1 John 1:1
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, etc.

I. HERE IS AN OBJECT EMINENTLY WORTHY OF AN APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST. "That ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." St. John sought to lead his readers into:

1. Participation in the highest fellowship. "That ye also may have fellowship with us," etc. (verse 3). The word "fellowship," or "communion," signifies "the common possession of anything by various Persons." By the "with us" we understand the apostles and others, who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ. And St. John's aim was that his readers should participate in the truth and trust, the life and love, which the older generation of Christian disciples already possessed; that they should share in his own highest and holiest experiences. And it was not into an exalted human communion merely that the apostle endeavoured to lead his readers. "And truly" he says, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." In infinite condescension, the heavenly Father and the Divine Son admit Christian believers into vital and intimate communion with themselves. This fellowship is a thing of character and of life. They who share in it are "begotten of God;" they have "become partakers of the Divine nature; and they realize with joy the Divine presence. The apostle sought to lead his readers into:

2. Realization of perfect joy. "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." Hitherto the joy of those to whom St. John wrote had not been full; for their acquaintance with Christian truth had been imperfect and partial. By the fuller disclosures of that truth he hopes that their joy may be fulfilled. How rich and manifold and abundant is the joy of the true Christian! The joy of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation with God, of progress in truth and holiness, of hope of future perfection and glory. Our Lord said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." "Rejoice evermore."

II. HERE ARE MEANS EMINENTLY ADAPTED TO ACCOMPLISH THIS OBJECT. St. John endeavoured to attain his aim by declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice:

1. The title applied to him. "The Word of life." Each term of this title demands consideration.

(1) The Word - the Logos (cf. John 1:1). "The term Logos," says Canon Liddon, "denotes at the very least something intimately and everlastingly present with God, something as internal to the Being of God as thought is to the soul of man. In truth, the Divine Logos is God reflected in his own eternal thought. In the Logos God is his own object. This infinite thought, the reflection and counterpart of God, subsisting in God as a Being or hypostasis, and having a tendency to self-communication, - such is the Logos. The Logos is the thought of God, not intermittent and precarious like human thought, but subsisting with the intensity of a personal form. The expression suggests the further inference that, since reason is man's noblest faculty, the uncreated Logos must be at least equal with God .... The Logos necessarily suggests to our minds the further idea of communicativeness. The Logos is speech as well as thought."

(2) The life which is predicated of the Word. "The Word of life." We cannot define this life. Its essential nature is hidden from us. But life in an extraordinary sense and degree is attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Twice he himself said, "I am the Life." And St. John says, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." "As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself." He is the Giver of life to others. "All things were made by him," etc. "I came," said he, "that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly." "As the Father raiseth the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son also quickeneth whom he will." He has life in himself, and he is the great Bestower of all life to others. And his life is eternal. It "was from the beginning." He existed before creation, and before time, and his existence is independent of time. "We declare unto you that eternal life." He is ever-living and unchangeable.

2. His intimate communion with God the Father. "That eternal life which was with the Father" (cf. John 1:1). "The Word was with God." "He was not merely: παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, 'along with God,' but πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. This last preposition expresses," says Canon Liddon, "beyond the fact of coexistence or immanence, the more significant fact of perpetuated intercommunion. The face of the everlasting Word, if we may dare so to express ourselves, was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father." Or, as Ebrard expresses it, the life "was towards the father.... A life which did indeed flow forth from the bosom of the Father, but which did at once return back into the bosom of the Father in the ceaseless flow of the inmost being of God."

3. His manifestation to men. "And the life was manifested, and we have seen," etc. "The Word" also suggests the idea of revelation or communication; for the Logos is not only reason, but discourse; not only thought, but the expression of thought. The life was manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ - in his words and works and life amongst men. It was exhibited gloriously in his splendid triumph over death by his resurrection. "It was not possible that he should be holden of it." "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us," etc. We have said that these means - the declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ - were eminently adapted to lead men into participation in the highest fellowship and realization of perfect joy. The statement is capable of ample proof.

(1) A right relation to God is essential to fellowship with him and to true joy. For us, who have sinned against him, reconciliation to him and trust in him must become facts before we can have any communion with him.

(2) A true knowledge of God is essential to right relation to him. If we regard him as a stern Lawgiver, offended, resentful, implacable, we cannot even approach unto him. And the guilty conscience is prone to entertain such views of him.

(3) The true knowledge of God is attainable through Jesus Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." In Jesus Christ, God is revealed unto us as "a just God and a Saviour," as mighty and merciful, as faithful and forgiving, as infinitely holy and gracious and full of compassion. Such a revelation of God is attractive; it is fitted to melt the heart into penitence, to awaken its confidence in him, and to draw it to him in the fellowship of life and light.

III. HERE IS AN AGENT EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO USE THESE MEANS. The apostle was qualified by various and competent knowledge of him concerning whom he wrote.

1. He had heard his voice. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard." St. John and his fellow-apostles had heard his words on very many occasions both in public discourse and in private conversation.

2. He had seen his human form and his mighty works. "That which we have seen with our eyes The Life was manifested, and we have seen it." There is, perhaps, a special reference to his having seen hint accomplish his great and beneficent miracles. But the apostles had seen their Master in various circumstances and conditions. They had seen him in his majesty and might quelling the tempest and raising the dead to life; and they had seen him exhausted and weary. They had seen him bleeding and dying on the cross; and they had seen him after he had risen again from the dead. John and two others had seen him bowed in anguish in Gethsemane; and they had seen him radiant in glory on Hermon.

3. He had intently contemplated him. "That which we looked upon," or beheld. This looking upon him is more internal and continuous than the having seen hint with their eyes. With the most intense and affectionate and reverent interest the apostle contemplated him.

4. He had handled his sacred body. The hands of John and the other apostles must frequently have touched the body of their Divine Master. But there is, perhaps, special reference to the touching of him after his resurrection: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me," etc. (Luke 24:39). "He saith to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands," etc. (John 20:27). Thus we see how eminently qualified St. John was to testify concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. How conclusive is the testimony which he bears! And how fitted is such an agent with such means to introduce men into the blessed fellowship and the perfect joy! Have we entered into this high fellowship? Do we realize this sacred and perfect joy? Let those who are strangers to these hallowed nod blessed experiences seek them through Jesus Christ. - W.J.







That which was from the beginning
This is a homiletical Epistle, the address of an absent pastor to his flock, or to disciples widely scattered and beyond the reach of his voice. It is a specimen of apostolic preaching to believers, a masterpiece in the art of edification. The address is based on the gospel history, which it presupposes throughout. Some have thought the Epistle written on purpose to accompany St. John's Gospel, in order to serve as its practical application and enforcement. The two lie so near to each other in their cast of thought and dialect, and are connected by so many turns of expression, that it is evident they are the outcome of the same mind, and, we may safely say, of the same stage and state of mind. The preface to the Epistle is, in effect, a summary of the Gospel according to John, as we see at once when we compare it with the opening and closing words of that narrative (John 1:1-18; John 20:30, 31). The revelation of God through His Son Jesus Christ, a revelation entirely human and apprehended already by his readers, is that which the writer desires to communicate and set forth in its living effect. This revelation is the spring of a new eternal life for all men, a life of fellowship with God Himself, in which St. John would fain make his fellows sharers with him. It is this preface that we have now to consider, consisting of 1 John 1:1-4. Its subject is the eternal life manifested. We adopt the revised translation of these four verses, preferring, however, in ver. 1, the marginal "word of life," without the capital. For it is on life rather than word that the stress of the sentence lies ("for the life was manifested," John continues); and Word must have stood alone to be recognised as a personal title, or could at most be qualified as it is in the Apocalypse (Revelation 19:13): "His name is called the Word of God." John's "word of life" resembles the "word of life" that Paul bids the Philippians "hold forth" (Philippians 2:16), "the words of life eternal" which Peter declared his Master to possess (John 6:68), and "all the words of this life" which the apostles were bidden to "speak in the temple to the people" (Acts 5:20). It is synonymous with "the gospel," the message of the new life which those bear witness to and report who have first "heard" it and proved its living power. "Concerning the word of life" stands in opposition to the four preceding relative clauses ("that which we have heard...our hands handled") and states their general subject matter and import; while the first clause, "That which was from the beginning," stands alone in its sublime completeness. "Declare," in vers. 2, 3 more precisely understood, signifies "report" (υἱος βροντῆς). It is the carrying of tidings or messages from the authentic source: "What we have seen and heard we report also to you" (cf. ver. 5) — we are the bearers to you of the word we received from Him. So in ver. 2: "We bear witness and report"; where, as Haupt acutely says, in the former expression the emphasis lies on the communication of truth, in the latter on the communication of truth. Readers of the Greek will note the expressive transition from the perfect to the aorist tense and back again, that takes place in vers. 1-3. When John writes, "That which we have heard" and "have seen with our eyes," he asserts the abiding reality of the audible and visible manifestation of God in Christ. This is now the fixed possession of himself and of his readers, the past realised in the present; and to this immovable certainty he reverts once and again in vers. 2, 3. The sudden change of tense in the middle of ver. 1, missed by our authorised translation, carries us back to the historical fact. Looking with John's eyes upon this mysterious Person, feeling and grasping with his hands its flesh and blood reality, and pondering its meaning, we say with him: "The life was manifested, the eternal life that was with the Father, was manifested to us." While ἐθεασάμεθα (we beheld) implies an intent contemplative gaze, ἐψηλάφησαν, occurring, in the New Testament, only in Acts 17:27, and Hebrews 12:18 beside these two passages, denotes not the bare handling, but the searching, exploring use of the hands, that tests by handling. So much for the verbal elucidation of the passage. Let us look at its substantial content.

I. ST. JOHN HAD WITNESSED, AS HE BELIEVED, THE SUPREME MANIFESTATION OF GOD. The secret of the universe stood unveiled before his eyes, the everlasting fact and truth of things, the reality underlying all appearances, "that which was from the beginning." Here he touched the spring of being, the principle that animates creation from star to farthest star, from the archangel to the worm in the sod: "The life was manifested, the life eternal which existed with the Father, was manifested to us." If "the life" of this passage is identical with that of the Gospel prologue, it has all this breadth of meaning; it receives a limitless extension when it is defined as "that which was from the beginning." The source of spiritual life to men is that which was, in the first instance, the source of natural life to all creatures. Here lies the foundation of St. John's theology. It assumes the solidarity of being, the unity of the seen and unseen. It contradicts and excludes, from the outset, all Gnostical, dualistic, and docetic conceptions of the world. This essential and aboriginal life, he tells us, became incarnate, that it may have fellowship with men; it was slain, that its blood may cleanse them from iniquity — for the cross is not far off, we shall find it in the next paragraph. It is the fourth verse, rather than the first of the Gospel, which supplies the text for the Epistle: "That which hath come to be, in Him was life; and the life was the light of men" (R.V. margin).

II. In the second place, observe the energy with which the apostle asserts THE ACTUALITY of the manifestation of the life of God in Jesus Christ. Thrice in three verses he reiterates, "we have seen" it, twice "we have heard"; and twice he repeats, "the life was manifested." This stupendous fact has, naturally, always had its doubters and deniers. In any age of the world, and under any system of thought, such a revelation as that made in Jesus Christ was sure to be met with incredulity. It is equally opposed to the superstitions and to the scepticisms natural to the human mind. In truth, the mind that is not surprised and sometimes staggered by the claims of Christ and the doctrines of Christianity, that has not felt the shock they give to our ordinary experience and native convictions, has hardly awakened yet to their full import. St. John feels that the things he declares demand the strongest evidence. He has not believed them lightly, and he does not expect others to believe them lightly. This passage, like many besides in the New Testament record, goes to show that the apostles were well aware of the importance of historical truth; they were conscientious and jealously observant in regard to this cardinal requirement. Their faith was calm, rational, and sagacious. They were perfectly certain of the things they attested, and believed only upon commanding and irresistible proof, that covered the whole extent of the case. But the facts they built their faith upon are so largely of the spiritual order, that without a corresponding spiritual sense and faculty they can never be absolutely convincing. Already, in St. John's old age, the solvents of philosophical analysis were being applied to the gospel history and doctrine. The Godhead incarnate, the manifestation of the infinite in the finite, was pronounced impossible and self-contradictory; we know beforehand, the wise of the world said, that it cannot be. The incarnation, the miracles, the resurrection, the ascension — what are they but a myth, a beautiful poetic dream, a pictorial representation of spiritual truth, from which we must extract for ourselves a higher creed, leaving behind all the supernatural as so much mere wrappage and imaginative dress! So the Apostle John confronts them, and their like in every time, with his impressive and authoritative declaration. Behind him lies the whole weight of the character, intelligence, and disciplined experience of the witnesses of Jesus. Of what use was it for men at a distance to argue that this thing and that thing could not be? "I tell you," says the great apostle, "we have seen it with our eyes, we have heard Him with our very ears; we have touched and tested and handled these things at every point, and we know that they are so." As he puts it, at the end of his letter, "We know that the Son of God is come; and He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true." The men who have founded Christianity and written the New Testament were no fools. They knew what they were talking about. No dreamer, no fanatic, no deceiver, since the world began, ever wrote like the author of this Epistle.

III. And now, in the third place, there is founded upon the facts thus attested, there is derived from the eternal life revealed in Christ, A NEW DIVINE FELLOWSHIP FOR MEN. To promote this end St. John writes: "That you also may have fellowship with us." To communicate these truths, to see this fellowship established and perfected amongst men, is the apostle's one delight, the business and delight of all those who share his faith and serve his Master: "These things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled." We have a great secret in common, we and the apostles. The Father told it to Jesus, Jesus to them, they to us, and we to others. Those who have seen and heard such things, cannot keep the knowledge to themselves. These truths belong not to us only, but to "the whole world" (1 John 2:2); they concern every man who has a soul to save, who has sins to confess and death to meet, who has work to do for his Maker in this world, and a way to find for himself through its darkness and perils. The Apostle John is writing to Greeks, to men far removed from him in native sympathy and instinct; but he has long since forgotten all that, and the difference between Jew and Greek never once crosses his mind in writing his letter. He has risen above it, and left it behind through his fellowship with Christ. The only difference he knows is that existing between men who "are of God" and men who "are of the world." In St. John the idea of the Church catholic as a spiritual brotherhood is perfected. But our fellowship is not only with prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints of God. We do not hold with the apostle merely such fellowship as we have with other great minds of the past; nor was John's communion with his Lord that which we cherish with our beloved dead, the communion of memory, or at best of hope. If the facts the apostles test are true, they are true for us as for them. If the life manifested in the Lord Jesus was eternal, then it is living and real today. As it "was from the beginning," it will be to the end. Jesus Christ had brought His disciples into spiritual union and fellowship with the living God. He had shown them the Father. He had made them individually children of God, with Himself for elder brother. He had passed away from their sight, to be with them forever in His Spirit. In this way He had really come to them, and the Father with Him, when He seemed to be going (John 14:18-23, R.V.). They felt themselves to be in direct communion and communication, every day they lived, with the Almighty Father in heaven, and with His Son Jesus Christ whom they had known and loved on earth. To this fellowship they invite and summon all mankind. The manifestation of God in Christ makes fellowship with God possible in an altogether new and richer way. Does not the very distinction revealed in the Godhead render such communion accessible, as it could not be otherwise to human thought? "Our communion," writes John, "is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" — with each distinctly, with each in and through and for the other. We have fellowship with Christ in the Father. He has explained the Father (John 1:18), and talked to us about Him; and we are entering into His views. We share Christ's thoughts about God. On the other hand, we have fellowship with God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is God's; but He is ours as well! God has told us what He thinks about His Son, and wishes us to think with Him. Showing Him to the world, He says: "This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I am ever well pleased." And we agree to that: we are well pleased with Him too! We solemnly accept the testimony of God concerning His Son. Then we are at one with God in respect to Christ. And all harmony and peace centre there. "The Father Himself loveth you," said Jesus to His disciples, "because you have loved Me, and believed that I came out from the Father." In Him God is reconciling the world to Himself. Only when we think aright of Christ, and are rightly disposed toward Him, can we have fellowship with each other, and work together with God for the world's redemption.

(George G. Findlay, B. A.)

I. THE FAITH WHICH CAME BY SEEING JESUS. Too often intimate acquaintance lowers our reverence even for the great. How different the result of John's close friendship with Christ! Such was the faith which came by seeing Christ. What a faith it was! It breathes in all his writings; it breathed in his actions; it fitted him to look through heaven's open door and tell us what he saw.

II. THE FAITH WHICH COMES BY HEARING OF JESUS. We cannot as yet rise to the level of the faith which grew by seeing Jesus; but we, too, hope to see, hear, handle Christ. And even now there is a special blessing promised to them "who have not seen, and yet have believed."

III. THE JOY OF FAITH. Clearly the writer's joy was full. A faith so vigorous could not be otherwise. And St. John seeks to fill us with the same. We are unworthy servants, weary pilgrims, fainting soldiers, desponding amid sorrows, led astray by deceptive joys. We want a faith which shall make our courage strong, and our joy full.

(T. M. Herbert, M. A.)

The very mistakes of the primitive Churches have been to us the sources of unspeakable advantage. Principally to refute existing errors, the apostles gave out those beautiful expositions of Christian doctrine and duty which make the glory of the epistolary scriptures. Thus we see how, under the reign of omnipotent love, error itself is made to elicit truth, and the evils of a day to work out forms of good that shall brighten and unfold forever.

I. THE DECLARATION RESPECTING CHRIST.

1. The eternal existence of Christ. He says, He is "that eternal life"; and at the close of his appeal he adds the assertion, "This is the true God and eternal life." Try to take in the meaning of the word "eternal"! You are unable to do it. We can explain nothing which lies beyond the horizon of our limited life. To us, that which is infinite never can be definite. Mysterious as is the word eternity, this one thing is clear — He who is eternal must be Divine. He who is "before all things" must be the cause of all things; and creation, however wide in range or rich in splendour, must be less by infinity than its author.

2. Jesus assumed human nature. The mystery is no argument against its truth. You are unable to explain the wonderful union of God and man in the nature of Christ; but are you more perfectly able to explain the union of matter and spirit in your own?

3. Jesus is the Word. What words are to thought, Christ is to God? He utters God; and of every imaginable manifestation of God, He is the manifestor. Nature shows the Divine perfections, but we may still doubt if it proves the Divine personality. The personal man yearns for the knowledge of a personal God. Age after age rose the ceaseless cry of man, "For God, for the living God!" Christ heard that cry, and said, "Lo, I come, I come!" In the earliest times He shadowed out the Divine personality by His appearance as the Angel of the Presence; and when the fulness of time arrived He broke the silence of ages, and in Him, at last, "the unutterable" found utterance. But Christ has given a yet more advanced revelation than this. He has uttered the Divine love to sinners. Great God! conscience threatens us; the law threatens us; death threatens us, and we deserve it all. "Art thou with us, or with our adversaries?" The Cross furnishes the reply. 4 Jesus is our Life. As the Word, He is the Revealer of what we need; as the Life, He is the Communicator of what we need. As the Word, He is God uttering Him self; as the Life, He is God giving Himself. As the Word, He is God without us; as the Life, He is God within us.

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

I. St. John was now AN OLD MAN IN A NEW WORLD. It was an age of busy thought and daring speculation. It had its realists, who held that Jesus was but a man, and Christianity but one of the religious movements of the last century. It had its dreamy idealists, who spiritualised away all the facts of Christianity. The age, in fact, called for a restatement of Christian truth. We too have our realists in art and literature — painters who strip the halo from Christ's brow, and set before us simply the man Jesus, the peasant saint of Galilee — authors who write "lives of Jesus" as the Son of Mary, but not of Christ the Son of the living God. We too have our idealists, who regard Christianity as a dream of man's spirit — a beautiful dream, yet capable of being improved, and so they wish, not to destroy, but to remake the Christ, to pull the Gospels to pieces, but only to put them together again after a better fashion. Here we have the last word of inspiration. The revelation that began in Genesis ends here.

II. We have in our text THE SUBSTANCE OF THE GOSPEL — what it is in the last analysis.

1. It is something eternal — "that which was from the beginning." Christianity is not one of the religious movements of a recent age. It is not one of a class. It cannot be compared with other religions. Its sources are out of sight. It was manifested in time, but it was from the beginning.

2. It is something historical. "That which we have heard, that which we have seen [not in vision] with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled...declare we unto you." We do not announce fancies of our own. We bear witness to facts — to an eternal truth revealed in time.

3. It is something absolutely unique. "The word of life, the eternal life, which was with the Father." Christ approaches humanity. He comes not, as one of many, on a common errand of sympathy with sorrow. His mission is unique. He comes alone. He comes to give men life — eternal life — life as it was with the Father the very life of God Himself in its purest form.

III. Again, we have THE END AIMED AT IN THE GOSPEL stated in its largest, fullest form. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us." Men are to be saved for something as well as from something, and that is for the fellowship of holy spirits, the commonwealth of souls, the city of God. Truth says to all who possess it, "I am sacramental bread and wine; eat of me, drink of me, and pass me on to others." As every stream of water makes for the sea, every rill of truth is making for fellowship. The missionary spirit is often spoken of as something separate, peculiar to certain people. No! it is the spirit of all truth. Get Christ into men, and the Christ in them will straightway want to get into other men; for the great end for which every Christian truth is making, is fellowship — the perfect brotherhood of all souls.

IV. Yes! But BROTHERHOOD CAN ONLY BE THROUGH FATHERHOOD. "And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." Union is union with God. Cicero has said that there can be no friendship but between good men. Bad men may combine, but cannot unite. Their combination is a rope of sand. God only unites. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." The hope of the world lies not in agitation, nor in revolution, nor in reformation, but in regeneration.

V. COMMUNION WITH MEN MUST THEN BEGIN AS UNION WITH GOD. "And this is the message" — "God is light" — is holiness and love. Do you say, "It is a message that crushes"? Nay, it consoles too, it inspires. There is a gospel in it. The sun looking down at the green wheat blade, says, "You must be like me." But how? "By looking at me. I, by shining on you, will make you to be what I want you to be." God is light! If He is holiness without spot, He is also love without measure. He gives Himself away like the light.

(J. M. Gibbon.)

I. THE APOSTLES' TESTIMONY CONCERNING CHRIST AS A PERFECT SAVIOUR (vers. 1, 2).

1. No stronger evidence can be conceived.

2. The statement of such evidence proves the importance of giving facts as the foundation of Christianity.

3. The terms of this statement deserve careful study.

(1)The pre-existence of our Lord.

(2)The real, objective humanity of our Lord.

(3)The life-giving power of our Lord.

II. THE DESIGN OF THIS TESTIMONY — that others might participate in the peculiar privileges of the apostles of Christ (ver. 3).

1. Fellowship.

2. Fulness of joy.

III. THE EVIDENCES OF REAL UNION WITH CHRIST AS PERFECT SAVIOUR.

1. A life of practical holiness (vers. 5-7).

2. A Scriptural sentiment (vers. 8-10).

3. Compliance with the condition of forgiveness and cleansing (ver. 9).Lessons:

1. The solid basis of Christianity — a historical Christ, attested by unimpeachable witnesses.

2. The distinguished privileges of a believer in Christ.

(1)Divine fellowship.

(2)Divine cleansing.

(3)Divine forgiveness.

3. The blessed and royal life of the Christian. To "walk in the light."

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

These words are as a head to the body, a gate to the field, a porch to the building of this epistle; an introduction which very much speaketh the writer to be St. John, because it is as it were a resounding to the proem of his Gospel.

I. THE APOSTLE'S CARE OF PUBLISHING THE GOSPEL is that which St. John doth here insert in the behalf not only of himself, but his fellow apostles, for it is not the singular "I," but the plural "we."

1. The first we meet with is μαρτυροῦμεν, "bear witness." This was indeed the chief office to which the apostles were designed by Christ, to bear witness of Him; and that they might be enabled to the faithful discharge of it, He promised the power of the Holy Ghost (John 15:26, 27; Acts 1:8).

2. The next expression, ἀπαγγέλλομεν, is twice repeated, vers. 2, 3, but Englished by two several words, we show and we declare, it is that which intimateth what kind of bearing witness the apostle here intended. The nature of light is to discover, the business of an ambassador is to impart his message; and accordingly the work of an apostle is to reveal the gospel. We declare, as being sent by God to publish this errand; and that which hereby is intimated to us is that these holy apostles did not run before they were sent, but had a mission and commission to show and declare the things of the gospel.

3. There is yet one term more behind, ver. 4, and that is γράφομεν, "we write unto you": and as declaring showeth what kind of bearing witness the apostle chiefly relateth to, so this writing what kind of declaring he especially speaketh of; for whereas there are but two ways of declaring the gospel, to wit, sermo and scriptio, word and writing, by the tongue and the pen, this latter is that which the apostle principally intendeth when he saith, We declare, we write; that is, we declare by writing.(1) By this it is we speak to many, very many, even those that are absent and far distant from us; in which respect writing is wittily styled an invention to deceive absence.(2) Again, by this it is we speak, not only whilst alive, but when we are dead, and so declare the truth, not only to them who are coetaneous with us, but shall in future ages succeed after us; in which regard that of the Psalmist is very suitable (Psalm 102:18).

II. THE GOSPEL'S EXCELLENCY.

1. The appellation here affixed to the gospel is choice and comfortable, it is the word of life; a title which is made use of by St. Paul (Philippians 2:15, 16).

2. The reason of this appellation is fit and pregnant, because those words, "eternal life is manifested to us," are such a confirmation that they are withal an explication of the title in both the branches of it.(1) Would we know what this life is, whereof the gospel is the word? The answer is, it is eternal life; in which respect St. Peter saith to Christ (John 6:68).(2) Would we know in what respect the gospel is the word of this life? The answer is, because this eternal life which was with the Father is by it manifested to us. To apply this, what should the consideration teach us but —

1. Thankfully to acknowledge what a rich treasure, a precious pearl, God hath vouchsafed to us in bestowing the gospel on us!

2. To endeavour that what this word of life is in itself it may be to every one of us; and as it is the word of life by way of manifestation, so it may be also by way of operation, effectual to bring us to that life which it revealeth to us.

(N. Hardy, D. D.)

I. HIM OF WHOM JOHN IS HERE SPEAKING — "that which was from the beginning." What God is in His nature, persons, life, blessedness, glory, immortality, and eternity, is, and ever will be, incomprehensible (Job 11:7, 8, 9). The person of Christ was from the beginning. He was as God-man before the world, and had a glory with the Father before the world was (John 8:58). This most glorious one, who was God-man before the world was, became incarnate in the fulness of time. John lived in the days of Christ's Incarnation; he had the honour to see Christ, the Messiah, and was favoured with communion with Him. This was grace and glory inexpressible.

II. HE HAD HEARD, HE HAD SEEN, HE HAD HANDLED HIM. So had others also. These various terms of hearing, seeing, looking, handling, are designed to express the reality of our Lord's Incarnation. That He had a real body. It was a palpable one; it was seen; it was touched; it was heard. The truth of this was denied by some heretics in the apostolic age; to refute which the apostle expresseth himself as he here doth. There was satisfaction given, and such demonstration given to every sense of body and mind, that Christ had a body like our own, that no greater proof could be given. He was made in all things like unto His brethren. It was in our nature He obeyed. Bore the sins of many in His own body on the tree. The person of Christ is a most transcendently excellent subject. The Incarnation of Christ, a deep and most momentous subject.

III. THE PERSONS WHO HAD THUS SEEN HIM — "which we have heard," etc. They were the apostles themselves. He speaks in their and his own name here. Not but other saints beside them saw the Lord in His incarnate state; yet they were not called and appointed to be witnesses of this, as the apostles were. The evidence the apostles had of His person and Incarnation was different from ours. We receive ours from them: and that in a way of believing. They had the evidence of sense as truly as we have the evidence of faith. True believers hear the voice of Christ in His Word, and in hearing it their souls live. They see Christ in the light of the gospel, and behold salvation and everlasting life in Him; but this is with the eyes of their mind. They touch, they taste, and handle Christ mystically and representatively in their fellowship with Him in His holy supper, yet this is quite different from what the apostle is here speaking. Yet it is as effectual to us for our souls' benefit as theirs was. Yet notwithstanding this, the different ends answered by the same are so essential, that they ought to be distinguished. They were to record His life, His words, His miracles, His threatenings, His promises, His prophecies, His holiness, His righteousness, His passion, His death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, His session at the right hand of the Majesty on high, His coronation in glory, and His sending down the Holy Ghost from heaven, to prove Him to be the Lord's Messiah, the Saviour of the world. Now the apostles who were to be witnesses of all this unto the people, saw God incarnate, and conversed with Him in His incarnate state — a sight we shall never behold. It is everlastingly impossible we should, that state being past. We shall see God incarnate, God-man, in heaven — we shall see Him in the state of ultimate glory. We see Him now, in the glass of the everlasting gospel, as truly as the apostles did, in our measure and degree, though not as they did with their bodily eyes. We see Him with the eye of faith, as certainly as those persons did with the eyes of their body, and as truly, yet not so clearly and fully, as saints in heaven do by sense and vision.

IV. THE TITLE JOHN GIVES THIS MOST WONDERFUL ONE. He styles Him "The Word of life." The word is the index of the mind. By what is contained in the mind is expressed. So Christ, as one in the self-existing Essence, speaks out the mind of the eternal Father. It was by His Almighty fiat the heavens and the earth were created, and all the host of them. It was by Him all the secrets of the Most High were spoken out and proclaimed, and the invisible God brought out of His invisibility. It is in Him the full revelation of Godhead is made known. It is in the essential Word all the mind of God is opened, all the love of God expressed, the whole of God declared. It is as this essential Word, and only begotten Son of God, shines forth as God-man, in His most glorious person, mediation, work, grace, and salvation, in the everlasting gospel, and enlightens His Church therewith, that they in His light see light.

(S. E. Pierce.)

Midway down the Simplon Pass, the traveller pauses to read upon a stone by the wayside the single word "Italia." The Alpine pines cling to the mountainsides between whose steeps the rough way winds. The snow covers the peaks, and the brooks are frozen to the precipices. The traveller wraps his cloak about him against the frost that reigns undisputed upon those ancient thrones of icebound rock. But at the point where that stone with the word "Italia" stands, he passes a boundary line. From there the way begins into another world. Soon every step makes plainer how great has been the change from Switzerland to Italy. Humanity has crossed a boundary line between two eras. Up to Bethlehem was one way, growing bleaker, and more barren, and colder, as man hastened on. Down from Bethlehem has been another and a happier time. The one civilisation was as Switzerland shut in among its icy Alps; the other is as Lombardy's fruitful plain. The one led up to Stoicism; the other opens into charity. Judaism, also, and the gospel are as two different climes. We need deny no pagan virtue, we need exaggerate no pagan vice, in order to bring out the greatness of the change which began at Bethlehem. For it is not simply a difference in men, or in civilisation, which we have to observe, great as, without historical exaggeration, that may be shown to be; but the advent of Christ works a difference in motives, and in the motive powers, which make human life, and which are creative of civilisations. It was the coming of a new power to change the world. The impulse which was imparted to humanity by the presence among men of Jesus Christ can be compared to nothing less potential than the impulse which was given, we may suppose, to the creation when motion first became a fact and law of primeval matter. And from the advent of motion dates the order of the worlds.

(Newman Smyth, D. D.)

The picture produced in the stereopticon is fuller, rounder and more natural than the same picture seen without the use of that instrument. But to produce the stereoscopic picture there must be two pictures blended into one by the use of the stereopticon, and both the eyes of the observer are brought into requisition at the same time, looking each through a separate lens. Thus Christ is only seen in His true and proper light, when the record of His human nature and the statement of His Divine are blended. It is a flat, unfinished Christ with either left out. But it is as seen in the Word, with the moral and mental powers of our being both engaged in the consideration, and thus only, that we get the full and true result.

Which we have heard
The word translated "heard" often signifies with the inspired writers an obedient hearing. It is such a hearing of the proposed truth as issues in the conviction of the mind, and more than this, such a hearing as disposes the mind to submit itself to the doctrine presented: it is in this way that faith springs up, and from hence its origin. The Lord by His special grace induces this result. "Faith is of the operation of God" (James 1:16-18). When addressing the gracious Author of his faith, the favoured child of man thus speaks: "Mine ears hast Thou opened" (John 10:3).

Which we have looked upon
The apostle is not weary of describing faith's various actings in the soul. And it is for our edification that he sets before us his own experience in this matter. It is in order that such of us as have heard and seen Jesus may still fix on Him the eyes of our under standing with an intent and protracted gaze. And can one view of "the King in His beauty" satisfy the spiritual eye? No; it will rest with a mingled feeling of sorrow and joy on Him whom our sins have pierced. When Jesus has been seen as "full of grace and truth" — "fairer than the children of men" — the believer will surely look upon Him with a steady contemplation of the soul and fixed devotion of the heart, It may be that it is not given to all believers to attain to the full experience of the beloved disciple, or to realise all He felt when He says "which we have looked upon"; but in a measure the same contemplative faith is proper to all the saints. And without it there could be no due assimilation to the image of Christ. It is by the contemplation of Christ's person that we become in a measure changed into His likeness. Christ looked upon as a wondrous spectacle, steadfastly, deeply, contemplatively. Appropriate to John's contemplative character.

(A. R. Fausset, M. A.)

And our hands have handled of the Word of life
Without this concluding sentence the apostle's description of the experience of faith had been imperfect; for wherever the Lord carries on "the work of faith with power," there is on the believer's part an appropriation to himself of that eternal life which he has heard, seen, and looked upon by faith. There is, as John expresses it, "a handling" of the Word of life. And probably the expression, "which our hands have handled," denotes some sensible experience of our union with the Lord Jesus, and a consciousness that we are within the bonds of the covenant of grace, so that by the aid of the Holy Ghost we can say with Paul, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." "Laying hold on eternal life," and apprehending Christ with a faith which says, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me," we are blessed indeed, and exclaim in the language of faith's assurance, "My Lord and my God!"

(Anon.)

Consider what impressions we gain from the sense of touch. It is touch which, more than any other sense, convinces us of the reality of matter. What you see might be merely a phantom, an optical illusion, a picture painted on the retina of the eye, and nothing more; but if you go up to the thing you see, and touch it, and handle it, you become assured of its existence, you know that it is substantial. Now what is faith? It may be defined as the faculty by which we realise unseen things. I say the faculty (not by which we conceive, but) by which we realise these things, feel them to have a body and a substance. To imagine the truths of religion is not to believe them. We may from time to time imagine God as He is in heaven, surrounded by myriads of glorious angels — we may imagine Christ looking down upon us from God's right hand, interceding for us, calling us to account at the last day, and awarding to us our final doom; but the mere picturing these things to ourselves is not the same thing as believing them; the believing them is the having such a conviction of their reality as to live under their influence, and to be in some measure, at least, governed by them. In short, to imagine the truths of religion is like surveying things by the eye; to believe in the truths of religion is like grasping the same things with the hand, and thus proving them to have substance and consistency.

(Dean Goulburn.)

There is not in Scripture a more amazing statement than this. "The Word of life" is God the Son. And now speaking of this eternal and Divine Person, the evangelist affirms that he and other men had heard Him, had seen Him with their eyes, had looked upon Him, and had handled Him. Well may such expressions trouble the mind; they are so real, so physical, so material, so intense. But the whole force of the gospel is in them. That gospel is no philosophy, no human invention; but the mystery of godliness meeting man's deepest needs. Among those needs is that of a real access to God and communion with Him; not by way of thought merely, not through the chill avenue of the intellect, but as body with body, and flesh with flesh; by the hearing of the ear, and the seeing of the eye; by taste and touch, by emotion and sensation; in short, through the entire nature, and not only through one part of it. This is the need of which the apostle here declares that it has been satisfied: and in the fact that it has thus been met lies the power of the gospel. I begin with this proposition: that in the proportion in which religious belief becomes intellectualised and refined, in that same proportion does it lose its power over men and cease to control the practical order of their lives. This will best appear by contrasting two types of religion: the first is that of the vulgar idolater, the second that of the advanced philosophical mind: the former a superstition, the latter a rationalistic theory; but of the two the former has the greater power, and, as a religion, is better than the latter.

1. First, look at the lowest form of idolatry. Here is a man who makes an image of wood or stone. This is to him a god. The man has, after all, what lies at the basis of true religion; the faith in a power, outside of him, above him, and acting on him directly; capable of being approached, prayed to, propitiated, "a very present help in trouble." He thinks the power to be somehow in a carved stone or a bit of painted and gilded wood: but at least he believes in the power; he has a religion; and it is practical and positive; it affects his actions, it comes home to him in his dark life.

2. Secondly, let us take another type of religion. It is that of the man whose belief in God has been attenuated into a mere intellectual assent to the proposition that there is something somewhere or other, to which he is willing to concede the sacred name. This God of his has no personality; it cannot hear or see or feel, it cannot be heard or seen or felt; it cannot think, it cannot love; it has neither heart, nor will, nor memory; no relation to us such as we have toward each other. This is the opposite extreme: and of the two the lower is better than the higher. The poor heathen's religion is still a religion. It is a link (that blind, gross, material notion) between him and a higher world, whose invisible powers he reveres, dreads, and trusts; it has the elements of Christian faith, and needs only to be purified by grace. But the notions of the acute philosophic mind have in them no reality. The refinement has gone too far; the evaporation has produced a thin film, without light, without warmth, without value to any human being. Such are two extremes, whereof every age of the world thus far affords illustrations. The truth is in neither of them: it lies between. Going from the former towards the latter, there is a point at which we must stop, having found what we need. We want what is above the first, but stops short of the second; the reality of the idolater's faith and the spirituality of that of the philosopher; the material and the immaterial together; a religion meeting man as a body, and meeting him also as a spirit; helping and upholding him on the physical and spiritual side at once. All these wants are met, in the gospel and theology of the Incarnation. When the Word was made flesh there stood before men, first, what could not have been more real to the senses than it was. The Son of God took flesh; He dwelt among us in a true body; He did not abhor such material tabernacle. In that flesh dwelt He who is a spirit and whom men are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). God, immaterial and spiritual, without parts, or passions, was manifested in a body having members, in a humanity like unto our own, sin only excepted, in and under sensible and material forms, to the senses first, and through them to the spirit and heart of men. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, which whosoever looketh upon with faith and love shall find the extreme terms in the problem of religion brought together and harmonised therein. Thus far I have been speaking mainly of the days when Christ was here on earth. All that began so strangely has been carried on no less strangely among us since He went away. Still is the Lord unto us very Man and very God in one. Christianity, rightly understood, is Christ; and Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, still God and man in One. Christianity, therefore, being ultimately resolvable into Him, and being, in fact, the perpetual and abiding manifestation in Him, must be what He is, Divine and human at once. It must also have two sides, two elements, the physical and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial, the body akin to the dust, the spirit out of heaven. Neither of these can be spared; religion without the latter would be a gross and carnal system; without the former a cold abstraction. The Church of Christ is a visible body; from her it was intended that a visible and outward glory should shine through this dark world. Let us understand our mission; we are the apostles, the representatives of a religion which should give to the world not only the grandest ideas, the holiest thoughts, the most powerful inspirations, the deepest truths, and the most practical and valuable maxims, but also the most splendid sights, the most elevating sounds, and all that can cheer and sustain the heart of pilgrim man. It is Christianity, on its physical side, which has given us the cathedrals of the world, grand creeds and anthems at once in stone and sculpture, reflecting the spiritual glory of the Lord in their solemn magnificence, and praising Him as far as their towers, domes, and cross-topped spires can be seen; it is from that side of religion that men have drawn the fulness of that refreshment which a simple and unsophisticated humanity craves. It boots not to say by way of objection that these are material things; they are, of course. Even so Christ was Man, and beautiful in His humanity to the eye of faith; and these things represent the Word made flesh, the human Christ. This visible side of religion, all glory and magnificence, was intended to correspond to the human side in. Christ, that body wherein dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead.

(Morgan Dix, D. D.)

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