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IN order rightly to understand this Epistle, we must make ourselves acquainted with the Apostle’s sphere of labor at the time of writing it, and with the peculiar circumstances to which he had reference, in the condition of the churches whom he addressed. From the true historical explanation will follow, moreover, its proper application to all succeeding times, and to our own age more especially, as bearing a more marked resemblance to that which we may designate as the Johannic period; an age which, in the disorganization and destruction of the old order of things, is preparing the way for a new epoch in the development of the kingdom of God. In the opposing influences with which John had to contend as a preacher of the Gospel, properly understood, we shall see prefigured the very same which obstruct 8the progress of evangelical truth in our own day.

After the martyrdom of Paul, the influences which had already begun to oppose themselves to the christian life in the churches of Asia Minor, broke forth with increased strength when no longer restrained by the personal character and authority of the great Apostle. John was now called to supply his place in the guidance of the bereaved churches, left exposed to the perils of so dangerous a conflict. He had already labored long among them, when he sent out this pastoral letter, with reference to the many forms of corruption which here menaced genuine Christianity. Of these corruptions, some were chiefly speculative, others practical in their character. They were, in part, errors arising from a narrow and defective conception of christian truth; in part, practical mistakes which had no such deeper origin. But these errors, of whatever kind, with which John had to contend, did not respect merely those single points of difference in the mode of dogmatic conception, to which in later times a greater weight has often been attached, than is warranted by a more just estimate of their importance 9both to the inward and the outward christian life. On the contrary, they all had reference to that one great truth on which all others turn, the central truth of Christianity. The Apostle’s example furnishes a model of the discrimination, too much neglected in after times, between that which is of practical importance in differences of doctrine, and that which cannot be so regarded.

In the Pauline period, all had turned on the question between Law and Gospel; on the question whether faith in Jesus, as the Saviour, would alone suffice for the justification and sanctification of men, or whether obedience to the Mosaic law were also requisite. Now, on the contrary, the central point of the conflict between truth and error was the Person of Christ; and it became more and more evident, that a full and complete conception of Christianity, in its relation to faith and life, must be based on a full conception of the Person of Christ himself. The question had already taken this turn at the time of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome, as appears from his own opposition to those errorists in the church at Colosse. Here, even then, the Person of Christ in its relation to God, to the universe, and to humanity, 10formed the central point of controversy; and this was nothing else than a farther development of the inherent contrariety between genuine Christianity, and that which only assumes its likeness in order to vitiate it in its own peculiar nature. We see the same thing repeated in our own time,—all essential questions of religious faith resolving themselves more and more into the one question: What are we to hold respecting the Person of Christ?

That the Word,—He who from the beginning was with God and was God, He by whom all things were created,—became Flesh; this, as John himself teaches, constitutes the peculiar nature of the Person of Christ. Herein is that grounded by which he is distinguished from all else that has ever appeared in the history of humanity,—the union of the Divine Essence with human nature in all its properties and peculiarities, the humanization of the Divine Essence in order to remodel human nature after this revealed form of the divine. And as it is this which constitutes the peculiar nature of the Person of Christ, so does it constitute the peculiar nature of entire Christianity; its grand purpose being, as befits the destiny 11of man created in the image of God, to raise whatever is human to the glorious dignity of the divine life, to transform it into the divine. Thus, on the right apprehension of Christ as the Incarnate Word, depends also the true conception of the whole moral change wrought in the life by Christianity, in other words, the peculiar nature of all christian morality. The true conception of this union of the divine and human, in the Person of Christ, being thus essential to a true understanding of what Christ was; there readily arose two opposite forms of error, exalting the one at the expense of the other, instead of grasping the full and entire unity of his divine-human person, both sides in perfect agreement and harmony with each other. Both these erroneous and mutilated conceptions of the Whole Christ, testify of that very truth from which they diverge in opposite directions. For such, and no other, must have been Christ’s manifestation of himself on earth, in order that the contemplation of it might make such opposite impressions. Of this no other example can be found in human history. On the one class, so powerful was the impression of the purely human in that manifestation, that they 12would recognize in him nothing but the man, though gifted with extraordinary divine powers for the fulfilment of his human calling. The other class, contending against this narrow conception of the idea of Christ, ran into the opposite extreme. To their view, the divine glory shone in the appearance of Christ with an overpowering radiance, before which all that was human vanished from sight. They regarded it only as the visible form, in which the manifestation of a divine existence had made its abode, in order that it might become an object of human perception. Between these opposite forms of conception,—the Ebionitish and Docetish, with which John had to contend,—there arose a third, that of Cerinthus, which seemed to reconcile the two extremes, but which was at bottom a compound of what was erroneous in both, and allowed neither to the divine nor the human in Christ its just claims. According to this view, Jesus was a mere man, in all respects like other men. But at his solemn consecration to his Messianic calling by the baptism in Jordan, the celestial redeeming Spirit, as something wholly distinct from him, had descended upon and united itself with him. Thus the purely human and the divine 13were indeed both recognized; not however in their proper unity, but on the contrary as entirely distinct the one from the other, and only united in an outward and accidental relation. Thus neither the divine was recognized in its humanization, nor the human in its exaltation through the divine. The true significance of the Person of Christ, and of the new creation which was to proceed from him,—the God-man as the Redeemer of humanity,— was necessarily obscured in this view no less than in the two others. In opposition to all these fragmentary conceptions of the person and work of Christ, the Apostle John felt himself constrained to give the testimony derived from his own direct perception and personal experience of the life of Christ, in which the glory of the only begotten of the Father had revealed itself to him, beaming forth in his whole manifestation.

But it will easily be perceived, that these same contrarieties are repeated at the present day under new forms; and hence the Apostle’s words apply with no less force to the spiritual aspects of our own age. The one class recognize in Christ only the enlightened man, the most perfect teacher 14of religious truth who had then ever appeared on earth, and the most perfect model for the human life. Christianity is in their view only a system of moral instruction, moral precept and moral example. They deny the supernatural, the divine in the life of Christ, and consider him as differing only in degree from the nobler of the race; they explain away the Gospel history, till everything in it is brought down to the level of common experience. Hence too, they cannot recognize nor comprehend those moral potencies proceeding from Christ, such as could proceed from no other, which are working the moral transformation of the world, and by which Christianity is distinguished from all other spiritual forces at work in humanity. The glory of a divine life, whereby everything human is transformed into the heavenly, remains hidden from their view. Christianity, in its peculiar nature, is to them still an unrevealed mystery. Others there are, on the contrary, who fully recognize the violence thus done to the representation of the life of Christ in the Gospel, who catch from the Gospel narrative the gleam of higher ideas; but they are ideas floating in ether, having no contact with the earthly and actual. 15According to their view, the historical manifestation had no actual existence; it is but a sublimated myth, which has become a medium for the divine. The historical Christ becomes to them a mere form of mist, a phantom, an illusion, as to the Docetes of the ancient world. There still remains, therefore, the same disagreement between the heavenly archetype and the actual being, which it was the very purpose of Christ’s coming to do away; and which was to disappear more and more by the progressive incorporation of his divine life into the life of humanity, in those who enter into fellowship with him as their Redeemer. As the former will allow no guide but actual and ordinary experience, which can never rise to the divine Idea; so the latter content themselves with the contemplation of mere ideals which have no part in life, never become flesh and blood, never incorporate themselves with the actual; and thus on this side also, with all its tendency to the ideal, nothing remains but the common and actual. The one class admit only an ideal Christ; the other only an every-day Christ level to their low and natural view of the historical. The first admit only the spirit, the other only the letter; and 16thus both are lost, being rightly apprehended only in their unity.

From both these forms of error are to be distinguished those practical mistakes, which have no such theoretical basis. Here too, as in the former case, we find directly opposite forms of error. The one class, in the consciousness of redemption already received, lost sight of the still remaining necessity of redemption, which should be ever present to the view of the believer; that ever present sense of still inhering sin, from which he can be purified only by a perpetually renewed surrender of himself to the Redeemer. The other class hoped for forgiveness of sin, without renunciation of sin in submission to the Redeemer. They supposed that forgiveness might be obtained, without a thorough work of sanctification in fellowship with Christ. To them, forgiveness of sin was something merely external; just as faith had become something external merely, having lost its true inward significance. A mechanical and worldly Christianity had arisen; a natural result where Christianity has become a thing of custom and habit, as in these churches founded in the time of Paul, in many of which Christianity had 17already been handed clown from one generation to another. Both these forms of error must be met by holding up to view the Holy One; Him who appeared as Redeemer to establish a kingdom of holiness in man; who, as Redeemer and Sanctifier, continues to work in that humanity, which is more and more to be purified and ennobled by him, and which can never cease to have need of Him as its Redeemer in all the progressive stages of sanctification. We need not stop to point out the perpetual recurrence of these practical mistakes, as it must be obvious to all.

To these theoretical and practical mistakes stand opposed the counsels, instructions, and warnings of the Apostle in this pastoral letter. It will therefore easily be seen, how we are to apply what is here written as if intended expressly for our own time. We will now proceed to the consideration of them in detail.

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