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THE BENEFITS ARISING FROM FAITH IN CHRIST
1 John 1:1-62.1.3. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
IT is impossible to read these words, and not be struck with the extreme earnestness of the Apostle in his mode of giving the testimony before us. It seems evident, that the truths which he affirms had been much controverted; and that the evidence on which they rested had been called in question. And the fact was, that many heresies had arisen even whilst he was yet alive. Some even went so far as to deny that Jesus had ever died and risen again: they asserted, that all those transactions, which were recorded of him by the Evangelists, had taken place in appearance only, and not in reality. Against such absurd and impious conceits, St. John, now at a very advanced age, bore his testimony with a zeal suited to the occasion. He was the only surviving witness of the events referred to; and hence he repeats, even to tautology, the evidence which he had had again and again, from all his senses, respecting the truth of all that he affirmed: and he urges upon the whole Christian Church the reception of his testimony, by representing the incalculable benefits which all who believed it would receive.
That we may enter fully into the declarations before us, let us consider,
This may be understood as relating to the Gospel generally—
[The Gospel is certainly called “the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:16.]:” and it was from eternity hid “with the Father [Note: Ephesians 3:9.],” and at last, “at the beginning” of the Gospel dispensation [Note: ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς must of necessity be so understood in other parts of this epistle; 2:7, 24 and 3:11.], was manifested to the Apostles [Note: Romans 16:25-45.16.26.], who had every possible means of examining and ascertaining the truth of it [Note: “Seeing and hearing” of the truth are applied to Christ, as well as to the Apostles. John 3:11. with John 8:26; John 8:38.]; and who, in consequence of the fullest conviction in their own minds, “bare witness” to it as the means by which alone eternal life could be obtained [Note: Mark 16:16.]. This sense, I say, the words before us may very properly bear: and, inasmuch as the Gospel is elsewhere denominated “the word of life,” (which Christ is not;) and the words “from the beginning [Note: 1 John 2:13-62.2.14.],” generally, though not always in the Epistles of St. John, import, “from the beginning of the Gospel dispensation,” it is by no means improbable that this may be the true sense of the passage.
On the other hand, his mode of expression is far less proper, if applied to the Gospel, than if applied personally to the Lord Jesus Christ; to whom the generality of commentators suppose the Apostle to refer. We therefore observe, that]
It may be understood also as relating personally to the Lord Jesus Christ—
[He, though not called “the word of life,” is constantly known as “The Word [Note: Revelation 19:13.]:” He also is called “The Life [Note: John 11:25.]” and what seems more particularly to determine the point is, that he is in this very epistle called, “Eternal Life:” “This is the true God, and Eternal Life [Note: 1 John 5:20.]” He too was from eternity “with the Father [Note: John 1:18.],” and in due time “was manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.].” And it was his existence that was so determinately denied by the heretics whom the Apostle wished to silence. He, too, not only had lived in closest intimacy with his disciples before his crucifixion, but, after his death and resurrection, had appeared to them for forty days; and, when they doubted whether it were he, or whether it were not a spirit whom they saw, he said to them, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have [Note: Luke 24:39.].” Now, if we consider the Apostle as speaking personally of him, we can account for the vast variety of expressions tending to confirm the testimony which be bore respecting him: whereas, if we apply the expressions to the Gospel, the terms are multiplied far beyond what the occasion called for, and the metaphors are stronger than he could with propriety use. Besides, if we understand him as speaking of Christ personally, there is a remarkable coincidence between the beginning of this epistle of St. John, and the beginning of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” And “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us; and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father [Note: John 1:1-43.1.4; John 1:14.].”
But, whether we understand the expressions as relating to the Gospel of Christ, or to his person,]
It must of necessity be understood as declaring, that in Christ Jesus there is life, even eternal life—
[The Apostle testified of Christ, as he says in a subsequent chapter of this epistle: “We have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world [Note: 1 John 4:14.].” If we inquire more particularly what the substance of his testimony was, he informs us: “This is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.” “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life [Note: 1Jn 5:9; 1 John 5:11-62.5.12.].”
Thus we see, in fact, that, whether we understand the passage as speaking of the Gospel, or of Christ himself, it comes to the same point. If the Gospel be spoken of, it is as revealing Christ: if Christ be spoken of, it is as revealed in the Gospel; or, in other words, as being “the way, the truth, and the life [Note: John 14:6.].”
Bear in mind then, that all that is spoken of Christ in the holy Gospels is true: the Apostles were ear-witnesses, and eye-witnesses, of it, even of all that they relate. “They did not follow cunningly-devised fables, when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty: for they were with him in the holy mount, when he received from God the Father honour and glory, and when there came to him a voice from the excellent glory, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Note: 2 Peter 1:16-61.1.18.].” Whether therefore they speak of his sufferings or his glory, their testimony may be relied on: and we may be sure that in Him is salvation, and in Him alone.]
The extreme urgency of the Apostle in commending to us his testimony, leads us to contemplate,
The benefit of receiving it—
The Apostles themselves were brought into a most exalted state through faith in this Divine Saviour—
[“Hear what the Apostle speaks respecting it:” “Truly,” says he, “our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” By the Lord Jesus Christ they were brought into a state of reconciliation with God; and were enabled to regard him in the endearing character of a Father. “Through Him too, and by the Holy Spirit, they had access to God [Note: Ephesians 2:18.]” at all times, pouring out their hearts before him, making known to him their every want, and committing to him their every care. Through the same divine channel, God descended into their bosoms, revealing to them his will, communicating to them his grace, and shedding abroad in their hearts a sense of his love. Nay more, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost had come down and taken up their residence within them, dwelling in them as in a temple, and manifesting to them, as far as they were capable of beholding it, all the glory of the Godhead [Note: John 14:16-43.14.18; John 14:21; John 14:23.]. From hence arose within them inconceivable peace and joy, which were to them an earnest and foretaste of their heavenly inheritance; for they “knew that Christ was in the Father, and in them also; and that they too were in him [Note: John 14:20.].” Such had been their happy state from the first moment that they had believed in Christ; more sparingly indeed in the first instance, but progressively advancing as their knowledge of Christ became more intimate, and their affiance in him more entire.]
And we also, by the same faith, are brought to a participation of all the same privileges—
[“These things,” says the Apostle, “we declare unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us.” And in what does that fellowship consist, but in a participation of all the same privileges and blessings which they enjoyed? And this is indeed the portion of all who receive their testimony aright. All believers are brought into one family, of which Christ is the Head [Note: Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:15.]. The moment we believe, “we come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel [Note: Hebrews 12:22-58.12.24.].” Now here we see the whole family: here is God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ the mediator; here also are the angels who never sinned, and all the hosts of the redeemed in heaven, and all the saints that are still on earth: all are brought together into one family, and all have fellowship with each other as the head and the members of the same body: so that every individual believer now has the same fellowship with the Apostles, as they had with each other and with the prophets who had gone before them; and the same “fellowship too with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Does this appear too strong? It is not so strong as what our blessed Saviour himself has spoken upon the subject. For he not only declares to us, that “both He and his Father will come to us, and make their abode with us [Note: John 14:23.];” but he declared to his Father also, “I have given them the glory which thou gavest me, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one [Note: John 17:21-43.17.23.].” Here, I say, the union of the different members of his body is compared with the union which subsists between the different persons of the Godhead, than which nothing can be conceived so entire, so mysterious, so unchangeable.
Know ye, then, that this is the state into which you will be brought, if only you receive the testimony of God respecting his dear Son. Believe truly, that “in him is life,” and that through faith in him your souls shall live; and then all the fulness of these blessings shall be yours: nor shall even the beloved Apostle himself possess a blessing, of which you shall not, according to your capacity, partake with him.
And here let me say, that, if all the tautology which the Apostle makes use of in my text had been multiplied an hundred-fold, it would not have been too much for the occasion; since nothing can exceed the misery of those who reject this testimony, or the happiness of those who truly receive it.]
Contemplate now, I pray you, the object which the Apostle had in view in all these earnest solicitations—
[“These things,” says he, “I write unto you, that your joy may be full [Note: ver. 4.].” It was for this end that our blessed Lord himself had so strongly and so continually inculcated them: “These things speak I in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves [Note: John 17:13.].” And this is the object which I also would endeavour to attain. Beloved brethren, consider how unspeakable must be the joy of being brought into fellowship with the Apostles in all that they ever did, or ever shall, possess! All that access to God, all that intercourse with God, all that sense of Christ’s incomprehensible love, all that enjoyment of his presence, and all that fruition of his glory! it is all yours by promise and by oath, if only you truly believe in Christ! O, put it not from you: defer not to seek it, yea, to seek it with your whole hearts! Then shall you know what it is to have a heaven upon earth: for, though now ye see not, the Lord Jesus with your bodily eyes, yet shall you, by believing, be brought into such communion with him, that ld;your joy in him shall be unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].”]
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CONFORMED TO GOD’S IMAGE
1 John 1:5-62.1.7. This then is the message which me have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
IN fulfilling the ministerial office, it is not sufficient that we set before our people the evidences of Christianity, or inculcate the performance of some moral duties: we are messengers from God to men; and we must “declare to them the message which we have received from him.” We must not alter or conceal any part of that which we have been commanded to deliver; but must make known the whole counsel of God; and, having declared it with all plainness and fidelity, must urge the acceptance of it with all the energy we possess.
We have a message then from God to you: we are commanded to open to you the Divine character, and to call you by the most impressive arguments to become conformed to his image. In discharging this duty we proceed to set before you,
The character of God—
The term “light,” in Scripture, has various acceptations; but there are two things which we shall notice as more particularly comprehended in it in the words before us. It is the property of light to discover all things; and it is perfectly pure and incapable of pollution: when therefore it is said, that “God is light,” we must understand it as designating,
His infinite knowledge—
[God is “a God of knowledge [Note: 1 Samuel 2:3.].” “There is no creature which is not manifest in his sight.” The transactions of darkness are not hid from him: he sees the adulterer, that avails himself of the darkness of the night to visit his guilty paramour. His eye is upon the thief, that lays his hand upon his neighbour’s property. He notices the fraudulent dealer, who sells by false weights and measures, or takes advantage of the purchaser’s ignorance to get rid of a bad commodity, and to exact of him a higher price than it is worth. Nor is it the actions only that God inspects; his eyes are not only on our ways, but on our very hearts. We are apt to think that “the thick clouds are a covering to him, so that he cannot see [Note: Job 22:13-18.22.14.];” but “the darkness and light to him are both alike [Note: Psalms 139:11-19.139.12.]:” “He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins [Note: Jeremiah 17:10.]:” “He knows the things that come into our minds, every one of them [Note: Ezekiel 11:5.]:” “He weigheth our spirits [Note: Proverbs 16:2.],” and discerns the precise quantity of good or evil that there is in all our thoughts and desires: yea, “He knows the imaginations that we go about, even now, years before” the thoughts are distinctly formed in our hearts [Note: Deuteronomy 31:21.]. Our inmost souls are as much open to his view, as the sacrifices were to the priest, when he had flayed them for the purpose of examining the flesh, and cut them open to inspect their inward parts [Note: This is the idea suggested, Hebrews 4:13.]. In short, “with him is no darkness at all:” “hell and destruction are before him; much more the hearts of the children of men [Note: Proverbs 15:11.].”]
His unspotted holiness—
[“Light” is perhaps the only thing which is incapable of being polluted; and therefore is peculiarly fit to represent the immaculate purity of God.
God is a holy Being; yea, “glorious in holiness,” as well as in every other perfection. “He hateth all the workers of iniquity:” “He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.],” without the utmost abhorrence of it. In this respect also, as well as in the former, “there is no darkness at all in him:” there is none in his nature; there is none in his dispensations.
Consider his nature: Which of his attributes has the smallest mixture of unholiness? His sovereignty is not a weak partiality, but a holy exertion of his will, according to his own determinate and eternal counsels. His justice is not a rigorous severity, but a holy regard to the honour of his broken law. His mercy is not a weak exercise of pity at the expense of justice and truth, but a holy display of his unbounded compassion, in a way that at the same time illustrates and maguifies all his other perfections.
Consider his dispensations: these, it is true, are oftentimes inscrutable to us; yet is he “righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works [Note: Psalms 145:17.].” We are sometimes indeed ready, through unbelief, to question his wisdom and his goodness [Note: Psalms 73:12-19.73.14.]. When we see the wicked triumphing, and the righteous suffering under the accumulated trials of persecution from man and desertion from God, we are apt to be offended, and to ask, whether there be a God that ruleth in the earth? But in both these respects is his holiness expressly vindicated in the sacred writings: the martyrs that are now in glory, at the same time that they expostulate, as it were, with God on the subject of his forbearance towards their persecutors, address him as “holy and true [Note: Revelation 6:10.]:” and David, when complaining bitterly of the dereliction that he suffered, takes especial care to acknowledge that, in the midst of all, his holiness is unimpeached; “O God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night-season I am not silent; but thou art holy [Note: Psalms 22:1-19.22.3.].” When therefore we are not able to comprehend the reason of God’s dispensations, we must still confess, that though “clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne [Note: Psalms 97:2.].”]
The next part of the message points out to us,
The necessity and benefit of a conformity to him—
The saints are said to be renewed after the Divine image: and it is worthy of particular observation, that the only two points in which this renovation is said to consist, are knowledge [Note: Colossians 3:10.], and holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.]. We see then from hence wherein that conformity, which we are to attain, consists: it consists in knowledge and in holiness, or, as my text expresses it, in “walking in the light as he is in the light:” our minds must be enlightened with the knowledge of God’s truth; and our hearts must be purified in the performance of his will.
Let us notice then,
The necessity of this conformity—
[Many will pretend to have communion with God, while they are ignorant of the salvation revealed in the Gospel, and living in the habitual indulgence of sin. But, while they thus “walk in darkness,” what “fellowship can they have with God?” What access can they have to him, when they do not so much as know the way of “access to him through the rent vail of the Redeemer’s flesh [Note: Hebrews 10:19-58.10.20.]?” and what regard can they feel in their hearts towards him, while they are under the allowed dominion of worldly and carnal lusts? Their profession is a system of falsehood and hypocrisy: “they lie, and do not the truth:” they may work up themselves to ecstacies if they will; but they neither have, nor can have, any fellowship with God; for how “shall the throne of iniquity (or one in whom sin reigns) have fellowship with him [Note: Psalms 94:20.]?” “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14.]?”]
The benefit of this conformity—
[If a person be walking unfeignedly and progressively in the study of God’s will, and in obedience to it, he possesses two great and unspeakable benefits; namely, communion with God, and acceptance before him.
He has communion with God [Note: The opposition between the 6th and 7th verses shews that ver. 7 does not relate to the communion of the saints with each other, but to their fellowship with God.]. God loves the humble, diligent, obedient servant: “He will come to him,” and “lift, up the light of his countenance upon him,” and “manifest himself to him as he does not unto the world.” He will “shed abroad his love in his heart,” and “give him a spirit of adoption, whereby he shall cry, Abba, Father.” The person himself may not be very conversant with raptures: but, whether he be more or less sensible of God’s favour to him, it is manifest that he has fellowship with God: his knowledge of the Gospel proves that God has taught him; and his experience; of its sanctifying power proves that God has strengthened and supported him.
He has also acceptance before God: he is not like an unpardoned sinner: Jesus Christ has washed away his sins in the fountain of his blood; yea, every day, every hour, every moment, is he cleansing him from the pollution that adheres to his best services. This cleansing is a continued act of Christ [Note: “Cleanseth.”]: and through it the soul maintains its peace with God, and is regarded by God “without spot or blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:26-49.5.27.].” Cleansed by Jesus from “the iniquity of his holy things,” he is presented “faultless before the presence of God’s glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].”
Such are the benefits of cleaving to Christ, and “walking as he walked:” and a life devoted to God is not so properly the means of obtaining these benefits, as it is the evidence that we already possess them.]
From this most instructive subject we may learn,
The connexion between faith and works—
[One man hopes to be saved by his works, while he disregards faith in Christ: another hopes that his faith will save him, though it never produce good works. But both of these deceive their own souls: for no man can do such works as the Gospel requires, unless he embrace the truths which it reveals: and, if he could do them, they would be utterly insufficient to justify him before God. On the other hand, “the faith that is without works, is dead:” and as it differs not from the faith of devils, so will it bring us no better portion than theirs. Knowledge is necessary to produce holiness; and holiness is necessary to evince that our knowledge is truly spiritual and saving. It is not by separating them from each other, but by uniting them together, that we are to “walk in the light as God is in the light.”]
The connexion between duty and happiness—
[The greater part of the world expect happiness in the ways of sin: but God has warned us that there is “no peace to the wicked.” There is no real happiness but in fellowship with God: and there is no fellowship with him, without a conformity to him. If then we would be happy in this world, we should be religious: we should study to know and do the will of God. Then we should be happy in sickness as well as in health, and in the prospect of death no less than in the midst of earthly enjoyments.]
The connexion between grace and glory—
[The saints in glory are called “saints in light;” and in order to partake of their inheritance, we must be “made meet for it [Note: Colossians 1:12.].” An unregenerate sinner would not be happy, even if he were in heaven. There is a total difference of character between them that are saved and them that perish: those who are saved, love God, and delight in him, and make it the labour of their souls to glorify him: whereas they who perish, would, if they were able, pluck him from his throne: it would be glad tidings to them if they were informed that he exists no longer. Such precisely is the difference between saints and sinners in this world; the one find all their happiness in serving God; the other say in their hearts, “We wish there were no God.” Neither the one nor the other indeed attain the same degree of holiness or wickedness in this world that they will in the next: but in all other respects their characters will continue the same that they are in this life. If ever then we would have fellowship with God in heaven, we must begin it here: and, if ever we would dwell with him in the regions of everlasting light, we must now be “brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of his Gospel [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.],” and “walk henceforth as children of the light and of the day [Note: Ephesians 5:8.].”]
CONFESSION NECESSARY TO FORGIVENESS
1 John 1:8-62.1.9. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
THESE words are rendered familiar to our ears by being read almost continually as introductory to the service of our Church. On this account they may appear perhaps the less interesting; though in reality they are, from that very circumstance, commended to us as deserving a more than ordinary attention. The truths indeed which are contained in them are extremely plain and simple: but they are of infinite importance to every child of man, inasmuch as they declare the pitiable condition of a self-applauding moralist, and the happy condition of a self-condemning penitent. We shall consider the substance of them under these two heads:
Let us consider,
The pitiable condition of a self-applauding moralist—
Persons of a high moral character are too often classed with the Pharisees of old, whose leading feature was hypocrisy. But,
Moral characters are proper objects of our love—
[No one can doubt but that morality is highly estimable, even though it do not flow from those divine principles which give it its chief value in the sight of God. So at least St. Paul thought, when before the whole Jewish council he said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day [Note: Acts 23:1.].” In this assertion he spoke of his life previous to his conversion. In another place, speaking of the same period, he informs us, that he was, “as touching the righteousness of the law, blameless;” and, that he had justly considered this as “gain to him [Note: Philippians 3:6-50.3.7.].” And such may morality well be considered, wherever it exists: it is a gain to the person himself, in that he is kept from many actual offences: it is a gain to all his neighbours, who cannot but feel a beneficial influence from such a life: and it is a gain to the whole world, as far as the light of such an example can extend. True it is, that when St. Paul fully understood the Gospel, he counted all his morality “but loss for Christ.” Yet this does not at all derogate from the intrinsic excellence of morality: and to speak of morality in the contemptuous and degrading terms which many religious persons, and not a few incautious ministers too, use in reference to it, is extremely erroneous and blameworthy, inasmuch as it tends to lessen men’s regard for moral virtue, and to render the Gospel itself odious as hostile to good works. I would that every disciple of Christ would consider the example of his Divine Master in reference to this very point; and not consider it only, but follow it. When the Rich Youth came to him, and was directed by him to keep the different commandments of the decalogue, he answered, “Master, all these have I observed from my youth.” Now I would ask, What is the treatment which that young man would have experienced from the great mass of religious professors? I greatly fear that the general feeling towards him would have been that of contempt, rather than of love. But how did our blessed Lord and Saviour regard him? We are told, “Then Jesus beholding him, loved him [Note: Mark 10:19-41.10.21.].” And this is the spirit we should manifest towards all who are observant of the Divine laws, though they may not possess that faith in Christ which would stamp a new character upon the whole of their conduct. In proportion as any man excels in the different branches of moral virtue, he ought to be held as an object of respect, esteem, and love.]
But when they trust in their morality, they deserve our pity—
[I do not suppose that any persons would affirm, that they never had sinned at all. I rather conceive, that the Apostle speaks of persons affirming, that they never had sinned to such a degree as to deserve God’s wrathful displeasure. This, alas! is too often the effect of morality; that it causes men to overlook their manifold defects, and to be filled with self-complacency, when, if they had juster views of themselves, they would be bowed down rather with a sense of their own unworthiness.
Now such persons, how excellent soever they may be in other respects, are in a truly pitiable condition: for “they deceive themselves.”
“They deceive themselves” in relation to the extent of their attainments. They do, in fact, say with the Rich Youth, “What lack I yet?” whilst “they lack one thing,” even that very thing which is indispensable to their acceptance with God. Our Lord brought the young man to the test; and, by a command which he gave, tried him, whether God or the world were the higher in his esteem? It was a grief to the young man to renounce all hope of an interest in the Saviour; but he knew not how to part with his possessions; and therefore abandoned the Lord Jesus rather than them. So, if moralists were brought to the test, they would shew, and indeed they do continually shew, that the love of Christ is not dominant in their hearts, and that they have never seen him as that “pearl of great price, for which they are ready to part with all.”
They deceive themselves also in relation to their state before God. They imagine that they do not deserve, and consequently are not in danger of, his wrath and indignation. Thus it was with the Apostle Paul before his conversion. Hear his own acknowledgment respecting it: “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died [Note: Romans 7:9.]:” that is, before I understood the spirituality of the law, I thought my obedience to it so perfect that I was in no danger of condemnation for my offences against it: but when my eyes were opened to see the extent of its demands and the defects of my obedience, I saw at once that I was deservedly under a sentence of death and condemnation.
Thus it is with multitudes who are exemplary in their moral conduct: in the midst of all their confidence they deceive themselves; and whilst they take credit to themselves for being right in the sight of God, they shew, that they have never yet received “the truth as it is in Jesus,” and that, consequently, “the truth is not in them.”]
Let us now turn our attention to,
The happy condition of the self-condemning penitent—
The “confession” which characterizes a true penitent, of course is not to be understood of a mere acknowledgment, but an acknowledgment accompanied with suitable contrition, and with a humble faith in the Lord Jesus. It imports such a confession as was made by the high-priest on the great day of annual expiation, when he laid his hands on the scape-goat, and confessed over him all the sins of all the children of Israel, whilst all of those whose sins he so transferred were “afflicting their souls before God [Note: Leviticus 16:21; Leviticus 16:29-3.16.30.].” I may add, that this confession implies also a forsaking of the sins so confessed; as it is said, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.].”
Now respecting all such penitents, I do not hesitate to say, that,
Whatsoever they need shall certainly be vouchsafed unto them—
[Two things the penitent panteth after; namely, the forgiveness of his sins, and the renovation of his soul after the Divine image. And, behold, these are the very things promised to him in our text: “If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How reviving to the contrite soul is such a declaration as this! Here is no limitation as to the number or heinousness of the sins that may have been previously committed; nor any exception as to the measure of depravity which may have defiled the soul, or the degree of obduracy to which it may have attained. “Though our sins may have been as scarlet, or of a crimson dye, they shall all be washed away in the blood of Christ, and the soul become white as the driven snow [Note: Isaiah 1:18.].” “Clean water also shall be sprinkled on us, even the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying operations, to cleanse us from all our filthiness and from all our uncleanness. A new heart shall be given us, and a new spirit be put within us: and God, by the mighty working of his own power, will cause us “to walk in his judgments and to keep his statutes [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-26.36.27.].” Here is all that the penitent can desire. The promises are perfectly commensurate with his necessities: and, “laying hold on these promises, he shall be able to cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].”]
For this, those very perfections of the Deity which are most adverse to them, are pledged—
[If the penitent desire mercy, Justice frowns upon him, and demands judgment against him: and Truth requires, that all the threatenings which have been denounced against sin and sinners should be executed upon him. But, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, these perfections of the Deity are not only satisfied, but are converted into friends, yea, and made the strongest advocates for the penitent’s salvation. What a wonderful declaration is this, that, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!” That mercy should be displayed in forgiveness, we can easily imagine: but how can justice? and how can truth? when, as has been before observed, both these attributes demand the sinner’s condemnation? The Gospel solves this difficulty: it declares to us, that the Lord Jesus Christ has undertaken for us, and become our Surety, and by his own obedience unto death has satisfied all the demands of law and justice, and obtained for us the promise of eternal life: so that, if only we believe in him, and come to God through him, we may plead, even upon the very ground of justice and of truth, that God will fulfil to us all that he has promised to the Lord Jesus in our behalf, and impart to us all the blessings which his only dear Son has purchased for us. Through this mysterious dispensation, the very righteousness of God is magnified in the exercise of mercy; and “God is just, whilst justifying the sinner that believes in Jesus [Note: Romans 3:26.].”
How blessed is the condition of the penitent when viewed in this light! Every thing is secured to him that his necessities require! and every thing confirmed to him by the very justice and faithfulness of Jehovah! Wipe away thy tears, thou weeping penitent; and “put off thy sackcloth, and gird thee with gladness:” for God has here “given thee the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”]
Attend however to a few words of parting advice—
Let your humiliation be deep and abiding—
[It can never be too deep: there is no measure of self-lothing or self-abhorrence that can exceed what the occasion calls for. Thou mayest heretofore have thought thyself so pure, that “thou hadst no sin” which could subject thee to the wrath of God. Now thou knowest, that “the bed was too short for thee to stretch thyself upon, and the covering too narrow for thee to wrap thyself in [Note: Isaiah 28:20.].” “The pillows are plucked from thy arms;” and “the untempered mortar with which thou daubedst thy wall, adheres no longer [Note: Ezekiel 13:10-26.13.20.].” You have now learned to estimate your character by another standard. You see now your defects. You compare your obedience, not with the mere letter, but with the spirit of the law: and from this view of your past life you know your just desert, and are convinced that the very best action, word, or thought of your whole life, if tried by the standard of God’s holy law, would plunge you into merited and everlasting perdition. And so it is at this very moment, notwithstanding your change of character. You could no more bear the scrutiny of that perfect law, than you could in your days of unregeneracy. Let this thought never be forgotten: let it abide with you day and night. Job, before that God had appeared unto him, said, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me [Note: Job 9:20.]:” and after he had beheld God in his majesty and glory, his humiliation, so far from being removed, was deepened: and he exclaimed, “Behold, I am vile: I repent therefore, and abhor myself in dust and ashes [Note: Job 40:4; Job 42:6.].” So let your increase both in grace and peace be marked by a proportionable increase in humiliation and contrition.]
Let your affiance in God be simple and uniform—
[Never for a moment entertain a thought of any worthiness in yourself, or suffer any thing to be blended with your faith in Christ. Rely on him as entirely as if your whole life had been a scene of the most enormous wickedness. Renounce entirely every thing of your own in point of dependence; and seek to “be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God through faith in him.” And let this abide with you to your latest hour. Let neither a relapse into sin deter you from coming thus to Christ; nor the most spotless continuance in holiness render such a mode of coming to him unnecessary in your eyes. This is the way in which you may come, however aggravated may have been your guilt; and this is the way in which you must come, however eminent your attainments. It is not possible for you to be too much on your guard against either doubting the sufficiency of Christ to save you, or attempting to unite any thing with him as a joint ground of your hope. To err in either of these respects will be fatal: it will arm both justice and truth against you, and will make void all that the Lord Jesus has done and suffered for you. But rely simply and altogether upon him, and “you shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany