Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
THE FIRST EPISTLE
While the Christian life is prominent in every part of the New Testament Epistles, there are perhaps four where detailed instruction is specially noteworthy. In Romans we are told how we come out of the house of bondage. In Ephesians we see how we enter into the banqueting house. In Hebrews we note how we are led up to the throne. In 1 John we perceive how we approach the Divine Presence. Perhaps these four Epistles are also capable of being considered in two separate pairs, Romans and Ephesians forming one, and Hebrews and 1 John the other. It is also possible to connect Ephesians and 1 John as giving respectively the corporate and individual aspects of the Christian life.
Westcott suggests that John's First Epistle was the last book of the New Testament in chronological order of writing, and if this is so, there is a striking contrast between the opening words of the Bible and the closing statement. "In the beginning, God" (Gen. 1:1); "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
There seems no doubt that this Epistle is to be closely associated with the Fourth Gospel. The purpose of the Gospel is that by believing men might have life (John 20:31). The purpose of the Epistle is that those who have life may know that they possess it (1 John 5:13). Thus the latter is written as the complement of the former, and Is intended for believers.
The dominant note of the Epistle is that of fellowship with God, and in him fellowship with one another (1:3). The Christian life may thus be summed up in seven words. It commences with Sonship; it is marked by Discipleship; it goes on to Stewardship; it expresses itself in Worship; it responds to Lordship; it is realized in Fellowship; and it culminates in Heirship.
I. The Purpose
It is difficult but not impossible to discover why the Epistle was written. There are three statements which at once describe the purpose of the Apostle in writing, and at the same time the object of the Christian life.
1. Fulness of Joy. — "These things we write that your joy may be full" (1:4). Joy is God's purpose for man, for sorrow originally came from sin. Our Lord's first miracle was wrought at a wedding; his second in a home; thus we have, first, Christ and life's gladness; and only afterwards Christ and life's sadness. Joy is necessary for all true life (Neh. 8:10). Even in education the influence of joy is undoubted, for young children are particularly responsive to a bright, buoyant, joyous teacher. Sorrow, while often made the instrument of discipline, may and sometimes does harden, but joy never hardens. We should, therefore, settle it in our minds that God intends us to have the fulness of joy.
2. Freedom from Sinning. — "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (2:1). This is another part of the Apostle's purpose. He wished and intended his readers not to sin. There is, as we shall see, a clear distinction between sin and sins, between root and fruit, principle and practise, and the Apostle, while carefully teaching that the principle of sin remains (1:8), is equally careful to teach that this root need not and should not produce fruit (2:1). But if there should be any sinning God has made provision in the Divine righteous Advocate (2:1, 2).
3. Spiritual Assurance. — 'These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (5:13). Assurance means the consciousness of our position and relation to God. Faith possesses; assurance knows that it possesses. This idea associated with the word ''know" is in some respects the most prominent feature of the Epistle. "We know" is found fifteen times; "ye know" six times; "we have known" once; "ye have known" three times; "he that knoweth" once. The English word "know" stands for two separate and distinct Greek words, and when careful attention is paid to their usage the result is much spiritual illumination. One implies intuitive knowledge, that which comes from fact, the evidence of our senses, that which Is independent of ourselves (1:2; 2:29. See John 1:33; 13:7; 8:55). The other indicates experimental knowledge, that which comes to us as the result of our personal testing and experience. Sometimes the present tense is used indicating the process of acquiring this experimental knowledge (2:3, 29; 3:24; 4:2; 5:2). At other times the perfect tense is found, indicating that which has been permanently acquired by experience (2:3; 3:16).
These three passages, when put together, give the purpose both of the Epistle and of the Christian life. There is a close and intimate connection between them. We are to have the fulness of joy because of our freedom from sinning, and this, In turn, comes from spiritual assurance. Thus, assurance is the secret of freedom from sinning and of the fulness of joy.
II. The Plan
The Epistle Is confessedly difficult to analyze. Professor Law, in his fine book, "The Tests of Life," thinks the key to the Interpretation is that the Epistle gives certain tests by which the question of the Christian life may be settled. These are three — doing righteousness, loving one another, and believing in Christ. They are dealt with respectively in 1:5; 2:28; 2:29; 4:6; 4:7; 5:21. Dr. Law suggests that there are three cycles of thought running through the Epistle. First, we have the idea of walking in the light as tested in three ways — by Righteousness, Love, Belief. Then comes the thought of Sonship, tested in the same threefold way. And last of all come the inter-relations of Righteousness, Love, and Belief. This suggestive statement of Law is not very much unlike those of Hort, Haering, and Brooke, all of which will be found discussed fully in the last-named author's volume on 1 John, in the "International Critical Commentary." It is suggested that the sections as given above by Dr. Law reveal an ethical and a doctrinal test in each case. Thus, from 1:5 to 2:27 we have the ethical test of walking in the light (1:5 to 2:17) and the doctrinal test of faith in Christ (2:18-27). In the second section we have the ethical test of doing righteousness (2:28 to 3:24) and the doctrinal test of the Spirit confessing Christ (4:1-6). In the third section we have both the ethical and the doctrinal tests combined. Love is shown to be based on life (4:7-21), and life is proved to be based on faith (5:1-12).
The essential feature of the Epistle is that it affords three proofs or tests of assurance, and in this respect it is particularly valuable as guarding against that purely emotional variableness that tends to seek the ground of assurance within. The old introspective verse was sadly at fault in the light of this Epistle:
There is nothing like a thorough study of this Epistle to enable the soul to answer this question with confidence and certainty without once looking within or giving itself "anxious thought." The following is a brief outline suitable for this purpose:
It will be seen that these three proofs refer in turn to God, to others, to ourselves, and this is the proper order of the spiritual life. Obedience is the first result of faith. Love comes next. Then the possession of the Holy Spirit is the third, last, and in some respects the deepest.
But now comes the important question as to how we may know that we have the Spirit. Is this reference to the Spirit abiding in us — after all, leading us back to that introspection which tends to make us think of our assurance as coming from within?
The Epistle guards against this in a very significant way, as we shall see when considering the next point.
III. The Proof
The entire - Epistle is concerned with the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, and in particular there are six occurrences of the phrase "as he,' expressive of Christ as the definite standard of our Life. It will be seen, too, that Christ is the basis with which the Epistle opens (1:1, 4), and he is the theme of its closing message (5:20).
And so the supreme inquiry is: What is Christ to me? For only in proportion as he is real and true, can we be sure of possessing the Holy Spirit. We must, therefore, pay special attention to these six occurrences of "as he," and we notice that they are found in three pairs:
Thus, the purpose, plan, and proof of the Epistle constitute at the same time the purpose, plan and proof of the Christian life.
Like the Prologue to the Gospel, this Epistle lays a good foundation in the Person and Work of our Divine Lord as a preparation for and vindication of the teaching that is to follow. It forms an interesting comparison to look at the opening verses of the Gospel and those of this Epistle, and when they are put together their oneness, and yet difference, are easily seen.
The Gospel may be considered thus:
The opening verses of the Epistle suggest the following ideas:
Thus, although the two portions are quite evidently parallel, they are not strictly identical, but only complementary. As we have already seen, the Gospel is concerned with faith, while the Epistle emphasizes assurance. These complementary ideas are implied even in these opening verses.
But now it is important to look at the introduction, and consider its strong, satisfying basis for Christian life.
I. The Substance of the Gospel
This may be said to be summed up in the Person and Work of our Lord himself.
1. He is Divine and Eternal. As in the opening of the Gospel, and in the first words of Genesis, Christ was "from the beginning."
2. He is human and historical. He who was from the beginning, was manifested on the earth, and was seen in human form.
3. He is life-gizing and unique. He is first described as "the Word of Life," revealing and bestowing life. Then comes the aspect which specially refers to our experience in "eternal life," involving fellowship with God (John 17:3).
Thus the Gospel starts with the Person of Christ at once Divine and human (Mark 1:1; John 1:1; Rom. 1:4). In the Gospel he is simply described as "the Word," while in the Epistle we have the additional thought of "the Word of life." And so we may say that "Christianity is Christ," and the foundation of our religion is the absolute fact of our Lord's Divine Person and Work. Christianity is the only religion that is based on reality, and is also inextricably bound up with the Person of the Founder.
II. The Guarantee of the Gospel
We have now to consider how this Divine Christ, who is the substance of the Gospel, is brought near to us, and the Apostle clearly indicates this along three lines:
1. Apostolic experience. This is the first stage (v. 1). Christ had been heard and seen, contemplated and handled. There had been immediate perception, and deliberate attainment. They had heard and seen him in his earthly life, and they had beheld and handled him after his resurrection.
2. Apostolic testimony. Then the Apostles began to witness to the truth of what they had experienced (v. 2). The life was not only manifested and seen, but they themselves were bearing witness to its fact and preciousness.
3. Apostolic communication. The testimony took the form of actual communication of the truth to others (v. 3), and with all the force and authority of an Apostle of Christ these blessed truths concerning the Master were announced and actually told.
III. The Purpose of the Gospel
Why was all this done? The answer is a very simple, but all-embracing, one: it was for fellowship both Divine and human (v. 3).
1. What is fellowship? It means here and always in the New Testament "partnership" in something common to a large number, the joy of possession of and participation in that which belongs to all. Thus fellowship or partnership is in some respects the highest possibility of the Christian life at the present time, for there is nothing beyond it in our privileges. The beautiful picture of fellowship which we see in Eden before the Fall is thus restored, and more than restored, in Christ. Every part of his redemptive work had in view this purpose of bringing man back from enmity to friendship, from loneliness to fellowship, with all that this implied, between him and God.
2. With whom is the fellowship? It is first with the Father, and includes access to his presence, the assurance of his favor, the consciousness of his love, the enjoyment of his truth, and the possession of his love. Then it also is "with his Son," and means the sympathy, knowledge, grace, and satisfaction that come from him who is at once Divine, "His Son," and human, "Jesus Christ."
3. With whom is this fellowship from the human standpoint? The Apostle, in writing "with us," means with himself and all fellow-Christians, and fellowship or partnership means joint participation in all that grace brings, in life, in light, in love, in labor, and in hope. This thought of fellowship between Christians is very important at all stages of the Christian life, but perhaps especially at its commencement. Converts need to be told that their life is not a solitary one, but is to be lived in union and communion with others who belong to Christ. There is, perhaps, nothing to compare with Christian fellowship to keep a soul from backsliding, and to incite it to progress in holiness.
IV. The Result of the Gospel
The Apostle shows that the practical outcome in personal life of what he had written is "that your joy may be full." Joy is thus the supreme result of the Gospel,
1. The fact of joy. Joy is threefold: the joy of retrospect, of aspect, of prospect; the joy which is concerned with the past, the present, the future; the joy of faith, of love, of hope; the joy of appropriation, appreciation, anticipation.
2. The source of joy. This comes, and can only come, from fellowship (v. 3). Fellowship is the source and guarantee of joyousness. This at once shows the distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness depends upon what ''happens," upon circumstances, while joy is independent of circumstances, and is based upon the reality of Divine relationship, which is untouched by any surroundings. The Apostle Paul was not always happy, because we are told of his sorrows, and yet he could say, ''sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10), because his joy was not in circumstances, but in the Lord ( Phil. 4:4).
3. The nature of joy. As this joy comes from fellowship, we must consider a little more in detail the elements of the joy it brings — (1) fellowship with the Father is associated with his pardon, his teaching, his love, his provision, his protection, his power, and so gives joy; (2) fellowship with his Son arises from the consciousness of his Divine Person, his redemptive work, his resurrection life, his blessed Spirit, and his glorious coming, and these produce joy; (3) fellowship with believers provides joy, because of the unity, encouragement, truth, and grace which are experienced in oneness with those who belong to Christ.
4. The extent of joy. The Apostle is not only concerned that his readers may have joy, but far more than this — the fulness of joy; not only the fact, but the fulness, "good measure, pressed down and running over." This phrase, "your joy may be full," is found six times in John's writings, four times in the Gospel, and twice in the Epistle. When they are all put together they show beyond all question the secrets of the fulness of joy. Thus, this full measure of joy is associated with consecration (John 3:29), with obedience (John 15:10), with prayer (John 16:24), with protection (John 17:13), with fellowship (1 John 1:3, 4), with brother-love (2 John 12).
Thus we see something of the splendid and solid foundation laid for us in Christ. "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord." And if only we follow the Divine order, we shall see in turn that Christianity involves Fact, Faith, Feeling, Fellowship, and Fulness.
In 1:1-4, the introduction giving the scope of the Epistle, we have seen that the Divine purpose for the believer is fellowship with- God, fellowship with man, and, in this fellowship, perfected joy. Then from 1:5 to 2:17 the Apostle proceeds to show that "walking in the light" is the first real proof or test of fellowship with God. The earliest part of this long section now calls for notice. In 1:5-10 we are told of God's nature and of our relation to it. The section really extends from 1:5 to 2:2, and deals especially with three views of life which are false. So that in limiting our present attention to 1:5-10, we must keep in mind the full extent of the treatment ending at 2:2.
I. The Revelation (v. 5).
First of all, the Apostle has to tell of God's nature and attitude as the basis of all that follows. Revelation naturally proceeds any responsibility.
1. The fact of a message. — "This is the message." This shows that what he says is a Divine revelation, not a human discovery; it is news.
2. The source of the message. — "From him." The meaning of this is pretty certainly the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The reception of the message. — "Which we have heard." The tense in the Greek seems to imply that in some way- the Apostle was still hearing from Christ.
4. The declaration of the message. — "And announce unto you." It was something that must not, and could not, be kept to himself.
5. The substance of the message. — "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." "God is light" — that is, God in his own nature is the perfect idea of what we understand by light. It is interesting to notice the three things in John's writings about God: "God is Spirit" (John 4:24), "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "God is love" (1 John 4:8). It is also to be observed that he does not describe God as "a light," or "the light," or "the light of man," or "the light of the world," or "the true light." It seems to suggest God's own nature in itself (1 Tim. 6:16). Light in Scripture stands for at least four different, yet connected, ideas. Sometimes it means glory, expressive of the Divine majesty. Sometimes it means purity, emphasizing morality. Sometimes it means truth, referring to intelligence'. Sometimes it means fellowship, suggesting communion. Professor Law, however, maintains that this thought of God as "light" does not refer to his essential being or nature, but to his revelation of himself; that as it is of the very nature of light to be and make visible, so God is not self-contained, but has revealed himself in Christ. Dr. Law suggests that the Gospel supports this view in the order in which it speaks of Christ as the Word, the life, and the light (John 1:1, 4, 5). But perhaps, after all, the two ideas are included as cause and effect, for assuredly it is owing to God's essential nature as light that he necessarily reveals himself as light to others.
II. The Responsibility
Because of God' as light, certain effects follow in human life.
This revelation of God is thus intensely practical and theoretical. "Light is a social power" (Findlay). The practical outcorhe is seen in three parallel pairs of opposed positions:1:6, 7; 1:8, 9; 1:10; 2:1. Each of these calls for careful study as we contemplate our solemn responsibility to the Divine revelation of God as light.
1. The reality of sin is sometimes denied (v. 6). It is possible to make the assertion that we have fellowship with God, fellowship being, as we have seen, the highest possibility of life. This assertion, however, is sometimes connected with action which shows that we are still walking in darkness (2:11). The "walk" indicates the outward life of conduct in its activity and progress. But if we should claim fellowship while our conduct is still evil, the' Apostle says in the plainest possible terms that "we lie and do not the truth," thus affirming what is false and neglecting what is true. Light reveals; darkness conceals; and, therefore, fellowship with God is impossible unless we are in the light. Truth means beyond all else moral and spiritual reality, and it is absolutely impossible for us to have fellowship with God if we are walking in darkness, however much we may claim it. Moral conduct does matter, and has a definite bearing on spiritual communion.
2. The reality of life should he experienced (v. 7). Here is the contrast with the former verse. Our spiritual condition is described as "walking in the light as he is in the light." God, who is light, is thus seen to be in union with the believer and the believer with him, and the outward conduct of the soul is in harmony with the character of God. The result is fellowship one with another — that is, with Christians as based on fellowship with God. When we know God, we get to know man. And another result experienced side by side with fellowship is the full assurance of mercy and forgiveness through "the blood of Jesus, his Son." It is significant that our Lord is described by his human and Divine titles, showing that the Atoning Sacrifice is at once possible because he is man, and powerful because he is God. It would seem best to understand the word "cleanseth" as judicial, not experimental, and in this respect it harmonizes with the Greek of the Old Testament, where the same word is used for the effect of atonement. It may be questioned whether "blood" is ever associated with anything else than an atoning sacrifice, for, apparently, it is never found in the New Testament as expressive of that which is applied experimentally to the believer for the purpose of purification. This atoning Blood thus cleanses "from every kind of sin."
3. The reality of sinfulness is also denied (v. 8). Another contrast is set up. The assertion is now made that "we have no sin," probably meaning no sinfulness, no sinful condition from which the actual sinning proceeds. This seems to be the denial of the continuous and permanent presence of sin as a principle in one who has committed sins. The Apostle had already used the phrase "to have sin" in his earlier writing (John 15:22, 24; 19:11). This assertion, however, is a proof of self-deception, for not only, as in verse 6, do "we lie," but, still worse, we are self -persuaded in evil and no reality exists in us. To such a one sin is only a mere incident without effects.
4. The reality of sins is admitted (v. 9). Again another contrast is seen, and sins are to be confessed. The existence of sin in Christians is a simple fact, but there is no need for sins to interfere with fellowship if God's conditions are fulfilled. Confession, which he requires, will not only lighten the burden, but will keep open the spiritual life and preserve the soul in loving, healing sensitiveness. With this consciousness of full responsibility and this outpouring of the heart in confession will come the assurance that "he is faithful and righteous to forgive us and to cleanse us." God is faithful in being true to his own nature, and the thought of faithfulness clearly indicates an attitude to believers, since to the unconverted it is a question of mercy, not of faithfulness. He is not only faithful, but "righteous," which means true to his character in relation to us. The outcome is twofold, forgiveness and cleansing. God releases the guilt and remits the penalty, removes the debt and takes away the defilement. Here, again, as in verse 7, it would seem that we are in the region of the judicial rather than the experimental. It is not that our nature is purified and all sin removed, but that our position in the sight of God is dealt with through the perennial efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.
5. The reality of sinning is denied (v. 10). Once again we have the words "if we say," and the assertion this time is the denial of the fact of committing sin. Even though it be possible to admit the truths suggested in verses 6-8, there may still be the refusal to allow that sinful deeds have been performed. But if we have actually committed sin and. deny this, the outcome is inevitably worse than anything that has preceded, for "we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." Thus we disregard God's revelation, and ignore its reality and claim upon us.
At this point we pause for a while, though the section is continued, as we shall see, in the next two verses. But let us ponder afresh the solemn threefold "if we say" (vs. 6, 8, 10), and see that no such impossible assertions ever pass our lips or affect our lives.
Chapter 2:1, 2
We have already seen that the subject of 1:5 to 2:2 is God's nature as light (1:5), and our responsibility to him with special reference to three false views of life. By means of some striking contrasts, the Apostle has taught how the reality of sin is sometimes denied (1:6); that the reality of life is to be experienced (1:7); that the reality of sinfulness is denied by others (1:8); that the reality of sins should be admitted (1:9); and then, that the reality of sinning is also denied in certain quarters (1:10). But now the sixth principle of this series is emphasized, and the reality of sinning is met. The question at once arose in some minds that if sin was universal, as was implied in the earlier verses (1:6-10), it was, therefore, inevitable. He hastens to show that this is not the case, by pointing out the true aim of Christian living, and also the Divine provision, if needed, in case of sinning.
The soul has two dangers. Sometimes it is the peril of presumption, and then comes carelessness; at other times there is the equally serious danger of despair, when the heart loses hope, and sin is regarded as certain to be victorious. In 1:6-10 the danger of presumption is frankly dealt with. And now with equal clearness the peril of despair is faced and met by showing the definite remedy for sin and sinning.
I. The Appeal
With beautiful and tender affection the Apostle addresses his readers as "my. little children," and tells them in the plainest possible terms that there is no need for them to sin: "These things write I unto you that ye may not sin." Nothing could be clearer, franker, or more definite than this teaching. Christian people are not expected to sin, for the plan of the Gospel is intended to meet such a contingency. A& we have already seen, there is a real distinction between sin and sins, between root and fruit, between character and conduct, between principle and practise. The root exists and abides in us (1:8), but it need not, and should not, bear fruit.. This is the message of the? Apostle.
II. The Assurance
On the other hand, if any one should fall, God has made ample provision. There is no need to sin, but, assuming the actuality of it, its results can be met. The various elements of this Divine provision are carefully brought before our notice by the Apostle.
1. This provision is a personal and conscious possession, ''we have." It is interesting to notice that the word "have" in John's writings always means personal possession, together with the consciousness of it, including the ideas of obtaining and retaining. So that this assurance is intended for constant use and encouragement.
2. An Advocate. The word is Paracletos, and is exactly the same as that rendered "Comforter," referring to the Holy Spirit, in the Fourth Gospel (John 14:20; 15:26; 16:14), No one English word seems to be sufficient to express all the ideas included in this word. It means some one called in to help, and it is interesting and most truly helpful to realize the reality of our Lord's advocacy and the relation of the one Advocate to the Other. Our Lord is our Advocate "with the Father," directed towards him, in his presence, thereby assuring us of constant access and appeal. The Hoi}' Spirit is our Advocate within, and is the "other Comforter" sent to take the place of Christ, who has ascended. Thus, by the Holy Spirit, we are linked to the Lord Jesus, and by the Lord Jesus we are linked to the Father.
24S THE APOSTLE JOHN
3. This Advocate is ''Jesus Christ the Righteous." The two names "Jesus" and "Christ" indicate respectively the true manhood and the Divine position of the One who is engaged on our behalf. And when he is described as "the righteous," we are reminded of his personal character, that he has power to deal with sin, and will treat it impartially, righteously, without leaning to the one extreme of undue severity, or to the other of undue softness. God has no favorites, and even his children when they sin are dealt with by "Jesus Christ the righteous."
4. ''He is the propitiation for our sins" This is the basis of his advocacy. Some one has said that our Advocate pleads our cause with propitiation as his brief. It is because he is our propitiation that he can be our Advocate. Thus the One whose character is righteous is shown to be competent by reason of what he has done. And it is interesting to notice that the Apostle does not say, "His death 'U'^s the propitiation," but that "He himself is the propitiation." It is the person of Christ who gives efficacy to his work, which means, as Hooker says, "the infinite worth of the Son of God." It is important to bear in mind that propitiation (a word in the original found only in this Epistle) means the removal of God's righteous judgment against sin by means of sacrifice, and it is obvious that man, as represented by Christ, is the subject and God the object of propitiation. It would be impossible to think of God as the subject and man as the object, since it was not man, but God, who needed to be propitiated. And yet, of course, we must take every possible care to avoid anything like severance between the Father and the Son, because the Son is the Father's gift, so that, to use the bold paradox of a modern writer, the death of Christ was really God propitiating God. We recall the publican's prayer, "God be propitious to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). It is interesting to notice that in the papyri recently found in Egypt the word "propitiation" in heathenism means the appeasing of an angry God, and when the purely pagan element concerning God is removed from this, we see at once the true, idea of our Lord's propitiation. As Professor Law points out, it is impossible to interpret it as merely the supreme expedient of God's love intended to remove man's fear. This would "empty the word of all that it distinctively contains," and, as Dr. Law goes on to say, "one may or may not accept the teaching of the New Testament, but it is, at any rate, due to intellectual honesty to recognize what that teaching is." Thus, propitiation can mean but one thing, the expiation of the guilt of sin, which restores the sinner to God by removing every barrier to fellowship (Law, "The Tests of Life," pp. 160-163). And so we rejoice to think that the work of Christ has made fellowship possible. As Dr. Brooke truly says: "His advocacy is valid, because he can himself bear witness that the only condition on which fellowship between God and man can be restored has actually been fulfilled, i.e, the removal of the sin by which the intercourse was interrupted" ("Internat. Grit. Com.").
5. This propitiation is intended for the whole 'world. This means that the sacrifice is really inexhaustible. And yet it is important to remember the distinction between redemption and salvation. All have been redeemed, but all will not be saved. Christ's sacrifice is efficient for the whole world, but only efficient for those who are spiritually united to him.
Thus the Apostle emphasizes the way in which the reality of sinfulness and sinning can be met and has been met by the Divine, glorious provision of Christ. We are responsible for sin; sin is universal, and affects our fellowship with God. And yet there is abundant grace in Christ through his sacrifice on the cross and his presence above with the Father.
Before passing on to the next section of the Epistle it will be useful to compare and contrast some of the expressions and see the progress of the thought:
"If we say" (1:6); "If we walk" (1:7).
"If we say" (1:8); "If we confess" (1:9).
"If we say" (1:10); "If any man sin" (2:1).
Another line of development can be seen as follows:
"We lie" (1:6), i.e., we are false to knowledge.
"We deceive ourselves" (1:8); i,e., we persuade ourselves that falsehood is truth.
"We make him a liar" (1:10); i.e., we set ourselves above God.
Again, we may observe the following sequences:
"We do not the truth" (1:6); i.e., we do not carry principle into action.
"The truth is not in us" (1:8); i.e., there is no recognition of the principle of truth.
"His Word is not in us" (1:10); i.e., we do not possess the fundamental revelation.
Once more, it is deeply interesting to observe the following:
In 1:7, 'We have fellowship."
In 1:9, ''He is faithful and just."
In 2:1, 2, there are both expressions, "We have" and "He is."
It is generally recognized that a new section commences at this point, though it is, as usual, difficult to follow in order the Apostle's thoughts. But from 2:3-11 there seems to be a section in which there are two views or tests of walking in the light. The first test (vs. 3-6) is obedience, and the second test (vs. 7-11) is love. The former will now occupy our attention. It is interesting to notice the remarkable parallelisms between 1:6 to 2:2, and 2:3-11. In the former there are negative tests, and in the latter positive. Thus, God's light not only reveals sin (1:7 to 2:2), but also his requirement for us (2:3-11). The particular parallelisms are clearly observable in a comparison between "if we say" (1:6, 8, 10) and "He that saith" (2:4, 6, 9). A careful study will show the striking parallels and also complementary ideas between the following texts:1:6 and 2:4; 1:7 and 2:5; 1:8 and 2:6; 1:10 and 2:9. In each of these there are three definite statements showing the parallels and the additions to the thoughts.
It should be said that a few writers connect verse 3 quite closely with the verses immediately preceding, and if this is so, these verses now to be considered will afford the proofs that we have duly used the- provision given by God, involving three proofs of the efficacy of the Divine Advocacy and propitiation (2:1, 2). But the former connection seems in every way better and clearer.
I. The Progress
The Apostle shows that "walking in the light" has three results.
1. Knowledge (v. 3). "Hereby we know that we know him." The original is very striking, and may perhaps be rendered something like this: "Hereby we are continually getting to know by experience that we have experienced and still do experience him." The Apostle is, as usual, very practical, for knowledge is always far more than anything merely intellectual. It involves spiritual perception through personal experience. It is also noteworthy that he never uses the word "knowledge" as a substantive, though the verb to know is found in one way or another nearly two hundred times. So, also, he rarely uses the noun "faith/' but almost always employs the verb. Perhaps this is a suggestion that doctrine with him was not intellectual knowledge only, but a real experience. We may perhaps include in his thought of knowledge the three ideas of intellectual observation, personal experience, and spiritual certainty.
2. Union (v. 5). "Hereby we know that we are in him." This is more than knowledge, for it involves the actual oneness of the soul with Christ. "In him" is both judicial and experimental, for we are "in him" for justification and also for sanctification. Perhaps both are included here, especially because the Epistle is so concerned with the definite practical life of the Christian.
3. Abiding (v. 6). "He abideth in him." This, again, is a further step in the progress of the soul. Not only do we know and are united to Christ, but we are to abide in him. This thought of abiding is very characteristic of John's Gospel (chap. 15), and may be said to include mind, heart, and will. It means that the soul is not only "in Christ," but also stays there, makes its permanent abode in union and communion with the Lord.
Thus, as we consider this threefold progress, we see at once the soul's perception, position, and persistence. Bengel, in his characteristic way, has described these three aspects as cognitio, coymmmio, constantia.
II. The Proof
But it is now necessary to concentrate attention on the twofold statement "hereby we know." The similarity and yet the difference are very characteristic of the Apostle's mode of thought. Thus we have first, "Hereby we know that we know him" (v. 3). Then "Hereby we know that we are in him" (v. 5). What is the force of "hereby"? The answer is, Obedience, and it is put in a threefold way.
1. Obedience in Practice (v. 3). "If we keep his commandments." The thought is that of the watchful observance and faithful obedience of the separate commandments of God. The word "keep" is said to suggest "sympathetic obedience to the spirit of a command rather than the rigid carrying out of its letter" (Brooke). But perhaps even this contrast between spirit and letter is hardly accurate, since there is no incongruity between them, for the soul in carrying out the letter will necessarily obey the spirit. But in every respect the obedience here suggested is spiritual and not merely intellectual. (John 15:10; 17:12; Eph. 4:3). This practical obedience is at once contrasted with the statement o-f the man who claims to have an experience of Christ (v. 4), and yet is not heeding the duty of obedience. Such an one is an utter counterfeit, "whatever he may think" (Law), and his attitude is absolutely inexcusable, for he does not possess any reality. Thus plainly does the Apostle speak.
2. Obedience in Principle (v. 5). "Whoso keepeth his word." From, the practice of separate commandments the Apostle leads up to the one expression of God's will in his Word as summing up everything. And the man who does this realizes completely what is meant by "the love of God." From knowledge he proceeds to love, because of "the emptiness of a loveless knowledge" (Findlay). The words "love of God" may include his love to us and ours to him, because our love is always inspired and prompted by his, and the perfection of love means its consummation in life: it has reached its goal in the one who is thus obedient to the Word of God. Findlay calls attention to the somewhat parallel idea of faith perfected by works (James 2:22), just as here we have love perfected by obedience.
3. Obedience in. Obligation (v. 6). "Ought himself also to walk even as he walked." "Walking" as usual means the outward expression in conduct of the life we possess in Christ, and the idea implied by "ought" indicates our duty and moral obligation. The standard of our conduct is "even as he" (John 6:38; 17:4), and it is interesting to notice the use, and also the rarity of the use, of the example of Christ in the New Testament. Why should it be so infrequently found? Perhaps because Christ is so much more than our example. We need a model, but, more than this, we need a power to enable us to approximate towards and realize the standard that we have to imitate. This thought of the example of Christ is very frequently noted by writers, and in some very familiar words John Stuart Mill spoke of Christ as "the ideal representative and guide of humanity," and then he goes on to say, "nor even now would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve of our life." And yet we must never forget that Christ is first our Redeemer before he is or can be our Example. This is the virtue and value of that fine little book by Caroline Fry, "Christ our Example." It is one thing to have an ideal; it is another to realize it. Emerson once said, "Hitch your wagon to a star," but there above is the star, and here down below is my wagon. How are the two to be united? Only by means of the redemption in Christ Jesus, and when the Apostle says, "Walk even as he walked," it is because the soul is already assumed to be "in him" and resting upon the great Divine foundation already stated in the introduction (1:1-4).
Thus walking in the light is proved by means of obedience, and anything' else is seen to be' impossible. Righteousness is absolutely essential, and all our profession will count for nothing unless our life is in accordance' therewith. There is nothing in. its way more striking than the plainness with which the Apostle here stigmatizes the attitude and action of the mere pretender. First he is said "to lie and do not the truth" (1:6). Then that "the truth is not in him" (1:8). Then, still more, that he "makes God a liar" (1:10). And, not least of all, he is himself a liar (2:4).
N. B. — Before we pass away from this section it may be useful to look at the seven "ifs" in these two chapters, three of them bad, four of them good. (1:6, 8, 10; and 1:7, 9; 2:1, 3).
The first test of walking in the light is, as we have already seen, Obedience (2:3-6). The second test is now to be considered, Love, which is equally God's requirement. It is significant that this section opens with the word "beloved," which is used for the first time, and this special affectionate form of appeal seems to suggest the importance of what the Apostle has to say.
I. The Commandment (vs. 7, 8)
1. The commandment which the Apostle has to give is first described as "old," the reason being that they had received it "from the beginning." This seems to mean that they had heard it from the first moment of their Christian life, and for this reason it had no novelty for the readers (cf. 2:24). It is impressive to realize that this commandment of love was an essential part of their earliest Christian teaching, for it shows how full and how practical were the primitive messages to converts.
2, The commandment is also described as "new," and for the reason that it is always vital and real in Christ and in Christians. Love is thus not only old, but ever fresh, and is, as our Lord himself described it, "a new commandment" (John 13:34; 15:12). The newness pretty certainly lay in the new' object of love, fellow Christians, because while other aspects of love had been known for ages, this was something entirely novel, because it represented the spiritual tie between one Christian and another.
3. The reason of the Apostle writing in this way was that "the darkness is passing away and the true light already shineth." This appears to refer to the Gospel revelation already announced as "light" (1:5). Love is thus seen to be necessitated by the light of Gospel truth. Selfishness is always associated with the condition of moral darkness, while love is the practical expression of "the true light."
II. The Claim (v. 9)
1. Again we are called upon to notice the man who says "he is in the light." It is a marvelous claim to make, and should be carefully compared and contrasted with the other two assertions: "He that saith I know him" (v. 4); "he that saith he abideth in him" (v. 6). It is something, indeed it is a great deal, to be "in the light," and it is splendid if a man, being in the light, is able to say so.
2. But this is a case of saying and not doing, because, while he "says" he is in the light, he is all the while hating "his brother." Superior knowledge without deeds counts for nothing, and, indeed, if possible, worse than nothing, since it brings utter discredit upon the claim of the man to be in the light. The word "brother" here, as elsewhere in this Epistle, and, indeed, in the New Testament, refers to Christian relationship. As Westcott points out, it never means in the New Testament our modern idea of the universal brotherhood of man, but always and only the specific spiritual relationship of those who are united to and are in Christ.
3. The outcome of this saying without doing, this claim to be in the light and yet expressing animosity, is that the man is "in the darkness even until now." Darkness is another word for evil, and already it has been seen in various connections. Thus, if we say that we have fellowship with God and "walk in darkness," we are untrue (1:6). Through the glorious Gospel, "the darkness is passing away" (2:8). Then in verse 11, as we shall see, there is a threefold statement of the darkness, which includes mental, moral, and spiritual blackness as expressive of the utter alienation of the soul from God, notwithstanding all its professions.
III. The Contrast (vs. 10, 11)
1. First the Apostle speaks of the man who loves his brother. He abides in the light, for "light is love's home and love is light's offspring," and as a result "there is no occasion of stumbling in him." He does not upset himself and he does not upset others, because love means humility and unselfishness, the opposite of pride, jealousy, envy, or revenge.
It is interesting to observe the three stages associated with "light." The man first of all "walks in the light" (1:7), then he is "in the light" (2:9), and as the outcome "he abideth in the light" (2:10).
2. Then, in marked contrast, the man is described who hates his brother. Three things are said of him. He is "in the darkness," he "walks in the darkness," and does not know where he is going "because the darkness hath blinded his eyes." Nothing could be more sadly impressive than this description showing that the man's life is wholly in the darkness without any possibility of even a glimmer of light.
The stages of darkness are also significantly stated. The false professor "walks in the darkness" (1:6). The effect of this is that he is "in the darkness" (2:9), and then he is so absolutely associated with the darkness that his life is entirely untrue, for "the darkness hath blinded his eyes" (2:11).
3. It is important to observe this solemn twofold antithesis between light and darkness, between love and hate. There is nothing between, and we are thus reminded that in the realm of things spiritual there is no neutrality. In some countries there is a long twilight, which means "betwixt the lights," but in the spiritual world there is nothing of the sort; a man is either in the light or in the darkness. In the same way a man either loves or hates; it is impossible for him to possess and express any other attitude. The Apostle is just echoing the Saviour's words which he had heard years before: "no man can serve two masters."
Up to the present the thoughts have been mainly the amplification of 1:5, 6, intended to emphasize and show the way to complete Christianity. But at this point the teaching becomes more definite, and an appeal is made to the readers to recognize their position as Christians and to make it real. As it has been truly pointed out, the Apostle had no doubt of them, but, because of his confidence, he incites them by this special appeal. Hitherto he had been telling them about the character of God and the consequences arising out of it. Now he has to tell them, or rather remind them, what they themselves are and the consequences that arise out of this.
There are two difficulties connected with this section. The first is as to whether the Apostle has two or three classes in mind when he speaks of 'little children," "young men," and "fathers." Most writers seem to think that there are only two classes, the term "little children" applying to all, with a division into "young men" and "fathers." This is based on the thought that in verse 1 all the readers are addressed as "little children." One writer suggests that all are intended by the term "little children," and that then there are three separate divisions — "fathers," "young men," and "little boys" (v. 14, Greek). But perhaps for our present purpose we may think of three classes of Christians, according to their experience, respectively as "little children," "young men," and "fathers."
Another point of some difficulty is as to why the Apostle should use the present tense in verses 12 and 13, and the past tense in verse 14 — "I write," and "I wrote." Some suggest that there is a reference to the Gospel in the past tense, and to this Epistle itself in the present, and certainly there is a connection between the two (1:1; 5:13). This view has some weighty names, like Rothe, Ebrard, and Plummer. Others think that the repetition is intended for emphasis. One of the most recent and able writers, Brooke ("International Critical Commentary"), suggests that the present tense refers to the whole Epistle, and the past tense to that part of it which has already been finished (1:1 to 2:1 1 ). But, whether it is a difference of communication, or of emphasis, or of standpoint, there is no doubt that the appeal is made very definite, and even solemn, as it is addressed to the various classes.
I. Christians as Little Children (vs. 12, 13)
1. The description. They are called "little children" (v. 12), expressive of the Divine life and kinship which they possess. They are described as "little boys" (v. 13) perhaps because of their feebleness and imperfectness as "little ones."
2. The characteristics. They are first described as forgiven, and the ground of this forgiveness is "His name's sake." The pardon is complete and permanent, and it is based upon the Divine revelation (Name). Then as "little ones" they are said to "know the Father." They had come to know him as the result of forgiveness, and, like children with their father, they had a real experience of God as their Heavenly Father. This thought of fellowship as distinctive of Christian immaturity is very beautiful, and shows that from the very outset of the Christian life we have a definite experience of God.
II. Christians as Young Men (vs. 13, 14)
The statements here are much fuller, and deserve thorough attention.
1. The character. They are described as "strong," or, as the Greek might be rendered, "powerful," or "able." Perhaps this includes conviction of mind and purpose of will — two features that should always mark the young manhood, whether in things physical or things spiritual.
2. The conflict. Twice over they are said to have "overcome the evil one." It is well that the Apostle reminds them so definitely of "the evil one" who had opposed their Master, and was, therefore, necessarily opposing them. No Christian life is worthy of the name that does not face conflict and realize the fact and power of the enemy.
3. The conquest. But the original of the word "overcome" clearly indicates the completeness and permanence of their victory. These Christian young warriors had met and vanquished the adversary, and the result was abiding. This is full of encouragement for all those who are conscious, as we all more or less must be, of our "adversary the devil" (1 Pet. 5:8).
4. The condition. The secret of it all was that "the Word of God abideth in you." It was this that, like a sword, enabled them to fight and gain the victory (Eph. 6:17). There was power in the Word of Divine truth as against the falsity of the adversary's "wiles," and there was power in the Word of Divine grace as against the adversary's "works." The place of this Word was "in them," and it was permanently there — "abideth in you." This is always the secret of victory. God's Word is at once the food of the soul and the sword of the warrior. When the Word of God is in mind and heart and conscience and life, victory is inevitable. For this purpose there are three requirements in connection with our use of the Word of God — attention, intention, retention. The mind, the heart, and the life must be occupied with the Divine Word.
III. Christians as Fathers (vs. 13, 14)
There seems to be no doubt that the reference is to those who had been long in the Christian life and had become, as it were, "fathers" of the community. "A hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness."
1. The authority. They are called "fathers" because they were, by their age and experience, leaders of the little flocks of Christians in various places.
2. The experience. They were thinkers, because the Apostle says "ye know," and the word implies a permanent, personal experience. The "little children" may be described as learners; the "young men" as soldiers; the "fathers" are Christians of deep, profound experience. It is also striking that in the repetition of the appeal to the children something more is added, and this is also the case with the young men, but when the repetition of the appeal is made to the fathers there is nothing higher to be said, and so the exact words are given again: "Ye have come to know him who is from the beginning."
3. The maturity. It is said that they "know him" showing that their experience was of the person rather than the work. And the Person is described as "him who is from the beginning," clearly indicating his essential Being rather than his relationship to us. This is, therefore, a mark of very profound Christian life and their ripeness of fellowship. This knowledge of the Person of Christ in himself as distinct from, or, at least, additional to his work for and relationship to us is in some respects the supreme knowledge, for there is nothing beyond it (Phil. 3:7-11).
As we review this important passage, and dwell upon the three different sections of the Christian community thus described as children, young men and fathers, it will help us to look at them afresh as follows:
(1) They may be regarded as three successive stages of experience. They are strikingly like the three classes mentioned in the Gospel (21:15-17). Whether under the figure of lambs, sheep, and "growing sheep" (the best reading), we seem to see a parallel to these three descriptions in the Epistle. Then, too, we cannot help noticing how the Apostle Paul apparently had similar distinctions in mind when he spoke of "the grace of God," "the kingdom of God," and "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:24-27). Once again we may see a somewhat similar suggestion in the three aspects of joy found in Psalm 5:11:the joy of trust, answering to the "little children"; the joy of protection, answering to the "young men"; and the joy of love, answering to the "fathers." At any rate, there is no doubt that the Christian life is intended to be one of constant growth, and as we start by being little children who rejoice in forgiveness and fellowship with the Father, so we go on increasingly conscious of strength and victory until at length we reach the culminating point of a personal, rich, deep, full experience of God himself (2 Pet. 3:18). It is particularly noteworthy that in the later Epistles of Paul, the last Epistle of Peter, and this Epistle of John, the emphasis laid upon "knowledge" shows that it is the mark of a ripening, growing, maturing Christian. The young believer knows very little, because he has had so short an experience of God. And as such he is often the prey of error, as we shall see later on in this Epistle. But the fathers who "know" are thereby enabled to perceive and appreciate the truth as in Jesus and to rejoice in personal fellowship with God.
(2) And yet, while these experiences may, from one point of view, be regarded as successive, they must also be emphasized as simultaneous. There is a sense in which we are to be always children, always strong, and always experienced, because our Christian life will necessarily take up and include these elements in its wide, deep, strong, and ever-growing position.
The special appeal in these verses is pretty certainly addressed to all those to whom the Apostle had been writing (12-14), although one or two writers think the application is to the "young men" only. But it seems in every way simpler and better to regard this as definitely addressed to all Christians. God's light shows the world as it really is, and on this account the Apostle solemnly states certain truths as he urges his readers to take every possible precaution.
I. The Danger Stated
1. What are we to understand by this reference to ''the world"? We have already seen that Christ died for "the whole world" (2:2), and it is also said that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour "of the world" (4:14). It cannot, therefore, mean the material world or the world of man, but rather the world regarded as apart from God (v. 19). It is equivalent to what the Apostle Paul calls "this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4-), even though a different word is used in the latter passage. The world is thus not so much a sphere as an atmosphere, and includes everything which is sinful or is likely to be so.
2. But what, more definitely, is "the world"? The line cannot be drawn with absolute clearness. There are certain things in the world about which there is no question. But there are others which may be described as on the border lines, and each one must decide for himself in fellowship with God whether or not a thing is "worldly" for him. The great principle of Paul applies here, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
II. The Danger Described
The Apostle speaks of what has been termed the trinity of evil, "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life." Each of these needs the most careful consideration in regard to the spiritual life.
1. The desire of having; "the lust of the flesh."
2. The desire of seeing; "the lust of the eyes."
3. The desire of being; "the vainglory of life."
This is the usual way of describing these three aspects of evil, and it is important to distinguish between desires that are true and desires that are sinful. There are many things which are not wrong in themselves, but become wrong when they are abused. Some writers endeavor to form a parallel between these words and the temptation of Eve (Gen. 3) and the temptation of our Lord (Matt. 4), in their threefold form, but in neither case does it seem quite satisfactory, especially because in our Lord there was nothing sinful connected with his human nature. Some authorities consider that in these three statements we have two forms of desire and one of boasting, the latter being a love of display, with special reference to outward and external elements of life. It is certainly significant, as already noted, that the Greek uses two words for "life," one referring to that which is inward and real (ζωή), and the other to that which is outward and temporal (βίος). Perhaps a similar distinction may be seen in the use of our words, also taken from the Greek, zoology and biology. All this emphasizes the importance of taking heed to our desires lest that which is right in itself may become wrong either by being centered on an unworthy object or extended beyond its proper limit.
III. The Danger Contrasted
1. In opposition to the love of the world is the love of the Father, and it is important to realize that this "love of the Father," including his to us and ours to him, is at once real and satisfying. Scripture contrasts and opposes the Divine Trinity to the trinity of evil. Thus the world is opposed to the Father, the devil to the Son, and the flesh to the Spirit.
2. The world is contrasted with the Father. The two are mutually exclusive, for everything that is "of the world" cannot possibly be "of the Father." As our Lord said: "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).
IV. The Danger Faced
1. The call comes, "love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." This appeal is necessary, because of the danger of loving self and sin rather than God.
2. This will mean true separation from the world. Christians are in the world but not "of the world" (John 17:14, 16), and yet we are told "God so loved the world" (John 3:16). Why, then, may we not "love the world"? We may freely do so if our motive and purpose is the same as that which actuates God. We are to love the world back to God, and in this sense we cannot love the world too much. Indeed, our attitude to those around us should be actuated by what the Apostle Paul so beautifully calls "the philanthropy of God" (Tit. 3:4, Greek), but any love that has not for its object the winning of the world to God is certain to bring evil in its train.
V. The Danger Averted
1. The transience of the world is one reason why we are not to love it in this wrong sense. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." All its sin, pleasure, satisfaction will end in nothing. Like a mirage, it will prove an illusion. When Mark Twain was seventy-one he met a well-known American commercial magnate, who was a little younger. Mark Twain, as is well known, was utterly opposed to Christianity, and speaking to the other man he said: "Well, I don't know what you think of it, but I think I have had enough of this world, and I wish I were out of it." The other replied: "I don't say much about it, but that expresses my view." This is how Twain's biographer comments on the conversation:
"This from the foremost man of letters and one of the foremost financiers of the time was impressive. Each at the mountain-top of his career, they agreed that the journey was not worth while, that what the world had still to give was not attractive enough to tempt them, to prevent a desire to experiment with the next stage.
"One could remember a thousand poor and obscure men who were perfectly willing to go on struggling and starving, postponing the day of settlement as long as possible; but perhaps, when one has had all the world has to give, when there are no new worlds in sight to conquer, one has a different feeling."
2. The permanence of the Divine will is shown in marked contrast to the temporal character of the world. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." This is the true life, pleasing him, not ourselves, and this alone gives satisfaction because it lasts through time and extends into eternity.
The Christian life is full of perils. Already the Apostle has dealt with some of these (vs. 15-17), and now he takes up others. After the contrast between God and the world comes this second important contrast of the true and the false. But life is not only encompassed with peril; it needs protection, and John is clear in regard to both. While he will not minimize the danger, he is equally certain that there is no real need to trouble, if only we are careful to observe the Divine conditions.
There are many dangers in the Christian life, but perhaps the very worst is that of false teaching. It has such an inoffensive look, and as such is unlike anything immoral. It often deceives, because it seems to suggest new ideas. The soul would quickly reject anything openly and avowedly sinful, and yet may easily succumb to the fascination of novel thoughts and ways. But God's light reveals at once the peril and the protection.
I. The Solemn Warning (v. 18)
1. Needed. — The Apostle addresses them as "little children," just as in verse 14 he had spoken of them as "little ones," or "little boys." Their position as spiritual children necessitated what he had to say.
2. Introduced. — He points out his first warning by saying that "it is a last hour," referring to the period just before the close of the dispensation. For comparison, we may think of the "last days" of the Old Testament; the "last day" in our Lord's teaching (John 6:39), and the "last days" of the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 3:1). To the Apostle the world seemed transitory (v. 17), and would soon come to an end. This v/as in harmony with what Paul had said many years before, that "now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed" (Rom. 13:11). To the same effect is his other phrase, "in the latter times" (1 Tim. 4:1), while Peter also remarks, "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet. 4:7). It was the thought of the imminence of this great crisis that served to give special force to the warning.
3. Given. — The substance of the warning is "that antichrist cometh," and not only so, but "even now have there arisen many antichrists." This was the proof that it was "the last hour." John's teaching about the antichrists is found here and in three other places (v. 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Antichrist is associated with the denial of Jesus as the Messiah, and thereby the denial of the Divine Fatherhood and Sonship. The fact that there were in John's day "many antichrists" shows that there was real danger of false teaching leading to false practice. When Paul was at Miletus he warned the elders of Ephesus against the entrance of "grievous wolves" (Acts 20:29), and in writing to the Thessalonians he gives his own special teaching about the "man of sin," who is also "the lawless one" (2 Thess. 2:3-8). It would seem as though the numerous antichrists are to head up gradually into one who will be -the supreme opponent of our Lord. But it is interesting to notice the twofold thought suggested by the preposition "anti." The first idea is indicated by the thought of "instead of," meaning a spurious Christ, and then arising out of this comes the additional idea of "in opposition to," which shows that the ultimate outcome will be opposition and hostility to Christ. This has always been the history of error in the past, and so it will continue to the end.
Perversions of Christianity become opposing forces, the spurious develops into the hostile. Antichrist hereafter, if we understand the New Testament aright, will not at first be ranged against Christ, but will endeavor to suggest himself as in the place of Christ, and only afterwards will be seen in his true color. Man may be said to be "incurably religious," and the devil well knows that there must be some sort of religion to occupy human attention. Then, when a false conception of religion is in possession, it soon degenerates into undisguised hostility to the true faith. We see this today in such movements as Russellism, Christian Science, Theosophy, and Spiritism. They are all intended as substitutes for the true religion, but they soon prove themselves to be absolutely opposed to it.
II. The Sad Reminder (v. 19)
In connection with his earnest and urgent appeal, the Apostle has to speak of those who had formerly professed the Christian faith, and everything he says has a sad but searching interest for us today.
1. Apostasy Shown. — "They went out from us."
This was the fact within the experience of the Apostle and his fellow Christians, and the fivefold use of the term "us" is a hint of the beautiful fellowship that marked the earlier believers.
2. Apostasy Explained. — "They were not of us." This shows the true character of those who had gone out, and proves that they were not really Christians, because if they had been they would certainly have remained. Those who have really experienced the preciousness of Christ and the fellowship of his people are not likely to surrender these inestimable privileges.
3. Apostasy Proved. — "They went out that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us." When these mere professors separated themselves from the body of Christ's people it was obvious to all what they were in reality. Thus all their profession went for nothing. They might have had a genuine experience of Christ with all the blessedness, power, peace, and protection resulting from it; but, instead, they determined to leave the community of Christ's followers, though, in so doing, they both revealed and condemned themselves. There is scarcely anything sadder in life than deliberate apostasy after Christian profession.
III. The Saviour's Protection (v. 20)
Then in contrast the Apostle turns from the unreal to the real people, and shows them the way in which they would be guarded against any such terrible experience.
1. The Fact. — "Ye have an anointing." The original is very striking in its contrast with the term "antichrist." It is as though the Apostle said: "You have the real anointing, the chrism, while the others have the counterfeits, the antichrisms." This anointing, or "unction," is, of course, the gift of the Holy Spirit who is bestowed upon us at the moment of our acceptance of Christ (2 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 1:13).
2. The Expatiation. — This anointing came "from the Holy One" — that is, the Lord Jesus Christ himself-— and the fact that he is thus described as "Holy" shows the effect of the- anointing, and provides one of the greatest proofs of the reality of the true life in opposition to everything that is false and counterfeit, because unholy.
3. The Result— "Ye know all things." The word "know" here, as often elsewhere, means immediate, direct perception, as the outcome of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Christ. Just as there is sagacity in animals and natural insight and taste in man, so in the Christian there is spiritual knowledge as the outcome of a personal experience of Christ. The Holy Ghost possesses mind, heart, and will, and enables us to understand and know (1 Cor. 10:15). This does not mean any reflection on teachers (Eph. 4:11), because these are the gift of God. Nor does it involve any independence of the truth of God recorded in his Word; on the contrary, the knowledge comes through the truth applied by the Spirit, and both Spirit and Word come from Christ himself (John 15:26). It is this combination of the Word of God and the Spirit of God that will preserve us from all danger of what is sometimes called the "inner light," considered apart from the Bible or God's truth. The Holy Spirit speaks of Christ through the Word, and never in any sense in opposition to it.
"Here is the exterior test of the inner light. The witness of the Spirit in the living Church, and in the abiding apostolic word, authenticate and guard each other. This must be so, if one and the self-same Spirit testifies in both. Experience and Scripture coincide. Neither will suffice for us apart from the other. Without experience, Scripture becomes a dead letter; without the norm of Scripture, experience becomes a speculation, a fanaticism, or a conceit." (Findlay, "Fellowship in the Life Eternal," p. 224.)
Thus we see that to be forewarned is forearmed, and we may perhaps sum up this solemn message by emphasizing three requirements for the spiritual life which are particularly applicable today in the face of all forms of erroneous teaching.
(1) We ought to distrust our own intellectual powers and our reasoning in things spiritual. The deepest truths are often not to be grasped by the intellect, but are a matter of spiritual apprehension and discernment. It is true that the Lord says that we are to love him "with all the mind," and yet the mind is only one faculty, and needs to be tested and balanced by other elements of our nature, equally important, and in some respects more important, for spiritual understanding.
(2) We ought also to be very specially on our guard against the counsel of other people in reference to spiritual truths, if those who give the counsel are not converted to God. There is a sense in which it is as true as ever, notwithstanding all modern education, that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Cor. 2:14). While listening carefully to all opinions, the final decision must be made by the spiritually illuminated soul.
(3) Meanwhile, as we distrust our own reason, and hesitate to put too much confidence in the advice and reason of the unconverted, we must take the greatest care to become constantly and fully exercised by the Word through the Spirit, in order that we may know by experience what God would have us do. This is what Paul meant when he said, "Be not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). To the man who is in constant fellowship with Christ by the Spirit, through the Word, will come "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him," and then, ''having the eyes of the heart enlightened, we shall know" (Eph. 1:17, 18).
From 2:18 to 4:6 great stress is laid upon the peril of error and the consequent need of protection. It is at once significant and sad that the greatest dangers in all ages have been due to a perverted Christianity rather than to open and gross violations of the moral law. All the more reason, therefore, to give attention both to the aspects of error and to the secrets of safety.
I. The Believer's Position (vs. 21, 26)
1. Assurance. — "I have not written unto you, because ye know not the truth." This is an encouraging word, telling them that he was not writing to them because of their ignorance, but only to show the true and direct bearing of their knowledge on conduct.
2. Intelligence. — "But because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth." It is worth while remembering that truth is fact. It is not something which a man "trows," as though it varied with individual opinion, but it is something unchanging and unchangeable, always the same to everyone. And this reference to the knowledge of the truth is shown by the word used to imply a direct instinctive understanding of the objective reality of the Gospel. They knew this truth, because it was not something novel, but that which had been their portion since the beginning of their Christian life.
3. Danger (v. 26). — "These things have I written unto you concerning them which would lead you astray." This shows the peril of these believers. Wrong ideas inevitably lead to wrong conduct, and it is clear that this was no mere question of erroneous opinions, but of the definite danger of erroneous living (3:7; 4:6). It may be said, without much question, that one of the greatest needs, if not the very greatest, is an ever-new experience of old truths rather than the possession of anything new, however true. The original word found here, and in the other passages, includes the two ideas of wrong thoughts tending inevitably to wrong action. So that the peril was not merely one of intellectual but of moral declension.
II. The Believer's Power (vs. 22, 23)
How, then, was this position to be maintained? The Apostle at once shows that it was only by means of a close connection with the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Work of Christ (v. 22),— It is clear that this was no mere Jewish unbelief, but something practical and aggressive in its opposition to our Lord. Christ in the fulness of his work is our Prophet, Priest, and King, and these three are included in the term Messiah, or "the Christ." It follows, therefore, that the denial of our Lord's Messiahship carries with it the solemn fact that there is no salvation, because it is only possible to be saved by means of the work of Christ (Acts 4:12).
2. The Person of Christ (vs. 22, 23). — The Work is seen here, as elsewhere, to depend upon the Person, so that he who denies Christ denies the Father as well, and does not possess any part or lot In the Father; while, on the other hand, he who continually confesses the Son possesses the Father. This relation between the Father and the Son, and between the Son and the Father, shows quite plainly the value of the Person of Christ as intimately associated with God.
3. The Connection of the Work and the Person. — This is clearly implied in the statements about Christ, his Person, his Work, and his relation to the Father. If there be no Godhead there can be no Atonement, and without Atonement there is no Redemption. If Christ were only- an Example, he would be nothing more than man, but because he is Redeemer and Messiah as well, he must be both God and Man. Here, as in the Gospel, the title "the Son," carries its own profound significance, implying a unique relation to the Father that involves his Deity, and thereby his redemptive work. This connection of the Work and the Person is vital and essential,
III. The Believer's Protection (vs. 24, 25)
But it is necessary to consider more definitely how this Divine Person and Work are to be related to the individual life of God's children.
1. The Command. — "As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning." From the outset of their Christian life they had been taught the Christian truth (2:7), and they were simply to allow it to remain in and with them. Christ had been revealed and declared to them as a Divine Saviour, and all that they had to do was to allow that blessed and powerful truth to remain part and parcel of their life (1:1). There was no possibility of moral and spiritual development except from this germ, for everything else that might come into their life would be merely accretion.
2. The Consequence. — "If that which ye heard... abide in you, ye also shall abide in... Father." The result of their permitting the truth concerning the Divine and human Messiah to remain in them would be that they in turn would be enabled to abide both in the Son and also in the Father. Thus the Incarnation is seen to be eminently worthy of God, and from the Son we naturally proceed to the Father.
3. The Explanation. — "And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal." Eternal life is the final outcome of our union with Christ (John 17:3), and those who possess him possess God's own life in that fellowship (v. 12).
IV. The Believer's Provision (v. 27)
But there is something still more for the believer to realize, for not only is he in union and communion with the Father and the Son, there is in addition to, or rather in connection with, these blessings, the glorious privilege of the Holy Spirit, and it is this which constitutes the provision set out in such detail in this verse. Each point calls for careful attention in order that we may see the fulness of God's grace on our behalf.
1. A Divine Gift. "The anointing which ye received." The contrast between the Christian and their deceivers is very striking. "As for you," that is, in opposition to those who would lead you astray (v. 26). This anointing has already been mentioned (v. 20), and here it is spoken of as a Divine gift received by the Christian.
2. An Indwelling Gift. "In you." This is one of the many instances where the force of the preposition "in" has to be noticed as expressing the actual abiding in the soul as distinct from any mere accompaniment. The believer is "in Christ" and Christ is in him (John 14:20). In like manner we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us.
3. A Permanent Gift. "Abideth." This blessing of the Holy Spirit lasts because God does not take it away.
4. A Sufficient Gift. "Ye need not that anyone teach you," This means that they had spiritual resources in the presence and power of the indwelling Divine Spirit, and it is well that from time to time we should recall these resources instead of unduly depending upon outside assistance.
5. A Complete Gift. "Teacheth you concerning all things." This shows that there is nothing outside the power of this wonderful gift that God has bestowed upon us.
6. A Reliable Gift. "Is truth, and is no lie." This statement is at once guaranteed by Scripture, and proved again and again in personal experience.
7. A Practical Gift. "Even as it taught you, ye shall abide in him." Thus, as it has been in the past, so in the present and in the future, the indwelling Spirit will be our teacher, and will enable us to abide in Christ. This reciprocal abiding of the Spirit in us and Of our abiding in the Spirit is one of the most blessed features of the Christian life.
At this point it may be asked why there should be differences, disagreements, and divisions among Christians if the Holy Spirit is all this to the soul? Perhaps the answer may be found along such lines as these, which have been often pointed out.
(1) Differences among Christians are not usually and mainly on the chief facts of the Gospel, but on secondary, even though important, aspects. There is a far greater and deeper fundamental unity than is sometimes imagined. (2) It is possible, too, that some of these differences may be due to the sad fact that all Christians are not wholly surrendered to this indwelling Spirit. Very often the trouble is not that we should seek for more of the Spirit, but that we should allow the Spirit to have more of us. (3) Then it must never be forgotten that individual temperament and personal ecclesiastical environment count for very much. The Holy Spirit works through individualities and through circumstances, and if he is not allowed his proper place and complete sway, it is not surprising that differences emerge.
V. The Believer's Prospect (v. 28)
This verse is apparently transitional, looking backwards and forwards. Some writers connect it with the preceding (Law), others with the following (Haupt and Findlay). Probably, as elsewhere in this Epistle, it includes the earlier and the subsequent sections, but, on the whole, it seems better to- regard it as closing the section, because the next verse will be seen to introduce an entirely new thought.
1. The Fact. "If he shall be manifested." This is a definite expectation of what we call the Second Coming of Christ, and the "if" does not imply any doubt, but simply assumes the fact. This is, indeed, the prospect of God's children, "that blessed hope."
2. The Result. "We may have boldness." The word "boldness" means "freedom of speech," and refers to that feature of true friendship which implies absence of all reserve and the presence of perfect frankness. It shows what ought to be true of the believer in that great day. "That we may tell him everything."
3. The Possibility. "And not be ashamed before him at his coming." This is the only place where the word Parousia (coming) is found in the writings of John, and the thought of possible shame shows that believers may not be able to meet that day with the joy which God expects and intends from us. It is not a question of salvation, but of sorrow at unfaithfulness; it does not mean that we are afraid, but it certainly does indicate the possibility of our feeling utterly ashamed of ourselves, because we have not been true to his wonderful love and grace since our conversion. This is one of several passages in the New Testament which clearly show the solemn possibility of the Lord's coming finding us not as faithful, as ready, as true, as earnest as we might and ought to be.
4. The Call. "Abide in him." This shows how we may prevent all such sorrow and shame, and be able to lift up our faces- without spot, and have perfect confidence when he appears. Abiding is a familiar word, and it means nothing less, as it can mean nothing more, than staying where we are. We are to abide in Christ, in his love, in his Word, in his grace, and allow him to be the Master and Lord of our life. Then we shall have boldness' here and boldness hereafter.
Looking over the entire passage, we may consider, with Findlay (p. 226), the three safeguards provided for the Christian. (1) The Spirit within; (2) the Word without; (3) the Lord above. When these three have their proper place and power in the soul, the result is protection in spite of every peril, power over every weakness, peace in all perplexity, and permanence amidst everything that fluctuates in the world around us.
Chapter 2:29 to 3:3
At this point we may review the Epistle, especially because some writers consider that a new' part opens here. Thus it is suggested that from 1:5 to 2:27 (or 28) we have as the main thought God is Light. Then from 2:28 (or 29) to 4:6, God is Righteous. And from 4:7 to 5:21, God is Love. Dr. Law suggests that these are the three divisions of the Epistle, and represent three tests of the Christian life: doing righteousness, loving one another, and believing in Christ. This agrees practically with the view of three other modern writers: Hort, Haering, and Brooke, though with a somewhat different analysis of the entire Epistle.
The new thought that starts with 2:29 is that of our being "begotten of God," and this idea of Sonship runs through the whole passage, and gives it its unity.
I. The Fact of Sonship (2:29; 3:1, 2)
1. What? We are regarded as children of God, and it is important to distinguish this from mere natural birth (John 1:12). Our Lord institutes a solemn- and even awful contrast between children of God and children of the devil (John 8:44).
2. How? We become children of God by regeneration, the gift of God's own life by his Spirit (John 3:5). This possession Of the Divine nature is in striking contrast with and also a spiritual complement to Paul's idea of adoption. This seems to be the distinction between "children" and "sons," for the latter are the grown-up children. Thus we are at once possessors of the Divine nature, and adopted into the Divine Family.
II. The Mark of Sonship (2:29)
1. Knowledge. "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that." This knowledge is at once absolute and experienced, and those who are children of God possess this twofold understanding (see Greek).
2. Life. "Everyone that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." This is the supreme proof and evidence of a Divine life. There must be righteousness in thought, word, and deed. God himself is righteous, and those who receive his life necessarily manifest the same feature. Without this there is no possibility of anyone being born of God.
III. The Privilege of Sonship (3:1)
1. Whence? The Apostle bursts out with the call of "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us." This privilege is. thus the direct gift of our Heavenly Father.
2. Why? It springs from his love, and is shown in the free gift which he has permanently bestowed on us. This love is thus not only shown, but given; not only exhibited, but imparted. It is the gift of himself, and thereby we become his children,
IV. The Consciousness of Sonship (3:1, R. V.)
This is a point which we owe to the Revised Version, for, after the outburst expressive of God's love, the Apostle adds, "and such we are." In this realization we have two separate, though connected, thoughts.
1. Experience. "Such we are." The soul rejoices in the consciousness of a new life which comes from the love of God. There is nothing to compare with this personal realization.
2. Expression. But the soul cannot keep this blessing to itself. There must be testimony to others, and so the words "such we are" are the' witness to those around us of what God has done to us.
V. The Mystery of Sonship (3:1)
This relationship between God and the believer is not understood by all, and so the Apostle says, "for this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."
1. The Enigma in Our Case. The world does not know the Christian as the child of God because spiritual things are only spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). To the man of the world the believer does not differ essentially from other people, and the possession of a Divine life is altogether hidden from the one who does not possess this experience.
2. The Enigma in His Case. The world did not know Christ, for during his earthly life his claim to be the Son of God was rejected and opposed. They thought they knew his mother and earthly father and human sisters and brothers, but they did not realize the essential Divine relationship that existed between him and his Heavenly Father. It is always so, for people of the world are as incapable as ever of appreciating the Divine reality of Jesus Christ. It, too, needs a spiritual experience.
VI. The Crown of Sonship (3:2)
Notwithstanding the inestimable privilege and joy of being children of God, even this is not all, for there is something yet to come.
1. Unknown Glory. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be." It is almost be3''oiid our conception to think of anything higher than our present privilege of being children of God, and it is pretty certain that the difference between the present and future is one of degree rather than of kind, and will consist in our future condition rather than in any change of position.
2. Known Glory. "We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is." This is something that, at any rate, we already know, whatever the future may bring. We shall see Christ, and be like him, and the sight will transform us into his image and likeness. Bishop Westcott relates an incident that may help us to understand these wonderful words. A missionary was occupied with the assistance of a native teacher in translating this Epistle into the language of the people among whom he was working. When he came to these words, "we shall be like him," the scribe laid down his pen. and said, "No, I cannot write these words; it is too much; let us write, 'we shall kiss his feet.' " But, as Dr. Barrett says in narrating this incident, "It is not 'too much' for the love of God."
VII. The Demand of Sonship (3:3)
The paragraph appropriately ends by showing that sonship must of necessity have a practical result.
1. The Incentive to Purity. Everyone that possesses this hope fixed on seeing and being like Christ hereafter will necessarily purify himself here and now. Purity is one of the requirements of sonship.
2. The Standard of Purity. This purity is to be realized by means of nothing less tlian the purity of Christ himself, "even as he is pure." The thought that he is to be manifested, and that we are to be like him hereafter, is to be our constant consideration day by day, and everything in thought, word, and deed is to be related to him.
Thus we see some of the main aspects of New Testament Sonship. It starts from life. It is' expressed in love. It is marked by loyalty. And it will culminate in likeness.
God's life (3:3) is now to be seen as in constant and inevitable antagonism to sin, showing once again that sin is absolutely inadmissible (2:1). This solemn truth' is proved in four different ways.
I. The Essence of Sin (v. 4)
1. The practice of sin here described as "doeth sin" proves the possession of the principle from which the practice springs, and this, in turn, seems to imply that the man who does wrong holds that the moral law is not binding on him.
2. The principle is "lawlessness," meaning opposition to all legal requirement, and in this, the denial of all moral obligation. The man who takes this view shows that he refuses to accept the fundamental difference between right and wrong. The reference to sin as "lawlessness" should be compared with the similar statement that sin is "unrighteousness" (v. 17), for the absence of law carries with it the absence and denial of what is right (1:9),
II. The Manifestation of Christ (vs. 5, 8)
This is another reason why sin cannot be admitted into the Christian life.
1. Christ was manifested to "take away sins" (v. 5), and the Apostle reminds his readers that this simple but significant fact was instinctively known by them. It is interesting to notice that in John 1:29 our Lord is said to take away "sin" (the root), while here he is said to take away "sins" (the fruit).
2. Christ was also manifested that he might "destroy the works of the devil" (v. 8). This is one of the aspects of sin that needs constant attention, and to commit wrong is not merely to break a Divine law, but to deny -the entire purpose of Christ's coming. In the face of these two solemn statements, it ought to be clear to all that sinning is wholly incompatible with any revelation of Christ as the Son of God.
III. The Life of the Believer (vs. 6, 7, 9)
A third reason is now given to show the inadmissibility of sin.
1. Experience (v. 6). There seems to have been a real danger in the lifetime of the Apostle by people teaching that conduct did not matter. It was along this line that unwary believers were liable to be led astray (2:26). For this reason the teaching is clear that whoever continues to abide in Christ does not practice sin — sin is no part of his normal experience; and if anyone indulges this practice, it is a clear proof that he has not seen Christ nor had a personal or permanent experience of him.
2. Expression (v. 7). The Apostle is particularly anxious that his "little children" should not be led into error of thought and conduct, and so he speaks in the most definite terms that the man who practices righteousness is righteous even as Christ himself is righteous. Thus it is shown that unrighteousness is wholly inconsistent with the idea of the Christian life.
3. Principle (v. 9). Then the Apostle lays down the absolute and unqualified" principle that the man who is possessed of God's life does not continue to practice sin because the Divine seed remains in him, and he is unable to go on sinning "because he is begotten of God." All this is rightly said to indicate that the matter was practical, not theoretical, and that the Apostle's solemn statement is in direct opposition to some false claim of an adversary of Christ and Christians. To assert that a man who is truly "begotten of God" can at the same time live in sin is thus definitely and, even indignantly, denied, for "to assert the contrary is to assert a blasphemy, a calumny upon God" (Law, "The Tests of Life," p. 228). Thus the passage, so far, when read in the light of the familiar statements (1:8-10) shows that there must be, there can be, no apology for sin, and no allowance for sin in the believer's life.
IV. The Origin of Sin (vs. 8, 10a)
This is the fourth and final proof that sinning and the Christian life are absolutely opposite.
1. The Devil (v. 8). The man who practices sin is said to be "of the devil," and the devil is stated to have sinned "from the beginning." This is one of the many proofs from Scripture that sin originally was external to man. The record of the Fall tells of the entrance of sin into human life, but not of its entrance into the universe, and the teaching of Scripture about the devil in relation to sin is as plain as it is solemn. The personality of Satan is clearly recognized here, although, as in other places, there is very little told in detail of his person or the account of his original fall. But no one can really doubt that the New Testament, following the Old, indicates the double truth that man fell through the temptation of Satan, and that Satan fell from a former high estate. At this point it may be usefully noted that, in the words of an able writer, "the New Testament conception of diabolic agency is one for which modern Christian thought has no moral difficulty in finding a place." And he goes on to refer to one of the most popular and best-known modern theological books in which "there is not a single reference to it." But, as the same writer proceeds to state, there are three thoughts in the Epistle of great value and permanent validity contained in this thought of the agency of the devil. The first is that sin in principle has a diabolic character, and is, therefore, infinitely more terrible than anything human can explain. The second is that the moral conflict in humanity is associated with personal agencies, and not mere ideas. "Of impersonal influences or of actual moral forces residing in impersonal laws the New Testament knows nothing." The third truth is the ultimate victory of Christ over the devil in regard to the possession of mankind (Law, pp. 144, 145). To this may be added by way of illustration the words of Disraeli in his novel, "Endymion": "Give me a single argument against his person which is not applicable to the personality of the Deity."
2. His children (v. 10). In solemn contrast, the Apostle speaks of "the children of God" and "the children of the devil." This latter phrase is evidently an echo of his Master's words, and as such calls for the most serious and thorough consideration (John 8:44). The Apostle Paul similarly spoke of Elymas as "thou son of the devil," and on another occasion our Lord referred to "the sons of the evil one " In these solemn statements we have the thought of that moral and spiritual affinity by which evildoers are described' as the progeny of the devil. Nothing must be allowed to weaken this plain and definite truth in relation to human sin.
And so for all these reasons, as above stated, sin is impossible. (1) It is opposed to God. (2) It is opposed to Christ. (3) It is opposed to Christianity. (4) It comes from the devil. (5) It is the mark of the devil in human beings. Surely these are sufficient reasons why the Christian believer should not sin.
Chapter 3:10b- 18
The distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil consists in two great facts, doing righteousness and loving the brother. The first test is towards God, and has been considered already (2:29 to 3:10a), and now it is necessary to think of the other test, towards man. The key thought, therefore, is brother-love.
I. The Proof (vs. 10, 11)
1. Its character (v. 10). One fact is so important that it calls for repetition. It has been pointed out by Westcott and' others that the term "brother" here and elsewhere in the New Testament always refers to the specific relationship between Christians, and never to the modem idea o^f the "brotherhood of man." This is an important point, and the emphasis laid upon loving our Christian brother is very strong in the New Testament. It is the "new commandment" given by our Lord (John 13:34), and it is more than likely that the newness consisted in the object of our affection, the man who is united with us to Christ. It is particularly striking that the New Testament gives such prominence to the idea expressed by the Greek word Philadelphia (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 4:9; Heb, 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 2 Pet. 1:7), which should be rendered ''brother-love," not brotherly love. To speak of "brotherly love" means brothering love, which means love as though we' were brethren. But the' word means far more than this, indicating love because we are brethren, and so the true interpretation is brother-love.
2. Its claim (v. 10). This love of the Christian brother is clearly shown to be "of God," that is, it is a sign of life. Because we are begotten of God and possess Divine life, we are certain to love our brother. But if we love not, we may be equally certain that we are not possessors of God's'' love, and nature.
3. Its call (v. 11). This message of brother-love was part of the earliest Gospel. They had heard it "from the beginning" of their Christian Life and profession. We see from' this simple statement how much was included in the first proclamation of Christian truth.
II. The Precept (vs. 12-15)
1. The example (v. 12). Cain is used as the illustration of what has been rightly called the "loveless soul," and while the emphasis suggested by the word "slew^' suggests the brutality of the act, the chief stress is undoubtedly laid on the motive. It was the absence of love in Cain's character and conduct that led to his action, which was originally "of the evil one" himself, who is the essence of lovelessness and hate fulness. And the cause of this action was the simple yet significant one that "his works were evil, and his brother's righteous." Everything showed the utter absence of love and with that the awful presence of hate.
2. The experience (vs. 13, 14). The Christians were not to Idc surprised if they had the hatred of the world (John 15:18, 19). On the contrary, they would know by their love of the Christian brethren that they had passed out of the sphere of death into that of life.
This blessed change would be within the realm of their consciousness. They knew it, and the evidence, sufficient and ample, would be the love of their brethren, and the equally obvious, though contrasted fact, that any one who did not love was really living in the. old sphere of death. Once again we observe how the Apostle sharply contrasts the two realms, not allowing even the possibility of anything like a third or even a border line. It is either death or life, hate or love.
3. The fact (v. 15). But the absence of love and the presence of hate is even more than abiding in death; it is the positive presence of murder, which is hatred in expression, and there was the clear consciousness on the part of Christians that "no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." This twofold appeal to their knowledge is particularly significant in the use of the word which means instinctive, direct, objective knowledge. Such a fact does not really need personal experience even though the practical result is an experience of the great change.
III. The Pattern (vs. 16-18)
Now we are to be shown the supreme revelation of love as seen in service.
1. Sacrificing (v. 16). In contrast to Cain, who took life, this is a reference to One who laid down his life. And as he thus expressed his love for us, we are under the great obligation of imitating that model and laying down our lives for the brethren. Our personal experience of Christ's love to us is intended to impel and compel us to show similar self-sacrifice.
2. Simple (v. 17). Small things are the best test of love, and it is shown that if we are unwilling to help our brother in his need, it is impossible that God's love is dwelling' in us. There ought to be in every believer a reality of love in the threefold expression of it; in a capacity to help, a knowledge of needs, and a self-sacrificing attitude. It is not the utterance of some great or profound truth, or the accomplishment of some wonderful deed, but the quiet, simple help of a needy brother that beyond all else demonstrates our possession of the love of God. The two words, "hath" and "beholdeth," followed by "shutteth up," show with great clearness the danger of a terrible selfishness, for to possess life's good things and then to gaze at a needy one, and at the same time to shut up as with a key our compassion, is to disprove our possession of the first principle of love.
3. Sincere (v. 18). And so the Apostle urges us to love, not in word but in deed, not with the tongue but in truth. Whether we think of the family or of the Church, this, must be the proof of our affection. It may take all kinds of forms, sometimes in hospitality, at other times in the help of the poor, at others in the furtherance of world-wide evangelization. But whatever may be the object of our affection, it is to be practical and not theoretical, in actual reality and not in mere profession.
Thus love is seen to be the manward evidence of our being children of God. Not what we think, however accurately; not what we feel, however strongly; not what we say, however eloquently; but what we do in genuine, practical, self-sacrificing activity, is the sole proof and test of our brother-love.
Christianity is love, and love means action. This is a proof of spiritual reality, and the assurance of reality is one of the essential features of Christian experience. It is this thought of assurance, as based on practical action, that the Apostle now emphasizes.
I. Assurance Described
What are the features of the assurance which is here so prominently taught? The following points are included:
1. To be of the truth (v. 19). This seems to refer to our spiritual state rather than to our judicial standing, and means belonging to Christ (John 18:Z7). The Apostle had already referred to their knowledge of the truth (2:21), and here is the additional thought of being "of the truth."
2. To be confident in the presence of God (v. 19). The believer will not fear, but will be assured in heart as he lives before the face of God.
3. To be free from condemnation of heart (v. 20). There are some textual difficulties at this point, though the general meaning seems clear. The Apostle teaches that even though our own hearts condemn us, God is tenderer, and is ready to make every allowance because of his perfect knowledge (John 21:17).
4. To be frank with God (v. 21). The word "boldness" means, as in the other three places in this Epistle, "freedom of speech," the attitude of perfect candor in our personal relation to God.
5. To have answers to prayer (v. 22). There is no doubt in this respect, in view of the unqualified statement, "whatsoever we ask, we receive," and the explanation is "because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." Thus, answers to prayer are associated with our obedience. A Jewish saying, quoted by Dr. Brooke (International Critical Commentary), says: "Do his will as if it were thine, that he may do thy will as if it were his."
6. To abide in him (v. 24). It is interesting to notice this and other instances of reciprocal abiding of the believer in God and God in the believer. Sometimes only the one side is mentioned, God abiding in us. At other times, our abiding in God is alone mentioned. But the full relationship is the reciprocal abiding which is found four times (3:24; 4:13; 4:15; 4:16). (Law, "The Tests of Life," p. 198.)
7. To know that he abides in us (v. 24). This is by no means the least important element of the reality of assurance, and the word used indicates, a continuous experience of this abiding.
II. Assurance Derived
As we review these aspects of assurance, it is inevitable to ask how they may become ours, and in the course of his statement the Apostle makes this clear. Assurance comes from the observance of the following conditions:
1. Love (v. 19). This is seen in the' word "hereby," referring back to the former verse, and shows how practical love is, and how unselfish. It is- no question of great knowledge, or profound philosophy, for nothing so subtle or partial as these can give assurance. The one requirement is love, as our Lord himself pointed out when he remarked, "ye did it," and "ye did it not" (Matt. 25).
2. Sincerity (vs. 19, 20). As the believer lives in God's presence, and allows God to search and know the heart, he is able to have the experience of sincerity and thereby becomes persuaded that all is well.
3. Obedience (vs. 22, 23, 24). This emphasis on the Commandments and our observance of them, and doing what God tells us is another opportunity for obtaining assurance. There is nothing meritorious in this obedience (John 15:7), for it is only the condition of blessing. The word "keep" (vs. 22, 24) signifies watchfulness and carefulness in our daily response of obedience. It is also important to notice that doing righteousness is the proof of new life (2:29), while the possession- of new life is in turn proved" by doing righteousness (3:24). It is particularly impressive to remember this stress on simple obedience, and the precise "Commandment" has" a twofold outlook, belief in Christ and love to one another. This is the first time that' believing is mentioned in the Epistle.
Thus assurance is seen to be no mere matter of the inner consciousness, still less of emotional feeling, but something objective, ethical, and practical. Knowledge (v. 19), fearlessness (vs. 20, 21), power (v. 22), and permanence (v. 24) are seen to come' through belief, love, and righteousness. There is perhaps nothing more important today than' the realization of the objective and ethical grounds of assurance, because we are only too apt to associate it with the subjective and emotional elements of the Christian life. What is sometimes called "the witness of the Spirit" is due to no tide of feeling within, but to the definite attitude of the heart towards Christ and the equally definite action of the life in love and obedience
In 3123 two matters are mentioned, faith and love, and these are now taken up in turn, faith in 4:1-6, and love in 4:7-21. Another link of connection is that in 3:24 reference was made to our knowledge of God's abiding in us by the Holy Spirit. But the question may be asked how we know the Spirit, and the answer is now to be given in connection with the one definite requirement of the confession of Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh (4:2). It is important to compare this passage with 2:18-28, though here reference is made to false spirits as well as the true Spirit.
I. The Call (v. 1)
1. The Appeal. The Apostle starts with the endearing word "beloved," as in 2:27, showing the intensity of his attitude. He begs them- not to believe every spirit, because they are not all true.
2. The Duty. "But prove the spirits whether they are of God." This appeal to test and prove the spirits is very important, and Paul refers to the power as one that was specially associated with the bestowal of the Divine grace (1 Cor. 12:10). There are several other things mentioned in the New Testament as needing "to be proved" :thus we are to prove ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5), God's will (Rom. 12:2), others (2 Cor. 8:8), our time (Luke 12:56), our work (Gal. 6:4), and indeed "all things" (1 Thess. 5:21). This would require spiritual discernment, especially because of the presence of so much, that was counterfeit. The spirits would speak through' prophets, and in this process of proving the Christians would be enabled to see that a thing might be supernatural without necessarily being Divine. "Enthusiasm is no guarantee of truth" (Law).
3. The Reason. "Because many false prophets are gone out." This reference calls attention to the remarkable feature found throughout the Bible, the presence of false prophets. In the Old Testament, in particular, they are quite prominent, and constitute an element that calls for the most careful and thorough consideration (Deut. 13:1-5). Even in the New Testament they are only too visible (Matt. 7:15; Acts 13:6). This contrast of false and true is very solemn, and shows how the right is counterfeited by the wrong. Almost everything connected with God and truth finds its counterpart In various forms of error. Thus, in contrast with the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we have the trinity of evil — the world, the devil, and the flesh. In contrast to the wheat, we have the counterfeit tares; in contrast with angels, we have demons.
"In every age the false has counterfeited the true. In Egypt the magicians imitated Moses, and in the Apostolic Church Simon Magus imitated Philip. Whenever the Church experiences a great revival there always spring up many spurious forms of enthusiasm that are counterfeits of the true. It is this that makes it so important for us to be able to prove the spirits. Half a truth is more dangerous than a lie. The form of godliness that lacks the power will deceive many who will be uninfluenced by blank atheism. Those who modify truth have always injured the truth more than those who have denied it openly" (First Epistle of John, by L. Palmer).
II. The Standard (vs. 2, 3)
But how is this proof to be applied? What is the criterion by which the truth may be known and distinguished from the false?
1. The Test. The first mark of the Spirit of God is the confession of the Person of Christ, and this is closely bound up with the confession of Christ as Incarnate. "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." This clearly refers, especially in the original language, to the permanence of the Incarnation. In opposition to any heresy which implied that the Divine element in Jesus was only temporary, the Apostle emphasizes in the strongest way the abiding truth of "Jesus Christ come in the flesh." This is equivalent to the words of the Apostle Paul that "no man can say that Jesus is Lord but in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).
2. The Value. The reason why this point is made so impressive by the Apostle is that in the Incarnation there was, and still continues, a union between God and man. Without such an Incarnation there could be no contact between the Divine and the human, and, therefore, no redemption. Thus we see that the emphasis laid on the Incarnation is no mere matter of intellectual speculation, but touches the springs of life in the need of redemption from sin. There is a mediaeval legend that Satan once appeared to a monk in his cell, and said that he was Jesus Christ. When the monk asked him to show the nail-prints, Satan disappeared. The death of Jesus Christ is the supreme proof that his life was at once human and Divine.
3. The Issue. In contrast with this confession of the Incarnation as a proof of the Divine Spirit, the Apostle adds that the opposite is the spirit of the antichrist (2:18). Men have always been tested as to their relation to Christ, and this is equally true of the spirit-world. It is well known that in spiritualistic seances today the simple, yet sufficient, test is invariably this: Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh? Is he God Incarnate? And those who know say that never once has an affirmative answer been given in connection with Spiritism. This is clear proof that Spiritism is not, and cannot be, from God.
III. The Outcome (vs. 4-6)
Now the Apostle wishes to express his satisfaction that those to whom he was writing were not at all likely to be led astray. Indeed, he may be said to congratulate them on their faithfulness, for it is clear that they were so true to this confession of Christ that there \Y2iS nothing to fear.
1. The Victory (v. 4). Without any qualification lie emphasizes the fact that they are "of God," and had overcome the evil spirits around, and on this account "because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." This was no boasting, but a simple, quiet consciousness that, notwithstanding all the forces at work in the world against them and their Master, the victory was certain because of the greater power of the indwelling Christ.
2. The Contrast (vs. 5, 6). In striking words the Apostle refers to the false teachers and to himself and others, and does not hesitate to put' one against the other by saying "they are of the world; we are of God." It was because the erroneous and evil teachers were of the world that they spoke and were listened to by those of the same mind.
3. The Result (v. 6). It was this that constituted the essential difference between truth and error, and the Apostle emphasized this as the mark of difference: "By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." The spiritual perception was twofold; they knew the true and they knew the false, and hence they accepted the one and rejected the other.
These simple, yet searching, truths show that not only for the Apostle's day, but for our own, the attitude we adopt to the Incarnation is absolutely and immediately decisive. For each and all, for every circumstance and time, the one supreme question is, "What think ye of Christ?"
It is interesting to notice the almost exact repetition found in two texts (3:24 and 4:13):"Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us" (3:24); "Hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit" (4:13). This double reference to the proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit clearly suggests that in between the section come the two marks whereby we may know this. The first of these is the acceptance of true doctrine — namely, Jesus Christ as Incarnate (vs. 1-6), which we have already considered. And the second is the manifestation of true life in the fact of love (vs. 7-12), which we have now to study.
Love has already been mentioned as a sign of God's Kingdom (2:5-11), as a mark of Sonship (3:10-18), as a proof of obedience (3:23). Now it is to be considered as indicating likeness to God. Love is thus based on the revelation of the Divine nature, and we are to love on this account.
I. The Call to Love (v. 7)
As before, the Apostle uses the special term "beloved" (4:1), indicative of his special and urgent appeal to them to manifest love. His desire is for Christians to "love one another," thereby carrying out their Lord's "new commandment" (John 13:34, 35; 15:12).
II. The Reason of Love (v. 7)
We are to love one another because love is of God, finding its source in the Divine nature.
III. The Test of Love (vs. 7, 8a)
It is a striking statement that "every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God." Love is thus the test of life and of knowledge. While the life is described in the original as having taken place in the past, though with permanent results, the knowledge is spoken of as continuous and indicative of personal experience. This association of life, knowledge, and love is important, especially because it shows that to love is to know, while the absence of love means the absence of knowledge, for ''he that loveth not knoweth not God." The phrase is very searching as the Apostle uses it, for it seems to mean ''he who does not want to love." Once again, therefore, emphasis is laid upon spiritual perception as arising out of love, and this is always opposed to any mere intellectual perception of truth which may easily stop short with itself and not become expressed in love. Someone has helpfully distinguished between faith and love by saying that "faith is the appropriation to self of what applies to all; love is the extension to all of what applies to self."
IV. The Nature of Love (vs. 8b, 10)
At this point we are reminded that "God is love," and in this we see the true character of love.
1. Love is self-communicating. Since God is love, he must always have had an object of his affection, for love is obviously impossible without an object. Thus, we may say that anyone who does not love has no experience of God.
2. Love is spontaneous. It has its roots in God, and, as such, it comes unbidden. God has already been shown to be Light (1:5) and Spirit (John 4:24); but now, including and even surpassing these, he is Love.
V. The Proof of Love (vs. 9, 10)
We proceed to notice that the eternal and essential character of God as love became manifest in history in the Person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the eternal fact becomes revealed as a constant factor in human life.
1. God sending (v. 9). This act and fact was the manifestation of God's love in our case.
2. God sending his best. When he sent "his only begotten Son into the world," he bestowed his supreme gift, for he had nothing higher or more valuable to send.
3. God sacrificing. God's love was seen not only in the gift of his Son, but in the gift of that Son as a sacrifice. We cannot ponder too often or too deeply this wonderful proof of the Divine heart of love (John 3:16).
VI. The Purpose of Love (vs. 9, 10)
But we must still further inquire as to the reasons why God thus manifested his love in the gift of his Son.
1. Life (v. 9). "That we might live through him." The supreme purpose of God for man is life, and this life is only possible through Jesus Christ, God's Son (John 10:10).
2. Propitiation (v. 10). Inasmuch as sin was a barrier to God's love, it was necessary for his Son to die on our behalf, and we know already that the scope of the propitiation is at once personal, "our sins," and universal, "the whole world" (2:2).
The connection of "propitiation" and "life" is evident. The former is the cause of the latter, for it is through the sacrifice of Christ that we obtain everlasting life.
VII. The Claim of Love (v. 11)
1. The Character. Once more the Apostle drives home his message by the term "beloved," and, as in the Gospel, he dwells upon the nature of God's love by the use of the little yet unfathomable word "so" — "if God so loved us" (compare John 3:16). How shall we explain what is included in this "so"? It is obviously beyond our full comprehension, but we may perhaps apprehend a little when we think of God's love as spontaneous in its source, universal in scope, long-suffering in intensity, self-sacrificing in character, aggressive in action, and constant in duration. Be it ours to ponder again and again the meaning of "so loved us."
2. The Obligation. "We also ought to love one another." Based upon what God has done for us comes the present, increasing and permanent obligation that arises from God's gift of his Son, the example he has himself set us, and the power of his love as it is realized in our experience. Thus, the pressure of "we also ought" should weigh heavily upon us day by day.
VIII. The Consummation of Love (v. 12)
1. God as invisible. Perhaps the reason why this point is mentioned here is in order to show that as God is unseen to mortal eyes we cannot help him directly, and also because he does not need our help. But we can help others who are visible, and if we do this, we, too, shall manifest the Godlike nature of love.
2. God as indwelling. "If we love one another, God abideth in us." Love thus brings God near and makes him real to the soul. Spiritual fellowship becomes actual as we exercise love towards those around us.
3. God's love as perfected. When we love one another, "His love is perfected in us." Fellowship with him is thus fully realized, and love attains to its culmination.
Thus, we see the second proof of the gift of the Holy Spirit in the exercise of love (4:13). God is shown first as the foundation of life (4:3), and then as the foundation of love (4:9, 10). It is for us first to receive him in his love, then to realize it, and then to reproduce it in love to others.
The two ideas of belief (vs. 1-6) and love (vs. 7-12) are here blended, and shown to be connected by the Spirit. As the Spirit of Truth, he witnesses to Christ, and as the Spirit of Love he produces love. Some writers think that the "herein" of verse 13 looks forward, not backward, but probably it is a mark of transition, linking the two sections.
Dr. Law suggests that as love has been indicated as a test of life three times (2:7-11; 3:10-24; 4:7-12), so now belief is mentioned as a test for the third time (2:18-28; 3:24 to 4:6; 4:13-16).
I. Life (vs. 14, 15)
1. The Root (v. 14). The Apostle lays a strong foundation in four ways. He speaks of the Father who is the origin, the Son who is the agent, the "Saviour" as suggesting the purpose, and the world as indicating the destination.
2. The Revelation. "We have beheld and bear witness." Thus, once again the Apostle gives his personal testimony to these realities.
3. The Requirement. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God." As elsewhere, so here, confession is no mere lip service or intellectual theory, but a personal, spiritual experience. Already reference has been made to confessing the Son (2:23), and the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (4:2). Here, however, there is the further specific requirement of confession of the human Jesus as the Divine Son.
4. The Result. "God abideth in him and he in God." This reciprocal indwelling should be noted here, and in every other place (v. 13). The outcome of a personal confession of the Lord Jesus Christ in his redemptive character and purpose leads to this mutual indwelling.
II. Love (v. 16)
1. As a Fact. The Apostle speaks of the love "which God hath in us," thereby referring to the actuality of this love and its relation to us. Perhaps the word "in" means only "towards" or "in our case."
2. As a Feeling. "We know and we believe." The Apostle, speaking for himself and for his friends, is able to testify at once to their own experience and conviction of this love. The two verbs seem to imply the recognition and persuasion of love (Law).
3. As a Foundation. This is seen in the nature of God, which is once again described as love (v. 8). Beyond this no one can go, for love includes everything involved in the Divine nature.
4. As a Force. "He that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him." Once again we have this reciprocal abiding (v. 15). And it is said that when we abide in love, we experience this mutual indwelling. Since God is love, he who abides in love naturally and inevitably abides in God.
Thus we see that belief is a test of life and the outcome of our union with Christ.
III. Liberty (vs. 17-19)
1. The Cause, The reference to "herein" seems again to link the two verses looking backward and forward. It is because we are abiding in love that we are enabled to look forward with confidence. It is not quite clear whether the phrase "with us" is to be connected with "love" or "perfect." If the latter, the difference from verse 12 "in us" is noteworthy.
2. The Character. The idea of "love made perfect" seems to suggest that the mutual relation is entirely one of love, and that in the highest measure. Like Paul's phrase, "the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:19), the life of the believer may be said to have reached its end and culmination. As it has been suggestively remarked. "Faith is the flower that receives the dew and the sun, while love is that flower reflecting beauty and fragrance."
At this point it is important to recall the three proofs of "love made perfect" as found in this Epistle. The first is Obedience, our relation to God (2:5). The second is Love, our relation to others (4:12). The third is Boldness, our relation to ourselves (4:17, 18).
3. The Consequence. "That we may have boldness." The thought is that of present possession, "have," though it also looks forward to the "day of Judgment." Boldness is as before (2:28) that confidence which comes from perfect frankness between our souls and God. And the additional thought is given that as Christ is one with the Father, so are we in Him, even though we are still in this world. The phrase "as he" is particularly significant, and should be noticed here and everywhere else (2:6; 3:3; 3:7).
4. The Confidence. On account of our love we do not experience any fear, especially because God first loved us. The fear mentioned here is, of course, slavish, not reverential (2 Cor. 7:1). There is nothing to cause us to feel afraid because of God's love, the consciousness of which inspires us with such confidence that all dread is necessarily and forever banished (3:18-21).
And so we may say of Love that it is (1) based on faith; (2) casts out fear; (3) unites us to God; (4) assures our future.
Chapter 4:20 to 5:3a
The Apostle's subject is still that of "Love." In 4:17-19 he has shown that love to God is connected with belief in Christ, and is at once rooted in confession and perfected in confidence. Now he is to show that love to the brethren is connected with love to God, that the latter is realized in the former. So we look again at the thought of love, though' this time with special reference to those around, our fellow Christians.
I. As A Simple Necessity (4:20)
1. The Attitude. "If a man say I love God." Once again the reference is to the man who talks without doing (1:6; 2:4, 6, 9). The Apostle naturally criticizes such an attitude of mere words without deeds.
2. The Character. "And hateth his brother." It is striking that here, as elsewhere, nothing is regarded as possible between "love" and "hate" (2:9; 2:22; 3:15). To John there was no middle pathway, a man either loved or hated. The heart is incapable of moral neutrality; it must be one thing or the other.
3. The Accusation. "He is a liar." This plain speaking is the definite charge made against a man who says one thing and shows another, the opposite, in his life. John uses this term "liar" in various connections, and all are associated with the attitude of moral and spiritual unreality (1:10; 2:4; 5:10).
4. The Reason. "For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen cannot love God whom he hath not seen." Love has already been shown to be action, not feeling, and as action needs an object, the only visible object is the child of God in whom God dwells. So that "his brother" means the visible presentation of the image of God as the sole opportunity of the bestowment of love.
II. As A Special Command (4:21)
1. Its Unity. "This commandment." As in 3:23, one commandment includes and involves all the rest. Thus the thought of love is concentrated and made more definite.
2. Its Divinity. "From whom." This shows that the word of command concerning love comes from none ether than God himself.
3. Its Spirituality. "He who loveth God love his brother also." Once again the emphasis is laid on the necessity of expressing our love by bestowing it on some visible object, and there is none more fitting than our Christian brother, our affection for him being a genuine proof of our love to God.
III. As A Sure Consequence (v. 1)
We are now to see that love to the brethren is based on our affinity of nature with God as indicated by three steps.
1. Life comes through faith. "Whosoever believeth... is begotten of God." To deny that Jesus is the Messiah is a mark of the antichrist (2:22), while to believe in him is the means of receiving Divine life (John 1:12).
2. Love comes through life. When we, through believing, receive God's life we begin to love because our life is one with God who is love. The love of child for parent is the natural outcome of their living connection, and our love to God necessarily comes from the fact that we possess his life.
3. Love comes through love. When we love God because we are begotten of him, we necessarily proceed to love those who, like ourselves, possess his life. From the filial relationship comes the fraternal. Thus, by believing we are born, because we are born we love God, and because we love God we love the brethren.
IV. As A Spiritual Principle (vs. 2, 3a)
We are now to see how love to God's children is based on our relationship to God.
1. The Fact. "We love the children of God." This is what may be called spiritual nature, for there is such a thing as moral affinity, just as there are natural and chemical affinities.
2. The Knowledge. ''We know that we love." The word indicates a continuous, personal experience, and shows again the importance of this as a personal possession of the soul.
3. The Proof. "Hereby we know." The test of loving God's children is loving God and doing what he tells us. There will be careful observance and a constant watchfulness of God's Commandments, and in this will be the best proof tliat we really possess the Divine life and enjoy the Divine love (John 14:15, 21).
So that Christianity and love are seen to be the same thing, and we say that love must be based on faith, for faith is a sign of the genuineness of love. We ought, therefore, to ask ourselves whether we love others in relation to God, whether we love spiritually, whether we are really concerned for the souls of men.
We also see that love is practical, not sentimental, for it overcomes dislikes and rises above prejudices. To love is one thing, to like is another, and while it is impossible to like everybody, because there are many people with whom we have nothing "alike," we must, and can, love all with the unselfish, self-sacrificing affection which is the essence of true Christian love.
If it should be asked why there is such emphasis on "brethren," perhaps the answer is that as love is a practical test of the Christian life, the best sphere and opportunity for exercising it is in relation to our Christian brethren. Thus, we are reminded that Christianity is no "loveless intellectualism" (Law).
And so we sum up by saying that love is (1) of God, (2) in Christ, (3) by the Spirit, (4) to the brethren (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 13:12).
Love is to be shown by obedience (vs. 2, 3a), and the nature of God's Commandments is such that the freeness and spontaneity of love are not crushed by the endeavor to do God's will. Thus the Commandments are not a heavy burden, but are associated with a sense of moral and spiritual power. Three times over in these brief verses the word "overcometh" occurs, and this gives us the keynote of power.
I. Power Experienced (v. 3b)
"His Commandments are not grievous" or "burdensome." This is the definite statement, and the evident personal testimony of the writer.
1. When are God's Commandments "grievous"? Either when they are opposed by sin within, arising out of enmity, or when they are observed by law without, arising out of bondage. Our Lord charged the Pharisees with binding heavy burdens on men's shoulders so grievous that they could not be carried (Matt. 23:4; Luke 11:46). But in regard to his own claim on the soul, he said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). The sinner, so long as he is hostile to God, cannot possibly feel otherwise than that God's law is a heavy burden. And even the teliever, when he is struggling to do the will of God in his own strength, is involved in bondage by reason of his present inability. Thus, it is impossible for man to justify himself by his own efforts (Rom. 3), and also to sanctify himself by his own efforts (Rom. 7). In each case the Commandments are assuredly "grievous."
2. When are the Commandments not "grievous"? First, when condemnation has been removed and thereby enmity has been abolished (Rom. 8:1). Then, when character has been renewed, with the result that there is no bondage (Rom. 8:2-4). Those who have thus been made free judicially and experimentally (Rom. 6:7, 18, 22; 8:2) are enabled to carry out God's requirements because they are no longer living in and by their own power, but in the presence and grace of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14-16). In this spiritual condition the soul rejoices to say with the Apostle, "His Commandments are not grievous."
II. Power Exemplified (vs. 4, 5)
The idea running through these statements is associated with victory.
1. The Foe. Once again the "world" is seen to be the great and powerful enemy of the Christian. The word means everyone and everything around considered apart from God (2:15-17). As already observed, it is not always easy to decide definitely what is "the world," but it may be said that anyone who would have us believe that God's Commandments are a heavy burden, and anything in life that tends to make us accept this view, is assuredly of "the world" for us. It has also been said that one of the finest tests of "the world" is to inquire whether a thing leaves us less inclined for prayer and fellowship with God. If it does, we may be sure it is "of the earth, earthy."
2. The Conquest. With the Commandment comes the power, and the soul realizes continuous victory as it faces the vigilant and virulent foe.
III. Power Explained (vs. 4, 5)
It is now necessary to inquire more definitely how this victory is obtained, and the passage reveals a twofold secret of power.
1. Commencement. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh." This shows that victory depends first of all on our new life. It is well known that virtues can often be cultivated and developed without regeneration, for many a man is honest, truthful, and exemplary who has never been born again. But for genuine and continuous victory over the world we must have spiritual life, because of the power of desires within and the bondage of custom without. We know how even ascetics have been able to curb, restrain, and even refine, their natures, but they certainly have not been able to obtain that victory over all things in the world which comes alone from the possession of Divine life,
2. Continuance. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Life begets trust, and from trust comes power. Faith unites us to Christ, and in union with him we have a deeper insight, a more sensitive conscience, a purer heart, and a more determined will. This faith appropriates Christ's victory (John 16:33), and so we are "more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
As we look again at these verses revealing the elements of power in daily living, we may say that (1) faith makes all things possible, because it is the means of receiving the Divine life. (2) Life makes all things easy, because it is the condition of receiving Divine power. (3) Love makes all things delightful, because it rejoices in the Divine presence.
The references to believing (vs. 1, 4, 5) are now shown to rest upon a solid basis by a fuller statement of what is implied in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God (v. 5).
I. The Historical Foundation (v. 6)
Without going into elaborate discussion on this text, and giving various views, it will suffice to state what seems to be the best interpretation.
1. The Life of Christ. "This is he that came by water." The reference seems to be to John's baptism as marking the beginning of Christ's ministry (John 1:31; Acts 1:22). Thus the Apostle desires to emphasize the importance of the actual life and historical appearance of Jesus Christ.
2. The Death of Christ. "This is he that came by water and blood." Not only did Christ come to live, he came to die, and his death was an essential part of his historical revelation. Perhaps the Apostle has in mind the tendency (which certainly appeared very early) to suggest that the Divine Christ came on the human Jesus at his baptism, but left him before his passion. This, as we know, was a familiar Gnostic idea, and it may be the reason for John's emphasis both on the life and on the death of our Lord. It is a great satisfaction and a real comfort to know that our faith is thus based upon the reality of Christ's historical manifestation. "Christianity is Christ."
II. The Divine Attestation (vs. 7-9)
It is now necessary to show that this historical revelation of Christ Jesus in his life and death obtained a Divine testimony in support of it.
1. The Spirit (v. 7). "It is the Spirit that beareth witness." We have already seen the relation of the Holy Spirit to Christ (4:2), and we know from our Lord's own teaching that the Paraclete was to bear testimony to him, and thus show what God thought of his Son (John 15:26). This as a matter of simple fact has been done all through the ages, for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church from the first day until now have been concerned with one thing only, testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is so "because the Spirit is truth." Thus we have "the Spirit of truth" recognizing and testifying to him who is "the truth" and we know that this would not take place unless Christ were truth. Everything that the Holy Spirit does in connection with Christian life, holiness, and power is really a testimony to the reality of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God.
2. The water and the blood (v. 8). This seems to imply the testimony of a real Incarnation. Some writers think that this is an allusion to the abiding use of the two Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as evidences of Christianity (Law), and certainly their evidential value is great. Every time we administer Baptism and celebrate the Lord's Supper we are bearing witness to beliefs and facts which have been in the Christian Church from the start. But it seems much more natural to interpret the water and the blood here in exactly the same way as in verse 6, and to think Of them as referring to the witness of Christ's life and death. H any reference is intended to the Sacraments, it can only l^e indirect, because of their being symbols of spiritual realities, and it is much simpler to think of "the water and the blood" as the spiritual realities themselves, constituting a real Incarnation as the basis of the witness of the Spirit which assures us of God's revelation (4:2).
3. God (v. 9). Behind the witness of Christ and the Spirit is the testimony of God himself, who is ever bearing witness to his Son. This Divine evidence is infinitely greater than anything human, and if we are ready to accept the witness of men we ought to be still more ready to accept the witness Of God which he bears concerning his Son. In the Fourth Gospel we read more than once of the Father's testimony to Christ (John 5:36, 37). It is also interesting and deeply significant that a Divine voice was associated with the commencement of our Lord's ministry at his Baptism; with the middle of it. on the occasion of the Transfiguration; and with the close of it, when the Greeks sought an interview with Christ. At all times the Father was ready to testify to his Son, and that which was true of the Lord's earthly life is infinitely truer today, for everything that comes from Christ in Christianity is really the gift of the Father (John 3:16).
III. The Personal Confirmation (v. 10)
Now we are to observe how all these evidences are crowned in personal experience.
1. Realisation. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." This means a personal possession of Christ dwelling in the soul. We trust, and then we credit what we trust, and the outcome is a blessed personal consciousness.
2. Rejection. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar." This is an awful alternative, and the original really means "he that does not want to believe." He is said to ascribe falsehood to God because he does not and will not believe what God says concerning Christ. It is profoundly solemn and searching to realize that when we are thus denying Christ, we are actually ascribing falsehood to God (1:10).
Thus we see the sure foundation on which our spiritual life is based. (1) Faith rests on facts. (2) Faith is realized in experience. (3) Faith is reproduced in evidence.
The keyword of verses 7-10 is "witness," and now the Apostle proceeds to define the substance of God's testimony in order to give a solid foundation for faith. Such a basis necessarily leads to assurance, and it is this that constitutes the essential feature of the Christian life as indicated in the entire Epistle; "that ye may know" (v. 13). We must now mark the various stages of the process whereby we become assured and may use this spiritual confidence.
I. Giving (v. 11)
As the Apostle has made reference to God's testimony concerning his Son, it is essential to understand what this witness is.
1. The Gift, "God gave unto us eternal life." The complete phrase "eternal life" calls for constant and careful attention in the twofold expression, "life" and "eternal." This is defined elsewhere (John 16:3) as continuing in the knowledge of God and of Christ, meaning thereby a spiritual experience resulting in blessed fellowship. Thus, "eternal" life does not mean mere existence, but union and communion with God, and it is concerned not so much with duration, or indeed with duration at all, so much as with quality, though, of course, duration is naturally involved. This present gift of union and communion with God in Christ embraces everything needed for the spiritual life here and hereafter, including remission of sin, reception into God's favor, renewal in the spirit, and reunion hereafter. This idea of life and life in its fullest possible degree, is the simple but all inclusive purpose of God for us (John 10:10). And it must never be forgotten that life is invariably a gift, not an attainment.
2. The Giver. "God gave." This emphasis on the Divine source of eternal life calls for special attention, because it goes to show still more clearly the reality of that witness to which reference has already been made (v. 10).
3. The Means. "This life is in his Son." The solemn addition to the thought indicates that only in Christ is this gift possible. We may "exist" in the ordinary sense apart from Christ, but it is only through participation in "his Son" that eternal life becomes ours. This is another way of saying what is so characteristic of the New Testament, that only in Christ can spiritual blessings be obtained (Acts 4:12).
4. The Destination. "Unto us." This, of course, refers to Christians and to them alone, thereby showing the limitation of this gift. God does not scatter his blessing of "eternal life" indiscriminately and everywhere; it is only for those who are willing to receive, those who accept through faith the new and divine life (v. 1). Once again the Apostle marks off the Christian from the man of the world and shows the vital and essential difference between them,
II. Having (v. 12)
This is an explanation of the latter part of verse 11, telling us in simple yet unmistakable language the essential features and conditions of this gift of God.
1. What? In the possession of the Son comes the enjoyment of the life, and when the Son dwells in us the life is sure to enrich us. The way in which the Apostle speaks both of "the Son" and "the life" indicates that he is appealing to the spiritual experience of his readers.
2. How? "He that hath." The present tense is particularly noteworthy, "hath," and is characteristic of the writings of John (John 3:36; 5:24). But, as is well known, the word "hath" in the New Testament means both to obtain and to retain, including not only possession but conscious possession. We may almost say that "to have" means "to have and to hold." The contrast is very solemn: "He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." The Apostle seems to suggest in the language he uses that the description refers to one who does not wish to possess and enjoy this blessing. "He who does not want to have" might almost be used as the proper rendering, and it reminds us of our Lord's words: "Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life" (John 5:40).
III. Knowing (v. 13)
Now the Apostle begins what has been called his postscript, and perhaps he looks back over the entire Epistle, though there seems no doubt that there is also a special reference to verses 6-12, and in particular to verses 11 and 12. Perhaps, too, he wishes to lead on directly to prayer as part of our spiritual knowledge, because such confidence concerning Christ is best seen in the exercise of confident prayer.
1. Who? The words are addressed definitely and solely to believers, "you that believe," for it is quite evident that only those who have faith can possibly have knowledge. In the Gospel the purpose was that they might "believe" (20:31), and here as a natural sequence the Apostle wishes them to "know."
2. What? The one thought is that they might "know that they have eternal life." He wishes them to realize what is involved in their faith in Christ, and it is probable that they lacked assurance (Brooke). If so, they were virtually powerless in regard to spiritual progress and blessing. The way in which the Apostle emphasizes assurance in this Epistle (3:19-24) seems to suggest this weakness in their life, and so he urges them to enter fully into their inheritance by instinctive, objective knowledge.
IV. Believing (v. 13)
But it is necessary to look still more closely at what the Apostle has to say about faith.
1. The Meaning. When he addresses himself to those that "believe on the Name of the Son of God," he may be referring to a mature rather than an elementary faith, because the "name" invariably means the revealed character, what is known of a person, and to believe "on the name" implies a knowledge of Christ that can hardly be applicable to the beginner in Christianity. Thus we read of believing on the Son of God (v. 10), and also of believing "on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ" (3:23).
This emphasis on the "Son" is also very striking, for in these verses (5-13) the word occurs no fewer than eight times. It shows at once the definiteness of the object of our faith, and also at the same time his relation to God.
2. The Power. When the Apostle says "you that believe," he is revealing the secret of everything that is worth while in the Christian life, for if God gives we receive by faith; if God bestows we possess by faith; if we are to understand we know by faith. Faith is thus the key to receiving, possessing and knowing.
V. Obtaining (vs. 14, 15)
Christian assurance leads on to prayer, and those of whom the earlier words are true will readily and gladly express their assurance in pouring out their hearts in prayer.
1. The Confidence. "This is the boldness which we have toward him." This is the fourth time the word is used in this Epistle, and it always means, as we have seen, freedom or frankness of speech, that absolute lack of reserve which characterizes true friendship. Twice it is found in connection with the spiritual life in the present (3:21; 5:14), and twice in regard to our attitude towards the future (2:28; 4:17). It thus marks one of the essential and most blessed features of the true Christian life. We ought to be able to tell God everything.
2. The Condition. "If we ask anything according to his will." This is the one requirement of prayer, so that, as it has been well pointed out, prayer does not reduce God to our level, but lifts us to his. The more we know of his will the more intelligent and the more confident will be our prayers.
3. The Consequence, "He heareth us." The word seems to imply both hearing and answering, and the natural way in which it is stated as the outcome of the former idea of confidence and condition marks the true life of prayer.
4. The Consciousness (v. 15). The Apostle adds that the knowledge that God hears carries with it the knowledge that we shall have that for which we ask. This expression "we know that we have" is another element of true Christian experience, for it indicates a present assurance of the answer even though the actual fulfilment has not yet arrived. Like his Master before him, the Apostle was absolutely confident that in asking, according to the will of God, the prayer would be answered, even though it took a long time for its full realization (Mark 11:24).
In all this we see two blessed truths. (1) The simplicity of the Christian life. It consists of giving by God and receiving by us; of asking on our part and granting on God's part. All this comes to us and is enjoyed by us through the simple medium of faith. (2) The satisfaction of the Christian life. These words indicate the blessed reality of our possession in Christ. The Lord is seen to be indwelling; God is shown to be real; and as a consequence the soul is free, blessed, joyous, restful, "satisfied with favor, full with the blessing of the Lord."
Now the Apostle comes to his closing words. From verse 13 to the end he seems to be concerned with a summary of the essential features of the Christian life, especially assurance, and its expression in prayer. And yet there is one thing to be specially mentioned before he can reach the concluding testimony.
I. Prayer Limited (vs. 16, 17)
1. The Fact of Intercession. The prayer to which he has referred (vs. 14, 15) will not be concerned only with ourselves, but as life is truly shown in love (4:12), one way of proving our love is by prayer for others. This blessed and yet seldom thought of prayer reveals one of the prime secrets of true Christian living, and it would be well for us if we realized more than we do the duty and the power of prayer for those around, and especially for the Christian brotherhood. Samuel felt that if he ceased to pray for the people of Israel he would be committing a sin against God (1 Sam.. 12:23), and if there was more of this prayer and less of complaint to others (Matt. 18:15), the result would be greater blessing to ourselves and those around (Gal. 6:1). "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of," and it may well be that through prayer we may be the means of the greatest spiritual blessings. Forbes Robinson in one of those wonderful letters of his says that our influence finally depends upon our own experience of the unseen world and on our experience of prayer. "To influence you must love; to love you must pray."
2. The Limitation of Intercession. And yet prayer as one form of love is decidedly limited, and the Apostle here refers to one particular feature in which this limitation is seen. He speaks of a sin unto death, and in quiet yet significant language he clearly deprecates prayer in this connection. What is this, this "sin unto death"? Much has been written on it, and it is hardly likely that the problem can be solved with our present knowledge. Most writers think of it as expressing an attitude of wilful unbelief, that which, if persisted in, will inevitably lead to separation from God and eternal death. There are, perhaps, five considerations that call for attention in the study of this difficult subject. (1) There is no doubt that it should not be "a sin," but "sin," thereby indicating not any particular act as distinct from others, but an entire attitude. (2) The verb rendered "sin" means "continually sinning," thereby suggesting that whatever it is it is no mere isolated action. (3) It is also the sin of "a brother"; that is, a fellow Christian, the thought of brotherhood being as much limited here as elsewhere. (4) Then it must be some sin which was visible, and, therefore, known, for it says "if any man see," suggesting that it was possible to observe the precise form of wrongdoing. (5) But, of course, the great difficulty lies in the phrase "unto death," and, inasmuch as every sin in itself, apart from grace, involves the soul in spiritual death, it is very difficult to see what this means when applied to a Christian brother. For this reason it seems to many simpler and better to understand "death" of bodily or physical death; and, if so, the passage will be parallel with the circumstances at Corinth, where Paul pointed out that many were ill and even dead, because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:30). May it not be the same here, that there were Christians who had sinned in some way so as to involve themselves in physical death, and that as this was inevitable the Apostle, while not absolutely forbidding prayer, suggests that no request should be made concerning those?
Dr. Law strongly opposes this view and says that "death" in the Epistle and in the Gospel always refers to spiritual and not physical dissolution. But notwithstanding this emphatic objection, the difficulty of conceiving of a Christian brother so deliberately and constantly sinning as to involve himself in spiritual and eternal separation from God seems to constitute an insuperable difficulty. The reference to physical death is simpler, and certainly satisfies all the five conditions indicated above and also corresponds with the well known reference to Lazarus (John 11:4).
II. Purity Assumed (v. 18)
1. The Fact. In contrast with this thought of unrighteousness and sin (v. 17), the Apostle once more asserts in the most unqualified way that everyone who possesses God's love does not continually practice sin (3:9). But though he clearly implies the possibility of evil, he will make no allowance for it (2:1), showing that the Christian life is essentially incompatible with continued practice of wrongdoing.
2. The Knowledge. "We know." Thus the Apostle insists on the instinctive knowledge that nO such idea of sinning is considered to be in harmony with true Christianity, notwithstanding what has been said about the brother sinning (v. 16). There is a principle within the believer which is in itself sinless, and overcomes the evil nature if it is only allowed to dominate the life.
III. Protection Assured (v. 18)
1. The Cause. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself." This is the rendering of the old version, and is still urged as the only true one by two modern and able writers (Law and Kelly). But as the original language has two distinct expressions for "begotten of God," the one in the perfect tense and the other in the past, or aorist, it is urged by other writers that we must distinguish between the two references, the former being applied to the Christian and the latter to Christ, as the One who is uniquely begotten of God (Westcott, Findlay, and Brooke). If the latter is the right view, then we must read "him" instead of "himself," and understand that the reason why the believer does not sin is that Christ, "the begotten of God," keeps him. But, in spite of this strong and able advocacy, it seems more natural to interpret the text in the old way, and think of the believer in two aspects, the one as not sinning, and the other as keeping himself, taking heed by watchful observance. There is no contradiction between the believer keeping himself and being kept, for both aspects are true (Jude 21).
2. The Fact. "The evil one toucheth him not." Whether the reference is to Christ or to the believer, this is the immediate and blessed result. The devil "does not lay hold" of the Christian, because he is "kept by the power of God" (1 Pet. 1:5).
IV. Possession Realized (v. 19)
1. The Place. Once again reference is made to the contrast between the believer and those who are outside the sphere of the Gospel. "We are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." This claim to be "of God" naturally follows from the gift of life in being "begotten of God" (v. 18), and the contrast between the Christian and those who are "in the evil one" is particularly striking. Christians are of God, but the rest of the world is in the power of the devil. It seems, on the whole, best to make this phrase personal, "evil one," rather than impersonal, "evil" or "wickedness." The world is thus again regarded as the entire universe of men and things considered as morally separated from God (2:15-17).
2. The Experience. "We know." What a magnificent assurance the Apostle expresses when he indicates at once the position of himself and his fellow-believers, and the contrasted place of those who are outside Christ. Nothing could be stronger or more definite than this conviction.
V. Provision Made (v. 20)
1. The Fact. "But we know that the Son of God is come." In contrast to the world which lies in the evil one mention is made of the blessed reality of the incarnation of "the Son of God."
2. The Gift. "And hath given us an understanding." This is the only place where the word "understanding" is used by John. We might have thought he would employ a word like "experience," but instead, he emphasizes the intellectual perception as the permanent gift (Greek) of the coming of our Lord.
VI. Purpose Accomplished (v. 20)
1. Knowledge. "That we may know him that is true." Here comes in the thought of experience. Our intellectual perception is intended to lead to this personal and continuous (Greek) consciousness of Jesus Christ as "the genuine one." There are two words in the New Testament rendered by "true," the one referring to the truth in opposition to the false, and the other to the real in opposition to the shadowy, the genuine and not the artificial. It is the latter that John uses here, referring as it has been well put, to the Lord in his verity, not veracity.
2. The Experience. "And we are in him that is true." Not merely do we know him, but we are in him, and the contrast between being in him and "in the evil one" (v. 19) is particularly significant. Once again the Apostle speaks out of a perfectly convinced mind and perfectly satisfied heart in saying "we are in him."
VII. Practice Emphasized (vs. 20, 21)
1. The Contrast. The Apostle closes by pointing out that the substance of his teaching concerns the "true God and eternal life" in opposition to idols. The former was real and genuine; the latter were unreal, hollow, impossible.
2. The Call. As a last appeal he addresses "his little children," and begs them to guard themselves from everything unreal. Thus, the paternal and the practical blend as he brings his earnest and urgent messages to a close. As already mentioned, Westcott suggests that these words represent in chronological order the last statement of the New Testament, and if this is so, the contrast between the opening words of the Bible is very significant, "in the beginning God" (Gen. 1:1); "guard yourselves from idols."
These closing words of the Epistle stand out with unmistakable clearness and force, and call for the most thorough study. We are accustomed to speak of a certain formula as the Apostles' Creed. Suppose we think of these verses as "the Apostle's Creed," or the Apostle's assurance. They have been called "triumphant certainties" because three times over he says "we know," not merely "hope" or "think" or "suppose" or "imagine," but "know." As we trace the teaching from stream to source, from effect to cause, from roof to foundation, let us pray to enter into the same "blessed assurance."
(1) "We know" (v. 18). This is the assurance of holiness, and marks the Apostle's conception of the true believer.
(2) "We know" (v. 19). This is the assurance of life, and tells us how the Apostle was able to speak as he did about holiness. It is only those who are of God who are able to live without the practice of sin.
(3) "We know" (v. 20). This is the assurance of redemption, and herein lies the secret both of life and holiness. It is because the Son of God is come that all this grace and power are ours, that life and holiness become possible, and that we are enabled to glorify God and keep ourselves from everything sinful and unworthy of "the true God and eternal life."