William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.1 John Chapter 4
1 John 4:1-6.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, if they are of God because many false prophets are (or, have) gone out into the world. Herein ye know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God; and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus* is not of God; and this is the (spirit or principle) of the antichrist whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is already in the world. Ye are of God, dear children, and have overcome them, because greater is he that [is] in you than he that [is] in the world. They are of the world: for this reason they speak [as] of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God doth not hear us. From this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (vers. 1-6).
*On ample ground of external witness, backed up by internal considerations, almost all the later critics seem to be right in dropping the words here omitted, which were probably inserted from the clause before. The MSS. differ much as usual in such cases. - There is a reading, alluded to by ancient writers ὃ λύει instead of ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ. But it is authenticated by neither ancient MS. nor Version, save the Vulgate's "qui solvit."
Before the apostle proceeds with God's abiding in us, known by the Spirit given to us (1 John 3:24), he turns off to the grave subject before us. Therein he would guard us, against the inroads of the enemy on the foundations of the faith, by the truth of Christ's person, and by God's authoritative revelation of Him through the inspired apostles and prophets given by the ascended Lord, and embodied in the Scriptures of the New Testament.
It is not, as in his previous teaching, the tests which sever the real Christian from the spurious or self-deceived. The introduction of the Holy Spirit leads him into a digression, as we have seen his manner to be, of extreme value on what is most fundamental, the divinely given tests of the truth itself. These tests are two: the person of Him who was manifested in flesh; and the revelation of Him through the chosen witnesses in order that, as He was truly divine and perfectly human, we might have a no less divine communication of what is so transcendent a blessing stamped with God's authority through men inspired for the purpose. He is the One on whose reception depends life eternal with all the privileges of the Christian, and of the church, of which the apostle Paul was the minister beyond all others; He is the One whose rejection entails God's wrath to abide on all those guilty of it (John 3:35-36). As He came down from heaven, Himself the truth in sovereign grace, so God took care to give us the surest revelation by man and for man, - whether he hear or refuse, adapted to the conscience and heart of man, but guarded and guided by the God who cannot err.
If God in virtue of redemption was pleased to give the Holy Spirit to the Christian in a measure and way which was not nor could be before Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, Satan set himself to counterfeit the heavenly gift, and thwart the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. He acts by apostates, the many false prophets who not only mislead others to perdition, but incur themselves vengeance more severely than the guilty Jew or the dark Gentile. Hence the care to present the two-fold criterion of the truth in the simplest and most direct form for the help of every Christian who needs it.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits if (or, whether) they are of God." It is a question of discerning, not Christians, but the real character of those who claimed to speak. in the Spirit. This the enemy simulated; and his power of subtle persuasion has ever been great since man's first temptation in paradise. "He was a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh falsehood he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and its father" (John 8:44). Evil spirits were more than ever at work to oppose the Spirit of truth, as very many unclean spirits in the possessed were cast out by the Holy One of God when here. In the Gospel of the divine Servant of God and man, it is the first miracle recorded; Christ's word had power to bless man, and expel the demon. And now that the intrepid and unflinching apostle to the uncircumcision was gone, his warning to the elders of the church in Ephesus was being rapidly verified: "I know, that there will come in among you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; and. from among your own selves shall arise men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).
This outbreak of evil was aggravated before the eyes of the last apostle. He appeals to every saint on his faith in Christ and in the word of God; and strips the true question of all the gloss of reasoning and sentiment by which the enemy obscured what was at stake. It was really giving up God and His word under pretension of new and higher truth. Some antichrists denied the real humanity of Christ, others His true deity, and others their union in one person. In any of these ways the truth of His person, and of His work consequently, was abandoned and sought to be overthrown. They knew the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent; and they had the Spirit to help them. Thus they were as simple children of God not only responsible but by grace adequate to prove what sort of spirit wrought in these new lights. They were bound for His sake and for their own souls to sift their novelties, "because many false prophets were gone out into the world." Were these men such? Christ had given true "apostles and prophets," who conjointly form the foundation of the church dogmatically. Hence we have Mark and Luke, to say nothing of writers of Epistles, who were not apostles but prophets. Satan imitated this, and availed himself of these unbelievers in going out into the world to lead astray and destroy. There were "many false prophets."
The first test is as to the Spirit. "Herein we know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God." The common rendering fails to give its real force; for the introduction of "that" and "is" is not only uncalled for, but makes it to be mere confession of a fact; whereas the apostolic word means the confession of His person. Is it true that an evil spirit would deny the historical fact that Jesus Christ is come in flesh? Do not Mohammedans admit this fact without hesitation, if the Jews do not? And assuredly some of the most extreme and pernicious sceptics allow the fact, and eulogise the Lord after their fashion as the best of men.
But there is no true confession of the person of the Lord as here laid down by the apostle save by the Spirit of God. For, few as the words are, they go to the essence of the matter. Many a man was called "Jesus" between the son of Nun and the Son of Mary the virgin. The first, as far as Scripture speaks, was truly but only a type of the Joshua immeasurably greater than himself. Others may have been so named, but quite unworthy, notably he whom the Jews preferred to the Lord of glory, if we attach any credit to some twenty manuscripts which say so. Certainly he was surnamed Barabbas (son of the father), the devil's counterpart to the true Son of the Father.
The Spirit in Matt. 1 gives us His interpretation of the name: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." Joshua led Israel into Canaan in the face of enemies which swarmed there; but the Antitype alone could save His people from their sins. He was Jah, Jehovah, the Eternal absolutely, the Eternal relatively and historically; and as they were His people, He it was that should save them from their sins, as none but He could who was also Immanuel, God with us; and who but He could claim this title as Himself 2 If His people reject Him to their own loss for awhile, His grace turns to the besotted nations, to such of them at least as hear His voice. To Gentiles, as we were, this salvation was sent meanwhile; but the Gentile, puffed up in unbelief and pride, must be cut off, as in part the Jews were to let us in. At length, turning to their crucified Messiah, then exalted and lifted up and very high, and cleared of all inward fear as well as of outward, "So all Israel shall be saved." His love had waited long, unexhausted and faithful till they will have got to the bottom of their evil and their sufferings; His mercy endures for ever, as His gifts and calling admit no change of mind.
This is the "Jesus Christ" whom every spirit that is of God confesses. Only He is now known in Christianity far more profoundly as well as more intimately than when presented to Israel, who shall know Him in the visible glories of the coming kingdom. He who came in flesh was Jah the Saviour, as He was also God's Anointed or Christ. It is He whom the Spirit of truth honours, as the spirit of error hates Him. For there is the dark side: "Every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God." What confirms the shorter reading here is the article before "Jesus" in the latter clause. It is in its common usage of reference, and can hardly be expressed in English translation. But the explanation is clear and sure: "Every spirit which confesseth not (the) Jesus (already described)." It supposes no repetition of the words here omitted, yet implies that predication as true.
The name of Jesus is the expression of all that He is as revealed of God; and as we need, so we have it all to our everlasting joy. Nor does it avail only for the supreme excellency of all that is in Him and through Him: He and He only gives us the truth of every one and thing as it really is; and thus He proves Himself to be the truth objectively, as the Spirit is the truth in the inward power of giving us to realise and enjoy what is in and by Christ (1 John 5:6). He alone leads into any adequate knowledge of God. He shows us the Father. He makes known to us, as not to the world, the Holy Spirit. He reveals the Trinity. In Christ we know light and life and love, as of God, and nowhere else. In Him we know obedience, righteousness, holiness, reverence, dependence, faithfulness, humility, meekness, absolutely and in all perfection. In Him is displayed man the worthy object of God's delight; and man under Satan's power in his enmity to God, the truth of man naturally as he is. So through Him we know what Satan is in hatred as well as deceit. Without Christ we have only the shadow of redemption and propitiation, of sacrifice and offering, of priest and sanctuary. He only is the substance and fulness, setting everything in its true character and true relation to God, Himself the centre of all. Do you doubt as to the truth of anything? Bring Christ into the difficulty, apply Him to the question; and you will find the truth in each and every case. Is not He manifestly and justly the criterion of the truth?
Thus it is that, while the reasoning soul loses itself in the labyrinth of speculation in quest of the truth which eludes the strongest natural mind, grace provides the truth in Christ to the simplest believer who looks to Him as his all. For there is the solution; Christ is the truth objectively, as the Spirit is in power to his spirit. Those self-seeking and self-vaunting "false prophets" may tell "the little child" that he cannot do without them, and that they alone have "the spirit," he no more than "the letter." The believer knows that he has Christ, the Son manifested in flesh, and refuses to let go what was "heard from the beginning" and is now in the written word of God. He does not pretend to have all realised; but he knows that having Christ the truth, he has it all perfectly in Him, and counts on the unction of the Spirit for application as the need arises. He therefore feels the all-importance that what was heard from the beginning should abide in him, that he too should abide in the Son and in the Father. If Christ thus revealed is given up, Christianity is gone. And when the enemy was undermining Christ under pretence of higher truth, the Spirit of God recalls to Him Who was and is the truth. He therefore admits of no development, which is no more than the lie of Satan, and has no truth, but betrays itself by denying known life eternal as His present gift. The lie offers only "ideas."
Grace then furnishes a sure criterion to know when it is the Spirit of God teaching the truth, or when an evil spirit insinuates the great lie. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus; the evil spirit cries up the world, being the instrument of the devil to deceive as far as he can. If he cannot deceive the elect, he accuses them, and makes them appear narrow, morose, and bigoted; because they are not misled by the fine colours with which Satan invests his evil doings. They believe God concerning His Son. This is quite a different thing from confounding with faith credulity, which is but believing man. But no link with God is formed save in believing God; and this is by His word, and since the apostle passed away, His written word. The Holy Spirit bore witness to the Lord as the incarnate Son of God. One accordingly believes on the Lord Jesus Christ at God's word for life eternal. A fact about Him, however true and important, is not believing on and confessing Himself. Life is in His Son. And He came in flesh; for this was essentially "Jesus," the marvel of divine grace, the test of divine truth. Confessing Him means that one owns the truth of His person thus come in flesh. The difference is not only important but vital. It is not the fact of His birth, but His person so born to confess.
Many think that here it is only the fact of His incarnation. Assuredly the incarnation is pressed, because it is a cardinal truth of Christianity, of rich grace; and there were some then that denied it and reduced it to a mere semblance. A little book of great antiquity was discovered recently called the Gospel of Peter, not only spurious but utterly heterodox, evidencing deadly error in early days; a most sorrowful thing that it should ever have been written. For it was as false in itself as it was a vile imposture, no more coming from a Christian than from Peter. But Peter was a marked favourite because of his fervour; and many who could not fully take in Paul's teaching exceedingly enjoyed Peter's preaching. The wicked forger took advantage of the apostle's repute (probably after his death) to gain acceptance for his own Gnostic legend. For its purport is to represent that Christ did not come in flesh so as to die on the cross, that He merely took flesh as one lives in a house; that flesh did not really form part of His person; that, after living in the body for a time, on coming to the cross He left it and went up to heaven.
It seems like the doctrine of the Moslems, who imagine that, at the critical moment, God, by an exercise of His power and retributive justice, substituted Judas Iscariot for the Lord Jesus, and took Him up on high. In short this class of Gnostics and the Mahomedans held that the Lord did not die on the cross. Indeed the Mahomedans believe that the Lord will come again to judge the world, and that He will find all the world then in an apostate state. There are ignorant men preaching worse everywhere in Christendom, who look for a state of growing perfection for man on the earth without Christ. Is it not humbling to think that a kingdom without the King is the idea of vast numbers, alike Nationalist and Dissenting? Some, no doubt, look for another and greater outpouring of the Spirit to bring it about. But He will thus be poured out again in honour of Christ's reign over the earth. The Mahomedans, blind as they are, own that in the coming crisis they themselves will have given up their Koran (their sacred book, as they call it), that the Jews will have given up the Old Testament, and that the Christians will have given up the New Testament. To such an apostasy Scripture shows that Christendom is rapidly hastening; and the strongest force toward it is in the sceptical theories which deny true inspiration, so prevalent in Christendom even now.
But here is the test, the touchstone of truth. "Every spirit which confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God." This is the simple and proper way to render the words. The true spirit confesses Christ's person. It is of all moment to understand this, because laying the stress on "coming in flesh" may overlook Who came thus. Undoubtedly His coming in flesh is very important, yet far more momentous is He who thus came. Who was He that came in flesh? persons in their senses would not say that you or I came in the flesh. Take the mightiest monarchs that founded world-powers - Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar. Take the greatest names in letters, philosophy, oratory, science, and what not. Nobody could with propriety speak of their coming in flesh. The reason is because we could not appear at all unless we came in flesh. The wonder, the truth, the infinite grace, is that He came in flesh. It was a divine person, the Son of God, the Creator. That He came in flesh is a most glorious thing morally for God and for man. Nothing in eternity past can compare with it save His death on the cross; nothing in eternity future.
Evidently the grand point is not merely what He became, but Who He is that thus came. Surely He might have come otherwise. He might have come in His own glory, He might have come in angelic glory (as in this guise He had often appeared for a little). He was pleased to come in flesh to glorify the Father, to vindicate God as such, to bless those who believe, to judge those who dishonour Him, to restore creation, and to destroy the devil and his works. All turns on His eternal being and divine glory. This is the doctrine of John all through the Epistle as well as the Gospel, and prophetically in the Book of Revelation; and here it is comprised in the criterion of God's Spirit distinguished from the spirit of error.
No evil spirit will ever confess Him. They have the most awful dread of the Lord Jesus; and this natural dread is because they never doubt that He is a divine person, and that He is the appointed One not only to judge the world but in particular to punish them as the constant, active, and subtle instruments of antagonism to God and of endless mischief to man. Hence, whenever they were in the presence of the Lord, they showed the utmost terror. As the Epistle of James puts it, "The demons also believe and shudder." Alas! this is what man does not; he neither believes nor shudders; but the day is coming when he must.
Therein we have the first test. It is the glorious person of Him that came in flesh. The truth of Jesus Christ runs from the first chapter to the last of this Epistle. It is here presented in few and plain words as the test of the Spirit of truth who is come down to glorify Christ.
Next we have the counterpart. "And every spirit that confesseth not Jesus"; such is the shorter and, as I believe, the true reading, in which the best critics agree. The acceptance of this text confirms the genuine sense of what precedes, and makes it perfectly plain that it is the confession, not of a mere fact, but of the person. For in the detection of the evil spirit there is nothing expressed as to Christ's coming in the flesh, though implied of course. It is simply "Jesus," while here the article appears, "the" Jesus of whom more had just been said. "Every spirit that confesseth not (the) Jesus is not of God." He is adequate to detect every evil spirit. It is not only that He came, was truly man, and will come again. The Mahomedans believe all this; yet they themselves are, what they call others, unbelievers. For they do not believe in the glory of His person. Their unbelief makes them hate Christians, and join with the Jews in a measure against Christians. They only look at Him as a prophet, a wonderful man, excellent beyond all the sons of men, and the appointed Judge of the world when he comes to reign for seven years! But they do not believe in His divine nature, or that He put aside His divine glory to manifest God's grace.
But if the critical text be certain, it makes no difference at bottom to the text on the negative side as compared with the positive, yet it confirms in the strongest way that the confession which the Spirit of God requires is not of tiny mere fact but of the person of our Lord, for in the negative case only the person is named, though the fuller expression is implied. It may be of interest to know that manuscripts are not wanting which departed from the right text in ver. 2 and made it to express simply a fact, and that the Latin Vulgate followed that error, with a few early fathers Greek and Latin. But no editor of the slightest weight follows their mistake.
This terminates the first test of the Spirit of God. It is the confession of the truth, Jesus Christ come in flesh. Every spirit which confesseth Him is of God: every spirit which confesseth Him not is not of God. "This is that [spirit, or, principle] of the antichrist whereof ye have heard that it cometh, and now it is in the world already." It was not men only who were active but evil spirits; and the apostle speaks in real love but peremptorily. If a divine person in love to man deigned to be born of woman, how could it be an open question? Not to confess Him is to fight against God.
Thus closely connected with the first test we have the second test of the truth communicated to the Christian. Undoubtedly He personally is the truth (John 14:6), the Word become flesh who tabernacled among us. But God has given a fresh revelation of which He is the centre; and this is His word and the truth. It is this which is taken up here. It is the Father's word, and it makes known the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit. Do you ask where? It is what is commonly called the New Testament, the collected teaching of His holy apostles and prophets. Even then the false prophets claimed to have the fuller light of God. They did not admit that "the doctrine of the apostles" was God's word. It was all well as a beginning: they alone had the truth. They were like the Quakers, who are fond of testifying; but it is their own thoughts and talk. Others too are not wanting, down to such as lay more stress on a dream to show them Christ, or their duty is Christians, than on the written word of God. Now we have the rationalistic school, who deny that Scripture is the word, although some allow there may be words of God in it. But they all deny it as a whole to be God's word. Yet this unbelief unsettles everything in Scripture; for who then is to decide? Who is to say what is the word and what is not, if you are thrown on uncertain writings? This the sceptic likes, because he dreads the authority of Scripture, and the peril of which it warns all who do not bow to God. If it is the word of God, what an insult to God, and to the Holy Spirit especially whom the Lord declares it is unpardonable to blaspheme!
Those who are addressed no doubt felt the seriousness of what he had already said. He immediately adds another criterion of a kindred sort: the new word of God, His final communication, founded on Jesus the Lord and His work of redemption accomplished and accepted of God. "Ye are of God, dear children." It seems preferable to render this term τεκνία generally "dear children." For τέκνα all translate as "children" and "little children" (παιδία) is appropriated in 1 John 2:13; 1Jn 2:18 to the third class of the "dear children" or tekniva, which is the general designation of all the three classes, and so runs through the Epistle. Hence "children" in 1 John 3:1-2 includes all the family. We are all called "children of God," and we are so now; and it is a mistake to say "sons" of God, though we are also His sons. But here it is expressly "children" of God, not sons adopted but born of God, and so His children. But τεκνία is a diminutive term closely connected with "children "; and the reason for its use is as an expression of affection; as when a parent, not content to say to his little one "my dear," calls it "my dearie." It is meant for fondness of expression. This illustrates its force here; and therefore it seems best to say "dear children," in order to distinguish from "children" (τέκνα) on the one hand, and the little children or babes (παιδία) on the other.
"Ye are of God, dear children," is the address to the whole family. It is also the emphatic "ye." The false prophets said they were the reliable guides. No, he means, they are enemies of Christ, emissaries of Satan. "Ye" are God's children, in contrast with these pretentious and false guides that despise the dear children. God in Christ is to you the source of every blessing, life eternal, forgiveness, relation to Himself as Father, and the gift of His indwelling Spirit. "Ye are of God, dear children, and have overcome them," that is, the false prophets. But it was not because you have anything to boast of your own wisdom or power or holiness; but "because greater is he that is in you." The Christian's source of power is the Spirit of God abiding in him. God Himself abides in him; and this He makes good by His indwelling Spirit. Therefore he can say "because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world;" or as in 1 John 5:19, "The whole world lieth in the wicked one." Here it is clearly the devil working by these evil spirits.
Thus the emphasis on "Ye" is exceedingly cheering and establishing: to be told that they distinctively were "of God" in the sense of His being the source of all their blessing. Also, if God is the giver of the blessing, He does not change. The gifts of God are without change of mind on His part. When it is not a gift or a calling of God, He may repent. So He repented of creation (Genesis 6:6), as we are told; and He destroyed it. That was not a gift; but simply an act however immense. But when in sovereign love He calls to Himself poor guilty men to make them His own, when He makes a gift of eternal life, for instance, or forgiveness of our sins, or the place of a child, such boons are the gifts and calling of God; and they are without repentance. Here His mind never changes. The children may be too often foolish and sadly wrong, but He does not change.
What the apostle says here has great force without doubt. It is not only that they had received all these blessings from God, but "Ye (emphatically) are of God." They were born of God, loved as such by Him, and so abode as their new being. And if they "have overcome them," the instruments of Satan's deceit, it was "because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world," albeit its prince and god. These false prophets go boldly on with their spiritual wickedness, but "ye have overcome them." Christians were not attracted to them but held aloof; they heard the voice of the good Shepherd and followed Him. They knew that only He could give life, liberty, and food (John 10:9), and that He had come and was sent of the Father on this errand of God's love, and of His own love to them. Only the Son of God could utter such words; as only He laid down His life for them in atonement. They believed on Him who calls His own sheep by name, and they follow because they know His voice; they do not know the voice of strangers, but flee from them, and will not follow such. And now, as resting on Christ's redemption, God Himself was in them by His Spirit and abiding in them.
Next he describes these false prophets in the most trenchant terms, and lays another and awful emphasis on them. "They are of the world." The source of all their teaching as of all their conduct and aims was not God, but the world which is enmity against Him. It is therefore all under Satan's instigation, who is at the bottom of all the lies which pretend to be the truth. "For this reason they speak out of the world," as it literally runs: "(as) of the world" would be our idiom. The world which cast out God in Christ, and crucified Him was the spring of all they taught. The sense is not that they spoke "about" the world, and it was in order to distinguish from this that it has been paraphrased in the way just expressed. The world is the source, not the subject-matter, out of which they spoke. "And the world heareth them." The world loves its own; and therefore the world, having no knowledge of God, nor of sin which needs His intervention in the Lord Jesus in both life eternal and everlasting redemption, is content with the grandiloquent speculations of the blind, which leave out God and exalt man as he is. They never truly heard the voice of the Son of God. They are dead; and things of death are their realities.
Then he turns to another emphasis. "We are of God" is another and distinct thing from "Ye." "Ye" means the body of Christians, and real ones only. Besides what "we" share with "you," God is the source of the divine power which makes us the mouthpieces of His word, so that you hear Him in hearing us. "We" means apostles and prophets sent of Christ, and given for the blessing of His saints. They were inspired of God, and so taught the truth as it is in Jesus. The New Testament consists of these divine communications in a permanent form. As they taught, so the inspired wrote; and as they wrote; so they gave out orally. As the New Testament consists of a number of pieces which were gradually added together, and all was not completely gathered into a single volume as now, there might have been a difficulty for some. The Lord's authority was the end of controversy for the Old Testament to all men of faith. It might have been urged in early clays that the new words were so different from the Old Testament, so comparatively simple here and so profound there, that it was hard to say of all the little books then in circulation, the Gospels and the Epistles, that they were certainly inspired of God. It is then of this new word of God that the apostle treats, embodied in the so-called New Testament. This is the further criterion. What the apostles and prophets testified in the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son in due time contributed this new deposit of inspiration; and the apostle refers to their testimony as being the truth as well as Christ. Christ, is the truth personally. The New Testament, giving the oral testimony of these chosen witnesses, is the truth in the written form. Therefore of these he says, "We are of God." We have in the Holy Spirit set out to you the truth of Christ from first to last; we are of God in and for this work: "He that knoweth God heareth us."
It seems a portentous mistake to apply the like to every Christian that preaches, no matter how truly, or to every teacher of the truth, no matter how well instructed he himself may be. What evangelist or teacher could claim such a place? Far be it from such so to exalt any gift the Lord may give today; nor have I ever known any true servant claiming such language for himself. It belongs only to inspired men. Consider seriously what the apostle says, "He that knoweth God heareth us." Could any minister on earth expect this absolutely? It is not only that in the divided state of Christendom no man could look for such a hearing, but it never was true beyond the apostles and prophets. The apostle speaks only of those who shared a position like his own in those days when the foundation of Christianity was laid down. It was right and necessary that believers henceforth should know the divine authority which God insists on for the apostolic teaching. But it is restricted to the inspired of the New Testament as it had been to those of the Old Testament. There is now, as there was then, gracious guidance in the Spirit to every one that preached or taught the truth; but inspiration has the special character of exemption from error in what was given as the rule of faith.
Further, though they are gone, God took care that we should have their Spirit-taught words, not only their testimony but in the very words which the Holy Spirit gave them to utter, that what they were as of God then should never be lost, while a Christian remains to profit by them. This Epistle for instance we have as truly as those to whom it was written, and we have the same Spirit of God who abides for ever. But here it was for the inspired to lay the foundation. No such category of God's servants is on earth now. But we have the work done by inspired writers. It is the written standard of Christianity and the church. He simply speaks of what they gave out, and the saints heard. It was for the most part written then, though somewhat remained for himself to add. But he hesitated not to say that "he that knoweth God (that is, every Christian) heareth us." He rejected the false prophets as of Satan, and not of God. "He heareth us" as the men exclusively raised up of God to give the truth, now contained in the New Testament.
His words are as important as of the deepest interest. Men have dared to say there is nothing in the New Testament that claims the authority of God for itself. It is only their ignorance that has blinded their eyes to what God does say there. Nor is this the only witness to the same truth; for there are several more in the New Testament. The first of those scriptures we may look at is 1 Cor. 11. For demons had been at work even in those early days, and the apostle took pains in 1 Cor. 12 to guard them from any spirit which refused to call Jesus Lord. But 1 Corinthians 11:13 comes to us from God, "revealing" by the Spirit things hidden of old even from the prophets of early days. The time had come, for the Son of God had come, to reveal to us by the Spirit even "the depths of God." Next, he adds their inspiration, or communication to the believers: "Which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit." It is not that the Spirit only conveyed the ideas, for by this notion even many undermine inspiration. They assume that the thoughts came from the Spirit of God; but that for the good men were left to do the best they could. No wonder, if so, that men fall into mistakes. But this notion of theirs is exactly what is false. He says here that the things revealed they also speak; and this in words Spirit-taught, instead of being left to human infirmity. In short the Spirit who revealed the truths was equally careful to safeguard the words, "expounding (or, communicating) spiritual things in spiritual [words]." The medium of conveyance, the words were Spirit-taught, not left to feeble man. Thus the passage expressly tells us that the words were inspired, and not the thoughts only.
Take another witness to the same effect from the last Epistle that the apostle Paul ever wrote, his Second Epistle to Timothy. He shows that, in the perilous times of the last days, the main safeguard lies not in uncertain traditions of unknown source, but in abiding in the truth which we have learnt with full conviction, knowing their source, and now in the written word. Consider the persons that speak and how they stand in their ways, their conversation, their life. He says therefore, "But thou hast fully known my doctrine" - in contrast with these bad men, whom he calls impostors, comparing them to the magicians in Egypt. "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity" - or love - "patience, persecutions" - not popularity - "persecutions, afflictions which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Such is the great mark of the real Christian now as it has always been. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou," he says to Timothy, "in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them." Their character, you see, being sustained with the truth is of all moment; for no matter what a man may say, however clever or smooth or with fine sentiments, it is all worthless unless he lives the truth now to the conscience of God's elect.
"From a child thou hast known the sacred letters," the Old Testament so described in ver. 15, "which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ, Jesus" But next in ver. 16 he comes to "Every scripture" - not exactly "all," but "every scripture, is given by inspiration of God" (or, God-breathed). This is meant beyond doubt to cover the New Testament; and therefore purposely "every," because some part - at least John's writings - was not yet written. If he had said "all scripture," it would have meant "all that is already written but when he says "every scripture," the door is left open for any thing yet to be inspired. "Every scripture" is therefore the correct phrase, if any additions should be made to the Canon. Nor is it only that the men were inspired. What the apostle says here is that every thing coming under the character of Scripture is inspired. Here again it is not merely the ideas but what they wrote; Scripture necessarily means their words. The words were inspired just as much as the truth intended. Nor could anything be satisfactory unless it were so.
Let those who will compromise, so as to allow inspiration along with errors and inconsistencies, we who believe that God's inspiration excludes such failures are exhorted to cast away theory and accept the facts. But we deny that their objections are well-founded, though we do not overlook the difficulties (many of them from the copyists, and therefore apart from inspiration).
Assuredly too of all these theories, none is so inconsistent and irreverent as their view of a divine inspiration with error and discrepancy pervading what is so vital a part - the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. How call so motley a product as this carry with it the authority of God, or be entitled to the name of God's word? In fact the apparent discrepancies can be shown to flow from the distinct purpose of God by each of His instruments, each fitted specifically by grace for His work, and altogether effecting the more richly their combined testimony to the glory of the Lord Jesus beyond the thoughts of the writers themselves, but extant there for Christian use when required. But to admit that God inspired the various writers for His purpose of glorifying Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then to argue that they were allowed to make not a few mistakes (some of them gross and puerile) is surely of all theories the most unsatisfactory and the least defeasible even logically, not to say that it is wholly unworthy of the Holy Spirit as well as of Him who is the truth. For this halfway theory, like all compromises in divine things, cannot approve itself to any but its inventors, and in all probability not to them. We all know that the Lord promised the power of the Spirit to teach the apostles all things, and to recall to their remembrance all the things He said to them. This halting hypothesis is that the Spirit only brought them to their memory in a way or measure which exposed them to these alleged defects. The believer, without pretending ability to clear up every difficulty, is assured that what He promised the Holy Spirit performed, and that every scripture is worthy, not of the writers merely but of God, its real Author.
Clearly then if "he that knoweth God heareth us," every Christian accepts the New Testament as of God; and again he who does not is no real Christian but a sceptic. For hearing the apostles and prophets of the New Testament is inseparable from knowing God now. This, the second test of the truth, goes farther than whether a man be a Christian. To profess Christ and reject plenary inspiration indicates the work of evil spirits. Infidelity as the rule begins with the Old Testament, but it will surely attack and reject the New Testament also. Singular to say, a gentleman who had filled a very important position with the world's honour, active in Sunday School work, and regarded as a devoted Christian, suddenly disclosed one day when we talked together, that, although he fully believed in the Old Testament, he did not believe in the New! The avowal could not but wound a believer beyond measure. To kill another with a revolver seems to me a far less sin against God. Is it not awful to think of such audacious infidelity in one accepted as a Christian teacher? "Herein know we the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error."
It is well here to observe how far goes the principle here stated peremptorily: "He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God doth not hear us." It cheers the Christian, who finds his richest spiritual food not in the Old Testament though just as truly inspired, but in the New Testament where Christ is no longer veiled or distant, but manifested in all the fulness of His glory and His grace, in the majesty of God and the meek tenderness of the lowliest Man that ever trod the earth. We hear God speaking in the prophets His servants, but as Father in the Son, His Father and our Father, His God and our God. This judges man, religious no less than profane; this gives Him His place, and puts me in mine. As unbelieving it condemns pious superstition as thoroughly as profane infidelity, and every one of the many shades of unbelief in not hearing the voice of God in the words of the inspired, and here of Christ's apostles and prophets in particular. And we may notice by the way that the apostle Paul claims for himself not a whit less than the apostle John for them all. "If anyone thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognise the things which I write to you, that they are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant" (1 Corinthians 14:37-38). What a reproof to vain Christians like those Corinthians - who enter on ground so slippery without knowing it!
"For the word of God is living and energetic, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and capable of judging thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is not a creature unmanifest in his sight; but all things are naked and laid bare to his eyes with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13). Do we need the church to tell us that the sword of the Spirit is God's word when it pierces us through as nothing else? And as our Lord said in His last discourse to the unbelieving Jews, "If any man hear my sayings and keep them not, I am not judging him; for I came not that I might judge the world but that I might save the world. He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my sayings hath one that judgeth him: the word which I spoke, that shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:47-48). And here in 1 John 4:6 the Holy Spirit inspired our apostle to assert the equivalent of the word that came through the apostles and prophets. Does one need the church to tell me that he spoke the truth of God to the blessing of the believer, to the ruin of the false prophets, and of all that despise what God authenticates? The inspired were servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries; but the word they spoke, or wrote, was no less God's than if He had uttered it audibly to each that heard.
The church, the individual Christian, is directly addressed by His word. This is evident from the Epistles of the New Testament on their face. They were with a slight exception written to the general mass of the faithful, save the very few and short letters to fellow-labourers for work of which the faithful are not capable, but only such as had adequate authority. They remain for the faithful now as really as then; and if they find difficulties as the early Christians did, they have the same living Interpreter as their brethren of old. But the essential principle for faith is to have God speaking to His children immediately in His word. To interpose church or clergy between His word and His children is rebellion against God. It is false ground (too common among Protestants) to plead man's right to hear His written word it is thoroughly true to assert His right to address, instruct, console or rebuke His own family; yea, more, to speak to the conscience of any and every man, as the Lord did and His apostles, and indeed His servants in general.
Nor is there a falser principle than that which has lately overspread the country through the Oxford revival of popery without the pope. They may base it on a saying of the famous Augustine bishop of Hippo; but it was unworthy of his piety. For it robs God of His due, to say that he would not believe the gospel, if the authority of the catholic church did not move him to it. Great a man as he was, here he did not realise what he said; for if one does not believe God's word because He says it through the inspired, one does not truly believe God but rather His vouchers: a real and manifest insult to God. Believing God Himself makes my faith to be of divine source and character. No other faith is acceptable to God. Even to believe on Christ because of the signs He wrought and they beheld was human faith, and unacceptable: "Jesus himself did not trust himself to them" (John 2:24). To look for, or allow any one or body to accredit God's word is a grievous sin against God and a deep injury to man; yea, it would be fatal unless it were a blunder, and the man had really better than such humanly grounded faith.
If any resort to the subterfuge that the apostle speaks only of the oral word, let them know that they are wholly and ungratefully in error when they thus slight the written word. The Lord Himself has ruled that, as bearing authority, Scripture is superior to anything merely spoken, even if He was the speaker who spoke as none else ever spoke. Therefore said He to the reasoning Jews, "Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, Moses on whom ye have your hope. For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my sayings?" Both were the unimpeachable word of God, one spoken and the other written in the Holy Spirit; but as God's authority to man, the Lord undeniably gives the highest place to the written word, the permanent witness of the divine mind, which allows of meditation and consideration before God as no oral words could. With this we may compare the apostle's statement in Romans 16:26, which is wrongly translated by the Revisers like others "the scriptures of the prophets," in flat contradiction of now manifested "just before, and of "made known unto all the nations," as well as of its own anarthrous form, "prophetic scriptures" (in contrast with Romans 1:2). The phrase really applies to New Testament scriptures which had begun to appear in the widest known Gentile tongue, and were going forth as the gospel did to all the nations.
These words close the subject; and they are an admirable close. Whether it was the confession of Christ as He really is, the truth of His person, or whether the authority of the word that revealed Him, here we have in the simplest form the truth in Himself, and the truth that flowed from Him. This is the Spirit of truth. But there is the spirit of error also. The devil is its active source in its deadliest form. It is natural that those who believe not in the gracious presence of God's Spirit should be no less incredulous of the immense part Satan takes in all the mischief of the world on a great scale generally; in the miseries of men individually as well is of nations, and of the savage races. But the worst part of the devil's evil is what he does in Christendom; what he insinuates against Christ and the revealed truth of God. There it is called not exactly the spirit of malice, but "the spirit of error"; and this is the most dangerous. It is not gross corruption, nor sanguinary violence, but outwardly plausible and subtle inwardly, with a little truth in front of a great lie, openness to will but no room for conscience, Jesus not confessed but perverted, and the Father unknown. Such is the working of the spirit of error. Thence will be the apostasy and the man of sin.
How great the grace of God, in face of the declension of the Christian profession and the revealed utter ruin and judgment without one promise of recovery, to provide for the safety and joy of the faithful, however tried: Jesus truly confessed and believed on; the word of God; and both by the Spirit of truth. This is the substance of the solemn parenthesis now before us.
There is a cry often raised among those who rest for security and guidance on outward ordinances and on official position, not on the words "hear the church." But it is striking to observe that they never think of applying these words of our Lord in Matthew 18:17 as He directs. It is His prescribed discipline where one brother sins against another, and it would seem on an individual matter between the two, at first unknown to others, which at length comes out through the offender's refractoriness, so that the assembly or church becomes the last resort. Is this ever the way with those who cite it for what the Lord contemplates neither here nor anywhere else? As everyone knows, "hear the church," in the right case as well as the wrong, means in their lips to hear the priest, or the priests collectively, or, among the extreme, the arch-priest, the Pope. But this is either sheer error or fraud, if they know they are without doubt misapplying His words.
Scripture however goes much farther, and shows that before the last apostle passed away declension had set in so decidedly that the Lord told John in the Spirit to write to the seven churches selected for the last letters to such on earth. They begin with that in Ephesus, so bright in earlier days, - but here threatened with the removal of its lampstand, and end with spuing that in Laodicea out of His mouth as intolerably nauseous. The Lord is not seen ministering in grace but judging in the midst, and therefore as Son of Man with garment flowing to the feet, not tucked up or taken off to do service. Now to every one of these churches chosen to set forth as a mystery the church on earth before it is seen no more here below, the Lord's final word is (with a promise before or after), "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." Since the apostle's day the Lord has a grave controversy with the churches. Even then they were veering to ruin as assemblies, and He menaces at last with repudiation. The prophecy in the very next chapter shows the outer frame no longer an object of His communications; and the overcomers are seen glorified in heaven around a throne of divine judgment on Jews and Gentiles, with spared remnants from "both: no church more is apparent on earth, but strokes of displeasure on the nations. These are the things which are about to, and must, take place after "the things which are" (the church period).
Now such a message from the Lord "to him that hath an ear," is of unspeakably solemn power. It negatives the perverted cry "hear the church." It calls on every faithful soul to "hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." The church never was a standard of truth, but God's word only. Assuredly the church (not Israel, nor Mohamedanism, nor the heathen) is the responsible witness of the truth by fidelity to it in word and deed. No where, and no when, but in the church was testified "the mystery of godliness," great as it is; the church is not the truth but its pillar and pedestal. Christ is the truth objectively, and the Spirit the power to work inwardly and bring it home. But when decay and heterodoxy set in, the outward professing church ceased to be even a reliable witness. And the Lord commands him that has the obedient ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The authority of the truth lies in Him whose words are divine; not so the pillar and pedestal which once hold them up to be seen and heard (1 Tim. 3). The pillar may be injured or defaced, but the truth remains for ever in Christ, the Spirit and the word. Yet 2 Tim. 3 speaks of men having a form of godliness but denying the power, and enjoins turning away from them. Ere long rival churches began, and not this only but also anathematising each other. This compelled all but the heedless to see the necessity of knowing the truth, in order to judge which of the two was the true church, or it might be neither. Thus the sevenfold call of the Lord to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, always true but now applied judicially and individually, became of increasing value. Assuredly it did not lose its need of application after the Reformation, when not only kings and nations claimed title to set up their own churches as distinctive religious corporations, but leading men asserted a similar right for their societies. Thus the very notion of the church got lost for most in the chaos of Christendom.
Nor can one be surprised that, having long ceased to believe in the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly, they lost along with that the authority of the word, not only in practice but in principle, so far as to deny its self-evidencing light to the conscience of man, and to assert the need of the feeble falling church to make its authority valid But their crookedness in this is as clear as their presumption; for they avail themselves of every semblance of misunderstood Scripture to accredit their own systems. But the principle of using the church to authenticate God's word is infidel, and convicts those who deliberately affirm it of departure from God's authority. On the very day of Pentecost the apostle Peter vindicated the gift of the Spirit by the word of God. It never occurred to him nor any other apostle to appeal to the church. God's word needs no vindication. To pretend that it does verges on blasphemy. The apostle Paul puts honour on the Old Testament in praising Berean Jews, not only for receiving the word with all readiness of mind, but also for searching the Scriptures if these things were so. They knew the old oracles to be of God, and did well to test the oral preaching of one whom they did not know, whose testimony they found by constant research corroborated by those Scriptures. The old written word was the standard which led them all the more to receive the new word with in readiness of mind.
1 John 4:7-10.
Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God; and every one that loveth hath been begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knew not God, because God is love. Herein was manifested the love of God in us (or, in our case), that God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son [as] propitiation for our sins."
After the episode, as we may call it, of the first six verses, we return to the new theme that was introduced by the apostle it the end of the third chapter. He had shown the love of our brethren as a divine affection, not merely to be desired but of such solemn import that it really decides whether we are Christians or not. This accordingly makes it of very particular interest for us to beware of self-deceit. "Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God; and every one that loveth hath been begotten of God, and knoweth God."
If this divinely drawn inference is a sure and strong thing to say, there is no excuse for failure in love. But we must remember that love is not merely kind to a fellow-saint; it is also faithful to God. And sometimes the faithfulness of love is resented instead of being acceptable. In such a case the brother who is ruffled by being reproved for his failure whatever it be, and who regards the other's faithfulness as inconsistent with love, has need to beware. For if that resentment overcome him - and it sometimes does - the issue may prove that there never was the divine gift of life in his soul. We find too often that departure from love even in a small way, if yielded to, is an extremely grave sign. It may be a symptom of what may be called the moral leprosy of the man. For, as we are here taught, there is nothing really of God, nothing truly sound, in the man that does not love.
In principle too can anything be plainer? Hatred certainly is not of God; love is, being the reflex of the active energy in God's nature. Light is, if we may so say, the moral principle of His nature; that which is perfectly pure, which detects and rejects all evil; because in God absolutely it goes with holiness, and really in the Christian too, wherever there is life eternal. But love is the active outgoing of the divine nature, the seeking good without any motive whatever in those that are loved, but in its own spring of goodness. God's love not only gives all, but also forgives all. This is only possible toward us through the Mediator. For God is consistent in His ways; and, where sin is, there must be a ground of righteousness. Where is this to be found? Certainly hot in sinful man. But God in Himself knew where unfailing righteousness would be found, even in days when unrighteousness prevailed.
Jehovah before the flood and after the law was looking onward to His Christ, and in an evil day spoke by His prophet of His salvation to come, and of His righteousness to be revealed (Isaiah 56:1). Nowhere on earth could it be seen; but faith ever waited for it. There was no ground anywhere in man, not even in a true saint of God, not in Enoch nor in Elijah, to say nothing of others. They too looked forward to it in hope. But it was not yet an accomplished fact. The reliance of every saint was entirely on the One that was coming; for, as you know, He was proclaimed to man directly after he became a sinner. This was what Jehovah Elohim presented to the guilty pair, and in a, most impressive way; for it was not in direct address to the fallen but in the judgment of the serpent. Who but God would ever have thought, in a sentence pronounced upon the enemy, of also embodying the revelation of a Saviour? Thus did He in all holiness intimate the revelation of a Saviour to crush the power of evil for the deliverance of its victims, but also in love to endure anguish in the accomplishment of that deliverance. For who but an unbeliever fails to see that this is clearly the meaning of the heel being bruised? But the woman's Seed, though thus suffering, should crush the serpent's head; thence is fatal destruction from which the evil one shall never recover.
The "love" here meant has no source in the creature; it "is of God"; and if God were not the spring and power, not a soul could be saved, nor a saint walk in His love. For love knows how to bring out all the resources of grace where man lies in utter ruin. See it in Christ who died for our sins, and lives to be Advocate with the Father. What love in both ways! It is not merely said that the believer's sins are forgiven: were this all, it might have meant that if a saint fell, he had to begin over again. Nor are Christians wanting who think that if a believer sins, he loses all and has to recommence; but those who so think evidently do not believe in life eternal as the present possession of the believer in Christ. It is humbling to say that others, have denied life eternal, though in a rather different way; but, however it may be denied, it is to sin against a foundation truth of Christianity.
Next we are told that "everyone that loveth hath been begotten of God." To be of Him thus involves love in the children also. They have His nature. He that does not love never was born of God. But one may perhaps be badly instructed, and may feebly have learnt to judge the risings of the flesh, and consequently be not aware that a feeling of hatred is entirely incompatible with the Christian. The reason is its incompatibility with God and the life he has in His Son. "Love is of God, and every one" - nothing can be plainer - "that loveth hath been begotten of God, and knoweth God." Is not this a wonderful thing to say about a man on earth? We know but very little of one another; and one evidence of our ignorance even of near friends and relatives is that we are surprised from time to time by little things which cause immense difficulty and surprise with no end of pain and sorrow here below. Well, if we knew one another, and possessed a loving nature, these things could not be. How astonishing, then, that we, who are so ignorant even of our next-door neighbour, should be capable of knowing God! We may know far too little of our brethren; the reason of which is the feebleness of our love. Were our love strong by faith and the new life in unhindered exercise, we should be intimate with them all and enter into their sufferings with Christ and for His sake in ways as pleasing to God and comforting to them as blessed to our own souls. For confidence is the child of love; and known love begets confidence, as we saw with God as well as His children. And who does not know the comparatively little confidence even among those that are children of God? Lack of love is indeed a matter of deep reproach, and most inconsistent on the part of God's family. But here we have His mind in few and plain words.
There are immense difficulties in this world aggravated by the ruin-state of Christendom. There is a most subtle and restless enemy at work. We saw this when looking into the previous verses, "Believe not every spirit," etc. The Holy Spirit was sent down by the Father and the Son. As before to harass the Lord Jesus when on earth, so Satan in no long time sent out evil spirits to imitate the Spirit of God. It was not merely in demoniacs, but by false teaching, subversive of Christ Himself. Christ gave apostles, prophets, teachers, in the power of the Holy Spirit for edifying the members of His body; Satan counterworks all. "Believe not every spirit." And then followed the tests we have considered. But here it is our walking in love. It is not assaults on the truth, but the practical life of a believer which God would have instinct with love more than any other thing in those whom He has begotten with the word of truth. Righteousness is assumed, and obedience; but there must be love; and as love is the energetic power in God's nature, so is it also the indispensable power that works in the Christians' life one with another, coming out more saliently perhaps than anything else. Is it so with you, my brother? Do I fail in love?
He enters on this subject as he did before, saying "Beloved." it was a call particularly for their affections, though then a warning; he was very much in earnest about the danger. Here were these evil spirits; and there is apt to be much unbelief as to either the Holy Spirit on one hand or Satan and his emissaries on the other. There are more than ever evil spirits at work in Christendom; for therein particularly they work. It is not merely in heathen countries, with their dark and cruel superstitions; in Christendom the spirit of error takes a fair form and pretends to highest truth. "Have we not truth of which none ever before heard, and withal of the utmost value? It was all very well to have had God's righteousness, the heavenly calling, the mystery of the church, and so on; but now we have got something far better. Then it was but tuning the instruments; now the concert is begun in earnest, and we are the men!" No doubt it is utterly false, but such is the spirit and the blinded feeling of those animated by evil spirits. What evident vainglory in contrast with the meek Lord of all! It is for the destruction of the truth and not the edification of the souls that trust them, even worse than what Scripture calls "serving their belly." They are of the world, and out of it they speak. They have their own motives from self.
But the precious fact as to the love that is of God is this the entire motive is His own goodness; as man has the reverse of that in his nature. The believer receives grace as a lost sinner in all its sovereignty as its object, and having life eternal in Christ his it flowing out habitually. It is therefore of the Spirit acting on the new nature, as being begotten of God. He is entitled to boast in God as well as in God's love without any motive but the good that He is, which He delights to communicate to others. Such are Christians who by the faith of Christ are filled, firstly with being loved of His love, and secondly, carried out in the exercise of that love to their brethren (for this is the direction here) by the Spirit of God. But the principle is quite clear: to love is inseparable from being born of God; and so he that loves proves by this very fact that he is a child of God. It has nothing at all to do with natural affections, which everybody ought to know may be strong in the most wicked men and women. Deadly enemies of God, given up to base lusts and passions, yet they may have much natural sweetness and warm benevolence too. None of these things is His love, nor in the least spoken of here, nor anything but that which shone in the Lord Jesus. "Love," says the apostle, "is of God." Whatever is of ourselves is not of God. But this love is not of ourselves, even in a believer. He derives it entirely from above; he is born of the Spirit; and what is so born is spirit and not flesh. He is born of God; and God is love.
The connection here is with what was introduced at the end of the third chapter, where, for the first time in this Epistle, we hear of the Spirit of God. The form there taken is of God's abiding in the believer; and the proof is the Spirit which He gave us. The Spirit given to the believer abides in him, and is the proof that God abides in him. This is a great advance on having the new life. Great as is the boon of a divine nature that we partake, it is much more to have God abiding in us. Yet this is effected and provided by that gift of the Spirit which is the distinctive mark of a Christian.
The aim then is to enforce the mutual love of Christians by the source whence it flows, and by the nature which, if it acts, must accord. But hindrances there are which run strongly against love, within and without; so that the saints need God to abide in them in order that love should work freely and fully. We therefore require not only to be begotten of God, but also divine power, nay, God's abiding in us, in order that we should love one another according to God. If we were only born of God, there would still remain a mighty hindrance, which the new birth does not so much as touch. And what is that? The ignorance of redemption. There must be faith in the work of Christ for us, in the blood of Christ that cleanseth from every sin. There is a divine work in the soul before one rests on the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Take any scriptural case given to us.
Let me present one from the Gospel of Luke: the female in Luke 7, of whom the Holy Spirit says so much in the few words, "a woman in the city that was a sinner." Yet she came, much to the astonishment of Simon the Pharisee, into his house when he had the Lord and the disciples dining with him. Even under such deterrent circumstances this woman Came, who would have dreaded at any other time to enter that man's house. What emboldened her? Looking to the Lord in faith, nothing could keep her back from intruding (as it must have appeared, and as everyone would naturally say) into such a house under such circumstances. But the power of faith breaks through no small obstacles. Yet at that time she did not know her sins forgiven; nor were they forgiven. But she was on the way. She loved the Lord. It would be too much to say that she loved the disciples; still less that she felt for Simon any more than for other such souls. Another mighty work of God produces this too. But the Lord drew her to Himself by a new force of divine attraction. This is the effect of faith working by love. His grace created an affection she never before knew. She was perfectly sure the Lord was filled with holy love. Why was He thus going about all the country? What was the motive power of all His life, words and ways? Was it not divine love?
Life already wrought in the hitherto sinful woman, full of defilement, who had heretofore a character of infamy. But she believed in the Lord already; and she loved much, as He testified to Simon and them all. She found in Him a new life, and a new character formed by this blessed One. She might never see Him again nor have a like opportunity, however inopportune to other eyes. It was now or never for her soul; and so it is when simple faith actuates the heart. There is no loss of time, no allowance of any excuse for putting off; but in she goes, and "stood behind at His feet weeping." Her unconscious bearing was morally beautiful; certainly she had not learnt it from her former life: it was entirely the effect of faith in Christ on her soul. There she began to wash His feet with her tears, and was wiping them with the hairs of her head. The Lord knew it all, and needed no turning round to look at the one behind. He knew it all perfectly, nobody so well as He. But it only drew out the contempt of Simon; for the ill-feeling of the unbeliever is against the Lord yet more than against His followers; he does not always say so, and perhaps he does not always recognise that so it is. It is possible that even Simon would not have allowed that; but it is evident that such was the moral of it all for him - the devil's moral. "This [one] if he were a prophet, would have known who and what the woman is that toucheth him, for she is a sinner." So he said in himself; but the Lord heard and answered. Had He not come to save the lost? and if Simon had broken down as she, to save Simon too? But to take the place of a sinner truly and before God is a harder thing for a proud self-righteous Pharisee than for a woman who had no character to lose.
But grace and truth can break down a Saul of Tarsus on the one side, no less than give a thorough sense of sin to a dissolute on the other. What was it that here produced brokenness as well as love? It was Jesus to faith, divine love in Jesus. But she needed more; and grace gave her more on the spot. For it is an immense accession for the heart to know that the sins are forgiven. And the Lord would not leave this to be implied only; He pronounced the word of God which the soul craves, Thy sins are forgiven. He was entitled to do so. The work was not yet done on which it is grounded; but the Judge of living and dead can never say what is not perfectly right, any more than the Judge of all the earth can do anything but right. Thus the Lord therefore pleaded her cause, and refuted the Pharisee's unbelief; for He showed Himself the Lord of the prophets, and forgave sins as only God is entitled to do. Out of the fulness of His grace He brought the woman into the knowledge that her faith had saved her, and sent her away in peace.
Now, till we know that our faith has saved us, and that our sins are forgiven, this question must always occupy the mind. It is necessarily the great question for the soul when awakened. How can a quickened soul find rest till he knows that his sins are effaced, and that he is saved? All the while that there is hesitation and uncertainty herein, there must be pre-occupation of heart; and necessarily if we have no assurance that our sins are forgiven, we are not in a condition to let out the heart in love toward those who are thus at rest. Till then we cannot properly take the place of children of God. As the woman received it from the lips of the Lord, we have by faith to get it from or by the written word of God. If we have not forgiveness certified by the word of God, if we have not our new relationship carried home by Scripture to our souls, we must act on our own feeling, our own thoughts, or perhaps those of a man who knows no better himself. But even if it were the best preacher conceivable, who preached nothing but the truth, one is bound to receive the witness of God which He has witnessed concerning His Son. And "he that believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." Nobody but God can avail, and there is no rule of faith but His word. The truth we must have therefore from God, and how am I to get it from God? By the word now written.
Therefore you cannot lay axe more wickedly to the tree of truth than by denying the divine authority of Scripture. One of the prevalent signs of unbelief now is that Scripture contains the word, as the more modest freethinkers say. But what the Lord and the apostles taught is the word. Again, as "every scripture is inspired of God," so they authenticate what was written for the church of God. In these "prophetic Scriptures" they may incorporate what the devil says, and what bad people say. Of course these things are not given for us to follow but to learn, as far as God pleases, of enemies. Only unbelief makes a difficulty; but the believer accepts from God what He tells of evil as well as of good. What is thus written is really the word of God to profit by His wisdom, that me may the better avoid and be on our guard against every snare that comes from Satan or from mere nature. But Scripture is the written word of God.
Ever since the blood of Christ was shed or, to speak more generally, since He died and rose, the way in which souls enter into peace is through faith in the glad tidings. The Spirit proclaims the saving grace of God in the gospel message. Faith finds in Christ not only life but peace. This is the true preparation not only for obedience but for loving those who believe, children of God like ourselves. There is no doubt that the new nature loves. Life eternal given to us has the capacity of love; but flesh not duly judged is a hindrance in the way. Grace calls us to feel the inconsistency before we can go forward. There may be a steam engine and its various parts ready for use, but the steam must be there in order for it to work. This illustrates what is communicated in the verses before us.
There is again the dark side. "He that loveth not knoweth not God." It does not matter what may be a man's gift, or what may be his activity, or what reputation and influence he may possess, if he does not love he does not know God. The word is unsparing of self-deceit. He that has been begotten of God loves his brother, and knows God. His new divine affections have a definite sphere; and he has that knowledge of God which is distinctly said by our Lord to constitute life eternal. What He presented to the Father in John 17:3 is virtually reproduced here in a brief dogmatic statement with its negative. "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." Where no love is, there is no knowledge of God. The reason is as plain as it is decisive; "for God is love."
The verses that follow set forth God's love in its sovereign grace and fulness, the stream that fills the void heart for loving. The Spirit speaks of His love in its bright display in Christ the Son, sent in infinite grace into this world of sin, self, and darkness. It would be hard to match its simple grandeur even in Scripture. "In this was manifested the love of God," not exactly "toward us," or "toward all" as the apostle Paul says in Romans 3:22. The love of God is manifested toward everybody in principle. Here it is more definite, and rather looks "upon all that believe," as is said in the same verse. It "was manifested in us." It speaks thus of its taking effect. It was manifested in our case. The "in" therefore seems quite the proper word. "In this was manifested the love of God in us" or "in our case." Here, as being the more extended mission of our Lord for life eternal, it is not merely God "sent" but "hath sent." It expresses the permanent result of the past act. In the following ver. 10 it is simply "God sent"; for though it expresses simply the fact, it was far the deepest, greatest, most momentous end which ever engaged the Father and the Son in time or eternity. The difference is but slight, for it is only another tense of the same verb; but as all differences of Scripture are by divine wisdom, it is well for us to enquire into their respective meanings. "Sent" expresses simply the fact. It may be, and this is, of the utmost possible consequence, and the single act enhances it in this case. But "hath sent" expresses the present result of a past action, which suits His mission that we might live through Him.
"In this was manifested the love of God in us (or, in our case), that God hath sent his only-begotten Son." What care to state the glory of His person in this case "His only-begotten Son," it was not necessary to repeat in the next verse, though of course "the Son" is the same. But here it was wise to signalise a work of such weight and lasting consequence in language of the simplest character that its immensity, unadorned and unfathomable, might fill the heart to overflowing with the love of God. "God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." This is the first action of divine grace, essential as the first need if we were truly dead spiritually. So it remains for each soul now. The first requisite and primary proof of God's amazing love is that those who were the objects of His love, and positively dead Godward, should be given to live. They had no sense of their own state; they had no acquaintance with God; and in their moral ruin they were wholly indifferent to either. Intellectual notions of man's mind might be there, but not a pulse of life toward God. They had conscience to make Him an object of more dread than the most furious demon.
Yet in the face of such depravity "God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world." What a truth! How wonderful the bare fact! especially as it was in nothing but love. It was not something done in heaven. The Only-begotten Son He had sent to give a life in this world to fit for God there whence He came. But no work done even by the Son on high could suit either God or man. The way of love was that the Son should become man to glorify God, and give life in its highest nature to dead man by faith. Jews there were, and nations; but they were alike dead in their offences and sins, by nature children of wrath. As men they were dead while they lived. They had no hatred of sin, no love of grace; not one trait inwardly or outwardly was right in them. The mind of flesh in circumcision and uncircumcision was really and only enmity against God. Nevertheless God has sent His Only-begotten Son, the delight of the Father through all eternity, into the world, that we should live through Him; and the life given was His life.
The Old Testament tells how the race, whether Jews or Gentiles, had behaved toward God for thousands of years; the New Testament tells a still worse tale. Yet He who knew all beforehand has sent His Only-begotten into the world; and for what? Was it for judgment? It was for the very opposite; it was to quicken dead souls with the life eternal that was in His Son. For no less is meant in the words "That we might live through Him." There was a new life that man has not as man, no, not Adam innocent in the paradise of Eden, who disobeyed when all was good in him and around him, bringing in death and judgment. Life was proposed to natural man, to Israel in the law: if he obeyed it, he should not die. But the only result of this was that it became a ministration of death and condemnation; because the introduction of the law provoked the will of man, and he became a transgressor, and thus a worse sinner after he had it than before. Sin that it might appear sin was thus working out death by what is good, in order that sin might become exceeding sinful. There was not even the prolonging of his old life. The upshot to the sinner under law was total ruin.
But there was another life, life eternal, and this life was in the Son; in the Only-begotten Son whom God's love had sent into the world. No doubt the Father raises the dead, and quickens: it is the prerogative of God. Therefore the Son also quickens whom He will. But in becoming man, though He never ceased to be God, He in perfect humiliation receives all from God, as becomes perfect man. Hence even as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself (John 5:26). The Son was the One sent to become man and conversant with man. He was the object of faith always; and when become man He is still more evidently and urgently its object as Jesus Christ yet the Son, and in one person. So too it was increasingly evident for whom He had been sent in God's love. It was for man, not for angels. "The life was the light of men." But no illumination suffices for man's need; and so, though coming into the world He lightens, or is light to, every man: there was far more requisite, and He was the life to him that believed. To as many as received Him He gave title to become children of God. They were born now and thus of no creature source, but of God. But there is no believing and no new birth without the word as well as the Spirit. There must be God's word, because the very essence of faith is that, instead of trusting my thoughts or those of others, I believe God in His word (Romans 10:17, Jam 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23-25). Christ is the incorruptible seed by God's living and abiding word.
When Adam and Eve sinned in paradise, it was because they were oblivious of, and not subject to, God's word. Eve was deceived by the serpent's temptation, Adam not so but more boldly transgressed. The word of God did not govern their souls. The subtle foe insinuated distrust of Him who forbade them to eat of a tree which held out to make them know good and evil like God. Then the lust for it followed, when the woman was not afraid to parley a moment longer with a creature whose aim became evident to entice her to disobey the positive prohibition of God, and doubt that death would follow. "Oh, dear, no; God not be so hard as that. Look at the beautiful fruit! so desirable also to make you wise. God wishes the knowledge of good and evil to belong to Himself alone. You will find it a new status altogether when thus enabled yourselves independently to judge between good and evil. You know nothing about this now. But when You eat the fruit of that tree, from your own conscience you will know whether a thing is good or evil. Why not rise to independence of Him who slights man, and assert your own rights as monarchs of all you survey? "
It was self-will, the sad root of evil. In love the Son of God came in order to stand in the breach. The first necessity is not atonement through the shedding of the Saviour's blood. Nobody ever believes the gospel without having a nature from God that craves and cries to God for what the gospel supplies. In every case one is born of God before he really rests upon the propitiation of Christ. For, having thus a new life, he soon enters into its necessity, and also its preciousness; he in faith eats Christ's flesh and drinks His blood. And therefore it is said that he believes in his heart (Romans 10:9) that God raised Him from out of the dead. This does not mean a certain fervour of feeling. It has nothing to do with throwing the soul on his emotions; it means that, instead of resisting the truth, his heart goes along with the glad tidings God sends him. With heart it is believed to righteousness, founded on God's estimate of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus; as with mouth confession is made to salvation: thus is God honoured, and His Son, the rejected Lord.
But the first desideratum is the want of life, life eternal in the Son. Till he gets life, what adequate sense of his sin? till then, how can he know God's holy nature in any real way? He has no more than a dread of God. A heathen might have this; and the evil spirits believe and tremble. So we are informed on divine authority, and revealed facts are explained by it. The reason is that they know too well there is no forgiveness for their rebellion. Although they believe Who Jesus is, it does them no good: they are sentenced to destruction. They sinned irreparably. There is no possibility of salvation for an evil spirit, for a fallen angel.
But it is a totally different thing with man. Christ's birth witnessed complacency in men; how much more His atoning death! But in order that the shedding of His blood should purify the heart and conscience, there is a new nature given by receiving the Lord Jesus. It is not yet resting on His work, but believing in His grace as come in flesh, and the glory of Him that came on this marvellous mission of love, God's love. As surely as the heart receives Him thus from God, at that very moment the life is imparted to the soul. Life is always an instantaneous thing, whereas it is not so by any means for peace with God. As a matter of fact there may be not a little of going through experiences, whereby souls keep themselves without peace for months and even years. Yet all the while they partake of a divine nature through bowing to the Son of God, though without solid peace. They have life from the moment that the heart receives Him. And thus they acquire a divine perception of evil within, as well as of their past ways; not only of what one had done, but of what one is. Such is the effect of having divine life. It is therefore introduced here perfectly in the true and proper place. It comes in before the propitiation is applied to deliver from the burden of guilt.
"In this was manifested the love of God in us" (or, in our case), "that God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." The reason we have seen to be that till then we were spiritually dead before God, absolutely without any living tie with God whatsoever, only the awful responsibility of being naturally God's offspring, but nevertheless enemies of God by wicked works. Having been by God's constitution of man His offspring (in contrast with the lower animals) does not help us, when ruined by sin, to have our soul saved. Man fell when under responsibility, and the Jew's undertaking to obey God's law only aggravated his responsibility, and could in no way deliver him from the wrath to come. Then the world consisted either of man without the law pursuing his own will, or of the Jew under law trying to recommend himself to God. But the grace that saves is not in the sinner but in the Saviour. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This is the gospel. It is not our love to Him, but His love to us while still sinners, His own spontaneous and gratuitous love to us.
Here too is afforded this second display of His love. The apostle shows us how God's love acted in view of our load of guilt, and not only our state of spiritual death. God's love wrought in what to Him was beyond all things severe to His heart and to His Son's. Man cannot conceive what it was for Jesus to bear the judgment of our sins at God's hand. It was also wholly beyond the thought of saints; even the apostles saw but the outside of the cross till the Lord opened their understanding to understand the Scriptures.
Yet Scripture had prefigured the Lord in atoning grace and infinite suffering in the Law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets. No disciple then but had witnessed the solemn ritual of the Day of Atonement; none who had not heard the unique Psalm 22; nor one who had not been perplexed by Isaiah 53, yet from no obscurity of language, but from truth so strange. Jesus making propitiation for our sins is the solution of the riddle in all three Scriptures. No words of His before the cross gave the key; no sight even of Him crucified brought the truth into their hearts. The blood of His cross made peace in God's mind; to theirs as yet it was bitter anguish and cruel disappointment; for His words had fallen on ears yet deaf to the meaning of His death, and they had not known the scripture that He must thus suffer that they or any might have redemption. On the resurrection day the downcast pair on the way to Emmaus told out the state of all, when they said to Himself, "We did hope that He it was that should redeem Israel" - the very thing for which He hid laid the efficacious and everlasting basis (ver. 21) But what said our blessed Saviour in reply (vers. 25, 26)? O senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets spoke! Ought not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" Yet He had told them not long before (Luke 17:25), "First must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation."
Let us look into one of these in the light of the risen Lord and as the Holy Spirit bore witness. What meant that cry, not from the robbers on either side but from the rejected Messiah in their midst? "My God, my God, why didst Thou forsake Me?" This was the bitterest of that suffering without parallel, the righteous Servant, the beloved Son, forsaken of His God, when abhorred of His people, scorned by the Gentiles, deserted of His disciples. Why, after enjoying uninterruptedly the light of His Father's face throughout every step of His path of trial and sorrow, why was it hid from Him now when He needed most its cheer and consolation? Well He knew; yet He left it for faith to answer it from those that were once dead, but now enabled to confess that they had nothing but sins, through His grace who bore them in His body on the tree. Oh how deep was our guilt! yet deeper far His love who sent His Son, not only as life to the dead, but as propitiation for our sins, whatever the cost; and it was immeasurable. Reproach, despite, laughter, scorn, jeers were there to wound Him from all high or low, religious, civil, military, even the crucified criminals; many bulls, Bashan's strong ones, surrounded Him: dogs, and evil-doers in a crowd; physical suffering all the more felt by His person, instead of less, because of His perfection, when poured out like water, all His bones out of joint, His heart like wax, His strength dried up as a potsherd, His tongue cleaving to His palate. But what was all this together compared to being abandoned by His God, as He Himself felt and owned?
Many a saint of His had suffered to the utmost of bodily anguish from heathens, ay, and from Jews, yet filled with patience and joy. Many more of His disciples have suffered still more hellish tortures under the misnamed Catholic Church, and especially by its child, the abominable Inquisition; but they too triumphed in His name over these worst of earth's persecutors. Yet He confessed Himself forsaken of His God, confessed it to God in the agonies of the cross as the deepest woe, so that His enemies might hear, though they understood not more than His friends till the risen Lord set all clear, and the Holy Spirit made the truth realised in power of peace as well as of testimony to all.
But the meek Lord did more. Even when realising the horror to His holy and loving soul of being forsaken, He fully vindicated Him that smote and bruised in a way beyond all creature thought, "And Thou [art] holy, that dwellest amid the praises of Israel." And more still, He owned that God's abandonment of Him was the one exception: "our fathers trusted in Thee; they trusted in Thee, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were not confounded. But I [am] a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and the despised of the people." Yes, so it must be, if He was propitiation for our sins. For we the guilty could not be saved righteously, unless God made the Sinless One sin for us that we might become God's righteousness in Him. This, and this only, is the true answer to His "Why?" this the sole and complete solution of the enigma. But it is still impenetrable to all unbelievers, to Israel more than to any, but yet to be their song of everlasting praise when the veil is taken away which still lies upon their heart. So the latter half of this very Psalm reveals with all plainness and certainty, beginning with the Christians' little flock, before the light of heaven dawns on "the great congregation" (ver. 25), leading the right way for all the ends of the earth to remember and turn to Jehovah, and for all the families of the nations to worship before Him, in the days (not of Christianity and the church, but) of the Kingdom, when He rules among the nations as He is not in the least doing now.
It is the more important and indeed imperative to have the clear truth of Christ forsaken of God in atonement for sin; because thus alone is the ground of God's grace and of our peace taken firmly and with divinely given intelligence. And thus alone can we estimate aright, however feebly, the unfathomable suffering of the Man of sorrows and suffering, for God and for us, glorifying Him and saving us who believe. Here the theologians, even the truly pious, are shallow and faulty; and their own souls lose proportionately, and those who confide in their guidance as much or more. One does not think merely of the Greek communion or of the Latin where the poverty is extreme. But take the most evangelical of the Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed; or of the Nonconformists who boast of their freedom from tradition and prejudice. Of these none better could be adduced than - not dull Thomas Scott, but - genial Matthew Henry, the devout son of a devout father driven out by the "Act of Uniformity" in 1662. Yet that most respectable of English Commentators, from whom not another* differs in this, unmistakably shows himself unable to seize the gist of God's forsaking Jesus on the cross. For he says, "A sad complaint of God's withdrawings, v. 1, 2. This may be applied to David, or any other child of God, in the want of the tokens of his favour, pressed with the burthen of his displeasure," etc.† Of course Henry believed it did apply to Christ crucified: else he could not be owned as a Christian. But even where he does, it is superficial, as it must be in all who extend its application beyond Christ. The Psalm speaks throughout of Him alone as its personal aim, and of Him in the opening forsaken only as atoning for all saints before or after. Not one ever shared that abandonment, which He alone could bear, though infinitely more to Him, the Holy One of God, than to any saint who ever breathed. He explicitly denied it of all before Him; the Holy Spirit in the New Testament excludes it from every Christian. He was forsaken of God for our sins, that they and we who believe might never be. It is utterly false that "this may be applied to David, or any other child of God." It is, without their knowing it, a serious weakening of the gospel. Even where the believer's sin calls for the severest chastening, God deals with him as a father, chastens whom He loves, and scourges every son whom He receives, for in many things we all stumble; but He has said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. It is all absolute truth of His grace; and as it applies to earthly difficulties, so still more evidently to those of our divine relationship through the efficacy of Christ's propitiation.
* The pious Bp. G. Horne on the Psalms wrote in just the same mistaken strain. I should hail with delight a single divine who knew and wrote better as to this fundamental truth of the gospel; but such are absolutely unknown to me.
† Exposition of the Old and New Testaments with E. Bickersteth's preface, in six vols. 4to. London, 1839.
To the day of atonement's typical witness, one need not refer more now than to point out the beautiful distinction between the two goats, which together shadow the one atoning offering, for the children of Israel, one lot for Jehovah, and the other lot for Azazel (the goat that goes away). The first goat was slaughtered, and its blood brought within the veil. Over the second goat, the complement of the first, the high priest confessed all the iniquities of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, laid as it were on its head, and then sent it away by one standing ready into a land apart, into the wilderness never to be seen again. It is the witness of Christ's substitution to bear our sins away into a land of forgetfulness, as the slim goat is of propitiation for sin judged before Jehovah in vindication of His nature and majesty and word dishonoured by evil. Together they foreshadowed Christ's atoning work, in which God was shown not sparing the Saviour, His own Son, that He might spare guilty sinners as we have been. Was not the love of God in both the Father and the Son fully manifested in Christ's sacrifice to God for us that we might be for ever saved?
Of Isa. 52: 13-53 we may say the less, because it speaks itself so plainly of Messiah to be exalted and very high, but first suffering for sins sacrificially for His sinful people, that they might share the blessing and honour thus won for them by His grace. We share His life sufferings, and some too His martyr sufferings; but He is absolutely alone as the Propitiation and the Substitute. And these only are typified in Lev. 16. These only brought on God's forsaking Him in the opening of Ps. 22. None But He endured God's judgment of sin, and of our sins; and nothing but this judgment brings God's forsaking. We may endure severe discipline of our faults, but it is in His love; He and He only, as our sin-offering. What means His being wounded for our transgressions? bruised for our iniquities? the chastisement of our peace upon Him? What means Jehovah laid upon Him the iniquity of us all? "For the transgression of My people was He smitten" (not on Israel, as the Jews say). Still more decisively "it pleased Jehovah to bruise him." He put Him to grief (or, suffering). "When Thou (Jehovah) shalt make His (Messiah's) soul an offering for sin," what does this mean but His atoning work,? What again "He shall bear their iniquities"? and "He bore the sin of many"? Only blind and obstinate unbelief can evade what God thus reveals as clearly as words can make it.
"Herein is love, not that we loved God." This the law of God demanded but never received, any more than loving his neighbour. And man easily deceives himself in estimating his love. How many Jews were trying to make believe that they did love God as well as man! But it was sadly short of the divine standard, as the Lord Jesus made evident when here below. Till the heart is set free by Christ's redemption and has peace with God, it is impossible for love to break through the "barriers and integuments of death. Even saints under law are like Lazarus with his grave-clothes about him, alive but needing to be loosed and let go. How is the heart won? "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as propitiation for our sins." The more conscience there is while under law in spirit, the less happy we are. Exercised souls do not walk slipshod before God. They feel their shortcomings, and are grievously downcast about themselves. They are afraid that God has the same uncertainty about them that they cannot avoid about Him. That He justifies the ungodly through Christ's propitiation for our sins is the full proof of His love to us when sinners.
Life, as we have seen, must precede peace. By many a scripture, perhaps by God's solemn words as to sin and sinners, a person might be truly awakened. This is set out in the parable of the prodigal son, following the lost sheep, and the lost silver. In the intermediate parable the Lord presents the lost one dead, as before in the sheep actively straying. There is an evil life in which man is active, and goes astray; there is another life to which he is. dead. These aspects of death are in the earlier parables. The foolish sheep slipping heedlessly away and exposed to all mischief is man active in departure from God. The lost piece is one dead in sins. The Shepherd heirs all toll in quest of the stray. The light shines by the Spirit's work till the lost piece. is found. This is far from being all. The prodigal son is required to complete the picture; and therein a double work of God appears. First, the prodigal "cometh to himself," he is brought to repent. He judges himself a sinner; he acknowledges that he has sinned against heaven and in his father's sight, according to the language of the parable. He is now going the right way; he seeks after God. He had been seeking his own lusts and passions before; now that he is brought to himself, "he rose up and went unto his own father." But he has not yet peace. He is still in spirit under the law. "Make me as one of thy hired servants." This is exactly what the law does; instead of leading into freedom, it can only put under bondage. The gospel alone can tell of all bonds broken by the Saviour, and the slave brought into the liberty of Christ. See this set out in the way of grace with the prodigal. "While he was yet a long way off his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, and covered him with kisses." He, no doubt, was troubled about himself, and forecasting how the father would receive him. It is the father, not the son, who runs to meet him; it is the father who embraces him, notwithstanding his evil and his rags. What a melancholy sight is the son, to which he had reduced himself by folly and sins! In the father, all-overcoming love! But the father does not allow him to say, Make me as one of thy hired servants; he has the best robe brought for him, a ring put on his hand, and sandals on his feet, the fatted calf killed, and such a feast as never was before in that house. It was for a son dead but alive again, lost and now found.
We learn thus graphically what is also taught dogmatically in scripture, the goodness of God leading to repentance, drawing from the wrong to the right direction, with self-judgment of the soul, sure marks of life Godward. But there was no deliverance from fear or law till he was in the father's arms, and the full sense of sonship by grace. Thus, and only then, he knew that all was clear. The father's embrace made this perfectly plain, and the father's ways with him were all the fruit of it. It is just so in the gospel, but many stop at the threshold. They have got out of the land where no one gave to the most abject want, but not to the Father who with the Son grants us all things. And here too it is. "Herein is love," life for the dead, and propitiation for the guilty. Is it not more blessed than if one had never been a sinner? Adam in paradise had nothing like it. Adam had no such life as Christ's. It was not given for paradise. He may have got it afterwards, like others who believed, the Old Testament saints; but he had it not then or there. It is really therefore when man has come to his worst, that God brings out His best. This is Christ not merely coming to give us life, but dying as propitiation for our sins.
When we think of the glory, and the sufferings withal, especially at God's hand of the One who thus died; when we think of all the sins and iniquities of those that He bore sacrificially, - Oh what a wondrous filling of the gap that nothing else could till between God and the sinner! This is what is implied here. "Not that we loved God" - we may have tried, but if so, we failed totally. That was the law; here is the gospel - "He loved us, and sent His Son as the propitiation for our sins." It was all done in His one act, in His one suffering. "Christ once suffered" ("once" was enough) "for sins, just for unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). He was man; but was He not God? He was the Son; and He is risen. There is the glorious proof that He triumphed. Indeed He could not fail. How could God fall? And was He not the Only-begotten Son of God? If we believe the Scripture, we ought not to question it. Fear and failure are natural to fallen man. He is a sinner, and he therefore dreads God's judgment. But He does not ask you to trust yourselves. He tells you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows too well that you do not love Him; He bids You to believe in His love manifested in Christ, and in dying as a propitiation for you. Do not say that You are too bad; indeed You are as bad as can be, and far worse than you think. Take honestly the place of being "lost"; and this will end all your talk about badness. Yet for the lost He came and died.
The prodigal thought he had got down low when he proposed to ask for that place. In fact he was not fit to be a servant. Think you that any man would be taken as servant with such a certificate of his life? There is no question of our character at all. Sovereign grace rises above every sin and iniquity. Let the soul take the place of being nothing but a sinner; and therefore leave it to God to show nothing but His love. What He does is not merely that He gives me the life to feel what is due to God, and what becomes His child, but also the propitiation which meets and clears away all my sins. And remember, if not all sins, none; if any, all. Such is the way of the gospel in which God settles the matter; and this is what every believer is called to rest in.
O dear brethren, are you resting thus in Christ? Do any of you that believe in Jesus the Son of God, the Only-begotten, say, Make me as one of thy hired servants? He that came as man, yet bringing life eternal, by that very gift of life makes you feel your sins, but also believe that He is the propitiation for them. Under the Jewish system there were constant sacrifices, and repeated sin-offerings; but now in the gospel, since the Son offered up Himself, there is remission of sins, and no longer a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:18). For by one offering He hath perfected for ever (or, in perpetuity, which is stronger still) the sanctified. By "sanctified" is meant those that are set apart to God, not by law now but by Christ's blood.
Beloved brethren, is this your faith? May the Lord grant that so it may be; and that you may delight in the apostle John's unfolding of the love of God manifested in the sending of His Son with its declared two-fold aim. Can any thing so perfectly display the true character of the love that is of Gods that it has nothing at all to do with any effort of our own. It is out of God that it springs. But, if begotten of God, we share God's nature; and if we share His nature, He has provided to take away all that hinders the proper exercise of that nature. Our old man is still there as a matter of fact, though we know it crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin.
Yet if our eye be off Christ, the old nature certainly does hinder. We need therefore to know how God has dealt in Christ with our sins, and with sin, their root. There may also be a hindrance through inconsistency, so that love cannot flow out according to God toward those that God would have one love. His love inspires love to all that are His, to His children; and He has provided for this by our faith, the new life, and the Spirit who abides in us. It is not a question of whether one likes this quality or that behaviour, or the like; but in the face of all difficulties He counts on our loving them with that love which is of God. And He brings in these two immense manifestations of divine love, to which we owe our new relationship and the clearing away of our sins, in order also to fit us for loving one another as of God's family.
This is not all; but it is where we now stop. If the Lord will, we shall find that He has more to say, and of exceeding great moment as the crown of His love. We have had love coming down in the Son from its heavenly height, and going down into fathomless depths for us; and we are to look at its carrying us up into that height. Let me meanwhile cite the following sonnet by a famous agnostic converted to God before he died. How sad that he had no one from the Word to assure him of the love of God in Christ, and thus banish till his doubts! J.G.R. needed Luke 15 rather than Ps. 27.
"I ask not for Thy love, O Lord; the days
Can never come, when anguish can atone,
Enough for me were but Thy pity shown
To me as to the stricken sheep that strays
With ceaseless cry for unforgotten ways.
Oh send me back to pastures I have known,
Or find me in the wilderness alone
And slay me as the hand of mercy slays.
I ask not for Thy love, nor e'en as much
As for a hope on Thy dear breast to lie
But be Thou still my Shepherd - still with such
Compassion as may melt, and such a cry;
That so I hear Thy feet, and feel Thy touch,
And dimly see Thy face ere yet I die."
1 John 4:11-16.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love hath been perfected in us. Herein we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because he hath given to us of his Spirit. And we have beheld, and testify that the Father hath sent his Son as Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we have known and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him."
We have seen that in order to give the love to which we are called its proper character, the apostle, in the verses already gone through, recalls the manifestation of God's love in Christ; first, when we were dead, to give us life, secondly, when we had life and felt the burden and evil of our sins as we never felt them before, to accomplish the propitiation which bore all our sins away. Such is the true order of God's acting on the soul. It enables us to see how very important is the reception of life; for without life there is nothing adequate to hear or to answer in divine things. There is still unremoved death in the soul; and the notion of the Spirit of God doing the part of life, or rather without it, is really monstrous. The Spirit of God could not consistently thus act if there were not life to act on.
Christ is, no doubt, the believer's life; and by faith the old "I" is treated as no longer existent before God. It is there in fact, but by grace of Christ it has no right. As Christians we deny it in His name; we own it as wholly worthless; we abandon it as altogether evil now in our sight as it ever was to God, no matter what a man might be thought by his fellows. He might be a great genius; he might be of the most wonderful energy conceivable; but self is all without and against God, and never could therefore enter into His presence. How then could the old man ever be all object for the Holy Ghost to take up and sanctify to God? Therefore Scripture speaks not of sanctifying the depraved old life, But Of the old man crucified with Christ; of sin in the flesh condemned by God in Christ as a sacrifice for sin, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin. It is no longer the sinful "I," but "Christ liveth in me."
There is thus a new life, to which, in virtue of redemption, the Holy Spirit could attach Himself. Hence, as without a new life there is nothing but the old man, the necessity for the new life in Christ is apparent. In point of fact, all the Old Testament worthies, like every saint now, had life; and what believer knows of any life for sinful man but one - the life of Christ? Like incorruption for the body by and by, it is brought to light through the gospel, but it wrought in all believers before the gospel; nor could they be saints without it. Whatever difference in form has been effected, it is all the better for those that followed when our Lord became man. Then it was made plain, as never before, what the new life is, and who those are to whom He imparts it in believing. It was for men, not for angels. "The life was the light of men" only, as far as Scripture intimates. Angels never fell; their elect being kept from sin do not require a new life; nor is there repentance, or gift of grace, to fallen angels. They have a life, whatever it may be, which is not explained to us, nor is it our business to pry into. What have we to do with such inquiries'? (see Colossians 2:18.) It is always a vain pursuit when men get occupied with the angels. Yet I have known a Christian so full of it that he encouraged himself in the visionary idea of angels good and bad seeing him every night, so that he fancied he knew their names; but all this was mere feeling and imagination, though in a true saint of God. There are few greater follies than such speculations about the unseen.
But here is the blessed reality of God's deep concern, His active love in the case of man. First of all it is in its sovereign character, when we were dead, to give us life; and when we received life, that we should be delivered from all guilt; for the same Lord Jesus who brought us life became the propitiation for our sins. For that holy life made our sins an insupportable burden to us. But by His blood once shed for sins, atonement is made; and we are called to believe God's grace, and enjoy the blessed truth of it all.
But there is more than this, though the apostle has moved very gradually in coming to what remains. He began it in the last verse of 1 John 3, "he that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him." The one thus blessed is obedient, and who now obeys? None, of course, but the Christian. Only it is not some Christians, but all that are real. They obey God, as having His nature, the life Christ is and has given them.
Yet he does not explain more here, but just leaves it for its due place. Only he adds a small but important intimation in the latter part of the verse. "And herein we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given to us." You perceive that the word "abide" is preferred to "dwell," as avoiding equivoque, besides that it is the proper equivalent. There is another word for "dwell" (οἰκεῖ), from which this word (μένει) differs. God "abideth" in us. This is the simple and certain force. It is not a passing act or a visit for a little while. In "abide" we have one of the distinguishing words of Christianity, its perpetuity. Israel knew too well of something that was very good for a while; but it was taken from them; or, as was said to the Hebrews, what becometh old and aged is ready to vanish away. Such was Judaism, which had to give place to the permanence of Christianity in itself and in faithful souls. To abide is the stable character of every Christian blessing except a conditional one, and there are such too. But eternal is stamped on the new thing, particularly on the life we have in Christ; for this reason it is called by that striking term, and we do well to delight in it. At any rate so we used all to do, when we had in proclaiming it and giving thanks for it in no stinted measure many companions, who are silent now to our sorrow as to "eternal life."
But there is more than eternal life, though the essence of our blessing is characterised by life in Christ. And was it not Christ displayed constantly in every act of His here below? Dependence on God in unfailing obedience. If He calls upon as to obey as He does, if He lays down commandments, these have nothing whatever to do with the Ten. The law was an appeal to flesh; therein life here below was held out but never gained this do, and thou shalt live." But the commandments of Christ are directive precepts for those to whom new life is already given of grace by faith. They have now therefore the greatest of all blessings in having Christ their life. Nothing is more certain than that God has given the believers Christ, and that Christ has also given Himself for them. Wonderful truth, yet most simple! It is the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. But the truth of the gospel is soon lost when people speculate instead of believing.
For this very reason, as being a life simply of dependence, we want besides the presence and power of God; for there are immense dangers and difficulties in the way. Spiritually we need power, besides the capacity of life. If there be no such momentum, we fail to overcome the obstacles. Otherwise we find out our inertia, or adopt fleshly energy. However blessed dependence may be, it is not power. The true energy of the Christian is the abiding Spirit of God, not life abstractedly, though for our new place life in Christ is essential. He is needed for the working of power in us. When everything was created, the Holy Spirit did His part. When everything was thrown into chaos, the Spirit brooded over the scene of confusion and of darkness. So when God would have a tent in the midst of His people, He did not suffer Israel to frame one according to their own wisdom. Everything was arranged of Himself. Besides precept, God gave power by His Spirit even to the artisans who had to do with it. Perhaps one is not respectful enough, and ought to say goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers, joiners, upholsterers, etc., who had to do with constructing the different parts of the sanctuary. But nothing was left to man's own device; the Spirit of God expressly wrought by man.
But the Spirit of God has now an aim incomparably higher. It is no question of an earthly tabernacle or even a magnificent temple, although we know that the inspiration of God directed as to both. But now the Spirit of God deigns to abide in those who believe. He is the One that seals every Christian till the day of redemption. The Old Testament saints had no such privilege; and though they had life, they seem to have known little or nothing about it. The peculiarity of Christianity is that now we can say, We know God has revealed what was hidden from them. "What eye had not seen, nor heart conceived," He now reveals by His Spirit. He is not so much to us the Spirit of prophecy but of communion; certainly too a spirit not of cowardice, but of power and love and of a sound mind. Accordingly as this is just what was needed, so also it is what God has given us. "Herein we know that he abideth in us by the Spirit which he hath given us."
Here the apostle prepares the way for the requisite truth not yet set out in the call to love. "Beloved"; for here too such is the word of address. So it was before when God was warning them against the false prophets energised by evil spirits. This had been done in the earlier verses. He tells the saints lovingly of a great danger through the persuasive power of evil spirits if opposed in the confidence of the first man, instead of in faith of the Second. Jesus only is the conqueror of Satan; and the believer too conquers, but only through Him that loved him and died for his sins. No evil spirit confesses Jesus. Only the Spirit confesses Him come in flesh. There is the safeguard against false prophets: they cry up fallen man, they level down the Word become flesh. But he repeats "Beloved" when he exhorts the saints to love one another from ver. 7, both because "love is of God," and from the evidence it furnishes that he who loves has been begotten of God and knows God; as also whoso does not love does not know God, because God is love. Here, in pursuance of the theme, is reiterated "Beloved" in ver. 11.
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." He never says that we ought to love God, but everywhere assumes that we do love Him. And so it is with every believer who knows God's love to him when he was in his sins and enmity against Him, and learnt in the gospel that sovereign love to us in our guilty and lost estate which gave Christ His Son to die for us. "For when still without strength Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). The "due time" for love so needed by us, so immeasurable in itself, so worthy of God and His Son, was when man, both Gentile and Jew, joined hands to crucify the Saviour, and thus cut themselves off from mercy on every ground save His boundless grace. The Jew boasted of the law, but violated it everywhere, and never so shamelessly as then. The Roman boasted of his law and government, but, bold as he claimed to be, through fear of the spiteful cry from the people he scorned of losing Caesar's friendship, condemned the guiltless, as he well know Jesus to be. Jew and Gentile united in the atrocious iniquity against God. Then and there it is that God commends His love unto us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Oh how foolish to fancy that He wants the sinner to commend himself to God by doing some good or great thing! and to forget that it is He who in His Son has wrought the only, the best and the greatest thing that even He could, in that all sufficient sacrifice for him that believes! When this is received, the heart that was proudest and darkest does not fail to love.
Nor is this the sole reason why the Christian loves God. In reserving Christ he receives life eternal. He is begotten of God; he becomes His child. He loves God as His Father. If in ordinary circumstances a child loves his parents, spite of many a fault on both sides, how much does not the new nature prompt the Christian to love not only his All-good and gracious Father, but those who have the same life, the same Spirit?
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another." It is easy to see that all Christian exhortations in Scripture presuppose divine grace already possessed. God did not call us to love till He proved His love toward us in Christ, and gave us to know His love. And the two-fold want of the sinner which has been just shown to be met from other Scriptures, we have seen briefly and touchingly set out in the verses 9, 10, last before us in this chapter. It is not an exaggeration that he who is born of God and redeemed by Christ's blood cannot but love God, and it gives a plain and sufficient reason why he never exhorts us to love God or Christ.
It is a very different else with the natural man, as it was with us in our unconverted days. Any of us who had the favour of believing parents, and the word of God and prayer from early years, had a bad conscience till the truth was brought home to our hearts; we dreaded God because of our sins, yet neglected so great salvation, and trembled at death and judgment as they flashed on us for a little. Impossible for souls in that state to love Him whose everlasting judgment alarmed now and again our guilty souls, still in quest of pleasure, advancement in the world, wealth, and of whatever else of vain glory we aspired to. Any love we had then at best was of nature without the smallest reference of the heart to God. Such love was only higher than the affection of a dog or a cat, as man's nature is higher than the brute's. But the love of the new nature is supernatural, and has its character, motives, and source in Christ. Hence the mistake and danger of attributing natural benevolence to grace. Christian love is akin to the love of God to us, when in us there was nothing to be loved; for as we read "we were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." So says he who as touching righteousness that is in law was found blameless. But the light of Christ's glory which shone into his heart exposed its rottenness; and these things and all else in which man glories he counted and went on counting but dung in comparison with Christ, so that he minded no path of suffering on the way to the resurrection from among the dead - in short to Christ in glory.
Our apostle says that, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. For though we share the same blessed life in Christ, and the same propitiation for our sins, the flesh and the world make many great and varied difficulties. It is the sheerest unbelief to shrink from our God, even when we seek to unbosom any folly and wrong into which we may have slipped; for He holds to His relationship of Father and to ours as His children, while the enemy seeks to estrange us from Him. But God's children are exposed to snares through the flesh. They are is prone, when off their guard, to espy the faults in their brethren as to gloss over or hide their own faults. This is not loving one another at all, still less as Christ loved us, the standard for the Christian, as the law was to Israel to love their neighbour as themselves: a difference which ought to be seen and felt. They were a people in the flesh, and under law; we are in the Spirit (Romans 8:9) and under grace (Romans 6:14), if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in us. Then comes love to God's family, flowing out of God's grace to us personally. The law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19); nor was it made for a righteous man but for lawless and unruly and the like to condemn them, and drive to the only refuge for sinners. The use by fallen Christendom, ancient and modern, is to put the righteous under it, which the apostle declares to be unlawful. We are as expressly under grace which, notwithstanding all hindrances, strengthens us to love one another.
We cannot but love Him who first loved us, even when we were in rags and degraded among swine, and it may be found no pity from those who enjoyed our plenty in sin and folly; but when we came to want, none gave to us. Such is the world; but not such the father. When the prodigal judged in a measure his evil ways and their distressing results, his heart turns to the one he had so long left and forgotten I will arise (said he) and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. But while he was yet a long way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and covered him with kisses." This is God's love as He told it who knew it best, and was then displaying it to the tax-gatherers and sinners who drew near to hear the wondrous tidings of grace among murmuring Pharisees and scribes. Not content with forgiving, nor allowing the prodigal to propose his place among the hirelings, the word is, "Bring out the best robe and clothe him in it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is come to life, was lost and is found." This is grace, not law, showing what God is as Father in the worthy words of His Son. And if such He is to the most abandoned sinner that comes to Him, how sad to question the grace wherein the believers stand, or to doubt His pitiful love toward an erring Christian, His child!
Alas! if He never changes, His children did and do; so that it was very right and necessary to call them to love one another, as the apostle did with humility, "we also ought to love one another." He put himself among the rest as called to an obligation, which is not so easy at all times as some think. Love according to God is not mere "brotherly affection," however excellent this is when truly applicable. 2 Peter 1:7 draws the line, and puts love beyond it is deeper and higher. Where brotherly kindness gives the hand, love might decline, because it sees a dangerous snare and a grievous sin, which brotherly kindness was too pre-occupied to discern in the light of God. Divine love looks at the divine side, instead of yielding to mere emotions. We must stand at the fountain, as it were, to be fresh ourselves, and able to refresh, single-eyed dealers in the love that is of God. Nothing can be more opposed than the human amiability which tries nobody's conscience and allows everybody's will. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth and so it is with our love according to God. As it is of God, it feels and acts for God. But if He "so loved us, we ought to love one another." He knew all the drawbacks and shortcomings in us as His children, as He knew and felt all our sins and iniquities when we were children of wrath; yet He loved so as to give His Son for us. Surely then we ought to love one another as objects of the same love.
So says the apostle Paul to the Ephesian saints "Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour." There is nothing that draws out love so much as love; nor any love so efficacious and fruitful as the love of God in Christ the perfection even of His love. And this we know, not as spectators like the angels, but as ourselves the objects of it downwards and upwards to a degree stupendous in their eyes. For were we not in the depths of degradation and aggravated guilt and impotent daring? Yet Christ His Son went down below all our sins in God's judgment on the cross. And is He not risen above all heights in heavenly glory, angels and principalities and powers being subjected to Him, to whom we are now united by the Holy Ghost, one spirit with the Lord?
Ver. 12 is a word worthy of all consideration. It recalls John 1:18: "No one hath seen God at any time." How was so great a want for man supplied? Did not the God of all goodness feel for man's lack? He made Himself known most gloriously for Himself and His Son, most efficaciously in itself, and most considerately and lovingly to man in sending His own Son become Man among men. "The only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, He declared [Him]." If every soul of man since Adam had been asked how God could make Himself known in the best and surest way, and in the fullest love to man in all his need and misery, never would one have ventured to propose a way comparable with God's way. Yet Satan found the means, through man's lusts and passions, through his will, his supposed interests, and his invented religions in particular, to ignore and reject the Son of God to his own ruin.
But the Son of God who came in divine love is gone back to His Father. And the apostle again says, "No one hath seen God at any time," in the plainest reference to similar words in the Gospel. Yet the Son, the rejected Son, is not here to declare Him. What is the answer to the same want now? "If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us." Is not this a striking and solemn means of supplying the need? Does it not address itself in a direct and powerful way to you, my brothers, to me, and to every other child of God? We are here and now through the Son not only washed from our sins but made sons of God, and by our mutual love according to God to know and witness Him in a world that knows Him not. The children are now to reflect here the love of God. This the Lord did perfectly when here; how are we, or are we really knowing and abiding in His love thus?
But we have only looked into the first words of the apostle's answer now. Let us hear what remains: "If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us" (verse 12). The love of Christians mutually is the proof and the power of communion that He abides in us, and that His love is perfected in us, instead of being choked by the flesh or enticed by the allurements of the world. Evangelising the incredulous or perishing sinner is no answer to the question raised. Where and how is God to be seen now? In face of every effort of Satan to set the children of God against one another, their loving each other as God loved and as Christ manifested it declares that God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. What an encouragement to walk humbly and unobtrusively in the love that is of God! What a reproof to any who think little of its importance and blessing! Yet 1 John 4:12 could not have been without John 1:18, and more too - Christ's death for us and the gift of the Spirit to us. Christ must be the life in order to such a reproduction. Yet when the disciples saw its perfection in Christ, how little they realised God in Him! When He died and rose, they understood it better. But when anointed with the Spirit they enjoyed best of all, and walked as they abode in that love, which is the energy of God's nature. It is so with us now in principle and in fact too according to the measure of our spirituality.
The so-called evangelicals think that their chief love should go out in seeking the conversion of souls. It is indeed a good work if done in faith and love to Christ; but this is not what our Lord enjoined as the love so near His heart; nor can it be doubted that zealous evangelists and their allies are often not a little insensible to the new commandment that we should love one another. They are apt to be so absorbed in their own work as to measure love not a little by the support given to what interests them. And the modern system of special societies craves similarly for new methods, as if the words of the Lord had become obsolete. Far be it from my heart to say an unkind word of anybody; still we must look at facts as they are, and I refer to things that seem irrefutable.
We can readily see how much this love of God in us toward our brethren rises above moral duty. If the Holy Spirit had not so written through the apostle, we might have thought it a grievous exaggeration to give it such value, as to say that if we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us. May we simply and fully believe His word, that we may be enabled thus to love, and assure our souls that as love is of God so He abides in us to walk in it, apart from the world which can mix only to destroy its character, instead of His love being perfected in us. None can share or understand this love unless they are born of God, and even then only as walking by faith of Christ and so seeing the unseen and eternal. The sight of our eyes or mind destroys its character.
Now we are responsible for knowing God, and we who believe in Christ base the joy of knowing God. Every word, every work, every look of His recorded in the word lets us into that intimacy; for the inspired have much to tell us even in all these ways of Christ about God. They all reveal Him, the least thing as well as the greatest. But now the Lord is gone. He that declared God is in heaven. Is there no present living witness of God? The apostle repeats here in the Epistle, "No man hath beheld God at any time." His love was in all perfection in Christ, He was seen in contrast with all human imperfections. Where is the resource? "If we love one another." Is it not very solemn that God points to Christians for letting this dark world behold what God is? We are called especially by the action of divine love in our souls and ways to be the witnesses of God to the world that doubts all certainty about Him. When Christ declared Him, He was as perfect as Himself; but how is it in our case, spite of every infirmity? "If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us." The apostle here too looks at the principle, not at how far saints fail; and this we have seen to be the way of John. He never forgets the source in God, and the channel in Christ who manifested it; and he sets before the saints the outflow of grace in accordance with the new nature.
Why settle down with the continual confession that we are not doing the truth? Where Christians do so, is there not something that grieves the Spirit of God? That is what we do well to search out and judge before God. We are warned against grieving Him. It is the flesh which especially opposes the Spirit. "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall in no wise fulfil flesh's lusts (says the apostle Paul). For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit [is] against the flesh; and these are opposed one to the other in order that ye should not do those things which ye desire." It is not, as lamentably said in the A.V. "So that ye cannot;" which too naturally affords an excuse for sin. There is no ground whatever for such a misconstruction. The flesh is always the great opponent of the Spirit. The flesh may work sometimes amiably, which is not really love, sometimes with open rudeness and impropriety, which no one could imagine to be love. But here, if we love one another, in the face of all the subtle efforts of the spirit of falsehood and malice, it is only the more truly and manifestly the love of God, not founded upon what we see in one another, but what we all have received from God Himself in Christ. Think of what we once were that are now God's children, as wicked as any who still neglect so great salvation, some of us once more daring and notorious than most. Such were we; and if we were moral or religious according to flesh, proud of that which was no more than a veil, and in God's sight because of the pretence worse than the openly evil. "But we got washed, but we were sanctified, but we were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." So the apostle wrote, owning what God's love had wrought in many of the corrupt city of Corinth, yet in sharp reproof of their grave inconsistencies. And he had the joy of learning that his faithful love (which pained himself more than them) was not in vain, but grieved them to repentance, yea repentance to salvation never to be regretted; though in his conflict of feeling he did regret his own letter passingly, by grace to remember it with abiding joy. For the great love that was in him reached through the conscience and the truth to the little love in them; and then what diligence it wrought in them! What clearing of themselves! What indignation, and fear and ardent desire, and zeal and avenging, in every way proving themselves pure where they had been so deeply to blame! This is a trying and painful form of loving one another; but it is a real one, though happier far the heeding of the word, so as to be kept from all evil.
"If we love one another, God abideth in us." This is the normal way, where faith works, and not flesh. And this leads to the opening of the great truth of the Spirit given to us, whereby God abides in us; nor is this all that he says, for he adds that "God's love is perfected in us." This he had said earlier and in another connection. In 1 John 2:5 he stated that "Whoso keepeth his word, truly in him hath the love of God been perfected." For to keep His word indicates the highest and deepest character of obedience. Whoso not merely keeps His commandments in detail, but keeps His word as a whole, "in him verily is the love of God perfected." Of course it does not mean the strange error of the man's own perfection. The flesh is never extirpated while we live; but God dealt with it in Christ's cross, and we, as having life in Christ, mortify our members that are on the earth. But the flesh is in us, though we are no longer in it. The flesh is never changed into Spirit, nor will it disappear whilst we are here in the body but by grace bound never to let it act, but to keep it by faith under the power of Christ's death. Thus His love is perfected as in him that keeps the word, so also in that we love one another. We are subject to His word, and we walk together in love in spite of all difficulties. Thus is God's love perfected in us; it is carried out according to the mind of God. We have nothing to boast; but we heartily obey and love through the power of His love toward us and in us. Undoubtedly it supposes that habitually we have been looking to God, and that He has answered our prayers, and so His love is perfected in us. Obedience is carried out and love too according to His mind.
Now he enters on the gift of the Spirit. "Herein we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit."
The advance is marked above 1 John 3:24. It is not merely "the Spirit." God wrought by the Spirit in many a one where it could not be said to be "of His Spirit." We often hear of the Spirit working, as we have seen, in the Old Testament, and still more in the New. We find partakers of the Holy Spirit and powers of the world to come spoken of in Hebrews 6:4-5, where they fell away fatally from God. These are never said to have been born of the Spirit, still less that God gave them "of His Spirit." This implies real communion with God; and the New Testament gives a deeper force to the expression "of His Spirit" than the Old. It is in this way that God abides in the Christian. Yet even when there was an external purpose God wrought by the power of the Spirit in one way or another. In every case it was the Spirit of God; and the Spirit is a spirit of power. Consequently there was an effect altogether above man, and above what even life eternal could do without the Spirit.
God abides in us, as he says, and we abide in Him. He begins with abiding in us; not with our abiding in God, but with God's abiding in us. It will be shown presently that it is of importance to discern the difference. That God abides in us is His grace to us when resting on Christ's redemption. That we abide in Him is the fruit of the confidence in God that His grace inspires in us. Thus, as it were, we retire from self as well as from all around us of the creature, and we make God the home of our hearts even while we are here below. This is abiding in God; and it becomes us to look to God for grace habitually thus to abide in Him. When we so abide in Him, He acts in us in the way of power in communion. In accordance with this therefore it is written that He hath given us of His Spirit. "Of his Spirit" has a particularity in the manner of its expression which plainly indicates that what we share is with Himself. It is "of his Spirit" that we are here said to partake.
Yet there is no small danger lest we mistake so great a privilege. There are many pious persons who confound a certain happiness in their souls with God's abiding in them. This danger is generally of a mystic character. They are self-inspective and emotional. Anyone who has read writings of the celebrated William Law on the soul would know what is meant. He was one of these mystics, but altogether wrong in hiding or even losing God's grace in Christ under sacramental efficacy and man's inward feelings. He did not apprehend in the least degree man's total ruin, nor the fulness of redemption, still less life eternal in Christ. It was an effort to love God and a readiness to accredit the effort; not the faith of God's redeeming love and unsparing judgment of the flesh, to find an infinitely better portion in Christ the Lord. Since then a community is distinguished by what they call "Christian sanctification," which is not Scriptural sanctification; but rather a good opinion of their state founded on a bright feeling in their souls; the cause and effect of which is that they are exceedingly occupied with themselves and their experience, which they tell out to one another for mutual edification. This has so important and fixed a place in their eyes that they have a regular meeting in classes, with a leader in each, for communicating one to another what they think the Spirit of God has produced in their souls from week to week. They cannot point to any institution of the sort in the New Testament.
But the Spirit of God glorifies Christ by receiving of His things and announcing them to us. He was to guide into all the truth. This kind of mysticism glorifies self; it is occupied with our own feelings. It is therefore directly exposed to leading to self-worship in some souls and to dejection in such as are not easily satisfied with their attainment. It is wholesome to learn that there is nothing in ourselves to yield spiritual satisfaction, so as to make Christ our all, as He really is. But to be thus occupied with one's own heart, save for humbling ourselves on account of it, is as dishonouring to Him as it is dangerous to ourselves. Occupation with ourselves is not merely unprofitable, but hinders growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Yet there is not a doubt that many real Christians have been drawn into this invention of man which necessarily substitutes occupation with ourselves instead of with Christ Jesus, and rejoicing in our own joy, instead of rejoicing always in the Lord.
Observe the care with which inspiration has guarded against the mystical school in the next verse. The blessed truth of Christ, the facts which the Gospels reveal, is the best corrective of this abuse of introspection, because it sets and establishes the heart on its divine foundation, and the fulness of joy in Christ excludes dwelling on ourselves or our good state, as we estimate it. Here the Holy Spirit brings us back again to rest on what God has wrought for us, to the very ground of the gospel itself. What can more thoroughly correct any such looking within? "And we have beheld" - there is the emphatic word of the inspired witnesses - "and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world." Whatever others may occupy themselves with (and they pretend to many a high thing), "we have beheld and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world."
What is, what ought to be, the effect of such a truth? Does it not fill us with the praise of the Father and the Son? Does it not shame us into nothingness as to ourselves? There we are shown that we were the merest sinners, yet as surely saved by faith through grace. Timid faith questions whether we were so bad, or God so good. But if through the Holy Spirit we simply believe, we cannot assuredly find anything in ourselves worth talking of in comparison of grace so rich, and for ever too. Thus does God wean us from ourselves, the world, and every other object, to delight our souls in Himself and His Son. Even knowledge may and does puff up; but love, the Father's love and the Son's, builds up.
It equally delivers from another and opposite school, who are occupied with themselves as under law, and who, instead of looking for good in themselves, think that they please God and are all the better themselves for a sort of despairing pessimism, rarely rising above "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" They quite ignore what the apostle declares to the believer in virtue of Christ's work. Instead of working like a hired servant with the muck-rake in their dark and filthy heart, they are through the Saviour of the world entitled to the "best robe" and the "fatted calf," and share the Father's joy to the glory of the Son. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). And it makes the comfort of deliverance all the more impressive, when it is observed that the "me" now freed when we turn from self to Christ is the same "me" that was groaning under law just before (Romans 7:24). How much better than the emotional or the groaning schools, occupied with self in such different ways, to condemn flesh out and out, as God did on the cross, and to find Christ worthy of all their thoughts and the spring of unfading peace and joy! There we prove that it is the Father's will and the Son's work and the Spirit's witness that we are called to rejoice in, as we shall for ever.
It is an interesting connection of scripture with this, that the first place where the Lord found Himself acknowledged as the Saviour of the world was in Samaria. It succeeded the wonderful scene at the well, where the poor woman that had had five husbands, and had one now who was not her husband, was given life eternal through faith in the Lord Jesus. He also told her of the passing away of the contending religions of Palestine. The mountain of Samaria was to pass, and even Jerusalem. Henceforth there was to be another character of worship altogether, the kernel of which was divulged by the Lord even then. "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him."
Thus was fulness of grace revealed to a poor Samaritan woman in whom the truth had begun to work. She was smitten in conscience, and awakened in soul; but it was after this that she learnt who He was, that (she was assured) spoke from God to her heart, now received with all simplicity of faith, as she became a messenger to others of the One in whom she believed. And the Lord graciously dealt with these Samaritans, and did what we do not find Him doing in any other place during His ministry: He abode with them two days. And they testified of Him, that it was not because of what she testified of Him, as telling her all things that she ever did, but "we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is truly the Saviour of the world." The copyists put in "the Christ" too, but this is not the authentic or appropriate word. It was owning at that early day the very title here given, save one thing necessarily absent from it - the Father's sending the Son. This they knew not nor could they venture to anticipate. Neither they nor any others had the Holy Spirit given "whereby we cry Abba, Father"; but they acknowledged, and were the first to acknowledge, the truth that Jesus, is "the Saviour of the world." It was not a question of Jews but of sinners, and therefore for Samaritans or any one else. This was before the Lord had entered on His public ministry. These chapters of the Gospel of John show the Lord's acts before John the Baptist was delivered up, and His own going to Galilee; which have the greater interest when we find so grand a truth as Himself owned "the Saviour of the world."
This was a bright anticipation of the gospel through a true sense of the Lord's grace personally. It is not only a Saviour, and this not merely for the people of Israel who expected the Messiah, but "the Saviour of the world." Even then the truth broke through the clouds, the light shone into the hearts of the despised and ignorant Samaritans, and they were the first so to confess Him. Here it is the apostolic testimony. "And we have beheld and testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
But how are we to know that a sinner has made this, the grace and truth of Christ, his own? How are we to be satisfied that the saving truth of God has entered into anyone's soul, and introduced him into the intimate association with God of which the apostle has spoken? This is answered in the next verse. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God."
Now is not this a most amazing assurance to receive? For we have just had the true but simple believer bowing to the glad tidings, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. It is not merely subjection to the Messiah, the coming King of Israel, but believing Him to be the Son of God. "Whosoever shall confess." Nothing can be wider than "whosoever." He does not only "believe" but "confess." He has surmounted all difficulties, doubts or fears. He has weighed the truth, felt the grace, judged himself, and has no longer hesitation. And now the blessing of the Lord comes richly on his head. So the apostle said, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from among the dead, thou shalt be saved," pressing God's answer to Christ's work. Here, as is usual, our apostle dwells on the glory of the Son's person, but in the fulness of His grace toward the lost in the gospel. And the sinner, turning from himself and every prop of creation, confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. What then ensues? "God abideth in him, and he in God." Not, I presume, that any person ever truly confesses Him to be the Son of God, without also believing in the work of redemption that He wrought and God accepted. It is all vague to unbelief. Men might use the words, but they do not realise the truth they express. Of course it is supposed that the confession is truly made according to God. He confesses that Jesus, the Man that multitudes took to be only a man however great, is the Son of God. Who then can doubt the efficacy of His redemption? The striking fact here conveyed is that whoever confesses Jesus to be. the Son of God has not only life, and the remission of sins, and the Holy Spirit, but the highest spiritual privileges conceivable. For what can be higher than God abiding in him, and he in God? No doubt the more spiritual your state, the more you realise it. But the apostle here tells the confessing Christian that this is his portion. May we cherish and enjoy it! May He cut off everything that comes in to dull our sense and value for it!
The apostle follows up in verse 16 its application. "And we have known and believed the love which God hath to us." There is no uncertainty in the answer to the general principle: "we (emphatically) have known and believed the love which God hath in us." His love is not only "toward" but "in" us. We value and delight all the more that His love in us first flowed toward us when children of wrath. Again he repeats "God is love," but now he connects with it "He that abideth in love abideth in God." This is an altogether new way of speaking of it. If I am abiding in the love that comes from God, I cannot but be quite at home with God. His love, flowing from His own goodness and giving Christ to die that there might be a perfect grant of righteousness, forgives my sins, makes me His child without desert on my part, and leads Him to abide in me. The love in Him (and no wonder) produces love in me; and abiding in love I abide in God, and God in me. It is not merely a visit now and a visit again, but there the Christian abides; it is his habit and his home to dwell in love. Can any blessing be more precious? Yet how simple it all is, if we believe. It casts down every high thing that lifteth itself up against the knowledge of God. The apostle is writing not to theologians nor philosophers, nor to scientists in religion, but to God's children, that none might come short, and all might better know the love of God they began with, and enjoy increasingly the God of love.
But it is well to point out certain distinctions in "our abiding in God" and "God abiding in us," of some importance to distinguish. There are three separate forms of the blessing. The first of these in order of time is that God abides in the Christian, and we have just had before us that whosoever confesses Jesus to be the Son of God, has it in a double way (ver. 15); God abideth in him, and he in God. How does God abide in him? By the Spirit He gave us, as in 1 John 3:24, we know that God abides in us. Then 1 John 4:13 goes further: "Herein we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He hath given to us of His Spirit."
Here we have our abiding in Him, which cannot be unless He in sovereign grace deigns to abide in us by the gift of the Spirit, which draws us to abide in Him as the effect. How then account for the order which 1 John 4:13 presents? It is therein implied that by virtue of the Spirit given God did abide in him, but through power of communion in partaking of His Spirit, not only did he abide in God, but God in him in the third form of special power. And this is confirmed by the other special intimation in ver. 16, "he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him," like ver. 13, implying the previous blessing of God abiding, but adding the two others. It is spiritual power as the third result, which is special. In the general case to every confessor that Jesus is the Son of God we have only the first and second form of blessing, God abiding in him and he in God; but the third is only added here. It is here not merely the Spirit but "of His Spirit," and this way strongly marks communion.
The manner of God's abiding in the Christian is by the Spirit being given to him. Herein we know that God abides in us, a wondrous fact, yet not all the blessing. The apostle is our warrant for it, and this is enough. It is God abiding in us. Then there is an attractive effect upon us, so that we knowing His love abide in Him. The first we may call the sovereign operation of God, in honour of the work of Jesus confessed to be His Son. He seals us with the Spirit as His own redeemed by blood, if we may refer to the language of the apostle Peter on this theme. That means God abiding in him. The second is the answer of the Christian's heart, which habitually counts on God in the submission and confidence of love, instead of turning to self or to others to meet difficulties. This is to abide in God, bringing everything to Him whose love has made. him His home. And as He has thus drawn so near, we too at His welcome make Him our home. This appears to be the difference between God's abiding in us and our abiding in God.
Thus there is the third form of divine privilege in the power that follows this communion. The first is sovereign operation; the second is the reflex effect and experience in confiding in Him; and the third is the power of the Spirit in spiritual power as the consequence of so great a blessing. And here it is where we are weakest of all. We are indeed apt to stop short of the full result in this failing world, as we ought not. This makes it humbling to us. For if you or I have little to show of devotedness and spiritual power, we are well aware why it is, and that the fault is entirely and only our own. Faults in others are not the cause nor a just excuse, but our own failure. If provoked, there must have been something to be provoked; and this could not be were we abiding in God and God abiding in us in power. But if God's abiding in us and our abiding in Him are the portion of every Christian, as the apostle makes plain, how sad if it were only true in principle but in fact great shortcoming! Let us exhort one another that the principle may issue in fruitful practice. There is the utmost encouragement if we are simple and steadfast in looking to God, and that His grace may make it real and manifest in us to His praise, yet prompt to be in the dust when conscious of dishonouring Him. It ill becomes those so blessed as Christians are to have little but self-reproach. May we have the joy of proving that God is faithful to H's word in making good privileges so wonderful that few saints believe that they are not only ours by title, but ours for enjoyment and practice!
1 John 4:17-21.
"Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because even as he is, we also are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth hath not been perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any one say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he that loveth God love also his brother."
As the word last considered may have presented, from the nature of its subject, more than usual difficulty, the present address furnishes the opportunity of regarding the connection with what now claims one's heed, divested of its many details, and thus in its simple and broad lines. Who can doubt that it was meant by its divine Author to attract and fix the interest of every Christian in that which they are wont to consider so far above their reach as to be practically unattainable? As it is part of an Epistle more immediately than any other appealing to all God's children, and the more so as addressed formally to none in particular, ought not they, ought not we, every one of us, to pay the more marked heed? We shall surely find that the true faith of Christ entitles every true Christian, in virtue of life in the Son and of the indwelling Spirit of God, to read and weigh it afresh in God's presence, and count on His love to give us not only enlarged spiritual understanding, but the realisation of the blessing He spreads before us to appropriate and enjoy. Many of us have tasted the sweetness occasionally of finding this or that part of Scripture opening out its varied treasure under the Spirit's power, where our eyes had previously seen little or nothing. And herb it is the more to be sought, as it is avowedly to enlarge and deepen our communion with God.
After the twofold tests of truth against false prophets in the first six verses of our chapter - Jesus come in flesh, and the apostolic revelation (i.e., the New Testament) - the great theme of love is brought out in our apostle's characteristic manner, though with just as much weight as in the Pauline episode of 1 Cor. 13. God's children are to love one another, because love is of God, and every one that loveth hath been begotten of God, and knoweth God. We see at once that he regards love as inseparably linked with the great truth of life eternal in Christ, relationship therefore with God Himself, and intelligent spiritual knowledge of God. It is thus a sphere for the Christian on earth not only above human knowledge but above natural affections, having to do with fellow-saints here below, yet on grounds not only supernatural but divine, and directly, as we shall see, with God and His presence. Yet every Christian has an immediate concern in it all, not affecting superiority and wishing to shine as a lonely star apart, but in full intimacy with God's abiding in him and his abiding in God, to walk not simply in the light but in the love of God which is His own nature, the source of the Christian's new nature.
Now as this tends to the subjective or what acts in the soul, and might tend to puff up (for indeed it is as wonderful as it is true), a marked step is taken wholly outside the Christian. Therefore he is confronted with what is altogether objective. "Herein was manifested the love of God in our case, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as propitiation for our sins." An "imitation of Christ" is utterly insufficient. We needed the infinite reality of God's love in Christ, first, that we who were dead might live through Him; next, that He might be made sin sacrificially for us who were guilty and defiled. The love that wrought so efficaciously was solely in Him, not ours. We are therefore disciples of Jesus only, not of the à Kempis school or of any other mystic. The express aim is to found the truth on what God was to us, not on what we are or desire to be for God.
This being made admirably clear, the apostle urges that if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. We do love God, and we could not but love if we believed His immense love in Christ to us; but we ought to love those whom He loves as He loves us, alike His children. This is followed by the remarkable allusion to the substantially similar application to the Son in John 1:12, and to God's children in 1 John 4:12. Christ declared the unseen God perfectly: how does our loving one another? If we thus love, "God abideth in us and His love is perfected in us." Without having life in Christ it was impossible: but even more was wanted and given, even "of His Spirit" (ver. 13). For the same Spirit that descended and abode on Christ, in virtue of His personal and intrinsic perfection, now abides in us, in virtue of His work for us on the cross. Thus it is that as God abides in us, we too are enabled to abide in God, and to know that we abide in Him and He in us. Thus only are we kept from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, while by grace made free of divine intimacy to the utmost.
That very word which is shown to be above man's nature, not only seeing but beholding, is now predicated of the witnesses in ver. 14. "And we have beheld and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world," not as a vision or external sight, but by faith realising it in the Holy Spirit. And therefore "whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God" steps thereby into the blessing - "God abideth in him, and he in God." Such is the order of God's operation in grace. This is remarkably confirmed by ver. 16, where the apostle again joins himself with all other Christians in adding, "and we have known and believed the love which God hath in us" (ver. 16). For who could limit this to the apostolic choir? - this exposition of Christian communion with God, founded on the new life and accomplished propitiation, but by the Spirit consequently carried on into sharing God's delight in love as His children, with the words, "God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him." This is the order of spiritual experience and power. Every part is most real for the Christian's intercourse with God, and each is here stated in its exactly right place; as encouraging to the simple saint as it reproves the indifferent or negligent of such divine favour and joy. And what a marked absence of anything like a dream or a vision, or of aught that could make a Christian conspicuous in the eyes of others or in his own!
It might be thought impossible to add anything beyond what has been so richly spread before us. For (1) we have the source of all the blessing traced to the love of God in giving us the value of Christ's life and death when we lay dead in sins; and (2) divine love shown to work in us toward one another as surely as we have been begotten of God and know Him, the Holy Spirit abiding in us to confirm and elevate by enabling us to abide in God, and enjoy its fruit in spiritual power. The utmost care is taken to show that such is the title of grace to every Christian: only to make it effective our souls must be in communion about it. But there is a further and crowning favour set before us in ver. 17, "Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because even as he is, we also are in this world."
This is a notable accession of blessedness, which, is now revealed to the Christian. It is divine love not merely manifested in our case, when utterly worthless and incapable of any good; nor love working in us God's children according to His love one toward another. It is not so much here the Holy Spirit groaning with us who groan as saints delivered in bodies undelivered, in the midst of the whole creation, groaning to be delivered as it will surely be when the Lord Jesus appears in power and glory. But here John tells us of the Spirit even now and here working in God's children in the power of divine love, and in the enjoyment of God's presence. This was love. perfected in us. Now the apostle speaks to us of the transcendent favour, that the love has been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment. This "boldness" rises wholly above the thought of anyone who believes coming into judgment, that is, of course, a judgment. of everlasting consequence, a judgment of righteousness dealing with guilty or even failing man. For divine judgment, which the Lord Jesus is to execute, will take cognisance even of the secrets of the heart and the words of the mouth, as well as all the deeds of the body. And what child of man can enter into that judgment and come out acquitted and unscathed?
Hence even in the Old Testament, which has very little light on the judgment of the dead, compared with what was given in the New Testament, we hear the Psalmist (Psalm 143:2) say: "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Thus we are taught that if not merely a careless sinner but "Thy servant (a saint, of course) has Jehovah entering into judgment with him, not even he nor any man living can be justified. For judgment must not evade the facts, nor excuse the sins, and no mere man has ever lived without sins. How then can any sinful man be justified or saved?
Our Lord, when here, dealt with this awful difficulty in language perfectly simple and clear (John 5). He speaks of Himself, the incarnate Son of God, as having life to give to everyone who believes on Him, and as having judgment to exercise on all the wicked who reject and despise Him. He gives life to the believer; He will judge the unbeliever. But the words which make the way of deliverance immediately plain are in ver. 24: "Verily, verily, I say to you, he that heareth my word, and believeth Him that sent Me hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but is (or hath) passed out of death into life." The A.V. was very faulty here in the rendering of "condemnation" to suit the common error of Christendom as to a universal judgment of saints and sinners. "Judgment," which is the only true sense, precludes this idea: and the Lord pronounces here that he who hears His word (the Ten Commandments, or the like, would not avail), and believes Him that sent the Saviour (for it is essential to bow to God in that great mission of His love), hath life eternal, and doth not come into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.
The believer therefore is never put on the trial of his guilt like the unbeliever; he has already, if we believe the Lord, passed out of death into life; because in receiving Christ he receives life eternal. This was to honour Christ; but as the unbeliever dishonoured Him and His word, and disbelieved God's sending Christ on His errand of love, he must be raised for judgment ("damnation" is not the right sense), as the believer will receive a resurrection of life, which is plainly here set in contrast with that for judgment. Notwithstanding he, when raised, will give account of all things done in the body to the Lord Jesus. He is taken on high when he renders it; but this is wholly incompatible with judgment into which, as the Lord assures, he does not come. The Lord on the cross bore the judgment of his sins: therefore this question is settled by grace; but he will be manifested (not judged) before the judgment seat of Christ, that he may know as he is known; and it will fill to the full his sense of the grace of God in his salvation.
Another scripture that bears on this point is Hebrews 9:27-28, where man's portion of death and judgment is contrasted with what Christ does for the believer; instead of his death is Christ's offering to bear his sins in His death; and instead of judgment, Christ's appearing without sin (having no more to do with it) for salvation. That is, salvation stands instead of judgment to those that look for Him the second time.
Indeed the Christian has only to consider what justification by faith is according to scripture generally, in order to see that the notion of a common judgment of sinners and saints, or of the saints in the real sense of judgment, is an error irreconcilable with the gospel, though I am not aware of a single Father that held the truth in this respect, still less any article of Councils. Not one of the creeds confesses this distinctive truth of Christ. Yet the anomaly which results is manifest; for as none can deny that our Lord will come for the Christian, the church as a whole, and the Old Testament saints too, and will not only receive them to Himself in the air but take them to the Father's house, the notion of a universal judgment (commonly based on the Lord's dealing with the good and bad of the nations at the end of the age, in Matthew 25:31-46) involves the strange confusion that the justified by God (for it is God that justifieth), are to be put on their trial after they are already in the glorified state, and to be judged by their Saviour whether they are not after all to be lost. If this alternative be denied, as, no doubt, every sound believer should repudiate it, do they not perceive that they make a judgment of believers nugatory, if the sting of its awful truth is extracted, and it is construed into no more than proclaiming them saved?, They would do well to search and see whether the scriptures, if rightly interpreted, do not fully agree with the Lord's authoritative word, that the believer does not come into judgment, which is reserved only for man, for man without Christ, guilty and lost as he is.
The universal judgment, accordingly, though it may plead the well-known canon of Vincent of Lerins as confessed by the catholic church, eastern and western, is in this directly opposed to His word, which (as He declares) shall judge at the last day who now do not receive His words. It breeds darkness all around. It deprives those who heed it of the comfort to which Christ and His work entitle their faith. It dishonours the Father no less than the Son, Who would have the believers assured of their grace and enjoying the fruits of their love, both in life eternal and in redemption. It forgets that resurrection and ascension will be the triumphant separation to Christ in heavenly glory of those who are now in a world of mixture.
Our apostle does not put God's exceeding favour here on the ground or with the character of righteousness, as the apostle in 2 Corinthians 5:21, when he says: "Him that knew no sin He [God] made sin for us that we might become God's righteousness in Him." The Judge will never sit to question the value of God's righteousness made ours in Himself. He will judge all who pretend to a righteousness of their own, for it is a falsehood and a fraud. He will judge all who despise Him in the opposite way of reckless unrighteousness and pleasing themselves in defiance of God. He will. deal even more severely with men's unrighteousness, however fast they hold the truth in unrighteousness, as is common in Christendom or in its measure among the Jews. But on those who of God are in Christ Jesus who was made. to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and holiness and redemption, He will never blow the chilling blast of judgment in heaven, after effectually by His Spirit filling our hearts with the warmth of His grace. That the Judge would challenge Himself our righteousness in that day is egregious as well as unfounded.
The entire preceding context explodes it. For the earlier half of 2 Cor. 5 is devoted to prove the power of resurrection life in Christ in delivering the Christian from the two great terrors of the natural man, death and judgment. "For we know (he says) that if our earthly tabernacle be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this we groan, earnestly desiring to put on our house that is from heaven, if indeed when also clothed we shall not be found naked. For even we that are in this tabernacle groan being burdened, not for that we wish to be unclothed but clothed that the mortality may be swallowed up of life. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who also gave to us the earnest of the Spirit. Being therefore always confident, and knowing that while present in the body we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight), we are confident then and are well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore also we are ambitious (or, zealous), whether present or absent to be acceptable to Him. For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in the body, according to those which he did, whether [it be] good or bad."
Here we have the great apostle treating it as a matter of Christian consciousness that all dread of death and judgment is removed, since God wrought us for the self-same thing as Christ that He might be the first-born of many brethren, alike conformed to His glorious image. He has by His work disarmed for us death of its terror, that reigns over the race. We being burdened by a body yet unredeemed do therefore groan; and we groan the more, but in a gracious way, because we are ourselves reconciled to God with its cognate blessings. Our longing is to be clothed with the changed body; but we are always of good courage, and recognising that to depart and be with Christ, as he wrote to the Philippian saints, is very much better than to be absent from the Lord, we are well pleased rather to be present with the Lord.
Nor does the judgment of Christ, undoubtedly solemn as it is, bring anxiety, because He bore our judgment. Even here God gives occasion in sickness, and other ways, to review our state and conduct apart from engrossing labour and occupation of any kind; nor does He fail to probe wounds and penetrate the most hidden recess of the heart. He enables us to cry, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if wickedness may be in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Such self-judgment is eminently wholesome; and if we had it not, we should miss not a little blessing by the way. Now, what this is now to the Christian is but a part of what will be fully before Christ's judgment-seat; to lose which, if possible, would be to lose its vast blessing. So far from awakening alarm, or shaking our constant good courage, the apostle only speaks of us as downcast in deep feeling for the unawakened, and stimulated to persuade mankind from their obduracy to turn to the Lord. "Knowing therefore the fear (or terror) of the Lord we persuade men." They had fear for all others, not for themselves or their acceptance. "For ourselves," he says, "we have been manifested to God, and I hope also that we have been manifested in your consciences." Grace gave this submission even now to the inshining of God's light in Christ. Into this the grace which brings to God brings us. This is or may be hindered; it will be perfect when we are manifested before the judgment seat, without false shame, being in the glorified state, and able, without a cloud, to see all His glory, so humbling to us, so glorious to the God of all grace, to the Son who alone made it a fact of blessing for every believer, to the Holy Spirit by whose effectual and constant power it was brought home from first to last in every saint.
But the less needs to be sought from elsewhere, since the verse before us utterly demolishes the strange and hoary error which has inflicted equal wrong on the testimony of the truth and on many a godly soul who has suffered for want of the truth known to others. "Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." Think of such words, ye that boast of "the church's teaching," and have never suspected that it was "a different gospel, and not another." So the apostle denounced the selfsame school that glories in the cross as an idol, and has never known God's teaching of Christ crucified to their deliverance from man and his vain traditions, philosophy, science or what not, rising up against the Bible and Christ's work to save the lost. The love of God was manifested to sinners in His life given to be our life, and in His death as propitiation for our sins; that love might be perfected in us as saints by His Spirit working in us. But even this was not enough to satisfy our God in honour of His Son. Love has been perfected with us, "that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." "What!" do I hear you say, "can there be such words in the Bible? Is it possible that they mean what they say?" I should not be in the least surprised if these were your thoughts, and you hardly dared to express your unbelief of God's word.
Yet can words be clearer than those in which our apostle attests love perfected with us, Christians, that we may have, not trembling, nor doubt, but boldness "in the day of judgment?" To rest this on aught but the work of Christ would be blasphemy. But in Christ it is the triumph of divine love - the same love that clothed the prodigal in his rags with "the best robe," not like Adam in his innocency but such as don the marriage robe in honour of the King's Son, the wedding garment. It is Christ we put on, and Christ dead and risen where sins and sin were completely settled for faith. O ye that have drunk yourselves stupid by drinking of the stagnant and defiling waters of the Fathers, why do you not listen to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and take life's water freely? Christ has so glorified God, not only in living obedience but in His death, that He can deliver from fear of the hour of death and the day of judgment even you who have too effectually instilled it into those famished ones who look up to you and are not fed. Yes, these are God's words for all to ponder. Love has been perfected "that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." We see the spring in God through His Son, and the aim for His children in view of that day. What a contrast with that miserable elegy, or lamentation (call it not a hymn), the "Dies Irae" which some cry up as a Christian composition! His love would chase away fear from the heart of every Christian.
But there is much more. He gives the reason or ground which immensely enhances the boon: "Because even as He (Christ) is, we also are in this world." If God had not revealed this, one might venture to say that such a pronouncement would have been voted the most frightful presumption that ever fell from the lips or pen of man. But there is no indiscretion in thinking that in all probability its force is so absolutely unrecognised in the schools of divinity, that no one is disturbed by the astonishing truth conveyed to us. For the apostle declares that even as Christ is, so too are we, we Christians, in this world. He says this according to his uniform doctrine in the Epistle, "which thing is true in him and in you." For now He is dead and risen, and bears much fruit like Himself. Our old self exists of course in fact, but "in that day (now and long come, since Pentecost) ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." This was never true before, and never will be in the coming age, but is true now in Christians here.
Accordingly our standing and pattern is no longer in the first Adam but in the second Man, and He is the last Adam. Never will there be another head. The Son of man glorified God even as to sin in death, the only way of deliverance; for in His death it was fully judged to God's glory. And now God glorified the Son of man in resurrection and ascension glorifies Him in heaven, glorifies Him in Himself, as here no other ever was nor could be. He does not wait to crown Him on David's throne in Zion, or as the King over all the earth. But on the very resurrection day He sends to "His brethren" the message, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, my God and your God." He takes us in our new being out of the fallen Adam, and sets us in the ascending Christ. Thus as He is, even so are we in this world.
Mark it well. It is not as He was. The church teaching, fairly enough set out by the late Archdeacon R. Wilberforce, and hundreds or thousands like, is utterly false. Incarnation is a blessed truth, essential to the faith; but it is not our union with Him. It is true no doubt, but not Christianity. While living He abode alone; dying He bears much fruit. Union with Him could not be till He died for us and our sins. It is in resurrection, after God's judgment had passed on Him for man's evil, and not till then does He say, "My Father and your Father, my God and your God." The veil was not rent before He died, and priest and sacrifice and earthly sanctuary still had God's sanction. But His death was their death: and His resurrection is His life in power. Christianity succeeds, and the Holy Ghost comes down to seal those washed in His blood. "As He is, we also are in this world." We repudiate any standing before God save in Him; and this is our standing now" in this world." Do you think that anyone taught this by the Spirit could ever be content with the impostures of Popery, the dim religious light of Puseyism with its via media, or the varying compromises of Protestant denominationalism? Have we solid Christian standing in its positive blessedness? Higher there cannot be; and it is ours, every true Christian's, "in this world." It only remains that we believe God as to it for our own souls, and look to Him for grace to love and live it - Christ as our all.
The verses which follow show the immense import of what we have gained in ver. 17. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear." How these words of God speak to the heart! It is not mere sentiment, but the God of light and love who would help His children against all doubt, that they might enjoy them with all simplicity and assurance. The fear spoken of here is inconsistent with love. Apply to this the common error that God is going to judge His children, but the elect will get through. What tormenting anxiety this creates for godly souls, who can measure? For the gleam of comfort is hidden under the impenetrable secret of the elect, instead of the true light shining brightly and steadily in Christ for all that come to God through Him. I doubt not any more than the Calvinist that those that come are the elect; but his way of putting it is apt to cast souls on a hopeless reef, whereas the Christian truth ever points the needy soul to Him who can and will reveal salvation to the sinner and give him rest by faith in Himself.
If we look at a Christian who is under this question what can more hinder and stifle his proper affections than the fear which is inevitable with judgment at the end of his course? Is it possible to love thoroughly or at case one who, as you thus cannot but fear sometimes, may cast you into hell? "There is no fear in love," says the apostle; "there is fear in my love," says the simple believer, conscious of many a failure, and some serious enough to produce anguish as he thinks of that day. At the least, if his view keeps him in trepidation now and then, he sees enough in Christ to yield him what he calls a humble hope; but he is very sure that he can never profess to have boldness in the day of judgment. On the contrary, he dreads to think or hear about an object so fraught with terror. I put the case as truly as I know how, in order to convince such that they are under the influence of thoughts quite irreconcilable with God's revelation. If you say No, they cannot be reconciled with what the apostle says here, let me assure you that you do not improve your case by such an insinuation, but endanger your soul by the unbelieving impression that Scripture can be inconsistent with itself, or that another portion may modify or get rid of what troubles you here.
It is the error you have somehow imbibed or allowed which is at fault, not the word before us which is intended to take away fear, not to create it. Christ only, as the divine witness and proof of God's perfect love, can banish your fear. This is the invariable aim of the Holy Ghost; He leads into all truth, but it is by glorifying Christ, taking His things and announcing them to us. He may indirectly help us by taking our things that we may be humbled and grieved before God; but even here it is to occupy us with Him through whom came grace and truth, and who is the fulness of all in His own person.
There is another danger for those who are not yet delivered from fear. They fall back on baptism or betake themselves to the Lord's Supper as a resource against fear. But Scripture gives no countenance to such a delusion. On the contrary, the apostle Paul is careful, in writing to the Corinthians his first Epistle when many were in a bad and dangerous state, to warn them of any such misuse. In 1 Corinthians 1:14 he thanks God that he baptized none of them unless Crispus and Gaius, that none might say that he baptized unto his own name. He baptized also the house of Stephanas, and did not know that he baptized any other. For Christ, said he, sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel. Think of his writing thus if baptism be the means of life eternal! On the contrary, Christ sent him not to baptize (which he left to others to do for the "many" Corinthians who "heard, believed and were baptized" in that city (Acts 18:8). And he tells them in 1 Corinthians 4:15: "In Christ Jesus I begot you through the gospel." The gospel, the word of truth, was and is the means of being begotten of God, never baptism whatever its value in its place.
But he goes further still in 1 Cor. 10, for he warns the Corinthians, and all Christians ever since, from the pattern of Israel, though all passed through the sea and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, yet God was not pleased with the most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. "But these things happened, types of us, that we should not be lusters of evil things as they also lusted." And as to the Lord's Supper, even upright and capable Romanists, like Cardinal Cajetan, rejected the false interpretation of John 6:53-56, as to the Eucharist. It is Christ Himself in death the object of our faith, as the living bread was of Him incarnate before death. Applied to the Lord's Supper it falls doubly. For then it would teach that none could have life without the Supper, and again, that all who partook of it have life: two execrable untruths. Applied to Christ in life and death they are both of them precious truths. Thus is the word of God proved stronger than all the arguments of men. Christ is the all to the Christian.
It is now made known that God by His word assures of His love all that believe, and He sets it forth in Christ incarnate, Christ dying in atonement, and Christ in glory, winding all up with the declaration that "even as He is, we also are in this world." For it is here only that His grace and truth are present; and as Christ was full of grace and truth, to receive Him is to receive of His fulness, as every Christian does. This then is the question for you, dear doubting fearing friend. Do you believe, as a poor guilty sinner, on Him? Do you believe that God out of His own boundless love. gave Jesus His Son? Cast away the vain hope of any good thing of your own fit for God; receive on God's authority and in His grace Him who has all good not only for God but for you, and who was sent to be the propitiation for sins. Then, as receiving God's glad tidings, you are entitled to say, as you weigh it all before Him, "By grace I do believe that I have life, and peace, and am His child." Then you know that you are elect. Any other way of claiming to know it is human and dangerous, uncertain and evil, the devil cheating you to ruin. Christ is the truth to settle all election that is true and good. Believing on and confessing Him you are entitled without an atom of argument to say, God has chosen me: else, left to myself and my reason, I had never believed after a divine sort. Thus it is that "perfect love casteth out fear," and gives me by faith peace with God, instead of that punishment or torment which my spirit knows too well.
Hence it is very certain that "he that feareth hath not been made perfect in love." While you are uncertain of God's love, you cannot really love Him; when you believe the reality of His love in giving His Son for the ungodly, for His enemies, is He not coming down to meet you? Take again the once abandoned woman (Luke 7), and the violent robber on the cross (Luke 23); why are these extreme cases recorded, but to encourage you on God's part? Otherwise they had been passed over in silence. But they are written expressly to meet doubting men and women, as hard to believe God's love as the most outrageous sinner, or even more so.
Do not be disheartened because you come to the conclusion that you do not love God. This is not the true question, but does not God point to Christ and His death for sins as the best proof even He could give of His love to you and me? When you bow your reasoning mind to such an overwhelming proof to satisfy you of His love, you will surely love, though you may be slow to allow it: others will see the chance in you. When you rest on Christ's sacrifice for your sins, your heart will open to the God that thus cleanses you by Christ's blood from every stain; and you will be ready then to say, I have found Him, and soon learn that it was He who found you. Come just as you are, that He may have all the glory. And if He loved me with so mighty a love of His own without one single thing or thought in me worthy of His love; if He so loved me notwithstanding my entire being and all my life full of sins, will He cease to love me when I am His child, His son by faith in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit cry, Abba, Father? Assuredly not: even my father would not cast me off even if erring, thoughtless, and foolish. But God does then as Father judge my conduct as His child by day, and discipline me when I need it. And is not this the fruit of His persevering and faithful love to me in the wilderness?
There is also immense comfort as a child of God in knowing that whatever the want, the sorrow, the shame, the fear, He wants me to go to Him freely and without delay to cast all my care on Him, for He cares for me and loves me. See that Satan sows no distrust of Him in your heart; for it is a lie to injure me by dishonouring Him. Let me think then of Christ, and what this tells of His love to me, and the hateful spell is broken. No, I am not made perfect in love if I dread Him; and the more I have been beguiled, the more need of telling all out in His presence in the confidence of His love.
What then explains the root of the whole matter? The few words in which the apostle sums it all up in ver. 17: "We love, because He first loved us." Short as it is, and shorter in the critical text, supported by the best authorities, it is a divine source of rest to the believer. And it appears to me that the natural mind would have been more ready to insert "Him" than to leave it out. If "Him" was there originally, it would have been a daring act for any even nominal Christian copyist to have struck it out; but if the omission preferred now on sufficient external grounds be correct, we can easily understand a well-meaning scribe conceiving the first clause sounding rather lame for want of in object, and venturing to insert "Him," because it is without doubt intrinsically true.
On the whole then it appears to me that the reading left absolutely is both impressive in itself, and gains rather than loses by the absence of an expressed object which would tend to limit rather than enlarge the sense. For as it thus stands, it means that we love [both God and His children], because "He loved us." Christ was the source in our souls of divine love, whatever its object or direction. It sprang up not from ourselves in any wise. Love is of God. We in unbelief think that it must begin in us to draw out His love. But not so: we were dead, we were sinful, and in any case love was not, nor could it spring up from us. Our spiritual history, our being in reference to love and to God, is simply this: - "We love, because He first loved us." We own it to be the truth to our shame; we gladly acknowledge it the truth to His glory and to our blessing for ever. The Spirit opened our hearts by the word to the Son sent by the Father to give us life and salvation through His atoning death, and now to be one spirit with the glorified Lord, to be as He is in this world, now and henceforth abiding in love, and so in God and God in us.
Next in ver. 20 we have the last of the false professions, and here individualised as in 1 John 2. "If anyone say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Such language and conduct betray unreality; and the apostle does not scruple to stigmatise that person as a liar. Our feeling toward a brother tests the truth or falsehood of our profession Godward. It is a present and tangible case. Here is my brother at my door, endowed with life in Christ, and cleansed from his sins by Christ's blood; and do I allow on any pretext hatred in the heart, and talk of loving the unseen God? It is a falsehood: Satan has closed my eyes. Were there living faith, the life would attract, and God's love draw out love from me. Nor does the Holy Spirit of God abide in the saint for nothing; and where the heart treats Him as nothing in another, is it not the plain evidence that He cannot be there to give the enjoyment of fellowship one with another through the Son, by whom all the blessing comes? If "liar" is a character most ignominious among men, what is it in the mouth of an apostle and in the eternal things of God? Thus does the only wise God in the evil day provide means that His children should not be deceived. For the more blessed is the love that is inspired by divine grace, the more important it is that we should not be imposed on by what is untrue. It is a part of God's moral government of His children that they are tried here below in a great variety of ways. But the love that is of God confides in God, abides in love whether others do or not, and has the Spirit's abiding power to make good God's own presence in our souls, that we may be calm and subject whatever happens.
Here again the same care is taken, as we have seen in other cases, to establish us in obedience as to loving a brother. For what is so lowly as obedience? What so counteractive to pride or vanity, to passion or light wit? And what gives such courage and firmness even to a timid soul as the consciousness of obeying God? Hence the importance of its application to loving a brother who might from this or that slight fault be regarded as anything but a persona grata. "And this commandment have we from Him, that he that loveth God love his brother also." Our God does not leave us to our own thoughts or discretion. We are sanctified unto obedience, and to an obedience after Christ's own filial love, not at a Jew's distance from God under law. He enjoins on him that loves Himself to love his brother. For indeed if God loves His child, am I, are you, not to love him? Is this not enough to make one ashamed of exercising one's will against God's will? Listen then to His word. He therefore lays it down as an authoritative commandment, that if I resist still I may have the sting in my soul that I am fighting against God, and all the more on my part because He reveals Himself as the God of all grace. Do I persist, in the face of an injunction so plain, following truth and love so precious? Had I not better judge myself, what I am, and whither I go: for is not this flat self-will against the God and Father of the Lord? The brother may have ways or words not pleasant to me; yet it may be that I am quite wrong in my estimate, and the fault in me rather than him; but if I demur to His plain commandment, how can I trust myself in anything else? Is not this rebellion? and against whom?
It is the moral glory of Christ that He ever applied obedience in every demand and every difficulty. If it were at the beginning before His public service, on this He stood, to this He submitted, and by this defeated the enemy in each one of the three great temptations. "It is written," "It is written," were His answers of entire submission to His Father. Did Satan dare to cite Scripture, the Scripture referring to Himself, He does not argue but answers, "It is written again." He did not doubt Jehovah's care nor His charge to angels; but He was here not to do Satan's bidding, and He refused to tempt God as if He doubted His word. Just the same unswerving obedience we find publicly at the end: "Because I did not speak from myself, but the Father that sent me Himself gave I e commandment what I should say and what I should speak, and I know that His commandment is life eternal. What things therefore I speak, even as the Father hath said to me, so I speak" (John 12:49-50).
In giving His last instructions to His own it is the same obedience, - the clearer too, in the most solemn of all things then approaching, His death. "I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world cometh and in me hath nothing. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and even as the Father commanded me, thus I do." He was about to lay down His life, not only of His own free love but in obedience to the Father (John 14:30-31). Indeed even before that He had said (John 10:17-18), "On this account the Father loveth me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it again. This commandment I received from my Father." What can be clearer than that our blessed Lord brought everything within the scope of His obedience? And this is the highest spirituality which the Holy Spirit can work in any saint. Therefore do we heed His solemn words: "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If anyone serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be; if anyone serve me, him shall the Father honour" (John 12:25-26). Blessed Lord, to serve Thee we would follow Thee; but Oh with what unequal steps! Oh how great the grace indeed that Thy servant also shall be with Thee, and have the Father's honour!
Here God's authority enters, as in all the rest of Christian life, into loving; and as loving one's brother is peculiarly liable to cheeks, if not evasions, He makes it a matter of command, joining our love even to Himself with love to our brother. Yet in this the same blessedness controls the manner and all involved in it. His word alone can surely and safely guide, whatever the circumstances which very greatly modify how it is to be done. Who is sufficient for these things? Our power is in the Spirit according to our new life in Christ, and in obedience to God speaking to us in His word.
After having set forth with great fulness the working of divine love in our case as sinners, and in us now we are saints, and this right on to the day of glory, the discussion is terminated with the words, "We love, because He first loved us." No doubt "we love Him," but if the critical omission of "Him" be true, which it appears to be, then our love is put into a general form ("we love," and not only "we love Him"); it takes in not only our loving Him, but loving all that are His around us. "We love." There was no real love in our hearts till we knew His love. This is the more important because of its sentimental abuse. It may not be known to all that a school of pious persons, by others called Mystics, and found more particularly in France, Germany and Holland, who had their followers in England, invented the theory that there was no real love of God unless wholly independent of self. That sounds very fine, but there is no soundness and little reality in it. It never was fact for a soul since the world began. Not that me may not in spiritual experience rise to a love of God independent of self, and leaving self behind, if we may, to lose ourselves in the sense of His perfect love, and our delight in His nature and ways.
But we always begin with the fact to the praise of His grace that God loved us when we were dead and guilty. It was His pure mercy that saved us (Titus 3:4-7). It is the grossest ignorance, unbelief and presumption, unless we truly find in Christ and His work the love of God toward us when in our utter ruin and sins. To shirk this in its depths, and strive to rise into unselfish love of Him, is not only worthless, but an unbelieving wrong done to the truth as to God and His Son, as well as ourselves. It is only a disguised working of the "self" which they disclaim and would spare, and which leads to no small admiration of themselves, their ecstasies over their state. Yet after all it utterly falls short of the communion described by the apostle, based on Christ's life in us, His atoning death in full efficacy, and the consequent abiding of God in us by His Spirit given to us; and all this is the common portion of Christians, however few they may be who realise it as all ought. It is deplorable indeed that any of God's children should descend so low as to think that the love they can feel toward God is the grand thing, and to find such pleasure in it as if this were the best state for the saints of God on earth. It is His love in Christ which is the source and fulness of all, and makes ours so small in comparison.
How simple, how sweet and how strong is His word here! "We love, because He first loved us." Assuredly if His children, we do love, and the change is vast for those, once filled with self in one form or another, to be brought to love with a love which is of God. But we do love Christ, and God who gave Him, and the children of God who received Him like ourselves. All is included in "we love." Yet none of it had been possible unless we begin in the dust of death, where and "because He first loved us." These words are therefore a corrective, much needed by our hearts, to strip us of self-occupation and self-admiration, of the folly of imagining that we have got rid of sin by a leap of special faith into a state of moral perfection. The notion that we are perfect in such a sense as this is the plainest and surest proof of our imperfection. It convicts us of great ignorance of Scripture, which is characteristic of all the classes of the introspective school.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the effect of occupation with Christ, in the word and Spirit of God, makes Him all and ourselves nothing in our own eyes. And this way and ought to go so far, in the delight our souls find in Him and in God Himself, as to drop ourselves altogether. Some Christians, wise and prudent, do not like this, and say that we cannot in spirit be always on high, and must descend into the valley. But are they wise, spiritually, after all? No saint is puffed up when he is consciously in God's presence. When he leaves it, the danger ensues of being proud to have been there beyond others. Brethren, if we believe the apostle, we are entitled to know by His love shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us (and not by our feelings, which change like the moon, and are apt to give credit to us, poor foolish creatures), that we abide in Him and He in us. The blessed effect then is that we in all simplicity "boast in God," as the apostle Paul says, "through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we now received the reconciliation."
Observe too how characteristic of our apostle it is, after he has presented what is of the highest nature, to add a word of the most practical kind; and we need this. It is good for the soul, and it is what God has written, knowing best what is for His glory in us.
"If a man say, I love God and hate his brother, he is a liar." The thing that was precious in the apostle's eyes was doing the truth, not talking about it, but the holy reality. Now if he hate his brother, he is a liar. Nobody spoke more plainly and without respect of persons, when needed, yet none can deny that even among the apostles his love was conspicuous. Ought not we to do so, when it is due to God? But how very different from that which passes for love in these degenerate days, aping the world where the great aim seems to be, allowing everybody's and trying nobody's conscience. How far was this ideal from him, who among Christians would have no mincing about evil matters!
Now, what works in a false professor fully may work partially in a true confessor, if not walking circumspectly and with vigilance. Wilful sin carries away the unbeliever as Satan's prey. But if a believer sin (not goes on sinning), he is weakened and the Spirit of God grieved; and in that state he might act unworthily of Christ to his brother, or in some other uncomely way. We have seen how grace intervenes and restores, though not always very soon. There may be thus grievous inconsistency till his soul is restored. It is however a grave inconsistency, or, to use Levitical language, a rising in the flesh but not leprosy, as it is with the man that hates his brother. And God can use for the good of others, what is so evil; as the Psalmist says: "The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart [not in his own] that there is no fear of God before his eyes." Grace makes the inconsistency a warning. All things work together for good to those that love God. It becomes therefore a practical point, an impressive lesson to beware of saying and not doing. "For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Logic never wrought love, nor rises above a mental inference. But the new nature, with Christ acting on it, produces the result according to God.
It is all beside the mark to talk about things that do not try the heart; but God so arranges matters that we have practical tests around us. How are we carrying ourselves towards those that are our brethren? The apostle's divinely-given sense of truth utterly discards evasion. He brings in an illustration, almost childlike in simplicity (anything but childish), but holy and wise. The pride of man would regard it as insignificant. They consider themselves perfect, and claim for self liberty to vent displeasure and dislike as it thinks proper. Circumstances may make it trying even to a saint, for a brother may act wrongly. Am I not to love him? Certainly I am. His conduct may give a different shape to your love, but love has always to be exercised as in the sight of God. It may not go forth in the same way, but can anything show more absence of love than turning away from even my faulty brother with scorn or dislike, with unwillingness to bear his burden or with indifference? It shows love, that you share his sorrow, even if he failed to be as really humbled as he ought. Reproving him simply might provoke, and therefore love would act otherwise. For we need God in nothing more than how to walk in love.
But those that love know where to turn in difficulties, and have through the Spirit the guidance of God in this respect as in others. Love does not behave in an unseemly manner, it does not seek its own. It knows how to bear or cover all, to hope all, to believe all, and to endure all. Hence what is so persevering as love? and if other things fail, love never does. To this we are called in Christ, and we have ample opportunities for its exercise. There are our brethren that we have seen, and many we see around us. If I put myself in circumstances where I do not see nor care about them, occupy myself with other objects that please me, this is not love; and if I yield to such a state habitually, it is assuredly a dangerous case. It is certainly a thing to judge, and to cry to God for deliverance. Let brotherly love continue.
There is another important thing connected with it here The subject is fully discussed indeed, and according to the wonderfully near relationship into which we are brought with the Father and the Son. Here it is applied to the ordinary matters of daily life in order to test the reality of love; but there is another form of impressing it. "And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also."
Many Christians look on commandments as necessarily legal. They therefore associate the word with the law, a ministry of death and condemnation. But those who have weighed the Gospel of John, and this Epistle under our consideration ought to know better. As applied now, it is a profound mistake. The Bible abounds with commandments of another tenor, New Testament as well as Old. The difference is plain. The commandments of the law addressed man in the flesh, in order to prove his perversity and rebelliousness; and thus the impossibility of any standing before God for a moment on such a ground. But when the saving grace of God appeared, Christ gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify to Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works. Then it is that we need and receive these commandments in order to guide us, as a sort of divine clue, through all the intricacies of life. Here in this world, if there is distress and suffering, God commands love, laying it on His own children.
Supposing a husband lays any word strongly on his wife - call it a commandment or not; do you think she would find it irksome to obey? If she loved him it would be a joy to her. Another who was not his wife might and would resent such a command which he had no right to impose; but there is a vast difference between the two. It is the relationship which explains it. Now we Christians are in the nearest relationship to God, who lays it on our hearts as His command to love our brother.
It is to be supposed too, that some things a husband ought to know better than his wife; and at any rate he is there to guide his wife. The responsibility is his, and he cannot without sin forfeit it. Of course he is bound to take care that he is guided of God in what he says; and when he does, as he is bound to see that his wishes are carried out, so she also to find not only her duty but her pleasure in it. If this be plain among men, it is yet more incumbent on the child of God. Here is One who loves me perfectly, made me His child, One that spared not for me what was most precious to Himself, His own Son, when there was not a single thing in me to love. He now loves me no longer as a guilty sinner but as His child: am I to count a commandment anything but a matter to receive with glad confidence? In His case there could be no question of the entire goodness and wisdom of His ways. We cannot infallibly count on such a thing in either husband or father. But as we were bound to honour our parents, to obey unless in direct contrariety to God's plain word, how much more are we called to be the ready servants of God's will, and with all love as His own children?
There can be no real exception in our relationship with God. We are called absolutely to obey. Luther in his haste, who had so much to learn because of his Romanist ignorance, never liked, because he did not understand, the Epistle of James, which would have done him much good if he had. It is true that James was given to write of justification before men - not to be "believed" but to be "shown." But therein he speaks admirably of that which guides and controls the child of God now as the "law of liberty." It is in contrast with the law of Moses, the law of bondage. That which God lays on His child is a law of liberty. How is this? Because the new nature desires above all things to do the will of God; and consequently, when told what that will is, the heart goes thoroughly with it. There is of course need of prayer, and vigilance against the flesh; and there may be as many hindrances as Satan can muster; but when once we know what our Father lays upon us, we judge any reluctance as evil, and cherish His will as a law of liberty. This is what the new nature delights in, and James speaks of the new nature rather than of redemption, on which Paul is so full. You will recollect in the same chapter from which I have already quoted the words, we are told that "of His own will God begat us by the word of truth that we should be a certain firstfruits of His creatures." It is substantially what John calls life and Peter a divine nature. It was given to the apostle Paul to develop beyond others Christ's redemption, and the mighty motive which the knowledge of the constraining, self-sacrificing love of Christ gives the heart. But James tells us of the new nature going along with what comes as the will of God, and thus from all we get a great convergence of light for our souls.
Here it is impressed that loving our brethren is not merely the instinct of the new nature, but what God insists on as obedience to Himself. What is there for us holier than obedience? What humbler? Is anything more becoming, more Christlike, than obedience? It is the place which Christ fulfilled in all its perfection, even to giving up His life in Ills perfect love to us. "This commandment have I received of my Father." Did its being the Father's command make it irksome to Christ? No, whatever it cost, this was an added and immense delight to our Lord Jesus. His perfect love and the commandment of His Father coalesced in it; and the same sort of appeal comes to us in loving the children of God. "And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love also his brother." Not only should our hearts go out in love, but we know that we are pleasing God and doing His will. Now "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever," as said our apostle earlier. Let us not forget that He binds together loving Him and loving His children, and will not have the first without the last. If it be His love and honour, so let it be our love and duty, because He loves us each and all with the same perfect love.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.