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Bible Commentaries
1 John 2

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Verses 1-29

1 John 2:1

'I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ,' says McCheyne. 'I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go as if it were making Christ a minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded they are all lies, direct from hell. John argues the opposite way: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father". Jeremiah 3:1 , and a thousand other Scriptures, are against it. I am sure there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God's way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart, but it is the way... . The weight of my sin should act like the weight of a clock; the heavier it is, it makes it go the faster.

1 John 2:1

Luther said in his Table-Talk: 'When Duke Henry [Henry the Pious of Saxony] lay dying, many things were spoken to him of the Lord Christ, and he was asked if he wished to die resting on Him. He replied, "I am sure I could have no better procurator".'

E. Kroker, Luther's Tischreden, No. 538, p. 270.

1 John 2:1

Dr. Davidson, in Ian Maclaren's Afterwards, said to his faithful friend and elder Drumsheugh, on the last night of his life: 'You and I, Drumsheugh, will have to go a long journey soon, and give an account of our lives in Drumtochty. Perhaps we have done our best as men can, and I think we have tried; but there are many things we might have done otherwise, and some we ought not to have done at all. It seems to me, now, the less we say on that day of the past the better.... We shall wish for mercy, rather than justice, and' here the doctor looked earnestly over his glasses at his elder, 'we would be none the worse, Drumsheugh, of a friend to... say a good word for us both in the great court.'

'A've thocht that masel' it was an agony for Drumsheugh to speak 'mair than aince. Weelum MacLure wes eitlin' (feeling) aifter the same thing the nicht he slippit awa', an' gin ony man cud hae stude on his ain feet yonder, it was Weelum.'

References. II. 1. F. W. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 100. St V. Beechey, The Excuses of Non-communicants, p. 30. J. M. Bleckley, The Christian Armour, p. 242. C. Stanford, Symbols of Christ, p. 287. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 515. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 123; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 330.

The Mercy-seat of Gold

1 John 2:1-2

'My little children' the language of venerable age. The language of ineffable love! The language of great authority! In these words we have:

I. A Brief Epitome of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are just five points in that epitome. (1) Behind all that we know of God there is a Father's heart. (2) Man, sinner as he is, is allowed to plead his cause in the Court of Mercy. (8) The Advocate is provided. (4) He advocates our cause upon the basis of His propitiation. (5) Man, by God's blessing, may live a stainless life.

II. A Glimpse of the Lord Jesus as the Representative Man. He was the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, and His work of redemption is co-extensive with the havoc brought by Adam's fall and sin. Topsy, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, says: 'Why should I be punished? I never ate that apple!' Certainly: neither Topsy nor anyone else will go to hell because Adam ate that apple, because whatever loss accrued to the race from that act of sin has been more than made good by the act of righteousness of the One Man Jesus Christ. Why then are men lost? (1) Because they contract themselves out of the benefits of Christ's death. (2) Christ's death is for us all, but every man has, by faith, to take what God gives.

F. B. Meyer, In the Beginning God, p. 179.

St. John the Evangelist's Day

1 John 2:1-2

The text brings to our minds the sinner, the Father, and the Saviour.

I. The Sinner. 'If any man sin.' This, then, is clearly a message for you and for me. St. John, the Apostle of Love, is not one whit behind the other Apostles in bringing before us the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and also its universality. 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.

II. The Father. It is the presence of sin in our hearts which has come between us and God. We know that God is Love; but that is only one attribute of the Divine character. God is holy, and His holiness is such that He cannot bear to behold iniquity. Moreover, God is just, and His justice demanded that sin must be punished.

III. The Saviour. But St. John tells us in this beautiful text how God's love, and holiness, and justice all meet in Jesus Christ He is our Advocate (all our prayers are offered through Him); His very name, Jesus, means that He is our Saviour; He is also Christ (the Anointed of God); the Righteous (for He knew no sin); and all these characteristics fit Him to be the Propitiation for our sins. But we need to remember that 'the first and direct regard of the Atoning Sacrifice is not towards man but towards God. It aims, indeed, with Divine precision, by a short, sublime circuit of love and blessing at man's heart; showing man not by word only but by unspeakably moving deed what God would do, I dare to say what God would suffer, for his salvation. But the direct aspect of the Sacrifice is towards God, as violated Holiness. It is such as to set God's love free along the line of His law; "that He may be just and the Justifier," the Accepter, of the sinner who closes with Him. He who is the Propitiation is, as such, our "Advocate towards the Father" (1 John 2:1 ). The notion of "Reconciliation," in the diction of the Bible, looks probably in this direction. "Be ye reconciled to God," interpreted by nontheological passages where kindred phraseology is used as between man and man (see 1 Samuel 29:4 ; and compare Pearson, p. 365), means not, "Bring your wills to meet half-way a Father cruelly misunderstood, and purely indulgent"; but, "Hasten while you may to claim the amnesty of the Atonement at the feet of your holy King". Not for one moment does the Bible allow us so to mistake this aspect of the Atonement as to dream of a fierce and hostile Deity wishing to condemn but bought off by the woes of a sinless Victim. It is the Father Himself who finds the Ransom, Who gives His Beloved, Who lays on Him the iniquity of us all. From the infinite recess of Paternal Love comes forth the Lamb that is to be slain. But then the Lamb bleeds on an altar that looks towards the dread shrine of that awful Holiness which means the eternal moral Order personal in God. Jesus Christ crucified is the Gift of God as Love, that we may stand scatheless, welcomed, adopted, beloved, before God as Fire.'

References. II. 1, 2. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 84. C. D. Bell. The Saintly Galling, p. 59. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 92. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 41. R. J. Campbell, The Examiner, 17th May, 1906, p. 473. A. Pinchard, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 890. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 321. II. 2. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. pp. 122, 189, 362. II. 2-7. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 451.

Saving Knowledge

1 John 2:3

Let us do our duty as it presents itself: this is the secret of true faith and peace. We have power over our deeds, under God's grace; we have no direct power over our habits. Let us but secure our actions, as God would have them, and our habits will follow. Suppose a religious man, for instance, in the society of strangers; he takes things as they come, discourses naturally, gives his opinion soberly, and does good according to each opportunity of good. His heart is in his work, and his thoughts rest without effort on his God and Saviour. This is the way of a Christian; he leaves it to the ill-instructed to endeavour after a (socalled) spiritual frame of mind amid the bustle of life, which has no existence except in attempt and profession. True spiritual-mindedness is unseen by man, like the soul itself, of which it is a quality; and as the soul is known by its operations, so it is known by its fruits.

J. H. Newman.

References. II. 3. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 108. II. 3, 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 922. II. 3-6. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 455.

1 John 2:5

The commandment of Christ, which the Apostle has especial respect to when he here speaks of our keeping His commandments, is that great commandment of His which respects deeds of love to our brethren, as appears by the following verses. Grace is said to be perfected or finished in holy practice, as therein it is brought to its proper effect and to that exercise which is the end of its principle; the tendency or design of grace is reached, and its operation completed and crowned. As the tree is made perfect in the fruit; it is not perfected in the seed's being planted in the ground; it is not perfected in the first quickening of the seed, and in its putting forth root and sprout; nor is it perfected when it comes up out of the ground; nor is it perfected in bringing forth leaves; nor yet in putting forth blossoms; but, when it has brought forth good ripe fruit, then it is perfected, therein it reaches its end, the design of the tree is finished; all that belongs to the tree is completed and brought to its proper effect in the fruit. So is grace in its practical exercise.

Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (III. 12).

References. II. 5. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 36. II. 6. J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 514. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 122. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1732. II. 7, 8. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 1 John, p. 261. II. 7-11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 226. II. 10, 11. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 138.

The Forgiveness of Sins

1 John 2:12

There are clearly two things that this text invites us to think about.

I. The forgiveness of sins as the fundamental experience of the Christian life.

II. The ground of forgiveness, the name of Jesus in connection with the forgiveness of sins.

J. Denney, The Scottish Review, vol. IV. p. 471.

References. II. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1711. II. 13. Ibid. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 121. A. P. Stanley, Sermons for Children, p. 10. II. 13, 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. Nos. 1715, 1751.

Strong Men

1 John 2:14

We hear a good deal in these days about strong men. It is a wise thing to discipline the human body so that it may be a healthy and active servant of the will and reason of man. But to have a strong body is not to be a strong man. True manhood does not lie in the developed muscle. We hear, also, a good deal about education about the training of the human intellect in these days. As with some men the body seems to be everything, so with other men the brain seem to be everything. What an example Mr. Gladstone was to the young men of this generation as regards the development of body and brain! The student and the tree-feller! Man has a tripartite nature body, brain, and soul or spirit. Man is not merely 'a thinking animal,' he is a moral being. It was moral strength St John had in his mind when he said: 'I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong'. And it was by their moral and spiritual vigour they had conquered the wicked one even Satan. What is the secret of moral and spiritual strength?

I. Faith in God. What made Luther strong before the Emperor Charles and those perjured accusers? Faith in God.

II. The Word of God. See how St. John connects the strength of our young manhood with the bread of God's truth: 'Because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you'. We have now learned the secret of manhood's true strength; let us consider next the true purpose for which we are endowed with this strength.

III. Victory. The words of the Apostle are remarkable: 'Ye have conquered' (not ye will conquer) 'the wicked one'. Was Satan, were the powers of evil, already conquered? I think there is a reference here to the time of their conversion, when these young men threw off all allegiance to Satan, and turned to serve the living and true God. Whatever conflict now remained was to be waged against a beaten and baffled enemy. The conflict does not end with conversion: it is only beginning in earnest. This age is the epiphany of youth; the cry everywhere is for young, strong manhood. The Church of God wants it wants you.

T. J. Madden, Tombs or Temples, p. 128.

References. II. 14. Archbishop Temple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 350. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 299. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 811. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 67. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 1 John, p. 269.

1 John 2:15

His colonising idealism was not proof against the strain of idly watching others reap from active participation in the great struggle with Spain a larger personal reward than himself. Desire for wealth grew upon him as the passions of youth cooled, and the hope that some of the profits which Spain had acquired from her settlements in the New World might fill his own coffers besieged his brain. Anxiety to make out of an energetic pursuit of colonisation a mighty fortune, was coming into conflict with the elevated aspirations of early days.

Sidney Lee, on Sir Walter Raleigh, in Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century (p. 133 f.).

1 John 2:15

The Church of Rome seems to succeed by canonising the world.


What is the world, as described to us in the New Testament, Sir John Seeley asks (in Natural Religion, pt. ii. ch. I.)? 'It is a kind of conspiracy of prejudices, or union of all that is stagnant, inert, mechanical, and automatic, into a coherent tyrannous power and jealous consentient opinion. Conventionalism, indeed, is the modern name for that which stands here for the opposite of religion; and we can judge from this in what way religion itself was conceived, for the opposite of conventionalism is freshness of feeling, enthusiasm.'

Love not Pleasure, love God! This is the everlasting year, wherein all contradiction is solved; wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with him.

Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus.

'Even those who most love the world do not love the same world,' says Dora Greenwell in The Covenant of Hope (pp. 35, 36). 'The ambitious man, the covetous one, the pleasure-seeker, stare at each other in wonder, perhaps in pity, while the man who has placed his aim in everyday comfort and respectability gazes at all three with an inquiring cui bono?'

'One of the most painful things I feel in continental travel,' Dr. John Ker wrote once in a letter, 'is the appearance that life everywhere has of mere pleasure-seeking. Not that anyone should object to pleasure, but it is here so much the chief and evident end that it destroys one's sense of the reality of life. It is as painful in its way as the misery in our lanes and alleys, for there one has sometimes a gleam of amoral purpose.'

References. II. 16. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 153. H. Rix, Sermons, Addresses and Essays, p. 67. H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 17. B. J. Snell, The Widening Vision, p. 113. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 150; ibid. (2nd Series), p. 326. II. 16, 16. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 7.

Other-worldliness and Unworldliness

1 John 2:15-17

I. It is important to notice at the outset that it is not the world but the love of it which is condemned. Those who are addressed are spoken to as having already overcome the evil one. It is clearly, then, the good things of the world the Apostle has now in view, the things which are attractive, and which being in themselves innocent, may be properly enjoyed, but only within certain limits, lest they should prove too engrossing. What is forbidden, then, is the love of these things. It is engrossing love which is forbidden, love which shuts out the love of the Father. There is another thing to be observed in order to get the full thought of the Apostle. In the verse which follows, he passes from the grand word 'love' to the poor wreck of it which remains in the horrible word 'lust'. When love of the things that are in the world becomes a master passion, it ceases to be love, because it has degenerated into lust.

II. So far what is condemned; now what is commended? What is the alternative to this love of the world, and this lust of the things that are in the world? It is given in a short but most emphatic and suggestive sentence: 'He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever'. There is not the slightest hint of abandoning the world. We are to do our duty in the world, and not to separate ourselves from it. The alternative to worldliness is not otherworldliness, but doing the will of God. Not only are we to stay in the world, but we are to abide in the calling which God has assigned us, unless there be some very special reason for making a change. There is abundant wisdom in the recommendation of the Apostle: 'Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called'.

J. Monro Gibson, A Strong City, p. 39.

Reference. II. 15-17. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 225.

1 John 2:16

Speaking of evil curiosity, in his Confessions (x. 35), Augustine calls it 'a vain and inquisitive desire, cloaked under the title of knowledge and science, not of delighting in the flesh but of acquiring experience through the flesh. And because this is situated in the appetite for knowledge, and the eyes are chief among the senses as the source of knowledge, it is called in the Divine language, "the lust of the eyes". For, while "to see," properly speaking, belongs to the eyes alone, yet we use this term also of the other senses, when employed in the search for knowledge. We do not say, "hark, how it flashes," or "smell how it glares," or "taste how it shines," or "feel how bright it is". We say, in all these cases, "see" not only, "see how it shines," but "see how it sounds, how it smells, how it tastes, how hard it is". Thus the general experience of the senses is called "the lust of the eyes," inasmuch as the office of seeing, wherein the eyes hold the first place, is adopted by the other senses also, when engaged in the search for knowledge.'

Ambition does not carry its marks of disgrace upon it like many openly shameful sins. It springs up insensibly, takes root, spreads its branches under plausible pretexts, and we only begin to be conscious of it after the heart is poisoned.... But on the other hand do not go out of mere lack of ambition and bury yourself in a workshop regulating clocks, instead of serving God and His world.

Fénelon (to the Vidame d'Amiens).

Now and then I think of the days when I mimicked the Stoics and called my body a vile carcase, my spirit a dream, a smoke; when I howled at the cities of the earth You are dust-heaps! and to the heavens You are ether! I never meant it. No one ever does mean these things. The pride of life and the desire of the eyes is mighty in all men, and while one is strong the time is the time of love.

John Oliver Hobbes, The School for Saints (ch. VI.).

References. II. 16. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 230. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 209.

1 John 2:17

Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end that we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock.

S. Rutherford.

1 John 2:17

The point is not to feel an attraction for holiness but to will whatever God wills.


References. II. 17. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 43. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 142. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 52. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture First Epistle of John, p. 279. II. 18. F. T. Bassett, Things That Must Be, p. 27. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 167. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 269. II. 18-23. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 107. II. 18-27. Ibid. vol. v. p. 241. II. 19. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 23.

1 John 2:20

In the journals of Caroline Fox, the writer describes a serious conversation between Derwent Coleridge and the old Quaker banker Lloyd, from which the latter 'suddenly broke off, saying, "But thou wilt not understand what I mean by the unction". Whenever he ( i.e. Coleridge) now hears the word, this remark recurs to his mind, and with it the peculiarly deep and solemn feeling it inspired, and the recognition of that spiritual meaning which friends attach to the word unction, that which is indeed spirit and life.'

References. II. 21. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 177. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 23.

The Anointing with the Holy Spirit

1 John 2:27

There is no need for me to prove or attempt to prove that the Holy Ghost is a person. In the Greek, though the name for the Holy Ghost is neuter, it is followed by a personal pronoun autos, which could not be used unless the Holy Spirit was a person. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to give power for the preaching of the Gospel.

I. You ask me if the day of Pentecost was a specimen day. I answer: Yes, and for two reasons (1) On the day of Pentecost the Priest in the Temple presented twelve loaves, the specimen and the result of the harvest; and inasmuch as God chose the day of Pentecost for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, He surely meant us to understand that the day of Pentecost was a specimen day, and that what He did that day He was prepared to do every day; and He would have done it if the Church had not choked and frustrated His plans. (2) In Acts 2:39 , you have these words of Peter: 'This promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call'.

II. Now a step farther. You say to me: 'Sir, tell me how I may get this power myself. I will. What are the conditions? (1) You cannot have the power of the Holy Ghost without having the Holy Ghost Himself. (2) You must be cleansed. (3) You must live for the glory of Christ as your supreme end. (4) Your preaching and teaching must be in harmony with the Word of God. (5) The Holy Spirit must be received by faith.

F. B. Meyer, The Soul's Ascent, p. 263.

The Courage of Love

1 John 2:28

In any intimate friendship, and in proportion to its intimacy, there is likely to be a mutual assimilation of thought, and similarity of expression. Moreover, if the one nature be more receptive, and the other more creative and original, the stronger will be the impress of the master mind. Now, in the case of the unique relation between Jesus the Master and John the beloved disciple, we have strength on the one side and receptivity on the other at their maximum. Therefore it is not surprising to find that John's teaching is a very close reproduction of the teaching of Jesus, not only in its essential truth for this we should in any case expect but also in the mode of representation, and even in the details of phraseology. We have as our subject: The Hidden Life and its Manifestation.

I. The distinction holds good if we confine our attention for the moment to this present time. (1) Undoubtedly the hidden life is the very essence of religion. A mere profession of religion has, indeed, satisfied myriads, and satisfies myriads still; but no one who seriously studies the question can doubt that the profession, without the inward reality, is vain and worse than vain. But quite as strongly does this saying condemn the vague mysticism that would content itself with some sentiment of tender regard for Jesus, not caring to inquire too closely into His claims. 'Abide in Me' what claims are here! (2) But this hidden life, though opposed to the pretentious profession of mere religious formality, and having its seat and centre deeper down than the mere opinions and sentiments of our nature, has its own proper manifestation among men. For we live an outward as well as an inward life, and if we are true the outward will answer to the inward.

II. There is another distinction, however, made more prominent in the words before us, as between this life and the next. Here our life in Christ is a hidden life, in the sense that, though its power is visibly at work, making all new in our aims and actions, yet the privilege that seems properly to pertain to it, the position that it should confer, are not yet revealed. Sometimes there seems to be a painful contradiction between our confessed relationship to Christ and the events which are permitted to befall us in the world: but in any case our condition here is one of obscurity, of poverty, of suspense. 'Beloved, now are we children of God'; then why is it 'not yet made manifest' (1 John 3:2 )? We confess Him: why does not He confess us? (1) It is implied here that we need a full inward preparation, before we can properly sustain that weight of privilege, with its attendant responsibilities. (2) But His coming' this is the thought that is prominent.

J. F. Lockyer, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. VII. p. 295.

References. II. 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2105. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 10. II. 29. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 204.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-john-2.html. 1910.
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