1 John 4 and 5
God’s love, in contrast with man’s is distinguished by this, that while man must have something to drew out his love (as it is said, “For a good man some would even dare to die; but God commendeth his love to usward, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”), God’s love is without motive, there being nothing attractive in the object that draws it out. “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” God’s love sees no good in us. The brightest proof of God’s love and man’s enmity was seen in the cross: they met there, and thus shewed the superiority of God’s love; as Jethro says, “In the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them.” Verse 9 sets out the open manifestation of His love to us while we were yet sinners. We learn His purposes and counsels about us as saints, in the second place, in verse 17— “Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.” This is a very different thing from His first visiting us in our sins. “Herein is love with us made perfect.” The perfectness of God’s love towards His saints is seen in the bringing them to be like Christ Himself. The sovereign grace of God puts the saint into the same place as Christ, that we may have the same kind of fellowship with the Father that Christ had. So in John 14 the Lord says, “My peace I give unto you”—that is, the peace He had with His Father— “not as the world giveth give I unto you.”
The world has the character of a benefactor; and that it sometimes gives generously I do not deny. But then it is by helping a man as he is, out of the resources which it has, which may be all very well; yet, while helping him, it is only taking care of itself. But it is evidently a different thing here; for Christ takes us clean out of our condition, putting us into the same relationship with the Father as Himself. The world cannot give in this way. There is no guarding anything for self in Christ’s unjealous love, but in us there is. Therefore He could say, “Not as the world giveth give I unto you.” His delight was to shew that the Father loved them as He loved Him. “The glory thou hast given me I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Jesus not only loves them Himself, but He will have it known by the world that they are loved by the Father as He Himself is loved. Can there be anything more disinterested than this (although the word “disinterested” fails to give the full meaning)? Still all this is guarded, for Christ ever keeps His place as the eternal Son of God. At the mount of transfiguration, the moment there is the question of putting Moses and Elias on an equality with Jesus, they both disappear, for when Peter said, Let us make three tabernacles, one for Moses and one for Elias, as well as one for the Lord, while he thus spake there came a cloud and overshadowed them, and instantly the glorified men vanished. “And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.” It is not said “hear them,” but “hear him.” “And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone.”
If Christ, in His wondrous grace, reveals Moses and Elias as His companions and associates in the glory, the moment Peter, in his foolishness, gives utterance to the thought that would place them on an equality with Christ, they must both vanish from the scene. It does not say, as the Father loved them, but as “he has loved me” (as a man). For however Christ may bring us unto the same place with Himself, He abides the object of homage and honour, even as the Father. If we elevate ourselves to an equality with Christ, immediately we set ourselves above Him. And it is ever the case thus with flesh. But the more a saint enters into his elevation, as being brought by grace into the same place with Christ, the more he adores Christ as God over all, blessed for evermore. This is ever to be borne in mind.
The thought in verse 17, “as he is, so are we in this world,” is that the saints are in the same place as Christ. If I have righteousness, it is a divine righteousness: “We are made the righteousness of God in him.” If I have life, it is a divine eternal life: “when Christ who is our life shall appear.” If I have glory, it is the same glory: “the glory thou hast given me, I have given them.” If we have an inheritance, we are “joint-heirs with Christ”; if love, it is the same love wherewith the Father loved Christ: “Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.”
The love is the most difficult thing for us to enter into, but the Lord would have our hearts enjoying it. All that we have in Christ is brought out in this passage, in the general expression, “as he is, so are we.” It is the thought and purpose of God’s grace to bless us not only by Christ, but with Christ. Christ could not be satisfied unless it was so, we being the fruit and travail of His soul: “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me”: again, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” The Father’s love is seen in giving His Son for us, and the Son’s love in His giving Himself for us, and thus bringing us into His perfect place.
Some Christians do not give this verse 17 all its power; they refer it simply to our position before God respecting the day of judgment. Whatever judgment may come, the saint has nothing to do with it, for where there is a question about judgment there can be no boldness. There is nothing more comforting than the perfect confidence of having God as my Father. I cannot get the affections in full play if I think God is going to judge me; but I have the Spirit of adoption, and if I sin or do wrong, I run to my Father directly, because I know my Father is not going to judge me for it; for God is my Father, and will not judge (save as a Father, now for my correction, by the way). Therefore boldness is needed for the exercise of the spiritual affections in me; and we ought to remember this, for Christians often shrink from it; but it is evident that, if I am hesitating whether God is going to bless me or to judge me, I cannot love Him.
Then observe another thing—there is a great difference between spiritual desires and spiritual affections, although they both have the same root. The spiritual desires, if the relationship which would meet them be not known, only produce sorrow. Take an orphan, for instance, in a family where the parent’s love to the children is witnessed every day, the sorrowful experience would be, O, that I too had a father! The child who has its parent has the same desires; the relationship existing of parent and child, it knows the joy and gladness which flows from such relationship. So also that we may have joy and gladness as the children of God, we must have the consciousness of the relationship in which we stand to God. It is not merely that we have a divine nature which gives us spiritual desires, but we must also have the consciousness of the relationship into which we are brought by the power of what Christ has done. It is clear there never could be a question between Christ and His Father as to the daily and hourly enjoyment of the consciousness of His Father’s love: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So also He says, “My peace I give unto you.” Again he says, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” The Father’s delight was in Christ, and He knew it in the daily enjoyment of it. And now, “as he is, so are we in this world.”
While Christ lays the ground of our relationship by being the propitiation for our sins and the source of our life, yet it is not by Christ’s righteousness that I get “boldness.” I must be righteous, of course; I cannot have boldness without it; but besides this there is another character God has towards me—that of a Father—and I have another character towards God, as a child. I have not only righteousness, but I am a son. And here I should notice the defectiveness of some of our hymns which call Christ our brother. We never find in Scripture that Christ is called our Elder Brother. In the fulness of His grace He is not ashamed to own and call us His brethren. My father is a man, but I do not call him a man; it would shew a want of filial reverence in me if I did. In nothing is the power of the Spirit of God more shewn in the child of God than the suitableness of his expressions and feelings towards God. If we are really enjoying our place of infinite privilege, the Source and Giver of our privilege will maintain His own proper place in our hearts.
When we are in the mount of God, it always humbles; although when a saint gets down again, he may be proud of having been there: he is never so when there. Paul was not puffed up when he was caught up into the third heavens; but after he had been there, he needed the thorn in the flesh to keep him humble.
“As he is, so are we in this world,” not only in the same standing as to acceptance with God in Christ, but we are brought by the communication of His life into the same relationship as Himself. While in the beginning of the epistle the foundation is laid deep and wide in the blood which cleanses fully, still the grand subject of the epistle is the place into which we are brought. “Herein is love with us made perfect.” If my heart has seized the truth that God as a Father is acting in grace towards me, there is no place for fear. If I have fear I fly to Him, instead of being afraid of Him. If I sin, I fly to Him to pardon it. I could not in my sin fly to my judge, but I have confidence in my Father’s love, and I fly to Him because “perfect love casteth out fear.” The proof of God’s love is that He has given His Son; the perfection of it is, that we are as He is; and fear is cast out even in view of judgment. But if we ask how this came to pass, the answer is, “We love him because he first loved us” (v. 19). There we are brought back to the simplest principles: we love God because He first loved us. We did not come to God because of His loveliness; “we love him because he first loved us.” We do not come in by loving God (this we do after), but we come in as sinners, as debtors to His grace; and then, having come in, so finding God to be what He is—love meeting us in our every need—then we love Him.
Verse 20. Here is a check upon man’s deceitful heart: if a man does not love his brother, he cannot love God. Wherever the divine nature is, it is attractive to one born of God.
Verse 21. We have another important principle in this verse: whatever the energy of the divine life in me, it always will have the character of obedience. While there was in Christ the devotedness of love, there was also obedience. We are to love the brethren as being led by the energy of the Spirit, but I am to love them in the path of holy obedience. There is nothing so humble as obedience, and love never takes us out of the place of obedience. The Lord Jesus said, “As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” When Lazarus was sick, and they sent to Jesus, He abode two days in the same place where He was, because He had no word from His Father; and so, if I have any little service to do for my brother, it must be as in the path of obedience to the word of God. This is what Satan tried to get the Lord out of in the wilderness. Oh, says Satan, have your own will, if it is only in ever so little a bit, by making these stones into bread, now you are hungry. No, the Lord says, it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but,” etc. Here we get a countercheck even to the workings of the divine nature, for if it is not a command, it is not of God, and we are here to obey.
Verse 1. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ.” Here we get the link between God and the family. When any one is born of God, he is my brother. If the question is asked, Who is my brother? How am I to know my brother? Every one that is born of God is my brother. I may have to sorrow over him sometimes, but still he is my brother, because I am related to him by the same divine nature. It is of great importance to remember this in the present day, because, when the Holy Ghost really acts, there will be a constant tendency to follow different courses. There has been an awakening from the dead mass around by the power of the Spirit. There are glimmerings of light: mere stones would be motionless, but there is life; therefore the moving power would lead in different directions, because of what we are. If we were all subject to the Spirit of God, we should all go one way. There is another thing also to be observed—we are not at the beginning of Christianity, but at the dark end, and escaping as it were by different roads. The very fact of the operation of the Spirit would be to produce perfect unity if we were subject, but we are not so.
The remedy for this is for the heart to be in close fellowship with Christ; and in proportion as this is the case, will love for all saints be there. To the same extent as Christ is valued will the saint be valued. In proportion as Christ’s thoughts about His saints are known to me, will all saints be in my thoughts. I do not know Christ’s love aright if one saint is left out; as it is said in Ephesians 3:18, “Ye … may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the height, and depth, and breadth, and length, and to know the love of Christ.” Only can I enter into this in any measure when I embrace all saints. If I should leave one out, I leave out part of Christ’s heart. In Colossians we have “your love to all saints”; and in that epistle we have the fulness of the Head; in Ephesians, the fulness of the body. God’s grace working in me makes every one born of God the object of my affections. I cannot go every way at once, and a real difficulty arises how to walk in fidelity to Christ, and in love to the brethren, so as not to let the affections get into a loose and general way. I cannot be loving God without loving all the children of God. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (v. 2). Now men would say that is reasoning in a circle, but there is in it a deeply practical check against the evil of my own heart. If I love the Father, I shall love the children for the Father’s sake, and not lead them into wrong paths, because this would displease and grieve the Father. If I should lead them into anything wrong, I should prove that I do not love them for the Father’s sake, but for my own pleasure and comfort. If you truly love them, you at the same time love God and keep His commandments. If I knew that a member of Christ’s body is going wrong, does this make me cease to love him? No; but because he is going wrong my soul is more deeply in affection, going out after him, as being one with Christ. To be able to love the brethren faithfully we must keep close to Christ.
Again, we have another counter-check: if one comes to me with a vast amount of truth without holiness, or if there be a great show of holiness and truth be absent, neither is of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Satan never touches that which is born of God; he cannot touch it.
Worldliness is a terrible hindrance to the saint. The world is opposed to the Father, as the flesh opposes the Spirit, and the devil opposes Christ.
The difficulty lies in not maintaining nearness to Christ, which the world would come in and hinder. Then I am open to all sorts of error, for I shall not like the trouble to be right if I am not near Christ. It is very troublesome and disagreeable sometimes to have to do with saints: one will not give up this thing, and another that; and if we are at a distance from Christ, we shall be ready to give them up, and shall not take the pains to get them right when they are wrong. So Moses said, when in a wrong spirit, “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom?”
So Paul says, “My little children, for whom I travail in birth,” etc. You have got off the right ground, and I must have you, as it were, born again. I am travailing over again for you, that you may be right, because you belong to Christ. When Paul looked at them in confusion, as they were, away from Christ, he could only say, “I stand in doubt of you”; but when he looks at them as in Christ, he can say, “I have confidence in you through the Lord.”
Faith not only sees Christ in the glory, but sees also the connection between the glory of Christ and the saints, and it is that which enables one to get on. So Moses said of Israel, not only God was their God, but they are “thy people.” The real hindrance is the world. See Gehazi in the king’s court: his heart had drawn in the spirit of the world, and he was able to entertain the world with the mighty actings of the Spirit. The world will be entertained, and it will be entertained with religion if it cannot get anything else. All that I know of the world’s path,” spirit, affections, and conduct is, that it has crucified my Lord; not in its affections and lusts merely, but by wicked hands it has crucified my Master. Suppose it was but yesterday that you had seen Pontius Pilate the governor, the chief priests and elders, putting Christ to death, would you feel happy to-day in holding communion with them? The stain of Christ’s blood is as fresh in God’s sight as if it had been done but yesterday; the time which has elapsed since makes no difference in its moral guilt.
The question then is, Am I to get under the power of this world, or am I to overcome it (in my heart I mean)? When Christ was down here, in all the beauty and attractive grace in which God the Father could delight, there was not found in the world one thought or sentiment of common interest or feeling drawing them to Him. The world in all its classes— rulers, priests, Pharisees, and the multitude—have all been associated in hanging the Son of God upon a gibbet. Such is the world’s heart. If I have seen the glory of Christ’s Person, and see that He is the very Son of God who came down and was turned out by the world, can I be happy with it? The link between the natural thoughts and affections and the world exists in every heart, so that in all kinds of things, even in walking through the streets, I constantly find that which attracts me eye, and my eye affects my heart.
Nothing will overcome the world in my heart but the deep consciousness of how it has treated Christ. Take my children, for instance: do I want them to get on well in the world? must I have good places for them in it? Nothing but knowing the place Christ had in it will overcome the world in my heart. There is no possibility of getting on with God unless the world is given up, and the heart is satisfied with Christ. Christ must be everything. Look at Abraham’s history: he sojourned in a strange country where he had not a place so much as to set his foot on. So we are not of the world; and this is the test of our affections, for as we are not at once taken out of the evil, we must have our hearts exercised to godliness. It is very easy to overcome the world when the love of Christ has made it distasteful. Satan is the god of this world. Perhaps you will say, That is true of the heathen world. Yes, but it is not true of the heathen world only. Although it was not till after the rejection of Christ that it was brought out, it was true before. God had spoken by His servants and prophets, and the world had beaten one, and stoned another, and killed another; then He said, I will send my beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him. But Him they crucified, thus proving that Satan was the master of man. So the Lord said, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee.” You will not have spiritual discernment or power of motive unless the heart be kept near to Christ. I shall not want the world if Christ is in my heart. If my delight is in that in which God delights, that is, in Christ, then I can overcome. Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God the Father.
What! must I do everything to Christ? Oh, that very question proves a heart away from Christ, shewing it bondage for you to do all to the glory of God. It is not that we are to scorn the world in the least, for God’s grace is for every poor sinner that will receive it. It is the spirit of the world in my own heart which I have to overcome—that which my heart is in danger of being led by.
The three points we have looked to, then, have been—first, perfect love with us. There is not merely the manifestation of God’s love to the saint, but association with Christ’s life, putting us into relationship with God. Secondly, love to every saint; but we are to love them as God’s children, and keep ourselves in the exercise of love to God and keeping His commandments. Thirdly, we are to overcome the world. The heart, resting on, looking to, eating, feeding on, Christ, gets the consciousness of what the world is, and it overcomes. The Lord keep us in humble dependence on Himself. His grace is sufficient for us; His strength is made perfect in our weakness.