Jottings from John’s First Epistle (Paper 6)
Dennis Williamson, Belfast
As we approach chapter 5, we see that the apostle is drawing in the net, as it were. He has, we may say, launched out into the deep throughout the Epistle, emphasizing some of the most vital doctrines for Christian living. Nothing has been spared, that he might give to his readers a clear, succinct picture of the quality of that most blessed relationship which exists between the Father and His children. Guidance has been given as to the enjoyment of the same. Under the control of the Holy Spirit, the writer responsible for introducing us to this vista of glory has effectively receded, so that there might be magnified the Person through whose sacrifice we received our very life, thus giving us a place in the family of God. As a faithful steward, John has sought to raise beacons of warning, so that one chartered course might be adhered to without distraction. How much more might be said were we more sympathetically in touch with the apostle of love. It seems that we have just been getting to know something of his experience in divine things. If this is so, then it is not altogether unexpected that in this last chapter of the Epistle we find him pulling together those various lines of truth, and crystallizing them in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Character of Love, vv. 1-5. At the end of chapter 4, John explains that the very fact that we love at all is because He first loved us. It is significant that in 5. 1 he shows us that the very basis of the expression of this love, first to God, then to others, is our relationship in the family. What this involves is belief that 'Jesus is the Christ". He will not allow the Person of Christ to be divided, as many were attempting to do at that time, but in a striking manner he draws together themes already advanced in the Epistle, and links them clearly to the principle of faith. Having previously spoken of love and obedience, he stresses that these cannot be found outside a personal relationship to the Lord Jesus. Mental assent to historical evidence is not enough; only by faith can we accept divine revelation.
This little section is locked together by the statements "Jesus is the Christ", v. 1, and "Jesus is the Son of God", v. 5. Bound up, then, in our relationship to the Father is a full acknowledgement of the Son. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith, v. 4. Why? Because in contrast to all that prevails in the world, we have chosen God's revelation. Evidentially this springs forth in love and obedience, w. 2, 3. For our encouragement and instruction, the apostle says, "his commandments are not grievous", v. 3. This does not mean that they are not difficult to keep. There is certainly a cost involved, and it is not always easy to pay the price, but for those who do, those commandments are not burdensome. No, there is sweetness only learned in submission to the will of God. One is reminded of Psalm 19. 10; speaking of God's judgment the psalmist says, "more to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold" -what a price to pay! But to those prepared to pay that price, he continues, "sweeter also than the honey and the honeycomb". So we see how John links faith, love and obedience together.
The Coming of the Lord, vv. 6-12. Again the writer touches a tender spot as far as the false teachers were concerned. Focusing on this vital doctrine of the incarnation was most of the error which John was refuting. Some like Cerinthus taught that Christ (a spiritual Being) came upon the man Jesus at His baptism and left Him before He died. Thus they said that He came through water but not through blood. Of course there were other theories, too numerous to mention. John, we judge, is refuting this error, and additionally he states the link that the Holy Spirit had as Witness-bearer both subsequent to His baptism, and to His death. Namely, the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ after baptism. Matt. 3. 16; Mark 1. 10; Luke 3. 22, and the Holy Spirit descended again in a new way after His death and exaltation, Acts 2. 2-4. Thus does the Witness-bearer confirm the glory of His manifestation. We note that verse 7 is omitted in some texts; evidently there is no need for a witness in heaven.
How solemn to receive the witness of men and to refuse the greater witness of God! To do so is to accept the word of the creature more than that of the Creator, and such action is blasphemy, tantamount to making God, who cannot lie, a liar. The focal point is then reached, for God has given ample witness to His beloved Son, and the ultimate test is, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life", v. 12.
The Confirmation of Life, vv. 13-17. As far as the children are concerned, John writes to confirm faith. In his Gospel, he wrote to produce faith, John 20. 31. For all who believe on the Son of God there is no doubt that they possess eternal life, a union of life that can never be broken, Rom. 8. 38-39; John 10. 28-29. Thus one has confidence towards God, and knows intuitively that God hears. Based on this, petitions asked in His will are granted in His way and time, relating in the context to the first part of verse 16. As to the latter part, which has caused much discussion and controversy, we offer our suggestion.
We have hinted that the apostle is here crystallizing, as it were, truth given in other portions of the letter; he is locating certain men doctrinally where their behaviour has put them practically. They are outside, 2. 18-23; they are linked with antichrist-having the same spirit, they oppose Christ; they seduce or would attempt to seduce believers from the right ways of the Lord; they are in fact apostates. The apostle is actually saying, leave them with the Lord, do not make request, or enquire concerning them. They have rejected the one sacrifice. This, we believe, is not "a sin" but "sin" as a course leading unto death. An illustration may be observed in the arrangement of the tabernacle court. Had a man been able to by-pass the brasen altar, and dared to do so, he was heading straight for the consuming holiness of God-hence death in all its reality. These men have done just that by rejecting the Lord Jesus, and that wilfully! How solemn!
The Conclusion of the Letter, vv. 18-21. What a cluster of truth is presented in this little section. Repeatedly we hear the words "we know", vv.18, 19, 20, speaking of that knowledge possessed because of the divine nature within.
(1). We know that the child of God does not practice sin, but is kept by the Lord Jesus from the power of the evil one. Truly He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God through Him.
(2). We know that we are of God. Again, because of the anointing, the readers knew that they were of God, having measured themselves by the tests presented, but that the whole world by contrast lay in the wicked one. What a distinction there is between the genuine child of God and the world, highlighted so plainly for us in this Epistle!
(3). We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding (a faculty of spiritual intelligence) to each child of God, that all may get to know (a different word) experientially Him that is true. What a joy to realize that we are "in him that is true" even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
Finally, (as if to say, you know now what is involved and to whom you are related), he endearingly exhorts, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols". After what we have gleaned together, shall not this indeed be our aim? Amen.