View 1st John 2 in the note window.
If, on the other hand, we have even committed sin and all, being judged
according to the light, is confessed (so that the will no longer takes part
in it, the pride of that will being broken down), He is faithful and just
to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have
not sinned [see note #6] (as a general truth), it shews not only that the truth is
not in us, but we
make God a liar; His word is not in us, for He says that all have sinned.
There are the three things: we lie; the truth is not in us; we make God a
liar. It is this fellowship with God in the light which, in practical daily
christian life, inseparably connects forgiveness, and the present sense of
it by faith, and purity of heart.
Thus we see the christian position (ver. 7); and then the things which, in
three different ways, are opposed to the truth-to communion with God in
The apostle wrote that which relates to the communion with the Father and
the Son, in order that their joy might be full
That which he wrote according to the revelation of the nature of God, which
he had received from Him who was the life from heaven, was in order that
they should not sin. But to say this is to suppose that they might sin. Not
that it is necessary they should do so; for the presence of sin in the
flesh by no means obliges us to walk after the flesh. But if it should take
place, there is provision made by grace, in order that grace may act, and
that we may be neither condemned, nor brought again under the law.
We have an Advocate with the Father, One who carries on our cause for us on
high. Now this is not in order to obtain righteousness, nor again to wash
our sins away. All that has been done. Divine righteousness has placed us
in the light, even as God Himself is in the light. But communion is
interrupted, if even levity of thought finds place in our heart; for it is
of the flesh and the flesh has no communion with God. When communion is
interrupted, when we have sinned (not when we have repented, for it is His
intercession that leads to repentance), Christ intercedes for us.
Righteousness is always present-our righteousness-"Jesus Christ the
Righteous." Therefore, neither the righteousness nor the value of the
propitiation for sin being changed, grace acts (one may say, acts
necessarily) in virtue of that righteousness, and of that blood which is
before God -acts, on the intercession of Christ who never forgets us, in
order to bring us back to communion by means of repentance. Thus, while yet
on earth, before Peter had committed the sin, He prayed for him; at the
given moment He looks on him, and Peter repents and weeps bitterly for his
offence. Afterwards the Lord does all that is necessary to make Peter judge
the root itself of the sin; but all is grace.
It is the same in our case. Divine righteousness abides-the immutable
foundation of our relationships with God, established on the blood of
Christ. When communion, which exists only in the light, is interrupted, the
intercession of Christ, available by virtue of His blood (for propitiation
for the sin has also been made), restores the soul that it may still again
enjoy communion with God according to the light, into which righteousness
has introduced it. [see note #7]
This propitiation is made for the whole world, not for the Jews only, nor
to the exclusion of any one at all; but for the whole world, God in His
moral nature having been fully glorified by the death of Christ.
These three capital points-or, if you will, two capital points, and the
third, namely, advocacy, which is supplementary-form the introduction, the
doctrine of the epistle. All the rest is an experimental application of
that which this part contains: namely, first (life being given), communion
with the Father and the Son; second, the nature of God, light, which
manifests the falsehood of all pretension to communion with the light, if
the walk be in darkness; and third, seeing that sin is in us and that we
may fail although we are cleansed before God so as to enjoy the light, the
advocacy which Jesus Christ the righteous can always exercise before God,
on the ground of the righteousness which is ever in His presence, and the
blood which is shed for our sins, in order to restore our communion, when
we have lost it by our guilty negligence.
The Spirit-now proceeds to develop the characteristics of this divine life.
Now we are sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ, that is to say,
to obey on the same principles as those on which He obeyed; where His
Father's will was the motive as well as the rule of action. It is the
obedience of a life to which it was meat and drink to do the will of God:
not as under the law, in order to obtain life. The life of Jesus Christ was
a life of obedience, in which He enjoyed the love of His Father perfectly,
tested in all things and so proved perfect. His words, His commandments,
were the expression of that life; they direct that life in us, and ought to
exercise all the authority over us of Him who pronounced them.
The law promised life to those who obeyed it. Christ is the life. This life
has been imparted to us -to believers. Therefore, the words which were the
expression of that life, in its perfection in Jesus, direct and guide it in
us according to that perfection. Besides this, it has authority over us.
His commandments are its expression. We have therefore to obey, and to walk
as He walked-the two forms of practical life. It is not enough to walk
well: we must obey, for there is authority. This is the essential principle
of a right walk. On the other hand, the obedience of the Christian-as is
evident by that of Christ Himself -is not that which we often think. We
call a child obedient, who, having a will of his own, submits himself at onc
e when the authority of the parent intervenes to prevent his accomplishing
it. But Christ never obeyed in this way. He came to do the will of God.
Obedience was His mode of being. His Father's will was the motive, and,
with the love that was never separate from it, the only motive of His every
act and every impulse. This is obedience properly called christian. It is a
new life which delights in doing the will of Christ, acknowledging His
entire authority over it. We reckon ourselves to be dead to everything
else; we are alive unto God, we are not our own. We only know Christ
inasmuch as we are living by His life; for the flesh does not know Him, and
cannot understand His life.
Now, that life is obedience: therefore he who says, " I know him," and does
not observe His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. It
does not say here, "he deceives himself," for it is very possible that he
is not self-deceived, as in the other case of fancied communion; for here
the will is in action, and a man knows it, if he will confess it. But the
reality is not there; he is a liar, and the truth in the knowledge of
Jesus, which he professes, is not in him.
There are two remarks to be made here. First, that the apostle takes things
always as they are in themselves in an abstract way, without the
modifications that are occasioned by other things, in the midst of which,
or in relation with which, the former are found. Second, that the chain of
consequences which the apostle deduces is not that of outward reasoning,
the force of which is consequently on the surface of the argument itself.
He reasons from a great inward principle, so that one does not see the
force of the argument unless one knows the fact, and even the scope, of
that principle; and, in particular, that which the life of God is in its
nature, in its character, and in its action. But, without possessing it, we
do not and cannot understand anything about it. There is indeed, the
authority of the apostle and of the word to tell us that the thing is so,
and that is sufficient. But the links of his discourse will not be
understood without the possession of the life which interprets what he
says, and which is itself interpreted by that which he says.
I return to the text. "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of
God perfected." It is in this way that we are conscious that we know Him.
His " word" has rather a wider sense than His "commandments." That is to
say, while it equally implies obedience, the word is less outward.
"Commandments" are here details of the divine life. His "word" contains its
whole expression-the spirit of that life.[see note #8] It is universal and
Now this life is the divine life manifested in Jesus, and which is imparted
to us. Have we seen it in Christ ? Do we doubt that this is love; that the
love of God has been manifested in it? If then I keep His word; if the
scope and meaning of the life which that word expresses is thus understood
and realised, the love of God is perfect in me. The apostle, as we have
seen, always speaks abstractedly. If in fact at any given moment I do not
observe the word, in that point I do not realise His love; happy
intercourse with God is interrupted. But so far as I am moved and governed
absolutely by His word, His love is completely realised in me; for His word
expresses what He is, and I am keeping it. This is the intelligent
communion with His nature in its fullness, a nature in which I participate;
so that I know that He is perfect love, I am filled with it, and this shews
itself in my ways: for that word is the perfect expression of Himself.[see note #9]
Consequently we know thus that we are in Him, for we realise that which He
is in the communion of His nature. Now if we say that we abide in Him, it
is evident, from what we have now seen in the instruction the apostle gives
us, that we ought to walk as He walked. Our walk is the practical
expression of our life; and this life is Christ known in His word. And
since it is by His word, we who possess this life are under an intelligent
responsibility to follow it; that is to say, to walk as He walked. For that
word is the expression of His life.
Obedience then, as obedience, is thus far the moral characteristic of the
life of Christ in us. But it is proof of that which, in Christianity, is
inseparable from the life of Christ in us: we are in Him. (Compare John
14:29) We know, not merely that we know Him, but that we are in Him. The
enjoyment of the perfect love of God in the path of obedience, gives us by
the Holy Ghost the consciousness that we are in Him. But if I am in Him, I
cannot indeed be what He was, for He was without sin; but I ought to walk
as He walked. Thus I know I am in Him. But if I make profession to abide in
Him, my heart and spirit to be wholly there, I ought to walk as He walked.
Obedience as a principle, and through keeping His word, and so the love of
God perfected in me knowing that I am in Him, are the formative principles
and character of our life.
In verses 7 and 8 the two forms of the rule of this life are
presented-forms which, moreover, answer to the two principles which we have
just announced. It is not a new commandment which the apostle writes unto
them but an old one; it is the word of Christ from the beginning. Were it
not so, were it in this sense new, so much the worse for him who set it
forth, for it would no longer be the expression of the perfect life of
Christ Himself, but some other thing, or a falsification of that which
Christ had set forth This corresponds with the first principle, that is,
obedience to commandments, to the commandments of Christ. What He said was
the expression of what He was. He could command that they should love one
another as He had loved them. Compare the Beatitudes.
In another sense it was a new commandment: for (by the power of the Spirit
of Christ, being united to Him and drawing our life from Him) the Spirit of
God manifested the effect of this life by revealing a glorified Christ in a
new way. And now it was not only a commandment, but as the thing itself was
true in Christ, it was so in His own as partakers of His nature and in Him;
He also in them.
By this revelation, and by the presence of the Holy Ghost, the darkness
disappeared, [see note #10]
passed away, and in fact the true light shone. There will be no different
light in heaven: only then the light will be publicly displayed in glory
without a cloud.
Verse 9. The life as in John i. 4, is now found to be the light of men,
only the brighter for faith that Christ is gone, for it is through the rent
veil it shines most brightly. We have had the pretension to know Him
discussed-to be in Him; now that of being in the light, and this before the
Spirit of God applies in detail the qualities of this life, as a proof of
its existence to the heart, in answer to seducers who sought to terrify
them by new notions, as though Christians were not really in possession of
life, and, with life, of the Father and the Son. The true light now shines.
And this light is God; it is the divine nature; and, as that which was a
means of judging the seducers themselves, he brings out another quality
connected with our being in the light, that is with God fully revealed.
Christ was it in the world. We are set to be it, in that we are born of
God. And one who has this nature loves his brother; for is not God love?
Has not Christ loved us, not being ashamed to call us brethren? Can I have
His life and His nature, if I do not love the brethren? No. I am then
walking in darkness; I have no light on my path. He who loves his brother
dwells in the light; the nature of God acts in him; and he dwells in the
bright spiritual intelligence of that life, in the presence and in the
communion of God. If any one hates, it is evident that he has not divine
light. With feelings according to a nature opposed to God, how can it be
pretended that he is in the light?
Moreover, there is no occasion of stumbling in one who loves, for he walks
according to divine light. There is nothing in him which causes another to
stumble, for the revelation of the nature of God in grace will assuredly
not do so: and it is this which is manifested in him who loves his
brother.[see note #11]
This closes as an introductory statement the first part of the Epistle. It
contains in the former half, the privileged place of Christians, the
message giving us the truth of our state here, and the provision for
failure: that ends with chapter 2:2; in the second half, the proofs the
Christian has of the true possession of the privilege according to the
message giving obedience, and love of the brethren, knowing Christ, being
in Christ, enjoying the perfect love of God, abiding in Him, being in the
light, forming the condition which is thus proved.
Having established the two great principles, obedience and love, as proofs
of the possession of the divine nature, of Christ known as life, and of our
abiding in Him, the apostle goes on to address Christians personally and to
shew us the position, on the ground of grace, in three different degrees of
ripeness. This parenthetical but most important address we will now
He begins by calling all the Christians to whom he was writing, "children,"
a term of affection in the loving and aged apostle. And as he writes to
them (chap.2:1) in order that they should not sin, so he writes also
because all their sins were forgiven for Jesus' name's sake. This was the
assured condition of all Christians: that which God had granted them in
giving them faith, that they might glorify Him He allows no doubt as to
the fact of their being pardoned. He writes to them because they are so.
We next find three classes of Christians: fathers, young men, and babes. He
addresses them each twice, fathers, young men, babes (ver. 13) fathers, in
the first half of verse 14; young men, from the second half, to the end of
verse 17; and babes from verse 18 to the end of verse 27. In verse 28 he
returns to all Christians under the name of "children".
That which characterises fathers in Christ is that they have known Him who
is from the beginning, that is, Christ. This is all that he has to say
about them. All had resulted in that. He only repeats the same thing again,
when, changing his form of expression, he begins anew with these three
classes. The fathers have known Christ. This is the result of all christian
experience. The flesh is judged, discerned, wherever it has mixed itself
with Christ in our feelings: it is recognised, experimentally, as having no
value; and, as the result of experience, Christ stands alone, free from all
alloy. They have learnt to distinguish that which has only the appearance
of good. They are not occupied with experience-that would be being occupied
with self, with one's own heart. All that has passed away; and Christ alone
remains as our portion, unmingled with aught besides, even as He gave
Himself to us. Moreover He is much better known; they have experienced what
He is in so many details, whether of joy in communion with Him, or in the
consciousness of weakness, or in the realisation of His faithfulness, of
the riches of His grace, of His adaptation to our need, of His love, and in
the revelation of His own fullness; so that they are able now to say, " I
know whom I have believed. " Attachment to Himself characterises them. Such
is the character of "fathers" in Christ.
"Young men" are the second class. They are distinguished by spiritual
strength in conflict: the energy of faith. They have overcome the wicked
one. For he speaks of what their character is as in Christ. Conflict they
have as such, but the strength of Christ manifested in them.
The third class is "babes" These know the Father. We see here that the
Spirit of adoption and of liberty characterises the youngest child in the
faith of Christ, that it is not the result of progress. It is the
commencement. We possess it because we are Christians and it is ever the
distinguishing mark of beginners. The others do not lose it, but other
things distinguish them.
In again addressing these three classes of Christians the apostle, as we
have seen, has only to repeat that which he at first said with regard to
the fathers. It is the result of christian life.
In the case of the young men he develops his idea and adds some
exhortations. "Ye are strong," he says, " and the word of God abideth in
you"-an important characteristic. The word is the revelation of God, and
the application of Christ, to the heart, so that we have thus the motives
which form and govern it, and a testimony founded on the state of the
heart, and on convictions which have a divine power in us. It is the sword
of the Spirit in our relations with the world. We have been ourselves
formed by those things to which we bear testimony in our relations with the
world, and those things are in us according to the power of the word of
God. The wicked one is thus overcome; for he has only the world to present
to our lusts: and the word abiding, in us keeps us in an altogether
different sphere of thought in which a different nature is enlightened and
strengthened by divine communications. The tendency of the young man is
toward the world: the ardour of his nature, and the vigour of his age, tend
to draw him away on that side. He has to guard against this by separating
himself entirely from the world and the things that are in it; because, if
any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, for those
things do not come from the Father. He has a world of his own, of which
Christ is the centre and glory. The lusts of the flesh, the lust of the
eyes, and the pride of life- these are the things that are in the world and
that characterise it. There are really no other motives besides these in
the world. Now these things are not of the Father.
The Father is the source of all that is according to His own heart-every
grace, every spiritual gift, the glory, the heavenly holiness of all that
was manifested in Christ Jesus, and that will be-all the world of glory to
come, of which Christ is the centre. And all this had only the cross for
its portion here below. But the apostle is speaking here of the source; and
assuredly the Father is not the source of those other things.
Now the world passes away; but he who does the will of God, he who, in
going through this world, takes for his guide, not the desires of nature,
but the will of God-a will which is according to His nature and which
expresses it-such a one shall abide for ever according to the nature and
the will that he has followed after.
We shall find that the world, and the Father with all that is of Him, the
flesh and the Spirit, the Son and the devil, are put respectively in
opposition. Things are spoken of in their source and moral nature, the
principles that act in us and that characterise our existence and our
position, and the two agents in good and evil that are opposed to each
other, without (thanks be to God!) any uncertainty as to the issue of the
conflict; for the weakness of Christ, in death, is stronger than the
strength of Satan. He has no power against that which is perfect. Christ
came that He might destroy the works of the devil.
To the babes the apostle speaks principally of the dangers to which they
were exposed from seducers. He warns them with tender affection, reminding
them at the same time that all the sources of intelligence and strength
were open to them and belonged to them. "It is the last time;" not exactly
the last days, but the season which had the final character that belonged
to the dealings of God with this world. The Antichrist was to come, and
already there were many antichrists: by this it might be known it was the
last time. It was not merely sin, nor the transgression of the law; but,
Christ having already been manifested, and being now absent and hidden from
the world, there was a formal opposition to the especial revelation that
had been made. It was not a vague and ignorant unbelief; it took a definite
shape as having a will directed against Jesus. They might for instance
believe all that a Jew believed, as it was revealed in the word, but as to
the testimony of God by Jesus Christ they opposed it. They would not own
Him to be the Christ; they denied the Father and the Son. This, as to
religious profession, is the true character of the Antichrist. He may
indeed believe or pretend to believe, that there shall be a Christ; yea,
set himself up to be it. But the two aspects of Christianity (that which,
on the one hand, regards the accomplishment in the Person of Jesus of the
promises made to the Jew; and, on the other hand, the heavenly and eternal
blessings presented in the revelation of the Father by the Son), this the
Antichrist does not accept. That which characterises him as Antichrist is
that he denies the Father and the Son. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is
indeed the Jewish disbelief that forms part of his character. That which
gives him the character of Antichrist is that he denies the foundation of
Christianity. He is a liar in that he denies Jesus to be the Christ;
consequently it is the work of the father of lies. But all the unbelieving
Jews had done as much without being Antichrist. To deny the Father and the
Son characterises him.
But there is something more. These antichrists came out from among the
Christians. There was apostacy. Not that they were really Christians, but
they had been among the Christians and had come out from them. (How
instructive for our days also is this Epistle!) It was thus made manifest
that they were not truly of the flock of Christ. All this had a tendency to
shake the faith of babes in Christ. The apostle endeavours to strengthen
them. There were two means of confirming their faith, which also inspired
the apostle with confidence. First, they had the unction of the Holy One;
secondly, that which was from the beginning, was the touchstone for all new
doctrine, and they already possessed that which was from the beginning.
The indwelling of the Holy Ghost as an unction and spiritual intelligence
in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning-the perfect
revelation of Christ-these were the safe guards against seducers and
seductions. All heresy and all error and corruption will be found to strike
at the first and divine revelation of the truth, if the unction of the Holy
One is in us to judge them. Now this unction is the portion of even the
youngest babes in Christ, and they ought to be encouraged to realise it,
however tenderly they may be cared for as they were here by the apostle.
What important truths we discover here for ourselves! The last time already
manifested, so that we have to be on our guard against seducers-persons
moreover issuing from the bosom of Christianity.
The character of this Antichrist is that he denies the Father and the Son.
Unbelief in its Jewish form is also again manifested: owning that there is
a Christ, but denying that Jesus is He. Our security against these
seductions is the unction from the Holy one- the Holy Ghost, but in
especial connection with the holiness of God, which enables us to see
clearly into the truth (another characteristic of the Spirit); and,
secondly, that that abide in us which we have heard from the beginning. It
is this evidently which we have in the written word. "Development,'' note
it well, is not that which we have from the beginning. By its very name it
sins radically against the safeguard pointed out by the apostle. That which
the church has taught, as development of the truth, whencesoever she may
have received it, is not that which has been heard from the beginning.
There is another point indicated here by the apostle that ought to be
noticed. People might pretend by giving God in a vague way the name of
Father, that they possessed Him without the true possession of the Son,
Jesus Christ. This cannot be. He who has not the Son has not the Father. It
is by Him that the Father is revealed, in Him that the Father is known.
If the truth that we have received from the beginning abides in us, we
abide in the Son and in the Father; for this truth is the revelation of the
Son and is revealed by the Son, who is the truth. It is living truth if it
abides in us; thus, by possessing it, we possess the Son, and in the Son,
the Father also. We abide in it, and thereby we have eternal life. (Compare
Now the apostle had happy confidence that the unction which they had
received of Him abode in them, so that they needed not to be taught of
others, for this same unction taught them with respect to all things. It
was the truth, for it was the Holy Ghost Himself acting in the word, which
was the revelation of the truth of Jesus Himself, and there was no lie in
it. Thus should they abide in Him according to that which it had taught
Observe also, here, that the effect of this teaching by the unction from on
high is twofold with regard to the discernment of the truth. They knew that
no lie was of the truth; possessing this truth from God, that which was not
it was a lie. They knew that this unction which taught them of all things
was the truth, and that there was no lie in it. The unction taught them all
things, that is to say, all the truth, as truth of God. Therefore that
which was not it was a lie, and there was no lie in the unction. Thus the
sheep hear the voice of the good Shepherd; if another calls them, it is not
His voice, and that is enough. They fear it and fly from it, because they
do not know it.
With verse 27 ends the second series of exhortations to the three classes.
The apostle begins again with the whole body of Christians (ver. 28). This
verse appear.s to me to correspond with verse 8 of the Second Epistle, and
with chapter 3 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
The apostle, having ended his address to those who were all in the
communion of the Father, applies the essential principles of the divine
life, of the divine nature as manifested in Christ, to test those who
claimed participation in it; not in order to make the believer doubt, but
for the rejection of that which was false. I say, "not to make the believer
doubt;" for the apostle speaks of his position, and of the position of
those to whom he was writing, with the most perfect assurance. (Chap.
3:1,2) [see note #12] He had spoken, in recommencement at verse 28, of
the appearing of Jesus. This introduces the Lord in the full revelation of
His character, and gives rise to the scrutiny of the pretensions of those
who called themselves by His name. There are two proofs which belong
essentially to the divine life, and a third which is accessory as
privilege: righteousness or obedience, and love, and the presence of the
Righteousness is not in the flesh. If therefore it is really found in any
one, he is born of Him, he derives his nature from and in Christ. We may
remark, that it is righteousness as it was manifested in Jesus; for it is
because we know that He is righteous, that we know that "he who doeth
righteousness is born of him." It is the same nature demonstrated by the