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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 John 2

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 7

EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT

1 John 2:1-2

Of the Incarnation of the Word, of the whole previous strain of solemn oracular annunciation, there are two great objects. Rightly understood, it at once stimulates and soothes; it supplies inducements to holiness, and yet quiets the accusing heart.

(1) It urges to a pervading holiness in each recurring circumstance of life. "That ye may not sin" is the bold universal language of the morality of God. Men only understand moral teaching when it comes with a series of monographs on the virtues, sobriety, chastity, and the rest. Christianity does not overlook these, but it comes first with all-inclusive principles. The morality of man is like the sculptor working line by line and part by part, partially and successively. The morality of God is like nature, and works in every part of the flower and tree with a sort of ubiquitous presence. "These things write we unto you." No dead letter-a living spirit infuses the lines; there is a deathless principle behind the words which will vitalise and permeate all isolated relations and developments of conduct. "These things write we unto you that ye may not sin."

(2) But further, this announcement also soothes. There may be isolated acts of sin against the whole tenour of the higher and nobler life. There may be, God forbid!- but it may be-some glaring act of inconsistency. In this case the Apostle uses a form of expression which includes himself, "we have," and yet points to Christ, not to himself, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ"-and that in view of His being One who is perfectly and simply righteous; "and He is the propitiation for our sins."

Then, as if suddenly fired by a great thought, St. John’s view broadens over the whole world beyond the limits of the comparatively little group of believers whom his words at that time could reach. The Incarnation and Atonement have been before his soul. The Catholic Church is the correlative of the first, humanity of the second. The Paraclete whom he beheld is ever in relation with, ever turned towards, the Father. His propitiation is, and He is it. It was not simply a fact in history which works on with unexhaustible force. As the Advocate is ever turned towards the Father, so the propitiation lives on with unexhausted life. His intercession is not verbal, temporary, interrupted. The Church, in her best days, never prayed-"Jesus, pray for me!" It is interpretative, continuous, unbroken. In time it is eternally valid, eternally present. In space it extends as far as human need, and therefore takes in every place. "Not for our sins only," but for men universally, "for the whole world." It is implied then in this passage, that Christ was intended as a propitiation for the whole world; and that He is fitted for satisfying all human wants.

(1) Christ was intended for the whole world. Let us see the Divine intention in one incident of the crucifixion. In that are mingling lines of glory and of humiliation. The King of humanity appears with a scarlet camp mantle flung contemptuously over His shoulders; but to the eye of faith it is the purple of empire. He is crowned with the acanthus wreath; but the wreath of mockery is the royalty of our race. He is crucified between two thieves; but His cross is a Judgment Throne, and at His right hand and His left are the two separated worlds of belief and unbelief. All the Evangelists tell us that a superscription, a title of accusation, was written over His cross; two of them add that it was written over Him "in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew" (or in Hebrew, Greek, Latin). In Hebrew-the sacred tongue of patriarchs and seers, of the nation all whose members were in idea and destination those of whom God said, "My prophets." In Greek-the "musical and golden tongue which gave a soul to the objects of sense and a body to the abstractions of philosophy"; the language, of a people whose mission it was to give a principle of fermentation to all races of mankind, susceptible of those subtle and largely indefinable influences which are called collectively Progress. In Latin-the dialect of a people originally the strongest of all the sons of men. The three languages represent the three races and their ideas-revelation, art, literature; progress, war, and jurisprudence. Beneath the title is the thorn-crowned head of the ideal King of humanity.

Wherever these three tendencies of the human race exist, wherever annunciation can be made in human language, wherever there is a heart to sin, a tongue to speak, an eye to read, the cross has a message. The superscription, "written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin," is the historical symbol translated into its dogmatic form by St. John -"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."


Verse 2

Chapter 8

MISSIONARY APPLICATION OF THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT

1 John 2:2

LET us now consider the universal and ineradicable wants of man.

Such a consideration is substantially unaffected by speculation as to the theory of man’s origin. Whether the first men are to be looked for by the banks of some icy river feebly shaping their arrowheads of flint, or in godlike and glorious progenitors beside the streams of Eden; whether our ancestors were the result of an inconceivably ancient evolution, or called into existence by a creative act, or sprung from some lower creature elevated in the fulness of time by a majestic inspiration, at least, as a matter of fact, man has other and deeper wants than those of the back and stomach. Man as he is has five spiritual instincts. How they came to be there, let it be repeated, is not the question. It is the fact of their existence, not the mode of their genesis, with which we are now concerned.

(1) There is almost, if not quite, without exception the instinct which may be generally described as the instinct of the Divine. In the wonderful address where St. Paul so fully recognises the influence of geographical circumstance and of climate, he speaks of God "having made out of one blood every nation of men to seek after their Lord, if haply at least" (as might be expected) "they would feel for Him"-like men in darkness groping towards the light.

(2) There is the instinct of prayer, the "testimony of the soul naturally Christian." The little child at our knees meets us halfway in the first touching lessons in the science of prayer. In danger, when the vessel seems to be sinking in a storm, it is ever as it was in the days of Jonah, when "the mariners cried every man unto his God."

(3) There is the instinct of immortality, the desire that our conscious existence should continue beyond death.

"Who would lose,

Though full of pain, this intellectual being,

These thoughts that wander through eternity,

To perish rather swallow’d up and lost

In the wide womb of uncreated night?"

(4) There is the instinct of morality, call it conscience or what we will. The lowest, most sordid, most materialised languages are never quite without witness to this nobler instinct. Though such languages have lien among the poets, yet their wings are as the wings of a dove that is covered with silver wings and her feathers like gold. The most impoverished vocabularies have words of moral judgment, "good" or "bad"; of praise or blame, "truth and lie"; above all, those august words which recognise a law paramount to all other laws, "I must," "I ought."

(5) There is the instinct of sacrifice, which, if not absolutely universal, is at least all but so-the sense of impurity and unworthiness, which says by the very fact of bringing a victim,

"I am not worthy to come alone; may my guilt be transferred to the representative which I immolate."

(1) Thus then man seeks after God. Philosophy unaided does not succeed in finding Him. The theistic systems marshal their syllogisms; they prove, but do not convince. The pantheistic systems glitter before man’s eye; but when he grasps them in his feverish hand, and brushes off the mystic gold dust from the moth’s wings, a death’s head mocks him. St. John has found the essence of the whole question, stripped from it all its plausible disguises, and characterises Mahommedan and Judaistic Deism in a few words. Nay, the philosophical deism of Christian countries comes within the scope of his terrible proposition. "Deo erexit Voltairius," was the philosopher’s inscription over the porch of a church; but Voltaire had not in any true sense a God to whom he could dedicate it. For St. John tells us-"whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father." Other words there are in his Second Epistle whose full import seems to have been generally overlooked, but which are of solemn significance to those who go out from the camp of Christianity with the idea of finding a more refined morality and a more ethereal spiritualism. "Whosoever goeth forward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ"; whosoever writes progress on his standard, and goes forward beyond the lines of Christ, loses natural as well as supernatural religion-"he hath not God."

(2) Man wants to pray. Poor disinherited child, what master of requests shall he find? Who shall interpret his broken language to God, God’s infinite language to him?

(3) Man yearns for the assurance of immortal life. This can best be given by one specimen of manhood risen from the grave, one traveller come back from the undiscovered bourne with the breath of eternity on His cheek and its light in His eye; one like Jonah, Himself the living sign and proof that He has been down in the great deeps.

(4) Man needs a morality to instruct and elevate conscience. Such a morality must possess these characteristics. It must be authoritative, resting upon an absolute will; its teacher must say, not "I think," or "I conclude," but-"verily, verily I say unto you." It must be unmixed with baser and more questionable elements. It must be pervasive, laying the strong grasp of its purity on the whole domain of thought and feeling as well as of action. It must be exemplified. It must present to us a series of pictures, of object lessons in which we may see it illustrated. Finally, this morality must be spiritual. It must come to man, not like the Jewish Talmud with its seventy thousand precepts which few indeed can ever learn, but with a compendious and condensed, yet all-embracing brevity-with words that are spirit and life.

(5) As man knows duty more thoroughly, the instinct of sacrifice will speak with an ever-increasing intensity. "My heart is overwhelmed by the infinite purity of this law. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I let me find God and be reconciled to Him." When the old Latin spoke of propitiation he thought of something which brought near (prope); his inner thought was-"let God come near to me, that I may be near to God." These five ultimate spiritual wants, these five ineradicable spiritual instincts, He must meet, of whom a master of spiritual truth like St. John can say with his plenitude of insight-"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."

We shall better understand the fulness of St. John’s thought if we proceed to consider that this fitness in Christ for meeting the spiritual wants of humanity is exclusive.

Three great religions of the world are more or less missionary. Hinduism, which embraces at least a hundred and ninety millions of souls, is certainly not in any sense missionary. For Hinduism transplanted from its ancient shrines and local superstitions dies like a flower without roots. But Judaism at times has strung itself to a kind of exertion almost inconsistent with its leading idea. The very word "proselyte" attests the unnatural fervour to which it had worked itself up in our Lord’s time. The Pharisee was a missionary sent out by pride and consecrated by self-will. "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him tenfold more the child of hell than yourselves." Buddhism has had enormous missionary success from one point of view. Not long ago it was said that it outnumbered Christendom. But it is to be observed that it finds adherents among people of only one type of thought and character. Outside these races it is and must ever be, non-existent. We may except the fanciful perversion of a few idle people in London, Calcutta, or Ceylon, captivated for a season or two by "the light of Asia." We may except also a very few more remarkable cases where the esoteric principle of Buddhism commends itself to certain profound thinkers stricken with the dreary disease of modern sentiment. Mohammedanism has also, in a limited degree, proved itself a missionary religion, not only by the sword. In British India it counts millions of adherents, and it is still making some progress in India. In other ages whole Christian populations (but belonging to heretical and debased forms of Christianity) have gone over to Mohammedanism. Let us be just to it. It once elevated the pagan Arabs. Even now it elevates the Negro above his fetich. But it must ever remain a religion for stationary races, with its sterile God and its poor literality, the dead book pressing upon it with a weight of lead. Its merits are these-it inculcates a lofty, if sterile, Theism; it fulfils the pledge conveyed in the word Moslem, by inspiring a calm, if frigid, resignation to destiny; it teaches the duty of prayer with a strange impressiveness. But whole realms of thought and feeling are crushed out by its bloody and lustful grasp. It is without purity, without tenderness, and without humility.

Thus, then, we come back again with a truer insight to the exclusive fitness of Christ to meet the wants of mankind.

Others besides the Incarnate Lord have obtained from a portion of their fellow men some measure of passionate enthusiasm. Each people has a hero during this life, call him demigod, or what we will. But such men are idolised by one race alone. The very qualities which procure them an apotheosis are precisely those which prove how narrow the type is which they represent; how far they are from speaking to all humanity. A national type is a narrow and exclusive type.

No European, unless effeminated and enfeebled, could really love an Asiatic Messiah. But Christ is loved everywhere. No race or kindred is exempt from the sweet contagion produced by the universal appeal of the universal Saviour. From all languages spoken by the lips of man, hymns of adoration are offered to Him. We read in England the "Confessions" of St. Augustine. Those words still quiver with the emotions of penitence and praise; still breathe the breath of life. Those ardent affections, those yearnings of personal love to Christ, which filled the heart of Augustine fifteen centuries ago, under the blue sky of Africa, touch us even now under this grey heaven in the fierce hurry of our modern life. But they have in them equally the possibility of touching the Shanar of Tinnevelly, the Negro-even the Bushman, or the native of Tierra del Fuego. By a homage of such diversity and such extent we recognise a universal Saviour for the universal wants of universal man, the fitting propitiation for the whole world.

Towards the close of this Epistle St. John oracularly utters three great canons of universal Christian consciousness-"we know," "we know," "we know." Of these three canons the second is-"we know that we are from God, and the world lieth wholly in the wicked one." "A characteristic Johannic exaggeration!" some critic has exclaimed; yet surely even in Christian lands where men lie outside the influences of the Divine society, we have only to read the Police reports to justify the Apostle. In columes of travels, again, in the pages of Darwin and Baker, from missionary records in places where the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations, we are told of deeds of lust and blood which almost make us blush to bear the same form with creatures so degraded. Yet the very same missionary records bear witness that in every race which the Gospel proclamation has reached, however low it may be placed in the scale of the ethnologist; deep under the ruins of the fall are the spiritual instincts, the affections which have for their object the infinite God, and for their career the illimitable ages. The shadow of sin is broad indeed. But in the evening light of God’s love the shadow of the cross is projected further still into the infinite beyond. Missionary success is therefore sure, if it be slow. The reason is given by St. John. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the whole world."


Verse 6

Chapter 9

THE INFLUENCE OF THE GREAT LIFE WALK A PERSONAL INFLUENCE

1 John 2:6

THIS verse is one of those in reading which we may easily fall into the fallacy of mistaking familiarity for knowledge.

Let us bring out its meaning with accuracy.

St. John’s hatred of unreality, of lying in every form, leads him to claim in Christians a perfect correspondence between the outward profession and the inward life, as well as the visible manifestation of it. "He that saith" always marks a danger to those who are outwardly in Christian communion. It is the "take notice" of a hidden falsity. He whose claim, possibly whose vaunt, is that he abideth in Christ, has contracted a moral debt of far reaching significance. St. John seems to pause for a moment. He points to a picture in a page of the scroll which is beside him-the picture of Christ in the Gospel drawn by himself; not a vague magnificence, a mere harmony of colour, but a likeness of absolute historical truth. Every pilgrim of time in the continuous course of his daily walk, outward and inward, has by the possession of that Gospel contracted an obligation to be walking by the one great life walk of the Pilgrim of eternity. The very depth and intensity of feeling half hushes the Apostle’s voice. Instead of the beloved Name which all who love it will easily supply, St. John uses the reverential He, the pronoun which specially belongs to Christ in the vocabulary of the Epistle. "He that saith he abideth in Him" is bound, even as He once walked, to be ever walking.

I The importance of example in the moral and spiritual life gives emphasis to this canon of St. John.

Such an example as can be sufficient for creatures like ourselves should be at once manifested in concrete form and susceptible of ideal application.

This was felt by a great, but unhappily antichristian, thinker, the exponent of a severe and lofty morality. Mr. Mill fully confesses that there may be an elevating and an ennobling influence in a Divine ideal; and thus justifies the apparently startling precept-"be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." But he considered that some more human model was necessary for the moral striver. He recommends novel readers, when they are charmed or strengthened by some conception of pure manhood or womanhood, to carry that conception with them into their own lives. He would have them ask themselves in difficult positions, how that strong and lofty man, that tender and unselfish woman, would have behaved in similar circumstances, and so bear about with them a standard of duty at once compendious and affecting. But to this there is one fatal objection-that such an elaborate process of make believe is practically impossible. A fantastic morality, if it were possible at all, must be a feeble morality. Surely an authentic example will be greatly more valuable.

But example, however precious, is made indefinitely more powerful when it is living example, example crowned by personal influence.

So far as the stain of a guilty past can be removed from those who have contracted it, they are improvable and capable of restoration, chiefly, perhaps almost exclusively, by personal influence in some form. When a process of deterioration and decay has set in in any human soul, the germ of a more wholesome growth is introduced in nearly every case, by the transfusion and transplantation of healthier life. We test the soundness or the putrefaction of a soul by its capacity of receiving and assimilating this germ of restoration. A parent is in doubt whether is susceptible of renovation, whether the son has not become wholly evil. He tries to bring the young man under the personal influence of a friend of noble and sympathetic character. Has his son any capacity left for being touched by such a character; of admiring its strength on one side, its softness on another? When he is in contact with it, when he perceives how pure, how self-sacrificing, how true and straight it is, is there a glow in his face, a trembling of his voice, a moisture in his eye, a wholesome self-humiliation? Or does he repel all this with a sneer and a bitter gibe? Has he that evil attitude which is possessed only by the most deeply corrupt-"they blaspheme, rail at glories." The Chaplain of a penitentiary records that among the most degraded of its inmates was one miserable creature. The Matron met her with firmness, but with a good will which no hardness could break down, no insolence overcome. One evening after prayers the Chaplain observed this poor outcast stealthily kissing the shadow of the Matron thrown by her candle upon the wall. He saw that the diseased nature was beginning to be capable of assimilating new life, that the victory of wholesome personal influence had begun. He found reason for concluding that his judgment was well founded.

The law of restoration by living example through personal influence pervades the whole of our human relations under God’s natural and moral government as truly as the principle of mediation. This law also pervades the system of restoration revealed to us by Christianity. It is one of the chief results of the Incarnation itself. It begins to act upon us first, when the Gospels become something more to us than a mere history, when we realise in some degree how He walked. But it is not complete until we know that all this is not merely of the past, but of the present; that He is not dead, but living; that we may therefore use that little word "is" about Christ in the lofty sense of St. John-"even as He is pure; in Him is no sin"; "even as He is righteous; He is the propitiation for our sins." If this is true, as it undoubtedly is, of all good human influence personal and living, is it not true of the Personal and living Christ in an infinitely higher degree? If the shadow of Peter overshadowing the sick had some strange efficacy; if handkerchiefs or aprons from the body of Paul wrought upon the sick and possessed; what may be the spiritual result of contact with Christ Himself? Of one of those men specially gifted to raise struggling natures and of others like him, a true poet lately taken from us has sung in one of his most glorious strains. Matthew Arnold likens mankind to a host inexorably bound by divine appointment to march over mountain and desert to the city of God. But they become entangled in the wilderness through which they march, split into mutinous factions, and are in danger of "battering on the rocks" forever in vain, of dying one by one in the waste. Then comes the poet’s appeal to the "Servants of God":-

"Then in the hour of need

Of your fainting, dispirited race,

Ye like angels appear!

Languor is not in your heart,

Weakness is not in your word,

Weariness not on your brow.

Eyes rekindling, and prayers

Follow your steps as ye go.

Ye fill up the gaps in our file,

Strengthen the wavering line,

Stablish, continue our march-

On, to the bound of the waste-

On to the City of God."

If all this be true of the personal influence of good and strong men-true in proportion to their goodness and strength-it must be true of the influence of the Strongest and Best with Whom we are brought into personal relation by prayer and sacraments, and by meditation upon the sacred record which tells us what His one life walk was. Strength is not wanting upon His part, for He is able to save to the uttermost. Pity is not wanting; for to use touching words (attributed to St. Paul in a very ancient apocryphal document), "He alone sympathised with a world that has lost its way."

Let it not be forgotten that in that of which St. John speaks lies the true answer to an objection, formulated by the great antichristian writer above quoted, and constantly repeated by others. "The ideal of Christian morality," says Mr. Mill, "is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; innocence rather than nobleness; abstinence from evil, rather" than energetic pursuit of good; in its precepts (as has been well said), ‘thou shalt not’ predominates unduly over ‘thou shalt.’ The answer is this.

(1) A true religious system must have a distinct moral code. If not, it would be justly condemned for "expressing itself" (in the words of Mr. Mill’s own accusation against Christianity elsewhere) "in language most general, and possessing rather the impressiveness of poetry or eloquence than the precision of legislation." But the necessary formula of precise legislation is, "thou shalt not"; and without this it cannot be precise.

(2) But further. To say that Christian legislation is negative, a mere string of "thou shalt nots," is just such a superficial accusation as might be expected from a man who should enter a church upon some rare occasion, and happen to listen to the Ten Commandments, but fall asleep before he could hear the Epistle and Gospel. The philosopher of duty, Kant, has told us that the peculiarity of a moral principle, of any proposition which states what duty is, is to convey the meaning of an imperative through the form of an indicative. In his own expressive, if pedantic, language-"its categorical form involves an epitactic meaning." St. John asserts that the Christian "ought to walk even as Christ walked." To everyone who receives it, that proposition is therefore precisely equivalent to a command -" walk as Christ walked." Is it a negative, passive morality, a mere system of "thou shalt not," which contains such a precept as that? Does not the Christian religion in virtue of this alone enforce a great "thou shalt"; which every man who brings himself within its range will find rising with him in the morning, following him like his shadow all day long, and lying down with him when he goes to rest?

II It should be clearly understood that in the words "even as He walked," the Gospel of St. John is both referred to and attested.

For surely, to point with any degree of moral seriousness to an example, is to presuppose some clear knowledge and definite record of it. No example can be beautiful or instructive when its shape is lost in darkness. It has indeed been said by a deeply religious writer, "that the likeness of the Christian to Christ is to His character, not to the particular form in which it was historically manifested." And this, of course, is in one sense a truism. But how else except by this historical manifestation can we know the character of Christ in any true sense of the word knowledge? For those who are familiar with the fourth Gospel, the term "walk" was tenderly significant. For if it was used with a reminiscence of the Old Testament and of the language of our Lord, to denote the whole continuous activity of the life of any man inward and outward, there was another signification which became entwined with it. St. John had used the word historically in his Gospel, not without allusion to the Saviour’s homelessness on earth, to His itinerant life of beneficence and of teaching. Those who first received this Epistle with deepest reverence as the utterance of the Apostle whom they loved, when they came to the precept-"walk even as He walked"-would ask themselves how did He walk? What do we know of the great rule of life thus proposed to us? The Gospel which accompanied this letter, and with which it was in some way closely connected, was a sufficient and definite answer.

III The character of Christ in his Gospel is thus, according to St. John, the loftiest ideal of purity, peace, self-sacrifice, unbroken communion with God; the inexhaustible fountain of regulated thoughts, high aims, holy action, constant prayer. We may advert to one aspect of this perfection as delineated in the fourth Gospel- our Lord’s way of doing small things, or at least things which in human estimation appear to be small.

The fourth chapter of that Gospel contains a marvellous record of word and work. Let us trace that record back to its beginning. There are seeds of spiritual life scattered in many hearts which were destined to yield a rich harvest in due time; there is the account of one sensuous nature, quickened and spiritualised; there are promises which have been for successive centuries as a river of God to weary natures. All these results issue from three words spoken by a tired traveller, sitting naturally over a well-"give me to drink."

We take another instance. There is one passage in St. John’s Gospel which divides with the procemium of his Epistle the glory of being the loftiest, the most prolonged, the most sustained, in the Apostle’s writings.

It is the prelude of a work which might have seemed to be of little moment. Yet all the height of a great ideal is over it, like the vault of heaven; all the power of a Divine purpose is under it, like the strength of the great deep; all the consciousness of His death, of His ascension, of His coming dominion, of His Divine origin, of His session at God’s right hand-all the hoarded love in His heart for His own which were in the world-passes by some mysterious transference into that little incident of tenderness and of humiliation. He sets an everlasting mark upon it, not by a basin of gold crusted with gems, nor by mixing precious scents with the water which He poured out, nor by using linen of the finest tissue, but by the absolute perfection of love and dutiful humility in the spirit and in every detail of the whole action. It is one more of those little chinks through which the whole sunshine of heaven streams in upon those who have eyes to see. [John 13:1-6]

The underlying secret of this feature of our Lord’s character is told by Himself. "My meat is to be ever doing the will of Him that sent Me, and so, when the times come, by one great decisive act to finish His work." All along the course of that life walk there were smaller preludes to the great act which won our redemption- multitudinous daily little perfect epitomes of love and sacrifice, without which the crowning sacrifice would not have been what it was. The plan of our life must, of course, be constructed on a scale as different as the human from the Divine. Yet there is a true sense in which this lesson of the great life may be applied to us. The apparently small things of life must not be despised or neglected on account of their smallness, by those who would follow the precept of St. John. Patience and diligence in petty trades, in services called menial, in waiting on the sick and old, in a hundred such works, all come within the sweep of this net, with its lines that look as thin as cobwebs, and which yet for Christian hearts are stronger than fibres of steel-"walk even as He walked." This, too, is our only security. A French poet has told a beautiful tale. Near a river which runs between French and German territory, a blacksmith was at work one snowy night near Christmas time. He was tired out, standing by his forge, and wistfully looking towards his little home, lighted up a short quarter of a mile away, and wife and children waiting for their festal supper, when he should return. It came to the last piece of his work, a rivet which it was difficult to finish properly; for it was of peculiar shape, intended by the contractor who employed him to pin the metal work of a bridge which he was constructing over the river. The smith was sorely tempted to fail in giving honest work, to hurry over a job which seemed at once so troublesome and so trifling. But some good angel whispered to the man that he should do his best. He turned to the forge with a sigh, and never rested until the work was as complete as his skill could make it. The poet carries us on for a year or two. War breaks out. A squadron of the blacksmith’s countrymen is driven over the bridge in headlong flight. Men, horses, guns, try its solidity. For a moment or two the whole weight of the mass really hangs upon the one rivet. There are times in life when the whole weight of the soul also hangs upon a rivet; the rivet of sobriety, of purity, of honesty, of command of temper. Possibly we have devoted little or no honest work to it in the years when we should have perfected the work; and so, in the day of trial, the rivet snaps, and we are lost.

There is one word of encouragement which should be finally spoken for the sake of one class of God’s servants.

Some are sick, weary, broken, paralysed, it may be slowly dying. What-they sometimes think-have we to do with this precept? Others who have hope, elasticity, capacity of service, may walk as He walked; but we can scarcely do so. Such persons should remember what walking in the Christian sense is all life’s activity inward and outward. Let them think of Christ upon His cross. He was fixed to it, nailed hand and foot. Nailed; yet never-not when He trod upon the waves, not when He moved upward through the air to His throne-never did He walk more truly, because He walked in the way of perfect love. It is just whilst looking at the moveless form upon the tree that we may hear most touchingly the great "thou shalt"-thou shalt walk even as He walked.

IV As there is a literal, so there is a mystical walking as Christ walked. This is an idea which deeply pervades St. Paul’s writings. Is it His birth? We are born again. Is it His life? We walk with Him in newness of life. Is it His death? We are crucified with Him. Is it His burial? We are buried with Him. Is it His resurrection? We are risen again with Him. Is it His ascension-His very session at God’s right hand? "He hath raised us up and made us sit together with Him in heavenly places." They know nothing of St. Paul’s mind who know nothing of this image of a soul seen in the very dust of death, loved, pardoned, quickened, elevated, crowned, throned. It was this conception at work from the beginning in the general consciousness of Christians which moulded round itself the order of the Christian year.

It will illustrate this idea for us if we think of the difference between the outside and the inside of a church.

Outside on some high spire we see the light just lingering far up, while the shadows are coldly gathering in the streets below; and we know that it is winter. Again the evening falls warm and golden on the churchyard, and we recognise the touch of summer. But inside it is always God’s weather; it is Christ all the year long. Now the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, or circumcised with the knife of the law, manifested to the Gentiles, or manifesting Himself with a glory that breaks through the veil; now the Man tempted in the wilderness; now the victim dying on the cross; now the Victor risen, ascended, sending the Holy Spirit; now for twenty-five Sundays worshipped as the Everlasting Word with the Father and the Holy Ghost. In this mystical following of Christ also, the one perpetual lesson is -"he that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked."


Verse 15-16

Chapter 10

THE WORLD WHICH WE MUST NOT LOVE

1 John 2:15-16

An adequate development of words so compressed and pregnant as these would require a separate treatise, or series of treatises. But if we succeed in grasping St. John’s conception of the world, we shall have a key that will open to us this cabinet of spiritual thought.

In the writings of St. John the world is always found in one or other of four senses, as may be decided by the context.

(1) It means the creation, the universe. So our Lord in His High priestly prayer -"Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world."

(2) It is used for the earth locally as the place where man resides; and whose soil the Son of God trod for a while. "I am no more in the world, but these are in the world."

(3) It denotes the chief inhabitants of the earth, they to whom the counsels of God mainly point-men universally. Such a transference is common in nearly all languages. Both the inhabitants of a building, and the material structure which contains them, are called "a house"; and the inhabitants are frequently bitterly blamed, while the beauty of the structure is passionately admired. In this sense there is a magnificent width in the word "world." We cannot but feel indignant at attempts to gird its grandeur within the narrow rim of a human system. "The bread that I will give," said He who knew best, "is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world." "He is the propitiation for the whole world," writes the Apostle at the beginning of this chapter. In this sense, if we would imitate Christ, if we would aspire to the Father’s perfection, "love not the world" must be tempered by that other tender oracle-"God so loved the world."

In none of these senses can the world here be understood. There remains then:

(4) a fourth signification, which has two allied shades of thought. World is employed to cover the whole present existence, with its blended good and evil-susceptible of elevation by grace, susceptible also of deeper depths of sin and ruin. But yet again the indifferent meaning passes into one that is wholly evil, wholly within a region of darkness. The first creation was pronounced by God in each department "good" collectively; when crowned by God’s masterpiece in man, "very good." "All things," our Apostle tells us, "were made through Him (the Word), and without Him was not anything made that was made." But as that was a world wholly good, so is this a world wholly evil. This evil world is not God’s creation, drew not its origin from Him. All that is in it came out from it, from nothing higher. This wholly evil world is not the material creation; if it were, we should be landed in dualism, or Manicheism. It is not an entity, an actual tangible thing, a creation. It is not of God’s world that St. John cries in that last fierce word of abhorrence which he flings at it as he sees the shadowy thing like an evil spirit made visible in an idols arms-"the world lieth wholly in the evil one."

This anti-world, this caricature of creation, this thing of negations, is spun out of three abuses of the endowment of God’s glorious gift of free will to man; out of three noble instincts ignobly used. First, "the lust of the flesh"-of which flesh is the seat, and supplies the organic medium through which it works. The flesh is that softer part of the frame which by the network of the nerves is intensely susceptible of pleasurable and painful sensations: capable of heroic patient submission to the higher principles of conscience and spirit, capable also of frightful rebellion. Of all theologians St. John is the least likely to fall into the exaggeration of libelling the flesh as essentially evil. Is it not he who, whether in his Gospel, or in his Epistles, delights to speak of the flesh of Jesus, to record words in which He refers to it? Still the flesh brings us into contact with all sins which are sins that spring from, and end in, the senses. Shall we ask for a catalogue of particulars from St. John? Nay, we cannot expect that the virgin Apostle, who received the Virgin Mother from the Virgin Lord upon the cross, will sully his virgin pen with words so abhorred. When he has uttered the lust of the flesh his shudder is followed by an eloquent silence. We can fill up the blank too well-drunkenness, gluttony, thoughts and motions which spring from deliberate, wilfully cherished, rebellious sensuality; which fill many of us with pain and fear, and wring cries and bitter tears from penitents, and even from saints. The second, abuse of free will, the second element in this world which is not God’s world, is the desire of which the eyes are the seat-"the lust of the eyes." To the two sins which we instinctively associate with this phrase- voluptuousness and curiosity of the senses or the soul-Scripture might seem to add envy, which derives so much of its aliment from sight. In this lies the Christian’s warning against wilfully indulging in evil sights, bad plays, bad books, bad pictures.

He who is outwardly the spectator of these things becomes inwardly the actor of them. The eye is, so to speak, the burning glass of the soul; it draws the rays from their evil brightness to a focus, and may kindle a raging fire in the heart. Under this department comes unregulated spiritual or intellectual curiosity. The first need not trouble us so much as it did Christians in a more believing time. Comparatively very few are in danger from the planchette or from astrology. But surely it is a rash thing for an ordinary mind, without a clear call of duty, without any adequate preparation, to place its faith within the deadly grip of some powerful adversary. People really seem to have absolutely no conscience about reading anything-the last philosophical Life of Christ, or the last romance; of which the titles might be with advantage exchanged, for the philosophical history is a light romance, and the romance is a heavy philosophy. The third constituent in the evil anti-trinity of the anti-world is "the pride" (the arrogancy, gasconade, almost swagger) "of life," of which the lower life is the seat. The thought is not so much of outward pomp and ostentation as of that false pride which arises in the heart. The arrogancy is within; the gasconade plays its "fantastic tricks before high heaven." And each of these three elements (making up as. they do collectively all that is "in the world" and springing out of the world) is not a substantive thing, not an original ingredient of man’s nature, or among the forms of God’s world; it is the perversion of an element which had a use that was noble, or at least innocent. For first comes "the lust of the flesh." Take those two objects to which this lust turns with a fierce and perverted passion. The possession of flesh in itself leads man to crave for the necessary support to his native weakness. The mutual craving for the love of beings so like and so unlike as man and woman, if it be a weakness, has at least a most touching and exquisite side. Again, is not a yearning for beauty gratified through the eyes? Were they not given for the enjoyment, for the teaching, at once high and sweet, of Nature and of Art? Art may be a moral and spiritual discipline. The ideas of Beauty from gifted minds by cunning hands transferred to, and stamped upon, outward things, come from the ancient and uncreated Beauty, whose beauty is as perfect as His truth and strength. Still further; in the lower life, and in its lawful use, there was intended to be a something of quiet satisfaction, a certain restfulness, at times making us happy and triumphant. And lo! for all this, not moderate fare and pure love, not thoughtful curiosity and the sweet pensiveness which is the best tribute to the beautiful-not a wise humility which makes us feel that our times are in God’s hands and our means His continual gift-but degraded senses, low art, evil literature, a pride which is as grovelling as it is godless.

These three typical summaries of the evil tendencies in the exercise of free will correspond with a remarkable fulness to the two narratives of trial which give us the compendium and general outline of all human temptation.

Our Lord’s three temptations answer to this division. The lust of the flesh is in essence the rebellion of the lower appetites, inherent to creaturely dependence, against the higher principle or law. The nearest and only conceivable approach to this in the sinless Man would be in His seeking lawful support by unlawful means- procuring food by a miraculous exertion of power, which only would have become sinful, or short of the highest goodness, by some condition of its exercise at that time and in that place. An appeal to the desire for beauty and glory, with an implied hint of using them for God’s greater honour, is the essence of. the second temptation; the one possible approximation to the "lust of the eyes" in that perfect character. The interior deception of some touch of pride in the visible support of angels wafting the Son of God through the air is Satan’s one sinister way of insinuating to the Saviour something akin to "the pride of life."

In the case of the other earlier typical trials it will be observed that while the temptations fit into the same threefold framework, they are placed in an order which exactly reverses that of St. John. For in Eden the first approach is through "pride"; the magnificent promise of elevation in the scale of being, of the knowledge that would win the wonder of the spiritual world. "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." [Genesis 3:5] The next step is that which directs the curiosity both of the senses and of the aspiring mind to the object, forbidden-"when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise." [Genesis 3:6] Then seems to have come some strange and sad rebellion of the lower nature, filling their souls with shame; some bitter revelation of the law of sin in their members; some knowledge that they were contaminated by the "lust of the flesh." [Genesis 3:7] The order of the temptation in the narrative of Moses is historical; St. John’s order is moral and spiritual, answering to the facts of life. The "lust of the flesh," which may approach the child through childish greed, grows apace. At first it is half unconscious; then it becomes coarse and palpable. In the man’s desire acting with unregulated curiosity, through ambition of knowledge at any price, searching out for itself books and other instruments with deliberate desire to kindle lust, the "lust of the eyes" ceases not its fatal influence. The crowning sin of pride with its selfishness, which is self apart from God as well as from the brother, finds its place in the "pride of life."

III We may now be in a position to see more clearly against what world the Primate of early Christendom pronounced his anathema, and launched his interdict, and why?

What "world" did he denounce?

Clearly not the world as the creation, the universe. Not again the earth locally. God made and ordered all things. Why should we not love them with a holy and a blameless love? Only we should not love them in themselves; we should not cling to them forgetting Him. Suppose that some husband heaped beautiful and costly presents upon his wife whom he loved. At last with the intuition of love he begins to see what is the secret of such cold imitation of love as that icy heart can give. She loves him not - his riches, not the man; his gifts, not the giver. And thus loving with that frigid love which has no heart in it, there is no true love; her heart is another’s. Gifts are given that the giver may be loved in them. If it is true that "gifts are naught when givers prove unkind," it is also true that there is a sort of adultery of the heart when the taker is unkind-because the gift is valuable, not because the bestower is dear. And so the world, God’s beautiful world, now becomes to us an idol. If we are so lost in the possession of Nature, in the march of law, in the majestic growth, in the stars above and in the plants below, that we forget the Lawgiver, who from such humble beginnings has brought out a world of beauty and order; if with modern poets we find content, calm, happiness, purity, rest, simply in contemplating the glaciers, the waves, and the stars; then we look at the world even in this sense in a way which is a violation of St. John’s rule. Yet again, the world which is now condemned is not humanity. There is no real Christianity in taking black views, and speaking bitter things, about the human society to which we belong, and the human nature of which we are partakers. No doubt Christianity believes that man "is very far gone from original righteousness"; that there is a "corruption in the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam." Yet the utterers of unwholesome apothegms, the suspecters of their kind, are not Christian thinkers. The philosophic historian, whose gorge rose at the doctrine of the Fall, thought much worse of man practically than the Fathers of the Church. They bowed before martyrdom and purity, and believed in them with a child-like faith. For Gibbon, the martyr was not quite so true, nor the virgin quite so pure, nor the saint quite so holy. He who knew human nature best, who has thrown that terrible ray of light into the unlit gulf of the heart when He tells us "what proceeds out of the heart of man," [Mark 7:21] had yet the ear which was the first to hear the trembling of the one chord that yet kept healthful time and tune in the harlot’s passionate heart. He believed that man was recoverable; lost, but capable of being found. After all, in this sense there is something worthy of love in man. "God so loved" (not so hated) "the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." Shall we say that we are to hate the world which He loved?

And now we come to that world which God never loved, never will love, never will reconcile to Himself, -which we are not to love.

This is most important to see; for there is always a danger in setting out with a stricter standard than Christ’s, a narrower road than the narrow one which leads to heaven. Experience proves that they who begin with standards of duty which are impossibly high end with standards of duty which are sometimes sadly low. Such men have tried the impracticable, and failed; the practicable seems to be too hard for them ever afterwards. They who begin by anathematising the world in things innocent, indifferent, or even laudable, not rarely end by a reaction of thought which believes that the world is nothing and nowhere.

But there is such a thing as the world in St, John’s sense-an evil world brought into existence by the abuse of our free will; filled by the anti-trinity, by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."

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. Two people, we will say, go to London, to live there. One, from circumstances of life and position, naturally falls into the highest social circle. Another has introductions to a smaller set, with an apparently more serious connection. Follow the first some evening. He drives to a great gathering. The room which he enters is ablaze with light; jewelled orders sparkle upon men’s coats, and fair women move in exquisite dresses. We look at the scene and we say-"what worldly society has the man fallen into!" Perhaps so, in a sense. But about the same time the other walks to a little room with humbler adjuncts, where a grave and apparently serious circle meet together. We are able to look in there also, and we exclaim-"this is serious society, unworldly society." Perhaps so, again. 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.

Why does God hate this "world"-the world in this sense? St. John tells us. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Deep in every heart must be one or other of two loves. There is no room for two master passions. There is an expulsive power in all true affection. What tenderness and pathos, how much of expostulation, more potent because reserved-"the love of the Father is not in him"! He has told all his "little ones" that he has written to them because they "know the Father." St. John does not use sacred names at random. Even Voltaire felt that there was something almost awful in hearing Newton pronounce the name of God. Such in an incomparably higher degree is the spirit of St. John. In this section he writes of "the love of the Father," [1 John 2:15-16] and of the "will of God." (1 John 2:17.) The first title has more sweetness than majesty; the second more majesty than sweetness. He would throw into his plea some of the winningness of one who uses this as a resistless argument with a tempted, but loving child-an argument often successful when every other fails. "If you do this, your Father will not love you; you will not be His child." We have but to read this with the hearts of God’s dear children. Then we shall find that if the "love not" of this verse contains "words of extirpation" it ends with others which are intended to draw us with cords of a man, and with bands of love.


Verse 17

Chapter 11

USE AND ABUSE OF THE SENSE OF THE VANITY OF THE WORLD

1 John 2:17

The connection of the passage in which these words occur is not difficult to trace for those who are used to follow those "roots below the stream," those real rather than verbal links latent in the substance of St. John’s thoughts. He addresses those whom he has in view with a paternal authority, as his "sons" in the faith-with an endearing variation as "little children." He reminds them of the wisdom and strength involved in their Christian life. Theirs is the sweetest flower of knowledge-"to know the Father." Theirs is the grandest crown of victory-"to overcome the wicked one." But there remains an enemy in one sense more dangerous than the Evil One- the world. By the world in this place we are to understand that element in the material and human sphere, in the region of mingled good and evil, which is external to God, to the influence of His Spirit, to the boundaries of His Church-nay, which frequently passes over those boundaries. In this sense it is, so to speak, a fictitious world, a world of wills separated from God because dominated by self; a shadowy caricature of creation; an anti-kosmos, which the Author of the kosmos has not made. What has been well called "the great love not" rings out-"love not the world." For this admonition two reasons of ever enduring validity are given by St. John.

(1) The application of the law of human nature, that two master passions cannot coexist in one man. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

(2) The unsatisfactory nature of the world, its incurable transitoriness, its "visible tendency to nonexistence." "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

It will be well to consider how far this thought of the transitoriness of the world, of its drifting by in ceaseless change, is in itself salutary and Christian, how far it needs to be supplemented and elevated by that which follows and closes. the verse.

I There can be no doubt, then, that up to a certain point this conviction is a necessary element of Christian thought, feeling, and character; that it is at least among the preliminaries of a saving reception of Christ.

There is in the great majority of the world a surprising and almost incredible levity. There is a disposition to believe in the permanency of that which we have known to continue long, and which has become habitual. There is a tale of a man who was resolved to keep from his children the knowledge of death. He was the Governor of a colony, and had lost in succession his wife and many children. Two only, mere infants, were left. He withdrew to a beautiful and secluded island, and tried to barricade his daughters from the fatal knowledge which, when once acquired, darkens the spirit with anticipation. In the ocean island death was to be a forbidden word. If met with in the pages of a book, and questions were asked, no answer was to be given. If some one expired, the body was to be removed, and the children were to be told that the departed had gone to another country. It does not need much imagination to feel sure that the secret could not be kept; that some fish on the coral reef, or some bright bird in the tropic forest, gave the little ones the hint of a something that touched the splendour of the sunset with a strange presentiment; that some hour came when, as to the rest of us, so to them, the mute presence would insist upon being made known. Ours is a stranger mode of dealing with ourselves than was the father’s way of dealing with his children. We tacitly resolve to play a game of make believe with ourselves, to forget that which cannot be forgotten, to remove to an incalculable distance that which is inexorably near. And the fear of death with us does not come from the nerves, but from the will. Death ushers us into the presence of God. Those of whom, we speak hate and fear death because they fear God and hate His presence. Now it is necessary for such persons as these to be awakened from their illusion. That which is supremely important for them is to realise that "the world" is indeed "drifting by"; that there is an emptiness in all that is created, a vanity in all that is not eternal; that time is short, eternity long. They must be brought to see that with the world, the "lust thereof" (the concupiscence, the lust of it, which has the world for its object, which belongs to it, and which the world stimulates) passes by also. The world, which is the object of the desire, is a phantom and a shadow; the desire itself must be therefore the phantom of a phantom and the shadow of a shadow.

This conviction has a thousand times over led human souls to the one true abiding centre of eternal reality. It has come in a thousand ways. It has been said that one heard the fifth chapter of Genesis read, with those words eight times repeated over the close of each record of longevity, like the strokes of a funeral bill, "and he died"; and that the impression never left him, until he planted his foot upon the rock over the tide of the changing years. Sometimes this conviction is produced by the death of friends-sometimes by the slow discipline of life-sometimes no doubt it may be begun, sometimes deepened, by the preacher’s voice upon the watch night, by the effective ritualism of the tolling bell, of the silent prayer, of the well-selected hymn. And it is right that the world’s dancing in, or drinking in, the New Year, should be a hint to Christians to pray it in. This is one of the happy plagiarisms which the Church has made from the world. The heart feels as it never did before the truth of St. John’s sad, calm, oracular survey of existence. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

II But we have not sounded the depth of the truth-certainly we have not exhausted St. John’s meaning-until we have asked something more. Is this conviction alone always a herald of salvation? Is it always, taken by itself, even salutary? Can it never be exaggerated, and become the parent of evils almost greater than those which it supersedes?

We are led by careful study of the Bible to conclude that this sentiment of the flux of things is capable of exaggeration. For there is one important principle which arises from a comparison of the Old Testament with the New in this matter.

It is to be noticed that the Old Testament has infinitely more which corresponds to the first proposition of the text, without the qualification which follows it, than we can find in the New.

The patriarch Job’s experience echoes in our ears. "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay." The Funeral Psalms make their melancholy chant. "Behold, Thou hast made my days as it were a span long. Verily every man living is altogether vanity. For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain spare me a little that I may smile again." Or we read the words of Moses, the man of God, in that ancient psalm of his, that hymn of time and of eternity. All that human speech can say is summed up in four words, the truest, the deepest, the saddest, and the most expressive, that ever fell from any mortal pen. "We bring our years to an end, as a sigh." Each life is a sigh between two eternities!

Our point is that in the New Testament there is greatly less of this element-greatly less of this pathetic moralising upon the vanity and fragility of human life, of which we have only cited a few examples-and that what there is lies in a different atmosphere, with sunnier and more cheerful surroundings. Indeed, in the whole compass of the New Testament there is perhaps but one passage which is set quite in the same key with our familiar declamations upon the uncertainty and shortness of human life-where St. James desires Christians ever to remember in all their projects to make deduction for the will of God, "not knowing what shall be on the morrow." In the New Testament the voice which wails for a second about the changefulness and misery is lost in the triumphant music by which it is encompassed. If earthly goods are depreciated, it is not merely because "the load of them troubles, the love of them taints, the loss of them tortures"; it is because better things are ready. There is no lamentation over the change, no clinging to the dead past. The tone is rather one of joyful invitation. "Your raft is going to pieces in the troubled sea of time; step into a gallant ship. The volcanic isle on which you stand is undermined by silent fires; we can promise to bring you with us to a shore of safety where you shall be compassed about with songs of deliverance."

It is no doubt true to urge that this style of thought and language is partly to be ascribed to a desire that the attention of Christians should be fixed on the return of their Lord, rather than upon their own death. But, if we believe Scripture to have been written under Divine guidance, the history of religion may supply us with good grounds for the absence of all exaggeration from its pages in speaking of the misery of life and the transitoriness of the world.

The largest religious experiment in the world, the history of a religion which at one time numerically exceeded Christendom, is a gigantic proof that it is not safe to allow unlimited license to melancholy speculation. The true symbol for humanity is not a skull and an hourglass.

Some two thousand five hundred years ago, towards the end of the seventh century before Christ, at the foot of the mountains of Nepaul, in the capital of a kingdom of Central India, an infant was born whom the world will never forget. All gifts seemed to be showered on this child. He was the son of a powerful king and heir to his throne. The young Siddhartha was of rare distinction, brave and beautiful, a thinker and a hero, married to an amiable and fascinating princess. But neither a great position nor domestic happiness could clear away the cloud of melancholy which hung over Siddhartha, even under that lovely sky. His deep and meditative soul dwelt night and day upon the mystery of existence. He came to the conclusion that the life of the creature is incurably evil from three causes-the very fact of existence, desire, and ignorance. The things revealed by sense are evil. None has that continuance and that fixity which are the marks of Law, and the attainment of which is the condition of happiness. At last his resolution to leave all his splendour and become an ascetic was irrevocably fixed. One splendid morning the prince drove to a glorious garden. On his road he met a repulsive old man, wrinkled, toothless, bent. Another day, a wretched being wasted with fever crossed his path. Yet a third excursion and a funeral passes along the road with a corpse on an open bier, and friends wailing as they go. His favourite attendant is obliged in each case to confess that these evils are not exceptional-that old age, sickness, and death are the fatal conditions of conscious existence for all the sons of men. Then the Prince Royal takes his first step towards becoming the deliverer of humanity. He cries-"woe, woe to the youth which old age must destroy, to the health which sickness must undermine, to the life which has so few days and is so full of evil." Hasty readers are apt to judge that the Prince was on the same track with the Patriarch of Idumea, and with Moses the man of God in the desert-nay, with St. John, when he writes from Ephesus that "the world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

It may be well to reconsider this; to see what contradictory principle lies under utterances which have so much superficial resemblance.

Siddhartha became known as the Buddha, the august founder of a great and ancient religion. That religion has of later years been favourably compared with Christianity - yet what are its necessary results, as drawn out for us by those who have studied it most deeply? Scepticism, fanatic hatred of life, incurable sadness in a world fearfully misunderstood; rejection of the personality of man, of God, of the reality of Nature. Strange enigma! The Buddha sought to win annihilation by good works; everlasting non-being by a life of purity, of alms, of renunciation, of austerity. The prize of his high calling was not everlasting life, but everlasting death; for what else is impersonality, unconsciousness, absorption into the universe, but the negation of human existence? The acceptance of the principles of Buddhism is simply a sentence of death intellectually, morally, spiritually, almost physically, passed upon the race which submits to the melancholy bondage of its creed of desolation. It is the opium drunkenness of the spiritual world without the dreams that are its temporary consolation. It is enervating without being soft, and contemplative without being profound. It is a religion which is spiritual without recognising the soul, virtuous without the conception of duty, moral without the admission of liberty, charitable without love. It surveys a world without nature, and a universe without God. The human soul under its influence is not so much drunken as asphyxiated by a monotonous, unbalanced, perpetual repetition of one half of the truth-"the world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

For let us carefully note that St. John adds a qualification which preserves the balance of truth. Over against the dreary contemplation of the perpetual flux of things, he sets a constant course of doing-over against the world, God in His deepest, truest personality, "the will of God"-over against the fact of our having a short time to live, and being full of misery, an everlasting fixity, "he abideth forever"-(so well brought out by the old gloss which slipped into the Latin text, "even as God abideth forever"). As the Lord had taught before, so the disciple now teaches, of the rocklike solidity, of the permanent abiding, under and over him who "doeth." Of the devotee who became in his turn the Buddha, Cakhya-Mouni could not have said one word of the close of our text. "He"-but human personality is lost in the triumph of knowledge. "Doeth the will of God"-but God is ignored, if not denied. "Abideth forever"-but that is precisely the object of his aversion, the terror from which he wishes to be emancipated at any price, by any self-denial.

It may be supposed that this strain of thought is of little practical importance. It may be of use, indeed, in other lands to the missionary who is brought into contact with forms of Buddhism in China, India, or Ceylon, but not to us in these countries. In truth it is not so. It is about half a century ago since a great English theologian warned his University that the central principle of Buddhism was being spread far and wide in Europe from Berlin. This propaganda is not confined to philosophy. It is at work in literature generally, in poetry, in novels, above all in those collection of "Pensees" which have become so extensively popular. The unbelief of the last century advanced with flashing epigrams and defiant songs. With Byron it softened at times into a melancholy which was perhaps partly affected. But with Amiel, and others of our own day, unbelief assumes a sweet and dirge-like tone. The satanic mirth of the past unbelief is exchanged for a satanic melancholy in the present. Many currents of thought run into our hearts, and all are tinged with a darkness before unknown from new substances in the soil which colours the waters. There is little fear of our not hearing enough, great fear of our hearing too much, of the proposition-"the world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

All this may possibly serve as some explanation for the fact that the Christian Church, as such, has no fast for the last day of the year, no festival for New Year’s Day except one quite unconnected with the lessons which may be drawn from the flight of time. The death of the old year, the birth of the new year, have touching associations for us. But the Church consecrates no death but that of Jesus and His martyrs, no nativity but that of her Lord, and of one whose birth was directly connected with His own - John the Baptist. A cause of this has been found in the fact that the day had become so deeply contaminated by the abominations of the heathen Saturnalia that it was impossible in the early Church to continue any very marked observation of it. This may well be so; but it is worth considering whether there is not another and deeper reason. Nothing that has now been said can be supposed to militate against the observance of this time by Christians in private, with solemn penitence for the transgressions of the past year, and earnest prayer for that upon which we enter-nothing against the edification of particular congregations by such services as those most striking ones which are held in so many places. But some explanation is supplied why the "Water-night" is not recognised in the calendar of the Church.

Let us take our verse together as a whole and we have something better than moralising over the flight of time and the transitoriness of the world; something better than vulgarising "vanity of vanities" by vapid iteration.

It is hard to conceive a life in which death and evanescence have nothing that enforces their recognition. Now the removal of one dear to us, now a glance at the obituary with the name of some one of almost the same age as ourselves, brings a sudden shadow over the sunniest field. Yet surely it is not wholesome to encourage the perpetual presence of the cloud. We might impose upon ourselves the penance of being shut up all a winter’s night with a corpse, go half crazy with terror of that unearthly presence, and yet be no more spiritual after all.

We must learn to look at death in a different way, with new eyes. We all know how different dead faces are. Some speak to us merely of material ugliness, of the sweep of "decay’s effacing fingers." In others a new idea seems to light up the face; there is the touch of a superhuman irradiation, of a beauty from a hidden life. We feel that we look on one who has seen Christ, and say-"We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." These two kinds of faces answer to the two different views of life.

Not the transitory, but the permanent; not the fleeting, but the abiding; not death, but life, is the conclusion of the whole matter. The Christian life is not an initial spasm followed by a chronic dyspepsia. What does St. John give us as the picture of it exemplified in a believer? Daily, perpetual, constant doing the will of God. This is the end far beyond-somewhat inconsistent with-obstinately morbid meditation and surrounding ourselves with multiplied images of mortality. Lying in a coffin half the night might not lead to that end; nay, it might be a hindrance thereto. Beyond the grave, outside the coffin, is the object at which we are to look. "The current of things temporal," cries Augustine, "sweeps along. But like a tree over that stream has risen our Lord Jesus Christ. He willed to plant Himself as it were over the river. Are you whirled along by the current? Lay hold of the wood. Does the love of the world roll you onward in its course? Lay hold upon Christ. For you He became temporal that you might become eternal. For He was so made temporal as to remain eternal. Join thy heart to the eternity of God, and thou shalt be eternal with Him."

Those who have heard the Miserere in the Sistine Chapel describe the desolation which settles upon the soul which surrenders itself to the impression of the ritual. As the psalm proceeds, at the end of each rhythmical pulsation of thought, each beat of the alternate wings of the parallelism, a light upon the altar is extinguished. As the wail grows sadder the darkness grows deeper. When all the lights are out and the last echo of the strain dies away, there would be something suitable for the penitent’s mood in the words-"the world passeth away, and the lust thereof." Upon the altar of the Christian heart there are tapers at first unlighted, and before it a priest in black vestments. But one by one the vestments are exchanged for others which are white; one after another the lamps are lighted slowly and without noise, until gradually, we know not how, the whole place is full of light. And ever sweeter and clearer, calm and happy, with a triumph which is at first repressed and reverential, but which increases as the light becomes diffused, the words are heard strong and quiet-a plain song now that wilt swell into an anthem presently-"he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."


Verse 20

Chapter 12

KNOWING ALL THINGS

1 John 2:20

THERE is little of the form of logical argument to which Western readers are habituated in the writings of St. John, steeped as his mind was in Hebraic influences. The inferential "therefore" is not to be found in this Epistle. Yet the diligent reader or expositor finds it more difficult to detach any single sentence, without loss to the general meaning, than in any other writing of the New Testament. The sentence may look almost as if its letters were graven brief and large upon a block of marble, and stood out in oracular isolation-but upon reverent study it will be found that the seemingly lapidary inscription is one of a series with each of which it is indissolubly connected-sometimes limited, sometimes enlarged, always coloured and influenced by that which precedes and follows.

It is peculiarly needful to bear this observation in mind in considering fully the almost startling principle stated in the verse which is prefixed to this discourse. A kind of spiritual omniscience appears to be attributed to believers. Catechisms, confessions, creeds, teachers, preachers, seem to be superseded by a stroke of the Apostle’s pen, by what we are half tempted to consider as a magnificent exaggeration. The text sounds as if it outstripped even the fulfilment of the promise of the new covenant contained in Jeremiah’s prophecy-"they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them."

The passages just before and after St. John’s splendid annunciation in our text are occupied with the subject of Antichrist, here first mentioned in Scripture. In this section of our Epistle Antichrist is

(1) revealed, and

(2) refuted.

(1) Antichrist is revealed by the very crisis which the Church was then traversing. From this especially, from the transitory character of a world drifting by them in unceasing mutation, the Apostle is led to consider this as one of those crisis hours of the Church’s history, each of which may be the last hour, and which is assuredly- in the language of primitive Christianity-a last hour. The Apostle therefore exclaims with fatherly affection-"Little children, it is a last hour."

Deep in the heart of the Apostolic Church, because it came from those who had received it from Christ, there was one awful anticipation. St. John in this passage gives it a name. He remembers Who had told the Jews that "if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." He can announce to them that "as ye have heard this Antichrist cometh, even so now" (precisely as ye have heard) "many antichrists have come into existence and are around you, whereby we know that it is a last hour." The name Antichrist occurs only in these Epistles, and seems purposely intended to denote both one who occupies the place of Christ, and one who is against Christ. In "the Antichrist" the antichristian principle is personally concentrated. The conception of representative men is one which has become familiar to modern students of the philosophy of history. Such representative men, at once the products of the past, moulders of the present, and creative of the future, sum up in themselves tendencies and principles good and evil, and project them in a form equally compacted and intensified into the coming generations. Shadows and anticipations of Antichrist the holiest of the Church’s sons have sometimes seen, even in the high places of the Church. But it is evident that as yet the Antichrist has not come. For wherever St. John mentions this fearful impersonation of evil, he connects the manifestation of his influence with absolute denial of the true Manhood, of the Messiahship, of the everlasting sonship of Jesus. of the Father, Who is His and our Father. In negation of the Personality of God, in the substitution of a glittering, but unreal, idea of human goodness and active philanthropy for the historical Christ, we of this age may not improbably hear his advancing footsteps, and foresee the advent of a day when anti-christianity shall find its great representative man.

(2) Antichrist is also refuted by a principle common to the life of Christians and by its result.

The principle by which he is refuted is a gift of insight lodged in the Church at large, and partaken of by all faithful souls.

A hint of a solemn crisis had been conveyed to the Christians of Asia Minor by secessions from the great Christian community. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us (which they did not, but went out) that they might be made manifest that not all are of us." Not only this. "Yea further, ye yourselves have a hallowing oil from Him who is hallowed, a chrism from the Christ, an unction from the Holy One, even from the Son of God." Chrism (as we are reminded by the most accurate of scholars) is always the material with which anointing is performed, never the act of anointing; it points to the unction of prophets, priests, and kings under the Old Testament, in whose sacrifices and mystic language oil symbolises the Holy Spirit as the spirit of joy and freedom. Quite possibly there may be some allusion to a literal use of oil in Baptism and Confirmation, which began at a very early period; though it is equally possible that the material may have arisen from the spiritual, and not in the reverse order. But beyond all question the real predominant reference is to the Holy Ghost. In the chrism here mentioned there is a feature characteristic of St. John’s style. For there is first a faint prelusive note which (as we find in several other important subjects) is faintly struck and seems to die away, but is afterwards taken up, and more fully brought out. The full distinct mention of the Holy Spirit comes like a burst of the music of the "Veni Creator," carrying on the fainter prelude when it might seem to have been almost lost. The first reverential, almost timid hint, is succeeded by another, brief but significant-almost dogmatically expressive of the relation of the Holy Spirit to Christ as His Chrism, "the Chrism of Him." We shall presently have a direct mention of the Holy Ghost. "Hereby we know that He abideth in us, from the Spirit which He gave us."

Antichrist is refuted by a result of this great principle of the life of the Holy Spirit in the living Church. "Ye have" chrism from the Christ; Antichrist shall not lay his unhallowing disanointing hand upon you. As a result of this, "ye know all things."

How are we to understand this startling expression?

If we receive any teachers as messengers commissioned by God, it is evident that their message must be communicated to us through the medium of human language. They come to us with minds that have been in contact with a Mind of infinite knowledge, and deliver utterances of universal import. They are therefore under an obligation to use language which is capable of being misunderstood by some persons. Our Lord and His Apostles so spoke at times. Two very different classes of men constantly misinterpret words like those of our text. The rationalist does so with a sinister smile; the fanatic with a cry of hysterical triumph. The first may point his epigram with effective reference to the exaggerated promise which is belied by the ignorance of so many ardent believers; the second may advance his absurd claim to personal infallibility in all things spiritual.

Yet an Apostle calmly says "ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." This, however, is but another asterisk directing the eye to the Master’s promise in the Gospel, which is at once the warrant and the explanation of the utterance here. "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you." [John 14:26] The express limitation of the Saviour’s promise is the implied limitation of St. John’s statement. "The Holy Ghost has been sent, according to this unfailing pledge. He teaches you (and, if He teaches, you know) all things which Christ has said, as far as their substance is written down in a true record-all things of the new creation spoken by our Lord, preserved by the help of the Spirit in the memories of chosen witnesses with unfading freshness, by the same Spirit unfolded and interpreted to you."

We should observe in what spirit and to whom St. John speaks.

He does not speak in the strain which would be adopted by a missionary in addressing a convert lately brought out of heathenism into the fold of Christ. He does not like a modern preacher or tract writer at once divide his observations into two parts, one for the converted, one for the unconverted; all are his "dear ones" as beloved, his "sons" as brought into close spiritual relationship with himself. He classes them simply as young and old, with their respective graces of strength and knowledge. All are looked upon as "abiding"; almost the one exhortation is to abide unto the end in a condition upon which all have already entered, and in which some have long continued. We feel throughout the calmness and assurance of a spiritual teacher writing to Christian men who, had either been born in the atmosphere of Christian tradition, or had lived in it for many years. They are again and again appealed to on the ground of a common Christian confidence-"we know." They have all the articles of the Christian creed, the great inheritance of a faithful summary of the words and works of Christ. The Gospel which Paul at first preached in Asia Minor was the starting point of the truth which remained among them, illustrated, expanded, applied, but absolutely unaltered. What the Christians whom St. John has in view really want is the revival of familiar truths, not the impartation of new. No spiritual voyage of discovery is needed; they have only to explore well known regions. The memory and the affections must be stimulated. The truths which have become "cramped and bed ridden" in the dormitory of the soul must acquire elasticity from exercise. The accumulation of ashes must be blown away, and the spark of fire beneath fanned into flame. This capacity of revival, of expansion, of quickened life, of developed truth, is in the unction common to the faithful, in the latent possibilities of the new birth. The same verse to which we have before referred as the best interpreter of this should be consulted again. There is an instructive distinction between the tenses-"as His unction is teaching" -" as it taught you." The teaching was, once for all, the creed definite and fixed, the body of truth a sum total looked upon as one. "The unction taught." Once for all the Holy Spirit made known the Incarnation and stamped the recorded words of Christ with His seal. But there are depths of thought about His person which need to be reverently explored. There is an energy in His work which was not exhausted in the few years of its doing, and which is not imprisoned within the brief chronicle in which it is written. There are a spirit and a life in His words. In one aspect they have the strength of the tornado, which advances in a narrow line; but every foot of the column, as if armed with a tooth of steel, grinds and cuts into pieces all which resists it. Those words have also depths of tenderness, depths of wisdom, into which eighteen centuries have looked down and never yet seen the last of their meaning. Advancing time does hut broaden the interpretation of the wisdom and the sympathy of those words. Applications of their significance are being discovered by Christian souls in forms as new and manifold as the claims of human need. The Church collectively is like one sanctified mind meditating incessantly upon the Incarnation; attaining more and more to an understanding of that character as it widens in a circle of glory round the form of its historical manifestation-considering how those words may be applied not only to self, but to humanity. The new wants of each successive generation bring new help out of that inexhaustible store. The Church may have "decided opinions"; but she has not the "deep slumber" which is said to accompany them. How can she be fast asleep who is ever learning from a teacher Who is always supplying her with fresh and varied lessons? The Church must be ever learning, because the anointing which "taught" once for all is also ever "teaching."

This profound saying is therefore chiefly true of Christians as a whole. Yet each individual believer may surely have a part in it. "There is a teacher in the heart who has also a chair in heaven." "The Holy Spirit who dwells in the justified soul," says a pious writer, "is a great director." May we not add that He is a great catechist? In difficulties, whether worldly, intellectual, or spiritual, thousands for a time helpless and ignorant, in presence of difficulties through which they could not make their way, have found with surprise how true in the sequel our text has become to them. For we all know how different things, persons, truths, ideas may become, as they are seen at different times and in different lights, as they are seen in relation to God and truth or outside that relation. The bread in Holy Communion is unchanged in substance; but some new and glorious relation is superadded to it. It is devoted by its consecration to the noblest use manward and Godward, so that St. Paul speaks of it with hushed reverence as "The Body." [1 Corinthians 11:29] It seems to be a part of the same law that some one-once perhaps frivolous, commonplace, sinful-is taken into the hand of the great High Priest, broken with sorrow and penitence, and blessed; and thereafter he is at once personally the same, and yet another higher and better by that awful consecration to another use. So again with some truth of creed or catechism which we have fallen into the fallacy of supposing that we know because it is familiar. It may be a truth that is sweet or one that is tremendous. It awaits its consecration, its blessing, its transformation into a something which in itself is the same, yet which is other to us. That is to say, the familiar truth is old, in itself: in substance and expression. It needs no other, and can have no better formula. To change the formula would be to alter the truth; but to us it is taught newly with a fuller and nobler exposition by the unction which is "ever teaching," whereby we "know all things."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 2:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-john-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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