And now, dear children, abide in him that, if he be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him.
“See what (or what manner of) love the Father hath given us, that we should be called children of God [and we are]. For this reason, the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we God’s children, and not yet was it manifested what we shall be. 13We know that if he should be manifested we shall be like him, because we shall see him even as he is. And everyone that hath this hope on him purifieth himself even as he is pure.
“Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that he was manifested that he might take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Every one that abideth in him sinneth not; every one that sinneth hath not seen him, nor known him.”
We return to the general doctrine of the Epistle. After the remarkable parenthesis of the varieties among God’s children, we come to His children all grouped together. So it was before the parenthesis introduced by ver. 12, and now in what addresses them all; ver. 28 leads us forward again into the ordinary and regular course of the Epistle. The word to all here is, “And now, dear children, abide in him.”
This is the true condition of Christian practice. It is faith in His person, which leads to abiding in Him; not merely in truth, work or doctrine, but in the living and divine person of Christ. For it is all the more magnetic (if one may so say), because He is Man as well as God. Yet it is not in the way some are disposed to look at it, that when He is man, it is apart from His Godhead, or when He is spoken of as God, that it is apart from His manhood. There is in truth but one person, two natures united in His person: herein lies its immense peculiarity; for this makes it impossible for man to sound its depth. He Himself tells us, “No one knoweth really (
ἐπιγινώσκει) the Son but the Father.” Let us remark indeed that it is not so said of the Father, though the Father never became man as the Son did. But the Son reveals the Father; yet it is not said that the Father reveals the Son. Compare Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22: John 17:3 means process of learning. In the Lord Jesus is the inscrutable; and therein is the peril for the mind of man, in all else proud and daring, and particularly so where it is irreverent presumption, in the things of God — the very realm in which the first man is nowhere; without righteousness, without understanding, not even seeking after God. Therefore man as he is only flounders about from one error into worse. “For who of men hath known the things of a man, except the spirit of the man which is in him? Thus also the things of God knoweth no one except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). And the Holy Spirit is given us as believers in Christ to glorify Him. For the Lord Jesus is the truth; and the Lord in this two-fold way, God and man yet in one person. If we believe, our wisdom, our happiness, our power for service or worship, our very safety is to “abide in Him.”
No divine person was revealed when God constituted Israel as a people. There were commands which came out from the majesty of God, suitable to the terror that God inspired in an earthly people, for the most part not even converted. Yet the law was for every one of them; but in it was no such thing as the revelation of a person. Righteous commandments came from Him; and institutions were established by Him. Rites and ceremonies were imposed of a most impressive and important kind, which spell the name, offices and work of the Lord Jesus. Still there was no revelation yet of any divine person. The law stood on the authority of God who dwelt in the thick darkness. But the essential truth of Christianity lies in that the Son of God comes to man from the Father. We know the things freely given us by God in One who is Himself God and man, He might thoroughly represent man as he ought to be to God, and thoroughly make known God as He is to man; and that He might, after redemption, send the Holy Ghost. Is not this sovereign grace?
Such is the incalculable blessedness dependent on the Lord Jesus. It was not the law, though He came under it. It was not promise, though He was the accomplishment and accomplisher of promise. It was Himself, the Son, and the Son deigning to be veritable man. Only, as is said later in this Epistle, “In Him is no sin;” not merely that He did not commit sin, or as 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He knew no sin but no sin was in Him. His nature was holy and in no wise sinful. He was therefore born in a manner altogether singular. Without doubt He was born of the Virgin, but not this made Him sinless: for the Virgin was in herself sinful like any other. She was however a believer of remarkable simplicity too and purity of character; yet she needed a Saviour, and she had the same Saviour as we in her own Son. But well she knew that her Son was unlike any other son in the way in which He became flesh. It was by the power of the Holy Ghost. He, not she, was therefore immaculate. It is well to adhere to the truth. For in daring to add to revealed truth, superstition only invents a falsehood which gives Christ’s unique place to another; and God will surely judge the blasphemy.
There was a miracle about the incarnation of stupendous nature; as there was another about His death and resurrection. There is nothing more human than being born and dying; for this is the condition of man as he is now. And the Lord knew these conditions, but in all God was manifested. On the cross He was pleased to lay down His life: none could have taken it, if He were not pleased. He laid down His life; like Him nobody else could. If you or I were to lay down our life, it would be a great sin; but in the Lord Jesus it was most precious grace in vindication of God against all sin. Thus in the two things wherein He most approaches man He is infinitely above him, as became a divine person. Here man’s intellect entirely fails, because his self-confidence and ignorance of God make him reluctant to own that there is any mystery above him. He assumes his own competency for any difficulty, and likes it, urged on by the great enemy to trust himself and not God, who would humble him into the dust as a sinner, and calls him to look only to the Lord Jesus; for all blessing flows to faith through Him. But this is exactly what man’s pride resents to the rejection of God’s grace in Christ. Faith is the gift of God.
Here then having shown who and what this wonderful person is, He that was from the beginning, He that united God and man in one person, the apostle says “abide in Him.” And indeed we do not know any One for such as we are to abide in except in Him who is the truth, that is, Christ. The Spirit of God dwells in us to give power; but the revealed object of faith all through is the same One with whom we begin. Hence it is that the “little children,” as we saw, have anointing from the Holy One. It was not merely that they were converted. A Christian is a good deal more than a soul quickened and turned to God. An Old Testament saint was simply thus converted: he did not receive the Holy Spirit, for this peculiar Christian gift followed known redemption. Christ received the Holy Spirit without redemption, without propitiation; because He only was the Holy One of God, the righteous One. But we needed redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Hence, after we are converted, and believe the gospel, we receive the Holy Spirit. It is then properly that we become Christians (compare Acts 11:17). The gift of the Spirit is the real and distinctive mark — “anointing from the Holy One.” We must not confound with it our being born of the Spirit. Now he says, Ye [not those antichrists] have this great gift from the Holy One; and as Christ is the One from Whom the unction comes, “Abide in him.”
Was there anything abiding for the Israelite under law? They had no divine person manifested. The object of the law was to await redemption (save in figure); they had not received Christ, still less His propitiation. The mission of the Lord Jesus was to manifest God and the Father to the believer in the Son, and the gift of the Spirit was only after He died and rose and ascended to send Him from heaven. It was therefore altogether unprecedented even for converted men. In general too false religions do not even pretend to it. Whatever playing into lusts and passions, with high-flown rhapsodies there may be in the Koran of Mahomet, there is no revelation of God Himself; there is the revelation of a bundle of lies. So it was in all the ancient “Vedas,” as Hindus call their sacred books; and still more with the Buddhists, who were atheists though trifling with polytheists. Brahmanism is polytheistic; but Buddhism is a system of atheism in its pantheistic form, and therefore avowedly has no personal God to reveal any more than its rival has the one true God.
But Christianity is essentially God revealed in His Son; and that too as Man walking in holy love on the earth, above all the evil and falsehood which surrounded Him, that it might not be merely a revelation in word but in deed and in truth. All His ways and His words revealed God the Father; all His miracles made Him known in a way far beyond others, be they who they might. There might be signs as well as powers; but they were of a different nature when wrought by Moses, Elijah, Elisha, or by any other. But here we have the unique Christ Jesus, the one Mediator between God and man; and now therefore as they had received Him, they were to “Abide in Him.” There alone is safety and blessing; there alone is the light of God and the love of God, and the known life eternal that God bestows on the believer. It is all in Him and inseparable from Him.
People have talked lately of our not having life in ourselves. Let them beware of over-shooting scripture in their thoughts. So far as they insist that life is in the Son, it is perfectly true; indeed it is its precious peculiarity that eternal life is in Him. And God be thanked that so it is; for thus it is that it remains safe, immaculate and unchanging. In Him it is and abides perfectly secured, but also given, to every believer to be his new life. If we had it severed from Him, should we not soon lose or turn it to the same sad account as we have our other favours from God? That we have it, and that we have it in Him, are both true, the latter enhancing the former. But He is our life.
But we proceed “And now, dear children, abide in him” — the whole family of God — “that, if he be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming.” This is a sentence we ought to consider, as it is often misunderstood. In general, those who make use of the verse think that it means that we, or any other Christians, should not be thus put to shame. What the apostle really says is, Abide “ye” in him, that “we” may not be ashamed, those of whom they were the work in the Lord. For it would have been no small affront to the truth, and a very great pain to the workman, that any who had appeared to receive the truth should give it up. He therefore puts it in the form of an appeal to their affection. If the apostle personally had so wrought, he would have been still the blessed and holy and faithful apostle; but in itself it is a shame to the labourer when those supposed to be brought into the truth abandon it.
Remember that this departure was then going on. It began with Judas, or, if not exactly with Judas, with many of His disciples who went away back and walked no more with Him from the time He disclosed His incarnation and His death as the indispensable food of faith, long before the apostasy of Judas. There were also many among the rulers who believed but because of the Pharisees did not confess Him; for they loved glory from men rather than glory from God. O beloved friends, beware of this! Confess Him if you believe; confess Him if your hearts rest on Him for life eternal. And not merely confess Him, but, whatever the pressure, abide in Him. The apostle here puts it in a way exceedingly tender: “That if he be manifested, . . we may not be ashamed from before him at his coming.” Would not their defection be a shame to us rather than an honour in that day?
But there are other suggestions also of much instruction from the verse. Observe that there are two terms used which are not precisely the same. “That, if (the correct word, not “when” as in the Received Text) he shall be manifested.” This last is one of them; the other is, “at His coming.” “Coming” here, as often elsewhere, is not precisely the word that expresses “coming” and nothing else, as in John 14:3, 1 Cor. 11:26, and Rev. very often. He says, “I am coming (
ἔρχομαι) again.” This means the act of coming. But there is not merely this act, but the fact or state of His presence (
παρουσία). It is His presence when He comes, and therefore it may lawfully be translated “coming”; but it often means not exactly when He was coming, but the state that ensued after He came. Take for instance the resurrection of those saints who were put to death in the early and in the later times of the Apocalypse; two classes of saints that are to be raised even after the Lord appears judicially in glory (Rev. 20:4). These form part of “those that are Christ’s” raised at His coming. “At His coming” would there mean not the act of coming but the state of His being present instead of absent. There is another difference between them. The word “presence” or “coming” in that sense may be either for the heavenly people or for the earthly. For instance in the Epistle of James “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” is the earthly side, as when the Lord says “The Son of man at his coming.” The connection of His presence with “The Son of man” decides this in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; and so with the Epistle of James who says “The judge standeth at the door.” This relation of the Lord must be connected with His day or appearing. His “manifestation” also is that further effect of His presence, and His “revelation” too.
But the word “presence” does embrace the act of His coming to receive us to Himself for the Father’s house before He is manifested; in other words, when the term
παρουσία is not qualified by anything that indicates manifestation, it is the Lord gathering us to Himself above by His presence, as in 1 Thess. 4, 2 Thess. 2:1. Unmodified, it is applied simply to His presence in grace; for this is indeed sovereign grace. But where our responsibility comes in, there is always not merely the coming but the appearing or manifestation. So it is in this verse, only both terms are employed; for the manifestation supposes also His presence, but His presence may not yet be His manifestation.
Observe another thing. It is not exactly “when” He shall be manifested, but is “if,” though the reverse of a doubt. This may sound a little strange to those not used to read Scripture as God has revealed; but we may always expect that His way is the best. What God says is sure to be the most accurate form in which it could be notified to us. Now the word “if” does not refer to the time “when” but to its reality, whenever the time comes for Christ’s manifestation; for there is no doubt about the future fact. It is not a question in suspense whether it is to be. But if He be manifested as surely as it must be, He would have the saints to abide in Him, instead of being turned aside, that we may have boldness and not be ashamed from before Him at His coming. It is the apostle’s feeling about it, expressive of his love for those that bore the name of Jesus, and therefore a pain that any should be carried away from the truth. Whatever his love even to children in the faith, he loved Christ’s name even better than the saints. and so must seek that none should be a source of shame to him at that blessed time.
“If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” Like obedience, it flows from life. As He is righteous, so every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of Him. There is thus the communication of righteousness because of the new nature. Here we come to the question of practical righteousness about to be discussed in the verses that follow, with a slight exception to be also pointed out. It is not now love, nor yet is it obedience is such, already treated in this 1 John 2:3-6 and 7-11. In the latter part of 1 John 3 we have, after righteousness, love again, just as in 1 John 2 we had obedience first and then love in the general course of the Epistle. There is thus an important link between obedience and righteousness respectively with love; which is indeed the bond of perfectness, as we read in Col. 3:14.
It is interesting to inquire what is the difference between our obedience and our righteousness. Yet is not the answer sufficiently plain? Although righteousness is always obedient, in itself it is an expression not only of submission to divine authority but of consistency with relationship. This seems to define its own proper meaning. Even if the force of God’s righteousness be sought, it is no less applicable than else. where; it means the consistency of God with His relationship; just as it is with Christ’s righteousness or with man’s righteousness, greatly as they all may differ otherwise. In His case there is the perfection of Christ’s consistency with His relationship; in our own case we have to lament the shortcoming of our consistency with ours as Christians.
Is not this a solemn reflection for each one of us? Yet God’s grace in Christ has left no ground whatever for distrust; and the main object here was to establish the saints in Christ. Not a word is said anywhere to create questions or doubts personally. This seducers do yet more than other unbelievers, in order to propagate their own errors and lead astray the simple who enjoy the truth of God. And we have just seen that one of the great objects of the Epistle is to arm even the youngest believers against their evil and dangerous arts; just as one way wherein these seducers went to work was to make the immature doubt whether they had the full truth. The antichrists maintained that there was much altogether beyond what was known before, and that this new light of theirs was the grand prize, the lack of which raised the question whether they could be real Christians at all.
On the contrary the object of the apostle was that the young saints should be assured that they themselves were anointed by the Spirit, and that for themselves they let abide in them that which they heard from the beginning. They were to judge, young though they were, every pretension to new light by the old truth. Therefore the talk about new light ought to be a danger signal to every saint, especially to the young; for they are too apt to believe the promise of something very fine and high which other people have not got. But suppose that it turns out to be a lie; what then? This is exactly what one ought rather to expect — a lie of the enemy, because God has nothing new to tell us about His Son; He has brought it all out already; and they had received the truth in His Son from the beginning. He is the truth, which consequently was complete in Him. Therefore all the promise of new truth was a mere deceit of Satan. Some of us have seen the spirit of error at work more than once even in our lifetime; and we had not to go far to find it.
Here then he presses the subject of practical righteousness as being deeply momentous, because it is based on relationship. Is not this a very great lesson to learn? Christians in general are but feeble therein. They do not appreciate the new relationships in which grace has set us. Who but the Lord Jesus brought in these new privileges? To whom on the higher side belong these relationships? To Himself and to His Father, the Holy Spirit being come as the divine power of our realising them by His indwelling in us who believe. We shall find that this last begins to be taken up at the end of 1 John 3, and carried forward in the chapter that follows; so that the Epistle is evidently and strictly systematic, though couched in the simplest language, but with the utmost depth of thought and feeling according to the grace and truth of God.
Some may remember the time when “system” used to be freely condemned amongst us. What drew it out was the contrast of stiff denominational innovation with the holy liberty of the Spirit as seen in the church of the scriptures. There may have been some wildness in the denouncing of “system” throughout Christendom; because it gave the idea that the only right thing was to have no system. Assuredly those who had no system were to be pitied, if it really came to that. The true question was and is, What is God’s system? Man’s must be wrong. Far from us, that we should not bow to God’s system. It does not matter wherein it may be; for He has always a system of His own, and man always misses it. Only His word can exhibit and only His Spirit can enable us to carry it out. Assuredly we must feel and acknowledge that nothing but His grace by the mighty working of His Spirit through scripture enabled us to find His way out of the labyrinth of error, ancient and modern, outside man’s traditions and his inventions. To those who are therein entangled God’s way looks hard, uncertain, narrow, Pharisaical, and one knows not what else. But what largeness of heart it gives, what liberty and boldness with humility before Him, when we truly judge man’s systems in the light of God’s system! for this is what we have revealed in the word. So a blessed system runs through every book and chapter in the Bible, as it remarkably characterises this Epistle of John, and all the more as not lying on the surface, yet deeply interwoven. It is the same everywhere for its own purpose; but the purpose here is very penetrating and of peculiar interest in, and leading us into, the heights and depths of truth in Christ’s life, such as is rarely if ever found elsewhere even in the New Testament.
“If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him.” The righteous practice proves the source of the new life that so walks. We may ask, who is “He”? Probably there is not a Christian here but would say “Christ,” and surely he is quite right. But there have been not a few who answer that here it is “God” who is called “righteous,” because to be born of Him in the same connection points naturally to God. Nor can one deny that the reason ordinarily would have great weight, as none denies that God is righteous. But it has been overlooked that a very striking peculiarity of this Epistle is that one cannot absolutely say whether it is God or Christ; and the ground of this is very precious, because Christ is God. There is no exclusion of the Father, but the divine nature is shared by the Son equally with the Father, which no Christian denies. Therefore the apostle, who above all others dwells and delights in the nature of God, keeps, if one may say it reverently, moving in that adorable circle from Christ to God, and from God to Christ, then to God, in his use of “He” or “Him” throughout the Epistle, We have found it already in the early part of 1 John 2. Here we see it again toward the close, as it occurs again in the beginning of 1 John 3, and so on to the last; where he does not hesitate to say of Christ, “This is the true God, and life eternal.” It may look confused to an erudite though unawakened eye; it is the beauty of truth to those who know that it is and could only be because Christ is the Son, equally God with the Father. Hence in John 5:23 the Lord Himself points to the Father’s doing, “that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” It is just because Deity characterised both, that it is impossible to lay it down in an absolute manner whether it be either the one or the other. As both are persons in the Godhead and active in love, the apostle purposely thus passes imperceptibly as it were from one to the other. “If ye know that He is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him.” Granted that we simply incline in the beginning of the sentence to say “He” is Christ, with equal simplicity we would say at the end that by “Him” is meant God.
Such an unusual style of writing must have a divine motive in the inspired writer, as it is not a casual circumstance, but a habit in the Epistle so pursued as to prove that it is done purposely. No hesitation is shown We know it is what any careful writer on usual topics would sedulously avoid. The man of letters prides himself as the rule on his style being so pellucid that even a dullard cannot well confound one “him” with another in the same sentence. And the apostle was far from the affectation of such as write darkly in order to appear very profound. But his ground, one cannot doubt, was the Deity which was equally shared by the Father and the Son. On this truth, where is sage, scribe, or disputer of this age? John would not put the Only-begotten Son on a level with a mere man, just because He is God. Though He became man in infinite grace, he would not draw the line definitely; but by his apparent confusion and real intermixture he leads us to see how he loved to present God and Christ so joined that man cannot sever them in his language.
“If ye know that he is righteous, know that every one that doeth righteousness hath been begotten of him.” How can he thus speak? Because the saint has been begotten of God; he has the life of Christ. This is the constant underlying truth of the whole Epistle. From Christ giving us His own life results “Christ our life.” One of the marked characteristics of life in Christ, as manifested in all His walk, is absolutely perfect righteousness; and His is the life that became our life, the only life that we dare boast of. It is divine life, because it is from God in His infinite grace who has given us the very best life, the highest, dearest, most perfect life that ever was. It was from all eternity in the Son; and He imparts that life to us now, that as He is righteous, so everyone that does righteousness shows its source to be in Himself.
It is sad to know that there are those who doubt this; but it is really to doubt Christianity. For this in practice is what it means. And it is no use to make excuses, because the error is too plain as well as fundamental to be explained away as defect of style, or a different side of the truth which others mistook. It is an error so deep and deadly as to demand repudiation, and to call for earnest seeking to deliver every one drawn into so destructive a snare. Here, in righteous walk, life is shown to be derived from community of moral nature with Christ; that if He is righteous, those that walk righteously are said to be begotten of God. For all can see that it is no question of being justified in the verse; it is practical righteousness here. That, in virtue of God making Christ sin for us sacrificially, we become by faith the righteousness of God in Christ is absolutely true; but it is our standing by grace. In our text it is conduct when thus justified. The apostle is pressing, as a matter of all importance, that practical righteousness is consistency with Christ and inseparable from being born of God.
Such is the character and nature of the new relationship that is brought before us. We are born of God, we are His children; and can you conceive such a thing as the smallest unrighteousness either in God or Christ? As whosoever doeth righteousness is born of God, so we may say that whosoever is born of God doeth righteousness. It is a question of doing, not of mere saying or profession. It is not at all a position formed by a sign or rite, but what grace secures by a new nature in our conduct which points to that source and no other. What could more effectually act on the conscience, where there was a new life from God? And it was written for faith, not doubt, though assuredly intended to act on the conscience strongly. For righteousness means consistency with a relationship which admits of no trifling with sin.
But the very next verse shows that we need grace of the fullest kind. The more the conscience is meant to act freely and truly, the more we need the rest given by perfect grace. Here it is brought in with apparent abruptness, but in order to set out our new relationship in the Father’s love. It is not merely to lay the requisite basis of our relationship for conduct; this relationship is also for enjoying His love beyond all thought of man, even to its most glorious results. Hence, though it may seem an abrupt transition as we sometimes find in the writings of our apostle, it is divinely wise and just what we ourselves need every day. “See what manner of love the Father hath given to us.” It is not only the measure but the manner of it which are so wonderful. For it shows itself in this, that the Father has given to us this illimitable love “that we should be called children of God.” “Children” is the correct term, not “sons.” John regularly uses the word “son” only about Christ. Not only is it because he is jealous for the glory of the Son, but his God-given care for the truth revealed led him to say that we are God’s children rather than to speak of our sonship. After all to be a child of the family is more intimate than the position of an adopted son. We are sons by adoption, but we are children by the nearest family tie to the Father, though both are through the Son. This wondrous manner of love then has been given to us that we should be called children of God.
“Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (verse 1). What an honour for us to share with Christ the world’s ignorance! Our place and nature and nearness to God are unintelligible to the world. Perhaps it is well to say that some of the oldest manuscripts that are known agree in the addition “and we are” after “we should be called God’s children.” This small clause is not given in the Authorised version, nor am I prepared to speak with decision about it. Of many things one may judge with certainty; but I do not presume to speak so in this case. Only we may note this, that these very old manuscripts occasionally join in what is certainly wrong. There is however a peculiarity in this clause unlike their erratic readings. What they convey here is “that we should be called children of God; and we are (so).” Now this last is in itself certainly true, and in fact said with emphasis at the beginning of verse 2. Sometimes their readings, where they differ from others, are certainly false; but this at least is true. The only question is whether it is drawn from the next verse and put in here as a gloss of man.
But there seems enough importance in it to deserve a notice. It is remarkable enough that the Latin Vulgate, which, you may know, is accepted by the Romanists as authentic Scripture though only a translation, is here in error. It gives the clause like the old Greek Uncials, but goes wrong where they speak consistently with truth. But in this case it gives a natural thought “That we should be called the sons of God, and should be” (or, may we be). The Latin is not “we are,” but that we “may, or should, be.” Now this is not true; because it denies that we are now children of God, and seeks it as a future thing (perhaps it is to be supposed dependent on our good behaviour), inconsistent with what follows, and intrinsically indefensible and untrue.
So, without recounting many such instances, in Luke 2:14 very ancient copies read “in men of good will,” a class hard to find in this world; and a strange gospel that peace on earth is for men of goodwill, glad tidings for such as He has nothing to find fault with. Where are these to be found? Surely this is a prodigious reading, hanging on one added letter, and accepted, not by Rome only, but by Alford, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and others.
But, however this may be, the clause here is indisputably true in itself. Whether it is an actually inspired part of the text is an open question. But its statement stands at the beginning of the next verse.
“Beloved, now are we children of God,” an assurance important for souls to know, and going beyond the questionable clause; for “now” is highly significant. It is not merely “we are,” but “now are we,” which is well worthy of our heed, as that immediately before it, “For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” What a striking identification with the Lord this imports! The world did not understand Christ, nor does it the Christian. Man never can truly comprehend Him, however he may pretend to it. None but the Father knows Him perfectly. But the world knew enough from His lips and from His life to hate Him. He was, for this reason and others, unknown to the world as an object of reverence, honour, and love. He was to it a mere nobody; and such is the way in which it regards the faithful Christian. Grace gives us His relation to the Father; and consequently we share His nothingness here below. As He was an unknown power in the world, so are we: ought we not to esteem it a high honour?
The world, all know, struggles exceedingly for its power and fame, Its ease and pleasure. What is there that most people value more than much money or somewhat of the world’s honour? Is it harsh to say that so it is with too many Christians? Christ never did; not only did He never seek but He always refused it. He was always the true Servant here below, and could say, “As the living Father sent me, and I live,” not “by” but “on account of the Father, he also that eateth me [the food of faith] shall live on account of me” (John 6:57). Hence the love of the Father is directly opposed to the love of the world. Where the love of the Father is not, there is the love of the world; and where the love of the Father abides, the love of the world is excluded. The world ignored Him; and so it does the faithful, as God’s children should surely be. Could the world’s feeling be more simply or strongly expressed than by completely ignoring? The world believes itself perfectly able to do without Him and His: they are really and only a trouble to the world.
“Beloved,” for the word is again used significantly, as we saw it before. He is treating of our present high relationship, and our future glorious hope, which nothing short of the Father’s love could bestow. “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it was not yet manifested what we shall be. But we know that, if he were manifested, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (ver. 2). There we have “if” again; it is not “when” but a different word; which it would be hard to show ever means “when” under any circumstances. But the word “if,” though it may sound a little strange from lack of use, will be found exact. For instance here “When He shall appear” might give a wrong idea as to the time of our being like Him. Many, one may venture to say, may have been embarrassed by it. For we know from 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; 2 Thess. 2:1, that our change will be at the moment of His coming or His presence for us. Then is our body conformed to His, and we become like Him. And if we become like Him at His presence, we shall certainly, or à fortiori, be so when He appears or is manifested. This is what is here said and meant. The world will see us manifested with Him and like Him. The manifestation in the same glory will be for all the world to see (John 17:22, 23; Col. 3:4), and when this manifestation takes place, we shall be with Him and like Him. But the change was not at that time but before it. There lies the importance of the change from “when” to “if.” And this is not said in the least in order to assume anything which ought to be proved by Scripture, but simply because it is the meaning of the particle: If He be, as He surely will be, manifested, we shall be like Him. From elsewhere as cited we learn that we are to be like Him, before He brings us to heaven, and even to the Father’s house. For He comes out of heaven with these saints following Him; and when thus manifested, we shall be like Him, yet not for the first time but when we saw Him coming for us. Thus the word “when” in this case might seriously mislead. We shall be like Him for entering heaven as well as for coming out.
What privileges these are, beloved brethren! What can we say of our fidelity and devotedness now? Yet our heart’s decision is, hearing His voice, to follow Him; meanwhile transformed by the Holy Spirit, as we behold Christ by faith and are occupied with Him. But we are never said to be like Him now. We may imitate Him who suffered for us, leaving an example that we should follow in His steps; and the apostle Paul, as far is he imitated Christ, we are called to imitate; but we are never said to be like Christ yet. We shall be like Him when we are changed and caught up, not before. It is a great presumption to talk of anyone being like Christ now; by-and-by what is perfect will then have come for us, and we shall be in His glorified estate, and unlike Him in no way. It is therefore a very full and rich expression of the great change that awaits Christians when the Lord comes for us; and if He be manifested, as He surely will be, so will it be with us, for we are to be manifested in the same glory. All the world will see it then; but we are changed when we see Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Is it not clear that our seeing Him was not in the day of His manifestation to the world, but when, as the first stage of His presence, He came to receive us to Himself on high? Then we see Him as He is; then too we shall be like Him. But when He is manifested, and we with Him, in glory, it will be for every eye.
Yet there is a present spiritual effect of this hope that is here manifested, the importance of which for the Christian cannot be too deeply sought or urged. “And everyone that hath this hope on Him purifieth himself even as He is pure” (ver. 3). It does not mean hope in the man, but on (
ἐπὶ) Christ, this hope founded upon Christ. For the word, properly speaking, is “upon” Him, not precisely in Him. It is a hope directed to Him and settled on Him. Thereby the Christian “purifieth himself.” This very result shows that we are not like Him yet. Christ never had to purify Himself. He sanctified or set Himself apart in heaven, in order to be the great model for us on earth, that we too might be set apart to the Father by or in truth (John 17:19). But we have also to purify ourselves here below, because, besides having the life of Christ, we have what is natural to contend with, to mortify and keep down, that it shall not break out into its evil ways. We have therefore to purify ourselves from defilement through unwatchfulness and failure in prayer, and “even as He is pure,” for Christ is the standard. He always was absolutely pure. This again is perfectly applicable to God, for God is light, purity itself, as no believer call doubt. But Christ here meant is pure too; and this is the more wonderful, however certain, because He was truly man. In spite of being born of woman, He is pure in the highest degree. A great deal is lost to all who do not apply it to Christ, and take away a little from the honour due to Him by denying Him in this place as learned and pious men have done.
This leads into the very opposite of purity, the grave and important discussion of what sin really is (ver. 4). One hardly knows a verse of the New Testament more perverted if one may so call it, or more productive of widespread misapprehension. Take the generally excellent Authorised Version for a plain and painful departure from the evident mind of God in its only legitimate meaning. The reason that led to the error, and gave to it general acceptance, was the prevalent Judaising of Christendom. Do not all its differing sections regard the law of Moses is the rule of Christian life? This Christ is really, and His word for every detail. Does not John 1:17 contrast with law “the grace and truth which came through Jesus Christ “? The law, on the contrary, is the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7-9). It is the rule of death to a sinner, and so it proved to the Israelite; not the ceremonial only but expressly the ten words graven in stone, as the apostle Paul says.
But the fact is, as a question of rendering, there is nothing about transgressing the law in the verse; whereas there exists not perhaps a single catechism, no matter what its source, which, misdirected by this wrong rendering, does not define sin to be the “transgression of the law.” But it is all entirely false definition, and not at all what the apostle says. Lawlessness is a great deal deeper and subtler and wider than violating the law; not wicked work merely but the activity of an ill-willed nature, which therefore fully applies to such as never even heard of the law. They yield to their evil will without restraint. How can you speak of people transgressing the law who never so much as heard of its existence? Their evil can hardly be called “transgression”; for this surely means violation of a known law. The fact is, however we may look at it, that “transgression of the law” is expressed by its own proper phrase, and quite distinct from “lawlessness,” the only right rendering here, whilst the former misleads.
It is to be presumed that almost every intelligent Christian has heard what the real sense is, for many servants of God have insisted upon it for more than seventy years. Sin goes beyond the fleshly and worldly lusts warned against in 1 John 2:16. The sentence here is reciprocal: “sin is lawlessness,” and “lawlessness is sin.” It is self-will, whether ignorant, or regardless, of God’s will. The meaning of verse 4 is “Everyone that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” This is its unadulterated and simple force. Some for “doeth” prefer the word “practiseth”; but, without insisting on that change of rendering here, it may be enough to say “do,” if understood in much the same sense of practice, which one can hardly doubt to be its real meaning. It is not committing a sin but “doing” sin. It is what a sinner always does. If a man is a sinner, what can he do but sin? How avoid it so long as he remains simply a sinner? because sin is the state of his nature. Now that he is fallen and no more, he only sins. He does not do righteousness; he is as far as he can be from holiness; he does nothing but sin. “Everyone that doeth sin” says he, (whether he be a Jew or a Gentile, it makes no difference here) “doeth lawlessness.” The Jew added to his guilt because he violated the law also; but the Gentile did lawlessness and thus was a sinner, though he knew nothing of the law and could not fairly be called a transgressor of the law. Scripture does not call them so, but “sinners of the Gentiles.” Where are they ever called transgressors of the law, as the Jews were? But they were all guilty; they all did their own will, and this is the essence of lawlessness. It is leaving God altogether out of the case, and a man just doing what he pleases and because he likes it. Who is he to speak against God? But God is not mocked, and He will bring him into judgment for it. This he may close his ears to now; but it will be unutterably awful for him another day.
Thus “lawlessness,” as it is the true mind of God, gives a far reaching sense to the word that is commonly rendered here “transgression of the law.” It is quite a different expression and differently applied. Transgression of the law does occur in Scripture, as, for instance, in Rom. 2:23 (translated “breaking the law” in the English Bible), and “transgression” in the same sense without “the law” is expressed in Rom. 4:15, Gal. 3:19, Heb. 2:2, Heb. 9:15. But the word in our verse is “lawlessness” simply with a sense distinct from “transgression of the law.”
The end of the verse makes this sense plain, as it takes in every sinful person and all his life. It is a course of lawlessness. But such evil was the exact opposite of Christ, who, in verse 5, is therefore brought in without naming Him. “And ye know that He” (emphatically) “was manifested that He might take away our sins;” not “bore,” as in 1 Peter 2:24, but “take away,” and both by one act totally. There can be no doubt who He was that thus suffered. It was not God the Father; but exclusively the Son, the Lord Jesus. He only, He for ever, bore and took away our sins on the cross. A prolonged action over His life is precluded: it was a transient act but of everlasting efficacy. “And in Him is no sin.” This applied to His person all His life from His birth till He died and rose and went into heavenly glory.
There could be no question of it in His simply divine estate as the Son throughout all eternity. Doubts alas! have been raised because of His being born of Mary, and in spite of the miracle of the incarnation (Luke 1:35). But “in Him is no sin” — never was and never can be. In Christ here below we have the exact opposite of what the sinner is. The sinner has nothing but sin. Even in his affections God is not in his thoughts but himself. This is not the love that was in God and in Christ, from whom Christians derive it. That kind of amiable affection you share with even a dog or a cat; for some are truly amiable dogs and cats, they are not all spitfires. The immortal soul gives affection a higher nature in man; but man is sinful, which brutes are not! Yes, man has an immortal soul, no matter what he or she may be; and for that reason will surely come into judgment; which no dog, or cat, or other animal will — man only of earth. One does not speak of angels, though the fallen ones will be judged too; but of beings on the earth man is the only one so constituted, and directly responsible to God.
Here then we have this true and unique picture of Christ. He not only had no sin in Himself, but came at all costs to take away our sins. What then do we not owe Him? and what practice consists with the relationships of grace which are ours now? “Every one that abides in him sinneth not;” but if a man does not there abide but turns aside to devious paths, can we wonder that he sins? He is not walking as a Christian, if he does not abide in Christ. Nobody sins who thus enjoys conscious dependence and confidence and delight in the Son of God. What else can keep us so surely from sinning? “Every one that sinneth hath not seen Him nor yet known Him.” Here he is speaking of the nature and the character: he looks at the man solely according to his new nature. The other, the old, nature is his shame and sorrow; he utterly condemns any allowance of it in himself or in fellow Christians. But the new nature is characterised by Christ, and does not, cannot sin.
“Every one that sinneth hath not seen Him, nor yet known Him.” Sinning is incompatible with truly loving Christ. Sin is supposed to be a state that mere man lives in: what he does is to sin habitually. But the sinner has neither seen Christ nor known Him. Had he really received Him as the Son of God, he would have believed in Him. If he had thus known Him, he would have received life in Him, and hence would have hated sin; he, possessed of that new and holy nature, would have looked to and depended on Christ to keep him from evil, righteous even as He is. Apart from Him, one can do nothing, can bear no fruit Godward. A converted soul may be in bondage, weak and wretched, as in Rom. 7:7-24; but when by grace he gives self up as utterly and hopelessly bad for Christ in His delivering power, he is freed from the law of sin and death into Christian liberty. The apostle Paul alone enters into the emancipating process. Our Epistle passes it by, and views all the family of God as having settled peace and on proper Christian ground, even the babes. The new life in Christ is the main theme.
Hence the precious aspect in the apostle John’s testimony is what he gives from our Lord in John 14:20: — “At that day [now come since Pentecost] ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Now, when this is really our known portion, it is the new “I,” no longer in the flesh and dreading judgment because of my failure, but Christ risen is my life in the Spirit. But we must beware of thinking that this change is only an apprehension of the mind; it is a real possession of the mind of the Spirit. Still less is it the law demanding what is right from me; but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which freed me from the law of sin and of death.
It is evident that our apostle in these verses goes beyond the lusts and the vainglory of men without Christ, as traced in the chapter before. Christ is set before all the saints in His absolute sinlessness, and in His work of taking away our sins. So also the root of sin is thoroughly laid bare, the personal chief of sin being therefore brought forward with all directness, whose pride and rebellious independence of God is reproduced in those who are said to be “of the devil” (ver. 8). He that was manifested to take away the sins of those that are His was no less manifested to destroy the works of the devil, an undoing which goes far beyond man’s sins and includes all malicious energy in dishonouring God and injuring man. We cannot overlook that here the Son of God is opposed personally to the evil one; as in 1 John 2 the love of the world stands in manifest antagonism to the love of the Father.
In ver. 9 the secret cause of the radical difference comes to view. “Every one that is (or, hath been) begotten of God doeth not sin, because his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is (or, hath been) begotten of God.” It is in no way a question of the first man, of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man. Flesh and blood have nothing in them to be a source of the new life. Moral suasion is as powerless as a religious ordinance; for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” One must be born of God; but this is through faith in His Son objectively, and by the operation of His Spirit through His word livingly. Thus is the believer born of the Spirit; and here it is equally true that what is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). There is no interchange, no ameliorating, no modifying: each nature remains according to its source.
Thus it is no question only of being justified by faith, nor yet only of purifying the heart thereby. The atoning work of the Lord for the sinner, and the work of the Holy Spirit in him, are most true and real; but there is also a new life, not of the first man but of the Second, then for the first time communicated to his soul, dead spiritually as he had been till then, as the Lord clearly taught in John 5:24, 25. It is this which explains the apostle’s language here, how the begotten of God does not sin. He is regarded according to a divine nature of which grace had made him a partaker (2 Peter 1:4); and he is assumed to abhor his old self of sin, and to live of the new life which he has in the Son, on his guard against the wiles, temptations, and instigations of the devil in every form to act on the old man.
As having Christ’s life, his responsibility is and must be to discern, hate, and disallow the working of the old. Here however it is not responsibility urged, but a nature true to itself, as natures are made to be. And as the new nature is his now from God, so he lives accordingly. It is doubtless wholly different from the old fallen creation; but his faith recognises that it is no less real and incomparably more momentous. On this ground, and it is most true, it is said not only that “he doeth not sin,” but that “he cannot sin, because he hath been begotten of God.” The reason is given why he does not sin, “because his seed remaineth in him,” the life of Christ communicated by God’s gracious power, which is not subject like the old creation to decay and death; it is his seed and remaineth in him. The new nature is incapable of sin, and he who has it in Christ is characterised by it only, sin in the flesh being here wholly ignored, as already condemned of God on his behalf in Christ made a sacrifice for it on the cross. But of this way of divine deliverance, nothing is here said any more than of our sinful nature. We only hear of the believer characterised by the new man. But the new man lives in and by dependence on Him who is its source. When the believer ceases to walk by faith, leaning on the Lord, the old nature slips or breaks out into sin.
Yet whilst we have life only in Christ, it is of all moment and interest to see the care which the Holy Spirit takes to keep the Son before us objectively, so as to guard us from mysticism and self-admiration, so prevalent a snare for pious souls. He fixes our eyes on the supreme hope of being like Christ when we shall see Him as He is; which certainly was not when Jerusalem fell, the fantastic and unholy dream of the J. S. Russell school, however important an event providentially. See too the emphatic statement “In Him is no sin”; so precious to the believer’s heart as he looks on the Man, Christ Jesus, the bright contrast with every other. How abhorrent to his spirit the effort of Satan to found a pretended sympathy with us on the lying assumption that Christ was peccable because He, the true God, deigned to unite human nature with His Deity! Sin in His nature was a most wicked insinuation; but was it any better to teach that He was by birth of woman in a necessary relation of distance to God? Both the mother error and the daughter are incompatible, not only with true atonement but with His divine person.
13 “But” here lacks authority.