1 John 5:19
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
This has been called the Epistle of Love, and it well deserves that title, but it might be almost more appropriately called the Epistle of Certainties; there is the ring of absolute assurance from the opening words to the finish.
I. THE STRENGTH AND PREVAILING POWER OF THE EARLY DISCIPLES WERE IN THEIR CERTAINTIES; they went forth with decision upon their lips, with the fire of intense conviction in their hearts, and it made their testimony irresistible, and gave them their victory over the world. It was the age of the sceptic, a period of almost universal uncertainty. Agnosticism was bringing forth its inevitable fruit of pessimism and despair. Man hungers for the spiritual food which he has cast away. That was the secret sigh and groan of all the world in the days of the apostles. And then these men appeared, declaring in tones to which the world had long been unaccustomed that they had found the Truth, and the Eternal Life. It was the one clear beacon light in a waste of darkness. No wonder that men gathered around them. "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith."
II. IT WAS THE CERTAINTIES OF THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH THAT MADE IT A MISSIONARY CHURCH. Each illumined soul passed on the light to another. Each convert was as good as two, for each one made a second. Prisoners whispered the glad news to their gaolers, soldiers to their comrades, slaves to their masters, women to everyone who would listen. Nor could it be otherwise. They were swayed by the force of a mighty conviction. There was no hesitation because there was no doubt.
III. THE MEASURE OF OUR CERTAINTY IS THE MEASURE OF OUR POWER. We cannot lift others on the rock unless our own feet are there. No man ever wrought conviction in his fellow men until conviction had first swept hesitation out of him like a whirlwind, and cleansed his heart from doubt like a fire. No man believes the witness who only half believes himself. If there be no certainty there will be no fervour, no enthusiasm, no pathos in the voice, no pity in the eyes, no thrill of sympathy. There will only be cold words falling on cold hearts, and returning, as they went out, void. The whole Church is beginning to feel and rejoice in a powerful reaction towards positive beliefs. Those who talk somewhat boastfully of their advanced thought are being left behind, though they do not know it, by advance of a nobler kind. The Church sweeps past them in the impatience of a renewed assurance. Missions can only march to the music of the words "We know." If the steps are taken with dubious feet and trembling misgivings in the heart there will be perpetual haltings and paralysing weariness. If we are not sure that our Bible is the very Word of God, and our Christ the only possible Saviour of the world, shall we expend treasure and blood and send men out to solitude and danger, and often into the very grip of death, to make them known? There will be an end of all our missionary zeal if we are to believe or be influenced by that talk about the heathen systems which students of comparative religion have recently made current. Many hands have been busy of late whitewashing the darkness and laying gilt upon corruption. It has become fashionable in certain quarters to extol Buddha and Confucius and Mahomet, and by implication to depreciate Christ; to hold up to admiration the light of Asia, and by implication to bedim the Light of the World. And the levelling down of the Bible and the levelling up of the heathen writings have gone on together until the two are made to meet almost on common ground. If we had nothing more to carry to the heathen world than our moral precepts, who would waste the least effort or treasure on that task? Christ did not come so much to teach men what they ought to be and do, not to mock them by a revelation of their own impotence, but to give them that which is more than human, and to enable them to ascend to the heights which He showed.
IV. WE COME BACK, THEN, EVER TO THIS CONFESSION OF THE APOSTLE, for to question it is to make missionary enterprise, if not a laughing stock, at least a "much ado about nothing." "We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." Perhaps in Christian lands we cannot draw the line so clearly as it was drawn of old. The darkness shades into the light where Christian influences are working in all societies, and permeating all thought. And the measure of assurance is the measure of obligation. The more absolutely we know these things the heavier is our burden of responsibility.
(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.