1 John 2:1.
J. A. Trench.
Article 17 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
In considering the subject of the Priesthood of the Lord Jesus in a previous paper, it was recognised that there is another aspect of the wonderful service that His love for His own engages Him in, in their passage through the world. It is that which is presented to us in the text at the head of this paper, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The Priesthood of the Lord Jesus as was seen from the epistle to the Hebrews is with God, and is in exercise for us that we may not sin. It is to maintain us in spite of weakness here, in consistency with a heavenly calling; meeting us (in every form of testing and exercise and conflict with the opposing forces of Satan) with His powerful succour and precious sympathy, that we might hold fast the confession of His Name, and be free for the occupations of the heavenly sanctuary which He has opened to us by His perfect sacrifice.
Priesthood does not contemplate sin in the people of God. It is founded normally on the perfection of the sacrifice by which sins were removed from before God for ever, and removed therefore from the conscience of the believer. Yet, as James says, "In many things we all offend." If there were no provision, then, for failure and sin in the believer, with all our humbling experience of how possible it is, how terrible it would be.
Now it is just here that in infinite grace the epistle of John brings in the office of Christ as Advocate. Let us weigh well the way He is presented, in connection with what has gone before, to which the Apostle refers. Addressing the whole family of God, in the endearing term of "Children," he says, "these things I write unto you, that ye sin not." He refers, of course, to what has gone before in 1 John 1. Three things belong to the Christian position. First we walk in the Light: the light is God perfectly revealed and known. Then, we have fellowship one with another in that light. And the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanseth us from all sin, is the basis of the whole position, alone making it possible for sinners such as we.
All that has thus gone before in 1 John 1 is brought to bear upon our souls that we sin not, in 1 John 2. But he immediately adds: "If any sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins." Thus even when the sin of one of His is in question, the love of the Lord Jesus does not fail. Nor does He leave us to ourselves. He takes up our case and acts for us, according to the deep necessity of it. For this is just the force of "Advocate." It is the same word in the original as "Comforter" applied to the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel. It is one who acts for us in the circumstances, whatever they may be, wherein we have need of Him. Then it is to be noted "Advocate with the Father." The sin of the believer has not changed the relationship in which he stands with the Father. We have changed our place as criminals at the bar of God, for that of children with the Father. We can never even on the worst failure be disowned as such. This makes sin a far more heinous thing — being committed against all the light and relationship and love into which we have been introduced.
But there is the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin. There is no more conscience of sins (according to Heb. 10) for those who have believed God's testimony to the perfection of the finished work of His Son. That is, the conscience never again connects sin with judgment to come; but always with a judgment that has taken place in the death of Christ, and is for ever past. The conscience rests where God rests, and He remembers our sins and iniquities as such no more.
But the accuser might seek occasion to tempt the fallen one to think he could never call God his Father again. Just in this very connection John is inspired to present the Advocate with the Father, that we might know the relationship to be immutable. And besides, it is "Jesus Christ the righteous." He is there in all His own personal perfection, and "the propitiation for our sins," in all the abiding and uninterruptible efficacy of His work; so that no charge can stand against those whom God has justified. Hence, sin has become a question of holiness and communion that has been absolutely interrupted by it. And the blessed service of the Lord as Advocate is to restore that communion. Nor is it that we have to go to Christ to intervene for us. "If any man sin we have an Advocate." He acts from Himself to bring about in us all that is needed for restoration.
We must now look a little into the character of that wonderful action of His grace. The object of it is to bring us to detect and judge in ourselves that wherein we have failed; to confess our sins, that we may know a Father's forgiveness and be restored to the joy of communion with Him.
This precious service of the Lord for us has been illustrated for us by His ways with Peter in the gospel of John, to which I turn. John 13:1-11, gives us the principle of it in the symbolic washing of the disciple's feet. I say symbolic, because of the Lord's words to Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." There was clearly something far deeper in it than the mere lesson of humility. But verse 1 shows us the new position that the Lord was taking, that gives its character to all the subsequent communications. "Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father." And we have to go through the world out of which He had to depart; but He would not forget us in all our need. For "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." In His blessed and unfailing love was found the spring of His action that follows. In marvellous grace Peter was one who was allowed to hear of a love so beyond all our thought, the very night he was to deny that he ever knew Him. But who is it that undertakes the cause of those who are beset with danger in such a world as this, and are so liable to fail; stooping even to take their feet into His hands to wash them? It is none other than He into whose hands the Father has given all things. But what light is thrown on the defilement we so easily, and alas! too often carelessly contract in our walk, that it necessitates the action of the Son of God to remove it.
Peter resents the humiliation of the Lord in stooping to wash his feet, till he learns that it is essential to his having part with Jesus where He was going. And thus we learn that while His wonderful service for us includes recovery from sin, and the soul's restoration, yet it goes much further in love that cannot bear a cloud between us and Him; and He provides for the removal of whatever would intercept the light and joy of His presence. Peter thought he could not have too much of such washing — "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."
This leads the Lord to distinguish between two applications of the water. In type, water, everywhere in Scripture, represents the word of God applied in the power of the Spirit. The first is that by which we are born wholly anew, and made partakers of a new life and nature. This application can never be repeated. The second is what the washing of the feet implied; namely, the constant application of the Word to preserve or deliver us from what would hinder blessed nearness to Him. Nor are we left to apply it to ourselves: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." We see it as we follow out His ways with Peter in the unutterable grace of the Lord to His poor servant; and with each of us. No warning led him to suspect the danger he was in from confidence in himself. He thought that a warm heart would carry him through anything for the Lord: "I will lay down my life for thy sake." But nature's energy must fail in such a path as that, and he succumbs before the taunt of a servant girl, even to deny repeatedly that he ever knew the Lord. "And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter." That look broke his heart. It told of a love that knew no change. He knew that he was forgiven even before the special message from His risen Lord, or the personal interview that was accorded him.
But communion was a very different matter, and had yet to be restored. There was still the sense of distance, and a void in his heart that none but Christ could fill. He seeks back to the old occupation once so willingly surrendered for Him, leading others with him. It was a profitless night, but made way for the blessed Lord to intervene in His power and grace, and lead Peter into the reality of what He could not understand when the Lord wanted to wash his feet. "Jesus stood on the shore." The net was now well filled, and all brought to land, where already a meal was prepared for them by the Lord Himself. When it was over, Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these." How gently and yet irresistibly the question would recall his boast. "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I." Who had failed so appallingly as he? What can he say? To whom can he turn but to the One so sinned against? "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee." But it is to be noted in the original that Peter does not content himself with using the general word for love that the Lord employed; but uses the word for the special love of a friend "Thou knowest that I am attached to thee"; and so again when the Lord repeats His question. But three times he had denied Him. It was painful work, but the conscience must be deeply probed, and the root of his failure laid bare, that the recovery might be thorough. The third time the Lord puts the question, but with a touch of inimitable grace He adopts Peter's word already implying that He trusts him; "Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached to me?" Peter could not but feel it, but under that all-searching eye fixed on him in such love he could only answer "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee." The work is done. The defiled feet are washed, and the Lord can confide to Peter His most precious interests here — His lambs and sheep, to shepherd and to feed. And now He gives him, in the power of communion fully restored, to take the path in which once he had broken down so utterly. He should go to death for the Lord.
Thus we are permitted to have a precious sample of the action of the Advocate in the case of the sin of His own. It is the Lord who sets Himself to apply His word to the conscience and heart, to detect and bring to light what it is that has broken communion, or hindered the enjoyment of His presence; so that we may confess it, and judge ourselves. The moment that point is reached He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.
How blessed the revelation of these distinct aspects of the service of the Lord Jesus for us, whether as Priest with God, or as Advocate with the Father. And the ways of His unfailing grace and love to maintain us in the enjoyment of our heavenly relationships; or, when we have failed, to restore us to fellowship with the Father and with Himself, which is the most precious privilege. "Having loved his own which are in the world, he loved them to the end" — till we shall need the assurance of it no more. But oh! how it should make us abhor the defiling thing, whatever it may be, which has needed the service of the Son of God to deliver us from it. "He desireth truth in the inward parts," but He has to work to produce it, so that with a heart that has nothing to condemn us we may have confidence before Him.