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The First Epistle Of John by Augustus Neander

1 John ii. 8

Yet, after having designated it thus as the old command, he adds: |Again, a new commandment I write unto you.| Thus, what he had just enjoined upon them as old, may now it seems to him, in another aspect, be presented as new. But in what sense both old and new? This might be explained from the relation of the new dispensation to the old, in which view Christ calls this the new command, the characteristic feature of the new dispensation, whose sealing was set forth in the Last Supper. It was the old command as standing already at the head of the ten commandments; it was the new command as actualized and made new by Christ's self-sacrificing love for his brethren, especially by the sacrifice of his life for them. Thus illustrated, -- love after this pattern of Christ, ready to offer up all for a brother's sake, -- as such it is the new command.

True, nothing was enjoined by it which might not have been found in the old command: |Love thy neighbor as thyself.| For the expression |as thyself,| properly understood, can have reference only to the true Self, which, from the nature of the case, cannot be made an offering for others; which must, on the contrary, be the gainer by all the deeds of self-sacrificing love, -- only in them, indeed, can find its own completion. And hence, in this love of our neighbor as ourself, might be included that unreserved, all-sacrificing love for others. But it lay therein only as a might-be, not yet expressed, not developed, not known as a living principle. Nor was this effected till Christ, by the devotion of his whole life crowned by that final act of his death, gave the example of such a love, and in anticipation of that closing act gave it expression in words. In such a sense it might be called new; new as having not before been so understood, and new in relation to the Old Testament. It might be called new, moreover, as being now freed from all which checked its development under the old dispensation, as being made henceforth the sum and centre of all. As belonging in the germ to the Old Testament, it could be designated as the old command; as developed into new glory by Christ, it might be called the new.

But though such a distinction is in itself admissible, yet had it been what John intended to express here, it would certainly have been more clearly and definitely stated. There is, on the contrary, in the whole connection, no hint of such a distinction based upon the relation of the New to the Old Testament. It could only be so understood, if in what precedes, the designation, old' were applied to what believers had already learned from the Old Testament. But, as we have seen, it is here applied to what is old in respect to themselves and their present christian stand-point; old to them as being the same which they have heard from the first announcement of the Gospel. When, therefore, this same command is urged upon them as new, we may infer that it is to be taken in the same reference, viz. to the state of the church itself. In respect to the whole period since it was first made known to them, it might be called old; in another respect, that of the change supposed since then to have taken place in them, in respect to their having themselves become new, it might be called the new command. In respect to the religious development of the church itself, it might in one aspect be called old, in the other, new. This conclusion is confirmed by what follows, in which the Apostle's view is brought out still more clearly.

The succeeding words refer to this fact, that the command can now be presented as something new: |Which thing is true in him and in you.| He means to say: It is true in reference both to Christ and the church, -- that is, in reference to their mutual relation to each other, -- that the old command has become to them a new one, something new in their christian experience. In what respect this holds true, is explained by the words which follow: |For the darkness is past and the true light now shineth.| John here makes a comparison between a present, new condition of the church and a former one; and from this we see how it is that the old command, the expression of what was peculiar in the nature of Christianity, should now be presented to them as new. It is a comparison of their present condition, -- as they had already long been christians, and Christianity therefore should have become so much the more their life-element, -- with that of their spiritual childhood when Christianity was as yet a new thing to them. Life, apart from Christianity, as it belongs to a world estranged from God, is in itself and with all its results regarded by the Apostle as the kingdom of darkness; its opposite being the divine light of Christianity, and all that flows from it. When he says |the true light,| he means by |true,| according to the import of the Greek term, what in the highest and fullest sense corresponds to the idea. With him |the true,| when used with a word applicable both to what is divine and to objects of sense, means only and always the divine. It is implied, that the word is applicable to the physical only in a subordinate sense; and at that lower stage of being is but an imperfect symbol, a mere image of that., which, in the highest and fullest sense with reference to the spirit of man, can be predicated only of the divine. Thus, for example, the true food for man is only that which nourishes the spirit to divine life, bearing the same relation to the true life of the spirit, as food in the lower realm of sense to the life of the body. Thus too, John contemplates Christ as himself the true light, holding the same relation to the spiritual as the sun to the natural life. What he here says then is this: With those who have been so long attached to Christianity, the darkness proceeding from their former heathen state is passing away, and the true light is now breaking. |Now,| he says, -- meaning their present in contrast with their former state of heathenism, or while still affected by its remaining influence. The light derived from Christ, the true light, was already banishing the former darkness, they were becoming constantly more and more enlightened. So Paul says to his readers (Rom. xiii.11 ff.) that now their salvation is nearer than when they believed, that the end of the night approaches, the day of the Lord draws near. It is therefore true, -- both with reference to Christ, the true light which has dawned upon their souls, and with reference to believers who have received this light and been illuminated thereby, that this fundamental law of Christianity now verifies its character as the new command. To those who live in the light of Christ, who have become at home in the new world of Christianity, the old command must now, in contrast with the former state of darkness, present itself in new glory as the new command. In new power must it be revealed to their hearts, that brotherly love constitutes the essence of the christian life, is the essential mark of fellowship with Christ.

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