Thoughts on 1 John.

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1. "That which was from the beginning." (Ver. 1.) The moment Christ appeared in the world, we find a beginning of accomplishment for all the purposes God had in view before the foundation of the world. These purposes had not been revealed before the gospel; they are only so fully after the death and resurrection of Christ. The first Adam, put to the proof without law and under law, failed; Christ came, and we have in Him the beginning of the counsels of God in the sense of their accomplishment. In order that we should have part in these things, redemption is needed; and therefore I do not say that it was the beginning of Christianity.

When Christ comes, He is the expression of our position before God and before Satan. Up to Christ God finds nowhere an object on the earth that He can own positively. His person was the beginning. Once there is a Man, the Son, on the earth, we have the first revelation of the Trinity: the voice of the Father makes itself heard, the Holy Spirit descends, the Son is there and on the earth. Christ on the earth, such is the beginning; but the history of man under responsibility is the link between the beginning and the counsels of God which preceded. Angels are holy creatures knowing good and evil, and are the proof that God could keep His creature; but we are the proof that God could redeem His creature.

"Eternal life" (ver. 2) and immortality are not the same thing. As a Christian I have eternal life; and yet I am as mortal as before.

"Fellowship" (ver. 3) is association of heart, of thoughts, of affections, and of joy.

The "joy full" (ver. 4) is from fellowship with the Father and with the Son in the possession of life. God is blessed in Himself. In having fellowship with Him I enjoy this blessedness as well as the manifestation of His grace in Christ.

Thus far (vers. 1–4) is grace and privilege connected with the Father and the Son; from verse 5 is our responsibility connected with God's nature.

Three things connect themselves with the message that God is light. (Vers. 5-7.)
1st, we walk in the light as He is in the light;
2nd, we have fellowship one with another;
3rd, we are cleansed from all (or, every) sin.

To walk in the light belongs to every Christian. It is more than simply the position: it is a matter of life and walk. The thing is considered here in an abstract manner. Farther on it is a question of practice when it is said, "If any man sin." (1 John ii. 1.) Were it a question of practice in taking account of inconsistencies, one could not say of anyone, "we walk in the light as he is in the light." Israel could not endure a single ray of this light. God manifests Himself to us without veil. The cross has rent the veil. My eyes are opened, and I walk in the light. If one cannot walk there, one must flee away; but can one? and whither?

To walk in the light is another thing from walking according to the light. It is to walk in full day, in the clearness of the full revelation of what God is. To walk in darkness is to walk without the knowledge of God.

As verses 5, 6 test profession by the divine nature, viewed as light revealing itself and detecting everything, in contrast with reality in the true knowledge of God (ver. 7), verse 8 is a question of truth in us which cannot be if I am not conscious of sin. For Christ as the truth in us would judge another principle and nature in me, as in verse 9. But if we say that we have not sinned (ver. 10), we make God a liar, whose word declares that all have: His word is not in us.

These three things, cleansing, forgiveness, and justification, answer to the defilement, offence, and guilt. In this passage it is a question not of justification and acceptance, but of fellowship as in all the epistle; not of the state of a conscience which is under the sense of the imputation of sin, but of the restoration of interrupted communion. If I have sinned, I am defiled and have offended God, and communion is interrupted. If I confess my sins, the offence is pardoned, and I am cleansed. God would reach the root of the evil. Peter is an example of it. Jesus does not say to him, Why deniedst thou Me? but He touched the root of the evil: "Lovest thou me more than these?" And we find this result: not that the root is gone, but that all confidence in the flesh has vanished. Peter learnt that he had no strength in himself. Then the Lord confides to him His sheep, and he is made capable of strengthening his brethren.

2. The "Advocate" (ver. 1) comes in to maintain or restore communion, the priest to draw near to God as in Hebrews.

We must remember that in John it is a question of communion. "If one have sinned," communion is interrupted, and we have here the resource, the means of restoring it, not that of being justified.

The function of the Advocate is established on the double foundation of righteousness and of propitiation. (Vers. 1, 2) There is in the person of "Jesus Christ the righteous" a permanent righteousness before God and a propitiation for our sins (a propitiation which is not only for the Jews but for the whole world). The Advocate comes in on that footing to restore the interrupted communion.

"We" in scripture signifies sometimes the Jews, sometimes men, or the apostles, or believers. Every "we" (or "us") must be taken according to the sense of the passage.

The two grand proofs of the reality of christian life are obedience, and the love of the brethren. (Vers. 3-11.)

The effect produced for whosoever keeps His word is that in him verily is the love of God perfected. (Ver. 5.) "The love of God" is the infinite of divine love, and "in him . . . . perfected" is the infinite of confidence in an infinite love.

What is the "new commandment?" (Ver. 8.) Love one another. And the "old commandment?" (Ver. 7). Love one another. But in the first case the thing is realised by the divine nature in the disciples, and not only imposed as a commandment. God has many attributes, righteousness, holiness, majesty, almightiness, etc.; but the word employs only two words to tell us what God is as to His nature. He is light, He is love. And it is remarkable to see how the person of Jesus is before the eyes of John, and how the apostle speaks sometimes of his deity, sometimes of His humanity, in the same passage, according to the relations with which he is occupied.

Then follows a parenthetical address to Christians, showing us the position according to grace, and in their several degrees of maturity, which are three (vers. 12-27), verses 28, 29 returning to the general exhortation of all.

The knowledge of Christ is the result of all christian progress. (Vers. 13, 14.) We have that which was from the beginning, and also for the last time. (Vers. 18, 24.) It is important to remark that the apostasy was already there in the time of the apostles. The mystery of lawlessness had been at work (the mystery ceases, when the lawless one is manifested). The patience of God continued; but as to man, it was all over with him from the outset. It was the last hour already in the time of the apostle.

In John it is a question of apostasy, in Jude of corruption; in John the antichrists go out, in Jude the false brethren come in and with them corruption. In Jude those who separate are like the Pharisees who took the first places. The ungodly are still seen in the midst of the faithful. (Jude 4, 13.) Cain, Balaam, and Korah are the three characters of the evil within. In John it is apostasy; they go out. Such is the character of these antichrists. They deny that Jesus is the Christ: it is Jewish unbelief. They deny too the Father and the Son: it is unbelief as to christian truth. The evil of John and that of Jude, antichristianism and corruption, can co-exist, just as we may see it in prophecy.

To abide in Him (ver. 28) is profession with reality.

3. In verses 1-3 we see Christ God and man; and in this passage we are associated with Him, we have the same position as He, who is God but man: the same position as to the world, for we are unknown to the world which knew Him not; and the same thing as to the glory. See also chapter 5:20: we are in Him, who is God.

The apostle avoids saying that the flesh sins (vers. 4-9); he will not have dualism. It is no doubt the flesh, but I. John looks at the man simply as christian, without the modification produced in the result by the presence of the flesh. It is the character of the thing which occupies him. He says, "he cannot sin" (not, he ought not to sin). He speaks of the new man, not in taking account of the old, but as being the true "I." If I sin, it is entirely my fault; for the temptation is never beyond what we are able to bear. "The seed of God" (ver. 9) is the life of Christ in us, the new nature.

Having spoken of righteousness, the apostle turns to love, verses 10 to 12 being the transition, and Cain the example of the reverse in both respects, which are indeed naturally connected in the world, Christ being the contrast in love as in purity and righteousness. Christians were to love in deed and in truth as they knew it in Christ; whilst the world hated them.

Thence the apostle comes in verses 18-22 to the conscience (a very important subject in practice). From a conscience entirely pure flows practical confidence. The existence of the flesh in us does not give a bad conscience; but if I let the flesh act, then my heart condemns me; I do not doubt the love of God, but my heart is not free. The heart is the inner man entirely. This practical confidence is of high importance. The presence of God unveils to me the state of my soul. I am ill at ease if I have walked ill. God wills that we should walk before Him without the least cloud, and in order to this we must be continually with Him. If I am with God, He is light, and He discovers to me that which otherwise would remain ignored and hidden.

He who obeys dwells in God and God in him, the proof that He dwells in us being the Spirit given. (Ver. 24.)

4. But here danger lurks from spirits not of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world. The first mark of His Spirit is the confession of Jesus Christ come in flesh; the second, hearing the apostles. (Vers. 1-6.) "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." It is a question of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and of the presence of Satan in the world.

The doctrine of the false prophets suits the world, and the world hears them. "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us." If one does not heed the apostles, one is not of God. There is a very simple direction to know if anyone is of God. The great question is if we desire to cleave to the authority of the apostles as to the word which comes directly from God. A teacher of error is under the positive action of Satan; a Christian, if he does not keep fast to the word, may be led away, which is another thing. A heretic is a man who teaches an error as a matter of fact. If two parties are made in the church, without quitting the church, it is a schism, which had in general happened at Corinth. You will never find a heretic who is a sincere man.

In exhorting to mutual love, from verse 7, the apostle brings in the great facts which deliver from mysticism in man, as they flow from love in God and reproduce it by the Spirit in His children. (Vers. 9, 10.) Man is dead: God sends His Son that we might live through Him. Man is guilty: God sends His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

One is not sealed of the Holy Spirit before having received the testimony of God as to the work of Christ for the remission of sins. The leper was first washed with water, which is the word applied in power, then sprinkled with blood, which is the application to the conscience of the value of the blood of Christ; lastly anointed with oil, figure of the unction and seal of the Spirit. Nor is there true holiness for me if I am not perfectly sure of my salvation.

From verses 9 to 17 the love of God is presented to us in three manners: 1st, love toward poor sinners, dead and guilty (vers. 9, 10); 2nd, the love of God in us, or the enjoyment of love in the Christian (ver. 12); 3rd, love with us, perfect or perfected with us even to the day of judgment. The apostle places himself in the judgment and says to himself, See how Christ has thought of me in view of that: as He is, I am in this world. God is holy. Can I speak of love when I think of judgment? Ah, yes, says the apostle; it is precisely there that I know it, because I am as the Judge already here below. From one end to the other God has thought of everything. Love begins with the sinner, continues with the saint, and goes on to the day of judgment.

It is striking to see how the nature of God is put forward here. If this love is in us, there is the nature of God; consequently we know God. (Ver. 7.) But more, God is in us, and since we share thus in the fulness of His nature, we abide in love. (Ver. 16.) But this would be mysticism, if there was not the testimony of verses 9, 10, to the actual substantial facts. The love of God is only a quality among all mystics. But God has loved us, who is love. That also puts the law aside; for it is not, We ought to love God, but, God has loved us.

If we love one another, it is the divine nature, God Himself in us. (Ver. 12.) If one love not his brother, he is not a Christian at all. There are without doubt degrees of realisation for him who is a Christian; and these degrees depend on the measure he holds the flesh as dead, because the flesh is always selfish. The world can be united for common interests, but there is no love in that.

No one has ever seen God. How can He be known? The Gospel of John answers, The Only-begotten hath declared Him; here the word, If we love one another, God dwelleth in us. This renders Him visible; it is the proof He is there.

I find a poor soul without a spring. Do you confess, I say to him, that Jesus is the Son of God? Yes. Well then, God dwells in you. (Ver. 15.) What consolation! On the other side, what powerful action this verse exercises on the conscience! Do you confess that Jesus is the Son of God? Yes. Well then, is it that God dwells in you, and you have not thought of it once throughout all the day? If you treated a friend as you treat God who dwells in you, there would soon be an end between you. That which makes the difference in the state of souls lies in the measure in which one thinks of the presence of God in us.

We love Him. (Ver. 19.) It is a fact. It is not said that we ought to love Him. Does a child say, I ought to love my mother, and I believe that I love her enough? Then you do not love her truly. Another says, I am so miserable, but if you knew my mother — what goodness! what tenderness! . . . but I do not love her enough. Ah! this one knows what love is, and he loves.

5. The cause for which we love the children of God is that we love the Father. (Ver. 1.) The counter-proof is that I love truly the children of God when it is in obedience. Without this it would be only clannishness, and not loving them for the love of the Father. If I love the children of anyone because I love their father, I will not accompany them in disobedience to their father. If I accompanied them there, I should not love them for the love of God, for the love of the Father is shown in obedience. And if I love not all the children of God, it is not God that I love. If I love but two or three children of a family, I love them by particular sympathy, and not because of their father. A Christian says to me, Let us walk together: come with me, and I will go with you. Ah! would you that I should walk in your disobedience for you to walk in obedience with me?

Obedience toward God should be full and absolute. I do not belong to myself; I have not the right nor desire to do my will in anything whatever. The motive of all that Christ did was the will of His Father; and if there was no will of the Father, He did nothing at all. What is it that hinders Christians from obeying? At bottom, the world. Some things are of faith, others of knowledge; in this sense there are secondary things. But must one obey in the walk?

Whatever is born of God overcometh the world (Ver. 4), but not by the sole fact of a divine nature, but because this nature has an object. (Ver. 3.) A creature cannot suffice for itself; it must have an object. God alone suffices Himself; if I have this object, Jesus the Son of God, the flesh, Satan, and the world have nothing for me. If one is not nourished by the Lord Jesus, life remains shut up and feeble. Law does not give life nor force nor object; Christ gives me life and force, and in Him I have an object. Liberty is to be freed from sin, from Satan, from the world and from myself.

From verse 6 we have now the witnesses that life, this new life which is the portion of believers, is not of Adam. There is nothing for the old man but death. The testimony rendered is that life is in the Son. The natural man has not life. Life is not only that the spirit, soul and body are by the action of the Holy Spirit in a good state. No part of myself is quickened: Christ becomes my life.

The apostle cites the three witnesses to show that the old man is entirely condemned. There must be three things, cleansing, expiation, and the Holy Spirit. For cleansing water is needed, and it comes from a dead Christ; for expiation blood, which comes from a dead Christ; and the Holy Spirit is needed, who comes from Christ dead and risen on high. I have life only on the complete rupture between God and the first Adam. When death is proved (John xix. 34), then life comes. It is a new thing which puts aside the old.

The blood cleanses in the sense of expiation, the water in the moral sense. But it is not the old man that is cleansed, but "I;" and how? By being delivered from the old man. (Rom. vi., vii.) The foundation of Christianity is that I pass through death. If I hold myself always for dead, Satan should have no hold over me. Why have you sinned? You have let the flesh act; you have behaved as a child of Adam. A child of God does not sin. It is a thing completely false metaphysically or morally that responsibility depends on power. It depends on the will. A child to whom his father says, Come, answers, I won't; the father goes away alone and returns to punish him. Ah! I was tied to the table. This is not the question: I know well that you were tied; but I had a knife, and you would not. It is then at bottom the will that is in question, and it is enmity against God. The unbeliever is guilty, because God has given sufficient testimonies. When He comes as Judge, He will tell you whether He did not give you proofs enough.

After thus unfolding the matter of life to confirm believers in presence of seducers, he turns to confidence in God in our petitions, which might take up among other things a fallen brother, but not always. For there is sin to death, as there is sin not so. (Vers. 13-17.) The Christian who walks in a sort of see-saw, sometimes well, sometimes ill, is not according to the word, so that the wicked one should not touch him. The world just wishes morality in the things which touch its own interests; but the truth not one wishes; and the truth is Christ, and we know it. (Vers. 13-21.)