Children, it is the last hour; and just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. This is how we know that it is the last hour.
I. PERIOD OF ANTICHRIST. "Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour." The apostle addresses his readers with the authority of age and experience. He has been referring to the transitoriness of the world; from that he passes to the last hour. What was designated in Old Testament times the age to come, extending from the Incarnation to the second coming, is here called not "the last age," or "the last days," but, more strongly, "the last hoar," to emphasize the fact that we know not the hour when the present order of things is to terminate. The solemnity of the end is fitted to have a salutary impression; and it is kept dark, that we may always have the feeling of its being the last hour. The present era is for the Christian manifestation; but opposed to it is the antichristian manifestation. John is the only New Testament writer who uses the term "antichrist." Paul's designation is "he who opposeth himself." Antichrist is more than Opposer; he is one who opposes under the guise of Christ. He is one who would supplant Christ by assuming to be and to do what Christ is and does. Our Lord had said that many would come in his name, saying, "I am Christ." This was doubtless the foundation for the teaching about the coming of antichrist. John follows the Master in referring to a plurality of antichrists. It would seem to follow that the personal element changes; the spirit remains. Those who represent separate anti-christian manifestations are antichrists; the whole of these manifestations, personally represented, is antichrist. In the apostle's day there were not wanting quasi-Christian movements; they are not wanting still. When Christianity is active, attempts are made to meet the demand it makes, with something spurious, resembling Christianity, but not really Christianity. There is a displacing of Christ by priestly pretension, by the multiplication of rites, by the authority of the Church, by the merits of the saints; or there is, on the other hand, an explaining away of the Incarnation and the substitution, hero-worship, the gospel of mere science. Such antichristian developments, however much to be regretted, are only to be expected. John would seem to say that they are the writhings of the last hour, the rising up of evil against him by whom it is being destroyed, increasing in bitterness as the end approaches.
II. RELATION OF THE ANTICHRISTS TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest how that they all are not of us." The same idea is brought out by Paul when he describes the development as an apostasy, i.e., a falling away from the Christian position once occupied. The leaders were apostates, perverts, men who used the intellectual quickening, general enlightenment, and even the forms of thought they had got from Christianity, against its essential principles. The leaving of the Christian society by the antichrists of John's day was to be accounted for by their not being animated by the common sentiment, or rather, as it is put, by their not being sustained in their life from the society, but from some other source. They had never been able to say that all their springs were in the Church (Psalm 87:7). If they had thus derived from the Church, they would have remained in the Church. But not being the Church's true progeny and upbringing, they went out. By this there was served a good probationary purpose. Their true character and position were clearly brought out. They were known as persons whom the Church did not own. It is well, when there is so much life in Christian societies, that those who are not of them feel the necessity of going out. It is well, also, when it is made clear with whom we have to do.
III. CONFIDENCE IN THE CHRISTIAN DISCERNMENT OF HIS READERS. "And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth." Christ has not left his people without suitable provision against deception. He is here called the Holy One; and we may conclude that his own holiness has to do with his discernment. It is through his own holy experience, acquired in this world, that he sees things. And so it is the good who have true discernment. "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." Without holy experience, intellectual giants and the most successful men of business are blind. Christ's provision is closely allied to his own name, viz. chrism. It is he who is himself the Christ, the Anointed of God, that supplies the chrism, the anointing oil for his people. After the tabernacle had been constructed, it had to be consecrated by the application, to all its parts and furniture, of the holy anointing oil, for the preparation of which special instructions were given. When Samuel poured the vial of oil on Saul's head he said, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee." The anointing of David is thus described: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." What was conferred on prophets and priests and kings is now conferred on Christians, viz. the anointing Spirit. The Spirit gives us a pure, deep, rich experience through which we can see things. We are here described ideally, as those who, with the anointing of the Spirit, know all things. As we are said to be omnipotent within the sphere of our doing, so we are said to be omniscient within the sphere of our knowing. As in the one case we must think of what is proper for us to do, so in the other case we must think of what is proper for us to know. We are to regard this as guarantee against deception. "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." But it is not possible with what provision we have secured to us. There is no false appearance beneath which it is impossible for us to see, no truth into which it is impossible for us to penetrate. In writing, John recognized the favoured condition of his readers as qualified to know the truth, and to detect every lie as belonging to another category.
IV. ANTICHRIST DEFINED. "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also." Having recognized their power to detect every lie (passing from the abstract), he asks vividly, "Who is the liar?" i.e., the utterer of the supreme lie, the denier of truth by pre-eminence? His answer is virtually a definition of antichrist, viz. "he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ." Jesus was a historical Person, who had been seen, heard, handled; what was to be predicated of him? As there was a definiteness about Jesus, so there was a definiteness about the Christ, or the Messiah, i.e., there were certain ideas which the Old Testament put into the word, and which the Jews were trained to associate with it. There were these ideas in the Jewish mind as to the work of the Messiah - that he would tell all things (John 4:25), that he would be a King, that he would be the Saviour of the world (John 4:42), in a word, meet all spiritual need. There were these ideas as to his Person - that it would not be known whence he was (John 7:27), that he would abide for ever (John 12:34), that he would be the Son of God (John 1:49). These ideas were far from being distinctly or consistently held; but they were founded on the Old Testament. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ, it was according to the pure Old Testament conception. The distinguishing part of the conception was his being the Son of God. This was understood by Peter (Matthew 16:16), and also by the high priest (Matthew 26:63). The liar here is defined to be he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ; and then this denier of Christ - named antichrist - is regarded as denying therewith the Father and the Son. The antichristian lie, then, comes to be the denial of the Incarnation, which is the key-note of the Epistle, viz. the union of the Son of God and man. The Jewish antichrist refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, declared him to be an impostor, and thus set aside the Incarnation. The Gnostic antichrist, which is more pointed at here, taught that the aeon, Christ, descended on the man Jesus at his baptism, and left him before the Passion. The antichrist is not confined to one shape or to two shapes, but is protean; its inmost character, however, always is the setting aside of the Incarnation. If God has not formed the connection with humanity, which is pointed to in the Incarnation, then his Fatherhood is not revealed; and we do not have the Father, i.e., possess him in living fellowship. Denying the Incarnation, we cannot have the joy of the thought that he has gone the length of sacrificing his Son for us. But, confessing God Incarnate, we have the joy of the Son dying for us, and of the Father giving him up to the death for us.
V. ADVANTAGE OF HOLDING TO THE CHRISTIAN POSITION. "As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal." That which they heard from the beginning was the truth about the Incarnation. If that abode in them, constantly mingled with their being, then they would also abide in the Son and in the Father - would have constant communion, not only with the incarnate Son, but with his Father. The promise contained in the Incarnation is the life eternal. What could such condescending love mean but that, in communion with the Son and the Father, we should have our highest well-being inalienably secured to us? Let, then, the Incarnation dwell in our minds. Let it elevate our conception of God; let it touch our hearts; let it be motive-power to our wills. According as it takes possession of us do we advance toward the goal of our being.
VI. RENEWED EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN HIS HEARERS. "These things have I written unto you concerning' them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him." The antichristian teachers were busy at their work, trying to lead them astray. That was his motive for writing to them as he had done. He did not thereby intend to convey any want of confidence in them. They had immediate communication with Christ, access to his thoughts through the reception of the anointing Spirit. The anointing abiding in them made them independent of any human teacher such as he was. Christ was present, in his Spirit, to teach them as every new occasion required - to teach them what was truth and what was no lie, to teach them always in the way of opening up the meaning of the original message. Thus taught by his Spirit, they abode in him, notwithstanding the attempts to lead them astray. This doctrine does not exclude new developments; but these must be developments of the original teaching. We have thus a safeguard against extravagances. We are not to despise human helps; but it is well that we can all have the truth witnessed in our minds. Our teachers are not intended to see for us (which is the Roman Catholic idea), but to help us to see for ourselves.
VII. EXHORTATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR KNOWLEDGE, IN WHICH TRANSITION IS MADE TO A NEW SECTION. "And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not he ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." In this hortatory part he addresses them, not as under his care, but rather as objects of his warm affection. They knew, as we have seen, how to abide in Christ; let them, then, abide in him. It was a great fact that Christ was to be manifested, i.e., in glory, though there was uncertainty as to the time of the manifestation. What was their relation to that manifestation? Were they prepared, the moment of its occurrence, to pass into his presence with boldness, and not "as a guilty thing surprised," to shrink with shame from him? They knew what was required. It was a requirement founded on what they knew God to he, viz. righteous. "The righteousness of God is the Divine attribute of an active nature, by virtue of which God wills and performs all things which are conformable to his eternal Law, prescribes suitable laws to his creatures, implements his premises made to man, rewards the good, and punishes the ungodly." The requirement, then (to which there is no exception), is doing righteousness, i.e., actively fulfilling our duties. The inner abiding in Christ must pass into the outer life of God-defined and God-like activity. Only thus can we show ourselves to be begotten of God - with which idea the new section begins. - R.F.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists
I. "My children, it is THE LAST HOUR — We perceive that it is the last hour." Bishop Westcott, in his rich and learned Commentary on this Epistle, calls our attention to the absence of the Greek article: "A last hour it is (ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν)" — so the apostle literally puts it; and the anarthrous combination is peculiar here. (St. Paul's, "A day of the Lord is coming," in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, resembles the expression.) The phrase "seems to mark the general character of the period, and not its specific relation to 'the end.' It was a period of critical change." "The hour" is a term repeatedly used in the Gospel of St. John for the crisis of the earthly course of Jesus, the supreme epoch of His death and return to the Father. This guides us to St. John's meaning here. He is looking backward, not forward. The venerable apostle stands upon the border of the first Christian age. He is nearing the horizon, the rim and outmost verge of that great "day of the Lord" which began with the birth of the first John, the forerunner, and would terminate with his own departure: himself the solitary survivor of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. The shadows were closing upon John; everything was altered about him. The world he knew had passed or was passing quite away. Jerusalem had fallen: he had seen in vision the overthrow of mighty Rome, and the empire was shaken with rumours and fears of change. The work of revelation, he felt, was all but complete. The finished truth of the revelation of the Father in the Son was now confronted by the consummate lie of heresy which denied them both (ver. 22). He presided over the completion of the grand creative age, and he saw that its end was come. Clearly it was his last hour; and for aught he knew it might be the world's last, the sun of time setting to rise no more, the crash of doom breaking upon his dying ears. The world passes through great cycles, each of which has its last hour anticipating the absolute conclusion. The year, with its course from spring to winter, from winter to autumn, the day from dawn to dark, image the total course of time. The great epochs and "days" of human history have a finality. Each of these periods in turn sensibly anticipates the end of all things. Many great and notable days of the Lord there have been, and perhaps will be, many last hours before the last of all. The earth is a mausoleum of dead worlds; in its grave mounds, tier above tier, extinct civilisations lie orderly interred. Each "day" of history, with its last hour, is a moment in that "age of the ages" which includes the measureless circumference of time.
II. The Apostle John saw the proof of the end of the age in the appearance of MANY ANTICHRISTS. The word "antichrist" has, by etymology, a double meaning. The antichrist of whose coming St. John's readers had "heard," if identical, as one presumes, with the awful figure of 2 Thessalonians 2, is a rival or mock-Christ, a Satanic caricature of the Lord Jesus; the "many antichrists" were not that, but deniers, indeed destroyers of Christ; and this the epithet may equally well signify. So there is no real disagreement in the matter between St. Paul and St. John. The heretic oppugners of Christ, starting up before John's eyes in the Asian Churches, were forerunners, whether at a greater or less distance, of the supreme antagonist, messengers who prepared his way. They were of the same breed and likeness, and set forth principles that find in him their full impersonation. These antichrists of St. John's last hour, the opponents then most to be dreaded by the Church, were teachers of false doctrine. They "deny that Jesus is the Christ" (ver. 22). This denial is other than that which the same words had denoted fifty years before. It is not the denial of Jewish unbelief, a refusal to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah; it is the denial of Gnostic error, the refusal to admit the Divine Sonship of Jesus and the revelation of the Godhead in manhood through His person. Such a refusal makes the knowledge of both impossible; neither is God understood as Father, nor Jesus Christ as Son, by these misbelievers. The nature of the person of Christ, in St. John's view, is not a question of transcendental dogma or theological speculation; in it lies the vital point of an experimental and working Christian belief. "Who is he," the apostle cries, "that overcometh the world, except he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5); and again, "Everyone that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is begotten of God" (1 John 5:1). In passing from St. Paul's chief Epistles to this of St. John, the doctrinal conflict is carried back from the atonement to the incarnation, from the work to the nature of Christ, from Calvary to Bethlehem. There it culminates. Truth could reach no higher than the affirmation, error could proceed no further than the contradiction, of the completed doctrine of the Person of Christ as it was taught by St. John. The final teaching of Divine revelation is daringly denied. "What think ye of the Christ? — what do you make of Me?" is His crucial question to every age. The two answers — that of the world with its false prophets and seducers (1 John 2:19; 1 John 4:5), and that of the Christian brotherhood, one with its Divine Head — are now delivered in categorical assertion and negation. Faith and unfaith have each said their last word.
III. While the Apostle John insists on the radical nature of the assaults made in his last days upon the Church's Christological belief, HE POINTS WITH ENTIRE CONFIDENCE TO THE SAFEGUARDS BY WHICH THAT BELIEF IS GUARANTEED.
1. In the first place, "you, — in contrast with the antichrists, none of whom were really 'of us' (ver. 19) — you have a chrism from the Holy One (i.e., Christ); all of you know." the truth and can discern its "verity' (vers. 20, 21). Again, in ver. 27, "The chrism that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone be teaching you. But as His chrism teaches you about all things, and is true, and is no lie, and as it did teach you, abide in Him." Chrism is Greek for anointing, as Christ for anointed; St. John's argument lies in this verbal connection. The chrism makes Christians, and is wanting to antichrists. It is the constitutive vital element common to Christ and His people, pervading members and Head alike. We soon perceive wherein this chrism consists. What the apostle says of the chrism here he says of the Spirit afterwards in 1 John 5:7: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth." And in 1 John 4:6 he contrasts the influences working in apostolic and heretical circles respectively as "the spirit of truth" and "of error." The bestowal of the Spirit on Jesus of Nazareth is described under the figure of unction by St. Peter in Acts 10:38, who tells "How God anointed (christened) Him — made Him officially the Christ — with the Holy Spirit and power." It was the possession, without limit, of "the Spirit of truth" which gave to the words of Christ their unlimited authority (John 3:34, 35). Now out of that Holy Spirit which He possessed infinitely in His Divine fashion, and which His presence and teaching continually breathed, the Holy One gave to His disciples; and all members of His body receive, according to their capacity, "the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive," but "whom" He "sends" unto His own "from the Father" (John 14:17; John 15:26, etc.). The Spirit of the Head is the vital principle of the Church, resident in every limb, and by its universal inhabitation and operation constituting the Body of Christ. "The communion of the Holy Ghost" is the inner side of all that is outwardly visible in Church activity and fellowship. It is the life of God in the society of men. This Divine principle of life in Christ has at the same time an antiseptic power. It affords the real security for the Church's preservation from corruption and decay. For this gift St. Paul had prayed long ago on behalf of these same Asian Christians (Ephesians 1:17-23). This prayer had been answered. Paul's and John's children in the faith were endowed with a Christian discernment that enabled them to detect the sophistries and resist the blandishments of subtle Gnostic error. This Spirit of wisdom and revelation has never deserted the Church. "You know, all of you" (ver. 20) — this is what the apostle really says. It is the most remarkable thing in the passage. "I have not written unto you," he continues, "because you know not the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth." He appeals to the judgment of the enlightened lay commonalty of the Church, just as St. Paul when he writes, "I speak as to men of sense; judge ye what I say." St. John's "chrism" certainly did not guarantee a precise agreement in all points of doctrine and of practice; but it covers essential truth, such as that of the Godhead of the Redeemer here in question. Much less does the witness of the Spirit warrant individual men, whose hearts are touched with His grace, in setting up to be oracles of God and mouthpieces of the Holy Ghost. In that case the Holy Spirit must contradict Himself endlessly, and God becomes the author of confusion and not of peace. But there is in matters of collective faith a spiritual common sense, a Christian public opinion in the communion of saints, behind the extravagances of individuals and the party cries of the hour, which acts informally by a silent and impalpable pressure, but all the more effectually, after the manner of the Spirit.
2. To this inward and cumulative witness there corresponds an outward witness, defined once for all. "You know the truth...that no lie is of the truth That which you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you" (vers. 21, 24). Here is an objective criterion, given in the truth about Christ and the Father as John's readers heard it from the apostles at the first, and as we find it written in their books. Believing that to be true, the Church rejected promptly what did not square with it. In the most downright and peremptory fashion St. John asserts the apostolic witness to be a test of religious truth: "We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears us not. By this we recognise the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6), Here is the exterior test of the inner light. The witness of the Spirit in the living Church, and in the abiding apostolic word, authenticate and guard each other. This must be so, if one and the self-same Spirit testifies in both. Experience and Scripture coincide. Neither will suffice us separated from the other. Without experience, Scripture becomes a dead letter; without the norm of Scripture, experience becomes a speculation, a fanaticism, or a conceit.
3. The third guarantee cited by St. John lies outside ourselves and the Church: it is neither the chrism that rests upon all Christians, nor the apostolic message deposited with the Church in the beginning; it is the faithfulness of our promise giving Lord. His fidelity is our ultimate dependence; and it is involved in the two safeguards previously described. Accordingly, when the apostle has said, in verse 24, "If that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning, ye too shall abide in the Son and the Father," he adds, to make all sure, in the next verse: "And this is the promise which He promised us — the eternal life!" It is our Lord's own assurance over again (John 8:51; John 15:4). The life of fellowship with the Father in the Son, which the antichrist would destroy at its root by denying the Son, the Son of God pledges Himself to maintain amongst those who are loyal to His word, and the word of His apostles, which is virtually His own. He has promised us this (αὐτὸς ἐπηγγείλατο) — He who says, "I am the resurrection and the life." No brief or transient existence is that secured to His people, but "the eternal life." Now eternal life means with St. John, not as with St. Paul a prize to be won, but a foundation on which to rest, a fountain from which to draw; not a future attainment so much as a present divine, and therefore abiding, possession. It is the life which came into the world from God with Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1, 2), and in which every soul has its part that is grafted into Him. Understanding this, we see that the promise of life eternal, in verse 25, is not brought in as an incitement to hope, but as a reassurance to our troubled faith. "These things have I written unto you," the apostle says, "concerning those that mislead you" (ver. 26). Christ's word is set against theirs. Error cannot prevail against the truth as it is in Jesus. "Our little systems have their day"; but the fellowship of souls which rests upon the foundation of the apostles has within it the power of an indissoluble life. Such are the three guarantees of the permanence of Christian doctrine and the Christian life, as they were conceived by St. John and are asserted by him here at his last hour, when the tempests of persecution and sceptical error were on all sides let loose against the Church.
(George G. Findlay, B. A.)Οἰκονομία? Οἰκονομος is the administrator of a household, the lord of a family, he who dispenses to the household their portion of meat in due season. It is a certain measure, more or less, of moral light and help meted out by God, the great Householder, to His human family for the purpose of their probation. Any and every light and help which man has from heaven constitutes, strictly speaking, a dispensation. It seems, moreover, to be a principle of God's dealings that the light and knowledge having been once supernaturally communicated, shall thenceforth be left to radiate from its centre, to diffuse itself among mankind, by the ordinary means of human testimony. Let us now proceed to review the leading dispensations under which mankind has been placed.
1. A single arbitrary restriction, issued merely as a test of obedience, was the first of them. The threat of death, in ease of disobedience, was a moral help to our first parents, tending to keep them in the narrow path of obedience and happiness. But it did not enable them to stand. They broke the commandment, and they fell.
2. The fall had in some mysterious manner put our first parents in possession of a moral sense, or faculty of discerning between good and evil, independently of Divine precept. To second and aid the remonstrances of this faculty, the heads of the human family had such bitter experience of the fruits of transgression as would abide with them to their dying day. Into this experience of the results of transgression was infused, lest man should despair, an element of faith and hope. Who shall say whether man, with these powers brought to bear upon him, may not retrieve his ground and return in true penitence to the bosom of his Father? So the dispensation of experienced punishment on the part of the parent, of ancestral precept on the part of the children began and run its course. But it proved an utter failure. The principle of sin, engendered in its primeval act, ate into the moral nature of man like a gangrene, until at length blasphemy and immorality stalked rampant upon the earth, and the vices of human kind, like the stature of the men of those days, towered to a gigantic height.
3. While the shades of guilt were thus deepening towards a night of utter depravity, and the few faithful ones in the line of Seth shone but with the feeble ray of glowworms amid the surrounding darkness — an additional dispensation was instituted in the announcement of the deluge to the Patriarch Noah, and the direction associated with it, to commence the building of the ark. What a stirring voice from heaven was this! What a Divine trumpet note of warning in the ears of a generation sinking deeper every moment into the fatal torpor of moral insensibility! At length, when Divine patience had had her perfect work the flood OEconomy came to its close amid outpoured torrents and gushing fountains of the deep.
4. When the stage of the earth had been cleared by the flood for another probation of the human race, a new measure of light and help was meted out by God, or, in other terms, a new dispensation was introduced. Human law was now instituted and sanctioned by heaven. It was now to be seen whether man's innate depravity would break through this barrier of restraint also.
5. It was succeeded by the dispensation of Divine law, promulgated with the most awful solemnity, and having annexed to it the most tremendous sanctions.
6. With Samuel and the succession of prophets, as many as spoke or wrote after him, commenced a new era, about three hundred and fifty years after the giving of the law. And of this dispensation the distinguishing characteristic is, that it was constantly expanding itself, that fresh accessions were continually being made under it to man's moral and spiritual resources, that it was a light continually increasing in brightness, shining more and more unto the perfect day when the Sun of Righteousness should rise with healing in His wings.
7. And now at length men's yearnings and anticipations were to be realised. The last hour of the world's day — or, in other words, the final dispensation under which man was to be tried — was at hand. The great Deliverer appeared and revealed a wholly new arrangement, or series of arrangements, under and in virtue of which God would henceforth deal with man.(1) Perfect absolution from the guilt of past sin — an absolution obtained in such a manner as should effectually strike the chord of love and gratitude in every heart of man.(2) A communication of Divine strength through outward means.(3) A perfect and explicit law embodying the purest morality which it is possible to conceive. But as man was still, under this final dispensation, in a state of probation, and a state of probation is not and cannot be a final or fixed state, the mind was still thrown forward by predictions of the Second Advent, to a period when He, in whom the heart and hope of God's people is bound up, shall come again to receive them to Himself, and to visit them with eternal comfort, while vengeance, terrific vengeance, is taken upon all who, though the new dispensation has been proclaimed to them, shall not have taken shelter under the refuge which it provides. We have now passed in review the various dispensations under which man has been placed; and, thus furnished for the fuller understanding of our text, we revert to the solemn asseveration of the apostle, that this under which we live is the final oeconomy, and that with its close will terminate forever the probation of mankind.
(Dean Goulburn.)I. My hearers are coming nearer their LAST BUSINESS DAY. Men will ask about you, and say, "Where is so-and-so?" And your friend wilt say, "Have you not heard the news?" and will take a paper from his pocket and point to your name on the death list. If things are wrong they will always stay wrong. No chance of correcting a false entry, or repairing the loss done to a customer by a dishonest sample, or apologising for the imposition inflicted upon one of your clerks.
II. Men are coming nearer to their LAST SINFUL AMUSEMENT. A dissipated life soon stops. The machinery of life is so delicate that it will not endure much trifling.
III. Men are coming nearer to their LAST SABBATH.
IV. We come near THE LAST YEAR OF OUR LIFE. The world is at least six thousand years old. Sixty thousand years may yet come, and the procession may seem interminable; but our own closing earthly year is not far off.
V. We are coming nearer THE LAST MOMENT OF OUR LIFE. That is often the most cheerful moment. John Howard talked of it with exhilaration, and selected his own burial place, saying to his friend, "A spot near the village of Dauphiney would suit me nicely." It is a poor time to start to get your house insured when the flames are bursting out of all the windows; and it is a poor time to attempt to prepare for death when the realities of eternity are taking hold of us.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Antichristἀντί (contra) and the meaning of the similarly formed word ἀντίθεος, lead to the conclusion that the term means "adversary of Messiah." The Jews derived their conception from Daniel 7:25; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:36; Ezekiel 38-39. The name was probably formed by St. John. It was believed by the Jews that Antichrist would appear immediately before the advent of Christ (cf. chap. 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Our Lord mentioned "pseudo-Christs" as a sign (Matthew 24:24). St. Paul gave a solemn warning to the very Churches which St. John now specially addressed (Acts 20:29). St. John saw these principles and the men who embodied them in full action, and it was an indication for him of "the last period." So far Christians had only learnt in general to expect the personal appearance of one great enemy of Christ, the Antichrist. In his Epistle St. John gives solemn warning that those heretics who denied the God-Man were not merely precursors of Antichrist, but impersonations of the anti-Christian principle — each of them in a true sense an antichrist. The term is used by no other sacred writer, by St. John him self only five times (1 John 2:18, twice, 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7), and that specifically to characterise heresy denying the incarnation, person, and dignity of Christ as God-Man. Antichrist is "the liar"; his spirit and teaching is a lie pure and simple. The one Antichrist, whose coming was stamped into the living tradition of the early Church, and of whom believers had necessarily "heard," is clearly distinguished from many who were already in existence, and were closely connected with him in spirit. Probably St. John expected the chief Antichrist, the "theological antagonist of Christ," before the Personal Advent. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we find the same idea of a singular individual of preeminent wickedness, while St. Paul does not call the "Man of Sin" Antichrist. In the Apocalypse (13-17) a delineation of an anti-Christian power; in St. Paul and in St. John's Epistles of the "eximious anti-Christian person.
(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
1. The apostle addresses himself to believers under the title of "little children." There is a peculiar propriety in using such language to those who are warned. Little children need to be warned. They are ignorant and unsuspecting, because they are inexperienced. When they are tempted they possess little power of resistance. And once betrayed they have neither the skill nor the power to deliver themselves out of the evils into which they have been betrayed. It is to be lamented that in all these respects many Christians bear a strong resemblance to little children.
2. To these the apostle says, "It is the last time," and this is an appropriate introduction to the warning he was about to give them. The meaning of the phrase will be seen by citing the parallel passage in Hebrews 1:1. The last time is therefore the day of Christ. It is the age of Christianity. And there are two views in which it may be appropriately so denominated. It is the last economy viewed in its historical relation to those which have preceded it. And it may be called so also in relation to the future. There will be no other economy. "Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God the Father." It is a high privilege that we live under an economy which is the completion, the perfection of all that went before it. But we must not forget we shall have no higher privileges than those which we now enjoy. If we are not saved by means of those we have we must perish.
3. Thus introduced, the apostle begins to announce his warning, "Ye have heard that antichrist shall come." The very name is sufficient to awaken deep concern. We are at once given to understand that we must see a grand opponent to Him whom we delight to honour, and in whom is all our confidence. For His sake and our own, such an announcement should awaken our timely fear. As for Him, we cannot doubt his ability to overcome every enemy. But we may well fear for ourselves.
4. The apostle, however, comes closer to the case of those little children whom he addressed, and says, "Even now are there many antichrists." Observe the distinction between this statement and the former one. The former is a prophecy, the latter is a fact. Antichrist shall come, but he has not yet been revealed. Time will be required for his development. But there are other forms of evil and other seducers who exist now. You are not to imagine that you are safe because the great antichrist has not yet appeared. The leaven was working which would in time corrupt the mass of professors, so insidious and dangerous is error; and so necessary it is to watch its first rise and destroy it at the bud. In our own day we may well cry with the apostles, "There are many antichrists." And who or what are they? They are all persons and things that are opposed to Christ and His people and His cause. And how can they be enumerated? Infidelity is antichrist, and pours contempt upon the truth. The scoffer is antichrist, and scorns the truth. All ungodly men are antichrists, and while they resist the truth themselves they tempt others to deny it. All errorists are antichrists, and obscure and oppose the truth.
5. The apostle applies this announcement of many antichrists to a practical use, saying in the next clause, "Whereby we know that it is the last time." The words amount to a declaration that this mighty host with all their enmity to the truth should be a marked and prominent feature in the Christian era. Christianity is the best economy, and therefore it is the most hated and opposed by the wicked one.
6. We should beware that we are not found among these antichrists. And for our warning and guidance a description of them is given in the 19th verse — "they went out from us." Once they belonged to the Church of Christ. They apostatised from the faith and practice of the gospel. "But they were not of us," adds the apostle. They never were. "They are not all Israel that are of Israel." They may have professed the faith, but in reality they had never embraced it. "For," says he, "had they been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." This is certain. The nature of the Divine life makes it so. "The just shall live by faith." The apostle concludes, "But they went out, that they might be made manifest they were not all of us." On the whole, it was better they departed. It was better for themselves, that they may not be deceived by a name, but be led to penitence. It was better for others, that they might not be a burthen and hindrance to those with whom they were associated. And it was better for the cause of religion, that it might not be scandalised by their inconsistencies.
(James Morgan, D. D.)
They went out from us, but they were not of usI. WHERE COULD THESE APOSTATES GO OUT FROM BUT THE CHURCH? If they had not been in it they could not have gone out from it. The Church they went out of was the true Church of Christ, in which the true and everlasting gospel was preached. And these persons had professed their faith in all the essential truths of the gospel. Yet their ambitious spirits were such they could not be content but they must bring in another gospel, contrary to what the apostles preached, pretending to have greater light into truth, and what they called the Person of Christ, and grace, than the very apostles themselves. They turned their back on Christ, His gospel, His ordinances, His apostles, His Churches, and everything belonging unto Him, and framed out of their own errors, heresies, whims, and fancies, a Christ and gospel for themselves. The apostle assigns the reason why they went out from the Churches in the way and manner they did — it was because they were not of one heart and soul with the Churches in the truth. As it was then, so it has been ever since. All the heresies which have tormented the Churches of Christ, down even to our present times, have originated from persons who have been in the Churches, who have departed from the Churches. From such as have made schisms and divisions in the Churches; and when any old error is newly revived, it in general springs from such persons as are disaffected to the true Churches of Jesus Christ.
II. HOW THE APOSTLE CONFIRMS HIS ASSERTION — "For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." How solemn! how awful! These antichrists came out of the apostolical Church of Jesus. They had been in it. It answered their end for a season to remain in the Churches to whom they had given in their names. It suited them to leave these Churches at such seasons; when they could, to distil their pernicious influences, as they thought and hoped, it would gain converts to them. These heretics left the Churches because they were not of them, only nominally. They might, and undoubtedly did, boast of superior light to all others in the doctrines of grace. They were slaves to their own lusts. They were covetous. They were greedy of reward. They were full of gainsaying.
III. WHY THESE ANTICHRISTS WENT OUT OF THE CHURCH. It was that they might be made manifest, that they did not belong to the Church of Christ, let them make their boast of the same as they might. This was their end for their going out, but it was the Lord's end in thrusting them out, and it might be some of these might have been thrust out by apostolic and also by Church authority. In the holy and secret mystery of the Lord's providence it was evidenced they were not the Lord's beloved ones.
(S. E. Pierce.)
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