“Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because even as he is, we also are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth hath not been perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any one say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he that loveth God love also his brother.”
As the word last considered may have presented, from the nature of its subject, more than usual difficulty, the present address furnishes the opportunity of regarding the connection with what now claims one’s heed, divested of its many details, and thus in its simple and broad lines. Who can doubt that it was meant by its divine Author to attract and fix the interest of every Christian in that which they are wont to consider so far above their reach as to be practically unattainable? As it is part of an Epistle more immediately than any other appealing to all God’s children, and the more so as addressed formally to none in particular, ought not they, ought not we, every one of us, to pay the more marked heed? We shall surely find that the true faith of Christ entitles every true Christian, in virtue of life in the Son and of the indwelling Spirit of God, to read and weigh it afresh in God’s presence, and count on His love to give us not only enlarged spiritual understanding, but the realisation of the blessing He spreads before us to appropriate and enjoy. Many of us have tasted the sweetness occasionally of finding this or that part of Scripture opening out its varied treasure under the Spirit’s power, where our eyes had previously seen little or nothing. And herb it is the more to be sought, as it is avowedly to enlarge and deepen our communion with God.
After the twofold tests of truth against false prophets in the first six verses of our chapter — Jesus come in flesh, and the apostolic revelation (i.e., the New Testament) — the great theme of love is brought out in our apostle’s characteristic manner, though with just as much weight as in the Pauline episode of 1 Cor. 13. God’s children are to love one another, because love is of God, and every one that loveth hath been begotten of God, and knoweth God. We see at once that he regards love as inseparably linked with the great truth of life eternal in Christ, relationship therefore with God Himself, and intelligent spiritual knowledge of God. It is thus a sphere for the Christian on earth not only above human knowledge but above natural affections, having to do with fellow-saints here below, yet on grounds not only supernatural but divine, and directly, as we shall see, with God and His presence. Yet every Christian has an immediate concern in it all, not affecting superiority and wishing to shine as a lonely star apart, but in full intimacy with God’s abiding in him and his abiding in God, to walk not simply in the light but in the love of God which is His own nature, the source of the Christian’s new nature.
Now as this tends to the subjective or what acts in the soul, and might tend to puff up (for indeed it is as wonderful as it is true), a marked step is taken wholly outside the Christian. Therefore he is confronted with what is altogether objective. “Herein was manifested the love of God in our case, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as propitiation for our sins.” An “imitation of Christ” is utterly insufficient. We needed the infinite reality of God’s love in Christ, first, that we who were dead might live through Him; next, that He might be made sin sacrificially for us who were guilty and defiled. The love that wrought so efficaciously was solely in Him, not ours. We are therefore disciples of Jesus only, not of the à Kempis school or of any other mystic. The express aim is to found the truth on what God was to us, not on what we are or desire to be for God.
This being made admirably clear, the apostle urges that if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. We do love God, and we could not but love if we believed His immense love in Christ to us; but we ought to love those whom He loves as He loves us, alike His children. This is followed by the remarkable allusion to the substantially similar application to the Son in John 1:12, and to God’s children in 1 John 4:12. Christ declared the unseen God perfectly: how does our loving one another? If we thus love, “God abideth in us and His love is perfected in us.” Without having life in Christ it was impossible: but even more was wanted and given, even “of His Spirit” (ver. 13). For the same Spirit that descended and abode on Christ, in virtue of His personal and intrinsic perfection, now abides in us, in virtue of His work for us on the cross. Thus it is that as God abides in us, we too are enabled to abide in God, and to know that we abide in Him and He in us. Thus only are we kept from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, while by grace made free of divine intimacy to the utmost.
That very word which is shown to be above man’s nature, not only seeing but beholding, is now predicated of the witnesses in ver. 14. “And we have beheld and testify that the Father hath sent the Son as Saviour of the world,” not as a vision or external sight, but by faith realising it in the Holy Spirit. And therefore “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God” steps thereby into the blessing — “God abideth in him, and he in God.” Such is the order of God’s operation in grace. This is remarkably confirmed by ver. 16, where the apostle again joins himself with all other Christians in adding, “and we have known and believed the love which God hath in us” (ver. 16). For who could limit this to the apostolic choir? — this exposition of Christian communion with God, founded on the new life and accomplished propitiation, but by the Spirit consequently carried on into sharing God’s delight in love as His children, with the words, “God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him.” This is the order of spiritual experience and power. Every part is most real for the Christian’s intercourse with God, and each is here stated in its exactly right place; as encouraging to the simple saint as it reproves the indifferent or negligent of such divine favour and joy. And what a marked absence of anything like a dream or a vision, or of aught that could make a Christian conspicuous in the eyes of others or in his own!
It might be thought impossible to add anything beyond what has been so richly spread before us. For (1) we have the source of all the blessing traced to the love of God in giving us the value of Christ’s life and death when we lay dead in sins; and (2) divine love shown to work in us toward one another as surely as we have been begotten of God and know Him, the Holy Spirit abiding in us to confirm and elevate by enabling us to abide in God, and enjoy its fruit in spiritual power. The utmost care is taken to show that such is the title of grace to every Christian: only to make it effective our souls must be in communion about it. But there is a further and crowning favour set before us in ver. 17, “Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because even as he is, we also are in this world.”
This is a notable accession of blessedness, which, is now revealed to the Christian. It is divine love not merely manifested in our case, when utterly worthless and incapable of any good; nor love working in us God’s children according to His love one toward another. It is not so much here the Holy Spirit groaning with us who groan as saints delivered in bodies undelivered, in the midst of the whole creation, groaning to be delivered as it will surely be when the Lord Jesus appears in power and glory. But here John tells us of the Spirit even now and here working in God’s children in the power of divine love, and in the enjoyment of God’s presence. This was love. perfected in us. Now the apostle speaks to us of the transcendent favour, that the love has been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment. This “boldness” rises wholly above the thought of anyone who believes coming into judgment, that is, of course, a judgment. of everlasting consequence, a judgment of righteousness dealing with guilty or even failing man. For divine judgment, which the Lord Jesus is to execute, will take cognisance even of the secrets of the heart and the words of the mouth, as well as all the deeds of the body. And what child of man can enter into that judgment and come out acquitted and unscathed?
Hence even in the Old Testament, which has very little light on the judgment of the dead, compared with what was given in the New Testament, we hear the Psalmist (Ps. 143:2) say: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Thus we are taught that if not merely a careless sinner but “Thy servant (a saint, of course) has Jehovah entering into judgment with him, not even he nor any man living can be justified. For judgment must not evade the facts, nor excuse the sins, and no mere man has ever lived without sins. How then can any sinful man be justified or saved?
Our Lord, when here, dealt with this awful difficulty in language perfectly simple and clear (John 5). He speaks of Himself, the incarnate Son of God, as having life to give to everyone who believes on Him, and as having judgment to exercise on all the wicked who reject and despise Him. He gives life to the believer; He will judge the unbeliever. But the words which make the way of deliverance immediately plain are in ver. 24: “Verily, verily, I say to you, he that heareth my word, and believeth Him that sent Me hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but is (or hath) passed out of death into life.” The A.V. was very faulty here in the rendering of “condemnation” to suit the common error of Christendom as to a universal judgment of saints and sinners. “Judgment,” which is the only true sense, precludes this idea: and the Lord pronounces here that he who hears His word (the Ten Commandments, or the like, would not avail), and believes Him that sent the Saviour (for it is essential to bow to God in that great mission of His love), hath life eternal, and doth not come into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.
The believer therefore is never put on the trial of his guilt like the unbeliever; he has already, if we believe the Lord, passed out of death into life; because in receiving Christ he receives life eternal. This was to honour Christ; but as the unbeliever dishonoured Him and His word, and disbelieved God’s sending Christ on His errand of love, he must be raised for judgment (“damnation” is not the right sense), as the believer will receive a resurrection of life, which is plainly here set in contrast with that for judgment. Notwithstanding he, when raised, will give account of all things done in the body to the Lord Jesus. He is taken on high when he renders it; but this is wholly incompatible with judgment into which, as the Lord assures, he does not come. The Lord on the cross bore the judgment of his sins: therefore this question is settled by grace; but he will be manifested (not judged) before the judgment seat of Christ, that he may know as he is known; and it will fill to the full his sense of the grace of God in his salvation.
Another scripture that bears on this point is Heb. 9:27, 28, where man’s portion of death and judgment is contrasted with what Christ does for the believer; instead of his death is Christ’s offering to bear his sins in His death; and instead of judgment, Christ’s appearing without sin (having no more to do with it) for salvation. That is, salvation stands instead of judgment to those that look for Him the second time.
Indeed the Christian has only to consider what justification by faith is according to scripture generally, in order to see that the notion of a common judgment of sinners and saints, or of the saints in the real sense of judgment, is an error irreconcilable with the gospel, though I am not aware of a single Father that held the truth in this respect, still less any article of Councils. Not one of the creeds confesses this distinctive truth of Christ. Yet the anomaly which results is manifest; for as none can deny that our Lord will come for the Christian, the church as a whole, and the Old Testament saints too, and will not only receive them to Himself in the air but take them to the Father’s house, the notion of a universal judgment (commonly based on the Lord’s dealing with the good and bad of the nations at the end of the age, in Matt. 25:31-46) involves the strange confusion that the justified by God (for it is God that justifieth), are to be put on their trial after they are already in the glorified state, and to be judged by their Saviour whether they are not after all to be lost. If this alternative be denied, as, no doubt, every sound believer should repudiate it, do they not perceive that they make a judgment of believers nugatory, if the sting of its awful truth is extracted, and it is construed into no more than proclaiming them saved?, They would do well to search and see whether the scriptures, if rightly interpreted, do not fully agree with the Lord’s authoritative word, that the believer does not come into judgment, which is reserved only for man, for man without Christ, guilty and lost as he is.
The universal judgment, accordingly, though it may plead the well-known canon of Vincent of Lerins as confessed by the catholic church, eastern and western, is in this directly opposed to His word, which (as He declares) shall judge at the last day who now do not receive His words. It breeds darkness all around. It deprives those who heed it of the comfort to which Christ and His work entitle their faith. It dishonours the Father no less than the Son, Who would have the believers assured of their grace and enjoying the fruits of their love, both in life eternal and in redemption. It forgets that resurrection and ascension will be the triumphant separation to Christ in heavenly glory of those who are now in a world of mixture.
Our apostle does not put God’s exceeding favour here on the ground or with the character of righteousness, as the apostle in 2 Cor. 5:21, when he says: “Him that knew no sin He [God] made sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness in Him.” The Judge will never sit to question the value of God’s righteousness made ours in Himself. He will judge all who pretend to a righteousness of their own, for it is a falsehood and a fraud. He will judge all who despise Him in the opposite way of reckless unrighteousness and pleasing themselves in defiance of God. He will. deal even more severely with men’s unrighteousness, however fast they hold the truth in unrighteousness, as is common in Christendom or in its measure among the Jews. But on those who of God are in Christ Jesus who was made. to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and holiness and redemption, He will never blow the chilling blast of judgment in heaven, after effectually by His Spirit filling our hearts with the warmth of His grace. That the Judge would challenge Himself our righteousness in that day is egregious as well as unfounded.
The entire preceding context explodes it. For the earlier half of 2 Cor. 5 is devoted to prove the power of resurrection life in Christ in delivering the Christian from the two great terrors of the natural man, death and judgment. “For we know (he says) that if our earthly tabernacle be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this we groan, earnestly desiring to put on our house that is from heaven, if indeed when also clothed we shall not be found naked. For even we that are in this tabernacle groan being burdened, not for that we wish to be unclothed but clothed that the mortality may be swallowed up of life. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who also gave to us the earnest of the Spirit. Being therefore always confident, and knowing that while present in the body we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight), we are confident then and are well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore also we are ambitious (or, zealous), whether present or absent to be acceptable to Him. For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in the body, according to those which he did, whether [it be] good or bad.”
Here we have the great apostle treating it as a matter of Christian consciousness that all dread of death and judgment is removed, since God wrought us for the self-same thing as Christ that He might be the first-born of many brethren, alike conformed to His glorious image. He has by His work disarmed for us death of its terror, that reigns over the race. We being burdened by a body yet unredeemed do therefore groan; and we groan the more, but in a gracious way, because we are ourselves reconciled to God with its cognate blessings. Our longing is to be clothed with the changed body; but we are always of good courage, and recognising that to depart and be with Christ, as he wrote to the Philippian saints, is very much better than to be absent from the Lord, we are well pleased rather to be present with the Lord.
Nor does the judgment of Christ, undoubtedly solemn as it is, bring anxiety, because He bore our judgment. Even here God gives occasion in sickness, and other ways, to review our state and conduct apart from engrossing labour and occupation of any kind; nor does He fail to probe wounds and penetrate the most hidden recess of the heart. He enables us to cry, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if wickedness may be in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Such self-judgment is eminently wholesome; and if we had it not, we should miss not a little blessing by the way. Now, what this is now to the Christian is but a part of what will be fully before Christ’s judgment-seat; to lose which, if possible, would be to lose its vast blessing. So far from awakening alarm, or shaking our constant good courage, the apostle only speaks of us as downcast in deep feeling for the unawakened, and stimulated to persuade mankind from their obduracy to turn to the Lord. “Knowing therefore the fear (or terror) of the Lord we persuade men.” They had fear for all others, not for themselves or their acceptance. “For ourselves,” he says, “we have been manifested to God, and I hope also that we have been manifested in your consciences.” Grace gave this submission even now to the inshining of God’s light in Christ. Into this the grace which brings to God brings us. This is or may be hindered; it will be perfect when we are manifested before the judgment seat, without false shame, being in the glorified state, and able, without a cloud, to see all His glory, so humbling to us, so glorious to the God of all grace, to the Son who alone made it a fact of blessing for every believer, to the Holy Spirit by whose effectual and constant power it was brought home from first to last in every saint.
But the less needs to be sought from elsewhere, since the verse before us utterly demolishes the strange and hoary error which has inflicted equal wrong on the testimony of the truth and on many a godly soul who has suffered for want of the truth known to others. “Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” Think of such words, ye that boast of “the church’s teaching,” and have never suspected that it was “a different gospel, and not another.” So the apostle denounced the selfsame school that glories in the cross as an idol, and has never known God’s teaching of Christ crucified to their deliverance from man and his vain traditions, philosophy, science or what not, rising up against the Bible and Christ’s work to save the lost. The love of God was manifested to sinners in His life given to be our life, and in His death as propitiation for our sins; that love might be perfected in us as saints by His Spirit working in us. But even this was not enough to satisfy our God in honour of His Son. Love has been perfected with us, “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” “What!” do I hear you say, “can there be such words in the Bible? Is it possible that they mean what they say?” I should not be in the least surprised if these were your thoughts, and you hardly dared to express your unbelief of God’s word.
Yet can words be clearer than those in which our apostle attests love perfected with us, Christians, that we may have, not trembling, nor doubt, but boldness “in the day of judgment?” To rest this on aught but the work of Christ would be blasphemy. But in Christ it is the triumph of divine love — the same love that clothed the prodigal in his rags with “the best robe,” not like Adam in his innocency but such as don the marriage robe in honour of the King’s Son, the wedding garment. It is Christ we put on, and Christ dead and risen where sins and sin were completely settled for faith. O ye that have drunk yourselves stupid by drinking of the stagnant and defiling waters of the Fathers, why do you not listen to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and take life’s water freely? Christ has so glorified God, not only in living obedience but in His death, that He can deliver from fear of the hour of death and the day of judgment even you who have too effectually instilled it into those famished ones who look up to you and are not fed. Yes, these are God’s words for all to ponder. Love has been perfected “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” We see the spring in God through His Son, and the aim for His children in view of that day. What a contrast with that miserable elegy, or lamentation (call it not a hymn), the “Dies Irae” which some cry up as a Christian composition! His love would chase away fear from the heart of every Christian.
But there is much more. He gives the reason or ground which immensely enhances the boon: “Because even as He (Christ) is, we also are in this world.” If God had not revealed this, one might venture to say that such a pronouncement would have been voted the most frightful presumption that ever fell from the lips or pen of man. But there is no indiscretion in thinking that in all probability its force is so absolutely unrecognised in the schools of divinity, that no one is disturbed by the astonishing truth conveyed to us. For the apostle declares that even as Christ is, so too are we, we Christians, in this world. He says this according to his uniform doctrine in the Epistle, “which thing is true in him and in you.” For now He is dead and risen, and bears much fruit like Himself. Our old self exists of course in fact, but “in that day (now and long come, since Pentecost) ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” This was never true before, and never will be in the coming age, but is true now in Christians here.
Accordingly our standing and pattern is no longer in the first Adam but in the second Man, and He is the last Adam. Never will there be another head. The Son of man glorified God even as to sin in death, the only way of deliverance; for in His death it was fully judged to God’s glory. And now God glorified the Son of man in resurrection and ascension glorifies Him in heaven, glorifies Him in Himself, as here no other ever was nor could be. He does not wait to crown Him on David’s throne in Zion, or as the King over all the earth. But on the very resurrection day He sends to “His brethren” the message, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” He takes us in our new being out of the fallen Adam, and sets us in the ascending Christ. Thus as He is, even so are we in this world.
Mark it well. It is not as He was. The church teaching, fairly enough set out by the late Archdeacon R. Wilberforce, and hundreds or thousands like, is utterly false. Incarnation is a blessed truth, essential to the faith; but it is not our union with Him. It is true no doubt, but not Christianity. While living He abode alone; dying He bears much fruit. Union with Him could not be till He died for us and our sins. It is in resurrection, after God’s judgment had passed on Him for man’s evil, and not till then does He say, “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.” The veil was not rent before He died, and priest and sacrifice and earthly sanctuary still had God’s sanction. But His death was their death: and His resurrection is His life in power. Christianity succeeds, and the Holy Ghost comes down to seal those washed in His blood. “As He is, we also are in this world.” We repudiate any standing before God save in Him; and this is our standing now” in this world.” Do you think that anyone taught this by the Spirit could ever be content with the impostures of Popery, the dim religious light of Puseyism with its via media, or the varying compromises of Protestant denominationalism? Have we solid Christian standing in its positive blessedness? Higher there cannot be; and it is ours, every true Christian’s, “in this world.” It only remains that we believe God as to it for our own souls, and look to Him for grace to love and live it — Christ as our all.
The verses which follow show the immense import of what we have gained in ver. 17. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” How these words of God speak to the heart! It is not mere sentiment, but the God of light and love who would help His children against all doubt, that they might enjoy them with all simplicity and assurance. The fear spoken of here is inconsistent with love. Apply to this the common error that God is going to judge His children, but the elect will get through. What tormenting anxiety this creates for godly souls, who can measure? For the gleam of comfort is hidden under the impenetrable secret of the elect, instead of the true light shining brightly and steadily in Christ for all that come to God through Him. I doubt not any more than the Calvinist that those that come are the elect; but his way of putting it is apt to cast souls on a hopeless reef, whereas the Christian truth ever points the needy soul to Him who can and will reveal salvation to the sinner and give him rest by faith in Himself.
If we look at a Christian who is under this question what can more hinder and stifle his proper affections than the fear which is inevitable with judgment at the end of his course? Is it possible to love thoroughly or at case one who, as you thus cannot but fear sometimes, may cast you into hell? “There is no fear in love,” says the apostle; “there is fear in my love,” says the simple believer, conscious of many a failure, and some serious enough to produce anguish as he thinks of that day. At the least, if his view keeps him in trepidation now and then, he sees enough in Christ to yield him what he calls a humble hope; but he is very sure that he can never profess to have boldness in the day of judgment. On the contrary, he dreads to think or hear about an object so fraught with terror. I put the case as truly as I know how, in order to convince such that they are under the influence of thoughts quite irreconcilable with God’s revelation. If you say No, they cannot be reconciled with what the apostle says here, let me assure you that you do not improve your case by such an insinuation, but endanger your soul by the unbelieving impression that Scripture can be inconsistent with itself, or that another portion may modify or get rid of what troubles you here.
It is the error you have somehow imbibed or allowed which is at fault, not the word before us which is intended to take away fear, not to create it. Christ only, as the divine witness and proof of God’s perfect love, can banish your fear. This is the invariable aim of the Holy Ghost; He leads into all truth, but it is by glorifying Christ, taking His things and announcing them to us. He may indirectly help us by taking our things that we may be humbled and grieved before God; but even here it is to occupy us with Him through whom came grace and truth, and who is the fulness of all in His own person.
There is another danger for those who are not yet delivered from fear. They fall back on baptism or betake themselves to the Lord’s Supper as a resource against fear. But Scripture gives no countenance to such a delusion. On the contrary, the apostle Paul is careful, in writing to the Corinthians his first Epistle when many were in a bad and dangerous state, to warn them of any such misuse. In 1 Cor. 1:14 he thanks God that he baptized none of them unless Crispus and Gaius, that none might say that he baptized unto his own name. He baptized also the house of Stephanas, and did not know that he baptized any other. For Christ, said he, sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel. Think of his writing thus if baptism be the means of life eternal! On the contrary, Christ sent him not to baptize (which he left to others to do for the “many” Corinthians who “heard, believed and were baptized” in that city (Acts 18:8). And he tells them in 1 Cor. 4:15: “In Christ Jesus I begot you through the gospel.” The gospel, the word of truth, was and is the means of being begotten of God, never baptism whatever its value in its place.
But he goes further still in 1 Cor. 10, for he warns the Corinthians, and all Christians ever since, from the pattern of Israel, though all passed through the sea and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, yet God was not pleased with the most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. “But these things happened, types of us, that we should not be lusters of evil things as they also lusted.” And as to the Lord’s Supper, even upright and capable Romanists, like Cardinal Cajetan, rejected the false interpretation of John 6:53-56, as to the Eucharist. It is Christ Himself in death the object of our faith, as the living bread was of Him incarnate before death. Applied to the Lord’s Supper it falls doubly. For then it would teach that none could have life without the Supper, and again, that all who partook of it have life: two execrable untruths. Applied to Christ in life and death they are both of them precious truths. Thus is the word of God proved stronger than all the arguments of men. Christ is the all to the Christian.
It is now made known that God by His word assures of His love all that believe, and He sets it forth in Christ incarnate, Christ dying in atonement, and Christ in glory, winding all up with the declaration that “even as He is, we also are in this world.” For it is here only that His grace and truth are present; and as Christ was full of grace and truth, to receive Him is to receive of His fulness, as every Christian does. This then is the question for you, dear doubting fearing friend. Do you believe, as a poor guilty sinner, on Him? Do you believe that God out of His own boundless love. gave Jesus His Son? Cast away the vain hope of any good thing of your own fit for God; receive on God’s authority and in His grace Him who has all good not only for God but for you, and who was sent to be the propitiation for sins. Then, as receiving God’s glad tidings, you are entitled to say, as you weigh it all before Him, “By grace I do believe that I have life, and peace, and am His child.” Then you know that you are elect. Any other way of claiming to know it is human and dangerous, uncertain and evil, the devil cheating you to ruin. Christ is the truth to settle all election that is true and good. Believing on and confessing Him you are entitled without an atom of argument to say, God has chosen me: else, left to myself and my reason, I had never believed after a divine sort. Thus it is that “perfect love casteth out fear,” and gives me by faith peace with God, instead of that punishment or torment which my spirit knows too well.
Hence it is very certain that “he that feareth hath not been made perfect in love.” While you are uncertain of God’s love, you cannot really love Him; when you believe the reality of His love in giving His Son for the ungodly, for His enemies, is He not coming down to meet you? Take again the once abandoned woman (Luke 7), and the violent robber on the cross (Luke 23); why are these extreme cases recorded, but to encourage you on God’s part? Otherwise they had been passed over in silence. But they are written expressly to meet doubting men and women, as hard to believe God’s love as the most outrageous sinner, or even more so.
Do not be disheartened because you come to the conclusion that you do not love God. This is not the true question, but does not God point to Christ and His death for sins as the best proof even He could give of His love to you and me? When you bow your reasoning mind to such an overwhelming proof to satisfy you of His love, you will surely love, though you may be slow to allow it: others will see the chance in you. When you rest on Christ’s sacrifice for your sins, your heart will open to the God that thus cleanses you by Christ’s blood from every stain; and you will be ready then to say, I have found Him, and soon learn that it was He who found you. Come just as you are, that He may have all the glory. And if He loved me with so mighty a love of His own without one single thing or thought in me worthy of His love; if He so loved me notwithstanding my entire being and all my life full of sins, will He cease to love me when I am His child, His son by faith in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit cry, Abba, Father? Assuredly not: even my father would not cast me off even if erring, thoughtless, and foolish. But God does then as Father judge my conduct as His child by day, and discipline me when I need it. And is not this the fruit of His persevering and faithful love to me in the wilderness?
There is also immense comfort as a child of God in knowing that whatever the want, the sorrow, the shame, the fear, He wants me to go to Him freely and without delay to cast all my care on Him, for He cares for me and loves me. See that Satan sows no distrust of Him in your heart; for it is a lie to injure me by dishonouring Him. Let me think then of Christ, and what this tells of His love to me, and the hateful spell is broken. No, I am not made perfect in love if I dread Him; and the more I have been beguiled, the more need of telling all out in His presence in the confidence of His love.
What then explains the root of the whole matter? The few words in which the apostle sums it all up in ver. 17: “We love, because He first loved us.” Short as it is, and shorter in the critical text, supported by the best authorities, it is a divine source of rest to the believer. And it appears to me that the natural mind would have been more ready to insert “Him” than to leave it out. If “Him” was there originally, it would have been a daring act for any even nominal Christian copyist to have struck it out; but if the omission preferred now on sufficient external grounds be correct, we can easily understand a well-meaning scribe conceiving the first clause sounding rather lame for want of in object, and venturing to insert “Him,” because it is without doubt intrinsically true.
On the whole then it appears to me that the reading left absolutely is both impressive in itself, and gains rather than loses by the absence of an expressed object which would tend to limit rather than enlarge the sense. For as it thus stands, it means that we love [both God and His children], because “He loved us.” Christ was the source in our souls of divine love, whatever its object or direction. It sprang up not from ourselves in any wise. Love is of God. We in unbelief think that it must begin in us to draw out His love. But not so: we were dead, we were sinful, and in any case love was not, nor could it spring up from us. Our spiritual history, our being in reference to love and to God, is simply this: — “We love, because He first loved us.” We own it to be the truth to our shame; we gladly acknowledge it the truth to His glory and to our blessing for ever. The Spirit opened our hearts by the word to the Son sent by the Father to give us life and salvation through His atoning death, and now to be one spirit with the glorified Lord, to be as He is in this world, now and henceforth abiding in love, and so in God and God in us.
Next in ver. 20 we have the last of the false professions, and here individualised as in 1 John 2. “If anyone say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Such language and conduct betray unreality; and the apostle does not scruple to stigmatise that person as a liar. Our feeling toward a brother tests the truth or falsehood of our profession Godward. It is a present and tangible case. Here is my brother at my door, endowed with life in Christ, and cleansed from his sins by Christ’s blood; and do I allow on any pretext hatred in the heart, and talk of loving the unseen God? It is a falsehood: Satan has closed my eyes. Were there living faith, the life would attract, and God’s love draw out love from me. Nor does the Holy Spirit of God abide in the saint for nothing; and where the heart treats Him as nothing in another, is it not the plain evidence that He cannot be there to give the enjoyment of fellowship one with another through the Son, by whom all the blessing comes? If “liar” is a character most ignominious among men, what is it in the mouth of an apostle and in the eternal things of God? Thus does the only wise God in the evil day provide means that His children should not be deceived. For the more blessed is the love that is inspired by divine grace, the more important it is that we should not be imposed on by what is untrue. It is a part of God’s moral government of His children that they are tried here below in a great variety of ways. But the love that is of God confides in God, abides in love whether others do or not, and has the Spirit’s abiding power to make good God’s own presence in our souls, that we may be calm and subject whatever happens.
Here again the same care is taken, as we have seen in other cases, to establish us in obedience as to loving a brother. For what is so lowly as obedience? What so counteractive to pride or vanity, to passion or light wit? And what gives such courage and firmness even to a timid soul as the consciousness of obeying God? Hence the importance of its application to loving a brother who might from this or that slight fault be regarded as anything but a persona grata. “And this commandment have we from Him, that he that loveth God love his brother also.” Our God does not leave us to our own thoughts or discretion. We are sanctified unto obedience, and to an obedience after Christ’s own filial love, not at a Jew’s distance from God under law. He enjoins on him that loves Himself to love his brother. For indeed if God loves His child, am I, are you, not to love him? Is this not enough to make one ashamed of exercising one’s will against God’s will? Listen then to His word. He therefore lays it down as an authoritative commandment, that if I resist still I may have the sting in my soul that I am fighting against God, and all the more on my part because He reveals Himself as the God of all grace. Do I persist, in the face of an injunction so plain, following truth and love so precious? Had I not better judge myself, what I am, and whither I go: for is not this flat self-will against the God and Father of the Lord? The brother may have ways or words not pleasant to me; yet it may be that I am quite wrong in my estimate, and the fault in me rather than him; but if I demur to His plain commandment, how can I trust myself in anything else? Is not this rebellion? and against whom?
It is the moral glory of Christ that He ever applied obedience in every demand and every difficulty. If it were at the beginning before His public service, on this He stood, to this He submitted, and by this defeated the enemy in each one of the three great temptations. “It is written,” “It is written,” were His answers of entire submission to His Father. Did Satan dare to cite Scripture, the Scripture referring to Himself, He does not argue but answers, “It is written again.” He did not doubt Jehovah’s care nor His charge to angels; but He was here not to do Satan’s bidding, and He refused to tempt God as if He doubted His word. Just the same unswerving obedience we find publicly at the end: “Because I did not speak from myself, but the Father that sent me Himself gave I e commandment what I should say and what I should speak, and I know that His commandment is life eternal. What things therefore I speak, even as the Father hath said to me, so I speak” (John 12:49, 50).
In giving His last instructions to His own it is the same obedience, — the clearer too, in the most solemn of all things then approaching, His death. “I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world cometh and in me hath nothing. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and even as the Father commanded me, thus I do.” He was about to lay down His life, not only of His own free love but in obedience to the Father (John 14:30, 31). Indeed even before that He had said (John 10:17, 18), “On this account the Father loveth me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it again. This commandment I received from my Father.” What can be clearer than that our blessed Lord brought everything within the scope of His obedience? And this is the highest spirituality which the Holy Spirit can work in any saint. Therefore do we heed His solemn words: “He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If anyone serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be; if anyone serve me, him shall the Father honour” (John 12:25, 26). Blessed Lord, to serve Thee we would follow Thee; but Oh with what unequal steps! Oh how great the grace indeed that Thy servant also shall be with Thee, and have the Father’s honour!
Here God’s authority enters, as in all the rest of Christian life, into loving; and as loving one’s brother is peculiarly liable to cheeks, if not evasions, He makes it a matter of command, joining our love even to Himself with love to our brother. Yet in this the same blessedness controls the manner and all involved in it. His word alone can surely and safely guide, whatever the circumstances which very greatly modify how it is to be done. Who is sufficient for these things? Our power is in the Spirit according to our new life in Christ, and in obedience to God speaking to us in His word.
After having set forth with great fulness the working of divine love in our case as sinners, and in us now we are saints, and this right on to the day of glory, the discussion is terminated with the words, “We love, because He first loved us.” No doubt “we love Him,” but if the critical omission of “Him” be true, which it appears to be, then our love is put into a general form (“we love,” and not only “we love Him”); it takes in not only our loving Him, but loving all that are His around us. “We love.” There was no real love in our hearts till we knew His love. This is the more important because of its sentimental abuse. It may not be known to all that a school of pious persons, by others called Mystics, and found more particularly in France, Germany and Holland, who had their followers in England, invented the theory that there was no real love of God unless wholly independent of self. That sounds very fine, but there is no soundness and little reality in it. It never was fact for a soul since the world began. Not that me may not in spiritual experience rise to a love of God independent of self, and leaving self behind, if we may, to lose ourselves in the sense of His perfect love, and our delight in His nature and ways.
But we always begin with the fact to the praise of His grace that God loved us when we were dead and guilty. It was His pure mercy that saved us (Titus 3:4-7). It is the grossest ignorance, unbelief and presumption, unless we truly find in Christ and His work the love of God toward us when in our utter ruin and sins. To shirk this in its depths, and strive to rise into unselfish love of Him, is not only worthless, but an unbelieving wrong done to the truth as to God and His Son, as well as ourselves. It is only a disguised working of the “self” which they disclaim and would spare, and which leads to no small admiration of themselves, their ecstasies over their state. Yet after all it utterly falls short of the communion described by the apostle, based on Christ’s life in us, His atoning death in full efficacy, and the consequent abiding of God in us by His Spirit given to us; and all this is the common portion of Christians, however few they may be who realise it as all ought. It is deplorable indeed that any of God’s children should descend so low as to think that the love they can feel toward God is the grand thing, and to find such pleasure in it as if this were the best state for the saints of God on earth. It is His love in Christ which is the source and fulness of all, and makes ours so small in comparison.
How simple, how sweet and how strong is His word here! “We love, because He first loved us.” Assuredly if His children, we do love, and the change is vast for those, once filled with self in one form or another, to be brought to love with a love which is of God. But we do love Christ, and God who gave Him, and the children of God who received Him like ourselves. All is included in “we love.” Yet none of it had been possible unless we begin in the dust of death, where and “because He first loved us.” These words are therefore a corrective, much needed by our hearts, to strip us of self-occupation and self-admiration, of the folly of imagining that we have got rid of sin by a leap of special faith into a state of moral perfection. The notion that we are perfect in such a sense as this is the plainest and surest proof of our imperfection. It convicts us of great ignorance of Scripture, which is characteristic of all the classes of the introspective school.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the effect of occupation with Christ, in the word and Spirit of God, makes Him all and ourselves nothing in our own eyes. And this way and ought to go so far, in the delight our souls find in Him and in God Himself, as to drop ourselves altogether. Some Christians, wise and prudent, do not like this, and say that we cannot in spirit be always on high, and must descend into the valley. But are they wise, spiritually, after all? No saint is puffed up when he is consciously in God’s presence. When he leaves it, the danger ensues of being proud to have been there beyond others. Brethren, if we believe the apostle, we are entitled to know by His love shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us (and not by our feelings, which change like the moon, and are apt to give credit to us, poor foolish creatures), that we abide in Him and He in us. The blessed effect then is that we in all simplicity “boast in God,” as the apostle Paul says, “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we now received the reconciliation.”
Observe too how characteristic of our apostle it is, after he has presented what is of the highest nature, to add a word of the most practical kind; and we need this. It is good for the soul, and it is what God has written, knowing best what is for His glory in us.
“If a man say, I love God and hate his brother, he is a liar.” The thing that was precious in the apostle’s eyes was doing the truth, not talking about it, but the holy reality. Now if he hate his brother, he is a liar. Nobody spoke more plainly and without respect of persons, when needed, yet none can deny that even among the apostles his love was conspicuous. Ought not we to do so, when it is due to God? But how very different from that which passes for love in these degenerate days, aping the world where the great aim seems to be, allowing everybody’s and trying nobody’s conscience. How far was this ideal from him, who among Christians would have no mincing about evil matters!
Now, what works in a false professor fully may work partially in a true confessor, if not walking circumspectly and with vigilance. Wilful sin carries away the unbeliever as Satan’s prey. But if a believer sin (not goes on sinning), he is weakened and the Spirit of God grieved; and in that state he might act unworthily of Christ to his brother, or in some other uncomely way. We have seen how grace intervenes and restores, though not always very soon. There may be thus grievous inconsistency till his soul is restored. It is however a grave inconsistency, or, to use Levitical language, a rising in the flesh but not leprosy, as it is with the man that hates his brother. And God can use for the good of others, what is so evil; as the Psalmist says: “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart [not in his own] that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Grace makes the inconsistency a warning. All things work together for good to those that love God. It becomes therefore a practical point, an impressive lesson to beware of saying and not doing. “For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Logic never wrought love, nor rises above a mental inference. But the new nature, with Christ acting on it, produces the result according to God.
It is all beside the mark to talk about things that do not try the heart; but God so arranges matters that we have practical tests around us. How are we carrying ourselves towards those that are our brethren? The apostle’s divinely-given sense of truth utterly discards evasion. He brings in an illustration, almost childlike in simplicity (anything but childish), but holy and wise. The pride of man would regard it as insignificant. They consider themselves perfect, and claim for self liberty to vent displeasure and dislike as it thinks proper. Circumstances may make it trying even to a saint, for a brother may act wrongly. Am I not to love him? Certainly I am. His conduct may give a different shape to your love, but love has always to be exercised as in the sight of God. It may not go forth in the same way, but can anything show more absence of love than turning away from even my faulty brother with scorn or dislike, with unwillingness to bear his burden or with indifference? It shows love, that you share his sorrow, even if he failed to be as really humbled as he ought. Reproving him simply might provoke, and therefore love would act otherwise. For we need God in nothing more than how to walk in love.
But those that love know where to turn in difficulties, and have through the Spirit the guidance of God in this respect as in others. Love does not behave in an unseemly manner, it does not seek its own. It knows how to bear or cover all, to hope all, to believe all, and to endure all. Hence what is so persevering as love? and if other things fail, love never does. To this we are called in Christ, and we have ample opportunities for its exercise. There are our brethren that we have seen, and many we see around us. If I put myself in circumstances where I do not see nor care about them, occupy myself with other objects that please me, this is not love; and if I yield to such a state habitually, it is assuredly a dangerous case. It is certainly a thing to judge, and to cry to God for deliverance. Let brotherly love continue.
There is another important thing connected with it here The subject is fully discussed indeed, and according to the wonderfully near relationship into which we are brought with the Father and the Son. Here it is applied to the ordinary matters of daily life in order to test the reality of love; but there is another form of impressing it. “And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also.”
Many Christians look on commandments as necessarily legal. They therefore associate the word with the law, a ministry of death and condemnation. But those who have weighed the Gospel of John, and this Epistle under our consideration ought to know better. As applied now, it is a profound mistake. The Bible abounds with commandments of another tenor, New Testament as well as Old. The difference is plain. The commandments of the law addressed man in the flesh, in order to prove his perversity and rebelliousness; and thus the impossibility of any standing before God for a moment on such a ground. But when the saving grace of God appeared, Christ gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify to Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works. Then it is that we need and receive these commandments in order to guide us, as a sort of divine clue, through all the intricacies of life. Here in this world, if there is distress and suffering, God commands love, laying it on His own children.
Supposing a husband lays any word strongly on his wife — call it a commandment or not; do you think she would find it irksome to obey? If she loved him it would be a joy to her. Another who was not his wife might and would resent such a command which he had no right to impose; but there is a vast difference between the two. It is the relationship which explains it. Now we Christians are in the nearest relationship to God, who lays it on our hearts as His command to love our brother.
It is to be supposed too, that some things a husband ought to know better than his wife; and at any rate he is there to guide his wife. The responsibility is his, and he cannot without sin forfeit it. Of course he is bound to take care that he is guided of God in what he says; and when he does, as he is bound to see that his wishes are carried out, so she also to find not only her duty but her pleasure in it. If this be plain among men, it is yet more incumbent on the child of God. Here is One who loves me perfectly, made me His child, One that spared not for me what was most precious to Himself, His own Son, when there was not a single thing in me to love. He now loves me no longer as a guilty sinner but as His child: am I to count a commandment anything but a matter to receive with glad confidence? In His case there could be no question of the entire goodness and wisdom of His ways. We cannot infallibly count on such a thing in either husband or father. But as we were bound to honour our parents, to obey unless in direct contrariety to God’s plain word, how much more are we called to be the ready servants of God’s will, and with all love as His own children?
There can be no real exception in our relationship with God. We are called absolutely to obey. Luther in his haste, who had so much to learn because of his Romanist ignorance, never liked, because he did not understand, the Epistle of James, which would have done him much good if he had. It is true that James was given to write of justification before men — not to be “believed” but to be “shown.” But therein he speaks admirably of that which guides and controls the child of God now as the “law of liberty.” It is in contrast with the law of Moses, the law of bondage. That which God lays on His child is a law of liberty. How is this? Because the new nature desires above all things to do the will of God; and consequently, when told what that will is, the heart goes thoroughly with it. There is of course need of prayer, and vigilance against the flesh; and there may be as many hindrances as Satan can muster; but when once we know what our Father lays upon us, we judge any reluctance as evil, and cherish His will as a law of liberty. This is what the new nature delights in, and James speaks of the new nature rather than of redemption, on which Paul is so full. You will recollect in the same chapter from which I have already quoted the words, we are told that “of His own will God begat us by the word of truth that we should be a certain firstfruits of His creatures.” It is substantially what John calls life and Peter a divine nature. It was given to the apostle Paul to develop beyond others Christ’s redemption, and the mighty motive which the knowledge of the constraining, self-sacrificing love of Christ gives the heart. But James tells us of the new nature going along with what comes as the will of God, and thus from all we get a great convergence of light for our souls.
Here it is impressed that loving our brethren is not merely the instinct of the new nature, but what God insists on as obedience to Himself. What is there for us holier than obedience? What humbler? Is anything more becoming, more Christlike, than obedience? It is the place which Christ fulfilled in all its perfection, even to giving up His life in Ills perfect love to us. “This commandment have I received of my Father.” Did its being the Father’s command make it irksome to Christ? No, whatever it cost, this was an added and immense delight to our Lord Jesus. His perfect love and the commandment of His Father coalesced in it; and the same sort of appeal comes to us in loving the children of God. “And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love also his brother.” Not only should our hearts go out in love, but we know that we are pleasing God and doing His will. Now “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,” as said our apostle earlier. Let us not forget that He binds together loving Him and loving His children, and will not have the first without the last. If it be His love and honour, so let it be our love and duty, because He loves us each and all with the same perfect love.