It would, I am persuaded, be impossible for anyone possessing even in a feeble measure the knowledge of God, to think that anything could enter His creation unknown to Him, or that a thought could spring up in the mind of any intelligent being without His cognition. Every enlightened soul will gladly acknowledge, that from no quarter could the omniscient One be surprised by an enemy. Nothing could possibly be hid from Him, before whom hell is naked, and destruction without a covering. At the same time the faithful heart revolts with horror from the doctrine that would make the holy and righteous God the Author and Inventor of the evil which has ruined His fair creation. Evil could not enter the creation without His knowledge and permission, but He is not the author of it, the devil is that; he abode not in the truth. “He is a liar and the father of it.” And this is just what sin is; it is lawlessness, and lawlessness is departure from the truth, for the truth is the right relation of everything to God, and sin is falsehood and departure from this, and becomes manifested in the lawlessness of the rebel creature.
But although God is not the author of sin, but its Judge, He, for His own wise purposes, allowed it to enter His dominions. He will make it serve Him, and He will get glory to His great and holy name through it, and in the end banish it from His sight forever; and we may be sure enough of this, that were it not destined to serve the purposes of His heart, it could have gained no entrance. But it does serve Him, not willingly, but in spite of the fact that it is an enemy it is made to serve Him, as is every other creature, be that creature good or evil, be it the horrible invention of the wicked mind of angel or of man, or be it the offspring of the goodness of God Himself, everything must serve in the carrying out of the purposes of His love; and in nothing shall the creature be triumphant, for dust must be the serpent’s meat, and every proud spirit must be humbled, and in the end come to learn, in the bitterness of eternal defeat, destruction and death, that all its profound plotting and restless wickedness have only been helping on the end the blessed God had in view from the beginning.
He had His counsels, counsels of eternal love and blessing, and man was the object of them, and whatever He may have brought about by His own power, or whatever He may have allowed the ceaseless activities of the enemy to accomplish, to one end He wrought, and to one end He made everything else to work, and that end was the fulfilment of those counsels of blessing.
To this end He formed the worlds in the beginning, to this end He permitted sin to invade His fair creation, to this end He allowed man to fall under its power, and to this end He undertook to deliver him from his destroyer, the dread author and inventor of all evil. Man became corrupted by sin, fell under the power of the devil, became subject to death, degraded, and dishonoured; yet God had purposed to have him in, sonship before His face, blameless, and holy, and in all His boundless love. He stands scarce an hour in the paradise in which he was placed in the goodness of God ere he becomes a wreck; and like a mighty tree struck by the lightnings of heaven and blasted, he but waits the moment when the withered trunk shall fall into the earth from which he was taken.
But if man was to be in sonship before the face of God, the full revelation of God became a necessity, and also the introduction of another Head for man. If God was to be known by His creature He must of necessity be declared, and He could only be declared by One who knew Him. But where was the creature who could penetrate into the mystery of the Godhead? No one but One who was divine could have declared God, for no other could know Him. If He is to be known He must manifest Himself.
Attributes of God had come to light in the past dispensations, and He made His goodness to pass before Moses, but what He was in His nature remained in obscurity. A divine Person must come forth from that light unapproachable if the heart of God is to be seen and known. This is what has taken place in Christ. He was the Word, that is, the One in whom God has given expression to the thoughts of His heart. This, I suppose, is why the work of creation was His, for in the creation have been displayed the power and divinity of God, so that it is said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” but the manifestation of His power and divinity, though it may leave the idolator without excuse, is not the revelation of His nature; this awaited the moment when the Word would become flesh and dwell among us.
How very blessed it is to see all this! All that God is shines out in the lowly Jesus. He is Emmanuel, God with us. God was in His own world, visible amongst His creatures. There was nothing behind that revelation, nothing still shrouded in darkness, all was come to light in Him who was a “Man of sorrows,” who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, an object of curiosity and wonderment to the fickle crowd that followed Him, but the Son of the living God to those whose eyes received the light, which shone from the Shekinah within, through the veil of His flesh. This revelation is perfect, and the light is truly the light of life. Its beams are life-giving. God was speaking to men in this life of righteousness, holiness, kindness, love, and self-sacrifice. It was not an angelic messenger with a fiery law, the declarator of His just demands, but God Himself in the midst of His devil-deceived, sin-stricken, and afflicted creatures, with all His almighty power commanded by the love of his heart for the salvation of the world. Righteousness was there in the midst of sin, love in the midst of hatred, God in the midst of men, and life in the midst of death. The fullness of the Godhead was there in the body of Jesus. There was nothing lacking. The sullen darkness might refuse to give place to the true light, and might still retain its stubborn sway over the minds of men, but the light has come to abide, and eventually the darkness must disappear.
And the disciples had seen and heard Him. They beheld His glory. They had seen what was peculiar to this Man. They got an insight into the truth of His Person, dignity, and lineage, which lay not upon the surface of His life of flesh. They got to see Him in relation with God—an only Son with a Father. This was not apparent to everyone. It was perceived by the Father’s revelation to His few faithful followers, and there they learned the nature, character, relationships, and love in which eternal life consists. Man is seen by His privileged disciples in the place given Him in divine counsel before the world was. It is true no one was there but Himself, but He was there, and there as Man; neither was He in the actual and perfect condition purposed for man, for He was there in flesh and blood; and as to flesh and blood He was in relationships which were inconsistent with those in which eternal life is found, but this was only that He might be able, through death, to destroy its power, and bring us up out of death into those heavenly relationships in which He was alone in the days of His flesh.
But, as I have been saying, and as we read in the epistle, the disciples behold His glory. Taught of the Father their vision penetrated through the earthly circumstances and relationships of the lowly carpenter’s son, and they saw Him in a relationship with God outside and altogether different from the old order, whether of innocence or of guilt. It was not the beneficent Creator, full of goodness, and His innocent, intelligent creature rejoicing in that goodness, but it was Man in the full light of God, as Son rejoicing in the Father’s love. And everything here was divine. The love wherewith the Father loved Him, was the same holy love which welled forth from His heart to the Father. The relationship was divine, the affections were divine, the nature and life were divine. Everything was of God, and not only of God in the sense that He was the creator of it, as He is the creator of every right relationship and affection, but this was morally, spiritually, and essentially of Himself.
This was the eternal life which the apostles had heard, seen, and handled, and it was into these relationships they were brought, and it was this love that filled their hearts. They tell us, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” I need hardly say, that as to the Father and the Son all this is measureless; there can be no limit in the case of divine Persons; the volume of life must be infinite, and far beyond the comprehension of the creature. In our case it is different; we are but finite creatures, and our part in these wonderful things must be very limited, and even amongst ourselves, as compared with one another, there are different measures of apprehension, but what we apprehend and enter into, and enjoy, is the same thing, we live together in that holy circle of divine love.
It is important, and I would beg my reader to notice, that however great our privileges and blessings are, and they are great indeed, they are never described in such a way as would lead us into the notion that we become deified. Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son JESUS CHRIST. “This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God, and JESUS CHRIST, THY SENT ONE” (John 17). It is God and Man, Father and Son. So that although our blessed Lord has His place as a divine Person in the Godhead, it is in His manhood we have part with Him, and life eternal lies for us in the knowledge of the Father, and His Sent One. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life: (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show [report] unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The desire of the apostle’s heart was that the saints might be brought to participate in those holy relationships and affections, in which they had found their life and enjoyment, and the relationships were those subsisting between the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; so that instead of man being introduced into the Godhead and deified, it is the nature of God brought into manhood in the Person of the Son, of which the saints are made to partake.
What they had heard, seen, and handled, was Christ Himself. In the Son they had seen the Father, and to this revelation nothing could be added. All that God is in love came to light in Him, above all in His death, for by this we perceive love, He laid down His life for us. The veil that concealed Him exists no longer; the death of Jesus was the rending of the veil. When He was upon earth His body was the temple in which God dwelt, and when He died, all that dwelt in His body came out in manifestation. God has told out in that lowly Man of sorrows all the infinite volume of the love of His heart.
Whoever saw the Son saw the Father, and whoever saw the Son saw man in the relationship of Son with the Father, and in this lay eternal life for man. Man has His place in the full light of God, in intimacy with the Father, object of the Father’s love, and this place is the believer’s place in association with the Son. He calls His disciples His brethren, and says, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God;” and John says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
It is the blessed Person in whom all this is seen in perfection who is brought before us in the gospel of John; the light shines there in all its brightness. It shone before the eyes of men in the midst of darkness, and Jesus says, “While ye have the light believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” In the epistle we get the children of light distinguished from those who are of the darkness by the fact that they come out in the moral characteristics of God; the fruit of the light, which is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, is seen in them, and no one else has any right to lay claim to eternal life.
The first four verses of the epistle are introductory. The word of life in the Person of Christ is what is before the writer’s mind—what was from the beginning. We get a beginning in Genesis 1, but not a beginning of anything that was to be eternal. Ruin came in upon that creation, and it seems that everything fell except the elect angels, who were maintained in the power of God. The earth also was prepared for man, and he fell, and once more darkness and chaos (this time moral) set in upon the earth. That was not the beginning for God. The true beginning was the advent of Christ into the world, for in Him was the beginning of everything in a moral sense for God. In Christ, the Creator had entered His own creation, and this necessitated the reconstruction of everything; everything must now be remodelled. “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands: they shall perish, but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” The only thing in creation that undergoes no alteration is the Creator Himself. This blessed Person, Jesus the Son of God, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” shall lift up His voice in a coming day, and say, “Behold I make all things NEW.” The coming of the Creator into His own creation must be the beginning of a new order of things which never existed before. In Jesus the Omnipotent Creator stands revealed in all the fathomless love of His heart in the midst of His creation. This marvellous blaze of holy light cannot be confined to man, though man in Christ be the object of it, but it must affect the whole universe. In the presence of the Son of God come into the world we are face to face with a new beginning, the beginning of everything for God.
The disciples had witnessed this beginning. They had seen the Father effulgent in the Son, they had heard through the lips of Jesus the utterances of infinite and eternal love, they had contemplated His glory, the glory of an only Son with a Father, and their hands had handled of the word of life. It was no spiritual apparition, no chimerical and substanceless shadow, but a real Man in flesh and blood, in whom the Father was fully revealed, and who stood rejoicing in the light of that revelation. And what they had seen and heard they reported to others, that, John says, ye also may have fellowship with us. On their part there was no hoarding up the blessing with selfish care, lest another should partake of it, and their store become less, but knowing the infinite and eternal character of this heavenly inheritance, they would desire the wide world to share in it; for such is the nature of divine love, the more your heart is in the enjoyment of it, the more you long that others should partake in it along with you; and the more you see others brought in to share the blessing, the greater is your joy. And the desire of the apostles, and the object John had in writing these things to the saints was, that they might partake with the apostles in these heavenly relationships and affections, and in this circle of life and blessedness have fullness of joy.
At verse 5 we come to the message. This introduces the thought of responsibility, as the previous part brought before us the greatness of our privilege, therefore it is not the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, but God, the One by whom actions are weighed, and who searches the hearts of His intelligent creatures, and the One who must judge everything that is not in moral accord with Himself, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” This is where our fellowship is, it is in the light where everything is seen just as it really is, naked and opened, where hypocrisy is at an end, for here there is nothing concealed or covered up; where not only every overt act is taken account of, but where every motive of the heart is manifest, and where everything is viewed with relation to God fully revealed. “No darkness at all.” This is the death blow to everything that went before. The pretension of the Jew to be in the light must fall before this tremendous fact. This could not possibly have been said in the put dispensation, for they were characterized by darkness and obscurity; the true light was not then shining. In starlight, however cheering to the heart of the traveller plodding through the darkness, there is a great deal of obscurity, and the face of nature is but dimly discerned, and by the light of the moon many things remain unrevealed, and we are told that there are dark spots even in the sun; but in Him there is NO DARKNESS AT ALL.
And it is in Christ that all this light is, for it is in Him that God has come out of the darkness where He was hidden from the vision of man, hence to be in the light is to have come to Christ and to have believed on Him. The believer on Christ is in the light, but though the light shines today in all its strength the unbeliever abides still in the darkness, therefore if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. There is no possibility of our having fellowship with Him while the light in which He has declared Himself is rejected. Where one wants to walk in the practice of self will, and in the indulgence of the flesh, the light is avoided, and hated; but if such an one profess to have fellowship with Him, it is all a lie, and the truth is not practised; for he that practises truth, comes to the light. Christ, who is the true light, has attraction for him, and his deeds are seen to be the outcome of having to do with God revealed in His Son, instead of having their source in the depraved nature of man.
“But if we walk in the light,” that is, as those whose consciences and hearts are under the power and influence of Christ, “we have fellowship with one another.” God is in the light, that is, manifested in Christ, and it is in the light this fellowship is enjoyed, for it is in the light all true believers are, and it is there we have everything in common, and we are there in the value of the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from all sin, otherwise the light would be intolerable to us; for no one could be there without discovering his natural sinfulness, and this would be more than we could bear, were it not that we know that the flesh has been brought to an end in the judgment of His cross. But knowing this, the light can be enjoyed, although the truth be in us which gives us to take account of ourselves as God sees us; but whatever we see in ourselves (and we will discover no good in our natural selves), whether it be sin in the flesh, or sin in the act, there is no reason for us to practice self-deception, for the blood is the witness that both have been brought to an end in the unsparing judgment of God.
In the light of God hypocrisy has no place, truth is in the inward parts, and instead of sins being covered up, they are confessed, and God, faithful to the attitude in which He presents Himself to us in this day of grace, and just on account of the blood of Christ which was shed for the remission of sins, forgives us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness; that is, He not only removes from our consciences that which has brought a cloud between our hearts and the face of God, but He enlightens us as to the point of our departure, and the cause of our failure, and He ministers that grace to us which we so much need, so that not only the gross forms of fleshly evil may be judged, but that our natural energy and zeal, which is worse than worthless in the things of God, may be disallowed, and that distrust of ourselves, and prayerful dependence upon Himself, may take the place of every confidence in self; so that the enemy may in future get no point of attack, and the result may be practical righteousness. How good it is to be in His hand, and to know that in all His patient dealings with us His great object is to bring us out in moral suitability to Himself! He abhors sin, and He will teach us to abhor it; it is ruinous to us, but He will deliver us from its dominion, and enable us to avoid it. He loves righteousness, and He works in us by His Holy Spirit, that we also may love and practice it. When He laid hold of us at the first, that we might be for Himself, we were nothing but sinners, and should we say we have not sinned, it would be flagrant rebellion against His word, which declares that all have sinned, and in making the assertion, we would be making Him a liar, and it would be seen that His word was not in us. How dreadful! To what terrible lengths the wickedness of man will carry him.
What we find in the first three verses of chapter 1 was written to the saints that their joy might be full, for nothing could be greater than the wealthy place of privilege opened out to them in those few simple sentences with which the epistle opens. What we have in the rest of the chapter is written that they might not sin. We are placed in relationship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ; we are the brethren of Christ, His Father our Father, and His God our God, our hearts living and delighting in the love of which He is the worthy Object, that our joy might be full; and we are there in the presence of the complete revelation of God where everything in us and pertaining to us, every fibre of our moral and spiritual being, shines perfectly unmasked in the clear and cloudless light of God, where nothing is, or could be unapparent, and there in all the value of the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son, and these things are written to us that we may not sin.
These two things are evidently possible to all believers, fullness of joy, and faultless conduct. Paul says of himself and his fellow-worker Timothy, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10), and I am sure that it is only as our hearts are rejoicing in the love of God, that we shall be able to go through this defiling world without the flesh asserting itself, and resulting in an overt act of sin. It might be thought that the apostle is here speaking of what people call perfection in the flesh, but it is the very opposite of this, for if we “sin not,” it is not because the flesh has become bettered, but it is because we walk in the Spirit, and thus in the refusal of the flesh, knowing all the time that sin is there in us ready to reign in our members, and bring forth fruit unto death. And this knowledge is very useful to us, for it keeps us on our guard; whereas if we got the notion into our minds that we had arrived at a point of sinless perfection, in which there was left no taint or root of sin in us, we would be unconscious of danger, and a heavy fall would most likely be that which would awaken us out of our delusive dream.
But how blessed it is that we are told that if any man do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous! Not by our works was the place we have before the face of God acquired, and not by our conduct is it maintained. Christ secured the place for us, and the maintenance of the place hangs entirely upon Him, and not upon us in any sense whatever. It has often been remarked that the word here translated Advocate, is the same word as that translated Comforter in John’s gospel, the meaning of which is, one who maintains our interests. We have therefore two Advocates, One on earth, and One in heaven; One with us, and One with the Father. The Holy Spirit sees to what concerns us down here, and Christ to what concerns our place with the Father. While Christ was with his disciples upon earth He was their Paraclete (as the word is both in the gospel and in the epistle), for He took entire charge of them in every way, whether as to their relations with God, or as to their testimony upon earth; but when leaving them, He spoke of another Paraclete, who would abide with them forever. Christ had come to them, and had secured their affections, and was now about to leave them behind Him in this hostile world, but the other Paraclete, whom He would send them from the Father, would remain with them, and He would remain with them by dwelling in them. He would also be their Teacher, and would bring back to their minds all that Jesus had said to them; He would also testify of Christ, guide them into all truth, and acquaint their hearts with the things of Christ; the fact is, He was to be everything to them in their need down here. But what concerned them down here was not all their need; they were to have a place outside this world in heaven before the Father’s face, and this place must be secured for them, and not only secured for them, but held on their behalf until the day would arrive in which they would be received into the place in accordance with divine counsel. Jesus has gone within the veil, and won the place for us, and maintains us in the light of God, in accordance with the righteousness and holiness which are characteristic of that place, and by and bye He will come, and receive us to Himself, that where He is we may be also. And as Jesus had been everything to them when here among them, and as He had taken complete charge of them in every way, so that He could say to the Father, “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost” (John 17:12), so would the Holy Spirit take complete charge of them in Christ’s absence. But it is to the Paraclete on high, Jesus Christ the righteous, our attention is drawn in this epistle. He is the propitiation for our sins; for whatever our past history has been, this is no longer in question, neither is it a question of our present practical state, the only question is as to the value of His work and Person who represents us before the Father’s face on high.
He is also the propitiation for the whole world, for it is so great it could not be limited in its bearing toward man; in Him God speaks in grace to all.
From verse 3 to 11 the character of our walk is taken account of as demonstrating the sphere in which our walk is. “By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If God has abounded toward us in grace, in spite of our many sins, it is not to give us a license to go on in sin; and if Christ died for the ungodly, as the witness of the love of God to man, and if God justifies the ungodly in the power of Christ’s precious blood, it is not that we may continue in ungodliness.
The light in which God has come out to man has taken effect upon the hearts of those who are in that light, for if we are in the light, the light is in us, and we know God, and this has a great moral effect upon us. We have also received the Spirit of the righteous One, that we might be led in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake. What is this name? JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS. What an excellent name! He loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; and for His name’s sake He leads us in the paths of righteousness; and in these paths our hearth are maintained in the enjoyment of the light of God. It is always dangerous to build upon a past experience. We need to be going on daily and hourly with God. Where the heart has got away from the Lord and the feet have wandered out of the paths of righteousness, a bold pretension to be in relationship with God is not only utterly unseemly and hypocritical, but dangerous in the extreme, and if it be persisted in, it must result in disaster. He that says, “I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” There were many such in the early days of Christianity, and their number has not decreased during the centuries which have elapsed since then. They were far from keeping Christ’s commandments, yet they mixed up with believers. But the truth was not in them, for had it been in them they would have been characterized by it, and not by falsehood. Jesus says, “He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves Me: and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” The one who keeps His commandments walks in company with Him, and walking thus in company with Him, we know that we know Him.
“But he that keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” His word which is the expression of the thoughts of His heart toward us, who is in His nature love, when it has an abiding place in us, brings the love of God there, so that it becomes the life of our souls, and the spring of all our activities, and by this we know that we are in Him. In keeping His commandments we abide in His love, we are loved of the Father, and Jesus manifests Himself to us, so that we are brought into intimacy with Him, and in this way we know that we know Him, and in keeping His word, the love of God so takes possession of us, and so controls us, and so energises our hearts and minds that the consequence is we dwell in the love of God, it is perfected in us, and we know that we are in him.
But if we take the place of abiding in Him, that is, if we assume to be Christians, we come under the obligation of walking as He walked. How, then, did He walk? He walked in the spirit of self-sacrificing love, from the very beginning of His history down here until its close. Paul tells us to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.” If we keep His word we are certain to do this in some measure, for the issues of life are out of the heart, and where the heart lives in love, love will direct our ways, and with Christ before our eyes as our great model and example we will come out among His own in the blessed features of that self-sacrificing love which so characterized Him. It may be a very high standard for us, but I feel it is a very attractive standard, and it is all the more attractive to us as we learn that it does not come to us in the way of a demand which we have to fulfil in the energy of mere human nature, but as the expression of the will of God for us, and as something which He is both willing and able to accomplish in us, if we are only willing to place ourselves in His hands.
This He tells them was no new commandment, but the old commandment which they had from the beginning. It is what had been set forth in Christ, the word they had heard from the beginning, the love of God to them, which was to take effect in them, and by which they were to be formed, and from which they were to take character. It was the will of God for them that what He is in His nature should be expressed in them. It did not come to them like the legal commandment addressed to the people by Moses, which occupied those who heard it with themselves and their inability to respond to the just demand, but it came to them in the One who was Himself the witness of the love of God to them, and instead of occupying them with themselves and with their shortcomings, it occupied them with God in this wonderful manifestation of His unfathomable love in Christ, and as we draw near, for it attracts so that we draw near, we come under its life-giving power in such a way that we are formed by it, and become imitators of God, and walk as Christ walked. He speaks of it in verse 8 as a new commandment. It was new because divine love was now in the saints; the light of God was now in the saints the pledge that the darkness would surely disappear. When Christ came into the world the new commandment was declared; hitherto it had been pretty much what man ought to be, but when Christ came it was what God is, hence the commandment was new; man must now take character from the revelation of the love of God in Christ. What was “said by them of old time,” was to give place to “children of your Father which is in heaven,” and “be ye imitators of God as dear children.” In this way God gave a new commandment by Christ, in contrast with all that had gone before, and Christ speaks of it in this way (John 13:34), but now the commandment was old, because it had taken a new form and could be spoken of as new because it was not only in Christ, but in the saints, and the word was going out from those in whom that which Christ brought from heaven had taken effect. The saints were now giving the commandment to the world, as they will one day give it to the vast realm of bliss, and that commandment is the light of God in the heart of every intelligent being.
It was therefore plain enough that whatever a man might profess, if he hated his brother he was in darkness, and had never been in the light; for he could not be in the light without the light being in him, and the light being the love of God, every one in the light would love his brother, therefore he says, “he that loves his brother abides in the light”; he does not allow any natural affection to carry him after any one into the sphere of darkness, if this were possible; if he did he would be more a stumbling block to his brother than anything else, and instead of bearing true testimony and becoming a means of light and salvation to others, he would be ministering to their destruction. He abides in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him; for being in the light he is himself luminous, and where anyone stumbles over a light he is without excuse.
I suppose the apostle has the unbelieving Jews before him as those who were in darkness, but pretended to be in the light of God, but whose rejection of Christ proved them to be without the knowledge of God, and that whatever light had been graciously accorded to them in the past dispensation, it had become darkness in them, because they were untrue to it. The Lord says to them, “If the light that is in thee be darkness how great is that darkness?” Had they been true to the light given them of God in the past, they would not have rejected the true light when it came in the person of Christ; had they believed Moses they would have believed Him, but not having believed the writings of Moses, they believed not the words of Christ (John 5:46-47). Unfaithful to the light God had given them, and really hating it, they found darkness more congenial to them, and in the presence of the full light of God in Christ they shrank from it with deadly hostility into a deeper gloom of alienation from God; but alas they knew not whither they were going, for that darkness had blinded their eyes. It is said that fish in the cisterns of the earth, those depths of gloom where no ray of light penetrates, are blind; the organs of sight are there, by which the light might have entered, but the darkness has permanently destroyed the power to take it in, so that when brought into the presence of light, they are unable to see. I suppose a child with the organs of sight perfect, if born and shut up in a dungeon, would in a short time (if life remained, which is doubtful) be unable to receive the light of the sun; and thus the Jew who had light in measure, but who had so perverted it by his hostility to everything that was of God that in him it was nothing but gross darkness, now manifests by his rejection of Christ, that “that darkness has blinded his eyes.” But I am sure that this condition is not confined to the Jew, and therefore it behoves us all to be true to whatever light God has vouchsafed to us, and to seek to walk according to it with a good conscience, in order that when further light is granted, we may not be in the company of those who rebel against it.
In verse 12 the apostle speaks of that which is true of all saints. There are things which are true of some believers which may not be true of others, for all have not arrived at the same state of maturity. The light which has come to us in Christ, and in which we all walk, is perfect, but it has not been apprehended by all in the same measure; there are babes, young men, and fathers: but whatever progress each may have made in the apprehension of the light, or in the knowledge of God, which is much the same thing, one thing is true of all, and true of all in the fullest measure, and that is, their sins are forgiven them for His name’s sake. This is one of the blessings of the new covenant, and it is as true of the babe in Christ as of the father. But while this is true of all, there are different stages of growth to be taken account of, and the apostle classifies them as babes, young men, and fathers, stating what distinguished each class, and setting forth the dangers to which each was exposed.
The fathers knew Him that is from the beginning. Christ has not been the development of anything that went before; instead of that, everything that was brought into existence in the past, was brought into existence to serve to the end which God had in view from the beginning, and the end He had in view was Christ. There has been nothing antecedent to Christ, it was He who set the creative power of God in motion. It was with a view to the bringing in of Christ that the worlds were formed, and it was the Christ who filled the mind and thoughts of God, who guided the activity of His hands, when He laid the foundation of the universe. Christ has not been raised up merely to bring order out of chaos, but the Man of God’s counsels, the Architect, Originator, and Creator of all things, and the One whom to serve everything has been formed, by whom and for whom everything exists, and the One who is eventually to fill all things. If old things must pass away, they will only do so when they have fulfilled their purpose, and when to retain them longer would be to hinder the purpose God had in view from the outset, and that was to bring in a universe of which Christ was to be the Source, Head, and Centre. The earth and heavens, as we see them now, must perish, everything must be altered, and made new, and all that is new will be the work of Christ, and will take character from Him, for He will fill all things.
What we call time is only a kind of parenthesis in the history of eternity, but we have had to do with it, and with a world in rebellion against God, and with darkness and death and sorrow and corruption, and with the power and subtlety of Satan. But when in this dreadful whirlpool of evil the light of the kindness and love of God to man reached us, we found ourselves drawn with a power irresistible out from all the confusion and restless activity of the mind of the fallen creature, to Him who is the Sun and Centre of a new system of things, and we learned that old things had passed away, and all things had become new; but the new things are the eternal things, and all had their existence in the mind of God in Christ before the old came into being. Christ is the beginning of everything that God is now bringing into existence and which is to stand in light and blessing forever.
When God began His work in this creation which has now grown old, He did not begin with man. Adam was the last creature formed. The creation did not derive from him. It existed without him. It did not derive from him, though as far as earth was concerned, he was set over it as head. But the new order of things which will be brought about by the power of God will derive from Christ. It can have no existence apart from Him. At present we have nothing of it but Himself, but He is destined to fill all things, and everything must take character from Him. At present there is nothing of the new order in actual existence. It is all in Himself. He is the Beginning, Head, Centre, and Source of that glorious creation in which God will rest, and in which He will have His eternal satisfaction and pleasure.
And the fathers had known Him that is from the beginning. They were not to be ensnared by the old things. Whatever these might have been, even as God had created them, and at first they had all been very good, they had been brought about to serve the purpose of God, and for the fathers they had already passed away. The new things filled their vision, and these new things were for the moment all contained in the Son of God, and although they were hidden from the natural eye, the fathers had discovered them in the power of the Spirit. They had yet to wait for the moment of display, but in the light of the Son of God the old order had dropped out of their sight, and they were not to be ensnared by it.
The young men were strong. They were in the vigour of life. They had heard the word of God and kept it. No feeling of weakness discouraged them. The enemy in the open field had been put to flight by them. They had overcome the wicked one; he was not able to withstand them. But if he could not meet them in the open field in hand to hand conflict, he had another way of accomplishing their ruin; and the apostle directs their attention to a point, which if left unguarded, might be used by the subtle foe to turn the battle against them, and to heap upon them confusion and overwhelming disaster. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Here was where the young men might fail. In fair fight they were invincible, but the enemy had cunning stratagems, and the world is a subtle snare. It has its attractions for the flesh, and powerful attractions they are, and many strong men have fallen victims to their deadly influences. But the antidote for this is the love of the Father. The Father has a world of His own, a pure world of light and life and righteousness and holy love. The fathers, as we have been seeing, knew something of this world, in knowing Him in whom it is all established and for the moment concealed. It is all of the Father, and in it there is not an element of this world; for all that is in this world is lust and pride, and nothing of these things is of the Father. Therefore he says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. The Son hast; declared the Father’s name to us, that the love wherewith the Father loved the Son might be in us; and if the Father’s love is in us, it is not only that we know it as our portion, but it has taken effect in us, so that it has become the life of our souls, and the consequence is that what the Father delights in is a delight to us, and what is obnoxious to Him is obnoxious to us; and as the world has hated Him and is obnoxious to Him, it cannot be pursued and loved by one in whom the Father’s love is.
Then again the world is passing away and the lust thereof; there is nothing durable. The world is lawless, and its pleasures and riches cannot be durable, for lawlessness cannot be allowed to continue. In the Father’s world the pleasures are for evermore, and the riches are durable, and the reason they are durable is because they are connected with righteousness. In this world the riches are the mammon of unrighteousness; but if you get riches and righteousness connected, you will find they are durable. And therefore the doer of the will of God is put in contrast with the lawless world. The world passes away, but the doer of the will of God abides for eternity. We are told that the darkness is passing away, and the world is passing away; how foolish, therefore, it is for anyone to set his heart upon the things of the world! The old order which has been ruined and corrupted by sin, and which is steeped in darkness, must pass away, and everyone who clings to it must pass away with it; but he who stands firm in separation from it, and in opposition to all its forces, controlled by the will of God, endures forever.
The babes knew the Father. They had the Spirit of sonship. Nothing less than this could be included in Christianity, for, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” All who are Christ’s have His Spirit, and by Him the love of God fills the heart, and in this way He witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God. These may not have known the Father’s world, as the fathers, and, in knowing Him that is from the beginning, neither were they strong like the young men, and able to hold the field in spite of the fierce onslaughts of the wicked one, but they knew the Father, and in abiding in the light of the Father’s love, they would in a little while arrive at maturity. They are informed that it is the last time, or hour. An hour with John is a period of time, characterized by a certain event, which may be good or evil. He speaks in the gospel of the hour of life-giving (John 5:25), of resurrection (5:28), of the hour being come for His glorification (12:23), of a woman’s hour being come when she is in travail (16:21), and here he says it is the last hour. There was nothing more to be waited for except the coming of Christ, for the evil had been now fully developed; the antichrists were present. When the antichrist comes, it will not be any fresh development, for already there had come many antichrists, and by this, he says, we know it is the last hour. When the antichrist himself comes, there will be no room for the many antichrists, but as he is to be the great masterpiece of Satan, and the end to which all the activities of the devil tend, he has today many of the same kind though of less spiritual power. This is what proves the last hour to have come, because when antichrist arises, there is nothing to look for but the appearing of Christ, who shall consume the antichrist with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming (2 Thess. 2:18). These antichrists had gone out from the apostles, and from those who were standing for the truth, and were causing their hateful influence to be felt where the apostles were not present to withstand them. They did not now acknowledge the apostles, nor the Christ whom they served, though once they had done so, for they had evidently at one time made a profession of faith in Christ. The devil whom they served and whose children they were, had been able to introduce them into the sphere of the profession of Christianity; but now they had gone out on lines of their own, and whatever name they may have given themselves, they denied boldly all that was the truth and life of Christianity. Had they been real believers they would have remained in the fellowship of the apostles, but their apostasy proved they never had part or lot in the matter. They denied Jesus was the Christ, and thus proved themselves liars. They denied the Father and the Son, and thus proved themselves antichrists. But the babes had the unction from the Holy One, and Christ became to them a means by which everything was tested. Jesus must be confessed to be the Christ. This was a very simple test indeed. He who denies Jesus to be the Christ, is a liar; and the babes knew that no lie was of the truth. Nothing that these deceivers said was to be listened to; they were detected and exposed and judged out of their own mouths. They were liars all of them. They were not like people who had never mixed among Christians, nor made any profession of belief in the glad tidings, for, as we have here, they had attached themselves to believers, had been in the Christian assembly, under the power of the ministry of the Spirit, and now they had broken loose from all that was of God, and were spending their energies in denying that Jesus was the Christ, and in denying the Father and the Son. They do not seem to have presented anything as a substitute for Christianity, they spent their time denying the truth. They may have spoken of the Christ, but if they did, they affirmed that Jesus was not He. They may also have spoken of the Father, the boast of the Jew was, “we have one Father, even God,” and it is common enough to hear men speak of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, while denying absolutely the Father and the Son. To confess the Father and the Son, is to admit that the world is in rebellion against God, and that the devil is prince and god of it, and that its judgment is certain, and also that man after the flesh is not in any relationship with God. But whoever denies the Son has not the Father either, whereas he who confesses the Son has the Father also.
They were to let that abide in them which they had heard from the beginning. What they had heard from the beginning was the revelation of God in Christ. It abode in the young men, and they were strong. The apostle desires it for the babes. And if that which they had heard from the beginning abode in them, they would abide in the Son and in the Father. The Father had been declared in the Son, and this had been brought to them in the report of the apostles, and in this lay eternal life for man, for “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Abiding in the Son and in the Father, eternal life, which was promised them, would be realized in their souls; they would be in the enjoyment of the promised blessing.
These things he wrote to them concerning those who seduced them. He would not have them diverted from Christ. The enemy was very busy, but the apostle was watchful, and he is careful to minister support to the weak. He says but little to the fathers in any special way, he has more to say to the young men, but he has most of all to say to the babes. But his confidence was in the anointing which abode in them, and which made them independent of the mind of man. It was their safeguard. It was true and not a lie. It attached them to Christ, and held them in living connection with Him, and built them up in Him. By the anointing they were able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between the voice of the good Shepherd and those strangers who would have led them away into doubt, darkness, and death; and by the teaching they would abide in the Son. The apostles had spoken the word of God to them, and they had believed it, and had received the Spirit that they might come into the benefit of all that was in Christ for them. No man could teach them, neither did they need anyone to teach them, the Spirit of truth was in them, and was quite competent to lead them into all truth, and not only able, but willing. It might be thought that, as God has been pleased to give us teachers, we must surely need them to build us up in the faith, but while this may be true in measure, all that any teacher can do into unfold to us the mind of God in Christ. All that they bring before us must be contained in that which the apostles spoke from the beginning, and which we have now in the scriptures (the saints the apostles writes to had not the scriptures as we have), and if they attempt to teach us something in advance of what was declared from the beginning, we must avoid them. Perhaps we can hardly say that what we have heard from our instructors was what these saints had heard from the apostles, for they had received the testimony of God in all its purity; but it has not been quite so with us, for from our infancy we have been brought up in an atmosphere vitiated with legality, and with theories and fables which are the outcome of the corrupt minds of men. We have to find our way back to that which was announced from the beginning. But we have the anointing as they had, and in the Holy Scriptures we have the record of the apostles’ testimony, and we may count upon God to make the word of His grace good to us.
Verse 27 finishes what he has to say to the babes. The reader may not be aware that the word translated children in chapters 2:13 and 18 is not the same as that translated children in the other parts of the epistle. In verses 13 and 18 the word is better translated “little children,” or “babes.” I have used the word “babes.” In verse 28 he once more addresses all, fathers, young men, and babes, under the term children, and exhorts them to abide in Him, in order that the apostles who had spoken the word to them, and had sought to build them up in the faith, and to disentangle them from this world, and attach their hearts to Christ in heaven, might at the appearing of Christ find in the saints bearing Christ’s likeness, the fruit of their labours, and have a full reward. He speaks in the same way to the elect lady and her children in the second epistle, and Paul also exhorts the Thessalonians after the same manner (1 Thess. 2:19-20; 3; 5:8).
Throughout the epistle the apostle keeps the great subject of eternal life before his own mind and before the minds of those to whom he writes, hence he exhorts them on two very important points. The first is to let that which they had heard from the beginning abide in them. It was to be the nourishment of their souls, and the strength of their hearts. If it abode in them, they would abide in the Son and in the Father, and here they would find eternal life. Second, they were to abide in Him. The enemy used all his energies and all his subtlety to divert them from Christ, and the profession swarmed with antichrists, who if they had given up the profession of Christianity for themselves, the profession was the sphere of their devilish operations. But the anointing taught them, and by His teaching they would abide in Christ in whom eternal life was. These two most important things the apostle brings prominently before them—that which they had heard from the beginning was to abide in them, and they were to abide in the Son.
In verse 29 we come to those born of God, and the sign by which they are known. In the first four verses of the epistle we have the word of life in the Person of Christ declared to us, that we might partake along with the apostles in the heavenly and eternal relationships which are in Christ, and in all the joys which belong to that sphere of unspeakable delights.
At verse 5 we come to the message, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,” giving us to know, that if we have fellowship one with another, it is in the pure unsullied light of the revelation of God, where everything and everyone is unmasked and laid naked and bare in that clear and searching light, but there in the value of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, which gives us a perfect conscience, so that the light might not be intolerable to us, but that we might be at home in it. In the light we do not deceive ourselves, for we know we have sin in us, and we know also that it has been in activity, and that we have sinned in act; and that though we ought not to sin, should we be overtaken in a fault when we have been off our guard, we know that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and that He is the propitiation for our sins, so that our righteousness remains untarnished, for He is it, and the sin is not imputed. Next, our privilege is to keep His commandments, and in this way know that we know Him; to keep His word, and have His love perfected in us, and by this know that we are in Him. Next, our obligation if we claim to abide in Him is to walk as His walked in obedience to God and in love to the brethren. He next states one thing which is true of all to whom he writes, their sins were forgiven them for His name’s sake. All this is in the clear perfect spotless light of God. But as all have not apprehended the light in the same degree he addresses each according to their measure, fathers, young men and babes, specifying the point at which each class had arrived in the growth of their souls and the dangers which beset them, winding up with the exhortation to all to abide in Him.
But in verse 29 we come to the children of light. The light being the revelation of God, to be the children of the light is to be the children of God. The light which came into the world in the Person of the Son of God brought into existence a generation who bear the moral characteristics of God. From this (chap. 2:29) onward to the end of the epistle it is not so much a question of where a man is, as of what he is. It is not, ‘Is he in the light’, or, ‘Is he in the darkness?’ but ‘What is he’? Is he a child of God or a child of the devil? It is not now where a man walks who has eternal life, but who is he who has it. The great distinguishing feature then of one born of God and the thing that marks him out as born of God is, he practices righteousness. He is not only in the light, but he is the fruit of the light, and he walks according to the light. He comes out on earth morally descriptive of the righteous God. The law was holy, just and good, and was the perfect measure of the responsibility of a child of Adam, but under it God was not declared, and man remained in his old relationships as in the flesh. But God has now declared Himself, and in Christ new relationships have been established, and a new and higher order of conduct flows from those new and higher relationships. We are to be imitators of God and to walk according to the example set us by Christ. We are sanctified to His obedience. Our walk is to be in the light of the complete revelation of God, and in the recognition of the new relationships which are ours in Christ, and for this no one has the least power except those born of God. Therefore he says, “If ye know that He is righteous ye know that everyone that does righteousness is born of Him.”
But immediately he speaks of “born of Him” his heart overflows with the infinite wealth of blessing which belongs to this place of privilege which we have in the Father’s love, and he calls upon the saints to contemplate the love bestowed upon us in giving us this place, the place of children of God. The reader may not be aware that the word (τεκνα) here translated sons is more correctly children. John does not speak of sons (νίοί). The Father has bestowed this love upon us. It is the love wherewith He loved the Son. We have His place before the world, and He is in us as our life and nature, and although He has been cast out by this world and put to death, He lives in us in the power of the Spirit, and comes out in moral manifestation in our mortal bodies. What a wonderful calling ours is! And it is the Father in the greatness of His unspeakable love who has saved us, that we may be blameless and harmless, irreproachable children of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation, among whom we appear as lights in the world.
Perhaps my reader may be ready to exclaim, “I am far from this! I am full of failure! This is altogether beyond me!” But I would ask you to consider that it is true of the children of God. These are days of great weakness and failure, and we may be but little exercised, and consequently what is of the mere nature of man gets mixed up with all that is of God in us, and our testimony for Him is marred and hindered; but if we walked more habitually in the judgment of self and in the enjoyment of the love of God, our testimony would be more distinct. But all this was true of the apostles, and it is the mind of God for the least of His own. Throughout the black and dark night of the absence of Christ we are set here to shine for Him.
We may be able to tell little or nothing about those bright luminaries sparkling every night in the blue vault of heaven. Their movements may be watched by us with curiosity and wonderment, or they may have no interest or attraction for us; but there they nightly appear with the gathering gloom, and as long as the darkness continues, maintain their lonely, silent vigil, utterly unaffected by man’s unthankfulness or gratitude. They are there for the benefit of all—evil and good, just and unjust. We had no hand in placing them there, neither are they there by our request. They are not accountable to us for their service, neither would the least one of them alter his orbit the breadth of a hair to please earth’s many millions. They keep the path marked out for them by their Maker, and, from this they swerve not. They are silent spectators of that which transpires upon earth, and whatever influence they may exercise upon it, it is secret and unostentatious, and with its politics and pollutions they do not meddle, neither with the principles by which society is consolidated or convulsed do they interfere. They take no part nor interest in the things with which men engross themselves in forgetfulness of God. They are a heavenly company, and they walk in their several spheres in rigid separation from this world. Their business is to give light upon the earth, and this they do, each according to his measure. Such are the children of God. And the world knows them not, because it knew Him not.
Now are we the children of God. What we shall be has not yet been manifested, but if we have now the place of children in the Father’s love, and Christ’s place before the world, there can be no question as to what we shall be in the day when the Father’s counsels shall be perfected. The day of manifestation has not yet come, but when it does come it will bring to light the sons of God all conformed to the image of Christ, He the First-born among many brethren. Those who are now in the relationship of children in a world hostile to them and partakers with Christ in His rejection and suffering, will in the day of display be seen in the same glory as Himself, and all in bodies glorified like His own. In that day the world will come to the knowledge that the Son was sent by the Father, and that the Father has loved believers as He has loved Christ. We are left here upon earth to bear witness that the Father sent the Son, and if we were all walking in the unity of the Spirit and in the exercise of divine love, the witness would be clear and distinct, and there might be some hope of the world believing the testimony; but the witness has failed and become obscured, and the world has to march on in its unbelief until the day of manifestation comes, and when the saints are displayed before all eyes perfectly conformed, to the Son of God, then the world will (not believe, but) know that the Father sent the Son, and that He has loved us as He has loved Him (John 17:23). But if when He appears we are to appear with Him in glory, we must first of all go to be with Him, before the day of display arrives. He will receive us to Himself before He shows Himself to the world. When the day approaches in which He will take over the kingdoms of this world and make them His own, He will call up the saints dead and living to Himself, that when He appears to the world we may be able to appear with Him. We shall see Him as He is. We shall be at home with Him a little while in the Father’s house before the world shall see Him. The world shall never see Him as He is. It is one thing to see a mighty prince at home in his father’s house in the quiet and in the affections of that home among his brethren, and quite another thing to witness him in the splendour of his power in the field of battle with wrath enthroned upon his brow and his sword bathed in blood. The world shall see Him thus; we shall see Him AS HE IS.
“And every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself even as He is pure.” If the day of the glory of Christ is before our souls and if we know we are to be conformed to His image—if this is the bright hope of our hearts, we will not allow ourselves to be influenced by the spirit of the world. It was the hope of the heart of the apostle Paul, and he steadily pursued it as the goal at which be was to arrive, and by him everything else was esteemed rubbish that he might win Christ. It is then that eternal life will be reached in its fullness, and it is in this way that Paul in his epistles places it before the saints. He speaks of himself as in hope of it; and he speaks of the grace of God, which brings salvation to all men, as teaching us to await the blessed hope. If I have the hope of one day being in the likeness of Christ I shall not accept a lower standard of perfection, and the effect of this will be that even now I will be increasing in moral correspondence with Him.
In these few verses (vv. 1-3) we have first, the Father’s call—children of God. Second, what we shall be—like Him. Third, having this hope in us, we purify ourselves according to that standard. Our present place is children of God in the Father’s love. Our prospect, sons with His Son, having not one fragment of the earthly order about us, and manifested thus to His glory before the eyes of an astonished and admiring world. What marvellous love!
The epistle points out three things which distinguish those who are begotten of God. The first is righteousness (chap. 2:29); the second, love (chap. 4:7); the third, faith (chap. 5:1). In the chapter we are considering (chap. 3), it is righteousness which is presented as the distinguishing feature of one of heavenly origin, in contrast with sin, which marks the children of the devil. Love comes in in the latter half of the chapter, but more as an element of righteousness; the fulfilment of responsibility rather than nature. It is presented much more as nature in chapter 4. Later on in chapter 4 we do get the obligations imposed upon us, on account of being objects of the love of God; but in verse 7 it is nature: “Everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.” But here in chapter 3 it is presented much more in the sense of righteousness.
The apostle tells us in verse 4 that sin is lawlessness; not exactly “transgression of the law” (sin was in the world before law), but lawlessness. It is the state of the creature, broken loose from the authority of God, and walking in the ways of his own heart, regardless of God’s will. Now Christ was manifested to bring this to an end, and the way in which He has wrought to accomplish it is this, He gave Himself for our sins, and in His death rebellious flesh was brought to an end in the judgment of God, and by the gift of the Spirit He has attached us to Himself in resurrection. In the putting away of our sins, our guilty selves have been brought to an end in judgment, and by the Spirit we are in Him who is the righteous One, and in whom sin is not, and from Him we derive our moral being, for we are born of Him; and if we abide in Him we do not sin, for we derive the strength and energy of our life from Him. In abiding in Him, the flesh, which can do nothing but sin is not in activity; we derive from the righteous One, and righteousness characterizes us.
I would draw the reader’s attention to this expression, “abide,” found in John’s gospel and epistles. He does not only use the term “in Him,” but far more frequently “ABIDE in Him.” Paul speaks of “in Christ,” and “new creation”; but John, of “abiding” in Him, and practical life. The former gives us more the idea of the place in which the sovereign love of God has set us, excluding the thought of responsibility; the latter brings in the thought of responsibility, we are to continue in Him. Then again it is “in CHRIST” with Paul, whereas in John it is “in the SON.” “In Christ” is the contrast of “in Adam”, and therefore it is new creation instead of old; bid “in the Son” is much more a question of nature and affections; therefore “abide in Him” has a much more practical bearing than the term “in Him” would convey. An expression in Colossians, “holding the Head,” conveys very nearly this thought in John’s writings.
“Whosoever sins has not seen Him, neither known Him.” The manifestation of the Son of God has had no effect upon the one who continues in the practice of sin. In spite of the fact that the true light now shines, he remains in the darkness, and the works of darkness he does. The Sun has risen, but night in his soul maintains its stubborn sway; it has had no more influence upon him than if it never had entered the world; and lawlessness, pollution, lust and pride, in which wallow the denizens of this godless world’s blind night, so characterizes him that, whatever profession he may make, it is easy to see he has made no acquaintance with the Son of God. Nothing can break the power of sin in anyone, but that which has come to light in Christ. It is necessary that one should receive the Spirit of God, and we are accustomed to say that all power for good lies in the Spirit, and nothing could be more true than this, but the Spirit works in the soul by that which has come to light in Christ, and occupies the heart with new and holy things, and above all with the love of God, which He sheds abroad in the heart, so that new and pure and heavenly affections assert themselves and obtain supremacy, and thus the dominion of sin is broken, and the new man is drawn irresistibly after Christ, in whom all that is attractive to the renewed mind resides.
The apostle would have the saints well assured of this. They were not to allow themselves to be deceived by the pretensions of men. Those who practised righteousness were righteous, even as He is righteous, because they derived from Him. The thing that was true in Him was true in them. They were born of Him, and everything produces after its kind. Those who practised sin were of the devil. The apostle goes right back to the source. Adam brought sin into the world, but he was not the originator of sin; the devil was. He sinned from the outset of sin. He was the first sinner. Hence, John does not stop at Adam, in tracing the genealogy of those who rejected the light of God, he goes back to the very beginning. But the Son of God was manifested that He might undo the works of the devil, and the manifestation of the Son of God has brought a new generation into existence who can be spoken of as begotten of God, and such do not practice sin, for his seed remains in him, and such cannot sin, because they have been begotten of God.
This, of course, is looking at the believer abstractly as “born of God,” and not as in his mixed and complex condition with sin in him, and liable, if not watchful, to failure. He is viewed here simply as born, or begotten of God, excluding for the moment from the thought, that as long as we are down here, the flesh and sin are in us, and that we need to be constantly on the alert lest these evil principles be set in motion. We need to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ, or we may soon find out to our sorrow that we are quite capable of sinning. But here, as I have said, we are viewed abstractly as begotten of God; and considered in this light only, we can easily understand the statement, “he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
It is in this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil. The day for the manifestation of the sons of God has not yet arrived. When this day arrives the groaning creation will come in for blessing; but the children are already manifested in this, they do righteousness, and they cannot do righteousness without loving the brethren, for “this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” We cannot be righteous without walking after His commandments, and if we walk after His commandments we will love the brethren. We are not righteous unless we are walking in love toward the children of God. Whoever does not practice righteousness “is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother.”
In the first earthly family we find the two generations illustrated. Cain’s works were wicked, and because of this he hated his brother, and slew him. He was of that wicked one, and the moral features of the devil were stamped upon him. He was characterized by sin, hatred, and murder; and what provoked him, and set all his evil nature in motion was what was of God in Abel: “Wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and has brother’s righteous.” Therefore saints are not to marvel if the world hate them. It is only natural to it to do so. It did not know Christ, and it does not know the children of God; it hated Him, and it hates them. The word of God in the heart is the secret of righteousness in the saints, and it is also the secret of the world’s hatred of them—“I have given them Thy word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). The word of God received into the heart, and kept there, brings one out in the moral characteristics of God, and this arouses all the evil and hatred of the depraved fallen nature, and murder takes possession of the inflamed and devil-possessed mind. It was so in the case of Cain, and it is so of the world today; and while it should cause us to be watchful and maintain a separate path, it should cause us no surprise.
This world is a sphere of darkness, sin, death, and hatred of everything that is of God; but there is another sphere upon earth where dwell light, righteousness, life, and love, and though in the present mixed up condition of things in Christendom, that sphere may be difficult to find, yet it must be found if we are to know much about life. It was easy enough to find in the days of the apostles, and if we cannot find it as a public distinct thing from the world today, we must get the truth of it into our hearts, because the sphere does exist in the power of the Spirit, and the elements which compose the sphere are bound together by ties indestructible, and when we have found it “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” This circle is circumscribed within the limits of the indwelling Spirit of God; and it is in this circle of holy and divine affections that life is known and enjoyed. The heart that is a stranger to the love of the brethren abides in death. Divine life lies in divine love, and therefore all is moral death where divine love is not in activity. But a more terrible state than even this may exist, for there may be positive hatred to the saints, and where this exists, the man is a murderer, and “Ye know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” It is striking in John’s writings the way he speaks of the world, because it was really the Jew to whom Christ was presented. But in a way the world—that ordered system—into which Christ came, was headed up in the Jew. It was through Israel that God proposed to take possession of the whole earth. To them He committed His name and the glory that belonged to it, by identifying Himself with them; but instead of the honour of that name being guarded as sacred and holy, it was blasphemed among the Gentiles through them. The laws that they received from God (though typical of better things, which would be brought in by Christ), were suited to man in the flesh, with whom God was dealing, and were the elements of the world. When the substance came, of which they were the shadow, they are pronounced weak and beggarly, but that is because on account of the perversity of the flesh, they could accomplish no blessing, and also because they were addressed to man as a bondslave. But had Israel been faithful, through them the world would have been recovered for God. Indeed, in the world to come this will actually take place, for “salvation is of the Jews.” Israel failed, and were carried captive to Babylon; and when the Son of God came, they were under the yoke of the Roman. Still it was to these people He came, and when He came, the world was in view, and had they received Him it would have not only meant deliverance for them from the oppressor and supremacy over the nations, but blessing for the wide world. But the coming of Christ to Israel was His coming into the world, and His rejection by them was His rejection by the world. In the rejection of Christ the world comes before the vision consolidated as a great system, a mighty organism of lawlessness, wickedness, and antagonism against God and His Christ, and the devil is discovered as the instigator, leader, and director of the infernal conspiracy which was hatched among the Jews in Jerusalem. In this way the devilish nature of this world system has come to light. It has seen and hated the Father and the Son, and we are not to wonder, therefore, if it hate the saints.
Love is found in the Christian circle. It has come to light in the death of Christ: “He laid down His life for us.” This love, if it is in us, will be seen in our laying down our lives for the brethren. Self is not to be tolerated. We are not to be lovers of self. We are to walk as He walked, in the spirit of self-sacrificing love. We may not be called upon to die actually, but the love which is to come out in our walk and ways with one another, is that which was seen in Christ among His own, and which culminated in His death upon the cross for them. But if one be found careless and indifferent concerning the temporal necessity of his brother, when the need is there in all its nakedness before his eyes, if one is found harsh and insensible with reference to these least things, we may well ask, “How dwells the love of God in him?” Our love is not to be in word or tongue, there is to be depth, power, and reality, in it. It is to be like the love of God, indeed it is to be that same love as nature in us, and to be expressed as His was expressed, “in deed and in truth.” It is not mere natural affection, which may be weakened by wrongs and unkindnesses, or killed to the very roots by fell weeds of lust and self-love, which are natural to the fleshly heart, and which may be nourished there; but it is that which is of God, and which never fails, which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. If we walk in the exercise of this love, it will involve continual self-surrender, but in this way we shall know that we are of the truth. As begotten of the truth, deception will be foreign to our nature, and when we are tested, we shall not fail to answer to whatever demand may be made upon us, and even if our brethren seem cold and indifferent to us, we shall not be so to them, but like Paul, we shall be able to go on in the exercise of love, when the more abundantly we love, the less we be loved (2 Cor. 12:15). And in this we shall persuade our hearts before Him. We need to keep before us the fact that Christianity is not a creed, neither do we come into it by the submission of our minds to certain doctrines, but it is the life of Jesus reproduced in our mortal bodies. If we do not walk as He walked, in love to the saints, we shall have our hearts condemning us, and if our hearts condemn us, we cannot flatter ourselves that God knows nothing about our selfish ways, but rather we shall feel that if the thing is bad in our eyes, how much more must it be in His, and in drawing near to Him we shall be greatly hindered. But if we walk in love to His people we have boldness towards Him, and all our prayers are answered, “because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
What a blessed path He has marked out for us! The path His own Son has traced for us through this world. The path of righteousness, holiness, love, and life. And how good of Him to open our eyes to see it, to put the desire into our hearts to tread it, to encourage us to take it, to guide our feet in any feeble way into it, and to give us all the support we need upon it! And, also, how gracious of Him to give us upon that path the company of His own beloved people, those who are dear to His heart, for whom His Son gave up His life, to put us in relationship with Himself and with one another, and to awaken in our hearts toward one another the same love wherewith He has loved us! This may be feeble in our hearts, but though it be feeble, it is there. He has placed it there, and in His unwearying interest in us He keeps it burning in our hearts; it is because He lives, we live also. This love is the strength and nourishment of our hearts, and it is only in the measure in which we walk in love that we practice righteousness and please God, for “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another as He gave us commandment.” His Son Jesus Christ is the Object of faith, because it is in Him the love of God has been declared. If He is not believed in the love of God is not apprehended, but where He is the Object of faith the heart is in the light of divine love, and as God has lavished all His love upon the saints, so we are to love one another. If the saints are the objects of the love of God they may well be the objects of my love. But if divine love is in us this means that He is in us, for God is love, and we are made conscious that He abides in us by the Spirit which He has given to us; for it is by the Spirit that His love has reached our hearts, and it is by Him we are kept in the enjoyment of that love, and in the exercise of it toward one another, so that not only do we know that we are in Him, but we know also that He is in us.
This is the first time in the epistle we come to “He abides in us.” Previous to this it has been, we “abide in Him.” But the latter is simply the complement of the former, and results from it. We are in Him, in relationship with the Father, and He is in us for power and testimony. He says (John 14:20), “At that day (the Spirit’s day) ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me and I in you.” The way in which the apostle has used “abide in Him,” in the earlier part of the epistle, has been in the way of relationship, safety, and blessing, but now that we have come to the obverse of this, “abides in us,” we find it is used in the way of power and testimony. If we are in Him, He is in us, and if He is in us (as it has often been remarked), nothing else should come out of us. He is to be seen in His people. We are not to shine before the world in our natural qualities, but in the light of Christ. It will be so in the day of display, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (2 Thess. 1:10), but it ought to be so now, and it will be so if we walk in the Spirit.
Having introduced the Spirit into what he has to say to them, the apostle raises a note of warning, because every spirit is not the Holy Spirit of God, and many false prophets had gone out into the world. We are, perhaps, a little apt to take things easy, and to go about as carelessly as if there were not a foe in the universe, forgetful that the spiritual world is ever in restless activity, and that a great warfare is being waged between God and Satan, between righteousness and sin, between good and evil, between heaven and hell, in which no quarter is given or taken, where no truce note is at any time sounded, where the battle is always at its hottest, and where the contending hosts fight at all times with all their might. It is in the souls of men that this war is being waged with restless activity, and the issues are eternal. We require to take this to heart, for we are in danger of flattering ourselves that occasionally there comes a suspension of hostilities, that an armistice has been proclaimed, and the ever watchful foe is not slow to take advantage of our carelessness. This battle, as I have said, is fought out in men. It is men that come to us, and that seek to get us to hearken to their words, but it is wicked spirits in the persons of these men with whom we have to wrestle.
But if they are to be overcome they have first of all to be detected, for they do not always present themselves in the livery of their master. Oftentimes they come in a garb of sanctity, with a very plausible manner and alluring ways. But they can be detected, and by a test so simple and perfect that even a babe in Christ, were he only vigilant, might stand sentinel for the whole church of God. The test is easy of application. We have no need to allow ourselves to be enticed beyond our depth by the craftiness of the cunning foe, we do not require to know every crooked way the serpent may take, neither are we compelled to point out with nicety and exactness every weak point in the armour of the adversary; we need only to know Christ, and be content to test everything by its relation to Him. This will discover to us friend or foe, whatever garb may be assumed.
There is today a great deal of speculation around us about things of which the scriptures speak very plainly, a great deal of boast, bluster, and pretension, concerning the scientific discoveries of the learned. We are being constantly reminded (if we would only pay attention) of the inaccuracies of the sacred writings, and of how many doctrines contained therein have been exploded; and perhaps we see through the hypocritical reasonings of these men, or perhaps we do not, but we have not been left upon earth merely to write books to prove to the world how stupid wickedness always is, we can do this better by our lives than by our words. It may be all well enough sometimes to answer a fool according to his folly, but generally it is best not to pursue these dupes of Satan into the morasses of darkness and error, where their rebellion against the true light has led them; our business is to keep the fortress of our own souls well guarded and to do this successfully we need to detect the enemy when he appears, and we can do this only by the test given us by the holy Spirit, a test which is all sufficient, and that test is CHRIST.
Should we meet one whose outward life, from a human standpoint, is blameless, and whose speech is smoother than oil, but whose doctrine is a denial that Jesus is the Christ, we know we have met a liar. If one came to us denying the Father and the Son, or who will not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh, we have no uncertainty in our minds as to what spirit animates him, it is the spirit of antichrist.
It is much more easy to stand firm than we sometimes imagine. It is not necessary that we should be learned or clever in a worldly way. We do not need to be instructed in evil to be able to overcome it. We had better leave the “depths of Satan” to be explored by his own children. The less we know about the darkness and its works the better. It is not important that we should examine the arguments of the leaders of this world. They are of the world; they are great in it; they speak as of it, and it hears them. They are from beneath, and their utterances are the exhalations of the bottomless pit. They assume—at least many of them do—to be God fearing; to have a veneration for the works of God in creation, and a certain amount of respect for the holy scriptures—it is a very good book of morals, but Christ is carefully left out of their theories, or if casually introduced, it is only as one of the many great sages of the world. The fact that He is a divine Person come in flesh, to give that flesh for the life of the world, is not for a moment to be entertained.
In contradistinction to these men who were of the world, and who spoke as of the world, the apostles were of God, and to them was committed the testimony of God, and whosoever was of God heard them. In this way we distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Nothing can be much more simple. Christ is the touchstone for everything. He is the true light in which everything is seen as it really is, and we have in addition to this, the writings of the apostles of our Lord, and we must reject everything that is not in agreement with their words.
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them.” This is how it is the saints get the victory over the seducers: they are of God. How could those that are of God be defeated? The one born of God does not practice sin—cannot sin (chap. 3:9), he overcomes the antichrist (4:4), he overcomes the world (v. 4), and he overcomes the wicked one (v. 18). And why does he overcome all that is arrayed against him? Because the One who is in him is greater than the one who is in the world. God is in the saint, the devil is in the world. To become a Christian in the true sense of the word, is not merely to change one’s religion, and to adopt new notions; it is to be rescued from the power and dominion of sin and Satan by divine power coming in and taking up its abode in the body of the believer, and it is in this new, heavenly and divine power that the saint becomes an overcomer. The devil, the implacable enemy of God, stirs up man as the rival of Christ against God’s authority with a view to the destruction of the weak and foolish creature. God has not up His Son for the fulfilment of His counsels of blessing, and He will gather everything in heaven and on earth under His headship, but man, desirous of exalting himself, falls a ready prey to the wicked machinations of the devil, and allows himself to be used as the antagonist of Christ, to his eternal rum. With this spirit of opposition to Christ, the profession swarms today. It appears in various forms, religious, and otherwise, but it is easily detected; it exalts man, and not Christ. The one born of God overcomes it.
Who then is this that is born of God, in whom there is One greater than he who is in the world? The answer is, “Everyone that loves.” Hence the importance of cultivating divine affections. Love is of God; it is His nature. It is not the natural affection which is common to man. It was not in Adam innocent, though every proper affection belonging to that order of man was found in him. It is of God in the sense that it is His nature, and being His nature, it is the nature of His children, those born of Him. And therefore the apostle would have believers follow after love. It is the one great thing to be pursued. He says, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.” In this lies life eternal. God is known by His children, and known in His nature, in all the love of His heart. He is known as Father; the babes know the Father. “He that loves not knows not God, for God is love.” He can only be known by those born of Him. Between Him and others there is no affinity.
In verse 9 we come to the way in which this love has been manifested. It was there before ever it was brought to light, and the manifestation of it added nothing to it, but it could not have been known had it not been declared. It is the great light of our hearts, for the Holy Spirit has shed it abroad there; but it can only be known in the way in which it has been manifested. It has been declared to us in connection with our need as fallen sinful creatures. We cannot, I think, know it in the way in which Christ knows it, for He knows it perfectly, and altogether apart from manifestation, because He is a divine Person. We know it in connection with mercy and grace and compassion shown to us as ruined sinners. He knows it in its own essential character, apart altogether from those attributes in connection with which it has been displayed toward us. God has taken occasion by our desperate condition to make His love known to us, and I think the way in which we have learned it is the way in which we must ever think of it. But it is the same holy and eternal love that the Son knows, which we know and enjoy, and which is, and ever shall be, the portion of our hearts.
In verses 9 and 10 we have the way in which this love has been brought to light. We lay under death as the righteous judgment of God on account of sin, and no creature was able to help us. If we thought of God it was not love filled our hearts, but terror. And not only was His judgment upon us, but we were alienated from the life of God; we wallowed in the pollutions of the flesh and spirit. We had no desires after God. We found our enjoyments in things hateful to Him. There was not one thought of our hearts clean in Hill sight. What was pleasing to Him we hated and what was hateful to Him in that we revelled. There was not one thing about which we had thoughts in common with Him. We were steeped in moral corruption and were dead toward God.
But He had thoughts of life for us and sent His Son that we might live through Him. If we were to live, the judgment which lay upon us must be removed from us, and the affections of our hearts must be won. That this might be, His Son has become the propitiation for our sins; He suffered for them as the witness of the love of God toward us when there was no love in our hearts toward Him. Life was in Him for us when He came into the world. Power to quicken our dead souls so that we might live was in the Son of God. But the question of righteousness required to be settled before we could be brought out of death in the power of His life. Therefore it was necessary that propitiation should be made that there might be no hindrance to the exercise of His life-giving power upon us. He bore the judgment of our sins that righteousness might be accomplished, and in resurrection He has taken the place of life-giving Spirit, and in the power of the life that is in Himself causes us to pass out of death into life. This He does by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts. Life for us is in divine love. He who loves, lives, and he who loves not, lives not. It is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts that causes us to live, for we only love Him when we know His love to us.
Verse 11 presents the obligation under which the manifestation of that love has placed us. “If God so loved us we ought also to love one another.” It does not say we ought to love God. This would be much on the line of the old covenant. That we love God is taken for granted. We would not be true believers if we did not love God, but the love of God has been lavished upon the saints, and if we profess to love God or to know His love to us, we cannot be indifferent to His own. And as we have already seen this love has come to light in the sacrifice of Christ: “Hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” This we are called to imitate, not, of course, in the sense of propitiation, which could not be, but in the sense of self-sacrifice. God has SO loved us. The waters of death could not quench His love, nor the floods drown it, and nothing should be able to quench our love for one another, it should prove itself stronger than death
Verse 12 shows as the effect in us of the fulfilment of our obligations. “God abides in us.” Now that Christ is absent from the earth, there would be no light at all were it not for His people. God was declared in the body of Christ when He was upon earth. Up till He came it could be said, “No man has seen God at any time,” but when He came the truth was, “The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” But now He is absent, and the only way in which God can be seen is in His people. But this is dependent upon their conduct. It is only if we love one another God abides in us. God, who is love, is seen in His own, when they are living and walking together in the exercise of divine affections. “His love is perfected in us.” There is nothing lacking. How wonderful it is that the saints are capable of presenting God in His nature before the eyes of men! And what marvellous grace He has conferred upon us to give us such a place in this dark, cold, lawless world! How anxious each one of us should be to sink every selfish consideration and keep jealous guard upon our ways, so that nothing might be allowed to come in to hinder the light, but that it might burn in all its purity and power!
But there is a direction which this love has taken which goes beyond the family of God. It has gone out in grace to the world. This comes in in verses 13 and 14. We know that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. Here it is not, I think, the Spirit personally, but of His Spirit, that is, the spirit of grace and goodness toward all men. He will have all men to be saved. Where this is active in us, we know that we abide in Him, and thus derive our nature from Him, and we know that He abides in us, giving character to us. In this spirit, “we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son as Saviour of the world.” And where this testimony takes effect in the heart, it leads to the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, and “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.” What but the heavenly light which has been brought to us in the person of Jesus would lead any soul to confess Him as the Son of God? And who, with the light of the boundless love of God filling his heart, could keep silent as to the lineage of that glorious Person in whom the love of God has been brought to him? In all this, whether it be our relations with one another, or in the spirit in which we go out toward all men, it is the effect of the love of God in activity in our hearts.
“And we have known and believed the love that God has to us.” We have come under the influence of its heavenly and life-giving radiance. In that love our souls live. “God is love”; and dwelling in love we dwell in God and God in us. And this love will never desert us. It is our eternal portion. It is the light in which we walk; it surrounds our going. It is the light of our hearts today, and we know that it is sure to us for tomorrow. Our way through the world may be rough or smooth; tribulation we are certain of; but the love of God will keep us company, and will be the strength of our hearts in every circumstance until that day when we shall be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, and then that holy love will have its satisfaction in beholding us conformed to the image of the Judge. We know not what trouble lies ahead of us, we know not what sorrows await us in our pilgrim path, we know not the moment we may be left without a friend in the world, but it is the privilege of each of us to be able to say—
“’Tis as sure as the love I adore,
I have nothing to fear or to dread.”
for “herein has love been perfected with us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is so are we in this world.” The relationship in which He is with the Father is ours, the love of which He is the Object is our portion, and the place He occupies in the Father’s house is our eternal home. Love is perfected with us, and fear is banished from our hearts. We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but we have received the spirit of sonship, whereby we cry Abba, Father. His love has been brought into our hearts in its heavenly power, and fear has fled from us. There is no fear in love. Fear has torment and repels us, so that the thought of God is terror to the soul. Love is attractive, and it begets love in us. “We love because He first loved us.” When this love came to us we were strangers to it, “hateful and hating one another” described our moral state; selfishness, lust, and pride characterized us; but the love of God has wrought a change, and has brought into existence a generation who are morally of Himself, and who are marked by love one toward another. Such are passed out of death into life. Where there is pretension to the knowledge of God and nothing manifest but hatred to the brethren, it is mere pretension and falsehood. The commandment is, that he who loves God is to love his brother also.
“Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loves Him that begat loves him also that is begotten of Him.” But there is always a possibility of mistaking for this love that which is of the mere nature of man, and if we drop down to this level, we will be liable to sanction, if not perhaps encourage in our brethren, much of the ways of the flesh which would be destructive to the prosperity of their souls. When this is the case, God is out of sight, and the flesh in its activities is not the hateful thing to us which it would be were we nearer to the Lord. This love is divine, and it must be kept brightly burning in our hearts in all its own essential purity. It must not be mingled with mere natural affection, which is often unwise and wilful, for this would corrupt it. We are never certain that we are walking in true love to the brethren, unless we are loving God and keeping His commandments. Our affection is not to be our guide: “For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments.” God and His commandments are to control our affection. The world around us is full of lawlessness, lust, and pride, and the natural man is slave to these things, and he who sets himself to walk in separation from its lawless ways, and occupies himself with the things that please God, shall suffer persecution. But we are neither to be ashamed nor astonished thereat, but we are to resist its influences with all our might, and if need be lay down our lives rather than yield to it. We are to overcome it, and if the Son of God is before the vision of our souls, victory is certain for us. Faith in the Son of God has been begotten in our hearts by the power of God, and “whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” It cannot be otherwise; what is of God must overcome everything that is of man and Satan, and the world is of man and Satan, but the believer is of God. The world is lawless, but those born of God do righteousness; it hates those who are of God, but they love one another; it has its antichrists, but those begotten of God overcome them; it has its allurements, snares, and deceptions, and its prince is cunning, restless, and powerful, but he who is begotten of God keeps himself, and that wicked one touches him not. Faith in the Son of God is the great preservative; if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we are in the light of another world, and not only this, but in His rejection from earth we see the judgment of this world. The Son of God is Head and Centre of a world in which God will be honoured, His will done, and the things which obtain in this world shall have no place there. Righteousness, love, and peace shall characterize that world, as lawlessness, hatred, and turmoil characterize this present evil world. In addition to this it is in the Son that God has made Himself known to us in all His eternal love, and the Son of God has given Himself for us, so that He has become in the place where He is, the great, attraction for our hearts, drawing us by the influence of His glorious Person away from the things here which hold men in bondage, and attaching our hearts to himself in the heavens. And if we are to “love one another with a pure heart fervently,” we must be delivered from the principles of this world. Love to God and obedience to Him must mark as in all our ways, and if this is not so we need not speak about loving the brethren, but if these things mark us, it will be because we have come under the influence of the Son of God. The Galatians would have formed their lives by the law of Moses, but they were found biting and devouring one another, but the apostle says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Christ was to him sufficient for justification, character, and rule of life. He overcame the world, because be believed that Jesus was the Son of God.
“This is He that came by water and blood.” Blood is for propitiation, water for purification. No other man ever came in the power of these things but Jesus. All who had previously come to speak the word of God to men had insisted upon moral purity, and the sacrifices gave witness that it was the blood that made atonement for the soul, but during the age of law man remained under sin, and the fear of death, and it was impossible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sins. But Jesus has come in the power of both water and blood. Propitiation and purification have come about in His death. John in his gospel bears record that when the soldier pierced the side of Christ, hanging lifeless upon the cross, blood and water came forth. His death has made propitiation for sins. The judgment of God which lay upon man has been borne. The One in whom life lay for man, who was to take the place of last Adam and life-giving Head toward all, must first of all give Himself a ransom for all. In the flesh of Jesus God has condemned sin. Not that sin was there, for He was spotless, but in His death God set forth in the presence of every intelligence in the universe His righteous judgment of sin. In His death flesh has been brought to an end. He took flesh and blood for this purpose, that He might give Himself a sacrifice for sin, and that in Him in the righteous judgment of God, the flesh might be brought to an end, and that this has been accomplished the blood is witness. But in this death there is also moral purification, for that death of His may be appropriated by man. I can feed upon His death, I can appropriate it, and view it as the end of me after the flesh. It is not the flesh which is purified, I am purified from it. The third witness is the Spirit, who was sent down from the risen and glorified Son of God. I need scarcely say that, were it not for the gift of the Holy Spirit, I should know little or nothing of the true value of the water and blood. Hence, the apostle says, “They that bear witness are three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.” They bear united testimony to one all-important truth, and that is, “that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” Life is not in the first Adam or in the flesh, but in the Son of God He is the fountain of life Outside of Him all is moral death and corruption. In Him I have redemption through the blood, the forgiveness of sins; in Him I am in new and eternal relationship with God, and with those that are His, and those relationships are pure and holy and incorruptible; and in the power of His Spirit, and by the knowledge of himself, affections in keeping with those new relationships are produced in me. The lawlessness of man, the lust and pride of the world, are obnoxious to those new, pure, and holy affections. The love of God has become the home of the heart, and in the light of the perfect revelation of God, and in the enjoyment of the Father’s love declared in Christ, and in those heavenly, blessed, and eternal associations, eternal life is known, realized, and enjoyed. So the apostle says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.”
And in the love of God we have confidence in Him. We can turn to Him, not as a servant to his master, but as children to a father, assured that He will hear us in everything that is according to His will, and none of us would surely desire to be heard in things disagreeable to Him. It is according to His will that we should pray for a weak, erring brother overtaken in a fault. For such we can ask life, and it will be granted. There are oases about which we have no encouragement to make request. We can rest assured, however, that he who is begotten of God keeps himself and that wicked one touches him not. It is very questionable if the one who sins a sin unto death be a real brother. He makes profession, but the one born of God is not touched by the wicked one.
And we know that we are of God. This we do not need to be told, we are conscious of it in that love in which our souls live. A man knows he is not a beast, without being told. He knows that he has the mind and heart of a man, and he feels himself to be a man, and he takes his place amongst men as fit for association with men. And the one born of God has the consciousness that he is not a man of the world; he has the understanding and the affections of a child of God, and he seeks the company of such, and takes his place in association with them. And he owes it all to the coming of the Son of God. The Son has revealed the Father, and opened our hearts to take in the light of that revelation, and thus we know Him that is true, and are in Him that is true, and we know that there is nothing but wickedness and falsehood outside of Him. He is the true God and eternal life.
O that we might ever be kept near to Him! How dreadful to wander back into the darkness, wickedness, lawlessness, and pollution of this evil world! O that we might ever seek that the blessed Son of God in whom God has shone out in the glory of His fathomless love might be continually before our hearts, that we might allow no dark earthly shadow to intrude itself between our vision and Himself! How cold, cruel, and corrupt this world is! It is the net in which the murderer of the souls of men secures his victims, and ruthlessly destroys them. And shall we turn after it even with one thought of our hearts, we, before whose eyes the true God stands revealed in Jesus? Surely not. What idol can it present to us that shall have power to turn us away from Him? And yet how weak we are! But it is well to know our weakness. If we walk as Jesus walked, we will walk in dependence upon God, assured that He is able to keep us, and not only able, but most surely willing also, and therefore we need only to put our trust in Him.
May we find our life in those holy relationships and affections that are in Christ, and may we grow in the divine nature.