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2. AGREEMENT WITH GNOSTICISM.
But it is remarkable that the man who so decisively opposes Gnosticism agrees with it entirely on a strikingly large number of points. He also cannot but think that there are two kingdoms very sharply opposed to each other, the kingdom of God, and that of the world which is ruled by the devil (ii. 16; iii. 8, 10; iv. 4-6), or the kingdom of truth and that of lies (ii. 21) and this opposition extends to mankind as well, the one part being from God and the other from the world, which “lieth in the evil one,” that is to say, is under the dominion of the devil (v. 19).
We found that there is the same kind of agreement with the Gnostics in the Gospel (pp. 158-160). But the Epistle goes a step farther. While the Gospel only occasionally suggests that knowledge is a valuable thing (xvii. 3), the Epistle emphasises, in a way that a Gnostic could not excel, that the author and his party themselves possess the knowledge of God or of the truth (ii. 13 f., 20 f., 27; iv. 7). Further, as to the Gnostics belief that they had in themselves the divine “seed,” the author maintains again that it is really he and those who think with him who possess it as their own. And on this point he ventures to make the strongest statement found in his Epistle: “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin” (iii. 9; v. 18). By these he means himself and his party. And this is said by the same person who just before (i. 8, 10) has reproached his opponents in these words: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Here we can see how great a spell the ideas of the Gnostics exercised upon men’s minds.207
3. NATURE OF THE OPPOSITION TO GNOSTICISM.
But we see at the same time the peculiar nature of the attack that is made upon them. Those who opposed them claimed as their own all that was valuable in the things the Gnostics prided themselves on, and denied it to the Gnostics. And upon what ground? If these Gnostics really lived the sinful kind of life they were reproached with, this would assuredly provide a certain amount of justification for arguing on these grounds against the truth of their teaching, on the principle “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Mt. vii. 16). But it is much to be feared that the opponents of the Gnostics painted their excesses in darker colours than was just; and it would also be reasonable to ask whether they had as much light on their own side as (in their view) there was of shade in that of their opponents. Unfortunately, we are obliged to say that the New Testament writers are too prone to disparage their opponents by attacking their morals, and often they do so in a way that is very unpleasant. In this matter the Epistles to Timothy and Titus (which were not composed by the Apostle Paul, but in the first half of the second century), the Epistle of Jude from the same period, and the Second Epistle of Peter (which was not written by the Apostle Peter any more than the first Epistle, but is the latest book in the New Testament, and was not written until after the middle of the second century) offend in a special degree. It is very possible that by employing this method of warfare, they show at the same time that they are incapable of overcoming their opponents with intellectual weapons. The author of the Epistle to the Colossians provides an honourable exception; and from this we can see at the same time that 208Gnostic views were not always and necessarily associated with immorality.
As regards the First Epistle of John, we must say that in its attack on its opponents, compared with the writings mentioned above, it has observed a certain moderation. In form at least it is written in a calm and measured style. We note that the author feels the necessity of convincing his readers of the truth of what he says. Laying so great stress on knowledge as he does, he cannot have failed to desire this. True, his argument does not take the form of giving real proofs; he simply gives expression to his own conviction; but the brevity and simplicity with which he does so makes it so effective that he could really hope to make an impression by it.
On what then, in the last resort, does he take his stand when he opposes the Gnostics? On the Confession of the Church. People must confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh that is to say, has appeared with a body consisting of flesh; otherwise they are not from God, but are Christ’s enemies, and, in denying the son, they are at the same time denying God the Father as well (iv. 2 f.; ii. 22).
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