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Written by W.M. Mitchell   

The Gospel Messenger--October 1896

1 John 3:8

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.- 1 John iii. 9.

Various have been the views and comments of brethren concerning the time, meaning, and proper application of the above text. And while we have had no particular objection to the doctrine presented by some of our beloved brethren on this text, we have had serious doubts as to whether they had given the proper application of the text,  or presented the main and special point of doctrine contained in the text.

We have thought it possible that one might speak or write the truth, and yet not expound or give the meaning of the particular text he claims to be expounding. It is generally conceded by nearly all whose writings we have seen upon this text, that the words "cannot sin," refers to that divine nature and holy principle implanted in and received by the sinner in the new birth, and that it doth not commit sin, and that it (and not the man) cannot commit sin, because IT, and not the man, is born of God. But does not this view of the text pervert its meaning and conflict with the plain wording of the text itself?

If it is something else than man that is born of God, why should the word "whosoever" be used in the very beginning of the text? Why not have all parts of the text to agree, and say, "Whatsoever is born of God" (or as one brother did say, "that thing" which is born of God), "doth not commit sin, and it cannot sin, because it is born of God." It is true that this perverted wording of the text would be in harmony with the views which some have given upon it. But is this right? The Holy Ghost in the holy apostle has made no mistake in saying, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin,'' and why should any faithful steward of the mysteries of God wish to change the word to "whatsoever" and "it?" Would it not be better that our views harmonize with the text, rather than to change its wording to make it harmonize with our views? If it is not the man, a real person, an accountable human being that is born of God, and cannot sin because he is born of God, who is it and what is it? Some say that part that is born of God does not sin, but the body, or flesh, of the Adamic man, sins continually. Now, this may all look very plausible and consistent with our daily experience; but, after all, is this the correct solution and meaning of the words: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin?" We think it is not. There is nothing said in the text about that part of man that is born of God, nor of that thing, or spirit, that is born; but the words "whosoever" and "he'' in the text, show that it is a real person-whether Jew or Gentile, wise or ignorant, rich or poor, old or young-who, if born of God, in the sense of the text cannot sin, because he (not it) is born of God.

But before proceeding further we wish to remind the Christian reader that the proper application of the text we are considering does not, in any way, conflict with any other text in the Scriptures. Nor does it conflict with the daily struggle that each believing child of God has in striving against sin. It does not conflict with what the Apostle Paul has expressed and what each believer has experienced, more or less, every day of his Christian life. Each can witness that "when I would do good, evil is present with me;" and further, each may say in truth, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing."-Romans vii. And, again, the very same apostle who wrote the text which we are considering also said, concerning the same characters embraced in the text, that "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."- 1 John i. 8. And again he saith: "My little children, I write unto you that ye sin not; but if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Now, when we take into consideration that all these last quoted texts are in perfect harmony with the words, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin,'' we are forced to the conclusion that, as it is man that is and must be born of God, there is some Scripturally qualified sense in which "he cannot sin, because he is born of God.''

About forty or forty-five years ago we remember seeing a published article from an aged minister, in which he quoted the words of Jesus: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."-John iii. After quoting this, he said: "If this birth refers to the man mentioned in Genesis i. 26 then I know nothing of any such birth.'' This was a startling expression to me, and one that I had never heard or read from any Primitive Baptist before; and though he was an aged and orderly minister of good standing, we could not well refrain from calling the attention of our brethren to the remark, and expressing our dissent from the sentiment contained in it.

In Genesis i. 26 is written: "And God said, Let us make man in our image." Now, this is the only man that we know anything about, whom God, the Creator of all things, ever made, and in whom all other human beings were embodied; and he is the only man to whom God ever gave a law having a bearing upon all human beings that ever should be in the world, and he is the only man whose sin and transgression became the sin and transgression of all the progeny of Adam, who were created in him, and represented by him in his act of transgression. Death passed upon all when it passed upon him, for in him they all sinned, and in him they all die. And the law of God that was thus given to Adam and to all his posterity in him is the only law ever given to men which has a bearing on his future and eternal destiny beyond this world. It is the first and original law ever made binding upon man, and the transgression of it is the first and original sin ever imputed to man. That law, in all its force and perfections is the same today as when first given to man. It has never been repealed or modified in any particular. If it required perfect and perpetual obedience at first when Adam was a pure, good and innocent creature, it requires the same perfect obedience up to this very hour, and will so require it forever, if not fulfilled and its curse removed by our Lord Jesus Christ as the Surety, Husband and Redeemer of His chosen people.

Now, to be begotten and born of God is to be begotten and born of the same Spirit, power and life that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. And none are thus born but those whose sins are put away by the sacrifice of Christ. He has fulfilled the law and redeemed His people from the curse of the law, by being Himself made a curse for them. It can curse them no more, neither can they ever again commit sin, in the eye of that law, from the curse and condemnation of which their blessed Surety has redeemed them. The law, or the power of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, hath made all who are born of God free from the law or power of sin and death. And if thus free from the power of sin and death, it is because they are born of God into the kingdom of Christ and raised up with Him above the penal demands of the law. "And if we be dead with Him," it is not unreasonable nor unscriptural to believe that "we shall live with Him."-2 Timothy ii. 11.

And now, as we must bring this article to a close, suffice it to say that when it is said, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, and cannot sin," it is nothing more or less than we find, in substance, in quite a number of other texts, such as, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."-John v. 24. None but those who are born of God are true and genuine believers in God the Father and in Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of the Father. They cannot commit sin any more under that law from which they are made free, and as they cannot commit sin in the eye of that law, they shall never more come into condemnation under the curse of that law, neither in time nor in eternity. "Christ hath obtained eternal redemption for us." "By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." To be born of God is to be born from the dead; it is to pass from death to life. But let us remember it is the sinner that is saved, the man that is born of the Spirit, and it is the work of the Spirit and not of the flesh.

According to the views we have long entertained concerning this text, and which we have been trying to present to our readers in this article, it harmonizes with every other portion of the word of the Lord and does not require that we should say "that part of man that is born of God doth not commit sin." It is man that is born of God, and it is man that cannot sin, because he is born of God. This is the plain declaration of the text.

But let us remember that this man that is born of God is also said to be "delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son."-Colossians i. And while he cannot sin so as to ever again come under the curse and condemnation of the law from which he is redeemed and made free by the blood of Christ, yet he can and does sin and violate the law of Christ, because he is born into the kingdom of God's dear Son, and is, therefore, under law to Christ. Hence the Scriptures speak of those who are born of God sinning against Christ-sinning against the brethren-sinning against the church and against their own souls. "When ye sin so against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.'' -1 Corinthians viii. 12. We see, therefore, that the Scriptures do recognize the fact that, in some qualified sense, even those who are born of God can and do commit sin; but this sin is against Christ, because they are under law to Christ, and it subjects the offenders to be beaten with many stripes. God dealeth with them as with sons, and they have the blessed privilege of claiming that relationship, and in prayer say in truth "Our Father, who art in heaven * * * forgive us our sins." As sons they sin, and mourn, and repent, and plead in the name of Jesus "forgive us our sins."

If, therefore, there is not some Scriptural sense in which those who are born of God cannot sin, and also a sense in which they do sin, why should both these things be ascribed to them? If they cannot sin in any sense whatever, why should they be admonished to "sin not," as in 1 John ii. 1? And if they cannot sin in any sense, why should it be said by the apostle, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death?" This is disciplinary, and applies to Christians in their church relations; but it shows conclusively that in their relation one to another in the church they are under law to Christ, and that according to the requirements of that law they are to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."- Galatians vi.

To do what the law of Christ forbids, or to fail to do what it commands, is sin; but it is not a sin of an eternal bearing-or, in other words, there is no sin that a child of God who is under law to Christ can commit, that the consequences of it will follow him any farther than in this mortal life. Our God and Father will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities He will remember no more. But it is the law of His gospel kingdom that "He that doeth wrong shall suffer for the wrong that he doeth, and there is no respect of persons."

We regret that this article is so lengthy, and now we close by quoting the words of Paul to Timothy: "Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things."                                              W. M. M.

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