1 John iii. 8
It was here then the Apostle's object to draw the
separating line between these two radical tendencies, in reference to holiness and sin, in its full breadth and force. Hence the unconditional contrast in which he presents those who abide in fellowship with Christ, those who are born of God, the children of God, -- and those who are of the devil, who make themselves known by their lives as children of the devil. What then does he understand by the devil? He designates him as the one who sinneth "from the beginning." If we take the expression, from the beginning," in an absolute and unlimited sense, and follow it out to its necessary results, we must understand by Satan a spirit in his origin and essence the opposite to the holy God, evil in his very nature, in his whole being and essence the representative of evil; and consequently two original Principles of Being, a good and an evil, must be admitted. But from a comparison with the Apostle's whole mode of conception, and with his ideas of the creation, it is clear that such a view is wholly foreign to him; for he derives all existence simply from God and his Word, and consequently can recognize no Being co-existent with God. Since, moreover, he regards God as absolutely Light, to whom all darkness is alien, -- as the Holy One from whom, nothing evil can proceed, -- he must, while recognizing God as sole creator of all existing things assume that all things as they proceeded from Him were created good. He cannot, therefore, admit that, an originally evil spirit was, as such, created by God. And farther still, the Johannic conception of sin is inconsistent with such an idea of a sinner from the beginning, of a being originally evil. For the idea of sin implies transgression of the divine law, by a spirit created to fulfil the law, one in whose consciousness the divine law was, present as a law for himself. It is rebellion of the creature-will against the divine will to which it should be subject. All this is comprehended by John in the idea of sin when predicated of man. In all this there is implied a spirit created by God originally good, who through the misuse of his own free will rebelled against the divine will. And thus also the supposition of an originally evil Principle is seen to be inadmissible. We must accordingly understand by the expression, "sinneth from the beginning," not that the devil sins on evermore from the beginning of his existence as a spirit, but from the time when, through the apostacy of his will from God, he became what he is, the Devil; SINNING, through the steady persistence of his will in a course at variance with his original nature, a variance involved in the idea of sin, having become his second nature, his element of life. The expression, "from the beginning," is justified moreover on this ground: that the origin of all sin is from the devil; that through him sin first entered the universe, and the first beginning of sin in the human race also was brought about by his intervention. Hence all sin is an imitation of Satan, a reflection of his image, the work of the same spirit, of that selfish tendency in the creature by which it renounced its natural dependence on God, made itself law, end, centre to itself, instead of referring as its destiny required the whole life to God alone, and making him its law, end and centre. This tendency having first proceeded from the Devil, he is consequently regarded as its representative; all which is done from this disposition is referred back to him, and viewed as the work of the spirit which shows itself operative in him, which first came into being in him. But it is characteristic of John to seek only the practical-religious point of view, to apprehend everything in its bearing on the christian life, its influence upon sanctification, -- and to refrain from questions relating merely to matters of knowledge without practical importance. He therefore pursues no farther the inquiry, what the devil originally was in relation to the rest of the spirit-world. He only exhibits what is here of practical weight, viz. the connection of all sin with him from whom sin first proceeded, -- with that sinning of the devil from the beginning. It is no mere matter of speculation, it is something practical y important, -- important in respect to the consciousness of sin -- that we go beyond its present manifestation in man, and behold in Satan its essential nature. Thus while viewing sin as the act of a spirit gifted with higher powers, created originally good, we shall become more clearly aware of its true nature, as a revolt of the creature-will against the supreme will of God which all should obey, as a voluntary transgression of the holy law given by God to all rational beings. Learning thus to understand Evil in its whole fathomless depth, as guilty estrangement from God, we shall thereby be guarded against the error, so prejudicial to moral earnestness, of regarding evil as merely an infirmity, an overpowering of the Rational by the Sensual; -- as nothing more than a product of the sensual nature in man.

With this aim, -- to show the incompatibility of all sin with the christian life, and arouse the christian to the conscious necessity of avoiding all contact with sin, as something diametrically opposed to the position of the child of God, to the life which is in him, -- John refers every sin, without distinction between great and small, to the same origin, the one radical tendency expressed in all sins, to the devil who sinneth from the beginning. By sinning, one puts himself on an equality with the devil, shows himself to be one of his adherents, to be governed by his spirit. That which constitutes the characteristic of the devil is the operative principle in all sin, viz. this same radical tendency of self-will in the creature resisting the holy ordinance of God. Since now the Apostle derives all sin from the devil, and in all sin recognizes the kingdom of the devil; as in all the evil which reigned in the human race until Christ's appearing he sees the influence of that kingdom, the progressive working of the disorder introduced by the devil into the world; he therefore says, that the Son of God has appeared to undo, to destroy, the works of the devil. The expressions, "to take away the sins of men," and "to destroy the works of the devil," are employed by John with the same general import. After having exhibited sin in connection with the devil, these expressions could now be interchanged. As he here contemplates evil, not merely as manifested on earth, but in its more general connection with the development-history of the universe, of which indeed revelation unveils only such a fragment as is demanded for our practical religious necessities; so also does his designation of Christ's work of redemption, include that more general reference to the history of the universe, and of the kingdom of God in its widest sense. It is here represented as the highest aim of the appearing of Christ, to destroy all which is the work of Satan, all evil, -- the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God on the ruins of Satan's kingdom. Since then Christ appeared to do away all sin as the work of the devil; it clearly follows, that only he who renounces all sin as the work of the devil can share in the work of Christ, can receive in himself the fulfilment of the purpose for which Christ appeared.

1 john iii 7-apr
Top of Page
Top of Page