FELLOWSHIP PART ONE
1 John 1:3
In the opening verses we have intimated the basic and vast importance of the doctrine of the Divine Incarnation. The Word’s becoming flesh and His birth at Bethlehem was the most wonderful event in the world’s history. Not only so, but the Son’s being made like unto His brothers most deeply concerned the welfare of God’s people, and is a matter of profound veneration and delight to them. The principal reason why John here began his letter by stressing so much the humanity of Christ, rather than His deity, lay in the particular design before him. That design was quite different from the one which guided him when penning his former and larger communication. The grand aim of his Gospel was to set forth the peerless glories of God’s Son, but the object of his epistle is to delineate the character and distinguishing marks of God’s regenerate sons. Therefore it is that he opens by showing us the Beloved of the Father descending to the place where those sons were by nature and in their fallen estate, in order that He might conduct them to His place on high. Thus the beautiful progressive order of his two productions at once appears: first, the personal incarnation of the Divine Redeemer, and then His inhabitation of the redeemed, with the blessed consequences and fruits of the same.
The connection between the first two verses of the epistle and the one now to be before us is equally evident. John commences by setting before his readers the adorable person of Christ, who is the only medium of communication with the Three-in-one God, and then states,
“That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ,” (v. 3).
The “we” is that of the apostolate, and John’s was the last of their voices now heard speaking on earth. Beautifully did S.E. Pierce show how well equipped this one was to write on such a subject. “This apostle was in the New Testament Church what the prophet Daniel was in the Old. He was addressed by the angel ‘O man greatly beloved’, (Dan. 10:19), and John was known by the title of ‘that disciple whom Jesus loved.’ He was a high favorite with our Lord Jesus Christ. He was admitted to lie in His bosom; and like as Christ lay in the bosom of His Father before all time, and drew out all the love of the Father’s heart into His own, and shines in the full splendor of it, and reflects the glorious shine of it on His Church; so this apostle, being admitted to such familiar intercourse with our Lord, drew out the very heart of Christ into his own. And in this way he was most eminently qualified to write concerning one of the greatest of all subjects—communion with the Divine Persons.”
Throughout verses 1-3 the “we” and the “our” have reference to the apostolate and John speaks in their name as well as his own. There were indeed many others of the saints who had both seen and heard the Lord in His incarnate state, yet they were not called to be public witnesses of the same as were the twelve. Nor did all of them alike see and hear as much of Christ. There were but two of them present with John when the Saviour restored the life of the daughter of Jairus. The same two were with him upon the holy mount. His brother James and Peter only were with him when they gazed upon Christ’s agony and bloody sweat in Gethsemane. Those in the innermost circle of privilege were in such immediate proximity to the Lord and enjoyed such intimate contact with Him as afforded the fullest satisfaction both to their minds and senses of the reality of His person. It may be pointed out that as all of the apostles were not equally favored with the same views of Christ during the days of His flesh, so it is now with the spiritual views which Christians have of Him. As only three of them beheld His marred visage in the garden and His radiant countenance on the mount so a few believers are privileged to enter experimentally more deeply into both Christ’s sufferings and glories than are many of their fellows.
“That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you.” John’s reiteration of this intimates the deep importance we are to attach to the experience and testimony of the apostles. Their position and privileges were unique. The evidences which they had of Christ’s person and incarnation were different from ours. We receive ours from them and that in a way of believing—taking into our minds from their Divinely inspired writings such a knowledge of the Lord Jesus, as by the effectual power of the Holy Spirit, brings us to commit ourselves and our interests unto Him for time and eternity. But the apostles had something more than that. Not only was the deity of Christ supernaturally revealed to their hearts, (Matt. 16:17), but they had too the evidence of sense, an ocular and palpable demonstration of the Messiah was made to them. Christians today hear His voice in the Word, and hearing they live. With the eyes of their understanding they see Him shining in the glass of the Gospel. They handle Him mystically at His holy table. But all of this is quite different from what John is speaking of in the opening verses of his epistle. While our knowledge of Christ is effectual to our soul’s benefit as was theirs, yet the different ends served by the one and the other must be distinguished. They beheld what we never shall. They were with Him during the days of His humiliation, and that is forever past. We shall yet see Him with our bodily eyes, but it will be a glorified Christ that we behold.
The practical application of the above pertains principally unto ministers of the Gospel, showing us that the first qualification for that holy calling is their own personal and saving acquaintance with Christ. The servants of the Lord Jesus are to declare unto others what they have themselves known and felt of the Divine Son’s grace and power. They are to communicate unto others what they have first received of the Lord, (Matt. 14:19). “The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips,” (Prov. 16:23). The discerning hearer will readily perceive the difference between the preacher who merely repeats what he has read or heard from men, and the one who tells forth from a burdened or burning heart that which he has tasted and found satisfying. The ministry of the one will be sapless and spiritless; that of the other fresh and invigorating. If the heart is taught of God, then out of its fullness the mouth will speak unto edification. It is those who can truly aver “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,” (John 3:11) who express themselves with that assurance which carries conviction to others. The retailer of other men’s thoughts lacks not only warmth and savor, but unction and the note of authority.
“That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us.” Here is a noble example of spiritual generosity, (Rom. 1:11-12). Instead of keeping their knowledge secret, the apostles longed to share with God’s children at large, (so far as that was possible) the signal advantages which they had enjoyed during the time when the Word of life had tabernacled in their midst. Having found the honey, they would not eat it alone; having tasted that the Lord was gracious, they desired that others should prove it for themselves. The beloved John and his fellows did not live to themselves, but realized that the privilege of hearing and seeing involved the duty of testifying. They deemed themselves to be not so much garners for the storing of Truth, as sowers for the scattering of it. That is ever the effect of a saving apprehension of the Gospel—expanding the heart with a Christ-like benevolence. As it is the law of God’s being to give, so is it of the new nature received from Him. The apostles longed that others should participate with them in an inestimable good. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4:20) was the spirit which actuated them.
“That you also may have fellowship with us” is very blessed, and worthy of our closest attention. The apostles had been eminently privileged, not only in being the immediate attendants of the Saviour for three years, sitting at His feet and drinking direct from the Fountain of living waters, but also in sharing something of His trials and humiliation, (Luke 22:28). But all of that was peculiar unto themselves, and they could not make their converts sharers of the same. Not only so; strange to say, it had not fully satisfied either the one or the other if they could. They had themselves experienced a great and profitable change after the ascension of their Master, when the sensible means of knowledge and external opportunities for contact with Him had been withdrawn. They had to say “though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now from this time forward we know Him no more,” (2 Cor. 5:16)—rather did they know Him after a higher manner. As Christ promised them, the Comforter “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you,” (John 14:26). Then they understood much in Christ’s conduct and teaching which before had been dark to them, and with such spiritual apprehension they entered into a new and grander fellowship with Him.
“And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Wondrous and blessed is such an unspeakable privilege. Wonderful it verily is, something entirely peculiar to Christianity, for there is nothing which in the least resembles it in any of the religions of heathendom. Their “gods” are one and all regarded as remote, hostile, unrelated to their worshippers—viewed with horror rather than with veneration and delight. Almost the sole idea in the minds of their devotees is to placate their wrath and endeavor to win their favor. The idea of their loving their subjects, and taking them into intimate union and communion, never enters their thoughts. Nor is that to be wondered at. Such an inestimable favor had never entered ours had not the Scriptures clearly revealed this astonishing truth. What an amazing thing it is that the ineffably Holy One should take into fellowship with Himself those who are by nature fallen and depraved creatures, and in practice rebels against Himself. Oh, my soul, bow in adoration before such a marvel. But most wonderful of all is it that the great God not only desires the company of such, but fits them for and will have them with Him in His immediate presence for all eternity.
Even now this glorious fact is revealed, many of God’s dear children find it difficult to apprehend, and still more so to avail themselves of the privilege and actually enter into the enjoyment of the same. Probably that is one reason why John expressed himself so emphatically here, for his “truly our fellowship is with the Father,” etc., seems to be inserted because there were some who doubted it—as altogether too good to be true. It was as though he said, I make this positive assertion for the benefit of the whole Church to the end of time, therefore let no believer in Christ entertain the thought that such an inexpressible favor was one which God designed for the apostles only; not so, rather is it the birthright of every member of His family. Let no saint be persuaded that there is a privilege so high above him as to be unattainable in this life. Every born again soul has, through the mediation and merits of Christ, a right and title to this; and through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit possesses the necessary qualification and meetness for it. If any such enjoy it not, the fault is entirely their own. The grand design and end of God in salvation and the communication of His grace to us is that we may have fellowship with Himself.
The term “fellowship,” which occurs twice in our present verse and again in verses 6 and 7, is the second great word of the epistle. The first is “life,” which is found three times in the two preceding verses. The order of them is Divinely accurate and doctrinally significant, for there can be no fellowship with God on the part of fallen creatures until His life or “nature” has been imparted to them. But before we seek to outline the blessed theme comprehended in this important term, let us suggest a further reason why the apostle was so express in saying “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” It is to be borne in mind that the earthly lot of Christians was very different in the early days of this era from what is now ours. At that time the saints were despised and hated; nevertheless a most honorable, desirable, and blessed spiritual portion was theirs. It was as though the apostle said, Though you are looked upon and treated as the filth of the world, be assured that is by no means all you have through believing in Christ and following us His apostles. A really astonishing and glorious heritage is yours. You have been made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. As sharers of the Divine riches you are amply compensated for any temporal privations which your Christian profession may involve.
That grand fact needs to be kept steadily in mind by the Lord’s people in the present hour, and nothing allowed to shake their confidence in the same or deprive them of the full enjoyment of it. For some of them are assailed by those who would fain make them believe that there is no Christian fellowship for any who do not accept their peculiar views and become followers of them. There are some who proudly imagine themselves to be the only ones who gather together on spiritual ground, and if they no longer assert it openly, they still convey the impression that none outside their circle can enjoy the fullest fellowship with Christ. There is also a species of high doctrinalists who will not regard any as regenerated who are not prepared to pronounce their shibboleths. Likewise there are experientialists who attach such importance to a certain type and order of experience that all who are strangers to the same are regarded as being entirely “out of the secret” and fatally deceived if they think they have fellowship with God. These are but variations of the arrogant claims of the Papacy that there is salvation for none outside of “holy mother church.” Let your reply to one and all be “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son”—which is infinitely better than fellowship with any body of professing Christians.
Those words are addressed to all saints whatever their age or spiritual attainments, or whatever their denominational affiliation or lack of it. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free,” (Gal. 5:1), and enter into and enjoy the wondrous privilege which He has purchased for you. “Fellowship” is an old Saxon word, “communion” a Latin one which signifies more than to be a recipient of His grace or even a partaker of His love, and rises higher than the concept of companionship. Literally it means sharers together, a community of interests, having things in common. In its simple form the Greek word here rendered “fellowship” is translated “partners” in Luke 5:10, and 2 Corinthians 8:23: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon”—they were co-owners of the ship; “Titus ... my partner and fellowhelper.” The Father and the Son desired not to enjoy one another alone for all eternity, but graciously purposed that a company should be brought into being not only fitted to enjoy Them, but also in whom They would everlastingly delight. Therefore did the Son declare unto the Father “The glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one,” (John 17:22).
Thus, the basic idea of “fellowship” is sharing together. Yet we must be careful to interpret and understand the same in the light of the general “Analogy of Faith.” It does not mean that we have been taken into an equality with God, but that according to our finite measure we are made partakers of His life, His holiness, His ineffable blessedness; that as “the Lord’s portion is His people,” (Deut. 32:9), so “the Lord is my portion, says my soul,” (Lam. 3:24); that as He declares “the saints that are in the earth, and the excellent, in whom is all My delight,” (Ps. 16:3), so each of them avers “Whom have I in heaven but You? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside You,” (Ps. 73:25). The Lord Himself is ours, and we are His: a joint participation—what an amazing dispensation! No wonder the apostle pressed the fact so emphatically: “truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son”—I solemnly set my seal to it that such is the case. Not, (we repeat) that this signifies an equality, but rather the dutiful but cheerful drawing near of an inferior to a superior, yet so as there is a holy intimacy and freedom in the same because we both love God and are beloved of Him.
“Fellowship” with God necessarily presupposes that we have been taken into a near and dear relation to Him so that not only do we view Him as One who befriends us, but He condescends to regard and treat us as His friends. Abraham, the father or prototype of all believers, “was called the friend of God,” (Jam. 2:23)—admitted to share His company and converse with Him. But not only does “fellowship” presuppose our reconciliation with God, but also the reception of a nature and disposition which fits us to be with Him, for “can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). There cannot be friendship unless there is congeniality. Fellowship is not a one-sided thing, but mutual. It is the law of friendship to answer it with friendship. None is warranted in regarding himself as the friend of God unless he has the heart and carriage of one—delighting in Him, seeking to be conformed to His image, endeavoring to promote His interests. Thus we find the Lord Jesus saying to His disciples, “You are My friends, if you do whatsoever I command you,” (John 15:14)—if you make it your sincere aim to please Me in all things. A “friend” is one who conducts himself in a friendly manner unto another, avoiding whatever would injure or grieve him.
So long as we do not carnalize it, probably the figure of friendship best enables us to grasp what is meant by “fellowship.” One has a high regard for a friend, esteeming him above mere acquaintances. Thus it is between the Lord and His people. They highly esteem and value one another. What a word is that of David’s: “He delivered me, because He delighted in me,” (2 Sam. 22:20); while the saint confesses “all my springs are in You,” (Ps. 87:7). Real friends find genuine pleasure in each other’s company, being happiest when together: does not the spouse say, “His desire is toward me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field,” (Songs 7:10-11), while she exclaims, “Make haste my beloved,” (Songs 8:14)? Intimate converse and close communications characterize the dealings of one friend with another. Things I would not discuss with a stranger, matters about which I would be silent to a mere acquaintance, I freely open to one whose worth I have proved and in whom I delight. It is thus between God and His dear children. Did not “the Lord speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks unto his friend,” (Ex. 33:11), and did not he, in return, express himself with great freedom unto the Lord—“show me now Your way that I may know You,” (v. 13) more intimately?
Fellowship is reciprocal. “When You said, Seek you My face: my heart said unto You, Your face, Lord, will I seek,” (Ps. 27:8). Thus there is an interchange of confidence. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant,” (Ps. 25:14), while they freely open their hearts unto Him. God sends forth gracious influences into the soul, and we, (by the assistance of His Spirit) make suitable responses unto Him. They pour out their souls unto Him, and He opens His ear unto them: “In the day when I cried. You answered me and strengthened me with strength in my soul,” (Ps. 138:3). He makes known to them His will, and they seek to walk according to the same. They seek His glory as their highest end, and He makes all things work together for their good. The saints generally are most taken with and speak the oftenest about their communion with God, yet it is His with us which must take place before ours can be perceived even by ourselves. It is wholly a spiritual and supernatural exercise and doubtless is often carried on when we have no consciousness of the same.