Fathers, Young Men, and Babes, in Christ

A word on "abiding in Him."

1 John 2.

There is especial power in this epistle for the strengthening and establishment of our souls, as also for security against haughty assumption. The word has provided for all our need. The mere doctrine of salvation will not do. "Already," says the apostle, "are there many antichrists." "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) … This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him," etc. (1 John 1:1-7.)

God reveals Himself. Man is apt to fancy he gets up to God, and finding such knowledge too high for him, he loses himself in the light, he knows not where. The Holy Ghost brings us here to that which might be "heard" and "seen" "and looked upon," and "handled" of the Word of life. When saying, "Hereby perceive we the love of God," it is added, "because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:6.) Again: "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the, love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:9-16.) The soul is brought from the mysterious apprehension of man's thoughts about "the Deity" and "dwelling in God" to the propitiation; thus connecting the highest flights (so that no seducer could pretend to lead higher), all this elevation of doctrine about our dwelling in God and God in us, with the simple, precious truth, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," and with the plainest and most simple walk of the saint in brotherly love and practical godliness. The word speaks of his dwelling in God and God in him, and then comes back to the plainest doctrine for simple Christians, "He is the propitiation for our sins." Here the most advanced and the most simple meet together; nay, the most advanced will be the most simple, and will constantly turn back to the blood. He who is taught of God is taught to humble himself; his soul never loses the sense of his nothingness. The mystic may exalt himself; but the man brought by Christ to God is necessarily humble.

It is "God manifest in the flesh," not God mystical. Thus the soul is guarded from error and seduction. We are told not merely of life, but of life manifested. We get fellowship with the Father; but it is through Christ. There is the plainest moral evidence, such as cannot be escaped from by any, when life is; if it is not Christ, it is darkness; if it is Christ, it must be judged by Christ as He was down here. These things are written that our joy may be full. I cannot have more; I have eternal life, I have joy, I have light, and all this in Christ; I may know more about it (that is another thing), but if my knowledge brings me anything more than the Father and the Son, it is error.

But then the life of Christ shines out. "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself so to walk, even as He walked. … Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth (the veil is rent, and we are to abide in the light). He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now," etc. Talk not of attainments, brethren, and not of love; it is a mistake, where love is not, Christ is not; all His walk was love.

In verse 12 the apostle gets into detail. "I write unto you," he says, "children" (little children, as it is in our translation. I omit the word because we have to distinguish between this and the "little children" addressed, verses 13, 18, in contrast with fathers and young men. This is addressed to the whole of those to whom the apostle is writing, as also are verses 1, 28; he includes all), "because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake."

The "fathers" (the name designates the greatest maturity in grace) are addressed specifically (v. 13); but he has not anything more to say to them than, "Ye have known Him that is from the beginning." And this is no passing thought; for, when he repeats his address (v. 14), he can say nothing higher. Let who will come and tell you wonderful things, you cannot get beyond or higher than this, you know Him that is from the beginning. It is instructive to mark the silence of the Holy Spirit as to adjectives. When speaking of Jesus, He does not add an epithet. That name is enough; it carries with it a power which keeps the mind in reverence in the presence of God. We cannot get out an expression of our feelings there, though we may and do among brethren; we can add nothing to that name; God knows all it conveys; His eye surveys all its loveliness, and alone can span its vastness. And mark, it is not said, 'You know all doctrine,' (important as it is, that we should be clear as to doctrine); but 'You have known Him.' We cannot have a truth really in faith, except as it is connected with Christ. He is the one object of the saint's faith.

The "young men" have "overcome the wicked one." Here there is energy of faith. It is impossible to be in any energy, that is of the Spirit, and not be brought into conflict with Satan; and, if there is this energy, there will also be the overcoming. But this supposes the death of the flesh. There is a vast deal of energy without the subduing of self, and all that is not energy with Satan. It is there we fail, and let Satan in. There is a certain turning-point with the soul, when it has come to a knowledge of itself - that there is not anything good in the flesh, that not anything of self can overcome evil, that by strength shall no man prevail, we learn to say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." When the soul has learned to distrust self, there is no haste in what it does; it has to do with God. One true-hearted Christian will see evil, and seek to remedy or overcome it with all vigour and energy, while another, more deeply taught of God, takes the trouble to humble himself, and goes to God about it, before he begins to work against it. God will accomplish all His will, and the true-hearted saint, going to work in a good deal of his own energy, is sometimes blessed in his work, and afterwards gets humbled, it may be with chastening, and blessed in separating between the flesh and the Spirit.

The "little children" have their sins forgiven them, and they "have known the father." The babes in Christ are looked at with the fathers and young men as sharing in this. It is wonderful to see how grace knits together the old and the young Christian; the old takes to the young, his heart yearns over the little one with the utmost parental anxiety. "Ye need not that any man teach you," the apostle says (v. 27), yet is he teaching them the while as though all depended on it. And so will it always be. Where there is much grace, it is shown in the strong honouring the weak. The most instructed saint, instead of despising the weak, will cherish and teach them, and own their blessed portion. Look at Paul's anxiety about the saints in Thessalonica. "Wherefore," he tells them, "when we could no longer forbear, (having been hindered himself going,) we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus," etc.

In addressing the different states a second time, the "fathers" and "young men" are written to (vv. 14-17), and the "little children" (v. 18); and then (v. 28) resuming the general thread of the subject, he takes up the whole, and says to them, "Abide in Him."

John's heart rested in this - I know Christ. He knew the ways of Jesus, he had seen Him with his eyes. We, dear brethren, have not thus seen Christ; but we shall be able to say, "I know Him," when walking with Him. If Christ were here, what would be His thoughts? Would not His heart be yearning over those who are living in the visible world, instead of the invisible? In a little while not a trace will be left of that which now occupies their time and thoughts. Is not half the time even of Christians occupied with things of no value? What will be the effect of abiding in Him? We shall be living as He lived, walking as He walked, manifesting the life of Christ amidst earthly things. But I must have the vessel broken down, for Christ to come out - self set aside; or I may be killing the high priest's servant in my zeal. It is by bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus is made manifest in our mortal body. If "young men," i.e. if there is energy in the Spirit, beware of the opposite energy. The address to young men in the second place (v. 15), is not about knowing the Father, nor yet simply about overcoming; if there is the overcoming of Satan, and the denying of the flesh, there must be also the resisting the things which Satan presents to set the flesh agoing; "Love not the world," he writes, "neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world," etc. The Lord Jesus says to the Father (John 17), "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee," etc. So here the apostle sets in contrast before them the world and all that is in it, and the Father. The love of the world is kept out of the heart by the love of the Father; the love of the world is a large word. But it is not merely that the thing is condemned; as Christians our life is not from that source, nor can it have fellowship with its spirit. In our every day circumstances, are not the affections distracted from things not seen by the things that are seen? That which is in question here, is not the working with our hands the things which are good, God can bless and preserve the soul in that; but the eye affects the heart, and what mean the varied forms of attraction for the senses on every hand? are they not just so many things to draw away the heart from the Father? "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

"It is the last time" (v. 18) - solemn, precious word! And yet it seems strange comfort, when the world is bad, to be told "that it will be worse." Paul writes: "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," etc. (2 Thess. 2:9.) Good and evil are going on together; God carrying on His own work, spite of all opposition. Is it not wonderful to see evil apparently getting the upper hand, and God not interfering to prevent it? only interfering in grace to draw men out of the world; and even they keep not their first love. What a picture do those constantly present who were gathered in true love to Jesus, in the course of five or six years! It is rare to find the same love. And thus it was even in Paul's time; he clings to Timothy as to a plank in a wreck. (Phil. 2:19, 22.) How it makes the heart sink to see all seeking their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's. But John says, "It is the last time; for now is the time of antichrists." This word comes in like dew from heaven. It is the last time! Jesus is soon coming! The heart pants for the morning without clouds! One looks with astonishment at the patience of God's grace! This sustains in conflict; and the heart pants, not to cease from service, but after God; not to rest from conflict, but for the resurrection morn. Thus God has turned the difficulties of the time into blessing. Satan may seek to hurt us, to mar the work of God; but he cannot master Him who has met all evil, and overcome it in the head of evil, who hath gotten Himself the victory.

"Ye have an unction from the Holy One" (not from the wise One or from the God of knowledge) to keep you. The enemies may be subtle, but the Spirit who dwells in you draws you to "continue in the Son and in the Father." Of course, it is assumed that we have Christ. (v. 28.)

"Now, that ye may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming, abide in Him."