Book traversal links for Address 4 - 1 John 11:3-6
“And herein we know that we have known (or, have the knowledge of) him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I have known him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily the love of God hath been perfected. Herein we know that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought, even as he walked, himself also to walk.”
Every Christian who reflects must be conscious in reading these words that the verses come in singularly to outward appearance where they do. The word that introduces them might give the semblance of continuance with what went before. There is indeed a vital connection; but it is not in the ordinary way in which men bind their various subjects together; for it speaks clearly of quite a distinct thing from what preceded. Nevertheless there is a link, and a most interesting link, between them. It is expressed by one word, “life.” It is not any longer simply the divine life, but His nature in the absolute purity of the image-word “light,” into which the Christian is brought from his conversion.
This light it is that thenceforth acts powerfully upon the conscience, for not merely it is awakened but purged conscience; and the new nature responds to the light of God, all the more because of being made painfully conscious how evil that old nature is in itself. But one already has a new nature which is of God. We who believe are declared by the apostle Peter to have a divine nature, and this is from the first moment that the life of God acts in our soul, and it does act from the very time that we are converted to God. We might not have peace yet; it might even be rather long before we enjoy it fully. But there is no little joy in believing that God has solemnly spoken to our souls; and there is immense relief in thoroughly bowing to the light of God which manifests and condemns our life in the past.
But how is this? Because a new life is ours from God, and life in Christ is the light of men. Elsewhere is it called eternal life; but His are not two lives. There is a significance and an impressiveness in “life eternal,” but it is the selfsame life; there is none other for the believer. And we see how fitting it is that so it should be, because Christ is Himself the eternal life, as is spoken of Him in the second verse of the first chapter. Nor does the apostle Paul in his Epistles hesitate to say (Col. 3:4) that Christ is our life. and again (Gal. 2:20) no more I live, but Christ liveth in me. Thus there can be no doubt about the truth. Christ had not two lives, neither has the believer: I say this only of the life spiritual, not denying the natural. In Him was life from eternity; and, coming down from heaven, He gives life, through faith, not to Jew only but to the world (John 6:32). It was to be given to Gentile that believed as fully as to Jew. Hence the believer has that life; and when he is a little more awakened to understand, it is a great joy to know that it is eternal life.
In 1 Peter 1:2 we find the same substantial truth in the sanctification of the Spirit there spoken of. This has been ill understood by the theologians of every school, ancient and modern, Romanist and Protestant, Calvinist and Arminian. They almost universally interpret it of practical holiness, and this in turn misled Beza, for instance, into the grossest mistranslation. Error once sown ends in a crop of confusion. But the context renders it plain and certain that the Spirit’s sanctification here can only mean that setting apart of the believer to God which is effected in his being born of God, because it is “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” That is, it precedes, instead of following, an obedience like Christ’s and His sprinkled blood, in contrast with the law and its sprinkling of blood (Ex. 24). We are called from our first start in the new life, by which the Spirit set us apart to God, to obey as Christ obeyed, sons in all holy liberty, and with the sprinkled blood which proclaims our sins cancelled and forgiven. Israel, on the other hand, began their effort to gain life by obeying the law under penalty of that death which the victims’ blood attested, as sprinkled on book and people. The same sense explains why the apostle in 1 Cor. 6:11 puts “washed and sanctified” before “justified,” instead of after, as must be if it were here a question of practical holiness. The Spirit’s sanctification, of which the two chief apostles treat, means the separation to God which takes place when we are born of God (John’s way of speaking) before the sprinkling of Christ’s blood applies, and in order to our obeying God as He did. Archbishop Leighton is almost the only one known to me as having an inkling of its real force.
Under the law life was offered to the Israelite conditionally on his obedience. Yet it was not really his, but forfeited, and must pass under the power of death, as the first Adamic life did. It is not said to be under the power of annihilation; for who knows anything of extinction for man, but the contrary? All the power of Satan could not annihilate the feeblest human being. No doubt there were things created that were not intended to live again. There is but separation of soul and body in man’s death. Guilty man must die and be judged; and is it not just that he should suffer for his iniquity against God and man? But believing man learns from God that the eternal life he has here in the Son is the same life that he will have when he is changed or raised from the dead; it is that which fitted him for communion with the Father and the Son while in this world, as it will fit him for enjoying the Father and the Son throughout all eternity.
The Spirit of God too is the divine power as well as person who works for good in this life against all that opposes it. He thus glorifies the same Christ who in grace gave it to us. For we need the Lord Jesus always, as the object and strength of our souls, as we did as the life-giver; and we shall need Him for ever to serve, adore, and enjoy. But in heaven He lives now for us; so that we cannot say that we want Him as if we had Him not. We would ever delight in Him who laid down His life for us; we now would, above all things, please Him; and as we love to carry out God’s will on earth, so it will be above when all opposing influences are done with for ever.
But we begin here already with what is eternal while we are in the world of time. Is not this blessed for us, not to look at eternity as merely the future, but to know from God that he who has eternal life has in a real sense entered on what goes on for ever? We look not at the things that are seen, which are but for a time; we are privileged to look at the things that are not seen, the eternal things. The unseen things faith knows to be much more real and unchanging than all we see. Evidently the link of our association is that the same Person who is Himself Eternal Life is our life; and how is this life to be known? Here we know that Satan often endeavours to bring one down into what a believer ought never to allow — a doubt. But we who believe God’s revelation ought to treat doubt as a sin. For what is the doubt about? Surely not about ourselves. Till we heard the voice of the Son of God, were we anything but sinners? As such we were lost: so scripture tells us. Neither, again, is there any doubt about God’s love. The proof is — Christ given for us, yea, and crucified; not merely in all the value of His blood to blot out our sins but risen and in glory, where He is not ashamed of us but owns us as His brethren. By grace we have Christ now, and Christ evermore: so at least He assures us (John 10:28).
Life eternal is like everlasting redemption, the wondrous boon in Christ that remains essentially unchanged. Christ went down under death to give it the blessed character of being life risen and not only eternal. Quickened together with Him, we know that our offences are all forgiven (Col. 2:13). “Risen with” means that He who died is alive again for evermore; and we now are entitled to stand according to His position, and to know that grace makes it our present portion. But if challenged by the Devil, we give him occasion by our negligence, unwatchfulness, lack of prayer and of making the word our daily food. People feel the need of meals for the body; but has not the soul as much need or yet more, to say nothing of its incomparable importance?
What then is the bread of life? It is Christ revealed by the word; the word making Christ our food in the Spirit. Nothing save Christ so feeds the soul. Still, when a soul has yielded to temptation, and fallen into sin, then is the enemy’s opportunity. This he generally uses for dragging one down to doubt God’s word, under the frequent plea of doubting himself. But in truth it is doubting God. It is to doubt His grace in Christ. How shameful such doubts are, though the Lord stands evidently crucified before our eyes! There He is, presented in God’s word to our faith as the crucified One, to completely abolish doubt. Was it not for ungodly and powerless enemies that He died (Rom. 5:6-10)? Indeed if we were not so bad as we are, we should not have needed such a divine Saviour. In point of fact it is because we were so bad that it is difficult to conceive we could be worse. Moreover we know the treacherousness of the flesh in the believer. This it is which troubles many a saint: not what he did in the days of his darkness and death, but his too often failing in grace and truth, in outbreaks of self-will or folly, in vanity, pride, or worldliness, or whatever else may grieve the Holy Spirit, after all the mercy God has shown him. How sad, after experiencing grace so plenteous, to be sharp and unkind, or careless and light-hearted! Thus it is that the failure of the believer produces difficulties in his soul about himself before God. Nor this only; but if one compromises the Lord by sin of which other people know, they are ready enough sometimes to raise a question.
Therefore, after the doctrinal basis of the Epistle was laid down in the first chapter, with the supplemental two verses of the second chapter, we have the question broached: How can I ascertain the true tests of life? Certainly the philosophers say much but know little about natural life: why wonder if Satan can readily raise doubts about spiritual life, particularly after one has been ensnared and the conscience is not clear?
From verse 3 we have searching tests applied in order to make plain to ourselves, and to others also, how life manifests its reality or its absence. The object of faith was first fully presented in Christ; next the necessary working of God’s nature in such as are His; then (after the brief supplement of grace to restore the fallen) we come to the revealed tests of life. Verses 3-6 furnish the first test. What is this primary test for any soul? That which distinctly and at once, from the very beginning, stamps a man as having life, and which, if he lack it, means the absence of life, is obedience. “And herein we have known (or have the knowledge of) Him; (it is a continuous result that we have the knowledge) if we keep His commandments.” This is none other than obedience. It is not the only form in which the spirit of obedience is proved; but as a rule it is the earliest. It begins without delay. It suits the youngest saint. He is sure to be forthwith tested by the question of obedience. And it is exactly what the new life prompts to.
Observe this in him that was to become the great apostle of the Gentiles. Directly that the voice of the Lord reached his soul, and identified the true God with Him who died on the cross, He could not but cry, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?” He judges his error, and wants to obey This is the instant spiritual instinct of life. Converted in heart, his mind is to obey Him whom he without hesitation calls the Lord. Accordingly, if we look at it throughout the word of God, we see how comprehensive obedience is, and how all-important. Take the case of the soul’s submission to the righteousness of God: it is what is called in the Epistle to the Romans “obedience of faith;” by which is meant, not the practical obedience which faith produces in the walk, but the prime act of believing God’s word. This is really the heart’s obedience. It is the person’s obeying the truth, the soul’s acceptance of God’s testimony to His Son. The man hitherto ungodly owns it truly, bows to the word of God, accepts the truth of Christ’s person and work, and is justified. Therefore is the gospel preached to all nations, not like Israel for obedience of law, but for faith-obedience. Such is the true force in order to make the scope somewhat more clear: not an obedience produced by faith, but submission to the gospel in faith. And this is in many forms carried out throughout the Scriptures.
But there are other signs and proofs of its importance; and we do well to look to the very beginning of mankind. What have you there? The first Adam, the father of the race. Alas! the beginning of man’s moral history was the fact that he disobeyed. For the command in Eden was simply and entirely a test of obedience under penalty of death. Eating of the tree of knowing good and evil was not an intrinsically moral or criminal act like stealing, murder, covetousness, or any of the various breaches of the Ten Commandments. These prohibitions suppose an innate evil proclivity; but it was not so then. Adam was as yet innocent and upright; and God told him not to eat of the fruit of that tree. This prohibition had nothing at all to do with the quality of its produce, nor implied in the least that the fruit was a poison. This is the way that man likes to look at it: how would it affect himself? But the command asserted the LORD God’s authority. It was meant to test man’s obedience, his trust in God’s word and goodness, in short, his absolute submission as a creature of God. For Adam as yet could not be called by grace a child of God. He was son of God like the Athenians, the offspring of God. That is, he was not a mere natural animal without reason, a brute beast; he had from the first his soul from God’s inbreathing, an immortal soul. In that sense of course he was God’s offspring; but he was not yet a child of God born of Him by grace through faith. Such a birth is never the fruit of anything but of His grace in Christ. Thus only one receives the life in His Son; and Adam had nothing of that kind, whilst simply an innocent man in the paradise of Eden.
But the plain fact which quickly appears and characterises his ruin is his disobedience. He disobeyed unto death; the grand contrast of which is the Second man, the Last Adam, who became obedient unto death. Yet in His eternal being, in His proper position, in His inalienable personal dignity, the Son was a divine person, and, as such, had nothing to do with obedience. For this very reason it is said in Heb. 5:8, that He learned obedience from (or, by) the things which He suffered. He did not know what it was to obey till He came down to be man. He knew perfectly well what it was for others, for every creature; but He was no creature but Creator. Nevertheless, having become man, He loyally undertook the duties of man; and the very first duty of man is to obey God.
The Lord manifested obedience as no one ever did, and glorified His Father in every feeling of His heart, as well as in every word of His mouth, and in every step of His way. He overruled John the Baptist by “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” He met Satan’s temptations by nothing but obedience. This indeed is the profound difference between the Lord Jesus as Man and every other man. Never was there another who invariably obeyed. This is a much greater distinction than working miracles: anybody could do miracles if God gave him the power. Judas wrought miracles; and many will say to the Lord in that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy name, and by Thy name cast out demons, and by Thy name do many works of power? And then will I avow to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work, lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23). To work miracles only is in no way a necessary sign of moral excellence. As a general rule it did go with those righteous servants of God who inaugurated His revealed will, or vindicated it when apostasy betrayed itself. But God, for His own wise purpose, shows us the most wicked of men working great signs, even the traitor to the Lord Jesus, as already mentioned. Another indeed is to be referred to presently but the first one of those called “the son of perdition” unmistakably showed that he had not the slightest appreciation of Christ. He was invested with power, but there was neither obedience nor the faith that leads to it.
Therefore one naturally looks from that first son of perdition to the last — the antichrist. And what is it that stamps the antichrist, what is it that fits him to be a vehicle for Satan’s taking possession of him to the most exceptional degree? Nothing could be a greater affront to God than the way in which Judas showed his revolt in betraying the Beloved of God. So the antichrist will be the ruin of both Jews and Gentiles beyond any man that ever lived. What is it that marks him before that power of Satan is allowed to work in him so mightily for a little while? What prepares him for it? His self-will, the spring of disobedience. He is described therefore as the king that shall do according to his will (Dan. 11:36), not the will of God but his own and Satan’s. He is “the man of sin,” the “lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:3, 8). Alas! whenever you do your own will you become Satan’s slave; but he pre-eminently will be so.
Thus we see in the most opposite way what an essential place obedience has from first to last. At the beginning the first man abandons it, and all ruin follows. And then the Second Man, when He came here, is just the obedient man, Who brings in not only blessing, for man, freely and fully, but also atonement and peace by the blood of His cross. For He blots out the sins of sinners on faith completely and perfectly; and from heaven is sent the Holy Spirit as the witness of Himself and His work for everlasting redemption, and the reconciliation of the universe when He comes again. Hence obedience is the soul’s bent and resolve and joy when Jesus is known and confessed. The proud, careless, dark heart is arrested by the word and the Spirit of God, who fills him with horror at his wickedness, presents Christ with the goodness of God in giving Christ for his soul, and he bows to his Lord and Saviour, earnest to obey from that moment. As the all-importance of obedience from the first beginning of life in the soul is evident, so it is in all the public ways of God, as we have. seen even to the future antichrist at the end of this age.
The principle is thus shown to be of the widest extent and of the deepest moment for God’s glory and for man, and indeed far beyond man. Consider that the angels who fell were once heavenly beings. It was through their disobedience, through their pride, that they left the place God had given them, and assumed another that God gave them not. Obedience of God, on the other hand, is everywhere and always true blessing.
Therefore we cannot be surprised that the Spirit of God introduces it at once in our Epistle and in this part of it. If a man doubts his relationship to God, or if other people doubt him, the Spirit applies obedience as the first great test. Has that soul the spirit of obedience as his own? In our dark days we know how justly we were described as “the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2); but when the turning-point of conversion to God comes, we become “children of obedience” (1 Peter 1:14). It is from the first the real expression of the heart purified by faith. Thenceforth the inward and fixed desire is to obey God, long perhaps before one may have solid peace; though this might come in a comparatively short time. There is the hatred of sin, the judgment of self, and the grace of Christ making one not only desirous but capable; because nobody is ever converted without some little gleam of grace. Alarm will never convert, though it may arrest and point the way. No terror ever converted a soul, though it may induce one to hear the gospel. There must be more and other than such fear to win us to God. It may be ever so little of Christ, but there is this, as we doubt not, in order that faith should have divine light and eternal life. And this life works in obedience; and shows its reality by the inner man set on obeying God, as a law of liberty, not of bondage. The life of Christ in us, as in Him perfectly, delights to do His will and nothing else.
Hence the remarkable divergence, as it might appear, from the previous part of the Epistle. But to press obedience here is just in its right place. We have seen the divine source of the blessing in the Father made known by the Son, and fellowship with them becoming ours. We have had the message from Him of the character of God in all its purity accompanying this necessarily. If we receive the blessing, we cannot avoid but welcome the responsibility of having the light of God, and walking there. How is this effected in us? The eternal life which He was in Himself is also the life to us. And both light and life show themselves in obedience. And as obedience shone all through Christ’s walk, so it is essential in the saint, and holds the first place as a test here below. “And herein we know that we have known him, if we keep His commandments.”
It is not zeal in preaching. This is often put forward in modern practice. Directly a soul is converted, the person wants sometimes to become a preacher; perhaps he is only a little boy; and it appears that there is a young boy parading in this capacity just now. Nor is it cultivating what some call “a gift of prayer,” and especially in public, where a keen observation of others suggests a fluent rehearsal of wants to be supplied and faults to be corrected all over the world. However these things may be, altogether different are the revealed ways of God. We know that, in particular, preaching is a snare to the vain. It seems to be a service that many covet, if one may judge from the prevalence of the desire without the power. But where there is the gift, it is an admirable work of faith and love. Only there should be a proper basis for it, and love. of souls rather than of preaching impels, after God has wrought in the heart to know what we really are, and, above all, what God is in Christ toward the lost.
Here the apostle begins with obedience; what is more due to God, more meet for us? It is distinctly personal; it applies to everything and always. It demands and maintains lowliness while it gives firmness. It requires dependence on God, and guards against self and undue influence of other creatures. There must be a personal dealing of the soul with God to have real value and avoid self-deception. But we have first the form of “keeping His commandments.” This brings in a notable feature of the Epistle before us. Very frequently you cannot tell whether “He” is God or Christ. The apostle glides from the one to the other: and the reason is because both are true for though Christ became man, He never ceased to be God. And, therefore, if you say “God’s commandments” it includes Christ’s. Often, if he clearly begins with Christ, he as clearly passes on to speak of God. But Christ is God, and the Word of God, the One who personally brings out the mind of God, as His great declarer, in deed as in word. The Holy Ghost, as He ever wrought in Christ, makes it real in the believer also; that it should not be merely his own mind, still less his will taking all up, but that he be guided of God; for such is the function of the Holy Spirit in this and more also.
Thus we begin to learn, so far as babes naturally do in this life. They may understand little at first; but it is of the greatest moment that, before they understand fully, they should learn to obey. And if they are taught to obey, it must be in a plain manner to suit their opening mind. You cannot expect a child to apprehend easily an abstract principle. Nor can one look for the force of example to tell always on a child. It might be quick enough to say, “That is all very well for mama or papa, for this man or that woman;” but it is another thing to see how it concerns its own little self.
Accordingly the first form of obedience is simply, properly, and necessarily — bowing to His commandments. Yet they do not mean the Ten Commandments of the Law. This is never what John refers to when he speaks about commandments as here. For it is all connected with Christ, vitally bound up with Himself. One may briefly say that the difference between the trial by the law, and the test of these commandments, lies in this: that the law was the proof of what man is; whereas the gospel is the revelation of what God in Christ is. Under law, therefore, man was put to the proof whether he would give up his own will and do God’s demands in order to get life. Life was proposed to those under law on their obedience of the law. But this is a contrast with what God now gives the believer. The life is supposed to be already possessed on faith, as truly as the life was in Christ before He came into the world. He was the eternal life with the Father; and, when He took manhood, He was the eternal life still. And here He was manifested not only as a divine person come to show love as the true God and God’s Son, but as life eternal to give life to those that have nothing but death, and sin which brought death in. It is thus manifest that the commandments here direct the given new life, instead of being a moral standard to obey in order to gain life. They are the exercise of the life in Christ which grace has already imparted to the believer. But the form of obedience first taken is, “If we keep His commandments.”
God graciously puts things in an authoritative manner in order that the child, the babe-like child of grace, should feel the solemnity, the importance and the need of it. God therefore in many cases lays it down, one perhaps may call it, peremptorily, certainly with all plainness and authority. Is not this good and right? How could any thoughtful or sober creature imagine that God could speak otherwise than with absolute authority, or that God’s authority is not concerned in all that He thus imposes upon man? Do not assume that the commandment of God is always something for man to do. Has He nothing that He has done for man to believe? In 1 John 3:23 to believe the name of His Son is made a matter of commandment, no less than to love one another. That is, He commands people to believe the gospel in fact, as well as the saints to love each other. Thus He makes it a matter of commandment, so as to show how thoroughly His authority is concerned, not only His love but His title to command. It is evident that obedience is incumbent on man according to God.
Take another instance: the apostle Paul, in Acts 17:30, told the Athenians that God enjoins men that they all everywhere shall repent This corresponds with believing on His Son Jesus Christ. It is not a question of Nineveh’s escaping destruction, but of sinners to be rescued from hell. Neither Jonah nor the men of Nineveh thought of deliverance from eternal judgment, or of receiving life eternal to enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son now, and to be with Christ for ever on high. But we have His commandment now to this express end, and with a right state of soul it would have and has the greatest possible weight. For thereby is shown how earnest God is about us. And is it not good news to a soul in dust and ashes about his sins, to know He is in earnest to bless freely and fully of His own grace one that so deeply needs to repent and believe? At the same time His own majesty is concerned: this He cannot give up to please vain man, as poor as he is proud. Men must be utterly blind to their own sins and enmity against God through their whole life, and thoroughly vicious in their self-will, to find fault with God — the God who gave His Son to save the vilest.
Where we love a person, we delight to do what might be put in the form of a command; and where there is authority, a command is the shape that it takes even among men. But how much more so with the God who never lies nor in the least deceives, the God who is full of goodness, mercy, and long-suffering, even to the careless and rebellious? Here it is for the soul’s blessing, and for ever, if we keep His commandments. Indeed the sinner long inured to evil needs everything that is good. The whole course of life is meant to be changed when one really repents toward God and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. And God graciously makes His will and mind to be clearly and positively stated. But this care on His part makes man’s self-will and indifference to His commandments the more evil, especially if he bear the Lord’s name professedly.
In the next verse (5), the apostle opens to us something deeper. “But whoso keepeth His word.” This is a different thing from His “commandments.” It advances the nature and scope of obedience. For it supposes spiritual progress to have been made, and that there is growing intelligence as well as purpose in exercise; so that it is not merely a plain “commandment” that governs the soul’s obedience, but “His word.” His word might not take the shape of a definite command, but would undoubtedly disclose what pleased Him, what He valued. It would therefore, where the spirit of obedience was strong, be sufficient intimation to be faithful in this also, even though He uttered nothing like an express command in the matter.
Is it not painfully curious how the legalism of the heart works in the opposite direction? In Christendom, and among Baptists in particular, what is more prevalent than to reckon Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as His commands? But they are nothing of the kind. Where is His command to the person to be baptised or to take the Lord’s Supper? A command puts things altogether in a wrong point of view. Christian baptism is a favour conferred upon the soul on the authority of the Lord Jesus. The Ethiopian asks, “What hindereth my being baptised”? and Peter in the case of Cornelius, etc., says, “Can any man forbid water”? It would be strange to talk thus if it were a command. Who would think of hindering or forbidding a command of the Lord? But here they of the circumcision did vehemently contend against it. Nevertheless, search where you will, it is never presented as a command. No doubt he who had the case of the Christian confessor in hand might baptise or direct the candidate to be baptised. But this is not their meaning: they make it the command of the Lord Jesus to the candidate. But the Lord does not put it thus. It is a favour that He is pleased to confer according to His own word, and therefore it is no question of a command in the moral or legal sense. It is the same with the Lord’s Supper. The Lord says, “Take, eat.” Does this make it a command? Suppose me to be dying, and some dear friend came by the bedside, where my Bible lay, and I said, “Take, and keep my Bible.” If you call this a command, you must be simple-minded or perhaps crooked-minded. It is not a command; but a mark of love. No doubt it has the effect of a command, yet a great deal more and different. It is associated with the affections and the remembrance of one that was loved long and tenderly till his departure. So it was given from a dying bed, and it was taken in that spirit, and so must it be understood by men of discernment.
A case which I have often used before will perhaps make it to be clearer. We will suppose a humble little family dependent on daily labour. The head of the family, the breadwinner, has to go to his work very early in the morning. I am not at all sure that it is a common demand in these easy-going days; but it used to be so at any rate. Let us however suppose that he has to leave early in order to reach his factory or wherever else he toils. But the mother of the family is on a, sick-bed, suddenly taken ill. Then occurs a great difficulty. She that used to rise so gladly to prepare his breakfast, and perhaps also what he needed in the course of the day, is too sick even to be spoken to. What is to be done at this sudden strait? One child of that family appreciates the dilemma at once. She has not been commanded in any way, yet she sees through it all; she knows that circumstances are quite changed; and as there is no mother to take the lead, she does. She had often helped her mother, and now she takes the initiative. herself. Accordingly she is up early, makes the fire for the father, puts the kettle on, and has the coffee or the tea all ready hot for him, with the other necessaries for the time of his absence from home. Here too there was no command; but it helps to illustrate “His word.” As the word though not a command expresses the will of God, so she knew what was wanted to do the will of her mother, if she had been able to speak. The father was so overwhelmed with the illness of the wife that he could do little or nothing toward his meals; and yet he was bound to work as usual. She understood it all, and without more ado there she is doing the work that her mother would have done. This was not keeping a commandment, but it shows what “keeping His word” means.
Thus the believer grows in the knowledge of God, and delights in pleasing Him. It is not merely what is put in the shape of a command; but if we know what the good will of God is in any way, this is enough for the obedient heart. It is not seeking a director of one’s conscience without, any more than consulting something that is within you. No: I am called to be subject to God, and this by keeping His word. I am to do the will of God; and this is now given in His written word, the Scriptures. They are written for our admonition as well as our comfort. So the apostle commended those who were no more to see his face to God and the word of His grace. If we seek that all saints should do the will of God, let us see to it that we humbly begin and do it ourselves. There it is all plainly laid down in His word. The best of all means for reading it aright is to see Christ Himself as God’s object throughout. It does not mean merely what Christ said, though this is immense; nor what He commanded, which is of the highest worth; but what Christ manifested every hour. There you find Him up, before it was day, with God. Has this no voice for you or for me? Observe Him how, when something serious had to be done on the morrow, He was in prayer all night to God. Surely this ought to tell on our souls. We may not, ought not, to think we can carry it out in such a way as Christ did; but who can deny that in this He was leaving an example? An example is not a command; but none the less is it meant to act powerfully on the soul’s heed and obedience.
Accordingly “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (ver. 4). There is the total absence of the spirit of obedience. It is not merely that he does not keep His word; he does not even keep His commandments. He violates his obligations; he sets aside divine injunctions, and this not merely in the Old Testament, but — what particularly bears upon him — the New. For these new commandments are the first form of the prescribed test of his Christian profession. And if he has no conscience to keep His commandments, we need not inquire how he treats Christ or the New Testament as a whole.
In ver. 5 we come to quite another step. “But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” Therein is evident heed to the whole mind of God, and it is carried out, because His word is loved. It is a heart that proves its obedience by keeping not merely His commandments but also His word. The word is not only authoritative and energetic on the soul, but precious. All the word is therefore sought into with delight and profit; and, where this is the case, John does not hesitate to say that the love of God is perfected in such a man.
This again affords opportunity to remark in a general way about the manner of the apostle not in this Epistle only, but indeed in all his writings. He looks at things according to the revealed divine principle, without occupying himself with hindrances and shortcomings according to the man’s state and behaviour. He does not treat of the failures that are incident to our carelessness. When the genuine Christian is before him, he regards him as carrying out God’s mind. He therefore does not impair and weaken principle by bringing in a little drawback here and a little caution there. He says plainly out what is pleasing to God and becomes His child; and this even for the youngest is to keep “His commandments;” whereas for those that are no longer immature but spiritually experienced, it is not merely His commandments but “His word” generally, that which fully and in any form expresses His will.
Therefore it is that we read, looking at our Lord again, “Lo! I come to do thy” — Law? No. Thy commandment? No. Yet He assuredly kept His law and did His commandment; but withal He honoured, vindicated, and gave such a scope to His law as none else ever did. But He came to do God’s “will.” Nor does He merely say thus much, but, “In the volume of the book it was written of Me.” It was the roll of a book (for God figuratively uses the terms of human habit) that only the Father, the Son, and the Spirit knew; there it was, in His secret counsels, the mind of God; what afterwards was written in the Book of Psalms. What is said is rather in contrast with the law and its ordinances; but there it was always. And when He came as man, this is what He came to do — the will of God. And the will of God went far beyond what people knew as the Ten Words or Commandments. Ineffable grace was its announcement. Nor was His work merely doing but suffering the will of God. For He obeyed unto death, even the death of the Cross. When did the law ever ask or look for such a sacrifice as that from the righteous? Did it even think, or conceive, such a thing as the Holy One of God dying for the unrighteous? But no less than this was the will of God; and He knew it before time began.
It was useless to talk of creature sacrifice and offering. God says in effect, that “These will never do.” The blood of ox, sheep, or goat, cannot take away sins, can effect no escape from the lake of hell-fire, cannot deliver a wicked man from the judgment of God. No rite can ever change a bad man into good or bring him without a spot to God, as white as the snow. What then? “It is written of Me.” And so it was that He even abolished the first, the law, and established the second, the will of God. The will of God in infinite grace here is to save the worst of sinners through the death of the Lord Jesus. Does not this show what wonderful power there is in that which God has given in the Scriptures? It was therefore a cherished purpose of God before everything. And the Lord knew it in eternity, and, when the fulness of the time arrived, came to do it, and in doing it suffered to the uttermost. No work of power, however great, could suffice for it. Was He willing that God should make Him sin, and endure all the consequences in order to glorify God even about sin, and make it just on God’s part to grant plenary forgiveness, yea, to justify and glorify us? He must suffer for sins under the holy hand of God Himself, armed against sin, and dealing out what sin deserved. Yet He bore it all with perfect submission, whatever it cost Himself. Thus between law and grace is the complete difference most marked.
For the Christian it is the same principle as for Christ, save only that He is God and wrought atonement for us. We have life too before we enter on practice, as the Lord had it in Him throughout eternity. Ours is therefore acting from life, not for life as a man under the law. Christian walk is the exercise of the new life, impossible for any who have not life, and only possible for the one who has that life by his eye being fixed upon Jesus. Otherwise the eye is no longer single; it may be occupied with this one or that thing, when the walk can no longer be according to the light. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light”; and it is only Christ that makes the eye single.
This is intimated clearly enough here, but John adds more. “Herein we know,” not “that we know Him” only, but “that we are in Him.” This supposes a great accession of privilege; and such is the way in which God encourages those that are truly obedient in spirit. Not only do they know Him, but that they are in Him. Oh what a wonderful thing for a saint to be assured that he is in Christ! He infinite, we finite and very feeble, however blessed of grace. Life here hangs in dependence on God and His Son. And the Spirit of God strengthens the sense of dependence, and uses the word to confirm us in that very attitude. And what do such words show? His pleasure in assuring the obedient saints that they may know they are in Him. What happiness then for us, knowing what He is to us and has been for us! What cheer and strength does it not give in our sense of weakness!
If we compare John 14:20, we learn that to be in Christ is part of the rich cluster of Christian privilege which He assured to the disciples in and from the day that the Holy Spirit was given to be in and with them after He went on high to the Father. “In that day ye shall know that I [am] in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.” There is first the wondrous yet righteous position of the risen Lord in His Father, not wondrous that He the Only begotten Son should be there, for this was inherently His in the Godhead, but now first disclosed to them as true of the risen Man as He was and will never cease to be. It is His place on ascension, His righteous award on the world’s rejection of Him (John 16:10); and we who believe know by the Spirit of the Father in His name that He is in His Father there, a position far transcending His place as Messiah on David’s throne or even as Son of man ruling all the nations of the earth in the future kingdom. This is His place and could be His only as a divine person one with the Father, yet risen man after accomplishing redemption; and this gives Christianity its unique grandeur.
But next they should know that they were in Him. It is not only that, in virtue of His death and resurrection, they were to be part of the much fruit springing from the grain of wheat that fell into the ground and died. They should have intimate and heavenly position in Him as far as this was possible to the creature, not risen life only but the place of assured nearness in Him there, known as ours now while on the earth. And again they should know Christ in them: a truth as characteristic of the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 1:27), as their being in Christ is of that to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:3, Eph. 2:6, 10, etc.), save that the apostle treats it as individually true, Paul as connected with the unity of Christ’s body, the church. It is the portion of every genuine Christian; and not to know it is the disgrace of unbelief in Christendom. This alas! clouds the apprehension of many a saint now, and almost ever since the apostle’s death, who shows here that its realisation depends on keeping Christ’s word, and God’s love perfected within. But this is no more than what becomes every Christian, and the lack of it grieves the Holy Spirit of God by whom we were sealed into redemption’s day, that is, the body’s redemption. Lack of faith or fidelity dims the spiritual eye to our best privileges.
“He that saith he abideth in Him.” Here is a further thing which might be only a boast, and an empty boast. This he meets in a way quite different from that in which he dealt with the careless despiser of God’s authority. For he pronounced him a liar and the truth not in him. He was stamped as having nothing of God really. But where the profession of abiding in Him is made, how quiet and yet how conclusive is the inference! Do you say that you abide in Him? Then you ought to walk as He walked. Here is no pretence of having no sin. But if we say that we abide in Christ, the effect of abiding in Christ is immediate and powerful on the walk. The walk is the expression of life in the light of God; and if I abide in Him that is the Life and the Light, what is there to hinder my walking as Christ walked? In His presence we do not sin; out of the sense of it we do. By grace it is the same principle of walk, though far from the presumption of the same measure. Not the law but Christ is the standard.
Now we know as a matter of fact how easy it is to slip out; how readily we forget the Lord for a little; how apt to allow the activity of our own nature. This is not abiding in Him; but the apostle does not turn aside to bring in these modifications. He looks at principle; and a principle is absolute. As for any who refuse to look at the absolute truth because man is in a mixed condition, it is to give up faith for feeling and sense. How can such understand the truth of Christ here and elsewhere? It must be absolute in Christ and in His work. Grace must be absolute for a ruined sinner to profit by it. If God gives me justification, it is not a questionable one. If God justifies the ungodly, it is as absolute as His giving eternal life in Christ. And the believer has eternal life in order to obey as well as to enjoy fellowship with the Father and His Son. So here we read, “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” He leaves this to act upon the conscience; for no higher claim is here made than to say that one abides in Christ. It is not the blessedness of knowing that I am in Him, but that I profess to make Him the home of my soul for every joy and sorrow, for every danger and difficulty. For this is to abide in Him. If it be verily thus with me, I ought to walk as He walked. But is it so in deed and in truth? The failure in real abiding in Him is shown in the shortcoming of our walk. But as Christians, we own Christ as our true standard, however it may humble us. Nor do we pretend that one ever walks in the measure of Christ’s walk, but seeks by grace to walk after that manner.