1 John 2:17
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
Like most writers and speakers, John had favourite expressions. One of his pet words is this "abide," significant of the quiet, contemplative temper of the man, but significant of a great deal more. He uses it, if I reckon rightly, somewhere between sixty and seventy times in the Gospel and Epistles. And he almost always employs it in metaphorical, or, if you like the word better, a "mystical" sense. The frequency of its recurrence is masked to an English reader by the variety of translation which our renderers have chosen to adopt, but wherever you find in John's writings the synonyms "dwell," "abide," "continue," "remain," it is pretty safe to conclude that he is using this word. To John one great characteristic of the Christian life was that it was the abiding life.
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A LIFE OF DWELLING IN CHRIST. I have said that this is one of John's favourite words. He learnt it from his Master. It was in the upper room where it came from Christ's lips with a pathos which was increased by the shadow of departure that lay over His heart and theirs. "Abide in me, and I in you." No doubt the old apostle had meditated long on the words. "Abide in me and I in you." That is the ideal of the Christian life, a reciprocal mutual dwelling of Christ in us and of us in Christ. These two thoughts are but two sides of the one truth, the interpenetration by faith and love of the believing heart and the beloved Saviour, and the community of spiritual life as between them. The one sets forth more distinctly Christ's gracious activity and wondrous love by which He condescends to enter into the narrow room of our spirits, and to communicate their life and all the blessings that He can bestow. The other sets forth more distinctly our activity, and suggests the blessed thought of a home and a shelter, an inexpugnable fortress and a sure dwelling place, a habitation to which all generations may continually resort. Christ for us is the preface and introduction. I do not want that that great truth should be in any measure obscured, but I do want that, inseparably connected with it in our belief and in our experience, there should be far more than there is, the companion sister thought, Christ in us and we in Christ. I need not remind you how this great thought of mutual indwelling is, through John's writings, extended not only to our relation to Christ, but to our relations to God the Father and God the Spirit. The apostle almost as frequently speaks about our dwelling in God and God's dwelling in us, as he does about our dwelling in Christ and Christ's dwelling in us. Let me say one word about the ways by which this mutual indwelling may be procured and maintained. You talk about the doctrine as being mystical. Well, the way to realise it as a fact is plain and unmystical enough to suit anybody. There are two streams of representation in John's writings about this matter. Here is a sample of one of them, "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him." Similarly He says, "If that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father." And, still more definitely, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." So, then, the acceptance by our understandings and by our hearts of the truth concerning Jesus Christ, and the grasping of these truths so closely by faith that they become the nourishment of our spirits, so that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, is the condition of that mutual indwelling. And if that seems to be too far removed from ordinary moralities to satisfy those who will have no mysteries in their religion, and will not have it anything else than a repetition of the plain dictates of conscience, take the other stream of representations, "If we love one another, God abideth in us." "He that abideth in love abideth in God." "If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love." The harm of mysticism is that it is divorced from common pedestrian morality. The mysticism of Christianity enjoins the punctilious discharge of plain duties. "He that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him."
II. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE SHOULD BE ONE OF STEADFAST PERSISTENCE. One of the synonyms with which our translators have represented this word of which I am speaking is "continue." You will find that the same double representation which I have spoken of is kept up with regard to other matters belonging to the Christian life. For instance, we sometimes read of "God's word," "Christ's sayings," or "the truth" — as John puts it — "abiding in us"; and as frequently we read of our "abiding in these — the words of God, the teaching of Christ, the truth. In the one ease something is represented as permanently establishing itself in my nature and operating there. In the other case I am represented as holding fast by and perseveringly attending to something which I possess. Ah! I am afraid that there are few things which the average Christian man of this generation more needs than the exhortation to steadfast continuance in the course which he says he has adopted. Most of us have our Christianity by fits and starts. It is spasmodic and interrupted. We grow as the vegetable world grows, in the favourable months only, and there are long intervals in which there is no progress. A Christian life should be one of steadfast, unbroken persistence. Oh! but you say, that is an ideal that nobody can get to." Well, I am not going to quarrel with anybody as to whether such an ideal is possible or not. It seems to me a woful waste of time to be fighting about possible limits when we are so far short of the limits that are known.
III. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE MAY BE ONE OF ABIDING BLESSEDNESS. Our Lord in that same discourse in which he spoke about abiding in us and we in Him, used the word very frequently in a great variety of aspects, and amongst them He said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may abide in you." And in other places we read about "abiding in the light," or having eternal life abiding in us. And in all these various places of the use of this expression there lies the one thought that it is possible for us to make, here and now, our lives one long series of conscious enjoyment of the highest blessings. And even if there be a circumference of sorrow, joy and peace may be the centre, and not be truly broken by the incursions of calamities. There are springs of fresh water that dart up from the depths of the salt sea and spread themselves over its waves. It is possible in the inmost chamber to be still whilst the storm is raging without. It is our own fault if ever external things have power over us enough to shake our inmost and central blessedness. "As sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
IV. LASTLY, THE CHRISTIAN LIFE WILL TURN OUT TO BE THE ONE PERMANENT LIFE. So say the words which I have taken as a text. "he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." That implies not so much dwelling or persistence or continuousness during our earthly career as, rather, the absolute and unlimited permanence of the obedient life. It will endure when all things else, "the world, and the lust thereof," have slid away into obscurity and have ceased to be. Now of course it is true that Christian men, temples of Christ, are subject to the same law of mutation and decay as all created things are. But still, whilst on the one hand Christian men share in the common lot, and on the other hand non-Christian men endure forever in a very solemn and dreadful sense, the word of my text reveals a great truth. The lives that run parallel with God's will last, and when everything that has been against that will, or negligent of it, is summed up and comes to nought, these lives continue. The life that is in conformity with the will of God lasts in another sense, inasmuch as it persists through all changes, even the supreme change that is wrought by death, in the same direction, and is substantially the same. If we grasp the throne of God we shall be co-eternal with the throne that we grasp. We cannot die, nor our work pass and be utterly abolished as long as He lives. Some trees that, like sturdy Scotch firs, have strong trunks and obstinate branches and unfading foliage, looking as if they would defy any blast or decay, run their roots along the surface, and down they go before the storm. Others, far more slender in appearance, strike theirs deep down, and they stand whatever winds blow. So strike your roots into God and Christ. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.