“Little children.”

1 John 2.
(continued from page 11, Words of Help from the Scripture of Truth)

It is well worthy of our notice that, in the remarkable chapter under consideration, the apostle begins with the “fathers,” and as we have seen, adds nothing which could suggest the least uncertainty as to what they had received from the first moment of their spiritual existence, or even that added to it in the sense of replacing or setting aside any portion of what they began with.

The Apostle Paul uses the comparison of a “child” in a human way in 1 Cor. 12:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This is in connection with divine things partially entered into and enjoyed now, while looking forward to full and perfect knowledge when we shall see the Lord as He is, and “love” shall have its full energising character, answering to God’s own nature. So elsewhere, “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know; but if any man love God, the same is known of Him” (1 Cor. 8:2, 3).

All that, referring to human apprehension, is true; but in the Epistle of John it is a question of God revealed in Christ, and of the present, actual, eternal relationship with God, that flows from it in communion with the SON, who alone could make the Father known. Nothing can be added to this, and it remains, thank God, eternally. In the “Word made flesh,” who dwelt here below for a time, “full of grace and truth,” the glory seen was indeed the glory of the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14).

So the Apostle Paul, when speaking of this subject, states, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9; compare 2 Tim. 2:13; 1 John 1:3). God’s eternal purpose was to have many “sons” in glory; how was this to be accomplished? His Son became man in order to do His will; and in view of that glorious consummation, He says, speaking now as it were from the glory where He is, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:9-13).

All this divine work has been carried out by Christ, who, in identifying Himself with the objects of His grace by suffering for them on the cross as their sinbearer, has become “the captain of their salvation,” and is about to come again to receive them, that where He is, they may be also (John 14:1-3). With this the believer begins; sonship is his portion. The “new birth” ushers into it, or in other words, the expression “born of God” describes a soul who has received Christ. It is no longer a question of national privilege, as that of the Jew, who boasted his descent from Abraham (John 8:33, 39), nor of any action or fruit of human will, desire or effort, but “of God,” who, of His own will, begets by “the Word of truth” (John 1:11-13; James 1:23). “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, 20; 2 Cor. 6:6). This is God’s creative work, and there is a sort of illustration of it in the resurrection of Lazarus. In his case, death and corruption were covered by human grave-clothes, but one word of Jesus brought him outside the tomb, where it was an easy matter for those who put the grave-clothes on him to “loose him and let him go.” Life and soundness were there already, or there could have been no object in taking the grave-clothes off.

The more we consider this work of God from the standpoint of His glory, the more our souls are brought to enter into its perfection, for the present joy and blessing of every one who is “turned to God,” to serve Him and to wait for His Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1:1). Here the spiritual “little child,” begins his career, and the “fathers,” at the end of their course on earth, fall back with increased delight upon One well known in practical life and walk, who was at first for them God revealed in Christ, and still remains for them that which He had ever been. “That which was from the beginning” of the Lord’s manifested life on earth, “heard, seen, and handled” by His disciples, was and is “that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested” in the Person of the Son on earth. So the Lord could say to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” Again we read, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He had declared Him” (John 1:18; John 14:6-11; 1 John 1:1-3).

To the disciples, and to multitudes of others, it was given to see the Son when He was here on this earth, to hear His words and witness His works of grace and power during the three years of His ministry (John 18:20, 21). But we have the additional advantage of knowing all the results of His death and resurrection, now made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven after Jesus had taken His place on high with the Father (John 7:37-39; John 16:7-16). The Lord forbade His disciples to leave the city of Jerusalem and begin to carry out their commission to preach the gospel among all nations, until they were endued with the power of the Spirit from on high (Luke 24:49).

It is consequently utterly impossible for any one to return to the state or condition of partial knowledge, which we notice in the disciples who accompanied the Lord during His ministry on earth. No one can believe in Christ now, but in a Christ who had died, is risen and glorified, and is soon coming again, first to receive His own saints to Himself, and afterwards to judge the world that persists in unbelief. Many lose themselves in speculations and reasonings as to a process of transformation in the soul, based upon what might or might not be understood by those who, in the gospel history, were looking for the kingdom to be set up by Christ then, either during His ministry or after His resurrection (Acts 1:6, 7). All such inference is foolish and mischievous to the last degree. The apostle Paul would know nothing but “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” a gospel which was a stumblingblock to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:21-24; 1 Cor. 2:1, 2).

When that gospel is preached, it is either received, or it is not. If it “be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” If it is received, it is the effect of a divine operation, described, as the apostle shows, in Gen. 1:2: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Light was introduced where there was only darkness before (2 Cor. 4:3-6). We have this treasure in earthen vessels surely, when experience, often bitter, casts a shadow on our life’s history; the treasure, however, is there notwithstanding, and the more trying the experience, the more the soul is cast upon God and His faithfulness. But that adds nothing to the treasure which is unalterable, - God revealed in Christ, His glory shining in the face of Jesus, - our unchanging portion both for earth and heaven (see John 17:24).

Now this change, or passage from darkness to light, is just what is called being “born again” in John’s writings. And Paul clinches it by saying, “Ye are all sons* of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). The Holy Ghost is afterwards given, not to make us “sons,” but because we are sons already, by faith in Christ Jesus. There is no intermediate state. Either a soul believes or it does not; if not, as the Lord says, the wrath of God abides on it (John 3:36).

{*The word for “sons” here is exactly the same as in the following chapter (4:6, 7). Unfortunately it is weakened in the A.V. by the word “children.”}

John, in his epistle, does not go into any detail of what takes place in the soul progressively. His subject is Christianity in principle, in contrast with the denial of it by “antichrists.” The Jewish form of unbelief was the denial that Jesus was the Christ (or “Messiah”) that all natural descendants of Abraham expected would come, as announced by the prophets. This was the great subject of discussion with the Jewish leaders in John 8 (and see John 12:34); they were well acquainted with the Scriptures, but refused to own that Jesus was the promised Messiah; and He definitely told them, that until they had crucified Him they neither would nor could know Him: “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am He” (verse 28; John 12:24, 32, 33). No life-giving knowledge of forgiveness of sins [is possible] without it. But when that truth is received in the soul definitely, the Spirit is given. So says Peter in Acts 2:38; and it was proved in Acts 10:43, 44. Paul’s question also to the believers he found in Ephesus supposes the same thing (Acts 19:1-7). The Lord promised it to His disciples after His resurrection; they could not be witnesses for Him on earth, after His departure, without the Holy Ghost (John 15:26, 27). Consequently a “Christian” as such, according to God’s thoughts, supposes the knowledge of forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus, carrying sonship with it, and supposes also the reception of the Holy Ghost, as “seal” or “unction” (i.e. anointing), in connection with Christ’s return to the Father on high (John 14:16, 26; John 16:7,13, 28).

This complete picture of a Christian, so to speak, is what the apostle presents by the figure of a “little child,” that is, as we have already seen, what a Christian is in God’s account, according to God’s eternal purpose and choice in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:2). It is, in fact, the result of the Lord’s humanity, revealing sonship, and of His death, resurrection, and present glory with the Father (John 13:31-35; John 16:28). Our responsibility is to receive God’s estimate, and hold it in our souls so that we may be found practically walking here to the glory of Christ, keeping His “new commandment,” given for the first time, after Judas had gone out, on the very night in which he betrayed his Master. We cannot love one another as He has loved us unless our hearts are continually feasting on His love, measured by His laying down His life for those whom He honours by the name of friends (John 15:12-15).

The present glory of the Lord Jesus is the mainspring of the believer’s practical life and walk, as He said when giving the new commandment: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him.” Similarly the blessing and joy of eternity is expressed in His last prayer: “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

It is interesting to notice that Peter, addressing the Jews who were astonished at the miracle performed on the impotent man, began with the fact of the Lord’s present glory (Acts 3:13). Here the “little child,” or new-born soul begins, and here the “fathers” end, while waiting to see the Lord face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). “They know Him that is from the beginning.”

W. J. L. February 1914