My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:1 John 2:1I. Admit the fact that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself," and then we can at once understand why when His ministry commenced the heavens were opened and the powers of hell disturbed. Admit that, when the Lord Jesus was going about doing good upon earth, the fulness of the Godhead was dwelling in Him bodily, and we can at once appreciate His assumption of all the moral and potential attributes of the Deity. Admit that the Lord Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us, God manifest in the flesh, and instead of being surprised that, when He humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, the sun should be darkened, and the rocks be rent, and the earth shaken, we shall rather marvel that all nature did not crumble into nothingness.
II. But yet further, if God were indeed incarnate when the Lord Jesus was born, we can understand why all nature was moved; but still we have only partially investigated the subject. How improbable is it that God should become incarnate only to do what mere man might accomplish: only to act as a Teacher, as a Preacher of the resurrection of the dead. No, He came to counteract and remedy the injury inflicted by the malignant powers of darkness; He came to bruise the serpent's heel; He came as a Deliverer. As such He was foreshadowed in the sacrificial rites, as such foretold by the prophets.
III. Here, then, was an object worthy of His coming, worthy of the coming of Him who is the Second Person of the blessed Godhead, whose most glorious attribute is love. He came with the intent that now, not merely to this world and its inhabitants, but unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, might be made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God; He came that by His death we might be reconciled to God and have redemption through His blood; He came to shed His blood for the remission of sins.
W. F. Hook, Sermons on Various Subjects, p. 307.
1 John 2:1I. Let that be your aim: to "sin not." Let it be deliberately set before you as your fixed and settled purpose that you are not to sin, not merely that you are to sin as little as you can, but that you are not to sin at all.
II. But not only would I have you to make this your aim: I would have your aim accomplished and realised. And therefore I write these things unto you, that ye sin not. We must assume it to be possible not to sin when we walk in the open fellowship of God. We are brought into a position in relation to God in which holiness is no longer a desperate negative strife, but a blessed positive achievement.
III. Why, then, it may be asked, is provision made for our sinning still after all? "If any man"—any of us—"sin, we have an Advocate with the Father." Thus our Lord Jesus Christ cheers us on; He assures us that He is near us if we should stumble. There is the Intercessor ever pleading for us: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father."
R. S. Candlish, Lectures on First John, p. 67.
References: 1 John 2:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 515; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 280; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 340; Homilist, 1st series, vol. i., p. 407.
1 John 2:1-2Christ our Righteousness.
This short, pregnant passage stands in one of the inner sanctuaries of the Bible. This first epistle of St. John is very possibly the latest page of Scripture in date. Assuredly in it the Holy Spirit takes the reader into the last recesses of spiritual life and experience; He leads him into the most penetrating and searching views of holiness, and obedience, and love. A tone and air of serene yet awful purity, at once most spiritual and most importunately practical, characterises the pages. The Christian contemplated in this letter is a man of God indeed; he has fellowship with the Father and the Son.
I. All the more remarkable it is, then, that in such a passage comes the language of the text. For one thing, we are here warned that the heights and depths of grace leave the liability to actual sinning there still. This blessed believer, this privileged and transfigured man, may very conceivably sin, so says St. John. "He is the propitiation for our sins." Here are the basis of the advocacy; the strength of the plea; the reason of the sinning believer's non-exclusion. The pacification of offended holiness, the reconcilement of the Father-Judge in His awful consciousness and cognisance of His regenerate child's slightest sin, lies altogether here, not in effusion of love, but in propitiation, not in presence of spiritual life, but in propitiation.
II. From the text we see the union of Christ and His people, the union of Christ and the believing soul. Our Advocate, our propitiation, is also our Elder Brother, our celestial Bridegroom, our vital root, our living and life-giving Head. In Him we "possess His possessions" won for us. Amongst them we possess His dear-bought merit, good for us from first to last of our need. That merit is lodged evermore in Him, and we are one with Him.
H. C. G. Moule, Christ is All, p. 3.
I. The nature of the office which Christ as our Advocate sustains. (1) It would seem to be necessary for various reasons that there should be this Mediator between God and man. The pagan people, in the absence of revelation, invested their departed heroes with intermediate powers, and constituted them in some sort intercessors with the offended gods. In the dim twilight of the shepherd-age, Job speaks as the representative of thousands when he breathes out his complaint, "Neither is there any daysman between us, who can lay his hand upon us both." This want was supplied in the case of the Jews by the sumptuous furniture of their economy. It had been strange if in a more glorious economy, the last and the utmost of the dispensations of God, man had been left to his own vague conceptions of the unseen object of his worship; but God has sent His Son into the world, and all men now may see the fellowship of the mystery. God is in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. (2) This office of advocacy is essential to the completeness of the priestly office. Other priests become infirm with age, sicken in disease, and die; "He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
II. In every point of view or conception, Jesus Christ the righteous is our perfect Advocate, throughly furnished for every good word and work; and it is a matter of difficulty to select those aspects of His qualification which will most warmly commend Him to our regard. We observe—(1) He is a sympathising Advocate; (2) He is a prevalent Advocate; (3) He is a continual Advocate; (4) He is the exclusive Advocate. He was the only Redeemer, and by consequence He is the only Intercessor. "He trod the winepress alone, and of the people there was none" to help Him; and only He is authorised to appear for us in the presence of God. To associate others with Him in the work of advocacy is to cast a reflection either upon His ability or willingness to save.
W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 236.
1 John 2:1-3The True Idea of Man.
I. St. John had a special reason for using this tender phrase, "my little children," in this place. All sin is connected by the Apostle with the loss of fellowship. A man shuts himself up in himself. He denies that he has anything to do with God; he denies that he has anything to do with his brother. That is what he calls walking in darkness. The inclination to walk in darkness, to choose darkness rather than light, is sin. We become aware of this inclination; then arises in our minds a terrible sense of shame for having yielded to it, and for having it so near us. But as soon as we believe that God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all, as soon as we understand that He has manifested His light to us that we may see it and may show it forth—with this sense of shame there comes also the pledge of deliverance. We are not bound by that sin to which we have surrendered ourselves in time past, or which is haunting us now; we are not created to be its servants. We may turn to the light; we may claim our portion in it; we may ask that it may penetrate us. And then, the Apostle says, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, of Him in whom is life eternal, of Him who has taken the flesh and blood of men and has poured out His blood for all—that cleanses us from sin. We renounce our selfish life; we claim His life, which belongs to our brother just as much as to ourselves.
II. "He is the propitiation for our sins." These Jewish offerings, then, were no compensations to an offended Prince; they were indications and expressions of the will of a gracious Ruler; they were acts of submission on the part of the Israelite to that Ruler; they were witnesses of a union between Him and them which could not be broken. And there was in that tabernacle in which those sacrifices were offered a mercy-seat, where God declared that He would meet the worshippers. What had become of the sacrifices, and the priests, and the mercy-seat? St. John says Jesus Christ the righteous, our Advocate, is the mercy-seat. In Him God meets us; in Him we may meet God. The Jewish sacrifice, high-priest, and mercy-seat were gone. Was this, then, a Jewish High-priest, sacrifice, mercy-seat? If He were that (and He was that), He must be more. The Lord had taken the nature of man; He had died the death of man. Was He not then a High-priest, a sacrifice, a mercy-seat for man? Could St. John dare to say, He is a mercy-seat for our sins only? Must he not say, He also accomplishes what the Gentiles have been dreaming of in their miserable propitiations? He is the mercy-seat for the whole world; the world is reconciled in Him. All have a right to draw nigh to God as their Father in Him; all have a right to cast away the fetters by which they were bound, seeing that He has triumphed over sin, and death, and the grave, seeing that He is at the right hand of God. Therefore we have a right to say our race, our manhood, is glorified in Him; there is a common Lord of us all. Confessing that common Lord, renouncing, by the strength of this common life, our selfish, divided life, we become men indeed; we obtain the rights, the stature, the freedom, the dignity, of men.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 53.
1 John 2:2I. The Christian world here presents to us opposite extremes of opinion, as well as diversities. If we except, on the one hand, those who put a limitation on the intrinsic value of the Redeemer's sacrifice, who, by a kind of arithmetical process, estimate the worth of atonement by the number of those whom it actually saves, and, on the other hand, those who infer universal salvation as a necessary consequence from the atonement of Jesus Christ, the remaining discrepancies are rather the result of misapprehension than of any opposition of view. The man who looks at the sacrifice of Christ in view of some secret purpose of God and of the actual results which shall flow from it becomes the stern and unflinching advocate of limited atonement, and seems to be directly at war with another who, looking at the intrinsic nature of the sacrifice of Christ and its adaptation to other, and larger, and more general results, becomes the no less stern and unflinching advocate of unlimited atonement.
II. All the laws by which God governs the different systems are general in their character; all His arrangements for our world are made upon general principles. The light of the sun is enough for all; the rains of heaven are enough for all. And if a man does not see the light, the reason is in himself, and not in the sun.
III. We cannot fail to be struck with the character of universality which marks the terms in which the Bible speaks of the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. "Christ gave Himself a ransom for all." I confess I do not understand the Gospel if this is not one of its cardinal doctrines, if the indiscriminate offer of Jesus Christ, and of pardon and eternal life through Him, is not made to the race, and as truly, and honestly, and sincerely made to one individual as to another of the race.
E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 271.
References: 1 John 2:2.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vii., p. 255; R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 313.
1 John 2:3Saving Knowledge.
I. The whole duty and work of a Christian is made up of these two parts: faith and obedience; "looking unto Jesus," the Divine object as well as Author of our faith, and acting according to His will. Not as if a certain frame of mind, certain notions, affections, feelings, and tempers, were not a necessary condition of a saving state; but so it is. The Apostle does not insist as if it were sure to follow if our hearts do but grow into these two chief objects: the view of God in Christ and the diligent aim to obey Him in our conduct. St. John speaks of knowing Christ and of keeping His commandments as the two great departments of religious duty and blessedness. To know Christ is to discern the Father of all as manifested through His only-begotten Son incarnate. Turning from Him to ourselves, we find a short rule given us: "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." This is all that is put upon us, difficult indeed to perform, but easy to understand, all that is put upon us, and for this plain reason: that Christ has done everything else. He has freely chosen us; died for us, regenerated us, and now ever liveth in us; and what remains? Simply that we should do as He has done to us, showing forth His glory by good works.
II. Our duty lies in acts; it does not lie directly in moods or feelings. The office of self-examination lies rather in detecting what is bad in us than in ascertaining what is good. No harm can follow from contemplating our sins, so that we keep Christ before us and attempt to overcome them; such a review of self will but lead to repentance and faith. And while it does this, it will undoubtedly be moulding our hearts into a higher and more heavenly state, but still indirectly, just as the mean is attained in action or art, not by directly contemplating and aiming at it, but negatively, by avoiding extremes.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 151.
The Moral Teaching of St. John.
I. It is conduct about which the Apostle John is anxious, quite as anxious as St. James, although he exhibits far more fully than St. James its dependence on right faith in Christ, as truly Divine, as cleansing and saving us through His blood. It is conduct, as distinct from mere talking or from pleasing suppositions as to one's own goodness, on which the Epistle insists; for St. John is intolerant of shams, as becomes the disciple who was loved by Him who was the Truth. He has been called a mystic; but there is nothing dreamy or indefinite in his teaching about duty: it is very plain-spoken, even sternly direct, uncompromisingly practical. And Christian practice with him is found to circle around the two ideas of light and of truth.
II. This is true whether we consider what concerns our own souls practically or what belongs to our relations to each other. Under the former head—(1) St. John would have us think of Christian conduct as exhibiting the two aspects of obedience and of purity. Take obedience first. He that doeth sin, whose daily life drifts ordinarily into sin, whose life is characterised by wilful sinning, is also thereby doing lawlessness. And purity is but another aspect of the same moral condition. (2) But the same principle will work itself out in love to our brethren. In proportion as we realise Christ's presence and His claims, we appreciate more practically the bonds which unite us to those who are treading the same path, who, with us, have been made His children. We walk in darkness, we are liars, not only when we are impure or disobedient, but also when we are uncharitable.
W. Bright, Morality in Doctrine, p. 39.
References: 1 John 2:3-4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 922; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 292.
1 John 2:3-7Doing and Knowing.
I. St. John assumes that the knowledge of God is as possible, is as real, for human beings as any knowledge they can have of each other. Nay, he goes further than this. There are impediments to our knowledge of each other which he says do not exist with reference to that higher knowledge. We may know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. I sometimes suspect that we give too loose a sense to that word "keep." No doubt it means to "obey." It does not mean more than that; for obedience is very comprehensive, a little too comprehensive for slow and narrow creatures such as we are. The word "keep," if we consider it, may help us to know what obedience is and what it is not. A friend gives me a token to keep for him; he wishes that it should remind me of him, that it should recall days which we have spent together. Perhaps it may be only a flower or a weed that was gathered in a certain place where we were walking or botanising; perhaps it is something precious in itself. If, instead of giving me anything, he enjoins me to do a certain act or not to do a certain act, I may be said as truly to keep that injunction as to keep the flower. To fulfil it is to remember him; it is a token of my fellowship with him, of my relation with him.
II. St. John began with this revelation of God to men in His Son. It was the ground of all his teaching. He had told the Ephesians already that there was that darkness, that covetousness, in them which St. Paul had found in himself, which had caused him so much horror. But he had told them also, as St. Paul had told them, that they were not created to walk in this darkness; that they might walk in the light which Christ had revealed, and have fellowship with it. So now, taking this for granted, he could tell them that these commandments might be kept as the commandments of a God who was at one with them in His Son, and that the more they kept them the more they would know of Him. Many in that time said, "We know God; but what are the commandments, what is common earthly morality, to us?" "I tell you," says St. John broadly and simply, "that if they are nothing to you, God is nothing to you." You may use what fine language you will; you may have what fine speculations you like; but it is in practice, in that daily practice of life, in the struggle with the temptations to cheat and slander, to be unchaste and to be covetous, which beset us all in different ways and forms, it is in revering parents and the name of God, it is in heeding God's rest and God's work, it is in keeping ourselves from idols, it is in worshipping Him as the common Deliverer, that we come to know Him—thus, and only thus.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 69.
References: 1 John 2:5.—R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 217. 1 John 2:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1732. 1 John 2:7-11.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 234.
1 John 2:8A New Commandment.
I. I will try to show you that this commandment is old, and yet new. But we may as well see, first of all, what the commandment is. John does not quite say in the text what it is; but he does tell us elsewhere. He says in another letter, writing to a Christian friend, "The new commandment which is from the beginning is that we love one another." And in the night when Christ was betrayed, as our reading lesson in the New Testament has shown us, Christ said the very same thing: "A new commandment give I unto you: Love one another, as I have loved you." Then that is the commandment that is both old and new: "to love one another." Christ says it, and John says it; so that you are quite sure about it. Now, there is an old story told about John which I think I should tell you here. It was said that when he was very old he was not able to go to church, that he could not walk there, although the distance was not very great, and he used to get them to carry him upon his couch or litter—a little bed which they could move into the place. He was so feeble that he could not even sit up and speak to the people, and he just lifted up his hands when he was lying upon his couch, and said, "Little children, love one another."
II. Now, the commandment, as I have said, is old and new. It is very old. Not only did Christ give it to His disciples from the time He was going away to leave them, from the beginning of the Gospel ages, but He had given it long, long before. For in substance you will find this commandment in the Old Testament. Nay, it is even older than the Old Testament. When God made Adam and Eve and put them into the garden, that is what He said: "Love each other." But whilst this commandment is old, I have now to show you why it might be called new: because there are new circumstances that make it come with a new force and meaning. And I would put it to you in these two ways. In the first place, it is written with a new hand; and, secondly, it is read in a new light. The new hand that writes and the new light that shines make the commandment new. First, it is written by a new hand. The old commandment was written, as you know, by God at Sinai; but it is a real human hand that we get this commandment from now. I do not mean to say that Christ wrote it and gave it to His disciples in a written form. But the command was new because it was read in a new light. Now, speaking generally, the new light in which we read it is Gospel light. That is exactly what John says in this verse. He says, "A new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you" (He is new in giving it, and you are new in getting it), "because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." So that you read this commandment in a new light, because you read it in the light of the Gospel. Reading the commandment in the old light and reading it in the light that falls from Christ's love is like the difference between reading it beside a glimmering lamp and reading it in the summer sunshine, warm, and golden, and strong. When Christ said to His disciples, "Love one another," you remember He put the commandment in that very light of His own love.
J. Edmond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 152.
1 John 2:8Darkness and Light.
I. How difficult it is in health to recollect how we felt in sickness, how difficult to remember pain when the whole body is at ease. The world is full of such strange secrets of life and feeling; the same persons cannot recall their former selves very often, so different are they at one time from what they were at another. Much more is it not possible to live the lives of others, to feel their feelings, to enter into the unknown lands of hearts that are not our own. How then shall we, living in daylight, realise what it was to live when the world was dark? How can we go back in spirit to a time we have never known, and catch something of the glad surprise with which the first watchers welcomed the light of Christ? A little we know from the darkness of our own hearts being cleared away, but this is of ourselves alone. We have not seen the light of Christ first rising in its glory and its gladness on the darkness of a world that was dark. Darkness was on life; darkness was on death: darkness was the only certainty.
II. And then came light, light into the living grave, the Son of God moving upon earth, breaking through with words of power outward sorrow, disease, and death. O Christ, the noble army of martyrs praised Thee; the holy Church throughout all the world did acknowledge Thee. The high places of earth caught the light; pinnacle after pinnacle, city on city, flashed with Divine fire. Africa, Egypt, Cyrene, Alexandria, and all the old giant powers of early time passed into brighter day. Imperial Rome, with all its glorious charnel-houses, was smitten with the heavenly ray; the farthest West saw the great light, a light and a life that needed the deeds of those who still loved darkness to show its exceeding power. "Unto us a Child was born; unto us a Son was given." The first Christmas is our earthly life beginning, the second our heavenly, both seasons of joy unspeakable to those who love light.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. i., p. 24.
References: 1 John 2:8.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 350. 1 John 2:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1711; W. Harris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 336.
1 John 2:12The Children; the Youths; the Old Men.
I. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. Many interpreters are careful to tell us that the Apostle does not mean actual children, but only children in faith and knowledge, young converts. I do not think the distinction is necessary. To both the same language was suitable. Trust is the great necessity of a child. St. John tells us that the first lesson of all to be learnt concerning God is that He remits or sends away sins, for that is the force of the word. He would have all Christian children know this; he would tell it to the heathen, who had been dreaming of gods altogether different, gods that had no delight in remitting sins at all.
II. Why does St. John pass at once from these children to those who appear farthest from them?—"I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." I do not think that aged men are those who are least able to sympathise with children, or who most discard the love of children. I think that the sight of the human as well as the natural spring is a special delight to those who are feeling the winter, frosty but kindly. St. John may have felt something of this himself. There seems to me a great beauty in his way of connecting the child's belief in forgiveness with the aged man's knowledge of Him who was in the beginning, as if each lay beneath the other and as if the experience of each new year had been drawing it forth.
III. And now he comes to a class which we know better than either of these, though perhaps it may not have the same charm for us: "I write unto you, young men." St. John could say to these young men in the midst of all the toil and war of the world, "Ye have overcome the evil one." Treat him as one that is overcome. Refuse him homage, and he will flee from you. All young men of this day, all that are struggling against their own enemies and God's, have a right to this same confidence. It is only dangerous when it becomes confidence in themselves.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 101.
I. St. John means his epistle, or, as it is rather, his pastoral address, for all alike. He has no separate teaching for separate ages, but he wishes all to listen to him; and so in addressing them he distinguishes them, as you have heard: "I write unto you, little children," "to you, fathers," "to you, young men." And he assigns to each a reason—a reason why he should write, and be sure that they would listen—in a beautiful trait and characteristic of each several age. He repeats these twice, as he repeats the address twice. He does this as we repeat a name twice, lingering over it fondly or wishing to put special gravity and earnestness into an entreaty. The reasons are varied slightly, as are even the addresses themselves, the second adding some touch or different side to the first. Notice what they are. The first gives two characteristics of Christian childhood: "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.... I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father." What are these characteristics? First, innocence, not the innocence of a spotless nature, but the innocence of a pardoned child, fresh from the font of forgiveness; secondly, the child's knowledge of God, again, not inborn knowledge, but yet a knowledge to which, when it is given to it, the pure and simple heart makes immediate response. Next comes in both cases Christian old age: "I write unto you, fathers"—with this the reason given is one and the same in the two addresses—"because ye have known Him that was from the beginning." The characteristic of Christian age is, should be, is ideally, completeness of Christian knowledge, a knowledge complete and satisfying of Jesus Christ, of Him as the soul of life, in whose hands are all things.
II. The last address is to the age which comes between: "I have written unto you, young men." Why do they come out of their order? Possibly, probably, because of the three classes they are the one to whom St. John's heart goes out most in sympathy, yearning, hope. They are those who even more than the others are in his immediate thoughts; they are those to whom he has need to give the warning which immediately follows: "Love not the world, nor the things of the world"; they are those on whose brave hearts he most trusts for the triumph for which he looks: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." For the characteristic of Christian manhood is strength. "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong," a strength not their own, but coming from the presence of Christ's Spirit, of Christ Himself, within them—"because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." Such, then, is the picture of Christian life which St. John draws from the innocence and clear-eyed faith of childhood, through the conflicts, strength, and victories of manhood, to the faith, not less clear, but resting now on experience, of a calm old age. It is an ideal picture, but it is one true in its measure of any Christian life. He does not set it before his children as one they may gaze at from afar, but not dream of realising; he assumes it to be real, to be true, of them; he makes it the very ground of his appeals to them: "I have written unto you because," not in the hope that you may become, but "because you are." Could he have said the same of us with the happy confidence that all in a degree answered to his description?
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 224.
The Age of Nature and the Age of Grace.
I. St. John divides the readers of his epistle into three great classes. Does he speak of childhood, of youth, of old age, as each having upon it a special mark of condition or attainment in the life of grace? It is quite possible that in those days of trial and persecution for the truth's sake there may have been a much closer approximation than we now dream of within the Christian community between the natural age and the spiritual. By the time when St. John wrote, there must have been a large infusion into the Church of the family element of human life. Converts from Judaism, converts from idolatry, made so by one of those violent wrenches and convulsions of the moral being which are described to us in the Acts and in the earlier epistles, must now for thirty or forty or fifty years past have settled down into regular worshippers, regular communicants, with children around them brought up from infancy in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, now forming in their turn the hope and the strength of a rising and a risen generation, never having known what it was to relapse into a practical ungodliness from which there could be no other awakening than that of a second conversion and a second regeneration. In large part, in a proportion so large as not to be an exception to the rule, the children of Christian parents were in those days Christian children, and the young men of Christian homes were in those days consistent, Christian young men. Can we now say that every child is in all probability a child indeed in grace, as St. John here describes that condition, and that each step in human life has been marked in the individual members of our congregations by a corresponding step in grace and Christian knowledge? The Church has lost sadly the love of her espousals. When shall she reach the second love of the presentation and the marriage? This is the first lesson of the text.
II. And the second lesson is not to acquiesce in this divorce in the Christian community between the nominal and the spiritual. Let the spirit of our Church's baptism be carried into the nursery, into the schoolroom, into the family circle. Let there be no sitting still and holding the hands and counting the days until, by some separate, some uncovenanted surprise of grace, it shall please God to bring out of the darkness that soul which already He has inserted in the holy temple of Christ's body. Bring him up from the first as a child of God, as a member of Christ, as an heir of the kingdom. Treat the child as a Christian child; treat the young man within your doors as a Christian young man. Suppose of each, and expect in each, and encourage in each, that spirit, that language, that conduct, which has Christ for a pattern. When they are fallen, restore them; when they faint, revive them; when they sin, heal them, under God, as in Christ, as His redeemed, His accepted, His chosen; and, be assured, the blessing of an almighty Lord will attend the effort.
C. J. Vaughan, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 623.
References: 1 John 2:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1711; C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 106; A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 116; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 210. 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., Nos. 1715, 1751. 1 John 2:14.—Ibid., vol. xiv., No. 811; T. Thain Davidson, Sure to Succeed, p. 265; R. Balgarnie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 204.
1 John 2:16I. The world is nature's heaven. It is a carnal copy of a spiritual joy. It is a figment which he who is the prince of it sets up, whereby, indulging our senses, or pleasing our imaginations, or gratifying our vanity, he makes us rest in happiness which imitates heaven, but is not heaven, because it wants the essence of heaven—it has not God.
II. Observe that that which is forbidden us is not going into the world, but the love of it. It is a very easy thing for a person used to the restraint of a religious education, or from a regard to the opinion of those whom he respects, never to enter into the world's dissipation, but yet all the while to come to the full under the condemnation of the text because he loves it and cherishes it in his heart. He has a world within. On the other hand, a man, from his necessary employment or a sense of duty, may go into many a worldly scene; he may appear to others a man of the world; but all the while his tastes and desires are away from it; his affections are above; the world is not his joy. And "the love of the Father" may be resting on that man only the more for his relation to that world to which he is unwillingly bound by circumstances over which he has no control.
III. Love is the resting of the affections. Where the heart settles and abides, there we say it lives. It is the satisfying point of desire. There are two great antagonistic principles in every man's heart, and the only way to expel the one is to bring the other to bear, for they will never long remain together. If we love God, we shall not want the world. As the child's toy grows valueless to the man, as the track we leave glistening behind us across the ocean, as the dark pit from which we mount up into daylight—such, and less than such, when you have once felt a Father's mercy and tasted a Father's love, will all this world seem to you.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1865.
Worldly Affections Destructive of Love to God.
There are things in the world which, although not actually sinful in themselves, do nevertheless so check the love of God in us as to stifle and destroy it. They will, by a most subtle but inevitable effect, stifle the pure and single love of our hearts towards God, and that in many ways. For, in the first place, they actually turn away the affections of the heart from God. Love of worldly things plainly defrauds Him of our loyalty, and checks, if it does not absolutely thrust our love to Him out of our hearts. And, in the next place, it impoverishes, so to speak, the whole character of the mind. Even the religious affections which remain undiverted are weakened and lowered in their quality. They are like the thin fruits of an exhausted soil. Consider somewhat more closely the particular consequences of this love of the world.
I. It brings a dulness over the whole of a man's soul. To stand apart from the throng of earthly things and to let them hurry by as they will and whither they will is the only sure way to calmness and clearness in the spiritual life. It is by living much alone with God, by casting off the burden of things not needful to our inner life, by narrowing our toils and our wishes to the necessities of our actual lot, that we become familiar with the world unseen.
II. As we grow to be attached to the things that are in the world, there comes over us what I may call a vulnerableness of mind. We lay ourselves open on just so many sides as we have objects of desire. We give hostages to this changeful world, and we are ever either losing them or trembling lest they be wrested from us. Every earthly fondness is an ambush for the solicitations of the wicked one. We can with great care in due season disentangle ourselves from all needless hindrances. The rest will be no let to the love of God. All pure loves may dwell under its shadow. Only we must not suffer them to shoot above and to overcast it, for the love of God will not grow in the shade of any worldly affection. Above all, let us pray Him to shed abroad in our hearts more and more of His love, that is, a fuller and deeper sense of His exceeding love towards us.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 62.
Reference: 1 John 2:15.—E. J. Hardy, Faint yet Pursuing, p. 222.
1 John 2:15The World and the Father.
I. While St. John looks encouragingly and hopefully on the young men, while he sees in them the strength of the time that is as well as of the time that is to come, he is also fully alive himself, and he wishes them to be alive, to the danger of their new position. They may forget their heavenly Father's house, just as any child may forget his earthly father's house. And the cause will be the same. The attractions of the outward world, the attractions of the things that are in this world—these are likely to put a great chasm between one period of their life and another; these may cause that the love of the Father shall not be in them. They are to beware of love of the world, because, if it possesses them and overmasters them, they will assuredly lose all sense that they ever did belong to a Father, and that they are still His children. The Father's love must prevail over this, or it will drive the Father's love out of us. The Father's love to the world which He has created is never absent from the Apostle's mind; he does not wish it to be ever absent from the minds of the young men to whom he is writing. If they keep up the recollection of it, they will in new circumstances and amidst new trials retain the freshness of their childish feelings; the home and the family will be dearer to them than ever.
II. Here, then, are good reasons why the young men shall not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. For if they do, (1) their strength will forsake them; they will give up the power that is in them to the things on which the power is to be exerted; they will be ruled by that which they are meant to rule. (2) Next, they will not have any real insight into these things or sympathy with them. Those who love the world, those who surrender themselves to it, never understand it, never, in the best sense, enjoy it; they are too much on the level of it—yes, too much below the level of it, for they look up to it, they depend upon it—to be capable of contemplating it and of appreciating what is most exquisite in it "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." He has attached himself to the unchangeable, the eternal; he belongs to an order which cannot disappear. It is the order of Him whose children we are; of Him who created the world and all that is in it; of Him who loved the world, and sent His Son into it to claim it as His.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 117.
References: 1 John 2:16, 1 John 2:17.—W. J. Dawson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 406; J. Keble, Sermons from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 230.
1 John 2:17The Apostle draws a contrast, and bids us choose which of two things we prefer. "The world," he says, "passeth away, and the lust thereof"; at its best it is but for a moment; "but he that doeth the will of God," hard though it may be at the time, "abideth for ever."
I. Now the world, so far as it is summed up in man, may be roughly divided into three spheres: one of those who act, one of those who think, and one of those who enjoy. In the first sphere, love of power is the dominant idea; and, worked out to its grandest result, it is embodied in empire. In the second, love of knowledge is the supreme attraction; and here we meet men of letters. In the third, the end of life is represented by the rich man centred in Christ's parable: "Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," and here for pleasure we can find a name. The Apostle tells us that in each and all of those spheres "the world passeth away, and the lust thereof," and sooner or later we shall find it out. "The world passeth away." Men cease to care for it even before they are done with it; for it cannot satisfy the nature that was made by God, and they in time discover it.
II. God desires and proposes three main things for us: duty, goodness, and truth. Duty means our filling the place and doing the work assigned to us, whether it be of kings or of peasants. Not to be happy, but to be good, is the true aim of an enlightened conscience; and often the goodness comes through the lost happiness, because happiness rests on circumstances, and goodness on discipline. We shall live if we do the will of God—live, not only there, but here; live, not only in eternity, but in time; live though we be dead, and buried, and forgotten. This is completed immortality: to abide everlastingly first in the life and fruition of God, with whom, in His life, and truth, and energy, and holiness, we are joined already in a completed and mystic union; and when those truthful seeds of goodness are wafted over the spaces of the ages from our poor lips and lives, they will ripen in a kindly soil into eternal life.
Bishop Thorold, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 65.
Obedience the Only Reality.
In a certain sense, all things, the most shadowy and fleeting—the frosts, and dews, and mists of heaven—are real. Every light which falls from the upper air, every reflection of its brightness toward heaven again, is a reality. It is a creature of God, and is here in His world fulfilling His word. But these things we are wont to take as symbols and parables of unreality, and that because they are changeful and transitory. It is clear, then, that when we speak of reality we mean things that have in them the germ of an abiding life. In strictness of speech we can call nothing real which is not eternal. Now it is in this sense that I say the only reality in the world is a will obedient to the will of God.
I. It is plain that the only reality in this visible world is man. Of all things that have life without a reasonable soul, we know no more than that they perish. Nothing survives but the mass of human life, and that not blended as before, but each as several and apart as if none lived before God but he only. And thus it is that all that is real in the world is ever passing out of it—tarrying for a while in the midst of shadows and reflections and then, as it were, melting out of sight.
II. Again, as the only reality in the world is man, so the only reality in man is his spiritual life. Nothing of all we have and are in this world save only our spiritual life, and that which is impressed upon it and blended with it, shall we carry into the world unseen. The aim of our life ought then to be to partake of the eternal obedience. Nothing else is worth our living for. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." It is confounded at its own perpetual changes; it sees that none of its schemes abide, that it daily grows more weary of toiling and more transient in its toils. All men are conscious of this. They crave after something through which they may submit themselves to the realities of the eternal world. And for this end was the visible Church ordained. To meet the yearnings of our baffled hearts, it stands in the earth as a symbol of the everlasting; under the veil of its material sacraments are the powers of an endless life; its unity and order are the expression of heavenly things, its worship of an eternal homage. Blessed are they that dwell within its hallowed precinct, shielded from the lures and spells of the world, living in plainness, even in poverty, hid from the gaze of men, in silence and solitude walking with God.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 129.
River and Rock.
There are but two things set forth in this text, which is a great and wonderful antithesis between something which is in perpetual flux and passage and something which is permanent. If I might venture to cast the two thoughts into metaphorical form, I should say that here are a river and a rock, the one the sad truth of sense, universally believed and as universally forgotten; the other the glad truth of faith, so little regarded or operative in men's lives.
I. Note the river, or the sad truth of sense. You observe that there are two things in my text of which this transiency is predicated, the one the world, the other the lust thereof; the one outside us, the other within us. As the original implies even more strongly than in our translation, "the world" is in the act of "passing away." Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some movable panorama, which glide along even as the eye looks upon them, and are concealed behind the side flats before the gaze has taken in the whole picture, so equably, constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of motion. There is no present time. Even whilst we name the moment it dies. The drop hangs for an instant on the verge, gleaming in the sunlight, and then falls into the gloomy abyss that silently sucks up years and centuries. There is no present, but all is movement. If a man has anchored himself to that which has no perpetual stay, so long as the cable holds, he follows the fate of the thing to which he has pinned himself; and if it perish, he perishes, in a very profound sense, with it. If you trust to the leaky vessel, when the water rises in it it will drown you, and you will go to the bottom with the craft to which you have trusted. If you sink all in the little ship which carries Christ and His fortunes, you will come with Him to the haven. When they build a new house in Rome, they have to dig down through sometimes sixty or a hundred feet of rubbish that runs like water, the ruins of old temples and palaces, once occupied by men in the same flush of life in which we are now. We, too, have to dig down through ruins, until we get to rock, and build there, and build securely. Withdraw your affections, and your thoughts, and your desires from the fleeting, and fix them on the permanent. If a captain takes anything but the pole-star for his fixed point, he will lose his reckoning, and his ship will be on the reefs; if we take anything but God for our supreme delight and desire, we shall perish.
II. The rock, or the glad truth of faith. Obedience to God's will is the permanent element in human life. Whosoever humbly and trustfully seeks to mould his will after the Divine will, and to bring God's will into practice in his doings—that man has pierced through the shadows and grasped the substance, partakes of the immortality which he adores and serves. Himself shall live for ever in the true life, which is blessedness. His deeds shall live for ever when all that lifted itself in opposition to the Divine will shall be crushed and annihilated.
A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, p. 248.
References: 1 John 2:17.—T. Binney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 129; J. Greenfield, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 325; Dean Bradley, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 17; A. Legge, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 120; A. Raleigh, The Little Sanctuary, p. 157.
1 John 2:18The Dispensations.
Consider the leading dispensations under which mankind has been placed.
I. A single arbitrary restriction, issued merely as a test of obedience, was the first of them.
II. The dispensation of experienced punishment on the part of the parent, of ancestral precept on the part of the children, next began and ran its course.
III. An additional dispensation was instituted in the announcement of the Deluge to the patriarch Noah and the direction associated with it to commence the building of the Ark.
IV. In the next dispensation human law was instituted and sanctioned by Heaven. It was the dispensation of the magistrate.
V. It was succeeded by the dispensation of Divine law, promulgated with the most awful solemnity and having annexed to it the most tremendous sanctions.
VI. With Samuel and the succession of prophets commenced a new era, about three hundred and fifty years after the giving of the law.
VII. The final dispensation was now at hand. The great Deliverer appeared, and revealed a wholly new arrangement, under which and in virtue of which God would henceforth deal with man. The new light which had fallen from heaven upon a benighted and lost world may be reduced to three particulars: (1) perfect absolution from the guilt of past sin; (2) a communication of Divine strength through outward means; (3) a perfect and explicit law, embodying the purest morality which it is possible to conceive.
E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 285.
1 John 2:18-23The Last Time; the Christ; the Antichrist; the Chrism.
I. The Apostles said that a new age was at hand, the universal age, the age of the Son of man, which would be preceded by a great crisis that would shake not earth only, but heaven, not that only which belonged to time and the condition of man as related to time, but also all that belonged to the spiritual world and to man's relations with it. They said that this shaking would be that it might be seen what there was that could not be shaken, which must abide. I cannot tell what physical changes St. John or the other Apostles may have looked for. That they did not anticipate the passing away of the earth, what we call the destruction of the earth, is clear from this: that the new kingdom they spoke of was to be a kingdom on earth as well as a kingdom of heaven. But their belief that such a kingdom had been set up, and would make its power felt as soon as the old nation was scattered, has, I think, been abundantly verified by fact. I do not see how we can understand modern history properly till we accept that belief.
II. Our Lord had clearly intimated in His last discourse to the disciples that before the end came false Christs should arise and should deceive many. "These antichrists," St. John says, "have gone out from us, because they were not of us." We can understand very well what he means by the facts of Church history. The belief in spiritual powers was strong in that age. The Gospel strengthened and deepened it, but it existed before the Gospel. Many of those who joined the Church exulted in the gifts for their own sake, in the inspiration for its own sake. These became enchanters and impostors of the worst kind. Their chrism or anointing was to set them in high places; Christ's made Him the Servant of all. "But," continues the Apostle, in words which have surprised many, "ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." If they believed, they had God's Holy Spirit; these antichrists would not, could not, deceive them. They might be deceived in their interpretation of a book: their intellects might fail to discern the force of sentences; but if they were simple and childlike, if they yielded to the guidance of the Spirit, who was to make them simple and childlike, they would not be deceived about a man, they would know whether he was true or a liar.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 134.
1 John 2:23The Place of the Doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in Christian Ethics.
I. St. John is especially occupied throughout his Gospel in setting forth the ground and principle of the obedience of the Son. It is filial obedience. It is the obedience of a Son to a Father, in whom He delights, and who delights in Him. And so He reveals the Father. And the Apostles, receiving Him as the Christ, learnt from Him not to think of the Godhead as self-willed power or sovereignty. They thought of a Father and a Son. They could not see the will of the Father except in the submission of the Son. They were Jews; they had a greater horror of dividing the Godhead, of setting up two gods, than any of their countrymen had. But it was precisely this belief in the unity of the Father and the Son which kept them from dividing the Godhead.
II. St. John believed that Jesus, being the Son of God and the Son of man, was the real High-priest of the universe; that He had received the true anointing, the Divine Spirit of His Father; that this Spirit had not been poured on Him alone, but had run down to the skirts of His garments; that He was raised on high that men on earth might be filled with it. Because this Spirit of Christ, the Anointed One, was present with them, because God had promised that it should be renewed in them day by day, as the dew fell every day upon the hills, therefore they could as brethren dwell in unity; therefore the Church could live on amidst all the powers, seen and unseen, which were threatening to destroy it. When was there less of that dwelling together in unity which the Psalmist pronounced to be so good and comely than in our time? And surely all the arguments and arrangements in the universe will not bring it one whit nearer to us. We shall become more and more separate, each man will shut himself up more closely in his own notions, conceits, and selfish pursuits, until we all own that we require the Spirit of God, of unity, to keep us one. Then we shall find that He who has breathed into our nostrils the breath of life does not deny us this more needful breath, this deeper life.
F. D. Maurice, The Epistles of St. John, p. 152.
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.