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The great leading truth of all this Epistle is what is expressed in verse i, that eternal life has come down—a real positive life. The eternal life that was with the Father actually entered this world in the Person of Christ. The old thing—what the first Adam was—is entirely rejected. It is true, we have both in us as long as we are in the body. But there is the second Man, the Lord from heaven, who has come in, because the first man was turned out. In blessed grace He comes down. And we have seen it, he says, and heard it—the Word of life—that is, in Christ. He was walking about this world, another kind of life altogether. That is what he calls “from the beginning.” It was an entirely new thing manifested here below. Wherever there is the fulness of grace brought in, that is, our privileges and relationships, we get the Father and the Son. Of course it is God, but God brought out in these relationships; verses 1-4.
The first thing we have here, in virtue of the life God has given to us, is the fulness of the privileges of the saints in Christ. They have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. But in the next place he brings a second point out, and it is this: If you say you have that kind of fellowship, and walk in darkness, it is all false, because darkness cannot have fellowship with light. If you have perfect grace bringing in divine life—the life that was manifested in the Person of Christ, and then communicated to us, he next says, It is fight. God does not change the holiness of His nature; and therefore the pretence to have fellowship with it, if we are walking in darkness, is all false.
Connected with this he presents the remedy as regards our state; that is, that Christ cleanses us and makes us fit for the light. And the second thing which comes out in the next chapter is, that when, in our weakness, we have fallen into sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Grace has provided for the evil, though there can be no communion with God in it.
First, we have the fulness of the blessing, eternal life in Christ; next its nature and character—God’s light and purity; and then the means by which it is possible that such sinners as we can have all this blessing—first, by the cleansing, and then by the advocacy of Christ.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the Word of life.” Christ is looked at in this world as the beginning of everything. It is not that the saints before had not received life from Him above, but the thing itself had never been manifested.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,” etc. It was in a man bodily. It comes by the power of the word now, but they had seen this eternal life in the Person of a Man walking about in this world. Just as we can see natural life in Adam, so we see divine life in Christ. If we look at the life in us, it is united with failure; but I can see and know what the perfectness of the life is by looking at Christ. “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested unto us.” There we see and know it; and our spirituality depends upon the degree in which we realise it. They had seen it as come in flesh, and it is declared unto us; that we may have fellowship with them—and their fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It is not merely a person justified before God by the work of Christ, but it is fellowship with God in virtue of a life which was in Him before God—a life perfectly conformed to all that God is.
Looking at the new nature given to us in its holiness, and its love, it is the same thing as that which is in God. He gives me this life that there may be power. He cannot reveal things to me, but it can give me fellowship with God. It is not merely that I am justified before Him, but I have the same thoughts and feelings: He has them in Himself, and, we having them from Him, they are the same. There is fellowship. There are common thoughts and joys and feelings with the Father and the Son, and these we know and have. He has given us the Spirit that there may be power, if the Holy Ghost works in us. All that was perfect in a man’s feelings, according to the divine nature, Christ has had. If my soul delights in Christ, and sees the blessedness of what is in Him, do not I know that my Father delights in Him too? He delights in holiness and love, and so do we: this is fellowship. You get fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is the blessedness that I have got. It is not merely the fact that I am accepted, who was once a sinner, but that, Christ having become my life, I get the blessedness of fellowship with the Father and with the Son. The Father loved the Son—the Son loved the Father—and I get their divine affections and have fellowship with them. This is where He brings us; it is perfect blessedness.
Nor is this merely true in heaven. He served His Father upon earth, giving up His will in everything. The life was manifested to us here, not in heaven. Of course, the full blessedness of it will be known in heaven and therefore he says, “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” We have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. There is nothing beyond that in heaven itself. Therefore it is, “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” That is the blessing He puts us in.
Now he brings in the test, that there may be no self-deception. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” If He manifested this eternal life, He manifested God too. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” With the thought of this life, He brings in that which tests everything in us too; this is the other side of it. It runs all through this Epistle. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Here it is said, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The light is the purest thing, and it manifests all else. This was what Christ was— perfect purity, and as such He manifests everything. “If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” It is impossible in the nature of things. If there is not the purity of this divine nature that is light in us, there is no fellowship with God. If we say that there is, we lie, and do not the truth. There is no limit short of God Himself. The thing that is revealed is God. You cannot give man light, nor find the light for yourselves. It was in Himself. Now God has been manifest in the flesh, and therefore you have to “walk in the light as he is in the light.” And if we do, “we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
We have in verse 7 the three parts of our Christian condition, looked at as men walking down here. First, we walk in the light as God is in the light, everything judged according to Him with whom we have fellowship. Next, what the world does not know anything of, “we have fellowship one with another.” That is, I have the same divine nature with every Christian—the same Holy Ghost dwells in me; so that there must be fellowship. I meet a perfect stranger travelling, and there may be more communion with him than with one whom I have known all my life, just because the divine life is there. It is a natural thing to the new creature: there is fellowship. But, besides these, I am cleansed— “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” We are in the light as God is in the light; we have fellowship together; and we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Then he enters a little more into the practical condition of our own conscience “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” That is where truth in the inward part comes out. The new nature in us judges all the sin that is in us. He does not deny that we have learnt the truth; but if Christ is the truth in me, it must judge all that is of the old man as sin. If a person has only learnt the truth outwardly, he may gloss over all the rest. But if the truth is in us, everything comes out. If I say, I have no sin, looked at as in the flesh, I deceive myself, and the truth is not in me. Yet it is not merely saying that there is sin in me that is the thing. It is when really the heart and conscience are touched, so that I own I personally followed the flesh. It is not a doctrine then. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His bearing towards us is gracious and forgiving, and He cleanses us completely.
“If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” If we pretend not to have sinned, we make Him a liar: it is not merely that the truth is not in us, but I am making God Himself untrue in His word. To say that I have no sin is to deceive myself; but to say I have not sinned is to deny God’s truth even outwardly, because He says all have sinned. I am denying really the whole truth of God.
But these are the two things that are called for; first, to know that the truth is in us; and then to confess our sins. A man may be dreadfully proud, and not like to confess it; but when a person has, through divine grace, got the upper hand, he hates himself instead of excusing his sin, he confesses it, he has got right with God, and God says, I will forgive you; it is all done with. We stand before God in the sense of His favour. But, besides that, we stand before God with the consciousness of being perfectly clear in His sight. If I get into the light, with any dirt upon me, I see it there; if I am in the dark, I see no difference. If we are in the light before God, all is seen. But if I am cleansed and in the light; I only see the more that there is not a spot in me. The two opening verses of chapter 2 are the means of maintaining us in the light.
Chapter 1 takes up these two things: first, the fulness of the blessing in fellowship with the Father and Son; and, secondly, the nature of the fellowship, and then how a sinner can have it—the individual state of soul as judging and confessing sins, and truth in the inward parts. I cannot say I have no sin and yet I say I am clean before God. There is where people mistake. They want a divine nature, which, instead of pretending to works, judges every thing according to the light. Wherever there is sin on the conscience there cannot be communion, though there is a blessed means of grace that does cleanse. “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” In chapter 2:1, 2, we have the remedy for daily defilement. There it is Christ, not to maintain righteousness, but to restore communion.
The two first verses connect themselves as a kind of supplement to the preceding chapter. He had put before them this privilege of fellowship with the Father and the Son, which must be in the light; and there was this perfect remedy, the blood of Christ, which presents us clean in the light. Now he says, “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” The object of all this was that they should not sin. “And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” It is not exactly the same thing as in Hebrews, where we find a priest with God, because there the question is of the possibility of our coming to God. There it is making good the truth that we can go to God, and it has that character throughout. But all through the Gospel and Epistle of John he speaks of more than merely going to God as a public worshipper. Here we are much more intimate with Him. It is a different thing that I can go and worship before God and approach Him, or that I am in intimate fellowship with Him. We get into relationship with Him. Whenever he speaks of grace, he speaks of the Father and Son, and when of light he speaks of God. In John 8, where they are all convicted of sin, it is God. “Before Abraham was, I am.” When he gets to grace, He speaks of being a good Shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep, and whose voice the sheep know. He says there is as much intimacy between you and Me as between Me and My Father. There is the perfect revelation of love in an intimate relationship like that.
Advocacy here is connected with the Father. Where communion is interrupted, it is restored: we do not cease to be sons and to be accepted. It is not a question here of whether as a sinner I can come to God or not, but of the loss of this intimacy which the least idle word destroys. And this makes it still further plain that accepted persons are spoken of here. It is not a question now of God’s accepting. Not even priesthood has to do with that, still less advocacy with the Father. It supposes that we are nalighty children, and that the freedom of this intimacy is destroyed, and Christ takes the place of Advocate to restore it. Grace works, but there is never any mitigation of sin in itself; it is no allowance of evil.
The ground is thus laid in this remarkable manner. There are two things to consider; our standing in the presence of God, and, on the other hand, the evil which is inconsistent with it. Christ has met both. “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This never changes. The place which we have with God abides there, because Christ, the righteous One, is there. The perfectly accepted Person is in the presence of God, and God is honoured about the failure. “And he is the propitiation for our sins.” So that the advocacy of Christ with the Father is founded upon this acceptance, first of His Person, and then of His work for us. We are accepted in the Beloved, and this never changes, because the righteous One always appears in the presence of God for us. And yet the Lord does not allow anything contrary to Himself. Sin is not passed over. “We have an advocate.” And yet if He is the Advocate for these persons who have failed, it is because He is the propitiation for their sins. There is perfect acceptance. Having met all requirements about sin on the cross, we are put in the presence of God in the acceptance of Christ Himself.
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” This blood-shedding is put upon the mercy-seat, in virtue of which we can go and preach the gospel to every creature. It does not mean that all are reconciled, but that the testimony of God’s mercy went out not to Jews only, but to every creature in the world. Through this blood we can stand in His presence; but there failure comes to be the question for the conscience of the saint, and then the advocacy of Christ applies.
But now he takes up another subject—the practical tests before men that we have got this life. In the main we may say that love to the brethren, and righteousness or obedience, are the grand tests. This eternal life we have seen in contrast with sin, sustained by the grace of Christ. Now we come to the same life shewn in its fruits down here; and they were calling in question whether they had this life or not. Therefore he gives, in order to keep them in the consciousness and certainty that they had that life, these traits of it, which some of those of high profession had not. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
I would just observe here that throughout this Epistle you will find God and Christ so entirely united in the thought of the apostle, that he speaks of one and then of the other in relation to the same thing Look at the last chapter: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” God is revealed to us in Christ. It may seem confusion, but it brings out the glory of the Person of Christ. So here (v. 28), “And now, little children, abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” He begins with Christ’s appearing, and the same sentence ends with God Himself. So here, with regard to God’s commandments. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” They are Christ’s commandments, and yet they are God’s too.
Next, we are told that “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” A man says he knows God and does not keep His commandments—the truth is not in him, because this life is an obedient life, and if Christ is our life, the principles of Christ’s life are the same in us. If the principle of obedience is not there, life is not there. But this is not all. “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him.” This gives a great deal more than the mere fact that he is a liar, if he says he knows God and does not keep His commandments.
Another thing to be remarked is this, that all John’s statements are absolute. He never modifies them by bringing in the difficulties or hindrances that we may have in the body. “He that is born of God,” he says in chapter 3, “does not commit sin.” He is speaking there according to the very essence of the nature. The divine nature cannot sin. It is not a question of progress or degree, but “he cannot sin because he is born of God.” “He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not,” chap. 5. The wicked one touches the Christian often; but he never can touch the divine life: and John always states it in its own proper absoluteness, according to the truth itself. There are plenty of other scriptures that shew our inconsistency. But if the flesh acts, it is not this new life, but you get the measure of it in itself. “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected,” etc. That is absolute. If I am only saying an idle word, it is not keeping His word.
This is an immensely blessed truth. Because if I was under law and took His word in that way, I should have nothing to do with life. It tells me to love God, and in that I fail. But here the revelation I have of God in Christ is perfect love. The love of God is manifested, and if His word dwells in our hearts, His word is love and His love is perfected in us. “If a man keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” In him—not only towards him. If the word is kept, that word is the power of Christ in us, and that is the perfect love of God enjoyed in the heart. We may fail in keeping it, but the Apostle does not give these kinds of modifications, but the truth in itself; and it is thoroughly true, and experienced in the measure that the word of God is kept in the heart. The Holy Ghost is the power, but we cannot separate this from the word. He is in us, and we have got that love in our souls—God’s love as manifested in Christ. Supposing I am disobedient, I get sin in my heart instead of Christ.
“Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him.” Now he says we are in Him. We dwell in God. If I say I am in Him, I have got this strength and shelter in Him. Now you must walk as He walked. Christ is my life. Then I must walk like Christ. It is not be as He was; but we are not to walk according to the flesh. Therefore he does not say, You ought to be what Christ was; but “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked.” If you say you abide in Him, you are there always: you should always walk as He walked. There is never any reason for walking after the flesh. The flesh is in us, but that is no reason why we should walk after it. I am always at liberty to walk spiritually. There is liberty before God as to the walk. If I have got a fleshly nature, a commandment comes contrary to the will of that nature. I want to go into town, and I am ordered off into the country. I do not like it. But supposing I was longing to go into town, and my father says, You must go into town; why then to do the commandment is liberty. So now all the commandments of Christ are according to the nature that I have got already. Christ is my life, and all Christ’s words are the expression of that life. And therefore when Christ’s words are given to me, they only give me the authority to do what my nature likes to do. All the words of Christ are the expression of what He was. They told out His nature and life and being; and, when we have that nature, they guide and direct us. Therefore it is real and holy liberty. We ought to walk even as He walked.
“Brethren I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning”; that is, from the beginning of Christ—His manifestation down here.
“Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you,” etc. Because they were looking for something new. One thing, he says, I boast of is that it is old, because it is what Christ was when upon the earth. But if you will have something new, it is Christ as pour life by the Holy Ghost now. It is “true in him and in you,” because the darkness is passing and the light now shines. It was true in Him when here below, but now all this truth of the divine nature is as true of you as of Christ. Therefore it is new enough. It is old, because it was in Christ Himself; but it is new, because it is in you, as well as in Christ Himself.
So far we have had the first great principle of the divine life—obedience—walking in righteousness. Now comes the other side: loving the brethren. You are in the light, for God is light. Well then, God is love, and you cannot have one part of God without the other. If you have the light, you must have the love. Christ, when He was here, was the light of the world; but He was love too, and therefore if you have Him as your nature, you will have both. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” In its very nature and way there is no occasion of stumbling. “But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” This is true really in detail; because, if I am walking in hatred to my brethren, I am walking in darkness. But the apostle only gives the principle here. Love is an old thing, because it was in Christ on earth; but it is a new thing, because it is true in Him and in you. “He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
We get there what I may call the characteristic tests of Christ our life. One is light—obedience—for no righteousness can be, unless it is obedient. Christ says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Therefore we get this principle of obedient dependence which is righteousness. The other is love. Here then we have, first, as a supplement to the previous chapter, the advocacy of Christ; and then, in the other parts of the Epistle, the tests of this divine life as manifest in obedience and love to the brethren. In the life of Christ Himself all was most wonderfully, perfectly, and blessedly brought out.
This comes in now as breaking in upon the general course of the Epistle, and giving an account of why he wrote, and what he felt in writing. And first we find him speaking to all Christians, whom he calls “My children,” and then addressing different classes of Christians, and telling why he wrote to them. It is his heart opening itself out to those to whom he was writing; and then we get some important practical truths.
In verse 12 the word “children” is the same as in verses 1, 28, but different from the “little children “in verses 13, 18. In the former he is speaking of all Christians, and calls them his “children”; whereas, in the other verses, he distinguishes between the young men, fathers, and the little children [babes] (paidia) or the youngest Christians. But in verses 1, 12, 28, the word teknia includes all saints.
“I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake, verse 12.” That is true of all Christians. It is their universal condition. He had said before, “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” This was not to throw any doubt upon Christians being forgiven, but to stablish them in the truth, inasmuch as he says, “I write unto you children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” This was a settled thing; they were all forgiven, and he wrote unto them because they were forgiven. A person that is not forgiven, the Epistle does not apply to. He takes that ground in writing to them. He says, “I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” Such was the common condition of all Christians.
But now, when he comes to the different classes of Christians, there is a different character and position given to each of them. “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.” Amongst the children of verse 12 there may be old Christians and babes. The fathers had known “him that is from the beginning.” We have seen before, this means Christ in the world, His Person manifested in flesh. “Ye have known him that is from the beginning.” That is where all experience ends; not in a knowledge of self merely as being occupied with it, but in such a knowledge as empties us of self, and gives us Christ. When a person is a young Christian, he is occupied with his feelings; it is all fresh and new to him, and it is right enough. He feels such wonderful joy in being forgiven. But, as you grow up, you get more and more emptied of self and occupied with Christ. Christ is this, and Christ that. In verse 14 he only repeats the same thing when writing to the fathers. He has a great deal to add when he writes to the young men, but to the fathers, it is still, “Ye have known him that is from the beginning.” We learn our own foolishness and weakness, and so are cast upon Christ, and learn more of the depths of His grace, the perfectness of His Person. All right experience ends in forgetting self and thinking of Christ.
Next, he comes to the young men: “I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.” Having Christ with them, they have got strength in conflict and in service—they have overcome Satan.
Then he says, “I write unto you babes, because ye have known the Father.” Here again, we get another remarkable fact as to what he thought about Christians. That is, the babes in Christ—they that were but little children—had the Spirit of adoption. He has no idea of the weakest Christian not knowing that he was a child of God. To know Christ well, in the riches and excellence of His Person, is to be a father in Christ. But the youngest Christian knows that he is a child, and that the Father is his Father. It is like all Christians being forgiven—it is his place as a Christian. “We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father.” It is not that you will not find persons doubting. You will find many a person who, if you ask him whether he is a child of God or not, will think it very humble to doubt about it, but who, in his prayers, cries, “Abba Father,” with all his heart. It is between him and God. Repeating it over again, he has nothing to add to what he has said to the fathers, because all ends in Christ.
With the young men he goes more into detail because of the difficulties of the way, and he brings out the secret of strength for them—the word of God, in the midst of this world, where nothing is owned of God—God’s mind comes into this world, and that is what we want. There is no way in the desert, as it is said in the Old Testament. The word of God shows God’s way in the midst of a world where there is none. Therefore, when they are in the conflict, he says, “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” That is the word by which Christ Himself overcame when the wicked one came and offered Him all the kingdoms of the world, He answered by the word—He overcame the wicked one.
Then he warns them: “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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” These things belong to it. All the glory of this world is not of the Father at all. And the more we look into John, and indeed all through the New Testament scripture, we may see these two great systems brought out plainly. He does not say you do not love Christ. But there is one great system that belongs to the Father, and another that belongs to the world. Every thing belongs to God as a Creator; but morally all is departed from Him. It was the devil that made this world, looked at as a moral world. God made paradise; and man sinned and got out of it, and then made up this world. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and builded a city, and called it after the name of his son. Then God sent His Son, and they would not have Him, and thus it was a judged world. God has put it fully to the test—without law, under law, and then by His Son; and then He says, It is all judged. But then He has a way of His own, the Father has, and you cannot have both. If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you. You may be tempted by it, and have to overcome it; but if you love it, the love of the Father is not in you; because He has got a system of His own, and you are going to the other system. It is so all through. In the Gospel we get divine life in the Person of Christ, and in the Epistle this divine life in the persons of Christians. In John 8 you will see the same truth. “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.” There is no middle path with God. If they are of this world, they are from beneath; and if they are not of this world, they are from above. He says, I am not of this world; I am from above: because He came from the Father. You are of the world, and therefore from beneath, because it is Satan’s world. So here—if the love of the world is in you, the love of the Father cannot be. There is another divine system, where the love of the Father is displayed, and if you belong to that, you have to covercome the world. It is not of the Father; it does not belong to that system.
Then he adds this: “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” Satan’s works cannot last. They are seductive while they are there, but they cannot last: “but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” We have the same thing in Peter’s Epistle, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” So here. “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever”— he that follows that word. The word of God brings all this into us, and that is what we have to follow.
Now he turns to the third class, having given this warning to the young men. For when a Christian is first converted, he would not thank you for the world. But when he has got on a little, the freshness fades; the world gradually eats out his freshness. If he is not careful, if his soul is not full of the things that are not seen, he gradually slips into the world. If he is full of Christ, he does not even see the things around. In chapter 5 John speaks of overcoming the world. There is the loss of all power and spiritual enjoyment, if the spirit of the world comes in: you cannot think of the things which the world suggests and the things of the Father at the same time. If the Holy Ghost is suggesting divine things to me, I have the present consciousness of belonging to all these things.
He turns, in verse 18, to the little children, and he tells them, “It is the last time.” That is a remarkable expression, because eighteen hundred years have gone on since then, and it remains equally true that it is the last time; only the Lord, in His patience, is waiting, and not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But it is the last time, because the power of evil has come in. When Christ was here, and was rejected, the power of evil was in the world. Then, when God raised up the church by the presence of the Holy Ghost, while Christ was on high, so that a man was in heaven, and the Holy Ghost in the world; there came power of redemption into the middle of Satan’s world. That was not the last time. But now antichrists had come in, and he says, “this is the last time,” because even this had failed, and nothing will come after this but judgment. “Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would not doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
These babes in Christ had broken with the world; they had done with its course. But here was a new kind of evil in the very place of divine power; persons setting up themselves, and abandoning Christ, and this was more dangerous. They had broken with the world, and knew what it was. But here comes in spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. He warns the babes against these enemies of the last times. Thank God, we have the warnings now. The apostle Paul even says, these are the last days, which is stronger still. But there is entire security where Christ is looked to. It is remarkable how he looks at the presence of the Spirit of God in the saints. He may be a babe; but God will not suffer him to be tempted above that he is able to bear. There may be the young men, but God gives them discernment; they know not the voice of strangers. These people may come to them with ever so much pretension, but it is not a voice they know. They know the voice of Christ, and they follow Him.
We saw that the babes in Christ knew the Father, and now we find further that these very babes have the divine unction, so that they will be able to judge through divine knowledge. He is pressing upon them their own competence, not as others, in themselves, but as talight of God, to avoid all snares. It is the subtlety of Satan, and therefore he warns the little ones more against it. “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” Here he gives us the full character of the antichrist. There were many antichrists, because the spirit of it had come in. Here it is the full character of it. It takes a certain Jewish character, denying Jesus to be the Christ; and it is opposed to Christianity, denying the Father and the Son.
Then he presses another point of immense importance, because people in these days use a great many fashionable words, such as development.
“Let that, therefore,” the apostle says, “abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.” It is the Person of Christ. Instead of talking about the church as a body that teaches, I say it is talight.
The thing that is revealed is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, that which was from the beginning. But if my soul is resting upon that, the truth about Christ as talight by the Holy Ghost, I am talight of the Father.” That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes … of the word of life.” And now he says, “Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning.” It is the Person of Christ that is the great thing, and it was by the revelation of Him that the church itself was formed. It exists in virtue of being talight of God.
The church does not teach—had nothing to do with teaching at all. God may raise up individuals in the church to teach, but the thing pressed upon us is that which we have heard from the beginning. It is a test of divine truth that we hold fast the starting-point—Jesus Christ. This is what tests everything. Where people insist upon the authority of the church, they never have the certainty of being children. If I am talight of God, I shall know what I have got for certain. Faith is always absolutely certain. If I have got the Father, I know that I am a child. I may be a nalighty child, but still I am a child. “If that which ye have heard from the beginning remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” He has promised me eternal life, and I shall have it; it is a perfectly settled thing.
“These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath talight you, ye shall abide in him.” There is real divine teaching. God may use an instrument to put it before us; but there is no real faith in the soul except where there is this unction of the Spirit of God. There may be convictions of sin before we get our souls clear as to being saved. But the moment I am divinely talight the Person of Christ, I say I have got eternal life—the life that God sent into the world.
A babe in Christ being most in danger, he enters into these kinds of warnings; but a person grown up into Christ knew very well where these things came from. What we now might think would be very learned things in Christianity, he says to the babes; but the great thing that marks those that are the most advanced—the fathers—is their knowledge of Christ.
The apostle takes up again in verse 28 all Christians in general, with an exhortation to abide in Him. You have here God in Christ so before the apostle’s mind, that he says “Him,” without saying who He is. He had been talking about the anointing— “even as it hath talight you, ye shall abide in him.” Previously, it was rather God as such spoken of; but “when he shall appear,” we know Christ is meant thereby.
“And now, little children, abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” If they did not abide in Him, the apostle had lost all his work. It would have been so far to his shame. You get the same thing in the second epistle (v. 8), “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” It is just what the apostle says to the Corinthians; 1 Cor. 3:12, etc.) If we build upon the foundation, wood, hay, and stubble, the work will be burnt; there will be loss: he is proved to be a bad workman. The apostle here is pressing upon them to abide in Christ, that he may not be ashamed of his work. It is “that we may have confidence and not be ashamed,” etc.—not that you may have confidence, etc. It is just what you see in the second epistle.
Then he takes up the second great object of the epistle— that communication of the divine nature of Christ, as our life, which gives us the same traits and characters that there are in God Himself— “which thing is true in him and in you.” God is love, and the Christian loves. God is holy, and the Christian is so too. In His almighty power God, of course, is alone. But in what may be called the character of God, inasmuch as we are born of Him, we are like Him. And this divine nature enables us to enjoy God, as well as to be like Him.
Then, again, we see that God and Christ are so absolutely one, that the apostle says, “that we may not be ashamed before him at his coming”; but immediately he adds, “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of him.” We are born of God; yet he would appear to be speaking of the same one that should come —which is Christ. We find the same truth in Daniel 7. The Ancient of days described there is in Revelation 1 the Son of man. We get in Christ what the character and nature of God is in a man as living in this world; and then he shews that it is true of us too, as having the same life. He is righteous; and if a man doeth righteousness, he is born of Him. He has this nature.
“Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” When once you come to grace, we have the Father spoken of again. We are called God’s children because we really are so. “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” Who? Now by the “Him” is meant Christ. The world knew Him not: it does not know us for the same reason. We have the same life and character that He had. The world cannot recognise and own what is of Christ in us, because it did not recognise it in Christ. It is extremely remarkable and blessed for us to see this Man, the humblest man that ever was, and to find out what He really was, that God really became a man. The Word was God, and was made flesh.
We have got the same life; and when we have found Christ, we know that we have found God in all His blessedness close to us. And the world cannot know us. It does not know God, and cannot know us. You will find persons with a difficulty as to knowing whether it is Christ or God here, because the apostle carefully puts them together.
“It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” It has not been seen what we are to be. The apostles saw it for a moment in the transfiguration; but, as to the manifestation of it, it does not yet appear. But being saints of God, having the same life, we know that we shall be like Him. He identifies God with Christ, and in a sense identifies us with Him. His glory is not yet manifested: but we shall be like Him, for “we shall see him as he is” —not as He will be, but as He is now in heavenly glory at the right hand of God. The flesh could not see this and subsist. Daniel fell as one dead, and John too, at the appearing of it. But we shall be like Him, and therefore capable of seeing Him as He is. This is a matter of infinite blessedness. We are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, that He may be the first-born among many brethren. If we were only conscious that there was all this blessedness, and yet had the thought, I am not to be like it, this would not be joy: whereas we are in it with the consciousness that we are the same. “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”; that is, in glory as He is at the Father’s right hand, and we shall see Him in that way.
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Ours is the hope of being like Him— “that hath this hope in him,” that is, in Christ—the hope of being like Himself. It does not say that he is pure as Christ is pure. But I have got the glory; and as it is mine, and I am going to be like Him, I must be as like Him as I can now. I must purify myself, and He is the measure of it. We are called by the glory to be up to it practically. The apostle says, “I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” I have not yet this resurrection from the dead, but I am pursuing it. But when Christ comes, He will change our vile bodies—and then we will have got it. The connection between glory and present walk is striking. As long as we are down here in this corruptible body, there is not a bit of glory. But the Spirit of God applies all this glory to the affections. I long to be like Christ, and therefore I get like Him in spirit. It is like a man that has a bright lamp before him at the end of a long passage. I have not the lamp till I get there, but I get more of it at every step. So with the glory: I have not got it till I am in it; but I get more of it the nearer I move towards Christ.
So in the epistle to the Ephesians Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. He was washing and cleansing it, and would take away all spots. But it was that He might present it to Himself without spot. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and presents them to us, and transforms us into the likeness of Christ. In Philippians he is speaking of the spiritual effect, by actual resurrection, upon the heart. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection … if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” It is the actual thing, and he gets it applied to his heart now. “Not as though I had already attained … but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Christ, in grace, had laid hold of him for the glory. Now he sees the glory, and follows after it. It is the glory in resurrection applied to the man’s heart all along the road. So it is here. “Every main that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” This bright and blessed glory fixes the affections and purifies the heart and forms the proper Christian path. It is a sanctifying hope—the soul being occupied with Christ, so that it is kept out of the evil.
He then goes on to another thing. If I go and commit sin, it is the lawlessness of the flesh, and nothing to do with Christ. “Whosoever practiseth sin, practiseth lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” He does his own will in spite of God if he can. Because without the law sin was in the world. It is a kind of background he is making. If you are not purifying yourselves, as Christ is pure, it is the lawlessness of the flesh; it is entirely opposed to Christ. There is no middle path; for there is nothing good in this world. It is either Christ or flesh. Man is fallen and out of paradise, and there is nothing owned at all of man now. God made paradise, and man is out of it; and He made heaven, and man is not in it. But between the two there is nothing that God owns. God never made the world as it is, nor man as he is, that is, not the moral state that the world and man are in. It grew up when God had driven man out from His presence. Then Cain went and built a city, and established himself and his seed away from God. It must be either “ye are from beneath,” or “I am from above.” “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” If the law, then, is applied to the flesh, of course the flesh transgresses it. “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” There was no sin in Him; and He came to put away sin.
Then he takes in the strongest way the opposition between the two. “In him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” He is taking the two things as opposed in every way. Because, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” he says to the same persons. But here, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not,” etc. The divine nature cannot sin. The thing that is born of God cannot sin, and that is ourselves so far as we are in Christ. As the apostle says, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Of course, that is not sin. The saint is never looked at as in the flesh; but “he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” It is not merely that you are changed, but you are made partakers of the divine nature. “Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” He has got the same nature which walks in the same path.
Christ has died as regards our guilt, and what is spoken of now is the communication of this nature. A man might come and make a great boast of high doctrine, and not do righteousness. Then I say, This is not the divine nature. We have it in Romans 6: “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” You are dead. How can you be living in sin? Through carelessness you may fall into it, but that is not living in it. In general he takes what the truth is in itself, that we may know it in all its force. “He that practiseth sin is of the devil.” He takes the opposite thing altogether. “For the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not practise sin.” How can he? “For his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” It does not say, “he ought not to sin,” but “he cannot.” It is not a question of progress, but of the nature. The nature a man is born of is the nature he has. Take any animal you please, and this is true of it. We are born of God, and we have got that nature, and I say that cannot sin. I have got the treasure in an earthen vessel—that is true. The flesh is there, but the new nature is a sinless nature. It is, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.”
“In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” There are the two traits which shew themselves in a thousand details of life— righteousness, practical righteousness, and love of the brethren. Mere amiable nature you find in dogs and other animals, being animal nature; but the love of the brethren is a divine motive. I love them because they are of God. I have communion in divine things with them. A man may be very unamiable naturally, and yet love the brethren with all his heart; and another may be very amiable, and have no love for them at all. Lower down, he says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” It is the great test of the divine nature. It is the life of Christ which is in us, reproduced in our ways and walk. It is not merely avoiding sin, because there is more in Christ than the absence of sin. There was the manifestation of the divine nature. He was the divine nature walking through this world, and He had special love to the disciples, as we also have special love to the brethren. He was in the world, and as among men, to manifest God in it. And this is what we have always to do—to represent God in this world. “Ye are the epistle of Christ.” People ought to read Christ in you, as they read the ten commandments on the tables of stone. If they read that, they will not read evil. We have the flesh to struggle against, but not to walk after. It is not an effort to try and be like Christ, but that being full of Him it comes out. Therefore He talks of abiding in Him. So “he that eateth me abideth in me.” He has become our life, but He is our life in every-day exercises. We are sent into the world to manifest God. Then come difficulties and hindrances, and if we are not full of Christ, we give way to them; whereas, if we are full of Christ, we manifest Him in them. If not, we shew heat, temper, or some evil thing. But there is no need of living in the old nature. We never can excuse ourselves for living in it, because Christ is ours.
We again see in the first of these verses the proof of what “the beginning” is here. The great thing we have to look to, as regards life, and what that life is, is Christ manifested in this world. “This is the message that ye have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” We get Christ very distinctly there as the One who alone could give us the true measure and character of all else: He is the truth. Divine light, such as this, was not till Christ came. He was the faithful witness. Then you find another thing: there is the evil life or old Adam, and the true life, which is in Christ.
Both principles are at work. In the one there is hatred and his works evil, just as in the other we find love and righteousness. These go together. It began in Cain and Abel and has gone on ever since. Those that are really God’s people are hated. Therefore it is said that “he was of that wicked one and slew his brother.” “In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” It was the spirit and nature of the being departed from God, of which the devil was the spring and the strength. “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain who was of that wicked one and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
You must not be surprised, therefore, if the world hates you. It is natural to man. In the first place, Satan is the prince of this world; and, besides that, it is the nature of man as he is. We were in death spiritually, and wherever that was the case, the spirit of Satan ruled and governed, arid therefore there was hatred of God’s children. But then there is this new life, and “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If a man does not love the brethren, he abides in death. That is where we all are naturally. He is looking at the very principle of life. If I only find a sign that it is a wild apple-tree, I know what the tree is. On the other hand, get the life of Christ, and the fruit answers to it. It is not a change of human nature as it is, because this abides in death. But the new life that comes is a life that bears its own fruit, just as that which is grafted into a tree. What sprouts up from the old stock is what came from the nature of the tree before. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” He has not this good graft. It is a clear case.
Then he rises up to the source of it. “Hereby perceive we love.” What is this love? How can I tell it? In that He laid down His life for us. And if Christ is really my life, He will be the same thing in spirit in me, as He was Himself. Christ kept the law because He was born under it. But the law calls upon man to love God and his neighbour, and that Christ did. But, besides that, He was the manifestation of God’s love to man, and specially to His disciples, when they did not love God. This is what we are to be. Christ, who was the activity of His love, laid down His life. We perceive what the love of God is by this. But you ought to manifest the same thing. It is an immense privilege. Not only am I required to do certain things, but I am called upon to be a witness of God in a world that is without Him. And there is no limit to it. I ought to go as far as Christ went. And there have been some that have done this to death. Many martyrs have laid down their lives for Christ. “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Besides the immense privilege, it is an essential truth. We have to manifest God in this world, because Christ is in us. That is, if we are children of God, there is communion with the source of it, and then there should be the display of it in our walk—the epistle of Christ known and read of all men.
“Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? “We have another mark there in the dwelling of the love of God. It is not merely love to God, because it is the spirit in which a person walks himself towards his brethren. It is the power of this divine nature dwelling in us which will shew itself in love to God and man. The love of God dwelling in us is the way of God Himself, who through the Spirit thereby brings His love into us. It is not God’s love to us, but it is the power of that love working in us, and therefore it will soon shew itself to others. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”
Now he looks to the effect of walking with God, as giving, not the knowledge of-forgiveness, but confidence. He wrote to them because they were all forgiven; but if I want to have my heart assured before God, I must walk in this way. If my intercourse with God causes my heart to condemn me, you cannot call it confidence. If I am not walking according to God, I must either get away from Him, or if I find myself in His presence, His Spirit is constantly reproaching me, and that is not confidence.
“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” He knows a great deal about me that I do not know myself. If a child has got a bad conscience, he sneaks about, if his father is coming; but if not, he runs to meet him and throws himself into his arms. But he cannot have that kind of confidence, if his heart reproaches him. That is what we have always to look for: to be with God, and in entire confidence with Him—no thought behind that perhaps he has something against us, not as to condemnation, but as to present confidence. How far it goes, the entire full counting upon God—counting upon His present activity for us! It is not only a question of the day of judgment, but it is the present dealing of the soul with God, and of God for the soul. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” In chapter 5 it is said, “This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” We are brought into a present confident spirit with God, so that we expect everything good from Him. If a child is going on nalightily, he cannot go on in confidence. He may say, My father loves me, but he is going to give me a whipping. But when the heart is all right, the child expects everything that flows from his father’s love. So here, “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” This has nothing to do with acceptance, but with the every-day outflowing of the Father’s kindness, so that the child counts upon it. It is the terrible effect of looking at acceptance and forgiveness as the end of the Christian’s course, that this confidence is almost unknown. The apostle began with forgiveness: “Your sins are forgiven you, for his name’s sake”; and now he is speaking of the confidence of the heart towards God. You get this in John 14:23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him,” etc. This is not the grace that saves. In the epistle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” The Lord says, “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” He is speaking of the present exercise of this love to Christ.
It is a great thing to say, I have only to ask according to God’s will, and I am sure to get it. He loves us in such a way that I can ask nothing without an answer. I want power and I get it directly. I want some hindrance removed out of the way, and it is removed directly. I may ask my father here for something, and he may tell me, I cannot do it; I cannot attend to you. But this is never the case with God. You can ask nothing, according to His will, without getting it. In a right path I have the whole power of God at my disposal. I may see mountains before me—all Satan’s power. But never mind. If you are walking right, “ask what you will, and it shall be done for you.” You have thorough present confidence in God. He is never too busy to hear us. All that we can come about is ours. “Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments,” etc. It is the direct government of God with our souls. This is where the question, between us and God, right and wrong, comes in. As regards our responsibility as men, we were ruined. Now we are saved, and God’s dealings meet us on that ground, and then He delights to do everything for us. It is not what we will, but “whatsoever we ask.” It is the will of the new nature, that is, obedience really. In that path of obedience God always heard Christ, for He was obedient, and God hears us; He puts us, in this life of Christ, into the same place as Christ.
“And this is his commandment that we should believe-on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in God, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” He comes now to another most important point. Not merely that there is life, but that God by His Spirit dwells in us. There is power of communion as well as life. God dwells with Him who is love. It is not merely that I am redeemed. But as it was said of Israel, “They shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them”; so it is said of us, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Christ was the obedient One, and God dwelt in Him; and he who is an obedient one now, God dwells in him. Christ said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In us it is only derivatively by His Spirit, but still He dwells in us. In the obedient man God dwells as in Christ Himself. “And hereby know we that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” That is, it is the presence of the Holy Ghost with us that gives us the consciousness that God dwells with us. He does not add in this latter part of the verse that we dwell in Him; but simply that the effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost was and is, that we know that God abides in us.
Then he warns them against false spirits; verses 1-6. Every spirit is not the Holy Ghost. Many false prophets are in the world. The saints must beware. The question is not, whether a man be converted; but whether he who speaks speaks by God’s Spirit or a demon. The touchstone is the confession of Jesus come in the flesh. He who is guided of God confesses Jesus Christ Himself so come (not merely that He is come). To confess His coming is to recognise a truth; to confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh is to own the Person and lordship of Jesus. Once a demon is discerned, it is important to treat it as a demon: otherwise your sword is broken in your hand. To yield to human considerations, to play the amiable under such circumstances, will find you powerless against Satan. It is not to have communion with God in His thoughts of Satan. How precious is the word before such dangers! Holding it fast, with uprightness and humility, nothing will stumble us. God is faithful, and will guard the feeblest of His own. But outside this submission to God and His word, no matter what may be the beauty of a man’s sentiments, or his ability, he will sooner or later fall under the power of the enemy.
But we come to a new point here, verses 7-16. Besides the life of Christ, there is the dwelling of God in us and of us in God. This was fully manifested in Christ, and the more we think of that, the more we shall see that the new life we have is a dependent life. Our Lord Himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live.” Therefore we see He was a man praying always—leaning on His Father. For though He was God, He never used this to take a false position as man; but He took the place of dependence. And it is where He puts us—in the place of dependence, and therefore the place of power from above. It is not a question of sincerity, but of that lowliness which is the sense of dependence and looks for help and power from another.
What a privilege and motive for holiness, that God dwells in us! And when we want to glorify God the presence of His Spirit is the power. How distinctly God has come into close communion with us, and brought us into intimacy with Himself by forgiving us and saving us and giving us a life in which we walk with Him! It is a life of constant trial here, but of having Himself by the Holy Ghost as our power dwelling in us as we walk through the world. And this is what we have to see to—that the life of the saint should be developed according to Christ. And it is there that daily experience comes in, and we find our weakness if we are not looking to Christ.
Another great fact, brought in at the close of what we last saw, was the giving of the Holy Ghost. In verse 1 of this chapter, the apostle drops that to distinguish between spirits, not merely evil men. But there is a much greater action of Satan going on in the church of God than we are apt to suppose; and if we do not treat it as such, there is no power. If we come to terms with it, we cannot have power, because God cannot come to terms with Satan.
Then there is another thing in verse 6: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Receiving the apostles’ teaching is one of the tests of knowing God. “He that is not of God heareth not us.” A person that does not listen to the Scriptures as such is not of God at all.
He comes now, with the additional fact of the Holy Ghost being given, to the third part—love of the brethren—and shews you how deep its source goes. It is not merely obligation, or righteousness, but the very nature of God Himself, what He is, as Christ is the pattern of human righteousness. He goes to the very nature of God Himself as such. “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God.” It comes from Him, having its source in Himself. “Love is of God.” Because we have got His nature, we can say that “every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” But there I stop. It is a course of righteousness. But now I say, “every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” It is not merely duty that I do; it is the true nature itself that I have. If a person has this nature, he has that of God. John is not speaking of mere natural affections: these you have in the brute beasts. But it is a question of the divine nature. That which marks divine love is, that it thought of us while we were yet sinners. It is above evil. Where sin abounded grace has much more abounded. He that loves knows God. That is a great thing to say. I know what a man is because I am a man. An animal cannot tell what I am, because he has not my nature. In that way, when we love, we have the nature of God—we know what God is. There may be a great deal to learn, but still we have got the nature, and therefore know what that nature is. “He that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” If that new nature is in me, I enjoy it; I have a nature capable of enjoying it. Every nature enjoys what is suitable to it. If we have the divine nature, we enjoy God. We know Him in the way of enjoyment of that which belongs to our very nature.
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” If I have it not, I do not know Him, because that is what He is. It is an immense truth, as regards the saints, that I know God. I have got the nature that enjoys God: and that is what our everlasting enjoyment will be.
“In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” The apostle turns outside to get the proofs of this love. He is not looking inwards, as others do. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” If I want to know divine love, God’s love, I do not look within; because “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” There is another thing here which shews the perfectness of this love—it had no motive. It is what God was. ‘If we love them that love us, what reward have we?’ The manifestation of this love has a double character here. First, the Son is sent to be the propitiation for our sins; He loved us when we were guilty and defiled. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,” etc. God’s love to us has its proof in this—when there was nothing at all in us to bring—when there was not a movement in us towards God, there was in God toward us. We had no spiritual life, but we were guilty, looked at as born of Adam. Therefore this love is a perfect love. It has no motive in us, and, therefore, is perfect in itself; and it is exercised towards us according to our need. Here we have the proof of this love. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” How he draws the practical conclusion! If God has so loved me, I ought to love the brethren. I ought to get above all the disagreeable things and untowardness, because God loved me when I was as untoward as possible.
Now we come to another thing. It is God Himself present. Not merely have I got the divine nature, but God is present in a very remarkable way. “No man hath seen God at any time.” How can I know and love a being that I have never seen? “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The Apostle Paul expresses it in a different way. “The love of God,” he says, “is shed abroad in our hearts.” Now, what makes it so remarkable here? If we look at John 1:18, it is said there, “No man hath seen God at any time.” How can I know and love a person I have never seen? “The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” That is, in the Gospel, which is to bring Christ before us, I find the sense to be this: Well, you have not seen God, and yet you have; because He who was the very delight of the Father—who is in the bosom of the Father—the immediate and closest object of the Father’s delight—He has declared Him. Therefore I do know Him. It is the answer to the difficulty, that no man ever saw God. Christ has made Him known to me. Here, in the Epistle, it is, “no man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” That which is revealed in Christ is brought directly into our own hearts, because the Holy Ghost is in us. When Christ was in the world, it was the Son casting out devils and doing mighty works. And yet He said, “The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” Now, by the Spirit, He says, “We will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” He makes God dwelling in us the answer here to not seeing God; as Christ being in the world was then the answer to not seeing God. Having washed us in the blood of the Lamb, He comes and dwells in us. We have a knowledge of God in that way. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” It is not merely that the nature is there, but God is there. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” This is the way we have the consciousness that we dwell in God, because, as God dwells in us, and He is infinite, we have the consciousness of dwelling in God. He is our home: we dwell in Him. He is our abode. It is the presence pf the Holy Ghost that gives the consciousness of God’s being there.
Still he turns back to objective truth. “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” I have God within me, and have the knowledge of that love. How did He prove it to me? By sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world. The proof of it is that which has been done without me—not anything within me. A person might say, But I have not got that. Then I say, You .have got nothing. If you say, That is too high for me: I cannot speak of God as dwelling in me; then I answer, You are not a Christian at all. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.” He does speak of the blessed consciousness of it as our portion, but then he declares that it is the truth” as to every Christian; and therefore if I am not enjoying it, there is something that is hindering me. If we had the Queen in the house, and did not trouble ourselves about her, we should have no enjoyment of the honour and privilege of having such a guest. And we may be going on in such a way as to have no consciousness of God’s being in us. It shews a habit of living without intercourse with the God who dwells in us. The Christian has a life from God, which lives with God. He says therefore, after having spoken of this, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” That is the kind of character he gives of a Christian: “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” There is no uncertainty. “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God,” etc. It is the very nature of God.
Now he goes on. We have seen the love manifested when we were mere sinners, when we were guilty and dead. This was the starting-point with us. We were spiritually dead: there was not a single movement in our hearts towards God. And then God loved us. But we had a natural life from Adam, and therefore were guilty; and then God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Then the next thing is, that we dwell in God and He in us: we have this blessed communion by His being in our hearts. Then he comes to the third thing in verse 17. “Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world.” Now it is not merely that He has loved me when I was a sinner, and that I enjoy Him in communion, but that all fear for the future is taken away entirely. I get boldness for the day of judgment; that is a different thing.
It is blessed love that Christ came into the world for such. sinners as we. But then there is the day of judgment. When I think of the love, I am all happy; but when I think of the judgment, my conscience is not quite easy. Though the heart may have tasted the love, the conscience not being quite clear, when I think of judgment I am not quite happy. This is what is provided for here. “As he is, so are we in this world.” The love was shewn in visiting us when we were sinners; it is enjoyed in communion; but it is completed in this, that I am in Christ, and that Christ must condemn Himself in the day of judgment, if He condemns me, because as He is, so am I in this world. I am glorified before I get there. He changes this vile body and makes it like to His glorious body. When I am before the judgment-seat, I am in this changed and glorified body; I am like my Judge. If He is my righteousness, as He is so I am now; because it is Christ’s work, and Christ’s work is finished, and Christ is appearing in heaven for me. And though I have exercises and trials of heart, yet, ‘As he is, so am I in this world.’ There love is perfected.
God Himself can do nothing more blessed than to make me like Christ in His presence. There is an end of judgment practically as an object of dread, because I am as clear as my Judge. He judges by His own righteousness, and that is my righteousness: I am that. I am united to Him, and, in that sense, am the same as Himself. There love is made perfect, that I may have boldness in the day of judgment. There has love been shewn, and it makes me miserable if my heart does not answer to it. I have not got boldness in the day of judgment: There is a judgment, and in order that love should be perfect in our hearts, there must be no dread of judgment. In order to have all its perfectness, I must have boldness in the day of judgment, and that I have by being as Christ is. This is true now. It is not that we have got the glory yet; but it is true as having Him for my life, and being united to Him. Now he draws the conclusion at once. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” Fear is all gone. If I am dreading my Father, I cannot enjoy His love—there is torment in that. Love casts out fear. There is nothing to fear if God loves me perfectly, and does nothing but love me. That is what the Lord Jesus says: “I have declared thy name unto them and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.” And so again He says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” The same peace that He had Himself He has given unto us. He was not dreading His Father. He had ineffable peace and delight. Well, “As he is, so are we in this world.” Then comes, as a consequence of knowing this love, “We love him, because he first loved us.” That is the fruit and consequence in our hearts. All this love which He has shewn to us has been in us and is perfected with us. “We love him because he first loved us.” The heart turns back in thankfulness and love to Him.
But now, as through this Epistle, the apostle brings a kind of counter-test. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” If His image in the saints does not draw out any affections, you do not really love Him. You may say you do, but it is not true. We find running all through the Epistle, this kind of counter-test. Another remarkable thing we see here. Even love itself does not get out of the place of obedience in its exercise. “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” However blessed may be the workings of the divine nature in us, it is always in the shape of obedience. This was true even of Christ. Speaking of His own death, where His perfectness was brought out fully, He says, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given me commandment even so I do.” It was still the commandment, as well as love. So love makes us serve and love the brethren, and yet it is obedience. Whatever is not obedience is not Christ. It is not a commandment against our nature, because we delight in doing what God commands. Still it is obedience, although it is the obedience of a joyful nature that has pleasure in obeying; and that, through God’s dwelling in us and revealing Himself in that very way, in this nature in our souls.
It brings the position of the Christian to a wonderful point— his actual condition in the way of connection with God. It is not merely that the Holy Ghost dwells in us in the way of power (this would be a proof of the Holy Ghost’s, that is, of God’s, being in us, yet it would not prove that we are in God), but that we dwell in Him. When we think what kind of enjoyment and privileges we have here, what foolish creatures we are not to realise God more and to enjoy Him! “The diligent soul,” it is said, “shall be made fat.”
There is a kind of summing up in this chapter of who these are: not what they are, but who they are, and what that is in which they have part. It was loving the brethren, for instance, we were seeing in a previous chapter. Now comes the inquiry, not who is my neighbour, but who is my brother? “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: and everyone that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” It is not now a spiritual or moral test to see whether the love is real, but we get those who are the children of God, and then “everyone that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” That is, if it is really this divine love, I shall love those that are born of God. If it is for the parent’s sake, I shall love all the children, and this is the way in which it is put here.
But in verse 2 he gives a counter-proof that it is genuine. I know that I love God by loving the children of God; but I know that it is really loving them if I love God and keep His commandments. If I love them as His children, I shall love Himself. It runs all through this Epistle, a kind of countercheck which is of the greatest use. If it is the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit of truth too. I have thus the means of checking one thing by another. I might seem to be loving God’s children very much, while it may be only a party feeling. But if I love God, I love all for His sake. Anything else may be merely a feeling of human nature. It is the bringing God in which sets all right. In 2 Peter it is said, Add to brotherly love, love. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. If I love them as God’s children, it is because I love Him that begat them. It takes them all in, but it always takes Him in, and therefore it is a question of obedience. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous.”
The great difficulty is the world; but faith vanquishes it. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” There is a nature we have received which belongs to a system which is not of the world at all. “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” “Ye are from beneath, I am from above.” This world, as a system, is of the devil— not of God at all. All that is in it, “The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” The Father is the head, and source, and blessedness of a great system to which the world is entirely opposed: and therefore when the Son came into the world, the world rejected Him, and this has put the world, as a tested world, in perfect antagonism to the Father. We always find that it is the flesh against the Spirit, the world against the Father, and the devil against the Son. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” It is truth which sanctifies. The difficulty is the world. We look on the things that are seen, and not on the things that are not seen, and therefore we are weak. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith.
It is not merely a nature that is given to us, but as creatures we must have an object for this nature and this is the Lord. I must have the true object, and therefore, “Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” He is occupied with something. When I find that the One whom the world has spit upon and crucified is the Son of God, I say such is what the world is. And therefore when my faith really rests upon Jesus as this despised One, the Son of God, I have done with the world; I overcome it as an enemy.
There we have the short account of these saints. They are born of God: they are a set of people that belong to Him as those that are alive; they live in another world that belongs to the Father. He then speaks of the spirit and power in which Christ came, that by which we are connected with this scene of blessedness that belongs to the Father. “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.” This goes back to a most vital principle that we have had all through the Epistle. If it had been by water only, John the Baptist came by water. The word of God, if only applied to man as a child of Adam, could not purify him. Christ coming into the world by that put man to the test; and man was God’s enemy, and, therefore, there was no mending him at all. It then became a question of redemption, of blood, as well as water, and that life was in the Son; not in the first Adam, but in the Second. “This is he that came by water and blood.”
There is a cleansing, as we know; but this is the effect of redemption on the new life. It was out of a dead Christ that the cleansing came. A living Christ coming into the world presents Himself to man to see whether any link could be formed between God and man. But then was man finally condemned,.and death comes in. It was always so. There is no life in us. “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” And that is the reason why He says you must eat the flesh and drink the blood. If you do not take Him as a dead Christ, you have nothing, for that cleansing came out of a dead Christ. It is death to the old thing, and a new life entirely is brought in.
Then there comes another blessed truth. We have a dead Christ, now alive for evermore; and next we have the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. But this is all as belonging to a new world. “There are three that bear witness—the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” We have three witnesses, the Spirit bearing testimony; the water, the cleansing power; and the blood, the expiatory power; and these all agree in one. There is no cleansing of the old nature, but there is a new nature given. “God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” It is not by mending the old Adam, but it is life in the Son. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” There is no life belonging to the old man, it is a rejected thing, and there will not be two Adams in heaven. Here is the Son, and those that have life in the Son. God began working out this since the fall, but the full truth of it was brought out when Christ was risen.
Then there is another point in connection with the truth, and that is, the knowledge of it. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself,” because we have got Christ, through the Spirit of Christ in us. Therefore I know that I have eternal life—that I am a child of God. We have got this blessed consciousness and comfort. The work has been wrought, the blood is shed, and, besides that, I cry, Abba, Father, through the Spirit that dwells in me. That is, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” He has got the thing; in a word, he has Christ.
The fault of the unbeliever is not that he has not the blessing, but that he makes God a liar. God has given an adequate witness about His Son; and “he that believeth not God hath made him a liar.” And therefore a person rejecting the gospel is rejecting God’s testimony about His Son. The witness was sufficient. We read of many who believed on His name. But they did not overcome the world, because there was no real faith. Jesus did not commit Himself to them.
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” It is of all importance to see that it is not a mending of the nature that we have already, but the giving to us one that we had not before, in receiving Christ as our life. And all the rest is accomplished. The Spirit is the Holy Ghost present in the world. The water came out of Christ’s side as well as the blood. Water cleanses what already exists. The water is the washing by the word— but not without the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the application of the word by the Holy Ghost. But besides that, the water gives the idea of the washing by the word; and therefore he says we are born of water and the Spirit.
One thing remains^-the present confidence that we have with God. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, ye that believe on the name of the Son of God.” And then there comes every-day confidence. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” We are really reconciled to God. It is not an uncertain condition with God, but we are at home with Him. We have confidence in Him. It is not merely the fact that we have been saved, but we have present confidence. “And if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
But there is another privilege we have—that of intercession for others. And now, too, we get just a hint at the dealings of God in the way of government with a man that, is saved. “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death.” In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, there was a sin unto death. There is a constant dealing of God in government with His children, when if the sin be not of that character as unto death (it may go on to it), it is a question of discipline. There is many a sickness that is a discipline of God in some shape or another—positive discipline, which, if the heart were bowed to God about it, would be for good.
Chastenings are not always for actual faults. In Job it is said (chap. 33:18, 19), “He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain”; and that we find from verse 17 is for the purpose of hiding pride from man. Then in chapter 36 the chastening is for positive faults (v. 9). “Then he sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity.” There was a positive discipline of God. It is not merely here that there is this discipline, and that if there is a “messenger with him, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness, that there he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down into the pit,” etc.
But now, as a Christian, you are competent yourself to be a messenger. The Christian having the title of intercession, and walking with God, he has this access to God to be heard in whatever he asks. When then you see a brother sin, and come under the discipline of God you go and be to him this messenger, one among a thousand. It is a matter of discipline and chastening for sin: and if this intercession be used, he will be restored. It supposes a person walking with God to be able to be this interpreter.
“We know that whatsoever is born of God sinneth not.” The man is living after the flesh, if he is giving way to sin. The new nature sinneth not. If he sins at all, therefore, it must be because he is acting in the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, Satan has no power over us at all. “He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” He sums up all in these two verses. “The whole world lieth in wickedness,” and “we are of God.” We blink at things that are so plain sometimes, in order to save a little bit of the world. But “we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true: and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.” God being revealed in Christ, and we being in Christ, we have got our place in a scene outside the world altogether.
We have here, too, a remarkable witness to the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. “We are in him that is true, even in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” It is an immense comfort; because, when I have found Christ, I have God Himself. I have found Him; I know Him; and I know what He is to me. “He that hath the Son hath the Father also.”