By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1:7.
You will notice that this text is in close relationship to a very much abused and misquoted verse -- "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (Verse 8.) Many honest hearts have stumbled over this verse and on the other hand many sin-pleaders have tried to get a lot of comfort out of it. But in order to understand the Scriptures, we must keep in mind three rules of interpretation. First, Who is speaking? Second, to whom is he speaking? Third, what is he speaking about? Unless you keep these three rules in mind, you will go astray while reading certain passages.
Take for instance this passage: "The stars are not pure in his sight. How much less man, that is a worm." Very well, who is speaking? Not God, nor a good man, but Bildad, an old fault finding reprobate. Take another passage: "There is none righteous, no not one." Rom. 3:10. But hold sir, did you notice that Paul was quoting a fool's rantings? The reference, "As it is written" refers to Ps. 14, which says, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." Be careful, or you will expose yourself.
And now, what is the real meaning of verse 8? Who is speaking? John! To whom? The Jews! What about? The Messiah -- "The Word" -- "An Advocate." The Jews prided themselves that they were Abraham's seed and needed no Savior. It will not do violence to the verse in question, if we read it thus: "If we say that we have no need of an Advocate -- no sin to be cleansed away, we deceive ourselves." Listen! John does not say, "If any man." This would imply every saved and sanctified soul. Nor does he say, sins, -- actual transgressions, but rather "sin" -the sin principle, or carnal mind. Many then, and many today reject the doctrine of total depravity. This was exactly what these Jews needed -- cleansing from original depravity.
It is passing strange how some ministers can locate the 8th verse in this chapter and not see the 7th and 9th verses. See here! If you choose for your roost, the 8th verse, remember you must sit still and not get down. For as sure as you do, you go forward, or backward and that means going through the Blood which in each case "cleanseth from all sin".
Back to the text! In order to more fully understand it, let us get God's definition of Light. We read, "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light." In other words, whatsoever reveals to you your duty to God, man, or yourself is light. This knowledge may come through various channels:
1. Through the Word: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
2. The Holy Spirit: Sometimes things are revealed to us direct from heaven, by the Holy Spirit.
3. The Preaching of the Word.
4. The testimony of the saints.
5. Good literature.
6. The expression on an innocent face.
7. The transactions of a man of God.
Through one or all of these avenues, light and conviction come to the children of men. God proposes that none shall plead ignorance in that day. Now, if we walk in the light, as it shines upon, or crosses our pathway, then we shall inherit the blessing spoken of in the text.
In considering this subject I desire to note that there are two phases, or degrees of light.
I. General light.
II. Specific light.
I. By general light we mean light, or knowledge on general principles. God "Lighteth every man that cometh into the world." God gives him enough knowledge of a general character to start him in the right direction, if he is absolutely sincere. Hence, every man must, in order to stand clear, live up to the best light he can get. The immortal Lincoln said, "I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to all the light I have." Now, if every one did this, it would place the responsibility upon God to bless and make us a blessing in the fullest sense. Finney said, "A man may have equal doubts whether he is bound to do a thing or not. Then all that can be said is, that he must act according to the best light he can get. But where he doubts the lawfulness of the act, but has no cause to doubt the lawfulness of the omission, and yet does it, he sins and is condemned before God, and must repent or be damned."
"If God so far enlightens his mind as to make him doubt the lawfulness of an act, he is bound to stop there and examine the question and settle it to his satisfaction." Very true!
All the above may pertain largely to general light. But, sad to say comparatively few measure up to this. Few give themselves up fully to Divine leadings. Perhaps we are safe in saying that few have walked and are now walking in all the light they ever received. Or, better, all the light God wanted to give them. The fact is, it seems many are so fickle and void of soul fiber that God is compelled to take them to heaven on a cheaper route than others. They cannot, or will not stand the pull through the narrows. They may make it through to heaven, (at least we hope so), but perhaps they will never know until the books are opened, to what moral heights they might have attained and the number of souls they might have won, had they readily walked in the light as fast as it shone. The majority of men, yea many good men are now out of Divine order more or less, because in the past they failed at this point. Beloved, will you take warning?
II. Specific Light. By this we mean individual convictions which come to some, but not to others. Here and there is a soul who seems to be held to a closer walk with God than others. The lines of demarcation between right and wrong are very clear with them. Hence, they renounce some things that others do not seem to question. This may be due to their early teaching, but not always. For, some whose former environments were very unlikely have become more eminently pious than many who had better advantages. How shall we account for this? We give two reasons: (1) Some are so constituted that it seems their natures demand stronger convictions than others. Being naturally rugged, God is compelled to use severe measures to get and keep them in line. Perhaps they were formerly very proud and worldly, but now they see a closer and plainer line of separation than do others. For instance: They seem to be held to a more conscientious observance of the Sabbath than others. Or, in fasting, tithing, voting and family discipline they are different from others. We might mention many other things that these cannot do which others do without any apparent compunction of conscience. Are the ways of the Lord unequal? Does he require more of one than another?
Or, (2) Is it because the second class cannot bear as strong a tension? They might break, or back down rather than consent to become peculiar and unpopular. They seem to lack that strength and elasticity of soul out of which martyrs are made. They cannot go against the crowd, especially the so-called religious crowd. It seems God is compelled to take them to heaven cheaper than others, because they are of a cheaper material. We read that some will be saved "so as by fire," but at the same time "suffer loss".
Friend, I hope you will not need to take your place as a "second grade" saint. Of course in heaven your capacity for happiness will be lull, but like the babe, or "feeble-minded," you will not be what God originally planned.
The light of God is a little like the light of the sun -- It "shineth more and more unto the perfect day." In the early dawn, when the gray streaks of light first begin to come across the eastern hills, there is but one large object visible -- the dresser, wardrobe, or piano. But, as the light increases, more can be seen -- the chair, then the shoes under the chair, then the collar upon the stand, then the collar button, then a pin and finally, when a sunbeam travels 97,000,000 miles and shines through the window, what then? Then you see millions of atoms of dust floating in the light. Do not blame the light. It did not bring the dust, or dirt. It simply reveals its presence.
In like manner, God reveals to us, as we can bear it, one thing after another, until we are led to see and renounce things that we formerly considered very trivial. You can safely set it down when a compromiser sees "no harm" in this, or that "little thing" which the generality of professors indulge in, he is more or less blinded and cannot see afar off. Here is a sinner: He says he is not a "very bad" man if he could only quit drinking, or swearing. He attends a meeting and is genuinely awakened. Now he begins to repent, the scales fall from his eyes and he sees a multitude of things. Not only his drink, but his dishonesty and vulgarity; his deep-seated hate and vileness of every description. He almost goes into despair as he feels that a thousand demons hath presently entered into him and he is the "chief of sinners."
He is soundly converted and now begins the reconstruction of his life. He sees that he must erect the family altar and return thanks at the table. He further sees that he must be a clean man and away goes his tobacco and all filthy habits. It is not long until he feels out of place in the lodge. Not only this, but he may be led to give up his life-insurance in the dark institution. The light increases and he does not feel at home in so-called innocent amusements. Horse races, picnics, barbecues, reunions and church festivals do not appeal to him as formerly. He is busy serving the Lord, either getting out of debt, or earning money to help the poor and needy.
His relatives think he is going crazy when he makes a bonfire of a lot of religious novels and high class (?) fiction; also such music and phonograph records which as Wesley said, "do not tend to the knowledge or love of God." The light increases and he sees that he cannot spend the
Lord's money for useless adornings in the home, or on his person. All jewelry and unnecessary trappings go. He also realizes that his body as well as his soul is the Lord's, hence uses only that kind and degree of food which most conduce to health, purity and mental power.
I would like to go on and tell you many other things God may reveal to this receptive soul, but some of you who have been in the way a long time and think you have learned it all, would cry, "fanaticism!" It simply proves that you have put a limit to the Spirit's leadings. As a result, you became satisfied with present attainments and stopped growing a long time ago. Thousands of good people are in this condition.
True, there is such a thing as going too far, but most of you have not gone far enough. Show me a man who has a reputation of always being "safe and sane," and I will show you one who as a rule does not wake up the dead.
Do you believe it! There are lengths and breadths, heights and depths to which we have not yet attained. Our God can eclipse everything in the past that we thought was grand and glorious. It grieves Him when we compare ourselves with others and conclude that because they did not do thus and so, therefore we must not think of doing anything out of the ordinary. Orthodoxy often goes to seed. Our mountain peaks yesterday, should become our valleys tomorrow.
While one occasionally goes beyond what God has required, a thousand others fall short. Then the rest who are half-backslidden become so afraid of going to extremes that they get nowhere. There is absolutely no danger of fanaticism so long as you are teachable and do not become denunciatory toward those who do not see just as you do.
Friend, would it not be too bad to awake to the fact on your death bed or at the judgment, that what you branded as fanaticism, God called "His will" concerning you? Would it not be a sad meeting, to meet a soul in heaven, whom, while upon earth you opposed and misrepresented because he obeyed God more implicitly than you? Sadder still would you feel, if one or more souls had missed heaven because you took a wrong attitude and closed doors against a conscientious saint who might have reached them. God forbid!
There are two great dangers: (1) The danger of putting on the soft pedal and never getting out of the good old beaten rut of orthodoxy. (2) The danger of getting new light, then discounting and denouncing others for not walking in it quickly. The "fact is those who are inclined toward either danger need each other. Those who push ahead need those who hold back. Those who go to war need those who stay by the stuff. Those who are quick to get new visions and revelations need those who are more deliberate. Now, it is a fine point to be in one of these classes and at the same time not pull off in spirit from those in the other class. As long as one is able to do this, he will never go into fanaticism on the one hand, or hopelessly dry up on the other. God of all grace, balance us up by weakening us where we are too strong and strengthening us where we are too weak!
Do not pity yourself for a moment if God seems to hold you to a closer line than others. Remember the more you give up, the more you get in return. New, or increased light means new joys, new victories and larger rewards. Therefore do not close up, but rather throw wide open the doors and windows of your soul for all the light that your constitution can bear. You do not want to produce but "thirty," if God sees that you have a capacity for "sixty," or "one hundred fold."
If we walk in all general and specific light, then we will enjoy the sweetest fellowship with God and his saints. There is a vast difference between love and fellowship. God loves the sinner, but can only fellowship a saint. We are enabled through grace to love, not only sinners, but our enemies; love their souls; love to see them made happy. But not until our aims and purposes are one -- The Glory of God, can we have sweet fellowship with them. The atoning Blood is the basis for this fellowship.
The faster we walk in the light the more quickly will we come to have fellowship with the Trinity. And this will give confidence to believe for cleansing from all sin. Not sometime in the future, but the present tense "cleanseth" is used and you, dear, struggling soul have a right this moment to appropriate by faith that cleansing Blood. Will you do so and do it now? Can we not sing from our hearts,
"We'll walk in the light, beautiful light,
Come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright,
Shine all around us by day and by night
Jesus the light of the world."
"Take my life and let it be,
Jesus the Light of the world,
Consecrated Lord to thee
Jesus the Light of the world."
"Lord obediently I'll go
Jesus the light of the world,
Gladly leaving all below
Jesus the Light of the world."