Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love hath been perfected in us. Herein we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because he hath given to us of his Spirit. And we have beheld, and testify that the Father hath sent his Son as Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we have known and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him.”
We have seen that in order to give the love to which we are called its proper character, the apostle, in the verses already gone through, recalls the manifestation of God’s love in Christ; first, when we were dead, to give us life, secondly, when we had life and felt the burden and evil of our sins as we never felt them before, to accomplish the propitiation which bore all our sins away. Such is the true order of God’s acting on the soul. It enables us to see how very important is the reception of life; for without life there is nothing adequate to hear or to answer in divine things. There is still unremoved death in the soul; and the notion of the Spirit of God doing the part of life, or rather without it, is really monstrous. The Spirit of God could not consistently thus act if there were not life to act on.
Christ is, no doubt, the believer’s life; and by faith the old “I” is treated as no longer existent before God. It is there in fact, but by grace of Christ it has no right. As Christians we deny it in His name; we own it as wholly worthless; we abandon it as altogether evil now in our sight as it ever was to God, no matter what a man might be thought by his fellows. He might be a great genius; he might be of the most wonderful energy conceivable; but self is all without and against God, and never could therefore enter into His presence. How then could the old man ever be all object for the Holy Ghost to take up and sanctify to God? Therefore Scripture speaks not of sanctifying the depraved old life, But Of the old man crucified with Christ; of sin in the flesh condemned by God in Christ as a sacrifice for sin, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin. It is no longer the sinful “I,” but “Christ liveth in me.”
There is thus a new life, to which, in virtue of redemption, the Holy Spirit could attach Himself. Hence, as without a new life there is nothing but the old man, the necessity for the new life in Christ is apparent. In point of fact, all the Old Testament worthies, like every saint now, had life; and what believer knows of any life for sinful man but one — the life of Christ? Like incorruption for the body by and by, it is brought to light through the gospel, but it wrought in all believers before the gospel; nor could they be saints without it. Whatever difference in form has been effected, it is all the better for those that followed when our Lord became man. Then it was made plain, as never before, what the new life is, and who those are to whom He imparts it in believing. It was for men, not for angels. “The life was the light of men” only, as far as Scripture intimates. Angels never fell; their elect being kept from sin do not require a new life; nor is there repentance, or gift of grace, to fallen angels. They have a life, whatever it may be, which is not explained to us, nor is it our business to pry into. What have we to do with such inquiries’? (see Col. 2:18.) It is always a vain pursuit when men get occupied with the angels. Yet I have known a Christian so full of it that he encouraged himself in the visionary idea of angels good and bad seeing him every night, so that he fancied he knew their names; but all this was mere feeling and imagination, though in a true saint of God. There are few greater follies than such speculations about the unseen.
But here is the blessed reality of God’s deep concern, His active love in the case of man. First of all it is in its sovereign character, when we were dead, to give us life; and when we received life, that we should be delivered from all guilt; for the same Lord Jesus who brought us life became the propitiation for our sins. For that holy life made our sins an insupportable burden to us. But by His blood once shed for sins, atonement is made; and we are called to believe God’s grace, and enjoy the blessed truth of it all.
But there is more than this, though the apostle has moved very gradually in coming to what remains. He began it in the last verse of 1 John 3, “he that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him.” The one thus blessed is obedient, and who now obeys? None, of course, but the Christian. Only it is not some Christians, but all that are real. They obey God, as having His nature, the life Christ is and has given them.
Yet he does not explain more here, but just leaves it for its due place. Only he adds a small but important intimation in the latter part of the verse. “And herein we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given to us.” You perceive that the word “abide” is preferred to “dwell,” as avoiding equivoque, besides that it is the proper equivalent. There is another word for “dwell” (
οἰκεῖ), from which this word (
μένει) differs. God “abideth” in us. This is the simple and certain force. It is not a passing act or a visit for a little while. In “abide” we have one of the distinguishing words of Christianity, its perpetuity. Israel knew too well of something that was very good for a while; but it was taken from them; or, as was said to the Hebrews, what becometh old and aged is ready to vanish away. Such was Judaism, which had to give place to the permanence of Christianity in itself and in faithful souls. To abide is the stable character of every Christian blessing except a conditional one, and there are such too. But eternal is stamped on the new thing, particularly on the life we have in Christ; for this reason it is called by that striking term, and we do well to delight in it. At any rate so we used all to do, when we had in proclaiming it and giving thanks for it in no stinted measure many companions, who are silent now to our sorrow as to “eternal life.”
But there is more than eternal life, though the essence of our blessing is characterised by life in Christ. And was it not Christ displayed constantly in every act of His here below? Dependence on God in unfailing obedience. If He calls upon as to obey as He does, if He lays down commandments, these have nothing whatever to do with the Ten. The law was an appeal to flesh; therein life here below was held out but never gained this do, and thou shalt live.” But the commandments of Christ are directive precepts for those to whom new life is already given of grace by faith. They have now therefore the greatest of all blessings in having Christ their life. Nothing is more certain than that God has given the believers Christ, and that Christ has also given Himself for them. Wonderful truth, yet most simple! It is the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. But the truth of the gospel is soon lost when people speculate instead of believing.
For this very reason, as being a life simply of dependence, we want besides the presence and power of God; for there are immense dangers and difficulties in the way. Spiritually we need power, besides the capacity of life. If there be no such momentum, we fail to overcome the obstacles. Otherwise we find out our inertia, or adopt fleshly energy. However blessed dependence may be, it is not power. The true energy of the Christian is the abiding Spirit of God, not life abstractedly, though for our new place life in Christ is essential. He is needed for the working of power in us. When everything was created, the Holy Spirit did His part. When everything was thrown into chaos, the Spirit brooded over the scene of confusion and of darkness. So when God would have a tent in the midst of His people, He did not suffer Israel to frame one according to their own wisdom. Everything was arranged of Himself. Besides precept, God gave power by His Spirit even to the artisans who had to do with it. Perhaps one is not respectful enough, and ought to say goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers, joiners, upholsterers, etc., who had to do with constructing the different parts of the sanctuary. But nothing was left to man’s own device; the Spirit of God expressly wrought by man.
But the Spirit of God has now an aim incomparably higher. It is no question of an earthly tabernacle or even a magnificent temple, although we know that the inspiration of God directed as to both. But now the Spirit of God deigns to abide in those who believe. He is the One that seals every Christian till the day of redemption. The Old Testament saints had no such privilege; and though they had life, they seem to have known little or nothing about it. The peculiarity of Christianity is that now we can say, We know God has revealed what was hidden from them. “What eye had not seen, nor heart conceived,” He now reveals by His Spirit. He is not so much to us the Spirit of prophecy but of communion; certainly too a spirit not of cowardice, but of power and love and of a sound mind. Accordingly as this is just what was needed, so also it is what God has given us. “Herein we know that he abideth in us by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
Here the apostle prepares the way for the requisite truth not yet set out in the call to love. “Beloved”; for here too such is the word of address. So it was before when God was warning them against the false prophets energised by evil spirits. This had been done in the earlier verses. He tells the saints lovingly of a great danger through the persuasive power of evil spirits if opposed in the confidence of the first man, instead of in faith of the Second. Jesus only is the conqueror of Satan; and the believer too conquers, but only through Him that loved him and died for his sins. No evil spirit confesses Jesus. Only the Spirit confesses Him come in flesh. There is the safeguard against false prophets: they cry up fallen man, they level down the Word become flesh. But he repeats “Beloved” when he exhorts the saints to love one another from ver. 7, both because “love is of God,” and from the evidence it furnishes that he who loves has been begotten of God and knows God; as also whoso does not love does not know God, because God is love. Here, in pursuance of the theme, is reiterated “Beloved” in ver. 11.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” He never says that we ought to love God, but everywhere assumes that we do love Him. And so it is with every believer who knows God’s love to him when he was in his sins and enmity against Him, and learnt in the gospel that sovereign love to us in our guilty and lost estate which gave Christ His Son to die for us. “For when still without strength Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). The “due time” for love so needed by us, so immeasurable in itself, so worthy of God and His Son, was when man, both Gentile and Jew, joined hands to crucify the Saviour, and thus cut themselves off from mercy on every ground save His boundless grace. The Jew boasted of the law, but violated it everywhere, and never so shamelessly as then. The Roman boasted of his law and government, but, bold as he claimed to be, through fear of the spiteful cry from the people he scorned of losing Caesar’s friendship, condemned the guiltless, as he well know Jesus to be. Jew and Gentile united in the atrocious iniquity against God. Then and there it is that God commends His love unto us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Oh how foolish to fancy that He wants the sinner to commend himself to God by doing some good or great thing! and to forget that it is He who in His Son has wrought the only, the best and the greatest thing that even He could, in that all sufficient sacrifice for him that believes! When this is received, the heart that was proudest and darkest does not fail to love.
Nor is this the sole reason why the Christian loves God. In reserving Christ he receives life eternal. He is begotten of God; he becomes His child. He loves God as His Father. If in ordinary circumstances a child loves his parents, spite of many a fault on both sides, how much does not the new nature prompt the Christian to love not only his All-good and gracious Father, but those who have the same life, the same Spirit?
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” It is easy to see that all Christian exhortations in Scripture presuppose divine grace already possessed. God did not call us to love till He proved His love toward us in Christ, and gave us to know His love. And the two-fold want of the sinner which has been just shown to be met from other Scriptures, we have seen briefly and touchingly set out in the verses 9, 10, last before us in this chapter. It is not an exaggeration that he who is born of God and redeemed by Christ’s blood cannot but love God, and it gives a plain and sufficient reason why he never exhorts us to love God or Christ.
It is a very different else with the natural man, as it was with us in our unconverted days. Any of us who had the favour of believing parents, and the word of God and prayer from early years, had a bad conscience till the truth was brought home to our hearts; we dreaded God because of our sins, yet neglected so great salvation, and trembled at death and judgment as they flashed on us for a little. Impossible for souls in that state to love Him whose everlasting judgment alarmed now and again our guilty souls, still in quest of pleasure, advancement in the world, wealth, and of whatever else of vain glory we aspired to. Any love we had then at best was of nature without the smallest reference of the heart to God. Such love was only higher than the affection of a dog or a cat, as man’s nature is higher than the brute’s. But the love of the new nature is supernatural, and has its character, motives, and source in Christ. Hence the mistake and danger of attributing natural benevolence to grace. Christian love is akin to the love of God to us, when in us there was nothing to be loved; for as we read “we were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” So says he who as touching righteousness that is in law was found blameless. But the light of Christ’s glory which shone into his heart exposed its rottenness; and these things and all else in which man glories he counted and went on counting but dung in comparison with Christ, so that he minded no path of suffering on the way to the resurrection from among the dead — in short to Christ in glory.
Our apostle says that, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. For though we share the same blessed life in Christ, and the same propitiation for our sins, the flesh and the world make many great and varied difficulties. It is the sheerest unbelief to shrink from our God, even when we seek to unbosom any folly and wrong into which we may have slipped; for He holds to His relationship of Father and to ours as His children, while the enemy seeks to estrange us from Him. But God’s children are exposed to snares through the flesh. They are is prone, when off their guard, to espy the faults in their brethren as to gloss over or hide their own faults. This is not loving one another at all, still less as Christ loved us, the standard for the Christian, as the law was to Israel to love their neighbour as themselves: a difference which ought to be seen and felt. They were a people in the flesh, and under law; we are in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) and under grace (Rom. 6:14), if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in us. Then comes love to God’s family, flowing out of God’s grace to us personally. The law made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19); nor was it made for a righteous man but for lawless and unruly and the like to condemn them, and drive to the only refuge for sinners. The use by fallen Christendom, ancient and modern, is to put the righteous under it, which the apostle declares to be unlawful. We are as expressly under grace which, notwithstanding all hindrances, strengthens us to love one another.
We cannot but love Him who first loved us, even when we were in rags and degraded among swine, and it may be found no pity from those who enjoyed our plenty in sin and folly; but when we came to want, none gave to us. Such is the world; but not such the father. When the prodigal judged in a measure his evil ways and their distressing results, his heart turns to the one he had so long left and forgotten I will arise (said he) and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. But while he was yet a long way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and covered him with kisses.” This is God’s love as He told it who knew it best, and was then displaying it to the tax-gatherers and sinners who drew near to hear the wondrous tidings of grace among murmuring Pharisees and scribes. Not content with forgiving, nor allowing the prodigal to propose his place among the hirelings, the word is, “Bring out the best robe and clothe him in it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is come to life, was lost and is found.” This is grace, not law, showing what God is as Father in the worthy words of His Son. And if such He is to the most abandoned sinner that comes to Him, how sad to question the grace wherein the believers stand, or to doubt His pitiful love toward an erring Christian, His child!
Alas! if He never changes, His children did and do; so that it was very right and necessary to call them to love one another, as the apostle did with humility, “we also ought to love one another.” He put himself among the rest as called to an obligation, which is not so easy at all times as some think. Love according to God is not mere “brotherly affection,” however excellent this is when truly applicable. 2 Peter 1:7 draws the line, and puts love beyond it is deeper and higher. Where brotherly kindness gives the hand, love might decline, because it sees a dangerous snare and a grievous sin, which brotherly kindness was too pre-occupied to discern in the light of God. Divine love looks at the divine side, instead of yielding to mere emotions. We must stand at the fountain, as it were, to be fresh ourselves, and able to refresh, single-eyed dealers in the love that is of God. Nothing can be more opposed than the human amiability which tries nobody’s conscience and allows everybody’s will. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth and so it is with our love according to God. As it is of God, it feels and acts for God. But if He “so loved us, we ought to love one another.” He knew all the drawbacks and shortcomings in us as His children, as He knew and felt all our sins and iniquities when we were children of wrath; yet He loved so as to give His Son for us. Surely then we ought to love one another as objects of the same love.
So says the apostle Paul to the Ephesian saints “Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour.” There is nothing that draws out love so much as love; nor any love so efficacious and fruitful as the love of God in Christ the perfection even of His love. And this we know, not as spectators like the angels, but as ourselves the objects of it downwards and upwards to a degree stupendous in their eyes. For were we not in the depths of degradation and aggravated guilt and impotent daring? Yet Christ His Son went down below all our sins in God’s judgment on the cross. And is He not risen above all heights in heavenly glory, angels and principalities and powers being subjected to Him, to whom we are now united by the Holy Ghost, one spirit with the Lord?
Ver. 12 is a word worthy of all consideration. It recalls John 1:18: “No one hath seen God at any time.” How was so great a want for man supplied? Did not the God of all goodness feel for man’s lack? He made Himself known most gloriously for Himself and His Son, most efficaciously in itself, and most considerately and lovingly to man in sending His own Son become Man among men. “The only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, He declared [Him].” If every soul of man since Adam had been asked how God could make Himself known in the best and surest way, and in the fullest love to man in all his need and misery, never would one have ventured to propose a way comparable with God’s way. Yet Satan found the means, through man’s lusts and passions, through his will, his supposed interests, and his invented religions in particular, to ignore and reject the Son of God to his own ruin.
But the Son of God who came in divine love is gone back to His Father. And the apostle again says, “No one hath seen God at any time,” in the plainest reference to similar words in the Gospel. Yet the Son, the rejected Son, is not here to declare Him. What is the answer to the same want now? “If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Is not this a striking and solemn means of supplying the need? Does it not address itself in a direct and powerful way to you, my brothers, to me, and to every other child of God? We are here and now through the Son not only washed from our sins but made sons of God, and by our mutual love according to God to know and witness Him in a world that knows Him not. The children are now to reflect here the love of God. This the Lord did perfectly when here; how are we, or are we really knowing and abiding in His love thus?
But we have only looked into the first words of the apostle’s answer now. Let us hear what remains: “If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (verse 12). The love of Christians mutually is the proof and the power of communion that He abides in us, and that His love is perfected in us, instead of being choked by the flesh or enticed by the allurements of the world. Evangelising the incredulous or perishing sinner is no answer to the question raised. Where and how is God to be seen now? In face of every effort of Satan to set the children of God against one another, their loving each other as God loved and as Christ manifested it declares that God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. What an encouragement to walk humbly and unobtrusively in the love that is of God! What a reproof to any who think little of its importance and blessing! Yet 1 John 4:12 could not have been without John 1:18, and more too — Christ’s death for us and the gift of the Spirit to us. Christ must be the life in order to such a reproduction. Yet when the disciples saw its perfection in Christ, how little they realised God in Him! When He died and rose, they understood it better. But when anointed with the Spirit they enjoyed best of all, and walked as they abode in that love, which is the energy of God’s nature. It is so with us now in principle and in fact too according to the measure of our spirituality.
The so-called evangelicals think that their chief love should go out in seeking the conversion of souls. It is indeed a good work if done in faith and love to Christ; but this is not what our Lord enjoined as the love so near His heart; nor can it be doubted that zealous evangelists and their allies are often not a little insensible to the new commandment that we should love one another. They are apt to be so absorbed in their own work as to measure love not a little by the support given to what interests them. And the modern system of special societies craves similarly for new methods, as if the words of the Lord had become obsolete. Far be it from my heart to say an unkind word of anybody; still we must look at facts as they are, and I refer to things that seem irrefutable.
We can readily see how much this love of God in us toward our brethren rises above moral duty. If the Holy Spirit had not so written through the apostle, we might have thought it a grievous exaggeration to give it such value, as to say that if we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us. May we simply and fully believe His word, that we may be enabled thus to love, and assure our souls that as love is of God so He abides in us to walk in it, apart from the world which can mix only to destroy its character, instead of His love being perfected in us. None can share or understand this love unless they are born of God, and even then only as walking by faith of Christ and so seeing the unseen and eternal. The sight of our eyes or mind destroys its character.
Now we are responsible for knowing God, and we who believe in Christ base the joy of knowing God. Every word, every work, every look of His recorded in the word lets us into that intimacy; for the inspired have much to tell us even in all these ways of Christ about God. They all reveal Him, the least thing as well as the greatest. But now the Lord is gone. He that declared God is in heaven. Is there no present living witness of God? The apostle repeats here in the Epistle, “No man hath beheld God at any time.” His love was in all perfection in Christ, He was seen in contrast with all human imperfections. Where is the resource? “If we love one another.” Is it not very solemn that God points to Christians for letting this dark world behold what God is? We are called especially by the action of divine love in our souls and ways to be the witnesses of God to the world that doubts all certainty about Him. When Christ declared Him, He was as perfect as Himself; but how is it in our case, spite of every infirmity? “If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The apostle here too looks at the principle, not at how far saints fail; and this we have seen to be the way of John. He never forgets the source in God, and the channel in Christ who manifested it; and he sets before the saints the outflow of grace in accordance with the new nature.
Why settle down with the continual confession that we are not doing the truth? Where Christians do so, is there not something that grieves the Spirit of God? That is what we do well to search out and judge before God. We are warned against grieving Him. It is the flesh which especially opposes the Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall in no wise fulfil flesh’s lusts (says the apostle Paul). For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit [is] against the flesh; and these are opposed one to the other in order that ye should not do those things which ye desire.” It is not, as lamentably said in the A.V. “So that ye cannot;” which too naturally affords an excuse for sin. There is no ground whatever for such a misconstruction. The flesh is always the great opponent of the Spirit. The flesh may work sometimes amiably, which is not really love, sometimes with open rudeness and impropriety, which no one could imagine to be love. But here, if we love one another, in the face of all the subtle efforts of the spirit of falsehood and malice, it is only the more truly and manifestly the love of God, not founded upon what we see in one another, but what we all have received from God Himself in Christ. Think of what we once were that are now God’s children, as wicked as any who still neglect so great salvation, some of us once more daring and notorious than most. Such were we; and if we were moral or religious according to flesh, proud of that which was no more than a veil, and in God’s sight because of the pretence worse than the openly evil. “But we got washed, but we were sanctified, but we were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” So the apostle wrote, owning what God’s love had wrought in many of the corrupt city of Corinth, yet in sharp reproof of their grave inconsistencies. And he had the joy of learning that his faithful love (which pained himself more than them) was not in vain, but grieved them to repentance, yea repentance to salvation never to be regretted; though in his conflict of feeling he did regret his own letter passingly, by grace to remember it with abiding joy. For the great love that was in him reached through the conscience and the truth to the little love in them; and then what diligence it wrought in them! What clearing of themselves! What indignation, and fear and ardent desire, and zeal and avenging, in every way proving themselves pure where they had been so deeply to blame! This is a trying and painful form of loving one another; but it is a real one, though happier far the heeding of the word, so as to be kept from all evil.
“If we love one another, God abideth in us.” This is the normal way, where faith works, and not flesh. And this leads to the opening of the great truth of the Spirit given to us, whereby God abides in us; nor is this all that he says, for he adds that “God’s love is perfected in us.” This he had said earlier and in another connection. In 1 John 2:5 he stated that “Whoso keepeth his word, truly in him hath the love of God been perfected.” For to keep His word indicates the highest and deepest character of obedience. Whoso not merely keeps His commandments in detail, but keeps His word as a whole, “in him verily is the love of God perfected.” Of course it does not mean the strange error of the man’s own perfection. The flesh is never extirpated while we live; but God dealt with it in Christ’s cross, and we, as having life in Christ, mortify our members that are on the earth. But the flesh is in us, though we are no longer in it. The flesh is never changed into Spirit, nor will it disappear whilst we are here in the body but by grace bound never to let it act, but to keep it by faith under the power of Christ’s death. Thus His love is perfected as in him that keeps the word, so also in that we love one another. We are subject to His word, and we walk together in love in spite of all difficulties. Thus is God’s love perfected in us; it is carried out according to the mind of God. We have nothing to boast; but we heartily obey and love through the power of His love toward us and in us. Undoubtedly it supposes that habitually we have been looking to God, and that He has answered our prayers, and so His love is perfected in us. Obedience is carried out and love too according to His mind.
Now he enters on the gift of the Spirit. “Herein we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
The advance is marked above 1 John 3:24. It is not merely “the Spirit.” God wrought by the Spirit in many a one where it could not be said to be “of His Spirit.” We often hear of the Spirit working, as we have seen, in the Old Testament, and still more in the New. We find partakers of the Holy Spirit and powers of the world to come spoken of in Heb. 6:4, 5, where they fell away fatally from God. These are never said to have been born of the Spirit, still less that God gave them “of His Spirit.” This implies real communion with God; and the New Testament gives a deeper force to the expression “of His Spirit” than the Old. It is in this way that God abides in the Christian. Yet even when there was an external purpose God wrought by the power of the Spirit in one way or another. In every case it was the Spirit of God; and the Spirit is a spirit of power. Consequently there was an effect altogether above man, and above what even life eternal could do without the Spirit.
God abides in us, as he says, and we abide in Him. He begins with abiding in us; not with our abiding in God, but with God’s abiding in us. It will be shown presently that it is of importance to discern the difference. That God abides in us is His grace to us when resting on Christ’s redemption. That we abide in Him is the fruit of the confidence in God that His grace inspires in us. Thus, as it were, we retire from self as well as from all around us of the creature, and we make God the home of our hearts even while we are here below. This is abiding in God; and it becomes us to look to God for grace habitually thus to abide in Him. When we so abide in Him, He acts in us in the way of power in communion. In accordance with this therefore it is written that He hath given us of His Spirit. “Of his Spirit” has a particularity in the manner of its expression which plainly indicates that what we share is with Himself. It is “of his Spirit” that we are here said to partake.
Yet there is no small danger lest we mistake so great a privilege. There are many pious persons who confound a certain happiness in their souls with God’s abiding in them. This danger is generally of a mystic character. They are self-inspective and emotional. Anyone who has read writings of the celebrated William Law on the soul would know what is meant. He was one of these mystics, but altogether wrong in hiding or even losing God’s grace in Christ under sacramental efficacy and man’s inward feelings. He did not apprehend in the least degree man’s total ruin, nor the fulness of redemption, still less life eternal in Christ. It was an effort to love God and a readiness to accredit the effort; not the faith of God’s redeeming love and unsparing judgment of the flesh, to find an infinitely better portion in Christ the Lord. Since then a community is distinguished by what they call “Christian sanctification,” which is not Scriptural sanctification; but rather a good opinion of their state founded on a bright feeling in their souls; the cause and effect of which is that they are exceedingly occupied with themselves and their experience, which they tell out to one another for mutual edification. This has so important and fixed a place in their eyes that they have a regular meeting in classes, with a leader in each, for communicating one to another what they think the Spirit of God has produced in their souls from week to week. They cannot point to any institution of the sort in the New Testament.
But the Spirit of God glorifies Christ by receiving of His things and announcing them to us. He was to guide into all the truth. This kind of mysticism glorifies self; it is occupied with our own feelings. It is therefore directly exposed to leading to self-worship in some souls and to dejection in such as are not easily satisfied with their attainment. It is wholesome to learn that there is nothing in ourselves to yield spiritual satisfaction, so as to make Christ our all, as He really is. But to be thus occupied with one’s own heart, save for humbling ourselves on account of it, is as dishonouring to Him as it is dangerous to ourselves. Occupation with ourselves is not merely unprofitable, but hinders growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Yet there is not a doubt that many real Christians have been drawn into this invention of man which necessarily substitutes occupation with ourselves instead of with Christ Jesus, and rejoicing in our own joy, instead of rejoicing always in the Lord.
Observe the care with which inspiration has guarded against the mystical school in the next verse. The blessed truth of Christ, the facts which the Gospels reveal, is the best corrective of this abuse of introspection, because it sets and establishes the heart on its divine foundation, and the fulness of joy in Christ excludes dwelling on ourselves or our good state, as we estimate it. Here the Holy Spirit brings us back again to rest on what God has wrought for us, to the very ground of the gospel itself. What can more thoroughly correct any such looking within? “And we have beheld” — there is the emphatic word of the inspired witnesses — “and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world.” Whatever others may occupy themselves with (and they pretend to many a high thing), “we have beheld and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world.”
What is, what ought to be, the effect of such a truth? Does it not fill us with the praise of the Father and the Son? Does it not shame us into nothingness as to ourselves? There we are shown that we were the merest sinners, yet as surely saved by faith through grace. Timid faith questions whether we were so bad, or God so good. But if through the Holy Spirit we simply believe, we cannot assuredly find anything in ourselves worth talking of in comparison of grace so rich, and for ever too. Thus does God wean us from ourselves, the world, and every other object, to delight our souls in Himself and His Son. Even knowledge may and does puff up; but love, the Father’s love and the Son’s, builds up.
It equally delivers from another and opposite school, who are occupied with themselves as under law, and who, instead of looking for good in themselves, think that they please God and are all the better themselves for a sort of despairing pessimism, rarely rising above “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” They quite ignore what the apostle declares to the believer in virtue of Christ’s work. Instead of working like a hired servant with the muck-rake in their dark and filthy heart, they are through the Saviour of the world entitled to the “best robe” and the “fatted calf,” and share the Father’s joy to the glory of the Son. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). And it makes the comfort of deliverance all the more impressive, when it is observed that the “me” now freed when we turn from self to Christ is the same “me” that was groaning under law just before (Rom. 7:24). How much better than the emotional or the groaning schools, occupied with self in such different ways, to condemn flesh out and out, as God did on the cross, and to find Christ worthy of all their thoughts and the spring of unfading peace and joy! There we prove that it is the Father’s will and the Son’s work and the Spirit’s witness that we are called to rejoice in, as we shall for ever.
It is an interesting connection of scripture with this, that the first place where the Lord found Himself acknowledged as the Saviour of the world was in Samaria. It succeeded the wonderful scene at the well, where the poor woman that had had five husbands, and had one now who was not her husband, was given life eternal through faith in the Lord Jesus. He also told her of the passing away of the contending religions of Palestine. The mountain of Samaria was to pass, and even Jerusalem. Henceforth there was to be another character of worship altogether, the kernel of which was divulged by the Lord even then. “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”
Thus was fulness of grace revealed to a poor Samaritan woman in whom the truth had begun to work. She was smitten in conscience, and awakened in soul; but it was after this that she learnt who He was, that (she was assured) spoke from God to her heart, now received with all simplicity of faith, as she became a messenger to others of the One in whom she believed. And the Lord graciously dealt with these Samaritans, and did what we do not find Him doing in any other place during His ministry: He abode with them two days. And they testified of Him, that it was not because of what she testified of Him, as telling her all things that she ever did, but “we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” The copyists put in “the Christ” too, but this is not the authentic or appropriate word. It was owning at that early day the very title here given, save one thing necessarily absent from it — the Father’s sending the Son. This they knew not nor could they venture to anticipate. Neither they nor any others had the Holy Spirit given “whereby we cry Abba, Father”; but they acknowledged, and were the first to acknowledge, the truth that Jesus, is “the Saviour of the world.” It was not a question of Jews but of sinners, and therefore for Samaritans or any one else. This was before the Lord had entered on His public ministry. These chapters of the Gospel of John show the Lord’s acts before John the Baptist was delivered up, and His own going to Galilee; which have the greater interest when we find so grand a truth as Himself owned “the Saviour of the world.”
This was a bright anticipation of the gospel through a true sense of the Lord’s grace personally. It is not only a Saviour, and this not merely for the people of Israel who expected the Messiah, but “the Saviour of the world.” Even then the truth broke through the clouds, the light shone into the hearts of the despised and ignorant Samaritans, and they were the first so to confess Him. Here it is the apostolic testimony. “And we have beheld and testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
But how are we to know that a sinner has made this, the grace and truth of Christ, his own? How are we to be satisfied that the saving truth of God has entered into anyone’s soul, and introduced him into the intimate association with God of which the apostle has spoken? This is answered in the next verse. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God.”
Now is not this a most amazing assurance to receive? For we have just had the true but simple believer bowing to the glad tidings, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. It is not merely subjection to the Messiah, the coming King of Israel, but believing Him to be the Son of God. “Whosoever shall confess.” Nothing can be wider than “whosoever.” He does not only “believe” but “confess.” He has surmounted all difficulties, doubts or fears. He has weighed the truth, felt the grace, judged himself, and has no longer hesitation. And now the blessing of the Lord comes richly on his head. So the apostle said, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from among the dead, thou shalt be saved,” pressing God’s answer to Christ’s work. Here, as is usual, our apostle dwells on the glory of the Son’s person, but in the fulness of His grace toward the lost in the gospel. And the sinner, turning from himself and every prop of creation, confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. What then ensues? “God abideth in him, and he in God.” Not, I presume, that any person ever truly confesses Him to be the Son of God, without also believing in the work of redemption that He wrought and God accepted. It is all vague to unbelief. Men might use the words, but they do not realise the truth they express. Of course it is supposed that the confession is truly made according to God. He confesses that Jesus, the Man that multitudes took to be only a man however great, is the Son of God. Who then can doubt the efficacy of His redemption? The striking fact here conveyed is that whoever confesses Jesus to be. the Son of God has not only life, and the remission of sins, and the Holy Spirit, but the highest spiritual privileges conceivable. For what can be higher than God abiding in him, and he in God? No doubt the more spiritual your state, the more you realise it. But the apostle here tells the confessing Christian that this is his portion. May we cherish and enjoy it! May He cut off everything that comes in to dull our sense and value for it!
The apostle follows up in verse 16 its application. “And we have known and believed the love which God hath to us.” There is no uncertainty in the answer to the general principle: “we (emphatically) have known and believed the love which God hath in us.” His love is not only “toward” but “in” us. We value and delight all the more that His love in us first flowed toward us when children of wrath. Again he repeats “God is love,” but now he connects with it “He that abideth in love abideth in God.” This is an altogether new way of speaking of it. If I am abiding in the love that comes from God, I cannot but be quite at home with God. His love, flowing from His own goodness and giving Christ to die that there might be a perfect grant of righteousness, forgives my sins, makes me His child without desert on my part, and leads Him to abide in me. The love in Him (and no wonder) produces love in me; and abiding in love I abide in God, and God in me. It is not merely a visit now and a visit again, but there the Christian abides; it is his habit and his home to dwell in love. Can any blessing be more precious? Yet how simple it all is, if we believe. It casts down every high thing that lifteth itself up against the knowledge of God. The apostle is writing not to theologians nor philosophers, nor to scientists in religion, but to God’s children, that none might come short, and all might better know the love of God they began with, and enjoy increasingly the God of love.
But it is well to point out certain distinctions in “our abiding in God” and “God abiding in us,” of some importance to distinguish. There are three separate forms of the blessing. The first of these in order of time is that God abides in the Christian, and we have just had before us that whosoever confesses Jesus to be the Son of God, has it in a double way (ver. 15); God abideth in him, and he in God. How does God abide in him? By the Spirit He gave us, as in 1 John 3:24, we know that God abides in us. Then 1 John 4:13 goes further: “Herein we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He hath given to us of His Spirit.”
Here we have our abiding in Him, which cannot be unless He in sovereign grace deigns to abide in us by the gift of the Spirit, which draws us to abide in Him as the effect. How then account for the order which 1 John 4:13 presents? It is therein implied that by virtue of the Spirit given God did abide in him, but through power of communion in partaking of His Spirit, not only did he abide in God, but God in him in the third form of special power. And this is confirmed by the other special intimation in ver. 16, “he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him,” like ver. 13, implying the previous blessing of God abiding, but adding the two others. It is spiritual power as the third result, which is special. In the general case to every confessor that Jesus is the Son of God we have only the first and second form of blessing, God abiding in him and he in God; but the third is only added here. It is here not merely the Spirit but “of His Spirit,” and this way strongly marks communion.
The manner of God’s abiding in the Christian is by the Spirit being given to him. Herein we know that God abides in us, a wondrous fact, yet not all the blessing. The apostle is our warrant for it, and this is enough. It is God abiding in us. Then there is an attractive effect upon us, so that we knowing His love abide in Him. The first we may call the sovereign operation of God, in honour of the work of Jesus confessed to be His Son. He seals us with the Spirit as His own redeemed by blood, if we may refer to the language of the apostle Peter on this theme. That means God abiding in him. The second is the answer of the Christian’s heart, which habitually counts on God in the submission and confidence of love, instead of turning to self or to others to meet difficulties. This is to abide in God, bringing everything to Him whose love has made. him His home. And as He has thus drawn so near, we too at His welcome make Him our home. This appears to be the difference between God’s abiding in us and our abiding in God.
Thus there is the third form of divine privilege in the power that follows this communion. The first is sovereign operation; the second is the reflex effect and experience in confiding in Him; and the third is the power of the Spirit in spiritual power as the consequence of so great a blessing. And here it is where we are weakest of all. We are indeed apt to stop short of the full result in this failing world, as we ought not. This makes it humbling to us. For if you or I have little to show of devotedness and spiritual power, we are well aware why it is, and that the fault is entirely and only our own. Faults in others are not the cause nor a just excuse, but our own failure. If provoked, there must have been something to be provoked; and this could not be were we abiding in God and God abiding in us in power. But if God’s abiding in us and our abiding in Him are the portion of every Christian, as the apostle makes plain, how sad if it were only true in principle but in fact great shortcoming! Let us exhort one another that the principle may issue in fruitful practice. There is the utmost encouragement if we are simple and steadfast in looking to God, and that His grace may make it real and manifest in us to His praise, yet prompt to be in the dust when conscious of dishonouring Him. It ill becomes those so blessed as Christians are to have little but self-reproach. May we have the joy of proving that God is faithful to H’s word in making good privileges so wonderful that few saints believe that they are not only ours by title, but ours for enjoyment and practice!