THE COMMANDMENT BELLIED
1 John 2:8 & 9
As our title intimates, there is a close relation between the two verses we are here to consider, in fact the latter is so intimately connected with the foregoing that we will begin by setting both of them before the reader.
“Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because
the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.”
In the preceding chapter we sought to make it quite clear that the “commandment” referred to is not an entirely different one from what had previously been given, that the “new” one differs not from the old in substance, but receives this appellation from its having been renewed and beautified by Christ, and because it is now enforced by new considerations and motives. The same term is used again of the “new song” sung by the saints in heaven (Rev. 5:9), and that is not a fresh one absolutely, for, as Psalm 40:3 shows, the redeemed are learning to lisp it even now.
By correctly defining “the beginning” of 1 John 2:7, as the commencement of Christian experience (in the case of the apostles, under the ministry of Christ) we learn that the precept of brotherly love is the law of the new life—the spiritual cement which in all generations has bound together the whole company and community of the saints. The old commandment received a new embodiment and manifestation in the eternal Lover of our souls and by His example acquired a new significance and meaning. This is the more evident if we examine and ponder the context of John 13:34. There was no commandment which required Christ to wash the feet of His disciples: it was a spontaneous act, which rose above any mere deed of obedience, prompted by and as an expression of His love to His disciples—the gushing forth of His heart in a manner and measure as amazed them (John 13:6,8). In like manner, love is to be the spring and motive which moves His followers to serve one another, and to evince their union with Him.
We cannot truly love Christ without also loving His brethren. Moreover, they too are joined to one another by a new bond of union, as fellow heirs and fellow travelers unto their heavenly inheritance. Therefore did the apostle go on to say, “which thing [namely the exercise of brotherly love] is true [is realized] in Him and in you.” The repetition of the preposition is very suggestive, marking as it does the minute accuracy of Scripture, and evidencing the Spirit’s jealousy of the honor of Christ. Had John said “true in Him and you,” he would have affirmed something which was common to both, without any difference—true alike in Christ and His members. But the insertion of the second “in” admits of a distinction, and implies that it is true in another sense, in a modified way, in us than what is true in Him. True in Him originally, in us derivatively; in Him essentially, in us reflectively; in Him radically, in us imitatively; in Him perfectly, in us faultily. Here too He has “the pre-eminence.” “Which thing is true,” imports which is actually realized, which is a historical fact, a matter of present observation.
“Because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” Upon which S.E. Pierce said, “By which I conceive the Jewish state, and the present state of the Church is to be understood. The former dispensation is finally closed, it is past, never to return. The present Gospel state of the Church is such that the true or clear light of the Gospel and its ordinances now shineth, and will remain unshaken until our Lord’s second coming in His kingdom and glory.” The darkness is past because the Sun of righteousness has arisen, and a full and final revelation of God has been made unto men (Heb. 1:1-2). The ineffable glory of God has been openly displayed in and by His incarnate Son. The mists of darkness or obscurity which hovered over things in the previous era have been dispelled, and light has been shed on all its symbols. This statement is parallel with 2 Corinthians 5:17, which expresses not the great change wrought in a soul at regeneration, but the dispensational alteration effected by the appearing of Christ, namely that change of state produced by the new covenant’s supplanting the old, the ordinances of the Mosaic economy being superseded by the Christian baptism and the Lord’s supper.
“Because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” That these words have also an experiential force, as well as a dispensational application, is clear from the fact that they are explanatory of the preceding clause—as its opening “because” makes apparent: “which thing is true in Him and in you.” The members must be conformed to their Head; believers must walk suitably to the Christian order. But that is possible only as a miracle of grace is wrought in them, and thus this sentence describes what takes place at their regeneration, when He who at the first “commanded the light to shine out of darkness” shone in our benighted hearts unto “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), and He effectually called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9), and when He “delivered us from the power of darkness,” and “translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13), so that now we are “the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not [any longer] of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thess. 5:5). When the light of the glorious Gospel shone with power in our souls, the darkness of unregeneracy was past.
It appears to this writer that the Holy Spirit provided us with a broad hint here that this clause possesses a double force, by employing a word which admits of an alternative rendering, for “parago” is also translated “passeth away” in verse 17. The dark shadows of Judaism are forever past, but it is more accurate to say that the darkness of nature is passing for the Christian, since his path shines “more and more unto the perfect day.” The acute Calvin understood the words as having a relative force rather than an absolute one, for he remarked “not that every one of the faithful becomes wise the first day as much as he ought to be (for even Paul testifies that he labored to apprehend—Phil. 3:12), but that the knowledge of Christ is sufficient to dissipate darkness. Hence daily progress is necessary and the faith of everyone has its dawn before it reaches the noon-day. But as God continues the inculcation of the same doctrine, in which He bids us to make advances, the knowledge of the Gospel is justly said to be the true light.”
In bringing to a conclusion our remarks upon verse 8 it should be pointed out that our English version fails to make clear the beautiful shading of the Greek. In the first clause of its second half “alethes” signifies true as opposed to lying and fictitious—(cf. John 8:31), “My disciples indeed,” in contrast with the many nominal ones—whereas “alethinos” in the final clause means true and substantial, as opposed to what is vague, shadowy, symbolical. Hence it occurs again and again in connection with Christ, who is “the true light,” (John 1:9), “the true bread,” (John 6:32), “the true tabernacle,” (Heb. 8:2), “the faithful and true witness,” (Rev. 3:14). Archbishop Trench, that master of words, says that our translators have erred in not rendering “very” as an adjective as well as an adverb—as in the Nicene Creed it is rendered “very God of very God.” John Wyclif’s version (see the Hexapla) translated John 15:1, “I am the very Vine.” Thus, as L. Palmer pointed out, “Christ is the great reality, the very light”—the substance of all the shadows and emblems of the Levitical system.
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” The pondering of this verse in the light of the whole of its context is not only a help to an understanding thereof, but is also another instance of such serving to bring out several features which are not perceptible if only a detached view be taken of it. In a previous chapter we pointed out that, contrary to the opinion of superficial students of this epistle, John presents his thoughts and develops his subjects in a most orderly manner. We also called attention to his fondness for triads and gave a number of examples of the same. Now in this second section of his letter, which runs from 1 John 2:3 to 2:12, we find both of these features exemplified. In his first division there was a threefold exposing of “liars” (1 John 1:6,8,10), and a threefold predication made of the saints (1 John 1:7,9; 2:1). Likewise, in this second division there is a threefold testing of professing Christians, as is clear from the repeated “he that saith” at the beginning of 1 John 2:4,6,9. As others before us have pointed out, this testing is made by the commandment of God, the walk of Christ, and the operation of the Spirit, for by it alone is anyone brought into the light.
Two out of three of those professions are discovered to be worthless (vv. 4 and 9), and over against them is set the twofold “we know” of verses 3 and 5. Thus the contents and structure of the whole of this passage evince painstaking deliberation. It is clear that from verse 3 onwards the apostle had before him a particular reference to the precept of brotherly love, for though the plural (“commandments”) be used in verses 3 and 4, yet he employs the singular (“word”) in verse 5. It reminds us of Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law [in regard to our fellow men—for that was the point he was enforcing] is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Equally clear is it that if the second division be interpreted in connection with the first its theme is, He who walks “in the light” must necessarily love his brother. Thus the two divisions correspond with 1 John 1:3: “that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son,” denominated “light” in 1:5. Fellowship with God is dwelt upon in 1 John 1:6-7; fellowship with believers as the consequent in 1 John 2:7-11. Clearly, then, the knowledge of God spoken of in 1 John 2:3, is that of a participation of nature, which results in conformity of character.
In view of what is stated so emphatically in verse 8 we are left in no doubt of exactly what is purported by anyone saying “he is in the light,” though the same may be expressed in several ways. It is making claim that he is in communion with God in Christ (1 John 1:5,7). It is averring that he is a born-again soul, for it is only by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that we are made “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). Thus it is to declare himself to be a real Christian. But if such a one hates his brother, his claim is invalid, for his profession is repudiated by his conduct. Such a one has mistaken an intellectual attainment for a spiritual experience. He may indeed be charmed by the magnanimous spirit of the Gospel, admire its sublime and transcendent ethics, or extol its logical doctrines and profound depths; nevertheless the very light which he eulogizes is still something outside himself, for he has never been experientially turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18), nor has the day star arisen in his heart (2 Pet. 1:19).
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness.” His language conforms to the Christian state, but his disposition agrees not therewith. In reality he belongs to that prolific generation who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient,” (Titus 1:16). John is referring to one who makes a public acknowledgment that he loves Him who is “the true Light,” but if he did, then he would also love those who are His brethren, for Christ is in them (Gal. 2:20). True, there is still much of the flesh evidenced by them, nevertheless if they be “in Christ,” then He is in them, and He cannot be hid (Mark 7:24), and where any of His perfection shine forth, however feebly, a regenerated heart is drawn out unto the same. It is impossible to be in communion with God and not to love His people. When any heart be Divinely illuminated with a saving knowledge of God in Christ, it is so renovated and transformed as to produce an answerable disposition unto all others who have experienced a like miracle of grace within them.
The one who claims to be a Christian but hates any bearing the image of Christ is to be charged with making a false profession. The two things are utterly inconsistent. No matter how fully assured he may be, or how loud his profession, he is yet in a state of nature—unregenerate. He is in the kingdom of Satan, and under the power of darkness: he was born therein, and has never been delivered from the same. So far from one who hates those who belong to the Lord Jesus enjoying fellowship with Him who is the light, he is still a subject of the prince of darkness, the instigator and director of all the malice and malevolence which is vented against and upon Christ’s seed. But alas, how many there are in the assemblies and churches today who assume what is not true; yea, comparatively few who lay claim to being spiritually enlightened give real proof of the same. Note well that John did not allow that such a one was in the light, but merely that he “saith he is.” We too should be very slow in accrediting the claims of those who do not satisfactorily attest the same.
“He that hateth his brother is in darkness.” That all hatred is not sinful is clear from Psalm 45:7, for there it is said to the glory of the God-man, “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness.” Really, love and hatred are but the opposite poles of the same moral principle: “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil,” (Ps. 97:10, and cf. 119:113)—love for the One necessarily begets hatred of the other. Hatred becomes sinful only when it is exercised against that which is entitled to be loved. Love and hatred—two of the principal influencing principles of action—are natural affections, and they are good or evil according to the objects to which they are applied and affixed. The one has its use as much as the other: aversion and shunning are as necessary as longing and pursuit. Love was made for God and all good; hatred for sin—the latter being put in man at the beginning, that he might fly from temptation and evil. As carnal men hate the Truth (Ps. 50:17), so the saint is to hate all error and falsehood (Ps. 119:104). “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil,” (Prov. 8:13), and therefore it is our duty to arm ourselves and take every precaution against it. There are many who forebear sin who do not abominate it.
Those powerful natural affections which God placed in man when He made him have been misplaced by the fall, so that he now loves what he ought to hate (John 3:19), and hates what he should love (Rom. 8:7). Hence the Divine work of grace is to renovate and restore the disordered affections to their right centre and fix them upon their proper objects. The one or the other will inevitably regulate and dominate the life. “The human heart is a soil that must produce a crop of some sort. It cannot lie fallow. In the absence of the fruits of the Spirit, it will produce the weeds of sin ... He that is not with Christ is against Him (Matt. 12:30). Where life is absent death is present. The antithesis of light is darkness, and there is no twilight in the kingdom of heaven. He that is not in the light is in the darkness; and he that loves not his brother must therefore hate him. The human heart may be like the house that was cleansed and garnished, but still left vacant. Morality may, to some extent, restrain the passions and beautify the outward character; but unless love is enthroned, hatred must inevitably establish the reign of darkness” (L. Palmer).
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness.” The “brother” is, of course, a real child of God, for there is not a single instance in the New Testament where a fellow man as man is designated a brother. The only brotherhood mentioned therein is the Household of Faith. The one who hates him (no matter what be his profession) is unregenerate. Therein is the awful malignity of this hatred seen, in the fact that it has a child of God for its object: hence the added words “even until now.” Such hatred attests the utter depravity of his moral judgment and demonstrates that he is led captive by the Devil at his will. As there is an innate contrariety between virtue and vice, fire and water, so there is between the seed of the serpent and the seed of Christ (Gen. 3:15). Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, it is so against all those who bear His image. There is ever that in true piety which stirs up the venom of the unregenerate. So far from one who hates the followers of Christ being in the light, he is both in and of the world (John 15:19).
The hatred that is spoken of here is very much more than dislike of a person, for we may pity and desire to help one whom we dislike. But such is far from being the case with one who is abhorred. From the antithetical terms used by our Lord in Matthew 6:24 it is clear that to hate is to “despise.” It is to detest and hold another in utter contempt. It is not a transient motion of the affections, but a deeply rooted species of loathing. Hatred is all for injury; it is a murderous lust which desires the destruction of its object. This is clear from the cases of Cain and Abel, and of Esau and Jacob. In each of those instances hatred was called into exercise by a spirit of envy: the one being jealous because his brother’s offering was accepted by God, whereas his own was rejected; the other because his brother received from their father the blessing which he coveted. The same evil crop sprang up again in Jacob’s family, for because of his partiality unto Joseph; his brethren “hated him” (Gen. 37:4), and took the first opportunity which came their way to get rid of him. This hatred issues from an active and implacable enmity, causing its possessor to bear ill-will and malice unto another, to loathe and abhor him. Obviously such a malignant spirit cannot possess a regenerated soul, least of all be exercised against a brother or sister in Christ.
This hatred is the exercise and manifestation of that enmity which God Himself has placed between the seed of the serpent and the seed of Christ. Whereas the Lord restrains its working in some more than in others, yet it is present in all of the unregenerate. Though it may not be vented equally upon every child of God, nevertheless all of them are its objects. The wicked hold in utter contempt everyone who treads the highway of holiness and shows forth the virtues of his Master. As those who truly love Christ love all who are manifestatively His, and that because they are His, so the children of the Devil hate all who are Christ’s, because they are His. They despise them as simpletons who are missing the best of this life. They are envious of their fortitude under stress and their peace in the midst of tribulation. The workers of iniquity are filled with a spirit of revenge against them, because their godliness condemns their ungodliness. The righteous are thorns in their sides, and they are so in proportion as they follow the example which Christ has left them, and walk in separation from the world. Those who are in the dark detest the children of light because they refuse to “run with them to the same excess of riot,” and therefore do they “speak evil” of them (1 Pet. 4:4).