HATRED AND DARKNESS
1 John 2:11
“But he that hateth his brother is in darkness,
and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth,
because that darkness with blinded his eyes.”
In 1 John 2:9-11, the apostle continues to draw the line of demarcation and to differentiate sharply between the genuine and the spurious, for his obvious design in those verses was to make further manifest the radical contrast there is between a merely formal professor and a real and practical possessor of Christ. Equally so it must have been his intention to strike conviction into the former. Open rebuke is better than secret love, and for one who made the claim—and most probably sincerely so—to be informed on apostolic authority that “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” ought most solemnly to affect him. To really believe and then to positively affirm that he was in the light of truth and grace, and to be walking in the same, and at the same time to make clear proof that he was wholly and altogether a stranger unto what he declared, was a most fearful and fatal delusion. That ninth verse contains the pith of the passage, the tenth presenting the opposite character, and the eleventh amplifying the original statement.
It is the testing of profession which is in view, the distinguishing of the true and living Christian from the nominal and lifeless one, the former being identified by that which makes clear the reality of what lies behind all surface appearances. When the Truth is applied in power to the heart by the Holy Spirit, it produces its own effects and bears fruit after its own kind. For one to hate a member of the body of Christ, to regard him with contempt, to have as little to do with him as possible, to speak ill of him, to desire his injury, is to demonstrate that he has no love to him, and that he is yet in a state of nature. Conversely, “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light,” his profession and practice accord, his claim is made good, his heart is made evident by his life, his relation to Christ is seen from his affection for His disciples. A saving knowledge of Christ is known by His Word dwelling in the heart, directing its actions, drawing out its affections both unto Him and unto those who are His. Love for the brethren is a proof of his being in the light, for the light is the cause of his love, as love is the effect and fruit of the light.
“And there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” Personally, we much prefer the rendering of the annotator of Calvin, “To him there is no stumblingblock,” for while the “him” probably refers primarily to the lover, yet the beloved is not to be excluded. The Greek preposition “en” clearly has the force of “to” in the last clause of Colossians 1:23—“preached to every creature; “ and is so rendered again in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, “unto holiness.” “No occasion of stumbling to him” widens the scope of the statement. “Stumblingblock” is, of course, used here in a moral sense. Literally the word means impediment, something against which one strikes one’s feet; but when employed figuratively it imports nothing which will occasion a fall into sin, as in
“But if thy right eye offend thee”—margin “do cause thee to offend”—(Matt.5:29), and “that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way,” (Rom. 14:13). Thus, first, there is nothing in himself which will cause him to act uncharitably; and, second, nothing in his brother from which he will take offence.
The link between the two halves of our verse is a moral and practical one: “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and [consequently] there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” To walk in the light and to exercise love unto the brethren are among the chief means of preserving the believer from those stumblingblocks which cause so many godless professors to forsake the way of holiness; for by the one he is enabled to perceive the snares of Satan, and by the other he is moved to avoid and shun them. The extent to which the Christian is practically in the light will determine the measure in which his old nature is held in check and the new one dominates his soul and regulates his conduct. The one who abides in the light will not act injuriously toward his brethren, and while love be cultivated he will not be readily stumbled at anything in or from them; for, as previously pointed out, “Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind ... doth not behave itself unseemly...and is not easily provoked... beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Cor. 13:4,5,7).
It is to be carefully noted that it is not light alone which keeps us from stumbling. The knowledge of God’s Word is indeed of great value and importance, for it provides us with a sure rule to walk by, and also makes known those great and precious promises of God which we are to appropriate and build upon. Nevertheless, as 2 Peter 2:20 shows, something more is needed, for it is possible to escape the pollutions of the world through a bare knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and then be again entangled therein, as the cases of Demas and thousands since then have sadly demonstrated. Love must be joined with the light if we are to escape those snares which occasion the fall of so many: it is because “they received not the love of the truth,” (2 Thess. 2:10) that so many are fatally deceived by Satan. As one of the old writers expressed it, “A man is better held by the heart than by the head.” That is true Godward as well as manward, for as love is the living principle from which all acceptable obedience proceeds, so also that which receives unmurmuringly God’s most trying dealings.
Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword are unable to separate the saints from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35), where “love” is not only to be taken passively, for that love wherewith they are loved, but actively, for the love with which they love Him; for afflictions assail our love to Him and His to us. Where love is healthy and vigorous, trials cause us to cleave more closely to the Lord—“though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Love will take nothing ill at His hand, causing us to submit meekly to His rod. So it is in connection with our brethren. The more we love them, the less likely are we to be offended with their infirmities. Love envies not their prosperity, and preserves from many sins, for it “worketh no ill” (Rom. 13:10). Love not only prevents my treating a brother wrongly, but it delivers me from dwelling upon what is wrong in him, for “love covereth all sins,” (Prov. 10:12). As we shall see later (D.V.), John returns to this subject again and again, explaining and enforcing the Divine commandment which requires brotherly love.
Since “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light,” it inevitably follows that “he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness,” (v. 11). There is the incontestable evidence against him, for hatred is the mark and badge of darkness. He is not a regenerate person at all: he knows nothing of practical Christianity. Let him no longer deceive himself. “The fruit of the Spirit is love,” (Gal. 5:22), and where the one be absent so is the other. To be destitute of the Spirit is to be dead in sin; and where that be the case such a one will conduct himself accordingly, for the walk manifests the heart. No matter what specious excellency he may appear to possess, or how loud his claim, if he hates a saint he is not a child of God, but a stranger to Him. If he loved Christ, he would love His disciples too. To really hate a brother in Christ is altogether against nature, for if I be born of God there must be something in each of His people that I shall find to love; if therefore I hate such, that is entirely inconsistent with a holy profession, and is a sure proof that I am not in a state of grace.
Hatred issues from enmity, and is in all men by nature, being one of the fearful effects of the fall. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another,” (Titus 3:3). Note well the apostle’s use of the past tense, for he would by no means allow that such a horrible state of affairs could consist with those in whom a miracle of grace had been wrought. No, he was describing what the elect were while yet in a state of nature. That root of bitterness was in all, though it was not drawn out and made equally evident in all. It is at once drawn out when the unregenerate contact the regenerate, by the very contrariety of their natures, the latter being odious to the former, for the holiness that is in them irritates and condemns their sinfulness. Since “every one that doeth evil hateth the light,” (John 3:20), it necessarily follows that they hate the children of light. Conversely, “he that doeth truth cometh to the light”—welcomes and loves it.
This hatred is a settled, deeply rooted and thorough ill-will unto another. It consists of envy, which cannot bear for another to exceed him, or be more highly esteemed for gifts and graces than himself. The one who hates will seek by all means to establish his own reputation and ruin that of his brother. He goes to one and another who will grant him a hearing, reporting and giving an account of every infirmity which the one who hates is the subject of. Such a malignant spirit at once identifies him as a child of the Devil, fulfilling his evil desires (John 8:44). That hatred manifests itself by rejoicing when adversity overtakes a child of God, for instead of sympathizing with him it callously exclaims, “Serves him right.” It breaks forth in more evil speakings and actions. Alas, there are many such in the churches and assemblies: those with a considerable head knowledge of Scripture, orthodox in their beliefs, regular attendees at services, able to make long and beautiful prayers, but possessed of a spirit of malice. Theirs is merely a natural religion, for their hearts are unaffected by the Truth, uninfluenced by the principles of the Gospel, and therefore their profession is a vain pretence. No amount of theological lore is of any value if it slays not enmity both against God and against His people.
It is to be duly observed that John knows no middle ground between love and hatred: as his Master declared, “He that is not with Me is against Me,” (Matt. 12:30). As there is no third alternative between right and wrong, so there is no third quality between love and hatred. We therefore emphatically reject that miserable shift of human invention that hatred means to “love less,” though some men whose writings we highly respect adopted it. Through a misapprehension of our Lord’s words in Luke 14:26, they suppose that there was at least one passage which obliged them so to define the term. But whatever difficulty that verse might present, the force of the term in many others is unmistakable. Fancy rendering “the fear of the Lord is to love evil less,” or “they loved Me less without a cause” (John 15:25)! There is not the slightest need to resort unto such sophistry in explaining, “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
It is indeed true that the Gospel does not set aside natural affections, rather does it elevate and direct them. It is also a fact that Christ demands the first place in our hearts and must be loved supremely. Yet there is nothing whatever in Luke 14:26 to indicate that our Lord was there drawing a comparison between a superior and an inferior love. Nor was there anything in His words that contradicted the fifth commandment. Rather was Christ there insisting that He would brook no rival, that His claims were paramount, and therefore when those of subordinates clashed with His they must yield and be denied. Under certain circumstances, so far from “loving less” those who are nearest and dearest to us in the flesh, we must act as though we did not love them at all. If loyalty unto the Saviour requires it, we should cross their wills and antagonize their wishes. Thus, if godless parents should forbid their converted child to read his Bible or engage in prayer, his duty would be to disobey them. In thus acting, it might grieve him deeply to displease those who were kind to him in every other way, yet his actions would be hateful ones.
It is not long before each Christian learns by painful experience that the calls of nature are unfavorable to the pursuits of grace, that the longing to please those who are near and dear to us by blood often leads us to the confines of sin, if not to the actual commission of it. Therefore to hate whatever opposes the rights of God or our own spiritual interests is among the clearest evidences of regeneration. A striking example of this is found in Exodus 32, where the Levites’ love and zeal for Jehovah triumphed over the ties of nature. When Moses perceived that Aaron had made the worshippers of the golden calf naked to their shame, he bade those who were on the Lord’s side to come to him, and when the Levites did so he commanded them in the name of his Master: “Put every man his sword by his side ... and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion” and they did so (vv. 25-28). Later the Holy Spirit declared of Levi: “Who said unto his father [i.e. by his actions] and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know [love] his own children,” (Deut. 33:9), thereby signifying God’s approbation of their fidelity to His honor.
Surely the last clause in our Lord’s declaration serves to explain the whole: “yea, and his own life also.” Life is precious, and the instinct of self-preservation is the endowment of every creature. Yet if the issue be drawn between prolonging my life at the cost of repudiating the Gospel and being burned at the stake, then loyalty to Christ makes my duty quite clear. Self-loathing is ever a mark of a real Christian character. And why does he loathe himself but because the flesh in him rises up against the Spirit? If then I am to hate or spurn the desires of my body when they are hostile to the welfare of my soul, then I must also hate the opposers of the Divine life, whoever or whatever they may be; yet without cherishing the least animosity against them. As in the case of Levi, regard to God’s glory must prevent our regard to any and every creature. Thus this hatred is not absolute but relative, not in my heart, but in my actions. In a word, the Christian is required to antagonize every tie of nature when it be found to run counter to the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the most grievous trials which a believer has to endure is when one whom he had good reason to regard as a fellow saint turns against him and treats him maliciously. He expects the profane world to oppose and persecute him, but when those in the professing world do so it is much harder to bear. It is indeed a bitter cup which the child of God is called upon to drink when one wearing the name of Christ acts spitefully unto him; yet it is no unprecedented experience, and with the Word of God in his hands should come as no surprise. David made sad complaint at Ahithophel’s conduct toward him: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me,” (Ps. 41:9). In the context he had drawn up a list of his woes, recounting the unkindnesses of his enemies, but he reserved for the climax the abominable behavior of that one whose only return for kindness was ingratitude, and who basely perverted his offices of hospitality.
A still more touching reference is made thereto in Psalm 55:12-14:
“For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that [openly] hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, walked into the house of God in company.”
For apparent friends to become the open enemies of those who truly fear God is a great grief. For those who pretend to love us to insinuate themselves into our confidence and affections on purpose to injure us is to touch us in our tenderest spot. Yet thus was our blessed Lord treated by one who had been privileged to enjoy the closest intimacy with Him. The perfidy [the deliberate betrayal of trust] of Judas pierced Christ more deeply than did the unconcealed enmity of the priests and elders: His “yea” in Psalm 41:9—which He quoted as a prediction concerning Himself (John 13:18)—shows that He regarded the treachery of the son of perdition as the acme of His woes at the hands of men, as something almost inconceivable. The faithlessness of that favored apostle cut Him to the very quick.
Job lamented, “All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me” (19:19). Those who should have concerned themselves about him, visited him in his sore afflictions, and performed whatever kindly offices lay in their power, evidenced no more solicitude than though he were a complete stranger unto them. Nay, they not only neglected, but abhorred him and turned against him, adding to his distress by maligning him. Human nature is fearfully fickle. “All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee ... they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee” (Obadiah 7)—the Chaldeans, who were joined to the Edomites, became their enemies; so that it is no new thing for former allies to become bitter antagonists. Among the hardships endured by the apostle Paul was “in perils among false brethren,” (2 Cor. 11:26)—an experience more or less shared by most of God’s servants. Religious hatred is the most cruel and venomous of all, as Acts 7:52 and Revelation 17:6, show. With such examples recorded in Scripture let every Christian be forewarned, and put not his trust in any creature. Expect no mercy from traitors, for they will stick at nothing unless God restrains them.
“But he that hateth his brother is in darkness,
and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth,
because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”
He who so far from loving his brother cherishes a bitter and malignant spirit against him, who instead of seeking to promote his welfare desires to injure and ruin him, proves that darkness is his element, for it rules all his actions. He walks according to the course of this world, and, though distress and misery are in his ways, so thoroughly is he deluded by Satan and blinded by sin and pride that he knows not whither he is going, being quite unaware of the fatal path he is treading. Not only is he in the darkness, but the darkness is in him: it has blinded his eyes; sin has complete dominion over him, dominating all the faculties of his soul. Enmity in the heart blinds the judgment, causing its subject to be ignorant of himself, to know not the way of peace, and also to be utterly unable to perceive that he is making direct for “the blackness of darkness for ever,” (Jude 13).
In concluding this chapter, let it be pointed out that the history of the Jewish people supplies a graphic commentary upon our present verse. Solemnly indeed has each clause of it been exemplified in the case of that unhappy nation. Not only had they no love for Christ, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, but they murderously hated Him—proof that they were in spiritual darkness. And in what awful moral darkness have they walked since with respect to the Gospel, and the darkness of God’s afflictive providences! He has judicially blinded them. “Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate,” (Ps. 34:21) has literally been their case for the past two thousand years.