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Preliminary Chapters—General Aim of the Book
I. The Doctrine and Fellowship of the Apostles
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3
“They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.”—Acts 2:42
EVIDENTLY the desire and aim of the writer of this Epistle is to place all to whom it comes in the same advantageous position which he himself and his fellow-apostles enjoyed, as regards the knowledge of God in Christ, and the full enjoyment of the holy and divine fellowship which that knowledge implies. That is his great design throughout; and this is his announcement of it at the very beginning of his treatise.
Some think that he is here pointing to his Gospel, and that, in fact, this Epistle was meant to accompany that previously-published narrative, either as a sort of supplement and appendix, or as an introductory letter, explaining and enforcing the lessons of his great biography of his Master. It may be so, although I incline, after some vacillation, to my early formed opinion as to that biography being the loved disciple’s last work. And here, at any rate, I rather understand him as referring, not to that particular book at all, but to his ordinary manner of teaching, and its ordinary scope; and as including in the reference all his brethren in the apostleship. When he says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you,” I cannot doubt that he means to indicate generally the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42)—the common doctrine of all of them alike. “That which we have seen and heard”—all of us alike—“declare we”—all of us alike—in order that we may have you, our disciples and scholars, our hearers and readers, to be sharers with us in our knowledge and in our fellowship. We would have all the privileges of both attainments common between you and us.
In regard, indeed, to knowledge, we cannot make you as well off as we ourselves have been; not at least so far as knowledge comes through the direct information of the senses, and is verified by their testimony. We have “heard and seen, and looked, and handled” (1 John 1:3). We have had a personal acquaintance with Jesus in the flesh, and have come into personal contact in the flesh with whatever of God was manifested in him, by him, through him. We have gazed into his face; we have hung upon his lips;—I, John, have leaned on his breast. We cannot make you partakers with us in that way of “knowing Christ after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16); nor consequently in the sort of fellowship, so satisfying and soothing, “after the flesh,” for which it furnished the occasion and the means.
Even if we could, we would not consider that enough for you—enough for the expression of our good will to you—enough to meet and satisfy the necessity of your case. For we have ourselves experienced a great change since the sensible means and opportunities of knowledge and fellowship have been withdrawn. That former knowledge of Christ, with the fellowship that accompanied and grew out of it, ranks with us among the “old things that have passed away.” We have all learned to say with our brother Paul, “Yea, though I have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know I him no more” (2 Corinthians 5:16). It is not of course that we forget, or ever can forget, all the intercourse we have had in the flesh with our loved and loving Master when he was with us on the earth. Never can we cease to cherish in our hearts the holy and blessed memories of these precious historical years. But the Holy Spirit has come to teach us all things, and bring all things to our remembrance, whatever Christ then said unto us” (John 14:26). That former knowledge does not depart; it is not obliterated or annihilated. But it has become new—altogether new, invested with a new spiritual meaning and power; presenting to the spiritual eye a new aspect of light and love.
It is true that what, under this new spiritual illumination, “we have heard, and seen, and looked at, and handled, of the Word of life,” is simply what, after the flesh,” we had “heard, and seen, and looked at, and handled” before. It is nothing else, nothing more. But it is all new; radiant in new light, instinct with new life and love. With new ears, new eyes, new hands, we have listened, and gazed, and felt. It is a new knowledge that we have got, and consequently also a new fellowship. And it is into that new knowledge and that new fellowship, not into the old, that we would have you to enter as joint Participators with us.
I. As to the knowledge, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you;” that which we have seen and heard of the “Word of life;” “the Life;” which was manifested; “that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1:1-2). These names and descriptions of the Son undoubtedly refer, in the first instance, to his eternal relation to the Father; of whose nature he is the image, of whose will he is the expression, of whose life he is the partner and the communicator. But this eternal relation—what he is to the Father from everlasting—must be viewed now in connection with what he is as he dwells among us on the earth. It is “the man Christ Jesus” who is the “manifested life.” He is so from first to last, during all the days of his flesh; from his being “made of a woman, made under the law,” to his being “made sin and made a curse” for us, and thereafter, “for his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, highly exalted;” from the Baptist’s introduction of him to John and others of the apostles as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” to the hour when, as John so emphatically testifies, his side was pierced, and “there came out blood and water.” Every intervening incident, every miracle, every discourse, every act of grace, every word of wisdom and of love, is a part of this manifestation. In every one of them “the eternal life which was with the Father is manifested to us.” He who liveth with the Father evermore, dwelling in his bosom, is manifesting to us in himself—in his manhood, in his feelings, sayings, doings, sufferings, as a man dwelling among us—what that life is,—not liable to time’s accidents and passions, but unchanging, eternal, imperturbable,—which he shares with the Everlasting Father, and which now he shares also with us, and we with him.
In the midst of all the conditions of our death this life is thus manifested. For he who is the life takes our death. Not otherwise could “that eternal life which was with the Father be manifested unto us.” For we are dead. If it were not so, what need would there be of a new manifestation of life to us? Originally the divine life was imparted to man, the divine manner of dying; for he was made in the image of God. But now that image being lost or broken and marred by sin, death is our portion, our very nature; death, a manner of being the reverse and opposite of God’s; having in it no element of changeless repose, but tumultuous tossings of guilt, fear, wrath, and hatred. Such are we to whom the eternal life which was with the Father is to be manifested. We are thus dead; sentenced by a righteous doom, as transgressors, to this death; already and, hopelessly involved in its uneasy, restless darkness. How then can life, the life which is with the Father, be manifested to us, if it be not life that overcomes this dark death,—that is itself the death of it,—that completely disposes of it, and puts it finally and for ever out of the way?
So he who is “the eternal life which was with the Father” is manifested to us” as “destroying this death.” He destroys it in the only way in which it can be destroyed righteously, and therefore thoroughly; by taking it upon himself, bearing it for us in our stead, dying the very death which we have most justly deserved and incurred. So he gives clear and certain assurance that this death of ours need not stand in the way of our having the life of God manifested to us,—and that too in even a higher sense and to higher ends than it was or could be manifested to man at first.
For now that life of God is manifested personally, in one who is himself “the life,” being “the Son dwelling in the bosom of the Father.” He who so wondrously and so effectually takes our death from us is himself the life,—“that eternal life which was with the Father and is manifested to us;”—so manifested that as he takes our death he gives us his life; he being one with us and we one with him. So, in him who is “the life” we enter into life;—into that eternal life with the Father wherein there can be no more any element of unquiet guilt or stormy passion, but only trust and love and peace evermore.
“The life was thus manifested” while the Word of life, “made flesh, dwelt among us full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory”—we, his apostles—“the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). What we beheld of his glory, as on the mount of transfiguration, we could not indeed then understand, any more than we could understand what we heard Moses and Elijah talking with him about, “the decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem” or what we witnessed of his agony in the garden, in the near prospect of that decease. What our bodily senses then perceived was all dark to our minds, our souls, our hearts; insomuch that when he was taken away we accounted him lost, and ourselves lost with him, and could but cry woefully—“We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). But new senses of spiritual insight, hearing, touch, have been imparted to us, or opened up in us. And the whole meaning of that exchange of our doomed accursed death for his blessed divine life,—which all the while he was among us he was working out—has flashed upon us; placing in a new light, and investing with new grace and glory, all that presence of our Lord and Master with us, which otherwise must have been to us as a tale that is told.
To have declared to you what we saw and heard, as we saw and heard it at the time, would have been of little avail. The most life-like photographic painting, the most word-for-word shorthand reporting, could only have placed you in the position of our brother Philip, to whom, as representing us all, the Lord had occasion so pathetically to put the question, “Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” He added, however, then, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” And now we can say that we have seen him. All that we witnessed of the grace and truth of which he was full, when as the Word made flesh he dwelt among us, we can now say that we have seen. It is all now before us in its true significance, as the revelation of “the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”
What that “eternal life” is; how he is that life with the Father—righteous, holy, loving; how he is that life to us, miserably dead in sin; this is what is manifested in him as he was on earth, and in all that he taught, and did, and suffered. And it is as manifesting this that we, his apostles, “declare unto you that which we have seen and heard.” Taught by the Spirit, we would have you to know, taught also by the Spirit, what that eternal life is of which the Lord himself testifies in his farewell prayer for his people, when he says: “This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
II. So much for the communicated knowledge. The communicated fellowship comes next—“that ye may have fellowship with us.” The meaning plainly is, that you may share our fellowship, which truly “is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The object and the nature of this fellowship—“the apostles’ fellowship” (Acts 2:42)—fall now to be considered.
1. The object of this fellowship is the Father and the Son. I say the object, for there is but one. No doubt the Father and the Son may be considered separately, as two distinct persons with whom you may have fellowship. And in some views and for some ends it may be quite warrantable, and even necessary, to distinguish the fellowship which you have with the Father from that which you have with his Son Jesus Christ. As Christ is the way, the true and living way, to the Father, so fellowship with him as such must evidently be preparatory to fellowship with the Father. But it is not thus that Christ is here represented. He is not put before the Father as the way to the Father, fellowship with whom is the means, leading to fellowship with the Father as the end. He is associated with the Father. Together, in their mutual relation to one another and their mutual mind or heart to one another, they constitute the one object of this fellowship.
The Father and his Son Jesus Christ; not each apart, but the two—both of them—together; with whatever the Spirit of the Father and the Son may be commissioned to show, and your spirits may be enabled to take in, of the counsel of peace that is between them both; that is what is presented to you as the object of your fellowship.
It is a great idea. Who can grasp it?
A father and a son among men; both of them wise, upright, holy, loving; of one mind and heart; perfectly understanding one another; perfectly open to one another; perfectly confiding in one another; together bent upon some one great and good undertaking; engrossed thoroughly in some one grand pursuit, characterised by consummate genius and rare benevolence;—that might be an impressive, an attractive picture. To be allowed to make acquaintance with them in their own dwelling where they are at home together; to be admitted into their study where they consult together; to watch the father’s face when the son goes out on any errand or for any work agreed upon between them; to witness the embrace awaiting him on his return; to go with the son, as, through ignominy, and suffering, and toil, and blood, and loathsome contact with filth and crime, he makes his way to yonder outcast, and see how it is his father’s pity for that outcast that is ever uppermost in his thoughts, how it is his father that he would have to get the praise of every kind word spoken and every sore wound healed; to sit beside the father and observe with what thrilling interest his whole soul is thrown into what his son is doing; and when they come to talk it all over together, when their glistening eyes meet, and their bosoms bound to one another, to be there to see;—that were a privilege worth living for, worth dying for. Such as that, only in an infinitely enhanced measure of grace and glory, is the object presented to you for your fellowship.
For the illustration so fails as to be almost indecorous.
The Eternal Father and the Eternal Son; what the Father is to the Son and the Son to the Father from everlasting; the Father’s purpose in eternity to glorify the Son as heir of all things; the Son’s consent in eternity to be the Lamb slain; the covenant of electing love securing the fulfilment of the Father’s decree and the Son’s satisfaction in the seeing of his seed;—then, the amazing concert of that creation-week when the Son, as the Eternal Wisdom, was with the Father, being “daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in the habitable parts of his earth, his delights being with the children of men;”—theft, the Son’s manifold ministrations as the angel of the covenant on the Father’s behalf among these children of men from age to age till his coming in the flesh;—and then, stir further—more signal sight still—what the Father and his Son Jesus Christ are to one another, how they feel toward one another, what is the amazing unity between them, all through the deep humiliation of the manger, the wilderness, the synagogues and sea of Galilee, the streets and temple of Jerusalem, the garden and the cross;—what, finally, is that sitting of the Son at the Father’s right hand which is now, and that coming of the Son in his own glory and the Father’s which is to be shortly;—such is the object of “the apostles’ fellowship” and yours. It is fellowship “with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”
2. The nature of the fellowship can be truly known only by experience. In so far as it can be described, in its conditions, its practical working, and its effects, it is brought out in the whole teaching of this epistle, of which it may be said to be the theme. But a few particulars may here be indicated ;—
(1.) That it implies intelligence and insight I need scarcely repeat; such intelligence and insight as the Spirit alone can give. No man naturally has it; no man naturally cares to have it. You may tell me, in my natural state, of tangible benefits of some sort coming to me, through some arrangement between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, of which somehow I get the good. I can understand that, and take some interest in that. The notion of my being let off from suffering the pains of hell, and of indulgence being extended to my faults and failings, in consequence of something that Christ has done and suffered for me, which he pleads on my behalf, and which God is pleased so far to accept as to listen favourably to his pleading,—is a notion intelligible enough, congenial and welcome enough, to my natural mind. But this is very different from my having fellowship in that matter, even as thus put and thus understood, with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Even while reckoning with reckless confidence on impunity coming to me in virtue of some transaction between the Father and the Son, I may be profoundly and most stupidly indifferent as to what that transaction really is, and what the Father and the Son are to one another in it. In such a state of mind there can be no “fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
(2.) There must be faith: personal, appropriating, and assured faith; in order that the intelligence, the insight, may be quickened by a vivid sense of real personal interest and concern. There must be faith: not a vague and doubtful reliance on the chance, one might say, of some sort of deliverance turning up at last, through the mediation of the Son with the Father; but faith identifying me with the Son, and shutting me up into the Son, in that itself. There can be no fellowship without the ground and means of the fellowship; it fellowship itself in essence;—in germ, embryo, or seed. For if I grasp Christ, or rather if he grasps me, in a close indissoluble union, I am to the Father, in a manner, what he is; and the Father is to me what he is to him. What passes between the Father and the Son is now to me as if it passed—nay, as really passing—between the Father and me. It has all a personal bearing upon myself; I am personally involved in it.
Is it then a kind of selfishness after all?—selfishness refined and spiritualised, the care of my soul rather than my body, my eternal rather than my temporal wellbeing,—but still the care of myself? Nay, it is the death of self. For, first, even in the urgency of its first almost instinctive and inarticulate cry for safety—“What must I do?”—it springs from such a sight and sense of sin and ruin as carries in it an apprehension of the holy and awful name of God and the just claims of God being paramount over all. Then, secondly, in its saving efficacy, it is a going out of self to God in Christ; an acceptance of God in Christ; an embracing of God in Christ; having in it as little of what is self-regarding and self-seeking as that little child’s nestling in its mother’s bosom has. And thirdly, as the preparation for the fellowship, or as being itself the fellowship, it is the casting of myself, with ever-increasing cordiality of acquiescence very mediation this faith; it is , in fact, the embryo, or seed. and consent, into that glorious plan of everlasting love, in which I am nothing and Christ is all in all;—of which, when I join the company of all the saved, it will be my joy and theirs to ascribe all the praise “unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”
(3) This fellowship is of a transforming, conforming, assimilating character. In it you become actually partakers with the Father and the Son in nature and in counsel. For fellowship is participation; it is partnership. The Father and the Son take you into partnership with them. Plainly this cannot be, unless you are made “partakers of the divine nature;” unless your nature is getting to be moulded into conformity with the nature of the Father and the Son. For this end in part, or chiefly, that “eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested to you” in your human nature, that through his dwelling in you by his Spirit,—and so being “revealed in you,”—that human nature may become in you what it was when he made it his. Not otherwise can there be community or identity of interest between him and you; not otherwise than by there being community or identity of nature.
(4.) It is a fellowship of sympathy. Being of one mind, in this partnership, with the Father and the Son, you are of one heart too. Seeing all things, all persons, and all events, in the light in which the Father and the Son see them, you are affected by them and towards them, as the Father and the Son are. Judging as they judge, you feel as they feel. You do so with reference to all that you come in contact with; all that concerns, or may concern, that great business in which you are partners or fellows, fellow-wishers and fellow-workers, with the Father and the Son. What the business is you know. It is that of which the child of twelve years spoke to his mother and Joseph, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” In what spirit, and after what manner, the Father and the Son are “about that business,” you also know. You know how, on the Father’s behalf, and as having the Father always going along with him, the Son went about it all his life-long on earth. The Father and the Son welcome—nay, they solicit—your fellowship, partnership, co-operation, sympathy, in that business. The Spirit is manifesting in you that “eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us,” for this very end, that you may enter with us into that business which is the Father’s and the Son’s, with full sympathy and with all your hearts. It is the business of glorifying the Father. It is the business of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, speaking a word in season to the weary. It is the business of going about to do good. It is the business of seeking and saving the lost. It is the business of laying down life for the brethren.”
(5.) The fellowship is one of joy. Intelligence, faith, conformity of mind, sympathy of heart, all culminate in joy; joy in God; entering into the joy of the Lord. For there is joy in heaven. And if you, receiving what the apostles declare to you of what they have seen and heard,—receiving that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to them,—have fellowship with them in their fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ; the end of all their writing to you is fulfilled, “that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). Fullness of joy it well may be, if you share the joy of the Father and the Son: truly a joy that is “unspeakable and full of glory.” Into that joy, as the joy of ineffable complacency between the Father and the Son from everlasting to everlasting,—in the counsels of a past eternity, in the present triumphs of grace, in the consummated glory of the eternity that is to come,—you are called to enter; you are to have fellowship in it with the Father and the Son.
Is the thought too vast, indistinct, infinite? Nay then, in that “eternal life which was with the Father being manifested to you,”—in the Son coming forth from the Father,—you have the joy in which you are to have fellowship with him and with the Father brought home to you with more of definiteness.
When the earth was prepared for man, and for the acting out of all heaven’s purpose of grace to man, “I was,” says the Son, “by him, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” When he came in the flesh to execute that purpose, once at least in his humiliation it is testified of him, that he “rejoiced in spirit;”—it was when he said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21). Into that joy of holy acquiescence in the wise and holy sovereignty of the Father you can enter. And you can hear him and obey him, when bringing home one and another of the poor wandering sheep he came to seek, he makes his appeal to you as knowing his mind and entering into his heart;—“Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.” Rejoice with me. Yes! Rejoice with me, as my Father calls me to rejoice with him! “It is meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this our brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.”
II. The Joy of the Lord, and Its Fullness
These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”—1 John 1:4
THE apostle could not write these words without having full in his memory, and in his heart, the Lord’s own thrice-repeated intimation of a similar sentiment in his farewell discourses and farewell prayer: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11); “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24); “These things I speak in the world, that they”—“those whom thou hast given me”—“might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:3).
It is surely very wonderful that the occasion on which Jesus manifests so intense an anxiety about his disciples having enough of joy, and of his own joy, should be the eve of his last agony. Is it really with him a time of joy? Are the bloody sweat and the cry as of one forsaken by his God the signs of joy? Is that the joy, his joy, which he prays they may have fulfilled in themselves? At all events, his joy, whatever it may be, must be of such a nature that it can be compatible with experience as dark as that. For his joy must be, like himself, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” It cannot be fluctuating and intermittent. It cannot be merely one of many emotions, alternating or taking its turn with others, fitfully swaying the mind at intervals, according to the shifting breezes of the outer atmosphere. His joy must partake of his own unchangeableness, as the eternal Son of the Father. It is true that in his human nature and in his earthly history he is subjected to the impulses and influences of this chequered human and earthly scene. He meets with what may move, at one time to tears, at another time to gladness. Nor is he unsusceptible of such impressions. But beneath all these his real joy must be deeper far; a fathomless, infinite ocean, whose calm repose the wildest agitations of the upper sea cannot reach or ruffle. “My joy,” he says to the Father, my joy in and with thee, I would have to be theirs, through their fellowship with thee and me. Such, in substance, is the Lord’s own desire, as expressed to his disciples and to his Father. And such is his beloved apostle’s aim in his teaching—“that your joy may be full.” The nature of this joy, as primarily Christ’s; the reality and fullness of it, as Christ’s joy becoming ours; these are the topics suggested by this text.
I. Joy, as it is commonly understood and exemplified among men, is a tumultuous feeling; a quick and lively passion or emotion, blazing up for the most part upon some sudden prosperous surprise, and apt to subside into cold indifference, if not something worse, when fortune threatens change or custom breeds familiarity. “As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:6). It is indeed vanity; an outburst or outbreak of exuberant hilarity, subsiding soon into weariness and vacancy, the dull cold ashes of a brilliant but passing flame. All the joy of earth partakes, more or less, of that character; for it is dependent upon outward circumstances, and has no deep root in the soul itself. Even what must in a sense be called spiritual joy may be of that sort. There may be joyous excitement when the glad jubilee-trumpet fills the air with its ringing echoes, and an enthusiastic multitude are hastening to keep holiday. There may be a real elevation of spirit when some affecting scene of spiritual awakeing is witnessed, or some gracious ordinance is celebrated, or some stirring voice is heard. Such joy is like the goodness which, as a morning cloud and as the early dew, goeth away. There may be the joy also of complacency in one’s own success in a good and holy work; such joy as the Baptist’s disciples feared that their tidings would mar in their master’s breast, when they came to tell him, “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come unto him” (John 3:26). His answer is very memorable, and very much to the purpose of our present inquiry;—“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29).
It is Christ’s joy that is fulfilled in him who is so truly and heartily the bridegroom’s friend; Christ’s twofold joy; first, his joy as the bridegroom possessing the bride; “as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee” (Isaiah 62:9);—and, secondly, his joy as the Son possessing the Father; as the Baptist goes on to testify so affectionately; “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). Now, upon the subject of this “joy of the Lord,” this joy of Christ, this double joy of Christ; his joy as the bridegroom having the bride; his joy as the Father’s beloved Son and trusted servant, into whose hand he giveth all things;—I would beware of “exercising myself in things too high for me.” I would not venture so much as to imagine the ineffable joy of the Son dwelling from everlasting in the bosom of the Father, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit ordering the eternal counsels of the Godhead;—the whole vast ideal of creative and providential goodness, all holy and all wise;—and especially the covenanted plan of electing love, for “gathering into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Neither dare I do more than touch on what, as the eternal wisdom, he himself says about the Father “possessing him in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old;”—“Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:22-31).
I come at once to his earthly course, his human experience.
And, first, I see him in the temple, when he was twelve years old. I hear his answer to his mother and Joseph, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?.” How intense his consciousness even already, at an age so tender, of the trust committed to him; his Father’s business, the business on which his Father’s heart is set, for glorifying that name of his which is light and love, and saving a people to bask in that light and love evermore! “I must be about it.” There is deep joy in such a consciousness as that (Luke 2:49).
Then, secondly, I see him as the disciples’ left him, faint and wayworn at Jacob’s well. On their return they find him fresh and bright. Is it an outward cordial, or is it inward joy, of which he speaks as having revived him? “I have meat to eat that ye know not of: my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:32-34).
And, thirdly, I find it once, and once only, said in express terms that “Jesus rejoiced in spirit” (Luke 10:21). The statement is a very strong one; it implies inward leaping for joy. And the occasion is remarkable. It is connected with the mission of the seventy. In sending them forth, the Lord has been much exercised with thoughts of the failure, to a large extent, of their ministry and of his own, and the aggravated guilt thus entailed on the highly-favoured objects of that ministry. In receiving them back, he sympathises so far with their delight at finding even “the devils subject to them;” but he adds, “Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” “In that hour,” and in the view of the names of these his little ones being written in heaven, “Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hadst hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21). There is here the joy of full, filial acquiescence, for himself, in the gracious and holy will of his Father. And there is added to that the crowning joy of so making known the Father to these babes that they too may acquiesce as he does; “All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him” (Luke 10:22).
Thus “the joy of the Lord is his strength:” prevailing ever the diffidence of extreme youth, the exhaustion of nature, and “the contradiction of sinners against himself.” Nothing—either in his being a mere child, as when Jeremiah complained, “Ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child” (Jeremiah 1:6); or in his being overcome by distress, hunger, and fatigue, as when Elijah sat down in the wilderness and requested for himself that he might die (1 Kings 19:4);—or in his being forced to utter triple woes against the cities of his own habitation, as when Isaiah, sent on an errand of judgment to his people, was fain to cry, “Lord, how long?” (Isaiah 6:11);—nothing, I say, in any such trials of his flesh and heart, causes either flesh or heart to faint. At least, when flesh and heart faint, his spirit is refreshed with joy. To be about his Father’s business; to be doing the will of him that sent him, and finishing his work; to say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight;”—such joy is his always. Throughout the whole of his painful toil and solitary suffering there may be traced an undercurrent of real joy, without which, I am persuaded, that countenance “so marred with grief” could not have worn, as it did, the aspect of one “fairer than the children of men, into whose lips grace was poured.”
Nay, even of his last agony is it not said that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross?” (Hebrews 12:2). There was joy set before him, lying full in his view, in his very endurance of the cross. But what! one says—joy in that dark hour! Over the most excruciating torture of body the brave soul may rise triumphant. But when his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death; when his Father was hiding his face from him; when the wrath of a holy God and the curse of a broken law were upon him; when literally the pains of hell gat hold of him; how could there be joy then? Nay, I cannot tell how. But I bid you ask yourselves if, when he cried, “Father, glorify thy name:” if, when he said, “The cup which my Father giveth me shall I not drink it?” if, when in his bloody sweat these words came forth, “Father, thy will be done,”—there was no joy in his spirit. More than that, I ask if you can conceive of him, in his utmost extremity of peril, endurance, and expiatory woe, ever for a moment losing the consciousness that he was doing his Father’s will and finishing his Father’s work? Could that consciousness be ever interrupted? Could it ever cease to be a source of inward joy? There is joy lying before him, beside him, as he hangs on the accursed tree; not the joy of hopeful anticipation merely, in the near prospect of victory, but the stern joy of battle in the midst of the hot and heady fight, as—true to the trust committed to him by his Father and loving to the last his own whom he came to save—he bares his bosom to the sword awaking in its righteousness to smite the willing victim. That joy no man, no devil, taketh from him; the joy with which he meets the Father’s just demand of a great propitiation;—“Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O God:”—the joy with which he sees already of the travail of his soul when he says to the dying penitent, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Not in heaven only, among the angels of God, but on earth also, in one holy bosom at least, there is in that hour joy “over one sinner that repenteth.”
II. This joy, “his joy,” is to become ours; it is to “remain in us.” “Our joy is to be full” by “his joy being fulfilled in us.” Let us notice first the reality, and then the fullness, of this fellowship or partnership of joy between Christ and us.
(I.) Christ would have his joy to be really ours. The bridegroom’s friend, standing and hearing him, is to rejoice greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. But that is not all. Something more than the Baptist’s official joy, as the bridegroom’s friend, waiting upon him as his minister, is to be ours. For the Lord says that “to be least in the kingdom of heaven is to be greater than John the Baptist.” In all that constitutes the essence of his own joy the Lord associates us in intimate union with himself.
Thus, first, in his standing with the Father, and before the Father, he calls us to share. The position which he occupies in the Father’s house and in the Father’s heart is ours as well as his. It is that which opens the way to his joy being ours. And what opens the way to that? His making our standing and our position his. There is an exchange of places between him and us. Our state of guilt as criminals and prodigals, with all its misery, he takes to be his, that his state of acceptance as the Father’s righteous servant, and exaltation as the Father’s acknowledged Son, with all its joy, may be ours. Hence our sharing his joy begins with our sharing his cross. It begins with our mourning for our sin as piercing him. The very mourning itself has in it an element of joy; a certain feeling of calm and chastened satisfaction that the strife with God is ended, through our being moved by his Spirit to give in to him. And soon clearer, fuller joy comes. Looking still on that pierced one, pierced for us as well as by us, we see how thoroughly, by putting himself in our place, he has so met and discharged all our liabilities, that we, “being redeemed from the curse of the law,” may, by his putting us in his own place, “receive the adoption of sons.”
Then, secondly, he makes us partakers of the very same inward evidence of acceptance and sonship which he himself had when he was on earth. The Baptist testified, “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” How much the presence of the Holy Spirit, ever consciously realised, contributed to keep alive in the holy human soul of Jesus, amid all his toil and pain, a joyful sense of his being still the Father’s chosen servant and beloved Son—who can tell?
Thirdly, we have the same commission with Christ; the same trust reposed in us; the same work assigned to us. Accepted and adopted in him; sealed as he was sealed by the Spirit; we are sent as he was sent into the world. This capital ingredient, this great element of his joy, is ours. It was a deep, secret wellspring of joy in his heart; the feeling, never for a moment lost or interrupted, of his being the Father’s fellow, the Father’s agent, in carrying out that wondrous plan that had been concerted between them, in the council-chamber of the Godhead, from everlasting. There could be nothing, in all his experience, so mean but that this thought must ennoble it; nothing so dark but that this thought must enlighten it; nothing so toilsome or so tearful but that this thought must gladden it. And now, he takes us into his counsels, as the Father has him in his. “All that he has heard of the Father he makes known to us.” He does not keep us, as mere servants, in the dark, about what he is doing; prescribing us our tasks, without information or explanation, to be blindly executed by us in ignorance of what it may all mean, We are “his friends;” the men of his secret; with us he has no reserve; from us he keeps back nothing (John 15:14-15). He admits us to his fullest confidence. Some matters, indeed, pertaining to “the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power,” it may not be for us to know. They are such as he himself, in the days of his manhood, did not care to know. But as to all that is essential, we have the same intelligence that he had, and the same insight. He sends us, as the Father sent him.
Have you, let me ask, duly considered what community of mind and heart between Christ and you all this implies? And what community of joy?
Ah! when you wearily pace the beaten round of certain devout observances; or when you painfully deny yourselves this or that gratification on which your inclinations remain as much set as ever; or when, with half-opened hand, you dole out your measured mite, as you call it, in a good cause, or a cause you cannot venture to put away as bad; or when you labour hard at your cheerless daily toil, or drag your lazy limbs along in some self-prescribed walk of beneficence, as if you were doing the dullest piece-work for the scantiest wages; and when you count such sort of service religion, as if that were the new obedience to which you are called;—can you wonder that you have no joy in the Lord? May not God say to you, as he said once to another, who, however grudgingly, must yet do his pleasure,—“Have you considered my servant Jesus?” Get something of his acquaintance with me, and with my plans and my ways. Get something of his spirit as he rejoiced to feel always the greatness of the trust committed to him. Get it from himself. Get it in himself. “Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him.”
For, fourthly, here is the chiefest element of his joy. He is “meek and lowly in heart;” and therefore “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light;” so easy, so light, that he may count it joy to bear them. It is not an easy yoke in itself that is his; nor a light burden. But his meekness and lowliness in heart makes the yoke easy, and the burden light. The yoke that was laid on his neck when he took the form of a servant was hard indeed; the yoke of subjection to the law, as broken by us and demanding satisfaction from him. The burden that was lying on his shoulders all the time he was doing the work of a servant was heavy indeed; the burden of bringing in an everlasting righteousness, with full expiation of guilt on behalf of us, miserable sinners. But as the seven years of service seemed to Jacob but one day for the love he bore to Rachel, so the meek and lowly heart of Jesus makes the hard yoke easy and the heavy burden light. In his case, as in Jacob’s, the charm is love; love, rejoicing in his Father, whose will he is doing; love, rejoicing over us, whom he is purchasing to be his spouse. For, in a word, it is his self-renunciation, so absolute and entire; his self-forgetting, self-sacrificing affection; his so completely losing himself, merging himself, in the Father whom he serves and the people whom he saves; this is that meekness and lowliness of heart which, making his yoke easy to him and his burden light, moves him, “rejoicing in spirit,” to cry, “I thank thee, O Father.” We must share that meekness of his; that lowliness of heart. We, like him, must be emptied of self.
For no true joy is or can be selfish. I may hug myself, and applaud myself, and pamper myself, and think to laugh all thought of others, and all care about their thoughts of me, away. I do but kick against the pricks. The task of vindicating my self-sufficiency and asserting my self-will, to my own contentment, against all and sundry, I soon find to be no child’s play; but a hard yoke indeed, and a heavy burden. Let me get out of my own narrow self into Christ, and the large heart of Christ. Let me, like him, be meek and lowly in heart; accepting the conditions of my earthly lot; discharging the duty of my earthly calling; meeting the trials of my earthly pilgrimage; not as if I were entitled selfishly to take credit for what I do, or take amiss anything I have to suffer; but simply in loving obedience to my heavenly Father, and loving sympathy with him in his truth and holiness and wide and pure benevolence. That was Christ’s way; that was Christ’s joy. Then may I have freedom, enlargement, joy, as Christ had, in walking with my Father in heaven always; going about in my Father’s name doing good; drinking whatever cup my Father giveth me; and on whatever cross he may see fit to nail me, saying still, as I give up the ghost, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
(II.) The reality of this joy,—Christ’s own joy remaining in us,—may now be partly apparent. But who shall venture to describe its fullness? “That my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full;” so he speaks to his apostles. “That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves;” so he speaks to the Father concerning them. “That your joy may be full;” such is the beloved apostle’s longing on behalf of his disciples, as it was his master’s on behalf of his chosen ones.
Surely, one would say, it is to the future state, the life to come, the world beyond the grave, that these expressions point. And that is doubtless true. In its utmost and ultimate perfection, this full joy belongs to heaven. So it is with Christ’s own personal joy. In heaven he fully rejoices with the Father and the eternal Spirit over his fulfilled work of glorious righteousness and grace, and the fulfilled fruits of it, in the fulfilled salvation of all the multitude of his redeemed.
Was it something of that joy that Paul caught a glimpse of in that strange ecstasy of his, when he was caught up into the third heaven,—into paradise,—and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter? (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Was it Moses and Elias that he overheard, as on a higher mount of transfiguration, talking with Jesus about the decease now accomplished at Jerusalem? Or was it Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the everlasting Father, communing with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, now in his bosom evermore, and the blessed Spirit plying evermore his ministry between God and men? But “something sealed the lips” of Paul. Let me, therefore, be silent, and wait. Let me rather see if there is not some sense, some humbler and more practicable point of view,—in which I have to do with that fullness of joy.
In the 45th Psalm the Messiah, rejoicing over his church as a bridegroom over his bride, is thus saluted: “Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.” This gladness of the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling spices is all associated with his loving righteousness and hating wickedness. The secret of his full joy lies in his being, as his Father is, the holy one and the just.
Hence there can be no discrepancy of thought, or taste, or feeling, between him and the Father who has sent him. All things about his mission appear to him as they appear to the Father; they are to him what they are to the Father; No painful effort is ever needed to bring his judgment into subjection to the Father’s; or his will into harmony with the Father’s. No lurking tendency of his own nature toward evil; no insidious suggestion of the tempter; no impatience of subordination; no secret longing to taste the liberty of self-will;—can ever interfere with his walking in the light as God is in the light. And that is the perfection of blessedness. To one who is at once a servant and a son that is “fullness of joy.” Is it attainable by us here? Yes, in measure, and in growing measure. Let our nature be assimilated to that of God; our mind to his; our heart to his. Let our souls learn the lesson of seeing as he sees and feeling as he feels. Let sin be to us what it is to him; and righteousness and truth as well. Let there be a clear understanding between him and us upon all questions; a thorough identity of interest and inclination in all points; an entire agreement of opinion and choice in the great strife of good and evil going on in the world. That was Christ’s own joy. And it was fullness of joy, even when his personal share in that strife cost him the tears of Gethsemane and the bitter cry of Calvary. Let it be ours, more and more, through our growth in grace and in holiness. All misery lies in our judgment not being in subjection to God’s; our will not being in harmony with his. Misery ends, and fullness of joy comes, when we think and feel and wish as God does. Therefore fullness of joy may be ours; ours more and more; when “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,”—this glory of his being the Father’s willing servant and loyal Son,—“we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
And now, perhaps, we may see more clearly than we have been accustomed to see the propriety of this “joy of the Lord,”—this “joy in the Lord,”—being represented as not merely a privilege, but a duty. “Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say unto you rejoice.” For this joy is not anything like that sort of mysterious incomprehensible rapture into which the spirits may be occasionally thrown under some sudden and irresistible impulse from without or from within. It is not mere excitement. It is not what many call enthusiasm, proper to high festivals. It is a calm and sober frame of mind, suited for everyday wear and everyday work. Neither is its nature recondite, abstruse, and mystical; nor does it come and go in flashes, like the winged fire of heaven. It can be explained and accounted for; analysed and described. Its elements and causes can be specified. Its rise and progress can be traced. It is not therefore an attainment with which we can dispense; it is “our strength.” Nor is it a grace for which we may idly wait until it drop upon us unawares from above. We have it in us, the germ of it, the essence of it, if we have Christ in us; if we have the Spirit of Christ. “And if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Stir up then the gift that is in you. Do you ask how? Observe the different connections in which your sharing the Lord’s joy stands in the farewell discourses and the farewell prayer;—as first, with your keeping his commandments and abiding in his love, as he kept the Father’s commandments, and abode in the Father’s love (John 15:10-11); secondly, with your asking in his name as you have never asked before (John 16:24); and, thirdly, with your being kept in the Father’s name, in ever-brightening disclosures of the Father’s glorious perfections John 17:11, John 17:13). And observe, in the fourth place, the beloved apostle’s warm appreciation of this joy as realised in the communion of saints: “Having many things to write unto you, I would net write with paper and ink; but I trust to come unto you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (2 John 1:12).
Surely this joy of the Lord, as it is thus intimately associated;—first with obedience,—secondly with prayer,—thirdly with the study of the divine character,—and fourthly with the cultivation of Christian communion;—is no rare rapture, to be snatched at intervals of excited devotion. It is, on the contrary, a calm and chastened frame of mind; such as may be realised in every common duty, in every humble supplication, in every devout exercise of soul upon the divine word, in every greeting exchanged lovingly with any of the Lord’s people.
Well therefore may the apostolic precept run thus” Rejoice evermore.” For this joy is independent of events and circumstances. The labours you are engaged in may be the hardest drudgery; the people to whom you are seeking to be useful may be the most perverse of all men. Your temper, patience, love, faith, hope, may be tried to the very utmost; all may seem dark; friends may change, and enemies may be round about you. But Christ is the same, and his joy is the same; the joy of doing and suffering his Father’s will. “Rejoice ye if ye are counted worthy to suffer for his sake.” “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience,” and that if “patience has her perfect work” ye shall be “perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” Let nothing mar or damp your joy. What can mar or damp it if it is Christ’s joy remaining in you; Christ’s joy fulfilled in you; Christ’s joy and yours together in his Father and your Father, his God and your God “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
That was the prophet’s joy, because he apprehended it as Christ’s joy, seeing his day afar off, and being glad as he saw it. Let it be your joy also, your joy in him, “whom having not seen you love, and in whom, though now you see him not, you rejoice;” with his own joy fulfilled in you; and therefore “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Part First. The First Condition of the Divine Fellowship—Light (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:17)
III. The Ground or Reason of this First Condition; Light Being at Once the Nature and the Dwelling-Place of God
“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”—1 John 1:5-7
HAVING explained the general aim of his book—to make his readers, as disciples, partakers of the same fellowship which he and his fellow-apostles had with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, and of the fullness of joy in the Lord which that implies,—the writer proceeds to open up the nature and character of this fellowship of joy. He beans by laying down the first and primary condition of it, the fundamentally necessary qualification for its possession, that without which it cannot be. It is light; the fellowship must be a fellowship in light. He enlarges on that requirement, and sets it out in various points of view. First, he shows how it rests, not on any merely arbitrary or sovereign divine appointment, but on a holy necessity of the divine nature, admitting of no compromise or evasion (1 John 1:5-7). Thereafter, with a tenderness and faithfulness all his own, he brings the man of simple, guileless spirit into the light, through the door of honest confession and righteous forgiveness (1:8-2:2). And then, leading him on in the line of intelligent and loving obedience, under the unction and illumination of the Holy Spirit, making him one with the Holy Anointed One, and in him one with all the holy brethren (1 John 2:3-14);—as well as also in the line of a clear and sharp discrimination between the passing darkness and its passing world on the one hand, and the abiding of the light and of its godliness on the other (1 John 2:15-29);—he lands the man of guileless spirit in that indwelling in the Son and in the Father which ensures first, steadfastness amid all anti-Christian defections and apostasies; secondly, the receiving of the promise of eternal life, and thirdly, full confidence in the expectation of the Lord’s coming (1 John 2:18-28). Such I take to be the topic of this first part of the Epistle; and such the successive aspects in which it is presented.
In the verses now before us (1 John 1:5-7), John gives the ground or reason of his primary and fundamental condition,—that the fellowship must be a fellowship in light; and shows how it rests, not on any merely arbitrary or sovereign ordinance of God, but on his very nature and essential perfection. Accordingly, in that view, we have first a solemn message, next a faithful warning, and lastly a gracious assurance. These are the three steps in this high argument; a solemn message in the fifth verse; a faithful warning in the sixth; and a gracious assurance m the seventh.
I. The form of the announcement in the fifth verse is very peculiar: “This, then, is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you.” It is not a discovery which we make concerning God, an inference or deduction which we draw for ourselves from observation of his works and ways, and which we publish in that character, and with that weight of influence, to our fellow-men. It is an authentic and authoritative communication to us, from himself. And it is to be accepted as such. It is a message which John and his fellow apostles have heard of him, expressly in order that they may declare it, as a message, to us. It is substantially Jehovah himself telling us, through the apostles, about himself, what in his own person he told the church of old about himself when he said, “I am holy.” For the light is holiness; “I am holy;” “God is light.”
The message is twofold. First, positively, “God is light;” next, negatively, “In him is no darkness at all.
1. Positively, “God is light.” This is a metaphor, a figure of speech. And in that view, it might suggest a world of varied analogies between the nature of God and ‘the nature of the material element of light. Light is diffusive, penetrating, searching; spreading itself over all space, and entering into every hole and corner. It is quickening and enlivening; a minister of healthy vigour and growth to all living creatures, plants and animals alike, including man himself. It is pleasant also; a source of relief and gladness to those who bask in its bright and joyous rays.
But there are two of its properties that may be singled out as specially relevant to this great comparison.
In the first place, light is clear, transparent, translucent; patent and open, always and everywhere, as far as its free influence extends. The entrance of light, which itself is real, spreads reality all around. Clouds and shadows are unreal; they breed and foster unrealities. Light is the naked truth. Its very invisibility is, in this view, its power. It is not seen because it is so pure.
For, secondly, a certain character of inviolability belongs to it, in respect of which, while it comes in contact with all things, it is itself affected by nothing. It kisses carrion; it embraces foul pollution; it enters into the innermost recesses of the rottenness in which worms uncleanly revel. It is the same clear element of light still; taking no soil; contracting no stain;—its brightness not dimmed, nor its viewless beauty marred. It endureth for ever, clean and clear.
Now, when it is said, “God is light;” when he says it of himself; when he makes it his own personal and special message to us, which his apostles and ministers are to be always receiving of him and declaring to us;—the one heavenly telegram, or express telegraphic despatch, which they are to be reading to us and we are to be reading to our neighbours, that we may have fellowship, all of us together, with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ;—let not our imaginations wander in a wilderness of fanciful resemblances. Let these two thoughts be fixed in our minds; first, the thought of perfect openness; and secondly, the thought of perfect inviolability. Let these be our thoughts of God, and of his essential character, as being, and declaring himself to be, “light.” Thus “God is light.”
2. Negatively, “In him is no darkness at all.” I connect this part of the statement with that saying of John in his Gospel; “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). In the light itself, in him who is the light,—even when shining in darkness, the darkness that comprehendeth it not,—there is still no darkness at all.
It must be to some very intimate actual contact of the light—of him who is the light—with darkness; some close encounter and conflict between them, that this second clause of the message refers. Otherwise it is but a repetition of the first; serving only to weaken its force. “The light shineth in darkness.” He who is the light comes, in the person of his Son, to seek and to save us, who are in darkness; who, as to our character, and state, and prospects, are darkness itself. For there is not now in us and around us the element of clearness, brightness, openness, in which we were created at first. Sin has entered; and with sin, shame. There can be pure and simple nakedness no longer. The clear, open sunshine of the presence and countenance of him who is light is no longer tolerable. The covering of fig-leaves, and the hiding-place of the trees of the garden, are preferred. Light henceforth is offensive. The unquiet and unclean soul is like that old chaos, “without form and void;” and “darkness is upon the face of the deep.” With that darkness, the darkness of death, he who is light, the light of life, is brought into fellowship.
And the fellowship is no mere form or name; it is real, actual, personal. The darkness is laid hold of by the light. He who is light enters into the darkness; sounding its utmost depths; searching its inmost recesses. Where guilty fear crouches; where foul corruption festers; he Penetrates. He even makes the darkness his own. He takes it upon himself. Its power, “the power of darkness,” is upon him; its power to wrap the sin-laden spirit in a horror of thickest night, in the gloom of hell. Yes!For our sakes, in our stead, in our nature, he who is light is identified with our darkness. And yet “in him is no darkness at all.” In the very heat and crisis of this death-struggle, there is no surrender of the light to the darkness; no concession, no compromise; no malting of terms; no allowance of some partial shading of the light on which the darkness presses so terribly. No! “He is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” All still is clear, open, transparent, between the Son and the Father. Even when the Father hides his face, and “his sword awakes against the man that is his fellow,” and the Son cries as one forsaken; even in that dark hour there is no evasion of heaven’s light; no trafficking with the darkness of earth or hell. There is no hiding then; no shrinking; no feeling as if truth might become a little less true, and holiness a little less holy, to meet the appalling emergency. The worst is unflinchingly faced. In the interest of light triumphing over darkness, not by any plausible terms of accommodation, but before the open the cup and the Son drains it to the dregs. In that great transaction, thus consummated, before all intelligences, between the Father and the Son, it is clearly seen and conclusively proved that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
II. Such being the message in the fifth verse, the warning in the sixth verse becomes simply a self-evident inference: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” For if it is really into the fellowship of him who testifies of himself that he is light that we enter; and if it is in and through that wondrous way of dealing with our darkness; the incompatibility between our claiming fellowship with him and our walking in darkness is so gross that it may well warrant the strong language, “we lie, and do not the truth.” The thing indeed is in itself impossible. We cannot, if we walk in darkness, have fellowship with him; “for what fellowship hath light with darkness? or what communion hath Christ with Belial? “The profession of such a thing is a lie. And it is a practical lie. He who makes it is not speaking, but acting, an untruth. His life is a practical falsehood. The apostle’s words are very plain and energetic; but they are not more so than the case requires: “we lie, and do not the truth.”
For what is this walking in darkness? What does it imply?
One answer, in the first instance, must be given, plain and simple enough. All unholy walking is walking in darkness. So far there can be no mistake. The works of darkness are the works of the flesh (Ephesians 5:3-11; Galatians 5:19-21). But the matter must be pressed a little more closely home.
The characteristics of light, as has been seen, are, on the one hand, clearness, openness, transparency; and on the other hand, inviolability, its taking no impression from anything it comes in contact with, but retaining and preserving its own pure nature, unmodified, unmingled, unsoiled, unsullied by external influences, everywhere and evermore the same. Now darkness is the opposite of this light, and is characterised by opposite features. Instead of openness, there is concealment and disguise; instead of inviolability, there is facile impressibility. Any object, every object, flings its shadow across the benighted path; shapes of all sorts haunt the gloom.
Now, without making too much of the figure, let the one thought of darkness being that which hides, dwell in our minds; and by the test of that thought let us try ourselves. Are we living, practically, in a moral and spiritual atmosphere, such as may cause distorted or disturbed vision, and so admit of things appearing different from what they really are? Is the room we sit in so shaded that what we care not to look for may escape our observation, and the somewhat coarse or crazy furniture may be skilfully arranged; its blemishes varnished over; its doubtful beauties magnified and made the most of?
Ah! this walking in darkness! Is it not after all just walking deceitfully? Is it not simple insincerity, the want of perfect openness and transparent honesty in our dealings with God and with ourselves as to the real state of our hearts towards God, and the bent and bias of our affections away from God towards selfishness and worldliness! Is it not that we have in us and about us something to conceal or to disguise; something that does not quite satisfy us; something about which we have at least occasional misgivings; something that, when we think seriously, and confess, and pray, we slur over and do not like to dwell upon; something that we try to represent to ourselves as not so bad as it seems—as indeed, in the circumstances, excusable and unavoidable?
Alas, for this “deceitfulness of the heart!” It is indeed, its “desperate wickedness.”
It is not that I seek to shroud myself in a thick cloak, under cloud of night, that, unseen by my fellows, I may wield the assassin’s knife,—or hatch with an accomplice some plot against the just,—or with some frail companion do the deed of shame. It is not that I lock myself up alone in my secret and solitary chamber, to gloat over the cruel gains of griping avarice, or nurse in imagination some unhallowed passion. That, doubtless, is walking in darkness. But it is not perhaps the most insidious, or seductive, or subtle sort of such walking. It is when I would have the darkness, more or less thick, to hide me, or some part of me, from myself, and, if it were possible, from my God, that my walking in darkness becomes most perilous; when the secret consciousness that all is not right in me with reference to my Father in heaven—or that my brother on earth may have cause of complaint against me—moves me to get something interposed between me and the pure, clear light of a quickened conscience, and the purer, clearer light of omniscient holiness. It matters not what that something may be. It may be the screen of some better quality on which I flatter myself I am unassailable. Or it may be some good deeds and devout observances which I am almost unawares setting up for a shelter. Or it may be some well-adjusted scheme of self-excuse and self-justification. It is something that casts a shadow. And walking in the darkness of that shadow, however I may say, and even think, that I have fellowship with God, I “lie and do not the truth.” I do not act truly, there is guile in my spirit.
It is not merely that my walking thus in darkness is so irreconcilable with my having fellowship with him who “is light and in whom is no darkness at all,” that to claim such fellowship is to lie. That is implied in this statement; but it is not all that is implied in it. The walking in darkness is itself the lie; the acted, not spoken, untruth. It is aggravated, no doubt, by my saying that I have fellowship with him. But my saying so is a mere aggravation; it is not that which constitutes or makes the lie; if it were, the lie charged would be a spoken, and not an acted untruth. It would consist in my false profession. The charge would be a charge of conscious hypocrisy; saying that I have fellowship with him while my deliberate walking in darkness proves even to myself the contrary. That charge is not here; at least not necessarily. It is the hypocrisy of practice rather than of profession that is denounced.
I say that I have fellowship with him, not meaning to profess an untruth. But I walk in darkness; and in so walking I necessarily lie. Apart from anything I may say, my walking in darkness is in itself practical lying. “I do not the truth.” I am not acting truly. I am not willing to have all that I do, and all that I am, brought fairly out and placed fully in the broad clear light of truth. I would wish it to be excused, or explained, or somehow obscured or coloured; huddled up or hurried over. I am not for having it exposed in the glaring sunshine. There is something in or about it that to some extent needs and courts the shade. “I lie and do not the truth.” And therefore I cannot have fellowship with him who is True, him who is Holy, him who is Light. For it is only “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,” that we can have fellowship one with another; the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleansing us from all sin.
III. From the solemn message in the fifth verse, and the faithful warning in the sixth, the gracious assurance in the seventh fitly follows: “We have fellowship one with another;” God with us and we with God. For it is not our mutual fellowship as believers among ourselves that is meant; the introduction of that idea is irrelevant, and breaks the sense. It is our joint fellowship with God, and his with us, that alone is to the purpose here.
The expression indeed is peculiar; it may seem to savour of familiarity; putting the two parties almost, as it were, on a level; “We have fellowship one with another;” we with God and God with us.
The explanation may be found in the conditional clause—“if we walk in the light, as he is in the light.” For that clause associates God and us very intimately together. Observe a certain change of phraseology. It is not “as he is light,” but “as he is in the light.” It is a significant change. It brings out this great thought, that the same clear and lucid atmosphere surrounds us both. We walk in the light in which God is. It is the light of his own pure truth, his own holy nature. The light in which he is, in which he dwells, is his own light; the light which he is himself. In that light he sits enthroned. In that light he sees and knows, he surveys and judges, all things. And now the supposition is, that we walk,—as he is,—in that light. To us, the light in which we walk is identically the same as the light in which he is. The same lustrous glory of holiness shines on our walk and on his throne. The very same pure medium of vision is common to us both. “We see light in his light.” Of old, it was written, respecting the scene at Sinai, “The people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21). But now it is all light! For it is indeed a marvellous community of light that is here indicated as subsisting between God and us; between the Holy One and his redeemed and regenerate people!
To have the same medium of vision with God himself; the same translucent, transparent atmosphere of holiness and truth and love surrounding us; penetrating our inner man and purging our mind’s eye, our soul’s eye, our heart’s eye, that it may see as God’s eye sees; illuminating all space to us,—before, behind, above, below,—with the very illumination with which it is illuminated to him; causing all objects, actions, and events, all men and things, all thoughts, words, and deeds,—our own as well as those of others,—to appear to us exactly what they appear to him; thus to “walk in the light, as he is in the light”—who may stand that? Ah me! How shall I ever venture to walk out into that light in which God is? How can I face its terrible disclosures? I can see how this “walking in the light as he is in the light,” does indeed open the way to fellowship of the closest sort between him and me. Literally we see all things in the same light. We therefore cannot but understand one another; and agree with one another; and sympathise with one another; and co-operate with one another; “we have fellowship one with another.” But is it possible that, with respect to all things whatsoever, I can bear to have the same light, the same medium of open vision, that God has? Sin, for instance; my sin; every sin of mine; every secret sin; so exceeding sinful! Oh! with such sin, and so much, about me, upon me, in me,—how dare I go forth into that very light, so pure and piercing, in which God is? And yet where else now am I to look for him and find him in peace?
I thank thee, O my God, O my Father, for that most precious word in season: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Yes! it is “a word in season to the weary.” For I am weary; weary of the darkness in which I have been trying to hide or paint deformity, and get up some specious semblance of decency and beauty; weary of all impostures and all lies; the poor and paltry lies especially of my self-deluding, or scarcely even self-deluding, self-righteousness; weary of all attempts to take advantage of the darkness for making evil seem a little less evil, and some show of good look a little more like reality. I would fain step forth from the darkness into light; into thy light, O God!
Thou mayest, do I hear thee say?—For, be thy guilt ever so deep and thy heart ever so black, the blood of Jesus Christ my Son cleanseth from all sin. He has answered for all thy guilt. He has purchased for thee a new heart. The fountain filled with his atoning blood is ever freely open and full to overflowing. Wash in that fountain and be clean. Enter into the victory of light over darkness which that blood secures. Let all compromise take end; compromise is a work of darkness. I invite thee to have fellowship with me; fellowship real, and not merely nominal, with me and with my Son Jesus Christ;—fellowship with us in our plan and purpose of saving mercy,—in all its grace and all its glory;—a fellowship in it with us, of insight, confidence, partnership, sympathy, joy. If it is to be real fellowship, it must be a fellowship of light. I cannot modify, I cannot alter, that condition of the fellowship, any more than I can cease to be what I am—“light.” But I do what is far better. I make provision for the removal of every obstacle which your’ guilt and corruption might interpose in the way of your walking in the light as I am in the light. I give you the assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ my Son cleanseth from all sin.
IV. The Condition Fulfilled in the Believing Confession of a Guileless Spirit
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”—1 John 1:8-10
THE gracious assurance that “the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin,” suggests the supposition of our “saying that we have no sin.” For if we, “walking in the light as God is in the light,” could say that truly, we might dispense with the relief which the assurance is fitted to give. But, alas! we can say it only under the influence of self-deception, and such self-deception as implies the absence of that “truth in the inward parts” which God “desires” (Psalms 51:6). Better far to “confess our sins,” believing that God “forgiveth our sins,” and that he does so in such a way of “faithfulness and justice” as insures our being “cleansed from all unrighteousness” with regard to them,—all unfair and partial dealing with conscience or with God about them. In this full faith let us “confess our sins.” For if, after all, even in our confession, there is reserve and guile, trying to make out that in this or that instance “we have not sinned,” or not sinned so much as might appear, we are guilty still of an unbelieving distrust of God; “we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Such is the line of the Apostle’s argument, in three successive steps or stages.
I. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). It is not deliberate hypocrisy that we are here warned against; but a far more subtle form of falsehood, and one apt more easily to beset us, as believers, even when most seriously and earnestly bent on “walking in the light as God is in the light.”
And yet our venturing to say that we have no sin might seem to be a height of presumption scarcely reconcilable with any measure of sincerity. Any such claim put forward by a child of God the world laughs to scorn. For the world itself makes no such profession. The children of the world are wonderfully ready to chime in with the general acknowledgment implied in the prayer: “Have mercy upon us miserable sinners.” Others may set up for saints. We are contented to be, and to be accounted, sinners. We do not deny that we have faults, plenty of faults, some of them perhaps rather serious at times; although none of them such as we may not hope that a merciful God and Father will overlook and pardon. They too deceive themselves, these children of the world. But their self-deception is not of the same sort as that which John denounces. This last is not, like the former, a vague reliance on indulgence and impunity. It may be the error of a soul working its way, through intense mortification of lust and crucifixion of self, to an ideal of perfection all but divine.
In its subtlest form, it is a kind of mysticism more akin to the visionary cast of ancient and oriental musing than to the more practical turn of thought and feeling that commonly prevails among us. Look at yonder attenuated sad etherealised recluse, who has been grasping in successful philosophic systems, or schools of varied theosophical discipline, the means of extricating himself out of the dark bondage of carnal and worldly pollution, and soaring aloft into the light of pure spiritual freedom and repose. After many trials of other schemes, Christianity is embraced by him; not, however, as a discovery of the way in which God proposes to deal with him, but rather as an instrument by which he may deal with himself; a medicine to be self-administered; a remedy to be self-applied. By the laboured imitation of’ Christ, or by a kind of forced absorption into Christ, considered simply as the perfect model or ideal, his soul, emancipated from its bodily shackles and its earthly entanglements, is to reach a height of serene illumination which no bodily or earthly stain can dim. From such aspirations, the next step, and it is a short and ready one, is into the monstrous fanaticism which would make spiritual illumination compatible with carnal indulgence and worldly lust, and represent it as quite a possible thing for a man wallowing in outward debauchery to be still inwardly pure and sinless; his inward and sinless purity being so enshrined in a certain divine sublimity and transcendentalism of devotion that outward defilement cannot touch it. Church history, beginning even with the apostle’s own day, furnishes more than one instance of men thus deplorably “deceiving themselves, saying they have no sin.”
Such instances may not be applicable now. But they indicate the direction in which the danger lies. It lies in the line of our sanctification; our purpose and endeavour to “walk in the light, as God is in the light.”
When first we come forth out of our darkness into the broad light in which God dwells; when there is no more any guile in our spirits, no more any keeping of silence; when the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ so shines in us and around us, as to make all clouds and shadows break and fly away, and leave only the bright pellucid atmosphere of God’s own nature, which is light, as the medium of vision through which, in and with God, we see ourselves and all things; ah! with such discoveries of indwelling sin as then burst upon our quickened and enlightened consciences, how thankful are we for the assurance that “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin.” There is nothing then like “saying that we have no sin.” On the contrary, we are where Paul was in that deep experience of his, when the law, now loved and delighted in as “holy and just and good,” so came home to him by the power of the Spirit as to bring out in terrible conflict its own spirituality and his inherent carnality;—extorting from him the groan—“O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Like him, we “thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” for the encouragement we have to believe, and to believe just as we are,—with the mind serving the law of God, but with the flesh still, in spite of the mind, serving the law of sin,—that “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Believing this, and apprehending all the relief that there is in believing it, we “walk now not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Romans 7:8). With enlargement of heart we “walk in the light as God is in the light,” and so “we have fellowship one with another,”—he with us and we with him,—the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleansing us from all sin. Our appropriation of that atoning blood, in all its cleansing efficacy, gives us courage to continue still walking in the light, instead of shrinking hack, as otherwise we must be tempted to do, into the old darkness in which we used to shroud ourselves. Such walking with God, in such a fellowship of light, is as safe as it is joyous.
But the risk lies here. It is a sort of walking with God, which, if we persevere in it faithfully, may become irksome, and be felt to be humiliating. For the old uneasy nature in us; with the rankling suspicions of our old relationship to God, is apt to come in again to mar the childlike simplicity of our faith. For a time the new insight we have got, under that light in which we walk, into the spiritual law of God and into our own carnal selves, keeps us shut up into Christ; and into that continual sprinkling of his blood upon us, without which we cannot have a moment’s peace, or a moment’s sense of being cleansed from sin. But gradually we come to be more at ease. We cannot be altogether insensible to the growing satisfaction of our new standing with God and our new feelings towards him. Before the fervour of our first fresh love, inward struggles are hushed. The evil that but yesterday seemed to be so unconquerable ceases to make itself so acutely felt. The crisis is past; the war, as a war to the knife, is ended; grace prevails; iniquity, as ashamed, hides its face.
Ah! then begins the secret lurking inclination to cherish within myself some thought equivalent to “saying that I have no sin.” It may not so express itself. It may not be self-acknowledged, or even self-conscious. It comes insidiously as a thief to steal away my integrity before I am aware of it. Remaining corruption in me ceases gradually to give trouble or distress. A certain lethargic proneness to acquiesce in things as they are creeps over me. I am not conscious of anything very far amiss in my spiritual experience or in my practical behaviour. I begin to “say that I have no sin.”
But “I deceive myself, and the truth is not in me.” I am fast sinking into my old natural habit of evasion and equivocation, of self-excuse and self-justification. “Guile” is taking the place of “truth,” the truth of God, “in my spirit,” “in my inward parts.” I cease to be as sensitively alive as I once was to whatever in me or about me cannot stand the light. I am thus incurring a serious hazard; the hazard of being again found walking in darkness, and so disqualifying myself for fellowship with him who is light. And I am apt to lose a very precious privilege: the privilege of continual and constant confession, in order to continual and constant forgiveness. For—
II. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This, I say, is a privilege. It will appear to be so if we consider the sort of confession meant, as well as the sort of forgiveness connected with it. As to the confession, it is the confession of men “walking in the light, as God is in the light;” having the same medium of vision that God has; it is the continual confession of men continually so walking, and so seeing. Such confession is very different from the sort of confession in which the natural conscience seeks at intervals a lightening of its guilty burden, and a lessening of its guilty fears. That is the mere emptying of the foul stomach, that it may be filled anew with the vile stuff for which its diseased appetite and corrupt taste continue as keen as ever. This, again, is the laying bare always of the whole inner man to the kind and wise physician who can always thoroughly heal it all.
For the forgiveness, on the faith of which and with a view to which we are thus always to be confessing our sins, will always be found to be a very complete treatment of our case. What is the treatment?
The sins we confess are so forgiven, that we are cleansed from all unrighteousness with regard to them. This means much more than that we are let off from the punishment which they deserve, and have to answer for them no longer. That is all the absolution for which the church-penitent, at whatever confessional, naturally cares. But that is not what is here held out to us. Our sins are so forgiven as to ensure that in the very forgiveness of them we are cleansed from all unrighteousness,—all unfair, deceitful, and dishonest dealing about them; all such unrighteous dealing about them, either with our own conscience or with our God. The forgiveness is so free, so frank, so full, so unreserved, that it purges our bosom of all reserve, all reticence, all guile; in a word, “of all unrighteousness.” And it is so because it is dispensed in faithfulness and righteousness; “he is faithful and just in forgiving our sins.” He to whom, as always thus dealing with us, we always thus submit ourselves, is true and righteous in all his ways, and specially in his way of meeting the confidence we place in him when we confess our sins.
We open our heart to him; we are always opening it. We spread out our case before him; concealing nothing; palliating nothing. We tell him of all that is sad and distressing in our conflict with indwelling corruption, as well as of all our failures and shortcomings in our strivings after conformity to his law. We speak to him of sloth and selfishness, of worldliness and carnality, damping our zeal, quenching our love, making us miserably indifferent to the good work going on around us, and shamefully tolerant of abounding evil. On the subject of such experiences as these we are coming always to confer with our God, in the light in which he is, and in which it is our aim to walk. We find him always “faithful and just;”—not indulgent merely, kind and complaisant, bidding us take good heart and not be so much cast down;—but “faithful and just.” God is true; true to himself, and true to us; so true to himself and to us that all untruth in us becomes impossible.
Ah, brother! you may well trust him with all the secrets of your soul, for well does he requite your trust. He is “faithful;” keeping covenant and mercy; never saying to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye my face in vain. He is “just.” He will not, in seeming pity, do you a real injustice. He will not heal your hurt slightly. He will not prophesy smooth things. “He will set your iniquities before him, your secret sins in the light of his countenance.” He will keep you in his hand, and under his hand, until all partial dealing—“all unrighteousness” as to any of your sins,—is cleansed out of you. With the charm of true love he will work truth and uprightness in you; so that, as to your whole walk, inner and outer alike, all shall be clear light—light, clear as crystal—between him and you.
That is the sort of intercourse which it is my Father’s good pleasure that I should keep up with him continually. It is very different from a mere endless alternation on my part of sin and confession; of confession and sin. It is not on his part a mere capricious oscillation between passion and pity,—between violent wrath and facile fondness—like what is felt or fancied when I, a slave, offend and ask pardon, and offend again, reckoning on the placability of a weak master, who, however he may be moved to sudden rage, is sure to relent when he sees me prostrate at his feet. In such dealing with me there is neither faithfulness nor justice. Nor is it such dealing with me that will work faithfulness and justice in me. If that is the footing on which I am living with my God and Father, it may be consistent with my saying, in a sense, that “I have no sin;” no sin that need disturb my quiet or distress my conscience. But “I deceive myself, and the truth is not in me.” I cast myself off from all that is real and genuine, all that is clear and open, in the fellowship of light that there must ever be between a trusting child and a loving father; especially when that loving father has made such full provision, in so marvellous a way, for the removal of whatever element of dark estrangement my contracted guilt or his violated law might interpose. I refuse to submit myself continually anew to that faithful and just searching of my heart and reins which, if I would but suffer it, must issue continually anew in my being forgiven all my sins, and so forgiven as to be cleansed from all unrighteousness with regard to any of them. Surely such clear, bright, open, confidential fellowship between him who is light and his little child trying to walk in his light, far transcends any poor measure of accommodation which a hollow truce between us might purpose to effect. Let us have that fellowship evermore. All the rather because—
III. If, in the face of such a faithful manner of forgiveness on the part of God, we continue to shrink from that open dealing and guileless confession which our walking in the light as God is in the light implies—we not only wrong ourselves, and do violence to our own consciousness and our own conscience; but, “saying that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
This is a stronger statement than that in the eighth verse. It is not “we deceive ourselves,” but “we make God a liar;” not generally, “the truth is not in us,” but very pointedly and particularly, “his word is not in us.” The difference is explained by the assurance given in the intermediate verse—“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
For that assurance, as has been shown, opens the way to a very confidential intercourse of confession on the one hand, and just and faithful treatment of our ease on the other, between us and our Father in heaven. If we think at any moment that we do not need this sort of intercourse, that we can dispense with it and do without it, we labour under a grievous delusion; we deceive ourselves; some self-excusing or self-justifying lie is expelling from within our souls the bright clear light of the truth. If again, after all the encouragement which he himself gives, we still at any moment hang back and hesitate, as if we could not venture on the sort of intercourse to which he invites us, surely that is inexcusable unbelief; refusing to trust God; giving the lie, not merely to his promises, but to his very character and nature; not suffering his word to have entrance into our hearts. To prefer now, even for a single instant, or with reference to a single sin, the miserable comfort of wrapping ourselves in fig-leaves and hiding among the trees of the garden, to the unspeakable joy of coming forth naked into the light in which God is, casting ourselves into his open arms and asking him to deal with us according to his own loving faithfulness and righteousness and truth;—that surely is a high affront to him and to his word, as well as a fond and foolish mistake for ourselves. There can be no fellowship of light between us and him if such unworthy sentiments of dark suspicion and reserve as this implies are again, at any time and in any measure, insinuating themselves into our bosoms.
For, as one indispensable condition of that fellowship,-and indeed the primary and fundamental condition of it,—is that “we walk in the light as he is in the light;” so another condition of it, arising out of the first, is that “we confess our sins.” The two indeed are one; the last is only a particular application of the former. Walking in the light as God is in the light, we must be continually learning t, see more clearly as he sees. Our medium of vision being the same as his, our vision itself must be growing more and more nearly the same, Insight and sympathy are ever brightening and deepening. Things come to be more and more in our eyes exactly what they are in his. We ourselves, and our works and ways, are more and more seen by us as they are seen by God.
Can this go on, honestly and really, without ever fresh discoveries and ever new experiences of such a sort as must always make confession, to the earnest and believing soul, a most welcome privilege indeed? It is not merely that I come to perceive in old sins a heinousness and an amount of aggravation that makes me feel as if I had never adequately acknowledged them in time past, but must be ever repenting of them anew, and getting them anew disposed of by their being laid anew on him who is the sin-bearer and the cross-bearer. Nor is it merely that new forms and phases of the ungodliness and selfishness and carnality of my heart,-new shifts and windings of its deceitfulness and desperate wickedness,—must be ever coming up and coming out to vex my quickened spiritual sensibility and damp the ardour of my faith and love. Both these sources of disquietude are, alas, too common. But above and beyond all that—in my very walking, as God’s fellow; being the fellow of his Son Jesus Christ; his fellow-servant, fellow-worker, fellow-sufferer, fellow-heir in his kingdom; as the Holy Spirit gives me an increasing sense and taste of what it is to walk with God in his own light; as I seek to carry that light, and him with whom I walk in fellowship in that light, into all the scenes and circumstances of my outer walk of faith, and all the fluctuations of my inner life of faith; how is my heart troubled! How many fountains of bitterness are ever freshly flowing! And then in the world, with its manifold calls that cannot be put aside, and its troublesome questions of lawfulness and expediency, I am too often at a loss and almost at a stand.
I may try to set aside all such annoyances, as not entering properly into my spiritual experience, and to keep that, as it were, isolated and pure. I may think that when I go to commune with my God and Father; when I enter into my closet and shut the door; when I seek his face and wait for his salvation;—I am to leave all my cares and troubles behind me on the threshold, and meet him in some lofty realm of spiritual peace, where sorrow and sin are to find no place. But I am deceiving myself. And I am refusing to trust my God and Father, and so I am giving him the lie. From such sin as that may he himself evermore deliver me!
Let me rather, taking him at his word, try the more excellent way of carrying with me always, in the full confidence of loving fellowship, into the secret place of my God, all that is upon my mind, my conscience, my heart; all that is harassing, or burdening, or tempting me; my present matter of care or subject of thought, whatever that may be. Let me unbosom all my grief. Let me freely and unreservedly speak to him of what is uppermost in my thoughts. There may be sin in it, or about it. There may be something wrong; some wound to be probed; some root of bitterness to be searched out; some offending right hand or right eye. Be it so. Still, let me open up all; let me confess all. Let me spread out my whole case. Let me empty and lay bare my whole soul. Let me put myself, and be ever putting myself, thoroughly, nakedly, unreservedly, into his hands. Surely I may rely on his dealing faithfully and righteously with me. Nor would I wish him to deal with me otherwise. He may “chasten me sore, but he will not give me over to death.” He may rebuke and convince; he may even smite and slay. But “though he slay me, I will trust in him.” I know that he requireth truth in the inward parts. I ask him therefore to lead me into all truth; into all the truth concerning myself as well as concerning Him; however painful the knowledge of it may be to my self-righteous feelings, and however deadly to my self-righteous hopes. I am for no half-measures now, no compromise, no concealment. I would keep back nothing from my God. I will not deceive myself by keeping silence about my sin. I will not make my God a liar,—I will not do my God and Father so great a wrong as to give him the lie,—by refusing entrance into my soul to that word of his which gives light, even the light of life. I will confess my sins, knowing and believing that as “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” so “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.”
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Candlish, Robert Smith. "Commentary on 1 John 1". The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter