By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXIX) 05/06/23

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

We have nothing here to do with any but ourselves; the text is written solely for our learning, for our warning. It bids us remember that we, being of God, are not a godless society who wholly lay in the wicked one’s hands. It urges us so as those begotten of God; we may “guard ourselves,” as God’s born-again children, that the “wicked one will not touch us.”

A godless society is a system instead of a society. It is not to question who constitutes a godless society as what it is; what its character and constitution is; what its arrangements are; its habits of thought, feeling, and action; its pursuits, occupations, and pleasures. Are there any sinful tendencies in you? Is there any return of the old feeling of impatience, of suspicion, in a word, of unbelief? Ah, then, even “in the heavenly places,” you are not safe from the touch of the wicked one.

Remember that you have to “wrestle against the devil even in the heavenlies;” to wrestle against him not only as “ruling a godless society’s darkness” but as “spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies.”[1] Satan transforms into an angel of light and attempts to sneak into the secret place where you dwell with God as His children.[2] He wants to bring up old doubts, conjectures, and arguments to insert them between your heavenly Father’s loving heart and your simple trust. To keep Satan from succeeding, stand against him by faith and say goodbye[3] ‒ he has no right to be in your spiritual world.

With an inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) says we know that the Apostle John has used the word “know six times in this fifth chapter.[4] His religion is not a guess or hope on his part, he knows so. And this knowledge arises from the witness in himself,[5] namely, the divine witness of the holy three.[6] Though a godless society denies it, there is no uncertainty about it, for the testimony of God is greater than that of men,[7] and the testifier is the divine Spirit, the truthitself.[8] Wickedness and wicked one are translations of the same Greek adjective, ponēros.

So, the regenerate are said to be in the Anointed One, so in the next verse, they are in the true One. The Church is the Anointed One’s mystical body, with every regenerate member mystically embodied into Him. And so, in fearful contrast, the unregenerate world lieth inthe antichrist – Satan.[9]

In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) says we must apply what the Apostle John said in verse to him and his readers; and that, in entire separation from “wickedness,” the ruling spirit of this present world. It is not John’s object now to bring out contrasts but to reassert these great truths of the Christian life: We are of God (born of God): identifying us with those spoken of in verse eighteen, and worldly sinners lie in the wicked one’s lap in verse nineteen. This second member of the sentence does not depend on the preceding “that.

But, like those in verses eighteen and twenty, is an independent proposition. The “wicked one,” by the analogy of John’s diction, is masculine, not neutered. This neuter sense can hardly stand after comparing other references[10] and, above all, verse eighteen. Some commentators have been anxious to avoid inconsistency with such passages as 1 John 2:2; 4:14 and would give “world” a different meaning.

But there is no inconsistency whatever. If the Anointed One had not become a propitiation for the whole world’s sins and not sent as a godless society’s Savior, none could ever escape a godless society’s prison and believe in Him. But as it is, they who believe in Him come out and are separated from worldly living: so that our proposition here remains strictly accurate: a godless society is the negation of faith in Him, and as such lies in the wicked one, His main adversary.[11]

An ordained deacon in the Church of England who turned towards a clerical career under Evangelical influences, including his friendship with Favell Lee Mortimer,[12] which affected him deeply throughout life, Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892) states that a godless society was their expositor when the Israelites read Moses and the prophets. They believed as they lusted. Therefore, they ate and drank, planted and built, married and gave in marriage, disputed in their synagogues, went to court with the poor, devoured the houses of widows and the bread of orphans, prayed in public, fasted visibly, gave alms with crowds looking on.

This was the evil society out of which the Anointed One elected His apostles – the state of fleshly indulgence, dull infidelity, confident profession, fatal nonexpectation of the day of His coming. He first broke up the way through this bondage of death and called them to follow Him into the realities of God’s kingdom. All that they were born into, they shook from them and stood far off, as from a thing under a curse. A godless society, then, out of which they were taken, was not the Gentile world but the disobedience of visible Israel.

We have a clue here that will help us answer any questions about John’s comparisons. First, it is proper to distinguish the Church and a godless society as between things antagonist and irreconcilable: for God’s Son, by His incarnation and atonement, and by the calling and mission of His apostles, founded and built up in the earth a visible kingdom, which has no other Head but Him alone. That visible kingdom is so separate from a godless society that a person must either be in it or out of it.

In the visible kingdom of the Anointed One are all the graces and promises of life, while in a godless society are the powers and traditions of death. We know of no revealed salvation out of that visible kingdom; we can point to no other way to life. There is but one Savior, one Mediator, one Sacrifice for sin; one baptism for the remission of sins; one rule of faith; one law of holiness. “We are of God,” writes John, “and the whole world is buried in wickedness.”[13]

As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) writes about two opposing parties and mentions “we know” three times in verses eighteen to twenty, in each case followed by “that” with the force of “but” or “indeed,” or “also” which precedes “that” in the last instance. It is very marked and should be rendered by “however,” or “but,” and not, as in our translation, by “and.” In verse eighteen, the children of God and the children of the wicked one are contrasted in these solemn words: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the wicked one.” Let us then realize this glorious truth that “believers are the peculiar treasure and property of God.

In so doing, we strengthen ourselves against the trials and temptations of the evil last days. Be sure that you have passed from death unto life; therefore, like the returned prodigal, you are lying safe in the heavenly Father’s everlasting arms. Let no dangerous doubts weaken the force of your convictions on this matter. It is a very and eternal truth that God loved us; that Jesus, His Son, recompensed our guilt on the cross; that the Holy Spirit, the Quickener, has drawn us to God; and, amid manifold sins and imperfections, and despite the delusions of a godless society, and the temptations of the devil, we can say, with humble but immortal hopes, “We are of God.” His eternal mercy does encompass us, as a shield, for evermore. We are His, and He is ours.

No powers in this world, nor a godless society to come, will separate us from Him;[14] in the regions of glory, we shall realize the truth contained in these words during the boundless ages of eternity. “We know it,” says the apostle; it is not a mere dim, distant hope that we may attain to the Sonship, but we know and are sure that we are his children, elected, redeemed, sanctified, and justified through the mercy of God in our Lord Jesus the Anointed One.[15]

With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) makes note that the Apostle John now gives two leading distinctions between Christians and those who are not. (1) The sphere of the natural man, his powers and affections and desires lies patient and submissive in the management and service of the Devil. (2) A godless society, both in the sense of those to whom the sphere of the natural man is their all in all and that sphere itself. We Christians are from God; our life comes from Him and is of Him – godly; our inner man, and our outward sphere is of God.[16]

After observing the Apostle John’s attention to detail, John Stock (1817-1884) says that the people of the Lord, who are His temple,[17] will outlive sinful world’s destruction – while sending one party with Judas to his destiny[18] – not prepared not for them, but the devil and his angels[19] whom, however perseveringly, partake with them in their eternal hopeless overthrow – they, like Noah – yes, and far better than he did – will step into a new world where righteousness[20] will see the God they loved and worshipped – and somewhat resembled – face to face, and be like and with Him forever.[21]

None are thrilled with the god of this world who rules over them; yet in their sorrows, they inquire not after God: they say, “I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!;”[22] and a godless society is the great idol, and all kinds of music help to disguise its meanness, and to appeal to its worship.

Therefore, let no one envy sinners but be in reverence of the Lord all day long.[23] Cross-bearers and followers after the Anointed One, by His Spirit, live the only life worth living. Despite their hardships and conflicts with the powers of darkness,[24] they don’t live to be destroyed, but they obtain relief and find an exit from danger. God’s presence amidst flames[25] and their peace flows like a river; as it is written, “Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.”[26]

They each and all, even if they have, like highly-favored Obadiah, feared God from their youth,[27] bless the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for their mysterious and wonderful salvation; and say, “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and delivered us from this present evil world,[28] and the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son”[29] – a kingdom that cannot be moved,[30] but is like Himself, an everlasting kingdom;[31] and in the which His people are being eternally glorified.[32]

With an inquiring spiritual mind, Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1819-1893) says that verse nineteen has the second theme: We know that we are of God. In verse eighteen, the Apostle John described it as a universal judgment – those born of God do not sin. So, verse nineteen follows with the specific conclusion – we know that we are of God. But with this is presently contrasted the “world,” the antithesis of the “we.” In other words, “We know that we are of God, but a godless society is not of God.” Thus, the idea that “sinful society drowns in wickedness” is weakened if we regard it just “being in a miserable and sinful state.” 

Therefore, John must have had some reason for not writing “of God” as he did in 3:10-12.[33] Concerning a godless society, he says, not merely that it is “of the wicked one,” or has him as a parent and bears his nature, but also that it “lies in them,” that is, sits in their soul – not like an unborn child in the mother’s womb[34] which would be only another form of being “of the evil one.” Consequently, John speaks not only of nature’s origin and nature but also of its destiny. Thus, these words include a consolation for those born of God.[35]

Familiar with John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) states that we should note the exquisite propriety of the words in verse nineteen. There is no “but,” as before: we know by blessed assurance of our regenerate life that we are of God. This is all we are assured of, and there is no emphatic “we” opposed to the “world.” It is as if the Apostle John tries to avoid even the semblance of triumph against the ungodly. But the stark contrast is apparent. The same “wicked one” the preceding verse says holds the entire world in his power, so far as the new life has not transformed it.

John would not express “a godless society of the wicked one:” if the “devil’s brood” had not been spoken of in 1 John 3:10. Those of a godless society are not just “in” the wicked world, the Greek verb keimai (“lies in”) is used as a metaphor for something or someone buried in a grave or an infant in a womb. The “whole world” is not just the citizens, but its entire constitution, its entire economy, its lusts and principles and motives, and course and end: all that is not “of God.” This the apostle adds as a familiar truth, but never so fearfully expressed as here. The comparison between the regenerate who have fellowship with God, and the unregenerate whose connection is with Satan, could not be more keenly defined.[36]

A strong supporter of church laity in ministry, Willibald Beyschlag (1823-1900) notes that the Apostle John does not take the time or relate any myth or an original good angel, who, because of a devil whose fall occurs before that of humanity. He does not attempt to explain to us how God created a godless society through the Logos (“the Word” – Jesus), despite the continuous intervention of divine government, now lies wholly within the power of the wicked.[37] The devil is simply a fact, as sin is a fact; he is the accuser, the spirit of lies in conflict with the Spirit of Truth.[38]

With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) now makes a second statement about who we are: “We know that we are children of God and that a godless society around us is under the control of the evil one.” It is another way of saying that the evil one in verse eighteen has no jurisdiction in verse nineteen. We are God’s property; He paid the price to own us. The devil did not pay one penny to get those who belong to him; they paid him everything. Alexander also points out the Church’s relative position with a godless society in which each exhibits its proper internal qualities most conspicuously. Alexander says, “Purity belongs to one, shameless confusion to the other.” And each one is proud to declare it. [39]

[1] Ephesians 6:12

[2] Psalm 91:1ff

[3] James 4:7

[4] 1 John 5:13, 15[2x], 18, 19, 20

[5] Ibid. 5:10

[6] Ibid. 5:8

[7] Ibid. 5:9

[8] Ibid. 5:6

[9] Whedon, Daniel, Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 281

[10] See 1 John 2:13-14; 3:8, 10, 14; 4:4; John 17

[11] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 513

[12] A British Evangelical author of educational books for children

[13] Manning, Henry Edward: Sermons, Vol. 2., Sermon XIII, A godless society We Have Renounced, pp. 113-114

[14] Romans 3:31-39

[15] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 350-351

[16] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 81

[17] 1 Corinthians 3:16

[18] Acts of the Apostles 1:25

[19] Matthew 25:41

[20] 2 Peter 3:13

[21] 1 John 3:2

[22] Jeremiah 2:25

[23] Proverbs 23:17

[24] Ephesians 6:12

[25] Daniel 3:24

[26] Psalm 119:165

[27] 1 Kings 18:12

[28] Galatians 1:4

[29] Colossians 1:13

[30] Hebrews 12:28

[31] Daniel 7:27

[32] Stock, John: An Exposition of the First Epistle General of St. John, op. cit., pp. 461-462

[33] See John 8:4; cf. 1 John 2:16

[34] Isaiah 46:3

[35] Ebrard, Johannes H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 344-345

[36] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N.T., Vol. IV, op. cit., pp. 41-42

[37] 1 John 5:19

[38] Ibid. 4:6

[39] Beyschlag, Willibald: New Testament Theology, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 438

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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