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SUPPLEMENTARY STUDIES
IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.


IT is said in the Encyclopædia Britannica that the persons addressed in this Epistle are "the instructed," and that the author's aim is "a deepening of the spiritual life and a confirmation of faith." To contribute something to this worthy aim I have deemed it a fitting occupation for the sunset hour of my life to voice to the whole company of believers "the message" of St. John, the aged, respecting the reciprocal indwelling of God in the soul, and of the soul in God as a result of love made perfect. It is also appropriate to the purpose of this book to divest the message of those misinterpretations which make it discordant and self-contradictory, and to set in a clear light the testimony of the last surviving eyewitness of our Lord to the utmost extent of salvation from sin under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Hence should this series of exegetical studies be occasionally polemical, it will not be from choice, but from necessity in vindicating vital truth and banishing deadly error.

As writers, Paul and John widely differ in style, not in sentiment. Paul elaborates logically; John seizes by intuition.

Paul writes now in a storm of argument, then in a humble strain of self-forgetful, self-abasing expostulation and entreaty; now eloquently on high abstract truths, now in exquisite descriptions, then about the homeliest and simplest duties. St. John moves in a calm sphere of certainty among the very highest, grandest and largest of Christian truths, raising the general outlines of human life into the same atmosphere till they are illuminated and penetrated by the clear rays of light and love. All is simple, broad, clear, calm, sure. He writes at, once with the most commanding authority, and the most loving tenderness; the profoundest wisdom, and the most touching simplicity; the most searching knowledge of the human heart and its difficulties and failures, and the most elevating and bracing courage and confidence; the gentlest affection, and the sternest and most pitiless condemnation of wilful departure from truth in practice or opinion.
Paul begins his epistles with a statement of his apostolic authority; John begins with the announcement, in the very first sentence, of the truth that he purposes to set forth. In the Revelation it is the things which must shortly come to pass. In his Gospel it is the supreme Divinity of Jesus Christ. "The Logos was God." Hence we have one dogmatic Gospel. In his First Epistle it is the veritable humanity of Christ who dwelt among men in a real, material body attested by three of the five special senses, "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Logos of life." Hence the teaching of John in this Epistle turns upon the person of Christ. The occasion of this controversial Epistle was the denial of this fact which an erroneous philosophy, extant in the apostolic age in spirit, but not yet developed in form, could not harmonize with the sinlessness of the incarnate Son of God. This inchoate philosophy which began to trouble the church, even in Paul's lifetime, as he hints in the epistle to the Ephesians and Colossians, and in the Pastoral Epistles, and was more fully developed before the death of John, is by many asserted to be that doctrine of Gnosticism called dualism, the existence of two original principles, good and evil, the evil being inherent only in uncreated matter from which the Creator of man could not expel it when He fashioned it into an envelope for the human spirit. It contains several negations of Christian theology, among which are these two: First, the denial of Christ's sinlessness as an intelligence acting through a material organism; and secondly, the doctrine that since all evil is in matter, the soul is incapable of the touch of sin, since there is no point of contact between mind and matter in the human constitution. In order to avoid so repugnant a doctrine as sin in the person of Christ, and to harmonize His perfect holiness with their philosophy, its advocates denied the reality of His body, and taught that it was only a sham, a phantom, a seeming body. Of course this would overturn the foundations of the temple of Christian truth, reducing the atonement, the death and the resurrection of the God-man from substantial verities to empty shadows, mocking human hopes. When John, the aged, sits down to write this address to the churches, probably personally delivered (Bengel) —for it has neither the inscription nor the conclusion of an epistle — he looks this incipient false doctrine of dualism that was "in the air" squarely in the face, and with two strokes of his pen he smites it to the dust. The first stroke cites the testimony of three of the five senses to the reality of Christ's body; and the second stroke declares the self-deception of those who while indulging in sin had no sense of a need of an atonement, because their inner spirits were perfectly pure, all the sin which defiled them existing only in those irresponsible, yet very convenient, packhorses, human bodies composed of matter primordially, eternally and incurably evil, and hence no concern of theirs. The first chapter is short, but it is long enough to annihilate dualism, although the subject is alluded to in the rest of the Epistle in the emphasis laid upon believing in Christ, "come in the flesh," and in the insistence that sinners can have no fellowship with a holy God any more than darkness can be yoked with light.

Docetism, the doctrine that Christ's body was a phantom, shows its "most ancient trace," says Dorner, in I John iv. 2, in which, "the antichrists do not deny that Christ has come at all, but only that He has come in the flesh." This denial was made in order to remove the Son of God, the author of all good, from all contact with matter which they conceived to be evil and the source of all evil. Since several modem exegetes of good repute see no traces of this philosophic error in John's writings, especially in his First Epistle, and therefore go astray in their explanation of key texts, it may be well to cite such authorities as Jerome, Ignatius, Hagenbach, who quotes 1 John i. 1-3, iv. 2, 3, and 2 John vii. as probable instances of John's references to "the Seemers," or Docetists. Hammond's commentary finds in this philosophy the key to this Epistle, as do Sinclair's (edited by Ellicott), and Whedon's also. With these agree Townsend and other English scholars, and many German exegetes, such as Lücke, Schmidt, Bertholdt and Niemeyer, who insist that the main object of the Epistle is to oppose the errors of this science (gnosis), falsely so called.

Bishop Westcott says, the false teaching with which "John deals is Docetic," and he intimates that "modem Idealism is a new Docetism."

When we come to see how subversive it is of Christian morality, we will be convinced that the beloved disciple did not waste his energies in opposing a harmless theory. Its advocates asserted that "they themselves would be saved, not by practice, but because they are spiritual by nature" (not by grace), and that as gold, though mingled with mire, does not lose its beauty, so they themselves, though wallowing in the mire of carnal works, do not lose their own spiritual essence. And, therefore, though they eat things offered to idols, and are the first to resort to banquets which the heathen celebrate in honor of their false gods, and abstain from nothing that is foul in the eyes of God or man, they say they cannot contract any defilement from these impure abominations; and they scoff at us who fear God as silly dotards, and hugely exalt themselves, professing to be perfect, and the elect seed."

This philosophic error, antagonized by John, because of its baneful moral effect, bearing the fruit of the grossest sensuality, produced in some a different effect — not holiness, but asceticism, an attempt at sanctification on the plane of nature, through efforts of the will, and not on the plane of faith in Jesus Christ, the only conqueror of sin. The belief that all evil is centred in matter caused this class of Gnostics to abhor their bodies. They became ascetics, vegetarians, monks and nuns, contemning and vilifying marriage, and self-scourgers, maintaining that self-flagellation is a means of grace equal to baptism and the Lord's Supper. Both parties brought great discredit upon Christianity, the one by violating its pure ethics, and the other by ignoring or corrupting its saving doctrines. Any error that substitutes human works or sufferings for faith in the blood of Jesus Christ as the ground of justification and means of sanctification is deadly indeed. John intuitively saw the practical outcome of this importation of Oriental philosophy into the Christian Church, and he wrote this Epistle or discourse as the antidote. His method of controversy is peculiar. He does not assail error directly and by name, but indirectly, by stating basal truths repugnant to that special heresy, to the practical effect of which he directs the attention of the reader, and not to the theoretical error itself.

Respecting the first and largest class of these Gnostics, says Dr. Whedon: "They taught that a man might be an outrageous violator of law, and yet a pure and holy saint. The Epistle is, therefore, a defence of Christian purity from sin against Gnostic purity in sin." The centre of purity from sin is Divine LOVE linking a perfectly pure God to the blood-washed soul — a union resulting in life eternal in the case of every persevering believer.

The poet Browning has quite truly indicated the occasion of this letter or tractate as the testimony of the last surviving eyewitness of the glorious reality of the incarnation now beginning to be denied.

"There was left on earth
No one alive who knew (consider this),
Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands,
That which was from the first, the Word of Life;
How will it be when none more saith, 'I saw'?"

The solitariness of this surviving witness gives a momentous importance to this apostolic testimony to the reality of the historical Christ against the destructive philosophy which would reduce Him to a phantom and subvert the very cornerstone of the Christian system. For even though Gnosticism was not yet fully developed, its baneful foreshadowings; were visible in such men as Simon Magus, the opponent of Peter, and Cerinthus, the antagonist of John. Hence, it may be concluded that what we see in the New Testament is exactly what we might expect — the early buds of Gnostic error appearing in the church and vigorous apostolic methods to destroy them. It is natural that the last surviving eyewitness should be the most emphatic.

But John's most effectual refutation of error is in the bold statement of the truth as verified by experience. We call the especial attention of preachers of the Gospel to this peculiarity of John. Christians, if genuine, not nominal, cannot be reminded too often that their religious life is "a matter of positive, demonstrable, realized facts," the witness of the Spirit crying in their hearts, Abba, Father, the transition from death to life consciously realized, which is the beginning of life eternal in the persevering believer who knows that he is in Christ and Christ in him, and "that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son," and is conscious of the indwelling of the Comforter and Sanctifier, making him a "habitation of God through the Spirit."

John's message to the world is "God is light." The basal truth of Revelation next to the unity of God is His holiness, diffusive as sunlight. Men cannot be transformed from sin to holiness while adoring impure deities. For worship assimilates. We invariably become like the object of our worship. Vile, indeed, became the Greeks, because their gods were impersonations of human lusts and passions enthroned on Mount Olympus. Their depravity created their gods, and their gods in turn intensified their depravity. This is the origin and this is the effect of every form of polytheism. But an intellectual people cannot always be contented with many gods. Reason, in striving to understand and explain the world, tends towards monotheism. Dualism cannot be a philosophic finality. Reason unaided by Revelation, recognizing nature as a whole cosmos, cannot but form a conception of it which will be pantheistic, since it acknowledges only the unity of substance, law and evolution, without the unity of rational plan and ethical purpose and a final cause. The mind cannot recognize the unity of God until it has harmonized the discords of nature. It discovers goodness in the adaptations of the natural world to the happiness of sentient beings, but it also finds a seeming malevolence in those elements which are destructive of such happiness, the earthquake, the tornado, the pestilence, serpents created with deadly fangs and insects with poisonous stings, and animals with teeth adapted to tear and devour other animals and with appetites prompting to destroy life. It finds death as universal as life. How can one God be the author of these warring elements of good and of evil? He must be a double-headed monstrosity, partly good and partly evil, if he is a personality, or he must be impersonal and destitute of a moral nature. In other words he must be pantheistic, a nondescript force — not "making for righteousness " — for this is a plagiarism from Revelation, but indifferent to moral distinctions, acting alike through both the assassin who slays the President and the patriot who pours out his blood for his country.

Hence, the concept of God in the minds of both pagans and philosophers involved sin. John's first message is to give the true concept: "God is light and there is not in Him any darkness at all, no, not even one speck." (Alford.) In the Old Testament light is used to signify prosperity and happiness; in the New Testament it indicates clearness, beauty and glory, all expressed by the word, "holiness." Darkness is the absence of this quality, and the absence of happiness also. It is sin and misery. John's message is only a repetition of his Master's message to the world. "The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (Westcott and Hort's text.) "Being the effulgence of His glory and the very image of His substance." (R. V.) The Son of God in His essential majesty was the sole expression of the Divine Light in His words and whole life on earth and in the testimony of the Spirit sent through His mediation. He who professes "fellowship with Him," or "similarity of character, hating what He hates and loving what He loves " (Joseph Cook), must be Christlike in moral character. If, instead of this, be walks in the darkness of sin, he lies; he is consciously and wilfully false, and not merely self-deceived. So glaring is the contrast between such a man's dark life and the whiteness of God's character, as imported into knowledge by His incarnate Son, that no term softer than liar properly describes him. He actively affirms what he knows to be false when he professes to combine fellowship with God and the choice of darkness or sin as the sphere of his life.

The central doctrine of the message, the fundamental truth on which the practical duties rest, is the Person of our Lord. There was an environment of error about the church. On the Jewish side was Ebionism which, like modern Unitarianism, regarded Christ as a mere man. On the philosophic side Docetism made him a mere phantom. A third party combined these two opinions in the doctrine of Cerinthus, who taught that the Divinity descended upon Jesus at His baptism and forsook Him before His death. In the presence of these errors John sets forth the truth more in the form of announcement than of argument, that Jesus has come in the flesh and that the denial of this is the denial of the Father, that there is no logical ground to stand on between the veritable incarnation and blank atheism. The history of modern liberalism abundantly justifies John's declaration. Hence the environment of those to whom he delivered this address is strikingly like our own in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. John's words need no accommodation to fit modern orthodoxy in its conflict with Christological errors. While right opinions alone, apart from holy living, are treated as worthless, the historical manifestation of the Son of God "who laid down His life for us" is urged as the sufficient motive to godlike conduct. Simple profession without action is a fatal delusion.

With John love is generally love of the brethren. Human weakness and aspiration are wonderfully helped by reason not only of Christ come in the flesh suffering our ills, but also of the glorification of this our Elder Brother, the pledge of our future transfiguration into His glorified image to stand at last "a row of glorified brothers with Jesus at the head." There can be no other destiny for those of whose moral character in probation it was said, "As He is so are we in this world."

"In Him is no darkness at all." Here we note that the difference between right and wrong is not merely a question of degree, the one shading off into the other, but fundamental, absolute, immutable and eternal. A clear perception of this truth by all moral agents would greatly fortify ethical foundations, strengthen conscience and prepare the way for the reception of that solemn doctrine which superficial thinkers and soft sentimentalists are prone to reject — everlasting rewards and punishments. On this contrast between wickedness and holiness, suggested by John and sharply exhibited in the life and teachings of Christ, depends the whole doctrine of sin. It is not a mere imperfection, a disguised form of good, like a bittersweet medicine, ending in a cure, the stumbling of an infant just learning to walk, but it is enmity against God. Between right and wrong there can be no midway step, even so small as a demisemiquaver in music. "Good and evil may be mixed in an individual for a short time while in a transition state;" in themselves they are contrary, and hence forever in capable of union. Yet many men, restive under the threatened eternal punishment of the incorrigibly wicked, are endeavoring to bind up sin and holiness into a unity of character and identity of destiny. Some embrace agnosticism for this reason: If God is unknown and unknowable it may be that His moral character is utterly unlike that portrayed in Revelation. It may be that the distinction which conscience makes between evil and good and the feeling of guilt for sin are all illusions, and that the doctrine of Mansell, in his "Limits of Religious Thought," is true, that "the infinite goodness of God is not explained on the supposition that its sole and sufficient type is to be found in the finite goodness of man." This is an implied denial that man at his best estate reflects the image of God.

As well deny that mathematical truth is not the same with God as it is with men, that the multiplication table is different with God, as to deny that ethical distinctions, universal as the human race and immutable as reason itself, are not the same with God as they are in man's conscience. Yet this denial is the secret hope of the agnostic tormented with a consciousness of sin. His very remorse is a credential of two realities, his own immortal personality, and the eternal identity of God's moral sense with his own moral reason. Another fashionable way of uniting sin and holiness in one character and of destroying both is found in Pantheism, which denies both the personality of God and of man, both being merged in the great soul of the world, a soul composed of blind forces, devoid of freedom and of moral action. There is no place for either sin or holiness in this view, that God and the universe are identical. This is the theology which Boston liberalists are borrowing from the Brahmins of India. It affords an anodyne to guilt, but no incentive to holiness. Its advocates candidly confess that it never has lifted a wretch out of the slums and planted his feet in the upward path, and that it is utterly unable to achieve such rescue.

There is still another conception of God which affords soft and broad theology — soft enough to lull sinners asleep, as on a downy couch, and broad enough to save all sinners who die in their sins. It magnifies the love of God to the entire exclusion of His justice. It is forever preaching to sinners that they are children of God, who is too fatherly ever to shut one of His impenitent children out of heaven. It teaches that God is light, the light of love, without the rays of holiness and justice, and that in this light all sin will ultimately evanesce.

The safeguard against these plausible and seductive errors is found in the Scriptural conception of God's moral attributes, held by believers "who are of full age (Greek, perfect), even those who by reason of use (habit) have their (spiritual) senses exercised to discern (distinguish between) good and evil." The cause of Christian holiness would receive an instantaneous and permanent upward impulse, should the conviction be inwrought in all believers that holiness in man is an obligation arising from the Divine nature, and that only the holy can be eternally happy in the presence of a holy God.

Elective studies are now quite in vogue in our colleges, but perfect holiness it not optional in God's university. Holiness is required in order to graduation. This requirement is not a by-law, easily suspended in an emergency, but constitutional and immutable because it is grounded not only in the Founder's will, but in His very nature — "in Him is no darkness at all." Hence there should be no darkness in us. For the moral character of God, the Creator, is a pattern after which the creature must create his own moral character. God has left this most valuable part of us for ourselves to construct after the model supplied by Himself: "Be ye holy, for I am holy." The Greek reader notes a shade of meaning in the Received Text not translated into English: "Become ye yourselves holy." It impresses upon us, probationers for an eternal existence of happiness or of woe, a special sense of responsibility to realize that we must carry out of this world something which we did not bring into it, and that something we must ourselves create, as a first cause. God is the first cause of my existence, but I am the first cause of my character and hence of my destiny. Otherwise God is the author of all the sin in the world.

What is it to have sin?

We have examined the historical setting of this Epistle, and have shown it is aimed to refute an error destructive of both the spiritual life and the moral principles of Christians. We have shown from the opening words of the Epistle that John designed the extinction of this Gnostic error. We are now prepared to examine the text most frequently urged against the doctrine of perfect holiness in this life. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us " (i. 8). What class of people does John have in mind? When he says "we," does he mean all Christians, including himself, as some expositors say, Christians just described as walking in the light, and by the blood of Christ cleansed from all sin? Dean Alford answers this question thus, "St. John is writing to persons whose sins have been forgiven them (ii. 12), and, therefore, necessarily the present tense, 'we have,' refers not to any previous state of sinful life before conversion, but to their now existing state, and the sins to which they are liable in that state." But the answer is not satisfactory. It implies that "we have sins " which we have not committed, sins to which we are only "liable." It accuses every angel in Heaven, while keeping his first or probationary state, and Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, before their first sinful volition, of having sin, because they were liable to sin. It asserts a palpable contradiction, that persons cleansed from sin still "have sin." It makes the beloved apostle stultify himself by such a self-contradiction and absurdity. Again he perpetrates the same paradox: "This state of needing cleansing from all present sin is veritably that of all of us, and our recognition and confession of it is the very first essential of walking in light." I can get no other meaning out of these words than that sin "is the very first essential" of holy living, for walking in the light is walking in holiness.

But the Alford school of interpreters may perhaps avoid contradiction by using sin in two different senses, actual sin, implying guilt, and what theologians call original sin, or proneness to sin, which is free from guilt, an impurity impregnating our being, for which there is no cure but death. But the very next verse denies any such doctrine as death sanctification, and asserts that the blood of Christ is the "double cure." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, with no hint that the second cure, entire purification, is postponed to the dying hour, while forgiveness is attainable now." It is as plain as the midday sun that both blessings, pardon and purity, are attainable now. If both are experienced, why should not both be confessed? With the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. Why should the confession of one part of salvation be commended, and the confession of the other part be condemned as the product of self-deception and untruth? These are exceedingly difficult questions for the Alford expositors to answer. But this is not the worst of their case. Bishop Westcott, the great English scholar, whose commentary on this Epistle, on which he spent most of his life, takes rank with the commentaries of Bishop Lightfoot, as most thorough and exhaustive, exceeding even German accuracy, and used by German professors themselves — this exegete proves beyond all contradiction that the phrase, "to have sin," used only in two other texts in the Bible (John ix. 41, xv. 22, 24), and only in John's writings, always signifies, not a guiltless evil tendency, but guilt. "Like corresponding phrases, to have faith, to have life, to have grief, to have fellowship, it marks the presence of something which is not isolated, but a continuous source of influence. It is distinguished from 'to sin,' as the sinful principle is distinguished from the sinful act itself." "To have sin" includes the idea of "PERSONAL GUILT." Bengel says, "not to have sin denies guilt." With this light thrown upon the text, let us read it again: "If we say that we have no personal guilt at the present moment, although the blood of Jesus Christ has just this hour cleansed us from all sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." According to this, every testimony to the remission of the guilt of sin is a deception and a falsehood. A large mistake is Paul's joyful declaration: "There is therefore now no condemnation, no guilt, no unremitted punishment to them that are in Christ Jesus." The knowledge of forgiveness which rings as a joyful sound through the Gospels and epistles is a hallucination of self-deceit and untruth. This use of what logicians call the reductio ad absurdum we have resorted to to prove that when John says, "If we say we have no sin," he means not Christians walking in the light of purity and perfect love, but any unregenerate man who declares that he has no sin to be forgiven, no guilt to wash away in the blood of Christ's atonement; especially any Gnostic who boasted that his spirit was pure by nature, and that sin could touch only his body, the husk of his soul.

The theory that this pernicious philosophy was damaging Christianity in Ephesus, where John spent his old age, lets the sunlight into his Epistle, explains every apparent contradiction, and illumines every obscurity. Above all, it relieves John of the charge that, by insisting that all Christians have sin, he extenuates that abominable thing which all the other Holy Scriptures brand with the Divine reprobation.

Multitudes of professed disciples of Christ have vainly justified acts of daily sin by perverting this text, wrenching it from its context and from the scope of this whole Epistle, which, from beginning to end, teaches that perfect love is in this life an attainable grace, and inspires its readers to aspire after perfect purity through faith in Jesus Christ. He who hurls this text against a soul panting to become holy, is possibly saved from blasphemy only by his ignorance, "because as he (Christ in Heaven) is, so are we in this world," if we fill out the highest possibilities of grace and obtain the full heritage of believers.

"Sin not."

Sin is a small word, but it occupies a large place in human history. The trail of this serpent is upon us all. Upon the holiest of the sons of Adam it has left scars. In all others who have not applied the Divine cure it is a running sore, a virus poisoning the whole soul and threatening eternal ruin. Under God's moral government sin can never be happy. It may, for a short time, be delirious, and sing, and laugh, and dance. But delirium is not felicity. Sin grieves the heart of infinite love. This sorrow prompts the attempt to apply the atonement, the only remedy. This must be adapted to man's free agency. It cannot be forced upon him against his consent. He cannot be saved as a thing; he must be saved as a person by a free compliance with conditions, not as a bale of goods from a burning warehouse, but as a person intelligently and providently securing a life preserver and binding it upon him. Such a life preserver God has provided in the blood of His Son, which John in the first chapter of his First Epistle announces as the perfect remedy, "the double cure," saving from wrath and making pure. Lest the perverse heart of the sinner should abuse this merciful provision and regard the scheme of reconciliation as a license for sinning, the inspired writer sets up a safeguard: "My little children, I write these things unto you, not to encourage you in sinning, but that ye sin not even once." Paul, after having declared that God's plan of salvation is such that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," is constrained to set up a similar safeguard against perverting the greatness of God's mercy into a motive for plunging more deeply into sin. "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." John gives the same precautionary warning in the words, "These things I write unto you that ye sin not." He might have spoken in more general terms and said, " The things written in all the Holy Scriptures have this purpose, that ye sin not." The historical parts of the Bible evidently have this design. They portray sin and its wretched consequences; the sin of Adam and Eve, and the cause of exile from Eden, a life of toil and sorrow ending in the grave; the sin of Cain and the brand of God's displeasure set upon him; the sin of the antediluvians and the all-engulfing deluge, God's broom, with which he swept the earth clean from sinners; the sin of Sodom and the shower of fire and brimstone; the sin of Israel and the captivity in Babylon; the sin of Jerusalem and its predicted overthrow by the Roman armies; the sin of Ananias and his wife, and their judicial death beneath the stroke of Divine justice. What are all these events but so many preachers crying out, "Sin not"? Should we study God's character of goodness, holiness, justice and truth, we should have another group of Gospel heralds proclaiming, "Sin not." Then should we gather together all the precepts and prohibitions of God's word in proverb, in psalm, in prophecy and in parable, we should have another multitude of preachers reiterating the same text, amplifying it and applying it in all the languages and dialects of the Babel earth into which this Book of books has been translated. "All the Divine purposes, words and judgments have for their aim to oppose sin, either to prevent its commission or to destroy it." (Bengel.)

We now raise this pertinent question, "Is the God of the Bible aiming at an end which is practicable, or at an ideal impossible to be realized in this world? " If we say that He is aiming at an ideal which He knows cannot be realized, we reflect on His wisdom and the efficacy of His remedy in the blood of His Son and the gift of His Spirit. Both are failures if they are insufficient either to prevent the commission of sin by a believing soul, or to destroy it, root and branch, as a principle within. The only escape from this is either probation extended beyond death where the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit will have a higher efficacy — for which doctrine we must have another Bible — or a probation after Christ's second advent when the Holy Spirit will be superseded by a more successful agency, the visible presence of our glorified Lord Jesus overwhelming sinners with His awful majesty, and sanctifying believers and keeping them pure by the very resplendence of His glory. But we have yet to find the text in the New Testament in proof that one sinner will be regenerated or one believer will be entirely sanctified after Jesus shall come with all His holy angels to judge the quick and the dead. This theory is as baseless as that of probation beyond the grave, so far as revelation is concerned.

Hence we are shut up to this alternative, either the whole plan of salvation in the Bible is a stupendous failure, or it is possible for the provisions of grace to destroy sin in a believing soul, and to prevent its subsequent commission.

But does not John in the same verse imply that no one will be able to keep from acts of conscious sin when he says, "And if any man sin, we have an advocate"? Is this hypothesis designed for the rule, or for an exception? The answer is found in iii. 9, "Whosoever has been born of God (implying that he continues thus) is not committing sin (as a habit), and he cannot be sinning." "The possibility of his sinning is not absolutely denied; but this is affirmed that the new birth and sinning cannot exist together" any more than theft and honesty. (Bengel.)

It is a moral cannot, such as Joseph implies when solicited by the siren in Potiphar's house. "How can I do this great wickedness?" It is the cannot of a person, the whole tenor of whose character, all the moral purposes and the fixed bent of his will, under grace, are all set as a flint against sin. Such a person does not spontaneously, deliberately and intelligently give himself up to a course of sin. But while losing sight of Christ, and under a cloud, he may be so sophisticated by the devil as to yield to some sudden, strong impulse, and commit a single act of sin contrary to the fixed purpose of his mind. Now what is he to do? He can throw down the oars in despair, and go down the Niagara of damnation. This is what Satan desires. But the tender and compassionate Holy Spirit, through John, says to the sorrowing penitent, "You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous." The whole Trinity is interested in your salvation. Try again in the name of Jesus Christ.