It is of the utmost importance for the correct understanding of that close attention be paid to the exact wording of it. We will, therefore, quote this passage in full. It reads as follows: “I write you children because your sins are forgiven for His Name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I wrote unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I wrote unto you fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I wrote unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.”
Now what is so peculiar and singular about this passage from the pen of John?
It is, no doubt, this: John tells the church of Jesus Christ, as she is in the midst of this world the reason for writing her. There is something that makes this Church of God the object, the recipient of this letter; it is something that the world lacks. And because what is true of this Church, which thing is not true of the world, this Church can receive this letter. However, the world cannot receive it. What John writes in this letter cannot possibly be written of and to the world of unbelieving men.
The implied point of departure in this text is, that there is a twofold people in the midst of this world. Such is the clear teaching on the first pages of holy writ in in the Protevangel, and such is also the clear teaching of Scripture in the last chapter of the book of Revelation.
I have reference, of course, to the Word of God spoken to the serpent in paradise where God announces to the tempter that He will put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This same truth we read in : “He that is unjust let him be unjust still, and he that is filthy let him be filthy still, and he that is just let him be made righteousness still and he that is holy let him be sanctified still.”
Jesus makes mention of this same truth when He says: He that hath to him shall be given and he shall have more abundance, and he that hath not from him shall be taken what he thinketh to have. Wherefore take heed how ye hear.
Such is also the very warp and woof of this first epistle of John. Says John in “In this are manifested the children of God and the children of the devil.” A twofold people therefore. And it is to the former of these that this epistle is written.
Positively the glad message of the Scriptures is for the children of God.
Let there be no shred of doubt as to this truth of Scripture. Writes John: “I write you because, because, because . . . I wrote you because, because, because . . .” This “because” makes us think of the statement of Jesus in the upper room, recorded for us in “And I will give you another comforter, that He may abide with you forever, namely, the Spirit of truth, whom the world is not able to receive . . .” The world cannot hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. These have not the mind of Christ. The things of the Spirit and of the Father and the Son are foolishness to them. The children of the devil do not have the “point of contact” spoken of in the text we are about to consider.
The church alone can receive the Spirit in receiving His Word.
Let us try to understand this better.
First of all, it is important to notice, that the addressees in our text are called “children”, “fathers” and “young men”. Fact is, that this is repeated in the text. Both times they are given in the same order. Now these names here given and the order in which they are given, tells us an important truth concerning the church.
What is it?
We should notice that the order here given is not that of the natural ascending order of age level. This order would be: Little children, young men, fathers. Or in reverse order it would be: Fathers, young men, children. But the order is broken: children, fathers young men. It seems to us, that this order given in the text by the Holy Spirit points us away from the natural order, and from trying to find here three distinct groups in the church. We rather believe that we are here to think of threefold aspects of the same church. Each time the congregation is viewed from a different viewpoint.
But there is still more in the text and in this entire letter which proves conclusively that the Holy Spirit does not refer to three groups, but rather to three aspects of the one church.
To what do we refer?
We refer, of course, to the fact that the term “children” (little children) is the standing term by which the entire congregation is addressed. This term does not refer to children from a natural, from the age level aspect. Then, too, this term “little children” is interchanged in this letter with the term “Beloved”.
Now it should not escape our notice, that this term beloved is not first of all the expression of John’s sentiment concerning the church, but that it, no doubt, is expressive of the unchanging attitude of the Father’s love for His children in Christ Jesus. If such is the case, then we have here in this name “children” the church addressed as she is the most precious possession and heritage of God. It is the most endearing term. This our interpretation is amply sustained by a comparison of such passages as ; ; , 18. In all of these passages the term “children” and “little children” refers to the entire church. It makes no difference whether the members are ten years old or whether they be eighty years old. In each case when they are the “beloved” of God, they are His dear children. This is abundantly evident from “Behold the manner of love which the Father hath given us, that we should be called the children of God.
Hence, we conclude that the name “Children” refers to the entire church as she is the object of God’s sovereign and changeless love, a love that many waters cannot quench, since it is a very flame of Jehovah.
Beautiful, instructive and comforting is also what is added by our text as inspired by the Holy Spirit. And incidentally it corroborates what we have above stated as to the meaning of the name “children” when given to the church. We refer to the addition “Because your sins are forgiven for His Name’s sake.” Or, as the second part of the text has it: because ye have known the Father.
Pray, how do we experience the love of our heavenly Father, if it is not in this, that He removes our guilt of sin from us; that daily we find Him in the sweetness of the forgiveness of sins. He that does not know the forgiveness of sins, does not know the Father, does not have eternal life. Well, the text says that these “children” do know this forgiveness day by day at the Throne of mercy of the Father.
And why do we receive this forgiveness?
Simply for the Father’s Name’s sake. For the sake of His great and glorious Name He forgives us. Therein the greatness of the glorious Name of God is manifested. It is sovereign grace and boundless, forgiveness. For where sin abounded grace does much more abound.
I write you “little children” because you thus stand in the unquenchable flame of the burning “bush”. The very flame of Jehovah is this love.
It ought, by this time, to be clear that the term “children” refers to the entire congregation, and not to the natural “children” only in the congregation.
But when this is once established then the names “fathers” and “young men” can no longer be interpreted as referring to the aged and those in the strength of life respectively. These terms refer not to the natural qualifications, but they most emphatically refer to the spiritual qualities in the entire church.
Let us try to see this.
The term “fathers” refers to the entire church from the viewpoint of her stability and maturity in Christ. This maturity may be stronger in some than in others, but nevertheless the church is established in the truth; she is the ground and the pillar of the truth. She knows in whom she hath believed. She has known Him that is from the beginning.
These “fathers” are such stable men and women only because they stand in the love of the heavenly Father and are anchored in His forgiving love. Without this love of the “Father” we cannot be strong in this world, rooted and grounded in the truth. Only when anchored in the love of the Father and having been thoroughly instructed can the church be filled with wisdom, not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. Hence, there is an interpretation of being “little children” and that of being “fathers”. The beloved church of Christ is also established in the truth. The “little children” are the “fathers”.
Only to such can the Word of God come as John writes it in this epistle.
But we must proceed.
The term “young men” also comes into consideration here. It is said elsewhere in Scripture that the glory of the young man is in his strength. That is the natural glory of the young men. Soon this strength fades, it is true. But that is the natural glory of the young man. It is noteworthy that the text connects the “young man” with being strong and militant.
We send our young men, the flower of our nation, to the battle fields. Such is also true of God. He has His army in the field of the world. The battle must be fought against Satan, the evil one, against the spiritual powers of evil and darkness in this world. The church is such young men. Old though its members become physically, yet their strength is renewed like the eagles. The inward man is, indeed, renewed day by day. They are fat and flourishing to proclaim that the Lord is good.
The Word of God abides in the church, and this Word is the sword of the Spirit which lays the enemy low.
The church testifies of the hope that is in her. She proclaims what is “written”. Evermore such is her calling. And fulfilling this her calling she overcomes the Evil one. The church is the militant, triumphing people of God.
Yes, they are “little children”; the apple of God’s eye are we.
But being steadfast and immovable we are “fathers.
But strong in the battle we are “young men”.