1. This epistle selection was primarily arranged for this particular
Sunday because it treats of baptism and of the new birth of the believing
Christian. It was in former time customary in the Church to baptize immediately
after Easter those who had accepted the Christian faith and had been instructed
in its precepts. This day is also called "Dominicam in albis," and by us
Germans "Weiszer Sonntag" (White Sunday), because the candidates for baptism
were clad in white linen as indicative of their cleansing and new birth;
just as today children to be baptized are arrayed in a white christening-robe.
THE NEW BIRTH.
2. While this lesson does not treat of the resurrection of Christ, it
has reference to its fruits: faith, the very essence of Christianity, here
expressed as being born of God; and the evidence of the Holy Spirit, received
through baptism, which assures us we are children of God and have, through
Christ, eternal life and all blessings.
3. Though John's language is, as usual, plain and simple, yet, in the
ears of men generally, it is unusual and unintelligible. The world estimates
it as similar to the prattle of children or fools. What, according to the
world's construction, is implied by the statement, "Whatsoever is begotten
[born] of God overcometh the world?" Overcoming the world, the unconverted
would understand to mean bringing into subjection to oneself every earthly
thing and assuming the position of sovereign of the world. Yet more absurd
in the ears of this class is the saying that we must be born of God. "Did
one ever hear of such a thing," they might exclaim, "as children born of
God? It would be less ridiculous to say we must be born of stones, after
the idea of the heathen poets." To the world there is no birth but physical
birth. Hence such doctrine as our lesson sets forth will ever be strange,
unintelligible, incomprehensible, to all but Christians. But the latter
speak with new tongues, as Christ in the last chapter of Mark (verse 17)
says they shall, for they are taught and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
4. Clearly, then, when the Scriptures speak of being born of God, it
is not in a human sense; the reference is not to the conditions of our
temporal lives, but to those exalted ones of a future existence. To say
we must be born of God is equivalent to saying that if man is to be redeemed
from sin and eternal death, to enter into the kingdom of God and into happiness,
his physical birth will not suffice; all which nature, reason, free-will
and human endeavor may afford is inadequate. Physical birth, it is true,
answers for every thing in the way of temporal possession and achievement,
everything great, powerful, noble, rich, wise, learned; in short, every
exalted and desirable thing of earth. But all such possession and achievement
serves only the physical existence; it is swept away by death, to which
event it is ever subject.
Hence becomes necessary a new and different birth, a birth more significant
than that of the natural man even in the case of emperors, kings, or the
wisest and most influential of earth. For as Isaiah says (ch. 40, 6): "All
flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the
field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth." The demand is for a divine
birth, a birth in which parentage is wholly of God; a birth signifying
the operation of God's divine power in man, a power achieving something
beyond the attainment of his natural capacities and effecting in him new
understanding and a new heart.
5. The process is this: When the individual hears the Gospel message
of Christa message revealed and proclaimed not by the wisdom and will of
man, but through the Holy Spirit--and sincerely believes it, he is justly
recognized as conceived and born of God. John in his gospel (ch. 1, 12)
says: "As many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children
of God, even to them that believe on his name." And in the first verse
of the chapter including our text, he tells us: "Whosoever believeth that
Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." Through that faith, for the sake
of his Son, God accepts us as his children, pleasing to him and heirs of
eternal life; and the Holy Spirit will be sent into our hearts, as is explained
6. This doctrine condemns those arrogant teachers who presumptuously
expect to be justified before God by their own merits and works. They imagine
that their wisdom, learning, good judgment, intelligence, fair reputation
and morality entitle them, because of the good they are thus enabled to
do, to the favor of God and to reception up into heaven. But the Scriptures
clearly teach the very reverse, that all these things are nothing in the
eyes of God. It is sheer human effort; it is not being born of God. However
wise and powerful you might be, if even the noblest, most beautiful, fruit
human nature can produce, you could not see the kingdom of God unless you
became a wholly different person, unless you were born anew, according
to Christ's words in John 3, 3. And this is something impossible to your
natural powers. You certainly cannot make yourself of other parentage than
you are. God must begin the work in you, communicating his seed--his Word--by
virtue of which the Holy Spirit operates in you, enabling you, by faith,
to cling to the promise, as said before.
7. Now, he who is thus born of God, John declares, overcomes the world.
Verily, this is a significant and forcible assertion the Holy Spirit makes;
it represents a tremendous power, a great work. The child of God must,
indeed, attempt and accomplish great things. The birth effected through
the Word and faith makes men true sovereigns, above all earthly rulers;
it gives them power even to overcome the world, something impossible to
any Roman or Turkish potentate. They effect not their victory by physical
force or temporal power, but by the spiritual birth, through faith. As
John says immediately after the clause we are discussing, "This is the
victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." Here is his own
explanation of what he means by being born of God.
THE TWO KINGDOMS.
8. Now, in order to understand the nature of the spiritual victory and
how it is effected, we must know just what John means by the term "world."
The reference is not to dominion over territory, to property or money.
He implies the existence of two kingdoms. In one, the kingdom of God, the
heavenly kingdom of Christ, is included, first, the angels in heaven, who
are the chief lords, the inner circle of counselors; second, the entire
Christian Church on earth, under one head, Christ the Lord and King. In
the other kingdom, the hellish kingdom, the devil is prince, and his mighty
counselors and servants are the angels who with him fell from heaven; it
also includes the world, those on earth who teach, believe and live contrary
to Christ, who represent the heathen, the Jews, the Turks and false Christians.
By the heavenly kingdom of God we must understand, not only spiritual
life and godly people, but the lord and regent of that kingdom--Christ
with his angels, and his saints both living and dead. Thus, too, the kingdom
of the world represents not only the earthly life with its worldly interests,
but particularly its lord and regent--the devil and his angels, and all
unchristian, godless, wicked people on earth. So, when John says, "Whatsoever
is begotten of God overcometh the world," he means by "world" the devil
and his whole earthly dominion.
9. Now, the workings of these two kingdoms are plainly evident, though
the leaders--Christ the Lord, and the devil--are not visible to mortal
eyes. Christ rules direct and effectually, in his own power, through the
Word and through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, maintaining
them in the faith and in the knowledge of his Word, and protecting from
the devil's wrath and subtlety; further, he rules through his angels, who
guard his followers; again, he rules through his people themselves, who
exercise authority one over another in loving service, each teaching, instructing,
comforting and admonishing a noble little band of godly, obedient, patient,
chaste, kind, tractable, benevolent souls.
The nature of the devil's kingdom, the manner of life the world leads,
is easily apparent. This kingdom is simply a huge booth filled with faithless,
shameless, wicked individuals, impelled by their god to every sort of disobedience,
ingratitude and contempt of God and his Word; to idolatry, false doctrine,
persecution of Christians and the practice of all wantonness, mischief,
wickedness and vice.
10. These two kingdoms are opposed. They continually contend for the
crown; they war with each other for supremacy. Christians are brought into
the conflict to hold the field against God's enemy, whose rule of the world
is one of falsehood and murder; they must contend with the enemy's servants,
his horde of factious spirits and basely wicked individuals, in an effort
to restrain evil and promote good. Christians must be equipped for the
fray; they must know how to meet and successfully resist the enemy, how
to carry the field unto victory, and hold it.
FAITH THE VICTOR.
11. Therefore, when John says, "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh
the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our
faith," his purpose is to admonish Christians that believers must manifest
the power and working of faith in life and deed. In fact, his chief aim
in writing this text was to reprove false Christians who are pleased to
hear the doctrine that we are saved through Christ alone, our works and
merits not earning our salvation; and who imagine the hearing of this doctrine
constitutes them Christians and that there is no necessity for any effort
or contention on their part. They forget that they must, through faith,
become new persons fitted to overcome the world and the devil.
12. Victory over the devil is the sign of the true Christian. Thereby
we may know men are born of God, may distinguish them from the false children
who enjoy but the semblance of God's Word and never experience its power.
Such are mere "mondkinder" (moon-children)--still- born, destitute of real
divine life, or divine power. It cannot be said we have been born of God
when we continue in our old dead and worldly course, and as before lie
and live in sin at the devil's pleasure. No, as children of God we must
resist the devil and his entire kingdom. If, then, instead of overcoming
the world you allow it to overcome you, then, boast as you may of faith
and Christ, your own conduct testifies that you are not a child of God.
To illustrate, beginning with some of the lower and grosser sins: If
you boast of being a child of God, but still live in fornication, adultery,
and such vices, the devil has already overcome you and wrested you from
the kingdom of God. If you are miserly, injuring your neighbor by usury,
by overcharging, by false wares and fraudulent business, you have permitted
the world and your own flesh to overcome you for a penny. If you entertain
envy and hatred toward your neighbor, you are at once thereby a captive
servant of the devil. The same principle holds in the case of sins more
subtle and refined, where the malicious knavery of the devil must be resisted.
For instance, the devil deceives with misleading doctrines, impelling men
to idolatry, false faith, presumption, despair, blasphemy, and so on. Now,
if you yield to him, suffering yourself to be seduced, what will it profit
you to boast of the Gospel faith? for you have not properly grasped God's
Word, you have not rightly recognized God in Christ, but continue in error,
in false fancies captivated and deceived by the devil.
13. It requires something more than mere human wisdom and skill, more
than human power, to withstand and overcome an enemy so formidable as the
devil. As said before, the Christian must be fortified with the knowledge
of how to guard against his wiles and deceptions and how to withstand him.
Hence a Christian is called a person who is born of God. He must be different
from an intelligent heathen and a skillful worldling to rightly understand
God's Word and apprehend Christ through faith, and must use such knowledge
as weapons of offense and defense in the conflict. Thus will he be able
to withstand the devil and the world and to gain the victory. God's Word
and faith are the power which will bring him through; he cannot be overcome
so long as he adheres to them.
In this connection are John's words immediately preceding our text:
"This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments
are not grievous." Then he goes on, "For whatsoever is begotten of God
overcometh the world," etc. Such is the power represented by genuine new
birth, that therein the devil, the world and all evil are overcome. Just
as, in physical birth, a normal child fully born into the world may overcome
a slight offensive disease, while an abnormal or still-born child perishes
of its own weakness.
14. For example, if I have faith and am born of God, I will not pollute
myself with unchastity and fornication, I will not bring disgrace upon
another's spouse or child. The new birth will indeed teach me not to reject
shamefully the treasure I have in Christ, not to lose it willingly, and
not to drive from me the indwelling Holy Spirit. Faith, if it truly dwells
in me, will not permit me to do aught in violation of my conscience and
of the Word and the will of God.
Should I be tempted by avarice to deceive and defraud my neighbor, or
to close my hand when I should give him aid, if I am a Christian and born
anew my faith will protest and turn me from such action. Can I injure my
neighbor or permit him to suffer want when I might contribute to his relief,
if I am aware that Christ has given his body and shed his blood for me?
How can there enter into the heart of the Christian who believes he has
received ineffable and eternal treasures through the Son of God, the inclination
to permit his neighbor to suffer a trivial want when he can easily extend
relief? Much less would it be possible for the Christian to injure or to
do injustice to his neighbor for the sake of shamefully gaining some small
advantage. Rather he would reflect: "If I am, through Christ, a child of
God and an heir of heaven, the sum of this world's goods is far too insignificant
to induce me, for the sake of a penny, to deceive or defraud anyone."
Then, too, if the devil tempt you by his tyrannical, factious spirits,
or even by your own thoughts, to forsake your pure doctrine for his deceptions,
you as a Christian are to resist the temptation, remembering the blessings
you have through faith received from Christ in the Gospel; you have been
liberated from darkness, blindness and error; have learned rightly to know
God; and have obtained the sure consolation of grace and salvation, being
aware upon what you must depend in life and death. Why, then, yield to
the devil, allowing yourself to be robbed of salvation and eternal life?
Why not much rather let go every earthly thing than to deny the Word of
God or to permit this blessed consolation to be perverted, falsified and
wrested from you?
15. So, then, John says, "This is the victory that hath overcome the
world, even our faith." It is, indeed, saying very much for the Christian
faith to attribute to it such power over the devil and the world--a power
transcending all human ability. It requires an agency greater and higher
than human strength to triumph over the devil, especially in the perplexing
conflicts of conscience, when he vexes and tortures the heart with terror
of God's wrath in the attempt
to drive us to despair. At such times all our works must immediately
sink out of sight, leaving no help or victory except the faith that clings
to the word of Christ the Lord,
believing that, for the sake of his beloved Son, God will be merciful
and will not condemn us for our sins and unworthiness if we believe in
him. Such faith as this stands fast and gains the victory; neither the
devil nor the gates of hell
can prevail against it.
16. The same is true in all temptations. Before we can resist and overcome,
we must have faith to believe that through Christ we have remission of
sins and the favor of God; that God gives us help and strength to enable
us to stand in the conflict and successfully resist the devil, the world,
the flesh and death; that we obtain the victory by the divine power of
the Holy Spirit, lacking whose help we all would be far too weak to win.
Without faith, we are under the power of the devil and sin, being subject
to them by natural birth. We can be liberated in no other way than through
faith in Christ.
17. That John has reference to faith in Christ is plainly evident from
his query, "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth
that Jesus is the Son of God?" The apostle's purpose therein is to make
plain just what the true Scriptural faith is and what it implies. For there
are other beliefs which the world calls faith. The Jews, the Turks, the
Papists, claim they also believe in God who created heaven and earth. That
such belief is not the true faith, however, is proved by the fact of its
ineffectiveness. It does not contend and overcome, and it permits the believer
to remain as he is, in his natural birth and under the power of the devil
But the faith which believes Jesus is the Son of God is the true, triumphant
sort. It is an invincible power wrought in the hearts of Christians by
the Holy Spirit. It is a sure knowledge, that does not gaze and vacillate
hither and thither according to its own thoughts. It apprehends God in
Christ the Son sent from heaven, through whom God reveals his will and
his love and transfers us from sin to grace, from death to a new and eternal
life; a refuge and trust that relies not upon its own merit or worthiness,
but upon Christ the Son of God, and in his might and power battles against
the world and the devil. Therefore, the Christian faith is not the cold,
ineffective, empty, lifeless conception which Papists and others imagine
it to be; no, it is a living, active power, ever followed by victories
and other appropriate fruits. Where such fruits are lacking, faith and
the new birth are not there.
THE SOURCE OF FAITH.
18. Thus we have the first part of our sermon on the new birth and faith.
For the second part, John shows whence and by what means comes the faith
productive of victory; he says:
"This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with
the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit
that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three
who bear witness [in earth], the Spirit, and the water, and the blood,"
19. John speaks of Christ's kingdom, and of the office the Holy Spirit
bears outwardly and visibly in the Christian Church, represented in the
ministerial office and the sacraments. He says: "There are three who bear
witness [in earth]." John, as usual, employs the word "witness" in connection
with the thought of preaching; it is a word he frequently uses. For instance,
in the beginning of his gospel, where he speaks of John the Baptist, he
says (ch. 1, 7): "The same came for a witness, that he might bear witness
of the light." So, in his use of the phrase "witness" or "bearing witness,"
we are to understand simply the public preaching of God's Word. Again,
Christ says (John 16, 9-14), that the Holy Spirit shall bear witness of
him; that is, he shall publicly fill the ministerial office. This is God's
own witness to his Son. And here John tells us we have the victory over
the devil and the world, through faith, for the sake of Christ the Son
20. This witness Christ himself ordains shall ever go forth, and remain,
in the Church. To this end Christ sent the Holy Spirit; to this end Christ
himself called and gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles and their successors,
ministers, preachers and teachers, as Paul tells us (Eph 4, 11- 13), who
are to exercise the Word, that the Word may resound always and everywhere
in the world, reaching to children's children, and on down to future generations.
Were the witness not in the Church, the pulpit--in fact, the entire outward
administration of the Church--would be useless, for every man could read
the Scriptures for himself. But for the sake of the uninstructed masses
and the constantly rising young who, as yet in ignorance of the Word, need
admonition--for the sake of these, the Spirit must bear public witness
or administer the preaching office that they, too, may learn to know the
grace of God manifest and given to us through Christ, and that God's wondrous
works may be publicly recognized and extolled by us in opposition to the
devil and the world.
21. Wherever such witness is borne, there certainly will be some fruit.
The witness never fails of effect. Some surely will be reached; some will
accept and believe it. Since it is the witness of the Holy Spirit, and
the apostle says here, the Spirit beareth witness, he will be effective,
producing in us that to which John refers when he says we are children
of God, and have the victory and eternal life. So the Word--or the Gospel
message accompanied by the witness of the Spirit--and faith are vitally
related. In the last analysis they are inseparable. Without faith, preaching
will be fruitless; and faith has origin in the Word alone. Therefore, we
should gladly hear and handle the Word. Where it is, there is also the
Holy Spirit; and where the Spirit is, there must be at least some believers.
Even if you have already heard the Word and obtained faith, it will always
continue to strengthen you as you hear it. One knows not at what hour God
may touch and illumine his or another's heart. It may be in a time when
we least look for it, or in the individual of whom we have least expectation.
For the Spirit, as Christ says, breathes where he will, and touches hearts
when and where he knows them to be receptive.
22. It is relative to the power and energy wrought by the Holy Spirit
that John speaks, indicating the source and means of the power of this
witness, when he says of Christ, "This is he that came by water and blood,"
etc. In this sentence is included all we possess in the kingdom of Christ,
and here is extolled the efficacy of our beloved baptism and the blood
or sufferings of Christ. Here John unites all the elements in one bundle,
so to speak, making a triune witness. They bear joint witness to our faith
and confirm it--these three: the water, the blood and the Spirit.
BAPTISM BY WATER AND BLOOD.
23. Christ comes, first, "by water"; that is, by holy baptism. He employs
baptism as an outward sign of his work in the new birth of man and in man's
sanctification. This water by which Christ comes cannot be a mere, empty
sign; for he comes not merely to cleanse or bathe the body with water,
but to purify the whole man from all pollution and blemishes inherent in
him from Adam. Christ has instituted a cleansing wholly unlike the Mosaic
ablutions under the Old Testament dispensation. Moses came with various
laws relating to washings and purifications, but they were only cleansings
of the body or of the flesh and had daily to be repeated. Now, since these
ceremonials contributed nothing to man's purification in God's sight--a
thing to be effected by nothing short of a new birth--Christ came with
a new order of cleansing, namely, baptism, which is not a mere external
ablution from physical impurities, but a washing effective in man's purification
from the inward pollution of his old sinful birth and from an evil conscience,
and bringing remission of sin and a good conscience toward God, as Peter
says. I Pet 3, 21. Paul, also (Tit 3, 5), calls baptism the "washing of
regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."
24. Christ first instituted baptism through John the Baptist. To distinguish
it from the Mosaic baptism, the old Jewish rite of washings, Christ styles
it "a baptism unto repentance and the remission of sins." He designs that
therein man shall perceive his inner impurities and know them to be, in
God's sight, beyond the power of outward Mosaic ablutions to reach; shall
know also that purification of the conscience and remission of sins must
be sought and obtained through the power of Christ the Lord, who instituted
25. Secondly, that this cleansing of sin may be effected in us through
baptism, something more than mere water must be present. Mere water could
effect no more than do ordinary washings, and no more than Jewish and Turkish
baptisms and washings effect. There must be a power and force accompanying
the water effective to work inward purification, the purification of the
soul. Therefore, John says, Christ came, not by water alone, but also by
blood; not the blood of bulls, or of calves, or of goats, those Old Testament
sacrifices, but his own blood, as Paul declares. Heb 9, 12. He comes through
the preaching office of the New Testament, which is his rule upon earth,
imparts to us the effective power of his shed blood, his sacrifice for
our sins, and thus applies to us the treasure wherewith he purchased our
26. Hence there is now in baptism this efficacy of the blood of Christ.
That is the true caustic soap which not only removes the uncleanness of
the outer man, but penetrates to the inner nature, consuming its impurities
and cleansing them away, that the heart may become pure in God's sight.
Thus, the blood of Christ is so effectively mingled with the baptismal
water that we must not regard it as mere water, but water beautifully dyed
with the precious crimson blood of our dear Saviour, Christ. Baptism, then,
cannot rightly be regarded a physical cleansing, like the Mosaic ablutions,
or like the cleansing the bathhouse affords; it is a healing baptism, a
baptism or washing with blood, instituted by none but Christ, the Son of
God, and that through his own death.
27. In the record of Christ's passion, careful note is made of the fact
that blood and water flowed immediately from the spear-thrust in Christ's
side as he hung upon the cross; it is pointed out as a special miracle.
The design there is to teach that Christ's shed blood is not without significance,
but stands for a washing or bath whose efficacy is present in the baptism
with water; and that from the slain body of Christ issues an unceasing
stream of water and blood, flowing on down through the entire Christian
Church, wherein we must all be cleansed from our sins. What makes baptism
so precious, so holy and essential is the mingling and union of the water
with the blood of Christ; to be baptized into Christ with water is really
to be washed and cleansed with the blood of Christ.
28. To these two John adds a third witness, "the Spirit."The Spirit
bears witness with the water and the blood; in fact, through these other
two he operates. It is the Holy Spirit himself; not as he is invisible
up in heaven in his divine essence, but the Spirit who publicly manifests
himself through his external office and permits himself to be heard through
his Word. As John here asserts, the Spirit bears witness on earth with
both the water and the blood.
29. Neither Moses nor any other teacher in his doctrines of personal
effort and external purifications, his washings and his sprinklings of
the blood of sheep and goats--no such teacher brings and gives the Spirit.
With them is no Spirit, no divine power, no regeneration of man. Any unbelieving,
spiritless, wicked knave can exercise human effort and practice physical
cleansing. But Christ alone brings with him the power and presence of the
Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us through the blood and water issuing from
the divine side. The Spirit makes us partakers of its cleansing influence
through the external office of preaching and through the sacraments, which
are called the office and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Through these the Spirit
works in the Christian Church just as he did at first, among the apostles
on the Day of Pentecost, and will continue to do in the whole world, unto
the last day. Without his ministration we would never obtain, nor know
anything about, the saving power of Christ's blood in baptism.
30. Such is the kingdom Christ unceasingly develops through the Christian
Church. In him we have eternal purification when to the water is added
the Spirit, who through the Word enkindles the heart and purifies it, not
with the cleansing qualities of the water alone, but with the healing efficacy
of the blood of Christ, whereby sins are exterminated and God's wrath appeased.
Although the work of our redemption was wrought once for all in Christ's
blood shed upon the cross and is sufficient to cancel the sins of the entire
world, yet Christ so instituted it that the same efficacy should remain
forever, and be daily distributed and offered to us through the Holy Spirit.
31. This work of the Holy Spirit is neither received nor perceived except
through faith in this witness, the preached word of Christ--when with the
heart man grasps it and confidently believes it is fulfilled in himself
as the Word declares. Thus is the heart really cleansed, the individual
born anew, through the Holy Spirit present in the sacred cleansing of water
and of the blood of Christ.
Peter (I Pet 1, 2) speaks of the sanctification of Christians as the
"sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" upon us by the Holy Spirit through
the public preaching of the Gospel. This sprinkling radically differs from
the Jewish sprinkling of water, or of the ashes of a red heifer, or of
the blood of a dead lamb or goat, round about the altar and upon the applicants
for purification. In the sanctification of Christians, the true consecrated
water and the sprinkled blood of Christ are combined; that is, the message
concerning the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is "sprinkled," so to
speak, upon the soul, and wherever that Word touches the soul it is effective.
The blood in this case is not the ineffective, lifeless blood of a slain
animal, but the potent, living blood of the Son of God. Under its application
the soul cannot remain impure. Christ's blood purifies and heals from sin
and death; it strikes at their very foundation, and entirely releases us
from their power and grants us eternal life for soul and body.
32. Note, this text is a grand sermon on the witness Christians have
here on earth, which the apostle in concluding explains and extols in beautiful
and comforting words. He calls it a witness that God himself bears to his
Son and that serves to assure us of being the children of God and possessors
of eternal life. For he says: "And the witness is this, that God gave unto
us eternal life," etc. This is indeed an excellent witness, which God himself
witnesses and declares to you, and the Holy Spirit brings and reveals to
you. God cannot lie nor deceive, he is the eternal, unchangeable truth,
as already mentioned. If you believe this witness, you certainly have received
and possess it, as John again says: "He that believeth on the Son of God
hath the witness in him."
FAITH TO BE IMPLICIT.
33. The true, saving doctrine of the Christian faith is this: There
must be witness and confidence of heart so absolute as to leave no room
for doubt that, through Christ, we are God's children and have remission
of sins and eternal life. By way of showing us how God earnestly enjoins
such faith upon us and forbids us to have any doubts on the subject, John
says, "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath
not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son."
34. This passage annihilates the pernicious, damnable, diabolical doctrine
of the Papists, who shamelessly claim it is right to doubt and that a Christian
should doubt his title to grace. This doctrine is equivalent to teaching
the propriety of disbelieving the testimony of God. It is charging God
with falsehood, dishonoring and blaspheming the Lord Christ, openly affronting
the Holy Spirit, knowingly plunging people into unpardonable sins and blasphemies
and consequently sending them to the devil without hope or comfort of salvation.
35. Such is the beautiful fruit of papistical doctrine; such is papistical
holiness. This is what they who would be the Christian Church recommend
to us. They would have us, with them, openly and fearlessly charge God
with falsehood, trample his Word under foot and worship the devil in his
stead. Further, they require us to praise and honor them and render them
thanks, rejoicing to be offered their stipulated terms of friendship. At
the same time they have not in a single instance repented of their abominable
idolatry or acknowledged their error; rather they plume themselves on having
in their purity taught no wrong. If we will not accede to their demands,
we must be persecuted, put to death, exterminated everywhere in the world
with fire and sword. But the devil and death may accede in our stead. Let
the godly Christian desire and pray that God may hurl such accursed doctrine
into the abyss of hell and punish as they deserve the impenitent blasphemers
since they will not cease. And let all the people say, Amen, amen.
36. Note particularly the consolation of Paul's concluding words. Here
he embraces in one clear word the whole substance of the Gospel when he
says: "He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of
God hath not the life." How could he speak plainer and more forcibly? What
is the need of further inquiry and investigation or discussion of this
theme? Do you wish to have assurance of eternal life? According to this
verse, you have it truly if you possess Christ the Son of God; and you
have Christ when you believe this witness and preaching as John says, and
you should confidently rely upon it in life and in death as the divine,
eternal truth. But if you believe not, you have not life; and all effort
and suffering on your part, yes, combined with the effort and suffering
of the whole world, will profit you nothing. You have not the Son of God
if you do not believe God's witness of him but charge God with falsehood.