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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The subjects which are introduced into this chapter are the following:
I. A statement of the apostle that the great object which he had in writing to them was that they should not sin; and yet if they sinned, and were conscious that they were guilty before God, they should not despair, for they had an Advocate with the Father who had made propitiation for the sins of the world, 1 John 2:1-2. This is properly a continuation of what he had said in the close of the previous chapter, and should not have been separated from that.
II. The evidence that we know God, or that we are His true friends, is to be found in the fact that we keep His commandments, 1 John 2:3-6.
III. The apostle says that what he had been saying was no new commandment, but was what they had always heard concerning the nature of the gospel; but though in this respect the law of love which he meant particularly to enforce was no new commandment, none which they had not heard before, yet in another respect it was a new commandment, for it was one which in its peculiarity was originated by the Saviour, and which he meant to make the characteristic of his religion, 1 John 2:7-11. A large part of the Epistle is taken up in explaining and enforcing this commandment requiring love to the brethren.
IV. The apostle specifies 1 John 2:12-14 various reasons why he had written to them - reasons derived from the unique character of different classes among them - little children, fathers, young men.
V. Each of these classes he solemnly commands not to love the world, or the things that are in the world, for that which constitutes the peculiarity of the "world" as such is not of the Father, and all "that there is in the world is soon to pass away," 1 John 2:15-17.
VI. He calls their attention to the fact that the closing dispensation of the world had come, 1 John 2:18-20. The evidence of this was, that antichrist had appeared.
VII. He calls their attention to the characteristics of the antichrist. The essential thing would be that antichrist would deny that Jesus was the Christ, involving a practical denial of both the Father and the Son. Persons of this character were abroad, and they were in great danger of being seduced by their arts from the way of truth and duty, 1 John 2:21-26.
VIII. The apostle, in the close of the chapter 1 John 2:27-29 expresses the belief that they would not be seduced, but that they had an anointing from above which would keep them from the arts of those who would lead them astray. He earnestly exhorts them to abide in God the Saviour, that when he should appear they might have confidence and not be ashamed at his coming.
1My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
My little children - Τεκνια μοῦ Teknia mou. This is such language as an aged apostle would be likely to use when addressing a church, and its use in this Epistle may be regarded as one evidence that John had reached an advanced period of life when he wrote the Epistle.
These things write I unto you - To wit, the things stated in 1 John 1:1.
That ye sin not - To keep you from sin, or to induce you to lead a holy life.
And if any man sin - As all are liable, with hearts as corrupt as ours, and amidst the temptations of a world like this, to do. This, of course, does not imply that it is proper or right to sin, or that Christians should have no concern about it; but the meaning is, that all are liable to sin, and when we are conscious of sin the mind should not yield to despondency and despair. It might be supposed, perhaps, that if one sinned after baptism, or after being converted, there could be no forgiveness. The apostle designs to guard against any such supposition, and to show that the atonement made by the Redeemer had respect to all kinds of sin, and that under the deepest consciousness of guilt and of personal unworthiness, we may feel that we have an advocate on high.
We have an advocate with the Father - God only can forgive sin; and though we have no claim on him, yet there is one with him who can plead our cause, and on whom we can rely to manage our interests there. The word rendered "advocate" (παράκλητος paraklētos - paraclete) is elsewhere applied to the Holy Spirit, and is in every other place where it occurs in the New Testament rendered "comforter," John 14:16, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7. On the meaning of the word, see the notes at John 14:16. As used with reference to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, et al.) it is employed in the more general sense of "helper," or "aid;" and the particular manner in which the Holy Spirit aids us, may be seen stated in the notes at John 14:16. As usual here with reference to the Lord Jesus, it is employed in the more limited sense of the word "advocate," as the word is frequently used in the Greek writers to denote an advocate in court; that is, one whom we call to our aid; or to stand by us, to defend our suit. Where it is applied to the Lord Jesus, the language is evidently figurative, since there can be no literal pleading for us in heaven; but it is expressive of the great truth that he has undertaken our cause with God, and that he performs for us all that we expect of an advocate and counselor. It is not to be supposed, however, that he manages our cause in the same way, or on the same principles on which an advocate in a human tribunal does. An advocate in court is employed to defend his client. He does not begin by admitting his guilt, or in any way basing his plea on the conceded fact that he is guilty; his proper business is to show that he is not guilty, or, if he be proved to be so, to see that no injustice shall be done him. The proper business of an advocate in a human court, therefore, embraces two things:
(1) To show that his client is not guilty in the form and manner charged on him. This he may do in one of two ways, either,
(a) by showing that he did not do the act charged on him, as when he is charged with murder, and can prove an alibi, or show that he was not present at the time the murder was committed; or,
(b) by proving that he had a right to do the deed - as, if he is charged with murder, he may admit the fact of the killing, but may show that it was in self-defense.
(2) In case his client is convicted, his office is to see that no injustice is done to him in the sentence; to stand by him still; to avail himself of all that the law allows in his favor, or to state any circumstance of age, or sex, or former service, or bodily health, which would in any way mitigate the sentence.
The advocacy of the Lord Jesus in our behalf, however, is wholly different from this, though the same general object is pursued and sought, the good of those for whom he becomes an advocate. The nature of his advocacy may be stated in the following particulars:
(1) He admits the guilt of those for whom he becomes the advocate, to the full extent charged on them by the law of God, and by their own consciences. He does not attempt to hide or conceal it. He makes no apology for it. He neither attempts to deny the fact, nor to show that they had a right to do as they have done. He could not do this, for it would not be true; and any plea before the throne of God which should be based on a denial of our guilt would be fatal to our cause.
(2) as our advocate, he undertakes to be security that no wrong shall be done to the universe if we are not punished as we deserve; that is, if we are pardoned, and treated as if we had not sinned. This he does by pleading what he has done in behalf of people; that is, by the plea that his sufferings and death in behalf of sinners have done as much to honor the law, and to maintain the truth and justice of God, and to prevent the extension of apostasy, as if the offenders themselves had suffered the full penalty of the law. If sinners are punished in hell, there will be some object to be accomplished by it; and the simple account of the atonement by Christ is, that his death will secure all the good results to the universe which would be secured by the punishment of the offender himself. It has done as much to maintain the honor of the law, and to impress the universe with the truth that sin cannot be committed with impunity. If all the good results can be secured by substituted sufferings which there would be by the punishment of the offender himself, then it is clear that the guilty may be acquitted and saved. Why should they not be? The Saviour, as our advocate, undertakes to be security that this shall be.
(3) as our advocate, he becomes a surety for our good behavior; gives a pledge to justice that we will obey the laws of God, and that he will keep us in the paths of obedience and truth; that, if pardoned, we will not continue to rebel. This pledge or surety can be given in no human court of justice. No man, advocate or friend can give security when one is pardoned who has been convicted of stealing a horse, that he will not steal a horse again; when one who has been guilty of murder is pardoned, that he will never be guilty of it again; when one who has been guilty of forgery is pardoned, that he will not be guilty of it again. If he could do this, the subject of pardon would be attended with much fewer difficulties than it is now. But the Lord Jesus becomes such a pledge or surety for us, Hebrews 7:22, and hence he becomes such an advocate with the Father as we need.
Jesus Christ the righteous - One who is eminently righteous himself, and who possesses the means of rendering others righteous. It is an appropriate feeling when we come before God in his name, that we come pleading the merits of one who is eminently righteous, and on account of whose righteousness we may be justified and saved.
2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And he is the propitiation for our sins - The word rendered "propitiation" (ἱλασμός hilasmos) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in 1 John 4:10 of this Epistle; though words of the same derivation, and having the same essential meaning, frequently occur. The corresponding word ἱλαστήριον hilastērion occurs in Romans 3:25, rendered "propitiation" - "whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood;" and in Hebrews 9:5, rendered mercy-seat - "shadowing the mercy-seat." The verb ἱλάσκομαι hilaskomai occurs also in Luke 18:3 - God be merciful to me a sinner;" and Hebrews 2:17 - "to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." For the idea expressed by these words, see the notes at Romans 3:25. The proper meaning of the word is that of reconciling, appeasing, turning away anger, rendering propitious or favorable. The idea is, that there is anger or wrath, or that something has been done to offend, and that it is needful to turn away that wrath, or to appease. This may be done by a sacrifice, by songs, by services rendered, or by bloody offerings. So the word is often used in Homer - Passow. We have similar words in common use, as when we say of one that he has been offended, and that something must be done to appease him, or to turn away his wrath. This is commonly done with us by making restitution; or by an acknowledgment; or by yielding the point in controversy; or by an expression of regret; or by different conduct in time to come. But this idea must not be applied too literally to God; nor should it be explained away. The essential thoughts in regard to him, as implied in this word, are:
(1) that his will has been disregarded, and his law violated, and that he has reason to be offended with us;
(2) that in that condition he cannot, consistently with his perfections, and the good of the universe, treat us as if we had not done it;
(3) that it is proper that, in some way, he should show his displeasure at our conduct, either by punishing us, or by something that shall answer the same purpose; and,
(4) that the means of propitiation come in here, and accomplish this end, and make it proper that he should treat us as if we had not sinned; that is, he is reconciled, or appeased, and his anger is turned away.
This is done, it is supposed, by the death of the Lord Jesus, accomplishing, in most important respects, what would be accomplished by the punishment of the offender himself. In regard to this, in order to a proper understanding of what is accomplished, it is necessary to observe two things - what is not done, and what is.
I. There are certain things which do not enter into the idea of propitiation. They are such as these:
(a) That it does not change the fact that the wrong was done. That is a fact which cannot be denied, and he who undertakes to make a propitiation for sin does not deny it.
(b) It does not change God; it does not make Him a different being from what He was before; it does not buy Him over to a willingness to show mercy; it does not change an inexorable being to one who is compassionate and kind.
(c) The offering that is made to secure reconciliation does not necessarily produce reconciliation in fact. It prepares the way for it on the part of God, but whether they for whom it is made will be disposed to accept it is another question.
When two men are alienated from each other, you may go to B and say to him that all obstacles to reconciliation on the part of A are removed, and that he is disposed to be at peace, but whether B will be willing to be at peace is quite another matter. The mere fact that his adversary is disposed to be at peace, determines nothing in regard to his disposition in the matter. So in regard to the controversy between man and God. It may be true that all obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God are taken away, and still it may be quite a separate question whether man will be willing to lay aside his opposition, and embrace the terms of mercy. In itself considered, one does not necessarily determine the other, or throw any light on it.
II. The amount, then, in regard to the propitiation made for sin is, that it removes all obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God: it does whatever is necessary to be done to maintain the honor of His law, His justice, and His truth; it makes it consistent for Him to offer pardon - that is, it removes whatever there was that made it necessary to inflict punishment, and thus, so far as the word can be applied to God, it appeases Him, or turns away His anger, or renders Him propitious. This it does, not in respect to producing any change in God, but in respect to the fact that it removes whatever there was in the nature of the case that prevented the free and full offer of pardon. The idea of the apostle in the passage before us is, that when we sin we may be assured that this has been done, and that pardon may now be freely extended to us.
And not for our's only - Not only for the sins of us who are Christians, for the apostle was writing to such. The idea which he intends to convey seems to be, that when we come before God we should take the most liberal and large views of the atonement; we should feel that the most ample provision has been made for our pardon, and that in no respect is there any limit as to the sufficiency of that work to remove all sin. It is sufficient for us; sufficient for all the world.
But also for the sins of the whole world - The phrase "the sins of" is not in the original, but is not improperly supplied, for the connection demands it. This is one of the expressions occurring in the New Testament which demonstrate that the atonement was made for all people, and which cannot be reconciled with any other opinion. If he had died only for a part of the race, this language could not have been used. The phrase, "the whole world," is one which naturally embraces all people; is such as would be used if it be supposed that the apostle meant to teach that Christ died for all people; and is such as cannot be explained on any other supposition. If he died only for the elect, it is not true that he is the "propitiation for the sins of the whole world" in any proper sense, nor would it be possible then to assign a sense in which it could be true. This passage, interpreted in its plain and obvious meaning, teaches the following things:
(1) that the atonement in its own nature is adapted to all people, or that it is as much fitted to one individual, or one class, as another;
(2) that it is sufficient in merit for all; that is, that if anymore should be saved than actually will be, there would be no need of any additional suffering in order to save them;
(3) that it has no special adaptedness to one person or class more than another; that is, that in its own nature it did not render the salvation of one easier than that of another.
It so magnified the law, so honored God, so fully expressed the divine sense of the evil of sin in respect to all people, that the offer of salvation might be made as freely to one as to another, and that any and all might take shelter under it and be safe. Whether, however, God might not, for wise reasons, resolve that its benefits should be applied to a part only, is another question, and one which does not affect the inquiry about the intrinsic nature of the atonement. On the evidence that the atonement was made for all, see the 2 Corinthians 5:14 note, and Hebrews 2:9 note.
(See also the Supplementary notes at these passages, for a general review of the argument regarding the extent of atonement.)
3And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
And hereby we do know that we know him - To wit, by that which follows, we have evidence that we are truly acquainted with him, and with the requirements of his religion; that is, that we are truly his friends. The word "him" in this verse, seems to refer to the Saviour. On the meaning of the word "know," see the notes at John 17:3. The apostle had stated in the previous part of this Epistle some of the leading points revealed by the Christian religion, and he here enters on the consideration of the nature of the evidence required to show that we are personally interested in it, or that we are true Christians. A large part of the Epistle is occupied with this subject. The first, the grand evidence - that without which all others would be vain - he says is, that we keep his commandments.
If we keep his commandments - See the notes at John 14:15. Compare John 14:23-24; John 15:10, John 15:14.
4He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
He that saith, I know Him - He who professes to be acquainted with the Saviour, or who professes to be a Christian.
And keepeth not his commandments - What he has appointed to be observed by his people; that is, he who does not obey him.
Is a liar - Makes a false profession; professes to have that which he really has not. Such a profession is a falsehood, because there can be no true religion where one does not obey the law of God.
5But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
But whoso keepeth his word - That is, what he has spoken or commanded, The term "word" here will include all that he has made known to us as his will in regard to our conduct.
In him verily is the love of God perfected - He professes to have the love of God in his heart, and that love receives its completion or filling up by obedience to the will of God. That obedience is the proper carrying out, or the exponent of the love which exists in the heart. Love to the Saviour would be defective without that, for it is never complete without obedience. If this be the true interpretation, then the passage does not make any affirmation about sinless perfection, but it only affirms that if true love exists in the heart, it will be carried out in the life; or that love and obedience are parts of the same thing; that one will be manifested by the other; and that where obedience exists, it is the completion or perfecting of love. Besides, the apostle does not say that either the love or the obedience would be in themselves absolutely perfect; but he says that one cannot fully develop itself without the other.
Hereby know we that we are in him - That is, by having in fact such love as shall insure obedience. To be in him, is to be united to him; to be his friends. Compare the John 6:56 note; Romans 13:14 note.
6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
He that saith, he abideth in him - Greek, "remains" in him; that is, abides or remains in the belief of his doctrines, and in the comfort and practice of religion. The expression is one of those which refer to the intimate union between Christ and his people. A great variety of phrase is employed to denote that. For the meaning of this word in John, see the notes at 1 John 3:6.
Ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked - Ought to live and act as he did. If he is one with him, or professes to be united to him, he ought to imitate him in all things. Compare John 13:15. See also the notes at 1 John 1:6.
7Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you - That is, what I am now enjoining is not new. It is the same doctrine which you have always heard. There has been much difference of opinion as to what is referred to by the word "commandment," whether it is the injunction in the previous verse to live as Christ lived, or whether it is what he refers to in the following verses, the duty of brotherly love. Perhaps neither of these is exactly the idea of the apostle, but he may mean in this verse to put in a general disclaimer against the charge that what he enjoined was new. In respect to all that he taught, the views of truth which he held the duties which he enjoined, the course of life which he would prescribe as proper for a Christian to live, he meant to say that it was not at all new; it was nothing which he had originated himself, but it was in fact the same system of doctrines which they had always received since they became Christians. He might have been induced to say this because he apprehended that some of those whom he had in his eye, and whose doctrines he meant to oppose, might say that this was all new; that it was not the nature of religion as it had been commonly understood, and as it was laid down by the Saviour. In a somewhat different sense, indeed, he admits 1 John 2:8 that there was a "new" commandment which it was proper to enjoin - for he did not forget that the Saviour himself called that "new;" and though that commandment had also been all along inculcated under the gospel, yet there was a sense in which it was proper to call that new, for it had been so called by the Saviour. But in respect to all the doctrines which he maintained, and in respect to all the duties which he enjoined, he said that they were not new in the sense that he had originated them, or that they had not been enjoined from the beginning.
Perhaps, also, the apostle here may have some allusion to false teachers who were in fact scattering new doctrines among the people, things before unheard of, and attractive by their novelty; and he may mean to say that he made no pretensions to any such novelty, but was content to repeat the old and familiar truths which they had always received. Thus, if he was charged with breaching new opinions, he denies it fully; if they were advancing new opinions, and were even "making capital" out of them, he says that he attempted no such thing, but was content with the old and established opinions which they had always received.
But an old commandment - Old, in the sense that it has always been inculcated; that religion has always enjoined it.
Which ye had from the beginning - Which you have always received ever since you heard anything about the gospel. It was preached, when the gospel was first preached; it has always been promulgated when that has been promulgated; it is what you first heard when you were made acquainted with the gospel. Compare the notes at 1 John 1:1.
The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning - Is the "doctrine;" or is what was enjoined. John is often in the habit of putting a truth in a new form or aspect in order to make it emphatic, and to prevent the possibility of misapprehension. See John 1:1-2. The sense here is: "All that I am saying to yea is in fact an old commandment, or one which you have always had. There is nothing new in what I am enjoining on you."
8Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you - "And yet, that which I write to you, and particularly enjoin on you, deserves in another sense to be called a new commandment, though it has been also inculcated from the beginning, for it was called new by the Saviour himself." Or the meaning may be, "In addition to the general precepts which I have referred to, I do now call your attention to the new commandment of the Saviour, that which he himself called new." There can be no doubt here that John refers to the commandment to "love one another," (see 1 John 2:9-11), and that it is here called new, not in the sense that John inculcated it as a novel doctrine, but in the sense that the Saviour called it such. For the reasons why it was so called by him, see the notes at John 13:34.
Which thing is true in him - In the Lord Jesus. That is, which commandment or law of love was illustrated in him, or was manifested by him in his contact with his disciples. That which was most prominent in him was this very love which he enjoined on all his followers.
And in you - Among you. That is, you have manifested it in your contact with each other. It is not new in the sense that you have never heard of it, and have never evinced it, but in the sense only that he called it new.
Because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth - The ancient systems of error, under which people hated each other, have passed away, and you are brought into the light of the true religion. Once you were in darkness, like others; now the light of the pure gospel shines around you, and that requires, as its distinguishing characteristic, love. Religion is often represented as light; and Christ spoke of himself, and was spoken of, as the Light of the world. See the notes at John 1:4-5. Compare John 8:12; John 12:35-36, John 12:46; Isaiah 9:2.
9He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
He that saith he is in the light - That he has true religion, or is a Christian. See 1 John 1:7.
And hateth his brother - The word "brother" seems here to refer to those who professed the same religion. The word is indeed sometimes used in a larger sense, but the reference here appears to be to that which is properly brotherly love among Christians. Compare Lucke, in loc.
Is in darkness even until now - That is, he cannot have true religion unless he has love to the brethren. The command to love one another was one of the most solemn and earnest which Christ ever enjoined, John 15:17; he made it the special badge of discipleship, or that by which his followers were to be everywhere known, John 13:35; and it is, therefore, impossible to have any true religion without love to those who are sincerely and truly his followers. If a man has not that, he is in deep darkness, whatever else he may have, on the whole subject of religion. Compare the notes at 1 Thessalonians 4:9.
10He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light - Has true religion, and enjoys it.
And there is none occasion of stumbling in him - Margin, "scandal." Greek, "and there is no stumbling" (or scandal - σκάνδαλον skandalon - in him.) The word here used, means anything against which one strikes or stumbles; and then a stumbling-block, an impediment, or anything which occasions a fall. Then it is used in a moral or spiritual sense, as denoting that which is the occasion of falling into sin. See the Matthew 5:29 note, and Romans 14:13 note. Here it refers to an individual in respect to his treatment of others, and means that there is nothing, so far as he is concerned, to lead him into sin. - Robinson, Lexicon. If he has love to the brethren, he has true religion; and there is, so far as the influence of this shall extend, nothing that will be the occasion of his falling into sin in his conduct toward them, for "love worketh no ill to his neighbor," Romans 13:10. His course will be just, and upright, and benevolent. He will have no envy toward them in their prosperity, and will not be disposed to detract from their reputation in adversity; he will have no feelings of exultation when they fall, and will not be disposed to take advantage of their misfortunes; and, loving them as brethren, he will be in no respect under temptation to do them wrong. In the bosom of one who loves his brother, the baleful passions of envy, malice, hatred, and uncharitableness, can have no place. At the same time, this love of the brethren would have an important effect on his whole Christian life and walk, for there are few things that will have more influence on a man's character in keeping him from doing wrong, than the love of the good and the pure. He who truly loves good people, will not be likely in any respect to go astray from the paths of virtue.
11But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
But he that hateth his brother - The word here used would, in this connection, include both the mere absence of love, and positive hatred. It is designed to include the whole of that state of mind where there is not love for the brethren.
Is in darkness - 1 John 2:9.
And walketh in darkness - He is like one who walks in the dark, and who sees no object distinctly. See the notes at John 12:35.
And knoweth not whither he goeth - Like one in the dark. He wanders about not knowing what direction he shall take, or where the course which he is on will lead. The general meaning is, that he is ignorant of the whole nature of religion; or, in other words, love to the brethren is a central virtue in religion, and when a man has not that, his mind is entirely clouded on the whole subject, and he shows that he knows nothing of its nature. There is no virtue that is designed to be made more prominent in Christianity; and there is none that will throw its influence farther over a man's life.
12I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
I write unto you, little children - There has been much difference of opinion among commentators in regard to this verse and the three following verses, on account of their apparent tautology. Even Doddridge supposes that considerable error has here crept into the text, and that a portion of these verses should be omitted in order to avoid the repetition. But there is no authority for omitting any portion of the text, and the passage is very much in accordance with the general style of the apostle John. The author of this Epistle was evidently accustomed to express his thoughts in a great variety of ways, having even the appearance of tautology, that the exact idea might be before his readers, and that his meaning might not be misapprehended. In order to show that the truths which he was uttering in this Epistle pertained to all, and to secure the interest of all in them, he addresses himself to different classes, and says that there were reasons existing in regard to each class why he wrote to them.
In the expressions "I write," and "I have written," he refers to what is found in the Epistle itself, and the statements in these verses are designed to be "reasons" why he brought these truths before their minds. The word here rendered "little children" (τεκνία teknia) is different from that used in 1 John 2:13, and rendered there "little children," (παιδία paidia;) but there can be little doubt that the same class of persons is intended. Some have indeed supposed that by the term "little children" here, as in 1 John 2:1, the apostle means to address all believers - speaking to them as a father; but it seems more appropriate to suppose that he means in these verses to divide the body of Christians whom he addressed into three classes - children, young men, and the aged, and to state particular reasons why he wrote to each. If the term (τεκνία teknia) "little children" here means the same as the term (παιδία paidia) "little children" in 1 John 2:13, then he addresses each of these classes twice in these two verses, giving each time somewhat varied reasons why he addressed them. That, by the term "little children" here, he means children literally, seems to me to be clear,
(1) because this is the usual meaning of the word, and should be understood to be the meaning here, unless there is something in the connection to show that it is used in a metaphorical sense;
(2) because it seems necessary to understand the other expressions, "young men," and "fathers," in a literal sense, as denoting those more advanced in life;
(3) because this would be quite in character for the apostle John. He had recorded, and would doubtless remember the solemn injunction of the Saviour to Peter John 21:15, to "feed his lambs," and the aged apostle could not but feel that what was worthy of so solemn an injunction from the Lord, was worthy of his attention and care as an apostle; and,
(4) because in that case, each class, fathers, young men, and children, would be twice addressed in these two verses; whereas if we understood this of Christians in general, then fathers and young men would be twice addressed, and children but once.
If this is so, it may be remarked:
(1) that there were probably quite young children in the church in the time of the apostle John, for the word would naturally convey that idea.
(2) the exact age cannot be indeed determined, but two things are clear:
(a) one is, that they were undoubtedly under 20 years of age, since they were younger than the "young men" - νεανίσκοι neaniskoi - a word usually applied to those who were in the vigor of life, from about the period of 20 up to 40 years, (Notes, 1 John 2:13), and this word would embrace all who were younger than that class; and,
(b) the other is, that the word itself would convey the idea that they were in quite early life, as the word "children" - fair translation of it - does now with us. It is not possible to determine, from the use of this word, precisely of what age the class here referred to was, but the word would imply that they were in quite early life. No rule is laid down in the New Testament as to the age in which children may be admitted to the communion. The whole subject is left to the wise discretion of the church, and is safely left there. Cases must vary so much that no rule could be laid down; and little or no evil has arisen from leaving the point undetermined in the Scriptures. It may be doubted, however, whether the church has not been rather in danger of erring by having it deferred too late, than by admitting children too early.
(3) such children, if worthy the attention of an aged apostle, should receive the particular notice of pastors now. Compare the notes at John 21:15. There are reasons in all cases now, as there were then, why this part of a congregation should receive the special attention of a minister of religion. The hopes of a church are in them. Their minds are susceptible to impression. The character of the piety in the next age will depend on their views of religion. All that there is of value in the church and the world will soon pass into their hands. The houses, farms, factories; the pulpits, and the chairs of professors in colleges; the seats of senators and the benches of judges; the great offices of state, and all the offices in the church; the interests of learning, and of benevolence and liberty, are all soon to be under their control. Everything valuable in this world will soon depend on their conduct and character; and who, therefore, can over-estimate the importance of training them up in just views of religion. As John "wrote" to this class, should not pastors "preach" to them?
Because - ὅτι hoti. This particle may be rendered "for," or "because;" and the meaning may be either that the fact that their sins were forgiven was a reason for writing to them, since it would be proper, on that ground, to exhort them to a holy life; or that he wrote to them because it was a privilege to address them as those who were forgiven, for he felt that, in speaking to them, he could address them as such. It seems to me that it is to be taken as a causal particle, and that the apostle, in the various specifications which he makes, designs to assign particular reasons why he wrote to each class, enjoining on them the duties of a holy life. Compare 1 John 2:21.
Your sins are forgiven you - That is, this is a reason why he wrote to them, and enjoined these things on them. The meaning seems to be, that the fact that our past sins are blotted out furnishes a strong reason why we should be holy. That reason is founded on the goodness of God in doing it, and on the obligation under which we are brought by the fact that God has had mercy on us. This is a consideration which children will feel as well as others; for there is nothing which will tend more to make a child obedient hereafter, than the fact that a parent freely forgives the past.
For his name's sake - On account of the name of Christ; that is, in virtue of what he has done for us. In 1 John 2:13, he states another reason why he wrote to this same class - "because they had known the Father."
13I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
I write unto you, fathers - As there were special reasons for writing to children, so there were also for writing to those who were more mature in life. The class here addressed would embrace all those who were in advance of the νεανίσκοί neaniskoi, or young men, and would properly include those who were at the head of families.
Because ye have known him that is from the beginning - That is, the Lord Jesus Christ. Notes, 1 John 1:1. The argument is, that they had been long acquainted with the principles of his religion, and understood well its doctrines and duties. It cannot be certainly inferred from this that they had had a personal acquaintance with the Lord Jesus: yet that this might have been is not impossible, for John had himself personally known him, and there may have been some among those to whom he wrote who had also seen and known him. If this were so, it would give additional impressiveness to the reason assigned here for writing to them, and for reminding them of the principles of that religion which they had learned from his own lips and example. But perhaps all that is necessarily implied in this passage is, that they had had long opportunity of becoming acquainted with the religion of the Son of God, and that having understood that thoroughly, it was proper to address them as aged and established Christians, and to call on them to maintain the true doctrines of the gospel, against the specious but dangerous errors which then prevailed.
I write unto you, young men - νεανίσκοι neaniskoi. This word would properly embrace those who were in the vigor of life, midway between children and old men. It is uniformly rendered "young men" in the New Testament: Matthew 19:20, Matthew 19:22; Mark 14:51; Mark 16:5; Luke 7:14; Acts 2:17; Acts 5:10; and in the passages before us. It does not elsewhere occur. It is commonly understood as embracing those in the prime and vigor of manhood up to the period of about forty years. - Robinson.
Because ye have overcome the wicked one - That is, because you have vigor, (see the next verse), and that vigor you have shown by overcoming the assaults of the wicked one - the devil. You have triumphed over the passions which prevail in early life; you have combated the allurements of vice, ambition, covetousness, and sensuality; and you have shown that there is a strength of character and of piety on which reliance can be placed in promoting religion. It is proper, therefore, to exhort you not to disgrace the victory which you have already gained, but to employ your vigor of character in maintaining the cause of the Saviour. The thing to which John appeals here is the energy of those at this period of life, and it is proper at all times to make this the ground of appeal in addressing a church. It is right to call on those who are in the prime of life, and who are endowed with energy of character, to employ their talents in the service of the Lord Jesus, and to stand up as the open advocates of truth. Thus, the apostle calls on the three great classes into which a community or a church may be considered as divided: youth, because their sins were already forgiven, and, though young, they had actually entered on a career of virtue and religion, a career which by all means they ought to be exhorted to pursue; "fathers," or aged men, because they had had long experience in religion, and had a thorough acquaintance with the doctrines and duties of the gospel, and they might be expected to stand steadfastly as examples to others; and "young men," those who were in the vigor and prime of life, because they had shown that they had power to resist evil, and were endowed with strength, and it was proper to call on them to exert their vigor in the sacred cause of religion.
I write unto you, little children - Many manuscripts read here, "I have written" - ἔγραψα egrapsa - instead of "I write" - γράφω graphō. This reading is found in both the ancient Syriac versions, and in the Coptic; it was followed by Origen, Cyril, Photius, and OEeumenius; and it is adopted by Grotius, Mill, and Hahn, and is probably the true reading. The connection seems to demand this. In 1 John 2:12-13, the apostle uses the word γράφω graphō - I write - in relation to children, fathers, and young men; in the passage before us, and in the next verse, he again addresses children, fathers, and young men, and in relation to the two latter, he says ἔγραψα egrapsa - "I have written." The connection, therefore, seems to demand that the same word should be employed here also. Some persons have supposed that the whole passage is spurious, but of that there is no evidence; and, as we have elsewhere seen, it is not uncommon for John to repeat a sentiment, and to place it in a variety of lights, in order that he might make it certain that he was not misapprehended.
Some have supposed, also, that the expression "I have written," refers to some former epistle which is now lost, or to the Gospel by the same author, which had been sent to them (Hug.), and that he means here to remind them that he had written to them on some former occasion, inculcating the same sentiments which he now expressed. But there is no evidence of this, and this supposition is not necessary in order to a correct understanding of the passage. In the former expression, "I write," the state of mind would be that of one who fixed his attention on what he was "then" doing, and the particular reason "why" he did it - and the apostle states these reasons in 1 John 2:12-13. Yet it would not be unnatural for him immediately to throw his mind into the past, and to state the reasons why he had resolved to write to them at all, and then to look at what he had purposed to say as already done, and to state the reasons why that was done.
Thus one who sat down to write a letter to a friend might appropriately state in any part of the letter the reasons which had induced him to write at all to him on the subject. If he fixed his attention on the fact that he was actually writing, and on the reasons why he wrote, he would express himself in the present tense - I write; if on the previous purpose, or the reasons which induced him to write at all, he would use the past tense - "I have written" for such and such reasons. So John seems here, in order to make what he says emphatic, to refer to two states of his own mind: the one when he resolved to write, and the reasons which occurred to him then; and the other when he was actually writing, and the reasons which occurred to him then. The reasons are indeed substantially the same, but they are contemplated from different points of view, and that fact shows that what he did was done with deliberation, and from a deep sense of duty.
Because ye have known the Father - In 1 John 2:12, the reason assigned for writing to this class is, that their sins were forgiven. The reason assigned here is, that in early life they had become acquainted with God as a Father. He desires that they would show themselves dutiful and faithful children in this relation which they sustained to him. Even children may learn to regard God as their Father, and may have toward him all the affectionate interest which grows out of this relation.
14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
I have written unto you, fathers, because ... - The reason assigned here for writing to fathers is the same which is given in the previous verse. It would seem that, in respect to them, the apostle regarded this as a sufficient reason for writing to them, and only meant to enforce it by repeating it. The fact that they had through many years been acquainted with the doctrines and duties of the true religion, seemed to him a sufficient reason for writing to them, and for exhorting them to a steadfast adherence to those principles and duties.
I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong ... - The two additional circumstances which he here mentions as reasons for writing to young men are, that they are strong, and that the word of God abides in them. The first of these reasons is, that they were strong; that is, that they were qualified for active and useful service in the cause of the Redeemer. Children were yet too young and feeble to appeal to them by this motive, and the powers of the aged were exhausted; but those who were in the vigor of life might be called upon for active service in the cause of the Lord Jesus. The same appeal may be made now to the same class; and the fact that they are thus vigorous is a proper ground of exhortation, for the church needs their active services, and they are bound to devote their powers to the cause of truth. The other additional ground of appeal is, that the word of God abode in them; that is, that those of this class to whom he wrote had showed, perhaps in time of temptation, that they adhered firmly to the principles of religion. They had not flinched from an open defense of the truths of religion when assailed; they had not been seduced by the plausible arts of the advocates of error, but they had had strength to overcome the wicked one. The reason here for appealing to this class is, that in fact they had showed that they could be relied on, and it was proper to depend on them to advocate the great principles of Christianity.
15Love 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.
Love not the world - The term "world" seems to be used in the Scriptures in three senses:
(1) As denoting the physical universe; the world as it appears to the eye; the world considered as the work of God, as a material creation.
(2) the world as applied to the people that reside in it - "the world of mankind."
(3) as the dwellers on the earth are by nature without religion, and act under a set of maxims, aims, and principles that have reference only to this life, the term comes to be used with reference to that community; that is, to the objects which they especially seek, and the principles by which they are actuated.
Considered with reference to the first sense of the word, it is not improper to love the world as the work of God, and as illustrating his perfections; for we may suppose that God loves his own works, and it is not wrong that we should find pleasure in their contemplation. Considered with reference to the second sense of the word, it is not wrong to love the people of the world with a love of benevolence, and to have attachment to our kindred and friends who constitute a part of it, though they are not Christians. It is only with reference to the word as used in the third sense that the command here can be understood to be applicable, or that the love of the world is forbidden; with reference to the objects sought, the maxims that prevail, the principles that reign in that community that lives for this world as contradistinguished from the world to come. The meaning is, that we are not to fix our affections on worldly objects - on what the world can furnish - as our portion, with the spirit with which they do who live only for this world, regardless of the life to come. We are not to make this world the object of our chief affection; we are not to be influenced by the maxims and feelings which prevail among those who do. Compare the Romans 12:2 note, and James 4:4 note. See also Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 3:19; Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8.
Neither the things that are in the world - Referred to in the next verse as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." This explanation shows what John meant by "the things that are in the world." He does not say that we are in no sense to love "anything" that is in the material world; that we are to feel no interest in flowers, and streams, and forests, and fountains; that we are to have no admiration for what God has done as the Creator of all things; that we are to cherish no love for any of the inhabitants of the world, our friends and kindred; or that we are to pursue none of the objects of this life in making provision for our families; but that we are not to love the things which are sought merely to pamper the appetite, to please the eye, or to promote pride in living. These are the objects sought by the people of the world; these are not the objects to be sought by the Christian.
If any man love the world ... - If, in this sense, a person loves the world, it shows that he has no true religion; that is, if characteristically he loves the world as his portion, and lives for that; if it is the ruling principle of his life to gain and enjoy that, it shows that his heart has never been renewed, and that he has no part with the children of God. See the James 4:4 note; Matthew 6:24 note.
16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
For all that is in the world - That is, all that really constitutes the world, or that enters into the aims and purposes of those who live for this life. All that that community lives for may be comprised under the following things.
The lust of the flesh - The word "lust" is used here in the general sense of desire, or that which is the object of desire - not in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used to denote libidinous passion. See the notes at James 1:14. The phrase, "the lust of the flesh," here denotes that which pampers the appetites, or all that is connected with the indulgence of the mere animal propensities. A large part of the world lives for little more than this. This is the lowest form of worldly indulgence; those which are immediately specified being of a higher order, though still merely worldly.
And the lust of the eyes - That which is designed merely to gratify the sight. This would include, of course, costly clothes, jewels, gorgeous furniture, splendid palaces, pleasure-grounds, etc. The object is to refer to the frivolous vanities of this world, the thing on which the eye delights to rest where there is no higher object of life. It does not, of course, mean that the eye is never to be gratified, or that we can find as much pleasure in an ugly as in a handsome object, or that it is sinful to find pleasure in beholding objects of real beauty - for the world, as formed by its Creator, is full of such things, and he could not but have intended that pleasure should enter the soul through the eye, or that the beauties which he has shed so lavishly over his works should contribute to the happiness of his creatures; but the apostle refers to this when it is the great and leading object of life - when it is sought without any connection with religion or reference to the world to come.
And the pride of life - The word here used means, properly, ostentation or boasting, and then arrogance or pride. - Robinson. It refers to whatever there is that tends to promote pride, or that is an index of pride, such as the ostentatious display of dress, equipage, furniture, etc.
Is not of the Father - Does not proceed from God, or meet with his approbation. It is not of the nature of true religion to seek these things, nor can their pursuit be reconciled with the existence of real piety in the heart. The sincere Christian has nobler ends; and he who has not any higher ends, and whose conduct and feelings can all be accounted for by a desire for these things, cannot be a true Christian.
But is of the world - Is originated solely by the objects and purposes of this life, where religion and the life to come are excluded.
17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
And the world passeth away - Everything properly constituting this world where religion is excluded. The reference here does not seem to be so much to the material world, as to the scenes of show and vanity which make up the world. These things are passing away like the shifting scenes of the stage. See the notes at 1 Corinthians 7:31.
And the lust thereof - All that is here so much the object of desire. These things are like a pageant, which only amuses the eye for a moment, and then disappears forever.
But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever - This cannot mean that he will never die; but it means that he has built his happiness on a basis which is secure, and which can never pass away. Compare the notes at Matthew 7:24-27.
18Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
Little children - See 1 John 2:1.
It is the last time - The closing period or dispensation; that dispensation in which the affairs of the world are ultimately to be wound up. The apostle does not, however, say that the end of the world would soon occur, nor does he intimate how long this dispensation would be. That period might continue through many ages or centuries, and still be the last dispensation, or that in which the affairs of the world would be finally closed. See the Isaiah 2:2 note; Acts 2:17 note; Hebrews 1:2 note. Some have supposed that the "last time" here refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the Jewish economy; but the more natural interpretation is to refer it to the last dispensation of the world, and to suppose that the apostle meant to say that there were clear evidences that that period had arrived.
And as ye have heard that antichrist shall come - The word "antichrist" occurs in the New Testament only in these Epistles of John, 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7. The proper meaning of (ἀντί anti) in composition is:
(1) "over-against," as ἀντιτάσσειν antitassein;
(2) "contrary to," as ἀντιλέγειν antilegein;
(3) reciprocity, as ἀνταποδίδωμι antapodidōmi;
(4) "substitution," as ἀντιβασιλεύς antibasileus;
(5) the place of the king, or ἀνθύπατος anthupatos - "proconsul."
The word "antichrist," therefore, might denote anyone who either was or claimed to be in the place of Christ, or one who, for any cause, was in opposition to him. The word, further, would apply to one opposed to him, on whatever ground the opposition might be; whether it were open and avowed, or whether it were only in fact, as resulting from certain claims which were adverse to his, or which were inconsistent with his. A "vice-functionary," or an "opposing functionary," would be the idea which the word would naturally suggest. If the word stood alone, and there were nothing said further to explain its meaning, we should think, when the word "antichrist" was used, either of one who claimed to be the Christ, and who thus was a rival; or of one who stood in opposition to him on some other ground. That which constituted the characteristics of antichrist, according to John, who only has used the word, he has himself stated. 1 John 2:22, "who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." 1 John 4:3, "and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist." 2 John 1:7, "for many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist."
From this it is clear, that John understood by the word all those that denied that Jesus is the Messiah, or that the Messiah has come in the flesh. If they held that Jesus was a deceiver, and that he was not the Christ, or if they maintained that, though Christ had come, he had not come in the flesh, that is, with a proper human nature, this showed that such persons had the spirit of antichrist. They arrayed themselves against him, and held doctrines which were in fact in entire opposition to the Son of God. It would appear then that John does not use the word in the sense which it would bear as denoting one who set up a rival claim, or who came in the place of Christ, but in the sense of those who were opposed to him by denying essential doctrines in regard to his person and advent. It is not certainly known to what persons he refers, but it would seem not improbable to Jewish adversaries, (see Suicer's Thesaur. s. voc.,) or to some forms of the Gnostic belief. See the notes at 1 John 4:2. The doctrine respecting antichrist, as stated in the New Testament, may be summed up in the following particulars:
(1) That there would be those, perhaps in considerable numbers, who would openly claim to be the Christ, or the true Messiah, Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:24.
(2) that there would be a spirit, which would manifest itself early in the church, that would strongly tend to some great apostasy under some one head or leader, or to a concentration on an individual, or a succession of individuals, who would have eminently the spirit of antichrist, though for a time the developement of that spirit would be hindered or restrained. See the notes at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-7.
(3) that this would be ultimately concentrated on a single leader - "the man of sin" - and embodied under some great apostasy, at the head of which would be that "man of sin," 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10. It is to this that Paul particularly refers, or this is the view which he took of this apostacy, and it is this which he particularly describes.
(4) that, in the meantime, and before the elements of the great apostasy should be concentrated and embodied, there might not be a few who would partake of the same general spirit, and who would be equally opposed to Christ in their doctrines and aims; that is, who would embody in themselves the essential spirit of antichrist, and by whose appearing it might be known that the last dispensation had come. It is to these that John refers, and these he found in his own age. Paul fixed the eye on future times, when the spirit of antichrist should be embodied under a distinct and mighty organization; John on his own time, and found then essentially what it had been predicted would occur in the church. He here says that they had been taught to expect that antichrist would come under the last dispensation; and it is implied that it could be ascertained that it was the last time, from the fact that the predicted opposer of Christ had come. The reference is probably to the language of the Saviour, that before the end should be, and as a sign that it was coming, many would arise claiming to be Christ, and, of course, practically denying that he was the Christ. Matthew 24:5, "many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." Matthew 24:24, "and there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets; and they shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." This prediction it is probable the apostles had referred to wherever they had preached, so that there was a general expectation that one or more persons would appear claiming to be the Christ, or maintaining such opinions as to be inconsistent with the true doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah. Such persons, John says, had then in fact appeared, by which it could be known that they were living under the closing dispensations of the world referred to by the Saviour. Compare the notes at 2 Thessalonians 2:2-5.
Even now are there many antichrists - There are many who have the characteristics which it was predicted that antichrist would have; that is, as explained above, there are many who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, or who deny that he has come in the flesh. If they maintained that Jesus was an impostor and not the true Messiah, or if, though they admitted that the Messiah had come, they affirmed, as the "Docetae" did, (Note at 1 John 4:2) that he had come in "appearance" only, and not really come in the flesh, this was the spirit of antichrist. John says that there were many such persons in fact in his time. It would seem from this that John did not refer to a single individual, or to a succession of individuals who should come previous to the winding up of the affairs of the world, as Paul did (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ff), but that he understood that there might be many at the same time who would evince the spirit of antichrist. Both he and Paul, however, refer to the expectation that before the coming of the Saviour to judge the world there would be prominent adversaries of the Christian religion, and that the end would not come until such adversaries appeared. Paul goes more into detail, and describes the characteristics of the great apostasy more at length (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ff; 1 Timothy 4:1 ff; 2 Timothy 3:1 ff) John says, not that the appearing of these persons indicated that the end of the world was near, but that they had such characteristics as to show that they were living in the last dispensation. Paul so describes them as to show that the end of the world was not to be immediately expected (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ff), John, without referring to that point, says that there were enough of that character then to prove that the last dispensation had come, though he does not say how long it would continue.
Whereby we know it is the last time - They have the characteristics which it was predicted many would have before the end of the world should come. The evidence that it was "the last time," or the closing dispensation of the world, derived from the appearing of these persons, consists simply in the fact that it was predicted that such persons would appear under the Christian, or the last dispensation, Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:24-27. Their appearance was to precede the coming of the Saviour, though it is not said "how long" it would precede that; but at any time the appearing of such persons would be an evidence that it was the closing dispensation of the world, for the Saviour, in his predictions respecting them, had said that they would appear before he should return to judgment. It cannot now be determined precisely to what classes of persons there is reference here, because we know too little of the religious state of the times to which the apostle refers. No one can prove, however, that there were "not" persons at that time who so fully corresponded to the predictions of the Saviour as to be a complete fulfillment of what he said, and to demonstrate that the last age had truly come. It would seem probable that there may have been reference to some Jewish adversaries, who denied that Jesus was the Messiah (Robinson Lexicon), or to some persons who had already broached the doctrine of the "Docetae," that though Jesus was the Messiah, yet that he was a man in appearance only, and had not really come in the flesh. Classes of persons of each description abounded in the early ages of the church.
19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
They went out from us - From the church. That is, they had once been professors of the religion of the Saviour, though their apostasy showed that they never had any true piety. John refers to the fact that they had once been in the church, perhaps to remind those to whom he wrote that they knew them well, and could readily appreciate their character. It was a humiliating statement that those who showed themselves to be so utterly opposed to religion had once been members of the Christian church; but this is a statement which we are often compelled to make.
But they were not of us - That is, they did not really belong to us, or were not true Christians. See the notes at Matthew 7:23. This passage proves that these persons, whatever their pretensions and professions may have been, were never sincere Christians. The same remark may be made of all who apostatize from the faith, and become teachers of error. They never were truly converted; never belonged really to the spiritual church of Christ.
For if they had been of us - If they had been sincere and true Christians.
They would no doubt have continued with us - The words "no doubt" are supplied by our translators, but the affirmation is equally strong without them: "they would have remained with us." This affirms, without any ambiguity or qualification, that if they had been true Christians they "would" have remained in the church; that is, they would not have apostatized. There could not be a more positive affirmation than that which is implied here, that those who are true Christians will continue to be such; or that the saints will not fall away from grace. John affirms it of these persons, that if they had been true Christians they would never have departed from the church. He makes the declaration so general that it may be regarded as a universal truth, that if "any" are truly "of us," that is, if they are true Christians, they will continue in the church, or will never fall away. The statement is so made also as to teach that if any "do" fall away from the church, the fact is full proof that they never had any religion, for if they had had they would have remained steadfast in the church.
But they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us - It was suffered or permitted in the providence of God that this should occur, "in order" that it might be seen and known that they were not true Christians, or in order that their real character might be developed. It was desirable that this should be done:
(a) in order that the church might be purified from their influence - compare the notes at John 15:2;
(b) in order that it might not be responsible for their conduct, or reproached on account of it;
(c) in order that their real character might be developed, and they might themselves see that they were not true Christians;
(d) in order that, being seen and known as apostates, their opinions and conduct might have less influence than if they were connected with the church;
(e) in order that they might themselves understand their own true character, and no longer live under the delusive opinion that they were Christians and were safe, but that, seeing themselves in their true light, they might be brought to repentance.
For there is only a most slender prospect that any who are deceived in the church will ever be brought to true repentance there; and slight as is the hope that one who apostatizes will be, such an event is much more probable than it would be if he remained in the church. People are more likely to be converted when their character is known and understood, than they are when playing a game of deception, or are themselves deceived. What is here affirmed of these persons often occurs now; and those who have no true religion are often suffered to apostatize from their profession for the same purposes. It is better that they should cease to have any connection with the church than that they should remain in it; and God often suffers them to fall away even from the profession of religion, in order that they may not do injury as professing Christians. This very important passage, then, teaches the following things:
(1) That when people apostatize from the profession of religion, and embrace fatal error, or live in sin, it proves that they never had any true piety.
(2) the fact that such persons fall away cannot be adduced to prove that Christians ever fall from grace, for it demonstrates nothing on that point, but proves only that these persons never had any real piety. They may have had much that seemed to be religion; they may have been zealous, and apparently devoted to God, and may even have had much comfort and peace in what they took to be piety; they may have been eminently "gifted" in prayer, or may have even been successful preachers of the gospel, but all this does not prove that they ever had any piety, nor does the fact that such persons apostatize from their profession throw any light on a question quite foreign to this - whether true Christians ever fall from grace. Compare Matthew 7:22-23.
(3) the passage before us proves that if any are true Christians they will remain in the church, or will certainly persevere and be saved. They may indeed backslide grievously; they may wander far away, and pain the hearts of their brethren, and give occasion to the enemies of religion to speak reproachfully; but the apostle says, "if they had been of us, they would have continued with us."
(4) one of the best evidences of true piety is found in the fact of continuing with the church. I do not mean nominally and formally, but really and spiritually, having the heart with the church; loving its peace and promoting its welfare; identifying ourselves with real Christians, and showing that we are ready to cooperate with those who love the Lord Jesus and its cause.
(5) the main reason why professing Christians are suffered to apostatize is to show that they had no true religion. It is desirable that they should see it themselves; desirable that others should see it also. It is better that it should be known that they had no true religion than that they should remain in the church to be a burden on its movements, and a reproach to the cause. By being allowed thus to separate themselves from the church, they may be brought to remember their violated vows, and the church will be free from the reproach of having those in its bosom who are a dishonor to the Christian name. We are not to wonder, then, if persons apostatize who have been professors of true religion; and we are not to suppose that the greatest injury is done to the cause when they do it. A greater injury by far is done when such persons remain in the church.
20But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
But ye have an unction from the Holy One - The apostle in this verse evidently intends to say that he had no apprehension in regard to those to whom he wrote that they would thus apostatize, and bring dishonor on their religion. They had been so anointed by the Holy Spirit that they understood the true nature of religion, and it might be confidently expected that they would persevere. The word "unction" or "anointing" (χρίσμα chrisma) means, properly, "something rubbed in or ointed;" oil for anointing, "ointment;" then it means an anointing. The allusion is to the anointing of kings and priests, or their inauguration or coronation, (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; Exodus 28:41; Exodus 40:15; compare the notes at Matthew 1:1); and the idea seems to have been that the oil thus used was emblematic of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit as qualifying them for the discharge of the duties of their office. Christians, in the New Testament, are described as "kings and priests," Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10, and as a "royal priesthood" 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; and hence they are represented as "anointed," or as endowed with those graces of the Spirit, of which anointing was the emblem. The phrase "the Holy One" refers here, doubtless, to the Holy Spirit, that Spirit whose influences are imparted to the people of God, to enlighten, to sanctify, and to comfort them in their trials. The particular reference here is to the influences of that Spirit as giving them clear and just views of the nature of religion, and thus securing them from error and apostasy.
And ye know all things - That is, all things which it is essential that you should know on the subject of religion. See the John 16:13 note; 1 Corinthians 2:15 note. The meaning cannot be that they knew all things pertaining to history, to science, to literature, and to the arts; but that, under the influences of the Holy Spirit, they had been made so thoroughly acquainted with the truths and duties of the Christian religion, that they might be regarded as safe from the danger or fatal error. The same may be said of all true Christians now, that they are so taught by the Spirit of God, that they have a practical acquaintance with what religion is, and with what it requires, and are secure from falling into fatal error. In regard to the general meaning of this verse, then, it may he observed:
I. That it does not mean any one of the following things:
(1) That Christians are literally instructed by the Holy Spirit in all things, or that they literally understand all subjects. The teaching, whatever it may be, refers only to religion.
(2) it is not meant that any new faculties of mind are conferred on them, or any increased intellectual endowments, by their religion. It is not a fact that Christians, as such, are superior in mental endowments to others; nor that by their religion they have any mental traits which they had not before their conversion. Paul, Peter, and John had essentially the same mental characteristics after their conversion which they had before; and the same is true of all Christians.
(3) it is not meant that any new truth is revealed to the mind by the Holy Spirit. All the truth that is brought before the mind of the Christian is to be found in the Word of God, and "revelation," as such, was completed when the Bible was finished.
(4) it is not meant that anything is perceived by Christians which they had not the natural faculty for perceiving before their conversion, or which other people have not also the natural faculty for perceiving. The difficulty with people is not a defect of natural faculties, it is in the blindness of the heart.
II. The statement here made by John "does" imply, it is supposed, the following things:
(1) That the minds of Christians are so enlightened that they have a new perception of the truth. They see it in a light in which they did not before. They see it as truth. They see its beauty, its force, its adapted less to their condition and wants. They understand the subject of religion better than they once did, and better than others do. What was once dark appears now plain; what once had no beauty to their minds now appears beautiful; what was once repellant is now attractive.
(2) they see this to be true; that is, they see it in such a light that they cannot doubt that it is true. They have such views of the doctrines of religion, that they have no doubt that they are true, and are willing on the belief of their truth to lay down their lives, and stake their eternal interests.
(3) their knowledge of truth is enlarged. They become acquainted with more truths than they would have known if they had not been under the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Their range of thought is greater; their vision more extended, as well as more clear.
III. The evidence that this is so is found in the following things:
(1) The express statements of Scripture. See 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, and the notes at that passage. Compare John 16:13-14.
(2) it is a matter of fact that it is so.
(a) People by nature do not perceive any beauty in the truths of religion. They are distasteful to them, or they are repulsive and offensive. "The doctrine of the cross is to the Jew a stumbling-block, and to the Greek foolishness." They may see indeed the force of an argument, but they do not see the beauty of the way of salvation.
(b) When they are converted they do. These things appear to them to be changed, and they see them in a new light, and perceive a beauty in them which they never did before.
(c) There is often a surprising development of religious knowledge when persons are converted. They seem to understand the way of salvation, and the whole subject of religion, in a manner and to an extent which cannot be accounted for, except on the supposition of a teaching from above.
(d) This is manifest also in the knowledge which persons otherwise ignorant exhibit on the subject of religion. With few advantages for education, and with no remarkable talents, they show an acquaintance with the truth, a knowledge of religion, an ability to defend the doctrines of Christianity, and to instruct others in the way of salvation, which could have been derived only from some source superior to themselves. Compare John 7:15; Acts 4:13.
(e) The same thing is shown by their "adherence to truth" in the midst of persecution, and simply because they perceive that for which they die to be the truth. And is there anything incredible in this? May not the mind see what truth is? How do we judge of an axiom in mathematics, or of a proposition that is demonstrated, but by the fact that the mind "perceives" it to be true, and cannot doubt it? And may it not be so in regard to religious truth - especially when that truth is seen to accord with what we know of ourselves, our lost condition as sinners, and our need of a Saviour, and when we see that the truths revealed in the Scriptures are exactly adapted to our wants?
(See also the supplementary note under 1 Corinthians 2:14.)
21I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth - You are not to regard my writing to you in this earnest manner as any evidence that I do not suppose you to be acquainted with religion and its duties. Some, perhaps, might have been disposed to put this construction on what he had said, but he assures them that that was not the reason why he had thus addressed them. The very fact that they did understand the subject of religion, he says, was rather the reason why he wrote to them.
But because ye know it - This was the ground of his hope that his appeal would be effectual. If they had never known what religion was, if they were ignorant of its nature and its claims, he would have had much less hope of being able to guard them against error, and of securing their steady walk in the path of piety. We may always make a strong and confident appeal to those who really understand what the nature of religion is, and what are the evidences of its truth.
And that no lie is of the truth - No form of error, however plausible it may appear, however ingeniously it may be defended and however much it may seem to be favorable to human virtue and happiness, can be founded in truth. What the apostle says here has somewhat the aspect of a truism, but it contains a real truth of vital importance, and one which should have great influence in determining our minds in regard to any proposed opinion or doctrine. Error often appears plausible. It seems to be adapted to relieve the mind of many difficulties which perplex and embarrass it on the subject of religion. It seems to be adapted to promote religion. It seems to make those who embrace it happy, and for a time they apparently enjoy religion. But John says that however plausible all this may be, however much it may seem to prove that the doctrines thus embraced are of God, it is a great and vital maxim that no error can have its foundation in truth, and, of course, that it must be worthless. The grand question is, "what is truth;" and when that is determined, we can easily settle the inquiries which come up about the various doctrines that are abroad in the world. Mere plausible appearances, or temporary good results that may grow out of a doctrine, do not prove that it is based on truth; for whatever those results may be, it is impossible that any error, however plausible, should have its origin in the truth.
22Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
Who is a liar - That is, who is false; who maintains an erroneous doctrine; who is an impostor, if he is not? The object of the apostle is to specify one of the prevailing forms of error, and to show that, however plausible the arguments might be by which it was defended, it was impossible that it should be true. Their own knowledge of the nature of religion must convince them at once that this opinion was false.
That denieth that Jesus is the Christ - It would seem that the apostle referred to a class who admitted that Jesus lived, but who denied that he was the true Messiah. On what grounds they did this is unknown; but to maintain this was, of course, the same as to maintain that he was an impostor. The ground taken may have been that he had not the characteristics ascribed to the Messiah in the prophets; or that he did not furnish evidence that he was sent from God; or that he was an enthusiast. Or perhaps some special form of error may be referred to, like that which is said to have been held by Corinthus, who in his doctrine separated Jesus from Christ, maintaining them to be two distinct persons. - "Doddridge."
He is antichrist - (See the notes at 1 John 2:18). He has all the characteristics and attributes of antichrist; or, a doctrine which practically involves the denial of both the Father and the Son, must be that of antichrist.
That denieth the Father and the Son - That denies the special truths pertaining to God the Father, and to the Son of God. The charge here is not that they entertained incorrect views of God "as such" - as almighty, eternal, most wise, and good; but that they denied the doctrines which religion taught respecting God as Father and Son. Their opinions tended to a denial of what was revealed respecting God as a Father - not in the general sense of being the "Father" of the universe, but in the particular sense of his relation to the Son. It cannot be supposed that they denied the existence and perfections of God as such, nor that they denied that God is a "Father" in the relation which he sustains to the universe; but the meaning must be that what they held went to a practical denial of that which is special to the true God, considered as sustaining the relation of a Father to his Son Jesus Christ. Correct views of the Father could not be held without correct views of the Son; correct views of the Son could not be held without correct views of the Father. The doctrines respecting the Father and the Son were so connected that one could not be held without holding the other, and one could not be denied without denying the other. Compare the Matthew 11:27 note; John 5:23 note. No man can have just views of God the Father who has not right apprehensions of the Son. As a matter of fact in the world, people have right apprehensions of God only when they have correct views of the character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
23Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father - That is, has no just views of the Father, and has no evidence of his friendship. It is only by the Son of God that the Father is made known to people, Matthew 11:27; Hebrews 1:2-3, and it is only through him that we can become reconciled to God, and obtain evidence of His favor. See the notes at John 5:23.
But he that acknowledges the Son, hath the Father also - This passage, in the common version of the New Testament, is printed in italics, as if it were not in the original, but was supplied by the translators. It is true that it is not found in all the manuscripts and versions; but it is found in a large number of manuscripts, and in the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Aethiopic, the Coptic, the Armenian, and the Arabic versions, and in the critical editions of Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn. It is probable, therefore, that it should be regarded as a genuine portion of the sacred text. It is much in the style of John, and though not necessary to complete the sense, yet it well suits the connection. As it was true that if one denied the Son of God he could have no pretensions to any proper acquaintance with the Father, so it seemed to follow that if anyone had any proper knowledge of the Son of God, and made a suitable confession of him, he had evidence that he was acquainted with the Father. Compare John 17:3; Romans 10:9. Though, therefore, this passage was wanting in many of the manuscripts consulted by the translators of the Bible, and though in printing it in the manner in which they have they showed the great caution with which they acted in admitting anything doubtful into their translation, yet the passage should be restored to the text, and be regarded as a genuine portion of the Word of God. The great truth can never be too clearly stated, or too often inculcated, that it is only by a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ that we can have any true acquaintance with God. and that all who have just views of the Saviour are in fact acquainted with the true God, and are heirs of eternal life.
24Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
Let that therefore abide in you - Adhere steadfastly to it; let the truth obtain a permanent lodgement in the soul. In view of its great importance, and its influence on your happiness here and hereafter, let it never depart from you.
Which ye have heard from the beginning - That is, the same doctrines which you have always been taught respecting the Son of God and the way of salvation. See the notes at 1 John 2:7.
Ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father - Truly united to the Son and to the Father; or having evidence of the favor and friendship of the Son and the Father.
25And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life - This is evidently added to encourage them in adhering to the truths which they had embraced respecting the Son of God. In maintaining these truths they had the promise of eternal life; in departing from them they had none, for the "promise" of heaven in our world is made only to those who embrace one class of doctrines or opinions. No one can show that any "promise" of heaven is made to the mere possessor of beauty, or wealth, or talent; to the accomplished or the "happy"; to those who are distinguished for science, or skill in the arts; to rank, or birth, or blood; to courage or strength. Whatever expectation of heaven anyone may entertain on account of any of these things, must be traced to something else than a "promise," for there is none in the Bible to that effect. The "promise" of heaven to people is limited to those who repent of their sins, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who lead a holy life; and if anyone will base his hope of heaven on a "promise," it must be limited to these things. And yet what well-founded hope of heaven "can" there be, except that which is based "on a promise?" How does anyone know that he can be saved, unless he has some assurance from God that it may and shall be so? Is not heaven his home? How does anyone know that he may dwell there, without some assurance from Him that he may? Is not the crown of life His gift? How can anyone know that he will possess it, unless he has some promise from Him? However people may reason, or conjecture, or hope, the only "promise" of eternal life is found in the Bible; and the fact that we have such promise should surely be a sufficient inducement to us to hold fast the truth. On the promise of life in the gospel, see John 17:2; Romans 2:6-7; Mark 16:16; Matthew 25:46.
26These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you - Respecting their character, and in order to guard you against their arts. The word "seduce" means to lead astray; and it here refers to those who would seduce them "from the truth," or lead them into dangerous error. The apostle does not mean that they had actually seduced them, for he states in the following verse that they were yet safe; but he refers to the fact that there was danger that they might be led into error.
27But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
But the anointing which ye have received of him - See the notes at 1 John 2:20.
Abideth in you - The meaning is, that the influence on your heart and life, which results from the fact that you are anointed of God, permanently abides with you, and will keep you from dangerous error. The apostle evidently meant to say that he felt assured that they would not be seduced from the truth, and that his confidence in regard to this was placed in the fact that they had been truly anointed unto God as kings and priests. Thus understood, what he here says is equivalent to the expression of a firm conviction that those who are true Christians will not fall away. Compare the notes at 1 John 2:19-20.
And ye need not that any man teach you - That is, what are the things essential to true religion. See the notes at 1 John 2:20.
But as the same anointing teacheth you of all things - This cannot mean that the mere act of anointing, if that had been performed in their case, would "teach" them; but it refers to what John includes in what he calls the anointing - that is, in the solemn consecrating to the duties of religion under the influences of the Holy Spirit.
And is truth, and is no lie - Leads to truth, and not to error. No man was ever led into error by those influences which result from the fact that he has been consecrated to the service of God.
Ye shall abide in him - Margin, "or it." The Greek will bear either construction. The connection, however, seems to demand that it should be understood as referring to him - that is, to the Saviour.
28And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
And now, little children - See the notes at 1 John 2:1.
Abide in him; that, when he shall appear - In the end of the world, to receive his people to himself. See the notes at John 14:2-3.
We may have confidence - Greek, boldness - παῤῥησίαν parrēsian. This word is commonly used to denote openness, plainness, or boldness in speaking, Mark 8:32; John 7:4, John 7:13, John 7:26; Acts 2:29; Acts 4:13, Acts 4:29; 2 Corinthians 3:12; 2 Corinthians 7:4. Here it means the kind of boldness, or calm assurance, which arises from evidence of piety, and of preparation for heaven. It means that they would not be overwhelmed and confounded at the coming of the Saviour, by its being then found that all their hopes were fallacious.
And not be ashamed before him at his coming - By having all our hopes taken away; by being held up to the universe as guilty and condemned. We feel ashamed when our hopes are disappointed; when it is shown that we have a character different from what we professed to have; when our pretensions to goodness are stripped off, and the heart is made bare. Many will thus be ashamed in the last day, Matthew 7:21-23; but it is one of the promises made to those who truly believe on the Saviour, that they shall never be ashamed or confounded. See the notes at 1 Peter 2:6. Compare Isaiah 45:17; Romans 5:5; 1 Peter 4:16; Mark 8:38.
29If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
If ye know that he is righteous - This is not said as if there could be any doubt on the subject, but merely to call their attention to it as a well-known truth, and to state what followed from it. Everyone who has any true acquaintance with God, must have the fullest conviction that he is a righteous Being. But, if this be so, John says, then it must follow that only those who are truly righteous can regard themselves as begotten of Him.
Ye know - Margin, "know ye." The Greek will bear either construction, and either would make good sense. Assuming that God is righteous, it would be proper to state, as in the text, that it followed from this that they must know that only those who are righteous can be regarded as begotten of Him; or, assuming this to be true, it was proper to exhort them to be righteous, as in the margin. Whichever interpretation is adopted, the great truth is taught, that only those who are truly righteous can regard themselves as the children of God.
That everyone that doeth righteousness is born of him - Or rather, is begotten of Him; is truly a child of God. This truth is everywhere taught in the Bible, and is worthy of being often repeated. No one who is not, in the proper sense of the term, a righteous man, can have any wellfounded pretensions to being regarded as a child of God. If this be so, then it is not difficult to determine whether we are the children of God.
(1) if we are unjust, false, dishonest, we cannot be His children.
(2) if we are indulging in any known sin, we cannot be.
(3) if we are not truly righteous, all visions and rapture, all zeal and ardor, though in the cause of religion, all that we may pride ourselves on in being fervent in prayer, or eloquent in preaching, is vain.
(4) if we are righteous, in the true and proper sense, doing that which is right toward God and toward people, to ourselves, to our families, to our neighbors, to the world at large, to the Saviour who died for us, then we are true Christians; and then, no matter how soon he may appear, or how solemn and overwhelming the scenes that shall close the world, we shall not be ashamed or confounded, for we shall hail him as our Saviour, and rejoice that the time has come that we may go and dwell with him forever.