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§ IV. The Word in the Christian and in the Church until the end of time.
Love being the primary idea in the doctrine of John, and that which gives color to all the rest, we may expect that he will attach great importance to the appropriation of salvation by the individual. Love in fact supposes reciprocity. It is in vain that God has love enough for man to pardon him—it is in vain that the Word has become incarnate, and offered the redeeming sacrifice—if this infinite love obtains no response on earth. We have already seen that the Word prepares every man to receive eternal life by vivifying the divine germ within him. This includes the whole preparatory work of grace, and it is during this process, which is often gradual and prolonged, that the capacity for receiving divine things becomes enlarged or contracted. On the first contact with the incarnate Word the condition of souls is revealed. His manifestation is in itself their condemnation or vindication, since they then receive the fruits of their previous determination. They show then to which side they have inclined—whether they have chosen darkness, or have sought the light.588588Ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται. John iii, 18, 19. John assigns a very large part to the operation of grace. It is God who first loves; it is the Word who chooses us, not we who choose the Word.589589Οὐχ ὑμεῖς με ἐξελέξασθε, ἀλλ ἐγὼ ἐξελεξάμην ὑμᾶς. John xv, 16. This election is not, however, with him a fixed decree, which takes no account of human freedom. Faith, which is with John as with Paul, the sole means of salvation, or rather, the sole means of appropriating salvation, requires a creative act; it is a new and divine birth, of which the Spirit of God is the agent;590590Οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων, οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματός ἀνδρὸς, ἀλλ ᾽ ἐκ Θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν. John i, 13. but it is at the same time a work, the work which contains in germ all other works.591591Τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ ἔργον τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἵνα πιστεύητε εἰς ὃν ἀπέστειλεν ἐκεῖνος. John vi, 29. Faith is, in fact, not simply a trustful acceptance of pardon; it is first of all a spiritual view of God in the incarnate Word, accompanied by an act of submission which leads us to follow Him. John x, 4; xii, 26; xiv, 7-9. It is yet more than this: it unites us so closely to its object that it assures to us its possession; that object becomes one with us, as the bread we eat becomes part of our bodily substance. John vi, 53. It is a real communion with the Son and with the Father; by it we abide in Christ, deriving our nourishment from him as the branch from the vine. John xv, 1-4. Thus comprehended, faith communicates to us the three great attributes of God. By it we are made "of the truth," or children of light, for we possess him who is the Truth, (John xii, 36;) we receive life, eternal and divine life, even before the barrier which divides us from the invisible world is taken away;592592Ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον. John iii, 36. and we are finally made perfect in love. To have Christ abiding in us, to enjoy close fellowship with him—is not this love, and love in the deepest and highest sense?
St. John, who never separates theory from practice, idea from fact, the truth from its application, binds closely together justifying faith and holiness. The latter is, indeed, implicitly contained in the former. Thus from the absolute and ideal stand-point, the believer is a saint. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." 1 John iii, 9. But the Apostle, who will make no compromise in the ideal, nevertheless recognizes the weakness of the actual Christian. All sin is, as he shows, a culpable inconsistency; nevertheless the Mediator still carries on his work of reparation for those who repent. John will lend no sanction to a delusive confidence; a life in sin he plainly declares to be incompatible with faith. He who truly believes is raised into a divine sphere, the sphere of love. To indulge hatred or bitterness is to quit this sphere, and to return into darkness. 1 John iii, 10-15; iv, 8. Having given us the theology of love, John gives us its morality. We ought to become like God, for, as Christians, we are born of him. The light of his love ought to shine within us, and the incarnate Word, who was his express image—made a sacrifice for us—ought to be the light of every regenerated man, as the creative Word was the light of every created man.593593Ἐν τούτῳ ἐγνώκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην, ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τὴν ψυχήν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκε. 1 John iii, 16. A holy society is founded in love—the society of the children of God, or the Church. The Apostle does not enter into any detail as to its constitution and organization. He only assumes the most complete equality among its members, since all have received "the unction of the Holy One, which teacheth all things."594594Καὶ ὑμεῖς τὸ χρίσμα ὃ ἐλάβετε ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ, ἐν ὑμῖν μένει, καὶ οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε, ἵνα τις διδάσκῃ ὑμᾶς· ἀλλ᾽ ὡς τὸ αὐτὸ χρῖσμα διδάσκει ὑμᾶς περὶ πάντῶν, καὶ ἀληθές ἐστὶ καὶ οὐκ ἔστι ψεῦδος, καὶ καθὼς ἐδίδαξεν ὑμᾶς, μένετε ἐν αὐτῷ. 1 John ii, 27. There is no place for a system of external authority in the conception of St. John.
His views of the future of the Church bear the same impress of spirituality. He speaks in the gospel and the epistles as in the Apocalypse, of a general resurrection of the dead, a final judgment, a glorious triumph of Christ, inaugurated by his return, and a terrible conflict with the powers of darkness; but in his gospel he more clearly shows the connection of these great outward facts with the moral facts, which are their antecedents.595595See our note on the Apocalypse, in which we refute M. Reuss's idea that there is a positive opposition between the fourth gospel and the Revelation. In a spiritual sense the resurrection, the judgment, and the conflict with Antichrist have already commenced. Those who hear the voice of the Son of man and live, are so many Lazaruses called to the life divine.596596John v, 24-30. We hold with Lücke that it is not possible to give a purely spiritual application to this passage. It presents the point where the external and the moral fact become inseparable. In verse 28, Jesus Christ appeals to the resurrection of the body, which he will effect on the last day, in order to establish his power to quicken and to judge dead souls. The separation of the darkness from the light effected by the preaching of the truth is a solemn judgment, and whosoever denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is Antichrist. Lastly, in a mystical sense, the adorable Master is come again to his own.597597Πάλιν ἔρχομαι. John xiv, 3. But so far from these spiritual facts being incompatible with the external facts declared in the Revelation, they prepare the way for them. After so much suffering and strife, endured from the beginning of the world, divine love will at length win a glorious victory on the very scene of its conflicts. Even the brilliant colors of the Apocalypse fail to depict this triumph, for St. John exclaims in his first epistle: "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."598598Ἐὰν φανερωθῇ, ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα. 1 John iii, 2. To be made like God—is not this the highest possibility of the development of the creature? Is it not the realization of the sublime purpose of the redeeming Word? Is it not the fulfillment of the prayer of Christ, "that they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us."599599Ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν ἡμῖν ἓν ὦσιν. John xvii, 21. Having ascended to these heavenly heights, the theology of John is complete; no mysticism can soar above it, however bold its flight. The perfect union of the creature with the Creator through the Word, is the ultimate expression of the doctrine of love; beyond it there is nothing. This is, therefore, the closing utterance of the apostolic age; the conclusion, and not the refutation, of all that has gone before; the conciliation of all contradictions in the Church; in a word, the last revelation from heaven, absolute truth, God himself. Freed from all error, comprehended in all its depth, it will ever be the grandest result wrought out by the historian of theology, who, bending over the book in which it was inscribed by the aged saint of Ephesus, seeks to decipher it from age to age.
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