“Try the Spirits Whether They are of God”
1 John 4:1-3
The late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took this Scripture as advising that all and sundry should attend spiritist seances in order to try whether the spirits were good or bad. It is curious how those who refuse Scripture as a whole, will drag a verse in as authoritative, if it can be twisted seemingly to support their position or teaching.
Of course a very surface reading of the passage will show the sophistry of Sir Conan Doyle’s advice. We are plainly told what the divine test is, viz., Does the spirit confess that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”? We cannot now ask Sir Conan Doyle, for he has gone to his long account, but we should be surprised to learn that he had ever put this test to the spirits. We know that without exception the spirits of spiritism do not confess that, “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
However, without tampering with spiritism, which we do well to avoid as we would the plague, the test imposed by the Apostle John is of very wide application. There are many religious speakers and writers to whom we should apply the test. If the test was so important in A.D. 90, it is equally, if not more, important in 1935.
Of course every book does not exhaust every line of truth, and when we come to pamphlets and tracts, this is even more so. But the speaker or writer, who confesses “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” cannot fail, when he speaks or writes, to reveal the fact that he is sound in this vital truth of Christianity.
If we hear or read the confession of “Jesus Christ come in the flesh,” then we know that spirit is of God. But if this confession is not forthcoming, we know that spirit is not of God. It is a useful test and increasingly necessary.
For instance, there is an increasing amount of literature today, embodying the most beautiful instruction as to how to live the Christian life, and the example given of our Lord as furnishing the life par excellence for our admiration and model. I have known such writing to come from the pen of a leading modernist, whose powers of evil influence are heightened by his ability to put things so strikingly and beautifully from a literary point of view. I have asked myself the question, Could every word of this come from the pen of one, who has no claim to be a Christian, one, who denies the Deity and atoning sacrifice of our Lord? Alas! the answer was in the affirmative. The writer did not confess “Jesus Christ come in the flesh,” and that being so, he never once remotely witnessed a true confession of our Lord. His views coloured his book, though these special views were not its subject matter. We have not only to ask. What does this man teach? but, What does he not teach?
Some of these writers are most earnest and the yearning of their hearts after beauty of life and character is most attractive. How it shows the awful power of the enemy that such earnestness can be side-tracked to what is in reality anti-Christian.
We may now well ask, What is the precise meaning of confessing “Jesus Christ come in the flesh”? To understand the need of the warning, we may say that a set of people arose in the days of the Apostle John called “Gnostics”. They professed to have advanced from the simplicity of early Christianity and to have received further light. The word “Gnostic,” means one who knows. It is just the opposite of Agnostic, which means the one who does not know; though as a matter of fact the Agnostic usually thinks that he knows more than the Christian, and holds him in contempt as being enslaved in superstition.
The chief of the tenets of these Gnostics of the apostolic times was that they affirmed that the manhood of our Lord was not real, that He had the appearance of a man, but that He was an apparition, a phantom, without any substance. What then is the real significance of confessing that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”?
It had evidently a twofold implication. It affirms His Deity and His manhood, that our Lord is very God and very Man.
How vitally important is the truth of our Lord’s Deity. We need not in a short article enter fully into the proof of it. It is asserted in Scripture again and again, and woven into its very structure. Two short verses will prove the two-fold implication of which we speak.
“The Word was God” (John 1:1).
“The Word was made [became, N.Tr.] flesh” (John 1:14).
When we think of the magnitude of the work our Lord came to do, we know instinctively that no man, as a man, and nothing but a man, however good or powerful, could be sufficient for the work of atonement. “Pastor” Russell, of Millennial Dawn notoriety, falsely taught that the Lord could only die for Adam, that one man can only die for one man. That would be so if our Lord were only a man. But thank God, Deity gave a different value to His manhood, and He was able to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. He was the only One who could say. “IT IS FINISHED.” That could never be said by any other. So we thank God, that Jesus was and is and ever will be God.
Who is it that came in flesh? “Jesus Christ”; Jesus meaning JEHOVAH Saviour, Christ THE Anointed, the One appointed in the wisdom of the Godhead to do the work of God on earth. Oh! the infinite character of God. Man is finite. The comparison between the infinite and the finite is far, far greater than the comparison between the mighty sun in the heavens and the tiny creature swimming in a drop of water, that needs a powerful microscope to reveal its presence
It takes God to reveal God. It takes God to satisfy God. No mere creature can do this. So it is the joy and delight of our soul to worship our Lord as Thomas of old did, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”
Then what does it mean to become flesh? It surely means the true full manhood of our Lord. The heretical idea that our Lord was an apparition, a phantom, and that His manhood was not substantial and real, is surely a blow at the whole scheme of redemption; for how could a phantom die on the cross, how could blood and water flow from the pierced side of an apparition?
It is indeed necessary in these, or in any other days, to confess “Jesus Christ come in the flesh.”
It is sadly interesting that whilst it is the spirit of antichrist NOT to confess “Jesus Christ come in the flesh,” when antichrist comes he will “deny the Father and the Son.” “He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Surely the apostasy is very near, for this is true already in Russia. The Lord’s coming must be very near.
So we can understand how the Apostle urges his readers. “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard FROM THE BEGINNING” (1 John 2:24). We can never get beyond that which is from the beginning. All the light we have and the glory of God is revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ.
May we ever cleave to that which is from the beginning, and eschew novelties in whatever form they may be presented.