We know that we are of God - Have the fullest proof of the truth of Christianity, and of our own reconciliation to God through the death of his Son.
The whole world lieth in wickedness - Εν τῳ πονηρῳ κειται· Lieth in the wicked one - is embraced in the arms of the devil, where it lies fast asleep and carnally secure, deriving its heat and power from its infernal fosterer. What a truly awful state! And do not the actions, tempers, propensities, opinions and maxims of all worldly men prove and illustrate this? "In this short expression," says Mr. Wesley, "the horrible state of the world is painted in the most lively colors; a comment on which we have in the actions, conversations, contracts, quarrels and friendships of worldly men." Yes, their Actions are opposed to the law of God; their Conversations shallow, simulous, and false; their Contracts forced, interested, and deceitful; their Quarrels puerile, ridiculous, and ferocious; and their Friendships hollow, insincere, capricious, and fickle: - all, all the effect of their lying in the arms of the wicked one; for thus they become instinct with his own spirit: and because they are of their father the devil, therefore his lusts they will do.
And we know that we are of God - We who are Christians. The apostle supposed that true Christians might have so clear evidence on that subject as to leave no doubt on their own minds that they were the children of God. Compare 1 John 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:12.
And the whole world - The term “world” here evidently means not the material world, but the people who dwell on the earth, including all idolaters, and all sinners of every grade and kind.
Lieth in wickedness - “In the wicked one,” or under the power of the wicked one - ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ en tō ponērōIt is true that the word πονηρῷ may be used here in the neuter gender, as our translators have rendered it, meaning “in that which is evil,” or in “wickedness;” but it may be in the masculine gender, meaning “the wicked one;” and then the sense would be that the whole world is under his control or dominion. That this is the meaning of the apostle seems to be clear, because:
(1) the corresponding phrase, 1 John 5:20, ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ en tō alēthinō“in him that is true,” is evidently to be construed in the masculine, referring to God the Saviour, and meaning “him that is true,” and not that we are “in truth.”
(2) it makes better sense to say that the world lies under the control of the wicked one, than to say that it lies “in wickedness.”
(3) this accords better with the other representations in the Bible, and the usuage of the word elsewhere. Compare 1 John 2:13, “Ye have overcome the “wicked” one;” 1 John 5:14, “ye have overcome the “wicked” one;” 1 John 3:12, “who was of that “wicked” one.” See also the notes at 2 Corinthians 4:4, on the expression “the god of this world;” John 12:31, where he is called “the prince of this world;” and Ephesians 2:2, where he is called “the prince of the power of the air.” In all these passages it is supposed that Satan has control over the world, especially the pagan world. Compare Ephesians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:20. In regard to the fact that the pagan world was pervaded by wickedness, see the notes at Romans 1:21-32.
(4) it may be added, that this interpretation is adopted by the most eminent critics and commentators. It is that of Calvin, Beza, Benson, Macknight, Bloomfield, Piscator, Lucke, etc. The word “lieth” here ( κεῖται keitai) means, properly, to lie; to be laid; to recline; to be situated, etc. It seems here to refer to the “passive” and “torpid” state of a wicked world under the dominion of the prince of evil, as acquiescing in his reign; making no resistance; not even struggling to be free. It lies thus as a beast that is subdued, a body that is dead, or anything that is wholly passive, quiet, and inert. There is no energy; no effort to throw off the reign; no resistance; no struggling. The dominion is complete, and body and soul, individuals and nations, are entirely subject to his will. This striking expression will not unaptly now describe the condition of the pagan world, or of sinners in general. There would seem to be no government under which people are so little restive, and against which they have so little disposition to rebel, as that of Satan. Compare 2 Timothy 2:26.
We are called to be the Lord's special people in a much higher sense than many have realized. The world lies in wickedness, and God's people are to come out of the world, and be separate. They are to be free from worldly customs and worldly habits. They are not to accord with worldly sentiments, but are to stand out distinct, as the Lord's peculiar people, earnest in all their service. They are to have no fellowship with the works of darkness.—Letter 280, August 27, 1906, to “My Brethren and Sisters in Denver and Boulder.” TDG 248.6Read in context »