Connersville, Indiana, December 16, 1857.
Brother Beebe: – By request of sister Charlotte Herrick, in the SIGNS of the 15th of November last, I am induced to give my views on the text, 1 John iv: 2,3, “Hereby know ye the spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and this is that spirit of anti-christ whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already it is in the world.”
This subject is copious, and opens up a wide field for remarks. John is here writing to the children of God whom he addresses as little children. Little children are the most helpless and dependent of all the animal creation, and therefore the most suitable to illustrate the condition of the children of God, of any, and so they are often called. John, being an old man, and an old preacher, and a teacher of babes, may with great propriety, also claim them as his little children, for whose benefit, information, learning and comfort, he was laboring. To them, he says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The many false prophets being prompted by the spirit of error to oppose Christ in various ways and in many things, and by many false prophets or teachers, I suppose is the sense in which it is called many spirits. All the different operations and diversity of systems invented by this spirit and propagated by all the false prophets influenced by it, diverse as they may seem, yet they are all against Christ. They are all in the world and of the world, and many of them, from time to time, have for a season had a name in the church; but the church is not their home. They “have gone out into the world.” The little children would very naturally enquire, How shall we clearly know these two spirits, and be prepared to clearly distinguish between them, so as, in all cases, to know the spirit of Truth from the spirit of error? John promptly and in plain words answers this enquiry – “Hereby know ye the spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God;” and on the other hand, “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God.” This rule is short and easy to apply, and every way suitable to the capacity of little children who are born of the Spirit of God. The spirit that prompts the teacher or prophet will show of what sort it is, by the teaching of the prophet or teacher. Therefore, every teacher or prophet that does not, in his doctrine confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. “And this is that spirit of anti-Christ whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world.” The world is its place, it is of that world, and the world will hear and love that which is its own.
Now a few points are presented for our special remark. First, What Jesus Christ is, which has come in the flesh? Second, What is that antichrist whereof they have heard, &c.? And, thirdly, How are the little children to know and overcome the world and this spirit of error, which even now is in the world?
FIRST. Let us ascertain correctly who, or what that Jesus Christ which is come in the flesh, is? Jesus signifies a Savior, and this name was, by the Angel, given to the babe of Bethlehem, because He should save His people from their sins. The name Christ signifies the Anointed, the sent, the appointed One. The Messiah of the Old Testament is the same as the Christ of the new Testament, and both contemplates a character subordinate to God, in one sense, as the Anointed, the appointed, the sent, the cut off, &c., yet fully, properly and equally God, as the Father. This character or personage, was not the flesh, but it was that Jesus Christ that is come in the flesh. This Jesus Christ dwelt in the bosom of the Father, before He came to earth and was born of Mary. He was brought forth before the mountains were, or ever the earth was. His goings forth were from of old, even from everlasting. He often appeared in personal form and was visible, as man, to the fathers, to the prophets and saints, and was by them called a man, a messenger or an angel, and He recognized the truth of the name. This was the man of God’s right hand, even the Son of man, whom God had made strong for himself – Psalm lxxx. 17. This is the man that spake the promise to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. This man appeared to Manoah and Manoah’s wife; and this man, as the Captain of the Lord’s host, stood before Joshua with a drawn sword in His hand. Against this man the sword was commanded to awake, and smite, (not God,) but “the man that is My fellow, saith the Lord of hosts.” Who stood then, as now, legally the Shepherd of the sheep? In this heavenly man, the second Adam, it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, and He is properly the Head over all things to His children; as man, but not as flesh, and bones, and blood, but as man, pure, sinless, undefiled; man in essence or nature, the whole fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Him, and for this heavenly man a body was prepared, as a victim for His offering; and when this man came in His flesh, or body, which God had prepared Him, God was manifest in this flesh which this man, Christ Jesus, came in. The Jews denied that the promised Messiah had come in the flesh, and were antichrist; that is, they were against Christ. So atheists, deists, and all who teach that Christ was an imposter, or He was not the Son of God, all are against Christ. The world of the ungodly, who know not God and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, are all against Christ; but the text seems, more especially to refer to such as makes a profession and claim to be a church, or churches of Christ, or such as individually claim to be believers of the Gospel, and still do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Some of these will confess that the flesh and bones and body of the son of Mary, is the Jesus Christ in whom they believe, and whom they preach; and they teach that Jesus Christ, as such, never had any actual existence until He was conceived and born of Mary. Here they start the actual existence of the Mediator, the man Christ Jesus, and claim that flesh alone, as their only Christ Jesus, and do not confess that the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, ever came in the flesh; but the flesh is all the Jesus Christ that they will or do confess existing between God and man. They say that He never existed until He was conceived and born of Mary; therefore they do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. They contend that He was the flesh, and not that He came in the flesh. But the Spirit that is of God teaches that “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He, (Jesus Christ,) also Himself likewise took part of the same, or in like manner took part of the same. The spirit that confesses not the Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. Others again, with most of those already described, deny that Jesus Christ was ever either in heaven or the flesh, or any where else. They apply the name to a mere phantom of their imagination that the Scriptures know nothing of, either in heaven or earth, in the flesh or out of it; a Jesus Christ who tries to save all of Adam’s race, and fails to save even the half of them; and of Himself alone fails to save any, and the salvation of one and all must forever fail, after all that He has ever done or ever will do, unless the sinner himself secures his own salvation by some mighty works of his own. This phantom, the false prophets call Jesus Christ, and they say that it is the Son of God, and that the Father is equally as impotent and dependent as the Son, and quite as liable to fail, unless man will lay to the helping hand. This is really denying the true God, and the true Jesus Christ, whom He hath sent. Of course, these do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This spirit is not of God; this is that spirit of antichrist, of which ye have heard that it should come, and is even now in the world; in the wisdom, learning, speculations and institutions of the religious world.
SECOND. We are to enquire who, or what this antichrist is, of whom ye have already heard that it should come, and is even now in the world. Ye have heard of the coming and working of this spirit of antichrist, this man of sin, or son of perdition, this mystery of iniquity, by the old prophets and by the apostle Paul, and by the other apostles who had written to these little children, before John wrote this letter. And some say that this letter was not written until after John had written the book of Revelation, in which the coming and reign of antichrist is so fully discussed. At all events, these little children had heard that such a spirit of opposition should come, and that it was now in the world, and would be more fully developed by an host of false prophets or teachers who should compass both sea and land to make proselytes. All expositors are apt to look to Rome, and when they have found this antichrist so fully displayed in the Papal See, they have seemed to have almost forgotten that ’the same spirit of error that prompted the Romish clergy to all their ambitions and bloody opposition against Christ, in His doctrine, in His government, His ordinances, His people, and His coming in the flesh, and all worldly pomp, power, wealth, learning and pretended benevolence; the various schools, missions, and means of money, &c. All this is as fully exhibited now by the protestant antichrist, as ever it was in Rome, wherever the law will give them the power, and when that stays the hand of violence and blood, deception, fraud, slander, gimmicks and lying in wait to deceive, is resorted to. All this is the multiform working of the same spirit of antichrist, or against Him, against His Eternal Godhead at one time and place, and against His existence at any time previous to His conception and birth by Mary. Against His being absolute and unconditionally a Savior – Against the justification and cleansing virtue of His blood; for they say that all depends at last on conditions performed by men. This is again against Christ. Their doctrine, ordinances, discipline, and their worldly combinations and amalgamations with the world, show that they are in the world and of the world, and the world loves and hears them, because they are its own. All these are not only against Christ, but they prove themselves to be antichrist, according to the test that John gave to the children of God in our text. In the world they are heard, loved, received, approved and sustained, and like the world, they confess not that the true and Scriptural Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Some may ask, Are not some of God’s little children deceived by these false teachers? This is not for me to decide; if they are, the Lord is saying to them, “Come out of her, My people.” A plain test is given in the text: and they should try the spirits and obey the Lord. But be this as it may, it makes neither the spirit nor the false prophets or teachers prompted by it, any the better; but if some, even of the children have, for a season, been deceived by its fair speeches, feigned humility and will-worship, and by its intrusion, surely the balance of the little children should, the more promptly and constantly consider and apply the test which is given them in the text, which is short and easily applied.
THIRDLY. A few words as to how the little children are to know this spirit and overcome the world, and this spirit which is in the world. On this momentous subject John says, in the verse following the text, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” If God, who is love, is in these little children; if His Spirit of Truth is in them; if Christ is in them the hope of glory, surely God will keep them by His power – the Spirit of light and Truth will lead them into all necessary Truth; and Christ, their Shepherd, Husband, Prophet, Priest and King; their Way, their Life, their Shield, their Righteousness and their Salvation – surely thus furnished, even the little children who are of God, have in days past, do at this time, and will finally overcome all the spirits of anti-Christ, that are now, ever have been, or ever will be in the world with the world to help them. Not by any motive, power of their own do they persevere or overcome, but because greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world!
Now, my sister Herrick, and your husband and daughter, both of whom I baptized at the last meeting at which I ever saw of you, as I had baptized you many years before, I have given you some of my views on the text which you selected; and I present them for the consideration of all God’s little children. While you, and all of them, in your widely scattered situation – far from your former homes, and your old brethren and sisters, ministers and places of worship, feel lonely, like the little children weaned from the breasts and thrown among strangers, and in such an inhospitable region, you hear the howling of the spirit of anti-Christ, crying, “Lo here! Lo there!” you have often heard of this opposing spirits being in the world. Yes, you have often witnessed that these false prophets did not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; and you have often applied the test in the text. But back then you knew your friends with whom you could mingle in mutual faith, hope and love; where you could hear the Truth, and join in the songs of Zion. If sorrows, manifold temptations, darkness, doubts, fears, or unbelief gather over you, and as a thick cloud, hid the smiles of the Savior from your view for a season, still you were among your brethren and sisters, whose company and edifying conversation, and familiarity with such trials, would often comfort and encourage you on your dubious and dreary way. But now, far, far away from those old and long-tried friends, cast among strangers, knowing not who will really confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – the howl of the prophets of Baal and of the Groves around you, yea, and no known, tried, confidential brother or sister to confer with, it is then you think of bygone days. But still when, by the strength of Him that is in you, and with you, the clouds are again dispersed and your way is made plain, you find that you are not alone: still you have a Comforter, even when all earthly comforts have failed. My brother and sister, you, like many others of the little children, have constant need to apply the test which is in the text, to all you hear: for in one way or another, every spirit of error and every false prophet and false teacher will preach and teach against Christ, and labor to whittle down His power, His dignity, or His grace, and to exalt man’s power, free-agency and works, and they confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. But the true ministers, who are separated to the work by the Holy Spirit of Truth, will come to you with Christ’s test, and Christ as All in all, and such will be determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This Gospel of His sovereign grace, of His Kingdom, and your salvation, is sweet to the taste of the little children; therefore, “Eat, O friends; yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”
Yours in Christ,
Signs of the Times
Volume 26, No. 2.
January 15, 1858