Studies in 1 John
Chapter 4, verses 4-6
"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." (vs. 4).
There is a tone of quiet confidence in this verse that strikes a note of triumph. We have overcome them! Even although our earthly pilgrimage is by no means ended and we still have trials and tribulation, struggles and conflict, to endure and survive, we have overcome "them", the antichrists of which John has just been speaking. Because we are of God, and God is in us, we have already overcome all antichrists. John is not speaking here of believers whose conflicts with the world, the flesh and the devil are now all over and who therefore have entered into the final "rest" beyond the veil. He is talking to pilgrim Christians, struggling Christians, suffering Christians, Christians who still experience only too vividly and painfully the weaknesses and stumblings of their fallen human nature, and who oft-times are tempted to wonder if after all they are going to make their calling and election sure. It seems so evident that we in the flesh have by no means yet overcome all the enemies of the spirit; we wonder if John really had us in mind when he penned these words. Or is it that those early Christians of the First Century were already in spiritual stature far above what we can ever hope to be in the flesh? Did they overcome more completely and positively than do we in this Twenty-first Century? Are these words of commendation applicable to them but not applicable to us? Not so. There is no essential difference between Christians of anyone century and any other. All are faced with much the same difficulties and temptations and all react to them in much the same way. Human nature does not change much through the ages, whether the individuals concerned be children of God or children of the Devil. We may be tolerably certain that John's commendation of his own brethren in his own day is more or less equally applicable to his brethren of this our day. We, like them, have overcome the antichrist simply and solely because God is in us and abides in us and dwells in us, and whilst that remains true there can be no other outcome. The issue is already decided. Of course if the time should come when it is no longer true that God dwells in us, if we have banished His gracious presence from our hearts, then it is no longer true that we have over. come. It is not of our own unaided strength that we have overcome; it is because of His indwelling Spirit. We supply the sincerity, the desire; He supplies the strength. We need both to make the overcoming a certainty. If we on our part withdraw our sincerity, our desire to be overcomers, then His strength of itself will no longer effect the victory. We can only be overcomers by means of His strength; we can only be overcomers by means of our own sincerity. We need both.
So it is that because "greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world", because God is greater than the Devil, we can be sure of our overcoming. God is visiting the nations to take out of them a people for His Name (Acts 15); He has called those whom He chooses. He has found a leaning towards Him, and the call has been heeded and answered. He has accepted that person's consecration, and thenceforward overcoming is assured, if they continue in faith and hope. It cannot be repeated too often that once our Father has received us into covenant relationship with Himself, sealed us with the Holy Spirit of adoption and given us the honour of being called "sons of God", He will never be the One to let go first. He abides faithful. But on the other hand we ourselves can let go; and if we of our own volition turn away and walk no more with Him then He has no alternative but to let us go. But John is not now thinking of such possibilities as that. He is writing to men and women who have every intention of living up to their new found faith. He is writing to men and women many of whom were later on to become martyrs for the Cause and the Lord to which and to Whom they had pledged their lives. And he is telling them in advance that the Holy Spirit in them is a power greater by far than anything the antichrists of this world could call to their aid, and because of that fact these simple hearted believers could already be said to have "overcome".
"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." (vs. 5-6).
"They are of the world!" The word used here for "world"-"kosmos"-means and includes everything that has to do with the ordered life of man on this planet. It covers the political, the ecclesiastical and the social institutions of man and the lands and buildings and temples and everything appertaining thereto. It covers the cities and the factories and the ships and everything that has to do with the life of men. It covers all that men have made and built on the face of the earth and it covers all that they have said and written and painted. It covers their philosophies and their laws and all that is built upon those philosophies and laws. The kosmos is the world which men have made, and it is in such a world that we live as aliens -"in the world but not of the world'. This is the world to which the antichrists belong, this the world of which and to which they speak, and this the world which gives them ear. It is a world in which God is not honoured and very largely is quite unknown. St. Paul gave it its true name when he called it "this present evil world". Not until it has been swept away and replaced by a new order of things "wherein dwelleth righteousness" will men escape from the dominion of evil and the influence of antichrist.
All this has a terrifying implication to-day. The minds and hearts of men are increasingly turning to that full unity with this present kosmos that leaves God right out of the picture. There is no room for God in men's ideas to-day. "'There is no God' is in all their thoughts"; that expression is more true today than it was when it was coined by the Psalmist three thousand years ago. And the result is that the world is slipping more and more into the grasp of antichrist. In its most modern form—a form not yet fully revealed- that awful power is described symbolically in Revelation 13, where the whole world saving those who have the Father's name in their foreheads will be branded with the mark of the Antichrist—the Beast. In a day yet to come—it may be very near—we shall realise much more intensely than we do now how true it is that the antichrist is "of" the world and the world "heareth" it.
There is another side to the question. All are not deceived by antichrist. Some there are, hidden away in this kosmos, who are prepared to listen to the voice that is raised—for God. Says Rotherham in this verse 6 "He that is getting to understand God hearkeneth unto us; whoso is not of God listeneth not unto us". That indicates that in the world, in these dark times, there will be, first, those who are Christ's disciples, well-instructed in the truth and determined to defend it at all costs, and secondly, those who would hearken to the voice of God if it should be sounded. Even in the darkest hour of apostasy and the powers of evil there will be some desiring to know God who will listen if a voice is raised to speak for Him. That fact should be a powerful incentive to us. Daniel, giving heed to the angelic visitant's message concerning the latter days, heard him say "The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many,. yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, and by captivity, many days." (chap. 11. 32-34). That may well refer to a period earlier in history than our own yet its teaching may be true teaching for the days in which we live. We too may find opportunity to "instruct many" in this dark hour of the world's travail. We too may have to fight all the powers of darkness in order to snatch one brand from the burning. This verse in John's epistle ought at least to remind us that our mission still is to hold aloft the banner of Truth in the sight of all people and exhort them to repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ. We are teachers of all nations, and the more that we see the darkness settling down over the earth the more we should seek to stab its blackness with our torches. We cannot hope to dispel it utterly-that is reserved for the coming Millennial Day-but we can at least make pinpoints of fire in the gloom toward which the seekers can turn and make their way.
"Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" says John. Surely so! If we are thus able to stand up against the prevailing antichrist worship and denounce it for what it is we have this witness that we have the spirit of truth. No other spirit or power can sustain us at the present time. The spirit of truth, which has already led us into all truth, will now be our strength and inspiring influence. Just as Elijah, in the strength of the heaven-sent food and drink, went forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the Mount of God, so shall we go in the strength of the spirit's witness the full span of our testing time, and emerge at the end triumphant, because we have known God. So let us continue, determined to witness faithfully for our Lord and Master, in no manner dismayed by our opponents, knowing that of a surety "greater is he that is for us than all that can be against us".