“Words of the Early Apostles: Safely Anchored by Love,” Ensign, Dec. 2003, 56–59
As a beginning sailor, I was warned of a great danger and how to avoid it. When mooring a boat at anchor, it is essential that the anchor be secure on the sea bottom. If the anchor is placed in coral or if the anchor rope is too short, the anchor can break free, and the boat will be adrift.
A few years ago, when my wife, Kaye, and I were sailing and scuba diving with some friends, I saw what happens when that warning is ignored. As we explored an underwater reef, we were shocked to discover the sunken hull of a sailboat. It had been recently dashed upon the coral reef, and the sea bottom was strewn with wreckage and personal effects. It appeared to me that the sunken boat had broken free because of a careless anchor mooring and drifted toward the island, where the breaking sea smashed the hull against the reef. How grateful I was that we had heeded the warning and anchored our own boat safely.
If there were ever a time when people need to be firmly anchored, it is today. The world is in commotion. Fear grips the hearts of millions; rebellions, terrorism, famine, and disease are rampant. There is no place on earth where people are completely free from “the perplexities of the nations” (D&C 88:79). The Lord has described our day as a time when “darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people” (D&C 112:23).
The Apostle John, son of Zebedee, also lived in a time of great commotion. The first of his three letters is one of the last apostolic messages of the early Church. His letters in 2 John and 3 John are personal messages to loved ones and echo the warning and counsel given in his first general epistle. At the time of John’s writing, the winds of apostasy were already blowing, and the long night of darkness was about to descend.
Speaking to those early Saints, aware of the advancing apostasy, John sounds a warning: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; … Many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:1). It is a warning that echoes what the Savior Himself had said: “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24).
John warns that the path to darkness is paved with lies, not only the lies told by anti-Christs and false prophets, but the lies of those who deceive themselves. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 Jn. 1:8). “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar” (1 Jn. 2:4). “He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth” (1 Jn. 2:11).
John also warns that some of those who would lead unwary Saints to error and darkness were once in the fellowship of the Saints, saying that “they went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 Jn. 2:19).
These last epistles of the first apostolic era were addressed to those who had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, who had the gift of the Holy Ghost. “Ye have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 Jn. 2:20). Today, members of the Lord’s restored Church also have the gift of the Holy Ghost and the light of the restored gospel. But just as darkness was gathering around those early Saints, we are surrounded by a world still in spiritual darkness. The deceiver is abroad now as he was then. So the counsel John gave the early Saints is as much for us as it was for them.
John’s plea is that the Saints remain faithful, that they not be seduced by lies. Over and over John equates untruth with darkness. In contrast, he says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. … If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:5, 7).
We have assurance that “the Spirit giveth light to every man” and “every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:46–47). “The word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light” (D&C 84:45). The question is, then, how do we obtain light and truth?
“He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93:28).
Keeping the commandments, then, brings truth and light, which are the opposites of the lies and darkness John warns us about. And the first and great commandment is to love God (see Matt. 22:36–38).
We know that God loves us. The supreme example of that love is the gift of His Only Begotten Son:
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4:9).
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16).
Though God loves us perfectly, He will not force us to love Him in return. We are invited to “abide” in His love (see John 15:10), but we must freely choose to do so. The closeness we feel to God depends upon whether or not we love Him, so how can we show that love?
We show love to God when we obey the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). And this commandment cannot be kept only within our hearts. We show love with our deeds. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). John is emphatic about the importance of loving others. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20–21).
John speaks, too, of the special bond of love that should exist among those who are true followers of the Savior: “Whosoever 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 Jn. 5:1). In other words, those who have been spiritually reborn in Christ will love those who have also been begotten of Him.
And John tells us that the Saints, through love, ought to be willing to sacrifice for one another: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16).
Some years ago, I had an experience that made me realize how powerful that principle of brotherly love is. I was climbing a steep mountain with a close friend. We reached a place near the top where it was necessary to make a long step across a cleft in the rock face. The step would require a moment of unbalance when the weight of one foot well planted on solid rock would be shifted to the foot not yet planted securely on the other side. The cleft was not wide, but the drop below was more than 1,000 feet (300 m).
My friend grasped my hand as a counterbalance and stepped across. After obtaining a secure handhold on the opposite side, he then reached out for my hand. I trusted him. I loved him, and I knew he loved me. I confidently reached for his hand and crossed, secure in his grip. As I reached the other side, and before he let go of my hand, he asked, “Are you safe?” Only when I answered in the affirmative did he let my hand go.
In a day when men are “lovers of their own selves” and “without natural affection” (2 Tim. 3:2–3) and when “the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12), we can find spiritual safety and a sure anchor for our souls in love of God and of our fellowmen. As we fulfill the two great commandments, John assures us that we will find fellowship with the Father: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn. 4:12). And in a time that is becoming ever more fearful, we can come to know personally that “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).