The Apostle here presents, in contrast with those apostates, the whole body of true and steadfast believers. Such should have no occasion to fear the threatened danger from those falsifiers of christian truth. They should carry in their own hearts the touchstone, whereby to distinguish the Christian from the Anti-christian, the preservative against the infectious influence of error. And as for you, -- this is what he would say, the emphasis being on "you," -- YE have the anointing from the Holy One, the anointing which proceeds from the holy God, the Father. He is here called the Holy One, as he through whom those who belong to him are made holy, filled with his holiness, and are thereby separated from the unholy, ungodly world, -- the chosen from the midst of the corrupt world. The name Holy One is indeed also a designation of Christ; and it might be referred to him, as lie who imparts this spirit to believers. But the preposition here used in the original ("from") would naturally direct us rather to God, as the eternal source from which this spirit proceeds. (Comp. John xv.26.) So might we judge, should we take this passage by itself; but since both views are possible, and both convey strict truth, a comparison of it with a subsequent passage is necessary to a reliable decision. In either case, the difference of conception makes no alteration in the sense. The anointing itself consists in that Holy Spirit which, proceeding from the holy God, is imparted to those only who are his. It places them in fellowship with him, and guards them from all the unholy influences inherent in the world, to which also belongs everything which threatens to falsify the pure christian truth.
The word "anointing" suggests to us the ordinances of the old dispensation, from which it was borrowed. Kings, priests, prophets, received their consecration to the office appointed them by God, through an anointing, -- the symbol of the power imparted to them by God through his Spirit for the fulfilment of their calling. By the outward and visible was signified that which, in its fulness and completion, was to be wrought inwardly upon the spirit. Now that which was expressed outwardly under the old dispensation, and by a single act, is in the New Testament converted wholly into the inward and spiritual, and working from within embraces the entire life. That which under the old dispensation was restricted to individuals, entrusted in some manner with the guidance of God's people, -- individuals who were thereby separated from the body of the people, -- now under the new dispensation belongs to the people of God universally. The limitations of the Old Testament are burst asunder by the spirit of the New. First of all, its founder himself, -- the sovereign in God's kingdom, the Saviour, -- is called the Anointed, the Christ, as having been consecrated to his work through the fulness of the indwelling Spirit of God; as possessing in himself the fulness, the sum of all those divine powers, which were only imparted singly as special gifts to the prophets of the Old Testament. So, by virtue of their fellowship with him, are all who are redeemed by him made partakers of the Holy Spirit which he imparts. From the fulness of the divine nature, the divine power dwelling in him, he imparts to all. This is the inward anointing, the inward consecration whereby they are inwardly set apart from the world, as those who belong to God through Christ. All are admitted without distinction to the same fellowship with him, and receive from him the same inward consecration to their divine mission through the Holy Spirit. Henceforth there exists no more among the people of God any such distinction, as under the Old Testament between kings, priests, prophets, and people; but all collectively are in like manner consecrated to God, have an equal part in that inward consecration, in the illuminating and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is one royal priestly generation, whose nobility and high office is alike the heritage of all; all are prophets, through that common illumination of the Holy Spirit. Such are the weighty thoughts contained in that single word, that honorable designation of believers.
Believing himself justified in assuming this inward anointing in the case of those to whom he writes, he goes on to infer from this, that they already know all that he has to say to them, -- all which is requisite to an insight into the nature of christian truth, to preservation from error. In that inner fountain all can be found, if they will only surrender themselves to that inward, heavenly teacher. He disclaims teaching any new doctrine, unknown to them hitherto. It is not as a missionary to those who are yet without the pale of christianity, and in whom the sense of the nature of christian truth is yet to be awakened, that lie speaks. This christian truth is already known; the Christian consciousness grounded in it, and a fellowship of christian consciousness between him and his leaders, already exist. But why then write to them if they already know all, if the truth which he would present is already familiar to them? It is to revivify the consciousness already rooted in their being; to awaken that which slumbers; to call forth new life, new activity; to unfold to their view what they carry in their own breasts; to bring them into a clear and conscious possession of what they already have. He says to them, what they should say to themselves. Often are we thus directed, through a word spoken by another, to something which has long had its dwelling in our inner life. It unlocks the depths of our own souls. We learn by it to understand ourselves, to perceive within ourselves the presence of God. All genuine instruction in the truth must aim only to direct to the One Teacher of truth, to God himself, and to serve as his organ. The genuine teacher of truth is himself fully aware that such is his appointed office, and he desires no other. It matters not whether the instruction have reference to those universal truths, which each must learn from the general revelation of God, of the Eternal Word as the light of the spiritual world; or to the peculiar truths of the kingdom of God, of the Gospel, the witness of the incarnate Word, -- the very truths here brought to view, and experimentally known to all believers through that inward anointing of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Apostle is far from wishing to make believers dependent on himself as the teacher of truth, to assume that it was from him they were first to learn what is truth. On the contrary, he bases his appeal on the presence in them of the fountain of divine truth, not possessed by him as his peculiar property, but shared in common with those to whom his exhortation is addressed. He presents himself to them as a witness of that christian consciousness which they lad in common. It is to this very consciousness, this inward knowledge of christian truth, that he makes his appeal when warning them against the errors which are spreading all around them. They need no other proof; these errors must show themselves to be lies, through their contrariety with that truth which is experimentally known to their own hearts. By the test of an immediate consciousness they will at once perceive, that what gives itself out for truth is but a falsification of the original christian truth, which is to them of all things the most certain. This is the proof which they carry in their own souls, the inner witness to which the Apostle makes his appeal. It is on this very ground that he addresses them, viz. BECAUSE they know the truth; and can therefore accept nothing which is not the fruit of this truth, nothing which denies it, which stands in hostility to it, -- since nothing that is false is of the truth. This he can properly presuppose; and he needs only to arouse this inward perception of christian truth, for the rejection of the falsehoods which oppose the truth.
What now is the application to the present age, of the important truths thus deduced from these words of the Apostle? The Apostles stood in a peculiar relation to the churches of their own as of all succeeding ages, such a relation as no man could thereafter hold to christians. They were the instruments, through whom the true image of the Lord and of his word was to be transmitted to all. The christian consciousness of their own time and of all times has its source in their testimony, is developed by it and out of it. They form the necessary medium between Christ and all succeeding generations. If we would gain the knowledge of Christ and of the way of salvation, we must trust their testimony. In this respect the church must always remain dependent on them, always stand in need of their teachings. But although the Apostle John was fully aware of this relation to the church, he wished not to exercise any spiritual domination, to present himself to his brethren as the teacher by whom they were again to be instructed. The church, having been once established through the preaching of the divine word and its reception into the inward life, can and must hold fast and apply what has been thus received, as its own independent possession. Through that inward anointing from the Holy One, of which the Apostle has spoken, should all believers, independently of all other authority, stand in immediate fellowship with Christ as the only Master for all; and the christians of every age should be thereby united, both with that first apostolic church and with each other. It follows from this that no one, who claims to be a teacher in the church, is justified in making it dependent upon himself and his single teachings, but that all should regard themselves only as organs of this common inward anointing; that they should only lead the way to this inward fountain of illumination through the divine word which is its source, -- should make this itself an object of conscious knowledge; that the only aim should be to conduct to that fountain in order to draw therefrom; that so all which they teach may approve itself as true by this inward witness. That all may be trained up, through this common inward anointing, to the maturity and independence of a personal christian consciousness -- this only can be the aim of all instruction of others and all spiritual influence over them. It follows farther, that no believer is at liberty to forego this maturity and personal independence, bestowed in that inward anointing, or to place himself in a dependent relation, inconsistent with this birthright, to any teacher whatever among men. And should any one attempt, through the pretence of new divine revelations, to make the religious convictions of others dependent on himself, or to set the teachings of human wisdom in the place of the divine word; there will ever be found, in that inward anointing, an element of resistance to such arrogated authority.
Another conclusion from the Apostle's words is this: that the multifarious forms, in which the anti-christian spirit manifests itself, should not perplex and disquiet the believer. He has in his own soul; in that christian consciousness, which unites him with the truly Christian in every age, and with the apostolic church itself; in that inward anointing of the Holy Spirit; the infallible instinct, the certain touchstone, to distinguish between what is of Christ and what is of Antichrist. It is only needful that, watching over himself, he adhere prayerfully to that inward divine voice, give faithful heed to that sure oracle, which guides the simple and humble-minded through all adversities and conflicts; so will he be secured against all the delusions of pretended higher truth, taught by a false conceited philosophy. He is convinced beforehand, that whatever stands in contradiction to that inward anointing, whatever would rob him of his Christ, however lofty may be, the words in which it speaks, cannot be true. Neither will he be persuaded to sacrifice that individual free consciousness, imparted in that inward anointing, to the plea that a higher church authority is needed, as guide and leader through these conflicts of the christian and anti-christian principles; or that, on this account, new prophets must arise to bring repose and confidence to wavering souls. He knows in himself, that he has in that, inward anointing all he needs; and he will permit himself to be deceived by no promise of something more certain, more reliable, or to be drawn away from listening to that inward divine voice, through whose teachings he knows all things.