Truth and Error have each their peculiar history of development. As in the continued development of christian truth, the Holy Spirit is ever revealing itself in the inward consciousness of the believer, -- that Anointing spoken of by John; so does Error, proceeding side by side with this revelation, mingle therewith its own disturbing and adulterating influence, -- rending single truths from their connection with the whole system of truth, and giving them the stamp of error. These are the two currents, proceeding from the ever operative spirit of Christ and from the spirit of the world; the latter mingling with the revelations of the former its own disturbing element, and imitating them with a deceptive outward seeming. If we compare the Johannic with the Pauline age, we shall perceive, notwithstanding the common foundation on which the church rests and the common participation of the Holy Spirit, that each period had its own peculiar contrarieties of truth and error. So must we in every period seek to distinguish, by the light of the divine word, what proceeds from the Spirit of Christ and what from an unchristian Spirit of the Age, disguising itself under the outward appearance of Christianity. As then, the higher conception of the essential nature of our Lord Jesus Christ's person, the truth respecting the incarnate Word, received a special development through John, and a wider diffusion of light on this important subject of christian knowledge distinguished the Johannic age; so also was this development of christian truth accompanied and corrupted by the one-sided conception of the anti-christian spirit. Every form of error has its time; and it is owing to the peculiarity of the time, that certain errors especially predominate. Those who still adhere to the whole simple truth, may be perplexed at seeing these errors increasing with seemingly irresistible power, and perverting many from the pure truth. This was the case in the age of John. As the peculiarity of Paul's time was the judaistic tendency, mingling law and gospel together, and seeking to bind Christianity within the limits of the old dispensation; so in the Johannic age, it was this corruption of the pure doctrine of the person of Christ. Then were brewing the elements, which burst forth unrestrained in the agitations of the second century. John seeks to inspire those, who might be thus perplexed, with courage and confidence. He begins with reminding them that they are born of God, that the Spirit of God dwells and works in them, is their teacher, uses them as his instruments to testify of the truth which he has made known to them. Hence, comparing them with the teachers of error, he draws the conclusion: "Ye have overcome them." He does not say, Ye shall overcome; but represents this as a fact already realized. Inasmuch, namely, as they are the children of God and are led by him, they have thereby in fact already overcome those who are animated by the opposite spirit. It is that victory of the divine over all that is undivine, which is inherent in the very relation of the one to the other, as represented by the Apostle himself: For a Greater, a Mightier, is. he who dwells and works in you, than he that is working in the God-estranged world. God is mightier than the undivine spirit, and against him it cannot prevail. In the assurance of the victory of God's omnipotence, over all which arrays itself against him, they are assured that, virtually, they have already overcome their adversaries. This anticipated victory of christian truth over anti-christian error, requires indeed time for its realization. Their faith must outstrip the course of history; and in the assurance of faith, they even now possess the certain decision of the conflict. They may look into the future with cheerful confidence, since the final result is already present to their christian consciousness. The course of history only brings that to light, which is inherent in the very relation of the spirit, by which they are animated, to that which animates their adversaries. These adversaries they would never be able to overcome, had they not, by virtue of that inward relation, overcome them already. That they have already overcome, -- this is the very thing which is to be made manifest. When Jesus bids his disciples be of good cheer, it is not because he will overcome the world, but because he has already overcome. (John xvi.33.) By his redeeming life and sufferings he has, once for all, broken the might of Evil. Its kingdom is henceforth as if it were not. It may still prevail in many forms; yet this is but a passing show.
Christ, then, having once for all overcome the world, believers are the witnesses of this his victory, the instruments by which it is to be spread throughout the world. Now in this assurance of having overcome their adversaries, it is implied that they are themselves assured in the truth; that unmoved by these assaults they stand firm, while all around them wavers; that they confidently look forward to the full and final triumph of truth in the world. But it by no means follows, that their adversaries will be so overcome, as that they themselves shall be convinced of their errors and abandon them. For this is something which cannot be forced upon man from without. It depends upon his own free susceptibility, his own free submission to that spirit which animates the preachers of the truth. Hence they are not unsettled and perplexed, when, for the moment, error prevails to an extraordinary degree in the world. The Apostle shows, that this cannot be otherwise. There is, he says, no agreement possible between them and their adversaries. What belongs to the inner nature cannot but come forth to light; the spirit, the temper of mind, cannot but express itself. As is the tree, so is its fruit. Those false prophets, says the Apostle, belong in their spirit, their inward temper, to the world. Hence they teach what corresponds to this worldly spirit and temper; their earthliness of mind is mirrored in their teaching. So long as they are thus minded, it cannot be otherwise; and all attempts to convince them of their errors, will be repelled by the adverse tendency of their spirit.
By this he also explains, how it is that with so many they find admission. The world eagerly receives that which is kindred to its own spirit. Thus is brought to light the essential contrariety between those who are of God and those who are of the world. Those who in spirit and temper belong to the world have no susceptibility for the divine, and cannot receive what is made known by those who are animated by the Spirit of God, the teachers of divine truth. But, "he that knoweth God, heareth us." The knowing of God might here mean that general preparatory connection with him, of such as feel the drawing of the Father by which they are led to the Son, and thus show a susceptibility for the pure divine truth. But it may also apply to those who are already grounded in the christian faith, and remain true to the christian knowledge which they have received; and hence are able to recognize and to distinguish the genuine preachers of truth, by whom they are led on still farther in christian knowledge. The attitude thus taken, towards teachers of truth and teachers of error, becomes a sifting process among christians themselves; separating those who are truly born of God, who in spirit form the opposite to the world, and those who still belong to the world although externally united to the christian church. Thus, in this sifting process, is manifested the inherent essential contrariety between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, between the undivine spirit and the spirit of God.