Comments on the First Epistle of John
The five books written by John — his Gospel, three epistles, and Revelation have certain common features beautifully consistent with the character of the evangelist, yet each distinctively maintaining its own special object. How marvelously thus is exampled the pure wisdom and power of God in using the precisely proper instrument for such service, and controlling that instrument in accordance with its own capacities, its own nature, its own voluntary responses! Wonderful indeed! But not incredible, for who is Creator?
John’s books are historically the last of all, for he outlived all the apostles, and was very aged when all these books were written. Do we not then look for a character of things in his writings that speaks of mature, venerable, sound wisdom? Indeed, he dwells upon that which eternally remains, after all dispensations have passed away, after government on earth has fulfilled its purpose. For his great subject is not God’s counsels in His mighty dispensational dealings, as is Paul’s special line of ministry; nor God’s present ways in order and government, as in Peter’s epistles; but rather the very nature of God revealed in His beloved Son, “that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” It has been well observed that Paul gives the setting for the display of God’s glory, Peter gives the becoming arrangement or order in that setting; John presents the blessed display itself.
His Gospel contains all the seeds which are seen developed in his epistles. But the Gospel is for the entire world — “written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). The epistles are for believers, communicating vital, certain knowledge to those who do believe. And thus the word “know” and two derivatives, “known” and “knoweth,” appear thirty‑eight times in this short first epistle.
Eternal life — Divine life — is seen displayed perfectly in the Lord Jesus in the Gospel. He is the very expression of the glory of God, and every moral attribute of God’s nature is manifested in the life which He has lived here. Human life was certainly in Him also, for He was true Man in every proper respect — spirit and soul and body — and this life He voluntarily laid down that He might take it again (John 10:17,18). Human life as such is not eternal life, but both dependent and capable of being terminated. But in Christ is eternal life, resident from eternity past, incapable of termination; and therefore still in the same unaffected vigor and reality at the very time at which He laid down His human life. True, His human life on earth was the field in which His divine life was displayed in lowliest moral beauty, and this is a subject for the wondering adoration of every created intelligence. When He laid down His human life, this display ceased; (while certainly His eternal life itself could not cease) but in His resurrection life — true human life also, in bodily form — that display is again resumed, no longer in circumstances of humiliation and weakness, but of glory and of power. We shall see Him as He is, not as He was. But His blessed human life is that in which His eternal life is manifested in perfect blissfulness without cessation — God eternally manifest in flesh!
This life then is manifested in Christ. But our epistle now dwells upon the fact of this same life being the possession of every true believer in Him. In us, this must be by means of new birth, by which one is immediately a child of God. Even the Old Testament bore its witness that this was a necessity in order that one might have any true relationship with God. Were Old Testament saints then children of God? Unquestionably so; but at that time they could not be told so. Did they have eternal life? Yes! But this was not revealed to them, because the true, pure character of that life had not yet been manifested, as it is now in the blessed Person of Christ. This life is only “in Christ,” so that they too as we, have it from that one Source, dependently, but since Christ had not yet been manifested, neither was it manifested to them that such was their life. Only that life could bring forth fruit acceptable to God, and therefore every true work of faith in the Old Testament was the work of that life operating in souls. But only now that Christ has come has all of this been revealed. Eternal life in these saints could not but express itself, but none then could have declared that he possessed this eternal life, because this was not then a subject of revelation. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The life of old testament saints depended on the coming of Christ, His incarnation, His death. They could have life only on that basis, the same as we. They received it anticipatively. This verse shows that while life depended on His coming, yet that life was before present in His sheep, for He speaks of their having it “more abundantly.” The knowledge of the Person of Christ in incarnation, His death and resurrection, certainly is the food by which eternal life develops abundantly. This full, blessed enjoyment of Divine life is found only in the One who is the manifestation of that life in His own Person. But the life itself certainly existed long before it was revealed, and it existed in believers in the Old Testament long before they had any revelation of it.
Hence this eternal life is far above all dispensations: it is eternal in contrast to the limited duration of the various dispensational dealings of God. This same life has been in every true believer since Adam, throughout every age, and is so for eternity. Certainly, the expressions of that life have not always been identical, for this has depended greatly on the extent of God’s revelation in various ages; but the life itself is the life of God, unchangeable, incorruptible, eternal. In the child of God, however, it must develop, and does so marvelously, mysteriously, as is typically exampled in the amazing growth of the human body, human intellect, human capacities. The distinction here is easily seen between the life by which we live, and the life which we live, for the latter simply gives expression to the former, in such measure as the former is really active.
In perfect consistency with all of this, John speaks of believers as the children (teknon) of God, those who by new birth partake of His own nature, and thus are of His family, in vital, filial relationship. Never does he use the Greek word “huios” the proper word for “son,” when speaking of believers, yet this word he uses continually of the Lord Jesus, as the Son of God. And never in all Scripture is the Lord Jesus spoken of as the “child (teknon) of God,” though the word servant is wrongly translated “child” in Acts 4:27,30 (KJV). The word “Son” does not imply birth at all, as does “child,” but dignity and liberty before the Father. In Manhood our Lord was the child of Mary: in Deity He is ever the Son of God.
Paul does speak also of the sonship of believers of this present dispensation, and shows in Galatians 4 that before the cross, while believers were children of God, they did not have the position of “sons of God.” But the cross is the point at which and by which they “received the adoption of sons.” This introduces us into a new position; but it is clear that it has been God’s own children whom now He has adopted. Christ is Son by eternal nature: we become sons by adoption. But John does not discuss this subject at all, for his subject is that of eternal life, the very nature of God, and its present operation in the children of God. May its sweetness be more and more increased to us as we search out its precious truth.
Unlike his second and third epistles, this first from John’s pen waits for no salutation, but more like Paul’s to the Hebrews, immediately begins with a precious declaration of the glory of the Person of Christ. “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.” Does it not almost startle us with wonder that this blessed Person should be so introduced by the use of impersonal pronouns? Why ought this to be so? Let us note first that the spirit of reverence and worship here is in no way compromised, but abundantly evident. Is the evangelist not seeking to impress upon us that the holy mystery of Godhead and Manhood perfectly united in this blessed One is beyond all ability of definition, or of human understanding? Compare 1 Timothy 3:16. Indeed, as to His essential Deity, we read, “No man knoweth the Father”; and if this is so, then how are we to fathom the wondrous mystery of His incarnation in human form? Yet He is Himself the revelation of the glory of God, the blessed Object of contemplation and adoration, an Object to awaken the most profound interest and exercise of our souls, but not mere mental curiosity.
The expression “from the beginning” however, does not go back to the past eternity, as does John’s Gospel, Chapter l — “In the beginning was the Word,” nor does it reach so far back as Genesis 1 — “In the beginning God created,” that is the origin of creation in time. But it refers rather to the holy beginning of God’s Personal revelation on earth, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus. This was no mere momentary vision, no strange, intangible apparition of Deity that has come and gone. "We know that the Son of God is come” (1 John 5:20). It is a real, abiding, eternal revelation of God, “from” the time of its “beginning” in incarnation. Thus this expression is used often by John, to stress that this revelation "From the beginning” has introduced that which is perfect, unalterable, eternal.
But He is truly Man in every proper respect, and this was fully witnessed by the apostles. They had “heard” Him, and speaking as none other ever spoke. They had seen Him with their eyes, and moreover closely enough to “look upon” or contemplate Him. How closely they must have observed Him! How could they refrain from doing so? Yet they were privileged with an even more intimate observation of His true Manhood: their “hands had handled" Him. Here was the witness then of the majority of their natural senses. Not only has God declared that His Son has become Man, but He is proven to be so among men.
But this too is immediately guarded from the danger of any false conclusions. For some would dare to use the truth of His true, full humanity as an argument to the effect that He cannot therefore be God. How evil, how dreadfully corrupt are such Satanic suggestions! One of His great names in Deity is therefore introduced — “The Word of life,” — the Word who was “in the beginning,” “with God,” and who “was God” (John 1:1). In Him was life” — eternal, inherent life, and as He said, I am … the life” (John 11:25; 14:6). We use words to express our thoughts: Christ is “The Word of life,” the expression of God’s thoughts, the expression of the life of the eternal God, and now expressed in blessed human form.
(“For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”) Was that life not before seen in the godly ways of believers even in the Old Testament? The answer is simply that though the life was in them and energized all that was the work of faith in their lives, yet in no case was the life manifested in its pure, true, full character except in Christ. For in them, and in us, the horrible corruption of the flesh greatly obscures the true activities of that life, and hence a sad mixture is the result. In Christ alone that life is truly and perfectly manifested. Yet human life is seen as well, uncontaminated, as the setting in which divine life expresses itself in purest moral reality.
Observe too that the means by which the apostle shows us that eternal life, is the written Word of God — that which, being vital and powerful itself, becomes vital in the soul by faith.
Again, that eternal life was with the Father before being manifested to us. Does this not declare plainly the sweetness of that eternal relationship enjoyed between the Father and the Son long before public manifestation? For it is evident that the verse teaches that Christ is the very Personification of eternal life, and as such He was with the Father, known and enjoyed in that holy relationship.
“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.” Here is a very definite purpose for which the apostle writes. He also mentions at least three other objectives of his epistle. Here he speaks of proper family fellowship of the saints of God; in the next verse, of fulness of joy; in ch.2:1 of preservation from sin; in ch.5:13 of the certainty of eternal life.
True fellowship must have a basis of proper understanding, for it involves sharing things in common. This understanding is communicated by the written Word of God. The apostles had companied constantly with the Lord on earth: who could question that their fellowship was with the Son? And if with the Son, then certainly with the Father, for they were assured, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” and again, I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:9,10). Here is the fellowship of a life and nature in common. In the Father and the Son there was both this and the having in common the eternal substance of Deity. Such a fellowship — that of the glory of Deity — is of course infinitely higher than man can even comprehend; but the child of God is brought by the living seed of the Word of God and the vital operation of the Spirit of God, not into Deity, but into the fellowship of that blessed eternal life, the very life and nature of the Father and the Son. He is not speaking here merely of practical fellowship cultivated day by day, but of an absolute fellowship which is true of every true child of God, however little or much he may enjoy it. If we know it is ours by virtue of new birth, then we ought to cultivate a constant enjoyment of it; but John speaks of the positive fact. Thus, every soul who is born anew has fellowship with the apostles, and with the Father and the Son.
“And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full.” The realization of this eternal relationship with the Father and the Son, in the same community of eternal life, an established fellowship of the apostles and of all the saints of God, is that which brings with it fulness of joy. And nothing less than this is proper to a Christian. Why then is fulness of joy not the constant, invariable experience of every child of God? Simply because other considerations, inconsistent with this fellowship, are indulged, and in practice tend to obscure the unspeakable blessedness of what is eternally and unchangeably our true heritage. Our eyes and hearts become engaged with mere material things — or even evil things — and there is no spiritual joy in these. A full revelation of God in Christ is the source of full joy: let our souls find their pure delight in this, and we shall have full joy.
If life is seen in the first four verses, we must also know the true character of that life; and first it is shown as absolute perfect light, then later on as pure energetic love. The very order is of course important. “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.” Light is the very nature of God. Natural light is of course only a fitting symbol of this, just as natural life is only a symbol of divine, eternal life. Yet even natural life is a great mystery, which has engaged the wondering admiration of astute scientific minds for centuries, awakening questions that are never solved. Can man hope then to solve the great mystery of eternal life’? And natural light also, with its amazing properties of division from pure white into every glorious color of the rainbow, plus infrared, ultraviolet, wireless waves, radar, x‑ray, alpha, beta, gamma rays, cosmic rays, and whatever else yet undiscovered, remains of such mysterious character that scientists feel themselves only touching the fringes of all that is involved in it. And how much higher yet the pure light of the glory of God!
But light is not darkness, and in God is not one iota of darkness. Light is that which is revealed, and reveals things precisely as they are: it is absolute truth. If man’s works are in the dark, it is because they are false and evil. Men love darkness, because their deeds are evil, and they do not want themselves exposed. True, the light of God is beyond our understanding, but not because of being shrouded in darkness, rather because of its very brightness, as the light of the sun is too bright for eyes to contemplate, while yet the light and warmth of the sun provides wonderful blessing for man. No one would refuse the healthful beams of the sun, simply because he was not able to understand its existence!
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Whoever, or however many may profess this link of fellowship with God (and there are many in such a state), but at the same time walk in darkness, then the very sphere of their walk gives the lie to their profession: they are mere false professors of godliness, not believers at all; they have no fellowship, nothing in common with the God they profess to know. They have no real knowledge of God’s holy nature, no walk in honest communion with the blessed light of God, no heart appreciation of the blessed Person of Christ, Who Himself is “the light,” the very manifestation of God in light.
“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.” This is the true believer: the sphere of his walk is “in the light,” and every believer walks there. It has been well remarked that this is a matter of where we walk, not how we walk. Notice too that not only are we told that “God is light” in verse 5, but in verse 7, “He is in the light.” Though His nature is eternally “light,” yet in the Old Testament He dwelt “in the thick darkness,” not having been revealed in the blessedness of His nature, as He is now, in the Person of His Son. But now every believer walks in the light of this wondrous manifestation: it is the only place of blessing for anyone today. Moreover, it links every believer together in fellowship, the fellowship of the same blessed life, for all these are of the same family, having the same nature in common.
Yet, we must consider the fact that this light is absolute truth and righteousness, and those who are in the light cannot deny that they have sinned. How can they then have a place there? The answer is immediately given: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Only in the light does that precious blood have its wondrous application, for the light exposes, and only thus is the sin rightly judged and put away: the claims of the light are fully met by that precious blood, and all hindrance to fellowship also removed.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Whoever may claim this only proves that he is not in the light, for light must reveal things as they are, and any true sight of the nature of God in the Person of Christ will plainly show to me the contrasting sinfulness of my own heart. A denial of this is gross self‑deception, which does not savor of light at all: the truth is not in such a soul: he is yet in darkness. It is possible of course that a believer may for a time persuade himself that sin has been eradicated from his nature, and hence in a practical way resemble what is considered here; but the apostle speaks abstractly and absolutely, in reference to one who is characterized by this proud self‑righteousness, therefore an actual enemy of God.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here again is a broad, all‑embracing principle. If we” involves the same scope as does the expression in each one of these last five verses, that is, if anyone confesses his sins, there is in God perfect faithfulness, perfect justice in forgiving. As the light penetrates, it brings confession with it. Who can say whether repentance or faith is chronologically first? Are they not rather simultaneous? If one believes, it will be manifest in a spirit of confession: if one really repents, he will believe, for the evidence of faith is in his repentance. The confession here is real, of course, as being produced by the light, and cannot in any way be divorced from faith in the Son of God. If this is not specifically mentioned in the verse, yet it is clearly implied in God’s faithfulness and justice. Is God not faithful to His own Son, who has accomplished redemption for confessed sinners? And He is just in forgiving simply because the cross of Christ has satisfied every requirement of justice. Any sinner therefore may come to Him on the ground of this blessed verse, and find eternal forgiveness. On the other hand, a mere lip confession, such as King Saul’s (1 Samuel 15:30), which ignores the justice of God, is not even considered in this verse. Here rather is the reality that faces the facts of God’s faithfulness and righteousness, and frankly confesses. Compare the prodigal son (Luke 15:21,22). Forgiveness is the discharging of every offense against God, no holding it any longer against the offender. But there is cleansing from all unrighteousness also, in order that the soul may be in God’s presence in consistency with the purity of the light.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” This again is the mere haughty pride of unbelief in denying that its actions have been sinful. This superior attitude of self‑deception is only characteristic of one utterly devoid of life, and who does not hesitate to consider God a liar in order to maintain his own pride. God’s word is of course not in such a soul in any way. Honest facing of sin is one of the most definite effects of being in the light.
“My children, these things I write to you in order that ye may not sin; and if anyone sin, we have a patron with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (JND). If we have seen some absolute, positive facts of truth in Chapter 1, now this verse calls for practical results in the believer. Notice that here for the first time “children” are addressed. And how vital is their need of the Word of God as a preservative from sin! Here is a provision to keep the child of God from sinning. Certainly God makes no provision for one to sin. If it has required the agonies of the cross to atone for our sins, how abhorrent must sin be! Let us utterly repudiate it, and never excuse it, no matter how often it raises its ugly head in our own lives. If we neglect the Word of God we may proportionately expect to give way to sin. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11). For the Word is not only instruction in righteousness: it is the power for it. On the other hand, however, there is blessed provision for the believer’s full restoration if he should allow sin to take advantage of him. Wonderful indeed is the sufficiency of divine grace for every occasion, — sufficient to keep us from sinning, and yet also sufficient to restore us if we do sin. “Jesus Christ the righteous” is “an Advocate with the Father,” one who maintains our cause and intercedes for us in true righteousness even when we have sinned. Did He not pray for Peter before Peter’s fall? Precious, tender compassion! The Father remains our Father: the relationship is not affected by the sin, though communion in a practical way has been rudely interrupted, and is only restored by the active mercy of the Lord Jesus, which produces in the individual a true self judgment, where He is submitted to. In this His work as an Advocate differs from that of His High Priesthood. The former is for restoration after failure: the latter is the ministry of help, encouragement, strength given to sustain the soul through trials and to enable one to resist temptation. Indeed, if we made full use of His High Priestly ministry, we should never require that of His advocacy, for we should be preserved from sinning. But if it becomes necessary for us, thank God that it is readily available.
“And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Shall we dare to assume that the advocacy of Christ is merely akin to the work of a persuasive‑tongued attorney, as though He intercedes that God should overlook sin? Any such thoughts are immediately rebuked by the truth of this verse. Indeed, Christ Himself is the propitiation for our sins, the One by Whose sacrifice God’s righteousness is perfectly vindicated in His forgiving sins. Here is the holy basis laid, satisfactory to the very throne of God, upon which He may rightly dispense mercy. It is fully applicable to “our sins,” that is, those of believers, but it is also a resource available “for the whole world,” and any who will receive Him will find Him sufficient in the expiation of their sins too. Thus, He is no mere attorney‑at‑law contending for a favored clientele, but an available Resource for the guilt of all mankind, if they will but receive Him.
“And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If there is no real spirit of obedience, there is no true knowledge of God. An actual knowledge of God brings with it both the desire and the. power to obey His commandments; and when this is present it provides proof that we know Him. How necessary a guard against self‑deception!
But His commandments are not mere legal commandments, as was the law of Moses. Indeed, “His commandments are not grievous,” (ch.5:3) therefore a contrast to the law, which was a yoke heavier than Israel could bear. Compare Acts 15:10.
Can we then define His commandments? Is there a specific list similar to the ten commandments to which we may refer? It is evident we have no such thing. Such things would be simple enough for the flesh to apprehend, though keeping them is a different matter. But “His commandments” are only actually apprehended and followed by the renewed nature. Chapter 3:23 gives us their basic character: “This is His commandment, That we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” This verse claims our utmost attention. His commandment is absolute: it must be obeyed, or there is no life, no connection with God at all. Two vital fundamentals are involved in His commandment; first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and secondly, love to one another. If these are not present, the soul has no knowledge of God at all. Some may inquire, Is this all there is to His commandments? And the answer is that anything inconsistent with this is not His commandment at all. There must be first of all the proper underlying motives in the soul. Therefore, all that is the product of true faith in the Lord Jesus and of honest love for others — in other words, the fruit of divine life in the soul — is the actual keeping of His commandments. This furnishes the heart with an actual delight in learning the Word of God and obeying its precious truth, not with that attitude that turns the Word into mere legal exactions and forcing of mere minor points upon others, but rather with that desire of making it a living power in our souls personally, with readiness of heart to obey, whatever others may do. Let us carefully observe however that this is the way in which John’s epistles speak of “His commandments”: elsewhere we may find a somewhat different viewpoint, as in 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Timothy 6:14. In the former, the Lord’s commandment is to be obeyed in the church publicly, whether that obedience springs from faith or not. But these distinctions should give little difficulty to the child of God.
“He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Such false professors are multiplied today. One who claims to know God, yet evidences no subjection to His authority, in honest faith toward God and love for God’s people, is designated “a liar.” Solemn, dreadful denunciation! Though John is the apostle of love, he does not hesitate to speak in the sternest language of condemnation when he exposes hypocrisy. No believer has the character of a liar: this term applies to one who would dare to turn the truth of God into a lie. Thus, religious men, preachers too, who would pride themselves on their great light in reference to spiritual things, and at the same time have no faith whatever in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, no submission to His holy authority, are accorded this terrible epithet, “liar.” God has perfect right to use such terms, though of course we ourselves are not thereby given title to use such language in reference to individuals. Though Satan is a liar, Michael the archangel did not dare to bring against him a railing accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
“But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily the love of God is perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.” His commandments are imperative, as we have seen: there is no salvation without them, and only the new birth answers to His commandments, for only in divine life are found the true elements of faith and love. But there is a change in this verse, to keeping “His word.” This does not involve the same imperative, absolute requirement, and therefore one may be truly born again, and yet at the same time not making a habit of keeping “His word.” Certainly one in this state is most inconsistent with his very nature, as born of God; and he will not experience in his own soul the perfecting of the love of God. Only in a practical, honest keeping of His word will the fruits of God’s love become mature and precious in the soul. In a spirit of habitual obedience the love of God is know in its sweetness, its fulness and perfection. Precious experience indeed! It is simply that God Himself is known more fully, with a mature, substantial knowledge. This too becomes a vital, unquestioned proof to the soul that we “are in Him.” Certainly every believer is “in Him,” but if not walking obediently, the sense of assurance of this in his own soul may be so weakened as to cause doubt and uncertainty. Let us wholeheartedly, unceasingly “keep His word,” and by this means go on to know Him better, and find our souls filled with the knowledge and joy of His love.
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” This surely is only proper and normal Christianity. If we profess to have a relationship with Him, then we willingly assume the responsibility of walking in the same manner as He walked. The personal pronoun “Him” will be seen to be used continually, and at times interchangeably for God and for Christ, sometimes also in a manner that would imply either one, or both. Does this not press upon us the fact that it is the living God with Whom we are dealing, whether as the Father, or whether manifested in the Person of the Son? If we say we abide in God, then God has been revealed in Christ, and we ought therefore to walk as Christ walked. Or if we say we abide in Christ, the responsibility is the same.
“Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.” How perfectly, absolutely consistent with the revelation of Christ on earth and all His pathway here, is that which John declares. He made no new additions to what had been revealed: the commandment was as old as was the Son of God come in flesh. Every blessing, every responsibility took its character from this marvelous beginning. The commandment was “the word” given by the Son of God on earth. Let us remark that this cannot be transposed to say that the word was the commandment, for “the word” is a more broad term than “the commandment.”
However, in another sense, the apostle does write a new commandment. “Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth” (JND). Does this new commandment differ substantially from the old commandment? The context will show it does not, but rather that it is really the same commandment applied in new circumstances. It is “true in Him and in you.” If the commandment of the divine life and nature has been seen in public manifestation in Christ as He was here on earth, then “as He is” now this commandment is true, and the believer is vitally linked with Him in the same life, “true in Him and in you.” It is old in the sense of being fundamental and established: it is new in the sense of being perpetually fresh and applicable to present circumstances. The explanation in fact follows, “because the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth.” Is it not true that, though Christ has bodily returned to Glory, the light of His glory so shines that its brightness more and more dispels the lingering shadows of obscurity in the believer’s path? What a commandment indeed is this, the light shining out of darkness! How welcome to the child of God! Thus we observe the power of His commandment in banishing darkness by the blessed entrance of His light.
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” The first mention of love in the epistle is in verse 5, “the love of God.” We have observed that light is first stressed. But love is the invariable companion of light in divine things. There is a precious interweaving of the three grand themes of John’s epistle, life, light and love, just as there is in the unity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If one is not present, neither is another. Just so, a man’s claim to be in the light is proven false if he hates his brother: he never at any time was in the light, but “is in darkness even until now.” How strong averse to prove that there is no such thing as the possibility of one who has been truly born of God being afterwards turned back into darkness. If one is in darkness, he never was actually in the light, but is in darkness, not simply now, but until now.
In contrast to this, “he that loveth his brother abideth in the light.” This love is an abiding, permanent thing, and he who actually loves abides permanently in the light: it is his proper, normal dwelling‑place: he is not exposed to the dangers of unseen stumbling-blocks, as is One who walks in darkness.
“But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness has blinded his eyes.” There is no middle ground here John is emphatic: one is either in the light or in darkness; and as love goes with light, so hatred is attached to darkness. No true believer actually hates another: this is absolutely contrary to the new nature. But darkness is the very habitation of the unbeliever: moreover he walks there, making progress no doubt, but in evil; and having no definite end in view, he is an aimless wanderer, eyes blinded by the darkness he has chosen. These first eleven verses have shown that there is abundant provision of mercy for a believer if he should sin; but at the same time is a plain declaration that such mercy is not applicable to one who walks in darkness. The clearest distinction is drawn between an erring believer and a smooth‑tongued professor who would fain pass as a believer, but not born again. We have seen such mere profession seriously tested and rejected. Now the apostle is free to dwell upon the various stages of development in the new life, which is the subject in view from verse 12 to 27.
“I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for His Name’s sake.” All the children of God are addressed in this verse, so that the word “little” ought not to be inserted as it is in the Authorized Version, though this is properly the translation of verse 18. In verse 12 it is an all‑embracing statement, basic as regards all saints, and necessary to be first declared before the distinctions are drawn between the three classes who are subsequently addressed in turn. Wonderful, definite, clear statement! Here is eternal forgiveness an established fact for every child of God, not because of any favorable work or virtue on the child’s part, but “for His Name’s sake,” the Name of the blessed Son of God, Name of infinite value and perfection! Is there a possibility of this forgiveness losing its power? Never! for it depends on that Name that can never be even slightly dimmed in the eyes of God the Father.
“I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you children, because ye have known the Father.” just three stages of development are mentioned, though without doubt the divine life in the believer develops as gradually as does natural life.
But there are particular milestones to be marked, and if we begin with little children,” at least there is the sweet, vital fact, “ye have known the Father.” A precious filial relationship is lovingly established: God is known in His tender love and goodness, His truth and grace. One thoroughly approachable and indispensable to the need of the soul. The freshness of this newborn faith in the little child has about it a peculiar joy and sweetness. But the young men “have overcome the wicked one,” and here we have implied an energetic knowledge that has learned to discern and refuse the subtle efforts of Satan to falsify the blessed doctrine of Christ, intended to so undermine faith as to plunge souls into confusion. Here is progress in active energy, the life showing itself in effectual power over the power of the enemy. And the fathers are said to have “known Him that is from the beginning.” If the enemy is overcome, is this not in view of further progress, in the sphere of quiet peace where the soul feeding upon Christ Himself is nurtured to a godly, seasoned maturity? For it is the full knowledge of Christ in all the blessed manifestation of His glory “from the beginning” that matures the soul with calm dignity and sound wisdom. It has been well remarked that there is no mention of “old men,” for eternal life knows nothing of the decline of old age. For the interested reader these three stages of growth are beautifully illustrated in Genesis 1:11, “grass,” the freshness of new life; “the herb yielding seed,” energy that produces seed; and “the fruit tree yielding fruit,” maturity that bears the complete fruit.
From verse 14 to 27 we have now presented the necessary truth for the preservation and proper development of each of these in its place. May we give this our most thorough attention.
“I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” Is it strange that he adds nothing more to what he had said in regard to this one class? At least, this does hold most precious instruction for us. Were they not “fathers” because mature in the knowledge of the Person of Christ? They needed only to be reminded of this very thing, and to be consistent with that which had so matured them. Blessed the settled constancy of such character!
“I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof. but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” If the fathers have needed only reminding, the young men require serious exhortation, and we shall see later that the little children must have urgent warning. And first added to what has been previously said to young men is, “Ye are strong.” Blessed is that strength that is “in the Lord,” and necessary too for any true witness for Him. Yet our very strength may become a snare to us, for the treachery of the flesh is such that we may too easily depend upon the strength of a former experience, and where pride is active we shall not discern this subtle influence at work: indeed pride will feed it. However, there is a sufficient guard, if we but make use of it: “the Word of God abideth in you.” Precious commendation! It is of course from that Word that strength has come: it has become a living, real power in the soul of the young man, such a power as to overcome the wicked one, in refusing utterly the sinuous, fundamentally false doctrines by which Satan seeks to weaken the testimony of God. This of course involves a diligent, energetic application of the soul to the knowledge of the Word of God.
Yet let us closely observe that even when the young man has learned to withstand, and to gain such decisive victory over the enemy, he still requires the solemn admonition of verses 15 to 17. One strong enough to overcome Satan may — alas! — find himself overcome by the attractions of the world. Indeed, he may feel that his own strength is such that he may indulge in measure in worldly practice without being badly influenced by it. Sad delusion! For the very indulgence only shows the painful decay of his strength: he is already influenced. The world is a system not to be loved, for it is set up in both independence of God and in opposition to His authority. In any absolute sense, only an unbeliever loves the world: the love of the Father is not in such an one. The new nature loves what is of God: how can there be at the same time a love for what rejects God’s authority? Let us learn to judge rightly the world in its basic principles, and it will not be so difficult to turn from “the things that are in the world.” These are no doubt pleasant things, advantages, comforts, material gain, harmless (?) diversions, etc., constantly pressing for recognition by the Christian; but always quietly, politely, persistently displacing God in the heart, allowing Him less and less place in daily life. Such is the world’s subtilty.
It appeals to the flesh, the feelings of a corrupted nature: this is the sensual attraction. But more, there is the lust of the eyes,” the artistic attraction, — form, color, perspective, all engaged to appeal to that in us which seems noble and dignified, but which calmly excludes the Father. May our eyes not wander from our holy blessed Lord, in Whom all true, pure beauty is comprehended. And thirdly, “the pride of life” is the intellectual attraction, the appeal of increasing knowledge, by which the world boasts of its ability to do without God. If by scientific investigation men have learned amazingly even in recent years, can they not remember that God is the Author of all true science? Yet the world arrogates to itself all credit for its advance in knowledge, and would fain pretend they have gone beyond the God of the Bible in their understanding of the universe! Ought the believer to be deceived by any of this? Let the energetic, strong child of God take warning: “the world passeth away and the lust thereof.” It is only a temporary, shining bubble, ready to burst. How empty the delusion of seeking satisfaction in any measure from that which is of the world. “But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” The will of God is the one principle of eternal permanence and value. Every newborn soul is in principle a doer of God’s will: let him then be such in constant practice. Since he abides forever, let his conduct be in view of eternal values.
But much more is said now to the little children” from verse 18 to 27. (Verse 28 is properly “children,” not “little children.”) “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time.” The way in which the apostle begins here may appear abrupt and startling, and it is doubtless intended to strike home sharply into the soul of the youngest believer. He must be early prepared to meet the most serious attacks of the enemy, and must be allowed no illusions in reference to what he must face. Will the enemy not attack at the weakest point he can find? The little child may feel he has plenty of time in the future, but he is told “it is the last time.” Antichrists are on the alert to influence him: he must be on the alert to withstand their seductions. The more dreadful the danger to which a little child is exposed, the more urgently he should be warned. Paul had warned the young assembly at Thessalonica of the future coming of the antichrist, “the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2), and faithfulness on the part of saints will do no less today.
“Even now are there many antichrists.” Though the word of course means “against Christ,” yet the apostle speaks here of those who had ostensibly received Him, and would fain pass as Christians in the eyes of men, making a pretense of friendship, with hearts actually cold with enmity toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Many such today wear the garb of the clergy, and many others who pride themselves on rejecting such garb, are no better, but often worse. The coming antichrist will of course assume the place of Israel’s true Christ, “with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10), the words of his mouth smoother than butter, but war in his heart (Psalm 55:21). We cannot then be surprised to find similar deceit and treachery widespread even today.
These are capable men, intellectual, refined, courteous often, and pleasing in their ways with men. But their true nature is soon exposed when tested as to their attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Is He Himself God manifest in flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary? Is His sacrifice on Calvary the one and only means of redemption from the guilt of our sins? Is He literally raised from the dead and returned to sit on the throne of God in Heaven? Is He coming again, personally to be seen by every eye? If one takes the place of being a Christian leader, and yet denies such fundamental, vital doctrines of Christianity, he is antichrist. And their number today multiplies at a rate solemnly alarming, “whereby we know it is the last time.” Let the people of God be warned, and utterly refuse such dread deceptions of the enemy.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would have remained with us; but (they went out) that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us” (Numerical Bible). Such men have left the fellowship of the apostles: “they went out from us,” as Judas before “went immediately out, and it was night” (John 13:30). Having no part in the eternal life that is in Christ Jesus, they could not long endure the reality of simple affection for the Lord Jesus and devotion to His Person: their true state must eventually expose itself. The clear, bright light of the truth the apostles proclaimed as to the Person of Christ could not but become intolerable to their eyes, which so preferred the darkness.
John’s ministry particularly exposed them, and their rejection of it manifested the fact that all of them were “not of us.” The Authorized Version somewhat obscures the force of this, for it may imply that some of them may have been believers; but not one of them was so. The case in 2 Timothy 1:15 is far removed from this. There Paul writes, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.” This does not infer the rejection of such ministry as John’s concerning the eternal Deity and perfect Manhood of the Lord Jesus, but rather the unwillingness to be identified with Paul in suffering for the truth of the Church of God in separation from unrighteousness, which was a predominant feature in Paul’s ministry. Even true believers had apparently turned away from Paul in this way, as Demas similarly had forsaken him when the pressure of persecution threatened. This is pathetic weakness, but not the spirit of antichrist, of which John speaks. “They went out from us” refers to a cold, deliberate refusal of what they had previously outwardly acknowledged: there remained with them only a callous contempt for the blessed Personal glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” The word here translated “unction” is the same word translated “anointing” in verse 27. In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed with oil, and in one case at least a prophet. Each of these involves a place of dignity as representing God in some way. The anointing is typical of the bestowal of the Spirit of God as necessary to equip the individual for his holy and responsible position. There are other lovely aspects and characteristics of the Spirit’s activity as dwelling in every believer today, such as the seal of the Spirit, the earnest of the Spirit; but the anointing involves the wonderful capacity given by the Spirit of God to every renewed soul, for the reception and understanding of the truth of the Word of God. The natural man is ignorant of this, and mere intellect will not enlighten his darkness (1 Corinthians 2:14). But the least experienced believer, being indwelt by the Spirit of God, has a capacity now by which he may know even the deep things of God. “Ye know all things” does not mean that knowledge in detail is given apart from exercise of soul in learning, for this is not so; but that the real, vital knowledge of God is possessed in the soul, and that the power of discernment of all things is present in the believer, so that, in submission to the working of the Spirit of God, he is able to discern in all that is presented to him what is truly of God. It is not a mere automatic guarantee, but a living, vital power which, when submitted to, gives unfailing guidance and wisdom. Wonderful, blessed provision of grace!
To make proper use of this knowledge, and to direct it in proper channels is of course a matter of personal responsibility. For this reason the Word of God is a great necessity to the believer, as is also the ministry of the Word, the exercise of proper gifts of teaching, etc. John himself wrote because they knew the truth, and that no lie is of the truth. It is true that no believer can be utterly swamped by the poisonous doctrines of Satan: he has a knowledge of the truth that guards him from this; but on the other hand no believer must be without the Word of God by which discernment is rightly developed, and knowledge is directed in ways of proper application for use in all proper experience.
“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” The apostle will allow no slightest compromise of truth with error. To deny the Person of Christ, whether in regard to His essential eternal equality with the Father, or in reference to the reality of His perfect Manhood, is gross falsehood, and the man who does this, though feigning respect for Christianity, is unhesitatingly branded “a liar.” Dreadful denunciation, but true: “he is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” This eternal relationship of infinite truth and pure unity and equality, must be held absolutely inviolate. He who denies it may talk glibly about the fine moral character of ‘Jesus,” but is in reality against Him, and against the Father. Unitarians may avow their belief in the Fatherhood of God, but deny the eternal Sonship of Christ: therefore their professed belief in the Father is false: they have not the Father. The Son has been on earth to reveal the Father, and only in Him is He faithfully revealed. Refusal of His claims and Person is positive rejection of the Father also. Acceptance of the Son is acceptance of the Father.
“Let that abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He hath promised us, the life eternal” (Numerical Bible). Nothing but the abiding of the truth of God in the soul can preserve and bless in the face of tests so real and solemn. And this is the truth revealed in the Person of Christ in His coming into the world, a revelation so infinitely great that it is really “the beginning,” as putting utterly in the shade all that preceded it. And certainly nothing can ever take its place, nor can anything be added to it, though the scope of the truth within this revelation is so great that it may well occupy all the labors of every child of God incessantly in the learning of its fulness. But any “going forward” or pretended progress beyond this revelation is in reality apostasy, and the opposite of the truth abiding in the soul. This revelation is itself life, for where it abides, the individual himself abides in the Son and in the Father. This is a vital connection as the branch with the vine, and any boasted progression outside of it only gives evidence that the true life is not there. Such are the proud pretensions of antichrist. He therefore can have no part in the promise of God, life eternal.
For while eternal life is declared by John to be a present possession of the believer (ch.5:12,13), yet here it is also spoken of as a promise. Both are true. For in our present condition, eternal life exists in the child of God alongside a life that is both corrupt and temporary, and is surrounded by circumstances of this dismal character. Everything about us bears the stamp, not of eternal life, but of corruption and death. How blessed then the promise of eternal life in reference to our very circumstances and our entire condition of existence: “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (ch.3:2). The certainty of the future is a powerful influence for good in the child of God.
“These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” The warning of verse 26 is certainly a negative, but an absolute necessity for young souls in order for their protection from the seductions of Satan’s cunning agents. Verse 27 presents the positive side, so precious and vital. Let no one dare to suppose that either positive or negative is unessential, for there cannot be one without the other, neither can one take the place of the other. Men may speak glowingly of the power of positive thinking, but in doing so, if the negative side is ignored, give Satan an advantage he will use to the full. We must have both, and be diligent that neither is put in the place of the other. But the positive here is unspeakably precious. The anointing of the Spirit of God is in character abiding, permanent and unchanging. He is the great Teacher, the Preserver from the wiles of the devil. Mere human teaching is therefore unnecessary. The believer is indwelt by a Power sufficient to enable him to discern what is truth and what is error, so long as he is subject to the authority of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, this does not do away with the. work of God‑ordained teachers of the Word of God, for these are sent “for the perfecting of the saints” (Ephesians 4:11,12). They, within the limits of the revealed Word of God, are gifted to present the Word for the understanding and assimilation of the saints of God, not with any personal authority, but as subject to the same authority of the Spirit of God as operates in even the little children.” All are responsible to receive that to which the Spirit of God bears witness as the truth of God. I am not to assume that, because the Spirit of God dwells in me, therefore my thoughts are the thoughts of the Spirit; for the Spirit of God rather gives me that attitude whereby I am willing to have all things laid bare and tested by the truth, no spirit of haughty independence, but of godly consideration, self‑judgment and faith. It is a contrast to the applied learning of men to absorb a humanly devised religion, which must be drilled into a person by human means, the recipient himself having no power of the Spirit to judge as to what he learns, and allowed no personal exercise to be led of the Spirit: he must take what is given him on the authority of man. Thank God that even the little children” have so holy and perfect a Protector from this kind of thing! The anointing, being truth itself, and no lie, abides in the believer, and the believer, being taught of the Spirit of God, is assured, “ye shall abide in Him.” Precious, living certainty! Here is a grand example of the positive being given its proper place, and the negative also maintaining its proper place.
Verse 28 begins a distinct division in the book, which deals with the manner in which the divine nature is manifested in the children of God. It is to be seen in its fruits. No longer is he considering the gradations in development, but the fundamental fruits that characterize all who are born of God.
“And now, children, abide in Him, that if He be manifested we may have boldness and not be put to shame from before Him at His coming” (Numerical Bible). If the previous verse has insisted that every true child of God has the permanent blessing of the anointing of the Spirit, and therefore abides in Christ, this verse, in its exhortation to “abide in Him” presses the responsibility on our side. just as believers are told to “believe” in John 14:11; so those who abide are exhorted to abide in this case. Life is no mere mechanical thing, but a vital, active power in the soul, which produces exercise and activity. Where are the proofs of life save in its manifestations? If the life is not present of course there is no abiding, and one who has merely assumed that he has life will be exposed when the Lord is manifested, and “put to shame from before Him at His coming.” This cannot refer to a true believer, for the believer “abides in Him,” and certainly will not be treated as an unbeliever at the Lord’s coming. “Put to shame from before Him” involves the humiliation of banishment from His presence, as in the case of the man without a wedding garment in Matthew 22:11-13. It should be transparently evident too that the “we” in this verse could not possibly apply strictly to the apostles, as some have strangely considered. But the apostle includes himself in the test of the reality of new life, similarly to his use of the word “we” in ch.1:6‑10. Anyone (whether called an apostle or not) who does not abide in Him will be put to shame from before Him at His coming. But such could not be a true believer at all.
If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” This is the test. Doing is the proof of abiding, the proof of new birth. We know that Christ is righteous absolutely: only those therefore whose deeds partake of this righteous character are born of Him. This is no theory of perfectionism in the flesh (for sin is still in the flesh), but new birth is evidenced by a hatred of what is evil, though that evil is within our own hearts; and cleaving in practice to what is good. If such character is absent, there is no real life. Mere lip profession is not enough.
This chapter continues the subject introduced in ch.2:28. Verse 29 has shown that righteousness is an absolute requirement. It is indeed a solid, sound basis for the precious bestowal of the love of the Father, as in verse 1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” Where the claims of righteousness are honorably and properly fulfilled, the love of the Father’s heart is free to flow forth in its unutterable fulness, and the heart of the recipient prepared to expand in purest delight in the contemplation of that love. Precious, living reality! But the attention of the child of God must be drawn to this by the Word of God: and the awakening word, “Behold” is intended to kindle the earnest interest of the soul in this marvelous outflow of the Father’s heart, so vital to the welfare of all His children. To know that we are loved perfectly, eternally, and with infinite wisdom, is how wonderful an answer to all the present exercises of trial and conflict on earth.
But not only is this love emphasized here, but “what manner of love.” Philanthropy may call itself love because of giving lavishly, and perhaps lifting one out of circumstances of misery and poverty into those of prosperity and comfort. In a certain manner this may be called love; but it is far short of the Father’s love. Here is a manner of love that not only rescues enemies from a state of sin and utter ruin; clothes, feeds and enriches them; but is satisfied with nothing less than bringing them into His own house permanently as His own children. True, pure love finds its delight in the nearness of the objects of that love. And He owns them publicly as His children, taking delight in calling them this. There can be no doubt that believers in the Old Testament were actually children of God, but they were not called this, because the full manifestation of the Father’s love could not be known until the Lord Jesus had come and atoned for sin on Calvary. Now that the love of the Father is so revealed and known, believers are known as the children of God. May we meditate well upon the noble dignity of this holy established relationship, and learn to walk consistently with it.
But from the world we can expect not the slightest understanding of this, no more than their understanding of the Lord Jesus. That exotic nature of divine love and holiness in Him, while it drew in some cases a wondering admiration, and in others a jealous hatred, was in reality strange and unknown to the world: the same nature in the child of God makes him in a real sense a foreigner in the world.
However, the more real the sense of our strangership here, the more we shall delight in the certainty of our eternal relationship with the Father, and the sweetness of it. “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it cloth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” This holy relationship is at present established, and for eternity. Yet, while we are owned as God’s children, and intended therefore to partake of the privileges and blessings of this unchanging relationship, our present condition is far from the pure, foil manifestation of future glory; for we are hampered by the painful impurities of a sinful nature.
What we shall be will only be manifested when our blessed Lord is manifested. Surely we should not desire it other‑wise, for in this way the glory will all be given to Himself, rather than that one iota of it should be given to us. But we know that we shall be like Him then, and this will fill our souls with utter satisfaction. “For we shall see Him as He is. “ The thought here is not that the sight of Him will transform us then, however precious a transforming power there is even now in looking into His face (2 Corinthians 3: 18); but rather that, since the promise is given us of our beholding His face in righteousness, then it follows that we must be like Him, for only in having been made like Him will it be possible to take in the beauty and glory of His Person, “as He is.” In fact, it will be His own voice that raises and changes the sleeping saints, and changes the living also “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” so that before being caught up to meet Him in the air, we shall already be changed into His image.
With what inexpressible joy then shall we gaze upon Him “as He is.” Not as He was in the days of His earthly sojourn, but in the beauty and glory of His acceptance at the Father’s right hand, in holy victory and supremacy. Nothing of our sinful nature shall be there to mar our appreciation of Himself; every impurity shall have been completely removed.
But the very anticipation of this has a present, genuine effect. “And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” Every true believer therefore purifies himself, and the measure in which he does so will be consistent with the measure in which his soul is affected by this hope in Christ. The more he longs for this blessed manifestation, the more he will judge those impurities that will then be utterly banished. Christ will be his Object, Him who “is pure;” and knowing he “shall be like Him,” he seeks in his moral character to be now as much like Him as possible. What living power is resident in such precious hope! This we know had wonderful effect upon the testimony of the Thessalonians soon after conversion their “endurance of hope” (ch.1:3) in the face of great persecution bearing witness of a living, real faith, so that their energy of testimony was an example to all the assemblies.
But there are those who do not at all purify themselves; and if so, no matter how fair their profession may appear, they are really lawless and unconverted. “Everyone that practiseth sin practiseth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (Numerical Bible). The translation of the King James version is recognized by scholars to be wrong in this case. Sin is not merely the transgression of the law, but the energy of a lawless will, the insubjection of a rebellious nature. One who is characterized by the practice of sin, given to indulging his own will, is practicing lawlessness, which is plain refusal of subjection to God’s authority. He does not care to purify himself because he does not know Him who is pure. If he knew Him, he would have learned (in some measure at least) to hate sin.
“And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.” The amazing manifestation of “God manifest in flesh” involved the blessed purpose of fully taking away sins. We know this required the dread suffering and death of Calvary. His manifestation in grace was no overlooking of sin, but the judgment of it, together with the removal of the guilt of many sins. The believer wants nothing of this again on his shoulders. Indeed, he looks with deepest delight into the face of His great Deliverer, glorying in the blessed truth, In Him is no sin.” Here is his Object and his Standard, however far below this he knows and feels himself to be.
“Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” There is no middle ground here. John is emphatic in rejecting mere false profession. The very nature by which a believer abides in Christ is a nature that repudiates sin: therefore if one’s character is that which practices sin, he is an utter stranger to the blessed Lord. It is the proper character of a believer not to sin. The apostle of course does not here take into account the failings of a true believer, such as he does in ch.2:1, where the word is applicable to the true child of God, — “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is the case of one overtaken by evil, and acting contrary to his character as born of God, and for whom restoration is immediately available. But in ch.3:6, “whosoever sinneth” refers to one unsaved, characterized by sinning.
“Children, let no man lead you astray: he that practiseth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that practiseth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (Numerical Bible). A man’s practice indicates his character. Let the children of God carefully consider this, and not be swayed by mere specious words. The practice of righteousness however is not the mere practise of humanitarian kindness and moral principles of which the world can approve. If it does not manifest true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is not righteousness at all, for the claims of God’s righteousness are certainly paramount. His righteousness is seen in Christ, and a true believer will in his measure, display a definite resemblance in character to that of his Master. In complete contrast, the sinful practice of an unbeliever shows him to be “of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” However refined and specious the character of his sin, however deceiving to some minds, it is yet sin, an offense against the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus.
Let us observe here that the apostle is closely testing that which professes to be Christian. The devil will introduce every counterfeit he possibly can, and it is of course possible that one may pass for a time without detection, for his sinful character will be covered by a veneer of apparent moral rectitude, but it will not agree with the genuine clear exercise of the divine life in the believer; so that this will soon be exposed where saints are walking with God in faith and truth. We ought not to be deceived.
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” There is no agreement at any point between the works of the devil and the works of the Son of God. It is fully true that the devil must have the permission of God before he is allowed to practice his hateful and deceitful works upon man; but God in sovereign wisdom allows this in order to test and reveal man’s true condition, for it will eventually expose the actual hatred toward God that exists in the unbelieving heart, and on the other hand will serve to bring out more clearly the godly faith of one whose faith is truly in Christ. Indeed the manifestation of the Son of God in the world presents an Object of perfection and beauty to the eye of the believer that challenges and silences the evil activity of the devil. Moral power is there to defeat Satanic wiles. But His blessed voluntary sacrifice of Himself on Calvary is the full destruction of the power of the devil (compare Hebrews 2:14). For there sin (the only weapon in the hand of Satan) has been fully met and atoned for by the blessed Son of God. Can the believer therefore have the slightest sympathy with the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy? Does sin have any place whatever in the new life given us by grace?
This is strongly answered in verse 9: “Whosoever is begotten of God doth not practice sin, because His seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God” (Numerical Bible). It should be perfectly clear that the apostle speaks here strictly of the nature that is born of God. New birth provides a nature that is incapable of sin. The seed of the Word of God has been planted permanently in the soul, and that seed can only produce according to its character of spotless purity. The believer therefore cannot practice sin: if he does at any time sin, this is an act foreign to his proper nature, the product of the flesh, which remains in him, though he is “not in the flesh” (Romans 8:9). There is a remedy for this, as we have seen in our epistle (ch.2:1), but no excuse whatever, for the least sin is contrary to our proper nature as born of God. Our verse does not then teach anything like perfection in the flesh, but it does teach perfection in the seed of the Word of God and its results in the newborn soul.
“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” It is a matter here of testing the claims of one professing to be Christian. The tares, planted by an enemy (Matthew 13:25) among the wheat, are said to be “the children of the wicked one.” It is the enemy’s effort to paralyze all true Christian testimony by the introduction of what is evil and poisonous. It is evidently a mistake to brand all unbelievers as “children of the devil,” for in those instances that Scripture records, the term is applied only to those apparently sold into the service of Satan, religious, yet actually anti‑christian, however cunningly this is covered. On the other hand, all unbelievers are called “children of wrath,” “children of disobedience,” because children of Adam. But mere deceitful profession of Christianity is a dreadful position for one to take. If haughty self‑will and self‑pleasing is evident in this, the case is all too likely that of a child of the devil. Far better not to know the way of righteousness, than after having known it, to turn to the corruption of callous deceit (2 Peter 2:21,22). The two marks then must be present, righteousness of practice and love of the brethren, or the profession is false; true life is not there.
“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Exemplified perfectly in the character and ways of the Lord Jesus, and diligently taught in His ministry, this real energy of love cannot be ignored by any who claim to know Him. There is no mention in Genesis of any of Cain’s evil works prior to his murdering Abel, except his offering to God of the fruit of the ground. God considered it an evil work, whereas Cain no doubt thought it to be a fine display of his own energy and labor. But it savored of cool disobedience to the known will of God, Who could allow no sacrifice save that in which the death of His own Son was typified. The very spirit of Cain then was evil, and his bold disregard of God’s word was evil. Also his stubborn rebellion, when God spoke to him afterward, was another work of evil. It came to a head and expressed itself in hatred against his brother, whose works of obedience he despised. On the other hand, where faith is in operation, love only finds the more delight in another, the more obedient and devoted that one should be. Mere human pride, with its attendant works, will always lead one in hatred against the obedient child of God. The murderous enmity of the Pharisees against the Lord Jesus was strictly because of His devoted obedience to God: those who hate Him will hate those who follow Him, and in just such measure as they actually do follow.
“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” It is no strange or unusual thing that the world should hate the child of God, for the world has publicly and decidedly rejected Christ, and any confession of Him or any reflection of His own blessed character is an offense to the world. The believer therefore should calmly accept this, and show love in return. For the strong assurance of verse 14 is of unspeakable comfort in this regard. The world is in ignorance, while the believer has absolute knowledge of his having already passed from death into life. No need to fear the world’s hatred then, or even death at their hands. Nothing can touch the life he has from God.
But the basis of assurance here mentioned is “because we love the brethren.” This real activity of love that has genuine preference for the company of the brethren, the family of God, is a clear proof of the presence of the new life in the soul. This is not the only basis of assurance, however, for John also speaks of others, as in ch.2:5; 3:24; 4:13; 5:13. Blessed fulness of provision, of certainty, of stability for every child of God! But one who claims to be Christian, yet does not love his brother, that is, those who are redeemed children of God, and whose brother he professes to be, — such an one has no life at all: he “abideth in death.”
“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Hatred is the very spirit of murder. The apostle of course speaks of the man’s nature here, not of his acts, though the hateful nature of Cain issued in his actual murder of Abel. The antichrist will at first be apparently very friendly with the believing remnant of Israel, his words “smoother than butter,” but “war was in his heart;” so that callous persecution will take the place of his smooth words. The hatred of Judas did not actually expose itself for three and a half years, but then he was proven a murderer also. Dreadful designation of all who use a form of godliness as a cloak of deception!
“Hereby we know love, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (Numerical Bible). Let us closely observe here that His sacrificial death is considered as on behalf of those who have been redeemed by it, for only those have experienced the blessed results of it. It is true enough that His life on earth was laid down in service to His saints, but this did not cease until that life was laid down in utter sacrifice in His death on Calvary, which is of incalculable blessing to every child of God. This was no mere sacrifice for the sake of helping mankind generally to a greater degree of freedom and “self-determination,” as today men will dare to speak of it, as though His death could be compared to those of men who have championed some humanitarian cause, so‑called “civil rights” or whatever else, and have died in the attempt to “make a better world.” The Lord Jesus attempted no such thing: He came for the purpose of offering Himself in sacrifice for the remission of our sins. He sought no public recognition, but asserted the rights of God, not civil rights. Men who struggle to 1iberate the world,” as they fondly imagine, are but engulfing themselves and the world in a more dreadful bondage to the power of sin and of Satan, for they ignore the rights of God. All of this contributes to the awful accumulation of self‑will, pride, greed, and rebellion that will cry out for the judgment of God in the rapidly approaching “great tribulation.”
Yet the fact of His laying down His life for us is also an example for us; so that “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If this should end in death, so be it, but our lives ought to be laid down in service for the sake of the saints of God, which involves living for them, not only dying for them if occasion requires. Again, this is not the devoting our lives merely to a noteworthy cause, however noble it may appear, but to the glory of God and for the sake of the blessing of the true children of God, not of the world.
“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” Is this not to be a real, personal exercise and responsibility as before God? This is no demanding of the government that the poor should be relieved from public funds, while taking nothing from my own pocket; nor is it the founding of a benefit society to solicit the support of the world for the relief of the poor. The Lord give His people serious concern to see that their means are used for the blessing of others, and here it is specially the household of faith. If we ignore evident needs, is this an evidence of the love of God dwelling in us? To give where there is not need is of course a mistake; yet it is better to err on the side of kindness than on the side of greed and heartlessness.
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” In ‘word’ is the actual expression coming from our lips, which may be very good, but with no actions to back it up. In ‘tongue’ would rather indicate the manipulation of the words, the art of persuasive speech. How empty is this if its truth is not attested in our deeds.
“And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” We have observed other evidences of reality in the epistle, but here is one that must be carefully considered also. Loving in deed and truth is love expressed practically, and this is itself a confirmation to our own souls of the reality of our faith: our hearts are assured before Him by such results of the new life within.
“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Where the heart is exercised conscientiously before God, then any inconsistent practice, such as selfish ignoring of others, will rightly cause our heart to condemn us. There will be a troubled, uncomfortable state of conscience. What is the resource of the soul in such a case? “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” To turn away from God would be utter folly, for in such a need, He is our only Refuge. Moreover, He knows more than we do as regards our failure, and knows also how to overcome it. This must of course humble our hearts, in recognition that God is greater, but with the humbling will come blessing. Let us then on every occasion of failure and self‑condemnation, turn utterly to God, in Whose wisdom and love we may confide. There is restoration here and grace to lead us aright in the future.
“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Disobedience to God, ignoring of personal conscience, is the one hindrance. If there is transparent honesty, rather, in acting rightly as before God, the soul will have real confidence toward God, no mistrust, no suspicion, no ill‑at‑ease embarrassment. Our prayers will be in no spirit of mere selfish greed, but of confidence that God will answer them the best way for us. We shall ask in faith, rather than complain that things are not as we want them. And we shall receive: there is no doubt whatever about it: God has pledged His Word. If one should not receive, then it only follows that obedience is compromised somewhere.
“And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” This commandment is of course absolute: there is no Christianity without obedience to it: it is the commandment of a new life, and basic to all Christianity. Faith and love are its intrinsic, indispensable characteristics.
Let us not merely reply that these are true of every believer in Christ; but rather ask ourselves how fully true they are of ourselves in reference to putting them into daily practice. Faith and love should be the basic motives for everything in our lives: all that is inconsistent with this is contrary to our true nature. Faith of course recognizes that the claims of the Lord Jesus are paramount: it gives Him the place of highest dignity, and delights to submit to His authority. But love toward one another is the necessary accompaniment of this. Let it then have its full, unhindered character in every department of our lives. Is it not with this consistency in view that the apostle adds, “as He gave us commandment”?
“And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” This basic character of obedience to His commandments is the proof of abiding in Him, the proof of a vital connection of eternal life with the Source of that life. The believer dwells in God, or in the Son, both being clearly implied; and God dwells in him, or the Son dwells in him. Divine life has its perfect and abiding interflow. Moreover, another mark of the believer’s assurance is added here: the Spirit of God given to us, and Who makes real to us the truths of the Word we are considering, is Himself the Witness that God abides in us. The Spirit of God moves the heart to act in deed and truth, and this is evidence of reality: then the actual loving in deed and truth is another evidence, as we have seen in verse 19.
But there must be guards as to the operation of the Spirit of God, that is, the child of God must be guarded against all that would imitate the operation of the Spirit. Satan is extremely cunning, and his agents are abroad everywhere. We must remember that all that professes to be spiritual necessarily has a spirit behind it. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The trying of the spirits therefore is testing the teachings of men by the pure Word of God. The Spirit of God can teach nothing contrary to the Word of God, and fundamental falsehood is the deliberate attack of Satanic wickedness, “the spirit of antichrist.” How urgent then is our own responsibility of learning the Word of God, to be preserved from the deceptions of evil spirits! If even while the apostle was still living, “many false prophets” had “gone out into the world,” their number today is increased beyond measure, comparative to the number of the prophets of Baal and of the groves in the days of Elijah, in contrast to the number of true men of God (1 Kings 18:19‑22). But these New Testament false prophets are of course those who assume a profession of Christianity which is hypocrisy, rather than the true knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye heard that it is coming, and now already is it in the world” (Numerical Bible). A man’s doctrine reveals what spirit is energizing him. Verse 2 does not imply merely the saying of a formula, but rather the real confession of the Lord Jesus as being manifest in flesh. This must be evident in the very essence of the man’s teaching. Nor is this merely a confession of His manhood, although the term “in flesh” of course insists upon His humanity. But it could not be said of any other that he came in flesh; for this involves a previous existence. In what form did He exist? Scripture answers, “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6). Therefore, the two truths are absolutely imperative in this confession, — His eternal Godhead, and His perfect manhood assumed in being born of the virgin. This clear confession of the Person of the Lord Jesus is evidence of the real operation of the Spirit of God. Blessed guard against all imitations!
But where there may be a fair profession of Christianity, these two vital truths may be actually lacking. A man may speak against them, or he may cunningly avoid them, while speaking even flatteringly of Jesus as a wonderful example. But this is not of God: it is the spirit of antichrist, and no believer should be deceived by it. They had been warned beforehand that this would come, and of course when the coming antichrist is revealed he will deceive thousands; but the same spirit that will energize him is already doing deadly work in the world.
“They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.” God and the world are thus completely contrasted. Those who succumb to diabolic deception do so because “they are of the world,” a satanic system over which Satan is both the “god” and the “prince” (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 14:30). Desire for present gain, present glory, the tinsel and color of exaggerated pride and popularity, all mere passing illusions, — are those motives by which the evil one attaches his victims to a world that chooses to ban God from its affairs. Men of this character will of course gain the ear of the world: theirs is the language and conduct the world approves. We cannot be surprised if they have a large hearing.
“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” John here speaks most positively of the absolute authority of the ministry of the apostles. They were of God: He had commissioned them, and their word abides with the same vital authority today. There can be no middle ground, no compromising position of any kind. If the apostles’ word is minimized or modified by man’s bland deceit, this is actual refusal of God’s voice. If one knows God, he hears the apostles: he does not attempt to explain away their words. If one will not receive their word, it is because he “is not of God.” Every profession of spiritual knowledge must be tested by this means. The believer is expected thereby to know what is “the spirit of truth,” and what is “the spirit of error.” To this end we must of course be acquainted with the Word of God, to know what the apostles teach.
In these first six verses, it will be discerned that the subject connects with light, while verse 7 introduces the subject of love. If the light necessarily excludes those who are in darkness, the love of God on the other hand embraces all the true children of God.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” This love is pure, unfeigned, unselfish, divine; not sentimentalism, not mere natural affection, but the active warm energy of the nature of God. The children of God are to exercise it toward one another, for it is the very essence of the nature that is communicated to them by new birth. If this love is present, it is a proof of being born of God: therefore the love itself is a far higher thing than all those things that might pass for love among men; for every man loves something in some kind of a way, but the apostle will not count this as love at all, unless it is that in which the very nature of God is active. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” If this love is absent, then the knowledge of God is absent, for love is His very nature: “God is love.” Blessed resting place for the renewed soul!
Nothing is left here to mere human. deduction, and no room allowed for man’s false conceptions of this precious subject, for it is guarded from every angle. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” In the incarnation of the Lord Jesus this love is manifested toward us. The Father has sent Him into a world utterly contrary to His nature, in which sorrow and suffering could be the only result for Him. This is unselfish, real concern for the welfare of others. Moreover, it is His only-begotten Son He has thus sent, the unique Object of His pure delight. In this is no mere feeling of affection, but supreme self‑sacrifice for the sake of His rebellious creatures, “that we might live through Him.”
But this does not stop with His incarnation. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is a false view of God’s love that would speak of the holy and beautiful life of the Lord Jesus in self‑sacrificing service to mankind, while ignoring His willing death on Calvary as the great propitiatory sacrifice necessary for the purging away of sins. Love is not found in man’s heart toward God, but in God’s heart toward man: this is its living fountain. And the sending of His Son to bear the dreadful burden of our guilt — the guilt of rebels — in His anguish and death on Calvary, is proof of love infinitely higher than anything that man naturally calls “love.” In the contemplation of these two great facts, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, and His sacrificial death, our thoughts of love will find a proper formation. The propitiation is that which completely satisfies God in reference to the putting away of sins, so that the love of His heart (expressed indeed in the propitiation itself) is free to flow out in unhindered complacency toward His children. Love has found a way to overcome every great barrier to its abundant outflow.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Can we sufficiently emphasize that little word “so”? Such unselfish concern, issuing in sacrifice so amazing, should so captivate the heart as to expand it to serve the need of others in utter self-denial. If love calls for it, and motivates us, what can be too great a sacrifice for His sake and for the need of others? What possessions of our hands should not be willingly committed to His hand for disposal?
“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” The apostle here is speaking of a practical response to, and effect of, the love of God. If that love is to be evidenced, it is to be evidenced toward the children of God, because no man has seen God at any time. A careless, self‑centered man will assume he loves God without that professed love taking any practical shape, because he does not see God. But the test of this is in whether or not he loves the children of God. This is the proof of God’s abiding in us; and His love hereby is perfected in us, that is, it is producing its properly matured fruit. He is not speaking of how much we love one another, but of the fact. But a fact will always manifest itself. The degree will depend on the individual’s degree of enjoyment of God’s love, but the apostle does not here speak of this.
“Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” The close connection of these verses should be realized. A proof of very real significance to our own souls, that God abides in us, is in the fact that He has given us of His Spirit. The emphasis here is upon His sharing with us His Spirit, that we may portray the same blessed character of love as He does. How wondrous to partake of this very nature that spontaneously loves! Mat proof of the reality of God’s abiding in us! If it seems that this is only repeating from a slightly different viewpoint what has already been discussed in ch.3:18,19, yet it is different, and the subject of the love of God is of such vital importance that these things must not be left in any measure to mere human deduction or opinion. God is rightly jealous that His nature should be properly and perfectly represented.
“And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” If no man has seen God, yet the apostles have seen the blessed Son who was sent by the Father. Notice in these two verses the vital manifestation of God as a Trinity, the gift of the Spirit, the sending of the Son, by the Father. Wonderful indeed the Father’s love so expressed in the sending of His Son to be Himself the Saviour of the world! Jacob sent Joseph out of the vale of Hebron (communion) to visit his brethren; but the history issued in his becoming “the Saviour of the world,” a most beautiful type of that of which our verse speaks (Genesis 37:14; 41:41‑57). This is love, pure love on the part of God; but that love must be received if it is to be of benefit to us.
“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” Here is an honest, clear confession of the rightful glory of the Lord Jesus, as Son of God. This cannot be divorced from the preceding verses, as though one could deny the Trinity and yet speak glibly of Christ’s being the Son of God, reducing His Sonship to that of a mere creature, and placing Him on a level with others who have become “sons” by adoption (Galatians 4:5). He Himself is the Son in very nature, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting [eternity]” (Micah 5:2). The confession of Himself as Son of God must involve this eternal dignity and glory of His Person, or it is no confession at all. But where the confession is honest and true, it is because “God dwells in him, and he in God.” Precious abiding indeed! God permanently abides in the child of God, and God is his permanent abiding place. Love therefore has its perfect interflow: in such a soul the love of God has been received: there is a precious, vital “abiding.”
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath toward us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” There are no vague uncertainties here, but a living knowledge of the love of God. This is true Christianity: “We have known and believed.” Observe too that this is no mere dealing with love as a subjective thing, which has become a snare to too many. To know and to enjoy love rightly, it must be objective. Feelings are no basis of reasoning at all. It is not a question of feeling that I am loved; but knowing and believing it on the basis of the fact being true. It is true altogether apart from my feelings: therefore I ought to commit myself utterly to believing it. This is only reasonable and right. The proofs of that love in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus and in His matchless sacrifice for our sakes, are so strong and unquestionable that only stubborn rebellion would dare to doubt it. “God is love:” it is His very nature: therefore He loves. It is not the ardor of my response that determines whether or not He loves me. He does so because it is His nature, apart from anything in me that draws such love. Therefore I believe it, for it is true. And believing it, I dwell in love, I dwell in God, and God in me. It is a permanent abiding because a permanent love of the eternal God. One who refuses it by callous disbelief is of course refusing himself all title to it, and rejecting all its benefits. He has only himself to blame, for “God is love” still, however man may attempt to falsify the very word and nature of Him who in grace seeks the purest blessing of every creature. Thus man “draws iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart‑rope,” brazenly inviting the judgment of God rather than receiving His love (cf. Isaiah 5:18,19).
Verse 17 is correctly translated in the margin, “Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world.” It is a palpable mistake to say that our love is made perfect, for the apostle knows that our love is so faulty it is worth hardly a mention. Yet God would have us “made perfect in love,” it is clear. How then is love with us made perfect?” It is by knowing and believing the love that God has to us, that is, the plain recognition of the fact that God’s love to us is itself perfection. The knowledge of this unqualified, unchangeable love gives boldness even in view of the day of judgment. Love has given His Son to bear my judgment, fully, absolutely. Then the day of judgment is no occasion of fear whatever: God’s love is too great and pure to allow me to entertain for a moment the thought that judgment might possibly overtake me. His love has so wrought as to be the same toward me as toward His own Son: “as He is, so are we in this world.” Amazing statement of simple, one syllable words! Is Christ not completely immune from judgment now? He has in grace borne this at Calvary, the full, unmitigated penalty against sin being laid upon Him, the willing sacrifice. The work now finished, He is crowned with glory and honor, eternally exalted, having abolished death, triumphing over it. And so far as judgment is concerned, the believer, even now, “in this world” is “as He is,” past all possibility of it; accepted in righteousness and joy before the Father’s face, a present, permanent place of unmingled blessing.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” A child’s certainty off his parents’ unfeigned, unchanging love gives him confidence, and no element of terror in that filial relationship. How much more does God’s perfect love cast out fear. If we are loved perfectly, there is no reason for tormenting fear. Godly fear of course is another subject, involving wholesome, reverential regard for the greatness of God; but a tormenting fear of possible judgment is dismissed when the love of God is rightly known. If this fear is present, the soul has not been “made perfect in love,” that is, he does not recognize the perfect love of God as it really is, pure eternal, unchangeable and precious as when He gave His beloved Son in sacrifice for us. To he “made perfect in love” is to “know and believe the love that God has to us,” because it is a fact.
“We love because He has first loved us” (JND). This is a spontaneous, essential reaction. No human effort is involved in this at all, no pressing of myself, no stirring up of my emotions by artificial means. Love must be a spontaneous thing, or it is not love at all. “I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake [my] love, till he please” (Song of Solomon 2:7). The roe, or gazelle, is the very picture of timid sensitivity, while the hind, climbing with sure‑footedness to heights above the common level, tells the same story, of avoiding the pressures of danger. Love cannot be produced from our own hearts by a process of stirring them up: this will fail, for our hearts are no fountain of love at all: we must look elsewhere: “we love because He first loved us.” The reception of the love of God is the only source of love toward God or toward others. Let us but believe His love to be what it actually is, and this produces a glad and willing response, unfeignedly, unaffectedly. The law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). But every effort of man to do so only issues in utter defeat: it is against his nature. What is the use of putting all our energy into pumping to draw water from a well that yields only poison gas? Let us forget such a well as our own corrupted hearts, and turn to the living, flowing fountain of the heart of God; and without effort, without human operation, our hearts will become filled with His love.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” The natural heart will embrace any subterfuge: man will quite glibly profess to love God, but it is convenient for him that God is out of sight, so that real, serious dealings with Him are avoided. But he must have dealings with his brother. If it is true that God’s love has entered his heart, how can he help loving his brother? If he does not, then he does not love God either: he is a liar. Dreadful designation! It is not simply that the man has been untruthful in a certain instance; but when he takes the hypocritical stand of professed love for God while hating the children of God, this is the very spirit of antichrist, who is a liar, as is his father the devil: it is the character of deceit willingly assumed.
“And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” As are all the commandments in John’s epistle, this is absolute: disobedience to it means there is no life present: there is no real love toward God without love toward believers also. And if the principle is absolute, then let the practice he consistent.
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” The faith that Jesus is the Christ is here seen to correspond with the confession of Him as the Son of God (cf. ch.4:15). The two must go together, as Peter well knew when he so unhesitatingly answered the Lord, “We believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). As Christ He is God’s anointed Prophet, Priest and King, and the Old Testament had clearly foretold that the Messiah — the Christ — must be Himself the Eternal Creator, God manifest in flesh (Isaiah 9:6,7). This belief therefore is a real, honest faith in the Person of Christ, no mere lip‑service; and everyone who possesses such faith “is born of God.” Moreover, everyone of whom this is true, and who therefore loves the One who has begotten him, is possessed of a nature that loves every other child of God. This is an essential of the new nature.
But it is necessary that love be further tested, that we may not in any way be deceived by what appears to be love. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.” Love toward the children of God is rooted in true love for God and obedience to His Word. To love them as the children of God, I must certainly put God’s rights first. If my love for them would induce me to be indulgent toward them in their disobeying God, this is not really love. If in pleasing them I displease the Lord, this is not love for them at all, however they may feel it to be so. Children may seem very happy together and indulgent toward one another, but if in a state of disobedience to their parents, this is not family love at all: it is mere selfish indulgence. If the spirit of love and honest obedience to God prompts the action of love towards the children of God, then this is love.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” Mere assertions of love for God while ignoring His expressed will can be nothing but hypocrisy. The love of God, as we have seen, is not merely love for God, but God’s love having entered the heart, and producing a fitting response. The proof of it is therefore in my keeping His commandments. Moreover, love will fully agree that His commandments are not grievous. If one were merely serving God for wages, he might no doubt feel this to be irksome service, as all legal bondage is; but if serving from unfeigned love, no resentment will be present. Indeed, the servant who accused the Lord of being hard and austere was himself hard and cold, and did nothing for his master’s sake (Luke 19:20‑26). He disobeyed the master because he callously and falsely imputed his own cold character to his master, who was actually characterized by love and grace.
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Love is the very spirit of overcoming; and the soul born of God possesses that blessed energy of God’s pure love that surmounts all the world’s barriers. This love is not defeated by the obstacles that an unbelieving world, a world of sight and sense, erects with the very intention of discouraging faith. Every believer is in principle an overcomer, because he has the root of the matter in him. Let us therefore be overcomers in practice also. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world, with its innumerable temptations. Since we possess faith, let us therefore use it consistently. If unbelief argues that the difficulties in the path of faith are too great, faith simply responds, “I believe God.” Thus faith and love work hand in hand: they are a team of living joy and of strength.
“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” Thus the faith of which he is speaking is no mysterious, elusive thing that only some unusual saints are able to grasp. It is quite simple and real: it takes facts as they really are: it believes truth because it is truth: it believes the revealed word of God preeminently concerning His Son, Who is the very Touchstone of all truth. There are no involved, specious reasonings here, but plain facts which faith in the living God gladly receives. And the believer in Jesus as the Son of God, overcomes the world. Of course, the eternal Godhead glory of the Lord Jesus, without beginning, without end, is fully implied in this blessed Name, Son of God, as the epistle has already taught us. Overcoming then is vitally connected with the Person of Christ, based upon the fact of Who He is, and of His having overcome the world (John 16:33). In every moral respect the world was under His feet: His entire path was one of overcoming: no temptation by the world could draw Him in the least degree from the path of faith in the living God. Here is overcoming in its sublime principle and in every detail of practice. Faith in Him therefore is the very principle of overcoming, a principle certainly which is for practical application.
“This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” This may seen to be the introducing of an unconnected subject, but it is not so. For the power and reality of the new life, in overcoming, in assurance, in living truth before God, depends upon these two great characteristics seen in the Lord Jesus. First, He came by water. Water speaks of absolutely divine ministry — “the water of life,” “born of water and of the Spirit,” “the water of the Word,” “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Hence in this the Lord is presented as the Life‑giver, “the true God and eternal life.” But this is not all: He also came “by blood.” “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy [annul] him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14,15). This is grace stooping to man’s estate: the Lord Jesus has become true Man, and a Man who has in grace shed His blood for the remission of sins. Here is perfectly human ministry, the cleansing of guilt by blood. These are absolute essentials. As the eternal Son of God He provides the living water to both meet the thirst of the soul and to cleanse morally. As the Son of Man He has provided His own precious blood to cleanse judicially from the guilt of our sins, to set the conscience free. Here is the provision for overcoming a guilty conscience and the power of sin. And the Spirit of God is immediately here introduced as bearing witness. Sufficiency of provision is therefore strongly emphasized. We cannot of course but recall here the result when the soldier pierced the side of the Lord Jesus: “Forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Beautiful picture of that marvelous twofold ministry of the Lord Jesus so blessedly flowing from His mighty work of redemption!
As to verse 7, reliable manuscripts have proven that it is an unwarranted addition inserted by some early copyist: it was not in the original. There is certainly no need of a witness in heaven: it is here that witness is required. And there is an abundance of Scriptural testimony to the fact of the Trinity, without the necessity of adding man’s witness.
“And there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Perfect concord exists in this threefold witness to the fact of eternal life being a present possession, in Christ the Son of God, of every believer. First, the Spirit of God dwelling in the believer, and who makes real the truth of God to the heart, is Himself a Witness that the believer has eternal life. For, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). Secondly, the Word of God itself, — “the water of the Word,” “the living water” — is plain and clear in its testimony; and the believer, laying hold upon this Word, as one drinking in its fresh ministry of life, finds it an assuring, solid witness to his present possession of eternal life. Thirdly, the blood of Christ having been shed at Calvary is the witness of a perfectly accomplished redemption, sins having been fully atoned for, so that eternal life, rather than death, is the present result for the believer in the Son of God. Who can destroy such blessed solid, true, united witness as this? Will God throw out of court such witnesses, and instead accept the witness of man’s works, man’s experience, man’s feelings? Certainly not. None of these latter can be depended upon in the least, but all of the former are thoroughly unimpeachable. Blessed resting place for faith!
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record [or witness] that God gave of His Son.” In normal circumstances men will commonly receive men’s witness concerning matters of which they have been witnesses. How much more ought we to receive God’s witness! Indeed, we have seen that God’s witness is a threefold one, clear and unquestionable. And primarily this witness is concerning His own Son, with Whom blessing to mankind is vitally connected. God bears witness to Him as coming by water and blood, as the eternal Creator providing moral cleansing; as the Son of Man bringing judicial cleansing; and the Spirit of God attesting the truth of this both in His own history on earth and in the results of His grace at present in souls. Only callous unbelief will dare to fly in the face of so clear a witness. But the believer has the witness in himself. The Spirit of God makes these things a living reality in the souls of saints.
On the other hand, the unbeliever is grossly guilty of rejecting valid and true witness, and places himself in the dreadful position of making God a liar. Is God’s witness not true? If one coldly despises this, he is accusing his own Creator of falsehood. Well might such a statement shock the unbeliever into a decided change of mind! And the believer too should consider how important it is that he should wholeheartedly receive the Word of God as true. But God’s witness of His own Son is a matter near indeed to His heart; and rejection of this is in God’s eyes inexcusable wickedness. How rightly so!
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” How clear and positive such language, and how marvelously blessed to the child of faith! The witness is that God has given to us eternal life. Faith therefore believes this utterly, and of course rejoices in the fact. “This life is in His Son,” inseparably connected with His coming “by water and blood”; but it is a present, real bestowal of eternal life upon every redeemed sinner. In receiving Him, the soul receives eternal life. Therefore, on the one hand, he who has the Son has life, eternal life: on the other hand he who does not have the Son of God has not life. Clearly here, it is either eternal life or no real life at all. From this viewpoint man’s natural life is looked at as mere existence, for after all it is a dying thing, subject to decay and corruption. Eternal life is living, vital, untainted, far above and beyond all that is mortal. Wonderful to know that the believer, having the Son of God, has this life.
“These things have I written to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life, who believe on the Name of the Son of God” (JND). It may easily be the case that one may have eternal life, and yet not know it. For this very reason John has written. Not that this is the only reason, for other definite reasons are also mentioned in ch.1:3; 1:4; 2:1. The Father desires none of His children in doubt as to the precious reality of their possessing now the matchless gift of eternal life. Apart from the Word of God we could never have this assurance: it is a Divine revelation, not by means of personal introspection, feelings, or experiences, but by the written Word. This alone gives certainty. If one truly believes in the Name of the Son of God, he has eternal life, whether he realizes it or not. Scripture says so; and by Scripture alone can he realize it, and be absolutely assured. What matchless grace then that God has given us His Word!
“And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” The knowledge of His faithfulness and the absolute truth of His Word of course inspire utter confidence in Him; so that prayer — the very breath of the new life — is the expression of confiding dependence: the soul draws upon the pure love of the Father’s heart, not with fleshly effort to persuade God to our point of view, but with honest confidence that His will is far better than the best our own wisdom might devise. How precious is such a calm, tranquil, living persuasion that we are perfectly cared for by an active love that works ceaselessly for our greatest good, however to the contrary outward appearances may seem when judged on the basis of present advantage. And before any answer appears for the observation of our natural senses, we may yet be absolutely certain we have the petitions we ask if we have asked according to His will. For faith certainly knows that the will of God will triumph; and if our requests are not according to His will, then certainly in the final analysis we should not want them fulfilled anyway. If in anything we are disappointed as to an answer, this is necessary training, to lead us to judge that which is mere personal desire rather than the will of God, and to give fuller, purer joy in “that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” How important then to have a proper, well balanced view of prayer; and to pray “in the Spirit,” with wholehearted desire to know and prove in experience the sweetness of the will of God. Simplicity of faith, honest unquestioning confidence in His unfailing love, must always be present if we are to pray in the Spirit. In this there are no unseemly demands, no fleshly haste or impatience, but the very real “peace of God” keeping the heart and mind.
Now a direct, practical example is given us as to prayer: If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” Let us observe that this single example as to our praying is one that is calculated to exclude selfish motives. No personal advantage is involved here at all, not even the honor of being used of God in the conversion of a soul or some such good work seen by other eyes. But sin in the case of a brother, a child of God, is seen to be dreadfully serious, so as to call for the real concern of our own hearts. But some sins are more serious than others, some “unto death,” some “not unto death.” Possibly sickness may take place in the latter case, however, and in answer to prayer, God will “give him life,” that is, restore to a measure of health at least. Not all sickness is because of some sin however. Epaphroditus was “sick nigh unto death” for the sake of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:27‑30). And no doubt it would be much easier for us to pray for an Epaphroditus than for a weak, wayward brother. But we must not ignore such painful needs.
On the other hand, if the sin was “unto death,” that is, of such grievous character that God had purposed to take the offender’s life from the earth, no amount of prayer could change this. A believer may have gone so far in such a case that the only resource of God’s mercy would be his removal from the earth. Certainly, this would not infer that we cease praying for the person, for his spiritual good, and for his restoration of soul to God; but to pray for his recovery to health would be ineffectual.
“All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” The perfection and beauty of our eternal relationship with God and with His children has been declared to us fully. Unrighteousness is simply inconsistency with relationship. The least thing inconsistent then with this holy relationship is sin, however it may be glossed over as an error, a slip, or whatever else. God intends no trifling or excusing of sin. Yet on the other hand, “there is a sin not unto death”: the degree of seriousness differs: and we are called upon to be exercised to discern things which differ; for there is no list of things put in either category: this will require communion of soul with God.
“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Again, it is pressed upon us that, as born of God the believer does not sin: the new nature abhors and turns utterly from sin: by the power of this nature he keeps himself, and the power of the wicked one is by this overcome: Satan has no foothold. How painstaking in this epistle is the Spirit of God, by the apostle, to repudiate sin of any sort as utterly foreign and repulsive to the true nature of one born of God! Consistency with this nature is an absolute protection from the seductions of the wicked one. Let us take this to heart, and abhor all that is contrary to it. But the fact is first true, in order that we may take it to heart.
However, it is quickly shown that this verse is not intended to sow doubts in a true believer’s heart, for he immediately adds, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness [or in the wicked one].” Blessed to have assured knowledge as to this first assertion, “we are of God.” But the second is just as certain: the whole world has been taken captive by the cunning deceptions of the wicked one, lying idly in his hands, given up to this with no energy to change it. How clear and vivid a contrast then is the position of the world and that of the children of God. How well for us to know it, and to know it well! Nor must we miss the awesome fact that the whole world is that which is so captivated by the dread power of Satan. Stern test indeed for individual faith! Has God lost control? Never! But He has allowed Satan this dominating power for the time being, that faith may only shine the brighter in contrast to it. If the multitude does evil, faith refuses this as an excuse to follow the evil. Weakness and unbelief argue that the great majority cannot be wrong, and so drifts with the crowd, or in other words, gives itself up to sluggishly lying in the arms of the wicked one, no faith, no willing, ardent affection for the Lord Jesus, no vital, active energy of divine life.
As the epistle draws to a close, summing up the grand truths of which it has spoken, how fitting that verses 18, 19, and 20 should use those words, “We know,” an expression we have seen to be so characteristic of John. He would leave the children of God in a position of absolute certainty. But verse 20 is a magnificent statement, in brief compass, of the entire basis of Christianity; the revelation of God in the Person of Christ, and the vital eternal blessing in Him that this means to every believer. “We know that the Son of God is come.” This is put in present tense, for the precious abiding character of this revelation is emphasized: it is for our present joy and blessing. “And hath given us an understanding.” In this is marvelous, mysterious power, for mere human intellect is blinded to these things. Spiritual discernment comes only from the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God is thereby understood. It is real, solid, sober, infinitely superior to fanciful imagination. “That we may know Him that is true.” Here the object of such an understanding is communicated: not to acquire great stores of knowledge beyond others, but to know Him. This object gives true progress, for it discards the selfish motive of pride and gives undivided honor to Him Who alone is entitled to it. The mere accumulation of knowledge tends to self‑exaltation; but the knowledge of God does the opposite.
“And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” By virtue of new birth “we are in Him that is true.” The branch abides in the vine by reason of having the life of the vine. By nature we were “in Adam” because of partaking of the life of Adam, a corrupted, temporary life. By new birth we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ, partaking of His incorruptible, eternal life. Yet, let us notice again that the expression “in Him that is true” evidently refers to the Father, for “in His Son Jesus Christ” is added. Indeed, it is evident the Father and the Son are both intended to be included here, yet the distinction between them obscured. Is this not designed to draw out the adoration of our hearts for both the Father and the Son in their absolute, essential unity, in recognizing that the important matter here is Eternal Deity? “This is the true God, and eternal life.” Could there possibly be a more absolute declaration of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ? The true God is found nowhere else save in this wondrous manifestation of Himself in flesh. Let every heart respond with profound persuasion of faith, in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
In view of so transcendent a revelation of the glory of God, the light and love of His blessed nature made known to us for our eternal blessing, how morally needful it is that the closing words are in the form of an appealing, urgent warning, “Children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Leslie M Grant