The Apostle John

Studies in his Life and Writings

By W. H. Griffith Thomas

Part 3. - The Three Epistles

Chapter 4


It seems necessary to review quite briefly the teaching of these three portions of Holy Scripture. The doctrines were evidently important then, and they are no less important now. Circumstances change, but principles abide, and, although the conditions of life are very different today from those of the Apostle's time, the essential features are identical, and make these Epistles as vital as ever. What, then, are the essential truths found here, and what do they say to us today? They speak to us of six great needs. Although the general teaching will appear in outline form only, each aspect and element can be supported by passages in the Epistles. It will, perhaps, be best for each reader and student to find these for himself, and thus see how the Apostle's teaching is vital for our present experience.

I. A True Expression of Life

1. Towards God — Obedience.

2. Towards Christians — Love.

3. Towards ourselves — Assurance.

This is the threefold relationship of the believer, which must be shown in practical reality in daily life. When we are right with God, with our fellows and with ourselves, everything of necessity is right,

II. A True View of Sin

1. In relation to God — Darkness.

2. In relation to Christians — Hate.

3. In relation to ourselves — Worldliness.

Here we see what evil really is in its threefold aspect. Towards God sin means darkness, including error of intellect and unrighteousness of life. As such it is marked by the spirit of antichrist. In relation to our Christian brethren sin of necessity shows itself in intense animosity, for there is absolutely no standing-ground between the love we ought to show and the hatred we ought not. In regard to ourselves, the atmosphere of worldliness is one of the deadliest forms of sin, against' which we must ever be on our guard.

III. A True Conception of Christ

1. As the Truth — received.

2. As the Life — realized.

3. As the Son — confessed.

The Apostle all through lays the greatest stress on the Person and Work of our Lord as one of the essential, in many ways the most essential, features of true Christian living. As the Truth we accept and follow his teaching. As the Life we receive and reproduce his grace. As the Son we believe and profess the reality and blessedness of his redemption.

IV. A True Attitude of Soul

1. Faith expressed in Christ.

2. Love expressed towards God and man.

3. Righteousness exemplified in daily conduct.

Nothing can be required beyond these three elements, which sum up the whole of life. Our trust is fixed on Christ in all the glory of his Divine Person and redemptive work. Our love is centered on God, and on those for whom Christ died. Our righteousness is at once the proof of our new life and the expression of our genuine devotion to God.

V. A True Enjoyment of Blessing

1. Sonship — past and present.

2. Fellowship — present.

3. Heirship — future.

These are the three elements of privilege which come to the believer in Christ. He experiences sonship, and rejoices to know that God is his Father. He exults in fellowship with the Father and the Son and his fellow Christians. And he looks forward with hope, expectation, and anticipation to that future when he will see Christ and be like him.

VI. A True Guarantee of Grace

1. The Father's presence and witness,

2. The Sons Person and work.

3. The Spirit's power and witness.

In this threefold way the Apostle shows the sure foundation and strong assurance of all those who have come to Christ. The witness of God concerning his Son; the witness of the Son concerning himself; and the witness of the Spirit concerning' the Father and the Son are seen to blend, and also culminate in the believer's own witness in his heart that he is the blessed and joyous possessor of eternal life.

Thus the Apostle sums up his- teaching. He had written the Gospel for the purpose of leading men to faith in Christ (John 20:31). He wrote the Epistles in order that the men who thus believed might have the blessed assurance in their souls concerning Christ and his redemption (1 John 5:13). He will still show men what they are to expect in and from Christ in the future, when, through the Apocalypse, he will declare the glory of Christ's grace and government in relation to the whole universe. And so, concerning the past, the present, and the future, "Christ is all."