1 John 1:8-10
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.…
This is a strong and clear statement, the utterance of an apostle who speaks out of the fulness of a long and ripe Christian experience, not simply in his own name, but as the organ or representative of the whole Church. Let us consider its bearing: —
I. ON OUR CONCEPTIONS OF TRUTH. Truth is a wide word, but I use it here in St. John's sense as equivalent to the truth of the gospel — the truth which regulates the kingdom of God. It is only by patient study and the contributions furnished by prayerful research on the part of her members, the Church can enrich herself with the full contents of Divine revelation. An infallible judgment can only exist in a perfect or sinless character. Prejudice prejudges a question in accordance with its own bias, and unduly discounts the evidence that looks in another direction. Personal feeling blinds us to considerations whose force would otherwise be recognised. Attachment to a theory, or a traditional interpretation, makes us unwilling to acknowledge frankly what tells against it, and tempts us to do violence to the natural meaning of words. To assume, therefore, that because a man is a Christian, sincere, devout, and earnest in his faith, he must be unquestionably right in his views of Scripture, is to assume what the apostle here condemns. It is to suppose that he is absolutely free from all that can limit, warp, or obscure the understanding, that is, that he has no sin. But you may ask — Does not this destroy the infallibility of the apostles themselves? They never claimed to be sinless. I answer to this that for special purposes the apostles were enriched with supernatural gifts. But still farther you may ask — What, then, does St. John mean when he says: "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things"? "All things," if you look at the verse that follows, St. John uses as equivalent to "the truth" — the distinctive truth of the gospel. As a man who does not know his own mind is at the mercy of every wind of opinion, and exercises no determining influence upon events, so the Church of Christ unless it knew her Lord, and the peculiar truths which centre in His Person, would be simply and hopelessly lost amid the conflicting eddies of the world. But this is quite a different matter from affirming that every individual Christian will come to correct conclusions on all the debatable subjects that lie within the compass of revelation. Let us, therefore, while we hold fast the faith and rest upon it, as the broad foundation of all our hope, ever remember our own proneness to go astray and to attach a disproportionate importance to secondary truths.
II. IN RELATION TO GUIDANCE IN PRACTICAL CONDUCT. When we know the gospel we wish to act in accordance with it. In other words, we desire not only to be led into right views of truths, but also into right conceptions of duty. In reality these two are one. To think truly will secure our acting rightly. If we should require to be perfect or sinless men in order to be sure that our conclusions in regard to all matters connected with Revelation are certainly right, we should require to be the same kind of men to be sure that our decisions in points of duty are never wrong. In both cases we must remember that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and that wherever sin is there is liability to error, just as there is to pride, or hatred, or open transgression. Perhaps you will say: "Nobody seriously doubts this; but do we not receive in answer to prayer what will neutralise this confessed liability, and guide us to a right decision?" How, then, does God answer our prayer for guidance? He gives us what the Scripture calls grace, inward enlightenment, or strength, according as the occasion may require. But you must not imagine that grace, any more than sin, is a physical quantity which may occupy a definite space within a man's nature. Grace operates throughout our whole nature, renewing the will, cleansing the affections, stimulating and purifying thought, acting as an antidote in all these directions to the power of sin. Without it sin works unqualified by any Divine control, with it sin is always under restraint. Hence no act or perception on the part of a Christian man is wholly the result of grace, but more or less of grace and more or less of sin. In short, it is the outcome or exercise of a sinful nature in which both co-exist. We may interpose an obstacle that will seriously hinder His working or wholly arrest it. Conscience may have been deadened through previous inconsistency or unfaithfulness. The heart may have grown sluggish through neglect. Our affections may have spent themselves too lavishly upon earthly things, and grown dull and indifferent towards things above. Temptation may have prevailed against us, and through pride or unwatchfulness we may have admitted strange and alien guests into the sanctuary of the soul. Is it possible that in such circumstances we should be keenly sensitive to the motions of the Divine Spirit? May we not miss the intimations we might otherwise detect, or yield but a halting and imperfect response to their monitions? The truth is, we conceive of prayer and its results in too mechanical and unspiritual a way. We imagine we are always ready and able to receive, no matter what our petitions may include. It does not always occur to us that spiritual blessings must be spiritually discerned and spiritually used. And hence a double danger ensues. When Christians pray, and the answer does not correspond to the request, their faith in prayer is apt to be shaken. They fail to realise that His answer can never be heard so long as the ear is stopped; that His grace can never enter as long as the heart is preoccupied with other things, and unwilling to surrender itself wholly to Him. Or, on the other hand, they may assume that a Divine light is leading them on, where they are following in reality the sparks of their own kindling. They become dogmatic and opinionative, when there is no warrant for their being so. They contract a self-confidence, and conviction that they are always right, which is apt to blind them to many pitfalls, and dig a ditch for their own feet.
(C. Moinet, M. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.