The Apostle begins his Epistle with a glorious Account of Christ And he assigns this Reason of his Writing to the Church, to bring them into Fellowship with his glorious Person, and the Father in Him. A blessed Testimony is given to the Blood of Christ cleansing from all Sin.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (2) (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (3) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (4) And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
It is impossible to enter upon this Epistle, where so much display of the glories of Christ's person meets us at the door, without being overwhelmed with the contemplation, if so be God the Holy Ghost be our teacher. Reader! pause, before you go a step further. That which was from the beginning. Who, or what can God the Holy Ghost be speaking of but the Lord Jesus Christ, who is emphatically That, even that Holy One, who is the sum and substance of all revelation; by whom were all things created, and who is before all things, and by whom all things consist! Colossians 1:16-17, Not That, in his divine nature and essence only. For then the words added would be unsuitable; That which was from the beginning. What beginning? Not eternity. For eternity hath no beginning. But the beginning of God's going forth in his three-fold character of persons; in those great events which concern Christ and his Church. Such as John relates in his Gospel. See John 1:1 and Commentary. And Paul; Ephesians 1:4 and Commentary.
That these words are so to he accepted is very plain from what follows; for the Apostle adds, which we have heard and seen. No man hath seen God at any time. But the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him; John 1:19. Hence this glorious That is Christ, the glorious God-Man-Mediator; and which John opens his Epistle with speaking of, in this most blessed and sublime manner. I detain the Reader to observe with me, the peculiar blessedness in which the Holy Ghost hath influenced the beloved Disciple to speak of his Lord, That. Not his name; but in a more striking and descriptive way of blessedness: THAT. It is similar to the phrase used by the Angel sent to Mary, when he called Christ, That Holy Thing! Luke 1:35. As if (and which is in reality the case), holiness is only in Him. He, and He alone is holy. He and He only is That. Reader! do, I beseech you, ponder it well. It is at all times sweet. It hath been so in all ages of the Church. Multitudes now in glory have felt the sweetness of this expression, That. And, in the present Christ-despising generation, it becomes eminently so to the true believer in Jesus, See Isaiah 49:7
But we must not stop here. The beloved Apostle having introduced his Epistle in the first word of it with this glorious That, speaks with confidence and delight of his gracious familiarity with his people, in having allowed them to hear him, to see him, to look upon him; and that their hands have handled this word of life. Reader! here again, I beseech you, pause over this account. And when you have done it, ask your own heart this single question. Had John considered Christ simply as a man, (as some who call themselves Christians presume to do, and yet deny his Godhead), would he have thought it necessary to have said, that he and his companions heard Christ, and saw him, looked upon him, and touched him? Would there have been anything surprising in those acts? But that he who was, and is God, should tabernacle among men, and should manifest his Godhead in a bodily substance, go in and out before them, and day by day make himself known to them, in all those wonderful transactions, of which John and his brethren the Apostles were ear and eye witnesses: these, indeed, were things to record, and which, while recording, their minds were overwhelmed with the contemplation of such astonishing manifestations!
The Apostle hath put the second verse of this wonderful relation, concerning the Person of Christ, in a parenthesis. Not as if it might be omitted, for it is too blessed for that purpose; but because his mind seemed to be, for the moment, lost in the marvelous subject, and he left speaking to the Church, to contemplate more immediately the Lord's Person. And how doth he express himself here? Truly, in the same delightful stile as might most fully shew his apprehensions of the Godhead of Christ, manifested in a body of flesh. For the life was manifested, (saith he), and we have seen it What life? He adds, that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us. What words can be more full to the purpose, in confirmation of Christ's Godhead? For who less than the Eternal God, can have Eternal life? And what can be more plain, in confirmation, that the Son of God became incarnate, than when the Apostle adds, that this eternal life was manifested, and we (he saith) have seen it; that is, seen God in Christ. Similar to what the same Apostle said, in the Gospel which bears his name. For the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory: the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; John 1:14
The Apostle having thus introduced to the Church the glorious Person of Christ, God-Man Mediator, in this most exalted point of view; he next proceeds to state the motives for which he sends this Epistle to the Lord's people; namely, that the whole body of Christ's Church might have partnership with them, in the knowledge and enjoyment of God in Christ, and the joy, both of Apostles and People, might be full. This, indeed, is the great object and design of all revelation. And, when God the Holy Ghost hath regenerated the souls of Christ's people, and through his quickening and illuminating grace, the child of God is brought to see the love of God the Father, in the choice of the Church before the foundation of the world; and the love of God the Son, in having taken into union with himself his Church before time, and redeemed her in time for his glory and delight, to all eternity; then, every individual of Christ's Mystical body, thus renewed, and thus taught of God the Holy Ghost, is brought into this blessed fellowship and communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Reader! pause over the glorious truths here made known, Then make the subject personal and practical. Then ask your own heart, what know you, in a real heart-felt knowledge and enjoyment of them? Recollect what Jesus himself said on the subject, to the Father. That he should give eternal life to as many as thou host given him. And this is life eternal; that they might know thee, the only true God; and Jesus Christ whom thou host Sent; John 17:2-3. Who can contemplate the unspeakable blessedness of this fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, but with the most heartfelt joy! By reason of our union with Christ, we have communion with God in Christ. There is an union between Christ and the Father, in which we have no part. And, though this union of the Father and the Son becomes the cause of ours; yet is it perfectly distinct from, and unconnected with it. And Jesus himself sweetly, and blessedly marks this distinction, when he saith: At that day ye shall know, that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you; John 14:20. But our blessedness is the more, from having all in Christ, and from Christ, and by Christ. For all is softened and humanized, from coming to us in a nature like our own. See John 17:1 and 1 John 5:7 and Commentary in both.
And how sweetly Jesus speaks of this fellowship which his people have with him, here in grace, and hereafter in glory, from their oneness with him. Thus Jesus speaks, in relation to the former. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them; John 17:26. And in relation to the latter; as it is Jesus's delight to give his people grace, so it is to give them glory. Hence he saith: To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne; even as I also overcame, and am set with my Father in his throne; Revelation 3:21. In both which, let the Reader observe, that our fellowship is with Christ, and with God in Christ. His Church stands eternally safe and secure in him. And from the human nature in the Person of Christ united to the Godhead, Christ stands in union with the Father, and we in him; as he himself hath blessedly said: That they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. Yea, Jesus adds, that the world may know, that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me; John 17:21-23. What words are these? Who shall fully explain them; or what heart fully conceive the extent of blessedness them! See John 17:1 and Commentary.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
By the message may, I think, be considered the whole sum and substance of the Gospel. For the Apostle having before so blessedly introduced the Lord Jesus Christ, next tells the Church the purport of the divine revelation he brought. And, by the general expression of light, to which God in his threefold character of Person is compared, is meant to say, that everything of darkness, (which sin, in all its multiform shapes, may well be called), must, of consequence, be directly opposed to God. Hence, here is an infallible mark to know the Church, and every individual of the Church by. For, if any man remain in the dark, and blind, and ignorant state of nature in which he was born, unconscious of the plague of his own heart, ignorant of Christ's Person as God-Man, ignorant of his offices, characters, and relations, hath never been regenerated by the Holy Ghost, and is still in the Adam-state, dead in trespasses and sins; for such an one to talk of having fellowship and communion with God, when he neither knows God nor himself; this shews him to be deceiving himself; with saying peace, peace, when there is no peace! Reader! pause over the account, for it is truly awful. And what makes it yet more so is, that it is much more general than is supposed. Our Lord hath given us the representation of a whole professing Church of this kind, in that of Laodicea; Revelation 3:14-18. They thought themselves rich, and increased with goods, and needed nothing, whereas He, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, searching the heart, and trying the reins, discovered, that they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. And that same Almighty Lord only knows, what multitudes there are of the same character in the present hour, mingling up in what are called Gospel Churches, in a pharisaical righteousness of their own! Such I mean, as though they hold the blessed doctrines of God the Father's everlasting love, in having chosen, the Church; God the Son's redeeming love, in working out salvation by his blood and righteousness; and God the Spirit's regenerating mercy for an entrance into the kingdom of heaven; yet consider these but only part means, or but procuring causes, to their best, and (as they call them) sincere endeavors. In all such instances it may be truly said, darkness hath covered the earth, and gross darkness the people; Isaiah 40:2. For, for men to profess having fellowship with God, while walking thus in the vanity of their own minds, is the most awful of all self-deceptions!
But what a blessed relief is it, to the soul of a poor self-condemned and self loathing sinner, to be so graciously taught by God the Spirit, in this divine scripture, that if walking in the light, as he is in the light; that is, being enlightened by God the Spirit to see, as God sees, sin to be exceeding sinful; to lay low in the dust before God, under the condemnation of our own mind, convinced that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing; to be daily, hourly, coming to Christ, as the Christ of God; and to him, as a remedy, full and complete, and of God's own providing for sin; this proves the partnership, fellowship, and interest we have, in all that belongs to Christ, and in which all his redeemed have alike fellowship with God, and with one another; and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth its from all sin. Reader! pause over these wonderful words, and ponder them well. The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin. Not the blood of bulls, or goats, or lambs, or sacrifices upon a thousand altars! Not the ordinances, means of grace, services, sacraments, prayers, tears, reforms, repentance, or the whole world of offerings, commutations, or charities, even though men would give the fruit of their body for the sin of the soul! Not these. For so far are they, any of them, or all of them put together, from recommending to the favor of God, that they are offensive to God, unless themselves are cleansed, and perfumed in that blood of Christ, which hath perfumed all heaven! Oh! the preciousness of this scripture. The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin! Every word is bigger with importance than all the world! The blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing less than Christ's blood, can take away sin. And no blood but the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, can take away sin. And none but the Son of God, one with God, and equal with God, can he competent to this vast work. And not only cleanseth from sin, but all sin. Original sin, actual sin, natural sin, spiritual sin, universal sin, yea, all sin. And it cleanseth from all sin, by the infinite dignity of his Person who offered it, the infinite preciousness of the blood he shed for it and the infinite merit, efficacy, and everlasting power of it in that in its cleansing, it cleanseth so as to prevent all future defilements. Oh! the glory of this perfect, full, and finished salvation! It is a peace-speaking blood; Hebrews 12:24, a soul-cleansing, sweet smelling blood; Ephesians 5:2, a full redeeming blood, for in it we have redemption of sins according to the riches of his grace; Ephesians 1:7. And neither the powers of hell, nor the remains of sin in our own nature, can bring anything to counteract its efficacy, in the souls that have been cleansed by it. And the Church here on earth, which, through the leadings of God the Holy Ghost, are come to the blood of sprinkling, as well as the Church in heaven, have all the same divine cleansing. The company John saw around the throne, were samples of the whole Church; who had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; Revelation 7:14. Reader! write down this blessed scripture for hourly use. Yea, beg of God the Holy Ghost to indent it with his living engraving signet, in the tablet of thine heart: The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin!
I will not detain the Reader longer than is absolutely necessary, in observations on what follows. But the verses are too important to be hastily passed by. John, under the authority of the Holy Ghost, having told the Church, that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin; though he knew the Church is thereby cleansed from all sin, so that its guilt and filth shall no longer condemn; yet, by what he immediately adds, he plainly shews us, that the bodies of the saints are still the subjects of sin; neither will they be ever free from sin, until they drop into the grave, and return to corruption. If we say (saith John) that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Now here is opened to us an interesting subject, which, if duly studied, under God the Spirit's teaching, explains to every child of God the blessedness of being cleansed from all sin in Christ; while yet the best of men still groan under the consciousness of in-dwelling corruption.
When a child of God is first awakened from sin, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, and under his divine teachings, and quickening influences, he is brought to a sense of his lost estate by nature, and to a heartfelt knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ by grace; he feels a blessedness in what the Apostle here saith, under the authority of the Holy Ghost, that he hath fellowship with God in Christ, and that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. But, in the midst of this soul-reviving truth, he feels, and groans under the daily workings of sin in his body, which he discovers to be virtually all sin. He would do good, but he finds evil present with him. He delights in the law of God, after the inward man; but he sees another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members. The child of God ponders these things with the most poignant distress of soul; and, until they are explained to him by God the Holy Ghost himself, he never can discover a full and satisfying account.
As an humble means in the Lord's hand, I have, in several parts of this Poor Man's Commentary, (see particularly 2 Thessalonians 2:13) endeavored, and wholly on scriptural grounds to shew, that grace, when renewing the soul, makes no alteration upon the body. The body is wholly a mass of flesh and blood, and bones and arteries. It remains, therefore still carnal. All its pursuits, and desires, and affections, and appetites, are suited to its nature, which is daily tending to corruption. So that grace makes no change in this part of our nature, neither was it ever intended. The original sentence at the fall must be executed. Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return; Genesis 3:19. Hence it is to be sown at death a natural body, as it was first formed in the Adam-nature of our creation, but by virtue of our redemption by Christ it will be raised at the resurrection, a spiritual body. This is to form the triumphs of Christ, in raising our vile bodies, to be then fashioned like unto his glorious body. This is what the Apostle calls the redemption of our body, and which they who have the first fruits of the Spirit wait for; Romans 8:23. But in the mean time, a corrupt, sinful body, whose whole tendencies are corrupt, cannot but be in opposition to the renewed part of the child of God, who by regeneration is wholly spiritual, being quickened, which was before dead in trespasses and sins. It is no wonder, therefore, that in a constant daily warfare between such opposite principles, the child of God should go mourning. How shall it otherwise be, when a man's own body is everlastingly opposing his own soul? the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit lusting against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would; Galatians 5:17
Reader! if this subject be well studied, under the teachings of the Holy Ghost, and in the lessons practically taken from the plague of a man's own heart; it would tend to clear up the point upon true scriptural evidence, and, under grace, enable a child of God to extract much good from the seeming evil. It would shew him, more and more, his own unworthiness before God, hide all pharisaical pride from his eyes, keep open a constant spring of true sorrow for sin, in making him loathe himself in his own sight; and, above all, endear Christ in the glories of his Person, blood, and righteousness, as the sole cause of salvation. But if men, unauthorized by scripture, untaught of God, will presume to be wise above what is written, and contend, that regeneration renews but in part, and that it is a work wrought alike in soul and body; that there is a progressive holiness and sanctification in the whole man; (though if the advocates for this doctrine would honestly confess, what their daily experience cannot but teach them, that they themselves are living witnesses against what they advance;) I say, it is not to be wondered at, that persons of this complexion are always hanging at an uncertainty, as to the condition of their spiritual state before God. For they are building up, in their own strength, a supposed holiness of their own, which is like erecting an house upon the mud, where there can be no foundation. And, as their whole life is at the best but a peradventure; at a peradventure they live and die.
I must beg the Reader's attention to another very sweet and interesting point, which the Holy Ghost hath here dwelt upon, by his servant John. If we confess our sins, (saith John), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Is God's faithfulness and justice concerned to forgive the sins of his people on their confession of them? Yes! for having received an equivalent payment, yea, more than an equivalent, in the death of Christ; the faithfulness and justice of God are both engaged, in Covenant engagements, to discharge the Principal Debtor, now the Surety hath made him free. And in the pardon of all Christ's redeemed ones, the Lord remembers, and fulfils his everlasting Covenant; Isaiah 49:9; Zechariah 9:11. And the confession of sins in the pardoned, is not the cause of pardon, but the effect, This will always follow, where the grace of God brings salvation.
Moreover, it is among the precious testimonies of our enjoying communion with God, that we confess our sins before him. He that hath most communion an d fellowship with God will be most open and communicative. It is with God's friendship in this particular, as it is with man's: the more we love a man, the more we delight to unbosom ourselves to him. So with God in Christ, the more the Lord hath our confidence, the more we shall find grace to unfold to him, what we feel by reason of sin. Nay, as our sins and transgressions are all against God, the more sensibly we shall feel our love to him, the more we shall feel hurt at offending him. And, therefore, none will be so ready to rip open the soul before God, as that soul who loves God most, and dreads to do anything so as to be shy before him. And, as we know, that the Lord knows all our secret sins, which are in the light of his countenance, before we can inform him: so we also know, that so gracious is our God, that he hath pardoned them before we have confessed them, and before we called for mercy, he hath answered; Isaiah 65:24. Oh! what a thought to comfort us. None but God's friendship could admit a friendship like ours! His love, not our deservings, becomes the standard of his favor. Hence, our communion with him, is kept up on our part, in confessing our sins. And on his part, in pardoning them in Jesus.
I will not dwell upon the last verse in this Chapter, though I must not wholly pass it by. If we say that we have not sinned! Who among the sons of Adam will, or can say this? Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission and commission; all sin, and come short of the glory of God. To deny this, must argue a state of blindness indeed, which no truly regenerated child of God can be in! But I add no more.
Reader! You and I may well enter upon this blessed portion of God with prayer. And surely, under divine teaching, we shall end it in praise. Oh! who can contemplate Him whom John saw, heard, and handled, even That which was from the beginning, but with holy rapture and delight. Oh! that the object for which John declared these things, may be in my instance fully answered; and that I may truly have fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ!
Blessed God and Father! grant that light to thy redeemed, which may enable them to walk in thy light; and to know, by heartfelt experience, that the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth us from all sin. And, Lord! let thy faithfulness and justice, as well as thy mercy and grace, be my everlasting comfort. God can be just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. And God, for Christ's sake, will cleanse his redeemed from all unrighteousness.