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(Bampton lectures for 1891).







Edited by

LUX MUNDI. A Series of Studies in the
Religion of the Incarnation. By Various








AN exposition of St. John's Epistles by the
present writer was announced, as one of a series
of such expositions, in 1900. This was to have
been a revision of lectures actually delivered in
Westminster Abbey, but it was never accom-
plished. And now that I am taking advantage
of some recovered leisure to publish the intended
exposition, I have not gone back upon the
reports of former lectures. The present exposi-
tion is entirely new.

Both in the introduction and in the exposition
itself I have had in view especially the ordinary
man and woman who lack the equipment and
knowledge of a scholar, and I have tried to
take no knowledge for granted that an ordinary
education does not supply.

Believing, as I do, that nothing is more im-
portant than to get people in our day, whatever
their state of belief, to study the New Testament
books for themselves, I have had it for my own



x Preface

object to make these epistles intelligible and
interesting to them. After the necessary intro-
duction on the authorship and character of the
documents, I have used the following method.
Each section of the Epistle is preceded by an
" explanatory analysis." This is intended to
include all the explanatory matter necessary
for the general understanding of the passage,
though that may have to be found in the Old
Testament or in the Fourth Gospel or elsewhere.
But it concludes in each case with what can
properly be called an analysis of the particular
passage immediately to be studied. It is fol-
lowed by the text of the passage from the
Revised Version; and this again by notes on
particular points in the passage.

It is obvious that the Epistle has a very
direct bearing on present-day controversies
especially on the tendencies commonly called
" Modernist " and on the social application of
Christianity and the function of the Church in
society. I have from time to time indicated
such applications, but I have resisted the temp-
tation to write at any length upon them, because
I came to the conclusion that I had better
confine myself pretty strictly to the function of

Preface xi

exposition properly so-called. But I may say
that I believe nothing can be more important
for our modern world than that we should
believe St. John's principles, theological and
ethical, with all our hearts, and set ourselves
to apply them with all our will.


Ash Wednesday, 1920.

P.S. Since Dr. Sanday's declaration in
Divine Overruling (Clarke, 1920), his name
should no longer be included in the list given
below, p. 17.





i. 1-4 . The word of life . . 52
i. 5 ii. 6. God is light ... 64
ii. 7-17 . The law of love . . .91
ii. 18-29 . The antichrists . . . 107

iii. 1-12 . The children of God and

the children of the devil 133

iii. 13-24 . The Church and the world

Love and hate . .152

iv. 1- 6 . The testing of spirits . .164
iv. 7-21 . God is love . . . 173
v. 1-12 . The divine witness to Jesus

as the Christ . .190

v. 13-17 . Fellowship in the eternal life

and prayer for others . 201

v. 18-21 . The three solemn final affir-
mations . . .213




THERE is a striking letter written by Benjamin
Jowett, the Master of Balliol, to Arthur Stanley,
Dean of Westminster, when the latter was in
his sixty-fifth year, exhorting him to devote
the remainder of his life to the production of a
serious theological work. The last ten years
of a man's life are, he insists, the most important.
He has had his full measure of experience. He
has had time to reflect upon it. All the fruit
of his knowledge, his experience, and his reflec-
tion should be now mature. He should sternly
refuse to allow any other occupations to distract
him from the task of putting it into shape. 1

1 Dean Stanley's Letters, etc., by R. E. Prothero (John Murray,
1895), p. 443 : " What you have done has been good and valu-
able ; but like other theological writings it has been transient,
suited to one generation more than to another. But this work
should be of a deeper kind the last result of many theological
thoughts and experiences, into which your whole soul and life
might be thrown, all the better because the truths of which
you speak had been realized by suffering,"


St. John's Epistles

This letter expresses an ideal for old age which
is apparently very seldom realized in fact. From
this point of view old age is mostly disappointing.
But I have called attention to it because the
ideal was certainly realized in wonderful per-
fection in the case of John the son of Zebedee,
if the traditional account of his life is trust-
worthy. On this critical matter I shall have
more to say directly. But I will begin by
reminding my readers of the traditional account
derived from the New Testament and the
second-century writers.

John, then, is described as one of two brothers,
James and John, sons of a master-fisherman of
the lake of Galilee named Zebedee. He was
not only a Galilaean, for, according to the Fourth
Gospel, " the disciple whom Jesus loved/' who
is identified in the tradition with the son of
Zebedee, had some special connection with
Jerusalem as well as Galilee. He had a home
there apparently, 1 and he " was known unto the
high priest," so far at least as to be admitted
by the servants to the court of the high priest
to witness the examination of Jesus, and to be
allowed to bring in Peter. 8 But he can have

1 John xix. 27. 2 xviii. 15-16.


had but a simple education. In the eyes of the
Jewish leaders he and Peter are reported to be
" unlearned " men, who lacked the training in
the Jewish schools which qualified for the
position of a teacher. In fact, " they had not
been to college." 1

What sort of man in disposition John was,
we can judge in part from the fact that our
Lord, who called Simon "Kock-man," called
him and his brother " Sons of Thunder." The
mild, sentimental young man depicted by the
artists must be as unlike as possible to the
real rugged young fisherman, with his passionate
soul. This man, then, passed through profound
experiences in the school of the great prophet,
John the Baptist, and thereafter in the deeper
school of Jesus of Nazareth. We hear of special
experiences which were his, not shared by all the
apostles 'how Peter and James and John con-
stituted a sort of inner circle among the Twelve,
how the zeal of the Sons of Thunder in particular
was rebuked and their ambition quenched,*
how John was singled out (if indeed it be he)

1 Acts iv. 13. The English words " unlearned and ignorant
men " are too strong.

2 Luke ix. 54-5 ; Mark x. 35 ff.

St. John's Epistles

as " the disciple whom Jesus loved/' Besides
he of course shared the common experiences of
all the apostles culminating in the death of Jesus
on the cross and in His resurrection from the
dead and His ascension and His mission of
the Spirit. Afterwards John is found prominent
among the Twelve in Jerusalem, being mentioned
again and again alone with Peter. 1 At a
comparatively early point of the narrative of
the Acts he passes out of sight ; but St. Paul
in his Epistle to the Galatians reckons him
among " the pillars " of the Church with James,
the Lord's brother, and Peter, at his second
visit to Jerusalem there recorded. 1 This would
have been about sixteen or twenty years
after our Lord's death and resurrection. By
this time John's brother James had been put to
death by the Jews, and some eighteen to twenty
years later Peter and Paul were martyred at
Rome. Then in A.D. 70 Jerusalem was de-
stroyed, and the old Jewish world, as it had
been, centred upon Jerusalem and its temple,
ceased to exist. Whether just before this or
earlier (for the moment is not specified), the
very well supported tradition of the second

1 Aota i. 13, iii, 1 iv, 19, viii. 14. Gal. ii, 9,


century assures us that John, with other of the
Apostles, passed to Asia Minor, which became
the last home of the apostolic company, Philip
going ultimately to Hierapolis, but John with
Andrew to Ephesus. Here, in wholly new
surroundings, we hear of him as venerated and
loved. " John, who leaned on the breast of
the Lord, who became a priest wearing the
' petalon ' (the Jewish high-priest's golden plate
this may be either intended as metaphor or
as literal fact), both witness and teacher."
There probably l he suffered persecution for
his faith, apparently under Domitian, who began
to reign in A.D. 81 and died in 96, for he was the
John who from his place of exile at Patmos saw
the visions of the Apocalypse. Moreover, from
Ephesus as a centre he was active in the or-
ganization of the Churches of Asia. " Listen,"
says Clement of Alexandria, " to a legend which
is no legend but very history, which has been
handed down and preserved about John the
Apostle. When on the death of the tyrant he
returned from the Isle of Patmos to Ephesus,

1 But Tertullian brings him to Rome to be plunged into a
cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina and then banished
to Patmos.

6 St. John's Epistles

he used to go away when he was summoned
to the neighbouring districts as well, in some
places to establish bishops, in others to organize
whole churches, in others to ordain to the clergy
some one of those indicated by the Spirit/* And
then he tells the touching and familiar story of
the zeal and love which St. John showed in the
recovery of a lapsed disciple the young man
who had joined a band of robbers and become
their chief. Then we hear how zealous he was
against heresy, so that he would not stay in the
bath-house with Cerinthus, 1 and how zealous
he was to the very end to teach the Church he
was leaving the lesson of mutual love, " Little
children, love one another." * Finally, we hear
how he was persuaded, not without a divine
revelation, to commit his Gospel to writing,
partly intending to supplement the other Gospels
already existing and known, and so wrote the
" spiritual Gospel," as Clement calls it ; and
thus, having survived even to the time of
Trajan, i.e. A.D. 97, when he must have been
about ninety years old, he fell asleep at Ephesus.
The chronology of this account of St. John's

1 See below, p. 114.

2 This tradition is not heard of till the fourth century.


later activity presents difficulties. It seems
to crowd too much into the very last years.
Tradition, we must remember, is hardly ever
accurate even when it is substantially true.
But, as a whole, it comes on a basis of second-
century consent, along manifold lines, which
would almost seem indisputable.

Am I not right in saying that if this singularly
well-authenticated account of the origin of the
Fourth Gospel is true, it, and the accompanying
First Epistle, do realize wonderfully the ideal
of an old man who devotes himself at the last
to writing what shall summarize in the most
effective form the experience and meditation
of a lifetime ? The Gospel enshrines the aged
disciple's memory of his Master, 'doubtless often
put into words, but only now at last into writing,
for the express purpose of succouring the faith
of the Church already distressed by currents
of subversive opinion. The Epistle, which
is a sort of commentary on some of the leading
ideas of the Gospel, brings out into emphasis
the slowly matured fruit of his long experience
and deep and constant reflection about human
life and its fellowship with the divine in the
light of the Incarnation. Truly, so regarded,

8 St. John's Epistles

the Epistle which we are to seek to study
remains among the most priceless of human


But the value of the witness of our Epistle
depends greatly, indeed in its distinctive quality
wholly, upon the substantial truth of the
tradition of its origin.

Assuredly the idea of the true life for man
which is here unfolded the life lived in the
light, utterly unworldly, of unselfish fellowship
and pure self-control does, if we set ourselves
to study it, set our heart aglow quite without
reference to the author of it. It is so human
and simple, yet so rich and satisfying. If men
in general would adopt it and live by it, there
is no question that it would remedy the diseases
of society. Short of this there is no doubt that
if there were everywhere in evidence a Christian
church, really organized to live the life, even
though it were everywhere a small minority,
it would have, as the early Christian church had
in the heathen world, an infinite force and
attractiveness. In the midst of a world per-

Introduction 9

meated by obscuring and corrupting influences,
it would stand as " a city set on a hill " and as
" salt " which had not lost its savour. Again,
short of this, there can be no doubt that every
individual who makes this idea of what a man's
life can be his own and faithfully lives by it,
becomes among his fellows a sort of rock amidst
shifting sands. But St. John is not merely
promulgating an idea, like a philosopher, he is
asserting a fact. And there is the rub.

This ideal of human life contradicts the selfish
and sensual assumptions on which human life
is generally based. St. John certainly does
not conceal this. But then is it natural ? and
how is it to be made possible ? Here comes
in the point of his witness.

St. John's fundamental assurance is that the
life which he would have men live is in the
deepest sense natural and true that is in
accordance with fundamental reality because
it is fellowship with the eternal and only enduring
life and being, which is the basis of our own,
the life and being of God. And he and his
fellows have, he claims, through their special
experience, been allowed to receive indisputable
assurance of this. For they had experience in

10 St. John's Epistles

Jesus of Nazareth of the perfect human life,
and on indisputable evidence, as it seemed to
them, were led almost forced to believe that
what was exhibited before their eyes in a man's
life was nothing else than the eternal life of
God manifested to men that Jesus Christ was
the only-begotten Son of God, Himself incarnate
God. Thus what has been proved to be in
accordance with the will and being of God
must be both possible and natural.

There have been in other generations and
there are in our own agnostics and even atheists
who have summoned men to live the true and
noble life, though they see in vast nature no
signs of moral sympathy and no good evidence
of a God of love and righteousness, but only
of a world-force which, if not brutal, is un-
conscious and therefore indifferent. And we
must be thankful that they are so noble and so
defiant of nature. It is magnificent, but it is,
after all, an irrational nobility, a splendid fana-
ticism. For of what use can it be for a tiny
portion of the universe to raise the standard of
rebellion against a vast whole which must
infallibly swallow up and absorb our puny race
with its strangely-kindled aspirations ?

Introduction 11

If the highest life is to have rational ground
or hope or goal, there must be behind it something
eternal, something which belongs to the whole
of which we form a part an " Eternal not
ourselves making for righteousness " and love
with which we can co-operate. Man can live
the good life with good hope only if God is good,
and, because God is God, good must be the
final goal of all. That is St. John's conviction,
and he can base it on nothing but revelation
God's own self-disclosure.

We need not exaggerate the gloom of nature.
The European philosophers who apart from
any question of revelation have set their whole
mind and devoted their whole life to investigate
reality, from Plato and Aristotle and Plotinus
down to our own time, have in great measure,
and by a great majority, and in the greatest
instances, found themselves either authorized
or constrained to declare that goodness the
idea or force of good is at the heart of the
universe. And the plain man cannot give up
the hope. Nevertheless, the doctrine of the
philosophers has been full of hesitations and
qualifications and contradictions, and has never
succeeded in convincing the plain man, who

12 St. John's Epistles

for his part remains bewildered. After all,
Nature is a sphinx. A confession of ignorance
or doubt about the character of the world-force
seems to be the most justifiable attitude. Nor
in our day can we flee for refuge to a conclusion
which in earlier ages has sometimes seemed to
men satisfactory the conclusion that there
are two principles in the universe, a good and a
bad, in perpetual conflict, and that nature and
human nature have fellowship with both. For
now we know this at least, that nature is a
closely-knit unity, and the force which operates
there is one only one God, if God it can be
called. Then the question recurs of what sort
is this force or God ? What is its mind and
purpose for man and the world, if mind or purpose
it have at all ?

Surely if there be, or may be, a God, and if the
rational mind and conscience of man is capable
of fellowship with Him from whom it came,
it is natural that He should disclose Himself,
not, of course, in contradiction of nature which
is His creation, nor of what the brooding mind
of man has, on the whole, been able to discover
from nature, for our reason is His, but by way
of increase of light and confirmation of assur-

Introduction 13

ance. Surely in man's moral conscience, where
he feels that he gets nearest to God, God does
everywhere in varying degrees of clearness
reveal Himself, not by way of argument, but as
a voice from above or from the beyond, guiding,
threatening, and cheering. Why should not this
self-disclosure of God have gone further?

At this point we must recognize that the
essence of the Jewish witness was that this
self-disclosure of God is a fact. Over hundreds
of years prophets had appeared amongst them
who, not in virtue of any conclusions which
they had reached by reasoning, but because
they had actually heard, in whatever way, the
voice of God, proclaimed as " the word of Je-
hovah " His righteous will for His people, His
tremendous justice, and His unalterable goodness.
Jehovah called " The LOKD " in our Bible
was Israel's God, but more and more clearly
had it been proclaimed that He was the one
and only God, the creator and sustainer and
ruler of all that is. Thus it was that the
prophets of Israel became, what in a memorable
phrase Athanasius calls them, " the sacred
school of the knowledge of God and the spiritual
life for all mankind."

14 St. John's Epistles

Now we must recognize that almost every
good thing which has diffused itself upon this
planet has arisen or been discovered in one
spot and has thence spread in a widening area.
Why then, we ask, should not the Jews have
been in the matter of religion what the Eomans
were in the matter of government or law, and
the Greeks in art and intellect not indeed its
sole source, but the source of it in its highest
quality, greatest authority, and freest adapt-
ability? And I think any one who reads the
sequence of Jewish prophets ruthlessly leaving
out what he finds too obscure to understand,
which is generally of secondary importance
will receive a profound impression : will be
deeply disposed to believe that they really spoke,
as they believed themselves to speak, the word
of the Lord.

" St. John," as we perceive in his Gospel, is
full of the Jewish faith in the prophetic scriptures.
He knows that salvation was of the Jews. And
there is no doubt that He of whom St. John
wrote assumed the teaching of the Jewish
prophets as the background and basis of all
He taught about God. It is of great importance
to recognize this. But in his Epistle John

Introduction 15

makes almost no reference to the Old Testament.
His mind is concentrated on Him in whom the
old prophetic succession is fulfilled in whom
His disciples recognized One greater than the
prophejbs in whom they came to believe as
the eternal Son of God incarnate. The meaning
of this conviction in its bearings on human life
is expounded in our Epistle, but its grounds
are recorded in the Gospel, in both books by
one who claims to be an eye-witness. Was he
an eye-witness of what he relates ? Did these
things really happen *? And was the " beloved
disciple " of the Fourth Gospel really John the
son of Zebedee ? The value of our author's
teaching about human life and its possibilities
he makes to depend, and it does really depend,
upon the trustworthiness of his claim to report
truly about Jesus of Nazareth.

3 ; ..

This, then, is the question : Can we rely upon
it that when the writer of our Epistle speaks of
what he and his associates have " heard," " seen
with their eyes," " beheld," and " handled with
their hands," when he asserts that what he

16 St. John's Epistles

declares to us is what they in common have
" seen and heard," l he is referring to a real
objective experience and that he is speaking the
truth ? Or, again, when he speaks of the
mission of the Son of God as something which
" we have seen " and of which consequently
we can " bear witness " ? ' And, granted that
the Epistle proceeds from the same author as
the Fourth Gospel, can we assume not only
that the experience on which he bases his teaching
is the experience related in that Gospel, but
that he really relates things as they occurred ?
And, finally, can we suppose that " the beloved
disciple " who records or professes to record
his experience so particularly s was John the
disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ, the son
of Zebedee, as the Church has always supposed ?
Now, with regard to all these questions there
has been infinite discussion of late years and
infinite confusion in the world of criticism.
Books advocating almost every conceivable
view have poured and are pouring from the
press. In literary Germany the traditional
view of St. John's authorship has almost passed

1 1 John i. 1-3. a iv. 14.

3 John xix. 35, xx. 30-1, xxi. 24.

Introduction 17

out of sight, except for the one name of Theodor
Zahn. And though that is not at all the case
in England for Sanday, Armitage Robinson,
Salmond, Strong, Chase, Richmond, Ramsay,
Drummond, Holland, and others among our best
living or quite recent scholars, assure us that
the traditional view is tenable and indeed the
most reasonable view yet the critical world
is greatly divided and the problem is often
regarded as, if not insoluble, yet far from so-
lution. Plainly then, though I am not writing
for scholars, I must say something about it,
and this is not an easy task on a subject so
blackened with controversy, and when those
for whom I am writing cannot, in most cases,
go thoroughly into it.

I would say, then, by way of preliminary,
that you must not attribute any final authority
to the critical fashions of the day. During the
last fifty years a student has seen many " ac-
cepted results " of criticism pass out of vogue.
Modern historical criticism is a real science,
to which we owe the greatest additions to our
knowledge of what the past history of mankind
has really been. It is not too much to say that
it has opened to us a new world, or many new

18 St. John's Epistles

worlds. But you reach a point, and sometimes
it is soon reached, where what can be strictly
called historical science passes into conjecture
and into the region where presuppositions and
prejudices have free play for lack of positive
evidence. Indeed, there is no history without
presuppositions. But the main stream of Ger-
man criticism, which has been the basis of

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