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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

1 John 1

1 JOHN CHAPTER 1

1 John 1:1-4 The apostle professeth to declare what he had formerly seen and known of the Word of life, to the end that others might have fellowship with him.

1 John 1:5-10 The substance of his doctrine is: That to have fellowship with God, we must be holy as he is holy; and that if we confess our sins, we shall be forgiven through the blood of Christ.

Verse 1

The order of discourse requires we begin with the last thing in this verse,

the Word of life. This phrase, the Word, is by this apostle (not here to inquire in what notion some, both Jews and pagans, before took it) familiarly used, to signify the eternal Son of God: and whereas this is his usual style in speaking of this sacred Person, as in the entrance of his Gospel, (so very like that of this Epistle), so often over in his Revelation, Revelation 19:13, and that afterwards in this Epistle itself, 1 John 5:7, he so readily falls into the mention of him by this name, (as not doubting to be understood), it is scarce to be supposed, that being so constant to himself herein, he should use the same form of speech without any such intendment in this place, where the circumstances do both allow and invite us so to understand him. Nor doth the addition to it here, the Word of life, render it the less fit to be applied to this purpose, but rather the more; as serving to denote the peculiar excellency of this Word, that he is the living and vivifying Word; whereupon he also styles him in the following verse, simply, the life, and, that eternal life, ( which is fit to be noted here, viz. that these three expressions, the Word of life, the life, and that eternal life, do, by the contexture of the discourse, plainly mean the same thing, and seem in their principal intendment to be set down as so many titles of the Son of God), designing to represent him as the original and radical life, the root of the holy, divine life, to all who partake thereof, agreeably to his own words concerning him in the Gospel, John 1:4, In him (viz. the Word) was life, and the life was the light of men (i.e. the Word was a vital, enlivening light); and 1 John 5:20, He (viz. the Son of God) is eternal life: and to our Lord's words of himself, I am the life, John 11:25; John 14:6; and that the Father had given him to have life in himself, John 5:26, and consequently, to be capable of being to others an original or fountain of life. Yet whereas by the Word, and the Word of life, is often signified the gospel, {1 John 2:5; Philippians 2:16; and elsewhere} it seems not incongruous or disagreeable to this context, to understand the apostle, as designing to comprehend both the meanings together in one expression, apt enough to include them both. See Dr. Hammond in loco. Nor are they of so remote an import, considered in their relation to us, as not fitly to admit of being both intended at once. The Son of God being his internal Word, the Word of his mind, his Wisdom, (another appellation of him, frequent in Scripture, Proverbs 8:1-36 and elsewhere), comprehending all ideas of things to be created or done; to us, the immediate original of light and life, and by whose vivifying beams we are especially to be transformed into the Divine likeness: the gospel being his external word, the word of his mouth, the radiation of those beams themselves. As we do ourselves first conceive, and form in our minds, what we afterwards utter and express: only whereas our thonght, or the word of our mind, is fluid, and soon vanishes; God's (in whom is no change) is permanent, consubstantial and coeternal with himself: The Word was with God, and the Word was God, John 1:1. Neither are these two senses of the Word of life less fitly (or with more impropriety) comprehended together under that one expression, than in common discourse: speaking of the sun in reference to ourselves, we often comprehend together in our meaning, both the body of the sun itself and its beams; as when we say it enlightens us, revives us, shines in at this window, or upon that dial, we do not intend (as reasonably we cannot) to exclude either, but mean the sun doth it by its beams. And now the notion being settled of the Word of life, (which was necessary first to be done, and which required a larger discourse), we may the more easily perceive, how what is here said of it may, in the one sense or the other, be applied thereto.

That which was from the beginning; so the living Word, in the first sense, was, viz. when all things also began; which is not said itself then to have begun, as John 1:1; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and, at the next step, the Word was God. And with what is said by this Word himself, (then taking another, but an equivalent, name, the Wisdom of God), Proverbs 8:22-30. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When, & c.-Then I was by him, as one brought up with him, & c.: where from the beginning, and from everlasting, we see is all one. See 1 John 2:13,1 John 2:14.

Which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands

have handled: these are all expressions indifferently applicable both:

1. To the person of the Son of God, primarily meant by the Word of life;

for that same glorious Person who was from the beginning with the Father, viz. being now incarnate, became the object of these their very senses, to this and the other apostles, who had so frequent opportunity to hear, and see, and behold him, and even to handle him with their hands, Luke 24:39; John 20:25. And:

2. To the gospel revelation, a secondary (not unintended) notion of the Word of life, and whereof these latter expressions seem more especially meant; they denote the perfect certainty the apostles had (the rest of whom his manner of speaking seems purposely to comprehend with himself) of that truth, which, as he after speaks, they testified; it being their office and business as apostles so to do; see John 15:27; Acts 1:21,Acts 1:22; Acts 4:20; and it was necessary they should be able to do it with such assurance as these expressions import.

Therefore having said,

which we have heard, which imports a more overly notice, it is added,

which we have seen, a much more certain way of knowing, as 2 Peter 1:16,2 Peter 1:17; and

with our eyes, a more lively expression of that certainty, as Job expresses his expected sight of his Redeemer, Job 19:27; and to signify it was not a casual, transient glance, it is further said, which we have looked upon, eyeasameya, i.e. studiously, and of set purpose, bent ourselves to contemplate. Unto all which it is moreover added,

and our hands have handled, eqhlafhsan, which though literally not otherwise applicable than to the person of our Lord incarnate, yet is a most emphatical metaphor, elegantly representing their most certain knowledge and lively sense of his excellent doctrine; as the expression is usual of a palpable truth, to signify a most evident one. So is that implied to be a truth that may be felt, that this world hath a mighty and bountiful Sustainer and Lord, Acts 17:27; ψηλαφησειαν.

Verse 2

He interrupts the stream of his discourse by this seasonable parenthesis, while he therein gives an account how the Word of life, the life, that eternal life, ( already noted to be here all one, and chiefly to mean the Son of God), which being

with the Father must be to us invisible, came to be so sensibly known to mortal men on earth; which he doth by telling us he

was manifested; and that was sufficiently done, both who he was, and what he designed, in his partaking with us of flesh and blood, and being found in fashion as a man, whereby he subjected himself to the notice of our senses; and was hereupon said to have been manifested in the flesh, 1 John 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:16; the glory of his Divinity also shining forth most conspicuously in his God-like conversation, and wonderful works, through this veil, and confirming the truth of his heavenly doctrine, which more distinctly declared both that it was the Son of God who was come down into this wretched world of ours, and what the kind design was of his descent hither. So that what here the apostle says more briefly, that he was manifested, well admits the larger account which he gives of it in his Gospel, John 1:14; And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. Whereupon (as he adds) he bears witness, and shows forth what he had seen so manifested, as it belonged to his apostolical office to do.

Verse 3

He now proceeds with what he intended, not only professing to testify most certainly known things, (which he further with great earnestness inculcates), but declaring also the end of this testimony; viz. not merely that they to whom he writes might know them too, (as if the being a Christian did only stand in having some peculiar notions from other men, and that they were only to know for knowing’ sake), but that they might

have fellowship, i.e. partake and communicate with them (viz. the apostles, and the whole community of living Christians) in all the vital influences, holy practice, the dignities, pleasures, and consolations belonging to the Christian state; whereupon he adds,

and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: q.d. Nor are the advantages of that state, in their kind and nature, terrene, sensual, secular, but Divine and heavenly, such as are imparted to us by

the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ; or, wherein we are truly said to participate, and have a communion with them. That blessed Spirit, who is the immediate author to us of all gracious communication, (whence this is also styled the communion of the Holy Ghost, 2 Corinthians 13:14), being in reality the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

Verse 4

Not insipid, spiritless, empty, as carnal joy is, apt through the deficiency of its cause to admit of intermingled qualms; but lively and vigorous, 2 John 1:12, well grounded, John 16:24, such as is of the right kind, and will grow up into the perfect plenitude and fulness of joy, Psalms 16:11.

Verse 5

It being the professed scope and design of his writing, to draw men to a final participation and communion with God in his own blessedness, he reckons nothing more necessary to it, than to settle in their minds a right notion of God. Which, that it might be the more regarded, he introduces with a solemn preface;

This then is the message, & c., (though the word also signifies promise, it here more fitly bears this rendering), to notify:

1. That this which follows was not an imagination of his own concerning God, but his true representation of himself.

2. That it was given him in charge to be delivered and communicated to others; a message a man neither hath of himself, nor is to reserve to himself,

we have heard it of him, and declare it to you, as (consonantly hereto) he speaks. It is the Divine pleasure it should be published to the world, and that all men should know that as from him, i.e. that he is not a Being of mere power, as some, or of mere mercy, as others, are apt to fancy of him, either whereof were a very maimed and most disagreeable notion of the Deity: power without goodness were apt to run into fury; goodness without wisdom and righteousness would as naturally turn to a supine indifferency, and neglect of distinguishing judicially between good and bad; things neither suitable to the Governor of the world, nor possible to the absolutely perfect Being.

God is light; in God all true perfections and excellencies must be understood eminently to concur; and of them more could not have been comprehended under one word, (especially that belong to him considered relatively to his creatures, of which perfections it concerns us to have more distinct, formed, positive conceptions in all our applications to him), than are here some way represented or resembled by light, viz. that he is a Being of most lively, penetrative vigour, absolute simplicity, immutability, knowledge, wisdom, sincerity, righteousness, serenity, benignity, joy, and felicity, and especially of most bright and glorious holiness and purity; and in whom

is no darkness at all, nothing contrary or repugnant hereto.

Verse 6

Light and darkness are frequently put for holiness and wickedness, Luke 16:8; Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5. The sum then is: That if any pretend to friendship with God, or to have received holy and gracious influences from him, and do yet lead wicked lives, they are liars, even guilty of a practical lie, doing what makes their profession false and insincere.

Verse 7

But if we walk; which is a continued and progressive motion, i.e. do persevere and improve in holiness.

In the light; being transformed into the holy image and likeness of God, and showing themselves the children of light, as he is light, and the Father of lights. We have fellowship one with another; have fellowship with him, μετ αυτου, as one copy reads: however, we must comprehend God, and this the contexture of discourse shows.

And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin; καθαριζει lest our purity and holiness should be thought to have deserved such a privilege, it is cautiously added,

and the blood, &c. is that which alone expiates, or makes atonement for our sins (the proper notion of cleansing here). Our former sinfulness and present imperfect holiness render it impossible God should admit us to communion with him for our own sakes, or without such an intervening sacrifice; καθαρματα usually signifying expiations. And if we further extend the notion of cleansing, so as to comprehend internal subjective purification, (which also the word may admit), the further meaning is, that even that purifying influence, whereby we are qualified for present holy walking with God, and for final blessedness in him, we owe to the merit and procurement of the Redeemer’s blood.

Verse 8

In pursance of which scope, he fitly adds: If we should say, i.e. either profess it as a principle, or think in our minds, or not bear in our hearts a penitential, remorseful sense, correspondent to the contrary apprehension; such as is implied in confessing, 1 John 1:9; for saying usually signifies the habitual bent and disposition of the heart and practice, Job 21:14; Jeremiah 22:21.

That we have no sin; viz. that we are so innocent creatures as not to need such an expiatory sacrifice as that above mentioned, and such purifying influence thereupon, but that we may be admitted to communion with God upon our own account, and for our worthiness’ sake, without being beholden to the blood of Christ.

We deceive ourselves, delude our own souls.

And the truth; i.e. the system and frame of gospel doctrine, as 2 John 1:1,2 John 1:2,2 John 1:4.

Is not in us; cannot be duly entertained, lies not evenly and agreeably with itself in our minds, or hath no place with effect in us, as John 8:37.

Verse 9

But on the contrary, if we confess our sins, if we apply ourselves to him suitably to the condition of sinners, confessing ourselves such, with that self-abasing sense of sin which may dispose us to accept and apply his offered remedy, (upon which it is implied we will do it),

he is faithful, so true to his promise,

and just, fidelity being a part of justice; or there is with him that equity and righteousness, (which sometimes signify goodness, or clemency, 1 Samuel 12:7; Psalms 112:9, and which, more strictly taken, permit him not to exact from us the satisfaction which he hath accepted in the atonement made by his Son, in his own way applied, and upon his own terms to be reckoned unto us), that he will not fail

to forgive us our sins.

And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; which may either be added as a further expression of the same thing; or may, moreover, signify his vouchsafing that purifying influence of the Spirit of Christ, (obtained also by his blood), which shall both purge away, and prevent, the defilements that would render us incapable of his own holy communion.

Verse 10

If we say that we have not sinned: see 1 John 1:8,1 John 1:9.

We make him a liar; which they make him that believe not his word, 1 John 5:10, expressly charging all men with sin, Romans 3:19,Romans 3:23.

And, consequently, his word, or truth, as 1 John 1:8, which we contradict, is not in us. The sum is: That we are not to he received into God’s holy society and communion under the notion of always innocent and unoffending persons, but as pardoned and purified sinners.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 1". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/1-john-1.html. 1685.