1. That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life.
2. (And the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us).
3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us; yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4. And these things we write, that our joy may be made full.
While the Epistle deals with eternal, divine life in the Christian, as the Gospel deals with that life in Christ, we must remember that this eternal life is not inherent in us, as it was in Him. We receive it by faith in the One who died for us. It was originally in Him alone; and therefore must first be known by us objectively ere it could be known subjectively. Therefore this letter opens with three verses which are a brief and concise summary of the Gospel which John wrote. As we read the Gospel we read the wondrous story that He who is God became Man that He might die for our sins; and that believing on Him we might become possessors of eternal life—the life of God Himself. The Gospel hence was written that we might believe in Him; the Epistles that we might live as He did. And for that reason the opening verses of the Epistle set before us that marvelous life in a few short, but perfect strokes of the divine brush. He who died for us is now our example that we might follow His steps. John, who walked and talked and ate with our Lord, who heard and saw and looked upon and even handled Him, proved that He was what He claimed to be—that eternal life which was with the Father and manifested to him and to the other apostles. And all this John wrote for our benefit in his Gospel, that we also may have fellowship with him and all other believers; the same fellowship which they enjoyed—the fellowship of the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
John had abundant opportunity to know the Lord. He saw Him and intimately knew Him who united Deity and Humanity in one Person. Truly God and truly Man; God seen in flesh. Existing eternally as one of the Godhead, when He came down into the place of dependence He brought with Him the eternal intimacies in which He was with the Father and the Spirit, and lived them here. Thus He declared and revealed God. Thus God Himself came forth out of that unapproachable light to be seen, heard, studied and even handled by man.
He revealed the Godhead relationships of Father and Son. On earth the Son of God was to men the revelation of the life and the character of God. He says in John 5: 26 that, “As the Father has life in Himself, so also has the Son life in Himself.” He was that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested unto us—1 John 1:2. Of Christ it can be stated that He was the only Man who had life in Himself. We only have life as it is imparted to us, as derived from Him.
In Christ we see human and divine life in One Person; thus a new humanity. He raised up humanity into fellowship of life with God, as He also brought divine life down into a condition of human life. He lived this perfect human life in dependence upon and obedience to God. For Him this was a stoop taken in lowly grace; for us it pictures the life we ought to live, and of which His own life is the example we should follow. He lived daily by the Father, the living Father—John 6:57. We, however, can only live through One who died for us, for John 6:57 says that, “He that eateth Christ shall live by Him,” and it is clear that we are only enabled to eat of Him because His life was given up for us on the cross. In eternity that eternal life and communion existed only between the Father and the Son, but in John 17:21 our Lord prays for all His saints that “they also may be one in Us”. Due to the precious death of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believers are brought into this wondrous fellowship and life.
Ver.l. The Word is said to be “from the beginning.” The same expression is used in Luke 1: 2. Both of them refer to the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, while John in his Gospel—chap. 1:1—refers to the Eternal Being of Christ as the Word. The one thinks of Him in His humanity—God manifest in flesh, the other of His Deity. John speaks of being an eyewitness of the Word. Isn’t that a striking phrase to use—seeing the Word? But how ex- pressive when we remember that this “Word” is God, who in Christ not only was heard, but seen as well, so that Jesus could say: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
John says four things concerning his and the other apostles’ contact with the Lord Jesus during His life on earth:
Seen with our eyes.
Hands have handled.
These four expressions suggest an ever-closer intimacy with the Lord. First of all, the disciples heard. Before they ever heard Him, they heard about Him, as men do today through the preaching of the Gospel and the ministry of God’s Word. John records in his Gospel how two of them heard the Baptist speak as he pointed to Christ and said: “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”. And again they heard when he said the next day: “Behold the Lamb of God”—see John 1: 29, 36. They first saw Jesus coming to them, as He comes to men still when the story of His precious death is told forth. Next they saw Him as He walked along and they followed Him, as we Christians are to do after we have trusted the Lord as our Saviour. These disciples therefore first heard; then saw. Jesus bade them come and see where He dwelt—John 1:39. They not only heard the Lord speak to them, but they saw Him too; and both that day and for years afterwards they more intimately still “looked upon” Him. John, who writes our Epistle, was undoubtedly one of the two who heard John the Baptist as he pointed them to Christ. John was the first to see Jesus, and the last to write about Him. He writes last because he would give a warning when it was most needed. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved and who loved Jesus so passionately, and love must have the last word. As Paul dwells more on the glory given to Christ because of His work, John speaks more of the glory that is His as the Only-begotten Son of God. Yes, the twelve apostles and many others as well, came very close to Him. Earthly kings do not allow men to approach them too readily; only by special dispensation may the suppliant touch the golden sceptre. But who so accessible as He? He chose His apostles, and chooses all His own today, that they “may be with Him”.
And not merely did the apostles hear, see and look upon Him, whom John calls the “Word of Life”, but they handled Him. No doubt many times during His life on earth were they in personal contact with the Lord, yet somehow I believe that here in his Epistle John is thinking of the fact that after the Lord’s resurrection they touched Him. John likely recalls here in the first chapter of his Epistle those words of the Lord to Thomas: “Handle Me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” If this be so, then in our verse we have brought before us the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, after all, it is only through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that the believer can have fellowship with the Father and with the Son, as in ver.3. Philip said: “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us”—John 14:8, but he was wrong. It is not enough that we see the Father; we must come to know He is our Father, and must be brought, through faith in Christ and His work, into fellowship with Him. This is what John here reveals to the believer, and that which is the subject of his Epistle. For the same life that once was seen in Christ who was with the Father but was manifested unto us, is now the Life imparted to us through faith in Christ, and now is to be manifested by us down here on earth.
The four things which were true in the experience of John and his fellow-disciples while the Lord walked on earth may now be true of us as well. We too, through the records which the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles have left unto us, may now:
Hear Him, with the hearing of faith.
See Him, with the eyes of our hearts.
Look upon Him, as we study and meditate on God’s Word.
Handle Him, in blessed intimacy, in communion and service.
Some Christians, alas, know but very little of the great possibilities the Word of God holds out. They often only hear the Word (usually through the ministry of others), and seldom do any serious reading or studying of their own. They hear, but do not go on to “see” Him, whom all ministry is intended to bring into view. The Apostle Paul prayed for the saints at Ephesus that the eyes of their heart might be enlightened, that they might know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power. No believer should ever be satisfied with anything less than seeing Him Who is invisible to mortal eyes, but not to the eye of faith. “Sir, they said, we would see Jesus.” And the Christian may joyfully say: “We do see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor; He who by the grace of God tasted death for every man.”
Further, we should look upon Christ as revealed in the Word. We should contemplate Him; meditate upon the Word, for in its pages lie concealed the most wondrous things concerning Himself. The way of salvation is made simple in the Scriptures, but nothing else is. One may sometimes pick up some things of value from the surface of the earth, but silver, gold and diamonds must be digged for. “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them.” Pray as you read and study the Word: “Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” It will amaze you how the Spirit will delight you as its hidden treasures are revealed to your enraptured gaze. Be sure of this, that this precious Bible of ours has not been exhausted yet, nor, I take it, ever will be.
Finally, we are to handle the Word of Life, to get acquainted with it in such fashion that we are able to make it real to others also. I don’t believe anyone ever really knows the Word unless he or she can handle it as well. We must be intimately acquainted with it; or, rather let us say, with Him, that we may make Him precious to others. Thus, in these four statements of verse 1, listening to or hearing the Word of God; 2, Seeing Him who is its theme and song; 3, Study and meditation so that we may know Him better; 4, Appropriating and propagating the truth, specially with the view of making those to whom we minister “see Jesus”.
Verse 2. John was an eyewitness of this Eternal Life which was with the Father and manifested unto us. Man, with all his cleverness, does not have any idea what life is, nor whence it came, nor how it is produced. The wisest philospher knows as much about it as the merest infant, and that is: nothing. But when we turn to God’s Word we get the answer. God is Life; Life is God. “I am the Life”, says our Lord in John 14:6. “In Him was life”—John 1:4. Of the Lord Jesus it is said: “This is the true God and Eternal Life”—1 John 5:20. I confess this does not come any nearer to explaining what life really is; we must understand it simply on the basis of faith. God IS, and He is Life. John says here that he saw that life manifested; Life made visible in Christ the Son. It left John and the others with him in no doubt as to who He was. “We beheld His glory,” says John, “the glory as of an only begotten with the Father, full of grace and truth”. And, says Peter, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”—John 6:68, 69.
That life must be imparted to us, for man never had it of himself. Man is dead in trespasses and in sins. John in his Gospel tells us of that wondrous life lived here below. But he tells us more. He shows how that life was laid down for us in death, so that through that sacrificial work of Christ we might have life. Life is given to the believer as the fruit of the sacrifice of Christ. And to those that believe in Jesus now is shown that “Eternal Life” which was with the Father. In other words, in the record of the four Gospels we have the truth of Christ’s life and death, written that we might know Him and have fellowship with Him. As John now goes on to say:
Verse 3. “We declare unto you that which we have seen and heard.” I suppose there is a reason why the words seen and heard are reversed, from the order given in ver. 1. There John is speaking of their experience while with the Lord during His path in this world. Then they first heard and then saw Him. But in our verse he is, I believe, referring to the truth concerning our Lord as recorded in John’s writings and those of the other apostles. Therefore the change in the order of the words, for they first saw the Lord while they were with Him for the years of His earthly sojourn. And then, when they wrote the books of the New Testament, they recorded what they heard, as the Holy Spirit inspired them to write. I believe then that ver. 3 suggests the truth of divine inspiration; the apostles wrote only what was dictated to them. And this they now, in their inspired writings, in the New Testament Scriptures, declare unto us. And this is done that the believers of the Christian dispensation may have fellowship with them, for truly their fellowship is with the Father and with the Son.
What a precious boon is this fellowship with the Father and Son. A share in everything. Life and fellowship are practically synonymous. As Peter puts it in the first chapter of his Second Epistle, precious faith links us with God; through it all things that pertain to life and godliness are given unto us, and by it we become partakers (same word as the word “fellowship” in our chapter) of the divine nature. There are of course degrees in the enjoyment of this fellowship, but the fact itself is true of all believers. They share in common the moral life and nature of the Father and the Son, and all the riches of divine grace. As in Romans 8: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”
Verse 4. The things recorded in vers. 1-3 are written that our joy may be full. How the world pursues that fleeting phantom it craves to possess—happiness. Here is the divine prescription for perfect joy, which any poor sinner may have filled by God’s apothecary. Some manuscripts give “our joy”, referring then to the joy of the apostle himself. Here is the prescription for fulness of joy:
1. The Eternal Word becoming Man—John 1:14.
2. The record of His wonderful life and precious death.
3. Seen and borne witness to by those who walked and talked with Him.
4. Declared unto us in the Gospels and the New Testament Epistles.
5. Through faith, one becomes a possessor of this eternal life, and thus a partner—a fellow-shipper—in the life, nature and possessions of God.
Truly, believing those wondrous facts, resting upon them, learning more of them, living in the power of them, must and does produce “fulness of joy”. Hallelujah, for the divine secret of unalloyed joy!
5. And this is the message which we have heard from Him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not the truth.
7. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
As we have the life of God in the opening verses, so we have His nature in these. God is “holy”. To say that God is “Light”, as in verse 5, is equivalent to saying that God is holy. This is the message John now declares—that “God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all.” He states this truth in a double form—positively and negatively. This is a new message, for it is something not revealed in the Old Testament. There God dwelt in the thick darkness, as Solomon said—1 King 8:12. There clouds and darkness were round about Him—Ps. 97:2. He was a God that hid Himself, as we read in Isa. 45:15. As John says: “No man had seen God at any time.” We all know how that God in those days took up His abode in “the holiest of all” of the tabernacle and the temple, where not a ray of light penetrated. Yet God was light, even then. The darkness may hinder its being seen, but it was there all the same. Some of the reflection of that light was seen; first of all in creation. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That light was also seen in a measure in His holy law, which revealed that God was holy, but not till Christ came was that light fully shown forth, as it is in the gospel of His grace. Here and now God not only is Light, but He has come out Himself into the light; there is no darkness at all any more. As the fact that God is love expresses the energy of God in asserting and maintaining the perfection of His goodness; so does light in regard to His moral character and nature.
God is Light, as we read in ver. 5. He is “in the light”—ver. 7. We see this truth illustrated in connection with the tabernacle and the temple. Once God dwelt there in thick darkness, but when our blessed Lord died on Calvary, the veil was rent, and now God not only is shown to be light, but He has come out into the light. Ver.5 suggests the life of Christ, revealing that God is light; ver. 7 suggests that through the death of Christ God has been fully revealed; He is in the light now.
God is Light. What tremendous thoughts are wrapped in this divinely-used symbol of His Being. Being composed of three rays, light is a beautiful symbol of God—Trinity in Unity. Three Persons, yet but one God. Light is self-manifesting, thus conveying the vital truth that God is fully able to reveal Himself. We do not see light as it is; we see by means of light. Even so God Himself is invisible, as light is, and He can only be seen through the incarnation of the Son. The Father, through the Son, reveals Himself. The Son, by the Spirit, made known the Father; and the Spirit, through the Word, reveals the Son. Again, light is transparent, thus speaking of the purity and completeness of the character of God. Nothing is hid when light shines in all its glory. The Lord Himself is the brightness of His glory and the express image of the Person of God. Light is also unchangeable, as God is. The same yesterday, today and forever. Light is active. As John tells us in his Gospel—chap. 1:5—the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. The word translated “comprehend” (katalam-bano) has the idea of “overtake” as it is translated in 1 Thess. 5:41. Light is active and energetic and dispels the darkness wherever it shines. Darkness is rather passive—it is the absence of light. Thus moral darkness is ignorance of God. Light is therefore victorious, and no matter how Satan may try, darkness can never overtake and extinguish the light. The truth is always victorious in the end. Darkness does not overtake the light, but always has to retreat before it. Only by shutting oneself away from the light can darkness encompass the soul. This is strikingly suggested in John 12:35 where the word “come upon” is the same Greek verb as that translated “comprehend” in ch. 1:5. The solemn truth is that, while darkness can never put out the light, it can and will come upon the soul that refuses the light. It cannot destroy the light, but it can make it ineffective as far as the Christ-rejecting soul is concerned. How pertinent therefore the words of our Lord Jesus in John 12:36, “While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of the light.” As the Light of the world, our blessed Lord performed a duel service. First of all He made known and revealed God; secondly, He revealed man to himself. We all know, from our reading of the Gospels, how our blessed Lord in all His ways, works and words, showed what God is like; He truly revealed Him in all His grace and glory. Yet at the same time His very presence here on earth told forth the sinfulness and wickedness of man. Jesus could say—John 15: 22—“if I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloke for their sin.” Some of that holy light He shed abroad made the proud Pharisees go out of His presence one by one, convicted by their own consciences. He was truly the light of the world, as He claimed to be. These same basic truths, of man’s sin and God’s grace and truth, God’s written Word impresses now on every honest reader. A sinner may fancy himself to be all he needs to be, but bring him into the light of God’s Word, as it shines today from the pages of the Bible, and he will recognize by its faithful light that he is vile and guilty and lost. A beggar might imagine himself to be a king while he is in the dark, but the moment the light is turned on, he sees his rags and filth, and knows he is naught but a poor beggar. No wonder that men hate God’s Word. The sinner is in darkness and walks in darkness; the Christian is in the light and walks in the light. That’s why sin is so heinous to a believer; he sees it as it is, in the light of God’s Word and God’s presence. It has been said that the outstanding difference between a believer and an unbeliever is that “the more upright a natural man is, the less is he conscious of possessing sin, but the more godly a believer is, the more is he conscious of all that does not measure up to God’s holy standard.” For the simple reason, of course, that it is by walking in close touch with God that a believer becomes godly; and as he walks in communion with God, in that holy light he is the more aware of anything that does not suit its purity.
Verse 7. The believer, then, is in the light. This does not refer to his condition, but to his position. It is not how, but where he is. The Christian is always in the light; he walks there. The more this is realized, the more consistent with his position will the life of the believer be. Haven’t you walked down a very dark street at night and looked into the well-lighted rooms of the homes as you pass them? How clearly you can see everyone and everything in those lighted rooms, while they would have great difficulty in seeing you out there in the dark. Even so the Christian is always in the light—in the spotlight—and the world out in its spiritual darkness clearly can see him, and can notice, and does notice, everything in his life that is inconsistent with his profession of Christ. Keeping this in mind will stir the heart to seek to live to His praise and glory. In the light of God’s Word, as we walk here, conscious that His eye is ever upon us, we see everything that is inconsistent with that light, and thus turn away from it in contrition and confession.
Walking thus in conscious fellowship with God, letting the light of His Word reveal us to ourselves and Himself to us, we will, as a matter of natural consequence, have fellowship with other believers—fellowship one with another. The craving for Christian fellowship is a sign that one is walking in the light. It does not say exactly that when walking in the light we enjoy fellowship with one another, but that we have it. John is speaking of facts that are true of all believers; not of the degree in which they are realized in practical life. The practical realization of it all is a matter of personal experience in the believer’s walk with God.
If we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin. This latter phrase does not mean that the blood is applied to the believer in case he sins, as it has been understood by many. If it meant that, the verse would have to read, “If we do not walk in the light, we do not have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus cleanseth us.” It is quite evident that if we walk in the light and have fellowship with other Christians, that then we would not need the cleansing power of the blood. Yet it is precisely when a believer is so walking that the cleansing power of the blood is stressed in ver. 7. What then does our verse mean? Simply, I take it, that John here again is not speaking of experience, but of fact. It is true of all believers at all times. He is not saying when the blood cleanseth, but that it cleanseth. When the believer walks in the light, in communion with God, it is then evident that the blood of Christ is cleansing blood, for the believer’s holy life then demonstrates that fact. The thought is that for the believer in Jesus the eternal efficacy of the blood of Christ abides forever. It is that which enables him to walk in the light. We might mention in connection with this very important subject of the blood of Christ, that on the Cross there poured forth from the side of our Lord blood and water. The blood once and forever meets the guilt of the soul that trusts in Christ, while the water first of all cleanseth away all sin’s defilement, for the sinner is born again by water and the Spirit; and secondly, the water of the Word daily keeps the life clean, as our Lord so beautifully illustrated in John 13, in the symbol of the feet-washing. The blood puts away our guilt before God once and for all; the water, applied daily, keeps the believer clean and pure. Our Lord lives on high to sanctify His Church and to cleanse it with the washing water by the Word—Eph. 5:26. There is no such thought in Scripture as a second application of the blood. The blood was presented to God on our behalf for our redemption, as in the Old Testament ritual the high-priest carried the blood into the holiest of all and sprinkled it before and on the mercy-seat; and the blood is applied to the believer upon his conversion for his consecration, even as the priests had the blood and the oil put upon the ear, the thumb and the great toe, claiming their whole being for the worship and service of God. Both these take place in a spiritual manner when a soul is saved —the blood puts away our guilt and claims us for God, for we are bought with a price. That is never repeated, anymore than the priests were ever touched with blood again after their original consecration. Ever after, they washed themselves at the water of the laver, as we do now by applying the purifying water of the Word of God to our life and conduct. Ver. 7 therefore states, I believe, that the Christian is brought into the light, and there it becomes plain that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth, for the world sees the new life he now lives. Hence the urgency to walk consciously in the light of the Word of God, that we may not shame Him who has redeemed us and claimed us for Himself.
“If we say.” Three times, in vers. 6, 8 and 10, we have these three little words.
Verse 6. If we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not the truth. John includes himself each time by saying, “If we say.” It is salutary for the believer to apply tests to himself. If anyone says he is a Christian, and yet does not walk in the light of God’s Word, he lies. Again the walking here is not how, but where we walk. The Christian walks in the light of God, he faces the truth as revealed in the Word, and is marked by that fact. The sinner walks in darkness, he refuses and shuns the light of truth. It is not a question of the character of each in either case, for very often a sinner lives a most moral, upright life. But if not saved, he walks in darkness all the same and does not know where he goeth. The fact that the unbeliever shuns and dreads the light of God’s Word marks him out as a sinner and proves his profession, however closely it might approximate a real Christian life, a sham. Very often, of course, walking in spiritual darkness (which is the thought in ver. 6) will result in a walk of moral darkness as well, but not always by any means. The sinners most difficult to convict are those whose lives are moral and lovely. Yet they are in total darkness spiritually; often more hopelessly so than the immoral sinner.
In contrast, the believer walks in the light. Not only is he there; he walks there. The Christian life is one of movement. The believer is not to be asleep, but is to walk. Walking suggests steady, patient plodding; a life lived for the glory of God.
Verse 8. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The “if we say” of ver. 6 can only refer to a false professor of Christ, but it appears to me that the profession suggested in ver. 8 may be either real or false. There are true, born-again souls, who are self-deceived into thinking that sin—the sinful nature inherent in us— has been eradicated; that they are sinless in themselves. Therefore the Spirit of God speaks more gently of such than of the sinners of ver. 6. Of them it is said that they “lie”; of these that they “deceive themselves”. How true! They never deceive God by this wrong claim and pretension, nor do they usually deceive others. A true Christian can only make this fantastic claim of sinless perfection because of being far away from God. High thoughts of self always go with low thoughts of Him. People who talk so are out of touch with the Lord. If one were really sinless it would not be necessary to say so, as in our verse. I am reminded of the story of a little boy who used to draw pictures. After drawing some queer caricature, he would write beneath it probably: “This is a horse”. One would never know what it was supposed to be without the explanation underneath. And when I hear anyone say that they are practically sinless, I think of that illustration. One would never know it, if not told so. People who say that they have no sin, nevertheless may be saved, they may be true Christians, but the truth is not in them. They make such high claims, because the truth of God’s word has no real abiding place in their hearts; they say so because of ignorance of God’s Word, and therefore ignorance both of Him and of themselves. It was in the presence of the Lord Jesus that Simon Peter said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”—Luke 5:8. Peter did not learn that when he was first saved; he said nothing of it at that time, but he learned it as he came to know the Lord better. So have I learned to know my own sinfulness and shortcomings a thousand times more fully since I was saved than ever before. When viewing a mighty mountain peak from a long distance, it does not impress one so much, but when coming close to it, its majesty and grandeur are felt, and one’s own insignificance is realized in comparison. Even so it is with the Christian. The closer he walks with God, the more he knows of his own exceeding worthlessness in the presence of His glory and His grace.
Verse 8 then presents the great truth of Scripture that God has seen fit to leave our sinful nature with us while here below. As we walk in the light, it will be very evident that we are still capable of doing that which is not according to His mind; that we are still capable of sinning. So:
Verse 9. We confess our sins, and “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we had no sin (which ver. 8 refutes), how could we possibly have any sins to confess, as in ver. 9? This verse therefore proves that Christians do sin. As has been said, Christians are not sinless, but they sin less. The believer should daily confess every sin to God—keep short accounts with Him—so that he may have the Father’s forgiveness and the cleansing application of the truth of God, thus keeping him in communion with God. As the blood met my sins once and for all as a sinner before God, so confession and consequent forgiveness and cleansing maintains me daily before the Father, and keeps communion with Him undisturbed.
Verse 10 speaks of still another fallacy—that of saying that we have not sinned at all. It seems inconceivable that any sane person should say that he has never sinned at all, yet there are such people. Some of the false cults of our day deny the reality of sin altogether. I take it that, while ver. 6 speaks of sinners who make a profession but whose profession is a lie, ver. 10 presents those who refuse the truth of God’s Word altogether; they are the apostates the Bible has so much to say about. Therefore the denunciation is much stronger in ver. 10. Here, not merely as in ver. 6 do such lie and practise not the truth, but they make God a liar, for they deny the plain statements of His Word; therefore His Word is not in them. To deny that man has sinned and does sin, is to deny every witness of the Old and New Testaments, and thus betrays the deliberate rejection and denial of God’s Word. It is to give God the lie; to make Him out to be a liar. It is active rebellion against God, as revealed in the Scriptures of truth.
To sum up then these three “If we say’s”:
Ver. 6—The sinner who professes to be saved but does not walk in the light of the Word of God. Hence he does not live out the truth in his life, thus both his words and works are a lie.
Ver. 8—Chiefly speaking of the believer who claims sinless perfection; deceiving himself and proving that the truth of Scripture does not have any real grip upon him.
Ver. 10—The apostate, deliberate denier of God’s plain Word, for God says that all have sinned; thus such make God a liar.
In sharp contrast, three great things are said to be true of the believer:
Ver. 7—he walks in the light; he lives in the light of the Word of God.
Ver. 7—he has fellowship with the people of God.
Ver. 9—he confesses his sins; walks in self-judgment and confession before God.
Verses 1, 2
1. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
2. And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
It is worthy to notice that the Apostle John here changes from the general “we” to “I”. “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not.” After having set forth the great universal facts of chapter 1, there is now the practical appeal to the children of God to profit by this precious ministry and provision that has been made for them, and to respond to it in lives devoted to the Lord. The Apostle uses the personal “I” to impress the thought that Christian living is in response to the personal claim our blessed Lord has upon us. It is love that is to respond to God’s longing for us. Back of John’s “I”, we hear the voice of our blessed Lord and hear Him asking us to live now for His praise and glory. The Greek word translated here “children” (teknon) has the idea of endearment. “My dear children,” says God through His servant. One may forget the writer and realize that it is God the Father speaking to His family and bidding it live a life that is pleasing to Him—a sinless life. That, and nothing short of that, is the pattern set before the believer, and the thought that we are loved of the Father with such amazing love, should stir us to seek to please Him in all our ways. Paul speaks after a similar fashion in Rom. 12 when he beseeches the believers, by the mercies of God, to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service. It is the love bestowed upon us that should constrain us henceforth not to live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again. And in order that we may not sin, these things (the things given in chapter 1) have been written. What are these things?
1. The blood of Christ which has cleansed us from all sin.
2. The fellowship with the Father and the Son into which we have been brought.
3. Fellowship with other believers.
4. The life which Jesus lived on earth as our Example and our Pattern—ch. 1:2.
5. The written Word of God, furnishing the light in which we may walk.
All these are wonderful provisions that enable us to live as we should. If the believer availed himself of these divine blessings, he would live sinlessly. Whatever our experience may be, sinlessness is God’s standard for us, and that standard must never be lowered. It is nothing less than the holy, perfect life of Christ Himself. As Peter remarks, He left us an example that we should follow His steps. The Christian must keep his eye fixed on Christ, to walk even so as He walked. When we take our eyes off the Lord and look at ourselves or at others, we will fail in a greater or lesser degree. A gentlemen once walked into St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and saw quite a group gathered around an artist who was painting a copy of one of the famous paintings hung there. After looking at the crowd for awhile he muttered to himself as he walked off: “How disgusting! There hangs one of the most famous works of art in the world, yet no one was looking at it, but they were all looking at the man who was painting a poor imitation of it.” He left, very much out of sorts with humanity, when all of a sudden he checked himself. “Hold on a minute,” he said, “you are sore at this crowd because it was looking only at the imitator and not at the original, but you are even worse, for you were looking at the people who were looking at the imitator; you were still further away from the real thing.” So in the Christian life, instead of gazing upon Him, through the mirror of the Word, many Christians are looking at other Christians, either to find fault or to imitate. John wrote his first chapter of his Epistle that the believer might keep looking at Christ, as He is revealed to our hearts in God’s Word. And doing so, the believer will walk in fellowship with the Father and the Son and with fellow-Christians; and if he does so, he will then live a perfect life. Alas, that this is so little true of God’s dear children! Yet God will not allow that we must of necessity sin. It does not say in ver. 1 of chapter 2 “when” any man sin, but “if”. We must never lower the holy standard God sets before us, to suit our experience. We must always seek to be like Him.
1. But if anyone sin, we have an Advocate. It does not say if any man sin, he has an advocate. The point is that the Advocate is there all the time, not only when a believer sins. He ever liveth for us in the courts above. As Hebrews 9:24 tells us, “He now appears in the presence of God for us”. Nor does it say if we confess our sins we have an Advocate. It has nothing to do with our confession. He pleads for us in any case and it is that that keeps us ever secure in the presence of God the Father. Our confession results in restoration to communion, but His advocacy maintains us in our position—our standing—before God. In other words, we are kept safe by the Advocacy of Christ; we are kept happy by our confession of sin before God.
We have an Advocate with the Father. This assures us therefore that sin does not break relationship with God for the believer. He is still our “Father,” even though we may sin. The Lord Jesus is not our advocate with God, but with the Father. Some may believe that when a Christian sins he is lost again, but this verse, with many others in the Word, refutes that idea. It is for that very reason that Jesus intercedes for us, so that standing in His presence may not be imperilled. There is a passage in 1 Cor. 11 that strikingly proves what we call “the eternal security of the believer in Christ.” In ver. 30 to 32 the Apostle speaks of sin so serious that God may even have to take the believer out of the world through death. Certainly if a Christian could be lost, then certainly here would be a case in point. Yet the Apostle goes on to say that he is not lost; for he says, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world”—1 Cor. 11:32. We are told therefore that the Lord judgeth, or chastens, His people here on earth, so that they shall not have to be condemned when the judgment of the world takes place. As one has said, God deals with the sins of His people on a cash basis, but with those of the world on a credit basis. The sins of an unbeliever are allowed to be piled up and up, till finally he will have to answer for them all at the great white judgment throne—all at one time—and as a result he will be condemned and eternally lost. But with the believer the Lord deals with his sins day by day. If a Christian confesses his sins, as we read in 1 John 1:9, they will be forgiven him and he will be cleansed from all unrighteousness. God can do this, because Christ pleads for the believer as his Advocate in heaven’s court. If the believer does not confess his sins, but walks carelessly or wilfully, then God will deal with him in chastisement, will judge him as in 1 Cor. 11:32, so that he will not have to be condemned with the world. Peter speaks of this same fact when he says in 1 Peter 1:17: “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
We learn from our Bible that not only do we have an Advocate pleading for us in the court of God, but there is also a Prosecutor there who accuses us. Revelation 12:10 tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren, who accuseth them before our God day and night. For 6,000 years he has been at that nefarious business, yet he has never won a single case, for we have an Advocate who pleads in such a way that He comes off the Victor every time. He has never been defeated anytime anywhere. Praise God’s holy Name!
“Though the restless foe accuses,
Sins recounting like a flood;
Every charge our God refuses,
Christ has answered with His blood.
“What though th’ accuser roar,
Of sins that I have done?
I know them well, and thousands more, Jehovah findeth none.”
It is great to have an Advocate—a lawyer to plead one’s case. I have proved that in every day affairs. How comforting, for instance, when one has an auto accident, to turn the case over to the Insurance Co. Their lawyers take complete charge of everything; no worry whatever to you; you may forget about the whole matter. I know by experience, and by contrasting experience (when I did not have a lawyer to take my case), what rest and relief it gives to have a legal gentlemen to intercede for me. And He is our Advocate in God’s Court. As is well known, the word translated here “Advocate” is elsewhere— in the Gospels—given as “Comforter”. It literally means one who is called alongside; one who helps in time of need. As the mother comes to the help of her child when it is in trouble or sick, or the lawyer undertakes the case of his client, so our Lord Jesus undertakes for us if we sin—He pleads for us.
Our Advocate is Jesus Christ the Righteous. How remarkable that appellation—the Righteous One! We know very well that in any earthly court it is of no particular consequence who the lawyer is. A very upright lawyer might have a very poor case; or a very wicked, crooked lawyer a just case. Down here it does not depend so much on the character of the lawyer as it does on either the merits of the case he handles, or his ability to put something over on the judge or the jury. Not so up there. For, you see, we have no case in God’s Court, and no one can put anything over on God. There is no excuse whatever for sinning; so if we sin we have already lost our case in God’s presence. Therefore it depends not on who or what we are or what we have done, but on who our Lawyer is and on what He has done. He does not plead our case, for we have none; He pleads His. Our Lawyer is Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the sinless, holy Son of God. He can plead for Himself and no charge can be maintained against Him in heaven’s court or anywhere else. But, alas, that would not help us. No, and therefore we read in ver. 2 of our chapter that He—the Righteous One is the propitiation for our sins. It is the sacrificial work of Calvary that He pleads on our behalf. And this makes it clear why He is called the Righteous One here. For if He were not righteous in Himself, then the work He accomplished to meet our sins would have no value. It is because of who and what He is that He can plead the value of what He did. It is the worth of the Person that adds all the value to the work He accomplished on the cross. Yes, praise God, He ever presents to God the worth of His precious death; therefore He maintains our standing in the divine presence. Notice that it says He is the propitiation for our sins; not that He makes it. He made propitiation 1900 years ago, once and for all; it is the value of that work of redemption that abides eternally in all its force and power. It is that which Jesus pleads in heaven for the sins of His people.
And He is not only the propitiation for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. That is, there is efficacy in the blood of Christ to save the whole world. Salvation is offered to all, but it is only upon all them that believe. Oh, that men would only avail themselves of that all-availing blood of Christ.
Ere leaving this vital, interesting subject, let us briefly contrast the work of our Lord as Advocate with that as High-priest. I would say that the difference between the two is that He is in heaven as our great High-priest to keep us from sinning; and that as Advocate He pleads for us after we have sinned. If the believer availed himself of Christ as High-priest, he would not need Him as His Advocate. We come to Him as to our High-priest with boldness, as to One who sits upon a throne of grace, where we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need; we come to Him as our Advocate in time of sin.
With God (2:17)
With the Father (2:1)
Merciful and faithful (2:17)
For our infirmities (4:15)
For our sin (2:1)
Merciful and faithful (2:17)
Faithful and just (1:9)
Grace in time of need (4:16)
Help in time of sin (2:1)
We may come boldly (4:16)
Humbly in confession (1:9)
He liveth (7:25)
He pleads His death (2:2)
3. And hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4. He that saith I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him.
5. But whosoever keepeth His word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in Him.
6. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.
Up till now we have been told what is true of us; what we really are in Christ and what He is to us. Now we reach the subjective side. Here we have obedience to God and love that makes others instead of self the centre of interest. There are three features of Christian life in these verses:
These do not exactly follow upon each other, for all three are true essentially the very moment of conversion. Unlike in the natural life, a new-born babe in God’s family can walk immediately, for he has the nature and the power (the indwelling Holy Spirit) to enable him or her to live the life of Christ right away. That walk may in some cases be a halting walk, while with others it may be full of life and energy, as with the lame man of Acts 3, who after his healing not only walked, but leaped as well.
Obedience is also a mark of divine life. Like Paul, every believer asks: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” The gospel is preached for the obedience of faith, and therefore the initial faith that converts the soul is itself the first step in the path of obedience. The natural man is a child of disobedience, but the Christian is, as Peter tells us—1 Peter 1:14—a child of obedience. The Christian, then, as ver. 3 states, keeps His commandments. These are not the ten commandments of course, but the truths of the New Testament, the commandments the Lord has left with us in His Word. Those commandments are not grievous, we are told in ch. 5:3. For we have received a divine life and nature through faith in Christ, and that nature loves the things of God, and delights to do His will. Love is the motive force of this new life, and so our Lord said to His own, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments”—John 14:15.
Notice that it does not say in ver.3 that we know Him if we keep His commandments, but that we know that we know Him. It is the test the believer applies to himself. He knows he is a true Christian because he walks in obedience to God’s Word. So, in ver. 5, we know that we are in Him, when we keep His Word.
The third thing that marks the Christian is “fellowship”. We abide in Him. However, in each of these three divine marks, there is to be constant growth and development. A Christian not only walks, living the life of God now, but is to walk “even so as He walked”. Nothing less than the Lord’s own perfect life should be the aim of every Christian. A life of faith in God; a life of dependence upon God. We have a beautiful sample of such a life in Matthew 14, where Peter walked on the water. He reasoned that if the Lord could walk, so, then he could also. And he was right; he did walk on the water to go to Jesus. Had he kept his eyes on the Lord, there would have been no trouble. And if the child of God keeps the eye of faith fixed on Christ, he too will walk even so as He walked.
So also in regard to obedience. In ver. 3 we read of keeping His commandments; in ver. 5 of keeping His Word. This latter is a distinct step ahead in the path of obedience. The believer not only asks, “What must I do?” (that is equivalent to keeping His commandments), but also “What may I do?”, which would be “keeping His word”. Of the believer that keeps His word it is said in ver. 5 that in him the love of God has been made perfect. Children are under commandments; we order them to do thus and so, but older ones in the family act on their own initiative; they have reached a higher stage of development and intelligence. So in the family of God. Our Lord not only kept and obeyed His Father’s commandments, but He also came to do His “will”. We are truly in fellowship with Him when we do likewise. Oftentimes Christians say, when challenged regarding something they practise, “What scripture do you have to prove that I am doing wrong?” The answer is that a believer does not need a “Thus saith the Lord” for every detail of his life; he is to walk in love and keep His word as well as His commandments. He should know and want to know the Lord’s mind because he walks in communion with Him. Thus he will keep His word, and thus the love of God will be made perfect in him. A mother goes from home for the day and gives her daughters minute and careful instructions as to what they are to do that day. If they do all she tells them, they have kept her commandments, and have proven their obedience. But suppose the mother, upon leaving the house in the morning, simply says: “Well, girls, you know how I like to have everything done; I’ll just leave it all to your judgment”. Then, if those girls get busy and attend to everything (and probably, in order to surprise and please their mother) do a great deal more than she would expect from them, they have kept her word and have proven that they really love her; that her love has been made perfect in them. Something like that is suggested in ver. 5.
By keeping the Lord’s word it does not say that believers are in Him, but that they know they are in Him. We are in Him by the very fact of our conversion. But we know we are—we have the enjoyment and experimental blessing of it—when we seek to please Him. Thus we really enjoy fellowship with Him. Being in Him is true from the time we are saved and the Holy Ghost was imparted to us (see John 14:20); knowing it is due to keeping His Word. There are therefore three stages in verses 3-6:
We know Him; and we know that we know Him by keeping His commandments—ver. 3.
We are in Him, and we know that we are in Him, by keeping His word—ver. 5.
We abide in Him, and should walk even so as He walked—ver. 6.
Walking In Love
7. Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which ye heard.
8. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth.
9. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even till now.
10. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.
11. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.
All that the Lord said from chapter 1 to chapter 12 in John’s Gospel is called in chapter 12:49 of that Gospel the “Father’s commandment”. That commandment was the Eternal Life—the revelation of it in Christ, as recorded in ch. 1:1 of John’s Epistle. In vers. 3 to 6 of the second chapter of this Epistle John writes of the activity of that eternal life in the soul of the child of God. Then, in ver. 7, he assures us that he is not penning something new, not a new commandment, but the very truth he had heard from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself. Writing thus, he is not introducing something new; he is not speaking of some advanced revelation. But he writes of the old commandment true in Him, and heard from the beginning (from the beginning of the Lord’s ministry). Yet in a sense it is new nevertheless, for it is now true in us as well, as once it was only in Christ. Once we were in the dark; now in the light. This is the nature and character of what is in us; not the degree of its manifestation. In the Lord Himself there was nothing to cloud its outward manifestation; in us there is so much. The eternal life that has been imparted to us is so covered over to a large extent by the life which is natural to us by our natural birth, that the characteristic activities of this imparted eternal life are not shown forth by us as they were by Him. Mere profession is tested in the verses we are now considering—as in ver. 9. The chief attribute of God is Love. This proves whether one is a true believer, or a false professor. Mere profession is not a reality, it is a “scandal”, as the word “stumbling” in ver. 10 should read.
As we have already considered, and as ver. 7 and 8 again emphasize, obedience is the first and foremost essential sign of divine life. We do right because God has His rights. To do right always, simply because it is right in our eyes, would be to do wrong, because it would leave God out. The divine requisite for a believer is to walk in obedience to God’s word, to God’s thoughts.
Verse 7. “Beloved” (John uses the word “brethren” only once, in ch. 3:13), “I write ... an old commandment unto you.” “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” What power so strong in drawing forth love from our hearts to Him and to one another, as the power of love; the thought that we are “beloved” of Him. It is His love that constrains us. This new commandment is an old one. Folks always want something new. But in God’s economy the old thing is the new thing, for the blessed reason that is never grows old. After having sung about the precious blood of Christ for many years down here, it is still the “new song” when we get home to glory.
Verse 8. The darkness is passing for the believer and the true light shines. The darkness is not all past yet for the Christian, though some day it shall be—praise His name!—but as he walks in the light of the living Word, actuated by the love of Christ, the light shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
Verse 9. The believer’s new nature is a nature that “loves”, for it is the divine nature. In contrast the sinner naturally hates. Once it was true of all of us, as Titus says—chap. 3:3—that we were at one time foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts, and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. And this is still true of the sinner, even though he may make a profession of being saved. Such an one is in darkness until now—has never been saved at all.
Verse 10. He that loves his brother (not merely says that he loves him) walks with God, and does not cause any dishonor to the name of Christ.
Verse 11. But he that hates his brother is still in the darkness of sin; walks there, and is truly lost, for he does not know where he is going. Like a blind man he gropes around in the darkness, away from God. What a pathetic picture of a sinner away from God. While it says of the sinner, in vers. 9, 11, that he hates his “brother”, this must be understood to mean only that he claims that Christians are his brothers; he makes a profession of being a believer and thus counts believers his brothers, but his conduct proves that it is a false profession. He is one of the false brethren mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
Degrees Of Growth In The Family Of God
12. I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His Name’s sake.
13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know Him Who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father.
14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know Him Who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.
15. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16. For all that is the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.
18. Little children, it is the last hour; and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists whereby we know that it is the last hour.
19. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us.
20. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
22. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son.
23. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.
24. As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father.
25. And this is the promise which He promised us, even the life eternal.
26. These things have I written unto you, concerning them that would lead you astray.
27. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as His anointing teacheth concerning all things, and is true and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in Him.
These verses form a parenthesis in the theme of the Epistles; they are devoted to calling our atten- tion to the various degrees of experimental knowledge of the things of God as they exist among the saints. At verse 28 the subject of the early part of the second chapter is resumed; that is, the tests that are applied to the believer as to his Christian life and testimony.
Spiritual blessings, those that are the fruit of the work of Christ for us, belong alike to all the children of God. All believers, born-again ones, are mentioned in ver. 12, and again in ver. 28, where the same Greek word, teknia, is used as in ver. 12. This word is a general term describing all those who are born into God’s family, regardless of age or growth. But between vers. 12 and 28 are unfolded the distinctive features of individual spiritual growth and experience, which are not the same, but vary in proportion to the believer’s interest and purpose of heart. Hence the word “children,” used in vers. 13 and 18— the Greek word paidia—is not a general term used to describe all saints, but it is used to distinguish babes in Christ from young men and fathers. The word employed in these two vers, means “babe”. In ver. 12 we are told that all believers alike are the possessors of the initial blessing of the forgiveness of sins. From that point on, from new birth into the great family of God, the believer now advances in spiritual growth and maturity. As new-born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the Word, we should grow up into Him. We should not always remain spiritual infants, but grow up into young manhood and fatherhood in the precious things of God. This difference in spiritual maturity is the only difference recognized in the family of God, as it is in a literal sense in any earthly family. Three classes of believers are addressed:
2. Young men
3. Little children
All these have life in Christ alike; all alike are the recipients of every spiritual blessing in virtue of the grace of Christ, but there is a difference in spiritual apprehension and experience. Thus a special message is given to each of these three groups.
In connection with the fathers, the knowledge of Christ is prominent.
In connection with the young men, it is love of the Father that is mentioned.
In connection with the little children, the Holy Spirit is stressed.
Fathers in spiritual growth have reached the stage where the Lord Jesus Christ fills their vision, and so no warning is needed or given to them.
Young men are in danger of moral seduction; hence they are warned against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Children are in danger of spiritual seduction; hence they are warned against false doctrine, against anti-christian lies.
From vers. 18 to 27 the message is addressed to the babes in Christ. There is much more said to them than to either the young men or the fathers in the faith. As babes in this wicked world, the domain of the devil, they are in constant danger of being led astray by the multitudinous false doctrines and lies of Satan. John says to them that it is the last hour—ver. 18—and that the devil is very busy in endeavoring to subvert the young believer in Jesus. Since the knowledge of Christ constitutes Christianity, therefore the devil would seek to prevent the child of God from knowing Him, and tries to pass off his false theories on the young believer ere such an one is as yet established solidly on the sure truth of God. Little children, as yet only little acquainted with the Word, are specially open to his seductions.
Let us consider each of these three family groups, and the words addressed to each:
Fathers. It does not call them “old men”, but “fathers.” Praise God, the believer never grows old! Spiritually the inward man is renewed day by day. The Christian has drunk at the fountain of eternal youth; and though the outward man perish, inwardly the believer grows in spiritual vigor and strength. Of the fathers it is said, both in vers. 13 and 14, that they have known the Lord Jesus. Nothing is added to this, simply because there can be nothing beyond knowing Him. It is the acme of Christian joy and glory. Paul craved it, that he might know Him; Him, in whom dwell all the treasures of divine wisdom and knowledge. The fathers know Him, the One who is from the beginning. Such have studied and meditated upon the wondrous life of Christ of which John wrote, as he says in ch. 1:1. How much there is to be learned of Him as He is set forth before our soul’s vision in the four Gospels. Paul speaks of this same wondrous life of Christ when he says in Eph. 4:21: “Ye have heard Him and have been taught by Him, at the truth is in Jesus”. And the fathers have known Him as He is brought before them in the pages of the rest of the New Testament writings. Through reading and meditation on the Word, fathers are brought into close, personal acquaintance and fellowship with Christ—with Him who was from the beginning. There is a vast difference between knowing the truth and knowing Him. Knowing the truth alone is very apt to puff up the Christian; knowing Him always leads to humility and to a deep sense of one’s own unworthiness, in the light of His grace and glory. Knowing the truth may be merely an intellectual process; knowing Him is the fruit of the mind, heart and soul fully drawn after Him. It is the Person of Christ that should fill our vision; every little bit we learn of the Word should make Him more real and dear to us. Those who know Him so are truly fathers in Christ. They are fathers, for they will have precious souls as their spiritual children, the fruit of their Christian life and character and testimony. As Paul said, while others may be instructors in Christ, there are not many fathers. A personal intimate knowledge and enjoyment of Christ will surely result in souls being won through such a life. And having been won for Christ, such will be tenderly cared for, as a natural father cares for his children. A father will “exhort and comfort and charge” his spiritual children—I Thess. 2:11. There is a great need for true fathers (and mothers too, of course) in the spiritual family of God.
Young men. Young men have overcome the wicked one. As fathers take care of the children in the family of God and thus have their sphere largely among the saints in the circle of Christian fellowship and life, the young men, with all the energy and zeal that marks young men, are out in the world in the thick of the battle. They have strapped on the sword of the Spirit, and are busy fighting Satan and his hosts, seeking to snatch souls from his grasp and return them to God, their rightful Owner. They are waging warfare against the devil, and snatching souls from the power of darkness to bring them into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. This very conflict brings them continually into contact with all that is of the world, the flesh and the devil, and thus they are in peculiar danger. Hence, in ver. 13, the Apostle writes them the second time, not because they have not gained the victory over Satan, but because they have done so. Because they are strong and the Word of God abideth in them, and they have overcome the wicked one; therefore they are in the greater danger. For it is a matter of biblical as well as present-day record, that a believer is never in a more dangerous position than after he has won a great victory. There always seems to be a sharp reaction after any signal victory, and therefore the believer ever needs to be on his guard. For it is just then that Satan will use the lust of the flesh and of the eyes, and the pride of life, to entrap and defeat the Christian warrior. Think for instance of Samson. It was after he had slain a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, after he had carried away the gates of the city of Gaza and brought them to a hill close to Hebron (close to “communion,” which is the meaning of Hebron, but not close enough) that he was enticed by Delilah. His glorious victories were followed by ignominious defeat. Alas, it is nothing new in the experience of almost every saint of God. It was after Elijah’s monumental triumph on Mt. Carmel that he fled all the way to Horeb, thus falling from grace. He faced 850 evil men one day, with the whole nation of Israel worshipping idols, to run the next day from one woman. David had won some mighty victories as recorded in 2 Sam. 10, but he stayed home from the battle, and was terribly overcome by yielding to his lust, as recorded in 2 Sam. 11. What a dark chapter in an otherwise so lovely history! So the young men are faithfully warned to beware in the day of victory. We are never so weak as when we are strong.
Verses 15 to 17 tell us what Satan’s great inducement is by which he would overcome, and often does overcome, the believer. It is the “world”. Satan claims to be the Prince and god of it, and the Lord Jesus when on earth did not dispute his claim. It is true he is but a usurper, yet our God has seen fit to allow him to operate down here pretty much as he pleases. Therefore, since Satan owns this world and runs it, the Christian is in a very dangerous place. He is like a soldier deep in the enemy’s territory, and his only safety lies in keeping in close touch with his Lord and Master up there in the glory. Satan is like a lion, who often walks about, seeking whom he may devour. And again he is pictured to us in Scripture under the figure of a bear, who does not claw his victims as the lion does, but hugs them to death. It is to be questioned in which role the devil is the more dangerous. Satan uses the world to hug the believer and to crush all practical life out of him. It is not in vain that the young man is told not to love the world. There is something very seductive and alluring about the world, or we would not be put on our guard against falling in love with it. The very word for “world” (kosmos) means arrangement, beauty or embellishment. The devil dangled it before the eyes of our Lord in the temptation in the wilderness, but, of course, in vain. He often has much more success with the Lord’s disciples; with you and me. It has been said that Satan ran the first moving-picture show when he tempted the Lord. In one moment he reeled off before our Lord’s vision all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. He does so still, and many a believer has taken the tempting bait in a greater or lesser degree. But alas, the world and its glory are not real. We are told in ver. 17 that the world passeth away. It is but a fashion, an external show (schema)—1 Cor. 7:31. It is just a moving-picture show, as it were. You see it, very much like real life, and then it’s over.
John uses this word “world” (kosmos) more than all the other writers of the New Testament together. He employs it 104 times; 77 times in the Gospel, 24 in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation. He never uses the word aion—“age”—often translated “world” in our Bible. The latter word is a word having reference to time; it is a dispensational word. The word kosmos is a moral word; it has reference to the spiritual condition of the present world system. “Love not the world”, says God. And He says it to the young men, for young people are specially attracted to that which is beautiful and aesthetic. While it does not mean of course the physical world, but rather the world as a moral system that is away from God, yet even in the physical world there is much to attract the Christian and thus to distract him from Christ. Some believers are too much taken up, for instance, with the marvelous beauty of nature, and allow their love of it to take the time that Christ should have in heart and life. How many a believer has been drawn away from the path of devotion to God through the attraction of the lovely face and form of a young lady; or the handsome manliness of some young fellow; and Christ has become largely displaced by this lesser love. Whenever a believer is tempted to “fall in love,” as we say, with an unbeliever, let such remember that God forbids it here in 1 John 2:15. “Love not the world,” and to disobey God’s word and love an unbeliever, would be indeed falling in love. To fall into love with the world is equivalent to falling out of love with God. James puts it very strongly when he says that he that is a friend of the world is an enemy of God. The world has ten thousand appeals; it has something to suit every disposition, every type of man, woman or child. Its arts and sciences appeal to some; sports to others; its lusts to still others; its music to still more. Some are after fame and glory; after riches and power. A Christian may use many of these things, but not abuse them. The moment anything becomes one’s master and comes between the soul and God, it is of the world and should be shunned like the plague. God sums it all up in ver. 16 by saying that, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain-glory of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world.” If the believer will keep near to Christ through prayer and meditation on the Word, the world will not have any hold upon him.
If God tells us not to love the world, it is because a deeper, sweeter, greater love has been shed abroad in our hearts—the love of God. We will learn much of that love later on, in chapter four of this same Epistle. It provides the needed power and energy to overcome the world, rather than to be overcome by it.
Little children. Children, we are told, have known the Father. The Spirit indwelling the new-born soul immediately causes him to breath: “Abba, Father”—Gal. 4:6. John has much to say in his Gospel concerning this precious relationship which before the cross was enjoyed only by our Lord Himself. But after He rose from the dead He declared that now His God was our God, and His Father our Father too. New-born babes not only have God as their Father, but they learn to know the Father as well. God deals with His children as a Father, caring for their needs, watching over them, so that they bear fruit for His glory—see John 15:1. He chastens His children for their spiritual good—Heb. 12:7-11. The more we get to know Him, the more will we value that tender Father’s care and concern of His over His own family. Ver. 24 suggests that increasing knowledge of God produces practical enjoyment, and leads the babes in Christ to closer intimacy and fellowship with the Father and the Son. In a certain sense every believer remains a child in the Father’s family always, no matter how mature he or she may have become in the things of God. We always need His care, and we always revel in His love to us. But as to our usefulness in the sphere of service we are to grow up into vigorous young men and into fathers in the faith.
Because of the constant danger of spiritual seduction, the little children are now warned against this, in vers. 18 to 27. While antichrist in person has not come upon the scene yet, antichristian teachings already abound, and have done so almost from the beginning of the Christian era. They abounded in John’s day. God allowed this in His mercy, so as to warn us against this terrible scourge. Today every true believer knows how fearfully the awful apostasy—the departure from the truth of God—is sweeping the world.
Verse 19. Many of these antichrists had once been in Christian fellowship. They were among them, says John, but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not of us. They repudiated the profession they once made. They are like the class mentioned in Heb. 6:1-8 or in Heb. 10:26-29. Such cannot possibly be saved; it is impossible to renew them to repentance; they are apostates from the truth. Such not only have fallen away from the truth themselves, but they seek to prevent others from the faith. But, says John, even the babes in Christ have a wondrous provision made for them against this subtle danger, for:
Verse 20. “Ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” The impartation of the Holy Spirit, a blessing which even the veriest babe in Christ possesses, guards him against the danger of being carried away by false doctrine. He knows, as ver. 21 says, the truth, and henceforth knows that no lie is of the truth. Because he knows the truth, he is guarded against error. A believer does not need to know all about the many lies that are peddled around; he only needs to have a grasp of the truth of God. The truth is like a yardstick which shows all false teachings fail to measure up to its standard. If the believer knows the truth, then he immediately knows everything that does not agree with it. As we are told in John 10:27, the sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice, and a stranger will they not follow, because they know not the voice of strangers. How simple this makes everything for the young believer. Let him but listen to the true voice of the true Shepherd, and he will automatically know everything that does not ring true to it. And in order that he may know the truth, the Holy Spirit—the Anointing of the Holy One—has been implanted within him, for his mission is to take the things of Christ and show them unto us. Therefore, in saying in verse 20 that we “know all things”, the thought is not that we know every detail of the truth of God (I do not suppose we will know these in that way even throughout the unending reaches of eternity), but simply that, having the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth, we are capable of detecting everything that does not ring true to it. Intuitively we will know all things that are true, and be able to detect and reject the spurious. And the more a believer listens to His voice, the easier it will become to recognize every false voice. Knowing the Shepherd’s voice we will know also the hireling’s voice, and will flee from him. Verse 22. “Who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ; he is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.” The first part of this verse tells us that Antichrist will deny that Jesus is the Christ, which is the Jewish form of apostasy. The Jew rejects the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. John wrote his Gospel for the very purpose of proving that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah—see chap. 20: 21. The latter part of the verse is the anti-christian denial of Christ—that He is the Son Who came to reveal God to us as Father. Notice that the antichrist does not deny the Father, but the Father and the Son. In fact, to believe in the universal Fatherhood of God is quite popular. But, as our Lord tells us, no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. The Father can only be known in Christ. “He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him.” Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son, that which is the very basis of the Christian faith. That is apostate Christendom, even as the first part of ver. 22 suggests apostate Judaism. John covers both phases from the positive side in chap. 20:31 of his Gospel, when he says that he wrote his Gospel to prove that Jesus is the Christ—the Jewish question; and that He is the Son of God— the Christian truth. Antichrist will deny both when he comes; and already are there many antichrists. In the present day the presence of Christians in the world hinders the full manifestation of this awful wicked rebellion against God and against His Anointed.
Verse 24. But from the very beginning the believer has been taught that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing he has life through His name. Making this his own by faith, dwelling upon these precious truths through the medium and by the illumination of God’s Word by the Spirit, he grows in grace and experimentally enjoys fellowship with the Father and the Son. That is truly—as in ver. 25— eternal life. For eternal life is “to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” Thus the child of God is protected against spiritual seduction—ver. 26.
Verse 27. The Holy Spirit abides in the believer, and as He is the Teacher sent from God to guide the believer into all truth, to take the things of Christ and show them unto him, to bring all things to his remembrance, to enable him to make all these things practically his own, therefore the believer does not need any man to teach him. This does not mean, of course, that a believer is not to profit by the spiritual gifts—gifted men—whom the risen Head of His Church has given for the building up of the Body of Christ—see Eph. 4:11-13. For these men are but the instruments of that very Spirit that dwells in every believer, and therefore it is still the Holy Spirit who does the teaching through these servants of God. But this verse does mean that we do not need anyone to teach us, that each believer is perfectly able to understand the Word of God because he has the Author of the Word indwelling him. It means that we can understand the Word of God apart from man’s ministry. The Roman Catholic Church makes the claim, as do other pretenders, that we cannot understand the Scriptures apart from their interpretation of them. That is the devil’s lie. Every believer not only can understand the Word, but is bound to search the Scriptures for him or herself, and thus gain a knowledge of its truths, and thus be able to refute and refuse everything that is not in full agreement with its teachings. We have the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and so every believer, from the very youngest babe in Christ, is able to understand its precious truths, and to detect all that is not according to its revelation. What a blessed safeguard this is against all the false theories that abound in the world today! The children of God are protected from all that is false and damning in the spiritual realm by the possession of the Word of God in their hands, the Spirit of God in their hearts. May each one avail himself or herself more of that divine provision day by day.
Righteous Living The Evidence Of New Birth
Verses 28, 29
28. And now, my little children, abide in Him; that, if He shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
29. If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him.
In vers. 1 to 11 of this chapter love was shown to be the mark of a true believer; then followed the parenthesis we have just considered—vers. 12-27—now the thread of the discourse resumes and the truth brought out that righteousness is also a trait indicating one is His. As was said before, this Epistle has as its theme eternal life as seen in the Christian. This life is God’s life and nature, and thus produces likeness to God. God is Light and God is Love, as we are told in this letter; these are to be reproduced in us, producing practical righteousness in the believer and the outflow of divine love. Love is the subject in general in the remainder of the Epistle. To manifest these divine characteristics it is imperative that the soul remain in direct contact and touch with the source of these qualities, and thus we are exhorted to abide in Him—ver. 28. All believers alike need this, so in ver. 28 the term “little children” again includes all the family of God. Hence the word teknia is again employed, with its meaning of “born-ones”. The oldest and the youngest saint alike need to keep in vital union with Christ. As He said, “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” In Him life exists independently; in us it is dependent on its divine source. We carry a contraption around with us called a fountain-pen. But this title claims too much. There is no fountain in it; it needs to have its supply of ink replenished every now and then. It is even so with us believers. Even though we have the well of living water within us, as we read in John 4:14, yet for its supply it is dependent on the Source of living water —the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, after being told in ver. 27 that He abideth in us (by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit), we are now exhorted to abide in Him. As our Lord said, as found in John’s Gospel: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.”
Scripture has much to say about this important subject of abiding. The same Greek word is translated “remain, continue, dwell”. Its meaning thus is quite plain. It simply means that a believer should stay where grace puts him—in touch with Christ. “Abiding” suggests rest, not labor; “enjoyment,” not employment. It does not mean that we should restlessly be seeking for something or other, to strive after a higher attainment, but it suggests that we avail ourselves of all that God in His grace has blessed us with in and through Christ. As the branch in the vine draws its nourishment from the main stem, so the believer should draw all he needs for his spiritual life from Christ, through the Word. The inevitable result will be that he will produce the same fruit as that exhibited in the perfect life of our Lord. Don’t go chasing after every will-o’-the-wisp, and thus miss all the blessing and power and joy there is in the Lord Jesus. A believer does not go seeking after truth; he has found it—in Christ. “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Those who do not abide, but always hunt something new or sensational, miss the very best there is. I am reminded of a simple illus- tration in this regard. Once upon a time we went huckleberry-picking. The party consisted of the lady of the house, her five daughters and myself. You know how children would pick berries. They see a few bushes here that look good to them and they pick a few berries. Then suddenly they see some plants a hundred yards away that look better to them, and over they go. That’s how it went this particular day. But we two old folk just kept picking along (and eating a good many too as we picked), and when it came time to go home, we had about two gallons of berries each, while the children had each maybe a quart or so a-piece. You see, we did some abiding, and the children didn’t. “Abide in Him,” we are told. For in Christ is everything we need for food, rest, joy, service.
John 6:56 shows us how we abide in Him. “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” It is therefore by feeding on Christ that we abide or dwell in Him. We take our food, but we are not always eating. We enjoy the food while we eat it, yet the food abides in us after the consciousness of its presence has ceased. After it is digested, we actually dwell in it, for it has been transmitted into flesh and bones. We do not need to know the mechanics of body-building; all we need to do is to eat what the body requires. Thus we abide not only when feeding on God’s Word, but all the time. Abiding is hence the natural result of feeding on Christ through the Word, and through resultant meditation upon it. Meditation answers to digestion of the food. Using another figure, we know that all a good tree has to do in order to bear fruit is to dig its roots into the soil, spread its branches and leaves to the sunshine and the rain, and it will surely bear fruit. So let a Christian be rooted and grounded in His love; drink in the refreshing blessing of the Word and bask in the sunshine of His love, and Christ-likeness will surely be reproduced in such a life.
Abide in Christ, that (not when, but if) He shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. The Apostle uses the word “if”. It is not a question of the time, but of the fact of His coming that is stressed. If it is true that Christ shall be manifested (and when He is manifested we too shall be manifested with Him, as we read in Col 3:4); then we want to live so that we shall not be ashamed when He comes. Our lives down here will be reviewed at the judgment-seat of Christ and then every one shall receive for the things done in the body. Much is said of this graduation day of the believer, and everywhere he is urged so to live that he may hear the Lord’s “well done” in that day. Paul speaks of it in 2 Tim. 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”
At that time, at the appearing of Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us that “He shall be glorified in His saints, and be admired in all them that believe”—2 Thess. 1:10. I take it this means that then, when the world at Christ’s public coming sees all the saints clothed in the glory put upon them, they shall glorify Christ as they look at us. For the book of Revelation and other passages show that the saints at Christ’s coming shall be clothed in the beauty which they have earned by their faithfulness to Christ down here—see Rev. 19: 8, where the Bride is decked in garments said to be the righteous deeds of the saints. John suggests therefore, in our verse—28, that unless we abide in Christ, unless we walk in communion with Him, we shall miss the reward in that day, and thus we shall be ashamed at His coming. We shall not merely miss the glory and honor that might have been ours at the appearing of Jesus Christ—1 Pet. 1: 7—but, which is even worse, we shall in a certain sense rob Him of the praise and glory that should be His. For the brighter we shine, the more dazzling our garments of glory are in that day, the more praise shall be His.
Some think that John has something like that in view in ver. 28. While he has been saying “ye” throughout the previous verses, he says “we” in ver. 28. He is possibly thinking here of himself and the other apostles and the servants of Christ all through the Christian age. If the believer does not abide in Christ, does not walk in spiritual touch with Him all his life, then his testimony will not be what it might and ought to have been, and thus he or she shall lose reward at the judgment-seat. And John possibly suggests here that as a result the servant of the Lord too will be ashamed, just as a schoolteacher is ashamed when the scholars make poor grades, for it reflects on the teacher’s ability or energy. As John says in his third Epistle, a servant of Christ has no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth. Paul presents a thought similar to it when he says in 1 Thess. 2:19, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” He will rejoice when he sees those who were saved through his ministry, rewarded and honored in that day, because they were true to Christ. They are his glory and joy. Contrariwise, if believers do not walk with God, then the servant of the Lord is ashamed, as John probably suggests in our verse.
“Abide in Christ,” says John, “that we may have boldness”. This word literally is “boldness of speech”. It seems to me that the suggestion is that if believers live godly and devoted lives, John in that day will be able to say, “These were saved through my ministry and led on as I cared for them; aren’t they splendid? I am not ashamed to present them before the Lord.” Hebrews 13:17 sums up this view, by saying that the servants of Christ watch for the souls of the Lord’s own, as they that must give account, and they desire to do this with joy and not with grief.
Verse 29. As the Lord Jesus is righteous, so every born-again soul practiseth righteousness. The characteristic life of the believer is a life of living uprightly. A Christian may fail and fall, as we shall see later on, but what marks his life as a whole is that he lives soberly, righteously and godly in the present world.