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by E. L. Jorgenson

From 1919 August Word & Work

Let us walk slowly through the little land of First John, by one of the three or four different routes that cut across that scripture section. The land is somewhat rolling, so we cannot take in its entire width, but we shall see a certain stretch as we go. This time let us travel by the trail which is marked off by the sign-posts, “We know.” There are ten stops or stations on this road, ten statements to be briefly examined.

Before setting out, note that the sentence, “God is light” (1:5) is the text of the entire epistle—the gist of the “message” which John had heard personally from Jesus and which he now undertook to declare. Note also, the peculiar scheme in the epistle, if scheme it can be called: That in discussing one doctrine he naturally mentions another, and then goes off to discuss that one—on purpose. For example, at 2:17, “the world passeth away”; but since the world’s passing is of course at “the last hour” he takes off on that tack. Again, at 2:29 ne mentions being “begotten of him,” which easily leads to the next thought, “children of God.” At 3:24 he speaks of “the Spirit,” which leads him off to speak of “the spirits,’’ good and bad.

First John is not easy. Perplexing and puzzling at places because of big, broad, sweeping statements to which he makes no exception—statements which cannot stand alone and which he does not intend to stand alone, or apart from his own statements elsewhere under the same head; but John is rich, helpful and terribly searching!

Now then, let us go on our journey stopping at the ten stations. In each case the method of examination will be, first, a question for information: then the scripture answer; and then, perhaps, a personal question for application.

  1. How may we know that we know Him? (2:3). Answer. If we keep His commandments. Personal question: By this test do you know Him?
  2. How may we know that we are in Him? (2:5, 6); that is, that we who have been “baptized into Christ” are abiding in Him? Answer. If we walk even as He walked. By this test are you abiding in Him?
  3. How may we know that we are begotten of Him? (2 :2J). Answer. If we “do righteousness.” (Compare 3:7-10). By this test have you been begotten of Him?
  4. How may we know that we have passed out of death into life? (3:14). Answer. If we love the brethren. By this test have you passed out of the old state of death in “trespasses and sins,” into the “eternal life” (3:15)?
  5. But how may we know love, or that we have true love? (3:16). Answer. If we are willing to lay down our lives for the brethren, as He laid down His life for us. By this test have you genuine love, or just the spurious article? Read the next verse: love may not demand your life, but at least a measure of ‘‘the world’s goods” for the expression of compassion upon those who are in need.
  6. How may we know that we are of the truth? (3:19) — for unless we know that, how can we have boldness in prayer? The answer. In this case goes back to the preceding verse: If we love, not in word, neither with the tongue, but indeed and truth. By this test are you of the truth?
  7. How may we know that He abides in us? (3:24). Answer. By the Spirit which He gave us. Does John mean that Christians should in some way be conscious, save by the fruits of the Spirit springing up in their life, that the indwelling Spirit is truly there? Already we know, by the sure testimony of His Word that all who truly repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  8. How may we know the Spirit of God from the spirit of antichrist, that is the spirit of truth from the spirit of error? (4:2,6). Answer. Everyone professing to speak by inspiration. if under the impulse of the true Spirit, confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; also, that He “cometh in the flesh” (2 John 7)—which point so many religionists and spiritists deny. Moreover, every person guided by the true spirit hearkens to that which the Spirit has already spoken through the apostles. (4:6).

A paragraph on this last point is timely. The present. “Tongues Movement” breaks down under this test. If they are reproved for transgressing some word of Paul’s, they often reply, “But we have the same spirit that Paul had,” meaning that he is no authority over them. “Holy Roller” leaders in a recent meeting which came under my observation, transgressed at least three inspired prohibitions found in a single chapter (1 Cor. 14) at almost every service: they professed to speak with tongues, but furnished no interpreter; their women addressed large assemblies—concerning which Paul specially points out that the prohibition is a “commandment of the Lord;” and they rolled upon the floor in a disorderly and indecent manner. Let the tests of First John be applied to all such professors.

  1. How may we know, not only that He abides in us, but that we also abide in Him? (4:13) Answer. Because He has given us of His Spirit.
  2. How may we know that we love the children of God? (5:2). Answer. If we love God and do His commandments. So, then there is no true humanitarianism, no truly loving God’s children apart from loving God. Much “philanthropy” and “charity” breaks down here. By this test do you truly love God’s children?

There are a number of other paths through John, but. the journey is enough for this time. Do we dare to apply these tests to ourselves one by one?

-At the time of the writing, Bro. Jorgenson was the preacher at the  Highland Church of Christ in Louisville, KY and Publisher of Word and Work

-The photo is one of ELJ in 1912

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