And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true--in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Here are three points for consideration concerning true Christians.
1. Their origination from God. They are "begotten of God?' They are "called children of God," and are such.
2. Their abstention from sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not." He will not commit the "sin unto death;" and in proportion as he participates in the Divine life he will shun sin in any form (cf. 1 John 3:6-9; and see our remarks on 1 John 3:6).
3. Their preservation from the evil one. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Danger is clearly implied here. "Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith." "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," etc. (Ephesians 6:11-18). "Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." Hence the danger. But notice:
(1) The means of preservation. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself." He is sober and watchful and prayerful in order that he may not be surprised by temptation and seduced into sin. It has been well said by John Howe, "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself from those deadly mortal touches which would endanger his precious life; that is, he is his own underkeeper. We are every one to be our brother's keeper, much more our own; but still in a subordinate sense, subservient to, and dependent upon, the Supreme One. Indeed, it were a kind of monstrous thing in the creation, that there should be so noble a life planted in us, but destitute of the self-preserving faculty or disposition; whereas every life, how mean soever, even that of a worm, a gnat, or a fly, hath a disposition to preserve itself." Christians are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
(2) The nature of the preservation. "The wicked one toucheth him not." This does not signify exemption from temptation, but victory over it. The great adversary shall not touch" the true-born child of God" so as to destroy his spiritual life or effect his overthrow.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF PERSONAL FILIAL RELATIONSHIP TO GOD. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." The assurance with which the apostle writes is remarkable. Not, "we are probably of God;' not," we hope we are of God," etc.; but "we know that we are of God," etc. We may know this:
1. By our consciousness of our Christian character. The genuine Christian can say of his spiritual condition, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." He is conscious of his faith in Christ. "I know whom I have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12). He feels that the Saviour is precious unto him (1 Peter 2:7). He knows that he loves the Christian brotherhood; and "we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." He is conscious of his sincere desire and endeavour to follow Christ as his great Exemplar, and to obey him as his Divine Lord.
2. By our consciousness of our filial disposition toward God. We have "received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Our own hearts assure us that we trust and love and reverence our heavenly Father. Thus "we know that we are of God?
3. By the contrast between ourselves and the unchristian world. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one." We have already endeavoured to indicate the character of" the world" of which St. John writes. "Concerning the world, he says, not merely that it is of the wicked one, or has him for a father, and bears his nature, but also that it 'lies in him,' that is, lies in his bosom,... like an infant on the bosom of a mother or a father, which is absolutely given up to its parent's power" (Ebrard). The true Christian knows that he is not in such a condition, but in a decidedly opposite one - that he "abides in the Son, and in the Father" (chapter 2:24).
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF A TRANSCENDENT FACT, AND OF GREAT PERSONAL BENEFITS DERIVED THROUGH THAT FACT. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true," etc. Here are four points which require our attention.
1. That the Son of God came into our world. "We know that the Son of God is come." (This great fact has already engaged our attention in our homily on 1 John 4:9-11, and the apostle's assurance of it in that on 1 John 4:14.)
2. That the Son of God hath given to us spiritual discernment that we might know God. "And hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true." This does not mean that he has given to us any new faculty, but that he has brought our spiritual faculties into a right condition for the apprehension of the Divine Being. "As Christ has come (in the sense of 1 John 4:9)," says Ebrard, "and through this act of love has kindled love in us (1 John 4:10), thus communicating his nature to us, he has furnished us with the understanding necessary in order that we may know God. For God is, according to 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8, Light and Love; and only he who is penetrated by his light, and kindled by his love, can know him." God was not the Unknowable to St. John. He knew him through the revelation of Jesus Christ, by the conscious realization of his presence with his Spirit, and by hallowed communion with him.
3. That we are in vital union with God and with his Son Jesus Christ. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." (We have already considered what it is to be in God, in our homily on 1 John 2:6.) The true Christian is in God the Father through being in Christ the Son. He is in the Father through the mediation of the Son.
4. That the Son of God is truly and properly Divine. "This is the true God, and eternal life" (cf. verses 11-13). Let us seek to realize the exalted and blessed knowledge which we have been considering. And if it be already ours, let us endeavour to possess it in clearer light and fuller measure. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." - W.J.
We know that the Son of God is come
I. BY HIS COMING HE HAS "GIVEN US AN UNDERSTANDING THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM THAT IS TRUE." Now this does not mean, of course, that Christ gives men any new intellectual power, that He adds to the faculties of the mind any more than to the senses of the body. "Understanding" here signifies rather the means of knowing, the power of understanding. By word and life He has given us ideas about Fatherhood, holiness, pity, kindness, and love, that we had not before. Purity, meekness, patience, and all the graces, mean more now than they did before Christ lived and died. The horizon of language has been widened, and its heaven lifted higher than before.
II. WELL, FOR WHAT PURPOSE HAS CHRIST GIVEN US THESE NEW IDEAS AND OPENED THE EYES OF OUR UNDERSTANDINGS? In order that we may "know Him that is true," in order that we may know God. In Christ you will find the truth about God. There are mysteries still? Yes, but they are all mysteries of goodness, holiness, and love. In a recently published book of travel the authoress tells of gigantic camellia trees in Madeira, and says that one man made an excursion to see them, and came back much disappointed, having failed to find them. He was desired to pay a second visit to the spot, and was told by his friends to look upwards this time, and was much surprised and gladdened to see a glorious canopy of scarlet and white blossoms fifty feet overhead! Is not that the story of many more in our days? They grub and moil amid molluscs and ocean slime; "they turn back the strata granite, limestone, coal and clay, concluding coldly with, Here is law! Where is God? I have swept the heavens with my telescope," said Lalande, "but have nowhere found a God!" Sirs, you are looking in the wrong direction: look higher l Look as Ezekiel looked — above the firmament. In the presence of Christ Jesus you will find what you shall in vain seek elsewhere, God, in all that He is, made manifest in the flesh.
III. "We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ," i.e., IN CHRIST WE ARE IN GOD. Dr. Arnold used to say that though the revelation of the splendour of God in the infinite fulness of His nature may be something awaiting him in the world to come, he felt sure that in this world he had only to do with Christ. Yes! it is with Christ we have to do. God Himself is the ultimate, but Christ is the immediate object of our faith. In our penitence we go straight as the Magdalene went, and, sitting at the feet of Jesus, we know that we are confessing our sins to God. Our prayers are as direct as that of Peter, when, beginning to sink in the boiling sea, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me!" and we know that we are crying to God for help.
IV. Lastly, the Son of God is come, AND TO BE IN HIM IS TO HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. "This is the true God (the God in Christ) and eternal life." Victor Hugo said on his deathbed in a fit of great pain, "This is death: this is the battle of the day and the night." Yes, but for those who are in Christ the day wins, not the night, and death is the gate leading to a larger life.
(J. M. Gibbon.)
Homilist.In this verse we have three of the greatest things.
I. The greatest FACT IN HUMAN HISTORY. That the Son of God has come. There are many great facts in the history of our race. But of all the facts the advent of Christ to our world eighteen centuries ago is the greatest. This fact is the most —
3. Vital to the interests of every man.
II. The greatest CAPABILITY OF THE HUMAN MIND. What is that? "An understanding, that we may know Him that is true." Men are endowed with many distinguishing faculties — imagination, memory, intellect. But the capacity to know Him who is true is for many reasons greater than all.
1. It is a rare faculty. The mighty millions have not this power, "O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee."
2. It is a Christ-imparted faculty — "He hath given us." What is it? It is love. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God." Christ generates this love. Love alone can interpret love, "God is love."
III. The greatest PRIVILEGE IN HUMAN LIFE. "We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ." This means, Jesus Christ is the true God.
(H. W. Beecher.)I. THE CHARACTER HERE GIVEN OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST — "Him that is true," "the true God and eternal life," "the Son of God."
1. The first object in this glorious description which claims our notice refers to the truth of our Saviour's character and mission — "Him that is true." This title is descriptive of our blessed Lord's faithfulness, and His punctuality in the performance of every engagement; He is true to His word of promise, though "heaven and earth shall pass away, yet His word shall not pass away till all be fulfilled." This title also refers to the validity of His claim to the character of Messiah. He was no pretender to a station which did not of right pertain unto Him — He was the true Messiah. Jesus Christ is also called "true," to express that all the types and shadows of the Levitical dispensation received a complete fulfilment in Him, "who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth."
2. The next appellation is, "the true God." This epithet is not conferred upon the Redeemer merely as an honorary distinction — no, it is given to Him as asserting His Divine nature; a declaration, that He is "very God of very God." If Christ be not truly and properly God, He cannot be the Saviour of sinners.
3. Another epithet here applied to Christ is, "eternal life." He is so called with reference to His glorious work, as the Saviour of sinners. By the gospel He has "abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light," — has "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers"; and by His meritorious death has obtained life for them; hence He is called the Prince of life. By His mighty power spiritual life is revealed in the hearts of His people.
4. The concluding words of the clause now under consideration are, "His Son Jesus Christ," which confirms His claim to the Divine character. The Father and the Son are one in nature, as well as in affection.
II. THE PRESENT STATE OF TRUE BELIEVERS. "We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ." To be in Christ is to be united to Him by faith, which worketh by love. The nature and necessity of this union with the Lord Jesus are most beautifully illustrated in His last discourse with His disciples previous to His sufferings: "I am the true vine," etc. Believers are "cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and are grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree," the influences of Divine grace flow into their souls, they bring forth fruit unto perfection, and are at length gathered into the garner of God.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE OF BELIEVERS.
1. "We know that the Son of God is come." The import of these words appears to be this — we are satisfied the promised Christ has actually made His appearance in the flesh; and believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that person. I apprehend that these words refer to the revelation of our Lord Jesus, in the believer's heart, by the Holy Spirit of God.
2. "He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true." We have already observed that Jesus is the truth. Now we are not naturally acquainted with Him; we know not His glorious excellences; hence, when beheld by the eye of carnal reason, the Redeemer seems to have no beauty in Him; there is no form or comeliness, that we should desire Him. This darkness remains upon the mind till dispersed by a light from heaven, and when that light shineth, Jesus is revealed in the soul, and becomes the supreme object of the believer's affections. Men may, by dint of application, become systematic Christians; they may understand the theory of the gospel; but they cannot thus become wise unto salvation.
(S. Ramsey, M. A.)
I. I would deal with THE CHRISTIAN'S KNOWLEDGE THAT THE SON OF GOD IS COME. Now, our apostle is writing to Asiatic Christians of the second generation at the earliest, most of whom had not been born when Jesus Christ was upon earth, and none of whom had any means of acquaintance with Him except that which we possess — the testimony of the witnesses who had companied with Him. "We know; how can you know? You may go on the principle that probability is the guide of life, and you may be morally certain, but the only way by which you know a fact is by having seen it. And even if you have seen Jesus Christ, all that you saw would be the life of a man upon earth whom you believed to be the Son of God. It is trifling with language to talk about knowledge when you have only testimony to build on." Well I There is a great deal to be said on that side, but there are two or three considerations which, I think, amply warrant the apostle's declaration here, and our understanding of his words, "We know," in their fullest and deepest sense. Let me just mention these briefly. Remember that when John says "The Son of God is come" he is not speaking about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. And that thought of the permanent abiding with men of the Christ who once was manifest in the flesh for thirty years, runs through the whole of Scripture. So it is a present fact, and not only a past piece of history, which is asserted when the apostle says, "The Son of God is come." And a man who has a companion knows that he has him, and by many a token, not only of flesh but of spirit, is conscious that he is not alone, but that the dear and strong one is by his side. Such consciousness belongs to all the maturer and deeper forms of the Christian life. Further, we must read on in my text if we are to find all which John declares is a matter of knowledge. "The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding." I point out that what is here declared to be known by the Christian soul is a present operation of the present Christ upon his nature. If a man is aware that through his faith in Jesus Christ new perceptions and powers of discerning solid reality where he only saw mist before have been granted to him, the apostle's triumphant assertion is vindicated. And, still further, the words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed in Christ Jesus, and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing a belief that rests on testimony for knowledge grounded in vital experience. "Now we believe, not because of your saying, but because we have seen Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." That is the advance which Christian men should all make from the infantile, rudimentary days, when they accepted Christ on the witness of others, to the time when they accepted Him because, in the depth of their own experience, they have found Him to be all that they took Him to be. The true test of creed is life. The true way of knowing that a shelter is adequate is to house in it, and be defended from the pelting of every pitiless storm. The medicine we know to be powerful when it has cured us.
II. Note THE NEW POWER OF KNOWING GOD GIVEN BY THE SON WHO IS TO COME. John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that "He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true." Now, I do not suppose that He means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. That gift of a clarified nature, a pure heart, which is the condition, as the Master Himself said, of seeing God — that gift is bestowed upon all who, trusting in the Incarnate Son, submit themselves to His cleansing hand. In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. The knowledge of which my text speaks is the knowledge of "Him that is true," by which pregnant word the apostle means, to contrast the Father whom Jesus Christ sets before us with all men's conceptions of a Divine nature, and to declare that whilst these conceptions, in one way or another, fall beneath or diverge from reality and fact, our God manifested to us by Jesus Christ is the only One whose nature corresponds to the name, and who is essentially that which is included in it. But what I would dwell on especially is that this gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. Inasmuch as the apostle declares that the object of this knowledge is not a truth about God but God Himself, it necessarily follows that the knowledge is such as we have of a person, and not of a doctrine. Or, to put it into simpler words, to know about God is one thing, and to know God is quite another. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. That knowledge, if it is real and living, will be progressive. More and more we shall come to know. As we grow like Him we shall draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to Him we shall grow like Him. So, if we have Christ for our medium both of light and of sight, if He both gives us God to see and the power to see Him, we shall begin a course which eternity itself will not see completed.
III. Lastly, note here THE CHRISTIAN INDWELLING OF GOD WHICH IS POSSIBLE THROUGH THE SON WHO IS COME. "We are in Him that is true." Of old Abraham was called the Friend of God, but an auguster title belongs to us. "Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" But notice the words of my text for a moment, where the apostle goes on to explain and define how "we are in Him that is true," because we are "in His Son Jesus Christ." That carries us away back to "Abide in Me, and I in you." John caught the whole strain of such thoughts from those sacred words in the upper room. And will not a man "know" that? Wilt it not be something deeper and better than intellectual perception by which he is aware of the presence of Christ in his heart?
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That we may know Him that is true
(N. Smyth, D. D.)1 John 1:2) realised absolutely in the Divine essence. We contemplate this archetypal life, self-contained and self-fulfilled in the Divine Being, and we are led to believe with deep thankfulness that the finite life which flows from it by a free act of grace corresponds with the source from which it flows. In this way it will at once appear how the conception of the Triune God illuminates the central religious ideas of the Creation and the Incarnation. It illuminates the idea of Creation. It enables us to gain firm hold of the truth that the "becoming" which we observe under the condition of time answers to "a being" beyond time; that history is the writing out at length of that which we may speak of as a Divine thought. It enables us to take up on our part the words of the four-and-twenty elders, the representatives of the whole Church, when they cast their crowns before the throne and worshipped Him that sits thereon, saying, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord, and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they are and were created;" they were absolutely in the ineffable depths of the mind of God, they were created under the limitations of earthly existence. The same conception illuminates also the idea of the Incarnation. It enables us to see that the Incarnation in its essence is the crown of the Creation, and that man being made capable of fellowship with God, has in his very constitution a promise of the fulfil meat of his highest destiny. It enables us to feel that the childly relation in which we stand to God has its ground in the Divine Being; and to understand that not even sin has been able to destroy the sure hope of its consummation, however sadly it may have modified in time the course by which the end is reached. Anyone who believes, however imperfectly, that the universe with all it offers in a slow succession to his gaze is in its very nature the expression of that love which is the Divine Being and the Divine Life; who believes that the whole sum of life defaced and disfigured on the surface to our sight "means intensely and means good"; who believes that the laws which he patiently traces are the expressions of a Father's will, that the manhood which he shares has been taken into God by the Son, that at every moment, in every trial, a Spirit is with him waiting to sanctify thought, and word, and deed; must in his own character receive something from the Divine glory on which he looks. What calm reserve he will keep in face of the perilous boldness with which controversialists deal in human reasonings with things infinite and eternal. What tender reverence he will cherish towards those who have seen some thing of the King in His beauty. With what enthusiasm he will be kindled while he remembers that, in spite of every failure and every disappointment, his cause is won already. After what holiness he will strain while he sees the light fall about his path, that light which is fire, and knows the inexorable doom of everything which defiles. So we are brought back to the beginning. The revelation of God is given to us that we may be fashioned after His likeness. "God first loved us" that knowing His love we might love Him in our fellow men. Without spiritual sympathy there can be no knowledge. But where sympathy exists there is the transforming power of a Divine affection.
This is the true God and eternal life
I. THE APOSTLE'S KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
1. John knew that the long expected and earnestly looked for Saviour had made His appearance among men. What mere man could talk of going to and coming from heaven, as though he were speaking of going into and coming out of a room in a house and claim to be sane? He was "Emmanuel, God with us," who, while here below, remained there always. "And we know that the Son of God is come."
2. The apostle received a priceless gift from the "Son of God." And hath given us an "understanding." The importance of the "understanding" that Christ gives may be seen in the object which it understands. A teacher who succeeds in making a great and difficult subject clear to our minds deserves our profoundest gratitude and highest admiration. The "Son of God" gives mankind an understanding that apprehends the greatest of all objects — "Him that is true." The Son comprehends God and He gives us understandings to apprehend Him. Such an understanding is truly a great gift, the greatest of its kind possible. When we bear in mind that by it Christ places us in the light in which we may see and know God, we cannot fail to feel that it is indeed such. For, like all objects of the mind, God can only be known in His own light. The only way we can possibly understand a great author is to possess the light in which he wrote his work — we must see with his intellectual eyes as it were — then we shall understand him, not otherwise. The understanding which Christ gives us includes much more than a mere capacity to apprehend an object, it includes a suitable spirit in which to enter upon the study of it. Indeed, unless we are in fullest sympathy with the spirit of the object we are studying we shall fail to understand it. It is something to be able to understand the great works that have been produced by the illustrious men of the different ages; their sublime and inspiring poetry, their wise and informing philosophy, their splendid pictures, their fine statuary, and their grand architecture. But the "understanding" which the "Son of God" gives apprehends God; it knows "Him that is true." Such a mind must be capacious indeed.
II. THE APOSTLE'S RELATION TO CHRIST AND GOD.
1. "And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ." A closer relationship than these words describe cannot be conceived; they imply that the most thorough and vital union subsists between God, Christ, and the Christian. That is a triple union the strong hand of death cannot sever, nor will the damps and chills of the grave impair the golden cord that binds the Christian to God and the Saviour. Eternity will only add to its power and perpetuity. To be in Him that is true is to know Him.
2. They possessed an intelligent assurance of the intimate relation which they sustained to Christ: "And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ." They had entered into the close union with God by means of Christ, but they had not severed themselves from Christ in order to keep up the union with God; they were in Him that is true, "even in His Son Jesus Christ." All who are in "His Son Jesus Christ" see God from the only standpoint from whence it is possible for the soul to see Him really and satisfactorily. A visitor who went to Trafalgar Square to view Landseer's lions, selected a position on low ground from which he could look up at them, where the stately proportions of the whole column could be seen to the greatest advantage. Quite another effect is produced by looking down upon them from the terrace in the front of the National Gallery; the column seems dwarfed and the lions out of proportion. The standpoint made all the difference in the view. Christ is the only standpoint from which we can see God really: in Christ we "stand on the mount of God, with sunlight in our souls," and see the Father of our spirits.
III. THE APOSTLE'S SUBLIME TESTIMONY TO CHRIST. "This is the true God and eternal life." Jesus Christ was not a Divine man merely: if He were not more than that John would not have said that He was "the true God." He was the best of men, but He was infinitely more; He was "the true God and eternal life." As the earth is the source of the life of all the fields and forests — as much the source of the life of the majestic oak as the sweet and fragrant violet — so Christ is the source of the soul's life. Separated from the earth, the most vital plant or tree would wither, droop, and die; no plant, however vigorous and beautiful, has life in itself. Jesus Christ is, in the fullest sense, the source of the soul's life; "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." As the fountain of eternal life He imparts it to all who possess it. "I give unto them eternal life." The source of all the waters of the world must be an immense reservoir. If it were possible for the question to be put to all the waters found on the earth, to all streams, rivers, and lakes, "Where is your source?" do you think that they would answer, "Oh, some spring that takes its rise at the foot of a distant little hill." No, if anyone hinted that such a spring was their source they would scout the idea at once as the very acme of absurdity. Their united answer would be, "Our source must be an inexhaustible ocean." Then can a mere man be the author of "eternal life"? Impossible.
(D. Rhys Jenkins.)I. HERE WE HAVE THE SUM OF ALL THAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD. "This is the true God." When he says, "This is the true God" he means to say, "This God of whom I have been affirming that Jesus Christ is His sole Revealer, and of whom I have been declaring that through Jesus Christ We may know Him and dwell abidingly in Him." "This" — and none else — "is the true God." What does John mean by "true"? By that expression he means, wherever he uses it, some person or thing whose nature and character correspond to his or its name, and who is essentially and perfectly that which the name expresses. If we take that as the signification of the word, we just come to this, that the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and with whom a man through Jesus Christ may have fellowship of knowledge and friendship, that He and none but He answers to all that men mean when they speak of a God; that He, if I might use such expressions, fully fills the part. If we only think that, however it comes (no matter about that) every man has in him a capacity of conceiving of a perfect being, of righteousness, power, purity, and love, and that all through the ages of the world's yearnings there has never been presented to it the embodiment of that dim conception, but that all idolatry, all worship, has failed in bodying out a person who would answer to the requirements of a man's spirit, then we come to the position in which these final words of the old fisherman go down to a deeper depth than all the world's wisdom, and carry a message of consolation and a true gospel to be found nowhere besides. Whatsoever embodiments men may have tried to give to their dim conception of a God, these have been always limitations, and often corruptions of it. And to limit or to separate is, in this case, to destroy. No Pantheon can ever satisfy the soul of man who yearns for One Person in whom all that he can dream of beauty, truth, goodness shall be ensphered. "This is the true God." And all others are corruptions, or limitations, or divisions, of the indissoluble unity. Then are men to go forever and ever with the blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised? For, consider what it is that the world owes to Jesus Christ in its knowledge of God. Remember that to us as orphaned men He has come and said, as none ever said, and showed as none ever showed: "Ye are not fatherless, there is a Father in the heavens." "God is a Spirit." "God is love." And put these four revelations together, the Father; Spirit; unsullied Light; absolute Love; and then let us bow down and say, "Thou hast said the truth, O aged Seer." This is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. "This" — and none beside — "is the true God." I know not what the modern world is to do for a God if it drifts away from Jesus Christ and His revelations.
II. HERE WE HAVE THE SUM OF HIS GIFTS TO US. "This is the true God, and eternal life." By "eternal life" He means something a great deal more august than endless existence. He means a life which not only is not ended by time, but which is above time, not subject to its conditions at all. Eternity is not time spun out forever. That seems to part us utterly from God. He is "eternal life"; then, we poor creatures down here, whose being is all "cribbed, cabin'd, and confined" by succession, and duration, and the partitions of time, what can we have in common with Him? John answers for us. For remember that in the earlier part of this Epistle he writes that "the life was manifested, and we show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us, and we declare it unto you; and we declare it unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son." But we are not left to wander about in regions of mysticism and darkness. For we know this, that however strange and difficult the thought of eternal life, as possessed by a creature, may be, to give it was the very purpose for which Jesus Christ came on earth. "I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." And we are not left to grope in doubt as to what that eternal life consists in; for He has said: "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Thus, then, there is a life which belongs to God on His throne, a life lifted above the limitations of time, a life communicated by Jesus Christ, as the waters of some land locked lake may flow down through a sparkling river, a life which consists in fellowship with God, a life which may be, and is, ours, on the simple condition of trusting Him who gives it, and a life which, eternal as it is, is destined to a future all undreamed of, in that future beyond the grave, is now the possession of every man that puts forth the faith which is its condition.
III. Lastly, WE HAVE HERE THE CONSEQUENT SUM OF CHRISTIAN ACTION. "Little children, keep yourselves from 'idols'" — seeing that "this is the true God" — the only One that answers to your requirements, and will satisfy your desires. Do not go rushing to these shrines of false deities that crowd every corner of Ephesus — ay! and every corner of Manchester. Is the exhortation not needed? In Ephesus it was hard to have nothing to do with heathenism. In that ancient world their religion, though it was a superficial thing, was intertwined with daily life in a fashion that puts us to shame. Every meal had its libation, and almost every art was knit by some ceremony or other to a god. So that Christian men and women had almost to go out of the world in order to be free from complicity in the all-pervading idol worship. You and I call ourselves Christians. We say we believe that there is nothing else, and nobody else, in the whole sweep of the universe that can satisfy our hearts, or be what our imagination can conceive but God only. Having said that on the Sunday, what about Monday? "They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living water, and hewed to themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water." "Little children" — for we are scarcely more mature than that — "little children, keep yourselves from idols." And how is it to be done? "Keep yourselves." Then you can do it, and you have to make a dead lift of an effort, or be sure of this — that the subtle seduction will slide into your heart, and before you know it you will be out of God's sanctuary, and grovelling in Diana's temple. But it is not only our own effort that is needed, for just a sentence or two before, the apostle had said: "He that is born of God" — that is, Christ — "keepeth us." So our keeping of ourselves is essentially our letting Him keep us. Here is the sum of the whole matter. There is one truth on which we can stay our hearts, on God in whom we can utterly trust, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. If we do not see Him in Christ we shalt not see Him at all, but wander about all our days in a world empty of solid reality.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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