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- 1 John
by Editor - Joseph Exell
1. THE AUTHORSHIP OF THE EPISTLES.
ONE of the first questions which meets the student of these Epistles
Who wrote them? None of them bears any name, or any definite and indisputable indication of the writer. Nevertheless, the authorship is not really doubtful. The four writings, the Fourth Gospel and these three Epistles, are too closely linked together to be separated, and assigned, some to one author and some to another. And if they are all by one writer, that writer, beyond all reasonable doubt, is St. John the apostle. No other person has been suggested who fits into the very complex position with even tolerable exactness. If the Gospel were wanting, we might be in doubt as to who wrote the Epistles. If the First Epistle were wanting, we might be in doubt as to who wrote the two short Epistles. If the Second Epistle were wanting, we should certainly be in serious doubt as to who wrote the third. But as it is, there is no room for reasonable doubt; that is, a doubt that will stand the impartial investigation of all the evidence. Nearly every one admits that the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle cannot be severed; both external and internal evidence conclusively show that they are by the same hand. The same may be said of the Second and Third Epistles. And a patient examination of the evidence respecting the First and Second Epistles will lead most people to the conclusion that they also are by the same hand; and thus the two ends of the chain are united. The key of the position, therefore, is the Fourth Gospel. And with regard to that the reader is referred to the Introduction to St. John's Gospel in the 'Cambridge Greek Testament,' or in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools,' or in the 'Pulpit Commentary.' By the side of which the following sober and eminently just statement of the problem will repay consideration: "The Gospel of St. John presents a unique phenomenon. It contains two distinct strata of thought, both quite unmistakable to the critical eye; and in each of these strata, again, there are local peculiarities which complicate the problem. When it comes to be closely investigated, the complexities of the problem are such that the whole of literature probably does not furnish a parallel. The hypothesis of authorship that shall satisfy them thus becomes in its turn equally complicated. It is necessary to find one who shall be at once Jew and Christian, intensely Jewish, and yet comprehensively Christian; brought up on the Old Testament, and yet with a strong tincture of Alexandrian philosophy; using a language in which the Hebrew structure and the Greek superstructure are equally conspicuous; one who had mixed personally in the events, and yet at the time of writing stood at a distance from them; an immediate disciple of Jesus, and yet possessed of so powerful an individuality as to impress the mark of himself upon his recollections; a nature capable of the most ardent and dinging affection, and yet an unsparing denouncer of hostile agencies of any kind which lay outside his own charmed circle. There is one historical figure which seems to fit like a key into all these intricate wards — the figure of St. John as it has been handed down to us by a well-authenticated tradition. I can conceive no second. If the St. John of history did not exist, he would have to be invented to account for his Gospel". In short, the problem with regard to the Epistles of St. John is very similar to that respecting the Pastoral Epistles. There are portions of the latter which are unquestionably Pauline; and these carry with them the authorship of those portions the Pauline origin of which might be questioned. Similarly, the apostolic origin of the Fourth Gospel carries with it the apostolic authorship of the First Epistle, and this that of the Second Epistle, and this again that of the third.
The First Epistle was known to St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, and is quoted as his by St. Irenaeus, the pupil of St. Polycarp. Papias, the contemporary of Polycarp, made use of it. It is repeatedly quoted as St. John's by Clement of Alexandria, and still more frequently by Tertullian, who seems to have been specially fond of the Epistle. So that the century immediately following St. John's death is well filled with witnesses. Origen and his pupil, Dionysius of Alexandria, St. Cyprian, and in short all the Fathers, Greek and Latin, accept the Epistle as St. John's. The Muratorian Fragment quotes the opening words of it, and it is contained in the Old Syriac Version. The evidence, therefore, both external and internal, fully justifies the classification of Eusebius, who places the First Epistle of St. John among the universally received ἐν ὁμολογουμεìνοιςor catholic books of the New Testament.
The evidence for the Second Epistle, though less ample, is sufficient. That for the Third Epistle, if it stood alone, would seem insufficient for any certain conclusion. But both on external and internal grounds it is impossible to disconnect these twin Epistles and give them a different parentage. And therefore the Third Epistle is covered by the evidence for the second, as that again by the evidence for the first.
Irenaeus, a pupil of St. John's pupil, Polycarp, twice quotes the Second Epistle as St. John's. Clement of Alexandria speaks of it as St. John's, and apparently commented on both it and the Third Epistle (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' VI. 14:1). Dionysius of Alexandria thinks that his not naming himself in these Epistles is in accordance with St. John's common practice. A passage in St. Cyprian's works seems to show that the Second Epistle was accepted as St. John's by the African Church in the third century. Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome all speak with caution about the two shorter Epistles. They know of their existence, but also know that some are inclined to attribute them to another author. Eusebius, however, seems himself to have believed that they were by the apostle. But they are absent from the Old Syriac Version, and appear to have been rejected as not apostolic by the theologians of Antioch.
Thus it is precisely the earliest witnesses who are favourable to the apostolic authorship; and at no time do the doubts as to their apostolicity appear to have been general. And if the evidence as a whole appears to be meager, we must remember these facts.
(1) These Epistles were probably written the very last of all the books in the New Testament. Many of the other books had acquired a considerable circulation before these were in existence.
(2) They are private letters, addressed, not to Churches, but to individuals, and therefore were likely to remain in obscurity for a considerable time. We may compare the public and official letters of a bishop now with his private letters. The one kind are published and generally circulated at once; the others, if published at all, not until long after his death.
(3) The comparative insignificance of these letters would lead to their remaining generally unknown for some time. They are very short, and not of very general interest.
(4) An immense amount of early Christian literature has perished, and with it, no doubt, much evidence respecting these Epistles.
But the somewhat meager external evidence is strengthened by the internal. Here the insignificant character of the Epistles is a strong point in their favour. Who would care to forge such slight productions? And would a forger have been content with calling himself 'the elder'? Would he not have said 'the apostle' or 'John the apostle'? And if they are the bona fide writings of some other person, whether another John or not, why has the author taken such minute pains, especially in the Second Epistle, to write like St. John? The style of his Gospel and First Epistle is imitated with the greatest care and skill throughout. The student has only to take a good reference Bible, and place the passages side by side in parallel columns, to see whether far the most satisfactory hypothesis is not that of the common tradition, that Gospel and Epistles all come from one and the same author, and that author the Apostle St. John.
2. THE OCCASION OF THE EPISTLES.
Like most of the Epistles in the New Testament, all these three letters are special and occasional. They are not written, as books commonly are at the present time, to elucidate some subject in which the writer is specially interested, without much reference to current events. They are produced for a special occasion, to meet an existing difficulty and danger. The First Epistle is written to grapple with the insidious seductions of antinomian Gnosticism, as they threatened the Church at large. The Second Epistle deals with the same danger as it affected a particular family. The third treats of a corresponding danger arising from lawlessness of another kind — high-handed rebellion against apostolic authority. Thus, while the First Epistle in certain aspects forms a contrast to the other two, in other aspects the first two Epistles form a contrast to the third. The First Epistle is catholic, or general, — it is addressed to the Church at large; the other two are not. The First Epistle is a companion to the Gospel, and lays the foundations of Christian conduct as a whole. The other two have no special relation to the Gospel and deal with only one or two points of conduct, viz. the duty of hospitality, and its limits; and the treatment of those who promote heresy and schism. But, on the other hand, the first two letters contrast with the third, in that they treat of a specious and subtle evil which was poisoning the Church from without; while the other treats of open and violent anarchy which was troubling the Church from within. Humanly speaking, we may say that, but for the pressure of Gnosticism upon the Church, the First and Second Epistles, and perhaps also the Gospel of St. John, would never have been written; and again that, but for the turbulence of Diotrephes, the Third Epistle would never have been written.
The turbulence of Diotrephes speaks for itself. It is amazing as being directed against a person like St. John, the last remaining representative of the apostolic body; but otherwise it is simply a typical instance of the self-willed and domineering ecclesiastic, of which the history of the Church can show so many examples. But the Gnosticism which called forth the first two Epistles requires a few words of explanation.
Gnosticism, although it often had much in common with Ebionitism and Judaism, was not, like these, the open enemy of Christianity. It professed to give its approval and patronage to the gospel. The gospel was very good as far as it went; but the Gnostics had "a more excellent way." They understood the gospel better than the apostles themselves. It was a mistake to suppose that the historical facts and moral precepts of the Scriptures were to be taken literally. It was a still greater mistake to suppose that the Scriptures contained all that was necessary for man's spiritual well-being. There was a higher knowledge, a more profound gnosis; and this the Gnostic could attain to and impart. Illumined by this, men would see that everything else was comparatively of unimportance. The philosopher whose mind was enlightened by this esoteric knowledge need not trouble himself much about his conduct. His soul was steeped in light. Good actions could not greatly increase his enlightenment; bad actions could not seriously detract from it. Indeed, there were many things commonly regarded as bad, which the true Gnostic would not shun, but seek, as a means of enlarging his experience.
It will be seen at once how such teaching cut at the root of all Christian truth and morality.
(1) Righteousness was made of no account in comparison with intellectual illumination.
(2) Scripture was made of no account in comparison with a knowledge which partly transmuted and partly superseded it.
(3) The work of Christ was made of no account; for there could be no need of an atonement if there was no real evil in sin.
Besides this Greek doctrine of the supremacy of intellect and the all-importance of intellectual enlightenment, most Gnostics also taught the Oriental doctrine that matter, with everything material, is evil. This principle also entailed a complete subversion of Christian doctrine and Christian ethics.
(1) If the material universe is utterly evil, it cannot have been created by the supremely good God, but by some evil, or at least some inferior, power.
(2) The supremely good God must be utterly removed from such a universe.
(3) The Incarnation is impossible; for the Deity could never consent to be united to a material body, innately and incorrigibly impure.
In morals opposite conclusions were drawn from this Gnostic premise of the inherently impure character of everything material.
(1) If the human body is utterly evil, it must be subdued and chastised to the utmost, that the enlightened spirit may be freed from the burden of so vile an instrument.
(2) If the human body is utterly evil, it is a matter of indifference what it does; and so worthless an instrument may be made to commit any act from which the spirit can derive additional knowledge.
Thus the "more excellent way" of these advanced thinkers "turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4). Can we wonder at the stern, unyielding attitude which St. John adopted in confronting it? "Liars," "seducers," "false prophets," "deceivers," "antichrists," seem not too strong appellations to give to the promoters of teaching such as this. The apostle's reiterations of the impossibility of light without holiness and without love, of the impossibility of love without obedience, of the impossibility of combining birth from God with love of the world and its hats, or with hatred of one's brethren, — become doubly intelligible when we remember the specious doctrines at which these repeated assurances are aimed. Over and over again, first from this point of view and then from that, St. John solemnly asserts our need of the atoning work of Christ, the necessity of believing in it, and the obligation to act as those who have abjured all sin and are daily cleansing themselves from its pollution and power in the blood of Jesus. To deny or trifle with these great truths is to leave the family of God for the dominion of the evil one. Gnostics may boast of their knowledge; but believers in the Incarnation have their knowledge too. They know that they have passed over out of death into life (1 John 3:14). They know that they are children of God, and as such are freed from sin by his Son (1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19). They know that the Son of God has come in the flesh, and has given them a mind wherewith to know, not the remote abstraction which the Gnostic calls God, but the loving Father in whom they can abide through his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 5:20). "St. John has been called the apostle of the absolute. Those who would concede to Christianity no higher dignity than that of relative and provisional truth, will fail to find any countenance for their doctrine in the New Testament. But nowhere will they encounter more earnest opposition to it than in the pages of the writer who is pre-eminently the apostle of charity. St. John preaches the Christian creed as the one absolute certainty" (Liddon, 'Bampton Lectures,' lecture 5).
3. THE DESTINATION OF THE EPISTLES.
TO whom were these Epistles written? Beyond question, the first is rightly called "catholic," or "general." It has no special superscription. It is not addressed to the Church of Ephesus, nor to the Church of Pergamos, nor to the Churches of Asia collectively, but to the Church at large. No doubt it circulated first among the Churches of Asia, and St. John probably had their needs and dangers in his mind as he wrote it. But its teaching and exhortation is not confined to them, nor to the Church of that time. The doctrines and warnings which it contains are as suitable to the Church of England or of Rome at the present time as to the Church of Ephesus in St. John's day. The "little children" addressed in it, although primarily those whom the apostle shepherded while still on earth, are not confined to that small band of Christians. All those who in any age, past, present, or future, listen to the words of this Epistle with willing ears, are among the "little children" of St. John.
The destination of the Second Epistle is more open to doubt. >From very early times some have supposed that the "elect lady" is an allegorical expression to signify a Church. Jerome even supposes her to represent the Church universal. But this is quite incredible. "The children of thine elect sister salute thee" may possibly mean that the members of one local Church salute another local Church; but what meaning can we give to the elect sister of the Church universal? The Church universal includes all the elect.
This seems to be a case in which the literal interpretation is the right one, because the literal interpretation makes excellent sense. No difficulty confronts us if we assume the elect lady to be an individual. Whereas so slight a letter seems hardly an appropriate occasion for the employment of an allegory. In the First Epistle a symbolical designation of the Church would have been much more in place. The letter to Gains is certainly addressed to an individual. Does not this in itself create a presumption that the sister-letter to the elect lady is addressed to an individual also?
Of the elect lady and of Gaius we know no more than the Epistles tell us. The lady has children, some of whom are away from her roof, and are living loyal Christian lives. Others are with her; and the elder fears that they have been led astray, or are in danger of being led astray, by false teachers to whom the lady, with mistaken generosity, has given a welcome. Some commentators infer that the lady herself has been seduced into extreme asceticism through the Gnostic doctrine of the vileness of the flesh; that it was a case in which "a noble woman, bent on maintaining purity of spirit and freedom from the baser cares and pleasures of life, has thought to gain her end by mortification of the body, by renunciation of the world, by sacrificing natural affection and forsaking domestic duties." It may have been so; but it is difficult to find any evidence of this in the Epistle itself. All that is told us there is that she needed to be on her guard, lest, by welcoming those who denied the Incarnation, she and her children should suffer serious harm themselves, and also incur grave responsibility for the effects of such disastrous teaching upon others. Her sister's children, who are with the apostle, send a salutation in his letter, perhaps to indicate that they sympathize with its contents.
Of the three people mentioned in the Third Epistle we know nothing from external sources. Gaius is certainly a hospitable and godly man, probably well-to-do and a layman. Diotrephes is apparently an ecclesiastic; but if he does not possess ecclesiastical authority himself, he is influential enough to get it exercised according to his wishes. Demetrius is one whose well-known goodness is a pleasing contrast to the wicked folly of Diotrephes. Whether either Gaius or Demetrius belongs to the same community as Diotrephes, and there opposes him in his tyrannical action, it is not easy to determine. Apparently, Gains has not known much of Demetrius previously, and therefore they are not likely both of them to have been members of the Church in which Diotrephes prates and persecutes.
4. THE PLACE AND DATE OF THE EPISTLES.
Nothing is known on either point with regard to any one of the Epistles. But as Ephesus was the apostle's chief abode during the later years of his life, we may assume that they were written there. Certainly they were written late in St. John's life. The tone of them is that of an old man writing to a younger generation. Moreover, the First Epistle was almost certainly written about the same time as the Gospel, and probably after it. The internal relation of the two writings is strongly in favour of this view. And the Gospel was probably written in the apostle's later years. The Second Epistle implies the existence of the first, and therefore was written after it. The third, from its similarity to the second, appears to have been written about the same time. We shall probably not be far wrong if we suppose that the Gospel and all three Epistles were written between A.D. 80 and A.D. 95.
5. THE PLAN OF THE EPISTLES.
Each Epistle has an introduction and a conclusion, between which the main portion of the letter lies. In all three Epistles the introduction occupies four verses. In the First Epistle the conclusion occupies four or eight verses; in the second, two; and in the third, three. It is the central portion of the First Epistle that is so difficult to analyze satisfactorily. But the difficulty of framing a satisfactory analysis must not lead us to acquiesce in the indolent and impotent conclusion that the Epistle has no plan. Some would have it that in this letter the apostle gives us nothing more consecutive or organic than a string of disconnected, or very slightly connected, aphorisms. The running analysis which is given side by side with the notes on the Epistle will, it is hoped, convince any thoughtful reader that the aphoristic view is untenable. The analysis here suggested is probably incorrect in some places and inadequate in a great many more; but the mere fact that any such scheme can be brought into any harmony with the words of the Epistle is strong evidence that the Epistle is not a fortuitous concourse of aphorisms. A comparison of the various analyses which have been put forth by commentators will show that there is something like general agreement as to three divisions in the letter. Almost all make a break at or near 1 John 1:4; 1 John 2:29; and 5:13 or 17. Omitting the introduction and conclusion, we may take 1 John 2:29 as the center of the Epistle, considering what precedes as the first half, and what follows as the second half. For convenience we need a name for each half; and perhaps no better can be found than the great statement which each contains respecting the Divine nature. The first half, therefore, is entitled "God is Light," and the second, "God is Love." The following table will show the remaining divisions which have been adopted. But it must be borne in mind that these divisions are by no means to be insisted upon as present to the apostle's mind while he was writing, — they are put forth merely as a guide in catching the sequence of his thoughts. There are three facts which render a successful analysis of the Epistle almost an impossibility:
(1) the divisions melt into one another;
(2) the sections often contain a plurality of subjects, from which it is difficult to select any one as dominating the rest;
(3) subjects touched on in earlier sections are constantly reappearing, recur and reset, in later sections. From this it follows that, to mark the divisions between the sections, and also to name the sections when their limits have been more or less arbitrarily determined, are no easy undertakings. Probably no student of the Epistle will be satisfied with his own results in either of these undertakings. As to the present attempt, Valeat quantum valeat.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST EPISTLE.
I. 1 John 1:1-4. INTRODUCTION. Subject-matter and purpose.
II. 1 John 1:5-28. FIRST MAIN DIVISION. God is Light.
(1) 1 John 1:5-6. Positive side. What walking in the light involves.
1 John 1:5-7. Fellowship with God and with the brethren.
1 John 1:8-10. Consciousness and confession of sin.
1 John 2:1-6. Obedience by imitation of Christ.
(2) 1 John 2:7-28. Negative side. What walking in the light excludes.
1 John 2:7-11. Hatred of the brethren.
1 John 2:12-17. The world and its ways.
1 John 2:18-28. Antichrists.
III. 1 John 3:1-12. SECOND MAIN DIVISION. God is Love.
(1) 1 John 3:1-21. The evidence of sonship: Righteousness.
1 John 3:1-12. The children of God and the children of the devil.
1 John 3:13-24. Love and hate; life and death.
(2) 1 John 4:1-12. The source of sonship: Possession of the Spirit.
1 John 4:1-6. The spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1 John 4:7-12. Love and faith.
IV. Chapter 5:13-21. CONCLUSION.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE SECOND EPISTLE.
I. 2 John 1:1-4. INTRODUCTION. Address and occasion.
II. 2 John 1:5-11. MAIN DIVISION. Exhortation.
2 John 1:5, 2 John 1:6. To love and obedience.
2 John 1:7-9. Against false doctrine.
2 John 1:10, 2 John 1:11. Against false charity.
III. 2 John 1:12, 2 John 1:13. CONCLUSION.
(1) 2 John 1:1-4.
(2) 2 John 1:5-12.
2 John 1:5-8.
2 John 1:9, 2 John 1:10.
2 John 1:11, 2 John 1:12.
(3) 2 John 1:13.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE THIRD EPISTLE.
I. 3 John 1:1-4. INTRODUCTION. Address and occasion.
II. 3 John 1:5-12. MAIN DIVISION. Exhortation.
3 John 1:5-8. The hospitality of Gains.
3 John 1:9,3 John 1:10. The arrogance of Diotrephes.
3 John 1:11, 3 John 1:12. The moral.
3 John 1:13, 3 John 1:14. CONCLUSION.
6. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLES.
The style of St. John, most strongly marked in his Gospel and First Epistle, conspicuous in the Second Epistle, and not wanting, though less conspicuous, in the third, is, in one respect, very similar to the subject-matter of the First Epistle; it is very difficult to analyze. Like a subtle strain of music or an exquisite effect in colouring, it can be felt and appreciated, but not easily described.
Two characteristics of this magic style may be mentioned together: profundity of thought and simplicity of language. This marvelous combination to a large extent accounts for the power which St. John's writings exercise over those who listen to them. We seem to be within a charmed circle, and to be listening to one who will not let us go until he has had his say; until he has placed before us, in words which the most simple-minded can comprehend, truths which are not of this world, nor are to be measured by those of this world. Of the profundity of his thoughts there can be no question. The ideas which he places before us are among the deepest mysteries of revelation: man's relation to God, to the evil one, and to the world; the Incarnation; the Atonement; the judgment to come; the Son's relation to the Father and to the Spirit; the essential characteristics of the Godhead. And all this is stated in propositions, which commonly contain simple words in a very simple construction. "Now are we children of God." "He that doeth sin is of the devil." "The world is passing away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." "The Father hath sent the Son, the Saviour of the world." "The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." "God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all." "God is Love." What form of expression could be more simple? There is not a dependent sentence or a relative clause in any of these statements, much less an involved construction. And the words used are of the simplest. Yet who can fathom the depth of such statements?
This simplicity of construction and avoidance of dependent and relative clauses involves a good deal of repetition — a substantive or a clause is repeated where a relative might have taken its place. But even where repetition is not occasioned in this way we find it employed for the sake of emphasis. St. John is not afraid of wearying us by reiteration, if by reiteration he can make the impression required. And, as a matter of fact, his repetitions do not weary us, and they do leave their impression. The rhythm of his simple sentences charms the ear, fixes itself in the memory, and sooner or later finds its way home to the heart. Note the effect produced by the repetition of "love" and "world" in such sentences as these —
''Love not the world,
Neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world,
The love of the Father is not in him."
Or, again, the repetition of "last hour" and "antichrist" in inverse order in the following: —
"Little children, it is the last hour:
And as ye heard that antichrist cometh,
Even now have there arisen many antichrists;
Whereby we know that it is the last hour."
There would be nothing but loss in writing, "He that doeth sin is of the devil, who sinneth from the beginning; to destroy whoso works the Son of God was manifested," instead of —
''He that doeth sin is of the devil;
For the devil sinneth from the beginning.
To this end was the Son of God manifested,
That he might destroy the works of the devil."
Comp. also 1 John 2:24, where the solemn effect produced by the repetition of the word "abide "is lost in the Authorized Version by substituting "abide," "remain,... continue," for the threefold "abide."
The repetition and rhythm just pointed out is closely connected with that love of parallelism which is so conspicuous in Hebrew poetry. St. John, full of the spirit of the old psalmists and prophets, constantly employs this form of expression —
"We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And He is the propitiation for our sins."
"He that hateth his brother is in darkness,
And walketh in darkness,
And knoweth not whither he teeth."
"For this cause the world knoweth us not,
Because it knew him not."
"Receive him not into your house,
And give him no greeting."
Sometimes the parallelism is antithetic, and the second clause denies the opposite of the first.
"God is Light,
And in him is no darkness at all."
"Abideth in the light,
And there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
"He that hath the Son hath the life;
He that hath not the Son of God, hath not the life."
"He that doeth good is of God;
He that doeth evil hath not seen God."
And this leads us to yet another characteristic — the love of antithesis. Throughout the Epistles, and especially in the first, there is a constant movement from one position to its opposite; and the opposite is commonly not the exact converse of the original position, but an advance beyond it; and thus progress is made.
"They are of the world:
Therefore speak they of the world,
And the world heareth them.
We are of God:
He that knoweth God heareth us;
He who is not of God heareth us not.
By this we know the spirit of truth,
And the spirit of error."
"The world is passing away, and the lust thereof;
But he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
Lastly, we may notice the calm tone of conscious authority which pervades all these Epistles, and which, as it is seldom put prominently forward, and is felt rather than heard, would be very difficult to assume if it were not possessed. This is one of the many arguments which converge to point out an apostle, and that apostle St. John, as the writer of these letters. A teacher who can write like this has already done much to vindicate his claim to be heard and obeyed. "Thou knowest that our witness is true," is the conviction which comes home to the mind of every patient and earnest student of these writings. "That our witness is true." He has the whole "glorious company of the apostles" at his back. He has "the holy Church throughout all the world" on his side. "He knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe."
In these Epistles we have two infinitely necessary things which can never be separated without serious injury to both — principles of conduct and principles of faith. They contain a summary of Christian ethics and a summary of Christian belief. They teach us, on the one hand, the Way, on the other, the Truth; and these two combined are the Life. "This is the true God, and eternal life."
Who does not feel that for the study of such writings something mere is needed than the student's thirst for knowledge, and the scholar's keenness of perception? There is need of the believer's understanding to "know him that is true," and of the Christian's purity of heart to welcome him. That collect, the language of which is so largely drawn from the First Epistle, will help us to enter upon the study of it in the right spirit, the Collect for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany —
"O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and make us the sons of God (1 John 3:1), and heirs of eternal life (1 John 5:20); Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure (1 John 3:3); that, when he shall appear (1 John 3:2) again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him (1 John 3:2) in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, (1 John 1:2), and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen."
the Second Week of Advent