They went out from us - These heretics had belonged to our Christian assemblies, they professed Christianity, and do so still; but we apostles did not commission them to preach to you, for they have disgraced the Divine doctrine with the most pernicious opinions; they have given up or explained away its most essential principles; they have mingled the rest with heathenish rites and Jewish glosses. While, therefore, we acknowledge that they once belonged to us, we assert that they are not of us. They are not Christians; we abhor their conduct and their creed. We never sent them to teach.
They were not of us - For a considerable time before they left our assemblies they gave proofs that they had departed from the faith; for if they had been of us - if they had been apostles, and continued in the firm belief of the Christian doctrines, they would not have departed from us to form a sect of themselves.
That they were not all of us - They were not expelled from the Christian Church; they were not sent out by us; but they separated from it and us. None of them had been inspired as we apostles were, though they pretended to a very high teaching; but their separating from us manifested that they were not taught, as we were, by the Spirit of God. These false teachers probably drew many sincere souls away with them; and to this it is probable the apostle alludes when he says, they were not All of us. Some were; others were not.
They went out from us - From the church. That is, they had once been professors of the religion of the Saviour, though their apostasy showed that they never had any true piety. John refers to the fact that they had once been in the church, perhaps to remind those to whom he wrote that they knew them well, and could readily appreciate their character. It was a humiliating statement that those who showed themselves to be so utterly opposed to religion had once been members of the Christian church; but this is a statement which we are often compelled to make.
But they were not of us - That is, they did not really belong to us, or were not true Christians. See the notes at Matthew 7:23. This passage proves that these persons, whatever their pretensions and professions may have been, were never sincere Christians. The same remark may be made of all who apostatize from the faith, and become teachers of error. They never were truly converted; never belonged really to the spiritual church of Christ.
For if they had been of us - If they had been sincere and true Christians.
They would no doubt have continued with us - The words “no doubt” are supplied by our translators, but the affirmation is equally strong without them: “they would have remained with us.” This affirms, without any ambiguity or qualification, that if they had been true Christians they “would” have remained in the church; that is, they would not have apostatized. There could not be a more positive affirmation than that which is implied here, that those who are true Christians will continue to be such; or that the saints will not fall away from grace. John affirms it of these persons, that if they had been true Christians they would never have departed from the church. He makes the declaration so general that it may be regarded as a universal truth, that if “any” are truly “of us,” that is, if they are true Christians, they will continue in the church, or will never fall away. The statement is so made also as to teach that if any “do” fall away from the church, the fact is full proof that they never had any religion, for if they had had they would have remained steadfast in the church.
But they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us - It was suffered or permitted in the providence of God that this should occur, “in order” that it might be seen and known that they were not true Christians, or in order that their real character might be developed. It was desirable that this should be done:
(a)in order that the church might be purified from their influence - compare the notes at John 15:2;
(b)in order that it might not be responsible for their conduct, or reproached on account of it;
(c)in order that their real character might be developed, and they might themselves see that they were not true Christians;
(d)in order that, being seen and known as apostates, their opinions and conduct might have less influence than if they were connected with the church;
(e)in order that they might themselves understand their own true character, and no longer live under the delusive opinion that they were Christians and were safe, but that, seeing themselves in their true light, they might be brought to repentance.
For there is only a most slender prospect that any who are deceived in the church will ever be brought to true repentance there; and slight as is the hope that one who apostatizes will be, such an event is much more probable than it would be if he remained in the church. People are more likely to be converted when their character is known and understood, than they are when playing a game of deception, or are themselves deceived. What is here affirmed of these persons often occurs now; and those who have no true religion are often suffered to apostatize from their profession for the same purposes. It is better that they should cease to have any connection with the church than that they should remain in it; and God often suffers them to fall away even from the profession of religion, in order that they may not do injury as professing Christians. This very important passage, then, teaches the following things:
(1) That when people apostatize from the profession of religion, and embrace fatal error, or live in sin, it proves that they never had any true piety.
(2) the fact that such persons fall away cannot be adduced to prove that Christians ever fall from grace, for it demonstrates nothing on that point, but proves only that these persons never had any real piety. They may have had much that seemed to be religion; they may have been zealous, and apparently devoted to God, and may even have had much comfort and peace in what they took to be piety; they may have been eminently “gifted” in prayer, or may have even been successful preachers of the gospel, but all this does not prove that they ever had any piety, nor does the fact that such persons apostatize from their profession throw any light on a question quite foreign to this - whether true Christians ever fall from grace. Compare Matthew 7:22-23.
(3) the passage before us proves that if any are true Christians they will remain in the church, or will certainly persevere and be saved. They may indeed backslide grievously; they may wander far away, and pain the hearts of their brethren, and give occasion to the enemies of religion to speak reproachfully; but the apostle says, “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”
(4) one of the best evidences of true piety is found in the fact of continuing with the church. I do not mean nominally and formally, but really and spiritually, having the heart with the church; loving its peace and promoting its welfare; identifying ourselves with real Christians, and showing that we are ready to cooperate with those who love the Lord Jesus and its cause.
(5) the main reason why professing Christians are suffered to apostatize is to show that they had no true religion. It is desirable that they should see it themselves; desirable that others should see it also. It is better that it should be known that they had no true religion than that they should remain in the church to be a burden on its movements, and a reproach to the cause. By being allowed thus to separate themselves from the church, they may be brought to remember their violated vows, and the church will be free from the reproach of having those in its bosom who are a dishonor to the Christian name. We are not to wonder, then, if persons apostatize who have been professors of true religion; and we are not to suppose that the greatest injury is done to the cause when they do it. A greater injury by far is done when such persons remain in the church.
In this last conflict the Captain of the Lord's host [Joshua 5:15] is leading on the armies of heaven and mingling in the ranks and fighting our battles for us. We shall have apostasies, we expect them. “They will go out from us because they were not of us” (see 1 John 2:19). “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). 3SM 425.3Read in context »