Vincent's Word Studies
It is generally conceded that the first Epistle was written at Ephesus. In the Latin Church the opinion prevailed that it was primarily addressed to the Parthians; but ecclesiastical tradition knows of no mission of John to the Parthians, St. Thomas being supposed to have carried the Gospel to them.
Its exact destination, however, is of little consequence.; "Its coloring is moral rather than local." It is a unique picture of a Christian society, the only medium of the Spirit's work among men. There is no trace of persecution: "the world was perilous by its seductions rather than by its hostility;" the dangers were within rather than without.
These facts give character to the Epistle in two ways: First, the missionary work of the Church falls into the background in the Apostle's thought. The world is overcome by faith as represented in the Church, and the Gospel is proclaimed by the very existence of the Church, and effectively proclaimed in proportion to the Church's purity and fidelity. Secondly, attention is concentrated upon the central idea of the message itself rather than upon the relation of the message to other systems. The great question is the person and work of the Lord.
The peculiar form of error combated in the Epistle is Docetic and Cerinthian. In this teaching sin and atonement have no place. Christ came into the world, not to redeem it by the remission of sins, but to illuminate a few choice intellects with philosophy: Jesus is not God manifest in the flesh: Jesus and the Christ are distinct: Jesus' humanity was not real, but a phantasm. Against these views John asserts that no spirit is of God who denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3): that he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ is a liar, and that the denial of the Son involves the rejection of the Father (1 John 2:22, 1 John 2:23): that he who denies that he is sinful deceives himself, and impugns the veracity of God (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10). The Word of life which he proclaims was the real human manifestation of God, the human Christ whom he and his fellow-disciples had seen and heard and touched (1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2). Jesus is the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2). The world is not overcome by knowledge, but by faith that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:5).
The principal evidence for John's authorship of the Epistle is internal, drawn from its resemblance to the Gospel in vocabulary, style, thought, and scope. There is the same repetition of fundamental words and phrases, such as truth, love, light, born of God, abiding in God. There is the same simplicity of construction; the same rarity of particles; the employment of the simple connective (καὶ , and) instead of a particle of logical sequence (1 John 3:3, 1 John 3:16); the succession of sentences and clauses without particles (1 John 2:22-24; 1 John 4:4-6, 1 John 4:7-10, 1 John 4:11-13; 1 John 2:5, 1 John 2:6, 1 John 2:9, 1 John 2:10), and the bringing of sentences into parallelism by the repetition of clauses (1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10; 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:20). Verbal coincidences abound. Such words as κόσμος (world), φῶς (light), σκοτία (darkness), φανεροῦν (to manifest), ζωὴ αἰώνιος (eternal life), ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θέος (the real God), ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (the only-begotten Son), etc., are common to both. Coincidences of expression are also numerous. Compare, for example,
1 John 1:2, 1 John 1:3 John 3:11 1 John 1:4 John 16:24 1 John 2:11 John 12:35 1 John 2:14 John 5:38 1 John 2:17 John 8:35 1 John 3:5 John 8:46 1 John 3:8 John 8:44 1 John 3:13 John 15:18 1 John 3:14 John 5:24 1 John 3:16 John 10:15 1 John 4:6 John 8:47 1 John 5:4 John 16:23 The Epistle presupposes the Gospel. The differences are such as would naturally appear between a historian and a teacher interpreting the history. This may be seen by a comparison of the Prologue of the Gospel with the Epistle. The Prologue and the Epistle stand in the same relation to the discourses, as appears from a comparison of the thoughts on life, light, and truth in the Prologue with passages in the discourses. Thus compare, on Life, John 5:26; John 11:25; John 14:6; Prologue John 1:4; 1 John 1:1; 1 John 5:20. On Light, John 8:12; John 12:46; Prologue John 1:4, John 1:7, John 1:9; 1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:8. On Truth, John 8:32; John 14:6; Prologue John 1:9, John 1:14, John 1:17; 1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10; 1 John 2:4, 1 John 2:8, 1 John 2:21, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:19; 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:6; 1 John 5:20.
The theme of the Gospel is, Jesus is the Christ in process of manifesting His glory. In the Epistle the manifestation of the glory is assumed as the basis of the exhortation to believers to manifest it in their life. The doctrine of propitiation, which is unfolded to Nicodemus, is applied in 1 John 3:1. The promise of the Paraclete in the Gospel is assumed in the Epistle as fulfilled (1 John 2:20). The Epistle deals with the fruits of that love which is commanded in the Gospel. (Compare John 13:34; John 15:12, and 1 John 3:11; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:12, 1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21) In the Gospel the divine glory is prominent; in the Epistle, Christ's humanity. The doctrine of propitiation and cleansing is more fully treated in the Epistle (1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; 1 John 1:7, 1 John 1:9).
The epistolary character does not appear in the form. It is without address or subscription, and bears no direct trace of its author or of its destination. But it is instinct with personal feeling (1 John 1:4; 1 John 2:12), personal experience (1 John 1:1), and appreciation of the circumstances of the persons addressed (1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:22, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:18).
The Second and Third Epistles contain no direct indication of the time or the place at which they were written. They were probably composed at Ephesus. That the two are the work of the same author is apparent from their agreement in style and spirit. As related to the First Epistle, the resemblance between the second and first in language and thought is closer than between the first and third.
Critical Note on 1 John 3:19-22.
1. The revelation of falsehood and truth (1 John 2:18-29).
2. The children of God and the children of the devil (1 John 3:1-12).
3. Brotherhood in Christ and the hatred of the world (1 John 3:13-24).
4. The Rival Spirits of Truth and Error (1 John 4:1-6).
This passage lies within the third of these subdivisions; but the line of thought runs up into the second subdivision, which begins with this chapter, - the children of God and the children of the Devil.
Let us first briefly review the contents of this chapter down to the point of our text.
God shows His wonderful love in calling us children of God (τέκνα); as expressing community of nature, rather than υἱοί (sons), which expresses the position of privilege.
The world, therefore, does not know us, even as it did not know Him.
We are children of God; and in this fact lies enfolded our future, the essence of which will be likeness to God, coming through unveiled and transfiguring vision.
The result of such a relation and hope is persistent effort after moral purity. "Every one that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure."
This attempt to purify corresponds with the fulfillment of our true destiny which Christ has made possible. Sin is irreconcilable with a right relation to God, for Christianity emphasizes the law of God, and "sin is lawlessness." The object of Christ's manifestation was to "take away sin;" therefore, "everyone that abideth in Him sinneth not." "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." "He that committeth sin is of the devil;" but the Son of God was manifested in order to destroy the works of the devil. The divine seed - the divine principle of growth - the germ of the new life is in the true believer; and the ideas of divine sonship and sin are mutually exclusive.
The being a child of God will manifest itself not only in doing righteousness, but in love - the love to God, taking shape in love and ministry to the brethren. This is the highest expression of righteousness. The whole aim of the Gospel is the creation and strengthening of love; and the type of life in God through Christ is therefore the direct opposite of Cain, who being of the evil one, slew his brother.
Over against this love is the world's hatred. This is bound up, as love is, with the question of origin. God's children share God's nature, which is love. The children of the world are the children of the evil one, whose nature is lawlessness and hatred. Love is the outgrowth of life; hatred, of death. He that loveth not, abideth in death. For ourselves, children of God, we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.
Christ is the perfect type and revelation of love, since He gave His life for us. We, likewise, ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. The practical test of our brotherly love is ministry. The love of God does not dwell in us if we refuse to relieve our brother's need.
The fruit of love is confidence. "In this, we perceive that we are of the truth; and, perceiving this, we shall assure our hearts in the presence of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. It is of the very essence of Christian life that it is lived and tested before God. No assurance or confidence is possible except from being in right relation to God.
Through the consciousness of love, then, which is of God, and which marks the children of God, we perceive that we are children of God - of the truth; and in this knowledge we find assurance and confidence before the very highest tribunal. "We shall assure our heart before Him."
This brings us to the heart of our passage. What is the specific character and direction of our assurance? Of what are we confident? Here we strike the differences in the exposition of the passage. The questions resolve themselves into three:
1. What is the meaning of πείσομεν (we shall assure or persuade)?
2. How are the ὅτις (that or because) to be explained?
3. What is the meaning of μείζω (greater)?
Πείσομεν may be taken either according to its primitive meaning, persuade, induce, prevail upon (Acts 19:26; Acts 18:4; 2 Corinthians 5:11), or in its secondary and consequent sense, to assure, quiet, appease (Matthew 28:14).
1. If we render persuade, two courses are possible.
(a.) Either we may use it absolutely, and mentally supply something as the substance of the persuasion. "Hereby know we that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our hearts before Him." The mind might then supply:
We shall persuade our heart to be confident in asking anything from God. Objection. This would anticipate 1 John 3:21. "If our heart condemn us not, then have we boldness toward God, and whatsoever we ask of Him we receive," etc.; or,
We shall persuade our heart to show love in life and act. Objection. This does not suit the connection; for we recognize ourselves by our love as children of faith, and do not need first to move our hearts to love which already dwells there; or,
We shall persuade our heart that we are of the truth. Objection. This is tautological. We know or perceive that we are of the truth, by the fact of our love. We therefore reject the absolute use of πείσομεν.
(b.) Still rendering persuade, we may attempt to find the substance of the persuasion in the following clauses. Here we run into the second of our three questions, the double ὅτι, for ὅτι becomes the sign of definition of πείσομεν. The different combinations and translations proposed center in two possible renderings for ὅτι: because or that.
If we render because, it leaves us with the absolute πείσομεν which we have rejected. We have then to render - "Hereby perceive we that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our heart before Him: because, if our heart condemn us, because, I say (second ὅτι), God is greater than our heart," etc.
All the other renderings, like this, involve what is called the epanaleptic use of ὅτι; the second taking up and carrying forward the sense of the first. This is very objectionable here, because
1. There is no reason for it. This use of ὅτι or similar words is appropriate only in passages where the course of thought is broken by a long, interjected sentence or parenthesis, and where the conjunction takes up again the thread of discourse. It is entirely out of place here after the interjection of only a few words.
2. There is no parallel to it in the writings of John, nor elsewhere in the New Testament, so far as I know (but see 1 John 5:9).
The case is no better if we translate ὅτι that. Here indeed we get rid of the absolute πείσομεν, but we are compelled to hold by the resumptive ὅτι. For instance,
"We shall persuade ourselves that, if our heart condemn us, that, I say, God is greater than our heart."
Moreover, some of these explanations at least, commit the apostle to misstatement. Suppose, for example, we read: "We shall persuade our heart that God is greater than our heart:" we make the apostle say that the consciousness of brotherly love, and of our consequent being "of the truth," is the basis of our conviction of the sovereign greatness of God. Thus: "Herein (in our brotherly love) do we perceive that we are of the truth, and herein we shall persuade ourselves that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
The case is not improved if we render the first ὅτι as pronominal, and read as follows: "We shall persuade ourselves in whatever our heart condemn us, that God is greater than our heart." The object of persuasion, then, is the greatness of God. The sense of condemnation is the occasion of our persuading ourselves: the foundation of our persuasion of God's greatness is our consciousness of being of the truth.
We conclude therefore,
1. That we must reject all renderings founded on the absolute use of πείσομεν.
(a.) Because it leaves the mind to supply something which the text leads us to expect that it will supply.
(b.) Because the conception of persuasion or assurance takes its character from the idea of condemning or accusing (καταγινώσκῃ), and becomes vague if we separate it from that.
2. We must reject explanations founded on the epanaleptic use of ὅτι for the reasons already given.
We turn now to the rendering adopted by the New Testament Revisers.
This rendering takes the first ὅτι with ἐὰν as relative pronominal, and the second as casual; and is as follows:
"Herein do we know (or, more properly, perceive) that we are of the truth; and shall assure (or quiet) our heart before Him in whatsoever our heart may condemn (or accuse) us; because God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things."
The only grammatical objection to this rendering, which is entitled to any weight, is that the exact pronominal phrase ὅτι ἐὰν does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; but this is little better than a quibble, since we have really the same combination under another form, viz., Galatians 5:10, ὅστις ἐὰν (so Lach., West. and H., Tisch., Lightfoot), and possibly in Acts 3:23, where Tisch. reads ἥτις ἐὰν. In Colossians 3:17, West. and H., Lightfoot, and Ellicott, read ὅτι ἐὰν ("whatsoever ye do in word or deed"). Moreover, it is born out by the frequent use of ἐὰν for ἀν after relatives (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 8:19; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 11:27; John 15:7). See Moulton's "Winer," 2nd ed., p. 390.
This rendering introduces the third question: What is the meaning of μείζων? Shall we take it as indicating judgment or compassion on the part of God? i.e.:
1st. Shall we allay the accusation of heart by saying: "God is greater than our heart, His judgment is therefore stricter than ours; and so, apart from fellowship with Him we can have no hope;" or, as Meyer puts it,
"Only in conscious brotherly love shall we calm our hearts, for, if we do not love, our heart condemns us, and God is greater than our heart, and there is no peace for the accusing conscience:" or, again, as it is popularly interpreted:
"If our heart condemn us, then God, who is greater than our hearts, and knows all things, must not only endorse, but emphasize our self-accusation." If our heart condemn, how much more God?
Or, 2nd. Shall we take μείζων as the expression of God's compassionate love, and say, "when our heart condemns us, we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are the proved children of God, and therefore, in fellowship with a God who is greater than our heart, greater in love and compassion no less than in knowledge?
The choice between these must be largely determined by the drift of the whole discussion, and here, therefore, we leave the textual and grammatical side of the question, and proceed to the homiletical aspect of the passage.
Generally, we may observe that the whole drift of the chapter is consolatory and assuring. The chapter is introduced with a burst of affectionate enthusiasm. "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, and such we are." The darker shades - the origin and nature of sin; the truth that sinners are of the evil one; the hatred of the world, springing out of this radical opposition between the origin and motive of children of God and children of the evil one - are thrown in to heighten and emphasize the position and privilege of God's children. They are to be left in no doubt as to their relation to God. They are thrown for decisive testimony upon the supreme fact of love. If God the Father is love, and they are His children, they must share His nature; and they prove that they do by loving Him and His children. Hence, John elsewhere says (1 John 4:7 sq.), "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and every one that loveth hath been born of God (or begotten) and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knew not God, for God is love.... If we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us. In this we perceive that we abide in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.... We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that abideth in love, abideth in God, and God in him."
And again, in this chapter, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
This testimony of love all tends to the assurance of the heart. All comes to a head in this 19th verse. "Herein," - in the fact and consciousness of love, - "herein, perceive we that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him, in whatsoever our heart condemn us." In striking parallelism with this is the fourth chapter of this Epistle just alluded to, especially the way in which, as in this chapter, the evidence of love makes for assurance. Look at the verses from the 7th to the 16th - the burden of which is, as we have seen, that love is the evidence of our dwelling in God; and then note how this evidence runs into assurance in the 17th and 18th verses. "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness (compare 'shall assure our heart') in the day of judgment (compare 'before Him'), because as He is so are we in this world (like Christ). There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment."
Now there was a very good and obvious reason for emphasizing this thought of assurance. John knew the misgivings of the Christian heart; and he knew, moreover, how they would be awakened by the high standard of Christian character which he set up in this chapter. Look at these statements: "Every one that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure." "Every one that abideth in Him sinneth not. Every one that sinneth hath not even seen Him nor known Him." "He that committeth sin is of the devil." "He that is born of God doth not commit sin." It is not difficult to conceive the effect of such statements upon a sensitive conscience. Let us bring ourselves to these tests. Shall we not need to assure our hearts? In the consciousness of infirmity, with the remembrance of error, under the pressure and thrust of daily temptation, is it strange if the heart accuses? Is it strange if the question is raised, "Am I indeed a child of God? Do not these errors and lapses prove me to be a child of the devil?"
Now I think we should all be led to anticipate, in view of this fact, and as the natural sequence of the former part of the chapter, a thought, not of severe criticism and judgment, based upon God's infinite knowledge, but of fatherly compassion and assurance dealing with our self-accusations, and quieting our misgivings.
The Christian consciousness exercises a judicial office in us, accusing or approving. Our heart passes judgment. But what we especially need to remember, and what, as it seems to me, is the very core of the teaching of this passage, is that the decrees of the heart are not final, but must be carried up to a higher tribunal for ratification. Even our renewed heart is ignorant and blind. God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. Whatever power of discernment conscience has, it receives from God. Hence, in the interpretation of the passage more stress should be laid than is commonly done upon the words "before Him." "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater" (1 John 5:14. Compare Hebrews 4:16). It is, as already hinted, essential to the idea of Christian life that it is lived in the very sight of God. The true child of God sets the Lord always before his face. The prime regulator of his life is the sense of God's presence. God's manifestation in Christ's perfect obedience is his pattern: God's law imparts to his conscience its tone of rebuke or of commendation. This is a natural and necessary result of the relation assumed in the passage - children of God. As children of God, in our Father's house, life is regulated by the perpetual consciousness of our Father's presence and scrutiny. No assurance or confidence is possible which does not grow out of a right relation to Him.
John, then, does not mean to say that a child of God is sinless by virtue of his relation as a child; and that his self-accusation is quieted by being pronounced groundless.
He does not mean to say that the heart may not accuse him justly. God's judgment may confirm that of the heart.
He does mean to say that the heart is not the supreme and final arbiter.
The ordinary interpretation presents a radical defect in this; - that it assumes the infallibility of the heart, and brings in God to confirm and emphasize its decision. If your heart condemn you, then God, who is greater than your heart, condemns you more severely, because He sees your sin in the light of His omniscience. Further, it makes our confidence toward God depend primarily on the testimony of our hearts. If our heart condemn us not, then we may go before God with confidence and ask what we will, because God, being greater than our heart, confirms its testimony. The voice of the heart, in short, on this construction, is the voice of God. As I read it, John's teaching is the direct opposite of this. It is only God who knoweth all things. No assurance, no accusation is to be received as final until it has passed before Him. We must look outside of self for the highest tests of self. It is not before ourselves that we are either to assure or to condemn ourselves. Self-condemnation will not be allayed by self-communion. We need, not to be self-assured, but to be assured by Him.
It is almost needless to say, but it should be kept in mind, that these words are addressed to Christians; and this opens another and interesting question, - that of sin in Christians. The heart sometimes condemns unjustly, or unduly. The conscience is sometimes diseased and morbidly exacting, and the heart is distressed with accusations which are as fanciful as they are painful. But the heart's condemnation is, as has been already said, often just. This, however, as well as the other cases, is covered by the apostle's words: "We shall assure our heart before Him, whereinsoever our heart condemn us." It may well be asked then, how, when God endorses the conviction of the heart, we are to assure our heart before Him? What, when the apostle himself has just told us that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin? - that he cannot sin, because he is born of God? - that whosoever sinneth hath not seen or known God? These utterances, by themselves, are terrible. They destroy all hope of assurance. They make sinlessness the test of being in Christ. How shall we assure our heart?
Here we must be particular to note that all through this chapter, and it might be said, throughout the Epistle, John is dealing with something broader than specific errors or good deeds. He is dealing with the question of a Christian's relation to God. Note the sharp and broad classifications of this chapter to this effect, indicating the order or economy to which the man belongs rather than his specific acts.
He that doeth righteousness.
He that doeth sin; where sin as a whole answers to righteousness as a whole.
He is righteous even as He is righteous. He is of the devil: where, in each case, the man's character is shown to be a reflection of his spiritual master.
So, too, the phrases, "children of God;" "of the truth;" " passed from death unto life." And in 1 John 1:1-10, "in darkness;" "in the light." Again, in chapter 4, "dwelleth in God;" "of the world;" "of God." And, once more, the fact that the entire Epistle turns on a question of relation between man and God. Its key-note is fellowship - "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us; yea, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
This being true, the tests applied are directed at this relation. "Hereby we perceive that we are of the truth:" that is our sphere, our genesis, our economy. And accordingly specific acts are treated in the light of this general relation. No man goes sinless before God. This is treated in the first chapter with reference to certain actual delusions in this matter. Those who maintain that sin is an accident and not a principle, a transient phenomenon which leaves no abiding issues, are met with "if we say that we have no sin (ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν), we lead ourselves astray and the truth is not in us." Those who deny that, personally, they have sinned, are met with "if we say that we have not sinned (οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν), we make of Him a liar, and His word is not in us." So that, I repeat, the test here contemplated is a test of relation and not of specific act. As Westcott truthfully says: "As long as the relationship with God is real" (if a man is truly born of God) "sinful acts are but accidents. They do not touch the essence of the man's being." (Compare also Westcott on 1 John 5:16). Consequently, when our heart condemns us of sin, and we appear before God, our assurance or quieting of heart comes through God's throwing us back upon this relation to Him, and its accompanying proof, love for the brethren. God teaches the heart to meet its self-accusation with the fact and evidence of sonship. Hereby we shall assure our heart before Him.
It is noteworthy how John exalts and emphasizes the sufficiency and decisiveness of this test. "He that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him." "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." And in the fourth chapter he is even more emphatic; asserting (1 John 4:12) that love to the brethren is the only possible proof of love to God; for "God hath no man ever beheld. If we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us."
So, then, the man takes his justly accusing heart before Him, and God says, "It is true, you have sinned. But you are my child, proven to be such by your love. Shall not I, your Father, forgive your sin? Do you fear to bring it to me? 'If any man sin, he hath an advocate with me, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for his sins.' If you confess your sin, I am faithful and just to forgive you your sin and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness."
If he goes under the accusation of imperfect love, he is met with the assurance that his relation to God is not determined nor perpetuated by the scant measure of the purest human love. "Herein is love; not that we have loved (ἠγαπήκαμεν) God, but that He loved us (ἡγάπησεν, associating His love with a definite act) and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
If the self-accusation is morbid and unfounded, a freak of a diseased religious fancy, rather than a truthful verdict of a healthy conscience, the complex and confused witness of our ignorant heart is resolved into the simple testimony of love. I am God's child. At my Father's hand I shall meet with no encouragement to continue in sin, but with pardon for my sin; with tonics for my morbid conditions; with allowance for my infirmity. Only by that perfect wisdom will the error be duly weighed; only by that perfect love will it be forgiven; only by that perfect strength will the soul be energized to renew the life-long fight with sin. If we are trembling lest the things of which our heart accuses us be the warrant for disinheriting us of our position and privilege, we are pointed past our individual lapses and errors to the great, dominant sentiment of our relation to God. We love Him, we love the brethren, therefore we are His children; erring children no doubt, but still His. Will He disinherit His child?
Observe again, how John finds comfort in the fact of omniscience. We shall assure our heart because God knoweth all things. The natural instinct of imperfection is to evade the contact and scrutiny of perfection. But that instinct is false and misleading. The Gospel creates a contrary instinct, in creating a filial consciousness. If God's holiness shames our sinfulness, and God's perfect wisdom dwarfs our folly, nevertheless, perfection is the only safe refuge for the imperfect. No man wants to be tried before an ignorant or a corrupt judge. If that omniscient knowledge sees deeper into our sin than we do, it also sees deeper into our weakness. If it weighs the act in more nicely-poised scales, it weighs the circumstances in the same scales. If it knows our secret faults, it knows likewise our frame and our frailty. If it discerns aggravations, it equally discerns palliations. If infinite knowledge compasses the sin, so does infinite love. There mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.
So we shall assure our heart before Him in whatsoever our heart condemn us. Not with the conceited assurance of self-righteousness; not with a drugged and dulled perception of the vileness of sin; not with an elixir which shall relax our spiritual fiber and moderate our enthusiasm for spiritual victory; but with the thought that we are God's children, loving, though erring, in our Father's hand; with our elder brother Christ interceding for us; with the knowledge that the judicial element in our Christian experience is transferred from our own heart to God; with the knowledge that, being His, "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." As I read this passage I wonder if John, as he penned it, had not in mind that interview of Christ and Peter at the lake after the resurrection. There was Peter with a heart stung with self-accusation, as well it might be: Peter who had denied and forsaken his Lord: and yet Christ meets all this self-accusation with the words "Loveth thou Me?" And Peter's reply is in the very vein of our passage. "God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things:" "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love Thee."
On this interpretation, the remainder of the passage follows simply and naturally. Once assured that we are children of God, we have boldness toward God. That assurance, carrying with it the assurance of pardon and sympathy, is the only means by which the heart's condemnation is legitimately allayed. If, by which the heart's condemnation is legitimately allayed. If, under that assurance, our heart ceases to condemn us, "then have we confidence toward God." It is noteworthy how the line of thought coincides with that in the latter part of the fourth of Hebrews. There too we see the Divine omniscience emphasized - the discernment of the living word, "quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight, but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." Then comes the priesthood and the sympathy of Jesus, the Great High-Priest, "touched with the feeling of our infirmities;" and then the same conclusion: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace."
This latter part of the passage must therefore be interpreted by the former. That the heart feels no sense of condemnation is not, of itself, a legitimate nor a safe ground of boldness toward God. There is a boldness which is born of presumption, of spiritual obtuseness, of ignorance of the character and claims of God, of false and superficial conceptions of sin. A valid absence of condemnation must have a definite and valid fact, a substantial evidence behind it; and that it has, according to the interpretation we have given: "We shall assure our heart before Him in whatsoever our heart condemn us, by this; namely that the all-knowing God is our forgiving Father, that Christ is our Propitiator and Savior, and that the Spirit of love in our hearts, and the loving ministry of our lives testify that we are children of God. Note at this point how John answers to Paul. Look first at the fourth chapter of this Epistle. "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit." Now turn to the eighth chapter of Romans. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death. Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear, but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness unto our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." And, in like manner, "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity; the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts (being greater than our heart and knowing all things) knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" - for the saints that love God, foreordained, called, justified, glorified. "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written,
'For Thy sake we are killed all the day long;
We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Finally, the whole passage carries a protest and an antidote against an introverted, morbidly subjective and self-scrutinizing type of piety, which habitually studies self for the evidence of right spiritual relation and condition: which tests growth in grace by tension of feeling, and reckons spiritual latitude and longitude by spiritual moods. Feeling, religious sensibility, has its place, and a high and sacred place it is; but its place is not the judgment-seat; and right feelings in Christian experience is always based upon right relation to the facts of the plan of redemption. The Christian consciousness give no valid testimony, save as it reflects the great objective verities of the Christian faith. If our spirit witnesses with the Spirit, the Spirit must first bear witness to our spirit that we are children of God.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
Compare John 1:1, John 1:9, John 1:14. The construction of the first three verses is somewhat involved. It will be simplified by throwing it into three parts, represented respectively by 1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2, 1 John 1:3. The first part, That which was from the beginning - Word of Life, forms a suspended clause, the verb being omitted for the time, and the course of the sentence being broken by 1 John 1:2, which forms a parenthesis: and the Life - manifested unto us. 1 John 1:3, in order to resume the broken sentence of 1 John 1:1, repeats in a condensed form two of the clauses in that verse, that which we have seen and heard, and furnishes the governing verb, we declare. Thus the simple sentence, divested of parenthesis and resumptive words would be, We declare unto you that which was from the beginning, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life.
That which (ὃ)
It is disputed whether John uses this in a personal sense as equivalent to He whom, or in its strictly neuter sense as meaning something relating to the person and revelation of Christ. On the whole, the (περί), concerning (A. V., of), seems to be against the personal sense. The successive clauses, that which was from the beginning, etc., express, not the Eternal Word Himself, but something relating to or predicated concerning (περί) Him. The indefinite that which, is approximately defined by these clauses; that about the Word of Life which was from the beginning, that which appealed to sight, to hearing is, to touch. Strictly, it is true, the περί is appropriate only with we have heard, but it is used with the other clauses in a wide and loose sense (compare John 16:8). "The subject is not merely a message, but all that had been made clear through manifold experience concerning it" (Westcott).
From the beginning (ἀπ' ἀρχῆς)
The phrase occurs twice in the Gospel (John 8:44; John 15:27); nine times in the First Epistle, and twice in the Second. It is used both absolutely (John 3:8; John 2:13, John 2:14), and relatively (John 15:27; 1 John 2:24). It is here contrasted with "in the beginning" (John 1:1). The difference is that by the words "in the beginning," the writer places himself at the initial point of creation, and, looking back into eternity, describes that which was already in existence when creation began. "The Word was in the beginning." In the words "from the beginning," the writer looks back to the initial point of time, and describes what has been in existence from that point onward. Thus, "in the beginning" characterizes the absolute divine Word as He was before the foundation of the world and at the foundation of the world. "From the beginning" characterizes His development in time. Note the absence of the article both here and in John 1:1. Not the beginning as a definite, concrete fact, but as apprehended by man; that to which we look as "beginning."
Have heard - have seen (ἀκηκόαμεν - ἑωράκαμεν)
Both in the perfect tense, denoting the still abiding effects of the hearing and seeing.
With our eyes
Emphasizing the direct, personal experience in a marvelous matter.
Have looked upon (ἐθεασάμεθα)
Rev., correctly, beheld. The tense is the aorist; marking not the abiding effect of the vision upon the beholder, but the historical manifestation to special witnesses. On the difference between this verb and ἑωράκαμεν we have seen, see on John 1:14, John 1:18.
Have handled (ἐψηλάησαν)
The aorist tense. Rev. handled. For the peculiar force of the verb see on Luke 24:39. The reference is, probably, to handle me (Luke 24:39), and to John 20:27. This is the more noticeable from the fact that John does not mention the fact of the Resurrection in the Epistles, and does not use the word in his own narrative of the Resurrection. The phrase therefore falls in with the numerous instances in which John assumes the knowledge of certain historic facts on the part of his readers.
Of the Word (περὶ τοῦ λογοῦ)
Better, as Rev., concerning the Word.
Of life (τῆς ζωῆς)
Lit., the life. See on John 1:4. The phrase ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, the Word of the Life, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The nearest approach to it is Philippians 2:16; but there neither word has the article. In the phrase words of eternal life (John 6:68), and in Acts 5:20, all the words of this life, ῥήματα is used. The question is whether λόγος is used here of the Personal Word, as John 1:1, or of the divine message or revelation. In the four passages of the Gospel where λόγος is used in a personal sense (John 1:1, John 1:14), it is used absolutely, the Word (compare Revelation 19:13). On the other hand, it is often used relatively in the New Testament; as word of the kingdom (Matthew 8:19); word of this salvation (Acts 8:26); word of His grace (Acts 20:32); word of truth (James 1:18). By John ζωῆς of life, is often used in order to characterize the word which accompanies it. Thus, crown of life (Revelation 2:10); water of life (Revelation 21:6); book of life (Revelation 3:5); bread of life (John 6:35); i.e., the water which is living and communicates life; the book; which contains the revelation of life; the bread which imparts life. In the same sense, John 6:68; Acts 5:20. Compare Titus 1:2, Titus 1:3.
Though the phrase, the Word of the Life, does not elsewhere occur in a personal sense, I incline to regard its primary reference as personal, from the obvious connection of the thought with John 1:1, John 1:4. "In the beginning was the Word, - in Him was life." "As John does not purpose to say that he announces Christ as an abstract single idea, but that he declares his own concrete historical experiences concerning Christ, - so now he continues, not the Logos (Word), but concerning the Word, we make annunciation to you" (Ebrard). At the same time, I agree with Canon Westcott that it is most probable that the two interpretations are not to be sharply separated. "The revelation proclaims that which it includes; it has, announces, gives life. In Christ life as the subject, and life as the character of the revelation, were absolutely united."
(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
This verse is parenthetical. Compare, for similar interruptions of the construction, 1 John 1:3, John 1:14, John 3:16, John 3:31; John 19:35.
The Life (ἡ ζωὴ)
The Word Himself who is the Life. Compare John 14:6; John 5:26; 1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:12. Life expresses the nature of the Word (John 1:4). The phrase, the Life, besides being equivalent to the Word, also indicates, like the Truth and the Light, an aspect of His being.
Was manifested (ἐφανερώθη)
See on John 21:1. Corresponding with the Word was made flesh (John 1:14). The two phrases, however, present different aspects of the same truth. The Word became flesh, contemplates simply the historic fact of incarnation. The life was manifested, sets forth the unfolding of that fact in the various operations of life. The one denotes the objective process of the incarnation as such, the other the result of that process as related to human capacity of receiving and understanding it. "The reality of the incarnation would be undeclared if it were said, 'The Life became flesh.' The manifestation of the Life was a consequence of the incarnation of the Word, but it is not coextensive with it" (Westcott).
Have seen - bear witness - shew
Three ideas in the apostolic message: experience, testimony, announcement.
See on John 1:7.
Better, as Rev., declare. See on John 16:25. So here. The message comes from (ἀπὸ) God.
That eternal life (τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον)
A particularly faulty translation, since it utterly fails to express the development of the idea of life, which is distinctly contemplated by the original. Render, as Rev., the life, the eternal life; or the life, even the eternal life. For a similar repetition of the article compare 1 John 2:8; 1 John 4:9; 2 John 1:11. This particular phrase occurs only here and John 2:25. John uses ζωὴ αἰώνιος eternal life, and ἡ αἰώνιος ζωη the eternal life, the former expressing the general conception of life eternal, and the latter eternal life as the special gift of Christ. Αἰώνιος eternal, describes the life in its quality of not being measured by time, a larger idea than that of mere duration.
Not the simple relative ἥ which, but defining the quality of the life, and having at the same time a kind of confirmatory and explanatory force of the word eternal: seeing that it was a life divine in its nature - "with the Father" - and therefore independent of temporal conditions.
With the Father (πρὸς τὸν πατέρα)
See on with God (John 1:1). In living, active relation and communion with the Father. "The preposition of motion with the verb of repose involves eternity of relation with activity and life" (Coleridge). The life eternally tended to the Father, even as it emanated from Him. It came forth from Him and was manifested to men, but to the end that it might take men into itself and unite them with the Father. The manifestation of life to men was a revelation of life, as, first of all and beyond all, centering in God. Hence, though life, abstractly, returns to God, as it proceeds from God, it returns bearing the redeemed world in its bosom. The complete divine ideal of life includes impartation, but impartation with a view to the practical development of all that receives it with reference to God as its vivifying, impelling, regulating, and inspiring center.
See on John 12:26. The title "the Father" occurs rarely in the Synoptists, and always with reference to the Son. In Paul only thrice (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 2:18). Nowhere in Peter, James, Jude, or Revelation. Frequent in John's Gospel and Epistles, and in the latter, uniformly.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The regular course of the sentence, broken by 1 John 1:2, is now resumed, by the repetition of that which we have seen and heard. Only the order is reversed: seen and heard instead of heard and seen (1 John 1:1), and the two elements of experience, sight and hearing, are thrown together without the repeated relative that which. In 1 John 1:1, the climax advanced from the lower evidence of hearing to that of sight. Here, in recapitulating, the process is reversed, and the higher class of evidence is put first.
Unto you also (καὶ ὑμῖν)
The also is variously explained. According to some, referring to a special circle of Christian readers beyond those addressed at the conclusion of the Gospel. Others, again, as referring to those who had not seen and heard as contrasted with eye-witnesses. Thus Augustine on John 20:26 sqq. "He (Thomas) touched the man, and confessed the God. And the Lord, consoling us who, now that He is seated in heaven, cannot handle Him with the hand, but touch Him by faith, says, 'Because thou hast seen thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen and believe.' It is we that are described; we that are pointed out. May there therefore come to pass in us that blessedness which the Lord predicted should be: the Life itself has been manifested in the flesh, so that the thing which can be seen with the heart alone might be seen with the eyes also, that it might heal our hearts."
This word introduces us to one of the main thoughts of the Epistle. The true life in man, which comes through the acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God, consists in fellowship with God and with man. On the word, see on Acts 2:42; see on Luke 5:10. The verb κοινωνέω to come into fellowship, to be made a partner, to be partaker of, occurs 1 Peter 4:13; 2 John 1:11; Hebrews 2:14, etc. The expression here, (ἔχειν κοινωνίαν) is stronger, since it expresses the enjoyment or realization of fellowship, as compared with the mere fact of fellowship. See on John 16:22.
Our fellowship (ἡ κοινωνία ἡ ἡμετέρα)
More strictly, the fellowship, that which is ours, according to John's characteristic practice of defining and emphasizing a noun by an article and possessive pronoun. See on John 10:27. Ours (possessive instead of personal pronoun) indicating fellowship as a distinguishing mark of Christians rather than as merely something enjoyed by them.
With the Father and with His Son (μετὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ)
Note the repeated preposition μετά with; distinguishing the two persons, and coordinating the fellowship with the Father, and the fellowship with the Son, thus implying the sameness of essence. The fellowship with both contemplates both as united in the Godhead. Plato says of one who lives in unrestrained desire and robbery, "Such an one is the friend neither of God nor man, for he is incapable of communion (κοινωνεῖν ἀδύνατος), and he who is incapable of communion (κοινωνία) us also incapable of friendship" ("Gorgias," 507). So in the "Symposium" (188), and he defines divination as "the art of communion (κοινωνία) between gods and men."
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
The whole Epistle.
Write we unto you (γράφομεν ὑμῖν)
The best texts read ἡμεῖς we, instead of ὑμῖν to you. Both the verb and the pronoun are emphatic. The writer speaks with conscious authority, and his message is to be not only announced (ἀπαγγέλλομεν, 1 John 1:3), but written. We write is emphasized by the absence of the personal object, to you.
Your joy (ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν)
The best texts read ἡμῶν, our, though either reading gives a good sense.
More correctly, fulfilled. Frequent in John. See John 3:29; John 7:8; John 8:38; John 15:11; 2 John 1:12; Revelation 6:11. "The peace of reconciliation, the blessed consciousness of sonship, the happy growth in holiness, the bright prospect of future completion and glory, - all these are but simple details of that which, in all its length and breadth is embraced by one word, Eternal Life, the real possession of which is the immediate source of our joy. We have joy, Christ's joy, because we are blessed, because we have life itself in Christ" (Dsterdieck, cit. by Alford). And Augustine: "For there is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for thine own sake, whose joy Thou thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee; this is it and there is no other" ("Confessions," x., 22). Alford is right in remarking that this verse gives an epistolary character to what follows, but it can hardly be said with him that it "fills the place of the χαίρειν greeting, lit., rejoice, so common in the opening of Epistles."
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
This then is (καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν)
Rev., correctly and literally, and this. According to the proper reading the verb stands first in order (ἐστὶν αὕτη), with emphasis, not merely as a copula, but in the sense "there exists this as the message." For a similar use of the substantive verb, see 1 John 5:16,1 John 5:17; 1 John 2:15; John 8:50.
This word, however, is invariably used in the New Testament in the sense of promise. The best texts read ἀγγελία, message, which occurs only at 1 John 3:11; and the corresponding verb, ἀγγέλλω, only at John 10:18.
We have heard of Him (ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ)
A form of expression not found elsewhere in John, who commonly uses παρ' αὐτοῦ. See on John 6:46. The phrase here points to the ultimate and not necessarily the immediate source of the message. Not only John, but others in earlier times had heard this message. Compare 1 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:11. Ἁπό points to the source παρά to the giver. Thus, John 5:41, " I receive not honor from (παρά) men." They are not the bestowers of honor upon me." John 5:44, "How can ye believe which receive honor from (παρά) one another;" the honor which men have to give, "and seek not the honor that cometh from (παρά) God;" the honor which God alone bestows. On the other hand, 1 John 3:22, "Whatsoever we ask we receive from (ἀπό) Him," the ultimate source of our gifts. So Matthew 17:25 : "Of (ἀπό) whom do the kings of the earth take custom - of (ἀπό) their own children or of (ἀπό) strangers?" What is the legitimate and ultimate source of revenue in states?
Compare the simple verb ἀγγέλλειν to bring tidings, John 20:18, and only there. Ἀναγγέλλειν is to bring the tidings up to (ἀνά) or back to him who receives them. Ἀπαγέλλειν is to announce tidings as coming from (ἀπό) some one, see Matthew 2:8; John 4:51. Καταγγέλλειν is to proclaim with authority, so as to spread the tidings down among (κατά) those who hear. See Acts 17:23. Found only in the Acts and in Paul.
God is Light (Θεὸς φῶς ἐστὶν)
A statement of the absolute nature of God. Not a light, nor the light, with reference to created beings, as the light of men, the light of the world, but simply and absolutely God is light, in His very nature. Compare God is spirit, and see on John 4:24 : God is love, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16. The expression is not a metaphor. "All that we are accustomed to term light in the domain of the creature, whether with a physical or metaphysical meaning, is only an effluence of that one and only primitive Light which appears in the nature of God" (Ebrard). Light is immaterial, diffusive, pure, and glorious. It is the condition of life.
Physically, it represents glory; intellectually, truth; morally, holiness. As immaterial it corresponds to God as spirit; as diffusive, to God as love; as the condition of life, to God as life; as pure and illuminating, to God as holiness and truth. In the Old Testament, light is often the medium of God's visible revelations to men. It was the first manifestation of God in creation. The burning lamp passed between the pieces of the parted victim in God's covenant with Abraham. God went before Israel in a pillar of fire, descended in fire upon Sinai, and appeared in the luminons cloud which rested on the mercy-seat in the most holy place. In classical Greek φῶς light, is used metaphorically for delight, deliverance, victory, and is applied to persons as a term of admiring affection, as we say that one is the light of our life, or the delight of our eyes. So Ulysses, on seeing his son Telemachus, says, "Thou hast come, Telemachus, sweet light (γλυκερὸν φάος)" (Homer, "Odyssey," xvi., 23). And Electra, greeting her returning brother, Orestes, "O dearest light (φίλτατον φῶς)" (Sophocles, "Electra," 1223). Occasionally, as by Euripides, of the light of truth ("Iphigenia at Tauris," 1046). No modern writer has developed the idea of God as light with such power and beauty as Dante. His "Paradise" might truthfully be called a study of light. Light is the only visible expression of God. Radiating from Him, it is diffused through the universe as the principle of life. This key-note is struck at the very opening of "the Paradise."
"The glory of Him who moveth everything
Doth penetrate the universe, and shine
In one part more and in another less.
Within that heaven which most His light receives
"Paradiso," i., 1-5.
In the final, beatific vision, God Himself is imagined as a luminous point which pours its rays through all the spheres, upon which the spirits gazed, and in which they read the past, the present, and the future.
"O grace abundant, by which Ipresumed
To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal,
So that the seeing I consumed therein!
I saw that in its depth far down is lying
Bound up with love together in one volume,
What through the universe in leaves is scattered;
Substance, and accident, and their operations,
All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light."
"Paradiso," xxxiii., 82-90.
"In presence of that light one such becomes,
That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect
It is impossible he e'er consent;
Because the good, which object of will,
Is gathered all in this, and out of it
That is defective which is perfect there."
"Paradiso," xxxiii., 100-105.
"O Light eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, know unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!
"Paradiso xxxiii., 124-126.
Light enkindles love.
"If in the heat of love I flame upon thee
Beyond the measure that on earth is seen,
So that the valor of thine eyes Ivanquish,
Marvel thou not thereat; for this proceeds
From perfect sight, which, as it apprehends,
To the good apprehended moves its feet.
Well I perceive how is already shining
Into thine intellect the eternal Light,
That only seen enkindles always love."
"Paradiso," v., 1-9
See also " Paradiso," cantos xxx., xxxi.
In Him is no darkness at all (καὶ σκοτία οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ οὐδεμία)
It is characteristic of John to express the same idea positively and negatively. See John 1:7, John 1:8, John 1:20; John 3:15, John 3:17, John 3:20; John 4:42; John 5:24; John 8:35; John 10:28; 1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:12. According to the Greek order, the rendering is: "And darkness there is not in Him, no, not in any way." For a similar addition of οὐδείς not one, to a complete sentence, see John 6:63; John 11:19; John 19:11. On σκοτία darkness, see on John 1:5.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
If we say (ἐὰν εἴπωμεν)
The subjunctive mood puts the case as supposed, not as assumed.
Walk in the darkness
The phrase occurs only in John's Gospel and First Epistle. Darkness here is σκότος, instead of σκοτία (1 John 1:5). See on John 1:5. Walk (περιπατῶμεν), is, literally, walk about; indicating the habitual course of the life, outward and inward. The verb, with this moral sense, is common in John and Paul, and is found elsewhere only in Mark 7:5; Acts 21:21.
We lie and do not the truth
Again the combination of the positive and negative statements. See on 1 John 1:5. The phrase to do the truth occurs only in John's Gospel and First Epistle. See on John 3:21. All walking in darkness is a not doing of the truth. "Right action is true thought realized. Every fragment of right done is so much truth made visible" (Westcott).
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
We walk in the light (ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν)
The phrase occurs only in the First Epistle. Walk, as above. In the light, having our life in God, who is light.
He is in the light
God is forever and unchangeable in perfect light. Compare Psalm 104:2; 1 Timothy 6:16. We walk, advancing in the light and by means of the light to more light. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).
One with another (μετ' ἀλλήλων)
Of Jesus Christ His Son
Omit Christ. The human name, Jesus, shows that His blood is available for man. The divine name, His Son, shows that it is efficacious. I shall be rendering a service to students of John's Epistles by giving, in a condensed form, Canon Westcott's note, classifying the several names of our Lord and their uses in the Epistles.
The name in John, as in the Bible elsewhere, has two distinct, but closely connected meanings.
1. The Revelation of the Divine Being by a special title.
2. The whole sum of the manifold revelations gathered up so as to form one supreme revelation.
The latter sense is illustrated in 3 John 1:7, where "the name" absolutely includes the essential elements of the Christian creed, the complete revelation of Christ's work in relation to God and man. Compare John 20:31; Acts 5:41.
Actual Names Used.
(I.) His Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:20. The divine antecedent is differently described in each case, and the difference colors the phrase. In 1 John 1:2-3, the Father (compare John 3). In 1 John 3:23, God. In 1 John 5:20, He that is true. Thus the sonship of Christ is regarded in relation to God as Father, as God, and as satisfying the divine ideal which man is able to form. The whole phrase, His Son Jesus Christ, includes the two elements of the confessions which John makes prominent.
The constituents of the compressed phrase are all used separately by John.
(2.) Christ. 2 John 1:9. Pointing to the preparation made under the old covenant.
In 1 John 4:15, the reading is doubtful: Jesus or Jesus Christ.
On 1 John 4:2, see note.
(5.) The Son of God. 1 John 3:8; 1 John 5:10, 1 John 5:12, 1 John 5:13, 1 John 5:20. Compare His Son (1 John 4:10; 1 John 5:9), where the immediate antecedent is ὁ Θεός God; and 1 John 5:18, He that was begotten of God. Combination of the ideas of Christ's divine dignity and divine sonship.
(6.) Jesus His (God's) Son. 1 John 1:7. Two truths. The blood of Christ is available and efficacious.
(7). His (God's) Son, His only Son. 1 John 4:9. The uniqueness of the gift is the manifestation of love.
The Son in various forms is eminently characteristic of the First and Second Epistles, in which it occurs more times than in all Paul's Epistles.
Κύριος Lord, is not found in the Epistles (omit from 2 John 1:3), but occurs in the Gospel, and often in Revelation.
The expression, the blood of Jesus His Son, is chosen with a profound insight. Though Ignatius uses the phrase blood of God yet the word blood is inappropriate to the Son conceived in His divine nature. The word Jesus brings out His human nature, in which He assumed a real body of flesh and blood, which blood was shed for us.
See on Mark 7:19. Not only forgives but removes. Compare Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:13 sq.; Hebrews 9:22 sq.; Ephesians 5:26 sq.; Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:3. Compare also 1 John 1:9, where, forgive (ἀφῇ) and cleanse (καθαρίσῃ) occur, with an obvious difference of meaning. Note the present tense cleanseth. The cleansing is present and continuous. Alexander (Bishop of Derry) cites a striking passage from Victor Hugo ("Le Parricide"). The usurper Canute, who has had a share in his father's death, expiring after a virtuous and glorious reign, walks towards the light of heaven. But first he cuts with his sword a shroud of snow from the top of Mt. Savo. As he advances towards heaven, a cloud forms, and drop by drop his shroud is soaked with a rain of blood.
All sin (πάσης ἁμαρτίας)
The principle of sin in all its forms and manifestations; not the separate manifestations. Compare all joy (James 1:2); all patience (2 Corinthians 7:12); all wisdom (Ephesians 1:8); all diligence (2 Peter 1:5).
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
That we have no sin
Ὅτι that, may be taken merely as a mark of quotation: "If we say, sin we have not." On the phrase to have sin, see on John 16:22, and compare have fellowship, 1 John 1:3. Sin (ἁμαρτίαν) is not to be understood of original sin, or of sin before conversion, but generally. "It is obvious that this ἔχειν ἁμαρτίαν (to have sin), is infinitely diversified, according to the successive measure of the purification and development of the new man. Even the apostle John does not exclude himself from the universal if we say" (Ebrard).
Heathen authors say very little about sin, and classic paganism had little or no conception of sin in the Gospel sense. The nearest approach to it was by Plato, from whose works a tolerably complete doctrinal statement might be gathered of the origin, nature, and effects of sin. The fundamental idea of ἁμαρτία (sin) among the Greeks is physical; the missing of a mark (see on Matthew 1:21; see on Matthew 6:14); from which it develops into a metaphysical meaning, to wander in the understanding. This assumes knowledge as the basis of goodness; and sin, therefore, is, primarily, ignorance. In the Platonic conception of sin, intellectual error is the prominent element. Thus: "What then, I said, is the result of all this? Is not this the result - that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?" ("Euthydemus," 281). "The business of the founders of the state will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which has been already declared by us to be the greatest of all - they must continue to rise until they arrive at the good" ("Republic," vii., 519). Plato represents sin as the dominance of the lower impulses of the soul, which is opposed to nature and to God (see "Laws," ix., 863. "Republic," i., 351). Or again, as an inward want of harmony. "May we not regard every living being as a puppet of the gods, either their plaything only or created with a purpose - which of the two we cannot certainly know? But this we know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice" ("Laws," i., 644). He traces most sins to the influence of the body on the soul. "In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible communion or fellowship with the body, and are not infected with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away, and we shall be pure, and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth" ("Phedo," 67).
We find in the classical writers, however, the occasional sense of the universal faultiness of mankind, though even Plato furnishes scarcely any traces of accepting the doctrine of innate depravity. Thus Theognis: "The sun beholds no wholly good and virtuous man among those who are now living" (615). "But having become good, to remain in a good state and be good, is not possible, and is not granted to man. God only has this blessing; but man cannot help being bad when the force of circumstances overpowers him" (Plato, "Protagoras," 344). " How, then: is it possible to be sinless? It is impossible; but this is possible, to strive not to sin" ("Epictetus," iv., 12, 19).
We deceive ourselves (ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν)
Lit., we lead ourselves astray. See on Mark 7:24; see on Matthew 27:63, Matthew 27:64; see on Jde 1:13. Not only do we err, we are responsible for it. The phrase only here in the New Testament. For the verb as applied to deceivers of various kinds, see Matthew 24:4; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:3. Compare πλάνοι deceivers (2 John 1:7); πλάνη error (Jde 1:11; 1 John 4:6).
The whole Gospel. All reality is in God. He is the only true God (ἀληθινός John 17:3; see on John 1:9). This reality is incarnated in Christ, the Word of God, "the very image of His substance," and in His message to men. This message is the truth, a title not found in the Synoptists, Acts, or Revelation, but in the Catholic Epistles (James 5:19; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 2:2), and in Paul (2 Corinthians 8:8; Ephesians 1:13, etc.). It is especially characteristic of the Gospel and Epistles of John. The truth is represented by John objectively and subjectively.
1. Objectively. In the person of Christ. He is the Truth, the perfect revelation of God (John 1:18; John 14:6). His manhood is true to the absolute law of right, which is the law of love, and is, therefore, our perfect pattern of manhood.
Truth, absolutely existing in and identified with God, was also, in some measure, diffused in the world. The Word was in the world, before as after the incarnation (John 1:10. See on John 1:4, John 1:5). Christ often treats the truth as something to which He came to bear witness, and which it was His mission to develop into clearer recognition and expression (John 18:37). This He did through the embodiment of truth in His own person (John 1:14, John 1:17; John 14:6), and by His teaching (John 8:40; John 17:17); and His work is carried out by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13), sent by God and by Christ himself (John 14:26; John 16:7). Hence the Spirit, even as Christ, is the Truth (1 John 5:6). The whole sum of the knowledge of Christ and of the Spirit, is the Truth (1 John 2:21; 2 John 1:1). This truth can be recognized, apprehended, and appropriated by man, and can be also rejected by him (John 8:32; 1 John 2:21; John 8:44).
2. Subjectively. The truth is lodged in man by the Spirit, and communicated to his spirit (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). It dwells in man (1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4; 2 John 1:2), as revelation, comfort, guidance, enlightenment, conviction, impulse, inspiration, knowledge. It is the spirit of truth as opposed to the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). It translates itself into act. God's true children do the truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6). It brings sanctification and freedom (John 8:32; John 17:17). See on John 14:6, John 14:17.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
From ὁμός, one and the same, and λέγω, to say. Hence, primarily, to say the same thing as another, and, therefore, to admit the truth of an accusation. Compare Psalm 51:4. The exact phrase, ὁμολογεῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας confess the sins, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Compare ἐξομολογεῖσθαι ἁμαρτίας (παραπτώματα) Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; James 5:16. See on Matthew 3:6; see on Matthew 11:25; see on Luke 22:6; see on Acts 19:18; see on James 5:16.
Note the plural, as compared with the singular, sin, in the previous verse. See note. The plural indicates that the confession is to be specific as well as general. Augustine's words are exactly to the point, but his play upon pardon and confess cannot be reproduced in English. "Vis ut ille ignoscat? Tu agnosce." Do you wish Him to forgive? Do you confess.
True to His own nature and promises; keeping faith with Himself and with man. The word is applied to God as fulfilling His own promises (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 11:11); as fulfilling the purpose for which He has called men (1 Thessalonians 5:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9); as responding with guardianship to the trust reposed in Him by men (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:19). "He abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). The same term is applied to Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 2:17). God's faithfulness is here spoken of not only as essential to His own being, but as faithfulness toward us; "fidelity to that nature of truth and light, related to His own essence, which rules in us as far as we confess our sins" (Ebrard). The essence of the message of life is fellowship with God and with His children (1 John 1:3). God is light (1 John 1:5). Walking in the light we have fellowship, and the blood of Jesus is constantly applied to cleanse us from sin, which is darkness and which interrupts fellowship. If we walk in darkness we do not the truth. If we deny our sin the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, "God, by whom we were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (1 Corinthians 1:9) to forgive our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and thus to restore and maintain the interrupted fellowship.
Rev., righteous. From δίκη right. The term is applied both to God and to Christ. See Revelation 16:5; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:7; 1 Peter 3:18. The two words, faithful and righteous, imply each other. They unite in a true conception of God's character. God, who is absolute rightness, must be faithful to His own nature, and His righteous dealing with men who partake of that nature and walk in fellowship with Him, is simply fidelity to Himself. "Righteousness is truth passing into action" (Westcott).
To forgive (ἵνα ἀφῇ)
See John 20:23; 1 John 2:12. Primarily the word means to send away, dismiss; hence of sins, to remit, as a debt. Cleansing (1 John 1:7) contemplates the personal character of the sinner; remission, his acts. See on Matthew 6:12; see on James 5:15. To forgive is, literally, that he may forgive. On John's use of ἵνα in order that, see on John 15:13; see on John 14:31. Forgiveness answers to the essential purpose of His faithful and righteous being.
Our sins (τὰς ἁμαρτίας)
Sin is defined by John as ἀνομία, lawlessness. Compare Romans 6:19. A.V., transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). It may be regarded either as condition or as act; either with reference to the normal, divine ideal of manhood, or to an external law imposed upon man by God. Any departure from the normal ideal of man as created in God's image puts man out of true relation and harmony with his true self, and therefore with God and with his fellowman. He thus comes into false, abnormal relation with right, love, truth, and light. He walks in darkness and forfeits fellowship with God. Lawlessness is darkness, lovelessness, selfishness. This false principle takes shape in act. He doeth (ποιεῖ) or committeth sin. He doeth lawlessness (τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ; 1 John 3:4, 1 John 3:8). He transgresses the words (ῥήματα, John 17:8) of God, and His commandments (ἐντολαί, 1 John 2:3) as included and expressed in His one word or message (λόγος, 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:14). Similarly the verb ἁμαρτάνειν, to sin, may signify either to be sinful (1 John 3:6), or to commit sin (1 John 1:10). Sin, regarded both as principle and act, is designated by John by the term ἁμαρτία. The principle expressed in the specific acts is ἡ ἁμαρτία (John 1:29), which occurs in this sense in Paul, but not in the Synoptists, nor in Acts. Many of the terms used for sin by other New Testament writers are wanting in John; as ἀσέβεια ungodliness (see on Jde 1:14); ἀσεβεῖν to be ungodly (2 Peter 2:6); παραβαίνειν to transgress; παράβασις transgression; παραβάτης transgressor (see on Matthew 6:14; see on James 2:11); παρανομεῖν to act contrary to the law; παρανομία breach of law (see on Acts 23:3; see on 2 Peter 2:16); παράπτωμα trespass (see on Matthew 6:14).
See on 1 John 1:7.
With reference to δίκαιος righteous. The righteous One who calls us into fellowship with Himself, purges away the unrighteousness which is contrary to His nature, and which renders fellowship impossible. The word occurs in John's writings only at John 7:18; 1 John 5:17.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
We have not sinned (οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν)
Committed sins. Sin regarded as an act. The state is expressed by ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν we have no (or not) sin (1 John 1:8).
We make Him (ποιοῦμεν αὐτὸν)
His word (ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ)
Not the personal Word, as John 1:1, but the divine message of the Gospel. See Luke 5:1; Luke 8:11; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2, Acts 6:7, etc. Compare "the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). The truth is the substance of the word. The word carries the truth. The word both moves the man (John 8:31, John 8:32) and abides in him (John 5:38; John 8:37). The man also abides in the word (John 8:31).