An Aged Apostle's Message to His Children: A Word for All

1 John 1
In the first chapter of his first epistle, the Apostle John presents to us the Word of life—the eternal Word—the eternal Son of the Father—in whom eternal life subsisted, and in whom, as a man, it was manifested in time down here in this world; and all this that we might have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Then there is a message declaring God's inflexible holiness—light admitting no degree of darkness—speaking at the same time of the blood that cleanseth from all sin, and gives fitness to be in the light of that holy presence.
In the opening of the next chapter we have, in the advocate with the Father, the divine provision for failure in the walk of those who have been brought into the light, and the means of restoration to communion when it has been broken by sin. Then follow the great characteristic traits of the divine life in man obedience and love. These were perfectly displayed in Christ; and Christ having become our life, these are the tests of reality in us.
Having established these fundamental principles, the aged Apostles goes on to address his children, first all together, and then in three classes—"fathers," "young men," and "babes." There is that which was common to all; and then there is that which was peculiar to each of these three classes, and all presented in beautiful order.
We will first look at that which was common to all. This was forgiveness of sins. He writes to them all as having been forgiven. In doing so, he calls them "children." The word "little" is not in the original. When he divides them into three classes, "fathers," "young men," and "little children," the last is a different word, which does mean "little children" or "babes." But in the first instance it is simply "children," and the term includes all that the Apostle addresses in the epistle, the same as in verse 1 and in verse 28 of the same chapter. "I write unto you,... children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." He does not write to them
in order that they might receive forgiveness, but because they had already received it. He wrote to them as those whom God had forgiven for the name's sake of His beloved Son.
He had already written that which would test the reality of those who bore the name of Christ, and which would distinguish between the true and the false. But this was not intended in any wise to shake the confidence of any who had really been born into the family of God. Those who, without reality, and in carelessness of heart, had taken a place among the children of God, might well tremble at what the Apostle had written, and which necessarily condemned them, as when he says, "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." "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."
These were solemn and heart searching words before which the careless, or the hypocrite, or the false teachers, might well pause, and consider their bearings, and learn in the truth whether their profession was real, or whether they were blindly drifting on in darkness, soon to be plunged into the dark abyss of eternal woe. But solemn as are the warnings given to such in God's Word, they are never intended to shake, or disturb in any degree, the peace of those who have believed on the Lord Jesus, and who are seeking with purpose of heart to serve and follow Him. On the contrary, this aged Apostle and father seeks to assure his children in the most happy way, by telling them that he writes to them for the very reason that their sins had been forgiven them for Jesus' name's sake.
Not a cloud would he throw over the mind of the youngest or the feeblest in all the family of God. He would have all in the full blessed consciousness, and unclouded assurance, that they were in the light, and without a spot upon them—the youngest babe as much as the most aged father, or the most holy, apostle, washed and made whiter than snow in "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son," which "cleanseth us from all sin."
And blessed it is to our poor hearts to know that the knowledge of forgiveness is not something to be attained only when the Christian course has been nearly run—perhaps only on a deathbed or, it may be, not till the poor storm tossed soul stands before the great white throne, overwhelmed with terror, and crushed with dark uncertainty, while it awaits the sentence which is to fix its eternal destiny. No, dear reader, forgiveness of sins meets us at the very threshold of Christianity; and the assurance of it greets our souls the moment we believe the gospel of our salvation. Christ is the meeting point between our souls and God. But it is a Christ who died, who was buried, who was raised again; and the moment we meet God in Him, we find Him a Christ who has borne our sins, having been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. Thus all is settled between cur souls and God, and "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 4:24, 25; 5:124But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:24‑25)
1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Romans 5:1)
Christian attainments there surely are, but forgiveness of sins is not one of them; for if I have not forgiveness of sins I am not a Christian at all. My sins are still between my soul and God, and exclude me from His holy presence, leaving me under judgment and exposed to eternal wrath. Forgiveness cannot, therefore, be a Christian attainment at all. I know there may be such a thing as being forgiven, and not knowing it; but this is not a normal condition of soul. It is a result, either of wrong teaching, or of inadequate apprehension of the truth. The very gospel that announces salvation to the lost, and forgiveness to the guilty, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, gives also, in the most assuring terms, the knowledge of forgiveness to all who believe it. -Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Christ Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38, 3938Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38‑39).
In such terms as these the blessed gospel of God's grace speaks to the poor sinner, and such assurance it gives to the one who believes it. It speaks unconditional and eternal pardon to him who, falling down before God as helpless and guilty and lost, believes in Jesus; and it assures such a one that his sins are blotted out forever, and his guilt canceled by the atoning blood of the cross, never to be brought to light again. "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more," is the conscience-purging word of the blessed God who pardons through faith in Jesus' blood. And the words John writes to his children are in happy confirmation of this blessed truth. "I write unto you,... children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." Happy children! Their sins may have been many, yea, more than the hairs of their heads, and they may be conscious that they are poor, feeble, failing creatures still; and Satan may thunder in their consciences, and seek to accuse and condemn, but the word of Him who cannot lie sustains their souls in unclouded peace. "Your sins are forgiven you."
And it is "for His name's sake." Were it for anything in us, we might well question, and doubt, and fear. But if it is "for His name's sake," who in heaven or earth or hell can challenge our title? God has owned that blessed Savior, and exalted His name above all. He has given Him a name that is above every name. Before that name all thrones and dominions must yield subjection, and every knee—all angels, all men, all demons—must bow. It is THE NAME OF JESUS. It is the name of Him who suffered on the cross, whose blood was shed for the putting away of sin, who by His atoning sacrifice has infinitely glorified God, and who has vanquished forever the adversary of our souls. "For His name's sake" God forgives.
Dear Reader, have you believed God's testimony to that wonderful name? Have you believed in the name of Jesus? Then listen to that dear old Apostle that knew Him so well, and the cleansing power of His precious blood, and hear him addressing you among the children to whom he writes these words: "I write unto you,... children, because your sins ARE forgiven you FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE."
We have already seen that among those the Apostle calls his "children," there are "fathers," "young men," and "babes," or "little children." The "fathers" are those who have grown old in the truth. The "babes" are those newly born into the family of God. The "young men" are a class between, who have the strength of manhood, being no
longer children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine; nor yet having reached that experimental knowledge by which they have learned the utter vanity of everything apart from Christ. The "fathers," on the contrary, have had full experience and, like Solomon, having written "vanity" on all that is under the sun. They have learned to know Christ as their only and enduring portion. "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." 1 John 2:1313I 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. (1 John 2:13).
It will be noticed that the Apostle addresses each class separately-the "fathers," then the "young men," then the "babes." In verse 13 all three classes are addressed. Then in verse 14 the "fathers" and "young men" are addressed the second time, and in verse 18, the "babes," the message running on to the close of verse 27.
We will now look more particularly at the message to the "fathers." We have already quoted from verse 13, where they are addressed the first time. When they are addressed the second time, in verse 14, the message is the same; and there is nothing added. It is simply, "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning."
And this is most beautiful, and instructive. There was nothing to warn them against, and there was nothing new or further to set before them—nothing which they did not already have. They had Christ—"Him that is from the beginning"-and that was enough. There was nothing to go back to—nothing to go forward to. To go back would be to return to the world which they had found to be only vanity. There would be no gain in that. And they could not go forward to anything beyond without giving up Christ and Christianity, and there would be no gain in that. Christ was their all. They knew Him as the sum of all their blessing, their enduring, their eternal portion. This is what characterized the fathers in Christ.
I have said there was nothing to warn them against. They were acquainted with the flesh and its ways, with the world and its attractions, and had judged both as worthless and evil. It was not something merely that they had been taught; they had learned it experimentally. In their own experience they had proved what the flesh is in its utter insubordination to God, and had learned that God's judgment of it in the
cross and death of Christ was the only remedy for it. It was a judgment which was according to truth and holiness, a judicial ending before God of what was in a state of fixed and eternal enmity against His nature, and incapable of being subject to His holy law (Rom. 8:77Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Romans 8:7).) They had learned the truth of this judgment, and had bowed to it experimentally in their own souls. It was not something they needed to learn now, even in experience. They knew it in such a way as not to need any warning against it.
So also it was as to the world which is in enmity against God as well as the flesh, and which also has been morally judged in the cross. To the fathers the world was but the scene in which the flesh flourishes—that to which the flesh in its nature and desires fully answers, and which furnishes the food on which the flesh subsists. Moreover, the world had cast out and crucified God's well beloved Son, and thus its whole status and condition was laid bare. The fathers had learned its true character. They knew it as an evil system estranged from God, and governed by Satan's will and power. Whatever might be its pretension, whatever its glitter and show, whatever its allurements and enticing temptations, to the fathers it was all a vain show, a scene of gilded sin and wickedness which could not endure in its midst the presence of the holy and blessed Son of God. And besides, there was nothing in it that could satisfy the soul or give real joy and happiness. To them it was practically a judged scene in which they had neither part nor lot. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, they had been delivered from it; and in their practical life and spiritual mode of existence, they were outside of it, and had no desire to return to it. Happy deliverance!
But all this experience had been gone through in connection with the truth of Christ. Apart from Christ these things could not be learned. And the result of the experience was that Christ was known as the only worthy object of the heart. All else proved to be but vanity. When all else failed, Christ remained the same, the faithful, unchanging One, "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," the One who will remain the same throughout eternity, filling and satisfying the soul, when experience has become a thing only of the past, and when flesh and the world are no more.
This blessed Christ the fathers know. They have proved Him as the One in whom they can always trust. In all their varied experiences and trials, they have found Him faithful. In every time of need He has proved the succourer of their souls. He has been their joy in sorrow, their strength in weakness, their stay in adversity, their unfailing resource at all times. And He is the eternal Sun of their souls, the chiefest among ten thousand, the One altogether lovely, their all in all for time and eternity. They have followed Him, they have served Him, they have walked with Him, they have communed with Him, and they know Him, not merely by report, but by intimate and personal acquaintance. Blessed knowledge! It is what we shall have in eternity. Only then it will be in glory, and in a fullness far transcending aught that is known in the poor earthly tabernacle here. But the same thing is known in the soul now that will be known then, though the soul be fettered and held within bounds and limits. Now we see through a glass darkly, then face to face. Now we know in part, then we shall know as we are known. There will be no fetters, no bonds then—nothing to hinder or cloud the glorified vision. Christ will be known then in all the brightness and blessedness it is possible to communicate to His glorified people.
Yet even now, though it be not in the same brightness or fullness, because of the body in which we still groan, through all our varied experiences Christ reveals Himself to our souls in a most blessed way, and we learn to know Him as friends know friends—not merely as the One who has saved us from wrath and judgment, but as the One who is ever with us, bearing us on His heart, sustaining, comforting, blessing, and drawing our hearts and affections out to His own blessed Person. The fullness of His grace meeting all our need by the way is realized; the varied beauties and glories and perfection of His Person and character are discovered; and His unchanging and eternal love fills the heart and satisfies the affections He Himself has awakened. Blessed, glorious Christ! infinite delight of the Father! eternal brightness of God's glory! light and joy and center of courts above! Object worthy of eternal homage and praise! may we learn to know Him more and more. May we so learn to know Him that before the brightness of His presence every other object may fade away, leaving Himself the alone object of our hearts, our all-sufficient, our present and eternal portion.