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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
3 John 1

 

 

Verse 2

3 John

A PROSPEROUS SOUL

3 John 1:2.

This little letter contains no important doctrinal teaching nor special revelation of any kind. It is the outpouring of the Christian love of the old Apostle to a brother about whom we know nothing else except that John, the beloved, loved him in the truth. And this prayer-for it is a prayer rather than a mere wish, since a good man like John turned all his wishes into prayers-this prayer in the original is even more emphatic and beautiful than in our version. ‘Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,’ says the Revised Version, and that slight change in the position of one clause is at once felt to be an improvement. We can scarcely suppose an Apostle praying for anybody ‘above all things’ that he might get on in the world. But the wish that Gaius may prosper outwardly in all things, as his soul prospers, is eminently worthy of John. He sets these two types of prosperity over against one another, and says, ‘My wish for you is that you may be as prosperous and robust in spiritual matters as you are in bodily, and material things’.

I. Now note-in the; first place, What makes a prosperous soul?

That question might be answered in a great variety of ways, but I purpose for the present to answer it by confining myself to this letter, and seeing what we can find out about the man to whom it was addressed. ‘I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee.’ There is the starting-point of true health of soul. That soul, and only that soul, is prosperous, in which what the Apostle calls here ‘ the truth’ is lodged and rooted; and by ‘ the truth’ he means, of course, the whole great revelation of God in Jesus Christ; and eminently Jesus Christ Himself who is the embodied Truth. Whether we take the phrase as meaning the abiding of Jesus Christ in the heart, or whether we take it as meaning more simply the incorporation into the very substance of the being, of the motives and principles that lie in the Gospel, comes to pretty much the same thing. The one thing which makes a man’s soul healthy is to get Jesus Christ into it. That acts like an amulet that banishes all diseases and corruptions. That is like the preserving salt which, rubbed into a perishable substance, arrests corruption and makes food sweet and savory. It is the engrafted word that is able to save the soul, and howsoever many other things may contribute to the inner well-being and prosperity of a man, such as intellectual acquirements, refined tastes, the gratification of pure affections, the fulfilment of innocent and legitimate hopes, and the like, the one thing that makes the soul prosperous is to have Christ in His word deeply planted and inseparably enshrined in its personality and being.

And how is that enshrining to be brought about? Alas, we all know the way a great deal better than we practice it. The prosperous soul is the soul that has opened itself in docile obedience for the entrance of the quickening and cleansing word. And just as a flower will open its calyx in the sunshine, and being opened by the sunshine playing upon its elastic filaments, will, because it is opened, receive into itself the sun that opened it and so grow; in like manner, that heart that disparts itself at the touch of Christ’s hand, and welcomes Him into the inner chambers and shrine of its being, will find that where He comes He brings warmth and fragrance and growth and all blessing. The prosperous soul is the Christ-inhabited soul. By willing reception, by patient waiting, by the study of God’s word, by the endeavour to bring ourselves more and more under the influence of the truth as it is in Jesus, does that truth that makes prosperity take up its abode within us.

But the letter gives another of the characteristics of the truly prosperous and healthy soul. ‘Thy brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.’ The Apostle is not afraid of a confusion of metaphors which shocks sticklers for rhetorical propriety. The truth is, first of all, regarded as being in the man; and then it is regarded as being a road on which, and within the limits of which he walks, or an atmosphere in which he moves. The incongruity is no real incongruity, but it strikingly brings out the great and blessed fact of the Gospel that the man who has the grace of God, the truth as it is in Jesus, within him, thereby finds that there is prepared for him a path within the limits of that truth in which he can safely walk. There will be progress if there be prosperity. The prosperous spirit is the active and advancing spirit, not content merely with sitting and saying, ‘I have the truth in my soul. Thy word have I hid in my heart that I sin not against Thee’; but recognizing that that truth is the law of his life, and prescribes for him a course of conduct. The prosperous soul is the soul that confines its activity within the fence which ‘the truth as it is in Jesus,’ who is the pattern, and the motive, and the law, and the power, has laid down for us; and within those limits makes daily and hourly advance to a more entire conformity with the example of the Lord. The prosperous soul is the soul that walks-not that sits idle-for action is the end of thought, and the purpose of the truth is to make men good, and not merely wise-a soul that acts and advances, yet never passing out of the atmosphere of the Gospel, nor going beyond the principles and motives that are laid down there.

There is a third characteristic in this letter, which we may also take for an illustration of the Apostle’s idea. For he says: ‘Thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest.’

Now ‘faithfully’ is not here used in the sense of righteously discharging all obligations and fulfilling one’s stewardship, but it means something deeper than that. The root idea is ‘whatever thou doest thou doest as a work of Christian faith’; or, to put it into other words, the prosperous soul is the soul all whose activity is based upon that one great truth made its own by faith, that Jesus Christ loves it, and so is all the result of trust in Him. Faith in Christ is the mother-tincture, out of which every virtue can be compounded, according to the liquid to which you add it. The basis of all, the ‘stock’ from which all the rest is really made, is the act of faith in Jesus Christ. And so the prosperous soul is the soul that has the truth in it, and walks in the truth which it has, and does everything because it trusts in the living God and in Jesus Christ His Son.

Is that your notion of the ideal of human nature, of the true and noble prosperity of an immortal spirit? Unless it be you have yet to learn the loftiest elevation and the fairest beauty that are possible for men. The prosperous soul filled with Christ within, and walking with Christ by its side, and drawing laws and motives, pattern and power from Him, is the soul that truly has fulfilled its ideal, and is journeying on the right road. For that is the literal meaning of the word that is rendered here ‘prosper’; journeying on the right road to the true goal of human nature.

II. Look at the wished-for correspondence between this soul-prosperity and outward prosperity. ‘Beloved,’ says John, ‘I wish above all things,’ or rather, ‘I wish that in regard to all things, thou mayest prosper and be in health as thy soul prospereth.’

How would you like that standard applied to your worldly prosperity? Would you like not to get on any better in business than you do in religion? Would you be content that your limbs should be no more healthy than your soul, or that you should be making no more advances in worldly happiness and material prosperity than you are in the Divine life? Would you be content to have your worldly prosperity doled out to you out of the same spoon, of the same dimensions, with which you are content to receive your spiritual prosperity? ‘As thy soul prospereth’-that would mean a very Lenten diet for a good many of us, and a very near approach to insolvency for some commercial men. Brethren, there is a sharp test in these words. I suppose this good Gaius to whom the letter was written was very likely in humble circumstances, and not improbably in enfeebled health. And John was probably wishing for him more than he had, when he wished him to get on as well in the world as he did in his spiritual life, and desired that his soul might prosper as much as his body. It would be a bad thing for some of us if the same standard of proportion were applied to us.

Another consideration is suggested by this correspondence, and that is that it is always a disastrous thing for Christian people when outward prosperity gets ahead of inward. It is the ruin of a good many so-called Christian people. When a man gets on in the world he begins, too often, to decline in the truth. It is difficult for us to carry a full cup without spilling it. And the worst thing that could happen to many Christian people would be what they fret, and fume, and work themselves into a fever, and live careful days and sleepless nights in order to secure-and that is, outward prosperity. The best thing is that the soul should be more prosperous than the body, and the worst adversity is the outward prosperity that ruins or harms the inward life.

III. So, lastly, note the superiority of the inward prosperity.

There is no overstrained spiritualism here. John has set us an example that we need not be afraid to follow. If he that leaned upon Christ’s bosom, and had drunk in more of the spirit of his Master than any of the Twelve, was not afraid to pray for this good brother that he might have worldly good and health, we need not doubt that for ourselves, and for those that are dear to us, it is perfectly legitimate and right that we should desire and pray for both things. There is no unnatural, artificial, hypocritical pretence of despising the present and the outward in the words here. Although the Apostle does put the two things side by side, he does not fall into the error of casting contempt upon either. He is a true disciple of the Master who said, ‘ Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.’ And if your Father knows that you have need, then you may be quite sure that you will get them, and it is a lie to pretend that you do not want them when you do.

But then, that being admitted, look how the higher towers above the legitimate lower. It will always be the case that if a man seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, there will be-in his simple devotion to the truth, and walking within the limits that it prescribes, and making all his life an act of faith-a direct tendency in a great many directions to secure the best possible use, and the largest possible enjoyment, from the things that are seen and temporal. ‘Godliness hath promise of the life which now is’; and the first Psalm, which perhaps may have been in the Apostle’s mind here, contains a truth that was not exhausted in the Old Testament days, because the man whose heart is set on the law of God, and who meditates upon that law day and night, all that he doeth shall prosper. There is in godliness a distinct and constant tendency to make the best of both worlds; but the best is not made of the present world unless we subordinate it and feel distinctly its insignificance in comparison with the future, which is also the present, unseen world.

And even when, as is often the case, the devout and inwardly prosperous soul is compassed about with sorrows that never can be stanched, with griefs through which anything but an immortal life would bleed itself away; or with poverty and want and anxiety arising from causes which no personal devotion can ever touch or affect-even then if the soul prospers it has the power, the magic power, of converting poison into food, and sorrow into a means of growth; and they whose spirits are joined to Jesus Christ, and whose souls ever move in harmony with Him-and therefore are prosperous souls-will find that there is nothing in this world that is really adverse to them. For ‘all things work together for good to them that love God,’ since he who loves God thinks nothing bad that helps him to love Him better; and since he who loves God finds occasion for loving and trusting Him more in every variety and vicissitude of earthly fortune.

Therefore, brethren, if we will follow the directions that this Apostle gives us as to how to secure the prosperity of our souls, God is faithful and He will measure to us prosperity in regard of outward things by the proportion which our faith in Him bears to His faithfulness. The more we love Him, the more certainly will all things be our servants. If we can say ‘We are Christ’s,’ then all things are ours.


Verse 7

3 John

FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME

3 John 1:7.

The Revised Version gives the true force of these words by omitting the ‘ His,’ and reading merely ‘ for the sake of the Name.’ There is no need to say whose name. There is only One which could evoke the heroism and self-sacrifice of which the Apostle is speaking. The expression, however, is a remarkable one. The name seems almost, as it were, to be personified. There are one or two other instances in the New Testament where the same usage is found, according to the true reading, though it is obscured in our Authorized Version, because it struck some early transcribers as being strange, and so they tried to mend and thereby spoiled it.

We read, for instance, in the true reading, in the Acts of the Apostles, as to the disciples, on the first burst of persecution, that ‘they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name.’ And again, in Philippians, that in recompense and reward for ‘His obedience unto death’-the Father hath given unto the Son-’the Name which is above every name.’ Once more, though less obviously, we find James speaking about ‘ the worthy name by which we are called.’

Then the other part of this phrase is quite as significant as this principal one. The word rendered ‘for the sake of,’ does not merely mean-though it does mean that-’ on account of,’ or ‘by reason of,’ but’ on behalf of,’ as if, in some wonderful sense, that mighty and exalted Name was furthered, advantaged, or benefited by even men’s poor services. So, you see, a minute study of the mere words of the Scripture, though it may seem like grammatical trifling and pedantry, yields large results. Men do sometimes ‘gather grapes of thorns’; and the hard, dry work of trying to get at the precise shade of meaning in Scriptural words always repays us with large lessons and impulses. So let us consider the thoughts which naturally arise from the accurate observation of the very language here.

I. And, first, let us consider the pre-eminence implied in ‘the Name.’

Now I need not do more than remind you in a sentence that eminently in the Old Testament, and also in the New, a name is a great deal more than the syllables which designate a person or a thing. It describes, not only who a man is, but what he is; and implies qualities, characteristics, either bodily or spiritual, which were either discerned in or desired for a person. So when the creatures are brought to Adam that he might give them names, that expresses the thought of the primitive man’s insight into their nature and characteristics. So we find our Lord changing the names of His disciples, in some cases in order to express either the deep qualities which His eye discerned lying beneath the more superficial ones, and to be evolved in due time, or declaring some great purpose which He had for them, official or otherwise.

So here the name substantially means the same thing as the Person Jesus. It is not the syllables by which He is called, but the whole character and nature of Him who is called by these syllables that is meant by ‘the Name.’ The distinction between it, as so used, and Person, is simply that the former puts more stress on the qualities and characteristics as known to us.

Thus ‘the Name’ means the whole Christ as we know Him, or as we may know Him, from the Book, in the dignity of His Messiahship, in the mystery of His Divinity, in the sweetness of His life, in the depth of His words, in the gentleness of His heart, in the patience and propitiation of His sacrifice, in the might of His resurrection, in the glory of His ascension, in the energy of His present life and reigning work for us at the right hand of God. All these, the central facts of the Gospel, are gathered together into that expression the Name, which is the summing up in one mighty word, so to speak, which it is not possible for a man to utter except in fragments, of all that Jesus Christ is in Himself, and of all that He is and does for us.

It is but a picturesque and condensed way of saying that Jesus Christ, in the depth of His nature and the width of His work, stands alone, and is the single, because the all-sufficient, Object of love and trust and obedience. There is no need for a forest of little pillars; as in some great chapter-house one central shaft, graceful as strong, bears the groined roof, and makes all other supports unnecessary and impertinent. There is one Name, and one alone, because in the depths of that wondrous nature, in the circumference of that mighty work, there is all that a human heart, or that all human hearts, can need for peace, for nobleness, for holiness, for the satisfaction of all desires, for the direction of efforts, for the stability of their being. The name stands alone, and it will be the only Name that, at last, shall blaze upon the page of the world’s history when the ages are ended; and the chronicles of earth, with the brief ‘ immortality’ which they gave to other names of illustrious men, are molded into dust. ‘The Name is above every name,’ and will outlast them all, for it is the all-sufficient and encyclopaedical embodiment of everything that a single heart, or the whole race, can require, desire, conceive, or attain.

So then, brethren, the uniqueness and solitariness of the name demands an equal and corresponding exclusiveness of devotion and trust in us. ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord thy God is one Lord. Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.’ And in like manner we may argue -There is one Christ, and there is none other but He. Therefore all the current of my being is to set to Him, and on Him alone am I to repose my undivided weight, casting all my cares and putting all my trust only on Him. Lean on none other. You cannot lean too heavily on that strong arm. Love none other except in Him; for His heart is wide enough and deep enough for all mankind. Obey none other, for only His voice has the right to command. And lifting up our eyes, let us see ‘no man any more save Jesus only.’ That Name stands alone.

Involved in this, but worthy of briefly putting separately, is this other thought, that the pre-eminent and exclusive mention of the Name carries with it, in fair inference, the declaration of His Divine nature. It seems to me that we have here a clear case in which the Old Testament usage is transferred to Jesus Christ, only, instead of the Name being Jehovah, it is Jesus. It seems to me impossible that a man saturated as this Apostle was with Old Testament teaching, and familiar as he was with the usage which runs through it as to the sanctity of ‘the Name of the Lord,’ should have used such language as this of my text unless he had felt, as he has told us himself, that ‘the Word was God.’ And the very incidental character of the allusion gives it the more force as a witness to the commonplaceness which the thought of the divinity of Jesus Christ had assumed to the consciousness of the Christian Church.

II. But passing from that, let me ask you to look, secondly, at the power of the Name to sway the life.

I have explained the full meaning of the preposition in my text in my introductory remarks. It seems to me to cover both the ground of ‘on account of,’ or ‘ by reason of,’ and ‘on behalf of.’

Taking the word in the former of these two senses, note how this phrase, ‘for the sake of the Name,’ carries with it this principle, that in that Name, explained as I have done, there lie all the forces that are needed for the guidance and the impulses of life. In Him, in the whole fullness of His being, in the wonders of the story of His character and historical manifestation, there lies all guidance for men. He is the Pattern of our conduct. He is the Companion for us in our sorrow. He is the Quickener for us in all our tasks. And to set Him before us as our Pattern, and to walk in the paths that He dictates, is to attain to perfection. Whosoever makes ‘for the sake of the Name’ the motto of his life will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

And not only is there guidance, but there is impulse, and that is better than guidance. For what men most of all want is a power that shall help or make them to do the things that they see plainly enough to be right.

And oh, brother, where is there such a force to quicken, to ennoble, to lead men to higher selves than their dead past selves, as lies in the grand sweep of that historical manifestation which we understand by the Name of Jesus? There is nothing else that will go so deep down into the heart and unseal the fountains of power and obedience as that Name. There is nothing else that will so strike the shackles off the prisoned will, and ban back to their caves the wild beasts that tyrannize within, and put the chain round their necks, as the Name of Jesus Christ. That is the Talisman that ennobles everything, that evokes undreamed-of powers, that ‘out of these stones,’ the hard and unsusceptible and obstinate wills of godless men, will ‘raise up children unto Abraham.’ This is the secret that turns the heavy lead of our corrupt natures into pure gold.

And where does the impulsive power lie? Where, in that great continent, the whole life and work of Jesus Christ, is the dominant summit from which the streams run down? The Cross! The Cross! The Love that died for us, individually and singly, as well as collectively, is the thing that draws out answering love. And answering love is the untiring and omnipotent power that transmutes my whole nature into the humble aspiration to he like Him who has given Himself for me, and to render back myself unto Him for His gift. Brother, if you have not known the Name of Christ as the Name of the Divine Saviour who died on the Cross for you, you do not yet understand the power to transform, to ennoble, to energize, to impel to all self-sacrifice that lies in that Name. In the fact of His death, and in the consequent fact of the communication of life from Him to each of us if we will, lie the great impulses which will blessedly and strongly carry us along the course which He marks out for us. And they who can say ‘.For the sake of the Name’ will live lives calm, harmonious, noble, and in some humble measure conformed to the serene and transcendent beauty to which they bow and on which they rest. The impulse for a life-the only one that will last, and the only one that will lift-lies in the recognition of the Name. And so, let me remind you how our consequent simple duty is honestly, earnestly, prayerfully, always, to try to keep ourselves under the influence of that sweet compulsion and mighty encouragement which lie in the Name of Jesus Christ. How fragmentary, how interrupted, how imperfect at the best are our yieldings to the power and the sweetness of the motives and pattern given to us in Christ’s Name! How much of our lives would be all the same if Jesus Christ never had come, or if we never had believed in Him! Look back over your days, Christian men, and see how little of them has borne that stamp, and how slightly it has been impressed upon them.

Our whole life ought to be filled with His Name. You can write it anywhere. It does not need a gold plate to carve His Name upon. It does not need to be set in jewels and diamonds. The poorest scrap of brown paper, and the bluntest little bit of pencil, and the shakiest hand, will do to write the Name of Christ; and all life, the trivialities as well as the crises, may be flashing and bright with the sacred syllables. Mohammedans decorate their palaces and mosques with no pictures, but with the name of Allah, in gilded arabesques. Everywhere, on walls and roof, and windows and cornices, and pillars and furniture, the name is written. There is no such decoration for a life as that Christ’s Name should be inscribed thereon.

III. Lastly, notice the service that even we can do to the Name.

That, as I said, is the direct idea of the Apostle here. He is speaking about a very small matter. There were some anonymous Christian people who had gone out on a little missionary tour, and in the course of it, penniless and homeless, they had come to a city the name of which we do not know, and had been taken in and kindly entertained by a Christian brother, whose name has been preserved to us in this one letter. And, says John, these humble men went out ‘on behalf of the Name ‘ to do something to further it, to advantage it! Jesus Christ, the bearer of the Name, was in some sense helped and benefited, if I may use the word, by the work of these lowly and unknown brethren.

Now there are one or two other instances in the New Testament where this same idea of the benefit accruing to the name of Jesus from His servants on earth is stated, and I just point to them in a sentence in order that you may have all the evidence before you. There is the passage to which I have already referred, recording the disciples’ joy that they were ‘accounted worthy to suffer shame on behalf of the Name.’ There are the words of Christ Himself in reference to Paul at his conversion, ‘I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake.’ There is the church’s eulogium on Barnabas and Paul, as ‘men that have hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus.’ There is Paul’s declaration that he is ‘ready, not only to be bound, but to die, on behalf of the Name of the Lord Jesus.’ And in the introduction of the Epistle to the Romans he connects his apostleship with the benefit that thereby accrued to the Name of Christ. If we put all these together they just come to this, that, wonderful as it is, and unworthy as we are to take that great Name into our lips, yet, in God’s infinite mercy and Christ’s fraternal and imperial love, He has appointed that His Name should be furthered by the sufferings, the service, the life, and the death of His followers.

‘He was extolled with my tongue,’ says the Psalmist, in a rapture of wonder that any words of his could exalt God’s Name. So to you Christians is committed the charge of magnifying the name of Jesus Christ. You can do it by your lives, and you can do it by your words, and you are sent to do both. We can ‘adorn the doctrine’; paint the lily and gild the refined gold, and make men think more highly of our Lord by our exam pie of faithfulness and obedience. We can do it by our definite proclamation of His Name, which is laid upon us all to do, and for which facilities of varying degrees are granted. The inconsistencies of the professing followers of Christ are the strongest barriers to the world’s belief in the glory of His Name. The Church as it is forms the hindrance rather than the help to the world’s becoming a church. If from us sounded out the Name, and over all that we did it was written, blazing, conspicuous, the world would look and listen, and men would believe that there was something in the Gospel.

If you are a Christian professor, either Christ is glorified or put to shame in you, His saint; and either it is true of you that you do all things in the Name of the Lord Jesus and so glorify His Name, or that through you the Name of Christ is ‘blasphemed among the nations.’ Choose which of the two it shall be!


Verse 8

3 John

FELLOW-WORKERS WITH THE TRUTH

3 John 1:8.

‘Fellow-helpers to the Truth.’ A word or two may be permitted as to the immediate occasion of the expression. There seems to have been, as we learn not only from occasional references in the New Testament, but from early Christian literature, and very frequent practice in the primitive churches, of certain members having, like our friends the Quakers, ‘a concern’ for some special ministry, and being loosed from their ordinary avocations, and sent out with the sanction of the Church. These traveling evangelists went from place to place, and sought the hospitality and help of the Christian communities to which they came. My text is an exhortation from the aged Apostle to treat such brethren as they deserved, seeing that they have ‘come forth for the sake of the Name’; and should be welcomed and helped as brethren.

Now there are ambiguities about the words, on which I need not dwell. So far as the grammatical construction of the originals are concerned, they may either mean what our Authorized Version takes them to mean, ‘fellow-helpers’-or rather ‘fellow-workers’-for the Truth; the co-operation being regarded as confined to the two sets of men, the evangelists and their hospitable receivers-or they may mean, as the Revised Version takes them, ‘fellow-workers with the Truth’- ‘the Truth’ and the two sets of human agents being all supposed as co-operating in one common end. The latter is, I presume, the real meaning of the Evangelist. ‘The Truth’ is supposed to be an active force in the world, which both the men who directly preach it, and the men who sustain and cheer those who do, are co-operating with. Then there is another question as to whether, by ‘the Truth ‘ here, we are to understand the whole body of Christian revelation, or whether we are to see shining through the words the august figure of Him who is personally, as He Himself claimed,’ the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.’ I believe that the latter explanation is the truer one, and more in accordance with the intense saturation in all John’s writings with the words of the Master. I can scarcely think that when he spoke thus about ‘the Truth,’ or when he spoke in another of his letters about the ‘Truth which dwelleth in us, and shall be in us for ever,’ he meant only a body of principles. I think he meant Jesus Christ Himself. And so with that sacred and auguster meaning attaching to his words, I wish to look at them with you.

I. The possessors of the Truth are to be workers with the Truth.

I do not say a word about the claim which is made in this expression, that Christian people possess the absolute truth in regard to all matters upon which the revelation made to them in Jesus Christ touches. That is a bold assumption, but I do not need to say a word about it here. I take it for granted that you professing Christians concur in the belief that what you have received about God and Christ and God’s will concerning men, and the way of salvation, and the prospects for the future life, stands alone and complete, as ‘the Truth,’ to which all other conceptions of God and man and duty and destiny are related, but as fragmentary at the highest, and as often perversions, corruptions, and contradictions. Do not let any modern width of thought, or any impressions gathered from the new science of comparative religion, blur the distinctness and the joyousness of your confidence that in Christ we have not a peradventure of men, but the ‘Verily! Verily!’ of heaven: the Truth.

And then remember that, according to the representation of my text, this Truth, wherever it enters into a man’s heart, lays hold upon him, and makes him its apostle. All moral and spiritual truth has that power. There are plenty of dry statements in various regions of science and thought the reception of which brings with it no compulsion whatever to say a word about them. No man is ever smitten with the conviction that it is his duty to go out into the world and proclaim that’ two and two make four,’ or truths of that sort. But once lodge in a man’s heart thoughts of a moral, religious, spiritual character, and as soon as he believes them he wakes up to feel’ Then I must-I must proclaim them, and get somebody else to share my convictions.’ It is the test of real, deep, vital possession of’ the Truth’ that it shall be as a fire shut up in our bones, burning its way necessarily out into the light; and that no man who has it dare wrap it in a napkin and bury it in the ground.

God forbid that I should say that a silent Christian is not a genuine Christian. I know too well how far beneath the ideal we all come, but sure I am that if men have never found that when ‘ the Truth as it is in Jesus ‘ drew back her veil, and let the lambent beauty of her face blaze in upon their hearts, it made them her slaves and knight-errants for evermore, they have seen very very little of that supreme loveliness. Brethren the truth that we believe is our mistress, and of the Christian truth that we profess to hold, we are sworn by the very fact to be the apostles and the missioners.

Nor let us forget the solemn and elevating thought which goes along with the imagery of my text; that the Truth, for all its majesty and dignity and divinity, needs men for its helpers. The only way by which it can spread is through us and our fellows. There is no magic by which it can divide and impart itself, apart from the agency of the men who already possess it. The torch has been brought from heaven, and the light with which it blazes is celestial, but in order to enlighten the darkness of the earth it must be passed from hand to hand by a linked chain of men. The lake lies full of possible fertility and promise to flush with green verdure the barren burning desert sands; but it will lie there, its possible good unrealized for ever, unless men with their spades and excavators dig the channels and lead the heaven-sent blessing that came from the clouds into all the barren places. The Truth needs us, but when the work is done that the workers with the Truth do, it is the Truth and not the workers that have done the work.

So, Christian men and women, I come to you with this message-recognize your dignity, the honour that is laid upon you in being allowed to be co-operators with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Recognize the obligation, solemn and heavy, which is laid upon you by the very nature of the truth which we believe, by the common bonds of fellowship between man and man, to impart the message that has brought life to us; and recognize it as at once our highest honour and our widest duty to be ‘fellow-workers with the Truth.’

II. The companions of Christ are to be workers with Christ.

He, as I have pointed out, is the Incarnate Truth. And here we come upon the especial peculiarity of Christianity as a system, considered in its relation to Jesus Christ, its Founder and its Giver. You can take Plato’s philosophy and do what you like with it, and treat Plato as a negligible quantity. You can do the same with all other great teachers, even those of them who have most impressed their own individuality upon their thinkings, and theorizings, and teachings, but you cannot do that with Christianity; you cannot say, ‘Never mind who it was that said it. Attend to what was said.’ For Jesus Christ, and His message, are so interwoven and interlaced in such a fashion as that you cannot get rid of Him, and keep it. He Himself is the Truth. Christ is Christianity; and any man that has ever tried to deal with the teachings of the New Testament as a body of principles, ignoring the lips from which they came, is left with what they call a caput mortuum, a dead mass of impotent generalities. Get Christ into them, and they are all palpitating, and living, and flaming, and have power.

So, then, when I call my brethren, and feel myself bound to the task of being ‘workers with the Truth,’ it is no mere devotion to the propaganda of a creed that I want to urge, but it is devotion to proclaiming the beloved hand of the person out of whom the creed is carved, and in whom all the truth is shrined and sphered. Every man that is Christ’s companion is thereby bound to be a worker with the incarnate Truth. He needs our help. True, he finds all the capital, but we are His partners, His representatives and agents here on earth, as He has taught us in more than one parable. The pound or the talent is His; it is given to me, but it is left with me to determine whether it shall increase and fructify or not. On the Cross He said, ‘It is finished,’ but all through the ages He is working, and all through the ages His mightiest means of working is through the men by whom He works. The Lord works with them, and they work with the Lord. They are His tools; He makes them, but He cannot do His work without them. And notwithstanding the Cross, notwithstanding the adequate powers for the regeneration of humanity, and the salvation of individuals, which lie in that message of the Gospel, the co-operation of the Church is needed if the world is to be saved. Surely it is constituted in order to fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ, and to carry on the unfinished development of the finished work which, done once for all on the Cross, is not done until it has been applied to the world by Christ working through His people, and by His people working with Christ. If there is a flaw in the covering that enwraps the wire, there will be no message at the other end. If you and I are non-conductors, no matter how much power may be flashed into us, that which is beyond us will want the power. The medium between Christ and the world that He died and lives to save, the medium is we Christian people.

‘Workers with the Truth.’ That is parallel with what Paul says, in the great word which he ventures upon when, having just declared that neither he nor Apollos are anything, he rises to the thought which balances that of their nothingness: ‘We are labourers together with God.’

Is not that a dignity? And what shall we say of men who have so little consciousness of union with Jesus Christ as that they have next to no sympathy with the things that fill His heart? I plead for no narrow interpretation of the duties of the ‘fellow-workers with the Truth.’ He came to redress all human misery, sin, and evil. He came not only to speak the words that save the soul with the everlasting salvation of sin forgiven, and friendship restored between God and man, but to carry light and healing and peace and hope into every region where the darkness broods, to break every chain and let the oppressed go free. Social improvements, and all the wider outlooks which Christian benevolence takes in these late years, all come into the general category of being the carrying out of Christ’s sympathies and purpose, and being part of the work of those who are ‘ fellow-workers’ with Him in His toil, and who shall one day hear, ‘It is finished! The kingdoms of this world are the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.’

III. Farther, the workers with Christ are to be workers with one another.

These traveling evangelists had one function. The people in the unknown church in Asia Minor, staying at home and following their secular callings, had another; and that was, to help and to further these peripatetic brethren. Co-operation means diversity of function and identity of aims and ends. For us there remains the duty still, as incumbent as it was in those early days, of recognizing our own special task, of cleaving to that, and yet of furthering and helping all our brethren who, in their diverse ways, are engaged in the same great end. The men that take care of the base of operations of that army that is pressing down upon the foe are as truly fighting the enemy as the men that are in the front. It was the old law in Israel, based upon a clear understanding that all who co-operated towards one end, in whatsoever divers ways, are united together; that ‘as his part is that goes down into the battle, so shall his part be that abides by the stuff; they shall part alike.’

Brethren, learn your special work. Remember that you have each something to do that nobody can do as well as you. Learn your special work, and beware of narrowing your sympathies to your special work. Let them go out to embrace all, however far apart upon the wall and however different may be their tasks, they are still co-operant to one end. ‘He that planteth and he that watereth are one.’ Identity of purpose, and wide diversity of method, with as wide charity, and as wide sympathy, ought to mark all Christian workers.

All the thoughts that I have been trying to urge have a very direct bearing upon church as well as upon individual life. Although there is no intention, on our Apostle’s part, of laying down anything like the constitution of a Christian church, in the incidental words of my text, yet the principles involved in these words do lie very deep down in the conception of what a Christian church ought to be. They make very short work of all sacerdotal assumptions. A priest doing a miracle there at the altar, and the people simple recipients of, and spectators-that, in many quarters, is the modern notion of the relation between pastor and people. John gives the truer one when he says-’ fellow-helpers to the Truth.’

The words bear on a mistake that is more common in the audience, I suppose, than sacramentarian notion -namely, that a church is a place where people come to hear sermons and pay their pew-rents, and there an end. There is a dead-weight of idle people clogging the work of every Christian congregation in England. -Christian professors! what do you do for the Truth, for your Lord, for your brethren? I, for my part, have to say with the Apostle,’ not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy; for by faith ye stand.’ I decline all responsibility for doing more than my own share of the evangelistic work of this church. The Chinese put up mud-forts in which there is one real cannon that can be fired, and make a noise, and all the rest are dummies; painted, wooden. That is a great deal too like what a great many Christian churches are-one piece to fire, and the others for show.

‘Fellow-helpers.’ That defines our mutual relation. But do not be too sure that your work is only the indirect work of sustaining ‘ them that are such.’ There is some direct work for you to do. And you are shutting your souls out from a great blessing by not doing it. Sure I am that whoever is in union with Jesus Christ will have his lips touched to proclaim His Name somehow. And sure I am that whoever, smitten by love and loyalty to his Master, by the ardour of affection born of the grasp of the Truth, and by real love for his fellow-men that need it, opens his lips to make Christ known, will find that there is no surer way of increasing his own grasp of the Truth, and deepening his own union with Christ, than to seek to make others share in the blessings which are his life. ‘Fellow-helpers to the Truth’-and with the Truth-I pray that we may be so more and more for the days or years that may yet remain to us.


Verse 12

3 John

THE CHRISTIAN’S WITNESSES TO CHARACTER

3 John 1:12.

What a strange fate this Demetrius has had! He has narrowly escaped oblivion, yet he is remembered for ever and his name is known over all the world. But beyond the name nothing is certain. Who he was, where and when he lived, what he had done to earn the old Apostle’s commendation are unknown. All his surroundings are swallowed up in darkness, and there shines out only that one little point of light that he ‘hath a good report’-or, as the Revised Version better renders it,’ he hath the witness of all men, and of the truth itself.’ A great many brilliant reputations might be glad to exchange a fame that has filled the world for a little epitaph like that.

I said we did not know anything about him. What if he should be the Demetrius whose astute appeal to profit and religion roused the shrine-makers at Ephesus and imperiled Paul’s life? Of course, that is mere conjecture, and the identity of name is not a strong foundation to build on, for it was a very common one. If this disciple, thus praised by John, is our old acquaintance in Acts, what a change had come over him! Truly, to him, ‘ old things had passed away, all things were become new.’ If we remember John’s long connection with Ephesus, the conjecture will perhaps seem reasonable. At all events, we do no harm if, perhaps led by sentiment, we give as much weight as we can to the supposition that here we have, reappearing within the Church, the old antagonist, and that ‘this Paul’ had ‘persuaded’ him, too, that ‘they be no gods which are made with hands,’ and so had turned him to Jesus Christ. I wonder what became of his craft, and his silver shrines, if this is the same man as he who mustered the Ephesian silversmiths.

But be that as it may, I desire-keeping in mind the alteration of rendering that I have suggested-’hath witness of all men,’ and of the truth itself-to look at the sort of witnesses to character that a Christian man should be able to call.

I. The first witness is Common Opinion.

There is something wrong unless a Christian can put popular opinion into the witness-box in his favour. Of course there is a sense in which there is nothing more contemptible than seeking for that, and in which no heavier woe can come upon us, and no worse thing can be said about us, than that all men speak well of us. But, on the other hand, whether men speak well of us or not, there should be a distinctive characteristic plainly visible in us Christians which shall make all sorts of observers say to themselves, ‘ Well I that is a good man anyhow. I may not like him; I may not want to resemble him; but I cannot help seeing what sort of a man he is and that there is no mistake about his genuine goodness.’ That is a testimony which Christians ought to be more ambitious of possessing than many of them are, and to lay themselves out more consciously to get, than most of them do. For bad men generally know a good one when they see him and a great many of them

‘Compound for sins they are inclined to
By praising virtues they’ve no mind to,’

and substitute admiration of uncongenial goodness for imitation of it. It is nothing uncommon to find the drunkard praising the temperate man, and evil-livers of all sorts recognizing the beauty of their own opposites. The worst man in the world has an ideal of goodness in his conscience and mind, far purer and loftier than the best man has realized.

And, again, it is a very righteous and good thing that people who are not Christians should have such extremely lofty and strict standards for the conduct of people that are. We sometimes smile when we see in the newspapers, for instance, sensational paragraphs about the crime of some minister, or clergyman, or some representative religious man. No doubt a dash of malice is present in these; but they are an unconscious testimony to the high ideal of character which attaches to the profession of Christianity. No similar paragraphs appear about the immoralities or crimes of non-religious men. They are not expected to be saints. But we are, and it is right that we should be thus expected. The world does not demand of us more than it is entitled to do, or that our Lord has demanded. There is nothing more wholesome than that Christian people should feel that there are lynx eyes watching them, and hundreds who will have a malicious joy if they defile their garments, and bring discredit on their profession.

I have not the smallest objection to that; and I only wish that some of us who talk a great deal about the depth of our spiritual life could hear what is thought of us by our next-door neighbors, and our servants, and the tradesmen that we deal with, and all those other folk that have no sympathy with our religion, and are, therefore, rigid judges of our conduct.

Then there is another consideration which I suggest -that a great many good people think that it is their Christianity that makes folk speak ill of them, when it is their inconsistencies and not their Christianity that provoke the sarcasm. If you wrap up the treasure of your Christianity in a rough envelope of angularity, self-righteousness, sourness, censure, and criticism, you need not wonder that people do not think much of your Christianity. It is not because Christian professors are good, but because they are not better, that ninety-nine out of a hundred of the uncharitable things that are said about them are said, and truly said.

So, dear friends, let us-not in any cowardly spirit of trying to disarm censure, nor because we have an itch to be caressed, like a parrot to have its head scratched, nor because we are pleased that men shall think well of us, but because the judgment of the world is, in some degree, a more wholesome tribunal than the judgment of our own consciences, and is, in some sense, an anticipation, though with many mistakes, of the judgment of God-let us try to have a good report of ‘them that are without,’ and to he ‘living epistles, known and read of all men,’ who will recognize the handwriting, and say, ‘That is Christ’s.’

Remember Daniel in that court where luxury and vice and sensuality, and base intrigues of all sorts rioted, and how they said of him, ‘We shall find no occasion against him except it be concerning the law of his God.’ And let us try to earn the same kind of reputation; and be sure of this that, unless the world endorses our profession of Christianity, which it may do by disliking us-that is as it may be-there is grave reason to doubt whether the profession is a reality or not.

II. Then there is another witness here mentioned- ‘the truth itself.’

The Gospel of Jesus Christ witnesses for the man who witnesses for, and lives by it. A law broken testifies against the breaker; a law kept testifies for him. And so, if there be an approximation in the drift of our lives to the great ideal set forth in the law of God, that law will bear witness for us. But there must be in us the things that Christianity plainly requires before ‘the truth’ can be put into the witness box for us. There must be manifest self-surrender.

Let us go back to our supposition, which, of course, I freely admit is the only conjecture. If this is the Demetrius of the Acts, and he became a Christian, the first thing that ‘the truth’ required of him would be to shut up shop, to give up the lucrative occupation by which he had his wealth, and to cast in his lot with the men that were warring against idols. We, in our degree, will have, in some form or other, the same self-surrender to exercise.

I have a letter which tells me the story of a man, who for years has been trying to serve God, in the employ of some establishment where they sell wines and spirits, but now his conscience has smitten him, and he has had to give it up, and writes to ask me if I can find him a situation. Well! He is borne witness to by the truth itself, which he has loyally obeyed. We all, as Christians, have to do the like, and not only in the great acts of our lives to rid ourselves of everything that is contrary to the principles and commandments of the Word, but in the small things to be ever seeking to come nearer and nearer to the ideal which He requires.

When looking into the perfect law of liberty we see in its precepts our own characters reflected, if I may so say; because we keep these we may be sure that we are right. If we do not, we may be sure that we are wrong. The truth will bear witness against lives that are ordered in defiance of it and for those which are conformed to it. It is possible that even the lofty and perfect examples of conduct and character which are in the history of the Master, and the principles that are drawn from Him, may testify of us; and if so, what quiet blessedness will be ours!

III. But there is a last thought here. Christ Himself will be a witness.

I do not know that in these profound and mystical letters of the Apostle John, that great designation ‘the truth’ is ever employed to mean only the body of teaching contained in what we call the Gospel. I think that there is always trembling in the expression, and sometimes predominating in it, in these letters, the personal application of which our Lord, as reported by the same Apostle when he was playing the part of Evangelist, gives us the warrant, when He says, ‘I am the Truth.’ And if that personal meaning is, as I think it is, shimmering through these words, then we may venture to deal with it separately in conclusion, and to say that the third witness is Jesus Christ Himself.

‘With me,’ said Paul, ‘it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment’; and that wholesome disregard of opinion is part of the attitude which we should bear towards popular or any human estimate-but’ he that judgeth me is the Lord".’

Now, notice Paul’s tenses. He does not say, ‘He that is going to judge me,’ away out yonder in the indefinite future, at some great Day of Judgment after death, but he says, ‘He that judgeth me’; and he means us to feel that, step by step, all through our lives, and in reference to each individual action at the time of its commission, there is an act of Christ’s judgment, in infallible determination by Him of the moral good or evil of our deed. So, moment by moment, we are at that tribunal, and act by act, we please or we displease Him; and of each feeling and thought, word, and deed, He says, ‘Well,’ or ‘ 111, is it done.’

We may have Him for our Witness as well as for our Judge. How does He witness? To-day, and all through our earthly days, He will witness by His voice in the inner man, enlightened and made sensitive to evil by His own gracious presence. I believe that conscience is always the irradiation of the ‘Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’; but I believe that the conscience of the man who is born again by faith in Jesus Christ is in a more special manner the voice of Christ Himself speaking within him. And when there rises in the heart that quiet glow which follows His approval, there is a Witness that no voices around, censuring or praising, have the smallest power to affect. Never mind what the world says if the voice within, which is the voice of Jesus Christ, testifies to integrity and to the desire to serve Him.

And covet this, dear friends, as by far the best and the happiest thing that we can possess in this world, when we hear Him, in the recesses of our hearts, saying to us, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ then our thoughts are carried forward still further; and we may venture, with all our imperfections, to look onward to the day when again the Judge will be the Witness for us, even to the surprise of those whose acts He then attests. He Himself has taught us so, when He pictures the wondering servant saying, ‘Lord, when did I do all these things, which Thou hast discovered in me?’ And He has assured us that ‘never will He forget any of our works,’ and that at the last solemn hour, when we must be manifested before the Judgment-seat of Christ, He Himself will confess our deeds before the Father and before His holy angels. It is well to have the witness of man; it is heaven to have the witness of the Truth Himself.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 3 John 1:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/3-john-1.html.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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