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The Faith that Overcometh the World.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875.


First part of Sermon XXXVII. for the First Sunday after Easter.

St. John v.  412.  St. John xx.  1923.

Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that JESUS is the SON of GOD.                                                                         - 1 ST. JOHN v. 5. 

THE Epistle for to-day carries on, in somewhat of a subdued tone, the sublime and triumphant strain of last Sunday, but, as it were, confirming the same victory over sin and death, with even fuller knowledge and experience, by the voice of him who stood by the foot of the Cross.  Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?  Some of our Lord’s last words to His disciples had been, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  And now, when St. John wrote this Epistle, they had found in very truth that they also in Him could do the same.  It is a calm but firm tone of triumph that pervades all he now writes.  To be “born of God,” or to believe that Christ is the Son of God,” this our faith, exclaims the beloved disciple, this our new birth in Him from above, “overcometh the world.”  And then he proceeds to describe, not this faith as it is in us—the fruits of it, or the proofs and signs, or the means of promoting it in ourselves but directs our eyes to Him Who is the object of it, and states how in and through Him there is this power and victory.


This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood; “not by water only,” which throughout the Law speaks of cleansing, but by blood” also, which speaks of suffering; this faith which overcomes the world is by suffering; not by water only, that of Baptism, by which we are washed, but by Water and Blood, by which we are nourished at the Lord’s Supper,—that “awful cup,” says St. Chrysostom, “by which we are made as it were to approach and drink out of Christ’s side.”  Thus speaking of our new Birth and our New Life in Christ as God, St. John immediately refers to Him as that Second Adam Whose side was opened to us in death, as He showed us on this day after His Resurrection; Who, though God and Man, has made us to be one with Himself, “of His flesh and of His bones.”  This is He that came by Water and Blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.  It is remarkable, that when our Lord’s side was pierced, and St. John himself saw the Water and the Blood as he stood by the cross, he makes a very solemn protestation in recording it of the truth of this his own testimony, as of a matter of the very utmost importance which on that occasion he witnessed.  But here in his Epistle, speaking of the same, he says, “and the Spirit beareth witness.”  The Spirit beareth witness below, as combined with these two sacramental pledges of our life in Christ.  And then he adds,


For there are Three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these Three are One.  And there are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one, or it might be “are for one,” for one end and object, that is, the Life which we have in God.  It is by the Spirit and the two sacraments that this Life is; by these we enter as it were into Christ’s side, as Noah into the ark, and are saved; a new life is formed in us which partakes of His life, as Eve was formed out of the side of Adam.  Or again, these words are capable of another meaning, as representing Him the Second Adam, in Whom we are born again to the new inheritance of light.  By the Spirit which at death He delivered into His Father’s hands, by the Water and the Blood which flowed from His side in death, He showed Himself perfect Man; and as such one with us; these “three agree in one,” as bearing this testimony of His perfect Manhood.


But all this is of importance infinitely too great to be supported by mere human testimony, though it be even that of an Apostle, for eternity is built on this Rock. And therefore St. John proceeds, If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son.  When the voice of the Father was heard on three occasions bearing witness to the Son; as also by the many wonderful works which He did in His Name; and by His raising Him from the dead; and by sending the gift of the Holy Ghost, and His miraculous powers in the sight of men; by these God “hath testified of His Son.”


But more than this, for as St. Paul says, “and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts,” [Gal. iv 6.] so not without only, in His Church and Kingdom of Grace, but within the soul also, is the testimony of God.  He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.  To believe God, to have His word abiding in us, this is our righteousness; to believe Him not, for His word to have no place in us, this is our condemnation.  For all whom the Father hath given Him shall come to Christ; and flesh and blood reveal Him not, but the Father which is in Heaven.


And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son.  In Him is life full and entire, so that there is no other life worthy of the name but that which is in Christ, and in Him alone; so that there is no other Name but this, in which is salvation; all that is not in Him shall not see life, but abideth under the wrath of God.  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.  So full, so explicit, so wonderfully high and divine, and withal so awful, is this short summary of the mystery of Godliness, contained in the Epistle for to-day.  And I think, my brethren, that no attentive Christian can hear or read it without some serious reflection with regard to himself; so many questions must occur to him.  This faith overcomes the world;” do I overcome the world? for otherwise I have not this faith.  Have I this true birth of God? have I the witness within myself of this sonship?  For he that believeth on the Son of God hath this witness in himself.  Have I “the Son,” as St. John speaks? for if not I have not life; I cannot have it.  This is the still small voice of God in the heart, which the noise of the world would endeavour to stifle, which our own desires and passions will lead us to turn away from, but it is the voice of the Spirit pleading with us.


But from the contemplation of ourselves we are called upon at this season to look on Him Who is our life and peace.  And from these statements of doctrine by St. John in the Epistle, we turn, in the Gospel, to his own account of first beholding his risen Lord after he had witnessed His sufferings and death....

(for the second part, on the Gospel.)