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Bible Commentaries

MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

1 John 1

Verse 7

1 John


1Jn_1:7 .

John was the Apostle of love, but he was also a ‘son of thunder.’ His intense moral earnestness and his very love made him hate evil, and sternly condemn it; and his words flash and roll as no other words in Scripture, except the words of the Lord of love. In the immediate context he has been laying down what is to him the very heart of his message, that ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.’ There are spots in the sun, great tracts of blackness on its radiant disc; but in God is unmingled, perfect purity. That being so, it is clear that no man can be in sympathy or hold communion with Him, unless he, too, in his measure, is light.

So, with fiery indignation, John turns to the people, of whom there were some, even in the primitive Church, who made claims to a lofty spirituality and communion with God, and all the while were manifestly living in the darkness of sin. He will not mince matters with them. He roundly says that they are lying, and the worst sort of lie--an acted lie: ‘They do not the truth.’ Then, with a quick turn, he opposes to these pretenders the men who really are in fellowship with God, and in my text lays down the principle that walking in the light is essential to fellowship with God. Only, in his usual fashion, he turns the antithesis into a somewhat different form, so as to suggest another aspect of the truth, and instead of saying, as we might expect for the verbal accuracy of the contrast, ‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with God,’ he says, ‘we have fellowship one with another.’ Then he adds a still further result of that walk, ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin.’

Now there are three things: walking in the light, which is the only Christian walk; the companions of those who walk in the light; and the progressive cleansing which is given.

I. Note this ‘Walking in the light,’ which is the only Christian walk.

In all languages, light is the natural symbol for three things: knowledge, joy, purity. The one ray is broken into its three constituent parts. But just as there are some surfaces which are sensitive to the violet rays, say, of the spectrum, and not to the others, so John’s intense moral earnestness makes him mainly sensitive to the symbolism which makes light the expression, not so much of knowledge or of joy, as of moral purity. And although that is not exclusively his use of the emblem, it is predominately so, and it is so here. To ‘walk in the light’ then, is, speaking generally, to have purity, righteousness, goodness, as the very element and atmosphere in which our progressive and changeful life is carried on.

Note, too, before I go further, that very significant antithesis: we ‘walk’; He is--God is in the light essentially, changelessly, undisturbedly, eternally; and the light in which He is, His ‘own calm home, His habitation from eternity,’ is light which has flowed out from Himself as a halo round the midnight moon. It is all one in substance to say God is in light, or, as the Psalmist has it, ‘He covered Himself with light as with a garment,’ and to say, ‘God is light.’

But, side by side with that changeless abiding in the perfect purity, which is inaccessible, the Apostle ventures to put, not in contrast only, but in parallel as He is, our changing, effortful, active, progressive life in the light God is; we walk.

So, then, the essential of a Christian character is that the light of purity and moral goodness shall be as the very orb, in the midst of which it stands and advances. That implies effort, and it implies activity, and it implies progress. And we are only Christians in the measure in which the conscious activities of our daily lives, and the deepest energies of our inward being, are bathed and saturated with this love of, and effort after, righteousness. It is vain, says John, to talk about fellowship with God, unless the fellowship is rooted in sympathy with Him in that which is the very heart of his Being, the perfect light of perfect holiness. Test your Christianity by that.

Then, still further, there is implied in this great requirement of walking in the light, not only activity and effort, and progress and purity, but also that the whole of the life shall be brought into relation with, and shall be moulded after, the pattern of the God in whom we profess to believe. Religion, in its deepest meaning, is the aspiration after likeness to the god. You see it in heathenism. Men make their gods after their own image, and then the god makes the worshippers after his image. Mars is the god of the soldier, and Venus goddess of the profligate, and Apollo god of the musical and the wise, etc., and in Christianity the deepest thing in it is aspiration and effort after likeness to God. Love is imitation; admiration, especially when it is raised to the highest degree and becomes adoration, is imitation. And the man that lies before God, like a mirror in the sunshine, receives on the still surface of his soul--but not, like the mirror, on the surface only, but down into its deepest depths--the reflected image of Him on Whom he gazes. ‘We all with unveiled face, mirroring glory, are changed into the same image.’ So to walk in the light is only possible when we are drawn into it, and our feeble feet made fit to tread upon the radiant glory, by the thought that He is in the light. To imitate Him is to be righteous. So do not let us forget that a correct creed, and devout emotions, ay! and a morality which has no connection with Him, are all imperfect, and that the end of all our religion, our orthodox creed and our sweet emotions and inward feelings of acceptance and favour and fellowship, are meant to converge on, and to produce this--a life and a character which lives and moves and has its being in a great orb of light and purity.

But another thing is included in this grand metaphor of my text. Not only does it enjoin upon us effort and activity and progress in the light and the linking of all our purity with God, but also, it bids us shroud no part of our conduct or our character either from ourselves or from Him. Bring it all out into the light. And although with a penitent heart, and a face suffused with blushes, we have sometimes to say, ‘See, Father, what I have done!’ it is far better that the revealing light should shine down upon us, and like the sunshine on wet linen, melt away the foulness which it touches, than that we should huddle the ugly thing up in a corner, to be one day revealed and transfixed by the flash of the light turned into lightning. ‘He that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest.’

II. So much, then, for my first point; the second is: The companions of the men that walk in the light.

I have already pointed out that the accurate, perhaps pedantically accurate, form of the antithesis would have been: ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with God.’ But John says, first, ‘we have fellowship one with another.’ Underlying that, as I shall have to say in a moment, there is the other thought: ‘We have fellowship with God.’ But he deals with the other side of the truth first. That just comes to this, that the only cement that perfectly knits men to each other is their common possession of that light, and the consequent fellowship with God. There are plenty of other bonds that draw us to one another; but these, if they are not strengthened by this deepest of all bonds, the affinity of souls, that are moving together in the realm of light and purity, are precarious, and apt to snap. Sin separates men quite as much as it separates each man from God. It is the wedge driven into the tree that rends it apart. Human society with its various bonds is like the iron hoop that may be put around the barrel staves, giving them a quasi-unity. The one thing that builds men together into a whole is that each shall be, as it were, embedded in the rock which is the foundation, and the building will rise into a holy temple in the Lord. Sin separates; as the prophet confessed, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way,’ and the flock is broken up into a multitude of scattered sheep. Social enthusiasts may learn the lesson that the only way by which brotherhood among men can become anything else than a name, and probably end, as it did in the great French Revolution, in ‘brothers’ making the catacombs of their brethren under the guillotine, is that it shall be the corollary from the Fatherhood of God. If we walk in the light, not otherwise, we have ‘fellowship one with another.’

Then, still further, in this fellowship one with another, John presupposes the fellowship with God for each, which makes the possibility and the certainty of all being drawn into one family. He does not think it necessary to state, what is so plain and obvious, viz., that unless we are in sympathy with God, in our aspiration and effort after the light which is His home and ours, we have no real communion with Him. I said that sin separated man from man, and disrupted all the sweet bonds of amity, so that if men come into contact, being themselves in the darkness, they come into collision rather than into communion. A company of travellers in the night are isolated individuals. When the sun rises on their paths they are a company again. And in like manner, sin separates us from God, and if our hearts are turned towards, and denizens of, the darkness of impurity, then we have no communion with Him. He cannot come to us if we love the darkness. He

‘Can but listen at the gate,

And hear the household jar within.’

The tide of the Atlantic feels along the base of iron-bound cliffs on our western shores, and there is not a crevice into which it can come. So God moves about us, but is without us, so long as we walk in darkness. So let us remember that no union with Him is possible, except there be this common dwelling in the light. Two grains of quicksilver laid upon a polished surface will never unite if their surfaces be dusted over with minute impurities, or if the surface of one of them be. Clean away the motes, and they will coalesce and be one. A film of sin separates men from God. And if the film be removed the man dwells in God, and God in him.

III. That brings me to my last point: The progressive cleansing of those who dwell in the light.

‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ Now if you will notice the whole context, and eminently the words a couple of verses after my text, you will see that the cleansing here meant is not the cleansing of forgiveness, but the cleansing of purifying. For the two things are articulately distinguished in the ninth verse: ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ So, to use theological terms, it is not justification, but sanctification that is meant here.

Then there is another thing to be noticed, and that is that when the Apostle speaks here about the blood of Christ, he is not thinking of that blood as shed on the Cross, the atoning sacrifice, but of that blood as transfused into the veins, the source there of our new life. The Old Testament says that ‘the blood is the life.’ Never mind about the statement being scientifically correct; it conveys the idea of the time, which underlies a great deal of Old and New Testament teaching. And when John says the blood of Jesus cleanses from ‘all sin,’ he says just the same thing as his brother Paul said, ‘the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ makes me free from the law of sin and death.’ That is to say, a growing cleansing from the dominion and the power of sin is granted to us, if we have the life of Jesus Christ breathed into our lives. The metaphor is a very strong one. They tell us--I know nothing about the truth of it--that sometimes it has been possible to revive a moribund man by transfusing into his veins blood from another. That is a picture of the only way by which you and I can become free from the tyranny that dominates us. We must have the life of Christ as the animating principle of our lives, the spirit of Jesus emancipating us from the power of sin and death.

So you see, there are two aspects of Christ’s great work set before us under that one metaphor of the blood in its two-fold form, first, as shed for us sinners on the Cross; second, as poured into our veins day by day. That works progressive cleansing. It covers the whole ground of all possible iniquity. Pardon is much, purifying is more. The sacrifice on the Cross is the basis of everything, but that sacrifice does not exhaust what Christ does for us. He died for our sins, and lives for our sanctifying. He died for us, He lives in us. Because He died, we are forgiven; because He lives, we are made pure. Only remember John’s ‘if.’ The ‘blood of Jesus will progressively cleanse us until it has cleansed us from all sin,’ on condition that we ‘walk in the light,’ not otherwise. If the main direction of our lives is towards the light; if we seek, by aspiration and by effort, and by deliberate choice, to live in holiness, then, and not else, will the power of the life of Jesus Christ deliver us from the power of sin and death.

Now, my text presupposes that the people to whom it is addressed, and whom it concerns, have already passed from darkness into light, if not wholly, yet in germ. But for those who have not so passed, there is something to be said before my text. And John says it immediately; here it is, ‘If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but for the whole world.’ So we have to begin with the blood shed for us, the means of our pardon, and then we have the advance of the blood sprinkled on us, the means of our cleansing. If by humble faith we take the dying Lord for our Saviour, and the channel of our forgiveness, we shall have the pardon of our sins. If we listen to the voice that says, ‘Ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light,’ we shall have fellowship with the living Lord, and daily know more and more of the power of His cleansing blood, making us ‘meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.’

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Bibliographical Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 1 John 1". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.