Law: Tests of Life: I John












                                     A STUDY OF

                    THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN





                       Being the Kerr Lectures for 1909



                                            BY THE

                             REV. ROBERT LAW, B.D.














                      T. CLARK, 38 GEORGE STREET



                [Scanned and proofed by Ted Hildebrandt, 2005]











                                        Printed by

                       MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED,


                         T. & T. CLARK, EDINBURGH.



                               NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS.







                                 THE KERR LECTURESHIP



THE "KERR LECTURESHIP" was founded by the TRUSTEES of the late Miss

JOAN KERR of Sanquhar, under her Deed of Settlement, and formally adopted

by the United Presbyterian Synod in May 1886.  In the following year, May

1887, the provisions and conditions of the Lectureship, as finally adjusted,

were adopted by the Synod, and embodied in a Memorandum, printed in the

Appendix to the Synod Minutes, p. 489.

            On the union of the United Presbyterian Church with the Free Church of

Scotland in October 1900, the necessary changes were made in the designation

of the object of the Lectureship and the persons eligible for appointment to it,

so as to suit the altered circumstances. And at the General Assembly of 1901

it was agreed that the Lectureship should in future be connected with the Glasgow

College of the United Free Church. From the Memorandum, as thus amended,

the following excerpts are here given:--


            II. The amount to be invested shall be ₤3000.

            III. The object of the Lectureship is the promotion of the study of Scientific

Theology in the United Free Church of Scotland.

            The Lectures shall be upon some such subjects as the following, viz. :

            A. Historic Theology

               (1) Biblical Theology, (2) History of Doctrine, (3) Patristics, with

                        special reference to the significance and authority of the

                        first three centuries.

            B. Systematic Theology

               (1) Christian Doctrine—(a) Philosophy of Religion, (b) Com-

                        parative Theology, (c) Anthropology, (d) Christology,

                        (e) Soteriology, (f) Eschatology.

                (2) Christian Ethics—(a) Doctrine of Sin,  (b) Individual and

                        Social Ethics, (c) The Sacraments, (d) The Place of Art

                        in Religious Life and Worship.


        Further, the Committee of Selection shall from time to time, as they think

fit, appoint as the subject of the Lectures any important Phases of Modern

Religious Thought or Scientific Theories in their bearing upon Evangelical

Theology. The Committee may also appoint a subject connected with the

practical work of the Ministry as subject of Lecture, but in no case shall this

be admissible more than once in every five appointments.

            IV. The appointments to this Lectureship shall be made in the first instance

from among the Licentiates or Ministers of the United Free Church of Scotland,



viii                               The Kerr Lectureship


of whom no one shall be eligible who, when the appointment falls to be made,

shall have been licensed for more than twenty-five years, and who is not a

graduate of a British University, preferential regard being had to those who have

for some time been connected with a Continental University.

            V. Appointments to this Lectureship not subject to the conditions in

Section IV. may also from time to time, at the discretion of the Committee,

be made from among eminent members of the Ministry of any of the Noncon-

formist Churches of Great Britain and Ireland, America, and the Colonies, or

of the Protestant Evangelical Churches of the Continent.

            VI. The Lecturer shall hold the appointment for three years.

            VII. The number of Lectures to be delivered shall be left to the discretion

of the Lecturer, except thus far, that in no case shall there be more than twelve

or less than eight.

            VIII. The Lectures shall be published at the Lecturer's own expense within

one year after their delivery.

            IX. The Lectures shall be delivered to the students of the Glasgow College

of the United Free Church of Scotland.

            XII. The Public shall be admitted to the Lectures.













As only a portion of the contents of this volume could

be orally delivered, I have not thought it necessary to

adhere to either the form or the title of "Lecture," but

(with the consent of the Trustees) have assigned a separate

"Chapter" to each principal topic dealt with. The

method adopted in this exposition of the Epistle—that,

namely, of grouping together the passages bearing upon a

common theme—will be found, I trust, to have advantages

which compensate in some measure for its disadvantages.

That it has disadvantages, as compared with a continuous

exposition, I am well aware. These, however, I have

endeavoured to minimise, by supplying in the first chapter

a specially full analysis of the Epistle, by careful indexing,

and by making liberal use of cross-references. For the

convenience of the reader, I have set down in the footnotes

such exegetical details as seemed most necessary to

explain or to establish the interpretation adopted; but

where these involved lengthy or intricate discussion, they,

along with all minuter points of exegesis, have been

relegated to the Notes at the end of the volume. In these

Notes the text of the Epistle is continuously followed.

            The points of textual difference between the various

critical editions of the Epistle are comparatively unimportant,




x                                  Preface


and I have seldom found it necessary to refer to them.

The text used is that of Tischendorf's Eighth Edition; but

in one passage (518) I have preferred the reading indicated

in our Authorised Version and in the Revisers' margin.

            Among the commentators to whom I have, of course,

been indebted, I mention Westcott first of all. Owing,

perhaps, to natural pugnacity, one more readily quotes a

writer to express dissent than to indicate agreement; but,

though I find that the majority of my references to

"Westcott" are in the nature of criticism, I would not be

thought guilty of depreciating that great commentary.

With all its often provoking characteristics, it is still, as

a magazine of materials for the student of the Epistle,

without a rival. Huther's and Plummer's commentaries I

have found specially serviceable; but the most original,

beautiful, and profound is Rothe's, of which, it is somewhat

surprising to find, no full translation has yet appeared.

I desire, besides, to acknowledge obligation to J. M. Gibbon's

Eternal Life, a remarkably fine popular exposition of the

Epistle; and to Professor E. F. Scott's Fourth Gospel, for

the clear light which that able work throws upon not a

few important points as well as for much provocative

stimulus. But there is no book (except Bruder's Concord-

ance) to which I have been more indebted than to

Moulton's Grammar of New Testament Greek, the next

volume of which is impatiently awaited.

            Professor H. R. Mackintosh, D.D., of New College,

and the Rev. Thomas S. Dickson, M.A., Edinburgh, have

placed me under deep obligation by exceptionally generous

and valuable help in proof-reading. Mr. David Duff, B.D.,

not only has rendered equal service in this respect, but has


                                    Preface                                     xi


subjected the book, even in its preparatory stages, to a

rigorous but always helpful criticism—a labour of friendship

for which I find it difficult to express in adequate terms

the gratitude that I owe and feel. Finally, I am grateful,

by anticipation, to every reader who will make generous

allowance for the fact, that the preparation of this volume

has been carried through amid the incessant demands of

a busy city pastorate, and who will attribute to this cause

some of the defects which he will, no doubt, discover in it.



EDINBURGH, January 1909.









CHAP.                                                                                                                        PAGE

I.     STYLE AND STRUCTURE                                                                              1

II.   THE POLEMICAL AIM                                                                         25

III.  THE WRITER                                                                                                     39

IV.  THE DOCTRINE OF GOD AS LIFE AND LIGHT .                           52


            Excursus on the Correlation of Righteousness and Love              80

VI.   THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST                                                             89


            Note on xri?sma)                                                                                         108

VIII. THE DOCTRINE OF SIN AND THE WORLD                                              128

IX.    THE DOCTRINE OF PROPITIATION                                                           156

X.      ETERNAL LIFE                                                                                              184

XI.     THE TEST QF RIGHTEOUSNESS                                                    208

XII.    THE TEST OF LOVE                                                                          231

XIII.   THE TEST OF BELIEF (with appended Note on pisteu<ein)                    258

XIV.   THE DOCTRINE OF ASSURANCE                                                 279

XV.    THE GROWTH OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE                            306

XVI.   ESCHATOLOGY (with appended Note on Antichrist)                               315


             NOTE ON ginwskei?n AND ei]de<nai                                                        364

             NOTES                                                                                                          368

             INDEXES                                                                                                      415




The following works are referred to as follows, other titles being

cited in full:


ABBOTT                    Johannine Vocabulary (A. & C. Black, 1905), and Johannine

                                       Grammar (A. & C. Black, 1906).

BEYSCHLAG            Neutestamentliche Theologie. Zweite Auflage. Halle, 1896.

CANDLISH                The First Epistle of St. John. A. & C. Black, 1897.

DB                              A Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. by Dr. Hastings. T. & T.

                                        Clark, 1898-1904.

EBRARD                    Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John. T. & T.

                                        Clark, 1860.

GIBBON                    Eternal Life. By the Rev. J. M. Gibbon. Dickinson, 1890.

GRILL                        Untersuchungen uber die Entstehung des vierten Evan-

                                        geliums. J. C. B. Mohr, 1902.

HAUPT                       The First Epistle of St. John. Clark's Foreign Theological

                                         Library, 1879.

HOLTZMANN          Hand-Commentr. zum Neuen Testament. Vierter Band.

                                         Freiburg i. B. 1891.

HARING                    Theologische Ablzandlungen zum Carl von Weizsacker

                                         gewidmet. Freiburg i. B. 1892.

HUTHER                    Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of

                                         James and John   T. & T. Clark, 1882.

JPT                              Jahrbucher fur protestantische Theologie.

LUCKE                      Commentary on the Epistles of St. John.


MAURICE                 The Epistles of St. John. Macmillan & Co., 1857.

MOULTON                Grammar of New Testament Greek. Vol. i. T. & T.

                                        Clark, 1906.

PFLEIDERER            Das Urhristentnm. Zweite Auflage. Berlin, 1902.

PLUMMER               The Epistles of S. John. In the Cambridge Greek Testa-

                                         ment for Schools and Colleges.

ROTHE                       Der erste Brief Johannes. Wittenberg, 1875.

SCOTT                        The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and Theology. T. & T.

                                         Clark:, 1906.

STEVENS                   The Johannine Theology. Scribner's Sons, 1904.

WEISS                        Die drei Briefe des Apostel Johannis. Von Dr. Bernhard

                                         Weiss. Gottingen, 1900.

WEIZSACKER          The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church. Second edition,

                                          Williams & Norgate, 1897.

WESTCOTT               The Epistles of St. John. Third edition. Macmillan & Co.,










                                                CHAPTER I.



                                    STYLE AND STRUCTURE.


ON a first perusal of the Epistle, the effect of which one can

at least try to imagine, the appreciative reader could not

fail to receive a deep impression of the strength and direct-

ness of the writer's spiritual intuition, and to be charmed

by the clear-cut gnomic terseness of many of his sayings;

but not less, perhaps, would he be impressed by what

might seem to him the marks of mental limitation and

literary resourcelessness,—the paucity of ideas, the poverty

of vocabulary, the reiteration, excessive for so brief a com-

position, of the same thoughts in nearly the same language,

the absence of logical concatenation or of order in the pro-

gress of thought. The impression might be, indeed, that

there is no such progress, but that the thought, after sundry

gyrations, returns ever to the same point. As one reads

the Epistle to the Romans, it seems as if to change the

position of a single paragraph would be as impossible as to

lift a stone out of a piece of solid masonry and build it

in elsewhere; here it seems as if, while the things said are

of supreme importance, the order in which they are said

matters nothing. This estimate of the Epistle has been


2                      The First Epistle of St. John


endorsed by those who are presumed to speak with

authority. Its method has been deemed purely aphoristic;

as if the aged apostle, pen in hand, had merely rambled on

along an undefined path, bestrewing it at every step with

priceless gems, the crystallizations of a whole lifetime of

deep and loving meditation. The "infirmity of old age"

(S. G. Lange) is detected in it; a certain "indefiniteness,"

a lack of "logical force," a "tone of childlike feebleness"

(Baur); an "absolute indifference to a strictly logical and

harmoniously ascending development of ideas" (Julicher).

It is perhaps venturesome, therefore, to express the opinion

that the more closely one studies the Epistle the more one

discovers it to be, in its own unique way, one of the most

closely articulated pieces of writing in the New Testament;

and that the style, simple and unpremeditated as it is, is

singularly artistic.

            The almost unvarying simplicity1 of syntactical struc-

ture, the absence of connecting, notably of illative, particles,2

and, in short, the generally Hebraic type of composition

have been frequently remarked upon; yet I am not sure

that the closeness with which the style has been moulded

upon the Hebraic model, especially upon the parallelistic

forms of the Wisdom Literature, has been sufficiently

recognised. One has only to read the Epistle with an

attentive ear to perceive that, though using another lan-

guage, the writer had in his own ear, all the time, the

swing and the cadences of Old Testament verse. With

the exception of the Prologue and a few other periodic

passages, the majority of sentences divide naturally into

two or three or four sti<xoi.

            Two-membered sentences are common, both synthetic

and antithetic, which are strongly reminiscent of the


            1 The writer's efforts in more complex constructions are not felicitous. Cf.

e.g. 227 59.

            2 de< occurs with only one-third of its usual frequency; me<n, te, ou#n, do not

occur at all; ga<r, only thrice.


                                    Style and Structure                           3


Hebrew distich.  Examples of the synthetic variety are:

            "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light,

            And there is none occasion of stumbling in him'' (210);


            "Hereby know we love, because He laid down His life for us:

            And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (316).


Of the antithetic, one may quote:

            “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof:

            But he that docth the will of God abideth for ever” (217);


            "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not:

            Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him" (36).


            Commoner still are sentences of three members, which,

in the same way, may be called tristichs; as:

            "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also,

            That ye also may have fellowship with us:

            Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus

                        Christ" (13);


            "Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you,

            But an old commandment which ye had from the beginning:

            The old commandment is the word which ye heard" (27).


Resemblances to the tetrastich also are found:

            "For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world:

            And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

            Who is he that overcometh the world,

            But he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God" (54-5);


            "Little children, it is the last hour:

            And as ye heard that Antichrist cometh,

            Even now have arisen many Antichrists ;

            Whereby we know that it is the last hour" (218).1


            The Epistle presents examples, also, of more elaborate

combinations: as in 16-22     where the alternating verses


            1 An instance of "introverted" parallelism, in which the first and fourth

lines, and the second and third, answer to each other.

4                      The First Epistle of St. John


6. 8. 10 and 7. 9   21 are exquisitely balanced both in thought

and expression1; and in 2 12-14, where we have a double

parallel tristich:


            "I write . . . I write ... I write:

            I have written ... I have written . . . I have written."


            The author's literary art achieves its finest effects

in such passages as 2 7-11 and 2 15-17 (where one could

fancy that he has unconsciously dropped into a strophic

arrangement of lines), and in the closing verses of

the Epistle (5 18-21) consisting of alternating tristichs

and distichs:

            "We know that every one that is begotten of God sinneth not;

            But he that was begotten of God keepeth himself,

            And the Wicked One toucheth him not.


                        We know that we are of God,

                        And the whole world lieth in the Wicked One.


            We know that the Son of God is come,

            And hath given us an understanding to know the True One,

            And we are in the True One, in His Son Jesus Christ.


                        This is the True God, and Life Eternal;

                        Little children, guard yourselves from idols."2


            It is not suggested that there is in the Epistle a

conscious imitation of Hebraic forms; but it is evident, I

think, that no one could have written as our author does

whose whole style of thought and expression had not been

unconsciously formed upon Old Testament models.


            1 The structure is broken by the interjected address, "My little children,

these things write I unto you that ye sin not." This being removed, the con-

tinuation of the parallelism is clear.

            2 In the Expository Times (June November 1897) there is an interesting series

of articles by Professor Briggs on the presence of Hebrew poetical forms in

the N.T. He does not touch on the Johannine writings; but his method, if

applied to the Epistle, would yield results beyond what I have ventured to



                                    Style and Structure                            5


            But we pass to the more important topic, the structure

of the Epistle. As has been already said, the impression

left upon some, who cannot be supposed to have been

cursory readers, is that the Epistle has no logical struc-

ture, exhibits no ordered progression of thought. And this

estimate has a measure of support in the fact that there is

no portion of Scripture regarding the plan of which there

has been greater diversity of opinion. It is nevertheless


            The word that, to my mind, might best describe St.

John's mode of thinking and writing in this Epistle is

"spiral." The course of thought does not move from point

to point in a straight line. It is like a winding staircase--

always revolving around the same centre, always recurring

to the same topics, but at a higher level. Or, to borrow

a term from music, one might describe the method as

contrapuntal. The Epistle works with a comparatively

small number1 of themes, which are introduced many times,

and are brought into every possible relation to one another.

As some master-builder of music takes two or three

melodious phrases and, introducing them in due order,

repeating them, inverting them, skilfully interlacing them

in diverse modes and keys, rears up from them an edifice

of stately harmonies; so the Apostle weaves together a

few leading ideas into a majestic fugue in which unity of

material and variety of tone and effect are wonderfully

blended. And the clue to the structure of the Epistle will

be found by tracing the introduction and reappearances of

these leading themes.

            These1 are Righteousness, Love, and Belief. For

here let me say at once that, in my view, the key to the

interpretation of the Epistle is the fact that it is an


            1 The following list includes most, if not all, of the leading ideas found in the

Epistle—God, True One, idols—rather, begotten of God, children of God,—Son

of God, Word of Life, Christ come in the flesh, Jesus—Spirit, spirits—Anointing,

teaching, witnessing—word, message, announcing--truth, lie, error—beholding,


6                      The First Epistle of St. John


apparatus of tests; that its definite object is to furnish

its readers with an adequate set of criteria by which

they may satisfy themselves of their being "begotten of

God." "These things write I unto you, that ye may

know that ye have eternal life" (513) And throughout the

Epistle these tests are definitely, inevitably, and in-

separably—doing righteousness; loving one another; and

believing that Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh, sent

by the Father to be the Saviour of the world. These

are the connecting themes that bind together the whole

structure of the Epistle. After the prologue, in fact, it

consists of a threefold repetition and application of these

three fundamental tests of the Christian life. In proof of

this statement let us, in the first instance, examine those

sections of the Epistle in which the sequence of thought

is most clearly exhibited. The first of these is 23-28,

which divides itself naturally into three paragraphs, (A)

23-6(B) 27-17 (C) 218-28.

            Here A (23-6) obviously consists of a threefold state-

ment, with significant variations, of the single idea, that

righteousness ("keeping His commandments," "keeping

His word," "walking, even as He walked") is the indis-

pensable test of "knowing God" and "abiding in Him."

In B (27-17) the current of thought is interrupted by the

parenthetical passage, 212-14; but, this being omitted, it

is apparent that here, also, we have a paragraph formed

upon one principal idea--Love the test of the Christian

Life, the test being applied positively in 27-11 (the

"new commandment"), and negatively in 215-17 ("Love

not the world"). In C (213-25), again, the unity is obvious.


believing, knowing, confessing, denying—brotherhood, fellowship—righteousness,

commandment, word of God, will of God, things that are pleasing in His sight--

sin, lawlessness, unrighteousness—world, flesh, Antichrist, Devil—blood, water,

propitiation, Paraclete, forgiveness, cleansing—abiding, passing away—Begin-

ning, last hour—parousia, Day of Judgment, manifestation, hope—boldness,

fear—asking, receiving—overcoming.


                            Style and Structure                            7


The theme of the paragraph is—the Christian life tested

by Belief of the truth, of which the Anointing Spirit is the

supreme Witness and Teacher, that Jesus is the Christ and

the Son of God.

            If, next, we examine the part of the Epistle that extends

from 229—46, we find precisely the same topics recurring in

precisely the same order. We have again three paragraphs

(A) 229-310a, (B) 310b-24a and (C) 324b-46. And, again, it is

evident that in A we have the test of Righteousness, in

B the test of Love, and in C the test of Belief.

            In the third great section of the Epistle (47-521)

though the sequence  of thought is somewhat different,

the thought-material is identical; and for the present it is

sufficient to point out that the leading themes, the tests

of Love (47-12 and 416b-21), Belief (413-16a and 55-12), and

Righteousness (518, 19) are all present, and that they alone

are present.

            We seem, then, to have found a natural division of the

Epistle into three main sections, or, as they might be most

descriptively called, "cycles," in each of which the same

fundamental thoughts appear, in each of which the reader

is summoned to bring his Christian life to the test of

Righteousness, of Love, and of Belief. With this as a

working hypothesis, I shall now endeavour to give an

analysis of the contents of the Epistle.

            Passing by the Prologue (11-4), we have the


                                    FIRST CYCLE, 15-228


            Walking in the Light tested by Righteousness, Love,

                                    and Belief


            It begins with the announcement, which is the basis of

the whole section, that "God is Light, and in Him is no

darkness at all" (15). And, since what God is determines


8                      The First Epistle of St. John


the condition of fellowship with Him, this is set forth: first,

negatively (16)—"If we say that we have fellowship with

Him and walk in darkness"; then positively (17)—"If we

walk in the Light as He is in the Light." What, then, is

it to walk in the Light, and what to walk in darkness?

The answer to these questions is given in all that follows,

down to 228.


                        PARAGRAPH A, (1) 18-26


Walking in the Light tested by Righteousness: first, in

confession of sin (13—22); secondly, in actual obedience


            The first fact upon which the Light of God impinges

in human life is Sin; and the first test of walking in the

Light is sincere recognition of the true nature, the guilti-

ness, of Sin (1 8.9). Again, this test is applied negatively--

“If we say that we have no sin,” and positively—"If we

confess our sins."

            But, in the Light of God, not only is Sin, wherever

present, recognised in its true character as guilt; it is

revealed as universally present. Whence arises a second

test of walking in the Light—"If we say that we, have not

sinned, we make Him a liar," etc.

            What follows is very significant. Obviously the

writer had intended to continue—"If we confess that we

have sinned, we have a Paraclete with the Father, Jesus

Christ the Righteous" (thus carrying forward the parallel

series of antitheses: 16.8. 10 = walking in darkness, 17. 9


            1 In order to avoid complexities in our preliminary survey, 23 was taken as

the starting-point, the structure being more clearly marked from that point

onward. But this first Cycle really includes the whole from 15. The verses

(18-22) which deal with the confession and removal of sin and those (23-6)

which deal with conduct, are both included in the ethical guarantee of the

Christian Life. That recognition of sin in the Light of God and that renunciation

of it which are involved in its sincere confession are inseparable in experience

from the "keeping of God's commandments" and "walking as Christ walked,"—

are the back and the front, so to say, of the same moral attitude toward life.


                                    Style and Structure                            9


and what would have been 111 = walking in the light). But

before he writes this, his pen is arrested by the sudden fear

that some might be so infatuated as to wrest these broad

evangelical statements into a pretext for moral laxity. He

therefore interposes the earnest caveat, "My little children,

these things write I unto you, that ye sin not"; then

carries forward the train of thought in slightly different

forms, "And if any man sin," etc. (21. 2).

            But if confession of sin is the test of walking in the

Light, confession itself is to be tested by its fruits in new

obedience. If impenitence, the "lie" of the conscience (18),

renders fellowship with God impossible, no less does dis-

obedience, the "lie" of the life (24). This is the purport

of the verses that follow (23-6). Christian profession is to

be submitted to the test of Christian conduct; of which a

threefold description is given—"keeping God's command-

ments" (23); "keeping His word" (25); and "walking even

as He (Christ) walked" (26). With this the first application

of the test of Righteousness is completed.


                        PARAGRAPH B, 27-17.


            Walking in the Light tested by Love.


            (A) Positively—the old-new commandment (27-11).

            This is linked on to the immediately preceding verses

by the word "commandment." Love is the commandment

which is "old," familiar to the Apostle's readers from their

first acquaintance with the rudiments of Christianity (27);

but also "new," a commandment which is ever fresh and

living to those who have fellowship with Christ in the True

Light, which is now shining forth (28). But from this

follows necessarily, that "He that saith he is in the light, and

hateth his brother, is in darkness." The antithesis of 28.9

is then repeated, with variation and enrichment of thought,


10                     The First Epistle of St. John


in 210.11 (Then follow the parenthetical verses 12-14, the

motive for the insertion of which will be discussed else-

where.1 These being treated as a parenthesis, the unity of

the paragraph at once becomes apparent.)

            (B) Negatively. The commandment to love is com-

pleted by the great "Love not" (215-17) If walking in the

light has its guarantee in loving one's "brother," it is tested

no less by not loving the "world." One cannot at the

same time participate in the life of God and in a moral life

which is dominated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the

eyes, and the vainglory of the world.


                        PARAGRAPH C, 218-28


             Walking in the Light tested by Belief.


            The Light of God not only reveals Sin and Righteous-

ness, the children of God (our "brother") and the "world"

in their true character, so that, walking in that Light, men

must confess Sin and follow after Righteousness, love their

"brother" and not love the "world"; it also reveals Jesus in

His true character as the Christ, the Incarnate Son of God.

And all that calls itself Christianity is to be tested by its

reception or its rejection of that truth. In this paragraph,

it is true, the Light and the Darkness are not expressly

referred to. But the continuity of thought with the preced-

ing paragraphs is unmistakable. Throughout the whole of

this first division of the Epistle the point of view is that of

Fellowship with God, through receiving and walking in the

Light which His self-revelation sheds upon all things in

the spiritual realm. Unreal Christianity in every form is

comprehensively a "lie." It may be the Antinomian lie of

him who says "he has no sin" (18), and, on the other hand,

is indifferent to keeping God's commandments (24); the

lie of lovelessness (29); or the lie of the Antichrist who,


            1 See Chapter XV.


                            Style and Structure                                 11


claiming spiritual enlightenment, denies that Jesus is the

Christ (222). Every one who does this asserts what is

untrue and impossible, if he say or suppose that, while

thus walking in darkness, he has fellowship with God, who

is Light. Minuter analysis of this paragraph is, for our

present purpose, unnecessary.


                        SECOND CYCLE, 229-46.


  Divine Sonship tested by Righteousness, Love, and Belief.


            The first main division of the Epistle began with the

assertion of what God is relatively to us--Light; and from

this it deduced the condition of our fellowship with Him.

The light of God's self-revelation in Christ becomes to us

the light in which we behold ourselves, our sin, our duty,

our brother, the world, the reality of the Incarnation; and

only in acknowledging the "truth" thus revealed and

loyally acting it out can we have fellowship with God.

The point of view is ethical and psychological. This

second division, on the other hand, begins with the asser-

tion of what the Divine nature is in itself, and thence

deduces the essential characteristics of those who are

"begotten of God." Righteousness, Love, Confession of

Christ arc the proofs, because the results, of participation

in the Divine nature; Sin, Hate, Denial of Christ, the proofs

of non-participation. The point of view is, predominantly,

biological. The key-word is "begotten of God."


                      PARAGRAPH A, 229-310a


          Divine Sonship tested by Righteousness.


            Here (229) the idea of the Divine Begetting is intro-

duced for the first time. And, as the first test applied to

Fellowship in the Light was the attitude toward Sin and


12                      The First Epistle of St. John


Righteousness, so, likewise, it is the first applied to the life

of Divine sonship. As the Light convicts of sin and at the

same time reveals both the content and the absolute

imperative of Righteousness, so the Divine Life begotten in

man has a twofold action.1 The identity of the human

will with the Divine, which is the necessary result of the

community of nature, reveals itself both in "doing right-

eousness" and in entire antagonism to sin. "If ye know

that He is righteous, know that every one also that doeth

righteousness is begotten of Him." But here the writer is

immediately arrested by the wonder and thanksgiving that

fill and overflow his soul at the thought that sinful men

should be brought into such a relation as this to God.

"Behold what manner of love!" (31a). This leads him

further to contemplate, first, the present concealment of the

glory of the children of God (31b); then, the splendour of

its future manifestation (32); and, finally, the thought that

the fulfilment of this hope is necessarily conditioned by

present endeavour after moral likeness to Christ leads back

to the main theme of the paragraph, that the life of Divine

sonship is, by necessity of nature, one of absolute Right-

eousness, of truceless opposition to sin (34-10a) This is

now exhibited in a fourfold light: (1) in the light of what

sin is, lawlessness (34); (2) in the light of Christ—the

purpose of all that is revealed in Christ is the removal and

abolition of sin (35-7); (3) in the light of the Divine

origin of the Christian life—only that which is sinless can

derive from God (39. 10a); (4) intertwined with these

cardinal arguments there is a fourth, that all that is of the

nature of sin comes from a source which is the antithesis

of the Divine, and which is in active hostility to the work

of Christ—the Devil (38-10a) The last clause of the para-

graph reverts to and logically completes the proposition

with which it began. To the positive, "Every one that


            1 The parallelism is strikingly close. Cf. 33 with 26, 36a with 25b, 36b with 24.


                            Style and Structure                                    13


doeth righteousness is begotten of God " (220), is added the

negative," Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of

God" (310b).  The circle is completely drawn.  The

"begotten of God" include all who “do righteousness”;

all who do not are excluded.


                          PARAGRAPH B, 310b-24a


                      Divine Sonship tested by Love.


            In structure, this paragraph is less regular; its contents

are not so closely knit to the leading thought. But what

this leading thought is, is clearly fixed at the beginning:

"He that loveth not his brother is not begotten of God"

(310b). That brotherly love is the test of Divine sonship is

the truth that dominates the whole. Instead, however, of

developing this thought dialectically, the Apostle does so,

in the first instance, pictorially; setting before us two

figures, Cain and Christ, as the prototypes of Hate and

Love. The contemplation of Cain and of the disposition

out of which the first murder sprang (312), suggests paren-

thetically an explanation of the World's hatred of the

children of God (313); but, chiefly, the truth that in loving

our brethren we have a reliable guarantee that we have

passed from death unto life (314); while, on the other hand,

whosoever hateth his brother is potentially a murderer and

assuredly cannot have the Life of God abiding in him (315).

Next, in glorious contrast to the sinister figure of Cain, who

sacrificed his brother's life to his morbid self-love, the

Apostle sets before us the figure of Christ who sacrificed

His own life in love to us, His brethren (316a); and draws

the inevitable inference that our life, if one with His, must

obey the same spiritual law (316b).  In 317 this test is

brought within the scope of everyday opportunity; and is

followed (318) by a fervent exhortation to love "not in


14                The First Epistle of St. John


word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth."

This introduces a restatement of the purport of the whole

paragraph—that such Love is the test of all Divine sonship,

and affords a valid and accessible ground of assurance

before God, even should our own hearts condemn us

(319. 20). In the remainder of the paragraph the subject of

assurance and its relation to prayer is further dwelt upon

(321.22). And, finally, in setting forth the grounds upon

which such assurance rests, the Apostle combines all the

three cardinal tests—Righteousness ("keeping His com-

mandments," 322), Belief ("in the name of His Son Jesus

Christ," 323a), and Love (323b). All these are, in fact,

"commandments," and he that keepeth them abideth in

God, and God in him (321a).


                            PARAGRAPH C, 324b-46


                       Divine Sonship tested by Belief.


            Here, again, the test to be applied is broadly and

clearly indicated at the outset. "Hereby know we that

He abideth in us, by the Spirit1 which He hath given us."

As in the corresponding paragraph 213-28, so here also the

argument is conducted in view of the concrete historical

situation, upon the consideration of which we do not now

enter. The essence of the paragraph lies in 42. 3b and 6b:

"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every spirit that

confesseth that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh is of

God; and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of


            1 It is necessary to say here, although a fuller discussion will be given later,

that, in the Epistle, the Spirit is regarded solely as the Spirit of Truth, whose

function is to testify of Christ, to reveal the Divine glory of His Person, to

inspire belief in Him, and to prompt confession of Him as the Incarnate Son of

God. The "knowing" by "the Spirit which God hath given us "is not

immediate but inferential. It does not proceed from any direct subjective

testimony that "God abideth in us," but is an inference from the fact that God

hath given us that Spirit without whom no man calleth Jesus Lord.


                                  Style anal Structure                            15


God." "By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit

of error."

            To recur to the general structure of the Epistle, it may

be noted that we have found the first and second "cycles"

corresponding exactly in subject-matter and in order of

development. In 15-26 and in 229-310a the Christian life

has been tested by its attitude to Sin and Righteousness,

in 27-17 and in 310b-24a by Love, and in 218-28 and 324b-46 by



                         THIRD CYCLE, 47-521


        Inter-relations of Love, Belief, and Righteousness.


            In this closing section the Epistle rises to its loftiest

heights; but the logical analysis of it is the hardest part

of our task. The subject-matter is identical with that

which has been already twice used, not a single new idea

being introduced except that of the "sin unto death." But

the order and proportion of treatment are different; the

test of Righteousness takes here a subordinate place (52.3

518); and the whole "Cycle" may be broadly divided into

two sections, the first, 47-53a, in which the dominant

theme is Love (with, however, the Christological passage

413-15 embedded in it); the second, 53b-21, in which it is

Belief. The same practical purpose is still steadfastly

adhered to as in the preceding "Cycles"—the application

of the three great tests to everything that calls itself

Christian. But here an additional aim is, I think, partly

discernible, namely, to bring out the necessary connections

and inter-relations of Righteousness, Love, and Belief.

Hitherto the writer has been content to exhibit these

simply as collateral elements in the Christian life, each

and all indispensable to its genuineness. He has made

no serious effort to show why these three elements must

coalesce in the unity of life,—why the Life of which one


16                  The First Epistle of St. John


manifestation is Belief in the Incarnation must also manifest

itself in keeping God's commandments and loving one

another. Here, however, as he traverses the same ground

for the third time, he does seem to be feeling after a closer

articulation. Thus in 49-16 the inner connection between

Belief and Love is strongly suggested; in 52.3a we find

the synthesis of Love and Righteousness; and in 53b-5,

the synthesis of Righteousness and Belief. Without

asserting that the writer's conscious purpose in this third

handling of his material was to exhibit these interdepen-

dencies, it may be said that in this consists its distinctive



                                SECTION I. 47-53a.




                              PARAGRAPH A, 47-13


                               The genesis of Love.


            Christian Love is deduced from its Divine source.

Regarding Love, the same declaration, precisely and

verbally, is now made as was formerly made regarding

Righteousness (229). "God is Love"; and every one that

loveth is begotten of God (47 and, negatively, 48). But

here, feeling his way to a correlation of Love and Belief,

St. John advances to the further statement, that the mission

of Christ alone is the perfect revelation of the fact that the

nature of God is Love (49); nay, that it furnishes the one

absolute revelation of the nature of Love itself (410).

From this follows the inevitable consequence, "If God so

loved us, we ought also to love one another" (411); and

the assurance that, if we love one another, the invisible God

abideth in us; His nature is incorporate with ours; His

Love is fulfilled in us (412).


                           Style and Structure                           17


                     PARAGRAPH B, 410-16


               The synthesis of Love and Belief.


            As in 220-28 and 324b-46, the gift of the Spirit, by whom

confession is made of Jesus as the Son of God, is cited

as proof that God abideth in us and we in Him (413-15),

and seems to be merely collateral with the proof

already adduced from "loving one another" (412). But it

becomes evident, on closer examination, that the two

paragraphs (47-12 and 413-16) stand in some more intimate

relation than this. We observe the parallel statements,

"If we love one another, God abideth in us" (412); then,

"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God,

God abideth in him and he in God" (415); then a second

time, "He that abideth in love abideth in God, and God

in him" (416). We observe, further, that the confession of

Jesus as the Son of God (416) is paralleled by the statement

that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the

world" (414), which points back to that revelation of God

as Love (49. 10) in which the moral obligation and spiritual

necessity of loving one another have been already disclosed

(411). And we observe, finally, that the confession of

Jesus as the Son of God, sent by the Father to be the

Saviour of the world (414. 15), is personally appropriated

in this, "We know and have believed the Love which God

hath toward us," followed by the reiterated "God is Love;

and he that abideth in Love abideth in God, and God in

him" (416). Thus closely observing the structure of the

passage, we cannot doubt that the writer is labouring to

express the truth that Christian Belief and Christian Love

are not merely concomitant, but vitally one. Yet, what

the interrelation of the two is in the Apostle's mind;

which, if either, is anterior and instrumental to the

other; whether we are begotten through the medium of

spiritual perception into love, or through the medium of


18               The First Epistle of St. John


love into spiritual perception, it would be hazardous

to say.


                       PARAGRAPH C, 417-53a


     The effects, motives, and manifestations of Love.


            1. The effect of Love is assurance toward God (417. 18).

It is a notable example of the symmetry with which the

Epistle is constructed that the sequence of thought here is

minutely the same as in 319. 20. Here, as there, Love has,

as its immediate result, confidence toward God; and

with precisely the same condition, that Love be in "deed

and in truth" (cf. 318. 19 with 420)

            2. The motives to brotherly Love: These are God's

love to us (419), the only possible response to which is

to love one's brother (420); the express commandment of

Christ (421); and the instincts of spiritual kinship (51).1

            3. The synthesis of Love and Righteousness.

            This is exhibited in a two-fold light. True love to

man is righteous, and is possible only to those who love

God and keep His commandments (52). True love to ,God

consists in keeping His commandments (53a).


                           SECTION II. 53b-21




                     PARAGRAPH A, 53b-12


The power, contents, basis, and issue of Christian Belief


            It may seem sufficiently arbitrary to make the clause

"And His commandments are not grievous" the point of


            1 Throughout this portion of the Epistle, each thought is so closely inter-

locked, as well with what precedes as with what follows, that it is impossible to

divide it at any point which shall not seem more or less arbitrary. I have made

52 the beginning of a subsection; but obviously it is also the requisite com-

plement to 51. There, loving "him that is begotten" is the sign and test of loving

"Him that begat"; here, conversely, loving God and "keeping His command-

ments" is the sign and test of “loving the children of God.”


                         Style and Structure                                 19


departure for a new paragraph. But so closely is the

texture of thought woven in these verses, that the same

objection would apply equally to any other line of division.

There is, however, an obvious transition in 53-5 from the

topic of Love to that of Belief; and it seems most suitable

to regard the transition as effected at this point, "This is

the Love of God, that we keep His commandments," is

St. John's last word concerning Love. All that is now to

be said has as its subject, more or less directly, Belief.

And, while the clause "and His commandments are not

grievous" is intimately linked on to the first half of the verse

by the common topic "commandments," it introduces an

entirely new train of thought.

            1. The synthesis of Belief and Righteousness (53b. 4)

God's commandments are not burdensome to the believer.

That which would make them burdensome, the power of

the world, is overcome by the victorious divine power

given to every one who is "begotten of God"; and the

medium through which the victorious power is imparted is

our Christian Belief,

            2. The substance of Christian Belief is that "Jesus is

the Son of God, even He that came by water and by

blood”  (55. 6)

            3. Next, the basis on which it rests is: the witness of

the Spirit (57); the coincident witness of the Spirit, the

water and the blood (58); which is the witness of God

Himself (59); and which, when received, becomes an

inward and immediate assurance, a self-evidencing certitude

(510a). On the other hand, to reject this witness is to

make God a liar (510b)

            4. The issue of Christian Belief. The witness of God

to His Son Jesus Christ is fundamentally this, that He is

the source of paternal Life to men (517). This Life is

the present possession of all who spiritually possess Him

and to be without Him is to be destitute of it (512).


20                   The First Epistle of St. John


            The end of the paragraph thus answers sublimely to

its beginning. That which has eternal life in it (512) must

conquer, and alone can conquer, the world, whose life is

bound up with transitory aims and objects. Because it

makes the truth that "he that doeth the will of God abideth

for ever" a living power, faith wins its everlasting victory

over the world which "passeth away with the lust thereof."


                       PARAGRAPH B, 513-21


           The conscious certainties of Christian Belief.


            1. Its certainty of Eternal Life. To promote this in

all who believe in the name of the Son of God is the

Apostle's purpose in writing this Epistle (513).

            2. Its certainty regarding Prayer (514-17) If we

ask anything according to God's Will, He heareth us"

(514); and, consequently, we have these things for which

we have made petition (515). An example of the things

which we may ask with assurance is "life" for a brother

who sins "a sin not unto death" (516a); and an example of

the things regarding which we may not pray with such

confidence is the restoration of a brother who has com-

mitted sin unto death (516b).  To this is appended a

statement regarding the nature and effect of sin (517).

            3. The certainty regarding the regenerate Life, that

Righteousness is its indefeasible characteristic, that it is a

life of uncompromising antagonism to all sin (518).

            4. The certainty as to the profound moral contrast

between the Christian life and the life of the world (519)

            5. The certainty of Christian Belief as to the facts

upon which it rests, and the supernatural power which has

quickened it to perception of those facts (520a)

            Then with a final reiteration of the whole purport of

the Epistle, "This is the true God and Eternal Life" (520b),

and an abrupt and sternly affectionate call to all believers

                       Style and Structure                21


to beware of yielding the homage of their trust and depen-

dence to the vain shadows which are ever apt to usurp the

place of the True God, the Epistle ends, "Little children,

keep yourselves from idols" (521).




                               THE PROLOGUE, 11-4.


                              FIRST CYCLE, 15-228





15. The fundamental announcement. "God is Light."


                            PARAGRAPH A, 16-26

16-7. General statement of the condition of fellowship with God, Who

            is Light.

18-26. Walking- in the Light tested by the altitude to Sin and Righteous-


  To walk in the Darkness.                           To walk in the Light.

a. To deny sin as guilt, 18.                            a. To confess sin as guilt, 19.

b. To deny sin as fact, 110.                            b. To confess sin as fact, 21,2.

g. To say that we know God and not            g. To keep His commandments, 23.

            keep His commandments, 24.           d. To keep His word, 25.

d. Not to walk as Christ walked, 26. e. To walk as Christ walled. 26.


                                     PARAGRAPH B, 27-17.

                          Walking in the Lid ht tested by Love.

         (a) By love of one's brother (vv. 7-11)

             [Parenthetic address to the readers (vv.12-14).]

          (b) By not loving the World


                                   PARAGRAPH C, 218-28

                      Walking in the Light tested be Belief

218. Rise of the antichrists.

219. Their relation to the Church.

220.21. The source and guarantee of the true Belief.

222.23. The crucial test of Truth and Error.

224. 25. Exhortation to steadfastness.

223-27. Reiterated statement of the source and guarantee of the true


228. Repeated exhortation to steadfastness.


22                           The First Epistle of St. John


                             SECOND CYCLE, 229-46


                                BY THE SAME TESTS.


                              PARAGRAPH A, 229-310.

                     Divine Sonship tested by Righteousness.


229. This test inevitable.

31-3. The present status and the future manifestation of the

            children of God: the possession of this hope conditioned

            by assimilation to the purity of Christ.

34-10a. The absolute contrariety of the life of Divine Sonship to

            all sin.

a. In the light of the moral authority of God (v.4).

b. In the light of Christ's character and of the purpose of His

            mission (vv.5-7 ).

g. In the light of the origin of Sin (v.8).

d. In the light of its own Divine source (v.9).

e. In the light of fundamental moral contrasts (v.10a)


                             PARAGRAPH B, 310b-24a

                       Divine Sonship tested by Love.


310. 11              This test inevitable.

312.      Cain the prototype of Hate.

313.      Cain's spirit reproduced in the World.

314a.     Love, the sign of having passed from Death unto Life.

314b.15  The absence of it, the sign of abiding in Death.

316       Christ the prototype of Love; the obligation thus laid

                 upon us.

317.18  Genuine Love consists not in words but in deeds.

319-22. The confidence toward God resulting from such Love,

                 especially in Prayer.

323.24b                  Recapitulatory; combining, under the category of His

                 "commandment," Love and also belief on His Son

            Jesus Christ. Thus a transition is effected to Paragraph C.


                    PARAGRAPH C, 324b-46.

               Divine Sonship tested by Belief.

324b.     This test inevitable.

41.       Exhortation in view of the actual situation.

42.       The true Confession of Faith.

44-6.     The relation thereto of the Church and the World.


                                  Style and Structure                       23


                              THIRD CYCLE, 47-521



                                  SECTION I. 47-53a




                              PARAGRAPH A, 47-12.

                              The genesis of Love.

47.8.     Love indispensable, because God is Love.

49.       The mission of Christ the proof that God is Love.

410.      The mission of Christ the absolute revelation of what Love is.

411.      The obligation thus imposed upon us.

412.      The assurance given in its fulfilment.


                               PARAGRAPH 413-16

                        The synthesis of Belief and Love.

413.      The True Belief indispensable as a guarantee of Christian

                  Life, because the Spirit of God is its author.

414.15. The content of the true Belief, " Jesus is the Son of God."

416.      In this is found the vital ground of Christian Love.


                           PARAGRAPH C, 415-53a

        The effect, motives, and manifestations of love.

417.18  The effect, confidence toward God.

419-51. The motives to Love: (1) God's love to us; (2) the only

                 possible response to which if to love our brother; (3)

                Christ's commandment; (4) the instincts of spiritual


52-3a. The synthesis of Love and Righteousness.


                             SECTION II. 53b-21.



                         PARAGRAPH A, 53b-12.

The power, contents, basis, and issue of Christian Belief.


53b.4     The synthesis of Belief and Righteousness. In Belief lies the

                   power of obedience.

55.6.     The contents of Christian Belief.

57-10.   The evidence upon which it rests.

511.12. Its issue, the possession of Eternal Life.

24                       The First Epistle of St. John


                               PARAGRAPH B, 513-21

                       The certainties of Christian Belief


513.      Its certainty of Eternal Life.

514.15.  Of prevailing in Prayer.

516.      Instance in which such certainty fails.

517.      Appended statement regarding Sin.

518.      Of Righteousness, as the essential characteristic of the

                 Christian Life.

519.      Of the moral gulf between the Christian Life and the life

                 of the World.

520.      Of itself, the facts on which it rests, and the supernatural

                 power which has given perception of these facts.

521.      Final exhortation.


            Note.—After this chapter was completely written, there came into my

hands an article by Theodor Haring in the Theologisclze Abhandlungen

Carl von Weizsizcker gewidnzet (Freiburg, 1892). I am gratified to find

that in this article, which is of great value, the analysis of the Epistle

is on precisely the same lines as that which I have submitted. The

only difference worth noting is that Haring, by combining Righteous-

ness and Love, finds in each "cycle" only two leading tests, which

he calls the "ethical" and the "Christological." This gives a more

logical division; but I am still of opinion that my own is more faithful

to the thought of the Epistle, in which the comprehension of Right-

eousness and Love under any such general conception as "ethical" is

not achieved.






                                    CHAPTER II.






ALTHOUGH explicit controversial allusions in the Epistle

are few, — are limited, indeed, to two passages (218. 19

41-6) in which certain false teachers, designated as "anti-

christs," are unsparingly denounced,--there is no New

Testament writing which is more vigorously polemical in

its whole tone and aim. The truth, which in the same

writer's Gospel shines as the dayspring from on high,

becomes here a searchlight, flashed into a background of


            But, though the polemical intention of the Epistle has

been universally recognised, there has been wide diversity

of opinion as to its actual object. By the older com-

mentators generally, it was found in the perilous state of

the Church, or Churches, addressed. They had left their

"first love"; they had lapsed into Laodicean lukewarmness

and worldliness, so that for them the sense of the absolute

distinction between the Christian and the unchristian in

life and belief had become blurred and feeble. And it

was to arouse them from this lethargy—to sharpen the

dulness of their spiritual perceptions — that the Epistle

was written. But not only does the Epistle nowhere

give any sign of such an intention; it contains many

passages which are inconsistent with it (213. 14. 20. 21. 27

44  518-20)

            Unmistakably its polemic is directed not against such

evils as may at any time, and more or less always do,



26                  The First Epistle of S. John


beset the life of the Church from within, but against a

definite danger threatening it from without. There is a

"spirit of error" (46) abroad in the world. From the Church

itself (219) many false prophets (41) have gone forth, cor-

rupters of the gospel, "antichrists" who would deceive the

very elect. And, not to spend time in statement and

refutation of other views, it may be asserted as beyond

question that the peril against which the Epistle was

intended to arm the Church was the spreading influence

of Gnosticism, and, specifically, of a form of Gnosticism

that was Docetic in doctrine and Antinomian in practice.

A very brief sketch of the essential features of Gnosticism

will suffice to show not only that these are clearly reflected

in the more explicitly controversial utterances of the Epistle,

but that the influence of an anti-Gnostic polemic is traceable

in almost every sentence.

            Of the forces with which Christianity had to do battle

for its career as the universal religion—Jewish legalism,

pagan superstition, Greek speculation, Roman imperialism—

none, perhaps, placed it in sharper hazard than Gnosticism,

that strange, obscure movement, partly intellectual, partly

fanatical, which, in the second century, spread with the

swiftness of an epidemic over the Church from Syria to

Gaul. The rise and spread of Gnosticism forms one of the

dimmest chapters in Church history; and no attempt need

be or can be made here to elucidate its obscurities or

unravel its intricacies. But one fact is clear, Gnosticism

was not, in the proper sense, a "heresy." Although it

became a corrupting influence within the Church, it was

an alien by birth. While the Church yet sojourned within

the pale of Judaism, it enjoyed immunity from this plague;

but, soon as it broke through these narrow bounds, it found

itself in a world where the decaying religions and philo-

sophies of the West were in acute fermentation under the

influence of a new and powerful leaven from the East; while

                     The Polemical Aim of the Epistle                 27


the infusion of Christianity itself into this fermenting mass

only added to the bewildering multiplicity of Gnostic sects

and systems it brought forth.

            That this was the true genesis of Gnosticism,--that it

was the result of an irruption of Oriental religious beliefs

into the Graeco-Roman world,—and that, consequently, it

sought to unite in itself two diverse strains, Western intel-

lectualism and Eastern mysticism, is generally admitted.

Different views are held, however, as to which of these is

to be regarded as the stock upon which the other was

grafted. It has been the fashion with Church historians

of the liberal school to glorify Gnosticism by giving chief

prominence to its philosophical aspect. Oriental elements

it admittedly contained, but these, in its most influential

representatives at least, had been thoroughly permeated

with the Hellenic spirit. In its historical result it was the

"acute Hellenising" of Christianity. The great Gnostics

were the first Christian philosophers; and Gnosticism is to

be regarded as, upon the whole, a progressive force. More

recent investigations and a more concrete study1 of the

subject have tended to discredit this estimate. Naturally,

Gnosticism had to make some kind of terms with Hellenic

culture, as Christianity itself had to do, in order to win

a footing on which it could appeal to those who sought

after "wisdom"; but by much the prepotent strain in this

singular hybrid was Oriental Dualism. Many of the

Gnostic sects were characterised chiefly by a wild,

fanatical, and sometimes obscene cultus; and even in

those which, like the Valentinian, made the most am-

bitious attempts to evolve a philosophy of the universe,

Dualism was still the fundamental and formative principle.

It is far truer to call Gnosticism a reactionary than

a progressive force, and its most eminent leaders the

last upholders of a lost cause, rather than the advance-


            1  v. Bousset's Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, pp. 1-9.

28                      The First Epistle of St. John


guard of intellectual progress.1  But Dualism no less than

Monotheism or Pantheism has its philosophy, its reading

of the riddle of existence; and it is clear that it was by

reason of its speculative pretensions that Gnosticism

acquired its influence in the Church. The name by

which the system came to be designated, the Gnosis,

indicates a claim to a higher esoteric knowledge2 of Divine

things, and a tendency to reckon this the summit of

spritual attainment; a claim and tendency which St. Paul,

as early as his First Epistle to the Corinthians, finds occa-

sion to meet with stern resistance (I Cor. I19-25  81 132),

as engendering arrogance and unbrotherly contempt for

the less enlightened (81. 7-11) This Epistle, it is true,

exhibits no trace of anything that can be distinctively

called Gnosticism; but it does reveal into how congenial

a soil the seeds of Gnosticism were about to fall. In the

Epistle to the Colossians we find that the sower has been at

work; in the Pastoral and other later Epistles, that the

crop is already ripening. The innate pride and selfishness

of the system became more and more apparent as it

took more definite form (I Tim. 63-5, 2 Tim. 32-5). Those

who possessed the higher knowledge were distinguished

from those who were incapable of its possession, as a

superior order, almost a higher species, of believers. The

latter were the unspiritual men, yuxikoi<, pneu?ma mh> e@xontej.3

The highest Christian attainment was that of intellectual

or mystic contemplation. To "know the depths"4 was

esteemed not only above the commonplace facts and

moralities of the gospel, but above love, virtue, and practical

holiness. When this, the general and most pronounced


            1 Bousset, ibid. p. 7.

            2 It is maintained, however, by Bousset (p. 277) that the name Gnosis

primarily signified, not so much a higher intellectual knowledge, as initiation

into the secret and sacramental mysteries of the Gnostic sects.

            3 Jude 19, where the epithet is retorted upon those who used it.

            4 Rev. 224. Cf. Hippolytus, Ref. Haer. v. vi. i.

                            The Polemical Aim of the Epistle            29


feature of Gnosticism, is borne in mind, a vivid light is at

once shed upon many passages in the Epistle. In those,

especially, in which we find the formula "he that saith"

(o[ le<gwn); or an equivalent (e]a>n ei@pwmen, e]a<n tij ei@p^), it

becomes apparent that it is no abstract contingency the

writer has in view, but a definitely recognised case. Thus

in 24-6. 9 we have what may be supposed to be almost verbal

quotations of current forms of Gnostic profession (he that

saith), "I know Him,"1 "I abide in Him," "I am in the

light";2 and in each case the claim, unsupported by its

requisite moral guarantee, is underlined with the writer's

"roughest and blackest pencil-mark" as the statement of

a liar. When we observe, moreover, the prominence which

the Epistle gives throughout to the idea of knowledge, and

the special significance of several of the passages in which

it occurs, the conviction grows that one of the purposes

chiefly aimed at is not only to refute the arrogant claims

of Gnosticism, but to exhibit Apostolic Christianity, be-

lieved and lived, as the true Gnosis,—the Divine reality

of which Gnosticism was but the fantastic caricature—the

truth of experience to which it was the corresponding "lie"

(24.22 420). The confidence he has concerning those to

whom he is writing is that they "know Him who is from

the beginning," and that they "know the Father " (213).

The final note of exulting assurance upon which the

Epistle closes, is that "we know the True One, and we are

in the True One" (520). This, the knowledge of the

ultimate Reality, the Being who is the Eternal Life, is, for

Christian and Gnostic alike, the goal of aspiration. But,

against the Gnostic conception of this as to be attained

exclusively by flights of intellectual speculation or mystic

contemplation, the Apostle labours, with the whole force of


            1 Cf. Clementine Recognitions, " Qui Deum se nosse profitentur." Holtz-

mann, J. P. T., 1882, p. 320.

            2 To be of the "seed of the light" appears to have been a popular form of

Gnostic pretension. Holtzmann, ibid. p. 323.

30                            The First Epistle of St. John


his spirit, to maintain that it is to be reached only by the

lowlier path of obedience and brotherly love; and that by

these, conversely, its reality must ever be attested. To

speak of having the knowledge of God without keeping

His commandments (24) is self-contradiction. If God is

righteous, then nothing more certain than that "Every one

that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him" (220), and

that "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God "

(310). "Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither

known Him" (36).

            Still more strenuously, if that were possible, does the

Apostle insist upon brotherly love as at once the condition

and the test of the true knowledge of God. In Gnosticism

knowledge was the sum of attainment, the crown of life,

the supreme end in itself.  The system was loveless to

the core. St. Paul saw this with a prophet's eye (1 Cor.

81 132), and the contemporary witnesses bear testimony

that it bore abundantly its natural fruit. "Lovers of self,

lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to

parents, untruthful, unholy, without natural affection,

implacable, slanderers" (2 Tim. 32.3), are the typical re-

presentatives of the Gnostic character as it is portrayed

in the later writings of the New Testament. "They give

no heed to love," says Ignatius,1 "caring not for the

widow, the orphan, or the afflicted, neither for those who

are in bonds nor for those who are released from bonds,

neither for the hungry nor the thirsty."

            That a religion which destroyed and banished love

should call itself Christian, or claim affinity with Christi-

anity, excites the Apostle's hottest indignation. To him it

is the real atheism. Against it he lifts up his supreme

truth, God is Love, with its immediate consequence, that


            1 peri> a]ga<phj ou] me<lei au]toi?j, ou] peri> xh<raj, ou] peri> o]rfa<nou, ou] peri>

qlibome<nou, ou] peri> dedeme<nou h} lelume<nou, ou] peri? peinw?ntoj h} diyw?ntoj.  Ad

Smyrn. 6. 2.

                         The Polemical Aim of the Epistle                31


to be without love is the fatal incapacity for knowing God.

"Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth

God" (47); but, "He that loveth not knoweth not God: for

God is Love" (48). Spiritual illumination, apart from

the practice of love, is the vaunt of a self-deceiver (29).

The assumption of a lofty, mystical piety, apart from

dutiful conduct in the ordinary relations of life, is ruth-

lessly dealt with. "If any man say, I Iove God" (we can

almost hear the voice of the self-complacent "spiritual")

"and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth

not his brother whom he bath seen, how can he love

God whom he bath not seen?" All these and numerous

other   passages (27. 8. 10. 11 310b. 11. 14. 17-19. 23b 411. 12. 17. 18.

19. 21 51b) receive fresh point when read in view of the

unbrotherly aloofness inherent in Gnosticism. And,

in general, it may be said that the uniquely reiterated

emphasis which the Epistle lays upon brotherly love, the

almost fierce tone in which the New Commandment is

promulgated, is not adequately accounted for by any

idiosyncrasy of the writer, on the supposition that he is

writing in the abstract, but becomes vividly intelligible as

the expression of a truly godlike wrath against actual

tendencies that were powerfully assailing the life and

fellowship of the Church.

            But if Gnosticism was distinguished by this unethical

intellectualism, its deeper characteristic lay in its dualistic

conception of existence. Epiphanius tells us that Basilides

began with the inquiry, po<qen to> kako<n (Haer. 24. 6);

Clement, that he ended by “deifying the devil” (qeia<zwn

me>n to>n dia<bolon, Strom. iv. 12, 87). This may be

taken as a compendious account of Dualism. It traces

back into the eternal the schism of which we are

conscious in the world of experience, and posits two

independent and antagonistic principles of existence, from

which, severally, come all the good and all the evil that exist.

32               The First Epistle of St. John


It is true that in those Gnostic systems which were most

strongly touched by Hellenic influence, the fundamental

dualism was disguised by complicated successions of

emanations and hierarchies of moons and archons, bridging

the gulf between absolute transcendent Deity and the

material creation. These cosmogonies were broadly

analogous to the materialistic theory of evolution; except

that, while modern evolution is from matter upward to

“whatever gods there be,” Gnostic evolution was from

divinity downwards. Invariably, however, the source and

the seat of evil were found in matter, in the body, with

its senses and appetites, and in its sensuous earthly

environment; and invariably it was held inconceivable

that the Divine Nature should have immediate contact

with, or influence upon, the material side of existence.

            To such a view of the universe Christianity could

be adjusted only by a Docetic interpretation of the

Person of Christ. A veritable incarnation was unthinkable.

The Divine Being could enter into no real union with a

corporeal organism. The Human Nature of Christ and

the incidents of His earthly career were, more or less,

an illusion. It is with this Docetic subversion of the

truth of the Incarnation that the "antichrists" are

specially identified in the Epistle (222.23 43); and it is

against it that St. John directs, with whole-souled force

and fervour, his central thesis—the complete personal

identification of the historical Jesus with the Divine

Being who is the "Word of Life," the "Son of God,"

the "Christ."1

            A further consequence of the dualistic interpretation of

existence is that Sin, in the Christian meaning of Sin,

disappears. In its essence, it is no longer a moral

opposition, in the human personality, to good; it is a

physical principle inherent in all non-spiritual being. Not


            1 See Chapters VI, and VIII.

               The Polemical Aim of the Epistle            33


the soul, but the flesh is its organ; and Redemption

consists not in the renewal of the moral nature, but in its

emancipation from the flesh. And, again, it becomes

apparent that no abstract possibility, but a very definite

historical phenomenon, is contemplated in the repeated

warning, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive

ourselves, and the truth is not in us." "If we say that we

have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is

not in us" (18. 10).

            With the nobler and more earnest spirits, the practical

consequence of this irreconcilable dualism in human nature

was the ascetic life. Only by the mortification of the

bodily members and the suppression of natural appetite

could the deliverance of the soul from its life-long foe be

achieved. A rigid asceticism is ascribed to various Gnostic

sects (Encratites, the followers of Saturninus, etc.), and has

left distinct traces in the Epistle to the Colossians (221)

and in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 43). But the same

principle readily suggested an opposite method of achieving

the soul's deliverance from the yoke of the material. Let

the dualism of nature be boldly reduced to practice. Let

body and spirit be treated as separate entities; let each

obey its own laws and act according to its own nature,

without mutual interference.1 The spiritual nature could

not be involved in nor defiled by the deeds of the flesh;

and the power of external things was most effectually

overcome when they were not allowed to disturb in anywise

the tranquility of the inner man. Let the flesh indulge

every lust, but let the soul soar on the wings of lofty

spiritual thought, no more hindered or harassed by the

body and its appetites than is the skimming swallow by

the barking dog that chases it. It is evident, from various

references in the later New Testament writings (Tit.

110. 16, 2 Tim. 31-7, 2 Pet. 212-22, Jude 4. 7-19, Rev. 214. 15. 20)


            1 This was to> a]diafo<rwj zh?n. Clem. Alex. Strom. iii. 5. 40.  

34                          The First Epistle of St. John


that Gnosticism, from its earliest contact with Christianity,

began to infect the Church with this leaven of all abomin-

ableness. And for the interpretation of our Epistle this

Antinomian development of Gnosticism is of special im-

portance. While there are no direct allusions to it, as there

are in Second Peter and Jude, it is ever present to the

writer's mind when he is on the ground of ethics. The

moral indifferentism of the Gnostic sheds a vivid light

upon such utterances as "sin is lawlessness" (34), and its

converse, "every unrighteousness is sin" (517). Especially

is it the key, as we shall find, to that difficult passage

229-310, the whole emphasis of which falls upon the "doing"

(poiei?n), whether of righteousness or of sin. Every one that

"doeth righteousness" is begotten of God (229). He that

"doeth sin" "doeth also lawlessness" (34). He that " doeth

righteousness" is righteous (37). He that "doeth sin"

is of the Devil (38). Every one that is begotten of God

"doeth not" sin (39), and every one that "doeth not"

righteousness is not of God. Clearly, in all this trenchant

reiteration of the same thought, St. John is not actuated

merely by the consideration of the perpetual tendency

in men to substitute profession, sentiment and vague

aspiration for actual doing of the Will of God.  The

writer expressly indicates, indeed, a more definite object

of attack (37); and the whole passage presupposes, as

familiar to its readers, a doctrine of moral indifferentism,

according to which the status of the "spiritual" man is

not to be tested by the commonplace facts of moral


            The detailed examination of this and kindred pass-

ages must be deferred to a later stage.1 The pur-

pose of the present chapter has been served if it has

furnished a general view of the polemical scope of the

Epistle, and if it has been shown that in it all the


            1 Chapter XI.

                  The Polemical Aim of the Epistle                 35


authentic features of Gnosticism, its false estimate of

knowledge, its loveless and unbrotherly spirit, its Docetic

Christology, its exaltation of the illuminated above moral

obligations, are clearly reflected. It is true that the whole

presentation of truth in the Epistle widely overflows the

limits of the controversial occasion. On the one hand,

the human tendencies that manifested themselves in

Gnosticism are not of any one period or place. The

Gnostic spirit and temper are never dead. On the other

hand, St. John so little meets these with mere denun-

ciation;1 he so constantly opposes to the pernicious

plausibilities of error the simple, sublime, and satisfying

facts and principles of the Christian Revelation; he so lifts

every question at issue out of the dust of mere polemics

into the lucid atmosphere of eternal truth, that his Epistle

pursues its course through the ages, ever bringing to the

human soul the vision and the inspiration of the divine

life. Nevertheless, for its interpretation, the polemical aim

that pervades it must be recognised. The great tests of

Christianity, the enforcement of which constitutes its chief

purpose,—the tests of practical Righteousness and Love, and

of Belief in Jesus as God Incarnate,—are those which are

of perennial validity and necessity; yet it was just by these

that the wolf of Gnosticism could be most unmistakably

revealed under its sheep's clothing, and they are presented

in such fashion as to certify that this was the object

immediately aimed at.

            One point more, though of minor importance, remains

for consideration, namely, whether the polemic of the

Epistle is directed throughout against the same persons, or

whether, in its two branches, the Christological and the

ethical, it has different objects of attack. The latter view

has been widely held. It is admitted that it is Gnostic


            1 An instructive contrast, in this respect, is presented by the Epistle of Jude

and its comparatively small influence in later times.

36                    The First Epistle of f St. John


error that is controverted in the Christological passages,

but not that it is Gnostic immorality that is aimed at in

the ethical passages. On the contrary, it is maintained

that the moral laxity against which these are so vigorously

directed is within the Church itself. And on behalf of

this view it is argued that, in the Epistle, no charge of

teaching or practising moral indifferentism is brought

against the "antichrists"; that, apart from the Epistle,

there is no proof that Docetism in Asia Minor lay open

to such a charge; and that the moral tendencies reflected

in the Epistle are such as would naturally spring up in

communities where Christianity had already passed from a

first to a second generation and become, in some degree,


            But, as has been already said, the tone in which

the writer of the Epistle addresses his readers lends

no support to this supposition. He is tenderly solicitous

for their safety amid the perils that beset them; but this

solicitude nowhere passes into rebuke. It is plainly sug-

gested, too, that the same spirit of error (46) which is

assailing their faith is ready to make a no less deadly

assault upon the moral integrity of their Christian life

(37 "let no man deceive you," not, "let no man deceive

himself"). Of necessity, Dualism led, in practice, either to

Asceticism or to the Emancipation of the Flesh; and, in

the absence of any allusion in the Epistle to the former, it

is a fair inference that, with Gnosticism in Asia Minor, the

pendulum had swung, at the date of the Epistle, towards

the latter. This influence is confirmed by the historical

data, scanty as these are. The name associated with the

Epistle by unvarying tradition as St. John's chief antagonist

is that of Cerinthus.   It seems to be beyond doubt

that the Apostle and the heresiarch confronted each


            1 Neander, Planting of Christianity, i. 407-408 (Bohn). With this view

Lucke and Huther agree.

                         The Polemical Aim of the Epistle                37


other in Ephesus.1 Unfortunately, the accounts of Cerinthus

and his teaching which have come down to us are

fragmentary, confused, and, in some points, conflicting.

The residuum of reliable fact is that, according to his

teaching, the World and even the Law were created

not by the Supreme God, but by a far inferior power;

and that he deduced from this a Docetic2 doctrine of the


            We do not know with equal certainty that he deduced

from it the other natural consequence of practical Anti-

nomianism. But such testimony as we do possess is to that

effect. According to Caius3 of Rome, a disciple of Irenaeus,

Cerinthus developed an elaborate eschatology, the central

point of which was a millennium of bliss as sensual as that

of the Mohammedan paradise. This account is confirmed

by Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 260), who says that, as

Cerinthus was a voluptuary and wholly sensual, he conjec-

tured that Christ's kingdom would consist in those things

which he so eagerly desired, in the gratification of his sensual

appetites, in eating and drinking and marrying.4 If such

was his programme of the future, we can more readily

believe, what is stated on good authority, that his position

approximated closely to that of Carpocrates, in whom

Gnostic Antinomianism reached its unblushing climax.

And although the only version of his opinions which we

have is that given by his opponents, there seems to be no

room for doubt as to their real character. Thus, so far as

they go, the historical data harmonise with the internal


            1 The well-known incident of their encounter in the public baths at Ephesus

has been discredited on the ground of its incongruity with the Apostle's character,

and of the improbability of the alleged visit of the Apostle to the public bath-

house. But Irenaeus gives the story on the authority of those who had heard

it from Polycarp (Adv. Haer. iii. 3, 4; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. iii. 28, iv. 14); and

such evidence is not altogether contemptible.

            2 See, further, Chapters VI. and XIII.

            3 Ap. Euseb. iii.. z8, vii. 25.

            4 Ibid. viii. 25.

38               The First Epistle of St. John


evidence of the Epistle itself in giving the impression that

the different tendencies it combats are such as were

naturally combined in one consistently developed Gnostic

system, and that the object of its polemic is, throughout,

one and the same.





                                   CHAPTER III.



                                   THE WRITER.



NOT only is the "First Epistle of St. John" an anonymous

writing; one of its unique features, among the writings of

the New Testament, is that it does not contain a single

proper name (except our Lord's), nor a single definite

allusion, personal, geographical, or historical. Untrammelled,

therefore, by any question of authenticity, we are left to

gather from tradition and from the internal evidence such

facts, if such there are, as may furnish a warrantable con-

clusion regarding its authorship.

            As to the general question of its antiquity, the evidence

is peculiarly strong, and may be briefly stated. It is

needless to come further down than Eusebius, by whom it

is classed among the homologoumena (c. 325). It is quoted

by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (247-265), by

Cyprian, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria,

Irenaeus, and the Muratorian Canon. Papias (who is

described by Irenaeus as  ]Iwa<nnou me>n a]kousth<j, Poluka<rpou

d ] e[tai?roj) is stated by Eusebius (H. E. iii. 39) "to have

used testimonies from John's former Epistle"; and

Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians (c. 115) contains an

almost verbal reproduction of 1 John 43. Reminiscences

of it are found in Athenagoras (c. 180) (koinwni<a tou?

patro>j pro>j to>n ui[o<n, cf. i. 3), the Epistle to Diognetus

(vi. 11), the Epistle of Barnabas (h#lqen e]n sarki<, cf. 42;

ui[o>j tou? qeou? e]fanerw<qh, cf. 38), more distinctly in

Justin (qeou? te<kna a]lhqina> kalou<meqa kai> e]sme<n, Dial.



40                         The First Epistle of St. John


123), and in the Didache (cc. x., xi., teleiw?sai au]th>n e]n t^?

a]ga<p^ sou; parelqe<tw o[ ko<smoj ou$toj; pa?j de> profh<thj

dedokimasme<noj, cf. 418 217 41).  They are also alleged

in Hermas. It is possible that the earliest of these

indicate the currency of Johannine expressions in the

Christian circles in which the writer moved rather than

acquaintance with the Epistle itself. The evidence,

however, is indisputable that this Epistle, though one of

the latest, if not the very latest, of the books of the New

Testament, won for itself immediately and permanently an

unchallenged position as a writing of inspired authority.1

            The verdict of tradition, moreover, is equally clear and

unanimous that the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle

are both the legacy of the Apostle John, in his old age,

to the Church. All the Fathers already mentioned as

quoting the Epistle (excepting Polycarp, but including

Irenaeus) quote it as the work of St. John. And until

the end of the sixteenth century this view was un-


            Proceeding to consider what light the Epistle itself

sheds upon the personality of the writer, we note, in the

first place, that, though writer and readers are alike left

nameless, and any clue to the identity of either must be

merely inferential, the writing before us is one in which a

person calling himself "I" addresses certain other persons

as "you," and is, in form at least, a letter. That it is

more than formally so, has been denied by various

critics, who have, in various ways, pronounced it deficient


            1 This statement requires no modification on account of the fact that the

Epistle shared with the other Johannine writings the fate of rejection, for

dogmatic reasons, by Marcion and the so-called Alogi.

            2 There are possible exceptions to this statement in the case of Theodore

(Bishop of Mopsuestia, 393–428), who is said to have "abrogated" all the Catholic

Epistles, and of the "certain persons" referred to by Cosmas Indicopleustes,

the topographist (sixth century), as having maintained that all the Catholic

Epistles were written by presbyters; not by apostles. Both statements are at

second-hand; the latter, in addition, is very indefinite.

                               The Writer                                     41


in genuine epistolary character, describing it as a treatise,

a homiletical essay, or a pamphlet. This criticism is

unwarranted. Although its topics are so broadly handled,

the Epistle is not written in any abstract interest, theo-

logical or ethical; nor—though the movement it was

designed to combat was one which threatened, on the

widest scale, to imperil the very life of Christianity—is it

even Catholic, in the sense of being addressed to the

Church at large. From beginning to end the writer shows

himself in close contact with the special position and the

immediate needs of his readers. The absence of explicit

reference to either only indicates how intimate was the

relation between them. For the writer to declare his

identity was superfluous. Thought, language, tone—all

were too familiar to be mistaken. The Epistle bore its

author's signature in every line.

            Though the main characteristics of the Epistle are

didactic and controversial, the personal chord is frequently

struck, and with much tenderness and depth of feeling, the

writer alternating between the "you" of direct address

(13. 5 21. 7. 8. 12-14. 18 etc., 35. 13 etc.) and the " we " in which

spontaneous feeling unites him with his readers (16.10 31.2.

14. 16. 18 etc., 47. 10. 11 etc., 514. 15. 14-20).  Under special stress of

emotion his paternal love, sympathy, and solicitude break

out in the affectionate address, "Little children"1 (tekni<a,

paidi<a), or, yet more endearingly, "My little children"

(tekni<a e]mou?). Or, again, the prefatory "Beloved"2

(a]gaphtoi<) gives proof how deeply he is stirred

by the sublimity of his theme and by the sense

of its supreme importance to his readers. He shows


            1 Expressing mingled confidence and anxiety (21), glad thanksgiving (44),

fervent exhortation (228 318), urgent warning (37 524).

            2 Conveying in every case an earnest appeal, based upon the familiar and

fundamental character of the doctrine advanced (27), the loftiness of the

Christian calling and privilege (32), the urgent necessity of the case (41), the

sense of special obligation ( 47.11)

42                 The First Epistle of St. John


himself intimately acquainted with their religious

environment (219 41), dangers (226 37 521), attainments

(212-14.21), achievements (44), and needs (319 513) Further,

it is implied that the relation between them is definitely

that of teacher and taught, evangelist and evangelised

(12. 3). The Epistle is addressed primarily to the circle

of those among whom the author has habitually exercised

his ministry in the gospel.1 He is in the habit of

announcing to them the things "concerning the Word of

life" (11), that they may have fellowship with him (13);

and now2 that his joy may be full he writes these things

unto them (14). He writes as light shines. Love makes

the task a necessity and a delight. That joy may have

its perfect fruition in aiding their Christian development,

in guarding them from the perils to which it is exposed,

in guiding them to the trustworthy grounds of personal

assurance of eternal life, he sets himself to draw out and

place before them the great practical implications of the

gospel, and the tests of genuine Christian discipleship which

these afford.

            Thus the writer is a person who, to his readers, is of so

distinctive eminence and recognised authority that he does

not find it necessary even to remind them who he is. His

whole tone towards them is affectionate, solicitous, re-

sponsible. His relation to them is not necessarily that of

"spiritual father" in the Pauline sense, but it is, at any rate,


            1 This is worth noting for its bearing on the interpretation of the Epistle. It

has always seemed to me that such a passage as that on the "Three Witnesses"

contains merely a summary—"heads" of sermons, shall we say?—intended to

recall fuller oral expositions of the same topics. Though this yields no help to

interpretation, there is a certain relief in the thought that what is so obscure to

us need not have been equally so to the original readers.

            2 i!na h[ xara> h[mw?n ^# peplhrwme<nh. The words are almost a verbal reproduc-

tion of John 1524. On critical grounds, it is not easy to decide between the rival

readings h[mw?n and u[mw?n (v. Westcott, critical note, p. 13). The former may be

preferred as less obvious, and as yielding the finer and more characteristically

apostolic sense. Cf. St. Paul's "Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord"

(1 Thess. 38, also Phil. 22).

                                         The Writer                                  43


that of spiritual guide and guardian, whose province it is to

instruct, to warn and exhort with all authority, as with all

tenderness. All this agrees perfectly with the traditional

account of St. John's relation to the Churches of Asia Minor

during the later decades of the first century. More than

this cannot be said. Nothing has been, so far, adduced

that points conclusively to an apostolic authorship. There

is one passage in the Epistle, however, which has a special

bearing upon the personality of the writer, namely, the

Prologue (11-4); and this we shall now examine so far as it

relates to this question.


                                         1 1-4

            1 "That which was from the beginning, that which

we have heard, that which we have seen with our own 2

eyes, that which we gazed upon, and our own 2 hands

handled, concerning the Word of Life (and the Life was

manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and

announce unto you the Life, the Eternal Life, which was

with the Father and was manifested unto us); that which

we have seen and heard we announce also unto you, that

ye also may have fellowship with us. And these things

write we unto you, that our joy may be full."

            This is, in effect, a statement of the theme of evan-

gelical announcement, an abstract of the report which the

Christian apostle is sent to deliver "concerning the Word

of Life." And, both for the interpretation of the passage

itself and for its bearing on the question of authorship, the

first point to be determined is what is signified by the

"Word of Life." And here, at once, we enter upon con-

troversial ground; for the phrase may be taken as denoting


            1 For exegetical details, see Notes, in loc.; for the doctrinal implications,

Chapters VI., VII., and X.

            2 "Own" is not too strong for an adequate rendering of h[mw?n in the phrases

toi?j o]fqalmoi?j h[mw?n and ai[ xei?rej h[mw?n.

44                    The First Epistle of St. John


either the personal Logos of John 11-14 or the Christian


            Some of the Greek commentators, followed by Westcott

and others, adopt the latter alternative. "The obvious

reference is to the whole Gospel, of which Christ is

the centre and the sum, and not to Himself personally"

(Westcott, p. 7). But the immense difficulty of establish-

ing this view (though it is said to be "obvious")

is sufficiently illustrated by the acrobatic feats of inter-

pretation to which its exponent is compelled to resort.1

With the great majority of commentators, I conclude that

the "Word of Life" here signifies the Personal Logos;

and for the following reasons. (a) The parallelism between

the Prologue to the Epistle and that to the Gospel is too

unmistakable to permit of different significations for a word

which is so cardinal in both.  (b) In answer to the

objection that elsewhere2 lo<goj th?j zwh?j is applied always

to the Gospel, never to the personal Christ, it is to be

observed that, while there is no reason why it should not

be so applied, the form of expression is here determined

by the verse following (kai> h[ zwh> e]fanerw<qh), which is


            1 The application of o{ h#n a]p ] a]rxh?j to the Gospel is justified by the observa-

tion "of the grandeur of the claim which St. John here makes for the Christian

Revelation, as, in some sense, coeval with creation." But, true as it is that

the Gospel has an eternal being and operation in the thought and purpose of

God, it is difficult to imagine that a truth so remote from the ordinary plane of

thought was made the starting-point of the Epistle. Again, "What we have

heard" has to embrace "the whole Divine preparation for the Advent, promised

by the teaching of the Lawgiver and Prophets, fulfilled at last by Christ."

"What we have seen with our eyes" connotes "the condition of Jew and Gentile,

the civil and religious institutions by which St. John was surrounded, the effects

which the Gospel has wrought, as revealing to the eye of the world something

of the Life." It is acknowledged that e]yhla<fhsan is a quotation of our Lord's

own word yhlafh<sate< me (Luke 2439); but "While it is probable that the special

manifestation indicated is that given by the Lord after the Resurrection, this is,

in fact, the Revelation of Himself as He remains with His Church by the

Spirit." In that case, the use of language surely is to conceal thought !

            2 Matt. 1319, Acts 2032, 2 Cor. 519, Phil. 216. It is to be observed that

none of these parallels is Johannine. In John 668 r[h<mata, not lo<goj, is


                                         The Writer                               45


already in the writer's mind, and which requires th?j zwh?j

as a point of dependence. The theme of the whole Epistle,

moreover, is Life. Its whole scope is summed up in this:

"These things write I unto you, that ye may know that

ye have eternal life" (513). What then more natural

than, at the outset, to place before the mind of the readers

their Lord and Saviour as the "Word of Life"? (c) There

is not a clause or a word1 in the Prologue that does not

naturally and inevitably point to the personal Logos—Him

who in the beginning was with God, and was God, and who

"became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 11.14).

            The subject regarding whom the announcement

(a]pagge<llomen, 12) is made being the Lord Jesus Christ,

the matter announced is "That which was from the begin-

ning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen

with our (own) eyes, that which we beheld and our (own)

hands handled." From this, two inferences are obvious,

if the words "heard," "seen," "beheld," "handled" are

taken in their natural sense. The first is that the

Prologue does not in any way describe the contents of the

Epistle, but must refer to some other occasion or mode of

announcement. It is true that the reference to the historic

Gospel is here in absolutely the right place. The facts

in which the Divine Life has been personally revealed to

human perception are the fitting and firm basis for the

Epistle with all its theological and ethical developments;

and, doubtless, it is the purpose to impress this upon its

readers that underlies the Prologue. But, since the Epistle

itself contains no announcement whatsoever of such facts,

the reference (a]pagge<llomen u[mi?n, 12) can be only2 either


            1 The single apparent exception to this statement is the use of the neuter o!,

instead of the masculine o!j, in the relative clauses. As to this, see Notes,

in loc.

            2 Those who understand wept peri> tou? lo<gou th?j zwh?j as referring to the personal

Logos and yet regard the Prologue as a syllabus of the contents of the Epistle,

are reduced to extremities of exegesis. Rothe, e.g., commenting on "concerning

46                The First Epistle of St. John


to the writer's habitual oral teaching, or to the literary

record of it—that is to say, the Fourth Gospel.

            The second inference is that the writer claims direct,

first-hand acquaintance with the facts of the Saviour's life

on earth. The terms in which he describes the substance

of his announcement are these1—"what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes," so that any sugges-

tion of subjective, visionary seeing is set aside, " what

we gazed upon" (e]qeasa<meqa, deliberately and of set

purpose to satisfy ourselves of its actuality), " what our

hands handled" (e]yhla<fhsan, the most incontrovertible

evidence of physical fact that human sense can furnish).

It is difficult to imagine words more studiously adapted to

create the impression that the writer is one of the actual

disciples of Jesus. But we are informed2 that this "super-

ficial impression is corrected" when the language is taken

along with such expressions as John 114, 1 John 36, and

414. Turning to these passages for the correction of our

"superficial impression," all that we find is proof that

o[ra?n (1 John 36) may certainly, and that qea?sqai3 may

possibly, be used of purely spiritual vision. This does not

go far to alter the impression that when one speaks of

"what he has seen with his eyes," he intends us to


the Word of Life," explains that the apostle is not (in the Epistle) in a position

to announce the whole Word. "Only a drop from the ocean, not the ocean

itself, will he give." To find this meaning in peri< is to be, exegetically, capable

de tout. Besides, the Epistle does not give even "a drop from the ocean."

Haupt, on the other hand, idealises the meaning of o{ a]khko<amen, k.t.l., and

reaches the conclusion that "while it is the Logos who certainly is present to

the writer's view, it is not the Person in Himself, and as such, that is the

matter of his announcement, but only that quality in Him which is Life." Thus

a mere abstraction, a quality belonging to the Person, but considered apart from

the Person, is "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes," etc.

            1 After o{ h#n a]p ] a]rxh?j, which, since it probably refers to the eternal pre-

existence of the Logos, is not relevant to the point under discussion.

            2 Moffatt, Historical New Testament, p. 621.

In John 114 a spiritual element is implied in the "beholding" (qea?sqai),

but it is the spiritual beholding of a Divine Glory revealed through facts of sense.

In 1 John 412 the physical element is undeniable. No one would maintain

that the meaning is, "No man has had spiritual perception of God at any time."

                                      The Writer                                    47


understand—well, just what he has seen, or supposes that

he has seen, with his eyes.

            It is asserted (ibid.) that even the "strange metaphor

e]yhla<fhsan is not too strong for the faith-mysticism of the

early Church and its consciousness of possessing a direct

experience of God in Christ." One desiderates some stronger

proof for such a statement than a vivid phrase from so

highly rhetorical a writer as Tacitus.l Assuredly, if one

speaks of “what his hands have handled,” meaning thereby

his consciousness of a spiritual experience, it is one of the

most bewildering uses to which human language has ever

been put; and the ordinary mind may well despair of

tracing, with any certitude, the meaning of a writer so


            Besides these palpable obstacles to the adoption of the

"faith-mysticism" interpretation, there are others, less

obvious but not less insuperable. How, on that theory,

can we explain the sudden change from the perfect tense2

in a]khko<amen and e[wra<kamen to the aorist in e]qeasa<meqa and

e]yhla<fhsan? The change of tense is quite naturally

accounted for by referring the aorists to a definite occasion,

that, namely, on which the Lord3 invited His disciples to

satisfy themselves of the reality of His Resurrection by the

most searching tests of sight and touch (Luke 2439, John 2027)

But can it be supposed that any definable diversities as to

time or mode of spiritual perception are intended to be

expressed by such variations of phraseology?

            It is to be observed, moreover, that the writer assumes


            1 Moffatt quotes "mox nostre duxere Helvidium in carcerem manus," from

Tacitus, Agricola, 45, where the commentators debate whether he means his

own hands or the hands of the senators. But I fail to perceive in this any

analogy whatsoever to the faith-mysticism of the early Church.

            2 These perfects signify that the "hearing" and "seeing," though in the past,

have been abiding in their results, one of which is the writer's present ability to

bear witness to the facts seen and heard.

            3 e]yhla<fhsan is a direct quotation of Our Lord's yhlafh<sate<  me; while

e]qeasa<meqa is the natural response to the repeated i@dete in the same verse

(Luke 2439).

48                 The First Epistle of St. John


that, in announcing to his readers his experiences of the

Word of Life, he is communicating what they do not

fully possess (a]pagge<llomen kai> u[mi?n, 13). But if these were

merely spiritual experiences, he could not and would not

write thus. On the contrary, his constant assumption is

that his readers have full spiritual perception of the truth

(213. 14. 20. 21. 27 etc.).  And, on the broadest exegetical

grounds, the "faith-mysticism" theory is inadmissible.

It eviscerates the words of precisely that (anti-docetic)

force of testimony they are intended to contain--not to the

ideal truth of the gospel nor to the consciousness of a

spiritual experience, but to the physical reality, certified by

the evidence of every faculty given to man as a criterion

of such reality, of the human embodiment by means of

which, alone the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father

was revealed to the spiritual perceptions of mankind.

Upon that testimony, together with the accompanying

testimony of the Spirit, the whole anti-docetic polemic

of the Epistle is based (224 46. 14 56-8); and it is in-

credible that the writer intended these words to be under-

stood in a sense in which Cerinthus himself might have

appropriated them.

            It is alleged,1 however, that the words are susceptible of

an interpretation which, while preserving the natural sense

of "heard," "seen," "beheld," "handled," does not necessi-

tate that the writer be held as making a strictly personal

claim to these experiences. It is noted that here, in the

Prologue, the author writes in the plural number, while

elsewhere in the Epistle he speaks of himself , in the

singular2 (212-14 513), and uses the plural "we" only

when identifying himself with his readers. And from

this it is argued that all he may have intended was to give


            1 Julicher, Introduction to N. T. p. 247.

            2 There are exceptions to this statement, namely, 46 and 414. It might

be said, however, that in these the reference of "we" is involved in the same

ambiguity as here.

                              The Writer                                49


his Epistle the authority of "the collective disciples of

Jesus," the emphasis being not on the persons, but on the

actuality of the perception. At furthest, this would be

possible, apart from unveracity, only if the writer were one

who was recognised by the Church as so peculiarly

identified with the original witnesses that, without creating

a false impression, he could speak of the Apostolic testi-

mony as virtually his own. But, except the presumption

that the writer cannot have been one of the original

witnesses, there is really nothing to urge in favour of this

supposition. The use of the plural here perfectly harmon-

ises with the dignity of the passage; and the same idiom

is employed in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (114),

where it is not denied that the testimony purports, at

least, to be personal. And there are strong arguments

to the contrary effect. The very emphatic phraseology—

"what we have seen with our eyes," "what our hands

handled"—makes it difficult, if not impossible, to suppose

that the writer intends himself to be understood as merely

producing the collective testimony of the Apostles, he

himself not being of their number. No example of any

such modus loquendi is found in the New Testament, or is

alleged in the patristic literature.1  And—what seems to

be decisive—the author uses in the same passage the

same "plural of majesty" of his present writing,2 as well as


            1 This is scarcely accurate. A parallel is alleged from Irenaeus (v. i. 1); but

it is quoted without its context. The passage is—"Non enim aliter nos discere

poteramus quae sunt Del, nisi magister noster, verbum exsistens, homo factus

fuisset . . . Neque rursus nos aliter discere poteramus, nisi magistrum nostrum

videntes, et per auditum nostrum vocem ejus perczpientes." It is a travesty of

the meaning of this passage to say (as Holtzmann does) that Irenaeus reckons

himself, in any sense corresponding to our writers, among those "whose ears

have heard and whose eyes have seen." What Irenaeus asserts, in both of the

sentences quoted, is merely a general and necessary truth. As it was impossible

for us to learn the things of God except by the Incarnation of the Word, so

also it was impossible for us to receive the revelation of the Incarnate Word

except through the medium of human sense. There is as little suggestion of a

"collective testimony" as there is of "faith-mysticism."

            2 kai> tau?ta gra<fomen, 14.    Cf. gra<fw, 212; e@graya, 213. 14 513.

50                      The First Epistle of St. John


of the testimony on which he claims to found. So far

from suggesting that the writer was merely one who could

in some peculiar manner represent the original witnesses

of the Incarnation, the language employed resists such

an interpretation. He who writes these things " (14), is

he who announces (13) his personal experiences of the

incarnate "Word of Life" (11). Putting aside, as morally

intolerable and inconceivable, the hypothesis of deliberate

misrepresentation, we really seem to be shut up to the

conclusion that the writer is one of the contemporary

witnesses of the Saviour's life on earth.

            To sum up, then, what has been gathered from the

Epistle itself regarding the writer:—he was intimately

acquainted with and profoundly concerned in the religious

state and environment of his readers, their attainments,

achievements, dangers, and needs; his tone and temper

are paternally authoritative and tender; the relation

between them is that of teacher and taught; and, finally,

he claims that his testimony to the historic Gospel is based

on first-hand observation of the facts. Thus the internal

evidence agrees so completely with the ancient and un-

broken tradition which assigns the authorship of the Epistle

to the Apostle John that, unless this traditional authorship

is disproved by arguments of the most convincing kind, it

must be regarded as holding the field. Whether the argu-

ments brought against the Johannine authorship possess

this character is a question which involves the criticism of

the Fourth Gospel even more than of the Epistle, and

which cannot be investigated here. Yet the kernel of the

question is contained in small compass. It is whether

room can be found within the first century for so

advanced a stage of theological development as is reached

in the Johannine writings, and whether this development

can be conceivably attributed to one of our Lord's

original disciples. To neither of these questions, as it

                                         The Writer                                 51


appears to me, is a negative answer warranted. If, within

a period comparatively so brief, primitive Christian thought

had already passed through the earlier and later Pauline

development, and through such a development as we find

in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is no obvious reason

why it may not have attained also to the Johannine, within

the lifetime of the latest survivor of the Apostles. Nor,

when one considers the nature of the intellectual influences,

without and within the Church, by which the Apostle John

was surrounded—if, as tradition says, he lived on to a

green old age in Ephesus—is there any obvious reason

why he should not have been the chief instrument of that


            Only a fragment of the Johannine problem, however,—

namely, the relation of the Epistle to the Fourth Gospel,

—can be discussed in detail within the limits of this

present study; and this discussion it will be well to reserve

until we have completed our consideration of the Epistle







                                CHAPTER IV.





THE influence of the immediate polemical purpose of the

Epistle is manifest in its doctrine of God   manifest not

only in its contents, but, first of all, in its exclusions. For,

though the conception and delineation of the Divine Nature

are the crowning glory of the Epistle, and form its greatest

contribution to New Testament thought, it may justly be

said that this conception is a narrow one, or, at least,

narrowly focussed. The limitations of the writer's field

of vision are only less remarkable than the intensity of his

perceptions within it. Throughout the Epistle, God is seen

exclusively as the Father of spirits, the Light and Life of

the universe of souls. His creatorship, His relation to the

government of the world and the ordering of human lives,

the providential aspects and agencies of His salvation, the

working together of nature and grace for the discipline and

perfecting of redeemed humanity,--all this is left entirely

in the background. From beginning to end, the Epistle

contains no direct reference to the terrestrial conditions

and changes of human life, or to the joys and sorrows,

hopes and fears, that arise from them. These do not come

within the scope of the present necessity; it is not from

this quarter that the faith of the Church is imperilled.

The writer's immediate interest is confined to that region in

which the Divine and the human directly and vitally meet

—to that in God which is communicable to man, to that in

man by which he is capable of participation in the Divine



          The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                   53


            From this point of view, the conception of God is

presented under four great affirmations: God is Light

(15); God is Righteous (229); God is Love (48); God

is Life (520). And though, characteristically, St. John

makes no endeavour to bring these ideas into an or-

ganic unity of thought, their inter-relation is sufficiently

clear. Righteousness and Love are the primary ethical

qualities of the Divine Nature; Life is the essence in

which these qualities inhere; and that God is Light

signifies that the Divine Nature, as Righteousness

and Love, is self-necessitated to reveal itself so as to

become the Truth, the object of faith, and the source

of spiritual illumination to every being capable of

receiving the revelation. Thus, while Gnostic speculation

conceived the Divine Nature metaphysically, as the ulti-

mate spiritual essence in eternal separation from all that

is material and mutable, and while Gnostic piety aspired

to union with the Divine Life solely by the mystic

vision of the Light which is its emanation; with St. John,

the conception of God is primarily and intensely ethical.

A deity of mere abstract Being could never awaken his

soul to worship. His homage is not given to Infinitude

or Everlastingness. For him, God is in the least atom

of moral good, as He is not in


                        "the fight of setting suns,

            And the round ocean, and the living air,

            And the blue sky."


For him, the Eternal Life, the very Life of God,

brought into the sphere of humanity in the person of

Jesus Christ, is Righteousness and Love; and with his

whole soul he labours to stamp on the minds of men

the truth that only by Righteousness and Love can they

walk in the Light of God, and have fellowship in the Life

of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ.

54                The First Epistle of St. John


                                God is Life.1


            "This is the true God, and Eternal Life" (520). It

is everywhere assumed in the Epistle that God is the

absolute final source of that life—Eternal Life—the pos-

session of which is the supreme end for which man, and

every spiritual nature, exists. This is clearly implied in

such a statement as "This is the witness, that God

gave us Eternal Life" (511) and in all the passages, too

numerous to be quoted, that speak: of the existence of

this Life in man as the result of a Divine Begetting.

That God is also the immanent source of Life—that it

exists and is maintained only through a continuous vitalising

union with Him, as of the branch with the vine—is no

less clearly implied in those equally numerous passages

that speak of our abiding in God and God's abiding

in us.

            In all this it is further implied that God is the

source of Life to men because He has Life in Himself.

Omne vivum ex vivo. Eternal life may be spoken

of as His gift (511, Rom. 623); but the gift is not

extraneous to the Giver. It is nothing else than His

self-communication to men, the transmission to us of

His own nature. "This is the true God, and Eternal

Life" (520).2

            It must be observed, however, that St. John nowhere

merges the idea of God in that of Life. God is the ultimate

Eternal Life; Eternal Life is not God. God is personal,


            1 This part of the subject is treated very briefly. For fuller exposition of

the Johannine conception of Life, see Chapter X.

            2 ou$to<j e]stin o[ a]lhqino>j qeo>j kai> zwh> ai]w<nioj. See Notes, in loc. Even here,

it is true, the thought is primarily soteriological. It is not of what God is in

Himself, but of what He is in relation to us—the source of Eternal Life. This

is clear from the contrast drawn between Him who is " the true God and Eternal

Life," and the idols which cannot give life (cf. Jer. 213), and from which we

are exhorted to guard ourselves (521). But, of course, the though: of what

God is in relation to us inevitably passes up into the thought of what God is in


            The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                55


Life is impersonal;1 and any manner of thinking by which

God is reduced to a pantheistic anima mundi is as foreign

to St. John as it is to every other Biblical writer. It is

noticeable, indeed, that St. John nowhere carries his con-

ception of God as the Life to its full cosmical expansion.

It would be in full accord with that conception—it is its

religious as well as its logical completion—to say that

God, as immanent, is the principle of universal life; that

life, throughout the whole hierarchy of creation, from the

flower in the crannied wall to the archangel, is a pulse of

God's own life, a stream not separated but ever flowing

from Him as its fountain-head (Ps. 365). For every finite

being life is union with God according to its capacity. But

the lower potencies of the creative Life do not come within

the Apostle's horizon. Man alone, of terrestrial creatures,

has capacity for the highest kind of life, which St. John

calls Eternal Life; and his concern is exclusively with this.

            What elements, then, are present in St. John's con-

ception of the Divine Life? Primarily, as has been said,

this conception is ethical. The activities in which the

Life is manifested are those of Righteousness (229), and

Love (48). The life God lives is a life absolutely righteous

and loving. But the conception is also metaphysical.

Essentially, the Eternal Life is nothing else than the Divine

Nature itself, regarded, not as abstract being, but dynami-

cally, as the ground and source of all its own manifold

activities—as the animating principle2 in virtue of which

the Divine Righteousness and the Divine Love are not

mere abstractions, but eternally active forces. And, finally,

the Life of God is a principle of self-communication and

self-reproduction. It is this by intrinsic necessity. Love

cannot but seek to beget love (47); and Righteousness to


            1 Even in 12, where h[ zwh> h[ ai]w<nioj is, not the Logos, but the pre-incarnate

life of the Logos. The Eternal Life is the common element in the personality

of God, the Word, and those who are "begotten of God."

            2 v. Scott's Fourth Gospel, p. 257.

56                    The First Epistle of St. John


beget righteousness (229). In the Epistle, this generative

activity of the Divine Life holds a place of equal import-

ance with its ethical quality. No thought is more closely

interwoven with its whole texture than that of the Divine

self-communication. Eternally, the Father imparts Him-

self to His only-begotten Son (49), the Word whose life

from the Beginning consisted in His fellowship with the

Father (h!tij h#n pro>j to>n pate<ra, 12).   To men, Eternal

Life is communicated as the result of a Divine act, by

which, in the terminology of St. John, they are "begotten

of God" and become the "children of God" (te<kna tou? qeou?).

This actual impartation of the actual Life of God is the

core of Johannine soteriology. It is this that makes the

Gospel a gospel, and Christ the mediator of a real salvation.

"This is the witness, that God gave us Eternal Life, and this

Life is in His Son."


                                      God is Light.


            "And this is the message which we have heard from

Him, and announce again unto you, that 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"(15.6).

            The words "God is Light," though unrecorded in any

of our Gospels, may quite conceivably contain the verbal

reminiscence of an actual utterance of our Lord. This,

however, is not necessarily implied in St. John's statement.

What is asserted is that the whole purport of the Christian

Revelation,1 from a certain point of view, may be said to be

this—God is Light. And our endeavour, in the first

place, must be to determine the sense in which the symbol

is here employed.

            Light, the most beautiful and blessed thing in Nature,


            1 a]ggeli<a is used with exactly the same import in 311. There the “message"

is " that we love one another."

          The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                 57


which seems as if created to be the emblem of all purity

and splendour, of knowledge, safety, love and joy, and

which fits the world to be the abode of the higher forms of

life, has been inevitably associated by men of every race

and religion with their conception of the Divine. It would

lead far from our present purpose, however, to attempt an

investigation of the typology of Light in the extra-Biblical

religions, or even to examine minutely the symbolic mean-

ings and uses of it that are scattered broadcast over the

Scriptures themselves.1  It will suffice to notice that there

are two main lines along which the idea of Light is related,

both in the Old Testament and the New, to the being,

character and activity of God.

            On the one hand, Light is associated physically or

symbolically with the Divine Essence, and with the heavenly

world. Everywhere in the Old Testament, Light is the

actual medium of theophany, the physical accompaniment

of Jehovah's presence.2 In the New Testament also, the

same conception of Light as pertaining to the essence of

Deity—as the physical element, so to say, of the Divine

Life--is abundantly present. God "dwells in light that is

inaccessible and full of glory" (1 Tim. 616); and where-

ever the celestial world is projected into the terrestrial it is

in a radiance of supernatural Light.3 Following this line

of analogy, we might infer that here in our Epistle the idea

of Light is associated symbolically with the moral Being of

God. That God is Light in which there is no darkness,

signifies the spotless and radiant perfection of the Divine


            1 The most comprehensive discussion, both of the Biblical and extra-Biblical

typology of light, is contained in Grill's Untersuchungen uber die Entslehung des

vierten Evangeliums.

            2 In the visions of Ezekiel, e.g. (Ezek. 128 323 104 etc.), as the "Glory of

the Lord"; which in the Priestly Code is localised, and assumes a definite

uniformity as the Shekinah-Glory (Ex. 4034, 1 Kings 811 etc.).

            3 Cf. Matt. 172 283, Acts 93 127 etc. In these and other similar passages

the conception is of a Light, supramundane, "above the brightness of the

sun," but actual and in some sense physical, emanating from the Divine


58                  The First Epistle of St. John


Holiness. In another class of passages, on the other hand,

the symbol is used to express the correlative facts of God's

self-revelation and of the enlightenment it brings to man's

spiritual perceptions. Thus, in the Old Testament, it is

the symbol of the illuminative action of the Divine Word

(Pss. 198 119105), of the Divine Spirit (Ps. 3610, Prov. 2027),

and of the witness of the people of God to the sur-

rounding world (Isa. 426 496 601-3). In the New Testa-

ment this is the prevailing use. Christ is the a]pau<gasma

of the Father's glory (Heb. 13); the Word in whom the

Divine Life becomes the Light of men (John 14) and of the

world (812); and the prophetic word is a "lamp shining

in a dark place" (2 Pet. 119). The subjective illumination

which is the counterpart of the external revelation is also

Light. By the "Spirit of wisdom and revelation" the

"eyes of the heart" are enlightened (Eph. 118); and as,

in the first creation, God caused Light to shine out of

darkness, so now He shines in the heart "to give the light

of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus

Christ" (2 Cor. 46).

            Now, for the interpretation of the Epistle, it is a question

of some importance to determine with which of these ideas,

essence or revelation, St. John's conception of the Divine

Light comes into line. In my judgment it is with the

latter. That God is Light expresses the self-revelation of

God; first, as a necessity that belongs to His moral nature;

secondly, as the source of all moral illumination. But while

maintaining this interpretation I must admit that the

exegetical authorities, almost with one voice, declare for

the opposite view, namely, that Light here denotes the

essential Being of God. "It is the innermost, all-compre-

hending essence of God, from which all His attributes

proceed" (Haupt); "Absolute Holiness and Truth"

(Huther); "the Absolute Holiness of God, especially as

Love" (Rothe); "the new idea of God as unconditioned

            The Doctrine of God as Life and Light               59


Goodness, holy Love" (Beyschlag, ii. 450); "the Love

which constitutes the essence of God " (Grill, p. 312).

To this whole class of interpretations there is only one

objection—a serious one, however--that they are irrelevant

to the context. While this interpretation of the Light as

absolute Holiness or Love serves admirably for this single

sentence (15), taken by itself, it will be found that it entirely

dislocates the continuity of thought that runs through

the paragraph (15-22).   Examining this paragraph as a

whole, we find that the unifying idea is not the Light, but

is fellowship with God. St. John does not introduce the

thought that God is Light as an independent thesis. He

does not develop it, or even recur to it. It is introduced

only for the sake of leading up to what follows, "If we say

that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we

lie, and do not the truth."  In fact, it is the logical starting-

point for the whole paragraph--the major premise from

which the Apostle proceeds, in the course of the paragraph,

to draw a number of conclusions regarding the conditions

of fellowship with God. These conditions are, abstractly

and summarily, that "we walk in the Light, as He is in the

Light" (17). Light is the medium in which fellowship

between God and man is realised; the first element which

He and we may possess in common. The crucial question,

moreover, is as to what this condition of fellowship—walk-

ing in the Light—signifies for sinful men; for, as St. John

immediately proceeds to insist, to "walk in the Light" is, first

and indispensably, to confess our sins (18-10) Obviously,

therefore, the Light cannot signify the absolute moral per-

fection of God. For sinners, fellowship with God cannot,

initially, consist in sharing His moral perfection. The Light

in which we, being yet sinful, can walk so as to have fellow-

ship with God, is the Light of Truth, the Light which His

self-revelation sheds upon all objects in the moral universe,

and, first of all, upon ourselves and our sin. The clue to the

60                   The First E istle of St. John


whole passage, in short, is the idea of fellowship.1 As in

nature Light is the medium of fellowship,—the social element

in which all creatures, whatever their affinities or antagon-

isms, may meet and be revealed one to another,—so, in the

spiritual sphere, the Light, the source of which is the self-

revelation of God, is the medium of fellowship between all

spiritual beings. And especially is it the element in which

we, though yet sinful, can have fellowship with God; because,

when by confessing our sins we walk in the Light, "the

Blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin."

            The single meeting-place of the Holy God and sinful

men is, to begin with, the Truth; the only medium of their

fellowship, a common view of spiritual realities. And it is

because God is Light that this is possible. As it is said in

the most Johannine of the Psalms, "In Thy Light shall we

see light."

            I. That God is Light signifies, therefore, in the first

place, that the Divine Nature is, by inherent moral necessity,

self-revealing.2 As Light, by its nature, cannot be self-

contained, but is ever seeking to impart itself, pouring

through every window and crevice, shining into every eye,

bathing land and sea with its pure radiance; so God, from

His very nature of Righteousness and Love, is necessitated

to reveal Himself as being what He is. He is Light, and as

such is always seeking to shine into the minds He has made

in His own Image. "And in Him is no darkness at all."


            1 So Westcott (p. 14). Yet, having grasped the clue, he does not follow it

up. Having struck the nail on the head, he proceeds to make a circle of dints

all around it.

            2 So Weiss, though somewhat inadequately: " God is Light denotes the fact

that He has become visible, namely, in Christ, in whom He is completely

revealed." "God is Light means in modern language that it is the nature of

God to communicate Himself" (Inge, Dict. of Christ, i. 892b). "The trans-

cendent life streaming out on men, the absolute nature of God as Truth, as the

Supreme reality for man to believe in" (Moffatt, ibid. ii. 34a).

            3 The idea of Light is one which plays a various but always prominent part

in the Gnostic theologies and cosmogonies. And it may very well be that the

aim of the writer of the Epistle was partly, at least, to emphasise as supreme



              The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                 61


In God there is nothing that hides, nothing that is hidden.

In the Light of His self-revelation there is no darkness,

because in His nature there is no inconsistency, no variable-

ness, no secret reserve, God, as revealed in Christ, is

knowable as no other Being is. His holiness, justice, and

love are beyond knowledge, not because there is in Him

anything that is not holiness, justice, and love, but because

these, as they exist in Him, are beyond the measure of

man's mind. The Divine character is utterly transparent

—goodness without a shadow of evil. It is Light in

which there is no darkness, to which there is no arresting

horizon, that streams through the spiritual universe from

Him who is its Sun, the Word of Life.1

            II. But this thought of God's self-revelation carries with

it, as its correlative, the thought of man's illumination

thereby. As the light of the sun not only reveals the

sun itself, but brings all things in their proper forms and

colours to our vision, so the Light of God makes all things

in the spiritual realm visible in their true character. As

all truth is God's thought, and all finite intelligence is


the moral significance of the Divine Light, as opposed to the merely intellectual,

or, on the other hand, semi-physical conceptions of Gnosticism.  Westcott thinks

that in the emphatic "in Him is no darkness at all" there is a reference to

"Zoroastrian speculation on the two opposing spiritual powers." But Zoro-

astrianism did not teach that there are two opposing powers in God. Holtzmann,

again, finds a protest against any idea of a su<gxusij a]rxikh<, such as was sub-

sequently developed in the Basilidian system. But the doctrine of Basilides

(Clem. Strom. ii. 2o. 112), that the corruption of the human soul is due to an

original confusion and mixture of Light and Darkness (kata< tina ta<raxon kai>

su<gxusin a]rxikh<n), has no perceptible relevance to St. John's dictum, "God

is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all." The Antinomianism which the

Epistle combats must have had as its basis a dualistic conception of the

Universe; but there is no indication that it carried this dualism back into the

Divine nature itself.

            1 In the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, the concatenation of ideas is exactly

parallel to that which I have endeavoured to establish in the Epistle. As here

we have successively the ideas of the Word (11), the Life (12), and the Light

(15); so there, "In the beginning was the Word" (11); "In Him was Life,

and the Life was the Light of men" (14). In the Gospel it is quite evident that

the idea of Light is attached not to the Divine Essence, but to the self-revelation

of God in the Word.


62                      The First Epistle of St. John


participation in the light of the Eternal Reason; so, in the

moral sphere, the character that things have in the moral

judgments of God and the view of them that is given in

the light of His self-revealment constitute what is called,

in Johannine phrase, h[ a]lhqei<a, the Truth. And it is in

their perception of the Truth, their illumination by the

Divine Light, that there exists for all moral beings a

medium of conscious fellowship with God. For sinful men,

especially, this is the only possible medium' of such fellowship.

We can come to the Light and walk in the Light, as He

is in the Light (17). Light is the translucent atmosphere

in which, even while still morally imperfect and impure,

we can come to have a common perception of moral

facts and a true fellowship of mind with Him who is

the absolutely Good. This, indeed, is the basis of spiritual

religion; it is this that distinguishes Christianity from

irrational superstitions and unethical ritualism. It is no

merely emotional, mystical, or sacramentarian fellowship

with God that St. John declares to us; but a fellowship

in the Truth, in thought and knowledge, and in all that

springs from them. God is not Life merely; He is Light

also. And the complete Johannine conception may be

expressed in this, that Life is the medium of our sub-

conscious, Light of all our conscious fellowship with God

and with one another (17).

            The relation to God in which such fellowship is consciously

realised is expressed throughout the Epistle, as in the Gospel,

by the characteristic use of the verb "to know" (ginw<skein).1


            1 To "know Him" (24) is equivalent to "being in Him" (25b), and to

"abiding in Him" (26). The children of God "know the Father" (214).

"Every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God" (47). "We

have received an understanding that we should know Him that is true" (520)

The antithesis of this relation is expressed as "not knowing" (36 48);

more emphatically by "lie" and "liar" (16 24. 22). It must he observed

that ginw<skein invariably denotes knowledge, not by ratiocination, but by

spiritual perception.

            See, further, special note on ginw<skein.


                     The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                    63


But the conception of spiritual knowledge, in all its presup-

positions and in all its consequences, is equally remote from

Rationalism and from Gnosticism. The perception of spirit-

ual truth is as little attainable by logical faculty or common

intelligence as it is by theosophic contemplation. Spiritual

regeneration is the prerequisite of spiritual illumination.

Those only who are "begotten of God" have the power

to "see" and "know" Divine realities. God is Light;

and had human nature been animated by a normal and

healthy spiritual life, the Divine illumination would have

flowed in upon it uninterruptedly by all its channels of

affinity with the Divine. And, indeed, St. John's thought

is that the Light never has been, never could be, wholly

withdrawn. But "the Light shineth in the darkness, and

the darkness apprehended it not" (John 15). As the original

state of every man is death (314), so is it also blindness.

And "Except a man be born from above, he cannot

see the kingdom of God" (John 33). The fundamental

Johannine position is that the whole redemptive process

has its origin, not in any conscious human act, but in a

sub-conscious activity of the Divine Life in man; and the

first fruit and manifestation of this activity is the power to

"see," to "believe" on Him who is the Light, to "know"

God whom He reveals.1

            Yet, since Light is the element of conscious activity,

of conscious obedience or disobedience (John 724), of

sincerity or insincerity (John 319-21), the Epistle strongly

emphasises the office of human volition in the response

made to it. The Light is a message in the impera-

tive, not only in the indicative mood; and the Epistle

speaks not of "seeing," but of "walking in the Light."

The conception, in both Gospel and Epistle, is that,

while the light, which shines around all men, becomes a

power of saving illumination only in those who, as


            1 See, further, Chapters X. and XIII.


64                   The First Epistle of St. John


"begotten of God," are responsive to its influence, none

can be entirely unconscious of its being there, or entirely

insusceptible to its claims upon him. But men may close

the shutters of the soul's windows against it. With an

instinctive premonition of what it would constrain them to

see and acknowledge, to do and forego, men may and do

employ devices of various subtlety to fortify the mind

against its entrance. As in the primeval story the covert

of the trees of the garden is preferred to the Light of

God's presence, so still "This is the judgment, that the

light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness

rather than the light, for their works were evil" (John 319)

            A brief study of the paragraph (15-22) will show that

this interpretation of the Light fits into the context like

a key into its proper lock. The thesis of the whole

paragraph is that "walking in the Light" is the one

necessary and sufficient condition of fellowship with God.

This is first stated in the most abstract form. "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" (15. 6). Here the affirmation

is not (as in 2 Cor. 614) that two elements so opposite

in nature as light and darkness, holiness and sin, purity

and impurity, cannot mix and coalesce. What is in view

is the irreconcilable effect of light and darkness. Light

is that which reveals; darkness, that which conceals.

Light is the medium in which we come to see as God sees,

to have a true perception of all moral objects—qualities,

actions, and persons. To "walk in the Light" is, therefore,

to have, in the first place, the will to see all things in the

Light of God, and to acknowledge and act up to what is

thus seen to be the truth. To "walk in darkness" is the

effort, instinctive or deliberate, not to see, or the failure

to acknowledge and act up to what is seen; to withdraw

ourselves, our duties, our actions, our character, our relation


              The Doctrine of God as Life and Light                 65


to the facts and laws of the spiritual realm, from the light

which God's self-revealment sheds upon them. And to do

this is, ipso facto, to exclude the possibility of fellowship

with God.

            That this is the Apostle's meaning becomes still more

apparent as we follow the concrete development of the

thought in the remainder of the paragraph. This is

composed of three parallel pairs of antitheses (16.7 18.9

110-22), which may be arranged thus:



16 "If we say that we have fellow-

ship with Him, and walk in darkness,

we lie, and do not the truth."


18 "If we say that we have no sin,

we deceive ourselves, and the truth is

not in us."


110 "If we say that we have not

sinned, we make Him a liar, and His

word is not in us."



17 "If we walk in the light, as He is

in the light, we have fellowship one

with another, and the Blood of Jesus

His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

19 “If we confess our sins, He is

faithful and righteous to forgive us our

sins, and to cleanse us from all un-


21 "If any man sin, we have an

advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ

the righteous."



            From this it is evident that to "walk in the Light" is,

first of all, to confess sin; to walk in the darkness,

to ignore or to deny sin. All things assume a different

aspect in the Light, of God; but nothing looks so different

as we ourselves do. The first fact on which the light

impinges is our sin. But, though it exposes sin in all its

horror, we may loyally submit to and endorse the result—

we may come tot the Light and walk in it; or we may

"rebel against the Light" (Job 2413) and "love the

darkness." The "darkness," therefore, is not the "world,"

nor "sin, especially as impurity" (Rothe). It is, in this

instance, self-concealment, the cloud of sophistry and self-

deception which it is always the instinct of guilt to gather

around itself. To "walk in darkness" is not necessarily,

indeed, to live a double life under any of the deeper

shades of deliberate hypocrisy. For the exclusion of the

66                  The First Epistle of St. John


Light, conscious dissimulation is comparatively ineffective.

Simply to pursue the everyday life of business and pleasure,

of purpose and achievement, without reference to the Will

of God; to live by the false and mutilated standards of the

world; to be blinded by the glare of its artificial illumin-

ations—there are no more effectual and frequented ways

than these of walking in darkness.

            It is needless for our present purpose to pursue further

the exposition of this paragraph.1 And it must suffice to

indicate in a sentence how, in the remainder of this whole

section of the Epistle (15-220), the contrast between walking

in the Light and walking in darkness is developed.

            The Light of God not only reveals sin (17-22), it

reveals Duty (23-6); especially, it reveals Love as the

highest law for the children of God (27-11); as it also

reveals in their true character the "world and the things

that are in the world," so that it is seen that "if any man

love the world, the love of the Father is not in him"

(215-17). Finally, the light reveals Jesus as the Christ, the

Incarnate Son of God (218-28). He who denies the

glorious reality of the Incarnation is a "liar," and is blind

to the Light of God.

            "God is Light" signifies the inward necessity of the

Divine Nature to reveal itself, the fact of its perfect and

eternal self-revelation in Christ, and the correlative fact

of men's spiritual illumination thereby. This is the only

conception of the Light that fits into the train of thought

running through this whole section of the Epistle.


            1 See Chapters VIII. and IX.




                               CHAPTER V.




                         God is Righteous (229).


GOD is Life, self-imparting; God is Light, self-revealing.

But what, in itself, is the Divine Nature, the communication,

of which is Life and the revelation of which is Light?

It is solely within the ethical sphere that the Epistle

contemplates this question; and in the unity of God's

moral being, two, and only two, elements are distinguished

—Righteousness and Love. From these the whole moral

activity of the Divine Life proceeds; and, as a necessary

consequence, it is by the impartation of these same qualities

to human nature that the whole development of the

regenerate life is determined.

            The words Righteous and Righteousness (di<kaioj,

dikaiosu<nh) are used only in the broadest sense. They

express neither the Pauline idea of forensic status nor the

specific virtue of justice, the voluntas suum cuique tribuendi,

but the sum of all that is right in character and conduct.

Righteousness includes all of which sin is the negation.

"Every one that doeth righteousness is begotten of God"

(229), but "He that doeth sin is of the devil" (38); and

again, "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God"

(310), but "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth not sin"

(39). Righteousness and sin divide between them the

whole area of moral possibility.

            That such Righteousness belongs to, or rather is, the




68                    The First Epistle of St. John


character of God, and that this is the basis of all Christian

Ethics, is everywhere implied, and is categorically asserted

in (229) e]a>n ei]dh?te o!ti di<kaio<j e]stin, ginw<skete1 o!ti kai> pa?j

o[ poiw?n th>n dikaiosun<nhn e]c au]tou? gege<nnhtai. "If ye know

that He is righteous, know (or, ye know) that every one

also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him."

            The argument presupposes, in the first place, that

Righteousness in God and in man is one and the same.

Like begets like; the stream has the quality of the fountain.

It presupposes, in the second place, that God, and He alone,

is originally and essentially righteous—there is no other

source from which human righteousness can be derived.

            The Righteousness that belongs to the inward char-

acter of God extends also to His action; it ensures

rightness, unfailing self-consistency, in all that He does.

Thus, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and

righteous (pisto<j e]stin kai> di<kaioj) to forgive us our

sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When,

on the ground of Christ's propitiation, God forgives those

who by confession make forgiveness possible, He is

"righteous"; and because He is "righteous," He is

"faithful." He does not deny Himself (2 Tim. 213). He

does what is according to His character, because He does

what is right.

            But the activity of God's Righteousness, which is most

conspicuous in the Epistle, is that in which it is directly

and imperatively related to the whole moral action of His

creatures. The2 Righteousness of God is that which


            1 The delicate differentiation of the two verbs to "know" is very noticeable

here. The ei]dh?te of the first clause expresses the knowledge absolutely, as a

first principle assumed in all cogitation upon the subject; the ginw<skete of the

second clause expresses the art of mental perception by which knowledge, in the

particular instance, is acquired. The full sense of the verse is, "If ye know,

as ye do absolutely know, that He is righteous, recognise (or, ye recognise), as

implied in this, that every one also," etc. See special note on ginw<skein and


            2 On the whole subject of this paragraph, see, further, Chapter XI.


   The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love        69


renders sin inadmissible in them; inadmissible de jure in

all, inadmissible de facto in those who are "begotten of


            This the writer maintains with unexampled strenuous-

ness and rigour. The Righteousness of God is Law for all

men and for all their actions. "Sin is lawlessness; and

every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness" (34).

Nothing excites in St. John a warmer indignation than

the supposition of compatibility between a life of actual

wrong-doing and fellowship with the Righteous God.

"He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His com-

mandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in Him " (24).

"Every one that doeth not righteousness is not of God"

(310), but is "of the devil" (38) Not less absolutely is

it insisted that all who are "begotten of Him" and in

fellowship with Him partake of His Righteousness.

"Every one that is begotten of God doth not commit sin,

because His seed abideth in Him; and he cannot sin, because

He is begotten of God" (39). "We know that every one

that is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was

begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one

toucheth him not" (518).  It is an inveterate misreading

of the Epistle that represents its author as being, almost

exclusively, the "Apostle of Love." Intense as is St.

John's gaze into the heavenly abyss of the Divine Love,

it seems impossible that any writing could display a more

impassioned sense, than this Epistle does, of the tremendous

imperative of Righteousness—a more rigorous intolerance

of sin. So long as the Church lays up this Epistle in its

heart, it can never lack a spiritual tonic of wholesome


            It is true, however, that in its doctrine of Divine

righteousness, thoroughly spontaneous as it is, the Epistle

makes no remarkable contribution to the development of

New Testament thought. It does no more than restate, in


70                 The First Epistle of St. John


a peculiarly forceful fashion, and with all the glow of an

original intuition, that conception of the Divine Nature

which is fundamental to the whole Biblical revelation. It

must be conceded, moreover, that the assertion of the

impeccability of the regenerate, into which the Writer,

apparently at least, is led by the vehemence of the polemical

interest, has tended to detract from the full usefulness of

his teaching on this head. However effectively the unique

form of expression employed may have been adapted to the

peculiarities of the immediate situation, it has been to later

generations a paradox and a puzzle rather than a source of

instruction or a practical stimulus. It is far otherwise

with the next of the great affirmations which constitute the

Epistle's doctrine of God.


                                     God is Love (48)


            Here the Epistle rises to the summit of all revelation;

and, for the first time, enunciates that truth which not only

is the profoundest, gladdest, most transforming that the

mind can conceive, but is the beginning and the end—

the truth in which all truths have their ultimate unity, the

innermost secret of existence.

            The New Testament word for Love, a]ga<ph, is virtually

a coinage of Christianity. It may be that it is an old

word reminted; but it is one of the curiosities, at least, of

philology that, while the verb a]gapa?n is fairly common in

classical Greek from Homer downwards, the noun a]ga<ph

is not found in any extant classical text; a single passage

in Philo supplying the solitary instance of its extra-

Biblical use.1 This does not prove, indeed, that it was

unknown to non-literary Greek; and Deissmann may be


            1  Even in the Septuagint there are only fifteen occurrences, eleven of them

in Canticles, where the sexual tinge is unmistakable, as also in 2 Sam. 1315 and

Jer. 22.  In Eccles. 91.6 it is opposed to mi?soj in a more general sense.



  The Doctrine of God is Righteousness and Love        71


right in supposing it to have been current in the

Egyptian vernacular.1 The fact remains, however, that

though the Greek language is rich in terms2 answering

to "love" in its various shades of meaning, the com-

paratively unused a]ga<ph was, as it were, providentially

reserved to express that purely ethical love the con-

ception of which Christianity first made current among


            In the Epistle the words a]ga<ph and a]gapa?n are

used to express an energy of the moral nature in God

towards men, in men towards God, in men towards one

another. And one of its profound truths is that, in

whatever relation it may operate, Love is one and the

same. All love has its origin in God; and human love

is the moral nature of God incarnate in man. "Every

one that loveth is begotten of God" (47).    And, since

nothing moral can exist merely in the form of action,

Love is, primarily, a disposition, a permanent quality

of the Will, an inherent tendency of the moral nature.

The quality of this disposition is indicated by the fact's,

that the object of Love in the human relation is invariably

our "brother."3 We may disregard the fact that brother-

hood here denotes not physical but spiritual relationship;

for the spiritual presupposes the physical analogue. And

though, in fact, it is not brotherhood that makes Love

(211 312), but Love that makes brotherhood, Love may be

said to be that mutual disposition which ideally exists

among brothers in the same family—the disposition

to act towards our fellow-men as it is natural for those


            1 The supposed discovery of the word in a papyrus of the second century B.C.,

announced by Deissmann in his Bibel-Studien (1895), has been abandoned

(Expository Times, September 1898, p. 567). But its adoption instead of e@rwj

by the LXX may be thought to lend probability to the supposition of its Egyptian


            2 storgh<, the love that belongs to natural kinship; e@rwj, with its predominant

suggestion of sexuality; fili<a, specially appropriated to friendship.

            3 210 310.14.16.17 420.21.


72                 The First Epistle of St. John


to do who have all interests in common, and who

instinctively recognise that the full self-existence of each

can be realised only through a larger corporate existence.

Love is the power to live not only for another, but in

another, to realise one's own fullest life in the fulfilment of

other lives.

            Love is such a disposition, and such a disposition of

necessity issues in appropriate action. In the Epistle

nothing is more incisively dealt with than the fiction of

a love that is inoperative in practice. "Whoso hath this

world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth

up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the

love of God in him?" (317). That which terminates in

the mere self-satisfaction of "feeling good," whatever it

may be, is something else than Love. Love is the giving

impulse. And it rejoices, not only in imparting benefits,

the cost of which is imperceptible and the bestowal of

which is a sheer luxury: it expresses itself most fully in

sacrifice. It is that complete identification of self with

another which makes it sometimes imperative, and always

possible, to lay down even our lives for our brethren (316),

and which, indeed, realises an exquisite joy in suffering

endured for the beloved's sake.

            In human history, Love has its one absolute embodiment

in the self-sacrifice of Christ. "Hereby know we love," says

the Epistle in one of its pregnant sentences, hereby do we

perceive what Love is, "in that He laid down His Life for

us" (316). This is the Absolute of Love—its everlasting

type and standard. The world had never been without

the dower of Love. It had known love like Jacob's,

like David's and Jonathan's, the patriot's and the martyr's

self-devotion. But till Jesus Christ came and laid down

His Life for the men that hated and mocked and slew

Him, the world had not known what Love in its greatness

and purity could be.


     The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love        73


            And the Love of Christ in laying down His Life for

us is the manifestation, under the conditions of time and

sense, of the Love of God, eternal and invisible. God

is Love; but what God is can be known only through

His self-manifestation. Wherein does this consist? Not

in word only. It was not enough that He should say

that He is Love (cf. 318). Not in the works of Nature and

Providence alone. These are but starlight. The Epistle

points us to the Sun (49.10)

            "Herein was manifested the Love of God toward us,

that God hath sent His Son, His Only Begotten, into the

world, that we might live through Him. Herein is Love,

not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent

His Son (as) a propitiation for our sins."1

            The first of these two verses emphasises the fact that

God is Love, and exhibits the proof of it ("Herein

was the Love of God manifested"); the second, the

nature of Love itself, so manifested. But, taking both

in one view, we perceive that there are five factors

which here contribute to the full conception of Divine


            (1) First, the magnitude of its gift is set forth. "His

Son, His Only Begotten." Elsewhere, the title of Our

Lord is simply "the Son," the argument turning upon the

relation of Father and Son; or "His Son," or the "Son of

God," where the element of Divine power and dignity in

the Sonship is made more prominent. Here only,2 where

he would display the infinite Love in the infinite Gift, does

St. John use the full title, to>n ui[o>n au]tou? to>n monogenh?.

The essence of the manifestation is in the fact, not that God

sent Jesus, but that Jesus, who was sent, is God's Only-

Begotten Son. The full being of God is present in Him.

Other gifts are only tokens of God's Love. Its all is given


            1 See Notes, in loc.

            2 In the Gospel, only in the parallel passage, John 316.


74            The First Epistle of St. John


in Christ. It is His own bleeding heart the Father lays

on Love's altar, when He offers His Only-Begotten Son

(cf. Gen. 2212 and Rom. 832). (2) Secondly, the magnitude

of the Love is exhibited in the person of the Giver. It

was a father who thus sent his only-begotten son; but that

father was God (o[ qeo<j, not o[ path<r, as in 414). It was

the Divine Nature whose whole wealth was poured out

in the sacrifice of Calvary. (3) Thirdly, the Love of God

is manifested in the purpose of the mission of the Son.

This purpose is that we might live through Him,"1 in

which is implicitly contained the "should not perish"

of John 316. The Love of God is thus seen to be His

self-determination not only to rescue men from what is

the sum of all evils, but to impart to them the supreme

and eternal good, Life. (4) Fourthly, the Love of God is

manifested in the means by which this purpose is achieved,

God shrinks not from the uttermost cost of Redemption.

His Son is sent as a "propitiation for our sins." He not

only dies heroically on our behalf, as the good shepherd

lays down his life in defending his helpless flock from the

fangs of the wolf or the assault of the robber; but, as a

father drinks a full cup of sorrow and humiliation in striving

to make atonement for the criminal profligacies of an

unworthy son, even so, Almighty God, in the person of

His Son, humbles Himself and suffers unto blood for

the sins of His creatures. Such is the Love of God to

men; and what can be said of it, except that it is at once

incredible that the fact should be so, and impossible that

it should be otherwise? It is what never did, never could,

flit within the horizon of man's most daring dream; it is

that which, when it is revealed, shines with self-evidencing

light. It needs no argument. Apologetic is superfluous.2


            1 i!na zh<swmen di ] au]tou?. Cf. John 315.16 651.57 1010 1125.26 1419

            2           "what doubt in thee could countervail

                        Belief in it? Upon the ground



The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love   75


Such Love is Divine. The Being whose nature this is,

is God.

            But these statements ought, perhaps, to have been

reserved until we had considered the final moment in the

full conception of Divine Love, its objects. (5) "Herein

is Love, not that we loved God, but that God loved

us." The interpretation popularly put upon this verse,

as equivalent to "Herein is love, that, although we

did not love God, God loved us," is grammatically

untenable,1 and it misses the point in one of the

profoundest sentences in the Epistle. The Apostle does

not say that we have not loved God. What he says

is that we have loved God, but that this is not love

to call love.  That we have loved God is nothing

wonderful. The ineffable mystery of Love reveals itself

in this, that God has loved us, who are so unworthy of

His Love, and so repulsive to all the sensibilities, so to

say, of His moral nature. The full glory of the Divine

Love is seen in the fact that it is wholly self-created and


            It may be permissible to elucidate this truth somewhat

more fully. As we have seen. Love is that mysterious

power by which we live in the lives of others, and are thus

moved to benevolent and even self-sacrificing action on

their behalf. Such love is, after all, one of the most

universal things in humanity. But always natural human


            That in the story had been found

            Too much Love? How could God love so?

            While man, who was so fit instead

            To hate, as every day gave proof,—

            Man thought man, for his kind's behoof,

            Both could and did invent that scheme

            Of perfect Love; 't would well beseem

            Cain's nature thou vast wont to praise,

            Not tally with God's usual ways."

                                                            Browning's Easter Day.


            1 See Notes, in loc.


76                  The First Epistle of St. John


love is a flame that must be kindled and fed by some quality

in its object. It finds its stimulus in physical instinct, in

gratitude, in admiration, in mutual congeniality and liking.

Always it is, in the first place, a passive emotion, determined

and drawn forth by an external attraction. But the Love

of God is the ever-springing fountain. Its fires are self-

kindled. It is love that shines forth in its purest splendour

upon the unattractive, the unworthy, the repellent. Herein

is Love, in its purest essence and highest potency, not in

our love to God, but in this, that God loved us. Hence

follows the apparently paradoxical consequence, upon

which the Epistle lays a unique emphasis, that our love to

God is not even the most godlike manifestation of Love in

us. It is gratitude for His benefits, adoration of His

perfections, our response to God's love to us, but not its

closest reproduction in kind. In this respect, indeed, God's

love to man and man's love to God form the opposite

poles, as it were, of the universe of Love, the one self.

created and owing nothing to its object, the other entirely

dependent upon and owing everything to the infinite

perfection of its object; the one the overarching sky, the

other merely its reflection on the still surface of the lake,

And it is, as the Epistle insists, not in our love to God;

but in our Christian love to our fellow-men, that the Divine

Love is reproduced, with a relative perfection, in us (412.19.20;

cf. Eph. 432-52)

            Such is the conception of the Love of God that St.

John sets before us. In this entirely spontaneous, self-

determined devotion of God to sinful men, this Divine

passion to rescue them from sin, the supreme evil, and

to bestow on them the supreme good, Eternal Life:

in this, which is evoked by their need, not by their

worthiness, which goes to the uttermost length of

sacrifice, and bears the uttermost burden of their self-

inflicted doom—in this, which is for ever revealed in the


  The Doctrine of God as Righteous and Love          77


mission of Jesus Christ, God's Only-Begotten Son—is


            This is at once the norm and the inspiration of all that

is most truly to be called Love. Love is no merely

passive, involuntary emotion awakened in one person by

another. In the Epistle, as everywhere in the New

Testament, it is a duty (47.11) a subject of command-

ment (27.8 323b 421), and is, therefore, a moral self-deter-

mination which, in man, must often act in direct opposition

to natural instinct and inclination. And this is a self-

determination to do good, good only, and always the

highest good possible (49), without regard to merit or

attractiveness in the object (410a)and that even at highest

cost to self1 (410b).

            Yet such a definition would be adequate only to one

half of what Love is. Love is not solely benevolence

issuing in beneficence. In its highest as well as in its

lowest forms it contains the element of appetency. In

its lower forms Love is predominantly an egoistic and

appropriative impulse; in its highest form it becomes that

marvellous power which reconciles and identifies the

apparently opposite principles, egoism and altruism. One

finds one's richest satisfaction in the happiness of others,

one's own fullest self-realisation in promoting theirs. Love

seeks not its own, yet makes all things its own. It is the

utmost enrichment and enlargement of Life. "My beloved

is mine"—a possession of which nothing can rob me. The

more perfect the love, the more completely achieved is this

mysterious result, this self-enlargement by self-communica-

tion, this self-losing self-finding. If I love my neighbour

as myself, I regale myself with his prosperity, even as

I share the bitter cup of his adversity; I am honoured in

his praise, promoted in his advancement, gladdened in his

joy, even as I am humbled in his shame or distressed in


            1 Cf. J. M. Gibbon, Eternal Life, p. 106.



78            The First Epistle of St. John


his sin. In short, we might define the highest Love as

that state of the moral nature in which the egoistic and the

altruistic principles coalesce and are fused into one living

experience. Such is the perpetual miracle of Love. Such

is it in man. Such also is it in God, as it is delineated in

the New Testament. No less than benevolence, God's

Love displays the element of infinite desire and yearning

quest. It seeks the lost as the shepherd seeks the strayed

sheep upon the mountains; as a father's heart yearns after

a wayward son. It becomes the source of an infinite

Divine Joy over the sinner that repenteth; and because of

the joy, it endures the cross and despises the shame. It is

in God's Love, and transcendently in His self-sacrifice for

the sinful and lost, that the Divine Life conies to its fullest

self-realisation. And, though it is the self-communicating

aspect of Divine Love that alone is presented in the Epistle,

yet, always, Love is that for which self-communication

is the fullest self-assertion, and all that Love is, is

ascribed in its supreme perfection to God. God is Love.

            (1) He is Love essentially. Like the sunlight which

contains in itself all the hues of the spectrum, Love is

not one of God's attributes, but that ill which all His

moral attributes have their unity. The spring of all

His actions, the explanation of all He does or ever can

do is Love. (2) Therefore, also, His Love is universal.

If there were any of His creatures whom He did not

love, this would prove that there was something in His

nature that was not Love, but was opposed to Love.

Whatever be the mysteries of the past, present, or future,

God is Love. That is St. John's great truth. He does

not attempt to reconcile with it other and apparently

conflicting truths in his theological scheme; possibly he

was not conscious of any need to do so. But of this

he is sure—God is Love. That fact must, in ways we

cannot yet discern, include all other facts. No being is


The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love       79


unloved. Nothing happens that is not dictated or over-

ruled by Love. (3) And if essential and universal, the Love

of God is also eternal and unchangeable. It does not depend

on any merit or reciprocation in its object, but overflows

from an infinite fulness within itself. Our goodness did

not call it forth; neither can our evil cause it to cease.


                                                “Love is not love

                        Which alters when it alteration finds,

                        sends with the remover to remove.”


We may refuse to the Divine Love any inlet into our

nature, may refuse to let it have its way with us, may so

identify ourselves with evil as to turn it into an antagonistic

force. This is the most awful fact in human life. But

the sun is not extinguished, though shutters be closed and

blinds drawn at midday; and though we may shut out

God from our hearts, no being can by any means shut

himself out from the great Heart of God. God is Love.

It is the surest of all intuitions; the strongest corner-

stone of the Christian Faith. Having known and believed

the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—

the Love that came not by water only, but by blood

also—we can tolerate no other conception of the Divine.

(4) From all this it follows that we cannot ultimately con-

ceive of God as a single and simple personality. Love, no

more than Thought, can exist without an object. If we

say that God was eternally the object of His own Love,

we deny to Him the supreme prerogative of Love, self-

communication. If we say that, either in time or from

eternity, God created the universe in order to have an

object for His Love, we make the Universe as necessary

to God as God is to the Universe. His Love in creation

was not the overflowing of the fountain, but the craving

of the empty vessel. It is at this point that the Trini-

tarian doctrine becomes most helpful.  It enables us to

think of the Life of God not as an eternal solitude of


80           The First Epistle of St. John


self-contemplation and self love, but as a life of communion:

—the Godhead is filled with Love, the Love of the

Father and the Son in the unity of the Spirit. So far

from being a burden to faith, the doctrine of the Divine

Trinity sheds a welcome light upon the mystery of God's

Eternal Being, both as self-conscious personality and as

Love. It is a mystery, but a mystery which "explains

many other mysteries, and which sheds a marvellous light on

God, on nature, and on man." It is the "consummation and

only perfect protection of Theism"; and it will be ultimately

found not only to influence every part of our theological

system, but to be the vital basis of Christian Ethics.




               The Correlation of Righteousness and Love.


            God is Love; God is Righteous. The two conceptions appear to be

equally fundamental; and a problem of no small perplexity is presented

by the inevitable inquiry—what is their relation to each other? When

it is said that God is Love, the only possible interpretation seems to be

that Love is that essential moral quality of the Divine Nature in which

all God's purposes and actions have their origin. But when it is said

that God is Righteous, it seems equally inevitable to regard His

Righteousness as determining all His purposes and ways. Both state-

ments, moreover, are intuitively felt to be true. We can assert the one

and then, the next moment, assert the other without any sense of

contradiction. How, then, are we to think of the moral nature of God?

Is it a unity, or is it a duality? Is it, to use a mathematical analogy,

a circle having a single centre, or is it an ellipse formed around two

different foci?

            The latter solution of the problem has been most widely and

authoritatively maintained. Righteousness and Love, it is held, are

essentially different and mutually independent. They are not conter-

minous, Righteousness occupying the whole area of moral character

and obligation, while Love covers only a part of it. God is righteous

in all His ways; in some only is He loving. Righteousness is a

necessity with Him; Love is secondary, and can be exercised only

when it does not conflict with Righteousness. Let us consider whether

this view is tenable.

            (1) In the first place, Love is included in Righteousness. A distinc-

       The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love          81


tion is drawn between duties of Right and duties of Love. But there

certainly are duties of Love. Love is not a mood or inclination that

may or may not be exercised at one's option. The maxim is laid down

by Dorner1 that duties of Right precede duties of Love—"We must be

just before we are generous." But in what is this precedence grounded?

Assuredly, not in any essential difference in the nature of the obligation.

We are not under one sort of obligation to be honest and under another

and inferior obligation to be kind. It is a mere and inevitable fact,

indeed, that is expressed by the axiom, "We must be just before we

are generous." We cannot in reality be generous before we are just.

If we act as if we could, we are generous with what is not ours but

another's; that is to say, we arc not generous at all. The apparent

self-communication is altogether unreal. And it is because the tempta-

tion to forget this is, for many persons, peculiarly strong that the

maxim, "We must be just before we are generous," is so needful. But

morally it is no whit less imperative that a man be generous according

to his real ability, than that he be honest; that he forgive an injury,

than that he refrain from committing one. Such difference as exists

between duties of Right and duties of Love is not qualitative but

quantitative. To succour the needy is as truly a duty as to pay one's

mercantile debts; but to be dishonest is a more flagrant violation of

the law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," than to be

ungenerous. The distinction between the two classes of duties is only

a convenient expression of certain moral measurements, which experi-

ence has taught mankind to make, as to the duties that are the more

universal and important, and the neglect of which works greater and wider injury.

            The duties of love, then, are included in the area of Righteousness.

According to all Christian Ethics, indeed, Love is the chief part of that

sum of moral obligation which is Righteousness. (According to Matt.

2235-40 and Rom. 138-10 it is the whole.) Love itself is the supreme

duty, and the withholding of it the worst sin.

            (2) But, further, it is clear that nothing that is truly called Love can

be outside the area of Righteousness.

            For since, ex hypothesi, Love always seeks for its object the greatest

good possible to it, and cannot consent to sacrifice the greatest to any

lower good, it seas for moral beings always the same thing that

Righteousness seeks—their highest moral excellence. Human love may

be blind and mistake its way, and give instead of bread a stone;

but when enlightened it cannot, if true to its own ends, seek aught

less than the best. And, on the other hand, enlightened Love never

becomes an impulse to undutiful conduct in the person who loves, never

permits the supposition that we can promote another's good by means

that involve inferior conduct on our own part; on the contrary, it


                1 System of Christian Ethics, p. 91 (Eng. trans.).

82                   The First Epistle of St. John


becomes the strongest impulse to realise the full moral worth of one's

own personality.

            All that is truly called Love is included, in the area of Righteous-

ness. (3) We come to a more disputed question when we ask—Is all

Righteousness included in the area of Love? Can there be action

that is righteous in which there is no Love? Or could there exist a

person who, though destitute of Love, possessed the attribute of

Righteousness? Without attempting to show in detail that all duties

can be resolved into diverse applications of the law of Love, one may

state the general question, whether, if Love were non-existent, conscious-

ness of any moral obligation whatsoever is conceivable. The answer

it seems to me, is that it is not conceivable. If my normal and proper

state of soul towards my neighbour were one of absolute indifference to

his well-being, I could no more stand in any moral relation to him than

to a stone. We find, in fact, that this is the case. In those abnormal

natures in which benevolence seems to be completely extinct, the

whole moral consciousness seems to be equally a blank. It is true,

indeed, that there are social virtues, such as truthfulness, honour,

equity, that are frequently regarded as existing in an entirely self-centred

form—"I shall keep honour with that scoundrel, not because it is due

to him, but because it is due to myself." But such an attitude (not to

say that it is not that of Christian morality) is not really so self-centred

as it seems. He who thus acts is importing into the particular instance

a feeling derived from his sense of obligation to mankind in general.

He acts upon a code and habit of honour which are to him of such

worth that he would not be compensated for their violation by any

satisfaction derived from paying a rascal in his own coin. But this

code and habit of honour are not self-centred. The self-respect to

which honourable dealing with our neighbour is felt to be clue is reflex.

We could not be conscious that such conduct is necessary to self-

respect, unless we were, in the first place, conscious that it is due from

us to our neighbour.

            It is in respect to Justice, and especially punitive Justice, that the

question we are considering comes to its acutest point. And without

discussing the ultimate origin of the idea of Justice, I again submit that

if we were so constituted that the interests of our fellow-men were nothing

to us, it would be impossible that we should be sensible of any obligation

to justice, equity, or impartiality in our dealings with them. Whether

or not the idea of Justice is directly derivable from Love as the dis-

tributive method by which Love deals with competing interests in such

wise as to advance the best interests of all without detriment to any,

it is at least evident that Justice is the instrument of Love. Love

demands that we do justly. Nor is this less true of punitive Justice.

In the popular understanding of the words, the Love of God is regarded

as acting only in the direct communication of good; while the judicial,

punitive, and destructive energies of the Divine Nature, which are

evoked by evil, are assigned exclusively to Righteousness.  But this

            The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love            8


is a false antithesis, based upon an inadequate and one-sided con-

ception of Love. Love, as seeking the highest good of its objects, is

constrained to oppose, and to oppose passionately, all that works for

the defeat of its purpose. Love is not merely a sweet, suave, and

benignant disposition. Love has in it the sharpness of the sword and

the fierceness of flame. Love hates—hates evil, which is opposed to

Love. Love in the right-minded parent hates evil in the child; in the

right-minded ruler, hates evil in the society which he governs, and

encounters it with the full force of his opposition and displeasure. Love

cares for social as well as for individual well-being. The more truly

loving a parent is, the more inflexible will he be in rebuking and

correcting evil within the home; in exercising justice, and preventing one

member of the household from acting wrongfully towards another ;.and,

when the interests of the individual or of the whole family require it, in

punishing and making an example of the wrong-doer, and even, should

he prove incorrigible, in excluding him from the home. Yet all this

Righteousness will he do for the ends and in the spirit of Love. Even

so, the Love of God must assert itself in infinitely intense antagonism

to all that works for the defeat of the eternal purpose of Love--Love

that seeks the highest moral excellence of His creatures—for which

He created and governs the universe. It is in accordance with that

purpose that right shall be rewarded and wrong punished; nay, this

must be inherent in the constitution of a universe created and ruled by

Love. In the interests of the sinner himself, sin must be punished.

Even if there be no hope of his amendment, in the interests of the

moral universe God must still encounter sin with the full force of His

displeasure. Yet all this Righteousness God will do for the ends and

in the spirit of Love.

            It is a strong point in the Calvinistic tradition to maintain that

punitive justice cannot be derived from Love. Yet it is not only

consistent with, it is a necessity of God's changeless purpose of Love

that wrong be punished. And I fail to conceive the nature of a

Justice that has no connection with this purpose. There is, doubt-

less, a genuine moral satisfaction in the humiliation of triumphant

wrong, in beholding the evil-doer receive the due reward of his

deeds; but this satisfaction is ultimately derived from sympathy with

the central purpose of Love; it is the satisfaction of beholding the

beneficent moral order of the universe reasserting itself, repairing

the breaches that have been made in it, and guarding itself against

similar infringements in the future. And, again, I fail to conceive

how, apart from such a purpose of Love, the punishment of wrong

would be right or rational; how, if the infliction of suffering--let

us suppose the case—could be of no possible benefit either to

the sinner himself or to any other being in the universe, present

or future, there would still remain a ground of reason or of obliga-

tion for inflicting it.  Nay more, I fail to conceive how a being

without Love, wholly indifferent to the well-being of others, could

84                      The First Epistle of St. John


ever be conscious of Justice as a moral obligation, or be capable of

finding any moral satisfaction in it. If, indeed, this were possible, if

there could exist a being of whose moral consciousness Justice were the

sole content,1 for whom Love did not exist, or existed only as a secondary

and accidental attribute, of whom it could be said2 that "Love is an

attribute which he may exercise or not as he will," that Mercy is

optional with him," that "he is bound to be just, he is not bound to be

generous," such a being would be morally of an infra-human type and

vastly remote in character from the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.

This whole theory rests, in fact, upon the idea which, as has been

already said, is the negation of Christian Ethics, that Love is something

over and above what is strictly right, a work of supererogation, a comely

adornment of character, but not the very fibre of which its robe is woven.

            The conclusion, then, at which I arrive is that Righteousness and

Love are conterminous in area; that as little can Righteousness exist

without Love as Love, truly so called, without Righteousness. But

the question remains, how we are to conceive their relation to one another.

            An interesting and fruitful view—true, I believe, as regards the

fundamental position, though I cannot find myself in agreement with

the conclusion reached—is that presented by Dorner.3 "The essence

of morality consists in an unchangeable but also eternally living union

of a righteous will and a loving will. The two together and inseparably

one constitute a holy love." Donner then construes Righteousness

as the necessity of self-assertion in the Divine Nature, Love as the

necessity of self-communication; and he has no difficulty in showing that

without self-assertion ethical self-communication would be impossible.

It would cease to be voluntary, and would become a merely instinctive

benevolence, akin to a physical expansion like that of light or heat.


            1 One may try to imagine such a being, who should possess as his sole

moral characteristic a passion for abstract Justice—for arriving at and executing

equitable decisions regarding the merits of other beings—and who might find a

peculiar satisfaction in thus administering Justice among men, or in a colony of

ants, or a swarm of bees. But would such a characteristic be really moral?

Would there he any ethical motive or value in such a passion for applying the

rules of equity—there being no interest or sense of obligation to advance any

one's well-being thereby—any more than in a passion for solving mathematical

problems? Is there necessarily ethical value in the justice of a judge qua judge

(the persons judged being to him but lay figures, representing so many judicial

problems) any more than in the diagnosis of a physician? The crucial

question is—Can any moral relation subsist between two persons apart from the

obligation, recognised or unrecognised, to seek each other's good, that is to say,

apart from Love? It does not seem possible. The prerequisite of all moral

relationship is Love.

            2 See Steven's Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 17S.

            3Christian Ethics, pp. 76–79 (Eng. trans.).

           The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love                85


But then it would seem to be equally true that, without self-communica-

tion, ethical self-assertion is impossible. The self-assertion or righteous-

ness of God is that in all He does He must be true to Himself, must

act according to the voluntary self-determination of His own moral

nature. But that nature is holy love; and only by acting in holy love

can God truly assert Himself. This, however, Dorner refuses to admit,

maintaining that ethical self-assertion is possible without self-communi-

cation. And when we ask wherein this consists, he replies that it is

in God's assertion of His non-communicable attributes—of His self-

existence, His glory and majesty, of "Himself in the distinction which,

to thought and in fact, exists between Him and the non-self-existing

universe." "It is a guarding of the difference between Him and the

world, even when He imparts himself to it and wills to be self-

imparting."  But this is far from satisfactory. It amounts to this, that

in communicating all of His own nature that is communicable,—life,

physical, rational, and spiritual,--God is both loving and righteous;

while in asserting what is incommunicable His self-existence and

supremacy as Creator and Lawgiver--He is not loving, but is exclusively

righteous. But this does not seem to yield that living, inseparable

union of a loving and a righteous will which Dorner rightly posits as

"the essence of morality." For those of God's attributes that are not

directly communicable may yet be employed for the ends of Love; as,

for example, His self-existence for Creation, His power and omniscience

for beneficent providential rule, His moral authority for the moral educa-

tion and discipline of His creatures; and, if they were not so employed,

His will would not be a loving will to its utmost possibility—God would

not be Love. But if God's assertion of all His attributes is directed to

the highest good of His creatures; if, as Christianity teaches, it is in

blessing them, and, above all, in employing all His attributes, com-

municable and non-communicable, for their rescue from the death of Sin

unto Life Everlasting; if Christ is the moral image of the Invisible

God, and if it is in that He "counted it not a prize to be on an equality

with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant," that

the Divine Self is supremely asserted and the difference between

God and the world supremely manifested,—then His fullest self-com-

munication is also His highest self-assertion. The twain constitute

that living and inseparable union of a loving and a righteous will

which is the essence of all morality. And, in short, a moral nature

cannot be thus divided into compartments. Separate attributes exist

only as abstractions. If a person is perfectly loving, he is loving

always and in everything; if he is perfectly righteous, he is righteous

always and in everything; and if he is both perfectly loving and

perfectly righteous, he is loving in his righteousness and righteous

in his love.

            The weakness of Dorner's argument lies in regarding Love as

exclusively self-communication, and not rather as that in which self-

commmunication and self-assertion coalesce. Put accepting his definition

86               The First Epistle of St. John


of the essence of morality as the living, inseparable union of a loving

and a righteous will, we may, perhaps, reach a conception of the

correlation of the Righteousness and the Love of God along the follow-

ing lines.

            1. The perfect moral state is that in which self-communication is

also self-assertion. This is the mind that was in Christ Jesus (Phil.

25-8). Such Love, therefore, is the content of all moral excellence

(Matt. 2335-40, Rom. 138-10). It is the inner principle without which

even actions that are formally right are morally worthless (1 Cor.

131-3). All graces and virtues are either special manifestations of Love,

as gentleness, compassion, reverence; or are constitutional qualities of

the will—as truthfulness, obedience, gratitude, perseverance, courage--

or of the mind—as wisdom—which are ancillary to the perfect work of

Love. All duties spring ultimately from the one duty of Love. Even

the duty of justice or equity does so; for, if we were so constituted as

to be conscious of no obligation to seek the well-being of others, there

would be no reason, except a prudential one, for doing to others as we

would that they should do to us.

            2. Because Love is that power by which self-communication and self-

assertion coalesce in the unity of Life, it is not only the sum of all moral

excellence, but the source of the highest moral satisfactions. It is by

means of Love that Life runs its full circle, as if a river should carry

back: to its source all the wealth its fertilising influences have produced.

And because it thus unites the egoistic and the altruistic principles, it

is also the highest impulse to all duty. It is as much the supreme and

universal power in the moral realm as gravitation is in physics.

            3. As being, thus, the content of and the impulse to all moral

excellence, and, at the same time, the source of the highest moral

satisfactions, Love is the summum bonnum. Without it no real good is

possible; and there is no blessedness conceivable beyond that of a

society of persons all united in perfect love. Each communicates

himself to all and all to each. Each seeks the joy and well-being of all,

and, in turn, enjoys the joy and is blessed by the well-being of all.

Such a society would be the perfect organism for the perfect life; and

such an organism God is fashioning and perfecting in the Body of


            4. God is Love; and, because He is Love, it is His Will to impart

this highest good to all beings capable of participating in it. Because

He is Love, it is His Will to make Love the law of His universe, His

gift to all beings made after His own likeness, and His requirement

from them. And this, I take it, is the Righteousness of God—that

He asserts Love, the law of His own Life, as the law of all life that

is derived from Him. This assertion necessarily acts in two direc-

tions; in the communication of Love, the highest good; and in

antagonism to all that is opposed to it. These modes of action are not

derived from conflicting or mutually independent principles, but are

diverse applications of the same principle. If the eternal purpose of

           The Doctrine of God as Righteousness and Love          87


God is to produce beings capable of the highest good and to impart it

to them, then, by His very character as Love, He is also constrained so

to order the universe that whatever tends to the defeat of that purpose

shall meet His unceasing antagonism. This will take the form of what

we call punitive Justice. And what makes the punitive Justice of God

so terrible is that it is the Justice of one who is Love, and that even

Infinite Love can find no alternative.

            "Thus, then, we may see that the moral nature of God is a unity,

not a duality. Righteousness is Love in the imperative mood; is

Love legislative and administrative; is the consistency of Love to its

own high and eternal end. The Righteousness of God is that He

makes Love the law of His own action, and that He, in His Love, can

tolerate nothing less and nothing else as His purpose and requirement

for His creatures than that what He acts upon they also shall act upon,

and that the character He possesses they also shall possess. And

nothing else than this is Righteousness in man. Duty is the obligation

which is inherent in the very nature of Love, and could not conceivably

exist in a being destitute of Love, to seek the highest attainable good of

all whom one's conduct affects, that is to say, to be faithful to Love's

highest ends. And when, in popular language, Duty is contrasted with

Love, the true significance of this is that Duty is the consistency of

Love to its higher end, in the face of egoistic inclination or of temptation

to decline upon some lower end.


            It will be seen that the view here presented involves

these fundamental positions. (I) All moral life is neces-

sarily social. As self-consciousness is psychologically

possible only by the distinction of the ego from the non-

ego, so moral self-consciousness is awakened only in our

relation to other personalities. An absolutely solitary unit

(without God or neighbour) could have no moral conscious-

ness. Our moral ideal of self is our conception of the ideal

man in all his relations to God and his fellows; and apart

from such relations moral self-love is inconceivable.

(2) The supreme end is Life. All that we call morality

is the "Way of Life," the means to that fullest, highest Life

which St. John calls Eternal. And it may be said also that

moral excellence (Love) is an end in itself; for it is only by

our entering with that vivid, spontaneous response, which is

at once self-communication and self-assertion, into all the

relations, human and divine, amid which we have our being,

88                The First Epistle of St. John


that Life is realised. Hence, while it has just been said

that Life is the summum bonum, this may be also said of

moral excellence, that is, of Love. Love is not only the

way to Life, it is the living of the Eternal Life. (3) All

this implies, as has been shown, a Trinitarian conception

of the Divine Nature.







                            CHAPTER VI.




               THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST.



THE centre of doctrinal interest in the Epistle is the

Incarnation, in which St. John finds the single guarantee of

a true manifestation of the Divine Life in man, and the

single channel for its permanent communication to men.

Before proceeding, however, to the study of the chief

Christological passages, it will be convenient to advert to

some few points that lie on the circumference of the subject,

yet are of great interest.

            The nomenclature of the Epistle is noticeably different

in some respects from that of the Fourth Gospel. "Jesus

Christ" has now become the proper personal name of

our Lord (13 21 323 520). "Jesus" is not found except

in conjunction with "Christ" or some other term of

theological significance, such as "Son of God" (17), or

where the sense requires some such term to be supplied

(43). The absolute use of e]keinoj (26 417) and of

au]to<j (28. 12. 27.28 32. 3 421) almost as a name of the Saviour

is peculiar1 to the Epistle. Blending a certain idealising

reverence with the allusiveness of familiar affection, this

usage is singularly expressive of a state of mind to which,

although the mists of time have gathered around the image

of the historical Jesus, He is still the one ever-present

living personality. As in old-style Scottish parlance, a

wife would speak of her husband, present or departed as


            1 Unless we recognise the same usage in John I935.


90                 The First Epistle of St. John


"himself";1 so with the Apostle it is needless to say who

He is. There is but one "He."

            Other designations applied to Christ are "righteous "

(di<kaioj, 21 37) "pure" a]gno<j, 33), "the Holy One" (o[ a!gioj,

220). The first of these (di<kaioj) expresses the broadest con-

ception of His moral perfection. In every aspect of character

and conduct He absolutely fulfils the idea of "right." In

a[gno<j, again, the primary idea is that of freedom from moral

stain.2 The word may indicate a previous state of actual

impurity (Ps. 5112), and it necessarily implies the thought of

possible impurity. Broadly, we might say that Purity (a[gnei<a)

is the negative aspect of Love. The command to "purify

oneself" (33) is equivalent to "love not the world, neither

the things that are in the world " (215). Purity is that

element in holy character which is wrought out by the

discipline of temptation; and thus the word imparts a

peculiar significance to the passage in which it is applied to

Christ. Hoping in Him, we are to purify ourselves, even

as He Who, though tempted in all points like as we are, was

and is pure (33).

            In a!gioj (=wOdqA) the same root-idea of separation from

evil has been merged in that of consecration to God. The

sense is religious3 rather than, per se, ethical. To Christ it

is applied in a technical Messianic sense. He is the " Holy

Servant " (o[ a!gioj pai?j, Acts 430), the fulfilment of the Old

Testament ideal of the Servant of Jehovah. He is recog-


            1 Or a farm-servant, of his master. In Theocritus (xxiv. 50), Amphitryon,

calling his retainers .from their beds, cries, a@nstate dmw?ej talasi<fronej, au]to>j

a]u*ti?: "It is himself (your master) that is calling." It is inevitable to compare

the Pythagorean au]to>j e@fa.

            2 Biblically, a[gno<j the equivalent of rOhFA=Levitically clean. In classical

Greek, the prevalent sense is that of freedom from moral defilement; more

specifically, chastity. Thus in Homer a[gnh< is the epithet of the virgin goddesses

Artemis and Persephone. This specific sense is frequently retained in the N.T.

(2 Cor. 66 711 112, Tit. 25, I Tim. 52, I Pet. 32). The broader sense is exemplified

in 1 Pet. 122 (ta>j yuxa>j u[mw?n h[gni<kotej) and Jas.48 (a[gni<sate kardi<aj, di<yuxoi).

            3 Thus the Father Himself is a!gioj (John 1711); the Divine Spirit is to> a!gion

pneu?ma; the angels are a!gioi; Christians are a!gioi in virtue of their Divine calling

(1 Cor. 12, 2 Tim. 19).

                                   The Doctrine of Christ                                  91


nised by evil spirits (Mark 124, Luke 434), and confessed by

disciples (John 669) as "the Holy One of God " (o[ a!gioj tou?

qeou?). He is o[ a!gioj o[ a]lhqino<j (Rev. 37), the "true" or

"genuine" Holy One, who hath the Key of David—who

wields all Messianic prerogatives. And it is obviously in

the same sense that He is named "the Holy One" in the

Epistle (220). It is as the Messiah, the Anointed, that He

bestows upon the members of the Messianic community the

"anointing" (xri?sma) of the Spirit.

            Passing from these points, we proceed to consider the

great Christological thesis of the Epistle. That thesis is the

complete, permanent, and personal identification of the historical

Jesus with the Divine Being who is the Word of Life (11), the

"Christ" (42) and the Son of God (55); and it is characteristic

of the author's method that this, which is to be the subject of

repeated development in the body of the Epistle, is preluded

in its first sentence. The abstract of the Apostolic Gospel

which is there prefixed to the Epistle, as the fountain-head

from which all its teaching is drawn, contains the two com-

plementary truths: that Jesus is the "Word" in whom the

Eternal Life of God has been fully manifested, and that

this manifestation has been made through a humanity in

which there is nothing visionary or unreal, and is vouched

for by every applicable test as genuine and complete. The

Incarnate Word has been "seen," "heard," "handled" (11-3).1

            In the Epistle this thesis is maintained in the form of

a vigorous polemic against certain heretical teachers whom

the writer calls " antichrists,"2 in whom he discovers the

true representatives of that arch-enemy of God and His

Christ who figured so vividly in apocalyptic literature and

in the popular belief. That we must recognise in these

"antichrists" one or more of the many ramifications of

Gnosticism, is beyond question. Though our knowledge of

Gnosticism in the Johannine age is but dim and fragmentary,


            1 v. supra, pp. 46-48, 109.                      2 See Chapter XVI,

92                    The First Epistle of St. John


still, what we do gather from the scanty records of the

Apostolic Fathers fits into the Christological passages

of the Epistle so accurately that it renders their interpreta-

tion certain where otherwise it would be only conjectural.

From the Epistle itself we learn that the heretical teachers

denied that Jesus is the Christ (222), or, more definitely,

"Christ come in the flesh" (43); they denied that Jesus is

"the Son of God" (415); and they asserted that He came

"by water only" and not "by blood also" (56). Plainly,

what is here in view is, in the one or the other of its

forms, the Docetic theory of Christ's Person; for it appears

that the theory existed in two more or less defined types.

There was the crude unmitigated Docetism described in the

Ignatian Epistles, according to which Jesus was the Christ,

but was in no sense a real human being. It was only a

phantom that walked the earth and was crucified. The

Incarnation was nothing else than a prolonged theophany.1

The other is specially associated with the name of Cerinthus,2

of whom Irenaeus reports (Haer. I. 26. i.) that he taught that

Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the son of Joseph.

and Mary, and was distinguished from other men only by

superiority in justice, prudence, and wisdom; that, at His

Baptism the Christ descended upon Him in the form of a


            1 An interesting specimen of a Docetic Gospel of this type is extant in the

recently published Acts of John, the date assigned to which is "not later than

the second half of the first century" (Texts and Studies, vol. v., No. 1, p. x).

According to this Gospel, our Lord had no proper material existence. He

assumed different appearances to different beholders, and at different tunes.

Sometimes His body was small and uncomely; at other times His stature

reached unto heaven. Sometimes He seemed to have a solid material body, at

other times He appeared immaterial. It was only a phantom Christ that was

crucified. During the Crucifixion, the read Christ appears to John on the Mount

of Olives and says, "John, unto the multitude down below in Jerusalem I am

being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar are given

me to drink; but I put it into thine heart to come up unto this mountain, that thou

mightest hear matters needful for a disciple to learn from his Master and for

a man to learn from his God." The Lord then shows to John the mystic Cross

of Light and the Lord Himself above the Cross, not having any shape, but only

a voice.

            2 See Chapter II.

                        The Doctrine of Christ                                 93


dove, and announced the unknown Father; that, at the end

of His life, the Christ again left Jesus; that Jesus died and

rose again, but that the Christ, being spiritual, remained

without suffering. According to this view, Jesus was not

the Christ, but only, for the period between the Baptism

and the Crucifixion, the earthly habitation of the heavenly

Christ. On either of the theories the Incarnation was only a

semblance. The one denied reality to the human embodi-

ment of the Divine Life; the other, admitting the reality of

the human embodiment, denied its permanent and personal

identification with the Divine. By some exegetes, traces

of both forms of the Docetic theory have been discerned in

the Epistle. We shall find, however, that the Cerinthian

heresy alone offers a sufficient objective for all the Christo-

logical passages.

            These passages are 221-23 41-3 415 56-8. And we shall,

in the first place, simply state the doctrinal content of each.

"Who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the

Christ?" (222). Here the assertion or denial that Jesus is

the Christ has no relation to the early controversy regard-

ing the Messiahship2 of Jesus in the Jewish sense, a

controversy which now could possess little more than an

antiquarian interest.

            In Gnostic nomenclature "Christ" was one of the aeons

—spiritual existences emanating from the Godhead who

appeared on earth in phantasmal or temporary embodiment

in Jesus; and the Apostle also uses the name "Christ" as

equivalent to the "Word " or "the Son of God," to signify

the Divine pre-existent factor in the personality of Jesus.


            1 For example, by Pfleiderer (ii. 433). Cerinthus was a contemporary of St.

John; and if we accept Lightfoot's argument (Apostolic Fathers, i. 368), that the

more crudely Docetic view must have been the earlier, the natural tendency

being toward modification, it is evident that the polemic of the Epistle might, as

a matter of date, have been directed against either or both forms of the heresy.

            2 Cf. especially Acts 1828 where the subject of controversy, though verbally

the same, is substantially quite different. There is no trace in the Epistle of

conflict with Jewish or Ebionistic error.

94                  The First Epistle of St. John


            Evidently, then, it is the Cerinthian heresy that is here

repudiated. As to the manner in which this school of

Gnosticism construed the personality of the composite

Christ-Jesus during the period of union, we are ignorant;

but the essential significance of the theory, truly and

tersely stated, was that Jesus was not the Christ. There

was only a temporary and incomplete association of Jesus

with the Christ.

            "Hereby recognise (or, ye recognise) the Spirit of God.

Every spirit that confesseth Jesus (as)1 Christ come in the

flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus

is not of God" (42.3a). Here the statement is more specific,

but to the same effect; it is still the Cerinthian heresy that

is combatted. The emphasis is not upon the real humanity

of Jesus so much as upon the personal identity of the pre-

existent Divine Christ with Jesus. There is no mere

association, however intimate, between Jesus and the Christ.

Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh.

            A third time the Apostle returns to the same theme.

"Whosoever confesseth that Jesus is the Son of God, God

dwelleth in him, and he in God" (415). Here the true con-


            1 e]n tou<t& ginw<skete to> pneu?ma tou? qeou?: pa?n pneu?ma o{ o[mologei?  ]Ihsou?n

Xristo>n e]n sarki> e]lhluqo<ta e]k tou? qeou? e]sti<n, kai> pa?n pneu?ma o{ mh> o[mologei? to>n

  ]Ihsou?n, e]k tou? qeou? ou]k e]sti<n

            Three different constructions of the crucial phrase in these verses are possible.

(a)   ]Ihsou?n Xristo>n e]n sarki> e]lhluqo<ta may be taken as one object after o[mologei?

—" Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ, Who is come in the flesh". (Huther,

Westcott). Grammatically, this lies open to the objection that the article is

(normally) demanded (to>n e]n sarki> e]lhluqo<ta); in point of sense, that it contains

no definite statement—does not specify in what sense we are to confess Jesus

Christ, Who is come in the flesh. (b)  ]Ihsou?n Xristo<n may be taken as a proper

name (cf. 13 21 323 520). Thus the confession would be expressly that Jesus

Christ is come in the flesh; and would be opposed to that thoroughgoing

Docetism which attributed to our Lord only the semblance of a human body

(Weiss, Pfleiderer).       But it is quite unnecessary to find here a reference to

a different type of error. (c) For  ]Ihsou?n alone may be taken as the direct

object after o[mologei?, and Xristo>n e]n sarki> e]lhluqo<ta as a secondary predicate.

"Every spirit that confesseth Jesus as Christ come in the flesh" (Haupt).

This construction is rendered probable by so close a parallel as e]a<n tij au]to>n

o[mologh<s^ Xristo<n (John 922), and, I think, certain by the fact that in the

following clause  ]Ihsou?n stands alone as object after o[mologei?.

                                  The Doctrine of Christ                       95


fession, "Jesus is the Christ," appears as "Jesus is the Son

of God." The terms are interchangeable, if not synony-

mous; and, in this instance, "Son of God" is preferred as

bringing out the filial relation of Him who is sent to Him

who sends (414), and thus exhibiting the immensity of the

Divine Love manifested in the mission of Christ.

            Finally, we have the much-debated passage, "Who is

he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that

Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water

and blood; not by the water only, but by the water and

by the blood" (55.6a). The obscurity of the whole passage is

due, doubtless, to the fact that the first readers of the Epistle,

for whom it was written, were already familiar with the

author's handling of the topics that are here merely indicated.

Such expressions as the "water" and the "blood" are

a kind of verbal shorthand, intended merely to recall to

his readers the exposition of those themes which they had

heard from his lips. Without attempting a full account1

of the extraordinarily numerous and diverse explanations,

ancient and modern, of these words, it must suffice to say

that an interpretation based on a supposed reference to

the sacraments was inevitable (so Lutheran commentators

generally; also, in part, Westcott). But, while Baptism and

the Lord's Supper do exhibit sacramentally those elements

in Christ's saving work that correspond respectively to His

coming by Water and by Blood, to explain the text by

direct reference to these is inadequate.2 Equally inevitable

was the effort to explain the passage by the account given

in the Gospel of the efflux of water and blood from the

Saviour's wounded side (Augustine and ancient com-

mentators generally). But it may be said with consider-


            1 This may be found in Huther, pp. 456-458.

            2 This statement is made with reference only to the lust mention (56) of the

"Dater and the Blood. Subsequently (57.8) there is, I think, a natural transition

from the historical realities to their permanent memorials, the Christian

Sacraments. See Chapter VII.

96                     The First Epistle of St. John


able confidence that while this passage in the Epistle may

serve to explain the symbolical meaning which is apparently

attached in the Gospel to that incident of the Passion,

the incident in the Gospel sheds no light upon the passage

in the Epistle. The clue to this is the Docetic tenet that

the aeon Christ descended upon Jesus at His Baptisms and

departed again from Him before His Passion. Thus it is

evident that the "water" here denotes our Lord's Baptism,

the "blood," His death on Calvary. The Cerinthian

heresy taught that the Christ came by "water," but denied

that He came by "blood" also. Hence St. John's repeated

and emphatic assertion that He came "not by the water

only, but by the water and the blood."

            As Westcott rightly points out, "He that cometh," "He

that came" (o[ e]xo<menoj, o[ e]lqw<n), are terms used in the

Gospels, and notably in St. John, as a technical designation of

the Messiah.1  When, therefore, it is said that Jesus the Son

of God "came" by water and by blood, it is signified that

first by His Baptism and then by His Death, Jesus entered

actually and effectively upon His Messianic ministry. He

"came" by water (di ] u!datoj).2 In their own sense the

Gnostics maintained that Christ "came" by water; in

another sense, the Epistle asserts the same3—in what

sense is clearly demonstrated in the Gospels, where the

Baptism is invariably regarded as the actual beginning of

His Messianic ministry (John 131, Acts 122; Mark's Gospel

begins with the Baptism). When Jesus definitely con-

secrated Himself in the full consciousness of His calling


            1 Cf. John 331 614 727 1127 1213;  Matt. 113 2339, and cognate passages is the

other Gospels.

            2 The exact significance of dia< with u!datoj and ai!matoj is not easy to determine.

The idea may be that of the door, so to say, through which Christ entered upon

his mission.

            3 It might be supposed, were one to take this passage by itself, that the

writer was half a Gnostic, that he held the view that Christ descended into

Jesus at His baptism, while strenuously resisting the idea that the Christ

departed from Jesus before His Passion.

                        The Doctrine of Christ                      97


(Matt. 315); the Spirit was bestowed on Him "not by

measure" for its accomplishment (Matt. 316); and the

voice from Heaven testified His predestination to it

(Matt. 317). But He came by Blood also.    This the

Gnostics denied; this the Apostle affirms.1 He who

was baptized of John in Jordan, and He whose life-blood

was shed on Calvary is the same Jesus, the same Christ,

the same Son of God eternally. For He "came" by

blood. He did not depart by blood. He laid down

His life only that he might take it again. Death was for

Him only the entrance upon the endless career of His

redemptive work, the unhindered fruitfulness of His life

(John 1224).

            If the foregoing exposition of the chief Christological

passages has been right, it has been made clear that these

passages all promulgate the same truth in substantially the

same way. If one might express it mathematically,

there is on one side of an equation the Divine, or, at least,

super-terrestrial, Being Who is the "Word of Life," the

"Christ," the "Son of God"; on the other side, the human

Jesus. But the two sides of the equation are not only

equivalent, they are identical. Without ceasing to be

what He, is, the Son of God has become the human

Jesus; and Jesus, without ceasing to be truly human, is

the Son of God.

            An investigation of the wider problems presented by

the Johannine use of these titles, Logos, Christ, Son of

God, cannot be undertaken here.'' Only the more immedi-

ate theological implications of the passages that have been

passed under review may be adverted to. It is at once


            1 "Not by the water only, but by the water and by the blood." Both the

repetition and its form are directly determined by the repudiated error. The

first member of the clause denies what Cerinthus affirmed, the second affirms

what he denied.

            2 See on these topics, Scott's Fourth Gospel; especially the admirable

chapter on "The Christ, the Son of God."

98                 The First Epistle of St. John


evident that, in the Epistle, these titles imply the pre-

temporal existence of the Person to whom they are applied.

Further, while for the abstract monotheism of the Gnostic

the "Christ" could be nothing more than an emanation

from the Eternal God, for the writer of the Epistle He is

Himself Eternal and Divine. He is the "Word of Life"

(11); and that this title implies relationship and fellowship

within the Godhead itself is signified by the fact that the

life manifested in Him is that Eternal Life which was in

relation to the Father (h!tij h#n pro>j to>n pate<ra, 12). This

relation is otherwise expressed by the terms "Father" and

"Son"; and these terms are employed in no figurative

or merely ethical sense, but in their full signification. The

Son, no less than the Father, is the object of religious

faith (513), hope (33), and obedience (323). He that con-

fesseth the Son hath the Father also (223). Our fellowship

is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ (13).

Believers are exhorted to "abide" in Christ (228), as else-

where to "abide" in God. The very syntax of the

Epistle testifies how the truth of the essential Divinity of

Christ has become the unconscious presupposition of all

the Apostle's thinking; for again and again1 it is left un-

certain whether "God" or "Christ" is the subject of state-

ment, an ambiguity which would be reckless except on the

presumption of their religious equivalence.

            It would be a questionable proceeding, indeed, to read

into the Epistle the full Trinitarian doctrine of the

hypostatic Sonship. The problem of recognising personal

distinctions within the Godhead and at the same time

preserving its essential unity—a problem of which the

Trinitarian doctrine is, after all, only the mature statement


            1 Thus in 225 and 424 the reference of afros is quite ambiguous. In 23

au]to<n ought grammatically to refer to Christ as the nearest antecedent, but does

refer to God. In 228 au]to<j is Christ; while in 229, without any note of transition,

the unexpressed subject is God. In 31-3 again, au]to<j ought grammatically to

refer to God (taking its antecedent from 239), but actually refers to Christ.

                              The Doctrine of Christ                    99


—has not yet been fully confronted. Yet it is not too

much to say that all the elements of that problem

are present here in the fundamental implication that Jesus

Christ, in His pre-incarnate form of being, existed eternally

in an essential unity of nature with God.

            This, however, is only an implication. The crucial

truth of the Epistle is Christological, not theological; its

doctrinal emphasis is not upon the relation of Divine Father

and Divine Son, but upon the relation of the Divine Son

to the historic Jesus. And it will be well to look more

closely at the most explicit of the various forms in which

this relation is defined. "Every spirit that confesseth

Jesus as Christ come in the flesh ( ]Ihsou?n Xristo>n e]n sarki>

e]lhluqo<ta) is of God " (42). The statement, simple as it

is, is of exquisite precision. The verb used (e@rxesqai)

implies the pre-existence of Christ. The perfect tense

(e]lhluqo<ta) points to His coming not only as a historical

event, but as an abiding fact. The Word has become

flesh for ever.1 The noun (sa>rc) indicates the fulness of

His participation in human nature, the flesh being the

element of this which is in most obvious contrast with His

former state of being2 (John 114). Even the preposition

e]n is of pregnant significance. It is not altogether equi-

valent to "into" (ei]j). The Gnostics also believed that

Christ came into the flesh. But the assertion is that He

has so come into the flesh as to abide therein; the Incar-

nation is a permanent union of the Divine with human

nature. Finally, this union is realised in the self-identity

of a Person, Jesus Christ, who is at once Divine and


            Again, however, we must not read into this the results

of later Christological developments. It may be argued


            1 In 2 John 7 we find the unique expression e]rxo<menon e]n sarki<, emphasising

Christ's continuous activity, or, perhaps, His future coining, in the flesh.

            2 It is out of the question to understand by sa<rc; "human nature as having

sin lodged in it" (Haupt).

100                    The First Epistle of St. John


that the orthodox formula, "one Person in two natures for

ever," is implied in the teaching of the Epistle; but there

is nothing that asserts it. The truth taught in all its

simplicity, and in all the majesty of its immeasurable

consequences, is that of one Person in two states, a prein-

carnate and an incarnate state of being. Without charge

of personal identity, the Eternal Son of God is become and

for ever continues to be Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God

the Christ come in the flesh.

            We next proceed to a most interesting and important

part of our subject—the practical significance of the doctrine,

as this is exhibited in the Epistle.  For it is neither in the

interests of abstract theology nor as the champion of

ecclesiastical orthodoxy that St. John proclaims the truth

of the Incarnation as the "roof and crown" of all truth,

but solely from a sense of its supreme necessity to the

spiritual life of the Church and the salvation of the world;

because he perceives in the denial of it the extinction of

the Light of Life which the Gospel has brought to mankind.

Thus, in introducing the subject, he first of all sets himself

to awaken in the minds of his readers an adequate per-

ception of its gravity:  "I write unto you not because ye

know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no

He is of the truth " (221).1 He writes because they know

the truth. His aim is not to instruct their ignorance, but

to arouse them to realise the significance of their knowledge.

Ile has no actually new elements of Christian truth to

impart, but would quicken their sense of the irreconcilable

opposition of truth and falsehood, and of its stupendous

import in this instance. It was no merely speculative

antagonism that existed between the truth they had heard

from the beginning (224) and the corrupt doctrine of the

antichrists. The matter at issue was no mere difference of

opinion. The alternative was between making truth or


            1 See Notes, in loc.

                           The Doctrine of Christ                            101


falsehood, and that on the greatest of all subjects, the guide

of life. "Who is the liar," he passionately exclaims, "but

he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?," and then, without

conjunction or connecting particle of any kind, clause fol-

lows upon clause like the blows of a hammer, "This is the

antichrist, (this is) he that denieth the Father and the Son.

Whosoever denieth the Son hath not even the Father; he

that confesseth the Son hath the Father also" (222. 23).

            Here we perceive the first of the great practical conse-

quences which depend upon the Incarnation. (a) It alone

secures and guarantees the Christian revelation of God, and

with its denial that revelation is immediately cancelled, "He

that hath not the Son hath not even the Father"1 (223).

            Contrary as it might be to the intention of the Gnostic

teachers or to their interpretation of their own tenets, the

result was that, by taking away the real Divine Sonship

of Jesus, they subverted the Divine Fatherhood itself.

It must be observed that the argument is not one of

abstract logic, namely, that if there be no Divine Son there

can be no Divine Father. It is concrete and experiential.

What is in question is not God's absolute Being, but our

"having" not Fatherhood and Sonship as inherent in the

Divine Nature, but the revelation to men of the Father in

the Son. Refusing to recognise more than a shadowy and

dubious connection between the historic Jesus and the

Eternal Son of God, Gnosticism took away the one

medium through which a sure and satisfying revelation of

the Eternal Father has been given to the world. It was

still true that no man had seen God at any time; but it

was not true that the Only-Begotten Son had declared

Him; not true that he who had seen Jesus had seen the

Father. With the denial of Jesus as the full personal


            1 ou]de> to>n pate<ra e@xei.  "Has not even the Father"; or, at the least,

"Has not the Father either." Cf. the translation quoted by Augustine:

qui negal Filium nec Filium nec Patrem habet. For the intensive sense of ou]de<,

cf. Gal. 23.

102                     The First Epistle of St. John


incarnation of the Divine, the whole Christian conception

of God was but the "baseless fabric of a vision," having no

point of contact with the world of known fact. As regards

Gnosticism, the Apostle's statement was entirely true. Its

God was a being so absolutely transcendent as to be incap-

able of actual relation to humanity; and the gulf between

absolute Deity and finite being remained unbridged by all its

intricate hierarchy of semi-divine intermediaries. But the

Apostle's contention, that to deny the Son is to be unable

to retain even the Father, is no less verified in the history

of modern thought. It is not matter of argument, but of

fact, that the God-consciousness finds its true object most

completely in Jesus Christ; and that when God is not

found in Christ, He is not  ultimately found either in

Nature or in History. Theism does not ultimately survive

the rejection of Christ as the personal incarnation of God.

The process of thought that necessitates the denial of the

supernatural in Him has Agnosticism as its inevitable goal.1

            (b) But, if the validity of the whole Christian Revelation

of God is involved in the fact of the Incarnation, this is

most distinctly true of that which is its centre. It is

highly significant that the writer whose message to the

world is "God is Love" derives it so exclusively from this

single source. He has nothing to say of that benevolent

wisdom of God in Nature, of that ever-enduring mercy of

God in History, that kindled the faith and adoration of

Old Testament psalmists and prophets. His vision is

concentrated on the one supreme fact, "Herein was the

Love of God manifested towards us, that God sent His

Only-Begotten Son into the world that we might live

through Him" (49). Compared with this, all other revelations

are feeble and dim, are "as moonlight unto sunlight, and

as water unto wine." Here is Love worthy to be called


            1 See the convincing historical demonstration of this in Orr's Christian View

of God and the World. pp. 37-53.


                           The Doctrine of Christ                        103


Divine. And the one unambiguous proof of the existence

of such Love in God and of His bestowal of such Love

upon men absolutely vanishes, unless the Jesus who was

born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary is Incarnate God.

Here, again, it is in the practical significance of the Gnostic

theories that we discover the source of St. John's indignation.

It was not in the metaphysics of Gnosticism so much

as in its ethical presuppositions and consequences that

he discerned the veritable Antichrist. Its theory of the

absolute Divine transcendence denied to God what, to the

Christian mind, is the "topmost, ineffablest crown" of His

glory—self-sacrificing Love. It was, in fact, the transla-

tion into metaphysic of the spirit of the world, of the axiom

that the supreme privilege of greatness is self-centred bliss,

exemption from service, burden-bearing, and sacrifice.1

"They are of the world, and, therefore, speak they of the

world, and the world heareth them" (45). Ignorant of the

Divine secret of Love, having no comprehension that great-

ness is greatest in self-surrender, and that to be highest

of all is to be servant and saviour of all, unable, therefore,

to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in

the face of a crucified Jesus, Gnosticism fashioned to its

own mind a God wholly transcendent and impassible, a

Christ who only scarred to suffer and lay down His life

for men, a Gospel drained of its life-blood, a Gospel whose

Divine fire, kindling men's souls to thoughts and deeds of

love and righteousness, was extinguished. And the result

of thus making man's salvation easy, so to say, for God—

salvation by theophany—was to make it easy for man also

—salvation by creed without conduct, by knowledge without


            1 "Omnis cnim per se divum natura necesse est

            Immortali aevo summa cum pace fruatur,

            Semota a nostris rebus, seiunctaque longe.

            Nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,

            Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri

            Nec bene promeritis capitur, nec tangitur ira."

                                                                        Lucretius, ii. 645-50.


104                 The First Epistle of St. John


self-denial for righteousness' sake, without self-sacrifice for

love's sake.

            For the Gnostic it was not "hard to be a Christian."

The natural outcome of a Docetic incarnation was a

Docetic morality; righteousness which consisted in the

contemplation of high ideals (24.6  37); love which paid its

debt with fine sentiments and goodly words (317. 18) The

actual meaning of Docetism could not be more truly

touched than by the pathetic question of Ignatius, ei] de>,

w!sper tine>j a@qeoi o@ntej... le<gousin, to> dokei?n peponqe<nai

au]to>n, au]toi> to> dokei?n o@ntej, e@gw ti< de<demai;1

            And here again, the significance which St. John finds in

the Incarnation is of undiminished validity for modern

thought. That God is Love has for us the force of an

axiom; it has become part of ourselves. If there be a

God, a Being who is supremely good, He must be Love;


                        "A loving worm within his clod

                        Were more divine than a loveless God

                        Amid his worlds."


            It may seem as if there were no intuition of the human

spirit more self-evidencing than this; nor is there, when

once it is seen.  But, as a matter of history, the conviction,

the idea, that God is Love, has been generated by nothing

else than belief in Jesus Christ as Incarnate God, Who

laid down His life for man's redemption. In the pre-

Christian and non-Christian religions every quality, good

and bad, has been deified except self-sacrificing Love.

Power, beauty, fecundity, warlike courage, knowledge,

industry and art, wisdom, justice, benevolence and mercy—

the apotheosis of all these has been achieved by the

human soul. The one deity awanting to the world's


            1 Ad Trail. 10: ''But if, as certain godless men aver, His suffering was

only in semblance, themselves being only a semblance, why, then, am I bound

with this chain?"


                       The Doctrine of Christ                           105


pantheon is the God Who is Love. And if we inquire

what, in the world of actual fact, corresponds to this

conviction that God is Love, we to-day are still shut up to

the answer, "Herein is Love, not that we loved God, but

that God loved us, and sent His Son as a propitiation for

our sins." With that as the key to the interpretation of

the facts of life, we are able to read in them much that

testifies, and are sure that, in the light of God's completed

purpose, we shall find in them nothing that does not testify,

that the universe is created and conducted by the Love

of the Heavenly Father Who is revealed in Christ. Yet,

even to those who are most jealous for the vindication of

this, both nature and history are full of ugly and intractable

facts. And, even at their clearest, the pages of natural

revelation can give evidence for nothing more than a wise

benevolence, a bloodless and uncostly love. If we ask

what God has ever done for His creatures that it cost Him

anything to do, the one fact which embodies the full and

unambiguous revelation of this is that "the Father sent the

Son to be the Saviour of the world" (414). Meanwhile,

it may seem as if the Christian ethic could claim to exist

in its own right, though severed from its historical origin

and living root. The atmosphere is full of diffused light,

and it may seem as if we might do without the sun. But

if the history of thought has shown that, with the denial of

the Incarnation, the Christian conception of the Being of

God is gradually dissipated, into the mists of Agnosticism,

it begins also to appear that Christian ethics have no

securer tenure. To Positivism, with the enthusiasm of

humanity as its sole religion, succeeds neo-paganism, with

the enthusiasm of self as the one true faith and royal

law. Like the giant of mythology who proved invincible

only when reinvigorated by contact with mother-earth, the

Christian ethic, the ethic whose supreme principle is Love,

maintains and renews its conquering energy only as it


106                The First Epistle of St. John


derives this afresh from Him who was historically its

origin, and is for ever the living source of its inspiration.

            (c) But, again, the Epistle exhibits the vital significance

of the Incarnation for Redemption. The primary purpose

of the Incarnation is not to reveal God's Love, but to

accomplish man's salvation. God has sent His Son to be

the Saviour of the World (414); to be the Propitiation for

our sins (410).  It is the same truth that underlies the

more cryptic utterance of 56: "This is He that came by

water and blood; not by the water only, but by the

water and by the blood." The reference to the Cerinthian

heresy has been already explained; but the peculiar

phraseology in which Christ's Passion is here insisted upon,

the repeated assertion that He came by blood,—not by

water only,—reveals the motive of St. John's energetic

hatred of that heresy. For it is "the blood of Jesus, His

Son, that cleanseth us from all sin" (16). "Not by water

only." The tragedy of human sin demanded a tragic

salvation. And the Apostle's whole-hearted denunciation

of the Docetic Christology was due to the fact that it

not only dissolved Christ, but took away from men their


            (d) But the final necessity of the Incarnation, for St.

John, is that in it is grounded the only possibility for man

of participation in the Divine Life, "He that hath the

Son hath Life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not

Life" (512). When Christ came into the world, the most

stupendous of all events took place. The Eternal Life,

the Life that the Word possessed from the Beginning

in relation to the Father (12) was embodied in humanity,

and became a fountain of regenerative power to "as many

as received Him" (John 112 316). This is the ultimate

significance of the Incarnation and the core of the

Johannine Gospel,—a Christ who has power to place


                        1 An ancient reading in 43.


                               The Doctrine of Christ                    107


Himself in a unique vital relation to men, to pour into

their defilement His purity, into their weakness His

strength, into their deadness His own spiritual vitality;

reproducing in them His own character and experiences, as

the vine reproduces itself in the branches  doing that, the

ineffable mystery of which is only expressed, not explained,

when we say that He is our "Life" (John 1419.20 155).

And to deny the truth of the personal Incarnation,

to dissolve the integrity of the Divine-human nature of

Jesus Christ, is either, on the one side, to deny that human

nature is capax Dei, or, on the other side, that it is the life

of God that flows into humanity in Jesus Christ; on either

supposition, to annul the possibility of that communication

of the Divine Life to man on which salvation essentially

consists. And here also the perspicacity with which the

writer of the Epistle discerns the logical and practical

issue is very notable. The history of theology, so far as

I am aware, offers no instance in which the truth of the

Incarnation has been rejected and a doctrine of Atonement

or Regeneration, in anything approaching to the Johannine

sense, has been retained.

            Such are the practical aspects of the fact of Incarna-

tion which the Epistle brings out. The full impersonation

of the Divine Life, the perfect effulgence of the Divine

Light, the supreme gift of the Divine Love, is this--"Jesus

Christ come in the flesh."






                                  CHAPTER VII.






THE doctrinal centre in the Epistle is, as we have seen in

the preceding chapter, the Incarnation. The channel by

which the full revelation of God and the gift of Eternal

Life are conveyed to, mankind is Jesus, the Son of God,

the Christ "come in the flesh." Our present task is to

examine the teaching of the Epistle as to the grounds on

which this belief rests.

            The correlative, intellectually, of Belief is "witness"

(marturi<a, marturei?n 12 414 56. 7. 9. 10. 11); and although the

apologetic aim of the Epistle is fully disclosed only in

the middle of the second chapter, the note of "witness"

struck in the opening verses shows that this was in the

writer's mind from the first.


                         The Apostolic Gospel, 11-3


            "That1 which was from the beginning, that which we

have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that

which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the

Word of Life (and the Life was manifested, and we have

seen, and announce unto you the Life, the Eternal Life,

which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us);

that which we have seen and heard announce we unto you

also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our

fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."

Here the Epistle opens, as it likewise closes, in a strain


        1 For exegetical details, V. supra, pp. 43 sqq., and Notes, in loc..


             The Witnesses to the Doctrine of Christ           109


of triumph. The complex periodic structure, unique1 in the

Johannine writings, expresses with stately rhetorical effect

the writer's consciousness of the unequalled sublimity of

his theme, and his exultation in the double apostolic

privilege of having himself seen and believed, and of

bearing witness to those who have not seen, that they also

may have the blessedness of believing (John 2029).

            At first he plainly declares his personal acquaintance2

with the facts of the Incarnate Life. He is not, like St.

Luke, a sedulous investigator and recorder of the facts

as certified by the most trustworthy witnesses; but is

himself such a witness. His knowledge is derived from

detailed and intimate observation;3 and the testimony,

certified by every faculty given to man as a criterion of

objective reality, is that He who was from the Beginning

and He who, in His earthly manifestation, lived and died

and rose4 again is (as against the Docetic Conception) the

same Person, embodied in the same form of actual human

existence. But before completing the statement that all

that has been outlined in 11 is the theme of apostolic

testimony, the writer parenthetically anticipates the

question how such testimony comes to be possible.

Human sense has been made the medium of the know-

ledge of the eternal Divine Life. For "the Life was

manifested, and we have seen and bear witness, and

announce5 unto you the Life, the Eternal Life which was


            1 The only parallel is the introduction to the washing of the disciples' feet

(John 131-3). where the motive is obviously the same as here.

            2 v. supra., pp. 46 sqq.

            3 The evidence is stated on an ascending scale—hearing, sight, touch.

Herodotus had long ago made the observation, w#ta ga>r tugxa<nei a]nqrw<poisi

e]o<nta a]pisto<tera o]falmw?n, i. 8.

            4 o{ ai[ xei?rej h[mw?n e]yhla<fhsan—a verbal reminiscence of Christ's words to

the disciples after the Resurrection.

            5 The fine logical precision with which the words are ordered is noticeable,

a]pagge<llomen, emphasising the fact of communication; marturou?men, the truth,

personally vouched for, of the communication made; e[wra<kamen, the experience

on the strength of which the voucher is given.


110                     The First Epistle of St. John


toward the Father and was manifested to us." And

then in the following verse, which resumes and completes

there is repeated insistence upon the fact that the

testimony borne is based upon personal and first-hand

knowledge, "What we have seen and heard we announce

also unto you,1 that ye also may have fellowship with

us."   Having such a message to deliver he cannot re-

frain. His rejoicing in the Truth is such that he must

impart it to others also. For this Truth is the medium

of Christian fellowship;2 nay, as he exultingly reminds

himself and his readers, it is the medium not only of

fellowship between Christians, but of their fellowship

with God—to have "fellowship with us" is to have

"fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus


            Having himself been brought into living fellowship

with God through his knowledge of the facts in which

the Son of God has been revealed to men, and the

Father in the Son, he would now, by making them full

partners in his knowledge, open to them the same door

of entrance into the same fulness of Divine Fellowship."

"As every stream of water makes for the sea, every rill

of truth makes for fellowship of souls." But the crowning

joy of this communication is that by means of it men

are brought unto God and into the possession of Divine


            The apostolic "witness" thus furnishes the permanent

content, the fact-material, of Christian belief. It is this--

"the word which ye heard from the beginning" (224)--


            1 "Unto you also" (kai> u[mi?n) implies a contrast, not between former and

present recipients of the message, but between the Apostle himself and his readers.

            2 Upon the exegetical intricacies of the verse see Notes, in loc.

It would be impossible to find a more spontaneous expression than these

words of the missionary spirit that is inherent in all truth, but, above all, in

Christian truth. The same Christlike and apostolic feeling breaks out afresh in

the verse that follows: "And these things write we unto you, that our joy may

be fulfilled." v. supra, p. 42, note 2.


               The Witnesses to the Doctrine of Christ                111


that reveals the Son of God in the reality of the Incarnate

Life. It is, therefore, the touchstone of truth, the Church's

safeguard against all the freaks of human fancy and the

vagaries of speculation, "If it abide in you, ye also shall

abide in the Son and in the Father" (2241). With un-

erring insight St. John declares the sovereign value of

the Apostolic Gospel, and assigns its permanent function

in the Church. As at the close of the Apostolic era

the watchword of true advance is found to be "back

to Christ," so always Christ is the Alpha and the Omega,

the historical manifestation of the Word of Life, at once

the source and the test of all fruitful developments in

theology or ethics. Whatever rights criticism may claim

with respect to the literary medium by which the Apostolic

Gospel has been transmitted, that Gospel has remained

and must remain the "umpire and test" of truth in all

emergencies, even as it is also the "good seed" of the

kingdom of God.


                     The Testimony of the Spirit.


            The knowledge of the Divine Revelation given to the

world in Jesus Christ is derived ultimately from the

testimony of the Apostles and a few other contemporary

witnesses: and it is communicated by the same method

as that by which information is ordinarily diffused among

men: those who know tell it to those, who are ignorant.

But is the belief of those who "have not seen and yet

have believed" inferior in point of certitude to that of

the original witnesses? The Epistle assures its readers

that they are in no such position of inferiority. They

have the testimony and teaching of the Spirit.

            In the first cycle of the Epistle the paragraph in which

this topic is introduced is 220-27.1 Having in the preceding


            1 Regarding the exegetical difficulties of this passage, see Notes, in loc.

112                  The First Epistle of St. John


verses characterised the heretical teachers as the true anti-

christs, St. John, before proceeding to exhort his readers to

stand fast in the Faith, prepares the ground for such ex-

hortation by reminding them of the living Witness they had

in themselves—the Spirit God had given them, who both

set the seal of immediate conviction upon the Truth itself

and enabled them unfailingly to distinguish it from all its

counterfeits (pa?n yeu?doj, 221).

            And ye have an anointing (chrism) from the Holy

One,1 and ye know all things" (220). The word "chrism"2

(not the act of anointing, but that with which it is per-

formed) seems to be suggested here by the title "anti-

christs" which has been applied to the schismatics. They

were a]nti<xristoi, counterfeits of Christ. The Apostle's readers

had the true chrism, and, therefore, were able to detect

their falsity. On the other hand, the use of the word

without explanation assumes that it was familiar to both

writer and readers as denoting the abiding gift of the Holy

Ghost. Jesus is the "Anointed." It is He Who received

the true Divine Anointing, " with the Holy Ghost and with

power" (Acts 427 l038). And this anointing He received not

for Himself alone, but for all the members of His spiritual

Body. During His visible presence among men the

conditions of His earthly ministry precluded the full com-

munication of the gift. But when, having overcome the

sharpness of death, He ascended the throne of His

kingdom, the oil of His coronation in the Heavens flowed

down upon His people here on earth (Acts 233-36). The

precious ointment ran down to the skirts of the High

priest's garments (Ps. 1322). The result of this " anoint-

ing is that "ye know all things." The specific office of

the Spirit is to "guide into all the truth," to "take of Mine

and declare it" (John 1613.14)


            1 “The Holy One," that is, Christ. v. supra, p. 90.

            2 See special Note appended to this chapter.

             The Witnesses to the Doctrine of Christ            113


This now leads the writer to reassert (212-14) that the

motive of his writing does not lie in the assumption of his

readers' ignorance. He has no positively new elements to

add to their Christian knowledge, "I write unto you, not

because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it,

and (know) that no lie is of the truth "(221). 1. . . 2  "And,

as for you, the anointing which ye received of Him abideth

in you, and ye need not that any one teach you: but as the

anointing from Him teacheth you concerning all things,

and is true, and is no lie, even as it taught you, ye abide in

Him" (227).3

            The distinctive feature of this passage is that the

testimony of the Spirit is regarded as a "teaching." And

the question4 that immediately arises is as to the conception

of this "teaching" it implies. Examining this, we find, in the

first place, that it is not regarded as superseding the Word,

but as concurrent and co-operative with it. Their inter-

dependence is signified, according to the Writer's habitual

method, by alluding to them alternately (220. 21 the Spirit, 22

the Word, 226.27 the Spirit). Their teaching is the same in


            1 See Notes, in loc.

            2 On the verses here omitted, see Chapter VI

            3 “In Him." Not in the "anointing," but in Christ. The purpose of the

Spirit's work, in all its aspects, is the believer's perfect and abiding union with


            4 In the parallel passage (324b–46) the action of the Spirit is charismatic and

the testimony is objective, being given in the inspired confession of Jesus as the

Christ come in the flesh (so also in 1 Cor. 1228.29 and Eph. 412.13). Is the

"teaching" here referred to also charismatic? Is it given to the Church

through inspired human utterance; or is it the subjective enlightening action of

the Spirit of truth upon the minds of all believers? The latter interpretation is

assumed without question be Protestant commentators ("das fromme Gemeinde-

bewusstsein,'' Holtzmann). The ether view is implied in Catholic expositions,

such as that of Estius (quoted by Huther), "Habetis episcopos et presbyteros

quorum cura ac studio vestrae ecclesiae satis instructae, sunt in iis quae pertinent

ad doctrina. Christianae veritatem.”  This interpretation is much too definitely

ecclesiastical; but, in view of the parallel passages, and of all we know regard-

ing the place of inspired "prophets" and "teachers" in the N.T. Church, it

seems to me that the "anointing" is here to be regarded as charismatic, and the

"teaching" as given to the Church objectively, through those who were the

organs of a special Inspiration.

114                      The First Epistle of St. John


substance—Jesus is the Christ (222); and the result is the

same—abiding in Him ("If that which ye heard from

the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the

Son and in the Father" (221); and, again (227, "Even as

it taught you, ye abide in Him"). The teaching, more-

over, is continuous, shedding the light of truth upon all

subjects as they arise in experience (2