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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
1 John 1

 

 

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Verse 1

1 John 1:1. That which was from the beginning, &c.— Though from the beginning ( απ αρχης ), and in the beginning ( εν αρχη ), as we have it, John 1:1 are somewhat different expressions; yet, as Christ is here styled in the next verse eternal Life, it is natural to take in his eternal existence, correspondent to this apostle's assertion of it, John 1:1. The phrase Ye have known him that is from the beginning

( απ αρχης ), ch. 1 John 2:13-14 whether applied to the Father or Son, evidently relates to his eternal existence. Accordingly, we may take the phrase that which was from the beginning to relate to the eternal Deity of Christ, rather than to the beginning of the gospel dispensation, though it may bear the last of these senses in some other parts of this epistle. The neuter gender is sometimes used concerning a person, both in the New Testament and in some of the Greek classics. St. John, as well as the other eleven apostles, had heard Christ preach, and had heard the Father bear testimony to him by an audible voice from heaven: they had seen him with their own eyes; they had viewed him attentively and deliberately. Nay, St. John here declares, that he had not only seen and heard Christ in the flesh, but had felt and handled his body, and had all possible evidence that he came in the flesh, or had a real body: by which expressions St. John seems particularly to advert to the heresy of the docetae. See the introduction to this chapter.


Verse 2

1 John 1:2. For the life was manifested Jesus Christ is here called the Life, not only as having life in himself, but as the author of eternal life, or that great and glorious Person, who revealed,and will bestow, that immortal glory and felicity, which was in former ages comparatively concealed in the breast or council of Deity; and which the Lord Jesus Christ so clearly manifested unto the apostles, and brought to light in the gospel. See John 1:4; John 11:25; John 14:6 and 1 John 5:11-12; 1 John 5:20. All this second verse ought evidently to be read in a parenthesis.


Verse 3

1 John 1:3. That ye also may have fellowship, &c.— According to the scriptures, every man who, to the best of his power, follows the true doctrines of the apostles, and through grace acts according to their precepts, is entitled to communion with every Christian church wherever he comes: but if any part of the visible church should refuse to have communion with him, he nevertheless belongs to the true and invisible church of Christ, which consists of all his sincere and faithful disciples throughout the whole world. He has communion with all righteous and good men: he has likewise communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. False teachers and wicked men cut themselves off from the true church of Christ by their heresies or wickedness; but, though a good man may perhaps be rejected by some parties of Christians here on earth, he will not be rejected by the Judge of the world, but admitted to the communion of the saints above. See on 1 John 1:6.


Verse 4

1 John 1:4. That your joy may be full. "That the divine life may be so improved in your souls, and your meetness for the heavenly inheritance may be so apparent, and so advanced, that your joy may, as far as possible, be fulfilled; and no circumstance which this mortal life will admit, may be wanting to complete it."

1 John 1:5. Which we have heard of him, &c.— Of him, means, "From Jesus Christ;" for St. John evidently refers to what he had said in some of the preceding verses, concerning his seeing Christ in the flesh, and hearing him preach the word of life; what that apostle had heard from Him, he delivered faithfully unto the Christians. Light is in several texts put for knowledge or felicity; and darkness for ignorance or misery. But here light is put for purity or holiness, and darkness for moral impurity, or vice and wickedness. God is a pure and spotless Being, without any dark stain of impurity whatever. The phraseology of this verse, of affirming one thing, and immediately denying the contrary, or of denying one thing and affirming the contrary, was very common with the Hebrews, and St. John has often made use of that idiom. See 1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:7; 1 John 2:10, &c. Dr. Bates says, that the phrase, God is Light, expresses his most clear and perfect knowledge; for light discovers all things: his unspotted holiness; for light is incapable of any pollution: and sovereign goodness and happiness; for light, joined with vital heat, inspires pleasure into universal nat


Verse 6

1 John 1:6. If we say that we have fellowship with him, By communion with God, St. John means a holy exercise of the Divine presence, walking by faith in the light of his countenance, and an abiding consciousness of his favour, which can be experienced by none but those who lead a holy life. We cannot have communion with God, unless we resemble himin purity, holiness, and all moral perfection. Holiness is through grace preserved and increased by the habitual practice of it, and by devotion. Thus may we maintain communion with God: but if any one who neglects to worship and obey God, or who practices vice, should pretend to communion with God, he wilfully imposes upon himself, and does not act according to truth: truth is the rule or measure of right.


Verse 7

1 John 1:7. But if we walk in the light, &c.— "But if, on the other hand, we walk in the light of holiness, as he himself is ever in the light of it, and surrounded with it as his brightest glory, we have then communion with him, and withone another in him; and though we are indeed conscious to ourselves of many past offences, for which so holy a God might for ever banish us from his presence, and of many remaining imperfections which might discourage our approaches to him, we have this grand consolation, that the Blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin." See Isaiah 2:5.


Verse 8

1 John 1:8. If we say that we have no sin, &c.— Several commentators of note judge that this text has particular reference to the Gnostics: others give it a more general sense, but still as referring solely to the unawakened or unconverted, and having no allusion to the children of God: others, that the first clause signifies If we say that we have not sinned, the present tense being inserted instead of the past. The followers of Dr. John Calvin lay peculiar stress upon these words, as favouring the doctrine which maintains the impossibility of being saved from all sin in the present life. Mr. John Wesley supposes that the words before his Blood has cleansed us, are to be understood—If we say that we have no sin before his Blood has cleansed us. And when I compare the following passages of this epistle, viz. ch. 1 John 1:9, 1 John 2:5, 1 John 3:3; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:16-18; 1 John 5:18 with the present, I am constrained to acknowledge that I believe Mr. Wesley's comment on the passage to be perfectly just. At the same time I suppose no one will deny, that every human being on this side of the grave, may say with truth, "Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." We every moment need the atoning Blood, the propitiatory Sacrifice as such, whatever be our situation or experience in the church of God.


Verse 9

1 John 1:9. If we confess our sins, &c.— "If, on the other hand, we, under a humbling sense of our imperfections and many disallowed failures, acknowledge our transgressionstotheLord,andconfessthemwithfaithinChrist'spropitiatorysacrifice for the forgiveness of them, he is so true and faithful to his promise to the Redeemer, and to those that believe in him (Isaiah 53:11. Hebrews 8:12.); and is so just to the merit of his Blood (Romans 3:26.), as for his sake freely to pardon all our sins of omission and commission, in thought, word, and deed, and to purge our consciences from all guilt; and to cleanse us from the internal defilement of all our iniquities by the sanctification of the Spirit, which was purchased by the blood of his Son to purify our hearts and lives, thatwe may be fit for constant communion with him in this world, and eternally enjoy his presence and glory in the world which is to come."


Verse 10

1 John 1:10. If we say that we have not sinned, &c.— "If, after all, we assert that we have not transgressed the law of God, so as to need pardon through the Blood, and sanctification by the Spirit of Christ, we, in effect, make God himself a liar; as we therein deny the truth of what he has said in his word, which pronounces upon the whole race of mankind, that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23.); and we thereby shew that the truth of the gospel has no place in us, the very nature of which supposes us to be sinners, and is designed to bring us to a humble, penitent confession of sin, ver.9 and to faith in the Redeemer's blood for the remission of it, and for victory over it, till we be completely delivered from the whole nature thereof," 1 John 1:7.

Inferences.—How seriously should we attend to the word of life, when addressed to us by those who were so intimately acquainted with it, and with him who brought it and revealed it to the world! In like manner may all concerned in dispensing it, be able to say that it is what they have heard, and, as it were, seen and handled; yea, tasted, and let in all its sweetness and energy. Jesus Christ is indeed that life which was with the Father, and is now manifested unto us: may we ever regard him as such, and have communion with St. John, and the other sacred writers, in their communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Surely they, who by experience know the delight and benefit of that communion, will desire that others may be partakers of it with themselves. Their own joy, instead of being diminished, will be rather rendered more complete and intense, by being in this manner imparted to others.

Nothing can be of more importance than to form right and worthy conceptions of God; and that we may do so, let us reflect on him as the purest and even unmingled Light, without any the least shade of darkness; as Truth in perfection, without any mixture of falsehood or evil. And let us be particularly concerned, that as we desire to have fellowship with him, we allow not ourselves to walk in darkness of any kind, but put off all its works, that we may put on the whole armour of light, and walk in the light as he is in the light. Let every action of our lives, every thought of our hearts, be brought to the light of the gospel, and tried and proved according to it. And, as it would be very vain and criminal in us to deny that we are sinners, as it would be self-deceit to imagine it, and self-confusion to affirm it, let us, with humble thankfulness, apply to that Blood, which is able to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Most freely confessing our sins, in all their aggravations, so far as our weak and limited thoughts can attain to the view of them, let us humbly plead his promise, and his covenant; and then fidelity and justice will join with mercy and power to cleanse us from all sin.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The blessed penman of this epistle immediately enters into his subject. Full of Christ, he breaks forth;

That which was from the beginning, that glorious and divine Person, who from eternity as the Son, subsisting with the Father in the same essence; which, in the fulness of time, became incarnate; we have heard preaching his everlasting gospel; which we have seen with our eyes, living and dying; which we have looked upon, attentively regarding him both before and after his resurrection from the dead; and our hands have handled, so that we have the strongest and most indubitable evidence of his true humanity, and of the reality of his resurrection in the same body which on his incarnation he had assumed into personal union with himself; who emphatically bears the name of the word of life, being the fountain of natural life to every creature, and the giver of spiritual and eternal life to his faithful people; (for the life, the Lord of life and glory, was manifested in the flesh; and we have seen it, and bear witness and shew unto you that eternal life, who from everlasting existed in the unity of the Godhead; which was with the Father, one with him in co-essential glory, and was, in the fulness of time, according to the prophetic word, manifested unto us in the human nature) that adored Personage, which we have seen and heard, and concerning whom we are most incontestably assured that our record is true, him declare we unto you, as God and Man in one Christ, as the only and all-sufficient Saviour, through whom all blessings in time and eternity are obtained for his faithful saints; and we publish his offices, glory, and gospel, that ye also may have fellowship with us in all the inestimable privileges which he bestows on his saints, even on all who perseveringly believe on his name: and truly this communion is of the most transcendently glorious nature, for our fellowship is with the Father himself, and with his Son Jesus Christ, in and through whom we are admitted into the nearest and most honourable union and friendship with the God of glory. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full, abounding with consolation in the experience of the present invaluable privileges of pardon, adoption, and grace, and advancing towards the perfection of joy in heaven, and to the pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore. Note; (1.) It is the dignity of every faithful soul, that it is admitted into communion with God, and is one with Jesus, as a member of his body mystical. (2.) They who know the Saviour experimentally, as united to him in faith and love, have within them a fund of consolation, which the world knows nothing of.

2nd, Having mentioned the Author of the everlasting gospel, the apostle passes on to the message which they had received from him to deliver unto them.

1. Concerning God. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light; a Spirit absolutely pure, infinite in all perfections, without the least shadow or possibility of imperfection; and in him is no darkness at all. Note; Our poor and finite ideas are unable adequately to comprehend the divine excellencies; nay, angels before him veil their faces, for he dwelleth in that light which no creature can approach unto, so as fully to discern his glory. What we know of him is rather by removing every defect from him, and saying what he is not, rather than what he is.

2. Concerning those who professed to believe in him. (1.) If we say that we have fellowship with him, through the gospel of his dear Son, and yet notwithstanding walk in darkness, the servants of sin, which is so opposite to his essential purity, we lie, and do not the truth; our falsehood is evident to his all-searching eye, and our practice contradicts our professions, and proves our hypocrisy. But (2.) if we walk in the light of truth and holiness, under the guidance of his Spirit, and according to our Christian profession; as he is in the light, resembling him in his communicable perfections; then we have fellowship one with another; we enjoy the most distinguishing communion with him and with his saints in spirit; and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin; though we are indeed conscious to ourselves of many past offences, and even then of many remaining infirmities, we have this grand consolation—that the Blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin, however deep, innate, or heinous. Blessed and happy are they whom this Blood thus cleanses, and who are admitted into this holy fellowship!

3. The apostle, to prevent all possible misconception, adds the following observations, either as qualifications, or explanations, of what he had before advanced.

(1.) If we say that we have no sin, that we are not poor guilty sinners; if we imagine that we have no need to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,"—we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, we are spiritually proud, and have no interest in the Blood of Christ, except as fallen creatures who are still in a state of trial: but, if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, by directly contradicting his truth; because, being by nature corrupted creatures, we must have often sinned against him, before we were renewed in grace; and, if we deny it, his word is not in us, which every where supposes and declares us to be such by nature.

(2.) If we confess our sins, and humbly, through faith in Jesus Christ, apply for the promised mercy of God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; faithful to the covenant of grace, and to his promise made therein, to forgive all those who come to him penitently through faith in his eternal Son; and just, because having received the ransom of atoning Blood, it is become an act of justice to pardon those who plead it, and, if they perseveringly plead it, to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. Note; The acceptance with God of persevering believers, stands not on the footing of mercy only, but is assured to them by that very perfection of holiness which seemed most strongly to militate against their hope.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/1-john-1.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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