John now places these two classes of men in contrast with each other: "Herein is manifest who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil." Thus he divides the whole human race between these two diametrically opposite classes, the children of God and the children of the devil. But is there, then, only this one distinction among men? Is there nothing intermediate, are there no points of transition, between the two classes? If so, it would be impossible to explain, how children of God could be formed from children of the devil, how a transition from the one class to the other could be effected. And yet John assumes such a possibility in the recognition of the fact, that such as served sin and belonged to the kingdom of Satan, to the kingdom of the world, have through faith in Jesus as the Saviour withdrawn therefrom, and have become children of God. By saying that the Son of God has appeared to destroy the works of the devil, he says virtually, that he appeared in order to make those children of God who hitherto were children of the devil. There must then exist a point of attachment, whereby those who are as yet children of the devil become susceptible to the influence of the Son of God. There must somewhere be a ground for the fact, that some remain children of the devil, while others receive the seed of God and thereby suffer themselves to be made children of God. Or are we to say, that this ground lies not in the previous differences of susceptibility in men, but only in the sovereign agency of God; that it is alone that it is alone the work of transforming grace whereby this difference is produced, and the children of the devil are re-created into children of God? But this is in contrariety with what John says, of the divine Father-love towards the whole human race which it seeks to redeem, of the scope of Christ's work of redemption which takes in all humanity; that the object of his appearing in humanity is to destroy all the works of the devil, to make an end of evil universally. It is not therefore in the divine purpose taken by itself, but in the treatment of it by men themselves, that we must look for the cause why some attain, while others do not, to a participation in that which the love of God has proffered to all. John could not, moreover, have spoken of a judgment everywhere connected with the preaching of the Gospel, and going side by side with it (as in John iii.19), if all men deported themselves alike towards the preaching of the Gospel; if God himself, by his almighty agency, alone made the difference between them; if this difference had not its ground in themselves, being brought to light through the judicial power of the Gospel by means of the various positions taken by men in respect to it, -- the sifting process effected by the Gospel. Thus we are led. by John himself, -- though he only presents in general the contrast between children of the devil and children of God, the regenerate and the unregenerate, -- to add to this radical contrariety still another distinction, whereby it becomes possible that from children of the devil can be formed children of God. The Gospel of John contains many an index to the clearer recognition of these differences, these intervening steps. From that being BORN OF GOD which can alone be effected through the agency of the Gospel, through faith in the Son of God, is to be distinguished a preliminary state which is designated as a BEING OF GOD, -- a BEING OF THE TRUTH (John xviii.37); whereby is meant that susceptibility for what is divine, for the truth, which leads those who possess it, before they are yet born of God in that higher sense, to follow the call of the Gospel when extended to them. To this addresses itself that DRAWING by the Father which takes place in their souls made thus susceptible through the bent of the will, and by which they are led to the Son. The judgment, the sifting attributed to the Gospel, is effected simply by the development through its agency of the already existing but hitherto concealed diversity among men, in respect to the bent of the will. This is exhibited in the difference of their bearing towards the Gospel, according to the difference of their susceptibility for it; some hating and resisting the dawning light, on account of its contrariety to the darkness which they love and do not desire to forsake, and to the works of darkness which thus exposed are brought into condemnation; while others joyfully accept the light after which, consciously or unconsciously, they had already longed. (John iii.20, 21.)
We have seen that in the children of God, although their determining tendency is that which has its origin in the birth from God, that of the divine life, yet all is not as yet in harmony with this tendency. From that which characterizes them as children of God, -- that which belongs to the animating principle in them, to their new spiritual self, their new regenerated personality, -- must be distinguished that which proceeds from the after-working of the former state. So also in those, who under that general classification still belong to the children of the devil, must be distinguished something which proceeds not from him; something which is to be ascribed to their original descent from God, the obscured but still underlying image of God, which darkened though it be has not ceased to exert its influence. And according as men, through that in them which is of the devil follow the spirit of the devil, or through that in them which still proceeds from the obscured image of God follow the leading of God, will result a division among those who seem collectively to belong to the children of the devil. But why then does John make only this general distinction? For this reason: that it is of practical importance, first of all, to show in the strongest possible light the contrariety between the new christian stand-point and the former one of the old man, that each may be fully aware how he is to distinguish himself from all others as a child of God. The obliteration of this distinction has uniformly exerted the most pernicious influence in respect to the demands upon the christian life, to the strictness of self-examination. It is all important that we learn first to separate light and darkness, the Divine and the Undivine, totally from each other; to repel all reconciliation and agreement between these fundamentally opposed directions, as viewed in the whole strength of their contrariety. Unconditional decision is here required. It is important that we learn to recognize, in all evil, this determining tendency by which the children of the devil are manifested as such, in order that we may be secured against the danger of yielding in any manner to the evil, even when disguised under seeming good; lest hurried along farther and farther we at length wholly succumb to the power, which when first approached we did not recognize, and which now over-masters us because we did not then sufficiently resist it. It is for this reason so important to our own security, as an incitement to constant watchfulness over ourselves, that the distinction here made between the children of God and the children of the devil, -- and this distinction as manifested in the outward life, -- be apprehended by us in its full force and ever borne in mind as a matter of living consciousness. If we contemplate history, not as developing itself in gradual manifestations and with its final decisions yet concealed, but as it is presented to the divine view; it may indeed be said, that those who are adapted and destined, through their still latent susceptibility, to become children of God when reached by the preaching of the Gospel, are already present to his omniscient eye as his children. Thus contemplating what is gradually developed to human view, by the judicial potency of the Gospel, as being ever open to the eye of God, we shall be able to explain those intervening and transitional points in that general contrariety, and to find in them a distinction plainly involved in the Apostle's view.
To bring out this generic distinction still more strongly, John now adds a specific mark by which it may be recognized: "He that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." The Apostle here resumes the general distinction, in order to trace back righteousness in the abstract, to that concrete which is always contemplated by him as the soul of all righteousness, -- that which is in itself the fulfilment of all righteousness, the one thing which suffices in place of all, viz. Brotherly-Love.