Then again, I am also writing you a new commandment, which is true in Him and also in you. For the darkness is fading and the true light is already shining.
I. THE COMMANDMENT OLD. "Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the Word which ye heard." The commandment indicated in the previous verse, viz. to walk as Christ walked, is in this paragraph identified with the commandment of brotherly love. His heart warming to his readers, he addresses them as "beloved." What he has in his mind to lay upon them by his letter was no new commandment. It was an old commandment, older than his connection with them. From the beginning, i.e., from their first contact with Christianity down to his connection with them, it had been presented to them. It was no subsidiary matter, such as the form of Church government, which could be held back for a time, but was the very essence of the message which had been delivered to them.
II. THE COMMANDMENT NEW. "Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth." Changing his point of view, he calls it a new commandment. Its being new is contemplated as inhering both in Christ and in them. It is new, because the darkness is passing away and the true light already shineth. What was this but the new light of Christianity, viz. the light introduced by Christ and spread among Christians? Granted that the duty had been known before, it had been greatly obscured. What an obscuration had there been of it in heathen life! And the light that had been shining in the laud of the Jews had been partial. It was only when Christ came and showed its perfect realization, that it could be said to be light having all the elements of truth. Realized in Christ, it was also being realized partially in his people. Thus, not in all places, but in many places, was the darkness giving place to the light, giving promise of the ultimate entire displacement of darkness and prevalence of light.
III. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, ABSENT. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now." It is to be inferred that the condition of our loving our brother is our being in the light, i.e., as the element in which we live. It is not enough to say that we are in the light; saying must be taken along with acting, or the state of the feelings. Let a man's character be this, that he hates his brother (is even unsympathetic), he may say that he is in the light, but it is a moral impossibility. The light may have been shining widely around him, may have been shining around him for long years, but it has never yet penetrated his being and displaced his natural darkness. He is in that darkness even until now. This is John's way of putting the Master's lesson, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord." Let us demand from ourselves reality.
IV. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, PRESENT, WITH BENEFIT. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." The commandment is now stated positively; the condition is stated with a modification. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light," i.e., is so related to the light as to have it continually penetrating his being. The advantage of being thus made loving by the light is that he has guidance at every step. He sees what lies in his path, and does not fall over obstacles.
V. CONDITION OF FULFILLING THE COMMANDMENT, ABSENT, WITH DETRIMENT. "But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes." To the state formerly mentioned is added the corresponding walk. The walk of the unloving is in the darkness. He does not see what lies in his path, and may be tripped up at any moment. This follows with a double certainty. The surrounding darkness keeps him from seeing what is immediately before him; but that is not all. The darkness in which he has been moving has operated to destroy his spiritual vision, just as fishes in a dark subterranean cave are known to have become eyeless through long disuse of the organ. - R.F.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandmentsthe Word which was from the beginning it was intelligible how God had been speaking to other nations; how, though they had not the law, they did by nature the things contained in the law; how they showed the work of the law written in their hearts; how they, as well as the Jews, might seek by patient continuance in well-doing for glory, honour, and immortality. But was there nothing gained by this revelation of the Word in the flesh, by this gospel of His life? Was it not a good thing to be born under the New Testament instead of the Old? "Again," says St. John, "a new commandment I write unto you; which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." He is a teacher of progress much more truly than those who treated all the past as worthless or evil. He had brought forth a new commandment, not inconsistent with the old, scarcely an addition to it, rather the very essence of it, which yet it was unable to express. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now." What was there new in this statement? There was nothing new in the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." That was old; that St. Paul declares, that St. John declares, that our Lord declares, is implied in all the commandments. Men knew that they ought not to hate their neighbours; that is, men who dwelt near them, who belonged to their own tribe or nation; however often they might do it in spite of their knowledge. The code could not bid them to do more than this. We may say it boldly, no mere code can. But there must be a bond between man and man; there must be a power to make that bond effectual, or the law concerning neighbours will be most imperfectly heeded. The revelation of Christ explains the secret. When He came forth, when His light shone upon men, then it was seen that there is a common Brother of Men; of men, I say, not of Israelites merely. He is the Universal Brother. "Therefore," says John, "this thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is past and the true light now shineth." As if He had said, "Now we are come into a new and higher state; the state not only of neighbourhood but of brotherhood." Are we no more under an obligation? Nay, verily, we come under a new commandment, under a wider and deeper obligation. It is a sin; a sin which punishes itself. For to hate a brother is to walk in darkness. It is to hide ourselves from Him who is our great common brother. It is to live as if the Lord had not appeared. For us to hate our brother — to hate any man — is nothing less than to deny the man, the Son of Man; the common light of men. For us to love our brother is nothing less than to walk in the light of Christ's presence, nothing less than to be free from all occasion and danger of stumbling. "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him."
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)I. BROTHERLY LOVE IS AN OLD COMMANDMENT (ver. 7) This verse is often represented as though it referred to what the apostle had before said, and not to that which he was about to utter. To me it seems clear that he speaks by anticipation. He adopts a manner of writing which suggests the introduction of a new topic — "Brethren, I write (or am about to write) no new commandment." Besides, brotherly love is a subject of which such a declaration might with great propriety be made. In making it the apostle imitates the example of his beloved Master, when, in His memorable Sermon on the Mount, He warned His hearers against supposing He was introducing any new doctrine (Matthew 5:17). Brotherly love was no novelty. It arose of necessity out of the relation in which men stood to God and to one another. He was their Creator and they were brethren. Brotherly love was the doctrine of the Old Testament as well as of the New. It need not be added how powerfully these views are enforced when men are regarded as the subjects of grace. They become thus doubly the children of God and brethren one of another.
II. YET THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH IT IS A NEW COMMANDMENT (ver. 8). The apostle delights to imitate his Master. He does so not only in his own conduct, but in his very manner of teaching. Of this there is an interesting example in the subject now before us. Of it Jesus said (John 13:34, 35). It is after this model John says of brotherly love, "A new commandment I write unto you." How is this saying to be understood? In one sense it was an old commandment, and in another it was new. It was old, necessarily arising out of the relation of men to one another, and required by the oldest revelation of the Divine will. But it was also new, as it was republished under the Christian economy. It should be more intense than it ever had been. It was hereafter to be formed on the model of Christ's love. It should be wider in extent as it should be deeper in feeling. Hitherto the Jew confined his regards to his own nation. But in future all such national and sectarian distinctions were to be done away. It should be as high in its motives and aspirations as it was deep in feeling and wide in extent. Both would bring it into fellowship with heaven. Thus it should become the badge of the Christian economy. Judaism had been distinguished by its formal ceremonies, but Christianity would be distinguished by its generous and enlarged catholicity. Taking hold of a few hearts it would bind them together as one man. Thus united, they would operate on the mass of society around them.
III. SUCH LOVE IS A REALITY, AND IS EXEMPLIFIED IN CHRIST AND IN THEM THAT ARE HIS (ver. 8) As for Christ, His whole life was one burning flame of holy love. And be it observed, all this is summed up by the apostle as an argument for brotherly love in us (Philippians 2:4-11). If we have the mind of Christ it is clear what that must be. A similar account may be given of His early disciples. Like their Master, they denied themselves that they might benefit others. How incredible the hardships they endured! This was the spirit that pervaded the early Church. No other could have sustained it in those days. It was full of the tenderest sympathy, the most ardent love, and the severest self-denial.
IV. IT OUGHT TO BE SO, CONSIDERING THE LIGHT WE ENJOY (ver. 8).
1. "The darkness is past."(1) The darkness of Judaism. It served its purpose.(2) The darkness of heathenism. The address of the prophet has been made to us (Isaiah 60:1, 2).(3) The darkness of unaided and perverted human reason (1 Corinthians 1:21).
2. "The true light now shineth."(1) The light of the Word shineth, "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path."(2) The light of the spirit shineth (2 Corinthians 3:18).(3) The light of ordinances now shineth, so that, as of old, of many places it may be said (Matthew 4:16).(4) The light of Christ shineth (John 12:36). These are our privileges. What then must be our responsibilities?
V. THE APOSTLE'S ENFORCEMENT OF BROTHERLY LOVE BY A STRONG DENUNCIATION OF ITS VIOLATION AND A HIGH COMMENDATION OF ITS EXCELLENCE.
(James Morgan, D. D.)
1. The prominence and oneness which our Lord gave to it made it new.
2. The perfect realisation of the precept of love in the life of Christ was new. It filled His Spirit, possessed His soul, appeared in His words and works, and was made manifest forever in His passion and death. He did justice to love, honoured it, and showed how beautiful, how noble, and how divine a quality it is; and thus the old commandment was arrayed in new glory.
3. The old precept of love has also a new inspiring power, as seen in the life and character of our Lord.
4. Again, Christ made love the symbol or badge of the Christian Church. It is not by any system of theology, forms of worship, learning, or social position that the true Church is known; but by all that is implied in the great word "love" as it is used in the New Testament.
5. There is an undying freshness in love which makes it ever new. Consider the working of love anywhere, and you will find in it a beauty that never fades, a newness that never withers, a fragrance that never departs.
I. NOW THE GREAT COMMANDMENT, EVER OLD AND EVER NEW, IS THE LAW OF LOVE.
1. "Is it true to history"; is it true that Christianity gathers together and focuses scattered rays of old truth? In dealing with sceptics it is often found that if a saying of our Lord's can be shown to distantly resemble the saying of some philosopher centuries ago, if the teaching of , or of Seneca, or of can be quoted as anticipations or echoes of the Sermon on the Mount or the letters of St. Paul, if sentences of the Lord's Prayer can be shown to be embedded in Jewish liturgies, therefore it is supposed that a damaging blow has been dealt to His uniqueness and originality. Why! on the contrary we glory in it; we trace in it the action of the Incarnate Word before He is Incarnate; we see Him immanent in the world from the beginning, teaching, controlling, guiding: it is the very thing we are looking for to confirm our faith; and if one thing more than another could be discovered to send home this teaching of brotherhood into our hearts, it is to find that it is no new commandment He gave us when Be came in the flesh, but an old one He had given us from the beginning.
2. "It is true to human nature." "A planet in our system," says Bishop Barry, "has three influences playing upon it — it has first its own centrifugal force which bears it on its way, and which if left unbalanced would carry it forward in a straight line; it has on it next the great central influence of the sun, and thirdly it has on it the influence of the other planets," and he goes on to remind us of the remarkable fact that the planet Neptune was discovered not at first by immediate observation, but by the effect which it had, though unseen, on the orbit of another planet. Now with that picture before us it is not difficult to see that Christianity recognises self. "Not afraid of the shallow taunt of selfishness it tells man plainly that his own personality is a treasure committed to his charge, and that he simply fulfils a law of his being in educating it to perfection, and therefore to happiness in this world and the world beyond the grave." In other words, we are called by Christianity to self-sacrifice, but we must have a self to sacrifice. A question was asked the other day after an address to some Oxford undergraduates which goes to the root of the matter. Was it wrong to educate a taste for art? was it wrong to go to Venice in the vacation? or to buy a beautiful picture for one's room? The sincerity of the question was beyond dispute. Putting aside all obvious cautions about extravagance or over-indulgence of taste or cases where, on account of the present distress, it becomes right to waive our rights, as a broad principle, is self-development right or wrong? And we may surely venture most emphatically to answer that it is a duty; that balanced duly by the other influences, the instinct of self-development — the centrifugal force of the planet — must have its place; that it is a short-sighted policy even looked at from the point of view of the human race to crush individuality; that mind and powers developed will have more to give, not less, in the days to come; and that we shall be untrue to history and human nature if we ignore the last revelation we have received — worked out too by human sacrifice and human effort — of personal and individual freedom, for which martyrs have fought and died. But does this contradict or interfere with the law of love? Not for a moment, if we remember whose we are and whom we serve.
3. But is it practicable? Does the law work? And it is a relief to turn away from general principles to reporting of the thing in action; after all, "the only true gospel is the gospel of life." Now in obedience to the law of love a certain number of the sons of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford come each year to live in the centre of East London; they do it simply and naturally; they make no parade of virtue in doing it; their labour is a labour of love. What is the effect? Does it destroy self? By God's blessing it helps to destroy selfishness, but not self; it develops self; it transfigures self. It makes men of them; the calls upon their judgment, the claims upon their sympathy, the education of their powers of government, insensibly and slowly make character; they lose their lives only to find them. Has it any effect on their belief in God? We know the dreamy haze in which many of us leave the University: "is the old gospel true after all," we ask ourselves, "or have we lost it among the maze of modern speculations?" What effect upon this haze has obedience to the law of love? It gives a man back his faith in God; the darkness passes away and the true light begins to shine; and he finds by practical experience the truth of the old saying, "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" And if it ennobles self and clears the vision of God, what has it to say to man? It wins man; man is unable to resist it; it makes him believe in a brotherhood of which he has heard but never seen before; this is a music he can understand.
II. This brings us to the second thing we might expect to find; we saw that WE MIGHT EXPECT TO FIND FROM TIME TO TIME FORGOTTEN DEPTHS OF EVEN A FINAL REVELATION SWELLING FORWARD INTO THE LIGHT OF DAY. So weak is human nature, so small its capacity to hold infinite truth, that it has from time to time to relearn piecemeal the faith once delivered to the saints; just as clouds keep gathering round the sun, and then being dispersed, so the darkness of prejudice and selfishness keeps gathering round the sun of revelation; again and again that darkness has to be dispersed, and the true light again and again to shine. Now as we look out upon the world, it is perfectly certain that something has begun to shine which was not there before. Ask people who have been abroad for fifteen or twenty years, and then come back to England, and they will tell you that they are perfectly astonished at what they see. But these things, they will tell you, are but symptoms of an inner change; they find the whole tone different; they find the old class feeling vanishing; they find the heart of one half of the world has begun to go out towards the other. What is the meaning of it? It fronts us, it judges us, it is a fact; and the question is this, Is it to be sneered down as a passing whim or is it part of the life of God? And in upholding that it is part of the life of God which has again found its way through the mists of human selfishness, we may take our stand on three grounds.
1. It was time for it to come; we had learnt the last lesson, we understand the freedom of the individual.
2. It is too strong to be a whim; the true diamond and the diamond of paste are like enough to look at, but you can cut with the one and not the other; this diamond cuts.
3. The colour of the light bears witness to its source; we all may mistake many things at times and many colours, but when we see it in action there is no mistaking the white light of love. And so, in conclusion, we have to ask ourselves, What is to be our attitude towards this brightening light?(1) And first, surely at any rate, not an attitude of opposition; the most cautious of us can hardly refuse to accede to the counsel of the cautious Gamaliel.(2) But secondly, the very words of Gamaliel show us that we cannot stop there; if it is of God, and we as Christians are fellow workers with God, then God expects us, He must expect us to help it on.
(A. F. W. Ingram, M. A.)
Which thing is true in Him and in you
(C. Watson, D. D.)
The darkness is past, and the true light now shinethI. IN CHRIST PERSONALLY THIS IS TRUE, "that the darkness is passing and the true light is shining." In so far as this is a continuous process, or progressive experience, it is true of Christ only as He walked on earth. Darkness is upon Him, around Him, in Him; the darkness of the sin with which He comes in contact, the sin which, in its criminality and curse, He makes His own. But, on the other hand, the true light is ever shining upon Him, around Him, in Him; the light of the Father's loving eye bent upon His suffering Son; the light of His own single eye ever bent upon the Father's glory. In Him this darkness and this light are incessantly meeting; present always, both of them, vividly present to His consciousness; felt to be real, intensely real — the darkness, however, always as passing; the true light always as now shining.
II. WHAT IS TRUE IN HIM: SHOULD BE TRUE IN US, and should be realised by us as true in us as in Him. That is the apostle's new commandment. For we enter into the position of Him in whom, in the first instance, that is true. The commandment to us is to enter into His position. And it is a new position. It is new to everyone with whom the commandment finds acceptance and in whom it takes effect.
1. "The darkness is passing." Is it so with me, to me, in me? Then all that pertains to the darkness, all that is allied to it, is passing too. It is all like a term in course of being worked out in an algebraic question; a vanishing quantity; a fading colour. Plainly there is here a thoroughly practical test. This darkness is the absence of God. Now I come into contact with this darkness on every hand, at every point. Places, scenes, companies, from which God is shut out; works and ways from which God is shut out; people from whose minds and hearts God is shut out — I am in the midst of them all. Worse than that, they are in me, as having only too good auxiliaries in my own sinful bosom. How do I regard them? Do I cleave to them, to any of them? Would I have them to abide, at least a little longer? Would it pain me to part with them and let them pass? "The darkness is passing." Is that true in me, as in Christ, with reference not merely to the darkness of this world that has such a hold on me, but also and chiefly to the darkness of my own shutting out of God; the darkness of my shutting out of God from my own conscious guilt and cherished sin? That is darkness indeed. Is it passing? Am I glad of its passing? Or am I in some measure so loving it that I would not have it all at once pass?
2. "The true light is now shining." This is not represented as a benefit to be got, or as a reward to be reached, after the darkness shall have passed. It is a present privilege or possession. It is true, as a great fact, in you as in Christ, that the true light now shineth. And the fact of its now shining while the darkness is passing is the thing which is to be recognised as true in you as in Christ. That is the "new commandment"; a commandment always new; conveying in its bosom an ever-fresh experience, pregnant with ever-fresh experimental discoveries of Him who is light and who dwells in light. Only act up to this commandment; be ever acting up to it more and more. Enter into the spirit of it, and follow it out to its fair and full issues.
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
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