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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
1 John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-10

Unlike his second and third epistles, this first from John’s pen waits for no salutation, but more like Paul’s to the Hebrews, immediately begins with a precious declaration of the glory of the Person of Christ. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” Does it not almost startle us with wonder that this blessed Person should be so introduced by the use of impersonal pronouns? Why ought this to be so? Let us note first that the spirit of reverence and worship here is in no way compromised, but abundantly evident. Is the evangelist not seeking to impress upon us that the holy mystery of Godhead and Manhood perfectly united in this blessed One is beyond all ability of definition, or of human understanding? Compare 1 Timothy 3:16. Indeed, as to His essential Deity, we read, “No man knoweth the Father”; and if this is so, then how are we to fathom the wondrous mystery of His incarnation in human form? Yet He is Himself the revelation of the glory of God, the blessed Object of contemplation and adoration, an Object to awaken the most profound interest and exercise of our souls, but not mere mental curiosity.

The expression “from the beginning” however, does not go back to the past eternity, as does John’s Gospel, Chapter l — “In the beginning was the Word,” nor does it reach so far back as Genesis 1:1-31 — “In the beginning God created,” that is the origin of creation in time. But it refers rather to the holy beginning of God’s Personal revelation on earth, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus. This was no mere momentary vision, no strange, intangible apparition of Deity that has come and gone. "We know that the Son of God is come” (1 John 5:20). It is a real, abiding, eternal revelation of God, “from” the time of its “beginning” in incarnation. Thus this expression is used often by John, to stress that this revelation "From the beginning” has introduced that which is perfect, unalterable, eternal.

But He is truly Man in every proper respect, and this was fully witnessed by the apostles. They had “heard” Him, and speaking as none other ever spoke. They had seen Him with their eyes, and moreover closely enough to “look upon” or contemplate Him. How closely they must have observed Him! How could they refrain from doing so? Yet they were privileged with an even more intimate observation of His true Manhood: their “hands had handled" Him. Here was the witness then of the majority of their natural senses. Not only has God declared that His Son has become Man, but He is proven to be so among men.

But this too is immediately guarded from the danger of any false conclusions. For some would dare to use the truth of His true, full humanity as an argument to the effect that He cannot therefore be God. How evil, how dreadfully corrupt are such Satanic suggestions! One of His great names in Deity is therefore introduced — “The Word of life,” — the Word who was “in the beginning,” “with God,” and who “was God” (John 1:1). In Him was life” — eternal, inherent life, and as He said, I am … the life” (John 11:25; John 14:6). We use words to express our thoughts: Christ is “The Word of life,” the expression of God’s thoughts, the expression of the life of the eternal God, and now expressed in blessed human form.

(“For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”) Was that life not before seen in the godly ways of believers even in the Old Testament? The answer is simply that though the life was in them and energized all that was the work of faith in their lives, yet in no case was the life manifested in its pure, true, full character except in Christ. For in them, and in us, the horrible corruption of the flesh greatly obscures the true activities of that life, and hence a sad mixture is the result. In Christ alone that life is truly and perfectly manifested. Yet human life is seen as well, uncontaminated, as the setting in which divine life expresses itself in purest moral reality.

Observe too that the means by which the apostle shows us that eternal life, is the written Word of God — that which, being vital and powerful itself, becomes vital in the soul by faith.

Again, that eternal life was with the Father before being manifested to us. Does this not declare plainly the sweetness of that eternal relationship enjoyed between the Father and the Son long before public manifestation? For it is evident that the verse teaches that Christ is the very Personification of eternal life, and as such He was with the Father, known and enjoyed in that holy relationship.

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” Here is a very definite purpose for which the apostle writes. He also mentions at least three other objectives of his epistle. Here he speaks of proper family fellowship of the saints of God; in the next verse, of fulness of joy; in ch.2:1 of preservation from sin; in ch.5:13 of the certainty of eternal life.

True fellowship must have a basis of proper understanding, for it involves sharing things in common. This understanding is communicated by the written Word of God. The apostles had companied constantly with the Lord on earth: who could question that their fellowship was with the Son? And if with the Son, then certainly with the Father, for they were assured, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” and again, I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:9-10). Here is the fellowship of a life and nature in common. In the Father and the Son there was both this and the having in common the eternal substance of Deity. Such a fellowship — that of the glory of Deity — is of course infinitely higher than man can even comprehend; but the child of God is brought by the living seed of the Word of God and the vital operation of the Spirit of God, not into Deity, but into the fellowship of that blessed eternal life, the very life and nature of the Father and the Son. He is not speaking here merely of practical fellowship cultivated day by day, but of an absolute fellowship which is true of every true child of God, however little or much he may enjoy it. If we know it is ours by virtue of new birth, then we ought to cultivate a constant enjoyment of it; but John speaks of the positive fact. Thus, every soul who is born anew has fellowship with the apostles, and with the Father and the Son.

“And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full.” The realization of this eternal relationship with the Father and the Son, in the same community of eternal life, an established fellowship of the apostles and of all the saints of God, is that which brings with it fulness of joy. And nothing less than this is proper to a Christian. Why then is fulness of joy not the constant, invariable experience of every child of God? Simply because other considerations, inconsistent with this fellowship, are indulged, and in practice tend to obscure the unspeakable blessedness of what is eternally and unchangeably our true heritage. Our eyes and hearts become engaged with mere material things — or even evil things — and there is no spiritual joy in these. A full revelation of God in Christ is the source of full joy: let our souls find their pure delight in this, and we shall have full joy.

If life is seen in the first four verses, we must also know the true character of that life; and first it is shown as absolute perfect light, then later on as pure energetic love. The very order is of course important. “This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” Light is the very nature of God. Natural light is of course only a fitting symbol of this, just as natural life is only a symbol of divine, eternal life. Yet even natural life is a great mystery, which has engaged the wondering admiration of astute scientific minds for centuries, awakening questions that are never solved. Can man hope then to solve the great mystery of eternal life’? And natural light also, with its amazing properties of division from pure white into every glorious color of the rainbow, plus infrared, ultraviolet, wireless waves, radar, x ray, alpha, beta, gamma rays, cosmic rays, and whatever else yet undiscovered, remains of such mysterious character that scientists feel themselves only touching the fringes of all that is involved in it. And how much higher yet the pure light of the glory of God!

But light is not darkness, and in God is not one iota of darkness. Light is that which is revealed, and reveals things precisely as they are: it is absolute truth. If man’s works are in the dark, it is because they are false and evil. Men love darkness, because their deeds are evil, and they do not want themselves exposed. True, the light of God is beyond our understanding, but not because of being shrouded in darkness, rather because of its very brightness, as the light of the sun is too bright for eyes to contemplate, while yet the light and warmth of the sun provides wonderful blessing for man. No one would refuse the healthful beams of the sun, simply because he was not able to understand its existence!

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Whoever, or however many may profess this link of fellowship with God (and there are many in such a state), but at the same time walk in darkness, then the very sphere of their walk gives the lie to their profession: they are mere false professors of godliness, not believers at all; they have no fellowship, nothing in common with the God they profess to know. They have no real knowledge of God’s holy nature, no walk in honest communion with the blessed light of God, no heart appreciation of the blessed Person of Christ, Who Himself is “the light,” the very manifestation of God in light.

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is the true believer: the sphere of his walk is “in the light,” and every believer walks there. It has been well remarked that this is a matter of where we walk, not how we walk. Notice too that not only are we told that “God is light” in verse 5, but in verse 7, “He is in the light.” Though His nature is eternally “light,” yet in the Old Testament He dwelt “in the thick darkness,” not having been revealed in the blessedness of His nature, as He is now, in the Person of His Son. But now every believer walks in the light of this wondrous manifestation: it is the only place of blessing for anyone today. Moreover, it links every believer together in fellowship, the fellowship of the same blessed life, for all these are of the same family, having the same nature in common.

Yet, we must consider the fact that this light is absolute truth and righteousness, and those who are in the light cannot deny that they have sinned. How can they then have a place there? The answer is immediately given: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Only in the light does that precious blood have its wondrous application, for the light exposes, and only thus is the sin rightly judged and put away: the claims of the light are fully met by that precious blood, and all hindrance to fellowship also removed.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Whoever may claim this only proves that he is not in the light, for light must reveal things as they are, and any true sight of the nature of God in the Person of Christ will plainly show to me the contrasting sinfulness of my own heart. A denial of this is gross self deception, which does not savor of light at all: the truth is not in such a soul: he is yet in darkness. It is possible of course that a believer may for a time persuade himself that sin has been eradicated from his nature, and hence in a practical way resemble what is considered here; but the apostle speaks abstractly and absolutely, in reference to one who is characterized by this proud self righteousness, therefore an actual enemy of God.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here again is a broad, all embracing principle. If we” involves the same scope as does the expression in each one of these last five verses, that is, if anyone confesses his sins, there is in God perfect faithfulness, perfect justice in forgiving. As the light penetrates, it brings confession with it. Who can say whether repentance or faith is chronologically first? Are they not rather simultaneous? If one believes, it will be manifest in a spirit of confession: if one really repents, he will believe, for the evidence of faith is in his repentance. The confession here is real, of course, as being produced by the light, and cannot in any way be divorced from faith in the Son of God. If this is not specifically mentioned in the verse, yet it is clearly implied in God’s faithfulness and justice. Is God not faithful to His own Son, who has accomplished redemption for confessed sinners? And He is just in forgiving simply because the cross of Christ has satisfied every requirement of justice. Any sinner therefore may come to Him on the ground of this blessed verse, and find eternal forgiveness. On the other hand, a mere lip confession, such as King Saul’s (1 Samuel 15:30), which ignores the justice of God, is not even considered in this verse. Here rather is the reality that faces the facts of God’s faithfulness and righteousness, and frankly confesses. Compare the prodigal son (Luke 15:21-22). Forgiveness is the discharging of every offense against God, no holding it any longer against the offender. But there is cleansing from all unrighteousness also, in order that the soul may be in God’s presence in consistency with the purity of the light.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” This again is the mere haughty pride of unbelief in denying that its actions have been sinful. This superior attitude of self deception is only characteristic of one utterly devoid of life, and who does not hesitate to consider God a liar in order to maintain his own pride. God’s word is of course not in such a soul in any way. Honest facing of sin is one of the most definite effects of being in the light.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 John 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-john-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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