1 John 2:12
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you, etc. Our text teaches:

1. That the revelations of redemptive truth are adapted to every season of human life. St. John writes to little children, to young men, and to fathers. To each of these classes the Bible has much to say, and much that is appropriate to each class. The Bible is the book for the little child, for the venerable sage, and for all the intermediate seasons of life.

2. That there should be an appropriate relation between the physical seasons and the spiritual experiences of human life. Some of these seasons and experiences are mentioned in our text; and to these we now turn our attention.

I. AS EXPERIENCE COMMON TO ALL CHRISTIANS. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his Name's sake." In this place we regard the "little children" as addressed to all the apostle's readers, irrespective of age. The word which he uses τεκνία is employed seven times in this Epistle, and always as comprehending the whole of his readers.

1. The great blessing enjoyed. "Your sins are forgiven you." This forgiveness is an accomplished fact, and is realized by the Christian as a present blessing. And how great a blessing it is! He who receives it is set free from the guilt of his sins, delivered from their condemnation, exempted from their punishment; and there is imparted to him a blessed consciousness of the favour of God - "the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost." Dr. Maclaren has well said, "Not putting up the rod, but taking your child to your heart, is your forgiveness And pardon is the open heart of God, full of love, unaverted by any consequences of my sin, unclosed by any of my departures from him."

2. The medium through which the blessing is obtained. "For his Name's sake." The Name is that of Jesus Christ, the Saviour and the Anointed of God. The Name is suggestive of all his work for us and for our salvation - his perfect redemptive work, with which the Father was well pleased. We have forgiveness and "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

II. AN EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO CHILDHOOD. "I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father." The word used for "children" παιδία here is not the same as that in the preceding verse; and we think, with Ebrard, that the apostle does not now address all his readers, but those only who were children in age. One of the first indications of the intelligence of a child is its recognition of its father. Very early in life the heart of the child knows its father. Not as the result of teaching or reasoning, but in the natural unfolding of its powers it makes the recognition. And those who are children in the Christian life know God as their Father, not by evidences or arguments, but by the trust and love of their heart, which have been awakened through Jesus Christ. They know him as their Father, not only because they are his creatures, but by the gracious, loving, tender relations which he sustains to them, and by the existence and exercise of the filial spirit in themselves. They have "received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father." It seems to us that "little children" in many cases apprehend and realize the Divine Fatherhood more clearly and fully than Christians of mature age; and that they do so because their faith in him is simpler and stronger.

III. AS EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO YOUNG MANHOOD. "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one."

1. The possession of spiritual strength. "Ye are strong." Strength should characterize young manhood. Strength of body is a good thing; strength of mind is better; strength of soul is best. Spiritual strength is the strength of confidence in God, of love to God and to man, of worthy purposes, of righteous principles, and of vital accord with truth. And this strength finds expression in patient endurance, and earnest labour, and resolute resistance to wrong and battling for the right. The last aspect of this strength is probably prominent in the clause under consideration. The young men were strong in moral conflict, The interpretation is confirmed by the use of the same word in Luke 11:21," When the strong man armed," etc.; and in Hebrews 11:34, "Waxed valiant in fight," or, as in the Revised Version, "mighty in war." And this strength is derived through Jesus Christ. Apart from him we can do nothing. We can do all things in him that strengtheneth us. "Therefore be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."

2. The possession of Divine truth. "The Word of God abideth in you." The Word of God is the revelation of his mind and will which he had made to man, with perhaps special reference to the gospel. They had received this Word, and it was prized by them; they retained it as a treasure (cf. Psalm 119:162). It dwelt within them

(1) as an illuminating force (cf. Psalm 19:7; Psalm 119:105, 130; Proverbs 6:23);

(2) as a regulative force (cf. Psalm 37:31; Psalm 119:1-11, 101).

3. The attainment of spiritual victory. "Ye have overcome the evil one," i.e., Satan. He is the wicked one, "because the first in wickedness, because most industriously wicked, and because most obstinate and persevering in wickedness." St. John cannot mean that the young men had completely and finally vanquished Satan. He does not so readily accept and submit to defeat, but renews his attacks again and again. The apostle writes of the victory achieved in conversion. There is a sense in which all who have become new creatures in Christ Jesus are already conquerors of the wicked one. They are "delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Colossians 1:13; and cf. chapter 1 John 5:18). As Alford says," Whatever conflict remains for them afterwards, is with a baffled and conquered enemy."

IV. AN EXPERIENCE APPROPRIATE TO MATURE MANHOOD. "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning," i.e., Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1). The appropriate occupation of age is not conflict, but contemplation; not stormy strife, but serene meditation; to penetrate mere deeply into the heart of truth, to get clearer and deeper visions of the Eternal and the Divine, to know more and more of Jesus Christ, and of God in Christ. Maturity in the knowledge of Christ is becoming in Christian fathers. "The whole sum of Christian ripeness and experience is this knowledge of 'thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.'" Let each of these classes addressed by St. John seek to realize its own appropriate experience. - W.J.







I write unto you, little children
I. I want the babes in grace, the weak in faith, to notice THEIR PRIVILEGE. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake."

1. This is a privilege extremely desired by the little children. They have but lately felt the burden of guilt; the Spirit of God has but newly convinced them of sin; and, therefore, above everything, their prayer is, "Father, forgive me." To the freshly saved it is a joy worth worlds to have their sins forgiven; and this joy belongs of right to all the saints, yea, even to the little children in the family of God. The pardon of sin is as the pearl of great price to you in your present stage of spiritual life; you would have sold all that you had in order to procure it; and now that you have it your heart is aglow with gratitude. Far be it from me to stay your holy joy, and yet the Lord will show you greater things than these.

2. At your stage of experience pardon is the most prominent blessing of the covenant. The newly pardoned does not yet see the innumerable other blessings which come in the train of forgiveness; he is for the present absorbed in the hearing of that one sentence, "Go in peace; thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee." Pardon is but an entrance blessing, a welcome at the doorstep: there are rarer joys within the house. You have become an heir to a boundless inheritance; all things are yours; heaven, and Christ, and God are yours.

3. Here let me observe that the forgiveness of sins is assuredly the possession of the new beginner in the Divine life.

4. Note, also, that your sins are forgiven you on the same terms as those of the apostle, and the greatest of the saints: your sins are forgiven you for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of His glorious person, for the sake of His honourable offices, for the sake of His atoning death, for the sake of His glorious resurrection, for the sake of His perpetual intercession before the throne of God.

5. Now notice that this is the reason why John wrote to you, little children. The moment, then, that a man has his sins forgiven, he is old enough to begin to understand that which is written, and he should become a Bible reader.

II. I have to speak of THE KNOWLEDGE of these little children. "I have written unto you, little children, because ye have known, or know, the Father." The tiniest babe in the family of God knows the Father.

1. For, as we have seen, his sins are forgiven him. By whom is that pardon given? Why, by the Father; and, therefore, he that has had his sins forgiven him necessarily knows the Father.

2. Moreover, this is a piece of knowledge which the child of God obtains very early in his spiritual life; for whatever a child does not know, he knows his father. Little children, you know God now in your spiritual childhood. You could not write a treatise upon His attributes; but you know Him by the instinct of a child. Little children, the result of your knowing God as your Father is that when He is away from you you are in the habit of crying after Him. On the other hand, when you do get to your Father you show that you love Him by the perfect restfulness of your spirit. In God you are at home. The presence of God is the paradise of the believer. This also is true, that you seek to imitate Him. Would you not be perfect if you could? If you could, would you not be rid of every sin? And do you not glory in Him? Little children when they begin to talk, and go to school, how proud they are of their father! We cannot make enough of our God. We extol Him with all our might. With the blessed virgin we sing, "My soul doth magnify the Lord."

III. THE PRECEPTS which John has written for your guidance. First, look at 1 John 2. "My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not."

1. That is the first precept — little children, sin not. Children are very apt to get into the mire. There is so much of carnality about us, so much of the old Adam, that the question is not into which sin we fall, but into which sin we do not fall. Like the pendulum, we swing to the right hand and then to the left: we err first in one way and then in another; we are ever inclined to evil. Avoid every sin. Ask for the grace of God to sanctify you wholly, spirit, soul, and body.

2. Further on in this second chapter the apostle writes to them again, and tells them (ver. 18) that it is the last time, and that there are many antichrists abroad. You will have to run your eye right down the chapter till you come to verse 24, for that is what he says to little children, because there are many antichrists in the world that would seduce them; "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning." Little children are very fickle. The toys which they cry for one day they break the next; young minds change with the wind. So, little children, there are many evil ones who will endeavour to seduce you from the truth of God, it is well to be on your guard against those who would mislead you. Till we are rooted and grounded in the truth, new things have great charms for us, especially if they have about them a great show of holiness and zeal for God. "Little children, let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning," leave to others the soon-exhausted novelties.

3. Little children, here is a third precept for you (ver. 28). "And now, little children, abide in Him." Let the truth abide in you, and do you abide in Christ, who is the truth. What next?

4. Read on to 1 John 3:7 — "Little children, let no man deceive you." Children are very credulous; they will believe any idle tale if it be told them by a clever and attractive person. Little children, believe your Saviour, but be not ready to believe anybody else.

5. Further on (1 John 3:18) we read, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."

6. You have the next word in 1 John 4:4 — "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." Satan dwells in the world, and he is mighty; but God dwells in you, and He is almighty; therefore be not afraid.

7. The last precept to little children is at the end of the Epistle. Care fully read the last verse — "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." I do not think you are likely to fall in love with the idols of the heathen and bow down to them; but there are plenty of other gods which are the idols of one period and the derision of the next. Keep you to Christ. Ask not for pomp and show; ask not for noise and bluster; ask for nothing but that your sins may be forgiven you, that you may know the Father, and then that you may abide in Christ, and be full of love to all the family of God.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

What is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the young?

1. It appeals to their conscience, for youth has a conscience, a very sensitive conscience. How the boy blushes when he tells his first lie. The soul of the boy shrinks from sin at first. How penitent he is for the angry blow or the cruel word. May I not tell that child how sin may be put away? Ah, we tell the child, and we tell him today, that the lie will grow, and that the habit will increase.

2. It is also a gospel to the heart. I believe in making religion a personal thing, in bringing before the child, or the growing boy, the Lord Jesus Christ as a living, loving person, One who feels for him, and One who knows him.

3. It is a gospel which appeals to the admirations. It tells the child of the wondrous promises of God, and the little child's admiration is kindled.

4. It is the gospel to the energies. It represents life as a vineyard to be planted, as a battle to be fought, as a work to be done. The gospel to the young tells them that if they grow up there is work for them to do.

5. It is a gospel of aspirations. Youth is the time of hope. Youth is the time of ambitions. And the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ recognises that, and will never laugh at the young Joseph because he has dreamed that other sheaves are coming and bowing down to his sheaf. But remember, boy, the sheaves will never bow down to your sheaf unless you take off your coat, and sharpen your sickle, and get to work. Life is not simply to be dreamed away.

(E. A. Stuart, M. A.)

Having shown what God is, and what follows from that, what Christ is, and also what follows from that, St. John now tells his readers what by the grace of God they themselves are, and what follows from that. St. John's description of Christians.

I. IN THEIR UNITY, or as to the things they have in common.

1. A common life (ver. 12). "Children" is one of the standing terms in this Epistle for all Christians of all ages and ranks; and the great truth to which this term witnesses is the kinship of all Christian people.

2. We are all feeble in power, partial in knowledge, fractious in temper, imperfect in all things. If Newton at the height of his career felt himself a child strolling on the shore of a fathomless sea; if St. Paul at the height of his inspiration felt that his views of truth were imperfect, "for now I know in part, and prophesy in part"; if Michael Angelo at eighty said, "I carry my satchel still" — still like a little child going every day to school to learn a new lesson; if J.R. Green, with all his mine of knowledge, said, "I shall die learning"; surely, then, we must feel that the term "little ones" is no piece of apostolic play fulness, no mere pet name prompted by St. John's great love, but a strictly accurate description of us all.

3. Faith in His name, i.e., in Himself, as revealed by Him self to us — is the first religious act of man. Forgiveness in His name is the first religious gift of God. Faith and forgiveness constitute the first act of reciprocity, of give and take between God and man. Now forgiveness of sin is the third fact common to all Christians. All Christians are akin. All are imperfect. All are for given.

4. To know the Father means to live in direct personal communion with the Father — personally to love Him, to obey Him, to draw near Him in prayer and praise. To live with regard to God not like an orphan whose father is a mere memory or a hearsay, but like a child whose father is alive and at home, who sees him every day, knows him better and loves more as each day passes — that is the crowning feature of the Christian life.

II. IN THEIR VARIETY.

1. Knowledge is the feature of age. "I write unto you, fathers, because ye know." You cannot begin your Christian life with knowing; you must begin with believing. Life — only a life of action for God can change belief into knowledge.

2. Young men, there is a fight before you. Mrs. Oliphant, in one of her weird stories, tells of a secret chamber in a haunted castle, where dwelt for ages a bad ancestor of a lordly race, keeping himself alive by unholy arts. Every heir of that house on his twenty-first birth day was compelled to enter the chamber alone and meet the temptations of this evil man. One by one they fell into the snare; till one came who discarded the sword given him, and met the tempter in God's name, and conquered. Well, that weird ghost story is our own life story. All men and all women meet that spectre. We would protect you young folk; we would save you the temptation in the wilder ness; but it may not be. Hell will assault you at every point of your nature. Now a young man's strength in that dread hour depends on how much of God's Word he has in him.

(J. M. Gibbon.)

St. John here considers the children of God, whom, as previously, he calls little, not contemptuously, but in reference to known infirmities, abbreviated knowledge, and feeble progress. The greatest saint, after all, is but as a little child, as it respects attainments in virtue and knowledge. As a giant, beside a pyramid of Egypt, is but as a pigmy; and the whole earth, compared with the universe in which it rolls, but a small planet; and its loftiest peaks as mites on its surface when compared with its bulk; so God's worshippers, compared with Him, the Omniscient, the Omnipresent, and the Eternal, are as nothing. The wisest are the most humble, because they know how little they know, and how much of truth there remains to be known; which, as an ocean, lies before them in fathomless depths. Like those who climb mountains of ashes, who slide back as they make the progressive step, so we, through defective education, and from our own negligence, have to unlearn, as well as to learn; and, after all, are but learners still, and but as children, who are apt to stay, liable to fall, and who require continually to look up to the All-wise and All-good. To little children, even the babes in Christ, St. John proclaims the most consoling truth, viz., that their sins are forgiven. Our blessed Lord authorises us to be happy, when it is thus with us, saying, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." To have our sins forgiven is to have life indeed; all are most miserable till then, however unjustly gay or blindly secure.

(John Stock, M. A.)

The true pastor careth for every member of Christ's body committed to His trust. He does not regard the cedars and the oaks only; but also the tender plants and shrubs in the garden of the Lord.

(John Stock, M. A.)

Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake
"For His name's sake!" These petitions which occur frequently in the Book of Psalms have been granted to the very letter. "For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name. Deliver us, purge away our sins, for Thy name's sake." You must be aware that the expression "the name of the Lord" is used frequently in Scripture to denote, generally, His nature and attributes. Indeed, "the name of the Lord" is put virtually for God Himself; so that what is said to be done for the sake of His name might be regarded as done for His own sake by God. And you will find that when employed as a motive or reason, there is a prevalence in God's name which is assigned to no other plea.

I. You cannot mark more distinctly THE ALTERATION WROUGHT BY CHRIST ON HUMAN CONDITION than by representing Him as placing us in such a position that we can ask God for His own sake to pardon iniquity. It is true that prayer, from its very nature, must correspond to the dictates of the Divine attributes, or the demands of the Divine glory; in other words, what our necessities impel us to ask, must be just what God, in compliance with His own properties, can be ready to bestow; else there is no hope of the acceptance of our petitions; but that this should be possible in respect of the forgiveness of sin is a marvel which overwhelms us, even when familiar with the scheme of redemption. The glorious, the stupendous thing in this scheme is, that it consulted equally for God and man; that it made the Divine honour as much interested as human necessity in the granting of pardon to all who would accept. Justice itself, holiness itself — these not only permit our pardon, they demand our glorification. In short, we can not only ask God to forgive in the hope that His compassion may incline Him to show favour, we can take the bold and unassailable ground of asking Him to forgive "for His name's sake." When the Psalmist asked for forgiveness, he asked it for the sake of God's name. Indeed, the Psalmist was not privileged to "see the things which we see, or to hear the things which we hear." He may not have been allowed to discern the exact process; but, in common with other patriarchs and saints under the old dispensation, he had reached a firm assurance that God stood pledged to provide a ransom; that, therefore, the Divine honour was indissolubly bound up with the pardon of sin. And this sufficed. But if David, living only in the twilight of revelation, taught only through the mysteriousness of prophecy and type — if he believed that pardon might be asked for the sake of God's name, shall not we acknowledge the fact — we, "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth Crucified amongst us" — we, who know that "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" — we, who are taught that "all the promises of God are yea in Christ, and in Him amen"?

II. Consider more particularly THE COMFORT DERIVABLE FROM THIS GREAT TRUTH, that it is "for His name's sake" that God forgives sin. And we may here say, that since God forgives sin for His own sake, there is no room whatever for fear that our sins are too great to be pardoned. We may even go so far as to declare, that if it be always for the sake of His own name that God acts when pardoning iniquity, then the greater the iniquity the greater the reason why He should forgive. David would seem to have felt this when he prayed — "For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great." Human sinfulness has been turned into the widest field for the display of Divinity, so that on the arena of this ruined creation there may be such a manifestation of all that is majestic in Godhead as should serve to make it a theatre of instruction to the highest order of being. And we cannot hesitate to maintain that it is the greatness of moral evil which has made His interference so honourable to the Almighty. It was a case, if we dare use the expression, worthy the succours of the Godhead. When a Manasseh, who had sinned beyond all that went before, is forgiven, and Paul, who had thirsted for the "blood of the saints," is reconciled unto God, we feel that every attribute which pardon glorifies must be glorified in the highest possible degree. If He was glorified in stilling the tempest, He must be most glorious when that tempest is fiercest. And though when the transgressor remembers that his sins have been numerous and heinous, or that his iniquity has been specially flagrant, if he had to ask forgiveness for his own sake, he might well be discouraged, yet when he calls to mind that if God forgives at all, He must forgive "for His name's sake," it should not be the greatness of his sin which can withhold him from prayer. The bitter impiety of the reckless is not more offensive to our Maker than the suspicion that He is unwilling to receive back the prodigal. Such suspicion throws doubt upon the truth of His Word; and what can be imagined more derogatory to the honour of God? You are expressly told that God "willeth not the death of a sinner," but rather that all would repent and live. Is this true? God saith it. Will you deny it? Will you falsify it? Yet you do if you fear to come to Him, because you know, because you feel that your transgressions are great, that your offences are multiplied. Whom did Christ die for? The guilty. Whom does He intercede for? The guilty. "The name of the Lord," saith Solomon, "is a strong tower." If so, why should we not "flee to it and be safe," forasmuch as to "little children" an apostle could say, "Your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake"?

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Living in the joy and light of the Divine Fatherhood, the Apostle John had come to regard all disciples of Jesus as children; and as the beauty of a child is in its childhood, its littleness, its unassertiveness, its dependableness, the apostle seems to have a delight in speaking of the disciples of Jesus as little children, remembering doubtless the little child that Jesus took and set in the midst of those disciples who were wrangling about greatness and place and position. I think there is much of instruction, and no little of comfort for us if only we will try and see things as the Apostle John sees them. He acknowledges the dark fact of sin, the bright fact of forgiveness, and the brightest of all facts — that forgiveness is based on the relation which Jesus Christ has established between Himself and us. One is weary of hearing of secular education as a cure for the sinfulness of man's nature. I am sure that an eloquent writer of our day is right on this — that if the influence of the outpoured life of Christ were withdrawn from our world, sins would not only increase incalculably in number, but the tyranny of sin would be fearfully augmented, and it would spread among a greater number of people. It is a new disposition, a new heart which man needs, and the outpoured life of God in Christ is necessary to produce that; as necessary to produce it as the outpoured radiance of the sun is necessary to produce the fruits of the earth by which our physical nature is sustained. Therefore it is that the Apostle John goes far deeper than to connect the forgiveness of sin with repentance for sin; he connects it with the relationship we sustain to Christ and the relationship He sustains to us. Some one asks — why is it necessary that Jesus the Christ of God should put Himself into the relations towards us which have been established, in order that the Everlasting Father may forgive sins? Why cannot He say to the sorrowing man, "I forgive you," and have done with it?

1. There are reasons in His own nature. When God undertakes to forgive sin He pledges Himself to rescue the forgiven man from his sin. In a word, He undertakes to regenerate his nature, to renew it so that he shall eventually live the unsinning life. And in order to that, Jesus Christ and His work are necessary.

2. There are reasons in the nature of man. To forgive a sinner and leave him to the helplessness which has come from his sin is only half forgiveness. Man needs to be brought into such an understanding of God and into such a love of God that he will hate to sin against Him. In order to that, Christ Jesus and His sacrifice of Himself are necessary.

3. There are reasons, too, in the Divine government. It must be made universally evident that there is no righteous reason for rebellion against God on the part of any.

(R. Thomas.)

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