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Chapter 7
LIGHT AND DARKNESS

1 John 1:5

This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

We shall now consider, first, the connection of this verse with the immediately preceding ones—its bearing on the epistle as a whole will be shown under our exposition of verse 6. Sec­ond, its message or assertion. Third, its scope—in view of the teaching of Scripture on light and darkness. Fourth, its design, or the reasons why this declaration is here made.

The A.V. is rather misleading, for the “then” suggests that the apostle is drawing an inference or pointing out a consequence from what he had stated previously. But such is not the case. The literal meaning of the Greek is “And this is the message,” and is so rendered in Bagster’s Interlinear, and the R.V. The opening “and” intimates not only a direct connection between this verse and the foregoing ones, but a continuation of the same subject. As usual, the Holy Spirit has graciously hung the key on the door for us by announcing the theme of this epistle in its opening verses, namely fellowship—with God, with the apostles, with fellow saints. Concerning that fellowship we have already seen that it has been made possible by the Son of God becoming incarnate and giving His people an experiential knowledge of Himself as the Word of life. It is regeneration which capacitates us to enter into this inestimable privilege. Not only is it a fellow­ship of spiritual life, but also in the Truth, consisting of a saving knowledge of Christ and the Father. It is likewise a gladsome fel­lowship, which, if entered into intimately and constantly, produces “fullness of joy.” Now we are informed it is a holy fellow­ship, for it is exercised only in “the light.”

The blissful fellowship which the apostle was speaking of is radically different from anything known to natural man. The joy which it produces is greatly superior to any experienced by the senses. It is in nowise carnal, but wholly spiritual. It transcends all natural emotion. It was necessary to insist upon this so that neither congenial social intercourse nor religious excitement should be mistaken for it. There has always been a “mixed multi­tude” who attach themselves to the people of God, making a pro­fession of Christ and claiming to enjoy communion with God. While this fellowship is open and free for all who are partakers of the Holy Spirit, yet no unregenerate persons can participate in this high favor. It was therefore a point of great practical impor­tance that the apostle should make a clear statement thereon so as to guard against all erroneous conceptions of it and its joy. This he does by a most searching description of the One with whom such communion is had and by the solemn assertion that “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in dark­ness, we lie.”

Again, one can perceive almost at a glance, that “And this is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you” is intimately related to the contents of the previous verses. Both in the first and the third verses John had made mention of what he and his fellow apostles had heard from that blessed One who had been made manifest unto them, and which it was their mis­sion to “declare” unto His redeemed (v. 3). And now he gives an epitomized statement of what Christ had made known unto them: “this is the message.” The R.V. rendering is prefer­able: “heard from Him,” for it was not merely something about Christ which the apostles proclaimed, but rather what they had actually heard from His own lips. The “from Him” clearly has reference to the incarnate Word: because He is the principal Per­son spoken of in the immediate context, because He was the Sender of the apostles, and because He is the next antecedent in verse 3. The apostles and ministers of the Gospel are the messen­gers of the Lord Jesus, and it is their business to communicate His mind and will both to the churches and to the world. “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 1:11-12).

The Greek term translated “message” has several different shades of meaning when rendered into English. Young defines it as “promise,” for that word in 2 Peter 3:13, is derived from the same root and indicates its benign character. In Acts 22:30, it is translated “commandment,” which emphasizes its lordly nature. These agree with the first two statements made in the New Testa­ment, concerning our Lord’s oral ministry: His hearers “won­dered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth,” (Luke 4:22); “the people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one having authority,” (Matt. 7:28-29). But here in our text it is used to express the sum of the revelation communi­cated by Him. John here puts into a terse sentence what the apostles had gathered from Christ’s announcements. Or, if we place the emphasis on “And this is the message which we have heard from Him” its force would be, “This was the dominant and cen­tral doctrine our Master proclaimed, around which all others rotated and from which all others issued.” This “message” was one of the greatest importance, both in itself and also in the con­sequences of it, for it respected the ineffable purity of the Divine nature, and the imperishable glory of the same.

John’s style here is similar to his opening words in the Apoc­alypse: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants,” which He sent “unto His ser­vant John, who bare record of the word of God.” As the Son said unto the Father, “I have given them the words which You gave Me,” so they in turn communicated the same unto their converts (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2). Christ came here to declare and reveal the true and living God (John 1:18), and John here summarized His teaching: “this is the message which we have heard from Him, and declare unto you: that God is light.” This was not a discovery which the apostles made for themselves, nor an inference which they drew from the Divine works and ways. No, it was an authoritative communication which they had received from the Saviour, and therefore is to be accepted without question. We heartily agree with J. Morgan, who said of the substance of this message, “Its simplicity and comprehensiveness are amazing. It is so simple a child perceives its meaning; while it is so comprehensive as to render a full exposition of it impossible.”

“God is indefinable, because to define is to limit, and to speak of limiting infinitude is an absurdity. Names are ascribed to God in Scripture, and attributes, yet they convey only some faint notions of His exalted perfections; but sufficient is revealed to preserve the mind from vain imaginations or gross concep­tions of His Being. Man knows nothing of God, and can know nothing, except what He has revealed. In condescension to our capacity God has revealed Himself under names and notions which may best strike our senses—the channel of all our reason­ings and the medium by which we know,” (A. Serle). Three state­ments are made (we dare not call them definitions) concerning what God is in Himself, which, for want of better terms, may be said to tell us something of His nature or character, and they should be reverently pondered in the order in which they occur in Scripture: “God is spirit,” (John 4:24), “God is light,” (1 John 1:5), “God is love,” (1 John 4:8).

God is spirit.” The absence of the article (in the Greek) imports that God is spirit in the highest sense. The indefinite arti­cle in the English “a spirit” is objectionable, because it places Deity in a class with others. He is spirit itself, absolutely, the alone Source of spirit. The word “spirit” signifies in man’s lisping speech, “air” or “breath” or “wind,” being that subtle fluid by the respiration of which all things live. “What the air is in motion in the natural world that the Divine Spirit is in the spiritual world... The Deity is revealed under the name of Spirit in order to declare that all existences, both corporate and incorporate, derive their spiritual life and being from Him. He is Spirit in the fount—the creatures are only so as streams proceeding from Him,” (A. Serie). Life is a principle or power to act or move planted in a sub­stance or being. A living creature then is one which can act from within itself, yet is wholly dependent upon its Giver—the living God, the Author and Sustainer of all life. Negatively, “God is spirit” signifies that He is both incorporeal and invisible.

That declaration was necessary in order to correct the erro­neous views entertained by those Jews and Samaritans who had, from the elaborate ritual of Judaism, formed a wrong concept of God. It was Jehovah Himself who ordained the imposing furnishings of the tabernacle and temple, with their vessels of silver and gold, their brilliantly colored curtains, the gorgeous vest­ments of the high priest. But those things were never intended to intimate that the great God derived any personal satisfaction from them: rather were they appointed as types and emblems of Christ. “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” (Act 7:48). Nor is He charmed by elaborate services therein. God is spirit, immaterial, and therefore not sensual or influenced by the senses. God cannot be gratified with carnal things. It is not costly architecture, beautiful music, lovely flow­ers, fragrant incense, which please the eyes, ears and nostrils of the creature, but that which issues from renewed hearts He requires. “God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”—spiritually and sincerely.

God is light” tells us very much more than the former state­ment. God is not only the light, but light itself—absolute, essen­tial, infinite—the Source of all light. Scripture speaks of God in a peculiar and immediate relation to light. The pillar of fire was the symbol of His presence with Israel in the wilderness. Daniel tells us “His throne was like the fiery flame,” (7:9). Habakkuk declared, “His brightness was as the light,” (3:4). The Psalmist avers, “Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment,” (Ps. 104:2), on which Spurgeon remarked, “The concept is sublime: but it makes us feel how altogether inconceivable the personal glory of the Lord must be: if light itself is but His garment and veil, what must be the blazing splendour of His own essential being?” Perhaps the nearest we can come in framing an answer to that question is to employ the words of 1 Timothy 6:16—“dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” In James 1:17, He is denomi­nated “the Father of lights.”

God is light” expresses all the excellence and glory of Deity. It is to be taken in its widest sense, as including the Divine essence and the three Persons therein, for though the Father be primarily in view, yet the Son and the Spirit are equally possessed of the Divine nature, and therefore are equally “light.” “God is light” is a word to search and awe us, for we “were sometimes darkness,” (Eph 5:8), such being our woeful condition by nature. But it is also a word to gladden and warm us, for light shines for the benefit of others, as darkness is wrapped up in itself. Thus there is the Gospel in this word, for it tells us that Deity has been pleased to reveal and make Himself known unto men. “Light maketh all things visible on which it falls and from which it is reflected, but it becomes itself visible only in a radiant point or disc, like that of the insufferable sun, from which it floods the world. So God is unknown except in the person of Christ,” (G. Smeaton). That is why Christ designated Himself “the light of the world” and why prophecy pointed to Him as “the Sun of righ­teousness,” (Mal. 4:2), for where He is unknown, men “sit in darkness” and “in the region and shadow of death,” (Matt. 4:16).

“The supreme thing in the physical world is light. Apart from this there could hardly be a world at all, for all life and movement depend on it. It was the first of God’s creations, and it is the last thing that will fade before the approaching glory of the New Jerusalem. And yet of all things light is the most mysteri­ous. The distance of the sun from the earth can be measured, the rate at which light travels across space can be gauged, and the rays can be passed through the prisms, divided and analyzed. But the sun itself still dwells in light inaccessible. No eye can search its burning depths, and no mind can wrest from it its profound secret,” (L. Palmer). “God is light:” “He is all that beauty and perfection that can be represented to us by light. He is self-act­ing, uncompounded spirituality, purity, wisdom, holiness and glory; and then the absoluteness and fullness of that excellency and perfection,” (T. Reynolds).

Most appropriate and comprehensive is the metaphor here used. “God is light” is a summarized expression of the Divine perfections. It tells us that He is the living God, for the rays of the sun exert a quickening influence, being a minister of vigor, health and growth to all creatures. It is the parent of all fruitful­ness, for those regions (the poles) where the sun scarcely shines at all are barren wastes; so it is spiritually. It announces that God is a most glorious Being, for light is a thing of luster, dazzling the eyes of its beholder. It proclaims God’s excellency: “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun,” (Eccl. 11:7). If it be a pleasant thing to behold the natural light, how much more so for the eyes of faith to behold the King in His beauty! It declares that He is a beneficent Being, the Fount of all blessedness. Light is the source of helpfulness and gladness to all who bask in its bright and genial rays. No beauty can appear anywhere without the light: exclude it and all charm at once disappears from every object. Nor can there be any beauty in the soul until God commands the light to shine in our hearts, (2 Cor. 4:6).

More distinctly, light is the emblem of God’s holiness. Light is simple or pure. In it is neither mixture nor pollution, nor can there be. Its very nature and property repels defilement. It tra­verses unstained each object and medium of uncleanness. Snow is so bright that there is no other whiteness equal to it, but man’s step mars and defiles it. Water sparkles brightly as it issues from the spring, but man’s hand soils it. But none can make light’s purity less pure! Such is God in His ineffable purity. Again, light is a symbol of God’s omnipresence, for it is diffused throughout all creation, scattering its rays everywhere. In like manner, “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord,” (Jer. 23:24), which made the Psalmist exclaim, “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?” or “whither shall I flee from Thy presence,” (139:7). “Light is on the hill and in the valley, on sea and on land, in the city and in the desert. With its crystal fingers it clasps the round earth, and throws its mantle of brightness over all worlds,” (Palmer).

In a most striking way light also adumbrates God’s omni­science. Not only because it is the figure of knowledge and wis­dom, but because of its searching power, entering into every cor­ner and cranny of creation, revealing the hidden things of darkness. “All things that are discovered [margin] are made man­ifest by the light,” (Eph. 5:13). Light is all-revealing, equally so are the rays of Divine holiness, detecting sin and unmasking the world as a monster lying in the wicked one. As light reveals, so nothing can be hidden from God. He cannot be deceived, but sees things as they actually are. Our motives and aspirations are as pal­pable to Him as our bodies. “O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off… and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether ... Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee,” (Ps. 139:1-4,12).

In Scripture darkness and light are used in quite a number of figurative senses: among them, as signifying ignorance and knowledge (Eph 5:8), a state of nature and a state of grace (1 Pet. 2:9), heaven (Col. 1:12) and hell (Matt. 25:30). Thus, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” necessitates and draws the essential moral distinction between good and evil, holiness and sin, innocence and guilt. It also intimates that it is possible for creatures, yea, fallen creatures, to have fellowship with God, for light is diffusive, self-communicating, shining upon and illu­minating dark bodies. Therein lies both its beneficence and its ascendancy over the darkness, as in Genesis 1:2 & 3. But more: this most comprehensive “message” elucidates the whole plan of redemption, wherein God acted throughout in this character, both exhibiting His opposition to the darkness and yet triumphing over it. In the person of His Son the light came to save those in darkness, yet preserving inviolable His own ineffable purity. Nor was there any surrender of the light to the darkness: no conces­sion, no compromise. For when made sin (2 Cor. 5:21), “God spared not His own Son”! Likewise, we are made to hate sin and repent before forgiveness is ours. Salvation is not only a miracle of grace, but the triumph of holiness.

And in Him is no darkness at all.” In the Greek there is a double negative. God is absolutely perfect: there is no blemish, no ignorance, no sin, no limitation, naught contrary to His per­fection, nothing to mar or dim the splendor of His character; no possibility of any deterioration, for with the Father of lights there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” (Jam. 1:17). God is light which is never clouded, which never wanes. Therein we behold His paramount excellence. How radically different is the true and living God from every “god” of human invention or conception! While the heathen endowed their imaginary deities with certain virtues, they also attributed some vice or other to them. In the “god” of Pantheism and other systems of philosophy, the distinction between good and evil is only seeming and relative, and not real and absolute, for “he” is identified as much with the one as the other. Here, once more, we have illustrated the uniqueness of Holy Writ, for here alone is One made known to us in whom there is “no darkness at all.”

That could not be said of the holy angels, whom He “charged with folly,” (Job 4:18), because prior to their establishment in holiness they were liable to fall. Nor could it be said of Adam in his innocency, for his holiness was but a mutable one. But God is immutably holy, impeccable, for He “cannot be tempted with evil,” (Jam. 1:13). We cannot conceive of the least defect in God, for His holiness is His very being, and not a superadded thing like ours. “God is light:” He not only clothes Himself with the light, and dwells in the light, but He Himself is light, only light, and there is nothing in Him but light. Now to make this affirma­tion yet more emphatic, the negative is added to the positive: “And in Him is no darkness at all:” no kind of darkness, in any degree or manner; whatever falls under the appellation of “dark­ness” is excluded from His being. This has the value of intimat­ing that we are to regard the term “light” in its widest possible latitude, and not to restrict it to holiness, for the antithesis, “darkness,” includes more than sin. No element enters into His light to obscure it; there is no limit to His knowledge, no stain on His holiness, no hindrance to His blessedness.

The design of the apostle in verse 5 may be briefly summa­rized thus. First, to indicate the nature of that fellowship into which the saints are called: it is a holy one, “in the light.” That is its distinctive character, and is necessarily determined by the nature of God. Second, to impress upon believers the deep rever­ence of the Divine Majesty: that as light cannot mix with dark­ness, so they cannot converse with God except as their hearts are in a suitable frame and their minds filled with proper apprehen­sions of the great, holy, and glorious Being they are approaching. Third, to intimate to all succeeding generations of Christians that the holiness of God shines in and through every doctrine, every part of the Truth, every ordinance He has appointed. Fourth, to prepare his readers for what follows in his epistle.

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