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Ch. ii. 1.] THE Apostle now turns to those for whose sake he writes, as a father to his children. Addressing them personally as his children, he presses home upon their hearts a spiritual father’s admonitory words: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” The expression, “these things,” glances back to that main topic which had been his starting-point, viz. that it is only while walking in the light, that we can be certain of that divine fellowship of life bestowed through Christ. But with this all that follows is connected, and to all this the expression has reference. All which he had said to them respecting the sin still cleaving to the christian, and of the progressive redemption from it for which they may hope, has had for its aim, not to make them lenient towards their own sins, but on the contrary to excite them to a continued and unwearied 46 conflict with sin. In order to apprehend and apply the admonition to abstain from sin, as understood by the Apostle after the law of Christ, our conception of the nature of sin, of what sin is, must be very different from that derived from the superficial moral judgment of the world. For this it is requisite that, trying ourselves by that higher standard, we should learn to detect what is sinful in our own life in order that we may overcome and avoid it; and as the source of the needed resolution, confidence; and alacrity for this, is presupposed the sense of divine forgiveness, and reliance upon the divinely purifying power of the work of redemption. Thus we perceive how all that precedes, starting from that central thought, serves as a basis for the exhortation, “That we sin not.”
That connection, which we have noticed, is always present to the Apostle in the light of his christian self-knowledge and his knowledge of man. Hence, to the unconditional exhortation to sin not, he is constrained to add a ground of consolation to those, who, while honestly striving against sin have yet fallen under temptation, and who might thereby become wholly unsettled in regard to the 47work of their salvation, and be driven to despair. Another would have given this the adversative form: But if any one sin. In the style, however, of the undialectic and unrhetorical John, there is no occasion to change the connective word; as in many cases where another, Paul for instance, would have made this change, with him the simple “and” suffices for all the relations of his several propositions to one another.
Ch. ii. 1, 2.] Accordingly he says: “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” To those who are weighed down by consciousness of the sin still cleaving to them, and of defeat in conflict with it, John thus extends the cheering assurance of a mediator with the Father in Heaven. This mediator is Jesus Christ the Righteous, that is, the Holy; righteousness here being taken in its highest and absolute sense, namely, as what is right, what is as it should be, what corresponds to the idea of moral perfectness. He bids them, after having once attained to repentance for that still inhering sin, not to abandon themselves to the 48fruitless anguish of despair, not to consume themselves in a perpetual brooding over their sins; but on the contrary, to turn with full confidence to Him who is their everlasting advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Holy.
When man, having become conscious of the chasm, between himself in his sin and imperfection and the holy and perfect God, sinks under the feeling of separation and estrangement from that Being towards whom his higher nature strives to rise; there then awakens in him the want of a mediation, by which this chasm may be filled. Hence, in all religions, the founding of a priesthood, the recognition of a mediating agency between God and man, to whom he may address his prayers when he ventures not to turn immediately to God. There is, however, in every such human priesthood this inherent inconsistency, that they who are themselves sinful and in need of redemption like all other men, should undertake for others the mediation which they themselves need in common with them. Thus, the undeniable want which lies at the foundation of the priesthood universally, in connection with its insufficiency to meet that want, becomes a prophetic indication 49of Him who alone can truly satisfy it; of Him through whom the idea of a priesthood, so deeply grounded in the nature of man, found its realization, and with it all previous forms of priesthood their final end. This relation of Christ, to God and to humanity, is the especial object of the Epistle to the Hebrews. As man, he is in all respects akin to those who seek his aid, has partaken of their nature with all its necessities, all its infirmities, sin excepted; has himself experienced all their conflicts and temptations, and in all has approved himself as The Holy. Only as the Holy, as the realization of the holy archetype of humanity, can he stand as the substitute of sinners before the Father in Heaven.
This is not to be so understood, as if the forgiveness of the sins of believers were something yet to be obtained by the intercession of Christ. There is presupposed here, as appears from the immediately following connection, that redemption, that reconciliation of man with God, which was effected once for all through the holy life and the sufferings of Christ. Jesus Christ, as The Holy, is here contemplated in connection with his whole work accomplished on earth, wherein he 50manifested himself especially as The Holy One,—in the connection of his present life with God and previous life on earth. There is also presupposed, as already existing, that entirely new relation to God into which those are brought who are reconciled to Him through Christ. It is not said: We have an advocate with God, but with the Father; indicating that filial relation of believers to God as their Father, whom they have first been taught through Christ to know and honor as such. In it is included the permanency of this once established relation, as something not again to be unsettled, so long as the believer abides in this fellowship with Christ, so long as his faith continues steadfast. Only where it has already suffered disturbance, must the direction of the eye to Christ, by whom it was established, revive again the living consciousness of this relation.
There is thus presupposed, in this perpetual advocacy of Christ, that which he has once for all wrought out for the human race. But this too, is represented as something which shall continue working in divine power, until it has accomplished its final aim, the complete redemption and purification of man already reconciled to God through 51Christ,—until the consummation of the kingdom of God. It is clear that this divine agency in the ever-progressing work of redemption, is necessary even for those who have been thus reconciled to God through Christ, and who are conscious of a filial relation to Him as their Father. It is made necessary by the frequent disturbances of this relation, through the after-workings of that sin from which they have been made free. Their christian life can prosper, only when in a continued living connection with the original divine foundation on which it rests, that common foundation of all which belongs to the development of the kingdom of God on earth.
But when we speak of the still operative power of the work of redemption, Awe are not to understand by this, merely the influence exerted by some past transaction upon the development of humanity, and of individuals who yield themselves to it, irrespective of the personal influence of him by whom that work was wrought; as though the sacred writer, when speaking, of Christ as the perpetual intercessor, ascribed to him by a figure of speech the influences belonging to his once completed work. So the still operating influence of 52any great work, once wrought in human history by some master spirit, might be ascribed to his continued personal agency; a lively and graphic form of conception representing such an one,—for a time at least, until the whole aim and purpose of the work shall reach its full completion,—as still working on in that which had its origin in him. Thus it might be said of Luther, that he still lives and works in that Reformation which bears the impress of his own spirit. We might indeed, in such a sense as this, speak of Christ the Holy as the intercessor of believers, without knowing anything farther of his personality; and even though this personality had been a mere transient phenomenon, as regarded by a Sabellius, and as it is presented by a certain school, which, though totally opposed to Christianity, sometimes assumes its likeness.
But such a view is entirely at variance with the Apostle’s meaning. Before his believing eye stands the Living Christ; approved by his victorious resurrection from the dead, as the Holy One, over whom death could have no power; risen and ascended to an eternal divine life in heaven, forever living with the Father in a glorified, divine-human 53personality. This living Christ he contemplates as still carrying on his work in person, and with the same holy love with which he labored on earth for the reconciliation of sinful man, still continuing to work in that glorified state with the Father. In his divine-human personality he forms the medium by which the human race, redeemed and reconciled to God through him, is brought into union with God as a Father. This connection between the living Christ and what he once wrought on earth, must therefore never be lost sight of. Thus Christ himself, in those last discourses transmitted to us by John, says on the one hand, that he will pray the Father in behalf of his disciples, and that in answer to his prayers the Father will bestow upon them what they need (John xiv. 16); and on the other hand, that he need not pray for them, since, by virtue of their connection with him, they are themselves already the objects of God’s paternal love, already stand in a filial relation to Him (John xvi. 26, 27).
With special emphasis it is here said that Jesus, as The Holy, is the advocate of the redeemed, who under the sense of still remaining sill direct to him the eye of faith. Christ being the Holy 54One, having in his life on earth given once for all a complete realization of the perfect holiness required by the divine Law; this his holiness stands forever the offset for all that is still sinful in those who have been redeemed by him, and are in fellowship with him. It is in this connection with him, as one with him, that they are presented to the eye of God. Herein lies the pledge that they also, by virtue of this union with him, shall one day be wholly purified from sin; shall be like him in perfect holiness, to whom even now, turning away from sin, they direct the eye of faith; shall be made holy as he is holy.
What now is the practical significance of this truth, that Christ the Holy is our ever-abiding advocate with the Father? To this perpetual mediation through the living Christ, to his ever-abiding priesthood for those who are reconciled to God through him, corresponds the ever-remaining need of mediation in believers, their constant dependence upon the priesthood of Christ, in union with whom they are a generation consecrated to God. Under every feeling of sin and infirmity, in all their temptations and conflicts, they may securely trust in their indissoluble union with this 55divine-human Personage; who himself has felt all their necessities, and is near to them in the intimate sympathy of perfect love. Moreover, their whole inward and outward christian life, flowing as it does from this sense of continual need of redemption, will take its character from this ever-continuing mediation of Christ and their own conscious connection therewith.
The whole christian life, as ordained for the glory of God, must be governed by its relation to him; and this relation must everywhere show itself to be the fruit of Christ’s abiding mediation. To the christian consciousness, this will be an ever-present reality. As Christ the Holy can alone be, in an absolute sense, the object of divine love and complacency; so no other of the human race can be its object, except in connection with Christ as the perpetual mediator. Only that wherein Christ is found, only that which appears under his glorified image, can truly promote the glory of God. The glory, beaming from this heavenly relation, will throw its radiance over all the darkness that yet remains. Christian piety and all its fruits, must have their root in this relation to Christ as mediator. Thus Christ, in that last discourse 56to his disciples of which John has given us the record, says that God will bestow upon them the Holy Spirit in answer to his prayer (John xiv. 10); that the Father will send the Spirit in his name (John xiv. 26); both pointing to this perpetual mediation through Christ. To this also refers the prayer in his name, which he so earnestly presses upon their hearts in this discourse; the expression “through Christ” being, in general, equivalent to “in Christ.” All this is thus placed in its proper light. In many apostolic expressions, the whole life of the church, and of each individual Christian, is represented under the figure of a sacrifice well-pleasing to God; a sacrifice which Christ, the perpetual mediator, the eternal Priest, offers to his heavenly Father. From this connection of christian truth we can also deduce the inference, that since everything in the christian life is comprehended in this mediation by Christ, and through it receives its consecration; so everything human is in like manner to be thereby consecrated and sanctified, to be brought into connection with the life of Christ. Hence the distinction between worldly and spiritual, holy and profane, no longer 57exists; all this is clone away by the perpetual mediation of Christ.
History teaches us to estimate aright the deep significance of this christian truth, here developed from the words of the Apostle. The entire dependence of all Christians alike upon this one advocacy, to the exclusion of every other, being based upon this truth; we accordingly see that whenever it became obscured in the christian consciousness, that dependence was again, as in the ante-christian period, transferred to a human priesthood and to a multiplicity of mediations, and again the distinction between priests and laity, between spiritual and secular, found admission. And thus will it ever be, when this reference of the religious consciousness in all believers, to the one mediation through Christ, is cast into the background, is obscured or misunderstood.
The Apostle has thus shown, that at the basis of the ever-continuing mediation by Christ, there lies the reference to what he once wrought for the reconciliation of man with God, to that one all-sufficient offering of himself. He accordingly now directs attention specially to the fact, that He is “the reconciliation for our sins,”—referring to that 58once-accomplished and still abiding and operative work of redemption. For he it is through whom man has been made free from sin; through whom that sin which pressed down humanity, separating it from God and his fellowship, and intercepting the communications of divine love, has been taken away, has become as if it were not; so that henceforth, all mankind should appear before God as freed from sin by this self-offering of Christ,—as in him pure in the sight of God. This,—which according to the divine plan, the purposes of divine grace, the yearning love of Christ who bore all mankind upon his heart, should embrace all,—is realized in those who open their hearts to its reception, who believingly appropriate the redeeming grace thus offered. It is so realized when they first enter into christian fellowship, renouncing the former standpoint of a life of worldliness and sin; it is this which marks the boundary between the old and the new life. But as John here shows, although this boundary has been once fixed, yet in the conflict with the remaining influence of that former state, there is still need of the ever-renewed appropriation of this reconciliation, which is Christ himself. When this reconciliation, as the 59all-sufficient agency for the progressive and ultimately complete sanctification of the redeemed, and the constant appropriation of it as such, have ceased to be recognized in their connection and become obscured in the christian consciousness,—new methods of atonement and purification have then been resorted to, as necessary for sins committed after baptism.
But when John speaks of the reconciliation for our sins, he feels constrained to guard against every limitation of the universal reference of the work of redemption. He calls to mind such words of Christ as those respecting the one fold and the one shepherd, and his vision widens to embrace all humanity; to behold in Christ not alone the reconciliation for those who already believe, but for those also who as yet know nothing of Christ, who as yet belong to the world. The reconciliation of Christ has for its object all humanity in its estrangement from God; all which belongs to the world, as it stands opposed to the kingdom of God. Humanity as a whole is to be embraced in the reconciliation with Christ, is to be thereby separated from the world and incorporated into the kingdom of God. The reconciliation, once instituted 60by Christ, continues its uninterrupted work until it shall have achieved this its glorious consummation.22Compare the statement on page 58.—Tr.
Ch. ii. 3.] The Apostle passes continually from one aspect of this truth to another. He exhorts them now to confidence in Christ; now warns them against discouragement and despair, and now against false confidence and carnal security. His admonitions always keep in view both directions in which they are liable to go astray. Accordingly he here comes back again, to warn them against the false confidence of a merely seeming christianity, and to fix attention upon the characteristic marks of the true. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
In contrast with a professed “knowing of Christ” which is contradicted by the life, John represents this as the sign of a true knowledge of Christ, viz. that we obey his commandments. There is indeed a knowledge which belongs only to the understanding, and has nothing to do with the life; but such, in reference to divine things, could not be admitted by John as real; he did not 61even allow it the name of knowledge. For as truth according to his modes of thought is not a mere abstraction, belonging solely to the understanding, but is something pertaining to the inner life, to the affections; so to him knowledge, in reference to divine things, is not merely a matter of speculation and of the understanding, but is something proceeding from the inner life, and as such must manifest itself in the outward course of conduct. The sum and substance of the knowledge must be actually present in the inner life. It presupposes an inward fellowship of life with that which is known; and this must stamp its own peculiar character upon the whole life. The knowledge of Christ, as the Holy One, can only exist where there is spiritual fellowship with him, the Holy One; where the soul has received into itself his holy image, and has been pervaded by its influence. And where this is the case, it must show itself in the whole conduct by the test here pointed out, obedience to the commands of Christ; for the commands of Christ are inseparable from his own nature, from himself. As in all which proceeds from him he but presents himself; so his commands are but single features of the new life 62proceeding from him. Thus each one, by subjecting his life to a comparison with the commands of Christ, may ascertain whether the knowledge of Christ, to which he makes claim, be truth or appearance merely. True indeed, John could not admit, as we have before shown, that the life of any believer could present an absolutely perfect fulfilment of the commands of Christ. He cannot, therefore, so understand this test of christian self-knowledge; otherwise the result must in every case be unfavorable. But with all the imperfections which still encumber the christian life, there yet remains a strongly marked distinction between those with whom obedience to Christ’s commands is a matter of earnest purpose, the current of whose whole life sets in this direction; and those to whom the desire to obey him is in no sense the soul of their life. Moreover, as different degrees obtain in the true and living knowledge of Christ, there will be likewise corresponding grades of obedience to the commands of Christ. The touchstone of all true religious knowledge, according to this view of John, is the practice of it in the life. But as his manner is, he here merely contrasts opposites in respect to their essential nature, without 63taking into account any gradations in the outward manifestation. How entirely opposed is the standard of judgment here established by John, to a one-sided speculative orthodoxy, a conception of truth as something merely theoretical, an orthodoxy of the understanding, not of the life! Orthodoxy, in the sense of John, is something which belongs to the life. How different an aspect would it have given to doctrinal controversies, had this stand-point of the Apostle been rightly understood and firmly adhered to!
Ch, ii. 4.] In order to impress the truth more strongly by exhibiting it on both sides, John now, in his own peculiar manner, expresses in a negative form what he had first presented affirmatively. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
In John’s view, therefore, there is an inherent inconsistency in professing to know Christ, and yet not obeying his commands. One who does this he regards as a liar; and declares, as the ground of the disposition from which such conduct proceeds, that the truth is not in him. We must here apply what we have previously remarked respecting 64John’s conception of truth. Plainly he here speaks of truth as something which has to do with the disposition, the moral feelings. Such an one is represented by John as, in the determining tendency of his spirit, in his affections, estranged from the truth; as one in whom falsehood is the inwardly ruling principle. He is wanting in honest self-examination in relation to divine truth; hence, he does not consider what is requisite in order to make such a profession in truth, what is involved in the claim of knowing Christ. Thus arises first, self-deception, unconscious hypocrisy; and from this proceeds the conscious falsehood of seeking to appear more than lie really is.
Ch. ii. 5.] From the proposition thus expressed in affirmative and negative form, John proceeds to draw the inference: “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” The commands of Christ are here referred back to his word, his doctrine in general. For John is not here speaking of single isolated moral precepts, but of the word revealed through Christ, embracing faith and life in their whole extent; his commands being, as we have already remarked, only 65single features in which his life-transforming word is developed. Of one who thus observes this word and applies it in practice, the Apostle says that in him the love of God has reached its completion; that is, love to God, such as it must be to correspond to the idea of love, is existing in him. It forms the opposite of such a love to God as cannot be called genuine love; a love to God professed in words alone, giving no evidence of itself in practice, and contradicted by the course of life. Here also it is obvious, that although John only presents these opposites in their generic form, yet we are necessarily led to the idea of gradational differences in the actual life. Whilst genuine love can manifest itself only by obedience to the word of Christ, yet there being differences as to the degree in which this love has penetrated the whole life with its vitalizing influence, and eradicated whatever is selfish; there will be corresponding differences as to the manifestation of its power, in obedience to the word of Christ, in the fulfilment of his commands. We must constantly bear in mind, that it is not love to God in a merely general and indeterminate sense which is here presented, but love to God in the christian 66sense, with all which is necessarily presupposed in it as such. It is love to God in connection with the knowledge of Christ, and having its source therein; love to God as the Father, enkindled by the revelation of the redeeming love of God in Christ. John knows indeed of no other love to God. He beholds in man a being estranged from God; over whom impends the divine wrath, till succored by the redeeming love of God in the sending and sacrifice of his Son. It is through this alone that man becomes capable of loving God as a Father, and is constrained so to love Him. This love is now the new principle of life; is that which, if genuine, must of itself impel him who feels it to fulfil the word of Christ, to obey his commands. Thus with John, true knowledge of Christ and true love to God are in every respect coincident; and the actual life must furnish the test of both.
Hence he says: “Hereby we know that we are in him.” Here the Apostle brings to view a state of being, which has its foundation in Christ; just as Christ is by Paul represented, as himself the foundation on which the whole structure of the Christian life is built, whereon it rests. Thus each believer has his life in Christ; its root is spiritual 67fellowship with him. To be a christian and to be in Christ, to be in fellowship with him and to live, are in the view of John one and the same thing. Christ himself is here the vital principle from which all proceeds. Out of him unfolds itself the entire new life. To know Christ, to love God as self-revealed in Christ, to be in Christ, these are all indissolubly connected, are one and the same; one cannot be conceived separate from another. And thus also, as we see, obedience to the word, to the commands of Christ, is the test whether one is truly in a state of fellowship with Christ.
Ch. ii. 6.] In the succeeding words, John now more particularly defines what is implied in obedience to the commands of Christ: “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” To abide in Christ, designates something more than to be in Christ. It means, not merely to have entered through faith into fellowship with Christ, but also to persevere therein steadfastly; to hold fast, with a true heart, what has been once received. It is implied, that there are such as have already known Christ for a long time, in whom therefore fellowship with Christ must have received a fuller development 68as the animating principle of life And how then is this to make itself known? This abiding spiritual fellowship can only manifest itself, through a life conformed to him with whom the believer has thus entered into fellowship. We find here the confirmation of our previous remark, that not a multiplicity of single moral precepts by which one is to regulate his outward life is here intended; but the single commands are to be understood only as the development and application of an inward law, which is to embrace and transform the whole life. There is not meant here a law of the letter, like that of the Old Testament, which made its claims on men in single commands: “Do this and thou shalt live!” But here all refers itself to that new view of the life of holiness, whose model is presented to the believer in Christ himself. All single moral demands which he makes on men (as for instance, those ground-traits of Christianity developed in the sermon on the Mount, that Magna Charta of his kingdom) are nothing else than single features in which the life of holiness, whose perfect form he first revealed and actualized, is presented in contrast with what had been the standard of the world. Christ himself is in his 69commands; and they, on the other hand, are but single items of his self-revelation. He utters only that, testifies only of that, which he has himself actualized in his life. And thus also here, the Apostle speaks not of commands whose constraining force is from without, but of the spontaneous result of the process by which the new life in Christ is developed. There is implied an inward germinating power, which cannot but make itself known by such outward signs. If a man truly abide in Christ, then must Christ with whom he stands in fellowship, who dwells within him, be also reflected in his life which through Christ is formed anew. From the contemplation of the life of Christ, there must form itself a new course of life in conformity with that holy pattern, an unconstrained fulfilment of the commands of Christ. The life of each believer should be only a peculiar aspect of the image of Christ, as the great archetype of renewed and glorified humanity. Christ himself, assuming as his own all that is human, will glorify it in believers who live in fellowship with Him; the One Christ presenting himself in manifold forms of manifestation. And thus, on the conformity of the life to the model of Christ, 70must depend the proof whether the claim of being in fellowship with Christ is founded in truth.
Ch. ii. 7.] As we have before seen, it is not John’s object to propound anything new to the churches, but to awaken them to a living sense of that which had always constituted the burden of his instructions; to guide them in the right application of that which they already knew. What he had always held up before them as the one command of the Lord, the sum. and substance of all other commands; as the foundation whereon rested the essential nature of practical Christianity; this is what he would have them lay to heart anew, and this he introduces with a new personal address: “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.”
We here find confirmation of what we have before remarked, viz. that although John speaks of commandments in the plural, yet he does not mean a number of single commands; for he here refers them all back to that One, which is itself no new commandment, but has been known to them from 71the first proclamation of the Gospel, and is here designated as the Word which they have heard from the beginning. We are not to understand by it merely the word as preached by John himself in these churches, but also as made known to them by the Apostle Paul. It was still, although in different forms, the same word which had ever been preached to them and received by them; and this preached word had for its central point that one command.
We shall now be able, of ourselves, to perceive what John means by this one command. It is the command which Christ bequeathed as his last legacy to his disciples,—the token by which they should be recognized as such,—after he had instituted the holy supper as the pledge and the symbolic seal of his own ever-continued fellowship with them, and of their consequent mutual fellowship with one another; the command namely, that they should exercise towards each other the same self-sacrificing love which Christ had manifested for them, and would continue to manifest even unto the end. (John xiii. 34, 35). He himself (John xv. 10, ff.), sums up all single commands in this “new commandment,” as he there terms it, 72in what sense we shall presently consider. From all this it is evident, that the Apostle cannot here be speaking of single isolated commands, in the sense in which they are so regarded from the standpoint of the Law. For this Love is not a thing to be enjoined by an outward law,—is not a thing to be placed as a single command side by side with others. Love is something which can be produced only from within, which manifests its presence in the living spirit as an inward necessity, which contains in itself the impulse to all good and makes all other commands superfluous. The aim of all others is embraced within the scope of this, and in it are they all fulfilled; in the words of Paul, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” It springs unconstrained, from the inward experience of redemption, from fellowship with Christ, and from the new moral bent of life grounded therein.
Ch. ii. 8.] Yet, after having designated it thus as the old command, he adds: “Again, a new commandment I write unto you.” Thus, what he had just enjoined upon them as old, may now it seems to him, in another aspect, be presented as new. But in what sense both old and new? This might be explained from the relation of the new 73dispensation to the old, in which view Christ calls this the new command, the characteristic feature of the new dispensation, whose sealing was set forth in the Last Supper. It was the old command as standing already at the head of the ten commandments; it was the new command as actualized and made new by Christ’s self-sacrificing love for his brethren, especially by the sacrifice of his life for them. Thus illustrated,—love after this pattern of Christ, ready to offer up all for a brother’s sake,—as such it is the new command.
True, nothing was enjoined by it which might not have been found in the old command: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” For the expression “as thyself,” properly understood, can have reference only to the true Self, which, from the nature of the case, cannot be made an offering for others; which must, on the contrary, be the gainer by all the deeds of self-sacrificing love,—only in them, indeed, can find its own completion. And hence, in this love of our neighbor as ourself, might be included that unreserved, all-sacrificing love for others. But it lay therein only as a might-be, not yet expressed, not developed, not known as a living principle. Nor was this effected till Christ, 74by the devotion of his whole life crowned by that final act of his death, gave the example of such a love, and in anticipation of that closing act gave it expression in words. In such a sense it might be called new; new as having not before been so understood, and new in relation to the Old Testament. It might be called new, moreover, as being now freed from all which checked its development under the old dispensation, as being made henceforth the sum and centre of all. As belonging in the germ to the Old Testament, it could be designated as the old command; as developed into new glory by Christ, it might be called the new.
But though such a distinction is in itself admissible, yet had it been what John intended to express here, it would certainly have been more clearly and definitely stated. There is, on the contrary, in the whole connection, no hint of such a distinction based upon the relation of the New to the Old Testament. It could only be so understood, if in what precedes, the designation, ‘old’ were applied to what believers had already learned from the Old Testament. But, as we have seen, it is here applied to what is old in respect to themselves and their present christian stand-point; old 75to them as being the same which they have heard from the first announcement of the Gospel. When, therefore, this same command is urged upon them as new, we may infer that it is to be taken in the same reference, viz. to the state of the church itself. In respect to the whole period since it was first made known to them, it might be called old; in another respect, that of the change supposed since then to have taken place in them, in respect to their having themselves become new, it might be called the new command. In respect to the religious development of the church itself, it might in one aspect be called old, in the other, new. This conclusion is confirmed by what follows, in which the Apostle’s view is brought out still more clearly.
The succeeding words refer to this fact, that the command can now be presented as something new: “Which thing is true in him and in you.” He means to say: It is true in reference both to Christ and the church,—that is, in reference to their mutual relation to each other,—that the old command has become to them a new one, something new in their christian experience. In what respect this holds true, is explained by the words 76which follow: “For the darkness is past and the true light now shineth.” John here makes a comparison between a present, new condition of the church and a former one; and from this we see how it is that the old command, the expression of what was peculiar in the nature of Christianity, should now be presented to them as new. It is a comparison of their present condition,—as they had already long been christians, and Christianity therefore should have become so much the more their life-element,—with that of their spiritual childhood when Christianity was as yet a new thing to them. Life, apart from Christianity, as it belongs to a world estranged from God, is in itself and with all its results regarded by the Apostle as the kingdom of darkness; its opposite being the divine light of Christianity, and all that flows from it. When he says “the true light,” he means by “true,” according to the import of the Greek term, what in the highest and fullest sense corresponds to the idea. With him “the true,” when used with a word applicable both to what is divine and to objects of sense, means only and always the divine. It is implied, that the word is applicable to the physical only in a subordinate sense; and at 77that lower stage of being is but an imperfect symbol, a mere image of that., which, in the highest and fullest sense with reference to the spirit of man, can be predicated only of the divine. Thus, for example, the true food for man is only that which nourishes the spirit to divine life, bearing the same relation to the true life of the spirit, as food in the lower realm of sense to the life of the body. Thus too, John contemplates Christ as himself the true light, holding the same relation to the spiritual as the sun to the natural life. What he here says then is this: With those who have been so long attached to Christianity, the darkness proceeding from their former heathen state is passing away, and the true light is now breaking. “Now,” he says,—meaning their present in contrast with their former state of heathenism, or while still affected by its remaining influence. The light derived from Christ, the true light, was already banishing the former darkness, they were becoming constantly more and more enlightened. So Paul says to his readers (Rom. xiii. 11 ff.) that now their salvation is nearer than when they believed, that the end of the night approaches, the day of the Lord draws near. It is therefore true,78—both with reference to Christ, the true light which has dawned upon their souls, and with reference to believers who have received this light and been illuminated thereby, that this fundamental law of Christianity now verifies its character as the new command. To those who live in the light of Christ, who have become at home in the new world of Christianity, the old command must now, in contrast with the former state of darkness, present itself in new glory as the new command. In new power must it be revealed to their hearts, that brotherly love constitutes the essence of the christian life, is the essential mark of fellowship with Christ.
Ch. ii. 9.] That the injunction to christian brotherly love is here meant by the new command, is implied in the succeeding words, which indicate the close connection between that assumed state of the church, that living in the light, and the exercise of brotherly love; as, in like manner, by darkness is designated the opposite of this love, viz. selfishness, which excludes love, which begets hate,—the characteristic mark of the life of darkness. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.”79
With John, as will readily be perceived, the expressions “being in the light,” being in fellowship with Christ as the true light, being enlightened by him, and being a christian, all mean the same thing; just as, on the other hand, “being in darkness,” being shut out from Christ the true light, and belonging to the ungodly world, all have the same meaning. He who claims to be a christian, and hates him whom he should love as a brother, proves thereby, that however long he may have professed Christianity, he is in truth as far from it as ever. That spirit of hatred towards his brother is a sure token, that he has never yet become a partaker of the divine light; that the darkness of the world, the same spirit which governs the God-estranged world, still reigns in him. Not inwardly, but only outwardly, seemingly, has he renounced the world. The light of Christ has not yet risen in his soul; for this cannot co-exist with such a temper of mind.
Now it is worthy of note, that John makes but this one distinction: He that hateth his brother, and he that loveth his brother. He recognizes no intermediate state, which, while it is indeed far from self-sacrificing love, is far also from hatred of 80the brethren. This is John’s peculiar manner; viz. without regarding intermediate steps and gradations in opposite moral states, to seize upon the radical point of difference, and thus contrast them in their essential nature and principle. And with full reason. For either love, to the exclusion of the selfish element, is the animating principle; or self is made the centre of all, and selfishness governs. Now in this selfishness, the opposite of brotherly love, inheres the tendency which, when consistently carried out, allows place to nothing that interferes with self-interest, and regards every one who comes in conflict therewith as an enemy, to be removed out of the way. Accordingly, in these opposite dispositions, viewed strictly with reference to their radical elements, we find only Love to the brethren, or Hatred of the brethren; love, which is ready for every sacrifice, or selfishness, which may also pass into hate. So Christ recognizes but two distinctions,—serving God, and serving the world.
Ch. ii. 10.] Hence John says on the other hand: “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.” This characteristic token of brotherly love, must show whether we are abiding in the light. 81He who manifests in his life such a self-sacrificing love, reveals therein the power of divine light, whereby he has been made free from the former darkness of selfishness. As the life of Christ was the essence of all-sacrificing love, so fellowship with him is reflected in a similar life of love. We learn from the testimony of the Church Fathers, the Apologists of Christianity in the first centuries, that even the heathen saw in this fellowship of brotherly love the unmistakeable characteristic of the new christian life. “They love one another, even before they know each other!” were the words applied to christians, distinguishing them from the heathen world as governed by hate. Of one in whom. brotherly love thus prevails John says, that with him there is no stumbling. This might be understood as follows,—a view which seems clearly to be at the basis of Luther’s translation,—“he who is so heavenly-minded, gives to another no cause of stumbling, no offence.” And this is without doubt true, that the love which has only the best good of others in view, and is willing to sacrifice all rather than subject another to what is hurtful, will avoid everything which might in any way offend his moral feeling as a religious being, 82and thus become a means of spiritual injury to him. We need only call to mind what Paul, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, says of christian love towards the weak. But although the words, taken by themselves, might be so understood, yet the consistency of the figurative representation, and the contrast with the following verse, requires another sense. The image is that of a man walking in the light, who is therefore safe from all danger of stumbling or falling. Accordingly it means: There is with him no stumbling, he himself stumbles not. As one who walks in the light of day sees his path clearly, and avoids everything over which he might stumble and fall; so does he who walks in the light of the spirit, pass with secure step along life’s way. In this divine light he beholds the goal of his course, and the path which leads thither, clearly before him; and he is able to avoid everything which might be prejudicial to the interests of his christian life, to his salvation. Love, in John’s view, is that which gives this security to the believer; Love is the soul of this walking in the light. Love bestows that true clearness of spiritual vision, by which the believer pursues his way securely 83to the goal; the circumspection, the true wisdom, necessary to shun every obstacle and danger in the accomplishment of the life-task which God has set before him. Love bestows that ready instinct, which knows at every instant how to turn circumstances to their right use, to distinguish in all cases between right and wrong. Love imparts true repose, wards off the influence of passion which would disturb the calm judgment of the spirit, keeps the soul steadily towards its one object, and secures it from all distracting influences. Thus, in every respect, is verified the Apostle’s assertion, that he who loves his brother cannot stumble.
Ch. ii. 11.] From this follows the opposite conclusion, in reference to those in whom not love but hate is the governing principle. Of such John says: “ But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”
John here makes a distinction, between being in darkness and walking in darkness. The one respects the cause, the other the effect; the one the disposition, the other the course of life resulting 84from it. He who is wanting in the animating principle of brotherly love, and in whom hatred is the ruling power, being in a state of spiritual darkness can therefore only walk in darkness; as he to whom the illuminating light of the sun is wanting, or who from disease of the eyes cannot perceive it, wanders about in darkness, unable to distinguish the goal which he is seeking or the path which conducts to it. Just so it is with him who is under the dominion of selfishness, and of hatred. He cannot perceive the heavenly goal towards which the christian life is tending, nor the way thither. In respect to these he is as one who is blind. He can form no definite plan of life. Destitute of that clearness and collectedness of spirit, necessary in older to direct his course with steady purpose towards a well-ascertained end, he is every moment losing his way; his selfish impulses hurry him hither and thither; his whole course is an aimless, confused, inconstant effort he knows not why or whither.
Love to christian brethren and its opposite is primarily intended here, as it is by Christ also in his last discourses. But while love is here conceived of at its highest point, and in its most immediate 85sphere where its full power and glory can best unfold; yet this by means excludes the universal love of man, which from the very nature of the case is included in christian love. It need not be specially mentioned; since in christian Brotherly love itself is imparted the yearning desire to draw all men within this fraternal sphere, to convert them all into brethren. For to this they are destined by virtue of their common origin, of the common image of God in all, and of the redemption provided for all; and Christ himself, he who gave his life for his enemies that he might make them brethren and children of God, is in this self-sacrificing love their model. It is the nature of love, in the christian sense, to efface all limitations and distinctions.
Ch. ii. 12.] As exhortation and promise always go hand in hand in this epistle, John now, after having shown what belongs to the nature of the Christian life, addresses them again as their spiritual Father, in order to cheer their hearts under the sense of unlikeness to this life, under the sense of sin. lie calls to them all as his children: “I write unto you little children, because [that] your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” He 86comforts them with the assurance of sins forgiven through the mediation of Christ. For the name of Christ are their sins forgiven; that is, for the sake of what Christ is as the Son of God and the Son of Man, the divine-human Redeemer,—it being as such that they invoke Him as their Mediator. There is reference here to what he had before said of the reconciliation effected by Christ.
Ch. ii. 13.] He now proceeds to remind them of what belongs to their high estate as Christians. What he would say applies indeed to the whole church collectively. But turning with affectionate familiarity to the various ages in the church, he addresses to each exactly what is most appropriate to it. Thus the fathers, the young men, and the children, are each particularly addressed in the words: “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, little children, because ye have known the Father.”
The Gospel announcement, beginning with the appearance of Christ in time, proceeded on to the knowledge of the depths of his divine nature; 87rising above the temporal manifestation to him who was from the beginning, to the eternal, divine Word who had appeared in the Son of Man. This knowledge presupposes a higher stage of christian development, a longer intimacy with christianity, and this therefore is especially ascribed to the fathers in the church. But we must not forget, moreover, in what sense John uses knowledge. He means by it, as we have seen, no mere theoretical knowledge proceeding from the understanding, but a knowledge which has its origin in the life, which presupposes a fellowship of life with the object of knowledge, and which again re-acts upon the life. It is that higher and deeper knowledge of Christ, as He who was from the beginning, proceeding from a more intimate living union with the person of Christ. This is something more than the statement of a certain dogmatic formula respecting the person of Christ.
Turning now to the young men of the church, John applies to them what is especially adapted to their age. Youth is formed for conflict; the bold champions are from its ranks. In childhood, the elements of inward conflict still lie hidden and undeveloped. It knows not, at that age of unconscious 88innocence, what germs of evil it carries in its bosom, slumbering yet in the depths of its undeveloped being, and the peace of a childish faith still rules in the heart. But in the transition from childhood to youth, these, hidden contrarieties burst forth. Desires and passions awake in their might, and strive against the higher law of the spirit. The natural reason, now becoming conscious of itself, asserts its claims, and calls in question what at first had been received with simple, childlike faith. On every hand breaks forth the hitherto unconscious and concealed discord in the twofold law of man’s nature. Here now is need of conflict, in order that the divine seed, implanted during a childhood developed under the influence of christianity, (for John here supposes a church long established in christian truth) may be preserved uncorrupt, may be individually appropriated, and matured to fruit. But the christian youth must maintain the conflict; that through the conflict he may regain as a conscious personal possession that peace, which, in the period of early childhood, was imbibed unconsciously from the influence of christianity, in whose heavenly elements of life it had unfolded. 89Youth, called in the freshness of its power to conflict, must not shun the strife. In that divine seed implanted in a christian childhood, youth has that which renders victory in all those conflicts certain, provided only it is faithfully applied. Hence John does not say: Ye will overcome the evil one, that power in the evil one, which in all those respects arrays itself in opposition to the divine; but he says: Ye have overcome. He has in view such as, from childhood up, have been developed in fellowship with the Redeemer; and as He has triumphed once for all over the power of evil, his victory has thus become their own. Not with their own weak powers, not in reliance upon their own strength, do they maintain the warfare. Through faith in the Redeemer, who has overcome the power of evil, have they already conquered. And, in faith towards him their Redeemer, in fellowship with him, to appropriate through his strength his victory to themselves, this is to maintain the conflict. Christ, the victor over the power of Satan and of the world, strives and conquers in them; they strive and conquer as his instruments. The christian life, though in its nature always one and the same, yet develops itself 90in successive stages, each having its peculiar standpoint. John accordingly contemplates youth as especially the season of conflict. The entire christian life is, indeed, a copy of Christ’s own unremitted and ever-deepening conflict till it closed in that last cry: “It is finished.” It must therefore be an ever-renewed conflict, till its last death-struggle ends in eternal peace. Still he regarded youth as especially the season of conflict; a conflict, however, which to the christian is immediately transformed to victory.
Finally, he turns to the age of childhood. The relationship of parent and child is the one most familiar to children; and filial love, therefore, furnishes the most easy and natural point of attachment for love to the eternal Father in Heaven. Accordingly, to the children of christian families, who from the first had learned in faith toward the Redeemer to know God as their Father; who had been nurtured into the filial relation to him as Father; to such he says, that they have known the Father. The term KNOW, we remark again, must of course be understood here in the sense peculiar to John.
Ch. ii. 14.] As we naturally repeat what we earnestly desire 91to impress upon others, John now reiterates what he has just said, with some additions serving to illustrate and enforce it, and to prepare the way for the exhortation which is to follow. He had already said,—I write unto you; and he now repeats, emphatically, what he had just written. “I have written unto you,” he adds, as much as to say: There let it stand! That which I write unto you, is now written. It is final. Nothing other have I to say to you; this you must receive, as said to you once for all. “I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. 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.”
It must be for a special reason, that John satisfies himself with a single address to the children; while he feels it necessary to enforce by repetition what h he has said to those of maturer age, with whom more is depending upon their own personal agency. To what he had first said to the youth, he here adds something more; as in their case it might be needful to show How they had overcome the Evil One. It is superior strength by which 92victory is attained; and consciousness of strength is natural to youth. But this is apt to be connected with self-confidence, now first developed into activity, with a conscious ability to meet all dangers, to overcome all hindrances, to triumph over all enemies in one’s own strength. But this self-confidence and self-reliance, will, if unsustained by strength from a higher source, soon fail in the conflicts of life and be put to shame. The Apostle directs them to another ground of confidence, another source of strength. While he reminds the young that they are strong, he at the same time indicates whence this strength is to be derived, wherein it must have its root, viz. that divine word already received by them and faithfully adhered to and applied by them; that word, fast rooted in their hearts and abiding there as an ineradicable principle. In the divine word, therefore, whose vitalizing power is the life of their spirit, lies their strength. Already, through the might of this divine word, have they virtually overcome the power of evil; in this word, which no other power can withstand, is the victory given them. We may translate, “abideth among you,” or “abideth in you.” The sense is the same. It 93cannot abide among them collectively, unless it has been received individually into the heart.
Ch. ii. 15.] Having thus indicated all which believers need, in order to maintain successfully the conflict with the world, the Apostle concludes with the following exhortation: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.”
These words have been often misunderstood, as if requiring for the perfection of the Christian life a withdrawal from the world, and from all worldly concerns. Manifold errors have arisen from this misapprehension, which is far from the meaning of the apostolic injunction. The New Testament assumes in all its teachings, that the world and all that is in it, as proceeding from God’s creative hand exists only for his service and glory, which is the aim and end of the whole creation. Man, as the image of God, should have it for his highest his single aim, to actualize this purpose of the whole creation with a free and conscious will; to so use the world that all things, each in its own way, shall subserve this purpose. Through the redemption, and the new creation proceeding therefrom, man was to become competent thus to use all things; as Christ did not withdraw 94himself from the world and worldly things, but by his mastery over them glorified God in the most perfect manner. The Apostle requires only this: that God should be the single object of man’s unconditional love. No other love may take place beside it; but this unconditional love must wholly rule the soul and. the life, must make all else subordinate to itself. As Christ says (Matt. vi. 21), “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The object of man’s unconditional love, whatever it may be, decides the whole direction and character of his life, and imparts its own peculiar stamp to all his actions. Now love to God must demonstrate its power, by giving to the world and all that is in it a reference to God, by using it to his glory. All other love is not thereby excluded, but on the contrary, is embraced in it. Every object of affection is to be regarded with, a love, proportioned to the place assigned it by God in the creation,—a love developing itself out of love to God. It is the nature of true love to God, not to withdraw from the world and worldly things; but in accordance with the purpose assigned to them by God, to use all to his glory. It is only a love to the world for its own 95sake, a love not proceeding from God and referring all to him, which the Apostle here forbids. It is the world, as the object of such a love, of which the Apostle here speaks; and it is this which he represents as standing opposed to the love of God.
In this sense he says: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” It is in this sense therefore we are to understand the assertion, that love to the world excludes the love of the Father. That God is truly known and loved as Father, can show itself only in this, viz. that our estimation and use of all worldly things is determined solely by this principle of filial love to God. Nothing can stand side by side with this love; all else must be subordinated to it, must be derived from it, must be grounded in it. Whatever claims to stand beside this love, must be opposed to it. It is of such an opposition the Apostle here speaks.
Ch. ii. 16.] John now proceeds to exhibit that general contrariety, between the direction towards God and that towards the world, under three separate forms in which the love of the world manifests itself; and this he does in such a manner, that the particular appears as the confirmation 96of the more general. “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.” When the Apostle here represents the world as opposed to the Father, that which is of the world to that which is of the Father; he does not mean the world in itself, which he regards as the work of God, but in a moral view, as connected in his mind with that tendency of the soul which cleaves to the world, seeking therein its own highest good. and sundering it from connection with God. “The world” here designates the ruling tendency of the spirit towards the world, the entire amalgamation of the spirit with it. So also, in particular, it is not the things of the world in themselves of which he speaks, but only as that general direction of the spirit attaches itself to them, manifests itself in them, identifies itself with them. This, therefore, is his meaning: all those single forms of worldly-mindedness, with whatever objects of the world they may stand connected, proceed from the same radical tendency, the amalgamation of the spirit with the world, and are opposed to that tendency which proceeds from the heavenly Father97
He now adduces three such forms, in which at that time the worldly spirit chiefly manifested itself, and against which christians needed to be put on their guard. First, he mentions the fleshly appetites; then whatever is an object of sensual pleasure to the eye. By the latter, many such sinful pleasures might be understood; as, at that time, especially the prevailing passion for heathen spectacles, with which even christians by intercourse with the heathen world were liable to be infected, as shown by examples in the second and third centuries. Many interpreters have regarded it as referring to avarice, inasmuch as the avaricious feeds his eye on the mere sight of his gold. What the Apostle here says is true, indeed, of him who makes of mammon his highest good. But this particular reference is so little suited to the words, that we are by no means justified in assuming it as the Apostle’s meaning. Thirdly he mentions vanity, ostentation as exhibited in the life, state and pomp in worldly things, show and splendor as a means of gaining consequence. He means therefore that union of the spirit with the world, as manifested in the three forms of sensual appetite, of pleasure-seeking and frivolity, a vain love 98pomp and show. In the sense thus intended by the Apostle, we are to apply his language to all the appetites and passions which make this world their object, and of which he here gives only these three characteristic forms.
Ch. ii. 17.] He then proceeds to contrast the opposite issues of the two radical tendencies, as illustrating the difference of their origin and nature. “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” All that is in the world being perishable, so likewise is all the pleasure connected with it. He therefore who seeks his highest good in the perishable, will see that for which he has striven the prey of destruction, nothing left to him but bitter disappointment. But he who does the will of God, and on that fixes his love, will with his love survive all that is earthly. When all that is earthly has passed away, he will have attained to an eternal divine life of blessedness; living forever, with that which was the object and end of all his strivings, in a state beyond the fear of decay or death.
Ch. ii. 18.] From these practical admonitions John now passes, with a personal address to the members of these churches as his children, to a 99warning against those false teachers of a corrupted christianity, of whom we have spoken in the Introduction. “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 that it is the last time.” The christian observer of the signs of the times, learns from the Apostle to apprehend these, not singly as mere isolated phenomena, but as links of a more extended chain. He learns to inquire what place the present holds, in relation to the whole progressive development of the kingdom of God, and from this to judge of each particular event. Thus Christ too requires us to watch the signs of the times, and to regulate our conduct accordingly. We should not, with a frivolous inattention, pass by the events of the present time; but should seek to recognize in them the finger of God, the leadings of divine wisdom, and apply them wisely for our own direction, and for our influence upon the age. We should hear in them the voice of God, calling us now in admonitory tones to repentance, to caution and watchfulness, and now cheering us on to the exercise of hope and trust. The word of God abounds with many such an index to 100the right understanding of the signs of the present time.
The Apostle speaks of the period in which he was writing as the last time. So he designates the christian period. And it may always be so regarded as forming the epoch towards which all prior revelations of God tended, and in which they were consummated; the whole previous development of the kingdom of God being only preparative to that which is the aim and end of all, viz. the appearing of Jesus as the Redeemer of humanity. Henceforth all centres upon this one object,—that the, new element introduced by Christ into human history, as the leaven which is to penetrate all things, should develop and extend itself more and more, till the end shall be fully accomplished. Henceforth all may be regarded as one great connected period in the history of humanity; reaching to the final decision, which is to follow the personal return of Christ, to that last sifting, the final consummation of the kingdom of God on earth. This period may therefore, without reference to the question whether it be longer or shorter, ever be regarded as the LAST TIME in respect to the development of the kingdom of God.101
It is certain, however, that the Apostles connected with this designation of their own age, as the last time, another and more limited idea. The signs which they observed were ushering in, as they believed, the last time in the strictest sense that of the dissolution of all earthly things, and the second coming of the Lord. They were not able to survey and compute the extent of the intervening period yet to pass away. If in this respect the event did not answer to their expectation, we shall find in this no cause of stumbling, nothing inconsistent with the Spirit’s promised illumination, by which they were to be guided into the whole truth made known by Christ, and perfectly understand it. Though Christ had indeed. promised them, that this Spirit should show them also things to come, yet this doubtless is not to be understood in an absolutely unconditional sense. It was to extend just so far, as was required for understandingwhat he had taught them of the divine kingdom, and was by no means a prophetic certainty respecting its whole future development. An error therefore in chronology, regarding “the last time” (properly meaning, in that general sense, the whole time subsequent to the appearing of 102Christ) as a period of brief duration, and the hour of final decision as near at hand; this is by no means inconsistent with that promised measure of illumination by the Holy Spirit. That they should “know the times or the seasons” (Acts i. 7) was not at all essential to their calling as divinely commissioned teachers. Christ has himself said, that the coming of that last period was something hidden from the angels, and from the Son of God himself. The Father had reserved it for his own decision. It is easy to see why this could not be otherwise. That closing period is to be ushered in by the whole preparatory development of human history, in connection with the series of concatenated free agencies, and its coming is dependent thereon. Hence the ability to fix its date, implies an entire survey of all the divine arrangements for the guidance of free beings in connection with their own free agency, from the beginning to the end of time. But this can be possible only to such a foreknowledge as is grounded in divine omniscience. Thus Christ also, to the inquiry of his disciples,—when the complete manifestation of his kingdom in the world should come,—replied: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, 103which the Father hath put in his own power.” (Acts i. 7.) Christ himself here teaches, that the ability to compute the time in that respect does not belong to the office of his disciples, and was not necessary to it. Thus was impressed upon their minds the limits of the divine and human; what they were to learn through the light of the Holy Spirit, and how far they were still to be left to their own guidance.
Their longing desires hastened towards the reappearing of their Lord, the coming of His kingdom in its glory. It was with them as with the traveller, who beholds from afar the goal of his pilgrimage. His eye embraces at one glance the whole intermediate space; the windings of the intervening way are overlooked, and the distant boundary on which his gaze is fixed seems just at hand. It is only when he has traversed a part of the way, that he begins to perceive how widely he is still separated from the destined goal. So was it with the Prophets, when they looked forward to the appearing of the Messiah. So was it with the Apostles, when looking for the return of their Lord. As the traveller in space, looking away over the intervening distance, seems to behold the 104object of his wanderings close at hand; so is it with the travellers in time, as they glance over the intervening periods towards the object of their longing expectation. Christianity seemed only the transition, from the earthly and perishable order of things, to that which is heavenly. Hence, their gaze being fixed alone upon that heavenly state, they saw the earthly only as ready to vanish away,—as the point of transition to the heavenly and eternal, and therefore of very brief duration. True, Christ in his parables respecting the kingdom of God, as for example when he presents it under the figure of leaven, indicates a more slow, a gradual process of development. But these words, like many others spoken by him, could only then be comprehended in their whole scope and significance, when interpreted by the progressive developments of history. Not till then could it be understood, that what the first christian age supposed would be effected by Christ’s personal intervention at his second appearing, required on the contrary a long preparatory process, in the gradual spread of the leaven of christianity among all races of men, whose extension could not then be known.105
Christ had, moreover, in his last discourses specified many signs, which should precede that final decision to be brought about by his second coming. But even these could not determine the exact date of its occurrence. For as the same law governs the whole development-process of the kingdom of God upon earth, so do the great periods in that process correspond to one another; the same law repeats itself in a constantly ascending scale. We find the succeeding periods prefigured in the earlier, as the earlier serve to prepare the way for those which follow. That last personal coming of Christ, for the establishment of his kingdom, is preceded by numerous manifestations of his spiritual coming, of a new and mighty revelation of Christ in the life of humanity,—of a new coming of the kingdom of God with power. These form the great epochs in the development of the kingdom of God. By these we may distinguish the several grand divisions in the historical development of the church. So too the signs, which are to announce the last personal coming of Christ, are prefigured in those which announce and prepare the way for the successive manifestations of his spiritual coming. Each great division of a 106new coming of Christ, in the progress of historical development, points to that last personal coming, serves as a type and preparation of that closing epoch. The same law repeats itself in an ascending scale, till at length it is fulfilled for the last time. Thus in Christ’s own discourses (Matt. xxiv., xxv.), the signs of his first mighty spiritual manifestation in judgment on the corrupted Theocracy, and in the first entrance of his kingdom with power, freed from what had previously fettered and obscured it,—these signs are so mingled with those of his last personal coming to judge the world and to consummate the kingdom of God, that the different references can with difficulty be distinguished from each other. Hence it might the more easily happen, that at the coming in of those several great epochs in the historical development of the church, and especially in the first apostolic times, the signs of the present, which were to be repeated yet many times, should be taken as the signs of that more remote period, which in. a stricter sense is designated as “the last time.”
Here then, in the last discourses of Christ, we find a law for the historical development of the 107kingdom of God, the same to which the words of John now under consideration are to be referred, as are also those of Paul in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians (Ch. ii. 4). This is an ever-recurring law, in accordance with which the kingdom of God develops itself in an ascending conflict with the kingdom of evil; new manifestations of the latter kingdom preceding and preparing the way for new and more glorious manifestations of the former. Evil, by a gradual process of development attains to its highest point; the kingdom of Christ then develops itself in conflict with it; and, at length, through a new mighty coming of Christ, the kingdom of evil is once more subdued. Of this law the highest exemplification will be given at the final coming of Christ, and this is prefigured in each of the great decisive epochs of the church; they are all ushered in by a similar conflict. This is a view rich in consolation; but should serve also as an incitement to vigilance, when in any period we see the kingdom of evil pushing its encroachments with unwonted vigor. This law, derived from the word of God, teaches us what we are then to look for as about to come, and to perceive in the present the germinating future. 108The Apostle John, observing such signs in the conflicts at the close of the apostolic age, Therein the succeeding stage of development was then preparing, seemed already to behold the signs of that last time. He applied with propriety the law laid down for him by Christ himself, in reference to the conflict of the two kingdoms. But, as we have shown, he could not and he need not know, that these signs should be often repeated, till at length they should announce that final epoch; that this law should again and again find its fulfilment, till it should be perfectly and decisively fulfilled for the last time.
John assumes it, as something already well known to those whom he addresses in this letter, that in the last time One should arise whom he calls Antichrist. He could assume this as known, partly from the instructions received by the churches from himself, partly from what they had previously learned through the preaching of Paul. Doubtless their attention had often been directed to the dangers and the significant signs of the last time, in order that they might be fully prepared, in all watchfulness of spirit, to meet the great impending conflict. But John speaks of many antichrists; 109and thence draws the conclusion that “the last time,” which was to be known as such by the appearance of Antichrist, was now near at hand. Does he then mean, that by Antichrist is to be understood not some single personage, but only the collective sum of all antagonism to Christ; the name being merely a personification of that in its unity which was, in fact, distributed among many individuals? By no means. On the contrary, the many individuals rising up on every side, in whom opposition to Christ, the anti-christian principle, makes itself apparent,—these seem to him only precursors, prophetic omens of that One in whom this principle is to reach its culminating point; who is to appear as its peculiar representative, the incarnation as it were of the antichristian principle. Here too we shall find the workings of one uniform law, in the development-process of the kingdom of God: viz. that in good and evil, there are certain personalities forming the central point, standing as representatives of the conflicting principles; in whom that which exists as scattered fragments in many individuals unites as one great whole. On the one hand, those fragmentary workings of good and evil prepare 110 the way for that one great personality, in whom they severally reach their culminating point; on the other, it is through the agency of these great personalities, that the principles which they represent are diffused through a multitude of others. Hence the Apostle, from the numerous individuals whom he saw rising up as the organs of anti-christianity, could justly infer the speedy appearance of that great personality, in whom the anti-christian principle should reach its highest manifestation.
The question now arises,—what is to be understood by Antichrist and anti-christianity? Is it in general opposers of Christianity, of faith in Jesus as the Messiah; for example, such opposers from among the Jews and heathen? But were this the true meaning, John could not have spoken of the advent of these antichrists as something new; for the idea would then be entirely coincident with that of the world, as opposed to Christianity and in conflict with it; and in that case believers must have always lived among antichrists, and needed no such special warning against them. Just so certainly as they themselves believed in Jesus as the Messiah, must they be the opposers of those 111who resisted his recognition as such. There could be nothing in this open stand against the Messiahship of Jesus, to tempt them from their fidelity to him. We can, therefore, come to no other conclusion, than that these antichrists appeared under an assumed and deceitful garb, by means of which they might procure admission among christians; and if these were not firm in. their faith and clear in their christian knowledge, might by degrees gain an influence over them. We must regard it as rather a disguised than an open opposition to genuine Christianity. And hence too, we must regard Antichrist himself as an adversary of Christianity different from its previous opposers; as one possessing a peculiar power of deception, whereby even christians might be seduced into apostacy; as one who wins dominion over the souls of men by blinding and deceptive arts, putting himself in communication with their religious necessities in order thereby to delude and subjugate them; as one who knows how to instate himself, unperceived, in that relation to the human spirit which it should hold only to Christ and to God. Christ too, in his last discourses, points to such a power of delusion, exercised by those who 112set themselves up as prophets and Messiahs. Here also belongs what Paul says of the adversary, who with self-deification should establish himself in the temple of God. Hence, according to the different forms assumed by the antichristian principle at different periods, (when a new spiritual coming of Christ, for a new glorification of the church, was about to be evolved from the conflict of his kingdom with the kingdom of evil) might those signs specified in the Holy Scriptures receive a different interpretation. And this not without reason; since under these different forms was first revealed the antichristian principle, whose culminating point was to be finally reached in that representative personality. Thus in the times preceding the Reformation, when the secularized church, guided by the secularized Papacy, served under the christian name as an efficient instrument for obscuring and thwarting genuine Christianity,—one might believe that he saw in this the visible manifestation of Antichrist. And Matthias von Jarnow, the Bohemian reformer before Huss, might suppose that he saw the craft of Satan in this, viz. that believers instead of recognizing Antichrist in the present,—in the domination of the secularized 113church, in the triumph of superstition even to the deification of the human,—were beguiled into seeking it in some distant period. In our age, on the contrary, one would be disposed to recognize the preparatory signs of Antichrist in the self-deification of the natural reason; which, after having developed itself under the influence of Christianity, now arrays itself in arrogant self-consciousness and vain self-worship against that very Christianity, without whose aid it could never have attained to this self-consciousness. The question, “What is Antichrist?” will be interpreted, now from the stand-point of superstition and now from that of scepticism, according as the anti-christian principle manifests itself in the one or the other of these forms. Each of these interpretations will have its share of the common truth, which the light of the divine word imparts in the delineation of those signs.
Ch. ii. 19.] Before designating these antichrists more particularly, John speaks of their rise and of their relation to the churches from which they had gone out. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but 114they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” From this we learn, that these antichrists were not such as had from the beginning stood in a hostile attitude to the church, but such as had gone out from the midst of the church itself. The church had therefore carried in her own bosom, that which now developed itself in conflict with the spirit which formed her vital principle. The propagators of these false doctrines, by which genuine christian truth was corrupted, and whom the Apostle was constrained to resist, had themselves once been numbered with those whom the church acknowledged as brethren. Now this was well adapted to unsettle christians in their faith; seeing as they did the very persons whom they had known as brethren in the faith, who had testified of the same christian consciousness, the same christian experiences, now turning against that which they had once acknowledged as truth, and inculcating as truth something entirely different. The thought might naturally arise: may not these persons have really found their former convictions to be erroneous, and attained to a clearer insight which they are now desirous to impart to others? The church needed, therefore, to 115be guarded against the prejudicial influence of such an example. What then does the Apostle say in explanation of this, and for the consolation of such of his readers as might be disturbed by it? He tells them that these persons, although they had once been connected with the church in an external relation, yet had never in heart and soul been really united with it in the exercise of genuine faith. He distinguishes between genuine and spurious members of the church; between a union merely with its outward and visible form,—apart from all share in that inward spiritual act which constitutes its vital essence, genuine faith in the Redeemer,—and that same outward union as connected also with a participation in its spiritual essence; a distinction between those in the visible church who belong also to the invisible, and those who by the governing direction of their hearts are excluded from the invisible church, and belong only to the outward form. And what does he adduce in proof that such is here the fact? The result,—that which has been made apparent by the apostacy of those persons from the genuine christian truth, on which rests the essential being of the church,—by their opposition to this truth.116
But does this imply, as supposed by many, that apostacy from christian truth in the case of such as have once made it their principle of life, a falling from the state of regeneration, is a thing impossible? This can by no means be deduced from these words. A false interpretation is given to them by those who stretch the sense so far; who make of the Apostle’s declaration in regard to a particular case, a principle of universal application. The word of God guards us against such a view, by enjoining watchfulness, even upon hill who has made greatest advancement, so long as the conflict of the earthly life shall endure; and by warning him who is confident that he stands fast, to take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. x. 12). So too the Apostle Paul, that mature believer, speaks of his conflicts and strivings,—lest he, who had preached to others, should himself be found a castaway. Such an apostacy cannot, indeed, be supposed to take place suddenly. But it may happen, that through lack of true watchfulness over himself, or through false self-reliance, a lack of humility, he who has once attained to the christian state, may gradually fall again under the dominion of that sin, which though subdued by faith still cleaves to him; may sink 117down again from the height to which he had thus risen, and so lose the divine life once received, but not faithfully guarded and nurtured. The Apostle John by no means denies such a possibility; he is only asserting what was the fact in this particular case. He only states the grounds upon which this specific occurrence is to be explained; which by no means justifies us in deducing from it a universal law, for the development of the christian life. What he, says is no more than this: no such radical change has ever been experienced by these persons of whom he is speaking. What now appears, openly and visibly, had always really existed though under concealment and disguise. Even while still attached to the church, they had been strangers to the christian truth which is its vital principle. Under the mask of a christian profession, they had concealed the same views and feelings, which now manifest themselves in open opposition to the pure christian truth.
By this explanation of the true grounds of an occurrence, which seemed likely to perplex the minds of many, the Apostle seeks to counteract its influence upon those whom he addresses in this Letter. He shows them that what so awakens their 118surprise is nothing new, but has already been long preparing. He teaches them, moreover, that although the causes from which it proceeded were indeed something to be deplored, yet that the occurrence is in itself a salutary necessity in the development-process of Christianity. It served to bring out in a clear and convincing manner the truth, that not all who seem to belong to the church, belong to it in reality; to separate the genuine and spurious members from one another; to discriminate between what is truly christian, and what under the christian name belongs strictly to another principle; to carry out a sifting process in the development of the church. With this is to be compared Paul’s declaration, that there must be heresies, in order that it may be made manifest who are the genuine members of the church. (1 Cor. xi. 19.) That which produces heresies is indeed an evil, is something, to be deplored. But that, being present, it should thus develop itself; that the hidden should be brought to light, and what is kindred in spirit coalesce in one; this is a wholesome necessity, and is founded in the course of development ordained by divine wisdom: as in the diseased body, it may be necessary that the morbid 119elements should break forth in specific crises, in order that they may be cast out and subdued by the principle of healthful life. What the divine word here teaches, is a law which can be traced through the whole history of the church. By that divine word we are raised to a stand-point, for the contemplation of history and of life, whence we perceive in evil at once freedom of action, personal guilt, and that higher law of divine all-directing wisdom, to which evil itself, when it comes forth to light, is made subservient.
What the Apostle here says, is susceptible of a manifold application to the moral phenomena of our own times, and may tranquillize us when disquieted and perplexed in view of them. We see the contrariety, between christian truth and the errors which oppose it, becoming more and more clearly defined; the Divine and the Undivine, Christianity and World-worship, encountering each other more and more openly in the avowed convictions of men. To many this seems to have broken forth suddenly; and they know not how to account for it, that darkness should be permitted to gain such an ascendency. But a deeper scrutiny shows us, that what the Apostle taught 120in regard to the moral phenomena of his own times is true also here; viz. that the cause of these inauspicious symptoms could have no sudden origin, but had long existed in the hidden germ. It is not strange that it should fill us with disquietude and grief, when we see those who have appeared to us zealous advocates of the same christian truth which we profess, whom we had with reason believed to be truly of us, suddenly go over to the camp of the enemy. Whence this change? How could they apostatize from the truth, after having received the same divine experiences of its power as we? How could the grace of God suffer them to fall? How could that faithfulness and truth of God deny itself? Should not He complete the work which he had himself begun in them? But the Apostle’s words furnish the true solution of this difficulty, and relieve our perplexity. It is but bringing to light that which was concealed. Such, though seemingly of us, belonged not to us. Nor had they ever held the same ground of faith, the same divine truth with us, though making the same profession; and whatever zeal they might have shown for it, it was still a dead form under which they concealed another meaning. Their 121 views had been always the same radically, though cloaked as yet under the christian garb, unrevealed to others, perhaps even to themselves. Such persons, living in a less active period, when these contrarieties had not yet broken out openly, might have gone on quietly in their natural course of development. Their profession would indeed, as now, have been mere pretence; they would have had the shell only without the kernel; not the pure element of christian truth, but its opposite, would still have been the vital element of their belief; but this would have been unobserved and unknown. Now, however, in this period filled and agitated by so many and openly manifested antichristian elements, the kindred element in them is attracted by this influence, and is impelled to throw off the disguise—to become conscious to itself, and to seek for itself an open expression.
But there may be still another case. These persons who seemed to belong to us, may have been really affected by the influence of the same christian truth which we profess. They may have enjoyed experiences of its divine power. But with this, there co-existed in them the anti-christian principle predominant in the age; and hence a 122conflict of opposite tendencies. But that in them which was allied to the anti-christian spirit of the age, at length so gained the mastery as to overcome the genuine christian element. And thus they themselves became sceptical, in regard to their own former experiences of the higher life; and at length were carried so far, as to impugn that for which they had once been witnesses. They belong to that class, in the Saviour’s parable of the sower, in whom the seed of the divine word springs up quickly,—all the more quickly because it takes no deep root,—and through the hostile agency of the adverse spirit is as soon destroyed. Of such also it may be said, “They went out from us, because they were not truly of us.” Of this class Judas Iscariot stands as a fearful example. He, it may be, once experienced emotions of the higher life. He may, at times, have received divine impressions from intercourse with the Saviour. When Judas first numbered himself among the disciples, Christ had already perceived what was in him,—that carnal tendency which looked for a temporal Messiah. Yet he did not thrust him away, but drew him to himself with a love which sought to exert a saving influence upon him. The 123other disciples, surrendering themselves to the Lord, and to his purifying and sanctifying influence, were by degrees freed from the power of this carnal spirit of the age. With Judas, on the contrary, that false spirit gained more and more the preponderance, repressing more and more those higher impressions, till at length they were lost to him altogether. Thus it was that from a disciple of the Lord, he became his most malignant enemy and his betrayer.
Thus enlightened by the words of John, in respect to the cause and the necessity of such occurrences, we shall be enabled to regard them, though not without grief yet without perplexity, and even to derive profit from them for the furtherance of our faith and of our salvation. We see that it is a needful sifting. We live in an age of sifting. Those who have the reality and those who have only the show, of Christianity, those who belong to God and those who belong to the world, must be more and more separated from each other. This time of sifting summons each one to decide for himself between these two contrary tendencies, no longer to be reconciled with each other, but standing out in a 124more and more sharply defined antagonism. Each one is summoned to put to himself the momentous and decisive question: Under which banner shall I fight? He will perceive the deep significance of the words of the Lord; “He that is not for me is against me.” He will learn to watch vigilantly over himself, lest the bitter root in his own nature, furthered in its growth by the kindred but poisonous breath in the life of the age, shoot up and increase, and choke the good seed. It is plain that an encounter with the open manifestations of the antichristian spirit merely, will not here suffice; it is the hidden root from which they spring, against which above all we must turn the sword of the Spirit.
Ch. ii. 20, 21.] Having thus removed the occasion of stumbling, thrown in the way of the weaker brethren by the apostacy of these errorists, he now leads them back into the depths of their own inward life pervaded by the Spirit of Christ, in order to show them that they had means enough for resisting these deceptive appearances, for distinguishing between the Christian and the Antichristian. “But ye have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not 125 the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”
The Apostle here presents, in contrast with those apostates, the whole body of true and steadfast believers. Such should have no occasion to fear the threatened danger from those falsifiers of christian truth. They should carry in their own hearts the touchstone, whereby to distinguish the Christian from the Anti-christian, the preservative against the infectious influence of error. And as for you,—this is what he would say, the emphasis being on “you,”—YE have the anointing from the Holy One, the anointing which proceeds from the holy God, the Father. He is here called the Holy One, as he through whom those who belong to him are made holy, filled with his holiness, and are thereby separated from the unholy, ungodly world, —the chosen from the midst of the corrupt world. The name Holy One is indeed also a designation of Christ; and it might be referred to him, as lie who imparts this spirit to believers. But the preposition here used in the original (“from”) would naturally direct us rather to God, as the eternal source from which this spirit proceeds. (Comp. John xv. 26.) So might we judge, 126should we take this passage by itself; but since both views are possible, and both convey strict truth, a comparison of it with a subsequent passage is necessary to a reliable decision. In either case, the difference of conception makes no alteration in the sense. The anointing itself consists in that Holy Spirit which, proceeding from the holy God, is imparted to those only who are his. It places them in fellowship with him, and guards them from all the unholy influences inherent in the world, to which also belongs everything which threatens to falsify the pure christian truth.
The word “anointing” suggests to us the ordinances of the old dispensation, from which it was borrowed. Kings, priests, prophets, received their consecration to the office appointed them by God, through an anointing,—the symbol of the power imparted to them by God through his Spirit for the fulfilment of their calling. By the outward and visible was signified that which, in its fulness and completion, was to be wrought inwardly upon the spirit. Now that which was expressed outwardly under the old dispensation, and by a single act, is in the New Testament converted wholly into the inward and spiritual, and working from 127within embraces the entire life. That which under the old dispensation was restricted to individuals, entrusted in some manner with the guidance of God’s people,—individuals who were thereby separated from the body of the people,—now under the new dispensation belongs to the people of God universally. The limitations of the Old Testament are burst asunder by the spirit of the New. First of all, its founder himself,—the sovereign in God’s kingdom, the Saviour,—is called the Anointed, the Christ, as having been consecrated to his work through the fulness of the indwelling Spirit of God; as possessing in himself the fulness, the sum of all those divine powers, which were only imparted singly as special gifts to the prophets of the Old Testament. So, by virtue of their fellowship with him, are all who are redeemed by him made partakers of the Holy Spirit which he imparts. From the fulness of the divine nature, the divine power dwelling in him, he imparts to all. This is the inward anointing, the inward consecration whereby they are inwardly set apart from the world, as those who belong to God through Christ. All are admitted without distinction to the same fellowship with 128him, and receive from him the same inward consecration to their divine mission through the Holy Spirit. Henceforth there exists no more among the people of God any such distinction, as under the Old Testament between kings, priests, prophets, and people; but all collectively are in like manner consecrated to God, have an equal part in that inward consecration, in the illuminating and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is one royal priestly generation, whose nobility and high office is alike the heritage of all; all are prophets, through that common illumination of the Holy Spirit. Such are the weighty thoughts contained in that single word, that honorable designation of believers.
Believing himself justified in assuming this inward anointing in the case of those to whom he writes, he goes on to infer from this, that they already know all that he has to say to them,—all which is requisite to an insight into the nature of christian truth, to preservation from error. In that inner fountain all can be found, if they will only surrender themselves to that inward, heavenly teacher. He disclaims teaching any new doctrine, unknown to them hitherto. It is not as a 129missionary to those who are yet without the pale of christianity, and in whom the sense of the nature of christian truth is yet to be awakened, that lie speaks. This christian truth is already known; the Christian consciousness grounded in it, and a fellowship of christian consciousness between him and his leaders, already exist. But why then write to them if they already know all, if the truth which he would present is already familiar to them? It is to revivify the consciousness already rooted in their being; to awaken that which slumbers; to call forth new life, new activity; to unfold to their view what they carry in their own breasts; to bring them into a clear and conscious possession of what they already have. He says to them, what they should say to themselves. Often are we thus directed, through a word spoken by another, to something which has long had its dwelling in our inner life. It unlocks the depths of our own souls. We learn by it to understand ourselves, to perceive within ourselves the presence of God. All genuine instruction in the truth must aim only to direct to the One Teacher of truth, to God himself, and to serve as his organ. The genuine teacher of truth is himself fully aware that 130such is his appointed office, and he desires no other. It matters not whether the instruction have reference to those universal truths, which each must learn from the general revelation of God, of the Eternal Word as the light of the spiritual world; or to the peculiar truths of the kingdom of God, of the Gospel, the witness of the incarnate Word,—the very truths here brought to view, and experimentally known to all believers through that inward anointing of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Apostle is far from wishing to make believers dependent on himself as the teacher of truth, to assume that it was from him they were first to learn what is truth. On the contrary, he bases his appeal on the presence in them of the fountain of divine truth, not possessed by him as his peculiar property, but shared in common with those to whom his exhortation is addressed. He presents himself to them as a witness of that christian consciousness which they lad in common. It is to this very consciousness, this inward knowledge of christian truth, that he makes his appeal when warning them against the errors which are spreading all around them. They need no other proof; these errors must show themselves to be lies, 131through their contrariety with that truth which is experimentally known to their own hearts. By the test of an immediate consciousness they will at once perceive, that what gives itself out for truth is but a falsification of the original christian truth, which is to them of all things the most certain. This is the proof which they carry in their own souls, the inner witness to which the Apostle makes his appeal. It is on this very ground that he addresses them, viz. BECAUSE they know the truth; and can therefore accept nothing which is not the fruit of this truth, nothing which denies it, which stands in hostility to it,—since nothing that is false is of the truth. This he can properly presuppose; and he needs only to arouse this inward perception of christian truth, for the rejection of the falsehoods which oppose the truth.
What now is the application to the present age, of the important truths thus deduced from these words of the Apostle? The Apostles stood in a peculiar relation to the churches of their own as of all succeeding ages, such a relation as no man could thereafter hold to christians. They were the instruments, through whom the true image of the Lord and of his word was to be transmitted to 132all. The christian consciousness of their own time and of all times has its source in their testimony, is developed by it and out of it. They form the necessary medium between Christ and all succeeding generations. If we would gain the knowledge of Christ and of the way of salvation, we must trust their testimony. In this respect the church must always remain dependent on them, always stand in need of their teachings. But although the Apostle John was fully aware of this relation to the church, he wished not to exercise any spiritual domination, to present himself to his brethren as the teacher by whom they were again to be instructed. The church, having been once established through the preaching of the divine word and its reception into the inward life, can and must hold fast and apply what has been thus received, as its own independent possession. Through that inward anointing from the Holy One, of which the Apostle has spoken, should all believers, independently of all other authority, stand in immediate fellowship with Christ as the only Master for all; and the christians of every age should be thereby united, both with that first apostolic church and with each other. It follows 133from this that no one, who claims to be a teacher in the church, is justified in making it dependent upon himself and his single teachings, but that all should regard themselves only as organs of this common inward anointing; that they should only lead the way to this inward fountain of illumination through the divine word which is its source,—should make this itself an object of conscious knowledge; that the only aim should be to conduct to that fountain in order to draw therefrom; that so all which they teach may approve itself as true by this inward witness. That all may be trained up, through this common inward anointing, to the maturity and independence of a personal christian consciousness—this only can be the aim of all instruction of others and all spiritual influence over them. It follows farther, that no believer is at liberty to forego this maturity and personal independence, bestowed in that inward anointing, or to place himself in a dependent relation, inconsistent with this birthright, to any teacher whatever among men. And should any one attempt, through the pretence of new divine revelations, to make the religious convictions of others dependent on himself, or to set the teachings 134of human wisdom in the place of the divine word; there will ever be found, in that inward anointing, an element of resistance to such arrogated authority.
Another conclusion from the Apostle’s words is this: that the multifarious forms, in which the anti-christian spirit manifests itself, should not perplex and disquiet the believer. He has in his own soul; in that christian consciousness, which unites him with the truly Christian in every age, and with the apostolic church itself; in that inward anointing of the Holy Spirit; the infallible instinct, the certain touchstone, to distinguish between what is of Christ and what is of Antichrist. It is only needful that, watching over himself, he adhere prayerfully to that inward divine voice, give faithful heed to that sure oracle, which guides the simple and humble-minded through all adversities and conflicts; so will he be secured against all the delusions of pretended higher truth, taught by a false conceited philosophy. He is convinced beforehand, that whatever stands in contradiction to that inward anointing, whatever would rob him of his Christ, however lofty may be, the words in which it speaks, cannot be true. Neither will he 135be persuaded to sacrifice that individual free consciousness, imparted in that inward anointing, to the plea that a higher church authority is needed, as guide and leader through these conflicts of the christian and anti-christian principles; or that, on this account, new prophets must arise to bring repose and confidence to wavering souls. He knows in himself, that he has in that, inward anointing all he needs; and he will permit himself to be deceived by no promise of something more certain, more reliable, or to be drawn away from listening to that inward divine voice, through whose teachings he knows all things.
Ch. ii. 22, 23.] After these preparatory remarks, John proceeds to point out more particularly the errors which he is here opposing. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? HE is [the] 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.”
By the teachers of false doctrine then, whom John is here opposing, he means such as do not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Now this might apply in general to all opponents of Christianity 136among the Jews, to all who indeed acknowledged God as the Father, God as revealed in the Old Testament, but not Jesus as the Messiah. But as we have already remarked in the Introduction, this would be too general a designation to correspond to the special characteristics given by John. We are necessarily led to look for new enemies of genuine Christianity of a peculiar stamp, such as might actually deceive those who did not hold fast to that inward anointing of the Spirit. But if such are meant, as actually denied that Jesus was the Messiah, how are we to understand this? The answer is at hand. One may profess himself in words a believer in Jesus as the Christ, and yet his conceptions of the person of Jesus, or of him as the Christ, may be at variance with this profession. Either he does not truly believe in Jesus of Nazareth, as lie really was and has exhibited himself in his life and history,—does not receive the true historical image of this Jesus as a matter of personal conviction, but has dreamed out for himself another Jesus; or he does not acknowledge him as in the true sense the Christ, does not ascribe to him all which belongs to him as such, does not assume the befitting relation towards him as 137such. In either of these cases it might be said, that one who holds such views denies that Jesus is the Messiah. That which stood before the eye of John, was the divine incarnate Word,—in the perfect union of the divine and human, as the veritable Jesus, the Christ. He who held this Jesus for a mere man, an enlightened man like the prophets, not acknowledging him as the Eternal Life manifesting itself in time, the fountain of divine life; or he who recognized in him the Son of God but not the Son of Man, denying the reality of his human manifestation, and changing his divine-human history into a misty phantom; lie who thus, with reckless self-will, separated the Son of God and the Son of Man, could not pass with John as one who truly acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, but must appear to him a denier of the truth. Hence, with reason, John accuses those falsifiers of evangelical truth, as described in our Introduction, with not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. And as these persons, under a pretended profession of belief in Jesus as the Christ, were yet inimical to him, and by their teachings might seduce believers from him; it was so much the more necessary to warn against such, as Antichrists.138
Thus explained, we can readily apply what John here says to our own times. It applies to those who do not acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as, in the true sense, the Christ; to whom he is not that which he should be as the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer from sin, the Fountain of eternal divine life, the only Mediator between God and man, the Founder and sovereign Ruler of the kingdom of God. It applies also to such, as do not acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth in his true historical significance and reality, as presented to us in the gospel record; turning that whole record into doubt and uncertainty, sublimating him also into a form of mist, and leaving a mere phantom in his place; who, rending asunder the connection between Christ,—Christ in himself,—and the human historical appearing of Jesus, convert the Christ into a mere idea, and allow itonly an accidental connection with the historical Jesus thus unsubstantialized by their unbelief. Hence all such, in proportion as this may be affirmed, belong to those whom John designates as the representatives of the anti-christian spirit.
The preaching of Jesus as the Christ being the fundamental article of faith in the apostolic church, 139the foundation upon which the whole christian life was to be built up, the one doctrine which contained in itself all that was necessary to salvation; only those errors, consequently, were regarded by John and his fellow-apostles as radical, as belonging in their essence to Anti-christianity, which in one way or another mutilated this one cardinal doctrine. This furnishes the clue by which we are now also to judge of truth and falsehood, of what is requisite to christian fellowship and what is irreconcilable with it, and by which we must learn to estimate everything according to its own intrinsic value.
Not all erroneous conceptions of the person of Jesus, are included by John in what he terms antichristian; but, obviously, only such as do not admit a recognition of Jesus as the Christ in the true sense,—only such as involve a denial of this, though they may not directly avow it. This also teaches us to distinguish carefully between conceptions of Christ, and what is essential to the recognition of Jesus as the Christ,—what is requisite in order to present him in the true relation to the religious consciousness. These conceptions may correspond more or less to the truth; but the errors are not 140necessarily always such as to obscure or mutilate that which constitutes the essence of the preaching of Christ, viz. what Christ is in relation to the religious consciousness. In more recent times, christians have often erred through neglect of such discrimination; and have supposed themselves to differ in respect to faith in the one Jesus Christ, as the ground of salvation, from those with whom they were only at strife over such conceptions of his Person, as are of minor importance to the inward religious experience. Against this error also, we are guarded by the standard of christian judgment here followed by the Apostle.
John develops still farther the great importance to religious belief, in its widest sense, of this doctrine of Jesus as the Christ. He shows the danger to religious faith in general from the denial of Christ; the close connection between the doctrine of Jesus as the Christ, which constitutes the peculiarity of christian faith, and the religious sentiment in general; how they stand or fall together. It is by no means implied that the champions of anti-christianity, whom he is opposing, expressly connected with their denial of Jesus as the Christ the denial also of God the Father. At a later 141period indeed we find a class, the Gnostics of the second century, of whom this might be said; who did not acknowledge the God revealed through Christ as the Father of all spirits, the Creator of the Universe, the God already made known. in1 the Old Testament. But it cannot be conclusively proved that John had any such in mind. The opposite is more naturally inferable from his words, viz. that those of whom he is speaking professed belief in the God of the Old Testament as the Father; and John’s reproach is, that with them this profession has lost its full truth and significance. In renouncing their belief in Jesus as the Christ, they had renounced also their belief in God as the Father. The same relation holds good, in respect to belief, in either case. As John, upon. the grounds already explained, declares of some who professed belief in Jesus as the Christ that they were, notwithstanding, deniers of Christ; so also he declares of those who in words acknowledge God as the Father, that by denying Jesus as the Christ they do thereby deny God as the Father. It is this, the necessary and inseparable connection of these two articles of faith, which is here meant.
How then is this to be understood? We must 142not fail to notice in the first place, that God is not here designated merely in general as God, but as the Father. Now as the Father,—He who with inexpressible father-love draws to himself the beings estranged from him by sin,—as such he has first revealed himself in Christ; giving his only-begotten Son as the means of reconciling to himself, and of restoring to his fellowship which is the eternal fountain of bliss, the alienated family of man. In him and through him do they first recognize God as their Father; only through him are they re-established in the filial relation to God. The whole life of Christ is a revelation of divine Father-love, towards the race estranged from God by sin. In him is first presented that endearing relation, into which, by sending his Son to appear on earth, he has entered with man. He, the Holy One, could alone be absolutely the object of the divine Father-love. It is in the Son that the Father first reveals himself. In the contemplation of his life we first perceive what God is, as Father; first learn to understand his paternal love. It is from him alone, the only absolutely worthy object of the divine complacency and love, that this love can be extended to all who are in fellowship with 143him, and in whom Christ,—whose they are, who dwells in them, and from whom their whole life issues,—presents himself, yea his own self, to the eye of the divine Father.
But certainly it was not merely this John intended to express, viz. that the knowledge of God as the Father is dependent upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ his son,—faith in God as the Father upon faith in Jesus Christ as his son. He did not intend to say merely: that to deny the Son, is necessarily to deny the Father as such. In the Johannic sense, this has reference not merely to the special relation which God, as Father, holds to those who are justified in regarding themselves as his children; but to the knowledge of God as God, in its most general and unlimited sense. The knowledge of God is, in every view, based upon the knowledge of Christ. In proportion as Christ is known and understood, is known and understood the God who reveals himself in him; as John himself says (John i. 18): “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [revealed] him.” By seeing cannot here be meant bodily sight; for the Son 144of God is here represented as he who alone can behold the God whom no one hath seen. But God could be seen through the outward sense by no one, not even by the Son. As Spirit, he is forever the Invisible. It is not therefore the bodily sight, but a spiritual perception which is here intended; the perfect intuitive knowledge of God as the Invisible, that is, the Incomprehensible. The only-begotten Son of God could alone, by virtue of his being one with God, truly know him by direct intuition; and from this knowledge could, as man, reveal him in a form comprehensible by man. Though dimly revealed in the inner consciousness of man, who felt himself drawn to him by a mysterious influence; yet was God,—in his infinite exaltation, his unfathomable nature, his boundless perfection,—a God concealed from man, a God afar off. The Spirit, soaring on bold wing in search of God, sunk down exhausted to the earth. Often, during the ante-christian period, we find nothing remaining save a vague feeling of the Divine; or the idea of God, having become wholly earthly, had given place to the deification of nature. God was not recognized in his exaltation over the world, as He to whom the world is subject; the 145God of Heaven, who also fills the earth, who is at once near and afar off. His Being was brought down to a level with that of the world, and the conceptions of God and of the world were commingled into one. The consciousness of God was lost in the deification of the material world; or a mere empty notion, an abstract idea of perfection without actual existence, was substituted for the idea of the living God. The God who dwells in inaccessible light, into which no human spirit can penetrate, must, in order to be truly known by man, come down to the human and within its finite limits. First in the revelation of the incarnate God, could the God afar off come near to humanity. First in this image of God in human nature, could the idea of God enter as a living and substantial element into the moral and intellectual being of man. Man, created in the image of God, was through this image in himself to rise to the Spirit who is the Father of all spirits, the eternal archetype. As spirit he should thus recognize, in his essential being, that highest Spirit from whom all spirits emanate, and who images himself in them. But the image of God in man having been marred by sin, and the connection sundered between 146the archetypal Spirit and those who are formed in its image, man has thereby become incompetent for this knowledge. Hence the more he strives, while in this state of estrangement from God, to lift himself by the mere force of thought to him from whose living fellowship he is separated, the farther does he remove from him, the greater the errors into which he falls.
Now that which had hitherto been wanting to man, the perfect image of God in human form, this is supplied by Christ,—the perfect man as the image of the perfect God. God, in his love and his holiness, gives a perfect reflection of himself as such in the life of Christ; for it is only in the union of these two attributes that he can be truly known as God. Now we can rise from the image to the original. In the mirror of Christ we perceive God. Here we attain to the idea of God, thus brought near and placed within the grasp of our spirits. The chasm which parted us from God is closed. The deeper we penetrate into the nature of Christ, the more deeply do we penetrate into the knowledge of God, whose perfect image he is. Hence, in this view also, as the confession of the Son involves the confession of the Father, the 147knowledge of the Son the knowledge of the Father; so also in the denial of the Son is involved the denial of the Father. Losing the real Christ, man sinks back again to that previous position, where an infinite gulf separated his spirit from God. The previous errors develop themselves the more powerfully, as through his apostasy from the truth he has incurred the greater guilt; the ground of these errors having formerly been mere ignorance of the truth, but now a wicked denial of it. Moreover, this same tendency of natural reason in opposition to the Divine,—though at first only mingling its sceptical and obscuring influence with the conception of what Christ is,—must yet, true to its own nature, go on in a progressive and more complete development and expression of itself, extending that influence over the religious sense in general. And thus, in every view, is sustained the truth of the Apostle’s words, that he who denies the Son, the same has not the Father; but he who confesses the Son has the Father also.
We must not overlook That is further implied in these words; viz. that with confession, in the true sense of the word, there must be connected also a HAVING of that which is presupposed as the 148object of confession, of faith, of knowledge. He who confesses the Son, in the true sense of the word, he who knows him and believes on him, also HATH him. He stands in the most intimate fellowship of life with Christ, and through him in the same fellowship with the Father. Through this fellowship he knows God, as He can only through this be known, through this his self-revelation ill the consciousness of such as in the Son have the Father also,—the Father, to whom none can ever rise by mere effort, of thought, apart from a union of the life with him. And thus, whoever detaches himself from this union with Christ and denies him, having him no longer present in his life, thereby renounces also union with the Father. He can no longer know him whom he no longer HAS, with whom he is no longer connected through fellowship with Christ.
As these words of John are confirmed by the whole history of the human spirit, since the time they were written; so does the present age furnish a peculiarly emphatic witness of their truth. The study of passing events serves, in no small degree, to elucidate the deep meaning of these pregnant words; as they, on the other hand, become specially 149important to the higher interests of our own times, when we learn how to apply them. We see, that as those radical errors in the conception of Christ’s person have reappeared in the same anti-christian tendencies which John opposed, and men have departed from the true Christ; the same radical tendency of the natural reason gradually led on to the misapprehension and denial of God, whom Christ has revealed to us as the Father. It was a tendency which at first, while thus limiting and mutilating the doctrine of Christ, yet sought to maintain its hold of the doctrine of God as the Father, to whom it ascribed the influence of Christianity. But, as we have seen, it was continually impelled by its own nature to overstep these boundaries. First, that intimate filial relation to God as Father was lost; only the general reference to God as the Unknown, the God afar off, remained. Then was the God of heaven, the living personal God, also lost. The deification of the world,—opposing itself to everything supernatural in the Divine, to everything which can be perceived only by faith, and cannot be apprehended by the senses, or by the natural reason confined as it is within the limits of the world,—widened its 150grasp continually, and developed more and more in denial and destruction its anti-christian power. What at first was professedly only a matter of knowledge, became more and more an element of life. And thus will the declaration of John forever continue to be verified. As Christ is the centre around which all turns, and in reference to the most vital contrarieties in opinion and life this only is of account,—what is the relation to Christ; as we have all, or lose all with him; so the distinction comes out with continually increasing clearness, between having Christ and with him having the Father, or losing the Son and with him the Father, and at the same time all that is divine, all wherein the God-related spirit can enjoy possession of itself, can find its true life.
Ch. ii. 24, 25.] The Apostle concludes this warning by again enforcing the exhortation, that they hold fast and faithfully preserve what they have received; so should the gifts of grace also remain theirs. “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and 151in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.”
Here again in the original Greek, the “Ye” is placed first (“Ye therefore,” which we cannot imitate), in emphatic contrast with those heretical teachers. For as these, through their apostacy from the original truth, had again estranged themselves from that fellowship with God as the Father, which is received through Christ; so on the contrary, should the church be distinguished from them by a faithful adherence to that original teaching, and by so doing abide also in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. What they have received from the beginning is to remain IN them; being something abiding, not a mere external thing, which like an empty sound had passed by them. As they have received it into their inward life, so should it ever remain deeply imprinted in their spirits. And as it is through the preached word, received into their hearts, that they have attained to fellowship with the Father through the mediating Son; the indwelling of this truth in their hearts is made the condition, on which they should continue to abide in fellowship with the Son, and through him with the Father. This 152continuing IN the Soil and the Father, we must endeavor to apprehend in the full significance of the term. This IN can be exchanged for no other word. It declares that their life has its being in Jesus as the Son of God, and through this, in the Father whom he has revealed as such, and with whom he has brought them into fellowship. In the Gospel of John, the two things are always presented as connected with each other, as involved in each other; viz. the abiding of believers in Christ and his abiding in them. The communication of Christ to the believer,—wherein the whole christian life has its root,—and the continuance of this communication, appears therefore as something dependent upon their susceptibility for this divine gift, upon the free surrenders of themselves to Christ. So soon as they, through the bent of the will, abandon their original relation to Christ, will Christ also depart from them. All hangs upon the unconstrained susceptibility, the direction of the will in man. Hence, whatever may be the enjoyment of divine grace in the christian life, the requirement is still binding on man to watch unceasingly over himself, lest through his own fault he should again lose the heavenly gift which he has received. The 153means on their part for continuing in fellowship with Christ is, in John’s view, holding fast the doctrines originally made known to them. By this he does not mean merely retaining them in the memory, in the understanding; but so holding them fast that this truth shall remain an indwelling and determining principle of their inner life. As an encouragement to fidelity, he shows them what on this condition they have a right to expect. He sums up the whole in one all-embracing promise,—the eternal life which Christ has promised to those who abide in fellowship with him; for, as he has before said, in Christ has this eternal life itself appeared personally in humanity. There is, for the God-related spirit, no other blessedness than this life for which he was created, and in which alone he can find satisfaction for all the wants implanted in his godlike nature. It is called The Life, absolutely, inasmuch as it is the participation in that which alone, in the truest and highest, in an unqualified sense, can be called life, the life of God himself; as to the God-related spirit, which can only find in God its true life, the want of it is Death. It is called eternal life, inasmuch as it is in its very nature exalted above all change 154of time, in its very nature eternal, belonging not to the transitory temporal existence, but to eternity. Where it has once taken up its abode, it can no more be disturbed and interrupted by death; but, victorious over all death, unfolds itself in progressive and glorious development forever. Hence Christ, in the Gospel of John, speaks of it as the fountain which gushes up into eternal life; a river, checked by no barriers, pouring along from the once imparted source, into the eternal and the infinite. And hence it is said, that he who believes in Christ has eternal life; in this Believing, it is his already. The future blessedness promised to the christian is not, therefore, something essentially different from what he has already received in the earthly life through faith, and to be added from without as something new. In its germ and essence, it is contained in what he already has. It needs only to burst from the imprisoning shell, in order to reveal itself in its own inherent glory.
Ch. ii. 26, 27.] John concludes by a reference to the inward anointing of those whom he addresses, in contrast with those false teachers. “These things have I written unto you, concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing, 155which 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 Apostle repeats the assurance of his belief, that he need add nothing new by way of guarding them against those false teachers; he need only refer, for adequate instruction in all things, to that inner fountain of divine illumination, that inward anointing. This anointing is here designated, as that which they have received from him; and the reference might be to the source in which it originates, to the Father by whom this spirit is bestowed. But as the pronoun here employed, without any more definite application, always refers in this connection to Christ, that reference is to be retained also in this passage. What is asserted is therefore this: the communication of this Spirit is procured through the mediating Christ; as imparted through Christ, it is said to have been received from him. Just so this Spirit is at one time designated as he who proceeds from the Father, whom Christ sends from the Father, whom the Father bestows for the sake of Christ; and at another, as the Spirit which 156Christ imparts to those who believe on him, as the Spirit of Christ, so that Christ’s spiritual coming to believers is a coming in and with this Spirit. If now we proceed in accordance with Luther’s version, it is here John’s first and special object to say,—that what this inward anointing teaches respecting all things is the perfect truth without mixture of error, and they needed therefore only to adhere faithfully to it. In this view, the development of thought proceeds on regularly in what follows. Still it may be asked, whether John would have presented so prominently (as something of special importance in itself) the assertion that all, as this anointing teaches it, is true and there is nothing false in it; whether it is not probable, rather, that he throws in as an independent and accessory thought the words,—“and as it is truth and no falsehood,”—and then proceeds (repeating the previous clause in consequence of this interruption), “And even as it has been taught you, so shall ye abide in him.” The ‘in him’must be referred to him who is here the one object of reference, to Christ. In the assured trust that the church will ever continue to yield itself to the teachings of the Holy Spirit, and being guided by 157his illuminating grace will ever remain true to the doctrine which they have received, he feels assured also that they will ever abide in fellowship with Christ.
Ch. ii. 28.] Pausing upon the thought thus suggested, the Apostle now turns to them again with a personal appeal. In a father’s tone he exhorts them to steadfast perseverance in this direction of the life, till they attain the final goal. “And now, little children, abide in him; that when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
As the coming of Christ was, from causes already mentioned, then expected as something close at hand, and the eye, overleaping all that lay between, fixed itself upon that event; so the Apostle here overlooks all which is to follow immediately after death, and turns at once to the day of final decision. This he calls the appearing of Christ. In this it is necessarily implied that Christ now lives in his glory with the Father, he and his glory still hidden from the world and manifest only to believers; that, in his appearing, what is now thus hidden shall be revealed. Christ in his glory shall then become manifest to all, as now he 158is manifest, through the medium of faith, to the believer. Placing this goal before the eye of believers, the Apostle exhorts them to abide so faithfully, through the direction of their life, in that fellowship with Christ to which they have been admitted, that they may be able in that day to appear before him their Judge, with a quiet and assured conscience. The word here employed in the Greek, indicates an absolute unshaken confidence, as between friend and friend. In such a relation should believers stand to Christ. Conscious of remaining ever faithful to him, and standing in this relation, they will not need to be ashamed in the presence of him to whom their whole life is manifest. But the Apostle here passes from the second to the first person; for involved as he still is in the conflict of the earthly life, he feels himself the necessity of watchfulness. Hence, when speaking of the direction of the life towards this final goal, he does not exalt himself above other christians, but speaks as one who is on a level with them.
Ch. ii. 29.] This faithful abiding in fellowship with Christ, by virtue of which believers will in that day stand with untroubled conscience 159 before the Lord, in the sense of John embraces the entire life; including not merely opposition to radical errors in doctrine, but to all sin by which the christian life might be defiled. Thus a new division now commences, with reference to the shunning of everything sinful: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.”
These words are more closely connected with what follows than with what precedes; and we must therefore here refer the pronoun, not to Christ, but to God. The close connection between the references to Christ and to God, renders this transition easy, without any formal designation of it. It here arises naturally out of the conception, which in all that follows underlies the Apostle’s course of thought. The appellation “Righteous” admits indeed of a reference to Christ; and as the subject of remark now is a being of believers in Christ, and their whole life is contemplated as having its source in him, as derived from him and vitalized by him, so also it might be said that they were born of Christ. But the Apostle’s uniform manner of conception and expression decides against this view. As he is accustomed 160to contemplate Christ in his human manifestation,—the incarnate Word; He through whom man is reinstated in fellowship with God, through whom he is raised again to the filial relation to God, and becomes the child of God; so does he contemplate God, as the eternal, original source of the new life imparted through Christ to the believer. It is in this view, accordingly, that he speaks of a birth from God, in contrast with the natural corporeal birth by which one becomes a member of the human family; inasmuch as by this he is lifted out of the customary current of the world, and incorporated with the kingdom of God, in which without divine life there can be no participation. Thus, by the Righteous, we are to understand God. Righteousness is here synonymous with perfect purity, with holiness. Accordingly, the inference is here made, that those who know God as the Holy One must also know, that being through the kindled life imparted by him born of him anew, and called in this sense his children, they must make themselves manifest as such through a righteous life-walk in harmony with him. Two things, an affirmative and a negative, are implied in this declaration. First, that where 161true righteousness exists, it can have been derived only from this source; that true righteousness can only be attained through a birth from God, as it is only through the power of God that the ruling power of sin can be overcome in man. So Christ asserts, that whatever is born of the flesh needs the moral transformation effected by the Spirit which God imparts. “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh;” it corresponds to its origin, to sinful human nature as estranged from God. Secondly it is implied, that he only who leads a life in harmony with righteousness is born of God; only by this sign can the birth from God make itself known. Where the opposite is found, it furnishes evidence that this birth from God has never yet taken place; that what the Holy Spirit calls the Flesh, comprehending under this name whatever both in the sensual and intellectual nature stands opposed to the divine influence, is still predominant in him. In this connection, as is shown by what follows, the special reference is to God.
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