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Chapter One - God Is Light
Reality of Christ’s Manhood (1 John 1:1-4)
The opening verses of this chapter deal particularly with the docetic system. Listen to John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.)” What John said is that eternal life was manifested on earth in a man. We heard that man speak, listened to His words, looked upon His face, and handled Him. We know that He was a real man. We walked with Him for three and one-half wonderful years. If you want the truth about Christ, do not believe these things that spring up overnight like mushrooms, but go back to that which was from the beginning. We may be sure of this, “What is new is not true, and what is true is not new.”
There are three distinct beginnings emphasized in Scripture. We read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). That was the beginning of creation. Some speculate that was about six thousand years ago; it might have been much more than that, but the Bible does not say. But go back as far as you want and you still find that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Whenever that event took place, it was God who did it. He was there. He brought the universe into existence. It may have gone through a great many changes before the conditions described in the second verse of Genesis 1:0, but it was created by a personal God in the beginning-the beginning of creation. Then in John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is the unbeginning beginning. When everything that ever had a beginning began, the Word was. He had no beginning but was the eternally existing Son subsisting in the bosom of the Father. Then in the first chapter of this Epistle, “That which was from the beginning” is not the beginning of the creation, neither is it the unbeginning beginning of John 1:0, but it is the beginning of the new dispensation-the beginning of Christianity when the truth was revealed in Christ.
There are several verses that support this interpretation. 1 John 2:7: “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning”. This refers to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, the commandment given by Him. When was that given? From the beginning of Christianity, the beginning of the new dispensation. “The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.” In other words, John was saying, “Do not take up with anything new; go back to that which was from the beginning of Christianity.” Then read verse 1 John 2:14, “I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him [that is] from the beginning.” He was writing to the “fathers” who had known Him from the beginning of this new age of grace. Then in verse 1 John 2:24 we read, “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” In 2 John 1:5 we find these words, “And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.” In other words, don’t fall for something new. The message you received at the beginning is the message you must cling to and is the message that must abide in you. These passages make it clear that this term “from the beginning” does not, as some have thought, refer to eternity. It refers to the start of a new era.
When people come to you and say, “We have a new doctrine, a new teaching, a new system of thinking,” you can say, “Keep it; as for me I will cling firmly to that which was from the beginning.” We have a “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). When the Mormon says, “We believe the Bible, but we have the Mormon Bible too, and it is a new revelation,” you can reply, “I do not need your new book. I have that which was from the beginning.” When Mrs. Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy says, “Of course we believe the Bible, but here is my little book, Science and Health, which is something new,” you can say, “Thank you, madam, but I do not need your Key to the Scriptures. The Word of God interpreted by the Holy Spirit is all I need.” When the Swedenborgians say, “Sure, we believe the Bible, but we add to it the dreams and visions of Emanuel Swedenborg,” we can reply in the words of Scripture, He “that hath a dream let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28). When Pastor Russell and Judge Rutherford come along and say, “Of course we believe the Bible, but we must add to it our Studies in the Scriptures and The Harp of God, if you would really understand it,” we can reply, “Keep all your seven or ten volumes; we will go back to that which we have heard from the beginning. We do not want anything added to the Scripture. We go back to what God gave at the start.”
John showed that Jesus was a real man. He said in effect, “We have heard Him; we listened to His teaching as we walked with Him; we heard Him speak; we have seen Him with our eyes.” The gnostics said that He was merely a phantom, but John insisted on His true humanity, “That which we have looked on intently.” He was not deceived. If someone comes up to me and says, “I want you to meet my friend, Mrs. so-and-so;” I say, “I am glad to meet you,” and turn away because others are crowding about me. The next day I meet this person on the street and she says, “Don’t you know me? Why, I met you yesterday at the Moody Church.” I would have to say, “I’m sorry, I did not look intently enough to have your face impressed on me.” The apostle said, “We were not deceived. We saw Him and gazed intently on Him. We know He was a real man, and He filled the vision of our souls.” Then John added, “That which our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” It was not merely that he heard and looked, but he touched Him, and when he touched His arm, it was not thin air. When John leaned against Him at supper, it was not a delusion. Christ Jesus is a man of true flesh and blood!
What a wonderful thing it is that the very first truth in the Christian revelation is that God became man-the amazing grace of it. God came down into His own world as a man. He came near to us in order that He might reveal Himself to us and die for our sins. He was made a little lower than the angels in order that He might settle the sin question for us. And so the apostle said in 1 John 1:2, “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” Think of it! Eternal life appeared on earth!
Do you want to know what eternal life really is in all its fullness, in all its purity? Study the life of Jesus in the four Gospels. John wrote, “The Word was made flesh, and [tabernacled] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Although you and I do not see Him now with our natural eyes, yet through the testimony of John and his fellow apostles we are enabled to see Jesus-to see the manifestation of eternal life. So John continued, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Fellowship is a distinctly New Testament word. Not that you won’t find the English word in our translation of the Old Testament, but there it has the thought of companionship. In Christianity fellowship is far more. When you hear the benediction pronounced, “The love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,” do you stop and think of what that means? People of different heredity, environment, and cultural standards, are saved by the same grace, indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and brought into marvelous fellowship one with another.
I remember a number of years ago sitting at a table eating with two Christian workers, one a colored man, the other a Japanese. Suddenly my Japanese friend said to us in his quiet oriental way, “What a wonderful thing is the grace of God! Just look at this, a black man, a yellow man, and a white man, all one in Christ Jesus! By nature each one filled with suspicion of the other, and even with a feeling of repugnance toward each other, but by grace all one in Christ.” This is not something artificially pumped up or produced by any effort of your own. It is the effect of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.
The Christian’s object of fellowship is occupation with Christ. The apostle John said, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” I like that- our fellowship. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son.” Men try to start fellowships, but they are poor things at best. The only fellowship I know anything about is the fellowship of God’s dear Son. Men may create their own fellowships, but thank God every believer has been called into the fellowship of God’s Son.
Years ago I was telling a brother about a certain missionary. The man to whom I was speaking happened to be part of a particular group of Christians with whom I am intimately associated. He looked rather bored while I was speaking with him, and when I had finished he said, “And is the brother in our fellowship?” “If you mean some little clique of Christians, no, I don’t think he is in our fellowship. But if you mean the fellowship of the Son of God, yes, he is in our fellowship.” Our fellowship is the fellowship of the body of Christ as demonstrated in the communion. “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” What a marvelous fellowship this is!
Do you want to know how to get into this fellowship? There is only one way-through a second birth and the gift of the Holy Spirit of God. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be born again. The Spirit will come to dwell in you and bring you into “our fellowship.” Fellowship means common thoughts and interests. Have you learned to know a Savior’s love? Do you enjoy the precious things that the apostle John is talking about? Has the glorious truth of eternal life as revealed in the Son of God become a reality to you? Then we can share it together. As I tell you a little about Christ and you tell me a little of what you know, our hearts are warmed. That is real fellowship.
John concluded this section with these words, “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” You have a measure of joy now, but you will have more as you get better acquainted with Christ. You have a measure of happiness now; you will have more as you get to know Him more intimately.
The Christian Message (1 John 1:5-10)
In this section John briefly gives us the Christian message-a synopsis of the gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to carry into all the world. This gospel, if believed fills the heart with joy. What is the message? “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” (1 John 1:5). They had heard the message from His own lips while He was on earth. You may say, “I don’t see anything about these verses that is particularly encouraging or that would fill my soul with joy.” If you are going on to know fullness of joy, you must first of all be brought into the presence of God as He is; and God is light.
There are two expressions used in this book that tell us the nature of God. Here we read that God is light, and in chapter 4 we read that God is love. Light is used throughout Scripture as a synonym for infinite holiness, purity, and perfect righteousness. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” There is nothing in God but absolute purity, absolute perfection, absolute holiness. You say, “Well, how then can I, a guilty sinner, ever have fellowship with an infinitely holy God? I might as well give up now, for if ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,’ if He can discern every secret thought of my heart, if He sees every evil way in me, how can I ever have fellowship with Him?” He has provided the way, but He first wants me to recognize that if I ever have fellowship with Him, it must be in the light.
John went on to say, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). There is no use talking about having fellowship with God and living in sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). To walk in darkness is to walk in sin. To walk in sin is to follow the dictates of our own natural minds and hearts. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). This is the description of the nature of all men. The unsaved man belongs to the darkness. He is in Satan’s kingdom of darkness; he walks in it and loves it. Scripture says, “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). If you are doing something shameful, corrupt, or vile, you don’t want to do it in the full light of day. You look for some hidden place either alone or with someone like yourself. You cannot have fellowship with God in darkness, for God is light.
We have darkness presented in four different ways in Scripture. There is the natural darkness, “having the understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:18). This darkness is natural to all men. No man by nature understands God. No man naturally loves holiness and purity. Have your ever noticed that you do not have to teach little children to tell lies? You do have to teach them to tell the truth. You never have to teach them to lose their temper, but you do have to teach them to control it. You never have to teach them to be disobedient, but you do have to teach them to be obedient. Why is this? Because people naturally are children of darkness. As we look into the faces of babies we do not like to think that in their little hearts there are the same sinful tendencies we find in ourselves. Nevertheless sin is present, and so there is the necessity of regeneration. “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
Someone might say, “I am not responsible for my sin because I was born a sinner and my understanding was darkened. God is responsible for permitting me to come into the world like this.” God accepts full responsibility, and is not going to send anyone to eternal judgment because he was born a sinner. He is not going to send anyone to everlasting ruin because he was born in darkness. God has come to men and offered them a way out. That way is in the gospel.
In the second place, we have willful darkness. Our Lord Jesus said, “This is the condemnation [not that men were born sinners], that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). Everyone who does evil hates the light. Men are therefore responsible when they reject the light that comes to them. That is the condemnation. That is willful darkness.
The solemn result of willful darkness is judicial darkness. In Jeremiah 13:16 we read, “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.” Does a God who is light sometimes cause darkness? Yes, if men deliberately reject and turn their backs on the light. Pharaoh rejected the light. He hardened himself against God, and God hardened him in his sins. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 we read of those who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” My friend, if God has given you a measure of light, thank Him for it. Seek grace to go on in that light. Don’t turn away from it, lest you go into judicial darkness.
In Jude we read of the final result of rejecting the light, “To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 1:13). If you lean towards universalism and believe the dream of the final restoration of all men to God, how do you account for this verse? There are certain men for whom is “reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” God does not want any man to live in the dark or die in the dark. He wants men to come into the light, and in order that they may do so He has come to them. When Christ died, the veil that once separated God and man was torn in two from top to bottom. Now the true light is shining, and “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).
Long ago God’s glory was veiled in the thick darkness. Man tried in vain to find and comprehend Him. But now God is “in the light”; He has been fully manifested. He is no longer hidden. He has been perfectly revealed in Christ, and the torn veil permits His glory to shine forth.
Notice that the cleansing of the blood depends on our walking in the light. What is the apostle telling us? For many years I was very confused about this. I thought it said, “If we walk according to the light, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” I thought it meant that if I was very careful about obeying every command of God, that if I walked according to all the light I might have, He would cleanse me. But we find that the worst sinner may have this cleansing. When does he get it? When he turns away from the darkness and comes to the light. Notice, it does not say if we walk according to the light, but it says, “If we walk in the light.” It is where you walk, not how you walk-it is to walk in the presence of God. By nature we do not want to come into the presence of God. But when the Holy Spirit has done His convicting work in our souls, we cannot stay away any longer. When we run toward the light, making our way into the very presence of the One we have been dreading, we find the light is shining from the blood-sprinkled mercy seat.
Remember the picture in the tabernacle. In the holiest of all there was the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, and the cherubim overshadowing it. They are mentioned in the Psalms as portraying divine justice and judgment. As a poor sinner, justice and judgment are waiting, as it were, to bring divine wrath on my guilty soul. But here the divine justice and judgment are seen above the mercy seat. What makes the throne of God a mercy seat? It is the sprinkled blood, the blood of sacrifice. And so divine justice and judgment are gazing down on the blood, and it is from this very place that the light shines. Between the cherubim is an uncreated light, the shekinah glory. I used to shrink from the light, loving my sin and the darkness. Now led on by the Spirit of God, I come to the light, face it, and let it shine full on me. What does it reveal? It reveals my sin and my iniquity. But I am not alone there, for “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). I find that I am simply one of a great group of people who are all just as bad as I am by nature. Many people have the idea that they could never be happy coming into the presence of God until they first become saints. But the first time you come into His presence, you must come with all your sins, either in this life or in the day of judgment. If you come into His presence with your sins on you in the day of judgment, it means that you will be lost forever. But if you bring your sins before Him in this life, then you will find that though the light exposes all your corruption, iniquity, and wickedness, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” We do not need to fear the light, for the blood is in the very place from which the light comes. Let me emphasize again, It is not how we walk, it is where we walk. Do you walk in the light; have you come into the presence of God; have you ever had that light shine upon you?
The word cleanseth suggests to many a continual cleansing. I do not think that is the thought of Scripture. The marvelous thing about salvation is that when you put your trust in the Lord Jesus, the blood of Christ cleanses eternally and completely in the sight of God. The blood abides on the mercy seat; it is there constantly before God in its eternal power. There is never a moment that the blood is not there before God. I may fail in words, actions, and thoughts that grieve the Spirit of God, but the blood abides and it cleanseth from all sin.
When it comes to practical cleansing we have the washing of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:26). God’s estimate of the sacrificial work of His Son will never change, and therefore my standing before God will never change.
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus God’s faithful record stands.
“The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” This verse could be translated, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from every sin.” It cleanses from the guilt of sin. The moment I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the blood cleanses from it all. I once thought of this as a kind of inward experience. I considered myself a Christian with a sinful nature, and that little by little it would be cleansed. But the marvelous fact is that in contrast to all my guilt is the infinite value of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God does not see one sin resting on the soul that trusts that precious blood.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Suppose someone says, “I have no need of this cleansing blood; I am good enough as I am I am not a sinner; I do not need forgiveness.” One of our poets has said, “I need no Christ to die for me,” and he is not the only one who takes that position today. Very well, the apostle said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Notice, we do not deceive anyone but ourselves. You never saw a man that could deceive his wife by saying he had no sin. He might have been able to deceive her before they were married, but she soon begins to see his flaws and cannot be deceived. We do not deceive those closest to us; the only person we deceive is ourselves. The Word goes on to tell us that “the truth is not in us.”
I remember years ago when Henry Varley was having some meetings in Oakland, California and spoke on this verse. He said, “I have been told that you have a good many sinless people out here in California. I have never seen one such person myself, and I have a real curiosity to see one. If there is one here tonight, I would like to see him as soon as the meeting is over.” After the meeting, one man came up to the preacher and said, “I understand you want to see a perfectly sinless man. I have never sinned in twenty-two years, since I was wholly sanctified.” “Well now, my dear brother,” said Mr. Varley, “let me get this right. You recognize, of course, that there are sins of omission as well as of commission?” “Yes,” he said. “And you are telling me that you have never been guilty either of sins of commission or of omission for twenty-two years?” the preacher asked. The man started to justify himself when an old lady came up the aisle, and before he could say a word, she said, “Yes, there are some folks that say they never commit sins, but ask their neighbors. They can tell a different story.” The man left without a word. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That is why we need the cleansing value of the precious blood of Christ.
As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I can no more stand before God on the grounds of my own spiritual experience than I could as a sinner. I stand before Him on the grounds of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Can we go on then living in sin? No, not at all. Cleansing by the blood is our judicial cleansing. But “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is our practical cleansing. You see, I come to God not only wanting my sins put away from before Him, my evil record omitted from the books of eternity, but also wanting practical deliverance by His power. I want to know what it is to have actual cleansing in my life in word, thought, and deed. I must come to God as a penitent, for it does not say that if we pray our sins will be forgiven, but, “If we confess our sins.” Of course, as a sinner, when I come to Christ I come on the grounds of this verse, and He cleanses me. But as a believer confessing the failures in my life, I come confessing my sin, and He is “faithful and just to forgive.”
In the Old Testament a person was to come to God with an offering and “confess that he hath sinned in that thing” (Leviticus 5:5). This implies definiteness in confession. I’m afraid many of us never really get to God in confession because we are so indefinite. Someone may pray and say, “If You have seen any sin, anything wrong in me, forgive me.” Hold on a minute! Is there any sin; do you know of anything wrong? The proper way to make confession is to come to God acknowledging the wrong I have done. A lady who came to Charles Wesley said, “I want you to pray with me, for I am a great sinner. I am a saint of God, but I fail so dreadfully, and I want you to pray with me.” Mr. Wesley said rather sternly, “I will pray for you, for indeed you need it. You are a great sinner.” “What do you mean?” she asked indignantly; “I have never done anything terribly bad!” Oh, dear friends, if you want blessing, do not be vague in your confession. Go into the presence of God and tell Him all about your sins. Tell Him about your bad temper, about your scandalous tongue, about all the things you do to grieve His Holy Spirit. Some of you say, “Pray for my husband, I would like him to be converted.” He is more likely to be converted if you will say, “O God, I confess that my bad temper is hindering my husband from being saved and is alienating my children. I am not surprised that my friends are not converted.” Then go to them and make confession to them. If you have been saying it was nervousness when it was really bad temper, confess that it is temper, and stop trying to excuse your sin.
He will cleanse us by the washing of the Word and give victory in our lives. He will enable us to live here to His praise and glory. “If we say we have not sinned [if we dare to take the ground that we have never sinned] we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). We have not yet come into the light, but are still in the darkness trying to cover up our sins. May God enable us to be real with Him and with one another. Then we will know the blessing of fellowship in the light.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 John 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter