Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HERE IS AN OBJECT EMINENTLY WORTHY OF AN APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST. "That ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." St. John sought to lead his readers into:
1. Participation in the highest fellowship. "That ye also may have fellowship with us," etc. (verse 3). The word "fellowship," or "communion," signifies "the common possession of anything by various Persons." By the "with us" we understand the apostles and others, who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ. And St. John's aim was that his readers should participate in the truth and trust, the life and love, which the older generation of Christian disciples already possessed; that they should share in his own highest and holiest experiences. And it was not into an exalted human communion merely that the apostle endeavoured to lead his readers. "And truly" he says, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." In infinite condescension, the heavenly Father and the Divine Son admit Christian believers into vital and intimate communion with themselves. This fellowship is a thing of character and of life. They who share in it are "begotten of God;" they have "become partakers of the Divine nature; and they realize with joy the Divine presence. The apostle sought to lead his readers into:
2. Realization of perfect joy. "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." Hitherto the joy of those to whom St. John wrote had not been full; for their acquaintance with Christian truth had been imperfect and partial. By the fuller disclosures of that truth he hopes that their joy may be fulfilled. How rich and manifold and abundant is the joy of the true Christian! The joy of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation with God, of progress in truth and holiness, of hope of future perfection and glory. Our Lord said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." "Rejoice evermore."
II. HERE ARE MEANS EMINENTLY ADAPTED TO ACCOMPLISH THIS OBJECT. St. John endeavoured to attain his aim by declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice:
1. The title applied to him. "The Word of life." Each term of this title demands consideration.
(1) The Word - the Logos (cf. John 1:1). "The term Logos," says Canon Liddon, "denotes at the very least something intimately and everlastingly present with God, something as internal to the Being of God as thought is to the soul of man. In truth, the Divine Logos is God reflected in his own eternal thought. In the Logos God is his own object. This infinite thought, the reflection and counterpart of God, subsisting in God as a Being or hypostasis, and having a tendency to self-communication, - such is the Logos. The Logos is the thought of God, not intermittent and precarious like human thought, but subsisting with the intensity of a personal form. The expression suggests the further inference that, since reason is man's noblest faculty, the uncreated Logos must be at least equal with God .... The Logos necessarily suggests to our minds the further idea of communicativeness. The Logos is speech as well as thought."
(2) The life which is predicated of the Word. "The Word of life." We cannot define this life. Its essential nature is hidden from us. But life in an extraordinary sense and degree is attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Twice he himself said, "I am the Life." And St. John says, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." "As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself." He is the Giver of life to others. "All things were made by him," etc. "I came," said he, "that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly." "As the Father raiseth the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son also quickeneth whom he will." He has life in himself, and he is the great Bestower of all life to others. And his life is eternal. It "was from the beginning." He existed before creation, and before time, and his existence is independent of time. "We declare unto you that eternal life." He is ever-living and unchangeable.
2. His intimate communion with God the Father. "That eternal life which was with the Father" (cf. John 1:1). "The Word was with God." "He was not merely: παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, 'along with God,' but πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. This last preposition expresses," says Canon Liddon, "beyond the fact of coexistence or immanence, the more significant fact of perpetuated intercommunion. The face of the everlasting Word, if we may dare so to express ourselves, was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father." Or, as Ebrard expresses it, the life "was towards the father.... A life which did indeed flow forth from the bosom of the Father, but which did at once return back into the bosom of the Father in the ceaseless flow of the inmost being of God."
3. His manifestation to men. "And the life was manifested, and we have seen," etc. "The Word" also suggests the idea of revelation or communication; for the Logos is not only reason, but discourse; not only thought, but the expression of thought. The life was manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ - in his words and works and life amongst men. It was exhibited gloriously in his splendid triumph over death by his resurrection. "It was not possible that he should be holden of it." "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us," etc. We have said that these means - the declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ - were eminently adapted to lead men into participation in the highest fellowship and realization of perfect joy. The statement is capable of ample proof.
(1) A right relation to God is essential to fellowship with him and to true joy. For us, who have sinned against him, reconciliation to him and trust in him must become facts before we can have any communion with him.
(2) A true knowledge of God is essential to right relation to him. If we regard him as a stern Lawgiver, offended, resentful, implacable, we cannot even approach unto him. And the guilty conscience is prone to entertain such views of him.
(3) The true knowledge of God is attainable through Jesus Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." In Jesus Christ, God is revealed unto us as "a just God and a Saviour," as mighty and merciful, as faithful and forgiving, as infinitely holy and gracious and full of compassion. Such a revelation of God is attractive; it is fitted to melt the heart into penitence, to awaken its confidence in him, and to draw it to him in the fellowship of life and light.
III. HERE IS AN AGENT EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO USE THESE MEANS. The apostle was qualified by various and competent knowledge of him concerning whom he wrote.
1. He had heard his voice. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard." St. John and his fellow-apostles had heard his words on very many occasions both in public discourse and in private conversation.
2. He had seen his human form and his mighty works. "That which we have seen with our eyes The Life was manifested, and we have seen it." There is, perhaps, a special reference to his having seen hint accomplish his great and beneficent miracles. But the apostles had seen their Master in various circumstances and conditions. They had seen him in his majesty and might quelling the tempest and raising the dead to life; and they had seen him exhausted and weary. They had seen him bleeding and dying on the cross; and they had seen him after he had risen again from the dead. John and two others had seen him bowed in anguish in Gethsemane; and they had seen him radiant in glory on Hermon.
3. He had intently contemplated him. "That which we looked upon," or beheld. This looking upon him is more internal and continuous than the having seen hint with their eyes. With the most intense and affectionate and reverent interest the apostle contemplated him.
4. He had handled his sacred body. The hands of John and the other apostles must frequently have touched the body of their Divine Master. But there is, perhaps, special reference to the touching of him after his resurrection: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me," etc. (Luke 24:39). "He saith to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands," etc. (John 20:27). Thus we see how eminently qualified St. John was to testify concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. How conclusive is the testimony which he bears! And how fitted is such an agent with such means to introduce men into the blessed fellowship and the perfect joy! Have we entered into this high fellowship? Do we realize this sacred and perfect joy? Let those who are strangers to these hallowed nod blessed experiences seek them through Jesus Christ. - W.J.
I. SUBJECT OF APOSTOLIC PROCLAMATION.
1. What is thrown into prominence.
(1) The absolute concerning the Word of life. "That which was from the beginning." By this form of expression we are taken back to a point which has existence only in thought, and from that point we are called to look forward. "That which was from the beginning," or, strictly, "that which is timeless," concerning the Word of life, viz. his Divine Personality and attributes, was included in the proclamation. It is put first as the grand background of the Incarnation. The Incarnate One must be thought of as having timelessness and all that belongs to timelessness.
(2) The historical concerning the Word of life. "That which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled." John uses the plural number, as writing in the name of the apostles, of whom he was the sole survivor. There could also be predicated of Christ that he was the Object of sensuous perception. This was not from the beginning, but in time. We thus come upon the historical existence of Christ. "That which we have heard." In accordance with the context, we are to think only of what they had heard from the lips of Christ. They had been so near him as actually to hear him speaking. They had heard him when he spoke the sermon on the mount, when he taught them to pray, when he bade the sea be still, when he uttered the seven voices on the cross, when he saluted them after his resurrection, when he blessed them in parting from them. "Have heard." That which they had heard - the words and tone of voice - was their permanent possession; and it is the permanent possession of the Church still in substance, though not now associated with impressions through the sense of hearing. "That which we have seen with our eyes." Some had only come into contact with those who had seen Christ: they had seen him with their own eyes. They had seen him when he was teaching, when he was walking on the sea, when he was transfigured, when he was hanging on the cross, when he was risen, when he was going up into heaven. "Have seen." The impressions received through the sense of sight remained with them, instead of which we have only the descriptions of the evangelists. "That which we beheld." By a change of verb we are referred to seeing with an intention, and by a change of tense we are referred to separate acts. On occasion after occasion they looked purposely, and satisfied themselves that he was indeed bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. "And our hands handled." This is joined closely in the same tense to what goes before. They had the solid evidence of handling on which to proceed. They not only touched, but touched with an intention. They must often have felt the touch of his hand; and we can think of them looking forward to an opportunity, and satisfying themselves, in the actual contact, that he was indeed their own flesh. There was one remarkable occasion after his resurrection; when he stood suddenly in the midst of them, they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they beheld a spirit; and he asked them to go beyond beholding. "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having." And apparently they were each favoured with the convincing evidence of handling him.
(3) The designation of Christ as the Word of life. "Concerning the Word of life." In the introduction to his Gospel John calls Christ" the Word." The natural interpretation is that he is the Word in relation to God, as essentially manifesting God. Instead of God here we have Life, which therefore is to be taken as a designation of God. Created life has only a partial significance; life in its absolute significance is only to be found in God. The chief elements of life are consciousness, activity, gladness; in the Word, God sees brought out the infinite richness of his own conscious, active, glad life.
2. Parenthetical statement.
(1) Designation of Christ as the Life. "And the Life." In the former designation God is thought of as the Life; now Christ, as essentially manifesting God in the particular aspect, is designated the Life (John 1:4).
(2) Another manifestation which is connected with the evidence of sight. "Was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness." As the Word, Christ was manifested to God; but here we come upon another manifestation. The reference is to the Incarnation, or his becoming flesh (as it is expressed in John 1:14). As the Word, he was hidden from men; as the Incarnate, he was manifested to men, specially to the apostles. He came within the sphere of their vision, and they were put in the position of eye-witnesses to the Life as manifested.
(3) The second manifestation not announced out of connection with the first. "And declare unto you the Life, the eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." They realized the importance of making public the manifestation of the Life to them, but, at the same time, what he was before being manifested to them. He was eternal; while entering into time, in the life which essentially belonged to him, he was timeless. He was also with the Father - a Companion, as it were, in whom the fatherly love found its object. This was the blessed concealment out of which he came. It is only when the Incarnation is thus connected that its graciousness appears. He who manifested the fullness of the Divine life was manifested in a form level to sense. He who was manifested eternally was manifested in time. He who was manifested with the Father was manifested in the midst of uncongenial society.
3. Former statement, which was left incomplete, resumed. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also." We are not told who the recipients of this Epistle were. They were not all Christians, for, having declared their message to others, they declared it to them also. Their message was based on facts for which they had the evidence of sight and hearing. In accordance with what has been said, they presented those facts with their proper setting, viz. as facts in time concerning him who was before all time. They also presented them with their proper interpretation, viz. as showing the Divine desire for human salvation. This gave a great simplicity and power to their preaching: they had a few facts to tell, which they themselves could attest. Christ is not now in the world, so that we can have faith founded on the testimony of our own senses of sight and hearing; but we can have faith founded on apostolic testimony. We owe a debt of gratitude to the apostles that they were as careful witnesses, looking purposely and handling purposely, and that they took such pains to make their testimony known; and we owe a debt of gratitude to the great Head of the Church, who made use of them for the eliciting and establishing of our faith.
II. AIM OF THE APOSTOLIC PROCLAMATION AND OF THIS EPISTLE.
1. Aim of the apostolic proclamation.
(1) Fellowship with apostles. "That ye also may have fellowship with us." Fellowship depends, to a great extent, on a common range of experience. There were saving experiences which the apostles enjoyed, in connection with which many had fellowship with them; they wished these, too, to have fellowship with them in connection with the same experiences. Therefore they preached the Incarnation to them, for that was the condition of those experiences being enjoyed.
(2) Fellowship with God. "Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Of far more importance than having fellowship, even with apostles, is having fellowship with God. This is the principal end for which we are associated. We have fellowship with the Father. In his fatherly love he enters into all our experiences, and we have to enter into his loving thoughts and purposes and to share in his peace and joy. We have fellowship with the Father, as identified with his Son Jesus Christ - him whom he sent forth on the errand of human salvation. From his human experiences, even of death, the Son can enter into all our experiences; and we are to be encouraged to enter into sympathy with him in the whole extent of his saving work. The apostles proclaimed the Incarnation, that, within the Christian circle, this elevating fellowship might be promoted.
2. Aim of this Epistle. "And those things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled." It is implied that his letter was in keeping with the apostolic proclamation. In the joy of the experiences connected with the Incarnation there was one element of pain. It was the feeling that man did not share, or did not share more fully, in the joy of these experiences. He sought relief from this pain in writing. He had some joy in his readers experiencing the joy of the Incarnation; he wished to have his joy completed in the completion of their joy. This was the apostle's feeling, which, as the last of the apostles, he was conserving in the name of all. - R.F.
1. That the Christian minister has received message from the Lord Jesus Christ. He spoke to his apostles and to many others. He revealed unto them God the Father, and the great truths concerning human redemption. He still speaks to us through the sacred Scriptures.
2. That the Christian minister should announce this message to others. It is his duty not to preach the theories of men, but the truth of God, and especially the truth revealed by Jesus Christ. There has been too much preaching of our ecclesiastical and theological-isms instead of the great and gracious truths of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour. In our text St. John briefly announces the great message which he had received from his Divine Master: "that God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all." Light is frequently associated with the Divine Being in the Bible. It is his vesture. "Thou coverest thyself with light as with a garment" (Psalm 104:2). It abides with him. "The light dwelleth with him" (Daniel 2:22). He abides in it. "Dwelling in light unapproachable." It accompanies his manifestations. "His brightness was as the light" (Habakkuk 3:4). He is the great Source of all illuminations. "The Father of lights" (James 1:17). He calls his people to dwell and to walk in light. "Who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9); "Ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). Our Lord claimed to be "the Light of the world" (John 8:12). His "life was the light of men" (John 1:4). But in our text light is said to be the essence of the Divine Being. "God is Light." Of all material things light is most fitted to set forth truth and holy spiritual being. "It unites in itself," as Alford says, "purity, and clearness, and beauty, and glory, as no other material object does." And Milton, "Light ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure." The emblem suggests -
I. THE INFINITE INTELLIGENCE OF GOD. He is the Omniscient. "No intellectual ignorance can darken his all-embracing survey of actual and possible fact." "Unto him all hearts are open, all desires known, and from him no secrets are hid." "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising," etc. (Psalm 139:1-6); "He telleth the number of the stars," etc. (Psalm 147:4, 5); "He knoweth the secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44:21); "God knoweth all things" (1 John 3:20); "I know thy works," etc. (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; Revelation 3:1, 8, 15). Every sparrow is known unto him (Luke 12:6, 7). Let us endeavour to personally realize this great and solemn truth: God knows me always and thoroughly.
II. THE ENLIGHTENING INFLUENCE OF GOD. He created the light of the material universe. "God said, Let there be light: and there was light." He is the great Fountain of all intellectual and moral light. He inspired Bezaleel to devise and execute skillful handiwork (Exodus 31:1-5). The scientist, the metaphysician, the statesman, the poet, the artist, each and all derive their light from him. He communicates religious truth to man. He inspired, and still inspires, the great religious thinkers, and the far and clear-sighted spiritual seers of our race. By his Son Jesus Christ he "lighteth every man" (John 1:9).
III. THE LIFE-GIVING AND INVIGORATING INFLUENCE WHICH GOD EXERTS. Light cannot create life; but it quickens, develops, and strengthens it. "Physical light," says Ebrard, "appears to be the producing, forming, quickening principle of all organization, in its essence self-communicative, and the stimulating principle of all physical organic functions of life." Light is essential to every kind of life with which we are acquainted. Without it our world would speedily become one vast, dreary, dread abode of the dead. Great forces also of various kinds are produced from light. As George Stephenson pointed out, it is light which propels so swiftly our long and heavy railway trains. "It is light bottled up in the earth for tens of thousands of years, light absorbed by plants and vegetables being necessary for the condensation of carbon during the process of their growth, if it be not carbon in another form; and now, after being buried in the earth for long ages in fields of coal, that latent might is again brought forth and liberated - made to work, as in that locomotive, for great human purposes." God is the great Author of all life and of all force. He created the physical universe, and he sustains it. The forces of nature are expressions of his awful or beautiful might. Evolution is a mode of Divine operation. And the life and strength of souls he inspires and renews. He inspires the soul with life. "You being dead in your sins hath he quickened" (Colossians 2:13). The true Christian "is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8); he "is born of God" (1 John 3:9). And God imparts and renews strength to his people. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," etc. (Isaiah 40:29-31).
IV. THE EXISTENCE OF GOD AS A TRINITY IN UNITY. This is at least suggested by speaking of him as Light. In two ways does light suggest the triunity of God. "The researches of Young and Helmholtz," says Mr. Sugden, "have proved beyond the possibility of doubt that the three primary colours are red, green, and violet, and that by various combinations of these three all the colours with which we are acquainted are produced; whilst the combination of all three in equal proportions gives white light, apparently one simple and homogeneous sensation, but in reality a compound of three. Have we not here a most striking illustration, if not more than an illustration, of the Christian truth about the nature of God, which teaches us that he is a Trinity in unity - three Persons, and one God?... As Luthardt well says, 'God has, in the history of salvation, revealed himself in a triune manner - as Father, Son, and Spirit; and we, in that work of appropriating salvation, through which we become Christians, have experience of God according to this distinction, viz. as him to whom we are reconciled, and as the Spirit who has inwardly appropriated to us the grace of reconciliation, and made it the power of a new life to us. Thus do we become certain that there are distinctions in the Godhead, that God is the triune God.'" Light suggests the same truth in another way. It is thus stated by Professor Lias: "When we reflect on the threefold nature of light, its enlightening, its warming, its chemical powers, we are reminded of the Holy Trinity - the unapproachable Light himself; his eternal Revealer, bringing light to earth, and quickening by his genial warmth the frozen hearts of men; and the eternal Spirit, dwelling in their hearts, and slowly bringing his healing influences to bear upon their diseased souls."
V. THE PERFECT HOLINESS OF GOD. Light is pure and purifying. It visits scenes of corruption and decay, and exercises a cleansing and healing influence there, and pursues its glorious course without having contracted any taint, still absolutely pure. Fit emblem of the infinite holiness of the great God. "No stain can soil his robe of awful sanctity." He is preeminently "the Holy One." "Thou only art holy." The highest intelligences ceaselessly praise him, crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." "His name is holy, and he dwells in the high and holy place." His holiness is the glory of his Being. He is "glorious in holiness." As if to set forth the entire purity and perfection of the Divine nature considered as light, St. John says, "And in him is no darkness at all." No kind of darkness whatsoever has any place in him. "Neither ignorance, nor error, nor sin, nor death" is found in him.
1. Let us reverence this great and holy Being.
2. Let us seek his life-giving, enlightening, and invigorating influences. - W.J.
I. NATURE OF GOD, "And this is the message which we have heard from him, and announce unto you, that God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all." Christ's message is supported by the conviction that he has a message to deliver. The apostolic message, which has still to be delivered, was received directly from the lips of Christ. It has particular reference to the nature of God, viz. his being Light, with which we are to associate infinite clearness of truth and infinite purity. He is Light, to the absolute exclusion of darkness, there being in him not the slightest trace of error, not the slightest speck of impurity. The light of the sun is a fit, though only an imperfect, symbol of his truth and purity. Christ may have given the revelation in these words, though they are not to be found in the Gospels. It is implied in his being the Light, while at the same time the Word (John 1:1-9). It was because he manifested the essential light-nature of God that he was Light-bringer to men. We do not have here the good message (language which John nowhere uses), viz. mercy to men, though there may be suggestion of this in the great diffusiveness of light. We have that which mercy presupposes in God and seeks to diffuse among men.
II. THREE FALSE CONDITIONS CONDEMNED, AND THE THREE OPPOSED POSITIONS JUSTIFIED.
1. First false position.
(1) Stated. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in the darkness." The three hypothetical sayings, introduced in the same way ("if we say"), are unchristian. As one who would be warned as well as others, John includes himself. Christians, according to the conception in verse 3, are those who say that they have fellowship with God. The position supposed here is saying this while we walk in the darkness, i.e., while we habitually move in this element - while we keep our life away from true and pure influences, loving error and impurity.
(2) Condemned. "We lie, and do not the truth." Our lie is saying that we have fellowship with God. Our doing not the truth evidences our lie. We make our life a contradiction of the nature of God, which is light, and thus necessarily unfit ourselves for fellowship with God; for what concord hath light with darkness? It cannot be held that we can be indifferent to our manner of life and yet maintain friendship with God.
2. First opposed position.
(1) Stated. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light." This is the Christian supposition opposed to the other. As one who would be confirmed, John includes himself. Let us also include ourselves. Light is the Divine clement; let it also be ours. God is in the light, i.e., has absolute fixedness in it. We are to walk in the light, i.e., to throw our life open to all true and pure influences, thus moving forward toward his fixedness.
(2) Justified. One good consequent. "We have fellowship one with another." This results from our walking in the light. Having a common clement for our life, and therefore common sympathies and antipathies, the foundation is laid for our having fellowship one with another. This, according to the Johannine teaching, is closely related to our having fellowship with God. But how are we to be fitted for this higher fellowship? The answer is given in what follows. By walking in the light, we come within the influence of the blood of Christ. Another good consequent. "And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
(a) A present power. The blood of Christ refers to the death of Christ, but is to be distinguished from it in marking it as having present virtue. It is a great living reality of the present. It is mentioned, along with other verities, in the twelfth of Hebrews: "Ye are come... to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
(b) A human-Divine power. It is the blood of Jesus, and therefore human blood; but it is also the blood of God's Son, and therefore blood of infinite virtue.
(c) A cleansing power. It is blood that cleanses, because it was shed in satisfaction for sin. The cleansing is with a view to our having fellowship with God. There was constant instruction in this truth under the Jewish dispensation. The cleansing, in accordance with verse 9, is to be referred to sanctification. Even after we have been cleansed from guilt, we need to be cleansed from impure thoughts and desires, in order that we may be fitted for fellowship with him who is Light. Our whole dependence for sanctification must be on the efficacy of the blood, along with the agency of the Spirit.
(d) A universal power. It is blood that cleanses from all sin. The light-nature of God is constantly revealing the presence of sinful elements in our nature. We have the remedy in the blood of Christ, which will gradually remove all sinful elements, until, thoroughly purified, we are as fitted as creatures can be for holding converse with him who is a consuming fire to all sin.
3. Second false position.
(1) Stated. "If we say that we have no sin." This goes back on the previous thought, viz. the cleansing away of the remaining impurity, until we are completely fitted for fellowship with God. What if this is unnecessary? if our sanctification is already completed? This is the supposition which is now made.
(2) Condemned. "We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is too violent a supposition to be entertained in ignorance. It can only be entertained where there has been a considerable amount of self-activity in the way of presenting to the mind deceitful appearances - sophisms, such as the Gnostic idea of superior enlightenment. While there is the activity of self-deception, there is not the activity of the truth. If it were active in us, it would show us that there was much remaining evil to be overcome.
4. Second opposed position.
(1) Stated. "If we confess our sins." The precise converse would have been saying that we have sin. There is a going beyond that to the practice of the Christian duty of confession, which is literally," a saying along with," i.e., along with God. It is a duty which cannot be performed unless with feelings of penitence, arising from a proper view of what we are and have done. What we are to confess is not merely that we have sin, i.e., have the taint still in us, are not completely sanctified; but we are to confess particular manifestations of sin. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil." David had his sin brought home to him very pointedly, "Thou art the man!" and he did not then hide it, but confessed, "I have sinned against the Lord." "It is much easier to make pious speeches to the effect that we are sinners in a general way, and expressive of general deep contrition, and of the misery engendered by sin, than to acknowledge the particular wrong we have done, and to endeavour as far as possible to repair it. Many who are ready enough to admit generally that they are sinners would be the first hotly to repel a charge of sinfulness on any one special point, so deep is the self-deception of the human heart, which is often furthest from God when the lips are busiest in honouring him." Let our confessions have the particularity which is here suggested. Let them be founded on self-knowledge, and on self-knowledge in particular manifestations. The sorrow that prompts to confession cannot be all that it should be unless we clearly realize wherein we have violated the spirit of the Divine precepts and especially of the gospel.
(2) Justified. "He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When particular sins are in question, there is brought in the blessing of forgiveness as well as of cleansing. God has pledged his word to forgive us our sins: "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." He has also pledged his word to advance our sanctification: "I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." This Scripture itself is a distinct promise. If, then, we walk in the light, and fulfill the specific condition, viz. confess our sins, we may with the utmost confidence look to God to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness of disposition which would lead to the commission of sin. He not only holds himself bound by his promise, but the promise is thoroughly in accordance with his nature. In view of what he has done in redemption, he regards it as not only a gracious thing, but even a righteous thing, to attach the double blessing to confession of our sins. Doing, then, what he commands, we can appeal to him, even as righteous, to bless us.
5. Third false position.
(1) Stated. "If we say that we have not sinned." This is a very large assumption, even if we do not take into account our pre-Christian state: "We have never committed sin since we entered into union with Christ. It is going beyond the previous assumption, inasmuch as this involves complete sanctification from the beginning. This, then, is the most thorough-going perfectionism. Thus perfect, we may say with Christ, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" But what is said about the assumption?
(2) Condemned. "We make him a liar, and his Word is not in us." The wildest assumption receives the severest condemnation. The blood of Christ is for our continual cleansing. God is therefore dealing with us on the supposition of our partial sanctification. To claim complete sanctification is to make him a liar, i.e., to contradict this supposition. It can be said, further, that his Word is not in us, i.e., is not evidenced in our consciousness in what it says about our state. We do not need to go beyond the petition which Christ put into the mouth of disciples, "Forgive us our sins." It is the height of presumption to imagine that we can here outgrow the Lord's Prayer. - R.F.
I. THE CONDITION OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. St. John states this condition both negatively and positively.
1. Negatively. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.
(1) There may be a profession of fellowship with God, while the practice is utterly opposed to his character and will. We have spoken of this fellowship in our treatment of the third verse. To "walk" is an expression frequently used in the sacred Scriptures to indicate the entire life, with special reference to its outward aspects. To "walk in darkness" is to live in the practice of sin. In St. John's time there were persons who claimed to have communion with the Light, but walked in the darkness. The Gnostics professedly devoted their souls to the pursuit of the highest knowledge, and yet were guilty of the vilest sins with their bodies, alleging "that the flesh was so corrupt that no filthiness of life could affect it."
(2) That such profession, joined with such practice, is a twofold lie. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in the darkness, we lie." Here is the lie of the lip. The profession is untrue. "And do not the truth." Here is the lie of the life. The practice is opposed to truth. Truth is not only to be spoken, but acted. Life should be brought into harmony with the eternal verities. The truth acknowledged in the creed should be expressed in the conduct. But in this case supposed truth is neither spoken nor acted.
2. Positively. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." "This walking in the light, as he is in the light," says Alford, "is no mere imitation of God, but is an identity in the essential element of our daily walk with the essential element of God's eternal Being; not imitation, but coincidence and identity of the very atmosphere of life." "The light" denotes "the sphere of the manifestation of the good and the God-like." The words of St. Paul, in Ephesians 5:8, 9, considerably elucidate this verse: "Ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)." As Meyer says, the "whole of Christian morality is here presented under its three great aspects - the good, the right, the true." If we would express the meaning of the apostle's phrase, "walking in the light," in a single word, "holiness" is the word best suited to that purpose. We discover three ideas in this expression of St. John.
(1) Life in sympathy with holiness. The heart beating in harmony with the light.
(2) Life in the practice of holiness. The inward principle expressed in the outward conduct. The light of the heart shining in the life.
(3) Life progressing in holiness. He who walks is not stationary, but advancing. The godly soul "follows on to know the Lord;" "presses on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This, then, is the condition of fellowship with God - walking in the light; holiness of heart and of life.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD.
1. Fellowship with the saints. "We have fellowship one with another." The reality of our communion with God is attested by our communion of love with those who are his. Walking in the sphere of truth, righteousness, and love, we have fellowship with all those who walk in the same sphere. All who walk in the light are one in their deepest sympathies, in their most steadfast principles, in their most important aims, and in their highest aspirations; they are one in character, in service, and in destiny. Hence their communion with each other is genuine, vital, and blessed.
2. Sanctification through the Saviour. "And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This implies that even they who walk in the light need cleansing from sin. "The requirement that we walk in the light, is confronted by the fact that in us there still is sin and darkness." Notice:
(1) The power by which we are cleansed. "The blood of Jesus his Son." Not the material blood of Jesus, but his blood in its moral significance and strength. "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11); "The blood is the life" (Deuteronomy 12:23). The blood of Jesus denotes the sacrifice of the life of Jesus for us. The power of that sacrifice is chiefly the power of holy and purifying love. It is the fullest and mightiest expression of the infinite love of God the Father toward us, who "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all;" and of the infinite love of Jesus his Son toward us in his voluntary self-sacrifice. "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works." Holy love received into the heart, by its own essential nature, is cleansing in its influence. In proportion as the love of God in the death of Jesus Christ is heartily believed, will sin be hated and holiness loved and cultivated.
(2) The progressiveness of this cleansing. "The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us." The apostle uses the present tense. He does not write "cleansed," or "hath cleansed," but "is cleansing us." The cleansing is not accomplished at once and for ever. It is a continual process. The precious blood of Christ exerts its purifying and sanctifying influence until the heart and the life are thoroughly cleansed from all sin.
(3) The thoroughness of this cleansing. "Cleanseth us from all sin." No sin-stains are so deep as to defy its power. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow," etc. (Isaiah 1:18; cf. Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 9:13, 14). Let our earnest endeavour be to walk in the light, and to trust in the great and gracious Saviour. - W.J.
deceive ourselves, etc. It is implied that man is a sinner, that even Christian men "have sin." The renewed nature is not, in our present condition, an altogether sinless nature. The saintly apostle includes himself in the "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves," etc. But this is not the same moral condition as "walking in the darkness" (verse 6). In that condition the man "is in the darkness;" in this, the sin is in the man. In that, darkness is the moral region in which the sinner lives and moves and has his being; in this, he lives and walks in the light, but is not altogether free from sin. Our text sets before us two contrasted attitudes of men towards their own sins.
I. THE DENIAL OF PERSONAL SINS. "If we say that we have no sin," etc. (verse 8). "If we say that we have not sinned," etc. (verse 10). Notice:
1. This denial itself. It may be made variously.
(1) By affirming that we are flee from sin. There may be persons whose view of the exalted claims of God's holy law is so deficient, and whose estimate of their own character and conduct is so exaggerated, that they think and assert that they have no sin.
(2) By pleading the merit of certain good actions as a set-off against our sins. In this case certain small and venial sins are acknowledged, but very many virtuous and generous deeds are claimed, and great merit is ascribed to them, and they are held to far more than counterbalance the slight offences. Or, like the Pharisee (Luke 18:11, 12), a man may conclude that he has no sin by comparing himself and his good works with others whom he deems very much his inferiors.
(3) By extenuating the character of sin. There are not a few who virtually deny the fact of sin altogether. What the Bible calls sin they speak of as misdirection, imperfect development, inherited tendencies to errors of life; and thus they seek to get rid of personal guilt.
2. The consequences of this denial.
(1) The self-deception of the denier. "He deceiveth himself." By closing his eyes to the light of truth and holiness, he is wandering into moral error, falsehood, and danger. He sins against his own soul.
(2) The manifestation of the solemn fact that the truth of God is not in him. Saying that he has no sin, he testifies that neither the truth of the perfect holiness of God, nor that of the sinfulness of man, is realized by him.
(3) The negation of the Divine veracity. "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar." God has repeatedly declared that all men are sinners (Romans 3:10-18). All the provisions and arrangements for man's redemption imply that he is a sinner and spiritually lost. But if any man has not sinned, these declarations are untrue, and redemption itself is based upon falsehood. How dreadful a thing it is to "make him a liar"!
(4) The manifestation of the fact that the Word of God is not in him. By "his Word" (verse 10) we do not understand the eternal and personal Word (as in verse 1), but, as Ebrard says, "the collective revelation of God, not merely that which is contained in the written words of the Old and New Testaments, but the entire self-annunciation of the nature of God, who is Light." The whole revelation of the mind and will of God teaches that man is a sinner; he who says that he has not sinned contradicts that revelation, and in so doing shows that the spirit of that revelation is not in him.
II. THE CONFESSION OF PERSONAL SINS. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1. The confession itself. The confession, to be valid, must be sincere; it must be the expression of penitence. The apostle means more than a vague, general confession of sin. It is to be feared that many join in the "general confession" in church every Sunday without any true realization of their personal guiltiness, and whose confession, consequently, cannot be acceptable unto God. Our confession must be personal and particular; it must spring from the heart, and its sincerity must be evinced in the life. Confession must be made to God. In our text there is no suggestion whatever of confession to a priest. Confession to man is binding only when we have injured man, and then the confession should be made to the injured person or persons. But the confession and forgiveness of which our text speaks are things which transpire between the penitent soul and the pardoning God.
2. The consequences of this confession.
(1) Forgiveness of our sins. As a consequence of genuine personal confession of sins, God exempts us from their spiritual penalties, sets us free from their guilt, and delivers us from condemnation. How completely and graciously God forgives (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 55:6, 7; Micah 7:10; Luke 15:20-24)!
(2) Cleansing from our sins. "And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Purification is promised as well as pardon; sanctification as well as justification. Of this sanctification we have already spoken (verse 7).
(3) The guarantee of these blessings. "He is faithful and just [Revised Version, 'righteous'] to forgive us our sins," etc. The character of God is a pledge that the penitent shall receive pardon and purification. He has promised these blessings; he is faithful, and will fulfill his promises. He is faithful, not only to his promises, but to his own holy nature. "God is Light," and he is true to himself in forgiving and sanctifying those who sincerely confess their sins. It seems to us that his righteousness here does not mean that, Christ having borne our sins and satisfied Divine justice, the forgiveness of all who believe on him is due to him or to them in him. That may be taught elsewhere, but we cannot discover it here. The justice or righteousness is that of the character of God; and pardon and purification from sin are bestowed in harmony with his righteousness. It may be, as Alford observes, that "in the background lie all the details of redemption, but they are not here in this verse: only the simple fact of God's justice is adduced." "Justice and mercy are forms of love. The same is true of righteousness, or right - this requires both justice and mercy; for no being can ever think himself righteous who does not exercise mercy where mercy is possible - 'faithful and just' (righteous), says an apostle, 'to forgive us our sins.' God will be just, retributively, because he is righteous. He will also be merciful and forgiving because he is righteous." Our subject presents the strongest reasons to dissuade us from attempting to cloak or deny our sins, and the strongest encouragement to humbly and heartily confess them unto God. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." - W.J.