1 John 5:4
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
I. VICTORY or overcoming is a subjugation or bringing under an opposing party to the power and will of another. And this victory is of two kinds, complete and perfect, or incomplete or imperfect.
1. The notion of a complete victory is when either the opposing party is totally destroyed, or at least when despoiled of any possibility of future resistance. Thus the Son of God, the captain of our salvation, overcame the world (John 16:33),
2. There is a victory, but incomplete, such as the victory of the Children of Israel over the Canaanites. And this is the condition of the Christian militant in this world.
II. THE PERSON exercising this act of victory and conquest, he that is born of God.
III. THE THING upon which this victory is obtained and conquest made is the world, which comprehends in its latitude a double world; the world within us and the world without us.
1. The world that is within us taketh in the two great faculties or powers, viz.,
(1) The passions of the soul; and(2) the sensual appetite; both these are in their own nature good, placed in us by the wise God of Nature, for most excellent ends and uses. Our business therefore is to keep them in subjection.
2. The world without us is of three kinds.
(1) The natural world, which is the work of Almighty God, is most certainly in itself good; and only evil accidentally by man's abuse of himself or it.
(2) The malignant and evil world, the world of evil angels, and of evil men.
(3) The accidental, or more truly, the providential world in relation to man and his condition in this world, and is commonly of two kinds, viz., prosperous or adverse.
IV. THE FAITH WHICH THUS OVERCOMETH THE WORLD is nothing else but a deep, real, full persuasion of and assent unto those great truths revealed in the Scriptures of God.
1. What are those Divine truths which being really and soundly believed, doth enable the victory over the world?
(1) There is one most powerful, wise, gracious, bountiful, just, and all-seeing God, the author of all being, that is present in all places, knows our thoughts, our wants, our sins, our desires, and is ready to supply us with all things that are good and fit for us beyond all we can ask or think.
(2) This most wise and just and powerful God hath appointed a law or rule according to which the children of men should conform themselves.
(3) This law and will of His He hath communicated and revealed to men in His holy Word, especially by the mission of His Son.
(4) He hath given unto mankind, in and through Christ, a full manifestation of a future life after this of rewards and punishments, and according to that law of His thus manifested by His Son He will, by the same Jesus Christ, judge every man according to his works.
(5) The reward of faith and obedience, in that other life to come, shall be an eternal, blessed, happy estate of soul and body in the glorious heavens, and in the presence and fruition of the ever glorious and eternal God.
(6) The punishment of the rebellious and disobedient unto His will and law of God thus manifested by His Son shall be separation from the presence of God.
(7) The Son of God hath given us the greatest assurance imaginable of the truth of this will of God by taking upon Him our nature, by His miracles, by His death and resurrection and ascension into glory, and by His mission of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation into His apostles and disciples.
(8) God, though full of justice and severity against the obstinate and rebellious, yet is full of tenderness, love, and compassion towards all those that sincerely desire to obey His will, and to accept of terms of peace and reconciliation with Him, and is ready upon repentance and amendment to pardon whatsoever is amiss.
2. As touching the act itself, it is no other than a sound, real, and firm belief of those sacred truths. He that hath this firm persuasion will most certainly repent of his sins past, will most certainly endeavour obedience to the will of God, which is thus believed by him to be holy, just, and good.
V. HOW FAITH OVERCOMETH THE WORLD, WHICH TAKES IN THESE TWO CONSIDERATIONS.
1. Touching the degree of the victory that faith gives, it is a victory, but not without a continued warfare.
2. Touching the method whereby our faith overcometh the world.
(1) In general the great method whereby faith overcometh the world is by rectifying our judgments and those mistakes that are in us concerning the world and our own condition.
(2) But I shall come to particulars, and follow that track that is before given, in the distribution of the world, as well within as without us, and consider the particular method of faith in subduing them.
1. As for our passions.
(1) Faith directs their due placing upon their objects by discovering what are the true and proper objects of them out of that large and comprehensive law of God which present them as such to the soul, and to be observed under the pain of the displeasure of the glorious and Almighty God.
(2) Upon the same account it teacheth our passions and affections moderation in their exercise, even about their proper objects, and due subordination to the supreme love a man owes to the supreme good, God Almighty.
(3) Upon the same account it teacheth us, under our obligation of duty to God, to cut off and mortify the diseases and corruptions of passion, as malice, envy, revenge, pride, vain glory, ostentation.
2. In reference to our desires.
(1) Natural; it teacheth us great moderation, temperance, sobriety. As touching those degenerate and corrupt lusts, as covetousness, malice, envy; faith doth first of all in general show us that they are prohibited by the great Lord and Lawgiver of heaven and earth, and that under severe penalties; again, secondly, it shows us that they are the great depravers of our nature, the disturbers of the peace, security, and tranquillity of our minds; again, thirdly, it shows us that they are vain, impertinent, and unnecessary perturbations, such as can never do us any real good, but feed our vain imaginations with deceits instead of realities.
3. I come to the consideration of the world without us, as that which possibly is here principally intended, and the victory of the Christian by his faith over it, and first in relation to the natural world. This world is a goodly palace fitted with all grateful objects to our senses, full of variety and pleasantness, and the soul fastening upon them grows careless of the thoughts of another state after death, or to think of the passage to it, or making provision for it; but to set up its hope and happiness, and rest in it, and in these delights and accommodations that it yields our senses. Faith overcometh this part of the world —
(1) By giving us a true estimate of it, to prevent us from overvaluing it.
(2) By frequent reminding of us that it is fitted only to the meridian of life, which is short and transitory, and passeth away.
(3) By presenting unto us a state of future happiness that infinitely surpasseth it.
(4) By discovering our duty in our walk through it, namely, of great moderation and vigilancy.
(5) By presenting unto us the example of the Captain of our salvation, His deportment in it and towards it.
(6) By assuring us that we are but stewards unto the great Lord of the family of heaven and earth for so much as we have of it, and that to Him we must give an account of our stewardship.
(7) By assuring us that our great Lord and Master is a constant observer of all our deportment in it.
(8) And that He will most certainly give a reward proportionable to the management of our trust and stewardship.
4. As to the malignant world of evil men and evil angels; and therein first in relation to the evil counsels and evil examples, that solicit or tempt us to the breach of our duty to God. The methods whereby faith overcometh this part of the malignant world are these.
(1) It presents unto us our duty that we owe to God and which we are bound indispensably to observe under the great penalty of loss of our happiness.
(2) It presents us with the great advantage that we have in obeying God, above whatsoever advantage we can have in obeying or following the sinful examples, counsels, or commands of this world, and the great excess of our disadvantage in obeying or following the evil examples, or counsels of the world.
(3) It presents Almighty God strictly observing our carriage in relation to these temptations.
(4) It presents us with the displeasure and indignation of the same God in case we desert Him, and follow the sinful examples or counsels of men, and with the great favour, love, approbation, and reward of Almighty God if we keep our fidelity and duty to Him.
(5) It presents us with the noble example of our blessed Saviour.
(6) It presents us with the transcendent love of God in Christ Jesus, who, to redeem us from the misery of our natural condition, and from the dominion of sin, and to make us a peculiar people zealous of good works, chose to become a curse and die for us, the greatest obligation of love and gratitude and duty imaginable.And secondly, as to the other part or scene of this malignant world persecutions, reproaches, scorns, yea death itself, faith presents the soul not only with the foregoing considerations, and that glorious promise, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life," but some other considerations peculiarly proper to this condition.
(1) That it is this state that our blessed Saviour hath not only foretold, but hath annexed a special promise of blessedness unto.
(2) That there have gone before us a noble cloud of examples in all ages, yea, the Captain of our salvation was thus made perfect by suffering.
(3) That though it is troublesome, it is but short, and ends with death, which will be the passage into a state of incorruptible happiness.
3. Concerning the third kind of world, namely, the providential world, consisting in external dispensations of adversity or prosperity.
1. And first concerning the dark part of the world, namely, adversity, as casualties, issues of wealth, or friends, sicknesses, the common effects whereof are impatience, distrust, murmuring, and unquietness.
(1) Faith presents the soul with this assurance, that all external occurrences come from the wise dispensation or permission of the most glorious God; they come not by chance.
(2) That the glorious God may, even upon the account of His own sovereignty, inflict what He pleaseth upon any of His creatures in this life.
(3) That yet whatsoever he doth in this kind, is not only an effect of his power and sovereignty, but of His wisdom, yea, and of His goodness and bounty.
(4) That the best of men deserve far worse at the hands of God than the worst afflictions that ever did or ever can befall any man in this life.
(5) That there have been examples of greater affliction that have befallen better men in this life: witness Job.
(6) That these afflictions are sent for the good even of good men, and it is their fault and weakness if they have not that effect.
(7) That in the midst of the severest afflictions, the favour of God to the soul, discovering itself like the sun shining through a cloud, gives light and comfort to the soul.
(8) That Almighty God is ready to support them that believe in Him, and to bear them up under all their afflictions that they shall not sink under them.
(9) That whatsoever or how great soever the afflictions of this life are, yet faith presents to the believer something that can bear up the soul under these pressures, namely, that after a few years or days are spent, an eternal state of unchangeable and perfect happiness shall succeed.
2. As to the second part of this providential world, namely, prosperity, which in truth is the more dangerous condition of the two without the intervention of the Divine grace.
(1) Faith gives a man a true and equal estimate of this condition, and keeps a man from over valuing it, or himself for it; lets him know it is very uncertain, very casual, very dangerous, and cannot outlast this life.
(2) Faith assures him that Almighty God observes his whole deportment in it, that He hath given him a law of humility, sobriety, temperance, fidelity, and a caution not to trust in uncertain riches, that he must give an account of his stewardship also.
(3) Faith lets him know that the abundance of wealth, honour, friends, applause, success, as they last no longer than this short transitory life, and therefore cannot make up his happiness, no nor give a man any ease or rescue from a fit of the stone or colic; so there is an everlasting state of happiness or misery that must attend every man after death.
(Sir M. Hale.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.