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But a danger exists on the other side. It may be, that we love the brethren
because they are pleasant to us; they furnish us with agreeable society, in
which our conscience is not wounded. A counter-proof is therefore given us.
"Hereby we know that we love the children of God, if we love God and keep
his commandments." It is not as children of God that I love the brethren,
unless I love God of whom they are born. I may love them individually as
companions, or I may love some among them, but not as the children of God,
if I do not love God Himself. If God Himself has not His true place in my
heart, that which bears the name of love to the brethren shuts out God; and
that in so much the more complete and subtle manner, because our link with
them bears the sacred name of brotherly love.
Now there is a touchstone even for this love of God namely, obedience to
His commands. If I walk with the brethren themselves in disobedience to
their Father, it is certainly not because they are His children that I love
them. If it were because I loved the Father and because they were His
children, I should assuredly like them to obey Him. To walk then in
disobedience with the children of God, under the pretext of brotherly love,
is not to love them as the children of God. If I loved them as such, I
should love their Father and my Father, and I could not walk in
disobedience to Him and call it a proof that I loved them because they were
If I also loved them because they were His children, I should love all who
are such, because the same motive engages me to love them all.
The universality of this love with regard to all the children of God; its
exercise in practical obedience to His will: these are the marks of true
brotherly love. That which has not these marks is a mere carnal party
spirit, clothing itself with the name and the form of brotherly love. Most
certainly I do not love the Father if I encourage His children in
disobedience to Him.
Now there is an obstacle to this obedience, and that is the world. The
world has its forms, which are very far from obedience to God When we are
occupied only with Him and His will, the world's enmity soon breaks out. It
also acts, by its comforts and its delights, on the heart of man as walking
after the flesh. In short, the world and the commandments of God are in
opposition to each other; but the commandments of God are not grievous to
those who are born of Him, for he who is born of God overcomes the world.
He possesses a nature and a principle that surmount the difficulties that
the world opposes to his walk. His nature is the divine nature, for he is
born of God; his principle is that of faith. His nature is insensible to
the attractions which this world offers to the flesh, and that because it
has, altogether apart from this world, a spirit independent of it, and an
object of its own which governs it. Faith directs its steps, but faith does
not see the world, nor that which is present. Faith believes that Jesus,
whom the world rejected, is the Son of God. The world therefore has lost
its power over it. Its affections and its trust are fixed on Jesus, who was
crucified, owning Him as the Son of God. Thus the believer, detached from
the world, has the boldness of obedience, and does the will of God which
abides for ever.
The apostle sums up, in a few words, the testimony of God respecting the
life eternal which He has given us.
This life is not in the first Adam, it is in the Second-in the Son of God.
Man, as born of Adam, does not possess it, does not acquire it. He ought
indeed to have gained life under the law. This characterised it, "Do this
and live." But man did not and could not.
God gives him eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son
has life, and he who has not the Son has not life.
Now what is the testimony rendered to this gift of life eternal ? The
witnesses are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. This Jesus, the
Son of God, is He who came by water and by blood; not by water only, but by
water and by blood. The Spirit also bears witness because He is truth. That
to which they bear witness is that God has given us eternal life, and that
this life is in His Son. But whence did this water and the blood flow ? It
was from the pierced side of Jesus. It is the judgment of death pronounced
and executed (compare Rom. 8:3) on the flesh, on all that is of the old
man, on the first Adam. Not that the sin of the first Adam was in the flesh
of Christ, but that Jesus died in it as a sacrifice for sin. "In that he
died he died unto sin once." Sin in the flesh was condemned in the death of
Christ in the flesh. There was no other remedy. The flesh could not be
modified nor subjected to the law. The life of the first Adam was nothing
but sin in the principle of its will; it could not be subject to the law.
Our purification as to the old man is its death. He who is dead is
justified from sin. We are therefore baptised to have part in the death of
Jesus. We are crucified with Christ; nevertheless we live, but not we it is
Christ who lives in us. Participating in the life of Christ risen, we
reckon ourselves as dead with Him; for why live of this new life, this life
of the second Adam, if we could live before God in the life of the first
Adam? No; by living in Christ we have accepted by faith the sentence of
death, passed by God on the first Adam. This is christian purification:
even the death of the old man, because we are made partakers of life in
Christ Jesus. "We are dead "-crucified with Him We need a perfect
purification before God; we have it; for that which was impure no longer
exists: what exists, as born of God, is perfectly pure.
He came by water-a powerful testimony, as flowing from the side of a dead
Christ, that life is not to be sought for in the first Adam; for Christ, as
coming for man, taking up his cause, the Christ come in the flesh, had to
die: else He had remained alone in His own purity. Life is to be sought for
in the Son of God risen from among the dead. Purification is by death.
But it was not by water only that He came; it was also by blood. The
expiation of our sins was as necessary as the moral purification of our
soul. We possess it in the blood of a slain Christ. Death alone could
expiate them and blot them out. And Jesus died for us. The guilt of the
believer no longer exists before God; Christ has put Himself in his place.
The life is on high, and we are raised up together with Him, God having
forgiven us all our trespasses. Expiation is by death.
The third witness is the Spirit: put first in the order of their testimony
on earth, as He alone gives witness in power so that we know the other two;
last, in their historic order, for such in fact was that order, death first
and only thereafter the Holy Ghost. [see note #22]
In effect it is the testimony of the Spirit, His presence in us, which
enables us to appreciate the value of the water and the blood. We should
never have understood the practical bearing of the death of Christ, if the
Holy Ghost were not to the new man a revealing power of its import and its
efficacy. Now the Holy Ghost came down from a risen and ascended Christ;
and thus we know that eternal life is given us in the Son of God.
The testimony of these three witnesses meets together in this same truth,
namely, that grace-that God Himself-has given us eternal life; and that
this life is in the Son. Man had nothing to do in it, except by his sins.
It is the gift of God. And the life that He gives is in the Son. The
testimony is the testimony of God. How blessed to have such a testimony,
and that from God Himself, and in perfect grace!
We have then the three things: the cleansing, the expiation, and the
presence of the Holy Ghost as the witness that eternal life is given us in
the Son, who was slain for man when in relationship with man here below. He
could but die for man s he is. Life is elsewhere, namely, in Himself.
Here the doctrine of the epistle ends. The apostle wrote these things in
order that they who believed in the Son might know that they had eternal
life. He does not give means of examination to make the faithful doubt
whether they had eternal life; but- seeing that there were seducers who
endeavoured to turn them aside as deficient in something important, and who
presented themselves as possessing some superior light-he points out to
them the marks of life, in order to re-assure them; developing the
excellence of that life, and of their position as enjoying it; and in order
that they might understand that God had given it to them, and that they
might be in no wise shaken in mind.
He then speaks of the practical confidence in God which flows from all
this-confidence exercised with a view to all our wants here below, all that
our hearts desire to ask of God.
We know that He always listens to everything that we ask in accordance with
His will. Precious privilege! The Christian himself would not desire
anything to be granted him that was contrary to the will of God. But for
everything that is according to His will, His ear is ever open to us, ever
attentive. He always hearkens; He is not like man, often occupied so that
he cannot listen, or careless so that he will not. God always hears us, and
assuredly He does not fail in power: the attention He pays us is a proof of
His good-will. We receive therefore the things that we ask of Him. He
grants our requests. What a sweet relationship! What a high privilege! And
it is one also of which we may avail ourselves in charity for others.
If a brother sins and God chastises him, we may petition for that brother,
and life shall be restored him. Chastisement tends to the death of the body
(compare Job 33, 34; James 5:14, 16); we pray for the offender and he is
healed. Otherwise the sickness takes its course. All unrighteousness is
sin, and there is such sin as is unto death. This does not seem to me to be
some particular sin, but all sin which has such a character that, instead
of awakening christian charity, it awakens christian indignation. Thus
Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin unto death. It was a lie, but a lie
under such circumstances that it excited horror rather than compassion. We
can easily understand this in other cases.
Thus far as to sin and its chastisement. But the positive side is also
brought before us. As born of God, we do not commit sin at all, we keep
ourselves, and "the wicked one toucheth us not." He has nothing wherewith
to entice the new man. The enemy has no objects of attraction to the divine
nature in us, which is occupied, by the action of the Holy Ghost, with
divine and heavenly things, or with the will of God. Our part therefore is
so to live-the new man occupied with the things of God and of the Spirit.
The apostle ends his epistle by specifying these two things: our nature,
our mode of being, as Christians; and the object that has been communicated
to us in order to produce and nourish faith.
We know that we are of God; and that not in a vague way, but in contrast
with all that is not us-a principle of immense importance, which makes
christian position exclusive by.its very nature. It is not merely good, or
bad, or better; but it is of God. And nothing which is not of God (that is
to say, which has not its origin in Him) could have this character and this
place. The whole world lies in the wicked one.
The Christian has the certainty of these two things by virtue of his
nature. which discerns and knows that which is of God, and thereby judges
all that is opposed to it. The two are not merely good and bad, but of God
and of the enemy. This as to the nature.
With regard to the object of this nature, we know that the Son of God is
come-a truth of immense importance also. It is not merely that there is
good and that there is evil; but the Son of God has Himself come into this
scene of misery, to present an object to our hearts. But there is more than
this. He has given us an understanding that in the midst of .all the
falsehood of this world, of which Satan is the prince, we may know Him that
is true-the true One. Immense privilege which alters our whole position!
The power of the world by which Satan blinded us is completely broken, and
we are brought into the true light; and in that light we see and know Him
who is true, who is in Himself perfection; that by which all things can be
perfectly discerned and judged according to truth. But this is not all. We
are in this true One, partakers of His nature, and abiding in Him, and in
order that we may enjoy the source of truth.[see note #23] Now it is in Jesus that
we are. It is thus, it is in Him, that we are in connection with the
perfections of God.
We may again remark here-that which gives a character to the whole
Epistle-the manner in which God and Christ are united in the apostle's
mind. It is on account of this that he so frequently says, "He," when we
must understand "Christ," although he had previously spoken of God: for
instance, chapter 5:20. And here, "We are in him that is true [that is to
say], in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
Behold then the divine links of our position! We are in Him who is true;
this is the nature of Him in whom we are. Now, in reality as to the nature,
it is God Himself; as to the Person, and as to the manner of being in Him,
it is His Son Jesus Christ. It is in the Son, in the Son as man, that we
are in fact as to His Person; but He is the true God, the veritable God.
Nor is this all; but we have life in Him. He is also the eternal life, so
that we possess it in Him. We know the true God, we have eternal life.
All that is outside this is an idol. May God preserve us from it, and teach
us by His grace to preserve ourselves from it! This gives occasion to the
Spirit of God to speak of "the truth" in the two short Epistles that