3 John 1:2
Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.
There are two worlds in which every man lives, two distinct yet equally real scenes of existence in which we spend the days and hours of life. To the outward world, with its material objects and interests, no man altogether or exclusively belongs. You have but to close the eye or abstract the thoughts from outer things, and instantly you pass into another region:. you become, as it were, the dweller in an inner world — that strange mysterious region of thoughts and feeling and desires, of memory and conscience and will — that microcosm, that little but most real world within every human breast. Corresponding to these two worlds, the external and the internal, there are two lives we all may be said to lead, — the outer life of sense, the inner hidden life and history of the soul. The visible material life is but the scaffolding under which the unseen and eternal life is rearing. With respect to each of us, there has been, from the dawn of our existence, a mental as well as a material history — a life of the soul, a course of inward progress or retrogression, series of changes for good or evil in the character of that mysterious dweller beneath every breast, more worthy to be chronicled, fraught, would we but believe it, with interest deeper, more momentous far, than the fortunes and vicissitudes of our outward career. In the passage before us, the apostle, as you will perceive at a glance, makes reference to the two courses of human experience of which we have just spoken — the outward and the inward. The text is simply an expression of affectionate desire for the welfare of one who seems to have been very dear to the writer. It is the friendly greeting of a believer to a brother in Christ. And you perceive that the particular form it takes is, not that merely of a simple wish for the friend's happiness, but of a wish more specifically for his happiness, his prosperity, at once in the inward and the outer life.
I. OF WHAT IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD IS COMMONLY DESIGNATED PROSPERITY, PERHAPS THE TWO MAIN ELEMENTS ARE WEALTH AND POWER. Now there are in the spiritual condition of man elements analogous to these, of which his inward prosperity may be said to consist.
1. There is, it will need very little reflection to perceive, a wealth which may be predicated of the inward as well as of the outward life. Money, property, worldly goods, are not more real possessions than thought, knowledge, wisdom. Nor are the outward comforts and luxuries, the gratifications of sense and appetite that may be procured by the former, more literally a man's own, what belongs to him, what makes him richer, than are warm affections, a fertile imagination, a memory stored with information, and, above all, a heart full of God's grace. The common phraseology of life recognises this fact, when we speak, for instance, of "a richly-furnished mind," a mind "rich in intellectual resources," "a rich vein of thought," "an ample fund of information," and the like. Nor let it be said that this is merely the language of metaphor. Take two men, one in comparatively straitened circumstances, yet possessed of great mental abilities and attainments — the other, overflowing with money, yet narrow-souled and ignorant; you would not hesitate to say which is really the richer of the two. And if this be true of mere intellect, if even secular knowledge constitute a wealth more valuable than any outward possession, surely not less true must the same thought be when applied to that wisdom which maketh wise unto salvation. Surely that man is indeed the richest, who bears within his bosom the treasure of a soul at peace with God, and safe for all eternity! For money, property, every worldly possession, is out of the man. It does not come into the soul. It can be separated from him. It is but an accident, not an essential property of his being. But knowledge, faith, spiritual-mindedness, love to Christ, these are a sort of wealth that go into and become transfused through the very essence of the man. Yours, too, is the only unvarying wealth. A soul, on which the image of Christ is impressed, is a thing precious everywhere, and for ever; it has not, like man's wealth, a different value in different countries and at different times; it will pass current everywhere — it is free of the universe. Yours, finally, is the only lasting wealth. The time will come when the richest must abandon his wealth for ever. The only thing you shall be able to keep, is that which you have stored up in the soul itself. That alone will go out with the soul into eternity.
2. The other element, commonly included in the idea of "prosperity," is power. He is universally esteemed a prosperous man in his outward circumstances who is advancing or has risen from comparative lowliness and obscurity to a position of eminence and influence in society. Now, to this also there is a parallel in the inward life. We may be inwardly as well as outwardly powerful. In the little world within the breast there are stations of rank, dominion, authority, to which we may aspire, or from which we may fall. There is a real subjection, degradation, slavery of spirit, to which we may be reduced; there is a real power, freedom, emancipation, to which we may attain. It is not a mere metaphor, for instance, when, in common language, we say that the profligate man is "the slave of his appetites."
II. THE REASONS FOR WHICH THIS SOUL-PROSPERITY SHOULD BE REGARDED IN OUR DESIRES AS THE STANDARD OR MEASURE OF OUTWARD PROSPERITY.
1. Can it be doubtful to any one that wealth, power, prosperity, are no blessings where God's grace has not come before them? — that it is not good to be happy if first we are not holy? The rich, gay, happy, outward life, and the dark moral antithesis within! It is good to be gay, where the gaiety is real. But it is not good, it is not seemly, it is, sooth to say, the sorrowfullest thing under heaven, to be gay where there is every reason to be sad. Right pleasant, too, it is to behold the ruddy hue on the cheek, and the bright sparkle in the eye of health. But have you never felt that no sight is so truly melancholy as the unnatural brightness in the eye, or the glow that often gathers on consumption's cheek, the more beautiful as the end draweth near? And yet, sad though these contrasts are, there is something more truly pitiful, there is a more awful, because a moral sadness, in the sight which the minions of outward prosperity, of worldly comfort and happiness, not seldom present to a thoughtful observer's eye. Looking on an irreligious man's life, mindful how rapidly the stream of time is bearing him onward to the unseen, does there not force itself on the mind a sense of something horribly incongruous in all this gaiety, as were the mirth of men in a sinking ship, or wild shouts of laughter from some crew hurrying onward to the torrent's brink!
2. Outward prosperity is not desirable for a man's own sake, if unaccompanied by inward, because of the bad moral influence which it has on his own character. For an irreligious man, nothing is more to be deprecated than an uninterrupted flow of worldly good. Only in proportion as the dew of God's hidden grace is descending on the heart, can it be safe for a man to be exposed to the hot sun of worldly prosperity; and if that secret element of strength and fertility be not continually supplied, the scorching heat must speedily wither up, in the spiritual soil, every green and beautiful thing.
3. It is not only for a man's own good, but also for the good of others, that he should prosper outwardly only in the measure in which his soul prospereth. For, obviously, wealth, power, influence, all outward advantages, are just so many means of doing good or evil put into a man's hands; and whether such advantages shall be for the benefit or injury of mankind, depends on the inward character of him to whom they are intrusted. Mankind are losers when a selfish man prospers; they are gainers by the prosperity of the generous and liberal-minded. The latter receive the blessings of God's providence as the sun receives light, to brighten .and gladden the world, or as the healthy plant the influences of nature, to scatter them abroad in fertility and fragrance again. The former, on the contrary, like an excrescence on the fruit-tree absorbing the moisture that might have gone to produce leaves and fruit, receive any blessing at God's hand only to retain or abuse it; or, like a rank weed, draw in the genial influences of the soil and atmosphere of life only to poison all the air around them.
(J. Caird, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.