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Chapter 8

1 John 1:6

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie,

and do not the truth.”

In those words we have: (1) A lofty averment—claiming to have fellowship with God. (2) A flat contradiction—walk in darkness. (3) A solemn indictment—such are denounced as liars. (4) A sweeping inclusion: the “we” taking in the apostles themselves—if the cap fitted, they too must wear it.

The connection between this verse and the one immediately preceding may be readily perceived:

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,” (v. 5).

John was writing on the subject of fellowship, and having described the character of the One with whom that fellowship is had, he makes application of his “message” unto two radically different classes, which together make up what is known as Christendom, or “the kingdom of heaven” in the parables of Matthew 13 and 25:1-10, which includes tares as well as wheat, bad fish as well as good, foolish virgins as well as wise ones. The first class comprises those who have a name to live, but are dead; the second, those who actually possess spiritual life. More specifically, the relation of verse 6 to verse 5 is that here we behold the Light detecting and exposing what is contrary thereto. Since in God there be no darkness at all, true piety is to be distinguished from its counterfeit by a walking in the light. By this criterion or test must we judge all who claim to hold converse with God: their characters must harmonize with His.

In verse 6 John was not referring to the unregenerate as such, but to unrenewed professors, who boasted of their enjoying com­munion with the triune God. It was not the openly wicked and profane which he had in view, but those who unwarrantably bore the name of Christians, those who were in church fellowship. In his day, as now, there were in the Christian assemblies those who were born of God, and those who were not so. This is clear from those mentioned in 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us;” originally members; later apostates. Jude refers to certain men who “crept in unawares,” ungodly men, who were “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness,” (v. 4) Hence there was a real and pressing need for lip profession to be tested by the character of the daily life. This is done here by immediately following up the statement in verse 5 by a solemn warning against self-deception, insisting that fellowship with God is to be gauged by conformity unto Him in holiness and righteousness.

So far as we can discern, the apostle’s design in the words before us was at least threefold. First, to stir up the saints them­selves, and prevent their becoming careless and remiss. The apos­tle here warns them of how much need there was to watch their own hearts and to be circumspect and strict of their walk, avoid­ing everything which had a tendency unto sin, since that would interrupt their holding and maintaining communion with their heavenly Father. As the Psalmist declared, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me,” (Ps. 66:18): when I cherish that which is evil, the Holy will not connive at my sin. “If thou listen to the Devil, God will not listen to thee,” (Spurgeon). Sec­ond, to convict and undeceive the deluded, that the ignorant and erring might discover their perilous state and be led to cry unto God for a real work of grace to be wrought in them. Third, to unmask hypocrites and thereby prevent the children of God [of] being imposed upon by those who had nothing in common with them; and to separate themselves from all such false pretenders.

In seeking a closer view of our present verse, we not only need to attend to the context, but also to bear carefully in mind John’s peculiar style. We made a brief reference to this in the introductory chapter, when calling attention to the abstract (and absolute) character of many of his statements. Thus in John 1:3, he declared “truly our fellowship is with the Father”—not “ought to be,” taking no notice of the things which hinder and break it. So it is here: he speaks of that which characterizes a person, and not of something which is exceptional. There are none on earth who enjoy unbroken and unclouded fellowship with God. Only One could say, “I have set the Lord always before Me,” (Ps. 16:8). In like manner, there has never been a saint who walked uninterruptedly in the light, who never deviated from the paths of righteousness. None but Christ could aver “I do always those things that please Him,” (John 8:29). He alone ever practiced what He preached and perfectly exemplified what He taught: hence the unique emphasis of “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” (Luke 24:19), and “all that Jesus began both to do and teach,” (Acts 1:1).

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him.” Here is a lofty avowal supposed. “If we say” is a common mode of speaking in Scripture to express a definite affirmation or profession, as in “but now ye say, We see,” (John 9:41), “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?” (Jam. 2:14); “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar,” (1 John 2:4), where in each instance, as here, the declaration is proved to be an idle boast. It is a bare assertion without any corresponding reality. There is a radical difference between profession and possession. To “have fellow­ship with God” presupposes regeneration and reconciliation unto Him. To state that we have fellowship with God is tantamount to claiming that we are His children, to be partakers of the Divine nature, to be delivered from this present evil world, and that we belong to that company whose desire and determination it is to please and glorify Him. To have fellowship with God means that our affections are set upon things above, that we bask in the light of His countenance.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie.” Obviously the first task before the expositor here is to give a correct definition or explanation of what it means to “walk in darkness,” and strange as it may sound (heretical to some ears) that is not necessarily the same thing as a Scriptural one. There are many terms and expressions in God’s Word which are used by no means uniformly, and it is the interpreter’s duty to ascertain by a careful study of its setting, and then demonstrate to the reader, what is its precise meaning in any given instance. Thus, in Isaiah 50:10, the words “walketh in darkness” are found, yet their force there is quite different from that in our pre­sent text, and they respect very diverse characters. Let us, then, examine closely its language. In Scripture, a man’s “walk” refers not to any single act, or even habit, but rather to the general tenor of a person’s behavior—the regular course followed by him. “Walking” is a voluntary act (Prov. 2:13), continuous action (Isa. 65:2), progressive action (2 Tim. 3:13). A man’s walk reveals the state of his heart, being a practical expression of what he is.

Whatever that term may signify in other passages, to “walk in darkness” certainly does not here mean to be in doubt about our spiritual state, or to be totally lacking in assurance of our acceptance with God; nor even a deep depression and despon­dency of soul. It is indeed desirable for the saint to know he has passed from death unto life and to have the Spirit bearing wit­ness with his spirit that he is a child of God, as it is also both his privilege and duty to “rejoice in the Lord always”; yet though he may lack both the one and the other (and such is to be greatly deplored, and never excused), the absence thereof is no proof that he is not a Christian. No, something very much graver than that is here in view. While “the darkness” has reference to the realm inhabited by this class, nevertheless it is also their activi­ties in that realm which the apostle had before him. In general terms, to walk in darkness is to order our lives in opposition to the revealed character and will of Him who is light. It is expres­sive of being in a state of nature and acting accordingly.

More specifically, to walk in darkness is the condition of all the unregenerate, for they are total strangers to God and His so-great salvation. “For we were sometimes darkness,” (Eph. 5:8) describes our fearful state by nature. By his fall man was deprived of the favor of God, the Spirit of God, the image of God, in his soul, and darkness became his element. Second, to walk in darkness is to be under the curse of God, for when Christ was made a curse for His people (Gal. 3:13) there was “darkness over all the land,” (Matt. 27:45) for the space of three hours.

Third, to walk in darkness is to be under the control of Satan, for salvation is a being turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” (Act 26:18 and cf. Col. 1:13). Fourth, to walk in darkness is to be completely under the dominion of sin (Pro 4:19). To walk in darkness is to tread the broad road which leads to destruction, and the one who does so ends by being “cast into outer darkness,” (Matt. 22:13).

To walk in darkness is to conduct ourselves unholily, to fol­low steadily a course of self-pleasing, for “the unfruitful works of darkness” are the products of the flesh. It is not simply to be betrayed by the force of temptation into inconsistent actions, but the ruling principle and power of our lives is the very reverse of godliness, demonstrating such to be complete strangers to a work of Divine grace. “Darkness” here has reference to the dominion and power of sin, with its awful effects upon the character and conduct of the unregenerate. Even though the grosser forms of sin appear not in the life, yet enmity against God rules the heart, reg­ulates the thoughts and affections, and determines the motives; and though the ungodly may have little or no cognizance of the same, yet all these things are “naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,” (Heb. 4:13). As the best fruits of grace are produced by the Spirit in the heart and are known and valued only by the Lord, so it is with indwelling sin—its principal and vilest productions are not seen by our fellows.

Again, to walk in darkness is explained both by the contents of the preceding verse and the antithesis pointed in the following one. “Light” is transparent and translucent, open and clear, and it is so always and everywhere; whereas darkness is characterized by the opposite properties: it conceals, disguises, distorts. By his apostasy from God man lost that element of simplicity and open­ness in which he was created. Moreover, the clear and bright sunshine of the countenance of Him who is light became intolerant to the fallen creature—man fled and hid himself from God. Hence it is that insincerity and deceitfulness that mark the natural man. He is not honest either with himself or in his dealings with God. He tries to make himself out to be other than he is. Men love darkness rather than light: “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved,” (John 3:20).

Finally, let it be pointed out that to walk in darkness includes living under fundamental error concerning spiritual and eternal things. Every doctrine of men, everything which is contrary to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, derogatory to the honor and dignity of Christ, or which is opposed to the free grace of God in election, effectual calling, final perseverance, and the inculcation of true piety, is sinful in the sight of God and morally evil in us. He has not given His Word for us to pass judgment upon, but to receive into our minds with all submissiveness. There can be no fellowship with God but in the belief and prac­tice of the Truth. While we are walking in the reception and influence of anything contrary to Divine revelation, we can have no communion with Him, for we are in the darkness of error. Every part of the Truth is like its Author: light, pure, holy, per­fect. His doctrine is “according to godliness,” (1 Tim. 6:3), promot­ing and increasing it, supplying motives thereunto. But error is pernicious, and its words “eat as doth a canker,” (2 Tim. 2:17).

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie.” Surely that is self-evident. Not only is the lat­ter manifestly inconsistent with the former, but the two things are utterly irreconcilable. Purity and impurity are opposites. They are radically and essentially distinct. They are contrary in their nature, their properties, and their tendencies. Sin and holiness are diametrically antagonistic to each other. Truth and error can never agree: there can be no such thing as walking in the Truth and at the same time living in that which is flatly contradictory thereto. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteous­ness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). None what­ever: they are avowed enemies of each other. To make the claim that I am enjoying fellowship with God and at the same time for me to be ruled by Satan, acting in self-gratification and taking pleasure in the ways of sin, is not only a patent absurdity and an empty pretence, it is also a manifest falsehood, a wicked lie.

Such glaring hypocrisy calls for strong denunciation. Very different was John from our mealy-mouthed men who gain a rep­utation for being “gracious” at the expense of fidelity. John did not merely say that this class of Christian professors erred or were “labouring under a delusion,” but spoke plainly and called them what they were. He was the apostle of love, and here gave proof thereof, for love is faithful. False pretences need to be dealt with sternly and their dishonesty condemned. The apostle used great plainness of speech, yet no more so than the case called for. It was not only that their lips were uttering what was untrue, but they were acting an untruth, their very lives were a falsehood, and therefore they were not to be spared. To be guilty of making such an outrageous claim is to traduce the character of God, for He holds no intercourse with the unholy; is to repudiate the Truth, for such have no access to God; and is grievously to dishonor the cause of Christ.

And this is the message which we have heard from Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no dark­ness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” By putting those verses together, not only is the proposition in the latter more self-evident, but the needs be for the former becomes plainer. At first sight it seems strange that John should announce so formally and emphatically such elementary truths. Surely, if there be anything which believers are clear upon it is the character of God, and that it precludes such an incongruity as is here refuted. Why then commence therewith right after the introductory verses? Because one of the chief designs of this epistle is the testing of Christian profession. Because there were, and have been ever since, many in Christendom who came under the description of verse 6. And because there is still a sad tendency remaining in real Christians practically to deny this proposition—to act deceitfully, to trifle with sin, fellowship the unfruitful works of darkness, and yet suppose they are in communion with God; which is virtually say­ing that He is not light.

The love of approbation is the native trend of the human heart. Each person desires to be well thought of by his fellows, and the vast majority, pose as being better than they are. Fear of censure and the contempt of others is another powerful motive which induces many to act the part of hypocrites, and such needs to be unsparingly mortified by the saint, for the extent to which he yields thereto makes him untruthful, and effectually hinders him from walking with the Holy One. Thus it is that so many of the unregenerate apply for Church membership: they profess the truth of the Gospel, but are strangers to its power. Many of them claim to have not only fellowship with God, but an exalted type and high degree thereof. They have much to say about the grace of God, but little or nothing of His holiness. They extol the imputed righteousness of Christ, but give no evidence of being recipients of His imparted righteousness. They prate about their peace and joy, but their daily lives are not ordered by the pre­cepts of the Word. Their walk gives the lie to their profession.

If we say:” John here includes himself! Were we, the apos­tles of Christ, to be found walking in darkness and at the same time asserting that we have fellowship with God, we should brand ourselves as liars. The “if” does not signify that such a thing was possible; rather was John pointing out what was utterly impossible. The apostles had fellowship with God and gave clear proof of the same. The blessed effects thereof were felt in their souls and appeared in their lives. It preserved them from sin, and deepened their hatred of it. It is impossible to have fellowship with God and not become increasingly conformed to Him. If it be true that “he that walketh with wise men shall be wise,” (Prov. 13:20), how much more so will walking with God deliver from folly! If evil communications corrupt good manners, then cer­tainly Divine communications will correct evil manners. Fellow­ship with God requires oneness of nature, and walking with Him produces sameness of character. Fellowship with God ever issues in spiritual fruitfulness. Thus it is the wisdom and duty of each of us to test himself by this rule, and then measure his associates thereby.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” John here denounces such a sham, exposes its base inconsistency, and denies that such have any intercourse with Him who is light. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Neither can one walk with God without being radically influenced thereby. “What God communicates to us is not a base fiction, for it is nec­essary that the power and effect of this fellowship should shine forth in the life: otherwise our profession of the Gospel is falla­cious,” (Calvin). Yet the spirit of self-deception and hypocrisy prevails to such an extent that our churches are filled with those of high pretensions whose walk is entirely inconsistent therewith—they have no true sight of themselves nor sense of their peril. Their practice demonstrates the falsity of their profession. They “do not the truth;” they act not in accord with its holy requirements—they are not vitally influenced thereby. Christian­ity does not consist in “saying” but in being.

Unspeakably solemn is what has been before us. We are plainly warned that “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness,” (Prov. 30:12), and if I really value my eternal interests I shall seriously inquire, Do I belong to that company? Remember that self-love works presumption. Take nothing for granted; refuse to give yourself the benefit of any doubt. If you honestly desire to know the truth about yourself, then pray sincerely and earnestly, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart,” (Ps. 26:2). No matter how well instructed your mind, or what be your happy feelings, measure yourself by this unerring rule. Truth is not only to be believed and loved, but practiced. It is at this point that graceless professors are to be distinguished from the regenerate. The one who hears Christ’s sayings but does them not is building on the sand (Matt. 7:26). The one whom He owns as a spiritual kinsman is he who does the Father’s will (Matt. 12:50). Those whom Christ pronounces blessed are they who “hear the word of God, and keep it,” (Luke 11:28). “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves,” (Jam. 1:22).

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