PARTS 21 - 30
XXI. THE SECRET OF
SINLESSNESS - ABIDING IN THE SINLESS ONE AS MANIFESTED TO TAKE AWAY
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him."--1 John 3: 4-6.
FOUR arguments against committing sin, or transgressing the law, are here suggested; all of them connected with him whose essential purity is to be our model in purifying ourselves:
I. The end or design of his manifestation, - "to take away our sins;"
II. His own sinlessness, - "in him is no sin;"
III. Our oneness with him, - whosoever abideth in him sinneth not ;"
IV. The incompatibility of sin with any real acquaintance with him, - whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him." The four may be reduced to two: the first and second being, as it were, doctrinal; the third and fourth experimental: the former turning on what he is to us, as our Saviour; the latter, on what we are in him as his saved ones.
I."Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin" (ver. 5). Let us consider, in the first place, for what end he was manifested; it was to take away our sins." Some would understand this phrase as denoting here exclusively the cleansing of our nature from its sinful lusts and habits; and as having no distinct reference at all to the removal of contracted guilt. It is admitted that when the phrase occurs elsewhere it is the taking away of guilt by means of atoning blood that is meant; as in the Baptists testimony,"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1: 29). But it is contended that here that thought is somewhat irrelevant, since it is moral purification, and not legal satisfaction or legal purging, sanctification in a moral, and not in a legal or sacrificial sense, that John is speaking of; and since, moreover, he seems to make that depend rather on what the Son is manifested to be, than on what he is manifested to do ; on his person rather than on his work. There is no doubt truth in these :remarks. But I cannot help thinking that they have led to an unnecessary and undue limitation of the force and fullness of this pregnant phrase. I would not, in that other passage, restrict it to the mere legal removal of the guilt of the worlds sin, without including in it also the removal of the sin itself, in its moral pollution and power. Nor am I inclined here to shut out the idea of the expiation of the gulls of our sins, though the other idea of moral purification from them is confessedly the uppermost or leading one. In fact, the two are inseparable: they are really one. I can scarcely conceive of John pointing to the manifestation of him in whom is no sin, as a source of moral purity, as taking away our sins out of our nature, without having in his mind, and wishing us to have in our mind, as a material part of the process by which that object is attained, his taking away our sins out of the record of their guilt,"the book of Gods remembrance."
It confirms this view to remember that John has just described sin as"the transgression of the law" (ver. 4). He has fastened upon this as constituting the essence of sin, that it is against law. He is of the same mind with Paul, in that saying of his, - The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8: 7). He, like Paul, knows that as our sins are against the law, so the law is against our sins. It is against our sins, in such a sense and to such an effect as to keep us, on account of them, helplessly under condemnation. We are under the laws just sentence of death, Nay, more, the law, of which our sins are the transgression, is so against our sins as by a natural reaction to stir up in us more and more, the more closely it is brought to bear upon us, that very opposition to itself, and rebellion against itself, in which the sinfullness of our sins consists. In the grasp and under the power of the law, as condemned criminals, we are fettered; and can no more get rid of our sins than a doomed felon can shake off his irons.
If we are spiritual men at all, we know this well. We know and have felt, that the more the law approves itself to us, as"holy, and just, and good;" the more it comes home to us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in its high excellency and deep spirituality; the more our conscience and our heart are on its side; the more we see and apprehend of its just authority and holy beauty; the more we strive after complete conformity to it; the more we"would do good :" so much the more, while we are thus under the law, is"evil present with us" (Rom. 7) An impotent sense of failure deadens and depresses us, while the feeling of our prostrate bondage in our sins irritates our natural enmity against God. And if we do not relapse into indifference, or take refuge in formality, or sink into sullen gloom, we are shut up to the one only effectual way of ending this miserable struggle between the law and our sinful nature ; the way of free grace and sovereign mercy; the way of embracing him whom"God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood;""in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgive. ness of sins." Then indeed"sin shall no more have dominion over us, when we are not under the law but under grace ;" when"there is now to us no condemnation because we are in Christ Jesus ;" when we know him as"his own self bearing our sins in his own body ,on the cross, that we being dead to sin might live unto righteousness."
All this, I think, must be held to be comprehended in the fact stated "he was manifested to take await our sins." And it is all consistent with the object for which John reminds us of it; our purifying ourselves, as he is pure. He was manifested to take away our sins, root and branch. The very completeness of that work of atonement by which he takes them away, in respect of the condemnation and punishment which as transgressions of the Law they bind upon us, secures also his completely taking them away, in respect of the carnal mind in us, of whose enmity against God and insubordination to his law they are the fruits. His purging our conscience from the guilt of them, is the very means of his purging our hearts from the pollution of them. Their power to condemn us he takes away; and so he takes away also their power to rule over us. They can never again subject us to the laws curse; and therefore they can never again provoke in us resistance or resentment of the laws authority. Nor is this all. In virtue of his being manifested to take away our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit. The obstacle which our sin, as a breach of the law, interposed to his being graciously present with us and in us is taken away. The Divine Spirit dwells and works in us; causing us to love the law which is now magnified, not in our destruction but in our salvation, not in our death but in our life; and to hate the thought of transgressing it any more. A new nature, a new heart, a new spirit, as respects the law of God and God the lawgiver, a new character as well as a new state, is the result of Christ being manifested to take away our sins. We know that, personally, practically, experimentally; and our knowledge of it is what enables as well as moves us to purify ourselves as Christ is pure.
It is so all the rather because, secondly, we are to consider that he is manifested as himself the sinless one:"In him is no sin." Here again let us remember that sin is viewed in the light of the law: it is the transgression of the law: it is against law. The precise point of this declaration concerning the sinless one lies in that declaration concerning sin. In him is no sin, because in him is no lawlessness; nothing that is against the law. It is his being manifested as in that sense without sin, that makes his manifestation to us, - -or our looking to what he is, as well as our looking to what he does, - effectual towards the taking away of our sins out of our heart and nature. In him, as"manifested to take away our sins," there is no sin;" nothing of what needs to be taken away from us; nothing of that sin which is the transgression of the law.
I do not ask you now to dwell on the thought that this sinlessness of his, his being himself free from all liability to the law as a transgressor, was an essential condition of his taking upon himself our liabilities, so as to take them away from us. I ask you rather to consider the mighty moral power which his being manifested as the sinless one has, in itself and of itself, to take away our sins; not merely to take away their guilt lying upon us, but to take them bodily, as it were, as to their very substance and spirit, from within us. In that view, it is allimportant that we look at his sinlessness in strict and definite connection with the law. How do we conceive of him as without sin? He is before us as one in whom there is no sympathy with what is vile and polluting; or with what is mean and base; or with what is unfair and untrue; or with what is dishonour-able and unhandsome; or with what is unkind, ungenerous, unloving. Not a thought, not a feeling, not an affection is in him that could offend the purest taste, the most fastidious delicacy. Benevolence without the slightest alloy of selfishness; integrity such as the breath of suspicion cannot touch; seraphic mildness, sweetness, calmness, that no storm of passion has ever ruffled; a soul attuned to all the melodies of heaven, on which no jarring note of earths discord can ever strike; a divine dignity; a divine gracefullness in look and being, in air and carriage, infinitely removed from mans uncertain temper and the rude strife of tongues - some such ideal, some such picture, rises before our eye. And the contemplation of it may be profitable as well as pleasant; for all these representations of the one only perfectly sinless man are true; and contemplating them, we may to some extent be moved to imitate as well as admire. But we do not thus,"with open face, behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord," so as to be really changed into the same image, from glory to glory." For the glory of the Lord, manifested in and by him as the sinless one, is his never "transgressing the law." In him is no sin; nothing of what is against the law; against the law under which he was made when he was made of a woman. It is into the image of that glory that we, beholding it, are to be changed "by the Spirit of the Lord." Does this seem to be a lowering of our high ideal of perfect sinlessness, as exemplified in him Does it sound strange to hear it spoken of as his glory? Do we feel it to be almost a sort of outrage and offence to speak of this as his moral glory, that he never broke the law, and never wished to break it? What glory, what moral grandeur, is there in that? Much, I answer; much every way. It is mans highest glory. It is the highest glory of angels. It is the highest glory of the Son himself, manifested to take away our sins, that in him, in this sense, is no sin."He learned obedience," I repeat,"by the things which he suffered." And he learned it perfectly; for in him is no sin; no possibility of any thought adverse to the learning of obedience, entering into, or rising up in, his mind. That is his essential impeccability; his being incapable of even the faintest surmise of impatience under the law of his God and Father, or the most remote approach to a desire that it were anything else than obedience, anything less or anything more, that he had to learn. Is not that"a glory which excels ? Is it not worth while to behold it, - and to aim at being changed into the same image with it, from one degree of it to another, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord? Behold it! See! It is no mere negation; no mere abstinence from evil, or absence of evil. Nor is it any mere spontaneous development of native, innate good. It is positive, practical, perfect obedience to Gods holy law. It is the doing of his will with the whole heart. It is to live for no other end but that his will be done. So in his life did he manifest his sinlessness who said,"I must be about my Fathers business:""The cup which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it? Thus it is seen that"in him is no sin."
II. With this sinless person we are one; "abiding in him as the sinless one manifested to take away our sins."
And that is our security against sinning - " Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not." This is the statement of a fact. It is not the enforcing of a duty, as if it were said, - whosoever abideth in him should not sin, and must not sin; let him not sin. It is :not even the drawing of an inference or the announcement of what will probably be, and may be expected to be, the issue of oneness with the Lord, as if it ran thus, - whosoever abideth in him will not sin, or is not likely to sin. It is the broad statement of a present fact, - " Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not;" as is also the converse -" Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him." Between abiding in Christ and sinning there is such an absolute incompatibility, that whosoever sinneth is for the time not merely in the position of not abiding in Christ, but in the position of not having seen or known him. In so far as he is sinning, his is virtually the very same case with that of the man who has never either seen or known Christ. The statement is very emphatic and very categorical. It is more than a mere assertion of a sort of moral inconsistency or incongruity, a certain manifest unsuitable-ness, in the view of common-sense and right feeling. It is an assertion of absolute incompatibility, in the nature of things; and it is a very strong assertion of that, put in two forms, positively and negatively, to make it all the stronger. Let us see how it must be so.
I. We abide in Christ by faith; by that. faith, wrought in us by the Spirit, which unites us to Christ. Our abiding in him by this faith implies oneness; real and actual oneness; not oneness only in the eye of the law, so that we are regarded and treated as one, in .the Judges dealings with him for us, and with us in him; not oneness merely in the sense of au ordinary alliance or partnership, with a community of goods and interests, of lives and fortunes ; but real and actual oneness of nature. As the husband and the wife are made of twain one flesh; so Christ and we are one spirit."He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." Our abiding in him is our realising this oneness. It is our apprehending ourselves to be consciously one with him, of the same nature, of the same mind, with him, of the same way of thinking and feeling with him. It implies our taking the same view that he does of all things, of God and his law, of righteousness and sin, of guilt and judgment, of holiness and grace and love; our entertaining the same sentiments with reference to them all. It is this which secures our closing with him at first as our Saviour, and carries our consent to his saving us in his own way and on his own terms, so glorifying to the Father, so costly to him, so gracious to us. It is this also which ever after secures our not sinning. We cannot be thus abiding in Christ, realising our oneness of mind and nature with him, and at the same time sinning. The thought or feeling of opposition to the law, or of impatience under it; the wish that we were more free to act as we choose; is no thought or feeling or wish of his: for"in him is no sin." When we sin, when we suffer any such thought or feeling or wish to find harbour in our breasts; we cease for the time to be abiding in him. Between him and us, not then and there abiding in him, there is really as entire a separation as if we had never seen or known him: as wide and deep a gulf as that which lay between the rich man in hell and Lazarus in Abrahams bosom. It is not fixed like that gulf; not yet. But let us beware lest it become fixed. Let us be thankful that it may still be made to disappear. And let us remember that this can only be through our repenting again, as at the beginning, - believing again, as if we had never believed before, - embracing the Lord Jesus, as if now for the first time we saw and knew him, - "doing the first works,, - becoming anew and afresh, by the grace of the Spirit,"members of Christs body, of his flesh and of his bones, - getting shut up into him anew and afresh, so as to be again of one mind and heart with him, abiding once more in him in whom is no sin. For we may be very sure that when we sin, we are none the better for all that we have seen or known of Christ; none the safer. It is the same thing to us as if we had never seen him, neither known him at all.
2. We abide in Christ by his Spirit abiding in us. That is a filial spirit - the Spirit of Gods Son in us crying Abba Father - the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba Father. A servile frame of mind grieves and vexes the Holy Spirit, and hinders his continuing to dwell in us. He dwells in us only when we cry Abba Father, and therefore sin not. Sin is ever the fruit of that servile frame of mind which is characteristic of one that has not seen or known the Son. Abiding in him, through his Spirit abiding in us, we have a filial heart towards God. And a filial heart"sinneth not." For a filial heart has no temptation and no desire to go against the will, or the law, of the righteous Father.
From all this we may see how the stress of practical exhortations against sin is to be brought to bear upon a child of God; upon us, who are children in the Son. For it is very important that there should be exhortation, direct and pointed. It is not enough to put the matter in the form of doctrinal statement or anticipated consequence; as :if we said: Being Gods children in Christ you do not sin; or you will not sin. It is good for you to hear a voice of authority and command: Sin not. And yet that is not the way in which the matter is put here. It is not an order issued, but a fact announced;"whosoever abideth in him sinneth not." What then? Is the hortatory method to be given up? Nay; it is only necessary to shift a little, as it were, the point of its application. I state it as a fact that whosoever abideth in him sinneth not. And therefore I issue the command: Abide in him, It is his own command "Abide in me." And that is the right position for the hortatory or commanding mode of appeal. If you would not sin; that you may not sin; that it may be impossible for you to sin - "abide in him who was manifested to take away your sins, and in whom is no sin." Cleave to him ; grow up into him; get into his mind; drink into his spirit. Enter into the design of his being manifested, and into the way in which, being manifested, he accomplishes that design. Enter into the secret of his sinlessness. Keep close to him, abide in him, and sin not.
And forget not the positive, any more than the negative, result of your abiding in him; your"bringing forth much fruit" (John 15: 5). For it is only in the line of the positive, in the line of bearing fruit, that you can be sure even of the negative, - not sinning. Nay, if your negatively not sinning is the effect of your abiding in Christ, it really resolves itself into your actually and positively bearing fruit, and becomes identical with it."In him is no sin;" no rebellion against that will of God which he comes to do; no insubordination to that law of God which is within his heart; nothing that hinders, or possibly can hinder, his doing that will and keeping that law always and thoroughly. You"abide in him and sin not." You have in you now nothing more than he had, in so far as you abide in him, of that sullen, slavish, selfish frame of mind; bent on getting its own way, and doing its-own pleasure; grudging God and men their due; which hinders all cheerful, loyal obedience. You therefore, abiding in him, in whom is no sin, that there may be no sin in you, go about with Into doing good. Yours is that"pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father," which is this,"to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," as well as to keep "yourselves unspotted from the world."
XXII. THE SECRET OF SINLESSNESS - OUR ABIDING IN CHRIST - THE SEED OF GOD ABIDING IN US - OUR BEING BORN OF GOD.
"Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. . . Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth [abideth] in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." - 1 John 3: 6 and 9.
These strong statements - that one abiding in Christ does not sin, and that one born of God cannot sin ; - are often perplexing, not to say distressing, to serious minds. How is it if I am forced to ask. I sin, every day, every hour, every moment, I may say, in thought or word or deed. Must I therefore conclude that I am not in Christ; not born of God? It is a real practical difficulty. Let us fairly grapple with it.
I. These texts do not teach, either the doctrine of perfection, or that other doctrine which is apt to usurp its place; the doctrine that God sees no sin in his people, or that what would be sin in others is not sin in them. When I say that this latter doctrine is apt to supplant the other, I do not mean that all who believe in the perfection or perfectibility of the saints on earth are antinomians. I speak simply of what I hold to be a strong tendency in the nature of things I am told that it is possible for a Christian to live without sinning; that he may be so sanctified as to be incapable of sinning; that such holiness is attainable; nay, that no one can be long a Christian without attaining it; that no one can be sure of his Christianity unless he has attained it. But I see in the most Christian ,of men, I feel in myself in my most Christian mood, much that is not easily reconcilable with this immaculate sinlessness, unless I can persuade myself that what looks very like sin is not really sin. I am tempted to do so; to defend, on the ground of Christian character, what otherwise : would give over to just condemnation; to stand up for the harmlessness in a believer of ways that would confessedly hurt or ruin the unconverted. And so I really open the door to those perversions of such texts as,"He that is spiritual is judged of no man,""To the pure all things are pure," which have wrought sad havoc with the plain morality of the Bible.
II. There is another mode of dealing with the statements before us which I cannot feel to be satisfactory. It is to limit or restrict their comprehensiveness; and to understand the apostle as speaking, not of sin absolutely and universally, but of sin more or less voluntary and presumptuous, According to this view, one abiding in Christ and born of God does not and cannot sin deliberately, intentionally, knowingly. He may be overtaken in a fault; he may be compassed about with infirmities; he may have his occasional aberrations and failings. But he does not lay plans and go into evil with his eyes open.
Is that true? Was it true of David? Or of the man in Corinth who was excommunicated for incest, and upon repentance restored? Is it any relief to me, when I am staggered by the hard saying that the true Christian does not and cannot commit sin, to be told that it may be so modified as to mean that he does not and cannot sin voluntarily.
Will that modification meet my case? Alas! no. For I dare not persuade myself that I never sin voluntarily. The saying excludes me, and tells against me, as much as ever. And then, is it safe to make such a distinction as this between two sorts of sin: and to make it for such a purpose as this? May it not again let in the notion of some evil being tolerable and venial after all in a child of God? Where and how is the line to be drawn.
III. It may help us out of the difficulty if we first look at the statements before us in the light, not of what we are now by grace, but of what we are to be in the future state of glory. It will be true then that we sin not; it will be impossible for us then to sin. What will make it true that we sin not? What will make it impossible for us to sin.
Simply, our abiding in Christ; our being born of God; his seed abiding in us. It is most important that we should endeavour to form some distinct idea of this feature or characteristic of heavens holiness; its absolute inviolability; its being perfectly secure against the possibility of sin ever marring it. Saints in glory do not and cannot sin. Wherein consists this impossibility of sinning? Of what sort is it? Plainly it cannot be a merely physical or natural inability; it must be of a moral kind. It is not outward coercion or prevention; it is not enforced sinlessness, which would be no sinlessness at all. Neither is it sinlessness dependent on external circumstances; such as want of opportunity or absence of temptation. The impeccability is and must be an attribute of the inner man; of the saint himself, as perfectly sanctified in his whole nature. If in the heavenly world I am not to sin; to be incapable of sin that cannot be in consequence of any mere change in. my outward position; any mere translation from one locality to another, from one system of things to another. It was not his expulsion from Paradise that made Adam peccable, or capable of committing sin. He was so from the first in Paradise, for there he sinned. It is not his return to Paradise, nor his promotion to a Better state than that of Paradise, that will make him impeccable. His impeccability must be otherwise attained and secured.
It is true that change of place and of circumstances may do much; and it is a great change that is before us."We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." It will, indeed, be a very different atmosphere that we breathe in heaven from what so often deadens, stupifies, and paralyses our Christian life on earth. We shall be there under other influences and in the midst of other companionships. No more is there any course of this world for us to walk after; no more any prince of the power of the air to intoxicate us with the poisonous vapour of his ungodliness; no more any children of disobedience, seducing us to have our conversation among them. It will, unquestionably, be a blessed relief. To be rid of Satan and of Satans wiles; to be for ever quit of those worldly ways and habits around us here that are so apt to draw us into conformity with themselves; to be where there is no more any antagonism between what is and what ought to Be; to be where God is all in all ; - it may well be imagined to be like"a bird escaping out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is Broken; and we are escaped!""Oh! that I had wings like a dove, that I might flee away and be at rest!""Woe is me that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!" But let me Beware. If I imagine that it is my being in heaven that is to make me pure and sinless, or render it impossible for me to sin, I am under a sad and most unsafe delusion. Let it be granted that then all I come in contact with will be holy, and all conducive to holiness; with"nothing to hurt or to destroy in all Gods holy mountain." Still, place me there, continuing simply such as I am here; and not only is it not true of me that I cannot sin; but it is true of me that I cannot but sin. Evidently, therefore, its being impossible for me to sin in the future state, must depend upon something else than mere change of scene. And what follows? It must depend upon something that may be actually realised more or less perfectly here. It must depend upon what may be and must be realised here, in the inner spiritual history and experience of every child of God.
Let me remind you that this impeccability lies in the will; the seat of it is the will. It is because, in the state of glory, my will is made"perfectly and immutably free to do good alone," that my will is, or that I myself am, incapable of doing evil. And let me also remind you that sin, the sin which it will then be impossible for me to commit, is "the transgression of the law ;" of the law of God which is the expression of his will. His will is perfectly and immutably free. His law is its free utterance; the free forth-going of his free will. Your impeccability, - its being impossible for you to sin, - is its being impossible for you to will otherwise than he wills; to think or feel otherwise than he does, as to that law of his which is his will. And if it is your will that is to be thus free; free, as his will is free, to do good alone; and therefore incapable of an evil choice; then your impeccability must be, if I may say so, itself voluntary; voluntarily accepted and realised. The position in which I find it impossible to sin must be attested by my own consciousness as a position that is freely and voluntarily mine.
Let me try to imagine myself as regards this matter in the heavenly state. I cannot sin. Why not? What hinders me? Is it that my hands are tied? Is it that my will is fettered? Am I not free? Yes; I am free as God is free. And therefore I can no more sin than God can sin. In the very same sense in which God cannot sin, I cannot sin. My will can no more go against his law than his own will can go against it. For why is it that God cannot sin? - -that his will cannot go against his law? Is it not because the law is his will? Is it not because the law is his nature? Yes. The law is his will, his spontaneous will. And it is his nature; the very essence of his moral character and being is in his law. For the law is love; and God is love. The law is holy; and God is holy. He cannot sin, or transgress the law, because he cannot go against his own will, or against his nature. Sin in him, were the thought admissible, would be selfcontradictory; suicidal. "He cannot deny himself." Now in heaven am I in this respect such as he is? - really, literally, absolutely such as he is? Yes, that is my heaven! It is my being thus like him when I see him as he is. When, clear from the darkness in which now he hides himself in a world that knows him not, his glory shines unclouded; then I"see him as he is" so as to be "satisfied when I awake with his likeness." It is the likeness of him who cannot sin.
IV. Let me try to bring out more clearly this principle as one that must connect the future with the present. Why is it that in heaven, my will being free as Gods will is free, I can no more sin than he can sin? What answer would John give to that question if you could put it to him now? As thus ; - " In whatever sense, and with whatever modifications, thou didst, in thy experience when here, find that to be true which thou hast so emphatically put, - as the test, apparently, of real Christianity, - it is all true of thee there, where thou art now! How is it so Why is it so?" "Because I abide in the Son of God, and Gods own seed abides in me, as being born of God;" is not that his reply? What other reply can he give? No doubt he may also say,"I am no more in a world that knows not God; exposed to its flattery or its rage. I have nothing now to apprehend from Satans subtilty. I have laid aside the body of corruption that used to weigh me down. The lusts of the flesh solicit and trouble me no more. Evil propensities, the remains of my old original and inveterate depravity, are all thoroughly put away. Not a vestige of any root of bitterness remains in me; nor is there any exposure to trial or temptation from without." These are great and inestimable advantages."But," he would add,"not one of them secures, nor do they altogether secure, my impeccability; or its being impossible for me to sin. Excepting only immunity from Satans subtilty, man in Paradise enjoyed them all; and yet he was peccable; he sinned. Without any exception, the unfallen angels enjoyed them all; and yet they showed themselves peccable; some of their number fell. My heaven is no heaven at all, if in respect of this matter of my not sinning, or its being ira-possible for me to sin, I am no better off than Adam was in the garden, or the angelic hosts in their first estate. But I am better off. And what, you ask, makes me better off? My abiding in the Son of God, and having Gods own seed abiding in me, as being born of him. First, I"abide in the Son of God" evermore, uninterruptedly; and therefore I see God as his Son sees him; I feel towards God as his Son feels. Secondly, as born of God, I have"his seed abiding in me," evermore, uninterruptedly; his seed, conveying and imparting to me his nature, as truly as a plants seed imparts its nature to its successor, or a mans seed imparts his nature to his child."
"These two causes combined," John might say, "ensure my not sinning; make it impossible for me to sin by transgressing the law. For, in virtue of the first, the law is to me what it is to the Son of God, the God-man; not merely an enforced rule; far less a yoke of bondage; but an inward principle also of free, spontaneous choice. It is within my heart, as it is within his. There can no more spring up in my heart than there can spring up in his, the slightest or faintest feeling of impatience under it, or of a longing to be without it or above it. And then, in virtue of the other, the law is to me what it is to God himself. It. is the expression of my nature, as it is of his. Being what I am, as born of him, his seed abiding in me, I can no more go against it than he, being what he is, can go against it himself." Is this the secret of the saints impeccability in heaven Is it at all a true and fair account of his not sinning, of its being impossible for him to sin.
Then does it not follow that it is an impeccability that may be realised on earth? For the causes of it are realised on earth; first, your abiding in the Son of God; secondly, your being born of God so as to have his seed abiding in you. And so far as they are realised on earth, they cannot but make it impossible for you to sin here, in the very same way in which, when realised perfectly in heaven, they will make it impossible for you to sin there. For they are causes whose efficacy does not at all depend on time or place or circumstances. They act here and now as they will act then and there. They make Gods will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven.
V. Viewed thus in the light of"what we shall be," and of the bearing of what we shall be on what we are, Johns statements assume a somewhat different aspect from what they are apt to wear when taken by themselves. They become not one whit less solemn but greatly more encouraging.
For one thing, you may now regard them as describing a precious privilege, as well as imposing a searching test. They show you the way of perfect holiness; how you are to be righteous, even as Christ is righteous, - even as God is righteous. I suppose that it is your desire to be so; if it is not, you are none of Christs, and are not children of God. Your earnest longing is, I assume, that you were placed in such circumstances, or that there were wrought in you such a frame of spirit, as would make it impossible for you ever to sin any more.
Well, if it is so, should it not be matter of satisfaction to you to be told that you have even now within your reach, realisable in your experience, the elements or conditions, so to speak,, of that very state of things which you so warmly covet? John takes it for granted, that"having this hope in God ;" - the hope that when"it does appear what you shall be," it will imply your being"like him whose children you are, because you shall see him as he is" -"you purify yourselves even as his own Son is pure." And surely in that view he does you a kindness when he tells you how this purifying of yourselves as Christ is pure may become possible, even to the extent of its being as impossible for you as for him to commit sin or to transgress the law. He does no sin; he can do no sin; he cannot have a thought or wish to transgress the law. Why? Because he is the Son of God, his only begotten Son, of one nature with the Father. Even when he takes your nature, he is, on that account, sinless and impeccable. And the good news here is, that you also are becoming impeccable in him. Of course, it is good news to you only if impeccability is really the object of your desire; your hope; your heaven. Is it so? Would it be heaven to you not to sin; to be incapable of sinning; to be so situated and so minded, that for you to sin would be as truly anti really an impossibility as for Christ or for God? Then these texts are for you. They let you into the secret of this impeccability; they show you wherein it consists. They set it before you, not as something to be reached some time, somewhere, somehow, in some other world, through some mysterious unknown processes to be gone through at death and the resurrection; but as what you may have experience of, and must have experience of, in this present world, and under this present dispensation of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit makes you really one with the Son of God, so that, abiding in him, you par. take of his sonship; his filial relation to the Father and filial heart towards the Father. And the Holy Spirit also implants in you and puts within you the seed of God, the germ of Gods own nature and Gods own life, so that you are in very truth born of God. When thus in your adoption, rightly viewed, and in your regeneration, the Holy Spirit unites you to the Son, and assimilates you to the Father ; - when thus you abide in the Son, in whose son-ship you share, and the seed of God your Father, of whom you are born, abides in you ; - you have already, in present possession and for present use, all that is essential to impeccability.
VI. Taking this view, I confess I do not feel so much concern as otherwise I might feel about reconciling such strong statements as that one abiding in Christ sinneth not, or that one born of God cannot sin, with the acknowledged and lamented fact that he does sin. John has dealt with that fact already, and told us how to deal with it. It is not his business here to be making allowance for it. It would be beside his purpose altogether, and indeed against it, to be qualifying his high and bold appeal to honest aspirants after perfection, by concessions to those whose object would seem to be to ascertain, not how, and how far, perfection may be reached, but how far they may stop short of it. John has not any such Christians in his eye. Or if he has, it is to bring to bear upon them the whole artillery of these startling statements, in all their strictest and most literal force. They are to be solemnly warned that sin is absolutely incompatible with abiding ia Christ and being born of God - all sin, any sin, every sin; that"whosoever sinneth hath not seen Christ, neither known him." To them John has nothing else to say. He cannot otherwise meet their question as to the extent to which sin, still cleaving to a child of God, may be admitted not to vitiate his title. For indeed it is most dangerous to be considering the matter in that light or on that side at all. It is almost sure to lead, first to calculations, and then to compromises, fatal to singleness of eye and the holy ambition that ought to fire the breast; calculations first, about the quantity and quality of the residuum of old corruption which we must lay our account with finding in the purest God-born soul; and then compromises, under the sort of feeling that, as the proverb says, what cannot be cured must be endured.
I beseech you to turn from that downward, earthward way of looking at this great theme; and to look upward and heavenward. I speak to you as believing you to be in earnest about purifying yourselves even as Christ is pure. I tell you that the gospel makes full provision for holiness; and no provision at all for sin. It contemplates, not your sinning, but your not sinning; nay, its being impossible for you to sin. If it did not, it would be no gospel to you. For you are weary of sinning; weary of finding it always so possible, so easy to sin. The risings of a rebellious spirit in you against God, and his will, and his law ; your feelings of irksomeness, as if his commandments were grievous, his ways dark, his sayings harsh, his service hard, himself austere; are a continual grief to you. Well, may it not be some consolation, some encouragement, to know, that you have within you, if you will but stir up the gift that is in you, the elements of a holier and happier life? For these are indeed, when rightly considered, most precious assurances; "Whosoever abideth in Christ sinneth not;""Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for Gods seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Let a few practical inferences be suggested.
I. I think the texts
teach, or imply, the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints; the
impossibility of their either wholly or permanently falling away from a state
of grace. I cannot understand statements so strong as"sinneth not," or"cannot
sin," especially when taken in connection with the reasons given," abiding in
Christ; :"being born of God;""the seed of God abiding in him," - in any
sense consistent with the idea of one who by faith has been united to Christ,
and by adoption and regeneration made a child of God, proving ultimately a
castaway. It may be quite true that it is not Johns immediate design to
dwell on that tenet. But nevertheless he uses words that seem very plainly to
assume it. It is not easy to see how any one could be called upon to recognise
in himself, as actually his now in possession and experience, the principle, if
I may so speak, of impeccability, excepting upon grounds precluding the risk of
his losing altogether his character and standing in Christ.
2. The texts teach however, very plainly, that this doctrine, whatever may be its practical use and value in its right place, and when turned to legitimate account, cannot give to any man security in sin; cannot make him safe when he is sinning, when he is committing sin or transgressing the law. When he is sinning, he can draw no assurance whatever from his"having seen and known Christ." Virtually, to all intents and purposes, he is exactly in the same position with one who"has not seen him, neither known him" (ver. 6). Never, at any moment, may I reckon on a past act of God towards me, - his calling me, justifying me, adopting me in his Son; or a past work of God in me, - his regenerating me by his Spirit ; - as giving me any present confidence, if my present state is one of sin. Not only is this not right; I believe it to be impossible. I believe that no man ever yet felt himself secure in sinning now, on the ground of his having been brought to"see and know" Christ long ago. His feeling of security, in so far as he has such a feeling, does not really spring from that belief as to the past, but from ignorance now of Christ and of God; from present unbelief. For the present, he is an unbeliever, not seeing or knowing Christ; no better than if he had never seen or known him. The moment he comes again to believe, and has his eyes opened to see and know Christ; Christ looking on him when he is sinning as he looked on Peter ; - security there is none; confidence there is none; only bitter weeping. He repents, and does the first works. He believes, as if he had never believed before. He realises again, as at the first, his abiding in Christ and Gods seed abiding in him. Our sinning, therefore; our feeling it to be possible for us to sin; is in fact, and as a practical matter, absolutely incompatible with our abiding in Christ and being born of God. We are only really abiding in Christ, and consciously and influentially, if I may say so, born of God so as to have his seed abiding in us, - in so far as we do not sin, - in so far as we cannot sin.
3. For this, let me again remind you, is Johns true design and purpose; it is to put you in the way of not sinning; of its being impossible for you to sin. It is to let you into the secret of sinlessness, of impeccability; that you may be successful in purifying yourselves as Christ is pure. Realise your abiding in Christ, your being born of God, his seed abiding in you. And realise all that, as you may realise it, not as what is to be in heaven; when it will appear what you shall be; but as what may be, and must be, and is on earth; even when "it doth not yet appear what you shall be." Do not imagine that you must wait till you get to heaven until you can know what it is not to sin; to be beyond the possibility of sinning. No doubt it is only in heaven that you can know that perfectly. But you may know something of it on earth. You need not imagine that if you know nothing of it on earth, you can know anything of it in heaven. For it is not, I repeat, any change of scene that will make you know it. Some have fancied that by getting out of the world into the wilderness they might come not to sin; nay, might get themselves into a state in which they could not sin. Away from societys pomps and vanities, its pleasures and vices, in the solitude of the desert, they have sought for immaculate and impeccable holiness; they have sought for it painfully, with tears and stripes. Alas! they have sought for it in vain. But you may find it, in the midst of all evil, if you seek it aright, in the way of abiding in Christ, and having Gods seed abiding in you, as being born of him. And you will find it, if you apprehend the force of the Lords own words:"As thou, Father, hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth."
XXIII. THE SECRET OF SINLESSNESS - THE CONTRASTED "DOINGS" - DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS AND DOING SIN -
THEIR INCOMPATIBILITY IN RESPECT OF THEIR OPPOSITE ORIGINS OR PARENTAGES - GOD AND THE DEVIL.
"Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [Christ] is righteous. He that committeth [doeth] sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." - 1 John 3: 7, 8.
These verses are embedded, as it were, between the two already considered (6 and 9); which teach what may be called the secret of sinlessness as a possible attainment, and one that a child of God must apprehend and realise. They fit into that theme, placing in marked contrast the two opposite lines of conduct, - " doing righteousness and doing sin," - and tracing them up to their respective sources, a righteous nature on the one hand, indicating a divine birth; and a sinful nature on the other, betraying a devilish origin. Thus they shut out the very idea of any mixture of the two characters, or anything intermediate between the two. Thus also they connect the argument with the introductory statement at the beginning of this second part of the epistle,"If ye know that God is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of God" (2: 29). For this doing righteousness, which at once implies and tests our being born of him who is righteous, must evince a family likeness to him, or a participation of nature with him. It must, therefore, be very thorough and complete, and cannot be compatible with doing sin. For that, evincing an opposite family likeness and participation in an opposite nature, points not to a divine birth or our being born of God, but to a very different parentage, our being of the devil.
The passage before us opens accordingly with a very solemn warning:"Little children, let no man deceive you." It assumes an urgent and serious danger. There are those who will do their utmost to deceive you, and the point on which they will try to deceive you is a very vital one. It is so all the rather because it is one on which your own hearts may be but too willing to be deceived. It turns upon the indissoluble connection that there is between being and doing; between character and conduct; between what a man is and how he acts. The false teachers of Johns day held that one might reach in some mysterious way a height of serene, inviolable, inward purity and peace, such as no things without, not even his own actions, could stain. In a less transcendental form, the same sort of notion practically prevails in the world. It used perhaps to be more common than it is now to give a person credit for having right principles, though his practice might be often wrong; to admit his claim to a good heart, in spite of his habits being to a large extent bad. But the delusion is one against which we still need to be cautioned.
John meets it by bringing out in marked contrast the two opposite natures, one or other of which we must all share; that of God and that of the devil. As it is the nature of God to be righteous, so it is the nature of every one who is born of God to be righteous also. So he who is pre-eminently the Son of God is righteous; and we who are children of God in him are righteous as he is righteous. But his being righteous necessitates his doing righteousness; to imagine otherwise in his case would be a profane calumny. So also to think that we can be righteous as he is righteous, if our being righteous does not necessitate our doing righteousness, must be a gross and grievous delusion. On the other hand, it is the devils, nature to be evil; and being evil, he cannot but be doing evil. If we are doing evil, doing sin; that proves our identity of nature with the devil; we are of the devil. And being of the devil, the originator of sin, - sinning from the beginning, - we cannot be children of God as Christ is his Son. For he was manifested for this very purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Let us consider the three steps in this argument, as thus adjusted.
I."He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as Christ is righteous." It is clearly moral character that is here in question, not legal standing. There is no reference to Christs vicarious righteousness; its imputation to us through our oneness with him by faith, and our consequent justification in the sight of God. That doctrine, so clearly revealed elsewhere underlies, as we have already seen, the whole of Johns teaching in this epistle. But to import it into this passage is to destroy the sense. Of course it is equally destructive of the sense to use the passage as a support to the doctrine of justification by works, as if it meant that the doer of righteousness is thereby, on the ground of his personal doing of righteousness, justified or accounted righteous before God. John is not thinking of justification at all, but rather of sanctification; of holiness of life being inseparable from holiness-of nature. The precise lesson taught, the great principle asserted, is that righteousness, moral righteousness, cannot possibly exist in a quiescent or inactive state; that it never can be a latent power or undeveloped quality; that wherever it is it must be operative. It must be working, and working according to its own essential nature. Moreover, it must be working, not partially but universally; working everywhere and always; working in and upon whatever it comes in contact with, in the mind within and the world without. Otherwise, it is not righteousness at all ; certainly not such as we see in Jesus; it is not"being righteous as he is righteous." Therefore being righteous and doing righteousness are not twain, but one; one in the very nature of things, by divine ordination and arrangement. God has joined them; and what God has joined man may not put asunder. The attempt to separate them on either side, or to confound them, is a fatal error.
Hence those err who would sink the being in the doing as if the doing were all in all, - quite as much as those who would divorce the doing from the being, and leave the being all alone.
"He cant be wrong whose life is in the right," is a perilous half-truth. Doing righteousness, in the sense of merely leading what is called a virtuous life, being irreproachable in manners, and performing acts of kindness, may thus be made to constitute the sum and substance of religion and morality. Evidently that is not Johns teaching. On the contrary, it is with the inward frame of mind that he is chiefly occupied; it is about the heart being right with God that he is concerned. The very righteousness, pure and holy, which is the distinguishing characteristic or attribute of the moral character of God, is to become the attribute of ours, as it is of Christs. Far from undervaluing, or as it were postponing, the inward, or being righteous; he lays on that the whole stress of his .appeal about the outward, or doing righteousness. For the very reason of his appeal is this, that if there be not the being there cannot be the doing ; and therefore, on the other hand, if there be the doing, it proves and insures the being.
This last is the important practical consideration here. But it is so only when we rightly understand what doing righteousness, in Johns notion of it, really is. It is not merely performing righteous actions; doing things that are in themselves, or in their own essential nature, right and good. The abstract form righteousness is significant and all-important. To do a righteous deed is one thing: to be doing righteousness in the doing of it is another. The difference may be immense.
Jesus"went about doing good." And in doing good he was ever doing righteousness. For he did good because he knew that to do good is to do what is righteous in the judgment of the righteous Father. He did good, not as doing himself a pleasure or his fellow-men a service, but as doing the Fathers righteous will. To do good thus is to do righteousness indeed. Viewing it in that light, we cannot err, or go too far, in the way of identifying it with being righteous. So to do righteousness is really to be righteous; in the highest and holiest sense; according to the most perfect type and model;"even as Christ is righteous." It is a vain dream, a fond imagination, for any of us to aspire to being righteous in any other manner or after any other fashion. The humble path of obedience to the righteous Father, - the consistent doing of righteousness as we know, and because we know, that God is righteous (2: 29), - is practically being righteous, So Christ, the Son of God, is the Fathers righteous servant, doing the Fathers righteousness. So let us, as born of God, be the Fathers righteous servants in Christ; doing righteousness as Christ does righteousness, and being righteous as Christ is righteous.
II. As"doing righteousness," - through its being thus associated or identified with "being righteous as the Son is righteous," - proves our being "born of God ;" so"doing sin" proves a very different relationship, a very different paternity."He that committeth" or doeth"sin is of the devil." That is his genealogy or pedigree. And the reason is plain. The devil is the author of sin; it is he who"sinneth from the beginning." The"doer of sin" cannot, as such, have any other father than the originator of sin. And he cannot repudiate the ancestry. It is fastenedupon him by the same law or principle which enables"the doer of righteousness" to claim kindred with the righteous Father, in respect of his"being righteous as his own Son is righteous." The medium of proof is the same. It is this, that what one does is really what one is; the doing being the index or identification of the being."He that committeth" or doeth"sin is of the devil;" for, by doing sin, he shows his identity of nature with him who is a sinner from the beginning. And it is upon identity of nature, proved practically, that the question of moral and spiritual parentage must ultimately turn.
That is the question which John raises here, and to which he afterwards returns (ver. 10). It is with a view to that question that he lays down the essential moral truth involved in his two contrasted propositions or arguments; first,"He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he, the Son, is righteous," and so, as"born of God," may assert a divine paternity; secondly, "He that doeth sin is of the devil," the original and archetypal sinner: he must consent, therefore, to trace his genealogical line from a devilish beginning and in a devilish stream.
And still the test is the consistency or identity of the doing with the being. The doer of righteousness is righteous, as Christ the Son, who is one in nature with the Father, is righteous. The doer of sin is not so, but on the contrary is of the same nature with the devil, who"sinneth from the beginning." He who is born of God, knowing that God is righteous, can do nothing but righteousness, in so far as he realises his position; being himself righteous as Christ is righteous. He that is of the devil can do nothing but sin, as the devil has been doing all along from the beginning. So far as his nature is allowed full development, that is its working. But that proves a paternity the opposite of divine.
Thus two parentages are here contrasted. Two fathers, as it were, desire to have us as children. They are wide as the poles asunder. Of the one relationship it is the characteristic not to sin; of the other, to be always sinning. The one father never has sinned, never could sin, being the "righteous Father." The other has been always a sinner; sinning from the beginning; his first act being to sin. Each father imparts his own character to his children. The Virtue or the vice ; the wholesome purity or the poisonous matter; the sweet charm or the sour taint; runs in the blood. The children of the one father have infused into them the seed or germ of his impeccability; his being of such a nature that it is impossible for him to sin. The children of the other inherit his absolute incapacity of not sinning; his being of such a nature that it is morally impossible for him not to sin.
It is a terrible inheritance. It is the devils nature to sin. When we sin we give proof of its being our nature too. And it is a nature which we derive from him. It was he that communicated it to us. Our relation to him, therefore, in respect of our thus sharing his nature, is very close. It may be true that it is only in a figurative sense that we can be called "children of the devil," or said to be"of the devil." Still the figure has in it a sad reality. If it is natural for us to sin, he is the father of that nature in us. His seed is in us; the seed of his nature, his natural life, which is to sin, to do nothing but commit sin. And let us remember Johns definition of sin (ver. 4), and Pauls (Rom. 8: 7). The essence of sin is refusing to be subject to law, That is the sin which "the devil sinneth from the beginning;" he sinneth by insubordination. That is his nature, his natural life. And he put the seed of it in us when he said to Eve,"Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?"
This phrase, therefore - "being of the devil," - as used here and elsewhere in Scripture, does not imply what in human opinion would be accounted great criminality or gross immorality. To call any one a devil, or a child of the devil, is to impute to him, according to ordinary notions, an extreme depravity. We paint the great Apostate Spirit in the blackest colours of foul pollution, rancorous hate, and wanton cruelty; and it is only monsters of vice among ourselves that we characterise as satanic. Thus we extricate ourselves from the shame of so discreditable a lineage as is involved in being of the devil. But neither John nor his Master will let us off so easily. The sin which lost Satan heaven was neither lust nor murder. It was not carnal at all, but merely spiritual. It was not even lying, at least not at first, - though"he is a liar, and the father of it." It was pure and simple insubordination and rebellion; the setting of his will against Gods; the proud refusal, at the Fathers bidding, to worship the Son. So"the devil sinneth from the beginning." And when you so sin, you are of your father the devil. Peter was sinning in that way when Jesus called him Satan. There was nothing of what we might be inclined to stigmatise as satanic in his very natural wish to arrest his Masters fatal journey. It was an impulse of generous affection which burst out in the expostulation,".Be it far from thee." But he was"of the devil" then, notwithstanding. Therefore Jesus said to him,"Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me" (Matt. 16: 23). Not saying it thyself, thou wouldst hinder me from saying to my Father,"Thy will be done." And that is devils work.
In order then to enter into the full meaning of Johns solemn testimony, it is not needful to wait till some horrid access of diabolic fury or frenzy seizes us. It is enough if"the tongue speaketh proud things," or the heart conceives them."Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?" Or, why are they not our own? May they not at least occasionally be our own, - this once; for singing one Vain song, or uttering one idle word, or joining in au hours not very profitable, but yet not very objectionable, talk? Is there any rising up in us of such a feeling as this, as if it were hard that we may not occasionally take our own way and be our own masters? It is the devils seed abiding in us; the seed of the devils sin, and of his sinful nature. Thus this testimony is of wide range and searching power, when the Spirit brings it home. The law says - Thou shalt love God with all thy heart; thou shalt not covet. Let that commandment come to me, in its real spiritual force; and how thoroughly, how helplessly, how miserably, does it make me out to be a very child of the devil! Many laws I cannot charge myself with breaking; I do not feel them to be irksome; the laws of my country and of society, for example; the laws Of just dealing between man and man; the laws of kindness, courtesy, good breeding, good taste and feeling; the law of chivalry; the law of honour. Of all such laws I can cheerfully acknowledge the authority. But this law, - the law binding me by peremptory statute to love God supremely, and not to covet, not to love at all except as he loves, me feel that I cannot own. There is that in me which makes me rebel against what it enjoins being made matter of law at all. I would have it left to my own discretion. I object to love upon compulsion, or to worship, or to obey. Yes, there it is! That is it! I have in me the seed, the root, the germ, of the satanic spirit and the satanic nature. I cannot bring myself to be thoroughly under authority and law, when the authority and law are Gods. And why? Why but"because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be?"
III."But for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.,
The expression "to destroy the works of the devil," - if it is to meet the previous statement, must be understood as meaning, in substance, that the Son of God was manifested to undo what the devil has done and is doing; to counteract and counterwork him, in respect of all his doings generally; but especially in respect of his imparting to us, as his children, the germ or seed of his own sin of insubordination to the authority and law of God. The phrase, indeed, might be taken in a wide sense; and might lead us to consider the many various ways in which the gospel tends to redress, and has actually to a large extent redressed, the manifold wrongs and mischiefs that the devil, by introducing moral evil and turning it to account, has wrought in the earth. But evidently the reference here is rather to the one inherent quality, than to the various effects, of the devils working. The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil - to destroy in you that sort of doing, or working, which you have derived from the devil; that sinning, or committing sin, which is his nature, and of which he has implanted in you the seed.
It is a work of destruction which he is manifested to do, or which his being manifested does; for we need not be very particular as to which of these ways of putting the matter is to be preferred: they are virtually the same. Execution is to be done upon what is the essence of all the devils works, so far as our sharing in them as his children is concerned; the spirit of suspicion, impatience, and rankling discontent, under Gods loving rule, which the devil insinuates into our hearts, and fosters, inflames, and irritates there. In thus destroying the works of the devil, in this sense and to this effect, his being manifested as the Son of God was, in itself alone, a great step. For he was manifested, in the very form, in the very position, which the devil had himself felt, and had persuaded us to feel, to be grievous, irksome, and intolerable. He, being the Son,"took upon him the form of a servant." He was so manifested as to make it plain, beyond all question, that there is no such root of bitterness as the devil would insinuate that there is, in a creatures subjection as a servant to the law of God his Creator, in a Sons subjection as a servant to the law of God his Father. The Son of God is manifested as submitting to that place of subordination to authority which the devil and his angels spurned; giving himself to a service infinitely more humiliating than they were called to when they were commanded to worship him. It was a great blow to the works of the devil; it cut up by the roots the very pith and staple of his power to work at all; when the Son of God was thus manifested; when it was made patent to all the universe that it was no degradation or bondage for the Son himself to be the servant of the Father; when it was seen that his being so was not incompatible with sonship, but was in fact its very perfection.
This, however, is not all; it is only a small part of what he does in destroying, to me and to all his people, the works of the devil. The Son of God might have been manifested as sustaining the very character of a servant, under authority and law, which the devil found, and which the devil makes me find, so provocative of an inward sense of impatience and spirit of rebellion; and he might have been manifested as sustaining that character in such a way as to win me over to the conviction that it is, if I can but reach it, my highest freedom and joy. But what of that, if I cannot reach it? And I cannot reach it, unless the Son of God, thus manifested, does two things on my behalf.
In the first place, he must make my relation to the Father such as his own is. In order to that, and as an indispensable preliminary to that, he must abolish and destroy the relation in which the devil has got me, along with himself, to stand to God; the relation of a guilty criminal to a righteous and avenging judge. Fain would the devil keep me in that relation to my God; scowling impotent defiance, or writhing under the lashings of despair. Or he would set me to the task of painfully working out for myself deliverance; and all in vain. The Son of God is manifested to make short work of all that. I see him taking my relation to God as his, that I may take his relation to God as mine. And I have literally nothing to do but say Yes! Yes; I allow him to take my relation to God as his, the relation of a condemned criminal, a sentenced transgressor of the law! - to take it, so as to exhaust all the curse of it, and destroy it, as the devils work, for so it is, utterly and for ever! Wondrous condescension, is it not, on my part! And I accept his relation to God, the relation of a beloved son and faithful servant, as mine! More wondrous condescension still! Ah! let me be ashamed to hesitate here. Let me be willing to be to the Father all that his own Son is, in both views of this wonderful substitution and most blessed union.
But, secondly, that I may be willing, he must put within me his own heart towards God, as well as place me in his own relation to God. For this purpose also the Son of God is manifested; not only that through his entering into my guilty relation to God the righteous judge, and making an end of it for me, I may enter into his relation to God the righteous Father, and make full proof of it, in him; but also that, through the Spirit dwelling in me, as in him, I may have the same heart that he has to cry, "Abba, Father."
Let me never forget that it is for this double purpose that the Son of God is manifested. Root and branch, the works of the devil must be destroyed. The seed, the germ, the principle of all his works must be eradicated. Suspicion, dislike, servile dread, criminal sullenness, self-justifying pride, must all be scotched and killed. These are the devils works. They must be all destroyed. Let me look to the Son of God as he has been and is manifested; and are they not, through my so looking, destroyed? I cannot think and feel, with reference to God and his authority and law, as the devil does, when I look to the Son of God manifested for this very purpose, that I may think and feel as he does; that God may be to me what he is to him, and his law to me what it is to him; that thus in me he may "destroy the works of the devil."
XXIV. CONNECTION OF DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS WITH BROTHERLY LOVE AS PROVING A DIVINE BIRTH, IN CONTRAST WITH THE UNRIGHTEOUS AND UNLOVING SPIRIT INDICATING A DEVILISH PARENTAGE.
"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous." - -1 John 3: 10 - 12.
The antagonism between the righteous Father and the great adversary, and between their respective seeds or offsprings, is here announced in such a way as to run it up to a very precise point. The question to which of the two you belong; which of the two parentages or fatherhoods, Gods or the devils, is really yours; is brought to a narrow issue. It is put negatively; and it is all the more searching on that account. The want of righteous doing, the absence of brotherly love, is conclusive against your being of God;"Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." These two things are here virtually identified; or the one is represented as implying the other. The general is now made particular; what was general and abstract,"doing righteousness" (2: 59), is now reduced to a particular practical test,"loving ones brother."
What sort of love is here meant will appear more clearly as we proceed. It is, at any rate, love whose obligation is not of yesterday; the commandment rendering it obligatory is of old standing, of ancient date:"For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." And the question arises - What message or commandment is here referred to?
The idea is apt to suggest itself, not unnaturally, that it is our Lords commandment in the beginning of the gospel:"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another;""This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you;""These things I command you, that ye love one another" (John 13: 34, and 16: 12-17).
But may not "the beginning" be held to date, not from Christs teaching, but from the real beginning of the gospel, immediately after the fall? Does not the mention of Cain indicate as much?. Is not the law or message of love in question that which was violated in the beginning, when Cain, being of that wicked one, slew his brother.
Gods commandment, heard from the beginning, is that we should love another. Therefore"he that loveth not his brother doeth not righteousness," - the righteousness required to make good or verify the fact of his being"born of God." He "committeth or doeth sin ;" the sin which is"the transgression of the law." He is"of the devil;"-like Cain, who"was of that wicked one, and slew his brother."
We are thus carried back to the earliest manifestation of the distinction between the. children of God and the children of the devil in the old familiar history of Cain and Abel. Of Abel little is recorded in the history. But it is plainly implied, in what is said of him here, that he loved his brother. We read that"Cain talked with Abel his brother." And we read this in immediate connection with what the Lord said to Cain on the subject of his rejected offering : - "Bat unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin" - a sin-offering -"lieth at the door - at thy disposal, and available for thee. After that"Cain talked with Abel his brother." It is in that connection that we read of his doing so. It is not needful to suppose that his talk was, at least in the first instance, a deliberate plot to draw his intended victim into his power. It is quite probable, or rather more than probable, that the conversation began in good faith. The walk of the brothers in the field may have been as much without any purpose on the one side, as without any suspicion on the other, of anything like treachery or violence. It is quite natural that Cain should have talked with Abel his brother. And the talk might turn on the recent incident of the two acts of worship; on the disappointment which Cain had experienced, and the explanation of it which the Lord had been pleased to give him. That "Cain was still wroth, and his countenance still fallen," we may well believe. He has not been able to bring himself to submit to God and his righteousness. He is in no mood for being amiable to one who seems to him to be a favoured :rival. But he does not meditate actual wrong. He would startle at the thought of fratricide, when the talk with Abel his brother begins.
As it goes on, we may imagine Abel, warmly and affectionately enforcing the gospel message which Cain has just got from heaven; opening up its gracious meaning; trying to persuade his misjudging brother that there is really no respect of persons with God, no partiality for one above the other; but that for both alike there is acceptance, as well-doers, if they can claim to stand on that footing, and for both alike, if not well-doers, a sin-offering at the door and at command ; - as near to thee, brother, as to me, as available for thee as for me, as much at thy service as at mine ; - thine, as freely as it is mine, if thou wilt but have it to be thine.
Had I, brother, sought acceptance as a well-doer, needing no atoning blood of the slain lamb, coming merely with a tribute of grateful homage, the Lord would have had as little respect to me and my offering as he bad to thee and thine. Nay, less. I must have been more decidedly and justly rejected; for of sinners I am chief. But, in my sin, I looked and saw the sin-offering at my door. And, brother, it lieth at thy door too, if thou wilt but consent, as a sinner, to make use of it. Has not our God been telling thee so? Is not this his gospel to thee as well as to me.
Is it too much to conceive of righteous Abel thus manifesting his being of God; thus doing righteousness and loving his brother? Is it at all conceivable that he should deal otherwise with his brother, or not deal thus with him, while Cain gave him the opportunity, by talking with him in the field? Could anything else be the burden of the talk than his beseeching his brother to be reconciled to God by the sacrifice of the slain lamb? And is it not just by his manner of requiting such brotherly dealing with him on the part of Abel that Cain manifests his being of that wicked one? Is not that the explanation of his slaying him. For"wherefore slew he him ? Because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous."
That was the real reason; though of course he did not avow it to himself. Probably he was not conscious of it. He had some plausible plea of self-justification or of self-excuse. His younger brother took too much upon him; affecting to be on a better footing with God than he was, and to be entitled to dictate and prescribe to him. It was bad enough that God should have rejected his plea of well-doing, or of righteousness; and bid him come, not with"God I thank thee" on his proud lips, but with "God be :merciful to me a sinner" in his broken heart. That one who is his junior in age, and in strength so completely at his mercy, should press the same humiliating lesson, is more than he can stand. He cannot reach God ; else his anger would find vent against him. But the meek and unresisting child of God is in his hands. And therefore he slays him;"because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous." Well did our Lord say of the Jews who sought to kill him:"Ye are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning." And he was so, "because he abode not in the truth, for there is no truth in him." To lie and hate the truth, is his nature;"when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own ;" it is his native speech, his vernacular; for "he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8: 44). And you are of him; for it is"because I tell you the truth that ye believe me not" (ver. 45); and it is that which provokes you to"seek to kill me" (ver. 40).
Here then are two instances of the children of God being manifested, and the children of the devil: Abel, and his brother Cain who slew him; Jesus, and the Jews who sought to kill him. It is the first that John cites; but the second throws light upon it. For Abel is to Cain instead of Jesus; and Cain is to Abel what he would have been to Jesus. The antagonism is clearly and sharply defined. On the one side there is love, brotherly love; love to one who slays his lover, and love to him as still a brother; which is indeed "doing righteousness as God is righteous," and therefore betokens a divine birth. On the other side there is hatred, deadly hatred; hatred of the righteous for his righteousness; which is"a work of the devil," and savours accordingly of a devilish parentage.
For what brings out the antagonism in both cases is truth or righteousness; truth, as the Lord puts it (John 8:); righteousness, as John puts it here; the truth of God; the righteousness of God. Whosoever doeth righteousness is of God; born of God. And such an one will, like Abel, love his brother; not sinning, or transgressing the law which commands love to men as brethren."Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God." And such an one"loveth not his brother," but"doeth the work of the devil ;" being like Cain, who"was of that wicked one, and slew his brother, because his own works were evil and his brothers righteous."
Mark how these opposite dispositions towards truth and righteousness, the truth and righteousness of God, operate in producing the opposite dispositions of love and hatred. I. Consider that old message or commandment, heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. On what is it based? It cannot, since the fall, be based on our joint participation in the ills to which the fall has made us heirs. Companions in guilt, shut up as criminals in the condemned cell, together awaiting execution, can scarcely be expected, need scarcely be exhorted, to love one another. There is not much mutual love lost in a band of outlaws or a community of rebels."Hateful and hating one another is apt to be the characteristic of the tribe. They may call one another brothers, sworn brothers; in the riot of a common feast, in the presence of a common foe. But there is little real confidence or cordiality in their fellowship. It is not, it cannot be, to guilty and sinful men, in their natural condition of guilt and sinfullness, estranged :from God and at enmity with God, that"the message" or commandment"heard from the beginning," to love one another, is now addressed. At least it is not to such that it can be addressed with any hope of its being complied with and obeyed. It is a message or commandment that plainly, from its very nature, proceeds upon the fact of their being a method of extrication, actual or possible, out of that wretched state. It is redemption, and redemption alone, with the regeneration which is involved in it, that makes mutual brotherly love among men, in its true and deep sense, a practicable duty, an attainable grace. It is only one who,"being born of God, doeth righteousness as knowing God to be righteous," that is capable of really loving his fellowman as a brother. 0nly righteous Abel can so love even murderous Cain.
If you are the children of the righteous Father, you can so love even those who "despitefully use you and persecute you." For as his children you are one in sympathy with the righteous Father; you are of one mind with him; you are on his side in the great cause of righteousness, and of a righteous salvation, which lies so near his heart. Submitting yourselves to his righteous and sovereign grace; receiving pardon and peace, a new nature and a new life, on the footing of your oneness with his righteous servant and beloved Son; you are now, as his children, being born of him, altogether for his righteousness and against the worlds sin.
What brotherhood then can there be between you and the men who sin; and who harden themselves, or justify themselves, in their sin? Is there not a great gulf between you and them? Are they not cut off from you? Are you not precluded from holding them to be your brethren.
Nay; it is only now, now for the first time, that you are in a position, that you have the heart, to feel anything like a brothers love towards them. And it is the very sharpness of the line that severs you from them that makes your brotherly love towards them burn bright and keen and warm. You love them as brethren now, in a sense and manner in which you never could love them before; however closely you and they might be knit together, as issuing from the same womb, or dwelling in the same house, or associated in the same calling, or walking in the same way.
Yes; though you have "known that man after the flesh" known him intimately, known him affectionately, known him so as to love him as a very brother when you sat together at the godless festive board, or drained together the cup of sinful pleasure; yet now henceforth you"know him no more." It is after another fashion than that of the flesh that you know him now; and after another fashion that you love. him; with an intensity of brotherly longing for his good, unfelt, unimagined before. What sacrifice would you have made for him then? You would "lay down your life" to save his soul now. He was your playmate, your plaything then; you used him; you sported with him; you enjoyed him. And you had a kindly enough feeling towards him. He was profitable to you; or you found him always very pleasant to you. But he is far more to you now. He is precious, oh! how precious, in your eyes; precious, not as the congenial companion of a passing hour, but as one whom you would fain grasp as a brother for eternity.
2. No such brotherly love is possible for him who, not doing righteousness, is not of God. His frame of mind is that of Cain; a frame of mind that but too unequivocally identifies him as one of the devils children, and not Gods. For there is no room for any intermediate position here. Either you are of God; or you are like Cain, who "was of that wicked one, and slew.his brother." It was the contrast between his brother and himself that moved Cain to this act; and before he was moved to it, that contrast must have become very irksome and intolerable. It was not because he was void of natural affection, or because his disposition was one of wanton cruelty and bloodthirstiness; it was not in the heat of sudden passion, or in a quarrel about any earthly good, that Cain slew his brother; but"because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous."
It is this which chiefly marks the instigation of the devil; and his fatherhood of Cain, and such as Cain.
No doubt he has a hand in every sin or crime that his children commit. He fans the flame of lust, and fires the hot blood of furious passion. He sharpens the wits of wily craft, and helps the plotter in many a stratagem. He infuses fresh bitterness into the malign temper of envious hate, whoever or whatever its object may be. But he has a special grudge and spite against"the seed of the woman who is to bruise his serpent-head." More than anything else on earth ; - infinitely more than any remains or remnants of good that the fall has left in human nature and human society ; - for these he can turn to his own account and make his own use of; - does that wicked one detest the faintest trace of the footsteps, the slightest breathing of the spirit, of him"whose goings forth have been from of old;" who has been ever in the world, the wisdom and the word of God, the light and the life of men. Wherever his power appears, setting up Gods righteousness and its claim to vindication against mans sin and its boast of impunity, there Satans malice is stirred. And he makes his children fierce even to slaying; as he made Cain.
He does so commonly by fretting and irritating the conscience, while at the same time he fortifies the stronghold of stout-heartedness and pride. For these two in combination, an uneasy conscience and an unbroken heart, are in his hands capable of being wrought mightily to his purpose. Let the truth and righteousness of God be brought so near to a man, by the divine word and Spirit, as to stir and trouble thoroughly his inward moral sense, while his desire and determination to stand his ground and not give in remains unabated, or rather is inflamed and aggravated; let the process go on; and let all attempts towards an accommodation, between the consciences increasing soreness and the hearts increasing self righteousness and self-will, be one after another frustrated and foiled; - you have then the making of a Cain, a very child of the devil, who, if need be and opportunity serve, will not scruple to cut short the terrible debate and end the intolerable strife by slaying his brother Abel; by"crucifying the Lord of glory!" O my fellow-sinner, let us beware! Let us not be"as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother."
I may think that there is no risk of my being as Cain; it will be long before I slay my brother Abel! But let me give good heed to what John records as the natural history, as it were, of Cains sin. He"slew his brother; and wherefore slew he him? because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous."
Let me ask myself a plain but pointed question. Is there no child of God, no godly man or woman of my acquaintance, the thought of whom, or the sight of whom, or his or her talk in the field, troubles me and makes me feel uncomfortable? Many professing Christians I know and like. Many who pass for serious and evangelical I can meet and converse with, easily and satisfactorily enough. There were four hundred prophets of the Lord that Ahab had no sort of objection to have near him and to listen to. But there was one Micaiah that he did not care to send for."I hate him," said the king,"for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." Is there any Micaiah who is thus a sort of eyesore to me? Any Abel who provokes in me a kind of Cainish spirit?
It is not, strictly speaking, envy, or mere jealousy of anothers superior excellence. It is the tacit rebuke administered to my shortcoming and sin; the awakening of a lurking consciousness of something wrong in my state of heart or way of life, the unsettling of my security, the begetting in me of I scarcely know what to call it - dissatisfaction, apprehension, an uneasy and unpleasant feeling of my not being altogether, in some particulars, what I ought to be, or might be ; - it is that which disturbs me, in the presence of some child of God, or in the thought of such all one, as an unquestionable type of godliness.
Ah! it is a dangerous symptom; you brother, as well as I, may give good heed to it. It is the very germ of Cains murderous mood. It may not lead you to slay your Abel; him or her who is thus obnoxious to you; whose eminent nearness to God causes you to be too sensible of your distance. You have other ways of getting rid of the troubler of your peace without raising the cry, Crucify him; away with him. You can evade his company, keep out of hearing of his voice, and elude the glance of his eye. You can shut him out of your mind, and bid him be to .you as if he was not. Or you may try another plan. You may open your ears to whispers against him ; you may sharpen your sight to discover faults and follies in him; you may"sit and speak against your brother, slandering your own mothers son," if by any means you can make him out to be not so very immaculate or so very heavenly, after all, but that you may stand your ground and pass muster beside him in the end. What is all that but slaying your brother; slaying him virtually if not literally; slaying him very cruelly? And wherefore?"Because your own works are evil and your brothers righteous." Be not deceived. Be very sure that"in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." I draw an important practical inference from the views now submitted. They may teach us something of the nature, and what may be called the genesis, or natural history, of brotherly love.
We are accustomed, when we speak of the particular affection of brotherly love, as distinguished from the general affection of love or charity, to rest the distinction chiefly on the opposite characters of those who are the objects of the two affections respectively. Charity or love - I speak of it in its earthward, not its heavenward direction-has for its objects men, all men, indiscriminately; men, as such. Brotherly love has for its objects the children of God; the members of the family or brotherhood of Christs people; who have one Father, one Lord and elder Brother, one Spirit, one hope, one home. We love all men with a love of benevolence; we love the brethren with a love of congeniality and delight. So far as it goes, this is of course a true account.
But does not Johns statement here suggest a somewhat different, or at least an additional, explanation?
May not the root of the distinction lie in the subject of the affection rather than in its objects; in the person loving, rather than in the persons loved? Is not the character of the affection determined by the character of him in whom it; dwells, even more than by the character of him to whom it goes forth?
At all events, when my character is changed, the character of all my love, - let who may be its objects, and let it have ever so many objects, differing ever so widely, - is changed in a corresponding manner. There is not one of those I loved before whom I love now as I used to do. My love to every one of them is a quite new love. The wife of my bosom, the child of my house, the servant and stranger within my gates, the beggar at my door, the queen reigning over me, the companion of my leisure, the partner of my business, the holy man of God, the wretched prodigal, the child of misery and vice - there is not one of them whom I love now as I did before. It is a new affection that I feel to every one of them.
And what is it that is new about it? Is it not that it is all now brotherly love? Is it not that one and all of the varieties of natural affection, - not stifled, not lost or merged, but subsisting still, as distinct as ever and stronger than ever, - have infused into them this one common element of brotherhood in the Lord? In me, in my heart, there is brotherly love to every one; equal brotherly love to. all.
It does not call forth the same response from all; it has not the same free course with respect to all. In some, alas! it is deeply wounded, meeting with what sorely tries and grieves it, as when the sad cry breaks forth,"Who hath believed our report? " -"All day long have I stretched forth my hands to a perverse and gainsaying generation." In others, again, it finds a blessed, present recompense; and the fellowship of saints on earth becomes the foretaste of heavens joy. But is it not the same affection, real, true, deep brotherly love, that is so sorely vexed in the one instance, and so richly gratified in the other? Was it not the same affection in the heart of Jesus that caused him-to"rejoice in spirit," as he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said,"I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight"? - was it not, I ask, the very same affection that caused him to exclaim, as he drew near to the city, and wept over it,"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; and ye would not"?
XXV. BROTHERLY LOVE THE FRUIT AND TEST OF PASSING FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE - THE WORLDS HATRED - THE LOVE OF GOD.
"Marvel not, my brethren, if %he world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." - 1 John 3: 13-16. There is an emphatic meaning in the address (ver. i3),"my brethren." It prepares the way for the use of the first person"we" (ver. 14). You are of the company of the brethren, as I am. I address you as such, when I exhort you "not to marvel if the world hate you." For why should you not marvel at this? Why should you not count it strange or take it amiss.
For this, among other reasons: because we know, - you and I, as brethren, know, - that to love as brethren is a grace belonging entirely to the new life of which we are partakers. It is the very mark of our possessing that life. Why then should we marvel if the dead are incapable of it? It is the worlds nature to hate the godly; it was our nature once; and if it is not so now, it is because we have undergone a great change;"we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." It must be so. The absence of this brotherly love is, and must be, a fatal sign of death, and of continued death;"he that loveth not his brother abideth in death." For not to love a brother is to hate him; and to hate him is to murder him; and to murder him is to forfeit life:"Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Whereas, on the other hand, the presence of this brotherly love is a blessed sign of life; for it marks our oneness with the Living One; our insight into the manner of his love and our sympathy with it:"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
Here then we have, in broad contrast, the way of the world, which is death, and the way of God, which is life. It is the way of the world to hate, and so to hate as to murder. It is the way of God to love, and so to love as to lay down life to save. And it is in virtue of this contrast that the test holds good:"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
The worlds hatred; Gods love; these are what are here contrasted. And yet there is one point at least of partial similarity. The affection, in either case, fastens in the first instance upon objects opposed to itself. The world hates the brethren; God loves the world,"the world lying in the wicked one." And in a sense too the ends sought are similar. The world, which hates, would assimilate those it hates to itself, and so be soothed or sated; God, who loves, would assimilate those he loves to himself, and so have satisfaction in them. This indeed may almost be said to be a universal characteristic of sentient and intelligent mind; be it pure and benevolent or depraved and malevolent; be its ruling passion hatred or love. It is, so far, common to the wicked one and the Holy One. The wicked one, in whom the world lies, hates; and his hatred fastens Upon the brethren. In his hatred he will not scruple about murdering them outright in cruellest fashion. But he is as well, or even better pleased, if he succeeds in murdering them after a milder method; by getting them to listen to his wily speech. The Holy One loves; and his love fastens on the lost. It is a love in spite of which he must, at the last, acquiesce in the inevitable ruin of multitudes, whom alas! its manifestation fails to touch. But his heart is set on winning them to his embrace, and having them to be of one mind and nature with himself. And his love has this advantage over the opposite affection. Who ever heard of the wicked one laying down his life to secure the accomplishment of his object? - or any Cain who is of the wicked one?"But hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
I. Of the worlds hatred of the brethren two things are said: it is natural, and it is murderous.
In the first place, it is natural; not marvellous, but quite natural. The Lord prepared his disciples beforehand to expect it, warning them not to look for any other treatment at the worlds hands than he had met with. It should not, therefore, be matter of surprise to you if the world hate you. And yet it is sometimes apt to be so. Notwithstanding all warnings, and all the experience of others who have gone before him, the recent convert, the young Christian ; fresh, buoyant, enthusiastic, may fancy that what he has to tell must pierce all consciences and melt all hearts. He goes among his fellows, eager to appear in his new character, to bear his new testimony, to sing his new song. Alas! he comes in contact with what is like a wet blanket thrown in his face, cold looks and rude gestures of impatience, jeers and jibes, if not harsher usage still. Instead of the welcome he anticipated, as he hastened forth, with face all radiant from the heavenly fellowship, and lips divinely touched with a live coal from off the altar, crying, - I have found him, come and see; he meets with chilling indifference, or contempt, or anger. He is tempted to give up as hopeless the task of dealing with the dead. But no. Count it not strange, brother, that you fall into this trial. Why should you? Is their reception of you very different from what, but yesterday perhaps, yours would have been of one coming to you in the same character and on the same errand? Surely you know that love to the brethren, brotherly love, true Christian, Christ-like love - willing to give a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple, and welcome the least of the little ones for the Masters sake - is no plant of natural growth in the soil of corrupt humanity; that, on the contrary, it is the fruit of the great change by means of which a poor sinner"passes from death unto life." Have you not found it to be so in your own case? Would anything short of that have made you love the brethren, and hear them gladly, when speaking in a brotherly way to you?. Would anything else have overcome your hatred of them? Then "marvel not," nor be impatient,"if the world hate you."
Again, secondly, the worlds hatred of the brethren is murderous, as regards its objects:"He that loveth not his brother abideth in death: whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.""Loveth not,""hateth,""murdereth!" There is a sort of dark climax here! Not loving is intensified into hating, and hating into murdering. The three, however, are really one; as the Lord teaches in the sermon on the mount, to which undoubtedly John here points (Matt. 5: 21-24). Not to love is to hate; and to hate is to murder. If, therefore, you would be safe from the risk of being a murderer, see that you are not a hater. And if you would not be in danger of being a hater, see that you are a lover.
It is a solemn lesson that is thus taught; and it would seem to be meant for you who are apt to marvel if the world hate you, as well as for the world that hates you. In that application, it may suggest some important practical thoughts.
I. When Abel first caught a glimpse of Cains state of mind towards him, he might feel as one who painfully dreamed. He must have been slow to take it in. They had grown up together in the same home; worked and played together; prayed together at the same mothers knee; listened together to the same fathers teaching; done one another many offices of kindness; enjoyed much pleasant intercourse in house and field. While that strange conversation about God and his worship goes on, Abel is startled as he sees Cains dark frown betokening growing wrath. Hate gleams more and more from those kindling eyes. Is it fear that pales the meek martyrs face, or is it anger that agitates his frame, as that hoarse voice threatens and that cruel arm is raised? Not so. It is horrible surprise at first; and then deep concern, tender pity, bitter grief. That Cain has ceased to love him as a brother, - that is what chiefly wounds him; wounds him more keenly than the stroke that fells him to the ground. Has he lost, can he not win back, a brothers love? Is there such hatred, so murderous, in one who is still so dear to him? Will he rather slay me than taste and see how good our God is who has provided for us both the same sin-offering of the lamb? It is a bitter sorrow. But it is not the bitterness of a sense of his own wrong; it is the bitterness of the melancholy insight he has got into his poor brothers dark and miserable heart.
Ah! think ; - when you come in contact with some one to whom you would fain commend the Saviour and the sacrifice you have yourself found so precious, - an old familiar friend perhaps with whom your intercourse has been wont to be frequent and sweet, - a humble neighbour who has often been glad to see you under his lowly roof, to accept your alms in his poverty or your kindly sympathy in his distress; and when you begin to discover that, as a child of God, you are not so welcome now as you were when like himself you were a child of the world; when he treats you coldly or rudely, and makes it plain that he would fain in any way get rid of you ; - think rather of his case than of your own. It may be hard for you to bear with his irritability and incivility; and you may be provoked, if not to retaliate, yet to let him alone and make your escape. But consider him; and have pity upon him. This malignant spirit of dislike to righteousness, and to him whose works are righteous, is far worse for him to cherish than for you to suffer. Leave him not. Rather stay by him and plead with him; even though his hatred rise to murder.
2. For you need, for yourselves, and with special reference to the worlds hatred of you, to be ever on your guard, lest somewhat of the old dark spirit should creep in again into your own hearts. And remember it may insinuate itself very insidiously and stealthily. Consider once more the stages or steps: not loving; hating; murdering. Ah! how easily may the first of these begin: not loving. It is a simple negation; no taking of any positive step; but only, as it were, not taking any step at all; or not this or that particular step; giving up; letting alone; using less energy of prayer and pains; feeling less interest. Who is it that you have ceased, or are ceasing, to love with a true brotherly love like Christs?
Is it one still unconverted and unsaved? You have been dealing with him, as you think, faithfully and affectionately; pleading with him for Christ, and with Christ for him. You have had much patience, and have persevered long. Nor has it been mere taskwork with you; it has been a work of love. You have felt a real concern for his soul, a real longing for his salvation. But somehow the case is not very hopeful; it was not very hopeful at first, and it is becoming less so, or at least not more so. You are getting reconciled to the idea of failure and disappointment. You are not at first conscious of a diminished regard for your poor brother; but you are becoming less sanguine, and gradually less earnest. The work of love becomes more like taskwork now. You will do your duty; you will continue to be kind to him, to warn and exhort him, to set Christ before him, and urge him to believe and live. But there is less cordiality in what you do and say; you bestow less of your heart upon him. This may be natural, in a sense and measure perhaps unavoidable, and not altogether unreasonable. There may be a limit to your earnest striving, in love, with an obdurate sinner, as there is a limit to the striving, in love, of Gods own Spirit with him. But beware. It is not because he ceases to love that the Spirit ceases to strive. See that it be not otherwise with you; that it be not your ceasing to love that makes you cease to strive. If it be Christs mind that you should shake off the dust of your feet as a testimony of judgment against any one whom you have been plying with the testimony of mercy, he will make that plain enough to you by unmistakeable indications of his will. And you will see all the more clearly, and judge all the more fairly, if there be no ceasing to love; no growing coldness and indifference; no feeling of a sort of apathetic acquiescence in the inevitableness of that poor souls fate. No such feeling is there in the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem. Beware, 1 repeat, of any such feeling insinuating itself into your bosom. Not to love, with a love that yearns to save, and-weeps rivers of waters for the lost, is to hate; and to hate is to murder."Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation."
Or is it one of Christs little ones; one of the fatherless and widows whom you visit in their affliction; one whose feet you have counted it a privilege to wash? The service has been a delight; that suffering saints chamber has been to you a Bethel. You have got in it far more than you have given of spiritual refreshment and consolation. So you say and feel, under the impulse of your first love for that brother in Christ. But on further acquaintance you find, or think you find, things in him or about him that are fitted to damp and repel your ardent advances. He is not so perfect as you thought; his person not so pleasant; his room not so tidy. Infirmities come out; disagreeable incidents occur; rude friends interfere. It is not romance now, but reality. You are not quite so enthusiastic as you were in your esteem of him, or quite so frequent and regular in your calls upon him. A sort of weariness comes over you when you knock at his door; a sort of distasteful recoil arrests you as you enter his chamber. It is plain that your Christian admiration, your brotherly love towards him, is not exactly what it was; not so glowing and so gushing. It may be as real and genuine; it may be even more trustworthy, because it is more sober. If so, it is well. But beware. It may be otherwise. There may be an approximation to a state of mind not quite so right or safe ; - " not loving your brother," ceasing to love him as your brother in Christ, allowing natural or accidental causes of estrangement or indifference to cool your brotherly affection. And what then? May there not come something worse? A certain half-unconscious dislike; a certain pleasure, even in hearing him ridiculed or defamed; a not unwilling participation in the idle talk that, exaggerating defects, and overlooking or misrepresenting excellencies, would take away his fair name and reputation, and play the murderer as regards his Christian character and standing?
Be on your guard against this spirit of the world finding harbour again in your breasts. I speak to you who have"passed from death unto life," and who know what it is to love the brethren; to love all men with a true brotherly love in the Lord, a love that looks on them as immortal beings, having near them a Saviour dying for them, having in them a Spirit striving with them, having before them a Father waiting to be gracious. Even you need to be warned against the worlds evil temper of dislike and envy. Consider how insidious it is. It begins with what may attract little observation and awaken little alarm; a change, scarcely noticeable, or if noticed easily explained by altered circumstances, sobering age, sad experience, repeated disappointment, or any of the thousand causes that make the heart beat less wildly as time rolls on. Consider also its deadly danger. The"not loving," or not loving so purely and so truly, comes to be"hating, avowed or unavowed, distaste, disinclination, displeasure, dislike; estrangement, suspicion, envy. And to hate is to"murder;" one way ar other, by neglect or by calumny, by ill thoughts or ill words or ill deeds, it murders. Consider, finally, how natural it is ;so natural that only your"passing from death unto life" can rid you of it, and make you capable of its opposite. You need not marvel if the world thus hate; fi)r it is its nature. Nor need you marvel that you should still require to be exhorted not thus to hate; for it is your nature too. Grace may overcome it; grace alone can do so. And even grace can do so only through continual watchfullness and prayer, continual recognition of the life to which you pass from death, and continual exercise of the love which is the characteristic of that life.
II. Of this love, as of the hatred, two things are said. In the first place, it is natural now to the spiritual mind; natural as the fruit and sign of the new life ;"We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." It is natural to us, in our old state of death, to hate; it is, or should be, natural to us, in our new state of life, to love. For our life is our participation with Christ in his life; and his life, like the Fathers, is manifested in love; or is love. Our life, therefore, is also love; it is our loving as the Father loves, and as the Son loves. And this, secondly, implies that the love in question is the very opposite of the murderous hatred of the devil; it is self-sacrificing, like the love of God himself:"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (ver. 16).
It is a high ideal of this love to men as brethren that is set before us. It is sympathy with God in his love to us; and in that love as measured by his laying down his life for us. Whom does he thus love? Us: and all such as we are; or as we were, when his love reached us."Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.""When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." For us sinners, for us without strength, for us ungodly, he laid down his life. And it was a brotherly love to us that moved him to do so. It was as our brother that he sacrificed himself for us. It is that we may be his brethren that he would have us to perceive his love in sacrificing himself for us, and to believe it.
Oh! to be enabled to enter more and more into this brotherly love of Jesus; to apprehend its nature; to imbibe its spirit! Truly it is the opposite of the hatred of a brother which marks one abiding in death. That hatred prompts to take away anothers life; this love to lay down ones own."Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer ;" but here is one so loving his brother, that to save him alive he sacrifices himself. Cain was bent on slaying his brother: Abel, was anxious, at the risk of death, to win Cain. We, in our hatred, because he was righteous and we were evil, slew a greater than Abel. He loved us with more than Abels love when"he laid down his life for us."
We know that we have passed from death unto life, when we love our fellow-men with a brotherly love like his; when we are so bent on saving and blessing them, that we are willing not only to give our whole lives for their good, but to suffer all loss, even death itself, at their hands. Even when they are still our enemies, because the enemies of our Lord; even while they hate us, and persecute us, and say all manner of evil against us; how does it become us still to love them as brethren, with a love that would seek them as brethren, and welcome them as brethren, and live and die for them as brethren! Can they be more hostile or injurious to us, than we were to Christ when he loved us and laid down his life for us? Have they wearied us as we have wearied him? or provoked us as we have provoked him? or pierced us as we have pierced him? How shall we not continue to care for them and plead with them, as Christ continued to care for us and plead with us, - oh! how long, how patiently, how tenderly, - if by any means he might bring us to receive him as laying down his life for us! And when, by his Spirit, they are moved and melted, and on the footing of that great propitiation reconciled to God and to us; how shall we set bounds to the warmth and cordiality of our embrace of them as now our brethren indeed! Can we grudge any service or sacrifice to show our love, even should it be the laying down of our lives for them, as he laid down his life for us
This is our security against the evil spirit of Cain coming in again to trouble us. It is to make full proof of the better spirit of Abel, or of him in whom Abel, like us, believed, even Jesus, who so loved us, even when dead in sins, that he gave himself for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; and who so loveth us, as his brethren, for whom he laid down his life, that he would have us to be sharers as his brethren with him in all the love with which the Father loveth him and all the glory which the Father giveth him.
XXVI. RIGHTEOUSNESS OR TRUTH IN BROTHERLY LOVE - ESSENTIAL TO THE ANSWER OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE IN OURSELVES AND BEFORE GOD.
"But whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." - 1 JOHN 3: 17-21.
The lesson here is sincerity. It is with special reference to the grace or affection of brotherly love, that this lesson is in the first instance enforced; and the manner in which the subject is introduced is noticeable.
The highest possible model or ideal has been presented for imitation:"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Then immediately, by way of contrast, the testing case put is made to turn on one of the simplest and commonest instances of the exercise of human pity:"But whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" It looks almost like irony or sarcasm. Your love to the brethren, to men as brethren, should reach to your laying down your lives for them. Yes! And it would, if that were necessary, or might do them good. So you say, and think. But what if, having this worlds good, and seeing your brother have need, you shut up your bowels of compassion from him? How then dwelleth the love of God in you? Is that loving as God loves?
Beware of self-deception in this matter. It is easy to imagine what you would do to win or help a brother; and yeti may please yourselves by carrying the imagination to any length you choose. If a great act of self-sacrifice would avail, you would not shrink from it. But what if you grudge some far readier and easier service, a gift to the needy out of your abundance, or a visit of sympathy to the widow out of your leisure, or a word in season to the weary out of the fullness of your own happier experience, or a helping hand to snatch a perishing soul from the pit and set him on the rock on which the Lord has set you? You will lay down your life for one who is, or who may be, a brother! And yet you cannot lay down for him your love of this worlds good; your love of ease and selfish comfort; your fastidious taste, that shrinks from contact with squalid wretchedness and vulgar ways; your proud or shy reserve, that keeps the humble at a distance; your false shame, that sends you in upon yourself when you should be sowing beside all waters.
Thus somewhat sternly Johns tender expostulation - -for it is very tender - is introduced:"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue." There is enough in the world of that sort of love."Let us love in deed and in truth." It is only thus that we can"know ourselves to be of the truth," or to be true, and so can"assure our hearts before God." We can have no such assurance if our consciousness hints that there is guile in our spirit."For if our heart condemn us," how can we face him"who is greater than our heart and knoweth all things ;" all things about our heart; its secret windings and subtle refuges of lies? It is only"if our heart condemn us not," - condemn us not, that is, as unrighteous and insincere in the matter on hand, - it is only then that we can"have confidence toward God."
Thus John brings out into prominence a general principle connecting conscience and faith, with immediate reference to his particular topic of brotherly love.
The principle may be briefly stated. There can be no faith where there is not conscience; no more of faith than there is of conscience; no firm faith without a clear conscience. In plain terms, I cannot look my God in the face if I cannot look myself in the face. In a sense, I must be able to justify myself if I would took on God as justifying me; I must be able to acquit myself of guile if I would reckon on his acquitting me of guilt. If my heart condemns me, much more must he condemn me who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things. But must not my heart always condemn me? Must I not be always confessing that my heart condemns me, and that therefore the searcher of it must condemn me much more? No, This is not the language of legitimate confession, although it is often used as such. On the contrary, it is rather a protest against the very sort of confession which it is too commonly employed to express. It rebukes all conventionalism; all formal routine or covert guile; all false dealing with myself and with God. It demands, in worship and fellowship, that I approach him who is greater than my heart and who knoweth all things, as one whose heart does not condemn him.
Reserving the special application of this principle to the grace of brotherly kindness, I ask you for the present to consider it more generally with reference to the divine love; :first, as you have to receive it by faith; and, secondly, as you have to retain it and act it out in your loving walk with God and man.
I. I am a receiver of this love. And it concerns me much that my faith, by which I receive it, should be strong and steadfast; which, however, it cannot be unless my conscience, in receiving it, is guileless. David experienced this; and he describes his experience in the thirtysecond Psalm. There was a time, he says, when he kept silence; when there was guile in his spirit. Then he had no rest. He was unwilling to be thoroughly searched and tried by God; to have the hurt of his soul otherwise than slightly healed; to have the deadly sore probed to the bottom, that the oil and balm to be poured in might reach the root of the disease. If his heart condemned him; and there was one greater than his heart, knowing all things, whose"hand day and night was heavy upon him" (ver. 3, 4). lie got enlargement and assurance only when he tried the more excellent way of full and frank confession, apprehending full and free forgiveness (ver. 5-7). Then his heart did not condemn him, and he had confidence towards God; being of the truth, he assured his heart before God.
It must be noticed, however, that the ground of this assurance or confidence is not the consciousness of integrity, thus declared to be indispensable, but that gracious dealing on the part of God for which it makes way. The negative form of Johns language is not without its meaning here - "if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." It describes simply the removal of an obstacle; a hindrance or obstruction taken out of the way. A haze or mist of earth is dispelled, that the sun from heaven may give light and warmth. A work of the devil is undone, that the work of God may be wrought. For this inward misgiving, this secret consciousness of insincerity,"our heart condemning us," is of that wicked one. It comes of his lie still heeded, and, as it were, half believed. We must let it go, that the truth may make us free.
The plain question then is, Are you dealing truly with God as he deals truly with you? Are you meeting him, as he meets you, in good faith? Is reserve on your part laid aside, as it is thoroughly laid aside on his part? He makes advances to you in his gospel, advances most generous and free; he gives you assurances most firm and faithful. These are the ground and warrant of your confidence before him; these alone, and not anything in yourselves, in your own consciousness of integrity, or in your conscience acquitting you of deceit. But they can be so only when they have their free course and their perfect work in you. And that they cannot have if there is guile in your spirit, if your heart condemns you.
May not this be the explanation of that want of assurance of which some anxious souls complain? They are not at ease; they have not comfort, peace, liberty: they feel as if they could not win Christ, so as to be sure of being in him. They see how complete he is for them, as well as how complete they would be if once in him; and they would fain win him and be found in him. But they cannot. Why not? What is there between him and them? Guilt it cannot be; for guilt of deepest dye he takes away; but it may be guile. Sin it cannot be; but it may be silence; keeping silence. Let them not lay the blame of their unquiet and unsatisfied state of mind upon God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit; upon the gospel way of salvation, or upon the gospel call. All the persons of the Godhead are in favour of their assuring their hearts before God. In the Father, they have rich, free, sovereign grace; altogether gratuitous; unbought and unconditional. In the Son, they have an infinitely precious atonement, an infinitely meritorious work of righteousness, meeting all claims in law against them and upon them. In the Spirit, they have an almighty agency, shutting them up into Christ, and taking of what is his to show to them. Then in the gospel, they have all this love of the one God,- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, - made over to them, if they will but have it, without price and without reserve; just in order that they may assure their hearts before God. The whole plan of salvation contemplates that result, and makes fun and adequate provision for its being realised.
If it is not, why is it not? Look well to this question, my brother. See if there is not in you some double-dealing, for which "your heart condemns you." Is all straightforward? Is all real and downright earnest with you? Or are you toying and playing with spiritual frames as if it were all a mere affair of sentimentalism? Or are you brooding over your own gloomy thoughts with that sort of morbid self-satisfaction that feeds on doubt and despair. Thus, first, is it a real thirsting for God, a genuine and strong desire for his face and favour, that is moving you; such as will break through obstructions and "take the kingdom by force"? Or is it the old Israelitish temper of peevish and petulant discontent, rather pleased than not to have to complain that you cannot find the living water? And is all right as regards your perfect willingness to fall in with Gods plan? Is there no disingenuousness here; no dislike of being indebted wholly to free grace; no hesitancy about letting go your last hold of the prop on which you have been leaning, and casting yourself, as by a leap in the dark, into the arms of the waiting Saviour Above all, thirdly, is there a clear understanding as to the terms on which you would choose to be with God? Is there no shrinking from the footing on which Christ would place you with his Father and your Father, his God and your God? Is there a sort of half-consciousness in yon that you would really apprehend and welcome the mediation ,of Christ better than you do, if it were meant merely to ,establish a relation between God and you, so far amicable as to secure your being let alone now and let off at last; and that in consideration of certain specified and ascertainable acts of homage; without its being insisted on that God and you should become so completely one? If your heart misgive you and condemn you on such points as these, it is no wonder that you have not peace with him"who is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things."
But, beloved, now your hearts condemn you not! "You are of the truth" you are true yourselves, and truth is your object; the truth ; the truth of God. Then you can have no objection to take in the truth, full and entire, no matter what humiliating discoveries it gives you of your own character and state; or what demands it makes upon you for submission to the sovereignty and grace of God. You have no quarrel with the gospel method of salvation for anything in it that abases you and exalts the Lord alone; if you are "of the truth." Nor can you now be cleaving to any righteousness of your own. You cut the last cord that binds you to the old natural way of making your peace with God, and sink into the embrace of him who is himself your peace. And it is peace, immediate, full, free, unreserved, that you are eager to have. No truce or compromise will content you now. You cannot be too completely reconciled to God, or brought into friendship too intimate, or fellowship too close and confidential, with your Father in heaven.
Is it so? In all this your hearts condemn you not. Then why should you not "have confidence toward God"? Is it not precisely thus that he is willing, in truth and faithfulness, to deal with you? Then taste and see that God is good; suffer the love of God to dwell in you, without obstruction on your part or any partial dealing any more. II. Not only as receiving Gods love does it concern me to see to it that my heart condemns me not; but as retaining it, and acting it out, in my walk and conduct. Otherwise,"how dwelleth the love of God in me"?
The apostle Paul speaks of "holding faith and a good conscience; "holding the mystery of faith in a good conscience."Herein," he says,"do I exercise myself, that I have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward men." This was, in a large measure, the secret, or at least one indispensable condition, of his confident boldness, as a worker and a witness for Christ. His heart did not misgive or condemn him, as to any part of his habitual demeanour and behaviour. If it bad, he would have been instantly smitten with a sort of moral or spiritual paralysis. For the absence of conscious, or half-conscious, guile, is not more essential to your standing fight with God, as regards your acceptance and peace, than it is to. your continuing to stand right with him in the whole work of faith and labour of love by which you have to glorify him.
What a source of imbecility and unhappiness, even for the Lords own people, is there in this;"their heart condemning them!" Peters heart must have condemned him, more or less consciously, when he entered the high-priests hall, and mingled with the servants. What had he to do $here at all; getting in as he did; taking the place he did, and the character? Could he fail to have some misgivings, as he stood beside the fire warming himself, like any ordinary onlooker, while false testimony, that he could have contradicted, was swearing away his masters life?
He "kept silence" and slunk away among the menials of the office. He must have felt that either he should not have been there at all, or if there, he should have been at his masters side. He could not"assure his heart before God," or"have confidence toward God." It is all the less surprising, in these circumstances, that he should have fallen when sharper trial came. He was not found"holding faith and a good conscience."
May we not thus account for the want of joy and power that too often characterises your practical Christianity? Your experience is felt to be lacking in life; your influence somehow does not tell. May it not be because"your heart condemns you"?"Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth." Is that happiness yours? Is there nothing in which you allow yourself about which you have a doubt? Have you a latent suspicion that you are not quite acting up to the standard of attainment at which you ought to aim; that you are not following out your convictions to the full extent to which they might lead you ; that you are tolerating what may be at least of questionable expediency? You may have your excuses; your reasons why you cannot be expected to be altogether so heavenly as one, or so self-denied as another, or so decided and outspoken as a third, or so emphatic a protester against the worlds follies as a fourth. But do these reasons satisfy you? Do they keep your mind at ease? Or have you occasional qualms. It is a great matter if the eye be single; if your heart do not condemn you. The consciousness of integrity is, of itself, a well-spring of peace and power in the guileless soul. The clear look, the erect gait, the firm step, the ringing voice, of an upright man, are as impressive upon others as they are expressive of himself. But that is not all. The assurance or confidence of which John speaks, is not self-assurance or selfconfidence. No. It is "assurance before God;" it is"confidence toward God."
Why does the apostle make "our heart condemning us" so fatal to our"assuring our heart before God"? It is because "God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." He assumes that it is with God we have to do; and that we feel this. Our own verdict upon ourselves is comparatively a small affair; we ask the verdict of God."With me," says Paul,"it is a very small matter that I should be judged of mans judgment; yea I judge not mine own self." I am not consciously self-convicted;"yet am I not thereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord."
If indeed my heart condemns me, there can be little room for question as to what I am. Even then, however, what is fatal to my peace and power, is not my heart condemning me ; but Gods being greater than my heart, and knowing all things. My own heart is not likely to condemn me without God condemning me also, and still more. But does it follow that, if my heart acquit me, he must do the same? The contrary, rather, might be inferred. My heart not condemning me might be no proof or presumption that God did not condemn me, He may not acquit me as easily as I acquit myself; for he is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things. There is, therefore, not a little grace here; in our being permitted to infer, from our own heart not condemning us, a like acquittal on the part of God.
And yet how should it not be so if we are his children? Does not the Spirit witness with our spirit that we are so? And that, not merely generally, with reference to the general question of our being Gods children; but specifically, with reference to our being at each successive moment in our Christian experience, and each successive step in our Christian life, his children; his children, not in right of a past act of adoption and work of regeneration, but in virtue of a present filial heart and filial frame of mind towards him. It is thus that "the Spirit witnesseth with our spirit."
Our spirit witnesses first; faithfully; for we are upon honour. How is it with you, brother, with reference to this present duty; this present trial? What are you thinking and feeling about it? That it is hard, too hard; that too much is asked of you, or laid upon you; but that you must do, or bear, as best you may, simply because you cannot help it? These are servile thoughts and feelings; they breathe the spirit of bondage, not the spirit of adoption. Your heart condemns you; your own spirit witnesses against you; the Divine Spirit therefore cannot witness for you. You cannot lift an honest filial eye to your Father; for"he is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things." But if now, by grace, yea get the victory over these risings of the old slavish mind in you, and have again somewhat of the same mind that was in him who was ever saying, "Abba, Father," as to every business, every cup, every cross; ah! then your heart condemns you not of servile guile, and the sullen, dogged sense of bondage is all gone. Your own spirit witnesses, not of past but of present sonship. It is"Abba, Father," with you and in you, here and now; you are here and now crying,"Abba, Father." And another there is who is in you here and now crying,"Abba, Father ;" the Spirit of adoption; the Spirit of Gods own Son. So he witnesses with your spirit that you are the sons of God; that you are so here and now, at this moment, in the doing of this painful business, in the drinking of this bitter cup, in the bearing of this heavy cross. And thus he gives you great enlargement and assurance, great boldness and confidence, as you walk abroad in the light of Gods loving face shining upon you, to manifest his love everywhere and always among your fellowmen, his love as"dwelling in you."
For I must advert again to the immediate occasion of this appeal of John on the subject of sincerity or truthfullness. It is brotherly love of which he is discoursing; the duty of loving all men as brethren; loving every man as a brother; with a true and real brotherly love; a love that has respect to his being, or becoming, a brother in the Lord. Judge yourselves here, that you may not be judged. What says your heart, your conscience, as to this matter? Does it acquit you? Does it absolve you from the blame of blood-guiltiness? Paul could take the people among whom he had lived and laboured to record, the day he bade them farewell, that he was pure from the blood of them all; for he had not shunned to declare unto them the whole counsel of God. May I venture to do so? Woe is me! Can you venture? Have you done what you could? Are you doing what you can?. Or have you misgivings?. Here, a stumblingblock is put in the way of an inquirer by some sad inconsistency, or some cold repulse!
There, a precious opportunity of showing a little kindness, or speaking a word in season, is lost irretrievably?. Ah! are these hands of yours clean which you hold out to some dear friend, or some well-disposed neighbour, or some stranger at your gate; clean from the sin of careless dealing with that man, as regards the welfare of his soul for eternity? Are you conscious of indifference or insensibility about his spiritual state being your prevailing temper, in your intercourse with this or that person in your house, or in your social circle? Are you conscious of estrangement, alienation, distance, dislike? Does your conscience tell you that you are not treating him kindly as regards his own good, or not treating him faithfully as regards the claims of God? Ah l then, you cannot face your own heart; and how then can you, with open eye and upward gaze, face your God? If there be even a lurking suspicion of duty possibly neglected, or of wrong possibly done, rest not till all is righted."If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first he reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
And generally I would urge the vast importance of guilelessness and unreservedness, in the whole domain of your spiritual experience. Why is it that we see so many joyless, cheerless, one might almost say useless Christians? Why so many living and walking in such a way as to give the notion of godliness being all gloomy doubt, painful discipline, selfabsorbing anxiety, listless musing? Awake! Arise! Shake off the chains that bind you. Go forth in open day, under the open sky, to meet your God and Father, with your heart open to him, as his heart is open to you. Stand fast in the liberty with which Christ makes you free. Be upright. Be honest, frank, and fearless. Be yourselves; out and out yourselves. Dare to avow yourselves what you are, to God, to your own hearts, to all men. Be of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; yourselves time; receiving all truth, declaring all truth; everywhere, and always. Be honest, thoroughly honest, in the closet, in the family, in the market-place, in the parlour. Be transparently honest to yourself and to your brother. Be honest to your God and Father in heaven. Do but consent to treat him as he treats you. His whole heart, he himself wholly, is yours; all his love; all his fullness. Let your whole heart be his. Be you yourselves his; with no reserve; be altogether, now and for ever, his.
XXVII. RIGHTEOUSNESS ESSENTIAL TO OUR PLEASING GOD AND TO HIS HEARING US.
"And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." - -1 JOHN 3: 22, 23.
This is one of the strongest assertions that we have in Scripture of the efficacy of good works, as bearing on our relation to God. It has no reference, however, to the question of our acceptance or justification; it raises an ulterior question. It manifestly connects a certain privilege with a certain practice, in the case of true Christians, considered as already in a state of grace. And it connects them, so as to make the privilege dependent upon the practice. The privilege is, that "whatsoever we ask, we receive of him." This is partly an explanation of the previous statement (ver. 21), and partly an additional thought. The"confidence which we have toward God" is such as emboldens us to ask what we will. And we ask confidently, because we know that God will not refuse us anything that we ask. But it is the fact itself here asserted, and not our sense or apprehension of it, that chiefly claims attention. It is certainly a strong assertion, "Whatsoever we ask we receive of him." And it is altogether unqualified; absolute and unrestricted. We are on such terms with God that he will deny us nothing ; - that is the plain unequivocal meaning of what John says. And it is not to be modified or explained away by any supposed exceptions or reservations. It must be taken in all its breadth as literally true, in connection with the practice on which it is dependent.
That practice is obedience,"we keep his commandments;" - or the performance of good works,"we do those things which are pleasing in his sight." For there are not two separate acts or exercises here spoken of; but only one. "Doing things pleasing in Gods sight" is not something over and above"keeping his commandments," or something different from it. That cannot be. For it is not merely doing things, any things, that may be pleasing in his sight; but doing "those things;" which must mean doing the things which he has commanded, and none other.
Is, then, this second clause a mere redundancy? Nay, it adds much to the meaning. For one thing, it implies that when "we keep his commandments," or do the things commanded, we do them as "things pleasing in his sight" - we take that view of them in the doing of them. .And further, it implies that God is really pleased with them. They are done in obedience to his commandments, and so done as to be in very truth"pleasing in his sight." They do please him; and it is because they do please him, that he is so pleased with us who do them, that he can :refuse us nothing that we choose to ask. He derives real gratification from what we do for him. What then will he not do for us?
To make this view of the matter clear, let us take our Lord himself as our example, in respect of both of these sayings of his beloved disciple.
I."We keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." So John writes; and so also Jesus speaks;"He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (John 8: 29). That was the hold which he had on the Father. It is, in a measure, the same hold that John says we have on the Father."I do always those things that please him.""We do those things that are pleasing in his sight." The language is the very same; the sense and spirit in which it is used must be the very same also. Let us consider it as used by Jesus; let us try to enter into his mind and heart in using it. There is indeed in it, as used by him, a depth of meaning which we dare not hope, or even try, to fathom. It touches what must ever be an inscrutable mystery; the ineffable mutual complacency of the great Three in One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit : and especially the Fathers ineffable complacency in the Son o£ his love, as fulfilling on earth and in time the counsel of the Godhead which dates from everlasting in heaven. But Jesus uttered the words for our sakes; and as expressing a human feeling which we may understand, and with which he would have us to sympathise. That human feeling in the bosom of Jesus must have been very simple, and intensely filial; realising intensely his filial relation to the Father, and his filial oneness with the Father. There is, if I may venture so to speak, a childlike simplicity, a sort of artless straightforwardness, in his saying so confidingly, so lovingly, so naturally, ,, I do always those things that please him." It is almost as if the words came out, halfunconsciously, from his lips; as if he were thinking aloud. And certainly it is not of himself and his merit that he is thinking; but of the Father and the Fathers love.. I always please him; what I do always pleases him; is .the quiet comfort he takes in a trying moment. For it is indeed a trying moment. He has the cross in view. Men, displeased with him, are to"lift him up," and leave him to die in his agony alone. Not so the Father. He leaves me not alone; he is with me; "for I do always those things that please him."
Somewhat similar are the circumstances in which John would have us to say;"we do those things that are pleasing in his sight." We are not to marvel if the world hate us; the source of its hatred we know (ver. 13). And we know also the source of that better spirit of brotherly love with which it is to be met (ver. 14-16). Only let there be, on our part, open, guileless, unreserved sincerity (ver. 17-21). Let our heart, as in the sight of God, acquit us of all secret dishonesty. Let there be truth in the inner man; the truth in love. Then we have the confidence of little children toward God. And, as little children, we join with John, and with Jesus, in saying, - Whatever the world may do to us, we are not alone; the Father is with us, and heareth us, for "we do those things that are pleasing in his sight."
There is nothing then here of a legal spirit; nothing of the Pharisees self-righteous gratitude: "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are." It is not thus that John asks us to join with him in saying"we do those things that are pleasing in Gods sight." Rather, he makes our saying this the very test of our entire freedom from all guile in our spirits; all that sort of guile which such prayer as the Pharisees implies. For the Pharisees prayer represents him as keeping Gods commandments, in so far as he does keep them, merely to gain a selfish end and serve a selfish purpose. If he cares about doing what pleases God at all, it is merely with that view. He may be in earnest, ever so much. It is the earnestness of one seeking to make terms with an adversary, and win his favour or forbearance by a measure of forced submission. It is the earnestness of one striving to effect a truce or compromise, on conditions ever. so severe, for a boon ever so far off, and apt to be lost after all. Take the man who is serving God most anxiously, and with most painstaking observance of the letter of the commandments, on that footing; on the footing of his having thus to win his way to such kind and measure of Gods countenance as he thinks he needs, or cares to have. Ask that man, as before God, and in the eye of his own conscience, Is all clear and open, free and forthflowing, between you and him whom you so painfully serve? Is there not, on the contrary, reserve and restraint; a holding back, as it were, of confidence on both sides; something still outstanding between him and you which makes you feel that all is hollow and unsatisfying?
Oh, to be converted, and become as little children! First, to be made willing as little children, that all this misunderstanding should be ended, and this breach thoroughly healed at once, and once for all, as the Father would have it to be, in the Son. And then, as little children, to know something of a little childs touching and artless simplicity, as we look with loving eye into the loving eye of the Father, and lovingly lisp out the touching words: "We keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." Therefore now, O humble and simple child of God, if, in saying this, you feel yourself to be identified with the holy child Jesus; if your saying it is really his saying it in you by his Spirit; if it is as one with him that you say it, or in all honesty would fain say it; do not hesitate, or have any scruple, from any apprehension of its being presumptuous, or any misgiving lest it should savour of self-righteousness. There can be no risk of that, if you say it in and with Christ. There was no self-righteousness in him; there could not be. For he began his work, himself already personally accepted as righteous; and it was as a Son that he learned obedience. He makes you one with himself in his acceptance and in his sonship. He asks you to let him make you thus one with himself; on the ground of his making himself one with you in your sin and death. You are as he is when you join with him in his saying, "I do always those things that please him." There is no self-righteousness here; scarcely even selfconsciousness. It is all direct, outward upward motion of the soul; the outgoing of filial trust and love and loyalty; the fond and guileless unreserve, one would say, of an unreflecting child, who would be amazed if any doubt were cast on his fathers being always with him, and always hearing him; for his heart bears him out in saying, with a childs simple and artless love, - I keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. Only make sure that with reference to this matter there is no guile in your spirit; that your heart does not condemn you. And there is one plain and practical test or safeguard. Your doing those things that are pleasing in Gods sight, is simply your keeping his commandments. If your heart is not right with God, you will be seeking to recommend yourself to him, by services or sacrifices that you think may give you some extra claim upon him, and almost lay him under obligation to you, as if you could benefit or profit him. You will be going about to establish or make good certain meritorious and tangible grounds of confidence, that may avail you when you have to plead with him in the judgment. But does not all that imply deceitful and double-dealing both with him and with yourselves? If you would really please him, he has told you how to do so. You are not to cast about for ways and means of winning his favour; his favour is freely yours, in his Son. And what now will he have at your hands? How, on the footing on which he would have you to be with him, are you to please him? How, but just as his own Son pleased him .? It was his meat to do the will of him that sent him, and to finish his work. He kept the Fathers commandments, and so abode in the Fathers love.
II."And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him." In this saying also we have the countenance of Jesus; for we find him using it:"Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" (John 11: 41, 42). It was beside the grave of Lazarus. What it was that he had been asking, is not said. So far as appears, the prayer for the answer to which he gives thanks consisted not of articulate words but of tears and groans. At all events he was heard; what he asked, whatever it was, he received of the Father. And while openly acknowledging this, for the sake of the bystanders, he is careful to explain that it is no exceptional case."Thou hearest me always ;""whatsoever I ask, I receive of thee always;" thou never refusest me anything. Why Jesus was so anxious, in this instance, publicly to connect the miracle he was intending to do with the Fathers hearing his secret prayer, it is perhaps useless to conjecture. It was a signal display of his power to overcome the corruption of the grave that he was about to give; that power which be is to put forth on a wider scale when he comes again. It was fitting, one might say, that in giving it he should, with more than ordinary explicitness and solemnity, carry the Father along with him. But his studied generalisation of his thanksgiving is remarkable."I knew that thou hearest me always." Never doth the Father leave me alone; for I do always those things that please him; and he heareth me always; I have his ear always; and whatsoever I ask I receive of him.
The Lords manner of asking varies much. He weeps. He groans in the Spirit. He offers up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears. He asks, sometimes, as it might seem, almost incoherently (John 12: 57). Once, at least, he asks conditional!y,"Father, if it be possible." But, be his manner of asking what it may, always the Father heareth him; always, whatsoever he asks, he receives of him.
"Thou hearest me always!" It is a blessed assurance. And the blessedness of it really lies, not so much in the good he gets from the Fathers hearing him, as in the Fathers hearing him itself; not so much in what he receives, as in his receiving it from the Father. For this is the charm, the joy, the consolation, of that access to the Father and that influence with the Father which you now have in common with the Son. It is not that you may enrich and gratify yourselves with what you win by asking from him. But it is literally that whatever you ask you receive of him, as his gift; the proof that he is ever with you and heareth you always. Do you not lay the stress on the "him"? Whatsoever you ask you receive of him." You might have to do with one as to whom your only consideration would be, how much you could get out of him or extract from him. There is a common proverb about quartering upon an enemy. And there is no little satisfaction in the idea that you have a powerful and wealthy patron at your command, on whose resources you may draw at pleasure. But it is not thus that you stand with God. In these other instances, the chief, if not the whole value of any influence you have, is merely the amount of actual benefit obtained. The asker cares little or nothing for the motive which leads the giver to give, or far the disposition towards himself that the gift implies and indicates. It is all the same to him, whether it be extorted by menace; or wrung reluctantly by importunity; or made matter of cold and cautious stipulation. So as only he gets, any how, and on any terms, a certain amount or quantity of what he wants, he is content. That is not the mind of Christ, when he says,"The Father is with me" "thou hearest me always." The support which this thought gives to him is not that it warrants him in demanding any personal benefit he may choose to specify, that would be pleasing to flesh and blood. No. It is its imparting to his inmost consciousness the sense of his being such a Son to the Father, so clear in the Fathers sight, that the Father can refuse him nothing. He may ask what he will; and he is sure to receive it of the Father.
Ah! how then shall I ask anything at all? If such is my position, in and with Christ, how shall I have the heart or the hardihood to ask anything at all of the Father, except only that he may deal with me according to his good pleasure? If I am really on such a footing with the Father that"he heareth me always," and"whatsoever I ask I receive of him;" if I have such influence with him; if, as his dear child, pleasing him, and doing what pleases him, I can so prevail with him that he can refuse me nothing; what can I say? What can I do? I can but cast myself into his arms and cry, Thou knowest better than I, O my Father! Father, thy will be done!
Yes. And under that blessed committal of all to him, what freedom may I not use? When told that I and my doings are so pleasing to him that I may ask what I will and it shall be done; the very abundance of the grace silences me. It is enough for me, Father, that such is my acceptance in thy sight. But can I wield the sceptre? Can I use so tremendous a power as this, that whatever I ask thee to do thou doest? Nay. I am thy servant. Undertake thou for me. Enough for me to be assured that I so find grace and favour in thy sight that I have but to ask, thee to do anything and it is done. Enough! Nay, more than enough! I can ask nothing on these terms, I must leave all to thee. But leaving all to thee, I pour out all the more freely my whole soul to thee, I spread out my whole case to thee. I speak to thee of all that is upon my mind and heart. I tell thee all my desire. My groaning is not hid from thee. Let us look in closing at the two specimen commandments, if one may so call them, or the two parts of the one specimen commandment, which John expressly mentions in this connection.
I."That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ." The keeping of this commandment is the doing of what is pleasing in the Fathers sight. It is so in proportion to the love with which he loveth the Son, and loveth us in the Son. We can do nothing that will please the Father more. It is what his heart is set on; that the Son of his love should be the object of our faith.
Is there not here a word in season for you, O sinner, whoever you are, however guilty and however helpless, poor and needy, lost and undone? You, as it might seem, are in no condition to keep Gods commandments so as to please him; and you cannot venture to ask anything, or to hope that you will receive anything, at his hands. Nay; but here is something that you may do, and that will be very pleasing to him."Believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ." It is true that he will not be pleased with your keeping any other commandment; but he will be pleased with your keeping that one. You may not be in circumstances to do anything else that will be pleasing in his sight; but you are in the very circumstances to do that which will please him best. He asks you if you will not do, him this pleasure, "to believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ." Be it that you cannot receive anything you ask otherwise than on the footing of your keeping his commandments and doing those things that are pleasing in his sight. Here is the commandment for you, here and now, to keep; here is the thing pleasing in his sight for you, here and now, to do. Without faith it is impossible to please God; but faith pleases him; it pleases him well. Then believe now. And take a right view of the duty of believing. It is not using a great liberty to believe on the name of Jesus; it is simply"keeping the commandment of God." The liberty is all the other way. You use a great liberty when you refuse to believe. Be not disobedient; displease not God by unbelief; rather please him by believing. And believing, ask what you will, and it shall be given you.
Keep on believing. Continue to believe more and more, simply because you see and feel it more and more to be"his commandment that you should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ." Unbelief, in you who have believed, is aggravated disobedience. And, as such, it is and must be especially displeasing to God. It is his pleasure that his Son should be known, trusted, worshipped, loved; honoured as he himself would be honoured. You cannot displease the Father more than by dishonouring the Son; refusing to receive him, and rest upon him, and embrace him, and hold him fast, and place full reliance upon him as redeemer, brother, friend. Do not deceive yourselves by imagining that there may be something rather gracious in your doubts and fears; your unsettled and unassured frame of mind; as if it betokened humility, and a low esteem of yourselves. Beware lest God see in it only a low esteem of his Son Jesus Christ. Beware of guile. May not your staggering, hesitating faith be but half. faith after all? May it not be that you are unwilling to be wholly Christs, and to have Christ wholly yours.
Can that be pleasing to God?"What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" asked the Jews, and the Lord replied:"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he has sent." Therefore let us believe; and let us be"strong in faith, giving glory to God." 2."And love one another as he gave this commandment. The keeping of this commandment of love, as well as the keeping of the former commandment of faith, is the doing of that which is very pleasing in Gods sight; and, therefore, in the keeping of it we may with much confidence reckon and rely on the assurance that "whatsoever we ask we shall receive of him" that "he will hear us always."
I do not know - who can tell me? What connection there was between the silent prayer of Jesus at tile grave of Lazarus, and the utterance of that voice of power,"Lazarus, come forth!" Evidently the Lord wished it to be seen and known that in some very special manner the Father was with him, and went along with him, in that great work."Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I know that thou hearest me always; but because of the people that stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." He would have it understood that he did the work as one whom the Father had on this occasion heard; as one whom "the Father heareth always," and whom "the Father hath sent." For he was to do it, not as a thing that might please himself, but as a thing that would please the Father. He"loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus," and he was about to manifest and gratify his love by a very signal proof and token. But he would have an men to observe that it was not merely on the impulse of a spontaneous burst of affection that he acted, but as doing what the Father commanded, and what would be pleasing in the Fathers sight. Loving, in that way, Martha and her sister and Lazarus, he knew that in the practical outgoing of his love towards them; in whatever loving words he was to say, and whatever loving works he was to do; he might be sure of the Father being with him. For "he pleased the Father ;" he sought to please the Father, and did please the Father. Therefore he was sure of receiving what he asked; sure of the Father hearing him then and hearing him always.
Go ye and do likewise. Love one another; love your brother; love as a brother every one with whom you have anything to do; love him with the love that would fain have him for a brother. And let your love still always be "the keeping of Gods commandment," and "the doing of what is pleasing in his sight." Let it not be, as it were, at your own hand that you love, but in obedience to the commandment of God. This may, in one view, be felt by you to be a sort of damper; a drawback upon the warm spontaneous flow of your affections. It may seem to detract from the generous enthusiasm of your good will and your good offices. It takes away the chivalry and romance of this virtue. It makes Christian philanthropy a very humble and homely duty. You are to go among your fellows, - not loving them of your own accord, and at your own discretion showing your love, - but loving them in obedience to"the commandment of God;" and in all the expressions and acts of your love, simply bent on doing what is"pleasing in his sight." But after all, if this is a lowlier, it is a far more becoming and safer position for you to occupy. And it is one in which, if you honestly occupy it, you may with all the greater confidence rely on his hearing you now, and always. You do good and communicate; you are fruitful in every good work; you wash the feet of saints; you visit the fatherless and widows; you speak a word in season to the weary; you stretch out a helping hand to all that need; not merely as indulging your own loving impulses, but rather as carrying out Gods loving purposes. You do these things because they are "well pleasing in his sight." Doing them thus, in singleness of eye, what encouragement have you to expect that he will be with you in the doing of them; that he will hear your prayer for those to whom you do them; and that whatsoever you ask on their behalf you will receive of him! But in all this, let us see to it that we are "of the truth ;" simple, guileless, upright; as regards our whole life and walk of faith and love. Only then can we have confidence before God that whatsoever we ask we shall receive of him. Let us lay to heart the Psalmists acknowledgment, - " If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" and his thanksgiving, - " But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me." Let us lay this to heart, not in any spirit of self-righteousness or vain-glory; but in simple · sincerity, as little children, honouring our Father; according to the quaint thought of an old writer" I find David making a complete syllogism, perfect in mood and figure. The first premiss being, If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me and the second, But verily ,God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer I look for his drawing the conclusion: Therefore I regard not iniquity in my heart. But no. When I expected him to put the crown on his own head, he places itt on Gods ; - Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. I like Davids logic better than Aristotles; that whatever be the premiss Gods glory is the conclusion."* Fullers Good Thoughts in Bad Times.
XXVIII.OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS ATTESTED BY OBEDIENCE, AS IMPLYING OUR ABIDING IN GOD, AND HIS ABIDING IN US BY THE SPIRIT GIVEN BY HIM TO US.
"And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth [abideth] in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." - 1 JOHN 3: 24; 4: 1.
This is another fruit of the keeping of Gods commandments; or another view of the blessedness of doing so. It ensures our abiding in God, and his abiding in us; and that in a manner that may be ascertained and verified. Two practical questions are thus virtually put and answered.
I. How may we abide in God? So abide in him as to have him abiding in us? By keeping his commandments. How may we know that he abides in us? By the Spirit which he giveth us, - and giveth us in a way that admits of the gift being verified by trial.
I. In the keeping of Gods commandments there is this great reward, that he that doeth so"dwelleth in God, and God in him." Negatively, it has been already shown that there can be no such mutual indwelling if there is on our part disobedience to Gods commandments. Sin, as"the transgression of the law," is incompatible with such high and holy communion (3: 6). It is the positive form of the statement that is now before us. Obedience, or the keeping of Gods commandments, actively promotes this communion. It is more than the condition of it; it is of its very essence. If this mutual indwelling is not to be mere absorption, which some dreamers in Johns day held it to be - if it is not to be the swallowing up of our conscious individual personality in the infinite mind or intelligence of God - -if it is to conserve the distinct relationship of God to man, the Creator to the creature, the Ruler to the subject, the Father to the child ; - it must be realised and must develop itself, or act itself out, through the means of authority or law on the one side, and obedience or the keeping of the commandments on the other. It is, in fact, the very consummation and crown of mans old, original relation to God; as that relation is not only restored, but perfected and gloriously fulfilled, in the new economy of grace.
For consider the divine ideal, if I may so speak, involved in the creation of man after the image of God, and in the footing on which it pleased God to place man towards himself. Evidently God contemplated obedience, or the keeping of his commandments, as the normal state or character of man. While that state or character continued, there was the best understanding between the parties; between God and man; they were on the best of terms with one another. There was entire complacency on both sides; each resting and dwelling in the other with full and unalloyed satisfaction. You would not say, in these circumstances, that this mutual indwelling of man in God and God in man was, in any proper sense, procured or obtained by mans obedience, by his keeping the commandments of God. You would rather say that it had in that way its proper outgoing or forth-going, its conscious realisation. It is mans method of intercourse with God; the only competent, the only conceivable method, if God and man respectively are to keep their relative positions as distinct intelligences. It is only along the line of God ruling and man obeying, that the two, as separate persons or individuals, can so walk together as to get into one anothers minds and hearts, and thus abide in one another. Such mutual indwelling of God in man and of man in God, becoming day by day more close, confidential, loving; through mans increasing insight into the exceeding excellency of the commandments he is keeping, or rather of him whose nature and will they discover, and through Gods increasing delight in the growing intelligence and sympathy with which man keeps them; might seem to be complete; having in it all the elements of perfection, as regards both the holiness and the happiness of man. Can God and man be more to one another
Alas, the drawback of a conditional standing, and a possible fall, is fatal. It leaves an opening for suspicion creeping in, upon the hint of a seeming friend, who would insinuate that restraint is irksome and independence sweet. Then all mutual indwelling is over. God and man must dwell apart. There may indeed be some sort of formal dealing between them; at least man fondly imagines that there may. He thinks that he can so far keep Gods commandments as thereby to right himself with God; to the extent at least to which he cares to be righted. He will make certain terms with God, or conceive of God as making certain terms with him ; and he will be punctilious in the fulfilment of these terms. But that is not really keeping Gods commandments. It is the keeping of a pact, if you will; the doing of his part in a bargain. And if the two parties concerned were equals, or if the relation between them were one of mutual independence, this might lay a foundation for some sort of mutual indwelling, by faith and love, in one another. Even in that case, however, the foundation is too narrow and precarious. If the mutual indwelling is to be real and thorough, there must be something more than the fulfilment of certain stipulated conditions between the parties. They must submit themselves, each to the other, cordially and without reserve; they must study to obey and please one another. Between God and man especially, the introduction of the conditional element, of anything that savours of the striking of a bargain or the making of terms, is and must be destructive of all real fellowship or intercommunion. No obedience rendered on that footing or in that spirit can ever secure your dwelling in God and his dwelling in you. In point of fact, it is apt, - if not from the first to occasion a breach, - yet ever afterwards, when a breach occurs, to widen, deepen, and perpetuate it, however it may be meant, and may seem to bridge it over.
The practical value of a free gospel is, that it places your "keeping of Gods commandments" on a different footing, and breathes into it a different spirit. You look to Jesus, and are one with him. You are in the same position of advantage for keeping Gods commandments in which he was. You start, as he did, on the walk and work of obedience, not as seeking acceptance, but as already accepted; not as a servant on trial, but as a son abiding in the house evermore. You are not only what unfallen Adam was when the task of keeping Gods commandments was set before him; you are as Christ was when the same task was set before him.
Consider then what sort of keeping of Gods commandments his was; and how it must have conduced to his abiding in the Father, and the Fathers abiding in him. Of course that mutual indwelling never could, through all his keeping of the Fathers commandments, become more full and complete, in principle and essence, than it was before he began to keep them. But we may well imagine that to his human consciousness, and in his human experience, the sense of it must have been growing more intense, and more intensely soothing and beatific, as his keeping of them went on, and on, to its terrible and triumphant close. Among the things about obedience which he learned by suffering, surely this was one, that it has a mighty power to promote, enhance, and intensify the indwelling of man in God, and of God in man. He learned the grief and pain which such obedience as he had undertaken to render involved. Did he not learn something of its joy and pleasure too, the joy and pleasure of apprehending and feeling, more and more, in his human soul, his dwelling in the Father and the Fathers dwelling in him throughout it all?
I dare not venture upon particular illustration here. But I ask you, in any hour of deep and private meditation, and after you have prayed, or while you are praying, for the help of the Spirit, to put yourself alongside of Christ, in the sorest and hardest of the experiences which his keeping the Fathers commandments entailed upon him. Try to enter into what his soul was feeling when it was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." There was anguish, agony; the anguish and agony of having guilt to answer for, and a penal death to die. But was he not then and there, in his keeping of the Fathers most dread and awful commandments, and through his keeping of them, dwelling in the Father and the Father in, him, in a sense and with a depth and force of meaning, of which that human soul of his could not otherwise have had any experience? What insight, what sympathy, what rest, repose, and peace, - the rest, repose, and peace of unutterable complacency, on his part, in the Father and on the Fathers part in him, must there have been in his utterance of these simple words,"It is finished; Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!"
Let our keeping of Gods commandments be like his. Let us seek grace that it may be so. In our case, as in his, this may imply a bitter cup to be drunk; a heavy cross to be borne. Like him, we have to learn obedience by suffering. Let the obedience we thus learn be of the same sort as his. Let it be the giving up of our own will, always, everywhere, that Gods will may be done. We shall then prove how good and acceptable and perfect that will of God is. We dwell thus in God when our will is merged in his will; we have rest and repose in him; our will in his will, our thoughts in his thoughts; our ways in his ways. And he dwells in us his will in our will; his thoughts in our thoughts; his ways in our ways. We enter into his mind and heart; and he enters into ours.
II. The manner of Gods abiding in us, or at least the way in which we may know that he abides in us, is specified : - -" Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." We are to distinguish here between our dwelling in God and his dwelling in us. Both are to be known as facts of our own consciousness, not as revealed truths merely, but as realised experiences. The one, however, our dwelling in God, is to be thus known by our"keeping his commandments;" the other, Gods dwelling in us, by"the spirit which he giveth us." The one we know by what we do to God ; - the other, by what God does in us. And yet, the two means of knowledge are not far apart. They are not only strictly consistent with one another; they really come together in one point.
For the Spirit is here said to be given to us ; - not in order to our knowing that God abideth in us, in the sense of his opening our spiritual eye and quickening our spiritual apprehension ; - but rather, as the medium of our knowing it, the evidence or proof by which we know it. He giveth us the Spirit ; and by that token, his giving us the Spirit, we are taught by the Spirit to know that God dwelleth inns. The question therefore as to what this gift of the Spirit may be, is thus narrowed to a precise point. Is it the gift of the Spirit enabling men to perform supernatural works that is meant?. That can scarcely be the gift of the Spirit for such works was never a sure sign of Gods really and savingly dwelling in those who did them. Surely it must be the gift of the Spirit for the ordinary purposes of the Christian life and walk that John has in view; the gift of the Spirit common to all believers in all ages. God giveth us the Spirit in order that, by the Spirit being given, we may know that he dwelleth in us. He means us, therefore, to recognise this gift as a sure evidence of that fact. And how are we to recognise the Spirit as given to us? How otherwise than by recognising the fruit of the gift? The Spirit given to us is, as to his movement or operation, unseen and unfelt. But the fruit of the Spirit is palpable and patent."It is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." For"against such there is no law" (Gal. 5: 22, 25).
"Against such there is no law." That is an important addition or explanation here. There is nothing in the gift of the Spirit, or in the fruit of the Spirit as given, that is contrary to law; nothing, therefore, that can again bring us under the risks and liabilities of law. On the contrary, the Spirit being given, with such fruit, is precisely what secures that kind of keeping of the commandments on our part, by which we"dwell in him." For, I must repeat, it is as the Spirit of adoption that he is given;"God sendeth forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
Thus the two elements and conditions, the two means and evidences, of this mutual indwelling of us in God and of God in us meet together. We dwell in God by keeping his commandments; he dwells in us by giving us his Spirit. But our keeping his commandments and his giving us his Spirit are really one; one and the same fact viewed on opposite sides. It is not any sort of keeping his commandments on our part that will ensure or attest our dwelling in him. It is not any way of giving us his Spirit on his part that will ensure or attest his dwelling in us. Our keeping his commandments in the spirit of bondage; in a legal, selfrighteous, formal, and servile frame of mind; is not our dwelling in God. Gods enabling us, by the power of his Spirit, to work miracles, would not be his dwelling in us. Our dwelling in him is our keeping his commandments, as his Son did, on the same filial footing and with the same filial heart. His dwelling in us is his"sending forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
III. From all this it follows that the counsel or warning,"Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God" (4: 1), is as needful for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We may think that it is the Spirit of God whom we are receiving into our hearts and cherishing there, when it may really be another spirit altogether: one of the many spirits inspiring the"many false prophets that are gone out into the world." Therefore we must"try the spirits."
Do you ask how, or by what test? - " 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 that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God." The full meaning of this pregnant and searching test will be afterwards considered. Meanwhile, as beating on the subject now in hand, it admits of at least one obvious application.
The Spirit that is of God will ever honour Christ; and especially Christ come in the flesh; which means not only Christ incarnate, but also and emphatically Christ crucified. The person and work of Christ, as the outward object of our faith, the ground of our confidence before God outside of us and apart from us, the true Spirit of God will ever magnify and glorify. He will not consent to substitute for that any inward experience, however heavenly, as superseding it or setting it aside. That is what false prophets, moved by an anti-Christian spirit, are apt to do. It was a very marked characteristic of their teaching in Johns own day. An inward light, an inward sense, something, or much of a Christ in them; an inward revelation, or rapture, or elevation, a sort of mystical indwelling of God or of Christ in them, they extolled and cried up; making it the sum and substance of all Christianity, the whole gospel of the grace of God. Now any spirit that fosters such a tendency is not of God. Any spirit that would encourage us to look in upon ourselves and not out to Christ for peace or holiness is not of God. Inward experience is very precious; it is indispensable. A growing inward consciousness of our"keeping Gods commandments," or, in other words, of our conformity of mind and heart and will to Gods character and law, - -a growing inward consciousness of the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace - we must have; and we must seek to have it more and more, if we would have real communion with God. But if we are rightly exercised, how will this affect our views of"Christ come in the flesh," our feeling of our need of him and of his exclusive sufficiency for us? Will it make us at all the less inclined to be ever looking to Christ, ever leaning on Christ, ever laying hold of Christ, ever having recourse to Christ, and that blood of Christ which cleanseth from all sin? Nay, on the contrary, our growing aquaintance with God, our growing delight in his law, our growing apprehension of the blessedness of perfect oneness, in nature and in will, with him, will only give us deeper convictions of sin, and open up to us new and fresh discoveries of our corruption and our guilt, and lead us to be ever saying, with reference not to past but to present evil in us:"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And to be ever taking refuge in Pauls last stronghold -"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."
Let us then, acting upon the belief that"whatsoever we ask, we receive of him," be ever asking God to give us the Holy Spirit, that we may know experimentally his dwelling in us. We cannot have too much of this gift of the Spirit, if it is indeed the Spirit "confessing Christ" that we ask God to give. We need not be afraid of having too much of the inward fruit of the Spirit; nor need we shrink from recognising the Spirit given to us by God as the spirit of assurance;"the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." If indeed we find ourselves leaning to the imagination that we have got past the stage at which we need to be living, as sinners, upon Christ the Saviour, and are tempted to live upon inward frames and feelings; putting the Spirits work in us instead of Christs work for us; then we do well to beware. But there is really no incompatibility between the two; our coveting, asking and obtaining more and more of the inward testimony of the Spirit, and our being by that very testimony - as it unfolds to us more and more Gods high ideal and our sad coming short of it- shut up more and more into Christ as the Lamb of God; with whose atoning blood and justifying righteousness we feel more and more that we can never for a single moment dispense.
Finally, let us remember that it is in the actual "keeping of Gods commandments" that we find all this great mystery of"our dwelling in God and his dwelling in us, practically cleared up. In the onward path of the just, which is as the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day, we come to know the Spirit given to us, by his"confessing Jesus Christ as come in the flesh." Let us therefore so keep Gods commandments as not to vex or grieve the Holy Spirit. For we do vex and grieve him when our keeping them is either ungracious on the one hand; or, on the other hand, becomes to us a ground of confidence before God. As the Spirit of God, he is vexed by our submission to God being any other than a submission of the whole heart; filial altogether, and not servile at all. And as"the Spirit confessing Jesus Christ come in the flesh," he cannot but be vexed if we unduly lean even on his own work in us, to the disparagement of what is the one only ground of a sinners hope, from first to last,"Christ and him crucified." But let us keep the commandments of God simply, humbly, lovingly; not as doing any great thing, but only as doing his will, and content that his will be done. So keeping his commandments, we abide in God, and so also we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
XXIX. OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS EXERCISED IN TRYING THE SPIRITS; THE TEST, CONFESSING THAT JESUS CHRIST IS COME IN THE FLESH.
"Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. 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 that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 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." - 1 John 3: 24 - 4: 4.
The appeal in the beginning of the fourth chapter springs out of the closing statement in the third:"Hereby we know that God abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." This evidently throws us back into ourselves; into some consciousness on our part of his having given us the Spirit. It is an inward or subjective test. Have we in us the Spirit as given to us by God! If so, we have the Spirit in us"confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." And by his confessing that truth, we may distinguish his indwelling in us from all attempts of any anti-Christian spirit, or any false prophets or teachers inspired by an anti- Christian spirit, to effect a lodgment in our hearts. For this is their characteristic; they refuse to"confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." has been already brought out in what John says of Anti-Christ as"denying that Jesus is the Christ ;" - and so virtually "denying the Father and the Son" (2: 21-25).
I am inclined to think that we have now to deal with it more subjectively; as a matter of inward experience rather than of doctrinal statement. For the starting-point is our"knowing that God abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." It is the fact of the Spirit confessing in us, and not merely to us, that we have to ascertain and verify; and therefore the test must apply inwardly :-Have we in us"the Spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh .?" As it stands here, therefore, I think we are called to deal with that formula rather experimentally than dogmatically; and so to make it all the more available for the searching of our hearts.
Taking that view, I shall consider, in the first place, what the inward confession of the Spirit in us that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh may be held to imply; and then, secondly, how our realising this in our experience secures our personal and practical victory over all anti-Christian spirits or prophets who deny that great and blessed fact. I. It properly belongs to the Spirit to"confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." He had much to do with the flesh in which Jesus Christ came. He prepared for him a body in the Virgins womb, so as to secure that he came into the world pure and sinless. And all throughout his sojourn on earth the Spirit ministered to him as "Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" he could not minister to him otherwise. It is the flesh, or humanity, of Jesus Christ that brings him within the range of the Spirits gracious care. It was his human experience that the Spirit animated and sustained; and it is with his human experience also that the Spirit deals when he "takes of what is Christs and shows it unto us." His object is to make us one with "Jesus Christ as come in the flesh." That practically is his confession to us and in us. Let us see what it implies.
1. He identifies us with Jesus Christ in his humiliation. There is no real humiliation on the part of the Son if his coming in the flesh is denied. He might be conceived of as coming gloriously, graciously, condescendingly, in his own original and eternal nature alone; taking the mere semblance of a body, or a real body now and then, as the Gnostic dreamers taught. But there would have been no humbling of himself in that, and no room for any concurrent humbling testimony or work of the Spirit in us. It is Jesus Christ as come in the flesh, "made of a woman, made under the law," that the Spirit owns and seals. And he confesses or witnesses this in us by making us one, and keeping us one, with our Lord in that character, as"Jesus Christ come in the flesh." In our divine regeneration he brings us to be, - what, through his interposition, Jesus Christ in his miraculous human generation became, - servants under the yoke; subject to the authority and commandment of God; willingly subject; our nature being renewed into the likeness of his.
2. The Spirit identifies us with Jesus Christ, not only in his humiliation but in its conditions and liabilities. For"to .confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh," is not merely to admit the fact of his incarnation, but to admit it with whatever consequences necessarily, in terms of law, flow from. it. His coming in the flesh is not simply an incident or .event in history; it has a special meaning in the moral government of God. It brought him, not merely into the position of one made under the law, but into the position, under the law, of those whose place he took.
The old deniers of his coming in the flesh saw this; and it was their chief objection to the doctrine. They might have allowed that the mysterious efflux or emanation of Deity that they seemed to own as a sort of Saviour did somehow identify himself with us, by making common cause with us, and even temporarily assuming our nature with a view to purge and elevate it. But they perceived that the literal incarnation of the Son of God, truly and fairly admitted, carried in its train the vicarious substitution and atonement. Modern teachers in the same line think that they may hold the first without the last. But I am mistaken if any incarnation they may thus hold does not slip insensibly, in their handling of it, into some modification, suited to modern turns of thought, of the old vague notion of a certain divinity being in every man; and in some one man perhaps pre-eminently as the type and model of perfect manhood. That, however, is not to "confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" for his coming in the flesh, accepted as a reality, implies his really putting himself alongside of those in whose flesh he comes, and serving himself heir to all the ills to which their flesh is heir. Let us look, then, at"Jesus Christ coming in the flesh," the Son of God taking our nature into oneness with himself. He takes it pure and sinless, so far as he is personally concerned; but he takes it with all the liabilities which our sin has entailed upon it, And the Spirit, confessing in us that he is come in the flesh, makes us one with him in this view of his coming; our guilt and condemnation being now his, and his taking our guilt and bearing our condemnation being ours. His coming in the flesh is his consenting to be crucified for us; the Spirit in us confessing him as come in the flesh makes us willing to be crucified with him. And so, by means of this confession, the true Spirit of God and of Christ opens to us a prospect of glory and joy such as no lying spirit of anti-Christ can hold out. If it was not really in the flesh that he came; or if, coming in the flesh, he failed to redeem by substitution those whose flesh he shared; then flesh, or human nature, can have little hope of reaching the blessedness of heaven. But having really come in the flesh, and in the flesh suffered for sin, he raises the flesh in which he suffered to the highest capacity of holy and happy being."In my flesh I shall see God," was the hope of the patriarch Job. It is made sure by Jesus Christ come in the flesh, and by the Spirit confessing in us that he is come.
II. This accordingly is the secret of our present victory over anti-Christian spirits and men:"Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them" (vet. 4). The intimation (ver. 3) that the spirit of anti-Christ is already, even now, in the world, is fitted to make this assurance very welcome. For war is proclaimed; war that is to last as long as the world lasts. It is the old war, proclaimed long ago, between the serpents seed and the womans. But it has taken a new form; and that its final one. From the first manifestation of it, - from the day when Cain slew his brother - it might be seen to turn upon the question of the worship of God by atoning sacrifice. Is there, or is there not, to be the shedding of blood for the remission of sins? That, more or less clearly, with variations suited to the varied aspect of the. church and the world, has ever since continued to be in substance the point at issue. Now that Christ has come in the flesh, it is so more than ever."Jesus Christ come in the flesh" is its ultimate expression and embodiment. In the contest about this high theme,"you, little children, have overcome them." The victory is already yours: for"you are of God."
Two questions here occur : - -
1 What is the nature of the victory?
2. How is it connected with your being of God?
I. The victory is a real victory got over the false prophets or teachers, who are not of God, whom the spirit of anti-Christ inspires. And it is a victory over them personally; not over their doctrines and principles merely; but over themselves:"Ye have overcome them." True, it is, in a sense, a war of doctrines or of principles that is waged; its field of battle is the field of argument and controversy. You and they meet in discussion and debate; and when you succeed in refuting their reasonings, you may feel the complacency of a personal triumph over them as, vanquished, they seem to quit the field. But even though vanquished they may argue still. They are silenced, merely, and not subdued; and their silence is only for a time. You may soon have the battle to fight over again; and in the incessant fighting of it, you may be doomed to suffer wounds, in your temper at least, if not in your faith; in your equanimity of spirit towards men, if not in your peace of mind within yourselves, or even your peace with God. I cannot think that that is the victor)- on which John congratulates his"little children" so affectionately.
No doubt such victory is valuable, as the sort of war in which it is won is inevitable. It is idle to effect to run down controversy, as long as there is error abroad among men. It is mere prudery to be always groaning over the symptoms of irritability which controversialists have exhibited, and bemoaning evermore their lack of a smooth and oily tongue. All honour to the champions of Gods holy word and blessed gospel, who have waxed valiant in fight against the adversaries of both! All sympathy with them in their indignant sense of what touches the glory and insults the majesty of him whose battles they fight; with large allowance for the heats into which, being but men, they may suffer their zeal to hurry them! And all thankful joy in the success with which they wield the weapons of their keen logic, their learned study, their burning eloquence, in baffling the sophistries of heresy and infidelity, and rearing an impregnable defence around the battlements on which the banner is planted which God"has given to them that fear him, that it may be displayed because of the truth!"
But that is not exactly the victory which is here meant when it is said,"ye have overcome them." For what really is your contest with them? It is not about an abstract proposition, a mere article in a creed. It is not whether you can prove that Jesus of Nazareth was man as well as God, or God as well as man; or they can prove the reverse. No."Jesus Christ come in the flesh" is not with you a mere matter of disputation. It is a pregnant and significant fact in Gods government of the universe, grasped by you as such, and apprehended as such in your experience. By faith you know and feel what it means. You identify yourself with him in his coming in the flesh; consciously and with entire community of mind and heart ;. and in the very doing of this you "have already overcome them."
For it is the fact that they dislike; not argument about the fact. It is the actual "coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh," and his actual accomplishment, in the flesh, of all that in the flesh he came for, that they resent and resist. It is that which Satan, the original spirit of anti-Christ, would fain have set himself to hinder; moving Herod to slay Jesus in his childhood, and Judas to betray him in his manhood; tempting Jesus himself to make shipwreck of his integrity. And it is your actual personal participation with him, as "Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" your being really one with him in that wondrous humiliation, in its spirit and its fruit; that, so far as you are concerned, they seek to frustrate. In realising that, you get the better of them; confessing thus Jesus Christ come in the flesh, you have overcome them It is not that you are able to discuss with them, as debatable questions in argument, the reality and the meaning of Jesus Christ having come in the flesh. You may have to do so, and if you do so on a clear call of duty, you are sure of divine support and help; perhaps even of success and triumph. But that is not your having already overcome them. Very gladly would they often drag you into this snare; making you mistake the chance of overcoming them in a discussion about Jesus Christ come in the flesh, for the certainty of your having overcome them through your simply confessing him in that character. But be not drawn down to lower ground. Stand upon your position of oneness with him whom you confess as Jesus Christ come in the flesh. Meet thus any and all anti-Christs; anti-Christian spirits, anti-Christian prophets. They are not to be overcome. You have already overcome them.
2. Your having overcome them is connected with your"being of God" (vet. 4); which again is intimately connected with your" confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (ver. 2). Your being of God is the intermediate link between your confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (ver. 2), and your having overcome them who reject that truth (ver. 4)-"Ye are of God" (vet. 4)- This, let it be observed, is what has previously been asserted of the Spirit that"confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." He "is of God" (ver. 3)- And it is denied concerning any spirit refusing to confess that. Such a spirit"is not of God." Now what, as applied to the Holy Spirit, does this mean? How, - in what sense and to what effect, - is the Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh said to be "of God"?
He is of God essentially, being himself God; proceeding from the Father and the Son; one with them in the undivided essence of the Godhead. He is of God, if I may so say, officially; condescending in infinite love, to be the gift of the Father and the Son to guilty and sinful men. But here more particularly, he is of God as confessing, or in virtue of his confessing, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. He is on the side of God, or in the interest of God; he consults and acts for God; he takes Gods part and is true to God. It is as being thus of God that the Spirit confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. He contemplates, if I may so say, that great fact with all its issues from the divine point of view; in its bearing on the divine character and nature, the divine government and law. He is"of God" in it; in that fact and in all its issues.
Do I take too great a liberty in speaking thus of the Holy Spirit? I scarcely think so when I call to mind how this phrase describes Christs own position in the world with reference to the Father. He was"of God;" he was so in a very emphatic and significant sense; not only as regards his origin and mission; his coming from God and being authorised by God; but also, and specially, as regards his end and aim all through his humiliation, obedience, and sacrifice. He was"of God;" on the side and in the interest of God. It was the zeal of Gods house that ate him up. It was the doing of Gods will, and the finishing of Gods work, that was his meat. It was the glorifying of his Father, and the finishing of the work which his Father gave him to do, that ministered to his satisfaction in his last farewell prayer. Of him pre-eminently it might be said :"He is of God." And in his being thus "of God," as to the whole mind and meaning of the phrase, the Holy Spirit is with him and in him. Jesus Christ come in the flesh is, in this sense emphatically, confessed by the Spirit. The Spirit is with him, and in him, as the Spirit that is of God; and as being to him the Spirit that is of God. He and the Spirit are at one in being both"of God." And you, in the Son and by the Spirit are"of God;" as truly of God as is the Spirit, or as the Son was when God"gave not the Spirit by measure to him." The essential characteristic of the spirit of anti-Christ is that it is, in the sense now explained,"not of God." It does not look at the Saviour and the salvation as on the side of God; rather it takes an opposite view, and subjects God to man. It subordinates everything to human interests and human claims; looks at everything from a human and mundane point of view; measures everything by a human standard; submits everything to human opinion; in a word, conceives and judges of God after the manner of man.
This, indeed, may be said to be the distinctive feature of
all false religions, as well as of all corruptions of the true religion. They
exalt man. They consider what man requires, what he would like, what is due to
him. Even when they take the form of the most abject and degrading
superstition, that is still their spirit. They aim at getting God, by whatever
means of persuasion and prostration, to do the bidding of man. For it is the
essence of our corrupt human nature, of which these corrupt worships are the
expression, to care and consult for self, and not for God. This is the essence
of the spirit of anti-Christ; the spirit that breathes and moves in the false
notions that have gained currency in the church respecting"Jesus Christ come in
the flesh." Their advocates give man the first place in their scheme. Their
real objection lies against those views of gospel truth which assert the
absolute sovereignty of God, and put forward pre-eminently what he is entitled
to demand, - what, with a due regard to his own character, government, and law,
he cannot but demand. They dislike such representations as bring in the element
of Gods holy name and righteous authority, and lay much stress upon that
element, as one of primary consideration in the plan of saving mercy. Hence
they naturally shrink from owning explicitly Jesus Christ as come in the flesh
to make atonement by satisfying divine justice. They prefer some loose and
vague way of putting the fact of his interposition, and the manner of it.
Admitting in a sense its necessity, they are unwilling to define very
precisely, either the nature of the necessity, or the way in which it is met.
He came in the flesh, to redeem the flesh, to sanctify, elevate, and purify it.
He came in the flesh, to be one with us, and to make us, in the flesh, one with
him. So they speak and think of his coming in the flesh. Any higher aim, any
prior and paramount design involved in this great fact, viewed in its relation
to the nature and supremacy of God, his holiness and justice, as lawgiver and
judge, they are slow to acknowledge. Hence their gospel is apt to be partial
and one-sided; looking rather like an accommodation of heaven and heavens
rights to earth and earths wishes and ways, than that perfect
reconciliation and perfect assimilation of earth to heaven for which we hold it
to have made provision ; - our heavenly Fathers name being hallowed, his
kingdom coming, his will being done, in earth as it is in heaven. Their system
is not "of God" as the primary object of consideration; for they themselves are
not out and out, in this sense,"of God." But"ye are of God, little children,"
in this matter; in the view that you take, and the conception that you form of
Jesus Christ come in the flesh; of the end of his coming, and the manner in
which that end is attained. You look at that great fact, first and chiefly in
its relation to God, and as on the side of God. It is from God and for God that
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. So he always taught ;and so you firmly
believe. He placed God always first ;the glory of God, the sovereignty of God,
the will of God always took precedency. Mans concerns and interests were
subordinate to that. Nothing is more conspicuous in "Jesus Christ come in the
flesh," throughout his whole ministry, in all his life and in his death, than
this loyalty to God his Father, prevailing even over his amazing tenderness and
pity for men. He was truly of God, even when his being so might tell against
men; tell to their destruction rather than their salvation. He does not shrink
from the darkest issues which, in that view, his coming in the flesh carries in
its bosom. He did not shrink from them when realised in his own person, and in
his personal experience, as the suffering substitute of the guilty. He does not
shrink from them as they are to be realised in the persons, and in the personal
experience, of those who"will not come unto him that they may have
If you are "of God," you are of his mind. You approve of this principle; you recognise the propriety of what is due to God being first attended to and provided for, in preference even to what may be needed by man. What God, being such as he is, must require, since"he cannot deny himself," that is the first question; then, and in subordination to that, what can be done for men. It is a great matter for you to view the whole plan of salvation, as being yourselves, in this sense, "of God" It is your doing so that secures your having overcome all spirits of anti-Christ. If thus"you are of God," you are already raised to a higher platform than they can occupy, so as to have a loftier and wider range of vision. Your profound reverence for the majesty of God; your loyal, loving recognition of his holy and righteous sovereignty; your deep, admiring esteem of his government and law; your calm conviction that the Lord reigneth ; your intense desire that the Lord should reign; your determination, may I say, that the Lord shall reign; lifts you out of the region of human questionings and all doubtful disputations. It is your very humility that lifts you up. You sit at the feet of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. You stand beside his cross. You do not now stumble at the mystery of its bloody expiation; or quarrel with the great propitiation-sacrifice through unbelief of its necessity. The ideas of justice needing to be satisfied; punishment inevitably to be inflicted; one willing to bear it in your stead being found; that one being"Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" do not now offend you. Nay, being"of God," on his side and in his interest in the whole of this great transaction, you can meekly, in faith, commit to him and leave in his hands even the most terrible of those ultimate and eternal consequences, involving the aggravated guilt and final ruin of many, that you cannot but see to be inseparably mixed up with the confession that"Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."
XXX. THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST IN US GREATER THAN THE SPIRIT OF ANTICHRIST IN THE WORLD.
"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." - 1 John 4: 4-6. The security for our full and final victory over anti-Christ and his spirit lies in the emphatic declaration:"Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." He that is in you is the Spirit of God; for "hereby we know that God abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us;" the Spirit that, being of God, "confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (3: 24; 4: 2). He that is in the world is the spirit of anti-Christ,"whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world" (4: 3). Therefore you who "are of God have overcome them," -"the spirits" the false prophets,"that are gone out into the world" (4: 1). They are of the world; what they speak is of the world and meets with the worlds acceptance (ver. 5). We, the true teachers, are of God; what we speak is of God; and meets with the acceptance, not of him who is not of God, but of him who, being of God, knows God (ver. 6). By this test the spirit of truth which is in us is to be distinguished from the spirit of error that is in them (ver. 6). From whom do we obtain a hearing"Ye are of God;" and your being of God raises you above the risk of being"seduced by false prophets;" for it enables you to "try the spirits.We too are of God." And this is the proof of it - that our teaching commends itself, not to the world, but to you who know God and are of God. Between you and us there is a blessed harmony; between your state of mind as you try the spirits, and our teaching as we stand the trial You who are hearers, are secure in trying the spirits against all false prophets; for you have overcome them, being yourselves of God. We who are preachers, being of God as you are, have assurance that our spirit, the spirit of our teaching, is the Spirit of truth, when we see the world hearing them, and only you who are of God and know God hearing us. Thus you and we are both safe; you who try and we who are tried; you safe from being misled by false prophets, we safe from being confounded with them. And our joint safety lies in both you and us being "of God."
Taken thus, this passage bears closely on a deeply interesting subject; the self-evidencing power of the gospel of Christ in the hands of the Spirit of God. There is a wonderfully gracious correspondence between the spiritual intelligence of the man who is of God and knows God; and the spiritual intelligibility and acceptability of the teaching which is of God. The two fit into one another; the state of mind and heart in the receiver who tests, and the character of what is submitted to him to be tested. You who test, and we who are tested, are in a close and intimate relation to one another. A common quality unites us; or a common agency; opening your eyes to try, and fashioning our doctrine for being tried. The same spirit is in you and in us; the Spirit that is"of God" the Spirit of truth.
There is something like this on the other side. There is the world; and there axe the false prophets who are of the world. They are mutually related to one another, precisely as you and we are. What you are to us, that the world is to the false prophets. What we are to you, that they are to it. The world knows its own. The teaching which is of the world commends itself to the world. That teaching, therefore, must be anti-Christian; for the world is anti-Christian. Here, then, are the opposite workings of two opposite powers; and here is the secret of their greatness. For both are great; and both are great, not only in themselves, but in their adaptation to those with whom they have to deal.
I."He that is in the world is great." And his greatness lies in this, that he operates in a twofold way. He forms and fashions the world spiritually; and he finds for it, or makes for it, appropriate and congenial spiritual food. He creates or moulds the worlds appetite for some sort of religious teaching; and he inspires for his own ends the religious teaching that is to suit his world and be accepted by it. Hence his false prophets are sure of their own measure of success;"they are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them" (ver. 5).
But he cannot succeed with you who are "of God;" for there is one in you who, great as he is, is greater still. And he also operates in a double way. He gives you inwardly spiritual intelligence, spiritual insight and sympathy, to try; and he gives you outwardly spiritual truth to be tried. You are yourselves of God, and therefore competent to judge what we speak. And we too, being of God, speak what cannot be acceptable to the world, but only to him who is of God, and knows God. Thus what you are prepared to apprehend and appreciate, and what we are moved to speak, harmonise and are at one. It is all the doing of"him who dwelleth in you," and of whom "we know," through your acceptance of our teaching,"that he is not the spirit of error, but the Spirit of truth."
Look for a little at the world, and him that is in the world. He is great, undeniably great; great in power and wisdom; in command of resources and subtlety in the use of them. He has largely, as to its moral and spiritual tastes and tendencies, the making of the world in which he is, and of which he is the moving soul. The world, in a sense, lives, and moves, and has its being, in him. He is in it as the spring of its activities, the dictator of its laws, the guider of its pursuits and pleasures; in a word,"the ruler of its darkness." The darkness of its deep alienation from God, he rules. And he rules it very specially for the purpose of getting the world to be contented with an image, instead of the reality, of godliness. For he knows well enough that the world is, and must be, in a sense and after a fashion, religious. He cannot put it off with the"no God" which the fool would fain say in his heart. He is far too sagacious and shrewd to attempt that. What he does attempt is a much more plausible device. He takes advantage of whatever may be the worlds mood at the time, as regards God and his worship; throws himself into it; controlling or inflaming it, as he may see cause, so as to turn it to his own account. And then he contrives to bring under his sway prophets or teachers; not always consciously false; often meaning to be true; able men; holy men; men of God and of prayer; pre-eminently so it may be. And bringing into contact the world which he has doctored and the doctors whom he has tutored, he adjusts them skilfully to one another. He causes his teachers, perhaps insensibly, to draw much of their inspiration from the particular world which, as to its religious bias, he has influenced with an eye to their teaching. And so"they are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them." Numberless instances and illustrations might be brought forward here; reaching from the grossest corruptions that have ever disgraced the name of religion, to the most refined forms of ingenious speculation that have ever imposed on the fancy of the most devout enthusiast, or the feelings of the most amiable. They might all, I believe, be explained on the principle now suggested. There is one in the world who is great; great in a religious point of view; great in his power and skill to master and manage, from age to age, the worlds ever-changing fits and fashions of religiousness; great in the strange and terrible command he often wields over the most gifted, and even the most godly, of the prophets or teachers who have to deal with them.
Thus, if the world, at his instigation, wants a golden calf, there is an Aaron, under his influence, ready to provide one. If the people, moved by him, will have smooth things spoken to them, he has prophets of smooth things prepared for them. If men are growing weary of the old wine; and he will be but too glad to make them more weary of it, and help them also to excuses for their weariness; it shall go hard but he will mix plenty of new wine for their use. It is not he who has to take up the complaint; nor his agents either ; - " We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented." He is in and among the crowd of those to whom the children in the market-place are to cry. And the children who are to cry are his ministers. He can prepare the crowd to hear, and move the children to cry; according to his good pleasure; so that there shall be flock for pastor and pastor for flock; people for priest and priest for people; the times for the teaching and the teaching for the times; all in perfect harmony. Yes; he that is in the world is great; great in his ability to make the world, - the world in the church, - what he would have it to be; great in his ability to find and fit and fashion ministers and agents, who, being of the world, as regards its religious tastes and tendencies, will "speak of the world," and whom, therefore, the"world will hear."
There is, indeed, a power or law of action and reaction between the world and its prophets - the world in the church and its false prophets, - which, as indicating the greatness of him who is in the world, deserves very careful notice. The world in the church, I repeat. For I have nothing to do now, - John here takes nothing to do, with the world outside of the church, the world of those who do not even profess to be religious; his sole concern is with the church, and the spirits in the church that are to be tried, and the parties that are to try them. Satan, the spirit of anti-Christ, has within the church a world of his own, a world in which he is, and is great. And he is great in it, very much through his making skilful and sagacious use of this law of action and reaction, between what the world craves and what its false prophets give.
Do you suppose that if you have "itching ears," there will not be found preachers who, catching perhaps unconsciously the contagion from you, will feed and foster the disease? If you incline to a gospel explaining away the atonement, and reducing the incarnation to a mere glorifying of humanity in the mass, instead of its being the redemption, by substitution, of individual men; a gospel of that vague sort will soon be forthcoming. If, in any church or congregation, there springs up a craving for excitement, a demand for novelty, which the old preaching of the cross fails to satisfy; if a certain restless prurience of spiritual taste begins to manifest itself; if a cry or a sigh for gifts and miracles, for signs and wonders, is heard; all experience, all history, proves that it will not be long before men appear who, carried away themselves and led off their feet by the strong tide, will prove apt and able agents in encouraging others to try the virtue of its flowing waves. It is not that they purposely or dishonestly accommodate their teaching and prophesying to the spirit that may be abroad in their world. They drink it in themselves; it intoxicates their own souls. "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them." Truly great is he that is in the world; great in adapting the world and its prophets very perfectly to one another. II. But"greater is he that is in you, little children," for he is the Lord God Almighty. He is strong; and he"strengthens you with might by his Spirit in the inner man; Christ dwelling in your heart by faith; and you being rooted and grounded in love." He is strong; and he makes you strong; strong in holding fast the form of sound words, and contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints; strong in cleaving to the truth as it is in Jesus; strong in your real, personal, close, and loving acquaintance with him, "whom to know is life eternal." He who is in you is God; God abiding in you; giving you the Spirit. He is in you; not merely on your side, at your right hand, around you; but within you. He is working in you; so working in you as to secure your safe triumph, in this great fight of truth against error, over the world and him who is in it. And his working in you is of the same sort as is the working of his great antagonist in and among those with whom he is so busy.
He makes you, who are of God, to be men of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; quick to apprehend what they who are of God are moved by him to speak. He takes these two things: the mind or heart of the learner or inquirer who is of God, and what is spoken by the apostle or teacher who also is of God. He adapts them to one another, brings them together, welds them into one. So he insures that what we who are of God speak, however it may be received by the world, shall prove acceptable to you who know God and are of God. He imparts to you, in whom he is, a certain spiritual tact or taste, - call it spiritual intelligence, spiritual insight, spiritual discernment, - by means of which he enables you to recognise, in what you hear or read or remember, the very truth of the true and living God, sanctifying and saving to your own souls. He brings out in you, palpably to your own consciousness, the marvellous correspondence that there is between the heart with which he is inwardly dealing and the word or doctrine which, through the teaching of men of God, he is outwardly presenting. He is in you; breaking your heart in deep conviction of sin, and then healing the broken heart, oh! how tenderly, by the sprinkling of atoning blood. He is in you; causing the commandment so to come home to you that you die, helplessly condemned, under the righteous sentence of the law, and then bringing near to you, oh! how lovingly, the life-giving assurance that "there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." He is in you; causing you to see and feel that instead of"being rich and having need of nothing, you are poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked," and then pressing upon you, oh! how graciously, the Lords affectionate counsel to buy of him"freely," without money and without price,"gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and to anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see." He is in you; forming you for Christ and forming Christ in you. He is in you; fitting your whole inner man for Christ, and fitting Christ into your whole inner man. He is in you; so as to cause to spring up from the very depths of your spirit a sense of intimate oneness, not to be broken, between you and Christ, - between your highest faculty of belief and thought, and his doctrine, which now"you know to be of God." What precisely the bond of this oneness may be, in what exactly it consists, - you may not be able to define. Probably, at bottom, it is the recognition in your heart now, as in Christs doctrine always, of the high and holy sovereignty of God; his just supremacy. It is the joint owning, in your heart and in Christs doctrine, of the great truth" The Lord reigneth." But be it what it may, you feel it. And the feeling of it is your assured confidence and satisfying rest.
I cannot now pursue the subject further. Let me simply, in closing, exhort you to consider well in what it is that your security lies, when you are called to try the spirits - what it is that alone can give you certain and decisive victory over the false prophets. It is God being in you; abiding in you; giving you the Spirit. The spirit of anti-Christ is in the world; in the churchs world; in the worldly materials of which, in too large a measure, the church is composed."Many false prophets are gone out into the world." The spirit of error, as well as the spirit of truth, is abroad; and it may be that sifting, trying, critical days are at hand. What is to be your protection? How are you to be prepared? Let me warn you that it is not head knowledge that will do; not logic, or rhetoric, or philosophy, or theology; not creeds, or catechisms, or confessions ; not early training in the soundest manual; not familiarity with the ablest and most orthodox writings; not skill in argument and debate ; - no; nothing will do but God being in you; in your heart, your heart of hearts; God in Christ dwelling in you; God giving you the Spirit. An experimental assurance alone will keep you safe. But that will keep you safe. For as he that is not of God will not hear us who speak as being of God; so he that knoweth God will not hear the false prophets. So the Good Shepherd himself assures us. He "goeth before the sheep, and they follow him, for they know his voice; and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.""My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Fathers hand. I and my Father are one."
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