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PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
whence it was inferred that he designed it for the use of the Christians in the Parthian empire. That St. John really designed his epistle as a warning to those Christians who were in danger of being infected with Zoroastrian principles, is very probable, though the language of the epistle will not permit us to place St. John's readers in a country to the east of the Euphrates.
“LAMPE, who appeals to Theodoret, contends that it was not designed for any particular community, but that it was written for the use of Christians of every denomination ; and this is really the most probable opinion, since the epistle contains no reference to any individual church. The only difficulty attending this opinion lies in the name 'epistle,' because the frequent use in an epistle of the terms “light and darkness,' taken in the Persian sense of these words, seems to imply. that it was written to persons of a particular description. But if we call it a treatise, this difficulty will cease; and in fact, the name 'epistle' is improperly applied to it, since it has nothing which entitles it to this appellation. It does not begin with the salutation which is used in Greek epistles, and with which St. John himself begins his two last epistles ; nor does it contain any salutations, though they are found in almost all the epistles of the apostles. It is true that St. John addresses his readers in the second person; but this mode of writing is frequently adopted in books, and especially in prefaces: for instance, in Wolfe's Elements of Mathematics, the reader is addressed throughout in the second person. I therefore consider that which is commonly called the First Epistle of St. John as a book or treatise, in which the apostle declared to the whole world his disapprobation of the doctrines maintained by Cerinthus and the Gnostics. However, as I do not think it worth while to dispute about words, I have retained the usual title, and have called it the First Epistle of St. John.
"That the design of this epistle was to combat the doctrine delivered by certain false teachers, appears from chap. ii. 18—26; iii. 7; iv. 1-3: and what this false doctrine was may be inferred from the counter doctrine delivered by St. John, chap. v. 1–6. The apostle here asserts that “Jesus is the Christ, and that he was the Christ, 'not by water only, but by water and blood.' Now these words, which are not in themselves very intelligible, become perfectly clear if we consider them as opposed to the doctrine of Cerinthus, who asserted that Jesus was by birth a mere man; but that the Æon, Christ, descended on him at his baptism, and left him before his death. But if what St. John says, chap. v. 1-6, was opposed to Cerinthus, the Antichrists of whom he speaks, chap. ii. 18, 19, and who, according to ver. 22, denied that Jesus was the Christ, as also the false prophets, mentioned chap. iv. 1, 3, must be Cerinthians, or at least Gnostics. That they were neither Jews nor heathens may be inferred from chap. ii. 19, where St. John says, “They went out from us. Further, he describes them, chap. ii. 18, as persons who had lately appeared in the world. But this description suits neither Jews nor heathens, who, when this epistle was written, had not lately begun to deny that Jesus was the Christ. Lastly, in the same verse, he describes them as tokens of the last time, saying, “As ye have heard that Antichrist shall ome, even now there are many Antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time.' But his inference could not be drawn from the refusal of the Jews to acknowledge that Jesus was he Messiah. Now, as soon as we perceive that the position, "Jesus is the Christ,' is a ounter position against Cerinthus, we may infer, as I have already observed, that the Antihrists who denied that Jesus was the Christ, or who denied that Christ had appeared in the esh, were Cerinthians; or perhaps the latter were Docetes. It is, therefore, highly robable that the whole epistle, which in various places discovers an opposition to false eachers, was written against Cerinthians, or at least against Gnostics and Magi. A propotion can never be completely understood, unless we know the author's design in delivering
For instance, 'God is light, and in him is no darkness,' appears to contain a tautology, we consider it as a detached dogma; and if it be considered as an admonitory proposition,
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN,
it may be thought to contain a severe reproof: but if we regard it in a polemical view, it will present itself under a very different form. This epistle abounds with exhortations ; but no man who wishes to understand it will be satisfied without asking the following questions : Why did St. John give these admonitions? Why has he so frequently repeated them? Why has he admonished, if he thought admonition necessary, merely in general terms, to holiness and brotherly love? And why has he not sometimes descended to particulars, other apostles have done ? An answer to these questions will throw great light on the epistle; and this light I will endeavour to procure for the reader, by pointing out the several propositions which, in my opinion, are laid down in opposition to Gnostic errors.
“1. In the first chapter the four first verses are opposed to the following assertion of the Gnostics : “That the apostles did not deliver the doctrine of Jesus as they had received it, but made additions to it, especially in the commandments which were termed legal ; whereas they themselves (the Gnostics) retained the genuine and uncorrupted mystery.' St. John therefore says: 'That he declared that which was from the beginning, which he himself had seen and heard ;' that is, that he taught the doctrine of Christ as it was originally delivered, as he had heard it from Christ's own mouth, whose person he had seen and felt; and that he made no additions of his own, but only reported as a faithful witness. In like manner he appeals, chap. ii. 13, 14, to the elder Christians, whom he calls fathers, because they knew him who was from the beginning;' that is, because they knew how Christ had taught from the beginning; and ver. 24 he says: 'Let that abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning. Further he says, chap. ii. 7: 'Brethren, I write no new commandmer
: unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning.' In the next vers he adds: 'Again a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is past, and the light now shineth.' Now Christ himself had given his disciples a commandment which he called a new commandment, and this was, “That they should love one another.' The term new commandment,' therefore, St. John borrowed frou Christ; but in the present instance he appears to have applied it to a different subjec. because the special command which Christ gave to his disciples that they should love one another, and which he called a new commandment, could not well be called an old commandment, being very different from the general commandment, that we should love our neighbour. St. John, therefore, very probably meant that the commandment of love and sanctification was no new commandment, as the Gnostics contended, but the old commandment which the Christians had heard from the beginning.
It was, indeed, become a ner commandment, in consequence of the false doctrines which then prevailed; or rather it appeared to be so, because the Gnostics had endeavoured to banish it from their system of the ology. But whether a new or an old commandment, St. John thought proper to enforce it.
“2. The Gnostics, who contended that those commandments which were legal were not given by Christ, but were added by the apostles without his authority, counteracted, by su doing, the whole doctrine of sanctification. St. John, therefore, devotes the greatest part
of his epistle to the confirmation and enforcement of this doctrine. In chap. i. 5, 7, he asserts, as a principal part of the message which he had heard from Christ, that no one who does not walk in the light has fellowship with God. In the three following verses he limits this proposition in such a manner as was necessary in arguing with an adversary; and chap. i. 1, 2, he removes the objection, that, according to his doctrine, a Christian who was guilty of wilful sins lost thereby all hopes of salvation. He then maintains, ver. 3–5, and apparently in allusion to the word yuwols, knowledge, the favourite term of the Gnostics, that he who boasted of profound knowledge, and at the same time rejected the commandments of Christ, had not a real but only a pretended knowledge ; and that in him only the love of God is perfected, TETEdelwrai, who keeps God's word. The expression τετελειωται is a term which was used in the schools of the philosophers, and applied to the scholars called
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
esoterici, who had made a considerable progress in the inner school. Now the Gnostics were, in their own opinion, scholars of this description; but since they, whose imaginary system of theology annuls the commands of God, are so far from being perfect that they are not even beginners in the science, St. John very properly refuses to admit their pretensions, and opposes to them others who were perfect in a different way, and who were more justly entitled to the appellation. With respect to the expressions, 'keeping the commandments of God,' or ónot keeping his commandments, it must be observed that, when used in a polemical work, they denote, not merely the observance or violation of God's commands in our own practice, but the teaching of others that they are to be observed or rejected. What St. John says, ver. 7, 8, has been already explained in the preceding paragraph.
" The whole of the third chapter, and part of the fourth, is devoted to the doctrine of sanctification, on which I have to make the following remarks. When St. John says, chap. ii. 7, 'Let no man deceive you; he who doeth righteousness is righteous,' he probably intends, not merely to deliver a precept, but to oppose the doctrine of those who asserted that a man, though he sinned, might be righteous in respect to his spiritual soul, because sin proceeded only from the material body. A similar observation may be applied to ver. 4: •Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law;' which, considered by itself, appears to be an identical proposition ; but when considered as an assertion opposed to the Gnostics, it is far from being superfluous, because, evident as it appears to be, they virtually denied it. From the passage above quoted from the works of Irenæus, we have seen that they rejected the legal commandments as parts of the Christian religion which were not warranted by the authority of Christ; consequently, they denied that sin was a transgression of the law. Further, it was consistent with their principles to regard sins as diseases ; for they believed in a metempsychosis, and imagined that the souls of men were confined in their present bodies as in a prison, and as a punishment for having offended in the region above. According to this system, the violent and irregular passions of anger, hatred, &c., were tortures for the soul; they were diseases, but not punishable transgressions of the law. I will not assert that all who believed in a transmigration of souls argued in this manner, but some of them certainly did so; and against these it was not superfluous to write, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law.'
" The love of the brethren, which St. John enforced as a chief commandment, is generally understood of that special love which Christ commanded his disciples to have towards each other. But I rather think that St. John means the love of our neighbour in general, which Christ commanded, as comprehending the half of the law; for this general love St. John might very properly call the love of our brother, since God has created us all, and is our common Father. Besides, as St. John calls Cain Abel's brother, he could not intend to signify by this term a person of the same religious sentiments. Nor would it have been consistent with candour to have censured the Gnostics for not having Christian brotherly love towards St. John and other true believers, for in this particular sense they were not brethren; and St. John himself, in his second epistle, ver. 10, forbids the exercise of Christian brotherly love towards those who teach false doctrines. I believe, therefore, that the brotherly love of which St. John speaks in the third chapter of this epistle, is not confined to that special love which we owe to those who are allied to us by religion, but denotes the love of our neighbour in general. Nor do I except even the 16th verse, where some think that St. John would require too much, if he meant brotherly love in general, or charity toward all men. But are there not certain cases in which it is our duty to hazard and even sacrifice our lives, in order to rescue our neighbour? Is not this duty performed by the soldier? And is it not performed by him who visits those who are infected with contagious diseases? It is true that this is not a duty which every man owes in all cases to his neighbour ; but then, on the other hand, is it not a duty which every man owes to his
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
spiritual brother? Nor was it St. John's design so much to enforce this duty, and to recommend the exercise of it, as to argue from the acknowledgment of this duty in certain cases, to the necessity of performing the less painful duty of supporting our brethren in distress, by a participation of our temporal possessions. But though I believe that in the third chapter St. John speaks of the love of our neighbour in general, I do not mean to affirm that he nowhere understands that special love which Christians owe one to another, of which we meet with an instance in chap. v. 1, 2.
“With respect to the moral conduct of the Gnostics, against whom St. Jonn wrote, we may infer, therefore, that the apostle found more reason to censure them for their want of charity toward their neighbours, than for dissoluteness or debauchery. This want of charity they probably displayed by a hatred of the true believers.
" What St. John says, chap. v. 3, that ‘God's commandments are not grievous,' appears in the clearest light when we consider it as opposed to the Gnostics, to whom the divine commandments, as delivered by the apostles, appeared to be too legal.
“St. John declares, chap. i. 5, as the message which he had heard from Christ, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.' Now if this proposition had been then as generally admitted as it is at present, there could have been no necessity for declaring it at the very beginning of the epistle, with so much energy, to be the grand message of Christ. We may reasonably infer, therefore, that it was opposed to certain persons who delivered a contrary doctrine. Further, the words 'light and darkness,' which are here applied to the Deity in a manner which is not usual in the Bible, remind us of the technical terms used by the Persian Magi, and afterwards by the Manicheans. It is true that in the Bible we meet with the expressions 'works of the light,' children of the light,''to walk in the light, and others of the same kind; but in these instances the term 'light' is not synonymous with
holiness ;' works of the light denoting nothing more than works which no man need be ashamed to perform openly, and in the face of the whole world. This explanation of the word 'light' is inapplicable in the proposition 'God is light,' because there would be an impropriety in representing God either as fearing or not fearing to act in the face of the whole world. St. John, therefore, uses the term 'light' as equivalent to holiness.
“Now, the Gnostics admitted that the Supreme Being was perfectly holy and pure light; but they denied that the Supreme Being was the God whom the Jews and the Christians worshipped. For the Jews and the Christians worshipped the Creator of the world; and the Gnostics asserted that the Creator of the world was either a spirit of darkness, or, if he was a spirit of light, that he was not free from darkness.
“From chap. ii. 23, where St. John says, that he who denies the Son, rejects also the Father,' it appears that his adversaries did not deny the Father in positive terms, since the apostle argues only that they virtually did so by denying the Son. Now, the Gnostics did not positively deny the Father of Christ, whom they allowed to be the Supreme Being, but then they did not allow that he was the Creator. The terms therefore, God and the * Father of Christ," though they denote in reality the same person, must not be considered as having precisely the same import; since the adversaries of St. John admitted that the Father of Christ was the Supreme Being, and pure light; but denied that the Creator, who is in fact God, was light without darkness.
“4. In some places, especially chap. iv. 2, 3, St. John opposes false teachers of another description, namely, those who denied that Christ was come in the flesh. Now they who denied this were not Cerinthians, but another kind of Gnostics, called Docetes. For as, on the one hand, Cerinthus maintained that Jesus was a mere and therefore real man, the Docetes on the other hand contended that he was an incorporeal phantom, in which the
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
Æon, Christ, or divine nature, presented itself to mankind. Chap. i. 1: Our hands have handled,' appears likewise to be opposed to this error of the Docetes.
"The doctrines which St. John has delivered in this epistle he has not supported, either by arguments drawn from reason, or by quotations from the Old Testament; for neither of them are necessary, since the bare assertion of an apostle of Christ is sufficient authority. It is true that in one respect this epistle has less energy than St. John's Gospel, because in his gospel he warrants his doctrines by the speeches of Christ. But then, on the other hand, St. John declares in this epistle, chap. iii. 24, iv. 4, v. 14, 16, that God sent his Spirit to the apostolic church, and heard their prayers. And it is evident that St. John alludes to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, and to the miraculous powers obtained by prayer.
“The close of this epistle, “Keep yourselves from idols,' has no immediate connexion with the preceding discourse. I am therefore in doubt whether St. John meant to warn his readers against taking part in heathen sacrifices, which was allowed by these Gnostics, who are called Nicolaitans in the Apocalypse; or whether he meant to describe the system of the Gnostics in general as a system of idolatry, which in fact it was.”
Dr. Macknight has some judicious observations on the authenticity of this epistle, from the similarity of the style to that of the Gospel of John.
“ The authenticity of any ancient writing is established, first, by the testimony of contemporary and succeeding authors, whose works have come down to us, and who speak of that writing as known to be the work of the person whose name it bears. Secondly, by the suitableness of the things contained in such writing to the character and circumstances of its supposed author, and by the similarity of its style to the style of the other acknowledged writings of that author. The former of these proofs is called the external evidence of the authenticity of a writing; the latter, its internal evidence. When these two kinds of evidence are found accompanying any writing, they render its genuineness indubitable.
"The external evidence of the authenticity of John's first epistle has been amply detailed by Dr. Lardner, who shows that the earliest and best Christian writers have all, with one consent, and without any hesitation, ascribed the first epistle to him. And their testimony is confirmed by this circumstance, that the Syriac translator, who omitted the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, and the Epistle of Jude, because some doubts were entertained concerning them in the first age, or perhaps because they had not come to his knowledge, has translated John's First Epistle, as an apostolical writing of which there never was any doubt in that or in any other Christian church.
“ In this preface, therefore, we shall state the internal evidence of the authenticity of John's first epistle, by showing, first, that, in respect of its matter and, secondly, in respect of its style, it is perfectly suitable to the character and circumstances of its supposed author. In respect of the matter or subject of the epistle under consideration, the writer of it has discovered himself to be John the apostle, by introducing a number of sentiments and expressions found in the gospel, which all Christians from the beginning have acknowledged to be the work of John the apostle.
GOSPEL. Chap. i. 1. That which was from the beginning- Chap. i. 1. In the beginning was the word ; ver. ò xDragapeda, which we have contemplated, concern- 14: And DragaueJa, we beheld his glory; ver. 4: ing the living word.
In him was light; ver. 14: The word was made flesh. Chap. ii. 5. Whosoever keepeth his word truly, in Chap. xiv. 23. If a man love me he will keep my that man the love of God is perfected.
words, and my Father with love him. Chap. i. 6. He who saith he abideth in him, ought Chap. xv. 4. Abide in me, and I in you. As the himself also so to walk, even as he walked.-See branch cannot bring forth fruit of itself, except it chap. i, 24, iv. 13–16.
abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide