LIGHT AND LOVE
1 John 2:10
“He that loveth his brother abideth in the light,
and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.”
The apostle continues to develop his theme of the relation and interrelation of light and love. As might well be expected, he had begun with a reference to “the love of God,” for His is ever the fountain of ours, whether it be unto Himself or unto His children. As Calvin pertinently remarked, “He pursues the same metaphor. He said that love is the only true rule according to which our life is to be formed (v. 5); he said that this rule or law is presented to us in the Gospel (v. 7); he said lastly, that it is there as the meridian light which ought to be continually looked on (v. 9). Now, on the other hand, he concludes that all are blind and walk in darkness who are strangers to love. But that he mentioned before the love of God and now the love of the brethren involves no more contrariety than there is between the effect and the cause. Besides, these are so connected together that they cannot be separated”—so united that where the one is the other is found also.
More specifically: in verses 7-11 professing Christians are tested by their response to that Divine precept which enjoins the exercise of brotherly love. It is made the criterion of one’s being in the light or in the darkness. John began by reminding his readers that the commandment which he was pressing upon them was no invention of his, but rather what they had first heard from the lips of Christ (John 13:34). That it was the old commandment which required us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but which had been renewed by the Lord Jesus, perfectly exemplified by Him in His treatment of the apostles, and then enforced by new motives and considerations. Next he had declared that the claim made by anyone to being in the light while yet he hated his brother was a false one, for such conduct demonstrated that he was still in the darkness. Finally, he urges the duty of brotherly love by a high commendation of its exercise (v. 10), and utters a most awful denunciation upon the one who violates the same (v. 11). Such appears to us to be his train of thought.
It is important to take note of the tense of the verbs in our present verse, for a more severe and searching test of Christian profession is in view than in the preceding one: there, it was a question of being in the light; here, of abiding in the light. Thus it is far more than a single act or fleeting affection which is referred to—perseverance is what crowns an action. Yet another link with the context should here be observed. At the close of verse 8 it was stated that “the true light now shineth,” where the reference was more an objective one; now the subjective application is made thereof—shineth in you, and so through you—and not simply upon us as in John 8:12. There is as much difference between external and internal light, and between intellectual and spiritual, as there would have been between the twelve spies returning with only a bare report of what they had seen in the land and their actually bringing with them clusters of the grapes of Canaan upon their shoulders—a beautiful figure of Gospel graces in the heart.
As 1 John 1:6-7, has revealed, to walk in the light indicates that one is regenerate and in fellowship with God in Christ. What, then, is the relation of love to light? It is twofold: an effect thereof, and a necessary means for preserving us in the light. “Light is essential to love, and love is inseparable from this light. Light is love’s home, and love is light’s offspring. Love is born in the light. We have only to know God to love Him, and we have only to see God’s image in our brethren to love them. As the light transforms the chrysalis into the butterfly, so light creates love, and wings it for heaven. Love grows in the light. It is a tropical plant, and thrives best in the meridian of spiritual life. Love loves in the light. When God’s glory shines in the face of a Christian brother we cannot help loving him. In this sense we can love all through Christ. Onesimus the slave became in Christ Jesus a brother beloved. The nearest way to our brother is through the heart of Christ. Love conquers in the light. This light subdues the flesh and eclipses the glory of the world. Love abides in the light. It is lust that seeks the darkness. Those who love darkness rather than light show that their deeds are evil” (Levi Palmer).
Brotherly love is one of the blessed fruits which issue from a soul’s enjoying communion with Him who is light. The exercise thereof is also essential to the maintenance of that communion, for where ill will is cherished against a fellow saint the Holy Spirit is grieved and communion with God is hindered. In verse 9 the existence and exercise of brotherly love is made a test of our being in the light, but in verse 10 it is both the effect and the means of continuing therein. As Candlish also pointed out, “The law of action and reaction is here very noticeable. Being in the light begets brotherly love. Brotherly love secures abiding in the light. For this brotherly love is love to the true light shining in my brother as in Christ. And such love to the true light, wherever and in whomsoever it is seen shining, as it shines in Christ, must needs cause me to grow up more and more into the true light, to grow up into Christ.” Our affections ever follow our apprehensions, for the heart is reached via the mind, and therefore the measure of our love makes manifest the measure of our spiritual light.
It is no mere verbal claim which is here made, but something that speaks louder than words. It is far more than the use of endearing expressions by the lips being seen and felt in deeds. It is a real, active, benevolent affection, which suffers nothing in its object to quench the same. As hatred is a malignant disposition which fills with ill will against another, so love is a frame of mind that produces respect and esteem for another. As hatred is a murderous lust which seeks to injure, love is a principle which aims at the good of its object. That which is here in view is not a natural trait, but a spiritual grace, yea, the queen of the Christian graces. It is exercised in a great variety of ways: ministering to the body, comforting the mind, promoting the welfare of the soul. It is expressed in practical forms, as far as lies within the power of its possessor. Thus it supplies an external evidence of the inward reality of a real Christian profession, for such outgoings of good will fall more or less under the notice and observation of fellow saints.
“He that loveth his brother” for Christ’s sake, and for what he sees of Christ in him, loves him sincerely and cordially “abideth in the light.” What a high commendation of brotherly love is this! He who freely expresses Christian affection unto fellow believers supplies clear evidence that he is a born-again person, in fellowship with God, for out of love to Him issues love to His children. Not only so, but he gives proof that he is walking according to the principles of the Gospel, that he is vitally influenced by the Truth he professes, for holy love unto the brethren is a sure criterion of spiritual illumination. Without it he who speaks with tongues is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Why so? Because unless love inspires my testimony it brings no gain to those who hear it, but is lost on the air. One might be endowed with the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, be possessed of all knowledge, yet if he be devoid of love he is “nothing” —a spiritual cipher, contributing naught unto the edification of his brethren. Therefore his most imposing deeds will receive no reward in the day to come.
In that thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians a most sublime description is given of the nature, characteristics and workings of this holy and heavenly love. It is patient and forbearing toward its objects, refusing to take offence at a frown or word. It suffers long and is kind, being neither easily irritated nor repulsed by ingratitude. It is humble and lowly, for it neither envies the prosperity of others nor is puffed up by its own performances. It is unselfish and disinterested: “I seek not yours, but you” (2 Cor. 12:14) is ever its aim. It “thinketh no evil,” harboring no doubts or suspicions, but places the best construction upon the words and actions of others. It rejoices not in iniquity but rather is grieved when the sins of a brother are apparent. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (Sol. 8:7), for that love which is the fruit of the Spirit “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Such is this spiritual love in the abstract, and such is it concretely in its manifestations. Yet it requires to be borne in mind that 1 Corinthians 13 takes no notice of the hindrances which the Christian meets with in the exercise of his love from the workings of the flesh within him or from the opposition of the Devil and his agents from without. Light is pure and radiant, but when it shines through a defective medium its beams are blurred. Fire burns and is hot, but when it encounters that which is wet and damp its action is checked. What love consists of in itself is one thing, the allowances which have to be made for our natural make-up, and especially for indwelling corruptions, are quite another. On the one hand we must not deny the fact that, so great is the change which Divine grace effects in its subjects, it is likened unto the wolf being fitted to dwell with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, the young lion and the fatling together (Isa. 11:6); and on the other hand we are not to ignore the fact that the regenerate require to be exhorted: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice,” (Eph. 4:31)—set aside whatever corrodes your own mind or wounds the feelings of others.
Let not the reader forget what was pointed out in the preceding chapter on the first clause of the second half of verse 8, according as its verb admits of a twofold rendition—as the translators of the Authorized Version gave it: “because the darkness is past,” and “the world passeth away” (v. 17); the former having a dispensational reference to the relative darkness of the Mosaic economy, the symbols and ceremonies of the Levitical system having become obsolete now that they are made good in their antitypes; the latter rendering possessing a practical allusion to the experience of God’s children. Though there still be much darkness in them, and though they are more or less influenced by the darkness now surrounding them, nevertheless, as they grow in grace, and in proportion as they enter into God’s best for them, the darkness is passing and their path shines more and more unto the perfect day. Yet that perfect day is still future, and so is that complete conformity unto Christ which shall then be the condition of all the redeemed. Meanwhile the flesh opposes and none remains in the light fully and without intermission, and therefore none loves his brother perfectly. But as there ought to be an increase in knowledge and faith, so of love and all other graces.
It is just here that we see again the intimate relation between light and love. When my love to God cools and my communion with Him is broken, then affection for my brethren is proportionately affected. As Candlish pointed out, “It is in the darkness that injuries are brooded over and angry passions are nursed. If you, brother, and I are at variance, it is almost certain to be because there is some darkness about us that hinders us from seeing one another clearly. Let in the light. Let us see one another clearly. Differences between us may still remain, our views on many things may still be as wide as the poles asunder, but we see that we are men of like passions and like appetites with one another. The light shows us we are true brethren in spite of all.” When love be in a healthy and vigorous state, we are far from taking offence at the manifestations of the flesh in a brother: rather will such move us to pray more earnestly for his refining and growth. Nothing is a more practical proof of love than to make supplication for those who slight and injure us; nothing is better evidence that we are in the light.
Our verse adds a further commendation or mentions yet another advantage resulting from the exercise of brotherly love: “and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” Not only does the expressing of this spiritual grace supply an evidence of regeneration, and is a means for maintaining our communion with God, but it also preserves from scandalous conduct. He who habitually shows himself disposed to goodness and mercy, and manifests a generous and self-denying affection unto his brethren, demonstrates that he is vitally influenced by the principles of the Gospel. True love will move us to dread everything which would hinder the spirituality of others, and therefore takes care to avoid what would be a stumblingblock to them. The Greek word for “occasion of stumbling” is “skandalos,” from which is derived our English word “scandal,” which primarily means a snare laid for an enemy. It is rendered “stumblingblock” in Romans 11:9; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Revelation 2:14; and nine times is translated “offence,” as in Matthew 16:23; Romans 9:33; Galatians 5:11. The general prevailing disposition of such a one’s heart will prevent Satan successfully tempting him to the commission of any gross sin, and his deportment will be such that his fellows will not be evilly influenced by him
There can be little doubt that when John penned the second half of verse 10 there was before his mind the closing part of Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them,” for his words tally exactly with the Septuagint translation of that verse, except that the apostle changes the plural “them” to him. Spiritual love is a wonderful preservative from and preventive of injuries. Those who love God’s Law not only have “great peace” in their consciences and minds (for where the affections be set upon things above, the heart is content with whatever be its portion on earth), but “nothing shall offend,” or as the margin of Psalm 119:165, reads, “they shall have no stumblingblock”—nothing in God’s providential dealings will scandalize them. Those who love God’s Law are kept from the snares and temptations which the world is so full of, and which bring about the sin and ruin of so many. In the same way, genuine love unto the brethren induces a circumspect walk, delivering from those carnal and satanic pitfalls, because the light in which such affection dwells enables them to see and shun what would be an occasion of falling unto them.
Offences or scandals are of various kinds. Very often offence is taken where none is given. An outstanding example of this is Christ Himself. He is unto the believer “a cornerstone, elect and precious,” but to the unbelieving and disobedient “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Pet. 2:8). Such He was unto the Jews, for His humble appearance was a scandal to them: though He was exactly what their own Scriptures had foretold, yet He was not according to their ideas of what the Messiah should be and do. Christ crucified is still a stumbling block to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). So too His doctrine was far from being agreeable to them: “the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying” (Matt. 15:12), and murmured when He declared “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:41). Some of His own disciples complained “This is a hard saying,” so that He asked them “Doth this offend you?” And many of them “went back, and walked no more with Him.” Much of the doctrine of Scripture is still a stumblingblock to the proud and self-willed. The simplicity and spirituality of that worship which alone is acceptable with God is despised by those who crave pomp and pageantry. Yet such offence is causeless, arising solely from human depravity.
But there is also offence given where none is taken. Thus when Peter sought to dissuade Christ from His sufferings, He said “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me,” (Matt. 16:23)—not that Christ was stumbled thereby, for His heart was immune to evil counsel and to the infection of evil example. From the language of Hebrews 11:24-26, it is clear that Moses was upbraided for turning his back upon such a “golden opportunity,” and was severely censured because when he came of age, he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” The godly are unmoved by the world’s scorn, for they have respect unto a recompense greater than anything it can offer them. So too David, instead of being scandalized by the impiety of those surrounding him, and following their wicked course, exclaimed, “They have made void Thy law. Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold,” (Ps. 119:126,127). They who dwell in the light can see honor in disgrace, and beauty in the very things of God most despised by their fellows.
There are two principal things which the Devil employs as scandals or stumblingblocks to the saints: the persecutions and the enticements of the world—the one working on their sensibilities, the other on their lusts. By frowns and terrors of the world Satan seeks to draw us to think hardly of God and dislike the path of holiness. Therefore is it said concerning him, “whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world,” (1 Pet. 5:9). His temptations to the godly are often conveyed by afflictions from the unregenerate, seeking by means thereof to prevail with them to relinquish their Christian duties and grow weary of the ways of God. These tend the more to succeed if he can persuade them that they are the only sufferers. But there is no excuse for God’s people being deceived by such a lie, for there is much in the Scriptures which is designed to remove from us the fear of the world, and to comfort us in trials and tribulations for Christ’s sake, and such passages would be neither pertinent nor serviceable if there were no persecutions for the godly to endure.
The allurements of the world are more dangerous than its oppositions. Though at first the Lord’s people may be discouraged and dismayed when meeting with unfriendliness from the enemies of Christ, yet “God giveth more grace,” and patience and fortitude from Him enable them to hold on their way. But the seductive snares of the world and its flesh-attractive baits do not drive the saints to their knees and cast them upon God as do its cruel slights and threatenings. Present and visible things have a far greater attraction than future and invisible ones unto all except the spiritual. Paul had to lament, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,” (2 Tim. 4:10), and in all generations the servants of God have had to taste the same bitter experience. It is by the baits of sense that the majority of our fellows are prejudiced against the strictness of the Gospel’s requirements, and a base opinion of the same is nourished in their hearts by the knowledge that such clashes with their own lusts. Esau preferred the gratification of his fleshly affections to the blessing of the Lord. How the exercise of brotherly love preserves from such snares will be more definitely pointed out in our next.