The following is excerpted from St Augustine’s First Homily on the First Epistle of St John. The homily in full (on 1 Jn 1:1-2:11) can be read here.
1Jn 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.
1Jn 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Lest haply he should seem to have given impunity for sins, in that he said, “He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all iniquity” (1 Jn 1:9); and men henceforth should say to themselves, Let us sin, let us do securely what we will, Christ purgeth us, is faithful and just, purgeth us from all iniquity: He taketh from thee an evil security, and putteth in an useful fear. To thine own hurt thou wouldest be secure; thou must be solicitous. For “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 Jn 1:8) provided thou always displease thyself, and be changing until thou be perfected. Accordingly, what follows? “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin” (1 Jn 2:1a). But perchance sin overtakes us from our mortal life: what shall be done then? What shall there be now despair? Hear: “But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. And he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 2:1b-2a). He then is the advocate; do thou thine endeavor not to sin: if from the infirmity of this life sin shall overtake thee, see to it straightway, straightway be displeased, straightway condemn it; and when thou hast condemned, thou shall come assured unto the Judge. There hast thou the advocate: fear not to lose thy cause in thy confession. For if oft-times in this life a man commits his cause to an eloquent tongue, and is not lost; thou committest thyself to the Word, and shall thou be lost? Cry, “We have an advocate with the Father” (1 Jn 2:1).
8. See John himself observing humility. Assuredly he was a righteous and a great man, who from the Lord’s bosom drank in the secrets of His mysteries; he, the man who by drinking from the Lord’s bosom indited of His Godhead, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (Jn 1:1); he, being such a man as this, saith not, Ye have an advocate with the Father; but, “If any man sin,” saith he, “we have an advocate.” He saith not, ye have; nor saith, ye have me; nor saith, ye have Christ Himself: but he puts Christ, not himself, and saith, also, “We have,” not, ye have. He chose rather to put himself in the number of sinners that he might have Christ for his advocate, than to put himself in Christ’s stead as advocate, and to be found among the proud that shall be condemned. Brethren, Jesus Christ the righteous, even Him have we for our advocate with the Father; “He,” even He, “is the propitiation for our sins.” This whoso hath held fast, hath made no heresy; this whoso hath held fast, hath made no schism. For whence came schisms? When men say, “we” are righteous, when men say, “we” sanctify the unclean, “we” justify the ungodly; “we” ask, “we” obtain. But what saith John? And “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just” (1 Jn 2:1). But some man will say: then do the saints not ask for us? Then do bishops and rulers not ask for the people? Yea, but mark the Scriptures, and see that rulers also commend themselves to the prayers of the people. Thus the apostle saith to the congregation, “Praying withal for us also” (Col 4:3). The apostle prayeth for the people, the people prayeth for the apostle. We pray for you, brethren: but do ye also pray for us. Let all the members pray one for another let the Head intercede for all, Therefore it is no marvel that he here goes on and shuts the mouths of them that divide the Church of God. For he that has said that we have “Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins” (1Jn 21a-2a) having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, “Lo, here is Christ, or there” (Matt 24:23); and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he forthwith goes on to say, “not for ours only,” that is for out sins, “but also for those of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2b). What is this, brethren? Certainly “we have found it in the fields of the woods” (Ps 12:6), we have found theChurch in all nations. Behold, Christ “is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.” Behold, thou hast the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be thou in that mountain which hath filled the whole earth: because Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world,” which He hath bought with His blood.
1Jn 2:3 And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.
1Jn 2:4 He who saith that he knoweth him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar: and the truth is not in him.
1Jn 2:5 But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected. And by this we know that we are in him.
“And by this,” saith he, “we know that we have known him, if we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 2:3). What commandments? “He who saith that he knoweth him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar.” But still thou askest, What commandments? “But he that keepeth His word,” saith he, ” in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected” (1 Jn 2:5). Let us see whether this same commandment be not called love. For we were asking, what commandments, and he saith, “But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected.” Ask the Gospel, whether this be not the commandment: “A new commandment,” saith the Lord, “I give unto you, that you love one another (Jn 13:34). —”By this we know that we are in Him,” if in Him we be perfected. Perfected in charity, he calls them: what is perfection of charity? To love even enemies, and love them for this end, that they may be brethren. For not a carnal love ought ours to be. To wish a man temporal weal, is good; but though that fail, let the soul be safe. Dost thou wish life to any that is thy friend? Thou doest well. Dost thou rejoice at the death of thine enemy? Thou doest ill. But haply both to thy friend the life thou wishest him is not for his good, and to thine enemy the death thou rejoicest at hath been for his good. It is uncertain whether this present life be profitable to any man or unprofitable: but the life which is with God without doubt is profitable. So love thine enemies as to wish them to become thy brethren; so love thine enemies as that they may be called into thy fellowship. For so loved He who, hanging on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). For he did not say, Father let them live long, me indeed they kill, but let them live. He was casting out from them the death which is for ever and ever, by His most merciful prayer, and by His most surpassing might. Many of them believed, and the shedding of the blood of Christ was forgiven them. At first they shed it while they raged; now they drank it while they believed. “In this we know that we are in Him,” if in Him we be made perfect. Touching the very perfection of love of enemies, the Lord admonishing, saith, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). “He,” therefore, “that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked” (1 Jn 2:6) How, brethren what doth he advise us? “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.” Haply the advice is this, that we should walk on the sea? That be far from us! It is this then, that we walk in the way of righteousness. In what way? I have already mentioned it. He was fixed upon the cross, and yet was He walking in this very way: this way is the way of charity, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If, therefore, thou have learned to pray for thine enemy, thou walkest in the way of the Lord.