The Catholic Epistles.

The First Epistle of John.

Scope and Divisions of the First Epistle of John.

The three epistles of John have so much of a common character, and the two latter are so evidently supplementary to the first, that we need not consider them until we come to them.

The first epistle gives us fully the character of John as he stands among the writers here. It is evident that this epistle — while it is still, as the Gospel is, in language simplicity itself — yet is deeper in some respects than those we have hitherto been considering. As his Gospel stands amongst the other Gospels, so does his epistle stand here among the other epistles. As it is in his Gospel the witness of the eternal life which had come in Christ into the world to be the light of men, so do we open here with the setting before us Christ as this same Eternal Life, which was with the Father and has been manifested to us. But while this is fundamental to the epistle, and surely gives character to it, yet at the same time the subject of John's epistle is rather the life in us than the life in Christ, although the relation of the one to the other is constantly before us. Christ is our life, and in us it will have therefore — however feebly, comparatively, — the manifestation of the same characteristics that were seen in Him.

Thus John shows us this eternal life manifesting itself in the children of God in such a way as to show their relation to Him of whom they are thus born, who is their Father. If God be light and love, then those born of Him will be manifest by righteousness on the one hand, and by love on the other; these in close and inseparable union with one another, so that if the love have not the righteousness in it, it is not love; and the righteousness, if it have not love in it, is not righteousness. We may distinguish between these things: we can never separate them. This, then, is what gives the epistle of John its place among these general epistles. It is manifestly a third division of them, as the fact of there being three epistles seems to emphasize to us.

The divisions of the epistle are:
1. (1 John 1 — 2:11): God as Light and in the light, and the light in us.
2. (1 John 2:12-27): Growth by the truth, which is nothing else than the effect of the light manifested.
3. (1 John 2:28 — 5.): The manifestation of the children of God by the fruit found.

Notes.

Division 1. (1 John 1 — 2:11.)

God as Light and in the light, and the light in us.

The division, as already said, in the very beginning carries us back to the Gospel. We are even. referred to "that beginning" which we find in the Gospel, not the beginning as we have it in Genesis, but the new beginning now, Christ having come into the world, the true Light for the first time manifestly shining, and God revealed in such a way as makes comparatively dim all former revelation. Light is evidently the characteristic all through this part of John. God is not only light, He is in the light; that is, He is revealed, and Christ who is the Life is the Light — the revelation. This light is in us by the communication of the life. The commandment that He gives is thus true in Him and in us. Here we have, as is clear, one great characteristic of Christianity — the effect of the rent veil, although not exhibited after the same manner as in Hebrews. But God in the light means the veil rent, and it is striking that in the Gospel of John there is yet no reference to the rending of the veil at all. In fact, Christ being before us as He is in the Gospel, is already the Light, the revelation of God in the world. In this sense the veil is rent already; but it is rent that He may come among us; it is not yet rent so that we can be with Him in the full way for which love seeks us. Thus the commandment given by Christ in the Gospel, the commandment of love, becomes for us now in Christianity itself a new commandment — from the very fact that it is now true in Him and in us, manifestly so. We are brought into the light, and we have received the light within us.

1. In the first place, then, we find Christ as the Life, and the Life the Light of men. John carries us back to Christ upon earth as they had seen Him, contemplated Him, handled Him with their hands, and yet manifestly One in whom there was a divine fulness which could not be seen with the eyes, however fully contemplated, nor therefore handled. For him and for all else, recipients of the revelation, it was indeed a new beginning. All former ages had been but the history of man, fallen man even, though God had wrought and testified; but there was as yet no second man. Now the second Man had come, the Man according to the divine thought of man when God made him, but not the man that God first made, although the Son of Man; and thus in the nearest possible place of intimacy to us, nay of kinship in a sense, the Kinsman-Redeemer. It is evident that this is the "beginning" of which John speaks, by his appeal to the old commandment which they had "from the beginning." It is not, let us remember, His existence that could be spoken of in this way as from the beginning. He was in the beginning, as we know; but that is a different thing. When anything began, He was — did not begin; but on this very account one could not rightly say, "from the beginning." It would not give the whole and suited truth. Moreover, he is speaking of One in the world, manifest to men's eyes and ears; and that was not what had been in that primal beginning. Yet this was a more wondrous one, eclipsing the other, but only as brightness eclipses brightness, as stars and all else are eclipsed in the radiance of the day.

He says: "That which was from the beginning," not who, as we should expect. He is speaking, as he tells us, of the Word of life — the Word of God, according to the Gospel, and in whom was life; but in the presence of such an One he can only speak of "what we have heard and seen." It was not, as it were, the whole Person fully told out, just because it was impossible that He should be fully told out; and this accounts for the peculiarity of the expression. Yet he allows of no distance in which they were from Him. Every expression here seems to be designed only to bring Him nearer, and to assure the soul more fully of its right, through grace, to Him. Thus, first it is, "We have heard;" but that, if it stood alone, might be a distant Voice, the Person Himself hidden. Therefore he goes on to say: "Which we have seen with our eyes;" but then that is not enough. It was not a momentary vision. It was not as when He appeared to the two going to Emmaus, when they knew Him and He vanished out of their sight. No, he says: we have "contemplated" Him. He has been before our eyes so that we could take in and dwell upon the blessed One before us. But that even is not enough; as He says to Thomas, for perfect conviction of who He is, "Handle Me and see," so says the apostle here: "Our hands have handled." Thus He is known in the most intimate way, the Word of Life, the Giver of it surely, but at the same time the One in whom it was, whose every act and word was the expression of it, "that Eternal Life which was with the Father."

This life, he adds, "was manifested." It was, as he says in his Gospel, "the light of men" — light in the midst of surrounding darkness which knew it not and could not comprehend it; but a light, nevertheless, manifesting all else, a divine life in Man, a revelation of personal glory. And then it was not an exceptional one, simply to those meant to be distinguished from all else by receiving it. True, the One manifesting it has not remained among us, He is gone back where He was before; but those who have seen it are witnesses of the revelation, designed witnesses, sent to declare to others "that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us." We are to think of it as of a life lived actually upon earth, but manifesting the unseen energy which was beneath it all, divine and eternal. It was the Son of God in the world, as he delights to tell us, "The only-begotten Son," with an excellency entirely His own, and which could not be communicated to others, and yet at the same time with a fulness of power and blessing in it such as could be communicated and enjoyed: thus producing a living fellowship which followed (for those who received it in faith) the report made, on the part of those who, whatever they had, they had for others also besides themselves, and whose joy it was to communicate to others that which only enriched themselves the more by the communication.*

{*The "we" and the "you" are the apostles and other witnesses who had been in personal contact with our Lord, on the one hand, and the readers of the Epistle on the other. These last are undoubtedly believers, and yet sometimes addressed as if just hearing the Word for the first time. Thus "that ye also may have fellowship with us," would suggest those just being brought into knowledge of the truth. It does not mean to preserve the distinction between "us" the apostles, and "you" the saints. "Our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ," would not mean that fellowship was possible only for the apostles, as some hold, but for all saints, brought into fellowship with them. — S.R.}

This fellowship was "with the Father" Himself, and "with His Son Jesus Christ;" the Father revealing the Son, and the Son revealing the Father; the Son the object of the Father's delight, and the Father He to manifest whom the Son wrought and spoke; nay, the Father who abode in Him, and, as He says, "did the works." It is into this that we are brought — one fellowship with the apostles themselves, participation with them in the thoughts and purposes, the feelings and the affections, the whole mind of Christ. And in this fellowship, as he adds finally here, is fulness of joy to be found, — a joy which is in God Himself revealed, — not merely the fall done away, the distance produced by it annihilated, but, far more than that, the Revealer Himself Immanuel, God in Man, with men. Blessed it is to see the intensity of desire, as expressed by the apostle, that we should not only know such things, but that the whole blessing of them, if one might so say, should be enjoyed. There is, no doubt, infinity in it, but still not in such a way as to disappoint and check the eagerness of the soul, but to lead it on further and further, deeper and deeper, into that which, continually satisfying, yet draws it on ever by the satisfaction itself. Thus is the Life the light of men.

2. The apostle goes on to distinguish this from all former communications. The message heard of Him and now declared is that "God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Clouds and darkness have been round about Him. The veil of separation, as in the temple of old, hid Him from sight; nay, under the conditions existing then, it was mercy to do so; no one could look upon Him and live. Even Moses says: "I exceedingly fear and quake;" and they that heard His voice desired that He would speak to them in that direct way no longer, lest they should die. The mere revelation of the glory in the face of Moses had to be hidden from them; and that was the characteristic of all that dispensation — glory there waiting to be manifested, but the veil over it, so that men could not see the very blessedness of which they spoke, and which was typified and foreshadowed in all around them. Now, God is in the light, says the apostle: — "We walk in the light as He is in the light." We could not walk in the light in this sense until He was in the light. The veil is rent, the glory of God is seen. It is this into which faith introduces us now, as even faith itself could never introduce men before. We "walk in the light as He is in the light;" and thus we have "fellowship one with another," the fellowship of eyes that alike see, and of those brought into a common enjoyment of all that it manifests.

But, again, it is in this circle of the light that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." It is plain what the apostle is referring to here, that he is just in presence of that open holiest, opened by the rending of the veil when Christ died. The blood shed in propitiation for our sins has opened the way into the presence of God; the light into which we enter searches out sin, cannot leave it hidden but where this is true, the blood cleanses from the sin brought out. In Israel's sanctuary the blood was upon the mercy-seat itself, under the full blaze of the overshining glory. Israel could not see it; but we see it; and the very light which will not suffer sin to be hidden shines in full brightness upon the blood which has been shed for it, the value of which the light, wherever it shines, carries with it. To walk in the light is what is characteristic of the Christian, of every Christian. It is this light in which God is perfectly revealed, into which faith introduces; and he that is outside of it is walking still in darkness, ignorant of God, and of all things besides. It is this that he is speaking of when he puts the condition that it is "if we walk in the light," the blood cleanses. It is not if we walk according to the light. That is not here the question. It is where we walk, not how we walk, that he is speaking of. It is not a moral condition in us, however much this is produced by it. It is the power of a revelation made known to us, and which faith receives. Thus, "if we say that we have fellowship with Him (with God) and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practise truth." The darkness, therefore is not simply moral, — although in this darkness all things evil abide, — but — but it is a darkness which is, first of all, ignorance of God Himself, and which is the great primal evil, the evil which entails all other evils. For fellowship with God, He must Himself be known; and this is what the Person and work of Christ have done for us. Our need has been completely met. Love has intervened for us. Love has let out the light, and to enjoy the love we must be in the light. That will reveal us also to ourselves. That will reveal the world and all things else; and thus the holiness of truth is secured for us, sin becomes sin — stands out in all its hateful reality. We are brought into fellowship with God about it. The practical state necessarily answers, as the effect to the cause, to the revelation which has been made to us; and this is Christianity, and nothing else is.

3. The apostle immediately proceeds to test all Christian profession by these principles. He is always testing. He must have the truth, and nothing but the truth; and thus the conditions here apply to the whole of this profession, the true and the false. "If we say," "if we confess." The apostle puts himself along with all others. He distinguishes the true from the false simply as they are manifested by their fulfilment or not of the conditions. To walk in darkness, in ignorance of God, is to walk in ignorance of ourselves also. "If we say that we have no sin" (here is the ignorance belonging to the darkness), "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." If, on the other hand, we are in the light, our sins are manifest. There is neither possibility nor desire to hide them. "We confess our sins;" and "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "If," on the other hand, "we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar," for God has positively told men that they have sinned, and therefore "His word is not in us." We can see therefore a necessary difference between this assertion that "we have not sinned" and that "we have no sin." The one speaks of acts committed; the other may go deeper, to search out the sin which is in our nature. How can we be ignorant of it if we are Christians indeed? There are, alas, as we know, those who not only profess Christianity, and have, no doubt, more than the profession, who yet manage to deceive themselves in such a way as to seem to say what is here: "We have no sin." Sin, they say, was indeed our past condition, and we needed grace to deliver us from it; but that grace has perfectly delivered us, and we have none of it remaining now. That is self-deception surely; and it is only by refusing to call sin what is really sin that they are able to carry it out. Evil thoughts, with them, are from the devil; they are something outside themselves, — the power of the enemy, — but not the corruption of their nature. Their standard is not what the scriptural standard is. Scripture makes no abatement in its demands upon us in answer to any plea as to damaged powers, and such like things. "He that saith he abideth in Him," says the apostle, "ought himself so to walk even as also He walked." Maintain this standard, and who will measure himself by it and say there is no coming short? Who will look down into the depths of his soul and say that there is positively no reflection of anything there but of Christ Himself, as in the purest of mirrors? Let only such things be uttered, and they will soon meet their answer; nay, it will be impossible for themselves, if the light has indeed wrought upon them, to keep up the deception. They are justifying themselves with words, and their own conscience is against them when once they get the focus of their vision adjusted. This, then, is what the apostle gives us as to the darkness; it is the effect of being in the darkness. On the other hand, if we are in the light, we confess our sins. It is a general principle, no doubt, which goes with us through our Christian lives; nevertheless, that is not exactly what is before the mind of the apostle here. He is thinking of the soul that has just come out of the darkness into the light, in whom the first element of fellowship with God is found in the realization of its own condition. Sins are there too plainly to be hidden, extenuated, or in any way got rid of. God is the only refuge. Blessed be His name, He receiveth sinners; and thus, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins."

How near, in such a saying as this, does John come to Paul! He does not speak of justification as Paul does. He speaks of forgiveness simply. Justification, as we have seen elsewhere, is one of the truths characterizing Paul's gospel, as to which he asserts himself that he had a special ministry; but if Paul says God is righteous to justify, John says here He is righteous to forgive. The one statement has not the fulness and boldness of the other, yet this fundamental element is in both, that it is God Himself who is manifested in the gospel to men, to sinners, and that He is not only merciful to forgive, but "faithful and righteous" in doing it. "Faithful," notice; that must be to His pledged word, or rather, let us say, in view of what the apostle is putting before us here, faithful to Christ who has died for men — faithful to that precious blood which is here seen as on the mercy-seat. The blood declares His righteousness; to the blood, too, He is faithful; and thus the one who comes into His presence as a confessed sinner is met with perfect assurance.

But there is more here, also, than the forgiveness of sins. He is faithful and righteous to cleanse as well as forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; that is, from all that lack of uprightness before Him which is of the essence of the natural, fallen condition. So could the psalmist say of the blessedness of the man "whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered," "to whom the Lord will not impute sin, and in whom," therefore, "there is no guile." We can see by all that is stated here that he is giving us what is fundamental to the Christian condition. He is distinguishing between the one in darkness and the one in the light, between the true and the false in Christian profession; and thus he is not dealing with sin into which a Christian may fall, but with that which he brings to God as all that he can bring Him when he comes first to Him who has revealed Himself in Christ. We shall find that he goes on immediately to the question of sins that a Christian may commit after being that; and while there is confessedly here what as a principle will apply to the Christian through his Christian life, (because he never ceases to be in that light which dealt with him when he first entered it,) yet at the same time we shall find that the apostle deals with this in a different manner.

4. We come now immediately to this, the apostle distinguishing between what he has written and what he is now going to write: "My children," he says, "these things write I unto you that ye may not sin." It is the power of this revelation of God in Christ which is indeed to be power against sin for the future; yet he contemplates the possibility of a Christian sinning. "If any one sin," he says. We might think, perhaps, that he would rather say, "when any one sins;" but he does not, for he will not put it as if it were necessary that one should sin, whatever the facts as to ourselves which we have to acknowledge. With the Spirit of God in us, is there not abundant power against all commission of sin, whatever it may be? We are witness to ourselves that we are responsible for every act of this kind. We can never say that we were left in helplessness to do this. Not to condemn ourselves would be to dishonor God; so that he puts it conditionally altogether, "If any one sin;" but what then? What is the remedy? That we confess our sins, so as to be forgiven? That will come in due place, but he cannot begin with that. The first and fundamental necessity here is Christ. It is Christ in whose hands are the basin and the towel. It is Christ who says: "Except I wash thee, thou hast no part with me." Our necessary recourse, therefore, is first of all to Christ Himself. No cleansing of ourselves can there be, no accomplishment of anything in this way, until we have our feet in His hands; and back even of this the apostle goes here. "If any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins." Thus, whatever the repentance needed, whatever the need of the confession of what we have done, the thing that the apostle would remind any one of who is conscious of wrong done is that "we have an Advocate with the Father." It is not, if any one repents, we have an Advocate; but, "if any one sin." How would it be with us if Christ held us not still in that embrace with which at first He received us? If He did not hold us fast to God, how surely indeed should we drift away! The word "Advocate," "Paraclete," is the same as that used by the Lord Himself with regard to the Holy Spirit, and in the same sentence He speaks of Himself in the same character. "I will pray the Father," He says, "and He shall send you another Advocate," even the Spirit of God. Thus we are intended to compare these. The Spirit is now the Advocate on earth, in place of Him who has gone from earth. Christ is the Advocate with the Father, the One ascended to Him and in His presence for us. If we think of the Spirit as the epistle to the Romans speaks of Him, we shall understand this term "Advocate" with more clearness. The apostle there tells us that "we know not what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." That does not mean that the whole prayer to which He leads us is such a groaning, but that there is something in the prayer to which He leads incapable of being uttered even by the person who prays. He cannot realize just what he needs. He knows not what to pray for as he should. The Spirit not only brings him into the consciousness of needs which can be expressed, and are expressed, but adds to them, after all, as from Himself, that which is an intercession according to God: something which He who searches the hearts knows as the mind of the Spirit, while to the person who prays it is but an unintelligible groan. How beautiful it is to see thus the Spirit becoming our Advocate, going beyond even all that we are capable of, in order that our prayers may be complete and according to His mind who is to answer them! In this way, although this does not cover all that is meant by the word, we can yet understand how the Spirit becomes an Advocate for us, how He takes up our cause and pleads it before God. We can see here that as to Christ, His advocacy has the same meaning. He is an Advocate with the Father, suited entirely to all that is in the Father's heart. He is Jesus Christ the righteous, One who can never abate, therefore, that which is due to the character of God — to His glory. On the other hand, He is One completely for us, and having title to be for us by the propitiation which He has made for our sins. Thus, we are completely provided. But notice that it is with the Father also that He is Advocate. The apostle does not say, with God; but with One in definite known relationship to the people whose cause Christ has taken up; and this is the character of the epistle before us all the way through.

Thus we have, as uniformly in Scripture, a living Person for all our necessities; not something to be done or gone through by us, but One who has undertaken our cause and in whose hands we are. There follows, as the corollary of this, that as we are in His hands, so, practically, the blessing lies for us in allowing ourselves to be in His hands — in realizing this in the way in which the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel presents Him to us. He is there the girded Servant of our need, with the basin and the towel. The absolute necessity for us is that He should wash us. Except He wash, we have no part with Him. Communion is necessarily interrupted if we are not washed according to that which is His thought, clean as He would have us, and thus He becomes our resource entirely. We cannot wash ourselves. We are not to set ourselves right first, in order to come to Him. We come as we are, not washed, but to be washed, surrendering ourselves into His blessed hands that He may show us all that is amiss with us — the secret roots and principles which have led to failure, as well as the failure itself. And the first thing for us is to realize this nearness to Him, to allow no distance, and, on the other hand, to realize that there must be the absolute putting ourselves into His hands, not dictating to Him as to what He is going to set right, but letting Him search us out, letting Him put His hand upon that which needs to be set right, not content with partial cleansing, but with that perfect one which alone can be according to His mind. Thus, there is perfect grace, but perfect holiness. The presence of the Lord is that by which alone we escape from the defilement of evil — that having to do with Him which is indeed a daily necessity for us. All this we have had indeed before us in the Gospel, as has been said, but we can realize by it that what has been already stated, — that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins," — while it is a principle that always applies, yet at the same time it is not the proper remedy for failure, whatever the failure may be. Christ Himself is the remedy; but we need Him that the confession of our sins even, which will surely follow, may be according to His mind; that we may see in His light what sin is, what our sins are, and find in the grace of His presence that which is indeed ability to pour out all our hearts before Him. Then we shall find that there is indeed a forgiveness governmentally, most necessary for communion, and for which we must have been with Him. But the first point, and in a true sense the whole matter, is to have had our feet really in His hands, with the understanding how thoroughly He is for us, and that He alone is capable of even making us aware of the failure, as in Him alone is the grace that meets it.

It is added that "He is the propitiation for our sins;" and then, after John's manner entirely, "Not for ours only, but also for the whole world." There is not, as in our version, the "sins of the whole world." Nevertheless, we need not hesitate to speak of this, as it is surely implied. When the apostle says: "Not for ours only," he necessarily infers that it is for the sins of others also. This does not mean that they are put away. He is a propitiation, as is said in Romans, "through faith, by His blood." It is for believers, therefore, that all this becomes effectual, and only for these. Yet so thoroughly sufficient is the perfect Sacrifice that has been offered, and so plainly is it available for every soul that honestly desires it that we can say: "For the sins of the whole world," without the least trouble or question. Beautiful it is to realize that it is just in John's Gospel, where the deepest things of divine grace are told out, that there is the fullest going out in heart to all. The call and the provision are for all. The sin of rejection is upon him who rejects, and he shall never be able to say that there was not a remedy, or that he was not able to avail himself of the remedy.

The apostle proceeds now to that which he is constantly about, the practical testing of those who by profession are in the light. Every Christian is really there, and we must not understand the "if we walk in the light" as if it meant something less than this. The opposition to walking in light is the walking in darkness, and the walking in the darkness is in no sense Christian, as we see all through here. It is not even an exceptional state into which a Christian may get. That is not the way in which it is presented here. It is not true that a Christian may be practically in darkness. There may be a want of singleness in his eye which causes this, but the walking in the light points out where he walks, not how he walks. It is walking, indeed, of which John speaks: walking on the one hand in the light, or, on the other, in the darkness. He has always the idea of living activity, whether the life be true life from God or not; still, it is a living, active, responsible man of whom he is speaking, who, in fact, is moving in some direction. If in the darkness, how great the peril of it! If in the light, there is a responsibility attaching also to this, not as to being in the light, but as to having it practically in him, because he is in the light. If we are in the daylight, we are responsible to see our way. If we are in the darkness, that is not exactly the responsibility. We can see no better with our eyes open than with our eyes shut; but if we are in the light, then we have the responsibility, and the privilege also, of knowing that we are to have our eyes open in order to be able to discern the path before us, not without exercise, necessarily. That is not implied. We may have to use our eyes to find the path, in the light as we may be; but we must be in the light to find it. John has before him, as we have seen, from the beginning of his epistle, the opened holiest, and the light streaming out through the rent veil, the light carrying with it the power of the blood which has let it out. Thus the whole question for us is, if we are in the light. At least, that is the fundamental question with which he is here concerning himself. All the way through we shall find that he is testing profession. He does not hesitate to test it thoroughly. He is not putting us upon the ground of the blood as shed for our sins, but testing whether we are on the ground. If we are in the light, he has already said, the blood avails for us. If we are in the light, the consequences of being in the light will be seen, and there will be for those who consciously are walking there the assurance which results of necessity from a practical walk with God. It is the first great primary assurance, which we find as sinners, not as saints; but it is one very necessary for us to know, and which we need exhortation about. As the apostle Peter has said, we need to make our calling and election sure, not to God, but to ourselves. We need to walk in such a way that the witness of the Spirit can be clear and positive with us. The apostle is writing to those who profess to have this confidence of which we are speaking. He is not afraid, therefore, of producing legality by testing it. "Hereby," he says, "we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." The apostle has no idea of separating these things from one another — the knowledge and its practical results. As he says afterwards, "He that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him." He is clearly not thinking of that which a Christian may fall into or be overcome by. He is thinking of what is the characteristic state. If we have not this character of keeping His commandments, then it is simply a false profession with us, and not the truth. "Whosoever keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." That is to say, that love which he has had manifested to him in Christ has come to fruition.

And here he says, let us notice, not simply, "whoso keepeth His commandments," but "whoso keepeth His Word." There is a difference which we have already had before us in the Lord's last discourse with His disciples, as John himself has given it to us. We cannot but see how, all through the epistle, his heart goes back to those last words of his Lord — how he reproduces and emphasizes them. The very style and language are those of the Gospel, a sweet and wonderful characteristic of the one who was the disciple whom Jesus loved, who lay on His breast and drank in His words. So he says here, "keepeth His Word," because the true believer is not under a code of commandments simply, and he does not ask himself, what must I do? which the command implies; but rather, what may I do? how can I show to Him the desire I have to serve and please Him? Thus all Scripture becomes, in reality, a necessity to such. Alas, it is at best but feebly realized, that is true; nevertheless, he that knows Christ aright can not do other than understand that the whole Word of God is what has been provided for him, to form in him the mind of Christ, and that he may realize communion as God would have it. Alas for the failure and the imperfections! Still, the merely legal soul is either one that is not truly in the grace which is our whole sanctification, or he does not understand the sweetness and the power of that grace. We cannot but remember that in that epistle to the church of Philadelphia, communicated once more by John himself, and the very last discourse, as we may say, to His now fully Christian disciples, the emphasis of our Lord's approval is in this: "Thou hast kept My Word." Whatever is in Christ's mind for us, it is ours honestly, as He enables us, to act upon and carry out; and it is as we are thus practically walking with Him that we learn the full reality of knowing that we are in Him, for "He that saith he abideth in Him," says the apostle, "ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." No less a measure is laid down — no less perfect a standard must be accepted. Here is again the testing of profession. "He that saith he abideth in Him;" but the abiding in Him itself is what is absolutely necessary to Christianity. It is the branch abiding in the vine, so that the sap abides in the branch, and we rightly look in such a case for flower and fruit.

The apostle is not afraid of the word "commandment." He knows well that is not a word uncongenial to the heart of a true disciple. He would not be without commandments — the manifestation of an authority to which he is subject, and subject in delight, finding it his truest freedom. Thus, then, what he is writing is "no new commandment," as he says. It is but an old commandment, which they had from the beginning. We see at once that he is dating here, as ever, from Christ's life and words on earth. The old commandment is the word which he heard. What he says now is nothing new in that sense, and yet there is something new about it, and in a very important way new: "Again a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light already shineth." That is what makes the commandment "new." It is a commandment written now in the heart, according to the full character of the new covenant, and with all the power of the true light come, before which every element of darkness is passing away. He does not say here that it is passed, but it is passing. We are all conscious, however desirous in our hearts to be true to Him, that there is, after all, obscurity remaining with us; that there are things in ourselves which hinder the light, and which we have never been able yet to detect so that they should have perfect removal; but the true light shineth, and the soul, conscious of this, draws ever more fully into its beams, rejoicing in the light, willingly hiding nothing of it from itself; for it is in the light that all things get their true character; evil is seen in it with horror, and all the loveliness of that which is right and true comes out. Thus, to be in the light is no mere cold, clear knowledge. It has the blessing of warmth in it, and the vitalizing power under which all the precious fruits of the earth spring up and ripen. Thus the "thing is true in Him and in you." Christ is the light; and this light is in us also, by His grace. We are in communion with Him, as He has already assured us.

On the other hand, "he who saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness until now." Notice, he does not say merely, as some would seem to have it, that he is in the darkness now. That is true, but not the whole truth. He is in the darkness, and he never was out of it. He is in the darkness until now. That does not allow the possibility of a soul having been in the light, in the sense in which John is speaking here, and getting out of it again. On the other hand: "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." He stays there, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him; but, "He that hateth his brother (notice that it is profession ever, and therefore he tests it as such; the brother by profession is counted as a brother, there is responsibility of the relationship professed, whether true or not true, and he that hateth his brother then) is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes" — a terrible condition, surely, and which seems by the language used to be distinguished from that of which the prophet speaks where men "sit in darkness, and have no light." In this case the truth has not been known, and there is nothing that one can speak of as activity at all; although surely there is in another way activity, as we all know, and plenty of evil deeds that go with such a condition. But here the light has come; the soul has the responsibility of that light; he has a walk which is estimated in its character as in the light or in the darkness, as the apostle has said in Philippians, "even weeping," of those (many they were) who walk, yet as "enemies of the cross of Christ," "whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." Here is the darkness in which already many professing believers were found according to the testimony of the apostle; and this is it of which John is speaking here.*

{*It is to be remarked that the apostle, in testing the profession of those who say they know God, does not speak of negative absence of evil, nor of the more general characteristics of what is known as a moral life. He seeks for love, a thing which in its true nature and energy is from God alone. If this be absent, or if in its place there be hatred, it shows the absence of life. Paul in the 13th of first Corinthians speaks in somewhat the same way — all gifts, no matter how brilliant, are valueless apart from that which is the "fulfilling of the law" — which in fact is "the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus." — S.R.}

Division 2. (1 John 2:12-27.)

Growth by the Truth.

We now come to what is very distinct in character. The being in the light is not in itself a sufficient statement of the believer's condition. If he is in it, and the light in him, this involves another thing which must be true of him — a life which God has given, and by virtue of which he is a child of God. This is a life which he has received through the gospel. We are begotten by the Word of truth. The Word becomes, as James has said, an "engrafted Word." It has come not as word merely, but in the power of the Spirit, who works in it. We see, therefore, the perfect connection between the life and the light. In Christ it was always perfect. "The life was the light of men." In us there is now, through grace, a life which is light also, the light giving it its character; and its seed, as the apostle speaks afterwards, being the seed of the truth, which abides in the heart in which it has been sown. Growth, therefore, is also by the truth, and that is it to which the apostle now goes on. By the life we are children of a common Father; but then, while it is thus of necessity eternal life, and is divine in character, it may be in us, and will of necessity be, at the beginning, in feebleness and immaturity. Dependent it always is. It does not take us out of the creature place, but rather puts us fully in it, and makes us realize the source of all to be in Him from whom we draw. Christ is the truth. The reception of Christ is the reception of the life which the truth characterizes, and Christ is thus before the eyes of faith as the perfect Example and full Reality of that into which we are daily growing up as we know Him and walk with Him.

1. Here the apostle lays down the fundamental distinction as to all those of whom he is writing now. "I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." This is true of every child of God, and it is as true of any one of these as of any other. There is no child of God who is not forgiven. "We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." This is the ground upon which the apostle writes, therefore. He would have no ground for writing if their sins were not forgiven; for it is not a question of the gospel here, that is, of preaching it to those outside, but he writes to those who have received it, and who therefore are forgiven — forgiven for the sake of that blessed Name which is now named upon them. They are forgiven, therefore, in all the grace that the work of Christ for them implies. This, then, is the basis of what he is at present saying. He has already been defining what is true perfection, and separating it from the false. He can now therefore write to those whom this definition has shown to be the true children of God. These have eternal life.

2. But immediately now he recognizes that there are grades and distinctions among these. There are fathers, young men, little children. The word in the last case is a different one from that which we had in the twelfth verse, which applies to all Christians. Here, on the other hand, the "little children" are those in whom life is only beginning to develop itself. The young men are those who have attained or are attaining maturity. The fathers are those that are fully mature in the perfect ripeness of what is implied in Christianity. Notice there are no "old men" here. There is no feebleness or decay hinted at, at all. The life is eternal, and this may and does need development, but in it there is no decline; it is eternal. But the different classes that he is addressing here are named from the evident correspondence to such classes in nature, and there is a certain relationship even between these, which we can easily trace. An old man brought to God, as such, will, of course, be at the same time but a little child in the things of God. Yet even so, he will not be found, probably, to have all the characteristics of little children. This will be more apparent as we proceed. But, as we see here, while the little children already know the Father — they have learnt to look in His face and recognize their relationship to Him — yet the energy of youth does not as yet belong to them. They have not known conflict yet. They have not overcome the wicked one. Yet this is not failure. It is inexperience, necessarily. It characterizes a condition which needs peculiar care, and from which failure may readily come, if God do not avert it. Nevertheless, it is not in itself failure, but very far from this. To know the Father is a wonderful and blessed reality. And the apostle has no idea really of anything lower than this. The cry of "Abba, Father," is the children's. cry.*

{*The knowledge of the Father is what is distinctive of Christianity, there is no Christianity apart from this; it is what our Lord came to make known, and what the Spirit bears witness to. It includes a knowledge of the dignity of our relationship — membership in the family of God; it reminds us as well of the Father's love and care, "The Father Himself loveth you;" it also recalls the fact that we are under the Father's government, therefore the necessity of walking in godly fear and obedience. Thus even the babe knows relationship, divine love, and the claims of such upon his obedience. — S.R.}

The young men have the vigor of life, and have overcome the wicked one; but there is danger for them yet; danger, perhaps, in the very activity which this implies — danger necessarily implied, one may say, in the very fact of conflict, though they have overcome, and are looked at, in the apostle's style here, necessarily as overcomers. He puts the Christian condition here before us characteristically. He does not bring in the blots and disfigurements, nor the imperfections, though he may warn against them. He is giving us a picture of Christianity, and not of whatever foreign elements may still cleave to the Christian. This is easily to be understood. He would animate us by the realization of what we are, and not draw in what is contrary to this, — even though we may have admitted it, — as if he were going to admit it. We have already seen that he can say, "If any one should sin, we have an Advocate with the Father;" but he does not say, — when we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father. That would be a very different style of speaking; and, instead of being encouragement, would be great discouragement. He writes as to those who have the Spirit of God and know it, and with whom, therefore, the full capacity of full privilege is found, though the young men have, as it were a matter of course, overcome the wicked one. Is not He that is in them greater than he that is in the world? What else must it be than overcoming? Is not this "the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith?" Have they not faith? Here he will have no abatement of this blessedness. He could not, addressing himself to Christians as a whole, or in classes such as this, take in the defect and evil as if it were a matter of course, as if it belonged to His people. It does not belong. The young men that he is addressing, the ideal young men if you like, (but still he does not make mere ideals of them,) have overcome the wicked one.*

{*Strength is what characterizes the young men. "The glory of young men is their strength." There is the vigor needed for the inevitable conflict. As the knowledge of relationship marks the babes, so the practical carrying out of God's will — and in the circumstances in which we are — marks the young men. — S.R.}

Now, as to the fathers, it is remarkable what he has to say of them. What is it? "Ye have known Him who is from the beginning." What is that more than the little children have known? Have not the little children known Him who is from the beginning — that is, Christ? Yes, they have known Him; and yet how little they have known Him! Knowledge it is, wonderful, blessed knowledge — knowledge which distinguishes them from all the world around; and yet who that in fact knows Christ will account his knowledge of Him to be, as it were, anything? As we have seen in the opening of the epistle, the apostle will say for himself and others who had the inestimable blessing of being with Him upon earth — he will say, rather "That which was from the beginning, which we have seen, of the Word of life." They have seen somewhat of Him. How great a mystery of blessing lies beyond! Not that they are debarred from anything; not that they have it put at a distance in any wise; quite the contrary. They are invited and drawn near by the very fulness of the revelation itself. We have seen how he continually, as it were, draws nearer in those opening words, "We have heard," "seen," "handled." Yet it is, after all, only somewhat of this divine Person, this Son who in His fulness the Father only knows. Yet he can say of these Christian fathers, "Ye have known Him who is from the beginning." Here he will not say "that which is from the beginning" exactly. He does not want to qualify it in this way. In one relation it may be qualified, but here he is speaking of a Person whom they know, who is the real Person upon whom their eyes have been fixed ever since they were drawn to Him by His grace and made His own. He is speaking of One in the knowledge of whom they have grown up to where they are now, and their growth is by that which they have learnt more and more of Him. They have been in His company; they have listened to His words; they have heard told out the very thoughts of His heart; they have learnt to look at all things with His eyes. They have now, as fathers, as it were proved for themselves that world, which, for the young men even, had necessarily been much of an untried world. Though they could speak of it as Scripture had declared it, yet they could not speak of it exactly as knowing it in experience yet. They had not yet tested all things in the presence of Christ. The fathers have done this, and the world has shriveled up for them into the vanity which belongs to it, and the One that abides is Christ, and only Christ. Thus, to have known Him is to have known all. It is not that they will not know Him better, but that they have got now before them (impossible to be confounded with anything else), they have got One who has given rest and satisfaction to their hearts, in whom they have found indeed "all things that pertain to life and godliness," and in such a way that there they abide, "rooted and built up in Him." There is plenty to be learnt yet, as has already been said; but as, for us all, the discernment between good and evil is that which is counted knowledge, so the discernment between Christ and all else is the fathers' knowledge here.* Thus, then, we have the three classes before us. He is going to address himself now to each.

{*To know Christ — the eternal Son — there is nothing beyond that, and it is far, far beyond all knowledge of relationship and all power for warfare. It was for this that Paul was ever pressing on — "that I may know Him." We can well understand the place the fathers would have in the assembly of God. No vigor can supply the lack of that judgment, that poise of soul which comes alone from a knowledge of Christ. — S.R.}

3. But it is very striking, as soon as he begins to address himself to the fathers, as we saw first, he has no more to say to them than he had said already. How strange that seems at the first thought of it! They have got Him before them who is the fulness of knowledge, and they have got Him before them in such a way that nothing else can possibly be confounded with Him at all. This is what suits the apostle, as it were. He has nothing further in this way to say to them. With them the value of the teacher has been realized in such a measure as to make them, we may say, independent of the teacher. He seems to say this even of the little children afterwards, but not in the same way as he can say it here. The office of a teacher is, in fact, always to make people more and more independent of himself. What teacher is there, that is worth anything as that, who will not aim to accomplish this? Who is going to keep others always in school to himself? What is school for but to enable them to go out from it and to live their independent lives apart? Alas, when we think of this, and look around us! Plenty there are who undervalue teaching. Fathers will not do that. Plenty there are who think that they can draw for themselves independently, as it were, from the divine Source, and be in debt to no man. They are not fathers ever who admit this. Fathers have learnt the use of teaching, and of teachers; but they have learnt, as it was surely the only right thing for them to do, that which, as already said, brings them more and more out of the school in which they have learnt it. That does not mean, of course, the school of God, in which we all are, but the school of the teacher; even when the teacher is most thoroughly such, and used of God as such. How blessed to see this kind of independence beginning in the soul! In fact, as we shall shortly see, there must be a character of this even from the beginning. But here is the full maturity of such a character. Here are those who have so learnt Christ, and are so in His company, that while they still learn, as we all do, perhaps from the very mouth of a babe, yet at the same time are not in the same sense scholars as once they were. They "have known Him that is from the beginning." How sweet it is indeed to know Him so! How blessed if we can see characteristics of this sort developing amongst us in the independent life and walk of those who are made so just by their recognition of their absolute dependence upon Christ, upon all the fulness of God manifested in Him into which they are daily drinking! "Rooted and built up in Him," they are "stablished in the faith, . . . abounding therein with thanksgiving."

The young men are now addressed as before, as in the energy of youth, those who have already overcome the wicked one. This is what the little children have yet to do. They have to discern antichrist, the falsehood from the truth; but with those here, the word of God, the first necessity for doing this, abides in them. They have fought in this respect their battle, and come through. Thus they are strong as nourished by the Word, for it is "the food of the mighty" still; it is that which gives strength.

But he has more now to say to them, and his exhortation has to do with that in which, after all, they are not yet experienced, in which their new experience has to be, and into which their very energy will necessarily lead them. The young men, naturally, are those who are going out into the world. Life in this sense is beginning with them. Their necessary occupation is in it. They cannot refuse, therefore, the having to do with it. But in this world, opposed as it is to Christ, there is yet that which, alas, is capable of attracting the heart, even of a disciple. The life which he is beginning has in itself its own attractiveness. He can be in it for Christ, and is to be. Sanctified by Him and taken out of it, we are sent into it just as those sanctified; but conflict is implied in this, and the stratagem of him who is the prince of it, and who can display all its glory still for the disciple, as he did of old for the disciple's Master. The evils that are in the world, by daily contact with them, grow familiar, have a natural tendency to impress us less. We are in it at any rate; have, as it were, to make the best of it. The daily wear and tear of things begins; we are not in the retirement of the family; we are away from home, more or less single and independent in our lives now, exposed thus to varied influences in which the eye may readily affect the heart, and having also in the heart that which can be attracted still by that which has overcome so many strong men already.

Here is the ground of the apostle's exhortation, then. "Love not the world," he says, "nor the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Strong, separative words for those who have but a while since come to know the Father, and who have been growing in the knowledge of the intimacy which this implies! What a thing for the young man entering the world, the remembrance of that home upon which now his back is more or less necessarily turned! The apostle would encompass those spiritually young with these affections of One who, blessed be His name, is with us still, from whose presence we are not to go, whose love has sought us and abides with us.

But the love of the world is inconsistent with the love of the Father. There is no element in it which is of Him. It is the great, imposing system which, for all the show it makes, has grown out just of its alienation from God. The things that are in it are "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." These characterize it, — a heart away from God which finds no longer its satisfaction in Him, — seeks it no more there, and as a consequence has to make its riches just of the things that are in its hands, with nothing beyond; the things that pamper fleshly instincts; the things that raise question and incite to how many paths of knowledge in a scene which has so many mysteries for us. There follows with this "the pride of life," the realization of man's place over the world, which, indeed, was given him of God from the beginning, but which he is all the less enjoying when he seems most conscious of it. It is not hard to understand the development here, in days when the desire of knowledge is so great with us, and the sense of acquirement so strong. In all this, the things that attract us have a certain natural and necessary interest. God did not put us here amid the wonders of His own creation without meaning them to be something to us, and He has, indeed, provided in His own Word that which stimulates question, and of a deeper character than mere nature in itself could raise. He has provided in it also the answer to these questions in a way we very little realize, and, if we turned to Him with them, how should we find what, even naturally, our heritage is! But men seek it away from God. They go into it to make it a substitute for Himself. They receive it not from Him, but from the one into whose hands it has fallen through their sin, and into whose hands they have fallen. Thus the most innocent delight can in this way draw the soul away from God. While the gifts are valued, they are not valued as His gifts, nor Himself trusted in. The gifts draw from the Giver.*

{*We have three most important definitions in this brief epistle — of God, of sin, and here of the world. God is light and love; sin is lawlessness; and the lust of the world is described in the threefold way — the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride of life. The application of this to the temptation of the woman in Eden has often been noticed. She saw that the tree was "good for food;" this answers to the lust of the flesh, those more animal and sensual appetites, which would include the grosser lusts which have degraded the race. The tree was also pleasant to the eyes, answering to the lust of the eyes, that craving of an empty heart which has turned from God, and seeks in vain to fill itself by "the things that are seen." How Satan has used the tinsel of this gaudy world to stir up lust — for riches, position, power — in his captives. But it was also "a tree to be desired to make one wise," and the pride of man has ever asserted itself in claiming wisdom for itself. This sin was that of Satan, and is far more subtle than the grosser forms of the world previously spoken of. What a blessed remedy for worldliness is suggested in the words "of the Father." Where He and His love, and obedience to Him control the life, the world can have little power. — S.R.}

This, as we know, began in Eden itself, where God had specially provided all that was pleasant to the sight and good for food, and destined all that He had created beneath man to subjection to him and to minister to his enjoyment. God is not the enemy of joy. It is away from Him that we have learned to think of Him so, and the effect of the tree of knowledge of good and evil has been thus made to turn our eyes away from the tree of life. This spirit intensifies as it grows, as the world becomes larger, as the material accumulates, as men incite one another more and more in the paths that they have chosen for themselves. They learn to rejoice in their independence of God. That will which is the highest influence in man must be for them a free will, setting to work after its own fashion, with methods of its own, apart from God; a course which at the beginning brought death into it, the shadow of which must necessarily, therefore, lie across it all. But for man this shadow is over the face of God Himself. The evil in the world he resents as from a malevolent being envying his joys, and the spirit that turns from Him becomes naturally evermore defiant of Him. Upon all this, however, death must pass; and it does pass. The commonest and most familiar thing with us now is death. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof;" and where faith does not exist, there is no knowledge of a path upon which the shadows do not lie. Yet "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."

But how should man be brought to believe this? Christ has been here upon earth, the Pattern of it; one whose very words were spirit and life, one Himself in the joy of the Father, and therefore at whose touch death itself passed. The life in Him was eternal life. The Son of God, from the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, was in the world to turn men back to Him from whom they have wandered. What have they done with Him? Why has not this gracious Presence remained with us? The cross was man's answer to the Father's grace, and the world remains of necessity in the death that it has chosen, and with the brand upon it that it has rejected the Father's Son. Plain all this is, indeed, to one who has received the truth which God is proclaiming. How can the world have power any more over him who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? How can there be any more anything to glory in, save in that cross by which the world is crucified to us and we unto the world? And yet what a struggle to go through the world unreduced by it! Here is what indeed requires all the energy of the young man in Christ, with all his soul awake, and everything around him full of fresh interest — as, in a sense, it ought to be. God has provided for all this energy. He has provided for us that which, as we occupy ourselves with it, more and more satisfies, even while begetting fresh desire in the soul; and here in occupation with our own things, while in a world, too, which, when we learn it rightly, belongs to us, for its true use with God; for "all is yours," says the apostle, "whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come." What a mastery over all is here set before us to be ours if we so will, but which, as we realize it, instead of lifting the heart up with pride, will more and more teach it dependence and the joy of being with and under the omnipotent eye of God, who is for us with all that He is, and only eager to put us in possession of that which is our own. God give His young men to accept this place, and find the true field for deathless energies, which abide in the eternal life which He has given them.

The apostle turns once more now to the little children, and, strangely as at first sight it would seem, addresses them as to antichrist. Who would think of that as a topic for the babe? But it is not just with prophetical questions that he would occupy them here. What is antichrist? It is in essence all that is opposed to Christ; all that would substitute itself for Him. "I have come in My Father's name," says the Lord, "and ye receive Me not. If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." If Christ be rejected, antichrist must come. If Christ does not satisfy the soul, antichrist will press his claim upon it; and here, in fact, even doctrinally in the history of the Church, was the first and long struggle of faith. All forms of antichrist were abroad, as John says here: "Even now there are many antichrists." Conflict as to the person of Christ began in the very first days. We look back at it now, perhaps, to wonder at all the many questions which arose about the glorious person of the Son of God. We wonder at the subtleties which grew out of these, and are disposed to put much of it down as the mere curious questioning of minds that were but too little occupied with the One they questioned of; but underneath it all there lay surely that which was of fundamental interest to every soul taught of God. If the knowledge of Christ constitutes Christians, then must the enemy seek to pervert the truth of Christ in every way which devilish wisdom could suggest.

The little children are in this way peculiarly open to attack. The word of God has become a new and wonderful enjoyment to them, but they are yet largely ignorant of it, and are only beginning to know Christ, "whom to know is" indeed "life eternal." Here is the secret of the form which the enemy's attack takes. If he can now get, in some way, the very truth of Christ away from them, then the whole victory is won without any question. In that early Church, which doubtless we often misconceive as to its intelligence, as in other ways, there was not yet that intimate acquaintance with the word of God upon which so much depended. As we know, it was not in their hands as it is in our hands today. Men might obtain laboriously a copy of a Gospel, or some other book written out by their own hands, perhaps, in order to secure it, and the Scriptures did not multiply as even in this form we might expect they would. How everything fails with us through lack of the intense desire with which our hearts should go after things like these! Now, when Scripture is in all our houses and in all our hands, how much acquaintance, after all, have we with it? How many terrible gaps are there in our knowledge? Has our familiarity with it brought all this about? Has it brought contempt, or what? Alas, how our unused Bibles cry out against us! Do they not cry into the ear of God? Must He not take note of them? And all the various forms of evil that are abroad today, do they not show how still, for masses, the infancy of things has never passed?

We must not look back to those so-called primitive times expecting to find how entirely different things were then with them. Every epistle that we have is witness that they were not different. At Rome, amongst those Roman Christians whom the apostle had so long been desiring to see, whose faith had come abroad so much, — when he actually got there, what was his account? "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's." In Ephesus, where he had been so long, so that almost all Asia heard the word of God from him at that time, how earnestly he warns them of the decay which was already creeping in! And in all this men found their opportunity to sow, in this ground so little occupied with the true seed of blessing, seed of their own (which was, after all, the enemy's sowing), and to have plentiful crops within the very harvest-field of Christendom. The world had hardly woke up with astonishment to find itself Christian, when it woke up once more to find itself Arian. Christ was almost slipping away, and the Nicene Creed, with the Athanasian, are witnesses to us of the necessary conflict by which, under God, the truth was in measure saved. But the apostle's interest here is, as ours must ever mainly be, with individual souls, and with conditions out of which these things arose, and still arise.

Nor must we expect any bettering. The many antichrists proved for an apostle only that it was the "last hour." It was a departure from the truth once held — a departure which, as that, did not imply mere ignorance, but rejection. "They went out from us," says the apostle, "but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us, but they went out that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us." The doubt in this last statement implied in the common version does not really exist. The apostle does not say, "that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us." In the nature of things, that would be a contradiction. How could their going out make manifest with regard to some what it did not make manifest with regard to others? The form of speech here is merely a common form of Greek expression. "Except those days were shortened, no flesh should be saved;" but the Greek literally says: "all flesh should not be saved." Here it is plain that the going out makes manifest the same thing as to all that go out. It could not make manifest as to some what it did not make manifest as to others; and "if they had been of us," says the apostle, "they would have remained with us." He that is in Christ abides in Christ, thank God. He that is in the light abideth in the light. The apostle has no thought of the divine work in the soul being ever undone again, or that He that has begun a good work in any could fail to carry it on; but a mixed condition, such as obtains in Christendom, (such as, indeed, early obtained,) makes itself plain in this way; and through this the power of the enemy works; the antichrists are found amongst those who, not being of us, fall from the truth into the more attractive error.

But the apostle returns here to the comforting assurance of how amply God has provided even for His babes, in view of such things as these. It is to the little children that he says: "But ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things." Strange that may seem at first; yet he manifestly does not mean that they have anything like perfect knowledge, but that in this anointing from the Holy One, in the power of the Spirit who abode in them, they had really the capacity for the judgment of all such things as might be presented to them. In this character, as led of Him, they knew the truth. They had but to be subject to One abiding in them, who searched even the deep things of God. He had not written unto them, then, because they did not know the truth, and as if they were now to take, so to speak, his bare word for it. No, they knew it, and that no lie was of the truth. These things never really intermingled — the lie and the truth. Men may indeed seek to mix them together, and for those who are not of the truth themselves the imposition may stand; but God does not leave His people to the imperfection natural to them, and there is not one lie that they have any need of accepting along with truth, which they cannot distinguish from it. Moreover, the spirit of falsehood naturally tends to come out in its true character. It may hide itself in sophistry at the beginning, but the power of the enemy more and more is seen in the opposition to Christ. In the Jewish form it may deny that Jesus is the Christ; in the Christian form it will deny the Father and the Son. The great Antichrist in whom the full reality of these tendencies will appear will join the Jewish denial of Jesus being Christ with the antichristian denial of the Father and the Son; and here the point of controversy is always Christ Himself. Men may, after a sort, as we well know, own the Father when they deny the Son. In our own day, "the universal Father" is held prominently by those who, in fact, deny the Son. But the apostle tells us that those who deny the Son have not the Father either; and that, on the other hand, "he who confesseth the Son hath the Father also." How can one truly confess the Son without confessing the Father? But the Father only — whose Father may He be? Yours and mine, of sinner or saint alike! The most emphatic affirmation of the Father, therefore, may go with the most perfect denial of the Son; but the apostle warns us against any possible deception here. All this is merely Satan's substitute for truth, not the truth; with all its large liberality and plausibility. The very One in whom, as we recognize Him, we see God manifest in the fullest way is denied by it. Christ Himself is the central point of controversy, and he who confesseth the Son must surely accept the Father.

So that again he carries us back to what was heard "from the beginning." The time when that blessed Voice had first been heard amongst men was indeed a beginning, such a beginning as made it seem that there was none before. We are to expect no developments beyond this, whatever glories may develop in it. We have but to abide in that which He Himself has uttered; and what He has uttered, He is. He is the essential truth of His own words. If, then, that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us, we too shall abide "in the Son and in the Father." Along with this, to ourselves comes this immense blessedness; the promise that He hath promised us is eternal life; a promise, because in its full manifestation it is still before us. In us, as it is, it is yet to develop itself in such a way as alone will show all its power and value. All that it has proved itself already to be to us is yet only the anticipation and the earnest of the eternal blessing. Thus, in the energy of hope we are to go on, pressing on, indeed, to enjoy more and more that which we enjoy already, and kept in the light which is thus ever brightening, far from the paths of those who already, even in the apostle's time, were leading men astray. He reiterates the comfort here that that anointing which we have received of Him abideth in us, and we need not that any one should teach us. We are not disciples of this or that man, but of Christ! The truth which we rejoice in as it is ministered to us comes to us authenticated not by that which is the mere channel of it, but by Him who alone certifies divinely to the soul in the power of this same anointing, teaching us as to all things, and which is truth, and with no mixture of falsehood whatever in it. Even as it hath taught us, we shall abide in Him.

Division 3. (1 John 2:28 — 5.)

Manifestation of the divine nature in its fruits.

The third division takes in all the remainder of the book, of which it is truly characteristic. John's theme in the Gospel is eternal life in Christ Himself. His theme in the epistle is eternal life in the believer. This is the divine nature which belongs necessarily to those who are the children of God, and in whom, therefore, it produces likeness to God. God is light and God is love — both of these. The epistle it is which says that what answer to these in the believer are righteousness and love; inseparable from one another, as has been already said: for to those who have been loved as God has loved us, nothing but love would be the righteous answer. But then, again, love also must have in it this quality of righteousness, or it is not true love, but one of those human shams of which there are so many. Thus the apostle brings all to the test of practice. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love;" and then: "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments."

1. Here, first of all, we have the singleness and the perpetuity of the life received. It is eternal life, and the divine nature owns nothing to be of it that is not according to God. Thus: "Whosoever is born of God doth not practise sin, for His seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Here both things are asserted together.

(1) But we must, first of all, have the standard by which to measure these things, and the one standard is Christ Himself. He is not only this, He is the Source, also, from which we draw. As we have seen already, we are rooted and built up in Him. Abiding in Him as the branch abides in the vine (for this figure underlies all that we find here), He abides of necessity in us. He is the life-sap from which all fruit must come. In Him we should abide. This we have been just now assured of, and we are never taught by John certainly to modify this by any conditions. Yet we can be exhorted to "abide in Him." The faith which is God's gift is, nevertheless, to be put forth by us, and can be sustained or hindered. There is activity in the life we have, and responsibility on our part with regard to it. Whatever God's grace (and it is perfect), yet we are always dealt with as those responsible to yield themselves to the grace which has been shown us; and this responsibility is put before us with no less simplicity than the grace itself. "And now, children, abide in Him, that if He be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before Him at His coming." This is not surely what can happen to the believer; but the apostle takes up the Christian according to his profession, testing it always, as we have seen already — a test which grace enables us to endure. We are not called to deny that there are conditions under which we are. We are called to realize the grace which meets all the conditions. We are to keep under our bodies, and bring them into subjection, lest, even though we may have preached to others, we ourselves should be cast away. There is no uncertainty here in the least, no more uncertainty that, if we do not keep our bodies under, we shall be castaways, than that, on the other hand, no Christian, truly such, will do other than this. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."

Thus the apostle goes on here: "If ye know that He is righteous, know that every one that practiseth righteousness is begotten of Him." He is speaking characteristically, as always, and there is no need of qualification of such things as these. He does not put such things to shake one's confidence, but rather to encourage it. The one who walks with God is not unconscious of the fruit found in such a walk as this. He is conscious that sin has not dominion where grace has dominion; and he has no occasion to shirk the practical application of such truths as these. We are the children of God, and what manner of love has the Father bestowed upon us, that we should be called His children! It is not merely that we are this as born of Him, but that He openly acknowledges us; He has acknowledged us, and the Spirit of God is the seal upon us, testifying as to what we are. He is the Spirit of adoption. There is no cloud upon this at all, and the very opposition that we find in the world only confirms the truth of this. "The world knoweth us not;" no wonder, "for it knew Him not." If the world did know us, we should be most unlike Him. The more closely we follow in His footsteps, the more we must expect this essential ignorance of God in Christ to be manifested with regard to us.

We are, then, the children of God; not, indeed, manifested as such, as we shall be. The fife that we have is a life "hid with Christ in God." As to our external circumstances, nothing distinguishes us from other men. The body in which the Spirit of God dwells is yet a mortal body, and we who have "the first-fruits of the Spirit," yet "groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body;" for we know that if we be manifested, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." This has been taken as if it meant that we should be changed into His likeness by seeing Him. This, of course, as a present effect of occupation with Him in faith, is true. As we gaze upon Him, "we are changed into His image, from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit;" but, nevertheless, this does not seem to be the way in which we are to understand what is here. It is also surely true that to see Him as He is, as we shall see Him in the day of His manifestation, we must be like Him first; and, in fact, we are changed first of all into His likeness, and then caught up to be with Him. Every hindrance, everything that would obscure, everything that would prevent perfect fitness for seeing Him as He is, morally or physically, will be removed from us. The time of perfect vision will have come; and we shall at last "know, even as we are known." What must be the transforming energy already of such a hope as this! "Every one that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as He is pure." The hope of being perfectly like Him, in a little while, does not destroy the energy of the present, but calls it forth. The joyful assurance of that to which God has destined us makes us desire now to anticipate it as fully as we may. The man who hath this hope still purifies himself. He has need to do so, for the standard that he has before him is one of perfect, of infinite purity, which he cannot say he has attained. But he is to attain it, and the power of the Spirit is in him now to conform him to the One whom he is soon absolutely to be like. The perfection unattainable here is, nevertheless, that which more and more lays hold upon him, and urges him forward to attainment. He does not allow in the meanwhile any coming short of that which he sees in Christ; and that which detects in him, as the perfect light must, everything that is contrary to it, at the same time draws him on to the full enjoyment of it. It is the practical statement of that "one thing I do," which another apostle has given us.

(2) We have now once more the contrast between the one who abides in Christ and the one who "hath not seen Him, neither known Him." There is no middle ground between these two things. There is no thought of the one who has been abiding in Him failing to abide. If he abides, he sins not. If he sins, not, he does not know Him now, but he has not known Him. Every one that practiseth sin practiseth also lawlessness; and this is what sin is, it is lawlessness; that is, it is the insubjection of the will to God. The common version is astray here every way, for sin cannot be defined simply as "transgression of the law," without law being in some sense chargeable with it; but "until the law sin was in the world," and law only manifested the condition of things already existing, while "by the law is the knowledge," or recognition, of "sin." It puts the actual lawlessness of man's nature to a test by positive command; and the breach of the command not only reveals a will away from God, but makes sin, by the commandment, "exceeding sinful."

How solemn a thing it is that the commandment of God should be to man that which awakes the strife of his soul against it! but this, as we know, was learnt in the Garden at the beginning. One thing denied only, amid all the profusion around of that which testified of his Maker's love, was sufficient to produce suspicion of Him. How the example here of One who was in the world, the Servant of the Father's will, and delighting to be so, doing always the thing that pleased Him, rebukes in us the waywardness which, alas, still exists in spite of such an example! "My meat and drink," He says, "is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." Then on the cross we have the perfect revelation of sin in the judgment endured by Him, the perfect revelation of a love which wins us from it, the perfect deliverance from the condemnation which would leave us powerless and hopeless. Now then: "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not." This is the holiness which is found in faith. How we see the apostle testifying of the power of Him who had called him into fellowship with Himself! How simple on the lips of him who lay on His breast, in that wondrous intimacy to which he had been admitted, that "whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, nor known Him!" Who can make light of sin that has truly looked upon Christ, his Lord?Yet here, as we know, grace itself may be so perverted as to permit that which is nothing else than disloyalty to Him. "Children, let no man lead you astray. He that practiseth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." The apostle does not mean, of course, that in practical attainment he is this, but this is the measure that is before him, a measure from which he will not depart. "Righteous as He is righteous:" that is the Christian's measure of righteousness; that is what he is aiming after. "He that practiseth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this end hath the Son of God been manifested, that He might undo the works of the devil. Whosoever is begotten of God doth not practise sin, because his seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God."

It is strange that any should plead that this belongs to a certain class of Christians, that it is, in fact, an attainment, and not that which is true of all. It is of every one that is begotten of God that the apostle says, "He cannot sin, because he is begotten of Him;" and here is the indefectibility of the nature which he has received: "his seed abideth in him." That is the engrafted Word by which he has been made partaker of a divine nature. Nothing can grow out of this seed but that which is according to it. Every seed, as we know, brings forth the plant and the fruit that are proper to it. As James has said, "a fig-tree cannot bear olive berries, nor a vine figs." The Christian is characterized, thus, by what is Christian, and by nothing else. The apostle is speaking, as we see always, characteristically. He will not dishonor the Father by allowing aught as coming of new birth but that which is worthy of Him. We have learned of another apostle to distinguish that which may be in us as, nevertheless, no more truly ourselves; and the faith which thus identifies us with that which is of God and good is of necessity a holy principle, and admits no laxity.

(3) But now we are to see the full image of God in His children, and here we shall not find righteousness alone, but, as already said, love also. "Whosoever practiseth not righteousness is not of God; nor," on the other hand, "he who loveth not his brother." Notice that with John it is always love of the brethren of which he speaks. We are not to take this as if it meant his brother man simply. The example that he gives immediately here might seem to imply this. Cain was of the wicked one and slew his brother — of course, his brother naturally. He slew him because his own works were evil and his brother's righteous; and this is an illustration of how it is that the world hates the people of God; but we find elsewhere the careful definition on the part of the apostle as to what he means by "brethren." "He that loveth Him that begat," he says, "loveth him also that is begotten of Him." It is the new nature which produces this real kinship, and it is faith that, having introduced into the blessed knowledge of God, of necessity produces in us this love to those who manifest the divine nature. Yet, of course, when he says, "He who loveth not his brother abideth in death," he is merely dealing with men according to their profession, as everywhere through the epistle. He credits them, as it were, with this relationship which they profess to have to the people of God, and he presses the responsibility, therefore, which springs out of this relationship. But he is careful to distinguish. It is true, of course, that he who in the true sense loves his brother has not reached the limit of love in this way. As the apostle Peter has told us, we are to have "in brotherly love, love." This is the full development of the divine nature. Love is the divine nature itself. God is love. But while this is true, it is important, nevertheless, to distinguish this love to the brethren from that which might be more what men think of as benevolence. There is, in the love of which he is speaking, a recognition of God and real manifestation of our love to God Himself, for "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" He has seen God in his brother. If he does not love Him there, how can he speak of loving Him where he has not seen Him? It is an unpractical profession merely, which hangs in the air.

But "we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Not because we love certain of the brethren, let us remember. We may love even the children of God for some other reason than as His children. We may love them, perhaps, in gratitude to them for services that we may be receiving from them. Further than this, we may mistake for brotherly love that which is merely self-love in a subtler form. Men minister to our comfort, please us, and we think we love them; and in the true child of God there may be yet, after all, as to much that he counts love to the brethren, a similar mistake. A love to the children of God, as such, must find its objects wherever these children are, however little may be, so to speak, our gain from them; however little they may fit to our tastes. The true love of the children of God must be far other than sociality, and cannot be sectarian. It is, as the apostle says, "without partiality, and without hypocrisy." This does not, of course, deny that there may be differences that still obtain. He in whom God is most seen should naturally attract the heart of one who knows God according to the apostle's reasoning here. It is God seen in men whom we recognize in the love borne to them; but, then, God is in all His own, as the apostle is everywhere arguing; and therefore there is nothing self-contradictory in what has just been said.

But we need to keep the line where the apostle draws it. "He who loveth not his brother abideth in death." "Every one that hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." It is plain that the apostle does not look at eternal life here as if it were a matter of attainment for the Christian. If the having eternal life were somewhat of a high attainment, he would hardly say that no murderer has it in him. One would hardly think of saying that "no murderer" was perfectly sanctified. The having eternal life is simply the opposite of abiding in death. There is no middle ground between these two. But immediately the heart of the disciple stirs with a realization of what love is as Christ has shown it. Here is the measure of it, in Him in whom it perfectly manifested itself. "He laid down His life for us," and the apostle does not hesitate to go the full length of this as how love should manifest itself in the Christian. "He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

4 We come once more, after the apostle's manner, to the practical test; here, the test of love. It is easy to speak of it. The world has its forms and phrases, and holds to them all the more zealously because the reality is wanting. True love cares not to parade itself. It "seeketh not its own," but it is, as we so often have said, the spirit of service; and thus it is, above all, the spirit of Christ. He, then, that hath this world's substance, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up the bowels of his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? Love is that in which faith works. Therefore he looks first that it be really that — the fruit of faith. He will not tolerate a love, whatever works it may have to boast of, which is found in those who have not the faith of Christ; but all the more earnest is he that if the faith be there, the love which is its inseparable companion will be there also, and manifest itself. We are not to love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and truth; and thus it is alone that we have any right to recognize ourselves as being of the truth; and this is the only way that our hearts have confidence in drawing near to God. He is not laying foundations here, as we everywhere see. He is testing those who are professedly upon the foundation, which is an entirely different thing. Communion with God is his great theme, and communion is not a matter of sentiment merely. It is a communion in deed as well as in thought. It is communion with One who actually gave His life for us, and who went about upon earth doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. It is communion with One who even now bears all His people upon His heart before God. How, then, can it fail to manifest itself in a life which is the reflection of His life? though, indeed, it be but a reflection, as it must be.

This is maintained only in communion with Him, and the Spirit of God is the power of this communion. How necessary, therefore, that the Spirit be not grieved in us — that our heart, as he says, should not condemn us! If it does this, how sure it is that God, who is "greater than our heart, and knoweth all things," finds much more amiss than we are finding! It is only in the light of His presence that we can really discern, and if the eye be but for a moment turned from Him, the necessary consequence follows. Things become dark to us, and if there be but the least wilfulness, a bad conscience carries us further from Him instead of bringing us to Him. On the other hand, if our heart condemn us not, then have we boldness, or confidence, toward God; not boldness from the sense of our own good condition, but because the Spirit of God is unhindered. He has not to occupy us with ourselves at all, and God is able to identify Himself with those who honor Him in their walk and ways. It is "the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man" that "availeth much," and so the apostle here: Whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and practise the things that are pleasing in His sight." The "whatsoever we ask" will necessarily get its character in this way. "If ye abide in Me," says the Lord Himself, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."

"This," then, "is His commandment, that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, even as He gave us commandment." Faith always comes first, and puts Christ in His place, and then the fruit follows. "He that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him." We must abide in Christ, in order that Christ may abide in us; and while this is always true of the believer, that he abides in Christ, yet there is a practical realization of this which requires faith to be in energy, and as to which, therefore, we may well be exhorted. The Spirit given to us is the One who maintains us in the realization of it; but the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and keenly sensitive to anything that is not of Him.

2. Immediately we have now the assurance of this. The Spirit of God in the saint is He who claims him for Christ, and uses him for Christ. How anxious, as we may say, is He to use him in every sense for Christ; and in those early days, as we know, when, at least, unbelief was not systematized as it has been now so long, the very words spoken amongst the people of God were more consciously, no doubt, than at any time since, words that were "as oracles of God." Men knew what it was to speak by the Spirit as it is little understood now; and this so much that it might even give opportunity for evil spirits to come in and speak too, with a power which might be accredited for what it assumed to be, the power of God. Thus the word here, — not to believe every spirit, but to "prove the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world." The false prophets are certainly no fewer in number at the present time than when the apostle spoke; yet, in general, we may say they assume less divine authority. We have sunk down so far into the wisdom of the world that man is credited with a place which God has lost. Inspiration is the inspiration of genius, rather than of God. We are more and more getting to lose the reality of the last, just as we are coming more and more to believe in the former. We believe brilliancy, in eloquence, in intellect, in whatever you please in this way, but the assumption of speaking in any direct way by the Spirit of God no more exists, for the mass, except as one may say that the Spirit of God is as liberal as men are, and speaks in very diverse fashion, — in poets, philosophers, and all the acknowledged leaders among men.

It is indeed, as we know, coming to be thought once more that spirits speak through men; but this is not the sign of return to the old faith, but rather the sign of fullest departure from it. Certainly the test that the apostle applies here to speaking by the Spirit of God is one which the present day would count illiberal. It is the "spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh" that is "of God," and "every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God." How ill this suits a time when men can unite with those professing every false faith in the world, and count it Christian charity to do so! There is none of this in John. There is for him "a thing of antichrist" abroad, to which he is very sensitive, and he is sure that Satan, wherever he works, has for his object of attack Christ, as if it were Christ only. Thus it is a spirit of antichrist "that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in flesh." He is not satisfied, even, that Christ should be left out. He must be confessed, and in the full truth of His coming in flesh; that is, plainly, of His deity as well as His humanity. How could He "come in flesh," if He had no existence previous to His manhood? But Christ come in flesh is more than a theophany. He is not God displayed in man as He might be in one merely super-eminent among men, in whom that created image of God, in which man was at the beginning, is more than usually manifest. No, it is "Christ come in flesh" that alone answers to what is faith in Him. "In flesh," not in the Spirit by which He spake, but in true humanity, characterized by that which testifies of weakness, of a nature that disdains nothing that is of man, save only the effects of the fall.

"The thing of antichrist," as he speaks of it here, may be something negative rather than positive, and may answer its purpose even better in that way. If Christ is not positively before the soul, it is enough: the enemy's work is done; though he will do what he can, no doubt, even to destroy mere orthodoxy because of the truth that is in it; and of the truth he is afraid. Here is that by which God may work at any time, but he cannot prevent this. The truth is in the world, and he cannot get it out of it. The best he can do often is to let men slumber and forget it; and, indeed, an orthodoxy that has no life in it, that can exist and go in company with all that is not of Christ, is a witness against Him, of which Satan is perfectly conscious. The truth professed makes men witnesses spite of themselves, witnesses for or against what they profess; and thus Satan's work may be well done by those who are orthodox enough, yet godless. Satan will do more when his time comes, when the restraint upon him, of which another apostle has spoken, shall be removed, and when he will testify his zeal against orthodoxy itself, and set himself against "all that is called God or that is worshiped," and cause men to apostatize and blaspheme the Lord who bought them; but it is not his time yet. "The mystery of iniquity" works, but it works as "mystery." Thus he has to content himself largely with a Christian world that dishonors Christ, to whom Christ is not a necessity; which can throw its all-embracing arms around Jew and infidel and what not, and admire, in its blindness, its Christianity in doing so.

How illiberal is John in this respect! How fierce his invective even against a negative antichrist! Christ must be confessed, and confessed amid the full truth of what He is. All outside of the truth of this confession of a true Christ is the world, and the world in opposition to Him. "Ye are of God, children," he says, "and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world; therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them." It must be a very different world in which the truth can be popular, or in which those who hold it can in any wise expect to be popular. It is those who speak of the world whom the world heareth. There is no idea with the apostle of a world that is gradually being leavened by the truth, and which is ceasing, therefore, to be the world in reality. Judge it by its works today. What is the spirit that animates it but still "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," with a daily accumulating material for these things to manifest themselves in? It is not a thing gained if the sharp line between the world and the people of God is scarcely to be found, and a Christian world has become, as it were, a matter of course, and arouses no inquiry. This is a thing that we may well covet at the present time — to get back this sharp line of distinction, even if it involve the apparent haughtiness of being able to say, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." The apostle, if he says, "We are of God," can add to this: "He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us." Now the bewilderment is becoming such that it is no longer allowable to say this, even though the "us" means, as of course it does mean, the apostles. But these men speaking by an inspiration of God, such as none of us can claim today, are being largely taken from us. We are learning once more to think of them rather as fishermen of Galilee, and to realize the large human element that enters into their writings. It is serious, therefore, to listen to the apostle as he closes with the assurance that, "By this ye know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error."

3. John hates because he loves, and he would not love if he did not hate. The Lord, as we know, does not hesitate to use such words as these, and to claim for Himself a place in which all the claims of mere human love must be, in comparison, forgotten. The apostle is assured, spite of his vehemence against all that is in opposition to Him who is his one Object, that it is love in which he dwells; it is love God has revealed, which is His nature, and that it is every one that loveth and none other that is begotten of God and knoweth God. This love has been manifested for him in one infinite display which makes him count, as it were, nothing else to be love in comparison with this. "God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." It is plain that you must be orthodox at least to have the joy of this. God did not send some one into the world who had no such relationship to Himself as this. He sent His Only-begotten. He had not another so near to Him. It is the full wealth of His heart that He has poured out here for our acceptance, and it was our necessity that moved Him. We were dead, and in thus awaking us by His love, awaking us to love, we live through Him. "Herein," then, "is love;" a love which found us enemies, which has won us from enmity to peace and reconciliation with Him. "God, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." Sin was a reality with Him, and cost Him much for its removal. He "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." "If, then, God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." The love that we have received is love that not only enables but compels to this. The unseen God is manifested now for us in these, the objects of His love. Is it any question if our hearts must embrace them? If God has become to us the one Reality that He truly is, must not fellowship with Him put us in fellowship with the love which He has to others? This is the way His own love, then, is perfected in us — produces, that is, its fruit; and this He has "given us of His Spirit." It is not, "He has given us His Spirit," exactly, but a nature which is "of" Him, and which makes fellowship with Him a certainty and a necessity. Thus we abide in Him and He in us — Father, Son and Spirit witnessing together in us, with us.

Is it a love that willingly accepts limit, and that is really narrowed by this necessary opposition to the world, with all the elements that make it up? No: "We have beheld, and bear witness, that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." It is the world alone that rejects this salvation, and will have nothing of this love; that of necessity pleases itself; therefore outside all the light and joy and peace which are brought to us by it. For the world itself Christ is the only hope. We can promise none anywhere except as it is to be a hope in Him. This world needed a Saviour, and God has provided One; but there is no other entrance, therefore, into blessing but through faith in Him. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God." Thus "we know and believe the love that God hath to us." We know it, and believe that there is in it an infinity which yet we have not known. This love is that in which alone we have found God, we who naturally were without Him, and we have thus found Him as our home, our dwelling-place, that which the psalmist sees to have been ever for men their "dwelling-place in all generations" (Ps. 90:1). Had they realized this, how well would it have been with them! for "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High abideth under the shadow of the Almighty" (Ps. 91:1). But it is only the Second Man in whom this was ever naturally realized. For all else it has come to them as a revelation, and as the fruit of that salvation which is theirs through it. Thus God abides in us in the full reality of His glorious name. God He is indeed who has done this, God of all circumstances, God who is over all, through all and in all, God whose love has been perfected with us, so "that we may have boldness in the day of judgment" itself, "because as He is" (notice how the apostle identifies Christ with God) — "because as He is, even so are we in this world."

How he brings it down to us, this perfect love, encompassed as we are with the evidence of sin, and the ruin that sin has wrought, and of a judgment that awaits it! Even in this world we are as Christ is. He does not say as Christ was, because that would carry us back to His life on earth, and would make us think of moral likeness between ourselves and Him; and however grace may have wrought this, it is not that which gives boldness in view of judgment; nor could we say, without a tremor, that as He was, so are we. Not in any sense could we say this. Yet we can look up to the blessed place in which He is, and where we know He is for us, with the assurance in our hearts of what He has said, that because He lives we shall live also, and we can say, "As He is, even so are we in this world." He does not say, "As He is, so are we going to be when we leave the world." He is speaking of the perfection of our acceptance in the Beloved, which is what alone casts all fear out of the soul. Our eyes are off self and upon Him; and thus His perfect love casteth fear out of us. Love has thus been perfected with us, not "our love is made perfect," as the common version most wrongly has it, but God's love has been perfected in regard to us. It has found its way and wrought its will in blessing for us, and is not satisfied as long as it sees in us the least element of fear remaining; for, "there is no fear in love," but love and fear are (in this sense of fear — the fear that hath torment) antagonistic to one another. How little can the heart go out towards One whom it dreads as the God of judgment! The mother could better suffer the anguish of her child than God allow the torment of doubt in one of His own; but how, then, is it that there may, after all, be such among His people? The apostle's answer is, "He that feareth is not perfected in love." He has not learnt aright, as he should have learnt, the lesson which God is teaching him. He has not looked enough in the face of Christ, who is the manifestation of love. He is not perfect in his lesson; and yet this is the basis of all blessing for us, and this is that which works in transforming power to make us what He desires to have us. "We love, because He hath first loved us."

4. The apostle goes on, after his manner constantly, to test as to the truth of all this. Everything that is of God in us has to be tested. The world is the very place for this, and the things spoken of here are of so precious a nature that it makes it of absolute importance that they should be known in reality; that there should be no mistake about this, no misconception even in the Christian as to what is their true character. Christians, as we know, may themselves make the most serious mistakes, and in nothing so much as with regard to love. We mistake so easily the sentiment for the reality, and we may even say we are conscious of this love. What do we want more? But the apostle is not satisfied with emotions. Nothing more easily deceives us than these emotions. Some, as we know, are more easily susceptible of these than others. With one, that which he feels will readily overflow, the eyes and tongue and all else bearing witness to it; while another, with more repressive power, may show no sign, simply because that which he has is of a deeper character. We all know how, under a man's eloquence or under the power of the truth itself, with some there will be a rush of emotion where there is no seed really sown in the heart. What the apostle would say is that, if the seed is sown, there will be something springing from it. If one says, I love God, I cannot see his love, I cannot test it; but here is his brother, whom he calls his brother and yet hates: he is a liar, then, "for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" And the very commandment that we have from Christ is that we love one another: — a commandment given us at the hour of His departure from the world, with all the solemnity attaching to this, and in the performance of which, as the Lord says, men shall know that we are His disciples, because we have love to one another. This commandment, such an one is manifestly violating; for He hath said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." "This commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also." It will be the necessary result of love to God. Nevertheless, it is a commandment. Alas, with the flesh in us, we may so easily encourage that which is not of God, building ourselves up, it may be, upon some evil that we have suffered or believe that we have suffered, and thus seeking to shelter ourselves under the plea of righteousness from the commandment of love. How important, then, that we should be reminded that these things dwell together; that if you tear them apart, you destroy both!

Here the apostle takes the widest sweep, so that we shall not imagine that it is just Christians who are in their full character manifesting this, that we are bound to. No "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." Certainly it must be true faith, and not mere orthodoxy. That is as strongly put here as it well can be nevertheless, there may be true faith in Jesus when, after all, there are many things contrary to this, and to all that is implied in it in the lives of His own, and there are those of whom we can have no doubt, in fact, that they are Christians, with whom, nevertheless, it is sufficiently hard to walk in company. Yet, "whosoever loveth Him that begat, loveth him, also, that is begotten of Him." How can our hearts refuse those who are thus the fruit of the same love which has embraced us also, and to which we owe our all? But here, again, is a cross-check: "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when" — what? When we can never separate ourselves from them? When we have a boundless charity that believes all things, so as practically to see no evil? No, but "when we love God, and keep His commandments." And this last is urged so that we may not overlook it here. "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." There is nothing else that is worth calling love. Love to God is the spirit of obedience. It is that which subjects the whole life to Him. How can it be love to Him whose authority we admit, and whose perfection in the exercise of it we cannot really doubt for a moment, and yet at the same time refuse obedience to Him? What is this path that His commandments mark out for us but a path of peace, as it is a path of victory over all that would destroy peace? Subjection to God is that which is peace to the whole universe. To be with God is the only way, therefore, of entering into it; and while there are difficulties on all sides, — for the world is around us, a world which knew not God's beloved One who came into it, and knows Him no more now than it ever did, — nevertheless, "he that is begotten of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, our faith." If we have faith at all, we have in that respect overcome it; for faith is the one thing of which the world is not capable. "Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" He does not say here "the Christ," but the One from the Father's bosom, the One who manifests the Father; so that not to recognize Him is to be blind and deaf, or, as Scripture in its strong way puts it, spiritually "dead." A thing that is dead has no place longer practically in the creation of God. Life is what is necessary for this; but is that "life" which has neither ears, nor eyes, nor heart; which does not warm and brighten under the display of divine glory? The faith that Jesus is the Son of God is that, then, which speaks of eyes and ears and heart awake and responsive to the Creator.

Jesus is the Son of God; yet in what strange manner did He come! And yet how suitable to His glory and to our condition! "This is He that cometh by water and blood, Jesus Christ" — two things absolutely necessary: — cleansing morally, and from guilt; not water only needed, not the mere moral cleansing, — although surely that, — but the righteousness of God needing to be met; for love and righteousness, as we have seen, must go together. Sunder them, and you have neither. But this, then, is man's condition. This is what has brought the Son of God into the world He made. Only when He had reached the cross had He reached the place of our necessity. The water and the blood came to us out of the side of the dead Christ; and here, as we know, the Spirit breaks out in witness, as in the mouth of John in the Gospel, and in the scriptures which he quotes there. The Spirit has come Himself upon earth as the fruit of it, to give fuller testimony, and now the Spirit, which is the truth, bears witness with the water and the blood, and the three agree in one. It is a witness upon earth, as upon earth it is needed. The passage which speaks here of witness in heaven is a mere interpolation, as is fully agreed now by all. The Spirit upon earth is, in fact, the abiding witness of the full accomplishment of redemption for us. Although He was even from the beginning striving with men, and working in them, yet there could be no witness such as is at the present time, until at last the water and the blood had given testimony to the Redeemer and to His accomplished work. Now the witness is in all His people. We receive the witness of credible men, but what a witness is here! This is the witness of God Himself, who has borne witness concerning His Son; and he that believeth on the Son of God has not merely a witness outside himself, as in Scripture, (important as this is, and that upon which faith must ever build,) but he has also the witness in himself, not as something entirely distinct and separate from the Word, but as that which makes the Word itself a living Word, an oracle of God within him, a blessed Voice to which heart and conscience respond — the whole new man; who thus walks in a new glory revealed to him — in the light of the opened heavens, transforming all upon which it falls. How lightly men now treat faith, even when they declare they themselves have it! How simply Christians, so called, can accept what they characterize as the unity of the religious element, in such a way as to do away with the simple necessity of faith in the Son of God! Yet "he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar." How? Because he does not own the marks of divine workmanship in creation? Or because he does not believe in the common Father of men? No; but "because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath witnessed concerning His Son." All they that do not credit this are under that awful responsibility of which the apostle speaks here. And if "this is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life," this life he also witnesses to be "in His Son," and in His Son alone. People are not to say, Well, it is in His Son, but it may be, nevertheless, for those also who are ignorant of Him, who have not seen the glory which is really His. No, it is in His Son after this manner, so that "he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Here is the line of separation fixed by God Himself between faith and unbelief. There are not different "forms of faith," as the poet would persuade us, but there are many forms of unbelief; and one faith, which is in the Son of God.

Yet it is true, also, that those who have eternal life in the Son of God may yet be ignorant of the immensity of their blessing. "These things," therefore, the apostle writes, that those who believe on the name of the Son of God (that is, on what He is, which His name declares) may know that they have eternal life. It is the Word here, as we see, that is competent, and alone competent, to secure them in this knowledge. He writes, that they may know. They are to build upon the assurance that God has given thus in His Word, and the presence of the Spirit of God in us does not make us independent of a testimony which He Himself has given, but builds us upon it. The Word tests all. It is that which alone is competent to unravel all the subtleties of the human heart, and all the subtleties by which Satan would deceive the sons of men, and to bring into the clear apprehension of everything, the light of revelation giving everything its proper character and its proper place.

5. The apostle closes his epistle with a practical word for those so blest. God has manifested Himself in order that we may have the full blessedness of this manifestation. We are left as weak in ourselves, as helpless as ever; but we have revealed in Him a fulness which is perfectly available for us, and of which it is indeed an urgent necessity that we should avail ourselves; but how strange, then, that we should need to be urged so to avail ourselves! Does not the fulness that we have in God shame indeed the emptiness that is so often our practical condition? Why is it we are not more manifestly "filled up into all the fulness of God"? We are in the One who has this fulness for us. Nevertheless, in the true sense, we have to make it ours; and therefore the apostle urges upon us here the blessedness of prayer. It is what we find constantly in Scripture, where we have in the fullest way our blessings declared to us — immutable blessings, which no hostile power can deprive us of, and yet how much, alas, they exist as if they did not exist for us! God "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." What do we want, then, to possess ourselves of these? Just to mount in faith to that pure and blessed place in which they are found, to Him in whom they are found, and to have our hearts set upon the attainment of things that receive thus their character. So here: "This is the boldness which we have towards Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him." How different this wonderful and triumphant assurance from the kind of prayer that we so often find ourselves making, and from the effect, also, as far as we can realize it, of the prayers that we make. Do we know that, whatever we ask, we have the petitions which we have asked of Him? How good it would be always to know that! Can we not know it, then? The apostle evidently speaks of it as the simplest thing that can be. If we know that He heareth us, we know that we have the petitions. Do we know that He heareth us? Do we know, as the result, that we have the petitions? Do we act as if we thought so? Is there not often some perplexity in our minds about it? What is the meaning of this, but that we have not risen into the atmosphere where all is clear? We are down in the earth valleys too much, with our view bounded by objects which, however great to us, are small indeed in comparison with the immensity of the heavens. Let us get up where our blessings are. Let us seek to possess ourselves of these blessings. Let us here covet, covet earnestly, covet the best gifts, and see whether God will deny them to us. It is surely impossible that He who has made them our own should think of denying. If we are content to let the earth draw our boundary lines for us, and to limit ourselves by the things with which faith has no proper occupation, — if our hearts are set upon that which God has never secured to us, and of which, therefore, we can indeed have little assurance that we ask according to His will, — all will be as mean and beggarly in result as we have made ourselves mere beggars and not the children of God's family of faith. Let our first prayer be, if we do not realize the prospect which the apostle has set before us in such words as we have here, that He would lift us up into the sphere in which our blessings are, and make us at home where our home is. We shall still, of course, be on earth to do His will and run upon His errands, and find happiness in all this. Our competence, indeed, for the whole life on earth is that which we find in Him who is in the heavens. To possess ourselves of that which God has sealed to us in His Son and made our own, how can we lack ability? And to do God's will on earth, if we covet that as what is really living, how, again, can we lack ability? This is the region in which the apostle is, in his exhortation and in his encouragement. It is open to us, we may be sure, and the word remains good here, "We have not, because we ask not;" or, we "ask, and have not, because we ask amiss."

In this place one is able to realize what sin is in the believer, in a brother, and the awful reality of it as a way of death, which may end governmentally in that, as we see in Corinthians. "If any one see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He will give him life, for them that sin not unto death." Still notice, "He will give him life," although the sin be not unto death; yet it leads in that direction, although it has not involved as yet a certainty of it. There is a sin which involves this: "there is a sin unto death: I do not say of it," adds the apostle, "that ye should make request." "All unrighteousness is sin." Every departure from God's measure of things, from God's perfect, indefectible will is sin; but how contrary is it all, as the apostle would have us realize here, to the very end which God has given us, that there should be any sinning whatever. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not, but he that hath been begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." These are not words with regard to a special class among believers, for there are not some believers who are not begotten of Him. He is speaking of what is the proper character (looked at according to its nature), and what is the necessary fruit of that seed of the Word of God, the seed of faith which abides in them. Must not that spring up? Can it bear other fruit than that which belongs to it, and justifies it? Surely not. And notice how sin, here, is that which permits at once the awful touch of the wicked one. What a thing to alarm our consciences, and to make us realize its awful character! Here is one in whom, (in whose power,) the whole world around us lies. "We are of God," though in the midst of it; and "we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we should know Him that is true," and should know Him not simply as an object before us, however blessed, but that "we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ." He is the true God (the apostle has no idea as distinguishing Him in this sense from the Father), He is the true God, there is no other. He is at the same time the Eternal Life, the Life which has been manifested in the world, the life, also, which is in us, the life which He who is its Source for us controls, and in which He acts, — Christ living in us, Christ possessing us, Christ the wisdom, the power, the sanctification of our souls, Christ the revelation of God to us from which, if we stray but a step on either side, we come to an idol. "Children," is the last word of the apostle, — the word that he would have remain with us, the witness against everything that would draw away our souls from Christ, — "Children, guard yourselves from idols."

The Second Epistle of John.

Notes.

The Second Epistle of John is most evidently an appendix to the First, dwelling upon the same truth in part, and in the same way, with only an emphasis put upon that which we have seen all through the First Epistle to be of special importance. As the divine nature is manifested in righteousness and love, so here truth, which is the foundation of all righteousness, is emphasized in connection with love. The inseparability of these two has been already sufficiently before us. Here it is truth that is emphasized, that love must be in the truth, not setting it aside, not going beyond the bounds that it imposes — if we can, indeed, call them bounds.

In the Third Epistle we shall find that it is love that is emphasized, that the truth must be in love.

Here is what would strike any one, that the apostle addresses himself to a woman, — "the elect lady and her children," — the only epistle written in this way in Scripture. There must be, of course, a meaning in this. If he were writing to an assembly, it would be assembly responsibilities that would be naturally dealt with. If he is writing to an individual, it will in the same way be individual responsibilities. And if it be one, as here, who stands in peculiar relationship to the assembly, a woman whose responsibilities in this way are often apt to be considered of the smallest, then it may be held for certain that he is enforcing the duty which belongs to every one, as illustrated thus in one who might be supposed to have, if any, a freedom from them. The great matter about which he writes is still that which he has shown us to be the concern even of the little children, the matter of antichrist; not now of the special antichrist of the last days, but those who were already casting the shadow of the future upon the present. Many deceivers had already gone forth into the world, who confessed not Jesus Christ coming in flesh. Already we see that not only was the world full of hostility to Christ, but that Satan was working among those who professed faith in Him, to destroy the testimony which God had raised up. We need not wonder how the apostle's zeal flames out. It is love that speaks in him, a burning love to Christ, without which there is no divine love to any. Love, therefore, must be in the truth, which Christ is, the grand truth which gives character to all else.

The apostle begins by assuring this elect lady and her children, not only that he loves them "in truth," but "for the truth's sake." Thus all they that knew the truth would unite in such a love. This truth would abide in the power of God. Nothing could indeed destroy it, maintained of God in the face of all opposition. With the courage derived from this, we start here; and "grace, mercy and peace" are thus assured "from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father,"* the One in whom the truth displays all its glory.

{*The salutation seems to include the question involved. We saw in the First Epistle that it was denial of the Son of the Father that designated the Antichrist. So here, the full title is given, in face of that evil which would deny it. S.R.}

The apostle writes in the joy of having found, among the children of her whom he addresses, those walking in the truth according to the commandment received from the Father, which is, "that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ," and then "that we love one another." Thus love is free to manifest itself. No new commandment, as he repeats from his former epistle, but "that which we had from the beginning;" but then, "this is love, that we walk after His commandments." There is to be no new version of it, no addition, no alteration of any kind. What was heard from the beginning may, of course, be ever better understood, more fully realized, but it must remain the same. It is plain how the positive perfection of inspiration is implied in this. There is no allowance of any human element which could touch this. Yet deception was already fully at work. Many deceivers had gone forth into the world, and they struck boldly at what was the foundation, the centre, the heart of all, "Jesus Christ coming in flesh." History is full of these attempts of the enemy. Whatever form they might take all through, there was the one aim in it, to take Christ, in the full blessedness of what He is, from the soul; and all had need to be upon their guard. He writes to those whom he recognizes as walking in the truth, those who knew the truth, loved on this account, and yet he has to say, "Look to yourselves, that we lose not the things which we have wrought, but that we may have full recompense." So subtle and so insidious are the approaches of evil! The confidence of love in those professing Christianity, might lead, even from its unsuspicious frankness, to a reception of that which had in it the germ of antichrist. Wherever it was found, even in its most incipient character, "whosoever goeth forward," (develops something that is new,) "and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." It is not a mere human mistake, for which we may apologize. It is the deadly power of him whose works Christ came to destroy, and who would himself fain destroy the work of Christ. "He that abideth in the doctrine hath both the Father and the Son." Everything turns upon the possession of the true Christ, without whom there is no revelation of God at all — in whatever form; nothing but the widespread idolatry of the human heart. Thus, if any one came, not bringing this doctrine (he does not exactly say, even, bringing some other doctrine, but not owning this), he was not to be received into the house, or given a common greeting. That is the force of the word, which "bidding him God-speed," as in our common version, misinterprets. There might not be positive sympathy with his views, but yet the careless putting sanction upon them by want of outspoken refusal; thus he that simply greeted him partook in his evil works. It is exceedingly strong language; and in these days, when man's will is free, and his thoughts are so abundant, hard it may seem to know how to carry it out; but the apostle makes no question of the responsibility. It was that of every private Christian; not something for teachers to settle merely, or for the assembly to have to do with, (however much, of course, it might have to do with it,) but every one was responsible to act whether others acted or did not act. Christ was to be first, and Christ was to be all. No other, nothing else, could be considered. There is no examination hinted at as to the state of soul of the one thus characterized as a deceiver. It is no question of his state of soul at all; whether, after all, he may at bottom be better than the doctrine he brings would show. The question is simply of his doctrine. He is to be judged by his words, not by his thoughts or motives; and it is evident that this is with the apostle a point of such special importance that it is that which gives character to his epistle here. It is what is peculiar to and distinctive of it. It is something which needs to be added to what is more formally doctrinal in the first epistle. There is to be no toleration whatever here. Toleration would only be the permitting of that which would destroy Christianity to the bottom, and rob every Christian of that which makes him this. Here there must be, therefore, the intolerance of love itself; and we see most clearly what association means here, even of the lightest kind. It gives to the person who tolerates, the character of that which he is tolerating, and the very piety of the one who did this would necessarily be only a more deceptive cover under which the evil would better work. For how much is the careless unconcern, even of those who seem to be pious, everywhere responsible!* What disaster has been wrought by it; the mingling of ranks that cannot mingle, the mingling of friends and enemies, until it is openly proclaimed as Christian charity to go with those who deny Christ, in every practical good work that can be named! Here is the root, as should be plain, of an immense evil which has filled the so-called Christian world with that which is the work of the enemy. The apostle has much else to write about, but would not do it now with pen and ink, hoping to come and to "speak mouth to mouth." All the plainer it is that here is something that he will not even for a moment delay to speak about, something that will not keep even till the time of meeting. How full of solemn warning is such an epistle as this!**

{*Much question has been raised as to how far this treatment is to go, of those who while themselves personally sound (if that can be called soundness which does not instinctively resent dishonor to our holy Lord) do receive or "greet the bringer of false doctrine. As shown in the Notes, the apparently sound and pious, in going on with error which they have not personally imbibed, are more dangerous than the openly evil; for they mislead others by their example. Furthermore, the scripture before us declares that the one who greets is a partaker of the other's evil deeds. Most certainly then they illustrate the apostle's word, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," and are themselves exposed to the same treatment as the false teacher. Most unquestionably this applies to all real fellowship, at the table of the Lord and elsewhere. Doubtless too, if we were more simple and spiritual, we would, in love and faithfulness show by our refusal to greet those neutral how abhorrent to God is all tampering with unholy denials of His Son. Nor will it be out of place to call attention to the fact that in these closing days of the Church's history, there seems to be a revival, in one form or another, of the early blasphemies as to the Son of God. Let us warn one another against the least carelessness as to this. There can be tolerance of many things — weak and faulty apprehension of dispensational and other truth — but no unholy touch of the Person or Work of our blessed, adorable Lord should be tolerated for a moment. S.R.

**The closing salutation from the children of the "elect sister" reminds us of the close of 1 Peter, and may be similarly explained. — S.R.}

The Third Epistle of John.

Notes.

The Third Epistle of John is of a very different character. It does not balance or modify what he has just been saying in the least. It is not intended for this. He emphasizes the truth here at the beginning, as he had emphasized it before. He is writing to one whom he loves in the truth, and rejoices exceedingly that the brethren have come and borne witness to the truth in him, in which he walked. He has no greater joy than this, to hear of his children walking in the truth. He is very happy indeed about this beloved Gaius, and can only wish that he may prosper and be in health, even as his soul doth prosper — a beautiful witness. How often we could rather wish that the souls of Christians might prosper as they otherwise prosper! and how few are they for whom one can so frankly pray that they may prosper, as the apostle does here! He does not need to exhort him to the display of love upon which he dwells in the epistle, but only to express his satisfaction as to the way in which he was displaying this.

He heartily owns the faithfulness of his love towards the brethren familiarly known, and towards those who came as strangers from other places. Divine love was manifesting itself indeed in these in the activity in which they went forth for Christ's sake, to declare His name, and in dependence upon Himself alone, taking nothing of those of the nations. This is plainly an opposite course from that which is commonly thought to be right today, when the Church of God has become a beggar to the world, and has taught it well of how good service, apart from faith at all, it may be to it. The days of the apostle were certainly not days in which the Church ordinarily had much in the way of riches outside of the treasures which were peculiarly her own; but men felt so rich in God that they doubted not of His sufficiency for them, no matter what the need might be; and the introduction of another principle has worked, in fact, a disaster which it is inexcusable for any Christian to ignore today. This dependence upon God in those who went forth with His Word was what in a special way commended them to their fellow-Christians. The apostle mentions it evidently to their praise. Such, he says, we ought to receive, that we may be fellow-workers with the truth.* This was a privilege which it is clear could apply to Christians alone. If the receiving of such and care for them made men fellow-workers with the truth, how could those who knew not the truth, who had no faith in Christ, be fellow-workers in this way?

{*This is in interesting contrast to the sad partaking of the evil deeds, spoken of in the Second Epistle. — S.R.}

Yet here, alas, there was found opposition inside the Church itself, an opposition which was assuming a very decided and aggressive form. If it even were an apostle writing to the assembly, one so well known as John, there could be a Diotrephes loving to have the pre-eminence among the disciples, who would not receive it. It is not a question here, as before, of false doctrine on either side; but the flesh has abundance of excuses for having its own way. Diotrephes neither himself received the brethren, nor suffered those who wished to do so; nay, he cast them out of the assembly. How thoroughly the shadows of the future are here upon the present also! No doubt, the one in question had much to say with regard to this irregular work, as he would count it — not simply evangelizing, as it would seem, but which contemplated the help of the Lord's people also, which would, of course, tend to bring to an end the special assumptions of one who craved eminence in this way among them. Diotrephes very likely thought that his own ministry was all-sufficient, and that it was but itching ears that craved the teaching of others.* There is nothing like the absolute freedom of ministry derived from God only, and which seeks not the sanction of men, for destroying all such rights of individuals over the assemblies of God. We may remember that Peter warns us of just such an evil as was exhibiting itself here, when he bids the elders not to be as those who exercised lordship over the flock, as if it were their own possession. The right of ministry is free to all, just as the power to minister carries with it the responsibility of ministering; but how easy it is to assume a sort of right with regard to those to whom, perhaps, we have long ministered, and who may be, more or less, even the fruit of this! Thus the Church of God has, in fact, got so much into separate companies; and with this of necessity arises the tendency to independent schools of thought, and partisanship for one rather than another, when God would minister by all to the need of all. It is of God, surely, that we should be permitted to see already, in even a somewhat extreme form, that which was to spread itself over the Christian Church so largely as it has done, depriving it of the nourishment which God has provided for it, and leading more and more to heresies which would be doctrinal also.

{*Diotrephes, "nourished by Jupiter" — of the family of the gods, seems a fitting name for the pride and haughtiness of which this man is an example. Demetrius, "belonging to Demeter" or "Ceres," while not so clear, may stand for fruitfulness and useful service. A very real contrast to the other. S.R.}

It is perhaps not necessary to suppose that the casting out of the assembly those who came to minister went the length of positive excommunication. The assembly itself does not seem to have been penetrated with the spirit of Diotrephes, although it had got so much under his control; and the casting out of the assembly may be simply the making it impossible for them to use in it the gifts which God had given. The aim of Diotrephes was clearly to keep the assembly for himself. There is no proof, such as has been imagined, of doctrinal tendencies having anything to do with this; though the apostle speaks strongly of the truth as that which commended, and was all that was needed to commend, the witnesses of it. He speaks thus of Demetrius as having witness borne to him by the truth itself as well as by those around; who, no doubt, testified more especially of his personal character. He may have been one of these wandering teachers and preachers which so provoked the opposition of the high clerical party represented by the chief opposer here. The apostle bears witness himself to Demetrius as one himself apparently a stranger, perhaps the bearer of the present epistle. It is an immense point to realize that the truth is in itself a sufficient warrant for the one that brings it. Truth is of God, and the voice of God has supreme right to be heard everywhere and always. The life of the one who brings it must, of course, commend the truth he brings; but the whole matter here is of the truth and the spiritual character — not of official place. Thus there is in Scripture no human commission given even by apostles themselves to preach and teach. Eldership and the diaconate were of another character, as we have seen. They were official and local; but the truth itself had everywhere title, just as the truth; and it has wrought nothing but mischief to have souls diverted from the question whether it is truth that is preached, to the question of any supposed commission of the man who preaches it. This has led to want of exercise everywhere as to the truth itself, the taking it second-hand on human authority, and not divine. This, in its incipiency at least, seems what is here; and it is a main point of the epistle to set the truth free from every hindrance of this character, that God's voice may everywhere appeal as it ought to the hearts of His people. The apostle closes, as in the Second Epistle, by saying that there were many other things of which he might write, but would not, hoping soon to see personally the one he is addressing, and to "speak mouth to mouth."*

{*Gaius, "of the land," seems to be well known for his hospitality — a reputation to be coveted. The saints are spoken of as "friends," a title not frequently used, but appropriate in this place, where the grace of Christian friendship is exhibited. S.R.}