CHAPTERS THIRTY-ONE to FORTY.
XXX1, ULTIMATE CONDITION OF THE DIVINE FELLOWSHIPLOVE. LOVE IS OF GODGOD IS LOVE.
"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." - 1 John 4: 7-10.
Light, Righteousness, Love - these are the three conditions or elements of that fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ in which John would have us to be joint partakers with himself and the other apostles (1: 3). Of the three, Light and Righteousness have been the heads, or leading thoughts, of the two previous parts of this Exposition (3-17: and 18-30) Love is the ruling idea in the third part (31-34); love being the end to which the others are means; the consummation of the fellowship being in love. Hence there has been some anticipation of this last theme, Love, in the two preceding ones, Light and Righteousness; especially in the latter. For the righteousness meant being chiefly subjective, denoting singleness of eye, uprightness, honesty of purpose, a guileless spirit, truth in the inward parts, necessarily refers to the matters about which it is objectively exercised, the manner of dealing with God in light, and with our fellow-men in love, which it prompts and regulates. Hence that second part, having Righteousness for its keynote, carries on the line of thought begun in the first part under the idea of Light, and encroaches on the line of thought in the third, which brings out the crowning aspect of the whole .in Love. Still it is manifestly Love that is now purely and simply the reigning principle.
"Beloved, let us love one another." The distinction of the personal pronouns is here dropped. It was proper when the trying of the spirits by a sort of doctrinal test was the matter in hand. John must then speak of himself and his fellow-teachers in the first person, and to us in the second. Now, however, when love is the test, all are one. It is the trial of the spirits that still is on hand, in pursuance of the intimation formerly given (3: 24) "Hereby we know that God abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us." That intimation is connected with the double commandment in the previous verse (23), "that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he has given us commandment." The question is about assurance; our "assuring our hearts before God;" our "having confidence toward God ;" our "having boldness in the day of judgment" (3: 19, 21; and 4: 17). The indispensable condition of this confidence is righteousness, or "our own hearts not condemning us" of insincerity or guile (3: 20, 21). But though that is an essential preliminary, it is not itself the ground or warrant of the confidence. The real ground or warrant is "our abiding in God and his abiding in us" (3: 54). But how is this mutual abiding of us in God and of God in us to be ascertained and verified, to the satisfaction of our own consciousness, as a trustworthy ground and warrant of assured confidence before God? On our part there is "the keeping of his commandments;" his double "commandment, to believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another in obedience to him." On his part, there is "his giving us the Spirit." And the last is tested by the first. His giving us the Spirit is not to be lightly taken for granted. There must be a trial; and the trial is in accordance with the twofold commandment, to believe and to love. It is first a trial turning upon the confession or denial that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (4: 1-6). It is next a trial turning on the possession or the want of love (4: 7-12). And the result of the trial is announced: "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit" (4: 13) - almost in the same terms in which the trial is, as it were, instituted:" Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us" (3: 24).
Thus it plainly appears that these two things, - righteousness in owning the true doctrine concerning Christ and righteousness in mutual brotherly love, - are closely bound together. And thus, by a natural and simple transition, the discourse passes from the first of these topics to the second: "Beloved, let us love one another."
This exhortation is here enforced both positively and negatively ; - positively, by the statement that "love is of God," and therefore "every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (ver. 7) ; - negatively, by the opposite statement: "he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (ver. 8).
I. "Love is of God." This does not mean merely that love comes from God, and has its source in God; that he is the author or creator of it. All created things are of God, for by him all things were made, and on him they all depend. But love is not a created thing. No doubt, in the heart even of an unfallen intelligence, it may be said to be created, inasmuch as the being in whose heart it dwells is himself created. And in the heart of a fallen man it is in that sense a new creation; for he himself must be created anew or born again if he is to love. Still, the love to which he is created anew or born again is not itself created. It is not of God, as made by him; as a new thing called into existence by the fiat of his word.
In this respect love differs from light. It is not asserted of love as of light: And God said, Let there be love, and there was love. In a higher sense than that, I apprehend, it is true that love, wherever it exists, is of God. It is communicated, not created; begotten, one might say, not made. It is a divine property, a divine affection. And it is of its essence to be communicative and begetting; to communicate itself, and, as it were, beget its own likeness. "Love is of God." It is not merely of God, as every good gift is of God. It is of God, as being his own property, his own affection, his own love. It is, wherever it is found, the very love wherewith God loveth. If it is found in me, it is my loving with the very love with which God loves; it is my loving with a divine love, a love that is thus emphatically of God. Hence the sufficiency and certainty of the test: "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."
I. None but one born of God can thus love, with the love which, in this sense, is of God; therefore one who so loves must needs be one who is born of God. This is almost selfevident. If the love in question is not, like any of the constituent parts of the created universe, whether of matter or of mind, a thing made, called into being out of nothing, or a thing made over again, formed out of chaos into order; but part and parcel of the Divine Being himself, of his very essence: then its existence in me cannot be explained on any other supposition than that of my being born of him; born of him too in a very close and intimate manner; in a manner implying that I become "partaker of his nature;" "his seed abiding in me." I doubt, therefore, if this love formed an element in that image of God in which man was originally created. I take it to be something more. It is communicated, - it is of God in such a sense that it can be communicated, - not by creation, but only by generation. It is not as a creature that I can have it, in virtue of any mere creative fiat or let it be. I can have it only as a Son - adopted? Nay, not adopted only, but begotten. Many excellent endowments I may have as a mere creature; endowments reflecting the likeness of Gods own attributes; intelligence resembling his; a sense of right and wrong resembling his; benevolence and kindliness resembling his. As to these, God has merely, in creating me, or creating me anew, to speak and it is done. But this love is something quite peculiar. It is something, as I take it, different from the love enjoined in the "royal law," - "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." It is the very love with which the Father loves, the love manifested in his not sparing his beloved Son. It is the very love with which the Son loves, the love proved by his laying down his life for us. That is the love, the love of the "new commandment," which is here in question. Respecting that love I think it may be said that God alone is originally capable of it. Others are capable of it, only in so far as God communicates himself to them; not by a process of mere creative power; but by begetting them into participation with himself in his own very life.
There is one thus eternally begotten; begotten before all worlds; the eternal Son of the everlasting Father. He is God of God; very God of very God; light of light ;" nay, rather, love of love. He is the manifestation of this love which is of God - "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." It shines forth in him; not through him, or by him, merely; but in him. God sent his Son to manifest this love. How? Evidently by his showing that he shared it; approving himself to be born of God by himself loving with the love which is of God. God sent his only begotten Son into the world to give us a specimen, an illustration, perhaps the only possible perfect specimen, the only possible perfect illlustration, of "the love which is of God." None but his only begotten Son could be sent to manifest it; for none but he could fully feel it. No created being, not the highest of the elect and unfallen angels, even when perfected .by their trial, could adequately feel it. And therefore none of them Could manifest it. But the only begotten Son, dwelling from everlasting in the Fathers bosom, of one nature with the Father, loves with "the love which is of God." Therefore he is sent to manifest that love. He is sent to manifest a love essentially different from any love of which we are naturally capable, or of which we can naturally form any conception, a love peculiarly and distinctively divine. Now, as it is his being the only begotten Son of the Father that qualifies him for being sent to manifest the love which is thus "of God," inasmuch as it is that which ensures his feeling it, it is that alone which makes him capable of it; so it is only your being in the Son, being born of God by the Spirit, that can make you capable of this love which is of God, and can ensure your feeling it. None can love with that love which is of God, none can love as God loves, save only first his only begotten Son, whom on that very account he sends to manifest this love, and then you who in him receive the adoption of sons, and are begotten by the Spirit into participation with the Son in his filial oneness and sympathy with the Father. Therefore, if we love one another with that love which is of God, if we love as God loves, we must be born of God. We must have become his children, his sons; begotten of him in time, through believing union with the Son who is begotten of him from eternity; the Spirit making us, as thus born of God, in the only begotten Son, really "partakers," in respect of this love, "of the divine nature."
2. Being born of God implies knowing God. This consideration still further explains and illustrates the point before us : - " Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." He loves with Gods own love, because, being born of God, he knows God. He knows God, as none but one born of God can know him. It is a knowledge of God altogether peculiar; belonging exclusively to the relation constituted by, and realised in, your being born of God. It is a kind of knowledge of God of which, as I think, one who is simply a creature of Gods hand, a subject of his moral administration, however intelligent and however informed, is not really capable. He is not in a condition, he lacks the capacity, to take it in. He must be a child, a son, born of God, if he is to have it. For, in a word, it is the very knowledge of God which his Son has; his only begotten Son, whom he sent into the world to manifest his love. He, being of God, as his only begotten Son, knows God; he, and he alone. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1: 18). "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal him" (Matt. 11: 57). It is as his only begotten Son that Jesus knows God. And it is as born of God that you know God; know him even as his only begotten Son knows him- He, as the only begotten Son, knows God; he knows the love which is of God, of what sort it is; he has himself, from everlasting, been the object of it; he has been ever experiencing it. All that is in the great heart of God the Father, the only begotten Son knows intimately, and experimentally, if I may dare to say so. With a filial knowledge he knows God. With filial insight and filial sympathy, he knows all the overflowing of that love which is of God as it gushes forth in deep, full flood, from everlasting, first towards himself, and then through him towards the family of man; according to his own glorious word, "The Lord possessed ms in the beginning of his ways. When he appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was with him as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable parts of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. 8: 22-31).
Now it is with the same knowledge with which he, as the only begotten Son, knows God, that you, as born of God, know him; with a knowledge the same in kind, however far short it may come in measure or degree. Yours, like his, is a filial knowledge; implying filial insight and filial sympathy. Your being born of God makes you capable of this knowledge, and places you in the only position in which you can have it. Born of God, you occupy the very filial position that he who is the only begotten Son occupies; you have the very filial heart that he has. You are born of the very Spirit of which he, in your nature, was born. You have in you the very Spirit that dwelt, not by measure, in him. Thus, born of God, you are one with him who is his only begotten Son. To you as to him, to you in him, God is known, - and the love which is of God is known, - by close personal acquaintance; by blessed personal experience. How God loves; how it is the manner of God to love; what sort of love his is; love going out of self; love sacrificing self; love imparting and communicating self; love unsought and unbought; unconditional and unreserved - what kind of being, in respect of love, God is; you who are born of God know, even as the only begotten Son knows. Therefore you can love with that "love which is of God," even as he loves with that love which is of God. He and you alone can so love; for he that loves as God loves must needs be one who "is born of God and knoweth God."
II. The opposite statement follows as a matter of course : - " He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." The connecting link here is all-important; it is "knowing God;" all turns on that. Every one that loveth knoweth God: he that loveth not knoweth not God; these are the antagonist statements. The stress of the contrast is made to rest on knowing or not knowing God; he who loveth knoweth God, being born of him; "he who loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love."
"God is love;" therefore, not to love is not to know God. That is a very clear and simple inference. But why this change? Why is it said, on the first or positive side of the dilemma, "Love is of God;" and on the second or negative side of it, "God is love"? Simply because the question now turns on knowing God; not anything of God, but God himself. To love with the love which is of God, is to know God; not to love thus, is not to know God; for God is love. In this view, the proposition, "God is love," really applies to both of the alternative ways of putting the case; the positive and the negative alike. It assigns the reason why it may be said, on the one hand, "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God;" and why it may also be said, on the other hand, "He that loveth not knoweth not God."
"God is love." It is a necessity of his nature, it is his very nature, to love. He cannot exist without loving. He cannot but love. He is, he has ever been, love. From all eternity, from before all worlds, God is love. Love never is or can be, never was or could be, absent from his being. He never is or can be God, - he never was or could be God, - without being also love; without loving. I say without loving; actually loving.
For this love, which is thus identified with his very being, is not dormant or quiescent, potential merely, in posse, and not in esse. Love in God never is, never has been, like a latent germ, needing outward influences to make it spring up; or like a slumbering power, waiting for occasions to call it forth. If it were so, it could not truly be said that in himself, in his very manner of being, "God is love." It is, it has ever been, active, forth-going, self-manifesting, self-communicating. It is, it has ever been, in exercise. Before creation it is so. In the bosom of the everlasting Father is his eternal, only begotten Son; and with the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. So "God is love" before all creation; love in exercise; love not possible merely but actual; love forth-going and communicative of itself; from the Father, the fountain of deity, to the Son; from the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit. In creation, this love is seen forth-going and communicative in a new way towards new objects. The love which from everlasting has been in exercise evermore within the mysterious circle of the Three-One God; which especially has been evermore passing from the Father to his only-begotten Son; now seeks and finds new means of manifesting itself among created beings. It is still really the same love. For all creation is the manifestation of Gods love to his only begotten Son. He "made all things by him and for him." He has "appointed him to be heir of all things." Specially when that wondrous council was held in heaven from whence issued the decree, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," this love was manifested. The only begotten Son is to be the first born among many brethren. Not, however, by creation merely is that end to be reached; another manifestation of this same love must intervene. Created innocence is not enough to secure the issue on which Gods heart of love is set; for created innocence may and does give way. Sin enters, and death by sin; all sin, and all are doomed. Still "God is love;" the same love as ever. And "in this now is manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
It is, I say, the same love still; the love which from everlasting goes forth from God to his only begotten Son dwelling in his bosom, the love which in the beginning of creation goes forth in Gods making all things by and for his only begotten Son, and especially making godlike men to be his brethren; it is the very same love that goes forth in Gods sending his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him; sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. It is wondrous love; love passing knowledge; love of which God alone is capable; love proper to his great heart alone. It is not such love as we may feel to him; for "herein is love, not that we have loved him, but that he has loved us." He has loved us with the very love which is his own essential nature; which has been going forth from everlasting, self-manifesting, self-communicating, from the Father to his only begotten Son, by the Spirit; and has been going forth in time, through his only begotten Son, by the same Spirit, to the world of creation at first, and now also to the world that is to be saved. This is its crowning glory; the saving mission from God of his only begotten Son. It is consummated in our "living through him," through his "being the propitiation for our sins." For now, effectual atonement being made for our guilt, our redemption and reconciliation being righteously and therefore surely effected by his being the propitiation for our sins; we, living through him, are his brethren indeed. The love wherewith God loves him dwells in us. God loves us even as he loves him. And so at last the love which, from all eternity, it is of the very nature of Gods essential being to feel and exercise, finds its full fruition in the "mighty multitude of all kindreds, and peoples, and nations, and tongues, who stand before the throne and give glory to him who sitteth thereon and to the Lamb for ever and ever." If this is anything like a true account of the sense in which, and the effect to which, it is said that "God is love," the statement becomes almost axiomatic - "He that loveth not knoweth not God." The fact of his not loving plainly proves that he knows not God; and his not knowing God explains and accounts for the fact of his not loving. How indeed can he know God; know him as being love? To know God thus, as being love, implies some measure of congeniality, sympathy, and fellowship. I cannot so know him if there is still a great gulf between him and me; between his heart and my heart ; his nature and my nature. There must be community of heart and nature between him and me; I must be "born of God." We thus come back to the previous positive declaration:
"Love is of God; and he that loveth is born of God and knoweth God." And we see what manner of love it is that must be the test of our being born of God, how it is that we are to love one another. We are to love with the love which is of God, the love which is his nature. We are to love as he loves; to love all whom he loves; and to love them with his own love. First and chiefly, we are to love, as he loves his only begotten Son. Our thus loving him is one primary criterion and touchstone of our being born of God. So he himself intimates when he says to the Jews - "If God were your Father ye would love me" (John 8: 42). There would be this feature of family resemblance, this community of heart and nature, between him whom you claim as your Father and you who say you are his children, that you would love me because he loves me, and love me as he loves me - love me as sent by him to be the Saviour of the world. Hence the force of that awful apostolic denunciation ; "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha."
Then we are to love, as God loves it, and because God loves it, the world which he sent his Son to save. We are to love thus one another; with what intensity of longing, like Gods own longing and yearning, for one anothers salvation, that all may turn and live; and with what intensity of delight in all who are really in Christ, who "live through him," and live so as to be indeed our brethren and his, ours because they are his!
XXXII. LOVE GOING FORTH TOWARDS WHAT IS SEEN.
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." - 1 John 4: 10-12.
THERE is very close and compressed reasoning here. The steps in the process, the links in the chain, are not all patent or obvious on the surface; some intermediate bonds of connection need to be supplied. Thus, the assertion (ver. 12), "No man hath seen God at any time," seems intended to answer by anticipation a question that might be put, as to the omission of love to God in the preceding verse (ver. 11). Otherwise it is, so far as one can see, irrelevant. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love " - God - that is what we might naturally expect to be the logical inference; but it is not so; it is "we ought also to love one another." And why? "Because no man hath seen God at any time." Therefore, love to one another is made the test of "God dwelling in us." And it is so, all the rather, because it is "the perfecting of his love in us" (ver. 12).
Two general principles are here indicated as regards this divine love;
I. It must have a visible object; or, in other words, it must be real and practical, and not merely ideal and sentimental.
II. It is thus not only proved but perfected; it has its free course and is consummated.
I. Love, if it is to be a sufficient and satisfactory test of our "knowing God and being born of God," must have a visible object; it cannot otherwise be verified to our own consciousness as real In a sense, it may be said even of Gods own love, the love which is his nature, that it thus verifies as well as manifests itself. It goes forth towards created beings; it seeks created beings towards whom it may go forth. A visible created universe is its object: and so also, in a peculiar manner and degree, is a visible new created church. Only in its exercise toward such objects can its true character, its communicative and self-sacrificing character, be thoroughly brought out.
It exists, no doubt, and is in exercise, before all creation, the first creation as well as the new. In the mystery of the Trinity, in the ineffable fellowship of the three persons in the one divine essence, from everlasting, "God is love." There is love; felt love; inconceivable mutual complacency; love in exercise, mutually interchanging and reciprocating endearments - there is such love implied in the very nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In particular, from before all worlds, the Father thus, in the Spirit, loves the Son, "dwelling in his bosom." But it is love, however exercised, that is resting and not giving; it is the repose rather than the activity of love. If it is to be manifested as a love that gives, that is active, that actually magnifies or benefits its object, it would seem that there must be creation.
Indeed it is only in creation that the Son himself can become practically the object of this love. If God, because of his love to him, has "appointed him to be heir of all things," the "all things" of which he is to be "heir" must be made; made by him and for him. There must be "goings forth" on his part from the Father; there must be, on the Fathers part, "the bringing in of the first begotten into the world." Then, and only then, when he appears as "the beginning of the creation of God," "the first born of every creature," is the Son in a position in which he can receive gifts from the Father, or in which he can have bestowed on him the inheritance of all things. The Fathers love to him may now take the form of bountifullness, liberality, lavish giving; it may now express itself in deeds. And, overflowing from him to the creatures called into being by his hand and for his sake, especially to those who, being made in Gods image, can know his nature, this divine love finds vent in those tender mercies which are over all his works. So, in the beginning of the creation, God in his Son loved the goodly universe of which his Son had become the head; with a love to him and to it that could never weary of bestowing favours. So, when this earth was made, in whose habitable parts the Son as the eternal Wisdom rejoiced; and when this race of ours was formed, the sons of men, with whom were his delights: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good." His love then filled our cup of innocent and pure happiness to the brim, if only we had been content to hold it straight.
Thus, for a season, one quality of the love which is Gods nature, which God is, - its simple bountifullness, its being "ready to distribute, willing to communicate," - had room to expatiate, and if I may dare to say so, to indulge and enjoy itself, in the teeming earth, and in man, its godlike proprietor and lord, for whom he bade it bring forth all its fullness. But there is a quality of this love for which that first creation provided no outlet; a quality more wonderful than all its bountifullness; the quality for whose exercise the fall gave occasion. To creatures innocent and pure, God, for the love he has to his Son, by whom and for whom they are made, may give all sorts of good things, the good things with which earth is stored, and better things still if they will but obey his word. To guilty creatures alone can he "give his Son to be the propitiation for their sins."
Still, however, it is now as always to the visible creation, to what he sees and whom he sees, that Gods love goes forth in exercise. The objects of it are seen. Seen! And how seen? Can it be said now, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good"? To bless and benefit a world and a race seen by him in that light, might be almost said to be self-gratification, rather than self-sacrifice. But it comes to be selfsacrifice when its objects are seen to be corrupt and vile; guilty and deserving only of wrath; polluted and unclean; with nothing to attract, but everything to repel; alike unloving and unlovely. To continue to love creatures thus seen - not only so, but to love them with a love that does not spare his own Son, - a love that, when law and justice demand a victim, will rather that he should be the victim than they - that is a manner of love implying something else and something more than bountifullness. And that is Gods manner of love to those whom he now sees, to "the world lying in wickedness."
Now our "loving him whom we have not seen," never could be a test of our having in us this "love which is of God." If the thing to be proved is the identity, in kind or nature, of our love and Gods love : - its being with the very same love with which he loves that we also love - that never can be proved by an appeal to our love to him. It must turn upon the consideration of his love to the world, and the likeness of our love to that. Mark here only one point of difference between Gods love to us and any love we may have to him; look at the object in either case. On our part, when we love God, the object is the all-good, the all-amiable. Nay, more. It is the God who "first loved us." When he loves us, he loves the evil, the unamiable. And he loves us with a love which does not grudge the surrender of his own beloved Son to our state and our doom, that we in his Son may become acceptable and well-pleasing in his eyes. Even if, therefore, our love to God were all that could be desired, all that could be looked for, all that our knowledge of his glorious excellency and our experience of the riches of his grace might well be expected to call forth; still it would not suffice for proof that our love is Gods love; that we love with the love which is of God; that we love as he loves.
This accordingly seems to me to be the true sense and import of that statement of the apostle, often misunderstood, which, however, when rightly apprehended is very suggestive: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for ,our sins." One is apt to think that there is here a disavowal or denial of our love to God altogether; in which case the reference must be to our unconverted state. Or else it must be such a disparagement of our love to God, even in our converted state, as would represent it to be :nothing in comparison with his love to us. Both of these thoughts are no doubt true. But I am persuaded that there :is a deeper meaning in the statement; more appropriate to the context; more to the purpose of the argument. It is assumed that we love God. And much is made of that, as we may soon see, in what follows. But it is not our loving God, however sincerely and warmly, that can prove our love to be the same with his. Were we loving him even as the angels love him, were we loving him even as the Son loves him, that would not suffice. It would still be love on our part of a very different sort from that love of his; having a very different kind of object, and acting in a very different way. The Son himself proved his oneness with the Father, in respect of the love now in question, by his voluntarily coming to seek and to save the lost. The angels prove theirs by the "joy that there is among them over one sinner that repenteth," and by their being "all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation."
"Herein then is love," "the love which is of God," the love whose reproduction in us is to be tested ; - " not that we have loved God," - which, thanks to his grace, we do; not by that, even though it were all that it ought to be, which, alas! It is far from being - "but that he loved us" that he loved us when we were yet sinners; that he saw us then, and pitied us, and "sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." That is the model, the exemplar, the pattern, of the love which is to test our being "born of God."
Two things are thus apparent. In the first place, this love in us, if it is to verify itself as being Gods very love, must be love, not to the unseen but to the seen; to a world that is seen; to men and women in it that are seen; to one another, to our brethren, to our fellow-men, as seen. And, moreover, it must be love to them, seen by us as God sees them. The objects of love must be the same to us as to God; and seen to be the same; seen in the same light; from the same point of view. "No man hath seen God at any time;" but God has always seen, and always sees, every man; he has seen, and sees you. And, seeing you such as you are, he has loved you. Do you love your brother, your neighbour ; seeing him, I do not say as God sees him, but as God has seen and sees you when he loves you? There must be identity in the object of this common love, Gods and yours; you and he must love the same object, the same person. But that is not all. He is, both to God and to you, visible; he is seen. And as seen by God and by you he must be the same; the same in your eyes, in your judgment, in your esteem, as he is in Gods. Or, as I have hinted, it may serve the same purpose, and be more profitable, to put the matter thus: he must be seen by you as you are seen by God when he loveth you. He must be the same in your eyes, in your judgment, in your esteem, as you are in Gods. That will do as well.
Who is it who is the object of your love? One seen, of course. But is he seen by you with Gods eye, or with the worlds eye; or with the eye of your own natural prepossession, your own natural liking? I am far from saying that this last kind of love is always necessarily wrong. But it is not "the love which is of God ;" which identifies you as "born of God, and knowing God." Is he to you what he is to God? He must be either one whom God with most intense compassion pities, and yearns in his inmost bowels to save; or one whom God welcomes and embraces, not because he is naturally amiable, but because in him the Son of his love sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied. In either view, is he the same to you that he is to God?
But I must press the question further. Does what you see in your fellow-men cool or quench your love to them, more than what God sees in them cools or quenches his love to them? All that is unattractive, all that is unamiable, all that is repelling in them is seen by him as well as by you; seen by him infinitely better than by you. Does it affect him as it affects you? Does it hinder him from loving them, as it seems to hinder you? Still further I must press the question. Is it the same thing, or the same sort of thing, seen in them, which draws Gods love to them, that commends them also to your love?. What is that? Either it is the misery, be it splendid or squalid, of a doomed soul, or it is the broken heart of a child of God. These call forth the love of God ; these alone ; these always. Do they always call forth yours? Wherever a sinner still in his sin is seen, does your heart go forth towards him in earnest longing and striving for his salvation, as does the heart of God?. When the poor prodigal returns, and is clasped in forgiving arms, is your sympathy with the loving father or with the jealous brother? Or, to bring the question home again to your personal experience, is it because you see other men as God sees you that you love them?. You see them, too many of them, alas! in the same state and of the same character that were yours when God seeing you loved you; polluted, as you were polluted; perishing, as you were perishing. Do you love them on that account, as on that account God loved you, when he had pity upon you? Again, you see them, some of them, like yourselves now, by his grace, dear in Gods sight as his ransomed and saved ones. Do you love them on that account, as on that account God loves you?
For, secondly, this love in us must be the same with Gods love, in respect of its character, as well as in respect of its objects. It must be what we have seen that that love is, communicative and self-sacrificing. Our love to God cannot be of that nature. We cannot impart anything of ours to him; we cannot sacrifice anything of ours for him; he is beyond the reach of any loving offices of that sort from us. "He is our Lord; our goodness reacheth not to him." If our love is his love, it must be proved to be so by its going forth in active service, not to him whom we cannot see, but to those whom we do see; Gods creatures, to whom his own love goes forth; the love manifested in creations bounties, the love manifested in redemptions grace, - in his "sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." And here, in point of fact, is the real practical test. Love, when its exclusive object is unseen, is sometimes apt to become ideal, shadowy, and merely sentimental. Even when God himself is, or is imagined to be, its object, it has not unfrequently taken that form and aspect. Meditative musing on the nature of God, the rapt gaze of solitary contemplation, the fixed eye of secluded devotion filling itself with great thoughts of the divine majesty, ,excellency, and beauty, has had the effect of begetting in the soul a certain mingled emotion of solemn awe and melting tenderness, which is apt to pass for divine love. It is akin to the feeling which the hero or the victim of an affecting tale may call forth; though deeper far and more intense. In real life, in church history, this kinship has been but too terribly exemplified. Love to God has been spiritualised and sublimated, as it were, into a passion; such a passion as may, and must, end in one of two ways; either in a sort of mystical and rapturous absorption of the human in the divine, or in a still more dangerous substitution of the human for the divine.
But, short of that extreme, there are tendencies against which sensitive natures, of an emotional and impulsive character, must be on their guard. There is the tendency to put imagination in the room of reality. For instance, it is far easier to smile or weep over a narrative that must consist of the sayings and doings of unseen, because imaginary, actors and sufferers, than to go out among the real parties in lifes drama, and meet in close contact their actual cases. Hence the meaning, in another view of it, of this solemn intimation, brought in at this stage, and in this connection: "No man hath seen God at any time." There is, there can be, no safe way of proving that we are born of God and know God, except our loving what is seen. No love to the unseen can suffice ; nay, love to the unseen alone may almost be made too much of; it may become deceptive and delusive, or unwholesome and unsafe. Our love, if it is to be Gods very love in us, must be love like his, to what is seen by both alike; to real, actual, living men, seen by us as by him. In that channel, our love to the unseen may always safely run. For -
II. In this human love, in our thus loving one another, the divine love has its consummation or perfection. "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us."
It is a very solemn position which we are thus called to occupy. In us Gods love is to be perfected. We are to be the means of its being perfected; the instruments and agents in effecting that result. Not only so. In us it takes end; in us it is finished. Nothing beyond us remains; no chance, no opportunity, of any manifestation of Gods love, that can be at all available for the world lying in wickedness. That love has reached us, and it should, through us, reach the whole world. If not, it cannot otherwise avail. "His love is perfected in us." There is indeed another sense in which these words may be understood. They may mean that Gods love, the love which is of God, the love which is his very nature, reproduces itself in us perfectly, only when, with his own very love, we love one another. That is true. But the inspired meaning here is, I think, somewhat deeper. It seems to indicate that our love to one another, if it is indeed of the same sort with his love to us, the love manifested in his sending his Son to save us, is really on his part the last act, the crowning or final exercise, of his love. It is as if he told us that his love was exhausted in begetting or reproducing itself in us. And it may well be so. No higher instance of love is possible than his sending his Son; no stronger sort of love can be imagined. And if that very love passes from him to us; having the same objects and cherishing towards them the same affection; if we love one another as God loves us; is not his love perfected in us? What more can be done to let it have "its perfect work" Ah, then, what responsibility is ours! What an office or duty is laid upon us! To perfect, to complete, the manifestation of Gods love for the saving of the world! Through us, his love, the very love manifested in his sending his Son to be the propitiation for Our sins, is to pass on to our fellow-men. We are, as it were, in his stead. Nay, he is himself in us. He who is love dwelleth in us; he who dwelleth in us is love. It is not so much we who love, as God who loveth in us. It is his own very love that has now in us its full expression, if we love as he is love. It is ours to see to it that it is and shall be so. The subject is not ended; but I pause, and offer some practical inferences that may well be pondered.
I. Very plainly the love to one another here enjoined is of such a sort that none but a child of God can be capable of it, or can feel it. None other, in fact, can comprehend what it is. We must first be ourselves the receivers of it, before we can be the dispensers or transmitters of it; before it can have its perfect work in us towards others. We must be taught by the Spirit to know what we are, as seen by God, when we are the objects of his love; what we are, in his sight, when he loves us with a saving love. We must be made by the Spirit experimentally to feel what manner of love it is that, instead of being repelled, is attracted, by our unloveliness; that instead of smiting us, lays the stroke on his own beloved Son; that now, in him, lavishes on us all saving benefits and blessings. This then clearly is our first concern ; to see to it that this love of God is really ours; embraced by us; apprehended and appropriated by us; enjoyed by us richly.
2. This love which is of God, when perfected in us, must contemplate its objects in the same light in which they are seen by God. It is comparatively easy to love the lovable, to love them that love us. If we look only at mens amiable qualities, if we surround ourselves with a circle of friends, all decent, worthy, and upright; if, shutting our eyes to what they are before him who searches the heart, and judging according to the outward appearance, we perceive only what is fair. and charming in their winning ways; if, in a word, keeping out of view their spiritual state and character, we dwell exclusively on their natural gifts and graces - if it is thus that we love them, our love is not Gods love perfected in us. For to be Gods love perfected in us, our love must see its objects as Gods Love sees its objects. What we see in them of guilt and sin, of enmity against God and insubordination to his law, must be offensive to us as it is to him. Men estranged from God, whatever may be their other excellencies, must be to us what they are to God. Then, and only then, can we test the identity of our love with Gods love. Then, and only then, can we have some idea of what it is to love those whom God loves, with his own very love; his love, not of indifference to evil or complacency in evil, but of deep compassion to the evil-doer and earnest longing that he may be saved.
Hence the Lord says, "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." In that way, and only in that way, can we prove ourselves, by our family likeness, to be the children of our heavenly Father. So are we perfect, in this way of loving; according to the command: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
For it is not absolute or general perfection that is here meant; perfection in the wide and universal sense of that term. The command, so understood, would be irrelevant as well as impracticable. It is perfection or completeness, thorough simplicity and uprightness, as regards the particular grace referred to; according to a use of the word very common in the Old Testament Scriptures. The perfection indicated is the perfection of honesty or righteousness in loving our "seen," as God loves his "seen;" loving our enemies with the very love with which our Heavenly Father loved us when we were his.
XXXIII. LOVE THE MEANS OF MUTUAL INDWELLING; GOD IN US AND WE IN GOD.
"Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." - 1 John 4: 13-16.
THE statement, "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit," carries us back to a previous statement (3: 24), "Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." We are thus reminded of the scope and design of the whole passage. The question is about the mutual indwelling of God in us and of us in God; and more particularly about his abiding in us. How are we to know this? By the Spirit which he hath given us, is the answer. But that raises another question. Every spirit is not to be believed; there must be a trial of the spirits. By what test or tests are they to be tried? How is the Spirit that is of God to be distinguished from the spirit of anti-Christ .? First, by his confessing in us that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (ver. 2-5); and secondly, by our loving, with the love which is of God (ver. 7-12). And now, connecting the two, John brings us back substantially to the original statement, as to our knowing that we dwell in God, and God in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. For the two tests are now brought closely together, and shown to be not so much two as one; or at least not two independent tests, each separately valid in itself, but so intimately related to one another that they mutually involve one another, and thus combine together to make up one cogent and irrefragable proof. It is this virtual unity of the two tests that forms the theme or subject of the verses now before us.
I. The first of the two tests is recapitulated: "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world; whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (ver. 14, 15). There is a slight difference here from the language of the second verse; and the difference is evidently designed. It is intended to impregnate, if I may so speak, and vivify the truth confessed, with the love whose origin and nature John has been unfolding. The two ideas, - his being "sent" to be "the Saviour of the world," and "his being the Son," - are evidently suggested by what has been said of that divine love in the intermediate verses (ver. 9)
It is interesting in this view, to trace the growth and development of the thought. The confession which is to be the sign of its being the Spirit that is of God, or the Spirit of truth, that we receive, is first put as if it were the mere acknowledgment of a bare historical fact. It is much more by implication; but, so far as the actual expression goes, it is not anything more. But see to what fullness of warm gushing life it has now attained. And how? It has been passing through an atmosphere of love, and has thus got to be impressed with a certain teeming warmth and quickening power. What is to be confessed, when we first look at it and lay it aside, might seem to be, so far as the mere wording of it is concerned, scarcely more significant and affecting than the notice of a birth, or any other common fact, of which we read in old annals, or in the current news of the day. Now, when we take it up to look at it again, after it has been steeped in the rich dew of heavens love, it glows and is instinct with meaning. "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh;" come to be "the Saviour of the world ;" come as "the Son, whom the Father hath sent ;" - that is the full confession now.
Hence the real reason of that first test, and of its being so closely interwoven with the other. How should the confession of a mere matter of fact be so certain a token of Gods "giving us of his Spirit," and of his "dwelling in us "? For it is a simple matter of fact, to be known and ascertained like other ordinary facts in history; to be received on the very same ground and warrant of historical evidence and testimony. The apostle admits as much, both before (1: i-3) and now (4: 14). You have our testimony for it; and our testimony may be relied on; "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you;" "We have seen and do testify" what we ask you to confess. The question therefore recurs: How should my confessing a mere and simple matter of fact, especially considering that, however wonderful it may be, I have it attested to me by sufficient evidence, prove that "God giveth me of his Spirit," and so "dwelleth in me"?
The answer must be found in the character of the fact or truth confessed; or in the aspect in which it is presented, or presents itself to me. What is it in itself? What is it to me? If it is a fact or truth of a merely historical sort, and is so apprehended by me, my admission and avowal of it will be no proof or presumption of Gods having "given me of his Spirit, and dwelling in me," any more than my admission and avowal of any well-attested event that ever happened in the world. That may be my case; if so, it is s, sad one. It may be to me a mere fact or truth of history; not only in its original form, naked and bald, "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh ;" but even in the more warm and living substance which it takes, when it is, as it were, clothed upon with the love which is from heaven. For whatever can be stated in words about that love, and the measure and the manifestation of it, can all be comprehended by the natural understanding. I can put it all in propositions intelligible enough to myself and others; and I can honestly accept these propositions, and confess my acceptance of them. But it may be head-work and not heart, work with me after all. So long as it is so, it is my work merely; the work of my own mind, not of the Spirit. For his work is mainly in the heart. It is spirit dealing with spirit; not mere intellect dealing with intellect. It is Gods Spirit dealing intimately and lovingly with my spirit, and that too upon a special theme; a specific subject; "Jesus Christ come in the flesh," as "the very Son of God, sent by the Father to be the Saviour of the world."
Now if God thus communes with me, his Spirit with my spirit, not mind with mind merely, but heart with heart, upon this special theme or subject; if the fact of Jesus Christ having come in the flesh thus starts from the page of history, and fixes and rivets itself in my inner man, becoming part and parcel of my most inward experience; if:, in short, the truth comes home to me, as not simply a historical event, but, as it were, a honey-filled bee, full fraught with all the love that is in the Fathers heart of hearts and is poured out in the saving mission of his Son; - -if I take this in, and let this heaven-laden bee pierce me, and fill the wound it makes with what itself is full of ;-love, this love of God ; - then I have something to confess, which may well be an evidence of "Gods having given me of his Spirit, and so dwelling in me." Yes! I may humbly appropriate the Lords words to Peter; "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
II. The second test is thus in large measure anticipated, and all but swallowed up, in the first. The confession of truth is now seen to be identical with the sense and experience of love: "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (ver. 16.) "We have known and believed." This is quite Johns manner; to unite in one knowledge and faith; we have intelligently believed; we have believingly understood. We have thus known and believed "the love that God hath to us ;" - -or rather, "the love which God hath in us." For the expression is very peculiar and emphatical; and, as used here, can scarcely mean anything else than that his love to us has become his love in us; and that we have known and believed it as such. Of course it is his love to us; but it is his love to us, transferred, as it were, or transplanted, from the gospel, where it is a matter of revelation from without, to our own hearts, where it becomes a moving principle and power from within. There, in the gospel, it is his love manifested to us: here, in our hearts, it is his love actually existing in us - not merely felt by us as his love to us; but felt by us as his love in us - in us, so truly and literally in us, that we become the conscious storekeepers or depositories of it, as it were, and the dispensers of it to others who are as much its objects as we are ourselves. The love of God, having us for its objects, passes from Gods outer record into our inner life. It enters into us; it finds access to the innermost recesses of our moral and spiritual being; it is therefore now "the love which God has in us." He pours into as, he puts and plants in us, his own love. He has it in us; his own very love; :reproduced by himself in us; communicated, if one may dare to say so, by himself, from his own heart to ours. It :is the love of which we ourselves, in the first instance, are the objects; of which it was our first relief and joy, when we were convinced of sin, to find ourselves the objects. It is the love of which, when all but despairing, we laid trembling hold, and of which we are still fain to lay hold ,continually - not love to the holy, the pure, the penitent, the believing, the chosen; but love to the world as such, of which we are part; love to men as sinners, "of whom I am chief." But that love is in us now. "God has it in us." It is not merely that we have it in us, as a ground of confidence for ourselves; God has it in us as on his behalf a treasury of love available for others. It is in us, - not merely as what we ourselves grasp and count to be all our salvation, but as what springs up in us, and is outgoing towards others; being thus Gods own very love, dwelling and working in our whole inner man. That, I am persuaded, and nothing short of that, is the great thought involved in these wondrous words, "we have known and believed the love that God hath in us." Not only have we known and believed his love, so as to apprehend and appropriate it, as it comes from without and from above; - not only so as to take it and make it available for our own spiritual life and comfort; but also, and especially, so as to imbibe it - to drink it into the very essence of our renovated nature, our renewed selves. In us who know it and believe it, God has his own love in actual existence and in active exercise.
Herein lies that community of nature between God and us which the Spirit works or effects. Love is Gods nature; "God is love" (ver. 16). Again that great truth is here proclaimed. And, as it would seem, it is now proclaimed again for the purpose of bringing out what it is of God that we can share with him; that he can "have in us." Much there is about God that must continue always altogether incommunicable to us; much that must remain for ever outward and objective to us, and never can become inward and subjective in us. All that pertains to him as lawgiver, ruler, judge, - all that he is as, seated on the throne of his high majesty and universal empire, he carries on the government of the universe, - is and must be exclusively his own; it is only in a very secondary sense, and in a very subordinate capacity, that we can have any of his authority delegated to us when, besides dealing with us as his subjects, he uses us as his ministers. But it would seem to be otherwise with his holiness and his love. Paul speaks of our being made "partakers of his holiness"- John speaks of "the love he has in us." The two indeed are one, for his holiness is loving and his love is holy. His holy love therefore is not incommunicable; it passes from him to us. Not only are we its objects; more than that; it begets itself anew, if one may say so, in us. It is Gods very love, his holy love, in us, and it is to be known and believed, to be felt and manifested, by us accordingly. What is this but our "dwelling in love" (ver. 16), in Gods own love?. Love; the holy love of God; of the Father sending the Son to be the Saviour of the world; is now the habitual home of our hearts. We remain, we abide, we stay in it. We would not quit it, or let it go; we cannot, for it alone is our peace. Away from that love; that holy love; that love with all its holiness; reaching us and saving us, the most worldly of the world, the very chief of sinners; what hope, what health, can we have. Neither can we quit it, or let it go, as a principle of life and activity, going out from ourselves to others. If it is to be Gods love to us, known and believed by us, for our own peace and comfort and holy spiritual quickening; it must be Gods love in us, his own love, which "he has in us," known and believed by us for outward use, as well as for inward assurance and rest. Only in so far as we constantly realise this love of God, both as the love he has to us and as the love he has in us, do we really dwell in love. But dwelling thus in this love, we do indeed dwell in God. For God is this love; and as such he dwelleth in us. In respect of this love, of which we are now both the grateful receivers and the glad transmitters, there is a blessed oneness between God and us. He dwells in this love; for he is love; and we now dwell in this love also. It becomes our nature, as it is his, thus to love. Therefore this love is the bond of union between him and us - the meeting-place, the habitation, the home, in which we dwell together; he in us and we in him. This love, this holy love, is that which God and we may have in common. And therefore it is the element or quality in respect of which there may be mutual indwelling of us in God and of God in us. Hence the two tests of Gods "giving us of his Spirit and dwelling in us," coalesce, as it were, and become essentially one. To confess, on the testimony of the apostles as eyewitnesses, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world (ver. 14); that Jesus is the Son of God (ver. 15); and to know and believe the love that God has to us and in us (vet. i6); is really one and the same thing. For the confession is not the cold assent of the understanding to a formal article in a creed. It is the warm and cordial embracing of the Fathers love, incarnate in the Son whom he sends to be the Saviour of the world. It is the letting into our hearts of the love which is Gods nature; for God is love. It is our dwelling with him in love. For, as Paul teaches, in entire and perfect harmony with John; - "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but faith which worketh by love ;" faith confessing Christ; faith knowing and believing the love that God has in us; faith loving as it sees and feels that God himself loves.
XXXIV. THE BOLDNESS OF PERFECTED LOVE.
"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love [him], because he first loved us." - 1 John 4: 17-19.
The leading idea here is "boldness in the day of judgment; not boldness prospectively when the day comes, but present boldness in the view of it now. It is much the same thing as we have in a previous section of the epistle (3: 19 - 21), our assuring our hearts before God; our having confidence toward God. This boldness is connected with the perfecting of love; "Herein is our love made perfect;" or as in the margin, "Herein is love with us made per-feet, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment."
Love then, or the love before indicated, is perfected with us; and the perfecting of this love with us is bound up with our having boldness in the day of judgment. The bond or connecting link is our oneness with Christ; our being in this world as he is now. What is perfected is love; not love indefinitely; but the love which is Gods nature, and which comes out in the saving gift of his Son. It is to be perfected as "love with us." It is not merely, as in the twelfth verse, to be perfected in us, as love to us; it is to be perfected in us, as "love with us." It is Gods love so shared by him with us as to constitute a love relationship, or love-fellowship, between him and us. This is indispensable to our having boldness in the prospect of the day of judgment, And it is realised through oneness with Christ, through our "being as he is ;" not as he was before he came into the world; nor merely as he was in the world; but as he is now. It is our "being as he is," that connects in us, in our consciousness and experience, the perfecting of Gods love with us, and our having boldness to face the final account (ver. 17).
The boldness must be very complete; for it must exclude whatever is incompatible with the ground on which it rests. -Now it rests on love; on Gods love shared with us. But love shared between the lover and the loved, in a mutual fellowship of love, excludes or "casts out fear." It must do so, for "fear hath torment." A relationship or fellowship based on fear is of course quite conceivable; but it has torment. It cannot therefore consist with a relationship or fellowship of love. "He that feareth is not made perfect in love ;" in this love; the love, or covenant of love, here spoken of or referred to (ver. 18). But "we love." We may not be made perfect in love, - the love or loving treaty in question. But we do love; and our love is a reality; it may be relied on as a reality; for it is love springing out of his love to us; it is his own very love in us "We love, because he first loved us."
Having offered these exegetical explanations, I now take up the topics suggested in their order.
I. (ver. 17.) "Herein is our love " - Gods love with us - " made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of ,judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world." The perfecting of "Gods love with us," so that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, depends on our being as Christ is, - and that too "in this world." We are in this world, not as he was when he was in it, but as he is now.
In a very eminent and emphatic sense, Gods love with him is now made perfect; in a sense in which that could not be said of him as he was when in this world. The Fathers covenant of love with him, as "Jesus Christ come in the flesh"- "the Son sent by him to be the propitiation for our sins"- is now perfectly ratified, so that he may have boldness in the view of any day of judgment.
That, I repeat, could scarcely be said of him as he was when in this world. Personally, no doubt, he was then the object of the Fathers love; and that divine love, as communicated and shared with him, in his human nature and earthly condition, was absolutely perfect. Personally, therefore, he might have boldness, - he had nothing to fear, - in any judicial reckoning. But consider him as "sent to be the propitiation for our sins." Oh, what a cloud comes in between him and his Fathers love! What a cloud, charged with fiery wrath, about to burst on his devoted head! And what trembling is there in the prospect of that judicial reckoning with him for our transgression of the law which he has to stand! It was not then altogether a fellowship of love with him on the part of God. The things that passed between God and him, as he hung on the accursed tree, were not all love-tokens and love-caresses! Love was with him still, divine love, even then and there; love, if possible, more than ever, for the very death he was dying, in fulfilment of the divine purpose of salvation. But something else was with him too; something that for a season terribly shaded that love. Divine justice was with him justice inexorably demanding, in the interests of law and government, the stem execution of the penal sentence. And that must first be perfected; that must have its perfect work; before the love can be made perfect. He feels, he affects, no boldness in meeting that day of judgment. He knows its terror; he shrinks; he cries; he "is crucified through weakness." For us to be as he then was, would give us little boldness in view of the day of judgment awaiting us.
But to be as he is now! Ah, that is a very different matter! Now that his dark agony is over, and all his groans are past; now that there is no more present with him, on the part of God, any wrath at all, but only perfect love; now that, no longer bearing condemnation, but accepted for his righteousness sake, he has boldness to set any day of judgment at defiance; now that the Father need have no other dealings with him any more for ever but only dealings of perfect love; now that, being raised from the dead, he dieth no more; death, judicial death, having no more dominion over him! May this privilege indeed be ours? Nay, it is; "we are as he is." When and where? Now "in this world." It is not the blessedness of the future state; it is blessedness to be got here and now. Do you ask how? Look to Jesus; to "Jesus Christ come in the flesh ;" "the Son sent by the Father to be the propitiation for your sins." How was it possible for him, when he took that position, to be as he now is.
On one only condition. He must consent first to be as you are, in the full sense and to the full extent of enduring and exhausting all the pains and penalties which your being as ;you are entails on you. Not otherwise could he come to be as he is now. And not otherwise can you come to be as he is now; not otherwise than by first consenting to be as he was then; to die as he died; to be "crucified with him." Is this a hard preliminary? Nay, it is altogether reasonable as well as necessary; it is eminently gracious. It is his own free gift of himself to you; of himself as the propitiation for your sins.
I take your death as mine, he cries; the death which as sinners you deserve to die. I die that death in your stead. You cannot die that death yourselves and ever live again, But! can. "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." How much better is it for you to make my death yours than to die eternally yourselves!
Can you refuse to be as he then was, in the exercise of realising, appropriating, uniting faith; "knowing the fellowship of his sufferings?" - especially when you consider how this not only secures your never again being, as you naturally are, under condemnation; but secures also your being as he now is. Gods love is with you; as truly "perfected with you," as it is with him. You may have the same boldness that he might have in facing any day of judgment. To you, as to him, death as the wages of sin is really past. There is no more any judicial reckoning with you on Gods part, no more with you than with him; but only dealings of love, of love made perfect, love having free course, love unfettered and unrestrained. So you have boldness as regards the day of judgment.
II. This love with us, thus perfected, is inconsistent with fear. It founds or establishes a love-relationship, a love-fellowship, with which fear cannot co-exist : - " There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment; he that feareth is not made perfect in love."
The love here meant is not our love to God; neither is it, strictly speaking, Gods love to us, or our apprehension of it. In a sense, it may be said to be the mutual love that subsists between God and us, when, "as Christ is, so are we, in this world." Or, still more exactly, it may be understood as denoting the terms of loving agreement, of good understanding and endearment, on which God would have us to be with him, in virtue of "his love with us being made perfect." The great practical truth taught is that our faith, when we "confess that Jesus is the Son of God" (ver. 15), and when "we have known and believed the love that God hath to us" (ver. 16), brings us into a position, as regards God, in which there is not only no occasion, but no room, for fear.
Love and fear are diametrically opposite principles and they imply opposite modes of treatment on the part of God towards us, and opposite relations on our part towards him. If God deals with us in the way of strict law and righteous judgment, then the footing on which we are with him is one simply of fear. His fear is with us; not his love. And it is so with us that, however it may be lulled for a time, it will one day be perfected,, or have its perfect work, in "a fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversary." If, again, God deals with us in the way of rich and free grace, then the footing on which we are with him is one of love. He no longer holds over us the threat of punishment; the fear of it is not with us any more. It cannot be, for this fear hath torment. Mark the reason here assigned for fear being cast out; it hath torment; the torment of anticipated judgment; for that is exactly what is meant. It echoes the voice of the demons : - " Art thou come to torment us before the time?" But we with whom "Gods love is perfected," have boldness in reference to the day of judgment; not torment, but boldness. Therefore "there is no fear in that love," thus perfected; for fear introduces an element the reverse of what a state of loving fellowship implies. Hence "he that feareth is not made perfect in that love;" he does not fully realise the standing or position which it gives him; he does not enter completely into the faith and fellowship of "Gods love with us," as a love that "is made perfect."
Here let us consider, first, the evil and danger of confounding these two opposite footings, of fear and of love, on which we may be with God; and, secondly, the careful provision which God has made for keeping them separate.
I. I take the case of one who is still in the relation to God in which fear reigns; who yet, at the same time, assumes that, even in his case, there may be something of the opposite relation, of which love is the exponent and expression. He is still under wrath; he has no real boldness as regards the day of judgment; he is subject to the power of the fear which has torment. But he has a notion that Gods love may yet somehow be with him after all; he has a dream of mercy; he welcomes the idea of indulgence and impunity; it abates his torment. It does not really bring him into the region of love, but it mitigates fear. Is that a good thing for him? Were it not better far that he should be left, naked and shelterless, to the full experience of all the torment which fear has? He might thus be shut up to try "a more excellent way." But I take, with John, the opposite case. I suppose that you are within the realm and domain of love. Love; the love which is Gods very nature; the love "manifested in his sending his only begotten Son into the world that you might live through him;" that love is the atmosphere of the region in which you now dwell. You are on loving terms with God; his love being with you; and being "made perfect with you." Nay; not quite made perfect. It should be so, but it is not so. For you let into your heart something of what is proper to the opposite relation; your being on the old terms with God to which fear belongs. And the practical effect of this is very disastrous. Not to dwell upon its sure tendency to mar your peace and joy: it thoroughly cramps your free walk with God in light; it has a sad bearing on your manner of serving God. For no two things can be more opposite than service rendered on the footing of love, and service rendered on the footing of fear. Not only are the motives different; the kinds of service which they prompt are different. If I am under the influence of the fear which has torment, and so far as I am under its influence, I am inevitably inclined to evasion and compromise. I must do some things and leave some things undone; my conscience, moved by fear, will not otherwise let me alone. But I sail as near the wind as possible, if only I may keep barely on the safe side of the law. I venture on occasional omissions of duty and compliances with temptation; stealthily, as it were, "snatching a trembling joy." The service is all task-work, slave-work. As such I grudge it always, and get off from it when I can on any plea. That is my way with God under the torment of fear. It should be otherwise when I move in the sphere, and breathe the air, of love; of divine love; "Gods love with me made perfect." There should be no guile in my spirit now; no inclination to unfair dealing any more. Alas! Is it always so with me? Even if I have some sense and experience of the new and better footing of love on which it is my privilege to be with my God, am I not too often visited with questionings and misgivings proper only to the old footing of fear? Do I not find myself ever and anon asking, Must I positively renounce this? - may I not, for once, venture upon that.? And does not all such asking indicate something of the old servile mind? What uneasiness is there in such a way of living with God, and what unfaithfulness too! What "unsteadfastness and perfidiousness in his covenant" of love! Surely it is true that he who in any measure thus acts from mere fear, under the pressure of felt necessity, is not "made perfect in love."
2. But why should it be so?. God would not have it so. His will is that there should be a sharp line of separation between the two incompatible relations; that of love and that of fear. He would shut you up, completely and exclusively, into one or other of them. Are you in that relation to which fear is appropriate Then let it be fear alone; fear in the view of the judgment-day. By all means let fear operate alone; unmitigated, unrelieved, by any vague notion of mercy; any dream of. love. That is the way in which it should operate. So operating, let it deter you from crime; let it impel you to duty. Or, better far, let it drive you to despair; to despair of yourselves, not, God forbid, of him! You have nothing to do with love as you are, and continuing as you are ;-you have to do only with fear. Oh that it were, in the first instance, perfect fear! - fear, pure and simple, casting out, I say not love, but the idle imagination of love! Yes; it is yours to fear; and only to fear! Would to God that your fear had torment enough, not merely to set you on doing some things and avoiding some things, to soothe it or set it to sleep; but to set you on crying, with the deep voice of true conviction: "Who shall deliver me?" "What must I do to be saved?"
Are you, on the other hand, in the relation of which love, divine love, is the characteristic? Is it not a relation of love in which full provision is made, if you will only realist it, for the entire and absolute casting out of all fear? I call upon you so to realise it. Have you, in very truth, "known and believed the love that God hath in yon"? Have you considered this love, its nature, its manifestation, its effect and issue? Have you asked yourself, O my brother! this simple, but very serious, question: On what footing does this loving God; this God whose very nature is love, and whose love is with me and in me mine in actual possession; mine in all its fullness - on what footing does he intend and wish me to be with him? Ah! is it, a footing that will still admit of the miserable suspicions and subterfuges of one driven by a tormenting dread of the lash? Is it not rather a footing that precludes them all? Not a vestige of the old state of liability to judgment remains, if "as Christ is, so you now are in this world." Not a vestige of the old grudging and guileful frame of mind, congenial to that state, should remain. Not for your own comfort merely, but for your single-eyed, and simpleminded, and honest-hearted walking with God, and serving of God, I beseech you to let his perfect love cast out your slavish fear. For fear hath torment ; it is torture ; and your God and Father is not a torturing inquisitor.
III. That it may be so; that "this love with you" may be so "perfected" as to "cast out fear;" see that you love with a love that springs out of Gods love, and is of the same sort. "We love," says the apostle, on behalf of himself and you who believe through his word; passing now from Gods love to ours; "we love, because he first loved us."
"We love." We can take home to ourselves personally and individually what has been said abstractly of love casting out fear. For we love, and do not fear. "He that feareth is not made perfect in love ;" he does not perfectly realise the love relationship, the love-fellowship, the love-state, as it were, which Gods "love with us made perfect," involves. But that is not our case; "we love."
"We love." It is the first time John has ventured to say so in this passage. Here first he brings in expressly our subjective experience or consciousness, as bearing upon the assured footing of love on which we are to be with God. Hitherto, it has all turned on Gods love; manifested by him; known and believed by us; communicated to us; present with us; and as present with us, made perfect; so perfect as to cast out fear. Now, it is our love that is asserted - " We love." For this must be the issue. It is idle to imagine that anything of the loving relationship and fellowship of which John speaks can be ours, unless we can say with him, humbly, but with some measure of confidence; "We love." And it is no light thing to say so. It is significant of much. "We love." It is not merely that we have a natural faculty of loving, and exercise it by letting it go forth on things and persons naturally attractive to us. But we have now a divine faculty of loving; we love with the Love which is of God; which is Gods very nature. We love with a love that goes forth towards things and persons, as they are attractive, not to us, but to him. In particular, as regards our life with God, our walk with God, our fellowship with God, our service of God, our obedience to God; as regards all that pertains to the relation that is to subsist between him and us; "we love." Not fear, but love, is now, on our part as well as on his part, the ruling principle and living spirit of it all. "We love." And in loving, we do but reciprocate Gods love; and respond to it. "We love, because he first loved us." For our love would be but a poor and sorry thing unless it were linked on to Gods love, as the consequence, or as it were the continuation of it, the reflection or reproduction of it. Always, it must be ultimately, in the last resort, Gods love on which we fall back. "God first loved us." This wondrous economy of love, in virtue of which he would have us to be on such a loving footing with him as to have fear utterly cast out, originates in him, and is all his own. If we love at all with the love which is of God, it is only because "we have known and believed the love which he hath to us." For it is "faith alone that worketh by love; " - to that principle we are brought back. If we are to realise, in our experience, the relationship and fellowship of love, as one in which there is no fear, it must be by faith. Therefore I call on you to believe; to believe always; to believe more and more. Believe in God as first loving you ; - yes, I say, as first loving you Be very sure that that must be first; not your loving; but Gods loving you. You cannot really know what love is until you believe in God as first loving you. You must first lay open your whole hearts to the free, frank acceptance of the love with which he first loveth you, as the plant opens its bosom to the rain and sunshine of heaven. Then, from that love with which God first loveth you, - known, believed, accepted, embraced, - there will spring up love in you; such love as will make your whole intercourse with God an intercourse altogether loving, and not fearful at all; such love as will cordially welcome the assurance that God means you to be to him, - not trembling, disaffected slaves, - but loving, loyal, and confiding sons.
I close with two practical observations.
I. There is surely much here, in this glorious description of the fellowship of love which God desires to have with us, and desires us to have with him, that should encourage earnest though anxious souls. I can conceive indeed that some may be inclined to question this. They may feel as if the view now given of the position which God would have them to occupy places it beyond their reach; high above their utmost aspirations. It may seem to them a perfection quite unattainable; an ideal that they can never dream of realising. If something far short of it,-some far more ordinary and commonplace walk and service, - will not suffice or be accepted, it is all over, they may be saying, with them. But let me ask, - In what spirit are you saying so? Is it with regret? Is it with a feeling of disappointment? Would you be upon this footing with God if you could? I must assume that you would; that you see it to be above all things desirable; that you really long and pray to be to God all that you now perceive he would have you to be. Then, if so, I beseech you to remember that this whole business of the adjustment of your relation to God as one of perfect love, is his and not yours. It is not you that have to go to him; he comes to you. It is not you who have to get up, by a painful process of inward working, love in yourselves; it is he who "first loveth you." It is with his love you hare to do, and not with your own. And his love is not far to seek, - or long to wait for. It is with you; embodied, enshrined, impersonated, in the Son of his love, sent by him to be the propitiation for your sin. Look to him; believe on him; consent to be now, in this world, as he is. And remember that "the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above :) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
2. Let sinners be warned against presumptuous confidence with reference to the day of judgment. Whatever may be our boldness, if "as he is, so are we in this world," it does not spring from any questioning of the certainty, or any abating of the alarm, of that great and dreadful day. On the contrary, we have reached that boldness in a way that gives us an insight we never can forget into the reality and intensity of the pains of hell. "We know the terror of the Lord;" we know it by our "being crucified with Christ." What we see of it in the cross - in Jesus hanging there, bearing guilt, bearing wrath - what we feel of it in ourselves, when we take his death of condemnation as ours; - deepens our sense of Gods love in saving us from it, and fills us evermore with sensitive apprehension at the very thought of our being again "castaways." And knowing thus this terror of the Lord, we would fain "persuade men." Snatched ourselves as brands from the burning, going softly all our days in the remembrance of our narrow escape, our most seasonable deliverance, we cannot contemplate unmoved their going down into the pit. We beseech them to lay no flattering unction to their souls, as if judgment were not both absolutely certain and inconceivably terrible. We bid them fix their eyes on Jesus suffering judicially on the accursed tree, and hear his voice : - " If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God." For "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Who shall be able to "stand before the face of him that sitteth on the throne," and brave "the wrath of the Lamb, when the great day of his wrath is come?" "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."
XXXV. THE OBJECTS OF OUR LOVE - THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND GOD HIMSELF.
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. " - 1 John 4: 20 - 5: 1-3
The apostle has just announced the law of love: "We love, because he first loved us." He has still in his mind the twofold test of Gods giving us his Spirit - our "believing on the name of his Son Jesus Christ," and our "loving one another (3: 25). The Spirit in us confesses, - we by the Spirit confess, - that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; that he is the Son of God. It is a confession implying the believing recognition of all Gods love to us in him. It implies therefore also the perfecting of Gods love with us, so as to exclude fear, and insure our loving as he has first loved us. We respond to his love and reciprocate it; it reproduces itself in us. And it does so, as love going forth to the seen, not the unseen; otherwise it would not be our loving with Gods very love to us; it would not be our loving because God first loved us.
I. "We love, because he first loved us." Whom do we thus love?. "Him who first loved us," we say. And we say well. But let us beware. Our saying so may be deceptive; in saying it we may lie; not perhaps deliberately, but deceiving ourselves. There is less risk when the question is made to turn upon loving our brother; for we cannot so readily say falsely or mistakenly that we love the visible, as we can say falsely or mistakenly that we love the invisible. Hence the reasonableness of this test: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (4: 20).
But it may be asked: Wherein precisely consists the impossibility? Is it merely that it is easier and more natural to love one whom we see than one whom we have not seen; that the first is a lower attainment, more within our reach, while the other is more transcendental, spiritual, and sublime; so that if we cannot acquire the terrestrial virtue of loving our brother whom we have seen, it is vain for us to aspire to the heavenly elevation of loving God whom we have not seen? Nay, to put the matter on that footing is to degrade the grace of brotherly love, and wholly to destroy and overthrow the apostles noble argument. It is by no means clear that our seeing or not seeing the object of the affection, makes any real serious difference as regards our faculty or capacity of loving. There is no reason why one whom we have never seen, whom we have known only by report and fame, or by his friendly offices towards us, should not draw our hearts out towards him more even than the most familiar friend whom we see every day. Nay, in this very case it must be so. The unseen God, known only through the discoveries of himself which he makes to us in his word, and the communications of himself which he shares with us by his Spirit, must command our affections more than the best of created beings our eyes can ever light on, if the due order of the two great commandments is to be observed. Nor will it do to hold that our loving our brother is in the least degree more easy or more natural than our loving God; as if, beginning with loving our brother, because he, being nearest us, is the most palpably manifest object of our regard, we might through that means hope to find our love rising to the more remote and less palpably manifest object, even God. No. This love of our brother is not a natural attainment, but a divine gift or qualification, and therefore has this testing-place assigned to it here. Consider again what it is for us to "love because God first loved us." It is loving as he first loved us; loving with the very same sort of love. But the only person whom I can love with that sort of love with which God has loved me is my brother. It is vain for me to say, in this view, that I love God. I cannot love God, in the sense and on the ground required, otherwise than through the intervention of my brother.
For the unseen God cannot possibly be to me the object of the kind of love with which he first loved me. That is surely love, not to the unseen, but to the seen. It was when he saw me in my original state, like "an unpitied child, cast out in the open field, to the loathing of its person, in that day that it was born," that he first loved me. "When I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live." To me, if I am the conscious object of that love, it must ever seem so marvellous as to be all but incredible, that, seeing me as I was, he should have so loved me; nay more, that, seeing me as I am, under all his gracious dealing with me, he should so love me still. It is because he is God and not man. Well may I, whom, thus seeing me, he so loves, love him warmly, gratefully, in return. It appears almost natural that I Should spontaneously love him; I feel almost as if I could not help it. But how apt is such a frame of mind, especially in a highly sensitive and excitable temperament, to grow into a sort of vague, dreamy, mystical or sentimental pietism, such as may be really little better than a refined form of solitary self-indulgence! At all events, it is not the love wherewith he has first loved me; it is not my loving as he has loved me. If I am so to love, I must love, not the unseen, but the seen. My love must go forth toward those whom I see, as God saw me when he first loved me. And my love must be what his love is; no idle sentiment or barren sympathy, but a love that seeks them, and bears long with them, and knocks, and waits, and longs, and prays, for their salvation; a love that gives freely, and without upbraiding; a love self-sacrificing, self-denying; a love that will lay down life itself to save them. And when they become by grace, what by grace I am, I must love them, as God loves me, for what I see in them - yes and in spite of what I see in them too. I may still see many things about them to offend me. But what does God see about me? Do I not try my loving Fathers patience far more than any brother can ever try mine? But still he first loveth me. He is ever first in loving me; notwithstanding my being often last in loving him. And shall I not be loving my brother, first loving him, and that continually? Shall I withhold my love until he is all in my eyes that I would like him to be? How would it be with me if God so postponed his love to me? Surely, "if I say I love God, and thus hate my brother, I am a liar;" what I profess is an impossibility. Let me rather give heed to his own announcement of his will: "This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also " (4: 21).
II. This commandment of God still further explains the importance attached to our loving our brother, as a sign of the Spirit being given to us. And it does so in two ways. In the first place, I may be apt to think that this setting of me upon loving my brother, as the test of my "loving, because God has first loved me" disparages the prior claim which God has on me, that I should love him. But it is not so. For I am now told that it is his special good pleasure that the love I have to him should, as it were, expend itself upon my brother. I need have no fear therefore of my love to my brother on earth interfering with my love to my Father in heaven; or being imagined to be a substitute for it. There is indeed a spurious sort of brotherly love; a vague philanthropy; which is sometimes put in the place of what God is entitled to claim. People substitute a certain easy constitutional good nature, instead of piety towards God; and even quote the loving apostle as an authority for doing so. They little know the heart of the man they quote, or the real spirit of his writings. Whatever importance he assigns to your loving your brother, it is to your loving him, because God has first loved you; loving him with the very love with which God has first loved you. And more than that. He appeals to the express commandment of God requiring you in this way to manifest and prove your love to him.
For, secondly, love to God is not ignored, or set aside. On the contrary, the very reason why loving your brother is insisted on so peremptorily is, that it is loving your brother in obedience to God, and out of love to God. In loving your brother, you keep Gods commandment; and you keep it under a very solemn appeal, as it were, from him to you. Let us hear his voice. You "say that you love me." You have good cause to love me, and I give you credit for loving me. But first, I have to remind you generally, that if "you love because I have first loved you," your love, like mine, must. flow out upon visible objects; on your brethren, such as they are seen in the world and in the church. And next, I tell you that this is my commandment : - If you love me, and as you love me, love your brother. I do not ask that your love to me, which I willingly accept, should manifest itself in any other way than that.
Ah! what a constant tendency is there in my heart to think that I can love God otherwise, and manifest my love to him otherwise, than in the way of loving my brother, and loving him simply at Gods command. I would fain try to lavish upon God directly proofs of my affection, such as, if he were man and not God, might please him. I would fain make him the object of immediate familiar and affectionate acts and offices of endearment; as if I might return and reciprocate his love, as I would that of an equal. But he checks :me. "He is my Lord; my goodness reacheth not to him." It is not thus that you can really act out the very love with which I have first loved you. To do so, you must deal as I do with the seen, not the unseen. Nay more. It is not thus that I would have you to act out the very love with which I have first loved you, assuming that you return and :reciprocate it to the full. For this is my commandment to you, that loving me you love your brother also. It is my commandment now, and will be the criterion, the test of my judgment, in the great day. For, hear the words of my beloved Son, who is then to sit on the throne of judgment: "Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me - Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
III. There is yet another view of the connection between love to the brethren and love to God suggested in the next verse, which seems to bring out the real explanation and ultimate principle of Johns teaching as to the law of divine love "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him" (ver. 1)
Let the precise point of the argument be once more observed. It is that Gods love to us should work in us love to our brother; and that in fact its working in us love to our brother is a better test of our knowing and believing it, than our professing any amount of love to God himself. It is so, first, because it is only in loving our brother whom we see, not in loving God whom we do not see, that we can exercise the very love wherewith God has first loved us. It is so, secondly, because in loving our brother we are obeying the commandment of him whom we profess to love; and so proving our love. And it is so, thirdly, because in loving our brother we love one who is begotten of God; and we love him as begotten of God; on the ground of his filial relationship to him who first loved us, and on account of whose first love to us we love.
My brother whom I love, let it be noted, is now viewed as a believer, a child of God. lie was not always so, when I loved him with a brothers yearning pity and a brothers desire to save him, any more than I was always so, when God loved me with a Fathers yearning pity and a Fathers desire to save me. But he is so now; and I love him as such. Why? Because he is born or "begotten of God." I, as begotten of God, love him, as begotten of God. The bond of love is our being both of us begotten of God, and it is a bond which God owns and sanctions; for the essence of it is love to himself. It is love to him, but it is love to him in a special aspect or character; as a Father - as one who begets. Is not that, however, the very aspect, the very character, in which he best loves to be loved? Is he not from the beginning bent on being loved as a Father, as one begetting? Is it not in that aspect and character, as a Father, as one begetting, that he would be known and loved, when, "bringing in the first begotten into the world, he says, Let all the angels of God worship him"? Is it otherwise than as a Father, as one begetting, that he would be known and loved, when a voice from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"? He cares not to receive honour or worship or affection at our hands, unless it is rendered to him as a Father begetting; as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes; he cries: if you would love me, as I choose to beloved, you must love me as a Father begetting. And the only sure proof of your so loving me, is your loving him who is begotten of me.
First and primarily that must imply your loving Jesus, the Christ, who alone is my only begotten, well-beloved Son. Hear him - worship him - if you would love me; - love me as the eternal Father begetting him from everlasting; love me as sending him to save, and raising him from the dead with this acknowledgment, "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. But now in him I am begetting others to be my sons; so begetting them by the power of my Spirit, as to make them one with him who is my only begotten Son, that he may be the first-born among many brethren." One after another, I am thus begetting children to myself. And every one of them is to me what my only begotten Son is. Can you say that he is so to you? He will be so, if you love me - " For every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him" (ver. i).
It is at this point exactly that these two affections, or rather these two modes of the same affection of love, - our loving because God first loved US, loving God as our Father and men as our brethren, - come to be welded, as it were, together; and the mode of reasoning seems to be reversed. For whereas before, our loving our brother is made the proof of our loving God in obedience to his commandment, now the matter is put in the very opposite way: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God" (ver. 2).
It is a seasonable and salutary turn that is here given to the train of thought. It ushers in a new subject. But first, it fitly finishes off the present one. It is a useful closing caution. Much stress has been laid upon your loving your brother; loving him as you see him; loving him because God commands you; loving him as begotten of God. But your love to your brethren needs to be carefully watched. Is it really love to them, as brethren, as children of God .? Is it love to them with a view to their being children of God? Is it love to them because they are children of God? For it may be on other grounds and for other reasons that you love them. It may be a love of mere natural sentiment and affection; a love merely human; having little or nothing in common with the love with which God first loved you. To be trustworthy at all, as a test of Gods giving you of his Spirit, and so dwelling in you, it must be love having in it the element of godliness; love having respect to God; love to them because God loves them and you love God. "By this we know that we love the children of God," as the children of God, when we love them because "we love God, and keep his commandments" (ver. 2).
THE DIVINE FELLOWSHIP OF LIGHT, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND LOVE,
OVERCOMING THE WORLD AND ITS PRINCE.
XXXVI. LOVE TO GOD KEEPING HIS
COMMANDMENTS AND NOT FINDING THEM GRIEVOUS.
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." - 1 John 5: 2, 3.
The three elements or conditions of the "fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ," in which John would have us to be joint partakers with himself and his fellow apostles - Light, the primary; Righteousness, the intermediate; Love, the ultimate one - having been considered - we enter, as it seems to me, on a fourth section of this great treatise, in which the divine fellowship regarded as complete is viewed in its relation to the conflict that is ever going on between God and the world, between the Holy and True One and the father of lies. The position of one enjoying fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ in light, righteousness, and love, demands on the one hand very thorough loyalty, and on the other hand ensures very thorough victory; loyalty as regards God and his law; victory as regards the wicked one and the system, or state of society, which he organises and influences, the world lying in him.
Hence the fitness or propriety of the introductory text in this part of the Epistle being one that enforces not only obedience, but obedience so thoroughly loving and loyal as to be divested of all the feeling of irksomeness that is apt to embitter a state of subjection and subordination.
For the assertion - "his commandments are not grievous" - is not an incidental remark merely; it is of the essence of the apostles argument. If the test of Gods giving us of his Spirit, and so dwelling in us (3: 24, and 4: 13), is to be pre-eminently our loving our brother (4: 7 and 20, etc.), it concerns us much that our love to our brother should be itself thoroughly tried and proved. Is it love to our fellow-men as seen by us in the same light in which God sees them and us when he loveth us? (4: 20.) Is it, moreover, a love that has respect to God (4: 21); that loves the begotten for the begetters sake (5); that loves the children for the relation in which they stand to the Father; out of love to the Father himself, and in obedience to him? (5: 2). This last condition is what really connects our loving them with our loving him. And it does so, in virtue of a general law or principle - "His commandments are not grievous."
The statement is not absolute but relative. It points out, not what the commandments of God are in themselves, but what they are to us, in our sense and apprehension of them. It may indeed be most truly said of them, considered in themselves, that they are not grievous; on the contrary, they are all most reasonable, equitable and beneficent. Nothing that God orders us to do, nothing that he requires us to suffer, can fairly be called grievous. But to me they are too often very grievous.. I feel them to be irksome and heavy. Yes! That is the exact word. They are heavy, weighty, burdensome.
That is my fault, you say. Be it so. Let us ask how it comes to be so; and let us ask also how it may cease to be so.
But first, let us fix it, as a first principle, in our understandings and hearts, that no keeping of Gods commandments will suffice to meet the condition or requirement now ia question, that is a keeping of them as grievous. They are not kept at all, in the sense of the identification, - "this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments," - if they are kept by us as grievous; if in keeping them we feel them to be grievous. Under this conviction, let us look into this matter of the grievousness of Gods commandments, and the way of delivery from any sense or suspicion of their being grievous.
I. Beginning at the lowest stage, it is not difficult to see how Gods commandments must be grievous to me, if I am bent on giving full scope to the movements of my inner man which are opposed to them. I cannot shake off the sense of their being binding on me; and binding on me under the sanction of terrible responsibilities. Let me drown conviction as I may in pleasures bowl, or stifle it in the din and whirl of worldly business, conscience will not let me take ray ease; I cannot get rid of Gods commandments. They haunt and harass me; they disturb and trouble me; they are grievous; often beyond expression grievous. How shall I ever shake off the feeling of their grievousness?
2. Shall it be by keeping them scrupulously, according to the strictest letter of the law? I become a painstaking Pharisee; a rigid and exact observer of all the command-merits. They shall not be grievous to me any more, on account of my wilful opposition to them. But alas! they are grievous still. I may reduce them to a minimum of obligations, and stretch my keeping of them to a maximum of fulfilment. I may make the least I can of them, by turning their living spirit into outward formal acts; and I may make the most of myself and my obedience, in the way of exaggerating my sacrifices and services. Still Gods commandments are grievous to me. My religion, such as it is, is a mere burden and oppression. I would shake it off if my conscience would allow me.
3. But my conscience will not allow me. It works in me deeper and deeper; carrying into the innermost recesses of my spiritual nature, not the letter only, but the spirit also of Gods commandments. And now, their grievousness comes out in a new and most distressing experience. For now, not only is my conscience convinced, but my will is renewed, with reference to these commandments of God. Both of these results or effects are of the Spirit. They are wrought simultaneously, and in harmony with one another; they act and reset on one another. My conscience, quickened by the Spirit, sensitively apprehends a spirituality in Gods commandments, - my heart reconciled by the Spirit, lovingly owns an excellency and beauty in them - unperceived and unfelt before. I become alive in my conscience to the imperative necessity of real spiritual conformity in my spirit to the holy and loving spirit of the law; and that precisely when I am smitten in my heart of hearts with love to it, because it is so spiritually holy and loving. And what follows? If the work of the Spirit goes on, I sink deeper and deeper, as under a heavy burden, growing always heavier. There is an increasingly oppressive sense, in my conscience, riot only of obligation unfulfilled, but of new guilt contracted. There is an increasingly despairing feeling, in my heart, of the opposition of my nature to the commandments of Gods law which I love. My very love to the commandments of God, my very "delight in the law after the inner man," brings out now more than ever the feeling of grievousness. Oh, how grievous to me are these commandments of my God, which I so heartily approve and love, but which, alas, I more and more helplessly complain that I cannot satisfy and keep! (Rom. 7: 21-25.)
4 But "there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8: 1). The element of grievousness is extracted from Gods commandments, only through my believing consciousness and experience of that great life-giving truth.. How complete is the provision thus made for eradicating every root of bitterness that might make us feel Gods commandments to be grievous!
There is, first, a removal of the curse, or the condemnation, and a complete restoration of our right standing with God. The element of grievousness arising out of the laws :righteous sentence of wrath is removed, in a way that completely divests the very sentence itself of all its grievousness. I cannot rebel against the judgment, however terrible, which the righteous law, with its broken com-rounds, entails on me; I cannot complain of it as grievous when, embracing the cross, I am one with him who there on my behalf endured and exhausted it. Nor can the demand of perfect compliance with the spirit of all the commandments, as the only condition of life, grieve me now, when I see it so fully met on my behalf by the obedience unto death of Gods own beloved Son.. Then, secondly, there is the renewal of my whole moral nature, bringing it back to its original conformity to the nature of God, as that nature is expressed and manifested in his commandments. This also is essential to the removal of the feeling of grievousness, If I am a spiritual man as regards the commandments of God, then - apart from the feeling of the utter hopelessness of my ever being justified, in the only way in which I now care to be justified, in terms of the law, fully vindicated and satisfied - there is the other feeling of she utter hopelessness of my ever being sanctified, after the fashion of the only sort of holiness that can now content me, the holy loving law of the holy loving God. But here too my case is met. In Christ Jesus my Lord I have not only justifying righteousness but renewing grace. The grievousness of a felt discrepancy between my nature and Gods commandments, between my spirit and theirs, need not continue. There may still be a vast difference in degree; but there need be no difference in kind. My moral nature and that of God are now one, if I am renewed after his image. May not the grievousness of his commandments now cease for ever?
5. An ominous fact here looms out from across the gulf that separates the primeval paradise from our present world. Before the fall, in the garden of Eden, Gods commandment was felt to be grievous; the only commandment which he saw fit formally to give. The reptile insinuations" Yea, hath God said ye shall not? " - found entrance into the ear, the mind, the heart of righteous innocence, created after the image of God. To Eve, to Adam, yet unfallen, with the divine likeness in which they were made still entire, the commandment of God came to be grievous. What are we to make of that?
It was the devils fault, be it so; let him bear the blame. But what of his own sin and fall, the sin and fall of himself and all his host? There was no tempter admitted into their abode. There were no outward circumstances to explain the rise of any feeling of grief in their breasts. Yet to them, still unfallen, the commandment of God was grievous. What shall we say to these things? How do they affect us?
Ah! do they not serve to bring out a new and most blessed view of the gospel method of salvation? John says expressly and absolutely, without qualification or reserve, that "Gods commandments are not grievous." He says this with reference to himself and all believers. His meaning must be, that he and they are in such a state, and of such a mind, as to preclude the possibility of Gods commandments ever being, or ever becoming, grievous either to him or to them. And what does that imply?
If the plan of grace made provision only for our being restored, in respect of position and nature, to what our first parents were before they fell, - if we were to be even as the angels were, - however thoroughly that end might be accomplished, it would not afford any adequate security against Gods commandments being felt to be grievous. For in fact, the risk to be obviated, the evil to be remedied and guarded against, is not that Gods commandments in detail are grievous, some more so and some less, but that his commandments as a whole are grievous. The grievance is that he commands us at all. Even when the thing commanded is most easy and pleasant, most manifestly right and good, its being commanded may make it grievous. That was the case in heaven, when the commandment to "worship the Son," turned out to be grievous to so many of the yet unfallen angels. It was the case also in paradise, when the commandment not to eat of the forbidden tree became grievous to our first parents. It might be the case again, in paradise restored, in heaven gained, if we who are redeemed and renewed were to be merely such, in position and in nature, as the angels were in heaven, and our first parents were in paradise, before they fell.*
The real seat of the mischief is not reached unless the very possibility of our ever feeling it grievous to be commanded is thoroughly, conclusively, and effectually pre-eluded and barred. And what potent spell, what resistless charm, is to secure that blessed result? What but the spell, the charm of love? And what love?. What but the love which is Gods very essence, manifested in a way altogether new and inconceivable beforehand; in a way in which, but for the entrance of sin and evil into his moral creation, it never could have been manifested? Yes. That love of God manifested in his sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins, - known and believed by us,-bringing us into a perfect love-relationship to him and working in us love of the very same sort with itself, - that love of him who is love, thus manifested to us, apprehended by us, and reproduced in us, - that love it is, and that alone, which puts finally and for ever away out of our hearts every shred and vestige of the old spirit, the old leaven, which, jealous of restraint and aspiring to independence, counts it a grievance .to be commanded. This is that new thing under the sun for which sin or moral evil gave occasion, and for which that alone could give occasion. This is Gods method of overcoming evil with good; higher good than could ever otherwise have been reached. This is the triumph of love; reconciling mans proud soul to dependence and obedience; expelling the last lingering feeling of soreness because he is under authority; the last lingering feeling of desire to be his own master, or to rule himself.
Ah! if that love has its free course in me; if I know it and believe it; if I enter cordially into that perfect relationship and fellowship of love for which it makes provision, and consent to be on that footing of perfect love with God on which he would have me to be; if now, in consequence, all servile fear is clean gone out of me, and only filial reverence and affection reign within me; how can it ever, at any time, seem to me grievous that this God should command me?
Grievous! O my redeeming God, my loving Father, the loving Father of my Lord! Grievous that thou shouldst command me! Grievous that I should be under thee! Grievous that I am not independent of thee; left to choose for myself, instead of having thee to choose for me; left free to do my own will, and not thine! Nay, I will not, I cannot any more take exception to thy rightful rule over me, O thou loving God and Father who so lovingly makest me thine own! No, nor to any instance of its exercise, be the instance what it may. Whatever thou commandest, in the line of doing or of suffering, shall please me now, simply because thou commandest it. I dare not promise that there shall be no groans, and tears, and cries, in the doing or the suffering of it. There were groans, and tears, and cries, in the doing and suffering of thy will, when the doer and sufferer of it was thine own beloved Son. But to this I will seek to attain, thy grace helping me, that to me now, as one with him, not one of thy commandments shall ever be more grievous than was that "commandment" to him, in obedience to which "he laid down his life for the sheep."
That was his loving us, with a true brothers love, because "he loved God and kept his commandments." That also was his "overcoming the world," and the worlds prince. Thus he proved his love to God, by keeping his commandments; keeping them as not finding any of them to be grievous. Not grievous to him was the commandment to save his people by dying in their stead. Not grievous to him was the commandment to encounter Satan on their behalf, and win for them the victory over Satans world.
And now what is his word to you? Is it not a word giving you the assurance that you in him will find Gods commandments no more grievous to you than they were to him? Yes! Once more hear his voice: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." All ye that labour and are heavy laden; ye who are painfully seeking to fulfil the letter of Gods law and finding it very hard; working laboriously at religion as at a weary task; feeling Gods service to be a very drudgery and weariness of the flesh - or ye who, smitten with a sense of the beauty of holiness, the spirituality of the commandment, and the exceeding sinfullness of sin, are desperately striving to get rid of indwelling corruption, and bring your whole inner man into subjection to God and to godliness - " all ye who labour and are heavy laden," not succeeding, not attaining, not able to rise above the feeling of its being, after all, a heavy load that is imposed upon you in the keeping of Gods commandments, - " Come unto me; I will give you rest."
But how? "Take my yoke upon you." "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Thy yoke, O blessed Jesus, easy! Thy burden light! The yoke thou didst take on thyself when thou didst consent to serve and obey, even to the laying down of thy life for us, - was that easy? The burden thou hadst to bear when, all thy life long and in thy death, thou hadst, in obedience to the Father, and as his servant, to carry our sicknesses, our sorrows, our sins, - was that light? Is it that yoke of thine that thou invitest us to take upon us? Is it that burden of thine that thou callest us to bear? And is it in the taking upon us of that yoke of thine, and in the bearing of that burden of thine, that thou assurest us we shall find rest unto our souls Even so. Thus and not otherwise will I give you rest when you come to me, - " Take my yoke upon you." But that it may be really my yoke that you take upon you, - "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." Learn of me my own meekness and lowliness of heart. Learn of me, coming to me, abiding in me, growing up into me, getting it from me and in me, - learn of me that meek, lowly, hearty love and loyalty to my Father, - -having in it no element at all of the servile, for all in it is filial, - which makes the hardest yoke easy, the heaviest burden light. For it is thus that, in the consciousness of unbroken filial oneness with him who lays on me the yoke and the burden, I can lift up to him the eye of quiet resignation and reliance, and say, - " Father, glorify thy name ;" "Father, not my will, but thine be done;" Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Thy commandments are not grievous to me, for "by keeping them I abide in thy love" (John 15: 10).
XXXVII. FILIAL FAITH OVERCOMING THE WORLD.
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? " - 1 John 5: 4-5.
HERE again the apostle brings in "the world;" and he does so in the very midst of a singularly high estimate of the believers standing and character. He has placed him in a relation of close intimacy with God, and of serious responsibility as regards the special duty which that implies. For what is brotherly love, as John describes it? It is our letting the very love with which God has loved us go forth, through us, to all men; and our embracing all who accept that love as brethren in the Lord. John has associated this exercise of love on our part, not only with Gods love to us, but with our obligation of loving obedience to God. That loving obedience, if it is to be the obedience of persons accepting and transmitting the love of God, must be uncomplaining and ungrudging. It must be obedience counting none of Gods commandments grievous; because it owns freely Gods absolute right to command, and therefore confesses that nothing which he commands can be wrong.
But the world comes in; and it must be somehow disposed of, and got rid of. It must be disposed of, and got rid of, in its bearing on our position and our duty as now brought out. In this view I ask you to consider -
I What the world is, and how it is that the only way of dealing with it is to overcome it. And
II. How the world is to be overcome by the new birth and through faith.
I. The indefiniteness - the sort of unsatisfactory vagueness - that is sometimes felt to attach to the scriptural idea of the world, is here somewhat obviated by the connection or train of thought, in which it occurs.. The fact (ver. 4), that "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world," is given apparently as the reason why to such a one (ver. 3) "the commandments of God are not grievous." The world, therefore, it might seem, must be characterised by an impression or feeling to the opposite effect - that the commandments of God are grievous. Wherever that. impression or feeling prevails, there is the world Of course, there are other characteristic features by which the world may be recognised and identified; some of which are brought out elsewhere in this epistle, as well as in other books of the New Testament. For the most part, indeed, when the world is spoken of in any passage of scripture as the antagonist of God, of his kingdom, his cause, his people, his law, there is, in the passage itself, some clue to guide or help us to a right apprehension of what particular aspect of the world is meant. And it might serve to give point and precision to the teaching of any scriptural text on the subject of the world - its relation to us as believers and our attitude towards it - if instead of contenting ourselves with a general notion of it, as a system or society somehow opposed to godliness, we fastened on the exact sort of opposition which the text in question may be fitted to suggest. As to our present text, for instance, we can have little difficulty. What is the world which faith overcomes? It is whatever system or way of life, whatever society or companionship of men, tends to make us feel Gods commandments, or any of them, to be grievous.
Here then, at all events, we have no mere vague denunciation of some formidable, but somewhat dim and shadowy enemy; but a definition sufficiently intelligible, and sufficiently precise and practical. Ponder it for a little, and apply it as a test. What is the world to you? It is whatever, it is whoever, is apt to make you feel Gods commandments to be grievous. That is a searching test, if faithfully applied by one deeply conscious of that carnal nature in himself, even in his renewed self, which is ever ready to prompt or to welcome the suggestion. That carnal nature in you is not necessarily the world; but all that ministers to it is the world. The natural disposition in you to count the commandments of God grievous is very strong. Do you feel its strength? Are you sensitively alive to its continual and powerful working? Does it vex and distress you?. If so, and in proportion as it is so, you are in a position to discern this mark by which the world may be known; whether as an order of things, or as a fellowship of men.
There is an order, or, if you will, a disorder, of things; a way of occupying the mind, amusing the fancy, gratifying the taste, stimulating the passions, warming the imagination, interesting the heart; which, if you are spiritual, and honest in your spirituality, you must feel, when you try it by this touchstone, to be the world. Ask yourself, at the close of an hour or two, or half an hour, spent in reading, or in musing, or in walking abroad, or at table, or at any sort of work, or recreation, or elegant accomplishment that you like : - Has the occupation left you less inclined than you were before to comply with a call of duty, to submit to a sacrifice of inclination, to engage in prayer, to go forth on an errand of pious love? Are you more disposed than otherwise you might have been to feel any such demand upon you to be a sort of interruption, and as such to be somewhat irksome? I am not concerned to maintain that absolutely and always this is of itself proof positive that what you have been occupied about is the world. But this I say; it is at least a very strong presumption. And when you find that upon your being occupied in the same way a second time, or a third, the effect is much the same, the presumption rises into certainty. Whatever it may be as regards others, so far as you are concerned, to all practical intents and purposes, that is the world. So also, in the matter of your intercourse with men, this rule of judgment will often help you to separate the precious from the vile. Who are they from whose company, however otherwise pleasant and profitable, you come, a little, just a very little, more apt than is your wont, to think that God is pressing rather hard upon you, or upon some other child of God whose case you pity? You are tempted slightly to lose patience and temper. You may be at a loss to explain how this comes about; for you cannot perhaps lay your finger on anything particular in what has been going on that may explain it. But you feel it; and that should be enough for you. Do not hesitate to acknowledge that such meetings and companionships are to be regarded and treated by you as the world. Let it be fixed in your minds as a great truth, that the world to be overcome comprehends all that you come in contact with which has any tendency to awaken in you the feeling that "Gods commandments are grievous."
If this is a true account of the world, as here presented to us, it must be very evident that it is a world to be "overcome." We cannot deal with it, if we would avoid its deleterious and deadly influence, in any other way. We cannot escape from it, or put it aside. As regards some of its forms and manifestations we may do so. Where we have freedom of choice, we may shun its occupations and companionships. And when these are of such a nature in themselves, or have such influence upon us - or upon any brother whom we are called to love - as to foster the impression of Gods commandments being grievous, we are bound to shun them. We are under no obligation whatever to frequent the theatre, the ball-room, the racecourse; to court the friendship of dissolute hunters after pleasure or frivolous votaries of fashion; to expose ourselves to the contamination of unprofitable reading and discourse. So far we may and must "come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, if we would be the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty." But we do not thus get rid of the world. It still presses hard upon us, with its suggestions from every side that the service of God is not perfect freedom. All the ongoings and arrangements of its necessary business, even the customary usages of the home circle itself, are but too ready to convey impressions to that effect. Nay, in the loneliest desert, in the remotest cell hermit ever dwelt in, we cannot shut out airy voices whispering in the ear that something we have to do or bear is hard; we cannot lay an arrest on ideal fascinations shedding a gloom on the cloisters austere devotion, or on the real trials of life. No; the world cannot be shunned. Neither can it be conciliated. We cannot make any compromise with it. The only effectual, the only possible, way is to overcome it.
And the manner of overcoming it must be peculiar. It must be such as thoroughly to meet and obviate that tendency to minister to a rebellious frame of mind which constitutes the chief characteristic, and indeed the very essence, of what is here called the world.
II. Two explanations accordingly, of this overcoming of the world are given; the one having reference to the original source, the other to the continued following out of the victory (ver. 4).
I. "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." So the victory begins; that is its seed or germ. And as to its seed or germ, it is complete; potentially complete, though not so in actual result, fully and in detail. Being born or begotten of God implies the overcoming of the world. For whatever is born of God necessarily, ipso facto, overcomes the world. The statement is very wide; and it seems evidently to imply that there is positively no other way of overcoming the world except by our being born or begotten of God: that God himself could not enable us to do this otherwise. There is that in our being born or begotten of God which secures, and which alone can secure, our overcoming the world. And what can that be but the begetting in us of a frame of mind which cuts up by the roots the whole strength of the worlds hold over us - the idea, namely, of Gods commandments being grievous?
Consider, in this view, what it is to be born or begotten of God. It is more than being created, or even created anew. It is not our being made anew, or made over again; as if the simple fiat of omnipotence went forth: Let what has made itself corrupt be re-read, pure as at the first. That would not be begetting on Gods part, or being begotten on ours. The new birth is indeed a new creation; but it is something more; at least it is a new creation of a very special sort. Christs birth was a creation. In his birth there was created for him a body, a holy humanity, in the Virgins womb. But the angel said, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." He was to be called the Son of God in a higher sense than any sense in which the first man might have been so called; and that with reference even - nay with reference especially - to his human nature and condition. He was made man, not by a mere creative act as Adam was, but by generation; being "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit." So also in us the new creation is a new birth. When the Holy Spirit makes us new creatures, we are "begotten of God;" "his seed is in us," the divine germ of a new nature and a new life.
This, let it be noted also, is something more than Gods consenting to reckon us his children, by a gracious act of adoption. It is his making us really, in our very nature, his children. It is not merely that he takes us to be on a new footing with him, as I might take a houseless orphan to be to me as a son. Literally and truly he begets us as children to himself. The houseless orphan whom I desire to have for my son may never be really a son to me. I may fail in all my attempts to make him, in any true or valid sense, my son. He will be my servant, because he cannot help it; he will render to me punctual, and even punctilious, obedience. But alas it is not such obedience as I care for. I see too clearly that he often looks on me still as a hard master, and feels my commandments to be grievous. No such disappointment can await the Almighty Father. He begets by his Spirit those whom he adopts in his Son. They are begotten of God; begotten by the agency of his Spirit, as his incarnate Son was; begotten, to be to him what he is; to feel towards him as he feels. That ensures their overcoming whatever might tempt them to count Gods commandments grievous; or, in other words, their overcoming the world.
"Look unto Jesus." Was ever any servant of God,-for such he was - placed in circumstances more likely to make the commandments of God be felt as grievous, such commandments especially as he had to fulfil? Go with him through all his experience in the world. The commandments of God laid on him; the things he had to do, the things he had to suffer; were surely capable of being represented to him as grievous, and regarded by him as grievous. They were so represented to him by the world and its prince. Were they so regarded by him? And if not, why not? Because he was "begotten of God;" begotten of God, not merely as to his divine nature, but as to his human nature also; as "God manifest in the flesh;" "Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" "the man Christ Jesus." In respect of his manhood, as well as his .Godhead, he is the only begotten Son of God; occupying a sons place in the heart of God; having a sons affection towards God in his own heart. Therefore no commandment of God, whatever tears and groans and cries it might exhort from his feeble flesh, could ever be grievous to his filial spirit. So, in virtue of his being born of God, he overcame the world. And so also we in virtue of our being born of God, overcome the world; the world which is ever insinuating that the commandments of God are grievous; that the things he requires us to do, and the things he requires us to suffer, are hard. We never can withstand these insinuations of the world, fitting in so well into our own carnal disposition, unless we stand in a filial relation to God, and are possessed of a filial frame of mind, a filial heart, towards him; being not only adopted by him, but begotten of him. But being his children indeed; standing to him in the relation of sons, and having our whole inner man renewed into harmony and correspondence with that relation; being to him all that his only begotten Son is, and feeling towards him as his only begotten Son feels; we have such personal knowledge of him as our Father, such loving acquaintance with him, such insight into his character and plans, such cordial sympathy with him in the great work which he is carrying on in the earth, as must convince us that nothing he can demand of us as his ministers and servants, nothing he can lay upon us, can be anything else than what we ought to welcome in the words and in the spirit of Jesus: "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart. 2. This implies faith; and faith in constant and lively exercise. Our overcoming the world is not an achievement completed at once, and once for all, in our being begotten of God. It is a life-long business; a prolonged and continuous triumph in a prolonged and continuous strife. We are to be always anew, all our days, overcoming the world; "and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Our being born of God does indeed give us the victory; it puts us in the right position, and endows us with the needful power, for overcoming the world. But we have still before us the work of actually, from day to day, all our lifelong, in point of fact, overcoming the world. And it is by faith that we do so. Our being born of God is the source of the victory; our faith is the realisation of it, or the acting of it out. Our being born of God fits and qualifies us for overcoming the world; our faith really overcomes it.
Nor is it difficult to harmonise these two things; our being born of God and so overcoming the world, and the victory which overcometh the world being our faith. For our being born of God, which is the secret of our overcoming the world, is itself intimately connected with faith; it originates faith and culminates in faith; its immediate outgoing in activity is faith. And therefore faith, continually exercised, constantly acting, is the instrument of victory. Nor is it merely faith apprehending a past event in our moral history, an accomplished change in our spiritual condition, our being "born of God." It is faith exercised upon a present object; not looking back or looking in, but looking out; "looking unto Jesus." For "who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Jesus is the ever-present object of this ever acting faith; Jesus considered as the Son of God. For it is the sonship of Jesus that our faith grasps, embraces, and appropriates. And it is because it does so that it is "the victory which overcometh the world." Who is he who is at any given moment, and with reference to any given trial or temptation, really overcoming the world? Is it not he who, at that very moment, and with special reference to that very trial or temptation, is "believing that Jesus is the Son of God;" so believing as to be one with him in his being so; of one mind and of one heart, then and there, as to the precise matter in hand or the particular question raised; of one mind and heart with Jesus the Son of God; judging the case as he, the Son of God, would have. judged it; feeling as. he, the Son of God, would have felt; acting as in the circumstances he, the Son of God, would have acted? Jesus himself had to overcome, and did overcome, the world. How? Was it not by faith by faith in his own sonship, or rather faith in God as his Father, faith ever intensely and vividly realising it as a truth that God was his Father? It was as the Son of God that he looked out upon the world; from his Fathers point of view. It was as the Son of God that he met the worlds attractions; the consciousness of his Fathers love stripped them in his eyes of all their charms. It was as the Son of God that he was tempted; trust in his Fathers faithfulness kept him without sin. It was as the Son of God that he suffered, and suffered willingly, that his Father might be glorified. Into his pure, calm, filial spirit, there never did, there never could, enter the very faintest shadow of a suspicion that anything his Father ordered or ordained could be otherwise than just, and right, and good. Therefore the world had no hold over him; "the prince of the world had nothing in him." There was not in him any latent or lurking element of possible impatience under the yoke, to which the world might appeal, and by means of which, persuading him that Gods way was harsh, the world might subdue him. For though he became the servant of the Father, he was still the Son; and therefore in serving the Father, being still the Son, he overcame the world. So we also, believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and being ourselves sons of God in him, may find that in this way we can overcome the world. At all events, we may be very sure that there is no other "victory that overcometh the world" but only this faith; this filial faith in God our Father; giving the lie to all the worlds aspersions on his character, and all the worlds complaints against his government and law.
O child of God, wouldest thou overcome the world? Is it thine earnest, anxious, longing desire so to overcome the world that it shall never have power any more to make thee feel any one of thy Gods commandments to be grievous? Is it a distress to thee that such a feeling still prevails so much and so often in thy secret soul; that thy walk before God, thy fellowship with God, thy service of God, are all so marred, tainted, cramped, and hindered, by the everrecurring suggestion that this or that thing required of thee is hard? Yes; it is hard to cut off a right hand and pluck out a right eye; hard to deny self and take up the cross; hard to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; hard to go forth unto Christ without the camp bearing his reproach; hard to forego a seemingly harmless pleasure; hard to part with one dearly beloved; hard to bear excruciating pain; hard to die by premature decay; hard to lay down life for a brother! Ah! is it a grief to thee, a sore mortification and disappointment, that thou art so easily moved by the world; for it is thy love of the world, or the worlds power over thee, that moves thee; thus to think, thus to feel, if not even thus to speak? Here, and only here, is the remedy. Believe, be always believing, that Jesus, so called because he saves his people from their sins, is the Son of God; that it is as the Son of God that he saves thee; and that he saves thee so as to make thee a son; being himself the first-born among many brethren. Rise to the full height of that great position. Realise its greatness; the greatness of its freedom; "the glorious liberty of the sons of God." That is "the victory which overcometh the world," even such faith as that.
XXXVIII. THE THREE WITNESSES AND THEIR AGREEMENT.
"This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. And there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." - 1 John 5: 5 and 8.
THE faith which is "the victory that overcometh the world" has for its object Jesus, viewed as the Son of God; for "who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" This faith, however, does not simply contemplate Jesus as the Son of God; dwelling exclusively either on his original and eternal sonship, or on that sonship as manifested in his human nature. It has to deal with his work as well as with his person. It has to deal with him as "come ;" "come in the flesh;" "come into the world." And in particular, it has to deal with two accessories or accompaniments of his coming; two distinguishing facts or features characteristic of the manner of his coming and its design. He came, he is come, through the medium, or in the element, not of water only, but of blood also. So coming he is "Jesus the Christ;" the anointed Saviour; and it is our faith in him as the Son of God so come, as Jesus Christ coming by or with water and blood, which is the victory that overcometh the world. "He is come by water and blood ;" not "by water only," as his forerunner came, "but by water and blood;" himself undergoing a baptism of blood as well as of water, and so having blood and water available for those who are one with him. This was conclusively indicated when on the cross his side was pierced, and "forthwith came there out blood and water" (John xix. 34). Then he was seen coming by water and by blood. And the fact was verified on the spot. "He that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" (ver. 35). So John writes in his Gospel, very emphatically giving us his testimony, as an eyewitness, for a ground of our faith.
Here, in his epistle, he points to testimony still higher; not human, but divine; testimony, not to the mere matter of fact which he saw, but to its spiritual significance and power, that we may so believe as by our faith to overcome the world: it is the Spirit that beareth witness." And of the Spirit as bearing witness, not only may it be said that "his record is true and he knoweth that he saith true," he is truth itself; "he is himself truth," and he guides into all truth. This is a greater witness than John could be; for the Spirit attests, not the outward historical occurrence merely, but its inward meaning and saving virtue.
But even the Spirit can thus bear witness only by associating with himself two other witnesses. These are "the water and the blood;" the very water and the very blood by which Jesus Christ came. Bearing witness that he so "cometh by water and blood," the Spirit makes the water and the blood themselves witnesses along with him; so that "there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood and these three agree in one" (ver. 8).
Two topics here suggest themselves for inquiry -
I. The manner of this threefold testimony; and
II. Its harmony and completeness.
I. Let the manner of this threefold testimony be considered. Let the witnesses be, as it were, called in court; first the single witness indicated in the sixth verse, the Spirit; and then the other two pointed out in the eighth, the water and the blood. In the first place, "the Spirit beareth witness." He is the first and principal witness: preeminently, the witness-bearer. That he is a fitting witness cannot be doubted; the only question is, how does he give his testimony?. For he does not appear visibly; he does not speak audibly; we neither "see his shape at any time, nor hear his voice." And yet it is to us that he testifies; and he testifies to us personally, as the living Spirit to living men, present with us here and now. How then does he make his presence known? And how does he make the purport of his testimony understood? We are called in this matter to take evidence and decide a cause; and, strange to say, the first and principal witness cited is one whom. we neither see nor hear.
But there may be evidence of his presence as satisfactory as sight; and there are modes of conveying testimony as intelligible and unequivocal as spoken language. The Spirit may announce his presence by "a rushing mighty noise," or by his swift descent, like a dove, from on high. By lambent flames, "cloven tongues as of fire," resting or flickering over the heads of an assembled company; by new and strange languages proceeding from their mouths; by some evidently supernatural work wrought; by some supernatural gift, or endowment, or power imparted; or by moral miracles of converting and quickening grace, as indisputable as any of these; the presence of the Spirit may be ascertained. And if now having him actually with us, we inquire what as a witness he has to say; then, in the inseparable connection which is to be observed between these signs of his presence and certain facts or statements otherwise known to us, we may obtain a silent indeed, but a sufficiently explicit reply. We have the word spoken at first, and then written, by holy men of old as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit, by whose inspiration that word was originally given, may significantly acknowledge it now as his own, by accompanying tokens of his influence not to be mistaken. He may, as it were, in our presence and to our satisfaction, before whom he is cited as a witness, homologate what he dictated ages ago; and so expressly signify, by some unquestionable demonstration of his power, his actual concurrence now in what was said or written then, as to make it strictly and directly his testimony to us personally; and his testimony brought down to the present hour. Thus, in the word, we have the deposition of the Spirit as first and principal witness in this great cause; we have the precise matter of his testimony. And we have it, not merely as the written report of former evidence, but as evidence emitted anew by him to us now.
This is especially important. The appeal is clearly made, not to the Spirit as having borne witness formerly, and left his testimony on record, but to the Spirit as bearing witness now. For the witness in this case is not, as in other and ordinary cases, one who dies or goes out of the way. In such cases, we must content ourselves with the notes of the deposition, the report or record of the testimony, as given by him and taken down at the time. Here, the witness is ever living and ever accessible. He is not afar off; he is always at hand; to verify his own evidence. Nor can he be at a loss for ways and means of doing so. He is indeed determined, so to speak, to preserve his incognito and keep himself concealed. But he is almighty, the Spirit of power, having command over all the moving forces of the world, the world both of matter and of mind. Therefore he can give intimation of his presence by works peculiarly his own. And these works now he may so connect with words spoken or written of old, as to make us feel, not only that he then suggested the words as his, but that he is addressing them to us now as his; not only that he did once bear witness, but that he is now bearing witness, and that this is his testimony. Thus the Spirit bears present witness through his own inspired word.
And now, secondly, in the course of giving this testimony, in his very manner of giving it, the Spirit associates with himself other two witnesses, "the water and the blood." And these, like the first, are present witnesses. The Spirit, in bearing witness, "takes of what is Christs and shows it unto us." He points to the Son of God, Jesus Christ come in the flesh; and especially to his coming "by water and blood."
But how, it may be asked, can the water and the blood be brought forward as witnesses now? They might bear silent testimony at the time when they flowed from the smitten side of Jesus on the cross, and they to whom the Spirit was then bearing witness might see, through his teaching, as the dying thief did, in the pure water and the precious blood, a confirmation of the truth concerning Christ, that in him there is not only renewal of nature, but redemption also, and remission of sins. But the water and the blood are not accessible to us now. The water was spilt on the ground; and the earth opened her mouth to receive the blood. We would seek in vain, where the cross stood, for any traces of the drops that then fell beside it; and even if some of these drops had been preserved and handed down to us, they .would have been but dead relics, such as superstition loves to dote upon, not living witnesses, such as the living Spirit may associate in witness-bearing with himself. The water then and the blood are removed out of the way; we have them no more within our reach. We have indeed sacramental signs and seals of them, in the water of baptism and the wine of communion. But these elements are really as dead as are the water and the blood which they represent. There cannot be more life in the water of baptism, than there is now in the water that came from the Saviours side; nor in the wine of communion than in the blood. But the water and the blood are, as to the matter of them, irrecoverably lost. Still therefore the question remains, How do they now give present living evidence along with the living Spirit?
The real explanation is to be found in this consideration, that though the event itself, the flowing of water and blood from the pierced side, was of brief duration and soon passed away, the relation in which it stands to heaven and earth is permanent and perpetual. For it is the relation in which it stands to heaven and earth, to the divine government and to our human interests, which alone gives to the event, or to any circumstance connected with the event, its significance as a testimony. The death of Christ, as a mere fact, occupied but a point of time in the lapse of eternal ages; but in its bearing upon the designs of God and the destinies of man - and it is that alone which renders it important - it has properly no date at all. "From before the foundation of the world," Jesus is "the Lamb slain;" he is the Lamb slain, to the close of all things. Whatever therefore took place or was going on at Christs death, we are to regard as taking place and going on now. Viewed as mere incidents of a historical transaction, the water and the blood flowed once, and have long ceased to flow; but then, viewed merely in that light, they tell us nothing, they bear witness to nothing, beyond the bare fact of a human being having died. It is only when they are viewed in their relation to God and to man, that the water and the blood have a tale to tell, a testimony to give. And considered in that light, they must be held as having flowed from the beginning, and as continuing to the end to flow.
Hence their testimony is inseparable from that of the Spirit. For it is not in or by themselves, but only in and with and by the Spirit, that the water and the blood are or can be witnesses at all. Only through the Spirit have the wounds of Jesus an intelligible voice and utterance to convince and move the soul. For in truth it may be emphatically said of the water and the blood, and of any testimony they may bear, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing." The water and the blood carnally apprehended, regarded and understood after the flesh, are not witnesses at all; at least not witnesses of any heavenly transaction, or of any divine and spiritual truth; and of course not witnesses of the bearing of any such transaction or any such truth on the highest spiritual and heavenly interests of men. But "spiritually discerned," the water and the blood, the water for purification and the blood for atonement, like all the words and works of Jesus, are "spirit and life" (John 6: 63). And thus the whole truth concerning Christ and his death attested by the Spirit, and by the water and the blood associated with the Spirit and rendered significant and saving by him, becomes the source of spiritual life and strength to every one who believes that "Jesus is the Son of God," and enables him therefore "to overcome the world." For "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;" that faith of ours which grasps the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Here is Jesus Christ coming by water and blood; very specially by blood; "not by water only, but by water and blood." And the Spirit, with the water and the blood, and by means of them as joint-witnesses with himself, testifies to him as "coming by water and blood," and as, in virtue of his so coming, giving us the victory over the world. Not otherwise than by taking the water and the blood as joint-witnesses with himself, can the Spirit commend to us Jesus Christ, as triumphing in his own person, and causing us who are one with him to triumph, over sin, and the guilt of sin, and the power of sin; over all that makes Gods service a bondage to us and his commandments grievous; over what constitutes the essence of the world which we have to overcome if we would walk as children with our Father in heaven.
II. Such being the nature of this threefold testimony, let us look now at its harmony: "These three agree in one." This may perhaps be best brought out by putting the supposition of a partial reception of the testimony in different aspects; and showing how, in every case, the partial reception, if fairly followed out, requires and demands the acceptance of the whole, and must lead the earnest soul to that result.
i. There are some who seem to acquiesce in the testimony of the Spirit, but without having respect either to the water or to the blood. To this extent at least they may go, that they admit the reality of those supernatural works by which the Spirit of old bore witness to the word, and generally they admit the authority of the word as attested by the Spirit to be the word of God. They acknowledge, in a sort of vague and general way, that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.
He is declared and proved to be so by the Spirit of truth, and they do not question what the Spirit says. Theirs is a kind of indefinite, blind, stupid reliance on something, one knows not what, that the Spirit says in the Scriptures about Christ. But do they really receive the testimony, even of the Spirit alone, in any sense consistent with fairness or intelligence? What would be thought of such conduct in reference to temporal things? Take a somewhat analogous instance.
I come to you with information to give you, on a point deeply affecting your welfare. I hold in my hands a document which I assure you is of urgent consequence to you, securing you against the hazard of loss, putting you in the way of great gain. And how do you receive me? You take the document out of my hands, with many formal compliments and thanks, and many professions of personal respect for me. You will prize it very highly, pay it all due attention, and seek to profit by it. But I have much to say to you regarding the document and its contents. I seek to prolong the conversation with yea upon the document. I wish to press upon your regard certain parts of it which I am willing to open up to you; and in particular, I am most anxious to help you in turning its discoveries to good practical account. You listen impatiently; for I wear}- you. Is it not enough that you take the document as I desire you, and really intend not to neglect it? So, getting rid of me, you retain my paper. You treat it with considerable deference; you duly look into it; you find in it some hints that you may follow, some directions with which you can comply; and if you do stumble at a few dark things in it, this is no more than might have been anticipated beforehand. At all events, you are in possession of the deed, which you have been told is, somehow or other, to secure to you safety and victory.
Is it thus that we are treating the blessed Spirit of God? We receive his testimony; that is, we take the Bible at his hands, and on the whole admit as true what he told the world about Christ when he inspired the Bible. But we do not suffer him to bear witness to us now. If we did, he would not indeed give evidence now by such signs as of old; but he would give evidence by tokens no less satisfactory, because no less divine. In particular, the Spirit would bear witness, not generally and vaguely to Christ coming as a Saviour, but specially to his coming by water and blood. This he would do by his divine agency, appealing to our whole inner man, and working there, with and by the word.
Allow the Holy Spirit to have full scope and free course in testifying to you now. Give the Spirit his own place; let him follow out his own plan. What plan? you ask. Ah! is he not already giving you some hint of his plan? He would have you let him keep hold of you, when he has begun to deal with you, to deal with your conscience in the way of conviction, with your heart in the way of persuasion. Does Felix tremble? Is Agrippa almost persuaded? The Spirit is testifying of Christ. Are you beginning to suspect that there may be more in the gospel than you once thought; that you may require to go deeper into religion; that the vague kind of confidence you have been cherishing, and the loose sort of piety you have been cultivating, will scarcely suffice much longer; that you need something more distinct, a more thorough search into what is the real state of the case as between your God and you, a more thorough settlement of the footing on which you are to be with him, a far more thoroughly decided walk? Have you misgivings now as to those generalities in doctrine and those formalities in duty which used to content you? Do not doubt that the Spirit is testifying to you of Christ, and do not resist or grieve him. Let him carry on his own work in his own way, the way in which he has already begun it. And he will soon make you right glad to welcome Jesus Christ "coming by water and blood ;" having in himself and in his cross precious blood to atone for all guilt, as well as pure water to cleanse from all pollution.
2. You may lean to the water as bearing witness, rather than to the blood. The influence of the gospel in purifying the heart and life may be that feature by which mainly it approves itself to your mind. You recognise the necessity of being renewed to holiness or virtue, and therefore you can apprehend and appreciate the testimony of the water by which Jesus Christ came; his requiring and providing for that result. But this purifying virtue in Christ, or in the gospel of Christ, you view very much apart from his blood of atonement; so that the change of heart towards God becomes to you, not only the chief part, but almost the whole of personal religion. You may not set altogether aside the blood; but practically you may be placing little reliance upon it and feeling little need of it. In that case, you set little value on the testimony of the blood; to the water and the Spirit you give all the preference. Then, let me say again, give these two witnesses fair scope; let their testimony be fully carried out. in other words, follow out your own convictions. You see now in some degree, and feel what alone can satisfy your God; what he is really entitled to claim and to expect at your hands. The law has come home to you, to your conscience and heart, in the full extent of its obligations, as binding you to perfect love, and making even a sin of thought exceeding sinful. That law approves itself as infinitely excellent; altogether reasonable; "holy, and just, and good." You perceive now that to this law you must become a willingly subject, that you must be brought into that state in which it shall be your meat to do the will of God, even as it was Christs. Under these impressions, having now a vivid perception of what holiness really is, you may set about being holy, in right earnest and with all your might. Do you succeed? Nay, the very effort defeats itself; the struggle sinks you deeper in conscious guilt, and helpless subjection to the evil that is in you. The corruption of your nature is provoked and stimulated; you feel yourself paralysed, enchained, imprisoned. And while this new discovery of the "desperate wickedness of the heart," this sad proof that you are so very far from being what God would have you to be, grieves you to the quick, the distress is aggravated by the consciousness of utter inability, the bitter impression that it is almost useless to think of being godly at all. For in this state even the assurance of the Spirits supernatural aid avails you nothing. It is not help in obeying that you need; the very principle of obedience is wanting, and it seems hopeless to think of ever attaining it.
Hopeless, except only in one direction. Let the Spirit not only undertake to assist you, as with purifying water, in your work of holiness; but let him also, and first of all, bear witness to Christ as coming not by purifying water only, but also by atoning blood. Let the blood itself give testimony; and your case is precisely met. For what is it that lies at the bottom of such experience as Paul describes in the passage of his writings to which I have been alluding (Rom. 7:) Is it not the unsettled controversy between your God and you? But the precious blood of Jesus, his perfect obedience unto death, meets your case. It furnishes the very element you need; for it furnishes the element of instant and complete reconciliation to your God. It cancels your guilt; it sets you free from condemnation; it seals your peace, And now the heart, so crushed and depressed before, springs up as with elastic rebound, and wings its eagle flight to heaven, while the feet run in the way of Gods commandments.
3- In another manner, the reverse of the former, this blessed harmony of the divine testimony may be disturbed. Instead of a preference for the water apart from the blood, there may be a leaning to the blood, to the omission of the water; as if Christ came not both by water and by blood, but by blood only. The idea of an expiation of guilt may commend itself to the minds of conscious offenders, who feel their sin and fear the wrath of God. They may welcome the blood which testifies of sin atoned for, and God pacified and reconciled. They may be inclined to acquiesce in the testimony of the Spirit and the blood, as if the gospel were intended simply to pacify the troubled conscience and set sinful men at their ease. But here again, I say as before, Give heed fairly to the testimony of the Spirit and the blood; and it will be found to require for its completion the testimony of the water. You are open to the impression of the blood; you see and feel the reasonableness and the reality of the atonement made by blood for your sin. But if the Spirit is at all tea .ring witness with the blood, it must be a spiritual view of the necessity and the meaning of that atonement that he is causing you to take. You cannot, if the Spirit is witnessing along with it, regard it as an expedient for soothing the personally vindictive feelings of an offended God, and purchasing his indulgence for your frailties; a mere provision for averting judgment and giving you security and quiet. No. You take a spiritual view of the shedding of the blood of Christ, as on the one hand vindicating the righteousness and manifesting the love of God; and on the other hand laying a foundation for a holy and loving walk with him.
The blood, if you rightly receive its testimony along with that of the Spirit, speaks, not of God weakly persuaded to be indulgent and sinners allowed to escape unpunished; but of God righteously justifying believing men, and on the footing of a righteous justification freely restoring them to his favour. Its very end is to bring men near to God; and so far from setting them free from the obligation of being washed, this is its highest value, that it secures their being "washed," so as to be "sanctified as well as justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
Thus in these three instances it may be seen that every attempt to give undue prominence to one of the witnesses, to the comparative slighting of the others, necessarily implies an unfair treatment of the testimony even of the very witness that is preferred. If the Spirit alone is viewed as bearing witness; then his testimony is frittered down till it is nothing more than a sort of vague intimation of there being a revelation and a plan of salvation, without any distinct reference either to what the revelation contains or to what the plan of salvation is. If again the water is selected, and the sanctifying and purifying virtue of the gospel is chiefly commended there is danger lest a low standard of holiness be set up, such as may be consistent with a conscience still unpacified and a heart still unreconciled. And if, once more, the blood is the witness on whose testimony we dwell; we are led to misconceive altogether both the design and the efficacy of the atonement; making it a mere scheme of accommodation, instead of a glorious plan for upholding the divine righteousness and more than restoring the primeval dignity of man. "There are three that bear witness;" and it is only when all the three are received with equal faith, that they are found to "agree in one." 4. But there is one other case to which I must briefly advert. The water and the blood may be received as bearing witness, without a due regard to the testimony of the living Spirit. The gospel may be understood in its full and comprehensive import, and may approve itself to the conscience and the heart. Christ may be known as coming both by water and by blood; the minister alike of renewal and of redemption; of purifying as well as of pardoning grace. But what, you ask, what is all that to me?. Christ is set forth crucified before you, and from him all blessings freely flow. The plan of saving mercy, as it comes from heaven, is complete; Christ coming both by water and blood is the very Saviour you need. But you have difficulty about his really saving you; about the application of his complete salvation to you; about your want of faith to lay hold of him and of it.
Beware here of the temptation of the spirit of evil; receive rather the testimony of the Spirit of truth. These thoughts and misgivings, so dishonourable to God, whose purpose of free love they impede, so injurious to you, whose return to God they arrest, are from the father of lies. Resist them, as of the devil; for they are false as he is himself. He may give them some air of plausibility, in order that if possible he may confuse more and more the question of your relation to God and the footing on which you are to be with God, so as to make you give up the care of your salvation as hopeless. But you must see that they are contrary to the plain testimony of the water and the blood; for surely these witnesses, the water and the blood, do most emphatically speak to you of the fullness of Gods grace, and the ample foundation he has laid at once for your peace and for your holiness.
And even when you are tempted to yield to the surmises of Satan, are you not conscious of other thoughts? Is it not sometimes borne in upon your mind that this hesitating and halting unbelief is but an unworthy way of meeting such overtures as God is making, and that you might at least make the trial, and venture your soul on his faithful promises? It is the Spirit that thus bears witness; and "the Spirit is truth." Put the matter to an experimental test; commit yourself to Christ, of whom the Spirit testifies, as having water from his smitten side to wash, and blood, precious blood, to take away all guilt. For it is in this way of actual trial that you will have the witness of the Spirit, which is the witness of God. In the peace which flows from the settlement of his controversy with you and your justification in his sight; in the glad relief which a simple acceptance of his mercy imparts; ia the sense of his love shed abroad in your hearts; in the growing clearness of your views of his character, and the growing enlargement and elevation of your soul for his service; in the laying aside of all reserve on your part, as all reserve is laid aside on his; in the entrusting of your whole way, in darkness and distress, to him, and the surrender of your whole soul and body and spirit into his hands; you will understand, with increasing clearness, the consenting testimony of the three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. And through faith in that testimony you will overcome the world. For no commandment of God will ever be grievous to you, if it comes to you in the power of the Spirit, and through the double channel of the water and the blood.
XXXIX. THE WITNESS OR TESTIMONY OF GOD TO AND IN BELIEVERS.
"If we receive the witness [testimony] of men, the witness [testimony] of God is greater: for this is the witness [testimony] of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness [testimony] in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record [testimony] that God gave [hath testified] of his Son." - 1 John 5: 9, l0.
The question is still about faith; the faith which is the victory that overcometh the world (ver. 4, 5). For that is the particular function here ascribed to faith; that is the light in which faith is to be regarded. Doubtless, gospel faith is the same, in whatever light, and with reference to whatever function, it is contemplated; it has always the same object, and the same ground or warrant. But the manner of its exercise may not be the same. And therefore it is to be noted that it is not faith as justifying; nor faith simply as working generally by love; but faith-specially as overcoming the world; that is spoken of in this passage. It is as "the victory that overcometh the world," that faith is commended or extolled.
This faith rests on testimony; as all faith must do. And the testimony on which it rests is sufficient to sustain it; for it is divine: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater: for this is the testimony of God which he hath testified of his Son" (ver. 9). Human testimony is a trustworthy ground of faith; we rely on it every day, and act accordingly. That is assumed as admitted. But we have what is far better and stronger than human testimony; we have "the testimony of God." Men are fallible and frail; the Psalmist "said in his haste, All men are liars." Still we receive their testimony; and we cannot help it; we must come to a dead-lock or stand-still, if we do not. How much more confidently may we receive the testimony of him who can neither deceive nor be deceived; who knows all things and is truth itself. To reject his testimony, and refuse to proceed on the faith of it, while we receive and act upon the testimony of men, is inconsistency and utter folly. But what is the testimony of God, and how is it given?
First, What is his testimony? That is not expressly stated in this verse; it is left to be inferred. But it is not difficult to say what it is; whether we look back on the preceding context or forwards to that which follows. Of course, it is the preceding context that must chiefly guide us; but the two very much agree. As it stands in the preceding context, it is that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God, coming by water and blood." As it stands in the following context, it is that "God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." Secondly, How is his testimony given? As to that, this ninth verse says nothing. But it plainly connects the preceding and following contexts. John evidently means to say that he has been describing, and that he is going on to describe still further, this testifying, on Gods part, of his Son, with special reference to the manner of it.
For he draws at this point a broad line of distinction. In what goes before, he has been speaking of Gods testimony from without, or to us; in what follows, he is to speak of Gods testimony within, or in us. It is the testimony of God in both cases; his bearing witness of his Son; and it is to be received as such. But whereas it has been put in the former passage as operating on us; it is now to be put as ascertained, apprehended, and felt, by us and in us: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the testimony that God hath testified of," or about, "his Son" (ver. 10).
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself;" the testimony, that is, of God; for it is upon the warrant of "the testimony of God which he has testified about his Son," that he believes on the Son of God. But in his so believing, that testimony of God becomes to him a matter of inward consciousness. He has it within him; in himself. It is not now merely God testifying to us of his Son, but God testifying in us of his Son; causing us to know experimentally the truth of what he testifies. We find, by actual trial and experience, that the Son is exactly what the Father has been testifying him to be: "the Son of God, Jesus Christ, coming by water and blood." Thus the inward verifies the outward.
It is as if a friend should introduce to me his son, with a high testimony to his personal excellency and rank, as well as to his power and willingness to assist me in an emergency, and be of service to me all my days. I believe the testimony, and on the faith of it welcome the new-comer to my home and heart. He soon approves himself to me as all that his father said I would find him to be. Then I have the testimony in a sense in me, in myself. So far the analogy may hold and be helpful. But, like all earthly analogies of what is divine, it is imperfect. It is only in a sense somewhat vague and loose that, in the case supposed, I can be said to have the testimony of my friend about his son in me. For it is not really my friend testifying in me, as something distinct from his testifying to me; it is I myself who am proving and verifying his testimony. In this ease, also, it is that, no doubt; that at least. But is it not something more? For the testifier is God; and he of whom he testifies is his own Son. Literally, therefore, and in the strictest and fullest sense, I can have Gods testimony in me; I can have God himself testifying in me. And I can have him testifying in me, not of his Son offered and given to me, as "coming by water and by blood ;" but of his Son, so coming by water and by blood, and now dwelling in my heart; "Christ in me, the hope of glory." This is something quite different from our own consciousness apprehending the truth, and feeling the reality, of what God testifies of his Son. It is rather like what Paul indicates when he says: "The Spirit itself beareth witness," or testifies, "with our Spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
An indispensable condition of this inward testifying of God in us, our having in us his testimony, is our believing on his Son: "He that believeth on the Son of God," and he alone, "hath the testimony in himself." Evidently it must be so. For it is our believing on his Son that brings God into these hearts of ours, in which he is to testify of his Son in us more and more. And just as evidently, this believing on his Son, which thus leads to our having the testimony within us, must rest on the testimony from without. It is our believing on his Son, on the ground and warrant of his testifying to us of his Son, that opens the way for our having him testifying in us of his Son. And so we are brought back to this, that we are to believe on the Son of God, not because God testifies of him in us, but because he testifies of him to us. Is not that, however, warrant enough? Is it not sufficient of itself to win faith the most confiding, since it is the testimony of him who is the truth? Does it not make unbelief inexcusable? For refusing to believe, on the strength of the outward testimony alone, even without the inward, is simply giving God the lie: "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the testimony that God hath testified of his Son." Thus, I. The ground and reward or fruit of faith; and II. The sin of unbelief; are to be viewed in the light of its being Gods testimony and not mans that is to be believed.
I. Faith stands here between two divine testimonies, or two modes of the one divine testimony; it is the effect of the first, and the cause or means of the second. In the first place, as an effect, faith flows from the threefold testimony of "the Spirit, the water, and the blood;" which is the primary testimony of God, from without or from above. You who believe on the Son of God believe on him as witnessed or attested by God; you believe on him because it is really God who has testified or testifies of him. And the testimony of God, upon which you believe on him, is substantially of the same sort as the testimony of men, to which you are accustomed to give credit. That is implied in what is said: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater." For it is indeed the testimony of God that you are to receive, "the testimony which he hath testified of his Son." It is testimony to you; not in you. It may be in some sense and to some extent in you, in so far as it enlists on its behalf, or is fitted to enlist, your inward convictions, tastes, and tendencies. But as long as it is testimony, not received and admitted, but claiming to be received and admitted, it is testimony to you. And it is upon that testimony that your faith must lay hold and lean.
I have said that this testimony of God to you may, in some sense and to some extent, be in you; it may be testimony appealing to certain inward instincts or principles of your nature. It is so in the present instance. For in fact, the testimony of God as to his Son which is here compared with the testimony of men, and preferred to it, is altogether and exclusively of an internal nature; it is God dealing with your whole inner man, through the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. There is no reference to what are called the external evidences of Christianity; the historical proofs of the gospel. The Spirit, the water, and the blood, are not represented as testifying through the medium of outward events or signs; authenticated, as these usually are, by the evidence, not of mere tradition, transmitting hearsay at secondhand, but of competent witnesses, leaving on record what they actually saw and heard. That would be the testimony of men. We have that, God be praised we have it most abundantly; and we do well to receive it, and on the strength of it to accept the Bible as a divine revelation and the gospel as a divine message. But the testimony of God is greater; not only because it is the testimony of God and not of men, but because, being his, it adapts and addresses itself to the inner man in us; to the whole inner man; to all our sensibilities and susceptibilities of conscience, emotion, will.
For in this testifying or witness-bearing, the Spirit, having the water and the blood associated with him, makes a direct appeal to the moral sense and feeling within us. He does so altogether apart from all the logical arguments and historical demonstrations which may be brought to confirm our belief in Christianity. These are valuable in their place. But the direct and immediate testimony of God, in the threefold witness-bearing of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, is largely independent and irrespective of them. It is a very straightforward dealing of the Spirit with us; of the Spirit testifying along with, and by means of, the water and the blood. It is the Spirit pressing home upon us Christ; making us feel our need of Christ; showing us Christs suitableness and sufficiency for us. In particular, it is the Spirit bringing near to us Jesus, as the Son of God, eager to make us one with him in his sonship, and for that very end coming by water and blood; so that neither sins defilement nor sins condemnation may stand in the way of our being partakers of his filial relation to the Father. He is come by water to purify, and by blood to atone, that we may be sons of God in him. That is the testimony of God to us, here and now. Is it not so? Who is there among us to whom the Spirit is not thus, more or less sensibly, bearing witness along with the water and the blood, here and now?
Ah, let me assume that I address some spiritually-awakened and spiritually-exercised soul. Has your sin, brother, found you out? Is the Spirit convincing you of its exceeding sinfullness? Are you in earnest longing for purity and peace? Have you been made to feel that you do really need for your Saviour one who can place you on a very different footing with your God and Father in heaven from that on which you naturally are, and create in you very different dispositions towards him from those which you naturally cherish? And is there dawning upon you more and more brightly the apprehension that Jesus, as Gods own Son, coming by water and by blood, is just such a Saviour, and that if he were but yours all would be well? Is not this the testimony of God to you, warranting and requiring you to believe on his Son, so coming, as really yours, "loving you and giving himself for you"? Is it not far greater and better than any human testimony? What need have you of my assurance, or any mans assurance, to build your faith on? Here is Gods threefold testimony; the Spirit commending to you, all vile and guilty as you are, Gods own Son as come by water and by blood, to sanctify and save. Having this testimony, you may well "believe on the Son of God." Yes. Believing because of the Lords own word, approving itself to your spirituallyquickened soul, you may say, as the Samaritans said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
And now, secondly, thus believing, you may look for a new and additional testimony of God; not to you, but most truly and fully in you. For this simple honest faith, the effect or fruit of one mode of the divine testimony, becomes the cause or means of another. That other is not outward at all, but altogether inward; not to you, but in you: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself."
Understand well and keep ever in mind, that having the testimony of God in you is not the preliminary to your believing on the Son of God, but the result or consequence of your doing so. I)o not imagine that you are to have any knowledge or experience of this inward testimony of God before you believe on his Son; as if it were to be a ground of your believing, or a help to your believing. It is a sort of knowledge or experience which can never go before faith, but must always follow it. For, in truth, it is nothing more than faith in exercise; faith unfolding and developing its energy; faith acting out its purpose; faith realising mere and more its object and itself.
In fact, as to its substance, this testimony of God in you is identically the same as his testimony to you. It is the same threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Only now the Spirit has won for himself, and for the water and the blood, a place within your consciousness; deep down in your inmost soul, as no longer merely appealed to and assailed by this testimony, but cordially acquiescing in it. That, however, makes a vast difference indeed. It is the difference between Christ "standing at the door and knocking," and Christ, "when you hear his voice and open to him, coming in to sup with you and you with him." The testimony is the same; the testifiers are the same. But your believing acquiescence, I repeat, makes all the difference. The testifiers, the Spirit, the water, and the blood - are now, all three of them, in you; witnessing not to, but from, the far back recess of your willing mind and consenting heart. Their testimony, which is Gods, and therefore far better than mans, is in you now; not as a stream forcing its way, as it were, into the depths of your spiritual experience; but as "a well of water" divinely opened in these depths, and "springing up into everlasting life."
For the real and blessed explanation of the whole matter is simple enough. He to whom the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood relates, is himself in you now; not given to you, with ample warrant for your embracing him; but in you, as embraced by you; in you, as the very Son of God, coming by water and blood. Thus, believing on the Son of God, you have the testimony of God in you. The Spirit is testifying in you, with the water and the blood; not now in order to win your assent and consent, but with your assent and consent already won. And that being so, there is no limit to the gracious assurance and enlargement to be looked for from your thus having the testimony of God in you. For now, not only your conviction, but your cordial choice also, goes along with the divine testimony, and is all in the line of it. You make full proof of it; or rather you suffer the Spirit himself to make full proof of it in you. He does so by "taking of what is Christs and showing it more and more to you." He gives you an ever-increasing clearness and intensity of insight into Jesus being the Son of God; and into his coming, as the Christ, by water and blood. So believing, you have the testimony in yourselves; God testifying in you by the Spirit, the water, and the blood; the Spirit testifying in you of the Son of God coming by water and by blood.
Let me ask you, in all faithfulness, do you believe in the Son of God, on Gods own testimony to you about him and not mans? Then, what do you know of this testimony of God in you? "It is the Spirit that testifieth." What do you know of his testifying, not merely in his striving with you, but in his dwelling in you, and revealing in you Gods own Son, Jesus Christ, coming by water and blood?. What, first, of the blood by which he comes? Is God by his Spirit giving you, not only a sight of your need of it as a sinner, and its sufficiency for you as for all sinners, but a sense of its actual efficacy in your case, as bringing you personally near to God, on the footing of your personal guilt being atoned for, and yourselves being personally reconciled? What, secondly, of the water, by which, as well as by blood, he comes? Is God by his Spirit giving you real personal experience of Christs being the purifier and sanctifier, in your being "holy, as he is holy ~." What, thirdly, of the sonship, of its being Gods own Son who comes by water and by blood? Is God by his Spirit giving you an apprehension of your adoption as sons, and moving you to cry, as sons, Abba, Father.
These, unquestionably, are the three kinds of experience in the line of which your having the testimony of God in you will make itself known and felt. And if you believe on the Son of God, you will have some growing practical acquaintance with all the three. The blood - does it really-first pierce and then pacify your conscience, pierce and pacify it evermore, constantly, day by day, more and more every day? The fountain filled with that blood ;-do you bathe your guilty souls in it every morning, every night? Do you feel it ever opening your wounds more painfully, and more sensibly pouring itself, as oil and balm, into the very wounds it opens? The water - are you consciously coming more and more under its power? Is the holiness of Christ filling your soul, fixing your eye, drawing your heart ~ Is your loathing of sin growing more intense? Do you welcome and value Christ as the minister of purity, even more than as the minister of peace, and rejoice in his blood purging your conscience from dead works, mainly because it thus sets you free to serve the living God? The sonship of him who comes by water and blood - are you entering into that? He is come by water and by blood, not only to make you one with himself in his atoning death and in his holy life, but to make you sons of God in him. Are you realising that? Are you entering into the position which, as the Son of God, he occupies; and into his mind and heart, as the Son of God? Thus, and only thus, "he that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself."
II. Over against the power or virtue or efficacy of faith, turning Gods testimony to us into his testimony in us, John places in very emphatic contrast the exceeding sinfullness of the sin of unbelief: "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar." The two opposite ways of dealing with the testimony of God are here sharply distinguished. Either you believe his testimony to you, and so honour him that he himself gives you an inward, experimental confirmation of it; you taste and see that God is good; you prove him, and see if he does not open the windows of heaven and pour down on you a blessing; you open your mouth wide and he fills it; giving you peace of conscience, purity of heart, filial liberty, enlargement, assurance, love. Or else, you disbelieve his testimony, and so, by your unbelief, not only hinder him from testifying in you, but dishonour him by virtually giving him the lie when he testifies to you.
And let it be well observed that it is the very same testimony of God to you in both cases, whether you receive it or disbelieve it. You may not shelter your unbelief under the excuse or apology that you have not proof or evidence enough. In particular, you may not plead that you have not the inward testimony. Neither had we, when we believed, may be the reply of those who deal otherwise than you deal with the testimony from without and from above. You have the same ground or warrant for believing that we had; the sure word of the true and faithful God. We were not asked to believe on the ground and warrant of any inward testimony of God in us; any witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits to our being the sons of God. It was not as being the sons of God; it was not as having any title to be the sons of God, or any consciousness of our being the sons of God; that we believed. It was simply as hearing the word or testimony of God, commending to us powerfully and persuasively, by his Spirit, Jesus Christ his Son coming by water and blood; coming to save, with a complete and full salvation, sinners, and of sinners us, the chief. That was all that our faith had to grasp; all that it had to lay hold of and lean on. We found it sufficient; we tested it, and it has stood the test. Why should not you? Why should you wait for anything else, or anything more? We had not any inward sign, we had not any inward experience, on which to build our belief. We had simply God speaking to us; to our understandings, our consciences, our hearts; testifying to us concerning our sin, and the sufficiency for us of his Son, coming by water and by blood to save. You have the same. You have all that we had. You have God, in his Son whom he sent to be the propitiation for your sins; you have God, in his Son coming by water and by blood; you have God, in his Son to whom he points, hanging on the cross, pierced by you, while out of his side come water and blood to wash and heal you; you have God, in his Son thus set forth crucified before your eyes; you have this God thus testifying to you; assuring you; swearing to you; and beseeching you - oh! how importunately and affectionately! - to give him credit when he testifies to you, and assures you, and swears to you: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his wickedness and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"
Will you still refuse to give him credit? Will you still dare to question his sincerity, his being in earnest, when he thus pleads with you? Will you not believe that he means what he says, when he tells you that, in his Son coming by water and by blood, he is waiting to be gracious? Do him not so great injustice as to treat him in a way in which you would not venture to treat an honourable man. You receive the testimony of such a man. Is not the testimony of God greater? Is he not entitled to be believed on his simple word, much more on his solemn oath? Is he not one whom you can trust, so far at least as to make trial of his faithfulness? Ah! let there be an end of doubt, hesitancy, halting, delay. All that is most insulting to him; for it is really making him a liar. Do not commit so great a sin; do not shut your eyes to its greatness. Consider well how it is not with mere facts of history or the dead letter of books of evidence that you are dealing, but with the true and living God himself. Alleged facts you might question, books of evidence you might criticise, without offence to the recorders of the facts or the writers of the books. But here is God, the God of truth, commending to you his Son from heaven, and summoning you, on the warrant and assurance of his truth, to believe on his Son. Your refusal to do so is a personal affront; it cannot but be construed as giving him the lie, "making him a liar."
XL. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE TESTIMONY - ETERNAL LIFE GODS GIFT IN HIS SON.
"And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." 1 John 5: 11, 12.
THESE two verses close what John has to say about the faith which overcometh the world, and they explain and apply the statement, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself" (ver. 10). It is the testimony of God that the believer has in himself; but he has it as not now God testifying to him, but God testifying in him. It is no longer objective and outward merely; it becomes subjective and inward. When it is believed or received, it enters into, and, as it were, passes through the receiving mind; effects a lodgment for itself behind, far back, deep down, in the innermost soul; and makes itself known and felt there, not as an external fact or proposition, but as an internal power or principle of activity. But what is it that gives this testimony of God its ability so to change its position? Is it not its having in it, not truth merely, but life? It is not mere truth-telling, it is life-giving, also; for "this is the testimony, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (ver. 11). Therefore the receiving of it is not merely being convinced, as by evidence or authority from without or from above, but being quickened by a mighty agency and influence within. It is, in short, not merely truth admitted into the inner man, hut life communicated to the inner man. It must therefore be inward; intimately and intensely inward: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (ver. 12).
The testimony of God is first, that he bestows on us life as a gift; "he hath given to us eternal life;" and secondly, that "this life is in his Son." He gives us therefore this eternal life when he gives us his Son.
Consider in what sense and manner this eternal life is in his Son. It is in him, as being possessed by him as his own; he has it in himself. In his incarnate state he has it thus; not as God only, but as man also, as "Jesus Christ come in the flesh." Let us hear his own words: "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5: 26). That cannot surely be the life which, as the Son of God, he has from everlasting. It must be life belonging to him as man; life of which his human nature, as well as his divine nature, is capable. And yet it is strangely identified with the Fathers own life. It is connected with it and compared to it. And it is connected with it and compared to it, in respect of what might be thought to be the highest and most peculiar property of the everlasting God, his incommunicable attribute of self-existence.
What can this mean? Is it really self-existence that our Lord claims for himself as "the man Christ Jesus," for his manhood as well as his Godhead? That can scarcely be his meaning; for he speaks of this life as derived. It is not his originally, like the life which he has with the Father and the Holy Spirit from everlasting to everlasting. It is his by the Fathers gift. It is life having necessarily, in that view, a beginning, though it may know no end. It is not therefore self-existence; it cannot be. And yet it must be something not quite unlike that manner of life which self-existence implies, and not far from being akin to it.
For the statement respecting the Father himself, that he hath "life in himself," may have reference here, not to the abstract nature of his life as being underived and self-subsistent, but rather to the manner of its exercise. The Father lives, not simply as existing; but as existing ever consciously and actively, realising and enjoying existence, if one may dare to say so; thinking, feeling, doing. His life is thought, feeling, action. And what, under that aspect of it, must be held to be one chief characteristic of his life? What but this, that he does not adapt himself to things without, or draw from things without the grounds and reasons of his procedure; of his thinking, feeling, acting, in any case or instance, thus and not otherwise; that these are always found within his own holy mind and heart; that so he "has his life in himself?" Is not that, in truth, the perfection of the Fathers "eternal life?" Is it not thus that it is essentially eternal? It is not moved or moulded by what is seen and temporal. It is determined by his own indwelling purpose, which is unseen and eternal.
But, it may be asked, is any creature capable of a life like that? Can any creature, in that sense, have life in himself? Not certainly as a creature living apart from the Creator, or separate from the Creator. Assuredly fallen man has no such life. He does not live a life that is independent, as to its ongoing of things without. Is he not, on the contrary, in large measure the creature and the child of circumstances? What, in fact, is his life but a struggle to accommodate himself to the state of matters that he finds pressing upon him, all around him, in the world?
Selfish he may be to the hearts core; consulting only for his own ease and pleasure. Or, in his philosophy, he may affect to rise above external influences, to bid defiance to all foreign forces, and consult no will but his own. It is all in vain. With all his selfishness, and all his philosophy, he cannot shake himself free from subjection to things seen and temporal. He cannot be, in that respect, "as God." It would not be good for him if he could; not at least unless he was so united and allied to God as to be really and thoroughly one in mind and heart with God.
But was not that the case with the Son of God on the earth, "the man Christ Jesus"? He was united and allied to God as no other man ever was or could be. In him the human nature was perfectly one in character with the divine. He therefore, while living always as selfmoved and self-regulated, altogether independently of things without, never could live otherwise than as the Father liveth. Therefore it was possible for him, as Son of man as well as Son of God, to have "life in himself" by the Fathers gift, exactly as "the Father hath life in himself."
Look at Jesus Christ come in the flesh; the Fathers Own Son given to be the Saviour of the world. What was his life? Was it not all from within? He was not insensible to things without; they deeply and powerfully affected him; he felt them keenly. But his life; his real life; the life he lived by purpose and determination, by ultimate choice of will; was not outwardly dictated, but inwardly originated. He had it in himself. Take a testing instance, his saying, "Not my will, but thine be done." "My will!" That was the effect of an impression from without; it was the outer world and its prince pressing him very closely; it was the horror of the cross brought to bear upon him very vehemently. And he had in him sensibilities and susceptibilities that laid his inner man very open to the pressure. His very holiness, his holy love to God and holy hatred of made the thought of his being forsaken of God and enduring the penal curse inconceivably terrible. "Father, let the cup pass," is what his will would be if it were moved from without. But no. Even in his worst straits he will mis yield altogether, he will not yield at all, to his will being moved from without. He will give uttterance indeed to what his will as so moved would be, if he were to yield to it. Thanks that for our sakes he does so! But it is not as if he were yielding to it. "If it be possible" is still the qualification. And then he falls back upon his real inmost self; his real inner life: "Nevertheless, Father, not my will, but thine be done."
That is surely something like "having life in himself;" having power to pass over, or pass through, the will which outward circumstances of suffering or temptation would prompt; to get far back, far down, within; and to find and feel there an inward impulse overbearing the impression from without and moving the real inward choice; "Not my will, but thine be done."
Is this "eternal life "? Is it "the eternal life which is in the Son"? Is it the power, or privilege, or prerogative of living from within himself, because it is living from within the Father, in whose bosom he dwells; from within the Fathers nature, with which his own is always in harmony; from within the Fathers will, to which his own is always thoroughly conformed? It is a life quite compatible with the obligation of subjection to authoritative rule or law; and that too in the utmost severity of penal infliction, as well as in the strictest bond of holy requirement. It was so in Jesus as "made under the law." He still had this life in himself, even when he took our death as his own. If it had not been so; if his life had been not from within but from without; if he had been one who lived according to he stress and strain of the external world; he never would have taken our death as his own. But "having life in himself," as one with the Father, he "finished the work which the Father gave him to do." Now therefore, in an eminent and blessed sense, this life is in the Son for us. There is in him for us such a life as even the death of criminality and condemnation which for us he takes as his own cannot destroy. It would be ruin to us, that death; but it is not ruin to him. If the sentence takes effect upon us, it is without our choice, and against our consent; we cannot walk up to it as "having life in ourselves," or as moved from within ourselves to bear it, as the Father is necessarily moved from within himself to inflict it. But Jesus can, and does (John x. 17, 18). Even in dying for us he has therefore "life in himself." "Eternal life is thus in the Son" as "sent by the Father to be the propitiation for our sins."
And this life is something more than his surviving the endurance of our death. It is a living apprehension and appropriation for us of the Fathers life. For it is as the Father hath life in himself, that he, on our behalf and as our head and representative, has life in himself. In that capacity he shares the Fathers life; his manner of living is the same as the Fathers. It is not a life of shifts and expedients; a life contingent and conditional on the chances of time and tide; a life of afterthoughts, altering the course to suit every current, setting the sails to every change in the fickle wind. It is a calm serene purpose; working itself out steadily "without variableness or shadow of turning." It is living for that for which God lives; living therefore as God lives. Is not that the eternal life of which God testifies as being in his Son? It is in his Son alone; and in him inalienably. It is in him in such a sense that he cannot part with it or give it away. We do not receive this eternal life of God from his Son; we share it with him. The Fathers testimony is that the eternal life which he gives us is in his Son. Here let me remind you that it is the Spirit who bears this testimony on the Fathers behalf; the Spirit, with the water and the blood by which Jesus Christ came. The Fathers gift of eternal life to you is in his Son; that is the testimony. And it is the Spirit that bears the testimony; the Spirit who takes of what is Christs and shows it to you; the Spirit making you Christs and Christ yours; the Spirit making you partakers of Christs own very life, "the eternal life which is in the Son." Because he lives, you live; as he lives, you live. In him the Father gave, has given, and is giving you, "eternal life;" life that, in and with Christ, can undergo and survive the death of guilt and wrath; life that, in and with Christ, can in a sense become identical in character with Gods own life; sharing, in a measure, its inward, selfmoving energy, and its independence of things without. For that, and nothing short of that, is the eternal life that he gives; the life that is in his Son. So he is testifying to us; testifying to us by his Spirit; by his Spirit striving with us, and shutting us up into Christ. This eternal life in his Son is his gift to us.; already bestowed; assured to us by his own testimony; awaiting our acceptance; ours if we will but have it to be ours, if we will have him in whom it is ours. Therefore "he that hath the Son hath life." If only he has the Son, he has the very life which is in the Son. Thus the way is made plain and simple; God the Father has made it so. Very wonderfully has he wade it so. The end is very high. It is our living as God lives. It is our living as God lives, from within; not as acted upon, but as acting; and that from some inward motive, or impulse, or principle, common to both, to God and to us. And the common motive or impulse or principle, that which is common to God and to us as regards this eternal life - what is it? Is it not Christ? Is it not Christ having in him this life? God in Christ; we in Christ; is it not thus that God and we meet in a common life?
I. Hence, in the first place, an essential preliminary or condition of this life, nay one chief part of it so far as we are concerned, is the abolishing of death. No one can have this life; a life self-possessed and self-contained, being a life God-possessed and God-contained; who is not consciously and believingly right with himself, because fight with God; right in law and judgment; on a right footing; unimpeached and uncondemned. The conscience must be pacified and the heart reconciled. With a sense of sin upon the conscience and enmity in the heart, it is impossible for me to have anything like that free and independent life, in and with himself, which God means me to have, as his gift to me. If he is to give me that life of his, he must first give me deliverance from this death of mine, from my conscious guilt and felt liability to wrath, and the consequent dread, discomfort, and dislike, with which that life of his is wholly incompatible. And so he does; for if I have the Son, I have life, in the sense and to the effect of complete and final deliverance from death. I pass from death to life.
2. But, secondly, the
life to which I pass is something more than the undoing of my death; the
reversal of the sentence and destruction of the power of my death. It is a new
endowment; it is the imparting to me of a new power, or privilege, or capacity;
it is the accession or addition of a new faculty of life, over and above any I
ever naturally possessed, or ever could have got for myself, even though the
blight of sins guilt and curse had never come upon me. For he whom I have
is the Son; and I have him, if I have him at all, as the Son. I have him, not
merely as he ii set before me in his relation to sinners, and to me, of sinners
the chief; himself made sin for me and making me righteous in his
righteousness. I must indeed first have him in that character and capacity. But
I have him also as the Son, in his filial relation to the Father; as the Son to
whom "the Father hath given to have life in himself." I speak not of what he
was to the Father from before all worlds, in the past eternity, ere he came
into this world: it is not the life he then had that the Father gives me. I
speak of him as he has been since his incarnation, and as he will continue to
be all through the eternity that is to come. When I have him, I have him thus;
as he now is and ever will be. I have the Son; and in him I have the very life
which the Father has given him.
And that life is "life eternal ;" it is "having life in himself." It is having life in himself because it is having life in God his Father. For he and the Father are one; and their life is one. Whatever constitutes the Fathers life; whatever the everlasting Father may be said to live in, or to live for; that is the life of the Son. And it is the life which you have, if you have the Son. It is your having life in yourself. It is so host emphatically when it is viewed in contrast with any life you may be supposed, or may suppose yourself, to have when you have not the Son. What is your life out of Christ? What is your life in your unconverted state; when you are unrenewed and unreconciled? Is it anything like your having life in yourselves? Is it independent of things without? Take it in any sense you choose. Take it secularly, as the life you live in the world. What keeps you alive, alert, interested, not dull and drowsy, as you too often are, but lively? Is it an inherent inward principle of activity?
Or are you conscious that you depend almost entirely on outward stimulants, outward means of occupation, or excitement, outward events or news of company, for what you can really reckon the life of the day; and that without these you flag and droop, and for the time are as good as dead? You can bestir yourself on occasion. You can be roused to sentimental interest or energetic exertion, bodily or mental, when some appliance from without is brought to bear upon you. But when you are left to yourself and your own inward resources, what stagnation is apt to come upon you l Or take the life you live religiously, in the sense of your trust and hope before God! What is it? What is it that ministers to your quiet and peace? Is it an indwelling and abiding assurance, an outgoing and out-flowing affection? Or is it an observance of formal rites and a compliance with devout customs? Is it as being alone with God, or is it as one of a company, lost in a crowd or admitted into a coterie, that you feel yourself to be safe enough and comfortable enough? Certainly, if you are out of Christ, if you have not the Son; your life, in either view of it, whatever real vitality you have, is contingent upon things without; bound up, more or less, with what passes away and is not eternal. For the world, the religious as well as the secular world, passes away; and any life to which it ministers must be fleeting and not eternal.
But now, if you have the Son, how different is your life! First and chiefly, in a spiritual sense, how is it that you now live? What is the seat, what the source, of your life; your confidence; your fellowship; your worship; your joy in God? Is it not Christ in you? Having him as the Son, you are complete in him. You have his life, the life which he has with God, communicated to you and shared with you. Your life, in the sense of your standing with God and your relation to God, is identical with his. Having the Son, you have the Sons life, as being sons yourselves. And now, therefore, the ruling, active, moving principle of your life is identical with his. You live for flint for which he, as the Son, lived and lives. And what was, what is that? Not certainly anything out of himself, save only God. He lived here on earth, not for things external, any more than he lived by things external. He drew no inspiration from without himself. He owned no rule without or outside of himself. He said, "Lo, I come; to do thy will, O God. Yea thy law is within my heart." He, being the Son, walked abroad as the Son on his Fathers earth, "having life in himself," because he lived with the Father and for the Father; the Father living in him and giving him without measure the Spirit. That was his life. And you have it as yours, if you have the Son himself as yours. You also walk abroad on this earth, which is your Fathers, having your Fathers love abiding in you, as it abode in him; receiving, as he did, the Spirit.
If then you realise your position, if really and truly, consciously and constantly, you "have the Son;" if you have him as yours, your own very portion and possession, yours now, to hold, to grasp, to identify with yourself; if you thus have the Son and his sonship, what ought to be your port and bearing towards things without, things seen and temporal? Are you still to be the sport of circumstances, swayed to and fro by accidents, dependent on chances and contingencies, leaning on props that an hour may overthrow, fain to snatch a trembling joy from the brief and troubled sunshine of a wintry noon? Nay rather, having the Son, live as having in you "life eternal ;" life that can defy the vicissitudes, as it will outlast the limits, time; life standing, not in the worlds or the churchs fleeting forms, but m the favour, love, fellowship; in the law, commandments, ordinances: of the everlasting Father, "his Father and your Father, his God and your God."
Let a few words of practical application be allowed. I. "He that hath the Son hath life;" he has this life, and no other. Hence a searching question: Are you willing upon that condition to have the Son? You may be willing to have the Son, and along with him, and through him, some sort of life. You would have him as providing for you life, in the sense of mere safety from death; securing your ultimate impunity in the day of judgment. But you cannot have him thus; for "he that hath the Son hath life," "eternal life;" the life meant when it is said, "as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have in himself." If you have the Son at all, you must have him in all the fullness of his filial oneness with the Father; for that is his life: that alone is "life eternal."
2. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life;" he has not this life. Eternal life, in a sense, he has - life without end; and after death, life without change. Life also in himself it will then be in a very terrible sense: for then all external accessories and alleviations are gone; the world is not. But the soul not having the Son is. It continues to exist, and that for ever. It lives, with nothing out of itself to lean on, or look to! There is no congenial earthly system or sphere around to mitigate its pain; no Saviour waiting to be gracious; no Holy Spirit striving any morel For him there is, and that for ever, eternal death, instead of eternal life. It must be so because he has not the Son.
3. Eternal life is the gift of God, his present gift; his present gift to all, to all unreservedly, to all unconditionally. It is the life that is in his Son; the life which his Son lives now, and lives for evermore. This, and nothing short of gratuitous gift. It is not a prize; "the prize of your high calling of God in Christ." That is the consummation of this life ; for which you have to wait and work, to wrestle in the fight and run the race that is set before you. But the life itself, in the full sense of its being not only deliverance from the criminals curse through the Son being made a curse for you, but also oneness with the Son, as in his atoning death and justifying resurrection, so also in his filial oneness with the Father - this life is Gods gift, his gift now; not to be waited for; not to be worked for; not to be paid for; but to be accepted and appropriated by faith alone. He gives freely this eternal life.
4. Still he gives it only as life in his Son. He cannot separate this life from his Son; it is so precious, so divine. It is a filial life, and therefore it is in his Son. And it cannot be otherwise. You must have the Son if you would have it. But is that a painful or an irksome condition? Is it any objection, can you feel it to be any objection, that God insists on giving you his Son? Not a boon, a benefit, a blessing through his Son, but that Son himself, his own very Son, Jesus whom he loveth? Would you indeed have it otherwise? Would you rather not have the Son himself, if only you could get the good of his coming between you and eternal death? Oh, be not so ungrateful! Refuse not to receive and embrace him whom the Father is bringing near to you now. Obey the Fathers gracious command and call; "This is my beloved Son, hear him."
Go To Next Part
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet