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THE BELIEVER UNKNOWN.
1 JOHN III. 1.
Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. THE former clause of this verse distinctly recognizes the fact, that they who are really Christians, are by an act of Almighty love, become the sons of God. And at the same time, the scriptural account of those who are the sons of God, is in other passages so plainly made out, that a fair and conscientious inquirer may ascertain unquestionably whether he is a son of God or not. The apostle, however, states, in the latter clause of the verse, a very remarkable and important fact, respecting the sons of God, namely, the estrangement and concealment of their character from the generality of men. Having distinctly affirmed that the real Christian is the son of God, he then affirms that to the world or the mass of irreligious and careless men, the
characteristic features of this sonship are unknown; "Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."
There are three important ideas involved in this short sentence :
I. The apostle recognizes the separation or difference between the world and the true church, or the sons of God.
II. He affirms that the world is ignorant of the true Christian character,-" The world knoweth us not." And,
III. He gives the reason of this ignorance; their ignorance of God," Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."
We will briefly consider each of these points, with earnest prayer for a useful application of the truths contained in them to our own hearts and consciences.
Notice, first, The distinction drawn between the sons of God and the world. It is evident from the apostle's statements in this epistle, that true Christians are called to be the sons of God, out of a multitude of fallen beings who are yet the children of the devil, who are yet in darkness and in sin. It is evident, also, that this calling cannot be fairly understood to mean merely the profession of the worship of the true God, as distinct from heathen and idolatrous worship, or Jewish impenitence and
obduracy; for St John repeatedly dwells upon the distinction between the mere professor of Christianity, and the possessor of divine grace; and considers the mere professor as still belonging to the world. He does not place the test of the Christian character so much in the holding of certain opinions, as in the exhibition of certain results. For instance, he says, "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment;" and "he that keepeth his commandment dwelleth in him, and he in him." "He that loveth not, knoweth not God." "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him!" "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
Now in these several passages, he is evidently speaking of professing Christians, who avow themselves to be followers of this way; but who shew by their conduct that they are strangers to the realities of grace. He points out the defect in their character, and he says of such, "Hereby know we the spirit of truth from the spirit of error;" that is, we can discriminate between those who possess and those who only profess religion; and the test, the distinguishing point by means of which we are able to decide, is that influential love to God, which resides in the real Christian's bosom, and which shews itself in the keeping the commandments of
God, and the affectionate seeking of the best interests of man.
Certainly the Christian community was comparatively small when St John wrote this, and when he thus distinctly marked out the true disciple, as essentially differing from the nominal and formal disciple, the mere professor. But the increase of numbers does not in the slightest degree alter the relation of the two characters to each other and to God; and consequently, though in what are called Christian countries, the body of the people have, from the influence of custom, acceded to the outward forms and taken up the outward profession of Christianity, yet this does not alter the apostle's argument. The test of real discipleship remains the same. He that is born of God believes that Jesus is the Christ; and he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, overcometh the world; that is, neither loves nor serves it; and hence it follows, that he that is the son of God, neither loves the world nor serves it.
We come now, then, to ascertain clearly, what St John means by "the world" in the text. He means the multitude of unchanged, unconverted persons, out of whom the members of the real church were called to true discipleship. He means those who do really love and serve this present world. It matters not whether they are avowedly heathen, as was the case in the formation of the Ephesian and other churches, or Jews continuing
in impenitence and hardness of heart, or the heartless and insincere disciples of Christianity, to whom in this epistle he so much refers, who had the form without the power of godliness. It makes little difference to the present question, which they were of these classes. The characteristic feature which marks them as the world, and that which associates them all in one great class, in opposition to the sons of God, is the love of this world, and the want of love to God. That is the reason why they are called both by the Saviour and his apostles, emphatically, the world. They all unite in this point, that losing sight of eternal realities, and not earnestly seeking after God and godliness, they give to this world, in some form or other, the supreme place in their esteem. To this world they are preferentially devoted, to its lusts, its gains, its honours; and they cannot conceive of the wisdom or the sincerity of any one passing by the present good which solicits attention, to seek with patient toil and lengthened expectation for a future good—an indefinitely future good, and regarding that as a reward, which to their sensualized and perverted comprehension, wears even in its brightest form, little if any thing of the character of what they have hitherto learned to account desirable.
And in a nominally Christian country, what a multitude there is who come under this description! Many are kind, amiable, moral, respectable people, and pass through the relative duties of life