THE TWO FAMILIES
A Sermon by John Elias (1774-1841)
“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” 1 John 5, 19.
The inspired apostle writes the words before us in the name of his Christian brethren, as well as that of himself. “We know,”
In this passage mankind are divided into two different classes:
some who are “of God,” and “the whole world.” The distinction which he makes will stand immovably, and it is of the highest consequence. Some distinctions are of very little importance. It would not be of much moment if I should say, “I am a Calvinistic Methodist, or a Presbyterian; that man is a Wesleyan, while the other is an Independent, or Baptist.” Our sectarian distinctions will, one day, be buried in eternal oblivion. But the apostle and his brethren apprehended no interest so vastly important as the sentiment of the text, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
The text naturally divides itself into two subjects: –
I. The happy and exalted state of believers; they are “of God”Â— and some of them “know” it.
II. The wretched and deplorable condition of all others. “The whole world lieth in wickedness.” By “the whole world” is evidently meant all who are not “of God.”
All the inhabitants of the world are comprised within the compass of the text, and the distinction made therein reaches them all.
But let us notice
I. The happy, exalted state of the believers: “We know that we are of God.” Here let us inquire, 1. What is meant by being “of God!” The verse preceding the text elucidates the expression. There the godly man is denominated “He that is born of God.” Thus, to be “of God” means to be born of Him.
Now, my dear hearers, do you bear in mind that regeneration is as absolutely necessary in our days as it was when our Lord was conversing with Nicodemus. Do you seriously consider that a second birth is as indispensable this year as it was some fifty years ago when
none should be admitted into church fellowship without hopeful and noted signs of their having been regenerated. Regeneration is as necessary and important now as it ever was. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” this year as well as any previous year; or he can never enter into it. To be born of God is essential to the possession of true religion. Independent of it there can be no genuine piety. Would to God that a general feeling of self-examination should pervade the vast assemblage before me, “Are we born again?” You need not inquire so much concerning the mode, the time, and the place in which the change was effected, as about the character of the effects produced. You may deceive yourselves in looking for evidences in the circumstances of the change. But you should examine yourselves, whether you have realized the benefits accruing therefrom. Search your hearts and conduct minutely and impartially, whether you can discern symptoms of a thorough change in your principles, dispositions, and motives, divinely wrought by the life giving influences of the Spirit of God. Remember, it is a birth of God; God is the great author of it. He has implanted something of a spiritual and heavenly motive within all regenerate persons: “For his seed remaineth in him” He has communicated living water into their hearts which shall abide in them” a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” There is a holy principle existing in the regenerate, of which all others are utterly destitute. They are influenced by a spirit to which “the whole world” besides are perfect strangers. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Again, to be “of God” imports to be on God’s sideÂ—to be a member of His familyÂ—to be a soldier of His army, fighting the battles of the LordÂ—to be a workman in His vineyard, carrying on His work on earth, and aiming at His glory in the performance of every social, relative, and Christian duty.
Furthermore, all the excellencies of the Christian are to be entirely attributed to His being “of God.” Whatever superiority pertains to a godly man, it is wholly ascribable to his God. None of the glory is due to himself. All the praise must be returned to God. “Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou, that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it,” glorying, on thy part, is altogether excluded. “We are of God,” says the Apostle John: and to this accords the testimony of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that according as it is written. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” The four different blessings mentioned by the Apostle, fully constitute the essence of vital religion; they involve in their own
nature, all that sinful man needs in time and eternity; and the godly man receives them “of God.” Wisdom to us, who are foolish;
righteousness to us, who are guilty; sanctification to us, who are polluted; and redemption to us, who have been “sold under sin.” It is utterly impossible to imagine any good, which is not embodied in these things. Of whom does the believer receive them? Of God. We must divest ourselves of all the glory to the God of our salvation.
There is no monster so deformed on earth, as the man who professes to be a godly man, and who still is a proud and arrogant man. Such a character somewhat resembles the image of Dagon, which was composed partly of fish, and partly of a serpent. The man who pretends to be a godly man, ought to be the most humble and condescending man. And, indeed, the truly godly man is really the most humble. The declaration in the text brings him to the dustÂ— “We are of God.” Believers, enumerate all your exalted privileges;
revive them, and recollect that they are all of God. “Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy great name be the glory.”
2. Some believers “know” that they are of God. These can adopt the language of the Apostle, and say, “We know that we are of God” I hope you have taken special notice of what I have already said. I do not say, that all who are regenerated know it to a certainty:
but they may know, and they ought to labour diligently and per-severingly for the attainment of such knowledge. Some have acquired itÂ—”We know that we are of God.”
It is attainable: (a) By consulting watchfully the testimony of conscience, or our own spirit. “If our heart condemn us” i.e. if we are arraigned at the bar of conscience, as being guilty of indulging in sin, “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not,” or if our conscience testifies that we are free from the love of sin, “then have we confidence toward God.” “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Our own spirit testifies in conjunction with the Holy Spirit of God, that we are born of God. Moreover, the enemies of the Christian are so cruel, and so subtle; “the accuser of the brethren” is so cunningly malicious, that they give in their evidence against us, and through their overbearing insolence, the spirit of the feeble Christian is frequently silenced. But the Spirit Himself who is an irresistible witness, comes forth, testifying by undeniable evidences, and in sweet accents, that he is a child of God. His testimony prevails, and all the accusers are cast down.
(b) The genuine Christian may “know” that he is “of God” by carefully observing the fruits which he bears. The Christian may, by a solicitous investigation, discover principles in his heart and
fruits in his life, which could not have emanated from any other source than of God. He may discern his love to God, and love to the brethren. And these fruits alone constitute a conclusive evidence, that he is of God. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Now, mark, passing “from death unto life” is the cause, and loving the brethren is the effect produced by that cause. Brotherly love forms one of the operations of that heavenly life, which we received in our translation from death unto life. We know that an irreconcilable hatred of sin exists in our hearts. Let men and devils present it in the most plausible colours; let them invest it in the most gorgeous robe; let them place a most embellished crown on its brow; let them put in its hand a most splendid sceptre, and furnish it with a most magnificent throne, and thus give it a most imposing appearance, we cannot help loathing and abhorring it with perfect detestation. We know that we ardently desire to walk as the Son of God walkedÂ—to copy His example in all things. We know that we are hungering and thirsting to be pure, as Christ is pure. From fruits of this kind, the believer may know that he is “an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ.”
(c) The true Christian may know that he is of God, from the character of his communion with God. Believers enjoy frequent communion with God and through its medium may know that they are of God.The Holy Spirit, as the spirit of adoption, dwells within them, “whereby they cry, Abba, Father.” They are admitted into the presence of their Father, as dear children. They are sometimes capable of saying, “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” And whenever they are able to utter such language, they know that they are of God.
Well, my Christian friends, how do you feel in the face of this weighty and important truth? I should not like to discourage the feeblest believer; but I should wish to rouse the minds of all who are of God, earnestly to seek an indisputable evidence of their interest in Him, that they may redound more to His glory, and enhance their own comforts. O! that my God would enable me to utter a word, which would terrify that dormant Christian, without discouraging that feeble and trembling Christian. Let me entreat of you to survey your state, in order to find out whose you are. The Judge standeth at the door. My dear hearers, one thing I would desire of you; will you, before you “give sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids,” this evening examine yourselves, of whom am I? Sinner, it is useless for thee to hide thyself behind any bush, imagining that no eye perceives thee; thou art directly before the face of the heart-searching God. Come to the light that thy deeds may be made manifest; be determined to know of whom thou art.
Let us proceed to consider:
II. The deplorable and miserable condition of all those who are not of God, “the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
Some are of opinion that the term wickedness, means the wicked one; and others, the wicked thing. These are the sources of all the evils that exist in the world. We shall adopt both views.
The whole world is in the power of the wicked one. The
learned Mr. Leigh, in his “Critica Sacra,” renders the phrase, “And the whole world lieth between the jaw of the wicked one,” like a lamb in the jaws of the wolf, or a prey in the mouth of the lion, borne by him to his den. What a painful and pitiful consideration. The wicked lie between the jaws of the roaring lion, carried by him to his infernal den. The Bible declares in the plainest terms, that the whole world lies in the power of Satan. When Saul of Tarsus was converted unto the faith of the Gospel, and commisioned to preach the Gospel to sinners, he was emphatically told where he should find them, “From the power of Satan unto God.” Mankind by nature are represented as being in “the snare of the devil, taken captive by him at his will.” Our Lord in addressing the unbelieving Jews, says, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” The devil is called “the god of this world,” and sinners are described as his subjects, his children. His children are more submissive and obedient to him, than the children of God are to their heavenly Father; nothing but evil exists in the unregenerate. Christ, in expounding the parable of the tares, declares that the tares were “the children of the wicked one.” Evidently they were professors of religion; they had grown up among the wheat; and they had been sown “while men slept.” There are children of the wicked one, even in the church of God; they enter in while the servants are asleep.
Thus men, by nature, lie in the power of Satan; they are under his guidance; they uphold and further, obediently and faithfully, the interests of his kingdom in the world. Can you be at ease, my dear hearers, while listening to this heart-rending truth? Who, do you say, is in the power of the wicked one? Is it the immoral and the profligate? Yes, and you too, though you may be decent and moral in your outward deportment, if you be unregenerate. My dear hearers, can you pass over this solemn and weighty truth without being alarmed? What I have advanced are the words of God, and His declarations are of the highest importance. You are sure to feel them as such. Fall prostrate before the throne of grace, whenever you get an opportunity, and implore the Holy Spirit of God to show you clearly whether you be of God, or in the power of Satan.
The state of the world under the dominion, and in the possession of the wicked one, is most pitiable. “O! that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night” over the miserable condition of mankind. Satan, whither dost thou take ungodly men? Ah! he takes them to the dark and awful den of hell. Those solemn words of our Lord struck my mind very forcibly the other day; “Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Having served the devil in your life, depart to him Â— enter his den Â— let your portion be in that flame which was kindled for him. Having laboured diligently for him, go and suffer with him. Depart, ye cursed, to the abode of the devil. Some of you may feel at ease now, though in his power; but how will you feel in that day when the great Judge of the universe shall address you and say, “Depart to suffer for ever, with that master whom you have been serving?”
We observe, in the second place, that the whole world lieth in the evil thing; in sin.
The expression, “lieth in wickedness” implies,
1. That unregenerate persons lie in sin as their natural element. They are like a fish in the water. The immense weight which the fish sustains, would prove fatal to us. But the fish is in his element; it is his delight to remain therein. Moreover, he is frequently boiled in the very element wherein he was wont to play and swim. The ungodly man lies, and delights in sin as his customary element. Some lie in drunkenness and intemperance. Blessed be God! such characters are not so numerous in Wales just now as they have been. A drunkard would be an awful sight in these days of total abstinence. I detest the appearance of a drunkard as much as if the devil should present himself before me. Some sinners lie in adultery and fornication; some in injustice and dishonesty; and others in covetousness, and an inordinate love of the world. Why, says some one, godly men are so. What! godly people covetous; idolaters! No, no, the miser is as ungodly in the sight of God as the drunkard Â— as detestable as the proud Â— as loathsome as the adulterer. “The whole world lieth in wickedness.” They delight in levity, in thoughtlessness, in unbelief, in disobedience, in contempt of God and His ways.
2. Lying in wickedness implies to lie in filth; in the dunghill;
in the lowest state of uncleanness and defilement. Wicked men are represented as “wallowing in the mire.” Sinner, whatever may be the character of the sin in which you indulge, it is more detestable than
the mire itself; and you are wallowing in it. O! the humiliating state to which man has been reduced by the fall.
3. Lying in wickedness imports to lie in a loathsome disease; in derangement in prison. This is the real condition of unconverted men. They are subjected to the ravages of the worst plague; they lie under the condemnation of death. They would inevitably die through the dire effects of the former, if the latter had not existed. God have mercy upon them! they are likely to die eternally under the awful effects of both together. They are labouring under the most fatal disease, and at the same time, incarcerated in prison, condemned to die for ever. Thus you see what lying in wickedness means.
I shall not multiply any more words, respecting the misery of the world; but shall conclude this discourse in making a few remarks by way of application.
1. I would address myself to the great assembly before me.
My dear hearers, what is the character of your position in this respect? Do the majority of you lie in wickedness? How can you remain so quietly and composedly in such an awfully dangerous condition? Ah! the people are infected with a lethargic and morbid disease. They are deaf; they cannot hear Â— blind; they cannot see Â— dead; the tremendous thunders of the law do not effect them.
2. I would address myself to those who are of God. I feel a desire to exclaim unto you; Do you really and seriously reflect upon the pitiable state of the world? None have ever been rescued from their condition, more than from hell, except you. The people of the world themselves are unconscious of their danger; they are in a state of insensibility. But you, who are of God, have painfully felt the misery and obnoxiousness of their condition. Believer, dost thou know anything about the state of the world? Methinks I hear some one say, O! yes, I do, I have been in that state; but have been rescued by divine grace. I remember being in the jaws of the roaring lion; he would have devoured me, had not my spiritual David come to my deliverance. I recollect well the time when I was labouring under the same fatal disease; and I should have died, through its ravages, had not the great Physician of souls taken compassion upon me.
Well, thou who art of God, let me entreat thee to remember the world that still lieth in wickedness. The man who was with Joseph in prison, and was restored to liberty before him, is truly faulty in forgetting him, in not praying with the king for his deliverance. Yes, thou has perhaps, left behind thee thy parents, thy wife, thy children, thy neighbours &c.; they are actually dying in prison. O! how is it that thou dost not feel more deeply and pray more earnestly for
them. Children of Zion, forget not in your prayers the ungodly world. Frequently approach the King in their behalf. Always thank Him warmly for your freedom, and implore Him fervently to have mercy upon those who are imprisoned. Cry out, Lord, save those who are perishing; save them speedily; according to the greatness of Thy power, deliver the children of death.
3. I would address myself to those who are dying in wickedness. What words to employ I am at a loss to know. O! my God, do Thou assist me. Let me divide you into two different classes.
(a) Those of you who are utterly thoughtless, without any concern at all about your state before God. Perhaps you are ready to tell me “Mind your own business. We are right enough.” Hear, O| sinner; there is a solemn period before thee, when thy feelings will be widely different from what they are now. Soon the opinion which thou entertainest of thyself, will undergo a thorough change. Thy trial before the tribunal of heaven is not far distant. Unless thou art delivered from thine insensibility in this thy day of grace, I should not at all like to visit thy dying bed, lest thou be a source of terror to all around thee. Unfeeling sinner, you will be touched to the quick shortly . Thoughtless sinner, listen! there is an eternity of intense feeling before thee Â— thou wilt feel thy sins, and thy misery, under
the infliction of the Divine wrath, unless thou art speedily delivered by the free grace of God.
(b) Let me speak a few words to those of you who, I hope, are in some degree sensible at the danger and misery of your state; and ready to cry out, What must we do? We know that we are with the world: we doubt not the truthfulness of the declaration contained in your text, “The whole world lieth in wickedness:” and we are among them. What shall we do? Our case is hopeless. No, my fellow sinners, there is hope yet for you. What? will not the world be condemned? Yes the world will be condemned. “That ye may not be condemned with the world,” says the apostle. The world will be damned. Why, behold you have given us up to die in despair. No, no, there is hope still for you. You ask me. What is your ground for saying so? Why, is it not out of the world that the Lord redeems sinners? It is out of the world that Jesus draws sinners after Him. The world is the very quarry in which God digs up stones for the erection of His heavenly temple. This is the only forest in which He obtains materials for beams and pillars in His holy temple. O! myriads upon myriads will sweetly sing one day, “He hath redeemed us from the evil world.” Whence does God save sinners? Out of the world. Whence did He take Saul of Tarsus? From the world. Where did He find those who
are now glorified in heaven? In the world. Blessed be God! The Gospel proclaims a deliverance from “this present evil world.” Who is it that dares to attack the roaring lion? Why, our spiritual David;
He is not afraid of the strong man armed; He has rescued many a lamb out of his mouth, and brought him to His own fold. Who will undertake to open the prison door? Our blessed Jesus. Who will break asunder the chains of sin? Our dear Redeemer. This is the great design of His mediatorial work. “That thou mayest say to the prisoners. Go forth; to them that are in darkness. Show yourselves.” He descended from heaven to earth that He might say to the prisoners, Go forthÂ— He lives in poverty and indigenceÂ— He died in agony and shameÂ—He rose from the dead, bursting asunder the barriers of the graveÂ—He trampled upon and bruised the head of the old serpent, even the devil, that He might say to the prisoners. Go forth. O! glorious and heavenly Jesus, say so this very moment! He has authority to say. Go forth. The debt has been paid; the throne of God is for ever satisfied; death and hell have been conquered. Having completed these great and stupendous undertakings, now He needs only to speak from His throne, in order to set the prisoners at liberty. Blessed Jesus! let us hear Thy sweet and all-powerful voice. The prison doors will obey Thy voice; a word from Thee will cause the iron and brazen bars of sin to go aside. Through the power of Thy word sinners will obtain eternal redemption.