“To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I. John 3:8).
There can be no question as to the One to Whom John referred when he said, “the Son of God.” In all the writings of John it is evident that his eyes are fixed upon the man Jesus. Occasionally he does not even name Him; does not even refer to Him by a personal pronoun, but indicates Him by a word you can only use when you are looking at an object or a person. For instance, “That which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled”. Upon another occasion he said, “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk even as he walked.” It is always the method of expression of a man who is looking at a Person. For evermore the actual human Person of Christ was present to the mind of John as he wrote of Him.
How intimate he had been with Him we all know. One of the most tender and beautiful things in all the story of the life of Jesus is the story of John’s pure human love for Him. The other disciples loved Him, but their love was of a different tone and quality from that of John. John must get close to Him, and lay his head upon His bosom. Yet if I said no more, I would not have uttered half the truth. If John, the mystic, the lover, laid his head upon the human bosom of the Man of Nazareth, he heard the beating of the heart of God. If he laid his hand upon Jesus when he talked to Him, he knew that beneath the warm touch of the human flesh there beat the mystic majesty of Deity. “That which our hands handled, concerning the Word of life.” He is perfectly conscious of the flesh, but supremely conscious of the mystic Word veiled in flesh and shining through it. He is perfectly conscious of the human, and thereby finds Deity. So that when John comes to write of this One, he speaks of Him as “the Son of God.” He remembers the warmth of His bosom, the gentleness of His touch, the love-lit glory of His eyes, but He is “the Son of God.”
The word “manifested” presupposes existence prior to manifestation. In the Man of Nazareth there was manifestation of One Who had existed long before the Man of Nazareth.
The enemy is described here as the devil. We read that he is a murderer, a liar, a betrayer; the fountain-head of sin, the lawless one. The work of the murderer is destruction of life. The work of the liar is the extinguishing of light. The work of the betrayer is the violation of love. The work of the arch-sinner is the breaking of the law. These are the works of the devil.
He is a murderer. This consists fundamentally in the destruction of life on its highest level, which is the spiritual. Alienation from God is the devil’s work. It is also death on the level of the mental. Vision which fails to include God is practical blindness. On the physical plane, all disease and all pain are ultimately results of sin, and are among the works of the devil. These things all lie within the realm of his work as murderer, destroyer of human life.
He is more. He is the liar, and to him is due the extinguishing of light, so that men blunder along the way. All ignorance, all despair, all wandering over the trackless deserts of life, are due to extinction of spiritual light in the mind of man. All ignorance is the result of the clouding of man’s vision of God.
“This is life eternal,” age-abiding life, high life, deep life, broad life, long life, comprehensive life, “that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” The proportion in which man knows God is the proportion in which he sees clearly to the heart of things. By and by, when the redemptive work of Christ has been perfected in man, and in the world, we shall find that all ignorance is banished, and man has found his way into light. But the liar, the one who brings darkness, has made his works far spread o’er all the face of humanity, and all ignorance and resultant despair, and all wandering aimlessly in every realm of life, are due to the work of the one whom Jesus designated a liar from the beginning.
Again, the violation of love, as a work of the devil, is seen supremely in the way he entered into the heart of Judas, and made him the betrayer. All the avarice you find in the world today, and all the jealousy, and all the cruelty, are the works of the devil.
Finally, he is the supreme sinner. Sin is lawlessness, which does not mean the condition of being without law, but the condition of being against law, breaking law. So that all wrong done to God in His world, all wrong done by man to man, all wrong done by man to himself, are works of the devil.
To summarize then: death, darkness, hatred, find them where you will, are works of the devil.
The Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. If at the beginning we saw Him as a soul in conflict with all these things, remember that was an indication of the program and a prophecy of the purpose. The Incarnation was not merely the birth of a little child in whom we were to learn the secret of childhood, and in whom presently we were to see the glories of manhood. All that is true; but it was the happening in the course of human events, of that one thing through which God Himself is able to destroy the works of the devil.
WHAT “DESTROY” MEANS.
“To destroy.” It is a word which means to dissolve, to loosen. It is the very same word as is used in the Apocalypse about loosing us from our sins; or if you will be more graphic, it is the word used in the Acts of the Apostles when you read that the ship was broken to pieces; loosed, dissolved, that which had been a consistent whole, was broken up and scattered and wrecked.
The word “destroyed” may be perfectly correct, but let us understand it. He was manifested to do a work in human history the result of which should be that the works of the devil should lose their consistency. The cohesive force that makes them appear stable until this moment, He came to loosen and dissolve. He was manifested to destroy death by the gift of life. He was manifested to destroy darkness by the gift of light. He was manifested to destroy hatred by the gift of love. He was manifested to destroy lawlessness by the gift of law. He was manifested to loosen, to break up, to destroy the negatives which spoil, by the bringing of the positive that remakes and uplifts.
He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil as to death, by the gift of life. This means first spiritual life, which is fellowship with God. It means also mental life, the vision of the open secret. Not yet perfectly do we understand, but already the trusting soul, utterly devoid of education, hears more in the wind at eventide, and sees more in the blossoming of the flowers than any merely scientific man can do.
He who sees has the true intellectual vision which Christ has bestowed in His gift of life. “This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God.” The gift of life was to destroy death, and the man who has His gift of life laughs in the face of death, laughs triumphantly. I believe that there was laughter in the apostle’s tone when he said. “O death, where is thy sting?” As though he had said, what hast thou done with thy victory? I trembled in thy presence once, O rider upon the pale horse; but now I laugh in thy face, for thy paleness has become the glistening white of an angel of light. So He destroys the works of the devil by giving the gift of life which destroys death.
As to darkness. This is intimately associated with the thing already said. The gift of light always comes out of life. If there be death, then there is no vision. If there be life, there is light. Light means knowledge and hope and guidance, so that there is no more wandering aimlessly. By bringing light into human life and into the world He has destroyed the works of the devil.
As to hatred. He destroyed hatred by His gift of love. Benevolence — and I am not using the word idly as we often do; I am using it in all its rich, spacious, gracious meaning — benevolence, well-willing, self-abnegation, kindness in the apostle’s sense of the word when writing to the Galatians he gives kindness as one of the qualities of love, the specific doing of small things out of pure love. All these things are things by which the works of the devil are being destroyed. Hatred, avarice, jealousy, selfishness, are destroyed by shedding abroad love which is the warmth of life, as light is its illumination. By these things He destroys the works of the devil.
As to lawlessness. This He destroys by the gift of law; passion for the rights of God, service to our fellowmen; the finding of self in the great abnegation, and the finding of self in the perfect freedom because I have become the bond-slave of the infinite Lord of love.
Nineteen centuries ago the Son of God was manifested, and during those centuries in the lives of hundreds, thousands, He has destroyed the works of the devil, mastered death by the gift of life; cast darkness out by the incoming light; turned the selfishness of avarice and jealousy into love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness. He has taken hold of lawless men and made them into the willing, glad bondservants of God. So has He destroyed the works of the devil.
HISTORIC MEANING OF THE INCARNATION.
Do not forget the meaning of the Incarnation historically. It was the invasion of human history by One Who snatched the scepter from the usurper. It was the intrusion of forces into human history which dissolved the consistency of the works of the devil and caused them to break and fail. “How long, O Lord, how long?” is the cry of the heart of the saint today. Yet let us take heart as we look back and know that the victorious force has operated for nineteen centuries, and always toward consummation. Still, the works of the devil are manifest; the works of the flesh are manifest. Yes. but the fruit of the Spirit of life which has come through the advent of Christ is also manifest. All over the world today on many a branch of the vine of the Father’s planting, the rich clusters of fruit are to be found. All, so far, is but preliminary. It is twilight only. High noon has not arrived; but it is twilight, and the noon must come.
Further, the Incarnation was the coming of the Stronger than the strong man armed to destroy the works of the devil in my own life. Are the works of the devil — death, darkness, hatred, and rebellion — the master forces of your being? Then I bring you the Evangel. I tell you of One manifested to destroy all such works. I tell you not merely as a theory, but as having the testimony of history attesting the truth of the announcement of this text.
The forces of this Christ have operated, and are operating; and the things that were formerly established are loosened, and are falling to decay. He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. If you are in the grip of forces of evil; if you realize that in your life His works are the things of strength, then I pray you, turn with full purpose of heart to the One manifested long ago, Who in all the power of His gracious victory, will destroy in you all the works of the devil, and set you free.