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Bible Commentaries
1 John 2

Caton's Commentary on the Minor EpistlesCaton's Commentary

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In the former chapter, having set forth the fact that God is light, and that those only who walk in the light have fellowship with the Father, and the great honor of such fellowship and the blessed privilege of being cleansed from sin, in this chapter he writes to them that these blessings are not to be taken as an encouragement to sin, but the contrary was intended, to present an inducement to them not to sin; but if any among them should be overcome by the allurements around them, not to despair, but to remember that they have an advocate with the Father a powerful advocate, one who is essentially the righteous one. This righteous one made a sin-offering for you Christians, and not for them only, but for all the world who would be penitent and forsake their sins. A criterion is given whereby you may know whether you are God's children or not; that is, by keeping his commandments. He that says I know God, and yet does not keep, his commandments, simply tells a falsehood when he so speaks, and in such an one there is no veracity, while one who observes all of God's requirements truly loves God. By this rule you can judge. One that abides in the fellowship of God walks as God directs. In a sense, I write no new commandment, for God from the very beginning desired men to love one another, and yet in a sense I do write a new commandment. It is new in the rule by which to measure the love you entertain for your fellow-men. Formerly it was an eye for an eye. Now, it is to love even your enemies. This being so, you can not hate your brother. You must have love for him if you walk in the light and have fellowship with God. This Christian life is a new life. If you love not your brother, you are not in the light, but in darkness.

I write 'you because your sins are forgiven you for the sake of Christ's name. I write to fathers because they have known Christ from the beginning, and to the young men because they have over-come the world in obeying the truth. Now, to all of you I say, Love not the world, for in so doing you show that the love of the Father is not in you. The things of the world, that is the lusts of the flesh and eyes, and the pride of life, are not of God. All these will pass away, while God's will abides forever. The false teachers you heard were to come are already come. Those went out from us because they were not of us. He is an anti-Christ or false ,teacher, who denies that Jesus is Christ. You believe in Jesus as the Christ, and the promise of eternal life is assured to you. I write to you that you may not be led astray by these false teachers. Now, abide in Christ, so that when he comes again you will not be ashamed before him. This will be doing righteousness, and those only so doing will be like him, for he is righteous.

Verse 1

Verse 1. My little children, these things write I.

The tender and affectionate manner observed by the writer is most striking. John regards them as his children,, and so far as authority is concerned, or it may be his advanced age, the persons addressed could and should look upon him as their father in the common faith. The author-ity, in either view he seeks to assert, is parental. To them he writes and the object of writing is given that they sin not. It is as though he would say: While all are liable to sin you should strive to overcome all temptation to sin; and what I have written concerning God's faithfulness to for-give those that sin, I do not desire you should take as an encouragement to do wrong. Upon the contrary, God's mercy ought to be a strong reason why, in order to please him, you should strive not to commit sin. Since, however, you are liable to fall, let such one not despair; let him not throw away his hope of eternal life and continue to sin habitually and willfully ; but if he sin, let him come to God, penitently confessing and seeking pardon, remembering all the time he has an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous, the just one. Christ is our advocate, and he is just. He committed no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. He it is who intercedes with the Father for our pardon, as it was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, in the following words: "And made intercession for the transgres-sors" ( Isa_53:12 ). Paul also assures us of Christ's intercession for the pardon of the erring disciple, in these words: "Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" ( Heb_7:25 ).

Verse 2

Verse 2. And he is the propitiation for our sins.

Christ is all this. It may appear great and exceedingly momentous, yet it is a fact in the economy of God and his system by which intelligent creatures are to be reconciled to him and saved.


So much has been written upon the subject of the propitiation in Christ, and so much senseless speculation is afloat in the world, I am not at all surprised that the simple meaning of the term has been overlooked. On the ark of the covenant, placed by Moses in the Most Holy Place by the command of God, was a covering called the mercy seat (See Exo_25:10-21 , and Exo_37:1-9 , and Exo_40:1-3 ). This was ordained by God's command and for the purpose, that there at the mercy seat God would meet man: "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in command-ments unto the children of Israel" ( Exo_25:22 ). This was called the propitiatory. The high priest approached this mercy seat once each year with blood. God here met and communed with him for the people. Now, Christ is our mercy seat ; he is our propitiatory ; he is our altar and our high priest ; his blood has been offered for us for our sins. He is, therefore, our propitiation. Here it is that God meets the sinner, and nowhere else. In Christ, and not out of Christ, may pardon be expected.

For the sins of the whole world.

The blood of Christ, shed in his death, became a pro pitiation, not for our sins only who profess to be his chil-dren, but Christ is a mercy-seat, to be approached by every suffering son and daughter of Adam. The method of approach is made simple and easy. His blood must be applied, and can only be applied, when reached as he has commanded. Nowhere in the Scriptures can a declaration be found that Christ shed his blood for the elect only. The "whole world" means here just, what the language imports. All throughout the world, from the first even to the end of time may avail themselves of this gracious provision by accepting God's blessed Son, complying with his require-ments, living obedient lives, and receiving at the last the same blessed reward.

Verse 3

Verse 3. And hereby we do know.

To gather the thought here intended, just take the last clause first, thus : "If we keep his commandments?' We by that means know that is our evidence that we know him. We know God, and the convincing evidence to our minds that we do know God is the fact that we observe, keep and do all that he has required at our hands.

Verse 4

Verse 4. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not.

Any one who asserts that he knows God, and does not keep his commandments, John says of such an one two things: 1. He is a liar. 2. The truth is not in him. These are fearful declarations. They come, however, from inspira tion. "He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that heareth me, heareth him that sent me." The plainness of speech here is specially significant. Evidently, God intended that his servant, John, should leave no ground for mistake or blunder.

Verse 5

Verse 5. But whoso keepeth his word.

Any one who keeps God's word, is he that does what is therein required, and refrains from doing what is therein prohibited; in such an one the love of God is perfected. That is to say, we show our love to and of God by our obedience. It is the only possible method of proving our loyalty. It may be possible, since the singular number is here used, that it may have a special application. "Word" is singular. "While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and, behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." "Hear ye him" is a command of the Father, and I have no doubt that those who obey the Savior, are at the same time obeying God, and do thereby show their love of God. If one, however, obeys all God's com-mands imposed upon us in this age, it is very certain that such will obey the one given on the Mount of Transfigura-tion.

Verse 6

Verse 6. He that saith he abideth in him.

One may say, I am in the fellowship of God and his Son. That being true, such an one ought to show by his godly life that he walks as the Savior walked while here on earth. The Savior's conduct was irreproachable. With it God was pleased. So one claiming to be in the fellowship that is, abideth in him must conduct himself as Christ did. His conduct is better proof than a simple profession.

Verse 7

Verse 7. Brethren, I write no new commandment.

It is no new commandment I write when I bid you to walk as Christ walked. This is an old commandment. Simply call up, in memory, what you heard from the beginning; how that the Father, at the baptism of his Son, declared himself well pleased with him, and that he again, at the Mount of Transfiguration, uttered the same words, with the additional injunction, to hear him. Now, we hear him when we walk as he walked, conduct ourselves as he conducted himself. From the very beginning of the proclamation of the gospel, these things you heard as coming from the Father on high in reference to his Son, and you heard them that they might serve as a guidance to your action in life.

Verse 8

Verse 8. Again, a new commandment.

New in a sense not fully understood, and not so fully taught until Christ came. While in substance it was old, in the sense I here now refer to, it is new. Love is the theme. Now, Christ taught us, we should even love our enemies. He showed his love for us and for the whole world by laying down his life. This he did willingly. He died for his enemies as well as for his friends.

Which thing is true in him and in you.

As it was true in Christ, that he loved his enemies by dying for them, which was the strongest demonstration he could possibly give to the world, so this kind of love is true as applied to you, when you walk as he walked, and, in this regard, do as he did.

Because the darkness is past.

The time when it was considered proper to say, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," has been suspended by a new era, when we are taught to love them who perse-cute us and revile us. That was comparative darkness. The teaching of Christ on this subject is light, which now shines.

Verse 9

Verse 9. He that saith he is in the light.

When one asserts that he is in this light, governing him-self by this teaching of Christ. to love our enemies, and yet hates his brother, such an one is self-deceived. He is still in darkness. He is not in fellowship with God, for God is light.

Verse 10

Verse 10. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light.

The proof that one is in the light that is, conforming his conduct to the new teaching of Christ is to be shown only by love for his brother. Brotherly love is proof that one abides in the light, and while so abiding no stumbling-block will appear. All cause or occasion for stumbling has been removed.

Verse 11

Verse 11. But he that hateth his brother.

In this case the reverse is true. Occasion for stumbling is ever present. Here there is no light, all is darkness, and one hating his brother is walking in darkness ; and so long as hatred for the brother remains, the darkness remains. Such an one can not know which way he goes ; that is to say, the miserable end of such a course of life and con-duct, being contrary to Christ's teachings and example, it can only result in failure of that reward promised to the faithful disciples, and will end only in ultimate condem-nation.

Darkness hath blinded his eyes.

That is, the eyes of his understanding. He can not see the many dangers that beset him on every side. Safety only is assured in being governed by Christ in his commands. Doing as he did, obeying what he commands, is walking in the light ; any other course is certain destruction, so far as Christan character and success are concerned.

Verse 12

Verse 12. I write unto you, little children.

John calls all the followers of Christ little children. While to him they were a loving charge, I rather think the use of this phrase was designed by him to impress upon their minds his parental anxiety over their spiritual welfare, and his care for them in this respect. Taking the whole body of believers into account, this is the view he would impress upon them: The relation of the teacher and the taught of father and children. This view becomes the more apparent when we lay alongside of the common version the expression as it appears in the Syriac. It is, "dear children," or, as it is elsewhere, "children." John subsequently divides them into three classes, as we shall soon see.

Because your sins are forgiven.

The reason is here given for his writing to them, and the anxiety he manifests toward them. They were in cove-nant relation with God; they were in Christ Jesus. They had obeyed and thus came into Christ, and, as his children, their sins were forgiven; and through him, as their advocate, future sins would be forgiven upon confession, repentance and prayer.

Verse 13

Verse 13. I write unto you, fathers.

Here, John begins the classification of those denomi-nated. Little children, or dear children, or simply, my children. First, it is to those of them somewhat advanced in age, if, in fact, it may not be said of them, fathers, as respect the time of their service in the cause of Christ; to you I write because you have known him, that is walked with him, recognizing, realizing, and enjoying his presence.

I write unto you, young men.

Those who became obedient to the faith at a later period than those whom I denominate fathers, I write to you, because you overcame the wicked one when you threw off his yoke and accepted the leadership of Christ, and now abide in him by resisting the temptations of your former master.

I write unto you, little children.

John's third classification of believers: These are later converts to the Master; they are the babes in Christ; they are written to because they have become acquainted with the Father, his great love for the children of men, mani-fested in the gift of his Son.

Verse 14

Verse 14. I have written unto you, fathers.

A repetition to those fathers contained in verse 13. I fail to see, as some do, any additional injunction herein contained, over and above former exhortations. I take it to be simply a system of enforcement of the same thought common among Hebrews.

I have written unto you, young men.

Here, young men are again addressed, but additional reasons are given. Those reasons are three in number. 1. Because ye are strong. 2. Because the word of God abides in you. 3. Because you have overcome the wicked one. Here we have a magnificent commentary on the beauty, strength, and grandeur of the Christian religion. A power that can so transform our humanity is demonstrative of its divine origin. Youth is the vigor of manhood. These young Chris-tians were vigorous Christians. They embraced the teach-ings of Christ, abode in his love, and in his light ; they were, therefore, strong in the faith and impervious to the shafts and evil machinations of the devil.

Verse 15

Verse 15. Love not the world.

This exhortation is intended for all three classes of believers before mentioned. Love not the world, meaning the wicked practices of men in the world ; nor the things that are in the world, meaning not only the treasures and ambitions of the world, but also all the evils thereof, such as unrestrained desires of the flesh, pleasures of appetite and passion ; in short, all evils that lead astray from the love of God, and the right way which he commands that right way in which Christ, our great model, walked before God, doing his will

If any man love the world.

Here we have an unqualified declaration. One seeking the ambitions and things of this world, and the pleasures of life only, has no love of the Father. That love is not in him. Make no mistake here. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Love of God does not show itself in struggles for the things of this world, or in pursuit of its pleasures.

Verse 16

Verse 16. For all that is in the world.

Here, as before, the word world comprehends the men of the world. This is apparent from the succeeding clause.

The lust of the flesh.

This expression is one component part of what the apostle calls the world, and since it applies only to man, I take it that, by the world, the writer desires us to under-stand him to mean the wicked men of the world are not of the Father. These he embraces in the classification, as follows:

1. Lust of the flesh.

2. Lust of the eyes.

3. Pride of life.

In the first may be included every desire which has its source in the appetite. In the second, every desire aroused by objects which make their appeal through our sense of sight. In the third may be included, what is displayed vainly in the world, such as ambitions for place and power, and thus gratify our own vanity to be great among men, without regard to virtue and merit. Avarice, greed, selfish-ness and pride are included in the third classification, and it is very doubtful whether even then we have exhausted all that is included in the pride of life. However, all these are not of the Father. They came not from him. They are not in consonance with his divine character. They are not such as his children exhibit. He is holy. His children must be holy. These are all evil. In the succeeding verse another view is to be had of they things, well to be pondered.

Verse 17

Verse 17. And the world passeth away.

Here we are informed that the world and all the lust thereof is transient ; nothing permanent or abiding about it. Certainly a poor foundation upon which to build.

But he that doeth the will of God.

Here quite a different foundation is presented. Doing God's will insures something abiding; something enduring; no danger of being swept away; the only foundation that is essentially permanent.

Verse 18

Verse 18. Little children, it is the last time.

As to what is meant by the last time, different views are had. Dr. Macknight thinks it refers to the end of the Jewish commonwealth. With this view I can not agree. My reason is, the writer knew that the Jewish age had ceased when the Master said, "All authority is given unto me," and he could not refer to the fall of Jerusalem, because, if I be not mistaken, at the time of this writing that noted city was in ruins. In my judgment, he meant to have them understand, the Christian age would be the last dispensation of mercy God would vouchsafe to the world. Salvation must be had in this age, and in accordance with the provisions therein tendered, or not at all. No other presentation would be offered to the children of men.

That antichrist shall come.

They had been told that a certain thing would take place, and when it did, thereby they should know that it was in the last time or age. Christ means the anointed one. One claiming to be the Christ, and not being the one born at Bethlehem, would be a false Christ or an antichrist. Now, since the antichrist was foretold by the Master himself, and the time of coming being fixed in the last time, and John, affirming that already in his day there were many anti-christs, we may know assuredly that we live in the last time or age an age which will continue until the final consum-mation of all things. From the time of Christ until the end of the world will the Christian age continue.

Verse 19

Verse 19. They went out from us.

The meaning here is clear. All these antichrists are simply apostates. They sprang up from the Church of Christ ; and yet, while this is true, they were not of us. They were not genuine converts ; they were simply wolves in sheep's clothing. Their profession of faith in Christ was a mere pretense, for had they the whole-hearted faith in the Son of God, so requisite to citizenship in his kingdom, they would have continued humble, loving disciples. As it is, their going out from among us, and their bitter opposition to the doctrine of Christ, is an exhibition of the fact that they never were really and truly converted. They only made a pretense of conversion, the better to enable them to carry out their own designs.

Verse 20

Verse 20. But ye have an unction.

Anointing is a better word than unction. The anointing is from the Holy Spirit ; and, being so anointed, they are qualified to discriminate between the true and the false teachings and teachers. Because of this anointing or unction, they were enabled to know all these things.

Verse 21

Verse 21. I have not written unto you.

It was not because they were ignorant of the truth that the Word was made flesh, but because they knew this as the truth, and that they were capable of discerning the differ-ence between the truth and a lie. If these false teachers or antichrists promulgated their heresies, they should be prepared to resist the same, and their utterances would be heresies if they denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh.

Verse 22

Verse 22. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?

To deny that Jesus is the Christ is to be guilty of false-hood. These apostates lyingly deny him. They reject the testimony he gave of himself in his teachings and in his miracles, and thereby deny both Father and Son. Such are antichrists.

Verse 23

Verse 23. Whosoever denieth the Son.

Any one who shall deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, does not acknowledge the Father, but rejects his testimony given by him at the baptism of Jesus and on the Mount of Transfiguration. And any one who acknowl-edges that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, thereby acknowledges both God and his Son.

Verse 24

Verse 24.---Let that therefore abide in you.

What the apostles preached from the beginning of the gospel age, that the Word was made flesh, which you believed, and by which you were controlled in your actions subsequent to your whole-hearted reception of this truth, let that abide in you. Continue to embrace trustingly that teaching ; you heard it from the beginning. If this remain in you as your firm belief, you will continue in the fellow-ship of the Father and the Son.

Verse 25

Verse 25. And this is the promise.

The result of this steadfastness in the faith preached from the beginning, and which is lovingly entertained in this fellowship with the Father and Son, is this eternal life ; an unending enjoyment of companionship with the Father and the Son in heaven's blessed abode.

Verse 26

Verse 26. These things have I written.

The things concerning antichrists, opposers of Christ, false teachers those that would lead you astray these things, so written, commence at the 18th verse and continue to the end of the chapter, and should be carefully studied, and the warnings therein mentioned implicitly observed and followed.

Verse 27

Verse 27. But the anointing which ye have received.

The Lord had promised the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth. The apostles were empowered to confer spiritual gifts in the first age of the church. This was a necessity until all things should be perfected. Those to whom John wrote were possessed of these gifts these anointings and were thus provided with an infallible guide to know the truth and to detect the error, and needed no teaching from man. They had a teaching from on high, which was the very truth and no lie. Hence, all they needed was an exhortation to abide by this teaching.

Verse 28

Verse 28. And now, little children.

The exhortation is earnest. Abide in him that is, in Christ, in his teaching, doctrine, and precepts, for he shall appear once again to judge the world. At that time, if we abide in him, do his bidding, building up thereby characters fitted for companionship with God, and the Son, and the holy angels, and the good of all ages, we shall have con-fidence of our acceptance of him, and will not appear before him in fear, doubt, or shame.

Verse 29

Verse 29. If ye know that he is righteous.

As through the apostle would ask a queston: Do you know that God is righteous ? He has promised that every one who obeys his Son shall inherit eternal life. The doing of righteousness, then, is required of those who lay claim to this promise. They only are the heirs of this inheritance. You need make no mistake if you believe God to be right-eous, and that he has promised eternal life to those who do righteousness ; such only are heirs of that promise, and all such are begotten of him, belong to his family, and none others.

Bibliographical Information
Caton, Nathan Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 2". Caton's Commentary on the Minor Epistles. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ntc/1-john-2.html. 1916.
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