“I wrote (or, write, the epistolary aorist) to you, fathers, because ye have known Him [that is] from [the] beginning.
“I wrote to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him: because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride (or, boasting) of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing, and its lust; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
“Little children, it is [the] last hour, and even as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now many antichrists have come, whence we know that it is [the] last hour. From us they went out, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have abode with us, but [they went out] that they might be manifested that none are of us. And ye have anointing from the Holy One, and know all things. I wrote not to you, because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that [or, because] no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son. Every one that denieth the Son hath not the Father either; he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.9 As for you, let10 what ye heard from [the] beginning abide in you: if what ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promised us, life eternal. These things I wrote to you concerning those that lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received from Him abideth in you, and ye have no need that anyone should teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye (or, do ye, or, ye shall) abide11 in Him.”
Here we have clearly the same ground trodden again: the different stages in spiritual growth which mark the family of God. Their threefold distinction is here enlarged on. But the remarkable fact that meets us at the start is this: that the fathers, whom we might think properly entitled to have what concerned them still more fully stated, as being able beyond the others to enjoy the truth of God, have just the some words said over again. This is the more striking because repetition is in no way a rule in Scripture. There are some cases where similar or the same words are repeated, but they are quite exceptional, and this is one of them.
The reason is of a very touching kind. In verse 13 we read, “I write to you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning” — Christ as He was manifested here. He does not enter into divine counsels from all eternity, nor look forward to future glories of Christ, or even to His place at the right hand of God which is a central truth for the apostle Paul. But the beloved disciple was directed to meet the declension which had set in, and to minister best to the fathers, the most advanced of all spiritually, by simply repeating “I wrote (or, write) to you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” There is not one word different but in the verbal form: in verse 13 he says I “write,” and in verse 14 he says “wrote,” referring to what he had already said. And why this? Why has he no more to say to them? Because not emanations from God as men conceived, but here all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. It was now in Him, a Man, that God embodied and manifested the fulness of His grace and truth in a way that never had been, and as it never needed to be here again. The very notion of something more denied that fulness, and was a lie of Satan.
Here we are in presence of that which is infinite. And having the infinite, not merely in the divine nature of the Godhead, but in the divine person of the Son become man, we find therein its chief wonder; for it is His manhood that has given its necessary element to the wonder. It would have been little indeed without the Godhead; but God, as really manifesting Himself in man and as man, presented that which is above all other marvels, unless it be His death and this in atonement. In Him it was that the “fathers” found their all. Characteristically they had been once “babes” as knowing the Father; they had been “young men” in the vigour of spiritual power, a new, intimate and blessed privilege, which, it is needless to say, is never lost; for through this experience they reaped a blessing which does not pass away. But after passing through difficulties and dangers of all kinds, leaving its rich profit of growth by the true knowledge of God, that which most attracted them, and fixed their affections for ever, was the Lord as He walked up and down, spoke and wrought, manifesting God and His Father in every motive and act, in every word and deed of His life here below. Such is the force of knowing “Him that is from the beginning.” We can find outside Christ thus proved nothing so deep and real, we can learn nothing so high and holy and immediate. It is not the exalted Man in heavenly glory; which is Paul’s special teaching, and of all moment for spiritual energy. Here it is God manifest in the flesh here below, Jesus full of grace and truth in the midst of evil to separate us from it, and to act according to Him in us by the Holy Spirit’s power.
Then we come to the second stage — the “young men and here the Spirit of God does enlarge somewhat. “I wrote (or, write) to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.”
Observe, first of all, that there is an addition not found in the 13th verse, giving the real secret of their strength. The word of God abides in them. This is a weighty truth, which yields immense courage and spiritual power. It is not merely repairing to the word on emergency under pressure of difficulty and trial, but His revelation they had always abiding in them. This is exactly and perfectly what we find in the Lord Jesus. It did not matter whether one was friend or foe; it made no difference whether he appeared high or low: what people heard from Him was God’s word. Even if the devil tempted Himself, the word was His answer; and if the enemy quoted it for evil, He replied with scripture for good and truth. If the disciples needed to learn what they were to expect, He brought out the word of God. Never was one who showed the word of God abiding in Him at all times, and for all persons and circumstances, like the Lord Jesus.
We do not find it so even in the apostles, though there were apostles, as John himself, who treasured the word most deeply; and Peter too with his abundant and fervent love; but none like the Lord, not even the apostle Paul, though we may be perfectly sure there never was any mere man that honoured God’s word more than he. Notwithstanding in this respect as in others no one equalled the Lord Jesus. Indeed subjection to the word characterised Him peculiarly, and makes therefore the Gospels, which show the Lord in daily life, so richly profitable and humbling, and for this reason beyond most of the children of God in their actual state.
Most when converted are apt to betake themselves to the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, and some of them never advance much into Romans either. They are attracted by and delighted with the strong foundation which God has given in its earlier chapters; they wonder if they find that it is not only His grace but His righteousness. They stand on the ground of accomplished righteousness. They apprehend Christ Himself as their righteousness. For they are taught to distinguish this as their standing, from their holiness in practice. This is what the Spirit of God works in us because we are Christ’s. But righteousness is what the unrighteous sinner needs, as well as the mercy that assures of the remission of his sins; and in Christ it is in all its fulness for him. He has only to take the place of a lost sinner, and cast himself on the Lord Jesus, who is made to him righteousness. This he can take to the very throne of God; he can henceforward in faith stand securely there; and while he condemns himself utterly for all Ins sins, he has in Him a righteousness that satisfies and glorifies God. For it is His own justifying righteousness, because of what Christ has done and suffered for the poorest of sinners; and he is one of them. Perhaps he like the tax-gatherer might say, “I am ‘the’ sinner, if ever there was one”; but even so the apostle did say that he was chief; and this was true. The very fact of his legal righteousness made him to be more abundantly the Lord’s enemy, and the hater of all that called upon His name. It was purely the religion of man in the flesh, to use his own phraseology. It was a Hebrew of Hebrews assuming his competency to keep it, and walking most conscientiously according to his darkness, which made him so bitter against the Lord Jesus and all that were His. What could be more opposed to the righteousness of God in Christ?
In John 16 is shown that it is not the question now of the law for either sin or righteousness or judgment. So great is the change of standard created by His presence and rejection, that, as He tells us, the Spirit when come will make proof to the world in respect of sin, righteousness, and judgment: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness because I go to the Father, and ye shall behold Me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged. The proof of judgment is not in some outward display of divine retribution as in Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, or Rome. It is in the judgment pronounced on him that led the world to crucify the Lord of glory. Thereby has the prince of this world been judged: execution is deferred, but the case is decided finally. The great sin is not to believe on Him; the true righteousness is in the rejected One going to be with the Father. The world has lost Jesus. He came into the world to win sinners wherever He went; and they would not have Him; and the worst in refusing Him were His own people. This ended in the Cross; and because of the Cross not only is God exalted, but in receiving Him into glory is the real righteousness against man, Satan and the world with Israel to boot.
The next display of God’s righteousness is in His glad tidings of salvation to the poor sinner coming in His name, the only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved. Therein is God’s righteousness manifested through faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all those that believe. After justification begins practical holiness. For life is given in His name as well as the forgiveness of sins; and this new life is that which produces good fruit. This however is a matter of holiness. What meets and saves us as sinners is Christ and Christ’s work for us with God; but what works in our souls self-judgment and honouring God by confessing our sins thoroughly is part of his holiness who is now accounted righteous in Christ and for Christ’s sake.
Here then we have the secret of these young men being characterised by vigour. It was not natural energy, for there is nothing of grace in that. It was spiritual courage and power; and what maintained and regulated it was the word of God abiding in them. They so loved the word that they had it always not merely by them but abiding in them. They never pretended to what one has heard some dear brethren say: to spend an hour or two over the word. These had the word always over them. This is the true way, not ourselves sitting over the word which often ends in a good deal of talk; but the word over us puts an end to our thoughts, and strengthens as much as it governs us, and rebukes our presumption. Thus were the young men marked, as we have read, by the word abiding in them. It was not the mere searching of it, nor looking into it for curious questions, nor trying to know what perhaps is not the will of God for us to know just yet, if ever in this present time. But there they were, subject to all the word. Depend upon it that the Scriptures were pondered prayerfully from beginning to end as far as they had them; for it was a more difficult thing then than in our day. But in our day, if you look at any one’s Bible, you may find it is well marked in a few parts, but rather too clean in others. Is this the word abiding in us? In such a case all the word is valued and diligently sought, for we never know what word we may want next. Therefore the pious, wise, and due thing is to have the word abiding in us.
But more than this follows. “Love not the world.” Why is this warning particularly laid on them? It is not said either to the fathers or to “the babes.” We shall find a great deal else said to the babes, but to the “fathers” not a word more than to repeat what he first said. Their special characteristic was like Mary’s to sit at the Lord’s feet and hear His word. Was not this to be absorbed and filled with Christ? The word of Christ dwelt in them richly in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. But it was not merely that. Christ Himself, as He was manifested here, was habitually before them as the prime object of delight and of fellowship with the Father. But these young men are warned “Love not the world.” Does this seem strange for souls spiritually so vigorous? Nay, this very vigour, albeit spiritual vigour, creates a danger. They went forth earnestly desiring to spread the truth; fearlessly testifying of Christ by the word that abides in them, and in the Holy Spirit working through them. The very victories won prove a danger, and commerce with men exposes to loving the world before knowing where they had got. For we are not to suppose that loving the world is merely a taste for show and pleasure, music, or the drama, hunting, shooting, horse-racing, gambling, or perhaps what is even grosser than any of these things.
The world is a subtle snare far more so than the flesh. For many lusts of the flesh a man despises himself, and others that are intensely devoted to the world might be ashamed of such ways. But worldly lust is quite another thing. It looks eminently respectable; for is it not what is done by everybody of consequence? It is to covet what society likes; what is thought by those of light and leading and sweetness to be the proper thing for men and women. This has an immense influence, especially on the young and the vigorous young who know the Lord, and have sincerely at heart to spread the knowledge of the truth. But this leads them boldly to venture here and there, thinking that they can go anywhere, one may say, because they have got such glad news to tell. At least they know the Saviour who is not known; and where may they not go? In this zeal they are guarded particularly as to the world.
But not in that sense had God made the world. “The world,” morally speaking, was what the devil made after man fell. The first beginning of “the world” was in Cain and his line. For what do we see in Cain? Sentenced to be a wanderer and a fugitive on the earth, he strives to efface it, and built a city: not content one to live here and another there, they must all herd together. Union is strength, say men. Besides, a man of ability soon manages to get at the top; and this many a man hopes to get some day or somehow, at any rate in a measure. God and sin are easily forgotten in such efforts. Accordingly Cain builds a city, and calls it after the name of his son. Pride comes in directly, and self-pleasing or pleasing others without a thought of Him. In that family began the great inventions. A man of spirit none found in Abel; nor yet in Seth who is substituted for Abel, but abundantly in Cain and his progeny. There the verses of society commenced — Lamech writing in tasteful form to his wives; for the same man brought in polygamy, and justified killing in self-defence in what we may call a sonnet to the objects of his affection. Not God was in his thoughts even at such a sad event, but his wives; and the dealing with Cain he made not an apology alone but a ground for sanction in his own case. Again there we find the bold nomad life originated, and the more civilised delights of wind and stringed musical instruments: so very early was “the world” at work. Is not this “the world”? Undoubtedly many conveniences found in the world can be used by a Christian. But one black mark stamps it — the absence of a despised but all the more beloved Christ. Tell me one thing of it that Christ puts His sanction on. Where is all that Christ valued? all that Christ lived in and loved?
There is the criterion which will prove sharp enough to cut off a great deal, as, on the other hand, all that is outside Christ can be an object for the heart of fallen man; and such is the world. Some as we know take up science; some prefer literature; some affect politics. Alas! it is possible even to take up religion, the work and the worship of the Lord in a worldly spirit and a selfish manner, seeking either profit or fame out of it; and in how many ways do not men court popularity therein! Is not this too the world? The Lord’s name apart from His will and glory carries no safeguard with it. This has been done by some of the wickedest poets that ever lived. They have written on scriptural subjects, but were none the better for it, as they still remained altogether without God, and often enemies of Christ without doubt.
Therefore it became a serious peril for the spiritually young, vigorous as they might be, if they did not retain an ever-growing sense of their relationship to the Father; for this knowledge even the babes had. They were characterised by the sense of that blessed relationship, and they enjoyed it. They as all had the assurance of forgiveness. Even as babes they added to this joy that they knew the Father, which is indeed a precious privilege, as we may see from so many Christians who think themselves and are thought advanced, yet not venturing to take any such way. They are not quite sure; and for the most part they call upon God, but not as Father in the fullest way, but as the Almighty, as Jehovah, and as the God of Abraham, etc., just as if they were Jews. All ought to see such is the state of Christendom now, especially in those who boast in antiquity and multitudinous religion. It has a Jewish character. But Christ in Christianity takes one out of everything that is earthly, whether of Jews or of Gentiles, and stamps His name on him from the beginning of his new life and throughout its course. As He says Himself of the men given Him by the Father, They are not of the world as He is not. Therefore it was the spiritually “young men” in particular who were to beware of the world, lest, in their ardour, it might become a valued object. They might say that they only wanted to win the world to Christ; that their motive was making Christ and His gospel known to the world. But do you not need dependence on Him and His Spirit’s guidance when and where and how you go? It is not enough that our design or aim should be ever so good. The chief danger we have to watch against is in the manner of doing things. In “how” we do it we are apt to fail. The object may be right, but the means too must be according to God’s will and word. And who can guide us and guard us in the means to be adopted? Only He to whom we belong, working in us by His word and Spirit.
Now it is not merely in general that we find the “young men” put on their guard another caution to them follows. They are told to love not the things that are in the world.” This may be even more insidious and subtle than the world itself. Take the religion of the world, of the multitude, of the great, the noble, the wise, the learned.. What natural man avoids this snare, unless he be utterly profane? Even Cain had his worship no less than his world in his darkness and his distance from God. And is not this most ensnaring to many a saint, and inviting to his vigour? For many a Christian would say, “I dare not love the world; but here is an eligible offer whereby I may be enabled to do very much more good anywhere and everywhen, and even be allowed to speak, no matter what the circumstances or the company may be.” But it involves compromise of the truth. It is therefore one of the things “that are in the world” which we are not to love. Again, what more common than the mistake of having a peculiar object that attracts us, a hobby of one kind or another, which has no real link with Christ? All such things become idols, because, along with known duties and relationship, Christ is entitled to supreme love.
Christ is the object our Father sets before us; and if we have the eye single to Him, we may be quite sure that the body will be full of light. It is impossible for a soul to be true in looking to Christ and making Christ the object of his everyday work and walk, if he take up that which He does not approve. The word of God must abide in him. If one is content to undertake only what pleases Him, He would surely help. But there may be the world’s blinding influence, and zeal may run into self-importance and our own will. Hence real earnestness lays us open to danger; and therefore they are cautioned, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” followed by a most solemn warning, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” John loves to present a thing in its absolute principle without noticing circumstances which modify. In laying down, “If any one love the world,” he introduces no alleviation. There stands the principle; and if loving the world be your principle and practice, the love of the Father can hardly be yours as a reality.
But in having to do with Christians, as they now walk, there is often a sad mixture. There may be good and bad motives at work. Here we do not look at such a picture. Other parts of God’s word may deal with it; but the particular task assigned here is to present the thoroughly right principle, and the thoroughly wrong one. Hence it is settled that if one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. This is sound and true; because it supposes the principle on either side carried out. Then he comes to the special differences of the desires after the world. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh” (what works in one’s self), “the lust of the eyes” (what attracts me outside myself), with the third snare, “the pride, or boasting, of life.” It may be the maintenance of station and habits and feelings belonging to it, in the world. Supposing, for instance, one a nobleman or a gentleman, or of the much larger class that would like to be such. Where such is the case, where is Christ? Is it assumed that Christ sanctions in His disciples the natural rank or the place that one may acquire somehow or other? What did the Lord mean when He said, They are not of the world as I am not of the world? Is the world what the Christian is to preserve as an offering acceptable to Christ?
Many a Christian thus keeps his dignity, and gives it, as he says, to Christ, as if He valued it! Is this what our Lord laid down, or how the apostles and other faithful walked? To the unsophisticated heart purified by faith what so appeals in practice as Christ’s separateness from the world to the Father? That the very reverse is seen in many Christians is but too well known, as it has ever been a deep sorrow and burden to those who feel for His name and word. The pride of life in a Christian is heartless to man and hateful to the Father. It was not so that He sought high and low in the midst of sins and follies, vanity and pride, or whatever else ruled men; not so did Christ meet us but to uproot and put sentence of death on all vanity. Was any one of these things spared in His Cross? Hence His servant says here that not one of them in particular, still less as a whole, is of the Father, but is of the world which hated Him and His Son. What pleasure has the Father in any of the things which men think so much of, and adhere to with such tenacity, whether envying them in others or seeking them for themselves? In few words the pride of life is not of the Father; but, what is more, it is of His enemy, the world.
For what is the world? It is the system that Satan planted amongst fallen men to blot out the memory of a lost paradise; and it has gone on enlarging, embellishing, and progressing ever since, in spite of the awful catastrophe of the deluge, until it rose up rebelliously against the Son of God and crucified Him on the tree. This is at length what the world did, with all its arts and letters, its religion and philosophy. The world then consisted of both Jew and Gentile. They both loved the world, and they both united in rejecting with the utmost ignominy the Lord of glory. Is the world then an object for a Christian’s love? or anything that is part and parcel of the world? anything that is its boast and its delight? Is it not treason against the Father and the Son?
But the world here has another characteristic that is pressed. It is evanescent, having God’s sentence of death upon it. It is wholly to pass away. It is passing and its lust, for who can keep it? It does not matter whether it be riches or rank, pleasure, power, or aught else; it comes to nothing — its pride sometimes even in this age finding itself in a workhouse. For all that, men are devoured with the desire to be something greater than they are, so that under the surface lies unhappiness which pleasure cannot dispel.
“The world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” It is not only that the word abideth for ever, but he that does God’s will. This is of far more importance than any doctrine deduced by men, any article of faith, as it is called. It is no doubt needful to oppose what is false and evil, and we are bound to submit to the revealed word and will of God. But error easily glides into the doctrines which the best men formulate, against or for which men contend. But here we are told that the doer of God’s will abides for ever. This none does without cleaving to Christ, and loving the Father. Surely “the Son abideth for ever.” The Christian may fall asleep, but he abideth for ever. The Lord is coming to wake him up from the sleep of death, or to change him if he then survive, into His glorious likeness manifestly then for over. But he is called to recognise it now, and to act on it every day, that he be not drawn into the defiling paths of the world that are thought so pleasant, but are, on the contrary, each and all covered and filled with evil and ungodliness.
Now we come to “the little children” in verse 18. It is not the whole family, but an inexcusable error to confound the family with that particular part, the youngest class or grade of the whole, the babes. Yet these, the least mature group of God’s family, are they who are said to know the Father. Think how far saints now are fallen from such knowledge! And is it not worthy of note that for them the Spirit of God takes the fuller room to enlarge? There was not a word more for “the fathers”; there was but little more for the “young men”; but far the most for “the babes.” Can we not feel the good way of grace therein? It is not the manner of man; but God by His Spirit enters most of all into the requirement of the “little children.” They need it most, and they have most. It is with them that the Spirit of God dwells with a great deal more detail than even with the young men. The little ones were exposed to great danger.
“Little children, it is the last hour,” for is it not well to keep to literality here? Evidently this is beyond “latter times” (1 Tim. 4:1), and “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1). Yes, it is a “last hour:” a very long hour doubtless; and the reason is not delay but the long-suffering of God not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Grace has some more souls to save and bless, some more to make members of Christ’s body; and therefore God waits. But from the apostle’s day it is the “last hour.” What made it so? Not Christ known, but “many antichrists.” Christ’s coming the first time is said to be “at the end of these days,” the days that began with God’s dealings with His people on earth, and at the end of them, in the consummation of the ages, Christ. So we read in Heb. 1:2, 9:26, “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son.”
Here it is a peculiarly solemn phrase: it is the “last hour.” The time is short. The Lord is at hand. He is ready to judge the quick and the dead, as the apostle Peter said; ready not merely to take us up to heaven, but, as far as He is concerned, to execute judgment on the quick and the dead. But even so God prolongs His blessed grace in saving more. When the last member of Christ is added in, what then? The Lord will come and take on high those that are His, and then begin to work among Jews and Gentiles too as such, and especially to prepare His people for their place on the earth. They were unprepared the first time; the Lord will accomplish it the second time. There will then be a people made ready for the Lord and His Kingdom. He will do what John the Baptist failed to do; He will do what the church has not done; He will turn the heart of Israel to welcome their long-rejected Messiah, whom to their amazement and grief they find to be none other than Him whom they crucified. Therefore in that day will Jehovah assign Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; whereas now it is the foolish and the weak and the base things of the world that God chose to exalt His grace in Christ. But in the day of His appearing He will have mercy on the long-abased Zion, and the nations shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings of the earth His glory. Some may anticipate that discovery; others will learn it when He appears; for there will be differences among them.
But now is the “last hour” for us: not the prevalence of Christianity, nor the mission of the gospel of the kingdom to all the nations, but the arrival of many antichrists. There is to be a mission of converted Jews to all the Gentiles; and they will find their way where Christians did not (for divine grace will strengthen them); and then the end of the age will come.
But is this the Christian hope? It is not for the end that we are waiting, but for Christ, and for Christ to take us up to be where He is now. They also await the Lord to come down and bless the earth, as He surely will. But this is another and an after thing. It may not be long, but still there is a little interval between the two parts of His coming — the heavenly part and the earthly.
Here it is the solemn announcement that the last hour is come. “Little children, it is the last hour.” How this must have sounded in their souls and made them wonder! Many think that such truth is not at all the right food for babes. It is much to be wished that Christians would read their Bible, and not only read but in all simple confidence believe it. What they will find there puts an end to these human thoughts and theories. “Little children, it is the last hour; and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now are come many antichrists.” This stamps it as the “last hour.” No evil is so flagrant as antichrist. It is direct, personal, antagonism to the Lord. He may imitate the Lord Jesus, yet to oppose Him; he may claim what belongs only to God, but to exalt himself and deny God. Certainly it is the worst and most audacious of all evil against Himself; “and even now are come many antichrists.” There are many antichrists in London, as throughout Christendom; and they preach and teach there with crowds to hear them, who have no suspicion that they listen not to Christianity but to anti-christianity. The reason that real Christians take all this lightly is that the Bible is so little pondered with the Spirit of God working in them.
What helps on this evil is the German adoption of old English Deism; for this much of the “higher criticism” is. It is old English Deism, drummed out of the country some 200 years ago, but of late come back again burnished and brightened up by German ingenuity and show of learning. This is what people swallow as something new, great, and advanced. Alas! it has taken captive alike the old and the new seats of learning, and made them a citadel against the Lord Jesus, centres for propagating unbelief to ruin with its poison the young men destined as many are to be the clergy or ministers of one sort or another. For there is little difference as to this among the denominations. Broad-churchism and Dissent are perhaps equally corrupt in this matter, and becoming more and more destructive. High church, which with Pusey, etc., once resisted, now caves in. People do not believe this, and the consequence is they too get corrupted in all directions. Even believers are deeply injured thereby. But the Lord knows how to deliver, as He works to clear dim eyes, and will make them sensible of the snare. For it is plain enough that learning is no check to nor barrier against the evil. Yet God will guard “the babes” in His grace. To this their knowledge of the Father supplies a blessed foundation. What do those critics care for this? Have they the word of God abiding in them? Do they look to the Spirit of God for power to receive His truth and to walk in it? How could this be in those who deny Scripture to be His word? Yes, many antichrists have come, “Whereby we know that it is the last hour.”
What intelligent Christian does not know this now? Many can remember the time when there was no such prevalence as there is now, nor anything to be compared with it. Incredulity is rapidly growing. But its germ at the least has shown itself ever since the apostle was here. “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” For this is its apostate character Some of the leaders of present antichristianity were once professing Christians. One or more of them was known among us — a clever and scholarly man, eminent since in this religious scepticism; yet (what commended him to many) a vegetarian, a moral man, a teetotaller, and a revolutionary. How ready many are apt to think there must be something good in such a person! But no, it is an antichrist.
“For if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that they might be manifest that they were not all of us.”
This last is a very strange and incorrect rendering: “they were not all of us.” But really it has no just meaning whatever. It should be regarded as only a slovenly translation, or rather mistranslation. For what the Greek text actually says is that “they all were not of us”; and the English idiom of this is that “none of them were of us.” But if you say, “they were not all of us,” it would imply that some were. Some of these antichrists were of us! This the apostle expressly contradicts. The fact is that we see in this how the most learned men, when they come to the Bible, seem to close their eyes. It might be interesting to search into the cause which exposed men of piety and learning to so strange all error. But it suffices to say positively that the only right sense is the quite different thought that none of them — none of these antichrists — “were of us.” The unlearned reader may be assured that such is the true meaning on the strictest grammatical ground, which scholars certainly ought not to fail in, as they sometimes do and have ever done.
“But ye have anointing from the Holy One.” This is their new endowment from on high, which even the “little children” possessed, on whom a dead set was made by one or other of the many antichrists. They were anointed by the Spirit of God given to them, an unction from the Holy One, even the Lord Jesus. But what about you that read? For you it is of great moment whether you are thus anointed. For this is distinctive of the Christian, not only to be established in Christ but anointed by the Spirit, as we read in 2 Cor. 1:21. Immature as the little children were, this was true of them. Is it so with you? Do not waste your time in thinking about others till you know this privilege yours from the Holy One; then with good conscience and happy heart you are fully entitled to seek their good. But if we are safely and wisely and zealously to labour for others, let us first consider our own need and state before God.
Here take notice that “ye” is emphatic, though addressed to the spiritually youngest of Christians, which of course proves it to be the privilege of them all. “And ye have anointing from the Holy One, and know all things.” Is not this a very remarkable word to say about “the little children “? But why should it be doubted when we recollect that they were members of God’s family? They were God’s children who had received already in common with all the rest the blessed certainty that their sins were forgiven. This removed guilt and dread, the necessary hindrance of happiness and progress. Till our sins are known to be forgiven, how can we enter into all the truth? Only with an unpurged conscience. Even men admit that a bad conscience makes cowards of us all. The conscience once divinely purged gives boldness. See it in Peter, who was known to have denied his Master. Yet when restored and resting on redemption, he could charge the unpurged Jews, “Ye . . . denied Him in presence of Pilate, when he judged to let Him go.” The soul being sin-laden shrinks from hearing, the truth which must condemn self more and more. We must be consciously clear before God before we can grow by the knowledge of Him, or have true courage with others.
Hence the Epistle was written to all, because their sins are (or, have been) forgiven for His name’s sake. It was not to make it known first. They knew it since they believed the glad tidings. Christ had procured it for them through His blood; and thus it is a settled state for all saints. It is in vain to reason and talk about forgiving all your sins before conversion. What then becomes of any sins committed afterwards? The Lord is surely not to suffer again; nor did He suffer for some of our sins merely but for all; and this is the meaning of the remission of sins. Christ’s sacrifice availed not to a certain point but for the entire body of our sins, which once and for ever were borne by Him. This indeed constitutes the blessedness of that primary boon of divine grace. It is not a doctrine hung up as a prize to be attained, or a truth outside to be rehearsed publicly or to admire, but a personal privilege of faith taken home to our own conscience, applied to our own soul, and received from God as His incomparable favour with which we start on our Christian confession.
But, as we have expressed it, “the little children” were characterised by an advance on that which was the common portion of all Christians. The very speciality that they began with was the knowledge of the Father. They were His children. It was not merely that they knew (or had known) God as Creator; or as the Almighty God that cares for poor pilgrims, or Jehovah God as the Governor; but they knew Him as the Father. The risen Lord Jesus had made Him known as His Father and theirs. They knew that He was their Father and their God, as truly as His Father and His God. And they had it on His own word, as well as in the power of the Holy Ghost sent into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father. How can Christians overlook a truth so nearly concerning them, which runs through the greater part of the New Testament? It is distinctive of Christianity. Through Christ all the evil gone is judged in His cross; and unworthy as a Christian may be, he is from that early moment of faith in the gospel given to know Him as His Father. Even the babes knew that this is no temporary blessing, such as the law held out on obedience to Israel. In the gospel God gives to faith an abiding gift. This is what the law could not do. The law is conditional: “If you obey the law of God, you shall live, and not die.” But the gospel is not that if I love God He will be faithful to me (on which ground no sinner could be saved); but that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
There is the great spiritual fact confronting all; and if I disbelieve God as to His Son, I ensure perdition for my soul: the wrath of God abides upon me. But if I receive that immense and direly needed boon, God’s love in giving the believer eternal life, and thus bringing me not merely into the pardon of my sins but into the relationship of His son by faith in Christ Jesus, I am on the only and truly Christian ground as a babe. Yet here, as being babes, they are warned of their danger. There abound seducers and antichrists. We shall find a little about the special features of their leading astray lower down; but let us proceed with what comes before it, the gracious provision to forewarn and forearm. “I have not written to you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”
Without anointing from the Holy One (i.e., the Spirit of God from the Holy One, Christ), they could have had no fitness to withstand snares so subtle and perilous. The gift of the Spirit characterises the Christian. The Lord spoke of it as “living water,” which He would give the believer. It was not Himself only. He gives the Holy Spirit as the continually fresh source of living water within us springing up, not exactly “a well” but “a fountain” of water springing up into life eternal. Thus it is not only that we have life eternal at the beginning of faith; but we have in us for a glorious condition the power of the Spirit which we have now in a condition of grace.
The apostle, having here shown that this divine privilege already exists, tells the “little children” that they “know all things.” How can this be said of them? They have Christ as their life, who is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. “They shall be all taught of God.” To have Christ is to have the key to open all things. More than this, they are anointed by the Holy Spirit to realise the truth, making it their own with all certainty and liberty. And wherefore such favour as this? To separate us from the world unto the Father above its human thoughts, and our own among the rest. For what are we apart from Christ and dependence on Him?
“I wrote not to you, because ye know not the truth but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” How full of cheer and comfort! The teaching of tradition is ever vague, and leaves the soul uncertain, even as to what we most need — assurance in order to abiding peace with God. But the pretension to new truth where Christ is simply received and fully enjoyed opens the door to the evil one; and he soon appears. This is a sign for the babes to beware: because no lie is of the truth, and one manifest lie may betray the falsehood of the entire system, as the truth is a consistent whole; and God makes it known even to the babes. But these misleaders denied any such knowledge to them; they themselves alone knew the truth. “We have the new light, you have no more than the elements we have quite left behind. All that you have from your old teachers is but the scraping of the instruments for the concert; but now we have the music in earnest: no tuning more; but the full score and chorus.” Such is the self-complacent spirit which the men always feel who yield to the deceit of the enemy. “Who is the liar?” says the indignant apostle. “Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” In one or another way they undermined and destroyed His person. How awful that such a lie should be counted a new and great truth among those who once confessed Him! For “the liar” here is not Satan, but such as once passed for a Christian. They now deny that Jesus is the Christ.
But the apostle traces the lie farther. “He is antichrist that, [not only denies Jesus to be the Christ, which he does, but] denieth the Father and the Son.” An antichrist supposes more truth abandoned than Jews knew. In a general way even the Jew, that heard of but rejected the Lord Jesus, might be “the liar.” The Law, the Psalms, the Prophets all pointed to Jesus. But the Jew would not have a Messiah who, instead of establishing His world-kingdom, suffered for sins on the cross; he preferred what the devil offered and the Messiah then refused. The pseudo-Christian might be the liar in a subtler way. But there is more in “the antichrist.” His place had once been with the Christian profession. He had heard the truth of the Father and the Son, but now rejected and denied it.
No Jew ever hears anything of the eternal relationship in the Godhead, but remains a stranger and an antagonist to the truth and privileges of Christianity. For its principle is involved in those words, and indeed more explicitly in the words expressed in Christian baptism, the only authoritative formula for which is “unto the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Not that one would leave out the name of the Lord Jesus; but the right form is so clearly stated by our Lord that one may doubt that their omission leaves valid baptism. It appears anything but the reverence due to the words of our risen Lord. The argument founded on the historic mention of baptism throughout the Acts of the Apostles is without bearing, because none of these professes to give the actual formula employed. The only apparent exception which ostensibly supplies it has not the smallest authority. For it is certain and commonly acknowledged that Acts 8:37 is spurious. There at least Philip is supposed to ask of the Ethiopian treasurer a confession of his faith, which the latter renders. But all this must be given up as a gloss of an imaginary kind, and not really in the ancient MSS. It was probably a marginal note which crept into the text by a later scribe who fancied it to be part of the original. But in the Acts of the Apostles there is really no formula of baptism, and therefore no right ground for dispensing with our Lord’s injunction. And the hypothesis of its being provided for a future Jewish remnant consists neither with “all the nations” concerned as said immediately before, nor with the spiritual condition of that remnant whose knowledge it quite transcends.
Here he that professes Christ denies the Father and the Son; doubtless he had too much contempt for the Spirit to need a word said about it. But he denies the Father and the Son: to spiritual souls no greater mark of antichrist. And the solemn announcement is that out of the Christian body came these antichrists. None should wonder therefore that where grace has given a large and special measure of truth, and zeal too in making it known, and in carrying it out practically, if it be lost by yielding to notions subversive of it, such wanderers are beyond the common. As runs the well-known adage, the corruption of the best is the worst. What can be so terrible as to apostatise from the highest and fullest truth? This characterises the antichrists.
But if we have the warning that “Everyone that denieth the Son hath not the Father either,” there follows also the cheer to “the little children” that “He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.” This, on each side, is much to be weighed both for its own importance, and for the light cast on the wiles of the devil. The Unitarians profess to honour the Father, but they deny the Son; the consequence is that their profession of the Father, according to the scripture before us, is utterly worthless. Not the Father is the test of the truth, but the Son. Therefore, if one acknowledges the Son, he hath the Father also. They go together; but the Son is the sole criterion, and the one Mediator. If you deny the Son, the Father rejects altogether your acknowledgement of Him to the dishonour of the Son. The Father owes the vindication of His glory to the Son who emptied Himself of the glory due to Him, and humbled Himself not only to become man and a bondman, but to the death of the cross. Therefore whoever slights Him does it at his penalty for eternity. For ample testimony has been given by God to man who is without excuse.
It may here be added that the words printed in italics (in the latter half of ver. 23) are authentic and genuine scripture.12 It is the more remarkable, because, in 1 John 5:7, 8, the words from “in heaven” to “in earth” have no real warrant, as is well known to those versed in the grounds of the text. Thus the Epistle suffered doubly from the faulty text which our translators had before them; for they did not know the true readings here when they made the Authorised Version of 1611. The italicised words in this verse are real scripture; whilst the words indicated in 1 John 5 have no authority worth notice and are beyond doubt spurious. But this last awaits fuller explanation in its own place.
Next we come to a point of some interest, on which a word must be said here. “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye heard from the beginning.” It is not “Him that is from the beginning,” but “what (or, that which) ye heard from the beginning.” He goes back so far to the opening words of the first chapter. The difference between “Him that was from the beginning” and “that which,” etc., is very small; and in point of fact they are both true, each perfect in its own place. But there is an emphasis lost in the Auth. V. which ought to be reproduced at the beginning of ver. 24 in some such way as the Revisers and others do. “As for you, let that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you.” What he presses is this: abiding in what they heard from the beginning.
There is no new thing admissible. If new, it is not Christianity: development is Satan’s work. Whatever is added to the revelation of God in Christ is a falsehood. Man hates to be subject to God’s word. Hence the effort to get rid of divine authority not only in the Old Testament but in the New. The “higher criticism” is mere rubbish, and even worse; it is poisonous and destructive to the faith. Take also the opposite school who talk of “the church teaching”; though some combine the two errors. But where in scripture have we any such thing? The church teaching! According to God’s word the church is taught through apostles and prophets, and then ordinarily through teachers, etc., the gifts given by Christ the Head for the purpose. The church is taught, but never teaches; it believes, and enjoys the truth, and is responsible to walk and worship in truth. The church hid better see whether itself believes the truth in these days of incredulity.
But it is a dangerous phantom that the church teaches. We are bound to hear the church in discipline. But teaching is quite another thing. The church needs the truth. but the idea of the church teaching soon leads to men hearing what is not revealed in the scriptures. Thereby are they given up to the working of their own mind and imagination in human theories or in legendary additions to the Bible; in dreams about the Virgin and the saints, apparitions and the like; or in rationalistic hypotheses, on which sceptical men live or rather on which they die. But God is the sole infallible teacher; as His prophets wrote, His children, believers, shall be all taught of God whom the Word declared, without the church pretending to teach. There is no development of that which was heard from the beginning. All such “development,” which is now the rage of the day in religion as well as in science, is a myth and a very bad one, particularly on the religious side. One scientific myth we may leave to die by the hand of the next which succeeds to its place; but religious lies have a Satanic power, not only of corruption but of permanence over souls.
Where then is the truth, and what? It is Christ; and it is Christ as He was manifested here. How can there be development of Him? or of God’s written word which reveals Him? Nothing can be added to make the truth more perfect than it is; nor can anything be plainer than what they heard when our Lord was here, or the Holy Spirit wrote beyond what they could then bear. For all was spoken, not in words taught by human wisdom but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spirituals by spiritual (i.e. the truths and the words equally of the Spirit). How blessed the result practically! It is the same word. “If what ye heard from the beginning abideth in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and the Father.” The truth is inseparable from Christ, and from Christ as God had revealed Him in His word. “And this is the promise which he promised us, life eternal,” and this in as impressive a phrase here as is used about its personal source in 1 John 1:1, 2.
“These things I wrote (or, I write) to you concerning those that lead you astray.” The babes need and receive the most vigilant caution against innovators that subvert the truth by promises as false as God’s promise is true. Take the contemptible error against which so many of us had to contend, and all true-hearted saints felt so deeply, during the last decade and more. Is it not about this very thing — life eternal? The recent seducers endeavoured to persuade themselves and others that, instead of having (really having now) eternal life in the Son, they can only receive it at the resurrection. But this is to forget and abandon what we heard from the beginning; it was a lie, and no lie is of the truth. The passage before us shows that these and all novel ideas about it are untrue; the Lord’s word proves them to be false; for this is “that which we (the inspired witnesses) heard from the beginning.” What can be more sure or momentous? The seducers therefore are not dead but still go on to reproduce the falsehood, whether they pretend or not to apostolic succession (Rev. 2:2).
But the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you.” The “ye” is emphatic, as in vers. 20 and 24. He had said that the word heard was to abide in them: the sole and written standard of the truth. Now he repeats the other blessed truth. The holy unction, the Spirit given to them, abides. His anointing abideth in you, “little children”: this He faithfully continues. Now the anointing of the Spirit is to understand and enjoy in power the truth of God in Christ.
“And ye need not that any one teach you.” They had received Christ, the truth no less than the way and the life. They knew it already from God the Father by the Holy Spirit. “But as the same anointing teacheth you about all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, abide ye (or, ye abide) in him.” It is not merely what they had; but there He was in them to teach all else which the word contained in detail and application, by God’s gracious care over the babes. They need not heed or fear seducers. They did not depend upon men who were only preaching themselves and not the Lord Jesus. Oh what assurance, what blessing even for the spiritually young of God’s family! It was for them to abide in Christ as He taught from the beginning.
9 The last clause is unquestionable scripture, and sustained by the best witnesses. It was probably omitted from having the same ending as the clause before; a common source of error in the MSS.
10 “Therefore” should here be dropped, as relying on inadequate testimony.
11 The best MSS. and Vv. give “abide ye,” or “ye abide,” rather than “ye shall abide.”
12 The oldest MSS. (technically designated A B C, P) and some 35 cursives with the better ancient versions, and ample citation by the early ecclesiastical writers, leave no doubt as to it.