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Our apostle having in the last verse of the foregoing chapter mentioned the abiding of the spirit of God in the souls of believers, lest the Christians to whom he wrote should be deceived by such as might pretend to be acted by the Spirit, when indeed they were not; he comes in this chapter to caution and counsel all Christians to take heed of being seduced by such as should pretend to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, saying, Believe not every spirit; that is, every teacher who pretends to be inspired, and every doctrine that lays claim to the authority of divine revelation: But try the spirits: that is, examine their doctrines by the rule of the word of God, and try from whom they come, whether from the Spirit of God, or Satan: for many false prophets, or impostors and deceivers, are gone abroad in the world.
Learn hence, 1. That men from the beginning of Christianity have, and still do, falsely pretend to divine inspiration.
2. That Christians ought not to believe every one that thus pretends to be divinely inspired: for every one that has but enough of confidence, and little enough of conscience, may pretend to come from God.
Learn, 3. That neither are we to reject all that pretend to come from God; for when the apostle bids us not to believe every spirit, he supposes that we are to believe some; and when he bids us try the spirits whether they be of God, he supposes some to be of God, and that such as are so, ought to be believed by us.
Learn, 4. That there is some way to discern mere pretenders to inspiration from those who are truly and divinely inspired; it were in vain to make the trial, if there were no way to discern the truth.
Learn, 5. That it is the duty of all Christians to examine the doctrines propounded to them by the word of God; they having a judgment of discretion, though not a judgment of decision; a power to judge for themselves, not to impose upon others: nor does this allowed liberty of every one judging for himself take away the necessity and use of our spiritual guides and teachers, or exempt us from a due submission and obedience thereunto, but in concurrence with them, we are to try the spirits, whether they be of God.
In these words our apostle lays down a plain mark and rule of trial, how they might know a teacher that was acted and inspired by the Spirit of God, from one that was not; such a one as durst truly and openly in the face of danger own and profess, teach and preach, Jesus Christ in his person, nature, and offices, as the incarnate Word, or Son of God, sent from heaven ascribing virtue and efficacy to the sacrifice of his death, and attributing to him alone the whole glory of a perfect Saviour: this doctrine is of the Spirit, and this spirit is of God. But such teachers as will not hazard themselves, but for fear of sufferings and persecution, will deny either the Godhead or manhood of Christ, and disown either his incarnation, death, or resurrection: such teachers and such doctrines are not of God, but are the very spirit of antichrist, which, says he, you have been foretold should come, and is now already in the world.
Learn hence, That such a teacher as disowns either of the natures of Christ, or denies any of the offices of Christ; that either denies the divinity of his person, or the meritoriousness of his satisfaction, is not of God, he is antichrist, against Christ, and shall find Christ against him in the day that he appears before him.
Observe here, 1. A character and description given of these Christians to whom our apostle writes. He tells them they were of a nobler descent, of a more excellent pedigree, and higher offspring, than their false teachers; Ye are of God, regenerated by the Spirit of God, quickened by his renovation, led by his manuduction, acted by his influences, animated by his assistances: Little children ye are of God.
Observe, 2. What is affirmed of these Christians, Ye have overcome them; that is, ye have resisted their temptations, withstood their seductions, and all their arts and endeavours to mislead you, when others have been perverted by them.
Learn hence, That by steadfastness in the doctrine of Christ, Christians do overcome impostors and seducers, when unstable souls are overcome by them.
Observe, 3.The reason assigned why, and the means declared by which, they overcome, namely, because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world; that is, Christ, who by his Spirit and doctrine dwells in you, is greater and more powerfully efficacious than the spirit of error, which influences these vile impostors and secucers that are abroad in the world.
Here we have, 1. The character given of these seducers and false teachers, They are of the world; that is, men of worldly minds and interests, They speak of the world; that is, they preach a doctrine suitable to the lusts and inclinations of worldly men, who greedily hear them, and easily believe them; ordinarily our words are such as we are; they who are of the world must needs speak of the world, for they have nothing else to speak of. THe covetous man speaks covetously, and the proud man proudly.
Observe, 2. The character which the apostle gives of himself and his fellow-apostles, we are of God; that is, taught and instructed by God. We have our mission and our message from God, and he has given us his attestation, by opening the ears and hearts of those that attend upon our ministry, to receive and embrace our doctrine; but such as are not taught of God, reject both it and us.
Observe, 3. The inference and conclusion which our apostle draws from hence, namely, that by the doctrine and writings of the apostles and evangelists, the truth or falsehood of doctrines may and must be judged; for, says he, Hereby we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error; he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us.
Our apostle here resumes his exhortation to brotherly love, and urges and reinforces it with fresh arguments.
1. He assures us, that love is God; that is, the fruit of his good spirit in us; common love is his common gift, and holy love is his special grace: Love is of God.
2. It is an evidence that we have a right knowledge of God, both of his nature and will, and that we understand both what he is, and what he requires; he that has not the grace of love in his heart, has not the right knowledge of God in his head, whatever he may think of himself, or pretend to others.
3. The apostle assures us, That love is not only commanded, but exemplified by God himself: God is love. He had said before, Love is of God, as a quality; here he says, God is love; not as a mere quality, but his essence. God is love.
1. Essentially; love in the creature is an accidental quality, in God an essential property.
2. God is love , casually, the efficient cause of whatever is loving or lovely in us: All our love to him, and one another, is but a reflection of his love to us.
3. God is love, objectively; he is, or ought to be, the supreme object of our love; and we must love him above all, or he accounts we love him not at all.
4. God is love , declaratively; all his works, as well as his word, are a declaration of his love to us, and ought to engage us to stedfastness in our love to him. Let us, therefore, says the beloved disciple, love one another, for love is of God is love.
Observe, 1. That God doth not only bestow love upon his people, but it is good pleasure to manifest that love.
Quest. Wherein has God manifested his love towards us?
Ans. 1. In our creation, making us out of nothing in such a wonderful manner; our bodies curiously wrought as with a needle, our souls beautified with understanding, will, and judgment.
2. In our apostacy and degeneration, when no eye pitied us, and when we had no hearts to pity ourselves, then were his bowels of love and compassion yearning toward us; then he said unto us, Live, when he might have said, Die, and be damned.
3. In our redemption, recovery, and restitution, in sending his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live though him.
Observe, 2. A threefold evidence of God's love to mankind in the work of redemption, that great and glorious work.
1. It was a wonderful instance of the love of God, that he should be pleased to take our case into consideration, and to concern himself for our happiness; as nothing is more obliging to human nature than love, so no love obliges more than that which is exercised with great condescension after a provocation; such was God's love to offending man.
2. That he should design so great a benefit to us, as is here expressed, even life, That we might live through him.
3. That God was pleased to use such a mean for the obtaining and procuring of this benefit for us. He sent his own Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Where note, 1. The person sent, his own Son, and only begotten Son.
2. The persons sent to, the men of the world, who were spiritually dead, and judicially dead.
3. The manner of his being sent, voluntarily and freely, not constrained by necessity, not prevailed upon by importunity, not obliged by benefit or kindness from us; but out of his mere pity and goodness towards us, he sent him into a wicked world, and into an ungrateful world, that we might live through him.
From the whole learn, That God's bestowing his Son upon a lost world, was a manifest evidence of his great and wonderful love unto them: In this was manifest the love of God towards us, &c.
Herein is love; that is, the clearest, the fullest, the highest expression of free and undeserved love that ever the world was acquainted with.
Observe, That the wisdom and power of God did not act to the utmost of their efficacy in the work of creation; he could have framed a more glorious world had it pleased him; but the love of God in our redemption by Christ could not be expressed, or set forth, in an higher degree: When Almighty God would give the most excellent testimony of his favour to mankind, he gave them his eternal Son, the Son of his love: And verily the giving of heaven itself, with all its joys and glory, is not so full and perfect a demonstration of the love of God, as the giving of his Son to die for us: Herein is love.
Observe next, The priority of God's love to mankind; he loved us, not we him; he loved us antecedently to our loving him, and he loved us, that we might love him, when there was nothing in us either to deserve, or to engage his love.
Observe lastly, The great intent and gracious design of God in sending his Son, namely, To be a propitiation for our sins; that is to die as a sacrifice for our sins, and thereby atone divine displeasure. Herein is love: that is, the triumph, the riches, and glory of divine love, that God gave Christ to die for us. "But is there love in nothing else but this?" Yes sure, to have a being among rational creatures, therein is love; to have our life carried so many years in the hand of providence, like a burning taper, in the midst of winds and storms, and not burnt out, this is love; to have food and raiment convenient for us, relations and friends to comfort us, in all these is love, great love; but comparatively none at all to the love expressed in giving Christ to die for us: Herein was love, the flower of love.
Observe, 1. The genuine inference which our apostle draws from the doctrine laid down concerning the greatness of God's love to us; namely, "that seeing God so loved us, we should love one another, and be like him according to our measure, and in our degree."
Observe next, The apostle's argument to provoke us thereunto; he tells us, That God himself is to be loved by us for his astonishing love unto us: But as God is not to be seen in his essence, but in man his image, so must we love God in man, his creature, made after his own image and likeness: And if we love the holy image of God in each other, it is an evidence that God dwelleth in us, and we in him; namely, by the inhabitation of his Holy Spirit, which being a Spirit of love in us, draws forth our love towards himself, and one towards another.
And further he assures us, That this will be a sign, that love is perfect in us; namely, that this grace is, in its vigour and perfection, in our souls, sincere and entire, having all its essential parts, though it be not absolutely perfect in all degrees.
Note, That perfection here is not opposed to imperfection, but to insincerity. Our love is then said to be perfected, when it is considerably heightened and improved. Blessed be God! the hour is coming when this, and all other graces, shall be perfected, when this spark of love shall be blown up into a seraphic flame.
Observe lastly, The rule which our apostle lays down, whereby we may know assuredly, that God dwelleth in us, and we in him; namely, If he has given us his Spirit, which is a spirit of holy love.
Learn thence, That the Holy Spirit, (not in its extraordinary gifts, which are long since ceased) but in its sanctifying operations and gracious fruits, (of which sincere love is the first and chief) is an undoubted evidence of God's dwelling in us by a special inhabitation, and of our dwelling in him; that is, resting in his love and favour, and under his protection and care; Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit; namely, as a Spirit of holy and universal love.
As if the apostle had said, "Though no man hath seen God at any time, yet the apostles, who preach the doctrine of faith unto you, and press the duty of love upon you, have seen with our bodily eyes the Lord Jesus Christ, and do testify, that God the Father glorified his love, by sending his Son to be the Saviour of a perishing world; not of Jews only, but of the Gentiles also.
And we further declare, That whosoever believing this our testimony, shall confess with his moouth, and believe in his heart, that this Jesus, whom we preach, is the Son of God, and shall evidence the truth of his faith by the sincerity of his love, and other good fruits, it is certain that God dwelleth in him by his Spirit, and he dwelleth in God by repeated acts of love.
And finally, we apostles well knowing, and firmly believing the love, the wonderful great love, which God hath manifested towards us, in and through his Son Jesus Christ, we again affirm and conclude that God is love.
Love originally, the fountain from whence all love flows. Love efficiently, the producing cause of all love in the hearts of our people. Love subjectively, a God full of love and mercy, of goodness and pity towards his creatures. Love objectively, he is deservedly the first and chief object of our love, as he is the first and chief good. Love declaratively, both his word and works declare the purposes of his love unto us, and give demonstrations of innumerable instances of his beneficence towards us. But especially God is love essentially.
Love in us is an adventitious and accidental quality; in God it is an essential property, it is his very essence and nature, inseparable from his being; he can as soon cease to be, as cease to love.
And as God is love , so we again affirm, that he that dwelleth in love , that is, he who has love, as the prevailing habit in his heart, and as the governing principle of his life, dwelleth , by communion, in God , as the eye dwells in the light, and as one friend by love dwells in another; and God , by his Spirit of love, dwelleth in him .
Still our apostle proceeds by way of argument to enforce upon us the obligation of our duty to love one another; he assures us here, that if our love be made perfect, that is, heightened and improved by an exact corresponding with the divine pattern and precept; if we love one another in obedience to God's command, and in conformity to Christ's example, it will give us boldness in the day of judgment, and we may think and speak of, we may expect and look for, the approach of that day without fear and consternation of mind; the reason is added, because as Christ was, so are we in the world; that is, as he was full of holiness and purity, of love and charity, so have we endeavoured to be in imitation of his example, according to our measure, in some proportion and degree.
Learn hence, 1. That such as are sincerly gracious, and do excel in the grace of love, are in the word in some sort as Christ was in the world; such as walk in love, walk as Christ walked.
Learn, 2. That such as are in the world, as Christ was in the world, shall have boldness when Christ comes to judgment, and need not fear the condemnation of that dreadful day; Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; the reason of this freedom from the fear of wrath is added, There is no fear in love; 1 John 4:18 that is, no slavish or distrustful fear, whereby we question the favour of God, but only a filial and reverential fear, whereby we stand in awe of offending him as a father; But perfect love casteth out fear; that is, either the actings of our perfect love to God, or the apprehensions of God's perfect love towards us, do cast out all that fear which has torment in it.
Yet note, That although perfect love casteth out tormenting fear, it calls in obeying fear, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man; Ecclesiastes 12:13 an awful fear of God is all duty, and every grace.
Note also, The true reason of our disquieting and tormenting fear is the imperfection and weakness of our love: fear may stand with faith and love, but not with perfect faith, nor perfect love: He that feareth is not made perfect in love, and because he is not made perfect in love, therefore he feareth.
Blessed be God, as there will be no torment, so no fear, in heaven; that is, no tormenting fear; yet there is a fear of reverence, which will undoubtedly remain with glorified saints in heaven; they shall have an everlasting awe of the majesty and holiness of God eternally fixed upon their hearts and spirits, even in the kingdom of glory in heaven, as well as in the kingdom of grace here on earth; the saints serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear;
Lord, hasten the perfecting of thy grace in us, particularly the perfection of our love, that perfect love may cast out tormenting fear, and cherish such a reverential fear as will both prepare us for heaven, and accompany us in heaven, to all eternity.
There is a double reading of these words according to the original.
1. They may be read, let us love him because he first loved us, by way of motive, denoting, that believers have great reason to love God with their choicest and highest affections, forasmuch as he has loved them, and first loved them.
2. They are here read by way of casuality, we do love him, because he first loved us; intimating, that God's love to us is the root and spring of our love to him, and to one another: all our love to saints is the effect of his preventing love to us, and but a reflection of those beams of love which God has first cast upon us; if God's love to us had been a mere dependent consequence of our love to him, how uncertain should we be of its continuance? But his love to us was the antecedent cause of our love to him; we therefore love him, because he first loved us.
Our apostle in these words prevents an objection. Some might be ready to say, "Who is it that doth not love God? is there any that live who doth not love him?" The apostle replies, That whosoever says he loves God, and yet hateth his brother, is plainly a liar; for it is impossible truly to love God, and not to do what God commands: and if we do not exercise love to our brethren, whom we daily see and converse with, how can it be imagined that we love God, whom we never saw?
Learn hence, first, That as God is infinitely above us, so he needeth not our love, but it is wonderful condescension in God to give us leave to love him, and to suffer himself to be embraced by those arms which have embraced sin and lust before him.
Learn, 2. That though God needs not us, or our love, yet we need him, and stand in need of one another, and for that reason must and ought to love each other.
Learn, 3. That if we love not God's visible image, it is certain we never loved the invisible God; if when we have our Christian brethren in our daily view, and the objects of our senses are their miseries and wants, and yet we shut up the bowels of compassion from them, can we, or dare we, pretend at the same time to love God whom we have not seen, and who is only present to our minds by raised expectations; as the sight of our brother is a strong inducement to love him, so the not loving him at sight, is a strong argument that we love not God himself; For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
This commandment; this great and chief commandment, above the rest, this summary and comprehensive commandment, including all the rest, namely, to love God above all, for his own sake, and to love our brother as ourselves, for God's sake, this command, so full of wisdom, so agreeable to right reason, and so much our duty and interest to comply with, have we received from God; and it is most certain that we love him not, if we keep it not; This commandment have we from God, that he who loveth God, loveth his brother also.
Learn thence, 1. That the great God, by his gracious command, requires that we love him and place the supremacy of our love upon him.
2. That as God requires us to love him above ourselves, so does he oblige us, by virtue of his command, to love our brother as ourselves; as sincerely, though not so intensely, as ourselves.
Learn, 3. That the same commandment that requires us to love God, requires love to our brethren also; God interprets the neglect of our duty to our brother, as a neglect of our obligation to himself.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 John 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany