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It is first observable, that whereas St. John began his gospel with a description of Christ's divinity, as God, he begins his epistle with a demonstration of the truth of his human nature, as man; for the certainty of which he appeals to the judgement of sense, because the senses, when rightly circumstantiated, are the proper judges of all sensible objects;
Accordingly St. John here, to show the certainty of Christ's incarnation, and manifestation in the flesh, brings in three of the five senses, to wit, hearing,seeing,feeling, to bear witness to it, the latter still carrying a stronger testimony than the former; to see is more than to hear; to feel is more than to see: That which we have heard, which we have seen, which we have handled.
Observe farther, That to make the testimony yet more strong, St. John adds two words more, by way of confirmation,
1. That which we have looked upon ; now this is more than to see; to see may be but a transient sudden act, but to look upon is a fixed and deliberate act, and usually a pleasing and delightful act; we looked upon him as the rarest object, as the desire and the delight of our eyes.
2. It is added, as the surest ground of certainty, that their hands had handled the Word of life; as they daily conversed with Christ, so they handled and touched him, both before his resurrection and after it; so that from hence we may remark, that God has given us the highest and fullest assurances, that can be desired, of his Son's manifestation in our flesh, and appearing in our nature; he was heard and seen, looked upon, and handled, by those that conversed with him, which are evident demonstrations of the truth of the human nature assumed by him.
Observe farther, That our apostle takes notice of Christ's divine nature, as well as asserts the reality of his human nature; he styles him the Word; the Word of life, and the Word which was from the beginning; in the beginning, when all things received their being, then the Word was, and did actually subsist, even from all eternity.
Learn hence, That Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, not only antecedent to his incarnation, but even before all time, and the beginning of all things, had an actual being and subsistence. I was set up from everlasting, then was I by him as one brought up with him; Proverbs 8:23 Thus was this Jesus, in whom we trust, both God and man, having two distinct natures in one person.
As if the apostle had said, " Christ Jesus, that eternal life which was with the Father from eternity, as being his eternal Son, was in the fulness of time manifested in the flesh, and we his apostles saw him in his assumed human nature, and do now testify, publish, and declare him unto you; he was pleased to subject himself to the notice of our senses; and what we have heard, seen, and felt, and has been manifested unto us, that we do with all integrity declare and manifest unto others."
Note here, 1. The title given to Christ, he is life, eternal life, he is so in himself, and he is the fountain of life to us; we now live by him a life of justification; and we hope to live with him a life of glorification.
Note, 2. This eternal life was from all eternity with the Father, and distinct from him; he was with the Father, not as an instrument but as an agent, in making of the world, Hebrews 1:2-3 And as his Father's delight, Proverbs 8:31.
Note, 3. This eternal life which from the beginning was with the Father, in the fulness of time was manifested to the sons of men; manifested, not as he was to the prophets by faith, so they rejoiced to see him, John 8 ; nor in the similtude and likeness of flesh, so he sometimes manifested himself to the patriarchs, Genesis 18 ; but manifested in the flesh to his apostles, who eat and drank, discoursed and conversed with him.
Note, 4. That what the apostles saw of Christ they made manifest to others; they had themselves sufficient satisfaction of the verity of Christ's human nature, and of the certainty of his doctrine, and therefore with mighty assurance they declare it unto others, and the reason of that declaration follows in the next verse.
As if he had said, "We declare unto you that of Christ which we ourselves have seen and heard, and what we had by sight and hearing you are to receive from our testimony; and our design and end herein is sincerely this, that you may have fellowship, and be of one communion with us, and not with false teachers, and by virtue of your communion with us may partake of the same faith and grace, and all spiritual benefits and privileges which Christ has purchased for us; and you will have no cause to repent of your coming into our communion and fellowship; for verily we, and all that have sincerely embraced the doctrine of the gospel with us, have fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, and with each other."
Learn hence, That believers have communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with one another.
Quest. What doth this communion include?
Ans. 1. Real union; believers are united to God and Christ morally, conjugally, mystically.
2. Reciprocal community; a community of enjoyments; the Lord is theirs, and they are his;
a community of affection; there is mutual love, mutual delight, mutual desires, and mutual hatred;
a community of interests; they have the same designs and ends, the same enemies and friends;
a community of privileges; the Lord visits them, and they visit him; the Lord walks with them, and they with him; the Lord observes them, and they observe him;
they impart the secrets of their hearts to him, and he imparts the secrets of his word and of his providence to them,
Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do? Genesis 18:17
Quest 2. What are the benefits and advantages of this communion?
Ans. It affords the highest honour, the sweetest pleasure, and the chiefest happiness; it is heaven on this side of heaven; our happiness and theirs differs only in degree, not essentially, but gradually.
Observe here, The great end for which the apostles penned and wrote the doctrine of the gospel, namely, that their joy may be full who do believe it and obey it. The joy which good men experience in the word of God, is a solid joy, a substantial joy, a full joy, a lasting joy.
Worldly joy is nauseating, but not satisfying; glutting, but not filling: But that joy that is found in the holy Scriptures, in the word and promise of God, is better experienced than expressed.
Christianity doth not extirpate our joy, but regulate and refine it; it shews us the proper object of our joy, what to rejoice in, and the manner how, that we may not sin in rejoicing.
That is, "This is the sum and substance of the gospel of Christ's doctrine, and our message, to teach us to know what God is, namely light, that is,a being of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and purity; and that there is no darkness in him, no darkness of error, no darkness of ignorance, no darkness of falsehood, impunity, and sin, found with him, or can be pleasing to him."
Note here, 1. The gospel is a message, a special and gracious message, sent by God to a lost world. The ministers of the gospel are messengers sent of God, to make known this message; and if so, then they must receive their mission from God, then their message depends not upon their own, but God's authority; then their people are to receive it, not as the message and word of man, but as it is indeed the word of God. This is the message that we have heard, and declare unto you.
Observe, 2. The metaphor which which St. John makes choice of, to set forth the nature of God by.
He describes him, 1. Affirmatively, God is light, his nature and attributes are (though darkly and imperfectly) resembled by it; the light, as it was the first of all creatures, shadows forth the eternity of God's being, who is the First and the Last; light, of all bodies, is the most immaterial and uncompounded, denoting the spirituality and simplicity of God's nature.
Is the light diffusive, and cannot but impart itself for the benefit of others? so is God communicative of his goodness to all persons, shining upon the just and upon the unjust.
But according to the apostle's intendment here, light is of a pure and undefiled nature, it is a bright and spotless splendour; though it shines upon a dunghill, it contracts no pollutions; this represents the perfect purity and unspotted holiness of God.
2.Negatively, In him is no darkness at all; that is, God is so pure, that not the least impuirty can cleave unto him; so holy, that no sin can be found in him, and consequently no darkness of sin or impunity can proceed from him.
Learn we then, always to entertain high and holy thoughts of God, and to conceive of him as a being that hates sin, and all the works and workers of darkness, Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee: sinners shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Psalms 5:4
Observe here, 1. What great plainness of speech St. John uses with and towards such persons as call themselves Christians, and pretend to fellowship with God, but yet hold communion with sin, he says, they lie.
O how well does fervour, vehemency, and impartiality, become the ministers of Christ in reproving sin! Health is found in those smart wounds which ministerial reproof makes.
Observe, 2. St. John speaks in the first, not in the second person plural; if we say, not if you; if we apostles and ministers, as well as if you disciples and members of Christ, be guilty of this hypocrisy, we lie, and do not the truth; he does not say, and speak not the truth, but do it not; there is a twofold lie, the lie of the lip, and the lie of life, and the latter is the louder of the two; they lie, because they do not the truth. The sum is, that a profession of piety and religion, accompanied with sin and unsuitable walking, is odious hypocrisy abhorred by God and man.
Observe, 3. The practice of the sincere and serious Christian, he walks in the light; that is, in the clear knowledge of the gospel, and in the exemplary and exact performance of his duty. Walking implies motion, it is a voluntary motion, an uniform and even motion, a progressive motion, a constant motion. To talk of religion is easy, but to walk wisely before God and man in the practice of our whole duty, requires diligence and circumspection.
Observe, 4. The pattern after which the Christian walks, and that is God; he walks in the light, as he is in the light; God is in the light, that is, all his actions are exactly pure and holy, and our walking must for the quality of it, be holy, though for equality it cannot be so holy as God is holy.
Observe, 5. A double privilege secured to such as walk in communion with God, we have fellowship one with another; justification by Christ, the blood of Jesus Christ, cleanseth from all sin.
Note, 1. Such as walk in the light have a certain fellowship and communion one with another,.
Oh! How great is our dignity! How gracious Christ's dignation! How high are we exalted! How low is he abased! The second privilege follows:
Note here, 1. The pollution and uncleanness of sin implied and supposed in the word cleansing; sin is the great pollution and defilement of the soul, and universal pollution, an abiding pollution, a mortal pollution, and yet an insensible pollution.
Note, 2. The remedy which the wisdom of God has provided against this malady, the soul's pollution by sin, and that is the blood of his Son; this cleanseth meritoriously, called therefore the blood of God, as being the blood of him that is truly and really God.
Note, 3. The extent of the efficacy and virtue of this blood.
1. In regard of the universality of the disease, it cleanseth from all sin.
2. In regard of the permanency of the remedy, which, is expressed in the present tense, it cleanseth:
implying, that this blood doth never lose its efficacy; it cleanses still no less than it did the first moment it was shed; nay, it cleanseth virtual before it was shed; all the patriarchs and prophets were justified, and saved by faith in his blood, who was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, in the decree and purpose of God.
Eternal thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, whose blood cleanseth from the guilt and filth of all sin.
If we say, we apostles, we cannot say we are free from sin; much less can the proud Gnostics say so, who suppose and assert themselves to be in a state of perfection; and observe, he doth not say, If we say we had no sin, we deceive ourselves; but that if now we say we have none; intimating, that Christians, as as well after as before conversion, continue sinful persons; a perfect freedom from all sin being altogether unattainable in this life, not only by ordinary Christians, but by the most eminent saints.
The church of Rome will have it that this is magis humiliter quam veraciter dictum, rather spoken humbly than truly; but the apostle doth not say, humility is not in us; but, the truth is not in us; he saith not, we extol ourselves, and there is no lowliness in us; but we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us, no truth of knowledge in our understandings, no real holiness in our hearts.
Who can say he has made his heart clean?
We can neither ascribe what purity we have to ourselves, nor yet attribute perfection to our purity; and if so, how should we long for the day of redemption, when no sin shall affect us, no sorrow afflict us; when we shall be clothed with unspotted purity, perfect felicity, and that to all eternity.
Behold here, 1. A double blessing promised and insured, namely, justification and sanctification, forgiveness of sin, and cleansing from it, yea, from all iniquity; when God pardons sin, no sin is left unpardoned; the sea can as easily drown a thousand men as a single man; God's act of pardoning grace is free and full.
Observe, 2. The certainty of the mercy promised, God is faithful and just to forgive: not merciful and gracious, though so he is in himself, but faithful with respect to his promise to us, and just with respect to the satisfaction given by Christ for us. Almighty God in pardoning sin performs an act of strict justice with respect to Christ, as well as an act of grace and mercy, in regard of us; he is faithful and just, as well as gracious and merciful.
Observe, 3. The indispensible duty required on our part, and that is confession of sin, If we confess. Now confession of sin is a penitent sinner's voluntary accusing himself to God, and condemning himself before God, with hatred of, shame and sorrow for, and a full resolution against his sin, together with an earnest desire of, and some good hope in divine mercy.
Observe, 4. What relation confession stands in to remission, not as a meritorious cause; satisfaction, not confession, merits pardon, but it is an exclusive condition; there is no remission without confession; God will not pardon without it: And it is an inclusive condition; God will, certainly will, forgive them that confess: There is not only a possibility or probability, but an infallible certainty of obtaining remission upon confession.
Note here, The impiety and blasphemy of those who affirm themselves to be in a state of sinless perfection: they do not only lie themselves, but intepretatively, and as much as in them is, they make God a liar, by contradicting what he has asserted in his word, that all are sinners: So that upon the whole it appears, that to affirm we have no sin, is the highest pride, the greatest deceit, the loudest lie, the prophanest blasphemy; it is to make the God of truth a liar, and to turn the truth of God into a lie, which evidences that his word is not in us.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 John 1". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany