FELLOWSHIP IN THE

                    LIFE ETERNAL

                       

 

 

 

 

                                              AN EXPOSITION OF THE

                                               EPISTLES OF ST JOHN       

 

 

 

 

                                                                 BY 

                                             GEORGE G. FINDLAY, D.D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                           HODDER AND STOUGHTON

                                                LONDON MCMIX (1909) 

 

                       

 

                            [Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt, Gordon College, 2006]


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               UXORI  DILECTISSIMAE

                           PER TRIGINTA TRES ANNOS

                     PRECUM ET LABORUM CONSORTI

                            COHEREDI GRATIAE VITAE.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  PREFACE

 

 

 

THE Exposition here presented was first delivered

sixteen years ago to the Headingley students of

that time, and is published partly at their request.

Chapters of it have appeared, occasionally, in the

pages of the Expositor, the Wesleyan, Methodist Maga-

zine, and Experience; these have been carefully

revised and re-written. The features of the work

and the method of treatment will be apparent from

the full Table of Contents that is furnished. I have

had primarily in view the needs of theological

students and preachers; but professional language

has been avoided and matters of technical scholarship

kept in the background, and I venture to hope that

the interpretation may be of service to other readers

who are interested in questions of New Testament

doctrine and Christian experience. To no age since

his own has St John had more to say than to ours;

the opening of the twentieth century is, in some

ways, wonderfully near to the close of the first.

            Amongst previous interpreters of the Epistles of

John, my debts—at least, my more immediate debts—

are greatest to Lucke, Erich Haupt, Rothe, and

Westcott. Lucke excelled in grammatical and logical

 

                                      vii


viii                                 PREFACE

 

acumen; Haupt in analytic power and theological

reflexion; Rothe was supreme in spiritual insight

and fineness of touch; in Westcott there was a

unique combination of all these gifts, though he may

have been surpassed in any single one of them.

Neither Lucke's nor Rothe's commentaries, unfortu-

nately, have been translated from the German.

 

                                                GEORGE G. FINDLAY.

HEADINGLEY.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  CONTENTS

 

                                      INTRODUCTION

 

                                          CHAPTER I

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS (2 and 3 John)                                                         3

            Nature of the Two Notes—The Apostle John's Correspondence—

            Private or Public Letters?—Connexion between 2 and 3 John—

            Relation of both to I John—Causes of their Survival.

 

 

                                        CHAPTER II

HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH (2 and 3 John)                                   13

            Importance of the Imperial Roman Roads—Churches echeloned

            along the Great Highways—W. M. Ramsay upon Travelling at the

            Christian Era—Hospitality an essential Church Function—Enter-

            tainment of Itinerant Ministers—Abuse of Church Hospitality—

            The Didache—St John's Solicitude on the subject.

 

 

                                       CHAPTER III

THE ELECT LADY (2 John)                                                                                    23

            The words e]klekth> kuri<a—Theory of Dr Bendel Harris—Vindication

            of rendering "Lady"—Proof of the Public Destination of 2 John-

            Lady-ship of the Church—The Apostle's relations to the Church in

            question--Possibility of identifying the “Elect Lady.”

 

 

                                     CHAPTER IV

GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES (3 John)                                        35

            3 John full of Personalities—Three Typical Characters of late

            Apostolic Times—The Gaiuses of the New Testament—Gaius of

 

                                                 ix

 


x                                      CONTENTS

 

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

            Porgamum—His Characterization—The name Demetrius—A Tra-

            velling Assistant of St John—His Visit to Gaius' Church—The

            Triple Testimony to him—Diotrephes the Marplot—Significance of

            his Name—Nature of his Influence—His Insolence toward the

            Apostle—Indications of the State of the Johannine Churches.

 

 

                                            CHAPTER V

 

THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS                                                   47

            St John's Reserve — Companionship with St Peter — Contrast

            between the Friends—St John's Place in the Primitive Church

            The Apostle of Love—The Apostle of Wrath—Combination of the

            Mystical and Matter-of-fact—St John's Symbolism a product of

            this Union—Twofold Conflict of the Church: Imperial Persecution,

            Gnosticizing Error.

 

 

                                            CHAPTER VI

SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF THE FIRST EPISTLE                             59

            The Letter a Written Homily—Addressed to Settled Christians—St

            John's Ministry that of Edification—Complement of St Peter's

            Ministry—Continuation of St Paul's Ministry—Polemical Aim of

            the Epistle—Connexion of this with its Ethical Strain—Comparison

            of St John's Teaching with St Paul's—Obligation of the latter to

            the former—Absence of Epistolary Formulae—"We" and "I" in

            the Epistle—An Epistle General—Traits of Johannine Authorship

            —Relation of Epistle to Gospel of John—Analysis of 1 John—

            Appendix: Tables of Parallels.

 

 

                        DIVISION I: FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

                                      (CHAPTER 1. 1-2. 27)

 

                                             CHAPTER VII

 

THE MANIFESTED LIFE (1 John 1. 1-4)                                                  83

            Construction of the Passage—The Eternal Life unveiled—Gnostic

            Dualism of Nature and Spirit—"In the Beginning" and "From

            the Beginning"—Actuality of the Manifestation—Competence of

            the Witnesses—Fellowship of Men in the Testimony—Fellowship

            with God through the Testimony.

 


                                            CONTENTS                                                       xi

 

                                          CHAPTER VIII

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD (1 John 1. 5-10)                                  95

            The Gospel a Message about God, proposing Fellowship with God

            —The Old Gods and the New God—The God of Philosophy—The

            Incubus of Idolatry—God as Pure Light —Light a Socializing

            Power—One Light for all Intelligence—Blindness to God the

            mother of Strife—Cleansing through the Blood of Jesus—Three

            Ways of opposing the Light of God.

 

 

                                          CHAPTER IX

THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION (1 John 2. 1, 2)               111

            Aim of the Gospel the Abolition of Sin—Perversion of the Doctrine

            of Gratuitous Pardon—Ground of the Apostle's Joy in his Children

            —Case of a Sinning Brother—Implication of the Society—Resort to

            the Advocate—Discrepancy in St John's Teaching —The title

            Paraclete—Advocate and High Priest—Character and Competency title

            of the Advocate—Disposition of the Judge—The Advocate has

            "somewhat to offer"—The term Propitiation — Heathen and

            Jewish Propitiations — The Scandal of the Cross to Modern

            Thought -- The Cost of the Propitiation to its Offerer—Law

            operative in Redeeming Grace—The Advocate in the Sinner's place

            —Universal Scope of the Propitiation.

 

 

                                            CHAPTER X

THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD (1 John 2. 3-6)                                           133

            Elements of Fellowship with God— Connexion of Ideas in chap. 2. 1-6

            —Danger of Providing for Sin in Believers—Loyalty the Test and

            Guard of Forgiveness—What is keeping of Commands?—What the

            Commands to be kept?—Good Conscience of Commandment-keeper

            —Falseness of Knowledge of God without Obedience—Knowledge

            translated into Love—Love the Soul of Loyalty—"Perfecting" of

            God's Love—"The Commandments" and "the Word" of God—

            Communion passing into Union with God—Mutual Indwelling—

            Jesus the Example of Life in God—The Features of His Image.

 

 

                                           CHAPTER XI

THE OLD AND NEW COMMANDMENT (1 John 2. 7-11)                               155

            Teaching of last Paragraph familiar to Readers—"The Command-

            ment" Christ's Law of Brother-love — St John harps on this

 


xii                                      CONTENTS

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

            String—The Breaker of the Christian Rule—The Sin of Hatred—

            Its Course and Issue—The Scandal it Creates—Life in the Light—

            The Commandment of Love Old as the Gospel—Old as Revelation

            —Old as the Being of God—New as the Incarnation and the Cross

            —"New in Him, and in You"—The Novelty of Christian Brother-

            hood—Dawn of the World's New Day.

 

 

                                        CHAPTER XII

RELIGION IN AGE AND YOUTH (1 John 2. 12-14)                                           177

            Pause in the Letter—"I write," "I have written"—Little

            Children, Fathers, Young Men—All knowing the Father through

            Forgiveness — The "Fathers" deep in Knowledge of Christ-

            Christology the Crown of Christian Thinking—"Young Men" and

            their Strength—Violence of Passion—Allurements of Novelty—

            Beacon Light of Scripture—The Militant Strength of Young Men.

 

 

                                      CHAPTER XIII

THE LOVE THAT PERISHES (1 John 2. 15-17)                                      195

            The Rival Loves—"The World" in St John—To be loved and to be

            loathed—The Church and the World--"All that is in the World"

            —The Temptations in the Garden and in the Desert—Physical

            Appetite—Subjection of the Body — AEsthetic Sensibility—The

            Worlds of Fashion and of Art—Life's Vainglory—Intellectual

            Ambition — Pride of Wealth — The Essence of Worldliness —

            Transience of the Evil World—Of the Roman Empire—Of the

            Kingdom of Satan on Earth.

 

 

                                      CHAPTER XIV

THE LAST HOUR (1 John 2. 18-27)                                                                      213

            St John in Old Age —The Veteran sure of Victory—Seceders from

            the Church—"Last Hour" of the Apostolic Age—Ignorance of

            Times and Seasons—Cyclical Course of History—Etymology of

            "Antichrist"—Gnostic Denial of the Son of God — Separation

            of "Jesus" from "Christ"—Axiom of Gnosticism--Safeguards of

            Faith—The Chrism of the Spirit—The Witness of the Apostles—

            The Promise of Christ.

 

 


                                     CONTENTS                                                              xiii

 

 

                DIVISION II: SONSHIP TOWARD GOD

                                (CHAPTER 2. 28-5. 12)

 

                                     CHAPTER XV

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

THE FILIAL CHARACTER AND HOPE (1 John 2. 28-3. 3)                               229

            Main Division of the Letter—Comparison of its two Halves—St

            John awaiting Christ's Coming — New Testament Horizon —

            Confidence or Shame at the Judgement-seat—Pauline and Johannine

            Eschatology--"Begotten of God"—Doing the Vital Thing—The

            Righteous Father and Righteous Sons--"Look, what Love!"—To

            be, and to be called, God's Children--Veiling of the Sons of

            God—The Hope of Glory — Internal and External Likeness to

            Christ—Vision presumes Assimilation—Purification by Hope.

 

 

                                    CHAPTER XVI

THE INADMISSIBILITY OF SIN (1 John 3. 4-9)                                      253

            Hope awakens Fear—Five Reasons against Sin in Believers—Sin

            Ruinous—Sin Illegal—Deepening of Sense of Sin in Scripture—The

            Constitutional Objection to Sin—Sin Unchristian — Bearing and

            Removing Sin—Sinlessness of Sin's A.bolisher — Sin and Christ

            Incompatibles—Paradox of a Sinning Christian—Sin Diabolical-

            Extra-human Origin of Sin—The Dominion of Satan—Its coming

            Dissolution—"Children of the Devil"--Sin Unnatural in God's

            Child—The Facts of Saintship—The Source of Saintship—The

            Christian non possumus—St John's High Doctrine of Holiness.

 

 

                                    CHAPTER XVII

LOVE AND HATRED, AND THEIR PATTERNS (1 John 3. 10-18)       273

            Divine or Diabolic Sonship "manifest"—Two Sorts of Men—

            Personality of the Evil One—Marks of Spiritual Parentage—Love

            the Burden of the Gospel—Diligo, ergo sum--The Master of Love,

            and His Lesson—Testing of Love by Material Needs—Cain a

            Prototype—Evil must hate Good—Implicit Murder—Misanthropy.

 

 

                                    CHAPTER XVIII

CHRISTIAN HEART ASSURANCE (1 John 3. 19-24)                             289

            Probing of the Uneasy Conscience—Double Ground of Re-assurance

            —Love, Faith's Saviour—Love, the Touchstone of Knowledge-

           


xiv                                         CONTENTS

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

            "We shall persuade our Hearts"—The Scrutiny of God—Assurance

            by the Spirit's Witness -- Peril of Mysticism — Grammatical

            Ambiguity in verses 19, 20—The Apostle warning, not soothing—

            Grounds for Self-reproach—Christian Assurance and Prevailing

            Prayer—God's Favour toward Lovers of their Brethren.

 

 

                                            CHAPTER XIX

THE TRIAL OF THE SPIRITS (1 John 4. 1-6)                                                       311

            False Spirits abroad in the World—A Critical Epoch—Spurious

            Inspiration — Some Popular Prophets—The Criteria of True and

            False Christianity—The Doctrinal Test: the Person of Christ—

            St Paul's Confessional Watchword, and St John's—The Practical

            Test: the Consensus of Believers— The Historical Test: the

            Authority of the Apostles—Papal Claims versus the New Testament

            —Modernism on its Trial.

 

 

                                         CHAPTER XX

THE DIVINITY OF LOVE (1 John 4. 7-14)                                                           327

            Solidarity of Love in the Universe—Love of, not only from God—

            Love the "One Thing needful"—Lovelessness of Man—Love and

            other Attributes of the Godhead—The Incarnation the Outcome of

            God's Fatherhood—Bethlehem consummated on Calvary — The

            Surrender of the Son by the Father for Man's sake—The Conquests

            of God's Father-love—Divine Love " perfected " in Good Men—

            Thwarted in Selfish Men.

 

 

                                       CHAPTER XXI

SALVATION BY LOVE (1 John 4. 15-21)                                                            343

            St John's Freshness in Repetition—God in Men that love Him—

            Men love Him for sending His Son—Chilling Effect of a minimizing

            Christology—Faith reproduces the Love it apprehends —Love

            removes Fear of Judgement—Confidence of the Christ-like—Fear a

            Salutary Punishment—Learning Love from God—The Lie of loving

            God alone—Orthodoxy without Charity—God no Monopolist.

 

 

                                    CHAPTER XXII

THE CONQUERING FAITH (1 John 5. 1-5)                                                         359

            St John's Life-span—The World of his Time—The Long Campaign

            —The Centre of the Battle—Ancient Doketism—Modern Hu-

 


                                          CONTENTS                                                         xv

                                                                                                                                    PAGE

            manism—A Real Incarnation and Atonement—Love and Discipline

            —Loving the Begetter in the Begotten—Depth and Breadth of

            Christian Love—The Anvil of Character—Failure of Undisciplined

            Churches—"His Commandments not grievous."

 

 

                                       CHAPTER XXIII

THE THREE WITNESSES, AND THE ONE TESTIMONY

            (1 John 5. 6-12)                                                                                            377

            Transcendental and Experimental in St John—His Gospel an

            Autobiography—The Three Heavenly Witnesses—One Jesus Christ

            —"Through Water and Blood"—The Lord's Baptism and Cruci-

            fixion—Crises of St John's Faith—The Testimony of Pentecost—

            Three Witnesses merged in One—"Making God a Liar"—Witness

            of the Christian Consciousness.

 

 

 

                     THE EPILOGUE (CHAPTER 5. 13-21)

 

 

                                       CHAPTER XXIV

THE ETERNAL LIFE, AND THE SIN UNTO DEATH (1 John

                        5. 13-17)                                                                                            395

            Postscript to the Letter—Purpose of Gospel and Epistle—Faith and

            Assurance of Faith—The Certainty of Life Eternal—Practical Use

            of Christian Assurance—"Asking according to His Will" — The

            Possibilities of Intercessory Prayer—A Limit to Prayer—What is

            the "Sin unto Death"?—Mortal and Venial Sins—The Case of

            Jeremiah and his People—The Mystery of Inhibited Prayer.

 

 

                                      CHAPTER XXV

THE APOSTOLIC CREED (1 John 5. 18-21)                                                        415

            The three-fold "We know"—St John's Positiveness—The Order of

            his Creed—"I believe in Holiness"—The Blight of Cynicism—The

            Son of God Keeper of God's Sons—The Question of Entire Sanctifi-

            cation—"I believe in Regeneration"—A "World lying in the

            Evil One"—Mystery of New Births—The Christian Noblesse oblige

            —"I believe in the Mission of the Son of God"—Come to stay

            Christian Use of the Understanding—The True God and the Idols

            —Christ come to conquer.

 

                                  


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   INTRODUCTION

 

                                      THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

                  THE SECOND AND THIRD EPISTLES OF ST JOHN

 

 

 

Nature of the two Notes—The Apostle John's Correspondence—Private

or Public Letters?—Connexion between 2 and 3 John—Relation of both

to 1 John—Causes of their Survival.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                "The Elder to the Elect Lady and her children."--2 JOHN 1.

 

 

                           "The Elder to Gaius the beloved."--3 JOHN 1.

 


 

 

 

 

                                     CHAPTER I

      

                      THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

THE Second and Third Epistles of John are the

shortest books, of the Bible. They contain in

the Greek less than three hundred words apiece;

closely written, each might cover a single sheet of

papyrus—to this material the word "paper" (chartes)

refers in 2 John 12. Together they barely fill a page

out of the eight or nine hundred pages of the English

Bible. These brief notes, or dispatches, appear to have

been thrown off by the Apostle in the ordinary course

of his Church-administration, and may have occupied

in their composition but a few moments of his time; in

all likelihood, he wrote scores of such letters, bearing

upon public or private affairs, during his long presi-

dency over the Christian societies of Asia Minor. By

a happy providence, these two have been preserved to

us out of so much that has perished with the occasion.

            Doubt has been entertained, both in ancient and

modern times, as to whether these notes should

not be ascribed to another "John the Elder," of

whose existence some traces are found in the ear-

liest Church history, rather than to the Apostle

of that name; but their close affinity to the First

Epistle of John sustains the general tradition as to

their authorship and vindicates them for the beloved

Apostle. The writer assumes, as matter of course, a

unique personal authority, and that in a Church to

which he does not belong by residence, such as no

 

            Life Eternal        3


4                THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

post-apostolic Father presumed to arrogate; that St

John should have styled himself familiarly "the elder"

in writing to his friends and children in the faith, is a

thing natural enough and consistent with his tem-

perament. Those scholars may be in the right who

conjecture that "the Elder John" of tradition is

nothing but a double of the Apostle John.

            It was surely their slight and fugitive character,

rather than any misgiving about their origin, which

excluded these writings from the New Testament of

the Syrian Church and led to their being counted in

other quarters amongst the antilegomena, or disputed

Books of Scripture. They were overshadowed by the

First Epistle, beside which they look almost insignifi-

cant; and to this fact it is due, as well as to their

brevity and the obscurity of their allusions, that the

Second and Third Epistles of John were seldom quoted

in early times and are comparatively neglected by

readers of the Bible.

            These are notes snatched from the every-day

correspondence of an Apostle. They afford us a

glance into the common intercourse that went on

between St John and his friends—and enemies (for

enemies the Apostle of love certainly had, as the

First Epistle shows). They add little or nothing to

our knowledge of Johannine doctrine; but they throw

a momentary light upon the state of the Churches

under St John's jurisdiction toward the close of the

first century and the intercommunion linking them

together; they indicate some of the questions which

agitated the first Christian societies, and the sort of

personalities who figured amongst them. These brief

documents lend touches of local colour and personal

feeling to the First Epistle, which deals with doctrine

and experience in a studiously general way. Taken

along with the Apocalyptic Letters to the Seven

Churches, they help us, in some sort, to imagine the

aged Apostle in "his habit as he lived"—the most

retired and abstracted of all the great actors of the

 


              THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS                  5

 

New Testament. They serve to illustrate St John's

disposition and methods, and reveal something of the

nature and extent of his influence. These scanty

lines possess, therefore, a peculiar historical and bio-

graphical interest; and their right interpretation is a

matter of considerable moment.

            The First Epistle of John appears without Address,

Salutation, or Farewell Greetings, without personal

notes or local allusions of any kind. It is wanting in

the ordinary features of a letter, and is in literary

form a homily rather than an Epistle. The two notes

attached to it supply, to some extent, this defect.

They stand in close relation to the major Epistle;

they bring to our notice, in a slight but very

significant fashion, persons and incidents belonging

to the sphere of St John's ministry about the time

when it was written, and cast a vivid illumination

upon one spot at least in the wide province over

which the venerable Apostle presided and to which his

"catholic" Epistle in all probability was addressed.

2 and 3 John therefore furnish, in default of other

material, a kind of setting and framework to 1 John.

For this reason they are discussed here, by way of

Introduction rather than sequel.

            The Second and Third Epistles of John are not,

properly speaking, "private" letters. 3 John bears,

indeed, a personal address; but it deals with public

matters; and its contents, as the last sentence shows,

were intended to reach others besides "Gaius the

beloved." From early times it has been debated

whether the "elect lady" of 2 John was a community,

or an individual sister in the Church; the former

view, held by most recent investigators, is much the

more probable. The Apostle appeals to the Church in

question, with deep solemnity, as to the "chosen lady"

of "the Lord" (see Chap. III), even as in the Revelation

(21. 2, 9, and 22. 17) he describes the entire Church as

"the bride, the Lamb's wife." This style of speech was

familiar to the Asian Churches from the great passage

 


6                 THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

of St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (5. 22-33), which

hallowed the love of husband and wife by its analogy

to the mystic tie uniting the Lord Christ with His

people; the same figure is employed in 2 Corinthians

11. 2, 3, and in John 3. 29. Hence in the body of his

letter St John uses the singular and plural (thou and

you) interchangeably, identifying the Church with its

members, the "lady" with her "children"; and there

is nothing in the contents of the note specific to the

circumstances of a private family. The greater for-

mality and fulness of the salutation of 2 John in

comparison with 3 John points also to its larger

destination, as addressed to the community and not

to a single person. St Paul's Epistle to Philemon is

the one strictly private letter in the New Testament;

the difference between that writing and the Second of

John every reader can appreciate.

            These two should, in fact, be designated "the Pastoral

Epistles of John"; they hold amongst his writings a

position resembling that of the letters to Timothy and

Titus amongst those of St Paul, dealing, though in a

slighter way, with questions of Church-order and

orthodoxy akin to those which the Apostle of the

Gentiles had to regulate at an earlier time in the same

district.  Nevertheless, and despite the public stamp

and purport of the documents, there breathes through

both a tenderness of feeling and a personal intimacy

which take fit expression in the farewell greeting of

3 John: "The friends salute thee. Salute the friends

by name." Whether addressed to few or many readers,

whether designed for the household of faith or the

family circle, these leaflets of the Apostle John are true

love-letters,—written as from father to children, from

friend to friends.

            While these Epistles stand apart from the other

writings of St John, a close and curious connexion is

traceable between them. In each at the outset "the

elder" writes to those (or to him) whom he "loves in

truth"; in each he speaks of himself as "very much

 


                THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS                   7

 

rejoiced" (a combination of words unique in the New

Testament) by what he has "found" (or "heard") as to

his correspondents "walking in truth"—an expression

of Johannine strain, but confined to these two letters.

To Gaius, St John repeats this phrase with emphasis:

"Greater joy than this I have not, to hear of my

children walking in the truth" (vers. 2, 3), as though

Gaius himself belonged to those "children walking in

truth" on whom he congratulated the Elect Lady in the

previous letter. In both Epistles St John concludes by

saying that he "has many things to write" to his

friends, which he will not now set down "by paper

and ink" (or "ink and pen"), because he "hopes to

come to" them ("to see" his dear Gaius "immediately"),

—"and mouth to mouth," he says, "we will talk."

Now he would be a very stiff, stereotyped writer, who

should echo himself thus precisely in two informal

letters composed at any distance of time from each

other. It is true that St John's theological vocabulary

is limited and repetitive; but this is a different matter,

and the Epistles are anything but constrained and

mechanical. Letters so nearly identical in their setting

must have been, one cannot but think, nearly simul-

taneous in their composition. It was in the course of

one and the same visitation that the Apostle John

expected to see the "lady" of 2 John and "the beloved

Gaius" of 3 John; he writes to both on the eve of

his projected tour.

            Both letters turn, it must be further observed, on the

subject of hospitality; they are concerned with the

question of the reception of travellers passing from

Church to Church and claiming recognition as Christian

teachers or missionaries (2 John 7-11, 3 John 5-10).

The status of such persons was, as we shall see, a

critical question in the Primitive Church. The Elect

Lady is sternly warned not to "receive into her house"

the bearers of false teaching; and Gaius is highly

approved for his entertainment of "brethren," per-

sonally "strangers" to him, who "had gone out" on

 


8              THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

the service of "the name," by which conduct he has

shown himself a "fellow-worker with the truth." At

the same time Diotrephes, who has a predominating

voice in Gaius' Church, is denounced because "he

refuses to receive the brethren"—as, in fact, the

Apostle declares, "he refuses us"; more than this,

"he hinders those who wish" (like Gaius) to receive

the accredited itinerants, "and drives them out of

the Church." This state of things, manifestly, was

intolerable: the Apostle "hopes to come" to the spot

"straightway"; and when he does come, he will

reckon with Diotrephes (3 John 10, 14). He "has

written a few words to the Church" (so Westcott

properly renders the first clause of 3 John 9),

along with this confidential note to Gaius; "but" he

is doubtful what reception his public missive may

have: "he [Diotrephes] receiveth not us"—does not

admit our authority. The Epistle to Gaius is designed

to supplement that addressed to the Church, and to

provide against its possible failure.

            The Second Epistle of John is, we conclude, the very

letter referred to in 3 John 9. The more closely we

examine the two, the more germane and twin-like they

appear. The caution of 2 John and the commendation

of 3 John on the matter of hospitality match and fit

into each other they would be naturally addressed to

the same circle—to a Church which was, for some

reason or other, disposed to welcome the wrong kind

of guests, to entertain heterodox teachers and to shut

the door against orthodox and duly accredited visitors.

The action of Diotrephes, who instigated the exclusion

of the Apostle's friends, is not indeed imputed to

heretical leanings on his own part; he is taxed with

ambition, and with disloyalty to apostolic rule—"loving

to be first" and "in mischievous words prating about

us" (3 John 9, 10). Gaius braved this man's displeasure

in keeping an open door for St John's emissaries, and

had laid the Apostle thereby under great obligation;

the service thus rendered to "the truth" was the more

 


                   THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS                   9

 

valuable because at this very time, as we learn from

the Second Epistle (in agreement with the First),

"deceivers and antichrists" were infesting the Asian

field, who would not fail to take advantage of the open-

ing afforded by the factious behaviour of Diotrephes.

            The Demetrius of 3 John 12 is introduced to Gaius,

at the end of the note, apparently as bearing this Letter

(possibly both letters) with him; the writer tacitly

asks on his behalf a continuance of the "well-doing"

(vers. 5, 11) by which Gaius had earned his praise and

confidence already. St John makes no reference to

the letter-carrier in his "few words to the church";

but prefers to commend him to private and unofficial

hospitality, for fear of exposing Demetrius to the rebuff

the Church might give him under the malign influence

of Diotrephes. All the more was this likely, if the

same Church, or some party in it, was in a mind to

admit such enemies of the truth as those described

in 2 John 9-11. Demetrius, very probably, was sent

on purpose to combat these deniers of the Incarnation,

pending the Apostle's appearance on the scene.

            Thus read, the two writings become virtually parts

of a single document. Like companion stereoscopic

pictures, by their combination at the right focus they

reproduce the situation and present a living whole.

The correspondence of the opening and closing sen-

tences of the two Epistles is not accidental, nor to be

accounted for by the author's poverty in epistolary

matter; it is due to the fact that he writes the one

note directly after the other, in the same vein, in the

same mood. 2 John is addressed, in the language of

severe admonition combined with the highest appre-

ciation of its Church status, to the body of the

endangered Church, which was peculiarly dear to the

Apostle; 3 John, in terms of warm encouragement,

to a generous-hearted disciple, a beloved and trusted

friend of the writer's, belonging to the same Society,

but not, as it appears, holding any official charge within

it. The two present, in the main, the opposite sides of

 


10              THE TWO LITTLE LETTERS

 

the same anxious situation; together, they prepare the

way for the Apostle's approaching visit.

            This view of the connexion of the notes--which, by

the way, is adopted by critics of such opposite schools

as Theodor Zahn and P. W. Sehmiedel—helps to explain

their survival. Forwarded on the same occasion to the

same destination, this couple of papyrus leaves were

fastened together and kept as the memorial of a notable

crisis in the history of the local Church. They served

also as a characteristic memento of the revered

Apostle, who had thus interposed effectively at a

moment when this Church, which had a traitor in the

camp, was in danger of being captured by the Gnostic

antichrists, at that time everywhere invading the com-

munities of St John's province in Asia Minor. We may

imagine—for we must use our imagination in construing

fragments such as these—that the two sheets were

attached to the standard copy of John's First (General)

Epistle preserved by the Church in question; and that

they passed into circulation from this centre along

with the principal Letter. In this way Second and

Third John came to be reckoned amongst the seven

"catholic" Epistles (James–Jude), because of their

association with the "catholic" First of John, although

they were themselves of a manifestly local and limited

scope.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

Importance of the Imperial Roman Roads—Churches echeloned along

the Great Highways—W. M. Ramsay upon Travelling at the Christian

Era—Hospitality an essential Church Function—Entertainment of

Itinerant Ministers—Abuse of Church Hospitality—The Didache—St

John's Solicitude on the subject.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, take him

not into your house, and bid him not farewell; for he that bids him

farewell, has fellowship with his evil works."--2 JOHN 10, 11.

 

"Beloved, thou doest a faithful thing in whatsoever thou workest on

the brethren,—and strangers withal; who have testified to thy love

before the Church. And thou wilt do well in sending them forward in a

manner worthy of God; for they have gone forth for the Name's sake,

taking no help from heathen men. We therefore are bound to receive

such as these hospitably, that we may show ourselves fellow-workers

with the truth."--3 JOHN 5-8.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

                              CHAPTER II

 

 

       HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

 

THE Second and Third Epistles of John, we have

observed, alike turn on the exercise of hospitality

within the Church. To understand the matter and its

bearing on Christian life and progress in early times,

one must take account of the state of society under the

Roman Empire and the means of intercourse between

the countries of which it was composed.

            In three things the Romans excelled all other peoples

—in military discipline, in civil law, and in road-making.

By these arts they won and built up their world-

dominion. The whole south and west of Europe, North

Africa, Asia Minor, and the south-west of Continental

Asia were linked by a network of highways, skilfully

engineered, solidly built, and carefully guarded, which

converged to the golden milestone in the Forum of

Rome. In no subsequent period, until the invention of

the steamship and the railway, has travel been so practi-

cable and so freely practised over so wide an area of

the globe, as was the case in the flourishing age of the

Empire when Christianity took its rise. The career of

the Apostle Paul would have been impossible without

the facilities for journeying which the imperial system

and the pax Romana afforded, and without the concep-

tion of a single world-order and world-polity which

Rome had stamped upon the mind of the age. The

nations round the Mediterranean shores formed at the

Christian era one community, where "the field" of

     

                                            13

 


14       HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

"the world" lay wide open to the sowers of the

Gospel seed.1

            These conditions of life impressed on the organization

of the Church from the first a missionary stamp, and

gave it the catholic outlook which it has never been able

quite to renounce or forget. Each local Church, as the

Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles show, was

set up as a station in the forward march of the body of

Christ. At Ephesus, so soon as Macedonia and Greece,

along with Asia Minor, had been evangelized, St Paul's

cry was, "I must see Rome also!" Announcing his

visit to the Roman Christians, he writes, "I hope to see

you by the way, and by you to be sent forward to

Spain." His Churches were ranged along the great

roads, like so many Roman colonies of military occupa-

tion, "from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum."

They were links in a continuous chain, kept in touch

with each other and with the general advance of the

Christian cause; they served as the means of trans-

mitting messages and reinforcements all along the line.

The Church was instituted as an international propa-

ganda; its foundations were laid out by wise "master-

builders," governed by the idea of the Founder and

obedient to His marching orders, "Go into all the

world, and preach the good news to the whole creation."

Seeds of the new life were borne by all the currents and

tides of the age along the routes of government and

commerce, which stretched from Armenia to Britain

and from the German Ocean to the African desert, from

frontier to frontier of the Empire. The Church-system

of the New Testament is based on the two vital

principles of local spiritual fellowship and world-

evangelism,—principles which were applied with

freedom and elasticity to the necessities of the situa-

tion and the hour.

            Under these circumstances it is obvious that hospi-

 

                1 See on the whole subject the copious article of W. M. Ramsay in the

Extra Volume of Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible—"Roads and Travel

(in N.T.)."

 


   HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH         15

 

tality was no mere luxury, no external and secondary

grace of Church life; it formed a conspicuous feature

of early Christianity, and played a vital part in its

economy. Ancient society generally gave to the rela-

tions of guest and host a larger and more sacred place

than they occupy amongst ourselves. The comforts

of the modern hotel, or even of the village inn, were

then unknown. Provision of this kind did not keep

pace in the old civilization with the improvement in

roads and conveyance, and fell far short of the require-

ments of the travelling public. Another reason forbad

Christians on their journeys to make use of the places

of common entertainment: "the ancient inns" (says

Sir W. M. Ramsay, in the article above referred to)

"were little removed from houses of ill-fame. . . . The

profession of inn-keeper was dishonourable, and their

infamous character is often noted in Roman laws.”

This fact alone made organized hospitality imperative

amongst Christians; the Church could not expose its

members, whether journeying on public or private

errands, "to the corrupt and nauseous surroundings

of the inns kept by persons of the worst class in

existing society."

            We can understand, therefore, the stress that is laid

on the virtue of hospitality in New Testament ethics,

and the fact that filoceni<a (love of strangers) ranks with

filadelfi<a (love of brethren) in Hebrews 13. 1. Devotion

to Christ and the Gospel blended with the affections of

a humane and Christian heart in the cultivation of

this grace; and worldly wealth was valued because it

supplied the means for its exercise.  A hospitable

disposition is marked out in the Pastoral Epistles

 (1 Tim. 3. 2; Tit. 1. 8) amongst the prime qualifications

for eldership in the local Churches; in 1 Peter 4. 8-10

"hospitality" is represented as the due manifestation

of "fervent love" on the part of those who are "good

stewards of the manifold grace of God." Very signifi-

cantly the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5. 3-10 specifies

this as the mark, at Ephesus, of "a widow indeed," one

 


16        HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

who deserves to be placed on the church-roll for

honourable maintenance, that she shall have "shown

hospitality to strangers" and "washed the saints' feet."

On the other hand, "the messengers of the churches,"

who were the first claimants on such attentions, are

described (2 Cor. 8. 23) as "the glory of Christ," since in

their movements His authority and the spread of

His kingdom shine forth; those who have Christian

strangers at their table are compared with the

"entertainers of angels" (Heb. 13. 2).

            While inter-Church communication was thus carried

on through letter and messenger in Apostolic and Post-

apostolic times and missionaries were constantly being

forwarded to the front, private Christians and their

families (as in the case of Aquila and his wife, and of

"the household of Chloe": Acts 18. 2, 18; Rom. 16. 3;

1 Cor. 1. 11) migrated freely in search of employment

or to escape persecution. With well-to-do people, in

the age of the early Roman Empire, travelling for health

or diversion or self-improvement was a fashionable

thing; and Christians were affected by corresponding

motives. Dr Dobschiitz observes, in his interesting

work on the Christian Life in the Primitive Church

(p. 326), that "amongst the Christians of that period

[A.D. 50-150] there was developed a keen desire to move

about. This was due to their release from former

narrow notions of home, and to their striving after

fellowship with the scattered companions of their

faith." At Rome in particular—a city of continual

resort—he thinks that the primitive "bishops" had for

their most important office the direction and oversight

of hospitality, while the care of the poor was relegated

to the "deacons." All this goes to show the gravity of

the question agitated in the community to which St

John directed his Second and Third Epistles; for the

right exercise of hospitality involved the comity and

communion of the Churches generally, the maintenance

of Apostolic authority and of unity in faith amongst

them, and the continued propagation of the Gospel. On

 


   HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH          17

 

these accounts, and from their bearing on a matter

which intimately affected all Churches, the short and

semi-private notes preserved in 2 and 3 John fairly

deserve the dignified title of "Catholic Epistles."

            The reference in 3 John 7 to the travellers whom the

Apostle accredits, as going forth "taking nothing of

the Gentiles,"1  is interesting in this connexion. The

messengers of the Gospel, it would seem, might in

some instances have found entertainment on their way

with unconverted Gentile hosts; they are commended

for declining such proffers. Liberal men of culture, in

the Graeco-Roman cities, here and there kept open

house for philosophers or religious teachers of repute

travelling their way, who chose to make themselves

agreeable; toleration and breadth of view were affected

in educated circles. By this time the Christian doctrine

held a recognized footing in the Roman province of

Asia—the Apostle Paul himself had made "friends" in

the rank of "the Asiarchs" (Acts 19. 31), the official

heads of the provincial Pagan worship; and the pro-

fession of faith in Christ, though proscribed by the

Government, was not everywhere socially discreditable.

Christianity was a phenomenon of the age, and had

become an object of curiosity with the students of

religion and the philosophical dilettanti, who were

tolerably numerous amongst the leisured classes of

Asia Minor; so that in some places it may not have

been difficult for a distinguished advocate of this re-

markable creed to find lodging and entertainment in

a fashionable house, by paying the price due for

this sort of patronage. One can understand the

temptation thus presenting itself to "spoil the Egyp-

 

    1 The term here used is not, according to the corrected reading (e]qnikw?n

for e]qnw?n of the T.R.), the common Greek word for Gentiles, but that

employed in Matthew 5. 47, 6. 7, 18. 17, which signifies of Gentile state

or dispositioni.e. heathen, Pagan by religion, rather than Gentile by

race. The Apostle would not, we presume, forbid his agents to be

guests with Gentiles who were friendly to the faith and disposed to

conversion; to stay in a household that was decidedly heathen in

character, was a different matter.

 

            Life Eternal                                   3

 


18         HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

tians" and to make the heathen contribute to the

furtherance of the Gospel—especially in a neighbour-

hood where, for any reason, Christian maintenance was

not forthcoming or was grudgingly given.

            When Gaius therefore opened his door to St John's

representatives, despite the attempt of Diotrephes to

boycott the latter, he made it possible for them to visit

a Church from which otherwise they would have been

excluded, since it was their strict rule to lodge in none

but Christian homes. Following this maxim, mission-

aries entering a new sphere of labour would be sup-

ported by funds brought with them and by the labour

of their own hands, or by help remitted from the

nearest Christian station, as in the case of the Apostle

Paul and his companions in Macedonia (see Phil. 4. 15,

16). At Thessalonica, as at Philippi, the missionaries

took up their abode with the first whose "heart the

Lord opened" to receive the Good News. But this

generous "love of the stranger" became a peril to the

Churches. Just as the charity of the brotherhood laid

it open to imposition and the Apostle Paul was com-

pelled to warn his converts, in one of his earliest letters,

against idlers and mischief-makers who preferred to eat

the Church's bread "for nought" (2 Thess. 3. 6-12),

so their free-handed hospitalities exposed the Christian

societies to invasion. "False brethren stole in" for

malicious purposes (Gal. 2. 4), bringing with them

"commendatory letters" (2 Cor. 3. 1) dishonestly ob-

tained: "false apostles" St Paul calls some of these,

"deceitful workers" and plausible as "angels of light"

(2 Cor. 11. 13-15). Such intruders--Judaean legalists of

the worst type—dogged St Paul's footsteps during great

part of his ministry.

            The danger incident to the misuse of Christian

benevolence toward strangers became aggravated in

later times. The ancient Church Manual entitled

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (or briefly the

Didache) devotes two out of its sixteen chapters to

this subject; it gives striking evidence of the perpetua-

 


     HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH           19

 

tion of an itinerant ministry in the early Church, and

moreover of the jealousy that proved to be needful in

dispensing hospitality and in verifying the credentials

of visitors pretending to the Christian name. This

Directory seems to have been drawn up for the use

of Syrian or Palestinian Churches, and possibly before

the end of the first century; in that case it was con-

temporary with the letters under review, though

belonging to a distant province. It shows that the

right ordering of hospitality was at this time a matter

of universal interest, affecting the well-being of the

Christian fellowship everywhere. The following are

the chief instructions of the Didache bearing on the

point:

 

            (Chaps. xi, xii.) "Whosoever comes, and teaches you the things

aforesaid [in the previous chapters], receive him. But if the teacher

himself turn aside and teach another doctrine, so as to overthrow

these things, refuse to listen to him; but if he teach so as to increase

knowledge and fear of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. As concerns

the apostles1 and prophets, act according to the rule prescribed in

the Gospel; let every apostle coming to you be received in the Lord.

Moreover, he shall not stay just one day, but a second also, if there

be need; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet!  And when

he leaves you, let the apostle take nothing except bread sufficing him

till he reaches his next lodging; if he ask for money, he is a false

prophet. . . . Whoso saith in the Spirit, "Give me money, or other

things," you shall not listen to him; but if he bid you give for others,

who are in want, let no one judge him. But let every one who comes in

the name of the Lord be welcomed; afterwards you will get to know

him, when you have tried him; for you will have understanding of

"right and left."  If the new-comer is on a journey, help him as much

as you can; and he shall tarry with you two or three days, if necessary

—not more. And if he desires to settle with you, having a trade, let

him "work and eat"; but if he has no trade, provide for him as your

judgement may suggest, seeing to it that no Christian shall abide with

you in idleness. But if he refuses these terms, he is a Christ-trafficker

[one, that is, who makes a trade of his Christianity, and (as we should

say) sponges on the Church]. Beware of such!"

 

            St John was compelled toward the end of his life

 

            1 The word apostle in still used in its wider N.T. sense (compare Acts

14. 4, Rom. 16. 7), of Christian emissaries or missionaries generally: a

mark of early date.

 


20      HOSPITALITY IN THE EARLY CHURCH

 

to fence his Churches, under circumstances somewhat

similar to those above described. They were being

overrun by a swarm of "false prophets" and "anti-

christs," acting more or less in concert with each other.

These were errorists of a new school and type, the

forerunners of second-century Gnosticism (see Chap. VI,

below). In the second and fourth chapters of the First

Epistle he denounces them at length and in definite

terms; this whole writing is, as we shall see, a polemic

against them. The Apostle warns "the Elect Lady

and her children "against them in the Second Epistle:

"Many deceivers have gone out into the world, who do

not confess Jesus Christ as coming in flesh1 (comp. pp. 315–

317): this is the deceiver and the antichrist. . . . Every

one who goes forward and abides not in the doctrine

of Christ, has not God" (vers. 7-9). The Incarnate

Godhead of Jesus, he declares, is the test by which

the character of the teachers of error will be detected,

through the "chrism" (the "anointing") which con-

stitutes true Christians and which they "have from

the Holy One" (1 John 2. 26, 27; 4. 1-3). The First

Epistle discloses this invasion threatening the entire

field of St John's jurisdiction; the two minor Epistles

show the "deceivers and antichrists" on the point of

gaining entrance into one of the most important com-

munities in this region, through the welcome that

might be given to them in ignorance of their real

opinions and designs, and under the influence of an

ambitious man who has chosen to set himself against

the Apostle's authority.

           

     1  ]I. X.  e]rxo<menon e]n sarki< (Greek present participle)—"who do not

confess Jesus Christ as one coming in flesh," i.e., do not confess Him

in this sense, in this character; but in 1 John 4. 2,  ]I.X.  e]n sarki>

e]lhluqo<ta (Greek perfect)—"which does not confess Jesus Christ as come

in flesh," i.e., does not confess the reality of His incarnation, denies

the accomplished fact.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     THE ELECT LADY

 

The Words e]klekth> kuri<a—Theory of Dr Rendel Harris—Vindication of

rendering "Lady"—Proof of the Public Destination of 2 John—Lady-

ship of the Church—The Apostle's relations to the Church in question—

Possibility of identifying the " Elect Lady."


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            "The Elder to the Elect Lady and her children, whom I love in

truth—and not I alone, but also all those who have known the truth—

for the truth's sake that abideth in us, and it shall be with us for ever.

There shall be with us grace, mercy, peace from God the Father, and

from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

            I was greatly gladdened that I have found some of thy children

walking in truth, even as we received commandment from the Father.

And now I beseech thee, Lady—not as though writing a new command-

ment to thee, but that which we had from the beginning—that we love

one another; and this is love, that we walk according to His command-

ments: this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning, that

in it you should walk. . . . The children of thy Elect Sister salute thee."

—2 JOHN 1-6, 13.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               CHAPTER III

 

 

                           THE ELECT LADY

 

SOME reasons were given in Chapter I for holding

that the Second Epistle of John was addressed to a

church and not to a private Christian family, under the

title of "The Elect Lady and her children." We have

proceeded so far upon that supposition, which enabled

us to bring 2 and 3 John into close connexion and

imparts to their combined contents a solid and definite

meaning. The case for the collective destination of

2 John rests on grounds additional to those previously

stated; on those further considerations we will now

enter. We venture to think not only that the Apostle

sent this dispatch to a Christian community of his

charge and that the "Elect Lady" of 2 John was a

personification and not a person, but that it is possible

to point, with some probability, to the very place of

destination.

            The e]kleth>  kuri<a of St John's Greek has received

many interpretations.

            1. Each of the terms has been read as a proper noun,

qualified by the other:  "to Electa the lady" (so

Grotius, for instance); or, "to the elect Kyria" (or

"Cyria":  marginal rendering of the American Revisers,

after the ancient Syrian Version). But Eklekte occurs

nowhere else in Greek, Kyria rarely, as a woman's

name; an Greek grammar protests strongly against

the second rendering above given. 3 John 1 exemplifies

the order proper to the Greek words when a qualifying

 

                                         23


24                      THE ELECT LADY

 

epithet is attached to a proper name:  "to Gaius the

beloved." The title "elect" belongs alike to the kyria

and her "sister" (ver. 13); for it is a designation

common to the Christian state. Both are epithets;

they describe by their combination the character and

status of the party addressed. She is "elect"—that is,

"chosen of God"—as much as to say, Christian; simi-

larly the body of Christian believers is addressed in

1 Peter 2. 9 as "a chosen race." And she is a "lady"

or even "the lady" (for the Greek noun, wanting the

definite article, appears to be used of her by way of

eminence and as a recognized title)—in virtue of her

rank and dignity.

            2. Another turn has been given to the question by

that brilliant scholar and fine spiritual thinker, Dr J.

Rendel Harris.1  He maintains that kuri<a "was a term

of endearment, and neither a title of dignity nor a

proper name," and thinks that he "has completely

exploded the two notions that the letter is addressed

either to a church or a prehistoric Countess of Hunting-

don." Egyptian exploration has discovered stores of

Greek papyrus documents of the centuries preceding

and following the Christian era, which throw an

unexpected and sometimes startling light upon the

language and literary forms of the New Testament

writings; amongst these are hundreds of private letters,

upon all sorts of business. Dr Rendel Harris cites two

of these epistles in illustration of the Second of John,

both of which are curiously interesting. The first (dated

in the third century, A.D.) is a polite invitation from

a gentleman named "Petosiris" to "my lady Serenia "

(“my dear Serenia,” as the editors of the Oxyrrhyncus

papyri translate kuri<a), "to come up on the 20th to the

birthday festival of the god"; Petosiris wants to know

whether she will "come by boat or donkey," so that he

may send accordingly. Twice in this short note of six

 

     1 In a paper entitled "The Problem of the Address to the Second

Epistle of John," which appeared in the Expositor for March, 1901;

Series VI, vol. iii, pp. 194-203.


                    THE ELECT LADY                          25

 

lines the word kuri<a is repeated parenthetically by

Petosiris, just as by John in verse 5 of our Epistle.

The repetition may be, in both instances, a symptom of

tender urgency, and the Egyptian letter has an air of

familiarity; but the tone of entreaty need not detract

from the respectfulness proper to the word, any more

than when "Madam" or "My lady" is so used in

English; one sees no sufficient reason for rendering

Petosiris' salutation—much less St John's, which is

differently worded—"My dear" instead of "My lady."

Tenderness does not exclude courtesy; love enhances

the dignity of the beloved and observes a delicate

respect.

            In the other of Dr Harris' chief examples, a father

absent froth home and in concern at not hearing from

his son, writes to him as "My son, Master (ku<rioj) Diony-

sitheon," and salutes him at the end of the letter as

"Sir son" (ku<rie ui[e<)!  This touch of playfulness any

fond father can understand. The Egyptian paterfamilias

quite revels in polite expressions; in the course of his

letter he calls his boy "My lord" as well as "Sir," vary-

ing ku<rioj with despo<thj, and speaks of his wife as "My

mistress (despoi<na) your mother." There is nothing here

to prove any radical change of verbal usage. Nor in

the fact that, as Dr J. H. Moulton says,1  "The title

kyrios applied to a brother or other near relation, is not

uncommon" in the papyri. Formality, affectation,

habit—a hundred different humours—dictate the ex-

change of such titles amongst relatives or intimates, in

ancient as in modern letters, without destroying their

proper use or bringing them down to the level of mere

fondness.

            3. The above parallels furnish, in our opinion, no

reason for stripping kyria in this instance of its dignified

significance; we need not doubt that when St John

addressed his correspondent (matron, or church) as the

"elect lady" he desired to show her, along with his

affection, a proper deference and to mark out her

 

    1 Expositor, February, 1903; Series VI, vol. vii, p. 116.


26                     THE ELECT LADY

 

eminence amongst her "elect" sisters. While the

appellations ku<rioj, kuri<a (our lord, lady; sir, madam),

might be and often were employed in familiar in-

tercourse, like the corresponding terms amongst

ourselves, at the same time they served to denote the

highest social distinction and authority. A woman's

guardian is called, in the papyri, her ku<rioj; a governor

or state-official—sometimes the emperor himself—is

addressed as ku<rie; occasionally ku<rioj is used even of a

god, so that its application to the Jehovah of the Old

Testament, and to Jesus Christ in the New, is not with-

out Pagan parallels (see 1 Cor. 8. 5, 6). The highest

associations attaching to kuri<a must surely have been

present to St John's mind in a context like this.

            The qualifying adjunct "elect" lifts us into the region

of Christian calling and dignity. In such a combination

one can hardly suppose that the Apostle indicates by

kuri<a nothing more than the worldly rank of her to

whom he writes; we surrender to Dr Harris' criticism,

without any regret, the apostolic Countess of Hunting-

don. On the other hand, kuri<a does not suggest emi-

nence in personal Christian service. In that case the

lady concerned must have been a person of very great

note indeed; for the Apostle describes her as beloved

"not only" by himself, "but" by "all who have known

the truth"—by the Christian Church everywhere. It

would be strange, if so, that her name is not given, and

that we hear of her from no other quarter. On the

strength of 2 John 1, it has been conjectured that Mary,

the mother of Jesus, was intended—she is the one

woman of the New Testament to whom such words in

their full sense might apply; but every one sees the

anachronism and incongruity of the suggestion. There

was more than one church, however, in Asia Minor of

which so much could be said without exaggeration.

            The closing salutation of verse 13 speaks for the

public destination of 2 John. How odd, when one

comes to think of it, for "the children" of a private

family in Ephesus to send their respects to their aunt


                           THE ELECT LADY                      27

 

through the Apostle John, and for him to close his

solemn Epistle with this trivial message!  But a

greeting from, church to church is just in apostolic style,

and highly appropriate here (see Rom. 16. 16; 1 Cor. 16.

19, 20; Phil. 4. 21). 1 Peter 5. 13—addressed, amongst

others, " to the elect sojourners of the dispersion . . .

in Asia "— supplies a near parallel, in the words "she

that is elect with you [viz., the sister church] in Babylon,

saluteth you."  It is another anomaly, on the domestic

theory of 2 John, that while so many persons, of

two distinct families, are referred to, the letter is as

barren of personal names as 1 John; whereas 3 John,

as is natural in a private letter, furnishes three such

names.

            St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians and the Apocalypse

of St John (see p. 5 above) in the strongest terms

identify the Church with Christ as His bride and spouse.

Now kuri<a s the feminine of ku<rioj, Christ's own title

of "the Lord." The correspondence was obvious to the

Greek ear and eye; and the conception formed by St

Paul and St John of the Church's mystic union with

the Redeemer, and her supremacy in the Divine order

of the world, is fitly expressed by ascribing to her a

lady-ship, understood as matching in some sort His

lord-ship. The hateful perversion by Rome of the

Apostolic doctrine of the Church has made us shrink, to

our loss, from thoughts of the grandeur and authority

that belong to the Christian communion in the light of

such sayings as we have referred to; but they are there

none the less, and must be reckoned with. What is

true of the Church at large, may be applied in particu-

lar; each limb partakes of the sacredness of the body.

Hence St Paul declared of the Christian society at

Corinth, though in character so far beneath its ideal

status, "I espoused you to one husband, to present you

a chaste maiden to Christ" (2 Cor. 11. 2).

            This mode of personification was by no means strange

in early times. Great communities, cities and kingdoms,

were habitually represented under the image of a noble


28                      THE ELECT LADY

 

woman; their coins and medals bore the effigy of a

crowned female head—like the figure of Britannia, for

instance, upon our own currency. In Isaiah 62. 4, 5 the

restored Zion becomes "Beulah"—"married" to her

God: on the other hand, the "virgin daughter of

Babylon," "the lady of kingdoms," is seen in chapter 47.

1-7 thrust from her "throne" and sitting in the dust;

and by way of contrast to Christ's pure Bride, St John

presents, in Revelation 17 and 18, the awful vision of

the world's mistress, that other Madam—viz., the city

of Rome and the imperial power—bearing "upon her

forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great,

mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the

earth, . . . drunken with the blood of the saints," who

"says in her heart, I sit a queen!"

            In this vein of imagery, by way of reminding the

Church addressed of her dignity and the responsibilities

it entails, St John accosts her as "the elect lady." The

term which in common speech denoted the mistress of

the house, or even the empress sharing the world's

throne, belongs to her whom the Lord Christ has set

by His side, concerning whom He said through St

John, addressing one of His least worthy Churches,

"He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit with

me in my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with

my Father in His throne" (Rev. 3. 21); and to another

of the Seven, "He that overcometh . . . to him will I

give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them

with a rod of iron . . . as I also have received of my

Father; and I will give him the morning star" (Rev.

2. 26-28). Those pictures of the Church triumphant

unfold and project into the future the image that is

suggested here of the kuri<a, wedded partner with the

ku<rioj in the Father's house. By substituting this idea

for that of St John's supposed "lady-friend" or of some

primitive "Countess of Huntingdon," we do not lose the

tenderness of his expression; but we attribute to the

Apostle a larger and sublimer sentiment, in exchange

for the slight and common-place.


                       THE ELECT LADY                            29

 

            Reading the Epistle with this conception of its des-

tination in our minds, we find a fuller meaning in its

statements and appeals. The Lady Church of the

letter is known and loved far and wide; "the truth"

of Christianity is lodged with her, along with others

(ver. 2; comp. 1 Tim. 3. 15). "Some [not all] of" her

"children" the Apostle has met with elsewhere, who

have cheered him by their Christian consistency (ver. 4).

When he "asks," in tones of personal urgency, that the

"love" cherished between himself and this "lady" of

Christ may be continued (vers. 5, 6; comp. 1 John 2.

7-14, 22-25),1 it is because there are "many deceivers"

abroad, "who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in

flesh"—men who reject with the fact the very idea of

the Incarnation (ver. 7); their "teaching" would rob

the Church of all that the Apostle had imparted to her

("See that ye lose not the things which we wrought,"

ver. 8, RV; comp. Gal. 4. 11), and of its own "full

reward"—would, in fact, take away from the "lady"

her Lord Himself (ver. 9). The crucial point of the

letter is reached in verses 10, 11, when the Church is

warned that the teachers above described must have no

entertainment in any Christian house; and is told that

whoever receives them, knowing their business, will be

counted their accomplice (contrast herewith Matt. 10. 41).

            The Apostle fears lest the fellowship of his readers

with himself and the rest of the Church should be

broken; as it certainly will be, if "the deceiver and the

antichrist" obtains a footing in the community and it

is thus seduced from its loyalty to Christ. This solici-

tude, and the urgent language of 2 John 5, 6, we can

better understand if 3 John was written to the same

 

       1 The thought of Christ's "new commandment" of love (see John

13. 34) as the "old commandment" dating from the beginning is very

characteristic of St John (see Chap. XI, below); also the identity of

"love" and “commandment-keeping” (John 14. 15, 15. 10; 1 John 5. 3).

It is worth observing that the combination "Grace, mercy, peace" of

this salutation occurs besides only in 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy 1. 1,

addressed to Ephesus.


30                        THE ELECT LADY

 

quarter; on this assumption (see Chapter I above) it

appears that a leading officer of the Church intended

at this very time is "prating about" the Apostle "with

wicked words" and "is driving out of the Church"

those who admit his representatives (3 John 9, 10).

What St John has "written with paper and ink" is

but a little of all he desires to say to his readers. He

"hopes to come" to them soon, under such conditions

that their "joy may be fulfilled" (ver. 12). This, of

course, depends on the way in which the entreaty and

warning of his letter are received (comp. 2 Cor. 2. 1, 2).

            4. Granted that the "lady" of St John's cares was

a church, one can hardly forbear asking, What church?

            There are indications affording ground for a fair

conjecture. In the first place, the Church in question

was in this Apostle's province, for he writes both letters

to Christians personally known to him and under his

authority; it lay within the range of his visitations and

of the journeyings of his delegates. This limits us to

the province of Asia and the region of the Seven Churches

of the Apocalypse.

            Secondly, the Church we are seeking must have been

amongst the most prominent in the region, since it is

the object of love on the part of "all who have known

the truth" (ver. 1)—language which reminds us of

that used by the Apostle Paul concerning the Church of

Rome (Rom. 1. 8) and that of Thessalonica (1 Thess.

1. 8).1 Now, the first three cities on the Apocalyptic

list—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum—meet this condition;

each of them possessed a world-wide fame, in which the

Christian communities planted there could not but par-

ticipate. Ephesus is excluded by the fact that it was

the place of the Apostle's residence; the Ephesian

Church, we may presume, was the "elect sister" of

 

     1 Clement of Alexandria seems to have understood Rome (under the

name of Babylon) as the Elect Lady, and this view has been occasionally

revived. Dom Chapman argues ingeniously in The Journal of Theol.

Studies (April and July, 1904), for Thessalonica as the destination of

3 John, and Rome of 2 John.


                        THE ELECT LADY                           31

 

verse 13. There is something to be said in favour of

Smyrna, which stood only second to Ephesus in com-

mercial activity and in importance for Christian travel.

The Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp show how large

a place Smyrna occupied to the eye of the catholic

Church in post-apostolic days. But, on the whole, we

must give our vote to Pergamum.

            Compared with her rivals, Pergamum was at the dis-

advantage of lying fifteen miles from the coast, and out

of the line of the great highways of Asia Minor; from

these causes she lost her ascendancy in the second

century, and makes no great figure in Christian history.

For all that, up to the present time she was, as Pliny the

Younger calls her, "the most renowned city of Asia."

In dignity she was the queen. Pergamum had been

the seat of the powerful Attalid dynasty, from whom

Rome took over the rule of Asia Minor; it was still the

residence of the Proconsul and the official capital of the

province.  This city gained new influence from the fact

that it reared the first temple to the deity of Augustus

(B.C. 29), and thus became the centre in Asia Minor

of the Caesar-worship, which was made the state-religion

of the Empire. On this account probably (as Sir W. M.

Ramsay has shown) Pergamum is designated by St John

as the place "where Satan's throne is"; to these con-

ditions, again, it was due that in Pergamum the blood

of the first “martyr" of the province was shed (Rev. 2. 13).

Ramsay, whose work on The Letters to the Seven Churches

marks an epoch for the students of St John, as his book

on St. Paul the Traveller did for the students of St Paul,

thus describes Pergamum:--

 

            “No city of the whole of Asia Minor . . . possesses the same im-

posing and dominating aspect. It is the one city of the land which

forced from me the exclamation, A royal city! . . . There is something

unique and overpowering in its effect, planted as it is on its magnificent

hill, standing out boldly in the level plain, and dominating the valley and

the mountains on the south" (p. 295).

 

            These conditions, unless imagination deceives us, point

out of the Church of Pergamum as "the elect lady" of


 

32                    THE ELECT LADY

 

2 John. While the name kuri<a might on occasion be

applied to any Church of Christ, this was the one

locality within St John's jurisdiction for which the

epithet spontaneously suggested itself, and to which

pre-eminently it was appropriate. Ramsay has illus-

trated, with abundant wealth of detail, St John's lively

feeling for local features and traditions; the Letters to

the Seven Churches, as he reads them, teem with allu-

sions of this nature. The unique address of his Second

Epistle, if our conjecture be sound, is an example of the

same aptitude on the Apostle's part. If there was one

city above all others in Asia that would be recognized

by her neighbours, and would recognize herself through

her history and situation, as "the elect lady," beyond

question it was Pergamum. The heading of Ramsay's

Chapter on Pergamum, The Royal City, the City of

Authority, is in effect a paraphrase of St John's kuri<a.

This grand title at once reflects the dignity attaching to

the site and surroundings of the Church of Pergamum,

and the majesty which belongs to the Church herself as

Christ's elect and the destined partner of His throne.

            The censure passed upon the Pergamenes in the

Apocalyptic Letter (Rev. 2. 14-16) is in keeping with

the apprehension disclosed in this Epistle. A false

toleration was the bane of that Church; she "holds

fast" her Master's "name," and yet harbours disloyal

and corrupting teachers, against whom the Lord will

"war with the sword of His mouth."  If 2 John be later

in date than the Apocalypse (and this seems more likely),

then the language of verses 10, 11 was grounded on

experience of the mistaken charity of the Church of

Pergamum; if earlier, the corruption indicated in

Revelation 2.14-16 would show that this warning had

been unheeded or forgotten. The worldly pride of

Pergamum (comp. the observations on "Diotrephes"

in Chapter IV) is silently corrected by the entreaty for

love toward her Apostle and toward her "elect sister"

of Ephesus (2 John 5, 6, 13).


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

 

3 John full of, Personalities—Three Typical Characters of late Apostolic

Times—The Gaiuses of the New Testament—Gaius of Pergamum—His

Characterization—The name Demetrius—A Travelling Assistant of St

John—His Visit to Gaius' Church—The Triple Testimony to him-

Diotrephes the Marplot—Significance of his Name—Nature of his In-

fluence—His Insolence toward the Apostle—Indications of the State of

the Johannine Churches.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            "The Elder to Gaius, the beloved, whom I love in truth. Beloved,

in all things I pray that thou mayest be prosperous and in health,

even as thy soul prospereth. For I have been greatly gladdened as

brethren came and testified to thy truth, according as thou walkest in

truth. A greater joy (or grace) I have not than these tidings, that I may

hear of my own children walking in the truth. . . .

            "I have written somewhat to the Church; but Diotrephes, who loves

to be first among them, does not receive us. On this account, if I come,

I will call to remembrance the works that he doeth, with wicked words

prating of us; and not contenting himself with this, he neither receives

the brethren himself, and those wishful to do so he hinders and drives

out of the Church. . . .

            "To Demetrius witness has been borne by all, and by the truth itself;

and we bear witness besides, and thou knowest that our witness is true."

—3 JOHN 1-4, 9, 10, 12.


 

 

 

 

 

 

                             CHAPTER IV

 

 

          GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

 

THE Third Epistle of John is as distinctly personal as

the Second is general and impersonal in its terms.

The three names of Gaius, Diotrephes, Demetrius supply

the topics of the letter, dividing its contents into three

paragraphs, viz., verses 2-8; 9, 10; 11, 12. The person-

alities they represent are sharply distinguished and

thrown into relief in these brief, pregnant lines:

Gaius, a sincere and lovable disciple, with liberal

means keeping open heart and open house for

Christian travellers, and proving himself a "good

steward of God's manifold grace" under circumstances

that severely taxed his generosity and tested his

fidelity; Diotrephes, the ambitious Church officer,

greedy of place and power, plying a clever, unscrupu-

lous tongue, insolent toward authority above him and

overbearing to those beneath him; Demetrius, the

active, loyal, and justly popular minister and travel-

ling assistant of the Apostle.

            These three are typical characters of later Apostolic

times. The first appears to have been a private member

of the local Church. The second held, under some title

or other, an office enabling him to exercise a prepon-

derating influence in the same community. The third

comes from the Apostle's side; he belongs to that im-

portant  body of agents employed in the primitive

Church as "prophets," "teachers," or "evangelists,"

who travelled from place to place, linking together the

 

          Life Eternal                  35


36         GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

scattered Christian societies by their visits of edification

land breaking ground for the Gospel in new districts, a

body formed in the first instance of what one may call

the headquarters' staff and attaches of the Apostolic

Chiefs. Gaius and Demetrius stand for the sound and

staunch constituency of the Johannine Churches, which

was found both in the laity and the ministry, amid

the settled life of city communities and in the wider

interplay of activity and mutual service that went on

between limb and limb of the great body of Christ.

Diotrephes represents the tares amidst Christ's wheat;

he is the prototype of the diseased self-importance,

the local jealousies and false independence, that have

so often destroyed the peace of Churches, making unity

of action and a common discipline amongst them things

so difficult to maintain.

            1. GAIUS (Latin Caius) was a familiar personal name

of this period. Originally a Latin praenomen (forename,

like our Thomas or James), it spread with Roman

influence in the East, being frequently given to slaves

and freedmen. In Greek circles it therefore bore a

somewhat plebeian stamp; but amongst the Romans it

was occasionally used for their distinctive appellation

by persons of eminence, as by the emperor Gaius

(Caligula) in the first century and the famous lawyer

Gaius in the second. Three other Gaiuses are known

from the New Testament: Gaius of Corinth, whom St

Paul baptized with his own hand (I Cor. 1. 14), subse-

quently his host "and host of the whole church" (which

means, we presume, that he entertained Christian

travellers from all quarters:  Rom. 16. 23) in that city;

Gaius of Derbe, coupled with Timothy (of Lystra), who

attended the Apostle of the Gentiles when he carried

the contributions of his Churches for the relief of the

Christian poor in Jerusalem (Acts 20. 4); the Macedonian

Gaius, who along with Aristarchus was seized by the

Ephesian mob as Paul's accomplice, is the third of this

name belonging to the Pauline circle (Acts 19. 29).


         GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES             37

 

            It is against probability to identify St John's Gaius,

in another region of the Church and at an interval

of forty years, with St Paul's friend at Corinth; the

coincidence of name is as little surprising as it would

be to find two hospitable Methodist Smiths in distant

counties of England. There is, however, a fragment

of tradition suggesting that the Gaius of 3 John was

the Gaius of Acts 20. 4: the Apostolical Constitutions

(vii. 46) relates that Gaius of Derbe was appointed by

the Apostle John Bishop of Pergamum. This statement

falls in with the view set forth in the last chapter, that

3 John, long with 2 John, was directed to the Church

of Pergamum; in view of 3 John 10, it suggests the

conjecture that Diotrephes was deposed by the Apostle

and the worthy Gaius set in his place. The Apostolical

Constitutions, though not earlier than the fifth century,

is a work derived from older sources and contains

morsels of genuine history. But the identification is

precarious, considering the distance of time involved.

Moreover St John speaks of Gaius as one of his “own

children” (ver. 4), whereas the Derbean Gaius was a

convert of St Paul's. The writer makes no reference

to Gaius’ age and his earlier services, such as would

have been appropriate and almost inevitable in the

address of 3 John, had he been associated with the

beginnings of Christianity in Asia Minor and the early

days of he Gentile mission. We incline to think that

the author of the Constitutions correctly records the

name of Gaius as raised to office by St John's appoint-

ment (registers of this kind were long extant), but has

by a mistaken guess identified the Pergamene bishop

with St Paul's earlier comrade.

            Gaius of Pergamum (as we venture to distinguish

him) was, like Polycarp the martyr bishop of Smyrna,

St John's true child in the faith, and was a man of

like simplicity of character. His steady "walk in the

truth" has given to the Apostle the "greatest joy"

that a Christian teacher can experience (vers. 3-5);

and this at a time and in a region in which "many


38         GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

antichrists" are found, many who have "gone out" from

the Apostolic fold into ways of error (1 John 2. 18-27;

2 John 7-11). Gaius is marked as "the beloved"

amongst St John's children—"Whom I love in truth"

(ver. 1):  four times in twelve verses is he so addressed.

His disposition was amiable, and his Christian character

had developed in an altogether admirable way; the

Writer can only wish that in other respects he "were

as prosperous as he is in the matters of "the soul"

ver. 2). The emphasis thrown on health in this con-

nexion points to something amiss there; beside this,

the behaviour of Diotrephes had brought trouble upon

Gaius, whose expulsion was even attempted (vers. 9, 10).

            Repeatedly1 Christians had come from Gaius' neigh-

bourhood, either emissaries of the Apostle or private

members of the Church travelling or in migration,

having all of them something to say in praise of him;

to his "love," shown by unstinted hospitality, testi-

mony has been borne "before the Church" of Ephesus

ver. 6), since this kind of service was a matter of public

interest and was indispensable to the furtherance of the

Gospel (see Chap. II). Gaius' entertainment of strangers

was indeed a signal act of faith (ver. 5), and constituted

him a "fellow-worker with the truth" (ver. 8); he "will

be doing well" in continuing to "send forward in a

manner worthy of God" those who pass through his

city marked with the stamp and token of Christ's

"name" (vers. 5, 7). At the present time, it appears

that Gaius was the one man of position in his Church

on whom St John could rely—the Apostle doubts

whether the companion letter (see Chap. I) addressed

to the Church will be received (ver. 9); his was the one

door that John's messengers could count on finding

open to them when they came that way. But for

Gaius, the Christian society in this place might have

severed itself from the Apostolic communion, while

 

            1 The present tense in the Greek participles of verse 3 implies

repetition:  "I was greatly gladdened as brethren came from time

to time and testified to thy faith," &c.


              GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES             39

 

it welcomed the Antichristian errorists (granting that

2 John is the letter intended in 3 John 9). An im-

portant link would thus be broken in the chain of

Churches running through Asia Minor, which formed

a vital cord of Christendom.

            There is nothing to indicate that Gaius was a man of

intellectual mark or popular gifts. He may have been

put into office later, as tradition in the Apostolical Con-

stitutions signifies; but we know him only as a well-to-

do and liberal-handed layman. Warmth of heart, sound

judgement and unflinching loyalty—these were his con-

spicuous qualities; by their exercise he rendered to the

kingdom of God a service beyond price, and his name

will be held in remembrance "wherever this gospel shall

be preached."

            2. By the side of Gaius stands DEMETRIUS, introduced

with this letter in his hand by the commendation of

verse 12, Demetrius' name is pure Greek—derived

from that of Demeter (Latin Ceres), the goddess-

mother of the fields and crops—and was fairly common

in all ranks of life. St Paul's opponent at Ephesus,

"the silversmith" (Acts 19), is the only other Demetrius

in the New Testament; his Ephesian residence and

ability for public work are considerations favouring

the notion of identity. One would like to think that

the idol-Maker had become a witness for the true God;

but there is no evidence of the fact.

            The name "Demas," of Colossians 4.14 and 2 Timothy

4.10, is probably short for "Demetrius."  That deserter

of St Paul is found in our Demetrius by a recent writer,1  

who on the strength of this correspondence supposes

3 John to have been addressed to Thessalonica with a

view to the reinstating of "Demas," whose reception in

the Thessalonian Church was (on this hypothesis) re-

sisted by Diotrephes out of loyalty to the Apostle of

 

            1 See the articles of Dom Chapman, 0.S.B., in the Journal of

Theological Studies, April and July, 1904, referred to also on p. 30

above.


40         GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

the Gentiles! But this theory labours under many

improbabilities; and we may take it that the Demetrius

of 3 John, whether connected with the old shrine-maker

of Ephesus or not, belonged to the mission-staff under

St John's direction and was employed in the province

of Asia. Presumably he was a stranger to Gaius, and

had not hitherto visited this particular Church.

            Verse 11 leads up to the eulogy upon Demetrius,

setting him in contrast with Diotrephes (vers. 9, 10); in

the latter Gaius will see "the bad" to be avoided; in the

former "the good" to be "imitated."  Since in verse 6

Gaius is urged to continue his aid to "foreign brethren"

on their travels, it seems that Demetrius is expected to

come to him in this capacity, along with companions

whom the Apostle is dispatching on farther errands.

From the fact that Demetrius is praised as one

"attested by the truth," we gather that he is visiting

Gaius' Church in order to uphold the true Christian

doctrine and practice, which were imperilled by the

action of Diotrephes and by the inclination here

manifest to entertain heretical teaching (2 John 9-11).

Demetrius, if he gains a footing, will enforce the

warning conveyed through 2 John, and may check the

insolence of Diotrephes, pending the arrival of St John

himself (3 John 10).

            Three distinct testimonies are adduced to this man's

work:  "To Demetrius witness hath been given by all"

—words implying a wide field of service, and an un-

qualified approval of his work in the Church (comp.

1 Thess. 1. 8); "and by the truth itself"—this signifying,

in view of verse 4 and of 2 John 1, 2, not his integrity of

character, but (objectively) "the truth" of Christianity

finding itself reflected in Demetrius' teaching and life,

which show him to be "of the truth" (1 John 3. 19)

and worthily qualified as its exponent and champion.

St John adds his personal certificate, which carries

decisive weight with Gaius:  "and we moreover bear

witness (to him), and thou knowest that our witness is

true." This triple commendation betrays an undertone


                GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES            41

 

of solicitude. The Apostle had some fear as to how his

representative might be received (comp. ver. 9); Gaius

must be prepared to give him unhesitating and energetic

support.

            3. DIOTREPHES is the marplot of the story, the evil

contrast to Gaius and Demetrius. His name supplies

some clue to his character and attitude.

            "Diotrephes" is as rare in Greek as the companion

names are common; we find it twice only in secular,

and nowhere besides in sacred history. The word was

a Homeric and poetic epithet, reserved for persons of

royal birth, meaning Zeus-reared, nursling of Zeus (the

king of the gods); such an appellation would scarcely

occur except in noble and ancient families. Diotre-

phes, we imagine, belonged to the Greek aristocracy of

the old royal city. Hence, probably, his "love to be

first; and hence the deference yielded to him by the

Pergamene Church, which shared in the sentiments of

local patriotism and could ill brook dictation coming

from Ephesus. Sir W. M. Ramsay (in his Letters to

the Seven Churches) has shown how keen a rivalry

existed amongst the leading cities of this province; and

if, as we have seen reason to believe, Pergamum was

the destination of 2 John and the seat of the mutiny

against Apostolic order indicated in 3 John 9, 10, the

eminence of this city as the historical capital of Asia,

and the lively susceptibility of Greek civic communities

on points of honour and precedence, help to explain the

perplexiug situation. Diotrephes, with his high-flown

name, appealed to and embodied the hereditary pride

and long-established ascendancy of Pergamum, which

ever "loved to be first." While the title kuri<a (lady,

mistress) of 2 John 1 renders kindly and courteous

deference to Pergamene dignity, that dignity took in

the behaviour of Diotrephes toward St John an insub-

ordinate and schismatic expression. The Apocalyptic

Letter assigns a melancholy eminence to Pergamum,

as the place "where Satan's throne is" (Rev. 2. 13.)


42      GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES

 

            Pride of place was the sin of Diotrephes. Whether

he-was Bishop of his Church, in the sense in which

Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were a

generation later, does not appear. It is questionable

whether mon-episcopacy (the rule of a single bishop

placed above the elders) existed at this date, though

Asia Minor was its earliest seat and tradition assigns

its foundation to St John. The dominance of Dio-

trephes may have been that of personal force and

social status, rather than of official right. In any case,

the occurrence illustrates the tendency to concentrate

power in a single hand, which gave rise to the Episco-

pate of the second century. It is noticeable that the

matters in which Diotrephes offends St John—refusing

to admit travelling brethren and attempting1 to

"hinder" and even "excommunicate" those who would

entertain them—appear to have been originally a

principal charge of the separated bishops, viz. the

superintendence of hospitality and of inter-church

relations. It is conceivable that Diotrephes was one of

the first experiments in Episcopacy; and that, puffed

up by his new office, he had rebelled against his father

in Christ and refused to take direction from Ephesus.

            How Diotrephes could have dared to rail at St John,

the one surviving Apostolic "pillar" and the most

revered and august figure of Christendom—"prating

against us (or talking nonsense of us)," the Apostle

writes, "with wicked words"—what he could have

found to say to St John's discredit, it is hard to realize.

The Apostle's extreme age may have given rise, in ill-

disposed minds, to the reproach of senility; probably

St John had never been so strong in administration as

St Peter or St Paul. The local churches, it might be

urged, had grown to maturity and should no longer

be kept in leading-strings. The Apostle, a dear and

venerable relic, is stationary at Ephesus; what goes on

elsewhere he learns through his agents—intermeddlers

 

            1 The two last verbs of verse 10 "do not necessarily express more than

the purpose and effort" (Westcott) of Diotrephes,—a conative present.


            GAIUS, DEMETRIUS, DIOTREPHES             43

 

like Demetrius, who fill their master's ears with their

prejudices and overrule the wiser and more responsible

men upon the ground! Such "prating" would be

natural enough in the circumstances; it was mis-

chievous in itself, and most provoking to the great

Apostle.  He intends to "come"; and has no doubt

that when he does so, he will be able to expose

Diotrephes’ misrepresentations and to call him to

account.

            A double danger arose from the check given to St

John’s authority in Pergamum and the obstruction put

in the way of his delegates. Not only would this

Church be cut off from the general fellowship of

Christians, but it might afford harbourage to the

Antichristian doctrine, that was invading the Johan-

nine fold. Against these two dangers the two minor

Epistles are directed.

            Gaius and Diotrephes represent the loyal and disloyal

sections of the Churches of Western Asia Minor;

Demetrius is one of the "messengers of the Churches"—

travelling apostles, prophets, or evangelists—who passed

from one community to another and linked the Christian

societies together. The "many deceivers" of 2 John 7

are the heretical teachers who multiplied around the

thriving Churches of this region towards the close of

the first century, and were the forerunners of the great

Gnostic leaders of the subsequent age; while St John's

“children,” who give him "joy" by "walking in the

truth,” but must be warned lest they "lose the things

they have wrought" and lest they "become partakers

in the evil deeds" of "deceivers and antichrists" (2 John

2, 4, 8, 11; 3 John 4), form the bulk of the Christian

constituency under St John's jurisdiction, who are

faithful to the Apostolic doctrine and devoted to St

John himself as their father in Christ, but are in danger

of being misled by the plausibilities of the new

doctrine and entangled by the craft and intrigues of

its promoters.

                       


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

     THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS       

 

 

St John's Reserve—Companionship with St Peter—Contrast between

the Friends—St John's Place in the Primitive Church—The Apostle of

Love—The Apostle of Wrath—Combination of the Mystical and Matter-

of-fact—St John's Symbolism a product of this Union—Twofold Con-

flict of the Church:  Imperial Persecution, Gnosticizing Error.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            "I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and

            kingdom and patience which are in Jesus."—REVELATION 1. 9.

           


 

 

 

 

 

                                    CHAPTER V

 

 

               THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS

 

 

IN his letters, if anywhere, a writer is wont to un-

bosom himself. Our examination of the Epistles

should therefore have brought us nearer to St John's

personalty. The material they yield for this purpose

is indeed somewhat disappointing. A single page of

St Paul's is more self-revealing than all that this

Apostle has written. There is a veil about him,--a

reserve never quite penetrated. We see John stand-

ing by Peter's side in the first Christian movements

at Jerusalem (Acts 3. 1, &c.; 4. 13, &c.; 8. 14); we find

him twenty years later counted as one of the three

"pillars" of the mother Church (Gal. 2. 9); but not

a word is quoted from his lips, nor a single act of

personal initiative ascribed to him. From the pro-

minence thus accorded to St John, with the lack of

any notable doing on his part, the inference is that

the force of his character was felt and his influence

exerted throughout those earlier years in the counsels

of the Apostolate and the inner circles of the Church,

rather than in the field of its external activities.

            St John was, in fact, the complement of St Peter;

their friendship was of the kind often contracted

between opposite natures, each meeting the defects

of the other. Peter was the man of action,—impulsive,

demonstrative, ready at a word to plunge into the sea,

to draw the sword, to "go to prison and to death" with

his Master; John was the man of reflexion,—quiet,

 

                                         47


48        THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS

 

deliberate, saying little, but observing, thinking, mean-

ing much. "All members" of Christ's body "have not

the same office"; and St John had other work to do

than that of his compeers. The cousin of our Lord

(John 10. 25=Matt. 27. 56) and "the disciple whom Jesus

loved," his qualities of mind and heart secured for him

a foremost place amongst the Twelve; and his type of

thought, reflecting so much that others had compara-

tively missed of what was deepest in the mind of Jesus,

impressed itself on his fellow-workers from the outset.

The Fourth Gospel, in its completed form the fruit of

sixty years' meditation, contains the substance of St

John's testimony "concerning the word of life" as he

delivered it "from the beginning" (1 John 1. 1-3); and

this teaching quietly and gradually permeated the

Christian Society, through his converse with its leading

minds, and through the manner in which he touched

the secret springs of its life. In the writings of St

John's last years the Church recognized accordingly

"that which was from the beginning," "the message

which" its children "had heard from the beginning"

(1 John 1. 1, 2. 7, 3. 11, &c.) through the same Apostle.

            Where the Pauline and Johannine theologies lean to

each other, it may be presumed (though the fact is

not commonly recognized) that the primary debt lay

on St Paul's side; St John's historical witness largely

supplied the data and presuppositions for St Paul's

doctrines of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ,

which St John in turn retouched and cast into their

final expression. It was given to this Apostle to pro-

nounce the alpha and omega of mystical Christianity.

            During the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles,

in which SS Peter and Paul played their glorious part

as Christ's protagonists, St John remained in the shade,

though by no means inactive or ineffective there. When

Peter asked the Master at the last, "Lord, and what

shall this man do?—what is to become of John?" along

with the affection prompting the inquiry, there was a

touch of curiosity about the future of his friend, whose


          THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS               49

 

moods often drove Peter into impatience:1 what sort of

Apostle could this dreamer make? The reply, "If I will

that he tarry till I come—?" seems to signify that John

must bide his time, that he would come late to his own.

So the event proved. It was not until after the fall of

Jerusalem in the year 70, not till the pioneer work of

the Gospel in the Roman Empire was done and the

great founders had passed away, that the Apostle John

reached his zenith and took his place at Ephesus,

already an old man, in the centre of the catholic

Church, attracting universal reverence and observance.

It was by his writings finally—the Gospel and Epistles,

the work of the last decade of the century, composed

when the author was past eighty years of age (the

Apocalypse was probably, in whole or in part, consider-

ably earlier)—that he made his great contribution to

the spiritual wealth of the Church and of mankind; of

public speech or action on St John's part only slight

traces have remained. For these books it is still

reserved to gain their complete sway over the Christian

mind.  To this day John tarries his Lord's coming; he

knew how to wait.

            Every one thinks of St John as the Apostle of love.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God"

(1 John 4. 7), is his characteristic appeal. From John's

pen comes the most endeared text of the New Testa-

ment:  "God so loved the world, that He gave His Son,

the Only-begotten." The Epistles issued from a heart

steeped in the redeeming love of God. When he wrote

them, the blessed Apostle had entered deeply into the

experience of perfect love; he spoke out of his own

consciousness in saying, "Whoso keepeth Christ's word,

truly in him the love of God hath been perfected"; and

again, "Herein is love made perfect with us . . . be-

cause as He is, we too are in this world. There is no

fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear. . . . We

love, because He first loved us" (1 John 2. 5, 4. 17-19).

Through long pastoral service, and in the ripeness of

 

            1 See Milligan-Moulton's Popular Commentary, on John 21. 21-23.

 

            Life Eternal   5


50            THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS

 

protracted age, St John's love to the brethren had

grown into a most tender, wise, discriminating fatherly

care, which embraced all the flock of Christ but spent

itself most upon the Churches of the Asian fold. Never

since he died has the Church Universal possessed a

living father in God to whom it could look up with the

affectionate veneration that gathered round St John's

person at the close of the Apostolic age.

            The love which attained perfectness in the Apostle

John was more than a general emotion, a devotion to

the body of Christ at large. He was great in comrade-

ship and friendship. The man that "loveth not his

brother whom he hath seen" (1 John 4. 20), the Apostle

judges incapable of love to the unseen Father. For

this reason, amongst others, John was "the disciple

whom Jesus loved"; to his tendance the Lord from

the cross commended His widowed mother. Peter and

John, constantly side by side in the Gospel story, are

significantly found together on the Easter morning

(John 20. 2-10)—who knows how much St John then

did to save his companion from despair? His "love"

was, we may be sure, a "bond of peace" in the

Apostolic fellowship and through the anxious years of

the Church's infancy.

            The appeals and reasonings of the First Epistle

reveal the close ties of affection binding to the Apostle

the members of his wide Asian flock; he sought in the

strengthening and purifying of the spirit of love the

prophylactic for the Church against intellectual error.

The Second Epistle, in its few lines, exhibits the

writer's watchful solicitude for each community of his

jurisdiction; it conveys a grave and strong warning,

with the tact that love imparts: the admonition begins

with the entreaty, based on the old commandment,

"which we had from the beginning, that we should

love one another" (2 John 5; 1 John 2. 7, 8). In the

instances of Gains and Demetrius, the Third Epistle

illustrates the warmth of St John's friendships, and

the way in which he turned to account the qualities


        THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS            51

 

and gifts of his helpers in Christ's service. One

imagines that the Apostle John's success in the direc-

tion of Church affairs was due to the strength and

multiplicity of his personal attachments and to his

influence over individual workers, rather than to any

skill in organization and the management of business.

But St John was more than the Apostle of love.

His aspect is not always that of the mild and amiable

patriarch of the Church, breathing out, "Little children,

love one another!" It was a different John from this

who would have called down "fire from heaven" upon

the Samarian village that refused his Master hospi-

tality (Luke 9. 51-56), and whom Jesus distinguished as

Boanerges (not from the loudness of his voice, but from

the sudden, lightning-like flame of his spirit), for whom,

along with James his brother, their mother asked the

two chief places right and left of the Messiah's throne

(Matt. 20. 20-28). Under the placid surface of St John's

nature there lay a slumbering passion, a brooding

ambition, that blazed up on occasion with startling

vehemence. Now it is the John Boanerges who re-

appears lin the Apocalypse—strong in contempt and

hate no less than in love, whose soul resounded through

its whole compass to the "indignation of the wrath"

of Almighty God, that thunders against the haters of

His Christ and the murderers of His people. Nor in

Gospel and Epistles is this Divine anger—love's counter-

part in a world of sin—very far to seek. The chapter

which tells how "God so loved the world," ends with

the fearful words concerning the disobeyer of the Son,

"The wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3. 36). The

holy wrath of the Apostle flashes out against immoral

pretenders to high Christian knowledge, when he ex-

claims in the First Epistle, "If we say that we have

fellowship) with God and walk in darkness, we lie";

"If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he

is a liar", (1. 6, 2. 22, 4. 20). When he likes, the gentle

John can be the most peremptory and dogmatic of

teachers "He that knoweth God," he asserts, "heareth


52        THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS

 

us; he who is not of God, heareth us not. By this we

know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (4. 6;

see Chap. XIX below).

            The story about John and Cerinthus, that when they

happened to meet in the public baths at Ephesus, the

Apostle fled as if for life, crying, "Away, lest the bath

fall in, while Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is

there!" though unhistorical, has a point of attachment

in St John's known disposition.

            We discern the same strong temperament—love with

its possibilities of anger, notes of sharp severity break-

ing through the winning and tender strain of the

Apostle's converse—in the two minor Epistles: witness

the stern exclusion of Antichristian teachers in 2 John

10, 11, and the denunciation of him who "greets" them

as "partaker in their evil deeds"; witness the handling

of Diotrephes in 3 John 9, 10. With all its breadth

and its power of abstract thinking, St John's mind was

of a simple order: he paints in black and white; he

sees "light and darkness," "love and hate," the kingdom

of God and of Satan everywhere in conflict (comp.

Chap. XVII). He is with all his soul against the Devil

and "his children," because he is for God and Christ.

He recognizes no neutral tints, no half-lights; to his

mind, the Lord loathes nothing so much as the luke-

warmness of Laodicea—"neither cold nor hot" (Rev.

3. 15, 16).

            The constitution of the Apostle John presents

another striking contrast, in its union of the mystical

and the matter-of-fact. Exactitude in detail, truth

and vividness of local colour and dramatic force of

characterization, are combined in the Fourth Gospel

with the profoundest analysis and with transcendent

spiritual power. No writer has a firmer grasp of the

actual and a truer reverence for fact; the attempts

to disprove the historicity of his witness break always

upon the rock of the Johannine realism. St John's

symbolism, which gets free play in the Apocalypse

supplies the link between the positive and the tran-


         THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS          53

 

scendental in his mind. He had both sight and insight;

the world and life—above all, the life of Christ and

of the Church—were full of "signs" for him; they

were charged at each point with infinite meanings.

This inner significance made outward occurrences sacred

to St John, and rendered his observation of them all

the more keen and precise.1

            The same traits appear in the two smaller letters.

3 John contains three portraits of Christian character,

drawn in the briefest lines but with incisive force;

the writer was a sure and penetrating judge of men

and circumstances. 2 John indicates the author's

knowledge of a Christian Society at some distance

from himself,—its situation and dangers; the playful

yet most serious way in which he styles the Church

of Pergamum (as we have supposed: see Chap. III)

the "elect lady" and the Church of Ephesus her

"elect sister," is in St John's imaginative vein. This

representation illustrates the readiness, manifest

throughout the Letters to the Seven Churches, with

which the Apostle caught the significance of local

and historical position and realized its bearing upon

the character and fate of communities.

            St John kept a tranquil heart through a long

life-time of storm and stress. He had been banished

to Patmos, and endured there, as a convict under

the Roman Government, "a life of toil and hopeless

misery" more dreaded than death;2 the Apocalypse

was the product of this experience. Meanwhile the

Gnostic heresy—the most deadly corruption Christi-

anity has ever known—was spreading like some

noxious weed through the Asian Churches: 1 and 2

John are both directed against this error; we per-

ceive its early working at Pergamum and Thyatira

through the Letters of Revelation 2. In these conflicts

the Apostle  saw the fulfilment of his Master's word.

“Now,” he writes, "many Antichrists have arisen;

 

            1 See e.g.,  John 2. 6, 4. 6, 9. 6, 11. 44, 18.18, 19. 33-35, 20. 6-8, 21. 11.

            2 Chap. viii in W. M. Ramsay's Letters to the Seven Churches.

           


54       THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS

 

from which we know that it is the last hour" (1 John

2. 18), the "last hour" of the Apostolic era—nay, for

aught he could tell, of human history itself (see

Chap. XIV below). But St John was in no wise

disturbed by the omens of the time. Despite ap-

pearances, he knows that "the world passeth away

and the lust thereof," while "he that doeth the will

of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2. 17, 18); he writes

to a Church threatened with schism and perversion

from the faith, expressing the love he bears toward

it "for the truth's sake, which abideth in us and shall

be with us for ever" (2 John 2). John's house of life—

Christ's great house, the Church—is founded upon

the rock; the storms beat against it in vain. The

facts of Christianity are the fixed certainties of time.

"That which was from the beginning, which we have

seen with our eyes and our hands have handled—the

eternal life which was with the Father and was

manifested unto us" (1 John 1. 1, 2)—these realities of

God, once planted in the world, will be destroyed by

no violence of secular power and dissolved by no

subtlety of scepticism.  "We know that the Son of

God is come"—the event is final and decisive; "for

this end was the Son of God manifested, that He

might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3. 8, 5. 20).

Jesus Christ knows and has measured all opposing

forces, and His mission will be carried through to

the end; we "have confidence in Him" (comp. Chap.

XXV). This note of perfect Christian assurance sounds

in every line St John has written. In "our faith" he

sees already the "victory that hath overcome the

world" (5. 4).

            So the Apostle John passed away, leaving the

Church in Asia Minor and the Empire beleaguered

by foes and entering on a gigantic struggle. The

world assailed her with overwhelming force in the

triple form of political oppression, social seduction,

and intellectual sophistry. He had prepared, in his

Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation, weapons for this


      THE APOSTLE JOHN IN HIS LETTERS           55

 

conflict which stood his brethren in good stead, and

will do so to the end of time. He died with the

calmest assurance of his Master's triumph, with the

Hallelujahs of the final coronation of Jesus ringing

in his ears. We greet him under the character and

aspect in which he chiefly wished to be regarded by

after-times:  "I John, your brother, and partaker with

you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which

are in Jesus."


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF THE FIRST

                                               EPISTLE

 

 

The Letter a Written Homily—Addressed to Settled Christians—St

John's Ministry that of Edification—Complement of St Peter's Ministry

—Continuation of St Paul's Ministry—Polemical Aim of the Epistle

—Connexion of this with its Ethical Strain—Comparison of St John's

Teaching with St Paul's—Obligation of the latter to the former—

Absence of Epistolary Formulae—"We" and "I" in the Epistle—

An Epistle General—Traits of Johannine Authorship—Relation of

Epistle to Gospel of John—Analysis of 1 John—Appendix: Tables

of Parallels.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            "That which we have seen and heard, we report to you also, that you

                             also may have fellowship with us.

 

            "These things we write, that our joy may be made full.

 

            "My little children, these things I am writing to you, that you may

not fall into sin.

 

            "Beloved, it is no new commandment that I write to you, but an old

commandment . . the word which you heard. Again, a new command-

ment I am writing to you, which thing is true in Him and in you.

 

            "I write (have written) to you, my little children, because your sins are

forgiven. . . . I write (have written) to you, fathers, because you have

known Him that is from the beginning. I write (have written) to you,

young men, because you have overcome the Wicked One.

 

            "These things I have written to you concerning them that would lead

you astray.

 

            "These things I have written to you, that you may know that you

have eternal life,—to you that believe on the name of the Son of God."--

1 JOHN 1. 3, 4 ; 2. 1, 7, 8, 12-14, 26; 5.13.


 

 

 

               

 

 

                            CHAPTER VI

 

 

SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF THE FIRST EPISTLE

 

 

THIS is a homiletical Epistle, the address of a pastor

to his flock who are widely scattered beyond the

reach of his voice. The advanced age at which the

Apostle John continued to minister from Ephesus to

the Churchres of Asia, gradually contracted the range

of his journeyings ; and the time came when he must

communicate with his children "by paper and ink,"

instead of "talking mouth to mouth," as he had loved

to do (2 John 12; 3 John 13, 14). Substitute the word

“say” for “write” in the passages heading this chapter,

and one might imagine the whole discourse delivered

in speech to the assembled Church. It is a specimen of

Apostolic preaching to believers, a masterpiece in the

art of edification.

            St John's ministry throughout life, so far as we can

gather, was mainly of this nature (see pp. 47-49 above).

He addresses himself "to those who believe on the

name of the Son of God," in order "that they may

know that they have eternal life" (5. 13), and in order

to guard them from seductive error (2. 26, 4. 1-6). His

purpose is to reassure the Christian flock in a troubled

time, and to perfect the life of faith within the Church.

He is not laying foundations, but crowning the edifice

of Apostolic teaching already laid. The Fourth Gospel

has the same intent, in a wider sense:  "These things

are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the

Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing ye

 

                                       59


60            SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

may have life in His name" (John 20. 31). The author

testifies, appeals, and warns as he does, expressly

because the recipients of his letter are already in-

structed and practised Christian believers (2. 12-14).

            The references to St John in the Acts of the Apostles

(3. 1-11, 4. 13-23, 8. 14, 12. 2) and in Galatians 2. 9,

made without any account of things said or done by

him, indicate the peculiar regard cherished for this

Apostle and the importance attached to his personality

and influence (see pp. 47-49). St John was one of

the three "reputed to be pillars," although no distinct

part, no formal office, is assigned to him in the

Apostolic work of the early days, such as belonged

to Peter and to James of Jerusalem. In Simon Peter's

company John was found on the morning of the Lord's

resurrection, after Peter's disgraceful but bitterly re-

pented denial of his Master, acting towards the stricken

man a brother's part; "they ran both together," we are

told, to the place of burial, "and the other disciple"

(probably the younger man) "did outrun Peter, and

came first to the sepulchre" (John 20. 3-10). The same

two are consorting afterwards in Galilee—Peter deeply

interested in his comrade's future—during the Forty

Days (John 21). "Peter and John," again, "were going

up into the temple" some time after the Pentecost,

when they met the lame beggar, who was healed by

Peter's word; and they were companions in the con-

sequent trial and imprisonment by the Sanhedrin

(Acts 3. 4.). The last occasion which brings them

together in the narrative of the Acts (8. 14-25), is the

joint visit to Samaria made by them at the request

of "the Apostles which were at Jerusalem," to confirm

the disciples gathered by the preaching of Philip the

evangelist in that city. Here, as before, it is Peter

whose words are quoted, and who combats Simon, the

magician; John's place was in the background, and his

work of the retired, inconspicuous sort. The union of

these two leaders, who belonged to the opposite poles

in gifts and temperament, is significant for the unity of

 

 

 


                           THE FIRST EPISTLE                       61

 

the Apostolic company and of the mother Church. St

Peter was the prompt, incisive speaker and bold leader;

St John the slow, deep thinker; the one as considerate

as the other was impetuous, as measured in the move-

ments of his mind as his companion was eager and

demonstrative. Both were men of large and warm

heart—equal in their reverent love to their Lord and

in appreciation for each other.1 The co-operation of

St John with St Peter surely did much to give

thoroughness, staidness, and stability to the primitive

evangelism. The former supplemented the work of

the latter in Jerusalem and the earliest Christendom,

as the "pastor and teacher," in St Paul's enumeration

of the great gifts of the ministry (Eph. 4. 11), follows

on the "prophet" and the "evangelist."2

            Having been the comrade of St Peter at the beginning

of the Apostolic era, St John found himself the successor

of St Paul in Ephesus and the province of Asia through

its closing period. His office in this field was not to

plant but to nourish and build up the Churches there

established, and to direct the work of the Gospel in this

central region. Through the success of St John's long-

continued labours, following upon those of St Paul,

Western Asia Minor became in the second century the

most prosperous province of the Church.

            But this rich soil was rife with heresy and contention;

rank weeds marred its prolific growth. St Paul had

foretold to the elders of Ephesus that "after his depar-

ture grievous wolves would enter in amongst them,"

and that "of their own selves men would arise speaking

perverse things, so as to draw away the disciples after

them" (Acts 20. 29, 30)—his Pastoral Epistles mark the

beginnings of the apostasy; St John found this pre-

 

            1 On St John's idiosyncrasy, see further Chapter V.

            2 Remembering the close friendship of SS Peter and John in their

early days, one is surprised to find so few points of contact in their

Epistles. In fact, as writers they show more affinity with St Paul than

with each other. They wrote each of them at an advanced period of

life, after long separation. See the tables of comparison drawn out

in the Appendix to this chapter.


62            SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

diction lamentably true.1 The Letters to the Seven

Churches written very probably at an earlier time

than our First Epistle, are sternly admonitory. The

minor Epistles of this group show that the Apostle's

charge was a difficult one (2 John 7-11, 3 John 9, 10;

see Chaps. I and III above).  "Many false prophets"

and "deceivers," "many antichrists, have gone out

into the world" from the Churches that he ruled

(1 John 2. 18, 19, 4. 1); with pain and anger he writes

to his flock "concerning those that seduce you" (2. 26).

The First Epistle is severely polemical in certain pass-

ages; it is so throughout. Through the

Gospel of John the same defensive aim may be

traced.

            The Apostle's vindication is made, however, by positive

exhibition of the truth more than by contradiction and

counter-argument, by the setting forth in its living

power of "the eternal life which was with the Father

and was manifested to us." St John confutes by better

instruction; he thrusts out error by confronting it with

the reality that it denies. Light, he conceives, is its

own sufficient evidence; let it be seen in its glory and

felt in its quickening power, and the reign of the

darkness is ended. The shadows flee at sunrise! The

Epistle moves through the contrasts of light and dark-

ness, truth and falsehood, love and hatred, of God and

the world, Christ and Antichrist, the Spirit of God

and the spirits of error. A right discrimination is what

 

            1 One might take the words of 1 John 2. 18 and 4. 3—"You have

heard that Antichrist is coming"—as an allusion to St Paul's prophecy

of 2 Thessalonians 2, delivered about forty years before this time. But

this anticipation was widespread in the Apostolic age. The curious

thing is that the Apostle's language in the "antichrist" passages bears

little or no traces of the eschatology of the Apocalypse; we find in

chap. 2. 18-28 and 4. 1-6 but a single parallel to the Book of Revelation

given by the Reference Bibles,—the correspondence of 4. 1 ("try the

spirits") with Rev. 2. 2; whereas the links of expression between St

John and St Paul in these paragraphs, though not numerous, are unmis-

takable. The Pauline tradition was strong and pervasive in the Churches

of Asia; this St Polycarp's Letter, sent from Smyrna to the Philippians,

goes to show.


                         THE FIRST EPISTLE                       63

 

the author is striving to effect all along. He dreads

confusion of thought and compromise,—the syncretism

between Christianity and theosophy, the mixing of the

"old leaven" with the "new lump," of "the love of

the world" with "the love of the Father," which the

Gnostic teachers would have brought about. Let the

opposing forces once be clearly seen, and the Apostle's

readers will know on which side to range themselves;

for they "have an anointing from the Holy One," their

spiritual instincts are sound and they "know that no

lie is of the truth" (2. 20-27).

            Blended with the doctrinal polemic of the First

Epistle, there is found a dominant strain of ethical

denunciation. While the former is distinctly in evidence

in certain leading passages--2. 18-27, 4. 1-6, 5. 5-8--the

latter note is pervasive. The Apostle condemns the

moral insensibility and insincerity, the disposition to

conform to the world and to lower the standard of

Christian purity, and above all the lack of brotherly

love that appeared in some quarters amongst Christians.

It is sometimes denied that there was any connexion in

the writer's mind between these symptoms and the

error of doctrine which he combats. But St John

passes from one to the other of these forms of evil,

and back again, in such a way as to show that they

formed, to his thoughts, part of one and the same con-

flict with "the world." He describes both the Doketic

errorists and the antinomian moralists as "those who

seduce you" (2. 28, 3. 7, 4. 1 ; comp. 2 John 9-11). St

John relies on the same "anointing" of the Spirit

to guard the understanding from false beliefs (2. 27,

4. 6), and to guard the heart from the corruptions of

sin (3. 9, 24); it is "faith" in the incarnate Son of God

that "conquers the world," with its lust and hate

(2. 14-17, 5. 3-5). The two poles on which the Epistle

practically turns, are seen in verse 23 of chapter 3:

"that we should believe the name of God's Son, Jesus

Christ, and love one another as He gave us command."

Throughout the writer's polemical and his positive


64            SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

teaching alike, his theology and ethics form a strict

unity. The true Christian faith in Jesus Christ, and

the true Christian life fashioned after Him, are vitally

and eternally one. To sever this connexion would be

to cut through the nerve of the Epistle.1

            The Epistle, doctrinally considered, is a re-assertion,

in terms of antithesis to the rising Gnosticism of Asia

Minor, of the established truth as to the manifestation

of God in Christ, of the main principles and aims of

the Christian life. The little children of the patriarch

Apostle are bidden to recognize in his present communi-

cation "what they have known from the beginning";

all he desires is that the things they "heard from the

beginning should abide in them" (2. 7, 13, 24, &c.). The

danger comes from those who "go forward, and abide

not in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9-11), from men

who propagate, by insidious methods and with corrupt-

ing moral effect, radical error respecting the person

and Mission of Christ, and who commend their retro-

grade teaching under the name of progress.

            The agreement between the two Ephesian Apostles

in thought and spirit is profound. We are comparing,

it must be remembered, one doctrinal Epistle with

many in correlating the writings of St John and St

Paul, although the addition of the Gospel of St John,

and (with less certainty) of the Apocalypse, goes to

redress the balance. The first glance shows that St

John's range was limited and his modes of conception

and statement comparatively simple; he had none of

the fertility of idea and wealth of expression which

 

            1 In disproof of the connexion between St John's anti-Gnostic and his

ethical dehortations, the fact has been urged that Cerinthus, whom

tradition identifies as his chief opponent, was an ascetic in morals. But

asceticism is perfectly consistent with unbrotherliness, and with a

degree of worldly conformity; and moral rigour in some directions

may be compensated by licence in others. Moreover the principle

of the evil of matter, which lay at the root of Doketism and Gnosticism,

breeds at the same time in some natures a false asceticism, and in

others antinomian indulgence. Of this double tendency, St Paul's

Epistles to the Colossians and to Timothy and Titus afford evidence.


                     THE FIRST EPISTLE                             65

 

characterize St Paul. John was intuitive in method

(see also p. 52), aphoristic in style, studiously plain and

homely in utterance; Paul was dialectical, imaginative,

involved and periodic in the structure of his sentences,

creative in his theological diction. St John's peculiar

spell lies in the intensity of his contemplative gaze, and

the massiveness and transparency of his leading ideas.

St Paul bears one forward in his great arguments as

with the current of a mighty river, that pours now over

the open plain, now through a tortuous pass or down a

thundering fall; reading St John's Gospel and Epistle,

one looks into a pellucid lake, which mirrors sky and

mountain from its still depths.

            How far the one Apostle was debtor to the other, it

is impossible to say; probably the obligation lay upon

both sides. The posthumous Apostle of Christ, "born

out of due time," may well have learned from "the

disciple whom Jesus loved" the Master's intimate teach-

ing related in the Fourth Gospel, concerning the in-

dwelling of the Holy Spirit and the union of the

heavenly Vine with His branches, which is at the heart

of Pauline doctrine. That the two men had met, we

know, and that St John had endorsed St Paul's gospel

at an early stage (Gal. 2. 9). The communication of

St John's knowledge and his personal views was not

delayed to the end of the century, when his written

narrative appeared (see p. 48)—his gospel, along with

Peter's, had been making its way through the Church

orally from the outset; and St Paul, with his keen

appreciation and sympathetic spirit, is not the man to

have been insensitive to the attraction of a nature like

St John's or to have neglected the opportunity of

gathering what the favoured disciple was able to im-

part. When the former writes in Galatians 2. 6,

"Those of reputation" at Jerusalem "added nothing

unto me," he does not intimate, as some have inferred,

that he learned nothing of the tradition of Jesus from

the first-hand witnesses and profited in no respect by

intercourse with the three honoured leaders whom he

 

            Life Eternal             6


66               SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

names—to have assumed such independence would

have been a senseless pride. What he does intend to

say is that the chiefs of the Jerusalem Church gave him

no new commission, no higher authority than he had

before; "they added nothing to" his powers as Christ's

messenger to the Gentiles and the steward of "the

gospel of the uncircumcision" (see vers. 7, 8).

            On the other hand, the Apostle John, surviving Paul

and becoming heir to his great work amongst the

Churches in Asia, was bound to reckon with his pre-

decessor's doctrine, and this Epistle (like the Apoca-

lypse) is in conscious accord with Paulinism. On several

leading points, it might seem that St John has given

another form, at once concentrated and simplified, to

the theology of St Paul.1  The Pauline "justification"

and "sanctification" reappear in the "forgiving of sins"

and "cleansing from all unrighteousness" of 1 John 1.

7 and 9; "faith, hope, and love," with the last for the

greatest, become the "perfect love" which "casts out

fear" (4. 18), and the glorious hymn on charity of

1 Cor. 13 is crowned by the sentence of 1 John 4. 16,

"God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God,

and God in him"; the simple declaration of 1 John 3. 6,

"He that abideth in Him (Christ) sinneth not," contains

the answer to the prayer of 1 Thessalonians 5. 23, that

"the God of peace would sanctify" Christian men "to

full perfection," that their "spirit, soul, and body in

blameless integrity may be preserved" until the Lord's

coming. In other places, as partly in the passages

above cited, the later writer deepens the idea or prin-

ciple expressed by the earlier, as when the "mediator"

of 1 Timothy 2. 5 becomes the "advocate" of 1 John or

the Pauline "adoption" (Rom. 8. 15, Eph. 1. 5), is repre-

sented as a being "begotten of God"; those who receive

"a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge

of Christ" (Eph. 1. 17, 18) are described as having "an

 

            1 St John's Soteriology in form and dialect lies nearer, on the whole,

to that of Hebrews than of the Pauline Epistles; see the comparisons in

the Appendix to this chapter.


                           THE FIRST EPISTLE                         67

 

unction (chrism) from the Holy One" which "abideth

in" them, so that they "know" the truth and the lie,

and "have no need that any one should teach" them

(1 John 2. 27); and St Paul's extended proofs of his

Apostolic authority are reduced by St John, on his own

behalf, to the brief assertion, "We are of God; he that

knoweth God heareth us" (4. 6).

            In both Apostles there is the same awful sense of the

guilt and universality of sin, distinguished in Paul by a

conspicuous vein of personal experience and psycho-

logical analysis, in John by the realization of the magni-

tude of sin as a world-mischief and its mysterious origin

in powers of evil outside of humanity (1 John 2. 2, 16;

3. 8; 4. 14; 5. 17-19).  Both therefore treat the fact of

atonement through "the blood of Jesus, God's Son," as

fundamental to Christian thought and life (see 1 John

1. 7, 9); the word "propitiation" used in this connexion

(i[lasth<rion, Rom. 3. 5; i[lasmo<j, 1 John 2. 2; 4. 10; comp.

also Hebrews 2. 17), is common property. For the

Apostle Paul it was necessary to show how Christ's

atoning sacrifice stood to "the law" of Moses, and how

it bore upon the case of Jew and Gentile respectively;

St John has only to assert that the propitiation avail-

ing for penitent and believing Christians, is valid "for

the whole world" (2. 2). It is remarkable that while

Paul insists almost solely upon faith as the subjective

condition of justification, John lays stress upon the

confession of sin, since he had to deal with antinomian

evasions of the guilt of sin, where the former was con-

fronted with a legal, self-justifying righteousness of

works; instead of "faith" we read in 1 John 2. 23, and

4. 3, of "confessing Jesus" as "Son of God"—assenting

to His claims (comp. Rom. 10. 9, 10). St John points

oftener to the ethical pattern afforded by Christ's

earthly course (2. 1, 6; 3. 3, 5-8; 4. 17), and employs

the name of "Jesus" much more frequently—a thing to

be expected of the Lord's companion of old days. He

appears to think less than St Paul about the parousia

and the last judgement and the future glory of the


68           SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

redeemed (but see pp. 233-235), in his strong con-

sciousness of "eternal life" as the believer's present

possession (see 2. 28; 3. 3; 4. 17, on the one hand: on

the other, 1. 2; 2. 17; 3. 15; 4. 15; 5. 13, 20). The elder

Apostle distressingly felt the imperfection and burden

of the present state; the younger dwells on the realities

subsisting beneath it--the satisfying knowledge of God,

the "perfecting of the love of God" in faithful men, and

their unchanging fellowship with Christ—till temporal

conditions are forgotten; for him, the world is already

"overcome," and "we have passed from death into life"

(1 John 1. 3; 3. 14 ; 5. 4, 5).  "According to St John's

view, the world exists indeed, but more as a semblance

than a reality" (Westcott).

            But these are differences of emphasis and tone, due

partly to temperament, partly to situation and horta-

tory purpose; no real discrepancy or dogmatic dissent

is implied in them. The fall of Jerusalem, and with

this, the disappearance of national Judaism and of the

Judaistic controversies of the first generation have

placed a gulf between the writings of Paul and those

of John; in the Apocalypse alone the earlier situation

has left its traces. By this time a new theological

world, another phase of the kingdom of God has

appeared. In the substance of revealed truth these

two master thinkers of the New Testament were at one

—in their apprehension of God as "the Father" (whose

"grace" shines more in Paul, His "love" in John), of

Jesus Christ as the perfect man and head of humanity,

eternally one with God (called more often “the Son of

God” by John, "the Lord" by Paul), of the Holy Spirit

as the Witnesser of God, the gift of the Father through

Christ, the Divine inhabitant of the soul and the

Church, and the inspirer of all good in man's regene-

rate nature. By both the Christian life is realized as

essentially a life of faith on the Son of God, which

effects an inward union with the Redeemer and con-

sequent fellowship with God, possession by His Spirit,

and occupation in the service of His love. Their


                      THE FIRST EPISTLE                            69

 

mysticism is the same; and their universalism is the

same, for both conceive the sacrifice of the cross and

the message of the Gospel as designed for the whole

world—only that for St John the distinction between

Jew and Gentile has sunk below the horizon.

            The Epistle has no epistolary formulae, either at the

beginning (comp. Hebrews) or at the end (comp. James);

writer and readers are well acquainted—they are his

"little children" (2. 1, 12, 18, &c.), his "beloved" (2. 7;

3. 21; 4. 1, 7)—he will waste no word on the intro-

duction of himself to them. His attitude is that of

an aged father in Christ speaking to his sons—once

only does he address the readers as "brethren" (3. 13);

some are older, some younger amongst them, but all

are as “children” in relation to himself (2. 12-14). It

never occurs to him to give himself any title in the

First Epistle (in the Second and Third, he is just "the

Elder,") or to vindicate or insist upon his authority;

this he assumes as matter of course, to be questioned

by no one. Yet the author nowhere implies that he

was founder of the Churches concerned, or the first

bearer to them of the Gospel; he writes of "that

which ye had from the beginning," "the word which ye

heard" (2. 7, 18, 24; comp. 2 John 6); we could imagine

him "testifying," as St Peter did (1 Pet. 5. 12) to

Christians of Asia Minor who had received the Gospel

chiefly through Pauline ministrations, "that this is the

true grace of God," in which they must “stand fast.”

The faith of these communities is of no recent date—

the letter continually entreats them to "abide" in that

which they "had heard from the beginning." The

errors combated are such as belonged to a developed

Christianity (see pp. 318, 319); they have sprung up in

settled Churches and are perversions of the established

truths of the Apostolic confession (1 John 2. 18, 19; 4. 1;

2 John 7-9).

            Notwithstanding the omission of names and per-

sonal references, the First Epistle is properly a letter.

For it runs in the first person singular throughout


70            SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

(2. 1, 7, 12-14, 26; 5. 13; once "I say," instead of

"I write" or "have written," in 5. 16). When there-

fore in verse 4 of the preface St John has it, "these

things we write (gra<fomen h[mei?j), that our joy may be

made full"1 he is surely thinking of his companions

in the testimony of Jesus, the body of the original

"eye-witnesses and ministers of the word," not a

few of whom had by this time, with their own hand

or by the pen of others, put their witness upon

record and perpetuated the spoken by the written

testimony (see p. 73). When he says, moreover,

"we report to you also, that you also may have

fellowship with us," it is because a multitude of

others have by this date heard the good-news and

share its blessings with the first believers, so that it is

spreading into all the world (2. 2, 4. 14; comp. Rom.

1. 15, Col. 1. 6). In the triple "we know" (oi@damen) of

chap. 5. 18-20, the Apostle speaks for his readers along

with himself, indeed for the whole Church of God.

            Personal references are wanting upon both sides—

with respect to the receivers as much as to the sender

of the letter; no allusions are made to local circum-

stances or events, to specific doings or needs or requests

of the readers. In this vagueness of horizon 1 John

resembles the Epistle of James, or of Paul to the

Ephesians. The editorial title, "Catholic Epistle of

John," is therefore to some extent justified; the letter

is "general" in the sense that it was not directed to

any one particular Church. It is in striking contrast

with the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Rev.

2. 3.): there each community wears a distinct physiog-

 

            1 The "unto you" of the T.R. in this place is certainly spurious;

and "your joy " is, almost certainly, a textual corruption of "our

joy" (R.V.). The satisfaction of those responsible for giving the

message of Christ to the world would only be complete when provision

had been made in writing for its safe transmission, for the full and

exact knowledge of it on the part of those distant in place or time

from the primary witnesses; comp. Luke 1. 4; 2 Peter 1. 15; Revela-

tion 22. 18, 19; 2 Timothy 2. 2. Then the Apostle and his few remain-

ing coevals will die content!


                     THE FIRST EPISTLE                        71

 

nomy, and praise or blame is meted out with strict

discrimination; here everything is general and com-

prehensive, addressed to classes of men and features

and qualities of character. The dangers indicated, the

admonitions given, are such as concerned Christians

everywhere, surrounded by the "world" (2. 14-16) and

exposed to the attractions of idolatry (5. 21); or such as

arose from the heresies infesting all Churches in Western

Asia Minor at the end of the first century; see 1 John 2.

18-27; 4. 1-6; 2 John 7-11; Chapters X, XIV, XIX).1

            For the rest, St John expatiates on the things that

lay nearest to his heart, the simplest and deepest

realities of the Christian life—faith in the incarnate

Son of God, cleansing from sin by His blood, union

with Him in His Spirit, the brotherly love in which

character is perfected after His example, the purifying

hope of life eternal. The historical and the tran-

scendental Christ are unified in the writer's mind, with-

out effort or speculative difficulty. St John remembers

how "He walked" in the spotless beauty of His human

life (2. 6; 3. 3, 5; 4. 17), while he recognizes Jesus as

"the Son of God," "the Only-begotten," and declares

that in Him we have, "manifested to us, the eternal

life which was with the Father," the "Advocate with

the Father," whose "blood" makes "propitiation for the

whole world" (1. 2, 3, 7; 2. 2; 4. 9, 10, 14). He exhibits

the naïve faith of the first disciples in combination

with the theological reflexion brought about by contact

with Greek thought and conflict with oriental theo-

sophy under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ

whom He promised to guide them into all the truth.

The experience of the youthful companion of Jesus has

grown in John, without any breach of continuity, into

that of the veteran Church leader, the deeply versed

pastor and theologian.

            Everything in this Epistle accords with the witness

 

            1 Haupt, with some other interpreters, makes this abstractness a

ground for supposing the Epistle written at Patmos, where the writer

was out of touch with his people.


72           SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

of tradition, that it was a circular letter and pastoral

charge addressed by St John the Apostle and Evan-

gelist to the wide circuit of Western Asian Churches

over which he presided in the last period of his life,

and that it was composed between the years 90 and 100

of our Lord. The forms of Gnostic and Doketic error

to which in various passages the writer refers, origi-

nated, as many indications go to show, in the Churches

of this province, and had become rife at the close of the

first century, while St John still "tarried" in the flesh.1

            The Epistle rests upon the Gospel history; it pre-

supposes the knowledge of Jesus Christ which was the

common property of the Church, as this was affected

by the specific Johannine tradition and point of view

(see particularly 1. 1, 2, 5 ; 2. 1, 6, 7, 13, 14, 24; 3. 1, 3, 5,

8, 11, 13, 15, 16, 23, 24; 4. 4, 5, 9-14, 21; 5. 6-12, 14, 18,

20). Some have thought the Epistle written on pur-

pose to accompany St John's Gospel, in order to serve

as a commendation and application thereof.2 The two

are associated by so many identical or kindred expres-

sions and turns of thought; their atmosphere and

horizon are so much the same, that hardly any one

doubts them to have been the product of the same

mind,—indeed of the same state and stage of mind in

the one author. The Fourth Gospel and the First

Epistle of John were separated by no great interval

of time, and designed for similar constituencies. But in

addressing his “little children” and dwelling upon what

they know so well of Christ and "the truth," the

Apostle is referring, we may be sure, to no written

book; he recalls the teaching received from his lips

and printed ineffaceably upon their hearts. To this

familiar witness of the old Apostle—a witness which he

 

            1 The opening Discourses of Archbishop Alexander's Commentary on

The Epistles of St. John (Expositor's Bible) give a fine historical setting

to this Epistle. Sir W. M. Ramsay's work on The Letters to the Seven

Churches has, more recently, thrown a flood of light over the field

of the Apostle's later ministry.

            2 The "we write" (emphatic h[mei?j) of verse 4 shows that St John is not

thinking of his own (written) Gospel in particular; comp. p. 89.


                       THE FIRST EPISTLE                    73

 

embodied about this time in his written Gospel for

those whom his spoken word might not reach—the

opening sentences of the letter relate; at the same time

they include in their reference ("we write") the testi-

mony of fellow-witnesses, who by voice and book had

spread in other regions the knowledge of Jesus. The

preface to the Epistle is in effect a summary of the

Gospel according to John, which had been for sixty

years an oral Gospel and was at last put into written

shape—a correspondence that is obvious when one

compares 1 John 1. 1-4 with John 1. 1-18, and 20. 30, 31,

the opening and closing words of the Evangelist. The

revelation of God in His Son Jesus Christ—a revelation

taking place within the sphere of sight and sense—is

the matter which the writer has to communicate.

That manifestation, made in the first place to a circle

of beholders of whom he was one, brings an eternal life

for men, a life of fellowship with God and Christ, the

possessors of which desire to make all men sharers with

themselves therein. This is the basis of the Epistle

(1. 1-3)—a basis at once historical and transcendental—

and it is the resumption of the Gospel. "The Gospel

gives the historic revelation; the Epistle shows the

revelation as it has been apprehended in the life of the

Society and of the believer" (Westcott). On the whole,

it seems probable that the Epistle was the earlier work

of the two.

            The First Epistle is so much of an epistle, so un-

studied and spontaneous in movement, that it lends

itself ill to formal analysis. In this want of structure

it is in signal contrast to the Apocalypse and the Gospel

of St John. Up to verse 27 of the second chapter a

fairly close connexion may be traced.

            I. The preface (1. 1-4) announces that the writer pur-

poses, by declaring more fully what he knows of "the

eternal life" in Christ, to bring those to whom he writes

into a more complete "fellowship" with God. He lays

down therefore, first, the ground of this fellowship in the

nature of God, the obstacle to it lying in personal sin,


74              SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

and the way in which sin is dealt with and removed

(1. 5-2. 2). He goes on to state the condition upon

which union with God is maintained—viz. obedience

to His word after the fashion of Jesus, above all to the

great commandment of brotherly love (2. 3-11). He

congratulates his readers, old and young, upon their

past fidelity (2. 12-14); while he warns them against

friendship with the world (2. 15-17), and bids them

especially beware of teaching that would destroy their

faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and in consequence

would rob them of communion both with the Son and

with the Father (2. 18-27). Here the letter might suit-

ably have terminated, with the exhortation "Abide in

Him"; it appears already to have fulfilled the purpose

announced at the beginning.

            II. A new train of thought is started in 2. 28, arising

out of the fundamental idea of fellowship in the eternal

life (1. 1-4), which can be traced, though with uncertain

connexion here and there, as far as chapter 5. 5. As

fellowship supplied the key-note of the first section, so

sonship—the filial and brotherly character of Christian

believers, maintained in face of the world's hatred—is

the conception which binds together the paragraphs of

this extended central section. In chap. 1. 5-2. 27 we

contemplate "the eternal life manifested" as affording

the ground of union between God and men; in chap. 2.

28-5. 5 we look upon it as manifested in the sons of

God confronting an evil and hostile world.

            The second movement starts at the climax of the first:

at Christ's "coming" His people will shine forth as

the manifest "children of God"—which they are in fact

already, but hiddenly and in preparation for their full

estate (2. 28-3. 3). Sin is therefore alien to them,—nay,

impossible in the light of their Divine birth and proper

character (3. 4-9); sinners, haters of their brethren, are

"children of the Devil" and brothers of Cain; the

world's hatred of the Church springs from the ancient

seed of death; Jesus, not Cain, is the first-born of the

new stock (3. 10-16). Christian love must be shown in


                             THE FIRST EPISTLE                           75

 

true deeds, not empty words (3. 17, 18); such deeds give

the heart an assurance of God's favour wanting other-

wise; they confirm our faith in Christ by proving our

possession of His Spirit (3. 19-24). With this Spirit of

truth the spirits inspiring the false prophets abroad in

the world are at war; their test lies in the confession

of Jesus as the Son of God; the Church has overcome

them by the power of God within it; the Apostolic

word condemns them (4. 1-6). Love, after all, is the seal

of truth, and the mark of sonship from God—the love

displayed in the redeeming mission of the Son of God,

which binds us to love our brethren (4. 7-11) in the

love of Christ the invisible God is seen, and the love of

Christian souls is the impartation of God's nature to

them (4. 12-16); its perfecting brings deliverance from

all fear, enabling the Christian man to live, like his

Master, a life of simple truth and loyalty (4. 17-21).

Thus faith in Jesus the Son of God makes sons of

God, who love God's children along with Himself, who

keep God's commands and conquer the world (5. 1-5).

The second division of the Epistle closes, like the first,

on the note of victory (comp. John 16. 33, Rev. 19.-22.).

            The two divisions are parallel rather than consecu-

tive; the same thoughts recur in both: the incom-

patibility of sin with a Christian profession (1. 6-10;

3. 5-9); commandment-keeping the proof of love (2. 3-5;

5. 3, 4); Jesus the pattern of the new life (2. 6; 3. 3, 16);

brotherly love the fruit of knowledge of God (2. 9-11;

3. 14; 4. 7-21); the enmity of the world toward God

(2. 15, 16; 3. 13); the seducers of the Church, and the

test of their teaching in the confession of the Godhead

of Jesus (2. 18-27; 4. 1-6). The office of the Holy Spirit,

and the nature and extent of Christian sanctity, are

topics conspicuous in the second division, where the son-

ship of believers is set forth, while the forgiveness of

sin and the keeping of God's commands figure chiefly

in the two first chapters, which dwell on the theme of

fellowship with God.

            The rest of the Epistle has quite a supplementary


76           SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF

 

character. Chapter 5. 6-12 places a kind of seal1 on the

letter as it draws to a close, by adducing "the Spirit"

as "the witnesser"—first, in association with "the

water and blood," to the truth of God's message con-

cerning His Son, which the Apostle has now delivered

(vers. 6-9; comp. 1. 2:  "We have seen and do bear

witness"), then as an internal testimony lodged in the

believer's soul (vers. 10-13).

            The paragraph upon Prayer and the Sin unto Death

(vers. 14-17) stands detached, and seems to be an after-

thought, which might naturally have occurred in the

passage about confidence toward God and availing

prayer, in chap. 3. 21, 22. We may call this the

postscript to the Epistle. It leads up to the con-

cluding section.

            Verses 18-21, with their threefold emphatic "We

know," are a summary of the writer's message and

testimony, verses 18, 19 covering the ground of its second

chief division (chap. 2. 28-5. 5: concerning sonship),

and verses 20, 21, of its first division (chap. 1. 5-2. 27:

concerning fellowship).

            The disposition we have made of the contents of

the Epistle agrees in outline with that adopted by

Haupt in his Commentary.2 The third of his divisions

(concerning witness) is so short, and holds a position

so much subordinate in comparison with the other

two, that one prefers to reduce Haupt's threefold to

a twofold principle of analysis, and to regard the

paragraphs following verse 5 of chap. 5 as supplement-

ing the main purport of the letter. The closing para-

graphs (vers. 13-20) furnish a kind of Epilogue, as chap.

1. 1-1 was the Prologue. And the last sentence, "Little

 

            1 The thought of "witnessing" is a seal stamped on all St John's

writings—the Apocalypse along with the rest (see Rev. 1. 2, 9; 6. 9;

12. 11, 17; 19. 10; 22. 16, 20.

            2 The First Epistle of St John: a contribution to Biblical

Theology. By Erich Haupt; translated (T. and T. Clark), 1879. See

pp. 348-357, "The Chain of Thought."  This exposition remains in-

dispensable; it is the most complete and thorough elucidation of the

Epistle that we know, but suffers from its prolixity.


                           THE FIRST EPISTLE                      77

 

children, keep yourselves from the idols," takes the

place of the Farewell in an ordinary letter.

            In the printing of the text we attempt to represent

the Hebraistic parallelism which breaks through

St John's sentences, and gives to his Greek prose style

its peculiar cast. This is most strongly marked in the

First Epistle.

 

 

                                     APPENDIX.

            The comparison of parallel passages in the Epistles of Peter and John

throws into relief the detachment of the Johannine writings. The Book

of Revelation, despite its singularities, has much more in common with

the Gospel and Epistles--and this in fundamental ideas and idiosyn-

crasies of mind--than with any other writing of the New Testament.

The following parallels are worth observing:--

 

1 Peter 1. 18-20        = 1 John 1. 7;             2 Peter 1. 4                = 1 John 3. 2;

            2.  22 =           3. 5;                         2. 1                 =         4.1;          

            4, 2, 2 Peter                                                 3. 3                 =         2.18 (?)

                2.17            =         2. 16             

             5. 1               =    2 & 3 John

                                                1 (?);

           

            But the above are slight and incidental correspondences. There are

more definite signs of communion of thought between St James and

St John in their Epistles :-

 

            Compare James 1. 12           with 1 John 2. 25;     

                                  1. 17                   1. 5;        

                                  2. 15, 16                          3. 17, 18;          

                                   3. 2                                     1. 8;    

                                  4. 4                                    2. 15.   

 

            St John's Epistles and Hebrews, in view of their common theological

complexion, supply fewer parallels than one might expect:--

            Heb. 1. 3 (purification of sins), 10. 2, 22 = 1 John 1. 7;              

                   2. 1-3                                                     = 2 John 8;                

                   2. 9 (for every man)                             = 1 John 2. 2, 4. 14;             

                   2. 14                                                       =           3. 8;             

                   2. 17, 18                                                =           2. 1, 4. 10;              

                   3. 6 (boldness, hope)                           =            2 . 28, 3. 3, 4. 17;             

                   4. 12, 13                                                =             3. 19, 20;              

                   4. 14 (Jesus, the Son of God)             =            1. 7, 5. 5;               


78              SCOPE AND CHARACTER OF     

 

Heb.     4. 15                                                                = 1 John 2. 1, 3. 5;      

           6. 6, 10. 26, 27                                                =           5. 16;           

           7. 25, 26, 9. 12, 14, 24, 25                              =           2. 1, 2;         

           9. 26    7,                                                         =           3. 5, 8;         

           9. 28, 12. 14                                                    =           2. 28, 3. 2;   

           10. 36, 11. 25, 26                                            =            2. 16, 17;    

          11. 4                                                                =            3. 12;          

           13. 1                                                                =              2. 10, 4. 20,           

           13. 1                                                                =          3 John 5-8.      

 

            The list for the Epistles of John and the Apocalypse is very different:—

 

Compare 1 John 1. 1, 2. 13, 14                        with Rev.    1. 8, 3. 14, 13. 8, 21. 6,

                                                                                                22. 13;

                                  1.2, 5, 5. 7-11                            1.2, 9, 6. 9, 12. 17,

                                                                                                19. 10, 22. 16;

                                 1. 3, 4, 3 John 8                           1. 9-11, 22. 9;

                                  1. 6, 8, 10, 2. 4, 22, 4. 20               2. 2, 9, 3. 9;

                                  1. 7, 9, 3. 5, 4. 10, 5. 6                  1. 5, 5. 9, 7. 14;

                                  2. 1, 20, 3. 3, 5                              3. 7;

                                  2. 2, 4. 14                                       5. 9, 7. 9, 10;

                                  2. 3-5, 5. 3                                    12. 17, 14. 12;

                                  2. 6, 3. 3, 4. 17                              3. 4, 14. 4, 5;

                                  2. 8, 17                                              21. 1, 5;

                                 2.10                                                   2. 14;

                                 2. 13, 14, 4. 4, 5. 4                            2, 7, 11, &c.,   12. 11,

                                                                                                            15. 2, 21. 7;

                                  2. 15                                                 18.4;

                                  2.16                                                   18. 14 (and context);

                                  2. 17                                                 18. 2, 3, &c.;

                                2. 18                                                 1. 3, 22. 10;

                                  2. 20, 27                                           1. 6, 5. 10, 20. 6;

                                  2.  20                                               3. 18 (e]gxri?sai k.t. l.);

                                 2. 26 (peri> t. planw<ntwn),                        

                                    3. 7, 2 John 7, 9                                2. 20, 18. 23, 19. 20;

                                  2. 28, 3. 2, 21                                   3. 4, 5, 6. 15-17, 22. 4;

                                  3.1,                                                   3. 12, 21. 7;

                                  3. 3                                                   14. 4, 22. 14;

                                 3. 7, 10                                             22. 11;

                                3. 10                                                 2. 9, 3. 9;

                                  3.13                                                  6. 10, 17. 6, &c.;

                                  3. 15, 4. 18, 20                                 21. 8, 22. 15;

                                  3. 16                                                 12. 11;

                                  4. 1, 3, 6                                           2. 2, 16. 13, 14, 19. 20,

                                                                                                            20. 10;

                                  4. 16                                                 7. 15, 21. 3;

                                  5. 6                                                   19. 13;


                          THE FIRST EPISTLE                         79

 

Compare 1 John 5. 8                                                 with Rev. 11. 3;         

                        5. 13, 20                                                        2. 7, 13, 3. 5, 21. 6, 27   

                                                                                                            22. 14, &c.;

                           5. 18                                                              3. 10;

                           5.20                                                             3. 7, 6. 10, 19. 11;

                         5. 21                                                             2. 14, 20;  

                 2 John 3                                                                 1. 4;           

                                8                                                             2. 2-5, 25-27, 3. 3,          


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   DIVISION I

 

       FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

 

 

                                 THE MANIFESTED LIFE

 

Construction of the Passage—The Eternal Life unveiled—Gnostic

Dualism of Nature and Spirit—"In the beginning" and "From the

beginning" — Actuality of the Manifestation — Competence of the

Witnesses—Fellowship of Men in the Testimony—Fellowship with

God through the Testimony.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        "That which was from the beginning.

That which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes,

That which we beheld, and our hands handled:

                        Concerning the word of life.

            And the life was manifested, and we have seen it;

            And we testify, and report to you, the eternal life,

                        Which was with the Father, and was manifested to us.

 

That which we have seen and heard, we report to you also,

            That you also may have fellowship with us;

Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus

     Christ.

            And these things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled."

                                                                                                1 JOHN 1. 1-4.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        CHAPTER VII

 

 

                 THE MANIFESTED LIFE

 

 

WE adopt the revised translation of the above

verses, preferring however, in verse 1, the

marginal "word of life" without the capital. For it

is on life1 rather than word that the stress of the

sentence lies ("for the life was manifested," St John

continues); and Word must have stood alone to be

recognized as a personal title, or could at most be

qualified as it is in the Apocalypse (19. 13):  "His name

is called The Word of God." St John's "word of life"

resembles the "word of life" that St Paul bids the

Philippians "hold fast" (2. 16), "the words of life

eternal" which St Peter declared his Master had

(John 6. 68), and "all the words of this life" which the

Apostles were bidden to "speak in the temple to the

people" (Acts 5. 20). It is synonymous with "the

Gospel," the message of the new life which those bear

witness to and report who have first "heard" it and

proved its life-giving power. "Concerning the word of

life" stands in apposition to the four preceding relative

clauses ("that which we have heard . . . our hands

handled") and states their general subject-matter and

import; while the first clause, "That which was from

the beginning," stands alone in sublime completeness.

The verse should be read by itself as a title to the

writing, a statement of the great matter of the writer's

 

1 Comp. bread of life; light of life; way, truth and life, &c., in the

Fourth Gospel.

            Life Eternal               83


84             THE MANIFESTED LIFE

 

thoughts, of that on which his relations with his

readers rest.

            By construing the first verse thus (see the text as

printed above), we dispense with the brackets enclosing

the second verse in the English Version. Parentheses

and involved constructions are not much in St John's

way. The common punctuation treats the second verse

as an eddy in the current, an idea that strikes the

writer incidentally and by the way, whereas it belongs

to the mid-stream of his thought. It constitutes, in

fact, the centre of the passage. While verse 3 links

itself with verse 1 by repeating its second line, it does so

with a difference, with a scope beyond the intent of the

former sentence. St John reiterates "what we have

seen and heard" not by way of resuming the thread

of an interrupted sentence, but striking once more the

key-note, on which he plays a further descant. We

observe here, at the outset, the peculiar manner of

our author. His thought progresses by a kind of spiral

movement, returning continually upon itself, but in

each revolution advancing to a new point and giving a

larger outlook to the idea that it seeks to unfold.

            "Declare" in verses 2 and 3 should rather be

"report" (a]pagge<llomen). The original verb signifies the

carrying of tidings or messages from the authentic

source: we are the bearers to you of the word we

received from Him (comp. ver. 5; also 1 Cor. 14. 25,

1 Thess. 1. 9, for a]pagge<llw). When St John writes in

verse 2 "we bear witness and report," in the former

expression (as Haupt acutely says) the emphasis lies

on the communication of truth, in the latter on the

communication of truth.

            Readers of the Greek will note the expressive transi-

tion from the perfect to the aorist tense and back

again, that takes place in verses 1-3. In the words

"that which we have heard and have seen with our

eyes," St John asserts the abiding reality of the audible

and visible manifestation of the eternal life in Christ.

This revelation is now a fixed possession, the past


                    THE MANIFESTED LIFE                  85

 

realized in the present; to its immovable certainty

the Apostle reverts once again in verses 2 and 3. The

sudden change of tense in the middle of verse 1, which

is missed by our authorized rendering, transports us to

the historical scene. We stand with the first disciples

before the incarnate Son of God, gazing with wonder

on His face and reaching out our hands to touch His

form, as St John writes, "that which we beheld and our

hands handled." This turn of phrase is a fine trait of

genuineness; it is the movement of personal remem-

brance working within and behind historical reflexion.

The same witness speaks here who wrote the words

of John 20. 19, 20:  "Jesus came and stood in the midst,

and said, Peace be unto you! And when He had thus

said, He showed unto them His hands and His side."

In this wondrous human person, through its flesh and

blood reality, the Apostle affirms in the name of all the

eye-witnesses:  "The life was manifested, the eternal

life that was with the Father was manifested to us."

While e]qeasa<meqa (we beheld) signifies an intent, contem-

plative gaze, e]yhla<fhsan (occurring in the New Testament

only in Luke 24. 39, Acts 17. 27, and Heb. 12. 18, beside

this passage) denotes not the bare handling, but the

exploring use of the hands that tests by handling.

            So much for the verbal elucidation of the passage.

Let us look now at its substantial content.

            1. St John had witnessed, as he believed, the supreme

manifestation of God. The secret of the universe stood

unveiled before his eyes, the everlasting fact and truth

of things, "that which was from the beginning." Here

he touched the spring of being, the principle that ani-

mates creation from star to farthest star, from the

archangel to the worm in the sod:  "the life was mani-

fested, the life eternal which existed with the Father,

was manifested" to us. If "the life" of this passage

is identical with that of the prologue to the Gospel, it

has all this breadth of meaning; it receives a limitless

extension when it is defined as "that which was from

the beginning"; it is "the life" that "was in" the


86                 THE MANIFESTED LIFE

 

Eternal Word, and "was the light of men" from the

dawn of human consciousness.

            The source of spiritual life to men is that which

was, in the first instance, the source of natural life to

all creatures. Here lies the foundation-stone of the

Johannine theology. It assumes the solidarity of being,

the unity of the seen and unseen. It rules out from the

beginning all dualistic and Doketic conceptions of the

world. Gnostic metaphysics guarded "the eternal life"

—the Christ or Son of God—from entanglement in the

finite, by supposing that the Divine element descended

upon Jesus at His baptism and parted from Him on the

cross; St John affirms, as matter of historical cer-

tainty, in the strongest and clearest terms possible the

identity of the two—the fact that "the eternal was

manifested," that it took visible, palpable form of flesh

and blood in Jesus the Son of God (comp. ver. 7). This

life of life, he tells us, the essential offspring of the

Deity, became incarnate that it might hold fellowship

with men; it was slain, that its blood might cleanse

them from iniquity.

            The sublime prelude of St John's Gospel, "In the

beginning was the Word," is not repeated here; it is

presumed. In the beginning gives the starting-point of

revelation, from the beginning carries us along its

process. Throughout the creation and course of the

natural universe, through the calling and history of

ancient Israel, the word wrought and spoke "from the

beginning," shaping itself into a message of life for men;

and the incarnate revelation was its goal. It is the

fourth verse rather than the first of the Gospel, which

supplies the text for the Epistle:  "that which hath come

to be, in Him was life; and the life was the light of men."

A stream flowing underground, with the roots of a

thousand plants drinking of its strength and with

verdure and beauty marking out its hidden course, the

electric current running silent, unsuspected, through

dark and winding channels till it reaches the carbon-

points where it bursts into splendour—these are images


                 THE MANIFESTED LIFE                       87

 

of the disclosure of God in Christ, as St John views it

in relation to anterior dispensations. This was "the

mystery," as St Paul conceived it, "hidden from times

eternal"—God's secret lying deep at the heart of time,

lodged and wrapped up in the world from its founda-

tion, till it "was manifested" in the Only-begotten.

Such was the life coming from the Father that ap-

peared to the eyes of the witnesses of Jesus, the one

life and love pervading all things, the source and ground

of finite being.

            2. In the second place, observe the energy with which

the apostle asserts the actuality of the revelation of the

life of God in Jesus Christ. Thrice in three verses he

reiterates "we have seen" it, twice "we have heard,"

and twice repeats "the life was manifested."

            The stupendous fact has always had its doubters and

deniers. In any age of the world and under any system

of thought, such a revelation as that made by Jesus

Christ was sure to be met with incredulity. It is equally

opposed to the superstitions and to the scepticisms

natural to the human mind. The mind that is not sur-

prised and sometimes staggered by the claims of Christ

and the doctrines of Christianity, that has not felt the

shock they give to our ordinary experience and native

convictions, has not awakened to their real import.

The doubt which, like that of Thomas at the resurrec-

tion, arises from a sense of the overwhelming magni-

tude, the tremendous significance of the facts asserted,

is worthier than the facile and unthinking faith that

admits enormous theological propositions without

a strain and treats the profoundest mysteries as a

commonplace.

            St John feels that the things he declares demand the

strongest evidence. He has not believed them lightly,

and he does not expect others to believe them lightly.

This passage goes to show that the Apostles were

aware of the importance of historical truth; they were

conscientious and jealously observant in this regard.

Their faith was calm, rational and sagacious. They were


88                 THE MANIFESTED LIFE

 

perfectly certain of the things they attested, and be-

lieved only upon commanding and irresistible evidence—

evidence that covered the full extent of the case, evidence

natural and supernatural, sensible and moral, scriptural

and experimental, and practically demonstrative. But

the facts they built upon are primarily of the spiritual

order, so that without a corresponding spiritual sense

and faculty they are never absolutely convincing.

Already in St John's old age the solvents of philosophical

analysis were being applied to the Gospel history and

doctrine. The Godhead incarnate, the manifestation of

the infinite in the finite, of the eternal in the temporal—

this was impossible and self-contradictory; we know

beforehand, the wise of the world said, that such things

cannot be. And so criticism set itself to work upon the

story, in the interests of a false philosophy. The incarna-

tion, the miracles, the resurrection, the ascension—what

are they but a beautiful poetic dream, a pictorial repre-

sentation of spiritual truth, from which we must extract

for ourselves a higher creed, leaving behind the super-

natural as so much mere wrappage and imaginative

dress! This rationalism loudly asserts to-day; and this

the Gnosticism of the later apostolic age was already, in

its peculiar method and dialect, beginning to make out.

            The Apostle John confronts the Gnostic metaphy-

sicians of his time, and the Agnostic materialists of

ours, with his impressive declaration. Behind him lies

the whole weight of the character, intelligence and dis-

ciplined experience of the witnesses of Jesus. Of what

use was it for men at a distance to argue that this

thing and that thing could not be?  "I tell you," says

the great Apostle, "we have seen it with our eyes, we

have heard Him with our very ears; we have touched

and tested and handled these things at every point, and

we know that they are so."  As he puts it, at the end of

his letter, "we know that the Son of God is come; and

He hath given us an understanding, that we may know

Him that is true." The men who have founded Christi-

anity and written the New Testament, were no fools.


                  THE MANIFESTED LIFE                       89

 

They knew what they were talking about. No dreamer,

no fanatic, no deceiver since the world began, ever

wrote like the author of this Epistle. Every physical

sense, every critical faculty of a sound and manly under-

standing, every honest conviction of the heart, every

most searching and fiery test that can try the spirit of

man, combine to assure us that the Apostles of Jesus

Christ have told us the truth as they knew it about

Him, and that things were even as they said and no

otherwise. Ay, and God has borne witness to those

faithful men through the ages since and put the seal to

their testimony, or we should not be reading about

these things to-day.

            3. In the third place, there is founded upon the facts

attested by the Apostles, and derived from the eternal

life revealed in Christ, a divine fellowship for men. To

promote this end St John writes: "that you also may

have fellowship with us." To communicate these

truths, to see this fellowship established amongst men,

is the Apostle's delight, the business and delight of all

those who share his faith and serve his Master:  "these

things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled."1

            We have a great secret in common—we and the

Apostles. The Father told it to Jesus, Jesus to them,

they to us, and we to others. Those who have seen and

heard such things, cannot keep the knowledge to them-

selves. These truths belong not to us only, but to "the

whole world" (2. 2); they concern every man who has

sins to confess and death to meet, who has work to do

for his Maker in this world and a pathway to find

through its darkness and perils.

            The Apostle John is writing to Greeks, to men far re-

moved from him in native sympathy and instinct; but

he has long since forgotten all that, and the difference

between Jew and Greek never appears to cross his mind

in writing this letter. The only difference he knows is

between those who "are of God" and those who "are

of the world." In St John's teaching the idea of the

 

            1 On this reading see note, p. 70.


               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

The Gospel a Message about God, proposing Fellowship with God—

The Old Gods and the New God — The God of Philosophy — The

Incubus of Idolatry--God as pure Light—Light a Socializing Power

—One Light for all Intelligence--Blindness to God the mother of

Strife—Cleansing through the Blood of Jesus—Three Ways of oppos-

ing the Light of God.


 

 

 

 

 

 

“And this is the message which we have heard from Him, and

            announce to you:

                        That God is light, and darkness in Him there is none.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in the darkness,

                        We lie, and do not the truth.

            But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light,

We have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son

            cleanseth us from all sin.

                                    If we say that we have no sin,

                        We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us:

                                    If we confess our sins,

He is faithful and just, that He may forgive us our sins and cleanse us

            from all unrighteousness.

                                    If we say that we have not sinned,

                        We make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."

                                                                                                1 JOHN 1. 5-10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         CHAPTER VIII

 

 

       FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

 

RELIGION, as the Apostle John conceived it, con-

sistes of two things:  true knowledge of God, and

fellowship with God and with each other in that

knowledge. To fellowship with God in His Son Jesus

Christ, the writer has summoned his readers (vers. 3, 4).

For such communion the facts of the Gospel have laid

the foundation. To establish and perfect His com-

munion with men is the end of all the disclosures which

the Father has made of Himself to us "from the

beginning"; to realize this communion is "eternal

life."

            St John's Gospel, therefore, is, above all things, a

message about God—to wit, "that God is light, and in

Him is no darkness at all."

            When the Apostle says that this was the message

which he had "heard from Him" (from Christ), it does

not appear that the Lord Jesus had at any time uttered

these precise words and given them as a "message."

St John was not accustomed to rehearse the sayings of

Jesus Christ in a formal and mechanical way. But

everything that he had heard from his Master, every-

thing that he had learnt of Him, everything that Jesus

Christ Himself was, seemed to him to be crying out:

"God is light, God is light; and in that light there is

fellowship for men."

            Let us put ourselves in the position of those who

heard Christ's message from John's lips, the converted

 

                                          95


96         FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

idolaters of the Asian cities. His readers, most of them,

were reared in heathenism. They had been taught in

their youth to worship Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14. 12),

Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19. 34), Bacchus of

the Philadelphians, Aphrodite of the Smyrnaeans, and

we know not how many besides—gods stained, in the

belief of their worshippers, with foul human vices,

gods so evil in some of their characteristics that St

Paul justly said concerning them:  "The things which

the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and

not to God." They had gods that could cheat and lie,

gods licentious and unchaste, gods spiteful and malig-

nant towards men, quarrelsome and abusive towards

each other. They had been accustomed to think of the

Godhead as a mixed nature, like their own, only on a

larger scale--good and evil, kind and cruel, pure and

wanton, made of darkness and of light. Now, to hear

of a God who is all truth, all righteousness and good-

ness, in whom there is no trickery or wantonness, no

smallest spice of malice or delight in evil, no darkness

at all—a God to be absolutely trusted and honoured—

this was to the heathen of the Apostle's mission an

amazing revelation.

            Their philosophers, indeed, conceived of the Divine

nature as exalted above human desire and infirmity.

But the philosophic conceptions of Plato or Plutarch

were too speculative and ideal to affect the common

mind; they were powerless to move the heart, to

possess the imagination and will. These enlightened

men scarcely attempted to overthrow the idols of

the populace; and their teaching offered a feeble

and slight resistance to the tide of moral corruption.

False religions can be destroyed only by the real. The

concrete and actual is displaced by the more actual,

never by abstractions. It was faith in a living and

true God, in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus

Christ as the supreme fact of the universe, the en-

throned Almighty and All-holy Will bent upon blessing

and saving men, that struck down the idols, that trans-


        FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD            97

 

formed society and reversed the stream of history;

not belief in "the Divine" as the highest category of

thought, as the Substance behind phenomena, the

unknown and unknowable depositary of the collective

powers of nature. Such ideas, at the best, shed but a

cold, glimmering light on the path of daily toil and suf-

fering; they proved themselves nerveless and pithless,

all too faint to encounter the shock of passion and to

master the turbulence of flesh and blood. Not in the

name of Pythagoras or Plato did the Greek find

salvation.

            Since the providence of God has laid upon the English

people so much responsibility for the heathen world, we

should attempt to realize what heathenism means and is.

We must understand the incubus that it lays upon man-

kind, the frightful mischief and misery of soul entailed

by vile notions about God. To have untruth, cruelty,

wrong imputed to the government of the universe,

involved and imbedded in the Divine nature itself, to

have the Fountain-head of being contaminated—what

evil can there be so poisonous to society, so pregnant

with all other evils, as this one? To own a treacherous

friend, a thankless child, is wounding and maddening

enough—but to have a wicked god! Nothing has ever

given such relief to the human mind as the announce-

ment of the simple truth of this verse. To see the sky

washed clean of those foul shapes, to have the haunting

idols, with their wanton spells and unbounded powers

for evil—those veritable "demons"—banished from the

imagination and replaced by the pure image of God

incarnated in Christ, and to know that the Lord of the

worlds seen and unseen is the Father of men, and is

absolute rectitude and wisdom and love, this was to

pass out of darkness into marvellous light!

            Such was the impression that our religion made then,

and makes now upon minds prepared to receive it

amongst the heathen. God appeared in a character

new and unconceived before, and realistic in the highest

degree. Man's nature was invested with a glory, his

 

            Life Eternal   8


98       FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

destiny lighted up with a splendour of hope, that was

overwhelming in its first effects. The Pagan world had

become to multitudes like a prison-vault, stifling and

filled with shapes of terror. But the door opens, the

shutters fall, the sunshine and sweet breath of heaven

stream in, and the prisoner's heart breaks for very joy!

Hence the exultant note of the New Testament, the

keen and eager sense of salvation that fills its pages.

It is the joy of daybreak after fearful night, of health

after deadly sickness, of freedom after bondage. Such

is the gladness you may send, or yourself carry, to yon

Pagan sitting afar off in darkness and the shadow

of death. A like gladness comes to ourselves when,

behind the shows and forms of religion, we gain a sight

of what the great, good God really is. Then the day-

spring from on high visits us; "for God who said,

Light shall shine out of darkness, hath shined in our

hearts."

            1. So far our course in the reading of this passage is

clear. But when we pass from the negative to the

positive, from the consideration of what God is not to

ask ourselves what He is, as viewed under the symbol

of "light," we are lost in the immensity of the Apostle's

thought. This is one of those infinite words of

the Bible, which have a meaning always beyond us,

however far we track them.

            The declaration, God is light, stands by the side of

other pregnant sayings: God is love, God is spirit, and

(in the Epistle to the Hebrews) God is fire. That

"God is love" is a second definition found in this

Epistle (4. 8). Of the two this is the more com-

prehensive, as it is the fundamental assertion. Love

is one thing; light is the blending of many things- in

one. God is love; but love is not everything in God

(comp. Chap. XX). Light, as we are now learning

better than before, is a subtle and complex element,

full of delicate, beautiful, and far-reaching mysteries.

In the Divine light there is an infinite sum of per-

fections, each with its own separate glory and


    FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD          99

 

wonderfulness, and all centring in the consummate

harmony, the ineffable radiance and splendour of the

Deity.

            We might say, with Westcott, that "Physically light

embodies the idea of splendour, glory intellectually,

of truth; morally, of holiness." Combining these

aspects of the truth, we arrive at the interpretation

that God is light as He shines upon us in the beauty

of His holiness, His manifested righteousness and love.

Light signifies purity, truth, goodness; as darkness

signifies foulness, falsehood, malice. There was plenty

of these latter in the .heathen gods; there is none of

them in ours. He is all love, all rectitude, all goodness

and truth, and nothing in the least degree contrary

thereto.

            And these qualities do not so much belong to God,

or distinguish Him and constitute His nature; they

are constituted by His nature; they emanate from

Him. Their existence in moral beings, and our

power to conceive of them and to recognize them,

"come down" from Him, "the Father of lights"

(James 1. 17).

            Nor does the Apostle's message simply declare that

there are these luminous qualities in God, but that

they are manifested to us. God is not only shining

yonder, amongst the infinitudes, in His "light un-

approachable"—in the burning depths of an insuffer-

able glory; He has flung His heavens open, and shed

Himself upon us. This metaphor speaks of the God

revealed in Christ, of Immanuel, God with us!  "I am

come," said Jesus, "a light into the world."  His coming

was "the message." In the Incarnation ten thousand

voices spoke; as, when the rays of dawn strike upon

the sleeper's window, they say, "Day is come, the sun

is here!" God whose glory is above the heavens, is

shining here amongst us, upon the dullest and poorest

earthly lot—shooting the glances of His love and pity

into the eyes of our heart. "He gives the light of the

knowledge of His glory, in the face of Jesus Christ"


100       FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

(2 Cor. 4. 6). There is nothing quiescent, nothing

grudging, self-confined, exclusive about light. It is

penetrating and diffusive, self-communicating yet self-

asserting, streaming through the worlds — the all-

piercing, all-informing, all-quickening and gladdening

element of the universe. Such is God manifest to

mankind in Jesus Christ.

            2. Now it is evident that the knowledge of God in

this character, wherever it extends, creates fellowship.

            ight is a social power. It is the prime condition of

communion, knitting together as by the play of some

swift weaver's shuttle the vast commonwealth of

worlds and setting all creatures of sense and reason

at intercourse. With the daylight the forest awakes

to song, and the city to speech and traffic. As the

household in winter evenings draw round the cheerful

lamp and the ruddy firelight; as the man of genial

nature, rich in moral and intellectual light, forms about

him a circle of kindred minds won by his influence and

learning to recognize and prize each other, so the Lord

Jesus Christ is the social centre of humanity. He is

the only possible ground of a race-fellowship amongst

us,—the Divine Firstborn and Elder Brother of the

peoples. Christ is the love and wisdom of God in

human personality, and therefore "the light of the

world."

            This connexion of thought is self-evident, so that in

verse 6 the Apostle can pass without explanation from

the idea of light to that of fellowship. For what com-

munion can there be "in the darkness"?  Is not sin

the disruption of all society, human and divine? When

God said, "Let there be light," He said, Let there be

fellowship, friendship — a commonwealth of thought

and joy amongst all creatures. Along the path of

light eye runs to meet eye, heart leaps to kindred

heart.

            It is a thought full of awe and full of joy, that in

the light of God we share with God Himself,—"if

we walk in the light, as He is in the light." God is

 

 


      FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD         101

 

light, and God is in the light. He sees and acts in

no other light than that of His own being; in the

same light men may see and act. God creates around

Him a light-sphere, wherein all holy souls dwell and

"walk" with Him. Each planet subsists and moves

in the same light as the sun from whom light pro-

ceeds, holding fellowship with the lord of day and

with its brother planets, in a universe formed by the

solar effluence. Even so in the spiritual realm. There

is one sun in the sky; there is one God in the

universe,—one centre of rational and moral life for

all creatures, one source of love and truth from

everlasting to everlasting; He "filleth all in all, and

worketh all in all." The light that pours in fiery

tide from the heart of the sun, and that gleams on

the cottage window and sparkles in the beads of

dew, and glances on the mountain peak, and on the

globe of Neptune at the far edge of the planetary

world, is one light, bringing with it one life and

law. The sun is in that light: so is the dancing

mote, and the fluttering insect, and the laughing child,

and the whirling, rushing globe. God is in the light:

so is my believing soul and yours, so the spirits of

Abraham and Isaac and all the just made perfect; so

the bright squadrons of the angels and the tenants

of the farthest outpost stars; so the vast body of the

universal Church. There is one reason, one love, one

righteousness for all intelligences—one Name to be

hallowed, one Will to be done, "as in heaven so on

earth," one Father-hand that holds the stars in their

courses and holds thy soul in life.  "With thee," says

the Psalmist to his God, "is the fountain of life; in

thy light we see light."

            It is this light of God that alone makes possible a

true and enduring fellowship amongst men.  "If we

walk in the light as He is in the light, we keep

fellowship with one another"—i.e. with our fellows

also walking in the light (comp. 2. 9-11; 3. 10-12, 23, 24;

4. 7-13). It often appears that religious interests divide


102       FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

men, while secular interests and material pursuits unite

them. Christ once said that He had come to "bring

a sword" and to "set men at variance" (Matt. 10. 34-36).

How many blood-stained pages of history confirm this

presentiment. But this is a transitional state of things.

After all, no community has ever held together or

can subsist in perpetuity without the religious bond.

Fraternity means a common paternity. God is a

partner, tacit or acknowledged, to every sound agree-

ment amongst men. The use of the sacrifice and

sacrament in compacts and of the oath in public

declarations, notwithstanding their abuse, witnesses

to this truth. The Eternal God is the rock and

refuge of human society. The material and moral

laws forming the framework of the house of life are

“the everlasting arms underneath” and around us,

which nurse and carry us, and fence us in with all

our quarrels like birds in the nest, while they hold

us to the heart of God.

            It is therefore through ignorance of God that men

and nations fight each other; in the dark we stumble

against our fellows, and rage at them. In the light of

Christ's true fellowship we gain the larger human views,

the warmer heart, that make hatred and strife impos-

sible. Quarrels in the Church, due to causes that are

often petty and ignoble in the extreme, are pursued

with a peculiar rancour, just because those engaged in

them are fighting against the God of peace and resist a

secret condemnation. In such contention the bitterness

of a heart not right with God finds vent and discharges

upon others its spleen, the suppressed indignation due

to the evil in itself. Envy, contempt, backbiting have

their root in unbelief; irreverence towards God breeds

disregard for men. So far as we see and feel what God

is, we shall grow humble and tender towards our kind.

            Under these conditions, as we gather from the last

clause of verse 7, it comes to pass that the sacrifice of

Jesus Christ wins its full and decisive power over our

evil nature:  "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us


      FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD        103

 

from all sin."  Through continued fellowship with God

and men, the cross of Christ gains increasing mastery

within us. On the one hand, fellowship in the Divine

light brings a deepening sense of sin, demanding a

renewed confession and an ampler pardon; the old re-

pentance and faith are convicted of shallowness, in the

clearer knowledge of God. At the same time, we find

that the atonement is not the means only, it is the end

of our righteousness in Christ; it supplies the ideal of

our service to God and man (comp. 3. 16, and Eph. 4.

32-5. 2), while it is the instrument by which we are

recovered for that service. The cross of Jesus is the

alpha and omega of salvation. We do not pass by it,

as we enter the way of life; we have to lift it up and

bear it with us to the end. "The blood of Jesus" is

sprinkled on the conscience to rest there; it melts the

heart, and melts into the heart. His death-blood, if we

may so say, becomes the life-blood of our spirits. It

sinks-into the nature, wounding and healing, burning

its way to the quick of our being, to the dark springs

of evil, until it reaches and "slays the dire root and seed

of sin."  The sacrifice of Christ is the principle of our

sanctification,  equally with our justification.

            Accordingly, in verse 9 we find the "cleansing from

sin" of verse 7 (comp. p. 67), opening out into its two

elements of forgiveness and moral renewal. Both turn

upon one condition (the subjective condition, as the

atonement is the objective ground of salvation), viz.

the acknowledgment—the continued acknowledgment

(o[mologw?men present tense)—of personal sin, which is

nothing else than the soul's yielding to the light of

God's holy presence:  "If we confess [go on to confess]

our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." In this

confession penitence and faith meet. With St John we

are "cleansed from all sin," when with St Paul we are

"conformed to the death" of Christ and "know the

fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3. 10). This thorough

cleansing, the immaculate perfection of the believer


104        FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

crucified with His Lord, is the crown of a life of

walking in the light.

            The above is not a process carried on in isolation, by

the solitary fellowship of the soul with God: "We have

fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His

Son cleanseth us." There is a deep meaning in that

"and." Christian fellowship and Christian perfection

are things concomitant. Our social and individual

salvation must be wrought out together. The goal is

one to be sought for the Church, not the mere self—

for us, not simply for me.

            3. It is possible, however, to resist the light of the

knowledge of God in Christ and to refuse the fellowship

which it offers to us. And this resistance takes place

in two ways: in the way of hypocrisy (ver. 6), or in

the way of impenitence (vers.-8 and 10). These fatal

methods of dealing with religious light are marked out

by three parallel sentences, each beginning with the

formula, "If we say," as stating things which we may

say, but which can never be. They constitute a triple

falsehood, committed in the sheltering of sin.  In these

various modes, "we lie and do not the truth," or "we

deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us," or (worst

of all) "we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."

            Light is a kindly, but often an acutely painful thing.

There are conditions of mind in which every ray of

Divine truth is pointed with fire and excites a fierce

resentment. The "arrows of the Almighty" burn and

rankle in the rebellious spirit. The light searches us

out, and shows us up. "If I had not come and spoken

unto them," said Jesus of the Jewish Pharisees and

priests, "they had not had sin: but now they have no

excuse for their sin" (John 15. 22). With Him light

came into the world, and men preferred darkness. The

preference is their condemnation. St John had seen

this preference take a cowardly form in Judas, and a

defiant form in the Jewish rulers.

            (1) We may oppose the light of God treacherously,

by pretending to accept it while nevertheless we hold


    FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD          105

 

fast our sins:  "If we say that we have fellowship with

Him, and walk in darkness"—like the thief who bare

the bag and who stole out at night from the supper-

table of Bethany and the spectacle of Mary's "waste"

of love, to say to the priests, "What will ye give me,

and I will betray Him unto you?"

            The hypocrite is one who has been in the company of

Jesus and has seen the light, who knows the truth and

knows his own sin,—knows at least enough to be aware

of his double-dealing. And while practising his sin, he

professes fellowship with God! The holy Apostle does

not stand on ceremony with this sort of man, or palter

with the deceitfulness of the human heart; he gives

him the lie direct: "If we say this," he cries out, "we

lie, and do not the truth." In such words one sees the

flash of St John's swift lightning; one perceives why

the Master called him and his brother James Boanerges,

sons of thunder—the thunder not of brazen lungs but

of a passionate heart. But the Apostle will not separate

himself ever from such a one as this. He had known

a traitor amongst the Twelve. He puts his supposition

in the first person plural; he speaks as if such a state

were possible to any of us,—possible to himself! At

the table of the Last Supper he had said with the rest,

when the treason was announced, "Lord, is it I?"

Which of us can claim to have been always true to the

truth of Christ? It is easy to "say" this or that; but

how hard to "do the truth," to put our best convictions

into act and practice! Yet there is an infinite chasm

between Judas and John, between the studied deceit of

the canting professor of religion and the self-accusings

of the scrupulous believer, whose loyalty finds flaws in

his best service.

            He who professes communion with God while he

lives in sin—the dishonest man, the unchaste man, the

malicious and spiteful man—what does his profession

mean? He virtually declares that God is like himself!

He drags the All-holy One down to the level of Pagan

deities; he brings to the Christian shrine the worship


106      FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

due to Belial or Mammon. He sees God through the

reek of his own burning lusts. Such an one might

have fellowship with Zeus or Hermes, or Artemis of

the Ephesians; but not with the God and Father of

o ur Lord Jesus Christ,—no more than the bat or the

night-owl holds fellowship with the mid-day sun! It

needs clean hands and a pure heart to dwell in God's

holy hill. If we walk in darkness, then we are in

darkness.

            (2) There is a more open and radical mode of opposi-

tion to the accusing light of God,—by flat denial of

one's sin, by taking the attitude of a bold impenitence.

This denial appears in two distinct forms: as a general

denial of sin in principle, or as a particular and matter-

of-fact denial of one's actual sins. Such is the distinc-

tion that seems to lie in the carefully chosen expressions

of verses 8 and 10:  "If we say that we have no sin,"

and "If we say that we have not sinned."

            St John had to do with a moribund Pagan world,

in which, as in heathen life to-day, the moral sense was

decayed and conscience reduced to the lowest terms.

Hence in converted men and believers in Christ the

sense of sin, that "most awful and imperious creation of

Christianity," could only be formed by degrees. Men

might and did deny the reality of sin; by all kinds

of sophistries and evasions they deceived themselves

respecting its import and criminality. Not a few

persons, it may be supposed, had espoused Christianity

for intellectual or sentimental reasons, with very super-

ficial convictions upon this head. Allowing the distinc-

tion of moral good and evil, they were slow to confess

sin; they refused to admit an inherent depravity

involving them in corruption and guilt. Their mis-

doings were mistakes, frailties, venial errors,—anything

but "sin."  That is an ugly word, and needless besides,

—a bugbear, an invention of the priests!   St John

hastens to denounce these notions; they are self-

delusion, the folly of men who extinguish the light that

is in them, the ignorance of a shallow reason without


     FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD         107

 

the inward substance of truth (ver. 8). The denial

of sin so familiar in naturalistic modern thought—

the resentment so often met with against the word

itself—is a revival, in some cases conscious and inten-

tional, of Pagan sentiment, an express revolt against

the authority of Jesus Christ.

            This error has deep roots, and has sometimes a

strange recrudescence at an advanced stage of the

Christian life. The man of "sinless perfection," who

imagines he has nothing left to confess, nothing that

needs forgiveness, verily "deceives himself"; rarely

does he deceive his neighbour on this point,—never

his God. "The truth is not in him": his moral

convictions, his knowledge of the holiness of God, have

not pierced to the heart of his iniquity. There is a

superficial sanctification, serving thinly to cover a

stubborn crust of impenitence, under which a world of

pride and self-will lie hidden. As Rothe says:  "In

fellowship with Christ our eye becomes ever keener and

keener for' sin, especially for our sin. It is precisely

the mature Christian who calls himself a great

sinner."

            (3) The other form of impenitence stigmatized by the

Apostle, is the most extreme and shameless:  "If we

say that we have not sinned"; and its consequence the

most shocking "We make Him a liar!"

            One may deny sin in general and fence a good deal

upon questions of principle and ethical theory, who

yet when the word of God comes to him as a personal

message and his memory and conscience are challenged

by it, will admit practically that he has sinned and is

in the sight of God a condemned man. David had,

doubtless, argued with himself and deceived his own

heart not a little in regard to his great transgression;

but the prophet's home-thrust, "Thou art the man,"

broke down his guard;" and David said unto Nathan,

I have sinned against the LORD."  To contradict a

general truth is one thing; to confront the personal

fact is another.


108      FELLOWSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF GOD

 

            But when a sinner, with his transgressions staring

him in the face and revealed in the accusing light of God's

word, declares that he "has not sinned," what can be

done for him, or said to him? The Apostle has only one

resource with such a man:  "God says that you have

sinned, that you have broken the law of your being

and incurred the penalty of exile from His presence,

and brought on yourself moral ruin and misery. You

say that you have done nothing of the kind. If you

are right, God is wrong; if you are true, then God is

false. You make Him a liar!"  That is St John's

final protest.

            Every one who refuses to bow down at the sight

of the majesty of God in Christ and to make confession

before that white, soul-searching splendour of holiness

and love, before the final disclosure of human guilt

and the Divine righteousness made in the spilt blood

of Jesus, is doing this. He gives the lie to his Maker

and Judge. Impenitence in men who have really

known the Gospel, is the most callous insensibility, the

most daring insolence, we can conceive.

                       


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION 

           

Aim of the Gospel the Abolition of Sin--Perversion of the Doctrine of

gratuitous Pardon—Ground of the Apostle's Joy in his Children—Case

of a Sinning Brother—Implication of the Society—Resort to the Ad-

vocate—Discrepancy in St John 's Teaching—The title Paraclete--

Advocate and High Priest—Character and Competency of the Advocate

—Disposition of the Judge—The Advocate has "somewhat to offer"--

The term Propitiation — Heathen and Jewish Propitiations — The

Scandal of the Cross to Modern Thought—The Cost of the Propitia-

tion to its Offerer—Law operative in redeeming Grace—The Advocate

in the Sinner' place—Universal Scope of the Propitiation.         


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 "My little children, I write these things to you that you may not sin.

                        And if any one should sin,

We have an Advocate with1 the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous ;

            And He is, Himself, the propitiation for our sins,

Not however for ours only, but also for the whole world!"

                                                                                                            1 John 2. 1, 2.

 

 

 

            1  Pro>j to>n pate<ra=almost "addressing the Father."  Of the four Greek

prepositions covered by the English with of personal intercourse, su<n

signifies conjunction, meta< accompaniment, para< presence with (as in John

17. 5), pro<j converse with (comp. John 1. 1). Pro<j is adversus rather than

apud (Vulgate), and with the accusative signifies either the direction of

motion, or the relation between two objects [or attitude of one person

to another]. We may fittingly call the preposition here pro<j pictorial"

(Alexander, in Expositor's Bible). The expression is ethical, not local.


 

 

 

 

 

        

                            CHAPTER IX

 

 

       THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

 

WE are brought at the beginning of the second

chapter to the position that what the Gospel

aims at is the abolition of sin (comp. Chaps. XVI and

XXV). Every word St John writes, all that he has

learned from his Master and that he has to teach

to others, tends and bends to this one point. Not

the "forgiving of sins" alone, but the "cleansing"

of man's life "from all unrighteousness" (1. 9)—to

this the fidelity and the righteousness of God are

pledged in the new covenant founded upon the death

of Christ. St John , as well as St Paul , had to combat

the antinomianism which fastens itself in so many

insidious forms upon the doctrine of Justifying Grace,

upon the proffer of a gratuitous remission of sins.

Hence the fatherly solicitude with which he states

the object of his Epistle:  "My little children,1 I am

writing these things to you, to the end that you

may not sin." The danger, which is explicitly stated

in verse 7 of the next chapter, is already in the

Apostle's mind:  "Little children, let no one deceive

you. The man that doeth righteousness is righteous,

even as He [i.e. Christ] is righteous." Imputed

righteousness that does not translate itself into actual

righteousness, justification which bears no "fruit unto

 

            1 This is the first time that the characteristic compellation (tekni<a),

recurring six times later on, appears. In this single instance (as the

genuine text stands) is tekni<a qualified by the appropriative mou.

 

                                            111


112      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

sanctification," a forgiveness that fails to make a

man thereafter clean from sin, is a wretched delusion;

it is pictured in rough fashion by the proverb of

2 Peter 2. 22:  "the sow" that "washed herself, to roll

in the mire!" The message of the Apostle will miss

its mark, if it does not make its receivers "light in

the Lord" and reproduce in them the image of Jesus

Christ amongst men (comp. vers. 4, 28, 20; 3. 3, 10, 16,

24; 4. 7, 11-14, 20; 5. 18.

            In the preface St John stated his purpose in a

different way:  "These things we write to you, that

our joy may be made full." He was writing, like

others, out of an irrepressible delight in the truths

he had learned, with the longing that his fellow-men

may share them. But this first, instinctive aim implies

the second, which is deliberate and reflective. He is

not the man to take pen in hand simply to relieve

his personal feelings and for the sake of self-ex-

pression:  the knowledge that fills the world with

radiance for himself, shines for all men; so far as

may be, it shall radiate through him. But it must

shine unto salvation. Where men remain impenitent

and unsanctified under the Divine light, when they

deny their sins outright or shelter them behind a

profession of faith, they are worse men and not

better for their knowledge; in such cases the

preacher's delight in his message becomes sorrow

and shame.  "Greater joy," he writes elsewhere, "I

have not than this, that I hear of my children walk-

ing in truth" (3 John 4). The joy that rises in St

John's soul as, in putting pen to paper, he calls up

the image of his children, will be "made complete"

and the old man's cup of salvation filled to the

brim, if the purpose of his letter be answered in

those who read, if they realize the Christian char-

acter, if sin be wiped out and done with for ever

in them.

            The Apostle's little children cannot say "that they

have not sinned," nor "that they have no sin" (1. 8, 10);


  THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION         113

 

but they understand that now, since they are forgiven

and cleansed by the blood of God's Son, they must not

and need not sin. "If," however, this unmeet contin-

gency should occur, "if any should sin"—any of those

who have tasted forgiveness and come into God's life—

if such a man after all this should commit sin, are we

to despair of him and count him as cut off from the

brotherhood and for ever lost to God? No the Apostle

cries:  "We have an Advocate before the Father—one

whose intercession avails in this emergency (comp.

5. 16, 17): let us put the case into His hands."

            Since, the hypothesis, "if any one sin,"1 is contrasted

with the purpose of the letter, "that you may not sin,"

it is evident that this supposition concerns the readers;

the possibility contemplated is that of some sin com-

mitted by a Christian man—an act contradictory of his

calling—a paradox in point of principle, but such as

must practically be reckoned with (comp. Chap. XVI).

When in passing from the consequent of the hypo-

thetical sentence and showing how this sad eventuality

must be met, the writer replaces the indefinite "any

one" (tij) by the communicative "we" (where we should

expect "he has an Advocate"), he does not thereby

identify the pronouns, as though hinting that the "any

one" might prove to be himself for example, or that

any reader might be found in the offender's plight; he

is thinking of the community as concerned in the

personal lapse from grace and as seeking a remedy.

"If one member suffers, all the members suffer with

it" (1 Cor. 12. 26);  "if any man" amongst us "sins,"

all are distressed; the comfort is that the Head of the

Church feels our trouble—that "we have an Advocate

with the Father," who will intervene in the case. It

 

            1 Any other Greek writer but St John would have used de< instead of

kai< in the e]a<n clause. The prevalence of the conjunction kai<, the pre-

ference of the simple copulative to the adversative and illative connexion

of sentences is a marked syntactical feature of his style, giving it a Hebra-

istic cast (comp. p. 77). The occurrence of in the last clause of verse 2

is the more significant because of the rarity of this particle with St John .

 

            Life Eternal   9


114      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

is not, abstractly, "There is an advocate"; with a

thankful sense of our common possession in the Para-

clete, the Apostle writes, "We have an advocate," as

when the writer to the Hebrews (8. 1) concludes, in

his climactic style, "Such a High Priest we have."

            This turn of expression illustrates the oneness of

believers in Christ, and implies that sympathetic in-

volvement of the society in the moral failure of the

individual which St Paul enforced in writing to the

Galatians:  "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in any

trespass, you that are spiritual restore such an one in

a spirit of meekness, looking to thyself, lest thou also

be tempted" (6. 1). Remembering St Peter's fall and

recovery, and the anticipatory prayer of Jesus for the

offender's restoration, St John might well express his

hope in these terms. The consolation was needed.

Amongst the infant Churches gathered out of

heathenism and surrounded by it, while the passions

and habits of Gentile life ran strongly in the blood

of the first converts, relapses were to be expected; the

utmost tenderness and firmness were necessary in

dealing with them.

            The Apostle John admits that a truly cleansed and

saved man may lapse into sin; and yet he writes later

on, in chap. 3. 6, 9 "Every one who abides in Him

[in Christ] does not sin; every one that sinneth hath

not seen Him, neither knoweth . . . Every one

who is begotten of God, doth not commit sin, because

His seed is in him; and he cannot sin, because he has

been begotten of God." These contrary implications

cannot be quite logically adjusted to each other. Sin

in Christian believers has something monstrous about

it. The contradiction is relieved, however, by observing

that the verbs of chap. 3. 6-9 relating to sin run in the

present tense of the Greek, which denotes a continued

or even habitual action (o[ a[marta<nwn k.t.l.), whereas we

have in our text (e]a<n tij a[ma<rt^) a subjunctive aorist,

which imports a single occurrence and may include no

more than the barest act of sin, once committed and


   THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION        115

 

repented of, such as was the memorable fall of Peter.

Indeed, when Jesus Christ appears in the next clause

as advocate, this presupposes the culprit's confession

and petition for mercy; the Paraclete is invoked for

one in admitted need and peril. Christ is no Advocate

for the persistent wrong-doer, but for the sinner who

renounces his offence and bemoans his fall. On the

penitent's behalf He is ready to interpose; He makes

haste to send the message, "Go, tell His disciples—and

Peter—He goeth before you into Galilee " (Mark 16. 7).

The condition of 1. 9, "If we confess," is indispensable

for the advocacy of the righteous Intercessor, as it is

for the forgiveness of the righteous Judge.

 

            1. In this connexion our Lord Jesus Christ comes to

receive a great title, which is given to Him ipso nomine

only in this single passage of the New Testament.

Virtually He assumed it when at the Last Supper He

introduced the Holy Spirit to the disciples as "another

Paraclete" (John 14. 16). The Spirit of truth was sent

"from the Father" to be the pleader of Christ's cause

against the world and amongst men, and to be in this

capacity the inspirer of His witnesses, not dwelling

visibly with them as Jesus did, but veritably in them.

            The term para<klhtoj—With its equivalent in the

Latin advocatus—belonged to the sphere of civil life,

and was familiar in the usage of ancient courts. It

gassed early as a loan-word into Jewish (Aramaic)

use, and is found repeatedly in the Targums and the

Talmud; it was probably current in Palestinian dialect.

So in the Targum upon Job 33. 23, xFAyliq;raP; is anti-

thetical to xrAOGyF.eqa (o[ kath<goroj or o[ kath<gwr, the accuser;

see Acts 23. 30, &c., Rev. 12. 10): "there appeareth one

angel as defender amidst a thousand accusers." Philo

employs the word as in common vogue in the Hellen-

istic Jewish vocabulary; he describes the Levitical high

priest in language strikingly parallel to this verse of

St John :  "It was necessary for him who is dedicated

to the Father of the world to employ as advocate one

 


116      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

who is altogether perfect in virtue, to wit, a son of

God, in order to secure both amnesty of sins and a

supply of most abundant blessings."1  The "Paraclete

was a figure recognized by our Lord's disciples, when

He assigned this role to the Holy Spirit as His repre-

sentative and the Church's defender in face of the

accusing world; its fitness is manifest when the like

part is ascribed to the Lord Himself, intervening in

the Father's presence as spokesman for His offending

brethren. Our Lord's disciples had known Him in the

days of His flesh as their "Advocate before the Father":

the prayer reported in the 17th chapter of John's Gospel

was one of many such pleadings; when on the cross

Jesus prayed for His executioners, "Father, forgive

them; they know not what they do!"  His intercession

was virtually extended to " the whole world."

            What He had been upon earth, they knew Him still to

be—Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day, "who

maketh intercession for us" ( Rom. 8. 34). St John's

"Paraclete" is synonymous, therefore, with the "High

Priest after the order of Melchizedek," who forms the

chief subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews.2 All that

is set forth in that lofty argument respecting the

character and functions of "the great Priest who hath

passed through the heavens,"  who hath "entered in

once for all into the holy place, having obtained an

eternal redemption," may be carried over to the account

of the Advocate here in view.

            This rarer title, however, brings the Mediator nearer

to us. The High Priest is an exalted person, clothed

with solitary and solemn dignity, "holy, guileless, unde-

filed, separated from sinners, and made higher than the

(heavens,"—and all this is true of our Paraclete; but

under the latter designation He is pictured as approach-

 

            1   ]Anagkai?on ga>r h#n to>n i[erwme<non t&? tou? ko<smou patri> paraklh<t& xrh?sqai

teleiota<t& th>n a]reth>n ui[& ?, pro<j te a]mnhsti<an a[marthma<twn kai> xorhgi<an

a]gqonwta<twn a]gaqw?n (De Vita Moysis, 673 C).

            2 With Philo Judeeus, the high priest is the para<klhtoj of Israel before

God; comp. Heb. 5.1, &c.


      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION          117

 

able, intimate, entering into and associating Himself

with the  case of the accused. While the High Priest

in his public duty, and acting upon his own initiative,

offers sacrifice and makes intercession for the people's

sins, the Advocate listens to each sinner's confession

and meets the specific accusations under which he

labours. The relationship of advocate and client con-

stituted a settled personal tie involving acquaintance-

ship, and often kinship, between the parties. The

para<klhtoj of the old jurisprudence, in the best times

of antiquity, was no hired pleader connected with his

client for the occasion by his brief and his fee; he was

his patron and standing counsel, the head of the order

or the clan to which both belonged, bound by the

claims of honour and family association to stand by

his humble dependent and to see him through when

his legal standing was imperilled; he was his client's

natural protector and the appointed captain of his

salvation. Such a Paraclete "we have"—"a merciful

and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God";

but more than this, an interested, brotherly Pleader,

who makes our suit personally His own. There is this

difference further, that while the Priest is concerned

only to interpose with his offering for sin, the Advocate

takes into his account the entire situation and needs

of his clansman. Any grave necessity or liability to

which the client is exposed, constitutes a claim upon

him for counsel and aid.

            There are two personal conditions determining the

success of the Advocate in the pleading supposed.

(1) There must be character and competency in the

Paraclete. He is described as "Jesus Christ the

righteous." His name, with the record lying behind

it, guarantees the worth of the person and His stand-

ing with the Father; it is a pledge of kindness, skill,

authority, of human affinity and Divine prerogative, of

power and merit and suitability. If Jesus Christ speaks

for us—being all that the Gospel reports of Him, all

that St John and his readers knew Him to be—we may


118       THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

trust and not be afraid. A gracious hand is stretched

out, a mighty voice uplifted on behalf of sinning, suffer-

ing men. He is wise no less than pitiful; He has not

embarked on a lost cause, nor undertaken an imprac-

ticable task. But the peculiar ground of confidence

present to the Apostle's mind lies in the epithet di<kaioj:

our Advocate for the brother whose sin we deplore,

is "Jesus Christ the righteous!"  This assures us not

merely of the rectitude of our Mediator, but of His

status and effective right as the sinless to plead for the

sinful. We may rely upon the righteousness of His

action in the matter in hand, and the soundness of

the plea He advances. He is master of the law, know-

ing and fulfilling all its conditions; His character and

antecedents warrant us in assuming that He will urge

no argument, He will take up no position in represent-

ing our case, which justice does not approve while com-

passion prompts it. What the Apostle Paul said of

God, that in the forgiveness of the Gospel He is "just

Himself and the justifier of him that is of faith in Jesus"

( Rom. 3. 26), is true mutatis mutandis of the sinner's

Advocate:  He is righteous Himself, and righteously

pleads the cause of transgressors.

            This quality in the Paraclete makes safe and sure the

remission of sins. Pardon is not extracted by some over-

powering appeal to pity, nor enforced by regard for the

person of the Pleader; it is grounded upon strict right.

The case is won by a Paraclete who could not lower

Himself to advocate an unjust suit; while the Judge,

though Father, is of such integrity that He will only

forgive when and so far as He can be "faithful and

righteous" (1. 9) in doing so. This is a vital point in St

John's doctrine of Redemption. The realization of it

gives a security, and a moral grandeur and power, to the

salvation of the Gospel, which are wanting when this is

presented in a one-sided, sentimental way—as though

redeeming love acted in disregard of God's declared law

and of the order of the universe.

            (2) The other encouraging condition of Jesus Christ's


   THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION        119

 

advocacy is afforded by the name of Him to whom it is

addressed. The Paraclete appeals on our behalf to "the

Father."  The Father cannot be implacable, hard to per-

suade, or ready to raise occasions against us and to

press the law to our disfavour. Where the judge is

absolutely just and can come only to one conclusion,

much still depends for the form of his decision, and the

mode of execution that may be prescribed, on the kindli-

ness or otherwise of his disposition. When St John

declares that "we have a righteous Advocate before the

Father," the case is not that of love pleading with justice

—so the Gospel has often been distorted; justice pleads

with love for our release!

            "Here lies a key to the Apostle Paul's rich doctrine of

Justification by grace through faith,—in the fact that

God is one, is Himself, and His whole self, in each act of

His administration towards mankind. He is not divided

into Judge and Father—righteousness and mercy, law

and love–acting now in one quality or office and now

in another. He would not be just in His attitude and

dealings with guilty men, not just either to them or to

Himself, if He did not remember His paternal character,

if the considerations attaching to fatherhood and filia-

tion did not enter into His estimate and supply the

factors upon which His judgements of condemnation

or acquittal, favour or penalty, are based. The two

"forensic" Epistles of Paul, those in which he argues

out his doctrine of Justification in legal and dialectical

terms, are prefaced by the wish of "Grace and peace

from God our Father" ( Rom. 1. 7, and by the assurance

of deliverance from an evil world "according to the will

of God our Father" (Gal. 1. 4).   St Paul had surely not

forgotten these ascriptions nor divested God of His

essential Fatherhood, when he laid down his great

thesis that "the righteousness of God is revealed" in

the Gospel, "of faith, for faith" ( Rom. 1. 17).  That is

an artificial theology which divorces the juridical and

paternal relationships in the Godhead, which makes the

Divine Fatherhood less fundamental to the doctrine of


120     THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

the Epistles than it is to the message of Jesus in the

Gospels. For St John at any rate, this text is sufficient

to forbid the assumption of any such schism in the God-

head or discrepancy in Apostolic teaching. The advo-

cacy that Christ exercises, the "propitiation" He presents,

are offered to "the Father."  The nature of the expia-

tion, and the matter of the Advocate's defence, are such

as the Father justly requires, such as will satisfy Him

when He meets His guilty and sin-confessing children,

such that on the ground thus afforded, and in answer

to the pleas advanced and reasons given, He may

righteously forgive.

            2. The competence of the Advocate being established,

and the favourable conditions evident under which He

appears, it is necessary to examine the ground on which

He presents Himself before the Father-judge.

            Pardon is not to be obtained for the guilty on the

before asking, nor because of the interest and personal

merit of the suitor. Otherwise it had been enough to

say, "We have an Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous;

let Him only speak, and our suit is won!"  The com-

plementary sentence, "He is the propitiation for our

sins," would then have been surplusage. Men who hold

light and easy notions about sin may be ready to sup-

pose this, but neither Christ nor His Apostles so

imagined. The general institutions of religion and

the deeper instincts of conscience have dictated the

axiom that the priest approaching God on behalf of the

guilty must have somewhat to offer (Heb. 8. 3); the

analogies of human justice, at its best, vindicate this

principle. The Pleader is simply "out of court," unless

there is forthcoming a propitiation,—some satisfaction

to the outraged character of God or (to put the same

thing in another way) to the violated law of the uni-

verse, and some guarantee thereby afforded on the

sinner's part that the offence shall cease. The Paraclete

must bring the propitiation with Him, or His plead-

ing is null and void. God the Father is "faithful

and righteous to forgive us our sins, if we confess"—


     THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION         121

 

there is the only condition required upon our part;

but this suffices in virtue of the covenant sealed by

the sacrifice of Calvary and on the ground of the

expiation made by "the blood of Jesus" (1. 7, 9).

The pre-condition of Jesus Christ's successful advo-

cacy it depended altogether on Himself to supply.

There was no ground in humanity, outside of Him,

upon which the Advocate could base a sufficient plea.

The old ritual propitiations were unavailing, as the

writer to the Hebrews pathetically shows; these offer-

ings did but express the need for some real sin-offering;

they appealed for and foreshadowed its accomplish-

ment. "He is the propitiation"—He and none else,

none less.

            The word i[lasmo<j [Hebrew MyriUPKi) (xrAPAKa), cover] is one

about the meaning of which there should not be much

dispute.1 This precise term is employed but twice in

the New Testament, here and in chap. 4. 10, where it

has the same application to the person of the Redeemer:

God "loved us, and sent His Son a propitiation for

our sins." It is a term purely religious (as the verb

i[la<skomai, on which it rests, is principally), used in

classical Greek of the sacrifices or prayers which are

the means of appeasing, or making propitious [i!lewj,

i[la<skomai, the offended gods. In the Greek Old Testa-

ment i[la<skomai or e]cila<skomai, and their derivatives, come

into play, chiefly and distinctively, as the equivalents of

the verb with its group of dependent nouns. It is

fairly certain that this Hebrew word has not departed

far from its radical meaning, to cover. The root-idea

of propitiation as expressed in the Jewish ritual was

That of covering sin from the eyes of God, of interposing

between His wrath and the offensive object, so that His

punitive anger should be averted and turned to favour.

But there is this far-reaching difference between

 

            1 See the art. Propitiation, by S. R. Driver, in Hastings ' Dictionary

of the Bible.  [Ilasmo<j signifies etymologically the act or process of pro-

pitiating; then, like some other nouns in -moj, the means or agency

effecting propitiation.


122       THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

the conception of Atonement presented in revelation

and that prevailing in Gentile religions, that while men

elsewhere are driven under the pressure of their guilt

to invent appeasements for their gods, Jehovah Himself

prescribes to Israel the propitiations which He deems

fitting and just. Mercy was no less patent than justice

in the forms of sacrifice instituted by the Mosaic cove-

nant; if the God of Israel required to be placated, He

was eminently placable, making overtures to trans-

gressors and paving the way for their access to His

sanctuary. While "propitiation" connotes anger in God,

a just displeasure against sin carrying with it penal con-

sequences—and this implication cannot be eliminated

by any fair dealing with the word —Biblical Greek

carefully avoids making God the object of i[la<skesqai,

i[lasmo<j, or the like, the obvious construction in

the terminology of natural religion. The Holy One

of Israel is not made gracious by the satisfaction

offered Him: in His very anger He is gracious; the

appeasement He gives order for and invites from His

sinning people, proves His pity for them.

            The appointment of the Son of God under the new

covenant as Priest and Mediator for the race, and the

provision which constitutes Him the sacrificial lamb

of God, develop this unique element of Old Testament

expiation in the most astonishing way. The idea of

propitiation, which assumed gloomy and revolting

forms in the ethnic cults, is touched with a glorious

light of Divine grace and condescension. It is amply

expounded in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "At the con-

summation of the ages " One "hath, been manifested,"

who comes "to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself"

—a Being far above the angels and whose throne is

for ever, yet "in all things made like to His brethren,

that He might prove Himself a merciful and faithful

High Priest in the things pertaining to God." Thus the

Son of God qualifies "to make propitiation for the

sins of the people" (Heb. 2. 17); and the sacrifice of

the Cross is seen to be the goal of earlier revelation.


   THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION         123

 

St Paul coincided with St John and the writer to the

Hebrews in this interpretation of the death of Jesus.

He uses in his classical passage on the Atonement

( Rom. 3. 28-26) the term i[lasth<rion, where St John

has i[lasmo<j:  "Whom God set forth, in His blood, a

propitiatory (victim) through faith."1

            The heathen notion, natural to man's guilty con-

science, of the hostility of the gods who seek to avenge

themselves on evil men and plan their ruin, is dispelled

by this disclosure. Wrath against sin there is in the

Godhead—the antipathy of the absolute Holiness to the

false and impure, which burns everlastingly to consume

its opposite. Propitiation cannot be forgone; God

cannot deny Himself, nor the Fountain of law make

terms with "lawlessness" (3. 4). But in wrath He

remembers mercy toward His offspring. Beneath the

fire of God's anger glows the fire of His love. If He

requires a moral expiation, He shall provide it. If

sin must be branded with a condemnation that other-

wise would crush the sinner, there is the Son of His

love who will submit Himself to that sentence as man

amongst men, and bear its weight, who will die the

death which transgression entails; and the Father "did

not spare His own Son," when He confronted this

liability and humbled Himself unto the death of the

cross, but "gave Him up for us all" ( Rom. 8. 32).

            There is a paradox for human language, a depth of

the Godhead beyond our sounding, in the double aspect

 

            1   [Ilasth<rion is the more concrete expression, construed as accusative

masculine (see Sanday and Headlam's Note ad loc.) —"a propitiatory

person," " in a propitiatory character "; i[lasmo<j the more abstract-

"a (means of) propitiation," one in whom propitiation is realized. The

distinction between i[lasmo<j and its synonyms is well stated by Dr Driver

in the article above referred to:  "The death of Christ is represented

in the New Testament under three main aspects, as a lu<tron, ransoming

from the power of sin and spiritual death; as a katallagh<, setting 'at

one,' or reconciling God and man, and bringing to an end the alienation

between them; and as a i[lasmo<j, a propitiation, breaking down the

barrier which sin interposes between God and man, and enabling God

again to enter into fellowship with him."


124        THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

of the i[lasmo<j, in the unity of the Divine wrath and

love, the concidence of mercy and penalty, judicial

infliction and fatherly restoration, that meet in the cross

of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modern thought stumbles

and struggles hard against this offence—its peculiar

ska<ndalon tou? strarou? and cross in the Cross; but no

stumbling at it will displace it. With whatever subtlety

such words as "propitiation" and "reconciliation" are

explained away, they remain in the lexicon of the New

Testament, to assert the stern element of sin-avenging

justice in the character of God. The death of Jesus

Christ attests for ever the fearful consequences which

the sin of our race, under the operation of Divine law,

has brought upon those involved in it.

            The Apostle's language recalls the scene of the

Israelite "day of Atonement" (MyriUPiKiha MOy; h[me<ra e]cilasmou?),

the "day of affliction" for the sins of Israel . We see the

high priest, after he has first filled the shrine with the

smoke of incense, bearing the blood of the bullock slain

for himself and his family to present it in the Most

Holy Place (such sacrifice for Himself, the writer to the

Hebrews explains in chap. 7. 26-28, our High Priest had

no need to make), then killing the goat which represented

the guilty people in the sight of Jehovah, and carrying

its blood in turn before the Presence. This blood of the

sin-offering he sprinkled once on the golden lid of the

ark which held the law (designated for this reason

the "mercy-seat," tr,poKa, i[lasth<rion; see Heb. 9. 5), and

seven times in the vacant space before it (Lev. 16; 23.

28-32), which "blood of sprinkling" was called emble-

matically the MyriUPKi, the covering of the people's sins

from before the face of God. This was the culminating

office of the high-priestly service; its occasion was the

one day of the year in which Aaron entered the Holy of

holies—alone, and "not without blood"—to "make

reconciliation for the sins of the people." The renewal

of the favour of God toward Israel , the maintenance

of His covenant of grace with His people and of its

status of adoption and privilege, were made conditional


  THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION         125

 

upon this yearly propitiation. The lesser, current sin-

offerings and sacrifices, negotiated through other

priests, were auxiliary and supplementary thereto;

they realized for individuals and for minor occasions

what was wrought in the solemn and collective expia-

tion offered by the High Priest once in each year.

"The blood of Jesus, God's Son," of which the Apostle

spoke in such arresting words in chap. 1. 7, is the

substance, “for the whole world,” of the true i[lasmo<j,

which the blood of the animal victim slain by Aaron on

the day of Atonement represented typically for the

nation of Israel . This blood "cleanseth from all sin,"

while that served as "a remembrance made of sins year

by year" (Heb. 10. 1-3).

            St John's "propitiation" is synonymous with St

Paul's "atonement" or "reconciliation" (katallagh<, Rom.

5. 1-11, &c.); both terms are associated with the

Hebrew rPeKi and its congeners and equivalents. But

while the Pauline expression signifies the restoring of

peace between estranged and contending parties, the

Johannine imports the restoring of favour toward the

condemned and banished; with St Paul rebels, with

St John culprits are forgiven. The one Apostle sees

those who were in the enemy's camp brought over and

received on amnesty into the service against which

formerly they had borne arms—"translated out of the

kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of

God's love" (Col. 1. 13), like himself who was "before a

blasphemer and persecutor" of his Lord, but "had ob-

tained mercy"; the other Apostle looks on a company of

the once sin-stained and leprous, who were driven from

the sanctuary with the "dogs" that "are without," but

"have washed their robes and made them white in the

Lamb's blood," and now "have the right to come to

the tree of life, and enter in by the gates into the city"

(Rev. 22. 14, 15).

            But how great the cost at which this right was won

by the Advocate! Here was the task and labour of His

mission—to "take away the sin of the world." Other


126      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

aid our heavenly Friend could render to men with com-

parative ease. Hunger and disease, madness, even death,

as the record tells, Jesus had power to remedy by a

stroke of His authority. But a lifting of the eyes

to heaven, a sentence of blessing,—and five loaves

become food for five thousand men; a mere rebuke,—

and wind and waves lie down hushed at His feet and

the storm is gone; a command from the holy lips of

Jesus,—and the demons quit their tormented prey, the

convulsed frame and frenzied brain are restored to

sanity; a single word, "Lazarus, come forth!"—and

the sheeted dead issues from the tomb, and gropes his

way back a living, breathing man. These things were

no such great achievement for our Paraclete, seeing He

was the Lord of nature from eternity, one with the

world's Creator. But when it came to the putting away

of sin, this was a different matter. Power is of no

avail in moral affairs, in what touches conscience and

character; nor is goodwill of any efficacy, without a

fast and wise direction of its impulses. Here lay the

redeemer's problem, the quaestio vexata of the ages—

how to set guilty and evil men right with God! Let

those who make light of sin, who deem human trans-

gression a venial thing and suppose that our heavenly

Father, being gracious and sovereign, might well con-

done, out of mere prerogative and by way of com-

passion and magnanimity, the offences of His creatures,

—let those who so regard the Divine government and

turn the grace of God into a soft indulgence, consider

what befell our Advocate in dealing for sinners with

the eternal Righteousness.

            The laws of physical nature, which express one side

of the Divine character and embody great principles of

its working, are not gentle in their treatment of mis-

doers, nor in their, treatment of those affected by the

misdoing of others. Mechanics, chemistry, physiology,

biology proclaim the fact that "the way of trans-

gressors is hard"—hard for themselves, and for all

connected with them. Throughout the regions of


   THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION           127

 

natural law, sloping upward toward the moral, "every

transgression and disobedience receiveth a just recom-

pense of reward," and "the mills of God" grind, swiftly

or slowly, retribution with the most exact and infallible

certainty of sequence. No defiance, no negligence, is

overlooked or fails of its amercement. In these vast

provinces of God's kingdom, lawlessness is searched out

and visited with a sleepless and exemplary chastise-

ment. When one enters into the spiritual sphere of

existence, the forces of love and remedial grace come

into play; but they do not neutralize nor supersede the

principle of retribution pervading the government of

God; lower laws may be subordinated, they are not

over-ridden or set at nought when we pass into the

higher and more complex conditions of life. From the

fall of a stone, flung heedlessly, which maims a child, or

the flight of an arrow pointed by hatred at an enemy's

breast, up to the sufferings of the Redeemer under the

load of a world's sin, there is one God, one law, one

element of righteousness and truth, that "worketh all

things in all."

            When our Advocate stepped forth to shield trans-

gressors, when Jesus Christ "came into the world to

save sinners," He engaged Himself to a work of incon-

ceivable pain and difficulty. There was a "chastisement

of our peace" to be laid upon Him, without which God

could not be truly reconciled to the world, nor the

world to God. Neither the Divine nature nor the

human conscience would allow this obligation to be

evaded. The Paraclete, if He is really to stand by us

and go through with our case, though He be the eternal

Son of God, cannot get away from this necessity; no

favour, no prerogative exempts Him from the conse-

quences, when He has once become the surety for

sinners. He must pay the price of our redemption.

God the Father will not spare the Son of His love the

shame and suffering thus incurred—cannot spare Him,

in His utter love and pity, since the law that yokes

these consequences to transgression and determines


128       THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

such effects from such causes, is integral with His own

being. In the consent of the Son to endure the cross to

which men's sin brought Him, the Father sees the image

of His own righteousness and mercy; He recognizes

there the oneness of love and justice inherent in His

holiness, which constitutes the offering of Calvary the

"perfect sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins

of the whole world." In virtue of the complete accord

between the act of Jesus in yielding Himself to the

cross and the laws of moral being that proceed from

the nature of God, this sacrifice became (to use St Paul 's

strong expression) "an odour of sweet smell" (Eph. 5. 2),

a veritable propitiation in the estimate of God.

            Having espoused our cause, the righteous Advocate

goes to all lengths with it. He holds back from no

exertion, no cost that the case demands. His honour,

His blood are at His brethren's service; "the Good

Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10. 11).

He "emptied Himself" in descending to a bondman's

place; lower still, "He humbled Himself even to the

death of the cross,"—to the nethermost of ignominy and

anguish (Phil. 2. 7, 8). What the sacrifice cost Him,

what it cost to God who "spared not His own Son," is

a reckoning infinitely beyond our moral calculus. The

scene of Gethsemane allows a moment's glance into the

mystery of Divine grief over human sin. There the

Redeemer wrestles with His task, now pressing in its

appalling weight on His human consciousness. He

shrank back in such horror that, if we read the story

aright, the blood forced itself from His tortured veins.

"Father," He cries, "if it be possible, let this cup pass!"

Thrice the petition is addressed to the All-righteous and

All-merciful, by the Son of His good pleasure. Was the

Father deaf to the cry of those quivering lips? Had

there been any other way, had it been possible upon less

exacting terms to undo man's transgression, would not

that way have been discovered?  No; it was not possible

with God to pass over sin without atonement, to accept

the plea of our Advocate without propitiation rendered.


   THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION        129

 

            The Priest must become Himself the victim, for His

intercession to prevail. No goats or calves of the stall

shall He lay upon the altar. He must "by the sacrifice

of Himself put away sin" and "enter in the right of His

own blood once for all into the Holy Place , obtaining

eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9. 12, 26):  "HIMSELF

is the propitiation for our sins"—au]to>j i[lasmo<j e]stin.  The

Advocate throws His life into the plea; He speaks by His

blood. He steps, as one should say, from the pleaders'

bench into the dock to cover the prisoner's person with

His own.  He puts His unspotted holiness and the

wealth of His being at the service and in the place of

the criminal, meeting in his stead the brunt of condem-

nation, so that by sharing his penalty, in such form as

is possible and fitting to innocence, He may save him

from its fatal issue and recover him for goodness and

for God.

            Such a propitiation can be of no mere local validity,

of no limited interest and operation. The grandeur of

the person rendering it, the moral glory and essential

humanity of the sacrifice, bespeak for it a universal

scope.  A "propitiation," St John writes, "not for our

sins only, but indeed touching the whole world."  The

Church's Paraclete is the world's Redeemer.  Jesus

Christ the righteous is the champion and vindicator of

our race. His sin-offering, presented by the Son of man

for man, avails without limit; it covers in its merits

and significance all the families of mankind and the

ages of time; He has "obtained an eternal" and a

world-embracing "redemption"; even as "there is one

God"—so, St Paul argues (1 Tim. 2. 5-7)—"there is

one Mediator between God and men, Himself man, viz.

Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all." The

universal expirtion of sin has been made, one that

countervails and counteracts sin in its deepest and

broadest working—not as a specific Jewish liability,

but as the a tribute of the race. So this Paraclete

stands forth a the friend and healer of His kind every-

where, the Sin -bearer of humanity. He wears on his

 

            Life Eternal   10


130      THE ADVOCATE AND THE PROPITIATION

 

official breastplate not the names of the twelve tribes

of Israel any longer, but of every tribe and kindred.

In His perpetual intercession Jesus Christ bears the

weight of the world's cares and sins before the Father

of men. His earthly experience, in life and death, has

made Him competent to be "a priest for ever" and

"for the whole world."

            The words that first directed the Apostle John to his

Master were those spoken in his hearing by the Baptist

on the Jordan banks—startling words, which looked

beyond the Jewish horizon and showed a faith outleap-

ing the bounds of the speaker's ancestry and rearing

and a knowledge of things revealed otherwise than by

flesh and blood:  "Behold the Lamb of God, which

taketh away the sin of the world!" (John 1. 29). That

patient Lamb of God, who submitted Himself for the

Baptist's ordination, had filled the Apostle's life with

His presence. He had displayed many an unlooked-for

attribute of power, and received many a name of

honour from His disciples' lips since that day. But this