For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another: not as Cain was of the wicked one, and slew his brother; and for what did he slay him? Because his works were wicked, and those of his brother righteous. Wonder not,14 brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not the brother abideth in death. Every one that hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath life eternal abiding in him. Herein we know love, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives. But whoso may have the world’s means of living, and behold his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abideth the love of God in him?”
The last clause, as was noticed, is the link of transition from righteousness to love. Men set these two things in opposition one to another: but they are perfectly united in Christ, the perfection of both righteousness and love. Hence it is thoroughly applicable to the Christian, since Christ is the life of the Christian. We really and truly receive by faith that life which was in the Lord Himself; not the life of Adam that all men have, but a new life possessed by none of us until we believed in the Lord Jesus. Being life, it is not capable of any outward mark of a sensible nature; still less is there a visible presentation of itself to us, though we know where it exists by its operations and effects. If this be so with the natural life, how much less could it be expected of the supernatural or spiritual life? We ought not to ask for it, and thereby show that we do not know what life is; yet however difficult it may be to define life, everybody knows that, when life departs, death sets in. There may be the working of death before we depart, and there is, since sin came into the world. There is mortality, but death is when mortality has come to its issue. Everyone can tell is the general rule when a man, or any other animal, is dead. We know exceptions occur now and then: there are exceptions to every rule probably, and there are difficulties as to all truths. But there is no difficulty about God’s word to make any real hindrance to spiritual intelligence. Doubtless an insuperable difficulty exists for those who have no knowledge of God; but this knowledge is communicated by the faith of Christ. “This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou didst send.”
Who have got the new nature? Every Christian, and from the beginning; and now in the fullest form for Christians, for even our Lord here below spoke about our having life abundantly. “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it abundantly.” There is no need to say “more abundantly abundantly” is all that the Lord really did say. But what a. difference that makes! The life that the disciples possessed when our Lord was here never tended openly to break with the temple and with the Jewish system. But when our Lord Jesus, Who deigned to be, subject to the Jewish system as to the law generally, died and rose, what had He to do with the law? It would have been an absurdity to speak of the risen Christ going up to the temple, or partaking in any ceremonial of the Jew, such as the feasts or anything whatever. This is, exactly what was intended in doctrine for the disciples. They did not realise it all at once. We are apt to be slow in learning these great changes. But the risen life of Christ was in the believer, whereby he died to all these things. Christ died not merely for our sins but died to sin which He never had in Himself, but in which we were deeply concerned. He had no more to do with it; He died to it once for all. Himself was all the while perfectly unaffected by its working. All that it drew out in His life was His grief and pity for those that were misled. But when He died, the mightiest work that God could do was done by the Lord Jesus.
Even when He comes again in His glory, it will be only drawing out, as it were, for that day in a public and powerful way the virtues involved in Him crucified. So this new life, although not at all of an outwardly sensible nature, is a life of indissoluble power. And power is given to it by the Holy Ghost. He is a spirit, not of cowardice, but of power and love, and of sound mind. The apostles were to receive power. They were to be not only witnesses to others, but they had to learn for themselves also much greater things which they could not then bear. These things came out when there was not merely risen life but the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. We ought never to confound these two things, nor confine His action to tongues, miracles, or any of these powers, which were only outward vouchers. The inward power of the Spirit was much greater than any of the external signs that accompanied it. The external signs were withdrawn as the church failed and broke down in love, truth, and light. How could God continue His stamp of approval on an unworthy state of things? We find that even the church in Ephesus was threatened, for it had fallen from its first love when John wrote. This was really what became the general state after John departed. For the apostles were a great cheek upon the declension which was setting in so strongly.
We may well dwell on the new life thus, for it is what unites the practical righteousness and the active love of the believer. He is here speaking not of God’s love, though this comes in, but of our love; just as he speaks not of righteousness in Christ, which is outside ourselves for justification, but of our righteousness. It is clear that this righteousness consists of good fruit. And how can there be good fruit without a good tree? Certainly in our natural state there was anything but a good tree; ours then was only a bad tree which bore bad fruit. For good fruit we must have a divine nature communicated to us, as it is with the bad tree, by introducing a good graft, in order to produce good fruit. It cannot be otherwise, and with this life, life eternal, John is occupied. It is not righteousness for us who had none, which we become in Christ, but righteousness within which produces our righteousness day by day. People may not like the truth, but here it is in the apostle’s words.
After all it is too solemn for any to trifle with, because no man is a real Christian without both righteousness outside us in Christ, and the righteous nature within us, which is the new nature in virtue of what is proper to Christ. We have therefore the two things; what is called “objective” outside, and “subjective,” or what we are; and this because Christians have necessarily the life of Christ. And this life does not differ from Himself. It is life He gives us to live in and by, the very same life that Christ had and was.
Thus he begins, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning.” You will remember perhaps, that in verse 5 of the first chapter we had the same phrase: “This then is the message which we have heard from him.” Here it is still more precise. It was not before the beginning, but “from the beginning.” Both make it decisive. What men added is of no account. This abides, the unchangeable truth of practical Christianity, and it is all the more important, because it is dead opposed to the prevalent ideas of men. In particular it openly contradicts the notion of what is called development. And development is utterly false, and more evil in divine things than in natural. It is a heathen guess reproduced of late as to nature. It denies God’s power and will in determining species. For species, as fixed as in other natural laws so-called, is the true principle of Zoology, not human classification on superficial resemblance. It therefore is at issue with creation in any real sense — that is, with the rights of God in creation; but how humbling that such a daring idea of the heathen should revive It was quite natural to the benighted “who knew not God.” They had it long before Darwin or his coadjutors. It now seems to be the craze of the so-called “philosophers” and their hangers on, the humble servants of a purely fanciful idea. But if bad in the lower creatures, it would not much matter, unless for the rights of God, how a mouse or a monkey or any like creature was thought to be developed. But when it touches man and man’s relationship to God, the idea that he could have come out of seaweed or anything else they are pleased to make primary in nature, it is serious so to swamp conscience and responsibility, and God’s claims in mankind, His offspring. The infidelity of the theory makes it intolerable, and therefore it is far better to speak out plainly.
Here is matter of fresh interest, because this is “the message,” as well as that in the introductory words of 1 John 1, which follow the manifestation of divine love and life in the Son of man on earth. There it was a message that God is light, bringing this to bear upon us, which is as certainly the truth of Christianity as that God is love; indeed it was so stated before the actual announcement that God is love. Yet that God is love was clearly implied in the early four verses; still it was not announced in actual terms till later. But it was all important that man, if brought to God in sovereign grace, should never forget that God is light. Our receiving life eternal in Christ was not to make our practical holiness an optional matter. Our new blessing from God was intended to make sin as hateful to our souls as God proved it to be when He forsook the Lord Jesus bearing that intolerable burden. If He has given us already inestimable blessing, we cannot escape the moral responsibility of walking as in the light. It is a great privilege too. How blessed that, as we were creatures of darkness through sin we are translated into that marvellous light, not when we get to heaven but now in this world, and are called to walk accordingly. Were we sent forth to walk without the constant watching of our Father over us, it would be quite beyond us, because we should break away from God every time we sinned. Sin does interrupt communion, but it does not destroy the life of Christ. His life differs from all other life in that it cannot come to nought. It is of its own nature eternal. Herein we have the greatest comfort, although we have a solemn appeal to our hearts and our consciences.
Again the apostle says, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning.” Then Christ came in love; then He gave us life; and the call followed, not only that we should believe in God’s love in Him to us, but that we should love one another as He did.
It was a blessing, and a wonderful call worthy of Christ; and it supposes a complete change for and in us. If there is any one thing which stamps a fallen man, it is that he is always the centre of his thoughts and feelings. We are what we seek and value. Self certainly is not love. Therefore what the world calls it in its own slang is “Number one.” For man “Number one” is not God, but poor wretched fallen self every man his own god. For the One, the Supreme is and ought to be God. “Number one” ought to be assuredly God’s place to my soul; and it would be if I were not a fallen, sinful man. Now the Lord puts an end to all that distance by the call of grace. At any rate it is the fruit of God coming down in Him to be our Blesser; and our Blesser not only by a work done for us but in a life given to us. Thus practical Christianity becomes a living to God and according to His word, not only resting on Christ and His work outside but having Christ in us also. Both are true, and true from the earliest days. From this no change can be but for evil. But “from the beginning” this message was heard. How plainly “from” is not “in the beginning” when the Godhead alone existed! There was not even an angel to hear them, much less a man. But “from the beginning” ye heard it, evidently from the time Christ was here. Yet neither was it a mere call to love one’s neighbour as one’s self. This was the law.
“Our neighbour” then, as it must be interpreted, meant the Jew primarily. They did not love the Gentiles. They might perhaps have a little difficulty about the Gentile that came to take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. Such might be counted their neighbours in grace. These Gentile neighbours were comparatively few, putting them all together, in comparison with the rest of mankind. Ruth came under the protection of the God of Israel. Though she was not of the stock of Abraham, she was married to a not inconsiderable Israelite, and one too who gave her part with himself in the very line from whence was to come the Shepherd of Israel, the Lord Himself. Such persons were practically Israelites. However we need not discuss that. For all know that “loving our neighbour” till the Lord came was made sadly narrow. The Lord gave it enlargement when the scribe to whom He spoke started the difficulty, “Who is my neighbour?” So it is, when the truth is made plain and the hearers cannot easily get rid of it, they ask questions which they think will perplex. The Lord therefore uttered the beautiful parable of the good Samaritan. How cutting to Jewish pride! Not the “Good Israelite,” but the “Good Samaritan!” Wherein lay its force? It was not another Samaritan that he saw needing his help, but an Israelite from whom every one turned away except the Samaritan. Even if a Levite beheld the sufferer, or if a priest, — Oh! it was not his business. These quite ignored their neighbour; and they did so because the distress called for love and compassion. But not so the Samaritan. He bound up his wounds and provided for him. Was it not the apt figure of the Lord Himself? and how blessed if the Lord in giving it meant it so to be! He that came down to be a “bondman” did not mind couching under the guise of a “Samaritan.” He had come to bear their sins in His body on the tree, alone to bear them, to suffer for them, Just for unjust, and to blot them out for ever. No wonder He was not ashamed to be a Samaritan in the parable: what baseness for Jews to call Him so!
But now it is another kind of love. It savours of God’s own love. To whom is His love fully shown? To His children. The little perception of such loving as this shows how far souls in Christendom have departed. The most feeble of Christians have no little feeling for sinners in danger of perishing. But they are very little concerned about the saints of God, whether they are glorifying God and His Son or not. That sinners should be converted is the great desideratum: all else is quite secondary. How sad to stop so short! Is this what God feels? Was this all that His own Son cared for when upon earth? He was the revealed object of divine love and favour all through, before He bore our sins on the cross; but how did not He love the children of God?
And now, save in atonement, we have His place. We are children of God, and the love that rested upon Him rests upon us, as our Lord tells us in the end of John 17. That is entirely beyond what most of the children of God contemplate for themselves. Of course they do not deny the words; but do they seem to understand them, or speak and act as if they felt them, as conveying the model of their privilege and duty? And the consciousness of being so loved goes out in love to those who are as much its object as ourselves.
But it is also important that we should understand that such love as His was an entirely new thing. Only then was it charged that the children of God should love one another. The Lord laid it down as the “new commandment.” Indeed it was a, new thing to learn that God was now to form a family, and a family to be gathered together in one — the children of God that were scattered abroad. This had never been till now. But it is what God does in two particular forms. In the writings of John it is family unity; in those of Paul, the one body of Christ. Both at any rate coalesce in being divine unity in two different ways: the one because Christ brought God’s nature to give it down here, and those that receive it His children to be gathered together in one, the other, of the body because Christ is glorified in heaven, and we are by the Spirit united with Him on high. It is the unity of the Head and the body. The Head of the body is the glorified Man, and the centre of the family is Jesus the Son of God; and Christ above is both.
Here then we have the limits of that love — loving one another. It is not love in the gospel going out to man as lost; it has nothing whatever to do with the law, or with one’s neighbour; it is love in divine relationship towards God’s family. Love to God’s children is equally valid for the ends of the earth, as it is for those that surround as in England. They are alike members of Christ’s body. These truths are meant to be carried out in one far off as truly as in another near; and you cannot set them aside except at the peril of fighting against or slighting the word of God, and of grieving the Holy Spirit who is in us in order that God’s will should be carried out thenceforward.
Now this gives an opportunity for the apostle to pierce more deeply. He contrasts the children of God and the children of the devil strongly, tracing both to the root of the matter. Not content with calling them evil, children of wrath like others, he says here “children of the devil.” This comes to a decided point of awful significance. And, singular to say, he points to the earliest days of fallen man on earth, after the children were born to Adam and Eve, and begins with the very eldest one of the two sons. “Not as Cain was of that wicked one,” for this is the proper way to render it. The “who” has no business there, and only weakens. Cain is not to be our pattern but to be shunned. And wherefore? He “slew his brother.” There his wickedness carried him. Certainly this was not love but hatred; and it is what John wants to show. He will not allow any middle ground between love and hatred. He will not endorse any mixed thoughts with which some seem to be greatly charmed. All such sentiment to excuse Cain is a compromise of the truth; and it is of the greatest moment that we should know that there must be a clean breach between what is of God and what is of the devil. This is where we are brought here.
Now it is remarkable as showing the far-reaching truth here, that Cain was the one who took the lead in two innovations. He was the first to set up natural religion. Gain was not what people call an irreligious man, if thereby be meant that he had no religion. He was what answers in our day to a man that goes regularly to his church or his chapel. It was simply the religion of nature, and raised no question in his soul whether his offering became his own state or was according to the mind of God. People generally do not consider this at all. “Their fathers went there that is enough for most. They were christened, confirmed, and took the sacrament; or they became members, as others call it, of the church and congregation. It was all assumed to be the proper thing for a decent man. The Jesuits go rather farther, as they say, for God’s greater glory: the alleged ground for their heartless, unscrupulous, and wicked ambitions. For they are sworn to obey their General, if he declares that any means promote that object; as the General acts for, and not merely with, the pope; sometimes far in advance of the pope, but still it is all nominally to promote their lord the pope’s glory.
So Cain for an act of homage had his idea of what befitted himself in approaching God. “Well,” he seems to have thought, “there is nothing so fine here as the flowers and fruits that God has made in this fair world.” Yet it was already a fallen world; and all were outcasts from paradise. Oh how soon this was forgotten; and still more its cause! Cain forgot the rebellious sin which morally compelled God to pronounce exile on the first pair. Was it not his religious duty then to offer what he thought the very best of earth’s produce? No doubt he was horrified at his brother Abel’s sacrifice. “Think of him; only think what a stupid he is. Why, he is going to offer a little lamb and kill it before Jehovah! Think of that! How shocking to Him, how cruel in itself! What harm has the lamb ever done? Why the firstlings of the flock, and of their fat? Surely he has quite mistaken Jehovah’s character. Has He any pleasure in blood or fat? Has He any delight in the slaughter of a poor innocent creature to which He gave being?
There was here in particular, what there is generally, a great deal to reason on; and this is exactly the basis of natural religion of any kind and at any time. It is a religion that man reasons out as becoming himself and others with God. But as man is its only source, there is nothing of God in it, only man’s pretension and profession.
And how about Abel? In faith Abel had pondered these things deeply. He at least had found out the awful fact of being a sinner in the sight of God; for Abel, we may be very sure, had learnt from his father and mother what God said about the fall. He learnt too that God spoke of another who was to intervene, the woman’s Seed to accomplish the work that no creature could do: the destruction of the serpent and of his seed, enemies too. But more than this; it was not a light thing for Abel to hear that God clothed his parents with coats of skins, instead of fig-leaves. This was of no moment to Cain. But Abel assuredly recognised that there is a great truth in it. Death! therein he saw its bearings. Death! to be clothed with the fruit of death; and not my own death, wages of sin, but the death of another and such a mysterious other! For, as we too believe, Jehovah in His grace pointed to the only clothing for fallen sinful man and woman, who in spite of fig-leaves (nature’s clothing) were in every sense naked in their sin. Before that their nakedness was in all innocence, but now their daring transgression lay bare. Their quick repairing to the covering of fig-leaves betrayed that they too were at a device no better than Cain’s. Only God corrected it for them; and they accepted the correction. “Jehovah Elohim made Adam and his wife coats of skin, and clothed them”: a clothing founded upon death. Hence Abel was taught by faith to put these things together, and brought accordingly the firstlings of his flock. Without faith it is impossible to please God; faith rests on God’s testimony. It is not for me or you to define how far Abel’s faith carried him; but his was the intelligence of faith, and Cain had none. It may be small but distinct as far as is revealed; and this is the great point: that faith should be real and of God.
There was great simplicity in Abel’s faith, but spiritual perception. He brought of the firstlings of his flock, a lamb to die. It was no offering of power, not a wolf nor a lion nor a bear to fight the serpent; but on the contrary a little lamb to die. “And Jehovah looked upon Abel and on his offering.” Did not He see, as ever before, what was as yet dim in the sight of any believer even? The Lamb without blemish and without spot, foreknown before the world’s foundation, but to be manifested in Christ and His blood for our sakes? There and then the germ of divine truth appears, to this Abel held, abjuring human notions; but Jehovah had no respect to Cain or his offering of the fruit of the ground.
A little before it was noticed how Cain gave the first impulse to the world; but much more than the outside is hinted at also, for he introduced the world’s religion. This last seems to be very prominent to the mind of the Spirit in the Epistle of Jude, which is more akin to the First Epistle of John than any, even bearing in mind its remarkable analogy in the way of contrast with 2 Peter. The strong resemblance is with John in this respect, that they are alike Epistles of the apostasy. Such is the dark, the ominously dark, streak which marks both of them, that evil at the core, apostasy working in spirit (which could not be hidden from Him who abides in the church), the harbinger of the future apostasy; and in our apostle’s letters many antichrists, the harbinger of the antichrist.
But Jude, the brother of James and bondman of Jesus, speaks of “the way of Cain.” One does not confine this to his murder of his brother, but sees rather religious wickedness in it as well as in Balaam and Korah, especially as this was the immediate occasion of the murder. Besides he was a bold, presumptuous, and wicked man in his general character. “His works were wicked, and his brother’s righteous.” He was just the man to become founder of “the world” and of natural religion. What wonder that he was not content to live in his own home! “No, no! union is strength: we must combine.” Being a man of energy, he got people to agree. His will was more powerful than theirs. He was the first builder of a city; and you may depend upon it that he ruled the city too when it began to rise. Such is the nature of man and of his will. He likes power; and so it seems with Cain. But before that he pretended to religion too; and this was more particularly the open occasion of his downfall. For it was the great breach with God, and its murderous result which is now before us. Indeed the world’s religion and its civilization pretty well march together. Adam and Eve were very far from being savages, as bad men say, but who would speak of their state as a type of civilization It is a reality incomparably above civilization to live according to the will of God. And what is the worth in His sight, or for the soul and spirit, of all the progress men boast of?
The world is jubilant as to progress nowadays. There it began; and ere long in the same family the invention of wind and stringed instruments of music, and of all kinds of tools or cutting things in brass and iron: luxury and convenience in the earthly life. Progress could not well be without metallurgy, and Cain’s family was in active work soon enough. In Lamech’s day polygamy came, and the first verse of which we hear was addressed, not to God in praise or in penitence, but to his wives. A little bit of song goes forth to Adah and Zillah, to excuse and to exalt himself, and to quiet their fears, in sufficiently defiant strain, and not without impious claim of God’s sanction. If Cain was to be avenged sevenfold, Lamech surely seven-and-seventyfold. Lamech turns all to his haughty self-reliance.
Such is the world, and such the world’s religion in its early buddings. But here the truth comes plainly out. “And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” It does not say exactly “own”: “his” is quite enough. The moral condition of both is stated before either the offering or the city. Cain’s works were “wicked” (for that is the proper rendering), and his brother’s “righteous.” “Wicked” has a stronger force than “evil” in some respects; it implies purpose and toil in them. There is here assiduity in evil; not merely bad acts, but an activity therein that is not necessarily implied in “evil.” His works were wicked; his brother’s, on the contrary, righteous. Both these things were habitual before the occasion which roused Cain’s resentment. Yet it is instructive to note why this broke out. Jehovah accepted Abel and his offering, and rejected Cain’s offering. Cain could not endure this. His pride fired up at it; his resentment had no bounds. As he could not do anything against Jehovah personally, he flew at his own brother. It was striking really at Jehovah. God’s rejecting him was far worse in his eyes than his brother’s acceptance, though this inflamed his rage. Sin was no more in the conscience of Cain than God was: therein in fact and principle they both go together. For it is the sense of sin that brings God before the soul, and God as judge of sin. What then must be the issue of our guilt in His eyes? But is there not mercy for the sinner? Yes, His mercy endureth for ever, as the Christian knows, and Israel will surely learn through His grace. And this Cain had never believed, and so turned from obduracy to despair. Wicked himself, he had no notion of goodness in God even to a wicked man who turns to God at the call of grace. He knew very well if anyone offended him, there was small hope of mercy from himself. And as he never felt his need of a Saviour, and gave God no credit for grace in the woman’s Seed, he judged God by his own thoughts to be like himself, or even more, implacable to the guilty.
Next this is applied. “Marvel not, brethren;” not exactly “my” brethren. “Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.” This is a turn to be well weighed. We have had “little children” in general, and twice also “babes.” Then we had “beloved” and now we have “brethren.” It is not hard to see the propriety of each of these. He is going to speak about love of the brethren, and he appropriately addresses them as “brethren.” We ought never to pass over a word of Scripture without consideration, and seeking to learn why God uses that word rather than any other. Faith can say that it is always the best. One does not of course forget the carelessness of man and its effect. Thus we understand how it arises; we can account for its slipping in, and in general have full evidence to correct it, though this may not be possible in every case.
Here then comes what is very plain. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.” Now, who composed the world; and who were these haters in particular that the apostle had in mind? Chiefly at least those that had once been in the communion of the church and had abandoned it. These are always the worst. Such as go back from the truth particularly hate not only the truth itself but those who hold fast to it. They cannot bear either, and why? For the same reason as Cain could not. It is self-condemnation. There is nothing so provocative to a wicked apostate as that he should be condemned; for he tries to banish all suspicion of his own wickedness, being utterly blinded by the enemy. And as he is under Satan’s lie, he also shares his murderous spirit.
This then is the spirit of the world; and more particularly of those in it that have given up the truth they once professed. Such are the persons so painfully prominent throughout this Epistle. They had once, as it seemed, left the world behind; they now went back to that world which they had outwardly denounced. It was only a superficial severance; the bond was not really broken; and they went back where their heart no longer attracted by the novelty of the truth led to its old love. The name of Jesus never had won them to God. Yet it has apparent influence sometimes even on the unconverted.
It is remarkable just to show the effect of the Saviour upon what is most worldly. Take the case of artists. Piety is not what distinguishes them as a class. On the contrary in general they are singularly given up to self-indulgence and worldliness of every kind. Of course one knows there have been not a few Christian painters; so that there is no thought of going beyond indisputable fact in thus speaking of painters as a class. Our excellent friend W. Cowper, the poet, had a very bad opinion of his fellows; he said poets were a bad lot as the rule, and nobody is better entitled to characterise them than Cowper. Though he was a genuine poet, he was glad to clear himself from any kind of complicity with his unpleasant associates. They, like the painters, are apt to flatter the vanity of men and women, and in fact many live by it, for parents have of course great care for the pictures of their children. Yet painters were immensely affected by even the tradition of the Lord Jesus. If anyone knows the statuary of the ancients, he admits that the sculptures of the Greeks were sensuous. They were like themselves. But the paintings of the Middle Ages, and particularly later ones of fame which have come down to our own day, were affected surprisingly by such a poor representation of Christ as Popery affords. What a difference there is between theirs and those of the ancients! Even there the beauty of holiness is reflected as far as a worldly man could set it forth in idea. There you have the meekness of humility, and the expression of dependence on the invisible God. There too the woman no longer represented as a trap for man, nor man in his will and lust on the other side. There is not a trace of the Aphrodite or the Apollo which so carried away the Greek and played into nature’s corrupt ways. The Virgin and the Child drew out homage to purity never before conceived by such men. Far from me to think of this effect as more than superficial. On the contrary such is the evil heart of man that it fell in with the idolatry of the mother to the dishonour of the Son of God. It was the powerful but outward effect of the name of Jesus upon those that rose not above the human without real faith in the Father and the Son.
We cannot therefore be surprised that the self-deceived who entered the church were yet more deeply affected by all their surroundings, and by the spiritual influence of that blessed Name; but it never pierced deeper than their mind. Christ was not their life, else they had never left Him; still less would He have left them. “For if they had been of us, they would have abode with us,” and if they did not so abide, what was the issue? That they gradually rose up implacably when outside, especially when the Christians refused the name of Christianity to such renegades as these? “Marvel not, if the world hateth you.” They were just part of that Cain-world, which ever began with religious pretension and ended with murder.
But here is the striking contrast of true Christianity. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” That is a sentence the more to be weighed because it at once connects itself with words of the greatest weight in the Gospel. In John 5:24 the Lord Himself employed, without the emphatic “we” and to the individual believer, the same words in its last clause. “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.” I am giving it with more precision than in our Authorised version. But this is the real import of that wonderful verse which has been blessed to so many souls, even when a little obscured.
Yet we must never be too much affected by resemblance. They say that what shows a wit is that he finds resemblance between things that differ, to the surprise and pleasure of many. But there is another quality far better than wit, even a sound judgment. Now a sound judgment is marked by seeing difference in things which seem to resemble. This is just the opposite of wit; and there people generally fail.
What then is the difference between the two texts? Is it not that the Lord is there showing how a man receives eternal life now through believing God about His Son; so that he does not come into judgment, as everyone without Christ must. So He says. For in truth whoever comes into judgment can never come out of it. The reason is plain; because “judgment” means that one incurs what he deserves. Now what do you or I really deserve? Were we not guilty, powerless for good and ungodly, till saved by grace? Do not think then that any man as he is can go into judgment and come out. No; it can only be into the lake of fire. But it is not so that God deals with those that believe. They have life eternal, and they do not come into judgment. It is not merely that they do not come into “condemnation” for this is not the word any more than the thought intended by it. The Lord declares in the plainest terms that the believer does not come into judgment; it was He that bore the judgment of our sins on the cross. The notion of judgment with life eternal is perfectly monstrous, and really has no sense. To confirm this grace yet more, He said that he “hath passed out of death into life.” Death was his lost condition through sin; but he now lives of His life. This change has taken place already for the soul, though not yet for the body which is assured in the resurrection of life as ver. 29 tells us.
Ver. 24 is therefore a very blessed word for the poor sinner that wants to know how he is to get life eternal. But this is not at all the case here in the Epistle. It is not a question of believing in order to gain the blessing. It is what “we,” the brethren, know, and their loving the brethren is the practical proof. Of this they were incapable without life eternal, as the divine nature which loves according to God. Hence he says “we,” and speaks of brethren only, and of such emphatically. It is therefore quite distinct from John 5:24. Not that this is always the sense of “we.” The context alone decides what the “we” means. For “we” is so differently applied in scripture, that to make a canon of its being always the same is mere ignorance of its use there. Here too “we” is emphatic. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” How plainly the difference must strike when both are weighed “We know (Consciously).”
What does the unbeliever know of this change? How could he possibly know it? The unbeliever is in death and sins, and he goes into judgment. Faith alone receives the blessing which Christ here gives. But the brethren as such love one another as of God’s family and as having already believed. “We” are not therefore called to believe here. It is assumed that we who believed unto life eternal love our brethren and, having passed out of death into life, our love to them confirms that fact. We have this conscious knowledge, and ought to have it, in contrast with those who made empty knowledge of high speculation without one divine affection. Of all men on the earth only believers, only brethren in the Lord, only “we” can say that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. This love is the testimony to it and the practical evidence of it; but faith alone through Christ’s grace brought us into the blessing. We neither received life eternal, nor passed out of death into life, because of loving the brethren. At that time we hated the brethren, being dead in sins; but, believing God, we passed out of death into eternal life, and only then knew the brethren to love them ever after.
Hence the apostle lays down as an axiom of Christianity, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” How solemn the conclusion! There is no life, nor passing out of death, if one does not thus love. But why does he say “brother”? It is an abstract statement, because of his profession of course. The apostle delights in that kind of statement which pedants carefully avoid: but the apostle is far from mere letter. The apostle takes the man on his profession, and pronounces that “he who does not love his brother abideth in death;” which proves that he is no true brother by that very hatred. Remark the pointedness of his language. He does not say merely that he is dead, but that he abideth in death. Whatever was his profession, he was always dead spiritually, and he abides in death. The proof is that he never loved the one he was called to love as of God’s family. He had no love; but he must have if he possessed the life of Christ in his soul.
He next puts the case even more strongly. “Every one that hateth his brother is a murderer.” There he comes down with greater severity. It is not merely one that does not love, but the positive activity of hating. More outspoken in word and outrageous in conduct, he betrays his hatred, and is called a “murderer.” The apostle here goes down to the root of things. As hatred is found to mark his spirit when tried, he is a murderer in principle; just as the Lord pronounces a man to be an adulterer in principle who indulged in lust which he ought not to allow, but to judge and be ashamed and humbled for it. God deals with the heart and not the externals only in Christianity. It is the inward working, as well as what comes out, which stamps the professor, however inadmissible and impossible in a court of law. “And ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” It is the very opposite of Christ, and the closest correspondence with the devil. For what can be more like our adversary, the liar and murderer from the beginning?
“Herein we have known love, or the love, because he laid down his life for us.” The words do not in fact go beyond “love.” He does not say “of God.” It was with good intention put in; but it is best to cleave to the simple truth. “Because He laid down His life for us.” Here again the “He” is remarkable. Without doubt it is the love of God too; but he purposely mixes up God and Christ, although Christ alone laid down His life for us. That is what we have repeatedly found before, as another has pointed out. This is the great and irrefutable proof of infinite love, and of a love that was clearly of God, though Christ was the One who alone manifested it. He laid down His life for us. It is mere illusion, and to miss its force, to compare with it a man’s dying out of his great affection for his friend, or risking it to, save a stranger. Only consider the One who for us was dying thus! who became man that it might be done in the most harrowing of sufferings! and this for us when we were lost and had nothing but sins!
“And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” His was the unfathomable depth, and nothing can match it in any way. Still it becomes the model for those that are His, however short of atonement. What limit can be set to it? Love is intended to surmount every difficulty now. God’s love to us in our sins creates love not only to God but to His children, our brethren. “And we ought.” He does not say that “we do”: though there have been saints that have died not only for Christ’s sake but for their brethren. He is content to say “we ought”; our love, being of God, is capable of doing it. And in point of fact, if our dying would be of real use to our brother, we ought to be willing. It is however a rare complication that would make it a duty.
But we are also taught that without pressing this extreme proof there is an appeal to our hearts at the door. We have not to go far without finding calls on the exercise of the love that is in our hearts. Come now; look at everyday matters. To lay down our lives for the brethren might befall us rarely here below; but there is all ordinary lack that often occurs, and we know it frequently where our lot lies: a brother or sister in abject need. How does it present itself to your soul? How does our love answer to the suffering of the poor brother or sister?
“Whoso may have the world’s means of living” is what is called here its “good.” Nor does he say merely “seeth,” but contemplateth, beholdeth, hath a full view of his brother’s need. He perhaps has not made the slightest sign, has not complained at all, nor mentioned his trial to another. This silence ought to be all the stronger appeal to our hearts. He has been bearing the pressure without a murmur; she has been enduring and only telling God about it. But there with our eyes wide open, beholding our brother’s affliction, we hesitate. One has the means of helping and relieving, but instead of this he “shutteth up his bowels” from him, the sufferer. There is no need to add “of compassion,” which is plainly enough implied. “How abideth the love of God in him?” The apostle puts it cautiously and calmly but earnestly and searchingly: “How dwelleth the love of God in him?” He does not ask me to die for my brother; he does ask me that my love should go out, with means beyond my own real wants, to one who is suffering whether from the cold or sickness, hunger, or other pains. One can relieve the brother, and one does not: “how abideth the love of God in him?”
Love, as it is the energy of God’s nature, so it is of the new nature of His children, and meant to be in constant flow to others, not only on great occasions but in the least things of this life. Let us not miss the exquisite propriety of the apostle’s language. In ver. 16 it was quite enough to say love, or the love, and to leave it thus open, when the words that followed made evident whose love it was that laid down His life for us. Again, in 1 John 2 it is not “love” only that is contrasted with the world, nor yet “the love of God,” but “the love of the Father.” But here “the love of the Father” would not have suited. It is “the love of God” so considerate of the least of His creatures, which so deeply rebukes His child that shuts up his compassion from his tried fellow.
In conclusion note how variously the chapter applies Christ’s death. In ver. 4 it was that He might take away our sins sacrificially; in ver. 8 it was that He might undo the works of the devil; and in ver. 16 He laid down His life for us as the model of love to us and for us. All this united in His death; as we may see yet more in Heb. 2:9, 10, 14, and 17.
14 “My,” of the common text, is wanting in the best copies.