I have to pursue a different plan somewhat in the exposition of these second and third epistles of St. John, to that I pursued in the exposition of the first epistle, because I must take some little time in showing you the exact relationship of the second epistles to the first epistles in the Word of God, and I do not think that the importance of the second epistles, as such, is sufficiently reflected upon, or is sufficiently apprehended.
The ordinary way in which Christians look at the second epistles of Scripture is surely something like this:—they say, Paul, or Peter, or John wrote, and then they found they had something more to say, and then they wrote the second epistle to supply those supplementary thoughts which they had omitted in the first epistle. Well, there is truth in that; but it is not the full truth by any means; and, in fact, when we say “omitted,” there seems something which is offensive to a spiritual mind. It seems wrong, surely, to believe that the inspired writer, or rather that the Holy Ghost, forgot to put something in the first epistle which He would have put in, and which, therefore, He caused to be supplied in a supplementary epistle. Surely, beloved friends, there is something in that thought derogatory to the full inspiration of the Scriptures. No, that cannot be the idea which the Holy Ghost designed to convey, that cannot be the whole of what the Holy Ghost designed to be the bearing of the second epistles, as connected with the first. I believe that the best way to arrive at the real reason why the Holy Ghost was pleased to give second epistles at all, is to look at their contents. When we find something very marked in the contents of each and all of them—and looking through the second of John—the second of Peter—the second of Timothy —the second of Thessalonians—and the second Corinthians—we find clearly a great many allusions to the last days, as we shall see; which being so, it seems to me that we get a clue to the scope of the second epistles therefrom, namely, that it is the truth enshrined in the first epistle presented in its peculiar application to the walk of the believer, or to the church, in the last days. Thus, now, take perhaps that which is the easiest. Anybody can see that the second epistle of Peter clearly refers to the last days. The second epistle of Peter consists of two great sections. In the second epistle of Peter there is, first, a glance at two classes of real Christians, and then in the second and third chapters there is a glance at two classes of hollow professors. Anybody can see that, if they look at the epistle; there is first a glance at a class of Christians who are adding to their faith manliness, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, and love, who are therefore exhorted to go on, that an abundant entrance may be administered to them into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour; and then there is, contrastedly, a glance at those who have forgotten their purgation from their old sins, who are blind, having wilfully shut their eyes, yet seem to have the root of the matter, inasmuch as they are said to have been purged from their sins; and then each of these two classes of Christians are reminded of the coming of our Lord Jesus, and of the transfiguration which was, as Peter said, a panorama of that second advent. Then in the second chapter there is a glance at one class of hollow professors, and in the third chapter a glance at another class of hollow professors: namely, in the second chapter there is a glance at the ecclesiastical evil—the ecclesiastical form of the apostacy; and in the third chapter a glance at the infidel form of apostacy. I believe these two chapters are admirably arranged for showing that the ecclesiastical precedes the infidel form of the evil, as if the ecclesiastical evil led to the infidel evil treated of by Peter in the third chapter. Well, there is a clear case in point of a second epistle treating mainly, if we say not solely, of the last days, and containing special truth for the last days.
In the 1st Peter there is the Christian seen suffering; the word “suffer” occurs in the 1st Peter twelve times; but in the 2nd Peter there is the Christian seen tempted. In 1st Peter the devil is seen like a roaring lion; in 2nd Peter he is unseen, save as working through the apostacy like a serpent. Who cannot see traced between 1st Peter and 2nd Peter a connection, yet a contrast, that is to say, that the teaching of 2nd Peter is special, showing us God and His people in the last days.
Well then take another case. I do not tarry on the 2nd Timothy, because I presume most of you must be aware that the 2nd Timothy is clearly designed by the Holy Ghost to guide the true children of God in the last days. Anybody who wants really to walk with God, and live carefully and holily in the last days, must go to the 2nd epistle to Timothy; for there is, over and over again, express, explicit, and distinct instructions how to walk in the last days. Thus, for instance, we are told—just to quote one passage—“that in the last days perilous,”—or difficult, difficult is the better translation—difficult “times shall come;” and then we are told wherein the difficulty is to consist—in the blending of the “form of godliness” with the denial of the power. How am I to act in presence of this? “From such turn away.” Then we are told of false doctrine in Timothy. The word Timothy means, “one who honours God.” And the epistles show us the way in which Timothy, the one who wants to honour God, is exhorted to follow. I say it again, because it is so important. It is the divine chart in these last days how Christians are to live, in order to he kept from the evil which is around them. Well, then, looking at the second Thessalonians, there is then an advance of thought to what you find in the first, namely, that the apostle tells you of that which shall he markedly in the world when the last days have arrived, namely Antichrist. In the first he is content with the pointing them to the coming of the Lord; hut in the second he goes farther, and says that ere the “day” of the Lord sets in, Anti-christianism will more and more come to the front, until the Hinderer, the Holy Ghost, removes the church to heaven, when the lawless one will be revealed. “Who cannot see that there is something about the last days especially in 2nd Thessalonians, because in 1st Thessalonians the apostle shows us the way of the children of God, looking for the coming of Christ at any time, whether it be in century one, five, six, or ten, or any century; but the 2nd Thessalonians shows us that the Antichrist must come; and there is solemn truth surely for the last days. Once more, the 2nd of Corinthians. I remember once mentioning to a friend of mine this line of thought—this bearing of the second epistles in contrast with the first. He said, “You cannot apply it to the 2nd of Corinthians.” My answer is, that there is no epistle which more strongly exhibits that same design of the Holy Ghost than this 2nd Corinthians. To cite a few cases—twice over in the 2nd Corinthians we are warned that the ministers of unrighteousness will handle the Word of God deceitfully; whilst four times, all in the second espistles, we find a similiar warning. Again, here we are warned that the devil will resemble an angel of light. Surely there is special truth for the last days there—that the devil can transform himself into an angel of light. And look at Paul’s defence of his ministry here. Those two apologies herein found, suggest that a true minister can be recognized only by a spiritual eye—that such, because they are sent by Christ, are certain to have their mission questioned by all those who judge after the flesh. Now when we go to the 2nd Corinthians, we find ample instruction as to who is the true minister of God; we find the true minister is one who by uprightness, by watching, by fasting, by knowledge, by the Holy Ghost, in labours, in journeyings, in perils of the wilderness, the Holy Ghost has surely marked out as pursuing the path which proves him to be the true minister of God.
I have at home (I have kept them, and intend to keep them to the end of my life) my credentials, written on parchment, as to when the bishop put his hands on my head; they are credentials which the world will acknowledge; but if I am a true servant of God, I have no doubt I must make manifest my ministry in the way God the Holy Ghost has made known in 2nd Corinthians—that the parchment of the bishop is man’s way, and that the track marked out by the 2nd Corinthians is God the Holy Ghost’s way. And moreover, when God the Holy Ghost led Paul to defend his ministry, I believe it still bears specially on these last days, when the ministry of the true servant of God is questioned; and even the very fact that he is sent of God to preach at all, unless he has been canonically ordained, is frequently denied. Now I believe that this and many other things are met by the 2nd Corinthians; and if so, it shows us the bearing of that 2nd Corinthians.
I may mention now, without going into it, that the main line of thought of 2nd Corinthians is contained in an important parenthesis from the middle of chapter 2 to the beginning of chapter 7; in fact its fundamental teaching is contained in that parenthesis, and shows what the true ministry, the ministry by the Holy Ghost, is. Now, if you followed me in my attempt to sketch the bearing of the 2nd epistles, you will see it is of that character as to be perfectly connected with the 1st epistles. But in his view you will see why there is not, nor could be, a second epistle to the Romans. And why not? Because Romans is the gospel, and the gospel is unchanged from the beginning of this dispensation to the end, and therefore it would be impossible that there should be a 2nd epistle to the Romans. The epistle to the Ephesians shows us the church in the heavenly places, and there could not be a second epistle to the Ephesians, because the church, as standing in Christ in the heavenly places, is as true now, as untouched now, as ever it was. All the attempts of the devil cannot bring the church down from her standing in Christ; therefore there could not be a 2nd epistle to the Ephesians; likewise the Colossians, about the fulness of our Christ; likewise with Galatians, which shows the mandate of the Holy Ghost to cast out the bondwoman and her son, that mandate is unchanged and unchangeable. And so, where there is a 2nd epistle, it is the truth contained in the 1st epistle, combined with some special instructions which believers need with reference to that truth in its bearing on the last days.
Now take again the Corinthians, for instance. Corinthians shows us the church in the assembly down here; that is the bearing of the 1st Corinthians —it shows the working of the church in scriptural order, as in the wilderness. Who does not know that the church order, as God the Holy Ghost laid it down, is utterly set aside by man’s arrangement? Can anyone deny that? Well, then, if the doctrine as to how the church is to be administered, how everyone in the church is to conduct himself, if that is set aside as God has laid it down in 1st Corinthians, what are true believers who see that, to do? Then comes in 2nd Corinthians: “Come out from amongst them, and be separate: do not touch the unclean thing.” There is the instruction—that where 1st Corinthians is not acted upon, where the Holy Ghost is set aside, and human ministry is in the place of the Holy Ghost, and even divine ministry in a human and apostate form, then God’s instruction to the believer is, “Come out, be separate, do not touch the unclean thing.” And I have often and often felt, that if God had said, “Come out, be separate, and touch not the unclean thing,” if that precept had been anywhere, it had been a most peremptory one; but being in the 2nd Corinthians, I feel it is a precept of precepts; I feel it is a most emphatic precept to give the true believer in the last days. Then since separation is only the earthly side of a divine principle, we have the converse, the heavenly side, i.e., the reception of each other in the first four verses of chap, 7, with which that great parenthesis on true ministry closes.
“Well, now, I have just touched on the bearing of the 2nd epistles generally; this will surely prepare us a little to look at the bearing of the 2nd epistle of John.
Now I have no doubt that the same line of truth will be found carried out by the Holy Ghost in the 2nd epistle of John as is contained in the other 2nd epistles, namely, that it is the truth of the 1st epistle of John, but with some additional instructions for God’s children beholding the days dark with reference to that instruction which we get in the 1st epistle. For instance, now this is a very singular thing, in looking at the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John, namely, the great emphasis which the Holy Ghost throws upon the truth. Look at it—the truth; you hardly open the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John before there is the truth, the truth, the truth, staring you in the face. What is the popular theology of the present day? Virtually it is, that provided you love one another, never mind differences of opinion. We must all agree to differ, as runs the popular proverb of the day. God the Holy Ghost would never say, “Agree to differ,” never. God the Holy Ghost says, “Be thoroughly joined together in the same mind, and in the same opinion.” “Oh, well but there must be all this divergence of thought, and we must put up with it, and still let us love one another.” Love is all very proper and beautiful; but the truth must never be surrendered, and so we find that in the 2nd epistle of John it is “love in the truth.” Oh! I do think that this fact—that it is “love in the truth,” that is presented as a cardinal feature of instruction given by the Holy Ghost in the 2nd epistle of John, is worthy, beloved friends, of your particular heeding. So much latitudinarianism, so much liberalism, so-called, so much of truth is surrendered for what is called love, the prevalent theology of the present day; that the 2nd epistle of John recalls us to God, to His Word, to His Christ, to His truth. Even in that very little 3rd epistle of John—it is such a little epistle, is it not, that one would say to one’s self at first, whatever is the use of that 3rd epistle of John—observe how—and if you like you can count and see—the word truth occurs seven times. You know that the number seven is intensely important in the Word of God, and you know that when God utters a thing seven times there is a special emphasis. Is it not singular that in that little 3rd epistle, that no one scarcely will take any notice of, there is the word truth mentioned seven times. If you like, I will count them.
“The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.”—One.
“For I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth.”—Two.
“Even as thou walkest in the truth.”—Three.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.”—Four.
“We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth.”—Five.
“Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself.”—Six.
“And we also bear record, and ye know that our record is true.”—Seven.
Now in that very little epistle that word truth appearing seven times, is there no instruction for us, when one thinks of the floods of heresies that the devil is injecting into the church in these last days, and of the tendency to relax the standard of doctrine? Well, if persons are giving up the tenets they have received and believed to be in the bible for years and years, and now affirm that they are not in the bible, you must not go by what they say. One mark of a Christian is his clinging to Christ; and another mark of a Christian is his clinging to the “Word of God. You are not to let the truth be judged by the Christian, or the Word of God be judged by the Christian; but let the Christian be judged by the Word of God. It is the Word of God to judge the man, and not the man to judge the Word of God. This is an important fact. I have sometimes thought that this is a very searching phase of the truth which is presented in the Word, namely, that if when God declares a thing unmistakeably, I fight against it, resist it, oppose it, hate it, reject it, that if the Lord Jesus were here in person, precisely that same phase in Him should I resist, oppose, and reject; that in proportion as my soul is bowed down submissively to the pure Word of God, in proportion as I love to be searched by the written Word of the living God, in that same proportion should I love the presence of the Holy One were He here visible, and in the proportion in which, when I come to Scripture, I fight against it, and reject it, precisely that same feature in the Holy One should I dislike were He here present. Opposition to the written Word of God is the same thing in principle—in principle— as opposition to the Living One there. Now, if that be so, don’t you see what an important thing it is, what is put so emphatically in the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John, where God says, the truth! the truth!! the truth!!!
What I am going to remark may be slightly a digression; but as it is important I shall mention it. A common way by which the devil leads the people of God to reject some part of God’s truth, is by the presentation to their minds of some other part of the truth of God. Now beware of that! Do not, because you see one doctrine in God’s Word, reject another. Hold fast all. You cannot afford to give up one atom of God’s Word; let it search us through and through, and permeate our whole being, the more the better, and let us hold it fast, beloved friends. It may be that some of you will say, “But we cannot all be adepts in the Word of God, or such deep divines, to know exactly what is God’s truth and what is not: we cannot all be such clever scholars in the Word of God as that. It may be competent for the church, or it may be competent for a gathering, where there is a great number of intelligent and mature Christians, to be able to judge; but it is not possible for a little gathering, which consists only of half a dozen, and those young children or old women, or those recently converted, it cannot be competent for them! Now I ask your attention to this. Is it not designed of the Holy Ghost that this 2nd epistle of John is written to a woman? It was not written to some deeply-read theologian; the instruction was not given to some advanced and profoundly intelligent divine; it was given by “the elder unto the elect lady,” and, as if that was not enough, “and her children”—to a mother and her children. Beloved friends, I do not admit that it is such a difficult thing to know the truth of God. My idea is, if we keep our eye on the cross, and on a risen Christ, we shall quickly apprehend that which is for His honour, and that which dishonours Him, and that when any doctrine is presented, or any heresies get into the church, it seems to me not difficult for those who are sensitive of Christ’s honour and glory, to see the source from whence they emanate, and judge them quickly and well. Even this elect lady and her children were charged with the care of the truth—not some great gathering of aged Christians merely. I believe that is designed of the Holy Ghost. You say: “But oh! it is disputed that this person was an individual.” I can prove to you, I think, that it is an individual here referred to. You may not all of you know Greek—though I believe it is rightly translated lady; but you may translate it Cyria, if you like but I believe it means a single individual, and the proof I give to you is this, that if you will look at the epistles, where the words, “Grace, mercy and peace” occur, you will find that such epistles are addressed to individuals. “When it is “Grace and peace,” it is addressed to a church; that really obtains without exception. I do not say whenever it is an individual the form is three-fold—“Grace, mercy, and peace”; but I do say that “Grace, mercy, and peace” are never used except to an individual. Thus to Timothy, “Grace, mercy, and peace.” To Titus, “Grace, mercy, and peace.” Why is it so? What is the rule? Here is the answer. As to the church’s position—everything is settled; but the believer needs mercy! continually, does he not? do not you? do not I? Therefore, whilst to the individual there is a prayer for mercy, that is not used when it is addressed to the church. “Truth and love!” that is the first thing that catches my eye when I look down this Epistle. Then again, “Grace be with you, and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” Why is that put so in the 2nd Epistle of John, “the Son of the Father.” There is some emphasis, cannot you see, in that expression, “Son of the Father.” The fact is, that divine life consists in the knowledge of God, in the knowledge of the love of God; but if you do know God’s love, you must know that in God there is the Father and the Son, and therefore actual fellowship with God consists in communion with the Father and the Son. And thuswe behold the kind of life which the believer lives. He lives in the love of God, knowing what no unconverted man can know—knowing that God is a Father. The utmost that the unconverted can speak of, is God as the Deity. They love to go into some abstract terms—the Deity, the Unseen, and such like, and then their favourite word is “The Almighty.” The word “Almighty” does not occur once in all the New Testament, from Matthew to Jude, except in the 2nd Corinthians, where it is introduced most beautifully. “If you come out and are separate from the unclean, I am the Almighty—I will take care of you if I can.” There it is beautiful in that one single place. That is the only place where it occurs. Yet that is the term which the unconverted man is so fond of using. It occurs plentifully in the book of Revelation, because that is the book of Almighty power making a clean sweep off the earth of ungodliness. Now the believer does not think of God as the Almighty, or Jehovah. The believer thinks of God as the Father and Son; for God has revealed Himself to him who knows God and knows His love; therefore it is that the believer is seen dwelling in communion with God, enjoying the love of God, in fellowship with the Father and the Son. I believe that this also is the idea in the 9th verse —“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the knowledge of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” Now we come to a very important point in the epistle, which is most instructive and most valuable at the present day, where the truth is applied in a manner that will even judge, I fear, many true Christians. We are told in the 7th verse: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” Now I must ask you to bear with me— the word translated “come” there, ought to have been translated “coming.” It ought to read thus: —“Who confess not that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh;” the expression,” Jesus Christ came in the flesh,” occurs in the first epistle. In the first epistle we are told that the spirit of Antichrist denies that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. But in the second epistle we are informed that the Deceiver and the Antichrist (so it is written in the Greek) denies Christ coming in the flesh; so that the spirit of Antichrist seeks to obscure the reality of the first coming of the Son of God; but when the evil reaches this height, then—no longer the mere spirit of Antichrist —but the Deceiver, and the Antichrist, denies His proper personal return. As Antichristianism drops the mask, its hostility becomes more avowed to the blessed truth of Christ’s second coming. In the first epistle it is the perfect tense, “has come;” but in the 2nd epistle the word is “coming.” “The Deceiver, the Antichrist, denies that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh.”
Bear in mind the connection of the second with the first epistle. In the first epistle it is Jesus Christ “is come;” in the 2nd epistle it is Jesus Christ “is coming in the flesh.” In the 1st epistle it is true for any time, especially these times, that “Antichrist is he who denies that Jesus Christ did come in the flesh.” But now we have some additional truth for the last days. “Antichrist is he who denies that Jesus Christ is about to come in the flesh.” Surely there is a marked divergence of thought, which requires us to reflect upon it; but before I do so, I must admit that this emendation, when I have propounded it to some, has not been accepted. I am still however clear that this is the proper one. First, there is no doubt that is the translation—any one will admit that—that it should have been translated “coming.” Well, then, observe further—must not the Holy Ghost have had some design for so varying the expression from “has come,” in the 1st epistle, to “coming,” in the 2nd? Surely He must. And then observe that putting the 1st epistle of John’s teaching with the 2nd, you see that the grouping of thought is around the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the spirit of Antichrist denies that Jesus Christ “is come,” and the Antichrist himself denies that Jesus Christ “is coming” in the flesh.
Then I have one more proof still, from the context, that that is the bearing of the passage; for look at the next words—“Look to yourselves, that ye lose not those things which we have wrought; but that we receive a full reward.” Now, I think I shall be able to show a connection between “full reward,” and that “Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh.” The connection, as it appears to me, is this: The things which the Lord Jesus specially speaks of, that will please Him when He comes, are such as these:—if He finds us “faithful,” if He finds us “so doing,” and there is one particularly mentioned in the 10th of Hebrews, that “if we hold fast our confidence,” we shall have great recompense of reward; and there is one more thing he mentions particularly in the 12th of Luke—if He finds us watching when He comes, that that will very much please Him, that that will get us reward from Him. “Blessed are those servants, whom, when their Lord cometh, He shall find watching.” It is particularly mentioned, that if He comes and finds us watching, it will be a happy and precious thing for us.
Now it seems to me there is the connection; whilst the antichrists are denying that Jesus Christ is coming back, beware that you are not entangled by what they say, that the world is getting better, and improving, and that in the march of progress things are happening that are certain to introduce the millennium fast. Do not be deceived by any such fallacious expectations. Keep your eye on the coming of the Lord, and then you will get a full reward. Do I show you the connection? Keep your eye on Jesus Christ’s coming, and then if you do, you will be watching; and then if you are watching, you will get a full reward. And oh! surely the connection is very striking; which being so, now I draw out important doctrines from this passage, which, by all that I have been showing you these last few minutes, I have been preparing you for.
Who does not know that the popular theology is that the world is rapidly improving, and that we are on the margin of I know not what—an ideal state of perfection—a state of perfection such as shall exceed the wishes of all God’s people. That is not merely the teaching, alas, of unconverted men; but even some Christians are entangled by it—that they are true Christians, God forbid that I should deny; but I suppose we must know there are many true Christians who are entangled by the notion that the world is getting better, and that what with the progress and the liberalism, and this, that, and the other, which is so carrying everything before it, that the world is rapidly gliding into a millennium. But admitting the world is gliding into a millennium, what is it but the devil’s millennium; they are looking for Antichrist, and not Christ. I have no doubt that is what the world wants—Antichrist; and sometimes, when I say that, an anecdote comes into my mind, which just serves to illustrate the tendency of the age. Two merchants were riding in a train some time ago, and were talking about the possibility of a war between Prussia and France, how it disturbed the stocks, disquieted society, and interfered with commerce and such like, and they said, “We shall never have things comfortable until we have one great emperor to rule the kings of Europe, to be, as it were, a sovereign of sovereigns in Europe.” What do they want? Why they want precisely that which God shows is coming—the Roman Empire, to be restored with its ten kings, and with its supreme emperor over all. That is what is coming.
We learn from the page of Revelation that the empire has existed in two forms. I will just mention them. One form was the emperor without the kings. At present it is in a state of existence in this way—the kings without the emperor; but what is coming is a combination of the two—the ten kings, (the ten toes of the image, the ten horns of the beast,) with the emperor over them all; that is what the men of the world want; they want God to put down war in man’s way. That is the drift of things. The world is preparing for Antichrist. The devil has taken a lesson out of God’s book. God prepared the world for the coming of Christ, and told men centuries before that He was coming, and the eyes of men were turned to Messiah. Satan is preparing men for the appearance of Antichrist, and so directing their minds to “the good time coming,” that they reject Christ for hero worship and Antichristianism. So when the devil’s time has come—i.e., when God’s object is accomplished—because the devil can never do what he likes, except God the Holy Ghost permits him—when the Holy Ghost has taken up the church, the devil will raise up Antichrist, and there will be the Emperor, and all the world shall wonder after the boast. Now many Christians are so infatuated in looking forward to this progress—this advance,
that they are carried away by the spirit of the world; and are actually looking, unconscious of the drift of their earthly expectations, yet in part for that which shall issue in the development of the Man of Sin. The believer watching, is looking for Christ, and must feel that he never, never, never can be in a right attitude, until his eye is fixed solely on Christ and on His return.
Oh how such Christians as have maintained the world was improving will be amazed, when, having been caught up with their fellow Christians at His coming, shall presently come down towards the world with Him! Then they shall find the world in open, undisguised hostility to Christ. What a surprise for such! What a “mending of the world” they will perceive they had made.
Now it does seem to me such a solemn warning in this 2nd epistle. “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the Deceiver, and the Antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought,”— working, and watching, and holding on, and holding out a little longer; for yet a little while, He will come, He will not tarry. “Look to yourselves, that we receive a full reward.”
Then, let me say this elect lady—a woman—is considered competent to judge evil doctrine, even if she is not a very profound divine; she is told not to receive such into her house, neither to bid such God speed. Then the last closing words admirably fit— “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink, but I trust to come,” the right word should be, “I trust to be with you.” There is no such word as “come”—the words should be, “I trust to be with you,” and “to speak face to face.” “Coming” would refer to the Lord. But the writer expresses the desire for the time to arrive when he will be with the other saints of God. The word trust, too, is suggestive. It should be properly I “hope.” The word “hope” always refers in Scripture to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has no other meaning. We are looking for the coming of the Lord. For then we “shall be with you,” says John to the elect lady, and “we shall speak face to face.” Surely every word in the 2nd epistle of John is very instructive and pertinent in its place.
Well then, a few words more on the 3rd epistle. I have anticipated myself a little on the 3rd epistle; I have shown you how much is made of the truth in the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John. You may say, “You have shown us the bearing of the 2nd epistles; then what is the third epistle for?” I may say, if the 2nd epistles were designed to be principally a guide to the believer with reference to the truth taught in the 1st epistles, in his living in the last days; the 3rd epistle must be his guide in the very last days, just at the very end, just before the closing words of the 2nd and 3rd epistles are completed, by the being with one another, and by being with the Lord.
What is the main difference of teaching between the 3rd epistle from the 2nd? Why the main difference of teaching of the 3rd from the 2nd, I submit is this: The 2nd epistle shows us specially whom to shut out, the 3rd epistle shows us whom to receive. There is a sufficiently tangible difference. The 2nd epistle of John warrants us in excluding those who bring not the doctrine of Christ—we are not to have anything to do with them, even to bidding them God speed; not merely at the Lord’s table, that is not enough. If the person does not accept the doctrine of Christ, he says, “Receive him not into your house,” “with such a one do not eat.” It is not about the Lord’s table; have no fellowship with him whatever. And then in the 3rd epistle we are told whom to receive. Beloved friends, I am reminded of a fact which I have already mentioned once or twice, namely, the truth always has a countercheck, that you must never lean so much on one side of God’s truth as to ignore the other. The only way for a believer, if he wants to go rightly, is to remember that truth is always two-sided. If there is any truth that the Holy Ghost has specially pressed upon your heart, if you do not want to push it to the extreme, ask what is the counter-truth, and lean a little of your weight upon that; otherwise, if you bear so very much on one side of the truth, there is a danger of pushing it into a heresy. Heresy means selected truth; it does not mean error; heresy and error are very different things. Heresy is truth; but truth pushed into undue importance to the disparagement of the truth on the other side. Now the 2nd epistle shows us whom we must reject, and the 3rd epistle shows us whom we must receive. Well, then, I will just speak upon whom we must receive. “I wrote unto the church; but Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not.” There you see it is represented that some persons were excluded—that if John himself and his friends had been there, they would have been excluded too. That is an important hint, that it shows it is possible to carry the doctrine of exclusion to that extent, that positively you might be excluding John himself, if he were there; and the Lord says: “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me;” so that you see there is care, and wisdom, and the guidance of the Spirit needed, that we do not shut out one of God’s people whom we should receive. Perhaps we may get some little clue as to who is meant by Diotrephes; because I am one of those who believe that all these Greek words should have been translated. If all those words had been translated, it would have been a great clue to understand what is meant. Diotrephes, translated, means “one who is nourished by Jupiter,” or “one who is nourished by the false god.” I believe all the other words have a signification. Thus, Gaius means earthy—it seems to remind the children of God who are called with the heavenly call, of their pristine condition. Demetrius also has the word earth in it, “one whose mother is the earth.” Gaius is earthy—do not confound it with earthly, which has something horrible in it, earthy has not—that is what we come from, the earth. Then, we meet with names in other epistles. One, “Demas has forsaken me.” Demas means a popular man. Then, Phygellus means a race of fugitives, and Hermogenes a race of speakers. Diotrephes, “one who is nourished by Jupiter.” The word may refer to the malice and envy in which he lives, who bears a grudge against some other brothers who do not subnet to his being uppermost, and so is filled with wrath, because arrogant and quarrelsome, he would fain keep them out. Or, the words, “nourished by Jupiter” may deny that the excommunicator is supported in a holy way, and thus allude to clerecy. I have just suggested two thoughts, one or the other of which may be employed, for I cannot admit that the word Diotrephes was written without a meaning, which the Holy Ghost might wish to convey, when He caused the word to be written. But I need not tarry on that point more; there is another point to which I ask your attention in the earlier verses; and that is, I think, a very striking mark of the last days, in the 3rd epistle. Here is a very singular illustration of the connection of this epistle with the times we live in. “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers, which have borne witness of thy charity before the church, whom, if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well; because for the name they went forth (or went out) evangelizing, preaching the gospel, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” It is very wrong what we see in the apostacy, charging the unconverted for hearing the gospel, making persons who would have a sitting pay so much for it. “We therefore ought to receive such, (i.e., evangelists,) that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth.” It is also striking that in this very brief epistle, the word “church” is found no less than three times; whilst in either of the first two epistles of John the word does not occur once. Does not its repeated occurrence here seem to deny that the church is in ruins—a doctrine very popular with some? Does it not hint that the church, as such, as truly exists now as on the day of Pentecost of Acts 2? Is it not implied, that at the very close believers will again be taught their oneness in Christ, and be drawn closer together in view of the Lord’s return? So elsewhere we find a similar thought, “the Spirit and the Bride say (that is to Christ), Come!” Then I have remarked on the word Demetrius, and so I come to the last verses. “I have many things to write; but I will not write with ink and pen; but I trust I shall shortly see thee.” The word “shortly” in the original is “immediately,” as if it was just upon the moment; the word is one that occurs forty times in Mark, translated “forthwith,” “immediately,” or “straightway;” so “shortly” is a poor translation. “I trust,” “I hope I shall immediately see you, and then we shall have some happy communion together.” Why, it seems to me as if the word “immediately” brings down the truth of God to the very moment here—that we stand on the edge of the dispensation, on its extreme verge. There are people who live on the edge of two counties, so that they can put one foot in one county, and the other in the other. It seems to me that is just where we are, at the very verge of the dispensation, with eighteen centuries behind us filled with suffering and sorrow, sin and apostacy; and close on the other, when the Son of God is come to receive us to Himself—to bring us to His Father’s bosom. Until then we are to go forth preaching the Word, to seek to do what we can by watching, by working, and especially not to be carried away with the anti-christian spirit (for that is what it is) of the age, believing that the world is getting better, which better, when it comes to a head, is Antichrist; but refusing to be comforted until the Bridegroom returns, and gives us the signal to mount into the air to meet Him. God bless His Word for Christ’s sake.