he ought to be to God, and thoroughly make known God as He is to man; and that He might, after redemption, send the Holy Ghost. Is not this sovereign grace?
Such is the incalculable blessedness dependent on the Lord Jesus. It was not the law, though He came under it. It was not promise, though He was the accomplishment and accomplisher of promise. It was Himself, the Son, and the Son deigning to be veritable man. Only, as is said later in this Epistle, "In Him is no sin;" not merely that He did not commit sin, or as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, He knew no sin but no sin was in Him. His nature was holy and in no wise sinful. He was therefore born in a manner altogether singular. Without doubt He was born of the Virgin, but not this made Him sinless: for the Virgin was in herself sinful like any other. She was however a believer of remarkable simplicity too and purity of character; yet she needed a Saviour, and she had the same Saviour as we in her own Son. But well she knew that her Son was unlike any other son in the way in which He became flesh. It was by the power of the Holy Ghost. He, not she, was therefore immaculate. It is well to adhere to the truth. For in daring to add to revealed truth, superstition only invents a falsehood which gives Christ's unique place to another; and God will surely judge the blasphemy.
There was a miracle about the incarnation of stupendous nature; as there was another about His death and resurrection. There is nothing more human than being born and dying; for this is the condition of man as he is now. And the Lord knew these conditions, but in all God was manifested. On the cross He was pleased to lay down His life: none could have taken it, if He were not pleased. He laid down His life; like Him nobody else could. If you or I were to lay down our life, it would be a great sin; but in the Lord Jesus it was most precious grace in vindication of God against all sin. Thus in the two things wherein He most approaches man He is infinitely above him, as became a divine person. Here man's intellect entirely fails, because his self-confidence and ignorance of God make him reluctant to own that there is any mystery above him. He assumes his own competency for any difficulty, and likes it, urged on by the great enemy to trust himself and not God, who would humble him into the dust as a sinner, and calls him to look only to the Lord Jesus; for all blessing flows to faith through Him. But this is exactly what man's pride resents to the rejection of God's grace in Christ. Faith is the gift of God.
Here then having shown who and what this wonderful person is, He that was from the beginning, He that united God and man in one person, the apostle says "abide in Him." And indeed we do not know any One for such as we are to abide in except in Him who is the truth, that is, Christ. The Spirit of God dwells in us to give power; but the revealed object of faith all through is the same One with whom we begin. Hence it is that the "little children," as we saw, have anointing from the Holy One. It was not merely that they were converted. A Christian is a good deal more than a soul quickened and turned to God. An Old Testament saint was simply thus converted: he did not receive the Holy Spirit, for this peculiar Christian gift followed known redemption. Christ received the Holy Spirit without redemption, without propitiation; because He only was the Holy One of God, the righteous One. But we needed redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Hence, after we are converted, and believe the gospel, we receive the Holy Spirit. It is then properly that we become Christians (compare Acts 11:17). The gift of the Spirit is the real and distinctive mark - "anointing from the Holy One." We must not confound with it our being born of the Spirit. Now he says, Ye [not those antichrists] have this great gift from the Holy One; and as Christ is the One from Whom the unction comes, "Abide in him."
Was there anything abiding for the Israelite under law? They had no divine person manifested. The object of the law was to await redemption (save in figure); they had not received Christ, still less His propitiation. The mission of the Lord Jesus was to manifest God and the Father to the believer in the Son, and the gift of the Spirit was only after He died and rose and ascended to send Him from heaven. It was therefore altogether unprecedented even for converted men. In general too false religions do not even pretend to it. Whatever playing into lusts and passions, with high-flown rhapsodies there may be in the Koran of Mahomet, there is no revelation of God Himself; there is the revelation of a bundle of lies. So it was in all the ancient "Vedas," as Hindus call their sacred books; and still more with the Buddhists, who were atheists though trifling with polytheists. Brahmanism is polytheistic; but Buddhism is a system of atheism in its pantheistic form, and therefore avowedly has no personal God to reveal any more than its rival has the one true God.
But Christianity is essentially God revealed in His Son; and that too as Man walking in holy love on the earth, above all the evil and falsehood which surrounded Him, that it might not be merely a revelation in word but in deed and in truth. All His ways and His words revealed God the Father; all His miracles made Him known in a way far beyond others, be they who they might. There might be signs as well as powers; but they were of a different nature when wrought by Moses, Elijah, Elisha, or by any other. But here we have the unique Christ Jesus, the one Mediator between God and man; and now therefore as they had received Him, they were to "Abide in Him." There alone is safety and blessing; there alone is the light of God and the love of God, and the known life eternal that God bestows on the believer. It is all in Him and inseparable from Him.
People have talked lately of our not having life in ourselves. Let them beware of over-shooting scripture in their thoughts. So far as they insist that life is in the Son, it is perfectly true; indeed it is its precious peculiarity that eternal life is in Him. And God be thanked that so it is; for thus it is that it remains safe, immaculate and unchanging. In Him it is and abides perfectly secured, but also given, to every believer to be his new life. If we had it severed from Him, should we not soon lose or turn it to the same sad account as we have our other favours from God? That we have it, and that we have it in Him, are both true, the latter enhancing the former. But He is our life.
But we proceed "And now, dear children, abide in him" - the whole family of God - "that, if he be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming." This is a sentence we ought to consider, as it is often misunderstood. In general, those who make use of the verse think that it means that we, or any other Christians, should not be thus put to shame. What the apostle really says is, Abide "ye" in him, that "we" may not be ashamed, those of whom they were the work in the Lord. For it would have been no small affront to the truth, and a very great pain to the workman, that any who had appeared to receive the truth should give it up. He therefore puts it in the form of an appeal to their affection. If the apostle personally had so wrought, he would have been still the blessed and holy and faithful apostle; but in itself it is a shame to the labourer when those supposed to be brought into the truth abandon it.
Remember that this departure was then going on. It began with Judas, or, if not exactly with Judas, with many of His disciples who went away back and walked no more with Him from the time He disclosed His incarnation and His death as the indispensable food of faith, long before the apostasy of Judas. There were also many among the rulers who believed but because of the Pharisees did not confess Him; for they loved glory from men rather than glory from God. O beloved friends, beware of this! Confess Him if you believe; confess Him if your hearts rest on Him for life eternal. And not merely confess Him, but, whatever the pressure, abide in Him. The apostle here puts it in a way exceedingly tender: "That if he be manifested, . . we may not be ashamed from before him at his coming." Would not their defection be a shame to us rather than an honour in that day?
But there are other suggestions also of much instruction from the verse. Observe that there are two terms used which are not precisely the same. "That, if (the correct word, not "when" as in the Received Text) he shall be manifested." This last is one of them; the other is, "at His coming." "Coming" here, as often elsewhere, is not precisely the word that expresses "coming" and nothing else, as in John 14:3, 1 Corinthians 11:26, and Rev. very often. He says, "I am coming (ἔρχομαι) again." This means the act of coming. But there is not merely this act, but the fact or state of His presence (παρουσία). It is His presence when He comes, and therefore it may lawfully be translated "coming"; but it often means not exactly when He was coming, but the state that ensued after He came. Take for instance the resurrection of those saints who were put to death in the early and in the later times of the Apocalypse; two classes of saints that are to be raised even after the Lord appears judicially in glory (Revelation 20:4). These form part of "those that are Christ's" raised at His coming. "At His coming" would there mean not the act of coming but the state of His being present instead of absent. There is another difference between them. The word "presence" or "coming" in that sense may be either for the heavenly people or for the earthly. For instance in the Epistle of James "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" is the earthly side, as when the Lord says "The Son of man at his coming." The connection of His presence with "The Son of man" decides this in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; and so with the Epistle of James who says "The judge standeth at the door." This relation of the Lord must be connected with His day or appearing. His "manifestation" also is that further effect of His presence, and His "revelation" too.
But the word "presence" does embrace the act of His coming to receive us to Himself for the Father's house before He is manifested; in other words, when the term παρουσία is not qualified by anything that indicates manifestation, it is the Lord gathering us to Himself above by His presence, as in 1 Thess. 4, 2 Thessalonians 2:1. Unmodified, it is applied simply to His presence in grace; for this is indeed sovereign grace. But where our responsibility comes in, there is always not merely the coming but the appearing or manifestation. So it is in this verse, only both terms are employed; for the manifestation supposes also His presence, but His presence may not yet be His manifestation.
Observe another thing. It is not exactly "when" He shall be manifested, but is "if," though the reverse of a doubt. This may sound a little strange to those not used to read Scripture as God has revealed; but we may always expect that His way is the best. What God says is sure to be the most accurate form in which it could be notified to us. Now the word "if" does not refer to the time "when" but to its reality, whenever the time comes for Christ's manifestation; for there is no doubt about the future fact. It is not a question in suspense whether it is to be. But if He be manifested as surely as it must be, He would have the saints to abide in Him, instead of being turned aside, that we may have boldness and not be ashamed from before Him at His coming. It is the apostle's feeling about it, expressive of his love for those that bore the name of Jesus, and therefore a pain that any should be carried away from the truth. Whatever his love even to children in the faith, he loved Christ's name even better than the saints. and so must seek that none should be a source of shame to him at that blessed time.
"If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." Like obedience, it flows from life. As He is righteous, so every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of Him. There is thus the communication of righteousness because of the new nature. Here we come to the question of practical righteousness about to be discussed in the verses that follow, with a slight exception to be also pointed out. It is not now love, nor yet is it obedience is such, already treated in this 1 John 2:3-11. In the latter part of 1 John 3 we have, after righteousness, love again, just as in 1 John 2 we had obedience first and then love in the general course of the Epistle. There is thus an important link between obedience and righteousness respectively with love; which is indeed the bond of perfectness, as we read in Colossians 3:14.
It is interesting to inquire what is the difference between our obedience and our righteousness. Yet is not the answer sufficiently plain? Although righteousness is always obedient, in itself it is an expression not only of submission to divine authority but of consistency with relationship. This seems to define its own proper meaning. Even if the force of God's righteousness be sought, it is no less applicable than else. where; it means the consistency of God with His relationship; just as it is with Christ's righteousness or with man's righteousness, greatly as they all may differ otherwise. In His case there is the perfection of Christ's consistency with His relationship; in our own case we have to lament the shortcoming of our consistency with ours as Christians.
Is not this a solemn reflection for each one of us? Yet God's grace in Christ has left no ground whatever for distrust; and the main object here was to establish the saints in Christ. Not a word is said anywhere to create questions or doubts personally. This seducers do yet more than other unbelievers, in order to propagate their own errors and lead astray the simple who enjoy the truth of God. And we have just seen that one of the great objects of the Epistle is to arm even the youngest believers against their evil and dangerous arts; just as one way wherein these seducers went to work was to make the immature doubt whether they had the full truth. The antichrists maintained that there was much altogether beyond what was known before, and that this new light of theirs was the grand prize, the lack of which raised the question whether they could be real Christians at all.
On the contrary the object of the apostle was that the young saints should be assured that they themselves were anointed by the Spirit, and that for themselves they let abide in them that which they heard from the beginning. They were to judge, young though they were, every pretension to new light by the old truth. Therefore the talk about new light ought to be a danger signal to every saint, especially to the young; for they are too apt to believe the promise of something very fine and high which other people have not got. But suppose that it turns out to be a lie; what then? This is exactly what one ought rather to expect - a lie of the enemy, because God has nothing new to tell us about His Son; He has brought it all out already; and they had received the truth in His Son from the beginning. He is the truth, which consequently was complete in Him. Therefore all the promise of new truth was a mere deceit of Satan. Some of us have seen the spirit of error at work more than once even in our lifetime; and we had not to go far to find it.
Here then he presses the subject of practical righteousness as being deeply momentous, because it is based on relationship. Is not this a very great lesson to learn? Christians in general are but feeble therein. They do not appreciate the new relationships in which grace has set us. Who but the Lord Jesus brought in these new privileges? To whom on the higher side belong these relationships? To Himself and to His Father, the Holy Spirit being come as the divine power of our realising them by His indwelling in us who believe. We shall find that this last begins to be taken up at the end of 1 John 3, and carried forward in the chapter that follows; so that the Epistle is evidently and strictly systematic, though couched in the simplest language, but with the utmost depth of thought and feeling according to the grace and truth of God.
Some may remember the time when "system" used to be freely condemned amongst us. What drew it out was the contrast of stiff denominational innovation with the holy liberty of the Spirit as seen in the church of the scriptures. There may have been some wildness in the denouncing of "system" throughout Christendom; because it gave the idea that the only right thing was to have no system. Assuredly those who had no system were to be pitied, if it really came to that. The true question was and is, What is God's system? Man's must be wrong. Far from us, that we should not bow to God's system. It does not matter wherein it may be; for He has always a system of His own, and man always misses it. Only His word can exhibit and only His Spirit can enable us to carry it out. Assuredly we must feel and acknowledge that nothing but His grace by the mighty working of His Spirit through scripture enabled us to find His way out of the labyrinth of error, ancient and modern, outside man's traditions and his inventions. To those who are therein entangled God's way looks hard, uncertain, narrow, Pharisaical, and one knows not what else. But what largeness of heart it gives, what liberty and boldness with humility before Him, when we truly judge man's systems in the light of God's system! for this is what we have revealed in the word. So a blessed system runs through every book and chapter in the Bible, as it remarkably characterises this Epistle of John, and all the more as not lying on the surface, yet deeply interwoven. It is the same everywhere for its own purpose; but the purpose here is very penetrating and of peculiar interest in, and leading us into, the heights and depths of truth in Christ's life, such as is rarely if ever found elsewhere even in the New Testament.
"If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him." The righteous practice proves the source of the new life that so walks. We may ask, who is "He"? Probably there is not a Christian here but would say "Christ," and surely he is quite right. But there have been not a few who answer that here it is "God" who is called "righteous," because to be born of Him in the same connection points naturally to God. Nor can one deny that the reason ordinarily would have great weight, as none denies that God is righteous. But it has been overlooked that a very striking peculiarity of this Epistle is that one cannot absolutely say whether it is God or Christ; and the ground of this is very precious, because Christ is God. There is no exclusion of the Father, but the divine nature is shared by the Son equally with the Father, which no Christian denies. Therefore the apostle, who above all others dwells and delights in the nature of God, keeps, if one may say it reverently, moving in that adorable circle from Christ to God, and from God to Christ, then to God, in his use of "He" or "Him" throughout the Epistle, We have found it already in the early part of 1 John 2. Here we see it again toward the close, as it occurs again in the beginning of 1 John 3, and so on to the last; where he does not hesitate to say of Christ, "This is the true God, and life eternal." It may look confused to an erudite though unawakened eye; it is the beauty of truth to those who know that it is and could only be because Christ is the Son, equally God with the Father. Hence in John 5:23 the Lord Himself points to the Father's doing, "that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." It is just because Deity characterised both, that it is impossible to lay it down in an absolute manner whether it be either the one or the other. As both are persons in the Godhead and active in love, the apostle purposely thus passes imperceptibly as it were from one to the other. "If ye know that He is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him." Granted that we simply incline in the beginning of the sentence to say "He" is Christ, with equal simplicity we would say at the end that by "Him" is meant God.
Such an unusual style of writing must have a divine motive in the inspired writer, as it is not a casual circumstance, but a habit in the Epistle so pursued as to prove that it is done purposely. No hesitation is shown We know it is what any careful writer on usual topics would sedulously avoid. The man of letters prides himself as the rule on his style being so pellucid that even a dullard cannot well confound one "him" with another in the same sentence. And the apostle was far from the affectation of such as write darkly in order to appear very profound. But his ground, one cannot doubt, was the Deity which was equally shared by the Father and the Son. On this truth, where is sage, scribe, or disputer of this age? John would not put the Only-begotten Son on a level with a mere man, just because He is God. Though He became man in infinite grace, he would not draw the line definitely; but by his apparent confusion and real intermixture he leads us to see how he loved to present God and Christ so joined that man cannot sever them in his language.
"If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him." How can he thus speak? Because the saint has been begotten of God; he has the life of Christ. This is the constant underlying truth of the whole Epistle. From Christ giving us His own life results "Christ our life." One of the marked characteristics of life in Christ, as manifested in all His walk, is absolutely perfect righteousness; and His is the life that became our life, the only life that we dare boast of. It is divine life, because it is from God in His infinite grace who has given us the very best life, the highest, dearest, most perfect life that ever was. It was from all eternity in the Son; and He imparts that life to us now, that as He is righteous, so everyone that does righteousness shows its source to be in Himself.
It is sad to know that there are those who doubt this; but it is really to doubt Christianity. For this in practice is what it means. And it is no use to make excuses, because the error is too plain as well as fundamental to be explained away as defect of style, or a different side of the truth which others mistook. It is an error so deep and deadly as to demand repudiation, and to call for earnest seeking to deliver every one drawn into so destructive a snare. Here, in righteous walk, life is shown to be derived from community of moral nature with Christ; that if He is righteous, those that walk righteously are said to be begotten of God. For all can see that it is no question of being justified in the verse; it is practical righteousness here. That, in virtue of God making Christ sin for us sacrificially, we become by faith the righteousness of God in Christ is absolutely true; but it is our standing by grace. In our text it is conduct when thus justified. The apostle is pressing, as a matter of all importance, that practical righteousness is consistency with Christ and inseparable from being born of God.
Such is the character and nature of the new relationship that is brought before us. We are born of God, we are His children; and can you conceive such a thing as the smallest unrighteousness either in God or Christ? As whosoever doeth righteousness is born of God, so we may say that whosoever is born of God doeth righteousness. It is a question of doing, not of mere saying or profession. It is not at all a position formed by a sign or rite, but what grace secures by a new nature in our conduct which points to that source and no other. What could more effectually act on the conscience, where there was a new life from God? And it was written for faith, not doubt, though assuredly intended to act on the conscience strongly. For righteousness means consistency with a relationship which admits of no trifling with sin.
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
But ye have an unction 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 that no lie is of the truth.
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.