WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson LXII) 06/16/21

2:21 Do you think I am writing this letter because you don’t understand the truth? No, I am writing because you do know the truth. And you recognize that no tales come from the truth.

COMMENTARY

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) puts what the Apostle John says here in verse twenty-one into context to understand better the point the Apostle is trying to make. You are not to regard my writing to you in this earnest manner as any evidence that I do not suppose you to be acquainted with Christianity and its duties. Some, perhaps, might have been disposed to put this construction on what he had said, but he assures them that that was not the reason why he had thus addressed them.

Barnes continues by noting that the very fact that they did understand their Christian faith. John says this is why he wrote to them because they knew. It was the basis of his hope that his appeal would be sufficient. If they had never known what Christianity was, if they were ignorant of its nature and its claims, he would have had much less hope of being able to guard them against error and of securing their steady walk in the path of holiness. We may always make a solid and confident appeal to those who understand their faith and its truth because no lie is of the truth.

For Barnes, no form of error, however plausible it may seem, however ingeniously one defends it, and however much it may seem to be favorable to human virtue and happiness, can be founded on truth. What the Apostle John says here has somewhat the aspect of a truism. Still, it contains a fundamental truth of vital importance and should greatly influence our minds regarding any proposed opinion or doctrine. Error often appears believable. It seems to be adapted to relieve the mind of many difficulties that perplex and embarrass it on what the Bible teaches. It seems to be adapted to promote one’s doctrine.

It appears to make those who embrace it happy to enjoy religion. But John says that no matter how plausible all this may be, it may only be to prove that the doctrines they embraced are of God. Here is an impressive and vital maxim: “No error can have its foundation in truth, and, of course, that makes it worthless.” The great question is, what is truth? When that is determined, we can quickly settle the inquiries that come up about the various doctrines being practiced around the world. Mere reasonable appearances, or temporary good results that may grow out of an ideology, do not prove that it is based firmly on the truth. Whatever the results may be, it is impossible that any error, no matter how convincing, will have its origin in facts.[1]

William Sinclair (1850-1917) says that if any promoters of the Antichrist movement had the unction of the Anointed One, [2] they must have grieved God’s Spirit. But the Apostle John’s hearers were still in union with the true Vine, and, therefore, had the divine instinct which “guided them into all truth.” If they trusted the Spirit in simple questions about morality and religion and their effect on the soul, it would be sufficiently plain to them to explain. He does believe this about them. So, he humbly begs them not to think that he distrusts them. If he did not feel that they had the eye of understanding spiritually enlightened, he would know that there would be no response in their hearts to his words, nor interest about them in their minds.[3]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) agrees with other scholars that to know what is false, you must first understand what is true, for those who know the truth are in a position to immediately detect the true character of that which is opposed to it. In the first case, they must be taught that something is a lie, and they will at once reject it. In the second case, their knowledge of the truth enables them to detect if it is agreeing to the text and context. If the teacher can awaken their perception, it completes his or her task. Learners possess the means if they will only use them. That is the object of this Epistle, “to stir up the gift that is in them.”[4] [5]

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) speaks about the anointing of the Holy Spirit and relates a story he heard some years earlier to illustrate it. It concerned a well-known English minister who shared it with him.

One night, when he was just ready to retire, there came a knock at his door. When he went downstairs, he found a poor, wretched little girl standing at the door dripping wet. She walked through a storm, and she said, “Are you the minister?”  

Yes,” he said, “I am.” He was at that time one who had turned away from the simplicity of the Gospel. “Will you please come and get my mother in?” she asked.  

The minister replied, “I was just about to retire, and besides, it is hardly proper for me to go out in this weather and bring in your mother. If she is drunk, you can get a police officer to fetch her. He has his raincoat on and prepared for the storm.”  

Oh no,” said the little girl, “you don’t understand! My mother is not out in the storm, and she is not drunk. She is at home dying, and she is afraid to die. She is afraid she is going to be lost forever. She wants to go to Heaven and doesn’t know how, so I told her I would get a minister to get her in.”  

He asked where she lived, and she told him of a district so corrupt that even in daytime, respectable people did not go there without a police escort. “Why,” he said, “I can’t go down there tonight.” He reasoned it would ruin his reputation to be caught with a girl like this in that district in the middle of the night. No, he said to himself, I cannot go. I am the preacher of a large and influential church. What would my congregation think if it should get into the newspapers?  

So, he said to the girl, “I’ll tell you what to do. Go down and get the man who is running the Rescue Mission. He will be glad to help you.” He felt ashamed as he said it but decided his reputation had to be maintained.  

He may be a good man,” replied the girl, “but I don’t know him. I told my mother I would get a real minister, and I want you to come and get her in. Please come quickly; she’s dying.”   I couldn’t resist the challenge in those eyes, the preacher confessed. He felt ashamed, so he said to her, “Very well, I will come.” He went upstairs, got dressed, and put on his overcoat.  

Then the girl led him down through the city, into the slum district, into an old house, up a rickety stairway, and along a long dark hall into a small room where the poor woman lay. “I have gotten the preacher of the biggest church in the city,” said the girl. “He will get you in. He didn’t want to come, but he’s here. You tell him what you want and do just what he tells you to do.”  

The woman looked up and said, “Oh, sir, can you do anything for a poor sinner? All my life, I’ve been a wicked woman, and I am going to Hell. But I don’t want to go there. I want to be saved and go to Heaven. Tell me what I can do.”  

The preacher related how he stood there looking down at that poor anxious face and thought, whatever will I tell her? I have been preaching in my church on salvation by character, ethical culture, and reformation. But I can’t tell her about salvation by character, for she hasn’t any. I can’t tell her about salvation by ethical culture, for there’s no time for culture, and besides, she most likely wouldn’t know what I meant. I can’t tell her about salvation by reformation, for she has gone too far to reform. Then it came to me, why not tell her what my mother used to say to me? She’s dying, and it can’t hurt her, even though it will not do her any good. And so, he said, “My poor lady, God is very gracious, and the Bible says, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”  

She replied, “Does it say that in the Bible? My! It should help get me in. But, sir, my sins! What about my sins?”  

The minister said it was amazing how the verses came to him, verses he learned years ago and never used. He said to the woman, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”[6]   “All sin?” she asked. “Does it actually say that the blood will cleanse me from all sin? That ought to get me in.”   The minister continued, the Bible also says, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”[7]  

Well,” she said, “If the chief got in, I can get in too. Pray for me!”[8]  

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) sees similarities with the many misinterpretations of verses twenty and twenty-one, further down, verse twenty-seven. Some feel that their understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures are without error. It’s a case of assuming infallibility. There always seems to be some whose guidance is foolproof and who cannot go wrong, and so you find this principle of perfection reasserting itself again and again. The first thing to do, says Lloyd-Jones, is to realize that the Apostle John is not dealing with the question of guidance from the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of our ability to tell others what God wants them to know about particular decisions. John is discussing here knowledge of the truth, an understanding of doctrine; his concern is the doctrine’s truth and that he is the one and only Anointed One. That is the context in which to understand these three verses.

Secondly, says Lloyd-Jones, John does not teach that every Christian receives fresh truth directly and immediately, as the apostles did. John already told these people that he writes to them to have fellowship with him and the other apostles. They received the truth when they believed through the apostle’s witness and teaching and preaching. They did not get to know what they now know because it was delivered to them individually from above. How can you expect to have fellowship when each congregation member claims to have the infallible truth straight from God?


[1] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4830

[2] Cf. John 15:26; 2 Corinthians 17, 18; Ephesians 16; Philippians 1:29

[3] Sinclair, William: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 480

[4] 2 Timothy 1:6

[5] Brooke, Alan E., International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 57

[6] 1 John 1:7

[7] 1 Timothy 1:15

[8] Ironside, H. A., Addresses on the Epistles of John (Ironside Commentary Series Book 43), op. cit., pp. 24-25

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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