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The First Epistle Of John by Augustus Neander

1 John ii. 22, 23

After these preparatory remarks, John proceeds to
point out more particularly the errors which he is here opposing. |Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? HE is [the] Antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; but he that acknowledgeth the Son, hath the Father also.|

By the teachers of false doctrine then, whom John is here opposing, he means such as do not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Now this might apply in general to all opponents of Christianity among the Jews, to all who indeed acknowledged God as the Father, God as revealed in the Old Testament, but not Jesus as the Messiah. But as we have already remarked in the Introduction, this would be too general a designation to correspond to the special characteristics given by John. We are necessarily led to look for new enemies of genuine Christianity of a peculiar stamp, such as might actually deceive those who did not hold fast to that inward anointing of the Spirit. But if such are meant, as actually denied that Jesus was the Messiah, how are we to understand this? The answer is at hand. One may profess himself in words a believer in Jesus as the Christ, and yet his conceptions of the person of Jesus, or of him as the Christ, may be at variance with this profession. Either he does not truly believe in Jesus of Nazareth, as lie really was and has exhibited himself in his life and history, -- does not receive the true historical image of this Jesus as a matter of personal conviction, but has dreamed out for himself another Jesus; or he does not acknowledge him as in the true sense the Christ, does not ascribe to him all which belongs to him as such, does not assume the befitting relation towards him as such. In either of these cases it might be said, that one who holds such views denies that Jesus is the Messiah. That which stood before the eye of John, was the divine incarnate Word, -- in the perfect union of the divine and human, as the veritable Jesus, the Christ. He who held this Jesus for a mere man, an enlightened man like the prophets, not acknowledging him as the Eternal Life manifesting itself in time, the fountain of divine life; or he who recognized in him the Son of God but not the Son of Man, denying the reality of his human manifestation, and changing his divine-human history into a misty phantom; lie who thus, with reckless self-will, separated the Son of God and the Son of Man, could not pass with John as one who truly acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, but must appear to him a denier of the truth. Hence, with reason, John accuses those falsifiers of evangelical truth, as described in our Introduction, with not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. And as these persons, under a pretended profession of belief in Jesus as the Christ, were yet inimical to him, and by their teachings might seduce believers from him; it was so much the more necessary to warn against such, as Antichrists.

Thus explained, we can readily apply what John here says to our own times. It applies to those who do not acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as, in the true sense, the Christ; to whom he is not that which he should be as the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer from sin, the Fountain of eternal divine life, the only Mediator between God and man, the Founder and sovereign Ruler of the kingdom of God. It applies also to such, as do not acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth in his true historical significance and reality, as presented to us in the gospel record; turning that whole record into doubt and uncertainty, sublimating him also into a form of mist, and leaving a mere phantom in his place; who, rending asunder the connection between Christ, -- Christ in himself, -- and the human historical appearing of Jesus, convert the Christ into a mere idea, and allow itonly an accidental connection with the historical Jesus thus unsubstantialized by their unbelief. Hence all such, in proportion as this may be affirmed, belong to those whom John designates as the representatives of the anti-christian spirit.

The preaching of Jesus as the Christ being the fundamental article of faith in the apostolic church, the foundation upon which the whole christian life was to be built up, the one doctrine which contained in itself all that was necessary to salvation; only those errors, consequently, were regarded by John and his fellow-apostles as radical, as belonging in their essence to Anti-christianity, which in one way or another mutilated this one cardinal doctrine. This furnishes the clue by which we are now also to judge of truth and falsehood, of what is requisite to christian fellowship and what is irreconcilable with it, and by which we must learn to estimate everything according to its own intrinsic value.

Not all erroneous conceptions of the person of Jesus, are included by John in what he terms antichristian; but, obviously, only such as do not admit a recognition of Jesus as the Christ in the true sense, -- only such as involve a denial of this, though they may not directly avow it. This also teaches us to distinguish carefully between conceptions of Christ, and what is essential to the recognition of Jesus as the Christ, -- what is requisite in order to present him in the true relation to the religious consciousness. These conceptions may correspond more or less to the truth; but the errors are not necessarily always such as to obscure or mutilate that which constitutes the essence of the preaching of Christ, viz. what Christ is in relation to the religious consciousness. In more recent times, christians have often erred through neglect of such discrimination; and have supposed themselves to differ in respect to faith in the one Jesus Christ, as the ground of salvation, from those with whom they were only at strife over such conceptions of his Person, as are of minor importance to the inward religious experience. Against this error also, we are guarded by the standard of christian judgment here followed by the Apostle.

John develops still farther the great importance to religious belief, in its widest sense, of this doctrine of Jesus as the Christ. He shows the danger to religious faith in general from the denial of Christ; the close connection between the doctrine of Jesus as the Christ, which constitutes the peculiarity of christian faith, and the religious sentiment in general; how they stand or fall together. It is by no means implied that the champions of anti-christianity, whom he is opposing, expressly connected with their denial of Jesus as the Christ the denial also of God the Father. At a later period indeed we find a class, the Gnostics of the second century, of whom this might be said; who did not acknowledge the God revealed through Christ as the Father of all spirits, the Creator of the Universe, the God already made known. in1 the Old Testament. But it cannot be conclusively proved that John had any such in mind. The opposite is more naturally inferable from his words, viz. that those of whom he is speaking professed belief in the God of the Old Testament as the Father; and John's reproach is, that with them this profession has lost its full truth and significance. In renouncing their belief in Jesus as the Christ, they had renounced also their belief in God as the Father. The same relation holds good, in respect to belief, in either case. As John, upon. the grounds already explained, declares of some who professed belief in Jesus as the Christ that they were, notwithstanding, deniers of Christ; so also he declares of those who in words acknowledge God as the Father, that by denying Jesus as the Christ they do thereby deny God as the Father. It is this, the necessary and inseparable connection of these two articles of faith, which is here meant.

How then is this to be understood? We must not fail to notice in the first place, that God is not here designated merely in general as God, but as the Father. Now as the Father, -- He who with inexpressible father-love draws to himself the beings estranged from him by sin, -- as such he has first revealed himself in Christ; giving his only-begotten Son as the means of reconciling to himself, and of restoring to his fellowship which is the eternal fountain of bliss, the alienated family of man. In him and through him do they first recognize God as their Father; only through him are they re-established in the filial relation to God. The whole life of Christ is a revelation of divine Father-love, towards the race estranged from God by sin. In him is first presented that endearing relation, into which, by sending his Son to appear on earth, he has entered with man. He, the Holy One, could alone be absolutely the object of the divine Father-love. It is in the Son that the Father first reveals himself. In the contemplation of his life we first perceive what God is, as Father; first learn to understand his paternal love. It is from him alone, the only absolutely worthy object of the divine complacency and love, that this love can be extended to all who are in fellowship with him, and in whom Christ, -- whose they are, who dwells in them, and from whom their whole life issues, -- presents himself, yea his own self, to the eye of the divine Father.

But certainly it was not merely this John intended to express, viz. that the knowledge of God as the Father is dependent upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ his son, -- faith in God as the Father upon faith in Jesus Christ as his son. He did not intend to say merely: that to deny the Son, is necessarily to deny the Father as such. In the Johannic sense, this has reference not merely to the special relation which God, as Father, holds to those who are justified in regarding themselves as his children; but to the knowledge of God as God, in its most general and unlimited sense. The knowledge of God is, in every view, based upon the knowledge of Christ. In proportion as Christ is known and understood, is known and understood the God who reveals himself in him; as John himself says (John i.18): |No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [revealed] him.| By seeing cannot here be meant bodily sight; for the Son of God is here represented as he who alone can behold the God whom no one hath seen. But God could be seen through the outward sense by no one, not even by the Son. As Spirit, he is forever the Invisible. It is not therefore the bodily sight, but a spiritual perception which is here intended; the perfect intuitive knowledge of God as the Invisible, that is, the Incomprehensible. The only-begotten Son of God could alone, by virtue of his being one with God, truly know him by direct intuition; and from this knowledge could, as man, reveal him in a form comprehensible by man. Though dimly revealed in the inner consciousness of man, who felt himself drawn to him by a mysterious influence; yet was God, -- in his infinite exaltation, his unfathomable nature, his boundless perfection, -- a God concealed from man, a God afar off. The Spirit, soaring on bold wing in search of God, sunk down exhausted to the earth. Often, during the ante-christian period, we find nothing remaining save a vague feeling of the Divine; or the idea of God, having become wholly earthly, had given place to the deification of nature. God was not recognized in his exaltation over the world, as He to whom the world is subject; the God of Heaven, who also fills the earth, who is at once near and afar off. His Being was brought down to a level with that of the world, and the conceptions of God and of the world were commingled into one. The consciousness of God was lost in the deification of the material world; or a mere empty notion, an abstract idea of perfection without actual existence, was substituted for the idea of the living God. The God who dwells in inaccessible light, into which no human spirit can penetrate, must, in order to be truly known by man, come down to the human and within its finite limits. First in the revelation of the incarnate God, could the God afar off come near to humanity. First in this image of God in human nature, could the idea of God enter as a living and substantial element into the moral and intellectual being of man. Man, created in the image of God, was through this image in himself to rise to the Spirit who is the Father of all spirits, the eternal archetype. As spirit he should thus recognize, in his essential being, that highest Spirit from whom all spirits emanate, and who images himself in them. But the image of God in man having been marred by sin, and the connection sundered between the archetypal Spirit and those who are formed in its image, man has thereby become incompetent for this knowledge. Hence the more he strives, while in this state of estrangement from God, to lift himself by the mere force of thought to him from whose living fellowship he is separated, the farther does he remove from him, the greater the errors into which he falls.

Now that which had hitherto been wanting to man, the perfect image of God in human form, this is supplied by Christ, -- the perfect man as the image of the perfect God. God, in his love and his holiness, gives a perfect reflection of himself as such in the life of Christ; for it is only in the union of these two attributes that he can be truly known as God. Now we can rise from the image to the original. In the mirror of Christ we perceive God. Here we attain to the idea of God, thus brought near and placed within the grasp of our spirits. The chasm which parted us from God is closed. The deeper we penetrate into the nature of Christ, the more deeply do we penetrate into the knowledge of God, whose perfect image he is. Hence, in this view also, as the confession of the Son involves the confession of the Father, the knowledge of the Son the knowledge of the Father; so also in the denial of the Son is involved the denial of the Father. Losing the real Christ, man sinks back again to that previous position, where an infinite gulf separated his spirit from God. The previous errors develop themselves the more powerfully, as through his apostasy from the truth he has incurred the greater guilt; the ground of these errors having formerly been mere ignorance of the truth, but now a wicked denial of it. Moreover, this same tendency of natural reason in opposition to the Divine, -- though at first only mingling its sceptical and obscuring influence with the conception of what Christ is, -- must yet, true to its own nature, go on in a progressive and more complete development and expression of itself, extending that influence over the religious sense in general. And thus, in every view, is sustained the truth of the Apostle's words, that he who denies the Son, the same has not the Father; but he who confesses the Son has the Father also.

We must not overlook That is further implied in these words; viz. that with confession, in the true sense of the word, there must be connected also a HAVING of that which is presupposed as the object of confession, of faith, of knowledge. He who confesses the Son, in the true sense of the word, he who knows him and believes on him, also HATH him. He stands in the most intimate fellowship of life with Christ, and through him in the same fellowship with the Father. Through this fellowship he knows God, as He can only through this be known, through this his self-revelation ill the consciousness of such as in the Son have the Father also, -- the Father, to whom none can ever rise by mere effort, of thought, apart from a union of the life with him. And thus, whoever detaches himself from this union with Christ and denies him, having him no longer present in his life, thereby renounces also union with the Father. He can no longer know him whom he no longer HAS, with whom he is no longer connected through fellowship with Christ.

As these words of John are confirmed by the whole history of the human spirit, since the time they were written; so does the present age furnish a peculiarly emphatic witness of their truth. The study of passing events serves, in no small degree, to elucidate the deep meaning of these pregnant words; as they, on the other hand, become specially important to the higher interests of our own times, when we learn how to apply them. We see, that as those radical errors in the conception of Christ's person have reappeared in the same anti-christian tendencies which John opposed, and men have departed from the true Christ; the same radical tendency of the natural reason gradually led on to the misapprehension and denial of God, whom Christ has revealed to us as the Father. It was a tendency which at first, while thus limiting and mutilating the doctrine of Christ, yet sought to maintain its hold of the doctrine of God as the Father, to whom it ascribed the influence of Christianity. But, as we have seen, it was continually impelled by its own nature to overstep these boundaries. First, that intimate filial relation to God as Father was lost; only the general reference to God as the Unknown, the God afar off, remained. Then was the God of heaven, the living personal God, also lost. The deification of the world, -- opposing itself to everything supernatural in the Divine, to everything which can be perceived only by faith, and cannot be apprehended by the senses, or by the natural reason confined as it is within the limits of the world, -- widened its grasp continually, and developed more and more in denial and destruction its anti-christian power. What at first was professedly only a matter of knowledge, became more and more an element of life. And thus will the declaration of John forever continue to be verified. As Christ is the centre around which all turns, and in reference to the most vital contrarieties in opinion and life this only is of account, -- what is the relation to Christ; as we have all, or lose all with him; so the distinction comes out with continually increasing clearness, between having Christ and with him having the Father, or losing the Son and with him the Father, and at the same time all that is divine, all wherein the God-related spirit can enjoy possession of itself, can find its true life.

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