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Bible Commentaries
1 John 2

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verses 1-29

( 1Jn_2:1 ; 1Jn_2:2 ). Fourthly, the forgiveness of the believer's sins is made possible through the advocacy of the Lord Jesus. As sin is in us, and we may sin, God has made rich provision to maintain us in communion. Nevertheless, these things have been written to us in order that we may be kept from sinning. The child that disobeys the father does not cease to be a child; and if we sin, our relations as children with the Father remain, though our communion with the Father is hindered. In order that the sin may be judged and confessed, and that communion may be re-stored, the Lord Jesus acts as our Advocate - One Who represents and perfectly undertakes our cause before the Father.

This advocacy is founded upon the unchanging efficacy of the propitiatory work of Christ. He has offered Himself to God without spot, and in view of all that Christ is and has done, not only for the Jew but for the whole world, God can proclaim forgiveness to all and justify those that believe, bringing them into relationship with Himself as the Father, which no failure on the part of the believer can alter. But, in that position as children, if we fail, Jesus Christ is our Advocate. The Lord exercised this advocacy on behalf of Peter before ever he had failed. He could say to Peter in view of his coming denial, “I have prayed for thee.” The result of the Lord's advocacy is seen when Peter is led to repentance and restoration. Thus the effect of being in the light of the full revelation of God in Christ is to bring believers into a fellowship wholly independent of earthly things, to manifest the cleansing efficacy of the blood, to expose us as having sin in us and being liable to sin, and to reveal Christ as our Advocate, Who deals with our failures in order to restore us to communion.


The Characteristics of Divine Life

( 1Jn_2:3-11 )

The first portion of the Epistle presents eternal life as manifested in perfection in Christ on earth. This life, imparted to the believer, enables its possessor to have fellowship with divine Persons and thus taste fulness of joy.

In this second portion of the Epistle, the apostle brings before us the two great characteristics of the divine life in its manifestation down here - obedience to God and love to our brethren. The practice of these two qualities, or the failure to exhibit them, becomes the test as to whether the profession of knowing Christ (verse 4), abiding in Christ (verse 6), and walking in the light (verse 9), is true or not.

(Vv. 3, 4). To be in the light of the full revelation of God, and to have fellowship with God, is to know God. The true knowledge of God will lead to the recognition that God is sovereign and we are His creatures, and therefore submission is due to God. We are dependent upon God, and this dependence is expressed by subjection or obedience to God. If we say we know God, and yet walk in disobedience to His will, our profession is false and the truth has no abiding place in us.

(V. 5). Moreover, the one that keeps His word, in him verily the love of God is perfected. The Lord Jesus, as Man, walked in perfect subjection and obedience to the will of the Father. His Father's will was the motive as well as the rule for His every act and word. He could say, “I do always those things that please Him” ( Joh_8:29 ). In result, the love of the Father was perfectly known and enjoyed by Him. So the Lord can say to His disciples, “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love” ( Joh_15:10 ).

(V. 6). If, then, we profess to abide in Him, and under His influence enjoy fellowship with the Father, it will lead to a walk even as Christ walked, with the blessed experiences of the Father's love that He enjoyed. While down here we cannot be what He was, for He was without sin; but it is our privilege to walk as He walked. He pleased not Himself, but did only those things that pleased the Father. We have been chosen to obey as Christ obeyed and to walk and please God ( 1Pe_1:2 ; 1Th_4:1 ).

(V. 7). That which the apostle writes to believers is no new commandment, but the word which they have heard from the beginning; for he is writing of the life, marked by obedience and love, that was expressed in absolute perfection in Christ. Any one professing to write anything new of this life would be making the false pretension to give light beyond that already perfectly expressed in Christ.

(V. 8). What, indeed, is new is that the life that was expressed in perfection in Christ has been imparted to believers, so that it can be said “which thing is true in Him and in you.” For the believer to live this life in fellowship with divine Persons is possible, as God has been fully revealed in the Person of the Son, and has thus come into the light. God having been revealed, the darkness and ignorance of God that characterised the world is “passing” (N.Tn.). When the Sun of righteousness arises, the whole world will come into the light. All will know the Lord. Then the darkness will be past; but, even now, the darkness is passing, as people emerge from Judaism and heathenism, and come into the light of the revelation of God in Christianity.

(Vv. 9,10). The apostle has spoken of obedience as one of the two great tests of the reality of the profession to know God and thus be in the light. He now speaks of love as a second characteristic of those who are truly in the light. It follows, on the one hand, that he who hates his brother is in darkness or ignorance of God, however much he may profess to have the life and be in the light. On the other hand, the one that loves his brother abides in the light and will not act in a way to stumble him.

(V. 11). A Jew professed to have the knowledge of God and thus be in the light, and yet he hated and persecuted the Christian, proving that he was not in the light of God revealed in Christ. Such an one is in “the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and knows not where he goes, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (N.Tn.). This is not simply one who is in a state of darkness, as might be the case with a true Christian who, having fallen under a cloud, entertains bitter thoughts against his brother. It supposes one who is in “the darkness”, that is, in a system in which there is no revelation of God. “The darkness” is the absence of the revelation of God, and is an expression used in contrast with “the true light”, which is the revelation of God.

Here, then, we have the great characteristics of eternal life - obedience and love. Moreover, the passage clearly shows that if we possess the life, and live the life, it will lead us:

Firstly, into the knowledge of God the Father - we shall know Him (verses 3, 4).

Secondly, knowing the Father, we shall walk in obedience to His will (verses 3, 4).

Thirdly, keeping His commandments, we shall be confirmed in His love (verse 5).

Fourthly, thus walking in obedience and love, we shall walk even as Christ walked (verse 6).

Fifthly, walking as Christ walked, we shall love one another (verse 10).


Growth in Divine Life

( 1Jn_2:12-27 )

The apostle has spoken of the eternal life manifested in perfection in Christ; he has also brought before us the two great characteristics that will mark those who possess the life as they pass through this world - obedience and love. In the portion of the Epistle that follows, the apostle shows that, while all believers possess the life, yet there is growth in divine life.

He views believers as forming the family of God, and he uses the relationships of the ordinary life - fathers, young men and babes - to set forth different stages of spiritual growth in the apprehension of the truth and in Christian experience. He does not use these terms to set forth stages in the natural life, but, rather, distinctions in spiritual growth. A person converted at an advanced age would be spiritually but a babe, whereas a believer comparatively young in years might, by spiritual progress, become a father. The apostle sets forth, moreover, the special snares to which believers are exposed at different stages of growth.

(V. 12). Before speaking of the different stages of spiritual growth, the apostle refers to the blessing that is true of the whole family of God. He addresses all believers as “children”; this is a term of endearment. He then states that forgiveness of sins is the great blessing that marks every member of the family of God. Apart from this blessing they would not belong to this family. The apostle does not write to sinners in order that they may be forgiven, but to believers because they are forgiven. Moreover, as he is going to speak of experiences and spiritual progress, he reminds believers that they are forgiven “for His Name's sake”. As believers, he reminds us that we are not forgiven because of anything that we are, or because of any experience however real - that would be for our sakes. We are forgiven because of what God has found in Christ and His work - “for His Name's sake”. The Lord Himself had instructed His disciples “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations” ( Luk_24:47 ). Peter, in carrying out the Lord's commission, proclaims to the Gentiles “that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” ( Act_10:43 ). Thus forgiveness of sins is no matter of attainment; it is proclaimed to us through the Lord Jesus and received by faith in Christ ( Act_13:38 ; Act_13:39 ).

(V. 13). Having stated what is common to the whole family of God, the apostle sets forth three stages of spiritual growth under the terms fathers, young men and babes. He does not write to “old men”, young men and babes. Old men would hardly be an apt figure to set forth the highest stage of spiritual growth, for the term implies feebleness and decay. He uses the term “fathers”, which suggests ripeness and maturity of experience.

The outstanding characteristics of each class are first stated: the fathers have known Christ that is from the beginning; the young men are characterised by having overcome the wicked one; the babes have known the Father.

In the course of natural growth we may in large measure lose the characteristics of an earlier stage of growth. It is not so in spiritual growth. The young men do not cease to know the Father because they have learned to overcome the wicked one; the fathers do not cease to overcome the wicked one because they have learned to know Him that is from the beginning.

In writing to each class the apostle uses the words “because ye have”, showing there was a point of sympathy between himself and each class. It was practically saying, I write unto you because you are enjoying what I am enjoying. The three stages cover the whole ground of practical Christianity. The one possessing all these characteristics would be a fully developed Christian.

(V. 14). Fathers. Having given us the outstanding characteristics of each stage of Christian growth, the apostle again refers to each class, presenting in the case of the young men and the babes their special dangers. Of the fathers he has nothing fresh to add; he repeats, “Ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” The question may arise, “Do not the young men and the babes know Christ?” Surely they know Christ as their Saviour, but to know Christ as the One Who is from the beginning implies that we not only know Christ as saving us from our sins and judgment, but that we have so advanced in the spiritual life that we have discerned in Christ the One Who is the beginning of an entirely new world of blessing, according to the counsels of the Father's heart. “From the beginning” has the force of “from the outset”. To know Him that is from the beginning is to realise that, with the coming of Christ, there is the beginning of an entirely new creation in which the former things will for ever have passed away. Those who know Christ thus will have no further hope of reforming man or of improving the world. They will look beyond this world and have their minds set on things above. All their hopes will be centred in Christ. They have reached a stage of growth in which Christ is everything and in all.

(V. 14). Young men. The babes are marked by confidence in the Father's love. The young men do not lose this confidence, but, in addition, they are marked by spiritual strength to overcome in conflict. In the natural life the young men have to face the world and fight the battle of life. Likewise, in the spiritual life, the young men are those believers who are marked by that spiritual vigour which enables them to overcome the wicked one.

The source of their strength in overcoming is the word of God. They overcome the enemy, not by human reason or natural ability, nor by the wisdom of the schools, but by the word of God, and, further, by the word of God abiding in them. It is not simply that they grasp the meaning of the word of God, or that they have stored it in their memory, but that it forms their thoughts, holds their affections and governs their actions. For such, the word is not something that can be lightly held, or lightly given up, under the influence of a teacher. It has an abiding place in the heart as being God's word, and therefore held in faith in God. One has said, “The real secret of being able to use the word of God against the devil is that the word of God is keeping your own soul.”

If the word of God abides in us, it will become our guide in every circumstance and our defence in every conflict. Some have looked at conscience as a guide, and thus with the greatest sincerity have been driven into the most unchristian acts, even to persecuting the saints of God, as in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Strictly, conscience is not a guide but a witness. It bears witness according to the light we have. The true light and guide is the Word of God, and, if we have that light, conscience will bear witness as to whether our walk is according to the light. Thus the Word of God becomes the test for everything. At times we may test things by their apparent usefulness or apparent success. We shall only discover the true character of anything as we submit it to the test of God's Word. To submit to the test of the Word is really to be subject to God, and against a subject person the devil has no power. We thus overcome the wicked one.

We have the most perfect example of this overcoming in our Lord. The devil sought to move Him from the place of dependence upon God, devotedness to God, and confidence in God. In every case the Lord overcame, not by using His Godhead power, but, as the perfect, dependent Man, by using the Word of God. In each temptation the Lord overcame by saying, “It is written”. Moreover, the word He used was the word He kept. It is useless to attempt to meet the devil's temptations with a word that we ourselves are not obeying. If our thoughts and words and ways are governed by the Word, we can use it effectually against the devil and overcome.

(V. 15). The young men may come into conflict with the devil and into contact with the world. As the flesh is still in us, the world is a very real danger. We are sent into the world as witnesses for Christ, but we are not of the world. We are therefore warned not to love the world, nor the things in the world. Further, we are reminded that, “If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” We may, alas, be tempted by it, or in an unguarded moment be overcome by it, but the testing question is, Do we love it? A solemn word for all who profess to be of the family of God and yet appear to be more at home in the company of the world than amongst the people of God.

(V. 16). The apostle leaves us in no doubt as to the character of the world of which he speaks. He does not refer to the physical world of nature, but to that great system built up by fallen man, which is marked by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

It has been noticed that these three principles came in with the fall of man. The devil tempted Eve with the question, “Yea, hath God said?” Had the word of God been abiding in her heart, she could have used it to overcome the devil. Alas! it did not govern her thoughts, so, when quoting it (or misquoting it), she was not only powerless to overcome, but she fell into the snare of world principles. She “saw that the tree was good for food”, and thus was carried away by the lust of the flesh. Moreover, she saw that “it was pleasant to the eyes”, and was thus attracted by the lust of the eyes. Lastly, she saw that it was “a tree to be desired to make one wise”, and the pride of life that craves for knowledge was awakened. Being carried away by the principles of the world, Adam disobeyed God and was driven from the garden. The world, then, is a vast system organised by fallen man in order to indulge the different lusts of the flesh, to gratify the eye, and to minister to the various forms of pride.

In this world there is nothing that is of the Father, and there is no love for the Father. To the believer, the Father has opened another world which is marked, not by lust that seeks its own gratification, but by love that seeks the good of its object. It is not a world that seeks to gratify the sight, but where Christ is the all-satisfying Object - “We see Jesus.” It is not a world marked by the pride that boasts in its own wisdom, but it is one that is characterised by the lowliness that delights to sit as a learner at the feet of Jesus.

(V. 17). Moreover, man's world is passing. However fair on occasions its outward show may be, it is dominated by sin, and over all is the shadow of death. Already we have heard that the darkness, or ignorance of God, is passing; now we learn that the world that abides in darkness is also passing. In contrast with the passing world, those that do the will of God abide for ever; they belong to a world on which no shadow of death will ever fall.

The Babes. We have learned from verse 13 that the first characteristic of the babes is that they “have known the Father.” As they make spiritual progress they will be drawn into spiritual conflict. They will become young men and fight the good fight of faith. They will go forth to do battle for the Lord, but they start in the home circle. In that blessed circle of love, they may know little of the power of the enemy and the conflict that lies before them, but they learn the love of the Father's heart and the support of the Father's hand. It is not only that they know that they are children, and that God is their Father, but they know the Father with Whom they are in relationship. They may know little of the depths of Satan, or the snares of the world, or the evil of their own hearts, but they know the heart of the Father. Once they knew nothing of the Father's heart and cared nothing for the Saviour's will, but as sinners they were brought to the Saviour and, through faith in Christ Jesus, they passed into the family of God, as we read, “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” ( Gal_3:26 ). The Holy Spirit was given to them, the love of God was shed abroad in their hearts, and now they can look up and say, “Abba, Father”. They realise that the Father loves them with a love that never wearies and a care that never ceases.

(V. 18). By their inexperience the babes are more particularly in danger of being deceived. Thus the apostle warns them against antichristian seducers. We are told that it is “the last hour”. As nineteen centuries have passed since these words were written, we may conclude that the apostle does not refer to the last hour as to time, but rather the last hour as to character. We know that the last hour before the judgment falls upon an apostate Christendom will be characterised by the appearance of the Antichrist. But antichristian teachers had already appeared in the days of the apostle, “whence we know that it is the last hour.”

(V. 19). These antichristian teachers would be a special snare to believers, inasmuch as they would arise in the Christian circle and then give up the Christian profession.

(V. 20). To enable believers to escape all antichristian teaching, we are first reminded that we have the Holy Spirit - the Unction - and thus are able to judge of all things. In ourselves we know nothing, but having the Spirit we have the capacity for knowing all things.

(V. 21). Secondly, we have “the truth”. The Spirit does not enlighten us by any inner imagination; He uses “the truth”, and thus enables us to detect error. We do not detect the lie by occupation with evil but by knowing the truth. Our business is to be simple concerning evil and wise as to good.

(Vv. 22, 23). Thirdly, having the Spirit and the truth, we at once learn that the Person of Christ is the great test of every antichristian system. We may be deceived if we judge them by the Christian terms they may use and the practice they may pursue. The real test is, How do they stand in relation to the truth as to the Person of Christ? It will be found that every false system denies in some form the truth of His Person. There are, however, two main forms of error and opposition to the truth. One form of error, mainly found among the Jews, denies that Jesus is the Christ - the Messiah that is to come. The other form of error, arising in the Christian profession, denies the truth of the Father and the Son. When the Antichrist appears he will unite the lie of the Jews with the lie that arises in the Christian profession, denying both that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is a divine Person. Today, every false system that has arisen in Christendom stands condemned by the denial of the truth of the Person of Christ as the Son, and denial of the truth of the Son will lead to the denial of the truth as to the Father.

(V. 24). Our safeguard against every error as to the Person of Christ is found in abiding in that which we have heard from the beginning. The Jews could say to Jesus, “Who art Thou?” The Lord replied, “Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” ( Joh_8:25 ). A more accurate translation of these words is, “Altogether that which I also say to you” (N.Tn.). His words were the perfect expression of Himself. Alas! we may use words to hide what we are: He used words to express perfectly what He was. We have heard His voice and we know the truth as to Himself. We may have much to learn of the glories of His Person, but we know Who He is. Any pretence of modernism, or any other false system, to give us further truth as to His Person is a denial that the full truth came out at the beginning. If that which we have heard from the beginning abides in us - if it governs our affections - we shall abide in the truth of the Son and of the Father. The sheep know His voice and are thus able to detect the many false voices of the strangers, as we read, “A stranger will they not follow ... for they know not the voice of strangers.”

(V. 25). Fourthly, we have eternal life according to promise. This life puts us in relation with divine Persons. The Lord's words are, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent” ( Joh_17:3 ).

It is evident, then, that these antichristian teachers stand exposed as not being of us - the Christian company (verse 19); they have not the Spirit (verse 20); they know not the truth (verse 21); they deny the Father and the Son (verse 22); they have not continued in that which was from the beginning (verse 24); and they do not possess eternal life (verse 25).

The babes in Christ can escape their evil teaching by having the Spirit, the truth, the knowledge of the Father and the Son, abiding in that which they have heard from the beginning in Christ, and by living the eternal life through which they can enjoy fellowship with divine Persons.

(Vv. 26, 27). These, then, are the things that the apostle writes to expose those who would lead us astray, and to warn us against them. Moreover, we have not only the written word, but also the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand the word and to test the teachings of men. Teachers may pass away, but the Holy Spirit abides. The teaching of the best of teachers may be partial, but the Holy Spirit can teach us “as to all things” (N.Tn.). The teaching of the best of teachers may be at times mixed with defect, but the teaching of the Holy Spirit “is truth” and in it there “is no lie.” The aim of all false teachers is to seduce the saints to give up the truth; the effect of the teaching of the Holy Spirit is to lead the saints to abide in the truth as set forth in Christ from the beginning.


Eternal Life Manifest In Believers

( 1Jn_2:28 - 1Jn_3:23 )

Having set before us the different stages of growth in the Christian life, the apostle, still keeping before us the great subject of life, presents eternal life as seen in the practice of the believer. Already the apostle has presented righteousness and love as characterising the nature of eternal life. These traits have been perfectly expressed in Christ and are now to mark the lives of believers. Moreover, if the manifestation of these qualities is the practical proof of the possession of life, the absence of these qualities will expose all false pretension to the life.

In this fresh portion of the Epistle, the apostle first brings before us the Appearing of Christ as that which should govern our practical life (2: 28-3: 3).

Secondly, he presents the characteristics of the new life which distinguish the children of God from the children of the devil - righteousness and love ( 1Jn_3:4-16 ).

Thirdly, he applies these truths to the practical life of the believer ( 1Jn_3:17-23 ).

(a) Practice in relation to the Appearing of Christ (2: 28-3: 3)

In the preceding portion of the Epistle, the apostle has looked back to that which we have heard “from the beginning”. He introduces this fresh portion by looking on to the coming of the Lord.

(V. 28). This verse forms a connecting link with that which has gone before and the portion that follows. It sums up the preceding portion by appealing to the whole family of God in the words, “And now, children, abide in Him” (N.Tn.). The one great safeguard against the world, and the antichristian teachers of whom he has been speaking, is found in abiding in the truth as perfectly set forth in Christ “from the beginning”. This, moreover, leads the apostle to look on to the coming of Christ, for it is equally important to abide in Him in order that our conduct may be consistent with His appearing. Thus the coming of Christ is brought forward to regulate and test our practice.

The apostle desires that the walk of believers may be of such a character that there will be nothing in the saints of which they will be ashamed at the coming of Christ, when at last our words and ways and walk will be made manifest “of what sort it is” and the hidden motives of hearts will be laid bare ( 1Co_3:13 ; 1Co_4:5 ; 2Jn_1:8 ). Alas! how often there is much in our words and ways and walk that we may even seek to defend or excuse, but which we should at once condemn if judged in the light of the appearing of the glory of Christ.

In the verses that follow ( 1Jn_2:29-3 ; 1Jn_2:3 ), the apostle sets before us our privileges and the gracious provision that God has made, in order that we may walk in a way that is suitable to Christ and not be ashamed at His coming.

(V. 29). Firstly, the apostle shows that all right Christian conduct is traced back to the new nature that believers have received by new birth. It is the same nature that was in Christ, producing the same fruits of righteousness, thus proving that the believer is born of God.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 John 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-john-2.html. 1832.
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