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- 1 John
by L.M. Grant
The five books written by John his Gospel, three epistles, and Revelation -have certain common features beautifully consistent with the character of the evangelist, yet each distinctively maintaining its own special object. How marvelously thus is exampled the pure wisdom and power of God in using the precisely proper instrument for such service, and controlling that instrument in accordance with its own capacities, its own nature, its own voluntary responses! Wonderful indeed! But not incredible, for who is Creator?
John’s books are historically the last of all, for he outlived all the apostles, and was very aged when all these books were written. Do we not then look for a character of things in his writings that speaks of mature, venerable, sound wisdom? Indeed, he dwells upon that which eternally remains, after all dispensations have passed away, after government on earth has fulfilled its purpose. For his great subject is not God’s counsels in His mighty dispensational dealings, as is Paul’s special line of ministry; nor God’s present ways in order and government, as in Peter’s epistles; but rather the very nature of God revealed in His beloved Son, “that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” It has been well observed that Paul gives the setting for the display of God’s glory, Peter gives the becoming arrangement or order in that setting; John presents the blessed display itself.
His Gospel contains all the seeds which are seen developed in his epistles. But the Gospel is for the entire world “written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). The epistles are for believers, communicating vital, certain knowledge to those who do believe. And thus the word “know” and two derivatives, “known” and “knoweth,” appear thirty eight times in this short first epistle.
Eternal life Divine life is seen displayed perfectly in the Lord Jesus in the Gospel. He is the very expression of the glory of God, and every moral attribute of God’s nature is manifested in the life which He has lived here. Human life was certainly in Him also, for He was true Man in every proper respect spirit and soul and body and this life He voluntarily laid down that He might take it again (John 10:17-18). Human life as such is not eternal life, but both dependent and capable of being terminated. But in Christ is eternal life, resident from eternity past, incapable of termination; and therefore still in the same unaffected vigor and reality at the very time at which He laid down His human life. True, His human life on earth was the field in which His divine life was displayed in lowliest moral beauty, and this is a subject for the wondering adoration of every created intelligence. When He laid down His human life, this display ceased; (while certainly His eternal life itself could not cease) but in His resurrection life true human life also, in bodily form that display is again resumed, no longer in circumstances of humiliation and weakness, but of glory and of power. We shall see Him as He is, not as He was. But His blessed human life is that in which His eternal life is manifested in perfect blissfulness without cessation God eternally manifest in flesh!
This life then is manifested in Christ. But our epistle now dwells upon the fact of this same life being the possession of every true believer in Him. In us, this must be by means of new birth, by which one is immediately a child of God. Even the Old Testament bore its witness that this was a necessity in order that one might have any true relationship with God. Were Old Testament saints then children of God? Unquestionably so; but at that time they could not be told so. Did they have eternal life? Yes! But this was not revealed to them, because the true, pure character of that life had not yet been manifested, as it is now in the blessed Person of Christ. This life is only “in Christ,” so that they too as we, have it from that one Source, dependently, but since Christ had not yet been manifested, neither was it manifested to them that such was their life. Only that life could bring forth fruit acceptable to God, and therefore every true work of faith in the Old Testament was the work of that life operating in souls. But only now that Christ has come has all of this been revealed. Eternal life in these saints could not but express itself, but none then could have declared that he possessed this eternal life, because this was not then a subject of revelation. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The life of old testament saints depended on the coming of Christ, His incarnation, His death. They could have life only on that basis, the same as we. They received it anticipatively. This verse shows that while life depended on His coming, yet that life was before present in His sheep, for He speaks of their having it “more abundantly.” The knowledge of the Person of Christ in incarnation, His death and resurrection, certainly is the food by which eternal life develops abundantly. This full, blessed enjoyment of Divine life is found only in the One who is the manifestation of that life in His own Person. But the life itself certainly existed long before it was revealed, and it existed in believers in the Old Testament long before they had any revelation of it.
Hence this eternal life is far above all dispensations: it is eternal in contrast to the limited duration of the various dispensational dealings of God. This same life has been in every true believer since Adam, throughout every age, and is so for eternity. Certainly, the expressions of that life have not always been identical, for this has depended greatly on the extent of God’s revelation in various ages; but the life itself is the life of God, unchangeable, incorruptible, eternal. In the child of God, however, it must develop, and does so marvelously, mysteriously, as is typically exampled in the amazing growth of the human body, human intellect, human capacities. The distinction here is easily seen between the life by which we live, and the life which we live, for the latter simply gives expression to the former, in such measure as the former is really active.
In perfect consistency with all of this, John speaks of believers as the children (teknon) of God, those who by new birth partake of His own nature, and thus are of His family, in vital, filial relationship. Never does he use the Greek word “huios” the proper word for “son,” when speaking of believers, yet this word he uses continually of the Lord Jesus, as the Son of God. And never in all Scripture is the Lord Jesus spoken of as the “child (teknon) of God,” though the word servant is wrongly translated “child” in Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30 (KJV). The word “Son” does not imply birth at all, as does “child,” but dignity and liberty before the Father. In Manhood our Lord was the child of Mary: in Deity He is ever the Son of God.
Paul does speak also of the sonship of believers of this present dispensation, and shows inGalatians 4:1-31; Galatians 4:1-31 that before the cross, while believers were children of God, they did not have the position of “sons of God.” But the cross is the point at which and by which they “received the adoption of sons.” This introduces us into a new position; but it is clear that it has been God’s own children whom now He has adopted. Christ is Son by eternal nature: we become sons by adoption. But John does not discuss this subject at all, for his subject is that of eternal life, the very nature of God, and its present operation in the children of God. May its sweetness be more and more increased to us as we search out its precious truth.
the Third Week after Epiphany