by Henry Elson
Notes of an address.
1 John 1. 3 tells us the object for which this epistle was written—"That ye also may have fellowship with us." The special character of the fellowship developed in this epistle is that which has to do with believers in family character. Just as the Spirit of God led the Apostle Paul to primarily write of the Church of God and its fellowship, and the Apostle Peter to write of the flock of God, so John is directed particularly to deal with the family of God and its fellowship. So, in chapter 2, we see that family in its different degrees of growth: the fathers, the young men, and the little children, all of them in the family, but in different degrees of growth and attainment.
Our fellowship one with another, and our fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, is formed and governed by this fundamental truth.
GOD IS LIGHT.
This comes out in chapter 1 (ver. 5): "This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." What a searching message this is! Truly it searches us. And this lies upon the very threshold of fellowship either with Him, or His Son, or with one another.
We all understand what light does, whether natural or artificial. Light makes manifest. We cannot accurately discern whether a thing is clean or dirty in the darkness, but in the light, we can perceive the true condition in which it is. God is light, and as we have to do with Him in that character, so will be our fellowship; all Divine fellowship reflects the character of Him who is its source. Hence "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another"; while as concerning sin which doth so easily beset us, and intrudes even into our holy things, Divine provision is made for them—the blood of Jesus, His Son, which cleanseth us from all sin.
So we see most distinctly, and let us refresh our memory upon this point, that fellowship, whether it be with the Father, or with the Son, or with one another, is an absolutely conditional thing. It is all determined by our entering into the character of God as revealed to us here, "God is light," and seeking to walk in that light. If we do this (the "if" is distinctly stated in verse 7), then we have the fellowship of which the Apostle John speaks. Now we can understand this in its application to the question of fellowship among saints. Some have said that our fellowship must be with all the children of God. Now, I humbly submit that even in the family aspect of fellowship, this is not so. It is absolutely contrary to what is here written. Fellowship, even in its family aspect, is a conditional matter; it is, "if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another." God does not expect fellowship to exist between His children except this condition be observed. There cannot be any fellowship, according to God, except there be the walking in the light. Some appear to think that any attempt at withdrawal from the fellowship of those who are really children of God is of the devil. This verse shows that fellowship in the family of God is a conditional thing; much more, then, in the Church of God. The idea that all separation of Christians from one another is of the devil is altogether mistaken—is indeed, an error. 2 Thessalonians 3. 6 is so simple and distinct that it is not possible to make a mistake in reading it, if we are willing to learn. Here we have a definite command: "Now we command you, brethren,"—and a command in the most solemn form, "in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." To what end? "That ye withdraw yourselves from every brother" (not a question here of the ungodly, not a question of sinners; but of those who are really brethren) "that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." The word "disorderly" is explained in the verses that follow (vers. 11 and 12). Now read verse 14: "If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy but admonish him as a brother."
These verses in 2 Thessalonians 3, also emphasize the truth that God does not expect us of necessity to have fellowship with all His children; He only expects that fellowship to exist under certain conditions, and as those conditions are observed, there would be fellowship. If there is a failure to observe those conditions, we have distinct Word from God that there is not to be the fellowship, the degree of intimacy which should be when children of God are walking in the light. Of course, we all understand that the withdrawing of yourselves mentioned in verse 6 in no way contemplates withdrawal from an assembly. It is a discipline inside; it shows us that we are not to be on terms of intimate friendship with such as walk disorderly. And this in order to shame them out of their disorderly walk unto the doing of that which is according to God. Don't mix yourselves up with such; yet they are not to be counted as enemies, but to be admonished as brethren. There has been very great failure in this discipline, and perhaps if the instructions of the Word of God as to this discipline had been attended to, we might not have had to go further.
A question is sometimes asked, ‘Have we any Scripture which distinctly shows that we are not only to refuse to walk in the company of certain ones, yet remaining in the within position, but have we any Scripture for distinctly withdrawing from all associations with such?’ 2 Timothy 2. 14-22, R.V. We see in this Scripture that there is a contemplation of ceasing to continue in a scene of wrong teaching. In verse 14, we read about "words to no profit to the subverting of the hearers." In verse 16, of "profane and vain babblings," empty talking. And we read in verse 18, of "missing the mark" “erring concerning the truth"; and all this resulting in "overthrowing the faith of some." So much so, according to the verse that follows, that the question would arise, ‘These persons whose faith is overthrown, are they the Lord's at all?’ Are they children of God? The confusion brought about by this teaching would be so great that such questions would arise. Then the answer is given: "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His." In all this confusion and the overthrowing of the faith of some, He knows perfectly well those who are His. But how may we determine it, and what is the responsibility of those who name the Lord's name? "Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord, depart from unrighteousness." Then passing by the illustration of a great house of verse 20, the following verse seems to amplify this departure from unrighteousness: "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour." And in verse 22, he is to follow righteousness, etc., with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Now, surely, we have instruction here sufficiently plain as to give us absolute divine warrant to clear ourselves altogether of the company of persons who are teaching that which is an erring from the truth, and which is overthrowing the faith of some.
The application of these principles to the present day, I think, is that we should all consider in the fear of God with prayerfulness, and in the light of eternity, that here we have distinct scriptural warrant to separate from the company of those who have erred from the truth, who have missed the mark, and who are teaching—it matters not whether it be in the matter of the resurrection, or any other doctrine—that which is contrary to the faith, so that the faith of some is overthrown. I believe we have the Word of God for absolutely departing from the company of such persons. Then we have the company we are to be in, further defined. Having departed from unrighteousness according to the teaching of the previous verses, we are to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
So I think when we consider these Scriptures, together with many others that might be mentioned, we see that fellowship is a conditional thing; just as it is conditional in connection with fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, so is it a conditional thing in connection with our fellowship one with the other. The Word of God plainly legislates for us in all these things and supplies us with guidance in view of the character of the last days. May our desire increasingly be to seek unto the knowledge of the mind of God, and the will of the Lord as given to us in His Word, and whilst exercising all love and all tenderness of heart and conscience, as we are taught and exhorted to do again and again, let these Scriptures determine with what persons our fellowship is to be, as clearly as they determine our fellowship with God Himself. "Needed Truth" V. 9 1897