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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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1 John 4:1-6 The apostle warneth to try by certain rules the spirits that pretend to come from God.

1 John 4:7-21 He presseth the obligation of mutual love upon Christians from the example and commandment of God.

Verse 1

Believe not every spirit; i.e. not every one pretending to inspiration, or a revelation; spirit, whether good or bad, being put for the person acted thereby.

But try the spirits; there being a judgment of discretion or discerning, common to Christians, de jure, and which they ought to endeavour for and to use upon such occasions, Acts 17:11; Philippians 1:9,Philippians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; and the attainment and exercise whereof is, in reference to the great essentials of religion, more facile and sure: as when heretofore among the Jews, any should attempt the drawing them off from the true God, as Deuteronomy 13:1,Deuteronomy 13:2; and so when with Christians it should be endeavoured to tempt them away from Christ, as the

false prophets

or teachers did, now gone out into the world.

Verse 2

He here gives them the general rule, both affirmative and negative, which would suffice them to judge by in their present case; this being the great controversy of that time with the Jews: Whether Jesus were the Messiah? And whether the Messiah were as yet come or no? And with the Gnostics: Whether he were really come in the flesh, in true human nature? Or were not, as to that appearance, a mere phantasm? And he affirms: They that confessed him so come, were of God; i.e. thus far they were in the right, this truth was of God. Of the two litigating parties, this was of God, the other not of God; this took his side, that was against him. Yea, and they that not only made this true confession, but did also truly confess him, i.e. sincerely, cordially, practically, so as accordingly to trust in him, subject and devote themselves to him, were born of God, his very children, acted and influenced hereunto by his own Holy Spirit, as 1 John 5:1,1 John 5:5; Matthew 16:16,Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Verse 3

But on the contrary, concerning them who against so plain evidence denied him to be so come, the case was plain; as with the Jews, John 8:24, and with the present heretics, who denying the true manner, could not but deny the true end of his coming; and who also lived so impure lives as imported the most open opposition and hostility thereto, and so discovered must evidently that antichristian spirit, which it was foreknown would show itself in the world.

Verse 4

Their being born of God, and their participation of a directive and strengthening influence from him, kept them from being overcome by the plausible notions, the alluring blandishments of the flesh and sense, the terror of persecution used towards them by these antichristian or pseudo-christian tempters; and enabled them to overcome, because the Divine Spirit in them was stronger than the others’ lying, impure spirit.

Verses 5-6

He giveth here a further rule whereby to judge of doctrines and teachers, viz. what they severally savour of, and tend to. The doctrines and teachers whereby these Christians were assaulted and tempted, were of an earthly savour and gust, tending only to gratify worldly lusts and inclinations, and to serve secular interests and designs; and therefore men only of a worldly spirit and temper were apt to listen and give entertainment to them. On the other hand, says he, (in the name of the asserters and followers of true and pure Christianity, comprehended with himself):

We are of God; i.e. our doctrine and way proceed from God, and tend only to serve, please, and glorify him, and draw all to him; therefore such as

know God, i.e. are his friends, and converse much with him,

hear us; the things we propose and offer are grateful and savoury to them, {as John 8:37,John 8:47} having manifestly no other aim than to promote serious godliness. And hereby may the spirit of truth and the spirit of error in matters of this nature be distinguished; the one being next of kin to purity, and holiness, and a godly life; the other, to sensuality, and a design only of gratifying the animal life.

Verse 7

Beloved, let us love one another: in opposition to the malice and cruelty of these enemies to true and pure Christianity, he exhorteth to mutual love, not limited to themselves, as undoubtedly he did not intend, see note on 1 John 3:14; but that they should do their part towards all others, letting it lie upon them, if it were not reciprocated and mutual.

For love is of God; this he presses as a further discrimination; nothing being more evidential of relation and alliance to God, than a duly regulated love, which is of him.

Verse 8

Yea, since love is his very nature, and that God is love, those that love (upon the account and in the way above expressed) are born of him, partake from him that excellent and most delectable nature, know him by a transformative knowledge: but they that love not, they are mere strangers to him, and never had to do with him.

Verse 9

There could be no higher demonstration of his love, John 3:16.

Verse 10

In comparison of this wonderful love of his, in sending his Son to be a sacrifice for sins, our love to him is not worthy the name of love.

Verse 11

We discover little sense of this love of his to us, if we do not so.

Verse 12

The essence of God is to our eyes invisible, incomprehensible to our minds; but by yielding ourselves to the power of his love, so as to be transformed by it, and habituated to the exercise of mutual love, we come to know him by the most pleasant and most apprehensible effects, experiencing his indwelling, vital, operative presence and influences, whereby he is daily perfecting this his own likeness and image in us. This is the most desirable way of knowing God, when, though we cannot behold him at a distance, we may feelingly apprehend him nigh us, and in us.

Verse 13

The near inward union between him and us, is best to be discerned by the operations of his Spirit, which is the Spirit of all love and goodness, 1 John 3:24; Ephesians 5:9.

Verse 14

He here signifies we are not left at any uncertainties, touching that matter of fact, wherein lies this mighty argument for the exercise of mutual love among Christians, God’s having

sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world; for, as he again inculcates, we testify upon eye-sight, having beheld him, and conversed with him, living and dying.

Verse 15

This discourse is most studiously and observably interwoven, of these two great things, mentioned 1 John 3:23, faith in the Messiah, and the love of one another, as being the principal antidotes against the poisonous insinuations of the apostates. Of confessing: See Poole on "1 John 4:2".

Verse 16

Inasmuch as the transformative efficacy of God’s love upon us depends upon our certain apprehension of it, he doubles the expression of that certainty:

We have known and believed, i.e. we are assured of it, both by experimented effects, and by faith; implying, that by having this conception of God thoroughly settled in our souls, that he is love, ( as was also said, 1 John 4:8), we shall be so thoroughly changed into his very nature and image, as to

dwell in love, as in our own element, or a thing now become wholly con-natural to us. Which will indeed be (by consequence) to be so intimately united with God, that he and we may truly (though in a sense most remote from identification, or being made the same, a horrid notion! Not only not inferred by what is here said, but inconsistent with it and refused by it, for things united are thereby implied to be distinct) be said to indwell one another.

Verse 17

And by this means (viz. of our inwardness with God) doth our love grow to that perfection, that we shall have the most fearless freedom and liberty of spirit in the judgment day; our hearts no way misgiving to appear before him as a Judge, whose very image we find upon ourselves, he having beforehand, made us such even in this world, though in an infinitely inferior degree, as he is, compositions of love and goodness. Or, if

the day of judgment should mean, as some conceive, of our appearance before human tribunals for his sake, such a temper of spirit must give us the same boldness in that case also.

Verse 18

That he proveth from the contrary natures of fear and love. The fear which is of the baser kind, viz. that is servile, and depresses the spirit, hath no place with love, but is excluded by it, by the same degrees by which that love grows up to perfection, and shall be quite excluded by that love fully perfected: inasmuch as love is a pleasant, fear a tormenting, passion, which, as such, while it remains, shows the imperfection of love.

Verse 19

His is the fountain love, ours but the stream: his love the inducement, the pattern, and the effective cause of ours. He that is first in love, loves freely; the other therefore loves under obligation.

Verse 20

The greater difficulty here is implied, through our present dependence upon sense, of loving the invisible God, than men that we daily see and converse familiarly with. Hence, considering the comprehensiveness of these two things, the love of God, and of our brother, that they are the roots of all that duty we owe to God and man, the fulfilling of the whole law, Matthew 22:37-39, he lets us see the falsehood and absurdity of their pretence to eminent piety and sanctity, who neglect the duties of the second table.

Verse 21

Both ought to be conjoined, being required both by the same authority.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 4". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/1-john-4.html. 1685.
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