John 20:8, 9.
There are two possible interpretations of the words, "For as yet they knew not the scriptures, that He must rise again from the dead." It might be taken as giving a reason for the faith of "that other disciple" in the resurrection of Jesus, when he saw that the sepulchre was empty, that until now they had not known the scripture which foretold it. But we do not ourselves accept this view of the case; and for two reasons. First, it is expressly stated that this disciple saw and believed - that is, he believed when he saw - believed on the testimony, afforded by the empty tomb; and then it is added, as an explanation, that as yet they did not know the scripture on the subject. Secondly, it will be noticed that the statement in verse 8 is confined to that disciple - it is "he saw and believed," whereas in verse 9 it is "they knew not the scripture," showing that the affirmation is of the common ignorance of the disciples. This confirms the interpretation preferred. True the Lord had taught them again and again of the necessity of His death, and that on the third day He would rise again; but as Mark 9:10, 31, 32, as well as many other scriptures indicate, they did not comprehend the meaning of His words. The Spirit of God had not yet come; and, as many of us know from experience, until He unfolds to us the divine Word, we may hear and read it frequently without the slightest understanding of its real significance and application. It should moreover be borne in mind that "rising from among the dead," as it should be rendered in Mark 9:10, was a totally new thing, a new revelation to the disciples, and something therefore for which they were wholly unprepared, to say nothing of all the harrowing circumstances (which would be still occupying their minds) they had so recently passed through in connection with the death of their beloved Lord.
For the understanding of this scripture it is important to remind ourselves of the true rendering of verses 22 and 24. They should read, "Your having put off," and "Your having put on," etc. The truth as it is in Jesus then is, that, in the death of Christ, we have put off the old man, and that, in the resurrection of Christ, we have put on the new man. All the following exhortations are based upon this twofold fact. In other words, it is because of our having put off the old man, through our association with the death of Christ, that the apostle urges us in verse 25 to put away lying, and, because of our having put on the new man in the resurrection of Christ, to speak every man truth with his neighbour (although here, in accordance with the distinctive truth of the epistle, the additional thought of union with Christ, and with one another - "for we are members one of another "is introduced); for lying could only proceed from the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (v. 22); and truth could only come from the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (or, holiness of the truth). (v. 24.) So far all is plain; but the exhortation, "Be ye angry, and sin not" (v. 26), is not so simple, because anger is generally associated, as in verse 31, with the works of the flesh. It is evident therefore that, inasmuch as it is a precept, the anger here intended is of wholly another kind; and, moreover, it is to be observed, that even in this anger there is danger, or the words, "and sin not," would not have been added. The fact is, there is such a thing, as frequently seen in the Old Testament, and once in the life of our blessed Lord (Mark 3:5), as divine anger, holy indignation, and in this sense it is possible to be angry in communion with the mind of God. But so easily might this pass over into human, natural anger or indignation, that the caution against sinning is appended. For the same reason the apostle proceeds, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," for if it is cherished it will take possession of the soul, and afford an opportunity to the flesh to assert itself, and thus be the means of sinning. E. D.
An Extract from a Letter.
Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 240.
How precious the grace that has taken us up and made us children as well as sons, and given us the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to our spirit that we are in this blessed relationship to God, and produces in us suited affections by making known to us the love the Father has bestowed upon us.
There is a tendency in our hearts to look back and dwell on the love bestowed upon us, or to look forward to the glory we are called unto; and forget the present favour in which we stand. Now I feel if we are not looking up and enjoying the love of the Father as a present reality, we shall be defective in our apprehension of it as displayed in the past, or what that love has called us unto in the future. How unceasingly precious that word becomes to us, "If God be for us," as our souls deepen in the true knowledge of God as revealed in Christ, and to be able in simple faith to put over against all our path the fact that God is for us, and His present love towards us, in that He makes all work for our good, even what may be most adverse and trying. Did we but enter more fully into this now, all our desire would be that He should order all our path in His love and wisdom; and thus peace passing all understanding would keep our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus amid this restless scene, knowing that the past is all divinely settled, the future all divinely secured in Christ, the present in the Father's hand, and His love bestowed upon us, carrying us with a tenderness that is never exhausted.
Three Scripture Characters.
Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 241.
In this brief epistle three characters are given for the encouragement and warning of the saints in every age of the Church. They are delineated with such detail that their counterparts, when encountered, are readily discerned; and considered in connection with the circumstances given, much insight is gained into the church activities and habits of service at the close of the apostolic period.
(1) Gaius. The first of the personages named is Gaius - one whose service was mainly that of hospitality. If the same as mentioned by Paul (and there is no reason to doubt it), his service in this respect was universally known, for the apostle terms him, "Mine host, and of the whole Church." Rom. 16:23.) The first thing, however, noted in this epistle is his soul-prosperity. There are but few to whom it could be written, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (v. 2.) With many of us bodily health and comfortable circumstances might rather he the desired standard for our spiritual condition. If Gaius was, as seems probable, but infirm in body, it is clear that he did not urge this as a plea for any relaxation in his service. It may be noted also, as bearing upon a prevalent error, that there is no necessary connection between our spiritual and our bodily condition. It has become widely accepted, that all bodily weakness and disease are symptoms of a bad state of soul; but this inspired prayer for Gaius exposes at once the unscriptural character of this contention.
The apostle mentions next that he had "rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth:" (v. 3.) These brethren would seem to be those who had partaken of the hospitality of Gaius when on service, and they had, to the joy of the aged apostle (for Gaius appears to have been one of his spiritual children), testified to two things; first, to the truth that was in him, literally, "to thy truth;" that is, to his cleaving faithfully to the truth; and, secondly, to his walking in its power. Blessed testimony! The heart of this devoted man retained the truth, and being moulded by it, the truth flowed forth in life, and governed his walk.
Commendation of his special service follows. "Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers." The last clause should rather read, "and that strangers;" that is, the brethren whom he received were not his personal friends, or even acquaintances, but those who had been hitherto unknown to him. Their only passport to his heart and home was, that they came in the Lord's name (v. 7), and brought the truth. (2 John 9, 10.) These brethren had been touched by the kindness they had received, and had borne witness of his love before the assembly. To the commendation is added a direction; for John reminds Gaius, that if he brought the brethren forward on their journey "worthily of God" (as the words may be rendered), he would do well. In God's service; as these brethren were, they were to be forwarded in a manner worthy of their Master. The ground of this direction is given. In dependence upon Him, whose servants they were, going forth for His name's sake (or, "for the Name"), they took nothing of the Gentiles - unbelievers; and "we [believers] therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth;" in this way becoming identified, and co-workers together, with it. We thus read in the gospel that he that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.
(2) Diotrephes. In Diotrephes we have a perfect contrast with Gaius; for he refused to receive any, even the apostle himself. But let us first look at his character. It is given in one brief word, "Who loveth to have the pre-eminence [to have the first place] among them;" that is, among the saints. This was a sure sign that he was governed not by the Spirit, but by his own will and fleshly inclinations. It is the direct opposite of the spirit of Christ, who was among His disciples as one that served, and who taught them the memorable lesson: "He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." (Luke 22:26, 27.) Well would it have been for the Church if those who have possessed the lead among the saints had ever been actuated by this spirit of lowliness; for in God's things and service it is always true that he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (See Phil. 2:5-11.)
The apostle had written not to Diotrephes, but to the assembly, to announce an intended visit; but John says of this usurper of authority, he "receiveth us not." Moreover, as we learn from the next verse, he "prated" against the apostle "with malicious words;" and, exercising his tyranny in a still more high-handed fashion, he not only would not himself receive the brethren, but he also forbade them that would, and even excommunicated them from the assembly. Ho held his place as "lording" over the saints as his own possession (see 1 Peter 5:3, N.T.), asserting himself in a sphere where all authority belongs to Christ, and where the authority wielded is to be exercised alone in His name. (Compare Matt. 24:48-50.)
It is instructive to notice the way in which John deals with the evil. As concerning Diotrephes, he contents himself with saying, "Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth:" Armed as John was with apostolic authority, he does not, like Paul, declare his purpose to use it, and urge Church discipline (1 Cor. 5); for in truth John's mission was of another kind. Still he would, when present, remember Diotrephes' evil deeds; in what way he does not say, but what he does say is enough to constitute a solemn warning for Diotrephes. John draws also from the evil a lesson for the saints. "Beloved," he says, "follow not that which is evil, but that which is good." There is something inexpressibly beautiful in this simple and tender exhortation. And it should be remembered that when one, like Diotrephes, possesses influence and position, the temptation to "imitate" what is evil in his proceedings is great. John therefore warns the saints that they are not to be blind to the evil, whatever its attractive associations. He then goes deeper still, and lays down two absolute principles: first, he that doeth good is of God; and, secondly, he that doeth evil hath not seen God. The reader will remember the characteristic of this writer, that his statements are what is termed abstract, and because abstract, absolute. For example, when he says, "He that doeth evil," he does not mean a believer who may be sometimes betrayed into doing evil, but one who does nothing else. Such an one has not seen God. On the other hand he traces all good up to its true source in God. It is therefore the absolute nature of good and evil, and he would have the saints remember it as a test of the nature of what they saw in their midst.
(3) Demetrius This servant of the Lord occupies a remarkable place, though no account whatever is given of his labours. First, he has "good report," better, "is testified to," or, "has witness borne to him" by all, not by all men, but by all the saints. In the next place he is "testified to" by the truth itself. The probable meaning of this is thus stated by a well-known writer: "I suppose that the latter (Demetrius) had propagated it, and that the establishment and confirmation of the truth everywhere - at least where he had laboured - was a testimony with regard to himself." Lastly, the apostle himself united in the testimony to Demetrius, and he adds, "Ye know that our record is true." (v. 12.) Naturally we world have liked to know more of such a blameless servant, one of such good repute; but this is all the information vouchsafed. Still, it is a singular honour to have such a record in the pages of the word of God.
One closing observation may be permitted. If Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius were found, as appears probable, in the same assembly, neither Gaius nor Demetrius was hindered in their pious activities through the assumption of authority by Diotrephes. All true service is carried on in individual responsibility to the Lord; and hence whatever the "talents" entrusted to His own, they must be used, and so used as living in the prospect of His return. When therefore He says, "Occupy till I come," no hostile power, whether coming through man instrumentally or Satan, must be allowed for one moment to interfere with our service; "for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." (Rom. 14:10.)