Â“IF WE SAY THAT WE HAVE NO SINÂ”
Comments by Robert Candlish on 1 John 1.8-10
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Believing this, and apprehending all the relief that there is in relieving it, we “walk now not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Rom 7 and 8). With enlargement of heart we “walk in the light as God is in the light,” and so “we have fellowship one with another,” – He with us and we with Him, – the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleansing us from all sin. Our appropriation of that atoning blood, in all its cleansing efficacy, gives us courage to continue still walking in the light, instead of shrinking back, as otherwise we must be tempted to do, into the old darkness in which we used to shroud ourselves. Such walking with God, in such a fellowship of light, is as safe as it is joyous.
But the risk lies here. It is a sort of walking with God, which, if we persevere in it faithfully, may become irksome, and be felt to be humiliating. For the old uneasy nature in us, with the rankling suspicions of our old relationship to God, is apt to come in again to mar the childlike simplicity of our faith. For a time the new insight we have got, under that light in which we walk, into the spiritual law of God and into our own carnal selves, keeps us shut up into Christ;
and into that continual sprinkling of His blood upon us, without which we cannot have a moment’s peace, or a moment’s sense of being cleansed from sin. But gradually we come to be more at ease. We cannot be altogether insensible to the growing satisfaction of our new standing with God and our new feelings towards Him. Before the fervour of our first fresh love, inward struggles are hushed. The evil that but yesterday seemed to be so unconquerable ceases to make itself so acutely felt. The crisis is past; the war, as a war to the knife, is ended; grace prevails; iniquity, as ashamed, hides its face.
Ah! then begins the secret lurking inclination to cherish within myself some thought equivalent to “saying that I have no sin.” It may not so express itself. It may not be self-acknowledged, or even self-conscious. It comes insidiously as a thief to steal away my
integrity before I am aware of it. Remaining corruption in me ceases gradually to give trouble or distress. A certain lethargic proneness to acquiesce in things as they are creeps over me. I am not conscious of anything very far amiss in my spiritual experience or in my practical behaviour. I begin to “say that I have no sin.”
But “I deceive myself, and the truth is not in me.” I am fast sinking into my old natural habit of evasion and equivocation, of self-excuse and self-justification. “Guile” is taking the place of “truth,” the truth of God, “in my spirit,” “in my inward parts.” I cease to be as sensitively alive as I once was to whatever in me or about me cannot stand the light. I am thus incurring a serious hazard; the hazard of being again found “walking in darkness,” and so disqualifying myself for fellowship with Him who is light. And I am apt to lose a very precious privilege: the privilege of continual and constant confession, in order to continual and constant forgiveness. For “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ver. 9). This, I say, is a privilege. It will appear to be so if we consider the sort of confession meant, as well as the sort of forgiveness connected with it.
As to the confession, it is the confession of men “walking in the light, as God is in the light;” having the same medium of vision that God has; it is the continual confession of men continually so walking, and so seeing. Such confession is very different from the sort of confession in which the natural conscience seeks at intervals a lightening of its guilty burden, and a lessening of its guilty fears. That is the mere emptying of the foul stomach, that it may be filled anew with the vile stuff for which its diseased appetite and corrupt taste continue as keen as ever. This again is the laying bare always of the whole inner man to the kind and wise Physician who can always thoroughly heal it all.
For the forgiveness, on the faith of which and with a view to which we are thus always to be confessing our sins, will always be found to be a very complete treatment of our case. What is the treatment?
The sins we confess are so forgiven, that we are “cleansed from all unrighteousness” with regard to them. This means much more than that we are let off from the punishment which they deserve, and have to answer for them no longer. That is all the absolution for which the church-penitent, at whatever confessional, naturally cares. But that is not what is here held out to us. Our sins are forgiven so as to ensure that in the very forgiveness of them we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, – all unfair, deceitful, and dishonest dealing about them; all such unrighteous dealing about them, either with our own conscience or with our God. The forgiveness is so free, so frank, so full, so unreserved, that it purges
our bosom of all reserve, all reticence, all guile; in a word, “of all unrighteousness.” And it is so because it is dispensed in faithfulness and righteousness; “he is faithful and just in forgiving our sins.” He to whom, as always thus dealing with us, we always thus submit ourselves, is true and righteous in all His ways, and specially in His way of meeting the confidence we place in Him when we confess our sins.
We open our heart to Him; we are always opening it. We spread out our case before Him; concealing nothing; palliating nothing. We tell Him of all that is sad and distressing in our conflict with indwelling corruption, as well as of all our failures and shortcomings in our strivings after conformity to His law. We speak to Him of sloth and selfishness, of worldliness and carnality, damping our zeal, quenching our love, making us miserably indifferent to the good work going on around us, and shamefully tolerant of abounding evil. On the subject of such experiences as these we are coming always to confer with our God, in the light in which He is, and in which it is our aim to walk. We find Him always “faithful and just;” – not indulgent merely, kind and complaisant, bidding us take good heart and not be so much cast down; – but “faithful and just.” God is true; true to Himself, and true to us; so true to Himself and to us that all untruth in us becomes impossible.
Ah, brother! you may well trust in Him with all the secrets of your soul, for well does He requite your trust. He is “faithful;” keeping covenant and mercy; never saying to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye my face in vain. He is “just.” He will not, in seeming pity, do you a real injustice. He will not heal your hurt slightly. He will not prophesy smooth things. He will set your iniquities before Him, your secret sins in the light of His countenance. He will keep you in His hand, and under His hand, until all partial dealing – “all unrighteousness” as to any of your sins, – is cleansed out of you. With the charm of true love He will work truth and uprightness in you; so that, as to your whole walk, inner and outer alike, all shall be clear light – light, clear as crystal – between Him and you.