1 John 1

1 John 1  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“That which was from the beginning” (1 John 1). “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1). “In the beginning” refers to eternity; all things received being through Him, the Word, that was at the same time God and with God, of the same substance, distinct in Person, eternal and divine.
What He was there — before sin and death and darkness had come into the world, ere righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, had any force or application; before the world itself existed, save in the purposes of God His word has brought to light. “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.”
This was the beginning of His way — eternity. Again, when God was creating, “laying the foundation of the earth,” He was with Him. This is called the “beginning” in Genesis 1; there indeed He was the Creator Himself; but still by Him, when He gave His decree, as One brought up with Him, daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him; and His delights were with the sons of men. How blessed this is! His voice reaching us out of the depths of time and eternity.
Afterwards, when the world is fully in view, the habitable parts of the earth occupied by the fallen sons of men, and ere “the beginning” of 1 John 1 we are permitted to hear the voice of the eternal Word once more (Psa. 40), “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will.” The counsels of God, as written in that great book, are revealed through the heart of the Son of God. Long before the Holy Ghost had commenced to unfold, by the pen of John, the glorious truths brought to light in Him “who was from the beginning,” He had lifted the veil, as it were, to let us see and hear what was passing in the eternal glory in heaven, the communings of the divine Persons (before the Word had become flesh, before that which was “from the beginning” — His manifestation on earth — had taken place), His delight in His Father’s will, as the other word told of His delights in the sons of men.
But the wonder and the glory is that there was no difference. Let the passage in the Psalm (40) be well pondered, and then let the student of scripture state wherein the life of Christ on earth differed in principle and character from what it had been in the heavenly glory. What part of the moral glory of God had He concealed in His heart? Could He hide Himself? “The light shineth in darkness,” as perfectly as in its own atmosphere. The Word that was with God, and at the same time was God — could He become flesh, and dwell among us, in such sort that His presence was a revelation of the Father, and the glory of His own Person not be displayed to those who had eyes to see? No, the Life was manifested, that very eternal Life that was with the Father; the Sonship was therefore as eternal as the Life itself. The Gospel gives us its display or manifestation in Him; the Epistle, the blessed fruits and proofs of that life in His people.
“The life was the light of men,” and through every avenue, so to speak, the Light had shone into the apostle’s heart, for the shining forth in due season of the knowledge of Him “that was from the beginning.”
His manifestation in time, as the eternal Life that was with the Father, naturally directs the thoughts to the earliest revelations concerning Him, intensifying the interest which they ever awaken. We remark with delight, that it is the very same glorious Person, whom we know as Jesus our Lord, that we find in the beginning of Jehovah’s way — in the beginning of creation-work.
And what more wonderful than this, that when new-creation work was occupying the divine mind, we should be allowed to hear these words of the Son, uttered ere He left the glory He had with the Father, and became flesh! There were, first, the counsels about Him in the book; then, His own utterances of them in heaven; and next, the accomplishment of them on earth. What an illustration of what He said Himself to the Jews, “I am altogether that which I also say unto you” — a truth as declaratory of the glory of His Person, as that other word in the same chapter, “Before Abraham was, I am.” They give us respectively the moral glory and His eternal being.
In John 1, then, He was in the beginning (eternity), God, and with God. In the epistle, 1 John 1, He is presented “as from the beginning,” the manifestation on earth of that eternal Life that was with the Father, not the Word with God, as in the gospel (John 1); relationship and fellowship in the divine nature being the subject here.
But in Colossians 1, He is the Beginning, as Firstborn from among the dead, ascended on high, the glorified Head of a new creation; who is the Head of the body, the church, the members of which are firstfruits of this new creation, of which those “once alienated,” “all things” “reconciled,” “new heavens and new earth,” and “all things new,” will be the full display.
In Revelation 3 He announces Himself to the angel of the church at Laodicea, where to His view the riches, pretensions, and independence of the first man, alone were apparent, as the Holy Ghost had already presented Him by the pen of Paul, as “the Beginning,” only more definitely, “the beginning of the creation of God.” 1
But how great was the contrast in the spiritual condition of these two assemblies! At Colosse, whatever might be wanting, Paul looked for progress everywhere, “filled with full knowledge”; growing by the “true knowledge”; strengthened . . . according to the power of His glory. “His mouth was opened unto them, his heart enlarged. He reminds them that the Father had made them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. He had translated them into the kingdom of the Son of His love. Could he stop there? Impossible! The privileges of the saints must wait on the glories of the Son. The glowing words, short sentences, and rapid style, remind us of the language of worship when the heart is full. Was there ever such a summary of glories in so small a space, from “image of the invisible God,” to, “first-born from among the dead”? And He was “the beginning,” in that new creation sphere where all these glories shine: all flowed from Him, Beginning and Head. Now Paul evidently felt in his spirit that the Lord was the common joy of their hearts and his. Impossible to come out in this way, when the heart, is full of Christ, with persons who were neither cold nor hot. But at Laodicea all was gone; the increase there was in riches, not those of Christ. “Beginning of the creation of God” awakes in a Laodicean, where there was life, thoughts widely different from those which would have filled the mind at Colosse. There, His glory constituted their riches and strength, “even unto all long-suffering,” their affections were fed, and knowledge grew. The cry of an awakened Laodicean was for gold, white raiment, and eye salve, for without divine righteousness and holiness, who could have a place in the new creation of God? For them, the revelation of this glorious title raised the question in the conscience, “Am I on new creation ground?” and met the sense of failure. Also, when the kingdom came, they would not be shut out, but reign with Christ. How different the language of the Holy Ghost by Paul to the Colossians, “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love,” their present, known, and enjoyed place, before the time for sitting on His throne, or theirs, was come! The power of His glory strengthening; Christ in them, the hope of glory. With what different thoughts they must have contemplated Him as “the Beginning”! It is just the difference between Christ for the cravings of the awakened conscience of a Laodicean, and the full Person — Christ, in whom all the fullness dwells — made known to the heart of a Colossian, through the unveiling of His various glory.
But I thought we were going to feed in other pastures, and here we are running into Colossian fields!
“Which we have heard, which we have seen,” and so forth. In John the knowledge of Christ was not only of the deepest, it was also of the most intimate character. It reached him, as it were, through every avenue. He was the disciple who lay in the bosom of Jesus; he had lain there too, one might say, in a spiritual sense, as far as such words may be used of man, and was absorbed with what he found in that nearness, the knowledge of the Person — that eternal life, which was with the Father.
This is one of John’s designations of Christ, the other most like it is “only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” These names, I think, reach farther into that great deep — the revelation of His Person — than any other. The life, the nature, that which had been displayed in the Person of the Lord Himself, was what occupied John. This life alone he contemplated in the saints, after the introductory part, in which the two natures are fully recognized, “If we walk in the light,” and so forth, and, “If we say that we have no sin,” and so forth.
Like the friend of the Bridegroom, who heard His voice, and found in that the fullness of joy, the beloved disciple lay in His bosom, and spoke of fellowship with Him and the Father as fullness of joy. They were each in the place to realize that of which they spoke, near to Himself!
In the epistle, the eternal Life, which was with the Father, is viewed as in the believer, and thus is all profession tested.
Men talk of the halo of antiquity, but here it was the glory of eternity itself, eternity with God, which surrounded the divine Subject of his testimony. Who could think of development in such an One? There could be none, that which was “from the beginning” was simply that which was “in the beginning.” Could the eye of God discern progress any more than decline there, a “higher,” and a “lower,” in “that which was from the beginning”! The spirit of evil in man would make the end to be an improvement, a development of the beginning; the Spirit of God declares that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But the Life has relationships also. “With the Father” implies, I think, His eternal Sonship.
And now he declares what he had seen and heard. We may be sure he speaks out of the fullness of his heart, yet the Holy Ghost was the source of these communications. The object was twofold, that they might share the apostle’s fellowship with the Father and the Son, and that their joy through this communion might be full.
That we may enter more fully into this great truth, let us look again at the way in which it is presented in John 18. First, there was the fellowship of the apostles exclusively, a permitted participation in the divine counsels and workings (the Lord working with them, Mark 16), and doubtless affections too, resulting in a unity thus expressed, “one as we.” This unity they realized through fellowship with the Father and the Son in their thoughts and purposes, they were strengthened and sustained by the Holy Ghost in a ministry, which was according to those purposes and affections too, I think one may say. It was a wonderful thing; nothing like it had ever been known on earth; fruit of His call, His manifestation, and the presence and sustaining power of the Holy Ghost — it was indeed a wonder of divine wisdom, and grace, and power.
Let us look at the words once more, “one as we,” spoken of the apostles exclusively. Now let us recall their varied ministries in the word, and first as to the characters of the servants themselves. In what. single point does one of them resemble another? And the special subjects of their ministries are as different as their own personal characters. Yet who has ever really found, in the writings of any one of these servants of God, a single expression that contradicted or weakened the testimony of the others? No such unity had ever been realized on earth. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” they said; and, “We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us,” — the apostles.
Next, the Lord prays for those who should believe through the apostles’ word. By that word was communicated the knowledge of the Father and the Son, and, through the power of the Holy Ghost, they had fellowship with the divine Persons, that is the fellowship of which John speaks in this chapter (1 John 1). This fellowship also manifested itself in unity — “one in us.” Not, “one as we,” so that the mind — the truth — of God should be authoritatively expressed, but a oneness which is simply a result of fellowship with the Father and the Son; a fellowship so feebly realized that unity is, for many, little more than an idea in the mind. Of confederacy, a mere human thing, one has no need to speak, but unity is a divine thought. Christ is its center, and the Holy Ghost its power. “He that gathereth not with me scattereth.” One in us “as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee.”
The well is deep, and there is One only who can draw out and minister to us. The Father’s joy in the Son, and the Son’s in the Father, who can tell? “My beloved Son, in whom I have found Mmy delight.” “That the world may know that I love the Father. I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before Him.” This is the fellowship, principle and fullness of that to which we are called. What can we say? joy and sorrow alternately filling the heart as it, or the conscience, is first reached; but the apostle only speaks of joy — “that your joy may be full.” Two things at least, we may perceive, are inseparably connected with this fellowship — unity and joy, effect of the power that worketh in us. Man believes in beholding this unity, and the joy of the Lord is the strength of His people.
Let us pause a moment to think of what this means; a joy not based upon things earthly or natural, but on that which is independent of circumstances here, or created things anywhere, on fellowship with the Father and the Son, in the light. How precious and glorious the privilege to tell of its joy from actual realization!
Verse 5. “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.” We pass on now from the manifestation, “that which was displayed,” which John’s ministry mainly gives (as the beloved brother in departing reminded us), to the message, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Now we have come to what the message reveals — the nature of God — and then that nature in us, considered abstractedly.
It is important to note that the moment divine light is brought in, the full testing of man commences. First, in John 3: “This is the judgment, that light is come unto the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” The Lord does not say “land of Israel,” and “Jews,” but the world and men. But here, in the chapter before us, it is the truth of His, nature, light without darkness, applied to test the reality of the profession of fellowship with God.
It is evident that it is no question here of a ground of righteous standing before God, as in Romans, or of that which gives boldness to enter into the holiest, as in Hebrews; but of fellowship with Him who is light, and in whom is no darkness. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth.
This is self-evident. We must have His own nature, and walk in it, to have fellowship with Him. The Gentiles walk on in darkness, the saints are “light in the Lord,” and their walk is in the light.
Verse 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.” We have the position and state of Christians viewed as in the world; not as one body by the Holy Ghost — the body of Christ; nor as sitting in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:66And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:6)), but simply as saints walking in the light of the perfect revelation of God. Christ — Word of God and Son of the Father — had been here; “that eternal Life which was with the Father,” had been manifested, and was now in them as life. The message announced what the manifestation had already demonstrated, that God is light, without any darkness. All had not with the outward eyes beheld that manifestation. The light of the revelation of God characterized the position; there was no getting out of the light without giving up Christ altogether. The light was there, either to cheer the faithful heart, or to detect its failure.
Attention has often been called to the difference between walking “according to” and “in the light.” We must remember that the truth is stated abstractedly by John. The saints are regarded on the side of what they have from God, the life that was manifested in Christ, and the Holy Ghost (“Which thing is true in Him and in you,” (1 John. 2:8), and “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:44Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)). The possession of eternal life, and the unction of the Holy One, are the mighty springs of a “walk,” in which our path is illuminated by the light without darkness — the true knowledge of God. Life in the power of the Holy Ghost (its perfect display had been in Christ), was now in the saints. How should not energy characterize those who were in the position set forth in this verse? It is no question here of what gives title to stand before God, nor even of acceptance in the Beloved; grace has revealed that also, but here the life that was displayed in Him is in the saints, and therefore we have the walk in the light, and the fellowship, as marking both the position and state; the inconsistencies, arising from the fact that sin is in us, not taken up.
How is it possible that the life eternal and the Holy Ghost should not make their presence manifest, by a walk in the light, in which the fruits of light are apparent, and in a fellowship with one another, which is but the outflow of fellowship with the Father and the Son? We must remember, that a work accomplished for us, is not the starting-point here, but the life that had been manifested in Christ, together with the unction of the Holy One. The unsullied light! how sweet the thought of it to those who participate in its nature — the sons of light — who have become so, by believing in the light (John 12). The light excludes all darkness. The blood cleanses from all sin. How blessed all that is from God — the cloudless light, the precious blood!
It should be noted that the blood from sin, is in the present tense. It is its property and unchanging value that we have here, no thought of repeated application. (See Heb. 1, 10). When the blood of bulls and goats is referred to, the repetition is constant. But who would speak of a second application of the precious blood of Jesus Christ? Or, should the saint’s present consciousness of its value for the moment be enfeebled, is it so in the mind of Him by whom we were sanctified unto the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ? “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (set apart).
Moreover, it is said, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light,” the blood cleanses; not, if we sin. On the other hand, “if any man sin,” speaking of Christians, and sinning is not walking according to the light, we have an Advocate with the Father {1 John 2:11My 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: (1 John 2:1)}. He does not say in this connection, what in itself is eternally true, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. It was Himself who said, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet.” Walking in the light supposes life, divine life, with its energies, holiness, and love, and therefore the judgment and rejection of all that is contrary to that life which is the light of men. Walking is a real thing.
Verse 8. “If we say we have no sin,” and so forth. We were talking lately of a passage in which Peter’s doctrine touches that of Paul. In this verse, John speaks, like Paul, of sin, not sins, the principle of sin. If we deny that it is in us, the truth is not in us. Had we been in the light, the truth would have been in us also. The truth of the two natures is taught in this epistle almost as clearly as in the writings of the apostle who said, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” In John we have it in this form, “If we say that we have no sin, the truth is not in us.” That sin is in us is the truth, yet is it equally the truth that in us is implanted a life, a nature, characterized by “no sin,” no darkness, so that it is said of every one born of God, “he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” for this new nature is essentially sinless. It lives eternally in the light, and manifests itself in us, in fruits of light. We have seen it, in all its brightness, in Him; practically whoever abides in Him does not sin. We shall find the character and actings of the life of the flesh also, considered abstractedly, brought out with equal clearness. When we have considered the truth relative to the natures, as we find it in this epistle, it will be interesting to compare it with the teachings on the same subject in Romans.
Verse 9. “If we confess our sins,” and so forth. It does not say, if we confess our sin. That has been settled on the cross, our old man has been crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled; but sins are its fruit, when it is not held practically in death. Confessing them, if we sin, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins.” Could our practical unfaithfulness affect the faithfulness or the righteousness of the righteous One, who had Himself borne our sins in His own body on the tree, so that, on confession of sins, He would not forgive, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness?
Verse 10. “If we say that we have not sinned,” and so forth, we make God a liar, His word is not in us. “If we say we have no sin,” “the truth, is not in us.” In neither case are we in the light.