We write these things so that our joy may be complete.
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 your Joy may be fullI. THE NATURE OF THIS JOY AS PRIMARILY CHRIST'S. Joy, as commonly understood and exemplified among men, is a tumultuous feeling; a quick and lively passion or emotion, blazing up for the most part upon some sudden prosperous surprise, and apt to subside into cold indifference, if not something worse, when fortune threatens change or custom breeds familiarity (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Even what must in a sense be called spiritual joy may be of that sort. There may be joyous excitement when the glad jubilee trumpet fills the air with its ringing echoes, and an enthusiastic multitude are hastening to keep holiday. There may be a real elevation of spirit when some affecting scene of spiritual awakening is witnessed, or some gracious ordinance is celebrated, or some stirring voice is heard. Such joy is like the goodness which as a morning cloud and as the early dew goeth away.
II. THIS JOY, "HIS JOY," IS TO BECOME OURS; it is to "remain in us." "Our joy is to be full" by "His joy being fulfilled in us."
1. Christ would have His joy to be really ours. In all that constitutes the essence of His own joy the Lord associates us in intimate union with Himself.(1) In His standing with the Father, and before the Father, He calls us to share.(2) He makes us partakers of the very same inward evidence of acceptance and sonship which He Himself had when He was on earth.(3) We have the same commission with Christ, the same trust reposed in us, the same work assigned to us. Accepted and adopted in Him, sealed as He was sealed by the Spirit, we are sent, as He was sent, into the world.(4) He is "meek and lowly in heart," and therefore "His yoke is easy and His burden is light"; so easy, so light, that He may count it joy to bear them. In His case, as in Jacob's, the charm is love; love, rejoicing in His Father, whose will He is doing; love, rejoicing over us, whom He is purchasing to be His spouse. We, like Him, must be emptied of self.
2. The reality of this joy — Christ's own joy remaining in us — may now be partly apparent. But who shall venture to describe its fulness? In the 45th Psalm the Messiah, rejoicing over His Church as a bridegroom over His bride, is thus saluted: "Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee," etc. This gladness of the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling spices is all associated with His loving righteousness and hating wickedness. The secret of His full joy lies in His being, as His Father is, the holy one and the just. To one who is at once a servant and a son that is "fulness of joy." Is it attainable by us here? Yes, in measure, and in growing measure. Let our nature be assimilated to that of God, our mind to His, our heart to His. Let our souls learn the lesson of seeing as He sees and feeling as He feels.
III. THE PROPRIETY OF THIS "JOY OF THE LORD" — THIS "JOY IN THE LORD" — IS NOT MERELY A PRIVILEGE, BUT A DUTY. "Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say unto you rejoice." For this joy is not anything like that sort of mysterious, incomprehensible rapture into which the spirits may be occasionally thrown under some sudden and irresistible impulse from without or from within. It is a calm and sober frame of mind, suited for everyday wear and everyday work. Its elements and causes can be specified. Its rise and progress can be traced. We have it in us, the germ of it, the essence of it, if we have Christ in us; if we have the Spirit of Christ. Stir up, then, the gift that is in you. Do you ask how? Observe the different connections in which your sharing the Lord's joy stands in the farewell discourses and the farewell prayer; as first, with your keeping His commandments and abiding in His love, as He kept the Father's commandments and abode in the Father's love (John 15:10, 11); secondly, with your asking in His name as you have never asked before (John 16:24); and, thirdly, with your being kept in the Father's name in ever-brightening disclosures of the Father's glorious perfections (John 17:11, 13). And observe, in the fourth place, the beloved apostle's warm appreciation of this joy as realised in the communion of saints (2 John 12).
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)I. WHAT WE MEAN BY IT. Not comfortable circumstances. If we did the counsel would hardly suit anybody for long. Nor Stoicism. Some people are almost irritated by any reference to joy or even peace. To "rejoice evermore" is a precept which comes to us not as an addition to our suffering, but as an anodyne to enable us to bear it. For whatever is taken away we may "joy in God," and therefore our resources are never exhausted.
II. WHAT WE GAIN BY IT. Souls immortal and capable themselves of these feelings of joy. The world is like Leander in the old Greek story, swimming for bare life across from Sestos to Abydos by night, his only attraction being the love of Hero, his only means of assuring himself that he was in the right course being her torch. While that lamp was throwing its light upon the Hellespont he knew that his beloved was there, and the hope and certainty of welcome bore him through the waves. There is many "a strong swimmer in his agony" buffeting the billows of this world's temptations who looks to you for light. He wants not only the love, but the lamp, remember. Not only your compassion, but your joy. Let it burn bright and clear, and many a poor soul may find grace and courage to swim on. Fulness of joy will not only help you to win other souls, it will help you as to your own. "In your patience possess ye your souls," said the Master. We cease to possess them when we become impatient. That patience, and its twin sister peace and their daughter joy, are essential to our obedience to Christ. And besides the souls of others and your own, the soul of Christ will be gladdened by your gladness. "He meeteth him that rejoiceth."
III. HOW WE COME BY IT. When we see Jesus and know that He hath loved us, when we see that through Him we are treading a pathway of promise, then the common stones of life's causeway become changed into chalcedony and jacinth and emerald, and the gates through which we go in and out are transmuted into pearls.
(J. B. Figgis, M. A.)
Homilist.I. ITS NATURE.
1. As predicted (Isaiah 56:7). What folly it is to seek pleasure other wise than in God!
2. As encouraged. When the angel came to the shepherds he brought tidings of joy. According to St. Paul, the great end of the ministry is to assist believers to realise this joy. "We are helpers of your joy."
3. As illus trated. Samaria received the gospel, and "there was great joy in that city." The Ethiopian received the gospel and went on his way rejoicing. St. Peter, in speak ing of tribulation, adds, "wherein we greatly rejoice"; "ye rejoice with joy unspeakable."
II. THE USE AND ADVANTAGES OF THIS JOY.
1. The principal graces can only exist in the preserver of Christian joy.
2. The praise of God can only be properly expressed in the presence of Christian joy. What the heart does not feel it cannot speak, what the mind does not realise it cannot express.
3. We cannot honour our Master without feeling Christian joy.
4. We cannot exercise becoming strength without Christian joy. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Sorrow makes the hands hang down and the knees become feeble.
5. We can only realise the blessedness of heaven by the exercise of Christian joy. Heaven will be the consummation of the present, and unless the seed is sown here it can never blossom hereafter.
6. We can only be kept from error and sin when feeling the power of Christian joy. If we wish to make a flower droop, and wither, and fade, and die, what do we do? We remove it from the sunlight. The plant will make an effort to grow, but it will soon die away. It is so with the soul. In the atmosphere of darkness and desolation it must droop and eventually die. It will be liable to disease and to be eaten with cankerworm.
1. There is a sense of worth in character which comes with the full and vivid experience of the life of God, manifested in Christ and wrought in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This, in itself, is an element of gladness and delight. A man when he has overcome a temptation and conquered a passion feels himself ennobled in a measure by that fact. When he has cherished in him self and brought to supremacy a trait difficult to be attained, and to which his nature seemed averse at the outset, he feels that he has gained in dignity and sweetness and strength of spirit. He rejoices in the fact. When the Christian feels that, by his consecrating faith toward the Divine Master, he has reached a point of moral supremacy which before he had not gained, he cannot help having the sense of a new birth in himself. There is nothing of self-righteousness in this. It has not come from his own endeavour, except as that endeavour has cooperated with the grace and power of the Most High working in him by the energy of the Holy Ghost.
2. Then there is a sense of his holy relationship to God — a sense by which He who builded and guides the universe becomes the guardian of our interests; His power, wisdom, universal presence and universal government become the guarantee of our security. Sometimes there is a sweet and triumphant sense of this in the midst of the utmost peril and sorrow. There is a consciousness that He who governs all things from the infinite throne will make our very sorrow work for our glory, work for the welfare of others through us, work for our own more triumphant peace and more happy and holy vision in the world beyond.
3. Then, beyond this, there is a sense of intimate fellowship with God; not merely of external relationship, which comes in intervals at least of Christian experience, and in which there is a thrilling and unspeakable delight. In that is joy, surpassing all joy of music, all delights of friendship; surpassing all other joys known on the earth, a gleam of the celestial breaking into the darkness of the world.
4. And then there is the consciousness of gladness in doing the work of God on earth, in cooperating with Him in our small measure, yet with a true consecration of the spirit to Him, which He accepts and blesses, and the result of which He secures and furthers by His providence and the energy of His Spirit. So it is that the grandest workers have been the happiest Christians. Luther, how he sings in his conversations and in his letters!
5. Then there comes a joy in all that helps toward this, which makes this state of experience and effort possible to man — joy in the Word of God; not merely because it is full of interesting narrative, charming biography, marvellous prophecy, grand argument of doctrine, grand revelation of the future, but because here God meets the human spirit which has been seeking Him, and has found it in order to lift it nearer Himself, to give it His own secret thought, if we may say so. The soul feels itself brought by the Word into fellow ship with the Divine mind. It has an intense gladness of heart meditating upon the Word, whose mysteries then become to it arguments for its Divine origin, whose transcendent promises flash before it as with the effulgence of the Divine mind. So with the Church. How sacred and lovely it is when it contributes to these results!
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
I. THE FULNESS OF JOY SPRINGS OUT OF "FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER." This is self-evident. Suppose a sinner so to see and confide in God as his Father that he may be said to have fellowship with Him, enjoying a sense of His favour, and reciprocating it with a feeling of love, it is plain he must be happy in God. It is ever so regarded in the Scriptures. When God invites sinners to forsake the fellowship of the ungodly and to come into communion with Himself, it is in these words (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18). The promise by which the invitation is enforced is supposed to secure true blessedness to all who shall enjoy it. A brief contemplation of what may be expected from God as Father will make this statement plain. A father is ready to pardon his children. A father has tender sympathy with his children. Their joys and sorrows are all his own. A father teaches his children. What he knows himself he makes known to them. He does so that they may know how to choose the good and refuse the evil. A father corrects his children. Observe, then, how an inspired apostle applies this thought (Hebrews 12:9). A father encourages his children. A father protects his children. A father provides for his children. Suppose, now, that this view of God is realised. What, then, ought to be his joy?
II. FULNESS OF JOY SPRINGS OUT OF "FELLOWSHIP WITH HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST." Besides the happiness thus derived from God, however, there is a fresh source of joy opened up to the believer in Christ Himself.
1. First, His person is such as to call forth this affection. He is "God manifest in the flesh." He has become such for the very purpose of being a Saviour of men.
2. Again, the work of Christ affords matter of joy. "He died the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us." His work is perfect, and the sinner who is willing to accept it is presented with a full and free salvation.
3. His gracious offices, still continued, must farther heighten the joy of all who have fellowship with Him in them.
4. Once more we have the Spirit of Christ and the blessed promises of which He is the fulfiller.
5. To all this must be added His everlasting covenant. All the blessings He bestows are secured by covenant, and nothing is omitted which is needful for His people.
III. THE FULNESS OF JOY IS GREATLY CONFIRMED BY FELLOWSHIP WITH BELIEVERS. They instruct one another. How much we owe to the society of the wise and good! The interchange of thought is a principal means of advancement in knowledge. Believers encourage one another. We should aim at being useful to those with whom we are associated. Believers should warn one another. "Thou shalt not suffer sin upon thy brother, but rebuke him." By pursuing such a course it is easy to see how the fellowship of Christians would tend to the fulness of their icy.
(James Morgan, D. D.)1. The joy which believers have for the present in this fellowship is a full joy, it being true of this joy, and no other, that it is a full joy.(1) There are two adjuncts peculiar to this joy which demonstrate its fulness, to wit, the sincerity and the permanency of it. This joy is a sincere, cordial joy. A full shower of rain is that which doth not only wet the surface, but sink into the ground, bedew the branches, but go down to the root. That is a full joy which doth not only fill the face with laughter but the heart with comfort, and such, yea, such alone is joy. The joy of religion is not a light joy, which only swimmeth at the top, but weighty, and sinks down to the bottom of the heart, so that it exhilarateth the inmost parts. This joy is a permanent, lasting joy. That is most truly said to be full which doth not fail, and such only is this Divine joy. Other joys are such as, before they come, we make great account of, but when they are come we cannot keep, nay, we quickly grow weary of, and as the flower often sheds before the leaf fade, so the joy vanisheth while yet the thing remaineth. In this respect we may say of worldly joy it is satiating but not satisfying, glutting and yet not filling; but Christian joy is that which we can never have enough of.(2) Not only the adjuncts, but the effects commend this joy, it being deservedly called a full because a strong joy, able to sustain the spirit under, and bear it up against affliction. Other joys at best carry in them only a partial emolument, and therefore it is the joy of wealth is no antidote against sickness, nor can the joy of health cure the sorrow of poverty, but this joy is the universal medicine, the catholic remedy against all sorts of miseries. It maketh a prison sweet and pain easy, it maketh a man cheerful in want and comfortable in losses, it turneth a wilderness into a garden, and finally, it supports in life, yea, it comforts in death.(3) The fulness of this joy chiefly depends on the ground and object whereabout it is conversant. It is an undoubted maxim that the object of all joy is good, and therefore such as is the good such is the joy. If the good be only so in appearance the joy must needs be false and empty, but if it be a real, full good, the joy must needs be both true and full. Now, as for worldly joy, it is only in vain, empty things (Ecclesiastes 1:2), whereas this joy is fixed on God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and so is a true and solid icy.
2. Though this joy we have for the present be a full joy in opposition to carnal and worldly joy, yet in comparison of that celestial joy it is but empty, and rather filling than full; and therefore some conceive joy here to be, by a metonymy of the effect for the cause, put for blessedness, because then alone it is that we shall have full and perfect joy.
(N. Hardy, D. D.)
(James Stalker, D. D.)
(T. C. Cuyler.)
(T. C. Cuyler.)
(J. B. Figgis, M. A.)
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