The Apostle’s answer is that he has told them of an “eternal life”, which he has “seen,” and even “shown” before them; that they are called to share it, because God gives us this life, and invites us, not to fellowship with an Apostle only, but with Himself, even “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ;” (1 John 1:1-3) no longer therefore to live our natural selfish life, but to “walk even as Christ walked;” (1 John 2:6) for “now are we the sons of God,” (1 1 John 3:1) and therefore, “as He is, so are we in this world;” (1 1 John 4:17) that therefore as “He laid down His life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren;” (1 John 3:16) for “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 1 John 4:11).
The whole of the Epistle is but a reiterated declaration that “God hath given to us eternal life,” and that the elect are called to live in and manifest it (1 1 John 5:11, 12). And what is his Revelation but the opening of the mystery of the manifestation and development of this same life in the wider sphere of a fallen but redeemed creation, out of which evil is to be at last for ever put away by the coming in and revelation of the life and glory and kingdom of the Son of God (Rev 11:15; 21:1.). In each and all John’s witness is of the same eternal life, which is to conquer and inherit all.
And this, as it seems to me, is the teaching which more than any other is required both by the church and world at this day. For many things show us that “it is the last time”; and the “last time,” as it is marked above all others by “many antichrists,” (1 1 John 2:18)–powers which would take the place in us which of right belongs to Christ, and the eternal life which He has brought us, – needs very specially that testimony respecting this life, of which St. John is the peculiar witness. The other Apostles have each their special truth, suited to some stage of the Church or individual. Of these Paul’s truth comes first, and stands to the Church and to each soul, as it stands in Scripture, as the first teaching which we need to set us at peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus. He meets us as we start; and at this stage his words, as to our ruin and the righteousness which is by faith, are those which are most suited to, and therefore naturally most prized and dwelt on by us.
At such a stage John’s teaching, though we may read it, does not really meet us. Paul is our guide, and with him we are occupied with our own acceptance before God, and with Churches and Church questions; in a word with those truths, or rather with truth under those forms, which Paul ever ministers to us. If we advance we soon come to the truth which the Apostle James teaches, touching the moralities which belong to and must accompany Christian doctrine. We go on again, and come to Peter’s truth, addressed not to Churches or Church-teachers, as with Paul, but to the “strangers scattered” (1 Peter 1:1-4) on earth, but who are “elect to an inheritance reserved in heaven for them.”
His words, so full of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow, and of our sufferings and glory, if we remain faithful, are now the teaching which seems most needful for us. Once more we advance, and so come to John, and to his witness as to the eternal life, which has dwelt in man, and which the sons of God are called to manifest. This is the teaching which seems peculiarly fitted for a time when the outward Church is fallen, and when, as in the “last time” which St. John speaks of, carnal Church rule prevails, so that though John writes unto the Church, Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, receiveth him not, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth the brethren out of the Church. (2 2 John 9-11). John soars up heavenward, like the eagle
(Footnote: By universal consent the fourth cherubic form, that of the eagle (see Rev 4:7) has been assigned to St. John and his Gospel by the church in all ages.) when all that can only walk on earth appears to fail. At such a stage something beyond mere church-teaching is needed by us; for the trouble is that men are in high places in the Church who seem unable to recognise Christ’s life and works, when these are manifested as a present reality in His despised yet living members. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved becomes the witness of the eternal life, which shines only the brighter even though the Church be betrayed and her outward form be broken by man’s wickedness; that life which his God’s own, to be most fully seen, not in escaping the cross, but in triumphing over it. This teaching will last us to the end; and like John will tarry till Christ comes; as He said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” (John 21:22)
It is this teaching which the reiterated Amens sum up, showing us the course and stages of that eternal life which is given us in Christ Jesus. I have already said, that there are twelve sayings of our Lord’s, which are thus introduced. In some of these sayings, the reiterated Amen occurs but once; in others, twice; in others, thrice; in two instances, no less than four times; the number of reiterations in each instance depending, if I mistake not, on the special importance or apparent strangeness of the testimony to which they are appended. But there are only twelve sayings which are thus distinguished from the rest of our Lord’s words. The first tells us of the Sphere or Home of the New Man: heaven, long shut to man, is now re-opened to him (John 1:51). The second shows how alone we enter this home, by a New Birth, involving a passing through the waters, that is a death to nature, in the power of God’s spirit (John 3:3, 5). The third tells about the Law of this new man; that he does nothing from self, but only what the Father doeth; that therefore, instead of losing a life and being judged, like the corrupt old man, who does all from self and ruins all, the new man quickeneth whom he will, and hath authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:19-22).