1 John 4:9-18
If we look at man, we shall find his whole history in the history of Adam. What Adam was in the garden, man has been ever since, from the garden to the cross. God tried man, but man only marred all he was trusted with.
When God chose a nation it was no better. The people were idolaters, the kings rebellious, the priests soiled their garments, so that they could not stand before God. Whatever God has given in creation, providence, law, or grace, man has abandoned. When the Lord from heaven came, the iniquitous nation rejected Him. But He never fails, and God will prove His love and wisdom by meeting His own people in every single thing, in which man has broken down. All will come out in glory, as the positive fruit of the cross. We learn a great deal more of what God is by knowing man; and we learn a great deal more of what man is by knowing God. If we look at the church, man is just the same. The mystery of iniquity working, the spirit of demons amongst them, the love of many waxing cold, until there is not one righteous one left, but all closes in perfect ruin.
God gives a power apart from man. He gives a new life— a life in His Son. In virtue of Him, it cannot fail. It is eternal life—life in Christ. God was perfectly manifested in the Son, when He came down from heaven to give life. But this is not enough. What about my sins? Where are my sins? To have life without the question of sin being settled will not do. Christ had them on the cross. Christ came down from heaven to put my sin away, and He did put it away and can say, “at that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Christ’s life is in me— “eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” I have His life, not His Godhead, of course. As surely as I have partaken of the life and nature of the first Adam, so have I life in the second Adam. “If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation.” The divine nature is there. It is in a poor earthen vessel, it is true; but the nature is divine, and I should be shewing it out in my life and character.
The more I know of God, the more shall I exhibit what He is. The more I look at Him, the more I shall be like Him. What made Moses’ face to shine? Was it looking at himself? No. It was being with Jehovah and looking at His glory. Moses did not know that his face was shining until he was asked to veil it. He was not occupied with himself: the object before him was God. He had been looking at God, he was absorbed in God, and so shews out God’s glory. It will be the same with us. If Christ is the object before me, I shall not be thinking of myself, but of Him. I shall be exhibiting Him, dwelling upon what He is, and not upon what I am doing. If my eye is upon Christ, I shall resemble Him (feebly indeed) in holiness, and humbleness, and love. I find it in Him in all its blessedness and beauty; I see it in all its perfect-ness, and in looking at Him, I am changed into His image. In Him there is all the new nature can crave or desire. In Him I can rest, and delight, and rejoice.
What never-ending joy to know the Son of God is come! Satan works, it is true, but “ye are of God.” This settles the whole thing. No longer of the old nature, living and acting according to the life of the first Adam; but in the power of the new nature, that we derive from God. What a thing to be partakers of the divine nature, made higher than angels. This is a most blessed truth, “Ye are of God,” of Him, whose nature is divine. And this divine nature cannot be in us, but by Himself. Christ has washed us from our sins in. His own most precious blood. He has baptised us from above with the Holy Ghost and sealed us with the Spirit of promise. “He who hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit.” He has given us a power which is above Satan’s power. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” “Ye are of God.” I am brought to God. I am born of God. I rest in God. I learn to know God, because I have got the nature that can know Him, just as I could only know what man is by having his nature.
I do not know all about God, that is true; but I have no uncertainty. Suppose I have a friend, I may not know all about him; but he is my friend, and I rejoice in him as such, I have no questionings as to his affections, because I do not know all about him. Well, God is my friend, and I have a blessed rest in knowing Him as my friend. If God is my friend, what more can I need? What can be more blessed? To know God, I must have His nature. I cannot know the nature of what I am not a partaker of. I do not know angels. I am not a partaker of the nature of angels.
We see two things in this chapter which give the soul immense delight. Verse 9 shews us the way God makes His love known. In verse 17 we see how His love is made perfect. In verse 9 God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may have life through Him. That we may have life who were dead, that we may be partakers of a life that flows from the manifestation of God’s love—a life separated altogether from nature and nature’s affections and pleasures. It cannot be linked up with selfishness. And what is my nature: is it not mere selfishness? If I look at my motives from day to day, what shall I find them? Are they not self? Take business (we are not speaking of the Tightness of the thing), what is the motive? Is it not self? We have no idea how we are under the influence of self. Is it not true that the trifles of dress more occupy the thoughts of many than all God has done in sending down His Son from heaven to save sinners? It is a positive fact, and it is no use to try to hide it from ourselves. We cannot hide it from God.
On the other hand, the more I look at this love, the more I see of its perfectness. It is said “for a good man some will even dare to die.” But when there was not one single good thing in us, God commended His love to us. It was purely grace shewn to us in the cross. We were just sinners and nothing but sinners when Christ died to save us. And I can never understand what God’s love really is, until I can say I am merely a sinner. If you do not know what God’s love is, it is because you have not learnt that great truth, that you are but a sinner. What is it that God has given to save sinners? The very nearest thing to His heart, the most precious boon He had to bestow, His own beloved and only-begotten Son. There is no accounting for His love; there is no estimating it. The thing most of all dear to Him was the Son of His bosom, and Him He gave. There is no limit to His love. He has given me Christ, and there is no end to what I have in Him. The Son of God given for my sins, He goes down into these depths and brings up life. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” How can I know that God loves me? By looking at the perfect object of His love, and this gives me rest. Why? Because in Him I see how wondrous is the love that sent down His Son to give me eternal life, and be a propitiation for my sins. If I have not rest, what I want is a deeper sense of sin. I must learn what sin is at the cross; and then I shall see the love that has met it and suffered for it, and thus my soul gets rest.
Christ’s love was not the theory of one who comes and merely tells what God is, but the practical exhibition of Him. He shews out God in all the variety of His unreserved and immeasurable love. Compare verse 12 with verse 18 of John 1, “No man hath seen God at any time”—He “who is [not was] in the bosom of the Father” must declare Him. The Son must tell what can be known of the Father. On Christ hangs everything. All hindrances are gone for the believer through Him; all sin is put away by Him. I here get a place of intimate nearness to God in Him. I have learnt at the cross what God was to me as a sinner; and now I have to learn how He meets my wants as a saint, by feeling my need and bringing it to Him. To be hungry is not enough; I must be really starving to know what is in His heart towards me. When the prodigal was hungry, he went to feed upon husks; but when he was starving, he turned to his father’s house, and then learnt the love of the father’s heart.
In verse 15, how low God comes! “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” How He steps down to meet us, so that every one shall be left without excuse. “Whosoever shall confess.” The babe who can but just confess Christ has eternal life, as truly as the strong man in Christ. It is not a question of what I am, but of what Christ is. I am lost sight of. All hangs on what God is. How can I know His love? Must I wait for its full display? No, He has shed abroad His love in my heart, by the Spirit He has given me. Verse 16, “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” If I am dwelling in God, I am dwelling in love, and should be shewing out love by looking at Him and not at others. Verse 17, this is a wonderful thing to say, “as he is, so are we in this world.” He has taken His seat at God’s right hand, and brings me there.
We are now before God in the righteousness of Christ. He is my life, and I cannot be really, nor ought to appear in anything separated from Him. “Herein is love perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” Does the heart get exercised about judgment? Does the thought of standing before it distress you? Why should it be so? Is not He, my righteousness, the judge? Has He not perfectly put away my sin and purged my conscience from all guilt, so that I can rest in God without fear; having no longer any painful uncertainty, but calmly looking forward in the full assurance that Christ has been judged in my stead, and brought me into blessed fellowship with that love, which gives me boldness in the day of judgment? “As he is, so are we in this world.”
“There is no fear in love.” If there is the smallest doubt or distrust in the heart towards God, you are not made perfect in love; for “perfect love casteth out fear.” There are things to fear, it is true; we may well fear sin, and the influence of our own selfish interests. But the practical effect of resting on God is to cast out all fear, and make the heart perfect in love. His love is perfect. We have but to own it, bow to it, accept it as ours in Christ, and bless Him for it. This is to be made perfect in love.