1st Epistle of John - Part 1
Synopsis of the Books of the Bible
John Nelson Darby
1st Epistle of John - Part 1
INTRODUCTION & CHAPTER 1
The Epistle of John has a peculiar character. It is eternal life manifested in Jesus, and imparted to us- the life which was with the Father, and which is in the Son. It is in this life that believers enjoy the communion of the Father, that they are in relationship with the Father by the Spirit of adoption, and that they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. God’s own character is that which tests it; because it proceeds from Himself.
The first chapter establishes these two latter points: namely, communion with the Father and the Son, and that this communion must be according to the essential character of God. The name of Father is that which gives character to the second chapter. Afterwards it is that which God is, which tests the reality of imparted life.
The Epistles of Paul, although speaking of this life, are in general occupied with setting before Christians the truth respecting the means of standing in the presence of God justified and accepted. The Epistle of John, that is to say, his First, shews us the life that comes from God by Jesus Christ. John sets God before us, the Father revealed in the Son, and eternal life in Him. Paul sets us before God accepted in Christ. I speak of what characterises them. Each respectively touches on the other point.
Now, this life is so precious, manifested as it is in the Person of Jesus, that the epistle now before us has in this respect quite a peculiar charm. When I, too, turn my eyes to Jesus, when I contemplate all His obedience, His purity, His grace, His tenderness, His patience, His devotedness, His holiness, His love, His entire freedom from all self-seeking, I can say,
That is my life.
This is immeasurable grace. It may be that it is obscured in me; but it is none the less true, that that is my life. Oh how do I enjoy it thus seen! How I bless God for it! What rest to the soul! What pure joy to the heart! At the same time Jesus Himself is the object of my affections; and all my affections are formed on that holy object. (1)
But we must turn to our epistle. There were many pretensions to new light, to clearer views. It was said that Christianity was very good as an elementary thing; but that it was grown old, and that there was a new light which went far beyond that twilight truth.
The Person of our Lord, the true manifestation of the divine life itself, dissipated all those proud pretensions, those exaltations of the human mind under the influence of the enemy, which did but obscure the truth, and lead the mind of men back into the darkness whence they themselves proceeded.
That which was from the beginning (of Christianity that is, in the Person of Christ), that which they heard, had seen with their own eyes, had contemplated, had touched with their own hands, of the Word of life-that was it which the apostle declared. For the life itself had been manifested.
That life which was with the Father had been manifested to the disciples. Could there be anything more perfect, more excellent, any development more admirable in the eyes of God, than Christ Himself, than that Life which was with the Father, manifested in all its perfection in the Person of the Son ? As soon as the Person of the Son is the object of our faith, we feel that perfection must have been at the beginning.
The Person then of the Son, the eternal life manifested in the flesh, is our subject in this epistle.
Grace is consequently to be remarked here in that which regards life; while Paul presents it in connection with justification. The law promised life upon obedience; but life came in the Person of Jesus, in all its own divine perfection, in its human manifestations. Oh how precious is the truth that this life, such as it was with the Father, such as it was in Jesus, is given to us! In what relationships it sets us, by the power of the Holy Ghost, with the Father and with the Son Himself! And this is what the Spirit here first sets before us. And observe, how it is all grace here. Farther on, indeed, He tests all pretensions to the possession of fellowship with God, by displaying God’s own character; a character from which He can never deviate. But, before entering on this, He presents the Saviour Himself, and communion with the Father and the Son by this means, without question and without modification. This is our position and our eternal joy.
The apostle had seen that life, had touched it with his own hands; and he wrote to others, proclaiming this, in order that they also should have communion with Him in the knowledge of the life which had been thus manifested.(2) Now, inasmuch as that life was the Son, it could not be known without knowing the Son, that is, that which He was, entering into His thoughts, His feelings: otherwise He is not really known. It was thus they had communion with Him -with the Son.
Precious fact! to enter into the thoughts (all the thoughts), and into the feelings, of the Son of God come down in grace: to do this in fellowship with Him, that is to say, not only knowing them, but sharing these thoughts and feelings with Him. In effect, it is the life.
But we cannot have the Son without having the Father. He who had seen Him had seen the Father; and consequently he who had communion with the Son had communion with the Father; for their thoughts and feelings were all one. He is in the Father, and the Father in Him. We have fellowship therefore with the Father. And this is true also, when we look at it in another aspect. We know that the Father has entire delight in the Son. Now He has given us, by revealing the Son, to take our delight in Him also, feeble as we are. I know, when I am delighting in Jesus-in His obedience, His love to His Father, to us, His single eye and purely devoted heart -I have the same feelings, the same thoughts, as the Father Himself. In that the Father delights, cannot but delight, in Him in whom I now delight, I have communion with the Father. So with the Son in the knowledge of the Father.
All this flows, whether in the one or the other point of view, from the Person of the Son. Herein our joy is full. What can we have more than the Father and the Son ? What more perfect happiness than community of thoughts, feelings, joys, and communion, with the Father and the Son, deriving all our joy from themselves? And if it seem difficult to believe, let us remember that, in truth, it cannot be otherwise: for, in the life of Christ, the Holy Ghost is the source of my thoughts, feelings, communion, and He cannot give thoughts different from those of the Father and the Son. They must be in their nature the same. To say that they are adoring thoughts is in the very nature of things, and only makes them more precious. To say that they are feeble and often hindered, while the Father and the Son are divine and perfect, is, if true, to say the Father and the Son are God, are divine, and we feeble creatures. That surely none will deny. But if the blessed Spirit be the source, they must be the same as to nature and fact.
This is our christian position then, here below in time, through the knowledge of the Son of God; as the apostle says, ’ These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.’
But He who was the life which came from the Father, has brought us the knowledge of God. (3) The apostle had heard from His lips that which God was -knowledge of priceless value, but which searches the heart. And this also the apostle, on the Lord’s part, announces to believers. This then is the message which they had heard from Him, namely, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness. With regard to Christ, He spoke that which He knew, and bore testimony to that which He had seen. No one had been in heaven, save He who came down from thence. No one had seen God. The Only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, He had declared Him. No one had seen the Father, save He who was of God; He had seen the Father. Thus He could, of His own and perfect knowledge, reveal Him.(4)
Now God was light, perfect purity, which makes manifest at the same time all that is pure, and all that is not so. To have communion with light, one must oneself be light, be of its nature, and fit to be seen in the perfect light. It can only be linked with that which is of itself. If there is anything else that mingles with it, light is no longer light. It is absolute in its nature, so as to exclude all that is not itself.
Therefore, if we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practise truth: our life is a perpetual lie.
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we (believers) have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. These are the great principles, the great features of christian position. We are in the presence of God without a veil. It is a real thing, a matter of life and of walk. It is not the same thing as walking according
to the light; but it is in the light. That is to say, that this walk is before the eyes of God, enlightened by the full revelation of what He is. It is not that there is no sin in us; but walking in the light, the will and the conscience being in the light as God is in it, everything is judged that does not answer to it. We live and walk morally in the sense that God is present, and as knowing Him. We walk thus in the light. The moral rule of our will is God Himself, God known. The thoughts that sway the heart come from Himself and are formed upon the revelation of Himself. The apostle puts these things always in an abstract way: thus he says, ’he cannot sin, because he is born of God;’ and that maintains the moral rule of this life; it is its nature; it is the truth, inasmuch as the man is born of God. We cannot have any other measure of it: any other would be false. It does not follow, alas! that we are always consistent; but we are inconsistent if we are not in this state; we are not walking according to the nature that we possess; we are out of our true condition according to that nature.
Moreover, walking in the light, as God is in the light, believers have communion with each other. The world is selfish. The flesh, the passions, seek their own gratification; but, if I walk in the light, self has no place there. I can enjoy the light, and all I seek in it, with another, and there is no jealousy. If another possess a carnal thing, I am deprived of it. In the light we have fellow-possession of that which He gives us, and we enjoy it the more by sharing it together. This is a touchstone to all that is of the flesh. As much as one is in the light, so much will we have fellow-enjoyment with another who is in it. The apostle, as we have said, states this in an abstract and absolute way. This is the truest way to know the thing itself. The rest is only a question of realisation.
In the third place, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
To walk in the light as God is in it, to have fellowship with one another, to be cleansed from all sin by the blood; these are the three parts of christian position. We feel the need there is of the last; for while walking in the light as God is in the light, with (blessed be God) a perfect revelation to us of Himself with a nature that knows Him, that is capable of seeing Him spiritually, as the eye is made to appreciate light (for we participate in the divine nature), we cannot say that we have no sin. The light itself would contradict us. But we can say that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us perfectly from all sin (5) Through the Spirit we enjoy the light together: it is the common joy of our hearts before God, and well pleasing to Him; a testimony to our common participation in the divine nature, which is love also. And our conscience is no hindrance, because we know the value of the blood. We have no conscience of sin upon us before God, though we know it is in us; but we have the conscience of being clean from it by the blood. But the same light which shews us this, prevents our saying (if we are in it) that we have no sin in us; we should deceive ourselves if we said so; and the truth would not be in us; for if the truth were in us, if that revelation of the divine nature, which is light, Christ our life, were in us, the sin that is in us would be judged by the light itself. If it be not judged, this light-the truth which speaks of things as
they are-is not in us.
(1) And this is morally very important; while it is in Him, not in myself, that I rejoice and delight.
(2) The life has been manifested. Therefore we have no longer to seek for it, to grope after it in the darkness, to explore at random the indefinite, or the obscurity of our own hearts, in order to find it, to labour fruitlessly under the law, in order to obtain it. We behold it: it is revealed, it is here, in Jesus Christ. He who possesses Christ possesses that life.
(3) It will be found that, when grace to us is spoken of in John’s writings, he speaks of the Father and the Son; when the nature of God or our responsibility, he says God. John 3 and 1 John 4 may seem exceptions, but are not. It is what God is as such, not personal action and relationship in grace.
(4) He who had seen Him had seen the Father; but here the apostle speaks of a message and the revelation of His nature.
(5) It is not said ’has’ nor ’will.’ It does not refer to time, but to its efficacy. As I might say such a medicine cures the ague. It is its efficacy.
If, on the other hand, we have even committed sin and all, being judged according to the light, is confessed (so that the will no longer takes part in it, the pride of that will being broken down), He is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have not sinned (6) (as a general truth), it shews not only that the truth is not in us, but we make God a liar; His word is not in us, for He says that all have sinned. There are the three things: we lie; the truth is not in us; we make God a liar. It is this fellowship with God in the light which, in practical daily christian life, inseparably connects forgiveness, and the present sense of it by faith, and purity of heart.
Thus we see the christian position (ver. 7); and then the things which, in three different ways, are opposed to the truth-to communion with God in life.
The apostle wrote that which relates to the communion with the Father and the Son, in order that their joy might be full
That which he wrote according to the revelation of the nature of God, which he had received from Him who was the life from heaven, was in order that they should not sin. But to say this is to suppose that they might sin. Not that it is necessary they should do so; for the presence of sin in the flesh by no means obliges us to walk after the flesh. But if it should take place, there is provision made by grace, in order that grace may act, and that we may be neither condemned, nor brought again under the law.
We have an Advocate with the Father, One who carries on our cause for us on high. Now this is not in order to obtain righteousness, nor again to wash our sins away. All that has been done. Divine righteousness has placed us in the light, even as God Himself is in the light. But communion is interrupted, if even levity of thought finds place in our heart; for it is of the flesh and the flesh has no communion with God. When communion is interrupted, when we have sinned (not when we have repented, for it is His intercession that leads to repentance), Christ intercedes for us. Righteousness is always present-our righteousness-’Jesus Christ the Righteous.’ Therefore, neither the righteousness nor the value of the propitiation for sin being changed, grace acts (one may say, acts necessarily) in virtue of that righteousness, and of that blood which is before God -acts, on the intercession of Christ who never forgets us, in order to bring us back to communion by means of repentance. Thus, while yet on earth, before Peter had committed the sin, He prayed for him; at the given moment He looks on him, and Peter repents and weeps bitterly for his offence. Afterwards the Lord does all that is necessary to make Peter judge the root itself of the sin; but all is grace.
It is the same in our case. Divine righteousness abides-the immutable foundation of our relationships with God, established on the blood of Christ. When communion, which exists only in the light, is interrupted, the intercession of Christ, available by virtue of His blood (for propitiation for the sin has also been made), restores the soul that it may still again enjoy communion with God according to the light, into which righteousness has introduced it. (7)
This propitiation is made for the whole world, not for the Jews only, nor to the exclusion of any one at all; but for the whole world, God in His moral nature having been fully glorified by the death of Christ.
These three capital points-or, if you will, two capital points, and the third, namely, advocacy, which is supplementary-form the introduction, the doctrine of the epistle. All the rest is an experimental application of that which this part contains: namely, first (life being given), communion with the Father and the Son; second, the nature of God, light, which manifests the falsehood of all pretension to communion with the light, if the walk be in darkness; and third, seeing that sin is in us and that we may fail although we are cleansed before God so as to enjoy the light, the advocacy which Jesus Christ the righteous can always exercise before God, on the ground of the righteousness which is ever in His presence, and the blood which is shed for our sins, in order to restore our communion, when we have lost it by our guilty negligence.
The Spirit-now proceeds to develop the characteristics of this divine life.
Now we are sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ, that is to say, to obey on the same principles as those on which He obeyed; where His Father’s will was the motive as well as the rule of action. It is the obedience of a life to which it was meat and drink to do the will of God: not as under the law, in order to obtain life. The life of Jesus Christ was a life of obedience, in which He enjoyed the love of His Father perfectly, tested in all things and so proved perfect. His words, His commandments, were the expression of that life; they direct that life in us, and ought to exercise all the authority over us of Him who pronounced them.
The law promised life to those who obeyed it. Christ is the life. This life has been imparted to us -to believers. Therefore, the words which were the expression of that life, in its perfection in Jesus, direct and guide it in us according to that perfection. Besides this, it has authority over us. His commandments are its expression. We have therefore to obey, and to walk as He walked-the two forms of practical life. It is not enough to walk well: we must obey, for there is authority. This is the essential principle of a right walk. On the other hand, the obedience of the Christian-as is evident by that of Christ Himself -is not that which we often think. We call a child obedient, who, having a will of his own, submits himself at once when the authority of the parent intervenes to prevent his accomplishing it. But Christ never obeyed in this way. He came to do the will of God.
Obedience was His mode of being. His Father’s will was the motive, and, with the love that was never separate from it, the only motive of His every act and every impulse. This is obedience properly called christian. It is a new life which delights in doing the will of Christ, acknowledging His entire authority over it. We reckon ourselves to be dead to everything else; we are alive unto God, we are not our own. We only know Christ inasmuch as we are living by His life; for the flesh does not know Him, and cannot understand His life.
Now, that life is obedience: therefore he who says, ’ I know him,’ and does not observe His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. It does not say here, ’he deceives himself,’ for it is very possible that he is not self-deceived, as in the other case of fancied communion; for here the will is in action, and a man knows it, if he will confess it. But the reality is not there; he is a liar, and the truth in the knowledge of Jesus, which he professes, is not in him.
There are two remarks to be made here. First, that the apostle takes things always as they are in themselves in an abstract way, without the modifications that are occasioned by other things, in the midst of which, or in relation with which, the former are found. Second, that the chain of consequences which the apostle deduces is not that of outward reasoning, the force of which is consequently on the surface of the argument itself. He reasons from a great inward principle, so that one does not see the force of the argument unless one knows the fact, and even the scope, of that principle; and, in particular, that which the life of God is in its nature, in its character, and in its action. But, without possessing it, we do not and cannot understand anything about it. There is indeed, the authority of the apostle and of the word to tell us that the thing is so, and that is sufficient. But the links of his discourse will not be understood without the possession of the life which interprets what he says, and which is itself interpreted by that which he says.
I return to the text. ’Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.’ It is in this way that we are conscious that we know Him. His ’ word’ has rather a wider sense than His ’commandments.’ That is to say, while it equally implies obedience, the word is less outward. ’Commandments’ are here details of the divine life. His ’word’ contains its whole expression-the spirit of that life.(8) It is universal and absolute.
Now this life is the divine life manifested in Jesus, and which is imparted to us. Have we seen it in Christ ? Do we doubt that this is love; that the love of God has been manifested in it? If then I keep His word; if the scope and meaning of the life which that word expresses is thus understood and realised, the love of God is perfect in me. The apostle, as we have seen, always speaks abstractedly. If in fact at any given moment I do not observe the word, in that point I do not realise His love; happy intercourse with God is interrupted. But so far as I am moved and governed absolutely by His word, His love is completely realised in me; for His word expresses what He is, and I am keeping it. This is the intelligent communion with His nature in its fullness, a nature in which I participate; so that I know that He is perfect love, I am filled with it, and this shews itself in my ways: for that word is the perfect expression of Himself.(9)
Consequently we know thus that we are in Him, for we realise that which He is in the communion of His nature. Now if we say that we abide in Him, it is evident, from what we have now seen in the instruction the apostle gives us, that we ought to walk as He walked. Our walk is the practical expression of our life; and this life is Christ known in His word. And since it is by His word, we who possess this life are under an intelligent responsibility to follow it; that is to say, to walk as He walked. For that word is the expression of His life.
Obedience then, as obedience, is thus far the moral characteristic of the life of Christ in us. But it is proof of that which, in Christianity, is inseparable from the life of Christ in us: we are in Him. (Compare John 14:29) We know, not merely that we know Him, but that we are in Him. The enjoyment of the perfect love of God in the path of obedience, gives us by the Holy Ghost the consciousness that we are in Him. But if I am in Him, I cannot indeed be what He was, for He was without sin; but I ought to walk as He walked. Thus I know I am in Him. But if I make profession to abide in Him, my heart and spirit to be wholly there, I ought to walk as He walked. Obedience as a principle, and through keeping His word, and so the love of God perfected in me knowing that I am in Him, are the formative principles and character of our life.
In verses 7 and 8 the two forms of the rule of this life are presented-forms which, moreover, answer to the two principles which we have just announced. It is not a new commandment which the apostle writes unto them but an old one; it is the word of Christ from the beginning. Were it not so, were it in this sense new, so much the worse for him who set it forth, for it would no longer be the expression of the perfect life of Christ Himself, but some other thing, or a falsification of that which Christ had set forth This corresponds with the first principle, that is, obedience to commandments, to the commandments of Christ. What He said was the expression of what He was. He could command that they should love one another as He had loved them. Compare the Beatitudes.
In another sense it was a new commandment: for (by the power of the Spirit of Christ, being united to Him and drawing our life from Him) the Spirit of God manifested the effect of this life by revealing a glorified Christ in a new way. And now it was not only a commandment, but as the thing itself was true in Christ, it was so in His own as partakers of His nature and in Him; He also in them.
By this revelation, and by the presence of the Holy Ghost, the darkness disappeared, (10) passed away, and in fact the true light shone. There will be no different light in heaven: only then the light will be publicly displayed in glory without a cloud.
Verse 9. The life as in John i. 4, is now found to be the light of men, only the brighter for faith that Christ is gone, for it is through the rent veil it shines most brightly. We have had the pretension to know Him discussed-to be in Him; now that of being in the light, and this before the Spirit of God applies in detail the qualities of this life, as a proof of its existence to the heart, in answer to seducers who sought to terrify them by new notions, as though Christians were not really in possession of life, and, with life, of the Father and the Son. The true light now shines. And this light is God; it is the divine nature; and, as that which was a means of judging the seducers themselves, he brings out another quality connected with our being in the light, that is with God fully revealed. Christ was it in the world. We are set to be it, in that we are born of God. And one who has this nature loves his brother; for is not God love?
Has not Christ loved us, not being ashamed to call us brethren? Can I have His life and His nature, if I do not love the brethren? No. I am then walking in darkness; I have no light on my path. He who loves his brother dwells in the light; the nature of God acts in him; and he dwells in the bright spiritual intelligence of that life, in the presence and in the communion of God. If any one hates, it is evident that he has not divine light. With feelings according to a nature opposed to God, how can it be pretended that he is in the light?
Moreover, there is no occasion of stumbling in one who loves, for he walks according to divine light. There is nothing in him which causes another to stumble, for the revelation of the nature of God in grace will assuredly not do so: and it is this which is manifested in him who loves his brother.(11)
This closes as an introductory statement the first part of the Epistle. It contains in the former half, the privileged place of Christians, the message giving us the truth of our state here, and the provision for failure: that ends with chapter 2:2; in the second half, the proofs the Christian has of the true possession of the privilege according to the message giving obedience, and love of the brethren, knowing Christ, being in Christ, enjoying the perfect love of God, abiding in Him, being in the light, forming the condition which is thus proved.
Having established the two great principles, obedience and love, as proofs of the possession of the divine nature, of Christ known as life, and of our abiding in Him, the apostle goes on to address Christians personally and to shew us the position, on the ground of grace, in three different degrees of ripeness. This parenthetical but most important address we will now consider.
He begins by calling all the Christians to whom he was writing, ’children,’ a term of affection in the loving and aged apostle. And as he writes to them (chap.2:1) in order that they should not sin, so he writes also because all their sins were forgiven for Jesus’ name’s sake. This was the assured condition of all Christians: that which God had granted them in giving them faith, that they might glorify Him He allows no doubt as to the fact of their being pardoned. He writes to them because they are so.
We next find three classes of Christians: fathers, young men, and babes. He addresses them each twice, fathers, young men, babes (ver. 13) fathers, in the first half of verse 14; young men, from the second half, to the end of verse 17; and babes from verse 18 to the end of verse 27. In verse 28 he returns to all Christians under the name of ’children’.
That which characterises fathers in Christ is that they have known Him who is from the beginning, that is, Christ. This is all that he has to say about them. All had resulted in that. He only repeats the same thing again, when, changing his form of expression, he begins anew with these three classes. The fathers have known Christ. This is the result of all christian experience. The flesh is judged, discerned, wherever it has mixed itself with Christ in our feelings: it is recognised, experimentally, as having no value; and, as the result of experience, Christ stands alone, free from all alloy. They have learnt to distinguish that which has only the appearance of good. They are not occupied with experience-that would be being occupied with self, with one’s own heart. All that has passed away; and Christ alone remains as our portion, unmingled with aught besides, even as He gave Himself to us. Moreover He is much better known; they have experienced what He is in so many details, whether of joy in communion with Him, or in the consciousness of weakness, or in the realisation of His faithfulness, of the riches of His grace, of His adaptation to our need, of His love, and in the revelation of His own fullness; so that they are able now to say, ’ I know whom I have believed. ’ Attachment to Himself characterises them. Such is the character of ’fathers’ in Christ.
’Young men’ are the second class. They are distinguished by spiritual strength in conflict: the energy of faith. They have overcome the wicked one. For he speaks of what their character is as in Christ. Conflict they have as such, but the strength of Christ manifested in them.
The third class is ’babes’ These know the Father. We see here that the Spirit of adoption and of liberty characterises the youngest child in the faith of Christ, that it is not the result of progress. It is the commencement. We possess it because we are Christians and it is ever the distinguishing mark of beginners. The others do not lose it, but other things distinguish them.
In again addressing these three classes of Christians the apostle, as we have seen, has only to repeat that which he at first said with regard to the fathers. It is the result of christian life.
In the case of the young men he develops his idea and adds some exhortations. ’Ye are strong,’ he says, ’ and the word of God abideth in you’-an important characteristic. The word is the revelation of God, and the application of Christ, to the heart, so that we have thus the motives which form and govern it, and a testimony founded on the state of the heart, and on convictions which have a divine power in us. It is the sword of the Spirit in our relations with the world. We have been ourselves formed by those things to which we bear testimony in our relations with the world, and those things are in us according to the power of the word of God. The wicked one is thus overcome; for he has only the world to present to our lusts: and the word abiding, in us keeps us in an altogether different sphere of thought in which a different nature is enlightened and strengthened by divine communications. The tendency of the young man is toward the world: the ardour of his nature, and the vigour of his age, tend to draw him away on that side. He has to guard against this by separating himself entirely from the world and the things that are in it; because, if any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, for those things do not come from the Father. He has a world of his own, of which Christ is the centre and glory. The lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- these are the things that are in the world and that characterise it. There are really no other motives besides these in the world. Now these things are not of the Father.
The Father is the source of all that is according to His own heart-every grace, every spiritual gift, the glory, the heavenly holiness of all that was manifested in Christ Jesus, and that will be-all the world of glory to come, of which Christ is the centre. And all this had only the cross for its portion here below. But the apostle is speaking here of the source; and assuredly the Father is not the source of those other things.
Now the world passes away; but he who does the will of God, he who, in going through this world, takes for his guide, not the desires of nature, but the will of God-a will which is according to His nature and which expresses it-such a one shall abide for ever according to the nature and the will that he has followed after.
We shall find that the world, and the Father with all that is of Him, the flesh and the Spirit, the Son and the devil, are put respectively in opposition. Things are spoken of in their source and moral nature, the principles that act in us and that characterise our existence and our position, and the two agents in good and evil that are opposed to each other, without (thanks be to God!) any uncertainty as to the issue of the conflict; for the weakness of Christ, in death, is stronger than the strength of Satan. He has no power against that which is perfect. Christ came that He might destroy the works of the devil.
To the babes the apostle speaks principally of the dangers to which they were exposed from seducers. He warns them with tender affection, reminding them at the same time that all the sources of intelligence and strength were open to them and belonged to them. ’It is the last time;’ not exactly the last days, but the season which had the final character that belonged to the dealings of God with this world. The Antichrist was to come, and already there were many antichrists: by this it might be known it was the last time. It was not merely sin, nor the transgression of the law; but, Christ having already been manifested, and being now absent and hidden from the world, there was a formal opposition to the especial revelation that had been made. It was not a vague and ignorant unbelief; it took a definite shape as having a will directed against Jesus. They might for instance believe all that a Jew believed, as it was revealed in the word, but as to the testimony of God by Jesus Christ they opposed it. They would not own Him to be the Christ; they denied the Father and the Son. This, as to religious profession, is the true character of the Antichrist. He may indeed believe or pretend to believe, that there shall be a Christ; yea, set himself up to be it. But the two aspects of Christianity (that which, on the one hand, regards the accomplishment in the Person of Jesus of the promises made to the Jew; and, on the other hand, the heavenly and eternal blessings presented in the revelation of the Father by the Son), this the Antichrist does not accept. That which characterises him as Antichrist is that he denies the Father and the Son. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is indeed the Jewish disbelief that forms part of his character. That which gives him the character of Antichrist is that he denies the foundation of Christianity. He is a liar in that he denies Jesus to be the Christ; consequently it is the work of the father of lies. But all the unbelieving Jews had done as much without being Antichrist. To deny the Father and the Son characterises him.
But there is something more. These antichrists came out from among the Christians. There was apostacy. Not that they were really Christians, but they had been among the Christians and had come out from them. (How instructive for our days also is this Epistle!) It was thus made manifest that they were not truly of the flock of Christ. All this had a tendency to shake the faith of babes in Christ. The apostle endeavours to strengthen them. There were two means of confirming their faith, which also inspired the apostle with confidence. First, they had the unction of the Holy One; secondly, that which was from the beginning, was the touchstone for all new doctrine, and they already possessed that which was from the beginning.
The indwelling of the Holy Ghost as an unction and spiritual intelligence in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning-the perfect revelation of Christ-these were the safe guards against seducers and seductions. All heresy and all error and corruption will be found to strike at the first and divine revelation of the truth, if the unction of the Holy One is in us to judge them. Now this unction is the portion of even the youngest babes in Christ, and they ought to be encouraged to realise it, however tenderly they may be cared for as they were here by the apostle.
What important truths we discover here for ourselves! The last time already manifested, so that we have to be on our guard against seducers-persons moreover issuing from the bosom of Christianity.
The character of this Antichrist is that he denies the Father and the Son. Unbelief in its Jewish form is also again manifested: owning that there is a Christ, but denying that Jesus is He. Our security against these seductions is the unction from the Holy one- the Holy Ghost, but in especial connection with the holiness of God, which enables us to see clearly into the truth (another characteristic of the Spirit); and, secondly, that that abide in us which we have heard from the beginning. It is this evidently which we have in the written word. ’Development,’’ note it well, is not that which we have from the beginning. By its very name it sins radically against the safeguard pointed out by the apostle. That which the church has taught, as development of the truth, whencesoever she may have received it, is not that which has been heard from the beginning.
There is another point indicated here by the apostle that ought to be noticed. People might pretend by giving God in a vague way the name of Father, that they possessed Him without the true possession of the Son, Jesus Christ. This cannot be. He who has not the Son has not the Father. It is by Him that the Father is revealed, in Him that the Father is known. If the truth that we have received from the beginning abides in us, we abide in the Son and in the Father; for this truth is the revelation of the Son and is revealed by the Son, who is the truth. It is living truth if it abides in us; thus, by possessing it, we possess the Son, and in the Son, the Father also. We abide in it, and thereby we have eternal life. (Compare John 17:3)
Now the apostle had happy confidence that the unction which they had received of Him abode in them, so that they needed not to be taught of others, for this same unction taught them with respect to all things. It was the truth, for it was the Holy Ghost Himself acting in the word, which was the revelation of the truth of Jesus Himself, and there was no lie in it. Thus should they abide in Him according to that which it had taught them.
Observe also, here, that the effect of this teaching by the unction from on high is twofold with regard to the discernment of the truth. They knew that no lie was of the truth; possessing this truth from God, that which was not it was a lie. They knew that this unction which taught them of all things was the truth, and that there was no lie in it. The unction taught them all things, that is to say, all the truth, as truth of God. Therefore that which was not it was a lie, and there was no lie in the unction. Thus the sheep hear the voice of the good Shepherd; if another calls them, it is not His voice, and that is enough. They fear it and fly from it, because they do not know it.
With verse 27 ends the second series of exhortations to the three classes. The apostle begins again with the whole body of Christians (ver. 28). This verse appear.s to me to correspond with verse 8 of the Second Epistle, and with chapter 3 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
The apostle, having ended his address to those who were all in the communion of the Father, applies the essential principles of the divine life, of the divine nature as manifested in Christ, to test those who claimed participation in it; not in order to make the believer doubt, but for the rejection of that which was false. I say, ’not to make the believer doubt;’ for the apostle speaks of his position, and of the position of those to whom he was writing, with the most perfect assurance. (Chap. 3:1,2) (12) He had spoken, in recommencement at verse 28, of the appearing of Jesus. This introduces the Lord in the full revelation of His character, and gives rise to the scrutiny of the pretensions of those who called themselves by His name. There are two proofs which belong essentially to the divine life, and a third which is accessory as privilege: righteousness or obedience, and love, and the presence of the Holy Ghost.
Righteousness is not in the flesh. If therefore it is really found in any one, he is born of Him, he derives his nature from and in Christ. We may remark, that it is righteousness as it was manifested in Jesus; for it is because we know that He is righteous, that we know that ’he who doeth righteousness is born of him.’ It is the same nature demonstrated by the same fruits.
(6) When speaking of sin, the apostle speaks in the present tense, ’we have’: when speaking of sinning, he speaks in the past. He does not take for granted we are going on doing it. It has been a question whether the apostle speaks of first coming to the Lord, or subsequent failures. I answer, he speaks in an abstract and absolute way: confession brings through grace forgiveness. If it is our first coming to God, it is forgiveness, it is in the full and absolute sense. I am forgiven with God: He remembers my sins no more. If it is subsequent failure, honesty of heart always confesses, then it is forgiveness as regards the government of God, and the present condition and relationship of my soul with Him. But the apostle, as everywhere, speaks absolutely and of the principle.
(7) Here the subject is communion, and hence actual failure is spoken of; in the Hebrews, we have seen, it is access to God and we are ’perfected for ever,’ and priesthood is for mercy and help, not for sins, save the great act of atonement.
(8) Fundamentally they are not different. This is affirmed in verse 7: ’The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.’ One might say with perfect truth that the commandment is the word of Christ. but I question if it could be said that the word is the commandment. And this makes one conscious of the difference. The contrast of verses 4 and 5 is remarkable, and has its source in the possession, and the intelligent and complete consciousness of the possession, of the divine life, according to the word, or its non-possession. He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; for this truth is only that which the word reveals. And if we live of the nature of which the word of Christ is the expression, and thus by the word know Him, we obey that word. In another aspect, if we are in possession of this life, partakers of the divine nature, the love of God is in us; we have the commandments of Christ, His word, the perfect love of God, a walk according to the walk of Christ, the communication of the life of Christ so that the commandment is true in Him and in us, the walk in the light, the love of our brother. How rich a chain of blessings! The pretensions here spoken of are-to know Christ, to abide in Him, to be in the light. The proof that the first pretension is justified is obedience. Then, if we abide in Christ (which we know by keeping His word), we ought to walk as He walked. That the last pretension is a true one is proved by love to our brother. In the second, the walk is maintained at all the height of the walk of Christ, as our duty: but this walk is not presented as a proof that we abide in Him, that we keep His word. Observe, that it is not said, ’We know that we believe ’-this is not the question here- but, ’We know that we are in him.’
Let me add here, that the apostle never uses these proofs, as they are so commonly used, to say, ’hereby we doubt.’ It is quite certain from verses 12, 13, that he treats them as all forgiven or he would not have written, and as having the Spirit of adoption-even the youngest and feeblest. Others sought to make them doubt; and he writes that their hearts might be assured before God, that they might not be seduced, into doubting, as if they had not a full Christ and a full Christianity- eternal life. It was the means of keeping and holding fast assurance when they had it, when they might have been shaken, not of obtaining it. They were forgiven, they were sons. When others would make them doubt, he writes that they may be fully assured that they have no reason to doubt.
(9) This, I doubt not, is the true meaning of John 8:25. ’ In the principle of my nature, in my being, that which I am saying to you’ That which He said was essentially and completely that which He was. That which He was is that which He said. Now it is this life which is imparted to us; but it was the love of God among men and in man. And this life being our life, and the word being kept, His love is realised in us in all its extent.
(10) The force of the word is not ’has disappeared, passed away.’ There is much darkness yet in the, world. As to the, light, it has actually shone.
(11) The reader may compare here, with such instruction, what is said in Ephesians 4:17 to 5:12, where these two names of God, the only ones used to reveal His nature, are also used to shew our path and the true character of the Christian; only according to that which the Holy Ghost gives by Paul-the counsels and work of God in Christ. In John it is more the nature.
(12) I have noticed, farther on, the striking way in which God and Christ are spoken of as one Being or Person, not as doctrine as to the two natures, but Christ is before the apostle’s mind, and He is spoken of in the same sentence, now as God, now as appearing as man. Thus in chapter 2:28 He comes. In ver. 29 the righteous man is born of Him, and we are children of God. But the world did not know Him. Now it is Christ on earth. Chapter 3:2 we are children of God, but in the same verse He appears and we are like Him. But what makes this yet more wonderful is that we are identified with Him too. We are called children because that is His title and relationship. The world does not know us, for it did not know Him. We know we shall be like Him when He appears. We are given the same place here and there. (Compare chap.5:20)
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