SINS PROVIDED FOR
1 John 2:1 & 2
“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness,” (1 Tim. 3:16). Not only so in connection with the two natures united in the person of the God-man Mediator, but also in regard to the two opposing natures which at present exist in all those on earth who are members of His mystical body. This it is which alone casts light upon the strange conflict which is being ceaselessly waged within them, and which explains many a paradox in Holy Writ. A forceful example of the latter is found in the first chapter of our epistle. In it “The apostle seems to have said both that believers are free from sin and also that they have sin (vv. 7 & 8); that they cannot sin and yet that they do sin (vv. 6 & 10). The explanation is that these verses contain the antithesis of Christian experience. In all realms there are apparent contradictions. Night is a contradiction of day, winter a contradiction of summer and infancy is at the antipodes of old age,” (Levi Palmer). The same antithesis of Christian experience, or contradictory elements, is brought forward into 2:1, where the apostle declares:
“My little children, these things I write unto you, that you sin not,”
yet at once adds “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.”
Admire the blessed balance of Truth there, and observe the order in which it is presented. There is no turning of the grace of God into lasciviousness by making light of sin, but a forbidding of us to commit any. “Sin not” needs to be turned into fervent prayer: “Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not,” (Ps. 17:5). “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” “Cleanse Thou me from secret [unsuspected] faults,” (Ps. 19:12). But more, “sin not” is to be made our firm and fixed resolution. So far from complacently expecting to fail, we must do as the Psalmist did: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee,” (Ps. 119:11). That is the use we are to make of God’s Word: to get it deeply rooted in our affections, so that holy conduct will result from it, and that we may be able to bear testimony: “by the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer,” (Ps. 17:4). It must also be our diligent endeavor: “Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men,” (Acts 24: 16).
“Sin not.” Allow not yourself in any; no, not in what men term “little” ones. Yield to no temptation. Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Even though Divine provision is made for sin, yet God’s demand is “Cease to do evil; learn to do well,” (Isa. 1:16-17). “This is the order and method of the doctrine of the Gospel. First, to keep us from sin, and then to relieve us against sin. But here the deceit of sin enters. It puts this new wine into old bottles, whereby the bottles are broken, and the wine perishes as to our benefit from it. It changes this order of Gospel truth. It takes up the last first, and then excludes the use of the first utterly. If any man sins there is pardon provided, is all the Gospel that sin would willingly suffer to abide in the minds of men. When we would come to God by believing, it would be pressing the former part of being free from sin; when the Gospel proposes the latter principally, or the pardon of sin for our encouragement. When we are come to God and should walk with Him, it will have only the latter proposed, that there is pardon for sin, when the Gospel principally proposes the former, or, keeping ourselves from sin. The grace of God brings salvation, having appeared to us to that end and purpose,” (John Owen).
“These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father” Observe well how cautious and discriminating was John in the selection of his language here. First, so far from regarding the commission of sin as something which is to be expected as the common experience of all God’s children, he changes the number from “that ye sin not” to “if any man sin.” Second, even then such a fall is not contemplated as inevitable, but only as possible, and therefore, instead of saying “when,” he uses the hypothetical “if” Third, the antithesis between the two sentences had been made even plainer and more direct had our translators rendered the opening word of the second member “But if any man sin”—as “kai” is translated in John 1:21; Acts 16:7; 1 John 2:27, which in each instance more suitably points a contrast. Finally, the tense of the verb which the apostle here employs is to be carefully noted: he did not say “But if any man sinneth,” but “sin.” It is not a continuous repetition which is in view, but a single and past act—as his use of the aorist connotes.
“We have an advocate with the Father.” Here too we could call attention to the nicety of the apostle’s diction, as appears in his selection of the pronoun. It would naturally be expected that after saying “But if any man sin” John had written “he has an advocate.” Or, if he employed the plural number in keeping with the first part of the verse, he had continued to use the “you.” Why then this change to “we have an advocate”? Because he would include himself! Beautiful is it there to behold the apostle’s modesty. He does not address himself to his little children as from an elevated plane, as one whose spiritual experience was far removed from and superior to theirs, but instead he places himself on the same level as them, as personally needing the mediation of Christ—so far was he from imagining himself qualified to act as a mediator for others! How much we lose, dear Christian friends, through a careless reading of God’s Word, failing to note and weigh every jot and tittle in it! John’s change from the “ye” to “we” might well be made the text for a sermon on “The Humility of the Apostles.”
By John’s inclusion of himself in the “we,” it is quite possible that he also intimated that his preceding “If any man sin” was to be understood as without any distinction. If any child of God, let him be what he will—a babe or a father in Christ, rich or poor, high or low—this Advocate belongs to him. Every believer is His client, for since He makes intercession for them “that come unto God by Him,” (Heb. 7:25), no such comer is excluded. Note well, it is not “But if any man sin he had an advocate,” as though Christ would no longer take the case of such a one, but “we have”—“in the present tense, which notes duration, a continued act. We have an Advocate, i.e. we constantly have, we have Him as long as life endures,” (Charnock). Observe too that John did not say, “but if any man repents we have an advocate,” for in no sense is either our contrition or confession a moving cause of Christ’s mediation, rather are they the effects or fruits thereof. Nothing but the apprehension of the love of Christ and His present gracious advocacy is so well calculated to melt the backslider’s heart.
In a most striking and blessed manner our present verse contains both exhortation and consolation. “But if any man sin” despite God’s prohibition, while he must not be unconcerned, neither should he yield to despondency. For on the one hand it was not their affections which clove to sin, but sin which did cleave to their affections. And on the other, while God makes no allowance for sin, He has made provision for it. Therefore, “We must not sin that grace may abound, but when we have sinned, we must make use of abounding grace,” (Matthew Henry). From the inspired example left us here by the apostle, it is clearly as much the preacher’s duty to comfort as to admonish; it is as necessary for him to make known the Divinely provided relief for sin as to warn against it. “The valiant soldier will be most furiously attacked by the enemy, and may sometimes be foiled, and despondency is as inimical to watchfulness, diligence, and holy obedience, as even carnal security itself. No man, on Scriptural principles, can conclude himself to be any better than a hypocrite who habitually commits sin because God is ready to pardon the penitent; but the fallen, who desire to arise and renew the combat, have encouragement so to do,” (T. Scott).
If God’s children should sin, it is not “they are rejected by Christ and forfeit their salvation” but instead, “we have [not “had”] an advocate,” who undertakes for them and pleads their cause before God. “It is not an Advocate for sin, though for sinners. He does not vindicate the commission of sin or plead for the performance of it: He is no patron of iniquity. Nor does He deny that His clients have sinned, or affirm that their actions are not sins: He allows in court all their sins, with all their aggravating circumstances. Nor does He go about to excuse or extenuate them. But He is an Advocate for the non-imputation of them, and for the application of pardon to them. He pleads in their favor that these sins have been laid upon Himself, and He has borne them, and His blood has been shed for the remission of them, and that He has made full satisfaction for them; and therefore in justice they ought not to be laid to their charge, but that forgiveness of them should be applied unto them, for the relief and comfort of their burdened and distressed consciences,” (John Gill).
“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Most blessedly was this typed out under the Levitical economy. When Aaron entered the holy place, he bore the names of the twelve tribes upon his breast plate (Ex. 28:9), to signify that he was to have such care and love for them as those who were the dearest objects of his affections. And thus it is with the High Priest of the spiritual Israel. Christ presents His people before God as those who are inestimably dear unto Him. He not only died for them, but lives for them (Rom. 5:10). He died to render satisfaction to God on their behalf; He lives to keep them secure. This was one chief end of His ascension and session at God’s right hand. Christ entered “into heaven itself” for what end?—“now to appear in the presence of God for us,” (Heb. 9:24). Though there is a great change in His condition from a state of humiliation to a state of exaltation, yet there is no change in His office or in His attitude unto His redeemed. He came here from the Father to make known His gracious purpose, and He has returned to Him to sue out the benefits which He so dearly purchased. “When His offering was accepted, He went to heaven, to the supreme Judge, to improve this acceptance of His sacrifice,” (Charnock).
Christ not only died for our offences, but He rose again for our justification (Rom. 4:24). His redemptive work is not only a historic fact, but a present, living, efficacious reality, for He is seen on high “a Lamb as it had been slain,” (Rev. 5:6). The present advocacy of Christ expresses the glorious truth that He has undertaken our cause before God, and performs for us all that such an office implies—defending us, securing our rights as His ransomed people. His being seated at “God’s right hand” imports that He is possessed of power and authority. It was promised that He should be “a priest upon His throne,” (Zech. 6:13). He is not begging for favors or gratuitous benefits, but suing out a right: all His transactions there are in a way of satisfaction and purchase. Christ sits at God’s right hand as no silent and inactive Spectator, but as an industrious and mighty Intercessor: to prevent the sins of His people making any breach, to preserve a perpetual amity between God and them. Thus we have “a Friend at court” who spreads before the Father the odors of His merits as the all-sufficient answer to every indictment which Satan prefers against us.
An advocate presupposes an adversary, and that He appears to defend our cause. This is indeed a great mystery about which we can know nothing whatever save what God has been pleased to reveal. In Revelation 12:10, the Devil is termed “the accuser of our brethren... which accused them before our God day and night.” From this it appears that when the saints fall into sin the adversary charges them with the same before God, demanding sentence of judgment upon them—as he did Job of that of which he was not guilty. In Zechariah 3 we see the high priest in filthy garments and Satan resisting him. But Christ calls on the Father to rebuke him, saying, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Orders were given for his filthy garments to be taken away, his iniquity was caused to pass from him and he was clothed with change of raiment, and a “fair mitre” set on his head! The Advocate admitted the iniquity of His client, but defied Satan on the ground that his sin was pardoned and a righteousness had been procured for him. This is recorded to assure us that no charged preferred against any whom Christ represents will succeed.
“We have an advocate with the Father” That blessed statement is as much designed for our comfort as is the fact that Christ is now acting as the Attorney of His redeemed, for it tells of His gracious relation and disposition toward them on whose supreme will their case depends. It emphasizes the grand fact that the heart of the Judge of all (Heb. 12:23) is toward and not against His people. And as Goodwin pointed out, “he says not only ‘an advocate with His Father,’ though that had given much assurance; or with ‘your Father,’ though that might afford much boldness; but indefinitely ‘with the Father,’ as intending to take in both—to assure us of the prevailing efficacy of Christ’s intercession from both.” “Jesus Christ the righteous;” in Himself (Jer. 23:5), in the ground of His admission into this office (Heb. 1:9), and in the cause He pleads. He asks for nothing which is in the least degree opposed to the strict requirements of the Law. He requests not the Father to show mercy at the expense of justice. There is no compromise of holiness in God’s pardoning His children, for Christ made full atonement for all their sins.
The work of advocacy belongs to and is part of Christ’s priestly office, as the type (Lev. 16:12-14) evinces. As Aaron’s entering into the holy of holies after the atoning sacrifice had been offered was a figure of Christ’s ascension after His passion, so the incense he bore there adumbrated the prayers of Christ on high. Christ’s intercession respects the procuring of grace and mercy for His people, and all that they need while left in this scene; but His advocacy relates only to their sins—it is that part of His intercession wherein He undertakes our defense when accused by the adversary. That advocacy is inseparably connected with His being our “propitiation,” for His oblation on earth is the foundation of His intercession in heaven. The saint also has “another Advocate” within him, for the Greek word rendered “Comforter” in John 14:16, 15:26, and 16:7, is the one translated “advocate” in 1 John 2:1. As the result of Christ’s intercession on high, the Holy Spirit within the believer convicts him of his sins, moves him to confess them before God, and thereby our broken communion is restored.
“And He is the propitiation for our sins,” (verse 2). Those words are in part an explanation of the ground on which Christ’s advocacy rests, and in part an amplification of “the righteous” of the preceding verse. Christ’s advocacy is based upon the fact that He has taken away our unrighteousness. The word “propitiation” means precisely the same thing as the Old Testament term “atonement,” (the same Greek word being found in the Septuagint version of Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 5:8, rendered by “atonement”), providing it is understood in its Scriptural signification, namely as a penal and sacrificial satisfaction unto Divine holiness and justice, for the expiation of sin and the averting of vengeance. That is what atonement is—”at-one-ment” or reconciliation is what it effected. The force of the Hebrew word appears plainly in such a passage as Numbers 16:46, namely as that which pacifies God’s wrath (compare 2 Sam. 24:15,18). Thus to atone or propitiate is to placate (it is rendered “appease” in Genesis 32:20) by means of an adequate compensation—”kaphar” is translated “satisfaction” in Numbers 35:31 & 32.
As the word “vicarious” relates Christ’s sacrifice unto those in whose stead it was made, so the term “propitiation” relates it to God as the One to whom it was offered, as a reparation to His broken Law and the dishonor done Him by sin. The grand end of Christ’s mediation is the appeasing of God’s anger and the securing of His favor. Note carefully He “is our propitiation,” for the apostle is not referring to what Christ was in His death, but what He is in consequence thereof, to meet our present needs. He entered heaven as the propitiation of the Church and on that basis is now serving as the Medium of forgiveness and the Maintainer of communion. He is the Advocate with the Father on behalf of His sinning people, pleading His righteousness and blood for them. That plea is founded on His sacrifice, which was presented for the entire election of grace, and therefore God justly forgives them. It is because Christ is such that His erring people may have the most confident recourse to Him in every time of need.
“And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Universalists and Arminians have misunderstood the sound of those words through failure to ascertain their sense. They cannot mean that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all mankind, or every Scripture which teaches the eternal punishment of the lost would be falsified; or, on the other hand, the oblation of Christ is largely a failure and He will not “see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied” with the fruits. Those propositions ought to be so self-evident as to require no argument. Justice—Divine justice least of all—does not demand a double payment for the same debt, and if Christ rendered full satisfaction unto God for the sins of the entire human race, then not a single member of it can possibly perish. Our verse is not announcing a possibility, but an actuality: it is not Christ’s willingness to be a propitiation for “the whole world” if they threw down their weapons and trusted in Him, but that He is so, and therefore if the whole world here is to be understood without restriction, then the verse teaches universal salvation and Scripture contradicts itself. But it does not: as here we have a “world” saved, so in 1 Corinthians 11:32, a “world” lost!
As its opening “And” indicates, this declaration of verse 2 must not be separated from verse 1. Beyond controversy, John is there addressing Christians and Christians only. His design was to deter them from sinning, and to point out that in case they did it was not to be supposed that they had forfeited their salvation, for Divine provision was made for just such an emergency. The contrite believer (1:9) has a twofold ground of assurance set before him. First, he has an advocate with the Father, and second, He is the propitiation for his sins. Parallel passages show that none but Christians may draw comfort therefrom, for Christ is the Advocate of none others. Those for whom He makes intercession are defined by the “us” of Romans 8:34, and the “them that come unto God by Him” of Hebrews 7:25. “He disowns in His mediatory prayer the whole unbelieving world... As He prayed not for the world on earth (John 17:9), so much less does He in heaven,” (Charnock), for He knows that no prayer of His can add one to the number of God’s elect.
But why did John say “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”? To stain the pride of the Jews, and to comfort the despised Gentiles. Throughout the Mosaic economy the sacrifices were available for none but Israelites and proselytes who were circumcised and permitted to enjoy some of their privileges. During the days of His public ministry Christ forbade His disciples to go into the way of the Gentiles (Matt. 10:5-7), but after His resurrection He commissioned them to preach the Gospel to every creature and make disciples of all nations, for at the cross “the middle wall of partition,” (Eph. 2:14) was broken down; therefore did He die outside Jerusalem (Heb. 13:12) to intimate that His sacrifice had been offered for the whole election of grace, and not for believing Israelites only. John was one of the three apostles “unto the circumcision,” (Gal. 2:9) and that his epistle was addressed principally to saved Jews is evident: they alone had the old commandment from the beginning (1 John 2:7), had known Christ “from the beginning,” (1 John 2:13), and only from Jewish Christian assemblies would “antichrists” have gone out (1 John 2:18,19).
Thus “He is the propitiation for our sins” is Jewish Christians, and “also for the...whole world” signifies Gentile believers also. That interpretation is necessitated by John 11:51-52, which supplies a threefold parallel. First, “he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation”—“He is the propitiation for our sins.” Second, “and not for that nation only not for ours only.” Third, “but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad,” which explains “and also for the... whole world” in which God’s children were dispersed—cf. “both theirs and ours,” (1 Cor. 1:2): if the “whole world” signified the race, the previous clause would be meaningless, for there could be no “also”! That the word “world” is used as a general expression rather than an absolute one is clear from many passages. “All the world wondered after the beast,” (Rev. 13:3), yet there were some who received not his mark nor worshipped his image (Rev. 20:4)! Satan, “deceiveth the whole world,” (Rev. 12:9), yet not God’s elect (Matt. 24:24)! “The whole world lieth in wickedness,” (Hosea 5:19), not so those who are in Christ. Such expressions as “all flesh,” (Acts 2:17), “the Gentiles,” (Acts 11:18), “all men,” (1 Tim. 2:4), “The Saviour of the world,” (1 John 4:14) are indefinite expressions which include God’s elect at large, in contradistinction from Jews only. As they were too self-centered (Acts 11:1,2; Gal. 2:12), so individual Christians lay too much stress on what Christ did for me, instead of dwelling upon what He did for the whole Church!