In our former essay, written by us on this Scripture passage, we called attention particularly to the term “children”, “fathers” and “young men” in our text.
We noticed, that these terms or names do not indicate three distinct classes of men in the Church of Christ, three age level groups, but that they refer to the one Church of Jesus Christ from a threefold aspect. “Little children” is the term which indicates that the believers in Christ are the objects of God’s great Father love; it is the term of endearment. The term “fathers” refers to the Church from the point of matured stability in Christ. And, again, the name “Young Men” refers to the Church as to her being strong and valiant in the fight.
Thus we noticed in our former article.
Now we stand before another interesting and significant question in the text under consideration.
What is it?
It is: Why does John in our text repeat himself? Twice he writes nearly the same content in succession with only a very slight variation. We ask why this repetition? And also in this connection we ask: why does John repeat the “I write” three times? Besides, why does John change the tense of the verb from the present tense to the aorist point-action tense? He writes in the second part of the text not “I write”, but “I wrote”.
To attempt to give a satisfactory answer to these questions we must bear the following factors in mind.
In the first place, we should not fail to notice the fact, that John seemingly is very fond of the phrase “I write” (wrote). He employs this phrase no less than eleven (11) times in this second Chapter of his first epistle. In chapter 1 John employs the term once using the plural “we write”. It is noteworthy that John so frequently uses this phrase.
In the second place, we should notice that John does not seem to use this term without proper and due discrimination. He does not use the term haphazardly, without plan and purpose. Fact is, that John uses the term only in the chapters 1 and 2. The last three chapters do not reveal this usage of the phrase.
We ask: why does John use this term with such limitation?
The book of John does not give us an explicit statement of its usage of terms. However, a careful study of the plan and content of this epistle does shed light on the question at hand, and, we are certain, allows us to draw some rather careful conclusions.
We stated, that John uses the phrase “I write” only in the first two chapters. There should be an obvious reason for this limited usage. And I believe there is. The reason for the limited usage of the phrase in question is to be sought in John’s purpose. The “I write” of John can almost be paraphrased in “I call attention to”. John emphatically calls the attention of the Church to some very definite and pertinent matters pertaining to her life and calling in the midst of the world. John would set certain matters in very bold relief before the attention of the church The “I write you” calls the brethren to stand at attention.
But why only use this “I call attention to” in the first two chapters of John?
Evidently this question hinges for its answer on the plan and scheme of the epistle of John. Its plan has been likened to that of the “spiral stairway”. There seems to be a repetition in the book on an ascending scale. Now this helps us get started, doesn’t it?
In what way?
Well, it means that the entire field of the pertinent questions and problems to be considered in this letter are singled out by the apostle in these first two chapters. The problems are laid open to the Church. The various matters to which the apostle calls attention are clearly and emphatically pointed out. This John does with the usage of the phrase “I write” and “I wrote”. When this has once been accomplished, John no longer uses the term. It is no longer necessary from here on. He simply treats the issues in his superb apologetics so that he stops the mouths of liars; thetically he works out the issues, placing the testimony of God before the Church. This latter he does in the chapters 3-5. Hence, he does not say in the latter three chapters repeatedly, “I call your attention to”. What he had called attention to in chap. 1&2 he now will explain in detail, and that, too, in its ultimate ground and meaning.
If our observations concerning the general usage and limitation of the phrase “I write you” is correct, then we are also in a position to notice the reason for the change of the tenses. John changes from the present to the aorist (fact) tense. He never changes from the aorist tense to the present tense, but always from the present tense to the aorist in this epistle.
Now what does this change of tense mean? Why does John thus write? Was this merely for the sake of variety of expression, or does it fit in the pattern of the emphatic “I call your attention to”? If the latter be the case then the usage of tense is intentional. It then fits in with the plan of emphatically setting forth the dangers confronting the church, and of the central purpose of John in addressing her.
We are convinced, that this change of tense is intentional.
It then comes down to this. First John says the emphatic “I write you”, that is, I call your sanctified attention to this and that particular matter of importance in your life. This was already emphatic in the present tense “I write you”. But when John would underscore this his writing the church, then he says “I wrote you”. He does then what a teacher does, standing before the class at the blackboard, and with his crayon he underscores what he has just written. The aorist calls attention to the fact of the writing; the present tense is the calling attention itself.
This change of tense makes the matter doubly urgent.
Now we must much more “stand at attention” when John begins with the inspired apology for the faith of God.
I call your attention to the following matter, says John. (present tense)
Notice, says John, that I have called your attention to these matters with a purpose. (Aorist, fact- tense).
Thus we understand this matter of the tenses.
But does this this short survey of the matter of the usage of this phrase have any practical meaning in our text? Will we thus understand our text better?
Indeed, it will help us.
In the first place, we will then not say with some, (Calvin included) that the repetition in our text is merely the interpolation (something added) of a copyist. We will believe that also this repetition belongs to the inspired Word of God here in John. And we will stand alerted and at attention. And we will ask: why the repetition here, both as to the “I write you” and also of the reason given for writing the Church from the threefold aspect of Children, Fathers and Young Men?
In the second place we will notice, that we must read all of John’s writing here in the light of the grand overall purpose as given in, “and these things we write unto you that your joy may be full”.
The joy of whom must be made full?
The joy of the Church must be made full.
The Church must fully stand in the consciousness that they are the little children of God, who will be fully made like unto God, for they shall see Him as He is. I call you to the spiritual attention of this glad fact. Do not let it go. Behold the manner of the love of God. I write you “little children”. I have written you. Let this truth fill your heart with joy. Let no one take your crown. Keep that which is entrusted to you.
The church must stand in the faith and say: I know in whom I have believed. The believing church has this knowledge. She must not let sin nor evil men rob her of her joys. Let your joy be full, real, genuine and abiding. I call attention to what you have. Notice: I have just called your attention to it. Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober! I write you, fathers. I have written you. Take notice, stand at attention!
The church must be vigilant in the battle. Young men they are. But in the joy of the battle their joy must be real: the song of Moses and the Lamb they must sing from the great joy of their hearts. I write you, young men. Ye are strong. Continue to be so and your joy shall be full. Stand in your qui vive, be alerted to attention. I have written you.
Oh, church of God take notice of all the things, that I write you.
It is for your life, your joy, your crown. No, it is not simply a question of debate, a philosophy club. It is a question of glorying in the Lord’s triumph over all His foes. Let no one deceive you.
Such is the passionate note in this epistle.
It is the watchword from the King of His Church to His people in the front lines of the battle of faith, the battle of all ages!
Hence, bind this word about your neck, write them upon the table of your hearts.
I write you, I wrote you because, because, because ye are of the party of the living God and can receive this my Word.
Stand in His love, little children.
Be firm in the faith, fathers.
And stand in the battle, and, having done all, stand.
Little children I write you.
I have written you. Let no one deceive you.
Simply say with the Savior: It is written, written, written . . . ,