Truth and Love

1 and 2 John.

1 John

There is a peculiar rest to the heart in meditating on John's writings. For in them God in the grace of the Father and the Son seems to shine immediately on the poor sinner; and though all committed to man may have failed, yet in Jesus there is a something (and that the true eternal good) outliving all wreck and failure. The world is a ruin, we know; but the Church in the world is a ruin also. Nothing can touch or even soil her, as "the Lamb's wife." But as responsible to God on the earth, like as the garden of Eden was lost when in man's hand, and the inheritance of Israel was lost when in man's hand, so do I believe it is with the Church also. All is safe in Christ, to be manifested in due time; but man holds nothing.

Now, the comfort of the soul in reading the epistles of John is this - that he does not contemplate the Church as the Lord's "candlestick." Paul does. He looks at it at Corinth, at Philippi, and elsewhere; and we may have to grieve when reading his epistles to Churches, that things are not in the same ecclesiastical power, and order, and grace that they once were. And such grief is holy, if it be in the measure of the mind of God, who has provided the relief for all this. But John does not call forth that grief; for he does not look at things ecclesiastical, but at things personal. He deals with the sinner and the saint in immediate personal connection with God, and thus deals with truths which are independent of all ecclesiastical outward state.

From this I do feel and judge that there is peculiar rest to the soul in meditating with John upon God's revelations. Because we must, in the present state of things, be conscious of sad disorder. But Jesus as Saviour survives, the sinner still lives, and consciously has his being in our very selves, and there can be a meeting between the Saviour and the sinner happy, restoring, satisfying, though the light of the "candlestick" be gone; there can be a learning of the secrets of the Father and of the Son by the renewed mind, in the power of the Holy Ghost, who still also survives in the consciousness of our new man within, though again I may say, the light of the "candlestick" is no more.

Thus John meets very much the desire of the poor wearied saint now-a-days. He rises upon the soul to tell it there is something better, something more enduring, something even giving a brighter light than any "candlestick." And as this is the character of the message he bears to the soul, as it is of the Father, the Word, and the Comforter he speak and as they live and shine still for the poor sinner, though all else may have failed them, so the perfect stillness of the soul is that attitude in which His message is to be listened to. The soul to be silent, and let the Lord pass by, revealing Himself. He well publish His own name, and what has the soul to do but, like Moses, to remain in the appointed "cleft of the rock"? It is God Himself who has risen. Let the shoes of a busy talkative mind be taken off; for the place is a sanctuary where God is to be seen and heard. It is unto God that the Spirit by John would conduct the soul. And as the happiest human moments are enjoyed when a tide of influences or of affections is rolling on, and the soul has nothing to do but to stoop and let it roll on, and spend itself upon us, so our seasons of meditation on these precious divine oracles should have the savour of the like joy. God in His fulness has risen, and our joy is to look and to listen, to be like Mary at the feet of Jesus, simply receivers, drinking in the rain from such a heaven. For strikingly has it been said by another, "Mercy has now an unlimited vent towards the redeemed, as justice once had the like upon the Redeemer."

And I may add, there is much of the family of God in John. This also makes his witness very grateful to the affections of the renewed mind, to the thoughts of the saint, wearied, as I have said, with anxieties and searching about the Church of God. John does not contemplate the saints in their formed and ordered condition as a "Church," but in their more free character as members or children of the family. Thus he addresses his first epistle, not to any body as a Church, but "to children, young men, and fathers;" and his second and third to private persons.

This has much struck me before now, while meditating on John. But ere we speak a little of his second and third epistles, as I proposed to do, I would take leave to add a little further here.

The dealings of the blessed God in this world of ours have more simplicity of purpose than we imagine. We have to look at God passing from one dispensation to another; yet, in all we are taught that, the great purpose before Him is, to manifest Himself in richest blessings, in love and mercy to poor sinners, unto His own eternal glory.

When the Saviour commented on all that had gone before His ministry, he said, "My Father worketh hitherto." There we are let into the secret of the purpose of God. He came forth in the law to test what was in us; yet. "our Father" had a deeper purpose than that, one with which His heart mixed itself. Mount Sinai was never the place of the Father's ministry. Moses and the angels might work in Sinai; but deeper than all, "my Father" wrought, said Jesus. Though a little hid under a large and more public thing, yet the mind of Christ coming to apply itself to all that had gone on before, He said, "My Father worketh hitherto." This lets the soul into this, that God from the beginning had been, working in grace. The operation of the Father is another mode of expressing God working in grace. Here we get the unity of the divine design, from the beginning to the end, to be this, to bring Himself out to us poor sinners as "the Father of mercies." Whether He be manifested to us as destined for earthly or heavenly glory, it is still as "the Father of mercies" to poor broken-hearted sinners.

What is the gospel of John up to chap. 10? A trial whether man had learnt that secret, that the Father had been working hitherto. In chap 8 we have the Lord's mind brought out in contrast with the Jew on that point, "If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also." Why did they not receive Jesus? Because they had not been seeing the Father "working hitherto" - not learning God as poor broken-hearted sinners - not learning Him as the Father. If we do not learn Him in this character, we shall never learn Him aright.

What is the glory which passes before us in that gospel? "The glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." This gospel of John is the passing of that glory across this ruined world of ours; but no eye of the children of men could discern it, save the eye of poor convicted sinners.

There are many signs of this throughout that gospel. It may shine in the world, may pass from scene to scene, but it is the eye of the poor conscious sinner, and of none else, that meets it; it is the conscious sinner alone that understands it, that is gladdened by it, and falls into the train of it. Thus when John says (John 1), "Behold the LAMB OF GOD!" Andrew follows Jesus in that character, and the door of Jesus is opened to him. He had followed Jesus as the LAMB of God, he had gone after the "glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" and if any follow Jesus as such, His door shall be open to them. Just follow Jesus as the "LAMB OF GOD," and He opens His house, His heart, His glory. All opens to us at once. Nicodemus comes not so (John 3), and he has to go back to the brazen serpent, and there get the faculty to apprehend the glory of the Father, and the things of the kingdom.

In John 4 the poor Samaritans receive Him, and He goes and dwells with them for two days. In that village "the glory of the only begotten of the Father" could unbosom itself, because He was received in character. Where there was an eye that had learnt Jesus as the friend of sinners, there the glory could go. This is the way to receive Him in character, and all that Jesus wants is to be thus received. We see the opposite to this in John 2, where He says, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" He was shining in "the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" and if His own mother could not see Him in that glory He had nought to do even with her.

So in John 7 his brethren are distanced from Him; for they looked at Him in a glory that suited the world; but in John 8, and again in John 9, a convicted adulteress, and a poor outcast excommunicated one, are brought and kept near Him; for they learnt Him in that glory which met their necessities as poor sinners.

Thus is it through these chapters. And it is comforting to our souls to keep the path of this glory before us. And in John 10 we see this blessed Son of the Father as the Shepherd full of grace in the midst of His flock - His flock of poor convicted, believing, accepted sinners. And after all this we see this same one looking upward to the Father's house. For in John 14 this glory of the only begotten of the Father, that had been thus shining down here to poor sinners for awhile, is going again to its place; and Jesus says, "In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." I rest on this promise of Jesus. When He comes again, He will receive me unto Himself. Is there not intimacy here? It is the first hope to rest on the sinner's soul. He is gone to the Father's house until all are gathered; when every thing is ready, He will come out to receive the children unto Himself - He "will come again to receive these poor redeemed sinners UNTO HIMSELF - to meet them in the air, and then they will all go together to the FATHER'S HOUSE. This is the immediate hope, beloved, of POOR SINNERS such as you and I.

This then is the trial in John. It is the application of "the glory of the only begotten of the Father" to the eyes and consciences of men, to see if they would receive Him in that character.

Matthew opens in a different style; but the same lesson is taught.

In Matthew 5 we read, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is. in the style of Matthew, but in fullest moral harmony with John. One who had been learning law, learning God in terms of mount Sinai, must have had thoughts altogether disturbed by such a word as this. In law, it was the flesh trying to meet the demands of Sinai; but now He has to say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of God." There is no kingdom of God in the world that is not the kingdom of the Father. The law never furnished the kingdom; for it is to be furnished by the Father with poor sinners. The lesson in Matthew and John is one and the same. Whether we be going on to the heavenly part of the kingdom now, or the Jew to the earthly by-and-by, it is still the kingdom of the Father. It is the Father's kingdom from one end of it to the other, from the top to the foot of the hill; and none get into the kingdom, none become citizens of it, but those who, as Matthew speaks, are "the poor in Spirit," or as John says, "are born again" - those who have learned Jesus as "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

So again, "Ye are the salt of the earth; ye are the light of the world. I judge that the word of value here is "ye." After Jesus had shown the character of the kingdom, that it was such as was to be taken by the poor in spirit (our only title to it, and we as convicted sinners are cast upon Him), He entirely changes the character of "the light" and "the salt." The light reflected from Sinai had been proposed to man if he could gather it; but now that which constitutes the "light of the world" is not Sinai light (the light of righteousness), but the light of the poor broken-hearted sinner reflected from the glory of the Father. That which was proposed to man at Sinai he was unable to reflect; but what distinguishes us now is, that we are basking in the light of our Father, His beams shining on us - our poor souls advancing and beaming under the light of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. There we must go to season ourselves, there to illuminate ourselves "salt" to season, "light" to shine.

Again, "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." What is the value of this to our souls, beloved? Why that our Father will not value our offerings, as children and as worshippers, unless we are cultivating the affection of brethren; and this is quite as John says, "This commandment have we received from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" - there is perfect harmony between them. Our Father is working to fill a kingdom with children and with brethren - with citizens who shall know Him as their Father and each other as brethren. This was the simple purpose from the beginning, and He ever secures it. He not only brings each to Himself in love as His child, but all to each other in the sweet relationship of brethren. If we be not hallowing the confidence of brethren, our worship cannot be accepted. Our God is jealous of the rights which we have to render to each other, that we maintain affection amongst ourselves. He says, as it were, "You must come to me in the path of brotherly love, otherwise I cannot receive your gift; my altar is indeed among you, but I cannot receive your gift whilst you are without love to one another. If I see not my beloved family in order, my children in peace and love one with another, I cannot take my place amongst them." This is the gracious desire of the Father, the head of the family, "that he who loveth God love his brother also."

The Lord spoke what was familiar to His own soul from the beginning. In Eden, the patriarchs, Noah, Abram, Sinai, this was always the thing, and the mind of Christ goes beneath all to bring it forth, to bring out this treasure, "My Father worketh hitherto." There is one simple, undistracted design from the beginning to end. Whether we enter into the heavenly or the earthly part of it, it is our Father's kingdom, a kingdom of children and brethren; this is His precious design, and though all else may fail, this shall be accomplished. Love never fails, for God never fails. His gifts and callings are without repentance.

Now these two epistles of John come in the train, in harmony with all this; and this too is the value of the book of Revelation. We may differ in our measure of attainment in the understanding of it; but we can together discern this precious feature there, all may agree in this joy, that though at the very beginning of the book the "candlestick," the public witness for God, may be gone, yet to the very end of the book, "the Bride, the LAMB'S wife," remains, as indeed I have already noticed. She may be put to shame in her stewardship; but as the beloved, the chosen of and for the LAMB, she stands for ever, she survives all. So in these epistles. I see all else gone, save that which can never go - "that which is established in the grace of God, in the love of the Father. Every thing may fail, but the purpose of God before the foundation of the world can never fail.

2 John

Verses 1, That truth which dwelleth in us, the gospel truth - that which reveals "the only begotten of the Father" - that truth shall never go, it shall be with us for ever. It is that precious seed which has constituted us, poor sinners, children of the kingdom, "that word which by the gospel is preached unto you," and it "liveth and abideth for ever."

Verse 3. Here the peculiar spirit of John shows itself. Paul says, in addressing the Churches, "Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ;" but John adds, "the Son of the Father, in truth and love." He brought out the intimacies of the Father; he had got at the under-current; for he had lain in the bosom of Jesus, "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" - the sinner's place.

Verses 4-6. This love from the beginning is that which survives all. The truth survives time, place, wreck, ruin, and every thing; service may be all failure; but truth is as fresh in the wild woods now as it was in Jerusalem at first. So does love, that which it begets; truth is the seed of life, and love is the principle of the divine nature in the saints; and as the seed, so too that which it produces survives and lives.

Verses 7, 8. John does not take the place of Paul, addressing the Churches in the aggregate character; but he writes to an "elect lady" whom no one knows any thing about, except that she had "truth and love." She was known and "elect" of the Father, that was enough, and she is told to look to herself. This is increasingly in our day a valuable principle of truth. If there is any thing which comes to its with peculiar value, it is that it comes to us as a personal, individual thing. In his preaching to Israel, the Lord says, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." He could assume that blindness rested on the nation, and so could say, "He that hath an ear, let him hear." So too in Rev. 2:3 the Spirit could not trust the "candlestick" any more than Jesus could the nation of the Jews, and therefore says, "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." So too here, the elect lady is told, "Look to yourselves." This applies to her personal and individual state of soul. And so we can now speak; for whatever the aggregate failure may be, the word remains "look to yourselves." We are "the elect lady" still, and are not to be made the sport of the deceivings of unrighteousness now, any more than when the Church stood in power. The "candlestick" may be removed, but we are protected from error - the "truth and love" are with us, and we must "look to ourselves."

Deborah was taken up in a day of strange informality. She was a strange successor to Joshua, etc.; but the Spirit was with her, and she could fight the battles of the Lord. So the "elect lady" here is made the guardian of the truth; she is told to let her hands hold truth in as much purity and security as though she were a "candlestick." And this is precious to us; for though we are alone, like her, we have authority to keep the deceiver outside the door. Something irregular this may appear. But in a day of apostacy, irregularity is the order of the Spirit, and the Spirit is always according to God.

Verses 9-11. How simple is the point of unity, "the doctrine of Christ," of the Father, and the Son. If our souls were drinking more simply of the precious doctrine of the Father and the Son, we should be ashamed to talk of any difference of judgment, of being apostles of disunion. We want to get more light from "the Father and the Son." "He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son." If the light of that doctrine were full and clear on the soul of each of us, we would rebuke such a thought. But still he tells to this "elect lady," "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds." He gives her authority to keep the deceiver outside the door; and so with us. Let every one of us be the weaker vessel (that is what she was), and if the deceiver come, we are to look to ourselves, and keep him outside!

And now, verse 12, "Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy maybe full." Just as the departing Spirit of Christ, at the close of Revelation, leaves the volume, saying, "Surely I come quickly," so here - I hope to come shortly to speak face to face with you, and then our joy shall be full. "I have many things to say unto you" - not all told out from Genesis to Revelation, not written "with paper and ink."

He hopes to come shortly, and then it will not be communication with "paper and ink," but "face to face, that our joy may be full." Oh blessed hope! The lover of our souls, the LAMB in the throne, will feed us Himself at the fountain for ever!

3 John

"The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love, in the truth," etc. We see the same spirit here as in the former epistle.

He desires that Gaius may prosper as well as be in health; for Gaius was distinguished, like some beloved ones nowadays, in all offices of Christian hospitality, as we read of him in Rom. 16. John might then desire all health and prosperity to him; for his prosperity was thus the servant of the saints. And he was now about to draw on this well-known grace of the beloved Gains, in behalf of some who had gone forth to the service of the gospel in a very blessed self-devoting spirit.

And happy is it to get these notices of such sweet grace in the one, and such devoted zeal in the others, at a time when ecclesiastically things were bad.

And it must have been very sweet to John to be able to say, "I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth." This kept John's heart so much at ease; this told him of his peculiar joy. Paul's joy was at seeing the Church walking in order. That might now be gone; but here it is, "I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth." We may be troubled at seeing the candlestick ruined; but there is a deeper joy that of seeing the children "walking in the truth," and when brethren come, to get a good report of them. It is sad to one's soul to look abroad and see what ought to have characterized the dispensation, and then the present fruitlessness. But where does the Spirit lead us? - to this unfailing joy, "to see the children walking in the truth." Let us pray the Lord to give us more sympathy; we want to have the Spirit leading us to this.

It is only here that the word "Church" occurs in John's writings. And we find that he had honoured the Church in the place that belonged to her, by commending Demetrius and his companions in the ministry of the gospel to the hospitality and fellowship of the Church. But now he finds he can trust the Church no longer, and he gets his relief in the personal individual grace of this "beloved Gaius." He had honoured the Church at a distance; but he was disappointed. "Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence," had got in, and John has to fall back upon that which can never fail, upon "truth and love" in the "beloved Gaius."

As he leads us to "the elect lady" in the former epistle, so here he leads us to the "beloved Gaius;" and from that day forth the question has become one of individual, personal concern.

If the "candlestick" has failed, we are to cultivate "truth and love" in our own souls and among brethren. Thus the Spirit of God now teaches us to find relief and rest. Amidst the wreck and ruin of every thing around, may He knit our souls together in "truth and love;" may He keep our souls in the doctrine of the Father and the Son!

Do we not thus happily see, that when the Church failed there was a turning to the individual grace and brotherly love that was still in the saints? And as this is an irregular and disorderly state of ecclesiastical things, John shows that personal grace still survived, and was the relief; when the soul might thus be wearied by all things around.

These two epistles thus gently breathe one spirit. The "lady" was cautioned against receiving certain ones; Gaius" was exhorted to receive certain others. Both, in their several grace, were used by the apostle or elder of Jesus. And both epistles, as I have already observed upon the second, close with the expression of a hope that these lovers of each other "in the truth" would soon see each other "face to face," till which time, much that might be added shall therefore be deferred. And so with Jesus. All has not been told out; having reached John, nothing is to be added with "pen and ink." The spirit of revelation, as it were, has ascended back to heaven. The volume of written inspiration is closed. The paper and the ink is filled up and exhausted. John was the last to use it. But, as we know, that which is now "seen through a glass darkly" shall be seen "face to face," "that which is now in part shall be done away, and that which is perfect shall come."

And may we, beloved, always be ready - ready in the spirit of our minds to meet Him - longing with the desire of our hearts to see Him "face to face." Then shall we learn many further precious unfoldings of His heart, and "our joy shall be full."

And till then may we ever come together as "elect ladies," and as "beloved Gaius," each heart full, and kindling the love one in another! Amen.