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Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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1 John 4

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Verse 1

1 John 4:1

I. There are questions relating to spiritual influence in which we all, each for himself, ought to have the very deepest interest. For the most persistent sceptic that ever lived cannot deny the fact of spiritual influence. All the influences which proceed from mind to mind are spiritual influences. By certain spiritual or, if you like, mental influences, our conduct is determined, and our characters formed. The Spirit of life, and order, and growth to perfection; which works in the world of matter and also in the mind and soul of man, in the Bible is said to be the Spirit of God; and, on the other hand, all that is evil, and degrading, and dividing is said to be the working of a spirit of disobedience. So that the saving and destroying forces of the world are in perpetual activity.

II. Let me give you one test by which you may try the spirits whether they are of God. We are told in the Bible that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption. And this is the uniting and converting power of the world. (1) It is the converting Spirit, not the spirit of fear and intimidation, not the spirit of the devil and his angels, not the unprincipled spirit of management and of making things easy all round, so that under all circumstances self may be triumphant, but the Spirit which rises up now and then with its saving regeneration in the heart of the cold and bad, the seducer and the faithless, saying, "I am a child of God; shame on me that I have stooped so low and forgotten who I am and what is my birthright," the Spirit which stirs in a man, and floods him over with penitence, and from his crossness and cruelty, his deep commonness and sinfulness, makes him get up and shake himself free. (2) And the same Spirit is the Spirit of unity. The Spirit which tells us we are sons of God tells also that we are brethren, and its word of command is, "Let brotherly love continue."

W. Page Roberts, Law and God, p. 89.

References: 1 John 4:1 . W. L. Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 309; J. Kennedy, Ibid., p. 206; A. M. Brown, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 152; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 391. 1 John 4:1 , 1 John 4:2 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 331. 1 John 4:2 . H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 49. 1 John 4:3-7 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 195. 1 John 4:6 . E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 328; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 297.

Verse 7

1 John 4:7

Love of Relations and Friends.

There have been men before now who have supposed Christian love was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals, so that we ought to love all men equally. And many there are who, without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the love of many is something superior to the love of one or two, and neglect the charities of private life while busy in the schemes of expansive benevolence or of effecting a general union and conciliation among Christians. Now I shall here maintain, in opposition to such notions of Christian love, with our Saviour's pattern before me, that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.

I. It has been the plan of Divine providence to ground what is good and true in religion and morals on the basis of our good natural feelings. What we are towards our earthly friends in the instincts and wishes of our infancy, such we are to become at length towards God and man in the extended field of our duties as accountable beings. To honour our parents is the first step towards honouring God, to love our brethren according to the flesh the first step towards considering all men our brethren. The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences and trying to copy them thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.

II. Further, that love of friends and relations which nature prescribes is also of use to the Christian in giving form and direction to his love of mankind at large, and making it intelligent and discriminating. By laying a good foundation of social amiableness, we insensibly learn to observe a due harmony and order in our charity; we learn that all men are not on a level, that the interests of truth and holiness must be religiously observed, and that the Church has claims on us before the world. Those who have not accustomed themselves to love their neighbours whom they have seen will have nothing to lose or gain, nothing to grieve at or rejoice in, in their larger plans of benevolence. Private virtue is the only sure foundation of public virtue; and no national good is to be expected (though it may now and then accrue) from men who have not the fear of God before their eyes.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 51.

References: 1 John 4:7 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 26; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 223. 1 John 4:7 , 1 John 4:8 . M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 72.

Verses 7-10

1 John 4:7-10

Love is of God; God is Love.

I. "Love is of God." This does not mean merely that love comes from God and has its source in God, that He is the Author or Creator of it. All created things are of God, for by Him all things were made, and on Him they all depend. But love is not a created thing; it is a Divine property, a Divine affection; and it is of its essence to be communicative and begetting, to communicate itself and, as it were, beget its own likeness. "Love is of God." It is not merely of God as every good gift is of God. It is of God as being His own property, His own affection, His own love. (1) None but one born of God can thus love with the love which in this sense is of God; therefore one who so loves must needs be one who is born of God. (2) Being born of God implies knowing God. It is a knowledge of God altogether peculiar, belonging exclusively to the relation constituted by, and realised in, your being born of God. It is the very knowledge of God which His Son has His only-begotten Son, whom He sent into the world to manifest His love.

II. Every one that loveth knoweth God; he that loveth not knoweth not God: these are the antagonistic statements. The fact of a man not loving plainly proves that he knows not God; and his not knowing God explains and accounts for the fact of his not loving. How, indeed, can he know God know Him as being love? To know God thus, as being love, implies some measure of congeniality, sympathy, and fellowship. There must be community of heart and nature between Him and me. I must be "born of God." (1) We are to love as He loves His only-begotten Son. Our thus loving Him is one primary criterion and touchstone of our being born of God. (2) Then we are to love, as God loves it and because God loves it, the world which He sent His Son to save. We are to love thus one another, with what intensity of longing, like God's own longing and yearning, for one another's salvation, that all may turn and live.

R. S. Candlish, Lectures on First John, Part III., p. 104.

References: 1 John 4:7-10 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 219. 1 John 4:7-11 . N. Beach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 178. 1 John 4:7-16 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 444.

Verse 8

1 John 4:8 , 1 John 4:16

I. God is love. The text takes us up, as it were, above the veil; we are caught up through the door of this vision to the sanctuary of God's throne. We are suffered to know something, not of His working only, but of His being. We are led to the fountain of all good and joy. And that fountain is this, says St. John: "God is love." Is there not something to grasp, to embrace, in these words, "God is love," when within the glory of the Godhead we see the revealed love of God for God, the infinite, embosomed tenderness of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father? Yes, there is something here which meets the human soul in its longings more lovingly, more warmly, than the God of mere philosophy, the God of mere Deism, the God of man's own inventing. In revealing the truth of the Trinity, God does much more than show to us an abstract doctrine: He unveils to us Himself.

II. God is love. Such is the fountain, worthy of its stream. This love of the being of God came forth unasked, unmerited, in the love of His actings. He, this God, loved the world, so loved it that He gave His only-begotten Son for the sinner's life. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Here is indeed the point of contact between the sublime truth of the Holy Trinity and the humblest, smallest, most trying claims which one poor, suffering human being may lay upon another, if this other is a Christian, a child and servant of this God. Here descends this great ladder of light from the throne above all heavens to the stones of the desert road. If God is this God, if this God hath thus loved us, then we cannot own His tenderness to us, we cannot see this glorious depth of lovableness in Himself, and yet remain cool, calculating, and selfish in our thoughts and wills towards our suffering brethren.

H. C. G. Moule, Christ is All, p. 151.

References: 1 John 4:10 . C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 15; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 268; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 69. 1 John 4:10 , 1 John 4:11 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1707.

Verse 11

1 John 4:11

Sacrifice and Service.

I. The sacrifice of love. It is of this that St. John speaks when he says, "In this was manifested the love of God toward us." True, the visible world teems with illustrations of God's love, but this surpasses them all; true, our houses are filled with proofs of God's love, but this transcends them all. For "herein is love, not that we loved God." No: we had apostatised from Him; we had cast off His allegiance; we were in arms against Him; yet in this was manifested the love of God, that He gave His Son for us. Love, then, was the great mission of our Redeemer, to restore, reclaim, sanctify, save. And that love is the theme of the song which St. John heard in heaven, and which he calls a new song, the language of redeemed men. It was never heard there till the soul of Abel, the first martyr for God, leaving its murdered body on the field below, came up and sang it alone, and every harp was hushed to hear. And we, too, can share this song of love now. It will not sound like presumption from our lips. We are come to the innumerable company of angels; we, though still on earth, stand within the circle of salvation, and join in the everlasting song. They understand its meaning better; they utter it out of a fuller heart, and with a deepened gratitude. Not so many are the drops of dew at night that distil on every plant, not so many the blades of grass that quiver on ten thousand fields, not so many the particles of golden light that flood the world, as God's thoughts of love toward us in the gift of His Son. And Christ has given us the grandest example of sacrifice, for "He loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood."

II. Out of sacrifice flows service. For such service as this we live in days of wonderful opportunities. Opportunities come to all. Like the stones, they lie at our feet; and he shall gather most who stoops the lowest, like Him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to "give His life a ransom for many." Our responsibilities will be measured by our capacity to do good. Many indeed and splendid are the opportunities of service in our day. Never was the Church so powerful in numbers, in wealth, in influence, in organisation. There is a work for every man and woman, and a place for every little child. What we want is more quiet consecration in all our work, more of the spirit of love in all our religion.

J. Fleming, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 723.

References: 1 John 4:11 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 145. 1 John 4:13 . Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 36. 1 John 4:14 . Ibid., p. 127; G. S. Barrett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 305; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 259.

Verse 16

1 John 4:16

The Soul Dwelling in God.

These words embody one of the manifold aspects of the Christian ideal. They suggest the inwardness and exaltation of the Christian life.

I. The love dwelling in which is one with dwelling in God is not any love; it is not all that passes by the name of love; it is that love only which has been poured forth in Christ for the salvation of the world. There rises overhead and around the Christian soul the vision, the thought and memory, of the love of God in Christ. It is a real home for the spirit, a real dwelling-place for thought. It is joy, strength, and new life to let the feelings of the heart flock to it.

II. The love in which in this way the soul finds a home is much more than an object of thought: it is life, power, law as well; it is the life that stirs at the heart of Providence, the power that causes all things to work together for good, the unseen law behind events which Christian faith searches for, and in which at last, in sunshine and cloud, it rests.

III. It is not enough to know that a soul, by meditation and trust, can dwell in love; how should its dwelling in love be at the same time a dwelling in God? The love is really God manifest; the love which is a wall of fire around us is nothing other than God. He that dwells in love dwells in that which is the life of God; he has come into a world whose sunlight is Divine, where Divine paths open before the feet, where Divine love breathes in the air and fills the hollows of life as a sea.

IV. The life we are called to imitate was the fulfilment of this very ideal. Christ dwelt in God. His earthly, human life was, so to speak, a life immersed in the life of God. It is to no unrealised ideal, therefore, that we are pointed when we are called to dwell in God.

V. The elements in Christ's life which reveal this dwelling of the soul in God are present, however dimly, in all Christian life. They are (1) insight and (2) power.

VI. The soul who is dwelling in love is, up to the measure of his indwelling, already in possession of the future. The blessedness which awaits us in the future is but the unfolding of the present life of the soul.

A. Macleod, Days of Heaven upon Earth, p. 240.

The Love of God in the Atonement.

I. The mission of Christ to redeem and save mankind is not indeed here for the first time connected with the love of the Triune God. It is uniformly in Scripture traced up to that principle as its supreme ultimate source. The Saviour's Passion is always declared to be a demonstration of the Father's charity to man, and the apprehension of it by faith is everywhere bound up with the shedding abroad of that love by the Holy Ghost in the heart. But the peculiarity of our text, the last revelation on the subject, is that these three are brought together in the most impressive and affecting manner. The Persons of the Holy Trinity shed their distinct mediatorial glory on the work of our salvation.

II. "We love Him because He first loved us." By constantly keeping alive in our hearts the memorials of Christ's dying charity, celebrating there an eternal sacrament, we must nourish our love to the God of all grace. There is no duty more binding, none that we so much forget. Here is the secret of all spiritual strength. "The love of Christ constraineth us," suppressing every alien affection and growing by its own internal constraining influence. The true Christian lives, and moves, and has his being in love, the love awakened by redemption.

III. God's love is the agent of our holiness, and makes us perfect in love. It is, in the administration of the Spirit, the energy that carries us onward to perfection; and all the glory is His. Thus the indwelling presence of the Spirit proves its power; the God of atoning charity perfects the operation of His love within us. It accomplishes all His will; it strengthens obedience unto perfection; it expels every sinful affection, rendering entire the consecration of the heart; and it raises the new nature to a full conformity to Christ and preparation for heaven.

W. B. Pope, Sermons and Charges, p. 193.

References: 1 John 4:16 . G. Gilfillan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 4; W. M. Statham, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 248; H. Goodwin, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 329; S. Leathes, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 80; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 253. 1 John 4:16-18 . C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 341. 1 John 4:17 . J. M. Neale, Sermons to Children, p. 148; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 358.

Verse 17

1 John 4:17

The Fear of Death.

I. Is not the bondage to the fear of death the one heavy burden of life? I do not mean that the fear of our own individual death is a constantly present fear. It may but seldom occur consciously to the mind. But though the prospect and the thought be banished, the bondage abides still. The hunger of a soul is felt, though the attention be distracted from its existence. A life occupied only upon the things which perish feels resting heavily upon it a burden; and that burden is the bondage to the fear of death. The weariness of a worldly life is in part bodily and mental fatigue, but it is more than this: it is the protest of a spirit which was meant for other things. To have forgotten death, to have put it out of sight, out of our reckoning, is itself the completest death. The enemy is not to be conquered by closing the eyes upon him. He is a conqueror, who is only to be cast out by another conqueror.

II. St. John in our text declares that fear has a conqueror's power; it can inflict torment. It is a power which requires another stronger power to exorcise it. This power of grace is "perfect love." In this Epistle St. John does not speak vaguely and sentimentally about love. He connects it directly with God's goodness to us, and with our duties as children of the Father. And as love grows, fear, the fear that has torment the fear, that is, of finding Him a God of hate in the next world whom we have found, by blessed experience, to be a God of love in this becomes no longer tenable. It is forced out of the soul by the spreading roots of affection and trust, for while it abides it is the lingering shadow of unfaithfulness. Love is not the grace which has made obedience superfluous; it is a feeling which, like Aaron's serpent, has swallowed up all the rest, which has taken up into itself, absorbed, duty and obedience, as unconscious and spontaneous offerings of the will.

A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church, p. 101.

Verse 18

1 John 4:18

I. The Apostle here contemplates a universal dominion of fear wherever there is not the presence of active love. Of course he is speaking about the emotions which men cherish with regard to God. It is not fear and love generally that he is talking about, but it is the relation in which we stand to our Father in heaven; and of that he says universally, Those that do not love Him fear Him. Is that true? It is not difficult, I think, to establish it. (1) This universal dominion of fear rests on a universal consciousness of sin. (2) This truth is not made in the least degree doubtful by the fact that the ordinary condition of men is not one of active dread of God. There is nothing more striking than the power we have of forcing ourselves to forget, because we know that it is dangerous to remember.

II. Note the fearlessness of love, how perfect love casts out fear. Love is no weak thing, no mere sentiment. It does not ally itself most naturally with feeble natures, or with the feeble parts of a man's nature. It is the bravest of all human emotions. It makes heroes as its natural work. The spirit of love is always the spirit of power, if it be the spirit likewise of a sound mind. The love of God entering into a man's heart destroys fear. All the attributes of God come to be on our side. He that loves has the whole Godhead for him. The love of God casts out the fear of God; the love of God casts out all other fear. Every affection makes him who cherishes it in some degree braver than he would have been without it. It is not self-reliance which makes the hero. It is having the heart filled with passionate enthusiasm, born of love for some person or for some thing. Love is gentle, but it is omnipotent, victor over all. It is the true hero, and martyr if need be, in the human heart. Note these lessons: (1) they that love ought not to fear; (2) they that fear ought to love.

A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, vol. i., p. 200.

References: 1 John 4:18 . G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 355; G. J. Proctor, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 195; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 332; Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 84.

Verse 19

1 John 4:19

Originating Love.

The love of all who love God is a consequence of God's love to them.

I. By an act of creative power. All love in the heart is a creation; and whom God loves, in them He creates love to Him. It might be enough to see that, but we may trace the creation. First, by moral cause and effect. There is always an inclination to love those who we believe love us. If you believe God loves you, it is a sure effect that you will try to love Him; it is a part of the ordinary constitution of our nature. It is so wonderful a thing that the great God should indeed love a poor miserable sinner that whenever it is really brought home to the heart and conscience it awakens heavenly affections.

II. And now mark, it must be believed and felt. Many have a general sense of the love of God, but they cannot believe that He personally loves them; and yet till this is done nothing is done. You will not love God until you are quite sure that God specially and individually loves you.

III. But then this feeling cannot be produced by any natural process, by any reasoning whatever. Therefore the way by which God's love produces our love is altogether spiritual. Where God loves the Holy Ghost comes and shows us that love of God.

IV. Hence we arrive at the fourth reason of mutual love in a believer's heart. It is a necessity: the love of God has shone there, and it must reflect itself. And the reflection of God's love to the soul is that soul's love first to God, then to the Church, and then to every creature.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 8th series, p. 188.

References: 1 John 4:19 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 229; vol. xvii., No. 1008; vol. xxii., No. 1299; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 163; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 114; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 5. 1 John 4:21 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 414. 1 John 5:1 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 979.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/1-john-4.html.
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