The Gospel announcement, beginning with the appearance of Christ in time, proceeded on to the knowledge of the depths of his divine nature; rising above the temporal manifestation to him who was from the beginning, to the eternal, divine Word who had appeared in the Son of Man. This knowledge presupposes a higher stage of christian development, a longer intimacy with christianity, and this therefore is especially ascribed to the fathers in the church. But we must not forget, moreover, in what sense John uses knowledge. He means by it, as we have seen, no mere theoretical knowledge proceeding from the understanding, but a knowledge which has its origin in the life, which presupposes a fellowship of life with the object of knowledge, and which again re-acts upon the life. It is that higher and deeper knowledge of Christ, as He who was from the beginning, proceeding from a more intimate living union with the person of Christ. This is something more than the statement of a certain dogmatic formula respecting the person of Christ.
Turning now to the young men of the church, John applies to them what is especially adapted to their age. Youth is formed for conflict; the bold champions are from its ranks. In childhood, the elements of inward conflict still lie hidden and undeveloped. It knows not, at that age of unconscious innocence, what germs of evil it carries in its bosom, slumbering yet in the depths of its undeveloped being, and the peace of a childish faith still rules in the heart. But in the transition from childhood to youth, these, hidden contrarieties burst forth. Desires and passions awake in their might, and strive against the higher law of the spirit. The natural reason, now becoming conscious of itself, asserts its claims, and calls in question what at first had been received with simple, childlike faith. On every hand breaks forth the hitherto unconscious and concealed discord in the twofold law of man's nature. Here now is need of conflict, in order that the divine seed, implanted during a childhood developed under the influence of christianity, (for John here supposes a church long established in christian truth) may be preserved uncorrupt, may be individually appropriated, and matured to fruit. But the christian youth must maintain the conflict; that through the conflict he may regain as a conscious personal possession that peace, which, in the period of early childhood, was imbibed unconsciously from the influence of christianity, in whose heavenly elements of life it had unfolded. Youth, called in the freshness of its power to conflict, must not shun the strife. In that divine seed implanted in a christian childhood, youth has that which renders victory in all those conflicts certain, provided only it is faithfully applied. Hence John does not say: Ye will overcome the evil one, that power in the evil one, which in all those respects arrays itself in opposition to the divine; but he says: Ye have overcome. He has in view such as, from childhood up, have been developed in fellowship with the Redeemer; and as He has triumphed once for all over the power of evil, his victory has thus become their own. Not with their own weak powers, not in reliance upon their own strength, do they maintain the warfare. Through faith in the Redeemer, who has overcome the power of evil, have they already conquered. And, in faith towards him their Redeemer, in fellowship with him, to appropriate through his strength his victory to themselves, this is to maintain the conflict. Christ, the victor over the power of Satan and of the world, strives and conquers in them; they strive and conquer as his instruments. The christian life, though in its nature always one and the same, yet develops itself in successive stages, each having its peculiar standpoint. John accordingly contemplates youth as especially the season of conflict. The entire christian life is, indeed, a copy of Christ's own unremitted and ever-deepening conflict till it closed in that last cry: "It is finished." It must therefore be an ever-renewed conflict, till its last death-struggle ends in eternal peace. Still he regarded youth as especially the season of conflict; a conflict, however, which to the christian is immediately transformed to victory.
Finally, he turns to the age of childhood. The relationship of parent and child is the one most familiar to children; and filial love, therefore, furnishes the most easy and natural point of attachment for love to the eternal Father in Heaven. Accordingly, to the children of christian families, who from the first had learned in faith toward the Redeemer to know God as their Father; who had been nurtured into the filial relation to him as Father; to such he says, that they have known the Father. The term KNOW, we remark again, must of course be understood here in the sense peculiar to John.