Ernst Hermann von Dryander.

A commentary on the first epistle of St. John in the form of addresses online

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He should behold in His followers sanctified,
consecrated men, who are incapable of commit-
ting further sin. This is the one really infallible
sign on earth of God's children, that they no
longer take delight and pleasure in sin; nay.

Sinneth not' loi

more, that they — as St. John expresses it imme-
diately after — ' cannot sin,' because they are

* born of God.' _^

But we must not regard the question thus
decided as a triumph over the opposing views of
adversaries ; at any rate, for «s it is no triumph ;
on the contrary ! For if the Apostle is right in
his statement (and he is right) that the words

* he cannot sin ' refer not to this or that

* Christian,' but only to him who is truly in Christ,
then the whole point of his words is directed, not
against those who are without, but against tts.
Are we these Christians of whom he speaks ?
Does his definition of a Christian answer to our
manner of life ? Is that infallible mark of the
children of God to be found in us ? We quite
realize that these are all vital questions which are
disagreeable, nay, terrifying, to us ; let us not,
however, for that reason, shirk them ; let us not
in our self-examination seek to evade the pain
which is inseparable from a straightforward reply
to them ; let us ask God for the spirit of truth
and sincerity in applying to ourselves these
words : ' Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth
not,' and let them direct our minds to a threefold
train of thought :

I. The fearfulness of sin.

II. The only way whereby the power of sin is

III. The sign whereby we may know whether
this power has been broken in tts.

I02 'Whosoever abideth in Him

The Apostle expresses the terrible nature of
sin from three distinct points of view. He says
first of all : 'Whosoever committeth sin trans-
gresseth also the law ' ; literally, ' doeth lawless-
ness ;' he revolts, rebels against God's holy
command ; ' for sin,' he continues, ' is the trans-
gression of the law,' i.e., itjs rebellion against the
laAV of God. He that sins severs all connection
with the living, holy God. We shall not stop
now to consider the question of what sin is ; we
all have the unequivocal testimony of our con-
science as to whether this is pure or impure,
whether that is right and godly, or evil and cor-
rupt. But the question is, Do we reckon our sins
as wicked ? Do we regard evil thoughts or the
hidden, impure emotions of the heart as sinful, as
a rebellion against God and His holy command-
ments ? There is, of course, a consensus of
opinion among men that some sins, such as
theft and murder, are incontrovertibly wicked, and
should be punished ; but there are others which
are more leniently regarded, and which are no
longer branded as wicked or rebellious ; at the
most, men call them shortcomings or weaknesses,
with regard to which everyone is answerable to
himself alone and to nobody else. Not so the
Apostle. That lie, occurring as it does in busi-
ness and in everyday life, and which is therefore
pardoned by the world, is nevertheless a trans-

Sinneth not' 103

gression against God's holy command. This
envy, hatred, or malice, which is the normal
state of many, and therefore not regarded as
wrong, is a declaration of war flung into the face
of God's commands. It is a self-contradiction
to admire the Sermon on the Mount, and yet by
general consent to leave open every backdoor for
evading or explaining away its teaching. It is
impossible to make distinctions between the com-
mandments ; as though men had any right to
resent theft and condone adultery, or to regard a
lie among friends as scandalous, but permissible
in business. It is with our holy God Himself
that we have to do, with Him Who gave us the
commandments. Whosoever sins lifts up his hand
against God. Whether men regard sin as great
or small, it is iniquity in the sight of God. Should
it even ever come to this, that the whole standard
of morality should become lowered, and that gross
sin should no longer be condemned, the torpid
conscience would not thereby be less guilty in the
sight of God ! The apostolic word permits of no
moral twilight under the shadow of which sin
can germinate and scatter abroad its poisonous
seeds unchecked. Sin can never change its
essential character of rebellion against God —
separation from God !

But if it is a separation from God, it is also a
separation from the Saviour, Whom God sent.
' Ye know,' continues the Apostle, * that He was
manifested to take away our sins.' The funda-

104 'Whosoever abideth in Him

mental purpose of His coming was not to teach
a new doctrine, not to comfort, not to warn, not
to heal. He did all this too, of course, but it was
all a means towards the fulfilment of His greatest
purpose, His highest aim, in which all else was
included, viz., ' to take away our sins.'

But what do we see now ? He came to take
away our sins, and we indulge and delight in
tfiem ! He gave His life to rid us of them, and
we keep them and love them ! Ah, thou that
hast plea,sure in sin, mark this : thou art separated
from Him who came to take away thy sin !
Every conscious, deliberate sin severs us, divides
us from Christ, makes the thought of His holy
image uneasy and disagreeable, makes it impos-
sible to follow Him, impossible to remain in
fellowship with Him.

And wouldest thou with thy dark, deliberate
sins still call thyself His disciple ? Well ; Judas,
* one of the twelve,' served sin at the side of
the Holy One, and he was a traitor, hastening to

The Apostle now proceeds a step further.
Man never stands alone, is never an isolated
being ; whatever he does is the outcome of a
spiritual relationship ; ' he that doeth righteous-
ness is righteous, even as He is righteous.'
Christ enters into relationship with him, imparts
to him His characteristics ; so that he who doeth
righteousness actually resembles his Lord ; but
he that sins, no longer resembles Him. Sin alters

Sinneth not' 105

him and becomes a power in him, a pow er w hich
he does not wield, but which is wielded over him.
The more he gives himself up to the unbridled
desires of the flesh, to the cruel impulse of hate,
to the restless passion for enjoyment, to grasping
avarice and all-engrossing ambition, the more
does he become like him who, as the Apostle
says, * sinneth from the beginning, and whose
* hall-mark ' appears on his every action. ' He
that committeth sin is of the devil.'

Yes, it is a terrible alternative which is placed
before each one of us ; who shall say which of
the two a man has chosen ? We dare judge
no man ; but every man has these all-embracing
questions to face, and to answer : Who art thau,
and whither goest thou ? Art thou a child of
God, or a child of the devil ? Truly, the Apostle
shows us what a fearful thing sin is !


But just for this reason it must and shall be
overcome. And St. John tells us the way thereto :
' Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not.' When
the sun arises, darkness flees ; where Christ is,
there can be no sin. Whoever abides in Him
becomes light, as He is light. It is the require-
ment of unconditional, absolute sanctification
that the Apostle here points to. Whoever would
be a Christian in the true sense of the word
must become wholly sanctified. He ceases to

io6 * Whosoever abideth in Him

sin ; he ' cannot sin ' any more because he is
' born of God.'

But this requirement is not made without our
being shown the way in which it can be fulfilled.
Only he that ' abideth in Him ' sinneth not.
* Whosoever abideth in Him.' Do we understand,
dear Christians, this mysterious and profound
expression, which our Saviour so often makes use
of in His sayings preserved by St. John : ' Abide
in Me and I in you ' ?^

It is not a matter of mere outward action,
not merely of abiding in His Church, in His
service, in an external sense. None of us, at
least, contemplates any severance of this kind,
but what is meant is, the inner rooting of one's
self in the fellowship of His being and spirit.
As the Lord Himself expressed it : 'As the
branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide
in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in
Me.' By means of this abiding in Him we are
transformed into a new being, of which the
Apostle speaks immediately after : ' Whosoever
is born of God doth not commit sin,' Was it
not just because our Saviour was begotten of the
Father, wholly untouched by sin, that He was
able to come as the destroyer of sin, and there-
fore as our Redeemer ? And that same Life,
emanating from God, which was in Him, is
to enter into us through Him, into all who
abide in Him, that they may be born of God

^ St. John .\v. 4.

Sinneth not ' 107

through Him. For whosoever continues in this
new Hfe which Christ offers loses all interest and
pleasure in sin ; he has gained something better,
holier, wKich invigorates and gladdens him.

Whosoever abides in Christ receives thereby
a receptive heart, a sensitive conscience, a pain-
ful sensation of unrest and disquietude if he
withdraws ever so little from Christ, and a feel-
ing of shame overtakes him if he even approaches
the danger-signal, for he knows that thence leads
the path to sin. And so sin becomes ever more
hateful to him ; it assumes the shape of some-
thing terrible, and he becomes more and more
incapable of committing sin. And lest this should
appear incomprehensible to anyone, the Apostle
approaches it from the other side : 'Whosoever
sinneth,' i.e., Whosoever without trouble or shame
can resign himself to sin, and find pleasure in it,
'hath not seen Him, neither known Him.' He
may know the word of Christ, he may go to
church every Sunday, he may be very orthodox
in his belief, but he has not seen God, he has
not realized what grace and truth are, he has
not experienced sanctification of life ; for if he_
had, the power of the Holy Spirit would haveA '^^.
influenced him, a nd h e would have fled from | ,^^^^^r.
temptation, and would have regarded nothing in
heaven or earth as more awful than to act con-
trary to God's commandments.

Not that any man has the power himself of
forming this definite and holy resolution, ' From


io8 ' Whosoever abideth in Him

henceforward I will abide in Christ.' Where-
ever this abiding in Christ takes place, it
is always by m eans of the miracle of grace. It
is a miracle when any man who is consumed by^
self-love is released from himself, and learns to
deny himself, and to love his brethren ; it is a
miracle when a man who ^^ chained to lustful
passions is freed, and is able to rejoice in the
glorious liberty of the children of God : these are
miracles whicli the Redeemer works even at the
present day, and by them He reveals His glory.
But it is absolutely certain that He Who has
appeared to take away sin, and to destroy the
works of the devil, effects these miracles only in
the hea rts of those who will permit it, by accept-
ing in faith the grace which is showered down
upon them.


' He that abideth in Him sinneth not.'
Has this miracle been wrought in us ? Is sin
overcome in us ? There is an important point
here which it is necessary to dwell upon. The
Apostle does not demand sinlessness ; if he did,
his words would be inapplicable to human beings.
However pointed his utterance may be, ' Whoso-
ever abideth in Him sinneth not,' it must be
remembered that he wrote previously : ' If we
say that we have not sinned we make Him a
liar, and_ Jiisword is not in us.'^ He cannot

1 1 St. John i. 10.

Sinneth not' 109

contradict Himself! As certain as it is that
there are children of God on this earth, so
^certain is it that not one is without sin, not one
is yet perfected. Herein lies all the difference:
whoever abides' in Him does not commit sin, but
suffers sin. He is constantly being overcome by
sin, but nevertheless he hates sin. He still par-
takes of the nature of the ' old man,' but never-
theless he repudiates it. The sin is no longer
his own ; he no longer enjoys it, it is rather
something stran ge, al ien to him ; he feels there
is something incongruous and out of place in his
connection with sin ; he says : * I know thee
not,' as soon as he comes to himself. Look into
thine own experience. Why didst thou fall so
lamentably, being overcome by anger and passion ?
What made thee weak and helpless in the hour
of temptation ? It was this : thou wast separated
from Christ, thou didst lose sight of Him, thou
didst leave go His hand, thou wast not 'abiding
in H im.' And then, on the other hand, when
thou didst conquer, when thou overcamest the
temptation of lust, a.nger^pr malice, whence
came the power of resistance ? From Christ,
Whose power abode with thee, because in praying
and in fighting thou didst abide in Him.

And now let us put the question to ourselves :
Is this our attitude towards sin ?

Ah, how different must the answers be ! We all
claim some connection with Christ; we all believe
that in some respects we are abiding in Him.

iio * Whosoever abideth in Him

And yet how many are still dominated by a
secret lust of the flesh, by hatred, by sin, in one
or more of its many forms ! How many, especi-
ally among the younger people, deliberately
exempt some part of their inner life from the
duty of being sanctified by the light of Jesus
Christ. A sad instance of this occurred once in
the case of a young man, otherwise devout and
God-fearing ; in reference to a certain failing he
made reply : ' I have no serious intention of
obeying God's command I' And how many
among us who have grown older, are yet not holier,
not less worldly ! Though cased in armour, King
Ahab had one unguarded spot, the^rrow entered
there, and he died.^ And this owe sin of thine,
which thou harbourest, will bring thee death.

And how many others, again, do I see striving,
battling, and yet always too weak to continue
steadfast ; constantly rousing themselves, yet
always sinking back again with the sigh :
' Miserable man that I am, who will deliver
me ?' Yea, more, it is no exaggeration when I
say that there are numberless men, who do not
by any means consider themselves bad Christians,
whose Christianity is in reahty nothing more
than their ' opinion ' — possibly a deeply-cherished
one, but only an opinion, not the inspiration of
their life, not their victory over the world, least
of all the unshaken resolve : ' I will not sin !^
Christians, who can plead * not guilty ' to all

1 I Kings xxii. 34, 35.

Sinneth not ' 1 1 1

this ? Who has renounced clearly, definitely,
unequivocally, all that is evil, not only in the eyes
of men, but in the eyes of Him from whom
nothing is hid ? How many courageously ' cut
off ' the evil member, regardless of pain, if only
they can cease from sin ? And yet the children
of God have no other alternative. Thy church-
going, thy Christian habits, thine honourable
position in life — these will not save thee unless
thou prove their genuineness by abstaining from

And for this there is but one means — that thou
abide in Him. Realize with living faith that
Christ is thy Redeemer, Who in very truth doth
cleanse thee and free thee from past sin and guilt.
Realize with living faith that Christ is thy
Redeemer, that He loosens the chains of sin,
that He gives thee new power daily wherewith to
battle against sin, that *' His seed remaineth in
thee,' and that in due time the fruit will ripen,
and thy victory be proclaimed. Realize with
living faith that Christ is thy Redeemer, through
Whom thou art made a child of God, and through
Whom thou receivest in thine own person the
likeness of the Father. Then shalt thou draw
ever nearer to the goal, then shall it be said of
thee: ^ He sinneth not.'' By slow degrees thou
wilt come to see that this or t hat sin is no more
a temptation to thee ; thou wilt be able to stand"
in the midst of the battle with unshaken resolu-
tion, and say with the great religious hero : * I

112 * Whosoever abldeth in Him

cannot do it, for it is terrible to go against my
conscience.'^ Yes, thou wilt be like St. Chrysostom,
of whom men said : ' He fears naught on earth
but sin ' ; or like St. Cyprian, who said : ' Let me
rather die than knowingly commit a sin.' True,
the Divine image in thee will still be marred by
many a blemish, and the more sensitive thy
conscience, the more apparent will these become
to thee, but thy zeal and the sincerity of thy faith
will always bear witness within thee that thou art
' born of God ' ; and_though thou must perforce
live in a world of sin, nevertheless the fellowship
with Christ, in Whom is no sin, will be rooted and
grounded in thy heart.

Let me say one further word upon the central
thought of our passage : ' Whosoever abideth
in Him, sinneth not.' Herein lies the most
powerful defence of the Gospel, and the most
convincing confirmation of its truth that can
be desired, especially in view of the world's atti-
tude towards Christianity at the present time.
For it is not a skilful or able defence of our
position that will suffice to persuade the world,
but a living power from above, viz., the power of
love which the Gospel gives. No rich display of
wisdom will attract the world — it has wisdom in
abundance — but sincerity and self-denying zeal ;
these it possesses^ not, and these are the irre-
sistible weapons which can and will conquer it.
The wo rld rightly demands a pure and high

^ Martin Luther.

Sinneth not ' 113

morality of us, and a horror of all that is vulgar,
ignoble, and sinful. We all are bound not only
to agree in this, but to give practical exhibition
thereof, and to say : * I do not sin, because I abide
in Him.' Well do I know that this may be an
actual fact in the inner life of a man, and yet
outwardly it is not apparent in the same measure;
nor do I forget that sometimes the inner lives of
two men may be very different, and yet appear
outwardly to be not dissimilar. But, nevertheless,
this is certain, that where in the depth of the
heart the fellowship of Christ is rooted, a power
slowly but surely forces itself outward, a power
which is irresistible in its influence upon all with
whom it comes in contact. And if we refuse to
use this power, then God will find other instru-
ments to fulfil His will. His kingdom will come.
His will shall be done in His good time. But
we — think of this — rae, to whom He has vouch-
safed the honour of serving Him, we, who are
called to fight under His banner, we, who rejoice
in the liberty of the children of God — we shall
perish, if His grace is given to us in vain. As a
thorn in our conscience, as a holy admonition to
become converted, as a reminder in every hour of
temptation, as a warning lest God's grace to us
should be in vain, let us treasure up these words
in our hearts : * Whosoever abideth in Him,
sinneth not ; whosoever sinneth hath not seen
Him, neither known Him.'




'Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he
that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard
from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain,
who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore
slew he him ? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's
righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We
know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love
the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer : and ye know that no
murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the
love of God, because He laid down His life for us : and we ought
to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's
goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels
of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ?
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue ; but
in deed and in truth.' — i John iii. lo^'-iS.

IN the preceding paragraph the theme was, ' He
that abideth in Him sinneth not/ The
Apostle maintains that for the true Christian
it should be practically impossible to fall into
deadly sin. But, in accordance with that sequence
of thought peculiar to him, he adds to the fore-
going exhortation a further theme, which develops
the former subject and leads on to a new one :
' Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of
God, neither he that loveth not his brother.' The

* Laying down our Lives ' 115

terms, *to do righteousness' and * to love the
brethren,' are to him synonymous. Only where
love is, is it possible to * do righteousness ' ; and,
vice versa, he who * does righteousness ' proves it
first by love of the brethren. That species of
' doing righteousness ' which says : * I do my duty,
and other people's doings are not my concern,'
or which says, * I stand upon my rights,' irre-
spective of the claims of charity, is not of God.
For a man to be ' of God,' he must first of all
show forth his * love of the brethren.*

But with this general statement the Apostle is
not content. It is quite possible that it might be
misunderstood. Wherein consists this ' love of the
brethren ' ? Surely not in that meagre sympathy
which has always a tear ready to hand, nor in
that emotional talk with which one extols charity !
No ; love, according to the Apostle, is action, self-
surrender, self-sacrifice. And its highest act he
expresses in those beautiful words, which were to
be for his readers a life-precept : * We ought to
lay down our lives for the brethren.' If it has
sometimes been thought that the Epistle of St.
John, with its esoteric mysticism, lacks those
clear and definite precepts applicable to practical
life with which the Pauline Epistles abound, here,
surely, the Apostle utterly refutes the charge.
To all — to man and woman, to young and old, to
high and low — does he make his appeal to lay
down the life for the brethren. But he does
more ; he indicates at the same time whence the


1 1 6 * Laying down our Lives

power wherewith this stupendous demand may be
fulfilled is to be obtained.


The Apostle shows very clearly the train of
thought that leads up to this great demand of
' laying down our lives for the brethren ' : * hereby
perceive we the love of God, because He laid
down His life for us.' A terrible, sombre picture
is that of a world without Christ ! Rich as that
world was in whose midst St. John himself lived,
whose voluptuous magnificence he witnessed daily,
that Ephesus which was displayed before his
wondering eyes, it was nevertheless a world with-
out love ! The noblest of the schools of ancient
philosophy reckoned among those weaknesses
which it was the duty of every philosopher to
shake off that of mercy. And if any other sign
be needed to prove the lovelessness of the world,
it may be seen in this — that when Love itself
entered into the world, the world nailed It to the
cross. But marve llou s,^nscrutable, past~ffnd ing
out, are the wa ys of Love . Just that which was
the very zenith of diabolical hate became, in
God's hands, the means of giving to the world
what it so sorely needed. At the foot of the
Cross, in the light of that Love which prayed
for its enemies and died for its haters, did St.
John learn what love truly was ; he learned what
was its essential characteristic ; he saw its un-
fathomable depth ; he realized its overwhelming

for the Brethren '


power. Christ laid down His life for us : this
inspired him with the thought that * we ought to
lay down our lives for the brethren.' Yes ; if ye
would know what love in itself is — how strong,
how unselfish, how self-sacrificing — ye must look
at the Cross. * Greater love hath no man than
this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'^
This is the testimony of our Lord Himself. At
the foot of the Cross we can ' perceive,' even to-
day, what true love is. But this ' perceiving ' is
not used by the Apostle in the sense merely of
mental understanding. This ' perception ' is of a
practical nature ; it has an overwhelming power
over those who grasp it — a power which of neces-
sity wholly transforms the life of a man. At the
Cross of the Saviour that ' message which ye
heard from the beginning ' originates, for it was
the commencement of something which was
essentially new. So great was the power of this
message of love, that it co uld not be checked
even by the awful hatred with w hich it was met
by the world. ' Marvel not, my brethren, if the

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Online LibraryErnst Hermann von DryanderA commentary on the first epistle of St. John in the form of addresses → online text (page 7 of 16)