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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 2-3

MESSAGE OF THE CHURCH

‘The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us; yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.’

1 John 1:2-3 (R.V.)

There are three questions that lie deep in the spirit of man. Sooner or later, if he thinks at all, he must encounter them, and they will ask him for an answer.

I. Man’s questions and Christ’s answers.—The first is, What is the real nature of this unseen, infinite, eternal life which lies behind the things we see, creating, sustaining, controlling them? The second is, What is the life in man which can bring him into harmony with the infinite and eternal life? The third is, How can this life, if it may be known, be won and kept? He who is in doubt about the answer to these questions stumbles on in darkness. He who can find an answer has the light of life. And it was the light of life let in upon these great problems that Christ brought in His revelation. To the first of these questions He answered, by Himself coming forth from the unseen life in which eternally He was, and disclosing so far as human eyes can see it, or human minds can understand it—disclosing it as eternally a life of love, moving forth in the eternal relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a life of which the most perfect human family knit together in the love of its members is only a faint and imperfect reflection. To the second of these questions He gave the answer by bringing that very Divine life into our human nature, living it under human conditions, revealing what it was to be a Son of the most high God, and thus bringing our humanity into union with the Divine life. To the third of these questions He gave the answer that His Spirit was ever dwelling within the heart of our humanity, leading it to respond to the Divine love, infusing into it the Divine life, and so gradually bringing all its energies, desires, and affections into union with God. And that life bestowed by the Spirit is given in a body; so that, by our birth into that body and by our fulfiment of its life and service, we know that the life is within us, even the Divine life which was for ever with the Father. God, infinite, eternal, unfathomable God was in Jesus Christ—Jesus Christ known and loved is eternally in God—the Spirit of the Father and of the Son is with us bringing that Divine life to us, raising us into fellowship with it. This is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is expressed for us in those words which I have chosen as the text—words which summarise from age to age the everlasting witness and message of the Church in every place and in every time.

II. The message of the Church.—This, then, is the revelation which is entrusted to the Christian Church. It is with this revelation in its hand that it goes forth to meet all the movements of human thought and human life in every country and in every age. The attitude of the Christian Church as it goes forth is not that of learning or of seeking: it is that of bearing witness. It knows that this revelation, the secret of Divine life coming down into the world, bringing the world into union with itself—that this is what the world when it comes to know itself wants and must find.

(a) The power with which the Church of Christ can give this witness to the world depends upon its recognising that this revelation cannot change. There is no room in it for development or alteration. It is in itself eternal, all-sufficient, final; and it is the finality of it, the completeness of it, that can alone give the Church that confidence with which it can bear up in its long toil to bring the movements of human life and thought into union with its Christ.

(b) The power of the Church’s witness will depend upon its recognising that while the revelation cannot change, the forms of thought and speech in which men try to explain it and to express it must inevitably change from age to age and clime to clime. In other words, put shortly, revelation is one and constant; theology is varied and variable. It is inevitable, of course, that men must try to put this revelation into words, to explain it to themselves by the use of the forms of thought with which they are familiar. A man must think out his life, even the Divine life, when it reaches him. He must relate it to the rest of his experiences, and in so doing he must use the modes of thought and of speech that are natural to him. And inevitably these modes of thought and speech will be coloured by his own temperament, by the race whose instincts he shares, by the time whose spirit he cannot fail to feel. Therefore these forms and methods of thought and of speech which are called the theology of the Church must shift and vary continually from age to age. There are indeed some forms of thought and speech which have an abiding authority of their own. There are, for example, (i) those forms, those symbols, those ideas which the eternal Christ was pleased in the days of His flesh to use. It was part of the reality of His human nature that they reflect, in many ways, the age in which He lived, the race from which after the flesh He sprang; and yet we must believe that there was a quite peculiar and unique correspondence between these, the forms of His thought and speech, and the everlasting revelation which He came to give. Then (ii) there are forms and words which were used by those whom He Himself instructed. It is true that the thought, for example, of St. Paul moves along the lines of Jewish theology, which are unfamiliar and often unreal to us. It is true that the thought of St. John more and more moved along the lines of thinking of Greece and Alexandria; but yet, who can doubt that the minds which themselves had been impressed by the power of the living Personality of the Divine Teacher Himself, must have expressed themselves in modes of thought and speech which once again have a very real correspondence with the revelation which He came to give. And (iii) there are forms of thought and speech with which the Christian Church has sought to summarise for its children the truth of the revelation. They are embodied in the Creeds. Of course, the language of the Creeds is limited—limited not only by the necessary limitations of human knowledge, but also by the circumstances of thought and language in which they were drawn up. But may we not believe that by the ordering of Divine Providence those modes of thought and of speech, which the Church found best to preserve the integrity and freshness of that first revelation when it was first challenged by the speculations of the human mind, must have always a special authority for every time and for every country?

III. Then this thought enables us to understand the spirit with which the Church should approach other races in the world than those here in the West, which have at least nominally accepted the Christian Faith. The business of the Church, let us say, in the East, to which, with ever-deepening fascination, our thoughts are attracted—the business of the Church in the East is to present the Revelation and leave the East to find out its own theology. We cannot wish—no one with any real vision of what Christ meant His Catholic Church to be can wish—that any race should lose itself in finding Christ, but rather that it should find itself, find all that is deepest and most characteristic in its own God-given attributes, interpreted, fulfilled, claimed, enriched, and deepened in the Divine life which was manifested in Jesus. It must be admitted that in past times this has not always been the spirit with which the Church has fulfilled its missionary vocation. Do we not find everywhere that among other races Christianity is accepted as the white man’s religion? Let me read to you these striking words by one well qualified by knowledge and sympathy to speak of the problems of India: ‘Our educated Christians and native clergy are too often undeveloped Europeans, and they present the gospel to their people in its foreign dress. Chunder Sen summed up the situation in the words, “England has sent to us after all a Western Christ. It seems that the Christ Who has come to us is an Englishman, with English manners and customs, and the temperament and the spirit of an Englishman. National feeling is against our Lord to-day, not because He is Holy, not because He is the Saviour, but because He is Western, and not seen to be the Son of Man and the Saviour of India.”’ This is true. Before India can be Christianised, Christianity must be naturalised. In the old days when zeal was right in its instincts, but narrow in its outlook, the main thought was to rescue individuals from impending loss; and still, God knows, there must be this impulse to bring to individuals the knowledge of the Christ. But surely the conquest is infinitely the greater if the Indian, the Japanese, the Chinaman finds his way to Christ by his own methods, because he finds in Christ that which interprets best his own national self; and for the future the objective of the Church in its mission to the world must be not only the individual, but the race. It must feel that the object of Christianity is not to deepen but to fulfil all that is most ancient, most true, most deep in the life and thought of all races of the world.

—Archbishop Lang.


Verse 3

THE INDWELLING GOD

‘Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.’

1 John 1:3

What do you mean by God? On a man’s answer to that question depends ultimately all his thinking about the world and all his living within it.

We cannot escape from God in our daily life. If God be really infinite, He not only may, He must be infinitely concerned with everything in our daily life. Therefore our relationship with this indwelling God is not a thing of any special times and feelings and temperaments, but a thing of most intense and immediate reality. It cannot be evaded or dispensed with; it is the primary fact of life; there is no other reality that can be compared with it. No man can dispense with religion, because no man can dispense with God, Who day by day is within him.

I. How are we to conceive of this indwelling God?—All nature is a revelation of God, and nature must be interpreted by what is highest in man. God in His nature cannot be less, He can only be infinitely more, than what is really revealed in man. That is, if there be in man the power of a rational ordering of things, there must be in God also mind and purpose. If there be in man the power to will, so there must be sovereignty of will in God. But in man there are higher things than mere will and intelligence; there is the power of conscience. You may remember how a great philosopher said that the two things which most loudly spoke of God were the stars of heaven without and the voice of conscience within. God, therefore, cannot be less, He can only be infinitely more than all the highest goodness disclosed in the best of men. Yet one step more. When we think of man we think not only of his will, his mind, and his goodness, but of something higher still of which he is capable—the quality of love. God therefore cannot be less, He can only be infinitely more than all we can conceive of love in its utmost intensity and self-sacrifice. In Him wisdom, will, goodness, love, reach to the highest imaginable point of intensity and reality, and this God is every moment within you—closer than your breathing, nearer than your very selves, ‘so close that He is not even so far off as to be near.’

II. Let us think quietly what such words as these involve.—Here at the roots of my being, in the very innermost shrine of myself, there dwells this God: He is supreme, and my relationship with Him must stand before my relationship with any other being or business or concern in the whole world. I cannot dispense with it, it is vital to me; there is nothing else so vital and so real. The one primary question for every human being is this: How is it between your soul and God! It is not an obtrusive question; it is a most natural, an inevitable question. A man has not faced the meaning of his life until he has faced that simple and elementary question—on what terms are you standing with this Infinite Being? To be wrong there must mean the certainty of being wrong everywhere; to be right there means the possibility of being everywhere right.

III. What is the right relationship with this indwelling God?—What is the relationship that we may conceive Him to desire for us? We know love to be the highest revelation of God in man, and we know that what love yearns for is fellowship in the lower orders of life. He is satisfied with the creature which fulfils the law of its life; we can think of God rejoicing in the beauty of the flower or the song of the bird, but when we come to man we come to gifts which he shares with God; a man has a heart that can feel and a will that can choose. So what God is yearning for is that we may enter into fellowship with Himself. When man first came on the strange scene of this life there began in him a new cycle of progress of thought concerning the Unseen. You find the desire to be in communion with the Unseen in the simplest forms of religion. In the most primitive religions, which are the child language of our race, you will find everywhere this idea, that by prayer, by acts or worship and sacrificial feast the worshipper must bring himself into fellowship with the Unseen Being Whom he worships. Let us not despise these rudimentary religions. They are the first signs of that great human development which reaches its highest point in the intercourse with God of a John or a Thomas à Kempis, or—let us say it with reverence—a Jesus Christ. We are made for this fellowship with God; it is the law of our being. If we realise this truth we must recognise that our life means fellowship with the Father. To stand apart, therefore, from God, from religion, to keep these things at a distance from our daily life, is to be nothing less than a human failure—a failure quite as real though far more pitiful than the failure of the seed to become a flower or the worm to become a butterfly. Ease, pleasure, success, may disguise this failure, but the true verdict is, Here is a man who has failed because he has not found his way inward to God. On the other hand, to be in touch with this indwelling God through thought, through obedience, through prayer, holding to Him in the inmost life—this is to be set free from failure, this is to be on the way of attaining the highest in our human life; this is to become what God destined we should be.

IV. Are you not conscious as you think of this necessary fellowship between you and the indwelling God of at least two obstacles to our attaining to it?

(a) The first is our ignorance. Might not God in order to make fellowship with Himself real and possible disclose Himself as man—His will, His goodness, His love in some human life which we can know and touch, and realise in the closest intimacy? So the human spirit would have been certain to ask. And we know there is an answer in the world. There has been a man here, seen, spoken to, followed as a friend, one Jesus of Nazareth, and this Man claimed that He was this disclosure of God within the terms of a human life. Here is God’s answer to man’s need. Here God has revealed Himself so that we human beings may understand what it is to love Him and be in fellowship with Him.

(b) The second obstaclewhat is it? Your conscience gives the answerit is sin! Who am I, knowing my inward life, to think of holding this daily communion with an indwelling God? There are those who say that the time has come that we must cease to speak of sins against God. Once again an historical answer comes: this Man Christ Jesus came claiming to be a Saviour of His brethren from their sins; the Man Jesus has come to us not only as a revelation of God in human flesh, but also as a power by which our sin can be overcome. In that Manhood of Jesus Christ God is ever coming forth to rescue us from the power of sin. Through that Manhood of Jesus we on our part, by trusting It, pleading It, uniting ourselves with It, are restored into fellowship with the Father.

V. God dwells within us, life of our life, closer than our very selves.—Our relationship with this God must be the primary fact of our life. It is to be a relationship of communion of heart and will made possible for us through the Manhood of Jesus. In Him the character of God is disclosed; by Him we are redeemed, restored to God. Therefore, to take Christ as God and Saviour is to be ‘put right with God’—that is, ‘to be saved.’ So whatever circuit our thought makes it comes back to that first and deepest declaration of Christianity. It is the first lesson of the Christian faith that we learn, it is the last discovery of Christian thinking that we reach—that to take Jesus Christ as God and Saviour is to be saved. This is the ever-living theology—a theology which, though old, is always new because it answers and satisfies the deepest and most abiding needs of the spirit of man.

Archbishop Lang.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST

Is it surprising that fellowship should be the keynote of this Epistle? Do we not find the explanation in that beautiful description recorded in the Gospel that St. John was ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’?

True fellowship is the union of a common service of love for Christ’s sake. What really is the triumph of Christianity in each life, in the Church, and in the world? It is getting each one to serve the others with his best.

I. Our fellowship in Christ is based on relationships.—It is ‘with the Father.’ We are, as Christians, not a separated, scattered family; we are all with the Father; we are all at home; we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, in the actual relations of family life, and our Father is with us. They who have present fellowship with the Father make up the ‘whole family in heaven and in earth.’ St. John wanted those disciples to whom he wrote to have full fellowship with him; but he knew that they could only gain it as they had what he had, ‘fellowship with the Father.’

II. Our fellowship in Christ is based on character.—‘With His Son, Jesus Christ.’ God smiled out of heaven upon His Son, and said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ It was Christ’s character with which He was so pleased. Christ bade His disciples ‘follow Him’; but He did not merely mean, ‘Attend upon Me; or step into My footprints.’ He meant, ‘Be like Me, do like Me; have My mind; breathe My Spirit; work My works; be changed into My image; be such sons of the Father as I am.’ St. John so carefully says, ‘Fellowship with the Son,’ to remind us that the spirit of sonship is essential both to fellowship with the Father and with each other. Be a son with Christ, and it will be easy to keep in brotherhood. Keep in full fellowship with the Son, by being good and sonlike as He was, and there need be no fear about our fellowship with one another.

Illustration

‘Perhaps an illustration will help you to understand how fellowship with God is not only possible, but a Christian necessity. Think of the public speaker. In order to impress his audience with his subject, many processes are carried on within his mind while he is speaking: memory in recalling, abstraction in arranging, judgment in delivering; yet not for a moment does he let go his argument, not for a moment does he forget his audience, and if he is a skilful orator, he adapts his words to the effect he is producing. Now, what the presence of an audience is to the speaker, is there any extravagance in supposing the presence of God may be to a believer? With our whole heart in our business, we may yet be conscious of the presence of Him Who knows our every thought and sees our every action, so that all we do may be influenced by Him. The working man, toiling for his family, often has them in his thoughts, and, instead of being a hindrance to his work, his thoughts help him to ply his task the busier. The servant may always have the remembrance of his master in his mind, even though that master is not present. So thoughts of God may run like golden threads through the web of our life.’


Verse 4

FULNESS OF JOY

‘These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.’

1 John 1:4

St. John gives in our text his reason for writing the Epistle. The Apostle, who lay on the breast of the Master at supper, and who describes himself as he ‘whom Jesus loved,’ carried ever after with him the atmosphere of sweet and holy rest. It breathes in all his writings; the spirit of one who knows his God, who has felt the Divine love, and can with confidence look forward to the future. He speaks with simple directness of the fellowship that the believer should have in Christ. He shows, as he has proved in his own life, the connection between sound doctrine and holy living, between faith and practice. The love of Jesus Christ is his greatest experience, and this love has kindled a corresponding flame in his own heart which is as the mainspring of all his actions. He would have all believers know this love, and experience a like peace and rest. He writes these things ‘that their joy may be full.’

I. Joy in God.—As we have seen, St. John saw an intimate connection between right believing and right living, and his right faith and right conduct brought him that peace of mind and gladness which should ever be a heritage of the Christian. A special note of his message is its calm assurance and confidence in the Divine love, and this confidence he feels should also be the portion of every believer in Jesus Christ. In emphasis of his message, twenty-seven times, in this short Epistle, the word ‘know’ occurs. As Church people, our Litany and confessions of sin, prayed Sunday by Sunday, should guard us against any spirit of presumption before God, any vain, overweening confidence, or Pharisaic self-sufficiency. There we are reminded of our ill-desert, and that all our righteousness is of Jesus Christ. We have, too, the words of the Lord, warning us to watch and pray lest we enter into temptation; the warning to the Corinthians, ‘Let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall’; and the dreadful condemnation of apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Now St. John’s message shows us another aspect of spiritual truth. He gives us, as it were, a further revelation. His desire is that we should have the joy and gladness, the great benefit to our souls, of knowing that as God’s children we are in His keeping; that our spiritual progress is carefully guarded and fostered by Him; that He concerns Himself to sustain and protect His people. And from this knowledge of the goodness of God and His unremitting love will spring joy and confidence. Was it not part of the very purpose of the Son of God in coming to this earth to change sin and sorrow into gladness and joy? His life and death of sorrow were that we might have happiness. He rose with healing in His wings that pain and suffering might be relieved. His will is that His children may know by faith the very real joy of His presence in their hearts, and look forward to that greater joy and gladness when they shall see Him face to face, and shall dwell in His presence for ever.

II. Joy in a wholehearted service of love.—This was doubtless the Apostle’s own experience. In the midst of a long and arduous life of toil for the Master, during periods of bitter and cruel persecution of the Church, he still maintains this note of full confidence—of the glory of perseverance for a cause bound to be ultimately victorious. And love was the motive power; the sense and knowledge of the individual care and love of the Son of God for him, and a deep concern for the souls for whom Jesus came to die. And what a transforming power such love for and personal knowledge of God brings! How it changes and alters the character, bringing in the joy of conscious strength! The weak man is made strong; the nervous man confident; the vacillating is given decision of character. Moses, shy and apprehensive, fleeing from vengeance, is changed into the bold and purposeful leader. Now rebuking Pharaoh upon His throne, again withstanding the people and pronouncing judgment upon their unfaithfulness. Jeremiah, bewailing his youth and inexperience, is changed into the prophet conscious that he is God’s mouthpiece, condemning sin and foretelling further punishment. Zacchæus, the tax-gatherer, is changed from the oppressor of the poor to the conscientious follower of Christ, righting past wrongs and giving liberally of his means. Saul of Tarsus, the bigoted oppressor of the brethren, proud of his position and intellectual attainments, is changed into St. Paul, the earnest missionary and humble-minded follower of Christ. ‘The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.’ A life of strong, purposeful service for Christ is a life of true joy, such as the idler in the vineyard can never know. It matters not where our field of service lie: whether in the home circle, the place of business, the workshop, or in more directly spiritual work among the young, teaching them their inheritance in the kingdom, or in service in the house of God; whenever we do it from motives of love, anxious for Divine commission and enabling power, it becomes to us a service of truest heart-satisfaction and joy.

III. Have we this joy?—Do we know anything of this joy in God, this joy in service? We can only know it as we dwell in love as St. John did. The love of the Saviour may be to us, as to him, a deep personal possession. How great is the treasure within our reach, and how cold and unresponsive we are! How little we value it, or seek to make it our own! Speaking of the longing of the Old Testament saints to so know the Messiah, St. Bernard wrote: ‘When I think of the longing, of the desire of the Fathers’ yearning to see Jesus Christ in the flesh, I am confounded and wounded, and I can scarce restrain my tears. So much does the cold and torpor of the present time shame me.’ And might not these words with truth be written of many of us, ‘so much does the cold and torpor’ of our affection bring shame to us? And our joy will never be full while we are content to so know God. We shall never enjoy service for His Church or the gladness of His presence until our hearts are kindled into more ardent love. And how paltry are the things that draw us away, that do absorb our thoughts and efforts! Like Esau, for what miserable messes of pottage do we sell our birthright—the gratification of the flesh, our present advantage, the transitory honour of the world!

—Rev. H. G. Wheeler.


Verse 7

HOLINESS AND THE ATONEMENT

‘But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.’

1 John 1:7

There is a widespread desire after holiness amongst those who love the Lord. It is well, therefore, that our attention should be carefully directed to this great subject.

I. What do we mean by holiness?—It is a very sacred thing, and one better known by experience than definition; but some things seem clear as respecting it.

(a) It is a work in the heart, and strikes its roots down deep into the inmost affairs of the soul. No amount of religious action can take its place. Men may be active in good works, strict in religious services, and liberal in religious gifts; but all these count for nothing if the heart is not right with God.

(b) It is holiness before God. It is something far higher and far deeper than respectability, morality, honour, virtue, uprightness, or religious activity.

(c) It may be defined as consisting of three things: (i) nearness to God; (ii) likeness to God; (iii) separation to God. In the Communion Service we say, ‘Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto Thee.’ It is not a heart consecration only, but a yielding up to God of all we have and all we are. We are like the man of whom we read, that he shall ‘sanctify his house to be holy unto the Lord’; and we produce what are described in Exodus 28:38 as our ‘holy gifts,’ to be presented by the great High Priest before our God.

II. The connection of this sacred work with the great atonement through the blood of Christ.—There are two great truths to be well established in all our minds.

(a) It is atonement which renders holiness possible. How can there be nearness to God without reconciliation, and how can there be reconciliation without satisfaction for sin? If a guilty sinner is lying under the curse of the law, how can he be living in nearness to God? How can there be fellowship so long as there is the yawning gulf of unforgiven sin?

(b) It is atonement which supplies the motive. I do not deny that there are other motives. There is gratitude, sense of goodness, and the power of the moral sense. But they are all feeble and inferior. They will not force a man to kneel down with a full heart, and say, ‘Lord, I am Thine.’ It is when a man discovers that he was lost but is saved, and saved because of the marvellous mercy shown in the fact that the Father sent the Son to be the propitiation for his sins; it is that which moves, which opens, which softens the heart; that which draws forth all the tenderest affection of the soul; leads to the thankful surrender of every power to His service. It was when St. Paul was convinced of the vicarious death of the Lord Jesus that he was drawn, moved, or constrained by love, for he said, 2 Corinthians 5:14, ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.’

III. What, then, is our practical conclusion?—Surely this, that in all our pursuit of holiness we keep the great propitiation continually in view as the great foundation of all peace and holiness. From whatever point of view we look at it, we may depend upon it that full, perfect, complete, and finished propitiation is the great subject of the day. I can imagine few things more fatal to a man than to imagine himself so far advanced as to be beyond the necessity of perpetually falling back on atonement. He may be walking in the light, even as God is in the light. He may enjoy fellowship with the brethren, and even fellowship with the Father, and with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But the light of that fellowship does not throw atonement into the shade, for it is the crowning privilege of that walk in the light that ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’ Not ‘did cleanse’ us, either when we were first converted or baptized, or when we entered into it; but ‘cleanseth’ us, or ‘is cleansing us habitually,’ now; so that we may safely conclude that the brighter the light, and the more intimate the fellowship, the keener will be our experimental appreciation of the hatefulness of sin and the cleansing power of the great propitiation.

Rev. Canon Edward Hoare.

Illustration

‘Nearness leads to likeness. Intimacy leads to assimilation. We see this continually in common life. Not only do people catch from each other the habits, ways, expressions, and tone of voice of those they love, but in some cases the very features begin to grow alike. Thus when there is this habitual nearness to God, and when we are habitually holding intercourse with Him, there is a gradual assimilation of character by the power of the Holy Ghost. People are transformed into His likeness. We begin to love what He loves, and to hate what He hates. Thus when there is godliness there is holy conversation and an abhorrence of sin. It is not a forced obedience, but a oneness of heart according to which His character becomes our standard, as in 1 Peter 1:15, “As He Which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”’


Verse 8-9

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’

1 John 1:8-9

The world which is around you hides from your eyes the world which is within—and when you think of sin at all, you do but remember some wrong thing which you have done, and you forget this dark and deadly poison which is hidden deep within. You remember that you have committed certain sins, but you forget that deep within your heart is the dwelling-place of sin. And so it is that the awfulness of eternity passes out of sight. Men do not know their deep disease, and not knowing this they cannot feel the might of God’s forgiveness. This deadly sin is in you all. They are the words of the Beloved Disciple, the Friend of Jesus. He dared not dream that even he could be an exception. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ And then he goes on to add words of a different kind: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive.’ He had said just before that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Now he gives you one of the links in the chain—if we confess our sin, then we are cleansed, then we are forgiven.

I. How can we confess our sin?—What is confession? Is it to allow honestly that we have done wrong? Is it to take shame and confusion to ourselves because we have committed sin? Is it to say in sorrow and bitterness of heart, ‘I have left undone the things which I ought to have done, and done the things which I ought not to have done, and there is no health in me’? We may utter our confession in words like these, just as that royal penitent poured out his whole soul in still fewer words, when he only said in his misery, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’

(a) True confession is deeper than all words. That pit of darkness in the heart must be opened, that the Light of God may shine into it. You must show Him not what you have done, but what you are. You must tear away every veil by which you hide yourself from the eyes of your fellow-men, and be content to kneel in all your shame before Him to Whom all hearts are open, and feel the eye which is as a flame of fire searching your heart—showing up in that bright light all your confusion, all your folly, all your sin—dragging into sight the selfishness, the vanity, the falsehood, which lay so close to the root of the actions which you had thought so fair and good. All things, even the dark heart of man, are naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do—and in true confession, face to face with God, the secrets of the heart are made manifest. When a man has stood before the Holy One and unbosomed himself to God, when he has torn away the mask from his guilty soul in the presence of his Maker, and owned that his burden is too heavy for him to bear, his disease too deep for him to cure, he has taken the first step in that true confession which leads to salvation. The first step, not the last.

(b) It remains not merely to own your weakness, but to lay hold on Strength—to lay down that burden at the foot of the Cross—to put away that shame and sin that it may be blotted out and destroyed for ever—to gaze on, in hope and humble trust, upon the Lamb of God Which taketh away the sin of the world, until your sin has melted away before His atoning love; until that which was as scarlet has become white as snow, that which was red like crimson has become as wool.

II. ‘He is faithful and just to forgive.’—The Son of Righteousness will scatter the darkness of the heart which will but open itself to receive His light. He will turn that hidden seat of sin into a throne of righteousness. The dark fountain, from which all your misery flowed, shall become a well of water springing up into Everlasting Life. Only kneel on and let that deep confession be without ceasing. Never be content that a ray of His Light should once penetrate your heart, but let it shine more and more unto the perfect day. When we say ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins,’ we speak not of a momentary forgiveness, but of a perpetual mercy. And as His forgiveness is without ceasing, so must be your confession. The heart which has once been opened must never be closed, or else the darkness will return and the Light which is in you be quenched. Let the way between your heart and God be always clear and free. Oh! never go out of His presence, never turn your eyes away from His bright Light.

Illustration

‘Faithful and just to forgive—if we confess. Yes, this the true meaning, accordant with reason and revelation, that there is pardon only for the penitent. The great World-Atonement only cancels the guilt of the world provisionally; it still remains for each one, by the way which Christ has opened, humbly to approach his God. And then? Then God’s whole nature is pledged to pardon us! This is what we want: a coming to ourselves; a loving acknowledgment of the claims of the God of our life. And He? a Father Who stoops to raise us, and so tenderly, from our fall! And shall He not raise us? Shall He not lift us into purity and health and blessedness? Man cannot do this for us; God can do all. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, and He shall lift you up” (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10).’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-john-1.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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