1st Epistle of John - Part 2
Synopsis of the Books of the Bible
John Nelson Darby
1st Epistle of John - Part 2
Now to say that we are born of Him is to say that we are children of God.(13) What a love is that which the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children! (14) Therefore the world knows us not, because it knew Him not. The apostle returns here to His appearing and its effect on us. We are children of God: this is our present sure and known position; we are born of God. That which we shall be is not yet manifested; but we know that- associated with Jesus as we are in the same relationship with the Father, Himself being our life-we shall be like Him when He appears. For it is to this we are predestined, to see Him as He now is with the Father, from which the life came which was manifested in Him and imparted to us, and to appear in the same glory.
Having then the hope of seeing Him as He is, and knowing that I shall be perfectly like Him when He appears, I seek to be as like Him now as possible, since I already possess this life-He being in me, my life.
This is the measure of our practical purification. We are not pure as He is pure; but we take Christ, as He is in heaven, for the pattern and measure of our purification, we purify ourselves according to His purity, knowing that we shall be perfectly like Him when He is manifested. Before marking the contrast between the principles of the divine life and of the enemy, he sets before us the true measure of purity (he will give that of love in a moment) for the children, inasmuch as they are partakers of His nature and have the same relationship with God.
There are two remarks to be made here. First, ’hope in him’ does not mean in the believer; but a hope that has Christ for its object. Second, it is striking to see the way in which the apostle appears to confound God and Christ together in this epistle; and uses the word ’Him’ to signify Christ, when he had just been speaking of God, and vice versa. We may see the principle of this at the end of chapter 5: ’We are in him that is true, [that is to say] in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.’ In these few words we have the key to the epistle: Christ is the life. It is evidently the Son; but it is God Himself who is manifested, and the perfection of His nature, which is the source of life to us also, as that life was found in Christ as man. Thus I can speak of God and say, ’Born of him;’ but it is in Jesus that God was manifested, and from Him that I derive life; so that ’Jesus Christ’ and ’God’ are interchanged with each other. Thus ’He shall appear’ (chap. 2:28) is Christ, He is righteous; the righteous one ’is born of him’ But in chapter 3:1 it is ’ born of God,’ ’children of God;’ but the world did not know Him: here it is Christ on earth; and ’when he shall appear,’ it is again Christ and we purify ourselves ’even as He is pure.’ There are many other examples.
It is said of the believer, ’he purifies himself:’ this shews that he is not pure, as Christ is. He needed not to purify Himself. Accordingly it is not said, he is pure as Christ is pure (for in that case there would be no sin in us); but he purifies himself according to the purity of Christ as He is in heaven, having the same life as the life of Christ Himself.
Having set forth the positive aspect of christian purity, he goes on to speak of it in other points of view, as one of the characteristic proofs of the life of God in the soul.
He who commits sin (not transgresses the law, (15) but acts lawlessly.
His conduct is without the restraint, without the rule of law. He acts without curb; for sin is the acting without the curb of law or restraint of another’s authority, acting from our own will. Christ came to do His Father’s will, not His own. But Christ was manifested that He might take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin; so that he who commits sin acts against the object of the manifestation of Christ, and in opposition to the nature of which, if Christ is our life, we are partakers. Therefore he who abides in Christ does not practise sin; he who sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. All depends, we see, on participation in the life and nature of Christ. Let us not then deceive ourselves. He who practises righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous: for, by partaking in the life of Christ, one is before God according to the perfection of Him who is there, the head and source of that life. But we are thus as Christ before God, because He Himself is really our life. Our actual life is not the measure of our acceptance; it is Christ who is so. But Christ is our life, if we are accepted according to His excellence; for it is as living of His life that we participate in this.
But the judgment is more than negative. He who practises sin is of the devil, has morally the same nature as the devil; for he sinneth from the beginning: it is his original character as the devil. Now Christ was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil; how then can one who shares the character of this enemy of souls be with Christ?
On the other hand, he who is born of God does not practise sin. The reason is evident; he is made a partaker of the nature of God; he derives his life from Him. This principle of divine life is in him. the seed of God remains in him; he cannot sin, because he is born of God. This new nature had not in it the principle of sin, so as to commit it. How could it be that the divine nature should sin?
Having thus designated the two families, the family of God and that of the devil, the apostle adds the second mark, the absence of which is a proof that one is not of God. He had already spoken of righteousness; he adds the love of the brethren. For this is the message that they had received from Christ Himself, that they should love one another. In verse 12 he shews the connection between the two things: that hatred of a brother is fed by the sense one has that his works are good, and one’s own evil. Moreover we are not to wonder that the world hates us: for we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. If this love is an essential proof of being renewed, it is quite natural that it should not be found in the men of the world.
But, this being the case, he who does not love his brother (solemn thought!) abides in death. In addition to this, he who does not love his brother is a murderer, and a murderer has not eternal life. There is the absence of the divine nature, death; but more, the activity of the old man in the opposite nature is there, he hates, and is in spirit the activity of death-a murderer.
Further, as in the case of righteousness and of purity, we have Christ as the measure of this love. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; we ought to lay down ours for the brethren. Now, if our brother has need, and we possess this world’s good, but do not provide for his necessity, is that the divine love which made Christ lay down His life for us? It is by this real and practical love that we know we are in the truth, and that our heart is confirmed and assured before God. For if there is nothing on the conscience, we have confidence in His presence; but if our own heart condemns us, God knows yet more.
It is not here the means of being assured of our salvation, but of having confidence in the presence of God. We cannot have it with a bad conscience in the practical sense of the word, for God is always light and always holy.
We also receive all that we ask for, when we walk thus in love before Him, doing that which is pleasing in His sight; for thus walking in His presence with confidence, the heart and its desires respond to this blessed influence, being formed by the enjoyment of communion with Him in the light of His countenance. It is God who animates the heart; this life, and this divine nature, of which the epistle speaks, being in full activity and enlightened and moved by the divine presence in which it delights. Thus our requests are only for the accomplishment of desires that arise when this life, when our thoughts, are filled with the presence of God and with the communication of His nature. And He lends His power to the fulfillment of these desires, of which He is the source, and which are formed in the heart by the revelation of Himself. (Compare John 15:7)
This is indeed the position of Christ Himself when here below: only that He was perfect in it. (Compare John 8:29; 11:42)
And here it is the commandment of God which He desires us to obey; namely, to believe on the name of His Son Jesus; and to love one another, as He gave us commandment.
Now he who keeps His commandments dwells in Him; and He dwells also in this obedient man. It will be asked whether God or Christ is here meant? The apostle, as we have seen, confounds them together in his thought. That is to say, the Holy Ghost unites them in our minds. We are in Him who is true, that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ, who is the presentation of God to men in life in man; and to the believer He is the communication of that life, so that God too dwells in him, in the revelation, in its divine excellence and perfection, of the nature which the believer shares in the power of the Holy Ghost who dwells in him, so that love is alike enjoyed and exercised.
But what marvelous grace to have received a life, a nature, by which we are enabled to enjoy God Himself, who dwells in us, and by which, since it is in Christ, we are in fact in the enjoyment of this communion, this relationship with God! He who has the Son has life; but God then dwells in him as the portion, as well as the source of this life; and he who has the Son has the Father.
What marvelous links of vital and living enjoyment through the communication of the divine nature of Him who is its source; and that according to its perfection in Christ! Such is the Christian according to grace. Therefore also he is obedient, because this life in the man Christ (and it is thus that it becomes ours) was obedience itself, the true relationship of man to God.
Practical righteousness, then, is a proof that we are born of Him who, in His nature, is its source. In presence also of the world’s hatred, we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. Thus, having a good conscience, we have confidence in God, and we receive from Him whatsoever we ask, walking in obedience and in a way that is pleasing to Him. Thus walking, we dwell in Him (16) and He in us.
A third proof of our christian privileges arises here. The Spirit whom He has given us is the proof that He Himself dwells in us, the manifestation of the presence of God in us. He does not here add that we abide in Him, because the subject here is the manifestation of the presence of God. The presence of the Spirit demonstrates it. But in abiding in Him there is, as we shall see farther on, the enjoyment of that which He is, and consequently moral communion with His nature. He who obeys enjoys this also, as we have seen. Here the presence of the Holy Ghost in us is spoken of as demonstration of one part only of this truth, namely, that God is in us. But the presence of God in us according to grace, and according to the power of the Spirit, involves also communion with that nature; we dwell also in Him from whom we derive this grace, and all the spiritual forms of that nature, in communion and practical life. It is in verses 12 and 16 of chapter 4. that our apostle speaks of this.
Practical righteousness or obedience, the love of the brethren, the manifestation of the Spirit of God, are the proofs of our relationship to God. He who obeys the Lord’s commandments in practical righteousness dwells in Him, and He in him. The Spirit given is the proof that He dwells in us.
(13) See previous note (12).
(14) John uses habitually the word ’children,’ not ’sons,’ as the more distinctly expressing that we are of the same family. We are as Christ before God and in the world, and so will be when He appears.
(15) In Romans 2:12, the word is used in contrast with law breaking, or sinning under law. That is, the Greek word here used for what is translated ’transgression of the law’ is that used for sinning without law, in contrast with sinning under law, and being judged by it. I do not dissemble that this changing what is a definition of sin is a very serious thing.
(16) Here dwelling in Him comes first, because it is practical realisation in an obedient heart. His dwelling in us is then pursued apart as known by the Spirit given to us, to guard against being misled by evil spirits. In chapter 4:7, he resumes; the indwelling in connection with the love of God.
Now, to make use of this last proof, caution was required, for many false prophets would assume, and even in the time of the apostle had already assumed, the semblance of having received communications from the Spirit of God, and insinuated themselves among the Christians. It was necessary therefore to put them on their guard, by giving them the sure mark of the real Spirit of God. The first of these was the confession of Jesus come in the flesh. It is not merely to confess that He is come, but to confess Him thus come. The second was that He who really knew God hearkened to the apostles. In this way the writings of the apostles become a touchstone for those who pretend to teach the assembly. All the word is so, doubtless; but I confine myself here to that which is said in this place. The teaching of the apostles is formally a touchstone for all other teaching-I mean that which they themselves taught immediately. If any one tells me that others must explain or develop it to have the truth and certainty of faith, I reply, ’You are not of God, for he who is of God hearkens to them; and you would have me not to hearken to them; and whatever may be your pretext, you prevent my doing so.’ The denial of Jesus come in the flesh is the spirit of Antichrist. Not to hear the apostles is the provisional and preparatory form of the evil. True Christians had overcome the spirit of error by the Spirit of God who dwelt in them.
The three tests of true Christianity are now distinctly laid down, and the apostle pursues his exhortations, developing the fullness and intimacy of our relationships with a God of love, maintaining that participation of nature in which love is of God, and he who loves is born of God-partakes therefore of His nature, and knows Him (for it is by faith that he received it) as partaking of His nature. He who loves not does not know God. We must possess the nature that loves in order to know what love is. He then who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Such a person has not one sentiment in connection with the nature of God; how then can he know Him? No more than an animal can know what a man’s mind or understanding is when he has not got it.
Give especial heed, reader, to this immense prerogative, which flows from the whole doctrine of the epistle. The eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested and has been imparted to us: thus we are partakers of the divine nature. The affections of that nature acting in us rest, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the enjoyment of communion with God who is its source; we dwell in Him and He in us. The first thing is the statement of the truth in us. The actings of this nature prove that He dwells -that, if we thus love, God Himself dwells in us. He who works this love is there. But He is infinite and the heart rests in Him; we know at the same time that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. But this passage, so rich in blessing, demands that we should follow it with order.
He begins with the fact that love is of God. It is His nature: He is its source. Therefore he who loves is born of God, is a partaker of His nature. Also he knows God, for he knows what love is, and God is its fullness. This is the doctrine which makes everything depend on our participation in the divine nature.
Now this might be transformed on the one hand into mysticism,- by leading us to fix our attention on our love for God, and love in us, that being God’s nature, as if it was said, love is God, not God is love, and be seeking to fathom the divine nature in ourselves; or to doubt on the other, because we do not find the effects of the divine nature in us as we would. In effect, he who does not love (for the thing, as ever in John, is expressed in an abstract way) does not know God, for God is love. The possession of the nature is necessary to the understanding of what that nature is, and for the knowledge of Him who is its perfection.
But, if I seek to know it and have or give the proof of it, it is not to the existence of the nature in us that the Spirit of God directs the thoughts of the believers as their object. God, he has said, is love; and this love has been manifested towards us in that He has given His only Son, that we might live through Him. The proof is not the life in us, but that God has given His Son in order that we might live, and further to make propitiation for our sins. God be praised! we know this love, not by the poor results of its action in ourselves, but in its perfection in God, and that even in a manifestation of it towards us, which is wholly outside ourselves. It is a fact outside ourselves which is the manifestation of this perfect love. We enjoy it by participating in the divine nature; we know it by the infinite gift of God’s Son. The exercise and proof of it are
The full scope of this principle and all the force of its truth are stated and demonstrated in that which follows. It is striking to see how the Holy Spirit, in an epistle which is essentially occupied with the life of Christ and its fruits in us, gives the proof and full character of love in that which is wholly without ourselves. Nor can anything be more perfect than the way in which the love of God is here set forth, from the time it is occupied with our sinful state till we stand before the judgment-seat. God has thought of all: love towards us as sinners, verses 9,10; in us as saints, verse 12; with us as perfect in our condition in view of the day of judgment, verse 17. In the first verses, the love of God is manifested in the gift of Christ; first, to give us life-we were dead; secondly, to make propitiation-we were guilty. Our whole case is taken up. In the second of these verses the great principle of grace, what love is, where and how known, is clearly stated in words of infinite importance as to the very nature of Christianity. Herein is love, not that we have loved God (that was the principle of the law), but in that He has loved us, and has given His Son to make propitiation for our sins. Here, then, it is that we have learnt that which love is. It was perfect in Him when we had no love for Him; perfect in Him in that He exercised it towards us when we were in our sins, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for them. The apostle then affirms, no doubt, that he who loves not knows not God. The pretension to possess this love is judged by this means; but in order to know love we must not seek for it in ourselves, but seek it manifested in God when we had none. He gives the life which loves, and He has made propitiation for our sins
And now with regard to the enjoyment and the privileges of this love:-if God has so loved us (this is the ground that He takes) we ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God dwells in us. His presence, Himself dwelling in us, rises in the excellency of His nature above all the barriers of circumstances, and attaches us to those who are His. It is God in the power of His nature which is the source of thought and feeling and diffuses itself among them in whom it is. One can understand this. How is it that I love strangers from another land, persons of different habits, whom I have never known, more intimately than members of my own family after the flesh? How is it that I have thoughts in common, objects infinitely loved in common, affections powerfully engaged, a stronger bond with persons whom I have never seen, than with the otherwise dear companions of my childhood? It is because there is in them and in me a source of thoughts and affections which is not human. God is in it. God dwells in us. What happiness! What a bond ! Does He not communicate Himself to the soul? Does He not render it conscious of His presence in love ? Assured]y, yes. And if He is thus in us, the blessed source of our thoughts, can there be fear, or distance, or uncertainty, with regard to what He is? None at all. His love is perfect in us. We know Him as love in our souls: the second great point in this remarkable passage, the enjoyment of divine love in our souls.
The apostle has not yet said,’We know that we dwell in him.’ He will say it now. But, if the love of the brethren is in us, God dwells in us. When it is in exercise, we are conscious of the presence of God, as perfect love in us. It fills the heart, and thus is exercised in us. Now this consciousness is the effect of the presence of His Spirit, as the source and power of life and nature, in us. He has given us, not here ’his Spirit’-the proof that He dwells in us, but ’of his Spirit;’ we participate by His presence in us in divine affection through the Spirit, and thus we not only know that He dwells in us, but the presence of the Spirit, acting in a nature which is that of God in us, makes us conscious that we dwell in Him. For He is the infiniteness and perfection of that which is now in us.
The heart rests in this, and enjoys Him, and is hidden from all that is outside Him, in the consciousness of the perfect love in which (thus dwelling in Him) one finds oneself. The Spirit makes us dwell in God, and gives us thus the consciousness that He dwells in us. Thus we, in the savour and consciousness of the love that was in it, can testify of that in which it was manifested beyond all Jewish limits, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. We shall see further another character of it.
If we compare verse 12 of our chapter 4 with chapter 1:18 of the Gospel by John, we shall better apprehend the scope of the apostle’s teaching here. The same difficulty, or if you will, the same truth is presented in both cases. No one has ever seen God. How is this met?
In John 1:18 the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. He who is (17) in the most perfect intimacy, in the most absolute proximity and enjoyment of the Father’s love, the one eternal, sufficient object that knew the love of the Father as His only Son, has revealed Him unto men as He has Himself known Him. What is the answer in our epistle to this same difficulty? ’If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’ By the communication of the divine nature, and by the dwelling of God in us, we inwardly enjoy Him as He has been manifested and declared by :His only Son. His love is perfect in us, known to the heart, as it has been declared in Jesus. The God who has been declared by Him dwells in us. What a thought! that this answer to the fact that no one has ever seen God is equally, that the only Son has declared Him, and that He dwells in us. What light this throws upon the words, ’which thing is true in him and in you!’ (18) For it is in that Christ has become our life that we can thus enjoy God and His presence in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. And from this we have seen that the testimony of verse 14 flows.
We see, also, the distinction between God dwelling in us and we in God, even in that which Christ says of Himself. He abode always in the Father, and the Father in Him; but He says, ’The Father who dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.’ Through His word the disciples ought to have believed in them both; but in that which they had seen-in His works -they had rather seen the proof that the Father dwelt in Him. They who had seen Him had seen the Father. But when the Comforter was come, at that day they should know that Jesus was in His Father-divinely one with the Father.
He does not say that we are in God, nor in the Father, (19) but that we dwell in Him, and we know it, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have already noticed that He says (chap. 3:24) ’hereby we know that he God abideth in us, because he has given us his Spirit.’ Here he adds, We know that we dwell in God, because it is-not the manifestation, as a proof, but-communion with God Himself. We know that we dwell in Him, always as a precious truth-an unchangeable fact; sensibly, when His love is active in the heart. Consequently it is to this activity that the apostle immediately turns by
adding ’and we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.’ This was the proof for every one, of that love which the apostle enjoyed-as all believers do-in his own heart. It is important to notice how the passage thus first presents the fact of God’s dwelling in us, then the effect (as He is infinite), our dwelling in Him, and then the realisation of the first truth in conscious reality of life.
We may remark here that, while God’s dwelling in us is a doctrinal fact and true of every real Christian, our dwelling in Him, though involved in it, is connected with our state. Thus chapter 3:24, ’He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.’ Chapter 4:16, ’He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.’’
Love one to another is indeed taken as the proof that God is there, and His love is perfected in us-this to contrast the manner of His presence with that of Christ. (John 1:18) But, what we thus know is dwelling in Him and He in us. In each case this knowledge is by the Spirit. Verse 15 is the universal fact: verse 16 brings it fully up to its source. We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. His nature is there declared in itself (for we joy in God); God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. There is none anywhere else: if we partake of His nature, we partake of it, and he who abides in it abides in God who is the fullness of it. But then remark that while what He is is insisted on, His personal being is carefully insisted on. He dwells in us.
And here comes in a principle of deep importance. It might perhaps be said that this dwelling of God in us and our dwelling in Him depended on a large measure of spirituality, the apostle having in fact spoken of the highest possible joy. But although the degree in which we intelligently realise it is in effect a matter of spirituality, yet the thing in itself is the portion of every Christian. It is our position, because Christ is our life, and because the Holy Ghost is given us. ’Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.’ How great the grace of the gospel! How admirable our position because it is in Jesus that we possess it! It is important to hold fast this, that it is the portion of every Christian, the joy of the humble, the strongest reproach to the conscience of the careless.
The apostle explains this high position by the possession of the divine nature-the essential condition of Christianity. A Christian is one who is a partaker of the divine nature, and in whom the Spirit dwells. But the knowledge of our position does not flow from the consideration of this truth, though it depends on its being true, but of that of God’s own love, as we have already seen. And the apostle goes on to say ’We have known and believed the love that God has to us.’ This is the source of our knowledge and enjoyment of these privileges, so sweet and so marvelously exalted, but so simple and so real to the heart when they are known.
We have known love, the love that God has for us, and we have believed it. Precious knowledge! by possessing it we know God; for it is thus that He has manifested Himself. Therefore can we say, ’God is love.’ There is none beside. Himself is love. He is love in all its fullness. He is not holiness, He is holy; but He is love. He is not righteousness; He is
By dwelling then in love I dwell in Him, which I could not do unless He dwelt in me, and this He does. Here he puts it first, that we dwell in Him, because it is God Himself who is before our eyes, as the love in which we dwell. Therefore, when thinking of this love, I say that I dwell in Him, because I have in my heart the consciousness of it by the Spirit. At the same time this love is an active energetic principle in us; it is God Himself who is there. This is the joy of our position-the position of every Christian.
Verses 14 and 16 present the twofold effect of the manifestation of this love.
First, the testimony that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Quite outside the promises made to the Jews (as everywhere in John), this work is the fruit of that which God Himself is. Accordingly whosoever confesses Jesus to be that Son enjoys all the fullness of its blessed consequences.
Secondly, the Christian has believed for himself in this love, and he enjoys it according to its fullness. There is only this modification of the expression of the glorious fact of our portion-that the confession of Jesus as the Son of God is primarily here the proof that God dwells in us, although the other part of the truth equally says that he who confesses Him dwells also in God.
When speaking of our portion in communion, as believing in this love, it is said, that he who dwells in love dwells in God; for in effect that is where the heart is. Here also the other part of the truth is equally true; God dwells in him likewise
I have spoken of the consciousness of this dwelling in God, for it is thus only that it is known. But it is important to remember that the apostle teaches it as a truth that applies to every believer. These might have excused themselves for not appropriating these statements as too high for them; but this fact judges the excuse. This communion is neglected. But God dwells in every one who confesses that Jesus is Son of God, and he in God. What an encouragement for a timid believer! What a rebuke for a careless one!
The apostle returns to our relative position, viewing God as outside ourselves, as Him before whom we are to appear and with whom we have always to do. This is the third great proof and character of love in which it is complete, testifying, as I have already said, that God has thought on all as to us from our sinful state to the day of judgment.
Herein is love perfect with us (in order that we may have boldness for the day of judgment), namely, that as He is, such are we in this world. In truth, what could give us a more complete assurance for that day than to be as Jesus Himself-like the judge? He who will judge in righteousness is our righteousness. We are in Him the righteousness according to which He will judge. We are in respect of judgment as He is. Truly this can give us perfect peace. But observe, that it is not only in the day of judgment that this is so (it gives us boldness for it), but we are it in this world. Not as He was, but in this world we are as He is, and have our known place already, as needed, and according to the nature and counsels of God, for that day. It is ours as being livingly identified with Him.
Now in love there is no fear; there is confidence. If I am sure that a person loves me, I do not fear him. If I am only desiring to be the object of his affection, I may fear that I am not so, and may even fear himself. Nevertheless this fear would always tend to destroy my love for him and my desire to be loved by him. There is incompatibility between the two affections-there is no fear in love. Perfect love then banishes fear; for fear torments us, and torment is not the enjoyment of love. He therefore who fears does not know perfect love. And now what does he mean by ’perfect love’? It is that which God is, and which He has fully displayed in Christ, and given us to know and to enjoy by His presence in us, so that we dwell in Him. The positive proof of its complete perfectness is that we are such as Christ is. It is manifested towards us, perfected in us, and made perfect with us. But that which we enjoy is God, who is love, and we enjoy Him by His being in us, so that love and confidence are in our hearts, and we have rest. That which I know of God is that He is love, and love to me, and nothing else but love to me, because it is Himself who is so. Therefore there is no fear. (21)
If we inquire practically into the history, so to speak, of these affections; if we seek to separate that which in the enjoyment is united, because the divine nature in us, which is love, enjoys love in its perfection in God (His love shed abroad in the heart by His presence therefore); if we wish to specify the relationship in which our hearts find themselves with God in regard to this, here it is: ’ we love him because he, first loved us.’ It is grace and it must be grace because it is God who is to be glorified.
Here, it will be worth our while to notice the order of this remarkable passage. Verses 7-10: We possess the nature of God; consequently we love, we are born of Him, and we know Him. But the manifestation of love towards us in Christ Jesus is the proof of that love; it is thus that we know it.
Verses 11-16: We enjoy it by dwelling in it. It is present life in the love of God by the presence of His Spirit in us; the enjoyment of that love by communion, in that God dwells in us, and we thus dwell in Him. Verse 17 His love is perfected with us; the perfection of that love, viewed in the place that it has given us in view of judgment-we are, in this world, such as Christ is. Verses 18-19: it is thus fully perfected with us. Love to sinners, communion, perfection before God, give us the moral and characteristic elements of that love-what it is in our relationship with God.
In the first passage, where the apostle speaks of the manifestation of this love, he does not go beyond the fact that one who loves is born of God. The nature of God (which is love) being in us, he who loves know~ Him, for he is born of Him-has His nature and realises what it is.
It is that which God has been with regard to the sinner which demonstrates His nature of love. afterwards, that which we learnt as sinners we enjoy as saints. The perfect love of God is shed abroad in the heart, and we dwell in Him. As already with Jesus in this world, and as He is, fear has no place in one to whom the love of God is a dwelling-place and rest.
Verse 20: the reality of our love to God, fruit of His love to us, is now tested. If we say that we love God and do not love the brethren, we are liars; for if the divine nature, so near us (in the brethren near us), and Christ’s value for them, does not awaken our spiritual affections, how then can He who is afar off do so? This also is His commandment, that he who loves God love his brother also. Obedience is found here also. (Compare John 14:31)
Love for the brethren proves the reality of our love for God. And this love must be universal, must be in exercise towards all Christians, for whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and he who loves a person will love one who is born of Him. And if the being born of Him is the motive, we shall love all that are born of Him.
(17) Note, it is not ’was.’ It is never said in scripture, as often, He left the Father’s bosom; but ’the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.’ As so knowing God, He revealed Him on earth.
(18) This gives us too, in their highest character and subject, the difference between the gospel and Epistle.
(19) The only expression in the word that has some resemblance to it is ’the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father.’ This is addressed to a numerous corporation in quite another sense.
(20) Righteousness and holiness suppose reference to other things; thus, evil to be known, rejection of evil, and judgment. Love, though exercised towards others, is what He is in Him self. The other essential name that God bears is ’ light.’ We are said to be ’light in the Lord ’ as partakers of the divine nature; not love, which is, though the divine nature, sovereign in grace. We cannot therefore be said to be love. (See Eph. 4 & 5)
(21) It is striking to see that he does not say, We ought to love Him because He first loved us; but we love Him. We cannot know and enjoy love to us without loving. The sense of love to us is always love. It is not known and valued without its being there. My sense of love in another is love to him. We ought to love the brethren, because it is not their love to us which is the spring of it, though it may nourish it in this way. But we love God because He first loved us
But a danger exists on the other side. It may be, that we love the brethren because they are pleasant to us; they furnish us with agreeable society, in which our conscience is not wounded. A counter-proof is therefore given us. ’Hereby we know that we love the children of God, if we love God and keep his commandments.’ It is not as children of God that I love the brethren, unless I love God of whom they are born. I may love them individually as companions, or I may love some among them, but not as the children of God, if I do not love God Himself. If God Himself has not His true place in my heart, that which bears the name of love to the brethren shuts out God; and that in so much the more complete and subtle manner, because our link with them bears the sacred name of brotherly love.
Now there is a touchstone even for this love of God namely, obedience to His commands. If I walk with the brethren themselves in disobedience to their Father, it is certainly not because they are His children that I love them. If it were because I loved the Father and because they were His children, I should assuredly like them to obey Him. To walk then in disobedience with the children of God, under the pretext of brotherly love, is not to love them as the children of God. If I loved them as such, I should love their Father and my Father, and I could not walk in disobedience to Him and call it a proof that I loved them because they were His.
If I also loved them because they were His children, I should love all who are such, because the same motive engages me to love them all.
The universality of this love with regard to all the children of God; its exercise in practical obedience to His will: these are the marks of true brotherly love. That which has not these marks is a mere carnal party spirit, clothing itself with the name and the form of brotherly love. Most certainly I do not love the Father if I encourage His children in disobedience to Him.
Now there is an obstacle to this obedience, and that is the world. The world has its forms, which are very far from obedience to God When we are occupied only with Him and His will, the world’s enmity soon breaks out. It also acts, by its comforts and its delights, on the heart of man as walking after the flesh. In short, the world and the commandments of God are in opposition to each other; but the commandments of God are not grievous to those who are born of Him, for he who is born of God overcomes the world. He possesses a nature and a principle that surmount the difficulties that the world opposes to his walk. His nature is the divine nature, for he is born of God; his principle is that of faith. His nature is insensible to the attractions which this world offers to the flesh, and that because it has, altogether apart from this world, a spirit independent of it, and an object of its own which governs it. Faith directs its steps, but faith does not see the world, nor that which is present. Faith believes that Jesus, whom the world rejected, is the Son of God. The world therefore has lost its power over it. Its affections and its trust are fixed on Jesus, who was crucified, owning Him as the Son of God. Thus the believer, detached from the world, has the boldness of obedience, and does the will of God which abides for ever.
The apostle sums up, in a few words, the testimony of God respecting the life eternal which He has given us.
This life is not in the first Adam, it is in the Second-in the Son of God. Man, as born of Adam, does not possess it, does not acquire it. He ought indeed to have gained life under the law. This characterised it, ’Do this and live.’ But man did not and could not.
God gives him eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son has not life.
Now what is the testimony rendered to this gift of life eternal ? The witnesses are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. This Jesus, the Son of God, is He who came by water and by blood; not by water only, but by water and by blood. The Spirit also bears witness because He is truth. That to which they bear witness is that God has given us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son. But whence did this water and the blood flow ? It was from the pierced side of Jesus. It is the judgment of death pronounced and executed (compare Rom. 8:3) on the flesh, on all that is of the old man, on the first Adam. Not that the sin of the first Adam was in the flesh of Christ, but that Jesus died in it as a sacrifice for sin. ’In that he died he died unto sin once.’ Sin in the flesh was condemned in the death of Christ in the flesh. There was no other remedy. The flesh could not be modified nor subjected to the law. The life of the first Adam was nothing but sin in the principle of its will; it could not be subject to the law. Our purification as to the old man is its death. He who is dead is justified from sin. We are therefore baptised to have part in the death of Jesus. We are crucified with Christ; nevertheless we live, but not we it is Christ who lives in us. Participating in the life of Christ risen, we reckon ourselves as dead with Him; for why live of this new life, this life of the second Adam, if we could live before God in the life of the first Adam? No; by living in Christ we have accepted by faith the sentence of death, passed by God on the first Adam. This is christian purification: even the death of the old man, because we are made partakers of life in Christ Jesus. ’We are dead ’-crucified with Him We need a perfect purification before God; we have it; for that which was impure no longer exists: what exists, as born of God, is perfectly pure.
He came by water-a powerful testimony, as flowing from the side of a dead Christ, that life is not to be sought for in the first Adam; for Christ, as coming for man, taking up his cause, the Christ come in the flesh, had to die: else He had remained alone in His own purity. Life is to be sought for in the Son of God risen from among the dead. Purification is by death.
But it was not by water only that He came; it was also by blood. The expiation of our sins was as necessary as the moral purification of our soul. We possess it in the blood of a slain Christ. Death alone could expiate them and blot them out. And Jesus died for us. The guilt of the believer no longer exists before God; Christ has put Himself in his place. The life is on high, and we are raised up together with Him, God having forgiven us all our trespasses. Expiation is by death.
The third witness is the Spirit: put first in the order of their testimony on earth, as He alone gives witness in power so that we know the other two; last, in their historic order, for such in fact was that order, death first and only thereafter the Holy Ghost. (22)
In effect it is the testimony of the Spirit, His presence in us, which enables us to appreciate the value of the water and the blood. We should never have understood the practical bearing of the death of Christ, if the Holy Ghost were not to the new man a revealing power of its import and its efficacy. Now the Holy Ghost came down from a risen and ascended Christ; and thus we know that eternal life is given us in the Son of God.
The testimony of these three witnesses meets together in this same truth, namely, that grace-that God Himself-has given us eternal life; and that this life is in the Son. Man had nothing to do in it, except by his sins. It is the gift of God. And the life that He gives is in the Son. The testimony is the testimony of God. How blessed to have such a testimony, and that from God Himself, and in perfect grace!
We have then the three things: the cleansing, the expiation, and the presence of the Holy Ghost as the witness that eternal life is given us in the Son, who was slain for man when in relationship with man here below. He could but die for man s he is. Life is elsewhere, namely, in Himself.
Here the doctrine of the epistle ends. The apostle wrote these things in order that they who believed in the Son might know that they had eternal life. He does not give means of examination to make the faithful doubt whether they had eternal life; but- seeing that there were seducers who endeavoured to turn them aside as deficient in something important, and who presented themselves as possessing some superior light-he points out to them the marks of life, in order to re-assure them; developing the excellence of that life, and of their position as enjoying it; and in order that they might understand that God had given it to them, and that they might be in no wise shaken in mind.
He then speaks of the practical confidence in God which flows from all this-confidence exercised with a view to all our wants here below, all that our hearts desire to ask of God. We know that He always listens to everything that we ask in accordance with His will. Precious privilege! The Christian himself would not desire anything to be granted him that was contrary to the will of God. But for everything that is according to His will, His ear is ever open to us, ever attentive. He always hearkens; He is not like man, often occupied so that he cannot listen, or careless so that he will not. God always hears us, and assuredly He does not fail in power: the attention He pays us is a proof of His good-will. We receive therefore the things that we ask of Him. He grants our requests. What a sweet relationship! What a high privilege! And it is one also of which we may avail ourselves in charity for others.
If a brother sins and God chastises him, we may petition for that brother, and life shall be restored him. Chastisement tends to the death of the body (compare Job 33, 34; James 5:14, 16); we pray for the offender and he is healed. Otherwise the sickness takes its course. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is such sin as is unto death. This does not seem to me to be some particular sin, but all sin which has such a character that, instead of awakening christian charity, it awakens christian indignation. Thus Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin unto death. It was a lie, but a lie under such circumstances that it excited horror rather than compassion. We can easily understand this in other cases.
Thus far as to sin and its chastisement. But the positive side is also brought before us. As born of God, we do not commit sin at all, we keep ourselves, and ’the wicked one toucheth us not.’ He has nothing wherewith to entice the new man. The enemy has no objects of attraction to the divine nature in us, which is occupied, by the action of the Holy Ghost, with divine and heavenly things, or with the will of God. Our part therefore is so to live-the new man occupied with the things of God and of the Spirit.
The apostle ends his epistle by specifying these two things: our nature, our mode of being, as Christians; and the object that has been communicated to us in order to produce and nourish faith.
We know that we are of God; and that not in a vague way, but in contrast with all that is not us-a principle of immense importance, which makes christian position exclusive by.its very nature. It is not merely good, or bad, or better; but it is of God. And nothing which is not of God (that is to say, which has not its origin in Him) could have this character and this place. The whole world lies in the wicked one.
The Christian has the certainty of these two things by virtue of his nature. which discerns and knows that which is of God, and thereby judges all that is opposed to it. The two are not merely good and bad, but of God and of the enemy. This as to the nature.
With regard to the object of this nature, we know that the Son of God is come-a truth of immense importance also. It is not merely that there is good and that there is evil; but the Son of God has Himself come into this scene of misery, to present an object to our hearts. But there is more than this. He has given us an understanding that in the midst of .all the falsehood of this world, of which Satan is the prince, we may know Him that is true-the true One. Immense privilege which alters our whole position! The power of the world by which Satan blinded us is completely broken, and we are brought into the true light; and in that light we see and know Him who is true, who is in Himself perfection; that by which all things can be perfectly discerned and judged according to truth. But this is not all. We are in this true One, partakers of His nature, and abiding in Him, and in order that we may enjoy the source of truth. (23) Now it is in Jesus that we are. It is thus, it is in Him, that we are in connection with the perfections of God.
We may again remark here-that which gives a character to the whole Epistle-the manner in which God and Christ are united in the apostle’s mind. It is on account of this that he so frequently says, ’He,’ when we must understand ’Christ,’ although he had previously spoken of God: for instance, chapter 5:20. And here, ’We are in him that is true [that is to say], in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.’
Behold then the divine links of our position! We are in Him who is true; this is the nature of Him in whom we are. Now, in reality as to the nature, it is God Himself; as to the Person, and as to the manner of being in Him, it is His Son Jesus Christ. It is in the Son, in the Son as man, that we are in fact as to His Person; but He is the true God, the veritable God. Nor is this all; but we have life in Him. He is also the eternal life, so that we possess it in Him. We know the true God, we have eternal life.
All that is outside this is an idol. May God preserve us from it, and teach us by His grace to preserve ourselves from it! This gives occasion to the Spirit of God to speak of ’the truth’ in the two short Epistles that follow.
(22) Even the orderly reception of the Holy Ghost was so. (see Acts 2:38)
(23) I have already noticed this passage as being a kind of key to the way we really know God, and dwell in Him. It speaks of God as Him we know, in whom we are, explaining it by saying, that it is in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord; only here, as follows in the text, it is truth and not love.
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