FIRST JOHN CHAPTER 1.
Person and Office. 1 John 1, 1—10.
Concerning the person of Christ: V. 1. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with. our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life, v. 2. (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us,) v. 3. that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and, truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. V. 4. And these thing's write we unto you that your joy may be full. The apostle here announces the topic, or subject matter, of his letter: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, became flesh for the salvation of mankind. In the form which shows his intimate knowledge of the subject he writes: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we inspected and our hands touched, concerning the Word of Life. The Word of Life is his theme, the eternal, essential, personal Word, which was in the beginning with God and was God, John 1, 1. 14. It is Jesus Christ, called the "Word," because in Him .God has revealed Himself, has made Himself and His entire counsel of salvation known to men. He is the "Word of Life," because He, as the true God, has the fullness of true, everlasting life in Himself, because He is the Source and Fountain of all true life, and because He gives eternal life to all those that come to Him in truth. Of Him St. John says that He was from the beginning; He did not come into existence at the beginning, at the creation of the world, at the period when time first began to be reckoned, but He was. He already existed: He is from eternity. The eternal Son of God became man, for John says that he heard Him, that his own ears received the doctrine of life from His lips; that he saw Him with his own eyes. Yea, more: he had opportunity enough to gaze upon this wonderful God-man, to inspect Him closely, to note everything that He did: his hands even touched and handled Him, because he was the beloved disciple, and the evening of the Passover meal in the upper room was undoubtedly not the only time when he leaned on the breast of Jesus.
John has still more to say of the incarnation and its purpose: And the Life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and declare to you the eternal Life, the very one which was with the Father and was manifested to us. The Life, He who is the Life, the embodiment of all true life. was manifested, revealed, to men. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, John 1. 14. John purposely speaks of their seeing as having taken place for a long time. They were with the Lord long enough to know that they were not dealing with a phantom, but with the personal revelation of the second person of the Godhead. They had every reason, John and his fellow-apostles, to be so certain of their declaration and of their witness. They saw His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father. They knew that Jesus Christ was the true God and eternal Life. As such, as the eternal embodiment and source of all true spiritual life, as Him who was with the Father from eternity and was made flesh, was manifested to us, lived among men, God and Man in one person, John had proclaimed Him and was proclaiming Him.
The apostle also states the purpose of this emphatic proclamation: What we have seen and heard we declare also to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. John and the other disciples made that the work of their entire life, to preach the wonderful Gospel-message, to tell the wondrous story of Jesus and His work of redemption, in order that other people also might learn to know Christ, to believe in Him, and thus to enter into the most intimate spiritual fellowship with the apostles and with all true believers. By faith all believers on earth, regardless of race and social position, are united in the communion of saints, in the Christian Church. This fellowship, moreover, involves still more: But our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. By faith the Christians are not only united in an association holding the same tenets and held together by the same profession, but they thereby become members of the body of Christ and enter into intimate relationship with God the Father Himself. For as the eternal Father of Jesus Christ, His Father also after the incarnation, as He Himself repeatedly testified, He is also our Father by virtue of the redemption of Christ. The Savior has removed all cause of enmity by bearing both our sins and their guilt and atoning for them with His blood, thereby reconciling God the Father to us. Thus we are all children of God by faith which is in Christ Jesus. It is a wonderful, a glorious relationship in which we stand. No wonder the apostle is constrained to add: And this we are writing that your joy may be complete. This assurance of the sonship of God, of the fact that all causes for apprehension and fear have been removed, will ever have the same effect upon the Christians, namely, that of making their joy in faith complete and perfect, of causing them to rest their salvation in Christ and their heavenly Father without the slightest hesitation or doubt, of imparting to them that inexpressible happiness of faith which no man can take from the believers, which they retain in the very midst of misery and tribulation. That is John's introduction to his letter, a remarkable example of the comforting quality of the Gospel-message.
in the light, cleansed by Christ's blood: V. 5. This, then, is the message
which we have heard of Him and declare unto you, that God is Light, and in Him
is no darkness at all. V. 6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him
and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; v. 7. but if we walk
in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and
the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. The apostle
now launches forth in his letter proper, developing, first of all, his topic
that God is Light: And this is the message which we have heard from Him and
announce to you, that God is Light and that darkness is in Him in no way. St.
John desires to make an announcement, a declaration, to deliver a message. It is
not a message or philosophy which he has thought out himself; he is not offering
the result of any research of his own. What he writes, what he proclaims, is the
truth of Christ, of God; he is a messenger of Christ, a minister of salvation,
as every true pastor is intended to be. God is Light, and darkness — in Him
there is none. Light is purity, holiness; He is the Source of all true
knowledge, wisdom, happiness, and holiness. There is no darkness, no ignorance,
no imperfection, no misery, no sinfulness in Him. As light is the symbol of
purity, goodness, and perfection, so, on the other hand, darkness symbolizes
ignorance, sinfulness, misery, corruption.
Upon this fact the apostle bases a conclusion regarding the conduct and life of the Christians: If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we are liars and are not practicing the truth. That we have fellowship with God as our heavenly Father by faith the apostle had just stated. But if we now, who profess to be Christians and thus to be united with God in the most intimate union, live and behave ourselves as though we were still in darkness, if we are addicted to sin, if we in any way serve sin and corruption, then our entire life is a lie. We may be self deceived, under circumstances, but the lie is there nevertheless. We are then not doing, practicing, the truth, which demands that we live a pure and holy life, according to the will of our heavenly Father. To walk and live in sins while professing to be children of God is to brand ourselves as liars and hypocrites.
St. John describes the conduct of the Christians as it should be: But if we walk in the light as Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. We are a light in the Lord through faith, and therefore it behooves us to walk as the children of light, Eph. 5, 8. God, our heavenly Father, is in the light, His entire essence is holiness, everything that He does is pure and holy. Of this nature we partake by faith, and our conduct should give evidence of the faith that has made us children of the light and enables us to walk as the children of light, according to God's good pleasure and will. If thus we live a holy and righteous life, deriving continual light, power, and life from Him, then there will be two happy consequences of such behavior. In the first place, we have the assurance that we have fellowship with one another: we are closely connected with our heavenly Father by faith; we are united with the holy apostles and with the Christians of all times by the bond of this same faith. Just as an unholy, sinful life, a conduct of sin and shame, excludes the perpetrator from all communion with the saints of God and with God Himself, so a righteous and holy life, lived by the power of God through faith, binds us ever more closely to the Lord and to one another. At the same time we are also assured that the blood of Jesus, our Savior, the Son of God, cleanses us from all sin. In spite of the weaknesses and imperfections of this earthly life, in spite of the many accusations and temptations on the part of the devil and the children of this world, we have forgiveness of sins. Jesus, the true Man, our Brother according to the flesh, but at the same time the Son of God, the eternal God Himself, has shed His blood for us once, yet His sacrifice has eternal validity and power by virtue of that mysterious, wonderful personal union of the two natures. Always, every day, without ceasing, we have forgiveness of sins, we are righteous and just and holy before God through the blood of Jesus Christ, which is always effective; in the case of every sin we have forgiveness, which is always and ever again offered and transmitted to us in the Word and in the Sacrament and accepted by us in faith.
and its forgiveness: V. 8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us. V. 9. If we confess our sins, He
is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness. V. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a
liar, and His Word is not in us. What St. John here discusses is the heresy
of perfectionism, the idea which is held by many people to this day, namely,
that they can attain to such a perfect state in this world that they are
completely free from sin in their own persons, "in an uninterrupted
obedience." To these the apostle says: If we say that sin we do not have,
ourselves we deceive, and the truth, not is it in us. The very
position of the words expresses the horror which John must have felt at the mere
suggestion of such blasphemy. There is no such thing as perfect sanctification
in our own persons in this life, making the forgiveness of sins superfluous so
far as we are concerned. If any one should hold this foolish notion and even
confess it, he is deceiving himself, he is leading himself astray, he is leaving
the eternal truth as revealed in the Word of God. He is denying the truth that
all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that there is none that
doeth good, no, not one. He has left the truth that we sinners are justified
before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith. Thus the truth will no
longer be in such a person, he is lost in the blindness of self righteousness,
he has lost the fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ, his Savior.
But, on the other hand: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, that He forgives the sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That is the custom which the Christians have, to bring their transgressions before their heavenly Father in contrition and repentance, to confess them all without excuse or attempt at mitigation. We can do that so freely because we know that God is reconciled to us through the blood of His Son. He forgives us our sins for the sake of Christ, He cleanses us from all our imperfections and unrighteousnesses, from the sins which still cling to us and make us laggards in the fulfillment of God's will. This He can do because the righteousness of Christ is there in sufficient quantity to outweigh all our trespasses; His expiation is great enough to cover all our sins. What is more, in doing this, our heavenly Father is proving Himself faithful to His promises, Heb. 10, 23. And He is just; having accepted the redemption of Christ, His perfect reconciliation, it would be an act of unrighteousness and injustice on His part to break His promise ratified by the blood of Jesus. If Christ were still in the grave, then our hope were vain; but with the risen Christ exalted to the right hand of God we are courageous and defiant in faith.
apostle again lifts his finger in warning to check the pride and
self-righteousness of our hearts: If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him
a liar, and His Word, not is it in us. If any person that is at all acquainted
with the Word of God is so blind and perverse as to deny his own sinfulness, he
is stifling the voice of his conscience, he is setting aside the entire Word of
the Gospel, he is rejecting the entire experience of mankind. Thus he makes God
a liar; for the entire content of His Word may be given in the two words, sin
and grace; and he most assuredly has not the faintest conception of the truth of
God as it is contained in His revealed Word. Let every Christian, therefore,
guard against such a delusion with all vigilance, and to that end make the study
of God's Word a daily practice. Then his own sin, but above all the
greatness of God's mercy, will be revealed to him with ever greater emphasis.
Summary. The apostle gives a brief summary of the doctrine concerning the person and the office of Christ, showing at the same time that God is Light and that we should walk in this light, recognizing and acknowledging our sins, but also the forgiveness of God through the blood of Christ.