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told the Ephesian Christians that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. He is afraid they should think, as many of them were in fact inclined to do, that by some charm or other, they, as Christians, had been put out of the reach of sin, and were not beset by it like other men. He hastens at once to rid them of such delusion : 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.' Instead of this fancy that you are without sin being a proof how clearly the light is shining into you, it is a proof that you are shutting out the light, for that would reveal to you your own inclination to fly from it and to choose the darkness. The truth makes us aware of our falsehoods; to deny that they are near us and ready to betray us every moment, is to put ourselves
out of fellowship with the truth; with the God who is truth. Is that hard doctrine ? No; for if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' His faithfulness and justice are the enemies of our sins; therefore to them we may turn from our sins. They are the refuges from the darkness that is
A faithful and righteous Being is therefore a forgiving Being. We are unforgiving because we are unfaithful and unrighteous. But His forgiveness is not tolerance of an evil; such tolerance is cruelty. He forgives us that He may cleanse us. The forgiveness is itself a part of the cleansing. He manifests His righteousness to us that we may trust Him. By trusting Him we delivered from the suspicion which is the very essence of sin.
It is plain simple teaching this; that a man throws off the burden of his sins by confessing them; and that he
may confess to God because he knows that God cares for him, that He is true, and hates falsehood, and can understand him, and can set him free. It is simple, but oh! infinitely deep we shall find it to be if we try! This confession,' Against Thee I have sinned,' this daring to lay our sin bare; this asking to be made true in the inward parts, what power, what victory, what peace lies in that! And thus we begin to understand the Apostle's last words which at first may sound very like a commonplace vehemently expressed : 'If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.' If we will not confess the evil in us, we impute that evil to Him. We make Him answerable for that against which He is testifying in our consciences.. We thrust away that Word which is shedding abroad His light in us; we bury ourselves in our own darkness. This is the effect of trying to make out a good case for ourselves, when it is our interest, our privilege, our blessedness, to justify God and to condemn ourselves; to say, “Thou hast been true, and we have 'been liars. Deliver us from our lies! Help us to walk in
THE TRUE IDEA OF MAN.
1 JOHN II. 1-3.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any
man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous : and He is the propitiation for our sins : and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
This new chapter in the Epistle is in fact a new chapter in Christian ethics. It is closely connected with the one we were considering before Easter; still it is a step forward in our study, that is to say, a step forward in human experience, and in God's revelations.
You will remember where we stopped. The Apostle had spoken to us of sin. He had told us that ' If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;' that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.' Now he begins, 'My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.'
You will be struck with the fatherly tone in which St. John speaks. It belonged to himself—the old man, who had watched over the flock in Ephesus, to whom all the members of it looked up as one to whom they owed more than any child owes to its parent. It belonged to his character as an Apostle. All the Apostles felt themselves to be fathers. Christ had told them that they were not to call any one man their father on earth; that would interfere with their faith, that they had one Father in heaven. They gave heed to this precept. St. John did not call himself the father of the Church generally, though he was the last Apostle left. He did not even call himself the father of the different churches in Asia Minor, though they all knew him and reverenced him. He taught them, as you will find in the Apocalypse, that each had a pastor or angel of their own, and that that pastor derived his authority not from him but from Christ. But though no one might usurp this universal fatherhood—though it would have destroyed the very constitution of the Church to do so-each circle or society was to be an image of the great family, each was to have its own father. The Apostles loved and cherished that name, and all that it implied, and all that illustrated it. They much preferred it to any title which merely indicated an office. It was more spiritual; it was more personal; it asserted better the divine order; it did more to preserve the dignity and sacredness of all domestic relations. It is a sad day for churches, yes, and for nations, when men begin to regard themselves chiefly as officials sent forth by some central government to do its jobs, and not as men who are bound by sacred affinities and actual relations to those whom they preside over.
But St. John had a special reason for using this tender phrase, “ My little children,' in this place. All sin, we have seen, is connected by the Apostle with the loss of fellowship. A man shuts himself up in himself. He denies that he has anything to do with God; he denies that he has anything to do with his brother. That is what he calls walking in darkness. The inclination to walk in darkness, to choose
THE FATHER AND HIS CHILDREN.
darkness rather than light, is sin. We become aware of this inclination—then arises in our minds a terrible sense of shame for having yielded to it, and for having it so near to us. But as soon as we believe that God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all-as soon as we understand that He has manifested His light to us that we may see it and may show it forth—with this sense of shame there comes also the pledge of deliverance. We are not bound by that sin to which we have surrendered ourselves in time past, or which is haunting us now. We are not created to be its servants. We may turn to the Light; we may claim our portion in it; we may ask that it may penetrate us. And then, the Apostle says, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ,' of Him in whom is life eternal, of Him who has taken the flesh and blood of man, and has poured out His blood for all-that cleanses us from sin. We renounce our selfish life; we claim His life, which belongs to our brother just as much as to ourselves.
If, then, the Apostle wished the Ephesians not to sin ;not to yield to selfishness which was in them, and which was separating them from each other and from Godwhat could he do better than remind them that they all belonged to one family; that this was their great privilege; that the Son of God had come amongst them to redeem them out of their pride and divisions, and to make them the little children of His Father. These Ephesians might say to the Apostle, ' Why, you told us just now not to say that we were without sin; you told us to confess our sins; you told us it was a lie not to confess them. Is not that as good as saying that we cannot help committing sin ?'