We find three times in this passage the words, "He that saith." In verse 4, "He that saith, I know Him"; in verse 6, "He that saith he abideth in Him"; and in verse 9, "He that saith he is in the light." In each case a proof is given as to the real nature of Christianity.
Obedience is the first thing that is noted here, and it is obvious that if anyone pretend to know Him without keeping His commandments, he is a liar. For suppose the case of one who should pretend to be in the service of some earthly monarch, and yet never go to his court, nor know anything about the rules of it, the fact would be manifest enough that he was not telling the truth.
But in contrast with this there is something far more intimate - "But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." The distinction between the commandments and the word has often been made, and we here again find the two expressions, as in John 14:21, 23. The word no doubt implies far more than the commandments; for keeping the word is not merely obeying in detail, keeping the commandments that direct the children of God upon earth, but means a full entering into His thoughts, and the full expression of a dependent nature. An illustration, though not adequate, might be taken from a servant who is obedient, but who needs to have all the detail of his duties repeated to him. I now suppose another servant, attached to his master and to his master's household, who carries out his daily duty, and more beside, through intelligent attachment to his master's interests, without there being any necessity to repeat it to him. In this latter case there is true devotedness to his master's welfare, and this, I think, though the figure be imperfect, would correspond with keeping the word.
Then he that saith he abideth in Him ought to walk as He walked. The fruit of true communion with Him in another place, which is entirely outside this world, will be seen in the walk here, which will be separate from all that is not according to the Father. What a measure is this for the Christian's walk!
Now come two very important verses. First of all, it is not a new commandment the apostle wrote, but an old one, the word which they had heard from the beginning. There would be no innovation, or addition to that which had been fully expressed in the Son of God Himself when He was upon earth; there had been seen perfect obedience to the Father's will and perfect dependence. But in the eighth verse there is a new commandment, that which is true in Him and in us; this could only be after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, for before this the corn of wheat abode alone, and it could not be said "true in Him and in you."
This new aspect of Christ and Christians gives a peculiar character to the whole epistle. The Lord is no longer on earth, but glorified; and we have been brought into this new and happy position through His death and resurrection, and we live because He lives. It is true in Him and in us; and notice that the darkness is not yet passed away, but is passing away. The true light now shines, and the time is not far distant when all darkness shall be past, and when Christ shall be displayed in all His glory. Darkness shall completely vanish before Him; but what a wonderful place is this which we occupy, in being here, in the midst of the darkness, in order to shine (morally) in contrast to it! May we feel more and more what this means, and what the shining of the true light implies. The natural mind of man which the Scripture calls darkness, is really devoid of all that is according to God's thoughts.
Now comes a test, for anyone can say that he is in the light. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in the darkness even until now. Light and love are inseparable, and the nature that we have is composed of them. Darkness and hatred go together, and it is no use saying that one is in the light if there be hatred to one's brother. A true Christian loves his brother and dwells in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.
Hatred is the very opposite of the divine nature, and he that hates his brother is in the darkness; but there is more than this - he walks in the darkness because the darkness hath blinded his eyes; it is a terrible state.
To sum up - the child of God is characterized by obedience, by walking as Christ walked, and by loving his brother; and all this in the midst of a world where there is neither godliness, light, nor love.
1 John 2:12, 13
The whole family is comprised in the 12th verse, where the apostle writes to the "children"; that is, to all the children of God. It might be well to notice the expression, "His name's sake"; for we have in it all the value of the name. It is not merely that we are forgiven, but in such a way that the glory of the Person, by whom forgiveness came to us, is enhanced.
We might make a simple illustration, and suppose the case of a man who comes into some financial establishment, where he owes a considerable debt. He presents a bond, I suppose, signed by some one whose name is everything in the banking world - such as the name of "Rothschild." Whatever the man's looks may be, and however little the banker might be inclined to trust him from his threadbare appearance, the moment he sees the signature and the name of Rothschild, he is more than satisfied.
In making this feeble illustration, let us think of the priceless value of the name of Him through whom our sins have been forgiven! This blessed privilege applies to all believers.
But now comes the threefold division of God's family upon earth, and it is well to notice the preliminary verse (the thirteenth) before the apostle commences to develop the special features of each class.
The grand features are found in the thirteenth verse.
The fathers are mature; they have learned what the world is worth, and they have known Him that is front the beginning the whole of their way. I recollect, some years ago, showing to an aged servant of Christ one of the planets through a telescope, and after expressing his wonder and admiration at the huge moving globe, he said that the day would come, he hoped, when I should find Christ enough. If Christ be enough, one does not need playthings in this world. The heart is calm and satisfied; the blessed grace of Him who is from the beginning fills it, and not even the riches of Solomon, nor his philosophy (for, surely, his was of a better kind than the nonsense which goes by that name now) would ever be desired to fill any empty space. The fathers are mature, and will tell you that they have known (and still know) the blessed Lord as Him that is from the beginning. It will be said that this class is rare, and that one may travel far without meeting a father. This is true, but God would have His children matured here, and growing really in the knowledge of the Lord in such a way that He becomes everything to them, and that all the rest is felt to be worth nothing.
The young men have overcome the wicked one. It is well to know that the enemy is less strong than the men of the family of God. It is never a wise thing to underrate the power of the enemy, and I recollect its being said that the secret of Napoleon's success consisted in his estimating aright the force opposed to him. The wicked one is strong, no doubt, and there is no force that is stronger, save that of the "mightier armed man" who despoiled him in the very first encounter. The devil could not stand against Christ, nor can he stand against those in whom Christ has been formed by the Holy Ghost. There is a certain development in the young men, who have the consciousness of having overcome (and of still over-coming) the wicked one. The enemy cannot stand before them.
We shall say no more of them until we consider the detail of their character in what follows.
The little children (or babes) have known the Father. It is very important to see that the very first thing that characterises a babe is that he knows the Father. In 1 Thessalonians 1:1, the first thing realised by these simple and bright Christians was the knowledge of the Father. It is the Christian revelation, and these young believers (newly converted) had much to learn, no doubt; but they were "in God the Father," in the sense of being surrounded by His care on all sides. A young child begins to distinguish his father from other men (probably the first great abstraction that he makes), and to call him by a name implying paternity, and it is so in the case of the babes - they know the Father, and this is the true beginning of the Christian position upon earth.
They have much to learn; they are not yet mature, they are just beginning, but the knowledge of the Father characterises the very beginning of their course, and our Lord's blessed words to His own, before He ascended unto His Father and their Father, apply as much to the babes as to the rest of the family of God.
Having briefly noticed these three grand divisions, we may leave the further explanation of the apostle till another time.
1 John 2:14-17
Nothing further is said of the fathers but that they have known* Him that is from the beginning. Christ is all for them, and they have arrived at that state of maturity where the world's true worth is known, that is, as being equal to zero, and their hearts have known, and still know, the all-sufficiency of Christ.
The young men are strong, and the word of God abides in them, and they have overcome* the wicked one. The world is still the same as when Cain built his city without God, and the danger in this case is being seduced by it; for though the evil one has been overcome, and the power of God's word has thus made itself felt, yet the attractions of the great system remain, and may turn aside the heart from the Lord.
*It has often been explained that the state produced continues: the fathers have known, and they know still. They do not cease to know Him who is from the beginning. It is so with the young men; they have overcome, and still are overcoming, the wicked one.
The world is not unlike some huge co-operative store, where you may buy anything you please; the "Vanity Fair" of John Bunyan, a kind of standing fair, where the prince of this world displays his wares, taking care to make the whole thing as pleasing as possible to the senses. (I have heard that in the great gambling centres, such as Monte Carlo, music is provided gratis.) The danger would be for the young men to be led astray by the beauties of this "cosmos," or ornate system. The Holy Ghost, however, shows here its true moral character, hidden under its blaze of glittering products - "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." There are snakes hidden beneath the grass; and where all appears to be so bright and flourishing, the lust and pride of man's heart are developed and encouraged by the Tempter. What could there be in common with the Father in all this? Nay, there is nothing but antagonism to His will. His love is known to His children; and notice, again, that obedience goes with it. The world and its lust pass away, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
What a contrast between the whole history of this world, which passes away like the colours in a dissolving view, as deep eternal realities take their place, and the abiding portion of God's obedient children becomes more defined. In that which is transitory, let us learn the value of that which is eternal!
The little children, or babes, have a much longer portion of the letter addressed to them than the fathers and the young men. It is well to notice that they have all that which properly characterizes a Christian, that is the knowledge of the Father, and the unction (the Holy Ghost) from the Holy One, and thus they have no need to go to any worldly sources of knowledge. It does not mean, when it is said that they know all things, that they have no progress to make, but that God has given them His Spirit, who shall certainly lead them into all the truth.
The "last hour," of verse 18, has very often been explained, and it is a great mercy for us that the Apostle John was allowed to remain upon earth until all the characteristics of the last apostacy (to be matured in time) had begun to show themselves. No doubt the Antichrist will be revealed in his time, but there are already many antichrists, that is to say, many who are imbued with the spirit of exalting man (the first man), and deifying him. I have seen such sentiments as the following by those who are supposed to be the "leaders of thought" in this enlightened century, that is, that man's great object should be to get all he can out of this planet where he is living (without God, of course): and further still, that the God so long sought for, is man himself!
This will all end with the pretentious man of sin who will exalt himself against all that is called God, or is an object of veneration; but in the meantime the spirit of Antichrist is here, and is really the spirit of the age. The babes, however, have nothing to fear; no multiplicity of antichrists need astonish them, and the safeguard given to them is that no lie is of the truth.
The Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son, and that Jesus is the Christ. Now these are atrocious falsehoods, and the faithful in the last days will be kept from believing them. In the meantime, as evil ripens and the spirit of falsehood becomes more general, the sure refuge of the babes is that what they had heard from the beginning should abide in them; so should they abide, in the true communion, in the Son and in the Father. They will not be deceived by any one speaking of the "universal fatherhood" of God, or anything of the kind; for they will not be satisfied at anything short of the true confession of the Son: "whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father."
The path of the babes is simple, for God has given them an unction by which their spiritual sense has been quickened, so as to discern the truth as to the person of the Son, and in Him to know the Father. The three persons of the blessed Trinity are thus known, even to the babes; and as they thus know the one true God fully revealed, they are taught by the unction abiding in them to distinguish between truth and all the wicked assertions of the father of lies. They are taught, too, to abide in the Son and in the Father in bright and happy communion.
With this they need not go to the Antichrist's school to learn any new theology; they are happy and quiet in the truth.
1 John 2:28 - 3:3
The twenty-eighth verse of the second chapter applies to all Christians. The "children" compose the whole family of God upon earth. The earnest desire of the apostle was that the full effect of his ministry might be known in their abiding in Christ, so that those who had taught them (the apostles) should not be driven out of the Master's presence, as bad workmen,* at His coming. It has been remarked that we have a very striking instance, in what follows, of the manner in which John writes by the Holy Ghost, that is, of the abstract view taken of the divine nature. The twenty-eighth verse alludes clearly to Christ's coming, whereas the twenty-ninth speaks of being begotten of God; one rims into another. No Christian need fear the word abstraction. I recollect one, no longer with us, saying that to understand the New Testament, this faculty was necessary. It is a divinely-given faculty in the things of God; so that the simplest may contemplate the moral beauties of the nature, whether in Christ, or in His own, quite separately from anything else.
*The expression bears this meaning; that is, of bad workmen, driven out of their employer's presence as inefficient. There is the thought of being driven from before the Master's face - not merely the confusion of the workmen, but His disapprobation of their bad work.
And now comes a very precious part of the Epistle, where attention is called to the greatness of the Father's love, that we should be called the children of God. We are invited to contemplate it. The world knows nothing of this, nor can it know the children of God. It did not know the Son of the Father, when He was here, and there could be no greater antagonism than that which exists between the Father's heart and the spirit of the world. It knew Him not, and to say that our Lord's blessed communion with the Father was manifested to the world, would be to make an egregious mistake.
The children of God have nothing in common with the world; they are unknown. I have often experienced the lonely feeling peculiar to being in some little foreign village, where I had nothing whatever in common with the inhabitants; and this, on a small scale, gives us an illustration of Christians living in the midst of those who do not know them. They are known, of course, as men, as neighbours, as employed in one way or another, but they cannot be known as children of God; and though it be blessedly true that they should be known as being very different to their neighbours, yet the world can never know them as loved of the Father, in their true character as new creatures, and in all the blessed relationship to the Father, and position of children of God. We belong to an order of things that is quite outside the world.
Now are we the children of God, and though we feel all the pressure of the world, and the need of constant dependence upon Him who has called us, as we follow our rejected Lord, yet we have already the blessed liberty of children, knowing the Father's love, which more than repays us for the isolation we feel in the midst of this ungodly world, where our Lord was crucified. We are immensely happier than the world, and a hundred times repaid, even now, for the scorn and reproach (the little we meet of it) of those who know us not because they knew Him not. May we feel more and more our place of rejection here, and our absolute dependence.
It has not been yet manifested what we shall be. I recollect, in Switzerland, some worldly people coarsely deriding a Christian who was a cripple, and the poor man's reply, as they said to him, "A fine son of God art thou!" "Wait," said the child of God; "ere long I shall come forth in power and splendour, wearing the image of the glorious Christ. I shall be glorious in that day, when the sons of God shall be revealed; and you will not mock then! Beware, lest that day overtake you in your scoffing!"
Notice that here (in 1 John 3) it is the children of God; a term expressing the Father's love, and our dependent position in a world where Christ was rejected.
If He be manifested, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. This is our most blessed hope, and the full accomplishment of our Lord's prayer in John 17. Everything might fail us here; but the blessed prospect of being like Him, and of seeing Him as He is, can never fail; and the more we have this hope before us, this hope in Him, the more do we practically purify ourselves from all that is not according to Him. In the sense of having much more to learn of His purity, whose robes are whiter than snow, we have still to purify ourselves; and the more we see the beauty of His absolute holiness, the more do we feel that we have much to do in the work of practical purification.
Soon we shall walk with Him in white, in those courts of the Father's house where no shade can enter, and no spot defile our robes. In the meantime, may this bright and blessed hope be so before us that we may judge everything that is not according to Him!
1 John 3:4-12
And now comes the absolutely righteous character of that which is born of God.
It is a great mercy for us to have the reciprocal sentence at the end of the fourth verse, "Sin is lawlessness." It may be said in this case, too, "Lawlessness is sin." It is not, as translated, "Sin is the transgression of the law"; but it is the unbridled will which is not subject to any restraint.
I suppose that there can be no doubt that the lawless and ambitious will of the "anointed cherub" in Ezekiel 28:14, et seq., was sin, nor that he, after his fall, brought it into this world. This contrast between this, and Him who was manifested to take away our sins, is complete. It might be well to compare the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, where the Son, perfect and always absolutely the same, is presented in all the moral glory of His obedience in contrast with Satan, who abode not in the truth.
Notice the use of the perfect at the end of the sixth verse.*
*"Perfect; but 'has not seen nor known Him' implies the continuously present state of not seeing nor knowing: so that with these words the English gives the sense of the Greek perfect."
Righteousness characterises those who have been begotten of God, and it is very remarkable and blessed, in that which follows, that righteousness and, love are so connected, I might say blended, that there can be no separating them in the children of God.
We shall be obliged, I think, to look again at the twenty-eighth of Ezekiel in order to understand the expression, "from the beginning the devil sins."
He that practises righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. Practising righteousness is answering to all the different relations and responsibilities in which we are found.*
*Notice that this goes much further than barely paying taxes, tradesmen, and using just weights, etc.; it is the responding to all moral relationships and duties.
He that practises sin is of the devil; I suppose that the beginning here in the eighth verse refers to the first occurrence of iniquity, "till iniquity was found in thee." (Ezekiel 28:15.) Again, in John 8:44, our Lord says to the unbelieving Jews, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." I think that this will suffice to show what is meant here by the beginning. Sin, which is lawlessness, began at a certain moment; it is not for us to go beyond what the word of God says of it, and the passage in Ezekiel is enough.
The Eastern Church (as it is called) wasted much time and blood in disputing about the entry of evil into the universe. Milton has some very highly imaginative allusions to it. I believe that all this would lead us astray, and that we have the Scriptures to keep us aright in this, as in everything else. Sin (lawlessness) has entered into the world; its votaries are of the devil, who sins from the beginning. "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom because of thy brightness."
But now comes the clearest possible distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil. The ninth verse speaks, as indeed does the whole epistle, abstractly of the nature received from God. God's seed abides in him who has been begotten of him, and He cannot sin. This must not be confounded with chapter 1:8-10. In this are manifest the children of God and the children of the devil; righteousness and love on the one hand, unrighteousness and hatred on the other.
I recollect, some time ago, in a small town in France, some one telling me that it was not easy for any one to distinguish between true believers and mere professors in the place. It was a bright day in July, and the deep black shade of the roofs was well-defined along the middle of the street. "Tell me," said I, "is it necessary to attempt to draw a line here, along the edge of the shadow?" "Oh, no!" "Then, if this line of demarcation be so clear, assuredly that one which divides saints from sinners should be clearer."
The children of God and the children of the devil are manifest in this; that is, the question of righteousness and love draws the distinct line. All is shadow on the one side, and all is sunshine on the other (to follow my illustration).
Righteousness and love go together, and when the "beginning" is referred to in verse 11, we understand at once that it is a very different beginning from that of verse 8. It is rather the "beginning" mentioned in the first chapter of this epistle.
Righteousness and love cannot be separated, and we have a very remarkable instance of the contrast of the two classes just mentioned, seen in the very beginning of history. Here is an ancient story, full of meaning - that of Cain and Abel.
Cain was of the wicked one, and slew his brother. Hatred came out, in this first-born of Adam's race, against the one who was of God. It would be very interesting to compare other accounts of this atrocious murder, and what led to it, with the brief one given to us here. It is evident, from the fourth of Genesis and eleventh of Hebrews, that Abel had God's mind as to the gift he should offer, and approached Him in a right way, through the death of a victim. We learn something more here, for in John's epistle it is a question of the nature that is of God. Cain killed his brother, because his own works were wicked, and Abel's righteous.
It is a very striking example, occurring at the very beginning of all history, and brings vividly before our minds two grand classes, the children of God and the children of the devil. If we remember that righteousness and love characterize the first of these, we may leave the rest of the passage for another time. It will be seen that righteousness, love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit are the three great facts that are seen in the family of God here on earth. May it be given to us to pursue this blessed study with hearts subject to the Lord, and desirous of knowing the true value of this part of His Word.
1 John 3:13-24
We must not be astonished if the world hate us. Righteousness and love go together in this remarkable passage, and Cain, unrighteous and hating his brother, is the moral representative of the world; he really founded the world, and gave its true character to it.* The passage from death to life implies an immense transition; love in the place of hatred and murder, righteousness in the place of injustice. Hatred and murder go together, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him; what could there be in common with the Father and Son, in the heart of a murderer? Notice the line of demarcation drawn here between the "brethren" and the world.
*The great feature of Cain's town is that God was carefully excluded; one remembers, with a shudder, the speech made by a leading man in France, not long ago, . . . "That they had driven God over the Rhine," i.e. out of the country. This is the world.
But now the active character of divine love is presented to us, and we have an objective knowledge of it. We have known (and know) love, because He has laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. The proof of His love was seen in His laying down His life (as in John 15); and the proof of our love to the brethren will be seen in our conduct towards them. We ought to lay down our lives for them.
Then a very simple example is given; of helping a poor brother. It is a bond fide case of need, and some one who has means to help; love makes itself known by giving material help to the needy man. "Let us not love with word, nor with tongue"; it would not be divine love to dismiss the poor brother with a blessing (I mean a verbal one, so well known) and the latest improved tract, but there is real giving, material help.
This introduces the interesting question of the state of heart. A Christian's heart could not be at rest if he had sent away a needy brother, as in the above example. There are two things which compose the moral nature of man, conscience and heart; and I think that in this case the heart is alluded to as being, in a certain sense, higher than the conscience. I mean that it might be said in this case that one was not bound to help the man, that one must be careful of one's money and so on; but although the conscience might not be reached, yet the heart would accuse, and the image of the forlorn brother, sent away without help, would constantly appear before it. The divine affections are very precious, and the exhortation here is to the end that they may be in exercise. It is a question of free and happy communion; if our heart condemn us, we cannot possibly be in the full enjoyment of happy intercourse with God, who is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
It is in the practice of righteousness and love, that true communion is known; and if our heart does not condemn us, we have boldness * towards God. There is that sense of His approval, that one goes forward without any hesitation. Then there is the answer given to prayer; whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do that which pleases Him. (Compare John 8:29, 15:10.) It has been well said that all true prayer comes down from above before it goes up again; that is, that all true requests for the glory of God will have been formed in communion with Him. Obedience and a happy walk in pleasing Him accompany such petitions as go up, and are granted at once. There will be no prayer when we shall have arrived in the glory; but we pray now as we meet with countless obstacles, and with the power of the enemy, and our prayers are heard as we walk in obedience and true Christian liberty.
*This is a remarkable word, and I think is always associated with true Christian liberty; I mean happy freedom in God's presence, the very opposite to legality. See, for instance, Hebrews 10:19, 3:6; 1 John 2:28, and 5:14.
And now we will very briefly notice the fact of the gift of the Holy Spirit; for there are three things which characterize the Christian in this passage - righteousness, love, and the Holy Spirit.
In verses twenty-three and twenty-four we have two views of the Christian state: one external - the commandment, "that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and that we love one another, even as He gave us commandment." I mean, by external, that we have here the true faith and love of the children of God; the two things (faith and love) can never be separated.
The second fact is internal, in the sense of the inner operation of the Spirit given to us; the intimate condition of the man is seen. "He that keeps His commandment abides in Him, and He in him: and hereby we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given to us." In speaking of what is internal, I mean that we have not here merely the outward dependent conduct, faith and love of a believer, blessed though this subject be, but we see the inner state, the Holy Spirit given, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, and the sense of His presence by the blessed indwelling of the Spirit Himself.
This completes the picture of the family of God on the earth; and the three things which are here brought into prominence (and which we have studied in these two last papers) are righteousness, love, and the Holy Ghost. We may well take heed to what the Spirit teaches us as to the divine nature of the children of God.
1 John 4:1-6
"Prove the spirits!" is now the exhortation; for since the Holy Spirit was given, the enemy has tried in many ways to imitate His power and action, and it is necessary to put everything to the proof. One must not believe every spirit; and, as we have often noticed, the false prophets are always more popular than the true ones. There were many prophets of Baal in the time of Elijah, and many are now gone out into the world.
The test is very simple; every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God. There is one thing that will manifest the true character of every spirit, and that is the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ come in flesh. The real and perfect manhood of the Saviour, when the Word had become flesh, is brought before us here: there had been a new beginning in the ways of God when the Eternal Son became flesh, and this perfectly obedient Man, who fully accomplished the Father's will, is a test for the evil spirits. Their very system depends upon their not recognizing Jesus Christ come in flesh; for were they to do this, they must recognize Him to whom all authority has been confided, and their own independent position must fall.
Happy they who study with reverence the perfect manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ; who have received by the Holy Spirit, the wonderful, unfathomable glory of the incarnation, and confess Him, the perfect Man full of divine grace. We must not be astonished if He be the point of attack; nor must we be dismayed at hearing that to ignore Jesus Christ come in flesh is the power of the antichrist, which is already in the world.
The power of the antichrist would deny the fall of man, and the necessity of a "beginning" that is the manifestation of light and love in a Man quite different to all the sons of Adam. The antichrist's principle is to exalt unregenerate man, and to place him on such a pinnacle that the vertigo must cause him ignominiously to fall;* it was already in the world in John's time, and now as we draw near to the end of the history of the age, it becomes more and more manifest to us that the enemy has succeeded in leading away the mass of Christendom in this direction - that is, where the first man is indulged, and the blessed Jesus ignored. Judgment swift and sure shall fall on the antichrist; how art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! But the important thing for us is to be able to discern and to keep clear of the spirit of the age, wherever it may appear; and for this we have a sure and simple test, the blessed Lord Himself, Jesus Christ come in flesh.
*I recollect seeing in a Review, that men would soon find out that the god they had been looking for so long was man himself! So they will, no doubt, and in a very terrible way.
The "children" are stronger than they who are of the world, because He that is in them is greater than he that is in the world; the power of God is there by the Holy Ghost's presence, and is superior to that of the restless, remorseless spirit who is in the world. It is very interesting to compare the end of John's gospel with that of the first epistle, and to notice the immense consequences flowing from the presence of the Holy Spirit - what a true remedy for worldliness (that is, the spirit of this age)! These poor, weak creatures (as the world would say) are yet superior to all the world's power.
"We are of God!" God sent out His apostles, and with so definite a message that the reception or rejection of it would at once stamp those that heard it as being in the truth or in error. God has been pleased to use men to carry forth His missive in such a way that there is the positive character "of God" or "not of God" brought out in their simply delivering it.
Before John says "we are of God" he gives us to understand that the world will listen to those who speak according to its own (antichristian) principles. The finest discourses on philanthropy, morals, and political economy are probably going on at this very moment; they would not be bad in themselves were not God and Christ carefully excluded from them. St. John himself would be classed amongst the exclusive and narrow-minded by many a philanthropist, not because he hated men (for he loved them), but because he insisted upon there being no blessing but in Christ. Certainly the world will not listen to you if you insist upon the excellency of Jesus, and the utter ruin and evil of Cain and his company; and I believe that many philanthropists would still be glad of John's being sent to Patmos. "It is the best place for him," they would say. May we listen to God's inspired apostles, and be kept from antichristian snares by knowing more and more of the divine virtues and excellence of Jesus Christ come in flesh!
1 John 4:7-19
The great subject of all John's writings now comes before us; I mean, Divine love. The Divine nature is known in its exercise; and here again it has been manifested, as to us, in the gift of the Son. It has been well said that God's love is absolute, but has been shown forth, with regard to us, in the sending of the Son. There was no love in us toward God when the Son was sent; the love was His, and the manifestation of it made by the sending of the only begotten Son into the world.
There are two things as to us:
1. We were dead;
2. We were guilty;
and there is the Divine answer to all our need, for the first thing we read is that the Son was sent that we might live through Him. We were dead until then; and the passage from death to life was accomplished in this way - through Him. Many passages in the Gospel of John come to our minds, no doubt, in speaking of life. God's thought of love, His intention with regard to us, was that we, who had no life in us, should live; that we should pass from the frigid zone of death into that one where all is peace, joy, light in the warmth of the Divine Presence. This was accomplished through the gift of the Son.
But, secondly, we were guilty; we had many sins to our account, and we felt when awakened, not as a mere formula, "the burden of them is intolerable." God, who loved us before ever we loved Him, gave His Son a propitiation for our sins; the precious blood has met all our guilt, and all our faults and transgressions have been put away for ever.
We ought to love one another; it is a debt that we should constantly be paying. If God has so loved us, we owe to one another to love, as being born of God. The debt will never be paid off, but we owe this (though no other kind of debt should be contracted) to love one another.
In the next verses another aspect of Divine love is to be noticed; that is, as perfected in us. The similarity between the first clause of verse 12 and the 18th verse of John 1 has been spoken of. The two verses, however, end differently, and we should compare them. There it is - "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him"; here it is - "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." In a word, the meaning is this - that if Divine love is now to be seen, it is in the family of God upon earth that it can be known. It is perfectly true that here we have sadly failed, but the truth is none the less important.
Notice that, in verse 13, the expression is not the same as that in the 24th verse of the third chapter; there it is - "We know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us"; whilst here it is said that we know that we abide in Him; and in connection with this knowledge, it is also said that He has given to us of His Spirit. That is, what we have here is partitive, and implies full communion; we have not only a Divine nature, but we partake of one communion, having the same blessed objects, the Father and Son, and it is thus in God's family that His love is perfected. I would call especial attention to this expression "of His Spirit" as implying communion; we know that we abide in Him. Then there is the active and blessed testimony that goes out to all around us: we have seen, and testify, that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world. I think that the first time we find the words, "Saviour of the world," is in John 4:42, and it is very interesting to look at this, for it expresses the love of God in so general and evangelic a way that we take courage, as we feel it and announce it, in our words and ways, to all those who surround us.
But there is a third aspect of divine love. It has been perfected with us (verse 17), and this should not be confounded with what has preceded.
Notice in the 15th and 16th verses that the blessings of "life" do not belong merely to apostles or advanced Christians, but to whomsoever "shall confess," etc. These two verses are very important, as expressing God's presence in us, and our communion.
The third aspect of God's love is that in which it is seen as accompanying us the whole length of our course of testimony; it is with us the whole time, from our first acquaintance with it until the end of our service. It has been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; we are as He is in this world. There can be no fear or doubt, when we know that we are fully accepted in Him who shall judge both quick and dead, and that the One who shall sit supreme at His tribunal is our own blessed Saviour, whose goodness has followed us all the way of our life. There can be no room for fear; perfect love casts out fear, and we go on in simple trust in the God who loved us, when there was nothing in us to draw out His love. We are living, and living in communion with Him; bearing testimony, at the same time, in an ungrateful world, but with the sense of His love perfected with us, surrounding us until the judgment seat of Christ. Blessed and holy liberty! His service is perfect freedom.
Notice that God's righteousness is not in any way set aside; there shall be a just judgment of all and everything; only we have full assurance (boldness) in the day of judgment.
May we walk as those who have been made perfect in love, as serving the God of love! We love Him, because He first loved us.
1 John 4:20; 1 John 5:1-5.
There is another test applied at the beginning of this passage, for it is an easy thing to say that one loves God; but the proof of it will be seen in the love shown to one's brother.
It is a happy thing in the present day, when so much is said about loving God, to have the simple tests given to us in John's Epistle. John, by the Holy Spirit, will be satisfied with nothing but the real, true divine life; no mere profession or declaration will suffice, the genuine metal only will stand the test. Thus John's Epistle, if it be the most abstract, is at the same time the most practical; there must be the testing of all that claims to be the divine life. In this case it is very simple, it is divine love showing itself in action to visible brethren here. One need not be astonished that this heartless world sent such a teacher to Patmos.
Again, I think we should notice the importance of the commandment (verse 21) amongst Christians, for another apostle found in practice that the more he loved, the less he was loved.
And now comes a very important part of the epistle; we may notice two things, not to be confounded, in the first part of the fifth chapter (that is, in verses 1-5).
1. What "begotten of God" means.
2. The victory over the world.
1. The first verse begins with the well-known characteristic phrase in John's writings - "Every one that believes, etc.," "Every one that loves, etc." There has been a work of God in the soul of the believer; it is hard, no doubt, for man to admit that all good comes from God, and that He alone begins the good work in us. Yet, so it is; and when there is a simple faith in the person of Jesus (believing that Jesus is the Christ), there has been a profound operation in the soul. One begotten of God loves Him who has begotten him; and loves, too, all those who are thus born of God.
I suppose we can all remember the first feelings of love to those who are born of God; I can recollect a distinct feeling of hatred to Christians, and the change when the very ones that I had disliked became dear to me. But how do we know that we love God's children? Here again we have one of the tests, which make everything plain. It is by obedience that we know that we love the children of God: "When we love God and keep His commandments." This, again, is of great importance, for we often hear that love is wanting (it is too true), and that we ought to have wider principles, and seek to go with all who profess themselves Christians, in a broad and liberal way. All this specious liberality is worth nothing, for there can be no real love but in obedience; and it would be no love to identify ourselves with what is not according to God's commandments, on the plea of large-heartedness.
Painful as it may be, we may be obliged sometimes, out of very love, to steer clear of what may seem very plausible, and of many enterprises in which Christians are engaged. This may seem very narrow, but obedience is better than sacrifices. Again, please to observe that these plausible theories of love (or, rather, indulgence) will not stand the test of God's word, any more than the enterprises to which I have alluded will receive His approval.
This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous. It is not a heavy yoke lying upon a stiff unsubject neck, but a new nature that obeys from an inner principle of joyful submission to the divine will; His commandments are not heavy and arbitrary; it is not service of the kind of brick-making under the Pharaohs, but a delightful path to one born of God, the path trodden by Jesus Himself, the path of obedience to Him whom we love because He first loved us.
May we know it more and more!
2. But now comes the second part of our subject; the victory over the world by the supreme Object of faith, Jesus, the Son of God.
Notice now, in verse 5, that it is not said of the victor merely that he believes that Jesus is the Christ, but that he believes that He is the Son of God. The victory over the world is a moral victory, but to be really superior to all the influences of this huge Vanity Fair, we need to be walking by faith in One who is supreme, whose glory eclipses all that the world can offer, and whose power is at our disposal. Our faith must be in exercise, if we are really to overcome the world, and so the fourth verse teaches us.
We might notice, I think, as an illustration of this passage, the well-known account of Peter's walking on the water, in Matthew 14. All depended upon the supreme power of Him who walked upon the water, and when at length the disciples received Him into the ship, they said, as they worshipped Him, "Of a truth Thou art the Son of God!" To overcome all the contrary influences of the world - to walk upon the water - all this required faith in the Son of God.
Another passage, too, might help us here; the ninth of John, where the blind man was given to see the glory of the Son of God, and to worship Him and follow Him outside the power of the hostile Sanhedrim. I wish to notice that, on both of these occasions, our Lord is presented to us as Son of God; and it is in this aspect that He is presented to us here as being the supreme Object of our faith.
It is very interesting, thus to compare the first verse with the fifth of this chapter: in the first instance, we have the fact of being begotten of God, and love towards all those who form part of the divine family; in the second, a further development of the Christian position and superiority over the world. A believer sees and knows by faith the Son of God, who has overcome the world, and whose power and glory are infinitely above all that is visible; neither the menaces of Satan on the one hand, nor his attractions on the other, can turn him aside from the straight path.
If the eye be truly fixed upon Jesus, one can walk upon a boisterous sea; or walk between heaps of treasure, without looking either to the right hand or to the left.
1 John 5:6-12.
"This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus the Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood." (v. 6.)
We must be careful to notice that "He that came" is characteristic, involving our blessed Lord's entire mission and His present position in heaven. It evidently does not refer merely to His birth into the world, but to the entire character of His coming and work.
The reference to John 19 is very clear: it was from the side of a dead Christ that the blood and water flowed. The difference of the order in the gospel and epistle has often been noticed, and is no doubt well understood. In the gospel, the blood precedes the water, expiation being set forth first. It was when the last act of spite had been performed, when the spear had pierced the side, that the full answer of grace came out (expiation and purification) to man.* But in the epistle, the water is mentioned first; and it will be helpful to us to examine this more closely.
*Do we not see in John's gospel man's desperate need more than in any other? In the world even ruffians do not, as a rule, insult their victim's dead body. Henry III. of France, kicked the corpse of the assassinated Guise, but he (Henry) was a very bad man.
There can be no purification for man, but by the death of Christ. There must be an end made to the history of Adam and his sons (the first man), before ever the water can be applied; and the very application of it judges and sets aside all that is of the flesh. To use a bold figure, as the flood washed away the antediluvians (the end of all flesh having come before God), so does the water here answer to man's need, not by any modification of his nature, but by setting him aside in order to bring in a new thing.
But, then, it is perfectly true that we had committed many sins, and that there was need of expiation; and this we find in the blood. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. Here is a perfect answer to the whole state of a child of Adam, and the introduction into that order of things in heaven, where the ascended Christ is now gone; thus we have (through His blessed mission, coming by water and blood), the way by which we are brought into the supreme blessing described in this epistle.
There are three witnesses to the judgment of the first man, and to the fact of life being given to us in the Son.
The Spirit is the third witness, and immediately takes the first rank, though His descent from heaven came later than the event alluded to in John 19. The Spirit is the truth; and the meaning of this reciprocal proposition is that the Holy Ghost descended from a glorified Christ, revealing all that is in Him, setting everything in its true place. The infallible Vicar of Christ has come down to take His place, who said that He was the truth when He was here, and thus everything is fully declared; the world and its prince, man's true state, God's own nature, all is now known by the Holy Spirit.
The witness borne by the Spirit, the water, and the blood, all tends to one point, to that which God testifies concerning His Son; and that no blessing, or life, is to be found in the whole human race that began with Adam and Eve.
We receive the witness of men of "average veracity" in this world; and when two or three independent witnesses concur in any statement, the fact is established. And should we not believe three infallible witnesses, which constitute the "witness of God" here? God hath borne witness concerning His Son, and we are happy to have received it, and to have God's verdict pronounced upon the first man, and to know that all that is ours, as believers, is in the Son now risen and glorified. If the history of the first man is closed, there is infinite blessing in the One who is now at the head of this new family, Himself, the source of all good.
The believer has the witness in himself, for all is made good to him by the Spirit; he who believes not has had the audacity to refuse God's testimony. To make God "a liar" is a terrible thing, and there can be no excuse for those who reject His testimony, whatever may be His work of grace in the believer.
This is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son; it is very blessed to know that it is in Him, and no such expression could be applied to us, nor is there ever any thought of life independently of Him. He that has the Son has life; we enjoy already heavenly things, and not merely security in Him. We shall eat of the tree of life* in the glory, but we have already the power of entering into these privileges and joys, and all is in the Son. He that has not the Son of God has not life; he has no part at all in the happiness and divine realities that are the believer's part. Of course security is implied, and life being in Christ is secure indeed; but we should not make "life" merely a synonym for "security," for while it implies this, it is far more.
*The leaves of the tree shall be for healing of the nations: but we shall eat the fruit of it.
These things were written that we may know (have the consciousness) that we have eternal life. The epistle was written that believers might know and experience the joy and blessedness of the children of God as a present thing; all had been put to the test, and the true character of the divine nature maintained by the inspired writer. The great end of the whole teaching was that the joy of the saints might be full in the knowledge of the Father and the Son, by the Holy Ghost. May it be so for us; and may we enter more and more into the conscious delight of having life in the Son. May He be the true Object of our hearts and lives, and may we not hinder the blessed work of God in us, by His Spirit, of leading us into all truth!
1 John 5:13-21.
There is boldness in the presence of the God who has given us eternal life in His Son. This follows at once upon the statement that the epistle had been written that believers might know that they had eternal life; and it is clear that it is not any mere dogma, but that those who have it, have liberty and confidence in the presence of the God who is love.
"Boldness," or full confidence, is an expression to be remarked. If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us; and then we know that we have the petitions we have asked, if we know that He hears us. It is not said that the answer will be given quite as we expected; but we know that the petition has gone in, and will certainly be answered. It has been well said that all true prayer comes down first from above, because the desire to see Christ glorified is formed in His presence, and goes up again in the form of a true petition.
I suppose that it was according to God's mind that Paul should go to Rome; he had often prayed for it (Romans 1:10), if it were God's will, and I have no doubt that the request was granted, though not quite in the way that the apostle had anticipated it. He probably had no idea, when he was praying (Romans 1:10-12) that he might get to the saints at Rome, and impart to them some spiritual gift, that he would go there bound in chains; but so it was, and at the same time his prayers were answered, and more than answered. It is the same for us, and we feel the need of constant exercise, in the liberty of God's presence, so that we may ask that which is according to His will.
A kind of challenge is then given; a test as to whether we have God's thoughts as to what to ask for. "If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death." It is a question of spiritual discernment; that is, to be able to distinguish whether the person in question has sinned "unto death" or not.
Some sins are such, from their circumstances, as to oblige God to take away the one sinning from the earth, in His righteous government. If the testimony to His name be compromised, so that His glory demands it, He may be obliged to remove such an one from the earth, where it is his privilege to serve the Lord. Of this kind, no doubt, was the case of Ananias and Sapphira; the circumstances of their falsehood aggravated the crime; they lied to the Holy Ghost. Many who bear the name of Christians have, alas! lied since, though not in such a way that demanded the immediate judgment of God. The conduct of the Corinthians at the Lord's Table also called for extreme discipline on His part.
Now in the case where a brother sins "not unto death," a request may be made for him, and it should be answered by his being spared to live, as a privilege, in order to glorify God upon this earth. It is evidently a question of spiritual discernment, for there were cases (of sin unto death) where it would not be according to God's mind to make a request. "All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." I do not think that any particular sin is alluded to, but there are some sins that call for the judgment in question, and others that do not, and we need to have God's mind as to what to. pray for. It has struck me sometimes that the prayer (when an example of prayer is given) is for some one else, not for ourselves.
Then comes the divine nature in verse 18; everyone that is begotten of God does not sin, "but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."
It is interesting to notice that three times it is repeated - "we know."
1. We know that every one, etc. (v. 18.)
2. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.
3. And we know that the Son of God has come, etc. (v. 20.)
The first knowledge (and it is conscious, Christian knowledge) is concerning the absolute holiness of the divine nature.
The second is, that we are of God, and as far as things are at present, the whole world (that ornate system we have so often spoken of) lies in the wicked one.
The third is, "that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding that we should know Him that is true" (this time "know" is objective, we know Him as fully revealed); and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. The deep, abstract character of the epistle has often been remarked - the change from God to Christ, and the presentation of the divine nature in its absolute character.
"He is the true God and eternal life." He is the true God, as in contrast with all idols,* and then there is a further description of the same Person - He is eternal life.
*I have a good note from a student of the Word as to this. "The word alethinos would necessitate the use of the article in this case, "the true God" as opposed to eidoka (see v. 21) as always. Compare J. N. Darby. on the Greek article, page 14: "The true light, in contrast to other false lights."
Our blessed Lord's absolute deity is thus insisted upon; and He is also eternal life, as being Himself the source of all blessing and joy to us. We have all in Him, once dead, now risen, the life-giving, last Adam.
Then comes the exhortation to keep ourselves from the idols. There are many false gods and imitations in this world; many are the attempts of the enemy to lead us astray. I recollect hearing of traders in Mexico deluding the country people, and inducing them to change real gold and precious stones for cut glass and Birmingham jewellery; and surely the enemy with whom we have to do is seeking more than ever to lead God's people astray. But idols are detected when the saint is walking with God.
May the blessed Lord Himself fill our hearts and minds. He is the true God and eternal life. E. L. Bevir.