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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.
Ver. 1. But try the spirits ] As lapidaries do their stones, as goldsmiths do their metals. A Bristol stone may look as well as an Indian diamond; and many things glitter besides gold. Try therefore before you trust that which is doctrinally delivered unto you; being neither overly credulous, -the fool believeth everything; nor rashly censorious, as those were that said of our Saviour, "This man blasphemeth." See Trapp on " 1Th 5:21 "
Because many false prophets ] Both the old Church, Deuteronomy 13:1 , and the new, Acts 20:30 , were ever pestered with them.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
Ver. 2. Hereby know ye the spirit ] Bring it to this test. Gold may be rubbed or melted, it remains orient; so doth truth. Whereas error, as glass (bright, but brittle), cannot endure the hammer of fire.
That confesseth ] That preacheth Christ crucified.
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.
Ver. 3. Is not of God ] And yet he is not called an Atheist, or an Antitheist, but Antichrist, that is, an opposite to Christ; as if his opposing should not be so much to Christ’s nature or person, as to his unction and function.
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.
Ver. 4. And have overcome ] viz. In your Head, Christ, and by the help of his Holy Spirit, your sweet inhabitant, whereby ye are more than conquerors, because sure to overcome and triumph.
5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
Ver. 5. They are of the world ] i.e. The seducers; fit lettuce for such lips; Dignum patella operculum. Vos infernates estis. "Ye are from beneath, I am from above," saith Christ, John 8:23 .
Therefore speak they of the world ] The water riseth not (unless forced) above its source. Out of the warehouse, the shop is furnished. Carnal teachers gratify their hearers with pleasing positions. The Papists in their petition to King James for a toleration, plead this as an argument, That their religion is agreeable to men’s nature: and indeed it is an alluring, tempting, bewitching religion, giving way to all licentiousness and lasciviousness. So Mahomet in his Koran tells his followers concerning venery, That God did not give men such appetites to have them frustrated, but enjoyed, as made for the gust a of man, not for his torment; and a great deal more of such paltry stuff.
a Keen relish, appreciation, or enjoyment, esp. as displayed in speech or action. ŒD
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.
Ver. 6. Heareth us ] Christ’s sheep are rational; they can discern his voice from that of a stranger, and will hear it not with that gristle only that grows upon their heads, but with the ear of their soul, which trieth doctrines as the mouth doth meat, Job 34:3 , and knoweth the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
Ver. 7. Beloved, let us love one another ] This beloved disciple breathes nothing but love; as if he had been born with love in his mouth, as they say.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Ver. 8. Knoweth not God ] If moral virtue could be seen with mortal eyes, saith Plato, it would draw all hearts unto it. If God were well known, he could not but be best beloved, and all that are his, for his sake.
For God is love ] Not formally, but causally, say schoolmen; he is the fountain of love, and draws all hearts that have any knowledge of him. See 1 John 4:16 ; Song of Solomon 1:3 . See Trapp on " 1Jn 4:16 " See Trapp on " Son 1:3 "
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.
Ver. 9. In this was manifested ] The very naked bowels of his tenderest compassions are herein laid open unto us, as in an anatomy. God so loved his Son that he gave him the world for his possession, Psalms 2:7 ; but he so loved the world that he gave Son and all for its redemption.
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.
Ver. 10. Not that we loved, &c. ] Deus prior nos amavit, tantus, tantum, et gratis, tantillos et tales. God, though so great, loved us first and freely, though such and so worthless. "He loved us, because he loved us," saith Moses, Deuteronomy 7:7-8 , the ground of his love being wholly in himself. He works for his own name’s sake, Ezekiel 20:9 ; Ezekiel 20:14 ; Ezekiel 20:22 ; Ezekiel 20:44 , four different times, notwithstanding his word and oath, Ezekiel 20:13 ; Ezekiel 20:15 ; Ezekiel 20:23 .
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Ver. 11. If God so loved us ] His one example easily answereth all our objections, taketh off all our excuses; as that our brother is our inferior, our adversary, of whom we have better deserved, &c.
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.
Ver. 12. No man hath seen God ] If we read that any hath seen him, we must understand it, that indeed they did see Mercavah, velo harocheb, the chariot in which God rode, but not the rider in it, as that Rabbi speaketh. (Rab. Maim. More Nevochim, iii. 7.)
His love is perfected in us ] i.e. Either actively; our love is demonstrated in the excellency of it. Or else passively; the love that God beareth to us is abundantly declared perfect, in that he worketh such a gracious inclination in us. And in this latter sense understand the apostle, 1 John 4:17 , touching love made perfect.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Ver. 13. He hath given us of his Spirit ] That is, of the fruits of his Spirit, his holy motions and graces. For through the two golden pipes the two olive branches empty out of themselves the golden oils of all precious graces, into the candlestick, the Church.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Ver. 14. And we have seen ] sc. By special privilege (that which natural eye never saw, 1Jn 4:12 ), the backparts of Jehovah, his wisdom, justice, mercy, &c.; we can see no more and live, we need see no more that we may live.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
Ver. 15. Whosoever shall confess ] See Trapp on " 1Co 12:3 "
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.
Ver. 16. And we have known and believed ] That is, we know by believing. See Trapp on " Joh 6:69 "
God is love ] Pellican tells of some in his time that used to read this piece of Scripture to their friends at their feasts. A pious practice surely, and well beseeming those that feast before the Lord. The primitive Christians had at such times their kiss of love, 1 Peter 5:14 . And St Austin had these two verses written on his table,
" Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere famam,
Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi. "
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.
Ver. 17. In the day of judgment ] Those that bear his image shall hear his euge; well done, he will own them and honour them, and their faith that worketh by love, "shall be found unto praise, honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ,"1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7 . He that was so willingly judged for them, shall give no hard sentence against them.
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.
Ver. 18. There is no fear in love ] But complacence and acquiescence in the person beloved.
Perfect love casteth out fear ] Timorem scilicet servilem illum, non amicalem. (Beda in Pro 1:1-33 )
Because fear hath torment ] Quem metuunt, oderunt, Whomsoever men fear, they hate, saith the proverb. And odium timorem spirat, saith Tertullian. Hatred hath fear, which sets the soul on a rack, as it were, and renders it restless.
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
Ver. 19. Because he first loved us ] See Trapp on " 1Jn 4:10 " Mary answers not Rabboni till Christ first said unto her, Mary. Our love is but the reflex of his. And as the reflected beams of the sun are weaker than the direct, so are our affections weaker than God’s. That is a memorable saying of a modern writer, As a great brightness of the air at midnight argueth the shining of the moon, and that presumeth an illumination of the sun, because these depend one upon another; so the diffusing of our charity on our neighbours proveth our love to God; and our love to God presumeth his love to us first, for the inseparable dependence they have on each other.
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?
Ver. 20. If a man say, I love God ] If he did so, he would hardly say so in a vaunting way howsoever. "Charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up," 1 Corinthians 13:4 . Christ loves secret service,Song of Solomon 2:14; Song of Solomon 2:14 . They that bear him greatest love make least show thereof before others. Master Bartlet Green, when he had been beaten and scourged with rods by Bishop Bonner, and he greatly rejoiced in the same (saith Master Fox), yet his shamefaced modesty was such that he would never express any mention thereof (lest he should seem to glory too much in himself), save that only he opened the same to one Mr Cotton of the Temple (a friend of his) a little before he suffered martyrdom. (Acts and Mon. 1684.) Vasa quae magis continent, minus sonant. (Seneca.) But empty casks sound loudest: and baser metals ring shrillest.
Whom he hath seen ] Sight usually maketh love. Juvenal greatly wondereth at one, Qui nunquam visae flagrabat amore puellae, who loved a party whom he had never seen.
How can he love God ] That is, saith Dr Rainolds, He that cannot endure to look on that little glimpse and ray of holiness which is in his brother, in one of the same infirmities and corruptions with himself, will much less be able to abide the light of the Sun of righteousness, and the most orient, spotless, and vast holiness that is in him.
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Ver. 21. And this commandment we have from him ] Lo, here a singular evidence of God’s great love to us, that he commandeth us also the love of our neighbour as well as of himself: quasi non tam de se amando fuerit sollicitus, quam de proximo nostro diligendo, saith Aretius. Our Saviour therefore, summing up the law, joineth those two precepts, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all," &c., and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Yea, God prefers mercy before sacrifice; and is content that his own immediate service should be intermitted, rather than offices of love to our brother omitted. "Leave there thy gift, and go thy way; first be reconciled," Matthew 5:24 .
Love his brother also ] If he be a good man, love him in God; if bad, for God.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter