|« Prev||Chapters IV. V.||Next »|
CHAPTERS IV. V.
THROUGHOUT this Epistle, the exhibition of truth and the reprehension of opposing errors alternate the one with the other. Here the point of transition lies in what he had just said, viz. that in the case of all believers, participation in the influences of the. Holy Spirit is the pledge of continued fellowship with Christ. This leads him, since there was n1muche which falsely claimed to be from that spirit, to direct attention to the difference between its genuine operations and such as were only pretended, only a deceptive imitation. This connects itself with his previous warnings against false teachers.
These teachers, as is clear from the traits subsequently ascribed to them, professed to enjoy the special illumination of that Holy Spirit who is the source of life to all christians. They spoke with an irresistible enthusiasm; they claimed the character 235of prophets. All who assume the office of teachers in the church, should be organs of that Holy Spirit who is the pervading vitalizing principle of the church. As it was this Spirit, whose vital influence is presupposed in all as christians, without which no one could testify of Christ; so all, who would be received as teachers in the church, could only speak as instruments of this Spirit, and they were fully entitled so to speak. What they taught, however, must approve itself as truth, by its harmony with that which the same Spirit revealed to all. John himself, in a passage which we have already considered, appeals to this inward test in every believer. In the operations of this Spirit, however, there were to be found many gradations. It might be more the divinely enlightened reason, with its calmly progressive development of truth, which predominated in the teacher’s mode of instruction; or it might be more the immediate influence of sudden inspiration by the Holy Spirit, seizing upon the mind with irresistible power, or revealing to the inward christian sense, in moments of extraordinary activity, new and higher views of truth of which the recipient felt himself constrained to testify. This latter was 236the peculiar characteristic of the prophets, in distinction from the ordinary teachers in the church. A like difference in the various spheres of christian inspiration, in the gradations of the divine and human, obtains in all periods of the church. As it is the same Holy Spirit which governs the church in all ages, and the unity of this Spirit connects the church of all ages with that of the Apostles; as the relation of human nature in all its various powers to the Spirit which animates them, and the laws according to which that Spirit works, remain ever the same; so also will his influence at all times manifest itself in the same generic forms and with the same gradations. Hence, a careful observation of history will show, in other times, a similar distinction between prophets and ordinary teachers in the church, between the prophetic gift and the ordinary gift of teaching; a distinction between such as are to be compared with the teachers, and such as more resemble the prophets of the apostolic church. The apostolic church cannot indeed, nor was it intended to be, reproduced as a whole in exactly the same literal form. Yet since it must serve, as to its ruling spirit and its leading principles, for the model of all subsequent 237christian development, it were much to be desired that we could more closely follow its example, in distinguishing between these different gifts, and in the training and application of them to the various circumstances and wants of the church.
Ch. iv. 1-3.] The apostolic age differed from later periods of the church only in this: that as Christianity then first made its appearance in humanity, as the divine world-transforming power, there was a greater predominance of that immediate divine impulse and inspiration; the appearing of prophets, and the various manifestations of the prophetic gift, belonged more to the ordinary phenomena of the church. But as, from the very first, corrupt human nature mingled its disturbing and adulterating influence in all the manifestations of the divine; so with this genuine inspiration there connected itself a false one, with the suggestions of the divine Spirit those of an undivine. Enthusiasm for the truth was counterfeited by enthusiasm for error; delusion and fanaticism had also their own prophets; false prophets mingled with the true. Error in doctrine, proclaimed with all the ardor of a false inspiration, wrought through the influence of that enthusiasm the more power 238fully upon the popular mind. Hence there was needed for christians some decisive test, whereby they might be secured against the influence of this deception, and be enabled to distinguish between true and false inspiration. This is furnished by the Apostle in the following words: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus, is not of God. And this is the spirit of Antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now is it already in the world.”
Under the term spirit, the Apostle here comprehends two things outwardly alike, but differing in their inward and essential nature,—viz. true and false inspiration, what originates in the suggestions of the divine spirit, as well as in those of the undivine. He who judged by no other test than appearance merely, must suppose he witnessed in all these outward manifestations the same power of inspiration, revealing itself in words of resistless fervor. And here a twofold error 239might be committed. Christians might either yield themselves credulously to all which claimed to be the revelation of a higher spirit, allowing themselves to be hurried away as the blind instruments of every influence; or, detecting the suggestions of the undivine spirit and seeking to avoid its delusions, might be thereby led to suspicion and distrust of all such manifestations, of every kind of inspiration. As there was a false confidence of unquestioning credulity, so might there arise also a morbid scepticism of mistrust, whereby the influences of the Holy Spirit might be obstructed in the church, and the kindling flame of inspiration be at once extinguished. Against both these errors, Paul thought it necessary to warn the church at Thessalonica. (1 Thess. v. 19, ff.)
The same danger which then threatened the christian life, must, by virtue of the uniform law in christian development, be constantly repeated; and the healthful christian spirit, alike far from blind credulity and from suspicious and unloving distrust, must trace out for itself the right way between these two extremes. This finds a special application in times which resemble the apostolic age; viz. when Christianity,—though not indeed 240making its first entrance into the world, yet rising anew from victorious conflict with the hostile forces of superstition or of scepticism,—begins to work with a new power; when a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit is preparing the way for itself, and gives tokens of its coming; in all times of special religious awakening, or of a spiritual excitement which affects the religious sphere. In such times, there will always be found some who are caught by everything unusual; who give ear too readily to everything which assumes the language of religious zeal; who behold the Divine in everything which proceeds from a state of peculiar mental excitement, and claims to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Others, on the contrary, detecting this infusion of foreign elements, suffer themselves to be thereby made distrustful towards all religious awakening. Instead of trying the spirits, they class them all together and reject all; and thus, as far as in them lies, they extinguish also the divine flame, and prevent the growth of that new religious life from which a new creation was to be developed. The warning of the Apostle not to believe every spirit, his requirement to test the spirits, includes a caution against both these errors. 241In his caution not to believe every spirit, it is implied that we are not to reject all which claims to be the voice of the Holy Spirit; but should feel a confidence that here is in reality something divine. Hence he requires us to try the spirits, as a means of learning to distinguish the true from the false, what proceeds from a divine spirit and what from an undivine.
But though the Apostle has in view both errors, it is here his special object to warn against the delusions of false prophets, and to furnish a test by which these should be recognized. What he here says tallies with his previous warning against the seductions of false teachers. So also the mark, for distinguishing between the true and the false, is in both cases the same. As we have before seen, the preaching of Jesus, as the divine-human Saviour and theocratic King, is the centre of all. To acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, this in John’s view is synonymous with acknowledging him as He who appeared in the flesh,—the Son of God manifested in the flesh,—the eternal Word in his humanization,—the eternal divine life-fountain letting itself down into human nature, and revealing itself in visible human form,—the truly divine and human, in harmonious 242union. In this is involved the rejection of that spectral sublimation of the Idea of Christ, already mentioned; of all which tended to separate the only-begotten Son of God from Him who has appeared in the flesh,—to obscure the unity between the divine and its manifestation in the flesh. That one divine fact, John makes the centre of all. It was, as we before remarked, the grand point of controversy in that age, as it is the one around which gather all the vital questions of the present time. Here again there is no other test of true faith, no other law for christian union, than steadfast adherence to that one fundamental fact of the appearing of the Divine-human Redeemer. In all which proceeds from this belief, the influences of the divine Spirit should be acknowledged. Hence it follows, that provided faith in this one fundamental fact be the soul of the christian life, no minor differences of creed should be allowed to disturb christian unity; that mistakes and alloys of christian truth, which trench not on this one fundamental fact, should not hinder us from recognizing the divine stamp in him whose faith and profession have their root therein,—that the bonds of christian fellowship should not thereby 243be sundered or loosened. Steadfast adherence to this one foundation is the mark of being from God, of the spirit derived from God. Of course, he who adheres to it is in fellowship with God, is a partaker of the divine life, is animated and led by the Spirit of God; and from it will securely proceed the purification of the whole life, both in knowledge and practice. Thus the Saviour, comparing himself to the vine and believers to its branches (John xv. i ff.), says that these branches are to be more and more cleansed in order that they may bring forth the more fruit. That is: believers, abiding in fellowship with him, will thereby continue to partake of the divine life diffused from him through all his members; and being thus, in the divinely ordained and directed development of that life, more and more purified from the foreign and undivine which still obstructs it, will bring forth more and more of its fruits in their whole life and conduct. This then is applicable to all such, as through adherence to that one radical fact are branches of the true vine; and in them will be experienced, in their faith, views, and practice, the quickening energy of that divine life, which spreads from the vine-stock 244through all the branches, cleansing away all that is foreign.
But while John presents both the affirmative and negative aspect of this characteristic mark, it is here his special object to enforce the negative; to warn against all manifestations of that spirit which does not acknowledge this radical fact, but either denies or mutilates it. Whoever so taught was to be at once rejected. No other mark for the designation of the undivine, the antichristian, the false, should be needed for the believer. In all such manifestations the Apostle recognizes the spirit of Antichrist, whose culminating point, self-deification, was to precede the triumphant revelation of Christ in the last time. In all which denies or mutilates this one ground-fact, he bids us discern the tokens of that approaching Antichrist, whose spirit is thus shown to be already in the world and preparing for his full manifestation. He calls upon believers to watch for, and at once and totally to reject, all such manifestations; lest, being gradually drawn aside from the one foundation, and yielding themselves to the delusions of that antichristian spirit, they might at length come wholly under its dominion.245
Ch. iv. 4-6.] Having thus taught how to distinguish the revelations of the spirit which is from God, and of that which is not from God; the Apostle holds out a solace for believers under their conflicts with the representatives of that ungodly spirit: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
Truth and Error have each their peculiar history of development. As in the continued development of christian truth, the Holy Spirit is ever revealing itself in the inward consciousness of the believer,—that Anointing spoken of by John; so does Error, proceeding side by side with this revelation, mingle therewith its own disturbing and adulterating influence,—rending single truths from their connection with the whole system of truth, and giving them the stamp of error. These are the two currents, proceeding from the ever operative spirit of Christ and from the spirit 246of the world; the latter mingling with the revelations of the former its own disturbing element, and imitating them with a deceptive outward seeming. If we compare the Johannic with the Pauline age, we shall perceive, notwithstanding the common foundation on which the church rests and the common participation of the Holy Spirit, that each period had its own peculiar contrarieties of truth and error. So must we in every period seek to distinguish, by the light of the divine word, what proceeds from the Spirit of Christ and what from an unchristian Spirit of the Age, disguising itself under the outward appearance of Christianity. As then, the higher conception of the essential nature of our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, the truth respecting the incarnate Word, received a special development through John, and a wider diffusion of light on this important subject of christian knowledge distinguished the Johannic age; so also was this development of christian truth accompanied and corrupted by the one-sided conception of the anti-christian spirit. Every form of error has its time; and it is owing to the peculiarity of the time, that certain errors especially predominate. Those who still adhere to the whole 247simple truth, may be perplexed at seeing these errors increasing with seemingly irresistible power, and perverting many from the pure truth. This was the case in the age of John. As the peculiarity of Paul’s time was the judaistic tendency, mingling law and gospel together, and seeking to bind Christianity within the limits of the old dispensation; so in the Johannic age, it was this corruption of the pure doctrine of the person of Christ. Then were brewing the elements, which burst forth unrestrained in the agitations of the second century. John seeks to inspire those, who might be thus perplexed, with courage and confidence. He begins with reminding them that they are born of God, that the Spirit of God dwells and works in them, is their teacher, uses them as his instruments to testify of the truth which he has made known to them. Hence, comparing them with the teachers of error, he draws the conclusion: “Ye have overcome them.” He does not say, Ye shall overcome; but represents this as a fact already realized. Inasmuch, namely, as they are the children of God and are led by him, they have thereby in fact already overcome those who are animated by the opposite spirit. It is that victory of the divine 248over all that is undivine, which is inherent in the very relation of the one to the other, as represented by the Apostle himself: For a Greater, a Mightier, is. he who dwells and works in you, than he that is working in the God-estranged world. God is mightier than the undivine spirit, and against him it cannot prevail. In the assurance of the victory of God’s omnipotence, over all which arrays itself against him, they are assured that, virtually, they have already overcome their adversaries. This anticipated victory of christian truth over anti-christian error, requires indeed time for its realization. Their faith must outstrip the course of history; and in the assurance of faith, they even now possess the certain decision of the conflict. They may look into the future with cheerful confidence, since the final result is already present to their christian consciousness. The course of history only brings that to light, which is inherent in the very relation of the spirit, by which they are animated, to that which animates their adversaries. These adversaries they would never be able to overcome, had they not, by virtue of that inward relation, overcome them already. That they have already overcome,—this is the very 249thing which is to be made manifest. When Jesus bids his disciples be of good cheer, it is not because he will overcome the world, but because he has already overcome. (John xvi. 33.) By his redeeming life and sufferings he has, once for all, broken the might of Evil. Its kingdom is henceforth as if it were not. It may still prevail in many forms; yet this is but a passing show.
Christ, then, having once for all overcome the world, believers are the witnesses of this his victory, the instruments by which it is to be spread throughout the world. Now in this assurance of having overcome their adversaries, it is implied that they are themselves assured in the truth; that unmoved by these assaults they stand firm, while all around them wavers; that they confidently look forward to the full and final triumph of truth in the world. But it by no means follows, that their adversaries will be so overcome, as that they themselves shall be convinced of their errors and abandon them. For this is something which cannot be forced upon man from without. It depends upon his own free susceptibility, his own free submission to that spirit which animates the preachers of the truth. Hence they are not 250unsettled and perplexed, when, for the moment, error prevails to an extraordinary degree in the world. The Apostle shows, that this cannot be otherwise. There is, he says, no agreement possible between them and their adversaries. What belongs to the inner nature cannot but come forth to light; the spirit, the temper of mind, cannot but express itself. As is the tree, so is its fruit. Those false prophets, says the Apostle, belong in their spirit, their inward temper, to the world. Hence they teach what corresponds to this worldly spirit and temper; their earthliness of mind is mirrored in their teaching. So long as they are thus minded, it cannot be otherwise; and all attempts to convince them of their errors, will be repelled by the adverse tendency of their spirit.
By this he also explains, how it is that with so many they find admission. The world eagerly receives that which is kindred to its own spirit. Thus is brought to light the essential contrariety between those who are of God and those who are of the world. Those who in spirit and temper belong to the world have no susceptibility for the divine, and cannot receive what is made known by those who are animated by the Spirit of God, the 251teachers of divine truth. But, “he that knoweth God, heareth us.” The knowing of God might here mean that general preparatory connection with him, of such as feel the drawing of the Father by which they are led to the Son, and thus show a susceptibility for the pure divine truth. But it may also apply to those who are already grounded in the christian faith, and remain true to the christian knowledge which they have received; and hence are able to recognize and to distinguish the genuine preachers of truth, by whom they are led on still farther in christian knowledge. The attitude thus taken, towards teachers of truth and teachers of error, becomes a sifting process among christians themselves; separating those who are truly born of God, who in spirit form the opposite to the world, and those who still belong to the world although externally united to the christian church. Thus, in this sifting process, is manifested the inherent essential contrariety between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, between the undivine spirit and the spirit of God.
Ch. iv. 7, 8.] From belief, the Apostle again turns to its practical application to the life; and here again 252he refers all back to Love, as the animating principle of the christian life. His language rises with this view to a loftier tone: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” This is not a command to love. It is not the Apostle’s aim to bring before believers new motives to mutual love. His aim is this: to show them what must necessarily follow from a certain presupposed fact; the necessary mark of a certain existing state; the effect which cannot fail when the cause from which it proceeds is actually present. He would produce in them the conviction, that just so certainly as they are the children of God, as life from God exists in them; so certainly must this reveal itself in mutual love. The want of this love would show that they were not children of God,—that life from God was not in them. The proof he adduces, that as children of God they must love one another, is this: love is from God, and therefore every one who loves is born of God. Love is here represented as something divine, something which points back to the eternal 253fountain of love in God, a ray of divine life. It is love which constitutes the absolute opposite to the life, to the stand-point, of the natural man; to that which is supreme in him, when his whole nature has completely developed and expressed itself. The natural man makes Self the centre and end of all. Love impels man to go beyond self, to renounce self; to make the interests of others his own, to share with them all that he has, to give himself to them, to live for them.
Where now something of this impulse is present in the soul, man thereby makes himself known as the image of God; it is a mark of that higher life which proceeds from God. Single instances of such love may be found, we admit, even where that life from God which John describes does not yet exist, where the birth from God has not yet taken place. Still, even these bear witness of a power which is foreign to the natural man as such,—-a ray from the primeval Source, a mark of divine lineage. As such we cannot but recognize them, whether derived from the new divine life introduced by Christ into the world, from the general influence of society and education,—-through which many divine impressions from Christ may have 254been received, by such as have never yet opened their hearts to his influence,—or whether we find them existing apart from all connection with Christianity. In either case, we cannot but discern in them the features of that image of God, which, though obscured by sin, still gleams out through darkness; the marks of that original divine lineage, of that general connection with the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
In this passage, however, the apostle is not speaking of such emotions, breaking forth singly in opposition to the prevailing selfishness; but of a state, wherein this love is the governing principle of life. This is what he designates as the necessary mark of children of God, since love is from God; and hence, where this love is the ruling and animating principle, it is evidence that its possessor has this principle from God, is born of God. We have often observed, that in the Apostle’s view all true knowledge of God proceeds from the life, the fellowship of life with God. So also here, “being born of God,” and “knowing God,” are classed together. To the affirmative declaration he immediately subjoins the negative, drawn from the same premises; viz. that he who loves 255not is far from knowing God, from being in union with him. He had before said, that love is from God; thereby referring to him as the primal source of all love. But he now goes farther and says: God is love. Love is his essential nature; God and Love are coincident terms. Love absolutely, whose essential nature is to love, whence therefore all love proceeds, is the designation of God himself.
It is a thought full of meaning, which the Apostle here expresses. He indicates thereby, that Love is the clearest embodiment which we can vision to ourselves of the incomprehensible God. It is personal spirit only that is capable of love. To an impersonal existence love cannot be ascribed; unless something else is understood by the name, than what it is adapted to express. When God is represented as Love, we are led thereby to regard him as the Being, from whose nature it is inseparable to reveal and to impart himself, to diffuse beyond himself the bliss which he enjoys. Inasmuch as he is himself the sum of all excellence, the highest good, he must first be himself the object of his love. Thereby begat he the all-perfect likeness of himself, the only-begotten Son, who is the object of his absolute love. 256Such is the import of Christ’s own language, in his prayer as High Priest of his people. (John xvii. 24.) Knowing himself to be one with that, Eternal Effluence of the divine glory; and feeling himself called as man to a share in that glory, because of the Eternal Word dwelling in and animating him; he speaks in that prayer of the glory which the Father’s love had bestowed upon him, before the foundation of the world. This love moved him, for the purpose of revealing and imparting himself, to bring into existence the whole creation; in which every being is by itself a revelation of God as Love, while each enjoys its own appropriate measure of happiness. Hence too he created, as the aim and end of all creation beside, rational beings for whose sake he would thus reveal himself; who were themselves adapted in their nature to receive this his revelation from without, to become partakers of his self-communication, to enter into fellowship with him, to receive into themselves his image, and to reflect it in their conduct. Love moved him, when man had estranged himself from this his highest destiny, to send the dearest object of his love, the only-begotten Son himself, to appear in human nature; and to bestow 257him in whom he thus appeared, wholly upon man. He too, as being the all-perfect image of him in whom God had from eternity mirrored himself, now becomes the absolute object of his love in humanity; that love which extends itself from him who is the eternal Effluence of the divine glory, upon him who is the Effluence of that glory in time and in humanity. He is therefore called, absolutely, the beloved Son of the Father,—-He in whom the Father is well-pleased. This can be said of no other; since only that which perfectly presents to the Father his own image, that wherein he beholds himself, can be absolutely the object of his complacency. And from him the love of God extends itself to all who stand in fellowship with him, who reflect his image as it is more and more actualized in them, and who to the Father’s all-foreseeing eye appear as already bearing his image, as entirely one with him. In him we have the perfect revelation of God as Love; in his whole manifestation, in his life and death, we learn to know God as Love.
Ch. iv. 9-10.] To the revelation thus made in humanity, of God as Love, the Apostle then refers in the succeeding words. “In this was 258manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [reconciliation] for our sins.”
Here, overlooking all else, John fixes his eye upon that highest fact, in which the love of God reveals itself most gloriously; his love toward those, who after being by this love made capable of its highest communications, being created in its image, had rendered themselves unworthy of it. To a world of sin, thus alienated from the God of love, he gave that highest gift,—-Him who is called, as no other can be, the Son of God,—-that through him he might bestow on the sinful race of man that high destiny for which it was created, and which it had lost through its own guilt; to impart to the dead in sin that true blissful life, which should endure forever. In this fact, says John, we perceive the true nature of love. It was not our love to God, that called forth a return of love in him. His own love moved him to that highest proof of love, to send his Son into the world, that those who were alienated from 259him by sin, and through sin arrayed against him the Holy One, might be rescued from this state of ruin,—to send him to be the reconciliation for our sins. From these words it is evident, that we are not so to conceive of this reconciliation, as if God the hater of men as sinners had now, at this particular time, become reconciled to them through Christ. On the contrary, the work of reconciliation presupposes that love in God, which moved him to adopt this plan, to be actualized at an appointed period; the eternal love of God as the ground, not the result, of this reconciliation. Hence also, the New Testament never speaks of a reconciliation of God with man, but only of a reconciliation of man with God; indicating that God, as love, ever desires to impart himself to man, that the hindrance is in man himself. To those who are estranged from God by sin, he must, from the relation which they consciously hold to him, appear as the angry Judge, whose just vengeance they have incurred. Since then, no man was capable of raising himself out of himself into another relation to God, the hindrance must first be removed by God himself; and the medium, through which this was effected, 260is called by John the reconciliation for sin, the sin-offering for man.
It is plain, therefore, that the changed relation to God of which man becomes conscious, presupposes a divine act independent of himself, whereby this has been made possible. To this also pointed the sin-offering in the Old Testament, to which John seems to allude. It was intended to awaken in the human spirit the conviction, that no man is of himself able to close that gulf, which separates the sinner from God. As God is love, so also is He holiness; as is taught by John when he says, that God is Light, excluding all darkness,—meaning that he is Holiness, excluding all evil. As The Holy, he reveals himself in a moral government of the world corresponding to his holiness. This requires a perfect actualization of the holy law by man; only on this condition, can the holy God impart himself to humanity in the revelations of his love, can come into fellowship with it, can become to it the fountain of bliss, of eternal life. But to this stands opposed the universal prevalence of sin in man. Hence Christ, the Holy, must perform for all what they cannot themselves perform; must restore harmony in God’s moral 261government, by himself satisfying its demands on man. In the laws of this moral government, the connection of sin with misery as the punishment of sin, was forever fixed. Christ as man, in actualizing the holy law, submitted himself to its conditions in this respect also,—to this connection of sin and misery, which weighed down the human race. In his suffering, he took upon himself their guilt and made it his own; his all-devoting love entered into the whole feeling of man’s guilt and wretchedness; as expressed in that cry, when, in the fulness of his sympathy for humanity, he felt himself one with it in its load of guilt: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! All which men had to bear he took upon himself, and in his holy life and sufferings, imparted to them all that was his. This it is which constitutes the turning point in the relation of man to God; that whereby sin ceases to be the separating wall between man and God,—the reconciliation (expiation) for sin, as it is termed by the Apostle. Herein we perceive the true nature of holy love.
Ch. iv. 11.] Having thus spoken of the revelation of God’s love in the reconciliation effected by Christ, the Apostle again makes a personal 262appeal to believers: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Such love in God, the Apostle would say, must beget in those who have experienced it a return of love. But this love, enkindled by the revelation of the redeeming love of God, must manifest itself in mutual love, on the part of those who are conscious of being objects of God’s love, of having experienced it in themselves. From the consciousness of this love of God to believers, must necessarily spring mutual love towards each other. It is one holy flame of love, passing over from God to man, and extending itself to their mutual relation to one another.
Ch. iv. 12.] In connection with the declaration that God is himself love, the Apostle sets forth the high import of love as the bond of fellowship between God and man: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” In the words, “no one hath seen God,” must be contained the reason, why it is only through love we can be certain of his dwelling in us. “Us,” we may regard as meaning the whole body of the church. “Seeing,” we may first take in the sense of bodily sight. We become conscious of the presence 263of a visible being, by seeing him among us. But the invisible God cannot be so united with us. He cannot dwell visibly among us; there can be no visible manifestation of deity, such as was expected by the Jews and was once desired by Philip. (John xiv. 8.) What John would say, therefore, is this: No one has ever seen God by the bodily sense; a denial which, in John’s mode of expression, involves the assertion that he cannot thus be seen.
It follows, therefore, that the church can be united to the invisible God only by a spiritual bond; and only thereby can have the assurance that he abides with and in them, that he dwells in continued fellowship with them. And this spiritual bond is Love. As God is love itself, and all love radiates from him; so must the union of the church with him be manifested hereby, that he works in them as the spirit of love, that Love rules in them as the animating principle.
If, however, we compare other expressions of John, it becomes a question whether the word “seeing” is to be taken here in the sense of bodily sight. He is accustomed, as we observed above, to express by the original Greek word, likewise a spiritual beholding, perfect, immediate knowledge. 264In this sense he says (John i. 18), “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” If now we take the word “see” as it is plainly used in this passage, it involves still more than what we have said: viz. that no man has ever had an immediate perception of God, has ever attained to perfect knowledge of him, neither can he thus be known by men on earth. We cannot therefore be assured of union with him, by his having become to us an object of perfect knowledge. Did it depend on that, he would remain forever beyond our reach. The incomprehensible Essence, no one has known or can know. But as God is love, we are assured of union with him and of his dwelling in us, by his abiding self-revelation among us as love; through love we abide in union with him who is love. In love we have his true essence, so far as it can be the object of perception to man on earth. Union with God through love precedes that perfect vision of God, promised us for the life which is eternal. In this union with God through love, we have already more than we are able to develop in the form of knowledge.
Herein, then, is contained the weighty truth: 265that only through love we can become conscious of God, can be convinced of the reality of his being and nature,—love being in itself the reflection and the product of his nature. And hence the more a man has shut his heart against love, the more he is sunk in selfishness, the less can he know of God. But genuine love to God, that which is enkindled by the revelation of God’s love to believers, and has God for its source, can only attest itself as such by the mutual love of believers for each other, since this is its necessary working and effect.
Ch. iv. 13.] That God, through his indwelling and vitalizing love, abides in union with believers, means the same as that his Spirit dwells in them: for his Spirit, imparted to believers through Christ, is itself the fountain of love which can originate only in God, the Spirit which dwells and works in God himself as love. They cannot be conscious of a fellowship of spirit with him, if love, the mark of that spirit, shows not its living agency among them. Hence the Apostle appeals to their experience of the influences of the Spirit imparted by God,—the token and pledge, that as they continue to surrender themselves to fellowship with God, God likewise abides in inseparable fellowship with 266them. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
Ch. iv. 14-16.] He now returns to that, which he ever contemplates as the ground of the whole Christian life and of salvation, the ground of the whole church and of all its divine inward experiences, since upon this depends all and with this is given all,—the testimony respecting the Son of God, whom the Father has sent as the Saviour of the world. Of this he bears testimony, with the confident assurance of an eye-witness: “And we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” But with those who had been so long acquainted with Christianity, he needed not to appeal merely to his own sight and experience. They were not to be dependent upon his personal testimony. The fact, to which he bore witness, must long since have fully attested itself, in their own conscious experience of fellowship with God attained thereby. But he would, again and again, impress it upon their hearts, that firm adherence to this fact must ever be the ground of all true fellowship with God. For faith he then substitutes confession; 267since faith must approve itself by an open confession of the Son of God, without fear or shame, in opposition to the world which ignores him and hates his followers. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” Assuming in christians this fellowship with God, which is the fruit of true adherence to faith in Jesus as the Son of God, he speaks not merely from his own personal experience, but as if uttering the experience of all; “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” The Apostle recognizes a reciprocal relation between knowledge and faith. The divine fact, which is the object of faith, must be in a certain manner known in order to be believed. But it is by receiving through faith this divine fact into the heart and making it properly our own, that we first become truly acquainted, in the experiences of the inner life, with the object of faith; and therefrom develops itself the true knowledge of that object, not as something external to the spirit, but as being through this inward experience a part of itself. In the spirit enlightened by faith, knowledge 268is developed; and faith, through the knowledge derived from this inward experience, receives in turn a higher import. We believe in the love of God toward us, because we know it by this inward experience. This is the kind of knowledge here meant. But in thus knowing God’s love for us, we come to know God himself; and in that way in which he can most perfectly be known, for his nature is love.
Abiding in love is represented by the Apostle: as the condition and the token of abiding in fellowship with God. By love he doubtless means, as the connection shows, primarily the love of God as revealing itself in Christ the Saviour of the world, and making itself felt in the hearts of believers; and as then, by the light of faith becoming an object of knowledge. They attain to a conscious knowledge of that which is their life-element. But their hearts cannot be filled with this overflowing love of God, without producing in return that love to God, and to the brethren, which has its root therein.
Ch. iv. 17, 18.] The Apostle then characterizes the habitual temper of mind, which exists where this abiding in the love of God has 269reached its maturity. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness [joyfulness] in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth, is not made perfect in love.” This fellowship of life with God has for its fruit, a confidence in him, undisturbed by fear. By the word which Luther here translates “joyfulness” is indicated such a relation to another, as allows us to walk with him in free familiar converse, to tell him without reserve all that is in our hearts, to turn to him in all our concerns with perfect confidence. Such a state of joyful assured confidence, disturbed by no fear no apprehension, in which under all circumstances and necessities we turn to God, is the one here indicated. Particularly is excluded fear in view of a future judgment of the holy God, before whom no sin can find allowance. To him who stands in this relation to God, the day of judgment is indeed ever present; and it is no false or light-minded security by which he is raised above it. But that final decision has for him no such terrors, as for those who have in God a stern judge to fear; who 270feel themselves estranged from him by sin, and are therefore conscious of the wrath of God. He looks towards that day with joyful confidence, for he knows that he has no judgment to fear; that through the love of God revealed to him in Christ, of which he has the assurance in his inner being, he is exempt from judgment. True, he is conscious of still inhering sin. He has a sharper eye to detect its presence, than those who have made less advancement in the development of the christian life. But even sin has for him lost its sting. He knows that God has forgiven him; and as he feels and knows himself to be united through love with the God who is love, he is certain also that this still inhering sin can no longer separate him from God; and that God, through the Spirit which he has given him, will purify him more and more, will carry on the begun work to its completion. It is not the believer’s own worthiness, or perfectness, which John regards as the ground of this confidence. Were that the foundation of his trust, it would rest on a very frail support, soon betraying its worthessness under the temptations and conflicts of the earthly life. It has an immovable foundation,—the revelation of the love of God in 271Christ, through which the believer knows himself to be one with Christ. Christ is indeed in heaven, and the believer still belongs outwardly to earth. Yet, through his oneness with Christ, who is to him as present as if still living on earth, he is conscious that he stands in the same relation to God as Christ himself; that, belonging to Christ as a member of his body, he can no more be separated from God than Christ himself; that in him he has become the object of divine love, divine complacency. And thus, in Christ’s relation to God, he has the pledge of his own. This is the immovable ground of his confidence.
The Apostle here contrasts two religious states. The one is this fellowship of love, of sonship to God which has its root in Christ; when as a child of God, mall is conscious of holding the same relation to him, which Christ as Son bears to the Father. In the other, God is viewed as the stern judge, the object of fear; the apprehension of divine punishment weighs down the spirit. So elsewhere in the New Testament, the filial relation to God and the slavish relation are contrasted with each other. It is true, indeed, that where this fellowship of love has already commenced, doubts 272and apprehensions, arising from the former slavish relation, may still mingle in it their disturbing influence. But the Apostle points out a stage of the christian life so high, where love has so gained the preponderance, that fear is wholly banished. No terrors of impending punishment disturb the joyful confidence in God. He would, indeed, by no means banish that holy awe, which impels him who lives in the consciousness of still inhering sin, to watch continually over himself, to shun everything which might mar his fellowship with God. He will be led to do this, by the power of that very love in which his life has its root; and in this there is no “torment,” at that high stage of the christian life, where all is possible to Love.
Ch. iv. 19, 20.] In order to impress on christians the obligation of brotherly-love, John again reminds them, that through God’s love to them their own love was first enkindled; and then goes on to show, that in love to God is necessarily involved love to the brethren. “We love him because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”273
The appeal thus founded on that conscious christian fellowship, to which both he and his readers have been admitted, presupposes this love to God as something possessed in common, originating as it does in their common experience of God’s redeeming love. But so certainly as this love exists among them, will it reveal itself as such in its effects. It is easy to say, I love God; the point is, that this love should manifest itself by its unmistakable signs in the life. The witness to this presence of God’s love in men, is Brotherly-love. He who says he loves God, and yet hates his brother, is called a liar, since his professions are proved by his acts to be lies; for in John’s view, hatred of one’s brother and love to God mutually exclude each other. We must here remember, that with John there is nothing intermediate between love and hate; it is either love to the brother, or hatred of the brother. With him therefore, “to hate the brother,” and “not to love,” are one and the same; since where love is wanting, the selfish disposition already contains the germ of hate.
But is it not strange that John should ask: How can he who loves not the visible brother, 274love the invisible God? For he always regards love to God as the primary, and love to the brother as the derived affection; self-sacrificing brotherly-love as originating in love to God, that alone being able to overcome the selfish principle in man. But if from the cause, we may deduce its necessary and spontaneous effect; so on the other hand, from the effect we may reason back to the cause, and regard the effect as evidence of the cause. Love to God is in itself an invisible act, seen only by him who looks upon the heart; but the effects of this love, as they appear outwardly, are seen by man. Whether there is true love to God must be determined, therefore, by the presence or absence of Brotherly-love. Hence John’s conclusion: How can I believe that he truly loves God, in whom I see not the visible evidence of this love? The visible here bears witness of the want of the invisible. And moreover, man as a creature of sense, is more readily affected by the visible than by the invisible. If we conceive of love as a capacity inherent in the God-related nature of man, and pointing back to its primal Source in God who is Love; yet, for this capacity to raise itself to the Invisible One, more is required 275than to awaken it into action through the impression made by his visible image in man. How is the invisible object of love to exert an influence upon him, whom the visible leaves unaffected?
Ch. iv. 21, v. 1.] Such being the necessary connection between these two relations of love, the Apostle adds: “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God, love his brother also. 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.”
This necessary connection between love to God and Brotherly-love, John deduces from their common sonship to God, from the equal relation of all to God, and their inward relationship of life to one another. He begins with faith,—faith in its true import. By faith he understands, not what James calls a dead faith. It is not the mere admission of certain historical facts, as one believes any historical narration of the past, without being at all affected thereby in his inner life. It is not the tenacious adherence to certain articles of faith, received into the understanding and memory as a matter of custom; in regard to which the liability y 276to doubt is less, the less there is felt of a living interest in them, the less their influence penetrates below the mere surface of the spirit. Faith, in the Johannic sense, presupposes all that is involved in the acknowledgment of Jesus as the Christ, in knowing him for ourselves as such. It implies the recognition of the Crucified One, as Sovereign in the kingdom of God, as Redeemer from sin. There is, therefore, implied that deep conviction of sin and longing for deliverance from it, that deep feeling of the necessity of redemption, without which faith in the Redeemer is not possible. There is implied faith in his resurrection, as the divine attestation that Jesus the Crucified is the Redeemer of sinful man, and Sovereign in the kingdom of God; in his ascension to heaven, by virtue of that glorified divine life, exempt from the conditions of mortality, to which he has attained; in his continued fellowship, in this his glorified superearthly state, with believers on earth. In this faith there is presupposed true spiritual fellowship with Christ. For faith is nothing else than that conviction, which, having passed through every stage, from the sense of sin to the acknowledgment of Jesus in every revealed 277relation, embraces in itself the sum of all; the act whereby the soul, renouncing itself, and joyfully accepting the offered union with this Jesus as its Redeemer and Lord, gives itself wholly away to him, that it may belong no more to itself but to him alone. Hence, of every one who believes in this sense, John says, that he is BORN OF GOD. This he regards as something which cannot proceed from the life inherent in the spirit itself; which can only be the result of a divine power entering the heart, a work of God in man, a divine fact. Where this has taken place, there must exist a divine life; for it is that whereby the being, hitherto wholly centred in himself and sunk in earthliness, receives a new existence whose fountain and root is in God, becomes in the true sense a new man born of God. As man, by natural birth, enters the world and takes his place among the beings who belong to it; so by this fact is he raised to a wholly new, a higher existence. As by natural descent, the son derives from his father a being like his own and reflects his image; so the believer, by virtue of this new spiritual birth from God, by virtue of this new divine life which he has in common with God his Father, is 278called a son of God. And thus he reflects, by virtue of this divine life, the Father from whom it proceeds. Hence John says that he who loves God, from whom this divine life is derived, must, on the ground of this same descent, this relationship and likeness, love him also who is born of God, in whom exists this same divine life. In love to the Source of the divine life, is necessarily included love to all who are partakers with us in this life. All who are united in this fellowship as children of God, must for that reason feel drawn towards each other, must understand and love each other, as in no other relation among men.
Ch. v. 2, 3.] “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” As love to God must manifest itself in love to the brethren, so must it also in obedience to the divine commands. All these are, indeed, summed up by John in the one command whose requirement is love, which is the fulfilment of all.
Ch. v. 3-5.] He then shows what it is which imparts to believers strength to fulfil all these commands. “And his commandments are 279not grievous [difficult]. For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
These are the highest of all commands, those instituted by Christ himself, and by him alone perfectly fulfilled; the commands developed by him in the Sermon on the Mount, the ground-traits of an all-transcending holiness, such as has been reached by no system of human ethics, and before which every human spirit must bow in deep humility. And yet we hear John saying, that these commands are not difficult. But as the highest of all moral requirements, they should be the most difficult of all. How then are we to understand it, when John says that these commands are not difficult? He must himself have learned by experience, that they are not hard to obey. Not in the commands themselves, not in their relation to other moral commands, must lie the ground of his assertion; but in the changed position of man towards the divine law. What was once difficult, nay impossible; this has now, by virtue of his moral transformation, become easy. He himself 280assigns as the reason, that all which is born of God overcomes the world. From the fact then, that believers have received strength to overcome the world, he deduces the consequence that these commands are no longer difficult for them, difficult as they may be for him who has not received that strength. We can therefore infer from this, what is requisite for fulfilling these commands, which is the victory over the world. Only in conflict with the world can they be fulfilled. What makes their fulfilment difficult to man, is the entanglement of the spirit in the world; the power of the world over the spirit, the worldly bias, the earthliness of spirit, whereby is stifled the higher God-related nature of man, which accords with the divine law and for which that law exists. The power of the world, is the power of all that is not of God. To him whose spirit is ruled by the world, who feels himself drawn to the world and finds in it his highest good, to him the commands of God appear difficult. Since now, in the strength of that divine life which believers have received the power is given which overcomes the world John says that all which is born of God overcomes the world; and since, through this world-conquering 281power, all hindrances to the fulfilment of the commands are easily overcome, he says that for believers these commands are not difficult. They possess the power whereby the difficult is made easy. So Christ invites to himself those who feel weighed down, who cannot breathe freely, by reason of the burden of the Law, saying: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light;” made light by fellowship with him, by the power which he imparts.
John then shows what it is, by which believers are freed from the power of the world, transformed from children of the world to children of God, made partakers of the divine life, and thus enabled to overcome the world. This is faith in Jesus as the Son of God. It is worthy of note that he does not say: faith is that whereby we attain the victory over the world; nor, faith is that which will overcome the world. He says: faith is itself the victory, which has overcome the world. In these words lies a deeper meaning, whose full import we must endeavor to unfold.
Faith is itself a victory already achieved over the world; it has its being only as a victory attained in conflict with the world. For when the 282divine drawing in the heart of man, the drawing of the Father to the Son, incites him to the exercise of faith; the whole world then rises against him, to hinder him from attaining faith. What in man is of the world and is in union with the world, resists the incipient faith. Hence the manifold counter-influences, which make it at first so hard to believe. Hence the power of those doubts, which withstand faith. Thus faith itself is a victory over the, world. And having thus come into being through victory over the world, having once for all overcome the world; in it there resides the divine power, against which the world can effect nothing. Faith, once for all, has overcome the world; and therein is given the victory which in all succeeding conflicts with the world, attests itself by the fulfilment of the divine commands. The whole subsequent christian life, if it holds fast the faith in its quiet healthy process of development, is nothing else than a continuation of the victory over the world once attained in faith. As Christ, in the words already quoted, says not that he WILL but that he HAS overcome the world (John xvi. 33), and bids believers rejoice in this assurance; so faith, by virtue of fellowship with 283Christ, shares in this his victory over the world. Since now there exists no other power through which the world can be overcome, it necessarily follows, that only he overcomes the world, who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
From this we learn the important lesson, that all true reformation of the world can proceed only from this faith, from the energy of the divine life residing therein. We cannot, therefore, but be distrustful of all attempts to cure the evils of the world, which build not upon this one foundation. Even though they may accomplish many single reforms, yet a radical cure of the disease is not to be effected by such means. For that which is everywhere the obstacle to the fulfilment of the divine commands,—the world, which stands opposed to all that is of God,—that remains unweakened in its strength, the fountain whence all evil continually springs anew. Though at single points the world seems to be overcome, it avails nothing. The world may be overcome by the world, and its power remain as before; it has but assumed another form. The conquest of the world, as a whole, can be achieved only through faith in Jesus as the Son of God, only through the might 284of his Spirit; and this must first be effected before the world can truly be overcome in all its single forms of evil. So Christ himself represents all attempts to extirpate evil from humanity and from the individual man as futile, if the inward might of evil be not first broken by the power of the mightier, which is Christ,—by the finger of God. (Luke xi. 20, comp. Matt. xii. 28.) Hence he says of such attempts to subdue and banish evil otherwise than by his Spirit, that though apparently producing by other agencies effects similar to those of the Gospel, they are yet not for him but against him. So far from laboring with him, in the one divine work of founding the kingdom of God in its unity among men, their tendency is to lead men away from this unity, away from the kingdom of God. This is the most corrupting of all delusions, under the most dangerous of all disguises; professing, by apparently similar results which proceed from another spirit, to supply the place of that work which can be effected only by Christianity.
Ch. v. 6-8.] John then adduces three tokens, by which Jesus as the Son of God has revealed himself; indicating the same time three combined 285relations, in which he presents himself to the christian consciousness, as the One incarnate Son of God. “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus the Christ; not in water only, but in water and blood. And it is the Spirit which beareth witness, for the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three have reference to the One.”33As translated by Neander.—Tr.
While thus presenting the three tokens by which Jesus as the Son of God has revealed himself, it is at the same time his object to combat those, who (like that Cerinthus and others of whom we have spoken in the Introduction) did not rightly recognize the connection of the divine and human in the person of Christ, the unity of his divine-human person, of his life and of his work,—rending asunder that in him which should be conceived of as one. From the heavenly Christ, who descended from the higher spirit-world and was the true redeeming Spirit, they separated Jesus, who in their view was a mere man, and with whom as man this higher Spirit connected itself at his baptism. The dove, which then descended upon him, they regarded 286as a symbol or embodiment of this Spirit. Thenceforth this Spirit, through the man Jesus revealed the hidden God and announced divine truth; it bestowed on him the power of working miracles; but before his Suffering, it forsook him and withdrew again into its own higher regions. To them also, as to the Jews, The Crucified continued to be an offence. They could not understand the mystery of his sufferings; suffering had, in their conception, no place in the work of redemption. They could acknowledge a divinely teaching, a divinely working, but not a suffering Christ. To them, the life of Christ was not a divine-human life from its very beginning. On the contrary, the Divine, whereby Jesus was to be distinguished from all other messengers of God, had at that definite point of time suddenly taken up its temporary abode in him, and had again in a like manner departed from him. The Divine, in the servant-form of the incarnate Son, from his birth to the crowning point of self-abasement in his suffering,—the crowning point also of his moral glory,—was something which they could not comprehend. They sundered the high from the low, instead of recognizing the truly high in the low. 287In opposition to such, John now declares Jesus to be the Christ, as revealed not merely in water at his baptism, but also in his Suffering. By water we must not here understand, as some have done, the baptism instituted by him. It is the baptism to which he himself submitted; and at which the dignity of Jesus, as the Son of God, shone forth in the manner described by John in his Gospel. Since the blood has immediate reference to the person of Jesus, being the designation of his Suffering; the water also must designate something which has a personal reference to himself, viz. his baptism. Accordingly, there is here set forth the one reference of his baptism and his Suffering,—that it was the same Jesus, who in his baptism and in his Suffering manifested himself as the Son of God, the Christ. Both must combine in order to make him known as the Son of God; both belonged to his redemption-work.
Still a third witness, a third token by which Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God, is introduced by John; the witness of the Spirit, the Spirit absolutely, the divine or holy Spirit.
In accordance with the relation of the three ideas to each other,—as by the water we must 288understand something precedent to his Suffering, and by the blood the Suffering which followed his baptism,—so by the Spirit’s witness must be understood something subsequent to both. It must be, therefore, those manifestations of the Holy Spirit, which followed the triumphant ascension of the suffering Christ, that continued working of this Spirit, which since its first outpouring has testified, wherever the Gospel is preached, of Jesus as the Son of God; that divine Witness, to which Jesus himself appeals in those last discourses recorded by John. Upon this testimony John lays special stress. It was indeed the witness which must be added to the two other tokens, in order that the Jesus who was baptized and had suffered, might be accredited, in a manner perceptible to all, as the Son of God. Hence he emphatically adds: “The Spirit is the truth.” Truth itself, as revealed in the divine workings of the Spirit of God, of him who is The True,—this cannot lie. And these three bear witness. The Spirit (now placed first by John, since by it the two other witnesses are confirmed) the Water, and the Blood, all have reference to one and the same object, 289and all concur in revealing and accrediting Jesus as the Son of God.
The reading, followed in the above translation and explanation, must certainly be regarded as the true one. It has the authority of the oldest manuscripts in its favor, while the commonly received reading has grown out of explanatory additions to the text. It is also favored by the connection, in which these additions appear as something wholly foreign and discordant; for in this connection, the writer is concerned only with facts occurring on the earth, as signs and evidences that Jesus has revealed himself as the Son of God,—not with witnesses in heaven. Such a reference to the latter would have wholly distracted the reader’s attention, from that which it was the sole object of John to set forth in this passage.
In our own age, as already remarked in the Introduction, are repeated those same tendencies, by which are sundered the divine and human in the person of Christ, and the one is exalted at the expense of the other. The divine-human Christ, as manifested from the beginning, in the words of eternal life uttered by him as a public teacher after his baptism, in his miracles, and in his sufferings, 290is not recognized in his undivided unity. To such tendencies, wherever found, these words of the Apostle are applicable. They apply also to the case of those, who do not recognize as actually true and real the harmonious image of this Christ presented in the Gospel record, and convert the true historical Christ into a vague form of mist. If his baptism and his sufferings are events of the past (though in their import and influence still making themselves ever present) yet it is otherwise with the witness of the Spirit. This is something belonging not merely to the past. True, in the wonderful period when John wrote this, it was manifested in an extraordinary manner. Yet in that unceasing, connected agency with which it continues to work through all time, it still remains a present witness for ourselves. The church being the perpetual organ for the operations of tile Spirit, the progress of its history has been continually adding, even down to our own time, a succession of new witnesses to those of the past, through which we as christians live in connection with that witness of the Spirit in the apostolic age. The more widely Christianity diffuses itself among the savage races of humanity; the more various the 291modes in which it reveals its all-subduing all-transforming power, and the forms which it calls into being from the moral putrescence of human life; the more often it goes forth victorious from the conflict with superstition and unbelief, to new and still more glorious conquests; so much the more is revealed the witness of this Spirit, which is the Truth. If the same Spirit, which then imparted to the preachers of the Gospel the power to testify of Christ through their word, their life, and their blood, is now working through them in a greater number of nations than at any period since the apostolic; if through this Spirit, martyrs have again been raised up among heathen nations to seal their faith with their blood, as seen of late in the Isle of Madagascar; this is but the continued and renewed witness of that Spirit. What is now being wrought, through foreign and domestic missions, is part of that same witness, and connects itself with all which had been testified by that Spirit, and which it continued to testify, when these words were written. And on this will we ever take our stand, in opposition to those who seek to veil the historical Christ in a cloud of mist: that the Spirit, which is the Truth, testifies 292of him whose image they would obscure, of that Jesus who, in water and in blood, revealed himself as the Son of God.
Ch. v. 9.] He then shows how much is involved in this divine witness, in the emphatic words: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of his Son.”
That which he has called the witness of the Spirit, is here designated as testimony given by God himself; and this divine witness is contrasted with all human testimony, which is ever liable to mislead. If we receive anything as true, upon the testimony of men whom we have reason to believe, how can we but follow this unerring witness of God? So is this continuous divine witness, extending through all times, something more reliable than human testimony. This factual witness of God himself, everywhere seen in the practical workings of the Gospel, shows us the same image of his Son delineated in the Gospel narrative, and thus attests it to be true, beyond all reach of doubt. It testifies of the same Christ mirrored in the Gospel history. It is, as John says, the Father’s witness of the Son. This, in the preceding passage, 293had been represented as belonging to the present. It is now spoken of as something completed, the witness which the Father has already given of the Son. Looking back upon the past, on these operations of the Spirit as a whole, he regards them as a testimony already closed. But as extending into his own time, they are a present witness. And thus we also, from the stand-point of our own age, may appeal to it as something at once past and present.
Ch. v. 10.] The Apostle then shows that it depends on man himself, to receive or to reject this testimony; and that when received, it is necessarily converted from an outward to an inward witness. “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.”
For him, who through that outward witness of the Spirit has been led to believe on the Son of God, it is no longer mere outward testimony. It has become a part of his own inner life. What God first testified to him from without, is now by means of his faith testified inwardly to his own living consciousness. He bears the divine witness 294in himself. It is the Spirit’s testimony in his heart. Through his own inward experience of the divine life is it certain to him, that Jesus is the Son of God.
But he who believes not God in his testimony of his Son, has thereby made him a liar. By this very unbelief, he practically declares those divine facts, which testify of the Son of God, to be false witnesses, and in effect makes God a liar. If through the operations of his Spirit God thus testifies of his Son, and yet he is not received as the Son of God; what is this but saying, that God contradicts himself, while thus by these divine facts accrediting him as his Son who is not so? Unbelief cannot recognize God in his workings, as him that is true. It stamps the divine as the undivine. It can see in the ways of God nothing but contradiction.
From these words of John we may deduce a truth most important for our own age. That Jesus is the Son of God, as he has declared himself in his history, is attested by no resistless proofs, for such as will not recognize the witness in what God has wrought through the Gospel; for such as, having no susceptibility in themselves 295for receiving it, do not yield themselves with an humble and receptive heart to the witness of the Spirit, that it may thereby become to them an inward witness. It is the individual character and disposition that must here make the decision. It belongs to the individual will to decide, whether one will yield himself to that witness of the Spirit. or rather than this, will account God in his workings a liar.
Ch. v. 11, 12.] Having thus spoken of the testimony whereby Jesus is accredited as the Son of God, the Apostle now shows more particularly what is its import in reference to believers. what this attestation that he is the Son of God implies, and assures to them. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
Through this witness, whereby Jesus is accredited as the Son of God, he is made known as the One who alone can impart a true, eternal, divine life of bliss to man. By sending to us his Son, God has in him bestowed on us the fountain of this eternal life. Hence this witness includes also 296that gift of eternal life. In the Son is grounded this eternal life; all life, apart from fellowship with him, being only death. It follows, that he who has received the Son, has in so doing experienced in himself that true life; while he, who through unbelief shuts himself out from Christ, shuts himself out from the fountain of true life, and from that life itself.
Ch. v. 13.] To reawaken this in their consciousness, he repeats, is the object of his epistle. This is to him the first and the chief thing. In it is included all which is necessary for the inner man; since this true divine life comprehends in itself, all which man needs for time and eternity. It is the exhaustless source of satisfaction to the spirit, so formed, so constituted in its very nature, that it can satisfy itself with nothing less than God; can find its true life, its true happiness, only in that fellowship with him which is bestowed alone through his Son. “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, who believe on the name of the Son of God.”44As translated by Neander.—Tr.
This then was the Apostle’s object, that believers 297might know how much has been bestowed upon them in their faith. True they must, as believers, have known this from the beginning; but then, in human life, all things slide so easily into the mechanical form of habit! The current of life sweeps us along; and though one may indeed abide in the faith, yet he may lose more and more the vivid consciousness of the treasure therein imparted to him. Hence he must ever draw anew from the divine life-fountain opened to him through faith; the consciousness of that which he has therein received, must be continually revived and invigorated; and from faith must the knowledge of that, which was first received in faith, continually develop itself anew. There can be no halting here. Unless the fountain of faith is itself dried up, there must proceed from it a progressive development. Hence he writes to those who have already long believed, as if they were now first to learn, that by believing in Jesus as the Son of God they became partakers of eternal life. Their joy in that divine possession was to be continually renewed and increased. They were again and again to be reminded, that no power of earth can bestow upon them anything higher, anything 298more; to be thus warned against the treacherous arts of those false teachers, who sought to unsettle them in their faith, commending to them something else as the truth or as a higher truth; to be thereby established in this faith, under all temptations and conflicts.
Ch. v. 14, 15.] He then proceeds to remind them of one especial blessing, the fruit of this relation to God into which they have entered through faith. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
Thus John regards it as the fruit of faith, that God is no longer to them a God afar off. The chasm is now closed which separated man from his Creator,—from Him who is over all worlds, God in his infinitude, in his incomprehensibility, in his holiness. They now hold a filial relation to him, enjoy continual intercourse with him, in all their necessities can turn to him with filial confidence as to a father and friend. In him they have ever at hand one in whom help, counsel, and comfort are to be found. It is this living relation to 299God as our Father,—continually mediated through faith in Christ as the Son of God, through conscious fellowship with him,—which constitutes true Christianity as a matter of the life. To this childlike confidence, leading us to prayer and enjoyed in prayer, the Apostle attaches a high import. Prayer he makes the soul of the whole christian life. Having previously said, that prayer in the name of Christ is ever heard by the Father; he now adds the condition, that we pray according to his will. The one is involved in the other, as we have already shown. He who prays in the name of Christ, is moved and guided by the Spirit of Christ in prayer. He can ask for nothing, but that which is in accordance with the will of God; can with assurance ask only that, which the Spirit of Christ makes known to him in prayer, as corresponding to the Father’s will. When this certainty is wanting, his prayer will always be accompanied with the condition, that the desire arising in his soul and taking the form of prayer, may have for its object something which the Father approves.
From this we are not to conclude, however, that prayer in itself can have no definite effect, since whatever is grounded in the will of God must 300happen in any case. Nor are we to suppose that prayer, by bringing man into this living relation to his Source of being and his Father, therein alone accomplishes its whole work upon the inner life; that its whole influence is seen in the holy temper of mind which it produces, and which naturally flows from the elevation of the soul above itself and the world to God, entering into living intercourse with him, and losing itself in him. It is true indeed, that herein consists one of the chief blessings of prayer; but this is not all which prayer effects. And even this effect would not be fully realized, if prayer were not something more than the mere objective contemplation of the Divine. For it presupposes the assured consciousness, that the relation to God into which we enter by prayer is a living personal relation, as of one individual person with another, in which both are mutually acted on; that he perceives that, which our spirit in directing to him its feelings and thoughts would have him perceive. In this it is necessarily implied, that our prayer for a definite object will not be in vain. This the Apostle indicates, when he speaks of a hearing of prayer. Prayer is the soul’s necessity, breathed forth to 301God with filial confidence and submission, in the consciousness of that living relation to him as father; it must therefore, in rising to God, find satisfaction in reference to that which is the object of want. True indeed, prayer cannot in the proper sense constrain the will of God,—a thought which is excluded by the very nature of this filial relation to him. But the actualization of the divine will excludes not intermediate causes; and among the chief of these is prayer. Passing beyond the outward and finite of the earthly world, as presented in space and time; beyond the natural connection of phenomena; as an invisible spiritual force, it penetrates with its agency to the very heart of the invisible world. Itself the breath of love, its workings are in unison with the laws of the invisible kingdom of love. It belongs not to that which can be mechanically estimated,— like all that is highest, and deepest, and innermost. Prayer is the highest act of the God-related spirit, entering into that living relation to God for which it was created. Prayer, grounded in fellowship with Christ as here represented by John, presupposes that power derived from God, whereby the soul is winged for this its loftiest 302flight, whence it receives this its highest energy of burning aspiration. This power tends back to the Primal Source from which it flows. It is a special gift, bestowed on man as a member of the invisible world, whereby he may lay hold on the invisible. It is one of his homeborn rights; enjoyed already here, as pertaining to that heaven -where he belongs, and which shall one day be his home. So certainly will prayer be heard, that christians, while they pray, should be inspired with the assurance that what they ask is virtually received already.
Ch. v. 16.] From all for which as christians we may pray, John now selects a single object of prayer. This must, therefore, appear to him to be specially connected with the peculiar nature of the christian life. “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”
True prayer as grounded in fellowship with Christ, must proceed from the christian life as a connected whole. That which is the animating principle of the whole christian life, must also be 303the animating principle of christian prayer. The prayer of love, is that which binds all christians together as brethren. Hence the Apostle singles out that sympathy of fraternal love, which expresses itself in prayer. As this sympathy must first respect the spiritual necessities, which to each are his own highest concern, and as the need arising from sin must seem to each his brother’s greatest need; so will his sympathy expressed in prayer, his ardent desire to help, have special reference to this need, which he feels himself constrained to bear with his brother. It may indeed happen, that those who are strict toward themselves practise the same strictness toward others also, despising and repulsing them, when they see in them any sin. But this is not that zeal in sanctification, which is in harmony with the christian life. Conscious as he is himself, that he owes all to redeeming grace, that the divine life in himself is still mingled with much that is impure; the christian cannot but be lenient in his judgment when he sees others fall, while he thus feels his own weakness, his own continual need of redemption. And here, especially, is shown the power of that love, which feels as its own the brother’s need. Accordingly, 304John calls upon christians first of all, to help with their prayers the brother who has fallen into sin. He assures them, that to the fallen brother,—in whom the divine life has been impaired through sin, who by yielding to temptation has fallen from the unity of this divine life,—that to such an one God will restore this divine life in its original vigor. They may thus, through the intercession prompted by love, become instruments in restoring to life a fallen brother. Could they render him a higher service of love!
But how are we to understand John’s limitation of this requirement, in the exception, emphatically repeated, of sins which are unto death? Should not then the claim for help be greater, the greater the brother’s spiritual need? Should limits be set to that gushing love, which pours itself out in intercession? Should not prayer for the brother be so much the more required? To make this clear, it is only necessary to understand what kind of prayer John has in view; what he presupposes as the condition on which prayer is heard, and how he distinguishes from other sins the sin which is unto death.
True, the divine life, in its essential nature, excludes 305all sin,—as John has already shown. Sin and death, according to the Holy Scriptures, are closely connected ideas. But the divine life in believers, as we have already seen, develops itself in continual conflict with the after-workings of the earlier life of sin. Numerous disturbances of the divine life may thereby ensue, interruptions of the christian development, which yet do not undermine this life itself as the controlling principle, but only repress it at particular times and in certain manifestations. The ruling tendency of the will is still directed towards holiness. Sin is hated and abhorred; and though its after-workings are still felt, it is only as something foreign cleaving to the true self, whose animating and controlling principle is love. In such a case it is only necessary, when one falls under single temptations, to call again into action the controlling element of the divine life existing in him, in order to overcome the principle of sin. It is of such cases the Apostle speaks, where there is true repentance and longing after continued sanctification; and hence, where the conditions and the susceptibility are not wanting, for that which is to be obtained through a brother’s intercession. It is of such persons he speaks, who 306are in a state of grace, and have not apostatized from their christian calling; who still deserve the name of christian brethren, and hence have a claim upon all the aids of christian love, which one brother can render to another. An intercession is meant, which in the nature of the case can respect only such persons; and it is presupposed that all, who are connected by the bond of christian brotherhood, will mutually intercede for one another.
It may be, however, that an individual has fallen into such a state, as absolutely excludes the presence of the divine life in him; an evidence that he who seemed to have passed from death unto life, has again fallen under the power of death. Such an one may never in reality have attained to the true life. The essence of living faith, as delineated by John, may have been ever wanting in him. He may have only seemed to be a christian, without being truly so; having received only the baptism of water, not the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Christ may never have been actually formed in him; and at most, he may have experienced only transient emotions of the higher life. Or it may be that such an one, after having truly received 307through living faith a divine life and become a new man, has fallen from this state, has estranged himself from it, and sunk back again into his former position. This could not indeed happen at once; but yet,—through want of watchfulness over himself, through negligence and sluggishness in the conflict with after-working sin, through a false security, a presumptuous reliance upon grace or a false self-reliance,—it might be brought about gradually, and through many downward stages. Now where such a state existed, it showed itself in acts; in such sins as no one, who remained true to the christian relation and faithfully applied the imparted means of grace, could possibly have committed. Such persons were excluded from the fellowship of the church, in accordance with the principles of church relationship in that age; as is assumed to be necessary by the Apostle Paul, in a case like this occurring in the Corinthian church. John could not mean, that it was forbidden to pray for such as had thus fallen. For in regard to the first case,—there is no ground apparent, why those who had not yet been truly converted, and at most had felt only occasional impulses towards Christianity, might not become 308susceptible to the farther operations of grace and be brought under their influence. Or if we take the second case,—of such as had culpably lost the life imparted by grace; we can find no reason, why they might not have regained it through true repentance. It is true indeed, that this was rendered far more difficult by their misuse of the means of grace, and by the increased moral blindness induced through their own fault,—which is referred to in the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. When John calls Christ the Reconciliation and the Intercessor for the sins of the whole world, he certainly meant not to exclude one belonging to either of these two classes, provided only that repentance could be reawakened.
In this connection, however, he is speaking of intercession for christians, for such as have not trifled away the forgiveness of sins through Christ. Hence, in this connection, those must be excepted who have fallen into what John calls “sin unto death,” in the sense explained; for in their case such intercession would be inappropriate, since in them the conditions and the susceptibility for it were wanting. Had he not made this distinction, he would have given the false impression, that 309one who commits such sins may still abide in Christianity; as if christians and those who are not christians could be known, the one from the other, by no distinctive signs in their life-walk. He would thus have required the church to regard such persons as still christian brethren, since they were to be embraced in the common supplication for all christians. He would have made those persons themselves more secure in their sins, and led them to a false reliance on the intercession of others. With christian love, the unsparing condemnation of sin must go hand in hand. A love, which overlooked all distinction among sins, would have been no true love.
How unlike John it would have been, to withhold from one ever so debased the consolation of forgiveness through Christ, and to withdraw from him the sympathy of his love, is seen in the beautiful tradition, (which there is no reason to discredit) of that fallen christian youth, who had become chief of a robber-band, and who by John’s love was rescued and brought back to the Lord.
Ch. v. l7, 18.] But while he thus demands even for the sins of brethren the offices of christian sympathy and love, he deems it important to 310avoid thereby effacing the essential contrariety between the christian life and sin, and to summon the christian to continued conflict with sin. “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God, sinneth not: but he that is begotten of God, keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
He deems it necessary to add this warning, lest some might be led, by the distinction which he had made among sins, to think too lightly of any sin; lest christians should suppose they had done enough, if they only avoided such outbreaking sins. Here again he refers to the fact, that the Principle in all sin is the same. All transgression of the divine law, all which proceeds from the Selfish in man, as Sin, is in its radical principle one and the same thing. It is only in reference to the outward manifestation, that such a difference among sins can be made, that the sin unto death can be distinguished from other sins. To this end he reiterates the truth, that the divine life stands in contradiction with ALL sin; and that one, as born of God and possessing that divine life which is opposed to all sin, keeps himself separate from all 311sin. Such an one, faithfully cherishing the divine life which he has received, and watching over himself, has nothing to fear from temptations to evil: he has the power to withstand Satan in all his influences. There is nothing in such an one on which he can fix his hold. As he was compelled to retire from the Redeemer himself, finding no access to him with his temptations; so will he be compelled to leave unharmed, those who stand in fellowship with the Redeemer. Herein are included two things: first, the duty of all such as have become partakers of the divine life, to guard against all sin whatever, without regard to gradational differences; and secondly, the proof of the fact, that such as have fallen into sins which are unto death are not born of God. From this it is evident, that if they were actually born of God, they could only, by neglecting to watch over themselves, have again fallen a prey to the power of evil, which they must otherwise have withstood.
Ch. v. 19, 20.] This leads the Apostle to exhibit yet once more, before he closes his epistle, the essential contrariety between christians as born of God, and the sinful world. “ And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 312And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.”
The Apostle, now about to take leave of his readers, once more impresses on their hearts what christians must ever hold in living remembrance, if they would not prove faithless to their calling,—their relation to the world. As born of God, as partakers of the divine life, they form the opposite to the world, of which John says, that it lies under the dominion of Evil. The divine life in them constitutes the entire and irreconcilable opposite to the evil which reigns in this world. Out of the fulness of the divine life in his own soul, the aged John looks back upon a long life, during which he had witnessed the constant progress of evil in the world, developing itself in an ever-ascending scale. He must now look to his near departure out of this world, whence he was to be called into the home of the Good, to Christ. But his spiritual children he left behind in this world of wickedness, exposed to the taint of its corruptions. He reminds them, that by virtue of the divine life within them, they should constitute the opposite to this 313wicked world. Hence they should be ever watchful over themselves, guarding against all inward contact with the wickedness which is in the world, and by the power of their inward divine life preserve themselves pure from its contaminating influence; ever bearing in mind their position and calling, to maintain a conflict with the evil of the world, to be themselves the salt of the world.
As The True, John designates him who alone is to be called God. The world knows him not, is in a state of estrangement from him. It is included in the very idea of the world as such, that it gives to another the honor which belongs to God alone, that it serves false gods. But believers are, in their inward life and spirit, separated from the world by this,—that the Son of God has come, and has given to them the perception, whereby they know the true God. John here assumes that man, as he is by nature, in his natural tendencies, cannot by the natural understanding attain to the knowledge of God; that the spirit must first be freed from the worldliness in which it is ensnared, a new God-related sense must be awakened, in order that he may thereby, with the eyes of the spirit enlightened, know the true God. John himself, 314 though he had been brought up in Judaism, and taught from early life the knowledge of God; yet ranks himself here with Gentile believers, as one to whom the Son of God first imparted that inward sense, whereby he might know God. He thus implies that he knew him not before; that the light of the knowledge of God first dawned upon him, when Christ called him from the world to himself. Here too is recognized the fundamental truth, that it is only through the Son the Father can be truly known. Hence it is evident, that one may acknowledge God, may think that he knows him, may have a kind of dead faith in him; while yet he is far from knowing him, wanting that God-related sense through which only he can be truly known. ‘From him that hath not,’ says our Lord, ‘shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.’ So may those, who have only this dead knowledge of God, this form without life, find it wholly swept away by the overpowering force of the spirit of the world. And being thus made conscious of their lack of any principle superior to the world, whereby they can withstand its power, and of their wretchedness in this state of estrangement from God and subjection to 315the world; they may be led to seek for that new inward sense, which the Son of God can alone impart, and whereby alone they can attain to the knowledge of the true God.
This true knowledge of God has its root in the life, in fellowship with God; and this can be mediated only through his Son. Hence John reminds his christian brethren, that they are in the true God; that they live in fellowship with him, by virtue of their union with his Son; that it is therefore only in this abiding union they can persevere in fellowship with God, and retain the knowledge of the true God. Thereby alone will they be kept separate from the world, and guarded against its influences. The Holy Scriptures do indeed recognize, even in this our fallen state, a certain BEING IN GOD, as the inalienable inheritance of the God-related, God-descended spirit. So Paul, in the seventeenth chapter of the Acts, says: ‘In him we live, and move, and have our being.’ But that consequent drawing from God and towards him, grounded in this moral relationship to him, leads not to that living, true knowledge of God, which can sustain itself in conflict with the world. Such a consciousness of the unknown God, of the 316God afar off, soon gives way before the overwhelming tide of the world; in the midst of a world lying in wickedness, it becomes blinded and confused through the influence of worldly temptations. Man cannot, by this dawn of a higher consciousness within him, maintain his faith in his own divine origin, and in the God of whose being it admonishes him. The scattered rays, whose light has penetrated the darkness of a world lying in wickedness, are again obscured; from the world ascends an impenetrable cloud, which enwraps his spirit, and forms a separating wall between him and the Divine. All else is unavailing, unless that divine drawing lead his submissive spirit to the Son, to be by him made free, and endowed with that inward sense whereby the true God is known.
Ch. v. 20, 21.] John now closes this truly noble Epistle, with the admonition: that, persevering in union with Him the only true God, through his Son, and in that fellowship of eternal life received from him, they keep themselves pure from all contamination with Idol-gods. “This is the true God, and eternal Life. Little children, keep yourselves from Idols.”317
It might be a question, whether the word ‘This’ refers here to God, or to the incarnate Son in whom he has revealed himself. In either case, the practical import of the words is the same. The connection, however, leads us to regard the reference to God as the prominent one, since God is afterwards contrasted with Idols. The Apostle has just been contemplating Christ as the Mediator of this fellowship with God. Hence we must suppose, that in conclusion he sets forth this one prominent thought: This God, with whom believers thus stand in fellowship through Christ, is the only true God, and hence is the primal source of eternal life; through him alone, therefore, we can become partakers of eternal life, in which is contained the Sum of all Good, as the highest good for the God-related spirit. In him, therefore, we have all which we need for time and eternity. It is true indeed as we have seen, that Christ as the only-begotten-Son of God, is called by John the eternal Life which was with the Father, and which has appeared on earth in order to impart itself to man. With these words he commenced this Epistle. But it is also appropriate, that in closing he should point to the Primal Source, to Him who is 318himself that eternal Life, which has poured itself forth into the only-begotten-Son, and through him into humanity.
But in order to hold fast this highest possession, christians must guard themselves from all contam1nination with the idols worshipped by a world lying in wickedness. This admonition was, in its present form, intended for such as lived in a world devoted to Idol-worship. Was then this admonition intended only for that age? Has it no application to our own time? If we well consider what John understands by that knowledge of the true God, which can be attained only through the inward sense derived from him and imparted by the Son; it will thence be evident, that where this sense is wanting, and with it that true knowledge of God, the human spirit, though it may profess to believe in God and suppose itself his worshipper, is yet far from him, and is a worshipper of idols. The world as such ever has its idols, to whom it gives the honor due to the true God alone. In a world which lies in wickedness, the children of God will ever be surrounded with idols; and they can insure the possession of their highest good, only by remaining true to 319 their God, by keeping themselves aloof from all contact with the idols of the world. Specially appropriate is the application to our own age, whose ruling tendency is deification of Self and deification of the World; an age of conscious apostacy from the only true God,—of a conscious idolatry of the World and Self. For us, especially, there is need of the warning with which John closes his Epistle: The God whom Christ has revealed, is the true God and eternal Life; beware of taking part in the Idol-worship of a world lying in wickedness!
|« Prev||Chapters IV. V.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version