1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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1:5-10 A message from the Lord Jesus, the Word of life, the eternal Word, we should all gladly receive. The great God should be represented to this dark world, as pure and perfect light. As this is the nature of God, his doctrines and precepts must be such. And as his perfect happiness cannot be separated from his perfect holiness, so our happiness will be in proportion to our being made holy. To walk in darkness, is to live and act against religion. God holds no heavenly fellowship or intercourse with unholy souls. There is no truth in their profession; their practice shows its folly and falsehood. The eternal Life, the eternal Son, put on flesh and blood, and died to wash us from our sins in his own blood, and procures for us the sacred influences by which sin is to be subdued more and more, till it is quite done away. While the necessity of a holy walk is insisted upon, as the effect and evidence of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, the opposite error of self-righteous pride is guarded against with equal care. All who walk near to God, in holiness and righteousness, are sensible that their best days and duties are mixed with sin. God has given testimony to the sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient, effectual Sacrifice for sin, needed in all ages; and the sinfulness of believers themselves is shown, by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and to apply by faith to the blood of that Sacrifice. Let us plead guilty before God, be humble, and willing to know the worst of our case. Let us honestly confess all our sins in their full extent, relying wholly on his mercy and truth through the righteousness of Christ, for a free and full forgiveness, and our deliverance from the power and practice of sin.If we confess our sins - Pardon in the Scriptures, always supposes that there is confession, and there is no promise that it will be imparted unless a full acknowledgment has been made. Compare Psalm 51; Psalm 32:1-11;; Luke 15:18 ff; Luke 7:41 ff; Proverbs 28:13.

He is faithful - To his promises. He will do what he has assured us he will do in remitting them.

And just to forgive us our sins - The word "just" here cannot be used in a strict and proper sense, since the forgiveness of sins is never an act of justice, but is an act of mercy. If it were an act of justice it could be demanded or enforced, and that is the same as to say that it is not forgiveness, for in that case there could have been no sin to be pardoned. But the word "just" is often used in a larger sense, as denoting upright, equitable, acting properly in the circumstances of the case, etc. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:19. Here the word may be used in one of the following senses:

(1) Either as referring to his general excellence of character, or his disposition to do what is proper; that is, he is one who will act in every way as becomes God; or,

(2) that he will be just in the sense that he will be true to his promises; or that, since he has promised to pardon sinners, he will be found faithfully to adhere to those engagements; or perhaps,

(3) that he will be just to his Son in the covenant of redemption, since, now that an atonement has been made by him, and a way has been opened through his sufferings by which God can consistently pardon, and with a view and an understanding that he might and would pardon, it would be an act of injustice to him if he did not pardon those who believe on him.

Viewed in either aspect, we may have the fullest assurance that God is ready to pardon us if we exercise true repentance and faith. No one can come to God without finding him ready to do all that is appropriate for a God to do in pardoning transgressors; no one who will not, in fact, receive forgiveness if he repents, and believes, and makes confession; no one who will not find that God is just to his Son in the covenant of redemption, in pardoning and saving all who put their trust in the merits of his sacrifice.

And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness - By forgiving all that is past, treating us as if we were righteous, and ultimately by removing all the stains of guilt from the soul.

If we confess our sins,.... Not to one other; for though it is our duty to confess our faults to our fellow creatures and fellow Christians which are committed against them, yet are under no obligation to confess such as are more immediately against God, and which lie between him and ourselves; or at least it is sufficient to confess and acknowledge in general what sinful creatures we are, without entering into particulars; for confession of sin is to be made to God, against whom it is committed, and who only can pardon: and a man that truly confesses his sin is one that the Spirit of God has convinced of it, and has shown him its exceeding sinfulness, and filled him with a godly sorrow for it, and given him repentance unto salvation, that needeth not to be repented of; and who, under such a sight and sense of sin, and concern for it, comes and acknowledges it before the Lord, humbly imploring, for Christ's sake, his pardoning grace and mercy; and such obtain it:

he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins: forgiveness of sin here intends not the act of forgiveness, as in God, proceeding upon the bloodshed and sacrifice of Christ, which is done at once, and includes all sin, past, present, and to come; but an application of pardoning grace to a poor sensible sinner, humbled under a sense of sin, and confessing it before the Lord; and confession of sin is not the cause or condition of pardon, nor of the manifestation of it, but is descriptive of the person, and points him out, to whom God will and does make known his forgiving love; for to whomsoever he grants repentance, he gives the remission of sin; in doing of which he is faithful to his word of promise; such as in Proverbs 28:13; "and just"; in being "true", as the Arabic version adds, to his word; and showing a proper regard to the blood and sacrifice of his Son; for his blood being shed, and hereby satisfaction made to the law and justice of God, it is a righteous thing in him to justify from sin, and forgive the sinner for whom Christ has shed his blood, and not impute it to him, or punish him for it; though the word here used may answer to the Hebrew word which sometimes carries in it the notion and idea of mercy and beneficence; hence mercy to the poor is sometimes expressed by righteousness; and the righteous acts of God intend his mercies and benefits unto men; see Daniel 4:27; and so forgiveness of sin springs from the tender mercies of our God, and is both an act of justice and of mercy; of justice, with respect to the blood of Christ, and of pure grace and mercy to the pardoned sinner: the following clause,

and to cleanse us, from all unrighteousness, is but the same thing expressed in different words; for all unrighteousness is sin, and to cleanse from sin is to remove the guilt of it, by an application of the blood of Christ for pardon. The antecedent to the relative "he" in the text, is either God, who is light, and with whom the saints have fellowship; or his Son Jesus Christ, who is the nearest antecedent, and who, being truly God, has a power to forgive sin.

{6} If we confess our sins, he is {g} faithful and just to {h} forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(6) Therefore the beginning of salvation is to acknowledge our wickedness and to require pardon from him, who freely forgives all sins, because he has promised to do so and he is faithful and just.

(g) So then our salvation depends on the free promise of God, who because he is faithful and just, will perform that which he hath promised.

(h) Where then are our merits? for this is our true happiness.

Confess (ὁμολογῶμεν)

From ὁμός, one and the same, and λέγω, to say. Hence, primarily, to say the same thing as another, and, therefore, to admit the truth of an accusation. Compare Psalm 51:4. The exact phrase, ὁμολογεῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας confess the sins, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Compare ἐξομολογεῖσθαι ἁμαρτίας (παραπτώματα) Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; James 5:16. See on Matthew 3:6; see on Matthew 11:25; see on Luke 22:6; see on Acts 19:18; see on James 5:16.

Sins

Note the plural, as compared with the singular, sin, in the previous verse. See note. The plural indicates that the confession is to be specific as well as general. Augustine's words are exactly to the point, but his play upon pardon and confess cannot be reproduced in English. "Vis ut ille ignoscat? Tu agnosce." Do you wish Him to forgive? Do you confess.

Faithful (πιστός)

True to His own nature and promises; keeping faith with Himself and with man. The word is applied to God as fulfilling His own promises (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 11:11); as fulfilling the purpose for which He has called men (1 Thessalonians 5:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9); as responding with guardianship to the trust reposed in Him by men (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:19). "He abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). The same term is applied to Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 2:17). God's faithfulness is here spoken of not only as essential to His own being, but as faithfulness toward us; "fidelity to that nature of truth and light, related to His own essence, which rules in us as far as we confess our sins" (Ebrard). The essence of the message of life is fellowship with God and with His children (1 John 1:3). God is light (1 John 1:5). Walking in the light we have fellowship, and the blood of Jesus is constantly applied to cleanse us from sin, which is darkness and which interrupts fellowship. If we walk in darkness we do not the truth. If we deny our sin the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, "God, by whom we were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (1 Corinthians 1:9) to forgive our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and thus to restore and maintain the interrupted fellowship.

Just (δίκαιος)

Rev., righteous. From δίκη right. The term is applied both to God and to Christ. See Revelation 16:5; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:7; 1 Peter 3:18. The two words, faithful and righteous, imply each other. They unite in a true conception of God's character. God, who is absolute rightness, must be faithful to His own nature, and His righteous dealing with men who partake of that nature and walk in fellowship with Him, is simply fidelity to Himself. "Righteousness is truth passing into action" (Westcott).

To forgive (ἵνα ἀφῇ)

See John 20:23; 1 John 2:12. Primarily the word means to send away, dismiss; hence of sins, to remit, as a debt. Cleansing (1 John 1:7) contemplates the personal character of the sinner; remission, his acts. See on Matthew 6:12; see on James 5:15. To forgive is, literally, that he may forgive. On John's use of ἵνα in order that, see on John 15:13; see on John 14:31. Forgiveness answers to the essential purpose of His faithful and righteous being.

Our sins (τὰς ἁμαρτίας)

Sin is defined by John as ἀνομία, lawlessness. Compare Romans 6:19. A.V., transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). It may be regarded either as condition or as act; either with reference to the normal, divine ideal of manhood, or to an external law imposed upon man by God. Any departure from the normal ideal of man as created in God's image puts man out of true relation and harmony with his true self, and therefore with God and with his fellowman. He thus comes into false, abnormal relation with right, love, truth, and light. He walks in darkness and forfeits fellowship with God. Lawlessness is darkness, lovelessness, selfishness. This false principle takes shape in act. He doeth (ποιεῖ) or committeth sin. He doeth lawlessness (τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ; 1 John 3:4, 1 John 3:8). He transgresses the words (ῥήματα, John 17:8) of God, and His commandments (ἐντολαί, 1 John 2:3) as included and expressed in His one word or message (λόγος, 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:14). Similarly the verb ἁμαρτάνειν, to sin, may signify either to be sinful (1 John 3:6), or to commit sin (1 John 1:10). Sin, regarded both as principle and act, is designated by John by the term ἁμαρτία. The principle expressed in the specific acts is ἡ ἁμαρτία (John 1:29), which occurs in this sense in Paul, but not in the Synoptists, nor in Acts. Many of the terms used for sin by other New Testament writers are wanting in John; as ἀσέβεια ungodliness (see on Jde 1:14); ἀσεβεῖν to be ungodly (2 Peter 2:6); παραβαίνειν to transgress; παράβασις transgression; παραβάτης transgressor (see on Matthew 6:14; see on James 2:11); παρανομεῖν to act contrary to the law; παρανομία breach of law (see on Acts 23:3; see on 2 Peter 2:16); παράπτωμα trespass (see on Matthew 6:14).

To cleanse

See on 1 John 1:7.

continued...

9. confess—with the lips, speaking from a contrite heart; involving also confession to our fellow men of offenses committed against them.

he—God.

faithful—to His own promises; "true" to His word.

just—Not merely the mercy, but the justice or righteousness of God is set forth in the redemption of the penitent believer in Christ. God's promises of mercy, to which He is faithful, are in accordance with His justice.

to—Greek, "in order that." His forgiving us our sins and cleansing us, &c., is in furtherance of the ends of His eternal faithfulness and justice.

forgive—remitting the guilt.

cleanse—purify from all filthiness, so that henceforth we more and more become free from the presence of sin through the Spirit of sanctification (compare Heb 9:14; and above, see on [2638]1Jo 1:7).

unrighteousness—offensive to Him who "is just" or righteous; called "sin," 1Jo 1:7, because "sin is the transgression of the law," and the law is the expression of God's righteousness, so that sin is unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins - If, from a deep sense of our guilt, impurity, and helplessness, we humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our iniquity, his holiness, and our own utter helplessness, and implore mercy for his sake who has died for us; he is faithful, because to such he has promised mercy, Psalm 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; and just, for Christ has died for us, and thus made an atonement to the Divine justice; so that God can now be just, and yet the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus.

And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness - Not only to forgive the sin, but to purify the heart.

Observe here,

1. Sin exists in the soul after two modes or forms:

(1.) In guilt, which requires forgiveness or pardon.

(2.) In pollution, which requires cleansing.

2. Guilt, to be forgiven, must be confessed; and pollution, to be cleansed, must be also confessed. In order to find mercy, a man must know and feel himself to be a sinner, that he may fervently apply to God for pardon; in order to get a clean heart, a man must know and feel its depravity, acknowledge and deplore it before God, in order to be fully sanctified.

3. Few are pardoned, because they do not feel and confess their sins; and few are sanctified or cleansed from all sin, because they do not feel and confess their own sore, and the plague of their hearts.

4. As the blood of Jesus Christ, the merit of his passion and death, applied by faith, purges the conscience from all dead works, so the same cleanses the heart from all unrighteousness.

5. As all unrighteousness is sin, so he that is cleansed from all unrighteousness is cleansed from all sin. To attempt to evade this, and plead for the continuance of sin in the heart through life, is ungrateful, wicked, and even blasphemous; for as he who says he has not sinned, 1 John 1:10, makes God a liar, who has declared the contrary through every part of his revelation; so he that says the blood of Christ either cannot or will not cleanse us from all sin in this life, gives also the lie to his Maker, who has declared the contrary, and thus shows that the word - the doctrine of God is not in him.

Reader, it is the birthright of every child of God to be cleansed from all sin, to keep himself unspotted from the world, and so to live as never more to offend his Maker. All things are possible to him that believeth; because all things are possible to the infinitely meritorious blood and energetic Spirit of the Lord Jesus. See the notes on the parallel passages in the margin; and particularly in St. John's gospel, John 1 note.

1:9 But if with a penitent and believing heart, we confess our sins, he is faithful - Because he had promised this blessing, by the unanimous voice of all his prophets. Just - Surely then he will punish: no; for this very reason he will pardon. This may seem strange; but upon the evangelical principle of atonement and redemption, it is undoubtedly true; because, when the debt is paid, or the purchase made, it is the part of equity to cancel the bond, and consign over the purchased possession. Both to forgive us our sins - To take away all the guilt of them. And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness - To purify our souls from every kind and every degree of it. 1:9 If we confess our sins. Instead of affirming that we are sinless we should confess our sins.

He is faithful and just. If we confess our sins the Lord will be faithful to his promise of mercy, and just in requiring us to have the atonement of Christ, to forgive us our sins.

1 John 1:8
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