“And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His Coming.”
l John 2:28
l John 2:28
We have only to read this passage to realize its great impressiveness and importance. Its words are most blessed, yet full of holy awe. Like many other portions of Scripture, it mingles the future with the present, and brings the solemnities of the Day of the Lord into the closest relation with our present circumstances—teaching us, while yet the children of Time, to live as those for whom in spirit, Eternity is already begun. May God help us to realize its sacred lessons!
Let our first effort be to gather, as accurately as possible, the meaning of the words, and, to this end, let me point out two alterations in the translation which are of great importance. The first is the substitution of the word “if” for “when”,  * in the clause “that if He shall appear”: and the evidence that this is the true reading is very strong. At a first glance the alteration may seem to make sense somewhat difficult; but this is not actually the case. As the reference is to our Lord’s Return in glory, the meaning expressed by the word “when” is naturally included, but the argument appears to stand thus: “Abide in Him, that, even if He appear, we may have confidence”—that is to say, that even if the supremest test of our union with Himself be applied to the facts of the case (for when He shall appear all His true people shall be instantaneously changed into His likeness), it may but prove, in each instance, the blessed reality of that union. The second amended translation is “away from him”  instead of “before Him”. The preposition apo, used in the original, implies removal, or separation, and excludes the idea of mere rebuke or disapproval, which might be inferred from the words “ashamed before Him”. It is necessary, therefore, that the words should be translated somewhat as follows: “that ye may have confidence, and not be put away in shame from Him at His Coming”. The importance of both these points will appear more clearly further on.
We should observe that the exhortation and warning of the passage is addressed to all those to whom it speaks. But, let us ask, who are those addressed in the words “little children?  These are not the men of the world, but they who are of God in the world; not the children of the human family, but the children of God distinguished from the rest of the human family. The relationship pointed to is not that which man naturally bears to God as Creator, whose offspring in that sense, all men are, but the new spiritual relationship of redemption and regeneration in Christ, according to the words of John in his Gospel (1:12), “But as many as received Him, to them gave He title (exousia) to become the sons of God, even to them which believed on His Name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”. The text however, clearly distinguishes two classes amongst those addressed. There are those who “abide in Christ”, and who will have confidence before Him in the day of His Coming; but is not another class also contemplated—those who do not abide in Christ—whose awful destiny is to be put away in shame from Him at His Coming? Thus, as is often the case in Scripture, solemn words of exhortation and warning are addressed to all, although they are applicable in strictness only to some. This is an important principle, and it may be well to glance at another example of it found in the 6th chapter of Hebrews, where the Apostle, after having addressed a solemn warning to the converted Hebrews collectively, regarding the apostasy of some of their number, immediately adds, referring to those to whom his warning would not apply because of their steadfastness, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak”. We see, therefore, that it is in accordance with the habit of Scripture to address words of warning to persons collectively, and without distinction, which are, nevertheless, only intended for some of those addressed, in order that the conscience of each may make a personal application of them; and, in the case of those whose profession is unreal, that this fact may be shown by their neglect of the warning; as is alas, generally the case.
Children: True or False
1. This train of thought shows us in the first place, the great importance of observing, both in this passage and the Epistle at large, the recognition given to false profession as a solemn fact. Even while the Apostle wrote, and still more since then, but perhaps never so abundantly as in our own day, Satan was introducing his own servants disguised in the garment of a false profession, with the design of placing them in external relationship with the children of God: and the Epistle recognizes this state of things. It is hardly needful to point out that by the word “recognize”, approval is not implied, but only an intimation that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, would permit the Enemy to sow tares among the wheat; that is, to unite the Children of the Wicked One with the Children of the Kingdom in ostensible relationship to the Lord Jesus as the Head of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth; and, that Scripture records these facts. The Epistle of John has for one of its leading characteristics this, that it looks at the family of God as in the world—as seen in human relationships and human circumstances-viewed, therefore, as comprising in its visible ranks persons who, though they profess to belong to Christ, and to recognize Him as Lord, do in this make a false profession, seeing that their souls are not quickened with heavenly life, and that they belong, in reality, to the world which lieth in the Wicked One. It is recognition of the admixture of such persons with the true children of God which gives a special character to this Epistle, more so, perhaps, than it does to any other portion of Scripture; and the discernment of this furnishes the key for the interpretation of many parts of the Epistle which would otherwise present great difficulties This important fact is brought out in the following passages, among others.
1 John 1:6. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie”. Here the essence of false profession is pointed out and described. True Christians say that they have fellowship with God, and they do truly possess it, as those who walk in the light and are cleansed from all sin; but mere professors, while making the same profession, do so falsely, for they still walk in the darkness of unregeneracy, and abide in the defilement of sin.
Chapter 2:4. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar”. The obedient life is the true test of the profession of the lips. The passage implies that there were those who would profess to know God, but who would not walk after His commandments, thereby giving evidence that their profession was false.
Chapter 2:11. Still more striking are the words found here: “He that hateth his brother is in darkness”. This is, surely, the natural darkness of the unregenerate state, for the preceding verse sets forth love as a feature of those who walk in the light of life, and of whose nature love to the brethren is a vital and essential principle.
Chapter 2:19. clearly describes the falsity of the profession of some who were for a while associated with and undistinguished from the true children of God, but in whose cases time had brought about a separation.
Chapter 3:10. The Church is here warned not to be deceived by false profession, and is instructed that the display of righteousness and love was to be the practical test of the profession of each person. “In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the Devil”—that is, those children of the Devil who pretend to be the children of God.
Love of the Brethren
Chapter 4:20. Nothing can be clearer than the force of the statement, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar”. These words do not, because they cannot, describe a true Christian. We say they cannot, for in another place we read, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death“, and such language cannot describe a truly quickened soul. How important, too, to notice that the word “brother” in this text does not import a true spiritual relationship discerned by the Eye of God, who sees all things as they really are, but an ostensible relationship—the relationship of profession made before men—which it is sometimes difficult for us to discern aright. This passage also furnishes a good example of what was meant by the statement already made, that the Word of God recognizes (though recognition is not approval) the fact of false profession. That it does so is clear in that the word “brother” is used of the false professor because professors themselves so use it; not because the Holy Spirit would signify by it a true spiritual relationship acknowledged by God.
Much more might be said under this head, but sufficient has been adduced for the present. The point however, is one of much moment. In the study of our text it is necessary to discern that it is one of a class of passages very characteristic of John’s Epistle; passages whose object is to point out the union existing in the visible Church between false professors and the true children of God, and to indicate those features by which they may now be distinguished; also to emphasize the fact that in the day of the Lord’s coming, when all things shall be put to the test, an unerring and final separation shall be made between the children of God and the children of the Wicked One who have for a time sought to identify themselves with the true people of God.
Abiding in Christ
2. In the second place, let us carefully study the expression “abide in Him”, for the right understanding of this phrase is essential to the interpretation of the text. To use the words of another, “It signifies not only the “abiding patiently” (i.e., moral perseverance) but vitally and mystically. It is the compression of John 15:1-5 into a single word, and implies spiritual immanence, inter-penetration of life and spirit”. Let me beg you to note this, for it is deeply important. The words “abide in Him” express nothing less than the vital, permanent union of the believer with his Lord. “Abide” (like the two other words, “remain” and “continue”, which frequently occur as alternative translations of the same Greek word) has for its essential idea that of permanent continuance in a fixed relationship, as opposed to a connection that is only temporary and transitory. It implies, therefore, in the text, the supremely important fact that those who abide in their Lord have a true vital union with Him, which, because it is vital, can never be severed; which, because it is real, though invisible now, will be made visibly real in the day when they are glorified with their Lord. We can easily perceive how vivid and significant is the contrast between those who have this abiding relation to their Lord, and those who “say”-yet say falsely, alas!—that there is a link of union between Him and themselves, but whose solemn destiny is, in that day of glory, to be separated in shame from Him for ever.
It is of the greatest importance that we should discern the true meaning of this word “abide”, because of the efforts frequently made to interpret it, not of the Christian’s standing, but of his experience; not of the actual union of his soul to Christ, but of his realization of that union in his thoughts and feelings. This is, surely, a serious mistake. It is indeed, a blessed thing to realize that we are one with Christ; but let us remember that the believer is equally one with his Lord at times when he may not realize it as he does at others. Peter, for instance, could hardly have realized his union with his Lord when he denied Him with oaths and cursing; but, nevertheless, that union remained unchanged. The Enemy did not prevail to break the link of life between him and Christ: the prayer of the Great Advocate preserved it inviolate. So great may be the contrast between fact and experience, although of course, experience is always happiest when it realizes the Divine facts of blessing!
The Meaning of “Abide”
This is a matter of such great importance that it may be well to examine some other passages of this Epistle in which the word “abide” occurs, and which will be found to confirm the interpretation just given.
1 John 3:15. “No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Here we see the force of “abiding” as signifying essential vitality of union. 1 John 2:6, “He that saith he abideth in Him ought also himself to walk even as He walked”, which clearly means, he that professeth that he is in Christ by vital union, will give practical proof of it; for where life is, the fruits of life, in greater or less measure, are certain to appear. 1 John 3:14, “He that loveth not his brother (i.e., his brother by profession) abideth in death”. Here the fixed permanent condition of the unregenerate soul is expressed by “abideth”; not a transitory experience of the mind. 1 John 3:24, “Hereby we know that He abideth in us”. Again, the word expresses the vital and unchanging relation of the indwelling Lord to His people.
In all these passages, therefore (and time alone forbids comment upon others), the word “abide” imports an essential and permanent relation, and not merely the maintenance by faith and watchfulness of a certain character of experience within the believer’s soul.
But, it may be said (and it is well to realize the objection) if this be the case, what is the force of the command, “little children, abide in Him?” We reply, its significance is shown by the fact that those who are addressed are persons all of whom, by profession, ostensibly belong to Christ; and it has been already pointed out that the Scripture, when addressing bodies of professed believers, habitually uses expressions which do not actually apply to all, though they be spoken to all; the intention being, that the conscience shall make application of the words in the case of each individual. A paraphrased translation may perhaps show this more clearly: “And now, little children, see to it, every one of you, each for himself, that there exists a true, vital, spiritual union between each of you and your Lord. Let your union with Him be not merely an ostensible union, a professed union, but that real vital union which depends upon the possession of a common life. See to it that you are living branches of the living Vine, and that the life of the parent stem is flowing into each branch. For there will, alas, be found in the Day of Glory, lifeless branches exhibiting a pretended union with the Vine—branches which have never borne fruit,  in whom there has never flowed the life of the Vine; and the destiny of these is to be separated from the Vine, and cast as brands into the burning. See to it, then, in every case, that you are ‘in Christ’ by a vital abiding, a living permanent union, and not by the temporary and seeming oneness of a false profession which the light of the Day of Glory will show to have been only a hollow pretence”.
And has not
The Professing Church
generally shown its need of this warning? Has not its claim been that, by means of those ordinances which it pretends to have the sole title to administer, men can be brought into relationship with God? Has it not taught that by baptism, administered by its authority, persons can be made members of Christ and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? Has it not taught that they, and they only, who are within its visible fold, and under the protection of its sacraments, are gathered within the circle of safety? Has it not, in a word, taught what is the equivalent of the doctrine that to be in the church is to be in Christ? Moreover, has it been willing to submit itself to the test of the Scripture, “he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous: he that committeth sin is of the devil?” The whole history of Christendom supplies an emphatic affirmation of these charges. Catholic teaching, whether Roman, Greek, or Anglican (and the influence of such teaching is often very great, even over the minds of those who would refuse to call themselves “Catholic”) has always been ready to approve the profession of its members, and to lead them to believe that, by being thus brought into the Church, and under the shelter of its ordinances, they are made the children of the kingdom; and this, even though they may be worldly, nay, even openly sinful: though it hesitates not to describe as outside the pale of salvation, or at least as objects only of “the uncovenanted mercies of God”, those who refuse to belong to its fold. Hence then, the point and pertinency of the teaching of our text in every age of the Church’s history, and in none more than our own day. “Little children, abide in Him”; see to it that there is not merely the ostensible link of profession; not merely a connection with the visible Church; not merely conformity with its sacramental appointments; not merely the profession of the name of Christ as Lord and Saviour; but true vital union with Him, such as they only possess in whom has been produced sincere conviction of sin, unfeigned faith in the Son of God, and that New Birth which is wrought alone by the sovereign power of the Spirit of God apart from all external ordinances, and evidenced by holiness of character and life. They only who are born, not of the flesh (natural birth), nor by the will of man (as would be the case in sacramental regeneration, if there were such a thing), but of the Spirit of God, are the children of God (see John 1:13). These alone are they who “abide in Him”, and shall have confidence before Him at His Coming. The others, even though their names may have been enrolled among the membership of the Church on earth, though they may have deceived others (and perhaps themselves) as to the reality of their profession, have never been “abiders” in Christ, and will be “put away in shame from Him at His Coming”.
Let us glance at one or two parallel passages which speak of this solemn truth-the
Separation of Nominal Professors
from the True Church, at the Advent of the Lord. Many might be considered, but we will examine only two. First, see Luke 13:24-28. When we consider this passage we can readily discern its essential similarity to our text. The admonition, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate”, is addressed to all, but its application clearly is only to those who are out of the way that leadeth unto life; that is, to those who, though they think themselves safe, have never known such earnest reality as is implied in the word “strive”. And this exhortation, “strive to enter in”, is like those words of our text, “abide in Him”. It is intended to call each soul to a consideration and realization of its true standing before God, so that, if there has never yet been a real entrance into that Kingdom, the fact may be recognized now in all earnestness and solemnity. Yet, notice the statement is not that there are those who strive to enter in now and yet are not able—for a strait gate is not a closed gate-but that many will seek to enter in and shall not be able “when once the Master of the house hath risen up and hath shut to the door!” How exact is the correspondence of this with our text! They who are shut out when the true people of God enter in, they who stand without and knock for entrance when it is too late, these are they who are “put away in shame from the Lord at His coming”. And that these are persons who have professed to know the Lord, and to be in association with Him, is shown, first of all, by their use of the title “Lord”, which implies the claim of relationship to Him, and next by the statement, “we have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets”—words which exactly describe that kind of association which professing religion pretends to have with the Lord. But note His words, “I know you not. Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity”. Their profession is asserted to be untrue, because its fruit had been unholiness.
The Book of Life
Let us glance also at Revelation 3:5. These words have often caused difficulty and concern to faithful hearts; but probably that difficulty would not have arisen if they had been viewed in the light of our text and similar passages. I have not time now to comment fully upon all parts of their teaching, but will merely point out that the promise, “I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life”, appears to be intended to direct our attention to the difference between the judgment of that which professes to be the Church on earth, within whose fold the tares grow amongst the wheat, and the unerring judgment of the Lord. The Church has written many a name in its “Church Roll”, by receiving and acknowledging the false profession of persons whose works show them to be the children of the Wicked One; but in the day of the Lord’s appearing, these names shall be blotted out. They were never written in “the Lamb’s book of life”. Every true Christian is an Overcomer of the world”, for in him there dwells the principle of faith; “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith”. Every false professor, however, is not an “overcomer”, but rather one overcome by the world. The world is his master, and Satan his Prince; and his works declare it. “The world lieth in the Wicked One”.
The Day of His Coming
4. And now let us briefly notice what is the only true ground of confidence in that terrible Day of which the text speaks. If we seek to realize the awful solemnities of that hour, and contemplate what it would be to witness them, we might well cry “Who shall abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth?” “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven”; “the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and in the glory of the Father and of His holy angels”. This glory, the glory of Him who “dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see”, shall appear suddenly in the heavens and before the sight of men. Mortal eyes cannot look upon it without perishing, for it is the glory of Him who has said, “no man can see My face and live”. But here we are met by the clearest instruction, and most complete comfort. “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye; at the last trump”, and again, as in this Epistle, “we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”; and if we see Him AS HE IS, this must imply that mortality shall first have been swallowed up of life; for to gaze upon that glory would otherwise be impossible. The confidence therefore, of the believer before his Lord at His coming consists in this, that he shall then be instantaneously changed, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”, into the likeness of the glory of His Lord, “who shall change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto His Body of glory”; and in that moment of change all mortal feelings shall cease to be. Fear will become impossible, and shame equally so, for fear and shame are allied with sin, and the transfigured and glorified saint can share only such feelings as are consistent with a sinless immortality. The distinction, therefore, between confidence and shame is just the difference between them who are glorified, and those others to whom the appearing of the Lord is not the hour of glorious change, but of shameful exposure. To such He comes as a “thief”, to take away from them the disguise of a false profession. “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15). How terrible the anguish of the hour when the heart of the false professor is for the first time fully revealed to himself, and its essential and eternal condition revealed to others! How overwhelming the thought of such an exposure, of such unspeakable shame, of such inconceivable bitterness! How awful the words, “Depart from Me: I never knew you!” Do not they most solemnly enforce the language of the text, “to be put away in shame from Him at His Coming?”
The Marriage Supper
I will draw this discourse to a close by giving a short exposition of a passage of great interest and yet of some difficulty, which will, I think, both illustrate our text, and be itself illustrated by the teaching of our text. I refer to the parable of the Kingdom of heaven, in the 22nd chapter of Matthew. The Kingdom of heaven is likened there to a marriage supper which a king made for his son. Now it is evident that this marriage supper is a figure of the Lord’s reception, in the day of glory, of all those who have, by grace, become the guests of His hospitality—of those, I mean, whose hearts have been opened by grace to receive the Gospel-call, and for whom the “farm” and the “merchandise”, and all the attractions of the world, have not proved of superior power. The first guests bidden to this feast were the Jews, for it was not until after the rejection of the Gospel by Israel, nationally, that the messengers said “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles”. Israel was then rejected and scattered through the earth, as seems to be indicated by the words, “the king destroyed those murderers and burned up their city”. The call of the Gentiles follows. No longer in “the city” was the invitation of the Gospel proclaimed but in the highways and hedges of the whole earth; and all who ostensibly respond to that call, both bad and good, were gathered in as guests to the wedding. Now, is not this precisely the history of the results of the preaching of the Gospel? A multitude of persons has assembled professedly at its call, and they expect to be made heirs of glory; the multitude, therefore, who gather to the wedding is the emblem, not of the world, but of the Professing Church! All those who come are either truly prepared for that marriage supper by the work of Divine grace in their souls, or else their only claim to it is the robe of a false profession. “But when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment”. He was arrayed in a garment of his own choosing, and not in the wedding garment which alone could be approved by the King. Too late is the error discovered. Bound hand and foot he is cast into “the outer darkness”, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is what will happen at the Return of the Lord in glory. Everyone who has truly received the message of the Gospel will be found ready for that appearing, clad in a garment, not of false profession, but of that fitness which God Himself bestows through the work of His Son, upon those who are to be guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. To the Church “it is given that she should be arrayed in fine linen, which is the righteousness of saints”.
The Instantaneous Change
of the saints into the likeness of the glory of their Lord, evidences the reality of their faith, the truthfulness of their profession; and so it is written “Blessed are they who are called unto the Marriage Supper of the Lamb”. But now the awful moment has come, when the garment of a false profession will, for each who has worn it, prove “narrower than he can wrap himself therein”. The lamp of mere profession flickers and goes out. To such the Coming of the Lord is indeed as that of “a thief”, for He comes to take away their garment of profession. They walk naked, and all see their shame. He denies their names, though they have (falsely) professed His, before His Father and His holy angels. They are bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
Thus this momentous subject closes. Its language conveys unspeakable comfort to those who are truly in Christ, and mercifully warns, with words of awful solemnity, those whose profession is unreal. Blessed, indeed, are the thoughts it brings to all who are abiding in Christ, whose faith is heartfelt and sincere, bidding them know that the day of their Lord’s glory shall be the day of their glory, that they shall have confidence before Him at His Coming, and “with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads” enter into His eternal rest. But there are also those, alas, to whom that day will be the last day of a false profession; and when, stripped of all disguises, they shall stand before their Lord the unholy pretenders that they ever were, and then be driven in shame from His presence forever!
May God grant each one of us His grace to enable us to search heart and life under His holy eye, that we may rejoice with trembling; remembering that while “the word of the Lord is right, rejoicing the heart, and the commandment of the Lord pure, enlightening the eyes”, we have need ever to say, “Moreover, by these things is thy servant warned”.
 Alford’s comment is: “The ean (if) differs from hotan (when) in marking, not time, but reality only”. (Greek Test, in loc.).
 The Revised Version puts “from Him” in the margin; but even this translation does not sufficiently mark the force of the preposition apo “away from“. Compare Matt. 25:41, “Depart from (apo) me, ye cursed”.
 In the first Epistle of St. John two Greek words occur which are both translated “little children” without distinction, by the Authorised and Revised Versions. The first of these is teknion, a child by birth-relationship; the second, paidion. a child in respect of age. The first, which is obviously the more inclusive term, occurs seven times in the Epistle. It describes Christians as children in birth-relationship with God, and includes, therefore, believers of all ages and all degrees of spiritual maturity. This is clearly seen in 1 John 2:12, where the phrase “little children” includes all those persons who are distinguished in the two following verses as “fathers, young men, and little children”. The other term, paidion, occurs only twice, chapter 2:13, 18, in the first of which verses it obviously means believers recently converted—children in spiritual age and experience. This being so, it might be better to translate teknion by dear children, and paidion by little children. It is beautiful to notice, as has been pointed out by another, that the language of the Apostle is really the echo of his Lord’s “Children” (tekna), Mark 10:24; “little children” (rather “dear children”) (tekna), John 13: 33, “children” (paidia), John 21: 5.
 Compare John 15 2, “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit’ ‘lit., every non fruit-bearing branch.