In a wonderful way God is brought before us in this epistle, as manifested in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. God's nature is revealed as in no other part of Scripture. You have the two names which present to us what God is: "God is light" (v. 5), and, "God is love." (1 John 4:8, 16.) Now all God's actings are according to these two revelations of His nature, light and love. As someone has remarked, the difference between Paul's writings and John's is, that in the latter we have God presented to us, come down to us in a man; but in the epistles of Paul we have man presented to God, accepted in Christ; man gone up in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and accepted in Him. Just as He, on the cross, was the measure of our distance from God, He is now, at God's right hand, the measure of our nearness to God. In John's epistle we have Christianity pure and simple, and Christianity too as expressed in a person - Christ Himself.
1. From the Beginning.
In verse 1 you get what only the apostle could say, "That which was from the beginning," etc.; they had seen and heard and known Him. Then John tells us why he makes this known. These things "declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us," etc. What a wonderful thing to have! There has been a real Person in this world, a perfect Man; a holy, righteous, dependent Man too; obedient, dependent, separated; everything that suited the heart of God - one of whom God could always say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It was God in Christ (that is how Paul speaks of Him), expressing His own nature as light and love.
There are three words the apostle John delights in - light, life, love. Christ was life; He had life in Himself. Adam had not life in himself; Adam derived a life from his Creator. "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." Christ had always life; there was never a moment when He began to live. He is the eternal Son of the eternal God. Now think of eternal Life coming down into this world, manifesting Himself in it! Eternal life is a Person. "That eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." Look at the four things said about the eternal life here. The One from the beginning; they saw Him; they contemplated Him. They not only saw, but they also contemplated. Suppose it were dark, and the lightning flashed; you would see it, but you could not contemplate it; it is gone. Christ was not here like that, to be seen and gone; He stayed to be contemplated. That will be one of the blessed enjoyments of eternity in glory. We shall not get a passing glimpse of Him; we shall be able to contemplate Him for ever in the Father's house. The fourth is, "Our hands have handled." That shows He was not a mere myth; you could not handle a shadow. He was a tangible Person, as He says in the end of Luke, where He has His resurrection body, 'Handle me, and see that it is I myself,' etc. There is no such thing as a resurrection of spirits. The spirit cannot die or rise again. It is only predicted of the body. Christ died as to His body; His spirit went to His Father. "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." His body, which died, was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.
The highest idea Christendom has of Christ is that He is a spirit. He is a real man. He said to them, "Why are ye troubled? . . . Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." Mark, that was the resurrection body they were handling. "When He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet." He was not a myth, a shadow, a spirit; He was an actual person. Let me put it to you, beloved friends. Do you believe there is a real Man in heaven; that there beats upon the throne of God a human heart in deepest, truest sympathy with you down here who are washed from your sins by His blood? What a comfort to one's heart when one thinks of it - the eternal Son of the eternal God in a body of glory, a resurrection body! Those eyes of love are ever watching us; those ears of love ever listening to us; those lips of love ever speaking words of cheer and comfort to us; those hands which bled for us guiding us through this intricate scene; that heart of love beating with unchangeable affection towards us; and that man is our Saviour, our Life, our Head, our Hope! Is He all that to you, beloved?
Now I would like just to trace through Scripture that word "beginning." "That which was from the beginning." Just a sample from Old and New Testaments. Genesis 1:1 has nothing to do with the commencement of the six days of creation. The probability is that millions and millions of years took place between the first and second verses; plenty of time for the mighty changes that took place in creation. That is the beginning of creation, not of Christ the Creator. In Prov. 8 you get the eternity of the Son brought out in a very remarkable way: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old." Jehovah possessed Christ, daily His delight, and His delights were with the sons of men. He proved that by becoming a man. There you get the magnificent unfolding of the eternity of the Son; the One in the beginning, not only from the beginning, who became a man, and proved by this His delights were with the sons of men.
Now will you turn to John 1? That really ought to come, so to speak, before Genesis 1. There we have creation, whenever that took place; here we have the Creator, the Word. That was the expression of God Himself. "The only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." It shows who the Word was. Now look at the three things said about Christ, the creating Word, in these first verses: "In the beginning was the Word." There you get the eternity of the Son. He never had a beginning. He was there, the beginning of everything that had a beginning, and consequently had no beginning Himself. Then, "The Word was with God." There is the distinctness of the Son. "And the Word was God." The Deity, the divinity of the Son. He is eternal in His existence, distinct in His nature, divine in His being. This is the One who became a man to die for you and me. Oh, how our hearts should be bowed in worship as we think He is the very One who became the Lamb of God, to bear away the sin of the world!
Now I turn to another Scripture - Colossians 1. You have the beginning brought out in another way. (v. 15.) There you get His Godhead before any creation, creating everything, upholding everything by the word of His power; and He is the Head of the body, the assembly, the firstborn from among the dead. That shows that the assembly had no existence until His resurrection. Christ risen is the foundation upon which His assembly is built, Christ in the glory the Head. You could not have a body before the Head. He becomes the beginning of this wonderful body, the assembly of God united to Him by the Holy Ghost, come down from the Father and the Son ten days after Christ was glorified.
Once more, Revelation 3:14. There creation does not refer to Genesis 1 at all; it is the new creation. Just as Adam was the beginning of the old creation, so Christ, the second Man, risen and glorified at God's right hand, is the beginning of the creation of God. Individually we are not a new creation. "There is a new creation," of which every saved person forms a part; but there is no such thing as an individual being it.* A verse that seems to prove it is rather unhappily translated - 2 Cor. 5:17. "New creature" should be "new creation." The whole old Adam standing came to an end; it has no existence before God at all; it judicially came to an end in the cross of Christ. "All things are of God." That is the new creation. When persons are saved they are brought into that new creation of which Christ, risen and glorified, is the Head as second Man, last Adam.
*It would be well to consider Ephesians 2:10 in connection with this statement. ED.
2. Eternal Life.
We turn again to our chapter. (v. 2.) Now, beloved, eternal life is a new word. We are accustomed to read it without thinking really what eternal life is. Very few of us take the pains to sit down and think what eternal life is. I remember once asking an old saint if the would kindly tell me what eternal life was. "Oh, yes!" she said, "perpetuity of existence." "Then," I said, "you have nothing more than the devil has - he has perpetuity of existence." I believe that is a common idea. Even the lost have perpetuity of existence; for they will spend an eternity in the lake of fire, but they will not have eternal life. Children of God, saved persons, have eternal life. I have been very much struck in looking through the Old Testament Scriptures to find not one single instance of its being mentioned of an Old Testament saint that he had eternal life; it was not known. You only get the word twice mentioned in the Old Testament. I turn you to the Scriptures that you may see it - Psalm 133:3. That is the first time, and there it is prophetic of the Jewish nation in the millennium. It has not received its fulfilment yet. It describes the unity of the nation. The Psalm is a marvellous little prophetic summary of the restoration of Israel in the millennial Zion. They knew nothing about a heavenly one, yet they will have a city on earth. Everything they expected was on earth. They looked for the land, and expected all their blessings there. What the character was of the life they had I do not know; it does not say it is life in Christ. Daniel 12 is the second and only time it is mentioned. Everlasting life. (vv. 1, 2.) What does that mean? The resurrection of the Jewish nation in the millennium. If you turn to that remarkable chapter - Ezek. 37, the valley of dry bones - it is exactly what is referred to here. It is a future thing in both cases.
When you come to the New Testament that word studs its pages. The Holy Ghost introduces it in the most wonderful way, but always in connection with Christ; not natural life from Adam, but eternal life in Christ - the second Man, the last Adam. Eternal existence in the first, eternal life in the last, the beginning of the creation of God - "that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." How could anyone know eternal life before? It was not manifested. I want you to see the characteristics of Christianity. People think there is no difference between us and Jewish saints. Everything is mixed up in their minds. Would that they would sit down and consider those words of Jesus Christ in His day, that of men born of woman there was not a greater than John Baptist - "Nevertheless the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." How could He have uttered such words if there was no difference between now and then?
Look for a moment at the wording of that verse: "The life was manifested, and we have seen it." Christ was never manifested until incarnation. That is the very definition of Christianity in 1 Tim. 3:16: "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in flesh," etc. "We have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." He was with the Father as the eternal Son of God from all eternity. He was never manifested till He came down here as a Man. That is a remarkable verse in 1 Timothy, where you get the foundation and top-stone of Christianity brought out, and all that comes between 1 Tim. 3:16, which I have already quoted.
"Seen of angels." What does that mean? That He had never assumed a form that was visible to angels before. He assumed a nature which made it possible for Him to be seen of angels. They saw their Creator in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the man Christ Jesus, in that lowly garb, thought to be the carpenter's son, the very Son of Mary, they saw their good Creator - "preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." Glory the top-stone; so that God come down here in a Man is the foundation of Christianity. Man gone up into glory in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ is the top-stone. If you surrender the one you surrender the other too. That second verse of 1 John 1 is an overwhelming verse. "What is eternal life?" you say. "How are we to know we have it?" Look at John 17 a moment, where you get the Lord in His wondrous prayer with His Father. There you get the divine definition of eternal life. (v. 3.) The revelation of the Father and the Son to the heart of the believer. Do you know God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent? That is eternal life. Beloved, eternal life is a Person. You find it brought out in other parts of this same epistle. (Chap. 5:11, etc.) "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." There you get the distinct statement - life not in Adam, but in Christ. It is a mercy for you and me that it is there, and not in our keeping. "In His Son." How am I to know I have it? "These things write we unto you, that ye may know ye have eternal life." Those that believe on the name of the Son of God have it.
Look at the four things God says there. He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son; He is the life, and it is written that we may know we have it, and that we may have our knowledge based on the sure authority of the word of God Himself. How do we know that eternal life is the Person of the Lord Himself? Look at verses 20, 21. The word "this" should be translated "He" - "He is the true God and eternal life." The very sentence proves it. There is the eternal life, and that is your life and mine if we are Christians at all. Is not that something more than perpetuity of existence? It is a link with the Son of God. He is the source of eternal life in the believer, and the sustainer of it; He is the eternal life Himself in the believer, and you never can have that but in Christianity. You get no unfolding of it before Christ came, and it is not predicted of saints after Christ has taken His Church to glory, only of persons who live between those two eras - the coming down of Christ to die for us, and His return to receive us to Himself to be for ever in His Father's house on high. I am not saying Old Testament saints and millennial saints have not life; for, as we have seen, it speaks of "life for evermore," and "everlasting life;" but it is never said to be in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 3. Now you have another word - "Fellowship." Now if eternal life is a word that occurs seldom in the Old Testament, the word fellowship occurs equally seldom. It is only used twice, and never as to the heart's fellowship with God at all.
The first time it occurs in the New Testament is in Acts 2:42. Why don't you get it before? Because until you had eternal life revealed, manifested, and until it was communicated, there could be no such thing as fellowship. How could God take people into fellowship with Himself until He put their sins away? It is not until Christ died, rose again, and went to heaven, and the Holy Ghost came down, that you get the word. It looks as if it had been coined in the mint of heaven, and the Holy Ghost had brought it down fresh from glory. Now sin having been put away, judged, and the first Adam having come to his end in the cross of Christ, and Christ risen and glorified, He could bring the believer into fellowship with the risen Christ. It is a resurrection blessing. The Holy Ghost down here indwelling us is the power of fellowship with the Father and the Son.
There is great confusion as to what fellowship is. People confound love with fellowship. Sympathy is not fellowship; that is my coming down to your level, suiting myself to you. Fellowship is more the bringing you up to my level. Christ comes down to my level to sympathize with me; but it is to make me superior to my circumstances, and bring me into fellowship with Himself. Fellowship is heart being knit to heart, community of thought, object, aim, desire, interest, and affections. Now just think that God has brought us into fellowship with Himself. It is most overwhelming how He speaks of fellowship in that chapter. Not merely fellowship with the apostles through their writings, but "with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ."
Verses 5-7. That is Christian fellowship. It does not mean the Father and the Son there; it is believers having fellowship together. By God's grace and the redemption work of our Lord Jesus Christ we are brought into this wonderful circle of fellowship (2 Cor, 13:14) - fellowship with Jesus by the Spirit, with the Spirit through the word of God, with one another; and where? In the light, as God is in the light. What sort of thing is fellowship? The holiest thing possible, and it is no fellowship if it is not absolutely holy. My fellowship with the Father must be according to His nature; it must be according to holiness and truth. "Holy Father" the Lord calls Him in John 17, and "Righteous Father." It must be in separation from all this moral ruin, and with God as the true God; and it must be in separation from all moral and doctrinal evil. Christ is the Holy and the True, so it must be in character with holiness and truth. The Spirit is called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth; then it must be in separation from all that is not holy and not true. And with each other in the light. What characterizes the light? Holiness and truth. Better walk alone in fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in holiness and truth, than walk in the greatest company and sacrifice them. Do you see what it is to have fellowship with the Father in His pure and deep and precious thoughts about the Son? To have fellowship with the Son about the Father, and with the Holy Ghost about the Father and the Son, and with one another in the light, over these deep and precious thoughts that have been communicated by Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?
Fellowship is a most wondrous thing. I believe it is one definition of heaven; it is what will characterize heaven. What will make the bliss of heaven throughout eternity? Absolute, uninterrupted, perfectly pure, and perpetual fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and one another. It will be eternal separation from all that is unholy and untrue. We have not begun, some of us, to know what fellowship means. May the Lord give us to know the meaning of it.
There are only two things - darkness and light. All in the darkness are unconverted, those in the light are saved. We cannot get out of the light if we are saved. The grace of God and the redemption work of Christ have brought us into the light as God is in the light. The apostle is not occupied with how we are walking, but where. Not that how we walk is unimportant. You may walk badly, but it is in the light you walk. That is what makes it such an awful thing to be naughty.
You get it clearly brought out in the next chapter: "The darkness is passing; the true light now shineth." When a person is saved, that person passes out of darkness into light. "The light shineth in darkness." "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now light in the Lord," Eph. 5 puts it. The Lord was light in Himself; we are not light in ourselves, but in the Lord. And the exhortation is, "Walk as children of light." We are taken out of darkness. Think of it, beloved. The greater sense we have in our souls that we are in the light as God is in the light, the more we shall desire to have a walk suited to it; but we measure all responsibility by our relationship. We are in the light to start, and our responsibility flows from that fact.
Now then, what is the consequence of this? "That your joy may be full." (v. 4.) Why is there so little joy amongst Christians? I often ask, "Why are we not brimming over with joy?" People think they must wait till they get to heaven. The psalmist could say, or rather the Holy Ghost prophetically speaking the language of the Lord Jesus, the perfectly dependent Man: "In thy presence is fulness of joy." We should live in the presence of God now, always near God, and joy would be the effect; that is now. "And at thy right hand pleasures for evermore;" that is by-and-by, when the Lord comes back. God would have us full of joy. "That your joy may be full." What is the hindrance? It is because we don't know Him that is from the beginning. What characterizes the "fathers" is that they know Him that is from the beginning. Paul says, "That I may know Him." We know something about Him; can we say, "We know Him"? The Lord give us to know Him more who is from the beginning, to know that He is our eternal life, and to know ever deepening "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ," and thus we shall be full of divine joy. H. M. H.
God has always desired to have the perpetual adoration of His redeemed. We thus read of singers in connection with His service who "were employed in that work day and night." And when the Lord was parted from His disciples, He blessed them, and was carried up into heaven. "And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God." Then, too, there are the four living creatures who rest not day and night in their ascriptions of praise. So will it be when all the redeemed are gathered around the Lord in heaven. Their whole existence will be characterised by continual never-ending praise.
Obedience to the Word is the way of love to God, to Christ, and to the children of God. (John 14:15; 1 John 5:2, 3.) It will therefore be easily understood that obedience is the way, and the only way, of blessing.