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For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. I S. JOH v. 4. THAT there is a contest carried on in creation be tween opposite principles was so apparent even to the heatnen, that many of them imagined the existence of two opposite deities the one dealing out good, and the other engaged in counteracting that good. We who have the divine revelation know better than this. We know that a fierce conflict goes on between evil and good, but that only good can be referred to the Creator evil originating exclusively with the creature. This earth, which God designed for the habita tion of an innocent, and therefore happy race, has been converted, through the apostasy of that race, into a battle-plain, upon which Satan and his emissaries measure their strength with Jehovah and His hosts. The contest between Christ and Satan is a contest for the souls of men, and its battles are fought on the narrow stage of 227
FIRST SU DAY AFTER EASTER individual hearts more frequently than on the wide area of nations or provinces. There will, indeed, be occasions upon which the struggle is between opposing thousands. The armies of the infidel will come up on one side under the banner of rebellion, whilst the Church of the living God stands on the other with the sign of the Cross for its standard. In cases such as these the warfare is open, and men see it and take part in it as though it were a marshalled combat between rival princes. But ordinarily the battle is fought in individual hearts ; and until a man s own breast is the theatre of war, he will remain an utter stranger to the desperate struggle which is daily taking place around him ; and he will consider you as discoursing on something lamentably visionary, if you speak to him of Christ and Satan as grappling for the mastery on his right hand and on his left The unconverted man is at peace with the devil ; the converted man is at peace with God, and therefore at war with the devil.
Let us give ourselves to the careful consideration of this proposi tion, in regard as well to the matter of fact which it asserts the world overcome, as to the agency to which it ascribes such result the faith of the believer. If we show you, first, that the world is overcome : and then, that it is overcome through faith, we shall have established the assertion of the Apostle, Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world ; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith/ L Is it true, is it borne out by the experience of the Church, that the renewed man overcomes the world ? Is he never overcome by the world ? or is his being ever overcome to be taken in contradiction to all pretensions to godliness, so that because he has not overcome the world in this or that instance, is it therefore to be concluded that he is not * born of God ? Woe unto all of us if such reasoning be sound ! Woe unto us all, even those who have walked the longest and the most steadfastly with God, if our text is to be interpreted by this rigid law ! if it be enough that the world gain once the upper hand in order to its being proved that we are still unrenewed ! It is not to be denied that the Apostle makes no exception. The asser tion is as broad and unqualified as another which he advances a few verses after : We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not/ We have only to say, in answer to this, that we must be just as scrupulous of introducing contradictions into the Bible as of disguis ing its assertions. Undoubtedly, it is the general representation of Scripture, that in our present state of being we shall continue im perfect, that our attainments whilst on earth shall never be so lofty as to leave no higher point to which we have to reach. And to this general representation we are bound to adhere. If we meet with detached passages which seem to militate against it, we must make
OUTLI ES O THE EPISTLE the single text bend to the many chapters, and not do violence to the many chapters, in order to uphold the apparent force of a single text. Thus, in the instance under review, we cannot plead for the literal fact that the renewed man always overcomes and never sins, unless, at the same time, we are prepared to shut our eyes to the deficiencies and shortcomings of the saints. We must, therefore, take a modified interpretation of S. John s strong sayings. The re newed man * overcomes, and the renewed man does not sin, 1 in the sense of the object which he has in view, rather than of the end to which he has attained. The sayings are to be interpreted of what is habitual, and not of what is occasional. His habits are those of victory and of righteousness. When he fails to conquer, or falls from
obedience, the failure and fall are exceptions to ordinary success and general steadfastness. Hence we may say, the renewed man over comes, because, though sometimes defeated, to be the victor and not the vanquished is his habit, and we say that he * sins not, because, though he often offend, disobedience is but his lament, for reluctance precedes and repentance follows the commission. The renewed man does not sin as the unrenewed does. He sins as one surprised by an enemy, and not as one seduced by a friend. And this difference goes far to demolish the wonder that S. John has declared that he * sin not at all. But without insisting further upon expressions, which, though un qualified in themselves, are sufficiently qualified by other portions of Scripture, we conclude that it is habit to which the Apostle refers. He is said to overcome the world who is always at war with it, though a man may not always be equally successful. I think, and I believe, that whenever a Christian sets himself to fight the world he is sure to overcome it. It is possible to be perfect, because the means provided are sufficient ; it is impossible, because the constant use of those means presupposes a vigilance which would of itself be perfection. It is possible always to overcome, if we always kept the sword in hand ; it is impossible, because, through the weakness of the flesh a weakness which Christ compassionated rather than up braided in His disciples, when He said, The spirit indeed is will ing, but the flesh is weak impossible, because, through weakness of the flesh, there will certainly come seasons at which the grasp is relaxed. Hence, we neither question the power of the Creator nor apologise for the faults of the creature. The Creator gives the means; the creature must use those means. The means are ample enough for the attainment of perfection, but then they must be used with a diligence which can exist only where perfection has been already attained. The Christian might always overcome if he could always keep himself spiritually awake. What then ? Has God 229
FIRST SU DAY AFTER EASTER made it an unavoidable thing that the Christian should spiritually slumber ? Perish the thought ! God may be said to have given us alarums enough to banish sleep altogether from the soul, but then He requires of us, as responsible creatures, that we wind them up for ourselves. And all we contend for is, that the supposition of our never once failing to wind up each alarum is equivalent to a sup position that we are already perfect, that at least we are perfect in
one respect perfect in vigilance. Surely it will not do to assume that man is already perfect, in order to prove that perfection lies within reach. II. And now as to the agency through which the result is effected. * This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 1 There are many who can testify, from experience, that the Chris tian s life is one of conflict with the world, and that when he over comes it, it is through the agency of faith : that, depending on Christ for redemption, works by gratitude and love, and realises at all times the supporting presence of God. You have met with the world in battle, and you have returned in triumph from the field. What shall we say to you, save that He who gave the strength, in which you have heretofore vanquished, is as mighty as ever to aid you in the struggle ? I know not individually what your trials may be. I know not the precise form which the world assumes when it meets you in conflict. But this I know, that your great High Priest was tempted in all points even as ye are, and that the faith which fastened on Him shall extract from His fulness supplies commensurate with every exigency. I know that Satan shall never forge an arrow which the shield of this faith is not strong enough to throw off. I know that it is promised to the believer, not only that he shall be a conqueror this were much, this were wonderful ! much that the believer should subdue in battle, wonderful that in his sinfulness and his weakness he shall gain the mastery over principalities and powers ; yes, this were much, this were wonderful ! but it is not only pro mised that he shall be a conqueror, 1 it is promised that he shall be more than a conqueror through Him that loved him. I cannot grasp the promise in all the nobleness of its extent. I hardly know what that conquest is which is more than conquest. But, neverthe less, I bid you lay hold on such a promise, and may you go on your way rejoicing ! It is not life ; it is not death which shall separate you from the Redeemer. One lust after another being crucified, you shall stand at last on the margin of eternity, and, looking down its vista, behold not the ruins of that death which the Redeemer abolished, but the splendours of that kingdom which at His second coming He shall set up. I know that if ye have faith in Christ, through that faith ye shall die conquerors. The wing of the angel 230
OUTLI ES O THE EPISTLE shall be over you ; the whisper of the Spirit shall comfort you ; the
smile of the Redeemer shall beckon you. And if surviving relatives rear a monument over your ashes, they will be perfidious to your memory, they will be traitors to the truth, if they carve not on the stone, They overcame the world ; and the victory was by faith. 1 H. MELVILL.
1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books
2. ALL WRITI GS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=970
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