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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 John 2

 

 

Verses 5-28

First the apostle announces his message that God is light and only light (1 John 1:5). Then follows (down to chap. 1 John 2:2) a universal statement of the evangelical conditions of fellowship with Him in holiness. In chap. 1 John 2:3-6 the knowledge of God is exhibited as a stimulant to perfect obedience. From 1 John 2:7 to 1 John 2:11 the walk in light is viewed with special reference to brotherly love. 1 John 2:12-14 bear emphatic and redoubled testimony to the reality and truth of the Christian life generally, and of that of his readers in particular: this being introduced because of the stern contrasts which have preceded and will follow. Then comes an exhortation against the love of the world in its darkness, 1 John 2:15-17. From 1 John 2:18 to 1 John 2:27 believers are warned and protected against the doctrinal errors of the world. And, lastly, in 1 John 2:28, the whole is wound up by a reference to the coming of Christ and the Christian confidence before Him. It may be said that in the seven sections of this first part the whole sum of the Christian estate, from the revelation of sin to full preparation for judgment, is found, with its perfect opposite. But it is governed by the idea of the holiness of the Gospel as a sphere of light; and two points in it, regeneration and faith through the Holy Ghost, are afterwards more fully evolved.


Verses 1-3

1 John 2:1-3. My little children: instead of giving the antithesis to the third ‘if any man say,’ St. John, the father of the churches of that time, directly addresses those whose character formed that antithesis; and changes the calm statement into affectionate exhortation.

These things I write unto you—that is, the whole letter, resuming the ‘write we’ of 1 John 2:4, but with the usual change. Before, it was the apostolic ‘we,’ and in the presence of the whole Church, with all its heresies around it; now St. John himself begins a more personal address.

That ye sin not: before, it was the fulness of joy; now it is the utter separation from sin, the negative condition of that. The last tense that had been used was the perfect, referring to the whole life of sin as needing atonement; the aorist is now used: ‘that ye sin not at all,’ not as a habit, nor in any single act. The antithesis might have run on, ‘If we are forgiven and cleansed, we have for ever ceased from sin.’ But it does not; for the saint must ever be a sinner as touching the past, and if not dealt with as such it is only through merciful non-imputation; moreover, he may sin again.

And if any man sin. The ‘if’ does not suppose it necessary, but it clearly implies that ‘one’—meaning ‘one of us,’ though here only used in the Epistle—may commit sin. Yet this will be, in the high teaching of the apostle, a peculiar case, and demands a new application of the atonement to meet it.

We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ‘We have,’ as the common possession of believers—not of the Church; but of every one, for his defence against sin and recovery from it—as certainly ours now as our sin can be. Advocate or Paraclete is the same word as the Comforter of the Gospel. That ‘other’ Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is in the midst of the Church and in the hearts of believers as a Helper and Teacher, ‘making intercession within us;’ this Advocate is towards the Father, with allusion to the previous words, ‘to forgive us our sins.’ He is in a juridical sense the pleader or intercessor of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who must be ‘holy, separate from sinners,’ ‘the Righteous.’ The apostle does not say ‘the Holy One,’ because the very term Advocate makes the heavenly temple as it were a judicial court, and in that court satisfaction and righteousness reign. As ‘cleansing from unrighteousness’ combines the two ideas, so do Advocate and Propitiation. The third leading idea of the Gospel, our sonship, is involved in ‘with the Father.’

And he is the propitiation for our sins. Mark the ‘and’ which here once more introduces a new thought intended to obviate perversion. Though Christ is not said to be a ‘righteous Advocate,’ yet His advocacy must represent a righteous cause. He pleads His own atonement; that is Himself, for He ‘is’ in His Divine-human Person the propitiation: the advocacy is distinct from the atonement, is based upon it, and appeals to it.

The word propitiation occurs only here and in chap. 4 throughout the New Testament: it is really the counterpart of the ‘blood of Jesus His Son’ in chap. 1 John 1:6, the administration of the atonement coming between them in chap. 1 John 1:9. Christ is in the New Testament ‘set forth as a propitiation in His blood’ (Romans 3:25): a sacrificial offering that, as on the day of atonement to which it refers, averted the wrath of God from the people. He also as High Priest made atonement or ‘propitiation for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 2:17). which is here, as in the Septuagint, ‘propitiated in the matter of sins’ the God of holiness. Uniting these, He is in the present passage Himself the abstract ‘propitiation’ in His own glorified Person. His prayer for us, issuing from the very treasure-house of atoning virtue, must be acceptable; and, uttered to the Father who ‘sent Him’ as the propitiation (chap. 1 John 4:14), is one that He ‘heareth always’ (John 11:42).

It is then added: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. And why? First, because the apostle would utter his generous testimony, on this his first mention of the world, to the absolute universality of the design of the mission of the ‘Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world:’ his last mention of it, the second time he says ‘the whole world,’ will be of a severer character (chap. 1 John 5:19). Secondly, he thus intimates that the proper propitiation, as such, was the reconciliation of the Divine holiness and love in respect to all sins at once and in their unity, while the advocacy based upon it refers to special sins: on the one hand, no other atonement is necessary; on the other, that must avail if penitence secures the advocacy of Him who offered it once for all. Lastly, as we doubt not, the apostle thus ends a discussion, the fundamental object of which was to set forth universally and in general the way in which the Gospel offers to all mankind fellowship with the light of God’s holiness.


Verses 3-6

Fellowship in the knowledge of God: obedience, love, and union, 1 John 2:3-6.

The best account that can be given of this section- more aphoristic than any other—is that it lays down certain principles, and introduces certain terms, which become the keynotes of the remainder: each begins here, and returns again and again, while few are afterwards added.

1 John 2:3. The word fellowship now vanishes from the Epistle. The first substitute is knowledge; a term that is not without allusion to the Gnostic watchword, but soon passes beyond the transitory reference. It is the gnosis of the anti-Christian sect, which St. Paul, not renouncing the term, exalted into epignosis: St. John retrieves it, and stamps it with the same dignity that he impresses on the word love.

And hereby know we that we know him, if we keep his commandments. The knowing is a word which may be said to be in this Epistle sanctified entirely to God and the experience of Divine things: the knowing Him and the knowing that we know Him, or, in St. Paul’s language, ‘knowing the proof’ of Him. We cannot better explain the word to ourselves than by closely connecting it with the fellowship that precedes. All knowledge is the communion of the mind with its object: the object as it were and the knowing subject have in common the secret nature of the object. To ‘know Christ’ is to enter into the ‘fellowship of His suffering and resurrection.’ To know God is to have that which may be known of God made common to Him and to our minds: His holy nature, His truth, His love. Obviously this knowledge of God is its own evidence to ourselves; the very word says that. Yet the apostle adds, in a phrase quite unique in Scripture, ‘we know that we know Him:’ we know our own knowledge; that is, the secret of our true knowledge, its effect, is common to our experiencing and our reflecting mind, to our consciousness as the union of the two. That secret as deliverance from sin has already been dwelt on: now the positive side is brought in; we are privy to our obedience as flowing from the nature of God in us, ‘if we keep His commandments.’ These were given us by Christ; Christ is God and the ‘Him’ of this passage in the unity of the Father.


Verse 4

1 John 2:4. Hence he that saith, I know him—the ‘we’ has become ‘he,’ according to St. John’s habit of changing the phrase and making its force more keen and direct,

and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. We are sent back to chap. 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10; as he lied who said that he had no sin, and the truth of God was not in him, so he lies, and is without the indwelling truth, who, professing to know God in His Son, obeys Him not.


Verse 5

1 John 2:5. But whoso keepeth his word: this phrase is our Lord’s, both in St. John’s Gospel and in the Apocalypse. Examination will show that the ‘keeping’ is more interior than the ‘doing,’ including that sacred reverence for the principle of obedience which is its permanent or abiding safeguard in the soul: ‘because thou hast kept My word, I will keep thee’ (Revelation 3:8; Revelation 3:10). But St. John never speaks of the law: it is the ‘word’ as the central expression of the mind of God which as precept is ‘the commandment,’ and branches out into ‘the commandments.’ Observe that the ‘if has now vanished, while the individual ‘whosoremains, and it follows, in him verily bath the love of God been perfected. ‘If ye continue in My word’—interchangeable with ‘My word continuing in you,’—‘then are ye verily My disciples’ (John 8:31): the same emphasis on the ‘truly’ responding to ‘the truth is not in him.’ But we cannot help feeling that this ‘verily’—here alone made his own by St. John—expresses the solemn joy with which the writer approaches a new word and a new thought that will throb throughout the remainder of the Epistle. Postponing the study of ‘loveuntil we hear that’ love is of God,’ we must mark the ‘perfected love.’ Five times the thought occurs; and, while always the fellowship of love with God is the undertone, there is a distinction. Twice it is of God’s love in or to us; once, in the middle, it is obviously the love common to God and us; and in the rest it is no less obviously love perfected in ourselves. What it is here let three considerations show. First, the Divine love in the mission and atoning work of the Son has been exhibited as effecting the forgiveness and sanctification of the soul; but that does not constitute the full knowledge of God in Christ: His love in us attains its perfect operation only when it becomes the full power of a simple and pure obedience to His word; that is its finished work in us. We know God when we know His love; and the knowledge or fellowship of His love is the possession of its perfect influence within us as the active power of holiness in one that has been passively delivered by it from sin. Hence, secondly, it is added, by this we know that we are in him: not by spiritual enjoyments; not by ecstatic absorption into the Divine abyss, such as later and degenerate mysticism delighted to describe; but by the power to do His holy will in absolute self-surrender and consecration, do we know that we have union with God. It may be objected that on this view it should read ‘that He is in us:’ now precisely this we do read when next the perfect operation of the Divine love is referred to: ‘God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us’ (chap. 1 John 4:12). It is not our consummate love to God that assures us of our union with Him, but the blessed experience of His perfected love in us. Thirdly, this is confirmed by what follows: He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk even as he walked. There is no stress on the ‘saith,’ as if the meaning were that the profession ought to be confirmed by practice. True as that is, the truth is deeper here. The profession before was, ‘I know God;’ now the phrase changes, ‘that he abideth in Him.’ The stress is on the ‘abiding,’ which now enters the Epistle for the first time to go no more out; and as this continuous fellowship with Christ is no other than the life of the Vine producing fruit in the branches, he who has it is bound to exhibit in himself the holiness of Christ, and walk as He walked. The knowledge, the life, the love of Christ is perfected in this, that we live as He lived. In fact, there are two obligations: being abidingly in Christ absolutely involves a Divine necessity of righteous obedience; and the profession of it binds the professor to do his own part to imitate Him. ‘If I then—ye also ought. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done’ (John 13:14-15). This suggests the Master’s self-sacrificing love as the specific characteristic of His pattern, and leads to the next section. But, before passing on, we should observe the wealth of new terms and thoughts which crowd into the present verse: knowledge, indwelling, abiding; all these being perfected love; and all issuing in our being ‘even as He.’ Each one of these recurs again and again.


Verses 7-11

The new commandment, which is also old: that of brotherly love, 1 John 2:7-11.

1 John 2:7. Beloved—introducing a new view of the subject by a term appropriate,—no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The apostle had spoken of ‘commandments’ and of the one ‘word,’ but he had not as yet said ‘commandment.’ Now, our Lord had associated the latter with brotherly love as a ‘new commandment’ (John 13:34): hence he distinguishes between his Master’s ‘giving’ and his own ‘writing.’ ‘What I now write is not new, as He gave it: for the old commandment is the word which ye heard in the ever memorable saying that lived in the Church from the beginning of the Christian revelation.’

1 John 2:8. Again, resuming and as it were correcting, there is a sense in which a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: ‘my saying that it is new is a true thing both as it respects Him who “gave” it and you who read what I “write.” It was new with reference to the old law, which the Saviour fulfilled and consummated and re-enacted in the supreme self-sacrifice rehearsed or anticipated in the feet-washing at the time when He gave it; the law of love was perfected and proclaimed anew, and with an illustration never given to it before. It is new in us, who fulfil it with a new spirit, after a new example, and with new motives, as in short a commandment which is the fulfilment and the fulfiller of all law or word of God.

Because the darkness is passing away, and the True Light now shineth. When St. John said ‘true in Him,’ he referred to Christ, whose ‘walk’ had been spoken of, as also to the Speaker of the new commandment unnamed. He still defines Him without name as the ‘True Light:’ light as opposed to the darkness of sin, and true, as the reality of which all former revelation was the shadow and precursor. But the Person of Christ is now lost in His manifestation: the perfect revelation of law and of love in their unity is fully come; the darkness of self and sin is only in act of passing.

1 John 2:9. It would require a long sentence to supply the unexpanded thought here. In nothing is the newness of the evangelical teaching more evidently seen than in the diametrical opposition it establishes between loving and hating. There is no middle sphere: in the Gospel, love is taught in its purity and perfection as the light of life in the soul, which leaves no part dark, no secret occasion of sin being undiscovered and unremoved; and hate is taught as the synonym of not loving, being the secret germ of all selfishness. Hence he that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness until now, notwithstanding the light shining around, and notwithstanding his profession, and notwithstanding his possible dwelling among Christians whom he calls brethren.

1 John 2:10-11. Here there is no ‘but:’ we have a pair of counterparts strictly united. He that loveth his brother—his brother being every living man, in this passage as in some others—abideth in the light. It is presupposed that he is in it; but for the sake of what follows the abiding is emphasized; as indeed the ‘abiding’ always follows hard on the ‘is:’ and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. Stumbling-block or offence is sometimes what makes others to fall either intentionally or innocently or in-advertently. But here it is that secret selfishness which takes manifold forms, almost all the forms of sin: the light from Christ entering through the spiritual eye makes the whole spiritual body full of light, and nothing remains undiscovered or un-removed that could cause the fulfiller of this law to fall. It is the high ideal of the ‘new commandment; ‘but one that is here said to be realized in him in whom ‘the love of God is perfected’ or has its full effect. But—now comes in the awful antithesis, containing the whole history of the loveless spirit—he that hateth his brother—who does not love his neighbour as himself—is in the darkness, and abideth in or walketh in the darkness—it is his sphere, and he both receives and diffuses it—and knoweth not whither he goeth: ‘whither,’ because he is in the darkness, and it hath not yet been revealed what the end of that will be, ‘how great is that darkness’ ‘he goeth,’ because the darkness ‘hath blinded,’ as it were once for all, his eyes to the path on which he is.


Verses 12-14

Testimony to the reality of their religion; addressed to the church generally, and specially under two aspects.

1 John 2:12-13. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. The apostle, in the act of writing the Epistle, now ceases to distinguish between true and false Christians; he affectionately uses the same appellation which he had used in the first verse when pointing his readers to the intercession and atonement of Jesus Christ; and, taking up again that truth, says that he wrote to them with the confidence that for the sake of His name, on the ground of His finished work on earth and presentation of His Person in heaven, they had the forgiveness of their sins. ‘For My name’s sake’ in the Old Testament becomes now ‘for His name’s sake;’ but it occurs only here, and is parallel with St. Paul’s ‘God for Christ’s sake,’ or ‘in Christ hath forgiven you.’ This confidence is expressed here first simply as the utterance of joyful congratulation.

Continuing the same strain, St. John, to whom all were ‘little children,’ regards them as divided among themselves into two classes: the more mature, whom he congratulates on that spiritual knowledge of which he had spoken in 1 John 2:3 : I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him that was from the beginning: ‘that which was’ in chap. 1 John 1:1 becomes here ‘Him that was;’ that is, the same Jesus through whose name they were all forgiven was, in His Divine Person as the ultimate secret of the virtue of His atonement, fully revealed to them in the faith which they had received and studied and continued to know. This was true concerning all; but it was the special characteristic of the more advanced. The same may be said of the next clause. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. The head of the kingdom of darkness, alluded to in 1 John 2:8, in whom ‘the whole world lieth’ (chap. 1 John 5:19), elsewhere ‘the Prince of this world’ (John 12:31), had been overcome by all the ‘little children;’ but the struggle in the case of the fathers had issued in the calm certitude of ‘the full assurance of understanding’ (Colossians 2:2), while in the young men it was a confident but recent victory. Let it be observed, be-fore proceeding, that hitherto the church had been addressed as children by regeneration; in what follows they are rather children by adoption. Hitherto the Divine Son has been pre eminent: His name, His eternal personality, His opposition to the wicked one. Communion with Him has been chiefly in the apostle’s thoughts.

1 John 2:13-14. Here the apostle takes up again the strain which had been suspended, if not actually, yet in thought. The word ‘I write’ is changed for ‘I wrote:’ first, because the three great principles dwelt on—redemption from sin and from the world’s ruler by knowledge of God—are absolutely fundamental, and must be repeated emphatically; secondly, because the writer sees fit to regard his Epistle as now in the hands of the readers, and ‘I wrote what I am now writing’ becomes simple enough; thirdly, because he is about to commence two solemn exhortations for which he would doubly prepare them.

I have written unto you, children or sons of God, because ye know the Father. ‘Sons,’ the new designation, corresponds here with ‘the Father.’ The Father becomes now pre-eminent, and fellowship with Him through the Son. Forgiveness is connected with regeneration in the Son; as it respects the Father, it is the knowing His fatherly name, and we ‘are called the children of God: ‘in the order of thought this is preceded by the knowledge of the ‘name’ of the Son. I write to you, fathers, because ye know him that is from the beginning. This exact repetition is very impressive. To the mature the apostle has nothing to add, for to know Christ is to have all knowledge; through it the Father is known, on the one hand, and the enemy is overcome, on the other.

I write to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one. Re-writing what went before, the apostle reminds the young men both of their strength and of the source of it. They were strong or ‘valiant in fight’ (Hebrews 11:34), having ‘waxed’ or become such through constant victory; not, however, in their own power, but through ‘Him that strengthened’ them, who Himself through His word was the in-dwelling and abiding source of their conquest ‘Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world’ (chap. 1 John 4:4): hence it is difficult to decide whether the personal Logos is here meant or His living word, ‘the sword of the Spirit:’ certainly not one without the other, though the former use of the phrase suggests that the living Gospel is signified here. Note with what emphasis the last clause is repeated. He who has entered into fellowship with the Son has an abiding victory over the enemy, and this conscious experience of triumph over him, not only in particular assaults but over him, the conqueror has only to maintain by ‘keeping himself’ so that the enemy may approach, but touch him not (chap. 1 John 5:18). This is not a promise only, nor an exhortation, but the present reality of the healthy Christian life.


Verses 15-17

The love of the world: renounced in the Fellowship of the Father. This exhortation is addressed to all, the tone of contrast being now again resumed.

1 John 2:15. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Fellowship with God, and walking in darkness, were diametrical opposites in chap. 1; the same is now said of the love of God and fellowship with the world. Here is an exhortation, and the reason for it. The emphasis is in this verse on the ‘love,’ which only in this passage is used both of God and the world: elsewhere we have ‘friendship with the world’ (James 4:4), ‘minding earthly things’ (Philippians 3:19); but the strong word love, the giving up of the whole being, mind, and heart, and will, we have only here. That in the nature of things, and by the evangelical law, must be reserved for God alone; two contradictory perfect loves cannot be in the same soul; therefore, he who thus loves the world cannot have the love of the Father. This reason assigned explains the exhortation. The ‘world’ is interpreted by it, just as mammon is interpreted by the impossibility of double service: ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ The world is the sphere of the unregenerate life, governed by another god, fallen from God, and consequently swayed by self, which is separation from God. It is not therefore the whole economy of things; which man cannot love, though he may make it his god. It is not for the same reason the earth as the abode of man. It is not the aggregate of mankind, whom we must love as ‘God loved the world.’ But it is the whole sum of evil which makes up the principle of opposition to the holiness of God, the ‘world which lieth in the wicked one.’ In distinction from this universal sphere of sin, which has the whole heart of the unconverted, ‘the things that are in the world’ define the particular directions which alienation from God may take, and the special objects which self may convert into objects of love.

1 John 2:16. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. Now, the apostle defines the nature of the world, more particularly in its utter contrariety to the nature of God. The world is a sphere of life; it has a unity, and ‘the whole that is in it,’ as it is occupied by man, may be distributed into a trinity. First, ‘the lust of the flesh:’ in its more limited sense, the living to gratify the desires of the fleshly nature; in its deeper meaning, the gratification of the fallen nature generally in opposition to the Spirit, for St. John, like St. Paul, defines ‘that which is born of the flesh’ as ‘flesh.’ Then ‘the lust of the eyes;’ all the manifold desires that are awakened by the eye as their instrument, or that connect the flesh with the outer world. This also has its profounder meaning: the desire of the world’s eye rests upon the sum of things phenomenal, or the ‘things that are seen;’ and its sin is the universal sin of dependence on the creature, and not beholding, rejoicing in, and being satisfied with the Creator and invisible realities. Thirdly, ‘the vainglory of life:’ life being here the way or means of physical existence, and not the life which is the glory of this Epistle; the vainglory is the pride and pomp that exults in itself, and gives not the glory to God. This trinity is a tri-unity, making up the ‘whole’ that is in the world of mans estrangement from Divine things. And, with reference to this whole, the apostle says, twice repeating ‘is,’ that it springs not from God. It is not of that new life which is ‘from God;’ but is its perfect opposite. It cannot love God, because it is not of His nature; it cannot go to God, because it came not from Him. Whence then came it originally and comes it now? The apostle does not say from sin, nor from Satan. He is thinking and about to speak of its emptiness and transitoriness: he could not therefore say that ‘it cometh of evil,’ or of sin, or of Satan; for these do not pass away. But he limits his words, ‘it is of the world,’ the emphasis being on this, that ‘it is not of the Father,’ the Father of that Son in whom we have eternal love and eternal life.

1 John 2:17. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. The world as a system of desires contrary to the Divine will, governed by its one ‘lust’ that makes it what it is, is even now in the act of passing. Its sinners will remain, and the consequences of its sin; but as a complex ‘world of iniquity,’ ordered in its disorder, it will pass away, it is even now passing. Then there is a change to the personal individual, who knows no lust, but only the one will: abjuring the lust of the flesh, he doeth that will which is his sanctification; renouncing the sight of his eyes, he walks before Him who is invisible; and forsaking all glorying in self, he gives glory to God supremely and alone. He shall, like God, and with God, and in God, abide for ever.


Verse 18

The antichrists as errors of the darkness: their mark and character, with the protection against them.

1 John 2:18. Little children: the address is to all; and with reference to the several characteristics acknowledged in them, their knowledge of the Father and of Him who was from the beginning, and their victory over the evil one. While the knowledge and the victory run through this whole section, it is more immediately linked with the preceding ‘passeth away.’

It is the last time. This is St. John’s final and only expression for the Christian dispensation as answering to the ‘last days’ of Isaiah 2:2, the ‘end of the days’ of Deuteronomy 4:30, the ‘afterward’ of all the prophets. When our Lord introduced the ‘fulness of time,’ another ‘afterward’ began: in His own teaching, for He spoke of ‘this world’ and the ‘world to come’ (Matthew 12:30); and in that of His apostles. Each of them uses his own phrases for the distinction: St. Paul speaks of ‘the present time’ and ‘the- coming glory’ (Romans 8:18), and St. Peter of ‘the last days’ or ‘the last of the days,’ and ‘to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 1:5). St. John’s is ‘the last time’ here at the beginning of the section, and at the end of it ‘His appearing’ (1 John 2:28), which closes the ‘time.’ The passing away of the world, and the continuance of the hour or time, run on coincidently: ‘when He shall be manifested’ will end both. During the old economy, and in the rabbinical interval with its ‘the present world’ and ‘the coming world,’ the division of history was the advent of Messiah; now that He has come, the dividing point is His second coming. It is important to remember that the apostle first speaks solemnly of this ‘last time’ as distinguished from the passing world. Its relation to antichrists comes in afterwards, and gives a new colouring to the thought.

And as ye heard that antichrist Cometh, even now have arisen many antichrists; whereby we perceive that it is the last time. Our Lord had predicted not one ‘false Christ,’ but ‘many,’ as coming, not immediately before the end of the world only, but from the time of His departure (Matthew 24:4; Matthew 24:24). And St. John pays homage first and pre-eminently to his Master’s word, referring, however, rather to His ‘false prophets,’ and calling them by a name used only by himself ‘antichrists,’ not as taking the place of Christ, but as opposing Him. He includes also, of course, the many predictions of his brethren, to the effect that ‘false teachers would bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them’ (2 Peter 2:1). This is the pith of his argument: we discern that we are in the last revelation, because side by side go on the development of truth and error concerning the one Person who is the sum of revelation. But in his way to this argument. St. John introduces an allusion to what they had heard from St. Paul, interpreting Daniel, concerning one antichrist, whom he mentions only to show that his predecessors are already in the world. As he is not, like St. Paul, referring to the signs of the ‘last days’ in the last time,’ but only of the last time generally, he does not dwell on the future personal antichrist. He does, however, set his seal to St. Paul’s teaching that a ‘man of sin will be revealed,’ exalting himself ‘above all that is called God,’ that is, as St. John interprets it, ‘above all that is called Christ’ who is God, ‘denying the Father and the Son’ in a form of opposition which only the fulfilment will explain. Though he does not define his own word more fully, and its explanation must be sought in St. Paul’s Epistles and the Apocalypse, he here gives a new name to St. Paul’s ‘man of sin, the ‘antichrist’ or opponent of Christ pre-eminently, and he adds that ‘he cometh,’ or, in solemn Biblical language, is still ‘the coming one,’ as opposed to the antichrists who ‘have become’ such or arisen.


Verse 19

1 John 2:19. This verse stands alone, as containing a preliminary encouragement. They went out from us, but they were not of us. They literally left us, for they were in our fellowship, and received in the Church the doctrines they perverted; but they had not the life of our doctrine, and were not of us in the sense of that fellowship of which the first chapter had spoken. For if they had been of us, in this latter sense, they would have continued with us, in the former sense. But—the apostle is hurrying from them and hurries them away, in an elliptical sentence, ‘this came to pass’

that they might be made manifest that they are not all of us. The consequence is a purpose: they have gone according to the fixed purpose of God’s Spirit that heresy should be purged out of the Church. It is true that by their going out they show the possibility of some being ‘with us’ who are not ‘of us.’ But the words, which are not so involved in the original as many think, do not say this. They only declare that such heresy cannot and must not continue in the Christian fellowship,—continue, that is, as maintained by teachers: as members of the fellowship all need the subsequent exhortation to ‘abide in Him,’ and the warning against being ‘ashamed before Him at His coming. The reason of the necessary rejection of heresy is given in the next verse.


Verse 20

1 John 2:20. And ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. There is no ‘but’ here: the verse introduces a new consolation; and that is the fact of the impartation of the Holy Ghost to all the members of the spiritual fellowship, as a Spirit of consecration generally, and particularly as a teaching guide into all truth. ‘Ye have,’ as the result of having ‘received’ (1 John 2:27), your part of the common Pentecostal gift. This was received from the ‘Holy One:’ that is, Christ, who is ‘the life,’ or ‘the Son’ as the source of our sonship, ‘the Righteous’ as the source of our righteousness, and ‘the Holy One ‘as the source of our sanctification. The term ‘unction,’ or chrisma, like that of ‘seed’ or sperma, refers to the Holy Ghost, whose name has not yet been mentioned. It goes back to the Old Testament, which St. John never formally quotes, though he habitually incorporates it: there the ‘anointing oil’ or ‘the oil of anointing’ (Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:21) is the symbol of the Holy Ghost, first as setting apart for God whatever was touched by it, secondly as specifically consecrating the priests and kings and prophets of the old economy. The antitype was poured out on Christ ‘without measure’ that it might flow upon all His members, consecrating them to God, and making them representatives of His three official relations. In its first meaning, which certainly is included here, it signifies that those who receive the chrism belong to Christ as opposed to all antichrists: this indeed suggesting the word. In its second meaning it signifies that the members of Christ’s mystical body share His unction as the Prophet: they have His Spirit teaching them ‘all things,’ that is, ‘all the truth ‘as ‘truth is in Jesus.’ The chrisma becomes as it were a charisma: the gift of spiritual knowledge in all that pertains to the doctrine presently made prominent. St. John, as his manner is, lays down the high and sacred privilege in all its perfectness: the qualifications are inserted afterwards, and indeed are suggested in every sentence. 1 John 2:21. The promise of the ‘Spirit of the truth’ is evidently in St. John’s thoughts, and these words are in indirect allusion to that promise as fulfilled in the community. The Saviour laid stress on ‘the truth’ as one: the truth embodied in His own person. That central truth all who receive the anointing must know, and the apostle, with the same feeling that dictated the previous words, ‘I have written to you, children, because ye know the Father,’ acknowledges their heavenly instruction even while he is instructing them himself.

I write not unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it. His purpose here is to show them that the truth is not only a revelation of the Christ, but a revelation of antichrist also. And that no lie is of the truth: he takes it for granted that they know; that is, in the form of taking it for granted, he urgently exhorts them to remember that there can be no peace between the truth and any form of the lie whatever. The same absolute contrast and diametrical opposition that he establishes between regeneration and sin, the Father’s love and love of the world, light and darkness, he establishes between truth and error. We often trace theological error to a perversion of lesser truth; and in many lesser matters rightly. But ‘the truth’ as it is explained in the next verse cannot shade off into less true, and reach the false that way. Hence the abrupt question that follows.


Verse 22-23

1 John 2:22-23. Who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? If every lie comes from another source than the truth, what is that source? Our Saviour said of one:’ He is a liar, and the father of it’ (John 8:44). And this was preceded by, ‘Ye are of your father the devil,’ who ‘abode not in truth.’ Hence here we have first the great error viewed in respect to its author, the representative of the central lie: that lie being the denial that the Jesus of the Gospels was or is identical with the Christ. To this formula might be reduced most of the heresies of the age; but especially that of the Jews, and that of Gnosticism which made Christ an AEon who joined the man Jesus for a season. This last was in the apostle’s mind, and he thought of the exceeding plausibleness of many arguments adduced in its favour; hence the earnestness with which he changes the abstract lie into the concrete liar, and reminds the anointed Christians that they must remember the fatherhood of every form of error on this subject. Denying the Christ,—This is the antichrist: he deserves that name, though his error in this respect is only a branch of the great lie. He deserves it well, for he is really a member of the family that denieth the Father and the Son. This last is the essence of antichrist: the sum of all possible error, denying and renouncing conjointly the Godhead and the Revealer of the Godhead. It is the heaviest charge brought against the false teachers in the Epistle, and therefore the apostle solemnly explains and substantiates it.

Whosoever denieth the Son, neither hath he the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. The liar and the antichrist is now reduced and yet extended to ‘whosoever.’ The denial that Jesus is the Christ is identified with denying the Son in His eternal relation to the Father, in His incarnation which made Him the Christ, and in His sole supremacy as the revealer of the Godhead. He ‘hath not’ the Father; for ‘no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him’ (Matthew 11:30). He that ‘confesseth’ the Son, in the creed of his heart and lips and life, ‘hath’ in loving fellowship ‘the Father also’ as well as the Son. Such being the great issue at stake, the anointing from the Holy One cannot fail to keep you from error, at least on this vital question.


Verse 24-25

1 John 2:24-25. As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye shall also abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he promised us, even life eternal. The false teachers introduced novelties: their doctrine was opposed to the stedfast message or promise of the Gospel; and the apostle introduces a new element here; that is, the apostolic teaching as the standard to which every form of doctrine, good or evil, must be brought. The unction of the Holy One gives spiritual discernment to every sanctified believer, by which he can perceive the contradiction of error. But the security is deeper even than that. The apostolic doctrine is an indwelling word which is the condition of abiding in the Father and the Son. This abiding in God is the whole substance of the truth as a promise: ‘this is the promise which He promised;’ and this promise is ‘eternal life.’


Verse 26-27

1 John 2:26-27. The blessedness of ‘eternal life’ has brought this sad protest against error to an end. But the writer’s heart is lull, and he introduces a final exhortation and encouragement, in the same tone that has been felt throughout, that of confidence in his readers.

These things have I written unto you concerning them that are seeking to lead you astray: they, rather than the anointed Christians, gave occasion for all he had said. And as for you, the anointing which ye have received abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you. There is no side-glance here at the teachers who would intrude; but it is the old truth that the abiding of the interior Teacher in the heart is the supreme source of knowledge: however important the instruction of ministers, even of that which the apostle is himself here giving, may be, it derives all its value from the inward demonstration of the Spirit. His unction must sanctify reading and hearing and meditation, and all the subordinate means of learning. There is danger, of course, that this may be perverted. Hence the concluding words are very strong; compressing into three clauses, not united with perfect concinnity, all that had been said. But, as his anointing—His Spirit who is the truth,—teacheth you concerning all things—in all the means He adopts, this letter being among them,—and is true, and is no lie—thus again does the apostle glory against the false teachers,—and even as it taught you, ye abide in him—thus he rejoices over his people safe from the seducers.


Verse 28

1 John 2:28. But throughout this Epistle the human side is never forgotten, while all is referred finally to the indwelling of the Son.

And now, my little children, abide in him: that, when he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed from him at his coming. This ends the whole section which began with the ‘last time.’ The ‘coming’ of the Lord is His coming to judgment; but St. John here uses, and here only, a gracious word that signifies His presence, though marking the beginning of that presence by the word that signifies its continuance, ‘His coming.’ No reference is made to the time of His return, or to the possibility of their living on earth till He should come. We are exhorted to ‘abide in Him;’ and whether we meet Him or are brought with Him, the confidence will be the same. Its opposition is the ‘speechlessness’ of the marriage guest, ‘ashamed from Him’ or His presence.


Verse 29

The glory and dignity of regeneration and adoption, both hire and hereafter.

1 John 2:29. If ye know that he is righteous, ye perceive that every one also who doeth righteousness is begotten of him. This sentence is strictly transitional, and therefore of necessity may be interpreted with reference as well to what precedes as to what follows. Connected with the words immediately going before, the pronouns must refer to Christ, from whose righteous nature the regenerate receives his life, his righteous conduct declaring the fact of his new birth. Perhaps it is better to connect them with the whole of the preceding context. ‘If, after all that has been said, ye know that God is righteous with whom ye have fellowship, then mark the inference that ye who abide in Him, and are righteous also, must be begotten of Him. You cannot abide IN Him but as ye are born of Him.’ What this new aspect of life in Christ means, the apostle proceeds to show. This verse looks forward to all that follows: it is in some sense the superscription of the remainder of the Epistle, but especially of the chapter we now approach. It may seem remarkable that St. John does not begin a new section with a special address to the ‘little children;’ but that address has been heard just before, and will be presently repeated. Again, it may appear strange that he should pass from God to Christ and from Christ to God with no mark of the change, using the same personal pronoun throughout. But we must remember that the apostle regards the Father and the Son as one: especially here so soon after the words, ‘He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.’ There would indeed be no impropriety in referring both pronouns to Christ: He is the Righteous, and the regenerate may be said to be ‘begotten of Him,’ just as He Himself spoke of their being ‘begotten of water and of the Spirit.’ But the begetting, which is the word used by St. John alone for the infusion of a new life into the soul, is commonly referred to the Father or to God. Lastly, though the ‘doing of righteousness’ leads off the sentence, the emphasis is not on it, but on the ‘begotten of Him.’ We shall see in the next chapter that the new birth must be approved in righteous conduct; here the order is inverted, and practical righteousness infers and points to the new birth.


Verse 29

The apostle now introduces a new order of thought, governed by the idea of regeneration as the gift of life in Christ to individual man. He first (down to chap. 1 John 3:3) dilates on its glory as a birth of God; as the design of His love; as including both the privileges and the reality of sonship; as awaiting its full dignity at the revelation of Christ; and as inspiring through hope the energy of personal sanctification. Then (to 1 John 2:10) he dwells on the absolute incompatibility between the regenerate life and sin: as the destruction of sin is the object of Christ’s atoning; manifestation; as sin is inconsistent with abiding in Him; and as sin is the mark of communion with the devil. By an easy transition he passes to the essential connection between regeneration and brotherly love (down to 1 John 2:18): showing that the great message to the regenerate was the injunction to love one another; that this involves the abiding difference between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the world and believers, as proved from Cain downwards; that brotherly love is the mark of regeneration; and, finally, that our love to each other has one supreme standard, the sacrifice of Christ for us. The apostle winds up the subject (to 1 John 2:22) by showing the practical issue of obedience to this commandment in the confidence which it inspires towards God as the Judge of our hearts and the Hearer of our prayer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 John 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-john-2.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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