First Epistle of John

I John 1:1-8

1 The ministry of John is based upon his personal acquaintance with the Lord in the flesh. Indeed, this was the prime qualification of all the twelve apostles (Ac.1:21). They were to bear witness to the evidence of their senses, both before and after His resurrection. They saw and handled Him, and heard His words of life. Paul, the one to whom the present secret administration of God's grace was revealed (Eph.3:9), had no personal contact, and did not know Christ until after His ascension and glorification.

1 The first few verses are a condensed summary of John's account of our Lord's life. In it, as here, the Lord is presented under the figure of the divine Expression, or Word. In Paul's epistles He is set forth as the Image of God (2 Co.4:4; Col.1:15). John appeals to our ears, Paul to our eyes. Job contrasts the two, when he says to God: "I heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, yet now my eye sees Thee" (Job 42:5). As in nature sight is a much higher sensation than sound, so we have a much loftier revelation of God through Christ as His Image than as His Expression. The Expression, or Word, became flesh (Jn.1:14) in order to declare God.

3 Jesus Christ is the title of our Lord's humiliation, the time to which John refers. Christ Jesus is the title of His exaltation, which, as viewed in John's writings, is still future, but which, for us, is His present place. So that our fellowship is not with Jesus Christ but with Christ Jesus.

5 God is Spirit. God is light. God is love. The first is a fact. The last two are figures, but they reveal His heart to our hearts.

6 The Circumcision evangel demands repentance, baptism (Ac.2:38) and works (Ja.2:14), and good conduct, and conferred a probational pardon, calling for continual cleansing. They knew nothing of the justification by faith Which is ours in Christ Jesus (Ro.8:1), in which all possibility of condemnation vanishes and leads to an experience altogether above that here set forth by the apostle. We have sinned, but are justified or vindicated, without reference to our own conduct, which is based upon this favor.

8 Fellowship with God as the Light leads to the discovery of all that is of the darkness. Sin in the saint is made manifest by the light. Away from the light sin may not be detected; it may be unknown. The Circumcision have constant recourse to the pardoning and cleansing virtues of the blood. Under the present reign of grace, sin is always submerged by God's favor, so that no pardon is required or possible. Some will say that this puts a premium on sin. This is the very objection which is discussed and refuted in the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans. But it works out the very opposite in practice. Man is a contradiction. When the law says "Thou shalt not" it awakens in him a desire to do the very thing that God prohibits. And it is a blessed fact that, when the sluice gates of grace are opened wide so that there is no condemnation no matter what he does, he loses the desire to sin and finds in the very grace which guarantees immunity a latent power which enables him to rise above it.

I John 2:1-25

1 The rendering "Advocate", in the sense of an attorney before a judge, is not at all in keeping with the character God assumes here. An advocate does not practice before a Father. The Revisers recognized this, and put "Comforter", "Helper", and "Paraclete" in their margin as alternatives. It is rendered "Comforter" four times in John's evangel. The verb covers the territory which we assign to the two words "entreat" and "console". A paraclete is either an entreater or a consoler. The latter hardly seems possible in connection with sin. We have made it an Entreater in this passage and a Consoler in John's evangel.

2 The strong contrast indicated by the emphatic "ours" should be noted. It is between Israel, the favored nation, and the whole world. Under the law, propitiation was confined to them, but in the great antitype, it embraces all mankind.

15 John speaks of the world more often than all other writers of the Greek Scriptures put together. It means to him the prevailing system lying in the wicked one (5:19) which knows not God, hates His children, and is filled with lust and vanity. Fellowship with God is forfeited by attachment to it, and the proof of evil is that it comes into competition with the love of God. In spirit, on Patmos, he has seen this world pass away and give place to one which will be in harmony with God.

18 The term "antichrist" occurs only in John's epistles. The prefix "anti" now has the meaning of "against" and antichrist signifies one who is against Christ. But "anti" originally meant "instead of", and this is its significance in "antichrist". An antichrist is one who takes Christ's place, a substitute or counterfeit christ. John speaks of them as coming out from amongst the circle of the saints. The indiscriminate use of this term for the coming prince of Daniel (Dan.9:26), the lawless one of Paul (2 Thes.2:8), and the first wild beast of the Unveiling (Un.13:1) is to be deplored. No clear conceptions can come of confusing these titles. Antichrist, as a substitute for Christ, is probably to be identified with the second wild beast which had horns like a lambkin (Un.13:11). This one only has a likeness to Christ and deceives those dwelling on the earth.

The antichrists are probably identical with the false christs which were foretold by our Lord (Mt.24:24; Mk.13:22) who would deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. The spirit of antichrist is already in the world and may be known by certain definite characteristics. One is the denial that Jesus is the Christ. The second is the disowning of the Father as well as the Son. The third is the disavowal of the flesh of Christ, that He has come in flesh in the past (1 Jn.4:3) and that He is coming in flesh in the future (2 Jn.7). Only those who definitely deny these things are in reality possessed of the spirit of antichrist. It should not be applied to all who oppose Christ, or who teach false doctrine, but rather to those who deceive by pretending to take the place of Christ. The term is never associated with open opposition but rather with secret deception. Whoever, and whatever, displaces Christ is imbued with the spirit of antichrist. It will culminate in the future manifestation of one who will be received by Israel as their long-desired Messiah.

25 The life eonian is life for the course of the eons. It will last during the millennial kingdom and the following eon, up to the consummation, when death is abolished. It would be of little import to promise "eternal" life, for this will become the portion of all when there is no death. The special portion of the saints is life up to the consummation, during the eons, for it is only during the times of the eons that death has any place in God's universe. Moreover, this eonian life is not for this eon, but for the last two eons. It does not commence now, or God's saints would never die. It is impossible to speak of being in present possession of "eternal" or "everlasting" life without claiming immunity from death. None of the saints who have died had "everlasting" life, or they would not now be dead. All had eonian life, which will be enjoyed by them in the resurrection at the presence of Christ.

I John 3:1-24

1 Relationship to God is expressed by various figures of speech. The Father has children by regeneration and sons by the new creation. Entrance into the kingdom on earth for the Circumcision is aptly figured by a new begettal. They will go through a process corresponding to a birth to fit them for the millennial kingdom (Jn.3:3). Such a change would not be radical enough to fit us for the heavenly realms, so Paul speaks of a secret connected with the resurrection, by which we are to be changed from terrestrial to celestial creatures (1 Co.15:51). Hence we are not in the regeneration, but in a new creation in Christ (2 Co.5:17). As in John three sixteen, John stresses the manner of God's love. It is not sons here, but children. It is the affection of the family circle. God is known as Father.

2 Christ in resurrection, before His ascension, is an index of what glory awaits the Circumcision in the kingdom. They shall see Him and be like Him. Christ in glory, after His ascension, as Paul beheld Him on the Damascus road, shows what surpassing glory awaits us when we are transfigured into the body of His glory (Phil.3:21).

8 The title "Adversary" has far more aptness than is at first apparent. Satan is known to us only through his word He never appears otherwise than as the evil creature indicated by his titles. From his very beginning, his work has been to oppose and destroy. In Eden's garden, he is seen as the Adversary of God. He imputed a false motive to the commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He aimed directly at the character of God and brought in the estrangement. On the other hand, he is also the Adversary of the saints (1 Pt.5:8). As such, he accused Job falsely (Job 2:5).

Sin was introduced and is being perpetuated by his slanders. Wrong thoughts and mistaken notions concerning God are at the root of all lawlessness, and lawlessness is sin. God is misunderstood, misjudged, and hated because of the Adversary's lies. Hence the Son of God has come to annul his acts by making God known.

The work of the Adversary is really one of the essential factors for a true knowledge of God. Sin is a necessary prelude to salvation, and estrangement precedes reconciliation, and it is only through these that God's heart could be bared and His affections shared by mankind. But the office of sin and estrangement is not effected until they are annulled and replaced by righteousness and peace.

The purpose for which the Son of God was manifested was to undo what the Adversary had done. We do not see this purpose accomplished yet. It will have a partial fulfillment in the next eon, when the Adversary will be bound. Its complete culmination will not be seen until the consummation when death, the Adversary's crowning success, is abolished, and he himself, together with all creation, will be reconciled to God (Col.1:20). Thus it is that the Son of God will completely annul the acts of the Adversary.

10 Two spiritual paternities are indicated by conduct, righteousness, and love on the one side and unrighteousness and hate on the other. The latter tendency reaches its goal in murder (12) and the former in self-sacrifice (16).

18 This is a warning against a danger of the so-called "social gospel". It makes mere philanthropic talk and social theory a substitute for personal deeds of compassion. True beneficence is the product of a regenerate and instructed heart, and not of ostentatious and superfluous organization that seeks to raise the masses while it neglects the heart needs of the individual.

23 This precept seems almost an anticlimax, for believing is usually put down as entirely outside the category of practical virtues. Yet believing is the most practical exercise in the world. All action is dependent on belief; all effort is qualified by it. Eve believed the serpent and opened the sluice gates of sin. Christ believed God and secured salvation. The fall resulted from lack of faith in God and every phase of the return to Him is founded on faith.

Take the practical precepts of the preceding paragraphs. One who heartily believes God has the most powerful incentive possible to please Him by relieving the distress of his needy brother, for his faith would find an impelling motive in the love which belief has engendered. True faith is not idle: it acts. But the important point is the fact that the quality of its acts meets the approval of God.

Furthermore, as is implied in the second part of the precept, true faith is the most fertile field of love. It is only as the love of God is realized that it is possible to display it to others. It is intensely practical to recognize this, for every effort to cultivate love apart from faith will be fruitless. If, then, more and greater love is needed, it is to be found in the fuller appreciation of God's love, not in the contemplation of our own.

I John 4:1-19

1 The only true standard for testing spirits is the written revelation of God and its testimony to the living revelation, which became flesh and remains flesh. In this passage, the reference is to His coming in the past. In John's second epistle he warns against the deceivers who are not avowing Jesus Christ's coming in flesh-that is, in the future. In both cases those who make Him a spirit are associated with the spirit of antichrist (2 Jn.7).

3 The spirit of antichrist is the spirit of the world. It does not want the Christ of the Scriptures, but prefers some substitute more suited to its taste. This spirit has come to pervade, not only the world, but the nominal church, which has become largely a religious world. In it rites and ceremonies are substituted for the salvation of Christ, the energy of the flesh takes the place of the power of the Spirit, and the wisdom of men displaces the wisdom of God. The world is to be saved by social service and sanitation and reconciled by reform. Everywhere are signs that the majority of the churches have lost faith in God's Christ and are attempting to find some better means of carrying on God's work than through the power of His Son.

8 We are never told that God is justice, or God is power, or God is wisdom. These are His attributes, not His essence. The distinction is of vital import, in the conflicting maze of reasoning concerning God's ways and words. Justice and power and wisdom are relative, but love is absolute. He is never so just as when He justifies the unjust, for that is in line with love. He is never so strong as when His weakness overpowers human strength, for that links it to love. He is never so wise as when His foolishness confounds the wisdom of men, for that glorifies love. All His attributes appear and withdraw at the beck of love. All serve it, and never go counter to its commands. We cannot reason that God will do thus and so because He is just, or strong or wise. Love may not give leave. But we can safely lay our heads on the bosom of His love and there learn the great lesson that He IS love, and has both the power and wisdom to carry out the dictates of His affection. What clearer proof can be given that all that He has done and is doing is leading up to that grand ultimate when He will be All in all, and love will rest in being loved?

9-10 In accordance with the era for which John writes he does not mention grace. The design of the incarnation is the manifestation of God's love, which proves to be no idle display but a transforming energy.

17 The day of judgment there spoken of is not the so-called "general judgment", of which the Scriptures know nothing, but one of the many judgments which it makes known. It is difficult to imagine this judgment in some far-off future day. It is spoken of as a time when love will give boldness and cast out fear. As the believer of this present economy cannot by any means come into condemnation, and shall not enter any judgment, we shall do well to leave this experience with the Circumcision, to whom John wrote. They will enter the day of judgment which precedes the day of the Lord. They will pass through the terrible tribulations portrayed in the Unveiling. Heaven above will conspire with the earth beneath to pour out God's hoarded indignation upon the earth. The earth will reel, the stars will fall, the elements will be charged with death. In such a time there will be much meaning to the passage we are considering. Nothing but perfect love, that is, love in the maturity of its powers, will be able to stand unshakable in that day.

19 The inculcation of love to God is of little avail, unless first of all His love has been expounded and finds a place in our hearts. It should be the aim of the evangelist and teacher to elaborate God's love in the gift of His Son, in the salvation which He has provided, in the mercy or grace which attends it, and in the future bliss which it will provide, and the nearness to Himself which it involves. The power of such a presentation will produce a responsive love in all who believe, such as could by no means be provoked by exhortations or commands.

I John 5:1-16

1 The new birth is confined to the Circumcision, nevertheless, as we also are members of God's family, it should be natural for us to love all who know Him as their Father. This should break through all barriers of church or creed, race or nationality, for spiritual kinship is stronger than any physical tie. Children of God are one by a permanent and indissoluble tie, and the renewed life is put under the stimulus and inspiration of the greatest of all relationships.

6 It is a remarkable fact that the word testify is used concerning the Lord's baptism in water (Jn.1:34), and concerning His crucifixion (Jn.19:35), and here again of the spirit (6). This is confirmed by the statement of the seventh verse. Three are testifying, the spirit, and the water and the blood. First, there was His baptism in water accompanied by the testimony of John the Baptist as well as the descending dove and the voice from heaven, saying, "This is My Son, the Beloved in Whom I delight" (Mt.3:17). At His crucifixion one of the soldiers slashes His side with a lance head, and immediately blood and water came out (Jn.19:34). After His glorification, the spirit which He poured forth testified to His exaltation. So that we have testimony to His anointing, to His death, and to His exaltation. These three unite to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. This threefold testimony concerning God's Son is stronger than any mere human evidence. It was given at the very commencement of His ministry, and again at its close. Nothing in between these two points contradicts this testimony, but much that He did and said confirmed it. Only the Son of God could deal with the demons and eject them. He alone could command the elements. The quaking earth at His crucifixion convinced the centurion, who exclaimed "Truly this was God's Son!" (Mt.27:54).

11 John, the beloved disciple, is dead. How then could he insist so strongly that he had "everlasting" life, and that all who are not believing this have made God a liar? It is evident that he did not have what we would understand by "everlasting" life or he would still be living. The rendering "eonian" avoids this difficulty. This life does not commence until the resurrection and lasts until death is no longer in action, at the consummation at the close of the eonian times. It will be, in effect, without end, but it would be foolish to predicate life when there is no death.

13 As in his gospel (20:31) so here, John states his purpose in writing. The epistle aims to confirm the faith of believers, to deepen in their hearts a knowledge of security, and to establish that peace and confidence in God which is essential to unselfish service. Such assurance belongs of right to all "who are believing in the name of the Son of God." Knowledge of God's gift translates itself into confidence toward God, which asks great things of God, so releasing His power and becoming the agent of His purposes.

16 The sin to death is probably the same as that of the sixth and tenth of Hebrews-apostasy from the faith of Christ, or, in view of the times for which this is written, the reception of the emblem of the wild beast (Un.14:10). That this is the setting in which this passage is to be interpreted is further suggested by the phrase in the nineteenth verse, "the whole world is lying in the wicked one." This will be especially true in the time of the end. Furthermore, we have the striking conclusion of the epistle, which can hardly be understood in any other light. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." What idols? Does it not seem clear that the apostle, with prophetic eye, is anticipating that marvelous image, which all will be compelled to worship under pain of death? (Un. 31:15).