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V. Sinless Aim of the Guileless Spirit—Provision for Its Continued Sense of Sin
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.”—1 John 2:1
TO obviate, as it might seem, an objection against his doctrine of confession, that it was liable to be turned into an allowance of sin, the Apostle first makes a most emphatic protest as to his real design in setting forth that doctrine; and secondly, puts the manner of restoration, through the advocacy of Christ, on a footing that effectually shuts out all licentious and latitudinarian abuse of it, in the line of practical antinomianism.
His first desire is to make clear the sinless aim of the guileless spirit, about the production of which he has been so much concerned.
And here his appeal is very affectionate: “My little children?” It is the appeal of a loving master to the good faith and good feeling of loving pupils; beseeching them not to misunderstand him, as if he meant to indulge or excuse them in sin. Nay, it is more than that. It is an appeal to their highest and holiest Christian ambition. Far from tolerating sin, I would have you to aim at being sinless. “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not;” that you may make it your express design and determination not to sin.
That is the full force of the Apostle’s language, when he says, “I write these things unto you that ye sin not.”
I. Let that be your aim, to “sin not.” Let it be deliberately set before you as your fixed and settled purpose that you are not to sin; not merely that you are to sin as little as you can; but that you are not to sin at all.
For there is a wide difference between these two ways of putting the matter. That in the business of your sanctification absolute holiness is to be your standard, you may admit. A sinless model or ideal is presented to you; and you acknowledge your obligation to be conformed to it. But is not the acknowledgment often accompanied with some sort of reserve or qualification? The measure of conformity that may be fairly expected must be limited by what your infirmity may hope to reach; nay, you even venture to add, by what God may be pleased to give you strength to reach. This is scarcely honest. It is not equivalent to an out and out determination not to sin. You do not really mean to be altogether without sin; but only so far as your own poor ability, aided by the Divine Spirit, may enable you to be so. Or, with reference to some specific work or trial that you have on hand, you do not really mean not to sin in it, but only not to sin in it more than you can help. Is it not so, both generally as regards your cultivation of a holy character, and particularly as regards your discharge of holy duties in detail? And what is that at bottom, but secret, perhaps unconscious, antinomianism? You are not in love with sin; you do not choose sin; you would rather, if it were possible, avoid it, and be wholly free from it. But that, you say, is impossible. You make up your minds therefore to its being impossible, and reckon beforehand on its being impossible. You wish and hope and pray, that the evil element may be reduced to a minimum. Still it is to be there; you are quite sure it will be there; and you must accommodate yourself to what is unavoidable. However you may try, you cannot expect to be without sin, or “not to sin.”
This is a very subtle snare. And it is not easily met. For it is founded on fact. It is but too true that in all that we do we come short of the sinless aim. That, however, is no reason for our not only anticipating fault or failure, but acquiescing in the anticipation. Above all, it is no reason why we should take it for granted by anticipation that some particular fault or failure, foreseen and foreknown by ourselves, must be acquiesced in. For the special danger lies there. It is not merely that in entering on any course of holy living, or engaging in any branch of holy labour, I feel certain that I shall sin in it. I have a shrewd suspicion as to how I shall sin in it. I can guess where the breakdown is to take place. I have tried already to keep this law as I see it should be kept, and to keep it perfectly. I will try again, asking God to incline my heart to keep it. I know well enough indeed that I shall fail and fall short. And I know well enough how I shall fail and fall short. Nevertheless, I can but try, and I will try, to do my best.
Is that, however, a really honest determination on my part not to sin? Am I not reconciling myself prospectively to some known besetting infirmity? Let us not deceive ourselves. Let us consider how inconsistent all such guileful dealing is with that “walking in the light, as God is in the light,” which is the indispensable condition of our fellowship with God and his with us. The very object of all that the apostle writes on that subject is that, at the very least, we rise to the high and holy attitude of determining not to sin. All that he tells us of “the word of life,” the life “which was with the Father and was manifested unto us;” all that he tells us of the divine fellowship for which the way is thus opened up; all that he tells us of the nature of him with whom our fellowship is to be, and of the provision made through the blood of Jesus Christ his Son which cleanseth from all sin, for our coming forth out of our natural darkness into his light; all is designed to bring us up to this point, that we sin not; that in purpose and determination we are bent on not sinning.
II. But not only would I have you to make this your aim; I would have your aim accomplished and realised. And therefore “I write these things unto you, that ye sin not.”
We are to proceed upon the anticipation, not of failure but of success, in all holy walking and in every holy duty; not of our sinning, but of our not sinning. And we are to do so, because the things which John “writes unto us” make the anticipation no wild dream, but a possible attainment.
We must assume it to be possible not to sin, when we walk in the open fellowship of God, and in his pure translucent light; especially not to sin in this or that particular way in which we have sinned before, and in which we are apt to be afraid of sinning again. For practical purposes this is really all that is needed. But this is needed.
I do not care much for any general assurance, even if I could get it, that I am not to sin at all. But, if I am in earnest, how deeply do I care for even a faint, hope that, in the particular matter that lies heavy on my conscience, it may sometime and somehow become possible for me not to sin. That is what is pressing. In some hour of calm meditation or divine contemplative speculation, the idea of a serene and stainless perfection of holiness and peace wrapping my spirit in ineffable bliss may have a certain fascinating charm, and may awaken undefined longings and aspirations. They are far too vague, however, to be practically influential And they do not meet my case. For why am I troubled? What is it that distresses and me? Alas, it is no mere vague consciousness of imperfection. It is some specific “thorn in the flesh” that, as a “messenger of Satan, is buffeting me.” “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” When I would pray, my soul cleaves to the dust. When I am in my closet, with my door shut against all the world, all sorts of worldly thoughts intrude. When I read and study, I find my mind unfixed. When God speaks to me, my attention wanders. When I should be hearing the voice of his servant, my eyes are drowsy. I take up some branch of God’s service,—how soon do I grow weary, or stumble, or offend! I seek to control my temper, and some slight provocation oversets me. Try as I may, I am sure to fail. And then, when, going down to the depths of my inner nature, I seek to have my whole soul purged from lust and filled with love, alas! is there never to be an end of this weary, heartless, fruitless struggle? Is it to be always thus,—sinning and repenting; repenting and going back to sin?
Nay, let me hear John’s loving words; “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Believe these things; realise them; act upon them; act them out. They are such things as, if believed, realised, acted upon, and acted out, will make it possible for you “not to sin.” For they are such things as, if thus apprehended, change the character of the whole struggle. They transfer it to a new and higher platform. We are brought into a position, in relation to God, in which holiness is no longer a desperate negative strife, but a blessed positive achievement. Evil is overcome with good. The heavenly walk in light with him who is light carries us upwards and onwards, above and beyond there, on of dark guilt and fear, in which sin is strong; and places us in the region of peace and joy, in which grace is stronger. Sanctification is not now a mere painful process of extirpation and extermination of weeds. It will no doubt be that still; but it is not that merely. It is the gracious implanting of good seed, and the cultivating of it gladly as it grows. And as we enter more and more, with larger intelligence and deeper sympathy, into the spirit of John’s opening words concerning the end and means of our “fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ,” we come better to know experimentally what is in his heart when he says: “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” That is what you are to aim at; and you are to aim at it as now possible.
III. Why then, it may be asked, is provision made for our sinning still after all?—“If any man”—any of us—“sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” Let me in reply again appeal to any who are really exercised in resisting sin and following after holiness; “walking truly in the light, as God is in the light.”
For I do not address those who take this whole matter easily; being quite contented with a very moderate measure of decent abstinence from gross vice and the perfunctory performance of some pious and charitable offices. The present theme scarcely concerns them in their present mood. John assumes that we are in earnest; that sin is to us exceeding sinful, and holiness above all things desirable. We have purposed in good faith that we will not offend. We rejoice to think that we may now form that purpose with good heart; not desperately, as if we were upon a forlorn hope; but rather as grasping the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is with us. He cheers us on. He assures us of success. And when, at any time, he sees some lurking apprehension of failure or defeat stealing into our souls again to discourage us; when he sees that we are getting nervous about the risk of our making some mistake, or meeting with some check or reverse, and that this very nervousness is unhinging and unmanning us; he tells us not to think too much of it, but to press on; for he is beside us, to help us if we should stumble, to lift us if we should fall—”If any of us sin, we have an advocate with the Father.”
Shall I then be emboldened to walk heedlessly, presuming on his advocacy? Perish the ungenerous, the ungrateful thought! What! shall I make a mere convenience of that Divine Saviour, and turn his ministry of holy love into a mere pleading for indulgence and purchase of impunity?
Lying priests, false mediators; priests and mediators false to both the parties between whom they mediate, to God’s high honour and man’s pure peace; false, as not reconciling but alienating, not bringing together but keeping asunder, the yearning Father and his poor prodigal child—they and their offices may be so used, or abused. But Jesus is an advocate of a very different stamp. He is not content to negotiate, as a third party, between God dwelling in light and us suffered still to continue in darkness. He is one with both the parties whom he makes one in himself. By his one offering of himself, once for all, he brings us, when the Spirit unites us by faith to him, into the very light of God, his Father and ours.
But the light is such as, when our eyes are opened to its brightness, makes our walking in it an affair of extreme delicacy. In good faith, with full purpose, right honestly and heartily to “walk in the light,” is to face an ordeal from which a man with renovated principles and sensibilities may well sensitively shrink. True, the tendency of all this marvellous arrangement for placing us on such a footing of light with God,—admitting us into such a fellowship of light and setting us to such a walk of light,—that we “sin not.” And we are assured that if we make full proof of this light, we shall find it no such impossible thing as we might imagine not to sin. But with a growing clearness of vision, becoming more and more alive to the inexpressible lustre and loveliness of the light, and the offensiveness of whatever partakes of the least soil or stain of the darkness which the light exposes;—how should our advance along the ascending path of heavenliness and spirituality be anything else than one continued discipline of anxious fear?
Jesus knows our frame in its worst and in its best state. He knows what to us, with such a frame as ours at the best is, our really “walking in the light as God is in the light” must be. He knows how at every step—in spite of all the encouragement given us beforehand to hope that we need not, that we may not, that we shall not sin,—we still may shrink and hang back; fearing with too good ground that even if, in the form we used to dread, our sin shall seem to give way, it may, in some new manifestation of our deep inward corruption, tie in wait to trouble us. Well does our sympathising friend and brother know all this And therefore he assures us that he is always beside us; “our advocate with the Father.” We need not therefore be afraid to walk with the Father in the light. We may walk, alas! too often unsteadfastly. We may give new offence. We may incur new blame. But see! There is the intercessor ever pleading for us. “If any of us sin, we have an advocate with the Father.”
VI. Nature and Ground of Christ’s Advocacy as Meeting the Need of the Guileless Spirit
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man, in, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”—1 John 2:1-2
THE manner of our restoration, if we fall short of the sinless aim, not less than the sinless aim itself, is fitted to guard against any abuse of John’s doctrine of forgiveness. It is through an advocacy altogether incompatible with anything like the toleration of evil. This will appear if we consider the three things here mentioned as qualifying our advocate for his advocacy;—I. He is “Jesus Christ the righteous;” II. He is “the propitiation for our sins;” III. He is the propitiation “not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
I. He is “Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Jesus! The name is as ointment poured forth; fragrant, precious. He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins. Jesus, my Saviour! My Jesus! Saving me from my sins, from myself! Art thou indeed my advocate with the Father—standing by me, pleading for me—by thy Spirit pleading in me—when, in spite of my firmest purpose not to sin, and my closest clinging to thee that I may not sin, I must still, under the pressure of sin besetting me, cry, Unclean, undone! Then indeed may I hold on walking in the light, and with a sinless aim, if thou art with me. Jesus, save me from my sins! Christ! the Anointed! whom the Father anoints through the Spirit; whom I also, through the Spirit, in sympathy with the Father, humbly venture to anoint! his Christ and mine!—with thee, O Christ, as my advocate with the Father;—with thee, True Mediator,—Revealer, Reconciler, Ruler,—Prophet, Priest, and King;—I will not, amid all that is discouraging in the experience of ray remaining darkness, despair of yet becoming all that he who is light and who dwelleth in light would have me to be; all that thou art, O Christ!
But the emphatic word here is not the proper name Jesus, nor the official name Christ, but the adjective “righteous.”
This term may possibly be understood as referring to the righteousness which he has wrought out on our behalf, as our substitute and surety, and which he brings in and presents before the Father as the ground of all his pleading with him as our advocate. For his advocacy is not a mere ministry of persuasion; working as it were on the placibility and fond facility of an angry but weak potentate, an offended but infirm and indulgent parent. It is his submitting to God the Father, as the righteous governor, such a service and satisfaction as may warrant, in terms of strictest law and justice, the exercise of mercy towards his guilty but penitent children. All that is true. But it is not, I think, what John principally has in his mind. For, in the first place, the efficacious and meritorious condition of our Lord’s advocacy is sufficiently brought out in the clause which follows, “he is the propitiation for our sins.” And secondly, it is awkward to understand the word “righteous” in two distinct senses, as it is used in the same passage, and within the compass of a few verses, first of the Father (1 John 1:9), and now of the Son (1 John 2:1). I take it therefore as pointing, not to the legal righteousness which Christ has—or rather which Christ is—but to the righteousness of his character, and of his manner of advocacy with the Father for us. That other meaning need not be excluded, for the two are by no means inconsistent. But when John commends our advocate with the Father as “Jesus Christ the righteous,” it is surely upon his benignant equity that he would have us to fix our eyes.
Such an advocate becomes us; and such alone. If we rightly consider the relation to God into which the gospel message, as John has been putting it, is designed to bring us; the footing on which it places us with God.; the sort of divine insight, sympathy, and fellowship for which it opens up the way; and the sort of walk on which it sets us; we may well feel that none other than such an advocate could meet our case.
In any court in which I had a cause to maintain I would wish to have a righteous advocate. Not less than I would desire a righteous judge would I welcome a righteous advocate. I do not want an advocate who will flatter and cajole me. I do not want one to tell me smooth things and lead me on the ice; disguising or evading the weak points of my plea; putting a fair face on what will not stand close scrutiny, and touching tenderly what will not bear rough handling; getting up untenable lines of defence, and keeping me in good humour till disaster or ruin comes. Give me an advocate who will tell me the truth, and tell the truth on my behalf; one who will deal truly with me and for me, and fairly represent my case. Give me an advocate who, much as he may care for me, cares for honesty and honour, for law and justice, still more. Give me an advocate not afraid to vex or wound me for my safety, for my good. Whatever his name, let him be the honest, the upright, “the righteous.”
Such an advocate is Jesus Christ for us in the high court of heaven; for he is “Jesus Christ the righteous.” In the presence of the righteous judge, and at his righteous bar, he thus appears for us; not to bring us off as by some cunning sleight-of-hand manœuvre; not to get the better of strict justice by some dexterous and adroit management, or some plausible and pathetic appeal to pity; but to have the whole controversy sifted to the bottom, and all hidden causes of offence laid bare, and every just demand and outstanding claim met, and all relating to our right standing adjusted,—without any compromise or subterfuge, upon the terms and according to the principles of perfect righteousness.
Such an advocate is Jesus Christ for us in the high court of heaven. Such an advocate is he also when, in the capacity, as it were, of chamber-counsel, he is with us in our closet, to listen to all that we have to say; to all our confessions and complaints; our enumeration of grievances; our unbosoming ourselves of all our anxieties and all our griefs. He is still “Jesus Christ the righteous;” patient and pitiful, as he bends his ear to our wildest cry or our’ faintest whisper; yet still righteous; not dallying delicately with our sin or our sorrow; not sparing us; probing us to the quick; giving us no relief till the whole matter is searched into, and spread out, and fairly and justly met. He is “Jesus Christ the righteous.”
But it is not only with God as Judge that he is our advocate. He is our advocate with “the Father.” His advocacy has respect not only to the Judge’s court but to the Father’s house. It is the advocacy of the elder brother, who has brought us home to his Father and our Father. It is a home of love and of light; a home of love because it is a home of light. Perfect peace should reign in it, as the fruit of perfect purity. It is not a home in which we can allow ourselves to sin. There is no darkness to hide our sin; no room for any lie to excuse it. We are brought home, in the marvellous way in which we have been brought home, for the express purpose that we may not sin. Our elder brother, in bringing us home, has suffered enough for our sin to make it very loathsome in our esteem. He has, moreover, so suffered for it that we need have nothing to do with it, nor it with us, any more. And that our connection with the old haunts and associations of our sin may be cut clean away for ever, and we may be placed at once in the best and likeliest position for sinning no more, he concurs with the Father in our being at once embraced as children, invested as children with the robe and ring of honour, and welcomed as children to the children’s table. There is to be no reproach; no upbraiding; no word or look of reference to the past any more. Our eider brother has answered for all, and all is cancelled. There is to be no more any dark servile doubt or suspicion or fear. All is to be holy light and love. There is to be no more sin.
Ah! but more sin, in spite of all this, there is; and there is the apprehension of sin evermore. The Father indeed is light, always light. And we walk in his light; the light of his reconciled countenance; the light of his pure and loving eye. But how sensitively, on that very account, is our conscience, our heart, alive to all—alas! too much—that is in us and about us still savouring of the dark tastes of our old estrangement.
Where—we are at every moment constrained to ask,—where is that elder brother who brought us hither, and who alone can keep us here? We know that he would have us, not to put him in between the Father and us, but to be ourselves, in him, at home with the Father (John 16:26-27). It should be so; and we seek to have it so. But the home is so holy, and the light is so holy, and he who is in the light is so holy; and we are so sinful, so fain to shrink from the light and court the darkness again, that we cannot stand upright. We cannot keep our ground; we cannot move on; we cannot meet the Father’s eye; we stumble; we fall. Ah! we need that elder brother still. We need him to be our advocate with the Father. He must not quit our side. He must not let go our hand. He must be ever leading us in to the Father, and presenting us to the Father, and speaking for us to the Father, and putting us anew right with the Father. And so he is. He is never far off. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” “The righteous!” For now what sort of advocate with the Father would we have? And what would we have his advocacy to be? The time has been when, if we cared to live at home in the Father’s house at all, we would have been glad of the good offices, say of some upper servant, not very scrupulous and not over strict, who might be disposed to take our part when any breach occurred. It might be convenient to have a friend at court, an advocate with the head and master of the family, ready always to intercede for us; to hide our faults or apologise for them; to come in between us and the angry glance or the uplifted arm; to put a specious colouring on the cause of offence, and get us off, no matter how, from dreaded vengeance. But no such advocacy will be welcome now. No such advocate will our elder brother be. For he is our advocate with the Father, as “Jesus Christ the righteous.” Yes! in dealing with us, as well as in dealing with the Father for us, he will deal righteously, truly, justly. He will so ply his office, and travail in his work, of advocacy between the Father and us, as to preserve the right understanding which he has himself brought about, and obviate the risk of renewed separation. He will make it all subservient to our more thorough cleansing from sin, and our closer walk with God;—our being “holy as he is holy.” For—
II. “He is the propitiation for our sins.” He is so now. He is present with us now as our advocate with the Father; and it is as being the propitiation for our sins that he is present with us.
It is not needful to settle in what precise aspect of the sacrificial service Jesus is here spoken of as the propitiation; whether with reference to the sacrificial victim slain, or the altar on which it was burned, or the mercy-seat on which its blood was sprinkled. Jesus is all three in one; the lamb slain, the altar of atonement, the blood-baptized mercy-seat. The important lesson is this, that it is as the propitiation for our sins that Jesus Christ is oar advocate with the Father. Whenever he acts as our advocate, whether to satisfy the Father anew or to pacify our consciences anew, he acts in virtue of his being—not having been but being—the propitiation for our sins. The two, in fact, are one; his advocacy with the Father is his being the propitiation for our sins. In every instance in which it is exercised, it is simply a new and fresh application to our case of the virtue of his being the propitiation for our sins.
For what does he do when, in some dark hour, he ministers to me and in me as my advocate with the Father? He draws near; the Spirit so taking of what is his and showing it to me as to bring him near. He is beside me, with me, at my right hand. He is here with me now, the propitiation for my sins now, precisely as he was on Calvary. I see him, invisible as he is, now and here, exactly as he was then and there; thorn-crowned, bleeding, in agony; bowing his head; giving up the ghost; pouring out his soul an offering for sin. Yes that is my advocate with the Father; and that is the manner of his advocacy! Can it be other than a righteous advocacy? Can he be other than a righteous advocate? When my sin, grieving the Father’s heart and vexing his Holy Spirit, has pierced his Son Jesus Christ anew, and he hastens, with blood and water freshly flowing from the re-opened wound, to wash me anew, and anew present me to the Father; is that a sort of ministry that can lead to sin? Can I touch these hands which I have been nailing again to the accursed tree, or feel them touching me again to bless me, without my whole frame thrilling as the voice runs through my inmost soul—“Sin no more;” “Thou art dead to sin”?
III. There is a supplement added which still further explains the sort of advocacy which Jesus Christ the righteous carries on. He is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is added, as it would seem, for this very end, to preclude the possibility of a believer thinking that, if he lapses, it is under some method of recovery different from that which is available for all mankind. Otherwise, it comes in awkwardly and irrelevantly.
For it is out of place here to introduce the subject of the bearing of the propitiation on mankind at large; for the purpose of considering that subject for its own sake, or settling any doubtful question regarding it. It is very much in point, however, and very much to the purpose, to make a passing reference to the world-wide scope and aspect of the propitiation which Christ is; and so to guard against the notion of there being anything ‘like favouritism in what he does on behalf of his true followers and friends.
There is no new specific for meeting our case when we who walk in the light fall into sin, no specific different from what is provided for meeting the case of all sinners—of the whole world. We have no special fountain opened for our cleansing, but only the fountain opened in the house of David for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem indiscriminately; for all the world, and all its sin, and all its uncleanness. There is no way in which we can get rid of that sin of ours,—its guilt and curse, its deadly blight and canker, eating out the very life of our soul—except that way, patent and open to all, in which all the world, if it will, may get rid of all its sins. Doubtless when we sin we have an advocate with the Father to stand by us, and lift us up, and plead our cause, and place us again on a right footing with the Father. But he can do all this only by interposing himself as “the propitiation for our sins,” in the very same sense and manner in which he interposes himself as the propitiation “for the sins of the whole world.”
Where, then, ye children of the light and of the day,—ye fellows of the Father and of his Son Jesus Christ,—where is your peculiar privilege of sinning lightly and being easily restored? What is there in that sin of yours that should make it lie less heavily on your conscience, and afflict your souls less grievously; than the sins which, when you were of the world, you committed; of which you repented; and for which you sought and obtained forgiveness, when you came out of the world’s weary wilderness, and were brought home to your Father’s house. Is your sin now less heinous than were your sins then? Are there no aggravations to enhance its guilt, and to stamp with a deeper dye its exceeding sinfullness? Does it demand fewer tears and less poignant searchings of heart, less of godly sorrow, less of bitter weeping?
What! when that eye which looked on Peter—that eye not of reproach so much as of silent unutterable woe—the eye that smote him with a mortal stab,—when that eye catches mine—yes! as he is in the very act of hastening to the rescue lest my faith fail, coming quickly to be my advocate with the Father—when, fallen as I am, I feel his touch, and that open calm look of his arrests and rivets me,—Jesus! I cry, my Lord, my God, dost thou yet care for me? Wilt thou yet comfort me; me, a sinner; a sinner worse than ever; sinning more inexcusably than ever in all the days of my ignorance I sinned; more inexcusably than all the world in its ignorance can sin? Can such a one as I yet live? I ask no special favour; I plead for no partial exemption. Let me only anew—not as a saint—not as a child of God,—but only as a sinner—of sinners the chief—betake myself to thee, the propitiation for my sin?
Yes! I may, I do. And I find thee still the propitiation for my sin, because thou art the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Not otherwise could I take the benefit of thine advocacy. It is not as a propitiation peculiar to me that I grasp thee in great distress; as if I had any peculiar claim to thee; as if others were sinners more than I, or I less than they. Alas! no. My only hope is in grasping thee as “the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” That wide charter will take me in when nothing else can. “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
This, and this alone, is thy refuge and revival, O poor soul! Thou sinnest;—as a child of God, walking in the light, thou sinnest. And in the light in which thou walkest thy sin finds thee out. Thou art overwhelmed. Can such sin as thine be forgiven? Yes, brother. But not otherwise than through the advocacy of Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for thy sins. Thou must have recourse to him in that character. But not as if thy case were peculiar, and demanded or could receive peculiar treatment. No. Thou must be content to take thy place among the whole body of the sinners of mankind, for the very worst of whom the propitiation is available precisely as it is for thee; for them as fully as for thee; for thee as fully as for them. That indeed is the very consideration which revives thee. He is the propitiation for all sinners and for all sins. No sin, no sinner, is at any time beyond the reach of that great atonement. It meets the case of all mankind, of all the world; and therefore it meets thy case, be thy backsliding ever so grievous, thy guilt ever so aggravated. Thou couldst not venture to appropriate Christ as the propitiation for thy sins, otherwise than as he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. It is only because thou believest and art sure that no sin, no sinner, in all the world, is debarred from that wondrous fountain filled with blood, that thou canst summon courage to plunge in it thyself afresh. Even to the last, it is not as isolating thyself from sinners of mankind, but as associating thyself with them,—feeling thyself to be the chief of them,—that thou lookest, when thou hast sinned, to “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
VII. The Guileless Spirit Realising Through Obedience the Knowledge of God as the Means of Being and Abiding in God
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”
THIS is a more literal explanation of the divine fellowship, considered as a fellowship of light, than has been given before. The light which is the atmosphere of the fellowship, or the medium of vision and sympathy through which it is reaslised, is the light of knowledge, the light of the knowledge of God. For the fellowship is intelligent as well as holy—intelligent that it may be holy.
But of what sort is that knowledge? And how is it to be got hold of and made sure of? These are the questions with which John now proceeds to deal. And in the verses that form our text he introduces them very emphatically, as questions personally and practically affecting us, with reference to our claim and calling to be walkers in the light.
For, first, he would have us to “know that we know God” (1 John 2:3). He raises the question of the trustworthiness of our knowledge of God. It is as if you asked me about one of my familiars, whose name I am fond of using, whose opinions I am apt to quote, whose patronage I rather boast of;—“But do you know that you know him? Are you sure that you understand him?” The abrupt question takes me somewhat aback. I think I know him. But your doubt startles me. I must inquire and see. Again, secondly, John would have us to “know that we are in God” (1 John 2:5). This suggests still more hesitancy. I have had the idea that I am in him, in the sense of being united to him in the bonds of faith, fellowship, and friendship. But you raise misgivings. Do I indeed know that I am in him?
The two inquiries may be treated as one; requiring the same examination and admitting of the same proof.
There comes in, however, thirdly, an intermediate thought: “whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:5). This expression denotes a fact accomplished. The word “is perfected” points to something done; and the word “verily” or “truly” marks the reality and thoroughness of what has been done and of the doing of it.
Now it is love that is said to be thus perfected; the love of God. This can scarcely mean here the grace or affection of love; as the love of God to us, or our love to God; but rather the fellowship of love between him and us. “In the keeping of his word” that fellowship of love, so far as we are concerned, finds its completion, or “is perfected.”
Most fitly does this thought come in between the other two. I. To know God; II. To have his love verily and indeed perfected in us; III. To be ourselves in him; that is our thrice holy standing, our thrice blessed privilege, in his Son Jesus Christ. If we would make sure of it, in our experience, it must be by keeping his commandments, keeping his word.
I. There were those in John’s day who affected to know God very deeply and intimately, in a very subtle and transcendental way. They laid great stress on thus knowing God; so much so that they took or got the name of knowing ones, or Gnostics. All about the essence of God, or his mysterious manner of being, they knew. All his attributes, and inward actings, and outward emanations, they knew. The forthgoings from everlasting of all his thoughts and volitions they knew so familiarly, and by so sublime an insight, that they could give to every one of them a local habitation and a name. They knew how heaven swarmed with these divine effluences or outgoings, as it were, of God sterner nature; to which they ascribed a sort of dreamy personality; associating them into a spiritual or ghostly hierarchy, in whose ranks they dared to place the very Son of the Highest himself. So they, after their own fashion, knew God. And through this knowledge of him, they professed to aspire to a participation of his godhead; their souls or spiritual essences being themselves effluences and emanations of his essence; and being therefore, along with all other such effluences or emanations, ultimately embraced in the Deity of which they formed part. So they “knew God.”
But how did they know that they knew him? Was it because they kept his commandments? Nay, their very boast was that they knew God so well as to be raised far above that commonplace keeping of the commandments which might do for the uninitiated, but for which they had neither time nor taste. Their knowledge of God was too mystical and ethereal—too much of a rhapsody or a rapture—to admit of its being tested in so plain and practical a way. It was a small affair for them to keep the commandments, and a small affair also to break them. They were occupied with higher matters. Their real life was in a higher sphere. They cared for nothing but “knowing God.”
John denounces strongly their impious pretence—“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The language is more forcible than ever. He not merely “lies” (1 John 1:6); but “is a liar.” Not merely does he “not do the truth,” but in that man “the truth is not.” To affect any knowledge of God that is not to be itself known and ascertained by the keeping of his commandments,—to dream of knowing God otherwise than in the way of keeping his commandments—is to be false to the heart’s core.
For, in fact, the question comes to be, Do I know God as a mere abstraction, about whose nature I may speculate? Or do I know him personally, as a man knows his friend? This last is the only kind of knowledge of God which John can recognise and own. It is what he starts with; his fundamental position; his postulate or axiom. God is known through or in the incarnate Word of life, as he was heard, looked upon, handled, by those who lived familiarly with Jesus. Whosoever hath seen him hath seen the Father. “No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” God is known in Christ. And he is known in Christ as personally interested in me, and personally dealing with me; kind to me; compassionate to me; waiting to be gracious to me; opening his arms to embrace me; seeing me afar off; meeting me; falling upon my neck and kissing me. When the Spirit opens my eyes, it is thus that I know God. And how may I know that I do really know him thus? How otherwise than by my keeping his commandments? For this knowledge is intensely practical; not theoretic and speculative at all; but only practical. I know God in the giving of his Son to me and for me; in his giving him to be my friend and brother; my surety and redeemer; giving him to die for me on the accursed tree. With the new mind and the new heart created in me by his own Spirit, I know God now in Christ, as washing me from all my guilt; taking me home; making me his child and heir. I know him by the fatherly benignity of the look he bends on me, and the fatherly warmth of the grasp in which he holds me. And I may assure myself that in any tolerable measure I thus know him, only if I keep his commandments.
Let me bless his name for that simple practical test. I am not sent to any Gnostic school to seek a certificate of scholarship from any of these knowing ones. I have not to graduate in any of their colleges. I need not aspire to any mystic insight, or visionary rapture, or sublime beatific ecstasy. A lowlier path by far is mine. I am ignorant of many things; ignorant of much even that it concerns me to learn of God and of his wondrous love to me; far, very far, from knowing him as I ought. But do I so know him as to make conscience of keeping his commandments—keeping them as I did not care to keep them once? Is my proud will subdued and my independent spirit broken? Moved and melted by what I know of God, do I, as if instinctively, cry, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” Then, to me, this word is indeed a precious word in season; “hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).
II. For while “he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4); “whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:5).
The change of expression here is surely meant to be significant. “His commandments,” which may be many and various, are reduced to what is one and simple—“his word.” The meaning is doubtless in substance the same; but there is a shade of difference. This keeping of his word is, as it were, the concentrated and condensed spirit and essence of the keeping of his commandments. The thought suggested is not so much that of the things commanded, as of the command itself. It is not commandments, but God commanding; not speech, but God speaking; his word. The knowing ones stigmatised as liars pretended to know God, not as speaking, but simply as being; not by communication from him, but by insight into him; not by his word, but by their own wisdom. But you know him by his word. And that word of his, when you keep it, perfects the good understanding, the covenant of love, between him and you.
For indeed it must always be by word that love is truly perfected between intelligent parties; by the plighting of troth; by the interchange of pledge or promise expressed or understood; by word given and kept. How is it, when I know a friend, that his love is truly perfected in me? He gives me his word, and I keep it. I have nothing else for it but his word; his bare and naked word. I need nothing else; I desire nothing else. I keep that word of his; I keep it firm and fast. And as he is true to me, and I am true to him, I find that mere word of his, so kept by me, a sufficient warrant and assurance of all being right, and there being nothing now between us but true and perfect love, a true and perfect state of amity and peace.
When God is the party concerned, the keeping of his word on my part may well suffice for his love being thus truly perfected in me. For that word of his, the sum now to me of all his commandments, is his one simple assurance of good will in his Son. It is his word of reconciliation in Christ. It is, one might say, Christ himself, the reconciler. It is “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses.” It is a word of very complete and comprehensive sweep: embracing all on God’s part that is sovereign, efficacious, and authoritative, in the gift of his grace and in the obligation of his law; and all on our part that is humble, submissive, and obedient, in our trusting acceptance of the gift and cordial compliance with the obligation. It is a word making over to us freely from God all that is his; for “he that spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” It is a word winning over to God freely from us, ourselves, and all that is ours; for “we are not our own, but bought with a price,” and so bound to “glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits, which are his.” So full, complete, perfect, is this word on both sides. Only let it be kept. Kept on God’s side it cannot fail to be. Let it be kept on ours. God is faithful to keep it to us. Let us be faithful to keep it to God. Kept by us, as it is sure to be kept by him, it does indeed ratify a perfect treaty of love.
III. And thus “we know that we are in him” (1 John 2:5). This, as it would seem, is the crown and consummation of all; first, to be in him; and, secondly, to know that we are in him. First, to be in him; in a God whom we know, and between whom and us there is a real and perfect covenant of peace and love;—that must be an attainment worth while for us to realise; worth while for us to know or be sure that we realise.
To be in him! This cannot mean to be in God in any mystical sense of absorption; as if we were to lose our distinct personality, and be swallowed up in the ocean of the divine essence. All such ideas are precluded by the clear and unequivocal recognition of personal dealings, as between one intelligent being and another, implied in our knowing God, and in his love being truly perfected in us. But short of that wild and impious dream, it is not easy to urge too far the almost literal significance of the expression,—“we are in him.” Certainly it is something very different from merely being in what is his; as in his church, his house, his family, his kingdom. It is being in himself. What, on his part, that implies is among “the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived, but which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Even to them it cannot be described beforehand. It transcends all that in imagination they could previously grasp. It is so prepared for them that love him that only in loving him can they apprehend and prove it. To be in him! What a covering of them with his wings—what a wrapping of them round with his own divine perfections—what an identifying of them with himself, of their interests with his, their triumph with his, their joy with his; what an identifying of himself with them, his grace with their guilt, his strength with their weakness, his glory with their salvation! To be in him! What a surrounding of them on all sides as with eyes innumerable and arms invincible; clothing them, as it were, with his own omniscience, his own omnipotence! Truly “as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people.” They are in him. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
But it is rather what on our part this phrase implies that we are led to consider. What insight! What sympathy! What entering into his rest! What entering into his working too! What a fellowship of light!
We are in him! We are in his mind. He lets us into his mind. If I have a friend whom I know, and between whom and me there is a truly perfected love, I long to enter into his mind; to be partaker with him in all his mental movements and exercises, as he reads, and meditates, and studies; as he lays his plans and carries them into effect. I would be so in him that there should be, as it were, but one mind between us. Oh to be thus in God, of one mind with God!
We are in his heart. He lets us into his heart,—that great heart of the everlasting Father so warmly and widely opened in his Son Jesus Christ. To be in him, so that that heart of his shall draw to itself my heart, and the beating of the two shall, as it were, be in unison, and the throbbing of the two shall be blended in one;—and the Father’s deep earnestness shall be mine and the Father’s holy wrath shall be mine; and the Father’s pity shall be mine; and the Father’s persuasive voice shall be mine; as I plead with my fellows;—“Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?”—what a thought! To be thus in God through our knowing him, and through his love being perfected in us! Surely that is about the highest reach of our fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And therefore, secondly, to know that we are thus in God cannot but be a matter of much concern. Who, on such a point, would run the risk of self-deception—nay, of being found “a liar, not having the truth in him”? To have some tolerable confidence, tolerably well grounded, that my being in God is a reality; that surely is desirable if it can be attained. And how am I to seek it? How am I at once to aim at being in him, more and more thoroughly and unequivocally, and also to aim at verifying more and more satisfactorily and surely my being in him? For these two aims must go together; they are one. Keep his word, is the reply. Is that then all? I may be tempted to ask. Am I to look for no clearer token, no more decisive mark and proof of my being in him? Is there to be no tangible evidence in my experience, no sign from heaven, no voice, no vision, no illapse or sliding into my soul, I know not how, of some sensible assurance, I know not what, to attest my being in him? Nay, to have such confirmation might only mislead me. I might content myself with the sign, instead of striving to realise more and more what it signifies. Better, safer, is it, that I should be directed, to a humbler method, the keeping of his word. But is that enough? Yes; for in the keeping of his word his love is truly perfected in us who thereby know him.
Let us keep his word in that view of its power and virtue; as the seal and bond of a perfect understanding and a perfect state of peace between him and us. Let us cultivate what is the vital element of all intelligent and loving fellowship between him and us, the spirit which prompts the cry, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” In that spirit let us keep his commandments; the commandments in which his word is broken up in detail; the commandments which assure us of his love to us; the commandments which exercise our love to him. Let us keep the commandments of his word; which, in our keeping of them, assure us of his love to us. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” “come now and let us reason together,” “this is my beloved Son, hear him.” Let us keep also the commandments of his word, which, in our keeping of them, exercise our love to him;—“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” “risen with Christ, seek the things which are above,” “come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.” So keeping his word and his commandments, we more and more completely apprehend his love as truly perfected in us. We more and more clearly, brightly, hopefully, ascertain that we do know God and are in God, in some measure as he knows God and is in God, who while on earth could truly say, “The Father knoweth me, and I know the Father;” “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.”
VIII. The Christlike Walk of One with Guileless Spirit Abiding in God
“He that saith he abideth in him [God], ought himself also so to walk even as he [Christ] walked.”—1 John 2:6 (See foot-note, pp. 77, 78.)
TO “walk as Christ” walked is essential to our “abiding in God;” not merely “being in God,” as it is put in the previous verse, but being in him permanently; continuing or abiding in him. It is therefore the test of our truth when we “say that we abide in God;” it is the very means by which we abide in him. Jesus tells us (John 16:10-11) that he continued or abode in the Father’s love by keeping the Father’s commandments. That was his walk, by which he abode in God. If we would abide in God as he did, we must walk as he walked, keeping the Father’s commandments as he kept them. Thus this verse fits into those that go before, and completes, so far, the apostle’s description of the divine fellowship, viewed as a fellowship of holy light, and transforming, obedient knowledge.
The walk of Christ, abiding in God, is therefore to be considered as our study and our model.
I. It is sometimes said of Christ simply that he walked, without anything to define or qualify the expression. “After these thing Jesus walked in Galilee; for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him” (John 7:1. He says it of himself; “Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and to-morrow, and the third day, for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). Again he says, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (John 12:9-10).
Jesus then walked. His life was a walk. The idea of earnestness, of definiteness of purpose, of decision and progress, is thus suggested. Many men live as if they were not really walking, but lounging and sauntering; or running fitfully and by starts, with intervals of aimless, listless sloth; or musing, or dreaming, or sleep-walking. Some are said to be fast-livers; their life being not a walk, but a brief tumultuous rush of excitement, ending soon in vacancy, or something worse. Others again live as if life were to be all, instead of a walk, a gay and giddy dance; alas! they may find it the dance of death. It is something to apprehend and feel that life is a walk; not a game, or pastime, or outburst of passion; not a random flight, or a groping, creeping, grovelling crawl, or a mazy labyrinthine puzzle; but a walk; a steady walk; an onward march and movement; a business-like, purpose-like, step-by-step advance in front; such a walk as a man girds himself for, and shoes himself for, and sets out upon with staff in hand, and firm-set face, and cap well fixed on the head, and holds on in, amid stormy wind and drifting snow; resolute to have it finished and to reach the goal. Such a walk is real life; life in earnest. Such a walk pre-eminently was the life of Jesus. No dilettante trifler was he; nor a visionary; nor a loiterer; nor a runner to and fro; nor a climber of cloud-capped heights; but a walker; a plain pedestrian walker; a determined walker, whom nothing could turn aside or turn back. It is said of him, on one occasion, that he “stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That was his way, his manner always. He walked. He stedfastly set his face to walk. On, still on, he walked, unflagging, unflinching; he walked right on. It is a sublime spectacle to gaze on; this Jesus, Son of God, Son of man, thus walking; in Galilee; in Jewry; his face stedfastly set to go to Jerusalem.
Now, “he that saith he abideth in God, ought himself also so to walk even as Jesus walked.” It was as always “abiding in God” that he “walked.” It was his abiding always in God that constrained him to walk; to be always walking. It was that which would not suffer him either to stand still or to make haste; either to pause and fall behind, or to run too fast before. He abode in God. He walked as one who was abiding in God all the while he walked. While his feet were busy walking, his soul was resting in God. Outward movement, inward repose;—the whole man Christ Jesus bent upon the road,—mind, spirit, heart, all bent upon the road;—and yet ever, at the same time, the whole man Christ Jesus dwelling in the Father’s bosom,—mind, spirit, heart, all dwelling in the Father’s bosom; as calmly, tranquilly, quietly, as in that unbroken eternity, ere he became man, he had been wont to dwell there;—so he walked, abiding in God.
So you also ought to walk even as he walked;—“abiding in God.” Ah! this blessed combination! Outward movement, inward repose; the feet busy, active, alert—the soul resting in God; incessant marching up through the wilderness, amid fightings and fears, but always peace within, peace with God, peace in God; noise and uproar often to be encountered on the open way, but silence evermore in the hidden part, the deep holy silence of God’s own secret place!
Oh! to walk as one abiding in God; abiding in him all the while we walk! Who can look at Jesus walking without feeling that it is the walk of one abiding in God? He speaks of himself as “the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13);—not which was, but which is, in heaven. It is as the Son of man who is in heaven even when he is on earth that he tells of heavenly things. It is as the Son of man who is in heaven that he walks on earth. Hence his life is indeed a walk. His being, all the while he is walking on earth, himself in heaven; abiding in God; imparts that clear outlook and that calm confidence, without which there may be wandering up and down, but not real steady walking. Therefore he is neither as one blindly feeling his way, nor as one in doubt or in despair trying every or any path. He walks, “not as uncertainly,”—even as he fights, “not as one that beateth the air.” He walks as one who has “the mastery.” For he walks, abiding in God.
But some one may say, Is not this too high an ideal Is it not the setting up of an inimitable model? Jesus, the Son of man, while walking on earth, is still in heaven, in a sense in which that cannot be said of any of us. His being still the eternal Son of the Highest as well as the son of Mary, may well be supposed to give him such divine insight and assurance as to make his life more like what life should be, a real walk, than ours can be expected to be.
Not so. For, first, he fully shares with us whatever disadvantage, as regards his walking, may be implied in his being a son of man. And, secondly, he would have us fully to share with him whatever advantage there is in his being the Son of God. For both reasons, our life may be as much and as truly a walk as his was.
First, it is a man whom we see walking; one who is true and very man. His being God also gives him no exemption or immunity from any of those annoyances, or difficulties, or dangers, which might be apt to turn the walk into some sort of movement more irregular and less becoming. On the contrary, what he saw, and knew, and felt, as the Son of God, made these trials of his walk all the more formidable. He, in his walk, met with far more that was fitted to make his feet stumble and his courage fail, than any of us can ever meet with in ours. And as his divine knowledge gave him a clearer sight, so his divine holiness gave him a keener sense, of it all. If ever this great walker’s firm step might totter, and his gait grow staggering, and his eye irresolute, it might well be when, with the full and vivid apprehension he had of their real meaning and awful horror, he found his walk lying through the wilderness of satanic temptation, the garden of overwhelming agony, the shame and curse of Calvary. Truly he was no privileged walker amid earth’s dark scenes of misery and sin; having for his own share to endure the contradiction of sinners against himself, and, before all was over, to taste the bitterness of death, with its cruellest sting, for the very men who cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Think you not that it might have been easier for him to walk calmly and with composure if, when he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, it had been possible for him to be led blindfold? No. There was no royal road for him to walk in. His walk was on the billows of the angry sea.
Then, secondly, if there is any advantage in the way of imparting firmness and fixedness to his walk in his being the Son of God, is he not sharing that advantage with us Is it his being in God, and abiding in God, as the Son in the Father’s bosom, all the time he is walking here below, that makes his walk so admirable for its serene and settled heavenliness? Does he keep that position to himself? Does he not make it freely ours? Is it not as abiding in God, even as he abides in God, that we are exhorted and expected to “walk even as he walked?”
II. Let some particulars about this walk be noticed. I. If we say that “we abide in God,” we ought to walk as seeing God in all things and all things in God; for so Christ walked. Nothing is more conspicuous in the general bearing of his conduct, and in every detail, than his constant reference to God. “All things” to him “were of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). It was not that he so identified the world around him with God as to reckon devotion to the world equivalent to devotion to God; making the world’s business God’s worship. It was rather that, abiding in God, he so identified himself with God, that every object, every event, presented itself to him in its relation to God. What is it in God’s point of view?-what does it mean as regards him?—what are its aspects towards him?—what is his estimate of it and his mind concerning it?—that is always the uppermost, the only question. And it is the same with persons as with things and circumstances. No man is known after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). The young man, with all his natural amiability and attractiveness, of whom it is said that “Jesus beholding him, loved him” (Mark 10:21), is yet not known after the flesh; Jesus will know him only in God, in whom he himself abideth. Even though he has to let him go away sorrowful,—himself more sorrowful still for having to let one so lovable go away,—he will walk towards him as himself “abiding in God.” Neither the youth’s great possessions, nor his all but resistless winning qualities, will counterbalance in Christ’s mind what is due to the paramount claims of God and his kingdom. His walk is still not manward at all, however strong the temptation to decline a little, a very little, in that direction, but Godward alone, Godward altogether. It is still always God and not man who is in all his thoughts. Is a woman who has been a sinner behind him, washing his feet with her tears?—or before him alone, abashed, all her accusers having gone out? Not a thought of what men may think or say is in his mind; but only how his Father will feel, and what his Father will have him to do. So he walked, abiding in God. And “he that saith he abideth in God ought himself also so to walk.”
2. He ought to walk as one subordinating himself always in all things to God; submitting himself to God; committing himself to God. Abiding in God, he ought to walk as being himself nothing; God, in whom he abides, being all in all. So Christ walked. He did not seek his own glory, or do his own will, or find his own meat, or save his own life, or plead his own cause, or avenge his own wrong. Self is never a consideration with him, but always God his Father, in whom he abides.
It is not that he is either a mad fanatic, prodigally reckless of God’s gift of life and of life’s loving comforts; or a mad enthusiast, dreaming of one knows not what absorption of individual personality in some vast and vague idea of the Godhead. He shared the joy of the marriage-feast and the hospitality of the common meal. In the home of Bethany he loved to be with Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. He was ever, as the Son, distinct from the Father; and as the servant, subject to the Father.
But abiding in God, he walked as having no mind of his own, but only to know the mind of God, and to have it done at whatever cost. It was not self-denial merely, and self-sacrifice. It was the self-denying and self-sacrificing surrender of himself to God. It was, “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O God” (Psalms 40:7-8; Hebrews 10:7-10).
To walk in this respect as Christ walked, abiding in God as he did, is indeed to be emptied of self. But it is not that only. It is to be filled with God. It is to walk humbly, meekly, patiently, cheerfully—“seeking not our own, not easily provoked, bearing all things, enduring all things”—not as being insensible to pain and grief, or as if we affected the stoical pride of indifference to such things; but simply as “learning obedience,” where Jesus learned it, in the school of suffering and submission.
3. “He that saith he abideth in God” ought to walk in love. If we abide in God, we abide in the great source and fountain of love: in the infinite ocean of pure and perfect benevolence.
It was thus that Jesus, “abiding in God,” walked abroad among men; the very impersonation of benevolence; “a man approved of God, who went about doing good.” His whole walk was one continuous manifestation of good will to men. And it was of the Father’s good will to men that his walk was the manifestation; for he was ever abiding in God. No good will to men’s principles and practices, while at enmity with God, did his walk manifest: no such good will as would have their principles and practices tolerated and indulged at the expense of the honour and the law of that God and Father in whom he was continually abiding. But good will to their persons, to themselves,—ah! how intense, how unwearied, how inexhaustible,—was that walk of his incessantly exemplifying!
Can we say that we “abide in God” as Jesus did, if our walk is not what his was; a walk of active benevolence, practically proclaiming our Father’s good will to men as our brethren? Ah! let us not forget to do good, to distribute, to be kind, to carry food to the hungry, healing to the sick, comfort to the sorrowful, hope to the sinful; to speak a word in season to the weary; to visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction, while we keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
4. “He that saith he abideth in God ought,” in a word, to walk in unity with God, as being of one mind with God, and of one heart. So Jesus walked. For with reference to his human walk on earth quite as much as to his divine nature, or his being in heaven, he could say “I and my Father are one.” He had no separate interest from his Father; no separate occupation; no separate joy. Whatever touched the Father, equally and in the same way affected him. “The zeal of thine house,” he cried, “hath eaten me up.” He pleased not himself; but, “as it is written: The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.” This harmony of sentiment, this conscious unity of desire and aim between him and the Father who appointed his lot,—the result of his “abiding always in God,”—made his life a walk indeed. It was not a walk through pleasant places. It was no holiday excursion; no easy ramble. And yet the sense of a high and intimate community of motive, means, and end between him and the Father, which his abiding ever in God must have inspired, could scarcely fail to invest the scenery through which he passed, at its very wildest and darkest points, with a certain charm of divine majesty and awe; as well as also to impart to his soul, in passing through it, I say not equanimity only, but a measure also of deep and chastened joy.
For in fact, with all its trials and terrors, its agonies and griefs, I cannot imagine that even to the man of sorrows his walk through life was what could fairly be called unhappy. When the road led through Bethany’s peaceful shades, and allowed a night’s tarrying in the home he loved so well, the hallowed repose of that familiar friendly circle must have been very sweet to his taste; all the sweeter for the thought that, abiding in him who put so welcome an entertainment, so congenial a solace, in his way, he was not solitary in the enjoyment of it; the relish of it being common to the Father and to him. And even when in his walk he had to “tread the winepress alone;” yet not alone, for the Father was with him; when flesh and heart fainting would have moved him almost to put the cup away from him;—is it conceivable that, abiding in God, he could ever lose the apprehension of the unity of counsel between them in the great design for which he came into the world? It could not be with any other feeling than that of relief, of acquiescence, I will say of intensest satisfaction, that, overcoming in the Spirit the weakness of the flesh, he gave himself up to him in whom, in that dread hour, he was abiding, if it were possible, more closely, more intimately, more lovingly than ever;—“Father, thy will be done;”—“Father, glorify thy name;”—“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”
So he walked. And so it is our privilege to walk,-abiding, by the power of the Spirit, in God as he did; saying always, “Not my will but thine be done.”
“Who then is among you that feareth the Lord, and yet walketh in darkness, seeing no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God” (Isaiah 1:10-11). Walk on still, in darkness if it must be so, but abiding still in God. The darkness will not last for ever. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Walk still on, I say, abiding in God as he did, who, when his walk was as of one forsaken,—through the hell which your sins and mine deserved—cried still: “My God, my God!” My God, I abide in thee! Though thou slay me, I will trust in thee.
Who says now, I abide in God? See that you really walk as he walked, who alone is the perfect pattern and example of abiding in God. Ah! the notion of any other sort of abiding in God, or any other way of abiding in God, than his sort and his way of it, which his walk so fully verified, is wholly false and vain. You cannot hope to abide in God, and in God’s love, otherwise than as he did;—by keeping his commandments.
I charge you, then, all of you, to keep the commandments of God; to walk in the way of his commandments; that you may have fellowship with him and he with you. That is the true apostolic fellowship—fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. I ask you, every one of you, how are you walking? How, and whither? Are you “walking after the course of this world?” Then I have to tell you,—or rather Paul tells you,—that you are really “walking after the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” That is your fellowship, the fellowship of the devil, if that is your walk, after the course of this world. “And I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” But walk in the light, as God is in the light, and have fellowship with him and he with you, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleansing you from all sin!
IX. The Commandment at Once Old and New to One Walking with Guileless Spirit in the Light—The Darkness Passing—The True Light Shining
“Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”—1 John 2:7-8
WHAT commandment does John mean? Is it the same commandment throughout? If so, in what sense is it at once old and new?
Some will have it to be the commandment of brotherly love, introduced at the ninth verse. There is an awkwardness, however, in thus making these two verses describe a commandment not yet mentioned. It is an unnatural mode of writing. And it is unlike the apostle’s usual simplicity, to be as it were sounding a trumpet of preparation for the precept which he so commends, with a sort of rhetorical paradox about its being not new but old, and yet again new, and all this before the precept itself is indicated. And the last clause of the seventh verse seems conclusive against that view. The apostle tells what the commandment is. It is “the word which ye have heard from the beginning.” Surely this may best be understood as referring back to the word of life (1 John 1:1), which the apostle says he and his fellow-apostles had from the beginning heard and seen and handled, and which, he adds, we declare unto you. Is not that what he means here by “the word which ye have heard”?
It is not new but old, as old as the first preaching of the gospel. I am no setter-forth of novelties or strange doctrines. What I write (1.) concerning the fellowship of light and joy with the Father and the Son into which your believing knowledge of the word, through the teaching of the Spirit, introduces you; (2.) concerning the indispensable condition of that fellowship, your walking in the light as he is in the light; (3.) concerning the sacrifice and advocacy of Jesus Christ, as meeting that sense of sin and shortcoming which otherwise must be ever fatally dimming the light, and marring the joy, of the fellowship; and (4.) concerning the obligation of a sinless aim, an obedient heart, a Christ-like walk, if you would really know God, and have his love perfected in you, and be in him;—all that, which I am writing to you, is old. It is no new discovery, no new despatch from heaven. It is “an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning.”
But what of the intimation that follows; “a new commandment I write unto you”? It is not merely a thrice-told tale that I am writing about. There is something fresh and new about it. And what is that?
It is the realising of this fact, or this thing, as true, first in Christ and then in yourselves, that “the darkness is past,” or is passing, “and the true light is now shining.” For so this clause really runs. It is not a reason for the thing which is true; it is the very thing itself;—“which thing is true, in him and in you; this, namely, that the darkness is past, or is passing, and the true light now shineth.”
This is what constitutes the newness of the old commandment. It is a new thing to have this fact becoming matter of consciousness;—the fact of its being true, in Christ and in you, that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining. The obligation to make this goad is emphatically a new commandment. It commands, or commends, what must ever be felt to be a novelty.
Thus viewed, this new commandment may bring out a singularly close parallelism or identity between Christ and all who, abiding in God, walk as Christ walked.
I. In Christ personally this is true, “that the darkness is passing and the true light is shining.” In so far as this is a continuous process, or progressive experience, it is true of Christ only as he walked on earth. Look at him, then, in his human life.
A new commandment is given to him, a new charge or commission from above. Something new is given to him to be learned as a message or lesson. It is the message or lesson of its being true in him that the darkness passeth, and the true light now shineth. He is placed in new circumstances. He is plunged into the very thickest of the fight that is evermore waged here below between the two. On the one hand, darkness—the darkness that is opposed to the light which God is, and in which God is, the light which is at once his nature and his dwelling-place,—that darkness is no stranger to him; he no stranger to it. Neither outwardly in his history, nor inwardly in his inmost soul, is he a stranger to it or it to him. Darkness is upon him, around him, in him; the darkness of the sin with which he comes in contact, the sin which, in its criminality and curse, he makes his own. But, on the other hand, the true light is ever shining upon him, around him, in him; the light of the Father’s loving eye bent upon his suffering Son; the light of his own single eye ever bent upon the Father’s glory. In him this darkness and this light are incessantly meeting; present always, both of them, vividly present to his consciousness; felt to be real, intensely real—the darkness, however, always as passing; the true light always as now shining.
For this is the peculiarity of the position. The darkness is on its way to the oblivion in which all the past lies buried, because there is now true light shining. It is no longer a doubtful struggle, or one that might issue in a drawn battle. The seed of the woman is bruising the head of the serpent. The true light now shining is causing the darkness to pass. So Jesus perseveres. Otherwise he must have given way. In him, even when in his experience and to his agonised consciousness, the darkness is deepest, it is still a darkness which is passing, and is realised as passing. In him, even then, the true light is shining. It is a present shining; it is the true light shining now. It is not merely that there might be in him. amid the darkness, some memory of the true light shining once, of old, from everlasting; or some anticipation of its shining again soon, to everlasting. But the true light is shining in him now; the light of conscious victory over the passing darkness. Therefore “for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.”
II. What is true in him should be true in us, and should be realised by us as true in us as in him. That is the apostle’s new commandment. For we enter into the position of him in whom, in the first instance, that is true. The commandment to us is to enter into his position. And it is a new position. It is new to every one with whom the commandment finds acceptance, and in whom it takes effect. It is a new thing for me, in compliance with this commandment, to apprehend it to be true, in Christ and in me,—in me as in Christ,—that the darkness is evanescent, vanishing, passing, and that the true light is now shining. Nay more, it is a new thing for me every moment, Not once for all, but by a constant series of believing acts and exercises of appropriation, I recognise it as true in him and in me, that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining.
I. “The darkness is passing.” Is it so with me, to me, in me? Then all that pertains to the darkness, all that is allied to it, is passing too. It is all like a term in course of being worked out in an algebraic question; a vanishing quantity; a fading colour. Is it thus that I practically regard the whole kingdom of darkness, and all the works of darkness, and all the terrors of darkness; the power of darkness; the darkness of this world and the rulers of it?
Plainly there is here a thoroughly practical test. What is the darkness to me as regards my relation to it and my esteem of it? Or the things of darkness—what are they? I know well enough what the darkness, in this use of the word, means; what it is. It means, it is, the shutting out of God. For darkness is the absence of light. But God is light. This darkness therefore is the absence of God, the shutting out of God. In whatever place or scene or company God is shut out there is darkness. Whatever work or way God is shut out from, that is a work or way of darkness. Whoever shuts out God from his thoughts is a child of darkness. Now I come into contact with this darkness on every hand, at every point. Places, scenes, companies, from which God is shut out; works and ways from which God is shut out; people from whose minds and hearts God is shut out;—I am in the midst of them all; they press upon me; I cannot get rid of them. Tempting, flattering, cajoling; or trying, threatening, persecuting; they are on me like the Philistines on Samson. Worse than that, they are in me, as having only too good auxiliaries in my own sinful bosom. How do I regard them? Do I cleave to them, to any of them? Would I have them to abide, at least a little longer? Would it pain me to part with them and let them pass? Or is it this very feature about them all that they are passing,—that the darkness which owns them all is passing,—that I fasten upon for relief and comfort? Is it that which alone reconciles me to my being still obliged for a season to tolerate and have dealings with the darkness?
For dealings with this darkness I cannot but have. I have to go down into its depths to rescue, if it may be, its victims. And I have to resist its solicitations when its ministers come to me disguised as angels of light. My soul, like the righteous soul of Lot, must be vexed with the evil conversation and ungodly deeds that the darkness covers in Sodom. I have to stand its assaults; and when reviled, revile not again. So this darkness, this shutting out of God, with its manifold influences and agencies, besets me. How do I feel towards it? Have I still some sympathy with it in some of its less offensive aspects? Am I still inclined to make terms with it, so as to disarm its hostility, and even taste, in some safe manner and degree, its friendship? Would its instant and thorough disappearance from before me,—would my instant and thorough removal from beside it,—be altogether welcome? Would I have it stay with me or pass from me? Is the darkness of this world, with its pursuits and pleasures and amusements, its seductions, its associations, its customs and fellowships,—in which God is not, and therefore light is not,—is it a lingering friend to me, or a departing stranger, a retreating foe?
“The darkness is passing.” Is that true in me, as in Christ, with reference not merely to the darkness of this world that has such a bold on me, but also and chiefly to the darkness of my own shutting out of God; the darkness of my shutting out of God from my own conscious guilt and cherished sin? That is darkness indeed. Is it passing? Am I glad of its passing? Or am I somehow, and in some measure, loving it still?—so loving it that I would not have it altogether or all at once pass? Say that my sin is finding me out;—the sin, generally, of my state and character before God, or some particular sin. Say that I am falling away from my first love, or coming again under the dominion of some form of evil;—that, in some particular matter, my heart is not right with God. So far as that matter is concerned, I would shut out God. I would put in something between him and me; some excuse; some palliating circumstance; some countervailing aspect of goodness; some plea of self-justification of some sort. That is the darkness which, in such a case, I naturally love. And I feel myself drawn to love it, even in spite of ray experience of the more excellent way of guilelessness on my part towards God, and grace on God’s part towards me. But is it passing—this darkness? Is it passing with my own consent? Do I make it free and right welcome to pass? Or do I cleave to it as if I would still have a little of it to abide with me? Ah! this darkness, this shutting out of God! How apt am I, if not to ask it, at least to suffer it, to return and remain. “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.”
“The darkness is passing.” Is this my stay, my hope, my joy in the hour of its fiercest power? When it gathers thickest and falls heaviest, hiding God’s face from me; when all about me and in me is so dark that I cannot see my signs; when a sense of guilt sinks me as in a dark pit, and “the sorrows of death compass me, and the pains of hell get hold upon me, and I find trouble and sorrow;”—let me fasten on this “thing which is true in Christ and in me, that the darkness is passing.” I am suffering with Christ, undergoing a kind of crucifixion with him. To me, as to him,—to me conscious of sin, my own and not another’s,—the cup of wrath is presented. On me, as on him, the awful blackness of that day of doom settles down. To me, as to him, sin is indeed exceeding sinful; and the death, which is its wages, terrible. Sold under sin, I am consciously, with a keen and nervous sensitiveness of conscience, dying that death. My faith is failing. Unbelief all but has the mastery. But a new commandment is given me, and a new power, at the critical moment, to realise it as a thing true in Christ, and therefore true in me, that this darkness is passing. In him it is true only through his draining the cup of wrath, dying the accursed death for me. O my soul, bless thou the Lord, that it is already and most graciously true in thee, because so terribly true in him, that, without cost to thee, though with infinite cost to him, this great darkness passes away for ever!
2. “The true light is now shining.” This “thing also is true in Christ and in you;” in you as in Christ; in you because in Christ. And it is to be apprehended and felt as true now. The true light now shineth. It is not said that this true light is to shine hereafter. This is not represented as a benefit to be got, or as a reward to be reached, after the darkness shall have passed. It is a present privilege or possession,—a thing which is true in Christ and in you,—that all the time the darkness is passing the true light is shining. “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” That is the gospel call to the Church and to every member of it. It is true, as a great fact, in you as in Christ, that the true light now shineth. Its present shining is in you, as truly as in him, a blessed reality.
For this true light now shining, which is a true thing in you as in Christ, is simply what Christ found it to be; God’s loving eye upon you, and your single eye towards God. That is the true light now shining. And the fact of its now shining while the darkness is passing, is the thing which is to be recognised as true, in you as in Christ.
That is the “new commandment;” a commandment always new; conveying in its bosom an ever-fresh experience, pregnant with ever-fresh experimental discoveries of him who is light, and who dwells in light. Only act up to this commandment; be ever acting up to it more and more. Enter into the spirit of it, and follow it out to its fair and full issues. The newness of it, its constant novelty, will be more and more apparent, or at least more and more felt and relished. A loving Father’s eye ever fixed upon you, and a filial eye in you ever fixed upon him;—that, I repeat, is the true light now shining in you as in Christ. It is not outward revelation only; it is inward illumination as well. It is the Spirit that dwelt in Christ dwelling also in you; shedding abroad in your hearts the love of God, and calling forth the simple response of obedient love in return. Let no child of God say that this shining of the true light must be reserved for the future. The true light shineth in him as in Christ now. The new commandment concerning it is in force now. It is a great fact, a thing which is true in Christ,—not in Christ considered as glorified, but in Christ humbling himself, in Christ walking, in Christ crucified,—that not only is the darkness passing, but the true light is now shining. It is, it should be, it must be, it shall be, a great fact, a thing that is true, in you also. Is it not so? Why should it not be so? Is not that great, open eye of your Father in heaven continually beholding you? Yes! Even when in a little wrath he hides his face from you, even when he smites you with the rod, are you not under that benignant eye? And on your part, through grace, may not this voice be ever going upwards to the throne of grace? “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us” (Psalms 123:2).
Thus it is “true in him and in you, that the darkness is passing, and the true light shineth.” And it is ever a new oracle of divine grace. It will always be so to the pilgrim on his way through the dark wilderness to divinely lighted Canaan. It will always be so, at every step, to you who, abiding in God, walk even as Christ also walked. When faint and weary because of the way, tempted almost to give up, and to give in, as if your striving against sin were all in vain, and your endurance of the contradiction of sinners against yourself more than flesh and blood can stand, call to mind this word—“Which thing is true in him and in you, that the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.” It is a new word to you then, a new assurance, a new appeal. It dissipates the gloom that is enshrouding all things to your view. “Lo! they are all new in the true light that is shining. Whenever the old shadows are flinging themselves again across your path, the old misgivings and questionings, the old doubts and fears, the old partial dealings with God’s promises in the word of his gospel, the old hesitancies about the freeness of his grace, and the sufficiency of his great salvation, and your title to believe in the forgiveness of your sins; call to mind this word: “Which thing is true in him and in you, that the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.” It rings as a new Jubilee trumpet. It breathes new life into you. For “in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and nay song: he also is become my salvation.” Are old frames coming back upon me: old ways of thinking and feeling about the service of God, and the troubles of life, and the terrors of death; the old ideas as to God being an hard master, and his commandments being grievous; the old spirit of bondage, the old servile grudging, the old rebelliousness, that makes duty irksome, and self-denial hard, and labour thankless, and the whole doing of God’s will a dull routine or dreary task? Let me call to mind this word: “Which thing is true in him and in you, that the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.” Is it not a new and spirit-stirring summons to me? Is it not a new gospel to me? Is it not a new quickening, a new awakening? Is it not a new prayer that it prompts?—“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord; and renew a right spirit within me.”
And now, connecting the two verses which we have been considering separately, we may see how John, being “a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven,” is “like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasury things new and old.” He probably had in his view a class of men, not uncommon in his day, who thirsted for novelties, if not in the doctrines of the gospel themselves, at least in the way of setting them forth; upon whom the primitive simplicity that is in Christ was beginning to pall; by whom the commonplace preaching of the cross was felt almost to have become effete, and to have lost its stimulating power. John will not pander to such a taste. He has been discoursing about high matters; but he is careful to assure his readers that they are not the sort of novelties for which some have a craving. There is nothing really new in his teaching. It is the old word which has been heard from the beginning; the same word that “Paul and Apollos and Cephas” proclaimed; the same word that John has been always reiterating. But if any will have novelty, here is a safe receipt for it. Let them make the old word new in their own experience by the ever-fresh practical application of it, in the ever-fresh practical apprehension of the “thing which is true in Christ and in them, that the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.” For though doctrinal Christianity is always old, experimental Christianity is always new. The gospel preached to us is old; but the gospel realised in us is always new. Christ set forth before our eyes is always old; but “Christ in us the hope of glory,”—“Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith,”—Christ becoming more and more, through the Spirit’s teaching, part and parcel of our whole inner man—This Christ is always new.
X. Brotherly Love a Test and Means of Being and Abiding, with Guileless Spirit, in the Light
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him: but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”—1 John 2:9-11
“HE that saith he is in the light” is one who professes to obey the “new commandment;” to realise in himself, personally, the new position or state of things implied in its being “true in Christ and in him,”—in him as in Christ,—“that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining.” He says he is in the light which is now shining and chasing the darkness away. But he hateth his brother; one who says the same thing; one in whom, as in Christ and in him, the same thing is true. He refuses to recognise him as a brother, or to regard him with brotherly love. And that is enough to prove that he cannot really be himself one of those in whom, as in Christ, “this thing is true, that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining.”
On the other hand, “he that loveth his brother,”—he that loves as his brother one in whom, as in Christ and in himself, “this thing is true, that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining,”—not only shows thereby that he speaks truth when he says he is in the light, but takes, moreover, the most effectual means for securing his continuing in the light; so abiding in the light that there shall be in him nothing to occasion stumbling.
But let him be warned. If he is destitute of this brotherly love, he cannot be in the light, the true light which is now shining. He is in darkness; the darkness which, in all that are Christ’s, as in Christ himself, is passing. And according to the darkness in which he is, must his walk be. It cannot be the walk of one in whom there is no occasion of stumbling. It must be the walk of one who is darkly groping his way, not knowing whither he is going. Nor is this his misfortune; it is his fault. There is light enough, but he refuses to see it; he allows the darkness to blind his eyes.
This cursory analysis of these verses may suggest for consideration the following particulars respecting brotherly love;—I. Its nature as being a brotherhood of light; II. The reasonableness of its being made a test of being in the light; and III. The fitness of its continued exercise to ensure continued abiding in the light.
I. Brotherly love consists in this, that they in whom, as in Christ, this thing is true, that the darkness is passing and the true light is shining, recognise one another as, in that character, and on that account, brethren. That is the first aspect of brotherly love suggested in this Epistle.
Look again, in this connection, at “this thing which is true.”
See the vast cauldron or wide ocean of darkness; restless, tumultuous, angry. It is the chaos of moral evil; the wild anarchy of ungodliness; in which, God being shut out, spirits made in his image “wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they are not satisfied” (Psalms 59:15). Into this darkness, into the thick of it, one plunges himself, who has no affinity with it, and over whom it has no power. But he is in it; acquainting himself with all its terrors and sounding its utmost depths. He ransacks the chambers of the darkness. Its powers and principalities he defies; its works and ways, its poor expedients of relief, its miserable comforters, its refuges of lies, he remorselessly lays bare. But more than that he does. He marches straight up to the fountain-head of the horrid stream that has made so vast a desolation. That shutting out of God, which is the real blackness of this darkness, he deals with. To make reconciliation, to make peace, he takes upon himself my dark death, in order that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life and light, may quicken and gladden me in him.
Yes! the darkness is upon him. Its death is upon him; the death in which there is sin’s dark sting and God’s dark curse.
But it is passing; and already the true light is shining. The eclipse is over; and lo! a bright cloud! a glorious Shechinah! The righteous God glorified! The loving Father well pleased! The Son himself,—yet not for himself, but as “seeing his seed,”—rejoicing and giving thanks!
Now it is with us as with Christ, when in us, as in Christ, “this thing is true, that the darkness is passing, and the true light is shining.”
For, first, in Christ, our position with reference to that darkness is changed from what it naturally is. It is reversed. The terrible flood is not now carrying us away; we stem it holding him—he holding us. We see it passing.
Yesterday it was hurrying me along in its strong deep tide, to what ocean I knew not, and scarcely cared, or did not venture, to ask. Shutting my eyes, I was content to follow the stream. Or if at times some rude shock or some eddying whirl gave me pause, and a momentary alarm seized me as I saw signs of wreck and ruin on every side, I could but catch convulsively some frail stem or slippery rock; or desperately toss and struggle like some “strong swimmer in his agony.”
Now all is changed. By grace in Christ, I am in a new way. My head is turned up the stream, and against it.
At first it is a fearful struggle. What waves and billows go over me. No breath, no life is in me. I am lost, I perish!
But lo! Christ is with me; HE who “liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore.” He grasps me, and I grasp him. Together we rise, through such a death as I never thought I could survive, to such a life as—how shall I describe it? How but in inspired words, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
“The things which God hath prepared for them that love him?” Yes! For they are prepared in order to their being presently realised. “The true light now shineth.” As my head is raised, leaning on his shoulder and his bosom; as my feet begin to touch the rock on which, though fierce floods may still try to drown me, my goings are to be established; as I feebly open my heavy eyes in the upper atmosphere I am now beginning to breathe; what bright warm beam is that which lightens up the face of him in whose arms I am, and lightens up ray heart as I look and gaze on him, and cling and grow to him! It is the Father loving me as he loveth him. It is “the darkness passing and the true light now shining.”
Then, as the first confused and rapturous joy of my own narrow escape becomes collected and calm, I look around. And I see him—for he multiplies himself and is everywhere—I see him doing the same kind office to one, and another, and another still, that he is doing to me. Here, close beside me,—there, a little farther off,—is a man like myself, in whom as in me;—because in his Lord and mine;—“the darkness is passing and the true light is shining.” I look still, and my sight grows clearer as the light grows brighter. Here and there, all over, the surface of the dark ocean-stream is studded with miracles of saving mercy, as stupendous as I am myself; I, the chief of sinners, saved by special and as it were chiefest grace. At first I feel as if all around were still thick impenetrable gloom; and I alone were in the fond embrace of one who “loved me, and gave himself for me.” But he tells me that he has others; and I see that he has. I see him embracing them because he loved them, and gave himself for them. Shall I not hail them as my brethren? Can I hate, or refuse to love, one who is my brother on such a footing as that? Can any cause of coldness or estrangement have more power than the tie that should thus unite?
II. Hence it is that the existence of this brotherly love is a fitting test of our being “in the light.” At all events, the absence of it is conclusive proof that we are not.
For, consider what this hating, or not loving, our brother is; and what it involves.
Here is one who but yesterday was, as we once were, carried helplessly on in the darkness that, as it passes, sweeps so many to destruction. But he has been arrested, and has got a footing. In his experience “the darkness is passing,” but he is not now himself passing along with it. He stands against it and stems it. His head being raised above it, catches the cheering beams of heaven’s light. And yet we who say that this is exactly our case, as we admit it to be his, hate that man; look coldly or cruelly on him; refuse to count him a brother!
I do not ask if this is consistent. The question is rather—Is it possible? The apostle says it is not. But why not?
It does not always follow that experience of a common danger and a common deliverance makes men brothers. Perhaps it should; where it does not, there is probably something wrong. The bitterest enemies, rescued in their strife from Niagara’s Falls, will scarcely have the heart or the hardihood instantly to renew the fight. If they do, all around will cry shame on them. But there is really nothing in what they have undergone together that has any power, in its own nature, to alter their relations to one another, or their feelings towards one another. They are the same men that they were before; and no one has made peace between them. Here, however, there is a Peacemaker. First, I find myself individually and personally embraced by him, lifted up by him out of the darkness of my deep estrangement from God, into the light of God reconciled countenance; the light of the love of his Father and my Father, his God and my God. Next, I see him dealing with you, my late companion in the darkness,—my late antagonist, if you will, in some of the darkness’s deadly strifes, exactly as he deals with me. I see him embracing you as he embraces me; lifting you up, as he lifts me, out of the same dark dread and dislike of God into the same light of his love. Do I love him who has me in his arms; keeping me so that it continues to be ever “true in him and in me that the darkness is passing, and the true light is shining?” And do I still hate you whom he has in his arms as he has me, and whom he keeps out of the darkness and in the light as he keeps me? It cannot be. I can no more hate you than I can hate him. I may say that I am in the light; but if I hate you who also are in the light, I am “in darkness even until now.”
Light is in itself in its very nature and bare shining—a great extinguisher of hatred; especially of hatred among those who should be brethren. It is in the darkness that mistakes occur, and misunderstandings arise. It is in the darkness that injuries are brooded over, and angry passions nursed. If you, brother, and I, are at variance, it is almost certain to be because there is some darkness about us that hinders us from seeing one another clearly. Hence we imagine evil of one another, and impute evil to one another. Let in the light. Let us see one another clearly. Differences between us may still remain; our views of many things may be wide as the poles asunder. But we see that we are men of like passions and like affections with one another. The light shows us that we are true brethren in spite of all.
The light here is the light which God is (1 John 1:5), the light in which God is (1 John 1:7). It is the light which is at once his nature and his dwelling-place.
First, the light is the divine nature; “God is light.” If I am in the light, I am a partaker of the divine nature; my moral nature becomes the same with that of God. This identity is very specially realised in the department of the affections, in the region of the heart. I cannot be in the light—meaning by the light the nature of God, or what God is—without my heart being like his. To be in the light is to be in a high sense Godlike in our preferences, as Christ showed himself Godlike in his preferences when he was here. We know what his preferences were; they were the same as his Father’s. Could it have been said truly of him that he was in the light, if they had been otherwise? Can I say truly that I am in the light if mine are otherwise? What then are my preferences? Whom do I prefer and choose? Is it they whom Christ would have preferred and chosen? Is it they whom his Father and mine prefers and chooses? Are the same persons, and the same qualities in persons, likeable and lovely to me that would have been likeable and lovely to Christ,—that are likeable and lovely to God? If not, let me beware lest, though I say I am in the light, I may be in darkness even until now.
Again, secondly, the light is God’s dwelling-place; “God is in the light.” If therefore I am in the light, then I have the same medium of vision, as well as the same nature, with God. Objects appear to me as they appear to God. And so also do persons. This world’s darkness obscures features and confounds distinctions. The “ruler of its darkness,” the “prince of the power of its air,” makes that air of such a dense thickness and of such an artificial hue, that men and things look different from what they are: softened, shaded, subdued; or else distorted and discoloured. If I am in the light, that darkness is passing. I am as Christ · was, in whom, even when he was in the midst of that darkness, it was passing, and the true light was shining, showing him men and things in the light in which his Father sees them. Is it so with me? Does that poor God-fearing man appear to me as he would have appeared to Christ, as he appears to God? Do I look at the same things in him that Christ and his Father look at? Do I fasten upon the same characteristics of the man that Christ, if he were in my place, would fasten upon, that his Father and mine is fastening upon? Do the same qualities or adjuncts of the man bulk in my eyes that bulk in theirs? His rags, his unwashed limbs, his sores, as I see him lying a beggar at the rich man’s door; or his ungainly aspect and uncouth manners, as he, a clownish rustic, meets me in my dainty path; things in him and about him that are repulsive or annoying; causes of irritation and offence, for which, right or wrong, I hold him responsible: these I dwell on, and single out for contemplation, and magnify and exaggerate. Counterbalancing excellencies, redeeming virtues; graces flourishing in circumstances in which mine would languish; exercises of patience, meekness, self-denial, charity, that might put all my easy goodness to shame; escape my notice. They are overlooked, or perhaps disparaged and depreciated. These things ought not so to be. They would not be so with him who is the light of men, if he were in my place. They cannot be so with me, if I am really abiding in the light.
III. The exercise of brotherly love is fitted to be the means of our continuing in the light, so as to avoid the risk of falling (1 John 2:10). Two benefits are here.
First, positively, by means of brotherly love we abide in the light. The law of action and reaction is here very noticeable. Being in the light begets brotherly love, and brotherly love secures abiding in the light. For this brotherly love is simply love to the true light, as I see it shining in my brother as it shines in Christ. And such love to the true light, wherever and in whomsoever it is seen shining as it shines in Christ, must needs cause me to grow up more and more into the true light myself; to grow up into Christ, and God in Christ.
There is a well-known principle in ethics that may furnish an illustration here. It is that of sympathy; according to which it is found that our moral instincts, judgments, and emotions, are largely developed by our putting ourselves in our neighbour’s place, so as to see with his eye and feel with his heart. It is a most wholesome corrective of our sentiments on all questions of duty that is thus obtained. But it is more. It is a stimulus and incentive impulse also. If I wrap myself up in myself, becoming a sort of isolated being, bent chiefly or exclusively on the preservation of my own virtue and the cultivation of my own character; my sense of obligation, however sound and alert originally, will be apt to get warped or to grow torpid. Keeping thus aloof from my fellows—self-studious, self-contained,—not only is my conscience towards man dwarfed and dimmed,, but my conscience also towards God. I am by no means so sensitively alive to what he claims and what I owe, as when, even in imagination, I associate with myself a brother, and make his mind and soul, as well as my own, my standing-point.
Within the domain of spiritual light and love, a similar fact is to be noted; a similar law or principle holds good. A selfish religionist is sure to become either morbid or stupid. It is by sympathy and brotherhood that the fire of personal Christianity is fanned. For one thing, it is always refreshing to see how the gospel works in others after it has been working, say for years, in us. To observe the process of fresh conversion or quickening, simply as a spectacle,—to watch it as an experiment,—is both interesting and edifying.
We look on, in a time of general and remarkable awakening. We read or listen to the details of some well marked missionary movements. Here are new and fresh specimens of people born of the Spirit; men and women created anew in Christ Jesus the Lord. Surely it is good for us to have such specimens presented to us; especially if at any time we have been beginning to lapse into a low and languid apprehension of what living Christianity is, and almost to forget the power of a first sense of sin, and a first sight of Christ;—a first prayer and a first love. And here brotherly love is all in all. Without it, the brightest and most vivid displays of grace, passing before our very eyes, will be all in vain. If we coldly gaze, or curiously inquire,—to criticise, to speculate, to theorise or systematise; we simply become frozen up in our apathy more and more. Let it be assumed, however, that where God’s work is hopefully going on, there our heart is; that it is there, as a brother’s heart, in full brotherly sympathy with all who are engaged in it, and with all whom they are instrumental in saving;—that our fraternal fellow-feeling goes along with the evangelist, even in that warmth and enthusiastic zeal which may occasionally transgress the bounds of prudence or of etiquette;—and that the young converts and newly-enlisted recruits, even in the extremes of their grief and joy, touch a chord within us that awakens the melody of heaven’s home. In a word, let brotherly love be in exercise where brethren are seeking brethren, in the Lord, from among the crowd of the ungodly in the world. Let a lively interest be felt. Let reports be earnestly pondered. Let individual cases be made the subjects of special prayer, and let individual souls be embraced as old familiar faces. We catch the contagion of the excitement into the midst of which we throw ourselves. We get a new and-fresh idea of what the Spirit’s movement is. The light in which these apostles and disciples of a new Pentecost dwell becomes the light in which we also dwell. Its “clear shining after rain” dispels a world of mists and vapours in our otherwise too still and stagnant firmament. Our abiding in the light is thus more vividly realised, the more our brotherly love is exercised.
It is so, even when from necessity we are listeners and spectators merely. Many a disabled child of God, lying wakeful upon his bed in the night season, feels himself to be all the more sensibly, consciously, rejoicingly, abiding in the light, for the brotherly thought and brotherly prayer he sends far across the ocean;—to yonder missionary with burning lips, preaching Jesus to some stricken soul,—or to some saved sinner, full of a newly-found Saviour, and shouting aloud for joy.
Much more may this be the effect when we are permitted personally to take part, as fellow-workers and fellow-helpers with the Son, in what he is doing on the earth for the scattering of hell’s darkness and the spreading of heaven’s light. My own soul prospers as I care for the souls of others. My abiding in the light myself is more and more to me a matter of actual joyous experience and assurance, for every brother into whose being in the light and abiding in the light I, as a brother, enter. It is as if his abiding in the light were added to mine. I appropriate his soul-exercise and make it mine. All different ways of abiding in the light may thus become mine, and I may have the good of them all. How wide and potent is the spell which my brotherly love may thus wield! It lays its hand on the dead; and I have brotherhood with Paul, and John, and Peter; and a whole host of worthies; and a dear cherished friend or two, but yesterday called home. They all abode in the light; in them all the true light shone, as in Christ. But no one of them was in this exactly as any other. They are all, however, available to enhance and intensify my abiding in the light. The sympathy of brotherly love gives me an insight into all their frames, and a fellowship with them in all their feelings. But “the living, the living, they praise God!” Let my brotherly love carry me out to living Christians, and lay me alongside of them, and win for me entrance into their hearts. Let me share their abiding in the light as they may share mine. Let me be helpful to my brother as regards his abiding in the light. Let me, with a brother’s tender hand, remove whatever trouble or sorrow or want may interfere with the bright clearness of the light in which he abides. Let me, with a brother’s wise affection, win him more and more into the light’s meridian glory. Let me do him all brotherly offices by which his abiding in the light may become less embarrassed and more free and joyous. The whole good is mine as much as his. Thus “he that loveth his brother abideth in the light.” This is a positive benefit to himself. And it implies another benefit.
For, secondly, “there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” This is a negative advantage; but it is great. Its greatness will appear if we consider the case of him who is described as wanting it. “He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).
The case put must be viewed as that of one who is so far in earnest as to be really aiming heavenward. He may be even a most painstaking seeker of the heavenward way, and a plodding walker in whatever way he takes to be it. Such was many a Pharisee, like Paul in his days of elaborate self-righteousness. Such was many a Gnostic, or knowing one, among those whom John, I doubt not, had in his view when he was writing this verse. Take a devotee of that sort, engrossed in some self-purifying and self-perfecting spiritual discipline. “He hateth his brother.” That means, in John’s phraseology, he is destitute of brotherly love. He has no warm brotherly sympathy with other believers. He may have no positive ill-will to any man; on the contrary, in a sort of vague and general way he may think he wishes all men well. But he has no special affection for godly men as such, for children of the light. He is taken up with the care of his own soul, and his preparation for serving and enjoying God now and afterwards. I purposely state the case in its most favourable aspect. Now how does such a man really walk? One might suppose that, having nothing to do but to mind his own steps, he must walk very wisely and surely. But alas! the dreary, dismal records of ascetic and monastic piety prove that its walk is a terrible groping in the dark. Was ever the path of any of these recluses, even the holiest, “like the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day?” Is it not rather a desperate plunging and floundering through mire and filth, amid stones and pitfalls, in the face of grisly phantoms of sin and hell? The man is bent on righting himself; ridding himself of lust; leaving behind him the world, the devil, and the flesh; working himself up into a state of serene and passionless equanimity, like that transcendental quiescence and repose in which he supposes God to dwell. It is a high though a visionary aim. For the attainment of it what efforts will he not put forth! what sacrifices will he not make! to what self-flagellation, self-laceration, bodily and spiritual, will he not submit! And yet what is it all but wandering as in a starless night? Incessant failure; disappointment after disappointment; new expedients resorted to in vain; now, for a moment, a supernatural trance, an ecstatic rapture, to be followed instantly by a fierce gust of unhallowed passion, or some horrid St. Anthony’s temptation! Truly the man knoweth not whither he goeth. His eyes become so blinded that the very light is to him as darkness. The light of the glorious gospel itself fails to illuminate and enlarge his soul. The absence of sympathy; brotherly sympathy; first with the elder brother, and then with the little ones in him, explains it all.
For now let brotherly love abound. Try the more excellent way, not of working in upon yourselves that you may be perfect, but of going out after Christ the Shepherd, and going forth by “the footsteps of the flock.” Leave the cell, the cloister. Quit even the too exclusive use of the study, the closet. Or at least learn to make the study as wide, the closet as capacious, as the great heart of him with whom you commune in the study, to whom you pray in the closet. For that is brotherly love. It is your loving whom your Father loves; and loving as he loves. It is the elevating, sanctifying, expanding of your heart, till it becomes, in a sense, of the same character and compass with the holy, loving heart of your Father in heaven. You are not shut up in self, any more than he is. You are abroad among men as he is. There is no longer in you that painful spirit of bondage which is for ever causing offences and the fear of them; occasioning stumbling-blocks at every turn; making every step nervous and uneasy. Saved yourselves by grace, gratuitous and rich and full; loved with an everlasting love; grasped in the arms, in the bosom, of him in whom and in you, as now one, “the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining,”—your spirit is free; your heart enlarged. Being loved, you love. The scales of selfishness fall from off your eyes. Christ sends you to his brethren: “Go tell my brethren.” And as you go to them with Christ’s message and on Christ’s errand, and make them more and more your brethren as they are his, you clearly see your way. He makes it clear. And you walk at liberty when you have respect to all his commandments; “loving your brother, and so abiding in the light.”
One thought; may be allowed, in closing, as to the peculiar blessedness of there being no occasion of stumbling in you. Occasions of stumbling there will be, enough and to spare, till the end of your course on earth. “It must needs be that offences come.” Even Jesus had his stumbling-blocks, his occasions of stumbling, in his path. Peter was one of these when he withstood his going up to Jerusalem. Even the brother you love may be an offence, an occasion of stumbling, to you by the way. But it is something to have none occasion of stumbling within; to be purged of malice and partial counsel; to have the narrowing and blinding influence of the love of sin and the love of self exchanged for the broad, clear, free vision and action of the love of God, and Christ, and the brethren, and all men; to have “the eye single” and “the whole body” therefore “full of light.”
XI. The Guileless Spirit Abiding in the Light in Its Threefold Aspect of Childhood, Fatherhood, and Youth
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write [have written] unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” 1 John 2:12-14
THESE verses form, I think, a break or interruption in the apostle’s line of argument. There is, as it were, a pause. John calls upon those to whom he writes to consider, not only what he is writing to them, but what they themselves are to whom he is writing what is their character and standing; what he is entitled to assume in and about them as likely to ensure a favourable reception of his message. This is a common apostolic method. It is a courteous and complimentary way of insinuating advice; taking for granted the attainments to be enforced. But it is far more than that; and it is so emphatically here. It is a trumpet-call, summoning all the faithful to a recognition of their real and true position before God; and that with a view to theft receiving aright what his servant is now writing to them—or, it may be, before this letter reaches them, has written to them—of the divine fellowship of light and love.
How then does John address us here? As “little children,” “fathers,” “young men.” These triads or triplets come in twice. There are two sets of propositions or state-merits, each of them three in number, and evidently corresponding and parallel to one another. The one set of three is introduced by the verb in the present tense, “I write;” the other set of three by the verb in the past tense, “I have written.” For the authority of manuscripts, critically weighed, as well as the whole structure and symmetry of the passage, requires us so far to amend our present text as to make the last clause of the thirteenth verse consistent with the fourteenth, “I have written unto you, little children.”
Clearly there are two parallel lines running thus;—
|I. “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.”||“I have written unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.”|
|II. “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.”||“I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.”|
|III. “I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.”||“I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.”|
In either series, in each of the two, “little children” is the endearing term first employed. It is not indeed the same word in the original in both instances; but the words are of the same import, and can scarcely be rendered differently. They are the words usually employed by John, and employed by him indiscriminately, when he is tenderly and affectionately addressing believers. They are, both of them, his common and customary words of love, “little children,” or babes, “children,” or boys. Children, little children, they all are; all alike to whom, as he says, he writes or has written. As such, as little children, he first addresses them all, and appeals to them all collectively. But then, secondly, he separates them into two classes, —“fathers” and “young men”—old and spiritually exercised Christians on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who are in the fresh and vigorous prime of recent but yet manly Christian experience. All alike are “little children;” but some are “fathers,” ripe for glory; others are “young men,” strong for work. Such, as I apprehend, is the real primary meaning of this threefold appeal of John.
But what of the repetition of it? and the repetition of it with a change of the tense from the present to the past?
It is a very emphatic reiteration; having in it a pathos that should be very affecting. The apostle first realises his own position as he is writing now, “I write.” Then he realises what may be the position of those to whom he writes when they receive what he is writing now. To you it may come as what “I have written;” the writer having himself been taken home. I am now writing to you as “little children;” to all of you alike I am writing thus lovingly. To some of you, however, I write as to “fathers;” to others of you I write as to “young men.” Let all that be marked and felt when you come to read what I am now writing. All the more because you may have to read it as what I have written; as my parting words to you. The present tense answers well enough now, when I am writing. But I am an old man; and the past tense may be the right one very soon, even before you can be reading what I am now writing. In any view receive it as what I solemnly and deliberately write; or, if I am gone, as what I have solemnly and deliberately written; my last legacy, my dying charge. Receive it as my full and final testimony to you, on the subject of what you ought to know, and to be and to do, as “little children,” as “fathers,” as “young men.” It is all I have to write: and I write it with all the earnestness of one who, before you read it, may have passed away. I write it as my farewell word.
Thus viewed, the appeal in these verses is surely very impressive and affecting. Let us look at it, first in itself, and secondly in the connection in which it stands.
I. Considered in itself, the appeal recognises, on the one hand, a common character in all believers, that of “little children,” and on the other hand a distinction between “fathers” and “young men.”
1. In addressing us all as little children, John makes a distinction between his first and his second appeal. In the first it is “because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake;” in the second it is “because ye have known the Father.” In addressing us as separated into two classes,—as fathers and youths respectively,—he merely repeats in the second appeal almost literally what he had said in the first. But in addressing us all as his beloved little ones, he varies the thought. The variation, however, is slight. It is the same thought in reality, only put in somewhat different lights. For the Father is truly known, only in the forgiveness of our sins for his Son’s name sake. It is when we suffer the Son to take us by the hand and lead us home to the Father, and when we discover, in our experience, how the Father deals with us when the Son presents us to him, saying, “Behold I and the little ones whom thou hast given me,”—it is then, and then only, that we begin to know the Father. Up till that time we have not known him; we have worshipped him perhaps, but it has been ignorantly; we have misunderstood him, and done him great injustice in our esteem of him. We have had hard thoughts of him; of his character and government and law; of his treatment of us and his requirements from us; or his ways and his commandments; nay, even of his very mercy itself. But we are moved to trust in the name of Jesus, and to make trial of the power of that name with the Father. And what a gushing tide of forgiveness and fatherly love does it cause to rush in upon our souls! How rich and free is the measure and manner of the Father’s pardoning grace! We do thus really know the Father; for we know him through our sense and experience of his fatherly love in the forgiveness of our sins for his Son’s name’s sake.
2. The appeal is next made to the two classes or companies into which we may be divided; those who are fathers in Israel; and those who are young men.
Ye fathers in Israel! the argument with you is, that “ye have known him that is from the beginning.” You have reached a higher, deeper, more satisfying knowledge of Christ, as “him that is from the beginning,” than that which is common to all the household of faith, all the little ones given to him by the father. Your clear and calm insight into the glorious person of him for whose name’s sake your sins are forgiven, and who thus introduces you to the knowledge of the Father; your mature acquaintance with him, in his eternal relation to the Father and oneness with the Father from the beginning;—should move you to give the more earnest heed to this writing or epistle of mine both now and when I am gone.
Ye youths, ye young men, the flower of the army of the Lord of Hosts! I have a hold on you also. You I summon, “for ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13); “ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14). As good soldiers of Christ, I would remind you of your high vocation; of what is committed to you; of what is expected of you. Your sphere is the field of battle. The quiet of contemplative study may best suit aged saints, advanced disciples, “fathers;” who may best serve the cause by enlarging, under the Spirit’s teaching, their own and the Church’s knowledge of the Eternal Word; elevating their own and the Church’s views of the Son in the bosom of the Father. But the vigour of spiritual youth points to the never-ending conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, as your special department. For you are called to wage war with the wicked one. And you have every encouragement to do so. You have overcome him already in Christ, for he has overcome him. You have but to follow up and follow out the conquest. You are strong, and the word of God abideth in you. And through that word which testifies of Christ’s victory abiding in you, the foe is already vanquished. You have overcome the wicked one.
To believers of all ages, to Christians in every stage of advancement, the apostle thus appeals. He first urges arguments and considerations applicable to all alike as little children; and then such as are proper to fathers, and such as are proper to young men. By these various and accumulated motives, he conjures us to give heed to his teaching in this epistle. It is a very solemn, as well as a very full and comprehensive appeal. And the place in which it stands in the epistle renders it still more emphatic.
II. It stands between two opposite precepts; the one positive; the other negative; “Love the brotherhood” (1 John 2:9-11); “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). To love the Father, and the brethren as the Father’s family;—not to love the world lying in the wicked one;—these are the contrasted commands between which the apostle’s earnest and affectionate appeals occur. Doubtless these appeals cover the whole epistle; all that John is writing; all that they to whom he writes are to regard him as having written, when the writing reaches them, perhaps after the writer is no more. But they bear immediately on loving the brethren, and not loving the world.
The distinction is created by what John has just been dwelling upon; the “thing which is true in Christ and in you, that the darkness is passing, and the true light is now shining.” For light is a divider. It was so at the first creation (Genesis 1:3-4): “God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness;” he divided between the light and the darkness. It is so in the new creation. The entrance of the light into the world: its entrance into the hearts of as many as are in Christ; necessarily causes a division. It unites by a new bond of brotherhood the children of the light among themselves. And it separates between them and the world. The separation, or distinction, is not of their own making, but of God’s. He is in the light. He is himself the light. It is he who is the divider, and not they. Nor is the distinction of such a sort as to feed or nurse vain-gloriousness on our part, or to be invidious as regards the world. Far otherwise. It is fitted to humble us in the very dust, as often as we think,—and when do we not think?—of what we are in ourselves, and but for sovereign mercy must ever have been’ of what many, very many, around us are; less guilty, by many degrees, than we; and more likely than we to win, not only earth’s approval, but, one would almost say, even heaven’s favourable regard too. What am I? And what are they?
Ah! it is in no spirit of supercilious self-complacency, or self-congratulation, that we associate together as brethren in the Lord, if indeed the true light is shining in us as in Christ, so as to show us the blackness of the darkness that is passing, and in its passing is hurrying to a fatal shipwreck so much that is fair and generous and lovely. No! nor is it with cool indifference that we look on and see its victims struggling in its fierce tide, or sinking lethargic in its quieter and deadlier eddies—feeling, as we do, that there is not one among them who deserves the horrid doom so much as we; and knowing as we do that there is not one whom grace may not make, as grace alone makes any one of us, a member of the brotherhood of light. The division which the light occasions assuredly affords no ground of boasting or of disdain. Nevertheless, it is to be recognised and realised; we must apprehend and feel it. One great design of John, in this whole epistle, is to bring us to a full apprehension and feeling of it; of what it is; and of all that it implies. The line is sharp; the preference must be decided. We have to choose whom we are to love and like, the brethren, or the world.
Now it is for the enforcing of a firm choice and a decided preference on the right side, that John makes his double, and doubly emphatic, appeal to us, as little children, fathers, young men. It is not for our consolation merely, our personal satisfaction and comfortable assurance, that he reminds us of the exceeding great privileges which, as little children, as fathers, as young men, we possess; as little children, having our sins forgiven for the Son’s name’s sake, and in that way knowing the Father; as fathers, knowing him that is from the beginning; as young men, having overcome the wicked one. These are all high and blessed attainments, and the consciousness of our right to them in Christ is doubtless a legitimate source of humble, holy, thankful joy. But it is not merely in order that our joy may be full that John dwells so earnestly on these elements of our oneness with Christ in the light. It is for a more practical purpose; that we may be roused to some adequate sense of the duty of love which we owe to every brother in whom, as in Christ and in us, the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining; and of the attitude which it is best for us to maintain towards the world; best with a view to our own consistency and safety; best also in the view of what is true kindness and faithfulness to the world itself.
Let us look then again at these appeals, in the light in which John’s practical design or object in introducing them may seem to place them. In so looking at them, it is not necessary now to consider the apostle as formally classifying us, according to our different stages of advancement, either in the life natural, or in the life spiritual. We all are, we all should be, little children, fathers, young men;—all three together;—little children, in respect of our having our sins forgiven for the Son’s name’s sake, and so knowing the Father; fathers, in respect of our loving insight into the mystery of the Son’s being from the beginning; young men, in respect of our overcoming the wicked one. By what we are, in all these three aspects of our spiritual history and experience, John solicits our attention to this letter of his and to its teaching; specially that we may love our brother, and not love the world.
I. We are little children, and it is the instinct of little children to cling to home, and shrink from the strange world outside. What makes us little children? What but our being moved and made willing to accept the forgiveness of our sins for the Son’s name’s sake, and our coming, in that way, to know the Father? The Lord says, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Our conversion therefore makes us little children. For in our conversion the Spirit takes out of us the proud, cold, hard heart of manhood: and creates in us the meek heart of childhood, of “the holy child Jesus.” For manhood’s heart in me, hackneyed in suspicion and selfishness, recoils from subjection to God, and resents the idea of dependence and indebtedness. I must needs justify myself; I will do something to put myself right. Even when I arise to go to my father, it is with the purpose of asking a hired servant’s food in recompense of a hired servant’s work. I aha only thoroughly subdued when! suffer my Father to forgive me freely, and take me more lovingly to his bosom than he would have done if I had never gone astray.
Then I am indeed a little child. All the pride of manhood’s self-righteousness, all the stubbornness of manhood’s self-will, is gone out of me. I am vain, as when I was an infant at my mother’s knee, to have my burdened and broken heart relieved by a flood of penitential tears, as I confess all, and am clasped in an embrace that assures me, oh how feelingly! that all is pardoned. Then, at last, I know the Father,—what sort of Father he is,—when thus, for his Son’s name’s sake, who has got me, ah with what difficulty! to let him relieve me of my load of guilt and grief, and bring me home to his Father and mine,—that Father pardons all my iniquities.
Is it so with me? Then where now will my heart be? A little child’s heart is in the home of loving parents, and brothers, and sisters; away from that home he is uneasy and unsatisfied. Houses of rarest splendour, scenes of fairest beauty, will not reconcile him to prolonged absence from home, and prolonged residence elsewhere. He pines for his father’s well-known smile, and for the companionship of those who share that smile with him. As to all else on earth, he is a stranger among strangers. You are little children—are you not?—converted and become as little children; suffering Jesus to bring you to the Father, to receive his forgiveness and to know his love. You are all of you little children; for such treatment cannot but make you little children. And it is as little children that you are exhorted to love your brother, and not to love the world.
II. You are fathers. Babes in Christ, new-born babes at first, and in a sense always so, for you are always renewing the experience in respect of which you are little children,—yet, “as new-born babes, you desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.” Continuing to be children always in respect of malice, the malice of self-conceit and self-seeking, you yet in understanding are men. Nay, you are fathers; you attain to the wisdom and insight proper to those who are of full age, as you grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
What makes you fathers is your knowing him that is from the beginning; knowing what we, his apostles, declare to you of that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us (1 John 1:1-3). It is your being taught and enabled, by the Spirit, to trace up what you experience in time—when as little children you receive forgiveness of your sins for the Son’s name’s sake and so know the Father,—to its source in the eternal counsels of the Godhead; in what the Son is to the Father from everlasting. For now you not merely look to Jesus as accomplishing for you a great work, effecting on your behalf a great deliverance, and ministering to you a great benefit. You delight to connect all this with his being from the beginning; with the love with which the Father has from the beginning loved him; and “the glory which the Father giveth him because he loved him before the foundation of the world.” You rise to a believing apprehension of the ultimate ground and reason of the whole vast economy of redemption in the deep, unfathomable, unchangeable nature of Jehovah; in the purpose of the Father’s good pleasure to constitute the Son heir of all things; in the covenant securing from of old to the Son, in requital of his humiliation and obedience and death, a people in whom he is to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, and for whom as his body he is to be head over all things. It is such knowledge as that, of him who is from the beginning, that should make you fathers in Israel. It is when you rise, by the Spirit’s teaching, to views like these of Christ and his salvation; contemplating the gospel plan, not as a mere afterthought and expedient, to meet an emergency and serve a purpose in time, but as the bright and blessed unfolding to all eternity of what from all eternity the Son is to the Father; dwelling in his bosom; declaring his name; glorifying the Father as the Father glorifies him: it is then, and in that way, that your Christian character acquires a certain ripe and mellow fullness, and your Christian standing comes to partake of the very stability of the Son’s own position, as being from the beginning. You enter into the very mind and heart of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are no more little children merely; apt to be tossed about, and to be unstable. You are fathers.
The fresh feelings of childhood, it is true, must ever continue; for its experiences are ever freshly revived. But along with these there is now the staid fixedness that should distinguish those who have a sort of fatherly place in the house, and take a sort of fatherly view of its inmates and its affairs. And so literally you do, when you know him who is from the beginning. You look at the family, the whole family in heaven and earth named of him, not now merely from a little child’s standing-ground or point of view, but from a father’s standing-ground or point of view; even from the standing-ground or point of view of the great Father himself. Yes! you come to see Christ the Son as the Father sees him; not as it were from before only; from the front; from where your foot is at this moment planted; but from behind, from where the Father sits enthroned in his eternal majesty. Your fatherhood is thus, in a sense, your participation, or at least your sympathy, with the Father in his. You are fathers when, knowing him who is from the beginning, you contemplate the whole of his mighty undertaking, with its results and issues, not merely in the aspect presented to poor sinners on earth, but in the aspect presented to the Eternal Father in heaven. As little children, you let the Son lead you up to the Father, that you may receive forgiveness for his name’s sake, and so may know the Father. As fathers, able now to sympathise with the Father, you find him giving you new knowledge of the Son, as being with him from the beginning. For as “no man knoweth the Father but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal him,” so “no man knoweth the Son but the Father.” And you, when as fathers you know him who is from the beginning, become truly sharers of the Father’s knowledge of the Son. This, I repeat, is your fatherhood. It is your entering in a sense into the fatherhood of God.
Need I take any pains to show how such a fatherhood as this may well be appealed to as a reason why every one of the family should be to you a brother beloved, and you should not love the world that knows not either the Father or the Son? A father’s intelligent interest, as well as a child’s loving instinct, must keep your affections always at home.
III. You are young men. As such, you are strong. The vigour of manly prime is yours. And you need it all. For the home of brotherhood which you are to love, and the world which you are not to love, are not far apart; at least not yet. They shall be one day, when there shall be a great impassable gulf between them. But they are near one another now. They meet; in my heart within, as well as everywhere without and around me, they meet. Hence, for myself, I have a constant battle to fight, to keep the world out of my heart. Ah! how may that be? How but by the word of God abiding in me? Let that word dwell in me richly. Let it so richly dwell in me that the world when it comes to solicit admittance, or to challenge surrender, or to make a breach, or to spring a mine, shall find no access, no open door, no weak defence, no treacherous longings and lingering likings for some of its good things, ready to betray the citadel, and capitulate to the foe.
But alas for me! The world is so strong; so apt to draw me away from loving my brother and his fellowship; to draw me into conformity to its own still too congenial ways! Shall I then faint and grow weary and cease to resist? Nay, let me be strong, and quit me like a strong young man the word of God abiding in me. For, let me remember, I have overcome the wicked one. He is the prince of this world; it lies in his arms; it is he who, by means of it, is strong to overcome me. But I have overcome him.
So I am assured by that word of God which abideth in me. He has nothing in me now, any more than he has in Christ. He cannot accuse me now; he has no right to rule me now. I am not now at his mercy, fain to comply with his terms; to win a delusive peace by some poor compromise with him; to be dependent on his lies for a wretched respite from the stings of conscience. I stand now in God’s favour, and may bid defiance to the charges, and assaults of the wicked one. And therefore I can afford and venture to break all terms of truce or amity with the world which lieth in him, and to avow henceforth that I love the Father and the Son and the brethren, in the Holy Spirit. By my youth and manhood, I am summoned to maintain this attitude always. And that not for myself only; that the home of my childhood and fatherhood may be kept from the invasion of the world; but for the sake of other little children, who are still such as I once was, and who are struggling in the dark flood, as I once did. The wicked one would claim them as his own. Let me claim them for my Father. And in stretching out to them a helping hand, let me hear John exhorting me, as a young man, to do so resolutely, because, as he reminds me, “I am strong, and the word of God abideth in me, and I have overcome the wicked one.”
To sum up all, I can imagine John, at the point at which he has arrived in the composing of this letter—the point of enforcing the brotherhood of believers and its antagonism to the world,—pausing to ask himself, Will these counsels of mine be understood and obeyed? Will those to whom they are addressed receive them as they are given, in faithfulness and affection? He is moved to make an earnest, and what may be a last appeal to them.
What I am writing to you, I write in the fullness of my heart. I know that you believe in Jesus; I give you all credit for being Christians indeed. I appeal to you, by all the motives and considerations that should weigh with you as such. I appeal to you in every view of your Christianity, as little children, fathers, young men. And by all that is implied in your being little children, fathers, young men, I beseech you to hear me. So “I write unto you” Take kindly what I write unto you, as little children, fathers, young men.
But, it occurs to him to think, I am old, John the aged. Before the ink I am now using is dry I may have been summoned to my rest. Be it so. Then take it, O my beloved, as what “I have written;” as my last legacy to you. Take it as what I wrote when I felt as if I was bidding you adieu. Take it as my final parting testimony and prayer.
As little children, knowing the Father by ever-fresh experience of his rich and free love in forgiving you for his Son’s name’s sake; as fathers, entering intelligently and sympathisingly into the Father’s knowledge of the Son as being from the beginning in his bosom; as young men, strong in him who is the Lord your righteousness, and therefore the Lord your strength; fortified by his word always abiding in you richly; bold and brave in asserting the victory over the wicked one that is already yours as it is Christ’s; by all that is simple in your childhood, by all that is godlike in your fatherhood, by all that is divinely strong in your manhood; be persuaded to give heed to what I write or have written; to love the brotherhood; and not to love the world.
XII. The Guileless Spirit Loving not the World, Which Is Darkness, But God, Who Is Light
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 1 John 2:15-16
THE love of the world is here declared to be irreconcilable with the love of the Father. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). And the declaration applies to “the things that are in the world,” comprehending “all that is in the world.” These are represented under three categories or heads, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). They are afterwards reduced to one, “the lust of the world” (1 John 2:17); but in the meantime we have to consider them as three. And, in that view, the sixteenth verse is to be regarded, not as giving the reason for the commandment the fifteenth, but rather as explanatory of its nature; bringing out the contrast between the two incompatible objects of love, the Father on the one hand, and on the other hand the world, whatever form its lust may take.
Plainly the world is here represented as an order of things very thoroughly complete in itself; self-contained and self-developing. “All that is in the world” is “of the world.” No foreign elements are suffered to intrude; or if they do, the world speedily accommodates and assimilates them to itself. For the world,—what is it? Fallen human nature acting itself out in the human family; moulding and fashioning the framework of human society in accordance with its own tendencies. It is fallen human nature making the ongoings of human thought, feeling, and action its own. It is the reign or kingdom of “the carnal mind,” which is “enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Wherever that mind prevails, there is the world.
“The things that are in the world” correspond in character to the world itself. The love therefore of any of them is equivalent to the love of the world.
I may seem to be, and may suppose that I am, separated from the world. I may have renounced companionship with that visible outstanding circle, in regard to which, as a whole, it may be too plainly seen that it does not admit the true light to shine in it, but is still in the darkness which that light chases away. For there is a circle which may be thus collectively identified. There is a tolerably well-defined mode of life which a spiritual man cannot but recognise as worldly; and there are a set of people who so manifestly conform themselves to that mode of life, and that alone, as to make it impossible for the most tolerant Christian charity to characterise them otherwise than as worldly persons. Let that then be the world, broadly considered. Now I have withdrawn myself from that world; I have no sympathy with its general tone and spirit; I am attached to another order of things. So far, I think I may say that I do not love the world. In its corporate capacity, as it were, it has lost its hold over me.
But “the things that are in the world,” viewed separately and in detail, may have attractions for me still. I may love them, or some of them, or one of them. If so, it is the same thing to me as if I loved the world itself in the mass. The love of what is in the world, is really the love of the world. Hence the necessity for breaking up the general notion of “the world” into its contents, “the things that are in the world.”
The things that are in the world which may attract love, as distinct objects of desire, even when the world as a whole seems to be discarded, are too manifold to be enumerated. But they may be classified; if not according to their own properties or qualities; at any rate, according to the inward dispositions to which they appeal. The apostle thus classifies them under three heads. “All that is in the world” is distributed into “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” To these three harpies of the soul the world ministers.
First, there is “the lust of the flesh.” The genitive or possessive here—“of the flesh” denotes, not the object of the desire, but its nature. It is lust of desire of a carnal sort; such as the flesh prompts or occasions. It is the appetite of sense out of order, or in excess. It is not, of course, the appetite of sense itself; that is of God, as the provision for its satisfaction is also of God. The appetite for which food is God’s appointed ordinance, and the appetite for which marriage is God’s appointed ordinance,—the general needs and cravings of the body which the laws of nature and the gifts of providence so fully meet,—the higher tastes which fair forms and sweet sounds delight,—the eye for beauty and the ear or the soul for music;—these are not, any of them, the lust of the flesh. But they all, every one of them, may become the lust of the flesh. And in the world they do become the lust of the flesh. It is the world’s aim to pervert them into the lust of the flesh, and to pander to them in that character, either grossly or with refinement. All its arrangements, its giddy sports and anxious toils, tend in that direction. Sensuality, or that modification of it now spoken of as sensuousness, enters largely into the world’s fascinating cup. And it may be detached plausibly from what is avowedly and confessedly the world; it may be covertly loved, while the world, as such, is apparently hated. Gluttony, drunkenness, uncleanness; the rage for physical or aesthetical excitement which the ball, the theatre, the gaming-table, if not worse excesses, must appease;—these forms or modifications of the lust of the flesh may not be for us the most insidious. It may creep into our affections disguised almost as an angel of light. A certain fondness for the good things of this life, an unwillingness to forego them, a pleasant feeling of fullness in the enjoyment of them, a growing impatience of any interruption of that enjoyment,—how soon may such a way of tasting even the lawful gratifications of sense grow into selfishness and sin! And then how readily does the imagination admit ideas and fancies the reverse of pure! Through how many channels, the news of the day, the gems of literature, the choicest trophies of the fine arts, poesy, sculpture, song, may unholy desire be kindled! I may be out of the world; but this that is in the world, “the lust of the flesh,” may not be out of me.
There is, secondly, “the lust of the eyes.” This must be distinct from the lust of the flesh. It cannot therefore be that “looking on a woman to lust after her,” which the Lord holds to be ‘the commission of adultery in the heart; or that “looking upon the wine-cup when it is red,” against which Solomon warns us. The lust of the eyes is something different. It is lust or desire having its proper seat in the region of contemplation, or of onlooking. It is not merely that the flesh lusts through the eyes, or that the eyes minister to the lust of the flesh. The eyes themselves have their own lust. It is lust that can be satisfied with mere sight; which the lust of the flesh never is, nor can be. It is a feeling of such a sort that a bare look or gaze may please or may offend it. For example, I cannot stand the sight of more good in my neighbour’s possession than in my own. I would be relieved if I saw him worse off than I am. That is to a great extent the instinct of corrupt humanity; it is the way of the world. And it is one of the world’s ways that, even when I renounce the world, I am still apt to follow, or that is apt to follow me. I may be one in whom the world’s sensual or sensuous delights no longer stimulate the lust of the flesh. But my eyes are pained when I see the giddy crowd so happy and secure. My bosom swells and my blood boils when I am forced to look on villany triumphant and vice caressed. It may be all righteous zeal and virtuous wrath; a pure desire to witness wrong redressed and justice done. But, alas! as I yield to it, I find it fast assuming a worse character. I would not myself be partaker of the sinful happiness I see the world enjoying; but I grudge the world’s enjoyment of it. “I was envious,” says David (Psalms 73), “at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” That was his temptation; it was his infirmity; it formed the sad burden of more than one of his most plaintive Psalms. It was the love of the world in one of its most stealthy and dangerous forms, winning its way into his heart, and supplanting there, for a time, the love of God.
Once more, thirdly, there is “the pride of life.” Self-indulgence, or “the lust of the flesh,” and envious grudging, or “the lust of the eyes,” might seem to exhaust “all that is in the world.” The whole substance of “the world and the things of the world” is reducible to these two heads, or may be regarded in these two lights: what I long to possess and enjoy myself, and what I cannot calmly bear to see possessed and enjoyed by another. These two views of it exhaust the whole of what is substantial in the world. But the show, the shadow, the semblance, as well as the substance, is something to the world’s vanity, or to my vanity with reference to the world. Nay, it is much; the world’s manifold conventionalisms, for they are indeed manifold, prove it to be much. What pains are taken in the world to save appearances and keep up a seemly and goodly state! It is a business all but reduced to system. Its means and appliances are ceremony and feigned civility. Life is to be ostensibly, nay even ostentatiously, all right. All is to be in good taste and in good style; correct, creditable, commendable. It is the world’s pride to have it so. What is otherwise must be somehow toned down or shaded off; concealed or coloured. Falsehood may be necessary; a false code of honour; false notions of duty, as between man and man, or between man and woman; false liberality and spurious delicacy. Still the world does contrive, by means of all that, to get up and keep up a proud life of its own; a life grand and graceful; having its decencies and respectabilities; yes, and its charities, courtesies, and chivalries too; all very imposing in themselves, and altogether contributing to make the world’s life very imposing as a whole.
That I take to be the “pride of life” in the world. In one aspect, it is undoubtedly mean enough. It sets in motion a game of diplomacy and a race of emulation most destructive of all the truer and finer instincts even of unrenewed humanity. It debauches conscience, and is fatal to high aims. It puts the men and women of the world on a poor struggle to out-manœuvre and outshine one another, to outdo one another, for the most part, in mere externals; while, with all manner of politeness, they affect to give one another credit for what they all know to be little better than shams. Nevertheless, the general effect, I repeat, is imposing. The world’s “pride of life” is something to be proud of after all.
Now of this “pride of life” it is by no means easy even for those who do not love the world to keep themselves altogether clear. It is, as it were, their last worldly weakness. The lust of the flesh may be mortified, crucified, nailed to the cross of Christ; the lust of the eyes may be overcome by the mighty power of love, the love which “envieth not;” and yet the pride of life may cleave to me. It is so difficult to have done with the world’s seemings, and to come out simply as what I am.
Need I suggest how many sad instances of religious inconsistency and worldly conformity spring from this source? I may acquit you of sensuality or sensuousness, and of selfish jealousy; you are free, as to both of these instruments of the world’s power. But what of its opinion? Have you learned to defy it, or to be independent of it? Can you dispense with the world’s approval and brave its frown? Do you not sometimes find yourselves more afraid or ashamed of a breach of worldly etiquette,—some apparent descent from the customary platform of worldly respectability,—than of such a concession to the world’s forms and fashions as may compromise your integrity in the sight of God, and your right to acquit yourselves of guile? The opinion of the world! What the world will think or say! Ah! that pitiful consideration may often sway or embarrass you when you have no selfish longing or envious grudge to gratify. To a large extent, it is identical with that “fear of man which bringeth a snare.” It puts you at the mercy of the idle thoughts and idle words of any onlooker who may presume to judge you. You cannot acquit yourselves altogether of the love of the world so long as you have in your hearts that liking for the world’s good report, or that sensitiveness to the world’s censure, which “the pride of life” implies.
And now, for practical use, let three remarks be made.
I. Of “all that is in the world” it is said that “it is not of the Father, but of the world.” This may be true of things good in themselves, the best things even, when they come to be things “in the world.” They may be of the Father originally, in their true and proper nature; but the world appropriates them and makes them its own; and so they cease to be of the Father, and are now simply of the world. The choicest blessings of home, the holiest ordinances of religion, the very gospel itself, may thus come, when once “in the world,” to be “of the world.” Be not then deceived. Much that meets your eye, as you look on the world and the world’s ways, may seem fair and excellent; graces most attractive, devotions most comely and fervent, amenities most winning, philanthropies most admirable. But God is not really in them all. They “are not of the Father.” A pure and simple regard to his will is; not their animating spirit. They are “of the world.” There is nothing in them that rises above the natural influences of self-love and social, as these are blended “in the world.”
Again, 2. “All that is in the world is of the world,” wherever it may be found. The three world-powers or world principles are, always and everywhere, “not of the Father but of the world.” They may be in the Father’s house; they may be in the hearts of the Father’s children; but they are none the better for their being there. They are not themselves cleansed or hallowed by what they come in contact with, however pure and however holy. But all that they touch they smite with leprosy and wither into impotent paralysis. Let us beware then of letting into the sanctuary and shrine of our soul, now become the dwelling-place of God by his Spirit, anything that savours of the world’s sloth and self-indulgence, or of the world’s jealousy and envy, or of the world’s vain pomp and pride. No matter though, as we think, we do not now love the world, but are separated from its friendship, if still we love any of the things of the world. For “all that is in the world is not of the Father, but of the world.” And “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Finally, 3. Let us remember that the world which we are not to love, because “all that is in it is not of the Father but is of the world,” is yet itself the object of a love on the part of the Father, with which, as his children, having in us his love, we are to sympathise. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is said of the very world which we are commanded not to love; and of that world viewed in the very aspect on account of which we are commanded not to love it; as having nothing in it that is really “of the Father.” “God so loved this world,” this very world, thus viewed, having nothing in it or about it that he can recognise as his own, as what he made and meant it originally to be, “that he gave his only begotten Son” on its behalf. And he calls upon us so to love it too; with the same sort of love, and with love moving us to the same sort of effort and the same sort of sacrifice. And it is our so loving the world as the Father has loved it, that will be our best security against loving it as the Father forbids us to love it. Let the world be to us what it is to the Father. Let us look at it as the Father looks at it; as a deep dark mass of guilt, ungodliness, and woe. Let us plunge in to the rescue. Let us lay hold of that young man, whom, as we behold him, like Jesus, we cannot help loving. Let us snatch him, for he is not safe, as a brand out of the burning. If we love the world as God loves it, we will have no heart for loving it in any other way. Its attractions, its fascinations, its amiabilities, its sentimentalisms, will have no charm for us. We see in them only snares to catch and ruin souls that we,—that God,—would have to be saved. We cannot love, with any love of complacency, the world which we love in sympathy with him who “sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
XIII. The Guileless Spirit, Amid the Dark World’s Flow, Established in the Light of Godliness
“And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”—1 John 2:17
THE expression here used concerning the world and its lust, is the same as that used in the eighth verse concerning the darkness: it is “passing away.” The world, with its lust, is in this respect identical with the darkness. They partake at least of a common quality or property; they pass, or are passing.
There is more meant here than merely that “the things which are seen are temporal.” The fleeting nature of this whole earthly scene is doubtless a useful topic of reflection; but it is not exactly what is suggested in this verse. The idea of the darkness being a vanishing element is still the leading thought. The prince of darkness, though he may keep up appearances for a while, is like a beaten foe, drawing off from the disputed territory. Through the shining of the true light, the darkness is passing; and in the same sense “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.” “But he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,” for he is one in whom, as in Christ, “the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.”
I. The characteristic of the world is that it does not “do the will of God;” it is the sphere or region in which the will of God is not done. The lust of the world is not doing the will of God. Take it in any of its forms. Let it be the lust of the flesh; as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” you are doing your own will and not God’s. Let it be the lust of the eyes, envying others who prosper more than you; then it is the thwarting of their will, not the doing of God’s will, that your mind is bent on. Let it be the pride of life, hanging on opinion’s idle breath; you have no freedom to do the will of God, for you are at the mercy of the will of your fellow-men.
As not doing the will of God, the world and its lust must pass away; for it is identical with the darkness which is passing. Passing! Whence? and whither? Whence, but from off the stage of this redeemed earth, the final blessed meeting-ground of all the Lord’s children? And whither? I cannot tell. This only I know, it must be to where it shall do no harm any more for ever. I read of everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Is that the final restingplace of the darkness?—of the world and its lust? There it is to be no longer passing, but permanent, abiding. “The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
O ye lovers of the world, or of what is in the world, have you considered what the end is to be? It may well move you to be told that the whole of that economy with which you are mixed up is fleeting, transitory, evanescent. “What shadows you are and what shadows you pursue!” It is a deep knell that is rung over the grave of all merely temporal prosperity, all earthly hope and joy; “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.” But it is a knell that, ringing out life’s present and precarious dreams, rings in a terrible reality. The world, with its lust, is passing here; passing and changing always. But it is passing to where it will pass no more, but stay; fixed unchangeably for It is not annihilated; it does not cease to be; it only be passing.
Have you ever thought how much of the world’s endurableness; I say not its attractiveness but its endurableness; depends on its being a world that passes, and therefore changes? Is it not, after all, its being changeable that makes it tolerable even to you who like it best? Can you lay your hand, your memory’s hand, on any one feeling you have ever had of intense worldly gratification, and say that you could be content, with that feeling alone, to spend eternity? Is there any sensation, any delight, any rapture of worldly joy, however engrossing, that you could bear to have prolonged, indefinitely, for ever, unaltered, unalterable?
But I put the case too favourably. I speak of your finding the world with its lust, not passing but abiding, in the place whither you yourselves pass, when you pass hence. True, you find it there. But you find it not as you have it here. There are means and appliances here for quenching by gratification, or mitigating by variety, its impetuous fires. But there you find it where these fires burn, unslaked, unsolaced; the world being all within, and the world’s lust; and nothing outside but the Holy One.
Again I ask—Have you ever thought how much of the world’s endurableness depends on the fact that, with its lust, it has its seat for a while here in the midst of a transition process, as it were, which is going on, “the darkness passing and the true light shining?” What keeps this earth from being, at this moment, hell, or a part of hell? What but its being a place of preparation for heaven; destined ere long to become to myriads of the saved heaven itself?
When in that heaven where the angels dwell, sudden it will ever ceases to Have darkness sought to dim the light, and wilful creatures would not do the will of God, not an instant was lost. Swiftly, summarily, the world is cast out, and its lust. There is no room for it there, no, not for an hour. The lovers of it, and of its lust; the doers of another will than God’s; their own, or their leader’s; are no more found there; but somewhere else in the universe of God, where they are “reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgement of the great day.” That holy heaven is full of light alone, and in it is no darkness at all. The will of God is always done there.
We are taught to pray that his will may be done on earth as in heaven; and we believe that it shall be so. But the time is not yet. The darkness is only passing, not past; “the world is passing away, and the lust thereof.” For it has pleased God not to deal with this earth where we dwell, as he dealt with that heaven where the angels dwell. If he had, he must have left it empty. The darkness must needs be tolerated; the world, with its lusts, not doing the will of God, must be allowed to continue; till the race for whom the earth was made, the family of man meant to fill it, is complete. But all is not to be darkness; a world lusting its own lust and not doing the will of God. There is to be light; there are to be children of the light. For the light and its children, as well as for the darkness and its world, the earth is to be adapted. Its order and. laws; its arrangements and accommodations; must be such as suit its present mixed occupancy. And such also must be God’s general providence over it. Hence you who love the world and its lust, and do not the will of God, find yourselves in a position here, under these conditions, which does not give the world and its lust full swing; or, as it were, “ample scope and verge enough.”
Not to speak of the direct shining of the light, in gospel means and ordinances, which tells upon you in spite of yourselves, in some vague way, for your partial respite from the pangs of conscience; I point to the elements of good that there are in the institutions which God has sanctioned, and which he blesses, for alleviating pain and giving happiness on this earth on which he suffers you to dwell for a season with the righteous; healthy labour, alternating with such sleep as God gives his beloved; family relationships; social ties; domestic endearments; spheres also of public activity and usefullness and generous ambition; outlets for native energy and amiability, and lofty thought and fine feeling, and the stirrings of kind pity, and the flights of genius. Do not imagine that these form part of the world or its lust, which you are to carry with you when it and you together pass hence. This earth is not furnished with these conveniences for your sakes, but for their sakes who find in them the choicest apparatus and machinery for doing the will of God. You have the use, you have the benefit of them, for a brief space. Your world, with its triple lust, is permitted for a little to have to do with these contrivances of God for making earth a school for heaven, Alas! what harm does it often work among them; blighting what is pure, blasting what is peaceful, desolating hearths and homes and hearts. Still your loved world, and you who love it, are the better and the happier for your contact with what on earth is even now allied to heaven.
But have you ever thought what it will be to pass hence and go where nothing of all that can follow you? No holy beauty; no virgin innocency; no guiltless, guileless love of parents, spouse, child, brother, friend; no virtue; no decency even; none of the decorum which at least serves to make vice less hideous; no soothing balm of pure hand laid on the fevered brow; no faintly-whispered hope or wish of pure lips blessing you in your despair; nothing of the sort of comely veil which, down to the last breath of the dying sinner’s godless career, may hide the real truth from his view.
Let that real truth burst upon you. Place yourself, with your loved world and its cherished lust, where you and it and God are alone together, with nothing of God’s providing that you can use or abuse for your relief. Your creature comforts are not there with you. nothing of this earth, which is the Lord’s, is there; nothing of its beauty or its bounty; its grace or loveliness or warm affection; nothing of that very bustle and distraction and change which dissipates reflection and drowns remorse; nothing but your worldly lust, your conscience, and your God. That is hell; the hell to which the world is passing, and its lust; and whence it never passes more; a dreary monotony of banishment from all that God has made to be chosen and enjoyed. It is yourselves, ye lovers of the world, filled with the lust of the world, its vulture appetites and stormy passions; shut up for ever in the darkness, as it were, of empty space, the desolate unfurnished prison-house of eternal justice.
II. But now let us turn to a brighter picture. “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” Suppose that the world has passed away and the lust thereof. Does it follow that the earth is dissolved or perishes? Nay, it remains. And whatever in it or about it is of God remains. There may be a temporary baptism of fire, to purge away the pollution contracted while the world has been tolerated in it and the world’s lust; to regenerate it and transform it into the “new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” But the earth thus cleansed and renovated does not pass away. It surely must continue, under the condition of the petition, at last fully answered; “Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.” For surely that is a petition which is yet to be fully answered; and not in time only, but for eternity. This abode of men is to be assimilated thoroughly to yonder abode of angels, in respect of the will of God being alike done in both. That at all events is the heavenly state, let its localities be adjusted as they may; that is its eternal crown and joy; angels and men together doing the will of God; they in their heaven, we in our earth. That is the blessed consummation to which the apostle would have us to look forward when he urges this encouragement and motive: “he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
But the precise point of his statement is not adequately brought out unless we connect and identify the future and the present. It is not merely said that he who doeth the will of God may hope to be hereafter in a place or in a state in which he shall abide for ever. It is plainly implied that he is in it now. The world, with its lust, is passing; but he is in possession. The world, as it were, has forfeited its title, and is tolerated on sufferance merely, for a time and for a temporary purpose; he is a proprietor, having a good and valid right to remain for ever. The world must go, he stays; it has notice to quit, he abides. Doing the will of God, therefore, you are already in your abiding state; in the state in which you are to abide for ever. No essential change is before you. There may be stages of advancement and varieties of experience; a temporary break, perhaps, in the outer continuity of your thread of life, between the soul’s quitting the body to be with Christ where now he is and its receiving the body anew at his coming hither again. But substantially you are now as you are to be always.
For there is this difference between you in whom the love of the Father is, and those in whom there is only the love of the world. The world which they love, with its lust, is a foreign element in this earth, considered as the creation of God, and an element, therefore, which must be cast out, as the land of Canaan is said to have “vomited out” its inhabitants when their “iniquity was full.” There is really nothing of hell in this earth viewed as the creation of God, or in its arrangements viewed as God’s ordinances; however much there may be of hell in the world with its lust, which is not God’s creation or God’s ordinance, but fallen man’s, or his tempter’s. From all that is of God’s making or of God’s ordaining in the earth, they who love the world must pass, with the world and its lust; carrying no good of it hence; quitting it all, and going to be with devils in eternal, unquenchable fire. But in this earth as God’s creation, and in its arrangements as God’s ordinances, what may there not be of heaven? And whatever of heaven is in it, and in them, is yours, if you are doing the will of God. Neither does it pass from you nor you from it. You and it together abide for ever.
Here, therefore, is the great alternative between “loving the world and its lust” and “doing the will of God.” Here is the solution of what we are sometimes apt to regard as a hard problem in Christian morals. What is that separation from the world which I must keep up, if I would prove myself to be one who does not love the world, but who does love the Father? A hundred minute points of detail may come into discussion here. Is it lawful? is it expedient might be asked to weariness, of this or that pursuit, this or that pleasure, this or that party, or company, or occupation. I meet these and all similar inquiries with the broad appeal to consciousness and conscience: Are you doing the will of God? It is no,—Are you doing what, as to the matter of it, may be consistent, or not altogether inconsistent, with the will of God? But are you, in doing it, doing the will of God? You may be where the will of God would appoint or allow you to be. Are you there because it is the will of God that you should be there? Are you there on set purpose, there and then to do the will of God? This test will carry you through all entanglements, and raise you above all compromises. Only be sure that you apply it fairly. For, in this matter, the prince of this world is very wily. If possible, he will have you to substitute something of God’s instead of what is his, as being what you are not to love. He will allow and encourage you to abstain from meats and from marriage; to withdraw from your fellows and retire into the desert; to abandon the affairs of active life; to assume an ascetic severity, frowning on the ordinary ongoings of society. He is pleased when he sees you counting that to be coming out from the world. For he knows that all the while it is really God’s creation and God’s ordinance, and not his world with its lust, that you are putting away.
Ah! it is a great thing to draw the line clear and sharp between what here and now is “of God,” and what is “of the world and its lust.” And if the line is to be drawn clear and sharp, it must be drawn, not from without, but from within. It must be drawn, not by external routine or regulation, but by a living spirit in the inner man; the spirit of love and loyalty to the Father; the spirit that moved Jesus to say, “I came not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” He had no perplexities, no misgivings, in going in and out among his fellowmen. He moved freely where the Pharisees were censorious and straitlaced. For everywhere and always, wherever he was, in the house, on the road, at the hospitable table, beside the open grave; with whomsoever he met, publicans, sinners, harlots, as well as Scribes, and Sadducees, and Herodians; he was doing the will of God; he was about his Father’s business; doing his will. It was not with him—Where shall I go? whom shall I meet? so much as,—Go where I may, meet whom I may, what business would my Father have me to be about? Something surely bearing on the great work for which I came into the world; some. thing to glorify my Father; something for the saving of lost sinners; something for the comfort of weary souls. Ah! let this same mind that was in him be in you. Let it become a delight with you, as well as a business, to be everywhere and always doing the will of God. That, and that alone, is “not loving the world, nor the things of the world.”
For the world which, with its lust, is passing away, is just the darkness whose passing you are to apprehend as a thing true in you as in Christ. And the doing of the will of God, which is your abiding for ever, is just the true light now shining; which shining of the true light, as well as the passing of the darkness, you are also to apprehend as true in you as in Christ.
There is a twofold movement going on in the earth; the moving off of the darkness, or of the world and its lust, and the moving in of the true light and its gracious, glorious kingdom. Christ, and all of you in whom, as in Christ, “that thing is true, that the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining,” are engaged in the advancing movement and identified with it. It is the movement that is regaining, reconquering, recovering the earth for God. Into that movement you are to throw yourselves. With all who are in it you are to have a common brotherhood, and to make common cause. That is the will of God which you are to do. With the other movement, the moving off from the stage of the darkness and the prince of darkness, with his trappings and troops, you have nothing to do, save only to rescue, in the Father’s name, all whom you can reach, ere that movement carries them away. For yourselves you have no concern with it. You love not the darkness, nor anything in it or about it. Your whole soul is bent on doing the will of God, and so falling in with the advancing march and movement which is to issue ere long in the universal shining of the true light over all the earth.
Surely that is a noble course for you, and one that must ensure your abiding for ever. It may seem indeed that you have no abiding place here. You may be called hence quickly at any time, while the darkness may seem to be passing very slowly; and the world with its lust may be still holding its ground stoutly, and showing an imposing front. But you lose not the fruit of your doing the will of God. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” You have cast in your lot with a cause which does not pass away, but abideth for ever; and a leader who does not pass away, but abideth for ever,—“the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” It is but a little while. Lo, he comes quickly, and you who have departed to be with him come in his train. He comes, and you come, to triumph over the complete and final passing away of the darkness, of the world and its lust, of all doing of any will but the will of God; and to abide for ever in the earth, in which thenceforth for ever the will of God is to be done, even as it is in heaven.
XIV. The Guileless Spirit, Amid Antichristian Defections, Established By a Messianic Unction and Illumination
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that anti-Christ shall come, even now are there many anti-Christs; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”—1 John 2:18-20
“YE have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” This is represented as our security against such apostasy or desertion as John has occasion to lament. We live, he says, in perilous circumstances. What has been foretold as characteristic of the last time may be seen virtually realised in our own day. The warning against anti-Christ need not be put off to a distant date. Already, in too many instances, the spirit of anti-Christ is discovering itself. To all practical intents and purposes, it is even now the last time to us. It is proved to be so by the prevalence of the very sort of opposition to Christ which in some gigantic shape is to signalise that era. We need not be setting up the phantom or ideal of a coming anti-Christ that is to torment and try the church of the future. We have enough of anti-Christs around and beside us now. And they are very near and close;—almost of kin with us. But yesterday they were among us; one with ourselves in privilege, profession, and outward character. The keenest eye could not discriminate between us and them. True, their having gone out from us is a presumption, and indeed a proof, that they were not really of us. That very fact, however, making it plain that they who are still among us are not all of us, may not unnaturally cause uneasiness as to our own standing. But it need not. For there is a difference; “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,” which they have not,” and ye know all things.”
I do not at this stage inquire either into the nature and character of the coming anti-Christ, or into the common feature identifying all anti-Christs. I wish rather to dwell upon the ground of confidence here indicated, with special reference to trying times; and in that view I notice these four particulars: I. The anointing or unction; II. The knowledge connected with it; III. The nature of the connection; and IV. The security afforded by the unction and the knowledge against heresy and apostasy.
I. I begin with the anointing: “Ye have an unction,” or the unction, or generally, unction. The term may literally denote anointing oil; so that having unction may mean being anointed with oil. This anointing, or being anointed with oil, you have “from the Holy One;” from Christ Jesus our Lord. For it is he who is meant. The title indeed of “the Holy One” may with all propriety be applied to God absolutely rote the undivided Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if the persons are distinguished, it may be applied to the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as to the Son. But the sense of the passage, as well as the general usage of Scripture, points to the Son. In his humiliation, the devils acknowledged him as the Holy One (Mark 1:24). In his exaltation Peter preaches him as such (Acts 3:14). And indeed, before his incarnation, the people worshipped him in his divinity, and the prophets foretold him in his humanity, as the Holy One; the Holy One of God; the Holy One of Israel (Psalms 16:10, etc.) The same application of the term best suits the present text. The Holy One is Christ; the unction or anointing is from Christ, who is himself, as Christ, the anointed One.
There is great significance in the unction thus viewed as coming from this Holy One. Anti-Christs are spoken of. These are antagonists to Christ; to the anointed One; to him who is anointed to be the Holy One. You, on the other hand, have anointing from him. The unction which he himself receives, he communicates to you; consecrating you to be holy ones, as he is the Holy One. Thus you are joint-Christs with him, while they are anti-Christs. They are against the anointed Holy One: you share with him in his anointing as the Holy One. They set at nought the unction which he has as the Holy One: you have this very unction from him. Such really is the antithesis. They are anti-Christs, you are joint-Christs; for you have an unction from him as the Holy One, making you “holy as he is holy.”
The holiness here meant is consecration. It is what the Lord indicates in his farewell prayer: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world; and for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” This is the unction which you have from the Holy One; from him whom “the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world.”
The anointing is with the Holy Spirit. He is the anointing oil; the oil of gladness with which God has anointed Christ above his fellows; the precious ointment poured out upon him, as the head, that runs down over all his body, even to the skirts of his garments. The unction therefore which “you have from the Holy One” is his own unction; it is identically the same with what was his. He sheds forth upon you and in you the very same presence, power, and influence of the Holy Spirit that was shed forth upon and in himself, when he was about the business for which, as the Holy One, he was consecrated.
In his case that unction was real, sensible, manifest. If we have it from him, it must be so in ours also. It was in him and to him the seal of his acceptance, and the witness of his Sonship; for when the voice from heaven proclaimed him to be the Father’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, “the Spirit descended on him like a dove.” We have acceptance in him, and the adoption of sons. And the unction which we have from him is our being sealed, as justified ones, by “the Holy Spirit shedding abroad in our hearts the love of God;” and our receiving, as sons, “not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,—the Spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.”
In Jesus this unction was, on the one hand, his having always the Holy Spirit helping, comforting, and strengthening him; imparting to him, amid all his toils and tears, such fresh communications out of his Father’s heart, such assurances of his Father’s love and his Father’s nearness to him, as never failed to nerve his soul for its utmost trial; to keep him trusting still in God; and to turn every prayer of nature’s prompting: “Father, if it be possible, let the cup pass,” into the resignation of filial obedience: “Nevertheless, Father, not my will but thine be done.” The unction which we have from him as the Holy One, is our being in the same way upheld by the Holy Spirit in all our goings; our being enabled therefore to show “the meekness and gentleness of Christ;” our making it thus manifest that “the same mind is in us that was also in him.”
Again, on the other hand, in Jesus the Holy One, this unction was his constant and abiding apprehension or realisation of the Spirit moving him to the work for which he was sent into the world. That work was to do the will of him that sent him; to preach glad tidings to the meek; to bind up the broken-hearted; to fulfil all righteousness; to suffer, the just for the unjust; to give his life a ransom for many. The unction which we have from him, that we may be consecrated to be holy ones as he is the Holy One, is our feeling and owning the inward call of the Holy Spirit, moving us in our sphere to give ourselves to the same lifework that always occupied him; to carry out the great design of his coming into the world; to be his wholly and unreservedly, as he was always and altogether the Father’s.
Thus, in all that it can be held to imply of consciously apprehended and sensibly enjoyed favour and fellowship with God, as well as of sacred destination and devotion to God, we share with Christ his own very unction. Whatever is implied in his being anointed with the Holy Spirit we are to realise in ourselves, as having “an unction from the Holy One.” Thus we are Christs, as he is the Christ; anointed ones, as he is the Anointed One;the Lord’s anointed, the Lord’s Christs, in somewhat of the same sense in which he is so. For we share his anointing; we “have unction from the Holy One.”
II. As thus anointed, we “know all things.” This is not of course omniscience; but full and complete knowledge of the matter in hand, as opposed to knowledge that is fragmentary and partial. The question is between Christ and anti-Christ; between the truth of Christ and the lie of anti-Christ. That lie is a denial of Jesus as the Christ; and therefore a denial of him as the Son, involving necessarily a denial of the Father also (1 John 2:22-23). But we know the truth; we “know all things” about it. The whole truth concerning Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Father, in all its relations to the divine character and counsels as well as to human experience and hope, we know. We have mastered it, not piecemeal, but entire; or it has thus mastered us. Not a corner of the field, but the field itself, is ours. We know Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, in all the rich and ample significance of these titles or designations. So we know all things; all things concerning the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This, in one view, may not be knowing much; but it is knowing what we do know well and thoroughly. And much depends on our knowledge being of that sort; not universal in its range; but, be its range ever so limited, universal in its kind, so far as it goes; universal—full-orbed, as it were, and all round,—as opposed to what is one-sided. The anointing of Jesus, his being the Christ,—what it is, and what it means; his consecration as the Holy One; his oneness as the Son with the Father; all that we know. And we know it, not by catching at some one aspect of the mighty plan,—the great “mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh,”—that may happen to suit our convenience, or to strike our fancy, but by a calm, clear, and comprehensive insight into all that it unfolds of the highest glory of God, and all that it contemplates of highest good to man. We look at this great theme, or rather this great fact, in all its bearings; as it vindicates the righteous sovereignty of the Lord of all, while it secures full and free salvation to the worst and guiltiest of his creatures, if they will but own that sovereignty and submit to it.
Hence it is a knowledge having eyes, as it were, on all sides, all round; open to what touches the prerogatives and rights of heaven, no less than to what concerns the interests of earth; full of thoughtfullness about God and what is due to God, as well as about sinful man and what sinful man requires; well balanced, therefore, and guarded against both extremes, the extreme of mere arbitrary rule, or a sort of fatalism, ascribed to God, on the one hand, and that of accommodation and compromise, assumed to meet man’s case, on the other.
We know all things; all the principles of God’s government, all the attributes of his nature, all the features of his character: as well as all the miseries and necessities of man’s lost and guilty state; so as to take them all into account in forming our conception of the plan of mercy, the reign of grace, the method of redemption and salvation. Hence our conception of that economy of righteous love, however far from being perfect, is yet, to the extent to which it carries us, consistent, and, from its consistency, sure and satisfying. We know indeed only in part after all. All the things that we know, we know only dimly and faintly. We know none of them fully, or as we hope to know them one day, when we shall know even as you are known. But still we know them all. For, as Paul testifies (1 Corinthians 2:9-12), although “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” yet “God hath revealed them to us ‘by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God.” And “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” We thus know them all, the deep things of God, the things freely given to us of God, in virtue of the unction which we have from the Holy One.
III. For the unction which we have from the Holy One, and our knowing all things, are intimately connected.
One might imagine perhaps, that the knowledge which I have been describing as so comprehensive and complete, must be the fruit of leisurely and learned study; of academic training and scholarly research. But it is really not so. If it were, it would be but little trustworthy, especially in any advent or development of the last time, in which anti-Christ may be coming, or there may be already many anti-Christs. All experience proves, that of our own day as well as of older ecclesiastical history, that the knowledge of the schools, even when it seems almost to be, humanly speaking, omniscience, is no security for those who have it continuing with us, as John puts it, in our genuine apostolic fellowship. Much study may be a weariness of the flesh, without being either strength or stedfastness to the spirit. The knowledge which alone can be relied on, must be not only the knowledge of all things; but such a knowledge of all things as only unction from the Holy One can give.
In fact, we cannot have true knowledge of any of these things unless we have it by unction from the Holy One. For “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13). It is only “he who is spiritual” who “judgeth all things,” who can know them so as to judge them. For he alone is in a position and has the capacity to form a fair estimate or judgment of the relations among the things of God. And it is by their mutual relations that things are really known and judged.
This is a maxim true in all sciences; and not least manifestly so in the science of divinity. If, in the science of astronomy, we would know all its things, all its truths, to any satisfactory end, theoretical or practical; we must get, not the eye of a clown or vulgar stargazer, nor that of Chaldean sage or poetic dreamer, nor that of one to whom the clear calm midnight sky is a confused galaxy of bright gems, a brilliant shower of diamonds shed in rich disorder on the dark brow of nature’s sleeping beauty, but the eye of Newton’s scholar and Laplace’s, who has learned of them to calculate planetary magnitudes and distances and forces, and to bring the whole splendid chaos under the sway of the one simple law that reigns supreme throughout all space. So, in the region of what is spiritual and divine, the faculty of seeing things in their true relations is not elsewhere or otherwise to be acquired, than in the school and under the teaching of the Holy Spirit. It is his anointing of the eye with eye-salve that gives spiritual discernment, not only to understand separately, as distinct objects of contemplation and thought, many of the truths proclaimed and the objects exhibited in revelation, but to perceive how, under the leading and guiding principle of the free, full, and sovereign grace of the glorious gospel, they all assume their fitting places and proportions, and form together one consistent whole. Mere human study might master all that has been ever said or written about God and his works and ways. But still knowledge thus got always runs the risk of being prejudiced and partial. All the articles of all the creeds may be thoroughly sifted, in all their doctrinal, controversial, and historical bearings. The all-knowing theologian may be able to discuss them all, and all about them. But left to himself, and without “unction from the Holy One,” how apt is he to let some peculiar leaning, some personal bias or idiosyncrasy of his own, prevail; exaggerating some one portion, or aspect, or feature of the divine plan, and raising many a cloud of lettered dust, such as may cause endless perplexity and doubt, and sadly mar “the simplicity which is in Christ.” It is not, therefore, any such knowledge of all things that is here commended. Rather, it is that of which our Lord himself speaks when he says: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because 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” (Matthew 11:25-26).
For how does that Holy One, the Son, reveal to these babes the Father, and “all things delivered unto him of his Father?” How but by imparting to them that anointing which he has himself? It is as the Holy One, the Christ, the Anointed, that the Son has all things delivered unto him of his Father, and knows the Father so as to reveal him to us. And it is by making us partakers with himself in his own anointing; by making us Christs, the Lord’s anointed, as he himself is the Christ, the Lord’s anointed; by causing us to have the same unction with himself;—that he reveals to us the Father.
How wonderfully, in this view of it, does this unction which we have from the Holy One unite and identify us with the Holy One himself, in respect of our knowing all things! It is indeed a marvellous way of grace and condescension in which the great Teacher teaches us. He does not stand on an elevated platform apart handing down to us the lessons we have to learn, and reporting, as it were, the observations and discoveries he makes. He lifts us up to be beside himself. He puts his own glass into our hand: he puts his own eye into our head: he puts his own intensity of loving gaze into our heart; and bids us look for ourselves; and see the Father as he sees him, and know all things as he knows them; “all things delivered to him of his Father.” Well might Paul say of the spiritual man, thus—by such a spiritual discernment as this—judging all things; himself judged of none: “Who hath known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” For the unction of the Spirit which we thus share with him,—or rather he with us,—gives us the same knowledge of the Father—of all things—that Christ the Son had when he himself received the unction of the Spirit; the same, I mean, in kind, not in degree;—not yet the same in measure, though gradually coming more and more nearly to be so; meanwhile, the same in manner.
What was his manner of knowing the Father and all things about the Father’s will and purpose, when he was here, as the Holy One anointed by the Spirit? Ah! how practical it was! how experimental! how thoroughly a learning of it all by obedience; by suffering; by unreserved submission and acquiescence; by patience; by waiting; by faith, and love, and hope! Therefore, it was in his case a knowledge thoroughly simple, and in its simplicity thoroughly complete. “Little children,” let it be so in our ease too. Let us remember his own saying: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” It was as a doer of God’s will that he, in his human experience, having the Spirit’s unction, knew all things. Let it be as doers of God’s will that we learn to know them too.
And let us remember, “This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he has sent.” Believing in Jesus we attain to his clear knowledge of the Father and of all things. Clouds of guilt and wrath, of misconception and suspicion, of doubt and fear, are driven away before the rising of the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings. We walk no more benighted and befooled; stumbling in the dark, amid unseen stones and pitfalls, and dire visionary phantoms. We walk safely and at liberty, knowing all things, seeing all things in the light of God; in the light of his reconciled countenance; in the light of that love wherewith he “loveth us even as he loveth Christ.” It is by the love with which the Father loves him that the Son knows the Father, and all things which the Father has, and which also are his. It is by the love with which the Father loves us as he loves him, that we, having unction from him who is the Holy One, know all things; “the love with which the Father hath loved him being in us, and he in us” (John 17:17-25).
IV. The security which our “having an unction from the Holy One and knowing all things” affords, in trying times, must now surely be seen to be very ample and firm. Others may “go out from us;” it being thus “made manifest that they were not of us;” and may become anti-Christs, or the prey of anti-Christ. But “will ye also go away?”—ye who share the very unction and the very knowledge which the Holy One himself has? Is not this your preservative against all error and apostasy? Is it not a sufficient preservative? “To whom will ye go? He has the words of eternal life; and you believe and are sure that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And you are joint-Christs with him; and joint-sons with him; and joint-heirs with him. What have you to do any more with idols?—or with the husks of the swine-trough, to which citizens of the far country may be for sending you?—or with seducing lies and doctrines of devils to which you may be tempted to give heed?—or, in a word, with any of the modifications of the way of grace and salvation,—any of the readjustments of the terms of acceptance,—any of the devices for pacifying conscience,—any of the new lights, mystical or rationalistic, sacramental or sentimental,—by which men would fain seek to be wiser than God, and even holier than God, and better than God? Ye who have found Christ, or whom Christ has found; ye who have the same anointing that Christ had; ye who taste and see how good his Father and yours is,—loving you even as he loveth him,—“will ye also go away?”
And be sure that this is the only preservative; the one specific. Much learning, great enlightenment, the intelligence of an age of progress in all that relates to high mental culture and social improvement; intense earnestness, profound study, patient inquiry; anxious searching of the heart and of all that has been proposed for meeting the heart’s wants; devotional feeling; self-renouncing and self-sacrificing humility;—these, and other equally promising means and tokens of good, are found to be no effectual safeguards. Nay, at any season when men’s minds are stirred, their consciences moved, and their souls melted; when the deadness of an age of formalism is giving place to a time of inquiry, of awakening, of thought and sensibility, of speculation and discourse, on things spiritual and divine; the very shaking of the dry bones caused by the wind of heaven may only make you more susceptible of influences, and more open to suggestions, carrying you away from the old paths and the footsteps of the flock, into wanderings in search of rest or of revival, roof peace or of perfection,—that may issue in your being fain at last to believe any prophet and follow any guide, even if he lead you into the arms of an infallible church, or down the steep bank that ends in the dreary void of scepticism and unbelief.
At such an era—when “it is now the last time, of which ye have heard that anti-Christ shall come; when even now already there are many anti-Christs; whereby ye may know that it is the last time;” when, on all hands, too many who seemed to be of us—as serious and as safe as ourselves—are going out from us; “Little children,” see that ye have indeed “unction from the Holy One and know all things.” Be very sure that no ignorance, no emptiness, no vacancy; no unhealed sore and unanointed eye; no halting or hesitating belief; no “vague and doubtsome faith;” will stand in the midst of such peril. Nothing will stand but what is real, positive, satisfying, in your personal acquaintance with God, and your saving knowledge of the things of God; nothing but your having yourselves found the Messiah, the Christ, and your bringing others to find him: that they and you may really become partakers with him in all that he is to the Father as his Holy One, and all that as his beloved Son he knows of the things of the Father delivered to him for us.
XV. The Guileless Spirit, Amid Antichristian Denial of the Son, Acknowledging the Son so as to Have the Father Also
“I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is anti- Christ, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” 1 John 2:21-23
THE last part of the 23d verse, although considered doubtful by our translators, and therefore put by them in italics and within brackets, is now admitted to be genuine. It completes the sense of the passage. To deny the Son is not to have the Father; to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father. And this is the ultimate difference between an anti-Christ and a joint-Christ; between those who are against the Anointed One, and you who share his anointing; “having unction from the Holy One and knowing all things.” By that unction or anointing, which passes to you from the anointed Holy One, you know all things; all the truth; the truth in all its bearings; and therefore you can discriminate between the truth and every lie. If it were not so, it would be needless for me to write to you (ver. 21). I cannot expect you to detect a liar unless you know the truth yourselves. For the test by which you detect a liar, or the liar, is the truth which you know. He contradicts the truth; he denies that Jesus is the Christ; and that denial is enough to mark the liar. It marks him also as an anti-Christ, or, in spirit, the anti-Christ. For it amounts to what is the criterion or characteristic of anti-Christ, a denial of the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22). The denial, indeed, so far at least as the Father is concerned, is not express and avowed, but virtual rather and by implication. The lie touches immediately the Son alone; and reaches the Father only through the Son. It is not, however, on that account, less really a denial of the Father as well as of the Son. For the Father and the Son are one; and therefore, he that “denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father,” while “he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Two questions naturally occur here. I. How is a denial that Jesus is the Christ equivalent to a denial of the Son? And II. How is a denial of the Son a denial of the Father, so that to deny the Son is not to have the Father; and how, on the other hand, does the acknowledgment of the Son secure our having the Father?
I. Plainly, in John’s view, to deny that Jesus is the Christ is to deny the Son; the two denials are declared to be one and the same. And yet there is a difference. The object of the one denial is a proposition; the object of the other is a person. Nor is the difference accidental or unimportant; on the contrary, it is very significant.
One thing, at least, is very clear. If the denial of a proposition concerning any person is to be viewed as identical with the denial of the person himself, the proposition must be one that vitally affects his nature and character. Take any illustrious personage who may be supposed to occupy my thoughts; the heir-apparent to the throne, for instance. If I choose to deny that he is what you believe, or even know him to be, as to his height, or complexion, or turn of mind, or habit of body, you may charge me with falsehood, or even say that I lie. But you would scarcely allege that in denying any affirmation of that sort about him, I deny the prince. It must be something far more deeply touching his birth, or his birthright, or his worthiness of either, that I deny, before you can construe my denial of it, into a disloyal and traitorous denial of himself. So here, if to deny the proposition that “Jesus is the Christ” is to deny the Son; the proposition itself must mean more than at first appears.
1. It cannot mean simply that he is the person foretold in the Old Testament under the name of the Messiah; there is more in it than a mere identification of the individual. The official designation, Christ, or Messiah, or Anointed, marks not only a certain relation to the Jewish Scriptures, but also and still more a certain relation to God, whose Christ he is, In the dreamy and misty theosophy of the Gnostic anti-Christs, any Christ whom they would acknowledge at all could be nothing else than a sort of efflux or emanation of Deity, a detached portion of the divine nature, or a mysterious outgoing of the divine power, or wisdom, or love altogether visionary and unsubstantial; but withal very sublime. The idea of such a transcendental Christ being identical with the historical man, the man of “flesh and bones,” Jesus, was an outrage on their philosophy. They might admit an occasional and temporary illapse. Now and then, or perhaps generally, all through his life and ministry, Jesus might be in a certain spiritual relation to this Christ. There might be upon him, and in him, moving and inspiring him, what of God they thought proper to call the Christ. But that he was truly and personally himself the Christ,—in his manhood and in his manhood’s history and experience—especially in his birth and in his death, their subtle notions of spirit and matter compelled them strenuously to deny. This denial necessarily reduced Jesus to the level of a mere man; a representative man perhaps, the ground and type and head of restored or perfected humanity; a divine man too, in some vague use of the phrase; but still really not more than a man; his birth no real incarnation; his death no real propitiation. It is this which stamps value on the confession that “Jesus is the Christ;” that from his being born of the Virgin to his expiring on Calvary, he is the Christ. And it is this which makes the denial of the proposition so serious. It is the denial of his vicarious character and position; his being in any fair sense, or to any substantial effect, the substitute of men; of men viewed as guilty, condemned, and lost.
I have said that he might be owned, after a fashion, as a representative man, or the representative man. Humanity in its best state, whether of development or of recovery,—perfect humanity, if you will,—might have its culminating grace and glory in him. And as the model man, or something more, as the man in whom human nature and the human race, as such, are elevated, he might be so visited by the overshadowing of a divine energy as to be in some sense partaker of the divine nature. But as to what he is himself personally, he differs in no material or essential respect from other men. Born like them, like them he dies. Not only has he all in common with them; but he has nothing in him or about him but what is in common. He is not “separate from sinners.”
Jesus must be acknowledged as not only one with us, but “separate from us.” Not otherwise can he save us by being our substitute; redeem us by being our ransom! reconcile us to God by the sacrifice of himself in our stead. He must be “separate from us” in his birth; exempt, by special miracle, from all participation in the sin of humanity, whose guilt he is to expiate. He must be “separate from us” in his death; his death being what no other death ever was, or ever can be, a real satisfaction to offended justice; a valid atonement for the offence; an actual enduring and exhausting of what the penal severity of law requires; a true and literal “suffering, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”
The denial of the proposition that “Jesus is the Christ,” according to the notions then current, precluded all such views of the way in which he saves sinners. Under a different form, a similar mysticism precludes them now.
There has always indeed been a school in the church tending in that direction; willing to exalt Jesus as high as any one would wish, in one aspect of his mediatorship, his being one with us, and so qualified to represent us; but ever stopping short of that other aspect of it, his being “separate from us,” and so qualified to atone for us. Of Jesus personally much appears to be made. Not too much certainly; for that is impossible. Jesus, personally, the real, living Jesus, cannot be too much thought of. His very name is as ointment poured forth. He is the chiefest among ten thousand and altogether lovely. The church, the spouse,—every soul that as a chaste virgin is espoused to Jesus,—is ravished with the beauty of his person and the endearments of his fellowship. But it is a snare to forget, it is a sin to deny, that he is the Christ; or, in other words, to overlook or set aside that real and actual work of substitution and satisfaction, of vicarious suffering and obedience, in respect of which he is the Christ. Ah! will not every true lover of Jesus feel that, apart from his being thus the Christ, he has in fact no Jesus at all to love? “Dear, dying Lamb!” is his adoring and grateful invocation; “Worthy the Lamb, for he was slain for us,” is his song; “Thou hast redeemed us with thy blood,” is his worship. He, therefore, is at no loss to see how the denial of the proposition that “Jesus is the Christ,” thus viewed in its bearing on his work, is substantially and most sadly a denial of the person.
2. This will appear still more clearly when we consider that the person is the Son. As the Son he stands in a distinct and definite relation to the Father. He must be owned in that relation if he is to be owned at all; otherwise he is to all intents and purposes denied.
The Gnostic dreamers fancied that they could get a notion of a Son of God from a mere contemplation of the divine nature in the abstract. By a sort of effort of imagination they personified a divine attribute or emanation, of the Son; sometimes distinguishing that idea from the idea of the Christ, sometimes identifying them. Nor did they hesitate to allow the title Son of God to Jesus, considered as the representative man, or type of perfect humanity, who, as such, enjoyed the presence of somewhat of the Divinity with him and in him. Between these two conceptions of a Son of God they may be said to have oscillated; the one high, but indistinct; the other, more distinct perhaps, and intelligible, but comparatively low. They are the two conceptions, on this great theme of the Sonship, between which, as opposite extremes, I am apt to be tossed to and fro.
I fix my thoughts on the everlasting God considered abstractly as he is in himself. I try to body forth in my imagination the idea of there being in the essence of the Divine nature, from all eternity, a Son of the Father; “God of God; light of light; very God of very God; begotten, not made; of one substance with the Father;” his only begotten. Abstracting my mind from earth and time, I gaze on the Eternal Three in One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I would pierce the mystery of high heaven; how “the Son is of the Father;” and “the Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son.” Alas! it is impenetrable. The distinction of persons in the Godhead I may believe, though I cannot comprehend. The second person I may be taught to call the Word, or the Son. But the name tells me nothing. I am lost in the dark sublimity of the infinite unknown. Coming down from heaven to earth and time, I see Jesus, “a man approved of God, who went about doing good;” and I can understand why, as a good and holy man, the perfect model of human goodness, the restorer and perfecter of all humanity’s excellence, after the divine ideal,—he should be specially and above all others honoured with the title of Son of God. Such a view of sonship, however, scarcely rises above what is matter of mere figure or sentiment. Thus, on the one hand, considering the nature of God apart, in the deep, dark wonder of the eternal generation, the Son being eternally begotten of the Father; or, on the other hand, considering the nature of man apart, in the clear light of the history of Jesus, and his being found pre-eminently and exclusively worthy to be called God’s Son; I am either soaring up to what is too high for me, or I am apt to acquiesce in what is too low for him.
But let me fully realise the fact that Jesus is the Christ. And let me fully enter into the great transaction between the Father and the Son, of which that fact is the expression. Then a new and blessed sight of this divine sonship breaks upon my soul. For now, as I am carried back, in rapt musing, to the remotest point of possible retrospection, along the vista of the ages of a past eternity, before all worlds, the Father and the Son are seen, not in repose, but in counsel at least, if not in action. A momentous consultation is going on. A great covenant is negotiated. The Father and the Son, with the Spirit, are, if one may dare to say so, in solemn conference together. From the bosom of the Father, in which he is dwelling evermore, the Son receives a commission to come forth. He is appointed heir of all things. Creation is assigned to him as his proper work. All providence is to be his care; and above all the providence of this spot of earth. Here, on this earth, from among a fallen race, he is to purchase for himself, and for his Father, at a great price, a seed given him by the Father, to share with him in the blessedness of his being the Son. So it is arranged between the Father and the Son from everlasting; the Holy Spirit being a party to the arrangement, as he is to have a large share in carrying it out. And so, accordingly, in the fullness of time, the Son appears among men. He appears as the Son; on his Father’s behalf; entrusted with his Father’s commission; to be about his Father’s business. Thus Jesus is seen as the Son. And it is in the character of the Christ that he is seen to be the Son. He is the Son, not merely in respect of his being the holy Jesus, receiving proofs and tokens of God’s fatherly presence and approval, as any holy being might. He is the Son also, and chiefly, in respect of the work or office with a view to which he is the Christ. He is the Son consenting to be the Father’s servant, and as such anointed of the Father for the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose. Only, therefore, in so far as you acknowledge Jesus as the Christ do you really receive him as the Son. Any denial, whether practical’ or doctrinal, of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, is tantamount to a disowning of him personally as the Son. It is only when you recognise him as anointed to do his Father’s will in the sacrifice of himself that you really own him, in any distinct sense, as the Son.
Such, then, is the import and significance of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, considered in itself; and such its bearing on the owning of him personally as the Saviour and as the Son. It is a proposition which so vitally affects the essential character of him to whom it relates, that the denial of it is virtually a denial of himself. For the completeness of this illustrious personage depends on a full and adequate recognition of his double relation; to us sinners, as our Jesus, and to God the Father, as his Son. And neither of these relations can be fully and adequately recognised, unless his being the Christ is recognised, with all that his being the Christ must be held fairly to imply. Neither what he is to us as our Jesus, nor what he is to God as his Son, can be otherwise known than by what he is anointed to do, and actually does, as the Christ. Set aside his being the Christ; the anointed sacrificer and anointed sacrifice; the anointed priest and anointed victim; set aside his actual work for which he is anointed, the work of redeeming us by his obedience, and the shedding of his blood, or the giving of his life, in our stead; and we have neither any Jesus fit to be our saviour, nor any Son of God worth the owning. The stress must always, for practical purposes, be laid upon his office and ministry as the Christ?
Hence he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ is not only a liar; he is anti-Christ. And being anti-Christ, setting himself against the Christ, thrusting him aside from his blessed office and ministry of real and effectual reconciliation for which he is anointed—he as anti-Christ, denies the Father and the Son.
II. This raises the second question: How is it that to deny the Son is to deny the Father, so that “whosoever denieth the Son the same hath not the Father; but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also?”
1. “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not,” and cannot have, “the Father.” This may be regarded in one view as matter of positive appointment. In the exercise of his absolute sovereignty, God is entitled to say upon what terms and in what way any of his creatures shall have him;—have him, that is, as theirs; have him so as to have an interest in him, a hold upon him, and a bond of union with him. He may set forth any one he pleases, and say, If you deny him you cannot have me. In this case however he sets forth his Son, and therefore the appointment must be allowed to be in the highest degree reasonable and fair. One would say even, it is natural that this law should be in force—you cannot have the Father otherwise than through your owning the Son. The disowning or denial of the Son cannot but be an offence to the Father; deeply wounding and grieving his heart. It will be so all the more if the Son is disowned or denied, not merely in a personal, but, if one may so say, in an official capacity; not merely in respect of something connected with his own manner of being with the Father, but in respect of his exercising a great ministry, as bearing the Father’s commission and executing the Father’s purpose.
If the Son remained at home with the Father, in the inscrutable privacy of inaccessible light, which to us is impenetrable darkness,—so that beyond the fact of the Father having a Son of his own nature, dwelling in his bosom for ever, nothing of what they are to one another was ever to be known,—then to deny, or not to acknowledge the Son, might not be so culpable in us, or so justly displeasing to the Father. In that case we might possibly have the Father irrespectively of our knowing and owning the Son. It is otherwise when the Father “bringeth in the first-begotten into the world,” with the proclamation, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” It is otherwise still when to you, perishing in your sins, the Father sends the Son on a mission of richest grace. Now it must be very palpable that if you deny the Son you cannot have the Father; especially if your denial of the Son take the form of a denial that Jesus is the Christ. For that is a denial of the Son in the very character in which he comes to you from the Father, sent, sealed, and anointed, to save you from your sins, by his being “separate from sinners;” separate in the manner of his holy birth, in the merit of his vicarious obedience, and in the efficacy of his atoning death and justifying resurrection.
Here it becomes especially important to observe that the object of your denial is not a proposition merely, but a person. It is not with a statement about Jesus that you deal; but with himself personally. And he with whom you deal is the Son. And he is the Son in the very act of coming, as he says, “to do the Father’s will;” which will is “your being sanctified or cleansed by the offering of himself, once for all, a sacrifice to take away your sins” (Hebrews 10:10).
Yes! it is a living person who is now before you; showing himself to you; addressing you. You see him as he was when Pilate brought him out, his head all bleeding from the crown of thorns, and exclaimed, Behold the man! or when John saw his side pierced, and blood and water coming forth; or when the Roman soldier gazed on his meek pale face of agony, and murmured, “Truly this was the Son of God;” or when the dying thief prayed, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The same now as then, he draws near to you; bleeding still; his freshly-pierced side still giving forth fresh blood and water; his face as woeful as when he cried, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? his voice as calm as when he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, and said, It is finished. He draws near, “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.” And you deny him. He tells you he is the Son in all this, doing the Father’s will, carrying out the Father’s purpose of infinite compassion and benignity toward you a miserable sinner. And you deny him; you deny the Son. He stands still beside you, knocking at the door of your conscience, of your heart; assuring you that he is the Son; that at the Father’s bidding he takes your place, and bears your sin; that for the Father’s love to you he is with you to take you home with him to the Father; now; immediately; this very instant; as you are; altogether vile and polluted, and helpless in your guilty state. He pledges himself to you that you have nothing now to fear; that a full pardon is freely yours; and a perfect peace; and a new heart; and a right spirit. And you deny him; you deny the Son. How can you have the Father? Is it not in the very nature of things an impossibility? It is no abstract truth that you deny; but the true and living Son; and that too in the very execution of his commission from the Father on your behalf. It cannot be that so denying the Son you can have, or ever hope to have, the Father.
2. “But he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” He hath the Father; how surely, how fully, may partly appear, if we consider, not only what Jesus is to us, as our anointed Saviour, but also what he is to the Father as his beloved Son.
For whatever is implied in his being the Son, in so far as it is compatible with human nature and a human condition,—whatever of grace, whatever of glory there is in the relation in which he who is the Christ stands as the Son to the Father,—he shares with you who acknowledge him. The Father makes you partakers of it all with the Son. You therefore have the Father as he has the Father; after the same manner, and largely after the same measure too.
How would you say that Jesus, as the Son, when he was as you are now, had the Father? All through his humiliation, how has he the Father? On what footing is he with the Father? What is his habit of intercourse with the Father? The Father’s love he has; his love of boundless complacency, approval, delight. He is sure of it. The assurance of it is never lost or interrupted; not even when he is made to taste the bitterness of the cup of wrath, and know the doom of a God-forsaken soul. He has the Father’s gracious presence with him always. He has the Father’s consolation and support, in the ministry of angels sent to comfort him, and in the constant abiding of the Spirit with him. He has the Father; having right of access and appeal to him always; and using that right always. “Abba Father” is on his lips always, and in his heart always. It is “Abba Father when there is work to do; when there is contradiction of sinners against himself to bear; when there is resisting unto death in the strife against sin; when the voice is heard, Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd; it is “Abba Father” still always. It is “Abba Father” when he for once rejoices in spirit,—“I thank thee, O Father.” It is “Abba Father” when he soothes the sisters and gives them back their brother—“Father! I thank thee.” It is “Abba Father” when he takes leave of his sorrowing followers, and commends them to the Father. It is “Abba Father” when hanging on the cross he prays for his murderers—“Father, forgive them,”—and for himself, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
So he, as the Son, had the Father, when he was as you are. So he would have you, acknowledging him, to have the Father also. You own him as Jesus, the Christ of God, the Son of the Father; the Christ of God, washing you in his blood, clothing you with his righteousness, and presenting you with acceptance to God whose Christ he is; the Son of the Father; your own elder brother; come out to seek you in the far country, and to bring you home to his Father and yours. Nor will he be satisfied unless you have the Father even as he has the Father. He shows you what it is to have the Father in the state in which you now are; amid the trials of earth, the enmity of the world, the very pains of hell. He shows you how even here you can have the Father as, in a work and warfare infinitely harder than yours, he had the Father; how you, in all your toil and tribulation, can rest in the consciousness of the Father’s favour; and rejoice in the doing of the Father’s will; and resign yourself contentedly to the Father’s disposal; and quietly wait the Father’s pleasure to call you hence when the time comes.
And what shall I say of your having the Father then? Not as the Son on earth had, but as the Son in heaven now has, the Father? Even now he says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” So you have the Father now. But more, far more, is yours. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” He comes to receive you to himself; to take you to be with him where he is, that you may have the Father as he has the Father.
O glorious day! O blessed consummation! Is this indeed the end of your not denying but acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, and so not denying but acknowledging the Son?
Low he stoops,—how low none but a holy God and lost souls can tell,—as Jesus who is the Christ. Down into the depths of sin’s guilt and doom he goes. Over the head of the anointed righteous One, the obedient servant, the billows of wrath roll. And you deny him not, but acknowledge him, as thus redeeming you. You confess that “Jesus is the Christ.” You are not ashamed of his cross. It is your glory. And well it may be. For what fruit is yours through your not denying, but acknowledging, the Son, in his coming forth from the Father as his Christ to such humiliation for you? Is it that you escape punishment merely, and are saved from hell? That would be no mean boon. But what privilege is yours now,—what hope hereafter? It is the Son whom you acknowledge. He has the Father. He has the Father’s kingdom; the Father’s riches; the Father’s joys. He has the Father’s heart. He has the Father himself And nothing will content him but that you, who acknowledge him, shall have the Father as he has the Father. Surely of the future, as well as of the present fruit of your acknowledging the Son, it may be said: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” And surely, beyond question, the whole plan and system of saving mercy is surpassingly gracious and glorious,—according to which, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
NOTE REFERRED TO AT PAGE 186
I have always had an impression that neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor that of the Incarnation, with its correlative, the Resurrection, can long continue to be really held by those who deny that of the Atonement, in the ordinary orthodox sense of it. If the Second Person in the Godhead has not an office to execute, and a work to do, effecting a real change in the relation of fallen man to God, and bringing him, upon his consenting to be brought, out of a state of condemnation and estrangement, into a state of acceptance and reconciliation,—and if the Third Person has not an office to execute, and a work to do, for obtaining the consent needed; in other words, if Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not to be regarded as sustaining different, and distinctly defined, parts in the economy of grace;—I see not how distinct personality, in respect of being or essence, can well be conceived as cither necessary or even possible. If they present themselves to me as acting differently and distinctly, each doing some specific thing which neither of the others does, or, according to the Divine arrangement, is competent to do,—then, with all its mystery, the Trinity becomes so far intelligible as a reality, if not in its nature, at least in its manner of actual working or doing. Otherwise, if the whole process of man’s restoration or education is to be resolved into discovery and influence—the discovery of what he already is in relation to God, and the influence of that discovery—the distinction of the Divine Persons is to me merely nominal; I am driven into virtual Sabellianism. So also, if Jesus, when on earth, had no special work of redemption to accomplish,—special, I mean, in the sense of its being what none but a real Divine Person, having a real human nature, could do,—the work, in short, of the actual substitution of himself in the room and stead of the guilty, to meet legal demands on them, and answer for them judicially,—I confess myself unable to form any idea of the propriety or meaning of the hypostatical union of the two distinct natures in one person. It becomes tome quite notional or nominal, not real; lam apt to resolve it into a sort of figure of speech; or to substitute a mystical “divine man,” for the real Son of God become the real son of man, or “the Word made flesh.” This has always appeared to me to be the dangerous tendency of the speculations of that school which some broad-church divines of our day represent. Giving them all credit for sincerity in holding, or thinking that they hold, the old orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, I am persuaded that their view of the Atonement and kindred subjects must evacuate these doctrines of their sense and significancy, and land its adherents in some modification of the Sabellian and the Gnostic heresies, if not ultimately in Socinianism itself. It is on that account that, having given some attention formerly to the subject in nu examination of certain essays, I attach much importance now to the Formula employed by John here and elsewhere—“Jesus is the Christ”—“Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” as I understand and have ventured to expound it.
XVI. The Guileless Spirit Abiding in the Son and in the Father, so as to Receive the Promise of Eternal Life
“Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain [abide] in you, ye also shall continue [abide] in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.”—1 John 2:24-25
THIS practical appeal, concluding the previous argument, has a singularly close resemblance to the opening statement of the epistle. The same remarkable phraseology prevails. There is a “hearing from the beginning,” and a “declaration” or promise connected with it. “That which was from the beginning,” “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you;” so the apostle speaks of the apostolic position and commission (1 John 1:1-3). “That which ye have heard from the beginning”—“the promise which he hath promised;”—so he speaks here of the standing of those to whom he writes. And as, in the former passage, it is the Word of life that is seen and heard and handled; it is “the life,” “the eternal life,” that is “manifested” and “declared;” so here, “this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” The appeal runs exactly thus: “You, therefore, what ye have heard from the beginning, let it abide in you.” For you must now perceive that “if what ye have heard from the beginning shall abide in you,” then, and only then, shall ye “abide in the Son and in the Father.” And this is the secret of your having fellowship with us in what is common to both of us: “the promise of eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
I. “Let that therefore which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you.” The phrase “from the beginning” must here refer to the first preaching of the gospel. It cannot be understood in the same absolute sense in which it is used in the opening of the epistle. And yet John, I am persuaded, has that great thought in his mind. His object is to identify your position with that of himself and his fellow apostles. You are to “have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). We would have you to be upon the same footing with us; in the same boat, as it were; the boat tossed on the Galilean sea, to whose troubled crew no phantom ghost but the living Jesus appears and says—“It is I; be not afraid.” It was given to us to see, to hear, to touch and handle, “that which was from the beginning”—“of the Word of life.” And this is that which we have declared unto you, and which “ye have heard from the beginning.” Let it abide in you.
For this end, that it may abide in you, let “that which ye have heard from the beginning” be not only known but felt; not only known as a matter of fact or doctrine, but felt as a matter of experience. Let it so lay hold of you, that it shall be the nature of God becoming in a sense part and parcel of your nature; the great heart of the Father entering in a measure into union with your heart.
The nature of God is light; the heart of the Father is love. Light, pure and unsullied, is the essence of God, and his dwelling-place. He is light and he dwells in light. It is light which no darkness can invade. It is light, moreover, in which nothing but love can be at home. It is light before which,—the true light shining,—the darkness of the world, and all that is in it, must be passing away, and only he that doeth the will of God can abide for ever. It is in Christ that this true light now shines. Without him you cannot come to the light, or dwell in the light, or walk in the light; without his blood which cleanseth from all sin, without himself as your advocate with the Father, the righteous one, the propitiation for your sins. This is what “you have heard from the beginning” and have believed; and have found experimentally to be true. Let it so “abide in you;” let it be “Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith” (Ephesians 3:17).
For otherwise you cannot face the light; you cannot meet with clear and open eye the light of that clear and open eye of God; you quail beneath its truth and love. If at any moment you in any measure lose Christ, you so far lose both truth and love, the truth and love which alone can bear the light. You fall into darkness again, and come under its power, the power of its untrue and unloving ways. The old dark doubts and fears of guilt beset you: the old dark refuges of lies tempt you; the old dark devices of self-justification return upon you; the old dark habit of tampering with the world’s lusts, and listening to the world’s palliations of them, seduces you; and the old dark disquietudes of a peevish and angry discontent with yourselves, with your God, and with your fellow-men, begin again to rankle in your bosom. Instead of the light of truth, there is dark guile in your spirits. Instead of the light of love, there is dark suspicion and enmity and alienation.
Ah! if you would have all to be always clear and bright in the spiritual atmosphere around you; all open between your God and you; open truth and open love; “let that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you” Let all of Christ you have ever known, seen, heard, handled, tasted, “abide in you.” Let all you have learned of Christ,—as being with the Father, from everlasting, in his bosom,—as coming forth from the Father to reveal and reconcile,—as purging your sin with blood, and bringing you to be all to the Father that he is himself to the Father,—let it all “abide in you;” always, everywhere.
II. So “ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father.”
First, “Ye shall abide in the Son.” What the Lord elsewhere enjoins as in itself a duty, “Abide in me” (John 15:4), the apostle describes as the consequence of another duty being rightly discharged. He points out the condition or the means of our abiding in the Son; as indeed Jesus also may be held to do when he says, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will” (John 15:7). The meaning clearly is—“Ye abide in me through my words abiding in you”—the Lord’s expression, “my words,” being equivalent to the apostle’s, “that which ye have heard” of the word of life “from the beginning.” Thus it is by faith that we “abide in the Son;” for it is by faith that what we have heard of him from the beginning abides in us. The manner, therefore, of our abiding in the Son is neither sacramental on the one hand, nor mystical on the other—neither physically ritual, nor metaphysically transcendental.
We do not “abide in the Son” by any sacramental act on our part, or any sacramental grace or virtue on his. The Lord’s Supper may be a help to our abiding in the Son; but only indirectly, through its being a help to our having “that which we have heard of him from the beginning abiding in us.” It is the expressive sign and sure seal of it, and therefore may contribute to its abiding in us, and so to our abiding in the Son. But that is all. There is no charm or efficacy in the rite itself to secure our abiding in the Son. The relation described by our abiding in the Son is not of such a sort as can be kept up by any act or process apart from intelligence, consciousness, and volition.
And therefore this abiding in the Son cannot be mystical or transcendental, any more than it can be ritual or sacramental. It cannot be such as the visionaries of John’s day imagined in their splendid dreams; in which abiding in the Christ, or in the Son, considered as an emanation or efflux of Deity, was a kind of absorption; a height of self-identification with some portion or manifestation of the Divine essence, or self-annihilation in it, to be reached by a long course of abstract musing on the first principles of things, or deep but vague contemplation of the eternal, infinite Being.
John’s idea of abiding in the Son is much humbler and more practical. We abide in the Son, as we may be said to abide in any one when his words abide in us,—or when that which we have heard of him, or from him, from the beginning, abides in us; when we understand and know him, by what he says and what we hear; when what we thus understand and know of him takes hold of us, carries our conviction, commands our confidence and love, fastens and rivets itself in our mind and heart, and so abides in us. Thus we abide in the Son precisely as we abide in a friend whom we know, and trust, and love.
Doubtless the Son in whom we abide transcends infinitely any such friend. In him are excellencies which are to be found in no other. In himself personally, and in his relation as the Son to the Father, there are riches of wisdom, knowledge, goodness, grace, and glory, which our “abiding in him” through eternity will not enable us thoroughly to search or ransack. Not when myriads of blessed ages in yonder realms of light have rolled over our heads will one tithe of all the wonders of him whose “name is Wonderful” have been discovered; no, not though our abiding in him there will be without a break and without a cloud. And what shall I say of the raptures of that personal intercourse and interchange of thought, feeling, and affection, in which our abiding in the Son then must mainly consist? Can any limit be set to the ravishing joy of our walking with him and his walking with us in Paradise—when we go in and out together—we seeing him without a vail,—and he, as he talks with us without reserve, causing our hearts to burn within us? And what comparison can there be, even now, between our abiding in him and our abiding in any other, even the best of friends?
Still it is important to remember, that we do abide in the Son very much as we abide in any other friend; it is important now, as well as in the apostle’s time. For there is a fancy abroad of a sort of abiding in the Son that may be to a large extent independent of his words, or words about him, abiding in us. There is a tendency to put a sort of sentimental pietism, itself undefined and hating definition, gazing with rapt and fascinated eye on a soul-melting “Agnus Dei” or “Ecce Homo,” seen in dim religious light, in the place of intelligent faith, or the engagement of mind and heart in personal converse with one who speaks and would be spoken to; of whom and from whom and about whom we hear and read, in the teaching of his own apostles, in the Scriptures of his own Spirit’s inspiration. These are practically set aside; or, at least, any attempt to make their statements yield precise information concerning Christ and his work is disparaged. A Son of God and Son of man, rising out of some deep soundings of divinity and humanity, is substituted for the Son of whom apostles spoke and disciples heard from the beginning. And abiding in him is not a plain, practical, personal dealing with him about that for which he came into the world, and has been manifested to us, to us as individuals one by one; but an attempt somehow to grasp the notion of abstract divinity and universal humanity being in him mysteriously at one. Let no such speculations beguile us. Rather “let that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us;” and let us thereby “abide in the Son;” using as the means of our abiding in him the Scriptures which we search, and which testify of him. Let us thus turn all that we learn into the materials of that personal communing of him with us and us with him, which is indeed the essence of our abiding in the Son.
All the rather let us do so because, secondly, this abiding in the Son is abiding in the Father; for the Father and the Son are one. Abiding in the Son, we enter into his relation to the Father, into the whole of it and into all its fruits. We enter into all that the Son is to the Father, as his chosen servant, as the man of his right hand, as his anointed, as his lamb, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, as his fellow, against whom his sword of justice awakes, as his smitten shepherd, as his victorious king set on his holy hill of Zion, as his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead. Into all that the Son is to the Father, in these and other similar views of his mediatorial character and ministry as the Son, we enter, when we abide in the Son. And so we come to be to the Father all that the Son is to the Father. We abide in the Father as the Son abides in the Father. So we abide in the Son and in the Father.
And still all this depends on our letting “that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us.” It depends on that faith which cometh by hearing, as hearing cometh by the word of God. In vain we look for any other mode of indwelling in God than that which is through the Spirit giving us a sympathising insight into what we have heard and may always hear in the gospel,—into what we have read and may always read in the Scriptures,—of the great transaction between the Father and the Son on which depend the expiation of our guilt, the forgiveness of our sin, the ending of our long estrangement, and the ratifying of our reconciliation and peace. By study, meditation and prayer, let us get more and more,—the Spirit helping us in our musings,—into the very heart of all “that we have heard from the beginning,” from the Father, of the Son; from the Son, of the Father. So we abide, more and more intelligently, more and more consciously, more and more believingly, lovingly, rejoicingly, “in the Son and in the Father.”
III. Of all this “the fruit is unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” For “this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.”
The meaning here may be that “the promise of eternal life” is superadded to the privilege or condition of our “abiding in the Son and in the Father,” that it is something over and above that, held out to us in prospect; or it may be that our “abiding in the Son and in the Father” is itself the very “life eternal” that is promised. The difference is not material; the two thoughts, or rather the two modifications of the same thought, run into one. “The promise that he hath promised us is eternal life.” And “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Hence we need inquire no farther at present into the nature of eternal life; nor need we conceive of it as an unknown boon held out in dim and distant prospect before us. We have only to work out what is implied in our “knowing the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” We have only to prove and realise more and more, in our experience, what it is to “abide in the Son and in the Father.” And that is the promise already fulfilled. That is “eternal life.” It is in a real and valid sense, the very life of God himself made ours.
For the life of God alone can be truly said to be life at all; it alone can be “life eternal.” All other life is but death; either death possibly impending, or death actually inflicted. At the very best, the life of an intelligent and responsible creature is, as it was in unfallen Adam, precarious; and if not doomed, at least liable, to death. In fallen Adam and his race, it is simply death; “the wages of sin is death,” “in the day thou eatest thou diest.” “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord;” “God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” For the Son liveth. It is “given to the Son to have life in himself, even as the Father hath life in himself.” This is a gift even to the Son, in our nature and in our stead. It is given to him, as one with us, our kinsman-redeemer; for he says, “Because I live ye shall live also.” Let us enter then into the life which the Son has by the gift of the Father; his past life of obedience to the Father and acceptance with the Father, on earth, his present life of fellowship with the Father in heaven. Let us apprehend that life as a reality. Let us apprehend the essence of it, which is really intercourse, blessed intercourse, between the Father and the Son; converse, communion conversation.
We have materials for this in “that which we have heard from the beginning,” if we let it “abide in us.” We have the Father speaking of and to the Son, and the Son speaking of and to the Father. That is the life of the Father and the Son; that is “life eternal.” And it is that which he has promised to us, even that very “life eternal;” the Father so speaking of and to us as he speaks of and to the Son; and we speaking of and to the Father as the Son speaks of and to the Father. It is that very life that is promised to us when we, “letting that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us, ourselves abide in the Father and the Son.”
Hence the Lord says (John 15:7): “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.” To ask; to be ever asking, and asking freely, confidently, boldly; is one way in which “eternal life,” or “abiding in the Son,” acts itself out. The very breath of that life is prayer. Hence also the Lord says (John 15:5): “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit;” for he partakes of my life; and my life is fruitful, abundantly, richly fruitful. The life which I have with God my Father is fruitful in all good works, to the praise of his glory. And if that very life is yours, through your abiding in me and in my Father; if your life is hid with me in God; then it must now be fruitful in you, as it was in me when I was as you now are; fruitful in all the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
XVII. The Guileless Spirit, Through the Abiding Messianic Unction and Illumination of the Holy Ghost, Abiding in Christ, so as to Have Confidence at His Coming
“These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” 1 John 2:26-28
THE discourse is still about abiding in God, in the Son and in the Father. And the special lesson taught is, that the security for our thus abiding in God is to be found, not in our resisting outward solicitations drawing us away from him, but in our having in ourselves an inward principle to keep us near and close to him. If we have not that, no warning, however faithful, against seducers will avail. If we have that, no such warning should be needed. And what is that? It is what has been already indicated in the twentieth verse; the “unction” or anointing which we “have from the Holy One.” Of that unction or anointing it is here testified, that its teaching is both thoroughly comprehensive and infallibly true; “It teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie.” The effect of its teaching is our abiding in him; “Even as it has taught you, ye shall abide in him;” or it may be put imperatively, “abide in him” “having this unction, and being taught by it, abide in him” with whom you share it. And you have the strongest inducement to abide in him; you and we alike. For we all look for his appearing; and must surely wish that, “when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
Two topics here occur for consideration—I. The provision made for our abiding in him; II. The motive urged for our abiding in him.
I. The provision made for our abiding in him is the “anointing which we receive of him abiding in us.” That anointing, as we have seen, is our sharing with him in the gift of the Holy Spirit. And it is an anointing which abideth in us. “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” So the Lord gives the promise of which John here attests the fulfilment. And it is with special reference to his teaching, illuminating, and enlightening grace, that both the Lord and the apostle speak of the Holy Spirit and his unction abiding in us. “He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you;”—“he shall guide you into all truth;”—“he shall take of mine and show it unto you.” That is the Lord’s way of describing the Spirit’s abiding presence and its use. And to that the apostle agrees. This anointing “teacheth you” and “hath taught you,” so that you need no further teaching; for “it teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie.” There is a fullness in its teaching that admits of no supplement, and an assurance that excludes all doubt.
Observe the manifold worth and value of this anointing.
1. It is in us; it is an inward anointing. Not with oil on the head, but with the Holy Spirit in the heart, we are anointed; as he from whom we receive the anointing was himself anointed. It is not an application or appeal from without; it is a gracious influence, a gracious movement or experience, in the inner man. It is beyond the world’s cognisance; “the world cannot receive the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him;” and it is only what it sees and knows by the palpable evidence of sense that the world can take in. But the inward work and witness of the Holy Spirit is apprehended by faith as real; as being really the indwelling in us of the Spirit that dwelt in Christ.
2. This anointing is permanent; “it abideth in you.” It is not a fitful emotion or wayward impulse, a rapture of excitement, alternating perhaps with deep depression. It partakes more of the nature of a calm, constant, settled conviction. Frames, feelings, fancies, are all fluctuating; they are like the surface waters of the ocean, agitated by every wind. But this inward anointing is far down in the still depths beneath. It “abideth in us;” the same always in its own inherent stillness and strength, amid whatever tossings its contact with the upper air may cause. Through tears and cries, as well as smiles and laughter, it abides in us the same; as it did in him who “rejoiced in the Spirit,” and who also “groaned in the Spirit.” “With our groanings which cannot be uttered,” the anointing Spirit, abiding in us, “maketh intercession for us;” and our joy, like Christ’s, is “in the Holy Spirit.” This unction then is not to be confounded with our own varying moods of mind, or the varying impressions made on us by things without. It is something far more stable. It gives a certain firm and fixed apprehension of divine things and persons, which these vicissitudes can scarcely interrupt or weaken, and cannot destroy. There may be more or less of the vivid sense of this anointing, at different seasons and in different circumstances; the signs of it may be more or less clearly discernible and the hold we have of it in our consciousness may be more or less strong. But it “abideth in us;” keeping God and eternity still before us as realities, in our sorest trials and darkest hours; causing us, as we fall back upon it, like David in his recovery from doubting despondency, to exclaim;—“I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High” (Psalms 77:10).
3. This anointing is sufficient in and of itself; its teaching needs no corroboration from any one; it has a divine self-evidencing power of its own that makes him who receives it independent of human testimony: “ye need not that any man teach you.” The gospel is its own witness; it carries in itself, as apprehended by this anointing, its own credentials. Like its author, it speaks as having authority, and approves itself experimentally to all who make trial of it. All this is through the anointing Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we are moved to make trial of the gospel; it is by the Spirit that the gospel is so applied and brought home to us,—in its sovereignty, as God speaking, and in its special and pointed adaptation to our case, as God speaking to us,—that we cannot but say in our hearts, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” This is “the anointing which we have received of him;” it is the Holy Spirit causing us to “taste and see how good he is.” And this is the real ground and evidence of our faith; that faith which realises the fulfilment of the great covenant promise, “They shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
4. The teaching of this anointing is complete and thorough, all-embracing, all-comprehensive; “it teacheth you of all things.” It is not partial, or one-sided, as human teaching on divine subjects is apt to be; but full-orbed, well-rounded, like a perfect circle. It is not, of course, all things absolutely that this anointing teaches; but all things about the theme or subject of the teaching: about him from whom you receive it, and whose it is. Of the very best of human systems, I suppose that every spiritual man will feel and confess, that it is not on all points satisfying; it cannot but bear the marks of man’s confined standing-ground and restricted range of vision. This is no disparagement of such human systems, when used as helps to the orderly understanding and right arrangement of the several parts of the truth of God. But it indicates the limit to their use. They cannot come in place of the Holy Spirit’s teaching us the words of Christ. Even at the best, when the intellect is most pleased with the symmetry and beauty of a finished theological scheme, the spiritual mind, or rather the spiritual heart, feels that all is not there; that there is something wanting of what passes between the living God and the living soul when peace is made between them; that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in man’s best divinity. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant.” It needs the divine anointing of which we speak to teach, to unfold, to exhaust, all that is in the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
5. Finally, this anointing “is truth, and is no lie.” It carries with it, and in it, an assurance not to be called in question or shaken; an assurance, one may say, infallibly sure.
But you ask, Though I may be assured of the anointing itself that “it is truth and no lie;” how may I be assured that my having it is truth and no lie? And without this last assurance what will the other avail? Nay, it avails much. Even apart from the question of your assured personal interest in it, and your assured personal experience of it, is it not much to know and believe assuredly that in itself, in its own proper nature and working, this anointing is very truth, and verily is no lie? Is it not something to be told that there is such an oil of gladness, such a precious ointment, poured out upon the High-Priest’s head, and running over upon all his members; the oil, the ointment of the Spirit, teaching of all things, and teaching of them with absolute certainty? You know what the things are of which his anointing teaches; they are the things, which belong to God’s glory and your peace. But you will not he content with knowing them merely as discoveries of your own, or as communicated by others. Know them as taught to you and attested to you; above all, as wrought out and acted out in you; by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Proceed upon the faith of your thus knowing them, in the expectation of your thus knowing them, more and more. And do so, not doubting, but believing assuredly, that “the anointing which teacheth you of them is truth and is no lie.”
Yes! “There is truth and no lie” in what the Spirit shows you of the love of God in Christ, and sheds abroad in your heart of that love; be sure of that, and be not afraid to act upon the assurance of it. “There is truth and no lie” in what the Spirit opens up to you of’ the free-ness and fullness of the Father’s overtures of mercy in the Son; be sure of that, and be not afraid to act upon the assurance of it. “There is truth and no lie” in what the Spirit would have you to grasp of” the peace which passeth understanding, the hope that maketh not ashamed, and the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory;” be sure of that, and be not afraid to act upon the assurance of it. “There is truth and no lie” in “that which ye have heard from the beginning so abiding in you that you abide in the Son and in the Father. That really is “the anointing which is truth and is no lie.” Be sure of that, and be not afraid to act out and out upon the assurance of it.
Thus receiving of the Lord Christ this anointing, you may well be proof against all seducing anti-Christs (1 John 2:26). And not otherwise can you be proof against them; for not otherwise can you abide in him. “Abide in me,” he says, “and I in you.” Abide in me; and that you may abide in me, let me abide in you. Let my word dwell in you richly; and my Spirit, giving to my word fragrance to fill the whole heart with the sweet savour of my name, as well as also penetrating power to reach every hard corner of the heart with the softening influence of my grace. Yes; let Christ dwell in your hearts by faith. Let the anointing Spirit infuse into your whole inner man the holy beauty, the meekness, the gentleness of Christ. Let his anointing mould and mellow your whole moral nature into a real identity with that of Christ. Thus becoming assimilated to him, growing up into him, you more and more closely and surely abide in him, and so are safe from “all them that would seduce you.” No other security, in fact, will suffice; not your utmost vigilance against their lies, but the full indwelling in you of the truth, and the Spirit of the truth.
II. The motive urged for your abiding in Christ is the hope or prospect of “his appearing,” “his coming.” It is urged very earnestly and affectionately. There is a tender emphasis in the appeal “And now, little children!” Nor is the change of person, from the second to the first, insignificant—“that we—”
John might have kept to the mode of address which he has been using, and to which in the next verse he returns; as an apostle exhorting his disciples; a teacher instructing his scholars; speaking authoritatively or ex cathedra. But when the end of all comes in view, he cannot separate himself from them. We are to be together with the Lord, you and we; you disciples and we apostles; you scholars and we teachers. And for this end we would have you to abide in him, that we may have confidence together when he appears.
John had said at the outset, “That which we,” who are apostles, “have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us,” the same fellowship that we have, “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Our object is to make you joint partakers with us in what might seem to be our distinctive privilege as apostles, our having seen the Lord. That is our aim in all that we write to you. With a view to that we tell you of the light in which we may jointly walk together, and of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which cleanseth us all alike from all sin. With a view to that we warn you against having any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. With a view to that we remind you of the anointing which you as well as we have received of Christ, the Holy One. With a view to that we counsel you to abide in him; that as there is no real difference now between you and us, there may be none hereafter, when it would be final and fatal; that when he shall appear, we may altogether appear with him in glory; that you and we alike “may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” For we all alike need to be admonished of this risk.
And what a thought! what a contingency or possibility to be imagined! “To be ashamed before him at his coming!” It is a very strong expression. It carries us back to that old scene in Paradise when it was lost. The guilty pair “hear the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden, in the cool of the day.” And they shrink with shame from him “at his coming.” Is it thus that we should shrink at his coming now? Were he at this moment to appear, how would we feel? What would be our first impulse, our instinct? To run to meet him, or to shrink from him in shame? There are those who at the coming of the Lord shall “hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Would we be among that terrified multitude, that woeful crowd. It is to have in it not a little of the pomp and fashion of the world; “kings of the earth, great men, rich men, chief captains, mighty men, as well as bond and free men, without number.” They may know no shame or fear now; unused to blush, or be abashed, or tremble in any presence, however they may force others to blush, and be abashed, and tremble before them. But at the Lord’s appearing, their brave, bold looks are gone. Ashamed, alarmed, despairing, they shrink from him. Surely we would not be of that miserable crew. Nay, fear apart, we who believe and love him would not wish to be found by him, at his coming, in any mood of mind, in any attitude of body, in any company, at any work, in any pleasure, over any book, that would cause even a momentary shrinking from him in shame. We would not choose to be so caught by him and taken by surprise; when we were not thinking of him, or serving him; when perhaps we were tempted to be ashamed of him, or of one of his saints, or of some things about his cause and kingdom, before those who happened to be our associates at the time;—so caught, I say, and taken by surprise, as to wish for a moment’s delay, that we might get over our nervous flutter and confusion, and summon courage to bid him welcome.
Who is he who comes? And for what it is not “he whom our soul loveth,” our Saviour, friend, brother, who has gone to prepare a place for us among the many mansions of his Father’s house? And for what does he come? To take us to himself, that where he is we may be also. Can we tolerate the idea of being ashamed before him when he comes, and comes on such an errand? Ah! if we would be safe from any such risk then, let us “abide in him” now; “abide in him” always. So, “when he shall appear, we may have confidence.”
Let me be ever asking myself, at every moment, If he were to appear now, would I have confidence? If he were to come into my house, my room, and show himself, and speak to me face to face; would I have confidence? Could I meet his look of love without embarrassment? Only if he found me “abiding in him” doing whatever I might be doing “in his name, giving thanks unto God even the Father by him;” only if he found me keeping him in my heart.
Let us then be always abiding in him; every day, every hour, every instant; even as we would wish to be found abiding in him, were he to appear this very day, this very hour, this very instant. He is about to appear; to appear suddenly; to come quickly. Oh let us see to it, that as we would not wish him to come when we were in such a state as to cause shrinking from him in shame; as we would rather that when he appears we were in a position to spring forward with keen eye and outstretched arm, to welcome in all confidence him whom we love; let us see to it that we “abide in him.” Let us be always in the posture in which he who gives his “little children” this counsel was himself when he closed the book of the Revelation. “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly, Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Part Second. Intermediate Condition of the Divine Fellowship—Righteousness (1 John 2:28 to 1 John 4:6)
XVIII. Ground or Reason of this Condition in the Righteous Nature of God—The New Birth unto Righteousness
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.”—1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:1
THE apostle passes to a new thought or theme; a new view of the fellowship in which he would have us to be partakers with himself and all the apostles. It is “fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” He has viewed it as a fellowship of light. He now views it as a fellowship of righteousness. “God is light,”—that is the key-note to the former view. “God is righteous,”—that is the keynote to the present view. It is introductory to the third,—“God is love.”
For it is an indispensable condition of this fellowship with God that we realise in ourselves, and in our doings, what is in accordance with his nature. If therefore it is his nature to be righteous, it must be our nature to do righteousness. But that to us is a new nature. It implies that we are born of him to whose nature ours is to be conformed; that we are “born of God.”
“Born of God!” The idea seems to strike John’s mind with fresh astonishment. Familiar as it is, he sees in it, as it here occurs to him, new cause of wonder; “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” For this rapturous exclamation in the beginning of the third chapter is based on the principle of sonship brought out in the last verse of the second; “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.”
The starting-point in this new line of argument is the statement that “God is righteous.” It is analogous to that given before, that “God is light.” And as there, so here, the inference is obvious. Only the doer of righteousness can be really born of him, and the doer of righteousness certainly is so.
For to be born of God implies community of nature between him and us. I cannot be really his child unless I am possessed of the same nature with him. So the Lord Jesus himself teaches in two remarkable passages (Matthew 5:5-45, John 8:38-44). In both of these passages, but especially in the last, there is a general principle involved. A family likeness, in features of character as well as of countenance, will betray an evil paternity, and must prove a good one; “I speak that which I have seen with my Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” You say that you are Abraham’s children. If that were true, you would do the works of Abraham. He would not like you have sought to kill me, for telling the truth which I have heard of God. But I will tell you whose children you are, and who is your father. It is he whose deeds you do. You reply, We have one Father, even God. Nay; if God were your Father, you would do the work of your Father, which is “loving me;” for he loveth me. But you reject me, and so prove that, in spite of your claim to be God’s children, your actual paternity is very different; “Ye are of your father the devil.”
John may have had these words of his Master in his mind when he wrote down the brief and pithy maxim, “God is righteous, and every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” His object is to supply a searching test by which our abiding in God may be surely tried. For our abiding in God is our abiding in the Son; and through our abiding in the Son, abiding in the Father, as the Son abides in the Father. But that implies our being “born of God.” It is as “born of God” that the Son abides in the Father. And it must be as “born of God” that we, abiding in the Son, abide in the Father as he does.
The practical way of proving so high and holy a filiation is very simple: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” It is a mode of proof which may, without irreverence, be applied in the first instance to the Son himself. We have his own warrant for so applying it (John 15:9-10). It is by keeping his Father’s commandments that he, as the Sons born of the Father, abides in the Father’s love. As the Father is known by him as righteous, so he, doing righteousness, is proved to be born of him. He doeth the works of his Father, and so evinces his sonship.
All through, the stress is laid on righteousness. That is the distinguishing characteristic which identifies him that is born of God; the common quality connecting what he does as born of God with the nature of him of whom he is born. Already this attribute of righteousness has been brought prominently forward in this epistle. God is righteous in forgiving sin (1 John 1:9). Jesus Christ is righteous as our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). But it is in the section on which we are now entering that righteousness bulks most largely.
“God is righteous;” that is his perfection. We are to “know that he is righteous.” His Son, born of him, knew this; “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee, but I have known thee.” I have known that thou art righteous. It is a great matter to know that, in the midst of a world that knows it not.
For does the world know that God is righteous? Have “the workers of iniquity” that knowledge, when “they eat up God’s people like bread, and say God seeth not”? when they call not upon the name of the Lord? when they do deeds of darkness, and, because he keeps silence, think that he is altogether such an one as themselves?. Do we know that God is righteous? That God is kind, compassionate, merciful, bountiful,—all that we can easily know. Such knowledge is not too wonderful for us; it is not high or unattainable. But that he is righteous! Have we a fixed and firm knowledge of that? Do we understand what it means? Do we grasp the meaning of it and hold it fast?
Ah! it is not natural for us to do so. That God is righteous, absolutely and perfectly righteous;—that he thinks and feels and purposes and acts, always according to what ought to be, and never in accommodation to what is; that he makes uncompromising rectitude the rule of all his judgments and proceedings in all his dealings with men;—that he is not facile and bending, open to appeals and appliances from without, but inherently and unalterably righteous;—to know that; really to know it as a fact, and a great fact; true now and true for eternity; ah! such knowledge is not easy for me, a guilty and fallen man. It is not possible, unless I am “born of God.”
Jesus knew it; he knew the righteous Father. Born of God, he knew that God is righteous; and he did righteousness accordingly. How thoroughly he did so, let some cases in which he might have been tempted to do otherwise attest.
1. I cite an instance already referred to in a somewhat different connection. A young man comes to him asking the way to eternal life. He is rich, amiable, good; a keeper of the commandments from his youth; ingenuous, attractive, sincere; so that Jesus beholding him loveth him. May he not stretch a point in this goodly youth’s favour? May he not accept his goodness as being, if not all that strict law requires, yet on the whole sufficient? No. He knows that God is righteous. And, knowing that, he doeth righteousness, though his doing it drives the youth away, with what issue who can tell?
2. He draws near Jerusalem, and beholds the city. It is inexpressibly dear to him. If other Israelites hailed it as beautiful for situation, and boasted of it as the joy of the whole earth, the city of the great king; the great king himself may well have a favour for it. The anguish of his human soul, as he contemplates its present security and coming desolation, must be all but intolerable. Can there be no help? Is no indulgence possible for his own chosen city’s sin? May no miracle be wrought sufficient to rouse it to repentance? He knows that God is righteous; and he doeth righteousness. He weeps in the doing of it. The city’s fate rings his heart. But what can he say? What but “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”
3. He is in the garden; praying the prayer of agony; sweating great drops of blood. The cup is handed to him; the cup of woe; the cup of wrath; the cup of his Father’s judicial reckoning with him as answerable for all his people’s sins. “Father, if it be possible!” May it not be possible? Is there no way of salvation but through the shedding of my blood? No. He knows that God is righteous; and he doeth righteousness. “Father, thy will be done!”
Thus it is plainly seen that he is born of God. He knows the righteous Father. And knowing him as the righteous Father, he doeth righteousness as his only begotten Son.
You who believe are born of God as he is. I speak of his human birth; in which you, in your new birth, are partakers with him; the same Spirit of God being the agent in both, and originating in both the same new life. His birth was humiliation to him, though it was of God: your new birth is exaltation to you, because it is of God. His being born of God by the Spirit made him partaker of your human nature;—your being born again of God by the Spirit makes you partakers of his “divine nature.” You, thus born of God, come to be of the same mind with him who is the first begotten of the Father; especially as regards your knowing that God is righteous, and that it is, therefore, and must be, the impulse and characteristic of every one that is born of him to do righteousness. For if you are thus born of God, must you not be as thoroughly on his side, as unreservedly in his interest, in the great outstanding controversy between his righteousness and man’s sin, as is his well-beloved Son himself?
Is it really so? Was he ever seen as infirm and irresolute, as weak and wavering, in his moral judgments, as you too frequently are in yours? Was he ever equivocal or feeble in his utterances about God’s claims, and man’s duty, and man’s guilt? Did he ever hesitate to act upon the principle: “Let God be true and every man a liar?”
Nor will it do to say that he had not so much inducement as you have to tamper with God’s righteousness, and be disloyal to his throne. Personally, it is true that he had no need to have recourse to any expedient of accommodation or compromise. God’s judicial righteousness and his acceptance in God’s sight never could come into collision. Never could he have occasion to desire that God were less righteous than he is, in order that there might be hope for him. But when I think of him as taking my place, bearing my sin, receiving in his bosom the sword that should have smitten me; can I say that he had no cause to wish, had it been possible, that God might be less inflexibly and inexorably righteous than he there and then found him to be? And when I think of the exquisite tenderness of his sensibility; how he could not witness human suffering unmoved, or see a human soul perish, or run the hazard of perishing, without a tear;—I can scarcely fancy it less difficult for him than for me to acquiesce complacently in God’s righteousness reigning, as it must reign, not only “through grace unto eternal life,” but through wrath unto everlasting death. But that is what is implied in knowing that God is righteous. And to do righteousness, is to think and speak and act accordingly. It is to be unflinching and unfaltering in preferring God’s righteousness to man’s sin. It is to justify God’s righteousness and condemn man’s sin, with an entire and utter abandonment of all attempts, and even of all desire, to make terms between them. It is to proclaim internecine war between them; yes, even though the issue should be the triumph of God’s righteousness in the sinner’s inevitable ruin.
A hard saying this! Who can hear it? A heavy burden! Who can bear it? Who that is not born of God? Who but one who reaches, by the new birth, the position which the Son, in his birth, took as his? Who but one who, born again of the Spirit as he was born of the Spirit, comes to occupy the same point of view that he did; to see righteousness and sin, God’s righteousness and man’s sin, as he saw them; and to deal with them as he dealt with them in all his ministry, and especially on the cross.
First, in him, and with him,—born of God into fellowship with him in his birth,—you enter into that doing of righteousness on his part, which was the main design of his being born; which brings into perfect harmony, not God’s righteousness and man’s sin, but God’s righteousness and man’s salvation from sin. This is your first step, as born of God; and it is all-important for yourselves, and for your fellow-men. It places you on the very vantage-ground on which the Son himself stood, when, coming into the world, he surveyed its sad, sinful case, in the light of the will of God which he came to do, and the righteousness of God which he came to vindicate and fulfil. It enables you to draw the line sharp and dear, as he did, between that loving embrace of him and his cross which wins salvation for the chief of sinners from a righteous God, and in a way of perfect righteousness, that rejection of him which seals the fate of the very best of those who, refusing his righteous justifying mercy, brave his righteous retributive wrath. Thus, knowing for yourselves, in and with Christ, that God is righteous, you do righteousness, as he did.
And thus also, in your customary intercourse with other men, you act upon the deep conviction that God is righteous; that his righteousness admits of no relaxation; that there is between it and all manner of iniquity a terrible incompatibility; that there is one only way in which the workers of iniquity can be righteously delivered; and that all who are not found in that way, be they ever so respectable, ever so amiable, are righteously condemned. Fully to realise that assurance, and to act upon it, without any wavering;—as if you still regarded being in Christ of little moment or being out of Christ of little peril;—so to live in your closet and in the world, at home and abroad, under the constant urgent sense of there being safety only in Christ, and only ruin out of Christ, for you, for all, for any;—that is to do righteousness, in the knowledge that God is righteous.
Ah! what an insight into the righteous nature and character of God; what a measure of cordial oneness of principle and sentiment with him; entering into his very mind and heart; does all this involve! How far removed is it from that loose, easy-going sort of Christian virtue which would not itself do iniquity, but is very tolerant of those who do it; not, like Lot’s righteous soul, vexed with evil; nor, like Lot, preaching righteousness; but rather prone to look on sin with indifference or complacency, and to let the sinner go on, without warning or entreaty, to his doom. If you know that God is righteous, and make conscience of doing righteousness accordingly, you cannot be thus tame and acquiescent; thus cold and callous. To you, righteousness, God’s righteousness, is not a name but a reality. To be conformed to it, to submit to it, is life. To be ignorant of it, or opposed to it, or far from it, is death. Do you know that? Do you know it so as to feel it for others as well as for yourselves? Can you look out upon the world that knows not the righteous Father, and not be more in earnest than you are.
“Who is on the Lord’s side—who?” Who is in the interest of the “righteous Father”? Who is he whose soul burns within him at the thought of the righteous Father being so little known?—-whose bowels of compassion melt at the sight of men perishing in the world that know him not? Truly he is “born of God.” None but one born of God can be so like his only-begotten Son.
Is not this a position eminently high and holy? Is it not a position, our occupancy of which may well be matter of surprise even to ourselves? Does it not imply a wondrous manner of love bestowed on us by the Father, that on such a footing, in such a sense, and for such an end, “we should be called the sons of God?”—born of him; so born of him as to do righteousness, even as he is righteous; to uphold practically the very righteousness which is his essential characteristic, the peculiar and consummate glory of his infinitely perfect nature I do not speak now, at least not yet, of the amazing love manifested by the Father in the provision made for our being called or constituted his sons, through the giving up of his own dear Son for us, to bear our guilt as criminals, that we may share with him his grace and glory as the Son. What at present we have to consider is, not how we become sons of God, but rather what it is to be sons of God; what oneness of nature and character, of sentiment and sympathy, of feeling and action, between God and us,—especially in respect of that righteousness of his which we thus come to know,—our being his sons, or being born of him, implies. He would have us to be his sons, as he had Jesus to be his Son, when he was on the earth; knowing him as the “righteous Father,” and doing righteousness as he is righteous. He would have us, as his sons, to be true and loyal to him, as Jesus his Son was, in the great outstanding controversy of his righteousness with the world’s sin; as faithful; and as tender too. He would have us, as his sons, to go on the very errand on which his Son, as his righteous servant, went; and in his very spirit; with the law of God in our heart, and rivers of water running down our eyes because men will not keep that law.
Ah! to be thus the sons of God; as thoroughly at one with God as Jesus his Son was; witnessing everywhere and evermore that God is righteous; righteous to punish; righteous to forgive and save! What an attainment! What a responsibility! What a rank! Well may it prompt the abrupt ejaculation,—“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
XIX. The Divine Birth—The Family Likeness
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called [the] sons” [children] “of God!” [and so we are!] “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him” [God] “not. Beloved, now are we [the] sons” [children] “of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear” [when that shall appear “we shall be like him” [God]; “for we shall see him as he is.”—1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:2
 As explanatory of my exposition, I must advert to one or two points of verbal detail, in regard to the reading and interpretation of these verses. First, in almost all the most authoritative manuscripts of this book,—though not in that which is called the received text, and which was in use when our translation was made,—there is a brief phrase inserted after “that we should be called the sons of God;”—“and so we are.” These words are now generally admitted to be genuine. The sense is not really affected, whether they are allowed or excluded; for undoubtedly, according to common usage, “being called the sons of God” means actually becoming the sons of God. But they add to the emphasis of this noble appeal; and they are characteristic of the writer. Secondly, the pronoun “he,” “him,” is in these verses to be understood always of God the Father. It must be so understood in the first verse of the third chapter; and consistency requires it to be so understood throughout; all the rather since otherwise the sense is broken, instead of being complete. But thirdly, what is most important is the phrase, “when he shall appear.” It is that which leads readers of our translation to bring in our Lord Jesus Christ, as if he must be the party referred to; especially as they are apt to connect the phrase with what is said before of “his coming” (2:28). But there is no pronoun at all here in the original; and what is supplied should be “it,” rather than “he.” The connection is not with the remoter passage, in a previous section, now ended, but with what goes before in the very same verse: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when that does appear, we shall be like him;” like God whose sons we are; “for we shall see him as he is.”
THE first verses of the third chapter are to be viewed as inseparable from the last verse of the second. It is that verse which starts the new line of thought; our “knowing that God is righteous, and doing ‘righteousness accordingly,” in virtue of our “being born of him.” Born of him! That is what awakens John’s grateful surprise, and occasions his exclamation, “Behold, what manner of love!” His discourse now is an expansion of that thought.
I. In every view that can be taken of it, our being called the sons of God is a wonderful instance of the Father’s love. That we—Who? The lost and guilty; who have forfeited by sin whatever claim we might have on God originally; who have become rebels against his authority and criminals under the sentence of his law; who, if left to ourselves, would rather continue estranged from him for ever than consent to return and be reconciled to him in peace;—That such as we should be called the sons of God! And then how? Through his own Son making common cause with us, that we may have a common standing with him; and by his own Spirit making us willing, almost against our wills, to acquiesce in that arrangement. And to what effect? That we may be to him what his own Son is to him; the objects of the same love; sharers of the same rank. Well may we exclaim, “Behold what manner of love!”
But it is chiefly one element or feature in this high calling that the apostle has before him when he breaks out into this rapturous exclamation; our being the sons of God as “born of him” (2:29); our undergoing a divine birth which, making us partakers of the divine nature, makes us thereby really and truly children of God; children, in a sense, by nature; and therefore fitly acknowledged as children.
Observe the peculiar turn of expression. As exactly rendered, it is not that we should be called “the sons,” but rather, that we should be called “children,” of God. It is not said merely that we are called his sons, as having him standing to us in the relation of a Father; but that we are called his children; his divinely-born children; deriving from a divine birth a divine nature; children of God, in respect of our being born of God.
Of course this last view does not exclude the other; on the contrary, they virtually coincide. The thought of our being born of God immediately suggests the thought of the Father’s love. It is fatherly love that explains our being called children of God in virtue of our being born of God. It is the very glory and perfection of the love which the Father bestows on us, that we are thus called or constituted children of God. For it is conceivable that in some other way, and on some other footing, we might be called children of God.
In point of fact, men dream of their being God’s children altogether irrespectively of any new divine birth,—anything like “being born of God.” Paul, at Athens, quoted a Greek poet as saying, “We are also his offspring.” From him we have our origin, and “in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Simply as his dependent offspring, we may think that we are entitled to be called his children, and to call him Father. We may speak of his love in creating us and caring for us as fatherly love. It is not however really so, in any valid scriptural sense. At any rate it is not the “manner of love” which John thinks it so amazing a wonder that the Father should have bestowed upon us in our being called children of God.
Again, our being “called children of God” may be considered simply as an act of adoption, very much analogous to what is practised among men. Viewed in that light, it is unquestionably an instance of fatherly love; and fatherly love of no ordinary kind. It is as if a judge were not only to procure a pardon for the criminal he has doomed to death, and hand it to him on the scaffold as he is awaiting execution; but were to take him home, and, by a legal deed, constitute him his son and heir; or as if the monarch were to admit into the royal household a vanquished and forgiven rebel, to be on the same filial terms with him, and enjoy the same filial privileges, as his own first-begotten.
Or take the better example of the reception of the prodigal son. The sympathising witnesses of that scene of reconciliation might well utter the ejaculation, Behold, what manner of love the father has bestowed on him! He himself could never cease to feel the wonder of it. And yet even this is not the manner of love that awakens John’s admiring rapture; or at least not the whole of it. The parable, for its purpose, is complete, although it takes no express notice of anything on the father’s part but his welcoming his son, “once dead but now alive,—once lost but now found;” or anything on the son’s part but his “coming to himself and going to his father.” But he who uttered the parable spoke of our being “born again;” “born of the Spirit;” as explicitly as his beloved disciple speaks here of our being “born of God.” And we cannot know what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us in our being called the children of God, unless we realise our being so in virtue of this new divine birth. Here the parable does not help; it may even, if taken alone, mislead. It teaches its own lesson; but it does not teach the whole truth of God on the subject of our being “called children of God.” The prodigal’s mind underwent a mighty revolution with reference to his father and his father’s house. It must have done so before he could be willing, either to accept the father’s terms of pardon and peace, or to accommodate himself afterwards to the father’s character and way of life; and without such willingness he could not have been really his son. That surely implied a great change of mind, which the parable, however, does not fully, or indeed at all explain.
But we know well, as spiritual men, how the corresponding change in our nature must be wrought. We must be born of God; so born of God that it shall be as truly our nature to do righteousness as it is his nature to be righteous. It is not merely that we need to be made willing to embrace his righteous overtures of mercy, in order to our personal acceptance in his sight. That doubtless requires that we should be born of God; for no man ever yet was found willing to know and submit to the righteousness of God, or unreservedly to consent to be “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ,” without so thorough a revolution in his whole inner man, so complete an abandonment of his own way of peace, and such entire acquiescence in that of God, as could only come from his being indeed born of God. To be born of God to this effect, to the effect of our coming to be of the same mind with him, in the great and vital matter of a sinner’s justification, and our justification as sinners;—that is much. It is the proof or manifestation of a fatherly love bestowed on us that is of a very wonderful sort indeed. But that is not all. Not only are we to be of one mind with the righteous Father as to the manner of our return and reconciliation to him; we are so born of God as to be ever after of the same mind with him, as to the whole of his righteous laws, and his righteous administration of them; “doing righteousness as we know that he is righteous.” That is what his heart is set upon; that is his fatherly love. It goes far beyond his simply consenting to regard us, in spite of all our estrangement, as still his children, if we consent to be so regarded. It is very different from his merely passing an act of indemnity, and by a summary and sovereign process of will, executing, as it were, a deed whereby we are declared to be in law his children. That is all the love which a father can bestow in adopting a child, according to the usages of earth. But it is not all that our Father in heaven bestows upon us, when we are called children of God. He contemplates a far more thorough filiation, a more intensely real sonship, than what can result from any such transaction outside of us;—any agreement between him and us, however generous and gracious. He “begets us” to himself (James 1:18); “we are born of God,” by an inward communication of his nature to us. He must have us to be, not titular, but real and actual children; children by participation of nature as well as by deed of adoption; by a new creation as well as a new covenant; of one mind and heart, of one character and moral frame with himself; “doing righteousness,” as we “know that he is righteous;”—so, and no otherwise, “born of him.”
“Behold what manner of love” is this that “the Father hath bestowed upon us!” That in such a sense, and to such an effect, the righteous God should be bent on our “being called his children;” his very children; his children in respect of our being made partakers of his righteous nature as God! Truly it is a love which it would never have entered into man’s heart to conceive, that in this marvellous way of such a new birth, “we should be called children of God.”
II. And we are his children; “Beloved, now are we children of God.” Our being called children of God is a reality; our being born of God makes it so. The world may not know us in that character, for “it knows not God,” and has never known him. We “know that God is righteous;” but the world does not so know him, has not so known him, will not and cannot so know him. How then should it know us, when, born of God, we do righteousness as he is righteous? On the contrary, for this very reason, because we are called children of God, and indeed are so,—therefore “the world knoweth us not.”
In this respect our position in the world is identical with that of Christ himself. He was called the Son of God, and was so; therefore the world did not own him any more than it owns us; because “it knew not him whose Son he was.”
That same world has not known God since, any more than it did before; his children have still to live in the midst of a world that knows not him, and therefore will not know them. This is their trial, as it was Christ’s. And in one respect it is to them, if not a sorer or more painful, yet a more perilous trial, than it was to him. If the world knew not him, he in a corresponding sense knew not it. If the world had no sympathy with him in what he knew of the righteous Father, he had no sympathy with the world in what it thought of the righteous Father. If men, not knowing God whose only begotten and well beloved Son he was, could not enter into his deep views of God’s righteous character and claims, he had no leaning toward their loose notion of all in God’s government being made to bend and give way to them, that they might not die. That never could be his infirmity. But it is ours; it is our temptation. Children of God as we are called, and really are; “born of God,” so as to be partakers of his nature, and to “do righteousness as he is righteous;” we are not so thoroughly rid of the old nature but that still we have too strong an inclination to think as the world thinks, and feel as the world feels, about the righteous God and his righteousness.
Especially when there comes to be a heavy strain upon us as God’s children; and a strong case is made out for some concession; and we begin to doubt if we have not been too stiff and strict in refusing this or that compliance, or condemning this or that liberty and ask if we might not perhaps do more good, and better serve the cause of righteousness and a righteous God, by being a little less precise and more accommodating. Yes; we might in that way disarm somewhat the world’s hostility, and win a character for amiable courtesy and a liberal spirit. The world might come to know us, so as to like us better than it does now; better than it likes our more scrupulous brethren. But would not its knowing us in that way be just in proportion to our ceasing so far practically to be God’s children, “doing righteousness as he is righteous?” Let us be upon our guard against so great a danger. Let us lay our account with having to judge and act on principles which the world cannot understand. Let us be God’s children indeed; though on that very account the world that has not known God should not know us.
III. For, whatever the world may think or say, “we are the children of God,” his dear children; sharers of his divine nature; the objects of his fatherly love. It concerns us to bear this in mind; to apprehend and feel it to be true. It is our safety to do so. It is what is due to ourselves; it is what God expects, and has a right to expect, from us.
And it is especially on our community of nature with God, as being “born of him” and so “called his children,” that we are to dwell. It is not so much with a view to heighten our sense of privilege, as to deepen our sense of obligation, that John so emphatically repeats this assertion;—“Now are we the children of God.” It is our nature, as such, being born of God, to “do righteousness, as we know him to be righteous.” That is a new nature in us, and it is to be cultivated, exercised, developed, ripened. The field in which it is to grow and be matured is not at all congenial or favourable. It is the world, which not knowing him who begets, cannot be expected to know us who are begotten of him. It is the world, whose influences are all hostile to what is the great characteristic of the new nature in us which our being born of God creates, our “doing righteousness as we know that God is righteous.” Still that is our nature; our new nature: “Now are we the children of God.” And be the world ever so unpropitious in its atmosphere and soil, we are here in it as “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,” to grow as his children, “that he may be glorified.”
That is what is John’s chief design, in reminding us, in this connection, that we are the children of God. Other views are not to be excluded. The high rank in God’s kingdom; the intimate, familiar footing in his house; the warm place in his heart; which that wondrous manner of love bestowed upon us in our being called his children implies;—these all are animating and spirit-stirring motives to face the worst the world can do to us, through its not knowing us any more than it knows him whose children we are. It is a legitimate source of comfort and encouragement when, disallowed of men, we have to fall back upon “the witness of the Spirit, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and if children then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” It is, moreover, a strong and telling appeal that is made to our sense of honour, to every noble and generous impulse of the new nature in us, when we are reminded that we are sent as God’s children into the very midst of a world that knows neither our Father nor ourselves; and sent for this very end, that we may approve ourselves to be his children indeed; and may “let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” In the face of the world’s ignorance of us and of our Father, and its ignorant opposition to us and to our Father; though the world may refuse to acknowledge us as God’s children, and give us credit for being what we profess to be; still let us not lose our own sense of the reality of what we are. Let us stay ourselves on the conviction that our being God’s children is not a matter of opinion, dependent on the world’s vote, but a matter of fact, flowing from the amazing manner of love which the Father hath bestowed upon us. And let us be put, as the saying is, upon our mettle, to make good our claim to be God’s children, by such a manifestation of our oneness of nature with him of whom we are born, as may, by God’s blessing, overcome some of the world’s ignorant unbelief, and lead some of the world’s children to try that manner of love for themselves, to taste and see how good the Lord is.
These are important and relevant practical considerations, to which we do well to give heed.
But they must not thrust aside the apostle’s main design, which is that our own personal holiness may be preserved and may grow. We are the children of God, as born of him; so born of him as to have the great fundamental principle of his righteous nature wrought and implanted in us. And our task, our trial, our probation, is, to give that principle fair play and full scope, in opposition to the world which disowns it; to act out all that is implied in our being God’s children, in the very heart of the world which knows neither him nor us; to grow in filial likeness and filial love to God amid all the adverse influences of the world’s ignorant ungodliness. “Now are we the children of God,” as being “born of him;” having his moral image stamped upon us; his moral nature formed in us. That is what we are ever more and more to realise ourselves to be, amid all the drawbacks and disadvantages of our present state.
IV. And we are to do so all the rather, because these drawbacks and disadvantages will not last long. We are only at the beginning of our life as God’s children. What we are, in that character, we grasp, or try to grasp, by faith; “what we shall be does not yet appear.” But it is to appear soon. And one thing we know about it is, that our participation in God’s nature, as his children, must then be perfect, for our knowledge of him will be perfect: “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This suggests two thoughts.
In the first place, what is set before us, as matter of hope in the future life, is not something different from what is to be attained, enjoyed, and improved by us, as matter of faith, and of the experience of faith, in the present life. It is not that now we are the children of God, and that hereafter we are to be something else, or something more. The sole and simple contrast is between what we are now, as children of God, and what we shall be hereafter as such. “Now we are the children of God;” “born of him;” partakers of his nature; “doing righteousness, as he is righteous,” in the midst of a world that knows us not as doing righteousness, any more than it knows him, the righteous Father, whose righteousness we do. But “the world passes away, and the lust thereof;” and, lo! “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness!” What shall we then be as children of God, in a new world, that knows both him and us, all whose arrangements and ongoings are in sympathy with him and us? “It doth not yet appear.” There is a veil hiding that glory from our eyes; and John does not lift it.
But, secondly, one thing he tells us plainly enough. When it does appear what we are to be; when that is no more hidden but disclosed; we shall be like God whose children we are as being born of him; “for we shall see him as he is.”
We shall be like him; we shall be such as he is, not almost but altogether. We are like him now. We are of his mind and on his side in all that pertains to his righteous character and government; his righteous condemnation of all iniquity; his righteous way of saving sinners. But the likeness is broken and imperfect. It is a real family likeness so far as it goes, a real oneness of nature; it identifies us as his children. But the features of resemblance are faint at the best, and marred by traces ever reappearing of our old likeness to the world and its prince, whose children we once were. It will be otherwise when “what we shall be” is made manifest or appears. Then our likeness to God will be complete; for then “we shall see him as he is.”
“We shall see him as he is;” for “the pure in heart shall see God.” The full light of all his perfection as the righteous God will open upon our view; we shall know the righteous Father as the Son knows Him.
The Son knows him;—“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee; and these have known that thou hast sent me.” Here are the two extremes—“The world hath not known thee; but I have known thee.” And here also is, as it were, the intermediate position occupied by us;—“these have known that thou hast sent me.” They do not know thee yet, as I, O righteous Father, know thee. But they are in the way of learning thus to know thee; for they know me as sent by thee. I am educating and training them in that knowledge of thee which I would have them to possess as perfectly as I possess it myself; “I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it.” Nor will I desist until they know thee, as I know thee, by experience of thy love; “the love wherewith thou hast loved me dwelling in them and I in them” (John 17:25-26).
So Jesus, the first-begotten among many brethren, is teaching us now to know, as he knows, the righteous Father, through the love wherewith the Father loveth him dwelling in us, and himself dwelling in us. The school is ill-suited, in many respects, to the teaching; and the scholars are not so apt as might be wished. The school is but dimly lighted and badly aired; the atmosphere is too full of dust and smoke; the learners also are often drowsy; and the lesson-object is seen through a glass darkly. But lo! the hour comes when the benign master, the loving elder brother, leads us into the spacious, lofty, bright hall of his Father’s many-mansioned house, and presents us to the Father, face to face, saying, “Behold I and the little ones whom thou hast given me.” Then there is clear sight; unclouded vision; a full and perfect understanding of the righteous Father; a full and perfect understanding between him and us; as full and perfect an understanding as there is in the case of his own beloved Son himself. All that is dark or doubtful about his character and ways is cleared up. There is nothing anywhere to awaken a suspicion or suggest a question; nothing to give a partial or distorted view of what he is or what he does. We see him as he is; and so seeing him, we approve, and love, and are like him evermore!
Is not this a hope “full of glory”? And is it not a hope full of holiness too? Surely it must be true that “every man that hath this hope in God,” the righteous Father,—the hope of being like him through seeing him as he is—“purifieth himself even as Jesus, the Son, is pure.”
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Candlish, Robert Smith. "Commentary on 1 John 2". The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany