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1 John 1:1-4
That which was from the beginning
The preface to the First Epistle of John
This is a homiletical Epistle, the address of an absent pastor to his flock, or to disciples widely scattered and beyond the reach of his voice.
It is a specimen of apostolic preaching to believers, a masterpiece in the art of edification. The address is based on the gospel history, which it presupposes throughout. Some have thought the Epistle written on purpose to accompany St. John’s Gospel, in order to serve as its practical application and enforcement. The two lie so near to each other in their cast of thought and dialect, and are connected by so many turns of expression, that it is evident they are the outcome of the same mind, and, we may safely say, of the same stage and state of mind. The preface to the Epistle is, in effect, a summary of the Gospel according to John, as we see at once when we compare it with the opening and closing words of that narrative (John 1:1-18; John 20:30-31). The revelation of God through His Son Jesus Christ, a revelation entirely human and apprehended already by his readers, is that which the writer desires to communicate and set forth in its living effect. This revelation is the spring of a new eternal life for all men, a life of fellowship with God Himself, in which St. John would fain make his fellows sharers with him. It is this preface that we have now to consider, consisting of 1 John 1:1-4. Its subject is the eternal life manifested. We adopt the revised translation of these four verses, preferring, however, in verse 1, the marginal “word of life,” without the capital. For it is on life rather than word that the stress of the sentence lies (“for the life was manifested,” John continues); and Word must have stood alone to be recognised as a personal title, or could at most be qualified as it is in the Apocalypse (Revelation 19:13): “His name is called the Word of God.” John’s “word of life” resembles the “word of life” that Paul bids the Philippians “hold forth” (Philippians 2:16), “the words of life eternal” which Peter declared his Master to possess (John 6:68), and “all the words of this life” which the apostles were bidden to “speak in the temple to the people” (Acts 5:20). It is synonymous with “the gospel,” the message of the new life which those bear witness to and report who have first “heard” it and proved its living power. “Concerning the word of life” stands in opposition to the four preceding relative clauses (“that which we have heard … our hands handled”) and states their general subject matter and import; while the first clause, “That which was from the beginning,” stands alone in its sublime completeness. “Declare,” in verses 2, 3 more precisely understood, signifies “report” (υἱος βροντῆς). It is the carrying of tidings or messages from the authentic source: “What we have seen and heard we report also to you” (cf. verse 5)--we are the bearers to you of the word we received from Him. So in verse 2: “We bear witness and report”; where, as Haupt acutely says, in the former expression the emphasis lies on the communication of truth, in the latter on the communication of truth. Readers of the Greek will note the expressive transition from the perfect to the aorist tense and back again, that takes place in verses 1-3. When John writes, “That which we have heard” and “have seen with our eyes,” he asserts the abiding reality of the audible and visible manifestation of God in Christ. This is now the fixed possession of himself and of his readers, the past realised in the present; and to this immovable certainty he reverts once and again in verses 2, 3. The sudden change of tense in the middle of verse 1, missed by our authorised translation, carries us back to the historical fact. Looking with John’s eyes upon this mysterious Person, feeling and grasping with his hands its flesh and blood reality, and pondering its meaning, we say with him: “The life was manifested, the eternal life that was with the Father, was manifested to us.” While ἐθεασάμεθα (we beheld) implies an intent contemplative gaze, ἐψηλάφησαν, occurring, in the New Testament, only in Acts 17:27, and Hebrews 12:18 beside these two passages, denotes not the bare handling, but the searching, exploring use of the hands, that tests by handling. So much for the verbal elucidation of the passage. Let us look at its substantial content.
I. St. John had witnessed, as he believed, the supreme manifestation of God. The secret of the universe stood unveiled before his eyes, the everlasting fact and truth of things, the reality underlying all appearances, “that which was from the beginning.” Here he touched the spring of being, the principle that animates creation from star to farthest star, from the archangel to the worm in the sod: “The life was manifested, the life eternal which existed with the Father, was manifested to us.” If “the life” of this passage is identical with that of the Gospel prologue, it has all this breadth of meaning; it receives a limitless extension when it is defined as “that which was from the beginning.” The source of spiritual life to men is that which was, in the first instance, the source of natural life to all creatures. Here lies the foundation of St. John’s theology. It assumes the solidarity of being, the unity of the seen and unseen. It contradicts and excludes, from the outset, all Gnostical, dualistic, and docetic conceptions of the world. This essential and aboriginal life, he tells us, became incarnate, that it may have fellowship with men; it was slain, that its blood may cleanse them from iniquity--for the cross is not far off, we shall find it in the next paragraph. It is the fourth verse, rather than the first of the Gospel, which supplies the text for the Epistle: “That which hath come to be, in Him was life; and the life was the light of men” (R.V. margin).
II. In the second place, observe the energy with which the apostle asserts the actuality of the manifestation of the life of God in Jesus Christ. Thrice in three verses he reiterates, “we have seen” it, twice “we have heard”; and twice he repeats, “the life was manifested.” This stupendous fact has, naturally, always had its doubters and deniers. In any age of the world, and under any system of thought, such a revelation as that made in Jesus Christ was sure to be met with incredulity. It is equally opposed to the superstitions and to the scepticisms natural to the human mind. In truth, the mind that is not surprised and sometimes staggered by the claims of Christ and the doctrines of Christianity, that has not felt the shock they give to our ordinary experience and native convictions, has hardly awakened yet to their full import. St. John feels that the things he declares demand the strongest evidence. He has not believed them lightly, and he does not expect others to believe them lightly. This passage, like many besides in the New Testament record, goes to show that the apostles were well aware of the importance of historical truth; they were conscientious and jealously observant in regard to this cardinal requirement. Their faith was calm, rational, and sagacious. They were perfectly certain of the things they attested, and believed only upon commanding and irresistible proof, that covered the whole extent of the case. But the facts they built their faith upon are so largely of the spiritual order, that without a corresponding spiritual sense and faculty they can never be absolutely convincing. Already, in St. John’s old age, the solvents of philosophical analysis were being applied to the gospel history and doctrine. The Godhead incarnate, the manifestation of the infinite in the finite, was pronounced impossible and self-contradictory; we know beforehand, the wise of the world said, that it cannot be. The incarnation, the miracles, the resurrection, the ascension--what are they but a myth, a beautiful poetic dream, a pictorial representation of spiritual truth, from which we must extract for ourselves a higher creed, leaving behind all the supernatural as so much mere wrappage and imaginative dress! So the Apostle John confronts them, and their like in every time, with his impressive and authoritative declaration. Behind him lies the whole weight of the character, intelligence, and disciplined experience of the witnesses of Jesus. Of what use was it for men at a distance to argue that this thing and that thing could not be? “I tell you,” says the great apostle, “we have seen it with our eyes, we have heard Him with our very ears; we have touched and tested and handled these things at every point, and we know that they are so.” As he puts it, at the end of his letter, “We know that the Son of God is come; and He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” The men who have founded Christianity and written the New Testament were no fools. They knew what they were talking about. No dreamer, no fanatic, no deceiver, since the world began, ever wrote like the author of this Epistle.
III. And now, in the third place, there is founded upon the facts thus attested, there is derived from the eternal life revealed in Christ, a new Divine fellowship for men. To promote this end St. John writes: “That you also may have fellowship with us.” To communicate these truths, to see this fellowship established and perfected amongst men, is the apostle’s one delight, the business and delight of all those who share his faith and serve his Master: “These things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled.” We have a great secret in common, we and the apostles. The Father told it to Jesus, Jesus to them, they to us, and we to others. Those who have seen and heard such things, cannot keep the knowledge to themselves. These truths belong not to us only, but to “the whole world” (1 John 2:2); they concern every man who has a soul to save, who has sins to confess and death to meet, who has work to do for his Maker in this world, and a way to find for himself through its darkness and perils. The Apostle John is writing to Greeks, to men far removed from him in native sympathy and instinct; but he has long since forgotten all that, and the difference between Jew and Greek never once crosses his mind in writing his letter. He has risen above it, and left it behind through his fellowship with Christ. The only difference he knows is that existing between men who “are of God” and men who “are of the world.” In St. John the idea of the Church catholic as a spiritual brotherhood is perfected. But our fellowship is not only with prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints of God. We do not hold with the apostle merely such fellowship as we have with other great minds of the past; nor was John’s communion with his Lord that which we cherish with our beloved dead, the communion of memory, or at best of hope. If the facts the apostles test are true, they are true for us as for them. If the life manifested in the Lord Jesus was eternal, then it is living and real today. As it “was from the beginning,” it will be to the end. Jesus Christ had brought His disciples into spiritual union and fellowship with the living God. He had shown them the Father. He had made them individually children of God, with Himself for elder brother. He had passed away from their sight, to be with them forever in His Spirit. In this way He had really come to them, and the Father with Him, when He seemed to be going (John 14:18-23, R.V.). They felt themselves to be in direct communion and communication, every day they lived, with the Almighty Father in heaven, and with His Son Jesus Christ whom they had known and loved on earth. To this fellowship they invite and summon all mankind. The manifestation of God in Christ makes fellowship with God possible in an altogether new and richer way. Does not the very distinction revealed in the Godhead render such communion accessible, as it could not be otherwise to human thought? “Our communion,” writes John, “is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ”--with each distinctly, with each in and through and for the other. We have fellowship with Christ in the Father. He has explained the Father (John 1:18), and talked to us about Him; and we are entering into His views. We share Christ’s thoughts about God. On the other hand, we have fellowship with God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is God’s; but He is ours as well! God has told us what He thinks about His Son, and wishes us to think with Him. Showing Him to the world, He says: “This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I am ever well pleased.” And we agree to that: we are well pleased with Him too! We solemnly accept the testimony of God concerning His Son. Then we are at one with God in respect to Christ. And all harmony and peace centre there. “The Father Himself loveth you,” said Jesus to His disciples, “because you have loved Me, and believed that I came out from the Father.” In Him God is reconciling the world to Himself. Only when we think aright of Christ, and are rightly disposed toward Him, can we have fellowship with each other, and work together with God for the world’s redemption. (George G. Findlay, B. A.)
John’s testimony to Christ
I. The faith which came by seeing Jesus. Too often intimate acquaintance lowers our reverence even for the great. How different the result of John’s close friendship with Christ! Such was the faith which came by seeing Christ. What a faith it was! It breathes in all his writings; it breathed in his actions; it fitted him to look through heaven’s open door and tell us what he saw.
II. The faith which comes by hearing of Jesus. We cannot as yet rise to the level of the faith which grew by seeing Jesus; but we, too, hope to see, hear, handle Christ. And even now there is a special blessing promised to them “who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
III. The joy of faith. Clearly the writer’s joy was full. A faith so vigorous could not be otherwise. And St. John seeks to fill us with the same. We are unworthy servants, weary pilgrims, fainting soldiers, desponding amid sorrows, led astray by deceptive joys. We want a faith which shall make our courage strong, and our joy full. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
The apostles’ doctrine
The very mistakes of the primitive Churches have been to us the sources of unspeakable advantage. Principally to refute existing errors, the apostles gave out those beautiful expositions of Christian doctrine and duty which make the glory of the epistolary scriptures. Thus we see how, under the reign of omnipotent love, error itself is made to elicit truth, and the evils of a day to work out forms of good that shall brighten and unfold forever.
I. The declaration respecting Christ.
1. The eternal existence of Christ. He says, He is “that eternal life”; and at the close of his appeal he adds the assertion, “This is the true God and eternal life.” Try to take in the meaning of the word “eternal”! You are unable to do it. We can explain nothing which lies beyond the horizon of our limited life. To us, that which is infinite never can be definite. Mysterious as is the word eternity, this one thing is clear--He who is eternal must be Divine. He who is “before all things” must be the cause of all things; and creation, however wide in range or rich in splendour, must be less by infinity than its author.
2. Jesus assumed human nature. The mystery is no argument against its truth. You are unable to explain the wonderful union of God and man in the nature of Christ; but are you more perfectly able to explain the union of matter and spirit in your own?
3. Jesus is the Word. What words are to thought, Christ is to God? He utters God; and of every imaginable manifestation of God, He is the manifestor. Nature shows the Divine perfections, but we may still doubt if it proves the Divine personality. The personal man yearns for the knowledge of a personal God. Age after age rose the ceaseless cry of man, “For God, for the living God!” Christ heard that cry, and said, “Lo, I come, I come!” In the earliest times He shadowed out the Divine personality by His appearance as the Angel of the Presence; and when the fulness of time arrived He broke the silence of ages, and in Him, at last, “the unutterable” found utterance. But Christ has given a yet more advanced revelation than this. He has uttered the Divine love to sinners. Great God! conscience threatens us; the law threatens us; death threatens us, and we deserve it all. “Art thou with us, or with our adversaries?” The Cross furnishes the reply. 4 Jesus is our Life. As the Word, He is the Revealer of what we need; as the Life, He is the Communicator of what we need. As the Word, He is God uttering Him self; as the Life, He is God giving Himself. As the Word, He is God without us; as the Life, He is God within us. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Fellowship with the Father
I. St. John was now an old man in a new world. It was an age of busy thought and daring speculation. It had its realists, who held that Jesus was but a man, and Christianity but one of the religious movements of the last century. It had its dreamy idealists, who spiritualised away all the facts of Christianity. The age, in fact, called for a restatement of Christian truth. We too have our realists in art and literature--painters who strip the halo from Christ’s brow, and set before us simply the man Jesus, the peasant saint of Galilee--authors who write “lives of Jesus” as the Son of Mary, but not of Christ the Son of the living God. We too have our idealists, who regard Christianity as a dream of man’s spirit--a beautiful dream, yet capable of being improved, and so they wish, not to destroy, but to remake the Christ, to pull the Gospels to pieces, but only to put them together again after a better fashion. Here we have the last word of inspiration. The revelation that began in Genesis ends here.
II. We have in our text the substance of the Gospel--what it is in the last analysis.
1. It is something eternal--“that which was from the beginning.” Christianity is not one of the religious movements of a recent age. It is not one of a class. It cannot be compared with other religions. Its sources are out of sight. It was manifested in time, but it was from the beginning.
2. It is something historical. “That which we have heard, that which we have seen [not in vision] with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled … declare we unto you.” We do not announce fancies of our own. We bear witness to facts--to an eternal truth revealed in time.
3. It is something absolutely unique. “The word of life, the eternal life, which was with the Father.” Christ approaches humanity. He comes not, as one of many, on a common errand of sympathy with sorrow. His mission is unique. He comes alone. He comes to give men life--eternal life--life as it was with the Father the very life of God Himself in its purest form.
III. Again, we have the end aimed at in the Gospel stated in its largest, fullest form. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” Men are to be saved for something as well as from something, and that is for the fellowship of holy spirits, the commonwealth of souls, the city of God. Truth says to all who possess it, “I am sacramental bread and wine; eat of me, drink of me, and pass me on to others.” As every stream of water makes for the sea, every rill of truth is making for fellowship. The missionary spirit is often spoken of as something separate, peculiar to certain people. No! it is the spirit of all truth. Get Christ into men, and the Christ in them will straightway want to get into other men; for the great end for which every Christian truth is making, is fellowship--the perfect brotherhood of all souls.
IV. Yes! But brotherhood can only be through fatherhood. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Union is union with God. Cicero has said that there can be no friendship but between good men. Bad men may combine, but cannot unite. Their combination is a rope of sand. God only unites. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” The hope of the world lies not in agitation, nor in revolution, nor in reformation, but in regeneration.
V. Communion with men must then begin as union with God. “And this is the message”--“God is light”--is holiness and love. Do you say, “It is a message that crushes”? Nay, it consoles too, it inspires. There is a gospel in it. The sun looking down at the green wheat blade, says, “You must be like me.” But how? “By looking at me. I, by shining on you, will make you to be what I want you to be.” God is light! If He is holiness without spot, He is also love without measure. He gives Himself away like the light. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The perfect Saviour
I. The apostles’ testimony concerning Christ as a perfect Saviour (verses 1, 2).
1. No stronger evidence can be conceived.
2. The statement of such evidence proves the importance of giving facts as the foundation of Christianity.
3. The terms of this statement deserve careful study.
(1) The pre-existence of our Lord.
(2) The real, objective humanity of our Lord.
(3) The life-giving power of our Lord.
II. The design of this testimony--that others might participate in the peculiar privileges of the apostles of Christ (verse 3).
2. Fulness of joy.
III. The evidences of real union with Christ as perfect Saviour.
1. A life of practical holiness (verses 5-7).
2. A Scriptural sentiment (verses 8-10).
3. Compliance with the condition of forgiveness and cleansing (verse 9).
1. The solid basis of Christianity--a historical Christ, attested by unimpeachable witnesses.
2. The distinguished privileges of a believer in Christ.
(1) Divine fellowship.
(2) Divine cleansing.
(3) Divine forgiveness.
3. The blessed and royal life of the Christian. To “walk in the light.” (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Witnesses of the Word of life
These words are as a head to the body, a gate to the field, a porch to the building of this epistle; an introduction which very much speaketh the writer to be St. John, because it is as it were a resounding to the proem of his Gospel.
I. The apostle’s care of publishing the Gospel is that which St. John doth here insert in the behalf not only of himself, but his fellow apostles, for it is not the singular “I,” but the plural “we.”
1. The first we meet with is μαρτυροῦμεν, “bear witness.” This was indeed the chief office to which the apostles were designed by Christ, to bear witness of Him; and that they might be enabled to the faithful discharge of it, He promised the power of the Holy Ghost (John 15:26-27; Acts 1:8).
2. The next expression, ἀπαγγέλλομεν, is twice repeated, verses 2, 3, but Englished by two several words, we show and we declare, it is that which intimateth what kind of bearing witness the apostle here intended. The nature of light is to discover, the business of an ambassador is to impart his message; and accordingly the work of an apostle is to reveal the gospel. We declare, as being sent by God to publish this errand; and that which hereby is intimated to us is that these holy apostles did not run before they were sent, but had a mission and commission to show and declare the things of the gospel.
3. There is yet one term more behind, verse 4, and that is γράφομεν, “we write unto you”: and as declaring showeth what kind of bearing witness the apostle chiefly relateth to, so this writing what kind of declaring he especially speaketh of; for whereas there are but two ways of declaring the gospel, to wit, sermo and scriptio, word and writing, by the tongue and the pen, this latter is that which the apostle principally intendeth when he saith, We declare, we write; that is, we declare by writing.
(1) By this it is we speak to many, very many, even those that are absent and far distant from us; in which respect writing is wittily styled an invention to deceive absence.
(2) Again, by this it is we speak, not only whilst alive, but when we are dead, and so declare the truth, not only to them who are coetaneous with us, but shall in future ages succeed after us; in which regard that of the Psalmist is very suitable (Psalms 102:18).
II. The Gospel’s excellency.
1. The appellation here affixed to the gospel is choice and comfortable, it is the word of life; a title which is made use of by St. Paul (Philippians 2:15-16).
2. The reason of this appellation is fit and pregnant, because those words, “eternal life is manifested to us,” are such a confirmation that they are withal an explication of the title in both the branches of it.
(1) Would we know what this life is, whereof the gospel is the word? The answer is, it is eternal life; in which respect St. Peter saith to Christ (John 6:68).
(2) Would we know in what respect the gospel is the word of this life? The answer is, because this eternal life which was with the Father is by it manifested to us. To apply this, what should the consideration teach us but--
1. Thankfully to acknowledge what a rich treasure, a precious pearl, God hath vouchsafed to us in bestowing the gospel on us!
2. To endeavour that what this word of life is in itself it may be to every one of us; and as it is the word of life by way of manifestation, so it may be also by way of operation, effectual to bring us to that life which it revealeth to us. (N. Hardy, D. D.)
Christ the revealer of God
I. Him of whom John is here speaking--“that which was from the beginning.” What God is in His nature, persons, life, blessedness, glory, immortality, and eternity, is, and ever will be, incomprehensible (Job 11:7-9). The person of Christ was from the beginning. He was as God-man before the world, and had a glory with the Father before the world was (John 8:58). This most glorious one, who was God-man before the world was, became incarnate in the fulness of time. John lived in the days of Christ’s Incarnation; he had the honour to see Christ, the Messiah, and was favoured with communion with Him. This was grace and glory inexpressible.
II. He had heard, he had seen, he had handled Him. So had others also. These various terms of hearing, seeing, looking, handling, are designed to express the reality of our Lord’s Incarnation. That He had a real body. It was a palpable one; it was seen; it was touched; it was heard. The truth of this was denied by some heretics in the apostolic age; to refute which the apostle expresseth himself as he here doth. There was satisfaction given, and such demonstration given to every sense of body and mind, that Christ had a body like our own, that no greater proof could be given. He was made in all things like unto His brethren. It was in our nature He obeyed. Bore the sins of many in His own body on the tree. The person of Christ is a most transcendently excellent subject. The Incarnation of Christ, a deep and most momentous subject.
III. The persons who had thus seen Him--“which we have heard,” etc. They were the apostles themselves. He speaks in their and his own name here. Not but other saints beside them saw the Lord in His incarnate state; yet they were not called and appointed to be witnesses of this, as the apostles were. The evidence the apostles had of His person and Incarnation was different from ours. We receive ours from them: and that in a way of believing. They had the evidence of sense as truly as we have the evidence of faith. True believers hear the voice of Christ in His Word, and in hearing it their souls live. They see Christ in the light of the gospel, and behold salvation and everlasting life in Him; but this is with the eyes of their mind. They touch, they taste, and handle Christ mystically and representatively in their fellowship with Him in His holy supper, yet this is quite different from what the apostle is here speaking. Yet it is as effectual to us for our souls’ benefit as theirs was. Yet notwithstanding this, the different ends answered by the same are so essential, that they ought to be distinguished. They were to record His life, His words, His miracles, His threatenings, His promises, His prophecies, His holiness, His righteousness, His passion, His death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, His session at the right hand of the Majesty on high, His coronation in glory, and His sending down the Holy Ghost from heaven, to prove Him to be the Lord’s Messiah, the Saviour of the world. Now the apostles who were to be witnesses of all this unto the people, saw God incarnate, and conversed with Him in His incarnate state--a sight we shall never behold. It is everlastingly impossible we should, that state being past. We shall see God incarnate, God-man, in heaven--we shall see Him in the state of ultimate glory. We see Him now, in the glass of the everlasting gospel, as truly as the apostles did, in our measure and degree, though not as they did with their bodily eyes. We see Him with the eye of faith, as certainly as those persons did with the eyes of their body, and as truly, yet not so clearly and fully, as saints in heaven do by sense and vision.
IV. The title John gives this most wonderful One. He styles Him “The Word of life.” The word is the index of the mind. By what is contained in the mind is expressed. So Christ, as one in the self-existing Essence, speaks out the mind of the eternal Father. It was by His Almighty fiat the heavens and the earth were created, and all the host of them. It was by Him all the secrets of the Most High were spoken out and proclaimed, and the invisible God brought out of His invisibility. It is in Him the full revelation of Godhead is made known. It is in the essential Word all the mind of God is opened, all the love of God expressed, the whole of God declared. It is as this essential Word, and only begotten Son of God, shines forth as God-man, in His most glorious person, mediation, work, grace, and salvation, in the everlasting gospel, and enlightens His Church therewith, that they in His light see light. (S. E. Pierce.)
The Incarnation of Christ, before and after
Midway down the Simplon Pass, the traveller pauses to read upon a stone by the wayside the single word “Italia.” The Alpine pines cling to the mountainsides between whose steeps the rough way winds. The snow covers the peaks, and the brooks are frozen to the precipices. The traveller wraps his cloak about him against the frost that reigns undisputed upon those ancient thrones of icebound rock. But at the point where that stone with the word “Italia” stands, he passes a boundary line. From there the way begins into another world. Soon every step makes plainer how great has been the change from Switzerland to Italy. Humanity has crossed a boundary line between two eras. Up to Bethlehem was one way, growing bleaker, and more barren, and colder, as man hastened on. Down from Bethlehem has been another and a happier time. The one civilisation was as Switzerland shut in among its icy Alps; the other is as Lombardy’s fruitful plain. The one led up to Stoicism; the other opens into charity. Judaism, also, and the gospel are as two different climes. We need deny no pagan virtue, we need exaggerate no pagan vice, in order to bring out the greatness of the change which began at Bethlehem. For it is not simply a difference in men, or in civilisation, which we have to observe, great as, without historical exaggeration, that may be shown to be; but the advent of Christ works a difference in motives, and in the motive powers, which make human life, and which are creative of civilisations. It was the coming of a new power to change the world. The impulse which was imparted to humanity by the presence among men of Jesus Christ can be compared to nothing less potential than the impulse which was given, we may suppose, to the creation when motion first became a fact and law of primeval matter. And from the advent of motion dates the order of the worlds. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
The Divine and human in Christ
The picture produced in the stereopticon is fuller, rounder and more natural than the same picture seen without the use of that instrument. But to produce the stereoscopic picture there must be two pictures blended into one by the use of the stereopticon, and both the eyes of the observer are brought into requisition at the same time, looking each through a separate lens. Thus Christ is only seen in His true and proper light, when the record of His human nature and the statement of His Divine are blended. It is a flat, unfinished Christ with either left out. But it is as seen in the Word, with the moral and mental powers of our being both engaged in the consideration, and thus only, that we get the full and true result.
Which we have heard--
The word translated “heard” often signifies with the inspired writers an obedient hearing. It is such a hearing of the proposed truth as issues in the conviction of the mind, and more than this, such a hearing as disposes the mind to submit itself to the doctrine presented: it is in this way that faith springs up, and from hence its origin. The Lord by His special grace induces this result. “Faith is of the operation of God” (James 1:16-18). When addressing the gracious Author of his faith, the favoured child of man thus speaks: “Mine ears hast Thou opened” (John 10:3).
Which we have looked upon--
The apostle is not weary of describing faith’s various actings in the soul. And it is for our edification that he sets before us his own experience in this matter. It is in order that such of us as have heard and seen Jesus may still fix on Him the eyes of our under standing with an intent and protracted gaze. And can one view of “the King in His beauty” satisfy the spiritual eye? No; it will rest with a mingled feeling of sorrow and joy on Him whom our sins have pierced. When Jesus has been seen as “full of grace and truth”--“fairer than the children of men”--the believer will surely look upon Him with a steady contemplation of the soul and fixed devotion of the heart, It may be that it is not given to all believers to attain to the full experience of the beloved disciple, or to realise all He felt when He says “which we have looked upon”; but in a measure the same contemplative faith is proper to all the saints. And without it there could be no due assimilation to the image of Christ. It is by the contemplation of Christ’s person that we become in a measure changed into His likeness. Christ looked upon as a wondrous spectacle, steadfastly, deeply, contemplatively. Appropriate to John’s contemplative character. (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
And our hands have handled of the Word of life--
Without this concluding sentence the apostle’s description of the experience of faith had been imperfect; for wherever the Lord carries on “the work of faith with power,” there is on the believer’s part an appropriation to himself of that eternal life which he has heard, seen, and looked upon by faith. There is, as John expresses it, “a handling” of the Word of life. And probably the expression, “which our hands have handled,” denotes some sensible experience of our union with the Lord Jesus, and a consciousness that we are within the bonds of the covenant of grace, so that by the aid of the Holy Ghost we can say with Paul, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” “Laying hold on eternal life,” and apprehending Christ with a faith which says, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,” we are blessed indeed, and exclaim in the language of faith’s assurance, “My Lord and my God!” (Anon.)
The realisation of faith
Consider what impressions we gain from the sense of touch. It is touch which, more than any other sense, convinces us of the reality of matter. What you see might be merely a phantom, an optical illusion, a picture painted on the retina of the eye, and nothing more; but if you go up to the thing you see, and touch it, and handle it, you become assured of its existence, you know that it is substantial. Now what is faith? It may be defined as the faculty by which we realise unseen things. I say the faculty (not by which we conceive, but) by which we realise these things, feel them to have a body and a substance. To imagine the truths of religion is not to believe them. We may from time to time imagine God as He is in heaven, surrounded by myriads of glorious angels--we may imagine Christ looking down upon us from God’s right hand, interceding for us, calling us to account at the last day, and awarding to us our final doom; but the mere picturing these things to ourselves is not the same thing as believing them; the believing them is the having such a conviction of their reality as to live under their influence, and to be in some measure, at least, governed by them. In short, to imagine the truths of religion is like surveying things by the eye; to believe in the truths of religion is like grasping the same things with the hand, and thus proving them to have substance and consistency. (Dean Goulburn.)
The mystery of the holy Incarnation
There is not in Scripture a more amazing statement than this. “The Word of life” is God the Son. And now speaking of this eternal and Divine Person, the evangelist affirms that he and other men had heard Him, had seen Him with their eyes, had looked upon Him, and had handled Him. Well may such expressions trouble the mind; they are so real, so physical, so material, so intense. But the whole force of the gospel is in them. That gospel is no philosophy, no human invention; but the mystery of godliness meeting man’s deepest needs. Among those needs is that of a real access to God and communion with Him; not by way of thought merely, not through the chill avenue of the intellect, but as body with body, and flesh with flesh; by the hearing of the ear, and the seeing of the eye; by taste and touch, by emotion and sensation; in short, through the entire nature, and not only through one part of it. This is the need of which the apostle here declares that it has been satisfied: and in the fact that it has thus been met lies the power of the gospel. I begin with this proposition: that in the proportion in which religious belief becomes intellectualised and refined, in that same proportion does it lose its power over men and cease to control the practical order of their lives. This will best appear by contrasting two types of religion: the first is that of the vulgar idolater, the second that of the advanced philosophical mind: the former a superstition, the latter a rationalistic theory; but of the two the former has the greater power, and, as a religion, is better than the latter.
1. First, look at the lowest form of idolatry. Here is a man who makes an image of wood or stone. This is to him a god. The man has, after all, what lies at the basis of true religion; the faith in a power, outside of him, above him, and acting on him directly; capable of being approached, prayed to, propitiated, “a very present help in trouble.” He thinks the power to be somehow in a carved stone or a bit of painted and gilded wood: but at least he believes in the power; he has a religion; and it is practical and positive; it affects his actions, it comes home to him in his dark life.
2. Secondly, let us take another type of religion. It is that of the man whose belief in God has been attenuated into a mere intellectual assent to the proposition that there is something somewhere or other, to which he is willing to concede the sacred name. This God of his has no personality; it cannot hear or see or feel, it cannot be heard or seen or felt; it cannot think, it cannot love; it has neither heart, nor will, nor memory; no relation to us such as we have toward each other. This is the opposite extreme: and of the two the lower is better than the higher. The poor heathen’s religion is still a religion. It is a link (that blind, gross, material notion) between him and a higher world, whose invisible powers he reveres, dreads, and trusts; it has the elements of Christian faith, and needs only to be purified by grace. But the notions of the acute philosophic mind have in them no reality. The refinement has gone too far; the evaporation has produced a thin film, without light, without warmth, without value to any human being. Such are two extremes, whereof every age of the world thus far affords illustrations. The truth is in neither of them: it lies between. Going from the former towards the latter, there is a point at which we must stop, having found what we need. We want what is above the first, but stops short of the second; the reality of the idolater’s faith and the spirituality of that of the philosopher; the material and the immaterial together; a religion meeting man as a body, and meeting him also as a spirit; helping and upholding him on the physical and spiritual side at once. All these wants are met, in the gospel and theology of the Incarnation. When the Word was made flesh there stood before men, first, what could not have been more real to the senses than it was. The Son of God took flesh; He dwelt among us in a true body; He did not abhor such material tabernacle. In that flesh dwelt He who is a spirit and whom men are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). God, immaterial and spiritual, without parts, or passions, was manifested in a body having members, in a humanity like unto our own, sin only excepted, in and under sensible and material forms, to the senses first, and through them to the spirit and heart of men. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, which whosoever looketh upon with faith and love shall find the extreme terms in the problem of religion brought together and harmonised therein. Thus far I have been speaking mainly of the days when Christ was here on earth. All that began so strangely has been carried on no less strangely among us since He went away. Still is the Lord unto us very Man and very God in one. Christianity, rightly understood, is Christ; and Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, still God and man in One. Christianity, therefore, being ultimately resolvable into Him, and being, in fact, the perpetual and abiding manifestation in Him, must be what He is, Divine and human at once. It must also have two sides, two elements, the physical and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial, the body akin to the dust, the spirit out of heaven. Neither of these can be spared; religion without the latter would be a gross and carnal system; without the former a cold abstraction. The Church of Christ is a visible body; from her it was intended that a visible and outward glory should shine through this dark world. Let us understand our mission; we are the apostles, the representatives of a religion which should give to the world not only the grandest ideas, the holiest thoughts, the most powerful inspirations, the deepest truths, and the most practical and valuable maxims, but also the most splendid sights, the most elevating sounds, and all that can cheer and sustain the heart of pilgrim man. It is Christianity, on its physical side, which has given us the cathedrals of the world, grand creeds and anthems at once in stone and sculpture, reflecting the spiritual glory of the Lord in their solemn magnificence, and praising Him as far as their towers, domes, and cross-topped spires can be seen; it is from that side of religion that men have drawn the fulness of that refreshment which a simple and unsophisticated humanity craves. It boots not to say by way of objection that these are material things; they are, of course. Even so Christ was Man, and beautiful in His humanity to the eye of faith; and these things represent the Word made flesh, the human Christ. This visible side of religion, all glory and magnificence, was intended to correspond to the human side in. Christ, that body wherein dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
1 John 1:2
For the life was manifested
Christ the manifestation of the eternal
We may think of Christ as the manifestation of that eternal life whence has come all that has ever been--all creation, all nature, all time, all history; of that mysterious life which ever beats at the heart of the universe, which ever feeds its unfailing springs.
2. Christ is the manifestation of the eternal, in the extent to which He has brought more fully to light, and more practically established, the spiritual kingdom of likeness to God, of fellowship with God, for which all hearts are intended and required. He at once so guaranteed and illustrated its existence and meaning, as everywhere to lift this spiritual kingdom to a higher plane. He made it far more possible and certain than any other teacher or messenger from God had ever desired or conceived. He brought it within the reach not alone of the chiefest and the best, but also of the commonest and the lowest. He showed it to be the proper life of every man--showed that purity, righteousness, justice, mercy, patience, love, are as essential and necessary to every man as they are to God; that the true and blessed life for man means supremely this--after His own example, fellowship with God, likeness to God, sonship to God.
3. Christ manifested the eternal, not alone by the transcendent excellence and spiritual elevation of His life, but also by the power which He displayed of showing the inherent oneness of material and moral forces--in other words, of proving the rightful control of spirit over matter. What to us may look like signs or wonders or unusual phenomena, to Him were but natural facts, natural revelations or efforts of the deep, underlying oneness between things outward and inward, between all nature and life.
4. Christ manifested the eternal by revealing to us the afterlife, the future world. Of the two, that world seemed to Him even more real than this. He spoke of it with even the same deep intensity, and yet with the same calm, self-evident truthfulness as He did of the existence, and name, and character, and purpose of His Father. To Him the future world, the immortal life, were but the natural outcome of the existence and kingdom and purpose of His Father. To Him, because God is, and ever will be, man, His child, will continue to be as living, as personal as He. Jesus, knowing Himself to be the outcome, the evidence, the gift of all spiritual and eternal realities, could look beyond the seeming defeat and dread suffering of His last days, beyond the bitterness and sting of His own death, beyond the gloom and corruption of His own grave, to an existence for Himself that should be as changeless and lasting as the Father’s, whose presence and truth and love He declared; nay, more--He could look beyond all the failure, pain, and death with which any of His brothers or sisters on earth should have to struggle, or to which they should succumb, and could give to them the offer, the assurance, the possession of a life as spiritual, as blessed, as immortal as His own. (J. T. Stannard.)
The only life worth living
What is the conception that St. John had of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ? In his gospel he looks upon it as the manifestation of God: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” But in the Epistle he looks upon the Incarnation as the manifestation of life. He here declares the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was toward the Father--for so it literally should be--which was Fatherward and was manifested unto us. Now, it is no uncommon thing for a young man setting out in life to set some high ideal before him. You can understand a young man in business setting before him the ideal of a George Peabody or a George Moore. It is not so much the success the man has achieved, as the way in which he spent the well-earned wealth, which fires the ambition of the youth. But what was St. John’s ideal? The Lord Jesus Christ. There was the life. The life was manifested, and we have seen it. It is a question often asked, Is life worth living? And that depends very much upon the kind of life you mean to live. If you mean a life of selfishness and self-pleasing, the answer must be distinctly, No! Or a life of worldliness or luxury? No! A life of avarice and covetousness? No! For these kinds of lives are very disappointing now, and ‘the issue of them hereafter is terrible to contemplate. If you think of life simply as amassing wealth, if you think of life simply as acquiring esteem, as winning pleasure, you have not seen life. But the life has been manifested, the only life worth living, and he points you back to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, what were the characteristics of the life which was thus manifested to us? It was a life Fatherward, that was the life, that eternal life, which was toward the Father. There are some who live a life towards the world; their whole inspiration is drawn from the world; their whole pleasure is found in the world. You have a very striking picture of such a life in Ezekiel 17:6, where Israel is likened unto a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him. Towards whom? Toward the great Assyrian power, and so it became a vine, and brought forth branches and shot forth sprigs. Instead of seeking all their strength from God, they turned their roots towards Assyria, and tried to draw strength from Assyria. Now, there are a great number of people living who have these earthward lives, their roots turning towards the world--drawing in all their strength, all their sustenance, all their pleasure from the world. St. John says: Life which was manifested was not towards the world, it was towards the Father. This implies absolute obedience. The work that my Father hath given me to do, shall I not do it? This life implies perfect trust. “Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” This life implies perfect, complete resignation. “Father, not My will, but Thine be done.” This life implies the most blessed intercourse. Our Lord Jesus Christ is able to go out on the mountainside and continue all night in prayer to God. Why? Because God was His Father. This life Fatherward means also love to the brethren, for if God is our Father we must love one another. It is not our Father’s will that one of these little ones should perish. This life Fatherward implies ambition for the Father’s glory. We must let our light so shine before men that they may glorify our Father which is in heaven. And this life Fatherward contains the blessed hope of a reunion. I go to My Father. “If ye loved Me ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father.” So you see how, during all our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, it was a life Father-wards. And St. John says, We have seen it. Oh, it is a different life to what we see in the world. If you look at a man living towards the world, what a life of fear it is, what a life of terror: he is afraid lest he should break the customs of the world; he is afraid lest he should endure obloquy from the world. A life which is lived towards the world is always a slavish life, because it must be in entire accord with the dictates of worldly policy, But a life towards the Father is without fear. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” Now St. John says, “We have seen that life; we walked with Him three and a half years, and we saw all through His life this was His great characteristic--What would my Father wish Me to do? And he goes on to say, Not only did we see it, but we bear witness of it--that is to say, We have tried to follow it ourselves; and now we want to tell you that there is no life worth living compared with this; that we can bear witness to it, and have learned something of what it means. More than that, we come to tell you about it, because we want you to have fellowship in this life. We have seen this life towards the Father; we have tasted it, and can bear witness that it is the sweetest life, that it is the purest life, that it is the life most worth living, and now we want you to have fellowship with us. And one thing more he goes on to say: “And this is eternal life.” It is life not only on the earth here, but in heaven. (E. A. Stuart, M. A.)
Christ the life
Christ, God-man, Mediator, is the life, that eternal life, in respect of His threefold offices of king, priest, and prophet. As prophet, He is the life by way of revelation, discovering this eternal life to us; as priest, by way of impetration; securing this eternal life for us; as king, by way of collation, conferring this eternal life on us. And as the fulness of water is dispensed by the sea to the earth, and the fulness of light is communicated by the sun to the air, and the fulness of corn was divided by Joseph among the people, so the fulness of grace and glory, of life, even eternal life, is conveyed by Christ to His Church, and therefore very justly doth this character belong to Him. And now, what should this consideration teach us?
1. To bewail our sad condition whilst we are without Christ; for if Christ be the life, all that know Him not, or believe not in Him, must needs be in a state of death and damnation.
2. To seek after this life, because it is eternal, and to seek it by union with Christ, who is the life.
3. To set an high value upon Christ, and give Him the glory of this great mercy, even eternal life. (N. Hardy, D. D.)
The incarnate life
I. The person spoken of, the titles given Him, and what is here said concerning Him. For the life was manifested--that Eternal Life which was with the Father.
1. It is Christ, God-Man, is the Person spoken of.
2. I will next glance at the titles given Him in the words before us. He is entitled, “The Life.” He is so most emphatically. He is expressly called the living God by the apostle (Hebrews 3:12). He is life essentially, He is life communicatively, He is life spiritually, He is life eternally. He is the life of the whole creation, the life of grace, the life of glory. And He is all this as God-Man, the Lord, the Creator, the Proprietor of every creature. He is “Eternal Life.” His life never decays. He lives in all generations, and His Name and memorial are from everlasting to everlasting. Our spiritual and eternal life cometh from Christ only. He is the fountain of it. The knowledge of Him is our eternal life. Communion with Him is the means whereby the blessedness contained in the knowledge of Him is imparted to us and enjoyed by us.
II. The apostles’ having seen this great sight, God incarnate. “We have seen it,” or rather Him. We have seen Him as manifested in the flesh. We have seen and bear witness, and show the truth of this in our ministry of the gospel unto you. To have seen Christ, God manifest in the flesh, must have been a great sight. To retain the true sense and apprehension of what they saw in Him, and heard and received from Him, must have been to them life everlasting. Their whole ministry was filled up with giving a simple narrative of the Person, Incarnation, Life and Actions, Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Resurrection, Ascension and Exaltation of the Lord Jesus. This they were called to bear their immediate testimony unto. This forms the foundation of the four Gospels. And it is by the spiritual apprehension of Christ, as set forth therein, we live. Nor must the history, nor the mystery of Christ be rejected, nor neglected by us. The one being the foundation of the other, therefore the one must be of as great importance as the other.
III. What the apostles declared of Him, which was what they knew, from the Divine knowledge which they had of Him, that He was that Eternal Life which was with the Father. This must be the fruit of Divine revelation and inspiration: by which, their minds being renewed by the Holy Ghost, they were, under His further illumination, enabled to receive true apprehensions of the Person, Incarnation, Mission and Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ into their minds. They found real blessedness in the subject--in declaring the same, in bearing their witness and testimony to the truth thereof, in showing forth the eternity, the dignity, the personal glories of their, and our, Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. This was a very particular part of the witness which they dare of Him--that He was manifested unto them. A very singular favour. Such as I conceive we can form no adequate ideas of. How should we? That age is past. It will never return. All the Lord’s ministers and people, and that to the end of time, will be witnesses for Him, and show forth the truths of His gospel, some in a greater, some in a less measure and degree, yet not in the same way, nor to answer the same end, for which the apostles were appointed. (S. E. Pierce.)
The manifested life
This chapter, this verse, concerning the life which was manifested, is the record of St. John’s whole Christian experience given in the last years of his life; it is St. John’s full thought, his mature, final testimony to the Christ. Think of the phrase which he uses--the word of life. A word is a means of expression, a way of disclosing some secret thought, a manifestation of mind to mind. The word of life, then, is the expression of life, the means of making the life known, the revelation of its nature. And the word, or revealing, of life, of which John speaks, was not a writing from heaven, not even a voice becoming articulate from out the skies; it was the life manifested in a person, it was the personal Word of God; it was the eternal life, the life with the Father, making itself known in the person of the Lord. The life--what is it? What is its nature? What has it been from the beginning? We have seen and heard, says John, what it is, what it has been from the beginning--it is such a life as we have seen Christ live; He is its spoken word, He is its manifestation; we declare unto you that which we have seen and heard. So much, then, in general as to what this text meant to John himself. Following the leading of St. John’s experience of the Christ in this passage, let us think, in the second place, what it may mean to us. John saw the life in its personal manifestation in the Christ; we see it in its increasing spiritual attraction and universal beneficence. Let us think more closely what this eternal life, which was with the Father, may be, the life from the beginning, concerning the personal word of which St. John bore witness, and of whose continuous and increasing power the world, becoming Christian, witnesses. The word “life,” which St. John uses, is still, even in its lowest physical manifestations, the unexplained word of our science. Our best definitions of life are but learned words thrown out into the darkness. Our clearest cut conceptions of the nature of living matter run out into the indefinite and the unimaginable. The life that awakens from the wintry sleep, that gives colour and grace to the tops of the elm trees which we have seen for months as dark lines etched against the sky; the life that turns the prose of the dull landscape into the poetry of fresh meadows and waving forests; the life with which this earth has been for ages richly endowed, and whose abundant energy fails not nor grows dim with the centuries; it is a manifestation of energy which even more directly than other forms of force seems to be the touch thrilling through nature of the living God! And this life which we behold manifested in the world around us, we know more intimately in our own self-consciousness. For this is the additional marvel, this the wonder of it all--that the life which was from the beginning, which stirs in the least portion of living matter, at last feels itself throbbing in our veins, and grows conscious of its own power in our wills, and rises to its perfection of spirit in the love of our human hearts. And beyond our knowledge of personal life in us, according to the witness of the apostles, and all the world’s subsequent spiritual verification of the truth of their gospel, another even higher, richer manifestation has been given of the life which was from the beginning. The life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, has summed up all its revelations, completed its ages of working, carried its whole manifestation to utmost perfection in the word of life, in Him who at last, standing upon this earth, could say, “I am the life of the world!” “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it abundantly.” Thus the world leads at last to the perfect man, and the perfect man is God’s explanation of the world. Thus the manifested life of the world reveals its eternal purpose and end. It is from the Father, and it goes to the Father. But from these thoughts which carry us far and deep, let me turn to some nearer, perhaps plainer, applications of our Scripture. One immediately following is this: it is of the utmost practical importance for us to be impressed with the fact that the life which we may live is the sacred thing. Death is not the supreme power, but the life is. Death is not the end, but the new beginning of life. It was not possible for the Holy One to see corruption. Henceforth life shall be strong and pure, sacred as the true word of the living God, and full of promise as of love, because Christ has shown how life may be lived and death over come; and Christ is risen as the firstfruits of the resurrection. The one further application which I would now make of this most fruitful subject is this: The one single object of all the Scriptures, of the whole gospel, of all true preaching of it, is to bring us into fellowship with the life, even that life which from the beginning was with the Father, and which has been lived perfectly in the Son, and which is glorified in Him and all who live with Him. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
The manifested life
“Like draws to like,” is man’s maxim, and man’s principle of action. But such is not the heavenly law. The principle of Divine action, the regulating power of the infinite heart above, is the reverse of this. The law of grace is what man would call the law of unfitness, and unworthiness, and unlikeness. Well for us that it is so! What would have been our hope had it been otherwise? In God’s dealings with man, it is the unlike that we see uniting. What more dissimilar than heaven and earth? yet they have come together! The life has been manifested! This is our gospel. It is not “the life is,” but “the life” has come forth from its eternal mystery. The life has been manifested! What has given it opportunity to come forth? Death! It is not life that has attracted life, nor light that has given occasion for the outshining of light. Thus God, the God of all grace, revealed to us the breadth and length of His infinite love. As it needs darkness to bring out the glory of the starry heavens, so it needed death to show forth the life--life such as had not been possessed before, nor could be, by man unfallen, or upon a sinless earth. Hence the deep significance of the Lord’s words (John 10:10). Thus and then the life entered! Not like a monarch, to take possession of a fitting palace; but like a physician, to take possession of an hospital; like spring, coming to take possession of a wintry earth; like dayspring, coming to take possession of the darkened skies. What an entrance! Not invited by kindred life, still lingering among men; but uninvited, nay, repelled. It is the absence of life here that is the cause of its manifestation from on high. The life was manifested! And we have seen it! Life in the realms of the dead; light in the land of darkness; God manifest in flesh: this is what our eyes have seen. Yes; at the cradle, and the cross, and the tomb, the life has been manifested! Blessed manifestation for us, the dead in sin! The life has come; and because He liveth, we shall live also; for he that hath the Son hath life. Surely there is no lack of life for us. But what if it be rejected and despised? Here is life for you; but is it in you? Here is life come down to earth; but has it quickened you? Life died that death might live. Immortality went down into the tomb, to bring up thence for us immortality and incorruption. Life for the dead! This is our message to the sons of men. This is our gospel; a gospel for the dead, not for the living. It is the gospel of the “manifested life.” You say, perhaps, that it is just your state of death that makes this no gospel to you. Your consciousness of death leads to despondency. Ah! were you not so dead you would not need the life, and would present fewer attractions, as well as fewer necessities, to the living One; there would be less in you to call out the life. The danger lies, not in your being too dead, but in your not knowing how thoroughly dead you are. So long as there is the unconsciousness of death, there is a barrier, a non-conducting medium between you and the Life. The Holy Spirit, in revealing to you your true condition of utter death, is throwing down that barrier, and substituting a conducting for a non-conducting medium. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” His Son is the “manifested life,” the “resurrection and the life,” and “he that hath the Son hath life.” What have you found in it? Have you read in it the love of God? Have you obtained from it the life of your soul? But the manifestation of this Life is not yet over. The Life has, as it were, retired for a season, and gone within the veil; but this same Jesus, who came the first time, as the Life, shall come, as such, the second time also; and that day of His manifestation shall be the day of ours as well. The “resurrection unto life” shall be the completion of the great manifestation. As His first coming was its alpha, or beginning, so shall His second coming be its omega, or end. He comes to give His Church the full benefit of the manifested life. (H. Boxcar, D. D.)
The manifested life to be observed
I know a great scientific man whose greatest cause of regret is that on one occasion there were brought under his observation certain phenomena of human disease which might have enabled him to anticipate a great discovery which was made in Germany in late years. He had the very facts under his eye, and he did not notice them. What would be our feeling if we should find that in a region more important than any with which science is concerned, we had had under our eye, in the intelligible revelation of Jesus Christ, a disclosure of the character of God, and from mere lack of moral observation, had refused to take notice of it? (Canon Gore, M. A.)
The eternal life manifested
His unlikeness to this world implies His likeness to another world. One evening you find among the reeds of your lake an unknown bird, whose broad breast and powerful pinions are not meant for this inland scene. It is resting midway between two oceans, and by tomorrow will have gone. Does not that bird prove the ocean it left? does it not prove the ocean whither it has flown? “Jesus, knowing … that He was come from God, and went to God,” is the revelation and confirmation of ageless life. (John Watson, M. A.)
1 John 1:3
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you
The gospel ministry; its spirituality, motive, and object
Our text presents a work, a motive, and an object.
A work to declare Christ unto you; a motive, to become your spiritual benefactors; an object, to bring you into fellowship with us, “and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
I. A personal and experimental knowledge of Christ eminently fits us to declare him unto you. This is our work, and for this experimental qualification there can be no substitute; neither training, learning, nor natural talent may be put in its place. Spiritual knowledge and experience is a mighty power here; without it, all is feeble.
1. It implies a revelation of Christ. The age for personal manifestation is passed away; this book supplies its place. This is the Christ we declare--a Divine Christ, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
2. It implies real and experimental knowledge of Christ. We have seen Him, not with mortal eyes, but by spiritual sight, seen Him through an adapted medium, as set forth in revelation, as apprehended by faith; seen Him so as to know, love, and trust in Him.
3. It implies appreciation. “We have handled Him,” heard with our own ears, seen with our own eyes; handled with our own hands, and tested with our senses, and now we appreciate Him as Saviour. He has saved us--we feel it, we know it. As such, we present Him to you; we appreciate Him as able to do all things for us: what He has done, guarantees ability to do all that is needful. Being justified by His death, we shall be saved by His life.
II. In declaring Christ to you, we are moved by a sacred and divine feeling of benevolence.
1. It is love. The love of Christ constrains us. That love is without parallel or comparison; it was love to enemies, and manifested in intense suffering. I enjoy the benefit of it; I want you to do the same.
2. To this we are moved by sympathy. We know your state; we see you strangers and aliens from God; we know your woes, disappointments, and dissatisfaction; yes, and we know your danger--we were once in the same state. We have found great spoil, we want you to come and share it; we have found great joy, we want you to come and be glad with us; we have found Christ, we want you to find Him too: hence we declare Him unto you.
3. In this we are moved by a sense of duty. Thus it becomes a motive here. Every servant has work to do. Christ bids us preach, we may not be silent; the Church requires the gospel, and we must preach it; the world is perishing for lack of knowledge, and we must teach it. A field, waste and desolate, lays at our feet--we must cultivate it; souls are in danger, and we must not parley nor trifle.
III. In a spiritual participation and fellowship with the Father and the Son, the wants of man are met.
1. We have fellowship with Christ by faith; this meets our necessity as sinners.
2. We have fellowship in labour and honour; this meets our wants as probationers.
3. We have fellowship in blessedness; and this meets our necessities as sufferers.
4. We have fellowship in the things of eternity; and this meets our necessity as immortal beings. (C. Talbot.)
The testimony of the beloved disciple to the person and offices of Christ:
I. THE PREEMINENT SUBJECT OF THE APOSTLE’S INSTRUCTIONS. In the expression, “That which we have seen and heard,” he briefly recapitulates that which he had more fully described in the first verse. His subject, then, was Christ, the Word of life. He preached the eternal Word as being absolutely and in Himself the possessor of life.
II. The purpose and object which he had in view when he thus declared the nature and offices of Christ. His desire was that the privilege which he himself enjoyed might be shared by all the people of God. “That which we have seen,” etc.
1. St. John was not only an apostle, but a peculiarly distinguished and favoured apostle; yet this exalted office did not induce him to lose sight of that which he was in common with all the other children of God.
(1) By declaring Christ he sought to promote a fellowship with himself in judgment.
(2) The apostle also desired by his instructions to promote, on the part of those whom he addressed, a fellowship with himself, and with other believers in affection.
(3) The apostle moreover desired the fellowship of others with himself in the enjoyment of Christian privileges.
2. But the beloved apostle states the reason for which he desired that others might be joined in fellowship with himself. It was because fellowship with him involved that highest of blessings--fellowship with God.
(1) It implies a reciprocity of mutual affection and love.
(2) This sacred and mysterious fellowship comprehends also a reciprocity of mutual interests.
(3) The fellowship of believers with the Father and the Son consists, moreover, in the freedom of mutual intercourse.
III. The subject may suggest several practical topics of reflection.
1. If we are partakers of this sacred fellowship, we need not regret the absence of those opportunities of seeing and hearing the incarnate Saviour which St. John enjoyed.
2. Nor must it be forgotten that this fellowship must be a personal and individual experience,
3. It is further worthy of remark, that this fellowship has an assimilating effect on those who partake of it.
4. Nor must the happiness of this Divine fellowship be forgotten. Trials may depress the natural spirits; but the soul which maintains fellowship with the Father and the Son shall rejoice in the Lord, and that joy shall be its strength. (J. Hill, M. A.)
God’s message to be declared
We ought to speak out the messages given us for others. God puts something into the heart of every one of His creatures that He would have that creature utter. He puts into the star a message of light, and you look up into the heavens at night, and it tells you its secret. Who knows what a benediction a star may be to the weary traveller who finds his way by it, or to the sick man lying by his window, and in his sleeplessness looking up at the glimmering point of light in the calm, deep heavens? God gives to a flower a mission of beauty and sweetness, and for its brief life it tells out its message to all who can read it. Wordsworth says:
“To me the meanest flower that blooms can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
Especially does God give to every human soul a message to deliver … Each friend of Christ living close to Him learns something from Him and of Him which no one has learned before, which he is to forthtell to the world. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
An influential testimony
Before the Australian goldfields were opened a party of experts were sent to explore the district. They made their survey, and sent in their report that gold would be found. But somehow nobody was greatly interested. Some time after some lads came from the Bush to Melbourne with some lumps of yellow ore in their pockets. “Why,” said those to whom they showed it, “that’s gold; where did you get it from?” “Oh,” said they, “there’s plenty of it up our Way.” Next morning everyone who could was off to the diggings. As witnesses to Christ our lives must show we have the “nuggets.” (The Railway Signal.)
The charm of testimony
A report of a report, says Manton, is a cold thing and of small value; but of a report what we have witnessed and experienced ourselves comes warmly upon men’s hearts. So a mere formal description, observes Spurgeon, of faith and its blessings falls flat on the ear; but when a sincere believer tells of his own experience of the Lord’s faithfulness, it has a great charm about it. We like to hear the narrative of a journey from the traveller himself. In a court of law they will have no hearsay evidence. “Tell us,” says the judge, “not what your neighbour said, but what you saw yourself.” Personal evidence of the power of grace has a wonderfully convincing force upon the conscience. “I sought the Lord, and He heard me,” is better argument than all the Butler’s Analogies that will ever be written, good as they are in their place. (Proctor’s Gems of Thought.)
The argument from experience
The validity of such an argument lies on the surface. It is useless to tell the famishing wanderer that the pool into which he has dipped his cup is but a mirage of the desert, when the refreshing fluid is already moistening his parched lips. (J. Watson, M. A.)
Experience helpful to a teacher
The pictures of struggling poverty which enriched the early writings of Dickens with such freshness of original humour and quite unstudied pathos, and which gave them such sudden popularity, he had witnessed when he lived in Bayham Street, Camden Town. They came with all the dewy novelty of one who had seen every detail continually and could wondrously reproduce it. (W. M. Statham.)
That ye also may have fellowship--Fellowship in Christ
The knowledge of Christ is the basis of fellowship. If, like the apostle Paul, we can say, “It hath pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” we will, after his example, “assay to join ourselves to the disciples.”
I. It is the believer’s privilege to have “fellowship with the Father.” He has been enabled to behold God in the light of a Father, and to cherish towards Him the feelings of a child. And herein consists the essence of the fellowship which he maintains with Him. As a child has near access to his father, so has he to God. This privilege, and the grounds of it, are set forth with peculiar richness in the Divine word (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-22). These gracious words and powerful arguments are put into our mouth by God Himself, that we may approach Him with all the confidence of children. As a child enjoys the assurance of his father’s favour, so has the believer that of God. He knows he is sinful and unworthy, but he believes that in Christ “he has redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” As a child cherishes the love which he bears to his father, so does the believer toward God. He feels the force of that irresistible appeal (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). He must say, “We love Him because He first loved us.” In a word, the believer is exhorted, “delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” And this is the height of the fellowship to which he should aspire--to be able to say, “We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let it not be forgotten, too, that it is a duty as well as a privilege to maintain it, and there are many ways in which it may be done. We should have fellowship with God in His works. So had David when he said (Psalms 8:3-4). How blessed to look on all the works of nature, and say, “My Father made them all.” We should more particularly seek to hold fellowship with God in His Word. His will is more plainly revealed there, as well as His character and government. We may have similar fellowship in the ordinances of grace. In them we may pray (Psalms 106:4-5). It would be alike our duty and wisdom to say with the Psalmist (Psalms 27:4). So also should we see and hear Him in the dispensations of His providence. Whatever they may be, joyous or sorrowful, we should recognise their author and learn their lessons.
II. The fellowship of the believer “with his son Jesus Christ.” In the text this is pointedly distinguished from that which has been already considered. Nor is it difficult to perceive the reason of the distinction. Fellowship with the Father can be held only through Christ. He has said expressly, “I am the Way--no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” On the other hand fellowship with the Son is direct. The reason is that He has taken our nature, and converses with us in it. He was in the beginning with the Father. He is therefore possessed of all Divine perfections. His wisdom is unerring, His power almighty, and His love infinite. This is the Being who came to us in the capacity of a Saviour. Again He is described in His humanity. He was seen, heard, and handled. He assumed that humanity for the very purpose of qualifying Him to be the Saviour of men. He has felt all that man can feel. He has the sympathy of a brother. Especially He endured all the sorrows of humanity. He suffered from poverty, neglect, reproach, injustice, and cruelty. He agonised under mental grief, as well as bodily tortures. He was tried by temptations the most harassing and powerful. Well, therefore, does He understand our trials. Not merely, however, is He described in His deity to encourage our confidence, and in His humanity to assure us of His sympathy, but in His office also as “the Word of Life,” He has “eternal life” as the Saviour of men. It is His to dispense it to sinners. He says to all who believe in Him, “Because I live ye shall live also.” Surely if we are encouraged to have fellowship with the Father, we may be specially encouraged to maintain it with His Son Jesus Christ. There is everything in Him to invite us to cultivate it.
III. The fellowship of believers with one another. If we have fellowship with the Father, then we are His children, and are animated by their spirit. If we have fellowship with Jesus Christ, then we are His redeemed ones, and the subjects of His grace. It follows, therefore, as a necessary consequence, that wherever there is fellowship with the Father and the Son, there must also be fellowship with those who believe in them. What, then, is the fellowship of believers? Let the apostle Paul reply (Ephesians 4:4-6). The communion arising out of such unity must be universal, and pervading throughout all who are bound by it. They are one in Christ Jesus, and we just name some of the forms in which their fellowship will appear.
1. They have a community of nature. They are all “partakers of the Divine nature,” and obey its impulses. Their tastes and habits are therefore alike heavenly.
2. They have a community of views. They can all say, “To them that believe Christ is precious,” “the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.”
3. They have communion in feelings. Loving Christ, they love one another (1 John 5:1).
4. They have communion in joy and sorrow (1 Corinthians 12:26). As it is with the members of the body, so it is in the church.
5. They have communion in the kind offices of brotherly love (1 Corinthians 12:21).
6. They have fellowship in the progress of true religion.
7. They have fellowship in the prospects of heaven and eternity (1 Peter 1:3).
It ought to be the aim of believers to cultivate such fellowship as this. There are many reasons to enforce it.
1. One is their own good (Psalms 133:1-3).
2. Another is the advancement of religion on the earth. Jesus prayed (John 17:21).
3. And to these let it be added, that it is vain to speak of fellowship with the Father and the Son if we have not fellowship with one another. Wherever one of these is they must all be. They are inseparable. They will all be found, too, in an equal measure. (James Morgan, D. D.)
I. The privilege.
1. A peculiar state of blessedness, in relation to God, described by Paul, as “this grace wherein we stand” (Romans 5:2). This is the true “kingdom of God on earth”--a restoration to the knowledge, favour, and image of God, not perfectly, but really and extensively. ‘Tis the state of men elevated above all low, earthly, and grovelling desires; maintaining sweet and sanctifying intercourse with God, as their Father in Christ.
2. The means of its realisation.
II. The mutual relationship essentially involved in this fellowship.
1. One holy brotherhood is established among all saints. The various characters of their several occupations, the diversity of their mental capabilities, the distance of their several residences, and other circumstances, preclude continual and intimate intercourse. But while even on earth it is not wholly so, and might be much less so than it is, all these circumstances of earth shall, in the future state, be wholly unknown.
2. A prevailing sympathy actually subsists among all the true followers of Christ; differing indeed in intensity, but real, and, if healthy and Scriptural, rising above the narrow and temporary distinctions which obtain among men.
III. The duties devolving on Christians as brethren in Christ.
1. The cultivation of brotherly love is obvious and paramount. A oneness of experience creates mutual interest in all by whom such experience is shared. Their feelings, as they resemble our own, encourage our hope and strengthen our faith.
2. The cultivation of mutual intercourse is an obvious and natural obligation devolving on all the brethren.
(1) As individuals. All should remember the beautiful and imperative law of heaven, “Be courteous.”
(2) Social intercourse, too, will not be disregarded.
3. Mutual aid is obligatory, and this both in temporal and spiritual matters.
4. Mutual supervision is also incumbent on Christians with the view of preventing, or reclaiming from spiritual delusion. (J. Richard.)
If two of us know one thing we are thus far in fellowship, and this may be and often is the closest tie which can bind men together for good or evil. We see this if we think of two men knowing of a crime, or of the hiding place of a treasure. The bond, too, is strong just as the thing known is great. Here the tie which makes us one with the apostles is the knowledge that life has come into our dead world, and that this life may be ours. No knowledge can be of greater value to us than this. To share it, is the closest bond that can join us to each other, for all Who have it are therefore among the living and not with the dead (John 17:3). To know, then, what St. John knew is to have life as he had it: it is to know God, in so far as we can know Him, as God knows Himself, to have no false thoughts of Him, and thus to have fellowship with Him, in clearly seeing that He is holy and just, but also that He is full of love and of boundless pity. This knowledge, once gained, brings with it a joy, which St. John tells us we share with all those who have that knowledge. (C. Watson, D. D.)
The internal basis of Christian fellowship
Thus the final and highest positive end which St. John aimed to attain by his gospel was this, that the high priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17:21) should have its fulfilment in his readers; that they
(1) should grow as living members into that fellowship, the mother-stem and centre of which was the disciples themselves--into that fellowship the members of which among themselves were one, but the common unity of which
(2) has its internal ground of life in the unity in which every individual stands with the Father and the Son. It is obvious, accordingly, that the two members of this final statement of the design do not simply stand side by side in external conjunction, but are most internally and livingly one. The latter specifies the internal living ground and principle of life, on which the former grows, and on which alone it can be brought to perfection. (J. H. A. Ebrard.)
Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ--
Believers’ communion with the Father and Son
1. Union. This is the basis of communion. Believers are united to the Father and the Son, and the Father and the Son to them.
(1) Of enjoyments. The Lord is ours, and we are His.
(2) Community of affections. The Lord and His saints have the same affections, running in the same channel, fixed on the same objects.
(3) A community of interest. The Lord and saints have the same ends, the same friends and enemies.
(4) Community of privileges. It is His privilege to be omnipotent, and the saint Paul glories that he can do all things, Christ strengthening him. It is the Lord’s privilege to be omniscient, yet He vouchsafes some shadow of this to us, when He promiseth the Spirit shall lead us into all truth (1 John 2:20). It is His privilege to be all-sufficient. And what does He promise less to us, when He assures us we shall want no good thing? (2 Corinthians 9:8). And as we partake of the privileges of the Father, so also of the Son. He is king, priest, and prophet, and so are we. Again, Christ is the Son of God, and so are we. What honour is this! (1 John 3:1). Christ is the heir of all things, and we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Christ is the object of His Father’s love, and so are we (Leviticus 26:11). Christ is the glory of God, the brightness of His glory, and we are the glory of God (Psa 11:10). Christ is a judge, and so are we (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
3. Familiar converse.
(1) The Lord visits us, and we visit Him (Revelation 3:20).
(2) A saint walks with God, and God with him; so He promises (2 Corinthians 6:16; Leviticus 26:12; Isaiah 43:2). The familiarity of this walking is held forth in this expression (Psalms 73:23).
(3) The Lord talks with us, and we with Him; He speaks to us by His Word, by His providence, by the sweet whisperings of the Holy Ghost--that still voice comforts, directs, encourages.
(4) The Lord feasts the saints, and they feast Him (Isaiah 25:6). And what is that which the Lord counts a feast? (Isaiah 57:15).
Use 1. If believers have communion with the Father and the Son, then unbelievers hath communion with the devil and his angels.
Use 2. An exhortation to get this fellowship, and continue it.
(1) It is most for God’s glory.
(2) It is best for us. (D. Clarkson, B. D.)
The nature of communion
Men are formed for society. To social enjoyments religion is no enemy. On the contrary, it sanctifies friendship, and renders it subservient for promoting our best interests. No society among men can be compared with the fellowship which every genuine believer enjoys “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” This, in so far as it is enjoyed, is a source of pure and exalted happiness. Its pleasures are not accompanied with the alloy of disappointment. The strong asseveration “truly,” here used, points out the importance and certainty of what is affirmed. The men of the world are apt to call in question the reality of such an intercourse. In this, however, they are much mistaken. The pleasures which the saints enjoy are the genuine pleasures of life, and the only enjoyments that deserve that name.
I. The nature of that fellowship which believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Union to His person is part of that fellowship which believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ. So long as they continue in their natural state, dead in trespasses and sins, they can have no fellowship with Jesus.
2. Reciprocal communion is included in the fellowship which believers have with Christ. There is nothing that can be properly called His in which they have not an interest, nor are they possessed of anything which He does not consider as His own. Are they men? He too has assumed the human nature. Is He God? They also, in consequence of His Spirit dwelling in them, are in some measure “made partakers of the Divine nature.” Their poverty is His, and His riches are theirs. If they bear His reproach, they share also in His honour; if they be conformed unto His death, they have also a part in His resurrection.
3. The fellowship with Christ which believers enjoy includes in it every species of friendly and familiar intercourse.
4. The last thing included in the fellowship believers have with Christ is an interchange of good offices. To Him they are indebted for all the blessings they possess, and for all that they hope to enjoy. Their health, their strength, their time, their talents, their substance, and their influence, when they act in character, are all employed to promote the interest of His kingdom in the world.
II. Some of the advantages which believers derive from their, fellowship with Christ.
1. In consequence of this fellowship, they have the best instruction.
(1) The wonders He reveals.
(2) He opens their dark under standings, removes their unfounded prejudices, and enables them to embrace redeeming truth in all its beauty and simplicity.
2. This fellowship is a source of the most refined delight. They walk in the light of His countenance, in the joy of heaven.
3. The fellowship of believers with Christ is a source of the highest honour. All His companions are “kings and priests unto God”; more honourable than the most exalted among men.
4. Believers derive many great and precious benefits from fellowship with Christ.
5. This fellowship is in every respect a source of the most exalted happiness.
1. See and admire the condescension and kindness of the Son of God.
2. Let believers learn to esteem and rejoice in this precious privilege.
3. From this subject let believers learn their duty. This will be found always to correspond, in some measure, to the privileges they enjoy. (G. Campbell.)
On communion with God
I. Fellowship with God implies converse with Him. Who does not feel the charm of those hours which are spent in the society of a friend? Of our converse with God, a prominent example is the ordinance of prayer.
II. The fellowship implies in it resemblance to God. In confidential intercourse there must be agreement on the great principles of human conduct. The fellowship also which we have with God implies, as indispensable for its first formation, a desire to resemble Him. The perfections of the Divine nature are offered to our imitation with softened glory in the character of Jesus Christ.
III. This fellowship implies a participation in all the fulness of the Divine bounty. Every noble purpose, every generous resolution that man can form, is given by the inspiration of the Highest. If, then, He hath enabled human friendship to think thus disinterestedly, and to act thus nobly, much more will He manifest the riches of His own love toward those whom He honours in fellowship with Himself. “We are filled,” saith the apostle, “with all the fulness of God.” (A. Brunton, D. D.)
Fellowship with the Father and with the Son
Do the saints above enjoy a most intimate fellowship or communion with God and His Son? Saints on earth enjoy fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
I. All true Christians enjoy a kind of fellowship or communion with God and Christ, to which mankind are, in their natural state, total strangers. The High and Holy One, who inhabits eternity, condescends to dwell with those who are of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the heart of the contrite ones. The inspired writers invariably use the strongest language when they would show the intimate union which subsists between Christ and His Church. He is the Shepherd, and they the sheep; He is the Vine, and they are the branches; He is the Head, and they are His members; He is the Soul, and they are the body.
II. What this communion implies and in what it consists. The original word, which is here rendered fellowship, and which is elsewhere rendered communion, signifies that reciprocal intercourse, or communion, which subsists between beings who are partakers of the same nature, whose moral characters are similar, and who mutually know and esteem each other. It is an observation no less just than common, that like rejoices in like, and where there is no likeness there can be no communion. Thus, for instance, there can be no communion between the inhabitants of the water and those of the air; for what is life to the one is death to the other. But, on the other hand, when persons meet who resemble each other in temper, character, age, and situation, who love and hate the same things, and pursue and avoid the same objects, they readily unite, like drops of dew when brought into contact, and appear to compose but one soul in different bodies. Similitude, similarity of nature, of character and pursuits, must therefore be the basis of all true fellowship or communion. Hence it appears that no creatures can enjoy communion with God and His Son but those who are partakers of His Divine nature, who resemble Him in their moral character, and who love, hate, and pursue those things which are respectively the objects of His love, hatred, and pursuit.
1. Christians enjoy communion with God in the works of creation. They contemplate the universe as a temple in which the Most High sits enthroned; as a body, of which God is in a certain sense the soul; and as we love the bodies of our friends for the sake of the souls which inhabit them, as we are peculiarly pleased with the works of our friends for the sake of the hands which formed them, so Christians are ineffably pleased and delighted with the great work of creation, because it was formed and is filled by their Father and their God.
2. The Christian enjoys communion with God in all the dispensations of His providence.
3. The Christian enjoys communion with God in His Word, read and preached.
4. Christians enjoy communion with God and His Son in the public exercises of religious worship.
5. Christians enjoy communion with God and Christ in the exercise of private meditation, prayer and praise. As children, they have liberty of access to God at all times. (E. Payson, D. D.)
I. The declaration expressed in my text, which contains the whole subject of the apostles’ ministry. Beyond which they could not go. Nor could greater things be expressed. Our apostle, using the plural number, shows that the whole testimony borne by all the apostles, was one and the same. It was one and the same gospel in each of their mouths. The communion they had with Him they made known. The declaration which they made of this, was to saints. Not to others. No. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” Who are holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling. A most noble instance of spiritual generosity. Worthy of imitation by the servants and ministers of Christ in every age. To utter forth the memory of His great goodness. They cannot but act thus, if they have conversed with Him, if they have heard Him.
II. The end and design of the apostle in this. “That ye also may have fellowship with us.” Church fellowship, which is the communion of saints, is an inexpressible blessing. It consists in imparting to each other an account of what the Lord hath done for our souls. We have fellowship with each other in the same Spirit; with the same Christ; in the same salvation; with the same God and Father; in the same ordinances. We are one family to the Lord. I conceive we may distinguish the real fellowship the apostles had with Christ from what other saints have. They were favoured with personal converses with Christ. They received their knowledge of Him, more immediately and intuitively, from the Holy Spirit. In consequence of which their faith was more simple. All other saints, and we with them, receive the grace of faith and the subject of faith from the written word. That is the glass, and the ordinance of worship, in which we behold the Lord. There was an absolute necessity it should be thus with them. They were to speak and write on every article of faith, and state the same as exactly as it was stated in the mind and will of God.
III. Those with whom the apostles had fellowship. In the first place, the apostle speaks in a very positive manner, and asserts, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Communion with God--it must be the supreme cornerstone of Christianity. I would here ask, what is communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ? The answer is this. It is an unity of mind. So as for God to let in Himself upon our minds, as to give us such apprehensions of His love, as afford us a real, spiritual knowledge of and acquaintance with the same, so as for us to partake of the reality thereof (John 14:20). There is a variety of unions in which Christ and His Church are related to each other. There is first an election union, which is that comprehensive one by which Christ and His Church were united together from everlasting. He the Head, and they His members. On this followed a marriage union. Christ and His Bride were set up in heaven from eternity (Proverbs 8:30-31). There is also a representative union between Christ and the Elect. He represented them and acted for them, as their Head and Surety, in the everlasting covenant. This He gave full evidence of in the fulness of time, when He came into our world, and became thereby one with His people (Hebrews 2:11-14). There is also a grace union. Mr. Joseph Hussey says, “There are three unions in Christ, suited to the three operations of the three persons in God. I mean three unions of God’s children, and all of them before faith, viz., election union, representation union, and regeneration union. Out of all these ariseth a fourth union, which is a union with Christ, distinct from union in Christ; this consists in union and cleaving to Him by faith.” There is also a glory union (John 17:22-23). This glory union will break forth upon the Church in her resurrection state. Now in consequence of all these unions, there is a proportional communion with all the Persons in Godhead, in the Person of Christ, with the Church.
IV. The truth and reality of this, which is thus confirmed. “And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, by the Holy Ghost, who dwells personally in the saints, is a most glorious mystery of grace. Nature cannot apprehend it. Sense must have nothing to do with it. None can have the least conception of the nature, the importance, the excellency, the blessedness of the same, but such as are born from above. No. Nor these either, but as enlightened, inspired, and supernaturally lifted up into the true knowledge and enjoyment of the same. Spiritual life is a great mystery, the whole essence of which consists in communion with God. The Father is He with whom we have this communion. The God-Man is the Mediator of all our union and communion with God. The more, therefore, we eye Him, and have our hearts drawn out after Him, and fixed on Him as our centre, so we the more clearly understand the grace of fellowship with God. (S. E. Pierce.)
Communion with God
I. This communion presupposes much. It takes for granted that the suspicions and doubts which by nature encompass us have been removed by the work of the Spirit.
II. The ways in which we have this fellowship are innummerable. “In the silence of the individual heart, in the secrecy of the closet, in the social circle where the brethren meet for prayer, in the churches, etc.
III. The consequences of this fellowship are blessed and satisfactory in the highest degree. Sin becomes more and more hateful: the world loses its charm over us, and the flesh its power. (H. W. Graham.)
Fellowship with God
I. First, let us see if it be not so, that we have had, and do have real fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Now we have had fellowship with the Father.
1. In order to have fellowship with any man there must be a concord of heart. “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”
2. Again, we have fellowship with God in the object for which the purpose was first formed, namely, His own glory. The highest aspiration of our spirit, when it is most enlarged, is that He in all things may be glorified.
3. And have we not fellowship with Him in the plan by which He effects that purpose? Does it not strike you as being the wisest, the most gracious, the most glorious scheme that could have been devised?
4. And I think we may add, we have fellowship with God in the most prominent characteristics of that plan. Throughout the whole way of salvation you have seen displayed the justice and the mercy of God, each with undimmed lustre. You have seen His grace in forgiving the sinner, but you have seen His holiness in avenging sin upon the substitute. You have seen His truthfulness acting in two ways; His truth in threatening--by no means sparing the guilty; His truth in the promise--“passing by transgression, iniquity, and sin.” And do not you and I feel we have fellowship with God in this?
5. We have a most Divine and precious communion with the Father in the objects of His love. When two persons love the same thing, their affection becomes a tie between them. Now, there is a tie between God the Father and our souls, for did not He say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? And cannot you and I add, “Yes, He is our beloved Saviour, in whom we are well pleased”?
6. But the word “fellowship” not only signifies concord of heart, but it implies a carrying out of that concord a little further, in converse or mutual communication. Furthermore, we can say we have had fellowship with God in this respect, that the very thing which is His happiness has been our happiness. That which has been the delight of His Holy Being has been a delight to us. “And what is that?” say you. Why, doth not God delight in holiness, in goodness, in mercy, and in loving kindness, and has not that been our delight too?
7. And so, also, that which is the Father’s employment is our employment. He doeth good to all His creatures, and we can do good also. He beareth witness to His Son Jesus, and we can bear witness too. “The Father worketh hitherto” that His Son may be glorified, and we work too. O thou Eternal Worker! it is thine to save souls, and we are co-workers with Thee. And now I must affirm the fact, that we have fellowship with the Son as well as with the Father. In both these matters we are like little children that have begun to speak or learn their letters. We have not yet attained, though I say we have fellowship with the Father; yet how little we have of it compared with what we hope to have! Well, now we have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, I think we can say, for our hearts are united to Him. “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” At any rate, it is strange that I should never be happy without Thee, it is singular that I can find no peace anywhere but in Thee. If I did not love Thee, should I have such longings after Thee? Further, we have had some small degree of fellowship with Him in His sufferings. We have not yet “resisted unto blood striving against sin,” but we have carried His cross, and we have suffered His reproach. But our fellowship has assumed also a practical form, in that the same desires and aspirations which were in Christ when He was on the earth are in us now. Oh! we have uttered feelingly the very words of Christ, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” And when there seemed to be some insuperable obstacle in the path of our usefulness, we have nevertheless said, “My meat and my drink is to do the will of Him that sent me.” And yet, further, as I have said, fellowship requires converse. Oh! ye daughters of Jerusalem, have we not had converse with Him?
II. There is, secondly, an affectionate desire, leading to appropriate effort.
1. This affectionate desire is that others might have fellowship with us. Having tasted that the Lord is gracious, it is one of the first instincts of the newborn nature to send us out crying, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” etc. We wish to gather up all in one, that in everything which is lovely and of good repute, in everything which is happy, ennobling, Divine, and everlasting, you might be made partakers and have fellowship with us!
2. And this desire leads the child of God to make use of an appropriate effort, and what is that? It is to tell to others what he has seen and what he has beard. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fellowship with God
I. The nature of this fellowship.
1. Partnership, a sharing with another in anything, the possessing of it in common with him. In this sense we have all fellowship one with another; as Englishmen we participate together in the many blessings a bountiful Providence has showered down on our native land. In this sense the merchant too has fellowship with his partners in business--he has the same interests with them, he shares with them in the same gains and losses. Now transfer this idea to the text. What a lofty declaration does it in one moment become! There is a fellowship, it tells us, between the great God and us, a partnership, a sharing together of the same things. And what things are these? There is no limit to this partnership, except that which our finite nature makes on the one hand, and that which His holy nature makes on the other. He sends His Spirit down into our hearts to regenerate them; and then not to leave our hearts, but to dwell and rule in them. We are raised in the scale of being or soon shall be, we know not how high, nearer to God than any other creatures, and made more like Him. And with His nature He gives us an interest in all His glorious perfections. Not only are His mercy and love ours, we may look on His wisdom, and power, and greatness, as ours. They are all pledged for our everlasting happiness.
2. It signifies intercourse, converse, and a free and familiar converse. We make known our thoughts and feelings one to another by outward signs, chiefly by words. We have no other way of making them known. But suppose anyone to possess the power of looking into our hearts, and seeing every thought there as it rises up, and this whether he is present with us or not, then words and outward signs would not be needed; we could speak to him within our own minds, and he would understand us better than anyone besides, more readily and fully. Now God does possess this power, and the Christian knows that He possesses it; and he acts like one who knows it. This fellowship consists, on his part, in the turning of his soul to God, in a habit he has acquired of speaking within himself to God, just as another man speaks by outward expressions to his neighbour or friend.
3. And these two things are never separated. There can be no real communion between Him and us till we are spiritually united to Him, and this union with Him is never real without leading at once to this intercourse and communion. And for both these things we are indebted altogether to the Lord Jesus Christ. In His human nature He stands nearer to us than His Father, and His Father has ordained Him to be the one great Mediator between Himself and us. “Through Him we have access to the Father.”
II. The ends this apostle has in view, in speaking to us so assuredly of his possessing this blessed fellowship.
1. That we may desire to have our portion with him and the real followers of our Lord. And what a stamp of dignity this puts on the disciples of Christ and their condition!
2. That his fellow believers in Christ may be happier in Him. He thinks first of those who are far off from Christ. “We tell you,” he says, “of this happy fellowship to bring you to desire it;” and then he turns round to those who are already near Christ, and says, “We tell you of it, that your joy may be full.”
3. To save us from self-deception. Almost in the same sentence in which he tells us that we have fellowship with Christ, he warns us against thinking it ours while we have fellowship with sin. “God is light,” he says, “and in Him is no darkness,” etc. “And is there nothing in this text,” some of you may say, “for us who long for a share in this heavenly fellowship and cannot obtain it?” Yes, there is. It bids you dismiss from your minds the thought that you cannot obtain it. Why are you told of it? (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The doctrine and fellowship of the apostles
I. The knowledge. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you;” that which we have seen and heard of the “Word of life”; “the Life”; which “was manifested”; “that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (verses 1, 2). These names and descriptions of the Son undoubtedly refer, in the first instance, to His eternal relation to the Father; of whose nature He is the image, of whose will He is the expression, of whose life He is the partner and the communicator. But this eternal relation--what He is to the Father from everlasting--must be viewed now in connection with what He is as He dwells among us on the earth. It is “the man Christ Jesus” who is the “manifested life.” In the midst of all the conditions of our death this life is thus manifested. For He who is the life takes our death. Not otherwise could “that eternal life which was with the Father be manifested unto us.” For we are dead. If it were not so, what need would there be of a new manifestation of life to us? So He who is “the eternal life which was with the Father” is “manifested to us” as “destroying this death.” He destroys it in the only way in which it can be destroyed righteously, and therefore thoroughly: by taking it upon Himself, bearing it for us in our stead, dying the very death which we have most justly deserved and incurred. So He gives clear and certain assurance that this death of ours need not stand in the way of our having the life of God manifested to us--and that too in even a higher sense and to higher ends than it was or could be manifested to man at first.
II. The communicated fellowship--“that ye may have fellowship with us.”
1. The object of this fellowship is the Father and the Son. As Christ is the way, the true and living way, to the Father, so fellowship with Him as such must evidently be preparatory to fellowship with the Father. But it is not thus that Christ is here represented. He is not put before the Father as the way to the Father, fellowship with whom is the means, leading to fellowship with the Father as the end. He is associated with the Father. Together, in their mutual relation to one another and their mutual mind or heart to one another, they constitute the one object of this fellowship.
2. The nature of the fellowship can be truly known only by experience.
(1) It implies intelligence and insight. No man naturally has it; no man naturally cares to have it.
(2) There must be faith, personal, appropriating, and assured faith, in order that the intelligence, the insight, may be quickened by a vivid sense of real personal interest and concern.
(3) This fellowship is of a transforming, conforming, assimilating character. In it you become actually partakers with the Father and the Son in nature and in counsel.
(4) It is a fellowship of sympathy. Being of one mind, in this partnership, with the Father and the Son, you are of one heart too.
(5) The fellowship is one of joy. Intelligence, faith, conformity of mind, sympathy of heart, all culminate in joy; joy in God; entering into the joy of the Lord. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Fellowship with God
I. The believer’s fellowship with God is an actual and literal thing, an unfigurative fact, a reality; it is not an idea, an imagination merely, Between God and the believer there is an intercourse of spirit, an interchange of spiritual thought, a community of spiritual feeling, actual, though unseen; a communication on the one hand, and a reception on the other, of positive spiritual influences, comforting, strengthening, and purifying. The mode of this spiritual intercourse we do not profess to describe. But our inability to do this affords no presumption against the fact. We know not even how our own spirits operate upon each other; much less, therefore, how the Divine spirit acts upon ours. Nor do we profess to demonstrate even the fact of this fellowship by any sensible evidence or logical proof; it is a matter of pure consciousness, concerning which we can only testify.
II. Wherein does this fellowship consist? The most prominent idea of “fellowship” is that of mutual sympathy, reciprocal affection. Yea, just in proportion to the affection of the one party will fellowship be disabled, and anguish increased, by the apathy of the other. In order to be fellowship there must be interchange--a reciprocity of thought and affection. Nothing can constitute fellowship but this: nothing can compensate for the lack of it: not even the most familiar knowledge of God. Take the man who knows Him best, who has come nearest to God in the sense of understanding His works and ways; if he have no love for God, however minute and accurate his knowledge, he has no fellowship with Him. To give then a practical application to this thought, you see the great and only requirement for your individual fellowship with God. You cannot doubt affection on His part, and therefore the only necessity is a reciprocal love on yours. Would you but love God, an instant and intimate fellowship with Him might even now commence.
III. On what grounds must such fellowship of sinners with a Holy God proceed? Will the holy God advance to sinful man? or must sinful man advance to the holy God? In other words, must God compromise His holiness and accommodate it to the moral degeneracy of man? or must man abandon his sinfulness and render fellowship possible by a conformity to the holiness of God? and in either case, how is the common character and sympathy to be produced? And here we point to the Saviour’s mediation as the indispensable means of our fellowship with God. “In Him we have access with confidence through the faith of Him.” And it is easy to see how, through Him, this fellowship is rendered possible. Before there can be fellowship there must be peace, reconciliation. But how is this to be accomplished? “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” But still the question returns, How shall man have fellowship with God? Here is reconciliation and pardon; but there must also be congruity of disposition; a reciprocal affection; a common sympathy. Here then is the remedy, the Holy Spirit renews our moral nature, gives us new principles and new dispositions, the possession of which assimilates us to God, and thus enables communion with Him.
IV. How is it to be cultivated? We see that all preventing hindrances have been removed, now point out the appropriating means. It is evident that all our intercourse with God must be by faith; we have no sensible vision of Him; we come into no palpable contact with Him; He is the invisible, the spiritual God. Faith therefore is the only faculty by which we can recognise Him and lay hold upon Him--“the life that we live in the flesh is a life of faith in the Son of God.” We believe, and through our faith we realise, the thoughts and feelings which conscious presence produces and which constitute fellowship; fellowship is nothing more than the interchange of thoughts and feelings; and that which produces them, which makes the intercourse real, which distinguishes it from mere imagination or sentiment, is faith. But while the holy feelings which constitute fellowship with God are exclusively dependent upon faith, they are capable of various excitements. To produce these is the purpose of the various means of grace. Constituted as we are, we are peculiarly susceptible of sensible impressions; and the means of grace are intended to aid or to occasion holy thoughts, by appealing to our senses. We have the Bible to supply by its teachings material for our communion with God. It is the record which furnishes all our ideas of God, and which faith believes, and by believing which gratitude and love are excited.
V. The advantages and issue of this fellowship with God.
1. Perhaps the most obvious is the promotion of holy affections. It is the peculiar characteristic and glory of Christianity that it provides for the right adjustment and balancing of our feelings. The emotions excited by its truths and privileges are alike removed from fanaticism on the one hand, and from indifference on the other. And this cannot be said of other religious systems. The believer’s fellowship, while it is the intimate intercourse of the most endeared friendship, is not a rude familiarity. The solemn and subduing sense of God is inseparable from it. It alone exhibits the compatibility of the profoundest reverence and the most trusting confidence; it is reverence, but without dread--it is confidence, but without familiarity--it is awe, but without coldness--it is warmth, but without freedom.
2. Fellowship with God will tend to soothe our anxieties, and to inspire our confidence in the arrangements of His providence. Fellowship implies mutual confidence, and it necessarily ceases when we begin to distrust. Again: Fellowship supposes sympathy, interest in our well-being, and, assured of this, we can communicate our sorrows and unburden our hearts; and who can tell the inestimable advantage of this?
3. Fellowship with God is a most eminent and essential preparative for heaven. It is in part an anticipation of its blessedness: and who shall say that without such foretaste of heaven the soul, new burst from its mortality, would not be dazzled and overpowered by it? (H. Allon, D. D.)
Fellowship with God
Is this not too good to be true? Is it not exaggerated? Is it possible for a man to have heaven with him while on earth, and, amid the bustle and cares of life, to realise close communion with God? I can understand how, in times of deep sorrow, something of true fellowship may be enjoyed, in answer to the heart’s need. The sound of the tempest may make a man take shelter in the cleft of the rock. But this constant communion, this realisation at all times, this living in God, many of you cannot see how it can be compassed. How, you ask again, can such fellowship be continued in the outer world, when one is distracted by a thousand cares? Perhaps an illustration or two will help us to understand how fellowship with God is not only possible, but a Christian necessity. Think of the public speaker. In order to impress his audience with his subject, many processes are carried on within his mind while he is speaking: memory in recalling, abstraction in arranging, judgment in delivering; yet not for a moment does he let go his argument, not for a moment does he forget his audience, and if he is a skilful orator, he adapts his words to the effect he is producing. Now, what the presence of an audience is to the speaker, is there any extravagance in supposing the presence of God may be to a believer? With our whole heart in our business, we may yet be conscious of the presence of Him who knows our every thought and sees our every action, so that all we do may be influenced by Him. The working man, toiling for his family, often has them in his thoughts, and, instead of being a hindrance to his work, his thoughts help him to ply his task the busier. The servant may always have the remembrance of his master in his mind, even though that master is not present. So thoughts of God may run like golden threads through the web of our life. It is a good thing at times to force ourselves, as it were, to think of God’s presence. When we are about to enter on a duty let us pray that we may do this duty as unto God, and say, Lord, direct us; and as we join in some innocent pleasure, say, Lord, let me use this, as not abusing it. Even our commonest work will then have something of God in it, the outcome of dwelling in Him and working with Him. Believing in a loving Saviour, you will come in time to give Him the strong attachment of personal friendship, and amid the shifting scenes of life will but grasp His arm the closer. (J. C. Lees, D. D.)
1 John 1:4
That your Joy may be full
The joy of the Lord, and its fulness
The nature of this joy as primarily Christ’s. Joy, as commonly understood and exemplified among men, is a tumultuous feeling; a quick and lively passion or emotion, blazing up for the most part upon some sudden prosperous surprise, and apt to subside into cold indifference, if not something worse, when fortune threatens change or custom breeds familiarity (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Even what must in a sense be called spiritual joy may be of that sort. There may be joyous excitement when the glad jubilee trumpet fills the air with its ringing echoes, and an enthusiastic multitude are hastening to keep holiday. There may be a real elevation of spirit when some affecting scene of spiritual awakening is witnessed, or some gracious ordinance is celebrated, or some stirring voice is heard. Such joy is like the goodness which as a morning cloud and as the early dew goeth away.
II. This joy, “His joy,” is to become ours; it is to “remain in us.” “Our joy is to be full” by “His joy being fulfilled in us.”
1. Christ would have His joy to be really ours. In all that constitutes the essence of His own joy the Lord associates us in intimate union with Himself.
(1) In His standing with the Father, and before the Father, He calls us to share.
(2) He makes us partakers of the very same inward evidence of acceptance and sonship which He Himself had when He was on earth.
(3) We have the same commission with Christ, the same trust reposed in us, the same work assigned to us. Accepted and adopted in Him, sealed as He was sealed by the Spirit, we are sent, as He was sent, into the world.
(4) He is “meek and lowly in heart,” and therefore “His yoke is easy and His burden is light”; so easy, so light, that He may count it joy to bear them. In His case, as in Jacob’s, the charm is love; love, rejoicing in His Father, whose will He is doing; love, rejoicing over us, whom He is purchasing to be His spouse. We, like Him, must be emptied of self.
2. The reality of this joy--Christ’s own joy remaining in us--may now be partly apparent. But who shall venture to describe its fulness? In the 45th Psalm the Messiah, rejoicing over His Church as a bridegroom over His bride, is thus saluted: “Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee,” etc. This gladness of the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling spices is all associated with His loving righteousness and hating wickedness. The secret of His full joy lies in His being, as His Father is, the holy one and the just. To one who is at once a servant and a son that is “fulness of joy.” Is it attainable by us here? Yes, in measure, and in growing measure. Let our nature be assimilated to that of God, our mind to His, our heart to His. Let our souls learn the lesson of seeing as He sees and feeling as He feels.
III. The propriety of this “joy of the Lord”--this “joy in the Lord”--is not merely a privilege, but a duty. “Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say unto you rejoice.” For this joy is not anything like that sort of mysterious, incomprehensible rapture into which the spirits may be occasionally thrown under some sudden and irresistible impulse from without or from within. It is a calm and sober frame of mind, suited for everyday wear and everyday work. Its elements and causes can be specified. Its rise and progress can be traced. We have it in us, the germ of it, the essence of it, if we have Christ in us; if we have the Spirit of Christ. Stir up, then, the gift that is in you. Do you ask how? Observe the different connections in which your sharing the Lord’s joy stands in the farewell discourses and the farewell prayer; as first, with your keeping His commandments and abiding in His love, as He kept the Father’s commandments and abode in the Father’s love (John 15:10-11); secondly, with your asking in His name as you have never asked before (John 16:24); and, thirdly, with your being kept in the Father’s name in ever-brightening disclosures of the Father’s glorious perfections (John 17:11; John 17:13). And observe, in the fourth place, the beloved apostle’s warm appreciation of this joy as realised in the communion of saints (2 John 1:12). (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
I. What we mean by it. Not comfortable circumstances. If we did the counsel would hardly suit anybody for long. Nor Stoicism. Some people are almost irritated by any reference to joy or even peace. To “rejoice evermore” is a precept which comes to us not as an addition to our suffering, but as an anodyne to enable us to bear it. For whatever is taken away we may “joy in God,” and therefore our resources are never exhausted.
II. What we gain by it. Souls immortal and capable themselves of these feelings of joy. The world is like Leander in the old Greek story, swimming for bare life across from Sestos to Abydos by night, his only attraction being the love of Hero, his only means of assuring himself that he was in the right course being her torch. While that lamp was throwing its light upon the Hellespont he knew that his beloved was there, and the hope and certainty of welcome bore him through the waves. There is many “a strong swimmer in his agony” buffeting the billows of this world’s temptations who looks to you for light. He wants not only the love, but the lamp, remember. Not only your compassion, but your joy. Let it burn bright and clear, and many a poor soul may find grace and courage to swim on. Fulness of joy will not only help you to win other souls, it will help you as to your own. “In your patience possess ye your souls,” said the Master. We cease to possess them when we become impatient. That patience, and its twin sister peace and their daughter joy, are essential to our obedience to Christ. And besides the souls of others and your own, the soul of Christ will be gladdened by your gladness. “He meeteth him that rejoiceth.”
III. How we come by it. When we see Jesus and know that He hath loved us, when we see that through Him we are treading a pathway of promise, then the common stones of life’s causeway become changed into chalcedony and jacinth and emerald, and the gates through which we go in and out are transmuted into pearls. (J. B. Figgis, M. A.)
Joy in believing
I. Its nature.
1. As predicted (Isaiah 56:7). What folly it is to seek pleasure other wise than in God!
2. As encouraged. When the angel came to the shepherds he brought tidings of joy. According to St. Paul, the great end of the ministry is to assist believers to realise this joy. “We are helpers of your joy.”
3. As illus trated. Samaria received the gospel, and “there was great joy in that city.” The Ethiopian received the gospel and went on his way rejoicing. St. Peter, in speak ing of tribulation, adds, “wherein we greatly rejoice”; “ye rejoice with joy unspeakable.”
II. The use and advantages of this joy.
1. The principal graces can only exist in the preserver of Christian joy.
2. The praise of God can only be properly expressed in the presence of Christian joy. What the heart does not feel it cannot speak, what the mind does not realise it cannot express.
3. We cannot honour our Master without feeling Christian joy.
4. We cannot exercise becoming strength without Christian joy. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Sorrow makes the hands hang down and the knees become feeble.
5. We can only realise the blessedness of heaven by the exercise of Christian joy. Heaven will be the consummation of the present, and unless the seed is sown here it can never blossom hereafter.
6. We can only be kept from error and sin when feeling the power of Christian joy. If we wish to make a flower droop, and wither, and fade, and die, what do we do? We remove it from the sunlight. The plant will make an effort to grow, but it will soon die away. It is so with the soul. In the atmosphere of darkness and desolation it must droop and eventually die. It will be liable to disease and to be eaten with cankerworm. (Homilist.)
The joyfulness of a Christian life
Nothing is more familiar to us in life than the different feelings with which the same object of pursuit is regarded by different persons. To some it is attractive and delightful, to others it is a matter of entire indifference, or is even repulsive. We see this in childhood. Of the children in the same household not infrequently it will be true that to one the schoolroom is full of invitation and of delight, while to others it is simply repellent. We see the same thing in mature life continually, so that a form of business which to one is delightful to another presents no attractiveness. The same law holds in the department of religious activity. To most men the religious life on earth appears like a tedious journey to a distant mine. They hope to find great riches, but instead of that the journey is merely one of fatigue and discomfort. To others the religious life on earth for its own sake is delightful and precious, containing in itself riches and rewards which belong to no other form of human activity. When we look carefully into the elements of this peculiar and rich experience in the religious life, they are not difficult to ascertain.
1. There is a sense of worth in character which comes with the full and vivid experience of the life of God, manifested in Christ and wrought in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This, in itself, is an element of gladness and delight. A man when he has overcome a temptation and conquered a passion feels himself ennobled in a measure by that fact. When he has cherished in him self and brought to supremacy a trait difficult to be attained, and to which his nature seemed averse at the outset, he feels that he has gained in dignity and sweetness and strength of spirit. He rejoices in the fact. When the Christian feels that, by his consecrating faith toward the Divine Master, he has reached a point of moral supremacy which before he had not gained, he cannot help having the sense of a new birth in himself. There is nothing of self-righteousness in this. It has not come from his own endeavour, except as that endeavour has cooperated with the grace and power of the Most High working in him by the energy of the Holy Ghost.
2. Then there is a sense of his holy relationship to God--a sense by which He who builded and guides the universe becomes the guardian of our interests; His power, wisdom, universal presence and universal government become the guarantee of our security. Sometimes there is a sweet and triumphant sense of this in the midst of the utmost peril and sorrow. There is a consciousness that He who governs all things from the infinite throne will make our very sorrow work for our glory, work for the welfare of others through us, work for our own more triumphant peace and more happy and holy vision in the world beyond.
3. Then, beyond this, there is a sense of intimate fellowship with God; not merely of external relationship, which comes in intervals at least of Christian experience, and in which there is a thrilling and unspeakable delight. In that is joy, surpassing all joy of music, all delights of friendship; surpassing all other joys known on the earth, a gleam of the celestial breaking into the darkness of the world.
4. And then there is the consciousness of gladness in doing the work of God on earth, in cooperating with Him in our small measure, yet with a true consecration of the spirit to Him, which He accepts and blesses, and the result of which He secures and furthers by His providence and the energy of His Spirit. So it is that the grandest workers have been the happiest Christians. Luther, how he sings in his conversations and in his letters!
5. Then there comes a joy in all that helps toward this, which makes this state of experience and effort possible to man--joy in the Word of God; not merely because it is full of interesting narrative, charming biography, marvellous prophecy, grand argument of doctrine, grand revelation of the future, but because here God meets the human spirit which has been seeking Him, and has found it in order to lift it nearer Himself, to give it His own secret thought, if we may say so. The soul feels itself brought by the Word into fellow ship with the Divine mind. It has an intense gladness of heart meditating upon the Word, whose mysteries then become to it arguments for its Divine origin, whose transcendent promises flash before it as with the effulgence of the Divine mind. So with the Church. How sacred and lovely it is when it contributes to these results! (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Fulness of joy
“These things.” What things? The mediatorial person and office of Christ and the fellowship to which they lead. It is assumed that the fulness of joy arises out of the fellowship which is produced by the knowledge of Christ.
I. The fulness of joy springs out of “fellowship with the father.” This is self-evident. Suppose a sinner so to see and confide in God as his Father that he may be said to have fellowship with Him, enjoying a sense of His favour, and reciprocating it with a feeling of love, it is plain he must be happy in God. It is ever so regarded in the Scriptures. When God invites sinners to forsake the fellowship of the ungodly and to come into communion with Himself, it is in these words (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The promise by which the invitation is enforced is supposed to secure true blessedness to all who shall enjoy it. A brief contemplation of what may be expected from God as Father will make this statement plain. A father is ready to pardon his children. A father has tender sympathy with his children. Their joys and sorrows are all his own. A father teaches his children. What he knows himself he makes known to them. He does so that they may know how to choose the good and refuse the evil. A father corrects his children. Observe, then, how an inspired apostle applies this thought (Hebrews 12:9). A father encourages his children. A father protects his children. A father provides for his children. Suppose, now, that this view of God is realised. What, then, ought to be his joy?
II. Fulness of joy springs out of “fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Besides the happiness thus derived from God, however, there is a fresh source of joy opened up to the believer in Christ Himself.
1. First, His person is such as to call forth this affection. He is “God manifest in the flesh.” He has become such for the very purpose of being a Saviour of men.
2. Again, the work of Christ affords matter of joy. “He died the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us.” His work is perfect, and the sinner who is willing to accept it is presented with a full and free salvation.
3. His gracious offices, still continued, must farther heighten the joy of all who have fellowship with Him in them.
4. Once more we have the Spirit of Christ and the blessed promises of which He is the fulfiller.
5. To all this must be added His everlasting covenant. All the blessings He bestows are secured by covenant, and nothing is omitted which is needful for His people.
III. The fulness of joy is greatly confirmed by fellowship with believers. They instruct one another. How much we owe to the society of the wise and good! The interchange of thought is a principal means of advancement in knowledge. Believers encourage one another. We should aim at being useful to those with whom we are associated. Believers should warn one another. “Thou shalt not suffer sin upon thy brother, but rebuke him.” By pursuing such a course it is easy to see how the fellowship of Christians would tend to the fulness of their icy. (James Morgan, D. D.)
The full joy of Christian fellowship
1. The joy which believers have for the present in this fellowship is a full joy, it being true of this joy, and no other, that it is a full joy.
(1) There are two adjuncts peculiar to this joy which demonstrate its fulness, to wit, the sincerity and the permanency of it. This joy is a sincere, cordial joy. A full shower of rain is that which doth not only wet the surface, but sink into the ground, bedew the branches, but go down to the root. That is a full joy which doth not only fill the face with laughter but the heart with comfort, and such, yea, such alone is joy. The joy of religion is not a light joy, which only swimmeth at the top, but weighty, and sinks down to the bottom of the heart, so that it exhilarateth the inmost parts. This joy is a permanent, lasting joy. That is most truly said to be full which doth not fail, and such only is this Divine joy. Other joys are such as, before they come, we make great account of, but when they are come we cannot keep, nay, we quickly grow weary of, and as the flower often sheds before the leaf fade, so the joy vanisheth while yet the thing remaineth. In this respect we may say of worldly joy it is satiating but not satisfying, glutting and yet not filling; but Christian joy is that which we can never have enough of.
(2) Not only the adjuncts, but the effects commend this joy, it being deservedly called a full because a strong joy, able to sustain the spirit under, and bear it up against affliction. Other joys at best carry in them only a partial emolument, and therefore it is the joy of wealth is no antidote against sickness, nor can the joy of health cure the sorrow of poverty, but this joy is the universal medicine, the catholic remedy against all sorts of miseries. It maketh a prison sweet and pain easy, it maketh a man cheerful in want and comfortable in losses, it turneth a wilderness into a garden, and finally, it supports in life, yea, it comforts in death.
(3) The fulness of this joy chiefly depends on the ground and object whereabout it is conversant. It is an undoubted maxim that the object of all joy is good, and therefore such as is the good such is the joy. If the good be only so in appearance the joy must needs be false and empty, but if it be a real, full good, the joy must needs be both true and full. Now, as for worldly joy, it is only in vain, empty things (Ecclesiastes 1:2), whereas this joy is fixed on God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and so is a true and solid icy.
2. Though this joy we have for the present be a full joy in opposition to carnal and worldly joy, yet in comparison of that celestial joy it is but empty, and rather filling than full; and therefore some conceive joy here to be, by a metonymy of the effect for the cause, put for blessedness, because then alone it is that we shall have full and perfect joy. (N. Hardy, D. D.)
Religion a joy
I remember a friend of mine who had gone far into what is called “a life of pleasure” telling me, when he became a Christian, that what surprised him most of all was this--he had always looked on religion as a burden which he knew he ought to carry, but he found that it was something that carried him and his burden too. He said also that he had enjoyed in a single week after he was a Christian more real pleasure than in all the years he had devoted to what is termed the pursuit of pleasure. I am convinced this is the view of religion needed in a great city where the individual is lost in the great multitude. (James Stalker, D. D.)
Open the heart to joy
God offers to fill our homes and our hearts with joy and gladness if we will only let Him do it. We cannot create the canary birds, but we can provide cages for them and fill our dwellings with their music. Even so we cannot create the heavenly gifts which Jesus offers, but they are ours if we provide heart room for them. The birds of peace, and contentment, and joy, and praise will fly in fast enough if we will only invite Jesus Christ and set the windows of our souls open for His coming. (T. C. Cuyler.)
The world has a right to expect a great many things from all of us who call ourselves Christians. It is the business of a Christian not to smoke but to shine. The dark lantern religion that never makes itself visible to others will never guide you or me to heaven. We ought to reflect our Saviour as light givers. We ought to live above the fog belt. The higher up the holier, the higher up the happier. A churlish, croaking, gloomy professor of gospel-religion is a living libel; he haunts society like a ghost. But there is One who says to us, “I am come that your joy may be full.” Let us open our souls to Him and our faces will shine; He can make even tears to sparkle; we shall carry sunshine into the darkest hours; we shall catch instalments of heaven in advance. (T. C. Cuyler.)
Happiness helpful to holiness
There is an intimate connection between happiness and holiness. If you are striving to attain the other port to which John would pilot you, that port of “Sin not,” remember that patience and peace and joy in the Lord are sailors of which it is hardly too much to say, “Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved.” At all events, full salvation demands fulness of joy. (J. B. Figgis, M. A.)
Knowledge of Christ the foundation of joy
High thoughts of Christ constitute the essentials of a sinner’s religion. They are the foundation of his hopes and the materials of his happiness. (C. Bradley.)
1 John 1:5-10
This then is the message … that God is light
The clergy God’s messengers
All rightly ordained ministers of Christ are God’s messengers.
Our office is not merely of man’s appointment; we hold it from the Lord. We are sent to remind you of God’s will, to be His witnesses unto you (Hebrews 2:1-4). Consider, then, the message which we bring unto you, whence it comes, and upon what authority. “I have a message from God unto thee.” That message began to be preached by the Lord Himself, by Him who said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” The apostles, who were eyewitnesses of His majesty and glory, have handed down His words to us in the New Testament. To show that they were sent by God they wrought miracles (Mark 16:16). We are invested with God’s authority to warn, to teach, to rebuke, to comfort (2 Corinthians 5:20). And as our message is from God, so we must be faithful in delivering it. Christ’s ministers are put in trust with the gospel, and they must fulfil that trust (Ezekiel 3:11). They who refuse to hear the messenger refuse to hear Him who sent him (Matthew 10:40). It remains for me to say what my message is to each of you.
1. And, first, I speak to those who are careless, thoughtless, and unconcerned about religion. You have not known God as a Father, Christ as a Saviour, the Holy Spirit as a Sanctifier. I have a message from God to you. He says, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” “Consider your ways.” “Boast not thyself of tomorrow: for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Remember that word, “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.”
2. Next, I speak to those who are living in known sin. I have a message from God unto you. Break off your sin by repentance, turn to God through Christ earnestly, seriously, and at once; for remember that the unbelieving must have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. We beseech you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
3. But is there one here who is humbly desiring to learn the way of salvation, who is sorry and ashamed to have lived so long without God, and to have so grievously provoked Him by sin and folly? I have a message from God unto thee, and it is one full of love and full of comfort Be of good cheer”; “They that seek shall find.”
4. But there may also be some who, having once known the way of righteousness, have since fallen away and gone backwards. I have a message from God to you also. “If any man draw back,” He says, “My soul shall have no pleasure in him. “Remember from whence thou art fallen and repent, and do thy first works.” “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you.”
5. Or is there one amongst us whose heart is troubled with a sense of sin and guilt? who is asking in sorrow, What must I do to be saved? There is a message from God to you. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He came into the world to save sinners.
6. There are yet some to whom I may especially say I have a message from God unto you--you who have fled to Christ, who are living a Christian life in communion with God and hope of heaven. You are still surrounded with temptations from within and from without. Therefore be sober, be vigilant. Walk humbly with God, pray without ceasing. Abound in all good works. God expects you to attend to what He says, to give earnest heed to the things which you have heard, lest at any time you should let them slip. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
A glorious message
I. A message.
1. How was this message obtained? “We have heard it, and disclose it unto you,” says John. Heard it; from whom? Unquestionably from the Lord Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the Great Teacher sent from God. He delivered it to His disciples, and they to others.
2. What does this message express? God is Light, He makes us wise unto salvation.
3. What does this light exclude? It excludes all darkness, for “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” This shows the supremacy of God, and His sovereign perfection in distinction from all orders of His creatures.
II. The awful decision. “If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.”
1. Now men may say this by profession of it to others; and they may say it to their own souls, persuading themselves that they are real Christians, when they have “no part or lot in the matter,” their hearts not being right in the sight of God.
2. Congeniality must precede “fellowship,” and resemblance must precede fellowship. And therefore it will follow that a change of heart is necessary, for without this change we can neither enjoy God, nor serve Him acceptably.
III. The glorious privilege.
1. It takes in fellowship. “We have fellowship one with another.” There is a fellowship belonging to all the people of God wherever they live. But this is not the fellowship referred to here. Here the “fellowship one with another” means the fellowship that exists between God and us. He is their God, and they are His people.
2. The other article here is the assurance of pardon. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
(1) Observe the procurer, the Son of God. However this term may be explained, it always in Scripture means dignity.
(2) Mark the efficacy of His death: “His blood cleanseth us from all sin.” It delivers us from the heinousness of it, however offensive it is in the eyes of a holy God; and from the love of sin, and make us “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.”
(3) Then mark the extent of it: it “cleanseth us from all sin”--from original sin and actual sin; from all sin, however aggravated. His blood cleanseth perfectly from all sin, and completely from all transgression. (W. Jay.)
The conditions of Divine fellowship
I. A lesson of instruction (verse 5). Both the manner and the matter of this lesson are very impressive.
1. The apostle adopts the manner of the deliverer of Israel (Judges 3:20). It is indeed the style of our Lord Himself (John 7:16). It is intended to remind us that the word and ministry are to be understood and treated as a message from God (1 Thessalonians 4:8). It is observable that no mention is here made by name of the Being from whom the message comes. “We have heard of him.” Of whom? No doubt the glorious Being described in the previous verses. It is Jesus the Mediator.
2. Impressive, however, as is the manner of the lesson before us, its matter is of far higher moment.
(1) “God is light.” Its simplicity and comprehensiveness are amazing. There are three principal ideas suggested by the figure.
(a) Light is the emblem of knowledge. God is onmiscient. He sees all things as they are, in their true nature and real influence. He cannot be deceived. Matter and mind are alike plain to His perception. Our motives and feelings and purposes are as palpable to Him as our bodies.
(b) So also is light the emblem of holiness. God is “the Holy One” implying that none but He is absolutely and infinitely holy. All He does is in undeviating correspondence with perfect purity.
(c) Light is the emblem of happiness. Infinite knowledge and holiness must be productive of infinite happiness. He possesses within Himself all the sources of unmingled blessedness. His perfections are never-failing springs of joy.
(2) “And in Him is no darkness at all.” Nor is this without its meaning. It is designed to teach us that no element enters into His light to obscure it. He is intellectually and morally perfect.
II. A warning against self-deception (verse 6).
1. “If we say that we have fellowship.” We say it, but we may herein be uttering what is untrue. Profession is not principle. We may be self-deceived, or we may be hypocrites.
2. “And walk in darkness.” Darkness is the emblem of ignorance, error, and sin. And so far may the spirit of self-deception or hypocrisy prevail, that with the highest professions on our lips, our walk may be utterly inconsistent with them. It is not merely that we may be betrayed by the force of temptation into some inconsistent action, but that our habit of life is contrary to sound principle and true godliness.
3. “We lie” in such a case. Our outward profession is contrary to the inward reality.
4. “And do not the truth.” If such be our deportment, we are disobedient to the truth. The language reminds us of the words of Christ (John 3:19-21).
5. It is plain that the warning of the apostle is designed to stand ill contrast to the lesson which he had just delivered. Looking at it, then, in this light, how powerful is his appeal! God is light. Who, then, can have fellowship with such a Being? Is it he who is walking in darkness, which is the emblem of ignorance, and error, and sin? Impossible! “And what communion hath light with darkness?”
6. With these solemn words before us, let us inquire who they are that belie their profession of fellowship with God?
(1) The ignorant do so. They have no adequate conception of sin, or of themselves, or of the Saviour, or of God, or of the world, or of eternity. They are walking in darkness, yet they have no fear.
(2) The erroneous present a mole aggravated case. What a description does Isaiah (Isaiah 44:20) give of such! St. Paul describes the same (Romans 10:3). The forms in which they do so are very various, and sometimes the very opposite of one another. One trusts in his innocence or righteousness. He does not see anything in himself why God should cast him off, but thinks he has done much to commend himself to His fellowship. Another relics not on himself at all, but in the creed which he has learned from his youth, and which he holds tenaciously in the letter, while a stranger to its power and spirit. Many more rest in the formality of outward rites and ceremonies (Matthew 15:8).
(3) Above all, they who allow themselves in sin, fall under the censure of the apostle. Nor are such always sensible of their own inconsistencies. It is to be feared many are going to the judgment with their sins without alarm.
III. The seasonable and encouraging direction which the apostle gives to those who would have tile enjoyment and advantage of real fellowship (verse 7).
1. A clear apprehension of the truth is essential to fellowship. No one can have solid and permanent enjoyment of God who does not well understand the doctrine of justification by faith.
2. The believer, thus enlightened and brought into fellowship with God, must exercise the utmost watchfulness against sin. Whatever sin is allowed, and in whatever measure, it will obscure the object of faith, and darken the evidence of his interest in it.
3. He who would walk in the light and enjoy the fellowship of God must abound in well-doing. This is the secret of religious enjoyment. “He that watereth others, shall himself be watered.” Exercise is essential to health. (James Morgan, D. D.)
Light the nature and dwelling place of God
I. The form of the announcement in the fifth verse is very peculiar: “This, then, is the message,” etc. It is not a discovery which we make concerning God, an inference or deduction which we draw for ourselves from observation of His works and ways, and which we publish in that character, and with that weight of influence, to our fellow men. It is an authentic and authoritative communication to us from Himself. And it is to be accepted as such.
1. Positively, “God is light.” Let these two thoughts be fixed in our minds; first, the thought of perfect openness; and secondly, the thought of perfect inviolability.
2. Negatively, “In Him is no darkness at all.” I connect this part of the statement with that saying of John in his Gospel (John 1:5). In the light itself, in Him who is the light even when shining in darkness, the darkness which comprehendeth it not--there is still no darkness at all. “The light shineth in darkness.” He who is the light comes, in the person of His Son, to seek and to save us who are in darkness; who, as to our character, and state, and prospects, are darkness itself. For our sakes, in our stead, in our nature, He who is light is identified with our darkness. And yet “in Him is no darkness at all.” In the very heat and crisis of this death struggle, there is no surrender of the light to the darkness; no concession, no compromise; no allowance of some partial shading of the light on which the darkness presses so terribly. All still is clear, open, transparent, between the Son and the Father. In the interest of light triumphing over darkness, not by any plausible terms of accommodation, but before the open face of eternal righteousness, pure and untainted, the Father gives the cup and the Son drains it to the dregs. In that great transaction, thus consummated, before all intelligences, between the Father and the Son, it is clearly seen and conclusively proved that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”
II. Such being the message in the fifth verse, the warning in the sixth verse becomes simply a self-evident inference: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” What is this walking in darkness? Our answer is simple enough. All unholy walking is walking in darkness (Ephesians 5:3-11; Galatians 5:19-21). But the matter must be pressed a little more closely home. The characteristics of light are clearness, openness, transparency, and inviolability, retaining and preserving its own pure nature, unmodified, unmingled, unsullied by external influences. Now darkness is the opposite of this light. Instead of openness there is concealment and disguise; instead of inviolability there is facile impressibility. Ah! this walking in darkness! Is it not after all just walking deceitfully? Is it not simple insincerity, the want of perfect openness and transparent honesty in our dealings with God and with ourselves as to the real state of our hearts towards God, and the bias of our affections away from God towards selfishness and worldliness? Is it not that we have in us and about us something to conceal; something that does not quite satisfy us; something about which we have at least occasional misgivings; something that, when we think seriously, and confess, and pray, we slur over and do not like to dwell upon; something that we try to represent to ourselves as not so bad as it seems--as indeed, in the circumstances, excusable and unavoidable?
III. From the solemn message in the fifth verse, and the faithful warning in the sixth, the gracious assurance in the seventh fitly follows: “We have fellowship one with another”; God with us and we with God. The expression may seem to savour of familiarity. The explanation may be found in the conditional clause--“if we walk in the light, as He is in the light.” We walk in the light in which God is. It is the light of His own pure truth, His own holy nature. In that light He sees and knows and judges all things. And now the supposition is that we walk--as He is--in that light. To us the light in which we walk is identically the same as the light in which He is. The same lustrous glory of holiness shines on our walk and on His throne. The very same pure medium of vision is common to us both. “We see light in His light.” (R. S. Candlish,D. D.)
God is light
1. When the source of light is considered we have an emblem of the vastness, the ubiquity of God. How insignificant is man in his lofty aspirations and his feeble powers as he walks in the midst of this vastness!
2. The analysis of the spectrum unfolds to us the fact that a ray (called white) is made up of a number of coloured rays; and further observations show that combined with this white ray there is also a ray of heat, and the chemical ray called actinism, which gives vitality and paints the lines of life and beauty. The natural and moral attributes of God, such as His omnipresence, eternity, spirituality, and His benevolence, justice, truth, and others, form to us the only conceptions of God’s character which we can realise. Without a knowledge of these God has no appreciable relation to us, and we fail in our attempt to conceive it. But as we look to the analysis of the white light, and of the combined ray, to tell us of the physical properties of the sun’s rays, so we need such intermediate knowledge of God’s attributes to realise a knowledge of the perfections of His character, and of the unity of the mysterious persons in One, that God may be known to us.
3. When the diffusion of light is considered, we have the most perfect illustration which nature can afford of the immediateness of God’s communications with us. John here, when the undulatory theory was unknown, and any notion of the velocity of its influence, conceived light as emanating from the sun--“shining forth,” filling the heavens and pervading the face of the earth, and at times intercepted and darkness intervened. But how much higher than this are our conceptions of this diffusion raised, under more exact knowledge, when we learn that the actual velocity of light in its passage from the sun to the earth is at the rate of one hundred and ninety-three thousand miles per second, a speed which would belt the earth in the space of one-eighth of a second. Yet, quick as this velocity may appear, it is tardy in comparison with God’s communications with us. “When they call I will answer!” Here is no waiting, no passage through an intercepting medium.
4. With equal force does the figure unfold to us a view of God’s universal knowledge. Light is like God, inasmuch as it reveals and exposes to view every object upon which it falls. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” “His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men.” “For the Lord God is a sun,” discovering, enlightening, and cheering the whole created universe.
5. But the most prominent feature in this analogy is the relation of light with God’s infinite purity and goodness.
6. But the teaching of the text is not all hidden under these material comparisons and contrasts; for, lifting us to a higher view, the relation in which God stands to the Christian in his daily course of spiritual life--a life of purity--is directly intimated.
(1) The Christian is here supposed to be walking before God in harmony and perfect confidence with Him, in a walk comprising the sum of his motives, his aspirations, his actions.
(2) Not only does he walk with God in the light of Divine knowledge, but also in that of Divine purity.
(3) This walk is, like light, to be constant and unvarying, as the little intruding preposition “if” preceding the sentence implies--“if we walk in the light.” (D. Smith.)
God is tight
1. In this view, are we not warranted in laying stress on the fact that light is an entirely open thing? It is the first property of light to manifest itself and all else on which it rests. It is here the direct antithesis of darkness. Darkness hides; but light lays bare everything it reaches. Moreover, its whole tendency is to expand its influence all around the source whence it proceeds. Here, I think, we have set before us, first of all, the blessed fact that God is the God of revelation. He has not hid Himself from us as in our sin we deserved. But He has unveiled Himself to us that we may know His nature and character, His method of dealing with us now, and His plans for our destiny hereafter. This was done in many different ways from the beginning of the world; it reached its climax in the advent of Christ. The sun is set on high for the illumination of the heavens and the earth. No portion of our globe is exempted from his beams. So the Lord manifestly intends to diffuse the knowledge of Himself over the whole world. It is His very nature to penetrate by His Word into the remotest corners of human existence. Yet wherever His Word does penetrate, He is found true to Himself. As Light alone, He has the power of distinguishing betwixt truth and falsehood, purity and impurity.
2. On the other hand, is not light also an inviolable thing? This tells us that the nature of God also is inviolably pure. As the light streams into contact with the world and all that is in it, so God is now by His Spirit alike in providence and redemption in the closest contact with the heart and life of men. But in this action on His creatures He never catches anything of the moral corruption by which the world is saturated.
3. But, last of all, is not light also a glorious thing? Thus it suggests to us the moral and spiritual glory of the Divine nature. (J. P. Lilley, M. A)
God is light
I. We look at the text as an illustration of the divine character.
1. Light is perhaps the nearest approach of anything with which we are acquainted to immateriality. It seems to fill all nature, to surround all worlds, and so to bear a fit resemblance to its glorious Maker, who says, “Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?”
2. Then, again, how fine an emblem is it of the Divine purity!
3. Does it not also portray to our minds His all-searching know ledge?
4. It is important also to observe that light is exhibited to us in the text as the emblem of the essential perfection of the Divine nature.
II. Our text may now be contemplated as containing an intimation of what God does for man.
1. Light is a revealer.
2. Light communicates enjoyment; for a “pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.”
3. Light clothes all things with beauty. Dark providences brighten when God shines upon them, and the manifestation of His wisdom and love, His faithfulness and power, please our eyes and comfort our hearts.
4. Light purifies the atmosphere in which we live, which without it would be but ill adapted to sustain our existence in comfort.
III. The subject is adapted, to furnish us with a few serious and practical suggestions.
1. How blind are men that do not see God in all things! The light of heaven shines all around them.
2. How great are our obligations to God for the light which He has given us!
3. How great the duty which rests upon us, to pity and endeavour to enlighten those who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death! (The Evangelical Preacher.)
The perfect light of God
It seems a very simple thing to say that “God is light,” etc. We almost wonder at the Bible taking so much trouble to say it. For, we might think, how could God be otherwise? How could we imagine God to be imperfect, wanting in goodness, and holiness, and wisdom, and truth? How could God be God unless He were all-perfect--light without s shade of darkness? And this is true. But how is it that we have come to have these thoughts of God? It is that the gospel has become so much a matter of course to us, that its truth has come to seem to us our own thoughts. But it was by no means so plain a truth to the world when St. John wrote his Epistle. He wrote when the world believed in idols and false gods without number. And those false gods were not thought of as we think of God. They were believed to be not more perfect, not more holy, not more good, than the men who worshipped them. But those days of idolatry and ignorance are past; and perhaps we think that we do not need to be reminded that God is light--perfectly pure and holy and true and good. We do want to be reminded that there are those still who do not in their hearts believe that God is light; for is it not so, that instead of really believing that God is light, without stain, or shade of sin, we often make Him out in our thoughts to be what we like and wish Him to be? What does the sinner wish God to be? He wishes God to be kind and indulgent to his sin; to be a God who always rewards and never punishes; who will do good to us, whether we obey Him or not. Do we never sin, hoping that after all God will not think so severely of our sin as the Bible seems to make out that He will? Do we never comfort and flatter ourselves with such general excuses as that God is merciful, and will not be hard upon us? Do we not, instead of taking the Bible, and reading there the true character of the God whom we worship, make an image according to our own imperfections and sins, and call it God? Is this the God who “is light, and in Him is no darkness”? Can we be said really to believe in Him when we treat Him as if He were foolish, and could not see through our cunning devices, and could be flattered into good humour with us, and be prevailed upon to treat us as favourites? Again, what a sad show of our real thoughts about God is to be found in the manner of our worship and in our prayers! If He “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,” what must He think of worship which only pretends to worship and honour Him? of prayer which does not really ask in spirit for the thing it speaks about? God is what He is, whatever we may think; and earnestly ought we to strive and pray that we may know Him as He is, and always think of Him as He is. (Dean Church.)
No substitute for light
Clear and brilliant light often brings out exquisite colours, as happens among the Alps and also in the north frigid zone, where the humble little plants called lichens and mosses are in many cases dyed of the most brilliant hues, purple and gold predominating. Warmth, in like manner, will stimulate vegetable growth in the most astonishing manner, but it is growth not necessarily accompanied by the secretion of valuable substances, such as give quality and real importance to the plant. In English hothouses, for example, we have plenty of spice trees, those generous plants that yield cinnamon and cassia, the nutmeg and the clove; but although healthy and blossoming freely, they never mature their aromatic secretions. Though they have artificial heat equal to that of their native islands, which burn beneath the sun of the Indian Ocean, we cannot supply them with similar and proportionate solar light.
God the satisfying light
Suppose the case of a cripple who had spent his life in a room where the sun was never seen. He has heard of its existence, he believes in it, and, indeed, has seen enough of its light to give high ideas of its glory. Wishing to see the sun, he is taken out at night into the streets of an illuminated city. At first he is delighted, dazzled; but after he has had time to reflect, he finds darkness spread amid the lights, and he asks, “Is this the sun?” He is taken out under the starry sky, and is enraptured; but on reflection finds that night covers the earth, and again asks, “Is this the sun?” He is carried out some bright day at noontide, and no sooner does his eye open on the sky than all question is at an end. There is but one sun. His eye is content: it has seen its highest object, and feels that there is nothing brighter. So with the soul: it enjoys all lights, yet amid those of art and nature is still inquiring for something greater. But when it is led by the reconciling Christ into the presence of the Father, and He lifts up upon it the light of His countenance, all thought of anything greater disappears. As there is but one sun, so there is but one God. The soul which once discerns and knows Him, feels that greater or brighter there is none, and that the only possibility of ever beholding more glory is by drawing nearer. (W. Arthur.)
Light in the hour of darkness
When Charles Kingsley was dying he said, “It is not darkness I am going to, for God is light.” (E. W. Bibb.)
No darkness in God
Skotia ouk estin oudemia (“no, not even one speck of darkness”); no ignorance, error, untruthfulness, sin, death. (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie--
Light and darkness: sin and purification
“Light” and “Darkness” are very living expressions. They belong to the life of us all. Moreover, these expressions were wonderfully suitable for those to whom St. John wrote. The Ephesians had paid an especial worship to Artemis or Diana. They connected her with the moon, the night ruler. They had paid a worship, in common with the other Greeks, to Apollo; him they connected with the sun, that rules the day. They connected them, I say, with these beautiful objects; but they were never satisfied with doing so. The god of light was the god whom they went to consult how they should manage states, conduct wars, make peace. They felt that a higher light than the light which the eyes could see must proceed from him. So these old Greeks thought. They were continually exalting the lower light above the higher light, and supposing the higher to come from the lower. This was their idolatry. They worshipped the visible things from which they thought that the light proceeded. St. John had been taught almost from his birth that he was not to worship things in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth, or the works of his own hands. He had been taught that the Lord his God was one Lord, that He was the Unseen Deliverer, Guide, Teacher, King of Israel. He had clung to this teaching. Now he had believed that this God had revealed Himself to them, not in the sun or in the moon, bug in a humble and crucified Man. With this conviction becoming every hour deeper and deeper in his mind, he had settled in the city where Apollo and Diana were worshipped. He saw the mischiefs and dangers of that worship more clearly and fully than he did when people told him about it on the Lake of Galilee. But he did not think that these Ephesians had been wrong because they had dreamt of a God of Light. That was a true dream. Christ had come to fulfil it. The God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, whom Jesus had revealed, was this God of Light. But there is another reason closely connected with this, why St. John could not abandon the word “light “for any that was more formal and less living. A man may easily fancy that goodness, wisdom, truth, are possessions of his own. Whether he thinks he has got them for himself, or that some god has given them to him, he may still believe that he holds them just as he holds a freehold house or a purse of money. But you can never suppose that you hold light in this way. That I can never boast that I possess, Now the message which St. John brought to the Ephesians was not concerning a blessing of the first kind, but of this last kind. He did not tell them that God had given them certain possessions here, or had promised them certain possessions hereafter, which they could call theirs. That is the subject of the next verse--“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Walking in darkness is, alas! the phrase about which we have the least need of an interpreter. Everyone interprets it himself. It is possible for a man to be in this dark selfish state, and yet to say that he has fellowship with God. He may repeat prayers, he may offer sacrifices, he may pass for a religious man. But his life, the apostle says, is a lie. It is not only that he speaks a lie; he acts a lie. He does not the truth. This, indeed, he would have us to understand is falsehood--the very root of falsehood. “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” The darkness of which St. John speaks is an utterly unsocial condition. A man thinks about himself, dwells in himself; the rest of the universe lies in shadow. What, then, is the opposite state to this? “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” The light is all around us, while we are most dark. I cannot extinguish the creation because I do not think about it or care about it. But this recollection is not enough to bring me out of my dark pit. My selfishness is too strong for all, however bright, in earth, and sea, and air to overcome. It is not too strong for God to overcome. All those strange intimations which come to me that I ant not what I am meant to be, must be flashes of light from the source of light. They are painful flashes. They are just what men have tried by their false religions--by their insincere professions of fellowship with God--to drive away. But if, instead of doing that, we will hail them, if we will receive them as His messengers, we may enter into His true order. The proper social life is restored to us, even if we are far away from our brethren. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” St. John appeals to our experience. You desire to be true yourself; you desire to have fellowship with other men. The moment that first desire is awakened in me, then arises along with it a sense of falsehood: “I have done false acts. I have been false. I have an inclination to do false acts and to be false now. I have something in me which violently resists my craving to be true.” And about the seriousness, the terribleness of this fact there is no doubt. It must be at the bottom of the insincerity, discord, and hatred of the world. But how shall I describe this fact? I am at a loss; I cannot find a name. But I discover something more about the strange fact. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness”; I am intended to walk in this light. This inclination not to be true, not to have fellowship with my fellow men, is an inclination not to walk in this light, not to be in that state in which He has intended men to be. Now I am, perhaps, better able to express this inclination of mine, and what has been the fruit of it. One name, however, does not satisfy me. I try several. I call it transgression; that is, the passing over a boundary which was marked out for me. I call it iniquity; that is, an uneven, zigzag course, a departure from the straight, even course. I call it sin; that is, the missing of an aim; the going aside from the goal which I was intended to reach. All these words imply that there is One who has marked the boundary for me, who has drawn the line for me, who has fixed the goal or aim for me. All imply a disobedience to a Will which I am meant to obey. Now, the message which St. John brought to the Ephesians was, “God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ as the perfect Truth. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as the God who has created men to be one. Therefore it is a revelation to us of our sin; for it shows us how we have fought and do fight against this mind and purpose of God; how, in doing so, we fight against our own proper state, our own proper blessedness.” I do not mean that this sense of sin did not exist before that full revelation of God in Christ. But how much deeper did it become in those who learnt that God was light, and in Him was no darkness--that He had sent His Son to bring them into His light! What a sense of sin must have been in them! How they must have felt, “It is our own fault, our own choice, that we have been walking in darkness. We have been striving against a God who has been at every moment plotting for our good! If, then, the men in the times of old cried out for a purification, those who heard this revelation must have felt the need of it immeasurably more. But what kind of purification could they have? “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There is a new lifeblood put into this nature of ours. God Himself has infused it. The Son of God has taken our flesh and blood. He is the Head of our race. When we seek to rise out of ourselves--to be delivered from our falsehood--to have fellowship with God, and fellowship with our brother, then His blood is an assurance that we have that fellowship. It removes the sense of sin against God which is in us; it removes the sense of sin against men. It gives that atonement and that purification which nothing else in earth and heaven can give. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Instead of this fancy that you are without sin being a proof how clearly the light is shining into you, it is a proof that you are shutting out the light, for that would reveal to you your own inclination to fly from it and to choose the darkness. The truth makes us aware of our falsehoods. Is that hard doctrine? No; for “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His faithfulness and justice are the enemies of our sins; therefore to them we may turn from our sins. They are the refuges from the darkness that is in us. A faithful and righteous Being is “therefore a forgiving Being. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” If we will not confess the evil in us, we impute that evil to Him. We thrust away that Word which is shedding abroad His light in us; we bury ourselves in our own darkness. This is the effect of trying to make out a good case for ourselves, when it is our interest, our privilege, our blessedness, to justify God and to condemn ourselves; to say, “Thou hast been true, and we have been liars. Deliver us from our lies! Help us to walk in Thy truth!” (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The child of light walking in light
The apostle warns us against saying more than we have made our own by experience. To have fellowship with God is a great matter; but merely to say that we have fellowship with Him is a totally different thing. John warns us that if we say that which our characters do not support, we lie. He leaves it just so, without a word of softening or excuse. Let us now speak of the real thing--the fellowship with God, which comes of walking in the light. The Christian life is described as walking, which implies activity. Chiefly in the character of active workers, or in that of willing sufferers, we must maintain fellowship with God. Walking implies activity; but it must be of a continuous kind. Neither this step, nor that, nor the next, can make a walk. Not he that begins, but he that continues, is the true Christian; final perseverance enters into the very essence of the believer’s life; the true pilgrims of Zion go from strength to strength. This suggests that walking implies progress. He that takes one step and another step, and still stands where he was, has not walked.
I. Consider, first, the light of our walk. True believers do not walk in darkness; they have found the road, and they see it before them. Moral darkness is contrary to their newborn nature: they cannot endure it. What is this light, then, in which the Christian walks?
1. I answer, first, it is the light of grace. The Holy Spirit brings us out from under the dominion of the old nature by creating within us a new life, and He brings us out from under the tyranny of the Prince of Darkness by opening our eyes to see and our minds to understand celestial truth. The result of this light is seen in various ways. It causes deep sorrow in the beginning, for its first discoveries are grievous to the conscience. Light is painful to eyes long accustomed to darkness. Anon the light brings great joy, for the soul perceives deliverance from the evils which it mourned. “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.”
2. Ever, in each condition, you observe conspicuously that the light of grace is seen as the light of sincerity. Hypocrisy and pretence fly before sincere belief and feeling.
3. Next to sincerity I regard a willingness to know and to be known as an early result of walking in the light of God. A religion which we will not submit to the test of self-examination cannot be worth much. No one is afraid to have a genuine sovereign submitted to any test: it is the coiner who is afraid. We must build on truth, and nothing else but truth.
4. A still surer evidence of grace is the mind’s perception of revealed truth and its obedience to it. Are the doctrines of grace essential verities with thee? Whatever God has said about sin, righteousness, judgment to come, art thou ready to accept it at once? Whatever He has revealed concerning Himself, His Son, His Holy Spirit, the Cross, life, death, hell, and the eternal future, dost thou believe it unfeignedly? This is to walk in the light.
5. This leads to a transparency and simplicity of character. The man who does in reality what he seems to do; the man who says what he means, and means what he says; the man who is truthful artless, and sincere in all his general dealings both before God and man, he it is whose conduct leads us to hope that the light of grace shines within.
6. This is very evident in the man’s cessation from all guile towards himself. Remember how David pronounces him blessed “in whose spirit there is no guile.” He knew painfully what it was to be full of guile. “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.” He is in the light now, for deceit has gone, and now God can speak comfortably to him, and wash him and make him whiter than snow.
7. The man who is walking in the light, as God is in the light, is full of abhorrence of sin. Sin is practical falsehood; it is moral darkness. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” Forget not this practical truth.
II. I come, secondly, to the communion of our walk. Those who are in the light shall not be alone. God Himself will be with them, and be their God. What honour! What joy is this! Thus is the mischief of the Fall removed, and Paradise is restored. God in the light and man in the light have much in common. Now are they abiding in one element, for they are dwelling in one light. Now are they both concerned about the same thing, and their aims are undivided: God loves truth, and so do those who are renewed in heart. Now we partake with God in sympathy, having a fellow feeling with Him. Does the great Father mourn His prodigal child? So do we mourn over sinners. Do we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem? So do we mourn for the perishing who will not be saved. Again, as God rejoices over sinners that repent, so do we rejoice in sympathy with Him.
III. The glory of this communion. “We have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” I gather from the way in which this sentence grows out of the text that this very thing, which looks as if it were the death of all communion with God, is made by infinite grace to be a wide and open channel of communion with Him. This stone is rolled away from the door of the sepulchre, and the angel of communion sits down upon it as on a throne.
1. To begin with, here is sin! What an evil thing it is! How our soul hates it! “O, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” Listen! You are having fellowship with God in this. God hates it also; and herein you are agreed.
2. Sin being once perceived, the next step is that it should be got rid of. “Ah!” say you, “I wish I could be cleansed from it--cleansed from all of it; but how can this be? It is not possible for me to purge away my sin.” The sacrifice of the Only-Begotten is the unique hope of sinners. The laying of our iniquity upon Him who deigned to be the great scapegoat of His people is the sole means for the taking away of the sins of the world. That inward persuasion of the impossibility of the purgation of sin by any doings or feelings of our own, and the consequent perception that in Christ only lies the help of men, has brought us through the light of truth to walk in fellowship with the thrice holy God.
3. The glorious Son of God condescends to become the atonement for sin. Standing by the tree of doom, we look up to that blessed Saviour with all-absorbing admiration and love. In the putting away of sin by the blood of Jesus the Father has an infinite content, and so have we. A step further.
4. Many of us have come to Jesus Christ by faith; we have looked to Him, and have accepted Him as our Saviour cleansing us from all sin. We rejoice in perfect whiteness, for the Lord has made us whiter than snow. Yes, we have fellowship with God in this cleansing, for God accepts us in the Beloved. God that made Him to be the Lord our Righteousness, God Himself justifies us in His Son. He will in the last great day make the whole universe a witness to the righteousness of the salvation of believers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Communion with God
I. The nature and the means of communion with God.
1. We have communion with God in personal intercourse.
2. We have communion with God in the exercise and interchange of mutual thoughts and affections.
3. We have communion with God in the reception of His gifts and blessings.
4. We have communion with God in the exercise of mutual love to Christ. The heart of God and our hearts unite in their affections, and fix them on the Lamb.
5. We have communion with God in His works of nature. Never does the face of nature appear so lovely as when we thus behold in it the beauty of the Lord.
6. We have communion with God in the dispensations of His providence.
II. The connection which exists between communion with God and holiness.
1. A man may say that he has communion with God whilst he is walking in darkness and living in sin. He may say it literally with his lips, or he may say it by assuming the external forms of religion. He is a liar against his own experience, which has never enjoyed the communion he professes; he is a liar against his own affections, which are holding communion with sin and Satan and the world; and he is a liar against God Himself, who declares that He has no communion with darkness and with sin.
2. “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” Such persons have communion with their God. God Himself is light, and they are children of light--and as the sun has communion with surrounding stars, because their beams of light resemble each other in nature, though they differ in degrees of glory, so there is a similarity, and a sympathy, and a harmony of character and pursuit, between God and His people, which is the origin and the means of their communion with each other. The holiness of the one attracts the holiness of the other. Their holy minds, their holy thoughts, their holy affections, and their holy pursuits meet and mingle.
III. The importance and some of the advantages of communion with God.
1. Communion with God is connected with an interest in the blood of Christ. Even the man who holds communion with God needs and finds a refuge in the great atonement. He does indeed walk in the light; but that very light discovers to him more and more clearly his numerous imperfections and sins, and his abundant need of pardoning mercy.
2. Communion with God is the means of promoting our holiness. Those who most associate with God most resemble Him, and partake most fully of the Divine nature.
3. Communion with God is a source of the sweetest pleasure. Those who walk with God in the light of purity, walk with Him also in the light of joy. Matthew Henry, just before he expired, declared, as his dying testimony, that “a life spent in the service of God, and in communion with Him, is the happiest life that anyone can live in this world.” And it must be so. There are no intelligent beings in the universe, whether men or angels, who can find true happiness in any place where God is not, or in any communion from which God is excluded. (J. Alexander.)
The right way of obtaining and maintaining communion with God
Why is God called ‘Light without Darkness’? And what is this Light?”
1. Wisdom is light, and folly is darkness.
2. Knowledge is light, and ignorance is darkness.
3. Truth is light, and error is darkness.
4. Holiness is light, and sin and wickedness are darkness.
I. What this communion with God is.
1. Active on our part, which consisteth in the Divine operations of our souls toward God; when the mind is exercised in the contemplation of Him, the will in choosing and embracing Him; when the affections are fixed upon Him and centre in Him; when by our desires we pursue after Him, by our love we cleave to Him, and by delight we acquiesce and solace ourselves in Him.
2. Passive on God’s part. This communication of God to us in our communion with Him is specially in these three things.
(1) In light (2 Corinthians 4:6; Psalms 36:9).
(2) In life (Ephesians 4:18).
(3) In love (Romans 5:5).
II. Some distinctions about communion with God.
1. Communion with God may be considered either with respect to this world, or the world to come; the one is imperfect, the other is perfect; one is mediate, the other immediate; the one is inconstant, the other without any interruption forever.
2. This communion with God hath higher and lower degrees; both among the saints here below, and the saints and angels above.
3. This communion with God is either internal or external; by internal I mean that sacred intercourse between God and the soul which is managed only in the inward man; and by external I mean this communion with God managed in some external ordinance of His worship in the communion of saints.
III. How this communion with God is attained and then maintained.
1. By Jesus Christ.
(1) By virtue of His incarnation.
(2) By virtue of His life which He lived here in the world. Considered either in the holy example that He has left us to walk by, or the doctrine that He here preached--by both which He did guide and lead men in the right way to fellowship with His Father.
(3) By virtue of His death, and making reconciliation for us by His blood. Without agreement made between God and us, we could never have had communion with Him.
(4) By virtue of His resurrection, whereby believers come to be raised up to newness of life (Romans 6:4).
(5) By virtue also of His ascension into heaven (Colossians 3:1).
(6) By virtue of His intercession. For this is one great thing that He intercedes for with His Father in heaven, that His people might have union and communion with them (John 17:21).
2. This communion with God is also by the Spirit of God. As the apostle speaks of “the communion of the Holy Ghost” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Now the Spirit doth effect this communion with God.
(1) By sanctifying our hearts, and assimilating our natures to the nature of God. For there can be no communion where there is no likeness of nature.
(2) By elevating and raising the soul above its natural power and reach.
3. These are the principal ways for communion with God. But then there are subordinate ways, which are the ordinances and institutions of God for that end. For God hath in all ages been training up His people to have communion with Himself, and therefore He did appoint ordinances for that end under the law. There were sacrifices, and altars, and solemn feasts appointed of God, all for this end. And so, in the New Testament, God hath His ordinances also appointed for this end; as prayer,.hearing the Word, etc. (M. Barker, M. A.)
Fellowship with God
I. What is the nature of this fellowship?
II. What is the great hindrance to this fellowship? It is here described as walking in darkness.
III. What are the conditions of this fellowship? “If we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him.” This implies--
2. Progress. There is no finality in the experience of holiness.
5. Pleasantness. “In the light.”
6. Safety. He that walketh in the darkness stumbleth (John 11:10).
IV. What is the result of fellowship? It is evidently cleansing. (H. Thorne.)
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light … we have fellowship one with another.
The Christian life a walk
1. The first aspect of the Christian life which this figure suggests is that it is a life begun in connection with a public profession. A man who goes out to walk does something in the face of the world. The eye of man can watch your steps, and observe your gait and your whole demeanour. Thus also is it in relation as Christian disciples. From the moment we take the side of Christ the eye of the world is upon us.
2. On the other hand, this figure also reminds us that the Christian life is a life with a definite goal in view. You consider it hardly worthy of you to be seen wandering about aimlessly and listlessly.
3. Not less distinctly, however, does this phrase remind us that the Christian life is to be a life of dauntless spirit and self-girt energy. When a man sets a walk before him, he goes out with the air of one who has a task to accomplish and is determined to carry it through. No other spirit will suffice in the course of the Christian life. (J. P. Lilley, M. A.)
Christian fellowship with God
It is here explained that a Christian man is enabled to maintain that habitual fellowship with God which is the very life of his spirit. The apostle thus speaks as one who pursues a great end, and seeks to attain it by two specified means.
I. The end--fellowship with God. This is described in the text as “fellowship one with another.” The fellowship of which the apostle speaks is not that between Christian and Christian, but rather that between the individual believer and his God. In the previous verse fellowship with God is the subject of remark, and it is natural to suppose that the subject is the same in the following sentence, which is simply a continuation of the train of thoughts. Then it will be observed that all the parties mentioned in the first clause of the text are Christians who walk in the light, and God who is in the light. It is reasonable to assume that it is of these same parties fellowship is predicated in the second clause of the sentence. Finally, the expression “His Son” in the last clause points to the same conclusion. Were the fellowship spoken of that between Christians, the pronoun “His” would be inappropriate. Instead of “His Son,” it should have read “God’s Son.” The expression “one with another,” used with reference to the Christian’s fellowship with God, conveys the idea that this fellowship is not a one-sided affair, of man with God, but mutual, of man with God and of God with man. To aspire to fellowship with God, therefore, in the fullest sense of the word, is not presumption; it is simply seeking to live up to our privilege as children of the era of grace. The aim set before us here, however, is too high for the taste of many. They are content with a more distant relation. They would have God be only “the high, lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy,” and desire not to know Him as one who dwelleth “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” Such awe-struck reverence, when sincere, is not to be condemned; on the contrary, it may be admitted to be aa essential element of Christian piety. But, on the other hand, we must equally be on our guard against ignoring the gracious, social side of the Divine nature. We have to remember that God desireth not to dwell alone in solitude, however august; that He is a Father as well as a King, that He is as gracious as He is mighty, as loving as He is holy. Then shall we trust in and converse with God, as a man trusts in and converses with a fellow man who is a bosom friend, and be able to say without presumption, “we have fellowship one with another.”
II. The means towards this high end.
1. “If we walk in the light, we have fellowship.” Walking in the light means living holily. Light, in the vocabulary of the apostle John, is the emblem of holiness, and darkness of sin.
(1) Obviously, on good grounds, fellowship is based on congeniality of spirit. Righteous beings have fellowship with each other as soon as they understand each other. No being is indifferent to his kind, least of all a good, holy being. Good men are lovers of good men. As good men have fellowship with each other, so have they one and all fellowship with the one absolutely good Being. With God alone is perfect fellowship possible. Why? Because God alone is light, without any admixture of darkness. There is perfect moral simplicity and purity in Him. For this reason He can be better known than any brother man can be, and we can be better known by Him.
(2) Another important condition of abiding fellowship is satisfaction in each other’s character and company. Fellowship with friends is very refreshing. Yet there is a limit to the joy to be found in human fellowship. The most gifted man’s stock of thought is apt to become exhausted, the most affectionate man’s love may have too great a strain put upon it, and human tempers are often frail. But there is One whose mind hath in exhaustible riches whose love can bear the heaviest burden, who knows nothing of moods and tempers and caprices; in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. That unique Being is God, In Him is no satiety, no disappointment. You can ever lift up to Him your soul in meditation, praise, or prayer, and find ever new delight, and a satisfaction to the heart you seek in vain elsewhere.
2. The other means for maintaining fellowship with God is habitual recourse to the blood of Christ. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.” Of no child of light can it be affirmed, as of God, that in him is no darkness at all. It is in truth a part of our holiness (as distinct from that of God) to see and acknowledge our sinfulness. Such owning of darkness is, in its own way, light; it is the light of truthfulness, sincerity, guilelessness. This is always a prominent feature of saintly character, because, though the quantity of sin may be steadily diminishing, the saint sees his sin in its darkness, with ever-increasing clearness, as he advances in the way of light, and hates it with ever-increasing intensity. How, then, is the sin that cleaveth to the Christian, and mars his fellowship with God, to be dealt with so that fellowship may not be disturbed thereby? The answer of the text is, it is to be cleansed away by habitual recourse to the blood of Christ. Consider the tendency of sin, of every single sin we commit. It is to make us plunge again into the darkness. An evil conscience very readily puts a man on one or other of two courses, both fatal--hiding his sin, or hiding himself from God. In the one case he virtually says he has no sin, that he may have boldness before God; in the other he admits his sin, and flees, like Adam, from the presence of God. Christ’s blood, regarded by the eye of faith, keeps a Christian from both these bad courses. It keeps from denying sin by removing the temptation to do so. What tempts man to deny sin is fear. One who keeps his eye ever fixed on the Cross of Christ has no need to fear. Faith in the power of Christ’s death to cancel much guilt keeps his soul free from guile. The same faith preserves the Christian from the other fatal course, that of hiding himself from God, and, so to speak, breaking of all fellowship with Him. There is great danger in this direction. Evil habits are a fruitful source of apostasy and irreligion. The sinner is too honest to deny his guilt, but he makes the acknowledgment in a wrong, ruinous way--by ceasing from faith, prayer, and all profession of piety. The Christian who has sinned does not act thus. Faith enables him to solve a very difficult, delicate problem, that of steering safely between hypocrisy and irreligion; the denial of sin on the one hand and the denial of God on the other. Through faith he can at once confess sin and hope for mercy. Every new application to the merits of Christ makes him more tender in conscience, more anxious to sin no more, were it only to avoid the scandal and disgrace of even seeming to trample under foot the Son of God and to treat the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified as a common thing.
3. These, then, are the appointed means for maintaining a close fellowship with God. The combination is not to be mistaken for legalism. Legalism means the practical abandonment of Christ’s merits as an aid to sanctification, and the substitution in its place of painful ascetic efforts at self-sanctification. Finding himself exposed to new visitations of sinful desire after conversion and initial forgiveness, the young Christian draws the conclusion that while he must depend on Christ for justification he must look to himself for sanctification. It is another bypath leading into darkness, into which earnest souls are strongly tempted to err, after first fervours and joys are past. The very emphatic language used by the apostle in appraising the merits of Christ’s blood supplies a valuable antidote against the delusion. The blood of Jesus Christ, he declares, cleanseth from all sin. He would have everyone hope for forgiveness, for Christ’s sake, of whatever sin or crime he may have been guilty. Then he represents Christ’s blood as possessed of a continuous cleansing power. The fountain is ever open for sin and for uncleanliness. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Walking in the light
1. We are to live under the abiding impression of God’s holiness (verse 8). Other lights than that from God might not show us how spotted we are. Here, then, is the first evidence that we are living, not in the light of our own conceit, but in that which comes from without and above our lives--the God light we will be very humble and penitent sort of people. But this light of holiness of God, if it really falls upon us, will show itself in another way besides; it will stir us up to a resolution to cease from sin. Read 1 John 2:3-5. A man who is contented with any negligence of duty is not in the light. Light is poured through the universe not merely as a luminator, that eyes may see in it; it has also a chemical power. It bleaches some things, it quickens others. Plants that would be but dry stalks are stirred by its touch in their finest atoms, and draw up nourishment from the earth, and shoot out leaves which turn as in gratefulness toward their benefactor, the quickening ray. So the light of God’s holiness quickens the soul morally. It stirs every fibre of conscience. It makes it rejoice in every true, noble, pure aspiration. It hungers and thirsts after righteousness. It lifts itself up toward the light.
II. But the other ray of the Divine character seems to have more impressed the mind of John--viz., that of God’s love and grace, or we may better say His love as shown in His grace. Here is the sublimest light that ever fell out of the heavens upon men. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Light is cheering to the eye. Some men are miserable without a flood of it. Professor Clifford, the great scientist, used to draw his table close to the window; his strong, clear eye delighted in the day radiance almost as the eagle’s does. Augustine tells us that he had the same passionate fondness for it; “This queen of colours, the pure light, bathing all I behold, soothes me … If absent, it saddens my mind”; and then he longs for the soul light it signified--the light, he says, “which Isaac saw when his fleshly eyes were heavy, which Jacob, when blind through great age, saw with his illumined heart … So, O all-creating Lord, I lift mine invisible eyes to Thee.” But both these great men were especially enamoured of the light of the Cross. They knew, what some of us have found out, that the darkest spot on earth is not some dungeon or cavern, but the centre of our moral being where it enwraps the conscience. You can get rays for mental satisfaction by studying the wonders of the world about you; you may light up your loneliness by the beauty of loved faces; but no crack or crevice in the soul lets in cheering light upon the natural man’s sense of sin, Expedients of human invention for the enlightening of this dark spot are as ineffectual as the candles which are put out by the darkness of the cavern into which they are dropped. But sunshine is not put out if its ray drop into a cavern. Having come ninety millions of miles through space, it could gleam on to the very centre of the earth if the opening were straight and facing the sun itself. So the God light gleaming from the Cross goes to the innermost and darkest spot in a man’s soul if only the soul opens straight towards the Cross. And that opening straight towards the Cross is what is meant by faith; as the Bible expresses it, “whose heart is perfectly toward Him.” Note, by the way, the exact meaning of the word John uses here to express the cleansing of sin. “The blood of Jesus cleanseth”; present tense, is cleansing, not merely has cleansed. We are being cleansed continually. This is just the very ray of light some of you need to see. But note another effect of this grace light. It, too, like the light of righteousness, is not only an illuminator, but a force, making a change in the heart upon which it falls. It not only reveals God’s love and grace to us, but makes us loving and gracious to others (1 John 2:9-10). No Christian can be a hard man, a cold and indifferent man, a proud and selfish man, any more than ice can abide in the summer sunshine. Alas for those about whom the darkness of doubts, regrets, remorse, and fears is gathering! And what but darkness does the natural world east about the soul? Some will say with Tennyson’s Rizpah, “The night has crept into my heart, and begun to darken mine eyes.” But think not of the night. The day bursts above you; the heaven is breaking through the sky which shuts down so closely over you. Look up! (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
Walking in the light
1. I have said that the representation of the nature of God as light set Him forth to us as the God of revelation. Hence a leading element of walking in the light must be the subjection of our own spiritual nature to the action of God’s Word.
2. Another feature of the nature of God as light was seen to be His absolute purity. This also, therefore, must be a characteristic of our walk as His children.
3. The last characteristic of the Divine nature suggested by the phrase “God is light” was moral and spiritual glory. To walk in the light, then, must be so to walk as that this glory may be reflected through us in the view of the world. In other terms, every element of the moral glory of God must be seen in our life and conduct. Hence, for instance, we are to walk in wisdom. We have also to walk in righteousness. No less manifestly are we to walk in love. (J. P. Lilley, M. A.)
Walking in the light and washed in the blood
You perceive in the text that the Christian is spoken of as a man who is in the light; but there is something more said of him than this. He is practically in the light, “if we walk in the light.” He walks in the light of faith, in another path than that which is trodden by men who have nothing but the light of sense. He sees Him who is invisible, and the sight of the invisible God operates upon his soul; he looks into eternity, he marks the dread reward of sin, and the blessed gift of God to those who trust in Jesus, and eternal realities have an effect upon his whole manner and conversation: hence he is a man in the light, walking in that light. There is a very strong description given here--“If we walk in the light as He is in the light.” When a schoolmaster writes the copy at the head of the page, he does not expect that the boy will come up to the copy; but then if the copy be not a perfect one, it is not fit to be imitated by a child; and so our God gives us Himself as the pattern and copy, “Be ye imitators of God as dear children,” for nothing short of Himself would be a worthy model. But what does it mean, that the Christian is to walk in the light as God is in the light? We conceive it to import likeness, but not degree. We are as truly in the light, we are as heartily in the light, we are as sincerely in the light, though we cannot be there in the same degree. Having thus briefly sketched the character of the genuine Christian, observe that he is the possessor of two privileges; the first is, fellowship with God. “We have fellowship one with another”; and the second is, complete cleansing from sin--“and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The first privilege we will have but a word upon; it is fellowship with God. He opens His heart to us and we open our heart to Him; we become friends; we are bound and knit together, so that being made partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, we live like Enoch, having our conversation above the skies.
I. The first thing that struck me was the greatness of everything in the text. To what a magnificent scale everything is drawn.
1. Think how great the sin of God’s people is!
2. Then observe the greatness of the atonement offered. It must be no man, merely; it must be the God-man mediator, the fellow of Jehovah, co-equal and co-eternal with Him, who must bear the bitterness of Divine wrath which was due to sin.
3. Think again: we have here great love which provided such a sacrifice.
II. The next thing which sparkles in the text, is its simple solitariness, “We have fellowship one with another”; and then it is added, as a gloriously simple statement, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
1. Observe, here is nothing said about rites and ceremonies or about Christian experience as a means of cleansing.
2. Observe, again, that in the verse there is no hint given of any emotions, feelings, or attainments, as cooperating with the blood to take away sin. The blood is the alone atonement, the blood without any mixture of aught beside, completes and finishes the work, “For ye are complete in Him.”
III. A third brilliant flashes in the light, viz., the completeness of the cleansing. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin”--not from some sin, but “from all sin.”
IV. The next gem that studs the text is the thought of presentness. “Cleanseth,” says the text, not “shall cleanse.” The moment a sinner trusts Jesus, that sinner is as fully forgiven as he will be when the light of the glory of God shall shine upon his resurrection countenance.
V. Now, in the fifth place, the text presents to us very blessedly the thought of certainty. It is not “perhaps the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from sin,” the text speaks of it as a fact not to be disputed--it does do so.
VI. The sixth gem which adorns the text is the divinity of it. Does it not strike you that the verse is written in a God-like style? God seems to put away His pearls as if they were but common pebbles. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin”--as if it were as much a matter of everyday work as for a man to wash his hands.
VI. In the last place, just a hint upon the wisdom of the text. I cannot see sin pardoned by the substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus, without dedicating myself to the praise and glory of the great God of redeeming love. If God had devised a scheme by which sin could be pardoned, and yet the sinner live to himself, I do not know that the world or the man would be advantaged. Now henceforth at the foot of the Cross the bands which bound our soul to earth are loosened. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The supreme importance of moral purity
First, that Christianity is based upon the palpable facts in the history of an extraordinary person. The person is here said to be “from the beginning”--“which was with the Father”; is called “the Word of life,” “Eternal life.” Secondly, that these palpable facts were observed by competent witnesses, who have transmitted them to us for moral ends. The apostles were intellectually and morally competent.
I. Moral purity is the essence of the divine character. “God is light.” Light is mysterious in its essence. “Who, by searching, can find out God?” Light is revealing in its power; through it we see all things. The universe can only be rightly seen through God. Light is felicitating; the animal creation feels it. He is the one “blessed” God. Light is pure, and in this sense God is called light. There are three things which distinguish God’s holiness from that of any creature:--First, it is absolutely perfect. Not only has He never thought an erroneous thought, felt a wrong emotion, performed a wrong act, but He never can. In Him there is no darkness at all. Secondly, it is eternally independent. The holiness of all creatures is derived from without, and depends greatly upon the influences and aids of other beings. But God’s holiness is uncreated. The holiness of creatures is susceptible of change. Thirdly, it is universally felt. Where is it not felt? It is felt in heaven. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” is one of the anthems that resound through the upper world. It is felt in hell. All guilty consciences feel its burning flash. It is the consuming fire.. It is felt on earth. The compunctions of conscience.
II. That moral purity is the condition of fellowship with God. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him,” etc. Three things are implied here:--First, that fellowship with God is a possible thing. John assumes this as something that need scarcely be argued.
1. That the fellowship of a moral being with its Creator is antecedently probable. God is the Father of all intelligent spirits; and is it not probable that the Father and the child should have intercourse with each other?
2. Man is in possession of means suited to this end. If it be said that God is invisible--that we cannot commune with Him--we may reply by saying that man is invisible, and we do not commune with him. The spirit with which we commune in man we see not. How do we commune with man? Through his works. Through his words. Through memorials. We have something in our possession which belonged to another; given, perhaps, to us as a keepsake. Secondly, that fellowship with God is a desirable thing. John assumes this. Nothing is more desirable for man than this. Thirdly, that this fellowship will ever be characterised by a holy life. Purity is the condition of fellowship.
III. That moral purity is the end of Christ’s mediation. “The blood of Jesus Christ,” etc. (Homilist.)
Children of light
There are children of light and children of darkness. The latter shun the bright, the pure azure shining sky of truth with all its loving beams. Their world is like the world of insects, and is the world of night. Insects are all light shunners. Even those which, like the bee, labour during the daytime, prefer the shades of obscurity. The children of light are like the birds. The world of birds is the world of light--of song. Nearly all of them, says Michelet, live in the sun, fill themselves with it, or are inspired by it. Those of the south carry its reflected radiance on their wings; those of our colder climates in their songs; many of them follow it from land to land. (Scientific Illustrations, etc.)
The best life the product of the bestlight
A manufacturer of carmine, who was aware of the superiority of the French colour, went to Lyons and bargained with the most celebrated manufacturer in that city for the acquisition of his secret, for which he was to pay one thousand pounds. He was shown all the process, and saw a beautiful colour produced; but he found not the least difference in the French mode of fabrication and that which had been constantly adopted by himself. He appealed to his instructor, and insisted that he must have concealed something. The man assured him that he had not, and invited him to see the process a second time. He minutely examined the water and the materials, which were in every respect similar to his own, and then, very much surprised, said, “I have lost my labour and my money, for the air of England does not permit us to make good carmine.” “Stay,” said the Frenchman, “don’t deceive yourself- what kind of weather is it now?” “A bright, sunny day,” replied the Englishman. “And such are the days,” said the Frenchman, “on which I make my colour. Were I to attempt to manufacture it on a dark or cloudy day my results would be the same as yours. Let me advise you always to make carmine on bright, sunny days.”
When they were laying the Atlantic cable the engineers found the communication interrupted, and when they had taken it up sufficiently they found the difficulty was occasioned by a small piece of wire, only about twice the length of a pin, which, by some means, had been driven through the covering of the cable, and carried off the electric fluid. So a very small thing will put us out of fellowship with God, and interrupt our communion with heaven, and the only secret of a constant communion is a constant cleansing from all sin. (Fellowship.)
The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin--
The evil and its remedy
(with Ezekiel 9:9):--I shall have two texts this morning--the evil and its remedy. “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great”; and “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
I. I begin with the first doctrine, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great.” Some men imagine that the gospel was devised, in some way or other, to soften down the harshness of God towards sin. There is no more harsh condemnation of sin anywhere than in the gospel. Moses charges you with sin, and tells you that you are without excuse; but as for the gospel, it rends away from you every shadow of a covering. Nor does the gospel in any way what ever give man a hope that the claims of the law will be in any way loosened. What God hath said to the sinner in the law, He saith to the sinner in the gospel. If He declareth that” the soul that sinneth it shall die,” the testimony of the gospel is not contrary to the testimony of the law. Do you reply to this, that Christ has certainly softened down the law? I reply, that ye know not, then, the mission of Christ. Before Christ came sin seemed unto me to be but little; but when He came sin became exceeding sinful, and all its dread heinousness started out before the light. But, says one, surely the gospel does in some degree remove the greatness of our sin. Does it not soften the punishment of sin? Ah! no. Moses says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And now comes Jesus Christ, the man of a loving countenance. What other prophet was the author of such dread expressions as these?--“He shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” or, “Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” The proclamation of Christ today is the same as the utterance of Ezekiel, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great.” One sin, remember, destroyed the whole human race. Think again what an imprudent and impertinent thing sin is. It is thing so audacious, so full of pride, that one need not marvel that even a sin in the little eye of man, should, when it is looked upon by the conscience in the light of heaven, appear to be great indeed. But think again, how great does your sin and mine seem, if we will but think of the ingratitude which has marked it. Oh, if we set our secret sins in the light of His mercy, if our transgressions are set side by side with His favours, we must each of us say, our sins indeed are exceeding great!
II. “Well,” cries one, “there is very little comfort in that. It is enough to drive one to despair.” Ah! such is the very design of this text. If I may have the pleasure of driving you to a despair of your self-righteousness and a despair of saving your own soul, I shall be thrice happy. We turn, therefore, from that terrible text to the second one, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There lies the blackness; here stands the Lord Jesus Christ. What will He do with it? He will do a far better thing than make an excuse or pretend in any way to speak lightly of it. He will cleanse it all away. Dwell on the word “all.” Our sins are great; every sin is great; but there are some that in our apprehension seem to be greater than others. There may be some sins of which a man cannot speak, but there is no sin which the blood of Christ cannot wash away. Blasphemy, however profane; lust, however bestial; covetousness, however far it may have gone into theft and rapine; breach of the commandments of God, however much of riot it may have run, all this may be pardoned and washed away through the blood of Jesus Christ. Just take the word “all” in another sense, not only as taking in all sorts of sin, but as comprehending the great aggregate mass of sin. Come here, sinner, thou with the grey head. Couldst thou bear to read thine own diary if thou hadst written there all thy acts? No; for though thou be the purest of mankind, thy thoughts, if they could have been recorded, would now, if thou couldst read them, make thee startle and wonder that thou art demon enough to have had such imaginations within thy soul. But put them all here, and all these sins the blood of Christ can wash away. Yet, once more, in the praise of this blood we must notice one further feature. There be some of you here who are saying, “Ah I that shall be my hope when I come to die, that in the last hour of my extremity the blood of Christ will take my sins away; it is now my comfort to think that the blood of Christ shall wash, and purge, and purify the transgressions of life.” But, mark! my text saith not so; it does not say the blood of Christ shall cleanse--that were a truth--but it says something greater than that--it says, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth”--cleanseth now. Come, soul, this moment come to Him that hung upon the Cross of Calvary! come now and be washed. But what meanest thou by coming? I mean this: come thou and put thy trust in Christ, and thou shalt be saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The atonement of Christ
Let us view the text--
I. As pointing out its value. It declares the way of pardon to be by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the blood of Him whose name is Jesus; a name which causeth those who know it to be joyful in Him that bears it. It is the blood of one appointed and commissioned to save His people from the guilt, the power, the practice, and the love of sin.
II. As declaring its continual efficacy. The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin; it has a cleansing quality. Oh! what great reason have we all to lament the polluted state of man. When the apostle says, “The blood of Christ cleanseth,” it evidently implies that His blood is the only means of obtaining pardon. And this efficacy is perpetual.
III. As asserting its universal influence. It cleanseth, not all persons, but from all sin. Since it was the blood of so great a person as the Son,of God, it is as powerful to cleanse us from the greatest sin as from the least. It is a universal remedy. (F. Spencer.)
The Passion of our Lord our cleansing
I. The instrument of our cleansing is said to be the blood of Jesus Christ.
1. Now the blood is the life thereof, and therefore, in the first place, we obtain the idea that Christ’s life has been given in expiation of our sins, and we get the idea of satisfaction, inasmuch as the life of an innocent person has been taken in atonement for the sins of those of whom that innocent person is a constituent member.
2. But next, the idea of blood especially conveys to us that element of self-immolation and self-sacrifice which so markedly distinguishes the work of Christ. The blood is the most intimate and precious thing which a man can have.
3. Again, the idea of blood conveys to us the notion of priestly lustration and cleansing. It places before us the present office of Christ, who, having entered into the holy place once for all, forever appears before the celestial altar pleading His Passion before the eternal Father, and presenting His perpetual sacrifice.
II. Whose blood it is that cleanseth from all sin. Whose blood? It is the blood of Jesus Christi The apostle speaks of the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. God’s own blood! What an awful and wonderful expression! and yet it only enunciates the truth, that God the Son has taken to Himself a human body, not to reign in, but to suffer in; not to be glorified in, but to die in; to suffer that we might rejoice, to die that we might live forever.
III. The effect of this potent outpouring of the life of God. It cleanseth us from all sin. It is not mere remission. It is not mere averting the punishment. It is not mere pronouncing man just when he is in fact unjust. It is all this and more. By cleansing we mean making that pure which before was foul, and this is what we attribute to the blood of Christ. We believe that in that blood there is such a virtue as to be able to transform the sinful nature of man into an imperfect but real image of the holiness of God; that before its might all that is base and unclean fades away, and that, like the chemist’s potent elexir, it transmutes the baser elements with which it comes into contact into a new and more perfect substance. Again, the blood of Christ suggests to us such cleansing as comes from washing. That sea of blood which flowed from the Saviour’s veins is the laver wherein our souls are washed from all the soils with which the indulgence of sin defiles them. No harboured guilt, no vain delight, no bosom iniquity can withstand the rushing flood of grace that pours into the soul. God will not save us without ourselves, as St. Augustine bears witness; and therefore the efficacy of all that God has done for us depends in one sense upon ourselves. (Bp. A. P. Forbes.)
The efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood
I. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanses us from all sin by making an atonement for all the guilt of sin; by providing for our justification. Pardon is never partial; and for this simple reason--the atoning blood of Christ reaches to one sin as well as to another; it is satisfaction in full, and therefore, when the merit of it is received by faith, all past sin is freely, fully forgiven.
II. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin, by procuring for us that measure of the gracious influence of God’s Holy Spirit, which may deliver us from all the power and from all the principle of sin. In other Words, it provides for our sanctification.
1. This doctrine of deliverance from all sin contains nothing more than what the nature of sin, if properly understood, makes imperatively necessary. The evangelical covenant does not speak of the expulsion of degrees of sin, but of the expulsion of its principle.
2. The doctrine in question contains nothing beyond what it must be admitted the Divine Spirit is competent to perform.
3. Whatever exception may be taken to this doctrine of deliverance from all the power and principle of sin, the thing itself is indispensably necessary to our happiness.
4. We say nothing but what all orthodox Christians admit must be done sometime. The controversy, therefore, only turns upon the point when this momentous work is to be accomplished. If this work be done at all, it must be either in eternity or in time. If the work cannot take place in eternity, then it must in time. Shall I ask, How long before the spirit quit its tabernacle? Five minutes? an hour? a day? a week? Why then not a year? why then not now?
5. When we insist upon this principle, we insist on nothing but what uniformly appears on the inspired page (Psalms 51:10; Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 3:19). (James Bromley.)
Cleansing virtue of Christ’s blood
It is a short but a full panegyric of the virtue of the blood of Christ.
1. In regard of the effect--cleansing.
2. In regard of the cause of its efficacy. It is the blood of Jesus, a Saviour. The blood of the Son of God, of one in a special relation to the Father.
3. In regard to the extensiveness of it--all sin. No guilt so high but it can master; no stain so deep but it can purge. Doctrine: The blood of Christ hath a perpetual virtue, and doth actually and perfectly cleanse believers from all guilt. This blood is the expiation of our sin and the unlocking our chains, the price of our liberty and of the purity of Our souls. The redemption we have through it is expressly called the forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7). As the blood of the typical sacrifices purified from ceremonial, so the blood of the Anti-typical Offering purifies from moral uncleanness.
The Scripture places remission wholly in this blood of the Redeemer.
1. The blood of Christ is to be considered morally in this act.
2. The cleansing is to be doubly considered. There is a cleansing from guilt and a cleansing from filth--both are the fruits of this blood. The guilt is removed by remission, the filth by purification. Christ doth both. The one upon the account of His merit, the other by His efficacy which He exerts by His Spirit. These both spring up from the death of Christ, yet they belong to two distinct offices of Christ. He justifies us as a surety, a sacrifice by suffering, as a Priest by merit. But He sanctifies us as a King by sending His Spirit to work efficaciously in our hearts. By virtue of His death there is no condemnation for sin (Romans 8:1-3). By virtue of the grace of His Spirit there is no dominion of sin (Romans 6:4-14).
3. This cleansing from guilt may be considered as meritorious or applicative. As the blood of Christ was offered to God this purification was meritoriously wrought; as particularly pleaded for a person it is actually wrought; as sprinkled upon the conscience it is sensibly wrought. The first merits the removal of guilt, the second solicits it, the third ensures it. The one was wrought upon the Cross, the other is acted upon His throne, and the third pronounced in the conscience. The first is expressed Romans 3:25 : His blood rendered God propitious. The second, Hebrews 9:12 : As He is entered into the holy of holies. The third, Hebrews 9:14 : Christ justifies as a sacrifice in a way of merit, and when this is pleaded God justifies as a Judge in a way of authority.
4. The evidence of this truth well appears.
5. From the credit it had for the expiation and cleansing of guilt before it was actually shed and reliance of believers in all ages on it. The blood of Christ was applied from the foundation of the world, though it was not shed till the fulness of time. We must distinguish the virtue of redemption from the work of redemption. The work was appointed in a certain time, but the virtue was not restrained to a certain time. Several considerations will clear this.
(1) The Scripture speaks but of one person designed for this great work (John 1:29). As God is the God of all that died before Christ came, as well as of those that lived after; so Christ is the Mediator of all that died before His coming, as well as of those that saw His day.
(2) This one Mediator was set forth ever since the fall of man, as the foundation of pardon and recovery.
(3) Though these promises and prophecies of the expiation and cleansing of sin were something obscure to them and though they did not exactly know the method, how it would be accomplished, yet that sin should be pardoned was fully revealed, and something of the method of it might be known unto them.
(4) The ancient patriarchs had faith, and were actually pardoned.
(5) And this might well be upon the account of the compact between the Father the Judge and the Son the Redeemer. Had he not promised the shedding of His blood, justice had dislodged the sinner from the world. This was the true and sole end of His incarnation and death. All the ends mentioned by the Angel Gabriel to Daniel centre in this and refer to it. “To finish the transgression, make an end of sin, and make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24), and thereby should all the visions and prophecies concerning the Messiah and His work be fulfilled.
(6) This is the fundamental doctrine of the gospel. The apostle, therefore, with a particular emphasis, tells them this is a thing to be known and acknowledged by all that own Christianity (1 John 3:5).
(7) There could be no other end of His shedding His blood but this. Since His death is called a sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), a propitiation (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25), it can be for no other end but the cleansing of sin.
6. The cleansing sin is wrought solely by His own worth, as He is the Son of God. It is, therefore, said in the text the blood, not only of Jesus Christ but of the Son of God. The blood of Jesus received its value from His Sonship, the eternal relation He stood in to His Father.
Since sin is an infinite evil no mere creature can satisfy for it, nor can all the holy works of all the creatures be a compensation for one act of sin, because the vastest heap of all the holy actions of men and angels would never amount to an infinite goodness, which is necessary for the satisfaction of an infinite wrong.
1. Hence it follows that sin is perfectly cleansed by this blood.
(1) The blood of Christ doth not perfectly cleanse us here from sin, in regard of the sense of it. Some sparks of the fiery law will sometimes flash in our consciences and the peace of the gospel be put under a veil. Evidences may be blurred and guilt revived: Satan may accuse, and conscience knows not how to answer him. There will be startlings of unbelief, distrusts of God, and misty steams from the miry lake of nature. But it hath laid a perfect foundation, and the top stone of a full sense and comfort will be laid at last. Peace shall be as an illustrious sunshine without a cloud; a sweet calm without any whisper of a blustering tempest. As God’s justice shall read nothing for condemnation, so conscience shall read nothing for accusation. The blood of Christ will be perfect in the effects of it. The soul shall be without fault before the throne of God (Revelation 14:5).
(2) The blood of Christ doth not perfectly cleanse us here from sin in regard of the stirrings of it. The Old Serpent will be sometimes stinging us and sometimes foiling us. But this blood shall perfect what it hath begun, and the troubled sea of corruption that sends forth mire and dirt shall be totally removed (Hebrews 12:23).
(3) But the blood of Christ perfectly cleanseth us from sin here in regard of condemnation and punishment. Thus it blots it out of the book of God’s justice; it is no more to be remembered in a way of legal and judicial sentence against the sinner. Though the nature of sin doth not cease to be sinful, yet the power of sin ceaseth to be condemning. Where the crime is not imputed the punishment ought not to be inflicted. It is inconsistent with the righteousness of God to be an appeased and yet a revenging Judge. When the cause of His anger is removed the effects of His anger are extinguished. Herein doth the pardon of sin properly consist in a remission of punishment. The crime cannot be remitted, but only in regard of punishment merited by it. If God should punish a man that is sprinkled with the blood of Christ it would be contrary both to His justice and mercy. To His justice because He hath accepted of the satisfaction made by Christ who paid the debt. It would be contrary to His mercy, for it would be cruelty to adjudge a person to punishment who is legally discharged.
(4) The effect of this blood shall appear perfect at the last in the final sentence. It cleanseth us initially here, completely hereafter. It cleanseth us here in law. Its virtue shall be manifest by a final sentence. There is here a secret grant passed in our consciences; there, a solemn publication of it before men and angels.
(5) Hence it cleanseth from all sin universally. He was delivered for our offences (Romans 4:25)--not for some few offences, but for all; and as He was delivered for them so He is accepted for them. Men have different sins, according to their various dispositions or constitutions. Every man hath his own way. And the iniquity of all those various sins of a different stamp and a contrary nature in regard of the acts and objects God hath made to meet at the Cross of Christ, and laid them all upon Him (Isaiah 53:6)--the sins of all believing persons, in all parts, in all ages of the world, from the first moment of man’s sinning to the last sin committed on the earth.
I. How Christ’s blood cleanseth from sin. God the Father doth actually and efficiently justify; Christ’s blood doth meritoriously justify. God the Father is considered as Judge, Christ is considered as Priest and Sacrifice. This is done--
1. By taking sin upon Himself.
2. By accounting the righteousness and sufficiency of His sufferings to us.
(1) This cleansing of us by imputing this blood to us is by virtue of union and communion with Him.
(2) This union is made by faith, and upon this account we are said to be justified by faith.
II. The use. If the blood of Christ hath the only and perpetual virtue and doth actually and perfectly cleanse believers from all sin, then it affords us--
1. A use of instruction.
(1) Every man uninterested by faith in the blood of Christ is hopeless of a freedom from guilt while he continues in that state.
(2) No freedom from the guilt of sin is to be expected from mere mercy. The figure of this was notable in the legal economy. The mercy seat was not to be approached by the high priest without blood (Deuteronomy 9:7). Christ Himself typified by the high priest expects no mercy for any of His followers but by the merit of His blood. The very title of justification implies not only mercy but justice; and more justice than mercy, for justification is not upon a bare petition but a propitiation.
(3) There is no ground for the merits of saints or a cleansing purgatory.
(4) No mere creature can cleanse from sin. No finite thing can satisfy an infinite justice; no finite thing can remit or purchase the remission of an injury against an Infinite Being. A creature can no more cleanse a soul than it can frame and govern a world and redeem a captived sinner.
(5) There is no righteousness of our own, no services we can do, sufficient for so great a concern. To depend upon any or all of them, or anything in ourselves, is injurious to the value and worth of this blood; it is injurious also to ourselves; it is like the setting up a paper wall to keep off a dreadful fire, even that consuming one of God’s justice. And there is good reason for it.
(a) No righteousness of man is perfect, and there[ore no righteousness of man is justifying.
(b) The design of God was to justify us in such a way as to strip us of all matter of glorying in ourselves, and therefore it is not by any righteousness of our own.
(6) We are therefore justified by a righteousness imputed to us. The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. It is not physically or corporally applied to us, but juridically, and therefore imputed to us, and that for justification (Romans 5:9).
III. Use of comfort. The comfort of a believer hath a strong and lasting foundation in the blood of Christ.
1. The title is cheering. The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son. The titles of the blood of God and the righteousness of God are enough to answer all objections, and testify a virtue in it as incomprehensible as that of His Godhead which elevated it to an infinite value. What wounds are so deep that they cannot be healed by the sovereign balsam of so rich a blood? The blood of Christ is as much above the guilt of our sins as the excellency of His person is above the meanness of ours.
2. And who can fathom the comfort that is in the extensiveness of the object? All sin. All transgressions to it are like a grain of sand or the drop of a bucket to the ocean--no more seen or distinguished when it is swallowed up by that mass of waters. It is a plenteous redemption.
3. And doth not the word “cleanse” deserve a particular consideration? What doth that note but--
(1) Perfection? It cleanseth their guilt so that it shall not be found (Jeremiah 50:20). What can justice demand more of us, more of our Saviour, than what hath been already paid?
(2) Continuance of justification. The present tense implies a continued act. Hence will follow security at the last judgment. His blood cleanseth from all sin here, and His voice shall absolve from all sin hereafter.
IV. Use of exhortation. Have recourse only to this blood upon all occasions since it only is able to cleanse us from all our guilt. (Bp. Hacket.)
The cleansing blood
1. The blood of the Cross was royal blood. It is called an honour to have in one’s veins the blood of the house of Stuart, or of the house of Hapsburg. It is nothing when I point you to the outpouring blood of the King of the Universe? It is said that the Unitarians make too much of the humanity of Christ. I respond that we make too little. If some Roman surgeon, standing under the Cross, had caught one drop of the blood on his hand and analysed it, it would have been found to have the same plasma, the same disc, the same fibrine, the same albumen.
2. It was unmistakably human blood.
3. I go still further, and say it was a brother’s blood. If you saw an entire stranger maltreated, and his life oozing away on the pavement, you would feel indignant. But if, coming along the street, you saw a company of villains beating out the life of your own brother the sight of his blood would make you mad. You would bound into the affray. That is your brother, maltreated on the Cross.
4. It was substitutionary blood. Our sins cried to heaven for vengeance. Some one must die. Shall it be us or Christ? “Let it be me,” said Jesus. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The cleansing blood
I. Consider the connection of the text. The blood of Christ and its cleansing efficacy are associated with fellowship. The question is, what is the relation between them to which the apostle adverts? Without it we can have no fellowship with the Father (Hebrews 9:1-28; Hebrews 10:1-39). The penitent sinner, carrying the blood of Jesus in the hand of faith, and sprinkling the mercy seat, may have fellowship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same law obtains in holding fellowship with the Son also. How impressively this lesson is taught in His own ordinance of the Supper. That ordinance is the out ward expression of fellowship with Him, and it thus teaches how that fellowship is to be enjoyed. Nor is there any other basis on which believers can hold fellowship with one another as the followers of Christ. They may truly say, “The cup of blessing which we bless,” etc. The death of Christ is the bond of their union. They are alike sinners, and have no hope but the death of Jesus. It is to be borne in mind also that fellowship in all these views with the Father, and the Son, and believers, as it is begun by the reception of this doctrine, must ever be maintained by the application of it. We can never come to God otherwise, and we may always come to Him by the peace-speaking blood of Jesus.
II. The blessed doctrine itself. The statement expresses both the efficacy of the blood of Christ and the reason of it.
1. Whence does the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin arise? Not merely from Divine appointment, although there was a Divine appointment. That appointment was made because it was seen by the Omniscient mind to be effectual. It constituted at once the “power of God and the wisdom of God.”
2. The efficacy itself--“It cleanseth from all sin.”
(1) There is original sin.
(2) There is again actual sin. Alas! how mightily does it prevail.
(3) There is, farther, the guilt of sin. How fearfully is it accumulated! Which of God’s commandments has not the sinner broken?
(4) So also is there the power of sin. It might be supposed this was not to be overcome.
(5) Yet again there are the sins of believers.
(6) Even the best services of believers, however, are not faultless. Often, while others applaud them, they are ashamed to lift up their faces to the Lord. They can look for acceptance only through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ.
3. Blood must be sprinkled before it is made effectual. Under the law, all things were purged by blood. The book, the people, the tabernacle, and the vessels of the ministry, were sprinkled with blood. So must it be with our souls. It will not suffice that the blood of Christ has been shed. It must be applied to the conscience. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Cleanseth from all sin
so that men are made like to God, in whom is no darkness (verse 5). The thought here is of “sin” and not of “sins”; of the spring,, the principle, and not of the separate manifestations. (Bp. Westcott.)
Not a coming to the fountain to be cleansed only, but a remaining in it, so that it may and can go on cleansing; the force of the tense a continuous present, always a present tense, not a present which the next moment becomes a past. (Frances R. Havergal.)
This word declares more vividly than any other could do three great realities of the Christian belief--the reality of the manhood of Jesus, the reality of His sufferings, the reality of His sacrifice. (Expositor’s Bible.)
1 John 1:8-10
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves
Assumptions of sinlessness
This is a strong and clear statement, the utterance of an apostle who speaks out of the fulness of a long and ripe Christian experience, not simply in his own name, but as the organ or representative of the whole Church.
Let us consider its bearing:--
I. On our conceptions of truth. Truth is a wide word, but I use it here in St. John’s sense as equivalent to the truth of the gospel--the truth which regulates the kingdom of God. It is only by patient study and the contributions furnished by prayerful research on the part of her members, the Church can enrich herself with the full contents of Divine revelation. An infallible judgment can only exist in a perfect or sinless character. Prejudice prejudges a question in accordance with its own bias, and unduly discounts the evidence that looks in another direction. Personal feeling blinds us to considerations whose force would otherwise be recognised. Attachment to a theory, or a traditional interpretation, makes us unwilling to acknowledge frankly what tells against it, and tempts us to do violence to the natural meaning of words. To assume, therefore, that because a man is a Christian, sincere, devout, and earnest in his faith, he must be unquestionably right in his views of Scripture, is to assume what the apostle here condemns. It is to suppose that he is absolutely free from all that can limit, warp, or obscure the understanding, that is, that he has no sin. But you may ask--Does not this destroy the infallibility of the apostles themselves? They never claimed to be sinless. I answer to this that for special purposes the apostles were enriched with supernatural gifts. But still farther you may ask--What, then, does St. John mean when he says: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things”? “All things,” if you look at the verse that follows, St. John uses as equivalent to “the truth”--the distinctive truth of the gospel. As a man who does not know his own mind is at the mercy of every wind of opinion, and exercises no determining influence upon events, so the Church of Christ unless it knew her Lord, and the peculiar truths which centre in His Person, would be simply and hopelessly lost amid the conflicting eddies of the world. But this is quite a different matter from affirming that every individual Christian will come to correct conclusions on all the debatable subjects that lie within the compass of revelation. Let us, therefore, while we hold fast the faith and rest upon it, as the broad foundation of all our hope, ever remember our own proneness to go astray and to attach a disproportionate importance to secondary truths.
II. In relation to guidance in practical conduct. When we know the gospel we wish to act in accordance with it. In other words, we desire not only to be led into right views of truths, but also into right conceptions of duty. In reality these two are one. To think truly will secure our acting rightly. If we should require to be perfect or sinless men in order to be sure that our conclusions in regard to all matters connected with Revelation are certainly right, we should require to be the same kind of men to be sure that our decisions in points of duty are never wrong. In both cases we must remember that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and that wherever sin is there is liability to error, just as there is to pride, or hatred, or open transgression. Perhaps you will say: “Nobody seriously doubts this; but do we not receive in answer to prayer what will neutralise this confessed liability, and guide us to a right decision?” How, then, does God answer our prayer for guidance? He gives us what the Scripture calls grace, inward enlightenment, or strength, according as the occasion may require. But you must not imagine that grace, any more than sin, is a physical quantity which may occupy a definite space within a man’s nature. Grace operates throughout our whole nature, renewing the will, cleansing the affections, stimulating and purifying thought, acting as an antidote in all these directions to the power of sin. Without it sin works unqualified by any Divine control, with it sin is always under restraint. Hence no act or perception on the part of a Christian man is wholly the result of grace, but more or less of grace and more or less of sin. In short, it is the outcome or exercise of a sinful nature in which both co-exist. We may interpose an obstacle that will seriously hinder His working or wholly arrest it. Conscience may have been deadened through previous inconsistency or unfaithfulness. The heart may have grown sluggish through neglect. Our affections may have spent themselves too lavishly upon earthly things, and grown dull and indifferent towards things above. Temptation may have prevailed against us, and through pride or unwatchfulness we may have admitted strange and alien guests into the sanctuary of the soul. Is it possible that in such circumstances we should be keenly sensitive to the motions of the Divine Spirit? May we not miss the intimations we might otherwise detect, or yield but a halting and imperfect response to their monitions? The truth is, we conceive of prayer and its results in too mechanical and unspiritual a way. We imagine we are always ready and able to receive, no matter what our petitions may include. It does not always occur to us that spiritual blessings must be spiritually discerned and spiritually used. And hence a double danger ensues. When Christians pray, and the answer does not correspond to the request, their faith in prayer is apt to be shaken. They fail to realise that His answer can never be heard so long as the ear is stopped; that His grace can never enter as long as the heart is preoccupied with other things, and unwilling to surrender itself wholly to Him. Or, on the other hand, they may assume that a Divine light is leading them on, where they are following in reality the sparks of their own kindling. They become dogmatic and opinionative, when there is no warrant for their being so. They contract a self-confidence, and conviction that they are always right, which is apt to blind them to many pitfalls, and dig a ditch for their own feet. (C. Moinet, M. D.)
Self-delusion as to our state before God
It is among the most potent of the energies of sin, that it leads astray by blinding, and blinds by leading astray.
I. The apostle declares that the imagination of our own sinlessness is an inward lie. To believe or to deny the possibility of Christian “perfection” is to leave the motives of the spiritual life almost wholly unchanged, as long as each man believes (and who on any side doubts this?) that it is the unceasing duty of each to be as perfect as he can, and, in the holy ambition of yet completer conquest, to “think nothing gained while aught remains to gain.” Were a perfect man to exist, he himself would be the last to know it; for the highest stage of advancement is the lowest descent in humility. As long as this humility is necessary to the fulness of the Christian character, it would seem that it is of the essence of the constant growth in grace to see itself lowlier as God exalts it higher. Besides this operation of humility, it must be remembered that the spiritual life involves a progressively increasing knowledge of God. Now, though the spirit of man assuredly must brighten in purity as thus in faith and love it approaches the great Source of all holiness, it must also appreciate far more accurately the force of the contrast between itself and its mighty model; and thus, as it becomes relatively more perfect, it may be said to feel itself absolutely less so. Nay, I doubt not but it is the very genius of that Divine love which is the bond of perfectness, to be lovingly dissatisfied with its own inadequacy; and such a worshipper in his best hours will feel that, though “love” be, indeed, as these divines so earnestly insist, the “fulfilling of the law,” his love is itself imperfect, deficient in degree, and deficient in constancy; and that in this life it can, at best, be only the germ of that charity which, “never-failing,” is to form the moving principle of the life of eternity. But it is not of those, whom some would not only pronounce “perfect,” but enjoin to feel and know themselves such; it is not of those, who (as I would rather represent it) doubt all in themselves while they doubt nothing in Christ, that I have now to speak, but of those whose cold hearts and neglectful lives utter the bold denial of a sinlessness which the lips dare not deny; who “cry out of the depths”! indeed, but not for rescue or redemption; who cannot know God as a Redeemer, for they cannot feel from what He is to redeem!
II. It would be vain to think of specifying the particular, causes of the evil; we can only speak of some of the general principles on which it rests. The whole mystery of deceit must be primarily referred to the governing agency of Satan--in this sense, as in every other, “the ruler of the darkness of this world.” It is a living spirit with whom we have to contend, as it is a “living God” whom we have to aid us. The cunning of the Serpent alone can reach the master subtlety of making the soul of man do his work by being its own unpitying enemy, and traitor, and cheat; it is only the “father of lies” that thus can make the wretched heart a liar to itself. But then it is certain, that as God is pleased to work by means, and to approach circuitously to His ends, so, still more, is His enemy bound to the same law; and that, therefore, as the Creator’s path of light, through providence and grace, is occasionally discoverable by experience, and directed on principles already prepared to His Almighty purposes, so also may the crooked ways of the Evil One, similarly adjusted, be similarly sought and known.
1. The first and darkest of his works on earth is also the first and deepest fountain of the misfortune we are now lamenting--the original and inherited corruption of the human soul itself. It is ignorant of sin, just because it is naturally sinful. We cannot know our degradation, we cannot struggle, or even wish, to rise, if we have never been led to conceive the possibility of a state higher than our own. Nature can teach discontent with this world, but there her lesson well nigh closes; she talks but vaguely, and feebly, and falsely of another! Now, if this be so, have we not for this mournful unconsciousness of our personal depravity a powerful cause in that depravity itself?
2. If Nature alone--treacherous and degraded nature--is silent in denouncing sin--if she has no instinctive power to arouse herself, what shall she be when doubly and trebly indurated by habit; when the malformed limb becomes ossified; when that faculty which was destined to be, under Divine guidance, the antagonist of nature, “a second nature,” as it is truly called, to reform, and resist, and overlay the first--is perverted into the traitorous auxiliary of its corruption? We know not ourselves sinners, because from infancy we have breathed the atmosphere of sin; and we now breathe it, as we do the outward air, unceasingly, yet with scarcely a consciousness of the act! The professional man, for example, who may become habituated to the use of falsehood or duplicity, as little knows how to disentangle this, even in conception, from the bulk and substance of his customary business--to regard it as something separately and distinctively wrong--as men think of mentally decomposing into their chemical constituents the common water or air, every time they imbibe them. The mass of men know these, as they know their own hearts, only in the gross and the compound. Is it not thus that constant habit persuades us “we have no sin” by making us unceasingly sin; and increases our self-content in direct proportion as it makes it more and more perilous?
3. As men copy themselves by force of habit, they copy others by force of example; and both almost equally foster ignorance of the virulence of the evil they familiarise, and perpetually reconcile the sinner to himself. Mankind in crowds and communities tend to uniformity; as the torrents of a thousand hills, from as many different heights, meet to blend in one unbroken level. And in that union, the source of so much happiness and of so much guilt, each countenances the other to console himself; we are mutual flatterers only that the flattery may soothingly revert to our own corruptions.
4. How the power of this universality of sin around us to paralyse the sensibility of conscience is augmented by the influence of fashion and of rank--not merely to silence its voice, but to bestow grace, and attraction, and authority upon deadly sin--I need not now insist. Philosophers tell us that the least oscillation in the system of the material universe propagates a secret thrill to its extremity; it is so in the every act of social man; but the disorders of the upper classes are publicly and manifestly influential--they are as if the central mass itself of the system were shaken loose, and all its retinue of dependent worlds hurled in confusion around it.
5. But to example and authority, thus enlisted in the ranks of evil, and thus fortifying the false security of our imaginary innocence, must be added such considerations as the tendency of pleasure itself, or of indolence, to prolong this deception, and our natural impatience of the pain of self-disapproval. Now you know there are two ways of easing an aching joint--by healing its disease or by paralysing the limb. And there are two ways of escaping an angry conscience--by ceasing from the evil that provokes it or by resolutely refusing to hear its voice, which soon amounts to silencing it forever. And all this proceeds in mysterious silence! There are no immediate visible attestations of God’s displeasure to startle or affright. All our customary conceptions of the justice of heaven are taken from the tribunals of earth, and on earth punishment ordinarily dogs the heels of crime. Hence, where the punishment is not direct, we forget that the guilt can have existed. The very immutability of the laws of visible nature, the ceaseless recurrence of those vast revolutions that make the annals of the physical universe, and the confidence that we instinctively entertain of the stability of the whole material system around us, while they are the ground of all our earthly blessings, and while they are, to the reason, a strong proof of Divine superintendence, are as certainly to the imagination a constant means of deadening our impressions of the possibility or probability of Divine interposition. Surely the God will break forth at length from His hidden sanctuary, and break forth, as of old upon the Mount, “in fire and the smoke of a furnace.” (Prof. W. A. Butler.)
How many are there in this congregation, I wonder, who would really say to themselves, “We have no sin”? I do not mean, would say it just in that form. Of course not. We are too well educated for that. But practically would say it, and would resent with considerable indignation that anyone else should call them sinners. I want you to consider how thus we do deceive ourselves.
1. In the first place, we balance off against our sins certain pseudo virtues. We keep, not very correctly, and certainly not with very good bookkeeping, a debtor and creditor account. Over against the evil in our lives we set certain credit marks. We attend church with regularity--perhaps we say our prayers, as the phrase is; perhaps we read our Bible, if we are not too much driven in the morning with engagements, or too sleepy at night to take it in. And therefore we are virtuous. It is very curious how loth men are to accept this most fundamental and simple truth of religion that God is a righteous God and demands righteousness of His children, and demands nothing else. So the ancient Jew was ready to give Him sacrifice and fast days and pilgrimages; and the ancient Pharisee stood up and prayed within himself, saying, “I thank God I am not as these other men are, extortioners, adulterers, unjust, or even as this publican; I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all I possess.” “Mr. Pharisee, are you fair minded in your dealing and honourable in your work with other men?” “I fast twice a week.” “Are you kind in your family, patient with your children, chivalric to your wife?” “I fast twice every week.” “Did you ever cheat a man in a bargain?” “I give tithes of all I possess.” “Have you ever had a share in political corruption?” Oh, it is an old trick, this balancing of one thing over against another, and thinking ourselves excused from righteousness by something else than righteousness. We wonder that in the Middle Ages men would put money into the coffers of the Church and think that balanced their iniquity. We will have no such system of indulgences as that; but there is many a person today in the nineteenth century who lives a life as grasping, as selfish, as covetous, as greedy, as ambitious as his neighbour, and thinks the account is balanced because he goes to church and says his prayers, or because he has at times ideals in which he rejoices. He thinks he is a Christian because he admires Christ; because sometimes his heart fills with emotion as he sings.
2. We assume virtues that are not our own, and think ourselves virtuous because of them. Men pride themselves on their family. Yes, it is a good thing to belong to a good family. But what have you and I done in our family? How much wiser or richer or better or nobler or worthier is it because we are members of it? Men glorify themselves because they are Americans. “I thank God that I am not a Turk, that I am not a Russian, that I am not even an Englishman--I am an American.” What have you done that is worthy of the name America? That is the real question. What have you done to make politics purer, to make honour brighter, to make the America of the future more assured? So men pride themselves on their Church. “I am a member of a benevolent church--look at the list of its contributions; I am a member of a working Church--see its activities, how much it is doing.” How much are you doing? How much did you put into that list of benefactions? You are not generous because you belong to a generous Church. Men that laugh openly at the theological doctrine of imputation practise it continually, only they impute to themselves, not the virtues of their God or of their Christ, but the virtues of their fellow men. Men believe in the solidarity of the race for the purpose of satisfying their pride, but not for the purpose of developing their humility.
3. As men take the virtues that do not belong to them, see them and rejoice in them, so they do not take the vices that belong to them. They see the sins of others--not their own. The spendthrift can read you a homily on the vices of the miser, but it never occurs to him that there is any vice in the life he is leading; the miser will read you an eloquent sermon on the vices of the spendthrift, but it never occurs to him that there is no sin in clutching a dollar until it cries. How quick are we to see the vices of our neighbours; how slow to turn our eyes upon our own!
4. We disguise our vices. We give them false names; we dress them up as virtues and call them such, and really think they are. And this young man who never has earned a dollar in his life by solid, honest industry, takes the money that his father has earned by hard industry and throws it freely, hither and yon, among his fellows, and calls it generosity, and thinks it is. He does not know that it is mean to spend in lavish living what another has toiled to acquire.
5. We change the form of our sin, and then think we are done with it. We think that sin consists in the shape it assumes; we do not know that it consists in the evil heart that beats within. We read our Ten Commandments over and say to ourselves, “Thou shalt not kill.” “Thank God we do not live in a murdering age, when men go forth to slay and kill.” “Thou shalt not steal.” “Thank God there are no robber barons left that ravage the land and leave it desolate.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” “We are in America, and we will have no polygamy under our flag.” And still the cry of the children goes up from the slums, and the polluted air squeezes the life out of the little ones, and they die three times as fast as they would in healthy atmosphere, because greed walks the earth. Lust there, as in polygamy. Covetousness there, as in robber barons. Murder there, as in unsheathed swords. We have not ceased to sin because we have changed the form of our sinning.
6. And when we can no longer disguise from ourselves that we are doing wrong, we hide behind all manner of excuses. We say: “Yes, I admit this is not quite right, but everybody does it.” Or, “I admit this is not quite according to the Gospel idea], but the Gospel ideals are not practicable in the nineteenth century.” Or, “I could not help it; I was made so.” And so, little by little, we creep up to that excuse so common in our day: “There is no real moral evil, there is no real sin.” What men call sin is only good in the making. It is the greenness of an apple that by and by will be ripe. It is the foolishness of a child who by and by will be wiser. The fall is only a fall upward. Let us not trouble ourselves, therefore, but wait. There is a good God, and by and by He will bring all things right. Think Canada thistles are wheat in the making; think a broken arm is an athlete’s arm in the making; think that diphtheria and scarlet fever are health in the making; but do not think that to be estranged, self-willed, and self-indulgent is holiness and righteousness and goodness in the making. But more than of any other class deceive themselves by not thinking about the matter at all. They cast up accounts to see how their finances balance; disease comes into the house, and the doctor inquires as to their health, and so they ascertain their physical health balance, but they never strike a balance in the moral realm. No captain on the Atlantic Ocean will allow twenty-four hours to go by without taking his reckoning, if he can, and finding out where he is. But it will be very strange if in this congregation this Sabbath morning, large as is the proportion of professing Christians, there are not many of us that never have taken an observation and do not know or even ask ourselves what is our moral latitude and longitude. (Lyman Abbott.)
The heart sinful
The seeds of all my sins are in my heart, and perhaps the more dangerous that I do not see them. (R. McCheyne.)
Sins of heart
Motives that seem to you as white as the light may prove, when seen through His prism, to be many coloured. Aims that seem straight as a line may, when tested by the right standard, prove indirect and tortuous. We shall find at last that, in many cases, what we have thought devotion was indevout; what we have thought love was struck through with the taint of selfishness; what we have thought faith was utterly vitiated with the poison of unbelief. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive--
The primary condition of the Divine fellowship fulfilled in the believing compression of a guileless spirit
I. It is not deliberate hypocrisy that we are (verse 8) warned against; but a far more subtle form of falsehood, and one apt more easily to beset us, as believers, even when most earnestly bent on “walking in the light as God is in the light.” In its subtlest form it is a kind of mysticism more akin to the visionary cast of ancient and oriental musing than to the more practical turn of thought and feeling that commonly prevails among us. Look at yonder attenuated and etherealised recluse, who has been grasping in successive philosophic systems, or schools of varied theosophic discipline, the means of extricating himself out of the dark bondage of carnal and worldly pollution, and soaring aloft into the light of pure spiritual freedom and repose. After many trials of other schemes, Christianity is embraced by him; not, however, as a discovery of the way in which God proposes to deal with him, but rather as an instrument by which he may deal with himself; a medicine to be self-administered; a remedy to be self-applied. By the laboured imitation of Christ, or by a kind of forced absorption into Christ, considered simply as the perfect or ideal, his soul, emancipated from its bodily shackles and its earthly entanglements, is to reach a height of serene illumination Which no bodily or earthly stain can dim. From such aspirations, the next step, and it is a short one, is into the monstrous fanaticism which would make spiritual illumination compatible with carnal indulgence and worldly lust; his inward and sinless purity being so enshrined in a certain Divine sublimity and transcendentalism of devotion that outward defilement cannot touch it. Church history, beginning even with the apostle’s own day, furnishes more than one instance of men thus deplorably “deceiving themselves, saying they have no sin,”
II. As to the confession (verse 9), it is the confession of men “walking in the light, as God is in the light”; having the same medium of vision that God has; it is the continual confession of men continually so walking and so seeing. For the forgiveness, on the faith of which and with a view to which we are thus always to be confessing our sins, will always be found to be a very complete treatment of our case. What is the treatment? The sins we confess are so forgiven that we are cleansed from all unrighteousness with regard to them. The forgiveness is so free, so frank, so full, so unreserved, that it purges our bosom of all reserve, all reticence, all guile; in a word, “of all unrighteousness.” And it is so because it is dispensed in faithfulness and righteousness; “He is faithful and just in forgiving our sins.” He to whom, as always thus dealing with us, we always thus submit ourselves, is true and righteous in all His ways, and specially in His way of meeting the confidence we place in Him when we confess our sins.
III. If, in the face of such a faithful manner of forgiveness on the part of God, we continue to shrink from that open dealing and guileless confession which our walking in the light as God is in the light implies--we not only wrong ourselves and do violence to our own consciousness and our own conscience; but, “saying that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (verse 10). To prefer now, even for a single instant, or with reference to a single sin, the miserable comfort of wrapping ourselves in fig leaves and hiding among the trees of the garden, to the unspeakable joy of coming forth and asking God to deal with us according to His own loving faithfulness and righteousness and truth--that surely is a high affront to Him and to His Word, as well as a foolish mistake for ourselves. There can be no fellowship of light between us and Him if such unworthy sentiments of dark suspicion and reserve as this implies are insinuating themselves into our bosoms. Let me rather, taking Him at His word, try the more excellent way of carrying with me always, in the full confidence of loving fellowship, into the secret place of my God, all that is upon my mind, my conscience, nay heart; all that is harassing, or burdening, or tempting me; my present matter of care or subject of thought, whatever that may be. I would keep beck nothing from my God. I will not deceive myself by keeping silence about my sin. I will not make my God a liar--I will not do my God and Father so great a wrong as to give Him the lie--by refusing entrance into my soul to that Word of His which gives light, even the light of life. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Denial of sin and confession of sin with their respective consequences
I. The denial of sin. “If we say that we have no sin,” etc. To the enlightened Christian mind it is a matter of wonder how any sane man could deny his own sinfulness.
1. Some claim an absolute exemption from sin. Such were the Pharisees of old.
2. Some say they have no sin, by claiming a relative exemption from sin. They lay stress upon their religious observances, their morality, their benevolence, their fair dealing, etc.
II. The consequence of this denial of sin. “We deceive ourselves,” etc. In worldly matters to be deceived is a grave consideration. For thus to deny our sin is--
1. To deny indisputable facts.
2. To deny the infallible testimony of the Word of God.
3. To deny the moral propriety of the scheme of redemption. The whole need not a physician, etc. No sinner, no Saviour.
III. The confession of sin. “If we confess our sin,” etc.
IV. The consequence of confession of sin. “ He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (D. Clark.)
Honest dealing with God
“God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all”; and consequently He cannot have fellowship with darkness. Our tendency to be false is illustrated in the chapter before us, for we find three grades of it there. There is first the man who lies: “If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” We say and do that which is untrue if while abiding under the influence of sin and falsehood we claim to have fellowship with God. If this tendency is unchecked, you will find the man growing worse and doing according to the eighth verse, wherein it is written, “We deceive ourselves.” Here the utterer of the falsehood has come to believe his own lie; he has blinded his understanding and befooled his conscience till he has become his own dupe. He will soon reach the complete development of his sin, which is described in the tenth verse, when the man, who first lied, and then, secondly, deceived himself, becomes so audacious in his falseness as to blaspheme the Most Holy by making Him a liar. It is impossible to say where sin will end; the beginning of it is as a little water in which a bird may wash, and scatter half the pool in drops, but in its progress sin, like the brook, swells into a torrent deep and broad. Our only safe course is to come to God as we are, and ask Him to deal with us, in Christ Jesus, according to our actual condition.
I. Let us consider the three courses laid open before us in the text. I will suppose that we are all earnestly anxious to be in fellowship with God. Our deceitful heart suggests to us, first, that we should deny our present sinfulness, and so claim fellowship with God, on the ground that we are holy, and so may draw near to the Holy God. I mind not how honest your parentage, nor how noble your ancestry, there is in you a bias towards evil; your animal passions, nay more, your mental faculties are unhinged and out of order, and unless some power beyond your own shall keep your desires in check, you will soon prove by overt acts of transgression the depravity of your nature. It is not uncommon for others to arrive at the same conclusion by another road. They have attained to the audacity to say that they have no sin by divers feelings and beliefs which they, as a rule, ascribe to the Holy Spirit. Now, if any man says that all tendency to sin is gone from him, that his heart is at all times perfect and his desires always pure, so that he has no sin in him whatsoever, he may have travelled a very different road from the character we just now warned, but he has reached the same conclusion, and we have but one word for both boasters, it is the word of our text--“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Some, however, have reached this position by another route. They plead that though it may be they have sin, yet they are not bad at heart; they look upon sin as a technical term, and though they admit in words that they have sin, yet they practically deny it by saying, “I have a good heart at bottom; I always was well intentioned from the very first. I know I have--of course we all have--erred here and there, but you cannot expect a fellow to be perfect. I can’t say I see anything to find fault with.” In so saying or feeling you prove that the truth is not in you--you are either deplorably ignorant as to what holiness is, or else you are wilfully uttering a falsehood; in either case the truth is not in you. A fourth sort of persons say the same thing, for albeit they confess that they have sinned, they think themselves now to be in a proper and fit condition to receive pardon. “We have prayed,” say they; “we have repented, we have read the Scriptures, we have attended public worship, and are as right as we can be: we have tenderness and contrition, and every right and proper feeling; our wonder is that we do not receive salvation.” The idea of fitness is only another form of the vain notion of merit, and it cannot find an inch of foothold in the gospel. True penitents can see nothing in themselves to commend them to mercy, and therefore they cast themselves upon undeserved favour, feeling both unworthy and unfit, but hoping to receive forgiveness freely. The second course which is open to us is the one which I trust the Divine Spirit may lead us to follow, to lay bare our case before God exactly as it stands. “Lord, I own with shame that as my nature is corrupt such has my life been; I am a sinner both by nature and by practice.” Make the confession of the two things, of the cause and the effect, of the original depravity--the foul source, and then of the actual sin which is the polluted stream. When a sinner feels he has no natural fitness for receiving the grace of God; when a broken spirit cries, “Oh, what a wretch I am! Not only my past sin but my present feelings disqualify me for the love of God; I seem to be made of hell-hardened steel,” he is confessing that sin is in him. It is in your vileness that sovereign grace o’er sin abounding will come to you and cleanse you, and therefore the sooner you come to the honest truth the better for you, for the sooner will you obtain joy and peace through believing in Christ. The text means just this--treat God truthfully, and He will treat you truthfully. The blood of Jesus Christ has made a full atonement, and God will be faithful to that atonement. He will deal with you on the grounds of the covenant of grace, of which the sacrifice of Jesus is the seal, and therein also He will be true to you. Now, there are still some who say, “Well, yes, I think I could go to God in that way, sir, but oh! my past sins prevent me. I could tell Him I am sinful, I could ask Him to renew my nature, I could lay myself bare before Him, but Obadiah 1:0 my past sins; all might yet be well if I had not so sinned! Ah, that brings out a third course which lies before you, which I hope you will not follow, namely, to deny actual sin. The very thing which you cannot do would seal your doom, for it would lead you to make God a liar, and so His Word could not abide in you.
II. Let us now consider how we can follow this course, which is the only right one, namely, to confess our sin. Do not shirk the facts or shrink from knowing their full force, but feel the power of the condemning law. Then recollect your individual sins; recall them one by one--those greater sins, those huge blots upon your character, do not try to forget them. If you have forgotten them, raise them from the grave and think them over, and feel them as your own sins. Think of your sins of omission, your failures in duty, your short, comings in spirit. Repent of what you have done, and what you have not done. Think of your sins of heart. How cold has that heart been towards your Saviour! Your sins of thought, how wrongly your mind has often judged; your sins of imagination, what filthy creatures your imagination has portrayed in lively colours on the wall. Think of all the sins of your desires and delights, and hopes and fears. Let us take care that we confess all. And then let us try to see the heinousness of all sin as an offence against a kind, good, loving God, a sin against a perfect law, intended for our good.
III. Let us consider why we should confess sin.
1. I shall say first, do so because it is right. Religious lie telling is a dreadful thing, and there is plenty of it; but if I could be saved by masking my condition before God, I would not like to be saved in that way.
2. Moreover, upon some of us it is imperative, because we cannot do anything else.
3. Besides, suppose we have tried to appear before God what we are not, God has not been deceived, for He is not mocked. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The conviction and confession of sin
The apostle had said, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” But who are understood by “us”? Certainly not all men. The impenitent, and unbelieving, and ungodly, have not been cleansed from their sin.
I. Conviction of sin. “If we say that we have no sin,” etc. Many will own they are sinners, and yet think they may come to God as they are, independent of Christ and His blood. They do not say so, but they act so. Listen to their prayers, and they call upon God without any mention of His Son. It is obvious they have no sense of their real position in His sight. They have not entered into the spirit of Christ’s words, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” In this sense they say “they have no sin.” The same may be said of their fellowship with Christ. They may think of Him as a model of perfection. But His death does not specially affect them. They attach no peculiar efficacy to the shedding of His blood. And the reason is, they have no adequate sense of their sin. So also as to fellowship with believers. They can meet them as friends, and neighbours, and brethren, but they have no perception of the communion arising out of the blood of Christ. They do not feel either its necessity or influence as a bond of union. Of all such the apostle testifies “they deceive themselves.” They are deceived by an imagination of their own excellence, while in reality they are dead in sin. It is said of them farther, “the truth is not in them.” Its light may be all around them, but it has never penetrated to the inner man. Such was the condition of the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:17-18). The same admonition and counsel are applicable to all who have not an adequate idea of their sinfulness, such an idea as to make them feel that their only hope is the blood of Christ.
II. Confession of sin. “If we confess,” etc. There is a close and natural connection between conviction and confession. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” If the heart be touched by a sense of sin it cannot be restrained from pouring forth the accents of humiliation. What are the features of such confession? It is sincere, coming from the heart. It is full, no attempt being made to hide anything from God or ourselves. It is special, not satisfied with acknowledging sin generally, but noting special offences and dwelling on their aggravations. It fills the mind with grief for sin. It rouses to the hatred of it. It constrains to an immediate and total abandonment of it. It is such as was exemplified by David (Psalms 2:1-12). To such confession there is the most gracious encouragement in the text, “If we confess our sins.” This is all we are required to do. We are not sent on some toilsome pilgrimage, or subjected to some round of self-mortification. We are to come to God as we are--now--and with the whole burden of our sin upon our hearts. Then God is “faithful to forgive us our sins.” He has said in His Word “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” It is not presumption, therefore, to expect pardon on confession. On the contrary, it is distrust of God to doubt it. And observe the gracious yet warning words that follow, “and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” They are designed to meet the jealousy of the awakened soul. We are taught that God will accompany His pardon with sanctifying grace. Our plan would be to put purity first and pardon next. But God’s plan is the reverse. We are to accept pardon at once, and it will be accompanied and followed by holiness.
III. Habitual penitence for sin. “If we say we have not sinned,” etc. Observe the difference between this verse and the eighth. There the expression is, “if we say we have no sin”; here it is, “if we say that we have not sinned.” The former describes the condition of the man who does not feel his present sinfulness, the latter of him who justifies his past conduct. The former needs to be convinced of his sinfulness, the latter to be exercised aright about his past transgressions. In the one verse there is reference to the beginning of the Divine life, in the other to the maintenance of it. The one consists in the conviction which brings the sinner to the blood of Christ for salvation, the other in the habit of penitence which must accompany him as long as he lives. Let me exhort you to cultivate this habit. Many important ends are served by it. It will keep us mindful of what we once were, and of how much we are debtors to Divine grace. It will stimulate us to devote ourselves more unreservedly to God in the future. It will promote watchfulness against temptation. It will strengthen faith. Calling to mind how graciously God dealt with us in other days, we are encouraged to trust Him to the end. It will kindle repentance. Like Ephraim of old, it will lead us to say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” It will promote holiness. It will urge perseverance. (James Morgan, D. D.)
Confession of sin
There are two ways in which men are wont to make confession of their sins, which appear to my mind the same as making no true confession at all. One is to acknowledge sin, in general terms, as a customary and proper part of public, domestic, or private devotion, but without any accompanying feeling of contrition, desire of amendment, or even thought of personal application. The other is to confess our sinfulness in such extravagant terms that the force of the confession is destroyed by its palpable discordance with nature and truth. It is to confess that we are all utterly vile and abominable. In a common congregation of worshippers such language is senseless and nugatory. It is so, because it is felt to be inapplicable, even by those who think it religious to use and assent to it.
I. Do we then say that we have no sin? Certainly not. If we say so, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. There is not one of us who will not see loads of sin pressing heavily upon his life if he will send his reflections back and impartially retrace its history.
1. We can all of us look back on our childhood. And what see we there? Perfect innocence, spotless virtue, blameless affections? Who is there of us who never caused his parents’ hearts to ache--I do not mean ignorantly, but knowingly and recklessly?
2. Is our survey more or less satisfactory, do our reflections become more or less gratifying, when we leave the days of our childhood and come forward to those of our youth? Youth is life’s seedtime. Did we prepare ourselves for the harvest as we ought to have done? Did we acquire all the knowledge that was within our reach? What attention did we pay to the formation of our character? Did we guard it anxiously, and mould it carefully, and keep it away from polluting influences, and lay strong foundations for it, and build it up, and beautify it, after the best and purest models; or did we give it over to chance, to custom, and to the world? Did our Maker have as much of our time, thoughts, desires and obedience as was due to Him?
3. And I call on those who have advanced into the middle regions of life to say whether, when youth passed away, folly and sin went with it, and left their maturer years to the peaceful and undisturbed dominion of wisdom and virtue. Have they acquired such habitual self-command that they constantly and willingly obey the commandments of God? Do they walk within their houses with perfect hearts? Do they never take a hard and griping advantage of their neighbour’s weakness, or ignorance, or necessity?
II. What then will be the effect of a true confession of sin? The mere verbal confession of sin can be of no possible benefit to us; can do us no more good than the repetition of any other words, with or without meaning. But if our confession is accompanied by a sincere conviction of sin, we shall be forgiven and cleansed by a faithful and just God. There is nothing vindictive in the government of God. We shall not be made to suffer for sins which we have renounced, and which our spirit now looks upon with abhorrence, as foreign and hateful to it. The character which we have formed here will accompany us to the unseen world; and as it has worked out our pardon here, so has it prepared for us eternal felicity. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
Prayer (in the wide sense of the word) is a varied melody, now rising, now falling upon the ear. It has its bass notes and its high notes, its plaintive cadences and its jubilant cadences, or (to transfer the imagery from the domain of sound to that of sight), it has its gleams of sunlight and its depths of shadow. It is with the low and plaintive cadences of prayer that we purpose to deal, in other words, we shall speak of confession of sin.
I. Confession of sin should be a real element in the devotional system of each one of us. Confession is nothing more nor less than the practical recognition of our sinfulness and of our sins. Now both our sinfulness and our sins are always with us in this life. As saith the Scripture, “There is no man that sinneth not.”
II. If Confession is to become in reality part and parcel of the religious system of each individual--if it is to enter as an element into his devotion--it must not be pointless and vague, but definite and precise. It must turn upon those particular faults of conduct and character, of which we are personally conscious. It must aim, not merely at bringing to light erroneous conduct, but at ascertaining the general drift and current of our character. It must not rest contented with a general survey of our faults; but must unmask, if possible, the ruling passion. But it may be asked, Does not our Church place in the forefront of her public worship a general confession; a confession whose ample terms embrace all mankind universally, and which seems to eschew all details of wrong sentiment and wrong action? No doubt she does so; but her intention, here and elsewhere in her formularies, is that under the general expression should be represented in the mind of each individual that individual’s case. Each man is to glance mentally at his own sins as he repeats the general confession; at his own wants as he follows the collects and Lord’s Prayer; at his own mercies as he follows the general thanksgiving. It is to be found in that ordinance of the Levitical law, which prescribes the expiation of the sin of the whole congregation of Israel. In every genuine act of public confession, hearts from all quarters encircle the Victim, and bring each one its own burden and each one its own bitterness, to lay it with the outstretched hand of faith on that sacred and devoted Head.
III. But does the Church of England recommend to her sons and daughters in the matter of confession nothing of a more specific character than what we have announced? What the Prayer book says amounts to this: “If, on examination of your state of health, you find yourself sick, I recommend your seeking out and resorting to a discreet and learned physician.” The implication clearly is, whatever some devout and good men may have conceived to the contrary, that, if we find ourselves well, or at least able to treat our own case, we shall not resort to him. Is not this the plain rule of reason in the analogous case of the treatment of the body? I am not ignorant of the answer which may be made. Is there “my one of us, our opponents ask triumphantly, who enjoys spiritual health, who has not a sin-sick soul--any one of us who has not to take up into his mouth this testimony respecting himself, “There is no health in me?” Then, if all be spiritual invalids, all should resort regularly and habitually to the physician. We reply by admitting fully that every soul of man is sinful, and as such has in it the seeds of spiritual disease. But this is a totally different thing from saying that every conscience of man is morbid, perplexed with scruples, agitated with timid doubts, and unable by God’s grace to guide itself. Confession to our Lord Jesus Christ, and that self-scrutiny which must precede it, are most healthful practices; but they require to have their tendencies counterbalanced and held in equipoise by devotional exercises of a contrary kind. Self-introspection may easily, and will certainly, become morbid if it be not checked by a constant outlooking of the mind. Look into yourself to see your own vileness, look out of yourself to Christ. The knowledge and deep consciousness of thy dark guilt is only valuable as a background on which to paint more vividly to thy mind’s eye the rainbow colours of the love of Jesus. Walk abroad ever and anon, and expatiate freely in the sunlight of God’s grace and love in Christ. A religion, if it is to be strong, must be joyous; and joyous it cannot be without the light of God’s love in Christ shining freely into every corner of the soul. (Dean Goulburn.)
The true comfort
Suppose the case of a man, the victim of a mortal disease, yet clinging eagerly to life: that man may find comfort from persuading himself that his complaint is but trifling and will speedily disappear; this is a false, deceitful comfort. Or he may derive comfort from knowing that, though his complaint be in itself deadly, yet he has at hand an infallible specific, in the use of which his disease will be eradicated, and his health restored. This is a true and solid comfort. It is even so in the concerns of the soul. The sinner may find comfort from trying to persuade himself that his sins, if any, are inconsiderable, and do not seriously affect the safety of the soul. This is a false and unscriptural source of comfort. Or else he may have a deep, overwhelming sense of his own vileness, of his naturally guilty, hopeless state, and yet be comforted by the assurance of God’s forgiving love in Christ. This is a sure, Scriptural, and solid ground of comfort.
I. There is a false ground of comfort that is here condemned. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” While all, in so many words, allow that they are sinners, yet very many so qualify that confession as in effect to say “that they have no sin.”
1. One, for example, when appealed to, says, “Oh, I know, of course, that I’m a sinner. All are sinners, but I’m not a great sinner. I am not, perhaps, what I ought to be; I have no doubt done many things that were wrong. Everyone does the same; but I have committed no sin of a gross or heinous character.”
2. Others, while admitting that they are sinners--grievous sinners--yet so extenuate and explain away their sins as virtually to affirm that they “have no sin.” They have done very wickedly; but then it has been through surprise, or ignorance, or the influence of others: the temptation has been so strong, and their natural weakness so great, that they were overcome; they had, however, no deliberately wicked purpose, and God will, they trust, on that ground, mercifully overlook their sins.
3. Others, again, while admitting that their sins are neither few nor trifling, yet trust that their good deeds so preponderate as that God will in His mercy overlook what they have done amiss. They open a kind of debtor and creditor account with heaven. May it not be feared that much of almsgiving, much of attendance at the house of God, and at sacraments, is to be ascribed to motives not very different from these?
II. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” The confession here meant must be, of course, not a mere cold and formal one--the mere confession of the lip. No; it must be sincere and earnest, the unveiling of the heart to Him “to whom all hearts be open.” It must, furthermore, be penitent and contrite; we must be taught to mourn over sin. We must confess our sins, then, with a sincere, penitent, believing heart; and, if so, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But are not God’s faithfulness and justice pledged to punish sin and to destroy the sinner? Yes, out of Christ it is so, but in Christ God stands to the sinner in a new covenant relationship, and He who was “faithful and just” to destroy is, in Christ, “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” God is “faithful to forgive”; for God has promised, through Christ, forgiveness to the believing penitent; and “He is faithful that promised.” (W. A. Cornwall, M. A.)
Compression of sins and the power of absolution
If we say that we have no sin, we sin in saying so, for we give God the lie (verse 10).
I. The necessity of confession. If we confess God will forgive, not otherwise. Though we cannot of ourselves avoid those sins without the grace of God, yet we might, if we would have that grace which would enable us to avoid them. And if man hath not this grace of God, the want is not in God, but in ourselves. Our confession must be with a purpose of obedience for the time to come. Not everyone that confesseth, “but he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy.”
II. Where is any to take our confessions? Here is none in the text to confess to, if we had a mind to it. None indeed expressly named, but here is one plainly enough described, that can pardon our sins and purge us from all our iniquities; to whom can we better confess than to Him that hath the power of absolution? Would you know who this He is? “I, even I,” saith God, “am He who blotteth out all your iniquities, and that forgiveth your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). (Bp. Sparrow.)
Confession of sins the sure condition of forgiveness and cleansing
I. Confession of sin. What is it? Everyone admits, in a general way, that confession of sin is a necessary condition of forgiveness. But in how many cases is this confession altogether unreal!
1. Every sin must be confessed. We must deal honestly with God. We must tell Him all that is in our hearts.
2. No sin must be excused. It must be confessed precisely as it is. Nothing must be added to it, nothing taken from it; there must be no false or affected exaggeration, and still less must there be any attempt at palliation.
3. Sin when once confessed must be at once forsaken. Joined with this inward abandonment of sin there must of necessity be the outward abandonment also. We must forsake our sins, both in disposition and in action. We must forsake our sin and follow righteousness.
II. Forgiveness of sins and cleansing from unrighteousness. God bestows this double blessing on those who confess their sins. Two benefits are spoken of; yet, though separable in idea, they are not divided in fact.
1. Forgiveness of sins. To understand what this is we must consider what effects sin produces on those who commit it in their relations towards God.
(1) It calls forth the anger of God.
(2) It condemns the sinner to the punishment of death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; “the wages of sin is death.”
2. Cleansing from unrighteousness is the second benefit which God bestows on those who confess their sins. Righteousness is not only imputed to us, it is also implanted within us. We are renewed unto righteousness.
III. The certainty that where sin is confessed, it will be forgiven and cleansed away.
1. Because He is faithful. God is always true to Himself; He cannot deny Himself. One is true to himself when he does that which he must do, according to the constitution of his whole being. And so it is with God … ”God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all”; He is only, altogether, and always, Light; He must, therefore, ever manifest Himself as such. He has bound Himself to us by His covenant of mercy, and His covenant is inviolable. If we confess our sins, we are walking in the Light; and God, who is Light, cannot deny Him self, cannot prove unfaithful to that fellowship of Light.
2. But, again, our confidence rests not only upon the faithfulness of God, but also upon His righteous ness. The righteousness of God not only prompts Him to punish unrighteousness; it also prompts Him to cleanse and deliver from unrighteousness. And surely, if the righteousness of God is vindicated and magnified in the punishment of men for their unrighteousness, much more thoroughly is it vindicated, and much more illustriously is it magnified, in delivering men from their unrighteousness. Have we not here a hopeless schism, a division of righteousness against itself? The solution of this problem depends on the following considerations:
(1) All things are possible with God. His resources are infinite. His wisdom is unsearchable. We may be sure that He is able to solve the problem, that He is able to meet and satisfy both demands of righteousness.
(2) God, in His manifold wisdom, has solved the problem. The Cross of Christ, the death of God’s Son, supplies a full answer to every question. Righteousness has been satisfied, in all its requirements, by the sacrifice which was offered once for all on the accursed tree. All unrighteousness of men has been judged, condemned, and punished in the death of Christ; all unrighteousness of men has been abolished, cleansed, and purged away in the death of Christ.
(3) But, again, both aspects of righteousness are conserved by the way in which we become partakers of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. It is, as we have seen, by confession of our sins that we attain this. Now, when we confess our sins we do two things, we condemn our sins, and we renounce them. We cease to yield our members as weapons of unrighteousness unto sin; we henceforth yield our members as weapons of righteousness unto God. Being made free from sin, we become the servants of righteousness. All this is brought about through our being made partakers of Christ’s death. (J. J. Glen-Kippen.)
Confession of sin
I. Confession must be particular. While you confess only in general terms, you confess others’ sins rather than yours; but this is it to descend into our own hearts, and find out our just and real debt; to charge ourselves as narrowly as we can, that He may discharge us fully, and forgive us freely.
II. Confession must be universal, that is, of all sin, without partiality or respect to any sin. I doubt if a man can truly repent of any sin, except he in a manner repent of all sin, or truly forsake one sin, except there be a divorcement of the heart from and forsaking of all sin; therefore the apostle saith, “If we confess our sins,” not sin taking in all the body and collection of them. Then there lies a necessity upon us to confess what we have; we have all sin, and so should confess all sins.
III. Confession should be perpetuated and continued as long as we are in this life. That stream of corruption runs continually, let the stream of your contrition and confession run as incessantly; and there is another stream of Christ’s blood, that runs constantly too, to cleanse you. (H. Binning.)
Honest confession best
If you have done wrong, don’t go days and weeks under conviction of sin. Suppose that I had lied to my partner in business. Suppose he were to charge it upon me, and I were to try to evade the matter, and were to oblige him to chase me through a whole week, until at last he cornered me so closely that, seeing escape to be impossible, I gave in, and said, “Well, I have lied, and I am sorry,” just because I could not help yielding. How mean a spirit should I thus show! How much better if, upon sudden press of temptation I had sinned, for me to stop at once when the lie was charged upon me, and say honestly, blushing with shame, “Yes, I am wrong, all wrong. I am sorry, and will do so no more.” Why will not men, when they see their guilt and danger, face right about, and make short work with themselves? (H. W. Beecher.)
Pastor R., of Elberfeld, was once sent for to see a dying man. He found the patient really very ill, and entered at once into an earnest conversation about the state of his soul. The patient began, in the strongest terms, to describe himself as the very chief of sinners, and declared that his past life filled him with abhorrence. He continued so long in this strain that the pastor could scarcely find an opportunity to speak. At last, taking advantage of a pause, he remarked gently, “It was then really true what I heard of you?” The patient raised himself in the bed, stared in astonishment at the pastor, and demanded, “What, then, have you heard? No one, in truth, can say anything against me;” and continued, in a strain of unbounded self-satisfaction, to tell of his virtues, and recount all his good deeds, pouring out at the same time a torrent of execrations against the slanderers who had tried to injure his character. “It was not from foes or slanderers,” said the pastor, “that I heard it, but from yourself; and now it grieves me to hear that you do not believe what you said.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Consciousness of sin in every man. Hence the inevitable need of forgiveness. Is there any answer on the part of God to this need? Current answers--
1. He never forgives: He cannot, in the nature of the case. Moral forces are as irresistible, moral laws as inexorable as physical laws. The man who breaks law must take the consequences. This is the answer of the positivist and the Deist. A terrible response to our keen need.
2. He forgives capriciously: Those born of good parents, who have lived in Christian society, who have a fortunate mental constitution, who have done nothing flagrantly bad, such are forgiven. This answer is still more terrible than the other; it shows favour to those who have had better opportunities. It cannot be admitted.
3. He forgives universally: without reference to circumstances, or distinction of character, because He is kind. This is the worst answer of all. By it moral law is aunulled, and chaos comes into the spiritual universe. God ceases to have regard to His holiness. It is incredible that this should be the answer to man’s need of forgiveness.
4. The answer of the gospel: God forgives universally on the ground of the atonement, on the condition of repentance and faith. This answer suits God’s character and man’s need. It makes forgiveness attainable, and upholds moral order. It shows the preciousness of the Bible, argues its Divine origin, the privilege of accepting God’s offer, and the infinite hazard of neglecting or refusing it. (R. S. Storrs.)
(with Romans 3:27):--When the soul is seriously impressed with the conviction of its guilt, it is afraid of God. It dreads at that time every attribute of Divinity. But most of all the sinner is afraid of God’s justice. The sinner is right in his conviction that God is just, and he is moreover right in the inference which follows from it, that because God is just his sin must be punished. Except through the gospel, justice is thine antagonist. It cannot suffer thee to enter heaven, for thou hast sinned. Is it possible, then, that the sinner cannot be saved? This is the great riddle of the law, and the grand discovery of the gospel.
I. How has justice been put aside? Or rather, how has it been so satisfied that it no longer stands in the way of God’s justifying the sinner? And through that second representative of manhood, Jesus, the second Adam, God is now able and willing to forgive the vilest and justify even the ungodly, and He is able to do so without the slightest violation of His justice.
1. Note the dignity of the victim who offered Himself up to Divine justice.
2. Think of the relationship which Jesus Christ had towards the great Judge of all the earth, and then you will see again that the law must have been fully satisfied thereby.
3. Furthermore, consider how terrible were the agonies of Christ, which, mark you, He endured in the stead of all poor penitent sinners, of all those who confess their gins and believe in Him; I say when you mark these agonies, you will readily see why justice does not stand in the sinner’s way.
II. It is an act of justice on God’s part to foil, give the sinner who makes a confession of his sin to God. The same Justice that just now stood with a fiery sword in his hand, like the cherubim of old keeping the way of the tree of life, now goes hand in hand with the sinner. “Sinner,” he says, “I will go with thee. When thou goest to plead for pardon I will go and plead for thee. Once I spoke against thee; but now I am so satisfied with what Christ has done that I will go with thee and plead for thee. I will not say a word to oppose thy pardon, but I will go with thee and demand it. It is but an act of justice that God should now forgive.” Sinner! go to God with a promise in your hand “Lord, thou hast said, ‘He that confesseth his sin, and forsaketh it, shall find mercy.’ I confess my sin, and I forsake it: Lord, give me mercy!” Don’t doubt but that God will give it you. Take that pledge and that bond before His throne of mercy, and that bond never shall be cancelled till it has been honoured. But, again, not only did God make the promise, but according to the text man has been induced to act upon it; and, therefore, this becomes a double bond upon the justice of God. Do you imagine when God has brought you through much pain and agony of mind to repent of sin, to give up self-righteousness, and rely on Christ, He will afterwards turn round and tell you He did not mean what He said? It cannot be. No, He is a just God, “Faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” One more aspect of this case. God’s justice demands that the sinner should be forgiven if he seeks mercy, for this reason: Christ died on purpose to secure pardon for every seeking soul. Now, I hold it to be an axiom that whatever Christ died for he will have.
III. I must just enter into some little explanation of the two great duties that are taught in the two texts. The first duty is faith--“believeth in Christ”; the second text is confession--“if we confess our sins.” I will begin with confession first. Whenever grace comes into the heart it will lead you to make amends for “my injury which you have done either by word or deed to any of your fellow men; and you cannot expect that you shall ,be forgiven of God until you have forgiven men, and have been ready to make peace with those who are now your enemies. If you have done aught, then, against any man, leave thy gift before the altar, and go and make peace with him, and then come and make peace with God. You are to make confession of your sin to God. Let that be humble and sincere. Then the next duty is faith. “Whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s justice in forgiveness
Any consideration of the justice of forgiveness must be based upon a true estimate of what sin is, and what punishment is. We must clearly recognise that sin is evil in itself and in its inherent effects and not merely evil by the arbitrary decree of the lawgiver. Sin is that which is absolutely bad for man, and generally speaking it is not bad because forbidden, but forbidden because bad. When man sins he is doing something unworthy of himself, something contrary to nature, (if by nature we understand the original nature in which God first created him). Sin being thus man’s evil, the good God, because He is good, will do all that is possible to keep His children from sin. And one of the ways of keeping man from sin is by ordaining punishment for sin. Punishment is made conditional on sin in three ways. Sometimes it is simply a sentence pronounced upon sin by arbitrary decree. Sometimes it is the fruit of sin, growing out of and resulting from the sin, in the nature of things. Sometimes it is the sin itself intensified, robbed of its pleasure and pressed as a burden and a curse upon the man. For example: if a schoolboy is habitually idle and neglects his studies we may trace out a retribution connected with the sin in each of these three several ways.
1. The master punishes the boy for his idleness. This is a punishment which conies a simple sentence upon the sin, not as a natural or necessary consequence of the sin.
2. A worse retribution comes upon the boy when he grows up. He finds himself not fitted for the position in life which he might have occupied if he had had a better education.
3. He may experience a still more terrible punishment, he did not learn industry at school and his idleness clings to him all his life. Thus he has a triple punishment. I may give you from the Bible an allusion to each of these. For the first case we have the sentence pronounced upon the murderer in Genesis (Genesis 9:6). For the second we may think of idleness leading to want, that natural law endorsed by St. Paul when he wrote (2 Thessalonians 2:10). For the third we may take the solemn sentence (Revelation 22:11). With this third class of punishment the human legislator and the human judge have little or nothing to do. God alone can make sin to be its own punishment. With the second class the legislator rather than the judge is concerned, lest unwise legislation should promote wrong doing by viciously shielding the offender from the natural consequences of his sin. The first class of punishment, attending upon the wisdom of the lawgiver and the sentence of the judge, is that which man can ordinarily inflict or remit. And it is in studying the application of such punishment that we shall find that human justice which is to be a light to show us something of Divine justice. God’s ordinance in punishment may operate to keep men from sin in either of two ways:
(1) by exhibiting God’s sense of the badness of sin, and so training men to see for themselves the badness of sin, and to avoid it; or
(2) by holding forth retribution as a terror, that those who are too degraded to recognise the evil of sin may be deterred from sin by fear of the evil which they do recognise, the evil of pain or loss. This is the purpose of righteous punishment. However wicked a person may be, to inflict pain or loss upon him, which is not calculated to do some good in the way of remedying sin, either by reforming the particular offender or by deterring others from wrong, would be torture, not correction, cruelty and not righteousness. It follows that if the end which punishment is designed to accomplish has been attained by some other means, punishment becomes unrighteous, for it is only the end which justifies our infliction of pain or loss; upon our brother. If no good will come either to the individual or to the world from our inflicting the punishment, it is right to remit the punishment. This surely must be the key to our interpretation of the statement that God is righteous or just to forgive us our sins. If His justice is analogous to man’s justice then His purpose in punishment is to exhibit His own sense of the sinfulness of sin and to deter from sin. It is plain that before He can remit the punishment which we deserve, some other means must be taken to show the world how God esteems sin. It is plain that the lesson of God’s true regard for sin must be learned by the sinner, and it must produce in him the penitence which will restrain him from sin. A simple gospel of the forgiveness of the penitent without the death of Christ would not have fulfilled these three conditions. If the gospel proclaims the remission of the punishment which was to evidence God’s condemnation of sin, this evidence must be displayed to the world in some other way. It is displayed from the Cross of Christ. God exhibits the deathliness of sin, not in the death of the sinner but in the death of Christ. But the sinner to be forgiven must have learnt this lesson. Here you see the necessity of faith in Christ crucified as a condition of pardon. And your faith in the Cross must produce penitence: otherwise there is nothing to supply the place of punishment to deter from sin. But it is obvious that if the final penalty of sin is not merely attached to it by arbitrary decree, but is something which follows as the fruit and consequence of sin, the pardon which is given us must be something more than an arbitrary warrant of acquittal; it must involve in some way a change in our spiritual growth and bearing; for the fig tree cannot bear olive berries neither the vine figs, nor can sin grow into holiness nor a wicked heart bear fruit unto eternal life. This teaches us again that repentance is an absolute necessity as a condition of pardon. Perhaps we may sometimes have thought of repentance as a condition arbitrarily imposed: we may have said that God does not choose to forgive us unless we repent. But in the light of our present consideration this would seem to be an imperfect statement of the case. We must rather say that in the nature of things (if punishment is the growth and fruit of sin) there can be no such thing as the remission of punishment without a change--a conversion--of the man. It is this thought of sin becoming ultimately its own punishment that stands in the way of a belief in a universal restoration, a universal salvation. But even if we take the other view of hell and think of it simply as pain arbitrarily imposed as a penalty for sin and capable of being arbitrarily withdrawn, there is yet an objection to our believing in any ultimate restoration. We might, of course, believe that when a sufficiency of punishment has been inflicted, the soul might then be delivered from hell. But what then? If it be still evil, it will be a hell to itself. Yet again, the good God will do all that may be for us; for He is just to forgive us our sins. But it may be said--if the forgiveness of our sins is thus a matter of justice, what have we to do with prayer for pardon? God will forgive us if it is right: He will not forgive us if it is not right to forgive us. What is the use of confession and prayer? The answer is, that the right or wrong of forgiveness depends on the disposition of the sinner. Has he or has he not learned the lesson of the Cross? Is he or is he not firmly convinced of the deathliness of sin? that it is an evil upon which God cannot look with indifference? that it is and ever must be the object of God’s wrath and condemnation? And if the sinner is in that state of heart and mind which makes forgiveness fit for him, then confession and prayer are the spontaneous expression of his penitence. (W. A. Whitworth, M. A.)
God’s justice in forgiveness
In a conversation which the Rev. Mr. Innes had with an infidel on his sick bed, he told him that when he was taken ill he thought he would rely on the general mercy of God; that as he had never done anything very bad, he hoped all would be well. “But as my weakness increased,” he added, “I began to think, ‘Is not God a just being as well as merciful? Now what reason have I to think He will treat me with mercy, and not with justice?’ and if I am treated with justice,” he said, with much emotion, “where am I?” “I showed him,” says Mr. Innes, “that this was the very difficulty the gospel was sent to remove, as it showed how mercy could be exercised in perfect consistency with the strictest demands of justice, while it was bestowed through the atonement made by Jesus Christ. After explaining this doctrine, and pressing it on his attention and acceptance, one of the last things he said to me before leaving him was, ‘Well, I believe it must come to this. I confess I see here a solid footing to rest on, which, on my former principles, I could never find.’” (K. Arvine.)
The trees and the fields are clothed new every year in the freshest and purest hues. In the spring all the colours are bright and clean. As the summer goes on the leaves get dark and grimy. Sometimes a shower of rain makes them a little fresher, but they are soon dirtier than ever again. They all fall in the winter: The tree cannot cleanse its own leaves, dirty with the city’s smoke, but God in His own time cleanses it, and gives it an entirely new suit. The little rain cleansings, soon to be dirtied again, are the partial reformations which men make for themselves, saying: “I will stop this habit, or that other. I will be a better man”--yet not doing it in God’s strength. The new white robe which God gives the trees is the robe of Christ’s righteousness. The difference is that in the eternal kingdom our robe of Christ’s righteousness will never be soiled, for there is none of the defilement of the earth.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter