1 John 2

The closing verses of chapter 1 have shown us that we cannot say that we have no sin, nor that we have not sinned. The opening words of chapter 2 act as a counter-balance, lest we should rush to the conclusion that we can excuse ourselves for sinning by assuming that we can hardly help it, that it is practically inevitable. It is nothing of the kind. John wrote these things that we might not sin. Other scriptures speak of special provision made to keep us from falling: the point here is that, if we enter into the holy fellowship of which 1 John 1: 3 speaks, we shall be preserved. The enjoyment of that fellowship excludes sin; just as sin excludes from the enjoyment of that fellowship, until it is confessed.

There is ample provision made for us that we may not sin, even though sin is still in us. We ought not to sin. There is no excuse for us if we do sin; but there is, thank God! "an Advocate with the Father" for us in that case. The word translated, Advocate, here is the same as is translated, Comforter, in John 14-a word meaning literally, "One called alongside to help." The risen One, Jesus Christ the righteous, has been called alongside the Father in glory for the help of His saints, if and when they sin. The Holy Spirit has been called along to our side here below for our help.

It is "the Father," you notice. That is because the Advocate appears for those who are already the children of God. The first words of the chapter are, "My children" (N. Trans.)-the word used is not the one meaning "babes," but one for "children" in a more general way. In this loving way the aged Apostle embraced as his own all the true children of God. We have been introduced into this blessed relationship by the Saviour, as John 1: 12 tells us. Being in the relationship, we need the services of the Advocate when we sin.

The righteousness of our Advocate is stressed. We might have expected that His kindness and mercy would be: yet we find elsewhere that emphasis is laid on righteousness when sin is in question, and so it is here. The One who takes up our case in the Father's presence when we sin, will see to it that righteousness shall prevail. The Father's glory shall not be tarnished by our sin, on the one hand. And, on the other hand, He will deal with us righteously, so that we may come to a proper and righteous judgment of our sin, be brought to confession, and be forgiven and cleansed.

He who is our Advocate on high is also "the propitiation for our sins." This fact brings us back to the rock foundation upon which all rests. By His propitiatory sacrifice every claim of God against us has been met, and He takes up His advocacy with the Father upon that righteous basis. His propitiation has settled for us as sinners the eternal questions which our sins have raised. His advocacy now settles the paternal questions which are raised. when as children of God we sin.

Propitiation is what we may call the Godward side of the death of Christ. It is concerned with the most fundamental matter of all; the meeting of the Divine claims against sin. The meeting of the sinner's need must be secondary to that. Hence when we have the Gospel unfolded by Paul in the epistle to the Romans, we find that the first mention of the death of Christ is "a propitiation through faith in His blood" (Romans 3: 25). We do not get substitution clearly stated until reaching Romans 4: 25, we read of Him as "delivered for our offences."

Being the Godward aspect of His death the widest possible circle is in view-"the whole world." When the substitutionary side is stated believers only are in view: it is "our offences," or, "the sins of many." But though only believers stand in the realized benefits of the death of Christ, God needs to be propitiated in regard to every sin that ever has been committed by men, in regard to the whole great outrage which sin has wrought. He has been thus propitiated in the death of Christ, and because of this He can freely offer forgiveness to men without compromising in the smallest degree one feature of His nature and character.

Propitiation is a word which often rouses to much wrath and scorn! fulness many opponents of the Gospel. They assume that it means what it does among the heathen-the pacifying by much blood-shedding of some angry, antagonistic and blood-thirsty power. But in the Scriptures the word is lifted on to an altogether higher plane. It still carries the general sense of appeasing or rendering favourable by sacrifice, but there is no ground for regarding God as antagonistic or blood-thirsty. He is infinitely holy. He is righteous in all His ways. He is of eternal majesty. His very nature, all His attributes must receive their due, and be magnified in the exaction of the appropriate penalty: yet He is not against man but for him, for what righteousness has demanded love has supplied. As we read presently in our epistle, "He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4: 10). God Himself provided the propitiation. His own Son, who was God, became it. Propitiation, rightly understood, is not a degrading idea but uplifting and ennobling. The only thing degrading is the idea of the matter falsely entertained by those who oppose. They attempt to foist their degraded idea into the Gospel, but the Word of God refutes their idea.

We now pass to the consideration of another claim that was being made falsely on occasions-"I know Him." It is indeed possible for the believer to say with great gladness that he knows God, inasmuch as "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" is granted to us, and there can be no fellowship without knowledge. Still, again a test is needed lest such a claim be mere pretension. The test is that of obedience to the commandments which He has given to us. The knowledge of Him is inseparably connected with obedience to Him.

In keeping His commandments we know that we have come to know Him. Apart from this obedience there cannot be this knowledge, and the claim, if made, would only reveal that the truth is not in the claimant. Compare verse 4 with 1 John 1: 8. The truth is not in the one who claims to have no sin, any more than it is in the one who claims to have the knowledge of God, and yet is not obedient to His commandments.

Let us clearly grasp the fact that there are commandments in Christianity, though they are not of a legal order: and by that we mean, not given to us in order that we may thereby either establish or maintain our footing before God. Every definite expression of God's will has the force of a command, and we shall find this epistle has a great deal to say to us about His commandments, and they "are not grievous" (v. 3). The law of Christ is a law of liberty, inasmuch as we are brought into His life and nature.

From keeping His commandments we pass, in verse 5, to keeping His word. This is a further thing. His word covers all that He has revealed to us of His mind and will, including of course His commandments, but going beyond them. A man might give his sons many definite instructions-his commandments. But beyond these his sons have gleaned an intimate knowledge of his mind from the daily communications and intercourse of years, and with filial devotion they carefully observe his word even when they have no definite instructions. So it should be with the children of God. And, when it is so, the love of God is "perfected" in such, for it has produced in them its proper effect and answer.

Moreover, by such obedience we know "that we are in Him." Our being "in Him" involves our participation in His life and nature. There is of course a very intimate connection between knowing "that we know Him," (ver. 3) and knowing "that we are in Him," (ver. 5). The second introduces us to a deeper thing. Angels know Him, and obey His commands. We are to know Him, as those who are in Him, and hence the slightest intimation of His thought or desire should be understood by us, and incite us to glad obedience.

Being in Him, we are to "abide in Him;" which means, as we understand it, abide in the consciousness and power of being in Him. Now it is easy for any of us to say, "I abide in Him," but if so we must produce that which proves the claim to be real. Such an one "ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." If we are in His life, and also in the power and enjoyment of it, that life is bound to express itself in our ways and activities just as it did in Him. The grace and power of our walk, compared with His, will be poor and feeble; yet it will be walk of the same order. The difference will not be in kind but only in degree.

What extraordinary elevation then is to characterize our walk! How far beyond the standard that was accepted in Old Testament times! When John wrote these words a good many may have felt inclined to protest that he was setting too high a standard and introducing what was entirely new. Hence in verse 7 he assures them that what he was saying was not new- in the way that the teachings of the antichrists were new-but rather an old commandment. At the same time it was in another sense a new commandment. There is no contradiction here, though there is a paradox. It was an old commandment, for it had been from the beginning set forth in Christ, as being God's holy will and pleasure for man: and so there was nothing about it which resembled the new notions of the Gnostics. Still it was a new commandment, for now it was to be set forth in those that were Christ's, and hence came as a new thing for them. The thing, said John, "is true in Him and in you." The life which was manifested in Christ, and which at the first was exclusively in Him, is now to be found in believers, who are in Him. As they abide in Him the life will express itself in them in the same way, and bring forth similar fruits.

And so we read, "the true light now shineth." There is the closest possible connection between life and light. If the true life was manifested in Christ, the true light equally shone in Him. If we have part in that true life, the true light will also shine in us. "The darkness is passing," is what the Apostle wrote, and not, "is past." We must wait for the world to come to say it is past: yet clearly it is passing away, for the true light has begun to shine in Christ and in those that are His. When God acts in judgment and the false life and light of this world are put out, then the darkness will be past indeed. At present we can rejoice in the assurance that it is passing, and that the true light is shining. The more we walk as He walked, the more effectively the light will shine through us.

But further, if the light is now going to shine in and through us, we ourselves must be in the light. Do we claim to be in the light? Well, there is a simple test by which it may be known if that claim is a genuine one. If any one says he is in the light and yet he hates his brother his claim is false, and he is in darkness; that is, he does not really know God-he is not in the light of God revealed in Christ. No one can be in the light of God who is not in the life of God, which is love. Hence a little later in the epistle we read, "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3: 14). So now we discover that life, light and love all go together; and in the very nature of things they act as tests, the one upon the other. The one who loves his brother manifests the life, according to 1 John 3. Here the point is that he abides in the light.

John adds the remark, "there is none occasion of stumbling in him." This is in contrast to what follows in verse 11, where the one who hates his brother is described as being in darkness, walking in darkness, and not knowing where he is going. We have no light in ourselves, just as the moon only has light when it is in the light of the sun. So the one who hates his brother, being in darkness, is all dark himself, and consequently becomes an occasion of stumbling to others. He stumbles himself and acts as a stumbling-block. Such were the antichrists and their followers. The one who loves, as the fruit of having the divine life, walks in the light, and neither stumbles nor is a stumbling-block.

The loving of one's brother is of course the loving of each and all who equally with ourselves are begotten of God. It is the love of the divine nature, extended to each who has entered the divine family,-loving children of God as children of God, apart from all human likes or dislikes.

A fresh paragraph begins with verse 12. In 1 John 1: 4, John indicated the themes as to which he wrote. Now we have the basis on which he wrote. All those whom he addressed stood in the wonderful grace of sins forgiven, and all were in the children's place. The word translated "little children" is the one for children rather than babes. It includes all the children of God without distinction. The forgiveness which is ours has reached us solely for His Name's sake. The virtue, the merit is wholly His. As forgiven, and brought into divinely formed relationship, we are addressed.

On the other hand, there are distinctions in the family of God, and they are brought before us in verse 13. There are "fathers," "young men," and "little children," or "babes." In this way John indicated the differing stages of spiritual growth. We all must of necessity begin as babes in the divine life. Normally we should develop into young men, and finally become fathers. Each of the three classes is characterized by certain things.

Verse 13, then, states the characteristic features of those to whom he writes, not the themes concerning which he writes, nor the basis on which he writes. The fathers are characterized by the knowledge of Him that is from the beginning; that is, they were matured in the knowledge of Christ, that "Word of life," in whom the eternal life had been manifested. They really knew the One in whom had been revealed all that is to be known of God. All other knowledge shrinks into insignificance compared with this knowledge. The fathers had it.

The young men were characterized by having overcome the wicked one. Later verses in the chapter show more exactly the force of this. They had overcome the subtle snares of the devil through antichristian teachings, by having been built up in the Word of God. In our earlier years as believers, before we have had time to be well grounded in the teachings of the Word, we are much more likely to be led away by subtle teachings contrary to the Word, and thus overcome by the wicked one.

This is the danger to which the babes are exposed, as we shall see. Yet they have a beautiful feature characterizing them-they know the Father. The human babe soon manifests the instinct which enables it to recognize its parents; and so it is with the children of God. They have His nature, so they know Him. There are many things for them still to learn about the Father, yet they know the Father. As the children of God let us be exercised that we do not remain babes. There we must begin, but let us aim at that acquaintance with the Word of God which will develop our spiritual growth, and lead us to become young men and even fathers in due season.

Having given, in verse 13, the features which characterize respectively the fathers, young men and little children, the Apostle begins, in verse 14, his special message to each of the three. He commences again with the fathers.

His message to them is marked by the utmost brevity; moreover it is expressed in exactly the same words as those used in the previous verse, when he described their characteristic feature. This is remarkable, and we may well inquire what is the reason for it. The reason we believe to be that when we come to the knowledge of "Him that is from the beginning" we reach the knowledge of God in a fulness which is infinite and eternal, beyond which there is nothing. He who is "Son," and "the Word," the "Word of life," manifested amongst us, is the One that is from the beginning. In Him God is known to us, and there is nothing beyond this knowledge of such infinite profundity.

Now the fathers knew Him in this deep and wonderful way. The God who is love had become the home of their souls and dwelling in love they dwelt in God and God in them. They had but to go on deepening in this blessed knowledge. Nothing needed to be said to them beyond this.

The young men had not as yet grown up to this, but they were on the way to it. They were characterized by having overcome the wicked one, as verse 13 told us. We now learn how this overcoming had been brought to pass. They had been made strong by the Word of God abiding in them.

We all enter upon the Christian life as little children, but if healthy growth marks us we advance to be young men. Now the knowledge of the Word of God must come first. We cannot abide in that of which we are ignorant. Here then we are brought face to face with the reason why so many true believers of many years standing have remained little children-just stunted babes. They have never become really acquainted with the Word of God. The great adversary of the work of God knows the need of this right well, and it is easy to see the skill of his deeply laid designs in the light of this fact.

Romanism takes the Scriptures out of the hands of its votaries on the ground that, being God's Word, it is far above the layman and only fit to be in the hands of the doctors of the church, who alone can interpret it. Modernism is prevalent in the Protestant world. In its full-blown form it denies the Word of God entirely: the Bible is to them only a collection of doubtful legends interspersed with obsolete religious reflections. In its diluted form-which often seduces real Christians, and therefore is the more mischievous as regards ourselves-it weakens the authority of the Word, and therefore dooms its followers to perpetual spiritual babyhood. And where these evils are absent, so frequently people are content to take their knowledge of the Word from the texts upon which their minister may happen to preach. They do not read, and mark and learn and inwardly digest the Word for themselves. Hence their growth also is stunted.

But the Word is not merely to be known, it is to abide in us. It is to dwell in our thoughts and in our affections; in this way it will control us, governing the whole of our lives. If that point is reached by any of us, then it can be said that we are strong, for our lives will be founded upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. Even so however, strength is not everything, for we have yet to be conducted to that knowledge of Him that is from the beginning, which characterizes the fathers.

The young men are faced by a danger which, if it prevails, will hinder them advancing still further into this blessed knowledge. That danger is the world, and the love of it: not merely of the world as an abstract conception, but of the concrete, material things that are in the world. We use a great many of these things, and occasionally at least we enjoy them, but we are not to love them. That which we love dominates us, and we are not to be dominated by the world but by the Father. The love of the world and the love of the Father are mutually exclusive. We cannot be possessed by both. It must be one or the other. Which possesses us?

If the love of the Father possesses us, we shall see the world in its true light. We shall possess a spiritual faculty which acts after the fashion of the much prized X-rays. We shall get down beneath the surface of things to the skeleton framework on which all is built. That skeleton is revealed to us in verse 16 as, "The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life;" all of which spring not from the Father but are wholly of the world.

The lust of the flesh is the desire of having-the desire to possess oneself of those things that minister to the flesh. The lust of the eyes is the desire of seeing, whether with the eyes of the head or with those of the mind, all the things that minister to one's pleasures. It would cover man's restless intellectual cravings as well as his continual hunt for spectacular pleasures. The pride of life is the desire of being-the yearning to be somebody, or something that ministers to pride of heart. This is the most deep-seated evil of the three, and often the least-suspected.

Here then we have exposed for us the framework on which the world system is built; every item of it totally opposed to the Father, and to that world which is to come, when the present world order is displaced. "The world passeth away," we are told, and so does the lust of it. We are not surprised to hear it. What a mercy that it does, for what greater calamity could there be than that the world and its lusts should be perpetuated for ever! The world will disappear; the Father and His world will abide. We shall indeed be foolish if we are filled with love for that which vanishes away instead of love for Him who abides.

How striking the contrast in verse 17! We might have expected the end of the verse to have been, "but the Father abides." That however is so obvious as hardly to need stating. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever;" that is the wonderful fact. It is the world that passes away. When believers die we remark that So-and-so has "passed away." The world gets on very well without them and seems perfectly stable. The Apostle John views things from the Divine side, and helps us to do the same. Then we see the world about to pass away, and the doer of the will of God, though he be withdrawn from earthly scenes, is the one who abides for ever. He serves the will of God. The will of God is fixed and abiding. The servant of that will is abiding too.

From verse 18, onwards to verse 27, the "little children," or "babes," are addressed. Without any preface the Apostle plunges into a warning against the anti-christian teachers which were beginning to abound. "Antichrist" is a sinister personage, whose appearance in the last days is predicted. He is not yet come, yet many lesser men, who bear his evil character in greater or smaller degree, have long been on the scene. This shows us that we are in the last time; that is, the epoch immediately preceding the time when evil will come to a head and meet with summary judgment.

Now the antichrists, who had appeared when John wrote, had once taken their place amongst the believers, as verse 19 shows. By this time however they had severed their connection and gone out from their midst By this act they made it manifest that they never really belonged to the family of God-they were not "of us." The true believer is characterized by holding fast the faith. They had forsaken it and gone out from the Christian company, thereby revealing that they had no vital connection with the children of God. The real child of God has an Unction from the Holy One, and this was just what the antichrists had never possessed.

The "Unction" of verse 20 is the same as the "Anointing" of verse 27, and the reference in each case is to the Holy Spirit. Indwelling the children of God, He becomes the Source whence proceeds their spiritual understanding. Now the simplest babe in the Divine family has received the Anointing, and so may be said to "know all things." The word for know is the one meaning inward, conscious knowledge. If it be a question of acquired knowledge, there are ten thousand details of which at present the babe is ignorant, but the Anointing gives him that inward capacity which brings all things within his reach. He knows all things potentially, though not yet in detail.

Hence even the babe may be said to "know the truth," and he possesses the ability to differentiate between it and what is a lie. He may at the moment only know the Gospel in its simplest elements; yet in the Gospel he has truth undiluted-foundation truth out of which all subsequent truth springs-and every lie of the devil can be detected if it be placed by way of contrast against the bright background of the Gospel.

Every lie of the devil is in some way aimed at the truth concerning the Christ of God. He is no mean marksman, and even when he appears to be directing his shots at the outer rings of the target he is calculating on a rebound action which will ultimately land them fairly on to the bulls-eye. In the Apostle's day he aimed at the centre openly. The antichrists boldly denied that Jesus was the Christ: they denied the Father and the Son. In our day some of them are still doing this. Many more however hardly do this; they introduce teachings of a more subtle kind, not so harmful on the surface but ultimately leading to just the same denials, whereby the centre of the target is hit.

The Antichrist, when he appears, will be the full and perfect denial of the Father and the Son. He will "magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods." (Dan. 11: 36), and this prediction is amplified in 2 Thessalonians 2: 4. The "many antichrists" who have preceded him all run on similar lines. Their denials relate more particularly to the Son who has been manifested on earth, and they may profess that they have nothing to say as to the Father or against Him. Such a profession is unavailing. To deny the Son is to deny the Father. To confess the Son is to have the Father also. Though distinct in person They are one in the Godhead, and he who has the Anointing (the Holy Spirit), who also is one with Them in the Godhead, knows this right well, and is not likely to be deceived on the point.

The whole drift of the Old Testament is that Jesus is the Christ, as is shown by Acts 17: 2, 3. The truth as to the Father and the Son is disclosed in the New Testament. It is not that just then the relationship of the Father and the Son began to be; but that this eternally existing relationship in the Godhead was then for the first time fully disclosed. The fellowship into which we are brought is with the Father and the Son, as we were told in the opening of the epistle; and therefore the denial of this truth must be destructive of our fellowship.

It is worthy of note that error most frequently takes the form of denying truth. Denials are dangerous: they should be issued with care, based upon wide knowledge. Usually more knowledge is needed to deny than to assert. For instance, I may assert that a certain thing is in the Bible, and I need know but one verse in the Book, where it is stated, in order to prove what I say. If I deny that it is in the Bible, I shall need to know the Bible from beginning to end, before I am sure I cannot be successfully contradicted.

From the beginning then Jesus had been manifested as the Christ, and as Son He had revealed the Father. To this knowledge even the babes had come and it was to abide in them, as also it is to abide in us. Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Anointed One: we have received the Anointing so that the truth may abide in us, and then as a consequence, we shall abide in the Son and in the Father.

The Apostle Paul instructs us that we are "in Christ" as the fruit of God's gracious work. The Apostle John instructs us as to the revelation of the Father and the Son, and as to the communion established in connection with that relationship, into which each child of God-even the youngest babe-is brought, so that we may continue "in the Son and in the Father." The Son comes first, since we can only continue in the Father as we continue in Him. To "continue" is to abide in the conscious knowledge and enjoyment of the Son and the Father, possible for us inasmuch as we are born of God and have received the Anointing.

This continuing in the Son and in the Father is eternal life. There was the promise of eternal life even "before the world began," as stated in Titus 1: 2. The Lord Jesus spoke of eternal life as, "that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17: 3). Verse 25 of our chapter carries this a step further. He who abides in the Son and in the Father is abiding in the life which is eternal. The Eternal Life had been manifested and had been seen; but that had been the privilege of the Apostles only. Now we may possess that life and be in it; and this is for all of us, for these things were written to the babes in the family of God.

All this the Apostle had been saying in order to fortify the babes against the seducing teachers. In verse 27 he reverts again to the Anointing, for it was by the Spirit given to them that all these things were made available for them. What a comfort it is to know that the Anointing abides in us. There is no variation or failure there. Again the Anointing not only abides but teaches of all things. Instruction may reach us from without, but it is by the Holy Spirit that we have the capacity to take it in. We do not need that any man should teach us. This remark is not in tended to discredit teachers whom the Lord may have raised up and gifted to do His work, otherwise we might use it to discredit the very epistle we are reading. It is intended to make us realize that even gifted teachers are not absolutely indispensable, but the Anointing is.

The Anointing Himself is truth. This is repeated in slightly different words in chapter 5: 6. Christ is the truth as an Object before us. The Spirit is truth, bringing it into our hearts by divine teaching. To these babes John could say, "even as it hath taught you," for the Anointing was already theirs.

Thank God, the Anointing is ours also. Hence for us also the word is, "Ye shall abide in Him." We may be but babes; our knowledge may be small; but may nothing divert us from this life and communion in which we are set. It all centres in Him. Let us abide in Him.

The paragraph especially addressed to the babes, or "little children," which begins at verse 18, ends at verse 27. We have the words "little children" in verse 28, but the word there is not the one meaning "babes," but the word for "children" in a more general sense, the same word as is used in verses 1 and 12, and also in 1 John 3: 7, 10 and 18.

With verse 28, then, the Apostle resumes his address to the whole family of God, to all those who are His children, irrespective of their spiritual growth or state. He had just assured the babes that the Anointing was theirs, and that consequently they might "abide in Him." Now he turns to the whole family of God and exhorts them to "abide in Him." What is good for the babes is good for all, and this abiding is the way of all spiritual fruitfulness and growth. When we are diverted from Him and our hearts' affections and interests abide in the things of the world, then we are feeble and unfruitful. The Apostle looked on to the manifestation of Christ, when all of us will stand revealed in our true character; and he desired that we all may have confidence in that day and not be ashamed.

He will be manifested, and we too shall be manifested at His coming; and there is evidently the possibility of the believer being put to shame in that solemn hour. It is very likely that in these words the Apostle indicated his own sense of responsibility toward them, and he wished them to do him credit-if we may so put it-in that day. But they also surely indicate that we each may be put to shame on our own account. Let us each so really abide in Him that we may be fruitful now and have confidence then; and so neither we may be put to shame nor those who have laboured over us, whether as evangelists or shepherds.