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Bible Commentaries
1 John 1

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verses 1-10


Life And Communion

(1 John 1- 1Jn_2:2 )

The great purpose of the First Epistle of John is to present the characteristics and blessedness of eternal life - that life “which was with the Father” in eternity, that has been perfectly set forth in Jesus, the Word of life, in time, and that has been imparted to believers.

The great end in presenting this life in all its blessedness is, on the one hand, to enable us to detect all false pretension to the possession of the life and, on the other hand, to encourage us to live the life. Alas! too often as believers we are content to know on the authority of Scripture that, believing on the Son of God, we have the life, but are little exercised either to know the blessedness of the life we have or to live the life.

In the first portion of the Epistle - chapters 1 to 2: 2 - three leading truths are brought before us:

Firstly, in verses 1 and 2, there is presented the eternal life manifested in Christ.

Secondly, in verses 3 and 4, there is unfolded to us the blessedness of eternal life, leading to fellowship with divine Persons and fulness of joy.

Thirdly, in verses 5 to 2: 2, we are instructed as to the holy nature of God with Whom eternal life brings us into fellowship, the means by which we can be, as sinners, brought into such blessing, and, as believers, maintained in the enjoyment of the life in communion with the Father.

(a) The eternal life manifested in Christ (Vv. 1, 2)

(Vv. 1, 2). The Epistle opens by taking us back to the beginning of Christianity. “That which was from the beginning” is a characteristic expression of the apostle John. He uses the phrase eight times in the course of his Epistles ( 1Jn_1:1 ; 1Jn_2:13 ; 1Jn_2:14 ; 1Jn_2:24 (twice); 1Jn_3:11 ; 2Jn_1:5 ; 2Jn_1:6 ). It refers to the beginning of Christianity in the Person of Christ on earth. In the course of the Epistle we learn that, even in the apostle's day, many anti-christian teachers had arisen, denying the truth of the Father and the Son. And many false prophets were in the world who denied the Deity of Christ and refused to hear the apostles. To safeguard the true people of God against these fearful evils which attack the foundations of our faith, the apostle brings before us that which is true in Christ from the beginning.

No ruin of the Church in responsibility however great, no corruption of professing Christendom however widespread, can for one moment affect the truth as set forth in Christ. In the Church and in ourselves there is ruin and failure, but the truth as set forth in Him remains in all its perfection and blessedness. In the presence of the antichristian teaching and the many false prophets that abound in Christendom, the one great resource of the faithful will be found in listening to the teaching of the apostles, and thus they will be enabled to hold fast to the truth as set forth in Christ “from the beginning”.

In this great passage, then, we learn that the new life of the believer - eternal life - has been set forth in absolute perfection from the beginning in Christ's life on earth. As it has been perfectly expressed in Christ, there can be no further development of the life. No advance can be made on perfection. There may be, alas! has been, departure from the truth, and hence there is the necessity to be recalled to that which was expressed in Christ from the beginning, in order that we may have a true appreciation of the life that has been imparted to us.

Thus the Epistle opens by reminding us of what has been set forth in Christ, the Word of life. Eternal life has not simply been described to us by abstract doctrinal statements; it has been livingly expressed in a living Person, Who was seen by the eyes of the apostles, contemplated as an Object before them, and handled with their hands. This Person is spoken of as the Word of life, for as the Word He perfectly expressed the life.

This life is spoken of as “eternal life”, and we are told that “it was with the Father.” Thus we learn that eternal life is a life that belongs to eternity, and, being with the Father, is a heavenly life. This eternal life that had its home with the Father in eternity was manifest in time when the Son - the Word of life - became flesh.

By grace we have the life, but in the believer there is often much failure that mars the expression and enjoyment of the life. We can only see and learn the perfection of the life we have by looking to Christ. One has said, “When ... I turn my eyes to Jesus, when I contemplate all His obedience, His purity, His grace, His tenderness, His patience, His devotedness, His holiness, His love, His entire freedom from all self-seeking, I can say, That is my life ... It may be obscured in me, but it is none the less true, that that is my life” (J.N.D.).

(b) The blessedness of eternal life (Vv. 3, 4)

(V. 3). That which the apostles had seen so blessedly set forth in Christ they report to believers, in order that we may enjoy with them the blessedness of this life. Eternal life finds expression in the highest form of fellowship “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The apostles would bind us together with themselves and with one another in a life of fellowship with the Father and the Son. “I know”, one has said, “when I am delighting in Jesus - in His obedience, His love to His Father, to us, His single eye and purely devoted heart - I have the same feelings, the same thoughts, as the Father Himself. In that the Father delights, cannot but delight, in Whom I now delight, I have communion with the Father. So with the Son in the knowledge of the Father” (J.N.D.).

(V. 4). Moreover, these things are written that, being led into this fellowship, our joy may be full. The Psalmist can say, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.” Here we learn that it is possible to taste this fulness of joy that will be ours in heaven while we tread the path that leads to heaven.

(c) The God with Whom we can have fellowship (5-2: 2)

(V. 5). That it has been made possible for a man, who once was a sinner in his sins, to have fellowship with divine Persons is a marvellous truth, and at once raises the question, “Who is the God with Whom we are brought into fellowship?”

The apostle tells us that the One in Whom the eternal life has been manifested in all its perfection is also the One in Whom God has been perfectly declared - the God with Whom that life brings us into fellowship. Thus he can write, “This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” The apostles, as they looked upon Christ, saw the perfect revelation of all that God is. They saw the perfect purity of Christ, and they realised that God is light - absolute holiness. They saw the perfect love of Christ, and they realised that God is love. These are the great truths that the apostle presses in the course of the Epistle - God is light and God is love ( 1Jn_4:8 ). Life and light and love have been perfectly set forth in Christ.

(V. 6). But the truth as to God at once becomes a test of the reality of our profession. If God is light, it follows that, if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and we walk in a way that proves we are in utter ignorance of God, we profess that which is wholly false.

(V. 7). In the days of the Old Testament, God dwelt in thick darkness. Certain attributes of God were revealed, but His nature had not yet been declared. The full revelation of God awaited the coming of Christ. None but a divine Person could reveal a divine Person. Thus, when Christ became flesh, we read, “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” ( Joh_1:18 ). Not only is it true that “God is light”, but through the full revelation of God in Christ He is also in the light. Moreover, Christians, having the full revelation of God in Christ, have been brought out of darkness and ignorance of God into His marvellous light. It is now their privilege to walk in the light of God fully revealed. The practical results of walking in the light follow:

Firstly, we have fellowship one with another. In the every-day life here we have separate and selfish interests, but “in the light” of the full revelation of God we have common joys and interests. We come into a fellowship in the knowledge of divine Persons marked by life and light and love. This fellowship remains true for us in spite of all the failure of the Church in responsibility. Time cannot touch it and death will not take it from us. The day of Pentecost gave a bright illustration of this fellowship. Jerusalem was in darkness, but on that day three thousand souls came into the light of God revealed in Christ. They spake different tongues and came from “every nation under heaven”, but at once they found themselves in a common fellowship, for we read that they “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship.”

Secondly, in the light we learn the infinite efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son which cleanseth from all sin, and thus perfectly fits us for the light. It would be a fearful thing for a sinner to come into the light of God fully revealed if there were no cleansing from sins. But the One Who has made God fully known has died to make us wholly fit for the presence of God thus revealed.

(Vv. 8-10). Thirdly, in the light there is the full exposure of all that we are. We have sin in us and we have committed sins. If we say we have arrived at sinless perfection, we deceive our-selves and prove that we have not the truth, for sin is still in us. If we say that we never sin, we not only deceive ourselves but we make God a liar, for in many things we all offend. Nevertheless, in the governmental ways of God with His children, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins.” We are not told to ask for forgiveness, but, as children, to confess the sins that need forgiveness. We own our sins to the Father, and He not only forgives the sins but cleanses us from the defiling influences of the sins.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 John 1". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-john-1.html. 1832.
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