Growth, Dwarfishness, Second Childhood: Deformity

1 John 2:12‑14  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Growth is the natural advancement of the children of God from the state of babes to become "young men" and "fathers" in Christ (1 John 2:12-1412I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. 13I 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 wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:12‑14)). But this may be either hindered or unnatural, and the state consequently may become all wrong. The Corinthians were still remaining in the condition of babes when the Apostle addressed his first epistle to them: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." 1 Cor. 3:1, 21And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. (1 Corinthians 3:1‑2). The word "hitherto" in this passage shows that they had never yet been in any other condition; they had remained in the condition of babes.
The Hebrews also, when the Apostle addressed them, were somewhat similar, only with this difference—the Hebrews had advanced, but had afterward returned to the state of babes. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe." Heb. 5:12, 1312For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. (Hebrews 5:12‑13). "Ye are become such" shows that they had gone back to it. "But call to remembrance the former days." Ah, he says, You have gone back from the days when you endured a great fight of afflictions; you have forgotten the time when you "took joyfully the spoiling of your goods," because you knew that you possessed "in heaven a better and enduring substance." (Heb. 10.) "Now the just shall live by faith."
There are three states of soul, or stages of growth, in the children of God to be found in Scripture, three states easily discernible too among Christians in our own day; and all three are evil, because they all arise from an arrested or unnatural growth. First, the dwarf state remaining in the condition of babes; second, the state of second childhood, or returning to that condition; third, the result of both the others—deformity.
Second, there is the state of second childhood; this we see was the condition of the Hebrews. In this state you have not impeded growth, as at Corinth, but unnatural growth; the internal has not kept pace with the external; it is more difficult to detect, for there is all the outward appearance of wisdom and manhood, but the power is wanting. This is a sad condition. There is refreshment in looking upon the confiding fresh young life of a babe; internally and externally there is harmony in such a one. But it is sad indeed to be brought face to face with second childhood. The hoary head that should have guided aright or curbed the impetuosity of youth by its sage and prudent counsel, that should have encouraged the feeble steps of the tottering babe—what can be more touching than to see its utter impotency and helplessness?
I pass on to notice now the third state—deformity—in which state something is manifested that is externally repulsive to the spiritual eye. I take as examples of those in this condition, the saints addressed in 1 Corinthians and in the epistle to the Galatians. It is clear that in natural things deformity may be either mental or physical; that is, it may be that of the mind, which is internal, but it does not therefore escape a trained eye, or that of the body, which is external and more visible; this too is also true in the things of God, and both are illustrated in those addressed in these two epistles. Doctrine was wrong with the Galatians, practice with the Corinthians, the one internal and far more serious and solemn than the other. Not to all the dreadful moral evil existing at Corinth does he address such solemn warnings and denunciations as he addresses to the Galatians. (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:4; 4:11, 20; 5:1, 4, 7, 126I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6‑9)
4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. (Galatians 3:4)
11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain. (Galatians 4:11)
20I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. (Galatians 4:20)
1Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
4Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4)
7Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? (Galatians 5:7)
12I would they were even cut off which trouble you. (Galatians 5:12)
.) No outward immorality is denounced by him as allowed among them, such as we find in 1 Corinthians, and it is possible that there was outwardly very little to complain of, the breaking of bread going on as usual, and those who attended it not blamed. But they had gone back (Gal. 4:99But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? (Galatians 4:9)), had begun in the Spirit, but were now hindered, "bewitched." The "first works" (Rev. 2:55Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:5)) were no longer done, legal works were adopted, and "the bondwoman and her son" were brought back to the house (Gal. 4:3030Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. (Galatians 4:30)). But what had they done? In effect they had only neglected the teaching of the Word by the Spirit, a certain line of action not left to their judgment, but laid down for them, which is called obeying the truth (Gal. 3:11O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? (Galatians 3:1)). This was the result of their bad state, but this was terrible to the Apostle, for if the teaching of the Spirit and the Word are given up by saints, what is left?
It needed no great spiritual discernment to detect the deformity at Corinth. That which was allowed among them was a common scandal, and such as was "not so much as named" even among the Gentiles (1 Cor. 5).
To remain, then, in the condition of babes is dwarfishness, and produces external deformity; while to return to this condition, having known better, is second childhood, and provides this solemn condemnation of the Apostle, "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain." Gal. 4:1111I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain. (Galatians 4:11). Doubtless the Hebrews were exposed to the danger of falling into the same state, though not so far advanced as the Galatians in it. But what strikes one is the overwhelming danger of this state. The soul is slumbering and content with itself; and no human power, nothing but the solemn voice of the Lord by the Apostle can arouse it. He was not, and He cannot now be indifferent to such a state.
It is a matter of comfort to the servants of the Lord, that souls in the three evil states we have been considering are not beyond recovery through the application of the Word in the power of the Spirit of God, for we have all three of them addressed in the passages we have had before us. Nothing but divine wisdom can help us in dealing with such souls now, for by ignoring their state we are but continuing them in it; and by ignoring them because of their state we deprive ourselves of the duty and privilege of helping them to recovery.
In 1 Pet. 2:22As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: (1 Peter 2:2) (which does not in any way militate against what we have been saying) we find the means of growth: "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." We have been looking at growth arrested, and have considered a little what we have termed unnatural growth; we have seen that deformity follows each, but our view would not be complete were it not also to embrace what true growth is and how it is manifested, and for this we must turn again to John's first epistle.
I believe we learn there and everywhere in Scripture, as well as in walking up and down in service among the saints, that true growth always manifests itself in increased occupation of the soul with the Person of Christ. When John is there writing of the "fathers," he says that he has written and still writes to them because they have "known Him that is from the beginning." This is all he has to say of them and he adds no further counsel to them, gives them no further occupation. He does to the young men (1 John 2:15-1715Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15‑17)). He does also to the babes (vv. 18-27), but to the fathers nothing save in a general way (vv. 28, etc.). But the omission is full of instruction, for the few words he does say of them are in effect, "You have already begun while yet upon earth the occupation of heaven and eternity, and I know of nothing beyond it." Thus true growth was manifested, for in the day of Rev. 5, a day swiftly approaching for us, "Jesus only" fills the scene and occupies the whole of the surrounding companies, "every family in the heavens" (Eph. 3:1515Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, (Ephesians 3:15); J.N.D. Trans.), and that, whatever their intelligence, or however varied their comprehension of Him and His ways may be. But if this is true in heaven, and we are growing now upon earth, it will manifest itself in more caring for Him and His approval, pleasing the Lord at all cost (2 Cor. 5:99Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)), and how but in ministering to those who are His, those so dear to Him, and those for whom He died? (1 John 5:11Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. (1 John 5:1).)
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Cor. 13:1111When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11). And, says the Apostle Peter, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ." 2 Pet. 3:1818But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18). May we see that there is no growth but by the Word, and discern the dangerous condition of those who are not obeying it -that "word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." 1 Thess. 2:1313For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13). If at first it gave me life, it must effectually work now in me if I am to grow; and may it be thus with us increasingly to the praise and to the glory of His grace.