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Thursday, June 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 John 2

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

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Verses 1-6

1 John 2:1-6

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not

Preventatives against sin

The connection between chapters 1 and 2 seems to be this: I have taught you something of the nature and universality of sin, and of the deceivers who say they have no sin, but you are not to understand me as teaching that sin is an element of our being, or attached to us by any absolute necessity, or infused into us by the will or authority of the Deity, or of such might that resistance is vain; on the contrary, the main object of my epistle is, “That ye sin not.

” Ye are not to yield to sin, but to resist it to the uttermost.

The children and the advocate.

1. The word τεκνία, “little children,” is a diminutive from τέκνον, and we, having no principle in our language for forming diminutives, or perhaps having lost it, must translate by the two words “little children.” The Latins say “Filioli,” the Germans “Kindlein,” the Italians “Filioletti.” The French are as poor as ourselves in this respect, and must say “Mes petits enfans.” Such forms of expression in all languages denote endearment and affection. All the most valuable articles in nature are small--the iron, the lead, the silver, the gold, the diamonds of the mine, are all diminutives compared with the rocks, the mountains, and the strata of the globe. It is so in grace also, for the Church of the Son of God, though forming an innumerable company in the heavenly Jerusalem, yet, when compared with the millions of mankind who live and die in their sins, are “a little flock” (Luke 12:32), but in them and with them are found all the riches of Jehovah’s mercy, all the wondrous manifestations of His love, all the glories of the eternal kingdom.

(1) The name, therefore, refers to the believer as an object of special and tender care. Ye are the children of my warmest love over whom I rejoice continually. Ye are separated from the world, but ye are of more value in the sight of God than the great world with its vanities, which are all destined to perish.

(2) The purpose of my writing you is, that ye sin not. Ye are not the slaves of sin any more, but the freemen of the Lord Jesus.

(3) I take “these things” to refer generally to the substance of the whole Epistle, but mere especially to the first chapter; and hence we may learn what, in the mind of the apostle, are the best preventatives against sin. The preventatives are not in us, but in God.

2. Jesus, the “Advocate,” is now brought before the mind of the children of God as the one all-sufficient fountain of forgiveness for the transgressions of mankind.

Jesus the propitiation.

1. Then it is a fact that the eternal mercy has reached, us in the person of our adorable Redeemer, and that in the shedding of His blood we have the means and the seal of peace with God.

2. But it is asserted that He is the propitiation for “our” sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1) In the fullest, freest, and most admirable manner He has removed every barrier between us and God, and expiated forever all our sins.

(2) His love, His Cross, His religion, is not for one age, but for all ages, not for one nation or country, but for the whole world, and the promises of God give us assurance beforehand of its final triumph.

The keeping the commandments of God.

1. There is but one way of knowing with certainty that we have known God, and that is by keeping His commandments. The knowledge which does not lead to holiness is not the knowledge of God.

2. There are two great centres in the moral universe around which the events, characters, histories, and destinies of the species gather, the true one and the false one, Christ and Satan, the author of all truth and the father of lies. The “lie” is the black bond which unites us to the prince of darkness, and “truth” is the golden chain which binds us to our Head and Master in heaven. The truth signifies in the New Testament the Christian religion--the genuine faith and practice of the gospel (John 1:14; John 1:17; John 8:32; John 8:40; John 8:45-46; John 16:13; John 17:17; John 18:37; Romans 1:8).

Keeping God’s Word.

1. The only way to arrive at perfection is by keeping the Word of God.

(1) Love begins in the circle of the heart, and flows forth upon its objects in proportion to its fervour and strength. We cannot, therefore, even pretend to love God if He is not frequently the object of our thoughts, if He does not occupy a conspicuous place in our hearts.

(2) Love is a strong passion. Its existence is easily traced by the joy which it gives, by the difficulties it surmounts, by the trials which it endures, and by the deeds which it accomplishes. Love should increase and strengthen by every fresh discovery of the beauty and excellence of its object.

(3) How can we best increase this love to God? The answer is suggested in our text, namely, by “keeping the Word of God.” The Bible is the directory of the saints, and holiness consists in obedience to its commands.

The believer’s communion with Christ and walk in Him. (W. Graham.)

Sinless aim of the guileless spirit--provision for its continued sense of sin

Let that be your aim, to “sin not.” Let it be your fixed purpose, not merely that you are to sin as little as you can, but that you are not to sin at all.

But not only would I have you to make this your aim, i would have your aim accomplished and realised; and therefore “I write these things unto you, that ye sin not.” We are to proceed upon the anticipation not of failure but of success in all holy walking and in every holy duty. Believe these things, realise them, act them out. For they are such things as, if thus apprehended, change the character of the whole struggle. They transfer it to a new and higher platform. We are brought into a position in relation to God in which holiness is no longer a desperate, negative strife, but a blessed, positive achievement. Evil is overcome with good.

Why, then, is provision made for our sinning still after all? We have purposed in good faith that we will not offend. We rejoice to think that we may now form that purpose with good heart; not desperately, as if we were upon a forlorn hope, but rather as grasping the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. For He cheers us on. He knows how at every step, in spite of all the encouragement given us beforehand, that we may hang back, fearing with too good ground that even if, in the form we used to dread, our sin shall seem to give way, it may in some new manifestation lie in wait to trouble us. And therefore He assures us that He is always beside us, “our advocate with the Father.” We need not there fore be afraid to walk with the Father in the light. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Warning and encouragement

The spirit of the apostle’s address. “My little children.” Such words are felt to be peculiarly appropriate in him. They are suited to his character. He was gentle and loving. They are suited also to his age. He lived to be the oldest of all his companions in the apostolic ministry. It is a noble triumph of godliness when age is redolent with piety and retains the earnestness and diligence of youth. We may be also assured his words were suited to the success of his ministry. Of those whom he addressed it might be presumed there were many whom he might regard as “his children” in the highest and best sense. He was their spiritual father. In this there is an example to all who would be the teachers of others, whether pastors or parents, or any who would be their “helpers in Christ Jesus.” Their spirit should be affectionate, “speaking the truth in love,” ever “in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves.” And their object should be the conversion of souls.

The design of his writings. “These things write I unto you that ye sin not.” His reference is manifestly to what he had written in the preceding chapter. And it is only necessary to look back on what he had written and see how fitted it was to discourage sin. Either the doctrine of the apostle or the practice of sin must be abandoned. They are wholly incompatible with one another. In this view he is not singular. Everywhere in the Divine Word the gospel of Christ is represented to be “a doctrine which is according to godliness.”

The words of warning. “If any man sin,” implying that, notwithstanding all he had said, “any man” might sin. The man in the apostle’s view is the believing man. He may sin. Alas! no proof is necessary. One source is the remaining sinfulness of his nature. There is no doubt, also, that this tendency to sin in the believer is mightily strengthened by the temptation of the wicked one. His enmity is specially directed against the godly. Nor must we omit to notice the extreme danger to which the believer is exposed from the world. Its pleasures and honours and riches are dangerous in the extreme. In harmony with these views the Divine life is described in the Scriptures as a constant warfare. It need scarcely be said how necessary it is to be vigilant in maintaining it. Great interests are at stake. The law is that as sin enters peace departs. The credit of religion, too, is bound up in the fidelity of those who profess it. Above all, the honour of Christ is concerned. He is calumniated as the “minister of sin” when those who bear His name dishonour Him.

The duty and refuge of those who are overcome by temptation and betrayed into sin. “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Such is the believer’s privilege, but let us not overlook the duty involved in it. We must bring our cause to our great Advocate and commit it to His hands.

The encouragement held out to us to make our suit to our great Advocate. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (James Morgan, D. D.)

Believers exhorted not to sin

What is the meaning of this command--“That ye sin not”? The general meaning of the word “sin” is intelligible to all. It is sin to violate the commands of God; but many things beside the direct breach in act of a positive injunction are sin against God. It is sin, according to the language of St. James, if any man “knoweth to do good and doeth it not.” Not merely are sinful words condemned, but we are admonished that God regards the state of the heart. The Word of God enlarges the sense of this term beyond what is convenient to the self righteousness of men to allow, and tells us that even ignorance of that which is right may be criminal before Him. The precept which bids us not to sin enjoins upon us that we make ourselves acquainted with what is sin and what is duty.

Let us weigh well some of those many considerations which should induce us diligently to seek to accomplish it perfectly. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”

1. We should not sin because God is a holy God and cannot endure sin. It is contrary to His nature, to His perfections, to His supremacy. It would involve the universe in ruin if permitted.

2. We should not sin, because that Saviour by whom we hope to reach eternal happiness hates sin. It dishonours Him amongst men.

3. Let us take care not to sin, because by that we grieve and we quench the Holy Spirit.

4. Again, we should not sin because sin indulged involves the soul in everlasting ruin.

5. That even if sin did not impair the hopes that a Christian entertains, it is certain to diminish the glorious reward which remains for those who serve Christ.

6. Moreover, in sinning we separate ourselves from communion with Him altogether while the sin lasts.

7. Let us recollect that when we sin against God we sin against our fellow creatures too, because it is almost certain that our own sins involve others in our guilt and lead them to sin too. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)

The gospel prohibits sin

It is not asserted that you must be sinless before you are safe, but only that you must not presume that you are safe before the grace of God makes you long to be sinless. A soldier’s uniform is to be worn only by a soldier, a student’s gown only by a student, a saint’s robe only by a saint. As we call him a soldier who has only just enlisted, as we call him a student who has only just entered college, we call him a saint who has only just begun to believe and has yet everything to learn and every thing to feel that belongs to the sanctified life. Still a saint he must be, one whose vocation it is to be holy, and who strives daily to obey the Divine voice within him that is ever saying “Sin not, sin not, sin not,” or he can have no interest in the Saviour’s righteousness. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The knowledge of God preventive of sin

All the revelations of God and all His works in every department of His agency cry out to the justified man in one language and say to him, “Sin not.” Call God what you will, name all His names, styles, and titles, spell all the characters of His glory, and you find in every one of them the charge, “Sin not.” Is He light? then sin not, for sin is darkness. Is He life? then sin not, for sin will darken your souls and kill them. Is He love? then sin not, for sin against Him is not simple disobedience, it hath the abominable stain of ingratitude on it. Is He holy? then sin not, for this is most repugnant to His holiness, and if thou wouldst have Him look upon thee with favour thou must not look upon sin with favour or entertain it with delight. Is He great and powerful? then sin not, for that were madness. Is He good and gracious? then sin not, for that were abominable wickedness. Is He just? then sin not, for He will not acquit the wicked, nor hold them guiltless who do acquit themselves and yet hold by their gins. Is He merciful? Oh, then sin not, for wilt thou sin against the mercy that saveth thee? Look upon all His particular acts of care and favour towards thee; consider His judgments upon the world, upon the nation, and upon thine own person; put to thine ear and hear--this is the joint harmonious melody, this is the proclamation of all, that we sin not. (Hugh Binning.)

Christians have delicate perceptions of sin

A soul washed in the blood of Christ has very delicate perceptions. (Steinhofer.)

“Sin not”

Once I was travelling in Scotland, and I saw two people at a railway station hunting on a large timetable of the train service for a local train. Written on the timetable in great big letters were the words, “sunday trains only.” These people wanted the weekday train, and ignored altogether the great big, bold letters which declared all the trains on the list to be special trains for Sunday. They were hunting in some out-of-the-way corner for a suitable train, utterly ignoring the words, “Sunday trains only.” Whose fault would it be if they came to a wrong conclusion? I thought to myself that this was just the mistake so many Christians make. God has written right across the Bible in great big words that no one should mistake, “Sin not,” and people look in some corner to see if they cannot find a text that can be made to say that we must sin little. The whole Bible must be read in the light of the words, “These things have I written unto you that ye sin not.” The Bible is a holy book, and woe be to the man that would make it the minister of sin! (Dudley Kidd.)

Christian sin

A friend of mine was staying with a leader of a certain section of Christ’s Church who believed deeply in the necessity of daily “Christian sin.” On Sunday my friend spoke about the splendid deliverance at our disposal in Christ’s full salvation. On returning home to dinner my friend saw that he had offended his host by his bold words. “I am sorry you spoke such unsound words this morning, as you will lead the young people especially into error, and discourage the little ones that believe in Christ,” said the host. When my friend was alone, the daughter of the host, about sixteen years of age, came and said, “Oh, I do wish I had only heard such words long ago. You spoke so differently from father; he tells us we must go on sinning all our life, and that thought always discourages me, so that I have never given my heart to Christ, but I want to tell you that I did so this morning as you were speaking, for the salvation you told us of was just what I want.” Soon dinner was announced, and the morning’s service was the general topic. At once the daughter told of her new joy, and explained how that the offer of such a full salvation was the point that won her. Her father’s face fell as he explained that, in spite of the unpleasantness, he was bound, as a Christian, to expose the error taught by the guest, but loyalty to the truth compelled him to disregard any feelings of difficulty. The daughter felt very awkward, and said in her girlish way, “Then how much must I sin every day, father? For I want to sin as little as possible.” The question went like an arrow to the father’s heart. How could he tell his child to sin even a little every day? He burst into tears as he rushed out of the room, and was not seen till late in the afternoon, when he came in with a beaming face to beg pardon of his child, and to tell from a glad heart the power of Jesus to keep from all sin. (Dudley Kidd.)

And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father--

Nature and ground of Christ’s advocacy as meeting the need of the guileless spirit

The manner of our restoration, if we fall short of the sinless aim, not less than the sinless aim itself, is fitted to guard against any abuse of John’s doctrine of forgiveness. It is through an advocacy altogether incompatible with anything like the toleration of evil.

He is “Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus! He is called Jesus because He saves His people from their sins. Christ! the Anointed! whom the Father anoints through the Spirit; whom I also, through the Spirit, in sympathy with the Father, humbly venture to anoint! His Christ and mine! But the emphatic word here is “righteous.” This term may be understood as pointing, not to the legal righteousness which Christ has--or rather which Christ is--but to the righteousness of His character, and of His manner of advocacy with the Father for us. In any court in which I had a cause to maintain I would wish to have a righteous advocate. I do not want one to tell me smooth things, putting a fair face on what will not stand close scrutiny, getting up untenable lines of defence, and keeping me in good humour till ruin comes. Give me an advocate who, much as he may care for me, cares for honesty and honour, for law and justice, still more. Such an advocate is Jesus Christ for us in the high court of heaven; for He is “Jesus Christ the righteous.” Such an advocate is He also when, in the capacity, as it were, of chamber counsel, He is with us in our closet, to listen to all that we have to say, to all our confessions and complaints, our enumeration of grievances, our unbosoming ourselves of all our anxieties and all our griefs. He will so ply His office, and travail in His work of advocacy between the Father and us, as to preserve the right understanding which He has Himself brought about and obviate the risk of renewed separation. He will make it all subservient to our more thorough cleansing from sin and our closer walk with God; our being “holy as He is holy.”

“He is the propitiation for our sins.” He is so now. He is present with us now as our advocate with the Father; and it is as being the propitiation for our sins that He is present with us. He draws near; the Spirit so taking of what is His and showing it to me as to bring Him near. Can I touch these hands which I have been nailing again to the accursed tree, or feel them touching me again to bless me, without my whole frame thrilling as the voice runs through my inmost soul--“Sin no more”; “Thou art dead to sin”?

There is a supplement added which still further explains the sort of advocacy which Jesus Christ the righteous carries on. He is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is added to preclude the possibility of a believer thinking that, if he lapses, it is under some method of recovery different from that which is available for all mankind. Where, then, ye children of the light and of the day--ye followers of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ--where is your peculiar privilege of sinning lightly and being easily restored? What is there in that sin of yours that should make it lie less heavily on your conscience, and afflict your souls less grievously, than the sins which, when you were of the world, you committed? (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The advocacy of Christ

Our failure. We are prone every moment to transgression. Oh, if we could take a survey of all the consequences to which every transgression on our part gives birth in an unseen world we should feel a force in these words, “if any man sin,” that would prepare our hearts to contemplate with admiring gratitude the provision which even in such a case is made for ourselves.

Our security. “We have an Advocate with the Father.” The law of God does not condemn any man before it hears him, and as the accused cannot appear in the courts of heaven to answer for themselves, they are heard there in the person of their Advocate. There are three qualifications necessary to constitute a powerful and successful advocate.

1. The first is zeal. If zeal in one who pleads a cause be a just requisite, then where would you find an advocate so admirably qualified for his office, in this respect, as the blessed Saviour? Think of His love for your soul. He redeemed us to God by His blood. Will He not plead for that which He has purchased with His own blood? Think of the relation in which He stands to you. It is your friend, your brother, who is your advocate with the Father. Can He be otherwise than zealously affected in your favour? Be not faithless, but believing.

2. There is another qualification for the work of an advocate not less needful than zeal--I mean wisdom. As the ability of a general consists much in his skill in choosing his position and in disposing of his troops, so an advocate has need of wisdom in selecting the ground on which he may act with advantage for his client. What consummate wisdom did Moses display in pleading the cause of Israel when they had made them a molten image in Horeb, and worshipped the golden calf! But in the text we have one greater than Moses, even Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

3. In order to preclude all possibility of failure, there is one further qualification requisite in an advocate, and that is merit. The intercession of one who has a claim upon the person with whom he pleads partakes of the nature of a demand, it has a force which is irresistible. Our cause is in the hands of Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins. What further can we desire? Now, in conclusion, this text affords no ground for--

1. Presumption.

2. Despair. (J. Williams, M. A.)

Christ our advocate with the Father

The fact and presence of sin. Consider the true nature of the exhortation, “that ye sin not.” Our fellowship with God does not influence His holy nature as the fellowship of men often influences us. The latter makes us blind to their faults. But our fellowship with God cannot lessen in any degree the grief for sin, or anger against it, which He felt at first when the rebel angels were driven from His presence. Now, the sins which believers commit against God may be divided into these two great classes:--

1. Sins of ignorance and weakness.

2. Sins of presumption committed in face of the teaching of God’s Word and the promptings of His Holy Spirit. The teaching of Scripture with regard to this subject is fitted to strike us with fear and trembling (Numbers 15:30-31; Hebrews 10:26). And further, is there not much cause for serious alarm, seeing that acts of wilful sin soon develop the habit of wilful sinning, which is nothing short of apostasy from the faith as it is in Christ?

The provision for sin: an advocate. It is quite true that God is ready to forgive; still, He is ready to forgive, not as an indulgent father nor as lax judge, but only through the irresistible might and right of Christ’s advocacy.

The believer’s advocate Jesus Christ the righteous. It is a common remark about law courts that “he who appears as his own advocate has a fool for his client.” If this be true in an earthly court of justice, it is no less true in the court of heaven.

1. For he who is arraigned at God’s bar is altogether unfit to plead his own case. Let us here consider, first, the unfitness of the unbeliever for this work.

(1) He is ignorant of God’s law.

(2) He is ignorant of his own sin.

(3) He is ignorant of the ruin which sin works.

(4) He is ignorant of the holiness and justice of God.

It is manifest that the unbeliever is altogether unfit to be his own advocate, and yet this is the office which those who reject Christ try to fill for themselves.

2. But the question may now perhaps be asked, Does the believer really require an advocate? He is not entirely ignorant of God’s law and his own sin. But, what is more to the point, his knowledge of these, however imperfect it may be, is yet sufficient to show him the utter hopelessness of his case.

3. Christ must not be thought of as loving us more than the Father loves us, as more longsuffering, more easy-to-be-entreated, showing us more sympathy, or knowing better the weakness of our nature. Hence when Christ appears before the Judge and Father for a believer who has sinned, it is not with any weak form of intercession, but as our advocate at God’s bar of judgment. He admits the sin; He approves of the law; He acknowledges the justice of the penalty; and yet, strange to say, He obtains for the accused a discharge from the bar. And why? Because He is the propitiation for our sin. (James Fenton, M. A.)

Christ our advocate

What is the idea of an advocate when the term is used to express a governmental office or relation? An advocate is one who pleads the cause of another; who represents another, and acts in his name; one who uses his influence in behalf of another by his request.

Purposes for which an advocate may be employed.

1. To secure justice, in case any question involving justice is to be tried.

2. To defend the accused.

3. To secure a pardon when a criminal has been justly condemned and is under sentence.

The sense in which Christ is the advocate of sinners.

What is implied in His being the advocate of sinners.

1. His being employed at a throne of grace and not at the bar of justice, to plead for sinners, as such, and not for those who are merely charged with sin but the charge not established.

2. His being appointed by God as the Advocate of sinners implies a merciful disposition in God.

3. That the exercise of mercy on certain conditions is possible.

4. That there is hope for the condemned.

5. That there is a governmental necessity for the interposition of an advocate; that the sinner’s relations are such, and his character such, that he cannot be admitted to plead his own cause in his own name.

The essential qualifications of an advocate under such circumstances.

1. He must be the uncompromising friend of the government.

2. He must be the uncompromising friend of the dishonoured law.

3. He must be righteous; that is, he must be clear of any complicity in the crime of the sinner.

4. He must be the compassionate friend of the sinner--not of his sins, but of the sinner himself.

5. He must be able sufficiently to honour the law, which sinners by their transgression have dishonoured.

6. He must be willing to volunteer a gratuitous service.

7. He must have a good plea. He must be able to present such considerations as shall really meet the necessities of the case, and render it safe, honourable, glorious in God to forgive.

What His plea in behalf of sinners is.

1. It should be remembered that the appeal is not to justice. Since the fall of man God has suspended the execution of strict justice upon our race.

2. Christ’s plea for sinners cannot be that they are not guilty.

3. Christ as our Advocate cannot, and need not, plead a justification.

4. He may not plead what will reflect, in any wise, upon the law.

5. He may not plead anything that shall reflect upon the administration of the Lawgiver. In that ease, instead of insisting that the sinner should repent, virtually the Lawgiver would be called upon Himself to repent.

6. He may not plead any excuse whatever for the sinner in mitigation of his guilt, or in extenuation of his conduct.

7. He cannot plead as our Advocate that He has paid our debt, in such a sense that He can demand our discharge on the ground of justice.

8. But Christ may plead His sin-offering to sanction the law, as fulfilling a condition upon which we may be forgiven.

9. But the plea is directed to the merciful disposition of God. He may point to the promise made to him in Isaiah 52:13 to the end, and Isaiah 53:1-2.

10. He may plead also that He becomes our surety, that He under takes for us, that He is our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; and point to His official relations, His infinite fulness, willingness, and ability to restore us to obedience and to fit us for the service, the employments, and enjoyments of heaven.

11. He may urge as a reason for our pardon the great pleasure it will afford to God to set aside the execution of the law. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Judgment is His strange work; but He delighteth in mercy.

12. He may urge the glory that will redound to the Son of God, for the part that He has taken in this work.

13. He may plead the gratitude of the redeemed and the profound thanks and praise of all good beings.


1. You see what it is to become a Christian. It is to employ Christ as your Advocate, by committing your cause entirely to Him.

2. He is an Advocate that loses no causes.

3. The safety of believers. Christ is always at His post.

4. The position of unbelievers. You have no advocate. God has appointed an Advocate; but you reject Him.

5. I ask, Have you retained Him? Have you, by your own consent, made Him your Advocate?

6. Do any of you say that you are unable to employ Him? But remember, the fee which He requires of you is your heart. All may employ Him, for all have hearts.

7. He tenders His services gratuitously to all, requiring nothing of them but confidence, gratitude, love, obedience.

8. Can any of you do without Him?

9. Have any of you made His advocacy sure by committing all to Him? If you have, He has attended to your cause, because He has secured your pardon; and the evidence you have in your peace of mind. (C. G. Finney.)

The gracious provision

It is universal.

It is ample. God does nothing by halves. The salvation promised goes down to the very roots of our nature. Nothing is kept back.

It is to be had for the asking. Earthly potentates require great influence to procure an audience with them, and then there is no certainty that the boon sought will be granted.

This advocacy can be had at once. Delay is not only dangerous, but unnecessary.

It is sure in its effect. None need doubt its efficacy for a single moment. (J. O. Peck, D. D.)

The sinner’s advocate

The Apostle John presents us with a very clear and emphatic testimony to the doctrine of full and free forgiveness of sin.

The saint is still a sinner. Our apostle says--“If any man sin.” The “if” may be written in as small letters as you will, for the supposition is a matter of certainty. Far be it from us to deny that Divine grace has wrought a wondrous change, it were no grace at all if it had not. It will be well to note this change.

1. The Christian no longer loves sin; it is the object of his sternest horror. The head and the hands of Dagon are broken, although the stump remains.

2. The Christian never sins with that enormity of boasting Of which the unregenerate are guilty. His heart is broken within him when he has sinned.

3. Nor does he sin with the fulness of deliberation that belongs to other men. He who can carefully arrange and plot a transgression is still a true child of the old serpent.

4. And again, he never chews the cud of his sin; for after he has sinned, however sweet it may have been in his mouth, it becomes bitterness in his bowels.

5. The Christian, unlike other men, never finds enjoyment in his sin; he is out of his element in it. Conscience pricks him; he cannot, even if he would, sin like others.

6. You will notice, too, how different the Christian is as to the habit of sin. The ungodly man is frequent in overt deeds of rebellion, but the Christian, at least in open acts of crime and folly, rather falleth into than abideth in them.

There are all these degrees of difference between the Christian and the ungodly man, and far more, for the believer is a new creature, but for all that we must come back to that with which we started--that the Christian is a sinner still.

1. He is so from the imperfection of his nature.

2. As the Christian thus sins in his devout performances, so he constantly errs in the everyday tenour of his life. Sins of omission, to wit, how many of these may be compressed into a single hour!

3. Moreover, many Christian people sin from certain peculiar infirmities. Some sin through shortness of temper. There are others who have a high and proud spirit, and if they fancy they are a little snubbed or put into the background at once they feel inclined to resent it. How many we know who have to contend with constant unbelief brought on through depression of spirits! Their nerves, perhaps, have experienced a great shock at some period in life, and constitutionally they look always at the black side of affairs. And then we all sin from the assaults of evil. The temptations of the world, when we are thrust into ungodly company, and the trials of business and even of the household, all these in unguarded moments may take the Christian off his feet.

Our sins do not deprive us of our interest in Christ. “If any man sin we have an advocate.” Yes, we have Him though we do sin; we have Him still. He chose us when we were sinners; He loved us when we were dead in trespasses and sins; and He loves us still.

The advocate is provided on purpose to meet the fact that we are still sinners.

1. “Jesus.” Ah! then He is an advocate such as I want, for He loves me and takes an interest in me.

2. “Jesus Christ,” the anointed. This shows His authority to plead.

3. “Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is not only His character, but it is His plea. It is His character, and if my advocate be righteous then I am sure He would not take up a bad cause. What can there be asked more for the sinner than this? Jesus Christ the righteous stands up to plead for me, and pleads His righteousness; and mark, He does this not if I do not sin, but if I do sin. There is the beauty of my text.

This truth, so evangelical and so divine, should be practically remembered. It should be practically remembered at all times. Every day I find it most healthy to my own soul to try and walk as a saint, but in order to do so I must continually come to Christ as a sinner. Make this essentially the rule of your life on particular occasions. Here let me say a word that may at once comfort and enlighten some who are in darkness. Perhaps you will tell me that your sin has had some gross aggravation about it. If you are a Christian it has, for a Christian always sins worse than other men; if the sin be not in itself so bad as other men’s, it is worse in you. For a king’s favourite to play the traitor is villainy indeed. Fly with a humble, contrite heart, and throw thyself at the feet of that Advocate, and by His blood He will plead for thee, and thou shalt prevail. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The intercession of Christ

Who is it that appears for us an intercessor in heaven?

1. It is not a poor sinner like ourselves, who has need first to intercede for the forgiveness of his own sins, and then for the people.

2. He is One who perfectly understands our condition and exposures.

3. He is not only in certain respects a member of the human family, and acquainted with their sufferings, but He is also a partaker of the essence and glory of the Godhead.

4. He hath peculiar advantages for the accomplishment of the great object for which He intercedes.

The fact that we have such an Intercessor gives relief to hours of darkness.

The intercession of Christ is an encouragement to every humble believer that he shall not finally apostatise from God.

The intercession of Christ ought to be remembered by Christians and often invoked by them. (J. Foot, D. D.)

Christ our advocate

The high privilege which Christians enjoy--they “have an advocate with the Father.” All the spiritual concerns of believers are lodged in Christ’s hands. Whatever respects their present or future happiness, their growth in grace, their preservation from the evil in the world, and their introduction at last into the presence of God with exceeding joy, are matters which belong to Him. He is their advocate, and pleads their cause with His Heavenly Father. He obtains for them all needful blessings to conform them more to the Divine image--to abide with them as a comforter--to be the earnest of their future inheritance--to lead and guide them through all the trials of life--and finally to seal them to the day of redemption.

The character given to this advocate--“Jesus Christ the righteous.”

1. He is righteous before God--perfectly approved by Him.

2. He is righteous in the view of Christians themselves. In every part of His character, indeed, He is the object of their approbation.

3. He is righteous in all His requests.

The influence which this high privilege of Christians has to relieve the fears which a sense of remaining sin occasions them.

1. It secures them against the dread of condemnation, on account of daily transgressions.

2. It promotes their deliverance from remaining corruption.

3. It secures the acceptance of their religious duties. The Christian’s person is at first accepted in the Beloved, and his religious duties are accepted in the same way.


1. How well qualified Christ is to be a Saviour!

2. The intercession of Christ is a full proof of the constancy of His love.

3. Be exhorted to a thankful improvement of your privileges. (W. F. Ireland, D. D.)

The true pleader

Christ is the universal pleader. The high priest under the Jewish dispensation exercised his intercession for a nation, Christ for all.

Christ is a faithful pleader. Some will take bribes.

Christ is a successful pleader.

Christ is a sympathetic pleader.

Christ is a perpetual pleader. Many priests passed away, Christ “abideth.”

Christ is a sure ground for pleading. (G. Calvert.)

Christ our propitiatory Sacrifice and our advocate

Let us begin with the propitiation for our sins; for although Christ’s advocacy is first mentioned in the text, yet His propitiation is the foundation upon which His advocacy is built, and without the latter the former would be utterly unavailing.

1. The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ was vicarious; that is, it was offered for the sins of others.

2. The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ was appointed by God.

3. The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ was necessary. The known character of God clearly evinces the truth of this assertion. God is a being possessed of infinite knowledge and wisdom. By His unlimited knowledge He is acquainted with every possible scheme by which any end may be accomplished; and by His perfect wisdom He always chooses that particular plan which, upon the most extensive view of things, is best for carrying His designs into effect. We are sure that God loved His Son too dearly to give Him up to the most unexampled sufferings, if these had not been necessary for the expiation of our sins.

4. The sacrifice of Christ has fully answered the end for which it was appointed. It were absurd to suppose that a plan originating from the most perfect wisdom should fail of accomplishing the purpose intended. Besides, let us reflect for a moment upon the nature of that sacrifice which was offered for our sins, and we must be convinced that it has made complete satisfaction. Our text informs us that He is the propitiation for our sins. He!

Let us now consider Christ’s advocacy with the Father. The particular manner in which Christ pleads our cause at the court of heaven is a point upon which mortals cannot speak with certainty. Whether He employs words in His intercession in the same manner that He did upon earth is a question which we are not qualified to decide. If He does, it must be only in a general manner, because it is impossible that His humanity, which is finite in its nature, can employ language capable of representing the boundlessly diversified circumstances of His people. It must also be evident that Christ’s advocacy, in whatever it consists, is not intended to produce any alteration in the Divine mind towards His people.

1. Christ is completely qualified for being our Advocate.

2. Christ’s advocacy is founded upon His propitiation. His advocacy is not, properly speaking, a supplication; it is a claim founded upon right.

3. Christ’s advocacy with the Father is always prevalent. (D. Inglis.)

Christ the Advocate of sinners

The nature of the office. It supposes--

1. An offender. “All have sinned.” A man cannot deny this without contradicting God’s word.

2. An accuser. Alas, we have many accusers. Our own consciences accuse us. The devil accuses us. The law of God accuses us.

3. A judge. God the Father is the Judge. It is He whom we have offended.

4. A defence.

The suitableness of the office.

1. His person. “Jesus Christ.” Jesus, a Divine Saviour. Christ, the Messiah, anointed of God to the office of mediator. We are not trusting our eternal interests in the care of one of whom we know nothing, or one who bears no endearing relation to us; but One whose personal excellences we are well acquainted with.

2. His qualifications. “Jesus Christ the righteous.” He is righteous in the most extensive and unlimited sense. His human nature was without spot. His Divine nature threw unexampled merit into every action.

3. His plea. He admits the claims of God’s law and the justice of its denunciations, but pleads that He has borne the curse for us, and that therefore pardon and justification may be safely extended to us.

4. His petitions. What does He plead for? For everything that a sinner needs for His present and eternal welfare.


1. Let every man consider the importance of committing His eternal interests to the advocacy of Christ. This is to be done by faith in Christ, and prayer to God in reliance on Christ.

2. Let no one doubt whether Christ will undertake His cause.

3. Would you be sure you have Christ for your advocate? Prove it by obedience to Him. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Christ our Advocate

The notion of Christ’s advocacy; or explain His character as an Advocate. It conflicts in the three following particulars.

1. Christ’s exhibiting or presenting Himself above in heaven, before His Father, in our name and behalf.

2. This is also performed by a signification of His mind and will on our behalf; though I take it to consist chiefly in actions, yet not wholly, as some do. There is, moreover, I apprehend, as belonging to it, a making known of requests.

3. We may reckon, as comprised within the advocacy of Christ, His presenting and recommending our regular prayers and requests to the Father, so as to procure acceptance and success to these. They pass, as it were, through His hands, and He consecrates them all.

His properties as an advocate.

1. He is a common Advocate for the whole household of faith.

2. He is an Advocate as fully qualified as we could wish. For--

(1) He is One who does not act without a proper commission.

(2) He must be a very able Advocate. Men may elect or appoint to offices those that are insufficient and no ways equal to them.

(3) He is an acceptable Advocate, one highly esteemed and well-beloved of Him with whom His business thus considered lies.

(4) He is a holy, sinless Advocate. This is the most proper signification of the word we translate “righteous.”

(5) He is a faithful Advocate. Disappointment shall never shame any of the hopes which are built upon Him.

(6) He is a kind, gracious, affectionate Advocate. The term righteous may likewise lead our thoughts to these properties as belonging to Him. He bears a true affection and goodwill to all His clients.

(7) He is a constant, perpetual Advocate. This is thought to be clearly held forth in the apostle’s saying, We “have” Him with the Father. He speaks in the present tense, to signify the duration, as well as certainty hereof. He resides always in the presence of the Father. He is ready to put in a plea upon every fresh matter of charge that our adversary can bring against us.

(8) He is a prevalent Advocate. There is no danger of His miscarrying in any cause which He solicits. If we consider Him in the greatness of His person, or in the near relation he has to the Father, it will help to convince us that He cannot solicit in vain. Consider Him as a Son performing obedience at the call of the Father, and for the manifestation of His glory; and as this cannot but increase paternal affections towards Him, so it must facilitate His speeding in His addresses, and render the Father more inclinable to fulfil all His petitions. Further, the consideration of His being righteous or holy strengthens the argument for the successfulness of His advocacy.

Again, considering the objects of His intercession, those for whom He lives as an Advocate, we shall find it helps to prove that He cannot but succeed. They are those whom the Father is well affected to and loves; not enemies nor strangers, nor servants and friends only, hut children. I might further suggest, as what will make the proof yet more strong, of His being successful, that the matters of His intercession are all perfectly agreeable to the Father’s will.

1. Let those be convinced of their unhappy fate and circumstances who remain uninterested in the advocacy of Christ, and are excluded the benefit hereof.

2. Have we who are true believers and Christians indeed an Advocate in heaven, even Jesus Christ? Let us keep up an affectionate esteem of Him, and be more duly thankful for Him thus considered.

3. How careful ought persons to be of intrenching upon and likewise abusing the office of this glorious Advocate!

4. Let us have daily frequent recourse to Christ our Advocate, learn to live more by faith upon Him thus considered, especially in case of many remarkable miscarriages. Faith ought then to be exercised in Him afresh.

5. Let the advocacy of Christ be improved for our consolation and joy.

6. Let us be studying through our whole lives suitable returns to our blessed Lord for what He does for us as our Advocate. Love is evidently one of these returns. Oh that we might learn to carry Christ’s name upon our hearts, as He does ours upon His heart! Again, the consideration of His advocacy should teach us to persist in a course of zealous, faithful service to Him. Does He live for us, and shall we not be hereby constrained to live for Him?

7. The consideration of Christ being our Advocate with the Father is proper to elevate our minds and hearts from inferior things, and make us aspire heavenwards. (J. Gibbs.)

Our Advocate on high

The word “advocate” is applied elsewhere to the Spirit of God. The word does not simply represent one who pleads in a court of justice, but a friendly pleader; also a patron and a sponsor. The idea here seems to be not so much that of an intercessor as that of a representative, including an intercessor, but compassing much more than an intercessor. The idea is brought out by the prophet Isaiah, when he says, speaking of a sort of middleman, a sort of mediator, “He is near that justifieth me.” Job brings out the idea when he says, “if there be a messenger with them”--a representative, an interpreter--“one among a thousand.” The same thought runs all through the 72nd Psalm, where the king’s son is represented as defending and as pleading the cause of the poor and the needy. Now the righteousness of an advocate is introduced in contrast with the sinfulness of those whom He represents. The Advocate represents sinners, but He is not a sinner. He is the sponsor of sinners, but He is not a sinner. He is an ambassador for a race of sinners, but He is not a sinner.

The gracious provisions of the Christian dispensation do not encourage, but discourage sinning. The simple fact that God seeks to save us from sin shows us that in His sight sinning is a terrible evil. The mediation which God provides reveals the extreme peril to which sin exposes the transgressor. What must that peril be when God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up to be a Saviour? We often sin through ignorance. We sin through carelessness--the Christian dispensation makes us serious concerning sin. We sin through moral deadness--the Christian dispensation is a ministration by which the living God seeks to restore life to us. We sin sometimes through despair--the Christian dispensation fills us with hope. We sin often through feverishness and through restlessness of spirit--the Christian dispensation imparts peace, restores quiet to our disturbed nature. We sin through weakness--the Christian dispensation imparts power. We sin by force of evil motives--the Christian dispensation changes our motives; so that if any man be in Christ he is a new creature.

The sins of the Christians shall not lead them into despondency and despair. “These things write I unto you,” not that ye sin, but “that ye sin not.” If any man sin, there is cause for sorrow, and cause for fear, but none for despair; none even for despondency. For, mark, we are not left to plead our own cause. Nor are we left to seek an Advocate or a Representative. A Representative is provided for us, and revealed to us; and the Advocate that we have is God’s Christ--Jesus--devoted to salvation--and Himself without sin. “Jesus Christ the righteous.” The advocacy of such a sponsor must prevail. Where, therefore, is there room for despair, or even for despondency? (S. Martin.)

Christ’s intercession

How divine is the gospel! “Sin not.” “If any man sin.” It gives us comfort against the demerit of sin without encouraging the acts of sin. No religion is so pure for the honour of God nor any so cordial for the refreshment of the creature.

Christ is as much an advocate as He is a sacrifice, as God is as much a governor as He was a creator. As we say of Providence, it is a continued creation; so of intercession, it is a continued oblation.

1. This office of advocacy belongs to Him as a priest, and it is apart of His priestly office. As He was a priest upon the Cross to make an expiation for us, so He is our priest in the court of heaven to plead this atonement, both before the tribunal of justice and the throne of mercy, against the curses of the law, the accusations of Satan, the indictments of sin, and to keep off the punishment which our guilt had merited.

2. This, therefore, was the end of His ascension and sitting down at the right hand of God. His mediation kept the world from ruin after man’s fall, and His intercession promotes the world’s restoration after His own Passion.

3. This advocacy is founded upon His oblation. His plea depends upon the value and purity of His sacrifice.

4. The nature of this advocacy differs from that intercession or advocacy which is ascribed to the Spirit. Christ is an advocate with God for us, and the Spirit is an advocate with God in us (John 14:17). Christ is our advocate, pleading for us in His own name; the Spirit is an advocate, assisting us to plead for ourselves in Christ’s name.

What kind of advocate Christ is.

1. Authoritative. He intercedes not without a commission and command (Jeremiah 30:21).

2. Wise and skilful. He has an infinite knowledge as God and a full and sufficient knowledge as man.

3. Righteous and faithful. As He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, so He is exalted to perfect the conquest by His intercession. If He had sin He could not be in heaven, much less a pleader there.

4. Compassionate. His intercession springs from the same tenderness towards us as His oblation, and both are but the displaying of His excessive charity.

5. Ready and diligent. He is passed into the heaven, seated there in a perpetual exercise of this office, to entertain all comers at all times; and can no more be sleepy than He can be cruel, no more cease to be diligent than He can be bereaved of His compassions.

6. Earnest and pressing. He was not more vehement to shed His blood than He is to plead it. No man is more solicitous to increase the honour and grandeur of his family than Christ is to secure the happiness of His people. For to what purpose did He carry up human affections to heaven but to express them in their liveliness and vigour for us and to us?

7. Joyful and cheerful. He hath not a sour kind of earnestness, as is common among men; but an earnestness with a joy, as being the delight of His heart.

8. Acceptable. He is the favourite of the court.

9. Alone. Since Christ trod the wine press alone He solicits our cause alone, intercession being founded upon propitiation; He, therefore, that is the sole propitiator is the sole intercessor. As God never gave any commission to redeem us to any other, so He never gave a commission to any other to appear for us in that court.

How Christ doth manage this advocacy and intercession.

1. Christ is not an advocate in heaven in such a supplicating manner as He prayed in the world. This servile way of praying, as they call it, because it was performed by Christ in the form of a servant, is not agreeable to His present glorious estate. It is as unsuitable to His state in heaven as His prayers with strong cries were suitable to His condition on earth. Nor is it a supplication in the gesture of kneeling, for He is an advocate at the right hand of God, where He is always expressed as sitting, and but once as standing (Acts 7:55).

2. Yet it may be a kind of petition, an expressing His desires in a supplicatory manner. Though He be a king upon His throne, yet being settled in that royal authority by His Father, as His delegate, He is in regard of that inferior to the Father, and likewise in the economy of mediator. And also as His human nature is a creature, He may be a petitioner without any debasement to Himself, to that power, by whose authority He is settled in His dignity, constituted in His mediatory office, and was both made and continues a creature.

3. It is such a petition as is in the nature of a claim or demand.

4. This intercessory demand or asking is accompanied with a presenting the memorials of His death.

5. It is a presenting our persons to God, together with His blood, in an affectionate manner (Exodus 28:29; Song of Solomon 8:6; Revelation 3:5).

Christ doth perpetually manage this office.

1. The first evidence is in the text, “We have an advocate”; we have at this present; we in this age, we in all ages, till the dissolution of the world, without any faintness in the degrees of His intercession, without any interruption in time.

2. There can be no cessation of His work till His enemies be conquered and His whole mystical body wrapped up in glory.

3. It is necessary it should be so.

(1) Because it is founded upon His death. It is an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12), and therefore an eternal intercession.

(2) The exercise of this office must be as durable as the office itself. His priesthood is forever, therefore the act belonging to His priesthood is forever.

(3) This was both the reason and end of His advancement. The intercession He made for transgressors was one reason why God would “divide Him a portion with the great” (Isaiah 53:12); “because He made intercession for the transgressors.” It was also the end of His advancement (Hebrews 10:12).

The efficacy of this intercession (Romans 5:10).

The particularity of this intercession.

1. For believers only. He manages no man’s cause that is not desirous to put it into His hands.

2. For every believer particularly.

What doth Christ intercede for? In general His intercession for believers is as large as the intent of His death for them. (S. Charnock, D. D.)

Christ’s intercession

He is an advocate to the Father, not only to Him at a distance, but with Him.

1. This was typified.

2. It was prophesied of Christ (Psalms 21:2).

3. God never denied Him any request which He put up upon the earth for the Divine glory and His people’s good, and Christ Himself acknowledges it. “I know that Thou hearest Me always” (John 11:42).

Now this intercession must needs be efficacious, if you consider--

1. His person.

(1) The greatness of it.

(2) His near relation to the Father.

(3) The special love God bears to His person for what He hath done in the earth and doth yet in heaven.

2. It must needs be efficacious in regard of the pleas themselves, the matter of them.

(1) The matter of His plea is holy.

(2) It is nothing but what He hath merited.

(3) Whatsoever He pleads for is agree able to the will of His Father.

3. In regard of the foundation of His intercession, His death.

4. In regard of the persons He intercedes for. They are those that are the special gift of God to Him, as dear to the Father as to Christ (John 17:9).

5. It is evidenced by the fruit of it.

(1) Before His sacrifice. The text intimates it; as He was a propitiation for the whole world.

(2) After His sacrifice, in the first fruit of it, the mission of the Holy Ghost.

(a) For believers only.

(b) For every believer particularly (Luke 22:31-32).

6. What doth Christ intercede for?

(1) Justification

(2) Daily pardon.

(3) Sanctification

(4) Strength against temptation.

(5) Perseverance in grace.

(6) Acceptation of our services.

(7) Salvation.

This is the main end of His intercession (Hebrews 7:25).

1. Use of information.

(1) Here is an argument for the Deity of Christ.

(2) Here is a ground to conclude the efficacy of His death.

(3) see the infinite love of God and Christ.

(4) How little ground is there to dream of such a thing as perfection in this life! If we stand in need of a perpetual intercession of Christ in this life we have not then a perfection in this life: intercession supposeth imperfection.

(5) Hence it follows that the Church is as durable as the world.

(6) If Christ be an advocate, the contempt or abuse of His intercession is very unworthy.

(7) If Christ be our advocate it is a dishonourable thing to yoke saints as mediators of intercession with Him.

(8) If Christ be our advocate, how miserable are those that have no interest in Him!

2. Use of comfort. His design in uttering His prayer on earth, the model of His intercession, was for the joy of His people (John 17:13).

(1) There is comfort in the perpetuity of this intercession.

(2) There is comfort in the prevalency of it.

(3) Hence ariseth comfort to us in our prayers.

(4) Hence ariseth comfort against all the attempts and accusations of Satan and the rebellion of our own corruption.

3. Use of exhortation.

(1) Endeavour for an interest in this advocacy.

To this purpose--

(1) We must have a sincere faith.

(2) We must have a sincere resolution of obedience.

(3) Have a daily recourse to this Advocate and advocacy.

4. Let our affections be in heaven with our Advocate.

(4) Glorify and love this Advocate. (Bishop Hacket.)

Man’s advocate with the Father

1. Advocates amongst men frequently deny the allegation brought against their clients, but Christ admits the charge brought against humanity.

2. Advocates amongst men, if they admit the charge, frequently seek to justify it. Sometimes they set up the plea of ignorance, or accident, or self-defence. But Christ pleads no palliation.

3. Advocates amongst men undertake their work, not from the love of justice or humanity, but from personal considerations.

4. Advocates amongst men seek to influence the mind of the adjudicating parties. But Christ seeks to influence the accused. The great Judge cannot and need not be influenced. In what respects, then, can Christ be called an advocate?

He is an advocate inasmuch as He is a helper of the accused.

He is an advocate inasmuch as He is a governmentally recognised functionary. The great Governor of the universe has appointed Christ to the work. He occupies His position by a Divine right.

He is an advocate inasmuch as He seeks to deliver the accused in a way honourable to law. Christ undertakes two things:--

1. That if the sinner is delivered no wrong shall be done to the universe.

2. He pledges that if the sinner is delivered his life shall henceforth be holy. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Christ’s acquaintance with man’s case

Many a man whose friends have long defended him against an adverse opinion has lost all that defensive sympathy as soon as the facts of his ease became fully known. It has happened before now, even in forensic history, that an advocate has felt forced to relinquish his brief in consequence of some unexpected disclosure that made proceeding with the case a course that would hurt his self-respect or compromise his reputation. Secrets have come to light in the life of a child that have silenced even a mother’s advocacy, and made love itself confess that it had no more to say. But you never need fear that for reasons like these Christ will abandon your cause or fail in your defence. Before you confide to Him a single secret His acquaintance with your whole life is intimate and perfect. (C. Stanford.)

And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only--

Christ our propitiation

The propitiation made by our Lord Jesus Christ lies at the foundation of the whole system of Christianity, so that a weakness there involves a weakness everywhere.

By propitiation is meant the complete satisfaction of the claims of the law on the sinner by the infliction of the law’s penalty on the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinner’s substitute; and our first business will be to consider the principle in which the whole originates. This principle is, that the authority of law must be maintained by the lawgiver, and that when the law has been broken the sentence of the law must be carried into effect (2 Samuel 23:3). But if law is maintained it will lead in many cases to a conflict between law and love. There must have been just such a conflict in the mind of Brutus when his sons were convicted of conspiracy against the republic. In that case law said they must die, but love must have said, “Let them live.” Law said, “Condemn,” and love must have said, “Have mercy.” We have a similar illustration of this conflict between law and love in the case of David. When Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon, he fled to Geshur, and there remained for three years in banishment. “The soul of King David longed,” or “was consumed,” “to go forth unto Absalom.” Love, therefore, would have restored him, but law forbade his restoration. David was king, and therefore responsible for the administration of law. He was compelled, therefore, to keep Absalom in banishment at the very time that his own soul was consumed by the tender love he felt towards him. Now, cannot we believe in exactly the same conflict between law and love in the mind of a perfectly holy God? There is in Him a righteousness infinitely more righteous, and a love infinitely more tender, than was ever known in man; and can anyone be surprised either that His law cannot be set aside, or that His love yearns over the sinner even at the very time that He passes His own just sentence on the sin? People speak of the punishment of sin as if it were cruel and vindictive; but it may be a stern necessity imposed on a tender heart by the righteous claims of a violated law. Now, then, we are brought face to face with the great difficulty that has called forth the gospel, viz. this: In what way can the law be vindicated, and yet the sinner who has broken it be saved? There is a very remarkable passage in the words of the woman of Tekoah, when she went to David respecting the restoration of Absalom, in which she said of God, God does not “respect any person: yet doth He devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him” (2 Samuel 14:14). According to that statement, He shows no partiality; but yet without partiality He has contrived a plan by which the offender may be forgiven. What, then, is this plan? This plan is propitiation. It is none other than that proposed by Judah, when, having undertaken to be surety for Benjamin, he said to Joseph (Genesis 44:33), “Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.” His proposal was that there should be an act of substitution. So, in His boundless grace and mercy, our righteous God gave the Son to be bondsman in our place, and the Son accepted the suretyship and suffered. Thus the law has been vindicated and the sin punished, while at the same time the love is satisfied and the sinner set free. This is what is meant by propitiation (Romans 3:26). I am, of course, perfectly aware that there are those who reject this doctrine of substitution, and others who, while they accept it, see in it difficulties which they find it hard to explain. This is the one Divine plan which is taught throughout the Scriptures. It was prefigured in type as in all the sacrifices of the Levitical typical system; and preeminently in the type, of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). It was predicted in prophecy, as, for example, by Isaiah (Isaiah 53:6). So it was taught by the apostles (Gal 3:13; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:10). And, above all, by the mysterious conduct of our Lord Himself as His death was drawing near, which, I do not hesitate to affirm, can be explained on no other supposition.

This, then, being the principle, there are three great concluding truths to be forever written on our memories and hearts.

1. The Divine propitiation is complete. The whole and every part is completed forever. In the typical sacrifices there were two parts in each typical propitiation--the death of the substitute, and the offering, or presentation, of the blood before one of the altars, or the mercy seat. The atonement was not completed by the death alone, but it was necessary that the death should be followed up by the presentation of the blood. Now, in the Divine propitiation both parts have been completed. The one sacrifice has been once offered, and the whole is finished. The blood was shed on Calvary, and sprinkled or presented, when “by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:25-26). The death and the offering were two parts of the one transaction, and the whole of that transaction was complete when He rose from the dead, and was accepted as the beloved Son completely free from the killing guilt of imputed sin.

2. The Divine propitiation is final. If there were the possibility of any repetition, there is no room left for it. “Where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). If, therefore, remission is granted according to the covenant of God, if we are enjoying His promise, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” and if, according to verse 14, “by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified,” what place is there for any further propitiatory offering of any kind whatever? Who can perfect that which God has already perfected?

3. And this brings me to my last point--the Divine propitiation is sufficient. By this I mean that it is so complete and perfect in the covenant of God that those who are saved by it are made partakers of a complete reconciliation. There are many persons who appear to be satisfied with what I may call a partial reconciliation. They dare not accept the position of one whose every sin has been blotted out, and to whom there is no barrier in the way of a full, free, unfettered enjoyment of the love of God. They are not unlike Absalom when he returned from Geshur and remained three years at Jerusalem without being permitted to see his father’s face. They are not as he was when in Geshur, for they are in the midst of religious life as he was in Jerusalem, but they are not fully restored. The result is that their religion is one of little more than anxiety, and they begin to think that it was almost better with them when they were altogether in the world. But this is not the result of an all-sufficient Divine propitiation. There is nothing in this half-and-half character in our Heavenly Father’s provision for us. The veil of separation has been rent from the top to the bottom, and as the curse of all sin has been completely and forever borne, it is the privilege of every soul that is in Christ Jesus to approach the mercy seat of our most holy God with the same peaceful, loving, filial trust that he would have felt if he had never known sin. (E. Hoare, M. A.)

Propitiation for sin

The need of propitiating. To propitiate is to turn away wrath. We would rather not think of the wrath of God, but “propitiation” has no meaning unless the wrath of God be real. Hardly anything is more to be dreaded than an inadequate sense of sin and its desert. If we ask how God’s wrath utters itself, we may venture to reply, In His separation from the sinner. Can anything be worse than that? can “outer darkness” exceed what it is for a soul to be left with its sins cut off from God? But why propitiation? If a parent can lay aside his anger merely on the child’s contrition, cannot God? That is not a correct statement of the case. God has said that sin is such an evil that He cannot pass it by without penalty; if e parent has so said of the child’s fault, the question is not whether he can pass it by without penalty, but whether he ought to. Divine love would deserve no reverence did it ignore righteousness.

The propitiation provided.

1. This is a propitiation provided and made by God Himself. It was no laying our sin on another, it was the taking it upon Himself.

2. This propitiation is by the substitutionary offering of God the Son.

3. This propitiation is sufficient for the sins of the world. We cannot doubt that if we remember by whom it was made.

The propitiation made use of. Propitiation does not save: it makes it possible for God. Propitiation removes the hindrance to the prodigal son going home, and when he says “I will arise and go to my Father,” Faith is the going. The end of it, therefore, is the filial relationship fulfilled, and that is salvation. (C. New.)

The propitiation of Christ

The propitiation of Christ was Divine in its provision and appointment. The full meaning of the expression may be thus brought out:” Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiator who has made propitiation for our sins. For Christ is at once the selected victim, the sacrifice offered, the sacrificing priest, the altar on which the sacrifice was offered, and the propitiation made for sin.

Vicarious is its nature. He is the propitiator who has made propitiation “for our sins.” “He is Jesus Christ the Righteous”--not the innocent merely.

Propitiatory in its offering. The office of a propitiator, like that of a mediator, of which it is the foundation or groundwork, is to produce a state of reconciliation between parties at variance, by removing the cause of offence, propitiating the offended, and thus opening a way for a real and lasting reconciliation. By the constitution of His person He was well qualified to act as “daysman betwixt us, and to lay His hand upon us both.”

Universal is extent.

1. Suited to the whole world. “The whole world lieth in wickedness,” says John, and therefore the whole world needs a propitiation for its wickedness. And the propitiation made is suited to its needs. For it was made in the nature which had sinned in this world.

2. Sufficient for the whole world. The proof of this is not far to seek. John himself furnishes it when he says, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.” The blood shed was indeed human, but the person of His Son was Divine. It is an adequate “ransom for all,” a sufficient propitiation for the sins of the whole world. No other and no greater sacrifice would have been required to secure the salvation of all men.

3. Available for the whole world.

Unchanging in its efficacy. It has lost none of its value and its virtue by the lapse of time, the course of ages, the change of customs, the vicissitudes of nations, or by the ignorance and neglect, the arts, the discoveries, the inventions, and the advancement of mankind. This subject shows to us--

1. The manifestation of God’s love to the world.

2. The foundation of the world’s hope toward God.

3. The cause of the believer’s life. Christ died that we might live--live by Him and for Him. (George Robson.)

Insufficiency of the subjective view of the atonement

1. If the Cross was nothing more than the revelation of God’s love, the power of the Cross was manifestly limited to those who knew of it. This surely could not be called a “larger view.” Rather it belittled the Cross and limited its power. There were men and women who lived before Christ came; had they no share in the Cross? There were millions of heathen in the world; were they untouched by the passion of God? There were unbelievers around, some willing, some unwilling; were they all quite shut our from the Cross because they knew not the love revealed? “I beheld, and lo a Lamb as it had been slain.” The Cross was in heaven as well as upon earth. It touched God as well as man; it had a meaning and a blessing for every human soul.

2. The subjective view failed to explain the whole ritual of the Jewish sacrifices.

3. It failed to explain terms and phrases of very frequent occurrence in the New Testament, such as “reconciliation,” “peace by the blood of His Cross,” “saved from wrath,” etc. To say that Evangelical Christians put a heathen meaning into these terms and phrases, they would naturally ask how it came to pass that inspired men were allowed to use words that would so easily slip into heathen meanings. The words were misleading if the atonement was not a power on God as well as on man.

4. The subjective theory failed to satisfy the nature of man. Man had a conscience as well as a heart. A clergyman of Norfolk, once a Unitarian minister, said he should never forget his experience as he stood one day by the death bed of a poor, wretched man in a workhouse. He had just come to see that the Cross meant more than he had previously thought, “and for the first time in his life he had a plea for the awakened conscience.” Nothing can satisfy the moral nature that does not meet God’s love of righteousness. (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

Is there a doctrine of the atonement in Scripture

For my own part I have no doubt the New Testament does contain a theory, or, as I should prefer to say, a doctrine of the atonement. The work of Christ in relation to sin is not a naked fact, an impenetrable, unintelligible fact; it is, in the New Testament, a luminous, interpretable, and interpreted fact. The love of Christ, says St. Paul, constraineth us, because we thus judge; i.e., because we can and do put a certain intellectual construction upon it. (James Denney, D. D.)

The propitiation intelligible

An absolutely unintelligible fact, to an intelligent being, is exactly equivalent to zero. (James Denney, D. D.)

Redemption for the whole world

When in London I like to visit one of the great hospitals, for the pleasure of seeing over its gates these generous words, “Royal Free Hospital, strangers, foreigners, etc., may freely partake of the benefits of this hospital.” When I see “et cetera,” I thank God, and I am delighted that there is one institution in our land that welcomes the “et cetera.” It means, “and the rest,” the anybody and everybody of mankind. Likewise this healing power of the Cross of Jesus is for the “et cetera.” The saving power of the Cross is for all sick people who want to be healed. (W. Birch.)

For the sins of the whole world

When John Elias was preaching at an association meeting at Llangefni to five or six thousand people from 1 John 2:2, he, as a high Calvinist, and partly for an oratorical purpose, laid great stress on the pronoun “our”--“our sins!” “and He is the propitiation for our sins,” repeating the word again and again. Catherine Rondol, a peculiar and eccentric Welsh woman, impatient at his not quoting the whole verse, shouted out, “Yes, Elias, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world!” There is no need to say that Elias had no chance with the audience after that remark of Catherine’s. (Sword and Trowel.)

Man lives in a redeemed world

Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” It is not merely that He will be, if you repent and believe; He is so already. Apart from your choice, Christ is the propitiation for your sin. We are not, therefore, born into a lost world--but into a world redeemed by the death of the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Verses 3-5

1 John 2:3-5

And hereby we know that we do know Him, if we keep His commandments

The guileless spirit realising through obedience the knowledge of God as the means of being and abiding in God

This is a more literal explanation of the Divine fellowship, considered as a fellowship of light, than has been given before.

The light which is the atmosphere of the fellowship, or the medium of vision and sympathy through which it is realised, is the light of knowledge, the light of the knowledge of God. For the fellowship is intelligent as well as holy--intelligent that it may be holy.

There were those in John’s day who affected to know God very deeply and intimately, in a very subtle and transcendental way. And through this knowledge of Him they professed to aspire to a participation of His godhead; their souls or spiritual essences being themselves effluences and emanations of His essence; and being, therefore, along with all other such effluences or emanations, ultimately embraced in the Deity of which they formed part. So they “knew God.” But how did they know that they knew Him? Was it because they kept His commandments? Nay, their very boast was that they knew God so well as to be raised far above that commonplace keeping of the commandments which might do for the uninitiated, but for which they had neither time nor taste. John denounces strongly their impious pretence. To affect any knowledge of God that is not to be itself known and ascertained by the keeping of His commandments is to be false to the heart’s core. God is known in Christ. And how may I know that I do really know Him thus? How otherwise than by my keeping His commandments? For this knowledge is intensely practical, not theoretic and speculative. Is my proud Will subdued and my independent spirit broken? Moved and melted by what I know of God, do I, as if instinctively, cry, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?” Then, to me, this word is indeed a precious word in season; “hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (verse 3).

For while “he that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (verse 4); “whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (verse 5). The change of expression here is surely meant to be significant. The keeping of His word is, as it were, the concentrated and condensed spirit and essence of the keeping of His commandments. The knowing ones stigmatised as liars pretended to know God, not as speaking, but simply as being; not by communication from Him, but by insight into Him; not by His word, but by their own wisdom. But you know Him by His word. And that word of His, when you keep it, perfects the good understanding, the covenant of love, between Him and you.

And thus “We know that we are in Him” (verse 5). This, as it would seem, is the crown and consummation of all. First, to be in Him; in a God whom we know, and between whom and us there is a real and perfect covenant of peace and love--that must be an attainment worth while for us to realise; worth while for us to know or be sure that we realise. But it is rather what on our part this phrase implies that we are here led to consider. What insight! What sympathy! What entering into His rest! What entering into His working too! What a fellowship of light! We are in Him! We are in His mind. I would be so in Him that there should be, as it were, but one mind between us. Oh to be thus in God, of one mind with God! We are in His heart. He lets us into His heart--that great heart of the everlasting Father so warmly and widely opened in His Son Jesus Christ. And therefore, secondly, to know that we are thus in God cannot but be a matter of much concern. Who, on such a point, would run the risk of self-deception--nay, of being found “a liar, not having the truth in him”? How am I at once to aim at being in Him, more and more thoroughly and unequivocally, and also to aim at verifying more and more satisfactorily and surely my being in Him? For these two aims must go together; they are one. Keep His word, is the reply. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Doing and knowing

It is a curious phrase, “we do know that we know Him.” But it is a familiar one to us in other applications. I say to a friend, “Are you sure that you know that man? You see him, perhaps, every day; you work with him; you talk with him. But do you know that you know him? Have you got any real insight into his character?” Sometimes the answer is quite confident. “I am certain that he is, or that he is not, an honest, or a kind, or a wise man.” And yet it may not inspire us with confidence. We may say or we may think, “You are deceived in that man.” But now and then one has a strong conviction that a friend does understand the man we are asking him about, does appreciate him. Now St. John assumes that the knowledge of God is as possible, is as real for human beings, as any knowledge they can have of each other. Nay, he goes farther than this. There are impediments to our knowledge of each other, which he says do not exist with reference to that higher knowledge. There is an uncertainty, a capriciousness, a mixture of darkness with light, in every human being, which make us hesitate a little, even when we think he has given us the clearest evidence of what he is. We may know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. I sometimes suspect that we give too loose a sense to that word “keep.” No doubt it means to “obey”; it does not mean more than that, for obedience is very comprehensive. The word “keep,” if we consider it, may help us to know what obedience is, and what it is not. A friend gives me a token to keep for him; he wishes that it should remind me of him, that it should recall days which we have spent together. Perhaps it may be only a flower or a weed that was gathered in a certain place where we were walking or botanising; perhaps it is something precious in itself. If instead of giving me anything he enjoins me to do a certain act, or not to do a certain act, I may be said as truly to keep that injunction as to keep the flower. To fulfil it is to remember him; it is a token of my fellowship to him, of my relation with him. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The apostle uses strong language, for this lie was spreading in the Church of his own day, and would spread, he knew, further and further in the times that were coming. There were many in that time who used this very phrase, “We know God,” and used it for the purpose of self-exaltation; therefore for an immoral, destructive purpose. “There are a set of common Christians,” they said, “vulgar people, who may learn certain lower lessons; they are capable of nothing better. The law is very good for them. But we can enter into the Divine mysteries; we can have the most magnificent conceptions about the spiritual world which Christ has opened. What are the commandments--what is common earthly morality--to us?” “I tell you,” says St. John, broadly and simply, “that if they are nothing to you, God is nothing to you. You may use what fine language you will; you may have what fine speculations you like; but it is in practice, in the struggle with temptation which besets us all in different ways and forms, that we come to know Him; thus, and only thus.” And he adds words which, if understood rightly, were even more crushing to the pride of these haughty men than those which were aimed at themselves. “But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily the love of God is perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.” As if he had said, “You talk about the perfect, the initiated man, and the mere beginners or novices. I will tell you who is the perfect or initiated man. Look at that poor creature who is studying hard, in the midst of all opposition from his own ignorance, to be right and to do right; who is trying to hold fast that word which is speaking to him in his heart, though he can form no high notions at all about things in earth or heaven. There is the initiated man; he is the one who is learning the perfect lore; for God’s own love is working in him; God’s own love is perfecting itself in him. He is keeping the commandments, and they are teaching him that in himself he is nothing; that in God he has everything that he wants.” (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

The great change and its evidences

The great change is described. For this purpose three phrases are used by the apostle in verses 3 to 6.

1. “We know Him.” Knowledge is the result of observation and experience. It in]plies certainty. We know that bread is nutritive, because we have eaten it and found it to be so. We know that honey is sweet, because we have tasted it. Now this is precisely the force of the term when we speak of the knowledge of Christ. Hence it is that we know His power, for we have proved it; His wisdom, for we have been guided by it; His love, for we have enjoyed it; and we know His truth, for we have ever found Him faithful. How thankful we should be this is the nature of true religion. It is not a speculation about which there is uncertainty. It is not a doubtful opinion. It is a reality of which we may have experience. They who have attained to it may say, “We know Him.”

2. “We are in Him.” This expression brings us into still closer communion with Christ. Not only are we brought to Him, to converse with Him, but we are made to dwell in Him. This union of the believer with Christ is the source of all the blessings of which he becomes the partaker by the knowledge of Him.

3. “He abideth in Him.” Had Noah left the ark while the deluge continued, he must have perished. If the man slayer went out of the city of refuge, it was at the hazard of his life. When Shimei violated his pledge to Solomon, and passed beyond the bounds of Jerusalem, he brought upon himself the sentence of death. And so with the believer it is essential to his safety that he shall abide in Christ. How forcibly is this lesson taught by our Lord Himself (John 15:4-5).

The evidences of this gracious state. These are equally clear with the description of that state. And it is observable that each feature in the description is accompanied by a corresponding evidence. The variety of the evidence is a testimony to the supreme importance of the inquiry. It is the will of God that we should faithfully examine ourselves by it.

1. “If we keep His commandments.” “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” He taught as how His people might be known by others. Then in the same way they ought to know themselves.

2. “Whoso keepeth His word.” There is a close and natural connection between this evidence and the former. The word is the directory of the conduct. Whenever the knowledge of Christ has been obtained, His word is obeyed exclusively and universally. Exclusively, for no other authority is admitted. Universally, for whatever it forbids is avoided, and whatever it requires is done.

3. “He that saith he abideth in Him, ought to walk even as He walked.” This evidence is the completion of the two former. It consists in the imitation of the example of Christ. (J. Morgan, D. D.)

Our attitude towards the commandments of God are evidence of Christian life

Our attitude towards the commandments of God. “Hereby know we that we know (i.e., have fellowship with)

Him, if we keep His commandments.” A commandment is an order, a charge, a definite and authoritative expression of a superior will concerning some particular detail of duty. There must be no ambiguity in a commandment no room for misunderstanding. Well, God has expressed Himself so about ninny things. Now let us try our religion by these commandments. How do these fare at our hands? Do we keep them, i.e., watch, observe, take steps to carry out, God’s orders? If so, then we know that we know Him. These commandments are not arbitrary edicts of capricious power. They are the spontaneous growths of immaculate holiness and eternal love. If the commandments are no longer mere bundles of dry roots packed away in some dark corner, but are beginning to grow in your life, that is a proof that you have passed into a new climate of being, and that God’s own life has entered yours. You are a partaker of the Divine nature. “But he that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments”--who treats these clear, authoritative declarations of God’s sovereign will as mere nothing--“he is a liar, and the truth is not in him”--not in him anywhere--not in him at all.

The commandments of God, which are so many and so various, are all gathered up into one word. “Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected.” “His word” is the inner spiritual unity of all His commandments. There are many commandments, but one spirit. I once Saw two pieces of sculpture in a cathedral. One was the figure of the Virgin Mary, with the child Jesus in her arms, therefore a professedly sacred subject. And yet there was nothing sacred about it--it was simply a piece of stone; and looking at it, one felt nothing more sacred than a shudder at the coldness, deadness, stoniness of the thing. The other was the figure of a young mother asleep with her firstborn on her breast in a little side chapel. It was not a conventionally sacred piece--merely a figure on the tomb of a dead young wife and her babe; yet love had so informed the sculptor’s skill that every line of the figure seemed to live. There was heart in it. The work had not been done to order, nor for a price. The man who did it was first a husband and father, and then a sculptor. Well, there is a Christianity with and a Christianity without the heart of Jesus Christ. Christianity without the heart of Jesus is the coldest, stoniest thing that ever came into this poor world. Truth is means to an end. The end itself is love, and whoso keepeth not only His commandments in their multitude, but also His word in its spiritual unity, in him only hath the love of God been perfected.

Again, as the many commandments are one word in their spirit, so the word became a life in Christ’s example. That Life Beautiful is not placed before us in the gospel to be admired and worshipped but to be imitated and reproduced in our own lives. That Life is our standard.

Finally, as the commandments are all summed up in the life of Christ, so that life is summed up in the love of Christ. “Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you … again a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you.” The mark he sets before us is not ordinary love, everyday benevolence; but this--this love that summed up and crowned the life of Christ. (J. M. Gibbon.)

Sincerity and duplicity

The knowing of Christ. To “know” is a word used in Scripture in several senses.

1. Sometimes it means to acknowledge. Christ says that His sheep “know” His voice. They acknowledge His voice as being the voice of their Shepherd, and cheerfully follow where their Shepherd leads. Now, it is a matter of the first necessity to acknowledge Christ, that He is God, that He is the Son of the Father, that He is the Saviour of His people, and the rightful Monarch of the world--to acknowledge more, that you accept Him as your Saviour, as your King, as your Prophet, as your Priest.

2. The word “know” means, in the next place, to believe; as in that passage, “By his knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many”; where it is evidently meant that by the knowledge of Him, that is to say, by faith in Christ Jesus, he would justify many.

3. The word to “know” often means experience. It is said of our Lord that “He knew no sin”; that is to say, He never experienced sin; He never became a sinner. To know Christ, then, we must feel and prove His power, His pardoning power, His power of love over the heart, His reigning power in subduing our passions, His comforting power, His enlightening power, His elevating power, and all those other blessed influences which through the Holy Spirit proceed from Christ.

4. And once more, to “know” in Scripture often means to commune. Eliphaz says, “Acquaint thyself with God, be at peace with Him”; that is to say, commune with Him, get into friendship and fellowship with Him. So it is needful that every believer should know Christ by having an acquaintance with Him, by speaking with Him in prayer and praise; by laying bare one’s heart to His heart; receiving from Him the Divine secret, and imparting to Him the full confession of all our sins and griefs.

The two characters that are portrayed in the text. With respect to the one--those who know that they know Him. Oh, it is very urgent that we should know that we know Him! Dost thou ask what service it would render thee?

1. It would give thee such comfort as nothing else could. If I know that I know Christ, then all things are mine. Things present and things to come are alike in the covenant of grace.

2. Nor is it joy alone you would find from this knowledge; it would no less certainly bring you confidence. When a man knows that he knows Christ what confidence he has in meeting temptations! “Shall such a man as I flee?” What confidence in prayer! he asks believingly, as children beloved ask of a generous parent. And what a confident air this assurance before God would give us with the sons of men! Our courage would no more fail us in the pestilential swamps of the world than our enthusiasm would Subside in the fertile garden of the Church, knowing that we shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.

3. And this certainty that you know Christ would kindle in you the very highest degree of love. Observe the prescription, “Hereby we know that we do know Him if we keep His commandments.” It is in the keeping of His commandments that this sound state of the soul’s health is enjoyed.

Do you ask for further explanation?

1. It means to keep His commandments in our minds and hold them fast in our memory with devout reverence. If Christ hath said it I dare not cavil, argue, or question, much less rebel.

2. But to keep them in our hearts we must earnestly desire to fulfil them. By reason of the fall we cannot perfectly keep the commands of Christ, but the heart keeps them as the standard of purity, and it would be perfect if it could. The Christian’s only desire is to be exactly like Christ.

A momentous charge against dissemblers. There is such a thing as saying that we know Christ; but if any man say that he knows Christ, and keeps not His commandments, such a man is a liar--plain speech this. Point out some of those characters upon which the brand must be fixed--they are liars. There have been persons who have professed their faith in Christ, but who have been in the habit of acting dishonestly. They have been negotiating fictitious bills, they have been purloining small articles out of shops, they have been dealing with short weights, and selling wares with wrong marks, and all this time they have said that they knew Christ. Now, one of His commandments is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” and another one is, “Thou shalt not steal,” and in not keeping these they have proved themselves to be liars, though they called themselves Christians. Some who have professed faith in Christ have been drunkards. And what shall we say of those who, while making a profession of religion, have been addicted to uncleanness? The covetous! the grasping! those who see their brethren have need, and shut up the bowels of their compassion! to each of you the Master’s words are very strong: “How dwelleth the love of God in him?” And are there not others, whose tongue is perverse and unruly and their conversation often far from pure? (C. H. Spurgeon)

Theology and morality

The text suggests two thoughts concerning morality.”

It is the only proof of a true theology. “Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

1. Obedience is the certain result of a true theology. To know God is to love Him. If we love Him we shall keep His commandments.

(1) Keep them heartily.

(2) Keep them joyously. What we do in love we always do joyously.

2. Disobedience is a proof of a false theology. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” There is another thought suggested by the text concerning morality.

Its spirit is the development of true theology. What is the spirit of genuine morality? Love.

1. And this love is in the obedient man.

2. And this love in him assures him of his union with God. “Hereby know we that we are in Him.” (Homilist.)

The saving knowledge of Christ evinced by a practical attention to His commandments

The nature of the saving knowledge of Christ.

1. It is not a mere speculative knowledge.

2. It is a real, internal, spiritual revelation or manifestation of Him to the soul by the Spirit of God in the day of conversion.

3. It is the best and most excellent that can come within the reach of man.

4. It is greatly inferior as to degree, and different as to the manner of knowing, from what they will have in heaven.

5. It produces distinguishing effects--effects which distinguish it from all other knowledge.

(1) It humbles those who have it.

(2) Such as savingly know Christ put their trust in Him (2 Timothy 1:12).

(3) It is transforming; it changes believers into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) in holiness, meekness, patience, love, and every other imitable perfection.

What sort of obedience to the commands of Christ is the undoubted evidence of the spiritual saving knowledge of him?

1. It is hearty, springing from love to Christ, as the governing principle of it.

2. It is voluntary. David says, “I have chosen Thy precepts” (Psalms 119:173).

3. It is universal. All the commands of Christ are respected; not only those of easy observance.

4. It is constant and persevering. The true servants of Christ obey Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives (Luke 1:74-75). And His command to them is Revelation 2:10. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected--

The keeping of the Divine word

The keeping is in direct opposition to losing it, letting it escape from us.

The keeping it implies a care to retain it. To retain it in the under standing, in the conscience, in the affections, and in the practice. In what aspects the word of God so kept is regarded by the Christian.

1. As a law to govern him.

2. As a revelation of the grace which saves him.

3. As a promise of Divine goodness to cheer him.

4. As a pledge of eternal life to animate him.

5. As a means of communion with God to sanctify him. (Homilist.)

The keeping of God’s commandments is undoubtedly and truly the perfection of our love to God

What is here meant by perfection?

How does such a keeping of the commandment argue love to be perfect?

1. There is a perfection of all the parts of love in such men.

(1) An affection unto fellowship with Christ.

(2) An affection to be doing good to Him.

2. In perfection there is a readiness to a work; so such a man as keeps God’s commandments, his love is ready, he is forward to every good duty, because it is a commandment of God.

3. There is perfect love in him, because it is constant and durable and will not change.

Wherein does it appear that if I keep God’s commandment my love is perfect?

1. From the contrariety of our tempers naturally to any commandment, so that if you see anyone willing and ready to be at God’s command you may say, certainly the love of God hath overcome him.

2. You may know such a man’s love to be perfect that keeps His commandments, because whatsoever weak beginnings of love you find in such as keep God’s commandments, that man’s love grows more perfect every day; such a man still grows in fruitfulness; he grows ready to every good work (John 15:2), so that the love of God is perfected in him by obedience.


1. For trial of our love to God, whether it be perfect or no, sincere or counterfeit, how dost thou find thy heart affected to God’s commandments?

2. For direction to all such as desire perfection of love to Christ--keep His commandments; take heed of breaking any one of them.

3. Of consolation to all such as apply themselves to be doing of God’s commandments. (John Cotton, B. D.)

The love of God

The simple phrase, “the love of God,” may of course mean God’s love to man; but it may also mean man’s love to God; and that we take to be the meaning in the text. For two men to be thus distinguished from each other, by one having this affection and the other having it not--why, it is a greater distinction, when you come to think of it, than belonging to a different species of being.

It is possible to love God. Human nature has its intellect and affections, and a capacity for reason, thought, and sentiment. The being that can love one thing can love another; the man that loves a creature, a person manifested to him in the flesh, may love the infinite Person.

Without love to God you can hardly conceive of there being anything, in his estimation, like moral worth or excellence in man. Take the case of a family presided over by a loving and virtuous parent. It is very possible to conceive of the children of that family outwardly appearing to tender him the expressions of filial obedience and respect; but if they had not a particle of love in their hearts to that father--if their hearts were altogether given to some one else, and if there were to come on the parental heart the conviction that with all their displays of respect they had not an atom of love towards him, how could there be any feeling of delight towards them in the parental breast?

The love of God is not a spontaneous and instinctive affection of the human heart. Human beings come into the world with certain tendencies, affections, and sympathies, and have the affection of love among the rest. I think there is rather a tendency in little children to like to hear about God, and heaven, and Jesus and His influence. But human nature needs to be operated upon from without; there must be external instrumentality in order to the development and manifestation of anything; and if you leave it to itself it will grow up just a bundle of appetites--a brutal, ferocious, obscene thing.

The Gospel is intended to excite and to sustain this affection in man. I think we may say here that the thing to be achieved has this difficulty about it; it is to be the reproduction of an extinguished affection. And then, when the love of God is excited, it is to expand and bring forth fruit; so that, in accordance with the statement of the text, the individual is not to be satisfied with the luxury of the sentiment--he is not to lose himself (as some mystics have thought) in perpetual contemplation, as though the love of God were to be perfected in that manner. We live in a world of action, and in which the great thing is to do and act according to the will of God; and if the human heart is brought into this condition, and really loves God, then it will seek to perfect that love, by its manifestation, in keeping God’s word, in doing whatsoever God willeth. “Let me have Thy word, and the strong impulse of Divine affection shall be manifested and perfected.” Then supposing that to be done, the text says, the result and conclusion of the whole matter is that “hereby” the individual “knows that he is in Him”; that is, in Christ. (T. Binney.)

Verse 6

1 John 2:6

He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked

The Christlike walk of one with guileless spirit abiding in God

To “walk as Christ” walked is essential to our “abiding in God”; not merely “being in God,” as it is put in the previous verse, but being in Him permanently.

It is therefore the test of our truth when we “say that we abide in God”; it is the very means by which we abide in Him.

It is sometimes said of Christ simply that He walked, without anything to define or qualify the expression (John 7:1; Luke 13:33; John 12:9-10). Jesus then walked. His life was a walk. The idea of earnestness, of definiteness of purpose, of decision and progress, is thus suggested. Now, “he that saith he abideth in God, ought himself also so to walk even as Jesus walked.” It was as always “abiding in God” that He “walked.” While His feet were busy walking, His soul was resting in God. Outward movement, inward repose; the whole man Christ Jesus--mind, spirit, heart, all bent upon the road; and yet ever, at the same time, the whole man Christ Jesus dwelling in the Father’s bosom, as calmly as in that unbroken eternity, ere He became man, He had been wont to dwell there: so he walked, abiding in God. So you also ought to walk even as He walked, “abiding in God.” But some one may say, Is not this too high an ideal? Is it not the setting up of an inimitable model? Not so. For, first, He fully shares with us whatever disadvantage as regards His walking, may be implied in His being a son of man. And, secondly, He would have us fully to share with Him whatever advantage there is in His being the Son of God. For both reasons our life may be as much and as truly a walk as His was.

Let some particulars about this walk be noticed.

1. If we say that “we abide in God,” we ought to walk as seeing God in all things and all things in God; for so Christ walked.

2. “He that saith he abideth in God” ought to walk as one subordinating himself always in all things to God, submitting himself to God, committing himself to God.

3. “He that saith he abideth in God” ought to walk in love. If we abide in God, we abide in the great source and fountain of love--in the infinite ocean of pure and perfect benevolence.

4. “He that saith he abideth in God” ought, in a word, to walk in unity with God, as being of one mind with God and of one heart. So Jesus walked. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

In Him: like Him

The first thing about a Christian is initiation into Christ; the next thing is the imitation of Christ. We cannot be Christians unless we are in Christ; and we are not truly in Christ unless the life of Christ is lived over again by us according to our measure.

Consider how this obligation is proved. Why ought we to walk as Jesus did?

1. First, it is the design of God that those who are in Christ should walk as Christ walked. It is a part of the original covenant purpose; for “whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

2. Observe, again, another point of this necessity: it is necessary to the mystical Christ that we should walk as He walked, for we are joined unto the Lord Jesus in one body.

3. And this, again, must all be the fruit of the one Spirit that is in Christ and in us. The Father anointed Christ of old with the same anointing which rests on us in our measure. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and we have an unction from the same Holy One.

4. I would have true Christians remember that this is one article of the agreement which we make with Christ when we become His disciples. We put ourselves into Christ’s hands unreservedly, and we said, “Lord, sanctify me, and then use me. Reign in me; rule me absolutely, sovereignly, always and alone. I do not ask to be my own, for I am not my own, I am bought with a price.”

Consider wherein this walking with Christ as He walked consists.

1. To put it all together in one word, the first thing that every Christian has to see to is holiness. You know what wholeness is--a thing without a crack, or flaw, or break; complete, entire, uninjured whole. Well, that is the main meaning of holy. If you wish to see holiness, look at Christ. In Him you see a perfect character, an all-round character. He is the perfect one; be ye like Him in all holiness.

2. We must go a little into detail; so I say, next, one main point in which we ought to walk according to the walk of our great Exemplar is obedience. It is the Lord’s will that in His house His word should be the supreme law, for so only can our fallen natures be restored to their original glory. It is ours to walk in cheerful subservience to the mind of the Father, even as Jesus did. Does this strike you as an easy thing? It is child’s work, certainly; but assuredly it is not child’s play.

3. Such a life would necessarily be one of great activity, for the life of Jesus was intensely energetic. There is never an idle hour in the life of Christ. It is wonderful how He sustained the toil. Perhaps He measured out His zeal and His open industry by the fact that He was only to be for a short time here below.

4. Next we ought to walk as Christ did in the matter of self-denial. So walk as He did who made Himself of no reputation, but took upon Himself the form of a servant, and who, though He was rich, brought Himself down to poverty for our sakes, that we might be rich unto God. Think of that.

5. Another point in which we ought to imitate Christ most certainly is that of lowliness. You never detect in the Lord Jesus Christ any tendency towards pride or self-exaltation. Quite the reverse: He is ever compassionate and condescending to men of low estate.

6. And then note again another point, and that is His great tenderness, and gentleness, and readiness to forgive. Did He not set us an example of bearing and forbearing?

7. There is one word which tells us more than all this about how Christ walked, and that is the word “love.” Jesus was incarnate love. Only he that loves can live in heaven, for heaven is love; and you cannot go to glory unless you have learned to love and to find it your very life to do good to those about you. Let me add to all this, that he who says that Christ is in him ought also to live as Christ lived in secret. And how was this?

8. His life was spent in abounding devotion. He was pure and holy, and yet He must needs wait upon God all day long, and often speak with His Father; and then when the night came, and others went to their beds, He withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed. If the Lord Jesus be in you, you must walk as He walked in that matter. And then think of His delight in God. He was, it is true, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”; but still there was a deep spring of wondrous happiness in the midst of His heart, which made Him always blessed. And you and I also must delight in God. This charming duty is far too much neglected. Strange that this honey should so seldom be in men’s mouths!

9. We ought to walk in holy contentment. The cravings of covetousness and pinings of ambition never touched our Lord. In a word, Christ lived above this world; let us walk as He walked. Christ lived for God, and for God alone; let us live after His fashion. And Christ persevered in such living; He never turned aside from it at all; but as He lived so He died, obedient to His Father’s will. May our lives be a mosaic of perfect obedience, and our deaths the completion of the fair design.

Consider what is needful to all this.

1. It is needful to have a nature like that of Christ. You cannot give out sweet waters so long as the fountains are impure. “Ye must be born again.”

2. That being done, the next thing that is necessary is a constant anointing of the Holy Spirit.

3. Then, again, there must be in us a strong resolve that we will walk as Christ walked; for our Lord Himself did not lead that holy life without stern resolution.

4. I add that if we want to walk as Christ walked we must have much communion with Him. We cannot possibly get to be like Christ except by being with Him. A person has written to me to say that he has painted my portrait, but that he cannot finish it until he sees me. I should think not, Certainly you cannot paint a portrait of Christ in your own life unless you see Him--see Him clearly, see Him continually. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The example of Christ

Example, it has often been remarked, exerts a much more powerful influence upon men than precept. The nature and excellence of God’s commandments are more perfectly seen in those actions which are conformed to His law than in the abstract contemplation of the commandments themselves. To this peculiarity in our mental constitution God hath kindly accommodated His holy Word. Although the example of holy men of ancient times is made use of as a motive to particular excellences, yet none of them is proposed in general terms as a pattern for our imitation. This honour is given to Christ alone. Not only are particular virtues enforced by a reference to His character and conduct, but His conversation in general among men, or the whole of His life on earth is exhibited as a pattern to be imitated by all His disciples.

The example of Christ is perfect. Neither positive evil nor negative defect can be laid to His charge. In contemplating the pattern which it presents we are never perplexed by the necessity of separating the good from the bad, that which should be imitated from that which should be avoided.

The example of Christ is easy of imitation. It is calculated to allure rather than to repel the attempts of the meek and humble to copy it. The incidents by which it was diversified are such as frequently occur in the ordinary lot of man, and His conduct in reference to them was in every respect such as we might desire and expect any pious and benevolent individual to exemplify. It was human, devoid of everything impracticable.

The example of Christ is highly influential. It is fitted to extract the attention and command the imitation of men. Who will refuse to imitate the pattern furnished in His obedience and sufferings when he recollects that He obeyed and suffered in our room? The example of a Divine person is indeed of infinite authority to all creatures; but the obligation of gratitude has an attractive influence which the consideration of duty alone does not possess.

The example of Christ is of universal application. It is suited to men of all classes and of every peculiarity of natural disposition. Had He come in all the glory of temporal royalty His example, however conspicuous and however perfect, could have been useful to but a limited extent. (D. Duncan.)

Of the imitation of Christ in holiness of life, and the necessity of it in believer’s

What the saint’s imitation of Christ supposes and comprises.

1. That no Christian is, or may pretend to be, a rule to himself; for as no man hath wisdom enough to direct himself, so if his own will were made the rule of his own actions it would be the highest invasion of the Divine prerogative.

2. That as no man is his own guide, so no mere man, how wise or holy soever, may pretend to be a rule to other men; but Christ is the rule of every man’s walking.

3. The necessity of sanctification in all His followers, forasmuch as it is impossible there should be a practical conformity in point of obedience where there is not a conformity in spirit and in principle.

4. That the Christian religion is a very precise and strict religion, no way countenancing licentiousness; it allows no man to walk loosely and inordinately.

5. The imperfection of the best of men in this life; for if the life of Christ be our pattern, the holiest of men must confess they come short of the rule of their duty.

6. The transcending holiness of the Lord Jesus; His holiness is greater than the holiness of all creatures, “For only that which is first and best in every kind is the rule and measure of all the rest.”

7. It necessarily implies sanctification and obedience to be the evidences of our justification and interest in Christ: assurance is unattainable without obedience; we can never be comfortable Christians except we be strict and regular Christians.

In what things all who profess Christ are obliged to the imitation of him.

1. And first of all, the purity and holiness of the life of Christ is proposed as a glorious pattern for the saint’s imitation (1 Peter 1:15).

(1) He was truly and sincerely holy, without fiction or simulation; and this appeared in the greatest trial of the truth of holiness that ever was made in this world (John 14:30).

(2) Christ was uniformly holy at one time as well as another, in one place and company as well as another. So must His people be holy in all manner of conversation.

(3) Christ was exemplarily holy; a pattern of holiness to all that came nigh Him, and conversed with Him: oh, imitate Christ in this.

(4) Christ was strictly and precisely holy: “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” The most envious eyes could not pick a hole or find a flaw in any of His words or actions (Philippians 2:15).

(5) Christ was perseveringly holy--holy to the last breath; as He began, so He finished His whole life. It becomes not any of His people to begin in the spirit and end in the flesh.

(6) In a word, the delight of Christ was only in holy things and holy persons--they were His chosen companions; even so it becometh His people to have all their delights in the saints and in the excellent of the earth (Psalms 16:3).

2. The obedience of Christ to His Father’s will is a pattern for the imitation of all Christians.

(1) Christ’s obedience was free and voluntary, not forced or compulsory; it was so from the very first undertaking of the work of our redemption (Proverbs 8:30-31).

(2) The obedience of Christ was universal and complete; He was obedient to all the will of God, making no demur to the hardest service (Philippians 2:8).

(3) The obedience of Christ was sincere and pure, without any base or by-end, purely aiming at the glory of God (John 17:4).

(4) The streams of Christ’s obedience flowed from the fountain of ardent love to God (John 14:31).

(5) The obedience of Christ was constant (Romans 2:7).

3. The self-denial of Christ is the pattern of believers, and their conformity unto it is their indispensable duty (Philippians 2:4-6; 2 Corinthians 8:9).

4. The activity and diligence of Christ in finishing the work of God which was committed to Him was a pattern for all believers to imitate.

(1) His heart was intently set upon it (Psalms 4:8).

(2) He never fainted under great discouragements (Isaiah 43:4).

(3) The shortness of His time provoked Him to the greatest diligence (John 9:4).

(4) He improved all opportunities, companies, and occurrences to further the great work which was under His hand (John 4:6-10).

(5) Nothing more displeased Him than when He met with dissuasions in His work (Matthew 8:33).

(6) Nothing rejoiced His soul more than the prosperity and success of His work (Luke 10:20-21).

5. Delight in God and in His service was eminently conspicuous in the life of Christ, and is a rare pattern for believers’ imitation (John 4:32; John 4:34).

(1) The nature of it, which consisteth in the complacency, rest, and satisfaction of the mind in God and spiritual things,

(2) The object of spiritual delight, which is God Himself and the things which relate to Him (Psalms 73:25).

(3) The subject of spiritual delight, which is a renewed heart, and that only so far as it is renewed (Romans 7:22).

(4) The principle and spring of this delight, which is the agreeableness of spiritual things to the temper and frame of a renewed mind.

6. The inoffensiveness of the life of Christ upon earth is an excellent pattern to all His people; He injured none, offended none (Hebrews 7:26). He denied His own liberty to avoid occasion of offence; as in the case of the tribute money (Matthew 19:27).

(1) For the honour of Jesus Christ be you inoffensive--His name is called upon you (James 2:7). Your inoffensive carriage is the only means to stop the mouths of detractors (1 Peter 2:15).

(2) For the sake of souls be wary that you give no offence (Matthew 13:7).

(3) By the holiness and harmlessness of your lives many may be won to Christ (1 Peter 3:1).

7. The humility and lowliness of Christ is propounded by Himself as a pattern for His people’s imitation (Matthew 11:29).

8. The contentation of Christ in a low and mean condition in the world is an excellent pattern for His people’s imitation.

(1) The meanest and most afflicted Christian is owner of many rich, invaluable mercies (Ephesians 1:3; 1Co 3:33).

(2) You have many precious promises that God will not forsake you in your straits (Hebrews 13:5; Isaiah 41:17).

(3) How useful and beneficial are all your afflictions to you! They purge your sins, prevent your temptations, wean you from the world, and turn to your salvation; and how unreasonable, then, must your discontentedness at them be?

(4) The time of your relief and full deliverance from all your troubles is at hand (1 Corinthians 7:26).

(5) Your lot falls by Divine direction upon you, and as bad as it is it is much easier and sweeter than the condition of Christ in this world was. Yet He was contented, and why not you?

The necessity of this imitation of Christ will convincingly appear divers ways.

1. From the established order of salvation, which is fixed and unalterable. God that hath appointed the end hath also established the means and order by which men shall attain the ultimate end. Now conformity to Christ is the established method in which God will bring souls to glory (Romans 8:29).

2. The nature of Christ-mystical requires this conformity, and renders it indispensably necessary. Otherwise the body of Christ must be heterogeneous, of a nature different from the head; and how uncomely would this be?

3. This resemblance and conformity to Christ appears necessary from the communion which all believers have with Christ in the same spirit of grace and holiness. Believers are called Christ’s fellows, or co-partners (Psalms 45:7), from their participation with Him of the same spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8).

4. The necessity of this imitation of Christ may be argued from the design and end of Christ’s exhibition to the world in a body of flesh. For though we detest that doctrine which makes the exemplary life of Christ to be the whole end of His incarnation, yet we must not run so far from an error as to lose a precious truth.

5. Our imitation of Christ is one of those great articles which every man is to subscribe whom Christ will admit into the number of His disciples (Luke 14:27).

6. The honour of Christ necessitates the conformity of Christians to His example.

How can wisdom be justified of her children except it be this way? Inferences:

1. If all that profess interest in Christ be strictly bound to imitate His holy example, then it follows that religion is very unjustly charged by the world with the scandals and evils of them that profess it.

2. If all men forfeit their claim to Christ who endeavour not to imitate Him in the holiness of His life, then how small a number of real Christians are there in the world!

3. What blessed times should we all see if true religion did once generally obtain and prevail in the world!

4. Hence it also follows that real Christians are the sweetest companions.

5. In a word, if no men’s claim to Christ be warranted but theirs that walk as He walked.

How vain and groundless then are the hopes and expectations of all unsanctified men who walk after their own lusts?

1. Christ hath conformed Himself to you by His abasing incarnation; how reasonable therefore is it that you conform yourselves to Him in the way of obedience and sanctification!

2. You shall be conformed to Christ in glory; how reasonable therefore is it you should now conform yourselves to Him in holiness! (chap. 3:2).

3. The conformity of your lives to Christ, your pattern, is your highest excellency in this world: the measure of your grace is to be estimated by this rule.

4. So far as you imitate Christ in your lives, and no farther, you will be beneficial to the world in which you live; so far as God helps you to follow Christ you will be helpful to bring others to Christ, or build them up in Christ.

5. To walk as Christ walked is a walk only worthy of a Christian; this is to “walk worthy of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 2:12; Colossians 1:10).

6. How comfortable will the close of your life be at death if you have walked after Christ’s example in this world! A comfortable death is ordinarily the close of a holy life (Psalms 37:37).

Lastly, I would leave a few words of support to such as sincerely endeavour, according to the tendency of their new nature, to follow Christ’s example, but being weak in grace and meeting with strong temptations are frequently carried aside from the holy purposes of their well-meaning hearts.

1. Such defects in obedience make no flaw in your justification; for your justification is not built upon your obedience, but upon Christ’s (Romans 3:24).

2. Your deep troubles for the defectiveness of your obedience do not argue you to be less, but more sanctified, than those who make no such complaints.

3. The Lord makes excellent uses even of your failings to do you good; for by these defects He hides pride from your eyes, He beats you off from self-dependence, He makes you to admire the riches of free grace, He makes you to long more ardently for heaven and entertain the sweeter thoughts of death.

4. Your bewailed infirmities do not break the bond of the everlasting covenant.

5. Though the defects of your obedience are grievous to God, yet your deep sorrows for them are well-pleasing in His eyes (Psalms 51:17).

6. Though God has left many defects to humble you, yet He hath given many things to comfort you. This is a comfort, that the desire of thy soul is to God. This is a comfort, that thy sins are not thy delight as once they were. (John Flavel.)

Abiding in Christ to be demonstrated by walking as Christ did

The apostles do on all occasions assume the practice of Christ as an unquestionable ground of obligation and an effectual inducement thereto.

Doing so hath a reasonableness grounded on our relations to Christ--it is comely that the manners of the disciple should be regulated by those of his Master; that the servant should not, in his garb and demeanour, dissent or vary from his Lord; that the subject should conform his humour to the fashion of his Prince.

Following Christ’s example is requisite to demonstrate the sincerity of our faith, love, and reverence to Him.

By pretending to be Christians we acknowledge the transcendent goodness, worth, and excellency of our Saviour; that He was incomparably better and wiser than any person ever was or could be; that He always acted with the highest reason, out of the most excellent disposition of mind, in order to the best purposes; and that His practice, therefore, reasonably should be the rule of ours.

The practice of our Saviour did thoroughly agree with His doctrine and Law--He required nothing of us which He did not eminently perform Himself. He fulfilled in deed, as well as taught in word, all righteousness.

It being the design of Divine goodness, in sending our Saviour, to render us good and happy, to deliver us from sin and misery, there could not be devised any more powerful means or more convenient method of accomplishing those excellent purposes than by propounding such an example and obliging us to comply therewith.

1. Good example is naturally an effectual instrument of good practice; for that it doth most compendiously, pleasantly, and easily instruct; representing things to be done at one view, in a full body, clothed with all their modes and circumstances; it kindleth men’s courage by a kind of contagion, as one flame doth kindle another; it raiseth a worthy emulation of doing laudable things which we see done, or of obtaining a share in the commendations of virtue.

2. More especially the example of Christ doth, inefficacy and influence on good practice, surpass all others.

(1) In that it is a sure and infallible rule, a perfect rule of practice: deficient in no part, swerving in no circumstance from truth and right, which privileges are competent to no other example.

(2) In that He was, by the Divine providence, to this very purpose designed and sent into the world, as well by His practice as by His doctrine to be the guide and master of holy life.

(3) In that it was, by an admirable temperament, more accommodated for imitation than any others have been; for though it were written with an incomparable fairness, delicacy, and evenness, not slurred with any foul blot, not anywhere declining from exact straightness, yet were the lineaments thereof exceedingly plain and simple, not by any gaudy flourishes or impertinent intrigues rendered difficult to studious imitation; so that even women and children, the weakest and meanest sort of people, as well as the most wise and ingenious, might easily perceive its design, and with good success write after it.

(4) In that it is attended with the greatest obligations (of gratitude and ingenuity, of justice, of interest, of duty), mightily engaging us to follow it. (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)

Imitation of the example of Christ in His temper and life

In what respects Christ is an example to Christians and they are to imitate Him. Christ is only our example as to those things that are common between Him and us, but not as to those in which we can have no participation with Him or He with us. His part was to become our mediator with God.

How suitable an example Christ is to us and how expedient it is for us to have such an example.

1. The example of Christ is exceedingly suitable to mankind.

(1) From the humanity of it.

(2) The notoriety of Christ’s example makes it fit for general use. The most exemplary transactions of His holy life are transmitted to us in exact narratives.

(3) His example was very extensive. It either directly exemplifies or contains a lively instruction into the duties of almost every station and relation in human life.

(4) Christ’s example is absolutely perfect.

2. How very expedient it is for mankind to have such an example set before them.

(1) This use and expediency appears in that it tends to impress the mind with a strong sense of the reasonableness and excellency of that universal rectitude which the law requires, and to guard us against light and favourable thoughts of any deviation or iniquity.

(2) It still adds more weight to this use of Christ’s example, to consider the Divinity of His person. In this way God has glorified a state of obedience to Himself.

The obligations and engagements which Christians are under to imitate this so suitable and expedient example. This is the natural tendency of all Christian graces; so that where they are in truth they cannot but work this way, and otherwise they are only in appearance, not in reality. (John Hubbard.)

The Christian’s imitation of Christ

First, for the conditional “If.” Is it not a precedent condition of life; for a man cannot first walk as Christ walked, and then be in Christ. A graft cannot live the life of the stock and then be inoculated into the stock. The first act is before the latter act: life before the actions of life--“so walk as Christ walked,” this notes the actions of life. Now a man must first be in Christ before he can walk as Christ walked. Indeed, this condition is first to our knowledge: but it is not first in its own nature. So, then, to walk as Christ walked, being a necessary consequence of being in Christ, we cannot be in Christ if we walk not as Christ walked. If there be any commandment of Christ in all the gospel that you will not conform to, it is an evident sign that ye abide not in Christ’s love. Secondly, for the exemplary, “As,” even as He walked. Can any man walk as Christ walked? Is it possible that dust and ashes, that is corrupt with sin, can walk as He walked? This word “as” hath a twofold signification--

(1) such as imports equality, or

(2) similitude.

As this “as” imports an equality, so it is impossible that any flesh can walk as Christ walked--so purely, so unspottedly, so steadily, so effectually as He lived. A scholar writes as his master’s copy directs him. Though there be no equality, he cannot write one stroke or dash with his pen so well as his master, yet he doth write as his master sets his copy: his hand follows his master’s hand. Even as less white is like more white, though not alike in the same degree, yet in the same nature, there is the same nature in the lesser that there is in the bigger. So we must have the same life, obey the same commandments, be guided by the same rule, swayed by the same motions, led by the same Spirit that was in Christ (Romans 8:9). Thus you see the explanation of the doctrine; come we now to the reasons, which are principally these four:--

1. The first reason is taken from the scope and end for which the Lord did send His Son into the world: as to justify the ungodly, so also to conform all those that are justified to the image of Christ.

2. The second reason is taken from the practice of Christianity. In vain are we called Christians if we be not imitators of Christ. The disciples are called Christians (Acts 11:26); the very name tells us that we must be followers of Christ.

3. The third reason is taken from the essential, or rather from the integral union that is between Christ and all those that are in Christ; they are all members of His most gracious body.

4. The last reason is taken from the near relation that is to be between Christ and every member of Christ. If all that are in Christ are the children of Christ they must needs walk as Christ walked. Like begets like. Dost thou say thou hast put on Christ? Why, then, show me the signs of Christ in thee. How canst thou then demonstrate that thou art a Christian? It may be now and then thou wilt give a prayer unto Christ. Is this to be in Christ? If thou be in Christ, then thou must live the life of Christ in all thy ways. “He that saith he abideth in Him,” etc. In this word “he” there are three notes. First, indication. The apostle doth, as it were, point at a certain man in his congregation, as if there had been some man that he knew was not in Christ. So preachers must not only preach the Word of God in general, but they must preach in particular. Secondly, discrimination. As if he should say, there are some that are in Him and some that are not in Him. Hence observe this point, that every minister is bound to preach so as to make a difference between the precious and the vile. Here are two things--

1. They shall teach them the difference between the holy and profane.

2. They shall not only show it before them, but if they will not see it they shall cause them to see it; that is, they must beat it into them and rub it into their consciences. You that have heard the Word of God apply it to your souls, it is a blessed plaister; let it lie on your souls. Thirdly, scrutiny. It is not only an outward word, but a word of the heart: “If any man say,” that is, if any man think, that he is in Christ, he ought to walk as Christ did. Hence we observe, that a minister is bound to preach to men’s thoughts. (Wm. Fenner.)

The Christian walk

It was one of the last sayings of a famous divine that there were three things which were essential to healthy Christian teaching--doctrine, experience, and practice. He said that if doctrine alone were brought forward to a people there was a danger lest they should turn out Antinomians; that if experience alone were brought forward to a people there was a danger lest they should turn out enthusiasts and sentimentalists; and that if practice alone were brought forward, there was a danger that they would turn out legalists. I know not whether we have sufficient attention given in the present day to the third of the three great essentials spoken of, I mean the essential of Christian practice.

The true believer’s profession--“He saith that he abideth in Christ.” He rests all his hope on the Lord Jesus Christ; he feels that he is a sinner, but he sees in Christ an all-sufficient Saviour. Time there was when he abode himself in carelessness; he was a thoughtless, an unconcerned person, travel ling down the stream of time and thinking nothing of the gulf of eternity. Now, old things are passed away and all things are become new.

The standard of the true believer’s practice. The apostle speaks of the believer’s “walk.” By that he means his daily course of life, his behaviour, that may be seen of men, as a person’s walking may be seen by the eye. The man of the world cannot move without being seen; so the walk of the Christian is that behaviour which others around him can observe. It is not merely a spasmodic rushing forward, but an equable daily walk. He speaks of what that walk “ought” to be; he speaks of it as a debt, as an obligation. The believer is bound by the strongest of all ties and obligations to “walk even as Christ walked.” Who that has ever seen a young painter in his first efforts to paint, when he has set the canvas before him and endeavoured to copy some mighty masterpiece of Rubens, or Rembrandt, or Titian, has not been struck with the difference between his first essay and the wonderful copy before him? Yet that painter does the same kind of thing that Rubens, or Titian,or Rembrandt did; he is working upon canvas, he has the colours, he holds the brush; though he may not like them lay on the colours and trace the outline in the same way, yet, after all, he is following their steps, he is imitating them, and is far more likely to bring forth an excellent work than if he copied that which was not equal in perfection. But in what is it that we are endeavouring to “walk even as Christ walked”? In His demeanour towards those with whom He had to do--in all His relations, as a son unto His mother, as a friend among His friends--in all His dealings with His enemies and with His disciples. (Bp. Ryle.)

Imitation of Christ

Particulars in which Christians ought to live as Christ lived.

1. Those who profess to be Christ’s disciples ought to take Him as their example in bearing their appointed sufferings.

(1) In the first place, contentedly to bear whatever sufferings God by His providence imposes on us; not to be discontented, irritable, and despondent.

(2) There was another characteristic in Christ’s endurance of sufferings, perhaps yet more important to us, because it relates to a temper still more constantly to be in exercise. Jesus foresaw all those sufferings which He afterwards so patiently bore. He “steadfastly set His face to go up to Jerusalem”; He pursued the great end of His mission into this world without deviation by one single step or for one single moment. He, then, who “walks as Christ walked,” will, without fear, without despondency, without impetuosity and passion, without enthusiasm, with calm deliberation and steady purpose, determine to pursue the course of duty God has called him to pursue, whatever the consequences may be.

2. In this course, however, it is impossible but that Christians should meet, as Christ met, with those who would oppose this course.

Reasons why we should walk thus.

1. Those who are redeemed ought to live as their Redeemer lived, because they recognise Him to be the pattern of all excel lence.

2. Those who are redeemed ought to endeavour to please their Redeemer.

3. Those who have been redeemed ought to count it one of the highest objects of their existence to glorify and serve Him who has been their Redeemer. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)

Inward grace manifest in the life

There is an inward germinant power which must make itself felt in a life like his. If a man abide in Christ and Christ dwells within him, then must the heavenly forms of grace and truth which Christ unfolded in His life be manifested, to some extent at least, in His followers, The life of the rose unfolds itself in the fragrance and beauty of the queen of flowers; the life of the lily in immaculate purity; the life of Christ in “love, joy, peace, long suffering, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” which are the fruits of the Spirit. Christ is the great archetype of redeemed humanity, and the life of each believer is an aspect of the image of the Son of God. The conformity of the life to the model of Christ is the test of fellowship with the Father. (A. R. Cocke, D. D.)

Verses 7-11

1 John 2:7-11

Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandments

The old and new commandments

He had been telling them that they were to keep the commandments if they would know God.

Now those people who boasted that they had discovered quite another road to the knowledge of God than this had an especial dislike to the Old Testament. So they would be sure to turn upon him and say, “The commandments! What commandments do you mean? Not those old commandments, surely, which were given to the Jews! You would not bring us back to the law, would you?” He faces them boldly. “I do mean those old commandments,” he says; “I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. I mean, distinctly, that I look upon those old commandments, if they were faithfully kept, as a way to the knowledge of God.” But how? He does not say for a moment that a person merely regarding the commandments as written on stone could keep them. But he says, “The old commandment is the Word which ye have heard from the beginning.” Here is the secret of the whole matter. The commandments were a “word” proceeding from a living God; a “word” addressed to the hearts of human beings. As long as the commandments were looked at only as written and graven in stone they belonged to Israelites. When they were regarded as the words proceeding from the Word which was from the beginning it was intelligible how God had been speaking to other nations; how, though they had not the law, they did by nature the things contained in the law; how they showed the work of the law written in their hearts; how they, as well as the Jews, might seek by patient continuance in well-doing for glory, honour, and immortality. But was there nothing gained by this revelation of the Word in the flesh, by this gospel of His life? Was it not a good thing to be born under the New Testament instead of the Old? “Again,” says St. John, “a new commandment I write unto you; which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” He is a teacher of progress much more truly than those who treated all the past as worthless or evil. He had brought forth a new commandment, not inconsistent with the old, scarcely an addition to it, rather the very essence of it, which yet it was unable to express. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” What was there new in this statement? There was nothing new in the commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” That was old; that St. Paul declares, that St. John declares, that our Lord declares, is implied in all the commandments. Men knew that they ought not to hate their neighbours; that is, men who dwelt near them, who belonged to their own tribe or nation; however often they might do it in spite of their knowledge. The code could not bid them to do more than this. We may say it boldly, no mere code can. But there must be a bond between man and man; there must be a power to make that bond effectual, or the law concerning neighbours will be most imperfectly heeded. The revelation of Christ explains the secret. When He came forth, when His light shone upon men, then it was seen that there is a common Brother of Men; of men, I say, not of Israelites merely. He is the Universal Brother. “Therefore,” says John, “this thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is past and the true light now shineth.” As if He had said, “Now we are come into a new and higher state; the state not only of neighbourhood but of brotherhood.” Are we no more under an obligation? Nay, verily, we come under a new commandment, under a wider and deeper obligation. It is a sin; a sin which punishes itself. For to hate a brother is to walk in darkness. It is to hide ourselves from Him who is our great common brother. It is to live as if the Lord had not appeared. For us to hate our brother--to hate any man--is nothing less than to deny the man, the Son of Man; the common light of men. For us to love our brother is nothing less than to walk in the light of Christ’s presence, nothing less than to be free from all occasion and danger of stumbling. “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Brotherly love

Brotherly love is an old commandment (verse 7) This verse is often represented as though it referred to what the apostle had before said, and not to that which he was about to utter. To me it seems clear that he speaks by anticipation. He adopts a manner of writing which suggests the introduction of a new topic--“Brethren, I write (or am about to write) no new commandment.” Besides, brotherly love is a subject of which such a declaration might with great propriety be made. In making it the apostle imitates the example of his beloved Master, when, in His memorable Sermon on the Mount, He warned His hearers against supposing He was introducing any new doctrine (Matthew 5:17). Brotherly love was no novelty. It arose of necessity out of the relation in which men stood to God and to one another. He was their Creator and they were brethren. Brotherly love was the doctrine of the Old Testament as well as of the New. It need not be added how powerfully these views are enforced when men are regarded as the subjects of grace. They become thus doubly the children of God and brethren one of another.

Yet there is a sense in which it is a new commandment (verse 8). The apostle delights to imitate his Master. He does so not only in his own conduct, but in his very manner of teaching. Of this there is an interesting example in the subject now before us. Of it Jesus said (John 13:34-35). It is after this model John says of brotherly love, “A new commandment I write unto you.” How is this saying to be understood? In one sense it was an old commandment, and in another it was new. It was old, necessarily arising out of the relation of men to one another, and required by the oldest revelation of the Divine will. But it was also new, as it was republished under the Christian economy. It should be more intense than it ever had been. It was hereafter to be formed on the model of Christ’s love. It should be wider in extent as it should be deeper in feeling. Hitherto the Jew confined his regards to his own nation. But in future all such national and sectarian distinctions were to be done away. It should be as high in its motives and aspirations as it was deep in feeling and wide in extent. Both would bring it into fellowship with heaven. Thus it should become the badge of the Christian economy. Judaism had been distinguished by its formal ceremonies, but Christianity would be distinguished by its generous and enlarged catholicity. Taking hold of a few hearts it would bind them together as one man. Thus united, they would operate on the mass of society around them.

Such love is a reality, and is exemplified in Christ and in them that are his (verse 8) As for Christ, His whole life was one burning flame of holy love. And be it observed, all this is summed up by the apostle as an argument for brotherly love in us (Philippians 2:4-11). If we have the mind of Christ it is clear what that must be. A similar account may be given of His early disciples. Like their Master, they denied themselves that they might benefit others. How incredible the hardships they endured! This was the spirit that pervaded the early Church. No other could have sustained it in those days. It was full of the tenderest sympathy, the most ardent love, and the severest self-denial.

It ought to be so, considering the light we enjoy (verse 8).

1. “The darkness is past.”

(1) The darkness of Judaism. It served its purpose.

(2) The darkness of heathenism. The address of the prophet has been made to us (Isaiah 60:1-2).

(3) The darkness of unaided and perverted human reason (1 Corinthians 1:21).

2. “The true light now shineth.”

(1) The light of the Word shineth, “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.”

(2) The light of the spirit shineth (2 Corinthians 3:18).

(3) The light of ordinances now shineth, so that, as of old, of many places it may be said (Matthew 4:16).

(4) The light of Christ shineth (John 12:36). These are our privileges. What then must be our responsibilities?

The apostle’s enforcement of brotherly love by a strong denunciation of its violation and a high commendation of its excellence. (James Morgan, D. D.)

The commandment of love--its oldness and its newness

These words stand between two commandments--that in the sixth verse of the chapter from which my text is taken, to walk as Christ walked, and the commandment of brotherly love contained in verse the ninth. To which of these does the apostle refer here? To both, for in their deepest meaning the two are one. If we walk in the light as Christ walked, then shall we love our brethren, for He loved us and gave Himself for us. Having ascertained what the commandment is, let us consider the two things mentioned concerning it its oldness and its newness. The law of love is as old as human nature itself. First, the faculty of love belongs to man as man--is part of his nature. Second, man has the sense or feeling that love is right, that it is a duty; and that to hate others, or even to be indifferent to them, is wrong. This is the Divine testimony in man’s conscience, a silent commandment which makes itself heard and felt without the use of words. But the precept of love is new as well as old. It was Christ Himself that first called it new. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

1. The prominence and oneness which our Lord gave to it made it new.

2. The perfect realisation of the precept of love in the life of Christ was new. It filled His Spirit, possessed His soul, appeared in His words and works, and was made manifest forever in His passion and death. He did justice to love, honoured it, and showed how beautiful, how noble, and how divine a quality it is; and thus the old commandment was arrayed in new glory.

3. The old precept of love has also a new inspiring power, as seen in the life and character of our Lord.

4. Again, Christ made love the symbol or badge of the Christian Church. It is not by any system of theology, forms of worship, learning, or social position that the true Church is known; but by all that is implied in the great word “love” as it is used in the New Testament.

5. There is an undying freshness in love which makes it ever new. Consider the working of love anywhere, and you will find in it a beauty that never fades, a newness that never withers, a fragrance that never departs. (T. Jones.)

No new commandment

It is scarcely too much of a paradox to say that new knowledge is for the most part a discovery of old truth; we talk in popular language of the discovery of electricity, but the electric power lurked in those same substances since the world began; we talk with delight of the wonderful discoveries made by the spectroscope, but after all those colours were in the sunlight, those elements in the starlight, long before; we discover the marvellous power of steam, but many an earthquake and volcano might have told us something of the power of steam centuries ago; “no new law I write,” the steam engine, the electric current, the light seem to say as they pass on their rapid flight, but “an old law” which ye had from the beginning. And yet as we watch them at work it is a new one; the steam engine is changing the course of commerce and the face of society; the electric current puts a girdle round the world; we know something of the stars and the sun now we never knew before; our ignorance, “our darkness is passing away, and the true light is beginning to shine.” Can we wonder, then, when we turn from the physical to the moral world, the same truth holds good? But our paradox carries us further than this; it is not only true that new knowledge is often only a discovery of old truth, but surely it is also true that not infrequently progress in the world’s best life is only made by the rediscovery of old knowledge. What are we doing in sculpture, except trying to discover how to reach the perfect outline of the Greeks? In painting we still study the old masters; and old inscriptions are showing us how much the ancients knew which we thought once we were discovering for the first time. So also in the moral and religious sphere, what have all the great Christian movements been except re-proclamations of forgotten truths? The Wesleyan movement was but the re-proclamation of the necessity of conversion; the so called Oxford movement was but the calling emphatic attention to the neglected Sacraments; and this at least can be said of the Salvation Army, that it does remind us in the midst of our culture and education of the fact of perishing souls. What, then, is the upshot of all this? First, that we should expect to find God’s final word for the world no new one; we should expect to find His great revelation something which focussed into a new force the scattered rays of old truth; and secondly, we should expect to find that in course of time, from human frailty, fragments even of this great revelation should be forgotten, and that consequently, welling forward, as it were, from its central depths, would have from time to time to shine the forgotten truth.

Now the great commandment, ever old and ever new, is the law of love.

1. “Is it true to history”; is it true that Christianity gathers together and focuses scattered rays of old truth? In dealing with sceptics it is often found that if a saying of our Lord’s can be shown to distantly resemble the saying of some philosopher centuries ago, if the teaching of Plato, or of Seneca, or of Epictetus can be quoted as anticipations or echoes of the Sermon on the Mount or the letters of St. Paul, if sentences of the Lord’s Prayer can be shown to be embedded in Jewish liturgies, therefore it is supposed that a damaging blow has been dealt to His uniqueness and originality. Why! on the contrary we glory in it; we trace in it the action of the Incarnate Word before He is Incarnate; we see Him immanent in the world from the beginning, teaching, controlling, guiding: it is the very thing we are looking for to confirm our faith; and if one thing more than another could be discovered to send home this teaching of brotherhood into our hearts, it is to find that it is no new commandment He gave us when Be came in the flesh, but an old one He had given us from the beginning.

2. “It is true to human nature.” “A planet in our system,” says Bishop Barry, “has three influences playing upon it--it has first its own centrifugal force which bears it on its way, and which if left unbalanced would carry it forward in a straight line; it has on it next the great central influence of the sun, and thirdly it has on it the influence of the other planets,” and he goes on to remind us of the remarkable fact that the planet Neptune was discovered not at first by immediate observation, but by the effect which it had, though unseen, on the orbit of another planet. Now with that picture before us it is not difficult to see that Christianity recognises self. “Not afraid of the shallow taunt of selfishness it tells man plainly that his own personality is a treasure committed to his charge, and that he simply fulfils a law of his being in educating it to perfection, and therefore to happiness in this world and the world beyond the grave.” In other words, we are called by Christianity to self-sacrifice, but we must have a self to sacrifice. A question was asked the other day after an address to some Oxford undergraduates which goes to the root of the matter. Was it wrong to educate a taste for art? was it wrong to go to Venice in the vacation? or to buy a beautiful picture for one’s room? The sincerity of the question was beyond dispute. Putting aside all obvious cautions about extravagance or over-indulgence of taste or cases where, on account of the present distress, it becomes right to waive our rights, as a broad principle, is self-development right or wrong? And we may surely venture most emphatically to answer that it is a duty; that balanced duly by the other influences, the instinct of self-development--the centrifugal force of the planet--must have its place; that it is a short-sighted policy even looked at from the point of view of the human race to crush individuality; that mind and powers developed will have more to give, not less, in the days to come; and that we shall be untrue to history and human nature if we ignore the last revelation we have received--worked out too by human sacrifice and human effort--of personal and individual freedom, for which martyrs have fought and died. But does this contradict or interfere with the law of love? Not for a moment, if we remember whose we are and whom we serve.

3. But is it practicable? Does the law work? And it is a relief to turn away from general principles to reporting of the thing in action; after all, “the only true gospel is the gospel of life.” Now in obedience to the law of love a certain number of the sons of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford come each year to live in the centre of East London; they do it simply and naturally; they make no parade of virtue in doing it; their labour is a labour of love. What is the effect? Does it destroy self? By God’s blessing it helps to destroy selfishness, but not self; it develops self; it transfigures self. It makes men of them; the calls upon their judgment, the claims upon their sympathy, the education of their powers of government, insensibly and slowly make character; they lose their lives only to find them. Has it any effect on their belief in God? We know the dreamy haze in which many of us leave the University: “is the old gospel true after all,” we ask ourselves, “or have we lost it among the maze of modern speculations?” What effect upon this haze has obedience to the law of love? It gives a man back his faith in God; the darkness passes away and the true light begins to shine; and he finds by practical experience the truth of the old saying, “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” And if it ennobles self and clears the vision of God, what has it to say to man? It wins man; man is unable to resist it; it makes him believe in a brotherhood of which he has heard but never seen before; this is a music he can understand.

This brings us to the second thing we might expect to find; we saw that we might expect to find from time to time forgotten depths of even a final revelation swelling forward into the light of day. So weak is human nature, so small its capacity to hold infinite truth, that it has from time to time to relearn piecemeal the faith once delivered to the saints; just as clouds keep gathering round the sun, and then being dispersed, so the darkness of prejudice and selfishness keeps gathering round the sun of revelation; again and again that darkness has to be dispersed, and the true light again and again to shine. Now as we look out upon the world, it is perfectly certain that something has begun to shine which was not there before. Ask people who have been abroad for fifteen or twenty years, and then come back to England, and they will tell you that they are perfectly astonished at what they see. But these things, they will tell you, are but symptoms of an inner change; they find the whole tone different; they find the old class feeling vanishing; they find the heart of one half of the world has begun to go out towards the other. What is the meaning of it? It fronts us, it judges us, it is a fact; and the question is this, Is it to be sneered down as a passing whim or is it part of the life of God? And in upholding that it is part of the life of God which has again found its way through the mists of human selfishness, we may take our stand on three grounds.

1. It was time for it to come; we had learnt the last lesson, we understand the freedom of the individual.

2. It is too strong to be a whim; the true diamond and the diamond of paste are like enough to look at, but you can cut with the one and not the other; this diamond cuts.

3. The colour of the light bears witness to its source; we all may mistake many things at times and many colours, but when we see it in action there is no mistaking the white light of love. And so, in conclusion, we have to ask ourselves, What is to be our attitude towards this brightening light?

(1) And first, surely at any rate, not an attitude of opposition; the most cautious of us can hardly refuse to accede to the counsel of the cautious Gamaliel.

(2) But secondly, the very words of Gamaliel show us that we cannot stop there; if it is of God, and we as Christians are fellow workers with God, then God expects us, He must expect us to help it on. (A. F. W. Ingram, M. A.)

Which thing is true in Him and in you--

The law of love true to the requirements of life

What does he here mean by “true”? In Scripture, as in our daily speech, the word stands not merely for the giving over unchanged by our mind to the mind of another, by words or otherwise, of something we know, so that he shall get it just as we have it. It means often the real instead of the seeming--that which is, not that which we think to be. Not so often it must be taken, as in this place, for that which fits, as a key the lock which it opens, or a medicine the disease which it heals, or a plan the difficulty it solves. That, in short, which puts things right which are wrong, which, disentangling confusion brings about order, supplying wants, stopping gaps, knitting together broken links, making useful that which without it is useless, or beautiful that which by itself is uncomely. That which does this in each case is the “true.” What the apostle, therefore, here means is that the great law of love fits into the facts, the realities, of human nature in the best way, giving it a finished beauty, and putting into it what it lacked for its smooth working. Nothing else, the apostle would tell us, could bring about so much good; and he is sure that we can see this clearly to be the case in Christ and in ourselves. This law of love, he says, “is true in Him and in you.” Without this love all the glory of the life of Christ would be gone. We see how it was needed to make perfect all that He was and did. We see the boundless usefulness of that life to us and to the world. But what good could that life or that death have done but for the love which ruled Christ in both? Think next of yourselves, saith St. John; think how your thoughts, your feelings, your lives, your treatment of others, are all changed. You are happier, you are in all ways better than you were; your old difficulties in dealing with others you now no longer feel. Doubts as to the things it were best for you to do are gone. Whence the change? Has it not clearly followed on your obedience to the law of love? (C. Watson, D. D.)

The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth--

The darkness passing--the light shining

In Christ personally this is true, “that the darkness is passing and the true light is shining.” In so far as this is a continuous process, or progressive experience, it is true of Christ only as He walked on earth. Darkness is upon Him, around Him, in Him; the darkness of the sin with which He comes in contact, the sin which, in its criminality and curse, He makes His own. But, on the other hand, the true light is ever shining upon Him, around Him, in Him; the light of the Father’s loving eye bent upon His suffering Son; the light of His own single eye ever bent upon the Father’s glory. In Him this darkness and this light are incessantly meeting; present always, both of them, vividly present to His consciousness; felt to be real, intensely real--the darkness, however, always as passing; the true light always as now shining.

What is true in Him: should be true in us, and should be realised by us as true in us as in Him. That is the apostle’s new commandment. For we enter into the position of Him in whom, in the first instance, that is true. The commandment to us is to enter into His position. And it is a new position. It is new to everyone with whom the commandment finds acceptance and in whom it takes effect.

1. “The darkness is passing.” Is it so with me, to me, in me? Then all that pertains to the darkness, all that is allied to it, is passing too. It is all like a term in course of being worked out in an algebraic question; a vanishing quantity; a fading colour. Plainly there is here a thoroughly practical test. This darkness is the absence of God. Now I come into contact with this darkness on every hand, at every point. Places, scenes, companies, from which God is shut out; works and ways from which God is shut out; people from whose minds and hearts God is shut out--I am in the midst of them all. Worse than that, they are in me, as having only too good auxiliaries in my own sinful bosom. How do I regard them? Do I cleave to them, to any of them? Would I have them to abide, at least a little longer? Would it pain me to part with them and let them pass? “The darkness is passing.” Is that true in me, as in Christ, with reference not merely to the darkness of this world that has such a hold on me, but also and chiefly to the darkness of my own shutting out of God; the darkness of my shutting out of God from my own conscious guilt and cherished sin? That is darkness indeed. Is it passing? Am I glad of its passing? Or am I in some measure so loving it that I would not have it all at once pass?

2. “The true light is now shining.” This is not represented as a benefit to be got, or as a reward to be reached, after the darkness shall have passed. It is a present privilege or possession. It is true, as a great fact, in you as in Christ, that the true light now shineth. And the fact of its now shining while the darkness is passing is the thing which is to be recognised as true in you as in Christ. That is the “new commandment”; a commandment always new; conveying in its bosom an ever-fresh experience, pregnant with ever-fresh experimental discoveries of Him who is light and who dwells in light. Only act up to this commandment; be ever acting up to it more and more. Enter into the spirit of it, and follow it out to its fair and full issues. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Verses 9-11

1 John 2:9-11

He that … hateth his brother is in darkness

Brotherly love a test and means of being and abiding with guileless spirit in the light instead of walking in darkness


Brotherly love consists in this--that they in whom, as in Christ, this thing is true, that the darkness is passing and the true light is shining, recognise one another as, in that character and on that account, brethren. For, first, in Christ, our position with reference to that darkness is changed from what it naturally is. It is reversed. The terrible flood is not now carrying us away; we stem it holding Him--He holding us. We see it passing. Now all is changed. By grace in Christ I am in a new way. As I feebly open my heavy eyes in the upper atmosphere I am now beginning to breathe, what bright warm beam is that which lightens up the face of Him in whose arms I am, and lightens up my heart as I look and gaze on Him and cling and grow to Him? It is the Father loving me as He loveth Him. It is “the darkness passing and the true light now shining.” Then, as the first confused and rapturous joy of my own narrow escape becomes collected and calm, I look around. And I see Him--for He multiplies Himself and is everywhere--I see Him doing the same kind office to one, and another, and another still, that He is doing to me, I see Him embracing them because He loved them and gave Himself for them. Shall I not hail them as my brethren? Can I hate, or refuse to love, one who is my brother on such a footing as that?

Hence it is that the existence of this brotherly love is a fitting test of our being “in the light.” At all events, the absence of it is conclusive proof that we are not. Light is in itself--in its very nature and bare shining--a great extinguisher of hatred, especially of hatred among those who should be brethren. It is in the darkness that mistakes occur and misunderstandings arise. It is in the darkness that injuries are brooded over and angry passions nursed. If you, brother, and I, are at variance, it is almost certain to be because there is some darkness about us that hinders us from seeing one another clearly. Hence we imagine evil of one another and impute evil to one another. Let in the light. Let us see one another clearly. Differences between us may still remain; our views of many things may be wide as the poles asunder. But we see that we are men of like passions and like affections with one another. The light shows us that we are true brethren in spite of all.

The exercise of brotherly love is fitted to be the means of our continuing in the light, So as to avoid the risk of falling (1 John 2:10). Two benefits are here. First, positively, by means of brotherly love we abide in the light. The law of action and reaction is here very noticeable. Being in the light begets brotherly love, and brotherly love secures abiding in the light. For this brotherly love is simply love to the true light, as I see it shining in my brother as it shines in Christ. And such love to the true light, wherever and in whomsoever it is seen shining as it shines in Christ, must needs cause me to grow up more and more into the true light myself; to grow up into Christ and God in Christ. Secondly, “there is none occasion of stumbling in Him.” This is a negative advantage; but it is great. Saved yourselves by grace, gratuitous and rich and full; loved with an everlasting love; grasped in the arms, in the bosom, of Him in whom and in you, as now one, “the darkness is passing and the true light is now shining”--your spirit is free, your heart enlarged. Being loved, you love. The scales of selfishness fall from off your eyes. Christ sends you to His brethren: “Go tell My brethren.” And as you go to them with Christ’s message and on Christ’s errand, and make them more and more your brethren as they are His, you clearly see your way. He makes it clear. And you walk at liberty when you have respect to all His commandments, “loving your brother, and so abiding in the light.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light--

Moral darkness

Note the solemn and picturesque eloquence of the accessional parallelism in this verse. The inner condition of him who hates his brother--“is in darkness”; the outward life--“walketh in darkness” (Psalms 82:5; Ecclesiastes 2:14). He has lost his point of orientation--“he knoweth not whither he goeth,” to what unsurmised guilt and punishment. Something follows, worse than darkness above--the darkness has not only blinded him, but “blinded his very eyes” once for all. He has lost the very faculty of sight! Could the apostle have thought of creatures who, in dark caverns, not only lose the faculty of sight, but have the visive organs atrophied? Tennyson has presentedthe same image, applying it, however, not to sin, but to sorrow--

“But the night has crept into my heart,

And begun to darken my eyes.”

(Abp. Wm. Alexander.)

Hatred causes stumbling

He who hates his brother stumbles against himself and everything within and without; he who loves has an unimpeded path. (A. J. Bechtel.)

Verses 12-14

1 John 2:12-14

I write unto you, little children


Christians of all ages and ranks are and should be as little children.

1. As little children are newly entered into the world, and beginning their lives, all things are new to them, so whosoever will be saved entereth into a new state by being renewed by the Holy Ghost, and participating of the Divine nature.

2. Having a new life, they look after that which will maintain and keep it up in good vigour; for all creatures that have life have something put into them which attracteth the nourishment proper to that life.

3. In regard of humility, and designs, and contrivances after greatness in the world. They that become as little children seek not after dominions and dignities and honours.

4. Innocent and harmless as a child, who, though infected with sin, and must be saved by Christ as others of grown age, yet cannot act sin.

Such who are as little children have obtained remission of sins for Christ’s name’s sake.

1. “What is forgiveness of sins?

(1) It is a judicial action of God. One man forgiveth another; for our heavenly Father requireth that (Matthew 18:35). But our forgiveness is an act of charity or duty imposed upon us. God’s forgiveness is an act of authority, as He is the Governor and Judge of the world.

(2) By which He doth freely and fully release from the guilt of all our transgressions.

(a) Freely. God doeth it, and that without any cost to us (Isaiah 3:3).

(b) It is full; as God pardoneth freely, so also fully, and not by halves; universally, and not a few sins only.

(c) It is a release from the guilt of our transgressions. Properly if is the obligation to punishment which God releaseth us from. A reprieve only deferreth execution, but a pardon wholly preventeth it.

(d) The object of this pardon is the penitent believer; and that faith is required (Acts 10:43).

(e) This sin is forgiven without requiring satisfaction or punishment of the sinner.

2. How it is obtained.

(1) Sin, a transgression of the law, a debt, as being a wrong done against God, obliging the sinner either to repair God in point of honour, or to lie under the wrath of God for evermore; for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

(2) There is no deliverance from this debt of sin, or obligation to wrath because of sin, but by pardon and forgiveness.

(3) There is some hope of forgiveness, because God forbeareth the worst, and doth not stir up all His wrath against them. They have food, and raiment, and ease, and liberty, and friends and wealth, and honour. Everything about us proclaimeth the goodness of this God with whom we have to do (Acts 14:17).

(4) Though forgiveness may be probably hoped for from God’s goodness and mercy as represented in common providence, yet till there be a satisfaction for the offence, and we may have our pardon granted with the good leave of provoked justice, the soul can have no satisfaction. The grand scruple that haunts the guilty creature is how shall God be appeased? (Micah 6:7.)

(5) It was agreeable to the honour and wisdom of God that those who would have benefit by this remedy should be sensible of the weight which is upon them, and humbly confess their sins, and with brokenness of heart sue out their pardon.

(6) It is fit also that those who would sue out their pardon in this humble and submissive way should acknowledge their Redeemer, and thankfully accept of the benefit procured by Him, and offered to them in His name; and heartily consent to His covenant to be brought home to God again, that they may be fully recovered out of their lapsed condition.

Such as have obtained remission of sins are bound to express their gratitude and thankfulness to God by new obedience.

1. That they may not undo what is done, and so build again the things they have destroyed (Galatians 2:17-18).

2. That we may make good our qualification. Certain it is that none are pardoned but those that are renewed and born again; for the application of the merit of Christ and the gift of the Spirit are inseparable (1 Corinthians 6:11). S. To express their gratitude and thankfulness (2 Corinthians 5:14).

4. Because they have great encouragements (Psalms 130:4). Use--

1. Let me now exhort you to seek after the pardon of sins. To this end--

(1) Consider your necessity.

(2) Consider the grounds and hopes of pardon; God’s merciful nature and self-inclination to pity us.

(3) Consider what a blessed comfort it is to have sin forgiven (Psalms 32:1-2). Use--

2. To stir us up not to offend God any more, or provoke Him to anger by our sins. (T. Manton, D. D.)

A sermon to the Lord’s little children

I want the babes in grace, the weak in faith, to notice their privilege. “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.”

1. This is a privilege extremely desired by the little children. They have but lately felt the burden of guilt; the Spirit of God has but newly convinced them of sin; and, therefore, above everything, their prayer is, “Father, forgive me.” To the freshly saved it is a joy worth worlds to have their sins forgiven; and this joy belongs of right to all the saints, yea, even to the little children in the family of God. The pardon of sin is as the pearl of great price to you in your present stage of spiritual life; you would have sold all that you had in order to procure it; and now that you have it your heart is aglow with gratitude. Far be it from me to stay your holy joy, and yet the Lord will show you greater things than these.

2. At your stage of experience pardon is the most prominent blessing of the covenant. The newly pardoned does not yet see the innumerable other blessings which come in the train of forgiveness; he is for the present absorbed in the hearing of that one sentence, “Go in peace; thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee.” Pardon is but an entrance blessing, a welcome at the doorstep: there are rarer joys within the house. You have become an heir to a boundless inheritance; all things are yours; heaven, and Christ, and God are yours.

3. Here let me observe that the forgiveness of sins is assuredly the possession of the new beginner in the Divine life.

4. Note, also, that your sins are forgiven you on the same terms as those of the apostle, and the greatest of the saints: your sins are forgiven you for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of His glorious person, for the sake of His honourable offices, for the sake of His atoning death, for the sake of His glorious resurrection, for the sake of His perpetual intercession before the throne of God.

5. Now notice that this is the reason why John wrote to you, little children. The moment, then, that a man has his sins forgiven, he is old enough to begin to understand that which is written, and he should become a Bible reader.

I have to speak of the knowledge of these little children. “I have written unto you, little children, because ye have known, or know, the Father.” The tiniest babe in the family of God knows the Father.

1. For, as we have seen, his sins are forgiven him. By whom is that pardon given? Why, by the Father; and, therefore, he that has had his sins forgiven him necessarily knows the Father.

2. Moreover, this is a piece of knowledge which the child of God obtains very early in his spiritual life; for whatever a child does not know, he knows his father. Little children, you know God now in your spiritual childhood. You could not write a treatise upon His attributes; but you know Him by the instinct of a child. Little children, the result of your knowing God as your Father is that when He is away from you you are in the habit of crying after Him. On the other hand, when you do get to your Father you show that you love Him by the perfect restfulness of your spirit. In God you are at home. The presence of God is the paradise of the believer. This also is true, that you seek to imitate Him. Would you not be perfect if you could? If you could, would you not be rid of every sin? And do you not glory in Him? Little children when they begin to talk, and go to school, how proud they are of their father! We cannot make enough of our God. We extol Him with all our might. With the blessed virgin we sing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”

The precepts which John has written for your guidance. First, look at 1 John 2:1-29. “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not.”

1. That is the first precept--little children, sin not. Children are very apt to get into the mire. There is so much of carnality about us, so much of the old Adam, that the question is not into which sin we fall, but into which sin we do not fall. Like the pendulum, we swing to the right hand and then to the left: we err first in one way and then in another; we are ever inclined to evil. Avoid every sin. Ask for the grace of God to sanctify you wholly, spirit, soul, and body.

2. Further on in this second chapter the apostle writes to them again, and tells them (1 John 2:18) that it is the last time, and that there are many antichrists abroad. You will have to run your eye right down the chapter till you come to 1 John 2:24, for that is what he says to little children, because there are many antichrists in the world that would seduce them; “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning.” Little children are very fickle. The toys which they cry for one day they break the next; young minds change with the wind. So, little children, there are many evil ones who will endeavour to seduce you from the truth of God, it is well to be on your guard against those who would mislead you. Till we are rooted and grounded in the truth, new things have great charms for us, especially if they have about them a great show of holiness and zeal for God. “Little children, let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning,” leave to others the soon-exhausted novelties.

3. Little children, here is a third precept for you (1 John 2:28). “And now, little children, abide in Him.” Let the truth abide in you, and do you abide in Christ, who is the truth. What next?

4. Read on to 1 John 3:7 --“Little children, let no man deceive you.” Children are very credulous; they will believe any idle tale if it be told them by a clever and attractive person. Little children, believe your Saviour, but be not ready to believe anybody else.

5. Further on (1 John 3:18) we read, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

6. You have the next word in 1 John 4:4 --“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Satan dwells in the world, and he is mighty; but God dwells in you, and He is almighty; therefore be not afraid.

7. The last precept to little children is at the end of the Epistle. Care fully read the last verse--“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” I do not think you are likely to fall in love with the idols of the heathen and bow down to them; but there are plenty of other gods which are the idols of one period and the derision of the next. Keep you to Christ. Ask not for pomp and show; ask not for noise and bluster; ask for nothing but that your sins may be forgiven you, that you may know the Father, and then that you may abide in Christ, and be full of love to all the family of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The gospel to the young

What is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the young?

1. It appeals to their conscience, for youth has a conscience, a very sensitive conscience. How the boy blushes when he tells his first lie. The soul of the boy shrinks from sin at first. How penitent he is for the angry blow or the cruel word. May I not tell that child how sin may be put away? Ah, we tell the child, and we tell him today, that the lie will grow, and that the habit will increase.

2. It is also a gospel to the heart. I believe in making religion a personal thing, in bringing before the child, or the growing boy, the Lord Jesus Christ as a living, loving person, One who feels for him, and One who knows him.

3. It is a gospel which appeals to the admirations. It tells the child of the wondrous promises of God, and the little child’s admiration is kindled.

4. It is the gospel to the energies. It represents life as a vineyard to be planted, as a battle to be fought, as a work to be done. The gospel to the young tells them that if they grow up there is work for them to do.

5. It is a gospel of aspirations. Youth is the time of hope. Youth is the time of ambitions. And the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ recognises that, and will never laugh at the young Joseph because he has dreamed that other sheaves are coming and bowing down to his sheaf. But remember, boy, the sheaves will never bow down to your sheaf unless you take off your coat, and sharpen your sickle, and get to work. Life is not simply to be dreamed away. (E. A. Stuart, M. A.)

The Father and His children

Having shown what God is, and what follows from that, what Christ is, and also what follows from that, St. John now tells his readers what by the grace of God they themselves are, and what follows from that. St. John’s description of Christians.

In their unity, or as to the things they have in common.

1. A common life (verse 12). “Children” is one of the standing terms in this Epistle for all Christians of all ages and ranks; and the great truth to which this term witnesses is the kinship of all Christian people.

2. We are all feeble in power, partial in knowledge, fractious in temper, imperfect in all things. If Newton at the height of his career felt himself a child strolling on the shore of a fathomless sea; if St. Paul at the height of his inspiration felt that his views of truth were imperfect, “for now I know in part, and prophesy in part”; if Michael Angelo at eighty said, “I carry my satchel still”--still like a little child going every day to school to learn a new lesson; if J.R. Green, with all his mine of knowledge, said, “I shall die learning”; surely, then, we must feel that the term “little ones” is no piece of apostolic play fulness, no mere pet name prompted by St. John’s great love, but a strictly accurate description of us all.

3. Faith in His name, i.e., in Himself, as revealed by Him self to us--is the first religious act of man. Forgiveness in His name is the first religious gift of God. Faith and forgiveness constitute the first act of reciprocity, of give and take between God and man. Now forgiveness of sin is the third fact common to all Christians. All Christians are akin. All are imperfect. All are for given.

4. To know the Father means to live in direct personal communion with the Father--personally to love Him, to obey Him, to draw near Him in prayer and praise. To live with regard to God not like an orphan whose father is a mere memory or a hearsay, but like a child whose father is alive and at home, who sees him every day, knows him better and loves more as each day passes--that is the crowning feature of the Christian life.

In their variety.

1. Knowledge is the feature of age. “I write unto you, fathers, because ye know.” You cannot begin your Christian life with knowing; you must begin with believing. Life--only a life of action for God can change belief into knowledge.

2. Young men, there is a fight before you. Mrs. Oliphant, in one of her weird stories, tells of a secret chamber in a haunted castle, where dwelt for ages a bad ancestor of a lordly race, keeping himself alive by unholy arts. Every heir of that house on his twenty-first birth day was compelled to enter the chamber alone and meet the temptations of this evil man. One by one they fell into the snare; till one came who discarded the sword given him, and met the tempter in God’s name, and conquered. Well, that weird ghost story is our own life story. All men and all women meet that spectre. We would protect you young folk; we would save you the temptation in the wilder ness; but it may not be. Hell will assault you at every point of your nature. Now a young man’s strength in that dread hour depends on how much of God’s Word he has in him. (J. M. Gibbon.)

Christians as little children

St. John here considers the children of God, whom, as previously, he calls little, not contemptuously, but in reference to known infirmities, abbreviated knowledge, and feeble progress. The greatest saint, after all, is but as a little child, as it respects attainments in virtue and knowledge. As a giant, beside a pyramid of Egypt, is but as a pigmy; and the whole earth, compared with the universe in which it rolls, but a small planet; and its loftiest peaks as mites on its surface when compared with its bulk; so God’s worshippers, compared with Him, the Omniscient, the Omnipresent, and the Eternal, are as nothing. The wisest are the most humble, because they know how little they know, and how much of truth there remains to be known; which, as an ocean, lies before them in fathomless depths. Like those who climb mountains of ashes, who slide back as they make the progressive step, so we, through defective education, and from our own negligence, have to unlearn, as well as to learn; and, after all, are but learners still, and but as children, who are apt to stay, liable to fall, and who require continually to look up to the All-wise and All-good. To little children, even the babes in Christ, St. John proclaims the most consoling truth, viz., that their sins are forgiven. Our blessed Lord authorises us to be happy, when it is thus with us, saying, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.” To have our sins forgiven is to have life indeed; all are most miserable till then, however unjustly gay or blindly secure. (John Stock, M. A.)

Young Christians to be cared for

The true pastor careth for every member of Christ’s body committed to His trust. He does not regard the cedars and the oaks only; but also the tender plants and shrubs in the garden of the Lord. (John Stock, M. A.)

Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake--

God’s glory in the forgiveness of sin for His name’s sake

“For His name’s sake!” These petitions which occur frequently in the Book of Psalms have been granted to the very letter. “For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name. Deliver us, purge away our sins, for Thy name’s sake.” You must be aware that the expression “the name of the Lord” is used frequently in Scripture to denote, generally, His nature and attributes. Indeed, “the name of the Lord” is put virtually for God Himself; so that what is said to be done for the sake of His name might be regarded as done for His own sake by God. And you will find that when employed as a motive or reason, there is a prevalence in God’s name which is assigned to no other plea.

You cannot mark more distinctly the alteration wrought by Christ on human condition than by representing Him as placing us in such a position that we can ask God for His own sake to pardon iniquity. It is true that prayer, from its very nature, must correspond to the dictates of the Divine attributes, or the demands of the Divine glory; in other words, what our necessities impel us to ask, must be just what God, in compliance with His own properties, can be ready to bestow; else there is no hope of the acceptance of our petitions; but that this should be possible in respect of the forgiveness of sin is a marvel which overwhelms us, even when familiar with the scheme of redemption. The glorious, the stupendous thing in this scheme is, that it consulted equally for God and man; that it made the Divine honour as much interested as human necessity in the granting of pardon to all who would accept. Justice itself, holiness itself--these not only permit our pardon, they demand our glorification. In short, we can not only ask God to forgive in the hope that His compassion may incline Him to show favour, we can take the bold and unassailable ground of asking Him to forgive “for His name’s sake.” When the Psalmist asked for forgiveness, he asked it for the sake of God’s name. Indeed, the Psalmist was not privileged to “see the things which we see, or to hear the things which we hear.” He may not have been allowed to discern the exact process; but, in common with other patriarchs and saints under the old dispensation, he had reached a firm assurance that God stood pledged to provide a ransom; that, therefore, the Divine honour was indissolubly bound up with the pardon of sin. And this sufficed. But if David, living only in the twilight of revelation, taught only through the mysteriousness of prophecy and type--if he believed that pardon might be asked for the sake of God’s name, shall not we acknowledge the fact--we, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth Crucified amongst us”--we, who know that “God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”--we, who are taught that “all the promises of God are yea in Christ, and in Him amen”?

Consider more particularly the comfort derivable from this great truth, that it is “for His name’s sake” that God forgives sin. And we may here say, that since God forgives sin for His own sake, there is no room whatever for fear that our sins are too great to be pardoned. We may even go so far as to declare, that if it be always for the sake of His own name that God acts when pardoning iniquity, then the greater the iniquity the greater the reason why He should forgive. David would seem to have felt this when he prayed--“For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” Human sinfulness has been turned into the widest field for the display of Divinity, so that on the arena of this ruined creation there may be such a manifestation of all that is majestic in Godhead as should serve to make it a theatre of instruction to the highest order of being. And we cannot hesitate to maintain that it is the greatness of moral evil which has made His interference so honourable to the Almighty. It was a case, if we dare use the expression, worthy the succours of the Godhead. When a Manasseh, who had sinned beyond all that went before, is forgiven, and Paul, who had thirsted for the “blood of the saints,” is reconciled unto God, we feel that every attribute which pardon glorifies must be glorified in the highest possible degree. If He was glorified in stilling the tempest, He must be most glorious when that tempest is fiercest. And though when the transgressor remembers that his sins have been numerous and heinous, or that his iniquity has been specially flagrant, if he had to ask forgiveness for his own sake, he might well be discouraged, yet when he calls to mind that if God forgives at all, He must forgive “for His name’s sake,” it should not be the greatness of his sin which can withhold him from prayer. The bitter impiety of the reckless is not more offensive to our Maker than the suspicion that He is unwilling to receive back the prodigal. Such suspicion throws doubt upon the truth of His Word; and what can be imagined more derogatory to the honour of God? You are expressly told that God “willeth not the death of a sinner,” but rather that all would repent and live. Is this true? God saith it. Will you deny it? Will you falsify it? Yet you do if you fear to come to Him, because you know, because you feel that your transgressions are great, that your offences are multiplied. Whom did Christ die for? The guilty. Whom does He intercede for? The guilty. “The name of the Lord,” saith Solomon, “is a strong tower.” If so, why should we not “flee to it and be safe,” forasmuch as to “little children” an apostle could say, “Your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake”? (H. Melvill, B. D.)

For His name’s sake

Living in the joy and light of the Divine Fatherhood, the Apostle John had come to regard all disciples of Jesus as children; and as the beauty of a child is in its childhood, its littleness, its unassertiveness, its dependableness, the apostle seems to have a delight in speaking of the disciples of Jesus as little children, remembering doubtless the little child that Jesus took and set in the midst of those disciples who were wrangling about greatness and place and position. I think there is much of instruction, and no little of comfort for us if only we will try and see things as the Apostle John sees them. He acknowledges the dark fact of sin, the bright fact of forgiveness, and the brightest of all facts--that forgiveness is based on the relation which Jesus Christ has established between Himself and us. One is weary of hearing of secular education as a cure for the sinfulness of man’s nature. I am sure that an eloquent writer of our day is right on this--that if the influence of the outpoured life of Christ were withdrawn from our world, sins would not only increase incalculably in number, but the tyranny of sin would be fearfully augmented, and it would spread among a greater number of people. It is a new disposition, a new heart which man needs, and the outpoured life of God in Christ is necessary to produce that; as necessary to produce it as the outpoured radiance of the sun is necessary to produce the fruits of the earth by which our physical nature is sustained. Therefore it is that the Apostle John goes far deeper than to connect the forgiveness of sin with repentance for sin; he connects it with the relationship we sustain to Christ and the relationship He sustains to us. Some one asks--why is it necessary that Jesus the Christ of God should put Himself into the relations towards us which have been established, in order that the Everlasting Father may forgive sins? Why cannot He say to the sorrowing man, “I forgive you,” and have done with it?

1. There are reasons in His own nature. When God undertakes to forgive sin He pledges Himself to rescue the forgiven man from his sin. In a word, He undertakes to regenerate his nature, to renew it so that he shall eventually live the unsinning life. And in order to that, Jesus Christ and His work are necessary.

2. There are reasons in the nature of man. To forgive a sinner and leave him to the helplessness which has come from his sin is only half forgiveness. Man needs to be brought into such an understanding of God and into such a love of God that he will hate to sin against Him. In order to that, Christ Jesus and His sacrifice of Himself are necessary.

3. There are reasons, too, in the Divine government. It must be made universally evident that there is no righteous reason for rebellion against God on the part of any. (R. Thomas.)

Verse 13

1 John 2:13

Fathers,…young men,…little children

The successive stages of life

Here the aged apostle has a message of affection for every class and age of Christian disciples.

And is it not wise for Christian teachers occasionally to proclaim to Christians some message designedly appropriate to each particular stage? For the cycle of man’s fleeting life, like the cycle of the revolving year, has its succession of seasons--its springtime of childhood, its summer of youth, its autumn of maturity, and its winter of old age. Each of these succeeding seasons of life has its own joys and sorrows, weakness and strength, temptations, besetting sins, and preventing graces. And the gospel has a message appropriate for each period in life.

It has, first of all, a message for little children. Very beautiful and wonderful it is to think of Jesus, the Son of God, as the Babe of Bethlehem, passing through every stage of infancy, with all a child’s trials, thoughts, hopes, fears, imaginings. Never before, in the history of the world, had any religion taken little children so closely and so warmly to its heart. And do not little children stand in need of the gospel of Christ? A child’s life is often a very mingled life. Heaven often lies about us in our infancy, but often also heaven seems to flee quite far away. In every fortress of innocence there lurks some evil traitor, waiting to hand over the keys of the citadel to the temptations crouching at the gates. Little children, therefore, need all the help which parental discipline and affection, Combined with religious education and good companionship, can render in their conflict against evil. But, my children, you cannot lead good and beautiful lives by simply trusting to your training. In religion, as in all things else, self-help and firm resolve are of the greatest importance.

Now pass from childhood to the second stage of life--youth. The season of youth is a very glad and glorious time. It has all the freshness of spring and all the fertility of summer. Yet it is a season of great and frequent perils. And Jesus, the Son of God, under stood both its glory and its danger (Mark 10:17-22). The self-sacrificing love of Christ is the most powerful of all magnets for attracting the devotion of the young. What young man who steadfastly gazes upon the spectacle of the Cross can withstand its blessed influence and its strong, appealing power? To show thee the pitiless violence of sin, as well as to enable thee to conquer it, Christ gave Himself up for thee with broken heart, yet unbending determination, upon the cruel Cross. Wilt thou not, then, make Him thy hero, thy model, thy all-inspiring friend?

Our text has also a message for the aged. Old age, like every other season of life, has its own besetting sins and its own appropriate graces. The forms of sin change with the changing course of years. As the hot fires of vigour die down into cold cinders of decrepitude, the gay, thoughtless, and softly indulgent youth hardens into the cynical, envious, covetous, ambitious old man. On the other hand, old age has also its special graces. Especially do these graces shine in those who, “from the beginning,” have been true and faithful unto Christ. He will not disdain the gleanings of your latest years, if with all your heart you truly seek Him. But for you, conscript fathers of the Church of Christ, there is a richer and a brighter message. You have known Christ from the beginning of your pilgrimage. You were faithful in the bursting freshness of spring, in the wearying heats of summer. You know by this time what God is; you have proved Him to the uttermost in childhood, youth, and maturer years. Experience has taught you that He never fails. And so for you there remains the special grace of the aged--the grace which transfigures the wrinkled face with the radiance of inward joy, and sets the golden crown of perfect peace upon the snowy head. For you, the seed graces of spring and the flower graces of summer, have developed into the rich fruit graces of autumn. Self-control has ripened into self-conquest; kindness has been hallowed into love; the heavy morning of self-denial has brightened into the cloudless day of self-repose; the toil of the ascent has been repaid by the landscape from the summit. Nor is this all. The sunset, too, is glorious. And after sunset, as the twilight of evening deepens into the darkness of night, the stars begin to peep in the roof of heaven, stars which were invisible by day. And when death itself shall appear to you, ye old and faithful servants of the Lord, it will be not death, but victory. (Canon Diggle.)

The guileless spirit abiding in the light in its threefold aspect of childhood, fatherhood, and youth

These verses form, I think, a break or interruption in the apostle’s line of argument. John calls upon those to whom he writes to consider, not only what he is writing to them, but what they themselves are to whom he is writing; what he is entitled to assume in and about them as likely to ensure a favourable reception of his message.

Considered in itself, the appeal recognises, on the one hand, a common character in all believers, that of “little children,” and on the other hand a distinction between “fathers” and “young men.”

1. In addressing us all as little children, John makes a distinction between his first and his second appeal. It is the same thought in reality, only put in somewhat different lights. For the Father is truly known, only in the forgiveness of our sins for His Son’s name’s sake.

2. The appeal is next made to the two classes or companies into which we may be divided: those who are fathers in Israel, and those who are young men.

It stands between two opposite precepts; the one positive, the other negative. “Love the brotherhood” (verses 9-11); “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (verse 15). To love the Father, and the brethren as the Father’s family; not to love the world lying in the wicked one; these are the contrasted commands between which the apostle’s earnest and affectionate appeals occur. The entrance of the light into the world, its entrance into the hearts of as many as are in Christ, necessarily causes a division. It unites by a new bond of brotherhood the children of the light among themselves. And it separates between them and the world. The separation, or distinction, is not of their own making, but of God’s. He is in the light. He is Himself the Light. It is He who is the Divider, and not they. Nor is the distinction of such a sort as to feed or nurse vaingloriousness on our part, or to be invidious as regards the world. Far otherwise. It is fitted to humble us in the very dust, as often as we think of what we are in ourselves, and but for sovereign mercy must ever have been; of what many, very many, around us are; less guilty, by many degrees, than we; and more likely than we to win, not only earth’s approval, but, one would almost say, even Heaven’s favourable regard too. What am I? And what are they? (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Three stages of natural and Christian life: the distinction of three sort of Christians, “fathers,” “young men,” and “little children”

1. Though spiritual growth be most considerable here, yet natural age is not altogether to be excluded. God hath people of all sorts and sizes, some old, some in the freshness of youth, others that are but newly got out of infancy and childhood. For fathers or old men, we read of Paul the aged (Philemon 1:9) and of Mnason an old disciple (Acts 21:16). Among young men we read of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:3), of good Obadiah (1 Kings 18:12), of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:18), of Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15). Hosanna was not displeasing to Christ in little children (Matthew 21:15-16). Well, then, people of all ages should apply themselves to religion. Old men excuse themselves, they are too old to interest themselves in Christ; and the children are not ripe, and young men are otherwise occupied; but fathers for age should be also fathers for knowledge and godliness (Proverbs 16:31). On the contrary, how sad is it when men have spent many years unfruitfully, and are acquainted with all other things but God and their own souls, and have not as yet begun to live spiritually; when they have one foot in the grave, and are as good as dead already! You never begin to live till you live in Christ. You have but told over so many summers and winters; all that time is lost that is spent in your unregeneracy. A man may be long at sea, and yet make but a short voyage. Oh, bethink yourselves before your hoary head go down to the grave in sorrow! Submit to this work before it be too late. Chimneys long foul, if they be not swept, are fired at length.

2. For young men, it concerneth them to apply their hearts to godliness. There is an ignorant conceit that it is not so necessary for young men to study the Scriptures, or to trouble themselves much with thinking of heaven, because they are lusty, and likely to live many years, and therefore think it more fit for them to mind the things of this life, and let old men alone to think of heaven and holiness. Our apostle was not of this mind. Scripture biddeth us “remember our Creator in the days of our youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Our best and flowery years should be consecrated to God. And David would have the “young man cleanse his way” (Psalms 119:9). It is but reason that God, that gave all, should have our first and best; they glorify God most who begin with Him soonest. The lusts of youth being boiling hot, need the correction of a more severe discipline. The devil layeth most snares for them, as those who are most prone to sin, who are like to serve him longest; and therefore, that they may not be caught in Satan’s snares they should begin with God betimes. A good man may remember old sins with new fears that they are not pardoned. Now afflictions may awaken the sense of old sins, as old bruises trouble us a long time after upon every change of weather.

3. For babes or little children; they being born in sin must also be born again. Surely they that have the education of children belonging to them should season them betimes with good principles; they find the benefit of it ever afterward. Scripture often inviteth us to a careful education of them; and there be many promises of good success (Proverbs 22:6). Dye the cloth in the wool, and not in the web, and the colour is the more durable. God worketh strangely in children, and many times rare things are found in them beyond expectation. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Spiritual growth

1. There is a great difference among Christians; all are not of one stature, strength, and growth in godliness; as here, there are fathers, young men, and babes. He supposeth the more elderly will be fathers in Christ, and that everyone hath profited according to his time and standing. God created Adam and Eve in their full perfection, but doth not regenerate us into our full stature in Christ.

2. It may fall out that the elder Christians may be babes in Christ, and the younger Christians rather fathers for their longer experience in the things of God, and for the better government of their passions. David when young was wiser than his enemies, than his teachers, than the ancients (Psalms 119:100). Gracious abilities come not from age, but from the Spirit. Ancient men try several conclusions to their own loss; but God is more ancient than they, and at one prospect seeth all things; if He will direct me I am safe. Joseph young, at seventeen years old, was wiser than his brethren. Daniel and his fellows ten times more than all the astrologers and magicians, though children (Daniel 1:17-20). And many times youth goeth before the aged in ripeness of wisdom, and in solid manners, though they are so much behind them in number of years.

3. As to spiritual growth, some may be weak and strong, young and old at the same time, in different respects, as we see by experience. Some are weak in knowledge and unsettled in the faith, who yet have a good zeal towards God, and are temperate, just, and holy, and have a great command over their affections and passions. On the other side, some are of a good understanding, and they come behind in no gift, yet are subject to carnal passions and affections, and so are babes in that respect (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). A spiritual people is not a people of parts, knowledge, and abilities, but of grace and sanctification.

4. There is a wonderful difference between Christians and themselves at sundry times; so that these three degrees may be coincident. The gravest father may be as weak as the youngest child, as violently tempted as the young man. Satan’s design is against the spiritual Christian, and those who are more eminent than others, to throw them into the mire, that religion may have the greater wound and dishonour. In violent gusts of wind, even cedars may fall to the ground. Therefore, as we grow in grace, we should increase in humility and godly fear.

5. All this doth not hinder but that some from their settled constant frame may be called “fathers,” “young men,” and “babes.”

(1) Fathers are such who, through long experience and much acquaintance with a godly life, do walk more constantly, cheerfully, and fruitfully in the ways of God than others do.

(2) Young men in Christ are such as have most courage, resolution, and earnestness, yet not that experience which Christ’s old servants have gotten; a middle sort of Christians, not so settled as the aged, nor yet altogether so weak as babes. They are more exercised with temptations, and a life of conflicts, as having many rebellious passions to subdue, which being irritated by the suggestions of Satan and the baits of sense, do put them to no small trouble.

(3) There are babes or little children.

Use--1. If there be “fathers,” “young men,” and “children,” then--

(1) Let us “not despise the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10), not in ourselves nor others.

(2) Let us not despise the meanest degree of grace in others. Time was when everyone was a babe in Christ, and time may be when those who are but babes may grow old men (Matthew 20:16).

Use--2. Let us consider in what rank we are, that we may wisely apply ourselves to the duties proper to our condition. Usually that which old men want is fervour; that which young men want, if they know their hearts, is sincerity; the one must beg quickening grace, as David doth often in Psalms 119:1-176.

Use--3. To awaken us to labour after the highest rank of grace. God is the more honoured the more fruitful we are (Philippians 1:9). (T. Manton, D. D.)


Fathers in Christ

1. St. John says, “I write,” and by and by, “I have written,” this shows, I think, the importance of his subject. If he has already written upon it, he must think it to be a very necessary truth if he writes upon it yet again. Foundation stones should be laid with scrupulous care; and truth, which is fundamental, should be repeated by the teacher till the disciple has learned it beyond all fear of ever forgetting it.

2. This form of speech also reveals the unchanging conviction of the writer, who, having written once, is glad to write the same things again. This shows a mind made up and decided, from which proceeds consistent testimony. If we live a thousand years, at the close of life we shall have nothing more nor less to say than the imutable truth of God. We hope to understand the truth better, but we shall never discover better truth.

3. “I write,” and “I have written,” also indicate the abiding need of men: they require the same teaching from time to time. Men’s natures are still the same, men’s spiritual conflicts and dangers are still the same, and hence the same truth is suitable, not only from day to day, but from century to century. Though we can now digest the solid meat of the kingdom, yet the children’s bread has lost none of its relish in our esteem.

Who are the fathers?

1. We usually associate that idea somewhat with age; but we must take care that we do not make a mistake here, because age in grace, albeit that it may run parallel with age in nature in many cases, does not always do so. In the Church of God there are children who are seventy years old. One would not like to say of a man of eighty that he had scarcely cut his wisdom teeth, and yet there are such. On the other hand, there are fathers in the Church of God, wise, stable, instructed, who are comparatively young men. The Lord can cause His people to grow rapidly, and far outstrip their years. From their early youth they have a discernment of God’s Word, and a quickness of apprehension wonderful to notice. More than that, I have even observed a depth of experience within a very short time granted to certain young believers, so that though they were but youths in age they were fathers in piety. Nevertheless, as a usual thing, it is to be expected that advancement in grace should be accompanied with advancement in years. These are the fathers, then, men who have aged in grace, have come to the full development of their spiritual manhood, and have been confirmed in that development by the test of time and trials.

2. “Fathers,” again, are persons of maturity, men who are not raw and green, not fresh recruits. These men know what they know, for they have thought over the gospel, studied it, and have embraced it with full intensity of conviction.

3. “Fathers,” again, are men of stability and strength. As the Spartans pointed to their citizens as the real walls of Sparta, so do we point to these substantial men as, under God, the brazen walls and bulwarks of the Church. Men who are well taught, confirmed, experienced, and trained by the Spirit of God are pillars in the house of our God.

4. The fathers of the Church are men of heart, who naturally care for the souls of others.

5. Having this care upon him the father comes to be tender; he partakes somewhat of the tenderness of a mother, and thus is called a nursing father. Sympathetic care and hearty tenderness are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and will bring you a happiness which will richly compensate you for your pains.

6. Not yet have I quite reached the full meaning of a father; for the father is the author, under God, of the being of his children; and happy is a Church that has many in it who are spiritual parents in Zion, through having brought sinners to Christ.

What is the prominent characteristic of a father in Christ? “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.”

1. Observe here the concentration of their knowledge. Twice he says, “Ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” Now, a babe in grace knows twenty things: a young man in Christ knows ten things: but a father in Christ knows one thing, and that one thing he knows thoroughly. Oh, to have one heart, one eye, for our one Lord, and for Him alone!

2. Note the peculiarity of their knowledge as to its object: they know “Him that was from the beginning.” Do not the babes in Christ know the Lord Jesus? Yes, they do; but they do not know Him in His full character. They know Him as having forgiven their sins, and that is much, but it is not all. Yes, and as I grow and become a young man, I approach nearer to Jesus, and get another view of Him; for I overcome the wicked one even as He did, and thus I stand side by side with Him in the conflict. But if I come to be a father I enter into fellowship with the great Father Himself; for it is union with God the Father that makes a man a father in God. When you become a father in Christ you see Christ from the Father’s point of view; not as newly come to save, but as “from the beginning” the Saviour of men. The father in grace rejoices to behold the Lord Jesus as God: he beholds the glory of His adorable person as forever with the Father or ever the earth was. He sees that covenant even from of old ordered in all things and sure in the hand of Him that was from the beginning. There is one point that the father in Christ delights to think upon, namely, that the coming of Christ was not an expedient adopted after an unforeseen disaster in order to retrieve the honour of God; but he understands that the whole scheme of events was planned in the purpose of Divine wisdom for the glorifying of Christ, so that from the beginning it was part of Jehovah’s plan that Jesus should take upon Himself human nature, and should manifest in that nature all the attributes of the Father.

3. I want to notice again, that this knowledge is in itself special: the knowledge itself is remarkable as well as the object of the knowledge. “Ye have known Him.” Yes, we do know the Lord as a living, bright reality, a daily friend, councillor, and companion. True fathers in grace not only know the Lord by much meditation, but they know Him by actual intercourse; they walk with Him, they talk with Him. They look upon matters not from man’s standpoint, but from Christ’s point of view, and hence they understand much of the Lord’s ways which aforetime were dark to them. He who very deeply sympathises with a man knows Him well. Learning by faith to sit still and believingly wait the event, these fathers calmly expect that all things will work together for good to them: and hence they understand the unbroken serenity of the heart of Jesus, and know Him in His joys as well as in His sorrows.

What is the message to the fathers? I would indicate that message by referring to the context.

1. John has been saying that we should love one another. If you are truly fathers you cannot help loving all the family: the fatherly instinct is love, and fathers in Christ should be brimful of it.

2. The next message immediately succeeds the text, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” You have all the marks of what they call declining years--I call them ascending years; you will soon be gone from the world and its changing vanities, therefore do not set your love on earthly treasures.

3. While they are not to love the world they must take care that they do not fall victims to any of the lusts of this present evil world, such as the lust of the flesh. You are grown ripe in grace, and will soon enter heaven, live accordingly.

4. The next exhortation to the fathers is that they should watch, for, says the apostle, “Ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists.” Oh, valiant fathers, keep ye watch and ward.

5. Lastly, it is the duty of the fathers to prepare for the coming of the Lord. “Abide in Him, that, when He shall appear, ye may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christian fathers and the knowledge of the Divine Being

In the distinction of Christians, they are fathers who best know Him that was from the beginning.

The object. By “Him that was from the beginning” is meant Christ, who is also thus elsewhere described (John 1:1-2).

1. As to His office and saving efficacy (Revelation 13:8).

2. As to His personal subsistence (Micah 5:2; John 17:5). The benefit of this meditation.

(a) To further the joy of our faith, in that we see the infinite worth that is in His sufferings to satisfy justice and to expiate sin.

(b) To increase the strength of our confidence against all the assaults of the enemies of our salvation (1 John 5:5).

(c) That we may be more apprehensive of the greatness of His love, which we shall never be till we consider the dignity of His person.

(d) To show the readiness of our obedience, that we may receive His doctrine, and obey His laws; that we may not be ashamed of His truth, and the profession of His name.

(e) To increase our reverence, and that the ignominy of His Cross may not obscure His glory, nor lessen His respect in our hearts, but that we may have high and honourable thoughts of our humbled Lord in His lowest estate.

(f) To draw our hearts from all created things, and to lessen our respect to worldly vanities, that so our minds and hearts may more look after those things which are eternal and glorious. He that was before the world was will be when the world shall be no more.

What kind of knowledge it is that is here spoken of? There is a two-fold knowledge.

1. Speculative and historical: with this most content themselves. The Jews had “a form of knowledge” (Romans 2:20), and so hath the formal Christian (2 Timothy 3:5) a map or model of gospel truths. There are different degrees of this--a memorative knowledge. Another degree above this is an opinionative knowledge, when they do not only charge their memories, but have a kind of conscience and judgment about these things. But yet wisdom entereth not upon the heart (Proverbs 2:10). They make men disputers of this world, but not serious practisers of godliness. They have a religion to talk of, but not to live by.

2. Practical and saving. The truth and soundness of our knowledge is mainly known by the effects. We are to “know Him that was from the beginning,” so as--

(1) To believe in Him, and to venture our eternal interests in His hands (Psalms 9:10).

(2) To know Him so as to esteem and prize Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

(3) To know Him so as to embrace Him with love and desire (John 4:10).

(4) To know Him so as to obey Him (Jeremiah 22:16).

What is herein proper to fathers, or how can this be a ground of distinction between them and others, since all Christians are indispensably bound to know Christ? (John 17:3)

1. Whatever is said of either age, fathers, young men, or babes, doth certainly belong to all; as to overcome the wicked one, so to know Him that was from the beginning. To know the Father is common to all the ranks, only most eminently in one more than in the other.

2. There is some peculiar fitness in these characters, and in the several ages mentioned; as--

(1) Plenitude of knowledge belongeth to the ancient (Job 12:12).

(2) Old men are versed in the knowledge of ancient things, and love to discourse of things done long ago. So the apostle commendeth his fathers, or old men, for that they have known the Ancient of Days, or the eternal Son of God, which maketh them more happy than all that knowledge which they have gotten by many years or long experience in the world. (T. Manton, D. D.)

The aged in years and grace

Who are fathers, or in the highest rank of Christianity.

1. They are such as are more delightfully employed in the exercises of godliness. I ascribe this to fathers, partly because they are acquainted with the pleasures of obedience (1 John 5:3); and partly because by long custom they have inured themselves thereto, so that it is become another nature to them. They are alive unto God; and what a man doth with naturalness, he doth it frequently, constantly, and easily.

2. They do more wisely manage the affairs of the spiritual life. They know the craft of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11); they have felt the bitterness of sin (Psalms 51:6); they know what hindrances they shall have from the devil, world, and flesh, and how they may resist and grow wise to salvation. Experience hath made them wise to decline the rocks upon which they dashed heretofore.

3. They are more fixed in the truth against the seduction of error. The long experience of the fruit of duties confirms them against those delusions which would draw us from them.

4. Their hearts are brought into a more settled, heavenly temper. A tree that hath long stood out against many stormy winds is the more firmly rooted; so a seasoned Christian that hath gone through all weathers. But men that have not solid rooting wave hither and thither. There is initial grace, and a radicated state of grace.

5. They oftener meditate of God, His Word and works and providence. They have had a long time to make provision and hoard up spiritual treasure; and now they bring it forth (Matthew 12:31). Meditation is a difficult work for young beginners; they are not as yet cleansed from vain thoughts, nor have inured themselves to self-government. But now long experience hath taught the aged Christian what a hindrance it is to have their hearts pestered with vanities, how it deadeneth their prayers; and therefore they throng themselves with holy thoughts of God in Christ, who is the beloved of their souls.

6. They can more feelingly than others speak of the shortness, misery, and sinfulness of the present life (Genesis 47:8-9). They know the disappointments of a naughty world.

7. They are more weaned from the delights of sense, and have long used to moderate themselves within the bounds of sobriety (Titus 2:2).

8. They think and speak of the world to come, and the blessed state of the faithful in the most lively manner, as apprehending it sure and near (2 Corinthians 4:16).

9. They attain unto greater soundness and integrity in the essentials of religion (Titus 2:2).

How much it concerneth fathers in years to be fathers in grace, and to be more eminently religious than others, that they may be a pattern to them.

1. It conduceth to God’s honour. If young men and children only should profess religion, you would take it for indiscretion and hotness of spirit; young ponies, they know not what they do. Fathers, when they served God in their ripest age and yet are not weary of His service, this is an honour to Him.

2. For your own comfort, what a support is godliness to old age, when decays of nature are recompensed with the increase of grace, the weakness of body with soundness of mind (2 Corinthians 4:16). The mind is vigorous when the body is weak. When the eye is dim, as in old Israel, it can see God the invisible one.

The aged in years and grace must be written unto.

1. That they may persevere in godliness. They are not yet out of the reach of temptations. Partly by their own security. A man of long standing, being secure of salvation, may grow remiss and negligent. And if he go round in his accustomed tract of duties, may carry it as if he were now past all danger, and so insensibly decayeth. Well, then, there needeth watchfulness to the very last. Man is a very changeable creature; therefore we should always stand upon our guard. Partly because the course of temptations may be altered; the devil doth not always play the same game. We had need be provided for all weathers (Philippians 4:12).

2. That their growth may be promoted; that they may be stirred up to more seriousness, diligence, and more fruitfulness.

(1) After so long a standing, and so much means, more growth and tendency towards perfection may be justly expected from them (Psalms 92:13-14).

(2) Their manifold experience should make them better. It is a miserable thing to pass under so many providences, and not to be improved by them (Deuteronomy 29:2-6). (T. Manton, D. D.)

Religion beautiful in all seasons of life

The fruitful tree is beautiful in all seasons; beautiful in the buddings and blossoms of early spring; beautiful in the opening summer with the unripened fruit clustering on its branches; but never so beautiful as when autumn has given the bloom of ripeness to the rich produce of its strength. How glorious is a human character ripe for heaven! (D. Thomas, D. D.)

I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one--

Strength, victory, and knowledge in youth

Counsel is the prerogative of age. Christianity is preeminently an experience. Even from the religious standpoint we look upon youth as militant, rather than as victorious. The fight with the evil one is upon them; but the victory is in the future. Are we right in this view of the religious possibilities of youth? Certainly not. Our apostle addresses the young men as having overcome the evil one, as having the word of God abiding in them. Now, in fact, we reason just as John does when we look at youth in its relations to society. On that side we frankly recognise their strength, victory, and susceptibility to truth. They are accepted as important factors in the aggressive relations of life. In like manner we assume their ability to receive and apply the teachings of human wisdom. The history of great literary successes is largely a history of youthful triumphs; it makes a place for itself in spite of obstacles. In the secular sense it does overcome the world. “I write unto you, young men, because ye are strong.” There may be strength without maturity. People act upon that principle everywhere. A man who wants a good horse looks out for a young horse. A lady who wants an active servant does not seek for an old man or woman. Not only so, but we expect real and telling service from youth. Ought the case to be any different in the Church of Christ? The work of pushing the gospel into new fields, of bringing other youth under its influence, of carrying on benevolent and missionary enterprises, is work which young men and women can do. Yes, you are strong; and the Church of Christ lays claim to your strength. Service is not to be an incident of your Christian life: it is to be its law, as it was the law of Christ’s life. But the question is not only of Christian work: it is also of Christian character lying behind the work, and inspiring it. There can be no good work without good character. Here we see that the strength of which John speaks is the strength which comes of the abiding of the Word of God in the heart, and of victory over evil. Youth is susceptible to bad influences--takes them in, is shaped by them. Is it not likewise susceptible to good ones? With all the sneers at early piety, early piety is a blessed fact. And why not? It is very evident what youth can do in the way of victory over self and temptation when a great worldly end is to be gained; and are we to say that the young Christian, with Christ’s inspiration in his heart, and Christian influences around him, shall not take up the great cross of Christian service, and practise its grand self-denials, and resist and overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil? No; John is right. He does not assert too much when he says, “Ye have overcome the evil one.” If youth can be Christian it can overcome. If it is truly Christian it will overcome, for Christ is victory. And once more, what of the Word abiding in the youth? “The Word of God abideth in you.” In the order of the text this comes before the conquest over the evil one, and rightly; because the Word in the heart stands to conquest as means to end. John’s thought here centres in the word “abideth.” His emphasis is on the permanent power of the Word over youth. Paul assumes the same thing with reference to Timothy. He calls to mind the unfeigned faith which dwelt in his mother and in his grandmother, and adds, “And I am persuaded that in thee also.” Young people have, many of them, come to think that such mastery by the Word is impracticable. They think they must master the Word before they are mastered by it. In science and art and philosophy the difficulty of a subject does not repel youth. They study, and that intelligently, the works of master minds. They work out hard problems in engineering and astronomy. And what I complain of in a certain class of young people is, that they will not apply to the Bible the same amount of attention and labour which they bestow on other things. Whatever mystery may attach to the Bible, the materials for character building lie on its very surface. If there are parts of this great Divine map which we must still mark “unknown land,” the track to goodness and to heaven is sharply drawn. You are, then, as young men and women, bound by your Christian profession to have the Word of God abiding in you, as a permanent impulse and formative force in your character and life. The Holy Spirit is as ready to make its precepts a living power in you as He is in me. You know, in other spheres, what it is to work on a principle and for a purpose; and it is no harder to know this when the principle is laid down by Christ, and when the purpose is holiness and heaven. The Word of God abideth in you. O young Christians! can you say that this is true of you? Has the power of the Word over you become stronger, more steady, more direct, since you began to follow Christ? (M. Vincent, D. D.)

Unto you, young men

John abounded in charity, but with the utmost stretch of it he could not have written to all young men in this style, for, alas! all young men are not strong, nor doth the Word of God abide in them all, nor have they all overcome the wicked one. Shame that it should be, that when the devil seeks recruits for his army, he should straightway send his recruiting sergeant for these fine young fellows, who ought to serve a better master.

The photograph of the model young man.

1. What is spoken in the text has to do only with spiritual qualifications, and it deals with three points. First, this young man is strong. The strength here meant is not mere natural vigour, but a spiritual strength, a strength which is the result of an indwelling of the Spirit; a strength which brings out and consecrates the natural energy, and makes the young man with his vigour to be vigorous in the right direction.

(1) Now, the spiritually strong man may be described in this way--he is one who is very decided for Christ. He is not half-hearted, halting between two opinions. Whoever may be for the false, he is for the true. Whoever may side with the unjust, he is for the honest. He is decided, not only in his service of Christ, but in his opinions. He holds firmly what he does hold. He is a strong man in the truth. God has made him strong in integrity of heart.

(2) While thus strong in decision, he is also strong in the matter of establishment. He once believed truths because he was so taught, but now he has proved, if not all things, yet enough to hold fast that which is good.

(3) He has become strong, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a vigour diffused throughout his whole spiritual constitution. He knows that he lives. Others in our Churches do something for Christ, and know that they are alive, but their whole spiritual system is relaxed. If they take up the hammer and work for God, they strike such feeble blows that the nails do not know it. Meanwhile, he is not only strong in actual service, but he is strong in what he cannot do. The strong young man will have many schemes crossing his brain, and while he is in his youth he will not be able to realise them, but they will flit before him so often, that at last he will pluck up courage, and as he grows in years and possibilities, he will at last make real that which was once but a dream.

2. The text gives a further description of the model Christian young man in the words, “And the Word of God abideth in you.” Her Majesty was on the south side of the water today, but she does not abide there. All the pomp and sunshine of her presence have vanished, and Westminster Bridge and Stangate are as they were before. The Word of God sometimes comes with right royal pomp into the minds of young men; they are affected by it for a time, and they rejoice therein, but, alas! that blessed Word soon departs, and they are none the better for that which they have heard. The model young man in the text is not of this kind. The Word of God abideth in him, by which I understand that he is one who understands the Word, for it must get into him before it can abide in him, and it can only enter by the door of the understanding: he understands the Word, and then by having an affection for the Word he shuts to that door and entertains the truth. The Word of God abides in him, that is, he is constantly feeling its effects. It abides in him--a sacred fire consuming his sins, and comforting his spirit. It abides in him, a heavenly messenger revealing to him the freshness of celestial truth, uplifting him from earthly desires, and preparing him for the mansions in the skies.

3. Thirdly, the text adds, “And ye have overcome the wicked one.” Some young men have overcome that blue devil which keeps men despairing, doubting, trembling, and fearing. Then there is that dust eating devil, of whom we can never speak too badly--the yellow devil of the mammon of unrighteousness, the love of gold and silver; the dread god of London, rolling over this city as if it were all his own. Another form of the wicked one we must speak of but softly, but oh! how hard to be overcome by the young man. I mean Madam Wanton, that fair but foul, that smiling but murderous fiend of hell, by whom so many are deluded. Young man, if you are strong, and have overcome the wicked one, you have overcome, I trust, that Lucifer of pride, and it is your endeavour to walk humbly with your God! You have given up all idea of merit. You cannot boast nor exalt yourself, but you bow humbly at the foot of the Cross, adoring Him who has saved you from the wrath to come. You have given up also, I trust, young man, all subjection to the great red dragon of fashion, who draws with his tail even the very stars of heaven.

Let us further observe that these things which constitute him what he is are his qualifications for usefulness. “I write unto you, young men, for ye are strong.” We beg you to use that strength in winning souls for Christ. Remember that this very strength which brings a blessing to yourself will benefit another. That very faith which brought you to Christ is all you want to bring others to Christ. As the angel said to Gideon, so say I to you, young man, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour”; and yet, again, “Go in this thy strength.” If the young man inquires for tools and weapons with which to serve his Master, we refer him to the next point in the text, “The Word of God abideth in you.” Now, if you desire to teach others, you have not to ask what the lesson shall be, for it abides in you. Do you want a text that will impress the careless? What impressed you? You cannot have a better. You desire to speak a word in season from the Word of God which shall be likely to comfort the disconsolate. What has comforted your own soul? You cannot have a better guide. Once again, “you have overcome the wicked one.” The man who has once given Satan a slap in the face need not be afraid of men. If you have often stood foot to foot with a violent temptation, and, after wrestling, have overcome it, you can laugh to scorn all the puny adversaries who assail you.

The wording of the text suggested to me, to force the conscription. “I have written unto you, young men.” In the French wars, certain young men, unhappily, found their names written down in the conscription, and were marched to the wars. Now, in a war from which none of us desire to escape, I hope there are young men here whose names are written down--heavenly conscripts--who are summoned more fully than ever before in their lives, to go forth to the battle of the Lord of Hosts. I invite every young man here who is already converted to God, to dedicate himself to the Lord Jesus Christ tonight. It will be well if you take a step further as conscripts. You “holy work folk”--as they used to call those who dwelt around the cathedral at Durham, and were exempt from all service to the baron because they served the church--I want you now to think of some particular walk and department in which as young men and young women you can devote yourselves wholly to Christ. Generalities in religion are always to be avoided, more especially generalities in service. What can you do? What is your calling? Ragged schools? Sunday schools? Street preaching? Tract distribution? Here is a choice for you, which do you select? I would inquire next, whether there may not be young men here who can give themselves up to the Christian ministry, which is a step farther. Take care you keep not back whom God would have. Then, further, I have to say, may there not be here some young man who will become a conscript for missionary service abroad? I might tonight read a sort of proclamation such as I see sometimes issued by Her Majesty--“Wanted, young men.” We give no description about the inches either in girth or the height, but we do give this description--“Wanted, young men who are strong; in whom the Word of God abideth, and who have overcome the wicked one.” Once again. If this be impossible, and I suppose it may be to the most of us, then may we not get up a conscription tonight of young men who will resolve to help at home those who have the courage to go abroad? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Noble young men

They have strength in them.

They have God’s Word within them.

They have the Devil under them. (Homilist.)

Youthful strength

“What am I going to be?” is the question that presses upon young people. But, unfortunately, the question is generally supposed to be answered when they have fixed upon a trade or profession. It means, rightly taken, a great deal more than that. “What ideal have I before me, towards which I constantly press?”

The strength which you young people ought to aim at. It is not merely the physical strength, nor the mere unworn buoyancy and vigour which sorrow and care and responsibilities have not weakened. These are great and precious gifts, to be preserved as long as may be, by purity and moderation, and to be used for high purposes. It is not your body that is to be strong, but yourselves. Now the foundation of all true strength lies here, in a good, strong will. Two words contain the secret of noble life: “Resist!” and “Persist!” And the true strength of manhood lies in this mainly, that, in spite of all antagonisms, hindrances, you, having greatly resolved, you do greatly do what you have resolved. But then the strength that I would have you cultivate must be a strength of will, founded upon strong reason. Unintelligent obstinacy is folly. But that is not all. A strong will, illuminated by a strong beam of light from the understanding, must be guided and governed by a strong conscience. “I should like” is the weakling’s motto. “I will” may be an obstinate fool’s motto. “I ought, therefore, God helping me, and, though the devil hinders me, I will,” is a man’s. Conscience is king. To obey it is to be free; to neglect it is to be a slave.

How to get it. “Ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you.” If you want to be strong, let Scripture truth occupy your mind. There are powers to rule and to direct all conduct, motive powers of the strongest character in these great truths of God’s revelation. They are meant to influence a man in all his doings, and it is for us to bring the greatest of them to bear on the smallest things of our daily life. Whosoever lives with the thoughts that God has given us in His Word, familiar to His mind, and within easy reach of His hand, has therein an armlet against all possible temptation, a test that will unveil the hidden corruption in the sweetest seductions, and calming power that will keep his heart still and collected in the midst of agitations. I remember going through the Red Sea, at the mouth of it, where the entrance is narrow and the currents run strong, when the ship approaches the dangerous place, the men take their stations at appointed places, and the ponderous anchors are loosened and ready to be dropped in an instant, if the swirl of the current sweeps the ship into dangerous proximity to the reef. It is no time to cut the lashings of the anchors when the keel is grating on the coral rocks. And it is no time to have to look about for our weapons when the sudden temptation leaps upon us like a strong man armed. You must have them: familiar to you by devout meditation, by frequent reflection, prayer, study of God’s Word, if they are to be of any use to you at all. And then if we take the other view, which at bottom is not another, of the meaning of this phrase, and apply it rather to the personal Word, Jesus Christ Himself, that will yield us another exhortation, and that is, let Jesus Christ into your hearts and keep Him there, and He will make you strong. Others can help you from without, as you put an iron band round some overweighted crumbling brick pillar in order to prevent it from collapsing, but He will pass into us, as you may drive an iron rod up through the centre of the column, and make it strong inside, and we shall be strong if Jesus Christ dwells within us.

The field on which the strength is to be exercised, and the victory which it secures. “Ye have overcome the wicked one.” What does that mean? It means this, that if you will take service in Christ’s army, and by His grace resolve to be His faithful soldier till your life’s end, that act of faith, which enrols you as His, is itself the victory which guarantees, if it be continued, the whole conquest in time. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Victorious young men

First the “strong” young men. Let the strength possessed be in Christ. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That is omnipotent, immutable; that is infallible; and, so often as you feel there is some momentous thing to be accomplished in the cause of God, rely on the person of Christ, and out of His fulness receive grace for grace. This leads us to consider for what purpose these renewals of strength are received. First of all, there is your warfare--you want more strength for that. You will recollect the cry of Jehoshaphat, when the host of his enemies was advancing against his little army, “Oh, our God, wilt Thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee.” And he got strength enough. Moreover, this warfare is such a perpetual one, that you want perpetual strength for it. But we also want strength for our walk. It is a rough road. A great deal of it is up-hill. Our walk is “by faith, and not by sight,” and amidst its difficulties you want that faith strengthened, so that the Author and Finisher of it may be glorified, and we make some advancement in Divine life. Oh, the vast importance of being kept moving onwards! Moreover, we want strength for the work. “My son, go work in My vineyard today” is the Father’s command. I am sure that, instrumentally, the best method of keeping young men in Christ in health of soul is to keep them well employed.

By “The Word of God” we understand every essential truth, whether doctrinal, experimental, or practical. The prominent evil of the day, with regard to theology, is the separating of this threefold description of essential truth. They cannot press them too much, provided they press them upon proper principles and upon a sure foundation. But they frequently do so without that. Then there are others who have got a peculiar and favourite technicality about “my experience”--the preacher does not preach my experience. We like doctrinal statements fully urged and without reserve. We want deep experience, such as the Word of God sets forth. We want, in addition, that active Christianity which shall characterise the recipients of grace as “a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” These I account “essential truths”; and I desire that they should abide in you. We also understand by the phrase, “Word of God,” the eternal, incarnate Word dwelling in you--“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This makes our Christianity vital.

A word about your spiritual victories. “Ye have overcome the wicked one.” You have burst asunder from his bands. By mighty grace you have escaped his pursuit, and got as clear of him as Israel did of Pharaoh. Well, but he is sure to be after you. But “ye have overcome” him! What a merciful, what a gracious, what a glorious thing is faith! It overcomes Satan. The flesh and carnal free will may content themselves with Satan’s drudgery; but faith will not; faith cannot. Then, in overcoming sin, which is the same thing, as it exists in the world and our depraved nature. What is sin in the Christian? The wicked one employing his own emissaries that are yet left behind. Apart from the base corruptions and lusts, there are self-righteousness, and self-conceit, and self-congratulations, and selfish motives and desires to gratify and pursue. There is the spirit of the world. Let me pass on to direct your attention unto the use of spiritual weapons only. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” There are a great number of carnal weapons that are used very adroitly and very manfully, and to a certain degree, in a moral sense, very success fully too. Take, for example, the arguments that are entered into by keen and skilful polemics against infidels. Well, they are all very proper for a certain purpose; but they are not spiritual weapons. The result is that, in many instances, they frequently convince the judgment, and yet do nothing for the soul.

The teaching which these “young men” receive from the apostolic writings. I think it may be summed up in three things. One of them follows immediately upon my text. Reject the world. (J. Irons.)

The strength of young men

“The glory of young men is their strength.” Every lad who is worth his salt desires the strength of fuller years, the sphere of influence, the consciousness of life, the power to protect the weak, to serve the greater, and to take his place in the front of the battle of life. Mothers lean on the arm of their firstborn with a half-concealed but conscious pride. Sisters admire and almost worship the bursting flower of their elder brother’s strength.

1. This hope of the world must not be confounded with mere muscle. Strength without wisdom, skill, or self-repression, strength devoted to an unworthy or insufficient end, scarcely deserves its name.

2. Again, strength must not be confounded with the proverbial infallibility of youth.

3. Once more, strength is sometimes confounded with insensibility, which is due to imperfect appreciation of reality and a feeble imagination. Wherefore, laying aside all mere muscle, ludicrous self-consciousness, dulness of perception, uncharitable sense of superior wisdom, and the obstinacy of simulated virtue, let us clearly seize, if possible, and utilise that strength of the young which is their glory and the master power of the world.

(1) The strength which the world and the Church yearn for is the youthful (virtus) courage, which, when a great end or lofty ideal has dawned like awful sunrise on the soul, counts all things but loss in comparison of its triumph. The young Athanasius braved the courtly prelates and crowned kings of the world, and through a life long martyrdom maintained the Word which had been flashed in blazing light upon his inmost conscience. The glory of young men is their strength to do battle for a cause larger than themselves, and dearer to themselves than life.

(2) Another noble feature of the young man’s strength is in his power to endure hardness, from which often the older man shrinks baffled. The young man can afford to wait at his post of duty, like the sentinel who has the fate of an army in his hands, like the sea pilot in a storm, or the lighthouse man with the fleets of the channel at his mercy. He can endure as seeing Him who is invisible. The direction of physical force, of stored energy, by wisdom and skill is the wonder of the modern world; but the consecration of the young man’s strength by the free reception and indwelling of the mind of Christ is the hope of the Catholic Church of the Living God. (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.)

The youthhood of the nation

1. And, first, the young are strong in numbers.

2. It is true the young are strong in passions, in impetuous desires, in appetites, and in aspirations, which have yet to be freed from too exuberant growth. But is it not good to see this fresh life?

3. Yes, the young are strong in hope, in trust in God’s future, putting the Janus face of the new year to soften the sombre effect of the countenance of the old year, bidding us listen for the music which is soon to wake in the woodland, on the hillside, and by the streams. And this we need. But this freshness of spirit is only to be cherished as David cherished it--at the fountains of God. Hence the pertinency of St. John’s words, “And the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” This is the crowning strength of humanity, and no demon can possess the soul while the Word of God abideth in it. In our judgment of the young, we forget what an age of stimulation this is--what a hot house it is to the plants that otherwise might unfold more perfectly and enduringly, and we charge upon human nature what only belongs to the exciting influence of the steam engine and the telegraph. The fact is, all ages are linked together, and the truest strength of the young is derived from a vital connection with the past. “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations!” (C. A. Bartol.)

Working power

I like the teaching of an elder philosopher, defining “power” to be that in a cause by which it produces its effect. Power in possession, but not in exercise, is practically as weak as its opposite. To be strong, but inactive, strong for good, but to do nothing that blesses, is to be both weak and wicked. What is the advantage of having a force never harnessed to the weight it was made to draw?

What is personal power in this age?

1. The earliest type of personal power is the physical. The first heroes were Nimrods, mighty hunters. To them the lyre was struck, for them the feast smoked, on them beauty smiled. The elder Hercules was one who could rend oaks and strangle serpents. The modern has other labours, only symbolised by those of his prototypes.

2. The next type of personal power is that derived from birth, and blood, and place--patrician greatness. This sort of hero drives across the stage charioted, coroneted, tilled. He bears a name made illustrious by dead men. We still cherish some little portion of this feudal deference, and make way, with decent homage, for the well born. But this greatness is in our day only a shadowy effigy of its once ducal preeminence. Not the crown, but what it circles, is the question; not the emblazoned star, but what beats beneath it; not the fountain, but the redness of the blood that flows in the veins.

3. Next arose in history the type of personal power derived from wealth. The peers of this new order of nobility are ever of redoubtable force. And yet, let one of these gilded peers be a narrow-souled miser, how like a great blot lie his mansion and surroundings on the smiling landscape. Let him be a mean man, how everybody in his heart despises him, even those that fawn!

4. A loftier type of personal power than any we have named is the intellectual. As the soul is the true man, intellectual stature is real stature. The force of this power is far felt and permanent. But this power in its distinctive inheritance, as a lordship among men, is for the few. It cannot be universal. Its conditions are too exacting. It does not go down to the vitalities of character and breathe through all the channels of the heart the spirit of the daily life.

5. Moral power. Its seat is the moral nature, the conscience, and the heart. Its life is the central law prescribed by the supreme Moral Governor--the law of his own being--the force that sways Omnipotence--the law, the force of love. It is ever obedient to the right, just, unselfish. It goes forth in beneficence whenever and wherever it can, as a full fountain flows down, give it open channels. This is the power that more and more asserts supremacy in our day. The humblest mind, the lowliest place may wield this preeminent force. All that was good and vital in other and outlawed types of personal force is restored and immortalised in this. The intellect may be wedded to it. Herein is the clearest mental illumination. Love is light. Here, too, the golden ingots, the silver bars molten in this crucible of love, pour out their shining streams in farthest currency, and dust that perishes is transmuted into polished gems that burn as the stars forever and ever.

How, as individuals, may we possess this moral power, find ourselves clothed with it as a personal force, and by it lay hold of and bless our age?

1. The heart itself must be the home and court of this power. The individual heart must yield itself to the control of this truth, come loyally under the monarchy of this right, and pulse in every throb with love.

2. There must be personal purity and integrity in action. The law of unselfish living, enthroned in the heart, must extend its dominion over the life. The man must be seen walking with his conscience at his left hand, the Bible at his right, and God before him.

3. The ascendant law of unselfish devotion to the good of beings must assert itself also, to be puissant, in forms of self-denial--a cutting off of self-indulgencies, a careful personal abstinence from all that may be harmful to our fellows.

4. This power grows and becomes effective by being employed. It must declare itself in action. He who loves will do what love prompts and what love can.

5. As to the particular ways in which this personal force will attach itself to human interests and live in their histories, we may say the circumstances and opportunities of every man alone can give the definite and detailed answer. But these ways are all the ways possible to the man. It will go forth into the vineyard to see what needs to be done, and ask the Master for employment.

Can any man inaugurate for himself such a life and history, and pour himself out upon it as the normal habitude of his soul and not be felt? Can such a life fail to take hold of the age? Can this power work, and not tell controllingly and abidingly upon individual interests and issues--the making and shaping of character and the advancement of the unseen Kingdom of God? (A. L. Stone.)

Young men in cities

Dangers attend every comer into this life, by whatever door he enters. All places will have their trials and burdens; but all places are not alike dangerous. The chances of health and worthy manhood are far greater to one born and reared in the country than to one born and reared in a city. If we could choose, we would delay the coming of men to cities from the country till their frames were consolidated, till their habits were formed; but that cannot be. We must seek to make the best of what is. Consider the influx of young men to our cities, and the causes of it. In the first place, there is an imperative demand for vast numbers of young men to carry forward all the processes of society that is so active and so intense in cities. Business of every kind needs them. Where, however, there is a real need there will always be an exaggerated conception in the country, which will induce a rush to the city out of proportion to the real want, making young men too plentiful, and therefore cheap. And it is a bad thing when men are cheap. Few conceive that, by a law of God as fundamental as the law of gravitation and as universal as human society, success in life is the equivalent of industry, knowledge, prudence, and perseverance, and not the result of chance. The exceptions are few and occasional in which it would be found to come from anything in the nature of real luck. Men go out to hunt their fortune; to fire it upon the wing; to take it as it runs through the forest. They mean to find it already made. They do not understand that they must make it themselves if they are to have it. This vision attracts multitudes, as by and by it will mock them. Besides these causes that draw hither so many more than are wanted of young men, there are more legitimate ones. The city has opportunities for some kinds of education that are not elsewhere to be found. It is a living encyclopaedia. It is a world in miniature. It touches human want on every side. I count as the greatest loss that the young can sustain in coming hither the loss of home, as I count as the greatest blessing which the young can enjoy to be that training which a good home affords. There was a time, in primitive periods, when the apprentice belonged to the employer’s family, when the merchant took to his own house his few clerks; but the change of business, and the multiplication of men in stores and shops, make this no longer possible, and young men find their places as best they can. Let us look at a few points of danger that develop under such circumstances in cities. First, of course, is the danger that society will lead the young man through kindness into dissipation and wasteful indulgences and pleasures, at the risk of destroying his morals, his health, and his industrious habits, and of soon setting him adrift from good society and sweeping him into that great flock where distress and death shoot all their bolts. The very qualities that most fit a man to be loved and to be useful are the very qualities that make him an easy prey to dissipation. I mean sympathy and yearning for companionship and warm heartedness. I must here specialise one of the dangers which beset the young. I mean the danger of drinking. This is a national vice. Passing from this, I mention some of the illusions that the young must go through. The first of all is that of setting up a wrong ideal and end of life: not manhood and its power; not conscience and purity; not truth and fidelity; not industry and contentment; but simple wealth, as if that carried all things. Now, aim as broadly and highly as you please at fortune, but remember that character is better than property. It is better because it brings with it that which property does not necessarily bring--influence and happiness. Next is the illusion in respect to the relation which exists between means and ends. Men charge the fault of their ill-success in life to society and to the envy and jealousy of rivals; whereas their failure is attributable to the fact that they have stumbled on the illusion that they could gain a prosperity, not by rendering an equivalent work, not by exercising skill, not by putting forth thought, not by adhering to moral fidelities, but by practising dexterities. There is but one other illusion that I shall mention, and that is the illusion that the young are too apt to fall into, of the incompatibility of a moral and religious course in life with worldly prosperity; as if the God that made and arranged the laws of political economy was not the same God that made and arranged the laws of morality and religion. Such are some of the dangers which beset the young that are filling our cities. What are some of the remedies that may be applied? There is not one royal remedy. From every side in human society we must address remedies to these conditions of temptation. There ought, first, to be inculcated a higher sense of the responsibility of those who employ the young, to watch for them and care for them. Then there should be a public sentiment formed--and Churches should assist in forming it--by which the young should more and more be released from the exactions of business, and should have time secured for their improvement. (H. W. Beecher.)

The hopefulness of youthful strength

We have here three reasons why John deems it a fitting thing that young men should be exhorted on the necessity of leading a life of love and light and unworldliness.

1. But why, to take the first reason, does John deem it a fitting thing to exhort young men to lead the life of love and light and unworldliness because they are strong? Wherein lies the fitness? Our answer is, because for one thing youthful strength gives boundless hope. Youth has endless faith in itself. Its ambitions are all, as yet, realisable. Its aspirations have not yet had their wings sullied or torn by rude world collisions in their ascent. Hope rules the life. Principle strong and vigorous, supported right and left by courage and hope and aspiration, can meet in something like equal battle the temptations of the world and of the inner life. The strength which is thus peculiar to young life gives good hope of victory in the spiritual battle. But this truth has clearly another side, and a very important one. The strength of youth may go forth in the lines of evil as well as of good. For in youth passion is wild and strong. Conscious strength is very ready to tempt to unprincipled action. And whether that youthful strength shall have an upward or downward tendency will depend very much, or rather altogether, on the guiding, controlling power at the centre of life. The same powder which, under powerful guidance, will split the rock and make its granite blocks accessible to man and available for his works of ornament and use, will, beyond that control, shatter in a moment, into wreck and ruin, ever the most enduring results of his toil. And even so the strength of the young man, which may well be rejoiced in, and from which so much may reasonably be expected, must, for safety and for fulfilment of promise, be under the control of a principle which works for righteousness.

2. John’s second reason for exhorting young men to live the Christian life is that “the Word of God abideth in them.” This being the case, then, the young man’s powers, if he is to be really strong, must be under the controlling influence of the will of God, as that has been revealed in His law and specially in Christ’s life. Further, for real strength, this Word of God must abide in him. The Divine will must not simply alternate as a guiding power, with other and natural forces that are within him. For this would be tantamount to making the control useless or impossible. The engine driver must be an abiding presence in the front of the train from beginning to end of the journey--let passengers come and go as they list at the intermediate stations--if there is to be safety and final reaching of the desired goal. Do you still say, “But how do I know what God’s will is?” I answer, you know the commandments. Whatever makes for righteousness is in harmony with God’s will. Whatever is in the lines of love, and light, and truth, is also. The good, the beautiful, and the true, are of God. But, further, you have Christ’s life. Make it your study. Imitate it. It is a human life, with God’s Word abiding at its centre. Live His life and you will do God’s will.

3. The third reason why John exhorts young men to lead the life of love and light is that they “have overcome the wicked one.” This is really the reason to which the two preceding reasons lead up. This is really the result of the young strength put forth under Divine guidance. Human struggle can have no grander issue. And in order to victory here both things are needed--both the natural strength and enthusiasm of youth and the abiding Divine Word. It is in youth, in the fulness of manhood’s young powers, that Satan ever makes the most determined assaults. And he also knows that if he can only then, as life’s work is being entered on, break down the power of the better nature, he has the defeated man almost to a certainty at his feet for the rest of his life. Of course with every man the contest with evil is, in a most important sense, life long. But the issues even of the end are often settled at the beginning. Hence the infinite importance of victory over the enemy in the dawn of life. Depend upon it, your safety is in fighting it out now. (Andrew Doak, M. A.)

Yoking manhood’s strength and triumph

The most noticeable facts on historic page are young manhood’s triumphs. Alexander passed into the shades when but thirty-three years old, yet he conquered the world. At twenty-seven Napoleon had executed his grand Italian campaign, had routed proud Austria’s forces, had made himself recognised as the equal of Europe’s proudest monarch, and was hailed as the greatest general of the age. Caesar was a young man when he won the heart of Rome. As a young man Mozart held all Europe entranced by his symphonies.

What is young manhood’s strength?

1. It is brawn, unweakened by “wear and tear” and abuse.

2. Nerve force, unshattered by strains of real life.

3. Mental force, untrammelled by false reasoning, depraved imaginings, disappointments, melancholy.

4. The operation of powers kept in balance, as a piece of well-adjusted machinery, properly lubricated with what has been prepared by the Mighty Contriver--joy, vigour, hope.

How to perpetuate young manhood’s strength.

1. By moderation or temperance in all things.

2. A just Observance of the laws of health as laid down by men who have made the matter a subject of close study.

3. Proper mental food. “As one thinks, so is the man.”

4. Carefulness of habits and company.

5. Hearty espousal, Christianity in its true sense.

The obligations it entails on its possessors. The eyes of the world are on you, young men! You are the future hope of business, society, politics, country, and Church. (C. V. Waugh.)

A description of young men in Christ

Understand that the apostle is not writing here to any according to their bodily age; he is using human age as a metaphor for representing growth in the spiritual life. Grace is a matter of growth, and hence we have among us babes, young men, and fathers. It is honour enough to be in Christ, and certainly it is no small thing to be in spiritual things a man in the prime of life.

Their possession of strength. “I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong.”

1. These young men in grace are strong, first of all, in faith, according to that exhortation, “Be strong! fear not!” They know whom they have believed, and they are persuaded that He is able to keep that which they have committed to him.

2. This strength makes a man strong to endure. He is a sufferer, but mark how patient he is! He is a loser in business, and he has a hard task to earn his daily bread, but he never complains, he has learned in every state to be content. He is persecuted, but he is not distressed, he is not moved from the even tenor of his way.

3. This strength shows itself, next, in labouring for Christ. The young man in Christ is a great worker. He is up and at it according to his calling and ability.

4. So also are these young men strong to resist attack.

5. Furthermore, these young men are not only strong for resistance, but they are strong for attack. They carry the war into the enemy’s territory.

Their need of strength. “Ye are strong, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” Between the lines of the text I read the fact that young men who are strong must expect to be attacked. Every sinew in the arm of faith will have to be tested. There is a heavy burden for the strong shoulder, and a fierce fight for the trained hand. Why does Satan attack this class of men most? I reckon, first, because Satan is not always sure that the babes in grace are in grace, and therefore he does not always attack beginners; but when they are sufficiently developed to make him see who and what they are, then he arouses his wrath. Satan knows that young men in grace can do his kingdom great harm, and therefore he would fain slay them. You are strong to overthrow his kingdom, and therefore you need not marvel that he desires to overthrow you. I think it is right that young men should endure hardness, for else they might become proud. Full of strength, full of courage, full of patience, full of zeal, such men are ready enough to believe the wicked one when he whispers that they are perfect; and therefore trial is sent to keep them out of that grievous snare of the evil one. Besides, not only might this young man be a prey to pride, but he certainly would not bring the glory to God untried that he brings to Him when he overcomes temptation. Besides, it prepares them for future usefulness.

Their proof of strength. They have overcome the wicked one. They must be strong; for a man who can overcome the wicked one is no mean man of war. In what sense have these young men overcome the wicked one?

1. Well, first, in the fact that they have broken right away from his power. They were once his slaves, they are not so now.

2. Moreover, these young men have overcome the wicked one, not only in breaking away from his power and in driving him entirely out of possession so that he is no longer master, but they have overcome him in the very fact of their opposition to him. When a man resists Satan he is victorious over Satan in that very resistance.

3. But besides that, some of us who are young men in Christ have won many a victory over Satan. Have we not been fearfully tempted? But the mighty grace of God has come to the rescue, and we have not yielded.

4. Once more, in Christ Jesus we have entirely overcome the wicked one already; for the enemy we have to contend with is a vanquished foe--our Lord and Master met him and destroyed him. Ah, fiend, we who believe in Jesus shall defeat thee, for our Lord defeated thee! We are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us.

Their source of strength. “The Word of God abideth in you.” “The Word of God”--that is to say, we are to believe in the doctrines of God’s Word, and these will make us strong. What vigour they infuse into a man! The promises of God’s Word, too, what power they give a man! To get a hold of a “shall” and “will” in the time of trouble is a heavenly safeguard. “My God will hear me.” “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” Then mind the precepts, for a precept is often a sharp weapon against Satan. Remember how the Lord Jesus Christ struck Satan a killing blow by quoting a precept--“It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” If the precept had not been handy, wherewith would the adversary have been rebuked? Every word of God is life to holiness and death to sin. Use the Word as your sword and shield: there is none like it. Now notice that John not only mentions “the Word of God,” but the Word of God “in you.” The inspired Word must be received into willing mind. How? The Book must he pleaded in the inmost heart, by the work of the Holy Ghost upon the mind. A man instructed in the Scriptures is like an armed knight,” who, when he goes among the throng, inflicts many a wound, but suffers none, for he is locked up in steel. Yes, but that is not all; it is not the Word of God in you alone, it is “the Word of God abideth in you.” It is always there, it cannot be removed from you. If a man gets the Bible right into him he is all right then, because he is full, and there is no room for evil. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Young men

There are a middle sort of Christians, who may be called young men.

1. From the fathers they differ--

(1) Because they are not so well settled in a heavenly frame of spirit.

(2) In that they have not so much superiority and command over their affections and passions as the fathers have.

(3) In that they are not so wise and experienced in the spiritual warfare, and therefore are often foiled, though they do also often overcome.

2. From the babes they differ--

(1) Because they have been longer engaged in the practice of godliness, and so they have a more serious consideration of their state and ways, that they may avoid sin and the occasions thereof.

(2) They are more diligent in the use of means. Their continual work is to subdue their passions and corrupt inclination, to weaken their rebellious desires and defeat temptations.

(3) They are more versed in the Word of God, though not skilful in the word of righteousness, as the fathers; yet not as unskilful as the babes (Hebrews 5:13).

The middle sorts of Christians or young men are most exposed to temptations and conflicts.

1. It is true of Christians young in grace; these especially are busied in fighting against the temptations of Satan and in resisting and sub duing their own unruly lusts.

2. The devil tempteth and molesteth the saints, in hope to recover the prey.

3. In regard to themselves and their own flesh, which is not as yet perfectly subdued to Christ’s discipline. The bullock at first yoking is most unruly; the fire at the first kindling casts forth much smoke (Romans 7:9).

That which is most eminent in this rank of Christians is strength.

1. The strength of the body; that is incident to young men naturally considered (Proverbs 20:29). But this is no great thing in a spiritual eye; for a bull or an ex may exceed us in this kind of strength (Psalms 144:14); and a robust temper of body doth more often incline to sin than to virtue and grace.

2. The strength of the soul, which is the property of Christians, often spoken of in Scripture (Psalms 138:3; Ephesians 3:6). This is the fruit of grace, for by nature we have it not (Romans 5:6). This spiritual strength serveth for three uses--

(1) To bear burdens with patience. A heavy burden requireth a sound back (Colossians 1:11).

(2) To perform duties with cheerfulness. That is a part of a Christian’s strength to be able to work hard as well as bear much (Philippians 4:13).

(3) To resist temptations with success. Our necessities are many, so must our strength be to fight as well as to work and bear.

This strength they have because the Word of God abideth in them.

1. The precepts and doctrines of the Word abide in them (Psalms 37:31). A lively sense of his duty is kept fresh upon his heart; and then, when they are tempted, they answer as the Rechabites, We dare not; our father commanded us otherwise (Jeremiah 35:6).

2. The promises. These must abide in us for comfort against temptations, desertions, and afflictions (Job 22:22). In a time of wants and straits, how sweet is it to remember bow amply we are provided for in the covenant! (Psalms 119:111). And in doubts and discouragements by reason of pressures and troubles (Psalms 119:5).

3. The threatenings. Many lusts are strange and boisterous, and are deaf to all milder motives.

Those that have the Word of God abiding in them overcome the wicked one.

1. The adversary, “the wicked one.” As God is the holy One, so the devil is called “the wicked one.”

2. What is the victory? for the apostle speaketh of it as a thing past, “Ye have overcome.”

(1) The devil is an enemy, with whom we cannot make peace, but must fight against him till we overcome. So that here it cometh to a point, either we must perish or conquer.

(2) There is hope of this victory. Whilst we keep up the fight our striving is a degree of conquest (James 4:8).

(3) There are great preparations for a victory. The devil is a conquered adversary (Colossians 2:15), a disarmed enemy (Hebrews 2:14).

(4) Final conquest is sure. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Manly Christianity

Canon McCormick, speaking on manly Christianity, said--

1. That it was of grace and not of nature. It was the grace of God that changed a man’s heart and freed his conscience from the burden of sin.

2. It appealed to the judgment. We do not accept Christianity blindly. Ours is a reasonable religion. There is no philosophy in the world equal to the philosophy to be found in the writings of Paul.

3. It touches the affections. The intellect is nothing without the heart. A religion that consists only of thought will never help suffering humanity. Manly Christianity exhibits the tenderest pity, sympathy, and love--it deals with the sorrows and weaknesses and failures of mankind.

4. It does not neglect the body. The body is sacred because Christ became man. Have high ideas about your bodies; if you are Christians you will, for you will know that the body is part of the temple of the Holy Ghost.

5. It takes care to cultivate the mind. There is no book so fascinating as the Bible. It helps a man to do his duty in life as no other book can.

6. It elevates the character. In the service of the Lord Jesus Christ there is the greatest and truest liberty.

The Word of God the guide of youth

God’s own Word, and especially His record concerning Jesus, dwelling in your inmost heart. This is the helm by which alone your course through life will be safely steered. It matters little to a steamship how powerful her engines may be if she have no rudder. The stronger the engines, the more needed the helm. The greater our strength, the greater our need of guidance. The boat race is sometimes won, not through superior strength, but through superior steering; and many a young man has failed in life, not so much for want of strength as for want of good steering. Let the Word of God abide in you, and you will be led aright. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)

Little children, because ye have known the Father--

The childhood of grace

1. They differ from the Fathers in two things--

(1) The object known.

(2) The degree of knowledge.

(a) The object is diversified, “Him that was from the beginning,” and “the Father.” Nothing more needful for children than to have a father, to whom they may repair in all their wants and who may take care for them; accordingly they own God as a Father.

(b) The act, “You have known the Father.” This knowledge is an initial knowledge; the act of knowledge is attributed to the fathers and the little children, but yet there is a difference in the degree.

(i) Little children have but a taste of God’s fatherly love (1 Peter 2:3). The fathers had a longer experience, by which they are more confirmed in the sense of their adoption (chap. 3:1).

(ii) These little children know God as a father, because they have never yet been put upon occasions to question His love; but when they are tried with afflictions or temptations they are filled with doubts and fears.

2. They differ from the young men in Christ. These differ from the young men partly because they are inexperienced, and so are guilty of many oversights, are more easily deceived by Satan and his instruments (Ephesians 4:14), and partly because they are ignorant of the power of corruption (1 Peter 1:14). Weaknesses and infirmities are most rife then. And partly because they do not understand their duty in their first entrance upon their Christian course so well as they do afterwards, and therefore either cleave to things out of blind zeal or else condemn them out of rashness and indiscretion (Romans 14:1). They are easily carried away with a vain show, and either allow or condemn things without due warrant. And partly because they are not so strong as the young men, nor so full of spiritual confidence, but are full of fears, as little children are easily frightened with anything. Their faith being little, doubts arise and fears prevail (Matthew 6:30).

3. We must distinguish these from the carnal or the temporary; for though they be not so heavenly so prudent, so strong as the more grown Christians, yet there is a clear distinction between them and the unconverted.

(1) They have the common spirit of all Christians. God’s favour is all in all to them, insomuch as they cannot be satisfied without it (Psalms 4:6-7).

(2) Though their main care be about getting off the guilt of sin for the present, yet there is an unfeigned purpose that they may not in the smallest matters offend God, but to the uttermost of their knowledge they are careful to perform their duty.

(3) These weak Christians do or should remember that God will not always bear with their weaknesses. They must grow more solid and prudent, more settled into an heavenly frame and temper (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

(4) Their knowledge of God as a father differeth from that knowledge which temporaries have, because it is an active and operative knowledge. God’s being a father implieth both duty and privilege, and none know Him aright but those that perform the duties of children and depend upon Him for the privileges of children.

(a) This knowledge implieth the performance of the duties of children, which are to love, please, and honour their father (Malachi 1:6).

(b) There are the privileges of children, and this knowing of the Father implieth trust and dependence (Psalms 9:10). Doctrine: That even the lowest sort of Christians do know God as a father.

God standeth in the relation of a father to His people.

1. By creation. He gave being to all things, but to man and angels reason. To establish the relation of a father there must be communication of life and likeness.

2. More especially there is a particular sort of men to whom God is a father in Christ, and they are His children. This title is not by nature, but by grace (John 1:12).

(1) It importeth great privilege to us. Great benefits accrue to us thereby.

(a) The gift of the Holy Ghost.

(b) We have a blessed and excellent inheritance to look for here; all the children are heirs and “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

(c) In all His dealings for the present God retaineth fatherly affection to us, pitying our miseries and pardoning our failings (Psalms 103:13).

(2) It calleth for great duty at our hands, conformity and likeness to Him in all Divine perfections.

(a) In holiness and purity (1 Peter 1:15).

(b) In ready obedience to His laws. In one place we read, “dear children” (Ephesians 5:1), in another, “obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14).

(c) Subjection and humble submission to His correction (Hebrews 12:5-10).

The lowest sort of Christians do know God in the relation of a father

1. Christ hath taught all His disciples to say, “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9).

2. Adoption is one of the first privileges. As soon as a man owneth Christ he is adopted into God’s family (John 1:12).

3. It is God’s covenant. He hath promised that all His “shall know Him, from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11). (T. Manton, D. D.)

Verses 15-17

1 John 2:15-17

Love not the world … if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him

The world and the Father

We talk of sons going out into the world.

Hitherto they have been dwelling in the house of their father. Day by day they have had experience of his care and government. This going out into the world we speak of as if it were a loss of some of these blessings. It may be a loss of them altogether; the father and the father’s house may be altogether forgotten. The world may seem to us a good world, because it sets us free from the restraints of the family in which we have been brought up. But, on the other hand, all children look forward to this time of going out into the world. Their fathers encourage them to look forward to it; they tell them their discipline in the nursery has been intended to prepare them for the world. Well, St. John is regarding these Ephesians as members of one family in different stages of their growth. Children, young men, fathers, are all treated as sons of God and as brothers of each other. St. John would have them understand that what is true in particular families is true also of this great family. There is a time of childhood, a time when the name of a Father, and the care of a Father, and the forgiveness of a Father, are all in all. But while St. John looks thus encouragingly and hopefully upon these youths he also wishes them to be alive to the danger of their new position. They may forget their heavenly Father’s house, just as any child may forget his earthly father’s house. And the cause will be the same. The attractions of the outward world are likely to put a great chasm between one period of their life and another; these may cause that the love of the Father shall not be in them. But are the cases parallel? The family of my parents is manifestly separated from the general world; to pass from one to the other is a great change indeed. But is not the world God’s world? Is not the order which we see His order? How then can these young men be told that they are not to love that which He, in whose image they are created, is said so earnestly to love? Assuredly it is God’s world, God’s order. And how has disorder come into this order?--for that it is there we all confess. It has come from men falling in love with this order, or with some of the things in it, and setting them up and making them into gods. It has come from each man beginning to dream that he is the centre, either of this world or of some little world that he has made for himself out of it. This selfish love is the counterfeit of God’s self-sacrificing love; the counterfeit, and therefore its great antagonist. The Father’s love must prevail over this, or it will drive that Father’s love out of us. Here, then, are good reasons why the young men shall not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. For if they do, first, their strength will forsake them; they will give up the power that is in them to the things on which the power is to be exerted; they will be ruled by that which they are meant to rule. Next, they will not have any real insight into these things or any real sympathy with them. Those who love the world, those who surrender themselves to it, never understand it, never in the best sense enjoy it; they are too much on the level of it--yes, too much below the level of it--for they look up to it, they depend upon it--to be capable of contemplating it and of appreciating what is most exquisite in it. Some will say, “But these young men to whom St. John wrote were godly young men, to whom he gave credit for all right and holy purposes.” I believe it; and therefore such words as these were all the more necessary for them. “Love not the world.” For there is a love in you that the world did not kindle, that your heavenly Father has kindled; love it not, lest you should be turned into worldlings, whose misery is their incapacity of loving anything. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)


Religion differs from morality in the value which it places on the affections. Morality requires that an act be done on principle. Religion goes deeper, and inquires into the state of the heart.

The nature of the forbidden world. Now to define what worldliness is. Remark, first, that it is determined by the spirit of a life, not the objects with which the life is conversant. It is not the “flesh,” nor the “eye,” nor “life,” which are forbidden, but it is the “lust of the flesh,” and the “lust of the eye,” and the “pride of life.” It is not this earth nor the men who inhabit it--nor the sphere of our legitimate activity, that we may not love; but the way in which the love is given which constitutes worldliness, Worldliness, then, consists in these three things;--Attachment to the Outward--attachment to the Transitory--attachment to the Unreal: in opposition to love for the Inward, the Eternal, the True; and the one of these affections is necessarily expelled by the other. If a man love the world the love of the Father is not in him. But let a man once feel the power of the kingdom that is within, and then the love fades of that emotion whose life consists only in the thrill of a nerve, or the vivid sensation of a feeling: he loses his happiness and wins his blessedness.

The reasons for which the love of the world is forbidden. The first reason assigned is, that the love of the world is incompatible with the love of God. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him. St. John takes it for granted that we must love something. Love misplaced, or love rightly placed--you have your choice between these two; you have not your choice between loving God or nothing. The second reason which the apostle gives for not squandering affection on the world is its transitoriness. Now this transitoriness exists in two shapes. It is transitory in itself--the world passeth away. It is transitory in its power of exciting desire--the lust thereof passeth away. Lastly, a reason for unlearning the love of the world is the solitary permanence of Christian action. In contrast with the fleetingness of this world the apostle tells us of the stability of labour. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” And let us mark this. Christian life is action: not a speculating, not a debating, but a doing. Observe, however, to distinguish between the act and the actor--it is not the thing done but the doer who lasts. The thing done often is a failure. Bless, and if the Son of Peace be there your act succeeds; but if not, your blessing shall return unto you again. In other words, the act may fail; but the doer of it abideth forever. We close this subject with two practical truths. Let us learn from earthly changefulness a lesson of cheerful activity. Let not the Christian slack his hand from work, for he that doeth the will of God may defy hell itself to quench his immortality. Finally, the love of this world is only unlearned by the love of the Father. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The peril of worldliness

How many a hopeful beginning of Christian life is marred by worldly influences! How many a flower of Paradise seems to perish in the bud at the deadly touch of the world’s cruel frost. We mean by the world not only the place but the people, or at least some of the people, who live in it. Of them St. Paul says they “mind earthly things”; that is, their affections and desires are centred in this world. Now in primitive times the distinction between the world and the Church was very marked. Those who belonged to the world did not even profess to accept the authority of Jesus Christ; on the contrary, they proclaimed outward war against Him and His, and carried it on with cruel persecutions. But soon Satan began to change his tactics. He disposed the world to respect the Church, for he began to see that her strength lay in opposition. He therefore set his wisdom to work to rob her of this power, and he has attempted to compass this end by seeking to obliterate as far as possible that clear, sharp, well-defined line of demarcation which separated the children of God from the children of this world. There is such a line, and we ought in the first place to recognise that fact, and in the second place look to God for wisdom to discern it as clearly as we can. In a large number of instances it is not difficult to discern, because there are a great number of persons whose lives speak for themselves; evidently their object in life is not to glorify God or yield to His claims. In another large number of instances, where the lines are not so hardly drawn, a tolerably good idea of the character can be obtained from indications proceeding from the lives of those by whom you are surrounded. When it is apparent that the regal claims of Christ upon the human heart are not recognised; when there is no confession of Christ in either words or actions; when lower objects obviously engross the attention, and nothing in their character or conduct indicates that the will has been surrendered to Christ, then the honesty of true love constrains us to regard such persons as belonging to the kingdom of this world, and as destitute of the new life and life instincts which belong to citizens of the New Jerusalem. Nor must we allow ourselves to be misled by the fact that most people are nominally Christians. What, then, is our relation to the world? Christ answers, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” By constant contact with the world and by exposure to the temptations which arise in our daily life, we are to be driven more and more to realise the fact that we are citizens of a heavenly country. But there is more to be said about our relations with the world than that we are in it but not of it. We notice that our text says we are not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world; and it goes so far as to say, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” Now, side by side with this direction we must place another text, with which we are equally or more familiar: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” What shall we say then? If God loved the world, are we precluded from doing that which we thank God for having done? Let us contemplate a man in whose heart the love of benevolence is strong towards the world. That benevolence will induce him to recognise the world’s present position; to bear in mind the truth that the world has rebelled against God, and that God’s edict of condemnation has already gone forth against it. Realising this--its terrible peril--he will shrink from adopting any attitude towards the world that would be likely to make the world feel as if its danger were a mere doctrinal or sentimental unreality, and this will keep him from associating with the world on terms of reciprocal amity. Christ might have wrought miracles of salvation from heaven, but He preferred to come into the world to save sinners; and so we may go into the world too, provided it is to save sinners. This should be the great work of our lives. But when instead of this we associate with the world as if it were congenial to us, it is far more likely to drag us down than our friendship is to lift it up. I am afraid it must be sorrowfully admitted that too many professing Christians are leading two distinct kinds of lives, worldly with the worldly and Christian with the Christian. You would hardly think them the same persons were you to meet them under different circumstances. They cannot be distinguished from the citizens of this world today, and they might pass for excellent saints tomorrow. But such people as these really exercise their influence for the world and not for God. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)

The guileless spirit loving not the world, which is darkness, but God, who is light

The love of the world is here declared to be irreconcilable with the love of the Father. And the declaration applies to “the things that are in the world.” These are represented under three categories or heads--“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

1. “The lust of the flesh.” It is lust or desire of a carnal sort; such as the flesh prompts or occasions. It is the appetite of sense out of order, or in excess. The appetite for which food is God’s appointed ordinance, and the appetite for which marriage is God’s appointed ordinance--the general needs and cravings of the body which the laws of nature and the gifts of Providence so fully meet--the higher tastes which fair forms and sweet sounds delight--the eye for beauty and the ear or the soul for music--these are not, any of them, the lust of the flesh. But they all, everyone of them, may become the lust of the flesh. And in the world they do become the lust of the flesh. It is the world’s aim to pervert them into the lust of the flesh and to pander to them in that character, either grossly or with refinement.

2. “The lust of the eyes.” It is not merely that the flesh lusts through the eyes, or that the eyes minister to the lust of the flesh. The eyes themselves have their own lust. It is lust that can be satisfied with mere sight, which the lust of the flesh never is nor can be. I may be one in whom the world’s sensual or sensuous delights no longer stimulate the lust of the flesh. But my eyes are pained when I see the giddy crowd so happy and secure. My bosom swells and my blood boils when I am forced to look on villany triumphant and vice caressed. It may be all righteous zeal and virtuous wrath--a pure desire to witness wrong redressed and justice done. But, alas! as I yield to it I find it fast assuming a worse character. I would not myself be partaker of the sinful happiness I see the world enjoying; but I grudge the world’s enjoyment of it.

3. “The pride of life.” What pains are taken in the world to save appearances and keep up a seemly and goodly state! It is a business all but reduced to system. Its means and appliances are ceremony and feigned civility. All is to be in good taste and in good style--correct, creditable, commendable. It is the world’s pride to have it so. What is otherwise must be somehow toned down or shaded off, concealed or coloured. Falsehood may be necessary; a false code of honour; false notions of duty, as between man and man or between man and woman; false liberality and spurious delicacy. It debauches conscience and is fatal to high aims. It puts the men and women of the world on a poor struggle to out manoeuvre and outshine one another, to outdo one another, for the most part, in mere externals, while, with all manner of politeness, they affect to give one another credit for what they all know to be little better than shams. Nevertheless, the general effect is imposing. Need I suggest how many sad instances of religious inconsistency and worldly conformity spring from this source? Do you not sometimes find yourselves more ashamed of a breach of worldly etiquette--some apparent descent from the customary platform of worldly respectability--than of such a concession to the world’s forms and fashions as may compromise your integrity in the sight of God and your right to acquit yourselves of guile?

And now, for practical use, let three remarks be made.

1. Of “all that is in the world” it is said that “it is not of the Father, but of the world.” The choicest blessings of home, the holiest ordinances of religion, the very gospel itself, may thus come, when once “in the world,” to be “of the world.” There is nothing in them that rises above the natural influences of self-love and social, as these are blended “in the world.”

2. “All that is in the world is of the world,” Wherever it may be found. Let us beware, then, of letting into the sanctuary and shrine of our soul, now become the dwelling place of God by His Spirit, anything that savours of the world’s sloth and self-indulgence, or of the world’s jealousy and envy, or of the world’s vain pomp and pride.

3. Let us remember that the world which we are not to love, because “all that is in it is not of the Father but is of the world,” is yet itself the object of a love on the part of the Father, with which, as His children, having in us His love, we are to sympathise. Let us look at it as the Father looks at it--as a deep, dark mass of guilt, ungodliness, and woe. Let us plunge in to the rescue. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Love not the world

The warning. Are we not required diligently to attend to the things of the world? And is not a promise of its enjoyment made to those who do so? True. The command is “Look well to thy flocks and herds.” “Not slothful in business.” And this is among the promises, “Godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is and that which is to come.” We may value the world, we may seek to possess it, we may enjoy it. This is not what the apostle forbids. The true meaning of the injunction lies in the term, “Love not the world.” This affection is supreme in whatever heart it dwells. It is jealous, and admits no rival. If a man loves the world, he gives it the first place in his heart, and everything is subordinated to it. The world then becomes his God, and he worships it. What ever comes in competition with it is discarded. It becomes the object of a passion of which it is wholly unworthy. Yet the love of the world is a principle fearfully prevalent. It is to be found in many who do not suspect it. Here is a man placed in a position where he may add to his worldly substance. But there is a difficulty. The law stares him in the face, “provide things honest in the sight of all men.” He would like to keep it, but the prospect is tempting. By degrees his principle of integrity is overcome, and he takes the golden bait, overcome by the love of the world. One other illustration may be added. Here is a man who does respect the laws of integrity, and honour, and devotion. But he is associated with another, who does not respect them. A case arises where both must act together. The former expresses his desire to act righteously. The other uses his influence to overcome what he denominates his scruples. He is afraid to offend him; his interests are too deeply involved to run so great a risk; he yields, and presents another example of a victim overcome by the love of the world.

The reasons of the warning.

1. The love of God and the love of the world are incompatible with one another, and cannot exist together in the same mind. This is precisely the sentiment of our Lord (Matthew 6:24).

2. The world is sinful, and therefore its service is incompatible with that of God.

3. We are ourselves perishing, and so is all that is earthly.

4. But to all this there is a glorious contrast in the last reason. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Such a man is the subject of principles that will endure through all the trials and vicissitudes of life. (James Morgan, D. D.)

Love not the world

Intimately connected, as we are, with this point of space, we are connected still more intimately with something which transcends alike both time and space--the Eternal and the Infinite in which we live and move and have our being. It is because the world tends to draw off our thoughts from Him Who is the centre and fountain of our life that we are warned not to love the world. The world against which we are warned is something transitory and changeable. It is that which appeals to our senses, which supplies to us the natural field of enjoyment and thought and action. It is plain that if the world means all this, it is utterly absurd to think we can escape from it, as some have fancied, by becoming hermits, or avoiding certain kinds of society or amusement. The world is wrapt up in our very nature. It is a necessity of our earthly life. We might as well say we would renounce our bodies, renounce easing or breathing, as say we would renounce the world in this sense. It is not the world then in itself, but a particular way of using the world, a particular way of being affected by the world, which we Christians are to give up. It may help us to understand what is the wrong use and the wrong influence of the world if we think first what is the right use and right influence. Why did God place us in such a world as this? Was it not in order that we might be raised from the animal to the spiritual, from the state of nature to the state of grace, that we might learn to know God and do His will, and so become partakers of eternal life? This, then, is the right use of the world, that, through the things which are made, we might come to Understand the invisible things of God. Let us think of some of the ways in which this is done. The infant’s world is its mother’s lap. In and through that visible world it is taught, even before it can think, some of the invisible things of God. So again the astronomer when he ponders over the varying aspects of the starry heavens, the naturalist when he examines with the microscope the structure of creatures invisible to the naked eye, the poet when he bows down in reverence and adoration before the Holy Spirit revealing itself in nature--these all use the world aright, they rise through the visible, the outward transitory fact, to the invisible, the inner law, the unchanging character and will of the Eternal Father. Let us now descend from this wider view of our environment to that which we most commonly understand by the term “the world,” and which no doubt approaches more nearly to its use in the Bible--the influence of society in general upon each member of the society. Many men have been kept from doing wrong by fear of the world’s censure, many men have been stimulated to do right from hope of the world’s praise. In this way, then, the voice of society is to a certain extent an echo of the voice of God. But far more valuable and important is that other influence of society, when each individual man ceases to think of himself as a separate unit with his separate interests, and becomes conscious of a common membership and a common life. As, for instance, when a boy at school learns to care more for the honour and credit of the school than he does for any advantage or credit to himself, or when the soldier is so penetrated by the spirit of discipline and loyally and patriotism that he willingly sacrifices his life to ensure the safety of his comrades or the triumph of his country. If through the world of nature we are taught something of the might and the wisdom and the glory of God, surely through the world of humanity, through the natural feeling of fellowship which binds us all together, we are taught a yet higher truth, we are brought into sympathy with Him who left the throne of glory to take upon Him the form of a servant. Such, then, being the right use and the right influence of the world, it will not be difficult to see what is its wrong use and wrong influence, what, in fact, is the meaning of the term “world” as used in my text. The world, in the bad sense, is that in our environment which has a tendency to lower our moral nature, to shut out the thought of God, to make us disbelieve in the eternal righteousness and love. Let us take a few examples. Public spirit, esprit de corps, which is the parent of so much that is good, may also be the parent of terrible evil. Men who would have shrunk from doing harm to their neighbour on private grounds have been ready to commit the worst atrocities when it was ordered by the society to which they belonged. So a man whom we have known as fair and honourable in private life, will use the most unfair means, will descend to intimidation and slander, if not to actual falsehood, in order to promote the interests of the religious or political party to which he belongs. In all these cases we see the evil influence of that world against which St. John warns us. The man forgets that the first and greatest commandment is his duty to God, and that his duty to man can only be rightly accomplished as long as he remembers his duty to God. I turn now to the second kind of social influence of which I spoke before, I mean where a man is not carried away by the prevailing feeling, but where he consciously adapts himself to it with a view to gain respect or admiration, or to avoid punishment, or blame, or contempt, or inconvenience of any kind. As I said before, the effect of this motive is to a certain extent favourable to virtuous action, but no action is made virtuous or right simply because it is done to get credit or avoid discredit. It becomes right when it is done to please God, and it is only when we believe that human judgment is in accordance with God’s judgment that we may properly take man’s approval as a guide for our conduct. The great danger is that we take the fashion, whether of a larger or smaller world, as being itself the authoritative standard of life; that we are so deafened by the outside noise that we cease to hear the still small voice of God in the heart; we do not ask whether He approves, we do not even stop to ask what is the origin, or meaning, or ground of the custom or opinion which fashion enjoins, till at last we become simple echoes, we have no genuine tastes or feelings left, our one anxiety is to repeat correctly the latest catch word of the moment. (J. B. Mayor, M. A.)

Love of the world

Excessive affection for the mere things of the world must always be incompatible with the love of God. That which is of the earth is earthy, and cannot be made to incorporate with that which is heavenly. He who is warm in the chase after wealth or renown finds no time nor room in his heart for spiritual contemplation. It was fabled of old that when the arch tempter had made his allurements agreeable to a man his guardian angels uttered a sad lament, sang a melancholy dirge, and left him. When a licentious passion has gained dominion over the thoughts of a man, or when ambition is made free of his breast and constituted his privy councillor, then do his anxious watchings over the purity of his spirit, and his delicate perceptions of right and wrong, and his tender feelings of universal benevolence, and his meditations on futurity, and his frequent and holy communions with God, which may indeed be called our guardian angels, take farewell of the habitation where they must stay no longer, carrying out their peace and glory with them. Alas I this is no fable, but a daily sight.

The love of the world, being incompatible with the love of God, is consequently at enmity with His service. The lover of the world is perhaps a votary of gain; if so, he cannot serve God with the accepted obedience of generosity and benevolence. He may have enrolled himself on the lists of ambition; but God dwells with the lowly and with him on whose lips there is no guile. He may have plunged into the roaring vortex of dissipation and intoxicating pleasure; he surely cannot serve God there.

There is nothing durable in these objects, which appear so enchanting, and are pursued so eagerly.

We ought not to love the world because an excessive attachment to it makes us unwilling to leave it at death.

It is but little to say that we are thus rendered unwilling to leave it when we have also to say that we are thus rendered unworthy to leave it, unfit to leave it. The discipline which the soul receives in the schools of selfishness and the bowers of pleasure and the halls of pride is not such as will fit it for heaven. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)

Love of the world

Is it true, then, that religion requires us to sacrifice every natural affection? If it is, then comply with it. If religion is such a thing, then Simeon Stylites, on his pillar top, was a pattern saint. But if this is not the ideal of religion, let us find out what the true ideal is. If there is a love of natural things perfectly consistent with and flowing out from the love of God, let us know it and act accordingly. Now what is the doctrine in the text? When we consider it in its connection we find it is not a mere statement of negations. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” It does not stop with this. Why not love these? Because we are called to cherish a higher and more comprehensive affection. We are to love the Father supremely. There are some who try to preserve a sort of balance between the two--between the spirit that makes this world supreme, which of course dissolves all moral distinction between right and wrong; and the spirit that makes God supreme, which claims as right the love of right only. It is like compromising with a cancer, or holding negotiations with the yellow fever. There are only two standards that which proceeds from the love of God as supreme; that which proceeds from the love of the world as supreme. You cannot serve them both. The whole statement of the text rests upon the simple fact that every man has a master motive in his heart, which he more or less consciously acts upon. There is one general ground from which a man measures. Here, for instance, is a man that measures from the love of the world, from the summit of worldly advantage. If you want to explain his life you do it in this way: he starts with worldly sanctions and worldly interests, and thus sometimes measures up to spiritual claims and moral laws. So you see men in every avocation of life, from the most private to the most public transactions, willing enough to confess the right, but after all holding it subordinate to the ground from which they measure--worldly advantage. Now a thing is either right or it is wrong. If we measure from God’s supreme law, the love of the Father, we must bring everything else down before that; if we measure from worldly advantage, we must bring God’s law down before that. Love not the world, is the principle. What the apostle means by loving the world and the things of the world, is loving them supremely and making them a standard; measuring from the ground of worldly sanction and interest up to the supreme right. No, we are to measure from the love of the Father downward--not from the love of worldly advantage and sanction upward. That is the real meaning of the text. Loving the Father supremely, we shall know what to love as He loves, and we shall see everything in the relation in which He sees it. From His all-comprehending affection we shall go forth to see everything truly and to love everything as we ought to love it. Every daily duty, every daily care, every common interest--your homes, your toils, your trials, will all be loved by you in due proportion, because you will read in them the Father’s meaning and you will see them in their true relations and significance. And still again, when we start from this ground of love We learn to distinguish the essence of things from the outside of things. When, for instance, a man becomes so enamoured of nature that he forgets the God who made it; when he touches not the pulses of the infinite in the motions of the worlds, but all is a dead blank and all traces of God have vanished, then man has that love of the world and of the things that are in it which is condemned by the apostle. So, too, a man may love humanity simply on its outside--for its advantage to him--merely for that which is pleasing to him, not in its essence. Jesus Christ did not look at the outside of men. He looked into humanity as an emanation from God. He saw it in its priceless worth, and died for it--not for its relations to him of friendliness, or kindness, or love, or service, or beauty, or use, but for its intrinsic worth. That is the way to love humanity. Not because it serves us, not because it is pleasant to us, not because it is friendly to us. That is a very little thing. How sour men get by and by who love it on that account! The true Christian never falters in his high faith in and deep love for humanity, because he sees it and loves it as Jesus Christ did--not with reference to himself but for its intrinsic character and value in the eyes of God. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)

When do we love the world too much

1. When, for the sake of any profit or pleasure, we wilfully and knowingly and deliberately transgress the commandments of God and become openly and habitually wicked and vicious, and live addicted to sensuality, to intemperance, to fraud, to extortion, to injustice.

2. When we take more pains to obtain and secure the conveniences of this life than to qualify ourselves for the rewards of the next.

3. When we cannot be contented, or patient and resigned, under low or inconvenient circumstances.

4. When we cannot part with anything that we possess to those who want it, who deserve it, and who have indeed a right to it.

5. When we envy those who are more fortunate and more favoured by the world than we are, and cannot behold their success without repining; when at the same time we can see others better and wiser and more religious, if they be in a lower state than ourselves, without the least uneasiness, without emulation and a desire to equal them.

6. When we esteem and favour persons purely according to their birth, fortunes, and success, measuring our judgment and approbation by their outward appearance and situation in life.

7. When we dislike and slight others only because the world favours them not, and thus suffer our affections, our judgment, and our behaviour to be regulated by the notions and customs of men, and indeed of the worst sort of men.

8. When worldly prosperity makes us proud and vain, and we expect to be greatly honoured by others, only because they are placed beneath us, though in other respects, in valuable qualities, they may surpass us; and when we resent any little failure of homage as a real injury.

9. When we omit no opportunity of enjoying the good things of this life, when our great business and serious employment is to amuse ourselves, till we contract an indifference for manly and rational occupations, deceiving ourselves, and fancying that we are in a safe condition, because we are not so bad as several whom we could name, nor guilty of such and such vices with which the world abounds. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

The expulsive power of a new affection

There are two ways in which a practical moralist may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world--either by a demonstration of the world’s vanity, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regards from an object that is not worthy of it; or by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment. Love may be regarded in two different conditions. The first is, when its object is at a distance, and then it becomes love in a state of desire. The second is, when its object is in possession, and then it becomes love in a state of indulgence. Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart that it must have a something to lay hold of--and which, if wrested away without the substitution of another something in its place, would leave a void as painful to the mind as hunger is to the natural system. It may be dispossessed of one object, or of any, but it cannot be desolated of all. We know not a more sweeping interdict upon the affections of nature than that which is delivered by the apostle in the verse before us. To bid a man into whom there has not yet entered the great and ascendant influence of the principle of regeneration, to bid him withdraw his love from all the things that are in the world, is to bid him give up all the affections that are in his heart. The world is the all of a natural man. He has not a taste nor a desire that points not to a something placed within the confines of its visible horizon. He loves nothing above it, and he cares for nothing beyond it; and to bid him love not the world, is to pass a sentence of expulsion on all the inmates of his bosom. The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendency? This explains the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel. Beside the world, it places before the eye of the mind Him who made the world, and with this peculiarity, which is all its own--that in the gospel do we so behold God, as that we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners--and where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy, by that barrier of human guilt which intercepts every approach that is not made to Him through the appointed mediator. It is the bringing in of this better hope, whereby we draw nigh unto God--and to live without hope is to live without God; and if the heart be without God, the world will then have all the ascendency. It is God apprehended by the believer as God in Christ, who alone can dispost it from this ascendency. And here let us advert to the incredulity of a worldly man: when he brings his own sound and secular experience to bear upon the high doctrines of Christianity--when he looks on regeneration as a thing impossible. We think that we have seen such men, who, firmly trenched in their own vigorous and homebred sagacity, and shrewdly regardful of all that passes before them through the week, and upon the scenes of ordinary, business, look on that transition of the heart by which it gradually dies unto time, and awakens in all the life of a new-felt and ever-growing desire towards God, as a mere Sabbath speculation; and who thus, with all their attention engrossed upon the concerns of earthliness, continue unmoved to the end of their days, amongst the feelings and the appetites and the pursuits of earthliness. Now, it is altogether worthy of being remarked of those men who thus disrelish spiritual Christianity, and in fact deem it an impracticable acquirement, how much of a piece their incredulity about the demands of Christianity, and their incredulity about the doctrines of Christianity, are with one another. No wonder that they feel the work of the New Testament to be beyond their strength, so long as they hold the words of the New Testament to be beneath their attention. Neither they nor anyone else can dispossess the heart of an old affection but by the expulsive power of a new one; and if that new affection be the love of God, neither they nor anyone else can be made to entertain it, but on such a representation of the Deity as shall draw the heart of the sinner towards Him. Now it is just their unbelief which screens from the discernment of their minds this representation. They do not see the love of God in sending His Son unto the world. It is a mystery to them how a man should pass to the state of godliness from a state of nature; but had they only a believing view of God manifest in the flesh, this would resolve for them the whole mystery of godliness. As it is, they cannot get quit of their old affections, because they are out of sight from all those truths which have influence to raise a new one. But if there be a consistency in the errors, in like manner is there a consistency in the truths which are opposite to them. The man who believes in the peculiar doctrines, will readily bow to the peculiar demands of Christianity. The effect is great, but the cause is equal to it--and stupendous as this moral resurrection to the precepts of Christianity undoubtedly is, there is an element of strength enough to give it being and continuance in the principles of Christianity. Conceive a man to be standing on the margin of this green world; and that, when he looked towards it, he saw abundance smiling upon every field, and all the blessings which earth can afford scattered in profusion throughout every family, and the joys of human companionship brightening many a happy circle of society--conceive this to be the general character of the scene upon one side of his contemplation; and that on the other, beyond the verge of the goodly planet on which he was situated, he could descry nothing but a dark and fathomless unknown. Think you that he would bid a voluntary adieu to all the brightness and all the beauty that were before him upon earth, and commit himself to the frightful solitude away from it? But if, during the time of his contemplation, some happy island of the blest had floated by; and there had burst upon his senses the light of its surpassing glories, and its sounds of sweeter melody; and he clearly saw that there a purer beauty rested upon every field, and a more heartfelt joy spread itself among all the families; and he could discern there, a peace, and a piety, and a benevolence, which put a moral gladness into every bosom, and united the whole society in one rejoicing sympathy with each other, and with the beneficent Father of them all. Could he further see that pain and mortality were there unknown; and above all, that signals of welcome were hung out, and an avenue of communication was made for him--perceive you not, that what was before the wilderness, would become the land of invitation; and that now the world would be the wilderness? What unpeopled space could not do, can be done by space teeming with beatific scenes, and beatific society. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Worldly affections destructive of love to God

There are things in the world which, although not actually sinful in themselves, do nevertheless so cheek the love of God in us as to stifle and destroy it. For instance, it is lawful for us to possess wealth and worldly substance; we may serve God with it, and consecrate it at His altar; but we cannot love wealth without growing ostentatious, or soft, or careful, or narrow hearted (1 Timothy 6:10). So, again, with friends and whist is called society.

Love of the world brings a dulness over the whole of a man’s soul. Fasting, and prayer, and a spare life, and plainness, and freedom from the cumbering offices and possessions of the world, give to the eye and ear of the soul a keen and piercing sense. But this discipline is almost impossible to the man theft moves with the stream of the world; it carries him away against his will. The oppressive nearness of the things which throng upon him from without defrauds him of solitude with God. They come and thrust themselves between his soul and the realities unseen; they drop like a veil over the faint outlines of the invisible world, and hide it from his eyes. And the spiritual powers that are in him grow inert and lose their virtue by the dulness of inaction. The acts of religion, such as reading, thought, contemplation of the unseen, prayer, self-examination, first seem to lose their savour, and are less delighted in: then they grow irksome, and are consciously avoided.

As we grow to be attached to the things that are in the world, there comes over us what I may call a vulnerableness of mind. We lay ourselves open on just so many sides as we have objects of desire. We give hostages to this changeful world, and we are ever either losing them, or trembling lest they be wrested from us. What a life of disappointment, and bitterness, and aching fear, and restless uncertainty, is the life of the ambitious, or covetous, or self-indulgent! But it is not only in this form that the mind is made vulnerable by a love of the world. It lays itself open not more to chastisements than to temptations; it gives so many inlets to the suggestions of evil. Every earthly fondness is an ambush for a thousand solicitations of the wicked one. It is a lure to the tempter--a signal which betrays our weaker side; and as the subtle infection of evil temper winds itself into the mind, the spirit of the Dove is grieved by an irritable and unloving spirit. The very affections of the heart recoil sullenly into themselves, and sometimes even turn against the objects of their immoderate fondness. In this way the love of the world becomes a cause of very serious deterioration of character. It soon stifles the love of God; and when that is gone, and the character has lost its unity, particular features unfold themselves into a fearful prominence. The chief among its earthly affections becomes thenceforth its ruling passion, and so predominates over all the rest, and draws the whole mind to itself, as to stamp the man with the character of a besetting sin. And this is what we mean when we call one man purse-proud, and another ostentatious, or selfish, and the like. The world has eaten its way into his soul, and “the love of the Father is not in him.”

Now, if this be so, what shall we do? We cannot withdraw ourselves. One has wealth, another a family, a third rank and influence, another a large business: and all these bring with them an endless variety of duties and offices, and usages of custom and courtesy. If a man is to break through all these, he must needs go out of this world. All this is very true; but, at the same time, it is certain that every one of us might reduce his life to a greater simplicity. In every position of life there is a great multitude of unnecessary things which we may readily abandon. And as for all the necessary cares of life, they need involve us in no dangers. In them, if we be true hearted, we are safe. When God leads men into positions of great trial, whether by wealth, or rank, or business, He compensates by larger gifts of grace. (Archdeacon Manning.)

The nature and danger of an inordinate love of the world

What we are to understand by the world. A general inventory of this world’s goods is given us by the apostle, divided into three lots. The first contains all the pleasures of the world, called the lust of the flesh, because they are proper to a corporeal nature, or such as the soul now desires, only by reason of its union with the body. The next class is riches, which he calls the lust of the eyes, because the eye takes a peculiar pleasure in gazing at those things which they immediately procure. The pleasures I before mentioned are gone with a touch, these with a look. So unsubstantial are the goods contained in the two first lots of this world’s inventory. Let us now examine the third, and see if we can find anything more solid there. This opens to us all the honours, the high stations, the power and preferments of the world. This the apostle calls the pride of life, because it is the ambitious man’s great object, and at once attracts and foments the vanity of Iris heart. Bet it never satisfies the vanity which it excites. Ambition is insatiable as arvarice.

The extent of this prohibition; or with what restrictions it must nccessarily be taken.

1. This does not forbid us

(1) to prosecute our worldly affairs with application and diligence.

(2) Nor does it countenance, much less require, a total separation from the world.

(3) Nor are we hereby forbid to enjoy the world, or to take any delight in the good things of the present life.

(4) This text does not forbid us to value, or in a certain degree desire to possess the good things of this world: because they are in some respects desirable, and to many good purposes useful; and therefore a wise man will not indulge an absolute contempt of them, or be totally indifferent to them.

(5) Neither are we forbid a conformity to the innocent customs, manners and fashions of the world.

2. What is it then that it does forbid?--I answer in one word, all excessive love of the world, or all immoderate attachment of the heart to it.

(1) We then love this world too much when we neglect our souls, or our interest in a better world, for the sake of it.

(2) ‘Tis a certain sign that a ]nan loves the world too much when he grows vain, imperious and assuming, and despises others merely on the score of their wanting that affluence which he enjoys.

(3) When a man grows confident in the world, and trusts to it as his chief good.

(4) We then love the good things of this world too much when we dare to venture on any known transgression with a view to secure or increase them.

(5) When a man has no heart to do good with what he has iii the world, and is averse to acts of charity, piety and beneficence.

(6) When we are tormented with an anxious solicitude about the things of this world.

(7) It is a sign that our hearts are two much attached to earthly things if we cannot bear our earthly losses and disappointments with temper.

(8) It is an indication that we love the good things of this life too much when we are not thankful for them, and forget to make our acknowledgements to Him at whose hand we hold them.

The grounds of this prohibition.

1. I am to suggest a few general considerations proper to guard us against an immoderate love of the present world. To this end then let it be considered.

(1) How many dangerous temptations it lays in the way of our souls.

(2) The more fond we are of the world the greater is our danger from it. The more it engages our hearts the more power it has to captivate them.

(3) An excessive passion for the world defeats its own end. The more inordinately we love it, the less capable we are of the true enjoyment of it. If we squeeze the world too hard we wring out dregs. In our cup of worldly bliss the sweetest lies at top: he who drinks too deep will find it nauseous.

(4) Why should we love the world so much, when there is nothing in it that suits the dignity or satisfies the desires of our souls?

2. Let us now particularly consider those two motives whereby the apostle himself enforces the caution he gives in the text.

(1) An excessive love of the world is inconsistent with a sincere love of God. An immoderate love of the world, or of anything in it, is paying that devotion and homage of our heart to the creature which is due only to the Creator. What vile ingratitude as well as folly is here! To love the world more than God is a plain indication of the apostacy of the heart from him. And from this inward apostacy of the heart begins the outward apostacy in life.

(2) The world and everything in it is mutable and mortal, constantly changing, and hastening apace to dissolution. (John Mason, M. A.)


I speak to you, not as hermits, but as men of the world, occupied constantly in honourable vocations, and yet conscious that there is a life above this world--an eternal, spiritual, divine life. Will you suffer me to put before you two or three suggestions which may enable us, while living in this world, yet to rise above it?

1. And the first suggestion I would make is, that it would be well for him who desires the spiritual life to adopt some definite, constant action of self-denial. It may be abstinence from alcoholic drink, from theatres and balls--things perfectly right and legitimate in themselves; it may be even so small a thing as early rising in the morning, or it may be some pecuniary generosity; but whatever it is, if it be adopted as a definite self-denial, as a definite self-consecration of the man to God, it will undoubtedly have a purifying and elevating influence.

2. My second suggestion is this, that every one of us who desires to live the spiritual life should ask himself the question, In what respect does my ordinary life, my professional, my regular routine of existence, tend to draw me from God, tend to deaden the spiritual activities and faculties? and then that he should set himself to encourage a practice which will limit this tendency. For, according to the familiar illustration of the philosopher Aristotle, if a stick is bent in one direction, and you want to straighten it, you must bend it violently in the opposite direction. Suppose, for example, as is quite likely, that one is engaged in the business of commerce, it is his object to make money, and this is legitimate in itself; yet, if he be spiritually minded, he will not be blind to the fact that the occupation of making money does tend to set the soul upon earthly, and not upon heavenly things. In order to remedy this tendency he will encourage in himself a definite, systematic practice of generosity; he will aim at using his money, not as an owner, but as a trustee, so that by means of it he may make the world better, he may increase the happiness and joy of those less fortunate than himself.

3. Let me take a third instance to show the duty and beauty of this spiritual life. It is easy to get into the state in which the very being of God Himself becomes a doubt and a difficulty, and yet it is vital to avoid that state altogether and always. Is it not the case in public life that there are dangers which threaten the well-being of the spiritual nature--I mean the love of victory for instance, which is not the love of truth? The voice of the people is not the voice of God, it tends now-a-days to drown the voice of God. What can be the effect of the malice and uncharitableness which men display so often towards one another, but to make God seem distant, and as if He had no relation to the human soul? Anyone then who in the noble field of public life is anxious not to let his spirituality die out will be careful at times to retire into solitude to commune with his Maker and with his own soul, and he will cry out, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Such a man will try always to live as in the sight of God. (J. E. Welldon, D. D.)

The world we must not love

Let us not confuse “the world” with the earth, with the whole race of man, with general society, with any particular set, however much some sets are to be avoided. Look at the thing fairly. Yet let us read the letters of Mary Godolphin. She bore a life unspotted by the world in the dissolute court of Charles II, because the love of the Father was in her. In small serious circles are there no hidden lusts which blaze up in scandals? Is there no vanity, no pride, no hatred? In the world of Charles II’s court Mary Godolphin lived out of the world which God hated; in the religious world not a few, certainly, live in the world which is not God’s. For once more, the world is not so much a place--though at times its power seems to have been drawn into one intense focus, as in the empire of which Rome was the centre, and which may have been in the apostle’s thought in the following verse. In the truest and deepest sense the world consists of our own spiritual surrounding; it is the place which we make for our own souls. No walls that ever were reared can shut out the world from us; the “Nun of Kenmare” found that it followed her into the seemingly spiritual retreat of a severe Order. The world in its essence is subtler and thinner than the most infinitesimal of the bacterian germs in the air. They can be strained off by the exquisite apparatus of a man of science. At a certain height they cease to exist. But the world may be wherever we are; we carry it with us wherever we go, it lasts while our lives last. No consecration can utterly banish it even from within the church’s walls; it dares to be round us while we kneel, and follows us into the presence of God. (Abp. Wm. Alexander.)

The Christian in the world

A true Christian living in the world is like a ship sailing on the ocean. It is not the ship being in the water which will sink it, but the water getting into the ship. So in like manner the Christian is not ruined by living in the world, which he must needs do while he remains in the body, but by the world living in him. Our daily avocations, yea, our most lawful employments, have need to be narrowly watched, lest they insensibly steal upon our affections, and draw away our hearts from God.

A dangerous experiment

Whoever is contriving, by how little faith or how little grace, and with how large interspersing of gaieties and worldly pleasure he may make his title to salvation good, is engaged in a very critical experiment. He is trying how to be a Christian without being at all a saintly person. How to love God enough without loving Him enough to be taken away from his lighter pleasures, and he really thinks that, aiming low enough to be a little of a Christian, he still may just hit the target on the lower edge. Perhaps he will; but is he sure of it? And, if he really is, what miserable economy is it to be so little in the love of God and the joys of a glorious devotion, that he can be just empty enough to want his deficit made up by amusements! If that will answer, a very mean soul certainly can be saved. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)


When ballast is thrown out, the balloon shoots up. A general unlading of the “thick clay” which weighs down the Christian life of England and of America, would let thou sands soar to heights which they will never reach as long as they love money and what it buys as much as they do. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Worldliness impedes the sight of higher things

Suppose I were shut up within a round tower, whose massive wall had in some time of trouble been pierced here and there for musketry; suppose, further, that by choice or necessity, I am whirled rapidly and incessantly round its inner circumference, will I appreciate the beauties of the surrounding landscape or recognise the features of the men who labour in the field below? I will not! Why? Are there not openings in the wall which I pass at every circuit? Yes; but the eye, set for objects near, has not time to adjust itself to objects at a distance until it has passed the openings; and so the result is the same as if it were a dead wall all round. Behold the circle of human life! of the earth, earthy it is, almost throughout its whole circumference. A dead wall, very near and very thick, obstructs the view. Here and there, on a Sabbath or other season of seriousness, a slit is left open in its side. Heaven might be seen through these; but alas! the eye which is habitually set for the earthly cannot, during such momentary glimpses, adjust itself to higher things. Unless you pause and look steadfastly, you will see neither clouds nor sunshine through these openings, or the distant sky. So long has the soul looked upon the world, and so firmly is the world’s picture fixed in its eye, that when it is turned for a moment heavenward, it feels only a quiver of inarticulate light, and retains no distinct impression of the things that are unseen and eternal. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Love not the world

“Love not the world,” cries St. John in a shuddering laconicism. A multitude of voices echo his words. The shores of time are strewn with many a wreck, each serving as a beacon to point out the rock on which they stranded. Here the merchant who worked seven days in the week, who forgot God in piling up riches, and failed at last, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the millionaire who inherited a fortune and doubled it every ten years, and drained every cup of pleasure, and now faces death with a tainted body and a leprous character, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the statesman who reached the senate chamber and laid his hand on dishonest gold and went down in ignominy, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the brilliant journalist, the clever student, the gifted artist, who reached distinction at the sacrifice of strength, life, reputation, cry, “Love not the world.” Could we lift the curtain that shrouds the tomb, what awful warnings would break upon our ears! Miser, spendthrift, drunkard, libertine, sensualist, what sayest thou? That gluttony is shame, and drunkenness woe, and debauchery corruption, and the wages of sin death. “Love not the world.” Apart from God there is nothing. In Him are all things. The love of the creature more than the Creator is the curse and condemnation of the soul. Supreme affection toward God is the coronation of humanity. (S. S. Roche.)

Verse 16

1 John 2:16

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

The three elements of a worldly life: love of pleasure, the love of knowledge, and the love of power

What then is the meaning of the phrase “desire of the flesh?” It is the desire which we naturally have to gratify our lower impulses, that animal nature which we share with the brutes, but which in man ought to be under the control of the superior faculty of reason. If we name this desire from its object, rather than from its origin or source, we might call it loosely “the desire of pleasure uncontrolled by a sense of duty.” It is more difficult to ascertain the exact force of the “desire of the eyes.” If taken literally, it would simply stand for a particular form of the desire of the flesh, a more refined and human form of sensual pleasure, the desire of seeing beautiful objects; but I am inclined to think that, so far as this is sensual, it is included under the former head, and that it is more in accordance with Hebrew ideas and with the facts of life to suppose that we have here a quite distinct class of desires, the desires of the intellect. But how, it may be asked, can the desire of knowledge be condemned as characteristic of the world. Knowledge is not dependent on society, like pleasure, and moreover the desire of knowledge is especially commended in the Bible. How then can it be to the discredit of the world, or make its influence more injurious, if it is accompanied by the desire of knowledge? The answer is that neither pleasure nor knowledge is in itself condemned in the Bible. The pleasure which is condemned in the phrase “lust of the flesh,” is, as we have seen, selfish and predominantly sensual, unchecked by higher thoughts and feelings. And so by the “desire of the eyes” is meant primarily not the desire for truth as such, but the desire for a knowledge of the world, knowledge as contrasted not with ignorance and stupidity, but with simplicity, ingenuousness and innocence. How many owe their fall to an impatience of restraint and a curiosity which is attracted to evil rather than to good! How few remember that knowledge no more than pleasure can claim our absolute allegiance! We now come to the third of these worldly lusts, as they are styled in the Epistle to Titus, the “pride,” or as the Revised Version has it, the “vainglory” of life, the desire to make a show, the desire of honour and distinction, which is as naturally characteristic of the active principle within us, as the desire of pleasure is of the passive or sensitive principle. Supposing this to be a generally correct account of St. John’s analysis of the spirit of the world, it is evident that it corresponds with the common division of man’s nature into the feeling, the thinking, and the willing part; the desire of pleasure corresponding to the appetites, the desire of knowledge to the intellect, while ambition, the desire of honour and of power, corresponds to the will. But human life consists in the exercise of these different elements of man’s nature. How is it possible, then, that these gifts of God should be the source of the evil that is in the world? If man were perfect, as God intended him to be, this would not be the case. His various impulses would all work harmoniously together under the control of reason and conscience, enlightened and guided by the Spirit of God himself. But we know that, whatever we may hope for the future, this is far from being the case at present. At present every impulse is a source of danger, because it is not satisfied with doing the work and attaining the end for which it was implanted in our nature, but continues to urge us on where its action is injurious, antagonistic to higher ends and higher activities, and contrary to the will of Him Who made us. It is these blind unruly impulses which constitute the spirit of the world, and are employed by him, who is described as the prince of this world, to band men together in evil, and so build up a kingdom of the world, in opposition to the kingdom of God. St. John implies the unrestrained action of these impulses when he tells us they make up all that is in the world. If we can trust contemporary evidence, the historians and satirists of Rome, no less than Christian writers, the moral condition of society in the imperial city is not too darkly coloured in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In the catalogue of sin and vice there given, two main lines of evil may be distinguished, which at first sight seem to be very remote from each other, but which are in fact closely allied, being continually associated together in history, as they are in Milton’s famous line, “Lust hard by hate.” Cruelty and profligacy were the most marked characteristics of the Caligulas and the Neros of Rome; they were the notes of that degraded aristocracy, in which even the women, dead to all sense of shame, were also dead to all feeling of pity, and could look on with a horrible delight at the sports in the arena, where gladiators were butchered to make a Roman holiday, and Christians were burnt alive at night in order to light up the chariot races of the emperor. And the profligacy of the capitol was faithfully copied in the provinces. St. Paul’s epistles, with their constant warnings against impurity, show how deeply even the humbler ranks of society, from which the Church was mainly recruited, were infected with this vice of paganism. We see, then, that as regards the desire or lust of the flesh, the state of contemporary society fully bore out St. John’s description of the world. How did the case stand with regard to the second point in his description, the lust of the eyes? Understanding this of the desire of knowledge, we find St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians describing it as the distinctive feature of the Greek as opposed to the Hebrew, that the Greeks seek after wisdom; but “God (he says) hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise”; “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” So St. Luke mentions curiosity, which is merely the undisciplined desire of knowledge, as the chief characteristic of the Athenians, “all the Athenians spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Ephesus, where St. John is believed to have spent the latter part of his life, was especially noted for the study of curious arts, prying into forbidden things. Lastly, if we ask how far that third constituent of the worldly spirit, ambition, vainglory, the pride of life, was to be found in Paganism at the time of St. John’s writing, we need not look further than the temple of Ephesus, which was held to be one of the wonders of the world; we need only think of the magnificence of the architecture, the splendour of the ceremonial, the frenzied enthusiasm of the multitudes which gathered at the festival of “the great goddess Diana, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.” How hard it must have been for the little band of Christians to realise that all this pageantry and power was but an empty show, destined in a few short years to vanish away; to feel that the weakness of God was stronger than men, that “God had chosen the base things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, that no flesh might glory in His presence.” And if this was true of a provincial town like Ephesus, how much more of what was even then known as the eternal city, to which all the wealth and power and greatness, all the art and science and skill of the whole earth was attracted, where one man commanded the lives and fortunes of all, and was worshipped as God on earth, the only God whose worship was obligatory on all. It was such a world dominion as this, that St. John had in his mind, when he warned his disciples against being dazzled by the vainglory of life, when he spoke of the whole world lying in wicked ness, when he encouraged them with the thought that “He that is born of God overcometh the world.” I think that what we have seen to be true of the pagan world of St. John’s day, is also true of all the more marked historical appearances of the worldly spirit. Two such appearances may be especially noticed. One was that period of revolt against the Middle Ages, which preceded and accompanied the Reformation, the other was that period of scepticism which prepared the way for the French Revolution. In both we find the most influential classes of society, those which may be regarded as the truest embodiment of the worldly spirit of their time, characterised by the combination of these three elements, the love of pleasure, the love of knowledge, and the love of power. Enlightenment was the special boast of both eras, and the effect of this enlightenment was to shake off the old fashioned restraints of religion and morality and give free scope to the selfish instincts, whether in the direction of pleasure or ambition. Caesar Borgia was the natural outcome of the first era; Napoleon Bonaparte of the second. (J. B. Mayor, M. A.)

Transitoriness of the lust of the flesh

By “the lust of the flesh” I understand the animal needs and appetites, the physical strength and vigour. There is a period in life when the desires of the flesh exercise immense influence and subtle power over the imagination. They seem to promise illimitable delight and inexhaustible pleasures. The imagination runs through the world and sees everywhere alluring forms which point to intoxicating joys. That is not an unusual experience. It is common to all of us in the heyday of youth and strength, and I only allude to it to ask--Have you considered that this is passing away? Do you know that the gamut of appetite and passion is very limited after all? You can soon reach up and strike the topmost note, and downward and strike the lowest. Do you know that these violent delights have violent ends? They are soon exhausted, and the hungry passion is satiated, and the promise which it made is found a cheat. It is so. It is so if for no other reason than this--because physical life itself fails. Youth is soon gone; manhood is soon passed; old age is soon reached. You are not what you were. Already the keen edge and zest of earthly appetite is blunted. You dislike, perhaps, to admit it, and yet you know in your hearts that the best cup of wine which life has to give you is already drunk, and that life will never prepare again for you the like. (W. J. Dawson.)

The lust of the eyes

The eye is the portal of innumerable delights. It is “the meeting place of many worlds.” Through it there stream in upon the mind the vision of beauty, the revelation of sciences, the pomp and pageantry of earthly power, all the bright, shifting splendour of human glory. Have you ever considered that riches appeal mainly to the eye? It is the eye which interprets to a man the stateliness of the house which he has built, the beauty of the gardens which he has laid out, the picture’s charm, the statue’s grace, the horse’s symmetry--in a word, all those costly embellishments with which wealth can adorn life. To the blind man they are nothing. To be blind is to lose almost everything that riches can bestow. Yet, says John, the lust of the eyes, too, is a fading passion which is soon satiated. The first house a man buys looks better and bigger to him than any house he owns afterwards. The first picture a man owns brings him more genuine pleasure than all the others put together. That lust of the eye which desires to add house to house and land to land has a lessening pleasure in its acquisitions. Like the lust of the flesh, after all it is a life of sensation, and all sensation is limited and soon exhausted. You, perhaps, have set your hope in some such direction as this. You desire to be rich; your eye lusts for the luxurious abodes of wealth and the circumstance and state of social greatness. When the lust of the flesh fails, the lust of the eye often develops; and the man who has lost the one frantically tries to recoup himself by flying to the other. But it is vain. The miseries of the idle rich, their ennui, their listlessness, their discontent, their imbecile thirst for new sensations, their perpetual invention of new and artificial joys, remind us how true are the words of John, that the lust of the eyes, too, passes away. (W. J. Dawson.)

The pride of life is transitory

It may signify either the pride of power or the pride of knowledge.

1. Take it, for instance, as the pride of power. Take it in regard to that great and splendid empire with which the apostles were familiar. It seemed built to last forever. To be a Roman was to be armed with an invincible defence. It was a proud boast which clothed the meanest man with dignity. The tramp of the legions of Rome echoed in every city; the silver eagles were borne in triumph through all the world; its laws had imposed civilisation upon the most barbarous peoples; and its power had crushed nation after nation. There was no sign in John’s day of any overthrow. Yet this solitary man told the truth when he said, not merely that it would pass away, but that it was passing away. He recognised that mysterious law of God, which seems to give to nations their chance and strengthen them with universal victory, and then depose them, lest one good custom should corrupt the world. Egypt, Chaldea, Babylon, Greece, all had had their day, and ceased to be. And so it would be with Rome. We today know that it has passed away.

2. And it is true of the pride of knowledge. The noblest pride of life, because the highest, is the pride of knowledge. Yet that, too, is transient. Nothing shifts its boundaries so often. Nothing is so illusive. Nothing passes through such strange and rapid transformations. The knowledge of Galileo would be the ignorance of today; and if Isaac Newton were alive now he would have to go to school again. A century, a half-century, a single decade, is often sufficient to thrust the most brilliant discoveries into oblivion. The steam engine has sup planted the coach; but the steam engine is already passing away, and in fifty years’ time will be supplanted by some greater and more serviceable power. The telegraph has bound nations together and has made all nations neighbours; but the telephone is becoming its rival, and in another century, and less perhaps, men will hear each other’s whispers round the globe. A thousand illustrations might be given of how knowledge perpetually effaces its past. Nor is this a mournful truth. It is no tolling bell which announces that the world is passing away. It is rather a trumpet. It means that God’s law is progress: and that is a glorious truth for those who can understand it. (W. J. Dawson.)

The worldling’s trinity

Pleasure, profit, preferment (called here “the lust of the flesh,” etc.) are the worldling’s trinity, to the which he performeth inward and outward worship. (J. Trapp.)

What is “the world”

The world is not altogether matter, nor yet altogether spirit. It is not man only, nor Satan only, nor is it exactly sin. It is an infection, an inspiration, an atmosphere, a life, a colouring matter, a pageantry, a fashion, a taste, a witchery. None of all these names suit it, and all of them suit it. (S. Faber.)

Verse 17

1 John 2:17

The world passeth away, and the lust thereof

River and rock

There are but two things set forth in this text--a great antithesis between something which is in perpetual flux and passage and something which is permanent.

If I might venture to cast the two thoughts into metaphorical form, I should say that here are a river and a rock.

The river or the sad truth of sense. “The world” is in the act of “passing away.” Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some movable panorama which glide along, even as the eye looks upon them, and are concealed behind the side flats before the gazer has taken in the whole picture, so constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of continual motion. There is no present, but all is movement. But besides this transiency external to us, John finds a corresponding analogous transiency within us. “The world passeth, and the lust thereof.” Of course the word “lust” is employed by him in a much wider sense than in our use of it. With us it means one specific and very ugly form of earthly desire. With him it includes the whole genus--all desires of every sort, more or less noble or ignoble, which have this for their characteristic, that they are directed to, stimulated by, and fed or disappointed on, the fleeting things of this outward life. If thus a man has anchored himself to that which has no perpetual stay, so long as the cable holds he follows the fate of the thing to which he has pinned himself, and if it perish he perishes, in a very profound sense, with it. But these fleeting desires, of which my text speaks, point to that sad feature of human experience, that we all outgrow and leave behind us, and think of very little value, the things that once to us were all but heaven. The self-conscious same man abides, and yet how different the same man is! Our lives, then, will zig-zag instead of keeping a straight course if we let desires that are limited by anything that we can see guide and regulate us. The march of these fleeting things is like that of cavalry with their horses’ feet wrapped in straw in the night, across the snow, silent and unnoticed. We cannot realise the revolution of the earth because everything partakes in it. We talk about standing still, and we are whirling through space with inconceivable rapidity. By a like illusion we deceive ourselves with the notion of stability when everything about us is hastening away. Some of you do not like to be reminded of it, and think it a killjoy. Now, surely common sense says to all that if there be some fact certain and plain and applying to you, which, if accepted, would profoundly modify your life, you ought to take it into account. Suppose a man that lived in a land habitually shaken by earthquakes were to say, “I mean to ignore the fact, and I am going to build a house just as if there was not such a thing as an earthquake expected,” he would have it toppling about his ears very soon. And suppose a man says, “I am not going to take the fleetingness of the things of earth into account at all, but am going to live as if all things were to remain as they are,” what would become of him do you think? Is he a wise man or a fool? And is he you? When they build a new house in Rome they have to dig down through sometimes sixty or a hundred feet of rubbish that runs like water, the ruins of old temples and palaces once occupied by men in the same flush of life in which we are now. We, too, have to dig down through ruins, until we get to rock and build there, and build secure. Withdraw your affections and thoughts and desires from the fleeting, and fix them on the permanent. If a captain takes anything but the pole star for his fixed point he will lose his reckoning, and his ship will be on the reefs. If we take anything but God for our supreme delight and desire we shall perish. There was an old rabbi long ago whose own real name was all but lost because everybody nicknamed him “Rabbi This-also.” The reason was because he had perpetually on his lips the saying about everything as it came, “This also will pass.” He was a wise man. Let us go to his school and learn his wisdom.

The rock, or the glad truth of faith. We might have expected that John’s antithesis to “the world that passeth” would have been “the God that abides.” But he does not so word his sentence, although the thought of the Divine permanence underlies it. Rather over against the fleeting world he puts the abiding man who does the will of God. There is only one permanent reality in the universe, and that is God. All else is shadow. The will of God is the permanent element in all changeful material things, and consequently he who does the will of God links himself with the Divine eternity, and becomes partaker of that blessed Being which lives above mutation. What will you do when you are dead? You have to go into a world where there are no gossip and no housekeeping, no mills and no offices, no shops, no books, no colleges, and no sciences to learn. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” If you have done your housekeeping, and your weaving and spinning, and your bookkeeping, and your buying and selling, and your studying, and your experimenting with a conscious reference to God, it is all right. That has made the act capable of eternity, and there will be no need for that man to change. The material on which he works will change, but the inner substance of his life will be unaffected by the trivial change from earth to heaven. Whilst the endless ages roll he will be doing just what he was doing down here, only here he was playing with counters and yonder he will be trusted with gold and dominion over ten cities. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

National worldliness

There is one thing makes and keeps a nation great; it is a love of invisible ideas. There is one thing that makes and keeps it base; it is love of the visible and the transient. The one love we call spiritual and the other worldly. The latter, when it is first, excludes the former; the former does not exclude the latter, but ennobles its work by making the motives of it worthy. What is the spiritual life in a nation? That is our first question. It is when there is an ever-present spiritual power in the people which rules and influences their whole national life. I may state what I mean by that in this way. Through knowledge of our nation’s history in the past, through admiration of her greatness, through love of her scenery, through the subtle traditionary feelings which have been sent down in our blood--through these, and through a crowd of desires and enjoyments and sorrows which are shared by us all as Englishmen, and through a crowd of hopes for the future of our country, there grows up before us an ideal image of our nation. Afterwards we separate the qualities of her character, and from them, seen one by one, we conceive other spiritual ideas. She loves, we say, rightousness in her children, and there are certain ways of action which she has always thought right for Englishmen. Knowing this, her children conceive the idea of duty to her. She says, It is better to die than to be false to these demands; and the ideas of duty and courage are both invisible. Then we conceive that she loves all her children equally, and we believe that; and immediately we conceive the spiritual idea of a brotherhood in which all Englishmen are one. When each man, far beyond his personal interests, beyond his home affections, beyond his passions, feels these things as the power of his life and lives by them, and lives to do them; when the love he has to them is so powerful that he bends to its service all he is and all he has, then the nation that has such men within it lives a spiritual national life and not a worldly one. Can you imagine this or part of it being in a nation’s life and that nation not being great and keeping great? The nearest approach to the picture was in the days of Elizabeth. Not long after her accession men began to realise the freedom they had won, and passed from despair into a passionate love of their country. They idealised England, and represented their ideal in the queen. And the life that came out of this--the adventure, the sacrifices, the abounding thought, the audacious power--is even to us astonishing. A vehemence of activity and faith tilled the commonest sailor and yeoman with the same spirit as Raleigh and Greville. The intellectual work was just as great. We cannot yet cease to wonder at a time when all men seemed giants, when Elizabeth and Cecil played on Europe as on an instrument, when Spenser recreated romance and wedded her to religion, when Shakespeare made all mankind talk and act upon a rude stage, when Bacon reopened the closed doors of Nature and philosophy, when Hooker’s judgment made wise the Church, and when among these kings of thought there moved a crowd of princes who in any other age would themselves have been kings of art and song and learning. That was a noble national life, and it was such because it was lived in and for spiritual ideas. Nor because of that was it less practical. The life the ideas made and supported entered into the work of wealth the commerce of England began under Elizabeth, the agriculture of the country was trebled, houses rose everywhere, comfort and luxury and art increased. But, though wealth and comfort grew, they were never the first. Ideal motives ruled them--worship of God and England, and the queen as the image of England. An ideal national life then included all the good of a worldly one. It was no less practical in its results on the spirit of the country. There is none among us who is not the better for the example of that time, who is not prouder of our land with that pride that makes heroic deeds, who does not look back with reverence to the great names that then adorned our country. The opposite life to that is that of national worldliness. It is when there are but very few ideas in a nation, and when these few do not rule it; when its action, thoughts, and feelings are governed by what is present or visible or transitory. It is when the men in it worship as the first thing personal getting on; when wealth is first and any means are good that attain it; when those who have it or rank or position are bowed down to without consideration of character; when art is even stained and men work at it not for love of its own reward but to sell it dearly; when politics are governed solely by desire for the material prosperity of the country; when the commerce of a nation is to be kept at all hazards, even the hazard of disgrace. And as there are a great many among us who are in that condition or tending to it, we should be in bad way were it not that there are numbers who hate that condition, who do not live in it or for it, to whom it is vile and hideous and contemptible. Let all those who think thus do their best to keep the worldly spirit out of the nation’s life; it will be a sacred duty. And it is one of those things which everyone can do, each in his own society. Take a few instances of it in certain spheres of thought and act that we may know it. Take the scientific world. On one side of it it is quite unworldly. It demands that it should be allowed to do its work without any practical motive, without any end such as, when reached, would increase the wealth or comfort of the world. But in two ways it may become worldly. First, it becomes partially worldly when it tries to put aside all ideal life but its own, when it mocks at any belief in the invisible except its own invisibles, when it is so foolish as to see nothing beyond itself. Secondly, it may become altogether worldly if it should tie itself to the car of the practical man, hire itself out to the manufacturer, or the police, or the politician, or the people who love luxury, making itself like Aladdin’s lamp in the hands of a clodhopper. Oh, protect it from that fate! Again take art. Of all men it is true, but of the artist it is especially true, that he must not love the world nor the things of the world. He runs passionately towards the ideal beauty. The impossible is his aim; nothing he does should ever satisfy him. If he could say, “Now I grasp the perfect; the present is all in all to me; I live in and through the visible thing I have made,” then were he really dead in sin; then would art glide away from him forever, and when he knew that misery as his he would die of the knowledge of it. But worse, infinitely worse, than such a death is his becoming worldly, and he may be lured into that by the love of money. He may give up all his own ideas, all the ideal he once had of his work, to do work he hates and despises. He may even get to like the base work for the sake of the goods it brings him. There is no ruin so ghastly as this. Once more, take national economy. There is a good thrift when the money of a people is carefully watched that the greatest amount of reproductive good may be got out of it, when none is wasted, when work is honestly paid its full value and no more, when no money is given for bad work, or, as is often the case, for no work at all. Such economy is ruled by ideas, especially by this main one: All expenditure, even to the last sixpence, must have some relation to the good of England. But there is a base thrift, and that is ruled by this maxim: All expenditure must increase material wealth, or have a visible practical end, practical as enabling men to get on better in this world. Love not the world, nor the things of the world in your nation, any more than in your own heart. You may think this has nothing to do with religion, with the faith and life of Christ. Then you will be much mistaken. Such a national temper will put men into the atmosphere in which a Christian life is possible. If you can get men to live an unworldly national life you have made the first step to get them to live after Christ. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)

The evanescent and the enduring in human history

Everything in worldliness is evanescent.

1. The worldly man’s possessions are evanescent. Though he has pyramids of gold they will pass away like a morning cloud.

2. The worldly man’s purposes are evanescent. His great schemes are only splendid dreams which pass away in the waking hour.

3. The worldly man’s pleasures are evanescent.

4. The worldly man’s productions are evanescent. Architecture, painting, commerce, literature, legislation--what are these? A glaring pageant that passeth away.

Everything in godliness is enduring. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Such a man has received a “kingdom that cannot be moved.”

1. His principles are abiding.

2. His possessions are abiding. No moth nor rust can corrupt his treasures. “The Lord is his portion.”

3. His prospects are abiding. His hopes are not fixed on objects that are passing away, but on an “inheritance incorruptible,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever--

The guileless spirit, amid the dark world’s flow, established in the light of godliness

The characteristic of the world is that it does not “do the will of God”; it is the sphere or region in which the will of God is not done. As not doing the will of God, the world and its lust must pass away, for it is identical with the darkness which is passing. Passing! But it is passing to where it wilt pass no more, but stay, fixed unchangeably forever. It is not annihilated, it does not cease to be, it only ceases to be passing. Have you ever thought how much of the world’s endurableness--I say not its attractiveness but its endurableness--depends on its being a world that passes, and therefore changes? Is there any sensation, any delight, any rapture of worldly joy, however engrossing, that you could bear to have prolonged indefinitely, forever, unaltered, unalterable? But I put the case too favourably. I speak of your finding the world with its lust, not passing but abiding, in the place whither you yourselves pass when you pass hence. True, you find it there. But you find it not as you have it here. There are means and appliances here for quenching by gratification, or mitigating by variety, its impetuous fires. But there you find it where these fires burn, unslaked, unsolaced, the world being all within and the world’s lust, and nothing outside but the Holy One. Place yourself with your loved world and its cherished lust where you and it and God are alone together, with nothing of God’s providing that you can use or abuse for your relief. Your creature comforts are not there with you. Nothing of this earth, which is the Lord’s, is there; nothing of its beauty or its bounty, its grace or loveliness or warm affection; nothing of that very bustle and distraction and change which dissipates reflection and drowns remorse; nothing but your worldly lust, your conscience, and your God. That is hell, the hell to which the world is passing.

But now let us turn to a brighter picture. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Suppose that the world has passed away and the lust thereof. Does it follow that the earth is dissolved or perishes? Nay, it remains. And whatever in it or about it is of God remains. This abode of men is to be assimilated thoroughly to yonder abode of angels in respect of the will of God being alike done in both. That at all events is the heavenly state, let its localities be adjusted as they may. But the precise point of his statement is not adequately brought out unless we connect and identify the future and the present. There may be stages of advancement and varieties of experience, a temporary break, perhaps, in the outer continuity of your thread of life, between the soul’s quitting the body to be with Christ where now He is and its receiving the body anew at His coming hither again. But substantially you are now as you are to be always. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Obedience and abiding

What God wills He approves or loves. What God wills He is. If, then, He has an express will concerning us, it follows that when we know it we know all that vitally concerns us. There can be nothing above, behind, beyond it. The will of God is all. Knowing that, we know the nature of things; we know the character of virtue, we know what truth is, and goodness. We get to the source of law, obligation, authority. All are inseparably connected with, all indeed are contained in, the will of God. We ask, now, what the natural will of man is? Is it for or against the will of God? Against, unquestionably. Not that there is declared, or even in most cases very conscious, opposition. For it is not true that men to their own consciousness, and by direct acts of their own will, go against God. They fill their lives, or strive to do, without Him who is the alone abiding fulness, and direct their conduct without reference to His authority, and habitually act from principles which He condemns, and seek after ends which are different from and inconsistent with the great ends He has put before us all. Now remember that as in God, so in man, will is character. What a man wills settles what he is. And since men do will against the will of God the character and condition of man must be evil. What could be sin if this is not sin? And since God did not design man for this, since His ideal of the human creature and life is just the opposite of this, it follows that we are justly and honestly described as “fallen,” “alienated,” “depraved.” It is always more or less touching to see feebleness matched against strength, even when the feebleness is all in the wrong and the strength is all in the right; and therefore, simply as a conflict, it is pitiful enough to see man in his frailty matching himself against the omnipotence and justice of God. But, viewed from the higher ground, it is even more terrible than it is touching. What can come of it? Nothing but destruction, nothing but the fate of that which changeth and “passeth away.” Can a man will against time so as to stop the flow of its moments? Can a man will against space and put himself out of it, in thought even, not to say in act? Can a man will against mathematical or necessary truth by making two and two into five, or by changing himself into another being? He may do any of these things as soon as will against the will of God, and make his will prevail and succeed. Surely, then, it is evident that if there be a gospel--a message from God that shall be “good news” to a man--it must bear directly and effectually upon man’s evil will. There are many ways of compendiously expressing the gospel, but a better it would be hard to find than this--that it is the good will of God overcoming the evil will of man. By means, no doubt, wondrous means! By His own self-sacrifice, by suffering love, by revelation of truth, by donation of the Spirit, because these are necessary elements for the case, the nature of man being such as to forbid the hope of any change being wrought in it by mere strength, by what we call omnipotence. Then the question of questions to a man must be this, “Am I now with my will doing the will of God?” Not, “Have I undergone a certain spiritual change? and have I had, subsequently, a requisite amount of spiritual experience?” But just this, “Am I yet a self-willed creature, or have I become one of the Saviour’s willing people? Am I still keeping up the black, silent controversy of a misjudging heart with and against God? Or have I been won over, at least in spirit and will, although not yet perfectly in feeling and act, from self and sin to truth and love and God?” Happy he who can at once say, “I am of those who do the will of God. Through grace I am aiming at the life of whole and constant obedience.” Happy he, for whoso thus doeth the will of God has entered the world of reality and permanence as one belonging to it. He, too, is going to abide forever, is now already in the ever-abiding state. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The abiding life

Like most writers and speakers, John had favourite expressions. One of his pet words is this “abide,” significant of the quiet, contemplative temper of the man, but significant of a great deal more. He uses it, if I reckon rightly, somewhere between sixty and seventy times in the Gospel and Epistles. And he almost always employs it in metaphorical, or, if you like the word better, a “mystical” sense. The frequency of its recurrence is masked to an English reader by the variety of translation which our renderers have chosen to adopt, but wherever you find in John’s writings the synonyms “dwell,” “abide,” “continue,” “remain,” it is pretty safe to conclude that he is using this word. To John one great characteristic of the Christian life was that it was the abiding life.

The Christian life is a life of dwelling in Christ. I have said that this is one of John’s favourite words. He learnt it from his Master. It was in the upper room where it came from Christ’s lips with a pathos which was increased by the shadow of departure that lay over His heart and theirs. “Abide in me, and I in you.” No doubt the old apostle had meditated long on the words. “Abide in me and I in you.” That is the ideal of the Christian life, a reciprocal mutual dwelling of Christ in us and of us in Christ. These two thoughts are but two sides of the one truth, the interpenetration by faith and love of the believing heart and the beloved Saviour, and the community of spiritual life as between them. The one sets forth more distinctly Christ’s gracious activity and wondrous love by which He condescends to enter into the narrow room of our spirits, and to communicate their life and all the blessings that He can bestow. The other sets forth more distinctly our activity, and suggests the blessed thought of a home and a shelter, an inexpugnable fortress and a sure dwelling place, a habitation to which all generations may continually resort. Christ for us is the preface and introduction. I do not want that that great truth should be in any measure obscured, but I do want that, inseparably connected with it in our belief and in our experience, there should be far more than there is, the companion sister thought, Christ in us and we in Christ. I need not remind you how this great thought of mutual indwelling is, through John’s writings, extended not only to our relation to Christ, but to our relations to God the Father and God the Spirit. The apostle almost as frequently speaks about our dwelling in God and God’s dwelling in us, as he does about our dwelling in Christ and Christ’s dwelling in us. Let me say one word about the ways by which this mutual indwelling may be procured and maintained. You talk about the doctrine as being mystical. Well, the way to realise it as a fact is plain and unmystical enough to suit anybody. There are two streams of representation in John’s writings about this matter. Here is a sample of one of them, “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him.” Similarly He says, “If that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father.” And, still more definitely, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” So, then, the acceptance by our understandings and by our hearts of the truth concerning Jesus Christ, and the grasping of these truths so closely by faith that they become the nourishment of our spirits, so that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, is the condition of that mutual indwelling. And if that seems to be too far removed from ordinary moralities to satisfy those who will have no mysteries in their religion, and will not have it anything else than a repetition of the plain dictates of conscience, take the other stream of representations, “If we love one another, God abideth in us.” “He that abideth in love abideth in God.” “If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love.” The harm of mysticism is that it is divorced from common pedestrian morality. The mysticism of Christianity enjoins the punctilious discharge of plain duties. “He that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him.”

The Christian life should be one of steadfast persistence. One of the synonyms with which our translators have represented this word of which I am speaking is “continue.” You will find that the same double representation which I have spoken of is kept up with regard to other matters belonging to the Christian life. For instance, we sometimes read of “God’s word,” “Christ’s sayings,” or “the truth”--as John puts it--“abiding in us”; and as frequently we read of our “abiding in these--the words of God, the teaching of Christ, the truth. In the one ease something is represented as permanently establishing itself in my nature and operating there. In the other case I am represented as holding fast by and perseveringly attending to something which I possess. Ah! I am afraid that there are few things which the average Christian man of this generation more needs than the exhortation to steadfast continuance in the course which he says he has adopted. Most of us have our Christianity by fits and starts. It is spasmodic and interrupted. We grow as the vegetable world grows, in the favourable months only, and there are long intervals in which there is no progress. A Christian life should be one of steadfast, unbroken persistence. Oh! but you say, “that is an ideal that nobody can get to.” Well, I am not going to quarrel with anybody as to whether such an ideal is possible or not. It seems to me a woful waste of time to be fighting about possible limits when we are so far short of the limits that are known.

The Christian life may be one of abiding blessedness. Our Lord in that same discourse in which he spoke about abiding in us and we in Him, used the word very frequently in a great variety of aspects, and amongst them He said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may abide in you.” And in other places we read about “abiding in the light,” or having eternal life abiding in us. And in all these various places of the use of this expression there lies the one thought that it is possible for us to make, here and now, our lives one long series of conscious enjoyment of the highest blessings. And even if there be a circumference of sorrow, joy and peace may be the centre, and not be truly broken by the incursions of calamities. There are springs of fresh water that dart up from the depths of the salt sea and spread themselves over its waves. It is possible in the inmost chamber to be still whilst the storm is raging without. It is our own fault if ever external things have power over us enough to shake our inmost and central blessedness. “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

Lastly, the Christian life will turn out to be the one permanent life. So say the words which I have taken as a text. “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” That implies not so much dwelling or persistence or continuousness during our earthly career as, rather, the absolute and unlimited permanence of the obedient life. It will endure when all things else, “the world, and the lust thereof,” have slid away into obscurity and have ceased to be. Now of course it is true that Christian men, temples of Christ, are subject to the same law of mutation and decay as all created things are. But still, whilst on the one hand Christian men share in the common lot, and on the other hand non-Christian men endure forever in a very solemn and dreadful sense, the word of my text reveals a great truth. The lives that run parallel with God’s will last, and when everything that has been against that will, or negligent of it, is summed up and comes to nought, these lives continue. The life that is in conformity with the will of God lasts in another sense, inasmuch as it persists through all changes, even the supreme change that is wrought by death, in the same direction, and is substantially the same. If we grasp the throne of God we shall be co-eternal with the throne that we grasp. We cannot die, nor our work pass and be utterly abolished as long as He lives. Some trees that, like sturdy Scotch firs, have strong trunks and obstinate branches and unfading foliage, looking as if they would defy any blast or decay, run their roots along the surface, and down they go before the storm. Others, far more slender in appearance, strike theirs deep down, and they stand whatever winds blow. So strike your roots into God and Christ. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The moral only permanent

The first affirmation of this sentence is common enough and obvious enough. And yet perhaps it might be questioned whether any of us truly and profoundly believe it. Ask us whether we believe that the world passes away, and pointing to these lapsing years we unhesitatingly say Yes, but encounter us twelve hours after the now year is born in Cheapside or on ‘Change, and you will see no diminution of our eager pursuit, no relaxation of our eager grasp of it. Not only does the world pass away, but “the lust thereof”--the very thoughts and passions with which we desire it. I know no more affecting affirmation concerning death than one that is made in one of the Psalms, “In that very day his thoughts perish.” The man as we knew him and could recognise him has perished, his palpable body is no longer conscious of thought and passion. So far as the world is concerned, and so far as we look at him, his thoughts have perished, he is only dust--the eye, the hand, the tongue, and, above all, the mysterious brain, have forgotten their functions. And more than this, the thoughts of the man are perished in fact as well as in seeming, for although we believe the thinking, loving man to live in the unseen world, active from the very necessity of their nature, yet how few of the particular thoughts and desires that a man entertains here does he retain after he dies! How many of them perish! too vain, too foolish, too sinful to be retained in the light and under the conditions of another world. How few of our conscious thoughts and affections can we even now reasonably hope to retain! They are possible for this life of ignorance and sin, but possible for no other. Ay, and before a man dies “the lust of the world” may perish out of him. Difficult as it is to cure a man of an undue love of the world, disappointment and suffering may do it, and disgust may succeed to desire. Possession may bring a hatred and disgust surpassing our love and desire, and thus even before the world itself passes away the “lust” of it may. But this is true of things only in part, true only as to their outward seeming, true only of their material and external element. There is an element of everything that a moral being touches and is related to that is unchanging and eternal; that, namely, which expresses or addresses itself to his moral feeling. The material Element of this world’s things passes away, the moral abides forever. This is, I think, what is meant by the second member of this sentence. And there is a moral element in everything. Everything that conies to us comes with a moral lesson and influence from God--a teaching of duty or a test of temper: and everything that goes from us carries with it a record of our moral principles and tempers. There is nothing so material and so trivial as not to be a possible means of grace to us. Let us be careful not to err, therefore, in our estimates of the transitoriness of things. Just as we do not all die because the material body dies, so we do not all pass away because the material externals of things do; there is a kind of moral soul of the world as well as a material body. Our pure thoughts, our loving affections, our holy actions, our penitence and prayer and communion with God, our service of God, our self-denial and self-consecration, all enabled by the things of the world around us, these are the elements of the things of the world that will live and abide forever.

Take, first, the general history of the year, the public deeds that have been done, the national and social movements that have been effected, the sum total of what has been contributed to the world’s history, wisdom, and goodness. We need attempt no enumeration of these; it is enough to say of them that all that is merely material and external in them has passed away, only that which is moral abides. There is no moral influence, no moral life in the mere record of an event upon the page of history; it may lie there a dead fact, without a living pulse, without a particle of quickening power. Only so far as moral principles were exercised in it, only so far as it was an example of virtue or a beacon of vice, an illustration of obedience or an instance of sin, has it power to appeal to and quicken us. How, then, shall we estimate the history of the past year? We will brush away its surface of mere phenomena, and look into the world’s moral life and try to understand what the year has added to the world’s holiness or sin, how far Christian civilisation has been extended and Christian piety increased. Is the world purer and more elevated? It has an additional record of sin, what additional record has it of virtue, obedience, and faith?

Take next your own individual history through the year. Now, whatever may have befallen you, whatever sorrows or joys, pains or pleasures, the only permanent result of the year is its sum of moral actions and experiences. Of how little value now apart from it are your toils for the perishing body, your care for the physical wants of your mortal condition, your ploughing the earth, your barter of merchandise, your hoarding of money, your toil as an orator, scholar, or statesman! So far as you have done these things without spiritual feeling and reference, how little they all appear now. And as with our possessions, so with our self-culture, both of mind and of heart. How much of what a man acquires is mere properly, never entering into the essence of his moral life. Suppose that you have been a student during the year, acquiring knowledge of history, science, philosophy, well, how much of what you have acquired is mere knowledge, the mere chattel of the man? How little of it has been incorporated with your moral life! And all that has not shall pass away, save as mere memory. “Whether it be knowledge, it shall fail; whether they be prophecies, they shall cease”; only Divine charity, only that which is inwrought moral feeling, shall abide. Or suppose that you are a religious man, cultivating a religious character, and seeking to “make your calling and election sure.” You have read your Bible, you have uttered prayers, you have helped in Christian labour. Well, as mere acts these have all passed away, congregations have broken up, duties have been finished. What, then, remains? Only the moral element that there was in all these things, only the inward religious feeling that prompted them or that they expressed. And it abides in two ways. First, all the moral element and influence of your religious acts produces an effect upon others--upon those who are the objects of your act, and upon others who behold it. Not merely does it relieve poverty or pain--that is only the material form and effect that will perish when pain shall end; but it exhibits a moral principle or feeling, and men are morally moved by it--moved to moral admiration and imitation. And then upon yourself the moral influence of your act is very mighty. Every exercise of virtue or a vice acts inwardly far more powerfully than it acts outwardly; it strengthens and expands your moral principle, it enlarges and deepens your brotherly sympathies. (H. Allon, D. D.)

Verses 18-23

1 John 2:18-23

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists


John’s “last hour”

The Apostle John is an old man; he has lived through a long day. The way of the Lord that he teaches is by this time a well-marked path, trodden by the feet already of two generations. Time has vindicated the bold inference that the aged apostle drew from his experience. The disciples of Jesus “have known the truth, which abideth in us and shall be with us forever.” St. John has but one thing to say to his successors: “Abide in Him.” As for the recent seceders from the apostolic communion, their departure is a gain and not a loss; for that is manifest in them which was before concealed (verses 18, 19). They bore the name of Christ falsely: antichrist is their proper title; and that there are “many” such, who stand threateningly arrayed against His servants, only proves that His word is doing its sifting and judicial work, that the Divine life within the body of Christ is casting off dead limbs and foreign elements, that the truth is accomplishing its destined result, that the age has come to its ripeness and its crisis: “whence we perceive that it is the last hour.” We may best expound the paragraph under review by considering in order the crisis to which the apostle refers, the danger which he denounces, and the safeguards on which he relies--in other words, the last hour, the many antichrists, and the chrism from the Holy One.

“My children, it is the last hour--We perceive that it is the last hour.” Bishop Westcott, in his rich and learned Commentary on this Epistle, calls our attention to the absence of the Greek article: “A last hour it is (ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν)”--so the apostle literally puts it; and the anarthrous combination is peculiar here. (St. Paul’s, “A day of the Lord is coming,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, resembles the expression.) The phrase “seems to mark the general character of the period, and not its specific relation to ‘the end.’ It was a period of critical change.” “The hour” is a term repeatedly used in the Gospel of St. John for the crisis of the earthly course of Jesus, the supreme epoch of His death and return to the Father. This guides us to St. John’s meaning here. He is looking backward, not forward. The venerable apostle stands upon the border of the first Christian age. He is nearing the horizon, the rim and outmost verge of that great “day of the Lord” which began with the birth of the first John, the forerunner, and would terminate with his own departure: himself the solitary survivor of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. The shadows were closing upon John; everything was altered about him. The world he knew had passed or was passing quite away. Jerusalem had fallen: he had seen in vision the overthrow of mighty Rome, and the empire was shaken with rumours and fears of change. The work of revelation, he felt, was all but complete. The finished truth of the revelation of the Father in the Son was now confronted by the consummate lie of heresy which denied them both (verse 22). He presided over the completion of the grand creative age, and he saw that its end was come. Clearly it was his last hour; and for aught he knew it might be the world’s last, the sun of time setting to rise no more, the crash of doom breaking upon his dying ears. The world passes through great cycles, each of which has its last hour anticipating the absolute conclusion. The year, with its course from spring to winter, from winter to autumn, the day from dawn to dark, image the total course of time. The great epochs and “days” of human history have a finality. Each of these periods in turn sensibly anticipates the end of all things. Many great and notable days of the Lord there have been, and perhaps will be, many last hours before the last of all. The earth is a mausoleum of dead worlds; in its grave mounds, tier above tier, extinct civilisations lie orderly interred. Each “day” of history, with its last hour, is a moment in that “age of the ages” which includes the measureless circumference of time.

The Apostle John saw the proof of the end of the age in the appearance of many antichrists. The word “antichrist” has, by etymology, a double meaning. The antichrist of whose coming St. John’s readers had “heard,” if identical, as one presumes, with the awful figure of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, is a rival or mock-Christ, a Satanic caricature of the Lord Jesus; the “many antichrists” were not that, but deniers, indeed destroyers of Christ; and this the epithet may equally well signify. So there is no real disagreement in the matter between St. Paul and St. John. The heretic oppugners of Christ, starting up before John’s eyes in the Asian Churches, were forerunners, whether at a greater or less distance, of the supreme antagonist, messengers who prepared his way. They were of the same breed and likeness, and set forth principles that find in him their full impersonation. These antichrists of St. John’s last hour, the opponents then most to be dreaded by the Church, were teachers of false doctrine. They “deny that Jesus is the Christ” (verse 22). This denial is other than that which the same words had denoted fifty years before. It is not the denial of Jewish unbelief, a refusal to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah; it is the denial of Gnostic error, the refusal to admit the Divine Sonship of Jesus and the revelation of the Godhead in manhood through His person. Such a refusal makes the knowledge of both impossible; neither is God understood as Father, nor Jesus Christ as Son, by these misbelievers. The nature of the person of Christ, in St. John’s view, is not a question of transcendental dogma or theological speculation; in it lies the vital point of an experimental and working Christian belief. “Who is he,” the apostle cries, “that overcometh the world, except he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5); and again, “Everyone that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is begotten of God” (1 John 5:1). In passing from St. Paul’s chief Epistles to this of St. John, the doctrinal conflict is carried back from the atonement to the incarnation, from the work to the nature of Christ, from Calvary to Bethlehem. There it culminates. Truth could reach no higher than the affirmation, error could proceed no further than the contradiction, of the completed doctrine of the Person of Christ as it was taught by St. John. The final teaching of Divine revelation is daringly denied. “What think ye of the Christ?--what do you make of Me?” is His crucial question to every age. The two answers--that of the world with its false prophets and seducers (1 John 2:19; 1 John 4:5), and that of the Christian brotherhood, one with its Divine Head--are now delivered in categorical assertion and negation. Faith and unfaith have each said their last word.

While the Apostle John insists on the radical nature of the assaults made in his last days upon the Church’s Christological belief, he points with entire confidence to the safeguards by which that belief is guaranteed.

1. In the first place, “you,--in contrast with the antichrists, none of whom were really ‘of us’ (verse 19)--you have a chrism from the Holy One (i.e., Christ)

; all of you know.” the truth and can discern its “verity’ (verses 20, 21). Again, in verse 27, “The chrism that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone be teaching you. But as His chrism teaches you about all things, and is true, and is no lie, and as it did teach you, abide in Him.” Chrism is Greek for anointing, as Christ for anointed; St. John’s argument lies in this verbal connection. The chrism makes Christians, and is wanting to antichrists. It is the constitutive vital element common to Christ and His people, pervading members and Head alike. We soon perceive wherein this chrism consists. What the apostle says of the chrism here he says of the Spirit afterwards in 1 John 5:7 : “It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.” And in 1 John 4:6 he contrasts the influences working in apostolic and heretical circles respectively as “the spirit of truth” and “of error.” The bestowal of the Spirit on Jesus of Nazareth is described under the figure of unction by St. Peter in Acts 10:38, who tells “How God anointed (christened) Him--made Him officially the Christ--with the Holy Spirit and power.” It was the possession, without limit, of “the Spirit of truth” which gave to the words of Christ their unlimited authority (John 3:34-35). Now out of that Holy Spirit which He possessed infinitely in His Divine fashion, and which His presence and teaching continually breathed, the Holy One gave to His disciples; and all members of His body receive, according to their capacity, “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive,” but “whom” He “sends” unto His own “from the Father” (John 14:17; John 15:26, etc.). The Spirit of the Head is the vital principle of the Church, resident in every limb, and by its universal inhabitation and operation constituting the Body of Christ. “The communion of the Holy Ghost” is the inner side of all that is outwardly visible in Church activity and fellowship. It is the life of God in the society of men. This Divine principle of life in Christ has at the same time an antiseptic power. It affords the real security for the Church’s preservation from corruption and decay. For this gift St. Paul had prayed long ago on behalf of these same Asian Christians (Ephesians 1:17-23). This prayer had been answered. Paul’s and John’s children in the faith were endowed with a Christian discernment that enabled them to detect the sophistries and resist the blandishments of subtle Gnostic error. This Spirit of wisdom and revelation has never deserted the Church. “You know, all of you” (verse 20)--this is what the apostle really says. It is the most remarkable thing in the passage. “I have not written unto you,” he continues, “because you know not the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” He appeals to the judgment of the enlightened lay commonalty of the Church, just as St. Paul when he writes, “I speak as to men of sense; judge ye what I say.” St. John’s “chrism” certainly did not guarantee a precise agreement in all points of doctrine and of practice; but it covers essential truth, such as that of the Godhead of the Redeemer here in question. Much less does the witness of the Spirit warrant individual men, whose hearts are touched with His grace, in setting up to be oracles of God and mouthpieces of the Holy Ghost. In that case the Holy Spirit must contradict Himself endlessly, and God becomes the author of confusion and not of peace. But there is in matters of collective faith a spiritual common sense, a Christian public opinion in the communion of saints, behind the extravagances of individuals and the party cries of the hour, which acts informally by a silent and impalpable pressure, but all the more effectually, after the manner of the Spirit.

2. To this inward and cumulative witness there corresponds an outward witness, defined once for all. “You know the truth … that no lie is of the truth That which you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you” (verses 21, 24). Here is an objective criterion, given in the truth about Christ and the Father as John’s readers heard it from the apostles at the first, and as we find it written in their books. Believing that to be true, the Church rejected promptly what did not square with it. In the most downright and peremptory fashion St. John asserts the apostolic witness to be a test of religious truth: “We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears us not. By this we recognise the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6), Here is the exterior test of the inner light. The witness of the Spirit in the living Church, and in the abiding apostolic word, authenticate and guard each other. This must be so, if one and the self-same Spirit testifies in both. Experience and Scripture coincide. Neither will suffice us separated from the other. Without experience, Scripture becomes a dead letter; without the norm of Scripture, experience becomes a speculation, a fanaticism, or a conceit.

3. The third guarantee cited by St. John lies outside ourselves and the Church: it is neither the chrism that rests upon all Christians, nor the apostolic message deposited with the Church in the beginning; it is the faithfulness of our promise giving Lord. His fidelity is our ultimate dependence; and it is involved in the two safeguards previously described. Accordingly, when the apostle has said, in verse 24, “If that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning, ye too shall abide in the Son and the Father,” he adds, to make all sure, in the next verse: “And this is the promise which He promised us--the eternal life!” It is our Lord’s own assurance over again (John 8:51; John 15:4). The life of fellowship with the Father in the Son, which the antichrist would destroy at its root by denying the Son, the Son of God pledges Himself to maintain amongst those who are loyal to His word, and the word of His apostles, which is virtually His own. He has promised us this (αὐτὸς ἐπηγγείλατο)--He who says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” No brief or transient existence is that secured to His people, but “the eternal life.” Now eternal life means with St. John, not as with St. Paul a prize to be won, but a foundation on which to rest, a fountain from which to draw; not a future attainment so much as a present divine, and therefore abiding, possession. It is the life which came into the world from God with Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-2), and in which every soul has its part that is grafted into Him. Understanding this, we see that the promise of life eternal, in verse 25, is not brought in as an incitement to hope, but as a reassurance to our troubled faith. “These things have I written unto you,” the apostle says, “concerning those that mislead you” (verse 26). Christ’s word is set against theirs. Error cannot prevail against the truth as it is in Jesus. “Our little systems have their day”; but the fellowship of souls which rests upon the foundation of the apostles has within it the power of an indissoluble life. Such are the three guarantees of the permanence of Christian doctrine and the Christian life, as they were conceived by St. John and are asserted by him here at his last hour, when the tempests of persecution and sceptical error were on all sides let loose against the Church. (George G. Findlay, B. A.)

The dispensations

How could those days of primitive Christianity be called the last days, inasmuch as since those days eighteen hundred years have elapsed, and still the world’s history has not reached its close? The answer is obvious. The whole period lying between the first advent and the present year of grace is but one oeconomy; and it is destined to be the last oeconomy, under which man is to be tried. What is a dispensation--Οἰκονομία Οἰκονομος is the administrator of a household, the lord of a family, he who dispenses to the household their portion of meat in due season. It is a certain measure, more or less, of moral light and help meted out by God, the great Householder, to His human family for the purpose of their probation. Any and every light and help which man has from heaven constitutes, strictly speaking, a dispensation. It seems, moreover, to be a principle of God’s dealings that the light and knowledge having been once supernaturally communicated, shall thenceforth be left to radiate from its centre, to diffuse itself among mankind, by the ordinary means of human testimony. Let us now proceed to review the leading dispensations under which mankind has been placed.

1. A single arbitrary restriction, issued merely as a test of obedience, was the first of them. The threat of death, in ease of disobedience, was a moral help to our first parents, tending to keep them in the narrow path of obedience and happiness. But it did not enable them to stand. They broke the commandment, and they fell.

2. The fall had in some mysterious manner put our first parents in possession of a moral sense, or faculty of discerning between good and evil, independently of Divine precept. To second and aid the remonstrances of this faculty, the heads of the human family had such bitter experience of the fruits of transgression as would abide with them to their dying day. Into this experience of the results of transgression was infused, lest man should despair, an element of faith and hope. Who shall say whether man, with these powers brought to bear upon him, may not retrieve his ground and return in true penitence to the bosom of his Father? So the dispensation of experienced punishment on the part of the parent, of ancestral precept on the part of the children began and run its course. But it proved an utter failure. The principle of sin, engendered in its primeval act, ate into the moral nature of man like a gangrene, until at length blasphemy and immorality stalked rampant upon the earth, and the vices of human kind, like the stature of the men of those days, towered to a gigantic height.

3. While the shades of guilt were thus deepening towards a night of utter depravity, and the few faithful ones in the line of Seth shone but with the feeble ray of glowworms amid the surrounding darkness--an additional dispensation was instituted in the announcement of the deluge to the Patriarch Noah, and the direction associated with it, to commence the building of the ark. What a stirring voice from heaven was this! What a Divine trumpet note of warning in the ears of a generation sinking deeper every moment into the fatal torpor of moral insensibility! At length, when Divine patience had had her perfect work the flood OEconomy came to its close amid outpoured torrents and gushing fountains of the deep.

4. When the stage of the earth had been cleared by the flood for another probation of the human race, a new measure of light and help was meted out by God, or, in other terms, a new dispensation was introduced. Human law was now instituted and sanctioned by heaven. It was now to be seen whether man’s innate depravity would break through this barrier of restraint also.

5. It was succeeded by the dispensation of Divine law, promulgated with the most awful solemnity, and having annexed to it the most tremendous sanctions.

6. With Samuel and the succession of prophets, as many as spoke or wrote after him, commenced a new era, about three hundred and fifty years after the giving of the law. And of this dispensation the distinguishing characteristic is, that it was constantly expanding itself, that fresh accessions were continually being made under it to man’s moral and spiritual resources, that it was a light continually increasing in brightness, shining more and more unto the perfect day when the Sun of Righteousness should rise with healing in His wings.

7. And now at length men’s yearnings and anticipations were to be realised. The last hour of the world’s day--or, in other words, the final dispensation under which man was to be tried--was at hand. The great Deliverer appeared and revealed a wholly new arrangement, or series of arrangements, under and in virtue of which God would henceforth deal with man.

(1) Perfect absolution from the guilt of past sin--an absolution obtained in such a manner as should effectually strike the chord of love and gratitude in every heart of man.

(2) A communication of Divine strength through outward means.

(3) A perfect and explicit law embodying the purest morality which it is possible to conceive. But as man was still, under this final dispensation, in a state of probation, and a state of probation is not and cannot be a final or fixed state, the mind was still thrown forward by predictions of the Second Advent, to a period when He, in whom the heart and hope of God’s people is bound up, shall come again to receive them to Himself, and to visit them with eternal comfort, while vengeance, terrific vengeance, is taken upon all who, though the new dispensation has been proclaimed to them, shall not have taken shelter under the refuge which it provides. We have now passed in review the various dispensations under which man has been placed; and, thus furnished for the fuller understanding of our text, we revert to the solemn asseveration of the apostle, that this under which we live is the final oeconomy, and that with its close will terminate forever the probation of mankind. (Dean Goulburn.)

Last things

My hearers are coming nearer their last business day. Men will ask about you, and say, “Where is so-and-so?” And your friend wilt say, “Have you not heard the news?” and will take a paper from his pocket and point to your name on the death list. If things are wrong they will always stay wrong. No chance of correcting a false entry, or repairing the loss done to a customer by a dishonest sample, or apologising for the imposition inflicted upon one of your clerks.

Men are coming nearer to their last sinful amusement. A dissipated life soon stops. The machinery of life is so delicate that it will not endure much trifling.

Men are coming nearer to their last Sabbath.

We come near the last year of our life. The world is at least six thousand years old. Sixty thousand years may yet come, and the procession may seem interminable; but our own closing earthly year is not far off.

We are coming nearer the last moment of our life. That is often the most cheerful moment. John Howard talked of it with exhilaration, and selected his own burial place, saying to his friend, “A spot near the village of Dauphiney would suit me nicely.” It is a poor time to start to get your house insured when the flames are bursting out of all the windows; and it is a poor time to attempt to prepare for death when the realities of eternity are taking hold of us. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)



This word is absolutely peculiar to St. John. The general use of ἀντί (contra) and the meaning of the similarly formed word ἀντίθεος, lead to the conclusion that the term means “adversary of Messiah.” The Jews derived their conception from Daniel 7:25; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:36; Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-29. The name was probably formed by St. John. It was believed by the Jews that Antichrist would appear immediately before the advent of Christ (cf. chap. 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7)

. Our Lord mentioned “pseudo-Christs” as a sign (Matthew 24:24). St. Paul gave a solemn warning to the very Churches which St. John now specially addressed (Acts 20:29). St. John saw these principles and the men who embodied them in full action, and it was an indication for him of “the last period.” So far Christians had only learnt in general to expect the personal appearance of one great enemy of Christ, the Antichrist. In his Epistle St. John gives solemn warning that those heretics who denied the God-Man were not merely precursors of Antichrist, but impersonations of the anti-Christian principle--each of them in a true sense an antichrist. The term is used by no other sacred writer, by St. John him self only five times (1 John 2:18, twice, 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7), and that specifically to characterise heresy denying the incarnation, person, and dignity of Christ as God-Man. Antichrist is “the liar”; his spirit and teaching is a lie pure and simple. The one Antichrist, whose coming was stamped into the living tradition of the early Church, and of whom believers had necessarily “heard,” is clearly distinguished from many who were already in existence, and were closely connected with him in spirit. Probably St. John expected the chief Antichrist, the “theological antagonist of Christ,” before the Personal Advent. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 we find the same idea of a singular individual of preeminent wickedness, while St. Paul does not call the “Man of Sin” Antichrist. In the Apocalypse (13-17) a delineation of an anti-Christian power; in St. Paul and in St. John’s Epistles of the “eximious anti-Christian person. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Antichrist and antichrists

It is a dangerous voyage which every Christian sails upon the sea of life. Sunken rocks, deceitful currents, and boisterous winds endanger his brittle bark. He needs constantly to beware that he makes not shipwreck of his faith. Here we are called to consider the danger arising from the seduction of false teachers. In the early Church these were the source of constant disquietude. Nor is it otherwise yet. It is melancholy to observe how little they are feared. Many trifle with them.

1. The apostle addresses himself to believers under the title of “little children.” There is a peculiar propriety in using such language to those who are warned. Little children need to be warned. They are ignorant and unsuspecting, because they are inexperienced. When they are tempted they possess little power of resistance. And once betrayed they have neither the skill nor the power to deliver themselves out of the evils into which they have been betrayed. It is to be lamented that in all these respects many Christians bear a strong resemblance to little children.

2. To these the apostle says, “It is the last time,” and this is an appropriate introduction to the warning he was about to give them. The meaning of the phrase will be seen by citing the parallel passage in Hebrews 1:1. The last time is therefore the day of Christ. It is the age of Christianity. And there are two views in which it may be appropriately so denominated. It is the last economy viewed in its historical relation to those which have preceded it. And it may be called so also in relation to the future. There will be no other economy. “Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God the Father.” It is a high privilege that we live under an economy which is the completion, the perfection of all that went before it. But we must not forget we shall have no higher privileges than those which we now enjoy. If we are not saved by means of those we have we must perish.

3. Thus introduced, the apostle begins to announce his warning, “Ye have heard that antichrist shall come.” The very name is sufficient to awaken deep concern. We are at once given to understand that we must see a grand opponent to Him whom we delight to honour, and in whom is all our confidence. For His sake and our own, such an announcement should awaken our timely fear. As for Him, we cannot doubt his ability to overcome every enemy. But we may well fear for ourselves.

4. The apostle, however, comes closer to the case of those little children whom he addressed, and says, “Even now are there many antichrists.” Observe the distinction between this statement and the former one. The former is a prophecy, the latter is a fact. Antichrist shall come, but he has not yet been revealed. Time will be required for his development. But there are other forms of evil and other seducers who exist now. You are not to imagine that you are safe because the great antichrist has not yet appeared. The leaven was working which would in time corrupt the mass of professors, so insiduous and dangerous is error; and so necessary it is to watch its first rise and destroy it at the bud. In our own day we may well cry with the apostles, “There are many antichrists.” And who or what are they? They are all persons and things that are opposed to Christ and His people and His cause. And how can they be enumerated? Infidelity is antichrist, and pours contempt upon the truth. The scoffer is antichrist, and scorns the truth. All ungodly men are antichrists, and while they resist the truth themselves they tempt others to deny it. All errorists are antichrists, and obscure and oppose the truth.

5. The apostle applies this announcement of many antichrists to a practical use, saying in the next clause, “Whereby we know that it is the last time.” The words amount to a declaration that this mighty host with all their enmity to the truth should be a marked and prominent feature in the Christian era. Christianity is the best economy, and therefore it is the most hated and opposed by the wicked one.

6. We should beware that we are not found among these antichrists. And for our warning and guidance a description of them is given in the 19th verse--“they went out from us.” Once they belonged to the Church of Christ. They apostatised from the faith and practice of the gospel. “But they were not of us,” adds the apostle. They never were. “They are not all Israel that are of Israel.” They may have professed the faith, but in reality they had never embraced it. “For,” says he, “had they been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” This is certain. The nature of the Divine life makes it so. “The just shall live by faith.” The apostle concludes, “But they went out, that they might be made manifest they were not all of us.” On the whole, it was better they departed. It was better for themselves, that they may not be deceived by a name, but be led to penitence. It was better for others, that they might not be a burthen and hindrance to those with whom they were associated. And it was better for the cause of religion, that it might not be scandalised by their inconsistencies. (James Morgan, D. D.)

They went out from us, but they were not of us--


Where could these apostates go out from but the Church? If they had not been in it they could not have gone out from it. The Church they went out of was the true Church of Christ, in which the true and everlasting gospel was preached. And these persons had professed their faith in all the essential truths of the gospel. Yet their ambitious spirits were such they could not be content but they must bring in another gospel, contrary to what the apostles preached, pretending to have greater light into truth, and what they called the Person of Christ, and grace, than the very apostles themselves. They turned their back on Christ, His gospel, His ordinances, His apostles, His Churches, and everything belonging unto Him, and framed out of their own errors, heresies, whims, and fancies, a Christ and gospel for themselves. The apostle assigns the reason why they went out from the Churches in the way and manner they did--it was because they were not of one heart and soul with the Churches in the truth. As it was then, so it has been ever since. All the heresies which have tormented the Churches of Christ, down even to our present times, have originated from persons who have been in the Churches, who have departed from the Churches. From such as have made schisms and divisions in the Churches; and when any old error is newly revived, it in general springs from such persons as are disaffected to the true Churches of Jesus Christ.

How the apostle confirms his assertion--“For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” How solemn! how awful! These antichrists came out of the apostolical Church of Jesus. They had been in it. It answered their end for a season to remain in the Churches to whom they had given in their names. It suited them to leave these Churches at such seasons; when they could, to distil their pernicious influences, as they thought and hoped, it would gain converts to them. These heretics left the Churches because they were not of them, only nominally. They might, and undoubtedly did, boast of superior light to all others in the doctrines of grace. They were slaves to their own lusts. They were covetous. They were greedy of reward. They were full of gainsaying.

Why these antichrists went out of the Church. It was that they might be made manifest, that they did not belong to the Church of Christ, let them make their boast of the same as they might. This was their end for their going out, but it was the Lord’s end in thrusting them out, and it might be some of these might have been thrust out by apostolic and also by Church authority. In the holy and secret mystery of the Lord’s providence it was evidenced they were not the Lord’s beloved ones. (S. E. Pierce.)

Verse 20

1 John 2:20

But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things

The guileless spirit amid anti-Christian defections, established by a messianic unction and illumination


The anointing--“Ye have an unction.” This anointing, or being anointed with oil, you have “from the Holy One”; from Christ Jesus our Lord. There is great significancy in the unction thus viewed as coming from this Holy One. Antichrists are spoken of. These are antagonists to Christ, to Him who is anointed to be the Holy One. You, on the other hand, have anointing from Him. They are antichrists, you are joint christs; for you have an unction from Him as the Holy One, making you “holy as He is holy.” The holiness here meant is consecration. It is what the Lord indicates in His farewell prayer, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” The anointing is with the Holy Ghost. He is the anointing oil; the oil of gladness with which God has anointed Christ above His fellows. The unction, therefore, which “you have from the Holy One” is His own unction; it is identically the same with what was His. He sheds forth upon you and in you the very same presence, power, and influence of the Holy Ghost that was shed forth upon and in Himself when He was about the business for which, as the Holy One, He was consecrated. In His case that unction was real, sensible, manifest. If we have it from Him, it must be so in ours also. In Jesus this unction was, on the one hand, His having always the Holy Spirit helping, comforting, and strengthening Him. The unction which we have from Him as the Holy One is our being in the same way upheld by the Holy Spirit in all our goings; our being enabled therefore to show “the meekness and gentleness of Christ”; our making it thus manifest that “the same mind is in us that was also in Him.” Again, on the other hand, in Jesus the Holy One, this unction was His constant and abiding apprehension or realisation of the Spirit moving Him to the work for which He was sent into the world. The unction which we have from Him, that we may be consecrated to be holy ones as He is the Holy One, is our feeling and owning the inward call of the Holy Spirit, moving us in our sphere to give ourselves to the same lifework that always occupied Him; to carry out the great design of His coming into the world; to be His wholly and unreservedly, as He was always and altogether the Father’s.

As thus anointed, we “know all things.” This is not, of course, omniscience, but full and complete knowledge of the mailer in hand, as opposed to knowledge that is fragmentary and partial. The anointing of Jesus, His being the Christ--what it is and what it means; His consecration as the Holy One; His oneness as the Son with the Father; all that we know. And we know it, not by catching at some one aspect of the mighty plan--the great “mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh”--that may happen to suit our convenience, or to strike our fancy, but by a calm, clear, and comprehensive insight into all that it unfolds of the highest glory of God, and all that it contemplates of highest good to man. We look at this great theme, or rather this great fact, in all its bearings; as it vindicates the righteous sovereignty of the Lord of all, while it secures full and free salvation to the worst and guiltiest of His creatures, if they will but own that sovereignty and submit to it.

The unction which we have from the Holy One, and our knowing all things, are intimately connected. It is only “He who is spiritual” who “judgeth all things,” who can know them so as to judge them. For He alone is in a position and has the capacity to form a fair estimate or judgment of the relations among the things of God. And it is by their mutual relations that things are really known and judged. This is a maxim true in all sciences, slid not least manifestly so in the science of divinity. If, in the science of astronomy we would know all its things, all its truths, to any satisfactory end, theoretical or practical, we must get, not the eye of a clown or vulgar stargazer, nor that of Chaldean sage or poetic dreamer, nor that of one to whom the clear, calm midnight sky is a confused galaxy of bright gems, a brilliant shower of diamonds shed in rich disorder on the dark brow of nature’s sleeping beauty, but the eye of Newton’s scholar and Laplace’s, who has learned of them to calculate planetary magnitudes and distances and forces, and to bring the whole splendid chaos under the sway of the one simple law that reigns supreme throughout all space. So, in the region of what is spiritual and Divine, the faculty of seeing things in their true relations is not elsewhere or otherwise to be acquired than in the school and under the teaching of the Holy Ghost.

The security which our “having an unction from the Holy One, and knowing all things,” affords, in trying times, must now surely be seen to be very ample and firm. Others may “go out from us”; it being thus “made manifest that they were not of us,” and may become antichrists, or the prey of antichrist. But “will ye also go away?”--ye who share the very unction and the very knowledge which the Holy One Himself has? Is not this your preservative against all error and apostasy? Is it not a sufficient preservative? (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The anointing

What the anointing is.

Where this anointing is. It “abideth.” Other anointings do not abide. The fragrance of other unguents soon passes off. But here is an anointing which, like “the ointment of the right hand, which bewrayeth itself,” abideth, “abideth in you.” But you say it is not true; nothing is more plain than that ardent Christians get cold, and those who lived Christ may grow self-willed and self-assertive. How can St. John say that the unction abideth? Well, I suppose he wants to call attention to the Divine side of the case, to show us that whatever we may do, or whatever we may be, God remaineth faithful.

“What doth the anointing?” He teacheth, and, saith St. John, He has every right to teach, for “He is truth and no lie.” Besides, “He hath already taught you,” and what you have learned of Him should give you confidence in Him for what you may have yet to learn. Read your Bibles, but read them in His light; listen to your teachers, but listen to them with continual application to a higher Teacher. It is to that higher Teacher you owe the greatest blessing you ever received in the world, the blessing which made you a Christian. Remember to trust to Him as Guide and Counsellor, to ask Him what to believe on every subject.

What is the outcome of all this? It is, “Ye shall abide in Him.” (J. B. Figgis, M. A.)

The unction from the Holy One

“The Holy One.” Who is He? Christ. It had been repeatedly ascribed to Him before, not only by men, but by voices falling from another world (see Psalms 16:10; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 34:15; Isaiah 49:7; Luke 7:35; Mark 10:24; Acts 3:14). And, although all ransomed spirits are called God’s “holy ones,” the term applies in its highest truth to Christ alone; for to which of the sons of men could you everpoint and say, “Behold the Holy One of God!” But the evangelist is not now speaking merely in a general way of Christ, but of Christ as our High Priest. A priest who could be charged with the slightest infraction of the law would have been no Saviour. In Him, for the first time on our earth, holiness shone forth in its perfect brightness, and yet in a shape which man could bear to see. In Christ, holiness is our friend; it gives our crown, guards our safety, and inspires our joy. We can give thanks, not at the remembrance of love alone, but at the remembrance of holiness, through the redemptive death of Him who is the Holy One of God.

“The unction from the Holy One.” What does that expression mean? The Spirit of God is here intended; not as to His nature, but as to tits agency; not in His essential attributes, but in His emanations. Now mark three things.

1. This unction comes down from Christ to all His people. Again and again did He seek to quicken the languid attention of His followers to the fact that this influence would come to them as the very consequence of His own departure (John 16:7). Now, remember Christ is not only our Priest, He is our Head. Combine these ideas, and you catch the spirit of the metaphor. “As the body of the priest received the unction from the Head, we have received an unction from the Holy One; for we are members of His body, His flesh, and His bones.” “The Spirit was given without measure to Him”; and from Him it flows to all who are identified with His life.

2. This influence from Christ makes all His members holy. A holy influence must have a holy effect, and this effect must be the true test of your character. I say not that Christians, to verify their high vocation, must all at once be perfectly holy men, but that they must be the recipients of a holy influence--an influence that will show the traces of its presence, and work effects accordant with its nature.

3. Christ, by giving this unction to all His people, shows their essential unity with Himself and with each other.

“Ye know all things.” This holy influence has an enlightening virtue. It rested upon Christ as “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” It made Him of “quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” Communicated by Him to us, it must have similar effects. The expression used to declare this fact startles us by its boldness.

1. Things that are holy are meant. The emphasis here on the word “holy” suggests that the knowledge spoken of must be knowledge of holy things. Without holiness you may indeed understand Hebrew as well as Caiaphas did; Latin as well as Pilate did; the Greek as well as that Athenian did who charged Paul with setting forth “strange gods”; the geography and antiquities of Palestine as perfectly as the proudest Pharisee that ever wore phylacteries; but God’s book will be a sealed book to you: and, though you may have a grammatical knowledge of the words which reveal holy things, you will never know the things themselves.

2. Things that are essential are meant. Spiritual men, however mistaken they may be on marginal and subsidiary questions, know all essential things. If they are wrong in other respects they will not repair to the wrong Refuge, or plunge in the wrong Fountain, or follow the wrong Shepherd. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The unction front the Holy One

This is a common Christian endowment. It is to a body of Christian disciples that John is writing; not to the highly gifted among them, not even to the elder Christians who have acquired a long experience and grown prudent through a life’s discipline, but to all. Simple conscientiousness is of more practical value than the readiest ability. A plain unlettered man will often see the falsity which ensnares men in their long-drawn reasonings. A child’s discernment of character is proverbial; the simple soul is repelled from a hidden impurity or ungraciousness that escapes the subtle observation. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” A mind like Christ is given to you in the very consecration of yourselves to Him; and that mind “abideth in you,” and “teacheth you all things.” You have an inward and unfailing standard, which tests all sayings, all traditions and maxims, all the suggestions that may come to you, all the ways of the world.

What this spirit is which is gives us in our consecration, and by which we are enabled to discern the truth of things.

1. It is the spirit of the consecration itself. This involves God’s revelation to us of a Divine service, and His call to us to serve Him; God’s endowment of us for the service into which He bids us enter. It involves our recognition of His purpose, our acceptance of His will, and all the influence upon our character of the acceptance of it. Decision of purpose is the secret of directness of judgment. When you resolved that you would follow Christ, and obey Him in all your future, did you not feel at once a new power to discern the evil and good of all things? You looked on old confusing motives, and pronounced them base. Doubt cleared itself from your vision; the scales of selfishness fell from your eyes; you felt that you had attained a new power of judgment. A truer spirit, a spirit clearer and more confident, was yours in your consecration. “You had an unction from the Holy One, and you knew all things.”

2. It is the spirit of Christ. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One”; a chrism from Christ. Here, then, is the virtue of our consecration; this our defence against all antichrists, this our power to discern all things: the spirit in sympathy with Jesus, that feels with and for Him. A personal life is a surer standard than all reasonings; sympathy is at once responsive, or is at once repelled. The habit of fellowship with Christ; the culture of our sympathies, the formation of all our judgments by His; the bringing of every maxim and of all conduct to the standard of the life of Jesus, will have its result in clear directness of thought and feeling. It will give thoroughness and practicalness to our character; will demand not only truth upon the whole, but truth in everything, truth in even minor matters, truth throughout.

3. The spirit of consecration is the spirit of devotedness to our fellows. Whatever destroys our reverence for men, whatever denies their redemption and restrains our sympathies with them; whatever leads us to distrust the power of the gospel to elevate and save from folly, and from selfishness, and from sin, any class of men, or race of men, or any individual of all mankind, must be condemned by us as owning the spirit of antichrist. Our fellowship is with Christ’s love and hopefulness; a spirit devoted like His to men is given us, and by this spirit we discern all things. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The omniscience of holiness--an unction from the Holy One

In some minds the love of knowledge is very strong. It is the supreme desire. As the warrior thirsts for glory, as the miser thirsts for gold, “as the hart panteth for the water brooks,” so do they long to know--to possess truth. Compared with this, life itself is cheap, “It is more to be desired than gold, yea, than fine gold.” He who really loves and is loyal to the truth will make any sacrifice for it. With scanty income, he is sometimes found starving the body that he may feed the soul. Even to extend our knowledge of this physical globe, what hardships will not men encounter! Knowledge is happiness; and man seeks to know. How deep the satisfaction of a Columbus when, after long tossing on the treacherous sea, and wearisome expostulations with mutinous men, he saw the new world arise from the deep! We experience something of this joy when we are brought, in the works of others, to new principles and thoughts--when we come into the possession of a great and true definition that casts a flood of light upon everything around us. Knowledge is power, and man seeks to know. The desire of power has led great kings at certain times to attempt the conquest of the world, and the founding of a universal empire. That was great ambition, but there is a greater still; even that of the man who aspires to universal knowledge. The text contains the astounding statement that true Christians know all things. We take the words “all things” in their widest comprehension, as including all existence and all events--the whole universe, material and spiritual. It is of all these we understand the assertion to be made; and it is admitted that, at first sight, such an assertion seems extravagant. For how can we know that which we have never seen; and the greater part of the universe we have not seen? How can we know that in the past of which we have never heard? How can we know the future which does not yet exist in relation to us? Here we must inquire into the nature of our knowledge--what it is to know. Our present knowledge is different in its character from God’s. God comprehends all things fully and perfectly. God sees truth face to face. But while it cannot be said that the Christian knows all things as God knows them, it still remains true that He knows all things in a sense similar to that in which He can be said to know anything. To know one thing fully is to know all things fully. Take a piece of rock. To know that fully implies a knowledge of the history and formation of all rocks; and that implies a knowledge of the whole structure of the world, which again implies a knowledge of creation or the full and perfect knowledge of everything. The reason why the full knowledge of one thing implies a full knowledge of all things is that every object of knowledge is more or less directly connected with every other. Nothing in the universe stands alone, and therefore nothing can be understood alone. The statement in the text is not more astonishing or difficult to understand than another more common statement, which is accepted without qualification or hesitation, namely that the Christian knows God. God is infinitely greater than the universe, and infinitely deeper in the significance of His being; and therefore of the two statements, “Ye know all things,” and “Ye know God,” the latter is by far the greater and more wonderful of the two. What, then, does the Bible mean when it says the Christian knows God? It does not mean that he knows God fully or absolutely--that he has fathomed the unfathomable, or comprehended the infinite; for only God can thus know God. What the Scriptures mean by knowing God is, that we stand in a just relation to Him--that we are in a true sense related personally to Him--our mind being truly related to His mind, our heart to His heart, and our will to His will. We are in a true relation to His righteousness, justice, and mercy, and so of all the other aspects of His being. This is what is meant by knowing God in our present state, and seems to be the character of all our knowledge. As we advance in Divine truth, our knowledge will not change in this respect. It will only increase in depth and compass, in fulness and degree. Further, in order to sustain a true relation to the universe, we must sustain a true relation to God; for, since there is not a gulf between God and His works--seeing He continually sustains an intimate and living relation to them--to be justly related to Him is to sustain a similar relation to them; and to know Him is to know them. At the Fall man lost both the knowledge of God and the true meaning of the world. When the highest light went out all the lower lights were extinguished. Now Jesus Christ came to restore us to such a righteous relation to God, and to take that enmity and unbelief out of the heart which distorts for us the whole character of God. He says, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” This agrees with what St. Paul says, that ungodly men are “ever learning, and yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”--a remarkable statement, distinguishing, as it does, between learning and knowledge. To learn is to collect information merely. To know is to understand the nature and relationships of things. Men may increase in knowledge as to the letter of God’s word, as the Scribes and Pharisees of old did--they may have a “form of knowledge, and of truth in the law”; but if they have not the light of life, which is the key to all learning, in their own souls, they are still walking in darkness, and know not whither they are going. All such are enlarging their information, but not extending their true understanding. They are building up pyramids of learning which may be only pyramids of falsehood. They are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But “what God has hid from the wise and prudent He has revealed unto babes.” Jesus makes this great declaration--“No man knoweth the Father but through the Son”; and hence for every true idea of God we possess, we are indebted to Christ Jesus. He said unto Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Therefore, when we know Jesus Christ, we know God, and not till then. But in order to know Christ, we must truly see Him, and to see Him we must sustain a right relation to Him. How then are we brought into a right relation to the Son of God? It is by His own anointing. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One.” The Holy One from whom the unction cometh is the Lord Jesus. The unction itself--which is not the act of anointing, but the oil or ointment used in anointing--is the influence of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Let us gather out of this subject a few general principles or inferences. First, with regard to the nature of knowledge; and second, with regard to the line of duty.

With regard to the nature of knowledge. Absolute knowledge is the comprehension of existence. It is the circle which embraces all things. Relative knowledge consists in sustaining the right point of view, which is to stand in the centre of the circle. God absolutely comprehends all things. Man understands all things, when he stands in the absolute centre--when he is in God and God in him. Knowledge implies the three ultimate ideas of the universe--being, existence, and thought. Being is that which lies within or beneath--the invisible ground of existence. It is the spiritual material, or uncreated substance from which thought proceeds, and out of which existence stands. Existence is that which stands out, as the etymology of the word shows. It stands out of being, which is its ground, and from which it is created or developed by thought. Being, in itself considered, is the absolute nothing: that is, being, in itself, cannot be thought. Thought is the process or energising power by which being comes forth from itself into existence. It is the method by which being, which is essentially invisible, translates itself into existence, which is essentially visible. A thing is that which can be thought. “All things,” is all that can be thought. It is the believer’s destiny, then, in the light of God, to think out the universe. “To know even as He is known!”

With regard to duty.

1. Notice, here, the identity of knowledge and holiness. This is set before us in other Scriptures besides the text (Proverbs 28:5; 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:2-3; Matthew 5:8). Knowledge being the perfect reflection in the mind of man of the thought of God, it is evident that the mind must be as a perfectly polished mirror, or a perfectly pure lake, in order to receive and give the perfect image.

2. Notice, further, the identity of thought and sanctification. The process of sanctification is the same as that of thought. It is first negative, or a separation. It is a coming out of Egypt, and a cleansing “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” But it is also positive, or a union--a going into the Holy Land. The drawing away from sin implies a drawing nearer to God.

3. Notice, again, the identity of ignorance and sin. They are one in being confusion. Ignorance is blindness to the distinctions of things, or the confounding of what ought to be clearly separated in thought. Sin is the same in act or life. It is the confounding of what ought to be kept apart. It thus produces at once a false separation, and a false union. Now, the Word of God, which is the key to the whole universe, and the basis of all science, has been given to affect at once the thought and life of man--to make him at once think correctly and live purely. These cannot be separated. A man thinks correctly just to the extent of his being holy. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Knowledge by Divine unction

Jesus Christ is the Holy One from whom the unction comes. It is very remarkable that on several occasions, in His life as spent among men, He seemed to be the sinful one. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, but it was in the likeness only.

1. This truth appears, first, when He was circumcised.

2. When He was presented in the temple, the Virgin Mary brought Him in her arms, and Joseph attended with the two turtle doves. This ceremony was for the sinful, who had need of cleansing, and was according to the law the means of their purification.

3. When He came to be baptized of John in the Jordan, John said, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” Jesus said, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”

4. He appeared in this likeness, when He was about to be crucified; when Barabbas, a man who had committed murder, and was guilty of insurrection in the city, was chosen to be set at liberty, in preference to Christ. Christ is the Holy One. See what testimony was borne to Him. The devils said, “We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God.” The centurion said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Christ was carried to the grave as the Holy One. And because He was the Holy One He saw no corruption. As the Holy One He rose from the dead, and was declared to be the Son of God with power.

The unction in the Holy Ghost. I suppose the reference to be to the sacred oil of anointing which was prepared in a special manner by God’s appointment. In connection with this oil there was another special and peculiar perfume for the altar of incense. Here, we suppose, is a new type of Christ and His mediation. That pure incense, burnt before God, represented Christ’s intercession for His Church, and the complacency with which it is regarded by the Father. Before the Holy One gives the Holy Ghost in this particular form other works are elected by Him. There must be something preparatory to His communications. You must be washed. Then you must be sprinkled with blood: “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” By water and blood we are first cleansed; then comes the unction.

1. It marks out and defines the objects of Divine choice. The Church is a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people; so every member is elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. As surely as you receive the unction, and are touched by the Divine power, you are a child of God, marked out for His own in Christ Jesus. You belong to the society and fellowship of the anointed ones.

2. The unction denotes separation from the common mass and multitude. So Aaron and his sons were separated from all the people of Israel. And through this unction we are separated--sanctified by Christ--called out of the world.

3. The third thing denoted by this unction is qualification for office. We are revived and illumined by the unction. The unction qualifies for holy exploits and for elevated duty.

4. The comparison denotes the consummation of heavenly joy. Every morning, as you have need, you are to seek fresh oil; fresh, like the virgin beams of the morning light; fresh oil, like the flowers of the early spring; fresh oil, like the blood of the sacrifice newly spilt, and presented before God upon the altar. Fresh influence, help, and succour, is to be sought to the last hour of our life from the Holy One of God.

5. We receive the Holy Ghost to establish and to preserve us. Of some the Apostle John affirms, “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” In contrast to this, where the unction comes, it is abiding.

6. Finally, the unction comes to make you useful. It will be like an odour that is not to be hidden: it fills all the room. You will be a prophet to teach, shedding light by your example. You will be a priest, to offer the sacrifice of praise. You will be a king, having rule over your own spirit.

As we have the unction from the Holy One, we know all things. There is a self-evidencing power in truth by which we know all these blessed subjects of Divine revelation. We know that we are of God by His Spirit which is in us. If I feel in my mind the influence of Christ, producing penitence and love, and desires after holiness and heaven, I may say, It is by the Holy Ghost. (James Stratten.)

An unction from the Holy One

1. First, it is observable that the text contains an affirmation represented to be peculiarly descriptive of genuine believers.

2. It is more important, however, to observe that the text accounts for this peculiarity of genuine believers, and teaches us both what it is and whence it arises. “But ye have an unction from the Holy One.”

3. We now proceed to that which is most prominent in the text, the result of the “unction of the Holy One” in the experience and life of the believer--“Ye know all things.” It is with great appropriateness this effect of the indwelling of the Spirit is introduced here. It is as the best and only safeguard against error and those who seek to promote it. The believer is so under the influence of the Spirit, that error does not find ready entrance to his mind. We are all acquainted with the use and exercise of instinct in the lower creation. They are placed in a luxuriant herbage, part of which would be to them poison and death, and other portions nutritious and necessary food. They are not much in danger of mistaking the one for the other. However closely they may resemble one another, they can tell which they are to use and which they are to shun. Men, with all their sagacity, may err, but the untaught quadruped seldom hesitates or goes astray. His Creator has taught him, and in this department of His works he knows all things that he needs to know. If we go to the winged creation, they are instructed, not merely with what they are to regale themselves, but they know to perfection how to protect themselves and their offspring from the inclement season. Of all these creatures there is a sense in which it may be truly said, “they know all things.” There is, however, another and a higher illustration to be found among men themselves. As there is instinct in the inferior creation, there is what may be called taste in the intellectual world. It is very diversified in different persons. Some have a powerful propensity for certain objects or engagements which are just as much disrelished by others. Take, for example, the fine arts, or any of the sciences. One is enamoured with them from his youth, and another is indifferent to them, while neither can tell why it is so. But mark the readiness with which the former becomes a proficient in that which pleases him, and compare it with the difficulty which the latter finds it impossible to overcome. The one readily knows all things appertaining to his favourite study, and the other is only confounded and disheartened by all his attempts. Thus there is a sense in which it may be said of the natural taste with which God is pleased to endow us, it readily knows all things appertaining to the object of its interest and delight. There is still another illustration of the same propensity of the human mind. Observe the effect of experience. In the various forms of handicraft or other engagements, whether mental or manual, the power of habit is remarkable. Whatever relates to the accustomed exercise is perceived and understood at once. Practice, it is said, makes perfect. Now let these illustrations be applied to the subject under consideration. The Holy Spirit visits the soul with His “unction.” By His influence the mind is enlightened to apprehend the truth, the heart is sanctified through the belief of it, and the life is spent under the power of it. What is the consequence? The soul participates in the benefits of its own decided tastes and cherished habits. A sanctified instinct may be said to be formed in it by which it chooses what is good and refuses the evil. It does not need in every case to pause, and reason, and consider. Without any such process, it feels instinctively what is the course to be either pursued or shunned. This heavenly taste is usually the best casuist. It is the product of an enlightened conscience. And the expression is not too strong when it is said of those who yield themselves to its habitual influence, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (James Morgan, D. D.)

Unction from the Holy One

The unction is the gift of the Holy Ghost.

That unction is promised to every believer (John 3:5-6; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:15; Acts 19:2; 2Co 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30; also Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2-3, etc.).

It is imparted to us by various channels.

1. Baptism is a channel whereby the “unction” is conveyed (John 3:5; Act 2:38; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5-6).

2. Confirmation is a means of fresh and fuller unction (Acts 8:17-18; Acts 19:6, by comparison with 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

3. The holy communion renews this unction.

4. The ministry of the Word imparts this unction (Galatians 3:2; Acts 10:44; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:8-9).

5. None of these means are efficacious apart from prayer (Acts 2:42; Acts 4:29; Acts 6:4; Acts 9:15; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).

The gift is inward, and not outward.

1. It is not outward.

2. The outward is not altogether excluded.

3. The decision comes from within. The ultimate court of appeal for each one of us is his own conscience.

The unction consecrates us to be--

1. Prophets.

2. Priests.

3. Kings (Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:5).

The ointment is fragrant (Exodus 30:22-33).

1. With the fragrance of sacrifice to God (2 Corinthians 2:15-16; Philippians 4:18).

2. With the fragrance of a holy life. (J. J. Lias, M. A.)

Verses 21-24

1 John 2:21-24

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it

Knowledge favourable to further teaching


Why the apostle had written (1 John 2:21). It does not follow that he would not have written to those who were either ignorant of the truth or opposed to it. To every sinner he would address the gospel of salvation, and entreat him to become a possessor of its benefits. Indeed, he did so in other writings. On the present occasion, however, he wrote to them that knew the truth. He had special reasons for writing to them particularly. No doubt one reason was the extreme jealousy of the apostle lest any of those who knew the truth should act inconsistently with it. In another epistle he discovers the spirit that animated him in this respect (2 John 1:4) How it must have distressed him to have found some not walking in the truth. He therefore wrote to instruct, and warn, and encourage them that they might walk worthy of their high vocation. Nor can it be supposed this was not needed. In the most enlightened there is still much ignorance. In the most determined there is still irresolution. In the most devoted there is still deficiency. But his great reason appears to have been his hope of success in writing to such. He declared the truth to them, encouraged by the belief that there would be found in them a readiness of mind to receive it. In this assumption of the apostle there is a practical lesson of great value. We are taught that the acceptance or rejection of the truth is chiefly dependent on the disposition of the heart towards it. It is the perversity of the will that often blinds the understanding. Let that be rightly disposed, and we are apt to see clearly.

What, then, did he write? The reply is in the next two verses. It is observable that, in treating of truth and error, the whole subject of the apostle is concerning Jesus Christ. He assumes that if our views of Him are correct, so will be our apprehension of the whole circle of truth. He therefore goes largely into the subject. He presents the Saviour in various views of supreme importance, in which it is vital to true godliness that we shall perceive the truth and not fall into error.

1. The first is adverted to in the opening of 1 John 2:22. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” No doubt the general sentiment here is the rejection of the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Messiah promised in the scriptures of the Old Testament. This was the sin of the Jewish nation. He was the light, but they could not see it, because their eyes were blinded. This view, however, does not express the full doctrine of the apostle. To receive or reject Jesus as the Christ has respect to all His offices, and consequently to all the blessings which we may obtain or forfeit by embracing or refusing Him in them.

2. In the same verse the apostle gives another description, and says, “He is antichrist that denies the Father and the Son.” This cannot mean a denial of the existence of the Father and the Son as two distinct beings, the one dwelling in heaven, and the other upon the earth. The reference is manifestly to some union between them which some might be disposed or tempted to deny. It is that in which Christ is called God’s “own Son,” His “only-begotten and well-beloved Son.” In this relation the Son is the equal of the Father. Let us give Him the glory that is due by hearkening to His invitation, “Look unto Me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and beside Me there is no Saviour.”

3. The apostle gives one other view of antichrist in 1 John 2:23, “Whosoever denieth the Son,” etc. There are two deeply important sentiments in these words, which can only he noticed. The one is that no one can have just views of God unless He is known as He is revealed in the Son (Matthew 11:27). The other sentiment is the result of the first. He only who knows God in His Son can have fellowship with Him.

This will more fully appear while we notice the object of the apostle in writing as he had done. It is expressed in the 24th verse. The three terms, “abide,” “remain,” “continue,” are the same in the original. The repetition is sufficient to show the extreme importance attached to the thought by the apostle. What, then, is it? It is suggested by a phrase which he uses again and again throughout the epistle, “The truth is not in us.” In order that the truth may have its due effect, it must be in us, not as a speculation in the head, but a mighty practical principle in the heart. It must he in us as food is in the man whom it nourishes. But it is not merely the truth, as a system, that must thus dwell in us. It is as the casket that contains the jewel; and that jewel is Christ. (James Morgan, D. D.)

The guileless spirit, amid antichristian denial of the Son, acknowledging the Son so as to have the Father also

How is a denial that Jesus is the Christ equivalent to a denial of the Son?

1. The official designation, Christ, or Messiah, or Anointed, marks not only a certain relation to the Jewish Scriptures, but also and still more a certain relation to God, whose Christ He is.

2. As the Son He stands in a distinct and definite relation to the Father. He must be owned in that relation if He is to be owned at all; otherwise He is to all intents and purposes denied.

How is it that to deny the Son is to deny the Father, so that “whosoever denieth the Son the same hath not the Father; but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also”?

1. In the exercise of His absolute sovereignty God is entitled to say upon what terms and in what way any of His creatures shalt have Him, that is, as theirs; have Him so as to have an interest in Him, and a bond of union with Him. He may set forth anyone He pleases, and say, If you deny Him you cannot have Me. In this case, however, He sets forth His Son, and therefore the appointment must be allowed to be in the highest degree reasonable and fair. The disowning of the Son cannot but be an offence to the Father; deeply wounding and grieving His heart.

2. “But he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” He hath the Father; how surely, how fully, may partly appear, if we consider, not only what Jesus is to us, as our anointed Saviour, but also what He is to the Father as His beloved Son. All through His humiliation, how has He the Father? The Father’s love He has; His love of boundless complacency, approval, delight. He has the Father’s gracious presence with Him always. So He, as the Son, had the Father when He was as you are. So he would have you, acknowledging Him, to have the Father also. He shows you what it is to have the Father in the state in which you now are; amid the trials of earth, the enmity of the world, the very pains of hell. He shows you how even here you can have the Father as, in a work and warfare infinitely harder than yours, He had the Father; how you, in all your trial and tribulation, can rest in the consciousness of the Father’s favour; and rejoice in the doing of the Father’s will; and resign yourself contentedly to the Father’s disposal. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?--

Deniers of Christ

1. Those who deny His eternal existence and Godhead, and the union of the Divine and human natures in His one person.

2. Those who deny the reality of His human nature.

3. Those who deny Him as Priest, and reject as irrational His expiatory sacrifice.

4. Those who deny Him as King and Judge, who scoff at His personal advent and reign on earth (2 Peter 3:1-18), or who ridicule His solemn warnings as to the punishment of the wicked. (J. T. Demarest, D. D.)


We have here two subjects of thought.

The greatest Beings in the universe.

1. The “Father.” Who is He? The cause, the means, the end of all things in the universe but sin.

2. The “Son.” Who is the Son? His express Image, His Divine Equal, the one grand object of His love. Before these two Beings, all systems, all hierarchies, all potentates, kingdoms, principalities, are less than a spark to the sun, a drop to the ocean. Another subject of thought is--

The greatest crime in the universe. What is it?

1. Practical Anti-theism. “Denieth the Father.” Millions confess the Father, who practically deny Him.

2. Practical anti-Christism. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” Practically, to deny Christ as the true Messiah, to live as if He never existed, is anti-theism in another form. This is the crime of crimes. Living as if no God the Father, no Christ the Son ever existed.


1. Antichrist is confined to no one Church.

2. Antichrist embraces all sin. Every man that does not love the Father supremely, and accept the Son lovingly and loyally, is Antichrist. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The Son and the Father

These Words strike at the root of a prevailing error. They warn us of the peril which we run by disparaging any of the central truths of the Christian Gospel--the loss which we incur if we surrender them. Deny that Christ is the eternal Son of God, and we lose hold of God Himself as our Father. Before looking at this startling sentence a little more closely, it is worth while to consider the fact that only where the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ has been believed, have men thought of God with the joy and trust of children. We may dismiss the great pagan religions. But take the two great monotheistic religions--Judaism and Mohammedanism--and compare them with the Christian faith. Judaism, of course, knew nothing of the incarnation. There are certain elements in the Jewish faith which, as we see, prepared the life of the race for this consummate glory; but that God could ever actually become man could hardly, even in moments of clearest vision, have been made real to Jewish prophets or saints. And hence, wonderful and varied as is the religious life expressed in the Psalms and prophecies, it is not a religious life which has its roots in the belief that God is in any true and deep sense the Father of men. Take Mohammedanism; this great faith which still exerts authority over a hundred or a hundred and fifty millions of men, and which still appears to have the power to inspire that heroic courage which a thousand years ago made the Saracens masters of some of the fairest regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia--Mohammedanism denies the Incarnation, and therefore denies the eternal Sonship of Christ, and affirms the perfect simplicity of the Divine nature. As I have said, it is a great faith. It exalts the majesty of God; God is supreme; His will is irresistible; neither earth nor hell can stay His hand. The God of Mohammedanism is a God to fear; a God to obey; a God to live for; a God to die for; but He is not a Father; and the devout Mohammedan is a servant of God--a slave, not a child. And in the history of the Christian Church I find that wherever faith in the Divine Sonship of Christ declines, there soon declines with it, as a rule, the joy and exultation that come from the vision of the infinite love of God, and from the consciousness of our own kinship with Him. A flower severed from its root will retain its colour and its perfume for a time; but it must perish sooner or later. A real faith in the Divine Fatherhood may survive for a time after faith in the Divine Sonship of Christ has died; but sooner or later, whosoever denieth the San, discovers that in losing the Son he has lost the Father also. We may find fresh light on this subject if we look at the words which immediately precede the text--words which carry us back to speculations about the Lord Jesus Christ which have long vanished. Among the earliest forms of heresy was one which maintained that Jesus--Jesus, the son of Mary--was a man and nothing more; but that before His public ministry began, a great and mighty emanation from the Eternal descended upon Him. This emanation was called “The Christ.” It was in the power of the Divine Christ, according to this theory, that Jesus did all His wonderful works; and it was the illumination of the Divine Christ that enabled Him to speak all His wonderful words. “The Christ” took possession of Jesus when Jesus had reached manhood; but Jesus Himself, according to this doctrine, was not Divine. “Who is the liar?” asks John, “but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?”--that is who, being asked to confess it, refuses. John meant by a liar a man whose whole conception of God, and the world, and the human race was false; whose whole theory of life therefore rested on a false foundation, was rooted in falsehood. It was not merely the man’s words that were untrue to his thought, but his thought was untrue to the fact, did not correspond to the reality of things. The falsehood was a grave one. It did not touch the mere details of the order of the world, but the fundamental relations of man and of the whole world to God. The heresy which denied that Jesus was the Christ was therefore fatal to all truth. The ancient Gnostic heresy has passed away, but the false conception of God and the world, which was the root of it, still survives. The distance between the Eternal and man seems so immense that it seems impossible that the Eternal Son of God ever became man, and that He remains man. In other words, human unbelief severs the human from the Divine. But when once we recognise in Christ the Divine glory, we see that God, instead of being remote from us, is near, that the great glories of the Divine nature are not onmipotence and omniscience, but righteousness, love, pity, grace. These glories we may share with the Eternal. In our own moral freedom we discover that which corresponds to the Divine sovereignty over nature; in our moral perfection that which may be the expression of the ethical life of God. We listen to Christ, we watch Him, we discover that He is God, and yet Son of God. He was eternally with the Father; He has come to share the conditions of our earthly life. This is a new discovery concerning God Himself, and not merely concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a discovery that God has always been the Father; that the Eternal Son, sharing His life, sharing His glory, is eternally one with Him, and yet eternally separate from Him, and has eternally rejoiced in His love. This Eternal Son has shared our life that we may share His life, and might be really and truly sons of God. For this we were made, and only as this is achieved in us do we fulfil the thought and purpose of God. And now, dismissing these high discussions, and returning to the practical aspects of this subject, let me say something to those of you who, while you speak of the Divine Fatherhood, are very conscious, when you come to think of it, and to deal with yourselves fairly, that it gives you little peace, little courage, little joy, little power; that it is no great restraint on sin, no powerful support to righteousness; that it is a thing to argue about rather than to live upon. You do not exactly deny--but the Sonship of Christ, His eternal Sonship, is not real to you; the wonder and the glory of it do not possess and awe you. Is that the reason you have never entered fully into the consciousness of sonship? Try to dwell on the great fact that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, the eternal Son of God, became flesh. Remember that through sixty Christian generations that truth, with the correlative truths, has been the substance of the very life of Christian people; that in the power of it they have trusted God, and have done the will of God. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father--

The antagonism between truth and falsehood

All error is deadly.

1. It were a ludicrous absurdity to say that a wrong faith can save a man. Either, then, a right faith is necessary, or no faith at all is (John 3:15-16; John 6:40; John 11:25, etc.; Acts 20:21; Romans 1:17; Romans 3:30; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 11:6).

2. A wrong faith must necessarily produce a wrong practice. We may see this in the affairs of this world.

3. Tendencies do not always produce their full results. A wrong faith on some points has been in some degree compensated for by a right faith on others.

4. It is a matter of importance to believe the truth. All the misery and distress in the world is due to wrong beliefs.

5. How is a right faith to be attained? In answer to this we must

(a) dismiss the idea that any man, while in the flesh, can possibly attain to infallible certainty on all points whatsoever. For

(b) our condition here is progressive.

All error is based upon the denial that Jesus is the Christ.

1. Revelation is necessary. For otherwise we do not know

(1) whether there be a God,

(2) whether man is immortal or not,

(3) in what the foundation of morals consists.

2. The only revelation is that made by Jesus Christ.

3. The essential feature of revelation is that it was made by one Anointed, i.e., commissioned to declare God’s will. Thus we are forbidden, on any point on which God’s will is clearly declared, to question it.

4. How, then, do unbelievers in Christ lead moral and admirable lives? They can do so only so far as they believe what Christ tells them.

5. Continuance in the Son and in the Father the only possible means of salvation. The denial of this truth leads directly to the destruction of all moral principle whatever. The moral lives of unbelievers are due to their acceptance of the moral principles of their age. These moral principles are Christian principles. But Christian moral law without its Lawgiver is a superstructure without a foundation. Thus continuance in the Son and in the Father is the only means whereby

(1) error, the source of all evil, can be gradually dispelled, and

(2) truth, the source of all holiness and goodness, enabled to take full possession of the heart. (J. J. Lias, M. A.)

Our estimate of Christ the measure of God’s estimate of us

I have seen a perfect stranger heartily welcomed in an English home and treated with a deference, a tenderness, and a generous hospitality that did one good to witness, and I understood it all when informed that that stranger, though never seen before, had at one time shown kindness to a wandering, long-absent son in a certain town in the distant Australias. The parents governed their estimate of the stranger by this kindly treatment of their boy. And does not our Heavenly Father to some extent deal similarly with us? He views and estimates us according to our treatment of His beloved Son. If our estimate of Jesus is vague, or erroneous, or wilfully depreciatory, we suffer to that extent in the Divine estimation.

Verses 24-25

1 John 2:24-25

If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father

The guileless spirit abiding through the Word in the Son and in the Father, so as to receive the promise of eternal life


“Let that therefore which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you.” The phrase “from the beginning” must here refer to the first preaching of the gospel. Let all of Christ you have ever known, seen, heard, handled, tasted, “abide in you.” Let all you have learned of Christ--as being with the Father, from everlasting, in His bosom--as coming forth from the Father to reveal and reconcile--as purging your sin with blood, and bringing you to be all to the Father that He is Himself to the Father--let it all “abide in you”; always, everywhere.

So “ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father.” First, “Ye shall abide in the Son.” What the Lord elsewhere enjoins as in itself a duty, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4), the apostle describes as the consequence of another duty being rightly discharged. We abide in the Son, as we may be said to abide in anyone when his words abide in us--or when that which we have heard of him, or from him, from the beginning, abides in us; when we understand and know him by what he says and what we hear; when what we thus understand and know of him takes hold of us, carries our conviction, commands our confidence and love, fastens and rivets itself in our mind and heart, and so abides in us. Thus we abide in the Son precisely as we abide in a friend whom we know, and trust, and love. Let us turn all that we learn into the materials of that personal communing of Him with us and us with Him, which is indeed the essence of our abiding in the Son. All the rather let us do so because, secondly, this abiding in the Son is abiding in the Father; for the Father and the Son are one. Into all that the Son is to the Father, in these and other similar views of His mediatorial character and ministry as the Son, we enter when we abide in the Son. And so we come to be to the Father all that the Son is to the Father. We abide in the Father as the Son abides in the Father. So we abide in the Son and in the Father. And still all this depends on our letting “that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us.” It depends on that faith which cometh by hearing, as hearing cometh by the Word of God.

Of all this “the fruit is unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” For “this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.” The meaning here may be that “the promise of eternal life” is superadded to the privilege or condition of our “abiding in the Son and in the Father,” that it is something over and above that held out to us in prospect; or it may be that our “abiding in the Son and in the Father” is itself the very “life eternal” that is promised. The difference is not material; the two thoughts, or rather the two modifications of the same thought, run into one. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Christian doctrine, duty, privilege, and hope

Christian doctrine. It is the doctrine of the Father and of the Son. Christianity, while it by no means robs the eternal Father of His honour, at the same time promulgates the Saviour’s declaration, that it is the pleasure of the Father that all men should do honour to the Son even as they do honour to the Father. It is a dispensation of which Christ is the head, is the chief subject, is the principal Person, to whom all eyes are to be directed; while all honour, and glory, and majesty, and worship, and thanksgiving are poured out upon the Father in all ages, at the foot of the mediatorial throne.

The duty and privilege of the Church. What is the duty? “Let them abide in you.” And what the privilege? “If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” Let it “abide in you”: but it must first obtain admission. Ah! and not only so, it must take its mighty grasp of the heart. And so it does wherever it comes in truth; it enters there to have its own way, first, to resist sin, then to imprison sin, and ultimately, by the grace of God, to cast it out.

The Christian hope. “This is the promise, even eternal life.” We are not content to live here always. No; we know there is a better land, a land of peace, of purity, and perfect bliss. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)

Vital godliness

There is a peculiar importance attached to these three little ins. There is a blessed union, a holy identity, an inseparable oneness between the persons and experience of real Christians and the persons and perfections of all the glorious Trinity in unity. Doctrinal godliness is union with Deity; experimental godliness is the enjoyment of Deity; practical godliness is the glorifying of Deity.

The antiquity of our religion. “That which ye have heard from the beginning.” What “beginning”? The beginning of the gospel? I grant that, if you wish; the beginning of the Christian dispensation. But go a little further back; the beginning of the prophetic vision--the beginning of the Mosaic economy--the beginning of the Abrahamic covenant--the beginning of the creation--go back as early as you will, and we will bear testimony that our faith is the faith of the ancients. If not, we will abandon it. Mark that beautiful account of the patriarchal faith recorded in the seventeenth of Genesis, and compare it with what is recorded by Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians, and the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and inquire whether they are not precisely the same faith, taught to both of them by the Holy Ghost. What was this ancient system? Our Lord tells us in plain terms, that “Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and he saw it and was glad.” Well, then, Abraham’s religion, Abraham’s faith, “that which was from the beginning,” simply consisted in seeing everything in Christ, beholding all he wanted in Christ, the Substitute, the Surety, the Daysman, the Sponsor of His whole Church. But we go further back than we have hitherto gone. “Where then?” say you? Up to the eternal councils of peace. I mean to.. say that all the religion worth having originated in heaven; it is the offspring of Deity. All that pertains to real godliness originates with God. Now here are certainties; here are securities. These are old-fashioned truths. Old-fashioned guineas, you know, are almost obsolete; but when we find them, we know they are valuable. Blessed be God, these truths are of sterling value and infinite importance; “that which we have heard from the beginning” our souls delight to dwell upon.

The living participation of this old-fashioned religion. “If it shall remain in you.” It must be “in you” in order to “remain” there. So that here is a religion put in a man, and of such a nature, and of such value, that it remains--abides, continues. What, then, is it? It is nothing less than a communication made from the throne of God, by the Holy Ghost, to the sinner’s heart. I should never be the better for what God my Father has given and God my Saviour has done, but for God the Holy Spirit’s communications to my soul. Every act of quickening is from His power; every whisper of love is by His voice. It is nothing less than the indwelling, the witnessing, the comforting, the instruction, the anointing of the Holy Ghost, resting upon the soul of man, that imparts one spiritual motion. I pass on to the term “remain”: “If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you.” “The Spirit of truth, whom ye know; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” “The Father shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.” He never gives up His charge; He never forsakes His residence; He never abandons His work. It is a “remaining” religion. Now for the words--“remain in you.” Blessed be God, then there is no possibility of alteration. What is round about me, I cannot secure. But what is within me, secures me. It “remains” within: a vital principle, the life of God in the soul. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”; and the world and the devil must conquer Christ before they can turn Him out. Therefore He “remains”--“remains in you.”

Wherever this “remaining,” abiding, unconquerable, unchanging religion dwells in the soul, a lasting union between jehovah and that soul is demonstrated. “Continue in the Son and in the Father!” An inheritor of all the Son’s merit and of all the Father’s love; “an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ”; interested in all that Christ did and suffered, and interested in all that paternal love planned, ordained, and predestinated. The warrior may boast of his fame, the statesmen may carry their projects, the merchants may secure their fortunes, the pleasure taker may revel in his wickedness, worldlings of all sorts may have their gods; but give me mine. An interest in all that covenant love has bestowed, and all that covenant blood has bought, and all that covenant grace can impart. “But,” say you, “how am I to know this?” I am to know it by something “remaining in me”; I am to know it by having a covenant gift; I am to know it by having an old-fashioned religion remaining in my soul that the devil and earth and sin cannot turn out. And, therefore, if thou hast the earnest, the pledge given by Jehovah, the Spirit’s work in thy soul, thou hast all that constitutes assurance of interest “in the Son and in the Father.” “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” (J. Irons.)

Verse 25

1 John 2:25

And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.

Eternal life

Consider the blessing promised--“eternal life.” Life is used as the illustration, because of all blessings it is the most desired, and eternal is appended to it, because that is the highest and best form of life.

1. The first great element in eternal life is freedom from condemnation. So taught our Saviour Himself (John 5:24).

2. Another element of eternal life is the renewal of the heart in righteousness by the grace of the Divine Spirit. There is a double death of the sinner in this present life, and there is a double life corresponding to it. He is dead under the sentence of the law, and also under the power of sin. The former is removed when he is forgiven, the latter when he is renewed in the spirit of his mind.

3. It is in eternity, however, it shall be consummated. The principles by which it is now produced and maintained shall then be perfected.

What is implied in its being represented as a promise?

1. If eternal life be a promise, this implies that it is a free gift.

2. While a promise supposes a free gift on the part of God, it implies its acceptance on our part. If it be not accepted it can never be enjoyed.

3. If eternal life be the promise of God it is sure. “He is not a man that He should lie,” etc.

4. Finally, since eternal life is the promise of God, it ought to exercise a powerful influence over us, in engaging us wholly for Him who has so provided for us. (James Morgan, D. D.)

The promise of eternal life

God’s promise of salvation is the expression of His heart of love to the needy and to the lost. This is God’s promise, even eternal life.

The Promiser.

1. First, we must think of God’s purpose in the promise. He had a purpose in making the promise.

2. Then we must think of the Word of God, in which the promise is revealed as well as recorded; and the promise being in God’s Word, will never be repealed.

3. Then we must think of Christ, in whom all the promises of God are “Yea, and in Him Amen.” God says, “My covenant shall stand fast with Him.” There is no change in all this.

4. And then there is another point we have to think about, and that is the believer’s faith in order to realise the promise; and this is often very weak, and often fails.

The persons to whom the promise is made. “This is the promise which He hath promised us.” The “us” here means those who “had an unction from the Holy One,” and knew the truth, as distinguished from those who held the various errors the apostle had been speaking of. It refers to all the children of God, Christ’s Holy Church throughout the world; for, as the work was done for them, so the promise by which that work was made theirs is addressed to them. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)

Verses 26-28

1 John 2:26-28

These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you


The danger (1 John 2:26). The term employed is most significant of danger “seduce you.” Those to whom he refers would come to the disciples not as open enemies, but as professed friends. The history of the Church furnishes a melancholy illustration and confirmation of these remarks. Satan appears sometimes under the guise of an angel of light. Assaults are again made on the passions and the appetites and the peculiar propensities of men, so as to entice them from the paths of purity and propriety into forbidden courses.

Such being the danger of disciples, the apostle next instructs them wherein their safety lies (1 John 2:27).

1. The security of the believer is at once ascribed to the grace of the Holy Spirit. No being but the Spirit of God can keep the soul. Our own strength is weakness, and our wisdom folly.

2. The very promise of the Spirit is made in the text, which encourages us to confide in Him. He “abideth in you.” There He is with His unerring wisdom to guide in every movement.

3. Observe next how independent He is said to render the man in whom He abideth. “Ye need not that any man teach you; the same anointing teacheth you of all things.” This certainly does not mean that he is made presumptuous and unwilling to be taught by others, as though he needed not their help. He is engaged in teaching the very persons whom he congratulates as independent of human teaching. Nor is there any inconsistency between his views and his practice. He taught the disciples, and they were grateful for his instructions, and were much edified by them. Yet, supposing him to be withdrawn from them, it did not follow that they must remain in ignorance. The Spirit could teach by hint or without him. Even an apostle could not open the mind to apprehend a single truth unless the Spirit employed and blessed him.

4. It is, therefore, declared that he is safe. “Ye shall abide in Him.” Seeing the Spirit abides in him, he shall abide in Christ.

This leads us to consider the apostle’s view of the believer’s duty (1 John 2:28). It does not follow that because the Spirit abides in us, and maintains His own work, we are set free from any responsibility. Rather, it is the very reverse. Since the Spirit dwells in us, we are the more called upon to be diligent and faithful. We are left without excuse, seeing we are under the power of Him who is infinitely wise, and powerful to direct and sustain us.

1. In order to preserve the health of the body we use the utmost diligence to procure necessary food, and so should we do for the soul.

2. As we freely use the food we have secured for the body, so let us do with our spiritual food.

3. As when we have partaken of the food which our industry has provided, we employ our strength in the active duties of our calling, so let us be diligent and active in serving God.

The reasons assigned and the motives urged. “That when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” The fact is assumed that Christ shall appear, and two most solemn reflections are founded on it. Christ will appear. This is the plain and repeated testimony of the Divine Word. Well may we cry, “Who shall stand when He appeareth?” The two cases described in the words before us reveal how it shall be in the solemn hour.

1. Some shall have confidence. They believed in Him. They continued in Him. They see the Lord in the air, and, raised from the grave, they go to meet Him with gladness. Of all beings He is the very one they are most desirous to behold.

2. How awful it will be to be ashamed in that day! Ashamed of unbelief! Ashamed of sin! Ashamed of ourselves! Ashamed of slighted opportunities, neglected privileges, and lost souls! (James Morgan, D. D.)

But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.

The guileless spirit, through the abiding Messianic unction and illumination of the Holy Ghost, abiding in Christ, so as to have confidence at His coming

The provision made for our abiding in him is the “anointing which we receive of Him abiding in us.”

1. It is in us; it is an inward anointing. Not with oil on the head, but with the Holy Ghost in the heart, we are anointed; as He from whom we receive the anointing was Himself anointed.

2. This anointing is permanent--“it abideth in you.” It is not a fitful emotion or wayward impulse, a rapture of excitement, alternating perhaps with deep depression. It partakes more of the nature of a calm, constant, settled conviction. There may be more or less of the vivid sense of this anointing, at different seasons and in different circumstances; the signs of it may be more or less clearly discernible, and the hold we have of it in our consciousness may be more or less strong. But it “abideth in us,” keeping God and eternity still before us as realities, in our sorest trials and darkest horn’s, causing us, as we fall back upon it, like David in his recovery from doubting despondency, to exclaim (Psalms 77:10).

3. This anointing is sufficient in and of itself; its teaching needs no corroboration from anyone; it has a Divine self-evidencing power of its own that makes him who receives it independent of human testimony: “ye need not that any man teach you.”

4. The teaching of this anointing is complete and thorough, all embracing, all-comprehensive; “it teacheth you of all things.” It is not partial or one-sided, as human teaching on Divine subjects is apt to be, but full-orbed, well rounded, like a perfect circle. It needs the Divine anointing of which we speak to teach, to unfold, to exhaust, all that is in the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

5. Finally, this anointing “is truth, and is no lie.” It carries with it, and in it, an assurance not to be called in question or shaken--an assurance, one may say, infallibly sure.

The motive urged for your abiding in Christ is the hope or prospect of “His appearing,” “His coming.” It is urged very earnestly and affectionately. John might have kept to the mode of address which he has been using, and to which in the next verse he returns; as an apostle exhorting his disciples, a teacher instructing his scholars, speaking authoritatively or ex cathedra. But when the end of all comes in view he cannot separate himself from them. We are to be together with the Lord, you and we--you disciples and we apostles; you scholars and we teachers. And for this end we would have you to abide in Him, that we may have confidence together when He appears. Let me be ever asking myself, at every moment, If He were to appear now, would I have confidence? If He were to come into my house, my room, and show Himself, and speak to me face to face, would I have confidence? Could I meet His look of love without embarrassment? Only if He found me “abiding in Him”; doing whatever I might be doing “in His name, giving thanks unto God even the Father by Him”; only if He found me keeping Him in my heart. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The anointing by Christ

This anointing is a gift. It is “the anointing which ye have received.” It is contrasted in the context with the transient possessions of worldly men. To these, what seems to be solid melts into air; what seems to be permanent vanishes away.

This anointing is a heart-cleansing gift. Those who have it mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit (Romans 8:13), and purify themselves even as Christ is pure (chap. 3:3). Not through any natural power of willing and working, but through the Spirit, they are able to do these things.

This anointing is a heart-enlarging gift. A man’s calling and election once made sure to his own mind, the sphere of his studies becomes enlarged. It is not written, One thing have I desired of the Lord that I may be saved, but (Psalms 27:4).

This anointing is a heart-cheering gift. It is the oil of gladness (Psalms 45:7), the oil of joy (Isaiah 61:3), the source of joy unspeakable, never-ending, and glorious (1 Peter 1:8).

This anointing was a gift divinely given to Christ. As to His human nature He was richly endued. The Spirit of God rested upon Him (Isaiah 11:2; John 1:32-33). He was therewith anointed above his fellows (Psalms 45:7)

This anointing is a gift divinely given to His people. It is “the anointing which ye have received of Him”--not only as a proof that they are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, but also as their instructor and guide (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2).

This anointing is a distinguishing gift. It “is the anointing which ye have received.” As the anointing under the law, which is no doubt alluded to in the text, was of a sweet savour, so we, as many as are anointed with His Spirit, are thereby made a sweet savour of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15). As that anointing oil was sprinkled upon Aaron and his sons (who represent the Church, as pointedly distinguished from the rest of the congregation), so Christ sends the comforter to His disciples, whom He pointedly distinguishes from the world (John 14:16-17). As the anointing oil was forbidden to be poured upon the flesh of man (Exodus 30:25-33), so the Holy Ghost cannot be received by the world, which, in the present dispensation, “seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.”

This anointing is a permanent gift. It is “the anointing which abideth in you.” It is permanent as opposed to those proffers of grace, so called, which, depending on the volition of the creature, are worse than precarious. This distinctive mark cannot suffer abrasure or be blown away. Its permanence is chiefly shown by the vitality of our union to Christ (John 15:5), by the reality of our participation in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), by the eternity of the life of which the Spirit is the demonstrator and source (1 John 5:11), and by the stability of the covenant under which that life is promised (1 John 2:25).

This anointing is a truthful gift. It is truth. It is truthful as opposed to those false misgivings, whether from the flesh or the devil, which frequently trouble the Christian. It is truthful, also, as opposed to the shadows of the law. It is truthful, also, as opposed to the lies and hypocrisy of false professors.

This anointing is a sufficient gift. Giving sufficiency to that spiritual judgment, that noble and inestimable endowment, which alone can distinguish truth from error. (The Evangelical Preacher.)


That was a true word spoken of the prophet (Isaiah 54:13). It is certain that the amount of peace which we enjoy will be largely in proportion to the amount of teaching which we receive, and appropriate, at the hands of the Lord. As the many objects of fear which, in the mind of the savage, people all lonely places, disappear when he is instructed in truer science, so do doubts and misgivings vanish as the soul comes to understand its true standing in Jesus. It is very beautiful to remark the direct teaching agency of the Lord in this passage, and to remember that it is vouchsafed to all His children. He takes equal care over each. He perhaps takes most care over the stupid ones, putting the lesson in successive modifications, that it may be brought down to their capacity. It is His chosen business to make you know His will, and if He cannot do it in one way, He will in another. But as the Psalmist very fitly says, we are oftenest taught by chastening (Psalms 94:12). If you have been praying to know more of Christ, do not be surprised if He takes you aside into a desert place, or leads you into a furnace of pain.

1. Christ teaches by the Holy Ghost. It is unmistakable that He is referred to in the reference to the anointing which we have received. The Holy Spirit is, so to speak, the medium by which Jesus dwells in the surrendered heart, and operates through it and in it.

2. This teaching is inward. There are doubtless many lessons taught by Providence. But, after all, the meaning of outward events is a riddle, until He opens “the dark saying on the harp.” And the teaching is therefore so quiet, so unobtrusive, so hidden, that many an earnest seeker may think that nothing is being taught or acquired, as the months go on. But we cannot gauge the true amounts of progress which we are making from year to year--the teaching is so thoroughly a secret matter between God and the Spirit. But when some great crisis supervenes, some trial, some duty, and the spirit puts forth powers of which it had seemed incapable, there is a swift discovery of the results, which had been slowly accruing during previous years.

3. The main end of this teaching is to secure our abiding in Christ. “Even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” All Christian progress begins, continues, and has its fruition here. Severed from Jesus we can do nothing. Abiding in Jesus we partake of “the root and fatness” of His glorious life. All His fulness slowly enters into us. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Verses 28-29

1 John 2:28-29

And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence

Abiding in Christ the ground of confidence in the day of His appearing


The event referred to, for which preparation is to be made, is the coming of Christ--that we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him, at His coming.

The duty here enjoined, that of abiding in Christ. What is it to abide in Christ? To speak of one as abiding in Christ implies that he is already in Him; if any man be in Christ he is a new creature. And surely in the great day of the Lord’s coming we shall need something to rest upon as a ground of confidence firmer and more abiding than anything the world can afford us.

1. Abiding in Christ we shall have no fear of condemnation in the day of His final coming. For we are assured there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.

2. Abiding in Christ you may feel assured, when summoned into His presence at the last day, that you have a friend in your judge, an advocate and intercessor; and having chosen Him as your Saviour, you can securely leave your cause in His hand, in firm confidence that all will be well with you forever.

3. Abiding in Christ, His promise is given, His truth pledged, that all your dearest interests are safe for eternity.

Reasons or motives which enforce the duty of abiding in Christ, and so having confidence when He shall appear.

1. Let it be impressed on your mind that His coming to judge the world is an absolute certainty.

2. To enforce still further the duty we are considering, let me remind you again of the august and solemn scenes connected with the coming of Christ to judge the world.

3. Christ is presented in His gospel as an all-sufficient Saviour; and abiding in Him, you may rest assured that you will be able to witness the scenes of the last day with perfect peace.

4. Security amid those scenes can be derived from no other source. (J. Hawes, D. D.)

Preparation for the coming of the Lord

First observe to what he urges them--“Abide in Him.” By this he meant one thing; but that thing is so comprehensive that we may better understand it by viewing it from many sides.

1. He meant fidelity to the truth taught by our Lord. Abide in the truth which you received from the beginning; for in your earliest days it wrought salvation in you. The foundation of your faith is not a changeable doctrine; you rest on a sure word of testimony. Truth is, in its very nature, fixed and unalterable. You know more about it than you did; but the thing itself is still the same, and must be the same. Take care that you abide in it. You will find it difficult to do so, for there is an element of changeableness about yourself; this you must overcome by grace. You will find many elements of seduction in the outside world. Let no man deceive you with vain words, though there are many abroad in these days who “would deceive, if it were possible, the very elect.” Abide in Jesus, by letting His words abide in you.

2. Next, he means “abide in Him” as to the uniformity of your trust. When you first enjoyed a hope, you rested upon Christ alone. Depend today as simply as you depended then. If you have some idea that you are hastening towards perfection, take care that you do not indulge a vain conceit of yourself; but even if it be true, still mix not your perfection with His perfection, nor your advance in grace with the foundation which He has laid for you in His blood and righteousness. “Abide in Him.”

3. Moreover, abide in the Lord Jesus Christ in making Him the constant object of your life. As you live by Christ, so live for Christ. If you are in health, live for Christ earnestly if you are bound to a sick bed, live for Christ patiently.

4. Surely, we should also understand by “abide in Him,” that we are to persevere in our obedience to our Lord. “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” What your Lord bids you, continue to do. Be precise and prompt in your execution of His commands.

5. Continue in spiritual union with your Lord. All the life you have is life derived from Him; seek no other. You are not a Christian except as Jesus is the Christ of God to you; you are not alive unto God, except as you are one with the risen Lord.

6. “Abide in Hint,” in the sense of being at home in Him. Do not go to Jesus one day, and to the world another day; do not be a lodger with Him, but abide in Him. What a comfort to have our Lord Himself to be our chosen dwelling place in time and in eternity! Why does the apostle urge us to abide in Christ? Is there any likelihood of our going away? Yes, for in this very chapter he mentions apostates, who from disciples had degenerated into antichrists, of whom he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would, no doubt, have continued with us.” “Abide in Him,” then, and do not turn aside unto crooked ways, as many professors have done.

Secondly, notice under what character John addresses these believers. He says, “And now, little children.”

1. This indicates the apostle’s love to them. He could not wish them a greater blessing out of the depth of his heart’s affection, than that they should faithfully abide in Christ.

2. Next, by this he suggests their near and dear relation to their Father in heaven. Because you are little children, you are not of travelling years, therefore stay at home and abide in your Lord.

3. Does he not hint at their feebleness? Even if you were grown and strong, you would not be wise to gather all together and wander away into the far country; but as you are so young, so dependent, so feeble, it is essential that you abide in Him. Is He not your life, your all?

4. Does not the apostle also gently hint at their fickleness? You are very changeable, like little babes. You are apt to be hot and cold in half an hour. Surrender yourself to Him by an everlasting covenant never to be cancelled. Be His forever and ever.

5. Did not this remind them of their daily dependence upon the Lord’s care, as little children depend on their parents?

We shall consider by what motive John exhorts us to this pleasant and necessary duty of abiding in Christ. Look at that little word: it runs thus, “that we may have confidence.” The beloved John needed to have confidence at the appearing of the Lord, and confidence fetched from the same source as that to which he directed his little children. How wisely, and yet how sweetly, he puts himself upon our level in this matter!

1. Notice, further, that the motive is one drawn from Jesus. John does not drive believers with the lash of the law, but he draws them with the cords of love.

2. The motive is drawn from our Lord’s expected advent. Notice how John puts it. He uses two words for the same thing: “when He shall appear,” and, “at His coming.” The second advent may be viewed in two lights. First, as the appearing of one who is here already, but is hidden; and next, as the coming of one who is absent. In the first sense we know that our Lord Jesus Christ abides in His Church; according to His word, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Yet, though spiritually present, He is unseen. The spiritual and secret presence of Christ will become a visible and manifest presence in the day of His appearing. The apostle also uses the term, “at His coming,” or, “His presence.” This is the same thing from another point of view. In a certain evident sense our Lord is absent: “He is not here, for He is risen.” He has gone His way unto the Father. In that respect He will come a second time, “without a sin offering, unto salvation.” He who has gone from us will so come in like manner as He was seen to go up into heaven. John pleads the glorious manifestation of our Lord under both of these views as a reason for abiding in Him. As to our Lord’s “appearing,” he would have us abide in Christ, that we may have confidence when He appears. What does he mean by having confidence when He shall appear? Why, this: that if you abide in Him when you do not see Him, you will be very bold should He suddenly reveal Himself. Before He appears, you have dwelt in Him, and He has dwelt in you; what fear could His appearing cause you? The word translated “confidence” means freedom of speech. If our Divine Lord were to appear in a moment, we should not lose our tongue through fear, but should welcome Him with glad acclaim. The other point is, that you should “not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” That means, that having regarded Him as being absent, you have not so lived that, if He should suddenly be present in person, you would be ashamed of your past life. What must it be to be driven with shame away from His presence into everlasting contempt! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The highest life

The term “little children” is a term of endearment. John was a man of love, those who loved Christ he loved dearly. “And now, little children,” or better, my little children. The good have a property in the good. The words imply three things--

An actual existence in Christ. You cannot “abide” in Him unless you are actually in Him. What is it to be in Christ? To be in His school as His disciple, in His family as His brethren, in His character as His imitators. Spiritually, all men live more or less in the character of others. The existing generation lives in the character of its predecessor, loving children live in the character of their parents. To live in His character, actuated in all things by His Spirit, guided in all things by His principles, is the highest state of existence for man.

The possibility of losing this state of existence. If not, why should we be exhorted to “abide”? First, the constitutional freedom of the soul implies the possibility. Secondly, the corrupting influences of society are hostile to this state of existence. Thirdly, the exhortations of Scripture imply the danger of its decay. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” “Be steadfast,” etc.

The necessity for continuing in this state of existence. “When He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed at His coming.” Or, according to the New Version, “that if He shall be manifested we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” The idea is that a continuance of this high state of existence, this life in Christ will enable you to meet Him with unabashed confidence. Sooner or later He will come to all. He comes to all at death. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Ashamed to meet the Lord

A man lay dying many years ago. He had lived a Christian life and was esteemed by all who knew him. His sons stood round his bed, hanging upon their father’s lips, and prepared to treasure the last words which he should speak to them in this life. They all, and the aged man himself, knew that he must soon cross the black river of death, so it was no shock when one of his sons asked, “Father, father, are you not afraid to die?” There was a pause as if the dying man turned his mental gaze in upon himself, and then slowly he replied, “No, no! I am not afraid to die, but,” and he lifted his wasted hand, “I am almost ashamed to die when I look back upon my years wasted, that might have been spent in more active service for my Lord.” If we have done a little for Christ, how little it is! How half-hearted have been our efforts! While not afraid to meet our God, we are almost ashamed to meet Him bearing “nothing but leaves” instead of “sheaves of gathered grain.” (J. Elder Cumming, D. D.)

The advantage of abiding in Christ

The cloth must be dipped into the dyer’s vat, and lie there, if it is to be tinged with the colour. The sensitive plate must be patiently kept in position for many hours if invisible stars are to photograph themselves upon it. The vase must be held with a steady hand beneath the fountain if it is to be filled. Keep yourselves in Jesus Christ. Then here you will begin to be changed into the same image, and when He comes He will come as your Saviour, and complete your uncompleted work, and make you altogether like Himself. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Abiding in Christ gives confidence

It is only in proportion as we keep ourselves in union with Christ, in heart and mind, and will, and work, that we shall stand steadfast. The lightest substances may be made stable, if they are glued on to something stable. You can mortise a bit of thin stone into the living rock, and then it will stand “four-square to every wind that blows.” So it is only on condition of our keeping ourselves in Jesus Christ, that we are able to keep ourselves steadfast, and to present a front of resistance that does not yield one foot, either to imperceptible continuous pressure, to sudden assaults, or to the fluctuations of our own changeful dispositions and tempers. The ground on which a man stands has a great deal to do with the firmness of his footing. You cannot stand fast upon a bed of slime, or upon a sandbank being undermined by the tides. And if we, changeful creatures, are to be steadfast in any region, our surest way of being so is to knit ourselves to Him “who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” and from whose immortality will flow some copy and reflection of itself into your else changeful natures. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him--

A standard of judgment

A standard of judgment is set up--“If ye know that He is righteous.” The expression is not put in this form to suggest the idea of doubtfulness. On the contrary, it is an assumption of certainty. “If ye know” is tantamount to “since ye know.” He is righteous in His holiness. He maintains it in a way which is in strictest harmony with the requirements of His law. It is never compromised in the provisions of the gospel. He is righteous in His truth. He has uttered no threatening which He shall not execute, He has delivered no promise which He shall not fulfil. He is equally righteous in His mercy. “Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne; mercy and truth go before His face.” He is righteous in His goodness. All its bounties are conferred on the sinner for Jesus’ sake. He is righteous in His justice. “Ye say the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal?” “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The evidence furnished by this standard, enabling us to judge of the gracious state of the believer. “Ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him.”

1. There are some of whom it may be said they are righteous. This is to be understood, not of the imputed righteousness by which they are justified, but of the personal righteousness by which they are sanctified. If it is asked, how is such a change made to pass upon the sinner? our reply is in the words of the Divine promise (Jeremiah 31:33). This is enough to account for their complete transformation of life. Of everyone on whom the Spirit of God has thus operated it may be said, “He is righteous.” A few words will explain how it is so. He thus perceives the meaning of the law. He obtains a view of its spirituality and extent which he never had before. He sees how it covers his whole life, and enters into the deepest recesses of his heart. He thus feels the obligation of the law. He is led distinctly to perceive that it is impossible for it to relax its demands. It must always endure to claim the universal and unbroken homage of the heart and life. He is thus made to love the law. No matter how far he comes short of it, and how much it condemns him, he cannot but approve and admire it. He condemns himself, but he justifies it. He thus learns habitually to avoid the violation of the law. He cannot live in sin. He may be overcome by the force of temptation; but the whole bent of his mind is towards righteousness. He is thus impelled to obey the law. It is not the ground of his hope, but it is the rule of his life. Say now what must be the influence and effect of such exercises as these? It is not too much to say of their subject, “he is righteous.”

2. Such righteousness furnishes satisfying proof that He who manifests it is born of God. Nature can bear no such fruit. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Education, and example, and prudence may do much, but they cannot produce the holiness of which we have spoken. Again, we find that it is distinctly ascribed to grace in the Divine Word (Ephesians 2:10). (James Morgan, D. D.)

Intermediate condition of the Divine fellowship--righteousness

The apostle passes to a new thought or theme; a new view of the fellowship in which he would have us to be partakers with himself and all the apostles. It is “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” He has viewed it as a fellowship of light. He now views it as a fellowship of righteousness. To be born of God implies community of nature between Him and us. I cannot be really His child unless I am possessed of the same nature with Him. So the Lord Jesus Himself teaches in two remarkable passages (Matthew 5:43-45; John 8:38-44). John may have had these words of his Master in his mind when he wrote the brief and pithy maxim, “God is righteous, and everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” His object is to supply a searching test by which our abiding in God may be surely tried. It is a mode of proof which may, without irreverence, be applied in the first instance to the Son Himself. We have His own warrant for so applying it (John 15:9-10). It is by keeping His Father’s commandments that He, as the Son, born of the Father, abides in the Father’s love. As the Father is known by Him as righteous, so He, doing righteousness, is proved to be born of Him. He doeth the works of His Father, and so evinces His Sonship. All through, the stress is laid on righteousness. That is the distinguishing characteristic which identifies Him that is born of God: the common quality connecting what He does as born of God with the nature of Him of whom He is born. You who believe are born of God as He is. I speak of His human birth; in which you, in your new birth, are partakers with Him, the same Spirit of God being the agent in both, and originating in both the same new life. His birth was humiliation to Him, though it was of God; your new birth is exaltation to you, because it is of God. His being born of God by the Spirit made Him partaker of your human nature--your being born again of God by the Spirit makes you partakers of His “Divine nature.” You, thus born of God, come to be of the same mind with Him who is the first begotten of the Father; especially as regards your knowing that God is righteous, and that it is, therefore, and must be, the impulse and characteristic of everyone that is born of Him to do righteousness. For if you are thus born of God must you not be as thoroughly on His side, as unreservedly in His interest, in the great outstanding controversy between His righteousness and man’s sin, as is His well-beloved Son Himself? First, in Him, and with Him--born of God into fellowship with Him in His birth--you enter into that doing of righteousness on His part which was the main design of His being born; which brings into perfect harmony, not God’s righteousness and man’s sin, but God’s righteousness and man’s salvation from sin. Ah! what an insight into the righteous nature and character of God; what a measure of cordial oneness of principle and sentiment with Him, entering into His very mind and heart, does all this involve! How far removed is it from that loose, easy going sort of Christian virtue which would not itself do iniquity, but is very tolerant of those who do it; not, like Lot’s righteous soul, vexed with evil; nor, like Lot, preaching righteousness; but rather prone to look on sin with indifference or complacency, and to let the sinner go on, without warning or entreaty to his doom. If you know that God is righteous, and make conscience of doing righteousness accordingly, you cannot be thus tame and acquiescent; thus cold and callous. To you righteousness, God’s righteousness, is not a name, but a reality. To be confirmed to it, to submit to it, is life. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

What is it to be a doer of righteousness?--

1. Righteousness is that which in itself is right, or according to the will of God. To do righteousness is to do that which He commands, whether it relates to moral or positive precepts.

2. Doing righteousness includes in it a regard to the rectitude and propriety of what is commanded. It is not the honour or advantage arising from the performance of duty, but it is being a Divine requirement, and tending to glorify God, that furnishes the motive to obedience, and renders it acceptable in His sight (Zechariah 7:5-6).

3. The sincerity of our obedience is implied in doing righteousness. Genuine obedience includes the whole compass of duty, and esteems God’s testimonies concerning all things to be right.

4. It includes a patient continuance in well-doing, and preserving to the end.

5. Doing righteousness supposes the existence of a righteous principle. The tree must be made good before the fruit can be good. The fountain must be cleansed ere the streams can be pure; and a godly life can only be the effect of a Divine nature.

6. Those only can be said to work righteousness who place no dependence on the righteousness they have wrought. Faith in Jesus is essential to all true obedience, and without this it is impossible to please God. (B. Beddome, M. A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-john-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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