THE IMAGE OF ST. JOHN'S SOUL IN HIS EPISTLE.
"He that loves pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend." --- Prov. xxii. 11.
ὁ θεμελιος.... ὁ δευτερος σαπφειρος. --- Apoc. xxi. 19.
"We know that whosoever is born of God sins not; but he that is begotten of God keeps, himself, and that wicked one touches him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." --- 1 John v. 18-20.
Much has been said in the last few years of a series of subtle and delicate experiments in sound. Means have been devised of doing for the ear something analogous to that which glasses do for another sense, and of making the results palpable by a system of notation. We are told that every tree for instance, according to its foliage, its position, and the direction of the winds, has its own prevalent note or tone, which can be marked down, and its timbre made first visible by this notation, and then audible. So is it with the souls of the saints of God, and chiefly of the Apostles. Each has its own note, the prevalent key on which its peculiar music is set. Or we may employ another image which possibly has St. John's own authority. Each of the twelve has his peculiar emblem among the twelve vast and precious foundation stones which underlie the whole wall of the Church.[Pg 55] St. John may thus differ from St. Peter, as the sapphire's azure differs from the jasper's strength and radiance. Each is beautiful, but with its own characteristic tint of beauty.
We propose to examine the peculiarities of St. John's spiritual nature which may be traced in this Epistle. We try to form some conception of the key on which it is set, of the colour which it reflects in the light of heaven, of the image of a soul which it presents. In this attempt we cannot be deceived. St. John is so transparently honest; he takes such a deep, almost terribly severe view of truth. We find him using an expression about truth which is perhaps without a parallel in any other writer. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness we lie, and are not doing the truth." The truth then for him is something co-extensive with our whole nature and whole life. Truth is not only to be spoken --- that is but a fragmentary manifestation of it. It is to be done. It would have been for him the darkest of lies to have put forth a spiritual commentary on his Gospel which was not realised in himself. In the Epistle, no doubt, he uses the first person singular sparingly, modestly including himself in the simple we of Christian association. Yet we are as sure of the perfect accuracy of the picture of his soul, of the music in his heart which he makes visible and audible in his letter, as we are that he heard the voice of many waters, and saw the city coming down from God out of heaven; as sure, as if at the close of this fifth chapter he had added with the[Pg 56] triumphant emphasis of truth, in his simple and stately way, "I John heard these things and saw them." He closes this letter with a threefold affirmation of certain primary postulates of the Christian life; of its purity, of its privilege, of its Presence, --- "we know," "we know," "we know." In each case the plural might be exchanged for the singular. He says "we know," because he is sure "I know."
In studying the Epistles of St. John we may well ask what we see and hear therein of St. John's character, (1) as a sacred writer, (2) as a saintly soul.
We consider first the indications in the Epistle of the Apostle's character as a sacred writer.
For help in this direction we do not turn with much satisfaction to essays or annotations pervaded by the modern spirit. The textual criticism of minute scholarship is no doubt much, but it is not all. Aorists are made for man, not man for the aorist. He indeed who has not traced every fibre of the sacred text with grammar and lexicon cannot quite honestly claim to be an expositor of it. But in the case of a book like Scripture this, after all, is but an important preliminary. The frigid subtlety of the commentator who always seems to have the questions for a divinity examination before his eyes, fails in the glow and elevation necessary to bring us into communion with the spirit of St. John. Led by such guides, the Apostle passes under our review as a third-rate writer of a magnificent language in decadence, not as the greatest of theologians[Pg 57] and masters of the spiritual life --- with whatever defects of literary style, at once the Plato of the twelve in one region, and the Aristotle in the other; the first by his "lofty inspiration," the second by his "judicious utilitarianism." The deepest thought of the Church has been brooding for seventeen centuries over these pregnant and many-sided words, so many of which are the very words of Christ. To separate ourselves from this vast and beautiful commentary is to place ourselves out of the atmosphere in which we can best feel the influence of St. John.
Let us read Chrysostom's description of the style and thought of the author of the fourth Gospel. "The son of thunder, the loved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches, who leaned on Jesus' bosom, makes his entrance. He plays no drama, he covers his head with no mask. Yet he wears array of inimitable beauty. For he comes having his feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, and his loins girt, not with fleece dyed in purple, or bedropped with gold, but woven through and through with, and composed of, the truth itself. He will now appear before us, not dramatically, for with him there is no theatrical effect or fiction, but with his head bared he tells the bare truth. All these things he will speak with absolute accuracy, being the friend of the King Himself --- aye, having the King speaking within him, and hearing all things from Him which He hears, from the Father; as He saith --- 'you I have called friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you.' Why, as if we all at once saw one stooping down from yonder heaven, and promising to tell us truly of things there, we should all flock to listen to him, so let us now dispose ourselves. For it is from[Pg 58] up there that this man speaks down to us. And the fisherman is not carried away by the whirling current of his own exuberant verbosity; but all that he utters is with the steadfast accuracy of truth, and as if he stood upon a rock he budges not. All time is his witness. Seest you the boldness, and the great authority of his words! how he utters nothing by way of doubtful conjecture, but all demonstratively, as if passing sentence. Very lofty is this Apostle, and full of dogmas, and lingers over them more than over other things!" This admirable passage, with its fresh and noble enthusiasm, nowhere reminds us of the glacial subtleties of the schools. It is the utterance of an expositor who spoke the language in which his master wrote, and breathed the same spiritual atmosphere. It is scarcely less true of the Epistle than of the Gospel of St. John.
Here also "he is full of dogmas," here again he is the theologian of the Church. But we are not to estimate the amount of dogma merely by the number of words in which it is expressed. Dogma, indeed, is not really composed of isolated texts --- as pollen showered from conifers and germs scattered from mosses, accidentally brought together and compacted, are found upon chemical analysis to make up certain lumps of coal. It is primary and structural. The Divinity and Incarnation of Jesus pervade the First Epistle. Its whole structure is Trinitarian. It contains two of[Pg 59] the three great three-word dogmatic utterances of the New Testament about the nature of God (the first being in the fourth Gospel) --- "God is Spirit," "God is light," "God is love." The chief dogmatic statements of the Atonement are found in these few chapters. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses, us from all sin." "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." "He is the propitiation for the whole world." "God loved us, and sent His Son the propitiation for our sins." Where the Apostle passes on to deal with the spiritual life, he once more "is full of dogmas," i.e., of eternal self-evidenced oracular sentences, spoken as if "down from heaven," or by one "whose foot is upon a rock," --- apparently identical propositions, all-inclusive, the dogmas of moral and spiritual life, as those upon the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, are of strictly theological truth. A further characteristic of St. John as a sacred writer in his Epistle is, that he appears to indicate throughout the moral and spiritual conditions which were necessary for receiving the Gospel with which he endowed the Church as the life of their life. These conditions are three. The first is spirituality, submission to the teaching of the Spirit, that they may know by it the meaning of the words of Jesus --- the "anointing" of the Holy Ghost, which is ever "teaching all things" that He said. The second condition is purity, at least, the continuing effort after self-purification which is incumbent even upon those who have received the great pardon. This involves the following in life's daily[Pg 60] walk of the One perfect life-walk, the imitation of that which is supremely good, "incarnated in an actual earthly career." All must be purity, or effort after purity, on the side of those who would read correctly the Gospel of the immaculate Lamb of God. The third condition for such readers is love --- charity. When he comes to deal fully with that great theme, the eagle of God wheels far out of sight. In the depths of His Eternal Being, "God is love." Then this truth comes closer to us as believers. It stands completely and for ever manifested in its work in us, because "God has sent" (a mission in the past, but with abiding consequences) "His Son, His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live through Him." Yet again, he rises higher from the manifestation of this love to the eternal and essential principle in which it stands present for ever. "In this is the love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and once for all sent His Son a propitiation for our sins." Then follows the manifestation of our love. "If God so loved us, we also are bound to love one another." Do we think it strange that St. John does not first draw the lesson --- "if God so loved us, we also are bound to love God"? It has been in his heart all along, but he utters it in his own way, in the solemn pathetic question --- "he that loves[Pg 61] not his brother whom he has seen, God whom he has not seen how can he love?" Yet once more he sums up the creed in a few short words. "We have believed the love that God has in us." Truly and deeply has it been said that this creed of the heart, suffused with the softest tints and sweetest colours, goes to the root of all heresies upon the Incarnation, whether in St. John's time or later. That God should give up His Son by sending Him forth in humanity; that the Word made flesh should humble Himself to the death upon the cross, the Sinless offer Himself for sinners, this is what heresy cannot bring itself to understand. It is the excess of such love which makes it incredible. "We have believed the love" is the whole faith of a Christian man. It is St. John's creed in three words.
Such are the chief characteristics of St. John as a sacred writer, which may be traced in his Epistle. These characteristics of the author imply corresponding characteristics of the man. He who states with such inevitable precision, with such noble and self-contained enthusiasm, the great dogmas of the Christian faith, the great laws of the Christian life, must himself have entirely believed them. He who insists upon these conditions in the readers of his Gospel, must himself have aimed at, and possessed, spirituality, purity, and love.
We proceed to look at the First Epistle as a picture of the soul of its author.
(1) His was a life free from the dominion of wilful and habitual sin of any kind. "Whosoever is born of[Pg 62] God does not commit sin, and he cannot continue sinning." "Whosoever abides in Him sins not; whosoever sins has not seen Him, neither known Him." A man so entirely true, if conscious to himself of any reigning sin, dare not have deliberately written these words.
(2) But if St. John's was a life free from subjection to any form of the power of sin, he shows us that sanctity is not sinlessness, in language which it is alike unwise and unsafe to attempt to explain away. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves." "If we say that we have not sinned and are not sinners, we make Him a liar." But so long as we do not fall back into darkness, the blood of Jesus is ever purifying us from all sin. This he has written that the fulness of the Christian life may be realised in believers; that each step of their walk may follow the blessed footprints of the most holy life; that each successive act of a consecrated existence may be free from sin. And yet, if any fail in some such single act, if he swerve, for a moment, from the "true tenour" of the course which he is shaping, there is no reason to despair. Beautiful humility of this pure and lofty soul! How tenderly, with what lowly graciousness he places himself among those who have and who need an Advocate. "Mark John's humility," cries St. Augustine; "he says not 'you have,' nor 'you have me,' nor even 'you have Christ.' But he puts forward Christ, not himself; and he says[Pg 63] 'we have,' not 'you have,' thus placing himself in the rank of sinners." Nor does St. John cover himself under the subterfuges by which men at different times have tried to get rid of a truth so humiliating to spiritual pride --- sometimes by asserting that they so stand accepted in Christ that no sin is accounted to them for such; sometimes by pleading personal exemption for themselves as believers.
This Epistle stands alone in the New Testament in being addressed to two generations --- one of which after conversion had grown old in a Christian atmosphere, whilst the other had been educated from the cradle under the influences of the Christian Church. It is therefore natural that such a letter should give prominence to the constant need of pardon. It certainly does not speak so much of the great initial pardon, as of the continuing pardons needed by human frailty. In dwelling upon pardon once given, upon sanctification once begun, men are possibly apt to forget the pardon that is daily wanting, the purification that is never to cease. We are to walk daily from pardon to pardon, from purification to purification. Yesterday's surrender of self to Christ may grow ineffectual if it be not renewed to-day. This is sometimes said to be a humiliating view of the Christian life. Perhaps so --- but it is the view of the Church, which places in its offices a daily confession of sin; of St. John in this Epistle; no, of Him who teaches us, after our prayers for bread day by day, to pray for a daily forgiveness. This may be more humiliating, but it is safer teaching than that which proclaims a pardon to be appropriated in a moment for all sins past, present, and to come.
This humility may be traced incidentally in other regions of the Christian life. Thus he speaks of the possibility at least of his being among those who might "shrink with shame from Christ in His coming." He does not disdain to write as if, in hours of spiritual depression, there were tests by which he too might need to lull and "persuade his heart before God."
(3) St. John again has a boundless faith in prayer. It is the key put into the child's hand by which he may let himself into the house, and come into his Father's presence when he will, at any hour of the night or day. And prayer made according to the conditions which God has laid down is never quite lost. The particular thing asked for may not indeed be given; but the substance of the request, the holier wish, the better purpose underlying its weakness and imperfection, never fails to be granted.
(4) All but superficial readers must perceive that in the writings and character of St. John there is from time to time a tonic and wholesome severity. Art and modern literature have agreed to bestow upon the Apostle of love the features of a languid and inert tenderness. It is forgotten that St. John was the son of thunder; that he could once wish to bring down fire from heaven; and that the natural character is transfigured not inverted by grace. The Apostle uses great plainness of speech. For him a lie is a lie, and darkness is never courteously called light. He abhors and shudders at those heresies which rob the soul first of Christ, and then of God. Those who undermine the[Pg 65] Incarnation are for him not interesting and original speculators, but "lying prophets." He underlines his warnings against such men with his roughest and blackest pencil mark. "Whosoever sayeth to him 'good speed' has fellowship with his works, those wicked works" --- for such heresy is not simply one work, but a series of works. The schismatic prelate or pretender Diotrephes may "babble;" but his babblings are wicked words for all that, and are in truth the "works which he is doing."
The influence of every great Christian teacher lasts long beyond the day of his death. It is felt in a general tone and spirit, in a special appropriation of certain parts of the creed, in a peculiar method of the Christian life. This influence is very discernible in the remains of two disciples of St. John, Ignatius and Polycarp. In writing to the Ephesians, Ignatius does not indeed explicitly refer to St. John's Epistle, as he does to that of St. Paul to the Ephesians. But he draws in a few bold lines a picture of the Christian life which is imbued with the very spirit of St. John. The character which the Apostle loved was quiet and real; we feel that his heart is not with "him that sayeth." So Ignatius writes --- "it is better to keep silence, and yet to be, than to talk and not to be. It is good to teach if 'he that sayeth does,.' He who has gotten to himself the word of Jesus truly is able to hear the silence of Jesus also, so that he may act through that which he speaks, and be known through the things wherein he is silent. Let us therefore do all things as in His presence who dwells, in us, that we may[Pg 66] be His temple, and that He may be in us our God." This is the very spirit of St. John. We feel in it at once his severe common sense and his glorious mysticism.
We must add that the influence of St. John may be traced in matters which are often considered alien to his simple and spiritual piety. It seems that Episcopacy was consolidated and extended under his fostering care. The language of Ignatius (probably his disciple) upon the necessity of union with the Episcopate is, after all conceivable deductions, of startling strength. A few decades could not possibly have removed Ignatius so far from the lines marked out to him by St. John as he must have advanced, if this teaching upon Church government was a new departure. And with this conception of Church government we must associate other matters also. The immediate successors of St. John, who had learned from his lips, held deep sacramental views. The Eucharist is "the bread of God, the bread of heaven, the bread of life, the flesh of Christ." Again Ignatius cries --- "desire to use one Eucharist, for one is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to oneness of His blood, one altar, as one Bishop, with the Presbytery and deacons." Hints are not wanting that sweetness and life in public worship derived inspiration from the same quarter. The language of Ignatius is deeply tinged with his passion for music. The beautiful story, how he set[Pg 67] down, immediately after a vision, the melody to which he had heard the angels chanting, and caused it to be used in his church at Antioch, attests the impression of enthusiasm and care for sacred song which was associated with the memory of Ignatius. Nor can we be surprised at these features of Ephesian Christianity, when we remember who was the founder of those Churches. He was the writer of three books. These books come to us with a continuous living interpretation of more than seventeen centuries of historical Christianity. From the fourth Gospel in large measure has arisen the sacramental instinct, from the Apocalypse the æsthetic instinct, which has been certainly exaggerated both in the East and West. The third and sixth chapters of St. John's Gospel permeate every baptismal and eucharistic office. Given an inspired book which represents the worship of the redeemed as one of perfect majesty and beauty, men may well in the presence of noble churches and stately liturgies, adopt the words of our great English Christian poet ---
"things which shed upon the outward frame Of worship glory and grace --- which who shall blame That ever look'd to heaven for final rest?"
The third book in this group of writings supplies the sweet and quiet spirituality which is the foundation of every regenerate nature.
Such is the image of the soul which is presented to us by St. John himself. It is based upon a firm conviction of the nature of God, of the Divinity, the Incarnation,[Pg 68] the Atonement of our Lord. It is spiritual. It is pure, or being purified. The highest theological truth --- "God is Love" --- supremely realised in the Holy Trinity, supremely manifested in the sending forth of God's only Son, becomes the law of its common social life, made visible in gentle patience, in giving and forgiving. Such a life will be free from the degradation of habitual sin. Yet it is at best an imperfect representation of the one perfect life. It needs unceasing purification by the blood of Jesus, the continual advocacy of One who is sinless. Such a nature, however full of charity, will not be weakly indulgent to vital error or to ambitious schism; for it knows the value of truth and unity. It feels the sweetness of a calm conscience, and of a simple belief in the efficacy of prayer. Over every such life --- over all the grief that may be, all the temptation that must be --- is the purifying hope of a great Advent, the ennobling assurance of a perfect victory, the knowledge that if we continue true to the principle of our new birth we are safe. And our safety is, not that we keep ourselves, but that we are kept by arms which are as soft as love, and as strong as eternity.
These Epistles are full of instruction and of comfort for us, just because they are written in an atmosphere of the Church which, in one respect at least, resembles our own. There is in them no reference whatever to a continuance of miraculous powers, to raptures, or to extraordinary phenomena. All in them which is supernatural continues even to this day, in the possession of an inspired record, in sacramental grace, in the[Pg 69] pardon and holiness, the peace and strength of believers. The apocryphal "Acts of John" contain some fragments of real beauty almost lost in questionable stories and prolix declamation. It is probably not literally true that when St. John in early life wished to make himself a home, his Lord said to him, "I have need of you, John;" that that thrilling voice once came to him, wafted over the still darkened sea --- "John, hadst you not been Mine, I would have suffered you to marry." But the Epistle shows us much more effectually that he had a pure heart and virgin will. It is scarcely probable that the son of Zebedee ever drained a cup of hemlock with impunity; but he bore within him an effectual charm against the poison of sin. We of this nineteenth century may smile when we read that he possessed the power of turning leaves into gold, of transmuting pebbles into jewels, of fusing shattered gems into one; but he carried with him wherever he went that most excellent gift of charity, which makes the commonest things of earth radiant with beauty.[Pg 70] He may not actually have praised his Master during his last hour in words which seem to us not quite unworthy even of such lips --- "You are the only Lord, the root of immortality, the fountain of incorruption. You who madest our rough wild nature soft and quiet, who deliveredst me from the imagination of the moment, and didst keep me safe within the guard of that which abides for ever." But such thoughts in life or death were never far from him for whom Christ was the Word and the Life; who knew that while "the world passes away and the lust thereof, he that does, the will of God abides for ever."
May we so look upon this image of the Apostle's soul in his Epistle that we may reflect something of its brightness! May we be able to think, as we turn to this threefold assertion of knowledge --- "I know something of the security of this keeping. I know something of the sweetness of being in the Church, that isle of light surrounded by a darkened world. I know something of the beauty of the perfect human life recorded by St. John, something of the continued presence of the Son of God, something of the new sense which He gives, that we may know Him who is the Very God." Blessed exchange not to be vaunted loudly, but spoken reverently in our own hearts --- the exchange of we, for I. There is much divinity in these pronouns.
1 John iv. 8, 9, 10. Modern theological schools of a Calvinistic bias have tended to overlook the conception of the nature of God as essential or substantive Love, and to consider love only as manifested in redemption. Socinianising interpreters understand the proposition to mean that God is simply and exclusively benevolent. (On the inadequacy of this, see Butler, Anal., Part I., ch. iii., and Dissertation II. of the Nature of Virtue.) The highest Christian thought has ever recognised that the proposition 'God is Love' necessarily involves the august truth that God if sole is not solitary. ("Credimur et confitemur omnipotentem Trinitatem --- unum Deum solum non solitarium." Concil. Tolet., vi. 1.) "Let it not be supposed," said St. Bernard, "that I here account Love as an attribute or accident, but as the Divine essence --- no new doctrine, seeing that St. John saith 'God is love.' It may rightly be said both that Love is God, and that love is the gift of God. For Love gives love; the essential Love gives that which is accidental. When Love signifies the Giver, it is the name of His essence; when it signifies His gift, it is the name of a quality or attribute." (S. Bernard., de dil. Deo, xii.). "This is nobly said. God is love. Thus love is the eternal law whereby all things were created and are governed --- with what He who is the law of all things is to Himself His own law, and that a law of love --- with what He bindeth His Trinity into Unity." (Thomassin. Dogm. Theol., lib. iii., 23.)
ἡ ῥιζα της αθανασιας και ἡ πηγη της αφθαρσιας· ὁ την ερημον και αγριωθεισαν φυσιν ἡμων ηρεμον και ἡσυχιον ποιησας, ὁ της προσκαιρου φαντασιας ῥυσαμενος με και εις την αει μενουσαν φρουρησας (Acta Johannis, 21). These sentences are surely not without freshness and power. One other passage is worth translating, because it seems to have just that imaginative cast which makes the Greek Liturgies, like so much else that is Greek, stand midway between the East and West; and because it[Pg 72] apparently refers to St. John's Gospel. "Jesus! You who hast woven this coronal with Your plaiting, who hast blended these many flowers into the flower of Your presence, not blown through by the winds of any storm; You who hast scattered thickly abroad the seed of these words of Your" --- (Acta Johannis, 17).
SOME GENERAL RULES FOR THE INTERPRETATION OF THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN.
I. Subject Matter.
(1) The Epistle is to be read through with constant reference to the Gospel. In what precise form the former is related to the latter (whether as a preface or as an appendix, as a spiritual commentary or an encyclical) critics may decide. But there is a vital and constant connection. The two documents not only touch each other in thought, but interpenetrate each other; and the Epistle is constantly suggesting questions which the Gospel only can answer, e.g., 1 John i. 1, cf. John i. 1-14; 1 John v. 9, "witness of men," cf. John i. 15-36, 41, 45, 49, iii. 2, 27-36, iv. 29-42, vi. 68, 69, vii. 46, ix. 38, xi. 27, xviii. 38, xix. 5, 6, xx. 28.
(2) Such eloquence of style as St. John possesses is real rather than verbal. The interpreter must look not only at the words themselves, but at that which precedes and follows; above all he must fix his attention not only upon the verbal expression of the thought, but upon the thought itself. For the formal connecting link is not rarely omitted, and must be supplied by the devout and candid diligence of the reader. The "root[Pg 76] below the stream" can only be traced by our bending over the water until it becomes translucent to us.
E.g. 1 John i. 7, 8. Ver. 7, "the root below the stream" is a question of this kind, which naturally arises from reading ver. 6 --- "must it be said that the sons of light need a constant cleansing by the blood of Jesus, which implies a constant guilt"? Some such thought is the latent root of connection. The answer is supplied by the following verse. ["It is so" for] "if we say that we have no sin," etc. Cf. also iii. 16, 17, xiv. 8, 9, 10, 11, v. 3 (ad. fin.), 4.
In the New Testament generally tenses are employed very much in the same sense, and with the same general accuracy, as in other Greek authors. The so-called "enallage temporum," or perpetual and convenient Hebraism, has been proved by the greatest Hebrew scholars to be no Hebraism at all. But it is one of the simple secrets of St. John's quiet thoughtful power, that he uses tenses with the most rigorous precision.
(a) The Present of continuing uninterrupted action, e.g., i. 8, ii. 6, iii. 7, 8, 9.
Hence the so-called substantized participle with article ὁ has in St. John the sense of the continuous and constitutive temper and conduct of any man, the principle of his moral and spiritual life --- e.g., ὁ λεγων, he who is ever vaunting, ii. 4; πας ὁ μισων, every one the abiding principle of whose life is hatred, iii. 15; πας ὁ αγαπων, every one the abiding principle of whose life is love, iv. 7.
The Infin. Present is generally used to express an action now in course of performing or continued in itself[Pg 77] or in its results, or frequently repeated --- e.g., 1 John ii. 6, iii. 8, 9, v. 18. (Winer, Gr. of N. T. Diction, Part 3, xliv., 348).
(b) The Aorist.
This tense is generally used either of a thing occurring only once, which does not admit, or at least does not require, the notion of continuance and perpetuity; or of something which is brief and as it were only momentary in duration (Stallbaum, Plat. Enthyd., p. 140). This limitation or isolation of the predicated action is most accurately indicated by the usual form of this tense in Greek. The aorist verb is encased between the augment ε- past time, and the adjunct σ- future time, i.e., the act is fixed on within certain limits of previous and consequent time (Donaldson, Gr. Gr., 427, B. 2). The aorist is used with most significant accuracy in the Epistle of St. John, e.g., ii. 6, 11, 27, iv. 10, v. 18.
(c) The Perfect.
The Perfect denotes action absolutely past which lasts on in its effects. "The idea of completeness conveyed by the aorist must be distinguished from that of a state consequent on an act, which is the meaning of the perfect" (Donaldson, Gr. Gr., 419). Careful observation of this principle is the key to some of the chief difficulties of the Epistle (iii. 9, v. 4, 18).
(2) The form of accessional parallelism is to be carefully noticed. The second member is always in advance of the first; and a third is occasionally introduced in advance of the second, denoting the highest point to which the thought is thrown up by the tide of thought, e.g., 1 John ii. 4, 5, 6, v. 11, v. 27.
(3) The preparatory touch upon the chord which announces a theme to be amplified afterwards, --- e.g.,[Pg 78] ii. 29, iii. 9 --- iv. 7, v. 3, 4; iii. 21 --- v. 14, ii. 20, iii. 24, iv. 3, v. 6, 8, ii. 13, 14, iv. 4 --- v. 4, 5.
(4) One secret of St. John's simple and solemn rhetoric consists in an impressive change in the order in which a leading word is used, e.g., 1 John ii. 24, iv. 20.
These principles carefully applied will be the best commentary upon the letter of the Apostle, to whom not only when his subject is ---
"De Deo Deum verum Alpha et Omega, Patrem rerum";
but when he unfolds the principles of our spiritual life, we may apply Adam of St. Victor's powerful and untranslatable line,
"Solers scribit idiota."
From The Epistles Of St. John by WILLIAM ALEXANDER, D.D., D.C.L. Oxon., Hon. LL.D. Dublin, published by Hodder and Stoughton, 27, Paternoster Row, MDCCCXCVI Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Epistles of John 1/2 - W. Alexander
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.