E. L. Bevir.
Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887
The second and third epistles of John give us some examples of children of God walking in the truth upon earth, and one example of self-exaltation and self-will, the contrast to all that was seen in Jesus. It might be said that the first epistle is so full of abstractions that you cannot expect it to be carried out in practice; but here we see real living persons walking in such a manner that the divine life in them shines out clearly in their conduct, in the incidents of their lives here upon earth. One may presume that the elect lady's children were not brought up without trouble, and that Gaius met with all the ordinary difficulties of life.
"Whom I love in the truth" is not a light expression. The truth can never be popular in this world, for the world's very existence depends upon a denial of the truth. How often did they pick up stones to throw at Jesus, Himself the Truth! How little was Paul (who spoke the truth) a popular preacher! Then we must reject that so-called and spurious "love" that will not allow an appeal to the Word. How much we hear of this "love" in a day when everything is spoiled and adulterated! "Love in the truth" is a very different thing, and we may well ask ourselves how far we understand this. It is easy to talk of loving the brethren; but suppose we had lived at the time of Paul's imprisonment, should we have gone to see him? Many were more prudent in Paul's day, and kept away from the gaol where the apostle lay. Should we really, if it came to the point, be ready to lay down our lives for the brethren? Then how do we know that we love the brethren? "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments; "that is, in the blessed liberty of the children of God upon earth, obedient to Him. How searching this word as to what bears the name of "love!" I recollect seeing a touchstone upon which an amalgam of gold and other metals was tried. The metal was rubbed against the dark stone, producing a bright streak; nitric acid then being applied, the brilliant streak diminished, leaving only the gold upon the touchstone. How much then of the "love" current in Christendom is the true genuine love? "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." Each child of God may well ask, "Do I allow anything that is not according to Him? "The truth has never been popular since the serpent deceived Eve, and to announce the truth would break up many a company formed professedly on the ground of "love."
We must watch. The apostle says, "Take heed unto yourselves" (v. 8); for he wished to enjoy the full amount of his work. Many seducers are gone out into the world (and many false prophets in 1 John 4:1), and their teaching tends to exalt man and deny Christianity. "To confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh" is not merely to be orthodox, but to have received and to confess the great blessed truth of Christianity, that the Son of God became man, and died for us; and we confess His glorious Person, both divine and human, and at the same time the utter ruin of man, of all the sons of Adam. The teaching of the seducers would deny this, and indeed it is hard to admit that the heart of man is in a desperate case, that there is nothing good in us. The perfectibility of man is the doctrine of the antichrist, and this has wonderfully developed in this enlightened century. The wise, the advanced thinkers of our time, deny Jesus Christ come in flesh (the least thing that you take either from His divinity or from His perfect humanity denies the Christian truth), and tell us that the time is near when man shall be fully developed. I recollect, after a disastrous European war, having seen advertised in a city, "We want a man for the age!" And I thought, "Alas! he is not far off." Take heed to yourselves. What a word for us, dear brethren! "Whoever leads you forward" (this is the true meaning of verse 9), "and abides not in the doctrine, has not God." "Leading forward" means leading on beyond what God has fully revealed, and always in an evil sense; for we have the full manifestation of the divine life in Jesus. From the very beginning the enemy tried to "lead forward," and, alas! succeeded with Eve. "Yea, hath God said?" and deceived the mistrusting soul. The old prophet in 1 Kings 13 led astray the too credulous man of God, pretending to have a divine communication beyond the revelation explicitly given to the latter. I saw in a book yesterday, professing to be "scientific," the following words: "Religious thought has taken great steps in advance lately." Yes, and where will this "religious thought" lead you? Have you ever followed an ignis fatuus in marshy ground? Where did it lead you? So with religious thought in the nineteenth century.
How blessed the contrast - "He that leads you forward, and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ, has not God. He that abideth in the doctrine has the Father and the Son." May we know what it is to "abide" in true dependence, and taste this full joy of communion with the Father and the Son.
The elect lady is responsible to keep her doors shut against false teachers. The world says, "Oh, how exclusive and narrow!" Many professing Christians say the same. But we may ask, "Is the new Jerusalem too exclusive?" No dog, no magician, no liar shall ever pass her doors. "Without are dogs." Oh, how exclusive!
It has been pointed out that the third epistle presents to us the same blessed love in the truth in Gaius, who kept his doors open to Christ in the persons of the poor wandering preachers, who went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. The witness borne to Gains' truth, and his walk in the truth, must be noticed; and how blessed and wonderful the association with poor wandering, despised preachers! They had gone out for the Name (an aged servant of Christ once said that, of all employments, to go across a country with the love of God in the heart, and a Bible in the pocket, was the most blessed), not merely "gone out to preach," but gone out for the Name - that Name that carries everything with it, and which we can bless with adoration, notwithstanding that so many seducers have "gone out" too. And Gaius had received them, thus cooperating with the truth. It would be often said, "You must not encourage this kind of people," and "that the thing will become abused." It may be abused, like every good thing, but that is only a further proof that there is such a thing as being employed (the highest of employments) as a wandering preacher of the truth of God. Gaius manifests the divine life in recognizing and receiving such; the Lord had sent them forth.
Demetrius too (v. 12) has the testimony of the truth itself; for if we examine a man's work, and find that wherever he has taught the truth is maintained, and that there is a desire to walk in it, the truth itself bears witness to him.
But one word more, and that is, the terrible contrast with the expression of the divine life seen in Diotrephes. "He likes to be the first." This is the principle that governs the hearts of the sons of Adam. "I would rather be the first in that little village," said the great Julius, "than second in Rome." The blessed Jesus loved to be last, and explained that this should be our portion. In each of us there is the germ of a little antichrist, who would exalt himself, from Julius Caesar down to the smallest. What a contrast with our blessed Lord! And then? "He receives us not." To receive one another, as the blessed Lord has received us, is the very spirit of Christianity. Jesus receives every one who comes to Him. Then, "evil words" and "hindering others to receive." Jesus never spoke a wrong nor harsh word, and would not allow others to hinder those they brought to Him. Here then is the dark background to this wonderful picture; the selfishness of man then exalts himself, and has nothing but injustice and harsh treatment for others. Whilst the divine life shines in the elect lady, Gaius, and Demetrius, the sad "darkness" of the human heart is seen in Diotrephes.
Beloved, imitate not the evil, but the good. "He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." May we be able to follow this blessed exhortation.
E. L. Bevir.