1 John 1
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1 John: An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John
Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator's person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo. 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Jn. 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo. 1:1 and 1Jo. 5:7 with Jn. 1:1 and Rev. 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God's love to us (1Jo. 3:9; 1Jo. 4:7; and 1Jo. 5:1; Jn. 3:5, Jn. 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer's opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo. 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Jn. 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Jn. 21:22). And who (Jn. 21:20) is described by these three characters: - 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord's peculiar friend. 2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper. 3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.
The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life. — Henry
First General Epistle of John
Authorship. — Polycarp, the disciple of John [Epistle to the Philippians, 7], quotes 1Jo_4:3. Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.39] says of Papias, a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, “He used testimonies from the First Epistle of John.” Irenaeus, according to Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 5.8], often quoted this Epistle. So in his work Against Heresies [3.15; 5, 8] he quotes from John by name, 1Jo_2:18, etc.; and in [3.16, 7], he quotes 1Jo_4:1-3; 1Jo_5:1, and 2Jo_1:7, 2Jo_1:8. Clement of Alexandria [Miscellanies, 2.66, p. 464] refers to 1Jo_5:16, as in John’s larger Epistle. See other quotations [Miscellanies, 3.32, 42; 4.102]. Tertullian [Against Marcion, 5.16] refers to 1Jo_4:1, etc.; [Against Praxeas, 15], to 1Jo_1:1. See his other quotations [Against Praxeas, 28; Against the Gnostics, 12]. Cyprian [Epistles, 28 (24)], quotes as John’s, 1Jo_2:3, 1Jo_2:4; and [On the Lord’s Prayer, 5] quotes 1Jo_2:15-17; and [On Works and Alms, 3], 1Jo_1:8; and [On the Advantage of Patience, 2] quotes 1Jo_2:6. Muratori’s Fragment on the Canon of Scripture states, “There are two of John (the Gospel and Epistle?) esteemed Catholic,” and quotes 1Jo_1:3. The Peschito Syriac contains it. Origen (in Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 6.25]) speaks of the First Epistle as genuine, and “probably the second and third, though all do not recognize the latter two”; on the Gospel of John, [Commentary on John, 13.2], he quotes 1Jo_1:5. Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen’s scholar, cites the words of this Epistle as those of the Evangelist John. Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.24], says, John’s first Epistle and Gospel are acknowledged without question by those of the present day, as well as by the ancients. So also Jerome [On Illustrious Men]. The opposition of Cosmas Indicopleustes, in the sixth century, and that of Marcion because our Epistle was inconsistent with his views, are of no weight against such irrefragable testimony.
The internal evidence is equally strong. Neither the Gospel, nor this Epistle, can be pronounced an imitation; yet both, in style and modes of thought, are evidently of the same mind. The individual notices are not so numerous or obvious as in Paul’s writings, as was to be expected in a Catholic Epistle; but such as there are accord with John’s position. He implies his apostleship, and perhaps alludes to his Gospel, and the affectionate tie which bound him as an aged pastor to his spiritual “children”; and in 1Jo_2:18, 1Jo_2:19; 1Jo_4:1-3, he alludes to the false teachers as known to his readers; and in 1Jo_5:21 he warns them against the idols of the surrounding world. It is no objection against its authenticity that the doctrine of the Word, or divine second Person, existing from everlasting, and in due time made flesh, appears in it, as also in the Gospel, as opposed to the heresy of the Docetae in the second century, who denied that our Lord is come in the flesh, and maintained He came only in outward semblance; for the same doctrine appears in Col_1:15-18; 1Ti_3:16; Heb_1:1-3; and the germs of Docetism, though not fully developed till the second century, were in existence in the first. The Spirit, presciently through John, puts the Church beforehand on its guard against the coming heresy.
To Whom Addressed. — Augustine [The Question of the Gospels, 2.39], says this Epistle was written to the Parthians. Bede, in a prologue to the seven Catholic Epistles, says that Athanasius attests the same. By the Parthians may be meant the Christians living beyond the Euphrates in the Parthian territory, outside the Roman empire, “the Church at Babylon elected together with (you),” the churches in the Ephesian region, the quarter to which Peter addressed his Epistles (1Pe_5:12). As Peter addressed the flock which John subsequently tended (and in which Paul had formerly ministered), so John, Peter’s close companion after the ascension, addresses the flock among whom Peter had been when he wrote. Thus “the elect lady” (2Jo_1:1) answers “to the Church elected together” (1Pe_5:13). See further confirmation of this view in see on Introduction to Second John. It is not necessarily an objection to this view that John never is known to have personally ministered in the Parthian territory. For neither did Peter personally minister to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, though he wrote his Epistles to them. Moreover, in John’s prolonged life, we cannot dogmatically assert that he did not visit the Parthian Christians, after Peter had ceased to minister to them, on the mere ground of absence of extant testimony to that effect. This is as probable a view as Alford’s, that in the passage of Augustine, “to the Parthians,” is to be altered by conjectural emendation; and that the Epistle is addressed to the churches at and around Ephesus, on the ground of the fatherly tone of affectionate address in it, implying his personal ministry among his readers. But his position, as probably the only surviving apostle, accords very well with his addressing, in a Catholic Epistle, a cycle of churches which he may not have specially ministered to in person, with affectionate fatherly counsel, by virtue of his general apostolic superintendence of all the churches.
Time and Place of Writing. — This Epistle seems to have been written subsequently to his Gospel as it assumes the reader’s acquaintance with the Gospel facts and Christ’s speeches, and also with the special aspect of the incarnate Word, as God manifest in the flesh (1Ti_3:16), set forth more fully in his Gospel. The tone of address, as a father addressing his “little children” (the continually recurring term, 1Jo_2:1, 1Jo_2:12, 1Jo_2:13, 1Jo_2:18, 1Jo_2:28; 1Jo_3:7, 1Jo_3:18; 1Jo_4:4; 1Jo_5:21), accords with the view that this Epistle was written in John’s old age, perhaps about a.d. 90. In 1Jo_2:18, “it is the last time,” probably does not refer to any particular event (as the destruction of Jerusalem, which was now many years past) but refers to the nearness of the Lord’s coming as proved by the rise of Antichristian teachers, the mark of the last time. It was the Spirit’s purpose to keep the Church always expecting Christ as ready to come at any moment. The whole Christian age is the last time in the sense that no other dispensation is to arise till Christ comes. Compare “these last days,” Heb_1:2. Ephesus may be conjectured to be the place whence it was written. The controversial allusion to the germs of Gnostic heresy accord with Asia Minor being the place, and the last part of the apostolic age the time, of writing this Epistle.
Contents. — The leading subject of the whole is, fellowship with the Father and the Son (1Jo_1:3). Two principal divisions may be noted: (1) 1 John 1:5-2:28: the theme of this portion is stated at the outset, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all”; consequently, in order to have fellowship with Him, we must walk in light (1Jo_1:7); connected with which in the confession and subsequent forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s propitiation and advocacy, without which forgiveness there could be no light or fellowship with God: a farther step in thus walking in the light is, positively keeping God’s commandments, the sum of which is love, as opposed to hatred, the acme of disobedience to God’s word: negatively, he exhorts them according to their several stages of spiritual growth, children, fathers, young men, in consonance with their privileges as forgiven, knowing the Father, and having overcome the wicked one, not to love the world, which is incompatible with the indwelling of the love of the Father, and to be on their guard against the Antichristian teachers already in the world, who were not of the Church, but of the world, against whom the true defense is, that his believing readers who have the anointing of God, should continue to abide in the Son and in the Father. (2) The second division (1 John 2:29-5:5) discusses the theme with which it opens, He is righteous; consequently (as in the first division), “every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” Sonship in us involves our purifying ourselves as He is pure, even as we hope to see, and therefore to be made like our Lord when He shall appear; in this second, as in the first division, both a positive and a negative side are presented of “doing righteousness as He is righteous,” involving a contrast between the children of God and the children of the devil. Hatred marks the latter; love, the former: this love gives assurance of acceptance with God for ourselves and our prayers, accompanied as they are (1Jo_3:23) with obedience to His great commandment, to “believe on Jesus, and love one another”; the seal (1Jo_3:24) of His dwelling in us and assuring our hearts, is the Spirit which He hath given us. In contrast to this (as in the first division), he warns against false spirits, the notes of which are, denial of Christ, and adherence to the world. Sonship, or birth of God, is then more fully described: its essential feature is unslavish, free love to God, because God first loved us, and gave His Son to die for us, and consequent love to the brethren, grounded on their being sons of God also like ourselves, and so victory over the world; this victory being gained only by the man who believes in Jesus as the Son of God. (3) The conclusion establishes this last central truth, on which rests our fellowship with God, Christ’s having come by the water of baptism, the blood of atonement, and the witnessing Spirit, which is truth. As in the opening he rested this cardinal truth on the apostles’ witness of the eye, the ear, and the touch, so now at the close he rests it on God’s witness, which is accepted by the believer, in contrast with the unbeliever, who makes God a liar. Then follows his closing statement of his reason for writing (1Jo_5:13; compare the corresponding 1Jo_1:4, at the beginning), namely, that believers in Christ the Son of God may know that they have (now already) eternal life (the source of “joy,” 1Jo_1:4; compare similarly his object in writing the Gospel, Joh_20:31), and so have confidence as to their prayers being answered (corresponding to 1Jo_3:22 in the second part); for instance, their intercessions for a sinning brother (unless his sin be a sin unto death). He closes with a brief summing up of the instruction of the Epistle, the high dignity, sanctity, and safety from evil of the children of God in contrast to the sinful world, and a warning against idolatry, literal and spiritual: “Keep yourselves from idols.”
Though the Epistle is not directly polemical, the occasion which suggested his writing was probably the rise of Antichristian teachers; and, because he knew the spiritual character of the several classes whom he addresses, children, youths, fathers, he feels it necessary to write to confirm them in the faith and joyful fellowship of the Father and Son, and to assure them of the reality of the things they believe, that so they may have the full privileges of believing.
Style. — His peculiarity is fondness for aphorism and repetition. His tendency to repeat his own phrase, arises partly from the affectionate, hortatory character of the Epistle; partly, also, from its Hebraistic forms abounding in parallel clauses, as distinguished from the Grecian and more logical style of Paul; also, from his childlike simplicity of spirit, which, full of his one grand theme, repeats, and dwells on it with fond delight and enthusiasm. Moreover as Alford well says, the appearance of uniformity is often produced by want of deep enough exegesis to discover the real differences in passages which seem to express the same. Contemplative, rather than argumentative, he dwells more on the general, than on the particular, on the inner, than on the outer, Christian life. Certain fundamental truths he recurs to again and again, at one time enlarging on, and applying them, at another time repeating them in their condensed simplicity. The thoughts do not march onward by successive steps, as in the logical style of Paul, but rather in circle drawn round one central thought which he reiterates, ever reverting to it, and viewing it, now under its positive, now under its negative, aspect. Many terms which in the Gospel are given as Christ’s, in the Epistle appear as the favorite expressions of John, naturally adopted from the Lord. Thus the contrasted terms, “flesh” and “spirit,” “light” and “darkness,” “life” and “death,” “abide in Him”: fellowship with the Father and Son, and with one another,” is a favorite phrase also, not found in the Gospel, but in Acts and Paul’s Epistles. In him appears the harmonious union of opposites, adapting him for his high functions in the kingdom of God, contemplative repose of character, and at the same time ardent zeal, combined with burning, all-absorbing love: less adapted for active outward work, such as Paul’s, than for spiritual service. He handles Christian verities not as abstract dogmas, but as living realities, personally enjoyed in fellowship with God in Christ, and with the brethren. Simple, and at the same time profound, his writing is in consonance with his spirit, unrhetorical and undialectic, gentle, consolatory, and loving: the reflection of the Spirit of Him on whose breast he lay at the last supper, and whose beloved disciple he was. Ewald in Alford, speaking of the “unruffled and heavenly repose” which characterizes this Epistle, says, “It appears to be the tone, not so much of a father talking with his beloved children, as of a glorified saint addressing mankind from a higher world. Never in any writing has the doctrine of heavenly love - a love working in stillness, ever unwearied, never exhausted - so thoroughly approved itself as in this Epistle.”
John’s Place in the Building Up of the Church. — As Peter founded and Paul propagated, so John completed the spiritual building. As the Old Testament puts prominently forward the fear of God, so John, the last writer of the New Testament, gives prominence to the love of God. Yet, as the Old Testament is not all limited to presenting the fear of God, but sets forth also His love, so John, as a representative of the New Testament, while breathing so continually the spirit of love, gives also the plainest and most awful warnings against sin, in accordance with his original character as Boanerges, “son of thunder.” His mother was Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee, probably sister to Jesus’ mother (compare Joh_19:25, “His mother’s sister,” with Mat_27:56; Mar_15:40), so that he was cousin to our Lord; to his mother, under God, he may have owed his first serious impressions. Expecting as she did the Messianic kingdom in glory, as appears from her petition (Mat_20:20-23), she doubtless tried to fill his young and ardent mind with the same hope. Neander distinguishes three leading tendencies in the development of the Christian doctrine, the Pauline, the Jacobean (between which the Petrine forms an intermediate link), and the Johannean. John, in common with James, was less disposed to the intellectual and dialectic cast of thought which distinguishes Paul. He had not, like the apostle of the Gentiles, been brought to faith and peace through severe conflict; but, like James, had reached his Christian individuality through a quiet development: James, however, had passed through a molding in Judaism previously, which, under the Spirit, caused him to present Christian truth in connection with the law, in so far as the latter in its spirit, though not letter, is permanent, and not abolished, but established under the Gospel. But John, from the first, had drawn his whole spiritual development from the personal view of Christ, the model man, and from intercourse with Him. Hence, in his writings, everything turns on one simple contrast: divine life in communion with Christ; death in separation from Him, as appears from his characteristic phrases, “life, light, truth; death, darkness, lie.” “As James and Peter mark the gradual transition from spiritualized Judaism to the independent development of Christianity, and as Paul represents the independent development of Christianity in opposition to the Jewish standpoint, so the contemplative element of John reconciles the two, and forms the closing point in the training of the apostolic Church” [Neander]. — JFB
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
ABOUT a.d. 85 TO 90
By Way of Introduction
Relation to the Fourth Gospel
There are few scholars who deny that the Epistles of John and the Fourth Gospel are by the same writer. As a matter of fact “in the whole of the First Epistle there is hardly a single thought that is not found in the Gospel” (Schulze). H. J. Holtzmann (Jahrbuch fur Protestantische Theologie, 1882, P. 128) in a series of articles on the “Problem of the First Epistle of St. John in its Relation to the Gospel” thinks that the similarities are closer than those between Luke’s Gospel and the Acts. Baur argued that this fact was explained by conscious imitation on the part of one or the other, probably by the author of the Epistle. The solution lies either in identity of authorship or in imitation. If there is identity of authorship, Holtzmann argues that the Epistle is earlier, as seems to me to be true, while Brooke holds that the Gospel is the earlier and that the First Epistle represents the more complete ideas of the author. Both Holtzmann and Brooke give a detailed comparison of likenesses between the First Epistle and the Fourth Gospel in vocabulary, syntax, style, ideas. The arguments are not conclusive as to the priority of Epistle or Gospel, but they are as to identity of authorship. One who accepts, as I do, the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel for the reasons given in Volume V of this series, does not feel called upon to prove the Johannine authorship of the three Epistles that pass under the Apostle’s name. Westcott suggests that one compare John 1:1-18 with 1Jo. 1:1-4 to see how the same mind deals with the same ideas in different connections. “No theory of conscious imitation can reasonably explain the subtle coincidences and differences in these two short crucial passages.”
The Epistle is not a polemic primarily, but a letter for the edification of the readers in the truth and the life in Christ. And yet the errors of the Gnostics are constantly before John’s mind. The leaders had gone out from among the true Christians, but there was an atmosphere of sympathy that constituted a subtle danger. There are only two passages (1Jo. 2:18.; 1Jo. 4:1-6) in which the false teachers are specifically denounced, but “this unethical intellectualism” (Robert Law) with its dash of Greek culture and Oriental mysticism and licentiousness gave a curious attraction for many who did not know how to think clearly. John, like Paul in Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles, foresaw this dire peril to Christianity. In the second century it gave pure Christianity a gigantic struggle. “The great Gnostics were the first Christian philosophers” (Robert Law, The Tests of Life, p. 27) and threatened to undermine the Gospel message by “deifying the devil” (ib., p. 31) along with dethroning Christ. There were two kinds of Gnostics, both agreeing in the essential evil of matter. Both had trouble with the Person of Christ. The Docetic Gnostics denied the actual humanity of Christ, the Cerinthian Gnostics distinguished between the man Jesus and the aeon Christ that came on him at his baptism and left him on the Cross. Some practised asceticism, some licentiousness. John opposes both classes in his Epistles. They claimed superior knowledge (gnōsis) and so were called Gnostics (Gnōstikoi). Nine times John gives tests for knowing the truth and uses the verb ginōskō (know) each time (1Jo. 2:3, 1Jo. 2:5; 1Jo. 3:16, 1Jo. 3:19, 1Jo. 3:24; 1Jo. 4:2, 1Jo. 4:6, 1Jo. 4:13; 1Jo. 5:2). Some of the leaders he calls antichrists. There are stories about John’s dread of Cerinthus and his unwillingness to be seen in the same public bath with him. The Apostle of love, as he is, is a real son of thunder when Gnosticism shows its head. Westcott thinks that the Fourth Gospel was written to prove the deity of Christ, assuming his humanity, while 1 John was written to prove the humanity of Christ, assuming his deity. Certainly both ideas appear in both books.
It is not clear to whom the Epistle is addressed. Like the Gospel, the Epistle of John came out of the Asiatic circle with Ephesus as the centre. Augustine has the strange statement that the Epistle was addressed to the Parthians. There are other ingenious conjectures which come to nothing. The Epistle was clearly sent to those familiar with John’s message, possibly to the churches of the Province of Asia (cf. the Seven Churches in Revelation).
The time seems to be considerably removed from the atmosphere of the Pauline and Petrine Epistles. Jerusalem has been destroyed. If John wrote the Fourth Gospel by a.d. 95, then the First Epistle would come anywhere from a.d. 85 to 95. The tone of the author is that of an old man. His urgent message that the disciples, his “little children,” love one another is like another story about the aged John, who, when too feeble to stand, would sit in his chair and preach “Little children, love one another.” The Muratorian Fragment accepts the First Epistle and Origen makes full use of it, as does Clement of Alexandria. Irenaeus quotes it by name. Polycarp shows knowledge of it also. — Robertson's word pictures
Introduction to 1 John
Section 1. The Authenticity of the Epistle
Little needs to be said respecting the authenticity of this Epistle, or the evidence that it was written by the apostle John. There are, in general, two sources of evidence in regard to ancient writings: the external evidence, or that which may be derived from the testimony of other writers; and the evidence which may be derived from some marks of the authorship in the writing itself, which is called the internal evidence. Both of these are remarkably clear in regard to this Epistle.
(1) The external evidence:
(a) is quoted or referred to by the early Christian writers as the undoubted production of the apostle John. It is referred to by Polycarp in the beginning of the second century; it is quoted by Papias, and also by Irenaeus. Origen says, “John, beside the Gospel and Revelation, has left us an epistle of a few lines. Grant also a second, and a third; for all do not allow these to be genuine.” See Lardner, vi. 275, and Lueke, Einlei. i. Dionysius of Alexandria admitted the genuineness of John’s First Epistle; so also did Cyprian. All the three Epistles were received by Athanasius, by Cyril of Jerusalem, and by Epiphanius. Eusebius says, “Beside his Gospel, his First Epistle is universally acknowledged by those of the present time, and by the ancients; but the other two are contradicted.”
(b) It is found in the Old Syriac Version, probably made in the first century, though the Second and Third Epistles are not there.
(c) The genuineness of the First Epistle was never extensively called in question, and it was never reckoned among the doubtful or disputed epistles.
(d) It was rejected or doubted only by those who rejected his Gospel, and for the same reasons. Some small sects of those who were called ‘heretics,’ rejected all the writings of John, because they conflicted with their unique views; but this was confined to a small number of persons, and never affected the general belief of the church. See Lucke, Einlei. 9ff.
(2) There is strong internal evidence that the same person wrote this Epistle who was the author of the Gospel which bears the same name. The resemblance in the mode of expression, and in the topics referred to, are numerous, and at the same time are not such as would be made by one who was attemptinG to imitate the language of another. The allusions of this kind, moreover, are to what is unique in the Gospel of John, and not to what is common to that Gospel and the other three. There is nothing in the Epistle which would particularly remind us of the Gospel of Matthew, or Mark, or Luke; but it is impossible to read it and not be reminded constantly of the Gospel by John.
This language in the Epistle, as will be easily seen by a comparison, is such as the real author of the Gospel by John would be likely to use if he wrote an epistle. The passages referred to are in his style; they show that the mind of the author of both was turned to the same points, and those not such points as might be found in all writers, but such as indicated a unique mode of thinking. They are not such expressions as Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or Paul would have used in an epistle, but just such as we should expect from the writer of the Gospel of John. It must be clear to anyone that either the author of the Gospel was also the author of this Epistle, or that the author of the Epistle meant to imitate the author of the Gospel, and to leave the impression that the apostle John was the author. But there are several things which make it clear that this is not a forgery.
(a) The passages where the resemblance is found are not exact quotations, and are not such as a man would make if he designed to imitate another. They are rather such as the same man would use if he were writing twice on the same subject, and should express himself the second time without intending to what he had said the first.
(b) If it had been an intentional fraud or forgery, there would have been some allusion to the name or authority of the author; or, in other words, the author of the Epistle would have endeavored to sustain himself by some distinct reference to the apostle, or to his authority, or to his well-known characteristics as a teller of truth. See Jn. 19:35; Jn. 21:24. Compare 3Jo. 1:12. But nothing of the kind occurs in this Epistle. It is written without disclosing the name of the author, or the place where he lived, or the persons to whom it was addressed, and with no allusions to the Gospel, except such as show that the author thought in the same manner, and had the same things in his eye, and was intent on the same object. It is, throughout, the style and manner of one who felt that his method of expressing himself was so well understood, that he did not need even to mention his own name; as if, without anything further, it would be apparent from the very Epistle itself who had written it, and what right he had to speak. But this would be a device too refined for forgery. It bears all the marks of sincerity and truth.
Section 2. The Time and Place of Writing the Epistle
Almost nothing is known of the time and place of writing the Epistle, and nearly all that is said on this point is mere conjecture. Some recent critics have supposed that it was in fact a part of the Gospel, though in some way it afterward became detached from it; others, that it was sent “as an epistle” at the same time with the Gospel, and to the same persons. Some have supposed that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and some long after, when John was very aged; and these last suppose that they find evidences of the very advanced age of the author in the Epistle itself, in such characteristics as commonly mark the conversation and writings of an old man. An examination of these opinions may be found in Lucke, Einlei. Kap. 2; and in Hug, Introduction, pp. 456ff; pp. 739ff.
There are “very few” marks of time in the Epistle, and none that can determine the time of writing it with any degree of certainty. Nor is it of much importance that we should be able to determine it. The truths which it contains are, in the main, as applicable to one age as to another, though it cannot be denied (see Section 3) that the author had some prevailing forms of error in his eye. The only marks of time in the Epistle by which we can form any conjecture as to the period when it was written are the following:
(1) It was in what the author calls “the last time,” (ἐσχάτη ὥρα eschatē hōra,) 1Jo. 2:18. From this expression it might perhaps be inferred by some that it was just before the destruction of Jerusalem, or that the writer supposed that the end of the world was near. But nothing can be certainly determined from this expression in regard to the exact period when the Epistle was written. This phrase, as used in the Scriptures, denotes no more than, the last dispensation or economy of things, the dispensation under which the affairs of the world would be wound up, though that period might be in fact much longer than any one that had preceded it. See Isa. 2:2 note; Acts 2:17 note; Heb. 1:2 note. The object of the writer of this Epistle, in the passage referred to, 1Jo. 2:18, is merely to show that the closing dispensation of the world had actually come; that is, that there were certain things which it was known would mark that dispensation, which actually existed then, and by which it could be known that they were living under the last or closing period of the world.
(2) it is quite evident that the Epistle was composed after the Gospel by John was published. Of this no one can have any doubt who will compare the two together, or even the parallel passages referred to above, Section 1. The Gospel is manifestly the original; and it was evidently presumed by the writer of the Epistle that the Gospel was in the hands of those to whom he wrote. The statements there made are much more full; the circumstances in which many of the peculiar doctrines adverted to were first advanced are detailed; and the writer of the Epistle clearly supposed that all that was necessary in order to an understanding of these doctrines was to state them in the briefest manner, and almost by mere allusion. On this point Lucke well remarks, ‘the more brief and condensed expression of the same sentiment by the same author, especially in regard to peculiarities of idea and language, is always the later one; the more extended statement, the unfolding of the idea, is an evidence of an earlier composition,’ Einlei. p. 21. Yet while this is clear, it determines little or nothing about the time when the Epistle was written, for it is a matter of great uncertainty when the Gospel itself was composed. Wetstein supposes that it was soon after the ascension of the Saviour; Dr. Lardner that it was about the year 68 a.d.; and Mill and LeClerc that it was about the year 97 a.d. In this uncertainty, therefore, nothing can be determined absolutely from this circumstance in regard to the time of writing the Epistle.
(3) the only other note of time on which any reliance has been placed is the supposed fact that there were indications in the Epistle itself of the “great age” of the author, or evidences that he was an old man, and that consequently it was written near the close of the life of John, There is some evidence in the Epistle that it was written when the author was an old man, though none that he was in his “dotage,” as Eichhorn and some others have maintained. The evidence that he was even an old man is not positive, but there is a certain air and manner in the Epistle, in its repetitions, and its want of exact order, and especially in the style in which he addresses those to whom he wrote, as “little children” - (τεκνία teknia) - 1Jo. 2:1, 1Jo. 2:12, 1Jo. 2:28; 1Jo. 3:7, 1Jo. 3:18; 1Jo. 4:4; 1Jo. 5:21 - which would seem to be appropriate only to an aged man. Compare Lucke, Einlei. pp. 23, 25, and Stuart in Hug’s Introduction, pp. 732, 733.
As little is known about the place where the Epistle was written as about the time of its writing. There are no local references in it; no allusions to persons or opinions which can help us to determine where it was written. As John spent the latter part of his life, however, in Ephesus and its vicinity, there is no impropriety in supposing that it was written there. Nothing, in the interpretation of the Epistle, depends on our being able to ascertain the place of its composition. Hug supposes that it was written on Patmos, and was sent as a letter accompanying his Gospel, to the church at Ephesus. - Intro. Section 69. Lucke supposes that it was a circular epistle addressed to the churches in Asia Minor, and sent from Ephesus - Einlei. p. 27.
To whoM the Epistle was written is also unknown. It bears no inscription, as many of the other epistles of the New Testament do, and as even the Second and Third Epistles of John do, and there is no reference to any particular class of persons by which it can be determined for whom it was designed. Nor is it known why the name of the author was not attached to it, or why the persons for whom it was designed were not designated. All that can be determined on this subject from the Epistle itself is the following:
(1) It seems to have been addressed to no particular church, but rather to have been of a circular character, designed for the churches in a region of country where certain dangerous opinions prevailed.
(2) the author presumed that it would be known who wrote it, either by the style, or by the sentiments, or by its resemblance to his other writings, or by the messenger who bore it, so that it was unnecessary to affix his name to it.
(3) it appears to have been so composed as to be adapted to any people where those errors prevailed; and hence it was thought better to give it a general direction, that all might feel themselves to be addressed, than to designate any particular place or church.
There is, indeed, an ancient tradition that it was written to the “Parthians.” Since the time of Augustine this has been the uniform opinion in the Latin church. Venerable Bede remarks, that “many of the ecclesiastical writers, among whom is Athanasius, testify that the First Epistle of John was written to the Parthians.” Various conjectures have been made as to the origin of this opinion, and of the title which the Epistle bears in many of the Latin mss., (ad Parthos,) but none of them are satisfactory. No such title is found in the Epistle itself, nor is there any intimation in it to whom it was directed. Those who are disposed to examine the conjectures which have been made in regard to the origin of the title may consult Lucke, Enlei. p. 28ff. No reason can be assigned why it should have been sent to the Parthians, nor is there any sufficient evidence to suppose that it was.
Section 3. The Object of the Epistle
It is evident from the Epistle itself that there were some prevailing errors among those to whom it was written, and that one design of the writer was to counteract those errors. Yet very various opinions have been entertained in regard to the nature of the errors that were opposed, and the persons whom the writer had in his eye. Loeffler supposes that “Jews” and “Judaizers” are the persons opposed; Semler, Tittman, Knapp, and Lange suppose that they were “Judaizing Christians,” and especially “Ebionites,” or apostate Christians; Michaelis, Kleuker, Paulus, and others, suppose that the “Gnostics” are referred to; others, as Schmidt, Lucke, Vitringa, Bertholdt, Prof. Stuart, suppose that the “Docetoe” was the sect that was principally opposed.
It is impossible now to determine with accuracy to whom particularly the writer referred, nor could it be well done without a more accurate knowledge than we now have of the peculiarities of the errors which prevailed in the time of the author, and among the people to whom he wrote. All that we can learn on the subject that is certain, is to be derived from the Epistle itself; and there the intimations are few, but they are so clear that we may obtain some knowledge to guide us.
(1) the persons referred to had been professing Christians, and were now apostates from the faith. This is clear from 1Jo. 2:19, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ etc. They had been members of the church, but they had now become teachers of error.
(2) they were probably of the sect of the “Docetae;” or if that sect had not then formally sprung up, and was not organized, they held the opinions which they afterward embraced. This sect was a branch of the great Gnostic family; and the peculiarity of the opinion which they held was that Christ was only in appearance and seemingly, but not in reality, a man; that though he seemed to converse, to eat, to suffer, and to die, yet this was merely an “appearance” assumed by the Son of God for important purposes in regard to man. He had, according to this view, “no real humanity;” but though the Son of God had actually appeared in the world, yet all this was only an assumed form for the purpose of a manifestation to men. The opinions of the “Docetes” are thus represented by Gibbon: “They denied the truth and authenticity of the Gospels, as far as they relate the conception of Mary, the birth of Christ, and the thirty years which preceded the first exercise of his ministry. He first appeared on the banks of the Jordan in the form of perfect manhood; but it was a form only, and not a substance; a human figure created by the hand of Omnipotence to imitate the faculties and actions of a man, and to impose a perpetual illusion on the senses of his friends and enemies. Articulate sounds vibrated on the ears of his disciples; but the image which was impressed on their optic nerve, eluded the more stubborn evidence of the touch, and they enjoyed the spiritual, but not the corporeal presence of the Son of God. The rage of the Jews was idly wasted against an impassive phantom, and the mystic scenes of the passion and death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, were represented on the theater of Jerusalem for the benefit of mankind.” - Decl. and Fall, vol. iii. p. 245, Ed. New York, 1829. Compare vol. i. 440.
That these views began to prevail in the latter part of the first century there can be no reason to doubt; and there can be as little doubt that the author of this Epistle had this doctrine in his eye, and that he deemed it to be of special importance in this Epistle, as he had done in his Gospel, to show that the Son of God had actually “come in the flesh;” that he was truly and properly a man; that he lived and died in reality, and not in appearance only. Hence, the allusion to these views in such passages as the following: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life - that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you,” 1Jo. 1:1, 1Jo. 1:3. “Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know we the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ ‘is come in the flesh’ is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come,” 1Jo. 4:1-3. Compare 1Jo. 4:9, 1Jo. 4:14-15; 1Jo. 5:1, 1Jo. 5:6,1Jo. 5:10-12. John had written his Gospel to show that Jesus was the Christ, Jn. 20:31; he had furnished ample proof that he was divine, or was equal with the Father, Jn. 1:1-14, and also that he was truly a man, Jn. 15:25-27; but still it seemed proper to furnish a more unequivocal statement that he had actually appeared “in the flesh,” not in appearance only but in reality, and this purpose evidently was a leading design of this Epistle.
The main scope of the Epistle the author has himself stated in 1Jo. 5:13; “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God;” that is, that you may have just views of him, and exercise an intelligent faith.
In connection with this general design, and keeping in view the errors to which they to whom the Epistle was written were exposed, there are two leading trains of thought, though often intermingled, in the Epistle.
(a) The author treats of the doctrine that Jesus is the Christ, and,
(b) the importance of “love” as an evidence of being united to him, or of being true Christians.
Both these things are characteristic of John; they agree with the design for which he wrote his gospel, and they were in accordance with his uniqueness of mind as “the beloved disciple,” the disciple whose heart was full of love, and who made religion consist much in that.
The main characteristics of this Epistle are these:
(1) It is full of love. The writer dwells on it; places it in a variety of attitudes; enforces the duty of loving one another by a great variety of considerations, and shows that it is essential to the very nature of religion.
(2) the Epistle abounds with statements on the evidences of piety, or the characteristics of true religion.
The author seems to have felt that those to whom he wrote were in danger of embracing false notions of religion, and of being seduced by the abettors of error. He is therefore careful to lay down the characteristics of real piety, and to show in what it essentially consists. A large part of the Epistle is occupied with this, and there is perhaps no portion of the New Testament which one could study to more advantage who is desirous of ascertaining whether he himself is a true Christian. An anxious inquirer, a man who wishes to know what true religion is, could be directed to no portion of the New Testament where he would more readily find the instruction that he needs, than to this portion of the writings of the aged and experienced disciple whom Jesus loved. Nowhere else can a true Christian find a more clear statement of the nature of his religion, and of the evidences of real piety, than in this Epistle. — Barnes (abridged) TOC
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; John 1:1; John 1:14; 2Pet 1:16; Luke 24:39; John 20:27; 2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen [it], and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. John 1:9; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35-36; 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. Heb 9:14; 1Pet 1:19; Rev 1:5;
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1Kgs 8:46; 2Chr 6:36; Job 9:2; Ps 143:2; Prov 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Ps 32:5; Prov 28:13; 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. TOC
1 John 1
The testimony of the apostle concerning the reality of the person and doctrine of Christ; and the end for which he bears this testimony, 1Jo. 1:1-4. God is light, and none can have fellowship with him who do not walk in the light; those who walk in the light are cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Christ, 1Jo. 1:5-7. No man can say that he has not sinned; but God is faithful and just to cleanse from all unrighteousness them who confess their sins, 1Jo. 1:8-10.
1 John 1
This short chapter embraces the following subjects:
I. A strong affirmation that the Son of God, or the “Life,” had appeared in the flesh, 1Jo. 1:1-3. The evidence of this, the writer says, was that he had seen him, heard him, handled him; that is, he had had all the evidence which could be furnished by the senses. His declaration on this point he repeats, by putting the statement into a variety of forms, for he seems to regard it as essential to true religion.
II. He says that he wrote to them, in order that they might have fellowship with him in the belief of this truth, and might partake of the joy which flows from the doctrine that the Son of God has actually come in the flesh, 1Jo. 1:3-4.
III. He states that the sum and substance of the whole message which he had to bring to them was, that God is light, and that if we profess to have fellowship with him we must walk in the light, 1Jo. 1:5-10.
(a) In God is no darkness, no impurity, no sin, 1Jo. 1:5.
(b) If we are in darkness, if we are ignorant and sinful, it proves that we cannot have any fellowship with him, 1Jo. 1:6.
(c) If we walk in the light as he is in the light, if we partake of his character and spirit, then we shall have fellowship one with another, and we may believe that the blood of Christ will cleanse us from all sin, 1Jo. 1:7.
(d) Yet we are to guard ourselves from one point of danger, we are not to allow ourselves to feel that we have “no” sin. We are to bear with us the constant recollection that we are sinners, and are to permit that fact to produce its proper impression on our minds, 1Jo. 1:8, 1Jo. 1:10.
(e) Yet we are not to be desponding though we do feel this, but are to remember, that if we will truly confess our sins he will be found faithful to his promises, and just to the general arrangements of grace, by which our sins may be forgiven, 1Jo. 1:9. — Henry
1 John 1
Evidence given concerning Christ's person and excellency (1Jo. 1:1, 1Jo. 1:2). The knowledge thereof gives us communion with God and Christ (1Jo. 1:3), and joy (1Jo. 1:4). A description of God (1Jo. 1:5). How we are thereupon to walk (1Jo. 1:6). The benefit of such walking (1Jo. 1:7). The way to forgiveness (1Jo. 1:9). The evil of denying our sin (1Jo. 1:8-10). — Henry
1 John 1:1-4
That essential Good, that uncreated Excellence, which had been from the beginning, from eternity, as equal with the Father, and which at length appeared in human nature for the salvation of sinners, was the great subject concerning which the apostle wrote to his brethren. The apostles had seen Him while they witnessed his wisdom and holiness, his miracles, and love and mercy, during some years, till they saw him crucified for sinners, and afterwards risen from the dead. They touched him, so as to have full proof of his resurrection. This Divine Person, the Word of life, the Word of God, appeared in human nature, that he might be the Author and Giver of eternal life to mankind, through the redemption of his blood, and the influence of his new-creating Spirit. The apostles declared what they had seen and heard, that believers might share their comforts and everlasting advantages. They had free access to God the Father. They had a happy experience of the truth in their souls, and showed its excellence in their lives. This communion of believers with the Father and the Son, is begun and kept up by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The benefits Christ bestows, are not like the scanty possessions of the world, causing jealousies in others; but the joy and happiness of communion with God is all-sufficient, so that any number may partake of it; and all who are warranted to say, that truly their fellowship is with the Father, will desire to lead others to partake of the same blessedness.
1 John 1:5-10
A message from the Lord Jesus, the Word of life, the eternal Word, we should all gladly receive. The great God should be represented to this dark world, as pure and perfect light. As this is the nature of God, his doctrines and precepts must be such. And as his perfect happiness cannot be separated from his perfect holiness, so our happiness will be in proportion to our being made holy. To walk in darkness, is to live and act against religion. God holds no heavenly fellowship or intercourse with unholy souls. There is no truth in their profession; their practice shows its folly and falsehood. The eternal Life, the eternal Son, put on flesh and blood, and died to wash us from our sins in his own blood, and procures for us the sacred influences by which sin is to be subdued more and more, till it is quite done away. While the necessity of a holy walk is insisted upon, as the effect and evidence of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, the opposite error of self-righteous pride is guarded against with equal care. All who walk near to God, in holiness and righteousness, are sensible that their best days and duties are mixed with sin. God has given testimony to the sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient, effectual Sacrifice for sin, needed in all ages; and the sinfulness of believers themselves is shown, by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and to apply by faith to the blood of that Sacrifice. Let us plead guilty before God, be humble, and willing to know the worst of our case. Let us honestly confess all our sins in their full extent, relying wholly on his mercy and truth through the righteousness of Christ, for a free and full forgiveness, and our deliverance from the power and practice of sin. — MHCC
1 John 1:1-4
The apostle omits his name and character (as also the author to the Hebrews does) either out of humility, or as being willing that the Christian reader should be swayed by the light and weight of the things written rather than by the name that might recommend them. And so he begins,
I. With an account or character of the Mediator's person. He is the great subject of the gospel, the foundation and object of our faith and hope, the bond and cement that unite us unto God. He should be well known; and he is represented here, 1. As the Word of life, 1Jo. 1:1. In the gospel these two are disjoined, and he is called first the Word, Jn. 1:1, and afterwards Life, intimating, withal, that he is intellectual life. In him was life, and that life was (efficiently and objectively) the light of men, Jn. 1:4. Here both are conjoined: The Word of life, the vital Word. In that he is the Word, it is intimated that he is the Word of some person or other; and that is God, even the Father. He is the Word of God, and so he is intimated to issue from the Father, as truly (though not in the same manner) as a word (or speech, which is a train of words) from a speaker. But he is not a mere vocal word, a bare logos prophorikos, but a vital one: the Word of life, the living word; and thereupon, 1. As eternal life. His duration shows his excellency. He was from eternity; and so is, in scripture-account, necessary, essential, uncreated life. That the apostle speaks of his eternity, à parte ante (as they say) and as from everlasting, seems evident in that he speaks of him as he was in and from the beginning; when he was then with the Father, before his manifestation to us, yea, before the making of all things that were make; as Jn. 1:2, Jn. 1:3. So that he is the eternal, vital, intellectual Word of the eternal living Father. 3. As life manifested (1Jo. 1:2), manifested in the flesh, manifested to us. The eternal life would assume mortality, would put on flesh and blood (in the entire human nature), and so dwell among us and converse with us, Jn. 1:14. Here were condescension and kindness indeed, that eternal life (a person of eternal essential life) should come to visit mortals, and to procure eternal life for them, and then confer it on them!
II. With the evidences and convictive assurances that the apostle and his brethren had of the Mediator's presence and converse in this world. There were sufficient demonstrations of the reality of his abode here, and of the excellency and dignity of his person in the way of his manifestation. The life, the word of life, the eternal life, as such, could not be seen and felt; but the life manifested might be, and was so. The life was clothed with flesh, put on the state and habit of abased human nature, and as such gave sensible proof of its existence and transactions here. The divine life, or Word incarnate, presented and evinced itself to the very senses of the apostles. As, 1. To their ears: That which we have heard, 1Jo. 1:1, 1Jo. 1:3. The life assumed a mouth and tongue, that he might utter words of life. The apostles not only heard of him, but they heard him himself. Above three years might they attend his ministry, be auditors of his public sermons and private expositions (for he expounded them in his house), and be charmed with the words of him who spoke as never man spoke before or since. The divine word would employ the ear, and the ear should be devoted to the word of life. And it was meet that those who were to be his representatives and imitators to the world should be personally acquainted with his ministrations. 2. To their eyes: That which we have seen with our eyes, 1Jo. 1:1-3. The Word would become visible, would not only be heard, but seen, seen publicly, privately, at a distance and at nearest approach, which may be intimated in the expression, with our eyes - with all the use and exercise that we could make of our eyes. We saw him in his life and ministry, saw him in his transfiguration on the mount, hanging, bleeding, dying, and dead, upon the cross, and we saw him after his return from the grave and resurrection from the dead. His apostles must be eye-witnesses as well as ear-witnesses of him. Wherefore, of these men that have accompanied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection, Acts 1:21, Acts 1:22. And we were eye-witnesses of his majesty, 2Pe. 1:16. 3. To their internal sense, to the eyes of their mind; for so (possibly) may the next clause be interpreted: Which we have looked upon. This may be distinguished from the foregoing perception, seeing with the eyes; and may be the same with what the apostle says in his gospel (Jn. 1:14), And we beheld - etheasametha, his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father. The word is not applied to the immediate object of the eye, but to that which was rationally collected from what they saw. “What we have well discerned, contemplated, and viewed, what we have well known of this Word of life, we report to you.” The senses are to be the informers of the mind. 4. To their hands and sense of feeling: And our hands have handled (touched and felt) of the Word of life. This surely refers to the full conviction our Lord afforded his apostles of the truth, reality, solidity, and organization of his body, after his resurrection from the dead. When he showed them his hands and his side, it is probable that he gave them leave to touch him; at least, he knew of Thomas's unbelief, and his professed resolution too not to believe, till he had found and felt the places and signatures of the wounds by which he died. Accordingly at the next congress he called Thomas, in the presence of the rest, to satisfy the very curiosity of his unbelief. And probably others of them did so too. Our hands have handled of the Word of life. The invisible life and Word was no despiser of the testimony of sense. Sense, in its place and sphere, is a means that God has appointed, and the Lord Christ has employed, for our information. Our Lord took care to satisfy (as far as might be) all the senses of his apostles, that they might be the more authentic witnesses of him to the world. Those that apply all this to the hearing of the gospel lose the variety of sensations here mentioned, and the propriety of the expressions, as well as the reason of their inculcation and repetition here: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo. 1:3. The apostles could not be deceived in such long and various exercise of their sense. Sense must minister to reason and judgment; and reason and judgment must minister to the reception of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. The rejection of the Christian revelation is at last resolved into the rejection of sense itself. He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not those who had seen him after he had risen, Mark 16:14.
III. With a solemn assertion and attestation of these grounds and evidences of the Christian truth and doctrine. The apostles publish these assurances for our satisfaction: We bear witness, and show unto you, 1Jo. 1:2. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo. 1:3. It became the apostles to open to the disciples the evidence by which they were led, the reasons by which they were constrained to proclaim and propagate the Christian doctrine in the world. Wisdom and integrity obliged them to demonstrate that it was not either private fancy or a cunningly-devised fable that they presented to the world. Evident truth would open their mouths, and force a public profession. We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard, Acts 4:20. It concerned the disciples to be well assured of the truth of the institution they had embraced. They should see the evidences of their holy religion. It fears not the light, nor the most judicious examination. It is able to afford rational conviction and solid persuasion of mind and conscience. I would that you knew what great conflict (or concern of mind) I have for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts might be knit together in love, and unto all riches of full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ, Col. 2:1, Col. 2:2.
IV. With the reason of the apostle's exhibiting and asserting this summary of sacred faith, and this breviate of evidence attending it. This reason is twofold: -
1. That the believers of it may be advanced to the same happiness with them (with the apostles themselves): That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you may have fellowship with us, 1Jo. 1:3. The apostle means not personal fellowship nor consociation in the same church-administrations, but such as is consistent with personal distance from each other. It is communion with heaven, and in blessings that come thence and tend thither. “This we declare and testify, that you may share with us in our privileges and happiness.” Gospel spirits (or those that are made happy by gospel grace) would fain have others happy too. We see, also, there is a fellowship or communion that runs through the whole church of God. There may be some personal distinctions and peculiarities, but there is a communion (or common participation of privilege and dignity) belonging to all saints, from the highest apostle to the lowest believer. As there is the same precious faith, there are the same precious promises dignifying and crowning that faith and the same precious blessings and glories enriching and filling those promises. Now that believers may be ambitious of this communion, that they may be instigated to retain and hold fast the faith that is the means of such communion, that the apostles also may manifest their love to the disciples in assisting them to the same communion with themselves, they indicate what it is and where it is: And truly our fellowship (or communion) is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We have communion with the Father, and with the Son of the Father (as 2Jo. 1:3, he is most emphatically styled) in our happy relation to them, in our receiving heavenly blessings from them, and in our spiritual converse with them. We have now such supernatural conversation with God and the Lord Christ as is an earnest and foretaste of our everlasting abode with them, and enjoyment of them, in the heavenly glory. See to what the gospel revelation tends - to advance us far above sin and earth and to carry us to blessed communion with the Father and the Son. See for what end the eternal life was made flesh - that he might advance us to eternal life in communion with the Father and himself. See how far those live beneath the dignity, use, and end of the Christian faith and institution, who have not spiritual blessed communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
2. That believers may be enlarged and advanced in holy joy: And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full, 1Jo. 1:4. The gospel dispensation is not properly a dispensation of fear, sorrow, and dread, but of peace and joy. Terror and astonishment may well attend mount Sinai, but exultation and joy mount Zion, where appears the eternal Word, the eternal life, manifested in our flesh. The mystery of the Christian religion is directly calculated for the joy of mortals. It should be joy to us that the eternal Son should come to seek and save us, that he has made a full atonement for our sins, that he has conquered sin and death and hell, that he lives as our Intercessor and Advocate with the Father, and that he will come again to perfect and glorify his persevering believers. And therefore those live beneath the use and end of the Christian revelation who are not filled with spiritual joy. Believers should rejoice in their happy relation to God, as his sons and heirs, his beloved and adopted, - in their happy relation to the Son of the Father, as being members of his beloved body, and coheirs with himself, - in the pardon of their sins, the sanctification of their natures, the adoption of their persons, and the prospect of grace and glory that will be revealed at the return of their Lord and head from heaven. Were they confirmed in their holy faith, how would they rejoice! The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost, Acts 13:52.
1 John 1:5-7
The apostle, having declared the truth and dignity of the author of the gospel, brings a message or report from him, from which a just conclusion is to be drawn for the consideration and conviction of the professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this glorious gospel.
I. Here is the message or report that the apostle avers to come from the Lord Jesus: This then is the message which we have heard of him (1Jo. 1:5), of his Son Jesus Christ. As he was the immediate sender of the apostles, so he is the principal person spoken of in the preceding context, and the next antecedent also to whom the pronoun him can relate. The apostles and apostolical ministers are the messengers of the Lord Jesus; it is their honour, the chief they pretend to, to bring his mind and messages to the world and to the churches. This is the wisdom and present dispensation of the Lord Jesus, to send his messages to us by persons like ourselves. He that put on human nature will honour earthen vessels. It was the ambition of the apostles to be found faithful, and faithfully to deliver the errands and messages they had received. What was communicated to them they were solicitous to impart: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you. A message from the Word of life, from the eternal Word, we should gladly receive: and the present one is this (relating to the nature of God whom we are to serve, and with whom we should covet all indulged communion) - That God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, 1Jo. 1:5. This report asserts the excellency of the divine nature. He is all that beauty and perfection that can be represented to us by light. He is a self-active uncompounded spirituality, purity, wisdom, holiness, and glory. And then the absoluteness and fulness of that excellency and perfection. There is no defect or imperfection, no mixture of any thing alien or contrary to absolute excellency, no mutability nor capacity of any decay in him: In him is no darkness at all, 1Jo. 1:5. Or this report may more immediately relate to what is usually called the moral perfection of the divine nature, what we are to imitate, or what is more directly to influence us in our gospel work. And so it will comprehend the holiness of God, the absolute purity of his nature and will, his penetrative knowledge (particularly of hearts), his jealousy and injustice, which burn a a most bright and vehement flame. It is meet that to this dark world the great God should be represented as pure and perfect light. It is the Lord Jesus that best of all opens to us the name and nature of the unsearchable God: The only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, the same hath declared him. It is the prerogative of the Christian revelation to bring us the most noble, the most august and agreeable account of the blessed God, such as is most suitable to the light of reason and what is demonstrable thereby, most suitable to the magnificence of his works round about us, and to the nature and office of him that is the supreme administrator, governor, and judge of the world. What more (relating to and comprehensive of all such perfection) could be included in one word than in this, God is light, and in him is no darkness at all? Then,
II. There is a just conclusion to be drawn from this message and report, and that for the consideration and conviction of professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this gospel. This conclusion issues into two branches: - 1. For the conviction of such professors as have no true fellowship with God: If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. It is known that to walk, in scripture account, is to order and frame the course and actions of the moral life, that is, of the life so far as it is capable of subjection to the divine law. To walk in darkness is to live and act according to such ignorance, error, and erroneous practice, as are contrary to the fundamental dictates of our holy religion. Now there may be those who may pretend to great attainments and enjoyments in religion; they may profess to have communion with God; and yet their lives may be irreligious, immoral, and impure. To such the apostle would not fear to give the lie: They lie, and do not the truth. They belie God; for he holds no heavenly fellowship or intercourse with unholy souls. What communion hath light with darkness? They belie themselves, or lie concerning themselves; for they have no such communications from God nor accesses to him. There is no truth in their profession nor in their practice, or their practice gives their profession and pretences the lie, and demonstrates the folly and falsehood of them. 2. For the conviction and consequent satisfaction of those that are near to God: But, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. As the blessed God is the eternal boundless light, and the Mediator is, from him, the light of the world, so the Christian institution is the great luminary that appears in our sphere, and shines here below. A conformity to this in spirit and practice demonstrates fellowship or communion with God. Those that so walk show that they know God, that they have received of the Spirit of God, and that the divine impress or image is stamped upon their souls. Then we have fellowship one with another, they with us and we with them, and both with God, in his blessed or beatific communications to us. And this is one of those beatific communications to us - that his Son's blood or death is applied or imputed to us: The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. The eternal life, the eternal Son, hath put on flesh and blood, and so became Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ hath shed his blood for us, or died to wash us from our sins in his own blood. His blood applied to us discharges us from the guilt of all sin, both original and actual, inherent and committed: and so far we stand righteous in his sight; and not only so, but his blood procures for us those sacred influences by which sin is to be subdued more and more, till it is quite abolished, Gal. 3:13, Gal. 3:14.
1 John 1:8-10
Here, I. The apostle, having supposed that even those of this heavenly communion have yet their sin, proceeds here to justify that supposition, and this he does by showing the dreadful consequences of denying it, and that in two particulars: - 1. If we say, We have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, 1Jo. 1:8. We must beware of deceiving ourselves in denying or excusing our sins. The more we see them the more we shall esteem and value the remedy. If we deny them, the truth is not in us, either the truth that is contrary to such denial (we lie in denying our sin), or the truth of religion, is not in us. The Christian religion is the religion of sinners, of such as have sinned, and in whom sin in some measure still dwells. The Christian life is a life of continued repentance, humiliation for and mortification of sin, of continual faith in, thankfulness for, and love to the Redeemer, and hopeful joyful expectation of a day of glorious redemption, in which the believer shall be fully and finally acquitted, and sin abolished for ever. 2. If we say, We have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us, 1Jo. 1:10. The denial of our sin not only deceives ourselves, but reflects dishonour upon God. It challenges his veracity. He has abundantly testified of, and testified against, the sin of the world. And the Lord said in his heart (determined thus with himself), I will not again curse the ground (as he had then lately done) for man's sake; for (or, with the learned bishop Patrick, though) the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, Gen. 8:21. But God has given his testimony to the continued sin and sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient effectual sacrifice for sin, that will be needed in all ages, and to the continued sinfulness of believers themselves by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and apply themselves by faith to the blood of that sacrifice. And therefore, if we say either that we have not sinned or do not yet sin, the word of God is not in us, neither in our minds, as to the acquaintance we should have with it, nor in our hearts, as to the practical influence it should have upon us.
II. The apostle then instructs the believer in the way to the continued pardon of his sin. Here we have, 1. His duty in order thereto: If we confess our sins, 1Jo. 1:9. Penitent confession and acknowledgment of sin are the believer's business, and the means of his deliverance from his guilt. And, 2. His encouragement thereto, and assurance of the happy issue. This is the veracity, righteousness, and clemency of God, to whom he makes such confession: He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1Jo. 1:9. God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors. He is just to himself and his glory who has provided such a sacrifice, by which his righteousness is declared in the justification of sinners. He is just to his Son who has not only sent him for such service, but promised to him that those who come through him shall be forgiven on his account. By his knowledge (by the believing apprehension of him) shall my righteous servant justify many, Isa. 53:11. He is clement and gracious also, and so will forgive, to the contrite confessor, all his sins, cleanse him from the guilt of all unrighteousness, and in due time deliver him from the power and practice of it. — Henry
1Jn. 1:1: The Lord Jesus whom John testified of was not a phantom or an unapproachable presence, but was seen, looked upon, and touched. Though being supremely holy and powerful, as God manifest in the flesh, (1Tim. 3:16) He was not only tangible but approachable by all. As the church we are to manifest Him to the world. May we be able to do as we can and should by God's grace.
See New Testament Table of Contents, and please read the Introductory Notes here