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The First Epistle Of John by Augustus Neander

1 John v. 19, 20

This leads the Apostle to exhibit yet once more, before he closes his epistle, the essential contrariety between christians as born of God, and the sinful world. | And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.|

The Apostle, now about to take leave of his readers, once more impresses on their hearts what christians must ever hold in living remembrance, if they would not prove faithless to their calling, -- their relation to the world. As born of God, as partakers of the divine life, they form the opposite to the world, of which John says, that it lies under the dominion of Evil. The divine life in them constitutes the entire and irreconcilable opposite to the evil which reigns in this world. Out of the fulness of the divine life in his own soul, the aged John looks back upon a long life, during which he had witnessed the constant progress of evil in the world, developing itself in an ever-ascending scale. He must now look to his near departure out of this world, whence he was to be called into the home of the Good, to Christ. But his spiritual children he left behind in this world of wickedness, exposed to the taint of its corruptions. He reminds them, that by virtue of the divine life within them, they should constitute the opposite to this wicked world. Hence they should be ever watchful over themselves, guarding against all inward contact with the wickedness which is in the world, and by the power of their inward divine life preserve themselves pure from its contaminating influence; ever bearing in mind their position and calling, to maintain a conflict with the evil of the world, to be themselves the salt of the world.

As The True, John designates him who alone is to be called God. The world knows him not, is in a state of estrangement from him. It is included in the very idea of the world as such, that it gives to another the honor which belongs to God alone, that it serves false gods. But believers are, in their inward life and spirit, separated from the world by this, -- that the Son of God has come, and has given to them the perception, whereby they know the true God. John here assumes that man, as he is by nature, in his natural tendencies, cannot by the natural understanding attain to the knowledge of God; that the spirit must first be freed from the worldliness in which it is ensnared, a new God-related sense must be awakened, in order that he may thereby, with the eyes of the spirit enlightened, know the true God. John himself, though he had been brought up in Judaism, and taught from early life the knowledge of God; yet ranks himself here with Gentile believers, as one to whom the Son of God first imparted that inward sense, whereby he might know God. He thus implies that he knew him not before; that the light of the knowledge of God first dawned upon him, when Christ called him from the world to himself. Here too is recognized the fundamental truth, that it is only through the Son the Father can be truly known. Hence it is evident, that one may acknowledge God, may think that he knows him, may have a kind of dead faith in him; while yet he is far from knowing him, wanting that God-related sense through which only he can be truly known. From him that hath not,' says our Lord, shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.' So may those, who have only this dead knowledge of God, this form without life, find it wholly swept away by the overpowering force of the spirit of the world. And being thus made conscious of their lack of any principle superior to the world, whereby they can withstand its power, and of their wretchedness in this state of estrangement from God and subjection to the world; they may be led to seek for that new inward sense, which the Son of God can alone impart, and whereby alone they can attain to the knowledge of the true God.

This true knowledge of God has its root in the life, in fellowship with God; and this can be mediated only through his Son. Hence John reminds his christian brethren, that they are in the true God; that they live in fellowship with him, by virtue of their union with his Son; that it is therefore only in this abiding union they can persevere in fellowship with God, and retain the knowledge of the true God. Thereby alone will they be kept separate from the world, and guarded against its influences. The Holy Scriptures do indeed recognize, even in this our fallen state, a certain BEING IN GOD, as the inalienable inheritance of the God-related, God-descended spirit. So Paul, in the seventeenth chapter of the Acts, says: In him we live, and move, and have our being.' But that consequent drawing from God and towards him, grounded in this moral relationship to him, leads not to that living, true knowledge of God, which can sustain itself in conflict with the world. Such a consciousness of the unknown God, of the God afar off, soon gives way before the overwhelming tide of the world; in the midst of a world lying in wickedness, it becomes blinded and confused through the influence of worldly temptations. Man cannot, by this dawn of a higher consciousness within him, maintain his faith in his own divine origin, and in the God of whose being it admonishes him. The scattered rays, whose light has penetrated the darkness of a world lying in wickedness, are again obscured; from the world ascends an impenetrable cloud, which enwraps his spirit, and forms a separating wall between him and the Divine. All else is unavailing, unless that divine drawing lead his submissive spirit to the Son, to be by him made free, and endowed with that inward sense whereby the true God is known.

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