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The First Epistle Of John by Augustus Neander


THROUGHOUT this Epistle, the exhibition of truth and the reprehension of opposing errors alternate the one with the other. Here the point of transition lies in what he had just said, viz. that in the case of all believers, participation in the influences of the. Holy Spirit is the pledge of continued fellowship with Christ. This leads him, since there was n1muche which falsely claimed to be from that spirit, to direct attention to the difference between its genuine operations and such as were only pretended, only a deceptive imitation. This connects itself with his previous warnings against false teachers.

These teachers, as is clear from the traits subsequently ascribed to them, professed to enjoy the special illumination of that Holy Spirit who is the source of life to all christians. They spoke with an irresistible enthusiasm; they claimed the character of prophets. All who assume the office of teachers in the church, should be organs of that Holy Spirit who is the pervading vitalizing principle of the church. As it was this Spirit, whose vital influence is presupposed in all as christians, without which no one could testify of Christ; so all, who would be received as teachers in the church, could only speak as instruments of this Spirit, and they were fully entitled so to speak. What they taught, however, must approve itself as truth, by its harmony with that which the same Spirit revealed to all. John himself, in a passage which we have already considered, appeals to this inward test in every believer. In the operations of this Spirit, however, there were to be found many gradations. It might be more the divinely enlightened reason, with its calmly progressive development of truth, which predominated in the teacher's mode of instruction; or it might be more the immediate influence of sudden inspiration by the Holy Spirit, seizing upon the mind with irresistible power, or revealing to the inward christian sense, in moments of extraordinary activity, new and higher views of truth of which the recipient felt himself constrained to testify. This latter was the peculiar characteristic of the prophets, in distinction from the ordinary teachers in the church. A like difference in the various spheres of christian inspiration, in the gradations of the divine and human, obtains in all periods of the church. As it is the same Holy Spirit which governs the church in all ages, and the unity of this Spirit connects the church of all ages with that of the Apostles; as the relation of human nature in all its various powers to the Spirit which animates them, and the laws according to which that Spirit works, remain ever the same; so also will his influence at all times manifest itself in the same generic forms and with the same gradations. Hence, a careful observation of history will show, in other times, a similar distinction between prophets and ordinary teachers in the church, between the prophetic gift and the ordinary gift of teaching; a distinction between such as are to be compared with the teachers, and such as more resemble the prophets of the apostolic church. The apostolic church cannot indeed, nor was it intended to be, reproduced as a whole in exactly the same literal form. Yet since it must serve, as to its ruling spirit and its leading principles, for the model of all subsequent christian development, it were much to be desired that we could more closely follow its example, in distinguishing between these different gifts, and in the training and application of them to the various circumstances and wants of the church.

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