By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXVIII) 05/05/23

5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.

Farther, the wicked are said to be trapped in the devil’s snare.[1] He is said to use crafty methods for the believer’s destruction.[2] He is said to have enticed Eve with his cleverness.[3] And believers are said to be delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His beloved Son.[4] By using “lies in wickedness,” John perhaps represents the wicked of a godless society as lying slain by the devil to give us a better idea of the miserable and helpless state of fallen mankind by the stroke of that relentless malicious enemy – the devil,[5]

After skillfully scrutinizing the Apostle John’s theme, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) comments that we certainly know that we have by regeneration been made partakers of a divine nature, as a powerful and abiding principle of holiness, and that all the rest of a godless society, who have never experienced this new birth, voluntarily continue under the power of sin and Satan.[6]

For example, Thomas Scott (1747-1821), a man with a heartfelt friendship with hymn writerJohn Newton (1726-1807),[7] believes that the Apostle John, and other established Christians, with the witness of their conscious love for God and each other, their hatred of sin, and victory over a godless society, knew that they “were of born of God,” His servants, His worshippers, His children, and heirs. And they also clearly perceived that a godless society “lay in wickedness” or “under the wicked one’s control.”

In other words, the entire human race, unless they became “born of God” and part of the Anointed One’s kingdom, remained in subjection to the devil (who is “the prince of this world”) as enslaved people. They are “overcome by him” and “brought into bondage” to him. As a result, they bear his image; and copy his example of pride, envy, malice, deceit, murder, mischief, slander, apostasy, rebellion, ingratitude, and enmity against God. They do his bidding and support his cause. But unfortunately, they have neither wisdom, power, nor the will to deliver themselves. They would have continued in this dreadful state if the Anointed One had not “come to destroy the devil’s works.”[8] [9]

At age fifteen, a potential young theologian who preached and held cottage and prayer meetings, Joseph Benson (1749-1821), says it appears that the Apostle John reflects on the happy difference between regeneration and the knowledge of God in the Anointed One made between them and the ignorant and wicked world and directed them to guard carefully against all idolatry.[10]

Prominent Baptist minister John Gershom Greenhough (1800-1914) states that this has been called the Epistle of Love and deserves that title well. Still, it might be almost more appropriately called the Epistle of Certainties. There is a ring of absolute assurance from the opening words to the finish. Nor was the language of this Apostle John at all singular and exceptional. As he wrote and spoke, he felt and testified to all those first witnesses of the Anointed One. Greenhough gives some reasons why he feels Epistle of Certainties would be a good title:

I. The strength and dominant power of the early disciples was their certainties. It was the age of skepticism, a period of almost universal uncertainty. People everywhere were boastfully declaring or bemoaning that nothing was or could be known about the higher powers and future life. And then these Apostles went out with triumphant certainty on their lips, holding the clue to all the great mysteries in their hands. No wonder people crowded around them.

II. The confidence of the Apostolic Church made it a missionary Church. The audacity of that early faith was inspiring. There was no hesitation because there was no doubt. They could neither fear nor hold back nor sit still in the absolute assurance that possessed them. And herein lies the lesson which I wish to press upon you: for I am saying what is true of every Church alive, earnest, and aggressive Church. In this respect, the old order never changes.

III. Our being convinced is the measure of our power. In all forward work, especially the one essential is the absolute assurance that we hold proven truths, that our weapons have been forged in God’s furnace, and that the Holy Spirit has given our directions. The Church has undoubtedly had enough pruning and paring. She wants to use the sword again in her real warfare. She wants to feel her feet again planted on apostolic certainties.

IV. We return to this confession of the Apostle John, questioning that we belong to God, but the whole world belongs to the devil would make our evangelism enterprise a laughingstock and much ado about nothing. Here in Christian lands, we cannot always confidently say who is of God and who is of the wicked one. But the words are still valid in their uttermost significance, of those who know the Anointed One and those who do not. These are the certainties of the Christian heart, never to be let go or explained away; these form the basis and inspiration of winning the lost for the Anointed One. And to this, there is but one word to add. Surely the measure of our assurance is the measure of our faithfulness. The more absolutely we know these things, our burden of responsibility is heavier.[11]

Considering everything the Apostle John has said so far, Adam Clarke (1774-1849) speaks to know that we are of God, gives proof of Christianity’s truth and our reconciliation to God through the death of His Son. This, while the whole world lies in the wicked one’s embrace, is fast asleep and carnally secure in the arms of the devil. What a truly awful state! And do not all worldly people’s actions, temperaments, tendencies, opinions, and principles prove and illustrate this?

Yes, their actions are opposed to God’s law; their conversations shallow, uninspiring, and false; their contracts forced, interested, and deceitful; their quarrels childish, ridiculous, and ferocious; and their friendships hollow, insincere, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Hence, their lying in the arms of the wicked one causes them to become instinctive with their spirit: because they are like their leader, the devil, they will do his bidding.[12]

With systematic theological intellect, Charles Hodge (1797-1878) says there is no doubt that the Scriptures teach the Word of God and a specially appointed means for one’s salvation and sanctification. This doctrine of the Bible is confirmed by the experience of the Church and of a godless society. That experience teaches that no indications of the saving influences of the Spirit are found and no evidence of sanctification where the Word of God is unknown. This is not saying that none such occur.

We know from the Bible, “That God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, those that reverence Him and live righteously, are accepted by Him.”[13] No one doubts that it is God’s authority to call whom He pleases from among the heathen and to reveal enough truth to secure their salvation. Nevertheless, it remains apparent to all eyes that the nations where the Bible is unknown sit in darkness. The absence of the Bible is just as distinctly discernible as the absence of the sun. The Scriptures declare that “the whole world lies in wickedness,” and history confirms that declaration.[14]

Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) believes that the Apostle John supposed that true Christians might have such clear evidence of being “of God” to leave no doubt in their minds that they were God’s children.[15] This contrasted with the whole world. The term “world” here does not mean the planet, but the people who live on earth, including sinners of every grade and kind. They lie as though buried in wickedness, under the power of the “wicked one” – the devil. It is true that the Greek adjective ponērō (“wicked one”) may be used here in the neuter gender, as our translators have rendered it, meaning “that which is evil” or “of a dangerous nature or condition.

But it may also be in the masculine gender, meaning “Satan – adversary.” In that sense, it would mean that the whole world is under his control or dominion. That this is John’s meaning seems clear because: (1) the corresponding phrase in verse nineteen, “in Him that is true,” is evidently to be construed in the masculine, referring to God the Savior and not that we are “in truth.) (2) It makes better sense to say that a godless society lies under the control of the wicked one than to say that it lies “in wickedness.” (3) This agrees better with the other representations in the Bible and elsewhere.[16] [17]

In all these passages, it is supposed that Satan has control over a godless society, especially the heathen world.[18] Regarding the fact that the heathen world was permeated by wickedness, it may be added that the most eminent critics and commentators adopt this interpretation. The phrase “lies in” means, appropriately, to be laid; to recline; to be situated, etc. It seems here to refer to the passive and dormant state of a wicked world under the dominion of the prince of evil as agreeing to his reign, offering no resistance, and not even struggling to be free.

Thus, it rests as a beast that lies subdued, a body that is dead, or anything that is wholly passive, quiet, and inert. There is no energy, no effort to throw off the devil’s shackles, no fight, no wrestling. The devil’s dominance is complete, and body and soul, individuals, and nations are entirely subject to his temptations. This striking expression will not properly describe the condition of the heathen world or sinners in general. There would seem to be no government under which people are so little agitated and against which they have so little disposition to rebel as Satan once did.[19] [20]

Consistent with the Apostle John’s advice, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) observes that verse nineteen marks the antithesis between believers as being born of God and the “world,” as belonging in its whole extent to the “wicked one.” The Apostle John vindicates himself and his readers united in faith as “being of God.” This finds its explanation in verse eighteen, “being born of God.” The phrase, “and the wicked one cannot touch him,” is probably an independent sentence, not depending on the connection “that.” It is the conjunction “and” that brings out the antithesis between the two parts of the verse, still more clearly than if an adversative particle had done this “a godless society” used here as the ethical meaning of the word, which is peculiar to John.

By “of God” and Martin Luther’s translation of what Isaiah said, “die ihr von mir getragen werdet von Mutterleibe an und von der Mutter her auf mir liegt.” (“you whom I have upheld since your birth and have carried since you were born.”)[21] Thus, some commentators have erroneously referred to the expression “lies in wickedness” as the child’s relationship to its mother. German theologian Philipp Spener (1635-1705) rendered it “as a child in its mother’s womb.” By “in,” John expresses that a godless society is as though the devil has surrounded it; namely, it lies in obedience under his power.[22]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) advice, we should focus on the fact that while we know that we are God’s children and that all the rest of a godless society around us is under Satan’s power and control.[23] They point out that the phrase “lieth in wickedness” (KJV) means they make their home with Satan as his slaves. While the delivered believer is free of the devil’s power, the whole world lies slumped over, helpless, and motionless in his grasp. Still, not to lower one’s standards, these hopeless people include a godless society’s intellegencia, famous, and respectable who are not in vital union with the Anointed One.[24]

With noticeable spiritual comprehension, Henry Cowles (1802-1881) asks if verses eighteen and nineteen are related in thought to the two preceding verses. Usually, this should be assumed unless the nature of the case forbids it. Considering as much, we may logically arrange the connection this way: Those who “sin deadly to eternal life” are not of those who have been “born of God.” We know that those of God do not commit the unpardonable sin – “deadly to eternal life.”

All newborn children of God keep themselves sanctified through grace, and that wicked one – the devil – does not pull them down. So vast as the north and south poles are apart, these two classes, we Christians are of God, made His children by His regenerating grace while a godless society remains clasped by Satan’s claws. One type is under God’s protecting hand; the other is under Satan’s powerful paw.[25]

With his lifework well-illustrating the biblical and reformation ideal of a pastor-theologian, Robert S. Candlish (1807-1873) suggests that instead of “wickedness,” in verse nineteen, we might instead read “the wicked one.” There is now general agreement among critics and interpreters to that effect. There is no good reason for any change in this verse from the rendering in the verse before. Therefore, it must unavoidably be personal, “the wicked one touches him not.” It is unnecessary and unwarranted to make it impersonal and make “the whole world lies in wickedness” and abstract thought.

Any change spoils the sense and destroys the apparent contrast between the child of God, whom that wicked one does not touch, and a godless society that is solely in his grasp. We know this last fact as we know we are of God, which contributes to our security. For that is the precise point and purpose of the statement, “the whole world lies under the control of the wicked one.” It is a statement introduced for a purely practical end or purpose personal to us, as born of God, and, in that character, “keeping ourselves.” It has no reference to others besides ourselves; it is strictly applicable and meant to be applied to ourselves alone. No contrast is intended between us and the rest of mankind. There is no emphasis in “we are of God” – in contradistinction to those classified as “of a godless society.” In fact, the “we” is not in the original at all. It is necessarily supplied in our English translation. But it is not being expressed in the original is plain proof, as all scholars know, it is not intended to be emphatic or to suggest any contrast between us and any other body of individuals.

[1] 2 Timothy 2:26

[2] Ephesians 6:12

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:3

[4] Colossians 1:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2

[5] Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, pp. 124-125

[6] Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 507

[7] Newton, John: Composer of “Amazing Grace,”

[8] Note 1 John 3:7-10; 4:46; John 8:37-47; 12:27-33; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2:1-2

[9] Scott, Thomas: Commentary on the Holy Bible, pp. 412-413

[10] Benson, Joseph: Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, op. cit., Published by T. Carlton & J. Porter, New York, 1857, pp. 348-349

[11] Greenhough, John Gershom: The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, The Cross in Modern Life, 1904, p. 120

[12] Clarke, Adam: Wesleyan Heritage Commentary, op. cit., Hebrews-Revelation, pp. 399-400

[13] Acts of the Apostles 10:34-35

[14] Hodge, Charles: Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, op. cit., Testimony of History, pp. 468-469

[15] Cf. 1 John 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:12

[16] 1 John 2:13

[17] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., pp. 4893-4894

[18] Cf. Ephesians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:20

[19] Cf. 2 Timothy 2:26

[20] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, pp. 4893-4894

[21] Isaiah 46:3 – (NIV)

[22] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 819

[23] See 1 John 2:13, 14; cf 1 John 4:4; John 17:14, 15.

[24] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p. 731

[25] Cowles, Henry: The Gospel and Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 361

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s