Last week we discussed disunity in the churches. We discovered that God providentially uses church disunity for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. The subject we consider today is often the result of disunity:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 English Standard Version (ESV)
They went out from us …The Church is always exposed to this evil; so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who, [in reality], know not Christ, however much they may [verbally] profess his name.
By saying, they went out from us, [the Apostle John] means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. [John], however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, [in the same way] as chaff…mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.
Calvin analyzes those who profess the gospel:
For if they had been of us …Here [is] a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away.
To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts.
The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed (2 Timothy 2:19.)
[The Apostle John], in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.
Finally, Calvin states the blunt truth of the verse:
That they might be made manifest [John] shows that trials [are] useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for [upset]. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away [so] that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.