1 John 5:19
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
I. I ask you, then, to look first AT THE CHRISTIAN CERTAINTY OF BELONGING TO GOD. "We know that we are of God." Where did John get that form of expression? He got it where he got most of his terminology, from the lips of the Master. For, if you remember, our Lord Himself speaks more than once of men being "of God." As, for instance, when He says, "He that is of God heareth God's words." "Ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God." The first conception in the phrase is that of life derived, communicated from God Himself. Fathers of flesh communicate the life, and it is thenceforth independent. But the life of the Spirit, which we draw from God, is only sustained by the continual repetition of the same gift by which it was originated. The better life in the Christian soul is as certain to fade and die if the supply from heaven is cut off or dammed back, as is the bed of a stream, to become parched and glistering in the fierce sunshine if the headwaters flow into it no more. You can no more have the life of the Spirit in the spirit of a man without continual communication from Him than a sunbeam can subsist if it be cut off from the central source. Divine preservation is as necessary in grace as in nature. If that life is thus derived and dependent, there follows the last idea in our pregnant phrase — viz., that it is correspondent with its source. "Ye are of God," kindred with Him and developing a life which, in its measure, is cognate with, and assimilated to, His own. Then there is another step to be taken. The man that has that life knows it. "We know," says the apostle, "that we are of God." That word "know" has been usurped by certain forms of knowledge. But surely the inward facts of my own consciousness are as much reliable as are facts in other regions which are attested by the senses, or arrived at by reasoning. Christian people have the same right to lay hold of that great word "we know," and to apply it to the facts of their spiritual experience, as any scientist in the world has to apply it to the facts of his science. How do you know that you are at all? The only answer is, "I feel that I am." And precisely the same evidence applies in regard to these lofty thoughts of a Divine kindred and a spiritual life. But that is not all. For the condition of being "born of God" is laid plainly down in this very chapter by the apostle as being the simple act of faith in Jesus Christ. So, then, if any man is sure that he believes, he knows that he is born of God, and is of God. Ah! But you say, "Do you not know how men deceive themselves by a profession of being Christians, and how many of us estimate their professions at a very different rate of genuineness from what they estimate them at?" Yes! I know that. And this whole letter of John goes to guard us against the presumption of entertaining inflated thoughts about ourselves. You remember how continually in this Epistle there crops up by the side of the most thoroughgoing mysticism, as people call it, the plainest, homespun, practical morality. "Let no man deceive you; he that doeth not righteousness is not of God; neither he that loveth not his brother." There is another test which the Master laid down in the words, "He that is of God heareth God's words. Ye, therefore, hear them not because ye are not of God." Christian people, take these two plain tests — first, righteousness of life, common practical morality; and, second, an ear attuned and attent to catch God's voice. It is a shame, and a weakening of any Christian life, that this triumphant confidence should not be clear in it. "We know that we are of God." Can you and I echo that with calm confidence? "I sometimes half hope that I am." "I am almost afraid to say it." "I do not know whether I am or not." "I trust I may be." That is the kind of creeping attitude in which hosts of Christian people are contented to live. Why should our skies be as grey and sunless as those of this northern winter's day when all the while, away down on the sunny seas, to which we may voyage if we will, there is unbroken sunshine, ethereal blue, and a perpetual blaze of light?
II. We have here THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF THE SURROUNDING WORLD. I need not, I suppose, remind you that John learned from Jesus to use that phrase "the world," not as meaning the aggregate of material things, but as meaning the aggregate of godless men. Now, the more a man is conscious that he himself, by faith in Jesus Christ, has passed into the family of God, and possesses the life that comes from Him, the more keen will be his sense of the evil that lies round him. Just as a native of Central Africa brought to England for a while, when he gets back to his kraal, will see its foulnesses as he did not before, the measure of our conscious belonging to God is the measure of our perception of the contrast between us and the ways of the men about us. I am not concerned for a moment to deny, rather, I most thankfully recognise the truth, that a great deal of the world has been ransomed by the Cross, and the Christian way of looking at things has passed into the general atmosphere in which we live. But the world is a world still, and the antagonism is there. The only way by which the antagonism can be ended is for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
III. Lastly, consider THE CONSEQUENT CHRISTIAN DUTY. Let me put two or three plain exhortations. I beseech you, Christian people, cultivate the sense of belonging to a higher order than that in which you dwell. A man in a heathen land loses his sense of home, and of its ways; and it needs a perpetual effort in order that we should not forget our true affinities. So I say, cultivate the sense of belonging to God. Again, I say, be careful to avoid infection. Go as men do in a plague-stricken city. Go as our soldiers in that Ashanti expedition had to go, on your guard against malaria, the "pestilence that walketh in darkness." Go as these same soldiers did, on the watch for ambuscades and lurking enemies behind the trees. And remember that the only safety is keeping hold of Christ's hand. Look on the world as Christ looked on it. There must be no contempt; there must be no self-righteousness. There must be sorrow caught from Him, and tenderness of pity. Work for the deliverance of your brethren from the alien tyrant. The solemn alternative opens before everyone of us — Either I am "of God," or I am "in the wicked one."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.