The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on1 John 2:12-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 13, 2014

Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrasing of the verse he is commenting on.

1 Jn 2: 12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

I write unto you, my spiritual children of every age and degree of advancement in Christian virtue, because your sins are remitted on account of the merits of Christ, which is a subject of the deepest congratulation.

“Little children,” τεχνια (teknia). It is disputed what class of Christians is designated by the words, “little children.” By some they are understood of those who have not yet left their childhood, and have received the remission of sin in baptism. These also understand the words, “fathers,” “young men,” and “babes,” in the following verses, of the different ages of men and their advancement in years. This opinion derives probability from the circumstance of the Apostle attributing to the different ages, what forms the peculiar matter for glorying, pertaining to each; old men, or “fathers,” glory in their knowledge (verse 13)—“young men,” in their bodily vigour and strength, and in their active feats; and “babes” or children in fawning on, and lisping the names of their fathers.

It is, however, more probable, that the Apostle refers to the different periods or stages of advancement in the spiritual life (as St. Augustine understands the passage), and to Christians placed in each of these, he ascribes perfections, and congratulates them on qualities, in the spiritual order, analogous to the natural perfections, in which men, during the several stages of physical existence, are prone to glory. Even following the opinion of St. Augustine, interpreters are divided about the meaning of “little children,” in this verse. Some understand the word to mean the same as “babes,” as in verse 14, where, according to them, the idea is repeated; and refer it to a state of spiritual childhood. Others, more probably, understand the word of Christians generally, as in verse 1, and verse 28, which is again subdivided into “fathers,” “young men,” and “babes,” in the following verses.

The Apostle, then, writes to all Christians in general, congratulating them on having received the remission of their sins, and all graces through the merits of Christ, “for his name’s sake.” The heart of the Apostle was so full of Christ, that he does not express his name. Who else could it be but Christ that thus occupied all his thoughts?

1 Jn 2:13 I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.

I write to you, who are perfect in the Christian faith, able to instruct and bring forth others spiritually in the gospel; because, you have known and loved him, who was from eternity. I write to you also, and congratulate you, who have arrived at the stage of spiritual youth and manly vigour; because, in your spiritual strength, you have been proof against the temptations of the wicked one, viz., the devil, and have overthrown both him and his leagued auxiliaries, the flesh and the world.

He now divides “little children,” or Christians in general, into “fathers,” or, such as are for a long time professing the faith, and able to instruct and spiritually beget others; and “young men,” or Christians advanced in virtue and spiritual knowledge, who though not so far advanced, as the class termed “fathers,” still need not the milk of babes to support them. He congratulates this class, on their spiritual strength.

1 Jn 2:14 I write unto you, babes, because you have known the Father. I write unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

I write to you who have lately received the faith, and require still to be fed with the milk of babes and to be assisted in your Christian progress; and congratulate you, on having known your heavenly Father, and lisped forth his sacred and endearing name. I once more, as I have done already (5:13) congratulate you, who have attained a state of spiritual youth, on the strength which God has imparted to you, on becoming armed with his word and your having conquered the devil.

The next class of Christians are those whom he terms “babes,” or persons in their spiritual infancy, who require to be fed with the milk of babes, and to be supported and propped up in their spiritual progress. These he congratulates on having known the father. Their lisping accents in the spiritual life show that they acknowledge God by faith to be a Father in their regard; and as it is the glory of infants, in the order of nature, to lisp and know the name of father; so, it is likewise in the spiritual order of grace … Some, say these words. “I write unto you, babes,” &c., are only a repetition of the words (verse 12), “I write unto you, little children,” with an additional reason for addressing them. The interpretation now given is the more probable, and accords better with the order observed by the Apostle in marking out the different ages. (In the Greek, we find inserted here, a repetition of the words of verse 13, I have written to you, fathers, because you have known that which was from the beginning).

“I write” (in Greek, ἔγραψα = graphia, I have written), “unto you, young men,” or such as have arrived at the stage of spiritual youth—it is a repetition of the words (verse 13), with a fuller reason, “because you are strong,” and I congratulate you on being valiant in grace; “and the word of God abideth in you.” You have taken the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit to resist your enemies (Ephes. chap. 5)—“and you have overcome the wicked one,” the devil and his leagued auxiliaries, the flesh and the world.

It is, then, most likely, as St. Augustine maintains, that the Apostle is referring to the different stages of spiritual life; and to those constituted in each, he attributes the perfections, in the spiritual order, analogous to those of which men in the different stages of life are apt to boast, in the natural order. The old men, or those advanced in spiritual life, have acquired an exalted knowledge of him who existed from eternity. Those who had attained the state of spiritual youth, he congratulates on their active feats; they overcame their enemy, the devil; and the “babes,” or those lately converted, he congratulates on having known and lisped the name of their common Father, whom they are taught by faith to address as such.

1 Jn 2:15 Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.

What I write to you, and exhort you to, Christians of every age and degree, is this—love not this world, as your fixed, permanent dwelling-place, as your final end, nor the riches, pleasures, honours, &c., that are found therein. If any one love the world in the prohibited sense now explained, the love of the Father, who cannot endure a divided heart, or partial service, is not in him.

The Apostle now explains what it is he writes to the different classes of Christians, whom he congratulates on the good qualities suited to each, and furnishing an earnest, that they will attend to the injunction he is now about giving them, viz., to avoid the greatest obstacle to their advancement in Christian virtue, and to the perfect fulfilment of the precept of fraternal charity. “Love not the world.” This is understood by some to refer to men of worldly habits and principles, who are not to be loved as such; although, as creatures of God, capable of eternal beatitude, they are to be loved by us. Others understand it (as in Paraphrase), of making this world our final resting-place; making it, instead of God, our last end. The following words, “nor the things that are in the world,” render this interpretation very probable. “If any man love the world,” fixing his heart and affections on it, as his last end; “the charity of the Father is not in him;” because, God cannot endure a divided heart. The world and God are two rivals, that cannot be served at the same time.

1 Jn 2:16 For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life, which is not of the Father but is of the world.

(Neither love the things that are in the world); for, all that is in the world are, the corrupt pleasures and inordinate gratification of sense; the greedy acquisition of wealth, and other goods of this life; and the inordinate desire of procuring honours, dignities, and elevated stations—this triple concupiscence in its present sinful state has not God for author; but, has its origin in the corruption of the world.

The Apostle having already, in the preceding verse, given a reason why they should not “love the world,” now in this, shows why they should not love “the things that are in the world,” by describing what these things are, and their utter worthlessness and opposition to the things of God. “For all that is in the world,” or all the things that corrupt and worldly men set their heart upon, all the things that they prize or value, “is the concupiscence of the flesh,” the inordinate gratification of their carnal and impure passions. In this member of the sentence, as well as in the following, the act of passion or concupiscence is employed, for the objects of concupiscence.

“The concupiscence of the eyes,” commonly understood of avarice or the inordinate affection for the sensible goods of this life, viz., the riches and worldly substance of any kind, which fall beneath the sense of seeing; in Eccles. 4:8, the eyes of the covetous man are said to be insatiable. Others, with St. Augustine, understand the words to refer to curiosity of every kind, of which the eyes are the principal inlets, not even excluding knowledge, when pursued from a mere spirit of curiosity, and from a desire of acquiring the reputation of learning. The former is, however, the more common interpretation of the words.

“And the pride of life,” understood commonly of the inordinate desire of honours, dignities, elevated stations, &c. From the words of St. John, then, it is clear, that these great ruling maxims of the world, which are the sources of all other sins, and the bane of fraternal charity, are, the inordinate desire of sensual gratification, avarice, and ambition. Hence it is, that those who renounce the world, and serve God in a religious state, having their conversation and all their cares centered in another and a better world, take care to renounce altogether, and at once, all connexion with these corrupt maxims of the world. By vows of chastity, they renounce all carnal pleasures; by vows of poverty, they renounce avarice; and by vows of humble obedience, they renounce ambition; and our Redeemer has proposed to all the faithful in general a triple remedy against these three corrupt principles, viz., fasting, almsdeeds, and prayer (Matthew, 6).

“Which,” triple concupiscence (as appears from the Greek, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κοσμῷ, η επιθυμία της σαρκος … ουκ εστιν εκ του πατρος, because everything in the world, the concupiscence of the flesh, &c., is not of the Father), “is not of the Father,” in its present corrupt state, as the fomes peccati impelling us to the violation of God’s holy law; “but is of the world,” it is the effect of fallen human nature corrupted by sin; for, “God created man right” (Eccles. 7:30). This concupiscence, to which the Apostle refers, is evil; and hence, our Redeemer, who assumed our common infirmities, was not subject to it.

In the Greek, the verb “is” is wanting in the words, “all that is in the world,” as appears from the foregoing. The Syriac supports the Vulgate.

1 Jn 2:17 And the world passeth away and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever.

And, moreover, the world passes, and is daily becoming more and more subject to decay; so will all the darling objects of worldly esteem, viz., pleasures, riches, and honours, also pass away; but, the man who does the will of God, and observes his commandments, will remain for ever, and his works will entitle him to an everlasting reward.

Another reason why they should not love the world nor the things of the world is derived from the fleeting, transitory nature of their existence and enjoyment. “The world passeth.” The “world” may refer either to the present creation, daily approaching decay and dissolution; or, to worldly men, who daily die and relinquish all their present enjoyments. This latter meaning is rendered probable by the contrast between the world and the man “who doth the will of God.” “The concupiscence,” the darling objects, prized by the world, such as pleasures, riches, honours. “But he that doth the will of God,” that observes God’s commandments, and renounces all inordinate attachment to the objects of this threefold concupiscence, “abideth for ever,” will enjoy for ever eternal life, as the reward of his good works, and of his resistance to his corrupt passions.

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