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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Beloved - the affectionate address wherewith he calls attention to an important subject.

Every spirit - in the person of a prophet. The Spirit of truth, and that of error, speak by men's spirits as their organs. There is but one Spirit of truth, and one of Antichrist.

Try - by the tests (1 John 4:2-3). All are to do so: not merely ecclesiastics. Even an angel's message should be tested by the Word of God; much more men's teachings, however holy the teachers seem (Galatians 1:8).

Because ... - reason why we must test the spirits.

Many false prophets - not in the sense 'foretellers,' but organs of the spirit that inspires them, teaching error: 'many Antichrists.'

Are gone out - as if from God.

Into the world - said alike of good and bad prophets (2 John 1:7). The world is easily seduced (1 John 4:4-5).

Verse 2

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

Hereby know ... Spirit of God - whether He be or not in those professing to be moved by Him Hereby know ... Spirit of God - whether He be, or not, in those professing to be moved by Him.

Every spirit - i:e., Every teacher claiming inspiration by THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Confesseth - the truth is taken for granted. Man is required to confess it openly, as in teaching.

Jesus Christ is come in the flesh - a twofold truth confessed: that Jesus is the Christ; and that He is come [ eleeluthota (G2064), perfect; not a mere past historical fact, but present, and continuing in its blessed effects] in the flesh ('invested with flesh;' not with a seeming humanity, as the Docetae afterward taught). He therefore was previously something far above flesh. His flesh implies His death for us; for only by assuming flesh could He die (as God He could not, Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 2:16), and His death implies His LOVE for us (John 15:13). To deny the reality of His flesh is to deny His love, and so cast away the root which produces true love on the believer's part (1 John 4:9-11; 1 John 4:19). Rome, by the doctrine of the Virgin's immaculate conception, denies Christ's proper humanity.

Verse 3

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. So 'Aleph ('), Cyprian, Polycarp, Irenaeus (3: 8). Lucifer, Irenaeus, Origen, on Mark 25:14 , and Vulgate, read, 'Every spirit which destroys (sets aside, or does away with) Jesus Christ.' A B read only, 'Every spirit that confesseth not (i:e., refuses to confess) Jesus' (in His person, His offices, and divinity).

Ye have heard - from your Christian teachers.

Already is it in the world - in the person of false prophets (1 John 4:1).

Verse 4

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

Ye - emphatic. YE who confess Jesus: in contrast to 'them,' the false teachers.

Overcome (1 John 5:4-5) - instead of being 'overcome, and brought into (spiritual) bondage' by them (John 10:5; John 10:8; 2 Peter 2:19).

He that is in you God of whom ye are He that is in you - God, of whom ye are.

He that is in the world - the spirit of Antichrist, Satan, "the prince of this world."

Verse 5

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

Of the world - they derive their spirit and teaching from the world: 'unregenerate bureau nature, ruled over and possessed by Satan' (Alford).

Speak they of the world - they drew their convocation from the life, opinions, and feelings of the world.

The world heareth them - (John 15:18-19.) The world loves its own.

Verse 6

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

We - true teachers of Christ; in contrast to them.

Are of God - and therefore speak of God; in contrast to 'speak of the world,' 1 John 4:5.

Knoweth God - as his Father, being a child "of God" (1 John 2:13).

Heareth us - (cf. John 18:37.)

Hereby (1 John 4:2-6) - by their confessing, or not confessing, Jesus: by the reception given us respectively by those who know God, and by those who are of the world, and not of God.

Spirit of truth - the Spirit coming from God and teaching truth.

Spirit of error - the spirit coming from Satan, and seducing into error.

Verse 7

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

Resumption of the main theme (1 John 2:29). Love, the sum of righteousness, is the test of being born of God. Love flows from a sense of God's love. 1 John 4:9 resumes 1 John 3:16; 1 John 5:13 resumes 1 John 3:24. At the same time, 1 John 4:7-21 are connected with the preceding context, 1 John 4:2 setting forth Christ's incarnation, the great proof of God's love (1 John 4:10).

Beloved - appropriate to his subject, "love."

Love. All love is from God, its fountain; especially its great embodiment, God manifest in the flesh. The Father also is love (1 John 4:8). The Holy Spirit sheds love as its first-fruit abroad in the heart (Romans 5:5).

Knoweth God - spiritually, experimentally, habitually.

Verse 8

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Knoweth not, [ egnoo (G1097), aorist] - not only knoweth not now, but never has once for all known God.

God is love. There is no article to love, but to God; therefore we cannot translate, Love is God. God is essentially LOVE: not merely loving; for then John's argument would fall: for the conclusion from the premises then would be, This man is not loving; God is; therefore he knoweth not God IN SO FAR AS GOD IS LOVING: still he might know Him in His other attributes. But when we take love as God's essence, the argument holds: This man doth not love; therefore knows not love: God is essentially love; therefore he knows not God.

Verse 9

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

Toward us, [ en (G1722) heemin (G2254)] - 'in our case.'

Sent, [ apestalken (G649)] - 'hath sent.' Into the world - therefore the Son existed before. Otherwise, too, He could not have been our life (1 John 4:9), our "propitiation" (1 John 4:10), our "Saviour" (1 John 4:14). It is the grand proof of God's love, His having sent His only-begotten Son that we might live through Him, the Life, who has redeemed our forfeited life: it is also the grand motive to our mutual love.

Verse 10

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Herein is love - love in the abstract, in its highest ideal, is herein. The love was all on God's side, none on ours.

Not that we loved God - though so altogether worthy of love.

He loved us - though so altogether unworthy of love. [ Eegapeesamen (G25), the aorist, Not that we did any act of love at any time to God, but that He did the act of love to us in sending Christ.]

Verse 11

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

God's love to us the grand motive for love to one another (1 John 3:16).

If - as we all admit.

We ought also - as born of God, and therefore resembling our Father, who is love. In proportion as we appreciate God's love to us, we love Him and also the brethren, children (by regeneration) of the same Father, representatives of the unseen God.

Verse 12

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. God, whom no man hath seen at any time, appoints His children the visible recipients of our outward kindness, flowing from love to Himself, 'whom not having seen, we love' (1 Peter 1:8: cf. note, 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:19-20). Thus, 1 John 4:12 explains why, instead (in 1 John 4:11) of saying, 'If God so loved us, we ought also to love God,' he said, "We ought also to love one another."

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us - for God is love. It must have been from Him dwelling in us that we drew the love we bear to the brethren (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16: discussed, 1 John 4:13-16).

His love - rather, 'love of (i:e., to) Him,' evinced by love to His representatives, our brethren.

Is perfected in us. (Discussed, 1 John 4:17-19.) Compare 1 John 2:5, "Is perfected;" i:e., attains its maturity.

Verse 13

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

'Herein.' The token vouchsafed to us of God's dwelling (abiding) in us, though we see Him not, is that He hath given us "of His Spirit" (1 John 3:24). Where the Spirit is, there God is. ONE Spirit dwells in the Church: each believer receives a measure "of" that Spirit in the proportion God thinks fit (1 Corinthians 12:11). Love is His first-fruit (Galatians 5:22). In Jesus alone the Spirit dwells without measure (John 3:34).

Verse 14

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

And we - primarily, we apostles, Christ's appointed eye-witnesses to testify to the facts concerning Him. The internal evidence of the indwelling Spirit (1 John 4:13) is corroborated by external evidence of the eye-witnesses to the fact of the Father having "sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."

Seen, [ tetheametha (G2300)] - 'contemplated;' 'attentively beheld' (note, 1 John 1:1).

Sent - `hath sent:' not entirely past (aorist), but one of which the effects continue (perfect).

Verse 15

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Shall confess - once for all (aorist).

That Jesus is the Son of God - and therefore "the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14).

Verse 16

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

And we - John and his readers (not as 1 John 4:14, the apostles only).

Known and believed. True faith is a faith of knowledge and experience: true knowledge is a knowledge of faith (Luecke).

To us, [ en (G1722) heemin (G2254)] - 'in our case' (note, 1 John 4:9).

Dwelleth - `abideth' (cf. 1 John 4:7).

Verse 17

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

(Compare 1 John 3:19-21.)

Our love, [ hee (G3588) agapee (G26) meth' (G3326) heemoon (G2257)]. 'LOVE is made perfect (in its relations) with us.' Love dwelling in us advances to its consummation 'with us;' i:e., as it is concerned with us (Luke 1:58, "showed great mercy upon (with) her:" 2 John 1:2.)

Boldness - `confidence' [ parreesian (G3954)]: parallel to 1 John 3:21; opposite to "fear," 1 John 4:18. Herein is love perfected, namely, in God dwelling in us, and our dwelling in God (1 John 4:16) involving as is result, 'that we can have confidence (boldness) in the day of judgment' (so terrible to other men, Acts 24:25).

Because ... The ground of our 'confidence' is, 'because even as He (Christ) is, we also are in this world' (He will not, in that day, condemn those like Himself; we are righteous as He is righteous, especially in that which is the sum of righteousness, love (1 John 3:14). Christ IS righteous, and love itself, in heaven: so are we, His members still "in this world." Our oneness with Him even now in His exaltation (Ephesians 2:6), so that all that belongs to Him of righteousness etc., belongs to us by perfect imputation, and progressive impartation, is the ground of our love being perfected, so that we can have confidence in the day of judgment. We are in, not of, this world.

Verse 18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

Fear has no place in love. Bold confidence (1 John 4:17), based on love, cannot co-exist with fear. Love, which, when perfected, gives bold confidence, casts out fear (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15). Christ's propitiatory death was designed to deliver from this bondage of fear.

But, [ alla (G235)] - 'on the contrary.'

Fear hath torment, [ kolasin (G2851)] - punishment. Fear is always revolving the punishment deserved; and, by anticipation (through consciousness of deserving it), has even now its foretaste. Perfect love is incompatible with self-punishing fear. Fear of offending God differs from slavish fear of consciously-deserved punishment: the latter is natural to us all, until love casts it out. 'Men's states vary: one is without fear and love; another, with fear without love; another, with fear and love; another, without fear with love' (Bengel).

Verse 19

We love him, because he first loved us.

Him. Omitted in A B: 'Aleph (') has 'God.' 'We (emphatic, on our part) love (in general, Him, the brethren, and our fellowmen), because He (emphatic: answering to 'WE;' because it was He who) first loved us, in sending His Son (aorist of a definite act at one time). He was the first to love us: this thought ought to create in us love casting out fear (1 John 4:18).

Verse 20

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? Loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? It is easier for us, influenced as we are by sense, to love one within the range of our sense, than One unseen, appreciable only by faith. 'Nature is prior to grace: we by, nature love things seen before things unseen' (Estius). The eyes are our leaders in love. 'Seeing is its incentive' (OEcumenius). If we do not love the brethren, God's visible representatives, how can we love the invisible One, whose children they are? Man's true ideal (as made in God's image), lost in Adam, is realized in Christ, in whom God is revealed as He is, and man as he ought to be. Until Christ came we had lost the knowledge of MAN as well as of GOD. Thus, by faith in Christ, we learn to love both the true God and the true man: so to love the brethren as bearing His image. "Hath seen:" and continually sees.

Verse 21

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Besides the argument (1 John 4:20) from men's common feeling, he adds a stronger from God's express commandment (Matthew 22:39). He who loves will do what the object of His love wishes.

He who loveth God - he who wishes to be regarded as loving Him.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-john-4.html. 1871-8.
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