Great Texts of the Bible
Fellowship in the Light
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.—1 John 1:7.
1. It is remarkable that the Apostle does not here repeat what he had just before said of “fellowship with God,” as we might have expected he would do. Indeed, so natural is that expectation, that Dr. Plummer says, “The craving to make this verse the exact antithesis of the preceding one has generated another reading” as old as the second century—“We have fellowship with Him.” The real reason for the altered expression to be found in this verse is to be sought in the fact that fellowship with “one another” in the body of Christ is the human expression and result of all real fellowship with God. The communion of saints is an unmistakable proof that the saints themselves are in communion with God.
2. A second result of this walk in the light now comes to be mentioned. It leads to the discovery of sin, of our own sin, and so St. John adds, “and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The connexion of these words with what has gone before is not accidental, for our walking in the light first of all discloses to us the reality of our own sin, and then reveals to us the perfect cleansing from sin that God has provided in “the blood of Jesus his Son.”
That blessed text, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin,” which sometimes comes down on the heart like a whole heaven of peace and joy and glory, will at other times be as meaningless as the darkest sayings of the prophets, or as powerless as the vainest utterances of human folly. And then just as one is bemoaning its darkness, it will suddenly blaze out in astonishing brightness, and almost startle the heart by its revelations of safety and strength.1 [Note: The Life of R. W. Dale, 79.]
This was the text that God blessed to give peace to Hedley Vicars, that dashing young officer who died at Sebastopol leading on his soldiers, and crying out, “This way, men of the 97th!” He had before this been a careless young man; but one day he went to a brother officer’s room, and found him not within. There was a Bible lying on the table, and he took it up just to while away the time. The first verse that his eye lighted on was this: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Cleanseth us from all sin?” said he. “And is there really something that can cleanse away all my sins? If so, by the blessing of God, I’ll have them cleansed away.” And soon he was rejoicing in Jesus, who died for his sins, and who was then alive, and present with him continually. Ever afterwards till he died, this was his favourite verse: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”2 [Note: W. J. Patton, Pardon and Assurance, 88.]
In 1907 King Oscar of Sweden lay on his death-bed. When the end seemed very near, the Queen bent down over her husband and repeated this verse in his ear. The dying King replied, “Thanks be to Jesus.” These were his last words (from a newspaper report).
We can understand what the sorrowing wife meant by quoting the verse. The outward parting was approaching, yet the fellowship would abide.
O blest communion, fellowship Divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
“The blood of Jesus cleanseth” comes last in the verse. We might have thought that it should come first. First the cleansing, and then the walking. But no, just as we walk in the light shall we realize the need of cleansing all the more, up to the very close of life. And so the King’s last words were “Thanks be to Jesus.”3 [Note: John S. Maver.]
Walking in the Light
1. In the light.—There is no greater blessing than light. It is the indispensable condition of our existence. Bereft of light, all life would languish. Every living creature would lose its brightness and activity; every plant would wither; all the material world would lose its charm. How natural was it for men to identify with light the good they felt at work in their hearts, and to mark by darkness the evil with which it had to strive! Even in the Old Testament, light is the chosen figure for purity, truth, and life; darkness for impurity, falsehood, and death. Here, then, we find the most probable explanation of the special form in which the Apostle sets his representation of the nature of God. He is anxious to protect his fellow-disciples against the subtle errors by which he sees them surrounded. He wishes especially to guard them against the superstitious notion that there could be the merest shadow of evil in the nature or life of Him whom they had come to know as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.
What is suggested by “light” throughout the passage is something absolutely luminous and transparent, in which there is no concealment and no need for any. To say that God is light is to say for one thing that in God there is nothing to hide: if He is dark, it is with excess of light; it is because He dwells in light that is inaccessible, not because there is anything in Him that of its own nature craves obscurity. This is the line on which our thoughts are led by the following verses, where the opposite of walking in the light is evidently hiding sin, or denying that we have sinned. It is some kind of secrecy—which no doubt has its motive in sin—that is meant by darkness, and this gives us the key to walking in the light. To walk in the light means to live a life in which there is nothing hidden, nothing in which we are insincere with ourselves, nothing in which we seek to impose upon others. We may have, and no doubt we will have, both sin and the sense of sin upon us—“if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”—but we may walk in the light nevertheless, if we deal truly with our sin; and it is only as we do so that we enjoy Christian fellowship and are cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
Did you never, in walking the fields, come across a large flat stone, which had lain, nobody knows how long, just where you found it, with the grass forming a little hedge, as it were, all around it, close to its edges?—and have you not, in obedience to a kind of feeling that told you it had been lying there long enough, insinuated your stick or your foot or your fingers under its edge and turned it over as a housewife turns a cake, when she says to herself, “It’s done brown enough by this time”? What an odd revelation, and what an unforeseen and unpleasant surprise to a small community, the very existence of which you had not suspected, until the sudden dismay and scattering among its members produced by your turning the old stone over! Blades of grass flattened down, colourless, matted together, as if they had been bleached and ironed; hideous crawling creatures, some of them coleopterous or horny-shelled—turtle-bugs, one wants to call them; some of them softer, but cunningly spread out and compressed like Lepine watches; black, glossy crickets, with their long filaments sticking out like the whips of four-horse stagecoaches; motionless, slug-like creatures, young larvæ, perhaps more horrible in their pulpy stillness than even in the infernal wriggle of maturity! But no sooner is the stone turned and the wholesome light of day let upon the compressed and blinded community of creeping things, than all of them which enjoy the luxury of legs—and some of them have a good many—rush about wildly, butting each other and everything in their way, and end in a general stampede for underground retreats from the region poisoned by sunshine. Next year you will find the grass growing tall and green where the stone lay; the ground-bird builds her nest where the beetle had its hole; the dandelion and the buttercup are growing there; and the broad fans of insect-angels open and shut over their golden disks, as the rhythmic waves of blissful consciousness pulsate through their glorified being.1 [Note: O. W. Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, ch. v.]
2. Walking in the light.—Life is a walk. It is something to feel that life is a walk; not a game, a pastime, or outburst of passion; not a random flight, or a groping, creeping, grovelling crawl, or a mazy, labyrinthian puzzle; but a walk; a steady walk; an onward march and movement; a business-like, purpose-like, step-by-step advance in front—such a walk as a man girds himself for and shoes himself for, and sets out upon with staff in hand, and firm-set face; and holds on in, amid stormy wind and drifting snow; resolute to have it finished and to reach the goal. Such a walk is real life—life in earnest.
Jowett, I remember, had said shortly before, in one of his quaint and characteristic Balliol sermons, “The search for truth is one thing; fluttering after it is another.” Here was a man whose earnestness rebuked all “fluttering,” who was plainly in honest and urgent search for truth, and who found it in the Word made Flesh.1 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, i. 584.]
In the ages when a pilgrimage to Palestine was held in such esteem, there sprang up a set of idle impostors who wandered about everywhere in the country and sought alms at the hands of the inhabitants under the pretext that they were preparing to go à la sainte terre—to the Holy Land. It was soon discovered that they had never left their native shores; and such disgust did their vain professions inspire that a new word was coined to reprobate the shameful practice, and they were called “saunterers.” With equal truth may the term be applied to all who profess to be Christians without moving forward energetically to the heavenly goal.2 [Note: J. P. Lilley, The Pathway of Light, 26.]
As to the character which our work should bear, Browning’s teaching is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt. However menial the work itself may be, it must be done with the utmost possible efficiency. He will not countenance any shuffling, any inferior expedients for completing the task allotted, simply with a view to getting through it.
Our best is bad, nor bears Thy test;
Still, it should be our very best.
If it be not, then not only will that which is wrought be so far defective, but the possibilities of the future will be marred and spoiled. Our life is a unity. One flaw makes its influence felt everywhere, prevents the perfection of the whole—more than that, hinders any true advancement towards perfection:
If one step’s awry, one bulge
Calls for correction by a step we thought
Got over long since, why, till that is wrought,
No progress!3 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 193.]
3. Walking in the light, as He is in the light.—What does this mean? How can it be done? First let us remember that the Apostle makes no impossible demand when he speaks of our walking in the light. He does not require of us that we should be perfect in the sense in which God is perfect; but he does demand that we should in all sincerity place ourselves under the influence of the light which is in God, and which streams forth from Him. He does not ask perfect holiness, as God is holy; but he demands concentrated zeal. No hindrance must be offered to the light of truth and holiness with which our life is to be penetrated. When he bids us “walk in the light,” he means, as already said, that our whole life should be influenced thereby, our thoughts and acts, the outer as well as the inner man; our life is to be illuminated through that hallowing and transfiguring light which comes from God, and which illuminates us in Christ Jesus.
Everything depends on whether what we do is done in the darkness or in the light. A manufacturer of carmine, who was aware of the superiority of the French colour, went to Lyons and bargained with the most celebrated manufacturer in that city for the acquisition of his secret. He was shown all the process, and saw a beautiful colour produced; but he found not the least difference between the French mode of fabrication and that which had been constantly adopted by himself. He appealed to his instructor, and insisted that he must have concealed something. The man assured him that he had not, and invited him to see the process a second time. He minutely examined the water and the materials, which were in every respect similar to his own; and then, very much surprised, he said, “I have lost my labour and my money, for the air of England does not permit us to make good carmine.” “Stay,” said the Frenchman; “what kind of weather do you manufacture in? Were I to attempt to manufacture it on a dark cloudy day, my results would be the same as yours. Let me advise you always to make carmine on bright, sunny days.”1 [Note: L. A. Banks, John and his Friends, 21.]
1. Walking in the light produces a genuine fellowship. The light in which God dwells becomes the very element in which His true children breathe and move. A communion ensues, which extends to the whole society of believers, and the members are linked each to each, as all are linked in heaven, by the same golden bands that bind them to the community on high and to their common Head, until the last link of the whole disappears from view, lost in the central light that surrounds the “unapproachable” throne of God.
Redeemed by one sacrifice for sins for ever, they share one life, for Christ is their life; one ambition, for His glory is their highest desire; one food, for His Word and His Table are their sustenance; one faith, for all their hope is built on His Blood and righteousness, not on their own; one task, for the evangelization of the world is the work which He has left His Church to do; one heart, for if one member suffers all the members, so far as membership is real and vital, and not merely mechanical or even ecclesiastical, suffer with it; one in hope, for all are, if things are right with them, “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”; and with one rule of life, freely giving what has been freely received.
The Gospel became at once a social message. The preaching which laid hold of the outer man, detaching him from the world, and uniting him to his God, was also a preaching of solidarity and brotherliness. The Gospel, it has been truly said, is at bottom both individualistic and socialistic. Its tendency towards mutual association, so far from being an accidental phenomenon in its history, is inherent in its character. It spiritualizes the irresistible impulse which draws one man to another, and it raises the social connexion of human beings from the sphere of a convention to that of a moral obligation. In this way it serves to heighten the worth of man, and essays to recast contemporary society, to transform the socialism which involves a conflict of interests into the socialism which rests upon the consciousness of a spiritual unity and common goal. This was ever present to the mind of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. In his little churches, where each person bore his neighbour’s burden, St. Paul’s spirit already saw the dawning of a new humanity, and in the Epistle to the Ephesians he has voiced this feeling with a thrill of exultation. Far in the background of these churches, like some unsubstantial semblance, lay the division between Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, great and small, rich and poor. For a new humanity had now appeared, and the Apostle viewed it as Christ’s body, in which every member served the rest and each was indispensable in his own place.1 [Note: Harnack.]
2. Dependence is, indeed, an inexorable law of natural life. Our faith has anticipated the conclusion and hallowed it. Men must be dependent on one another. For saints this dependence is transfigured into fellowship. The believer recognizes that the power which acts upon him from without is the expression of a spiritual life. He sees that the image of Christ’s Body gives the truest possible view of the relation in which all who are “in Him” stand to one another. The one life, the one Spirit, by which they are united to their Head, united eternally, united them in time to one another. In that Divine vision life appears in the fullest proportions we can yet apprehend. We turn from the living to the dead, and, as we contemplate the splendour of the heritage which they have bequeathed to us, we confess with no unworthy self-disparagement that without them we are incomplete. We turn from the dead to the living, and as we trace the lineaments of a Divine likeness in those about us, we give thanks without presumption that there are saints now.
Sir Henry Havelock used to meet with his soldiers for prayer. His men were called “Havelock’s saints.” “Yes,” said Sir Robert Sale, “and I wish the whole regiment were Havelock’s saints, for I never see a saint in the guardroom, or his name in the defaulter’s book.” On one occasion in Burmah, when an outpost was attacked by night, some of the troops being unfit for duty through drink, the General in command said, “Get the saints, you can depend on them, they are always sober.”1 [Note: Morning Watch, 1894, p. 16.]
1. One of the first evidences and signs of the coming of the Spirit of God—and His coming is the coming of the light in the heart—is a new discovery of the depth and reality of sin. It is the imperfect light, the twilight, in which so many professing Christians live that accounts for that weakened sense of sin which is so marked a feature of the present day.
Some little time ago a tourist who was walking through the Lake District was overtaken at night by a heavy storm of wind and of rain, and soon got soaked to the skin. In the darkness he was glad to see the twinkling of a light by the roadside that proved to be the light of a little inn, in which he at once took shelter from the pitiless rain. The landlord, with a rushlight, showed him to what looked like a fairly clean and comfortable room, and the weary and soaked traveller was glad to get rid of his wet things and to have them dried by the morning.
The morning sun streaming through the window awoke him, and the moment his eyes were opened he was horrified to see the room in which he had been sleeping. The walls and the floor and even the curtains were filthy, and he was glad to escape from the room as quickly as possible. The night before he thought the room was fairly clean, now he saw its foulness; but the room had not changed during the night, it was only the light that had changed. The little rushlight was not light enough to reveal all the dirt of the room, but when the sunlight of heaven came streaming in the revelation was made in a moment.1 [Note: G. S. Barrett, The First Epistle General of St. John, 50.]
2. Now it is a universal law that blood alone can redeem. The Creator of all things accepts the law of suffering in order to save and to bless the race that has sinned. The connexion between this suffering and the remission of sins may be hard to trace; but in the absence of any theory defining that connexion we may recognize the harmony between this revelation of the infinite love of God and the deepest laws of human life. We must suffer greatly to redeem greatly. God also suffered greatly that He might greatly redeem. And apart from theory, when the human heart, agitated by the consciousness of sin, troubled by the guilt of past years, seeing the shadow of that guilt extending over the years that are coming, wondering whether it can ever be possible to escape from it—when the human heart, haunted by the worst fears, discovers that the Eternal Son of God is descending from the heights of eternal glory and is sharing its sufferings, its temptations, its death, the Gospel is out, the secret is disclosed. He has come to suffer instead of to punish. He, the representative of the Eternal Lord of Righteousness, must express in some way His abhorrence and His condemnation of human sin. How shall He express it? By sweeping into eternal darkness the race that had transgressed the Divine commandments? No! but in a sublimer form, by making Himself one of that race, and descending from His eternal glories to shame, to sorrow, and to death. Apart from theory altogether, the discovery that the Eternal Son of God has done that, quietens the conscience, gives the heart courage and peace, and enables the man who had faltered and hesitated as to whether he could accept the assurance of Divine forgiveness to accept it with courage, thankfulness, and hope.
The essential part of every sin offering was the blood, because the blood is the life. It was, further, a principle of the Mosaic sacrifices that anything placed upon the altar became the property of God, and was, therefore, invested with a peculiar sanctity. The blood of a sacrificed animal was thus first a thing of excellent worth in itself, being the life; and next a thing endowed with highest sanctity, because it now belonged to God. It was the most holy thing with which even the high priest himself had to do. Once more, the law said that nothing less sacred than this consecrated blood might be used in the expiation of sin. For certain ceremonial defilements water was the purifying element; but in a majority of instances even these defilements exacted a mingling of blood with the water. The statement of the writer to the Hebrews is strictly accurate,—“almost all things are by the law purged with blood” (Hebrews 9:22). For the removal of moral defilement, however—for the purposes of an atonement—nothing but the consecrated blood was efficacious. Without shedding of blood is no remission.1 [Note: W. J. Woods.]
3. Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture; died the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. And, whatever the ineffable mystery of the atonement may conceal, this at least is clear, that our sins did, in some way, make part of the terrible necessity that He must die if He would save us. These phases of the sacrificed life of our Lord—its wondrous revelation of His own deathless purpose to save us; its exhibition of the great heart of God not willing that we should perish; and its connexion, its real and dread connexion, with our sins—these are the elements that constitute the cleansing power of that sacrificed life. For these mighty forces excite within the bosom of every man who vividly contemplates the cross of Christ the two emotions which, far more than any others, are the redeeming, saving, purifying energies of our hearts. They excite gratitude and love.
Of such supreme importance in the Christian revelation is this idea, or rather this fact, of redemption by His blood, that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself instituted a solemn service to express it, and to be the perpetual memorial and monument of it, Other great truths Christ trusted to the oral and written teaching of Apostles; but that He is the bread of life and that His blood was shed for the remission of sins are truths of a unique kind; they belong to the very substance of the Christian revelation; they are the germs and the roots of everything besides. To lose them would be to lose what is most characteristic and what is most essential in all that He has revealed to mankind. While they are preserved everything is saved. He therefore did not choose to trust them to the written Gospels, which would preserve the memory of His life and His ministry; He did not choose to trust them to the oral teachings of the Apostles or to the Epistles which they were to write; He instituted a pathetic service, a visible ceremonial, to enshrine, to protect them, to perpetuate them through all generations.1 [Note: R. W. Dale.]
(1) The Blood cleanses: it does not merely cloak.—The high priest was to take an aspersory of hyssop and dip it in the blood of the victim and sprinkle the doors and the holy place, typifying thereby that the sprinkling of the Blood of Christ is that which sanctifies the universe, of which the tabernacle was the symbol. It is a direct allusion to the Passion of Christ that we find in the Fifty-first Psalm, where David says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean”; that is, sprinkle me as the high priest sprinkled the victim, with the Blood of Christ, and I shall be clean—clean from the defilement and pollution of sin and its consequences.
When Butler in his dying moments had expressed his awe at appearing face to face before the Moral Governor of the world, his Chaplain, we are told, spoke to him of “the blood which cleanseth from all sin.” “Ah, that is comfortable,” he replied; and with these words on his lips he gave up his soul to God.2 [Note: Bishop Lightfoot, Northern Leaders, 169.]
(2) It is not mere remission.—It is not mere averting of the punishment. It is not mere pronouncing man just when he is in fact unjust. It is not mere annulling of pains and penalties. It is all this and more. By cleansing we mean making that pure which before was foul, and this is what we attribute to the Blood of Christ. We believe that in that Blood there is such a virtue as to be able to transform the sinful nature of man into an imperfect but real image of the holiness of God; that before its might, all that is base and unclean fades away, and that, like the chemist’s potent elixir, it transmutes the baser elements with which it comes in contact into a new and more perfect substance.
Pardon is not enough. Pardon seems merely to restore us to a kind of negative condition. Pardon may mean, in some cases, where not fully understood and realized, mere innocence. There was a stain upon the heart: that stain has been removed by a powerful detergent, and now the heart is pretty much as it was in years gone by. That may be some people’s notion of pardon. But when God pardons there is another step involved, and another element enters into consideration. Man becomes not only pardoned, he becomes also holy. Holiness is more than innocence. Holiness denotes vitality of sympathy as between the soul and God. Holiness is the comprehensive word which includes the whole discipline of life, the whole trust of the heart in God, and the continuous aspiration of the spirit after the perfectness of God’s own beauty.1 [Note: J. Parker.]
(3) The Blood cleanses continuously.—It cleanses when we first come to Jesus, but it continues to cleanse every day we live.
No feature in the growing saintliness of an earnest Christian is more marked than his desire to make continued use of the blood of the Lamb. Said a Scottish minister of the older days: “New spots call for new washing, so that this must be our very life and exercise to be daily and continually running to the fountain with our souls and giving Christ the great Purger much to do.” “The saint’s preparation for the duties of each day,” wrote Dr. Bonar, “is a fresh application to the blood, in which he bathes his conscience anew each morning as he rises.” So Robert McCheyne also wrote: “I ought to go to Christ for the forgiveness of each sin. In washing my body, I go over every spot and wash it out. Should I be less careful in washing my soul? This is God’s way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart; but it is the way. I must never think a sin too small to need immediate application to the blood of Christ.”
(4) The Blood cleanses completely—“from all sin.”—Fellowship with God and walking in the light can never take sin away. No emotion, no feeling, no attainment, no height of spirituality, can remove our guilt. Our guilt was taken away by the great Propitiation, when He suffered without the gate, and knew the withdrawings of God. We have our peace not from the reigning Saviour, but from the bleeding Saviour, not from the King in His glory, but from the Redeemer in His shame. For this text speaks of a complete cleansing. We are cleansed from all sin. Even though the body of sin crucified within us is dying its slow, difficult death, there is a great sense in which we are even now delivered from all evil. Through the blood-shedding of Christ we have remission of sins now, and are as truly forgiven as we shall be when the light of the glory of God falls on the resurrection face. So far as sin is a matter of guilt before God, it is taken away even to the last relic of evil, and we walk with God in the light, having our conversation above the skies.
Soon after I was converted I bought a cyclostyle so that I could make many copies of my own Gospel messages and bills. In my enthusiasm I forgot the effect of the special ink on linen. My wristbands, collars, and handkerchiefs got woefully stained with what my mother called “that nasty black stuff.” One hot summer day I had been very busy. My fingers became unusually black with ink, and, forgetting this, I pushed up my wristbands, pulled my collar to ease my neck, and finally pulled out my handkerchief to wipe my perspiring face. Turning them out for the washing, my mother brought them to me to show me how I had stained them, saying mortal hands could never wash them white again. She threatened to burn my cyclostyle, and this made me think soberly how could these black stains be removed. On the morning of the washing day a bill was passed into our door. I looked at it and to my surprise and joy I read in capital letters: “Warranted to take out all stains and make the linen pure and white.” I soon purchased this cleanser and said to my mother, “I am sorry for what I have done, but here is something that will take the stains out. Just try it.” She looked at it, a little suspicious, but said nothing. When I returned in the evening I was glad to see my mother looking quite pleased. I said, “Did you try that cleanser?” “Yes, I did.” “How did it act?” “Act! Why, Tom, there’s not a stain left and I never saw your linen look so white, it is as white as the driven snow.”1 [Note: Thomas Calder.]
Were the sad tablets of our hearts alone
A dreary blank, for Thee the task were slight,
To draw fair letters there and lines of light:
But while far other spectacle is shown
By them, with dismal traceries overdrawn,
Oh! task it seems, transcending highest might,
Ever again to make them clean and white,
Effacing the sad secrets they have known.
And then what heaven were better than a name,
If there must haunt and cling unto us there
Abiding memories of sin and shame?
Dread doubt! which finds no answer anywhere
Except in Him, who with Him power did bring
To make us feel our sin an alien thing.1 [Note: R. C. Trench, Poems, 143.]
Fellowship in the Light
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