by Robert Candlish
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world."—1 JOHN 2:1, 2.
THE manner of our restoration, if we fall short of the sinless aim, not less than the sinless aim itself, is fitted to guard against any abuse of John's doctrine of forgiveness. It is through an advocacy altogether incompatible with anything like the toleration of evil. This will appear if we consider the three things here mentioned as qualifying our advocate for his advocacy:—I. He is "Jesus Christ the righteous;"—II. He is "the propitiation for our sins;"—III. He is the propitiation "not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
I. He is "Jesus Christ the righteous."
Jesus! The name is as ointment poured forth; fragrant, precious. He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins. Jesus! my Saviour! my Jesus! saving me from my sins, from myself! Art thou indeed my advocate with the Father,—standing by me, pleading for me,—by thy Spirit pleading in me,—when, in spite of my firmest purpose not to sin, and my closest clinging to thee that I may not sin, I must still, under the pressure of sin besetting me, cry, Unclean! undone! Then indeed may I hold on walking in the light, and with a sinless aim, if thou art with me. Jesus, save me from my sins!
Christ! the Anointed! whom the Father anoints through the Spirit; whom I also, through the Spirit, in sympathy with the Father, humbly venture to anoint! his Christ and mine!—with thee, O Christ, as my advocate with the Father;—with thee, True Mediator,—Revealer, Reconciler, Ruler,—Prophet, Priest, and King;—I will not, amid all that is discouraging in the experience of my remaining darkness, despair of yet becoming all that he who is light and who dwelleth in light would have me to be; all that thou art, O Christ!
But the emphatic word here is not the proper name Jesus, nor the official name Christ, but the adjective "righteous."
This term may possibly be understood as referring to the righteousness which he has wrought out on our behalf, as our substitute and surety, and which he brings in and presents before the Father as the ground of all his pleading with him as our advocate. For his advocacy is not a mere ministry of persuasion; working as it were on the placibility and fond facility of an angry but weak potentate, an offended but infirm and indulgent parent. It is his submitting to God the Father, as the righteous governor, such a service and satisfaction as may warrant, in terms of strictest law and justice, the exercise of mercy towards his guilty but penitent children. All that is true. But it is not, I think, what John principally has in his mind. For, in the first place, the efficacious and meritorious condition of our Lord's advocacy is sufficiently brought out in the clause which follows, "he is the propitiation for our sins." And secondly, it is awkward to understand the word "righteous" in two distinct senses, as it is used in the same passage, and within the compass of a few verses, first of the Father (1:9), and now of the Son (2:1). I take it therefore as pointing, not to the legal righteousness which Christ has—or rather which Christ is—but to the righteousness of his character, and of his manner of advocacy with the Father for us. That other meaning need not be excluded, for the two are by no means inconsistent. But when John commends our advocate with the Father as "Jesus Christ the righteous," it is surely upon his benignant equity that he would have us to fix our eyes.
Such an advocate becomes us; and such alone. If we rightly consider the relation to God into which the gospel message, as John has been putting it, is designed to bring us; the footing on which it places us with God; the sort of divine insight, sympathy, and fellowship for which it opens up the way; and the sort of walk on which it sets us; we may well feel that none other than such an advocate could meet our case.
In any court in which I had a cause to maintain I would wish to have a righteous advocate. Not less than I would desire a righteous judge would I welcome a righteous advocate. I do not want an advocate who will flatter and cajole me. I do not want one to tell me smooth things and lead me on the ice; disguising or evading the weak points of my plea; putting a fair face on what will not stand close scrutiny, and touching tenderly what will not bear rough handling; getting up untenable lines of defence, and keeping me in good humour till disaster or ruin comes. Give me an advocate who will tell me the truth, and tell the truth on my behalf; one who will deal truly with me and for me, and fairly represent my case. Give me an advocate who, much as he may care for me, cares for honesty and honour, for law and justice, still more. Give me an advocate not afraid to vex or wound me for my safety, for my good. Whatever his name, let him be the honest, the upright, "the righteous."
Such an advocate is Jesus Christ for us in the high court of heaven; for he is "Jesus Christ the righteous." In the presence of the righteous judge, and at his righteous bar, he thus appears for us; not to bring us off as by some cunning sleight-of-hand manœuvre; not to get the better of strict justice by some dexterous and adroit management, or some plausible and pathetic appeal to pity; but to have the whole controversy sifted to the bottom, and all hidden causes of offence laid bare, and every just demand and outstanding claim met, and all relating to our right standing adjusted,—without any compromise or subterfuge,—upon the terms and according to the principles of perfect righteousness.
Such an advocate is Jesus Christ for us in the high court of heaven. Such an advocate is he also when, in the capacity, as it were, of chamber-counsel, he is with us in our closet, to listen to all that we have to say; to all our confessions and complaints; our enumeration of grievances; our unbosoming ourselves of all our anxieties and all our griefs. He is still "Jesus Christ the righteous;" patient and pitiful, as he bends his ear to our wildest cry or our faintest whisper; yet still righteous; not dallying delicately with our sin or our sorrow; not sparing us; probing us to the quick; giving us no relief till the whole matter is searched into, and spread out, and fairly and justly met. He is "Jesus Christ the righteous."
But it is not only with God as Judge that he is our advocate. He is our advocate with "the Father." His advocacy has respect not only to the Judge's court but to the Father's house. It is the advocacy of the elder brother, who has brought us home to his Father and our Father. It is a home of love and of light; a home of love because it is a home of light. Perfect peace should reign in it, as the fruit of perfect purity. It is not a home in which we can allow ourselves to sin. There is no darkness to hide our sin; no room for any lie to excuse it. We are brought home, in the marvellous way in which we have been brought home, for the express purpose that we may not sin. Our elder brother, in bringing us home, has suffered enough for our sin to make it very loathsome in our esteem. He has, moreover, so suffered for it that we need have nothing to do with it, nor it with us, any more. And that our connection with the old haunts and associations of our sin may be cut clean away for ever, and we may be placed at once in the best and likeliest position for sinning no more, he concurs with the Father in our being at once embraced as children, invested as children with the robe and ring of honour, and welcomed as children to the children's table. There is to be no reproach; no upbraiding; no word or look of reference to the past any more. Our elder brother has answered for all, and all is cancelled. There is to be no more any dark servile doubt or suspicion or fear. All is to be holy light and love. There is to be no more sin.
Ah! but more sin, in spite of all this, there is; and there is the apprehension of sin evermore. The Father indeed is light, always light. And we walk in his light; the light of his reconciled countenance; the light of his pure and loving eye. But how sensitively, on that very account, is our conscience, our heart, alive to all—alas! too much—that is in us and about us still savouring of the dark tastes of our old estrangement.
Where,—we are at every moment constrained to ask,—where is that elder brother who brought us hither, and who alone can keep us here? We know that he would have us, not to put him in between the Father and us, but to be ourselves, in him, at home with the Father (John 16:26, 27). It should be so; and we seek to have it so. But the home is so holy, and the light is so holy, and he who is in the light is so holy; and we are so sinful, so fain to shrink from the light and court the darkness again, that we cannot stand upright. We cannot keep our ground; we cannot move on; we cannot meet the Father's eye; we stumble; we fall. Ah! we need that elder brother still. We need him to be our advocate with the Father. He must not quit our side. He must not let go our hand. He must be ever leading us in to the Father, and presenting us to the Father, and speaking for us to the Father, and putting us anew right with the Father. And so he is. He is never far off. "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." "The righteous!" For now what sort of advocate with the Father would we have? And what would we have his advocacy to be?
The time has been when, if we cared to live at home in the Father's house at all, we would have been glad of the good offices, say of some upper servant, not very scrupulous and not over strict, who might be disposed to take our part when any breach occurred. It might be convenient to have a friend at court, an advocate with the head and master of the family, ready always to intercede for us; to hide our faults or apologise for them; to come in between us and the angry glance or the uplifted arm; to put a specious colouring on the cause of offence, and get us off, no matter how, from dreaded vengeance. But no such advocacy will be welcome now. No such advocate will our elder brother be. For he is our advocate with the Father, as "Jesus Christ the righteous." Yes! in dealing with us, as well as in dealing with the Father for us, he will deal righteously, truly, justly. He will so ply his office, and travail in his work, of advocacy between the Father and us, as to preserve the right understanding which he has himself brought about, and obviate the risk of renewed separation. He will make it all subservient to our more thorough cleansing from sin, and our closer walk with God;—our being "holy as he is holy." For—
II. "He is the propitiation for our sins." He is so now. He is present with us now as our advocate with the Father; and it is as being the propitiation for our sins that he is present with us.
It is not needful to settle in what precise aspect of the sacrificial service Jesus is here spoken of as the propitiation; whether with reference to the sacrificial victim slain, or the altar on which it was burned, or the mercy-seat on which its blood was sprinkled. Jesus is all three in one; the lamb slain, the altar of atonement, the blood-baptized mercy-seat. The important lesson is this, that it is as the propitiation for our sins that Jesus Christ is our advocate with the Father. Whenever he acts as our advocate, whether to satisfy the Father anew or to pacify our consciences anew, he acts in virtue of his being—not having been but being—the propitiation for our sins. The two, in fact, are one; his advocacy with the Father is his being the propitiation for our sins. In every instance in which it is exercised, it is simply a new and fresh application to our case of the virtue of his being the propitiation for our sins.
For what does he do when, in some dark hour, he ministers to me and in me as my advocate with the Father? He draws near; the Spirit so taking of what is his and showing it to me as to bring him near. He is beside me, with me, at my right hand. He is here with me now, the propitiation for my sins now, precisely as he was on Calvary. I see him, invisible as he is, now and here, exactly as he was then and there; thorn-crowned, bleeding, in agony; bowing his head; giving up the ghost; pouring out his soul an offering for sin. Yes! that is my advocate with the Father; and that is the manner of his advocacy! Can it be other than a righteous advocacy? Can he be other than a righteous advocate? When my sin, grieving the Father's heart and vexing his Holy Spirit, has pierced his Son Jesus Christ anew, and he hastens, with blood and water freshly flowing from the re-opened wound, to wash me anew, and anew present me to the Father; is that a sort of ministry that can lead to sin? Can I touch these hands which I have been nailing again to the accursed tree, or feel them touching me again to bless me, without my whole frame thrilling as the voice runs through my inmost soul—"Sin no more;" "Thou art dead to sin"?
III. There is a supplement added which still further explains the sort of advocacy which Jesus Christ the righteous carries on. He is "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." This is added, as it would seem, for this very end, to preclude the possibility of a believer thinking that, if he lapses, it is under some method of recovery different from that which is available for all mankind. Otherwise, it comes in awkwardly and irrelevantly.
For it is out of place here to introduce the subject of the bearing of the propitiation on mankind at large; for the purpose of considering that subject for its own sake, or settling any doubtful question regarding it. It is very much in point, however, and very much to the purpose, to make a passing reference to the world-wide scope and aspect of the propitiation which Christ is; and so to guard against the notion of there being anything like favouritism in what he does on behalf of his true followers and friends.
There is no new specific for meeting our case when we who walk in the light fall into sin, no specific different from what is provided for meeting the case of all sinners—of the whole world. We have no special fountain opened for our cleansing, but only the fountain opened in the house of David for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem indiscriminately; for all the world, and all its sin, and all its uncleanness. There is no way in which we can get rid of that sin of ours,—its guilt and curse, its deadly blight and canker, eating out the very life of our soul,—except that way, patent and open to all, in which all the world, if it will, may get rid of all its sins. Doubtless when we sin we have an advocate with the Father to stand by us, and lift us up, and plead our cause, and place us again on a right footing with the Father. But he can do all this only by interposing himself as "the propitiation for our sins," in the very same sense and manner in which he interposes himself as the propitiation "for the sins of the whole world."
Where, then, ye children of the light and of the day,—ye fellows of the Father and of his Son Jesus Christ,—where is your peculiar privilege of sinning lightly and being easily restored? What is there in that sin of yours that should make it lie less heavily on your conscience, and afflict your souls less grievously, than the sins which, when you were of the world, you committed; of which you repented; and for which you sought and obtained forgiveness, when you came out of the world's weary wilderness, and were brought home to your Father's house? Is your sin now less heinous than were your sins then? Are there no aggravations to enhance its guilt, and to stamp with a deeper dye its exceeding sinfulness? Does it demand fewer tears and less poignant searchings of heart, less of godly sorrow, less of bitter weeping?
What! when that eye which looked on Peter—that eye not of reproach so much as of silent unutterable woe—the eye that smote him with a mortal stab,—when that eye catches mine—yes! as he is in the very act of hastening to the rescue lest my faith fail, coming quickly to be my advocate with the Father—when, fallen as I am, I feel his touch, and that open calm look of his arrests and rivets me,—Jesus! I cry, my Lord, my God, dost thou yet care for me? Wilt thou yet comfort me; me, a sinner; a sinner worse than ever; sinning more inexcusably than ever in all the days of my ignorance I sinned; more inexcusably than all the world in its ignorance can sin? Can such a one as I yet live? I ask no special favour; I plead for no partial exemption. Let me only anew,—not as a saint,—not as a child of God,—but only as a sinner,—of sinners the chief,—betake myself to thee, the propitiation for my sin!
Yes! I may, I do. And I find thee still the propitiation for my sin, because thou art the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Not otherwise could I take the benefit of thine advocacy. It is not as a propitiation peculiar to me that I grasp thee in my distress; as if I had any peculiar claim to thee; as if others were sinners more than I, or I less than they. Alas! no. My only hope is in grasping thee as "the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." That wide charter will take me in when nothing else can. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
This, and this alone, is thy refuge and revival, O poor soul! Thou sinnest;—as a child of God, walking in the light, thou sinnest. And in the light in which thou walkest thy sin finds thee out. Thou art overwhelmed. Can such sin as thine be forgiven? Yes, brother. But not otherwise than through the advocacy of Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for thy sins. Thou must have recourse to him in that character. But not as if thy case were peculiar, and demanded or could receive peculiar treatment. No. Thou must be content to take thy place among the whole body of the sinners of mankind, for the very worst of whom the propitiation is available precisely as it is for thee; for them as fully as for thee; for thee as fully as for them. That indeed is the very consideration which revives thee. He is the propitiation for all sinners and for all sins. No sin, no sinner, is at any time beyond the reach of that great atonement. It meets the case of all mankind, of all the world; and therefore it meets thy case, be thy backsliding ever so grievous, thy guilt ever so aggravated. Thou couldst not venture to appropriate Christ as the propitiation for thy sins, otherwise than as he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. It is only because thou believest and art sure that no sin, no sinner, in all the world, is debarred from that wondrous fountain filled with blood, that thou canst summon courage to plunge in it thyself afresh. Even to the last, it is not as isolating thyself from sinners of mankind, but as associating thyself with them,—feeling thyself to be the chief of them,—that thou lookest, when thou hast sinned, to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."*
From Robert Candlish,(1877). Commentary on the First Epistle of John