Click to donate today!
THE FELLOWSHIPS OF THE HOLY LIFE
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 1:1-4 are introductory, and may be compared with the prologue of the gospel by St. John. The subject of the epistle is “the Word who is the life”; and its purpose “to complete the joy of the disciples in the Lord.” Westcott thinks that St. John uses the plural we as speaking in the name of the apostolic body, of which he was the last surviving representative.
1 John 1:1. From the beginning.—ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, neuter. This is usually taken as referring to the existence of Christ from before the Incarnation. “The Being which existed from the beginning.” But it may be the simple assertion of the apostle’s competency to deal with a matter of which he had information at first hand (compare Luke 1:2-3). “From the beginning” may mean the beginning of Christ’s ministry. St. John was one of the first disciples, and the one who enjoyed closest intimacy with our Lord. The first-hand knowledge of the apostles gave them their special authority. Of the Word of life.—Concerning Him; related to Him. Genitive with preposition περί. The Word which is the Life. The Word of God, and Life of men. Or, the Word which was in a life. That human life which Christ lived was His word, His message.
1 John 1:2. Manifested.—A word has to be spoken if it is to be apprehended by others. A word that is a life must appear in mortal scenes if it is to be understood, and to exert a gracious influence. Manifested is made apprehensible by human senses. Shew unto you.—Better, declare. Eternal life.—Divine, spiritual life. The word “eternal” indicates a class or kind of life. The time figure in it only helps to the realising of quality or kind. R.V. “the life, the eternal life.” “St. John tells us over and over again that eternal life can be possessed in this world.”
1 John 1:3. Fellowship.—κοινωνίαν, participation, communion in privilege and blessing. The special theme of the epistle; the ruling word. “It generally denotes the fellowship of persons with persons in one and the same object, always common to all, and sometimes whole to each” (Canon Evans). “This is St. John’s conception of the Church: each member of it possesses the Son, and through Him the Father; and this common possession gives communion with all other members as well as with the Divine Persons” (Plummer). Our fellowship.—Our is emphatic. It is precisely that fellowship the apostles enjoyed which they wanted the whole Church to share. His Son.—Greek, “the Son of Him.”
1 John 1:4. Your joy.—Better, “our joy may be fulfilled” (compare Philippians 2:2; John 15:11; John 17:13). “That serene happiness which is the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life, and which raises us above pain, and sorrow, and remorse.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 1:1-4
The Testimony of the Apostles.—It may be that, strictly speaking, the term “apostle” means no more than “sent one,” and is sufficiently represented by our term “missionary”; but it is evident that it was used in the early Church both in a general and in a special sense. It is applied to missionaries, such as Barnabas and Silas; but it is also the precise designation of twelve men who had been in daily personal relations with the Lord Jesus. The commonly received idea of an apostle was indicated by St. Peter in the upper room, when he suggested the filling up of the place of Judas: “Of the men therefore which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that He was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of His resurrection.” And St. Paul rests his claim to apostleship on the fact that he also had actually seen the Lord Jesus, and had received direct communications from Him (Galatians 1:11-17). The writer of this epistle does not give his name; probably there was no occasion for him to do so, as he was well known in the Churches, and the harmony between the letter and his teachings was at once and fully recognised. He claims attention to his message not on purely personal grounds, but on the ground of his accurate and first-hand knowledge of the things of which he wrote.
I. The competency of the apostles for their witness and their work.—That witness concerned the earthly life of the Lord Jesus; that work was declaring the impressions which their direct relation to Christ’s earthly life had made upon them. They were to tell men that their personal experience had convinced them that Jesus was Messiah, Son of God, God manifest.
1. They were competent through their sense-apprehensions of Christ. Most of the twelve, and John was one, had known Christ, in personal discipleship, from the very beginning of His ministry, and all had been with Him in daily intercourse for three years up to the sudden and violent close of His life. They had the testimony of their senses, of their sight, and of their hearing. They watched their Lord in His varied daily labours, and nightly devotions and restings. They knew every characteristic expression of His face, and movement of His hand. They listened to His mutiplied teachings, and knew well the differing tones of His voice. They had been with Him in the many moods of His feeling—now tender and sympathetic, now intense and earnest, now mystical and dreamy, now reproachful and severe. If ever men knew a fellow-man through sense-apprehensions of him, those twelve men, and St. John more especially, must have known Christ And that sensible intimacy gave a peculiar force, exactness, and persuasiveness to their testimony. They spoke at first hand, and not what they had been told, but what they had themselves seen, and heard, and handled of the Word of life. In these days the verification of everything by actual experiment, or sense-knowledge, is demanded; and it is not sufficiently considered that precisely this personal, direct, sensible apprehension of Christ the apostles had, and that on our own conditions of acceptable testimony we are bound to receive theirs. They saw with their own eyes, they beheld, their hands handled. We do not deal fairly by the apostles if we either suspect or reject their testimony. But their relation to Christ brought them—
2. Competency through their mental apprehensions. What they thus daily saw and heard became food for thought. Thought fitted the new facts and impressions to previously possessed knowledge, and the apostles gradually made up their minds that Jesus was the promised Messiah, though by no means the sort of Messiah that they expected. That otherwiseness of Jesus became increasingly impressed upon them as they came to know Him better; and gradually they came to fill with their deeper meanings the names, “Son of man,” and “Son of God.” Those thinkings were genuine, unbiassed, the natural workings of the sensible impressions made upon them in their daily intercourse with Jesus. It should be clearly seen that there were, in the apostles’ days, no doctrines concerning the person of Christ which could possibly bias their minds. They thought simply and genuinely. Indeed, their thinking even surprised themselves. And when they testified that Jesus is the Son of God, they uttered the personal conviction to which twelve men had been led by thinking on a series of facts of which they had direct and exact knowledge. Surely if any men ever were competent to make a testimony about anything, these apostles were concerning the person and mission of the Lord Jesus. Yet this is not all.
3. These apostles had an unusual and direct spiritual illumination, and the competency to render their testimony which belongs to men Divinely inspired. It is well for us to see first their natural competency as men, and then their supernatural competency as inspired men. Their Lord promised them the power of the Holy Ghost for giving their witness concerning Him, and the sign that the promise was fulfilled is found in the baptism of the Day of Pentecost. In all the records of history, can any man, or any body of men, be found who were more efficiently and satisfactorily fitted for their life-work than the apostles of the Lord Jesus? St. John has a perfect right to claim competency in dealing with the Christian truth.
II. The one truth which is the centre of the apostolic testimony.—Perhaps most evidently of St. John’s testimony, but as really of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. It was the double truth of the Deity and humanity of Christ. “Declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” It is not with sufficient distinctness seen that the double nature of Christ is no more capable of proof, satisfactory to the human intellect, than is the being of God. The apostles reached the conviction of the Divine humanity of Jesus through their close personal intercourse with Him; it was the impression made upon them by what they saw, and heard, and felt. And the conviction of the Divine-humanness of Christ never comes to any man in any other way. Let any man now come into close personal relations with Christ, let him feel the impression which Christ always makes, when He is permitted to come fully into the sphere of a man’s thought, and heart, and life, and he will surely be drawn to the “Man Christ Jesus,” and will bow before Him, saying, “My Lord, and my God.” “St. John gives a twofold utterance concerning the object of his publication: that He in His nature is eternal, and therefore Divine; and also that He descended into the domain of human, yea sensible, experience, and thus became manifest, so that He became known in a perfectly assured manner.” “The eternal life is described as something enfolded in Christ and inseparable from His person” (Eric Haupt).
III. St. John has one great aim in rendering his witness.—“That ye also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). Fellowship with us in our fellowship, he means. “Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” What appears to be in St. John’s mind is this—the spiritual apprehension of Christ which he had gained, had not only brought him closely near to Christ, but had also brought him closely near to God, nearer than anything else ever had, or ever could. Realising the Sonship of Christ glorified God to him; it revealed him as the eternal Father. Realising his sonship in Christ brought him the delightful realisation that God was his Father, and so put him in closest and dearest relation and fellowship with Him. And then St. John exclaims, that he writes this epistle because he wants his friends to share his joy. He would have them know Christ as he knew Him; then they would share with him the fellowship of the Father and the Son, and their joy would be full. St John’s testimony as an apostle then is fully trustworthy; he was competent to the work of giving it. It concerned the possibility of fellowship with God. It declares that he enjoyed the fellowship. It explains how he came into it. He had personal intercourse with Christ. He learned the mystery in Christ. Through His humanity he discovered His Divinity. He saw Him to be the Son of God. The vision drew him close; and when close to, for communing with the Son, he found he was communing with the Father. St. John’s was the typical experience of believers: they apprehend the “Man Christ Jesus”; they find in Him “the Son of God with power”; and the vision of the Son brings the vision of the Father—the fellowship of the Son, the fellowship of the Father.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 1:1. The Power of Personal Experience.—There are some things that can only be effectively known through a personal experience of them, or in relation to them. That must be so, because some things cannot be apprehended by the intellect alone; they must be known through feeling. The highest truths of religion cannot be grasped save by intellect fused in feeling. It has often been pointed out that a man cannot know evil save by doing it, and feeling its results. And it is certain that no man ever can know Christ until he has come into personal relations with Him, and has experienced what He, by His grace, can do in and for him. St. John claims to have that peculiar power to declare truth, and to persuade others, which comes from knowledge gained through experience. It is a power which, in one sense, no Christian teacher can have had since the apostles’ days; yet it is a power which, in another sense, every Christian teacher may have, and must have for efficiency, in every age.
1 John 1:2. Manifesting the Eternal Life.—Manifesting means bringing an unseen, spiritual thing into the realm of the human senses, so that it may be apprehensible to beings who are placed under the limitations of sense-conditions. But manifesting does not mean that the spiritual changes its nature, and becomes material. What is meant is, that the spiritual accommodates itself to our sense-conditions, by using and showing itself by means of a medium which makes due appeal to the senses. Christ is a spiritual and unseen Being, but He is manifest to us through the medium of the “Man Christ Jesus,” who is the material veil through which we can discern the spiritual Being that He is. He, the life, the spiritual, the eternal life, was manifested, and we have seen it. Man can only think with words which are really figures apprehensible by the senses. So it is said, God, who cannot be seen, is seen, is “manifest in the flesh.” We see God in the human Christ.
3. Fellowship with the Father.—There are three stages in what we may call the higher Christian life.
1. Baptism with the Spirit.
2. Conscious vital union with the Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. Fellowship with the Father. Coming to God, reconciliation with God, loving God, praying to God, hoping to be with Him, are all blessed, but they are not fellowship.
I. The access to God which is possible to the believer is that of close and abiding fellowship.—The sense of the Divine reality and nearness was a constant experience in Eden. But sin altered all that. It cut us off from God. Our Lord came to bring us back to God. The possibility of human fellowship with God is shown—
1. In the earthly life of Christ. To Him the spiritual world was always near.
2. By God’s presence and relationship.
3. By the plain statements of His word.
II. This fellowship is the supreme Christian blessedness—
1. Think of it as unspeakable honour.
2. As permanent satisfaction.
3. As progressive holiness.
III. This supreme blessedness is to be enjoyed in Christ.—
1. In Christ we have the right of approach to God.
2. In Christ we have the personal purity needed for Divine communion.
3. In Christ we have the spirit that ever rises to the Father.
4. In Christ we have the welcome with God that He has.—Charles New.
The Mystery in Christ.—The following profound thoughts struggle for expression in these four opening verses. There is a Being who has existed with God the Father from all eternity: He is the Father’s Son; He is also the expression of the Father’s nature and will. He has been manifested in space and time; and of that manifestation I and others have had personal knowledge; by the united evidence of our senses we have been convinced of its reality. In revealing to us the Divine nature He becomes to us life, eternal life. With the declaration of all this in our hands as the gospel, we come to you in this epistle, that you may unite with us in our great possession, and that our joy in the Lord may be made complete.—A. Plummer, D.D.
Our Fellowship in Christ.—“Fellowship” is the key-word of this epistle. St. John’s prevailing idea was that Christianity brings men together in brotherly helpfulness by bringing them to God. He, in effect, says: “You and I may be in fellowship with one another, if we are in fellowship with the Father and the Son. I would help you to get and to keep in that fellowship.” When sin entered into the world, it spoiled man’s sonship to God, and his brotherhood with his fellow man. He who truly loves God will be sure to love his brother. He who loses the love of God will be sure to find his human fellowships breaking up. God made fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters; but the result of the Fall was a sort of separation between Adam and Eve, the parents, in the first generation, and between Cain and Abel, the brothers, in the second. Gustave Doré represents Adam and Eve, when they have sought the thick shade of the trees to hide away from God. They are sitting apart from each other, self-conscious and ashamed, and a huge, hideously shaped trunk of a great forest tree is between them, a fitting symbol of that dreadful thing, self-will, and self-indulgence, which had come between them and God, and therefore separated them from each other. The evil grew with the generations. Men built cities to protect themselves from each other. Brothers made much of “mine” and “thine”; each man lived for himself; and then man’s ruin was complete. Christ came to restore the fellowship of man with man, and He could only accomplish this work by doing another work first—restoring man’s fellowship with God. Christianity brings men together as nothing else does. And it attains its end by restoring God’s family idea for man. Parents and children must help each other. Brothers and sisters must help each other. Each member of the family must live for the other members: “By love serving one another.” No redeemed man “liveth unto himself.” He is redeemed from that very thing. Dr. George Macdonald has a very queer and dreamy character, who thinks and imagines most weird, and quaint, but suggestive things. In one of his dreams he seemed to be in heaven, and it was just like earth. There were shops, and buying and selling were going on, only there was no money. Everybody simply did his best to serve his neighbour for nothing. The wholesale house was served by the manufacturer, and the retail tradesman was served by the wholesale house, and the private customer was served by the retail tradesman. The Christ-spirit was triumphant. There was no need for money to buy service, for it was freely given. It is a striking thing that, in the first enthusiasm of the early Church, an effort should have been made to realise this fellowship of mutual service. They kept together, and lived on a common fund.
I. Our fellowship in Christ is based on relationship.—It is “with the Father.” To have fellowship with the Father clearly means that we are, in all the joy of the home life, fully entering into all the privileges of our relationships. Where a father dwells is a home; by his presence it becomes a home. He keeps all the members together. When he is gone, the family is scattered. We may take these earthly associations, and let them help us to apprehend our relationships with God. We are, as Christians, not a separated, scattered family; we are all with our Father. We are at home. We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, in the actual relations of family life; and our Father is with us. This is no mere doctrine or sentiment. “Because we are sons, He hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts,” and in the home life we are to be as brotherly and helpful to one another as Christ is to us.
II. Our fellowship in Christ is based on character.—When our attention is directed to it, we can plainly see that the joy and unity of an earthly family, in an earthly home, depend on goodness. Not on love, or on numbers, or on abilities; but on character. The one thing that breaks up homes is lost characters, not calamity, not sickness. We can neither have fellowship with the Father, nor with one another, unless we have fellowship with the Son, oneness with Him in thought, feeling, spirit, purpose, character. God smiled out of heaven upon His Son, and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”; and it was Christ’s character with which He was pleased. Christ bade His disciples “follow Him,” and He did not merely mean, “Attend upon Me; come after Me; step in My footprints”: He meant, “Be like Me; do like Me; have My mind; breathe My spirit; work My work; be changed into My image; be the Father’s sons, acceptable to Him, even as I am.” St. John says, “Fellowship with the Son,” to remind us that the spirit of sonship is the essential to fellowship with the Father, and with each other. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God perfects praise. A story is told of an old coloured woman in Michigan, known as Sojourner Truth. Some one had spread a report that she had left the fellowship of the Church, and joined the spiritualists. One of the village pastors went to question her. “Who tole you dat, chile?” said the old lady. “It is so stated in the newspapers, and I wanted to know if you had joined the spiritualists.” Straightening herself up to her full height, and bringing her arm down like a blacksmith, the old woman exclaimed, “Bress your soul, chile, dahs nothen to jine! You may tell all the people that ‘ole Sojourner” long to Jesus these many years. She’s as true to de Master as de anvil to de hammer. I nebber give up my faith in Jesus for anything else.” The fellowship of Jesus carried with it the fellowship of the Church.
1 John 1:4. Joy in Higher Truth.—A.V. “That your joy may be full.” R.V. “That our joy may be full.” We may perhaps combine the two, and read, “That the joy may be full, yours as well as ours.” It is in the fuller and worthier apprehension of the person of Christ that St. John expects to increase his own joy, and the joy of those to whom he writes. It is often pointed out that the increase of knowledge is usually an increase of sorrow. It is apt to shake down confidence in long-cherished beliefs, to separate us from the friendships and associations of early life, and to bewilder us with ever-gathering and ever-thickening mysteries. And if that is in any sense true of increasing knowledge of the material world, and of the mental and social life of humanity, it is certainly much more true of those things which concern man’s spiritual nature, and man’s relations as a spiritual being to God the great Spirit. Apprehension of the higher philosophical, theological, and spiritual truths brings with it a great strain on feeling, which may even be called “sorrow.” Yet this is only one side of the truth. Advance into all higher truth is attended by delightful excitement, surprise, and joy. Positive pleasure, and pleasure of the purest and best kind, is felt by those who learn more, deeper, and surprising things concerning the phenomena of life upon the earth, and concerning the marvels of the heavens. A Newton, a Faraday, a Darwin, have positive joy, a fulness of joy, in the higher truth of fact in regard to the material world which they attain day by day. And the same may be said of the masters in philosophy, and in history, and in art. But a curious idea has come to be established in relation to religion. It is boldly assumed that a man’s religious joy will be in proportion to the simplicity—the childishness—of his grasp of the eternal verities that centre in the person and manifestation of Jesus Christ. Men are deterred from growing into the higher truth by fear of losing their joy. St. John unfolds the higher mysteries of Christ, in order that, thus, men’s joy might be filled up full.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 1:5.—The first part of the epistle begins here. It is directed against the Gnostic teaching, that to a man of enlightenment all conduct is morally indifferent. In every age there have been those who claimed an interest in Christ while living in sin. St. John does not address sinners generally, but distinctly those who made Christian profession, but fell short of it through misapprehensions and self-delusions. God is light.—This is not merely the absolute fact concerning Him. It is the precise fact which Jesus Christ declared to be the first of truths. “We have heard [it] of Him.” Christianity is founded on the Divine holiness. Light is the sensible figure of rectitude, moral purity.
1 John 1:6. Walk in darkness.—Either to hide what we do not wish to be seen, or in self-indulgent ways which are symbolised by darkness. Plummer says, “Some Gnostics taught, not merely that to the illuminated all conduct was alike, but that to reach the highest form of illumination men must experience every kind of action, however abominable, in order to work themselves free from the powers that rule the world.” See 2 Corinthians 6:14. We lie.—Either in self-deception, or in wilfully deceiving others.
1 John 1:7. One with another.—Fellowship with Christ, which involves fellowship with the Father, and surely brings us into fellowship with all who have the same fellowship. Blood of Jesus Christ.—Omit Christ. The blood is as truly a figure as the light. “The blood is the life.” But it is the surrendered life. There was no actual blood shed in the dying of the Lord Jesus that can in any sense be applied for cleansing. There is no general declaration of the universal efficacy of Christ’s blood to cleanse all sin. The reference here is strictly limited to professing Christians. Cleanseth.—Present tense. The cleansing work is continually going on. Us.—Precisely those who are in saving relations with Christ, but fall into sins of frailty (Hebrews 9:14; Revelation 7:14). It is not the pardon of sin, but purification from sin, which is here associated with the “blood of Christ.”
1 John 1:8. Deceive ourselves.—Lead ourselves astray.
1 John 1:9. And to cleanse us.—Notice that He Himself is said to do what, in 1 John 1:7, His blood is said to do. The later expression helps to explain the earlier.
Note on 1 John 1:7 by Eric Haupt.—“Blood and life are in the Scripture equivalent terms: where that is, there is this; for the life is in the blood, according to the language of the Old Testament. Thus then the καθαρισμὸς is possible only in consequence of the blood of Christ entering into our life as a new principle of life. There is absolutely no Christian sanctification imaginable which does not take place through the blood—that is, through the Redeemer’s power of life working its effects and ruling within us.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 1:5-10
The Conditions and Privileges of Christian Fellowship.—St. John had entered into, and was enjoying, the “fellowship of the Father and the Son.” That fellowship he wanted the disciples to enjoy as fully as he did. He would therefore have them worthily estimate its privileges, and understand the conditions of its maintenance. And since he has in mind the particular character of the mischievous influences to which the disciples were then exposed, his instructions exclusively bear relation to their correction. It was then being freely taught that to the spiritual man all conduct is morally indifferent—nothing that he does, in the bodily and material spheres, is regarded as sin, nothing breaks up his fellowship with God. It is manifest that such teaching strikes at the very root of Christianity, which is, essentially, the recovery of men to righteousness, and that not a sentimental or mystical righteousness, but a real, present, practical righteousness, which must include knowing how to “possess the vessel of the body in sanctification and honour.”
I. The absolute condition of fellowship is perfect righteousness.—This is indicated in the term “light,” the most pure and unsullied of all things, and in the strongly marked contrast between light and darkness, each of which absolutely opposes and excludes the other; there can be no conceivable alliance or accommodation between them. God is represented by light. That only can be in fellowship with Him which also is light. Man’s self-indulgences belong to darkness, and make darkness. The light can have nothing whatever to do with them, except to clear the darkness away. There can be no fellowship where the strongest opposition is excited. Illustration may be taken from the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Zoroastrian reform. The two powers are actively and persistently opposed. It is well for us to face this truth as openly as possible. The full relation to God is only possible to perfect beings—perfect as He is perfect. It was possible to the one righteous Man, the sinless Christ. It is possible, fully, to no other man.
II. Perfect righteousness is a condition unattainable by us.—It is to any creature who is only a creature. But that perfect righteousness which is possible to a creature is not possible to us creatures, because our race has to carry the burden and disability of sin. We can never have fellowship with God on the absolute condition of being light as He is light, perfect as He is perfect. St. John brings out clearly this distinction—though we cannot be actually light, as God is, we can will to be light, and we can make effort to be what we will to be. We can “walk in darkness,” or “walk in light,” the term “walk” implying will and effort. And in these two things may be found the only righteousness attainable by any creature while in limited, earthly conditions, and affected by the disabilities of a sin-biassed, bodily nature. The will is the man; it is the spiritual being acting; and the man is in the light, if his will is firmly set for righteousness. Then the man is kin with God, and can have fellowship with Him.
III. Christian imperfections have to be taken into account, but they need not spoil fellowship, if they are rightly dealt with.—St. John’s teaching cannot be rightly apprehended unless the distinction between the sin of the regenerate man and of the unregenerate man is fully recognised. The unregenerate man sins as the expression of a will that is set against God. The regenerate man sins by persuasion of bodily frailty, or at most by the temporary bending aside of his will. Christians do sin. Their sin would disturb fellowship. But the liability to sin has been taken into merciful account, and due provision has been made for it.
1. It is expected that the Christian man will, by confession, clear himself of all suspicion of having his will in his sin.
2. Then God will entirely forgive the sin, and remove it as a hindrance to fellowship.
3. And even more, God will, in the power of the blood of Christ, cleanse the Christian from all the evil influences of his sin, and help him to recover the power which he must have temporarily lost, or he could not have yielded to the sin. The condition of fellowship with the Light is our being, at least in central purpose, also light. The privilege is a gracious provision for the imperfections which, at the best, attach to the human light.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 1:5. God is light.—Here is the essence of the Christian theology, the truth about the Deity as opposed to all the imperfect conceptions of Him which had embittered the minds of the wise. To the heathen, Deity had meant angry, malevolent beings, worshipped best by the secrecy of outrageous vice; to the Greeks and Romans, forces of nature transformed into superhuman men and women, powerful and impure; to the philosophers, an abstraction either moral or physical; to the Gnostics it was a remote idea, equal and contending forces of good and evil, recognisable only through less and less perfect deputies. All this St. John, summing up what the Old Testament and our Lord had said about the almighty Father, sweeps away in one simple declaration of truth. Light was God’s garment in Psalms 104:2; to Ezekiel (chap. 1 John 1:1), the appearance of the likeness of God was brightness; to Habakkuk (chap. 1 John 3:8), His brightness was as the light; Christ had called the sons of God children of the light (John 12:36), and announced Himself as the Light of the world (John 8:12); in the Hebrews (chap. 1 John 1:3), Christ was the refracted ray of the Father’s glory, “the express image of His person”; to James, the Almighty was the Father of all lights (James 1:17); to Paul, He dwells “in the light that no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16); to Peter, the Christian state is an admission “into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). These ideas John comprehends. God is light. Light physical, because
(1) it was He who called everything first out of darkness, and
(2) from Him proceed all health and perfection. Light intellectual, because
(1) He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and
(2) in His mind exist the ideals after which all things strive. Light moral, because
(1) His perfection shows that the difference between good and evil is not merely a question of degree, but fundamental and final; and
(2) the life of Christ had exhibited that contrast sharply, once for all.—W. M. Sinclair, D.D.
1 John 1:6. On being true to Ourselves.—A man should take care that his professions and his conduct are kept in the strictest harmony. If he says he abides in Christ, his walk must evidently be a Christly walk. That may be urged as a plain and manifest duty
(1) for Christ’s sake, whom we are bound to honour, if we bear His name;
(2) for other people’s sake, since they cannot but misunderstand Christ, and so fail to realise His saving and sanctifying power, if we who bear His name misrepresent Him. But the point now to be impressed is, that there must be harmony between profession and conduct, because it is absolutely essential to a man’s moral dignity and stability that he should be consciously true to himself. Let a man permit a conscious opposition between profession and life, and the man debases himself. Fail to be true to self, fail to be consciously at harmony with yourself, and you not only become slave to man, but slave to the devil, who finds his chance when the supreme concern for moral consistency is destroyed in a man’s soul.
Walk in Darkness.—“The word ‘walk’ expresses not merely action, but habitual action. A life in moral darkness can have no more communion with God, than a life in a coal-pit can have communion with the sun. For ‘what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Corinthians 6:4). Light can be shut out, but it cannot be shut in. Some Gnostics taught, not merely that to the illuminated all conduct was alike, but that to reach the highest form of illumination men must experience every kind of action, however abominable, in order to work themselves free from the powers that rule the world.” “If the light is the Divine, then the darkness is the undivine, or that which is opposed to God—that is, the nature turned away from God, and not directed to Him. Hence the σκοτία, darkness, coincides with the New Testament idea of the κόσμος; it is the principle which animates and governs the κόσμος, and which comes in it into outward exhibition and form.”
Perils of Self-deceit.—These may come from a man’s particular disposition; or from the influence—bias—of public opinion; or from special times of unrestrainable passion; or from distinctly false and corrupting teachings.
1 John 1:6-7. Walking in Darkness or in Light.—Darkness represents the self-sphere. Light represents the God-sphere. God is kin with everything clean, good, kind. Self spoils even good things by throwing upon them the shadow of its own darkness. Darkness, both in poetry and religion, is the symbol of evil. The figure may not come very effectively to those of us who have been brought up in Christian surroundings and associations; but we have to think of the moral atmosphere of pagan cities in the time when St. John lived. Their darkness is faithfully revealed in the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans. Or we may try to realise what is the depraved moral life of certain sections of our great cities. Or perhaps we can gain a better impression, and find a sharper contrast, if we think of the moral atmosphere of a heathen city, such as are to be found all over India, where immorality is actually made a portion of worship, an agency of religion, and the whole range of thought, and tone of human relations, are dark indeed: men walk in darkness. And there, in the very midst of all the impurities, move to and fro the few men and women who are regenerate in Christ Jesus. They walk in the light. Lives morally sweet; thought and feeling sensitively delicate and pure. They breathe the light; they live with God, who is light. St. John urges that no other than such walking in the light can be befitting to those who have been made light in the Lord. Men were deceiving themselves then with the idea that they could keep their soul-relations to the light, and yield to dark bodily indulgences. All material things, they said, were evil; and since they were in material bodies, they could not help being in a dark sphere, and it did not much matter how dark it was, if only they kept their souls in the light. But this is precisely what men never can do, and they wholly deceive themselves if they think they can. Where the body goes the soul will really go, whatever the outward seeming may be. And where the soul goes it will never rest content unless it has the body with it.
1 John 1:7. The Christian’s Walk in Light and Love.—I am to speak to you of that bond of love which binds soul to soul in binding all to God; of that walk of light which assimilates us to Him who is light; and of the union which identifies these, in connecting them both with the purifying work of Christ.
1. The apostle declares himself commissioned to proclaim a “message” of transcendent importance, calculated to consummate the joy of all the believing people of God. It is this, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”
2. This revelation of the Divine excellency is directly connected with the mystical communion of which he speaks. The one is, in some measure, the condition on which the other is suspended. This light, with which God Himself is identified, becomes also the element in which His elect children breathe and move.
3. The apostle contemplates the Church of the sanctified walking together under the radiance of a common light, which streams from the presence of God, and which, involving them all, assimilates them all. What is that fellowship, and what that light, which are declared to involve each the other? First, we must resolve each into its proper origin, to contemplate each in its proper aspect. The apostle speaks of a fellowship essentially Christian; and to it none other than the Christian believer is competent. It is “fellowship with us,” because it is “fellowship with the Father and the Son.” The communion is essentially Divine; it exists in and through God alone; it is of each with each, because of all with Him. If you would learn its properties and characteristics, you must seek them in their fountain, where the human soul is alone with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We are “to walk in the light, as He is in the light.” We are to design from God Himself. We are to look straight to Him. The remove from the original may be infinite, but it is only one remove. “As He is, so are we in this world.” The walk in light is the earthly image of the supernal light; the “fellowship one with another” resolves into “the fellowship with the Father and the Son.” The Christian verity has taught us how to contemplate God. We are to regard that wondrous Essence which caused and sustains the universe as parting into three streams from one eternal Source, which (stooping to our capacities, relationships, and language) it has styled the Father, Son, and Spirit. Of what these Persons are, in their own nature, we cannot know; of what they are in relation to us, we can. Our fellowship is with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. If, then, our fellowship with Deity be distinguished into separate communions, each having its own grounds and offices of intercourse, and if this threefold communion be inseparably interwoven with the “walk of light” which imitates a God who “is light,” we may naturally expect that that celestial lustre which represents the whole Godhead shall itself be separable into significancies, in some measure corresponding to the Divine Personages whom the Godhead embraces. Thus shall our threefold communion be met and answered by a threefold “light.” The significancies of that Divine light seem resolvable into three cardinal excellencies—holiness, happiness, and knowledge. God the Father, God of all righteousness; God the Son, the God of all happiness; God the Spirit, God of all truth: or God the Father, imputer of our righteousness; God the Son, victorious obtainer of our happiness; God the Spirit, liberal bestower of our wisdom. To live within the verge of the Divine illumination is to hold communion with the essential excellencies of the triune God. If the fellowship of the Three in One thus answer to the threefold light in which they dwell, how, specially, does it correspond to each? If the Father be eminently the light of holiness, and our accepter as a holy people in Jesus, he who walks in that light communes with Him by the link of holiness, by the cordial adoption of that “righteousness of God which is witnessed by the law and the prophets,” by profound submission to that will which is the executive, that reason which is in itself the legislative council, of the universe. If the Son be eminently the light of celestial peace and its dispenser, we commune with Him as dwellers in that light,—by trust boundless and unfeigned in that victor who, having once and for ever foiled His adversary in the deadly struggle of Gethsemane and Calvary, will never forsake the Church He redeemed; by gratitude for blessings undeserved; by joy for blessings assured and everlasting; by that sterner task of which another apostle speaks, the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death (Philippians 3:10). If in the Spirit we worship the light of eternal truth and its revealer, when are we found in that light, and when blending in mystic union with Him who abides there, but when with a sanctified reason we apply our whole mind to receive and understand His revelations, when, raising at His call the faculties which He alone can furnish with fitting objects, we issue gladly forth from the world of shadows, and meet Him, where He awaits us, in the world of immutable reality? The earthly career of light involves the whole Christian life, as directed to each member of the ever-blessed Trinity. And the whole communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as the mutual communion of the brethren in Christ, is comprehended in that single word love.—W. Archer Butler, M.A.
The Power of Christ’s Blood.—Blood is a figure for the surrender of life. In giving to God the blood of animals the worshipper gave to God the animal’s life. In shedding His blood Jesus gave His life to God as a sacrifice of perfect obedience and perfect trust. Because He thus gave His life to God, and was fully accepted, Jesus has the power to do three things:
1. To forgive sins that we have committed.
2. To cleanse us from the bad consequences and influences of the sins.
3. To keep us from committing them again; for even when we are made clean, we have to walk and work amid temptations and evils. So we need that He who forgives and cleanses should also defend and keep.
A Double Fellowship and a Single Condition.
I. A fellowship with Christ—with God in Christ.—
1. To be a Christian is to enter into gracious relations with Christ.
2. To keep a Christian is to maintain those gracious relations. Sometimes the prominent aspect in the fellowship is service, sometimes it is friendship. “Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.”
II. A fellowship one with another in Christ.—The fellowship of—
1. A common love.
2. A common duty.
3. A common experience.
4. A common worship.
III. Both forms of fellowship depend on one condition: “Walking in the light”—that is, walking according to the will of God, who is the light, as contrasted with walking in the darkness of our self-will and self-pleasing. Our spheres of fellowship may vary, but the condition of maintaining fellowship is absolute and unchangeable.
The Fellowship of Believers.—Temptation in all ages to dissociate holiness from profession.
I. The fellowship of believers with each other depends on their individual fellowship with the Father and the Son. First, fellowship with God. That brings Christian union. The degree of the union depends on the fellowship with God. No force will make a Christian life or Christian union. Nourishment of inward spirit will tell on Christian living and Christian fellowship.
II. Fellowship depends wholly on mutual sympathy. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. God is light—the symbol of purity, moral perfectness. A man in sympathy with darkness cannot be in fellowship with the light. That differs from saying a man who sins cannot be in fellowship. A man may be in full sympathy with light, and be struggling after it, and yet be often overcome with evil. Fellowship depends on the heart being set on the light. And the bond of fellowship with one another is the common love of, and seeking after, the light.
III. For the imperfectness of human walking in the light a gracious remedy is provided. “The blood of Jesus cleanseth us.” It covers the evil, and it cleanses it away. The blood stands for the living power of Jesus.
The Condition of Christian Fellowship.—Some texts are difficult to expound because of our familiarity with them. We too readily assume that we understand them, and we therefore resist all fresh and independent inquiry concerning them. There are two ways of treating Scripture texts:
1. We may let the words suggest thought. That way is suited to private meditation. But there is always this danger—we may come to think that our thoughts are as authoritative as the Scripture words.
2. We may inquire what the words actually mean. That way is especially suited to public ministries. It is strange that St. John the loving should be the most controversial of the New Testament writers. But that is the fact which we may assert in view both of his gospel and his epistles. The false teachings of his day concerning the person of Christ are familiar: the false teachings concerning the Christian life are not so well known. There have been Antinomian teachings in every age. They took two forms in St. John’s days. It was said
(1) that the enlightened could be indifferent to moral distinctions; and
(2) that the enlightened ought to have complete knowledge of evil through personal experience of it. We can understand how such teachings affected the Christians when they came to be translated into the common thought. This St. John deals with in the beginning of his epistle. Christianity is inseparable from holiness; it can live in no other atmosphere. As he sees Christianity it is fellowship; and we cannot wonder at his taking this view when we remember how close was his own personal fellowship with Christ. To him personal religion was fellowship with Christ, and what it involved, even fellowship with the Father, and fellowship with the other sons. St. John caught the spirit of Christ’s great prayer, which he alone records. St. John begins his epistle by asserting his competency. He had intimately known everything relating to Christ from the beginning. What then is Christ’s primary message? This—God is light. Light is the material symbol of goodness, righteousness. Christ, who manifests God, manifests Him as light. No man sees Christ aright unless the sight makes him feel, as he never felt before, the holiness of God. His point in the text is this—there is a condition on which fellowship depends, and there is a privilege which maintained fellowship secures.
I. The condition on which fellowship depends.—“If we walk in the light.” Illustrate by the conditions of human associations. There must be common interests, and a common spirit. So in religion, there can be no fellowship if some walk in light, and some walk in darkness. How expressive of moral difference the terms “light” and “darkness” are! The Father of light walks in light. The “Light of the world” walked in light. Those named after the “Light of the world” must walk in light.
II. The privilege which maintained fellowship secures.—“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The “blood of Jesus” is a figure, just as “God is light” is a figure. It is not here the blood as the ground of forgiveness, but the blood as the power, or agency, in cleansing. St. John addresses persons who are forgiven, and restored to the Divine family. But here is a difficulty. Blood does not cleanse. Nobody ever heard of its use in such a way. (The only approach to the idea is the old use of bullocks’ blood in refining sugar.) St. John was a Jew. To him the blood was the life. Put the word life for the word blood, and say, “The life of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” That partly gives St. John’s meaning; but it is not altogether satisfactory. When blood stands for life, it always means blood shed, life surrendered. Apprehend this, and the apostle’s meaning becomes clear. The “blood of Jesus” stands for that power to cleanse which Jesus has gained by surrendering His life. It is called His blood because it has come to Him through His blood-shedding. St. John’s idea is this—keep fellowship by walking in the light, and you will surely find that there is a privilege belonging to that fellowship. It is this—one member of the fellowship is an ever-active power, working at the cleansing away of everything that can possibly break or spoil the fellowship. The symbol of our Lord’s continuous work in the fellowship was given in the “upper room,” when He washed the disciples’ feet, and dealt, for cleansing, with their sins of frailty. It was a fellowship of the “clean.” He kept it by removing the soilings from the feet. And is not this precisely the provision that we need? The sincere ones are frail. Frailty is provided for in the fellowship, if only we keep sincere. In family life, so long as the fellowship is preserved, the frailties can be easily and wisely dealt with. How does the living Lord Jesus cleanse? Through the discipline of life-experience, which He uses and sanctifies. And He comes to us with great persuasions that He can cleanse—persuasions from His blood-shedding, from His entrusted powers as Mediator, from His adaptation through a human experience. And Christ in our life, cleansing us from our Christian frailties, is our inspiration to the cleansing of ourselves. There is what we only can do. There is what He only can do.
Close with St. Peter’s drawing up his feet away from the cleansing Christ. He was imperilling his fellowship.
The Lord’s Supper an Expression of Fellowship.—One of the great words of St. John’s epistles is fellowship. The thought is beautifully presented here. The early disciples came into contact with the Lord, seeing, hearing, and touching Him. Their communion and fellowship were immediate and personal, and their contact with other disciples who had not seen the Lord was also immediate and personal, and so by declaring to them what they had seen and heard they introduced them to the fellowship of the Lord Himself. Christian history forms a chain of many links; and as we trace back link after link, till we come to Him from whom all hang in dependence, we feel the unity, the solidarity, of the Christian brotherhood and testimony. The Lord’s Supper is the expression of this visible fellowship.
1. Immediately connected with the existing body of disciples.
2. Links every new commemoration to all the preceding.
3. And so unites every body of disciples to the Lord.—Anon.
The Limitations of Christian Sin.—Much confusion of thought is occasioned by persisting in keeping to one definition of sin, as if it could always be just the same thing. It is the “transgression of the law”; but it is something else besides. It is the expression of self-will. It is even a natural consequence of human frailty. And it will be manifest that the character of sin necessarily changes when a man is renewed in will and motive by the regenerating grace in Christ Jesus. He becomes a new man; and if he gives full and befitting expression to his new life, he cannot sin. To sin with the will is the act of the unregenerate man; and if a Christian ever sins with his will, he, at least for the time, falls back upon the conditions of his unregenerate life. It needs to be firmly stated that the Christian, as such, cannot determinedly sin with his will. He may sin through frailty, or because led astray, and deceived by temptation; his will may be even forced aside for a time; but he comes to himself again when the force is withdrawn. He sins a child’s sins who is in the full joy of home life and love.
1 John 1:8. The Peril of Christian Self-deception.—“Where there is even only a trace of life, and of the Divine fulness, this must immediately manifest sin to be sin” (Eric Haupt).
I. The denial of sin.—
1. Some claim an absolute exemption from sin.
2. Some say they have no sin, by claiming a relative exemption from it.
II. The consequence of this denial.—For us to deny our sin is to deny—
1. Indisputable facts.
2. The infallible testimony of the word of God.
3. The moral propriety of the scheme of redemption.
III. The confession of sin.—“If we confess,” etc.
IV. The consequence of such confession.—
2. Sanctification.—Dr. Clark.
Sinful Tendencies of Christians.—The preceding words had reminded St. John that even mature Christians, though certainly not “walking in darkness,” yet have sinful tendencies in themselves: sensuous impulses, non-spiritual inclinations, lack of self-knowledge, a lowered standard, principles and views borrowed partly from the world, wavering of will, and hence graver faults. Not to admit this would be to mislead ourselves, and in us the power and energy of light, searching the very corners of the heart, would not be working.—W. M. Sinclair, D.D.
Self-delusion as to our State before God.—It is among the most potent of the energies of sin, that it leads astray by blinding, and blinds by leading astray. There is an inherent and inevitable efficacy in sin to diffuse darkness, and to make us in love with the darkness it diffuses. In the judgment God will unravel all the tangled mesh of our excuses, and flash upon us the tremendous conviction, that we are lost only because we would be lost, that in every several instance of temptation the sin lay with us as the situation with God.
I. The imagination of our own sinlessness is an inward lie.—It has been questioned whether the apostle included in this affirmation the highest degrees of Christian attainment; but Wesley made the theological question of Christian perfectibility of far more practical importance than it ever deserved. Whatever may be the measure of sanctification which God bestows upon His children in this world, we can scarcely conceive its highest state unaccompanied with a longing for a state yet higher, clearly conceived, and sought with a personal consciousness (so far) of imperfection, and an ardent desire to still escape that remainder of earthliness that embarrasses the ascent. In fact, the belief of Christian perfectibility seems inapplicable to individual practice from the very nature of Christian holiness. Were a perfect man to exist, he himself would be the last to know it, for the highest stage of advancement is the lowest descent in humility. The spiritual life, as a progressive life, involves a progressively increasing knowledge of God; and as it approaches the Source of all holiness, the spirit of man must appreciate far more accurately the force of the contrast between itself and its mighty Model. In truth, it is only fervent and exalted piety that can really feel how immeasurably far it is from perfect holiness. Whatever be the doctrine of Christian perfectibility collected out of the writings of St. John, it certainly can have but little relation to the earthly saint’s estimate of his own piety. It is not, however, of these “perfect” ones that we now speak, but rather of those whose cold hearts and neglectful lives utter the bold denial of a sinlessness which the lips dare not deny. Adequately to enumerate the causes of this lamentable blindness to pressing and palpable evil would be impossible. The particular causes of the delusion will vary with every variety of individual character. Every temptation that occupies, and by occupying excludes all other occupants, may claim its share in the perpetuation of this melancholy ignorance. We can only speak of some of the general principles on which the delusion rests.
II. The sources of this lamentable ignorance of our personal state with God.—Something is due to the governing agency of Satan, the “ruler of the darkness of this world.” He who deceives that he may destroy, stupefies that he may deceive. The cunning of the serpent alone can reach the master-subtlety of making the soul of man do his work by being its own unpitying enemy, and traitor, and cheat: it is only the “father of lies” that thus can make the wretched heart a liar to itself. The first and darkest of his works on earth is the original and inherited corruption of the human soul itself. It is ignorant of sin, just because it is naturally sinful. Faint, frail, and disordered from the first, how should it easily suspect its own disease? One chief object of the gospel history, as applied by the Spirit of God, is to humble and yet animate us by a portraiture of moral excellence which, as observation cannot furnish, so assuredly nature will never spontaneously imagine. We cannot know our degradation, we cannot struggle, or even wish, to rise, if we have never been led to conceive the possibility of a state higher than our own. For the mournful unconsciousness of our personal depravity, have we not a powerful cause in that depravity itself? But no human being can be seen in the state of nature alone. Repeated acts are become principles of action, and every man is the creature of his own past life. If degraded nature is silent in denouncing sin, what shall she be when doubly and trebly indurated by habit. We know not ourselves as sinners, because from infancy we have breathed the atmosphere of sin. A man lives in the frigid formalism of external religion, or in the habitual neglect of God, until it seems almost impossible to separate the habit from life itself: to live at all is to live thus. The terrible power of irreligion, become thus habitual, to blind men to the momentous peril of their daily state, is above all evinced in this: that every form of exhortation or appeal is weak to break the lethargy; yet not at all from any unbelief of the facts or doctrines stated, but from an obstinate refusal or inability to imagine that they can have the remotest reference to the hearer himself. And this operation of habit is a universal law. Is not there something in the frame and condition of the world that is fitted to assist this melancholy work of deception? The blind man does not conceive of light, neither does the godless spirit conceive of God. But even supposing the organ to be restored, were he placed in a world of darkness, he would be as far as ever from imagining the true nature of the light he could not witness. Society moulds us. As men copy themselves by force of habit, they copy others by force of example. Mankind in crowds and communities tends to uniformity. We cherish and confirm the dream that “we have no sin,” because all the world is sinful as ourselves. The power of this universality of sin around us to paralyse the sensibility of conscience is augmented by the influence of rank and fashion. So servile a copyist of evil is man, that vice, the darkest and most degrading, seems to lose its name and nature when thus authenticated by the passport of rank. To this must be added the tendency of pleasure itself, or of indolence, to prolong this deception, and our natural impatience of the pain of self-disapproval. There are two ways of escaping an angry conscience—by ceasing from the evil that provokes it, or by resolutely refusing to hear its voice, which soon amounts to silencing it for ever.—W. Archer Butler, M.A.
1 John 1:9. God keeping Conditions.—“He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” It is true to the nature of things that a father should forgive and restore his erring child, if that child penitently confesses his sin. And in putting Himself into the figure of a father, God puts Himself into fatherly conditions; and those conditions we may be quite sure that He will keep. He must, for He cannot be other than just to Himself, and faithful to us. “Just,” in this verse, has nothing to do with the conditions on which, as a moral governor, God’s justice is satisfied. “Just” here is a feature of the Divine character. In the same sense as that in which we speak of a man as a just man, we may speak of God as a just God. A just man will keep his engagements, strictly, honourably, fully. He will try to shirk nothing. And this security we have in thinking of the just God. If He has made a covenant, He will keep every one of its terms. If He has given promises, He will fulfil every one of them to the letter. If He has said He will forgive and cleanse His penitent children, forgive and cleanse He certainly will.
Confession a Sign of Right-mindedness.—Confession as an act standing by itself has but little value. Its importance lies in the condition of mind and feeling which it represents and indicates. What is the mood towards sin of the man who confesses? (Of course, the supposition is that the confession is sincere.) Plainly, it is a different mood to that which he was in when he committed the sin, or when he kept in the hardened frame which allowed of his committing the sin. Plainly, too, he is in an humble mood of mind, and even distressed that he should have been led astray. And plainly, also, he now wants all the wrong taken away, and the broken relations fully restored. But these are right moods. The man has become right-minded. The proper spirit of the son has come back to the man; and in that fact is found a sufficient basis for full forgiveness and acceptance, and a gracious cleansing work.
Cases of Confession.—Three cases are conceivable: A man may have nothing to confess; a man may be in a mood that he will not confess; and a man may want to confess. What do each of these reveal concerning the man?
Confessing our Sins.—What is it to confess our sins? It is to tell them out to God. It is true God knows them already far better than we do ourselves. To Him all hearts are open, and from Him no secrets are hid. So when He bids us confess our sins, it is not that He may know them better, but that we may know them better, and feel them more deeply. And so it is plain that to confess our sins must mean much more than the mere telling them out to God. For this would be nothing at all, without self-examination, and godly sorrow, and humbling of the heart, and penitence, and prayer, and holy resolves, and amendment of life. Observe the twofold blessing promised:
(1) the forgiveness of sin;
(2) the cleansing from all unrighteousness. These are simply the two great wants of man with regard to sin: pardon for the past; cleansing for the future; or, in other words, the gifts of justification and sanctification. By the one (justification) we are accepted by God, who blots out our sins, and counts us as righteous for Christ’s sake, without our really being so; by the other (sanctification) we are really made righteous in ourselves, God’s Holy Spirit working in us, so that we conquer the power of sin, and grow in grace and holiness.—W. Walsham How, D.D.
Forgiving must go with Cleansing.—Could it possibly suffice for God to forgive? That may be tried in both the public spheres of justice, and in the private spheres of the family. The failure of public justice is seen in that it can do two things only. It can acquit, and it can punish, but it cannot cleanse. Consequently public justice as a civil power is effective, and as a moral power is helpless. The success of family dealing with wrong-doing is seen in the fact that a father can never satisfy himself with any act of forgiveness, because his supreme concern is the moral well-being of his child, whom He would deliver from the influence and power of his wilfulness, whom he must get cleansed from all his unrighteousness.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
1 John 1:5. “God is light.”—Light is beautiful; it is gladdening to the eye and to the heart; it flies toward us like God’s angel from the skies; but light of itself is not enough. It were a poor thing for this earth if the sun gave it only light. Soon it would be clothed in the whiteness of universal snow, relieved only by an azure of glacial ice, and in the cold, clear, dazzling glare the life of ocean and continent would die. The earth would not cease to be—it would roll on, a fair and beauteous star among the worlds; but no life would stir in its cold magnificence, no voice would break the stillness of its icy solitudes—it would roll on, a splendid sepulchre, through the skies. Light of itself is not enough. Life wants something more than light. No life can be matured apart from warmth. Were God only light, we might be spotless as snow, chaste as crystals, beautiful as blocks of ice; but the best and highest things in our natures would die—there would be no warmth of friendship in our grasp, no pity flowing in tears of sympathy from our eyes, no sacrificing love in our hearts; our minds might become glorious, but our hearts would be empty and dead. And, therefore, inasmuch as a tender, sympathetic heart is higher than a mere scholastic mind, inasmuch as sacrifice is profounder than wisdom, and the cross sublimer than philosophy, insomuch is the knowledge that “God is love” better to us than the knowledge that “God is light.”—Henry Wonnacott.
A Legend of the Light.—There is a Rabbinical legend that, when light issued from under the throne of God, the prince of darkness asked the Creator wherefore He had brought light into existence. God answered that it was in order that he might be driven back to his abode of darkness. The evil one asked that he might see that; and, entering the stream of light, he saw across time and the world, and beheld the face of Messiah. Then he fell upon his face and cried, “This is He who shall lay low in ruin me, and all the inhabitants of hell.”
1 John 1:7. Walking in the Light.—The planet Venus teaches an important lesson to the followers of Christ, viz. that the earth was never yet known to come between her and the sun. Whence the languor and the spiritual declensions, the darkness and the soul distresses, of many a child of light? Come they not very frequently from giving way to earthly cares, earthly joys, and earthly pursuits? We let these things shut out the sun. No wonder that we move heavily and walk in the dark while we cultivate that friendship with this world which is enmity with God. But if, on the contrary, our affections are set on things above—if our treasure and our hearts are with Christ in heaven—we shall probably “walk in the light,” and enjoy an abiding perception of interest in His precious blood which cleanseth from all sin.—Salter.
Luther and the Evil One.—There is a legend of Luther that, during a serious illness, the evil one seemed to enter his sick-room, and, looking at him with a triumphant smile, unrolled a vast roll which he carried in his arms. As the fiend threw one end of it on the floor, and it unwound itself with the impetus he had given it, Luther’s eyes were fixed on it, and to his consternation he read there the long and fearful record of his own sins, clearly and distinctly enumerated. That stout heart quailed before that ghastly roll. Suddenly it flashed into his mind that there was one thing not written there. He said aloud, “One thing you have forgotten: the rest is all true; but one thing you have forgotten—‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ ” As he said this, the “accuser of the brethren,” and his heavy roll of “lamentation, and mourning, and woe,” disappeared together.
Purity through Christ’s cleansing.—See these pure white clouds that stretch in ranks, like rolling waves, across the canopy of heaven in the still, deep noon of a summer day! Row after row they lie in the light, opening their bosoms to the blaze of a noontide sun; and they are all fair; “they are without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Who are these that stand, as it were, around the throne of God in white clothing, and whence came they? These are they that have come from various places on the surface of the earth and sea,—some from the briny ocean, and some from miry land; some from yellow, overflowing rivers, and some from cool, crystal springs; some from stagnant pools in distant, lonely deserts, and some from the slimy bed of the Thames, or the Clyde, where living beings can scarcely breathe on the banks. All are alike welcome to these heavens, and all are, in their resurrection state, equally pure. May I—spiritually distant and unclean—may I rise, like these snow-white clouds, from earth to heaven, and take my place, without challenge, among the stainless witnesses who stand around the Redeemer’s throne? I may—not because my stains are few, but because “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth from all sin.” I may—not because my sins are small, but because my Saviour is great.—W. Arnot.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 John 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter