The Last Two Epistles

Holding the Fort and Helping the Truth

Holding the Fort (2 John)

"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" (2 John 10).

An inspired epistle to A LADY AND HER CHILDREN! Here is something that ought to arrest our attention and make us ask the reason why — for this short letter (2 John) stands alone in this respect in the New Testament.

One of the last of the inspired writings, it emphasizes at the closing of the canon of Holy Scripture that which is so constantly taught therein, that in weakness God manifests His power, and out of the mouths of babes and sucklings He ordains strength (Ps. 8). When men in times past abandoned the truth and, because of their cowardice or selfishness, failed the Lord, women stood firm and maintained the ground for God. This we see at the time of the first coming of our Lord, when pious women kept constant watch and faithful, for the advent of Israel's Redeemer; and when Mary of Bethany, anticipating His rejection and death, poured her precious ointment upon Him, in holy self-abandonment, whilst His men-disciples quarrelled as to who should be the greatest in His kingdom; and also, when the Magdalene stood weeping and alone without His empty tomb, whilst the rest sought the shelter and comfort of their own homes. These are examples of devotion that shall never be forgotten, and with them shall be remembered the faithfulness of this nameless lady who held herself and her household for the Lord.

She probably lived in a great pagan city in which there may have been a Christian assembly such as that described in John's letter to Gaius, out of which godly men were being cast, and into which neither the apostle nor his inspired writings were received.

Very early in the church's history the citadel had been surrendered to the enemy, and the flag of truth had been hauled down and laid in the dust. Had it? As far as the majority were concerned, who had yielded to other authority than the Lord's, and who had compromised the truth, perhaps; but this lady and her children had not yielded to the adversary. They were keeping the flag flying. When the church failed, the Christian household stepped into the breach; its answer to the enemy was "No surrender!" and it held the fort for the Lord and the truth.

A day of small things, and weak; say you. Yes, and yet, though small, certainly not weak. Suppose news reached us that a great and numerous foe had invaded some British territory, and had swept all before it until checked by a handful of men — say, a dozen — who withstood the mighty army and kept the flag flying. Should we call that weak? No, that would be something to be talked about and admired, something at which all the world would wonder, an exhibition of courage and power that would win lasting fame and fill pages of British history. Neither is it an exhibition of weakness which is given us in this epistle, but of "power and love and a sound mind."

It is no small or weak thing for an individual believer surrounded by declension from the truth to hold himself for Christ; it is a most blessed thing when a company of Christians hold on their way in the same path, the Lord their centre and His word their law. But in this particular case it was a household that walked in the truth, and this greatly gladdened the heart of the inspired apostle.

The instruction given must not be unheeded by any assembly of saints, whether great or small, that desires to abide faithful to the Lord, for, apart from the rigid exclusion of evil doctrine here spoken of, the ground cannot be held at all. Indeed, that assembly that opens its doors to a denier of the faith has already gone over to the foe, bag and baggage: it has become a partaker of his evil deeds. There is no ambiguity about that statement; and this is a matter that will admit of no parley or accommodation or compromise. In whatever else we are neutral we cannot be neutral here. But the letter was not written to an assembly of saints in which were Christian men, strong and learned, but to a lady — probably a widow — and her children. As we have said, when the assembly failed, the Christian household stepped into the breach and kept the flag of truth aloft. This should be a great encouragement to us, for it shows what the grace and power of God can do for those who are dependent upon Him.

The attempts of the devil to break down this lady's faithfulness to Christ had failed; he had not been able to capture her house — it had stood like an impregnable citadel in the presence of all his assaults, so he changed his tactics and determined to accomplish by subtlety that which he had failed to do by force. It was because the apostle knew of this that he wrote to her to warn her that if any came to her house in the guise of a Christian minister, and yet not bringing the doctrine of Christ, her doors were to be bolted and barred against him.

But there was another danger that threatened from within, and they needed to be reminded of the commandment of the Lord. John had often pressed it upon them when with them, but now, being absent, he writes the self-same thing to them: "THAT YE LOVE ONE ANOTHER." Love is the divine nature; it is also the atmosphere in which the true children of God live and thrive; it is the power that inspires all true activity, and it cannot be indolent; where it is, it will always show itself in self-forgetful service. Apart from this a man is NOTHING, even though he stands most rigidly for purity of doctrine. What pleasure could the Lord find in a man who, while he refused all complicity with a heretic, did not love his brethren? None at all, we trow, for the man who does not love his brother does not keep the command of the Lord, and he who does not keep the Lord's command does not love Him (John 14:21-24). Such a man would be a mere Pharisee in spite of all his zeal for orthodoxy.

Where the Lord's command is kept, whether in the assembly or the household, there He is supreme; but here it is not only the Lord's commandment, but the FATHER'S. How wonderful that grace should have set the saints in the path of obedience to the Father's will: a path trodden perfectly by the Lord when here, and in which we are to be His followers! In His lowly obedience to His Father's command He was maintained by the Father's hand and abode in His Father's love. And we also, as our hearts are set for this path, shall find succour from that same most blessed source of all blessing, for mark how the salutation runs "Grace be with you; mercy and peace, from GOD THE FATHER, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, THE SON OF THE FATHER, in truth and love." The succour comes from the top — it is from heaven, it comes out of eternity, and it is according to the full revelation of the truth — God the Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. It is entirely adequate to keep us walking in THE TRUTH and filled with the power and joy of it, in spite of the hostility of the devil. This salutation is one of the most wonderful in the Scriptures, and volumes would fail to explain the blessedness of it. It speaks of great realities which the weakest of us may prove; it speaks of all the mighty resources of the Father revealed in Jesus — grace, mercy, and peace — and tells us that these are at the disposal of those whose hearts are set upon walking in the truth. Let us contemplate it in the presence of God our Father, and fear no more either the power or subtlety of the devil, for from it we learn that the assembly, household, or individual that is set upon walking in the truth is the object of the Father's special care.

"Walking in the truth" does not mean that we hold the doctrines of Christianity intact — it involves this, surely, but it is more — it is obedience to the Father and love to one another; and further, as the letter reveals, the resistance of all attempts to introduce subversive teaching contrary to that which we have learned from the beginning.

Obedience to the Father's command will result in love to one another and make us valiant for the truth. True love does not wink at evil. It is not that weak and falsely-called charity that preaches a universal brotherhood and runs with any man who is plausible and popular, no matter what his creed and doctrine may be. Such charity as that is the devil's spawn, produced in the shameful bed of modern latitudinarianism. What an amazing thing it is that in Christendom every God-dishonouring and Christ-denying doctrine that was ever propagated beneath the sun should find a home! And yet it is the fulfilment of the parable of the great mustard tree in which the foul birds of the air find a lodging (Matt. 13:31-32). So that we are not taken by surprise when we find it so.

True love is jealous for the truth; it will not bid the heretic "God speed"; it will withdraw from him and avoid those associations where he is tolerated; for he who denies the truth of Christ is a deceiver and an antichrist, and to hold intercourse with him is to play the traitor to the Lord. True love will close the door against the evil teacher, for it knows that if Christ is to be kept in, the deceiver and antichrist must be kept out; it also knows that if evil teaching is admitted, the very springs of life will be poisoned, and that all true godliness will wither and die, "for he who abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not GOD," and if God be taken from us what life have we? Do we want to give up the Father and the Son? As a mother would refuse to allow polluted or poisoned food to come into the house and upon the table where her children feed, true love will keep far distant all that is not the truth. And if this cannot be done in the church at large, then it must be done in the Christian home; it is the privilege and responsibility of the head, as well as of each member of it, to be valiant and diligent in this regard. May the grace and mercy of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, maintain many in the truth until we see the Saviour face to face, when our joy will be full.

Helping the Truth (3 John)

"We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth" (3 John 8).

Important as it is to hold the fort and maintain the truth free from all contamination, so that we may have it to walk in for our own joy and the glory of God, it is not everything. It is the first thing, undoubtedly, and without it everything else, no matter how popular with men, must come, more or less, under the Lord's disapprobation. But there is something further, and in its place of equal importance, and this is the subject of John's Third Letter. The gospel must be aggressive, the truth must be active. It is active, thank God, and as long as the Holy Ghost — the untiring Servant of the glory of Christ — abides here, the gospel will continue to run and be glorified; and every saint of God who loves the truth, and is intelligent as to it, will desire to be heartily and actively in sympathy with it.

The way that God has chosen in His infinite wisdom for the sending out of the truth to win its victories in the world, is by the preaching. "God has been pleased by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21, N.Tr.). "How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:14-15).

John addressed his third epistle to Gaius to commend him for associating himself with the truth in its aggressive character, and with those who went forth with it. Now Gaius walked in the truth and his soul prospered in it. This was evinced by his loving and hearty identification with the outgoings of it. He could not rest satisfied in knowing it for himself. It had brought him into fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and in that wonderful fellowship he had become intelligent in the thoughts of God. So he welcomed to his home the brethren and strangers who for Christ's Name's sake had gone forth with the truth. He interested himself in their work and welfare, and he sent them on their way in a manner worthy of God, and in so doing he was A FELLOW-HELPER TO THE TRUTH.

In the church in which he was, Diotrephes ruled. It was a fallen church and neither instructed nor encouraged Gaius in what he was doing. There was no sympathy in it with the truth in its activities, the preachers of it were not received, nor the apostles, nor their inspired letters. Tradition and prejudice and the will of man held sway in it, and those who acted according to the truth and in the vigour of divine life were cast out of it. A sad condition of things, and the more so as this is the only mention of the church in John's writings outside the Revelation. But again we find that if the church failed it was in the Christian home that God's thought was carried out, and the consequence was that in the home there was soul-prosperity, while in the church the will of man held sway, and, consequently, evil abounded, and spiritual stagnation.

Not all Christians are in the circumstances of Gaius, and his opportunities, perhaps, come within the reach of the few only. Yet all may show an active interest in the testimony of the Lord, all may whole-heartedly identify themselves with the truth in its activities, and so be "fellow-helpers to the truth": a priceless privilege!

We must not allow anything to hinder us from acting in the fervour and power of divine life and love, and these short epistles are given to us to encourage us to walk in the truth and to warn us against the things that might hinder us. They are the shortest books of the New Testament and so are apt to be passed by as of minor importance, but the instruction they contain is of the greatest possible moment to us, and is needed today more than ever before, and if we ignore it we shall cease to walk in the truth.

We are called to reject the evil and receive the good; to rigidly exclude from our communion all who do not bring the doctrine of Christ, and to faithfully include the brethren and strangers who go forth in His name bearing His testimony, dependent upon God and independent of the world; to have no intercourse, even of the most formal kind, with any who would undermine our holy faith, but to show the heartiest sympathy and in a way "worthy of God" with those who are labouring to carry forth the word and to build up the saints in it. In short, since the truth has been given to us we have now, in the vigour and the joy of it, to make its protection and propagation our one great business in life. Not in the wisdom of men shall we be able to do this, but we have "received an unction from the Holy One." The Spirit of God dwells in us to lead us in the truth, and to develop divine affections in our souls, and to direct us as to the right channels in which these affections should run, and He does this latter by giving us understanding in the things that are written. BELOVED, FOLLOW NOT THAT WHICH IS EVIL, BUT THAT WHICH IS GOOD. HE THAT DOETH GOOD IS OF GOD: BUT HE THAT DOETH EVIL HATH NOT SEEN GOD.