1 John 1:1-4
1. THE INTRODUCTION. It declares the writer's authority, based on personal experience; announces the subject-matter of his Gospel, to which this Epistle forms a companion; and states his object in writing the Epistle.
These opening verses help to raise the reader to the high frame of mind in which the apostle writes. Emotion, suppressed under a sense of awe and solemnity, is shown by the involved construction through which his thoughts struggle for utterance. We are reminded of the introduction to the Gospel, especially in the first clause. Both announce to us the subject of the writing which follows—the Word who is the Life. Both set before us, in the simplest language, truths of profoundest meaning. But while in the Gospel he seems to lose sight of his readers in the magnitude of his subject, here the thought of his "little children" is uppermost.
The construction of the first three verses may be taken in more ways than one; but almost certainly the main verb is ἀπαγγέλλομεν, and the clauses introduced by ὅ give the substance of the ἀπάγγελία. The sentence is broken by the parenthetical 1 John 1:2, after which the main part of 1 John 1:1 is repeated for clearness. Reduced to a simple form, the whole runs thus: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life, we declare to you also, that ye also may have communion with us."
1 John 1:1
The first clause states what or how the object is in itself; the next three state St. John's relation to it; "which," in the first clause nominative, in the others is accusative. The neuter ( ὅ) expresses a collective and comprehensive whole (John 4:22; John 6:37; John 17:2; Acts 17:23, etc.); the attributes of the λόγος rather than the λόγος himself are indicated. Or, as Jelf expresses it, "the neuter gender denotes immaterial personality, the masculine or feminine material personality." In the beginning is not quite the same as in John 1:1; there St. John tells us that the Word was in existence before the world was created; here that he was in existence before he was manifested. Thus far all is indefinite; the philosopher, about to expound a law of nature, might begin, "That which was from the beginning declare we unto you." What follows is in a climax, making the meaning clearer at each step: seeing is more than hearing, and handling than seeing. The climax is in two pairs, of perfects and of aorists; the aorists giving the past acts, the perfects the permanent results. Together they sum up the apostolic experience of that boundless activity of Christ, of which the world could not contain the full account (John 21:25). Beheld ἐθεασάμεθα is more than have seen ἑωράκαμεν. Seeing might be momentary; beholding implies that steady contemplation, for which the beloved disciple had large and abundantly used opportunities. In our hands handled we may see a reference to Luke 24:39, where the same verb is used ψηλαφήσατε; and still more to John 20:27, where the demanded test of handling is offered to St. Thomas, provoking the confession of faith to which the whole Gospel leads up, "My Lord and my God!" Had St. John merely said "heard," we might have thought that he meant a doctrine. Had he merely said "heard and seen," we might have understood it of the effects of Christ's doctrine. But "our hands handled" shows clearly that the attributes of the Word become flesh are what St. John insists on, and probably as a contradiction of Docetism. "Those who read his letter could have no doubt that he was referring to the time when he saw the face of Jesus Christ, when he heard his discourses, when he grasped his hand, when he leaned upon his breast" (Maurice). Between the first clause and what follows lies the tremendous fact of the Incarnation; and St. John piles verb on verb, and clause on clause, to show that he speaks with the authority of full knowledge, and that there is no possible room for Ebionite or Cerinthian error. The first clause assures us that Jesus was no mere man; the others assure us that he was really man. Precisely that Being who was in existence from the beginning is that of whom St. John and others have had, and still possess, knowledge by all the means through which knowledge can have access to the mind of man. (For "seeing with the eyes," cf. Luke 2:30; for θεᾶσθαι of contemplating with delight [Stark Luke 16:11, Luke 16:14], John 1:14, John 1:34; Acts 1:11.) Concerning the Word of life. "Concerning" περί may depend on "have heard," and, by a kind of zengma, on the other three verbs also; or on the main verb," we declare." "The Word of life" means "the Word who is the Life," like "the city of Rome,… the Book of Genesis;" the genitive case is "the characterizing or identifying genitive." The περί is strongly against the interpretation, "the word of life," i.e., the life-giving gospel. Had St. John meant this, he would probably have written ὅν ἀκηκόαμεν … τὸν λόγον τῆς ζωῆς ἀπαγγέλλομεν (John 5:24, John 5:37; John 8:43; John 14:24); περί is very frequent of persons (John 1:7, John 1:8, John 1:15, John 1:22, John 1:30, John 1:48, etc.). Moreover, the evident connexion between the introductions to his Gospel and Epistle compels us to understand ὁ λόγος in the same sense in both (see on John 1:1 in this Commentary, and in the 'Cambridge Greek Testament' or 'Bible for Schools'). What St. John has to announce is his own experience of the Eternal Word incarnate, the Eternal Life made manifest (John 14:6); his hearing of his words, his seeing with his own eyes his Messianic works, his contemplation of the Divinity which shone through both; his handling of the body of the risen Redeemer.
1 John 1:2
Parenthetical. The main thought of 1 John 1:1 and 1 John 1:3 is, "We declare to you a Being both eternal and yet seen and known by us." That of 1 John 1:2 is, "This Being, in his character of the Life, became visible, and in him are centered all the relations between God and man." Quite in St. John's style, verse 2 takes up and develops a portion of verse 1, using its last word as the basis of a new departure (comp. John 1:14; ἐφανερώθη gives the same fact as σάρχ ἐγένετο from another point of view). Became flesh is the fact in itself; the incarnation of the λόγοv. "Was manifested" is the fact in reference to mankind; their admission to the knowledge of it. The union of "see" with "bear witness" recalls John 19:35; and here, again, John 19:2 resumes and develops part of John 19:1. Have seen sums up the four verbs in John 19:1; for in all languages sight is used of experience generally. Bear witness and declare carries us a stage further—the communication of the experience. It is doubtful whether τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον is the object of all four verbs or of ἀπαγγέλλομεν only. Note the double article: the life, the eternal life. The Epistle begins and ends with this theme (1 John 5:20). (For ἥτις and πρός, cf. John 8:53; John 1:1.) Which indeed (as all must know) was with the rather. The verse ends as it began, but not with a mere repetition; the Life was manifested, and in particular to us.
1 John 1:3
The main sentence is resumed from 1 John 1:1, only the chief points being retouched. We declare to you also καί must be read before ὑμῖν, on overwhelming authority); i.e., "you as well as we must share in it," rather than "you as well as others to whom we have declared it." Of course, ἀπαγγέλλομεν, must be rendered alike in both verses "we declare." To what does it refer? Not to this Epistle, which does not contain the writer's experience of the Word of life manifested to mankind, but to his Gospel, which the Epistle is to accompany. The parallel between the two writings must often be noted, especially between the Epistle and John 17:1-26. Compare this verse with John 17:21. St. John's aim in writing his Gospel is that the great High Priest's prayer may be fulfilled—that believers may be one in that communion of which the unity between the Father and the Son is the pattern and the basis; may "be joined together in the same body, the same belief, the same knowledge, the same sins, the same hopes, the same destinies" (Jelf). Communion with Christians is shown to mean a great deal—no less than communion with the Father and with the Son. Note the double μετά St. John's writings teem with indications of the unity and yet distinctness between the Father and the Son. Communion with the one, so far from absorbing and canceling communion with the other, implies it as a separate bliss. The clause καὶ ἡ κοινωνία δὲ κ. τ. λ.., does not depend on ἵνα, as the δέ shows; we must supply ἔστι, not ᾗ. (For καὶ … δὲ, cf. John 6:51, where, as here, καὶ is the leading conjunction; in John 8:16, John 8:17 and John 15:27, δέ leads.) "Blessed are they that see not and yet believe. It is we who are here described, we who are designated. Then let the blessedness take place in us, of which the Lord predicted that it should take place. Let us firmly hold that which we see not, because those tell us who have seen".
1 John 1:4
While 1 John 1:1-3 refer to the Gospel, this refers to the Epistle; but, although ταῦτα in 1 John 2:26 and 1 John 5:13 refer to what precedes, there is no need to limit ταῦτα here to these opening verses; it covers the whole Epistle. The reading ἡμεῖς seems preferable to ὑμῖν, and ἡμῶν to ὑμῶν. But ἡμεῖς and ἡμῶν are not coordinate: ἡμεῖς is the apostolic "we;" ἡμῶν means "your joy as well as mine." This verse takes the place of the usual "grace and peace" in the opening of other Epistles; and as 1 John 5:3 recalls John 17:21, so this recalls John 17:13. The joy is that of knowing that, though in the world, they are not of it, but are one with one another, and with the Father and with the Son. The gospel is always joy: "Rejoice alway" (1 Thessalonians 5:16); "Rejoice in the Lord alway" (Philippians 4:4). To know that the Eternal Life has been manifested, that we have communion with him, and through him with the Father, must be joy. Whereas Gnosticism, by denying the atonement, and "the personal office of God in the salvation of the world," cuts off one great sphere of God's love, and consequently one great cause of the believer's joy. To sum up this introduction: St. John gives his Gospel to the Church ἀπαγγέλλομεν in order that all may share in the union for which Christ prayed; and to the Gospel he adds this Epistle καὶ ταῦτα γράφομεν, that all may realize the joy resulting from this union—that our joy may be fulfilled.
In this introduction we find the following expressions which are characteristic of St. John, serving to show the common authorship of the Gospel and Epistle, and in some cases of the Revelation also: ὁ λόγος ἡ ζωή φανερόω μαρτυρέω ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἦν πρός ἡ χαρὰ ᾖ πεπληρωμένη. It is among the many excellences of the Revised Version that characteristic expressions are marked by a uniform translation; whereas in the Authorized Version they are obscured by capriciously varying the translation: e.g. μαρτυρέω is rendered in four different ways—"bear witness," "bear record," "give record," "testify" (cf. page 10).
Verses 1 John 1:5-2:28
2. FIRST MAIN DIVISION. God is Light.
Verses 1 John 1:5-2:6
1 John 1:5
This verse constitutes the text and basis of this division of the Epistle, especially on its positive side. And the message which we have heard… is this. Again we have a remarkable parallel between Gospel and Epistle; both begin with a καί (which connects the opening with the introduction in a simple and artless manner), and with the same kind of sentence: "And the witness of John is this." The reading ἐπαγγελία (1 John 2:25, and frequent in the New Testament) must be rejected here and in 1 John 3:11 in favour of ἀγγελία (which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament), on overwhelming evidence. ̓Επαγγελία in the New Testament means "promise," which would be almost meaningless here. The change from ἐπαγγέλλομεν (1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:3) to ἀναγγέλλομεν is noteworthy: the one is "declare," the other "announce." The message received from Christ, the apostle announces or reports (renunciat) to his readers. He does not name Christ ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ; he is so full of the thought of Christ that he omits to name him (cf. John 20:7, John 20:9, John 20:15). ἀναγγέλλω is used of authoritative announcements; of priests and Levites in the LXX; of the Messiah (John 4:25); of the Spirit (John 16:13, John 16:14, John 16:15); of the apostles (Acts 20:20, Acts 20:27; 1 Peter 1:12). St. John speaks with authority. God is light; not the Light, nor a light, but light; that is his nature. This sums up the Divine essence on its intellectual side, as "God is love" on its moral side. In neither case has the predicate the article: ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστίν ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. Light and love are not attributes of God, but himself. The connexion between this message and the introduction is not at first obvious. But St. John writes with his Gospel before him, and the prologue to that supplies the link. There, as here, three ideas follow in order: λόγος ζωή φῶς. There, as here, φῶς immediately suggests its opposite, σκοτία. It is on the revelation of the λόγος as φῶς, and the consequent struggle between φῶς and σκοτία, that the Gospel is based. And this revelation is the highest: men alone are competent to receive or reject it. Other organisms exhibit the creative power as life: none but men can recognize it as light. And to know the λόγος as light is to know the Father as light; for the λόγος is the Revelation of the Father's nature. That God is, in his very nature, light, is an announcement peculiar to St. John. Others tell us that he is the Father of lights (James 1:17), the Possessor of light (1 Peter 2:9), dwelling in light (1 Timothy 6:16); but not that he is light. To the heathen God is a God of darkness, an unknown Being; a Power to be blindly propitiated, not a Person to be known and loved. To the philosopher he is an abstraction, an idea, not directly cognizable by man. To the Jews he is a God who hideth himself; not light, but a consuming fire. To the Christian alone he is revealed as light, absolutely free from everything impure, material, obscure, and gloomy. Light was the first product of the Divine creative energy, the earnest and condition of order, beauty, life, growth, and joy. Of all phenomena it best represents the elements of all perfection. "This word 'light' is at once the simplest and the fullest and the deepest which can be used in human discourse. It is addressed to every man who has eyes and who has ever looked on the sun." It tells not only "of a Goodness and Truth without flaw; it tells of a Goodness and Truth that are always seeking to spread themselves, to send forth rays that shall penetrate everywhere, and scatter the darkness which opposes them" (Maurice). In like manner, darkness sums up the elements of evil—foulness, secrecy, repulsiveness, and gloom. In all but the lowest forms of existence it inevitably produces decay and death. Everything of the kind is excluded from the nature of God. And hence St. John, in his characteristic manner, immediately emphasizes the great announcement with an equivalent negative statement: Darkness in him there is not any at all (comp. verse 8; 1 John 2:4, 1 John 2:23, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:6; 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3, 1 John 4:6-8; 1 John 5:12). He does not say, "in his presence," but "in him." Darkness exists, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual; there is abundance of obscurity, error, depravity, sin, and its consequence, death. But not a shade of these is "in him." The Divine Light is subject to no spots, no eclipse, no twilight, no night; as a Source of light it cannot in any degree fail.
1 John 1:6
A corollary from 1 John 1:5. If God is Light to the exclusion of all darkness, then fellowship with darkness excludes fellowship with him. If we say ἐὰν εἴπωμεν; "if any of us, no matter who he be, at any time say." The construction marks the supposed action as one likely to occur. The apostle includes himself in the possibility, and of course he and his readers did say that they had communion with God. By" walking" περιπατεῖν versari is meant our daily life, our movement and activity in the world (John 8:12; John 11:9, John 11:10; John 12:35; John 21:18; Revelation 21:24); this activity will inevitably express the κοινωνία in which we live. To have communion with him who is Light, and be continually exhibiting a life of darkness, is impossible. The Carpocratians and other Gnostics, who taught that to the enlightened all action is indifferent, because neither purity nor filth can change the nature of pure gold, are perhaps here aimed at. We lie, and do not the truth. As in 1 John 1:5, St. John enforces a statement by denying the opposite. But the negative is not a mere equivalent of the positive: the two together mean, "we are false both in word and deed." Truth with St. John is not confined to language; it is exhibited in conduct also (cf. ποιεῖν ψεῦδος, Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15).
1 John 1:7
The contrary hypothesis is now stated, and the thought is carried a stage further (cf. 1 John 1:9). He again speaks conditionally ἐάν, and does so until 1 John 2:3; after which the participial substantive ὁ λέγων ὀ ἀαπῶν ὁ μισῶν represents the conditional clause. The change of verbs is significant: we walk, God is, in the light. We move through time; he is in eternity. Our activity involves change; his does not. Like the sun, he both is Light and dwells in the light; and if we walk in the light, which is his atmosphere, we have fellowship one with another. Darkness is an unsocial condition, and this the light expels. From 1 John 2:6 we might have expected, "we have fellowship with him;" and some inferior authorities read μετ ̓ αὐτοῦ. But St. John's repetitions are not mere repetitions: the thought is always recur or reset to carry us a step further (cf. verses 3, 4). Having fellowship with one another is a sure result of that fellowship with God which is involved in walking in the light. "Here is a reply to those who would restrain Catholic communion to their own sect" (Wordsworth). Another result of walking in the light is that the blood of Jesus (his sacrificial death) cleanses us day by day continually (present tense) from our frequent sins of frailty. This cleansing is not the same as forgiveness of sins (verse 9). The latter is the case of ὁ λελουμένος, the man that is bathed (John 13:10); the former is the frequent washing of the feet (cf. Revelation 7:14; Revelation 22:14). The expression, the blood of Jesus, in Christian theology, "is dogma with pathos.… It implies, as no other word could do, the reality
By his blood new life-blood is infused into human nature.
1 John 1:8
After the great message," God is Light" (1 John 1:5) and its application to ourselves (1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:7), we are now told what walking in the light involves:
(1) consciousness of sin and confession of sin (1 John 1:8-10);
If we say that we have not sin. The present ἔχομεν again shows that the daily falls of those who are walking in the light are meant, not the sins committed in the days of darkness before conversion. The Lord's Prayer implies that we must daily ask forgiveness. We lead ourselves astray from the truth, and have no right estimate of the gulf between our impurity and God's holiness, if we deny this habitual frailty. In the sunlight even flame throws a shadow; and that man is in darkness who denies his sin. The truth may be near him; but it has not found a home with him—it is not in him. πλανᾷν is specially frequent in the Revelation, and always of arch-deceivers—Satan, the beast, antichrist, false teachers; it seems to imply fundamental error.
1 John 1:9
As in 1 John 1:7, we have the opposite hypothesis stated, and the thought advanced a stage. Not the exact opposite, "if we confess that we have sin;" but "if we confess our sins." It is easy to say, "I am a sinner;" but if confession is to have value it must state the definite acts of sin. The context shows that confession at the bar of the conscience and of God is meant. Circumstances must decide whether confession to man is required also, and this St. John neither forbids nor enjoins. Note the asyndeton; there is no δέ, as in verse 7. He is faithful and righteous, δίκαιος must be rendered "righteous" rather than "just," to mark the contrast with unrighteousness ἀδικίτι, and the connexion with "Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1 John 2:1). To forgive… to cleanse. As explained in verse 7, the one refers to freeing us from the penalties of sin, justification; the other to freeing us from its contamination, sanctification. The sense of purpose is not wholly to be surrendered. No doubt ἵνα, like other particles, becomes weakened in later Greek; but even in later classical Greek the notion of purpose is mixed up with that of consequence. Much more is this the case in the New Testament, and especially in St. John, where what seems to us to be mere result is really design; and this higher aspect of the sequence of facts is indicated by ἵνα. It is God's nature to be faithful and righteous; but it is also his purpose to exhibit these attributes towards us; and this purpose is expressed in ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν.
1 John 1:10
Once more we have no mere repetition, but a fresh thought. "We have not sin" (1 John 1:8) refers to our natural condition; "we have not sinned" (1 John 1:10) refers to definite acts. Note the climax: we lie (1 John 1:6); we lead ourselves utterly astray (1 John 1:8): we make God a liar (1 John 1:10). The whole of God's dealing with man since the Fall, especially in the Incarnation, is based on the fact of man's innate sinfulness. To deny this fact, therefore, is to charge the God of light and truth with acting and maintaining a vast and persistent lie. It is difficult to see how this strong language can be reconciled with the Roman dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary: why does not her "son" (John 19:26, John 19:27) except her from its sweep? His word is not in us; i.e., we are cut off from all communication with him (John 5:38; John 8:31). "His Word" is the sum total of the Divine revelation. That which in itself is "the truth "(1 John 1:8), when communicated to us is "his Word." How thoroughly the Church of England enters into the spirit of these verses (8-10) is shown by the fact that it appoints confession and absolution as part of public service every morning and evening throughout the year, as well as of every celebration of the Eucharist. As Bede points out, the Lord's Prayer itself, with the petition, "Forgive us our trespasses," is a conclusive answer to Pelagian opponents of St. John's doctrine.
1 John 1:1-4 - The Life.
Dr. Edersheim £ makes the remark that there are two great stages in the history of the Church's learning of Christ: the first, to come to the knowledge of what he was by experience of what he did; the second, to come to experience of what he did and does by knowledge of what he is. The former, he says, is that of the period when Jesus was on earth; the second is that of the period after his ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Ghost. This is true. And there is also an intermediate truth with which we are closely concerned. It is the truth of which we are reminded at the opening of this Epistle, viz. that the instrumentality by means of which we now pass on to the second stage is the writings of those who passed through the first. This is evidently intended to be the effect of this inspired letter; written, it can scarcely be questioned, by the author of the Fourth Gospel; written upon a specific theme, on a distinct method, with an avowed aim. Two preliminary statements hereupon require distinct and emphatic notice here.
1. There is a declaration that the writer was one who had been brought into close contact with the Person of the Lord Jesus, who had himself intimately known him, and who had associates in knowledge of and fellowship with him.
2. The internal evidence that the author of this Epistle is the same who wrote the Fourth Gospel is unusually clear. If any man could be known by his style of writing, surely the Apostle John can be by the way he plays upon the words "life," "light," "love." Note: Each apostle has his own key-words. Those of John are the ones just specified. That of James is "works." That of Paul is "faith." That of Peter is "hope." The main keyword of John here is "life." In these introductory verses the apostle opens up his theme. The purport of his Epistle, yea, not only of his Epistle, but of his entire apostolic and ministerial life, is indicated here; it has to do with "the Word of life," i.e., (cf. Westcott, in loc.) with the revelation of life; may we not rather say with the Life and its self-revelation? £In opening up this introductory paragraph we may trace the Life in five stages.
I. THE LIFE ETERNALLY EXISTENT. "That which was from the beginning." With God there is no beginning. With him there shall be no end. But Divine revelation is worded to suit the exigencies of our limited apprehension. Finite minds make their own horizon of thought. Both back and front there are limits beyond which thought cannot go. £ Hence we are mercifully allowed to think as of a beginning and as of an end. Not as if either were a "definite concrete fact."£ Let us, then, go back to this "beginning." It is not said, either here or in John 1:1-51, that the Life then ἐγένετο came to be, but ἦν was (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31; also Philippians 2:6, ὑπάρχων. There is here no thought of life apart from a Living One—a personal Being. There can be none. That Living One was before all creation—its ground, its medium, its reason, its center of support. In him all things hold together. This Life was "from the beginning." But note—
II. THE LIFE WAS MANIFESTED IN TIME. "The Life was manifested" (Philippians 2:2). From what afterwards follows, there can be no question that the apostle here refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. And in thus declaring that he passed out of eternity into the limits of time, out of the invisible to the visible realm, he thus avows the mystery of the Incarnation. A mystery, without the assumption of which the words and life of the Christ can no more be accounted for than the stability of the framework of nature can be accounted for without the law of gravitation. The difficulties that gather round the doctrine would be insuperable if it were a mere marvel, leading nowhere and effecting nothing. But since it is the center of a framework of doctrine around which the noblest hopes do gather, and the substratum of the renewed life of an entire living Church, the difficulties gather rather round its denial than around its assertion. The Life was manifested. The Divine Life can only be manifested to man by taking the form of man.
III. THE LIFE PERSONALLY VERIFIED. "We have 'seen,' 'tasted,' 'handled,'" etc. This should be compared with John 1:14, "We beheld his glory." The seeing of the glory was by no means coextensive with beholding the bodily form. "The eye only sees that which it brings with it the power of seeing." Some saw Christ to vilify; others to adore him. "The pure in heart will see God." The Nathanaeis will see heaven opened, but the "wise and prudent" will miss the sight.
IV. THE LIFE THUS VERIFIED IS AUTHORITATIVELY DECLARED. "That which we have seen… declare we unto you." Here are, as Westcott admirably remarks, "in due sequence the ideas of personal experience, responsible affirmation, authoritative announcement." This latter is involved in the words, "we declare." Some object to authority in matters of religion. But why? Only ignorance can demur to it, so long as the authority is a lawful one. And since the authority here implied is that which comes from adequate knowledge on the matter in hand, none ought to demur to it for a moment.
V. THE LIFE AUTHORITATIVELY DECLARED WITH A DEFINITE AIM. The aim is twofold:
1. That of a kindred fellowship of souls who are in communion with the Life! No other fellowship to compare with this. It is
2. That out of the closeness of fellowship there might come a fullness of joy. Life is the root of joy. Joy is the fruit of life. A plant is not in perfection till it blooms. The Christian life is not perfected till it smiles and sings.
In conclusion, note:
1. The real and only valid succession in the Church is that of life.
2. There can be no value in forms, except as they express life.
3. Through the Divine Life men are reborn to the noblest fellowship with God and with one another!
1 John 1:5 - The message.
Connecting link: The Son of God, whom we have seen as manifested Life, has brought us a message from the invisible and everlasting Father. Topic—The message from heaven brought by the Lord Jesus Christ. A careful study of the text will suggest several points for consideration and expansion.
I. WHAT THE MESSAGE IS.
1. Whom it concerns. "God." "The announcement as to the nature of God is a personal revelation, and not a discovery" (Westcott, in loc.). We know something of God by reasoning upward from the works of nature. Nature speaks (Psalms 19:1-4). Her works are a manifestation of God. But not a full or a clear one. We want a testimony direct from God, as to what he is, as to his thoughts towards us; and here it is.
2. What does it tell us about God?
II. WHENCE THE MESSAGE CAME. "We have heard from him ;" i.e. from the Lord Jesus Christ, as the incarnate Manifestation of the Invisible. Obviously, the value of such a message depends on the Person who brings it. If, then, we ask the all-important question—Who brought this message down to earth? apostles, one and all, join with unwavering tongue in declaring that it was brought by the everlasting Son of the Father, who came from him. This is the distinctive assertion of Christianity. It is made, not doubtfully, not apologetically, but categorically and positively, for the acceptance and salvation of man. This message was brought to man directly by the greatest Messenger from the eternal throne that even heaven itself could send!
III. HOW THE MESSAGE REACHES US. "We announce unto you." The Lord Jesus Christ asserted his claims and proved them. He sealed them by his death, confirmed them by his resurrection, and gave to apostles the unwavering certitude of their validity by the gift of the Holy Ghost. They, thus sure of and confirmed in the message, living on it themselves as their own life and joy, preached and taught it, and also put it down in writing, that it might be spread over the world through the after-ages. They gave it forth authoritatively, with the authority which comes
Thus the message reaches us. In the Epistles we have the sum and substance of that which in the first century was orally received. It is utterly useless for the adherents of the mythical school to urge the later authorship and miracle-embellishments of the Gospels with the view of weakening this position; since, whatever be the age of the Gospels, there are known letters of the apostolic age, by Paul, Peter, James, and John, from which alone the ground-plan of the Redeemer's life and the gist of his message could be reproduced, even if the misfortune of the loss of the Gospels could be supposed possible. The historic position is one which never has been and never can be shaken; that in the Epistles we have the sum of that which apostles gave forth orally—the message which has remained unchanged from the beginning of the Christian age. The verse of our text has as much force as if the Apostle John were now living and actually uttering the words in our ears: "This is the message," etc.
IV. HOW DOES THE MESSAGE BEAR UPON US? We can but briefly suggest.
1. The fact of this truth coming as a message from God unto us, shows us that God is concerned about his intelligent creatures knowing who and what he is.
2. It shows us also that, if we are adequately to know who or what God is, it must be by a message from him to man, and not through man attempting to search out him.
3. We see, further, that by means of such a message, brought by such a Messenger, we may come to know the very greatest fact in the very simplest way.
4. This revelation of the nature of God is not for the purpose of satisfying speculative inquiries; it is intended to yield practical results (cf. verses 6-10).
5. The right use of this message will yield us a knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ, which is in itself" the eternal life" (cf. John 17:3).
V. INFERENCES AND APPLICATION.
1. This sublime truth, being presented to us as a message from God, indicates to us so far an element of truth in agnosticism. "The world through its wisdom knew not God" (1 Corinthians 1:21, Revised Version).
2. If the gospel be a message from the everlasting God, then the one point which has to be verified is, not whether the message be in all respects such a one as we might have expected, but whether the Messenger be at once capable and true.
3. To demand the same kind of verification which a man gets of his own discoveries in physical science, is absurd. The only possible verification of a testimony lies in the proof of the ability and veracity of the witness. Each kind of truth has its lines of verification in its own direction, and in no other.
4. Most jealous care should be taken that we do neither the Messenger nor the message an injustice through allowing any prejudice or any dogmatic assumption to interfere with the consideration of their claims.
5. The substance of the message is in itself a strong argument for the truth of the Messenger. One assumption only is involved therein, viz. that God can reveal himself.
6. There is an infinite difference between an agnosticism that is such because it never heard the message, and that which is such because it scornfully ignores it under the pretence that God is unknowable. The one is a grievous misfortune; the other, a more grievous sin. In the one there is a yearning for the light; in the other, a turning from it. "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge."
1 John 1:6-10 - "If… if:" which shall it be?
Connecting link: The purpose of God in revealing himself to us as Light is that we may come into fellowship with him; and that in this fellowship we ourselves may become sons of light, which by nature we are not. Topic—The only way in which the purpose of this Divine message about God himself can be accomplished in us is by our first recognizing truly and fully what we are, and then acknowledging our state before him.
I. THE ENDS OF GOD IN THUS DECLARING HIMSELF MAY BE FRUSTRATED IN ONE OR OTHER OF THREE WAYS.
1. If we maintain that our fellowship with God follows as a matter of course, independently of moral considerations; e.g., if we
(a) false in word: "we lie;"
(b) false in practice: "we do not the truth."
The truth is not merely to be objectively perceived by the understanding, but is also to be transmuted into life. Men would soon go on to know more of objective truth if they would but put in practice what they already know. A fellowship in the Light, and a living and walking in the darkness, are far asunder as the east is from the west.
2. If we maintain that there is no wrong in not being in fellowship with God, or if we deny that sin is the great barrier to fellowship, i.e., "if we say that we have no sin" (1 John 1:8),—in that case
3. If we maintain that sin, albeit it may be located in us, has never broken forth into act; i.e., "if we say that we have not sinned" (1 John 1:10),—in that case
II. THERE IS ANOTHER AND A BETTER COURSE, IN OUR ADOPTION OF WHICH THE ENDS OF GOD IN REVEALING HIMSELF MAY BE ACCOMPLISHED IN US. A double duty and also a double issue are here pointed out.
1. Confession. "If we confess our sins" (verse 9); "not only acknowledge them, but acknowledge them openly in the face of men" (so Westcott). Unquestionably, open confession forms an essential part of our duty (cf. Romans 10:9). The open confession before men of Jesus as our Saviour from sin, obviously includes as its basis the acknowledgment of the sin from which we are to be saved. Certainly there must be
(a) the faithfulness and
(b) the justice of God.
Faithfulness in the fulfillment of the promise; and justice, in that, when the penitent puts away sin by forsaking it, God puts it away by forgiving it, through his method of mercy in Jesus Christ.
2. Walking in the light is the second duty. We walk in the light, and God is in the light. Ours is to be constant advance; God's is permanent being. When once a penitent has by confession avowedly quitted the realm of darkness, he at once begins to move on in light, and towards fuller light. This second duty will also have a twofold issue.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
1 John 1:1-4
The apostle's aim and method.
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard," etc.
I. HERE IS AN OBJECT EMINENTLY WORTHY OF AN APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST. "That ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." St. John sought to lead his readers into:
1. Participation in the highest fellowship. "That ye also may have fellowship with us," etc. (verse 3). The word "fellowship," or "communion," signifies "the common possession of anything by various Persons." By the "with us" we understand the apostles and others, who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ. And St. John's aim was that his readers should participate in the truth and trust, the life and love, which the older generation of Christian disciples already possessed; that they should share in his own highest and holiest experiences. And it was not into an exalted human communion merely that the apostle endeavoured to lead his readers. "And truly" he says, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." In infinite condescension, the heavenly Father and the Divine Son admit Christian believers into vital and intimate communion with themselves. This fellowship is a thing of character and of life. They who share in it are "begotten of God;" they have "become partakers of the Divine nature; and they realize with joy the Divine presence. The apostle sought to lead his readers into:
2. Realization of perfect joy. "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." Hitherto the joy of those to whom St. John wrote had not been full; for their acquaintance with Christian truth had been imperfect and partial. By the fuller disclosures of that truth he hopes that their joy may be fulfilled. How rich and manifold and abundant is the joy of the true Christian! The joy of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation with God, of progress in truth and holiness, of hope of future perfection and glory. Our Lord said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." "Rejoice evermore."
II. HERE ARE MEANS EMINENTLY ADAPTED TO ACCOMPLISH THIS OBJECT. St. John endeavoured to attain his aim by declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice:
1. The title applied to him. "The Word of life." Each term of this title demands consideration.
2. His intimate communion with God the Father. "That eternal life which was with the Father" (cf. John 1:1). "The Word was with God." "He was not merely: παρὰ τῷ θεῷ, 'along with God,' but πρὸς τὸν θεόν. This last preposition expresses," says Canon Liddon, "beyond the fact of coexistence or immanence, the more significant fact of perpetuated intercommunion. The face of the everlasting Word, if we may dare so to express ourselves, was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father." Or, as Ebrard expresses it, the life "was towards the father.… A life which did indeed flow forth from the bosom of the Father, but which did at once return back into the bosom of the Father in the ceaseless flow of the inmost being of God."
3. His manifestation to men. "And the life was manifested, and we have seen," etc. "The Word" also suggests the idea of revelation or communication; for the Logos is not only reason, but discourse; not only thought, but the expression of thought. The life was manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ—in his words and works and life amongst men. It was exhibited gloriously in his splendid triumph over death by his resurrection. "It was not possible that he should be holden of it." "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us," etc. We have said that these means—the declaration of the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ—were eminently adapted to lead men into participation in the highest fellowship and realization of perfect joy. The statement is capable of ample proof.
III. HERE IS AN AGENT EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO USE THESE MEANS. The apostle was qualified by various and competent knowledge of him concerning whom he wrote.
1. He had heard his voice. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard." St. John and his fellow-apostles had heard his words on very many occasions both in public discourse and in private conversation.
2. He had seen his human form and his mighty works. "That which we have seen with our eyes The Life was manifested, and we have seen it." There is, perhaps, a special reference to his having seen hint accomplish his great and beneficent miracles. But the apostles had seen their Master in various circumstances and conditions. They had seen him in his majesty and might quelling the tempest and raising the dead to life; and they had seen him exhausted and weary. They had seen him bleeding and dying on the cross; and they had seen him after he had risen again from the dead. John and two others had seen him bowed in anguish in Gethsemane; and they had seen him radiant in glory on Hermon.
3. He had intently contemplated him. "That which we looked upon," or beheld. This looking upon him is more internal and continuous than the having seen hint with their eyes. With the most intense and affectionate and reverent interest the apostle contemplated him.
4. He had handled his sacred body. The hands of John and the other apostles must frequently have touched the body of their Divine Master. But there is, perhaps, special reference to the touching of him after his resurrection: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me," etc. (Luke 24:39). "He saith to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands," etc. (John 20:27). Thus we see how eminently qualified St. John was to testify concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. How conclusive is the testimony which he bears! And how fitted is such an agent with such means to introduce men into the blessed fellowship and the perfect joy! Have we entered into this high fellowship? Do we realize this sacred and perfect joy? Let those who are strangers to these hallowed nod blessed experiences seek them through Jesus Christ - W.J.
1 John 1:5
The great message.
"This then is the message which we have heard of him," etc. Notice two preli