“Beloved,5 no new commandment I write to you, but an old commandment, which ye had from [the] beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard.6 Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not where he goeth, because the darkness blinded his eyes.”
We have already seen in the verses preceding these, that obedience is the first and most essential sign of possessing divine life. Its essence is not merely doing what is right in itself but doing it on God’s authority and to please Him. One need not hesitate to say that, if a man were always to do what is right simply because it is right, he is always doing wrong; because he leaves out the most important element of all for God Himself and the believer too as His child. The first of all rights is that God should have His rights; whereas to leave out God is exactly what a man does if he acts only because he himself judges what is right. Who, in such a question, is he? What is man to be accounted of? No; God’s will is in question, and therefore the fear of God is always the beginning of spiritual wisdom. Obedience accordingly is the first test of the new and divine life, as just given by the apostle, and particularly in view of lawlessness at work even then among the Christian professors. When man considers himself to be the person to judge, forgetful of the God that is not seen, the entire ground of sure and holy judgment is abandoned. For even supposing him decently moral and correct outwardly, a man walking simply on his own judgment of what comes before him is necessarily without obedience rendered to God. And without obeying Him all is wrong, and radically inconsistent with the responsibility of a Christian.
But there is another moral principle that comes after that in point of treatment here, but goes along with it also from the first. The reason is plain: both flow from Christ. For He is the life; and Christ’s expression of it here below in word and deed gives the standard for knowing what life eternal really is, but does not speak merely of a theory or a doctrine. Life is the most intimate of all things for the creature, the most absolutely necessary in order to feel or judge, be anything, or do anything in spontaneous existence. All men have the natural life of man fallen under the power of sin and death; what can this avail with God or for us? It may do a deal of evil, but it can never lead to what will please God. Christ alone and always pleased Him perfectly; and it is the life of Christ which is our life now. He is the giver of life to everyone who believes with the heart. The first man brought in death; the Second Man is a quickening spirit. It was in the eternal Word; and as man He received from the Father to have life in Himself, but He gives life to those that receive Him. He quickens equally with the Father.
There is nothing that more characterises God than creating and giving life; but the philosophers that lack faith have not yet got to know what life is, or where it is. Some are looking with eager desire for its trace in the crucible. They expect to learn the secret from chemical experiments. Metaphysicians are not a whit wiser in interrogating reason, excellent for testing inference, but incapable of discovering the truth. But these and the like devices of men may be all well enough in matters elemental which belong to the material or the mental domain. But think of life, and what the judgment is worth that expects or at least longs to discover it as the result of any such research!
No; the life of man originally and immediately came from God; it was given by the inbreathing of God. This is the reason why he alone has an immortal soul. Other animals had a suited soul and life, but this did not come from God’s breath; it was merely of God’s will and power. He allowed their temporary existence; but this is wholly different from breathing personally into the nostrils of man, a way never applied to any other creature on the earth. Man only was thus favoured. The recognition of this difference clears up the ground of man’s moral being and accountability; namely, the immortality of his soul.
But there is a privilege immeasurably greater than simply being immortal in the sense of the soul’s perpetual existence. For it may have an issue unspeakably awful. Think of a perpetual existence in the lake of fire! Every one must come under the everlasting judgment of God, if he reject His Son: never-ceasing existence to suffer, and to suffer at the hand of God, because one stubbornly and wilfully refuses to believe that He in grace suffered thus judicially that the guilty might never suffer from Him, but only be blessed for ever! How rich God’s mercy to proclaim salvation to the lost because Christ bore sin’s judgment on the cross! And if I believe not on Him, nor in the glad tidings of what God wrought by Him, where am I? Under the power of Satan, the unrelenting power of the enemy that hates both God and man. But man cannot have non-existence. This becomes the terrible guilt of the sinner who would if he could make himself non-existent. He may commit suicide; but he must give account of it to God. For God gave him life; and who gave him licence to make away with that life by his own hand? How could such wicked folly work for any good? If murder in any shape be such as to denote a dark and deadly crime, self-murder is one of its worst forms, and a direct and extreme insult to God. As Jesus was ever the perfectly obedient One, it flowed from a life expressly eternal. In us who believe this does not always act, because flesh may work to our shame; but the new life, being eternal, always remains for due activity. The old life may break forth through unguardedness and lack of watching to prayer; for the old life, or mind of the flesh, is there too, and enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). It is man’s own will; and whom is he obeying then? Satan. For man’s will surely becomes Satan’s service. Such is man’s boasted free-will.
We must never cease to reiterate that life eternal every believer receives at once from Christ. Its first breath in us is when faith begins in the soul: when the sinner bows to Christ as given of God’s grace. Even this, as we have seen, He makes a matter of obedience to our God. It is pointedly His commandment that I shall believe the gospel as well as repent. There is thus true subjection to God in the soul; obedience in this case does not refer to what I am henceforth to do for Him, but from the first time my soul bows to God as a Saviour God through His Son. How blessedly He is giving me life! How wondrously He makes me the object of His love! And what love could be greater than giving His Son to live here for me, that I might have life eternal, except it be giving me the same One who was eternal life to die for my sins, that they might all be completely effaced by an everlasting redemption?
But this new life is the spring not only of obedience but of divine love. For the love here looked for is not merely to God. This last cannot but be when the soul really knows that God in sovereign grace has given him both eternal life, and propitiation too for his sins, in His Only-begotten and beloved Son. But loving one another is what is pressed here, the love of our fellow-Christians.
When saints are young and like the Corinthian Christians not spiritual, they think it an easy thing to love one another. One could wish that they would only try in earnest day by day. If they would but search themselves before God, they might soon learn how much passes for love that is only with word and tongue. It is all easy enough perhaps where everything goes smoothly the right way in our eyes; but when things go contrary to our wishes, there is the rub for such as count it easy to love. This kind of love you may find in any amiable human being, nay in a dog or a cat; but there is nothing divine whatever. But loving our brethren is in the face of a vast deal in us to hinder, and a great deal, it may be quite as much, in them too. It is not with the Christian as it was with Christ. “In Him is no sin.” Sin is exactly what now is in us by nature. It is a pity for any who do not believe it; for they are living in a fool’s paradise about themselves, when fancying themselves perfect now in the practical sense. They are far from perfect in this way. They have not even learnt the Christian perfection of abandoning self, and of finding everything in Christ; and still more when you come to practice every day. We shall never have perfection in ourselves till absolutely conformed to His image. When we judge ourselves in the light, we soon have to grieve over our failure, and with good reason.
Nevertheless the Lord laid it as a solemn injunction on His disciples to love one another. Faith in Him did not stand up for the Jews more than the disparagement of all nations. The love of one’s own people has no small pride in it. We identify ourselves with what we consider peculiar merits, and shining honours. Certainly the Jews were as proud as any nation could be; nor can it be disproved that they had far better appearance for it than their foes. The truth is that no man has any just reason to be proud, but in the dust for his sins against God.
If one may abundantly wonder at what God has wrought, without doubt Israel had incomparably more than any other people. But the truth remains, that the moment we regard things in the light of God, if faithful, we cannot but be humbled for our unworthiness before Him. We find sin in ourselves and in one another. Therefore it must be of the Spirit of God to lift one above all that provokes and tries, all that is contrary not only to what we like but to what we seriously judge to be wrong.
Then comes the severe test of love. Do we persevere in loving even so? We ought not to be indifferent to Christ’s dishonour, nor to the betrayal of God’s truth, nor to unrighteousness, or to any other form of overt sin. But we are called to bear and to forbear, strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to suffer hardness as His good soldiers, to endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. And this is what love really does. There is a rising up to share God’s patience, what Christ proved to the uttermost, as He showed it every day, in almost everything through the day. This did not hinder His denouncing evil against God; nor was this any failure in love. Not to have hated evil would have wronged God’s nature and word; for indifference to evil is the very reverse of holiness. The love of what is good, and the honour of what is righteous, is part of the practical holiness of everyone who is born of God.
But love rises superior to that which is ever so trying to us personally, ever so opposed to our mind or wish. This we in faith can leave to God, and ought to leave it in love. We may reprove, and ought to reprove, what is wrong, save in cases where our doing so would be uncomely; but no matter what may be deplorable, we are called to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21). Nor is this for our own spirits only, but will assuredly flow also toward one another.
It may be also just mentioned that the first word here shows the tendency of man to slip away from the exactness of the word of God. In our Authorised Version the seventh verse begins with “Brethren.” But the apostle does not bring in that designation yet. He will and does say “Brethren” time enough, and but once (1 John 3:13). Our mutual relationship is not his prevailing thought. “Dear children” and “beloved” are his common terms. Here his word of address is exquisitely adapted to the love of which he is going to descant. The true reading means “Beloved.” “Beloved, I write no new commandment.” Can we not see the propriety of it? He is going to speak not of their relationship one to another, though of course this is true in its place; but the form here employed reminds them that they are beloved. It is not necessary to say by whom, though indeed grace had made them dear to the apostle. God Himself also loved them, as Christ manifested it; they were objects of His love who changes not. What so mighty for drawing out love toward one another, the objects of the same love! “Beloved, I write no new commandment, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.”
This old commandment we have in the Gospel of this inspired writer. It is he that brings it out more than any other, if not he only in terms. The. Lord laid it as His fervent injunction on the disciples that they should love one another. This He enjoined in the first of those remarkable chapters of the Gospel wherein He speaks to His disciples in view of His quitting the earth and going to the Father. In John 13:34, 35, we have the new commandment. Let us refer to the context for a moment. “Little (dear) children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said to the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.” His going away is a necessary condition of Christianity. The absence of Christ is from earth in heaven. Till then Christianity did not properly begin, as far as the relationship of the disciples was concerned; though the root of the blessing was in Himself. But their true position as to the Lord and everyone else consequently, their full relationship, was new and learnt consciously after the Lord died, rose, and ascended.
As He intimates His leaving them, He expresses what He desired to be in them and from them. “A new commandment I give unto you” (plainly the reference is direct to the Gospel of John), “that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” That is what is applied here in the Epistle. The Lord gave a commandment which John had already made known in the Gospel. It was given by our Lord when here. Thus we see the ample confirmation of what was said in expounding the first words of the Epistle, that “from the beginning” is altogether distinct from “in the beginning.” Yet there could have been no such “from the beginning,” unless there had been first the Word and Son “in the beginning” before the heavens and the earth. But “from the beginning” means from the time that the eternal Word was here, and in fulness of grace and truth with the disciples, the Word become flesh and tabernacling or dwelling among them. He refers to that very time, “an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” “The old commandment is the word which ye had from the beginning.” “The word which ye heard” certainly was not “in the beginning.”
They heard it from Christ. There never was such a command given before. It was not loving one’s neighbour; the measure and manner as different as its objects, whatever its source. His was divine love going out from and to those that had received life eternal in Christ, and were about to obtain everlasting redemption through His death, objects alike of this divine love. It was a new company, the individuals of which were being prepared for all that was to be theirs, formed as far as could be then in accordance with the eternal life which each possessed in Him. But there was imperative need of His death and resurrection to give it a divine basis which would meet all difficulties and wants, and warrant all privileges whatsoever. But these counsels and ways of God are not particularly the province given to our apostle: we must search the Epistles of Paul for them. John looks at the abstract principles for saints personally and without modification, though modification there is to some extent because of what we are, and because of what the world is. The principles abide however in their own place, and John fully leads the faithful into them. He insists on the divinely given principles to which we are intended to hold fast; and we must depend on a faithful God to get all the difficulties solved by the word through him who wrote for this purpose, chiefly the apostle Paul.
Here our apostle takes his stand on the command to love after the pattern of Christ’s love to us. It was “an old commandment,” because before the death and resurrection of Christ He was still alive and with them on earth. They were as yet Jews; but they had received in their souls that which was infinitely above Judaism. Outwardly they continued going up to the temple. They might offer sacrifice and pay vows Levitical. The disciples went on in that way for a long time after — many, if not all, in Jerusalem. We even read of the chief apostles (after receiving the Holy Spirit of promise on the day of Pentecost) going up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, just as they used to do before and after they followed the Lord on earth.
“The old commandment is the word which ye heard” [“from the beginning” being rightly not repeated here]. This cannot refer to eternity. It was not commanded “in the beginning”; nobody heard it in eternity. It would have been altogether out of time, place and person, when there was nobody to love then existing. In short it is an evident mistake to confound “from the beginning” with “in the beginning,” as so many perversely do.
But now in the next or eighth verse we read what sounds somewhat paradoxical. John never minds this, because what seems a paradox may be perfectly true. The uncircumcised ear counts it intolerable and contradictory. But the way to understand the Scriptures is always to believe them; then we begin to understand. If we do not believe them, how can we understand? It is simply the natural mind which prefers self to God, and refuses to learn what is immeasurably above its span. It is wholly incompatible with faith in God’s inspiration to prefer our own mind, our own way, and our own word, to God’s word.
The only thing that becomes the believer is resolutely to take his side with God and His word. He may feel that he cannot explain this difficulty or that. He believes God and distrusts himself. Therefore he waits. He believes the Lord will give him light on the enigma if it be good for him. If the light never comes, he is confident that the Lord has excellent reason for that. God, he is sure, is always right; but as to himself, how has he not been wrong! Here then the apostle says, “A new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in him and in you.” What looks hard at first sight explains all exactly. One has not long to wait, nor far to seek, to understand how the old commandment could be the new commandment. Very probably the mere scholars could never find out the sense till doomsday. They would understand without believing; and consequently they remain dark and dull, no matter what their learning may be. The old commandment was true in Christ. When He said it, He loved them all, as none could love but God. He loved them perfectly. Do you conceive that they loved one another at that time? Were they not as jealous of each other as you could well imagine pious people to be? We find them ever apt to quarrel, certainly and keenly striving which of them should be greatest. Was there any love in this? Such rivalry is the antithesis to love, and indicates the activity of flesh.
Love would have felt that it was for God to decide the place of each. And scripture shows that God sets in the church as it pleases Him. But they each. and all wanted to be greatest, which of course they could not be. Can any desire be more opposed to love than everyone to be greatest, wanting the best place for himself? How contrary to the mind of Christ as set out in Phil. 2!
Here then it is shown that what was the old commandment when He was there is now a new commandment, because now it is true not only in Him but in them. And what was it that made it to be true in them? The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This it is that makes all things new. Resurrection could not be without death; nor could the old things pass away without Christ’s death, any more than the new things come without His resurrection. But He is the resurrection and the life. And such is the great and glorious principle of Christianity. It all turns upon the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This it is that made the old new; this made it true in them as in Him. He indeed was and is the truth; but how is it with me or you? Are we in the Spirit? Or am I still looking out for myself? If so, it is neither Christ nor love.
How blessed that the old commandment is now new, and true in Him and in His own! And why so? Because Christians all stand alike, as having life in Him; but now that evils are dealt with on His cross, all things that hinder the working of divine life, the exercise of it in love, and its free display one with another — those evils have been all judged in the cross of Christ; and as the word reveals this, so the Spirit makes it good in each. The apostle speaks here again according to the principle. He does not take into account any passing qualification through the particular state of a Christian; which has its own corrective in the word elsewhere. But John gives us the true principle in all its absoluteness for faith to enjoy, and by grace reduce to practice in the measure of our spirituality. He declares it is true in us, that is, in all Christians as well as in Christ.
This is a cheering, yea, astonishing fact in the spiritual realm; but never is the blessing of it effectually known unless it is believed on God’s word, and believed about others as well as about one’s own soul. “Which thing is true in Him and in you.” The old commandment was powerless till He died and rose; but when He died and rose, the fulness of the blessing being shown in Himself, it was then communicated to His disciples. The corn of wheat abode alone until it fell into the ground and died; but if it die, said the Lord, it beareth much fruit. And where is that “much fruit”? In all Christians, in everyone that is real. Modifications may come in sadly to hinder; and it is important that we should learn how the things that hinder us can be overcome, and how we may and ought to rise above them. Never should we allow ourselves quiet, never seek any relaxation of earnest crying to God, and of using the means that His word and Spirit supply to meet the difficulty in ourselves, or, it may be, in others. For Christ has given us the example: we also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Here then we have the principle, Christ’s commandment in power. It was ever perfect in Christ. When it was but the old commandment, He alone carried it out. But when He died and rose, behold the difference among them. “Then stood up Peter with the eleven,” just like one man: no more carnal strife, rivalry, or self-seeking. We never hear of this before; never was such a change during the days of our Lord’s ministry in the flesh, or what is called here “from the beginning.” It was only true in Him. Now through His resurrection power it was true in them as well as in Christ. See the reason given: “Because the darkness is” not exactly past. Here again one must regret to appear critical; but bear with me if it is the truth, which I know and declare it to be. For it is no mere guess or subjective feeling or opinion. The word which the Spirit of God employs here means “quite passing,” but not “past.” To say the darkness is past says a great deal too much. The darkness will never be past till Christ comes again. “Arise, shine! for thy light is come.” Then shall be light for all the earth. It may be more brilliant in Jerusalem, but it will reach the whole world, as His glory shall fill all the earth.
It is clear that such is far from being the case now. There is and will be heathenism and Mohammedanism in the present age. There will be Babylon as there is now, even Rome, besides all kinds of special enormities even in Christendom. And worst of all the lawless one impends, who will sit in God’s temple, showing himself that he is God. Even now think of the scepticism that is preached every Sunday in London, and this notoriously in the Anglican body, among Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists, etc; and not by eccentricities but by some of their most eminent men. And there are few to say a decided word against this guilty trash, except some troublesome people who make themselves more and more disliked by their sounding the trumpet of alarm. For no matter how separately and simply they conduct themselves, their testimony is that all this unbelief is the deception of the devil, and the harbinger of the coming apostasy, and of the man of sin to be destroyed by the Lord’s appearing in glory.
The darkness then is not past, indeed far from it; but it is passing. Where? In every added Christian. There might be some to believe in Kamtschatka; there might be more in Japan, or even in poor and proud, tricky and aggressive Russia. But wherever grace acts, and no matter where, if there be fresh saints of God, the darkness so far passes away. It passes effectually in every Christian. The apostle here too looks at the principle. He is not examining how far it has been realised; for this is not his work. He looks at things as they ought to be in the Christian, acting and carrying out the divine principle that his soul has received.
But he adds, “and the true light already shineth,” to give the force as exactly as possible. There are Christians who do not like accuracy. But is it not better to have the truth as simply and clearly and fully as any can help? The important point here to remark is that this comes in after Christ’s death and resurrection. Did not the world quench that light in His death? As far as it could, so it sought. But His resurrection gave the lie to the world’s effort; for the light shines more powerfully than ever. “The true light already shineth.” The saints, so weak before, become strong, and forget themselves and their follies in their joy at the risen Saviour. The Spirit given thereon is one of power and love and sobriety. Hence we may see how true the command to love is in Him and in them. For “in them” lay the difficulty. It was undeniably in Him, but how could it be true in them too? Risen to bear much fruit we see the darkness quite passing away and the true light already shining. Christ banishes the darkness for each Christian, and Christ is already shining for and in them all more than ever.
Accordingly in ver. 9 the reply is to him who says he is in the light, and yet hates his brother. “Saying” has a bad character in this Epistle. The true saint of God does not talk lightly of being in the light. He knows he is, he blesses God for it, but he is serious about what is so solemn. He leaves it to others to say boastingly — “I am in the light” when he means of a real saint, “You are in the dark.” What can be more derogatory to the Lord, or less worthy of a Christian? The right and true course is not saying but manifesting that one walks in the light by a godly conversation. “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother” manifests that he is not in the light. The hatred toward his brother is incompatible, not only with love, but with light and life. For these all go together and cannot be separated. The life is shown in obedience, but so it is in love; and the true light which already shines makes such darkness visible. Certainly if a brother be hard, impatient, or otherwise faulty, this is meant to test yourself: be all the more careful, if anything in him is grievous in your eyes. But why should not your heart go out to win him? Why give up love where it is so much needed? You ought also to pity, if you believe a brother has done serious wrong. Should he not be an object for your earnest supplication to God, however you may reprobate the evil?
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” How summary and trenchant! So it is with loving John; nobody more tender, but who more decided? Here is the bright contrast with indifference. He does not say, “I love my brother;” but he does love him. “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light;” and he loves, even though there were painful inconsistencies to make a heavy demand on his love. Thereby love is only the more proved; “and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” It was a trying case; but he loved. Such a one “abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” Had retaliation wrought, or ungracious desire of evil to one that had failed, there would be an occasion of stumbling. Such is under provocation the natural feeling of a man, but it is the negation of Christ, and consequently of the Christian.
“But he that hateth his brother” (ver. 10). Here we have the evil thoroughly shown out in its violent character. “He that hateth his brother is in the darkness.” This is his state, which really decides the matter. One that hates his brother is a murderer in principle, as John shows afterwards (1 John 3:15). “He that hateth his brother is in the darkness.” It is not merely what he does or how he walks, but he is in darkness. This he manifests by his ruthless behaviour. Words and deeds proclaim his state. What are his words? “He hateth his brother.” And what his deeds? “He hateth his brother.” “He walketh in the darkness.” The walk brings in the reality of the man, just as it flows out of being in the light that we walk in the light. It is not a theory but a deep reality. Nothing less is conveyed by the word “walk.” “And knoweth not where he goeth.” He deceives himself. Unhappy but seared, he does not realise that he is a prey to the enemy. He is not aware that he is going into perdition. But there he is bound; and all the more, because he blindly took the place of a Christian. For if nothing can be more blessed than to be a Christian, nothing is more miserable than to take the place without being one truly; yet how many are thus misleading souls today?
How then can one be sure? I am sure that I am a lost sinner; and I am sure that God welcomes the lost sinner in the name of Jesus; for God gave the Son of God to be the Son of Man, to seek and to save the lost. I need Christ for my salvation, and believe on Him because of God’s word concerning Him. Am I not entitled therefore to take the place of a Christian? If we receive Christ, we receive His life; and He is to faith the only propitiation for our sins. The title is thus given, children of God, to those that believe on Christ’s name. Only He secures to all such the Christian portion and blessing. All the privileges of grace in Him come practically together.
On the contrary, if one merely takes up the Lord’s name lightly, without just consideration of one’s sins and the abject need of deliverance and salvation, clearly one walks in darkness all the while. It is to be in darkness and to walk in darkness and not to know whither one goes because the darkness has blinded one’s eyes; and all the worse because of taking the place of a Christian. “For if the light that is in thee be darkness, then how great the darkness!” saith the Lord. One is born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God. It is through living faith in Jesus.
This is not said to discourage the weakest believer. Why should it? There is not a word in all the New Testament, or the Old either, to make persons doubt; everything is said to engage them to believe. If they believe, if they submit to God’s revelation — the word of His truth and of His grace, the blessing is theirs. The word of truth is the gospel of salvation. Only there you have that which lays you bare as a wretched sinner, at the same time that it removes every stain, blots out your every sin, and gives you to stand consciously possessed of life eternal, and justified before God. It is not self that justifies me; I condemn myself. God justifies the believer in the Lord Jesus. It is only Christ that could make my deliverance from all condemnation a reality. If I have Christ, I can let myself go altogether; everything of which I was vain or proud, whatever may have been the form of my folly, I dismiss it all as utterly false and wrong. Oh the bliss of finding that all God’s blessing is in Christ, and that He gives it all of His own free grace! not of works, lest any man should boast. But here is a person that ventured under that holy Name without any real sense either of his sins or of God’s grace. It was mere presumption and self-deceit; or nowadays clerical pressure on giddy masses and classes. He passes somehow into the brotherhood but fails entirely; he hates his brother. He is just a natural man, and so is in the darkness; and he walks in the darkness and knows not where he goes, because, as it is said, “the darkness blinded his eyes.”
But we see clear after we believe. Faith in Christ takes away our blindness, as it removes every other impediment. For the grace of God gives us Christ not merely as life and propitiation, but for every day’s walk and for every day’s danger or difficulty. Oh what encouragement there is in the simplest yet deepest way in which the apostle urges those two tests or signs of the real Christian: first obedience, and then love; in both no longer walking in darkness like the world, but having the light of life; because we follow Christ believingly and obediently, we also walk in love.
Accordingly we learnt first of all that obeying God is the primary and most essential mark of the Christian. To obey is meant to cover every act of our life, connecting what is set before us with our intentions or our wishes, or the like, and judging them all by this standard, Is it God’s will? would it please God? In this is God calling me to do or bear, whatever it may be?
To be subject to His word settles all questions; and so Christ ever walked. Absolute submission to His Father’s will makes it sweet for us. As He says, “Take My yoke on you and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” My brother, do you accept it loyally? Oh how comforting! For what makes it easy? Nothing but Christ. If the eye be upon Him, His yoke is easy if the eye be off Christ, whether on myself or on anything else, His burden becomes intolerable, and under unbelief one wholly breaks down.
We can see also the Spirit’s wisdom in giving both tests, and in the order in which they stand; first obedience, then love. You may generally find as I have done, that when Christians talk about one another, they are apt to give love the first place in their practical scheme of Christianity. Their confidence rests on their opinion that such a one is a most loving brother. It would be wretched indeed not to be a loving brother; but what about his obedience? Is he, once self-willed, now marked by obeying God?
All may recollect in the early trial of the apostles (Acts 4, 5) this was their one plea — they must obey. Their preaching and teaching Jesus as the Christ gave great offence to the Jewish high-priest and the Scribes, the Elders, and the Sadducees. Hence they were commanded not to speak in that Name. But God appeared for them when imprisoned to the astonishment of all that had their charge. For out of prison an angel brought them, and commanded them to speak again in the temple. It was not like Peter alone led out, wonderful as that miracle was. But previously the whole of the twelve were rescued, whilst the guards walked up and down without the least perception of what God was doing. For well He knows how to blind eyes, and rescue from bonds if it pleases Him. Directed to the temple, there they delivered His message; yet, insensible even to this sign, Jewish leaders insisted on their silence. But the apostle Peter could say that God must be obeyed rather than men. This is the all-important claim of God, and the Christian’s inalienable duty — obedience. If we do not obey God, we do Him utter wrong.
It is allowed that there are those here below who are entitled to command, as there are those who ought to obey. A child for instance should obey its parents; and every soul is to be subject to the civil authority. But their obedience differs greatly from the character of obedience here laid down for the Christian. External or natural obedience may be rendered in spite of repugnance. This never entered the obedience of Christ, nor ought it ever to be in the Christian’s. He is sanctified to Christ’s, obedience. He is exhorted to fix his view on a perfect law of liberty, as having a new nature which loves to do God’s will as revealed in His word, in contrast with Israel under a law of bondage and the penalty of death. The new nature finds its motives in God’s will, as Christ was the perfect pattern.
We may suffer for obeying God, but this is then an honour; as the apostles were scourged because they were resolute to obey God, and meekly bore the consequence. It was counted a great disgrace for a Jew to be whipped in the council. But they bore it quietly, and went out even rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonoured for the Name. This was not “passive resistance” but saintly obedience, and suffering the consequence without a murmur and full of joy. Obedience then supposes the will broken and submissive to God’s word, and thus to Himself. There is no true lowliness without it; yet it arms the soul against all counter-attractions, and gives firmness to the weakest against every adversary. So we see in Christ Himself, who honoured Scripture as none ever did before, and fashions the Christian after His own model. It concentrates the moral mind on God’s will, and is jealous to maintain His authority in whatever fell from His mouth, knowing that He has that divine perfection of majesty, holiness, truth, faithfulness, which was fully displayed in Christ, His image.
But love is not that purity of nature though altogether consistent with it, which light expresses so vividly, which manifests itself and manifests everyone and everything else where it shines. Love is the energy of the Godhead in intrinsic goodness, not only where relationship and congeniality with Himself exists, but rising and going out actively above all barriers, and in sovereign grace rescuing the vilest who receive Christ from the worst evils by virtue of redemption through His blood, and with eternal life, which is in the Son but given to the believer as his new life, with the Holy Spirit henceforth to guide him as a son of God, and to work in and by him in the unity of Christ’s body, the church, as he awaits His coming to receive him to Himself, and introduce him, with all heavenly saints, into His Father’s house on high. It one may be allowed the phrase, as obedience in the light is the centripetal force, of the Christian, love is the centrifugal, in being imitators of God as beloved children, and walking in love, according as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for an odour of sweet smell.
May the Lord grant that not merely this, the first mark, may be true in us, but also the second mark, even love, the energetic principle of the divine nature. It will be borne in mind that the Thessalonian saints were young in the faith. Yet the apostle told them, “Concerning brotherly love ye have no need that we should write to you, for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). We have been ranch longer in the way than they. The Lord give us grace that we, taught of God, may abound in love still more. Thankfulness always accompanies love. Anything else is but “good-nature,” as people call it, a kindly benevolent spirit that does not like to trouble or be troubled, and is willing to let everyone have his own way; and this is accounted love! May the Lord enable us to discern the things of the Spirit of God.
5 The best authorities in every kind warrant this reading, not “brethren,” as in many later manuscripts.
6 So it is here also. The preponderance of weight rejects the addition. The sense is implied as in the previous clause.