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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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1 John 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1


1. The three condemnatory tests non-confession of a human Jesus, worldliness; the not hearing us, the apostolic witnesses, 1 John 4:1-6.

1. Believe not every spirit In this, the apostolic day of supernatural manifestations there are false inspirations, as well as true. There are demoniac instigations as well as true revelations. The term Spirit of God, in the second verse, shows that by spirits are antithetically meant, not merely human intellects or personalities, nor a temper or disposition of human minds. The errors of the errorists are referred back to supernatural sources; though the word spirits spontaneously, in 1 John 4:2-3, becomes a designation of the man himself inspired by the spirit. So the demoniac of Gadara becomes identified with the demon possessing him. See notes on Mark 5:1-20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

False prophets Each possessed by, and identified with, his own spirit, and teaching his own particular error.

Gone out From their chief commissioner, Satan. The intensity of John’s feelings in regard to these antichristic emissaries appears from his reference to the same deceivers in his second epistle, 1 John 4:7. There they have entered into the world, and each one is antichrist, and earnest warnings are given for a profound avoidance of them.

Verse 2

2. Hereby First test of a true spirit. This test is aimed at the Docetist, who denied the flesh and body of Christ, and made him a phantom.

Every spirit… of God The apostle’s language is seemingly sweeping. Is the spirit that confesses Jesus come in the flesh, and yet denies other truths, truly of God? Or, as Augustine (quoted by Wordsworth) asks: “Arius, and Eunomius, and Macedonius, and Nestorius, own that Jesus came in the flesh; are not they, therefore, of God?” To this Augustine answers: “Those heresiarchs did not, in fact, confess Christ come in the flesh, because, whatever they might do in words, they in their works denied him. (Titus 1:16.) They have not charity because they have not unity;” that is, unity with the Church. Wordsworth gives a different answer, which is in effect, that to confess Christ come in the flesh is to confess him as Messiah, with all that embraces; namely, his divine atonement for our sins.

Compare our notes on 1 John 4:15 and 1 John 5:1. Perhaps the apostle would say, that whatever error Arius or other heretic believed, he derived from a false spirit; but whatever truth he held, as the incarnation of Christ, came from a good spirit and was of God. The spirit, here, is not wholly the man, but the inspiration from good or evil in the man. But our own view is that the apostle is deciding between two claimants to being of God, the one denying and the other affirming that Jesus is come in the flesh; and he pronounces for the latter. So that of the two sides he that confesseth is of God.

Verse 3

3. Every spirit that confesseth not The Vulgate has this remarkable reading of this verse: “Every spirit which separates Jesus is not of God.” This alludes to the heresy of Cerinthus, the contemporary of John, who taught that Jesus was merely the son of human parents, but that the Christ was an aeon, or superhuman being? who descended upon Jesus at his baptism; thus separating the person of Jesus. It would seem that the ancient Greek Church historian, Socrates, recognised this reading in ancient manuscripts, as well as Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Origen. But all the Greek MSS., and all the Versions except the Vulgate, have the present reading.

That spirit of antichrist The special doctrine of emphatically the antichrist, based on the affirmation that all evil is identical with matter.

Should come Was prophesied as to come immediately before the second advent.

Already is it See note on 1 John 2:18.

Verse 4

4. Second test of antichristic spirits worldliness. In the contest between the Church and the world, they are on the world’s side.

Have overcome By placing faith in Christ, the world’s conqueror. Note on 1 John 5:4.

Them The antichristic spirits, who are identified with the world. He…

in you God.

In the world Satan, as its inspirer and prince.

Verse 5

5. Speak they of (rather from) the world They draw their inspiration, not from Christ, but from the world-spirit; and their doctrines are but the expression of the world’s feelings; and themselves are the organs of the Satan-inspired world.

Verse 6

6. We The utterers of the true apostolic traditions from Christ himself, as claimed with bold emphasis by our St. John in 1 John 1:1-3. Hence here is the third test of the antichristic spirits the not hearing the true gospel history and doctrine, as maintained and declared by St. John and his fellow-apostles. Compare similar claim of St. Paul, 1 Timothy 1:11-20, with our notes. As the apostles were the true chosen witnesses and pupils of Jesus, their narrative of facts and statements of principles are solely authoritative. The heretics were outsiders. They took their systems from the spirit of the age the world mixed them with Christian dogma, and undertook to palm an unhistorical, unauthentic, pseudo-Christianity upon the Church.

Verse 7

7. Love one another Namely, with that elevated love which desires and seeks to do everything for the happiness of the object loved, both temporal and eternal. Our apostle here begins with this spirit of love in our hearts, and traces it to its fountain, God.

Knoweth God Philosophers may prove by various arguments the being and attributes of God; but it is to divine experience we must resort to know God as love. Much of goodness appears in nature, but the fulness of love in God is learned by grace alone.

Verses 7-21

2. The one confirmatory test love. The threefold love between God, the believer, and the brethren, 1 John 4:7-21.

The one test is love; centered in God, 8; and manifested to us in Christ, 9-11; into which love we come by union through faith with Christ and God, 12-16; which love may be perfected in us, 17-19; and this divine love is love to our fellow-man, 20, 21.

Our apostle does not argue and reason out this statement; he affirms it, aphoristically and positively, by successive assertions, as one who knows, having full original acquaintance with Christ himself. His words are dicta; the dicta of an authorized, original expounder, as being derived from the incarnate Original.

Verse 8

8. Loveth not, knoweth not God It is the true heart that truly knoweth God. Without that blessed medium he is, after all, an “unknown God.” It is the pure in heart that “see God.”

God is love This blessed truth truly realized delivers from all atheism, all pessimism, all despondency at the evil in the world. When our hearts are right all is right.

Verse 9

9. In this was manifested The kingdom of nature is full of destruction: it is in the kingdom of grace that God, as love, is manifested, and in the kingdom of glory is perfectly realized. The infinite and universal secret that God is love, rather than that God is power, obscured or concealed in physical nature, is embodied in Christ, revealed in his life and death, and proclaimed by his gospel.

Sent his only Begotten Son Not only proof of his love, but its incarnation and embodiment; revealing God’s character as love even in nature and in all things.

Live Be delivered from original non-existence, and enabled to live the life of eternal love.

Verse 10

10. Herein In this that follows.

Is love Love essential and original, showing what real love is.

We loved God This was not original, but secondary and consequent; though for us an infinitely important consequence.

He loved us The propitiation was not needed from want of love for us in God the Father; in fact it sprang from, and was the expression of, his love. The wrath that needed to be propitiated was simply pure justice in its serenest, divinest form, which must be sustained as the basis of a moral realm.

Propitiation See notes on 1 John 2:1; Romans 3:25.

Verse 11

11. Love one another The infinite consequence noted in our comment on last verse. God’s original love, poured forth through Christ, envelopes us all, and requires that we should all be ensphered in one common threefold love, with each other and with Christ and God.

Verse 12

12. No man hath seen God Neither with bodily nor mental eye. And so we can know him as he is, love, only in the light of that circumfused love wherewith we love one another and him, to which we attain through the divine Propitiator, who has reconciled and unified us all in love, and through whom God has given us his Spirit, affirming him to be love. If we love one another with divine love, our incapacity to ocularly see God is remedied in this luminiferous ether of love.

Verse 13

13. His Spirit Which is itself at once love and light, warming us with itself, and showing itself to be of God.

Verse 14

14. We have seen and do testify This we is mainly the apostles. The coming of the Son as seen, bases the whole doctrine on historic grounds.

Saviour of the world This is his universal office. His atonement is universal, his salvation is universal, limited only in its effects by its being rejected by its proper subjects.

Verse 15

15. Confess In accordance with our testify, in last verse.

Jesus… Son of God Not but that men may barely confess this one article and reject other truths, and thus be unsaved heretics. Our apostle simply gives this essential part for the whole testify; this being the test question between him and the heretics with whom he is dealing, Note 1 John 4:2.

Verse 16

16. Known Not by direct, literal sight of God, (1 John 4:12,) but by consciousness of his divine love, by which we feel that he is love.

Verse 17

17. Love… perfect It is carried to its proper completion.

Boldness Fearlessness. A calm assurance that our judge is our friend, and that for us there is no condemnation. And this boldness is not based on the idea that there is no punishment for the finally impenitent, but upon the consciousness, through the spirit of love bestowed upon us, that our reconciliation with him is perfect. Day of judgment. His parousia, or coming. See notes on 1 John 2:28; 2Th 2:2 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.

As he is, so are we Our moral conformity in love gives us a trusting sympathy. He is the holy Son of God, we, his reconciled children.

In this world Equally opposed to us both.

Verse 18

18. No fear in love They are contrary affections. So far as love is perfected so far is fear dispersed. So Bengel strikingly gives the grades of our moral state: “Without fear or love; with fear, but without love: with both love and fear; with love without fear.”

Casteth out The stronger and better affection expels the weaker and the worse.

Fear hath torment And this shows that the exclusion of the apostle’s fear is not the exclusion of that reverential fear which “is the beginning of wisdom.”

Torment Sense of guilt and dread of penalty.

Feareth The dread of penalty arising from conscious guilt shows us to be not perfect in love. We have here, then, something of a subjective measure of what is sometimes called “Christian perfection.” When there exists within our hearts the consciousness of the full divine acceptance, so complete that we have no fear at the thought of meeting him at judgment, we may trust that our love is perfected. The maintenance of this consciousness, sustained and justified by the external life, is the highest aim of life.

Verse 19

19. He first loved us And thus our firm and fearless love has a firm and assuring base, his antecedent love. God as love is source of all divine love in man. That preceding love demands our responsive love, and becomes its assurance.

Verse 20

20. And this love is circumfused around us, encompassing our brother.

Hath seen… hath not seen We can love those we have not seen our invisible benefactors. The Americans love Washington. But it is a higher effort, depending on faith and not sight, to love a person of past history. But as said on 1 John 4:12, we know the unseen God as love only through the blessed atmosphere of love encompassing our seen brethren with ourselves. Without love to the seen, he is a liar who claims to love the unseen God.

Verse 21

21. And this whole doctrine of love takes the form of a commandment. Not only we may, but we must. It is a divine invariable law, that the lover of God be a lover of his brother. Our highest blessedness is our highest duty.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-john-4.html. 1874-1909.
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