WALKING IN THE LIGHT
“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”—1 JOHN 1:7.
THIS is one of the passages in Scripture in which the language is so spiritual, and so remote from that which we use in daily life, that it is apt to leave no impression on our minds. We have no inclination to dispute it, but it does not arrest us.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 216.
Denney goes onto note elements of this passage: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light” and “We have fellowship with one another”. These two elements combine for our sanctification:
This text brings before us two of the great experiences and privileges of Christians, and the condition on which they depend. These experiences are, first, mutual fellowship, and second, continuous sanctification.
What of this sanctification:
The mutual fellowship of Christians is a fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and there is no justification known to Scripture which does not sanctify, nor any sanctification which does not rest on a fundamental annulling of the responsibility for sin.
And now to the first element: to walk in the light as he is in the light.
Denney observes that this language of light and darkness is never unpacked and explained by John, because, “Partly they do not need explanation and partly they do not admit of it.”
What then is to walk in the light?
To walk in the light means to live a life in which there is nothing hidden, nothing in which we are insincere with ourselves, nothing in which we seek to impose upon others. We may have, and no doubt we will have, both sin and the sense of sin upon us—“if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”—but we may walk in the light nevertheless, if we deal truly with our sin, and it is only as we do so that we enjoy Christian fellowship and are cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
Here, walking in the light we both enjoy true Christian fellowship and also have our sins cleansed. What then is involved in walking in the light?
It requires in the first place prompt confession of sin. The sin that lies upon the conscience unconfessed darkens the whole moral being. But to confess is not the first impulse when we have sinned. Pride, fear, shame, and other powerful feelings keep us back.
This confession is not bare just words:
Further, to walk in the light means that we confess our sins without reserve. Sometimes we do not really confess when we think we are doing so: we rather admit our sins than confess them, and we seek in all possible ways to explain, to extenuate and to excuse them. We may confess them in words, but in the secret of our hearts we do not take blame; we do not admit full responsibility for them.
Confession is to place the blame upon ourselves, period. There must be no lessening of the guilt – indeed there is no need for such, because Christ’s death was sufficient for all sin.
Moreover, confession means to not mere admit but also renounce:
Finally, to walk in the light means that when we confess our sins to God we do not keep a secret hold of them in our hearts. Many a man confesses the sin he has done, and knows that he is going to do it again. It is not only in his nature to do it; it is in his inmost desire. He has been found out, exposed, humiliated, punished; yet he is saying to himself, “When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.” It need not be said that there is no hope here: this is the man who is shut up at last in the iron cage of despair.
This mention of a man in an iron cage comes from Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian has come to the Interpreter’s House
So he took him by the hand again, and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage.
Now the man, to look on, seemed very sad; he sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart. Then said Christian, What means this? At which the Interpreter bid him talk with the man.
Then said Christian to the man, What art thou? The man answered, I am what I was not once.
CHR. What wast thou once?
MAN. The man said, I was once a fair and flourishing professor, Luke 8:13, both in mine own eyes, and also in the eyes of others: I once was, as I thought, fair for the celestial city, and had then even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither.
CHR. Well, but what art thou now?
MAN. I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out; Oh now I cannot!
CHR. But how camest thou into this condition?
MAN. I left off to watch and be sober: I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the word, and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me: I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent.
Then said Christian to the Interpreter, But is there no hope for such a man as this? Ask him, said the Interpreter.
CHR. Then said Christian, Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?
MAN. No, none at all.
CHR. Why, the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful.
MAN. I have crucified him to myself afresh, Heb. 6:6; I have despised his person, Luke 19:14; I have despised his righteousness; I have counted his blood an unholy thing; I have done despite to the spirit of grace, Heb. 10:29: therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, faithful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary.
CHR. For what did you bring yourself into this condition?
MAN. For the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world; in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight: but now every one of those things also bite me, and gnaw me like a burning worm.
CHR. But canst thou not now repent and turn?
MAN. God hath denied me repentance. His word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, himself hath shut me up in this iron cage: nor can all the men in the world let me out. Oh eternity! eternity! how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity?
INTER. Then said the Interpreter to Christian, Let this man’s misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.
To confess, but not confess because we cling onto a sin is to not confess at all but rather to set ourselves up in an iron cage.
And now to the second point of the sermon:
2. (a) We have fellowship one with another.—The fellowship of Christians with each other has its basis in their common fellowship with the Father and the Son, but it is a separate and priceless good. The joy of the Christian religion is largely bound up with it, and without joy there can be little effectiveness, because little attraction or charm.
Denney then speaks of the poverty of Christian fellowship as follows:
It can hardly be doubted that the want of fellowship, in this primary Christian sense, is at this moment one of the greatest wants in the Church’s life—the one which is most to be deplored, which more almost than any other makes the Church helpless and exposes it to contempt. Is it not pitiable to see the substitutes that are found for it, and the importance which is assigned to them, only because the real thing is not there? We speak of having “a social meeting” of the Church, as if a meeting could not be social unless its Christian character were disguised or put into the background.
And this brings us to a question:
Why is it that the powerful and fundamental fellowship constituted simply by membership in the Church has fallen into the background?
Why is that so, because we have not met the first element of the passage:
According to the Apostle, it is because we do not walk in the light as God is in the light. We sit here side by side, but how far are we really present to each other? How many of us are there who have things to hide? How many who have done what no one knows, and what they have not told unreservedly even to God?
But this fact of true fellowship is not the only element of such walking in the light:
The restoration of Christian fellowship is not the only blessing which comes with walking in the light: there is also continuous and progressive sanctification. The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin. This is not spoken of simply as God’s will, as that which He intends shall take place; it is spoken of as actually going on.
Indeed, “it is the will of God to cleanse us altogether from [sin] and He has the provided a power which is able to do so.”
This is all premised upon Christ’s atonement. It is atonement which both cleanses us from sin and which brings about fellowship – indeed it is the atonement which makes it possible to walk in the light.
Denney ends with the observation that this fellowship, cleansing and walking in the light are all of a piece:
There is power in the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin, and there is no power to cleanse us anywhere else, but it needs the condition of openness and sincerity. We cannot be cleansed from the sin we do not confess. We cannot be cleansed from the sin we excuse. We cannot be cleansed from the sin to which we are secretly resolved to cling. And if not from these, then not from any. The Gospel is simple and whole; there is no such thing as negotiation, transaction, or compromise possible in the relations of God and man. Everything is absolute. We may take the Gospel or leave it, but we cannot bargain about it. We may be cleansed from all sin, or from none, but not from some on condition of retaining others. Walk in the light, and all this will be self-evident. Renounce with all your heart everything secret and insincere. Let there be nothing hidden in your life, no unavowed ends, no prevarications, no reserves. Simple truth is the one element in which we can be united to each other, and in which the redeeming love of God can work for our sanctification. Insincerity, the dark atmosphere in which so many souls live, is in its turn one of the forms of sin from which the blood of Christ cleanses; and as we confess it, and disown it, and bring it to the cleansing blood, it also loses its power. We can learn even to be sincere under the power of the death of Jesus—to hide nothing from God, to practise no delusions on ourselves, to refrain from imposing on others. This is the way in which all the wealth of the Gospel becomes ours; when we walk in it we realize that the Apostles wrote for us, and that the greatest and most wonderful things they say of Christ and His blood are the simple truth.