1 John 1:3
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Here we have a communicated knowledge, an affectionate desire, an emphatic assertion, and a shared privilege. The apostles openly proclaimed what they had received immediately from Christ. They did so because they had an unselfish longing that others should also be benefited thereby. It was no figment of an enthusiastic imagination that they referred to, but a Divine and spiritual verity. Fellowship with God is the highest dignity and richest blessing we can be favored with, either here or hereafter. It is one of the great mysteries of grace. Reason cannot comprehend it, and sense has nothing to do with it. None can have the least conception of its excellence save those who are actual participants in the same. In order thereto there must be oneness of nature, an intimate knowledge, concord of heart, unity of interests and aims, and an open acknowledgment of one another. Though this fellowship is the utmost of blessedness, it is one in which all the saints partake.
Great is the honor, wondrous the privilege, of being admitted unto communion with the Lord God. Fellowship with Him is both an objective fact and a subjective realization: that is to say, it is based upon a relationship, and is enjoyed in the soul’s experience. Since all believers are regenerated and reconciled to God, they are in communion with Him—in a state of sacred friendship. That state consists of a reciprocal communication in giving and receiving after a holy manner; God’s in renewings of grace and fresh supplies of His spirit; ours in the outgoings of our hearts unto Him in the ways which He has appointed. It is consciously enjoyed by the exercise of faith and love (for they are the two hands of the soul by which we take hold of God), and by the heart’s being engaged with His ineffable perfections and gracious bestowments. Some believers enter into a much richer experience of this fellowship than do others of their fellows, and the degree in which he actually participates may vary considerably with the same believer from day to day. It is chiefly acted out by us in praise and prayer. It is maintained by avoiding those things which hinder and by using the means which further it—especially devout meditations upon God and His word.
Opinions differ as to whether the Father and the Son are to be considered here conjointly or distinctly. Grammatically, each is permissible. For ourselves, we incline to the view taken by Candlish, namely that the Object of the Christian’s fellowship is one. Certain it is that we first have fellowship with the Son, for only through Him may sinners have access unto the Father. Christ is the only way, the new and living way, unto Him. But as that expositor pointed out, it is not thus that Christ is presented: rather is the Son here regarded as associated with the Father—“together in Their mutual relationship to one another, and Their mutual mind and heart to one another (and unto the saints), They constitute the one object of this fellowship.” In 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” in view of which we, personally, prefer to say that our fellowship is with the Triune God in the person of the Mediator—borne out, we consider, by 1 John 1:5 and 6 where the Object of our fellowship is simply said to be “God,” without distinction of persons. Yet since They may indeed be contemplated separately, it is quite warrantable to distinguish between the communion which we have with Each, and so shall we treat thereof.
Another consideration which supplies confirmation that, essentially regarded, our fellowship is with God in Christ is the fact that our communion is based upon union with Him. Now our union with God is not immediate or direct, but mediate, through the Lord Jesus. We are first joined to Christ, and then through Him with the Father (1 Pet. 3:18). The saint’s oneness with Christ is a very wonderful and many-sided subject, which we can now but barely outline. First, from all eternity we had an election union with Christ, being chosen in Him. There was also a federal union, so that we were one with Him as the last Adam: it was as such that He took our place and discharged our legal obligations. There is likewise a vital union when, because of regeneration, it becomes true that “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit,” (1 Cor. 6:17). From that issues a moral union, when by faith and love we are espoused to Him. That in turn leads to a practical union, when we take His yoke upon us and walk in subjection to Him. All of this issues in an experimental union in which we enjoy an intimate intercourse with Christ, drinking into His spirit.
Now each aspect of that multiform union has a corresponding communion. By virtue of our election union with Christ, we are “blest with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies with Him,” (Eph. 1:3-4). Because of our federal union with Him we become legal partakers of His righteousness, and entitled to the full reward of His meritorious obedience. In consequence of our vital union with Him, we are made recipients of Christ’s life and are indwelt by His spirit. As the result of our moral union with Him we enter into His salvation and receive out of His fullness “grace for grace.” By our practical union with Him we walk together in agreement: we now “cleave unto the Lord,” (Acts 11:23) in a life of dependence upon and devotedness unto Him, becoming more and more conformed to His holy image. From our experimental union with Christ we enter into His peace and joy, and become fruit-bearing branches of the Vine. “There is a friend which sticketh closer than a brother,” (Prov. 18:24) expresses His side of this communion; “there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples whom Jesus loved” declares our side of it. This is the result of our practical union and communion: “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me…and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him,” (John 14:21).
The intimate union which there is between the Lord and His people is intimated in their very names: He is “the Christ;” they Christians: “for both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren,” (Heb. 2:11) and to treat them accordingly. The figure that is most frequently used in the New Testament to set forth the oneness of the Redeemer and the redeemed is that of His mystical “body” of which He is the head and they the members: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones,” (Eph. 5:30). The result of that union is communion, or sharing together: “my Beloved is mine, and I am His”—to mutually delight in, to further each other’s interests, to be together for all eternity. It is therefore my sacred privilege not only to have personal contact and converse with Him, but the most unreserved dealings. There is no aloofness of His part, and there should be none on mine. Christ has not only given Himself for His people, but to them—to make full use of: “casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you,” (1 Pet. 5:7). He is ours to feed upon (John 6:57), and as “the Lamb,” (Ex. 12:5): that is, Christ in His sacrificial character—exactly suited to sin-harassed souls.
Nor is that feasting a one-sided thing: Christ delights to commune with His own—“With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer,” (Luke 22:15) illustrates the fact. He seeks such fellowship: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door [for He forces Himself upon none, see Luke 24:28-29], I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with Me,” (Rev. 3:20)—addressed, be it remembered, to a church! The intimate fellowship which there is between Christ and His Church is blessedly exhibited in the Song. He makes request, “let Me see thy countenance. Let Me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely,” (2:14); while the spouse declares, “cause me to hear Thy voice: make haste, my Beloved,” (8:13-14). He exclaims, “Behold, thou art fair, My love,” (4:1); and she rejoins, “my Beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand,” (5:10). There is sweet entertainment on both sides: says she, “Let my Beloved come into His garden, and eat His pleasant fruits,” (4:16); “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved,” (v. 1) is His answering call. They are mutually charmed with each other: does she bear testimony, “I sat down under His shadow with great delight,” (2:3), “How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights,” (7:6) is His gracious acknowledgment.
We will now consider that communion which we have with each of the Divine persons distinctly. Clearly there can be none with any of them except through the Mediator. We can only approach the Father through the Son incarnate. Our union with the one is via our union with the other. We are the sons of the Father (1 John 3:1) because made one with His Son, and therefore does the latter say, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me,” (Heb. 2:13). After His resurrection He said to His disciples, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God,” (John 20:17), thereby making it clear that the relation in which He stood to God was theirs also. That relation is further made good unto them by God’s sending forth “the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying Abba Father,” (Gal 4:6); and thus they cherish toward Him the affections of children. From whence we may perceive the character of that fellowship which the Christian has with the Father. As a child has near access to his father, so does the believer unto God. As a child enjoys his father’s favor, so does the believer that of God. As an earthly parent delights to gladden the heart of his child by special tokens of his love, “how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matt. 7:11).
The nature of our fellowship with the Father is also indicated by the very meaning of that term, namely a community of interests, and that it is a reciprocal thing. Thus the Father and His children take mutual pleasure in His beloved Son. Blessedly was that depicted by the Saviour in what is known as the parable of the prodigal son. When the wanderer returns from the far country, and is welcomed home, the father says, “Bring hither the fatted calf and kill; and let us eat, and be merry,” (Luke 15:23)—figure of them feasting on a once-slain Christ and rejoicing together. In like manner, as the glorifying of Christ is the chief end which the Father has before Him in all the out-workings of His eternal purpose, such is our grand aim too. Again, the Father makes us partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:10), even of His own nature (2 Pet. 1:4), so that what He hates they hate, and what He delights in, they do also. Again, they have fellowship with the Father in His affectionate regard for all His dear children: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” (1 John 3:14). Further, a most blessed intercourse is maintained between the Father and His children through the means which He has appointed to that very end. As they endeavor to perform His will, He takes upon Him the care of all their concerns.
“And with His Son Jesus Christ.” Yes, and in that precise order. First, we have fellowship with Him as God’s Son because made His sons, as being “His seed,” yea, “the travail of His soul,” (Isa. 53:10-11). This explains why Christ is designated “the everlasting Father,” (Isa. 9:6). Second, we have fellowship with Him as “Jesus,” for as faith lays hold of Him we become partakers of His so-great salvation—as those who believingly touched the hem of His garment were healed of their plagues. Since the exercise of effectual faith is a spiritual act we must first be made sons, spiritual persons, “new creatures in Christ” by regeneration. Faith gives a saving union to Christ, and He is then “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). Not only are our sins removed as far as the east is from the west, but we obtain a personal interest in all that He is and has. Third, we have fellowship with Him as “Christ,” that is, the Anointed One. As “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit,” (Act 10:38), so believers “have an unction [same word] from the Holy One,” and “the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you,” (1 John 2:20 & 27)—the anointing oil on the head of the High Priest (Ex. 29:7), “went down to the skirts of his garments,” (Ps. 133:2)!
The believer’s fellowship with his Saviour opens to him a perennial fountain of blessedness. Since He be God, He is fully competent to undertake for him in every situation and supply all his need. Since He be man, He is capable of being touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and is full of tender sympathy to His sorrowing people. He was tempted in all points as we are—sin excepted—and therefore fully understands our trials. He personally experienced poverty, neglect, reproach, injustice, harsh treatment. He was misunderstood by His friends and hated by the religious leaders. He knew what it was to suffer hunger and thirst, and weariness of body as well as anguish of soul. Consequently He is “a Brother born for adversity,” (Prov. 17:17) and is moved with compassion when He beholds the afflictions of the members of His mystical body; yea, it is written “in all their affliction, He was afflicted,” (Isa. 63:9). So close is the bond that unites the Redeemer to the redeemed, that when Saul of Tarsus (in the days of his unregenerate madness) ill-treated His children, Christ said unto him, “Why persecutest thou Me?” (Acts 22:7), by assailing them, he “touched the apple of His eye,” (Zech. 2:8).
Thus there is everything in Christ to invite and encourage us to seek and maintain the closest and freest communion with Him. He wears our nature, and we are recipients of His. All the infinite resources of Deity are exercised on our behalf. As He endured our poverty, so we are made the partners of His riches. His righteousness is as truly ours as He made our sins His own. His reward He shares with His redeemed, so that the glory which the Father gave Him He has given to them (John 17:22). There is a community of affections between them—running in the same channels, fixed upon the same objects: “I love them that love Me,” (Prov. 8:17). They have familiar intercourse together: they pour out their complaints unto Him, He communicates to them His consolations. They have mutual desires: “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am,” (John 17:24); “come, Lord Jesus,” (Rev. 22:20) is their response. They participate in like privileges and honors: He is Priest and King, and He “hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father,” (Rev. 1:6). They gladly endure loss for His sake, bear His reproach, and enter into “the fellowship of His sufferings,” (Phil. 3:10).
It may be asked, “Why is no mention made in 1 John 1:3, of the believer’s fellowship with the Holy Spirit?” Though He be not expressly referred to, He is necessarily implied, for none can have fellowship with the Father or with the Son save by Him. “For through Him [Christ] we both [believing Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit unto the Father,” (Eph. 218). The Holy Spirit is the sole efficient cause of all spiritual fellowship. Necessarily so, for the Father and the Son are imperceptible to sense, the Objects on which our faith is exercised, and with whom communion is enjoyed; and it is the Spirit who makes Them real and precious unto us, drawing out our hearts unto Them. He it is who sheds abroad in our hearts the love of the Father, and who takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. Thus the Spirit is not specifically named here, because He is the author of our fellowship with the Triune God in Christ. He introduces us into the same, and is the only transactor of it, for it is by His enablement that we are lifted out of ourselves and our affections drawn unto things above. Yet it must not be overlooked that in 2 Corinthians 13:14, while “grace” is attributed to the Lord Jesus, and “love” unto God, “communion” is definitely ascribed to the Spirit. We are also sharers of His nature, and His mission to glorify Christ.
A word now upon the fellowship which the saints have one with another. “If we have fellowship with the Father, then we are His children, and animated by His spirit. If we have fellowship with Jesus Christ, then we are His redeemed ones, and the subjects of His grace. It follows, therefore, as a necessary consequence, that wherever there is fellowship with the Father and the Son there must also be fellowship with those who believe in Them. And this is the very light in which the subject is presented in the text, where the three forms of fellowship are treated as indissolubly connected with one another,” (J. Morgan). It is to be noted that whereas “that ye may have fellowship with us” is mentioned before “our fellowship is with the Father and the Son,” (because, as previously explained, it is by means of the writings of the apostles that we obtain a full saving knowledge of Them), yet in experience fellowship with believers follows that of our fellowship with the Divine persons; for we are united first with the former ere we have any spiritual union with the latter. What that fellowship consists of Ephesians 4:4-6, tells us: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Believers are sharers together of the riches of God’s grace, joint partakers of all the benefits of Christ’s mediation and merits. They possess the same nature and associations of heart. They have common beliefs, experiences and hopes. They will be together with the Lord forever. Therefore are they enjoined: “Endeavouring to keep [not “make”] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph. 4:3). But that is possible in a practical way only as they personally heed the preceding exhortation, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” Not only is it their mutual interest so to do, but thereby Christ is most honored and glorified by them, (John 13:35). Thus it should be their earnest and constant endeavor to cultivate this fellowship. If they do not, then their claim to enjoy communion with God is but an idle boast. As this very apostle declares: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (4:20). Not only are the objects of fellowship inseparable, but the enjoyment of the one is commensurate with the other: in proportion as we have fellowship with the Father and His Son shall we have fellowship (in prayer, at least) with all who believe.
It is not our intention to supply a sermon outline on each verse, for we desire to stimulate unto study, and supply hints of how to go about it, rather than encourage laziness. With this article and the preceding one before him, the young preacher should have no difficulty in culling out sufficient material for at least one sermon on Fellowship—the simpler his style and the fewer his divisions, the better. Homiletically considered, the opening sentences of this article furnish an analysis of verse 3. By way of introduction the different things which prevent any fellowship between God and an unbeliever, and the Divine provisions to remove those hindrances, should be shown, such as sin divorcing from holiness—overcome by atoning blood; spiritual death—by the communication of life; alienation of heart—by reconciliation at conversion; the distance between the finite and the infinite—bridged by the Mediator.