The closing verses of chapter 1 have shown us that we cannot say
that we have no sin, nor that we have not sinned. The opening words of
chapter 2 act as a counter-balance, lest we should rush to the
conclusion that we can excuse ourselves for sinning by assuming that we
can hardly help it, that it is practically inevitable. It is nothing of
the kind. John wrote these things that we might not sin. Other
scriptures speak of special provision made to keep us from falling: the
point here is that, if we enter into the holy fellowship of which 1
John 1: 3 speaks, we shall be preserved. The enjoyment of that
fellowship excludes sin; just as sin excludes from the enjoyment of
that fellowship, until it is confessed.
There is ample provision made for us that we may not sin, even
though sin is still in us. We ought not to sin. There is no excuse for
us if we do sin; but there is, thank God! "an Advocate with the Father"
for us in that case. The word translated, Advocate, here is the same as
is translated, Comforter, in John 14-a word meaning literally, "One
called alongside to help." The risen One, Jesus Christ the righteous,
has been called
alongside the Father in glory for the help of His saints, if and when they sin. The Holy Spirit has been called
along to our side here below for our help.
It is "the Father," you notice. That is because the Advocate appears
for those who are already the children of God. The first words of the
chapter are, "My children" (N. Trans.)-the word used is not the one
meaning "babes," but one for "children" in a more general way. In this
loving way the aged Apostle embraced as his own all the true children
of God. We have been introduced into this blessed relationship by the
Saviour, as John 1: 12 tells us. Being in the relationship, we need the
services of the Advocate when we sin.
The righteousness of our Advocate is stressed. We might have
expected that His kindness and mercy would be: yet we find elsewhere
that emphasis is laid on righteousness when sin is in question, and so
it is here. The One who takes up our case in the Father's presence when
we sin, will see to it that righteousness shall prevail. The
Father's glory shall
not be tarnished by our sin, on the one hand. And, on the other hand,
He will deal with us righteously, so that we may come to a proper and
righteous judgment of our sin, be brought to confession, and be
forgiven and cleansed.
He who is our Advocate on high is also "the propitiation for our
sins." This fact brings us back to the rock foundation upon which all
rests. By His propitiatory sacrifice every claim of God against us has
been met, and He takes up His advocacy with the Father upon that
righteous basis. His propitiation has settled for us
as sinners the eternal questions which our sins have raised. His advocacy now settles the paternal questions which are raised. when
as children of God we sin.
Propitiation is what we may call the Godward side of the death of
Christ. It is concerned with the most fundamental matter of all; the
meeting of the Divine claims against sin. The meeting of the sinner's
need must be secondary to that. Hence when we have the Gospel unfolded
by Paul in the epistle to the Romans, we find that the first mention of
the death of Christ is "a propitiation through faith in His blood"
(Romans 3: 25). We do not get substitution clearly stated until
reaching Romans 4: 25, we read of Him as "delivered for our offences."
Being the Godward aspect of His death the widest possible circle is
in view-"the whole world." When the substitutionary side is stated
believers only are in view: it is "our offences," or, "the sins of
many." But though only believers stand in the realized benefits of the
death of Christ, God needs to be propitiated in regard to every sin
that ever has been committed by men, in regard to the whole great
outrage which sin has wrought. He has been thus propitiated in the
death of Christ, and because of this He can freely offer forgiveness to
men without compromising in the smallest degree one feature of His
nature and character.
Propitiation is a word which often rouses to much wrath and scorn!
fulness many opponents of the Gospel. They assume that it means what it
does among the heathen-the pacifying by much blood-shedding of some
angry, antagonistic and blood-thirsty power. But in the Scriptures the
word is lifted on to an altogether higher plane. It still carries the
general sense of appeasing or rendering favourable by sacrifice, but
there is no ground for regarding God as antagonistic or blood-thirsty.
He is infinitely holy. He is righteous in all His ways. He is of
eternal majesty. His very nature, all His attributes must receive their
due, and be magnified in the exaction of the appropriate penalty: yet
He is not against man but for him, for what righteousness has demanded
love has supplied. As we read presently in our epistle, "He loved us,
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4: 10).
God Himself provided the propitiation. His own Son, who was God, became
it. Propitiation, rightly understood, is not a degrading idea but
uplifting and ennobling. The only thing degrading is the idea of the
matter falsely entertained by those who oppose. They attempt to foist
their degraded idea into the Gospel, but the Word of God refutes their
We now pass to the consideration of another claim that was being
made falsely on occasions-"I know Him." It is indeed possible for the
believer to say with great gladness that he knows God, inasmuch as
"fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" is granted
to us, and there can be no fellowship without knowledge. Still, again a
test is needed lest such a claim be mere pretension. The test is that
of obedience to the commandments which He has given to us. The
of Him is inseparably connected with obedience to Him.
In keeping His commandments we know that we have come to know Him.
Apart from this obedience there cannot be this knowledge, and the
claim, if made, would only reveal that the truth is not in the
claimant. Compare verse 4 with 1 John 1: 8. The truth is not in the one
to have no sin, any more than it is in the one who claims
to have the knowledge of God, and yet is not obedient to His commandments.
Let us clearly grasp the fact that there are commandments in
Christianity, though they are not of a legal order: and by that we
mean, not given to us in order that we may thereby either establish or
maintain our footing before God. Every definite expression of God's
will has the force of a command, and we shall find this epistle has a
great deal to say to us about His commandments, and they "are not
grievous" (v. 3). The law of Christ is a law of liberty, inasmuch as we
are brought into His life and nature.
From keeping His commandments we pass, in verse 5, to keeping His
word. This is a further thing. His word covers all that He has revealed
to us of His mind and will, including of course His commandments, but
going beyond them. A man might give his sons many definite
instructions-his commandments. But beyond these his sons have gleaned
an intimate knowledge of his mind from the daily communications and
intercourse of years, and with filial devotion they carefully observe
his word even when they have no definite instructions. So it should be
with the children of God. And, when it is so, the love of God is
"perfected" in such, for it has produced in them its proper effect and
Moreover, by such obedience we know "that we are in Him." Our being
"in Him" involves our participation in His life and nature. There is of
course a very intimate connection between knowing "that we know Him,"
(ver. 3) and knowing "that we are in Him," (ver. 5). The second
introduces us to a deeper thing. Angels know Him, and obey His
commands. We are to know Him, as those who are in Him, and hence the
slightest intimation of His thought or desire should be understood by
us, and incite us to glad obedience.
Being in Him, we are to "abide in Him;" which means, as we
understand it, abide in the consciousness and power of being in Him.
Now it is easy for any of us to say, "I abide in Him," but if so we
must produce that which proves the claim to be real. Such an one "ought
himself also so to walk, even as He walked." If we are in His life, and
also in the power and enjoyment of it, that life is bound to express
itself in our ways and activities just as it did in Him. The grace and
power of our walk, compared with His, will be poor and feeble; yet it
will be walk of the same order. The difference will not be in kind but
only in degree.
What extraordinary elevation then is to characterize our walk! How
far beyond the standard that was accepted in Old Testament times! When
John wrote these words a good many may have felt inclined to protest
that he was setting too high a standard and introducing what was
entirely new. Hence in verse 7 he assures them that what he was saying
was not new- in the way that the teachings of the antichrists were
new-but rather an old commandment. At the same time it was in another
sense a new commandment. There is no contradiction here, though there
is a paradox. It was an old commandment, for it had been from the
beginning set forth in Christ, as being God's holy will and pleasure
for man: and so there was nothing about it which resembled the new
notions of the Gnostics. Still it was a new commandment, for now it was
to be set forth in those that were Christ's, and hence came as a new
thing for them. The thing, said John, "is true in Him and in you." The
life which was manifested in Christ, and which at the first was
exclusively in Him, is now to be found in believers, who are in Him. As
they abide in Him the life will express itself in them in the same way,
and bring forth similar fruits.
And so we read, "the true light now shineth." There is the closest
possible connection between life and light. If the true life was
manifested in Christ, the true light equally shone in Him. If we have
part in that true life, the true light will also shine in us. "The
darkness is passing," is what the Apostle wrote, and not, "is past." We
must wait for the world to come to say it is past: yet clearly it is
passing away, for the true light has begun to shine in Christ and in
those that are His. When God acts in judgment and the false life and
light of this world are put out, then the darkness will be past indeed.
At present we can rejoice in the assurance that it is passing, and that
the true light is shining. The more we walk as He walked, the more
effectively the light will shine through us.
But further, if the light is now going to shine in and through us,
we ourselves must be in the light. Do we claim to be in the light?
Well, there is a simple test by which it may be known if that claim is
a genuine one. If any one says he is in the light and yet he hates his
brother his claim is false, and he is in darkness; that is, he does not
really know God-he is not in the light of God revealed in Christ. No
one can be in the light of God who is not in the life of God, which is
love. Hence a little later in the epistle we read, "He that loveth not
his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3: 14). So now we discover that
life, light and love all go together; and in the very nature of things
they act as tests, the one upon the other. The one who loves his
the life, according to 1 John 3. Here the point is that he abides in
John adds the remark, "there is none occasion of stumbling in him."
This is in contrast to what follows in verse 11, where the one who
hates his brother is described as being in darkness, walking in
darkness, and not knowing where he is going. We have no light in
ourselves, just as the moon only has light when it is in the light of
the sun. So the one who hates his brother, being in darkness, is all
dark himself, and consequently becomes an occasion of stumbling to
others. He stumbles himself and acts as a stumbling-block. Such were
the antichrists and their followers. The one who loves, as the fruit of
having the divine life, walks in the light, and neither stumbles nor is
The loving of one's brother is of course the loving of each and all
who equally with ourselves are begotten of God. It is the love of the
divine nature, extended to each who has entered the divine
family,-loving children of God as children of God, apart from all human
likes or dislikes.
A fresh paragraph begins with verse 12. In 1 John 1: 4, John indicated the
themes as to which he wrote. Now we have the
which he wrote. All those whom he addressed stood in the wonderful
grace of sins forgiven, and all were in the children's place. The word
translated "little children" is the one for children rather than babes.
It includes all the children of God without distinction. The
forgiveness which is ours has reached us solely for His Name's sake.
The virtue, the merit is wholly His. As forgiven, and brought into
divinely formed relationship, we are addressed.
On the other hand, there
are distinctions in the family of
God, and they are brought before us in verse 13. There are "fathers,"
"young men," and "little children," or "babes." In this way John
indicated the differing stages of spiritual growth. We all must of
necessity begin as babes in the divine life. Normally we should develop
into young men, and finally become fathers. Each of the three classes
is characterized by certain things.
Verse 13, then, states
the characteristic features of those
to whom he writes, not the themes concerning which he writes, nor the
basis on which he writes. The fathers are characterized by the
knowledge of Him that is from the beginning; that is, they were matured
in the knowledge of Christ, that "Word of life," in whom the eternal
life had been manifested. They really knew the One in whom had been
revealed all that is to be known of God. All other knowledge shrinks
into insignificance compared with this knowledge. The fathers had it.
The young men were characterized by having overcome the wicked one.
Later verses in the chapter show more exactly the force of this. They
had overcome the subtle snares of the devil through antichristian
teachings, by having been built up in the Word of God. In our earlier
years as believers, before we have had time to be well grounded in the
teachings of the Word, we are much more likely to be led away by subtle
teachings contrary to the Word, and thus overcome by the wicked one.
This is the danger to which the babes are exposed, as we shall see.
Yet they have a beautiful feature characterizing them-they know the
Father. The human babe soon manifests the instinct which enables it to
recognize its parents; and so it is with the children of God. They have
His nature, so they know Him. There are many things for them still to
learn about the Father, yet they know the Father. As the children of
God let us be exercised that we do not remain babes. There we must
begin, but let us aim at that acquaintance with the Word of God which
will develop our spiritual growth, and lead us to become young men and
even fathers in due season.
Having given, in verse 13, the features which characterize
respectively the fathers, young men and little children, the Apostle
begins, in verse 14, his special message to each of the three. He
commences again with the fathers.
His message to them is marked by the utmost brevity; moreover it is
expressed in exactly the same words as those used in the previous
verse, when he described their characteristic feature. This is
remarkable, and we may well inquire what is the reason for it. The
reason we believe to be that when we come to the knowledge of "Him that
is from the beginning" we reach the knowledge of God in a fulness which
is infinite and eternal, beyond which there is nothing. He who is
"Son," and "the Word," the "Word of life," manifested amongst us, is
the One that is from the beginning. In Him God is known to us, and
there is nothing beyond this knowledge of such infinite profundity.
Now the fathers knew Him in this deep and wonderful way. The God who
is love had become the home of their souls and dwelling in love they
dwelt in God and God in them. They had but to go on deepening in this
blessed knowledge. Nothing needed to be said to them beyond this.
The young men had not as yet grown up to this, but they were on the
way to it. They were characterized by having overcome the wicked one,
as verse 13 told us. We now learn how this overcoming had been brought
to pass. They had been made strong by the Word of God abiding in them.
We all enter upon the Christian life as little children, but if healthy growth marks us we advance to be young men. Now the
the Word of God must come first. We cannot abide in that of which we
are ignorant. Here then we are brought face to face with the reason why
so many true believers of many years standing have remained little
children-just stunted babes. They have never become really acquainted
with the Word of God. The great adversary of the work of God knows the
need of this right well, and it is easy to see the skill of his deeply
laid designs in the light of this fact.
Romanism takes the Scriptures out of the hands of its votaries on
the ground that, being God's Word, it is far above the layman and only
fit to be in the hands of the doctors of the church, who alone can
interpret it. Modernism is prevalent in the Protestant world. In its
full-blown form it denies the Word of God entirely: the Bible is to
them only a collection of doubtful legends interspersed with obsolete
religious reflections. In its diluted form-which often seduces real
Christians, and therefore is the more mischievous as regards
ourselves-it weakens the authority of the Word, and therefore dooms its
followers to perpetual spiritual babyhood. And where these evils are
absent, so frequently people are content to take their knowledge of the
Word from the texts upon which their minister may happen to preach.
They do not read, and mark and learn and inwardly digest the Word for
themselves. Hence their growth also is stunted.
But the Word is not merely to be known,
it is to abide in us. It
is to dwell in our thoughts and in our affections; in this way it will
control us, governing the whole of our lives. If that point is reached
by any of us, then it can be said that we are strong, for our lives
will be founded upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. Even so
however, strength is not everything, for we have yet to be conducted to
that knowledge of Him that is from the beginning, which characterizes
The young men are faced by a danger which, if it prevails, will
hinder them advancing still further into this blessed knowledge. That
danger is the world, and the love of it: not merely of the world as an
abstract conception, but of the concrete, material things that are in
the world. We
use a great many of these things, and occasionally at least we
enjoy them, but we are not to
That which we love dominates us, and we are not to be dominated by the
world but by the Father. The love of the world and the love of the
Father are mutually exclusive. We cannot be possessed by both. It must
be one or the other. Which possesses us?
If the love of the Father possesses us, we shall see the world in
its true light. We shall possess a spiritual faculty which acts after
the fashion of the much prized X-rays. We shall get down beneath the
surface of things to the skeleton framework on which all is built. That
skeleton is revealed to us in verse 16 as, "The lust of the flesh, and
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life;" all of which spring not
from the Father but are wholly of the world.
The lust of the flesh is the desire of
having-the desire to possess oneself of those things that minister to the flesh. The lust of the eyes is the desire of
with the eyes of the head or with those of the mind, all the things
that minister to one's pleasures. It would cover man's restless
intellectual cravings as well as his continual hunt for spectacular
pleasures. The pride of life is the desire of
yearning to be somebody, or something that ministers to pride of heart.
This is the most deep-seated evil of the three, and often the
Here then we have exposed for us the framework on which the world
system is built; every item of it totally opposed to the Father, and to
that world which is to come, when the present world order is displaced.
"The world passeth away," we are told, and so does the lust of it. We
are not surprised to hear it. What a mercy that it does, for what
greater calamity could there be than that the world and its lusts
should be perpetuated for ever! The world will disappear; the Father
and His world will abide. We shall indeed be foolish if we are filled
with love for that which vanishes away instead of love for Him who
How striking the contrast in verse 17! We might have expected the
end of the verse to have been, "but the Father abides." That however is
so obvious as hardly to need stating. "He that doeth the will of God
abideth for ever;" that is the wonderful fact. It is the world that
passes away. When believers die we remark that So-and-so has "passed
away." The world gets on very well without them and seems perfectly
stable. The Apostle John views things from the Divine side, and helps
us to do the same. Then we see the world about to pass away, and the
doer of the will of God, though he be withdrawn from earthly scenes, is
the one who abides for ever. He serves the will of God. The will of God
is fixed and abiding. The servant of that will is abiding too.
From verse 18, onwards to verse 27, the "little children," or
"babes," are addressed. Without any preface the Apostle plunges into a
warning against the anti-christian teachers which were beginning to
abound. "Antichrist" is a sinister personage, whose appearance in the
last days is predicted. He is not yet come, yet many lesser men, who
bear his evil character in greater or smaller degree, have long been on
the scene. This shows us that we are in the last time; that is, the
epoch immediately preceding the time when evil will come to a head and
meet with summary judgment.
Now the antichrists, who had appeared when John wrote, had once
taken their place amongst the believers, as verse 19 shows. By this
time however they had severed their connection and gone out from their
midst By this act they made it manifest that they never really belonged
to the family of God-they were not "of us." The true believer is
characterized by holding fast the faith. They had forsaken it and gone
out from the Christian company, thereby revealing that they had no
vital connection with the children of God. The real child of God has an
Unction from the Holy One, and this was just what the antichrists had
The "Unction" of verse 20 is the same as the "Anointing" of verse
27, and the reference in each case is to the Holy Spirit. Indwelling
the children of God, He becomes the Source whence proceeds their
spiritual understanding. Now the simplest babe in the Divine family has
received the Anointing, and so may be said to "know all things." The
know is the one meaning
inward, conscious knowledge. If
it be a question of acquired knowledge, there are ten thousand details
of which at present the babe is ignorant, but the Anointing gives him
that inward capacity which brings all things within his reach. He knows
all things potentially, though not yet in detail.
Hence even the babe may be said to "know the truth," and he
possesses the ability to differentiate between it and what is a lie. He
may at the moment only know the Gospel in its simplest elements; yet in
the Gospel he has truth undiluted-foundation truth out of which all
subsequent truth springs-and every lie of the devil can be detected if
it be placed by way of contrast against the bright background of the
Every lie of the devil is in some way aimed at the truth concerning
the Christ of God. He is no mean marksman, and even when he appears to
be directing his shots at the outer rings of the target he is
calculating on a rebound action which will ultimately land them fairly
on to the bulls-eye. In the Apostle's day he aimed at the centre
openly. The antichrists boldly denied that Jesus was the Christ: they
denied the Father and the Son. In our day some of them are still doing
this. Many more however hardly do this; they introduce teachings of a
more subtle kind, not so harmful on the surface but ultimately leading
to just the same denials, whereby the centre of the target is hit.
The Antichrist, when he appears, will be the full and perfect denial
of the Father and the Son. He will "magnify himself above every god,
and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods." (Dan. 11:
36), and this prediction is amplified in 2 Thessalonians 2: 4. The
"many antichrists" who have preceded him all run on similar lines.
Their denials relate more particularly to the Son who has been
manifested on earth, and they may profess that they have nothing to say
as to the Father or against Him. Such a profession is unavailing. To
deny the Son is to deny the Father. To confess the Son is to have the
Father also. Though distinct in person They are one in the Godhead, and
he who has the Anointing (the Holy Spirit), who also is one with Them
in the Godhead, knows this right well, and is not likely to be deceived
on the point.
The whole drift of the
Old Testament is that Jesus is the Christ, as is shown by Acts 17: 2, 3. The truth as to the Father and the Son is disclosed in the
It is not that just then the relationship of the Father and the Son
began to be; but that this eternally existing relationship in the
Godhead was then for the first time fully disclosed. The fellowship
into which we are brought is with the Father and the Son, as we were
told in the opening of the epistle; and therefore the denial of this
truth must be destructive of our fellowship.
It is worthy of note that error most frequently takes the form of
denying truth. Denials are dangerous: they should be issued with care,
based upon wide knowledge. Usually more knowledge is needed to deny
than to assert. For instance, I may assert that a certain thing is in
the Bible, and I need know but one verse in the Book, where it is
stated, in order to prove what I say. If I deny that it is in the
Bible, I shall need to know the Bible from beginning to end, before I
am sure I cannot be successfully contradicted.
From the beginning then Jesus had been manifested as the Christ, and
as Son He had revealed the Father. To this knowledge even the babes had
come and it was to abide in them, as also it is to abide in us. Jesus
is the Christ, that is, the Anointed One: we have received the
Anointing so that the truth may abide in us, and then as a consequence,
we shall abide in the Son and in the Father.
The Apostle Paul instructs us that we are "in Christ" as the fruit
of God's gracious work. The Apostle John instructs us as to the
revelation of the Father and the Son, and as to the communion
established in connection with that relationship, into which each child
of God-even the youngest babe-is brought, so that we may continue "in
the Son and in the Father." The Son comes first, since we can only
continue in the Father as we continue in Him. To "continue" is to abide
in the conscious knowledge and enjoyment of the Son and the Father,
possible for us inasmuch as we are born of God and have received the
This continuing in the Son and in the Father is eternal life. There
was the promise of eternal life even "before the world began," as
stated in Titus 1: 2. The Lord Jesus spoke of eternal life as, "that
they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast
sent" (John 17: 3). Verse 25 of our chapter carries this a step
further. He who abides in the Son and in the Father is abiding in the
life which is eternal. The Eternal Life had been manifested and had
been seen; but that had been the privilege of the Apostles only. Now we
may possess that life and be in it; and this is for all of us, for
these things were written to the babes in the family of God.
All this the Apostle had been saying in order to fortify the babes
against the seducing teachers. In verse 27 he reverts again to the
Anointing, for it was by the Spirit given to them that all these things
were made available for them. What a comfort it is to know that the
Anointing abides in us. There is no variation or failure there. Again
the Anointing not only abides but teaches of all things. Instruction
may reach us from without, but it is by the Holy Spirit that we have
the capacity to take it in. We do not need that any man should teach
us. This remark is not in tended to discredit teachers whom the Lord
may have raised up and gifted to do His work, otherwise we might use it
to discredit the very epistle we are reading. It is intended to make us
realize that even gifted teachers are not absolutely indispensable, but
the Anointing is.
The Anointing Himself is truth. This is repeated in slightly
different words in chapter 5: 6. Christ is the truth as an Object
before us. The Spirit is truth, bringing it into our hearts by divine
teaching. To these babes John could say, "even as it hath taught you,"
for the Anointing was already theirs.
Thank God, the Anointing is ours also. Hence for us also the word
is, "Ye shall abide in Him." We may be but babes; our knowledge may be
small; but may nothing divert us from this life and communion in which
we are set. It all centres in Him. Let us abide in Him.
The paragraph especially addressed to the babes, or "little
children," which begins at verse 18, ends at verse 27. We have the
words "little children" in verse 28, but the word there is not the one
meaning "babes," but the word for "children" in a more general sense,
the same word as is used in verses 1 and 12, and also in 1 John 3: 7,
10 and 18.
With verse 28, then, the Apostle resumes his address to the whole
family of God, to all those who are His children, irrespective of their
spiritual growth or state. He had just assured the babes that the
Anointing was theirs, and that consequently they might "abide in Him."
Now he turns to the whole family of God and exhorts them to "abide in
Him." What is good for the babes is good for all, and this abiding is
the way of all spiritual fruitfulness and growth. When we are diverted
from Him and our hearts' affections and interests abide in the things
of the world, then we are feeble and unfruitful. The Apostle looked on
to the manifestation of Christ, when all of us will stand revealed in
our true character; and he desired that we all may have confidence in
that day and not be ashamed.
He will be manifested, and we too shall be manifested at His coming;
and there is evidently the possibility of the believer being put to
shame in that solemn hour. It is very likely that in these words the
Apostle indicated his own sense of responsibility toward them, and he
wished them to do him credit-if we may so put it-in that day. But they
also surely indicate that we each may be put to shame on our own
account. Let us each so really abide in Him that we may be fruitful now
and have confidence then; and so neither we may be put to shame nor
those who have laboured over us, whether as evangelists or shepherds.