Remarks on the First Epistle of John

J. N. Darby.

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(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)

The way in which God and man in One Person are united and presented in the blessed Lord in this Epistle, strikes me more and more, so that it is impossible to separate and apply them distinctively; 1 John 5:20 giving the clue to it. Thus already in 1 John 2:5, in whom do we know we are? All previously is Christ as such, and His word is spoken of. But "in him" is always "in God" here, nor do I believe that it occurs to the apostle to distinguish them here; in verse 6 it is clearly Jesus Christ, for we are to walk as He walked; and it may be taken to be Christ in verse 5. But being in Christ is not the subject or tone of the Epistle as distinguishing Him. Verses 24, 27 makes "Him" in the last impossible to distinguish. Of what follows I have spoken elsewhere. In verse 28 it is Christ, in verse 29 it is God. In 1 John 3:1, it is God, "children of God," but in the end of the verse Christ on earth is the same Being; verse 2, it is God again, but like Him, Christ, and we see Him as He is. So 1 John 3:3, 23, clearly God - Jesus Christ is His Son - but "He gave us commandment" is Jesus Christ Himself. But in verse 24, His commandments are God's, and he who keeps them dwells in Him, and He in him, and He has given us His Spirit. In 1 John 4:2, He is the Spirit of God. In verse 12, it is clearly so, God dwells in us, and this is connected with His nature. Still it is God Himself, and we dwell in Him; and it is by the Spirit we know, first we dwell in Him, and then He in us. But the source of it is that God dwells in us. Verses 12 and 15 are positive revelations of the word; verse 13 our experimental realisation of it. In verse 16 also, God being Love, he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. 1 John 3:24 is the outward fact, so that the Spirit could be distinguished from evil ones; compare 12:1, and following; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. But in 1 John 3 the unity of God and Jesus as one Object before the mind is clear. There dwelling in God comes first, and then He in us. But the testimony of the Spirit is here only to Him in us, to guard against false spirits which were at work. In 1 John 4:17, it is clearly Christ; but it is God and His love which had been spoken of before.

As regards God's dwelling in us, and we in Him, besides 1 John 2:5, which stands by itself, we have 1 John 3:23-24. Obedience, love to one another, and faith in His Son Jesus Christ. But this brings out the practical fact that we dwell in Him and God in us - the dwelling in Him being the state of our souls, when this life is so in existence. Here, His dwelling in us is the strength of His power and presence, which so belongs to us - this, known to us by His Spirit given to us, and, for the moment, the Spirit confines itself to this, guarding us against false spirits.

53 After that, having shown the connection of our new nature with God Himself, in its nature, and therewith the proof of love outside us in the gift of Christ, and God's love to us contrasted with our love to Him, so as to bring us up to Him, in verse 12 we get the great doctrinal fact that God dwells in him who loves. It is not merely a nature, but God Himself dwells in us. We know it "because he hath given to us of his Spirit." But this is experimental, and it is first the consciousness that we dwell in Him. This is connected with love here as with obedience also; chap. 3:24. If He is in us, who is infinite, and we so small, experimental realisation is necessarily of dwelling in Him. But then we recognise the fact, doctrinally stated, that He dwells in us; and this is active in testimony of grace. Nor was it only those who had seen and known Christ sent by Love - whoever confessed that Jesus was Son of God, God dwelt in Him. It was not special attainment, but the privilege of every Christian; it was so of them all. God dwells in him, and he in God.

In verse 16, he returns to experience, the groundwork of faith in manifested love, knowledge of His nature thus - Love - so that he that dwelt in that, dwelt in Him and God in him. The doctrinal fact then is that God dwells in the believer, but then he dwells in God - infinite in love and being. Then practically God dwells in him, that he should be a living witness, and active in that love. For God gives us to enjoy Himself, and have part in that other blessedness, His activity of love. As to connecting God and Christ as One, see also 1 John 2:5-6 - a striking instance. Being in Him, verse 5, is different from abides in Him (menei en auto). It is the fact; abiding is added here too when he speaks of the state, consciousness of it being expressed. Further, verses 7 and 8 speak of the nature of love in us; verse 9 takes up God Himself, its Source, and unfolds its actings in Him, and its enjoyment.

54 In the end of 1 John 2 and beginning of 1 John 3, besides the wonderful bringing together God and Man in the Person of Christ, and our unitedness to Him too, we have the nature of our new life as born of Him - the relationship, children of God, but unknown as He was, and then the result, like Him in the glory; the present practical effect being added.

I am not quite content with "lawlessness" for anomian. It is an exact representation of the word, for "less" is privative as a, but in English "lawlessness" has acquired the sense of active violence and reprobacy. Anomos - it is a man who acts without respect to any law whose authority he owns to bind him.

Note too in 1 John 2:28-29, and 1 John 3:1-2, the remarkable proof of the way God is seen in Christ, often noticed already, as one great key to this Epistle. In verse 28 He appears - it is His coming - this is clearly Christ, in whom too we abide. He is righteous - so every one born of Him is righteous; here we are children of God - but it is "He." Then 1 John 3:1, the world did not know whom? God doubtless, whose sons we are (and here not the Father's love) but when did not the world thus know Him? When He was in the form we are - in Christ the Son of God on earth. No wonder it does not know us. He who appears is the same Christ, for we are to be like Him. He was in the world, and the world knew Him not; compare Daniel 7:9, 13, 22.

In 1 John 1, "That which is from the beginning" notes that the life, though in its source eternal, was looked at as in Man, a new and absolutely original thing. This is very important as to its nature. The life which is our life is an entirely new original thing, as regards Man, for it was "with the Father" from all eternity, but it began in itself in Jesus as shown down here. It is no modification of the old or first Adam.

In 1 John 2, Christ is not a Mediator with God, but an Advocate with the Father, i.e., He restores communion, fellowship with the Father, when practically lost. His advocacy is founded on two things - propitiation for our sins, in that He pleads in grace if we fail, and righteous in His own Person, our righteousness, so that this is the standing in which we are before God. Our place in heaven on one side, and the meeting of our need on the earth on the other.

1 John 1:6, note, answers to verse 5, verse 8 to verse 7, and verse 10 to verse 9; light, sin and sins being the respective subjects. The structure in the Book is this: the Christian condition, chapters 1 and 2:1-2. The full blessing and fellowship, 1 John 1:1-4. The testing principle of God's nature, and how, being sinners, we have communion, 1 John 1:5-10. Our maintenance on failure, 1 John 2:1-2. 1 John 2:3-11, the great principles by which we know that we know Him (not doubt, nor acquire the knowledge, but know in spite of, and as detecting false pretensions) having righteousness, obedience to God's commandments, and loving the brethren; but this is based on the great principle of being in Christ, so that we are to walk as He walked. The commandment given by Him when present being now in force, in that, He being our life, what was true in Him is true in us. Then from verse 12 to the end of verse 27, the general condition of all - forgiven, and the particular condition of different degrees of maturity is stated as the ground of the apostle's writing. This in connection with chapter 1:1-4, i.e., the knowledge of the Father, having the Son and the Father, eternal life, and the reassuring privileges of the weakest.

55 1 John 2:28, to chapter 4:6, has a double character of test; 1 John 2:28, 1 John 3:23, states, on the ground of abiding in Him, the character of life, and extent of privilege, and its effect, bringing in and reasoning out the tests of righteousness and love of the brethren. (Righteousness seems more connected with abiding in Him; loving, with the new nature.) The second character of test is God's abiding in us proved by the Spirit He has given us. This however has itself to be tested by true confession of Christ, and by hearing the apostles themselves, i.e., now their Epistles.

1 John 4:7 to chapter 5:5, is a blessed development of the love of God manifested to the sinner in life and propitiation in Christ, enjoyed and manifested in us in dwelling in God and God in us (true of every one who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God) and perfected with us in giving us to be as Christ in this world, so that judgment is looked at with all boldness since we are as the Judge in that according to which He judges - the righteous Judge is our righteousness (but this in the partaking of the same nature). Verses 6-12 are the witness; three, Spirit, water and blood, somewhat analogous to the three tests. Verses 13-21 are an address of detail as to restoration, under discipline from God, in the power of life in intercession, knowing God hears us. Verses 18, 19, 20 are the whole status of conscious knowledge by the possession of the divine life which is the Son who is also the true God. In Him we are. He is the true One.

56 In chapter 2:6, " He that says he abides in him ought, even as He (ekeinos) walked, himself (autos) also so to walk." Remark the "He" (ekeinos) where it is not Christ in Person, so that God is revealed in Him, but His walk upon earth - the "himself" (autos) without distinguishing between Him and God; see chapter 5:20, this last explained.

In chapter 3, being like Christ is presented as the measure of our ways, and, knowing we shall be like Him, we seek now to purify ourselves as He is pure. But then if we do not this, if we fall down under this standard, we sink down into the flesh, and hence into the rejection of all restraint and law. He who errs as man, the evil wandering of human nature, makes himself independent of the restraint and authority of God. Sin is lawlessness, not indeed the transgression of the law, but the casting off of law and restraint. Not only this, he who practises it is of the devil, for the devil sins from the outset of his condition as such. On the other hand, it is in contrast with the life and nature of Christ, slighting all His work, for He was manifested to take them away. In Himself also there is none, so that he that sins has not seen or known Him. But on the contrary, he who bears the fruits of His nature is the righteous man, and that according to the nature, character, and measure of the righteousness of Christ Himself.

Note also that 1 John 1, always speaks of the Son, the Son of God as a distinct Person in such title and such relationship - a divine Person and Being; as it is said: "We are in him that is true," that is "in his Son," but as thus revealing God, and Son as regards the Father. We have the Son. The Father and the Son - the Father sent the Son; and the Son of God, so that being in Him we are in the true, for He is the true God and Eternal Life. We are never called sons (huioi) but children (tekna). And this is of great import and precious too. Huios (son) is a title and position given - most blessed in its place. Tekna (children) a deriving of nature and being from Him whose children we are. We are partakers of the divine nature, as of His family - so to speak, His born children. Having His nature, and so like Him; He is righteous, he then that doeth righteousness is born of Him; we love, we are born then of Him, for He is Love, and so know Him. A son is a relative position and relationship; "children of God" is to be born of Him, derive our nature from Himself in grace. This is by that divine life which is in Christ, which Christ is, being made ours by grace. And hence the Epistle unfolds it all in respect of its moral qualities, not its prescribed honours. Hence, as regards Christ, it is all through difficult to discern when God is spoken of and when Christ, because He is that divine thing which had to be manifested; see chapter 3:1, where God, and Christ in this world, are spoken of without breach or interruption in the sentence, as the same, and we so far morally the same as that the reason for our not being known is the same. So in 1 John 5:19-20, already quoted; compare verses 11, 12. There though Christ be Son and Life, what is naturally and essentially divine is displayed and manifested in Him, and, on the other hand, we partake livingly of this divine nature as born of God, and Christ being our life. It is a wonderful chain of blessing, yet evidently necessary in order that we should enjoy God.

57 Note again in 1 John 2:13, et seq. the little children, knowing the Father, are brought into an entirely new scene of relationship where all is morally according to what He is, and see all things according to their relationship in grace with Him. It is a kaine ktisis (new creation) of which the Father is the moral spring and key. Things are as they are in the communications between the Father and Christ, and as they are given to Him. All this is according to the nature of God of course, but in a new relationship. Now the word of God is the moral power and witness of this in the midst of things as they are, and this is the living power of the life and witness of those who, entered into the new relationship, become filled with the moral sentiments which belong to it. Christ was this in the world - Son with the Father, and the Word of God. It abides in the young men; hence the opposition with the world, the immense system formed by Satan, its prince, round flesh. Hence the Father and the world are in opposition ever. It is not God, for as men, creatures, it is His world and creation, but the whole condition of it, as built up under Satan, in connection with man's lusts, is the opposite of the Father's displayed blessing. The moral strength and energy of this brings the young men into collision with it. They are in opposition to its prince, here grown up into likeness to Christ: compare John 17:7-8, also verse 6, as introducing them, and then verses 14-20 is everything. Then we get more, for the knowledge of Him that was from the beginning is drawn out in another form in verses 17-19.

58 Note the tenses in 1 John 5:18 and 1 John 3:9, gegennemenos (begotten) is the state; gennetheis (has been begotten) is the birth, the consequence of which is that he keeps himself.

I add a word on 1 John 4:7 is "Born of God," for love is of God, and so knows God, for God is Love (verse 8); verse 9, Love manifested in giving life through the Son; (verse 10) in sending the Son to be the propitiation. Not law but grace. Verse 11, we ought to love one another; verse 12, God dwells in us, and so love perfected in us; verse 13, we know we dwell in Him, and He in us by the Spirit given. Our present state, inferring duty (verse 14), "Seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son, Saviour of the world; verse 15, God dwells in every one who confesses Jesus is the Son of God, and he in God; verse 16, We have known and believed the love God hath to us. God is Love. He that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. Verse 17, Love perfected with us in being as He is, in this world; verse 18, No fear in love; perfect love casts it out; verse 19, We love (not, we ought to) Him, because He first loved us. (Here first love to Him.) Verses 20, 21, Tests of love, and obedience called for.

We have the nature (then the work in grace which proves it) the dwelling of God in us. The perfectness of testified love, in that we are His, and so boldness in the day of judgment; our relation, not our essential state; verses 7-14 is that.

The connections in 1 John 2:28, and 1 John 3:1-9, are interesting. First our blessed place in association with Christ whose Person, God and Man, rejected and glorified, is wondrously brought out, and knowing that we shall be like Him seeing Him as He is, we purify ourselves as He is pure. As ever, it is a glorified Christ after which we are formed here. This is the Object we are looking to and running after. Then we turn down to the lower side of truth, "Whosoever commits sin" is lawless. It is the will of the other, the old man, that is at work, for that is sin, the independent will of the old man which, having lost God, sinks into lust. That is not Christianity. He was manifested to put away our sins, and if we have the eternal life which is in Him, which He is, "in him is no sin," the nature we live by is sinless. Hence, He who abides in, consciously lives by, refers to, confides in, and that continuously as dependent on Him as thus living by Him (see John 6) feeding on Him, does not commit sin; He in whom is no sin is the life in which he lives. This is not law, but life and nature, as the previous part was objective and responsible, with this difference - that was objective and so growing into increased likeness and purifying as He is pure, this a life which does not produce what is contrary to it. We see it is nature and life, for he who sins has not seen or known Him; only abiding in is moral activity. One is progressing in likeness to what He is, the other not doing what is contrary to the nature. Talking of transgression of the law is going clear out of the whole order of thought. It is an identical nature shown in conduct, for He is our life. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous as He is righteous." I do not think "as" is measure but nature. The true nature of the sinner is as the devil's enmity and hatred. And He by whom we live was manifested to destroy his works. Verse 9 makes it clearly the divine nature. "His seed remains in him," "he cannot sin" for that is not the divine nature. The two characteristic marks are then given - doing righteousness, and loving the brethren. This manifests them.

59 In 1 John 4, for the dwelling of God in us, we in God, and God in us, and knowing it, and God Himself, we have two points; first, verses 7, 8, we are born of God and so have His nature and know Him, and are capable of enjoying Him; then verses 12, 13, He dwells in us and we in Him, and we know it by the Holy Ghost, because He hath given "of his Spirit" - a double blessing but identified enjoyment. So Paul, more in grace and dispensationally in Romans 5:5. In Romans 8, the first part, both are united - Christ our Life, and the presence and power of the Spirit. But this passage gives us the full blessing, the highest indeed, and the manner of it.

Compare also Psalm 119:165, and 1 John 2:10, and note the difference of the character of the blessing. In the Psalm, and the legal blessing to the righteous man, there is nothing that makes him fall - and a true blessing it is. But in John, when grace is in question, there is no occasion in us, when we walk in love, to another's fall. It is just the same principle as when the lawyer asked who was neighbour to him. The Lord answered by a parable which showed how we are neighbours to Another.