I John 4
The Source of Son-Ship. Possession of the Spirit. (ch.4:1-5:12)
(vs. 1-6) Confession of the Incarnation is the assurance that the Spirit of God, who is
the SPIRIT OF TRUTH is working in us, and not the spirit of error. The passage
seems clearly to teach that there are two rival influences contending for power over
the spirits of men. We must test men’s spirits to see whether they are organs of the
Spirit of truth or of the spirit of error.
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.” Beloved (the apostle
again breaks out with a personal appeal into an earnest exhortation suggested
by the statement just made), prove the spirits δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα –
dokimazete ta pneumata – try the spirits; be ye testing the spirits.
“The spirits” are principles and tendencies in religion: these need to be
tested, for earnestness and fervor are no guarantee of truth. And to test
these principles is the duty of the individual Christian as well as of the
Church in its official capacity. Just as every Athenian was subjected to an
examination δοκιμασία - dokimasia - as to his origin and character before he
could hold office, so the spirit of every religious teacher must be examined
before his teaching can be accepted. (like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-11 –
“they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the
Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – CY – 2015) This is no useless
precaution; because, as Christ has ἐξελήλυθε – exelaeluthe - come forth from God
(John 16:27-28; compare John 8:42; 13:3), many false prophets have come forth
ἐξελήλυθασίν – exelaeluthasin – have come out - from the spirit of error. But perhaps
“have gone forth into the world” means no more than ‘‘ have displayed themselves”
in publicum prodierunt. There is probably no reference to the false teachers having
“gone forth from us” (ch.2:19). Besides Cerinthus and other Gnostics, there were
the Nicolaitanes, astrologers, professors of magic, and dealers in charms, some of
which seem to have had their origin in
“Ephesian letters.” Apollonius of Tyana
was eagerly welcomed at
and it is not impossible that his visit took place during John’s lifetime. (See
2 “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:” This verse contains the main subject
of the section. To confess the Incarnation is to prove that one draws one’s inspiration
from God through His Spirit. Know ye; or, recognize ye γινώσκετε – ginoskete –
ye are knowing; know ye - may be either imperative, in harmony with “believe”
and “prove” (v. 1), or indicative, in harmony with “we know” (ch. 3:16, [19,] 24).
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.”
Every spirit (not so much the personal teacher as the principle or tendency
of the doctrine) which confesseth not Jesus. This is the true reading, the words
Xριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα – Christon en sarki elaeluthota – Christ in the flesh
having come - being a spurious addition from v. 1. As so often, John states the case
both negatively and positively for emphasis. There is an ancient variant reading of
much interest, probably of Latin origin, which can be traced back to the second
century, being known to Tertullian and Iranaeus. For μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν –
mae homologei ton Iaesoun – confesseth not Jesus - it gives λύει τὸν Ἰησοῦν –
luei ton Iaesoun –solvit Jesum. This corruption of the text was evidently aimed
at those who distinguished the man Jesus from the Divine Christ, and thus
“dissolved” His Personality. The Greek manuscripts are quite unanimous against
the reading. Is not of God; and therefore is of the evil one (see on ch.3:10). These
professedly Christian teachers are ever among the most dangerous who treat the
Divinity of Jesus Christ as more or less of an open question, or as a matter
of indifference. Τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου – To tou antichristou - probably means “the
spirit of antichrist,” understanding πνεῦμα – pneuma – spirit - from the preceding
clause rather than (quite vaguely) “the characteristic of antichrist” (see on ch.2:18,
to which passage, however, ἀκηκόατε – akaekoate – ye have heard - does not refer,
(but to Christian teaching in general). And now it is in the world already. This is an
independent statement; John does not say that they had heard this previously.
Tests of True or False Prophets (vs. 1-3)
Connecting link: The apostle had just declared that, in a life of obedience
to and of like spirit with God, we had a twofold seal:
o firstly, that we are of the truth; and
o secondly, that God abideth in us.
But it was not to be supposed that all this would remain unimpugned from without,
however clear it might be to the spirit within. At the same time, we are not to be
easily moved from our ground. But should any attempt to seduce us from
the faith, we are to apply to such a very searching test. Hence our topic —
Teachers of novelties to be severely tested. For many an age there have
been and will be two classes of men — one, desirous of uttering any new
fancy that seizes them, or of disputing any accepted faith which they
themselves are not disposed to embrace; and another, equally ready to
listen to any novelty in doctrine which may at any time be propounded to
them. Even in the age when the Apostle John wrote this letter, “many false
prophets” had “gone out into the world.” And it is a great blessing for us
that the aged apostle took occasion from that fact
(1) to administer a caution against a too ready acceptance of any new prophet, and
(2) to supply a test, at once exclusive and inclusive, which might serve the
Churches for all time.
· THE RIGHT OF “TRYING THE SPIRITS” BELONGS TO EVERY
CHRISTIAN, AND IS INALIENABLE. A Christian is under no obligation
to let any new prophet gain his acceptance without severely testing him.
Ø The Lord Jesus Christ Himself had never called for a blind acceptance of
His claims. He courted inquiry. He repelled objectors by statements of
infinite dignity and power. He appealed to their reason, their candor, and
their sense of right. One assertion indeed He made and maintained —
that He was the Son of God and the King of men. This was the sole
charge which led Him to the cross. For the first part of the assertion He
was condemned by the Sanhedrin, as if He were against Moses; for the
second by the Roman power, as if He were the rival of Caesar. But no
fewer than six different lines did He suggest on which the proof of
His claims might be tried.
o His character (John 8:46).
o His works (John 14:10-11).
o Prophecy (Luke 24:27).
o Testimony (John 8:17-18).
o His resurrection (John 2:19).
o The promise of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:4).
Ø In receiving the Lord Jesus, believers, whether Jew or Gentile, had
found their very strongest prepossessions in an opposite direction
overborne by the accumulated force of the evidence that Jesus was the
Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).
Ø The reception of Christ as a living and reigning Saviour had been
followed by a new and. regenerated social life.
Ø Consequently, it could never be right to consent to imperil all this at the
bidding of any new prophet that might arise, until they had submitted
that prophet to a scrutiny as severe and as searching as their own Lord
and Master had invited when He called for the adhesion of their hearts.
The reason was satisfied when the Christ was accepted; and if any
further claims arise the reason must still assert its right to examine them,
and to be equally satisfied on them before accepting them. So in every
age. New critics must be criticized.
ARE TO BE BROUGHT. Note here:
Ø The point to be tested — “whether they are of God.”
Ø The one point which will be the test of that — Do they or do they not
confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh? i.e., Do they in all their
teachings maintain the honor of our Lord. Jesus, as the incarnate Son of
God, the Saviour of the world, the Christ, the Lord and King of men?
Yes or no! It is a plain issue. And it is manifestly reasonable to compel
men to try the whole question at issue, as to the truth or otherwise of
any new prophet on a point so distinct and so sharply defined. For:
o It is the point. For if the Lord Jesus is all that He claimed to be,
Christianity stands. If He be not, it falls with a crash.
o The claims of Christ are so vast that they stand absolutely alone.
o Some point of invalidity in them must be shown before those
claims can be displaced.
o This never has been, never will be, NEVER CAN BE DONE!
o Hence any “spirit” that would relegate Christ to an inferior
place, is to be rejected forthwith.
LIMIT OF THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD.
Ø If he confesses the glory of Christ as the incarnate Son, he is “of’ God.”
He may not “follow with us;” he may be uncertain and inaccurate on
minor points, He may come in no line of succession, and have felt the
imposition of no priestly hand; still, if he avows “the Christ,” he is
Ø If he disavows the Christ, he is “not of God,” however plausible his
pretensions or captivating his words. Without the Christ, no Christian
truth stands. “In Him all things consist” (see Greek); Colossians 1:17.
There may indeed be — there are — demurs against drawing the division
so sharply as yes or no — true or false; and against the applicability of a
like test to every age. E.g., it is objected:
the sacred writers, embellishments may have gathered round the history of
a true Jesus, without insinuating that either it or he was absolutely false.
We reply: The theory of prepossession will not hold; for the supreme
testimony of all the New Testament is to the resurrection of Christ: as for
the Jew, it was most violently contrary to all his prepossessions that the
one whom his own nation hanged on a tree should have risen from the
dead; and as for the Gentile, it was equally contrary to his prepossessions
to believe in a resurrection at all! It is objected:
fact, no praise of Him can be excessive, if He be but put on the merely
human platform. We reply: That intermediate position cannot consistently
be held. So strongly was this felt at the outset, that the watchword of the
pagan camp was, “Jesus Christ is anathema;” that of the Christian camp,
“Jesus Christ is Lord.” There is no halting-place between the two. It is
science to advance and Christian knowledge remain stationary, so that in
the twenty-first century the same test of truth applies as at the first? We
reply: Yes; there is to be progress IN THE TRUTH, but not from it.
Jesus Christ is what He is. He is what He claims to i.e., A thousand millions
of ages cannot alter that fact. Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and today,
and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Hence at any point of time, however distant,
whoever withholds from Him His due, cannot be “OF GOD!”
be confounded with all attempt to decide or to sit in judgment upon their
spiritual position individually, as in the sight of God. To their own Master
they stand or fall. We judge their teachings, not them.
Jesus from the throne of our hearts, must be prepared to undergo a
scrutinizing ordeal. We can criticize as well as he, and we will.
Ø setting minor matters in due relation to the rest, and then
Ø remaining calmly in our stronghold, compelling an onset there,
if any be ventured on at all.
who has saved us, who is saving others by us, and who is perpetually
proving what He is by causing:
Ø the lame to walk,
Ø the blind to see,
Ø the dead to live; and
you must displace these facts before you attempt disturb our faith.”
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.”
Ye are of God. The ὑμεῖς - humeis - you - is in emphatic opposition to the false
teachers (compare ch.2:20). They are on one side, and the apostle’s
readers on the other, and it is from this standpoint that they are to “prove
the spirits.” John knows nothing of any neutral position from which the
Spirit of truth and the spirit of error can be criticized “with absolute
impartiality.” “He that is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30)
This assumed neutral position is already within the domain of error. Ye have
overcome them. “Them” means the false teachers; but in what sense have John’s
“little children” overcome them? He may be speaking by anticipation; confident
of the victory, he writes of it as an accomplished fact (compare John 16:33).
But it is better to take the statement literally. By refusing to listen
to the false teachers (ibid. ch.10:8) the sheep have conquered them: the
seducers have “gone out” (ch.2:19), unable to hold their own within the fold.
Nor is this wonderful: the one side have God with them, the other Satan.
‘Ο ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ - Ho en to kosmo – the one in the world - here is equivalent to
ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου – ho archon tou kosmou toutou – the prince of
this world (John 12:31). Just as God is in believers and they in God, so the world
is in the evil one (ch. 5:19) and the evil one in it.
The Victory of the Christian over Antichristian Teachers. (v. 4)
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them,” etc. Very
suggestive are the words with which our text begins, “Ye are of God.” As
having communion with Him; as heartily holding and confessing the truth
which unites with Him (v. 2); as having been born of Him, and being His
offspring morally and spiritually, they were of God. The text suggests the
HERETICAL TEACHERS. It was so in John’s time. There were those
that denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, maintaining that His
human body was apparent, not real. And others held, with Cerinthus, “that
the AEon Christ had entered into the man Jesus at His baptism, and
remained with Him until the commencement of His sufferings; but denied
that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Christians are still assailed by
the teachers of grave errors, many of which relate to the Person and work
of the Lord Jesus Christ.
HERETICAL TEACHERS. John’s readers had done so. “Ye have
overcome them.” By their fidelity to the truth they had obliged the teachers
of error to retreat (compare ch. 2:14, 19). And their complete and final
victory the apostle looks upon as an assured certainty. The false prophets
were probably plausible, persuasive, and influential; but they were not
irresistible. They had been repulsed; they would be completely vanquished.
We are not bound to accept any teaching that is offered to us. If we please,
we may refuse to read the questionable book or to hear the teacher of
whom we stand in doubt. Or we may read the book and hear the teacher,
and then test their teaching by that of our Lord and His apostles, and accept
or reject it according to its agreement or disagreement with the Divine
standard. “Despise not prophesyings; prove all things; hold fast that which
is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:20-21)
HERETICAL TEACHERS BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD
WITHIN THEM. “ Ye have overcome them: because greater is he that is
in you than he that is in the world.” He that was in the Christians is God;
he that was in the world is Satan, “the prince of this world.”
Ø God dwells in His people.
o By His Word. The author whose works have been sympathetically
and diligently studied may be said to be in the student. The student
knows th e views and opinions, the thoughts and theories, the
principles and convictions, of his favorite author, and sympathizes
with them. The godly soul knows God in His Word (Psalm 1:2;
119:97); and by means of His Word is filled with His thoughts,
feelings, and principles.
o By the faith which they exercise in Him. Their faith in Him is not
mere intellectual assent, but spiritual conviction, which makes His
existence and presence real unto them.
o By their love to Him (compare vs. 12-13,16; John 14:23). There is no
real spiritual indwelling apart from love.
o By his Spirit (compare v. 13; John 14:16-17).
Ø God is greater than Satan. “Greater is He that is in you than he that
is in the world.”
o God is independent, but Satan is dependent. Satan cannot do
anything except by permission of the Most High (compare Job
1:12; 2:6). But as for God, “He doeth according to His will in the
army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and
none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
o God is infinite, but Satan is finite. However great the power of the evil
one may be, it is limited. His intelligence is limited, his agencies and
instruments are limited, and the duration of his power is limited
(Revelation 20:1-3). But God is infinite in intelligence, in wisdom, in
power, in duration, in perfection.
o God is the God of truth, but Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Truth is a permanent and victorious force; falsehood is transient,
feeble, and doomed to extinction. The power of the prince of this
world is based upon lies, and, for that reason, its overthrow is
certain. But the power of God is the power of truth and holiness,
and is therefore destined to continue and grow eternally.
o “God is love,” but Satan is malignant. However persistent and strong
hatred may be, it is not persistent, patient, or powerful as love. In love
God dwells in His people for their salvation; but Satan dwells in the
world for the destruction of the worldly. And the loving, saving Spirit
is immeasurably greater and mightier than the hating, destroying
Ø God’s presence within His people is the secret of their victory over
heretical teachers. “Ye have overcome them: because greater is He,”
etc. This Presence in the soul imparts power for spiritual conflict and
conquest. The most effective safeguard against error in religious faith
and union is not the subtle and strong intellect, but the devout and
godly spirit and the upright life. “The meek will He guide in judgment
and the meek will He teach His way,” “The secret of the Lord is with
them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” (Psalm
25:9, 14); “If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the
teaching,” etc. (John 7:17). In the conflicts of the spiritual life the
mightiest weapons are not logical, but devotional. In this sphere the
greatest victories are often won upon our knees. The consciousness
of God’s presence within us is the inspiration for the achievement
of the sublimest conquests.
5 “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the
world heareth them.” The source of their character and their teaching is the
world; from it they derive their inspiration; and of course the world listens to
them. Once again (see on ch.3:23) we have an echo of Christ’s last discourses:
“If ye were of the world, the world would love its own” (John 15:19).
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.” The opposite case stated again, but not in the same form as in
v.4. The “we” here is not the same as the “ye” there, with the mere
addition of the writer. “We” here seems to mean the apostles. If it is
considered “broad enough to include all who have truly received Christ by
faith,” it leaves no one to be the hearers. “He that knoweth God heareth
us” will mean that we hear ourselves, if “us” means all believers. But.
John’s meaning seems rather to be that he who acquires knowledge ὁ γινώσκων –
ho ginoskon - of God is ready to listen to further apostolic instruction. From
this ἐκ τούτου – ek toutou – out of this; hereby - need not be confined to v. 6;
it may apply to the whole passage. For the Spirit of truth, compare John 14:17;
The Power of Trying the Spirits (vs. 1-6)
In the preceding homily we laid stress on the duty here indicated of “trying
the spirits,” and also on the test with which we are furnished for applying
to them through all time. We moreover there referred almost exclusively to
them as ψευδοπροφῆταi – pseudoprophaetai – false prophets - rather than as
false πνεύματα – pneumata – spirits. But a close study of
all the clauses in these six verses will disclose to us teachings of great
vividness and power concerning the false prophets themselves:
In fact, the apostle views their embassy and action as a part of the great mystery
of “antichrist,” which had been foretold, which had actually made its
appearance, and which would have to be fought against and overcome. It is
the right and the duty of Christians to “try the spirits” (as we have seen).
But they are not left to go to this warfare at their own charges, or without
being adequately empowered. To them the right belongs, to them the duty
attaches, because to them the power is given. Let us see how, in the
paragraph before us, this is shown. Topic — The power of trying the
spirits a Divine bestowment.
EMBODY THEMSELVES IN THE FORM OF PROPHETS.
Indeed, it is only as “prophets” bring messages of truth or of falsehood —
messages which belong to the spiritual realm — that we have any special
concern with them; i.e., as we regard them and their message as above
and beyond the sphere of the phenomenal, and as representing the
noumenal (compare I Kings 22:20-24; II Peter 1:21; 2:1; I Timothy 4:1).
Note: It is by clearly apprehending the teachings of the Word of God
concerning the spiritual world that we shall most be guarded against the
prying and unholy pretensions of a spurious spiritualism.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANTICHRIST. “This is that [spirit] of
antichrist” (v. 3); see homily on ch.2:18.
out into the world” — on a mission of evil from their dark home. This world
is regarded as the sphere in which they are to propagate their negations. This
is but one of the many forms in which Scripture sets forth the mysterious
conflict between good and evil, of which this world is at once the theater and
the witness. The struggle is between:
Ø the serpent and Eve;
Ø Christ and the tempter;
Ø Christ and the world;
Ø the tempter and the individual;
Ø error and truth;
Ø the Church and the world;
Ø the Church and the evil one;
Ø the antichristian embassy and the body of believers.
A SPIRIT OF ERROR. And the apostle shows us here, as before (see
homily on <620218>1 John 2:18, ut supra), that it is the business of this embassy
to deny the truth. The first lie was, “Ye shall not surely die.” The supreme
lie of antichrist now is, “Jesus is not the Son of God.” Wherever that lie
flourishes, no saving truth can live. The forms in which it is now put are
TO A PERSONAL LEADER. V. 4, ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ - ho en to kosmo –
he that is in the world; the one in the world. The apostle sets forth here the
personality of the evil one, as the one animating leader of the false prophets,
just as vividly as our Lord set forth the personality of the devil as the father
of lies. (John 8:44) Difficult as the doctrine undoubtedly is, it is far
less so than any theory of moral evil which represents it as having its seat in
no one, and nowhere (compare II Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2;). The fact is,
neither the beginnings nor the endings of sin are shown us in the word.
We only know what lies within the revealed termini.
WORLD, THERE IS A GREATER POWER IN BELIEVERS.
μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν – meizon estin ho en humin – greater is the One
in you. Satan is mighty, but there is a Mightier. The strong one has been
vanquished by a Stronger (Matthew 12:28-29; 4:11; John 16:33;
Colossians 2:15; John 12:31). The evil one proved no match
for Jesus Christ the Righteous when he sought to prevail against Him
in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11) By the cross Satan was dethroned and
Christ enthroned. And not all the band of hell-taught emissaries with which
the world and the Church may be plagued for a while will ever overthrow
the Spirit, the army, and the saving work of Christ. “God will bruise Satan
under our feet shortly.” (Romans 16:20)
take possession of the human spirit. He does. The life of God in the soul of
man is the great secret of personal religion. As bearing on our present
theme, there are four ways in which God’s Spirit may influence man’s.
Ø By what has been called “prevenient grace;” where the Spirit of God
goes beforehand, and predisposes him to hear God’s Word. Our Lord
spake of this, in words which have never yet been sufficiently laid hold
of by the Church (John 8:47).
Ø By regenerating grace. When a man is born of God, that wicked one
toucheth him not. (ch. 5:18)
Ø By the unction from above (ch.2:20; see homily on ch.2:20, 27).
This imparts spiritual discernment.
Ø By the ardor and courage of a holy combativeness (Ephesians 6:10-17).
POWER OF ANTICHRIST IS GONE. Nενικήκατε αὐτούς –
- Nenikaekate autous – conquered; overcome them. All of them.
“Ye have overcome them.” You have already gained the victory!
Your Lord’s triumph is yours. On those who have in them the Spirit of
God, antichrist can have no hold. So Paul (I Corinthians 12:3). All
depends on men being filled with the Spirit. If a man has not the Spirit of
God, he will not say, “Jesus is Lord.” If a man has the Spirit of God, he
will not say, “Jesus is anathema.” Against antichrist he will have an
effectual guard. How will this be? Thus, by the teaching and power of the
Spirit, he will be enabled:
Ø to perceive,
Ø to receive, and
Ø to hold fast THE TRUTH!
He will be enabled:
Ø to detect,
Ø to expose,
Ø to combat, and
Ø to overcome THE ERROR!
US, by virtue of His unction, light, and might we shall have an inward
and effective guard against the heresies of this and of every age. The
possession of spiritual religion will be the surest preservative against the
snares of infidelity and the seductions of a false philosophy.
truth. We do not envy the man who shrinks from open conflict against
error on the behalf of Christian truth. Such timidity argues either little faith
in the power of the truth, or else small trust in the power of his Saviour.
Let him in Christ’s strength go forth to war, and when he is more than
conqueror through Him who loved him, he will have learned a lesson of
priceless worth in THE POWER OF CHRIST and the impotence of
The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error (vs. 1-6)
spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out
into the world.” Again, at the thought of danger, his heart warms toward
his readers as his beloved. It is necessary to bear in mind the circumstances
in which they were placed. They had the help of true prophets. The
apostolic age had not come to an end. John was still living; and there were
others who had inspired utterance. They had that for which some minds
still crave — infallible guidance on the spot. But they were not placed
beyond danger, as minds never are in this world. Many false prophets had
gone out into the world, and were in their neighborhood, as they are in all
neighborhoods where Christ’s truth is published and finding acceptance.
The false prophets are Satan’s counterpoise to the true prophets, and, as
the true prophets were really under Divine inspiration, the false prophets
claimed to be under Divine inspiration too. For that lie best succeeds which
is made to bear the closest resemblance to the truth that is active.
Christianity was at that time wonderfully active in many places. How was it
to be counteracted? We can understand that forming the subject of evil
counsel. One way was to incorporate Judaism with Christianity. Another
way was to incorporate Gentile philosophy with Christianity, to which the
name of Gnosticism is given. The general drift of Gnosticism is to
substitute, for the plain facts of the gospel, philosophic myths. Cerinthus,
who was a contemporary of John
Neander as “the intermediate link between the Judaizing and the Gnostic
sects.” “As a Judaizer, Cerinthus held, with the Ebionites, that Jesus was
only the son of Joseph and Mary, born in the natural way. As a Gnostic, he
maintained that the Christ first descended, in the form of a dove, on the
carpenter’s son at his baptism; that He revealed to Him the unknown Father,
and worked miracles through Him; and that at length He took his flight, and
left Him, so that Jesus alone suffered and rose, while the Christ remained
impassible.” There is reason for believing that this was the particular
danger, or something not unlike it, which beset the circle or circles to
which John writes in this Epistle. There therefore arose a necessity for
discriminating between the true prophets and the false prophets, that the
one class might be followed and the others shunned. How was this
necessity to be met? Only by the action of the Christians themselves. The
duty of discrimination is here laid upon them. For this they were not
specially inspired; but they had the ordinary assistance of the Holy Spirit.
Observe the language in which the duty is described. “Believe not every
spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false
prophets are gone out into the world.” They were not enjoined to sit in
judgment upon the prophets as individuals, but in respect of their prophetic
teachings, which they claimed to have received from God. There were
spirits of God to whom afterward is attributed the confessing of Christ; and
there were spirits not of God to whom afterward is attributed the refusal to
confess Christ, the organs of the latter being the false prophets. How are
we to understand this plurality of spirits? Are we to think of the spirits of
the prophets as objectified? or are we to think of spirits as connected with
separate movements, finding their organs in prophets true or false? The
latter view is not excluded by the language; but we know very little of the
sphere in question. The practical thing is that there are true teachers and
false teachers, between whom a discrimination has to be made. The
Christian ministry should be in the service of truth; but it would be vain to
think that the teaching from every Christian pulpit is true. There are times
when many go forth from our theological halls with rationalistic tendencies.
What are Christian people to do? They are not to believe every spirit.
Whoever the Christian teacher is, the influence resting upon him and giving
character to his utterances must be tested, to see whether it is of God.
There are teachers rising up from time to time of commanding ability. They
are, or seem to be, burdened with a message for their age. Their influence
extends beyond the readers of their books or listeners to their orations. It is
soon to be found in novels, in magazines, in newspapers, in conversation.
What are Christian people to do. They are to discriminate, they are not to
believe every spirit; they are to satisfy themselves that the influence present
in the teaching is of God before they yield themselves to it. If they are not
satisfied, then they must do what they can to make themselves impervious
to, or vigorously to counteract, the influence. For very much depends on
what teaching we receive through all channels, it being either for our
spiritual advancement or for our spiritual deterioration (destruction).
Ø Positive. “Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the
flesh is of God.” Teaching is to be judged in relation to Christ. It is due to
Christ that there should be an open declaration in His favor. The object of
confession is (strictly) Jesus Christ come in the flesh. It is to be borne in
mind that Jesus is the historical name. It is admitted on all sides that “one
Jesus” lived about twenty hundred years ago, and that His influence has
extended far and wide. What account is to be given of this Personage?
The right teaching is that which confesses Him to be the Christ. This is in
agreement with ch.2:22. Cerinthus taught that the Christ had a temporary
abode in Jesus; the Christian teacher declares Jesus to be the Christ. But
the Christ refers us to Divinity, eternal Sonship, with which we associate
ideas of immateriality, invisibility, impassibility, exemption from death.
This was virtually the understanding of Cerinthus, and his way of
accounting for the ordinary manifestations of humanity in Jesus was that
he was only apparently the Christ. This was the usual solution of the
difficulty by the Gnostics. The right teaching is that Jesus is Christ come
in the flesh. That is to say, the true solution is the Incarnation. Christ is
Divine, and as such we can think of Him as essentially immaterial,
invisible, impassible, undying; and. yet He is human, and as such there
could be connected with Him materiality, visibility, suffering, death.
The Incarnation is well worthy of being made the great object of
confession. For it proclaims the wonderful and indissoluble union
between God and man with a view to human redemption, which
sometimes tends to repel by its strangeness. It proclaims a new and
unexpected outlet for Divine love, transcending all finite power of
thought, to be estimated adequately only by him in whose heart the
love burned. In this view we obtain facts which are rich in meaning.
We first stand in presence of His birth, when the mysterious union
commenced. We are amazed as we contemplate Him growing up to
manhood. We behold Him setting Himself to His work, and proving
Himself in a threefold encounter with the tempter. (Matthew 4:1-11)
We are overwhelmed with awe to think of Him, in death, passing under
the eclipse of the Father’s countenance. We are profoundly interested to
behold Him rising from the dead, and to think of Him as passing into the
heavens in our glorified nature. That is the right kind of teaching which
deals with these facts, puts them forward for the grasp of faith, uses
them for the clearing of thought and the stirring up of love.
Ø Negative. “And every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God:
and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it
cometh; and now it is in the world already.” The true confession has
been defined; this is its contradiction. There is implied a certain
knowledge of Christianity. The news has gone forth that God has
become incarnate for human salvation. It is news which is fitted to
arrest, and leaves no excuse for want of inquiry into the question of fact.
Every teacher especially should have his mind made up with regard to it.
The apostle lays it down as the test of a true confession. By this
Cerinthus and other Gnostic teachers were to be condemned. They
found a way of avoiding the Incarnation, and thus took away the
impression of the great love of God manifested toward men. The same
thing is done by the Unitarians now. They withhold acknowledgment
from Jesus. Many of their teachers plead for warmth of feeling toward
Christ. Without the passions which move incessantly, like glittering and
intense fire, around the Person of Christ, religious teaching will not make
men’s hearts so to burn within them as to bring them in crowds to hear
and to obey, and to be impelled to become teachers in turn”
They do not, however, leave room for the calling forth
of such love, inasmuch as they represent Christ as a mere man, only
transcending other men in excellence of character. They do not accept
the Incarnation; it is not credible to them; it takes away from the
simplicity of the faith. Their declaration must go forward to judgment;
a Higher than man will one day pronounce upon its worth. It is an
important consideration for our guidance that Unitarianism stands
clearly condemned by the apostolic test. It confesses not Jesus, admits
not the higher view of His Person and work. There are teachers of great
eminence “who occupy rather a negative and undefined position in
relation to Christ and Christianity. They have written upon almost every
subject of human thought — upon government and the Church, upon
history and biography, upon morals and destiny. They have gone round
the world to find heroes and representative men, and have said many
true and striking things about them; but, strange to say, they have never
clearly informed the world as to what they think of JESUS CHRIST!
They are unaccountably reticent upon a subject that is the most important
of all. They allow a painful silence to brood over A NAME THAT IS
ABOVE EVERY NAME! What can be the meaning of this? Is it
because they have no faith in Christ, but do not think it prudent or
necessary to profess their unbelief? Can they have faith without
professing it? The fact remains that they have thought it their business
to act as guides to the world, and have thought it necessary to publish
many volumes of their opinions, and. yet have never directly told the
world what they think of Christ. That fact remains; and alongside of
it the truth remains, “Every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not
of God.” Of the Corinthian Gnosticism, which set aside the Incarnation,
John says that it was the presence of antichrist. So early had the
announced opposition to Christ commenced; it still exists under other
specious forms. The most radical opposition is that which is directed
against the central fact of the Incarnation, which would reduce Christ
to the position of a mere human teacher.
Ø The fact of victory. “Ye are of God, my little children, and have
overcome them.” This is another occasion on which the apostle is so
affectionate as to call them his little children. He thinks of something
which was greatly to their honor. They had overcome the false prophets.
We are not told the wiles which were used by these prophets. They
pretended to be under Divine inspiration. Very probably they pretended
to work miracles. We do not know that they held out the inducement of
false pleasures. Whatever the wiles were, in vain were they tried on those
to whom John is now writing. They held tenaciously to the fact of the
Incarnation, and to its blessed import. Nay, we can understand that they
succeeded in separating from their communion all who were not in
sympathy with the Incarnation, who for the fact put some fanciful idea.
“They went out from us,” it is said of these prophets in ch. 2:19,
which, taken in connection with what is said here, gives us an impression
of their moral defeat. There needed to be no recourse to the disciplinary
power of excommunication; they went out when they could no longer
endure the power of the truth.
Ø The ground of victory. “Because greater is He that is in you than He
that is in the world.” The Divine Person is left undefined. We naturally
think of Christ in the Spirit. For the victory lies in discrimination; and
John’s conception of their qualification is their having an anointing from
the Holy One. As qualified in the same way, Christ had to fight. He was
brought into conflict with him that is in the world. All attempts were
made to delude Him, to lead Him to abandon the Father’s cause; but He
conquered. “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince
of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) As the hour approaches, He
announces His victory for the encouragement of His followers: “Be of
good cheer; I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) John’s
friends conquered too, because greater was He that was in them than he
that was in the false prophets, and in the world to which properly these
belonged, though they had once been connected with the communion of
Christians. Christ is in us by His Spirit, to unmask all designs on us, to
expose all fallacies, to disclose all the beauties of truth. He that is in the
world has great power of delusion; but we can think of it as vanquished,
and we can think of the victory as sure for us in the power of His Spirit
which is within us as our equipment. Therefore let us be of good cheer.
Ø The manner of victory.
o Discrimination in respect of the false prophets. “They are of the
world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world
heareth them.” How are false prophets to be known? They are
the birth of a worldly state of society, they give utterance to
worldly sentiment, they gain worldly applause. As for the
Incarnation, it is remote from their thoughts; it is too high
for their low origin; it is too self-abasing, too self-restraining.
Let a field be sought where looser sentiment may be uttered, or
where there may be a grim handling of abuses and unrealities
and failings, and, if there is only sufficient vis in
the teacher, certain men will loudly applaud. (The modern
terminology would be “talking points.” - CY – 2015)
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not
seek after God: God is not in their thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4)
o Discrimination in respect of the true prophets. “We are of God:
he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth
us not.” How are true prophets to be known? They may be said to
be the birth of a quickened Church; they are here represented as
the birth of God. They teach about God, and they set forth the
Incarnation as the grandest manifestation of what God is —
as the fact of facts and the truth of truths. He that is in the
school of God, and seeks to advance in the knowledge of
God, is attracted to them; while he who is not yet born of God
is repelled from them. “I have set thee,” says God to Jeremiah,
“for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest
know and try their way.” (Jeremiah 6:27)
o Marking of the discrimination. “By this we know the spirit of
truth, and the spirit of error.” We are to understand the principle
laid down. By it we discriminate between the spirit of truth
resting on the true teachers, and the spirit of wandering resting
on the false teachers. There is implied the test of the Incarnation.
According as teachers are attracted to it do they come into
THE LIGHT OF GOD! According as they are repelled from
it do they wander themselves, and lead away others, INTO
(vs. 7-21) God is Love, and love is the surest test of birth from God. From
ch. 3:11-12, John renews his exhortations to love, this time at greater length
and in closer connection with the other great subject of this second half of
the Epistle, the birth from God.
7 “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one
that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Beloved (see on v. 1).
The address is specially suitable where the subject is love. As before, we must
not look for the chief purport of the section in the exhortation with which it opens.
Just as “prove the spirits” is subordinate to “every spirit which confesseth,” etc.,
so “let us love one another” is subordinate to “God is Love.” (For the history
and meaning of the specially Christian term ἀγάπη – agapae – love - see Trench’s
‘Synonyms of New Testament.’)
8 “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
In giving the opposite, John again varies the thought, this
time very remarkably. Instead of “love is of God” (v.7), we have “God
is Love” — a far deeper thought; and instead of “knoweth not God,” we
have “knew not God,” or, as we should say in English, “hath not known”
or “never knew God.” The man’s not loving his brother shows that in no
real sense has he ever in the past known God: he is of the world (ch. 3:1),
not of God. We must beware of watering down “God is Love” into
“God is loving,” or even “God of all beings is the most loving.” Love is not
a mere attribute of God; like light, it is His very nature. As “God is Light”
sums up the Being of God intellectually considered, so “God is Love” sums
up the same on the moral side. Only when this strong meaning is given to
the statement does John’s argument hold, that “he that loveth not
knoweth not God.” A man who has no idea of any one of the attributes of
God, as order, or beauty, or power, or justice, has an imperfect knowledge
of God. But he who has no idea of love has no knowledge of God, for love
is Himself. God alone loves in the fullest and highest sense of the word; for
He alone loves with perfect disinterestedness. It is love which alone can
EXPLAIN CREATION! Why should a Being perfectly blessed in Himself
create other beings, but to bestow a blessing upon them?
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.” The verse is very similar to ch. 3:16, “in this” referring to
what follows, and introducing a concrete and crucial example of love.
Beware of the inadequate and misleading rendering “towards us” for ἐν ἡμῖν –
en haemin – in us, and belongs to “manifested,” as John 9:4 plainly
shows. We must not connect together “the love of God in us,” still less
“the love of God toward us,” as one idea. “In us” means “in our case,” and
the whole may be paraphrased: “A transcendent manifestation of the love
of God has been made in regard to us, in that He hath sent,” etc. The verse
might serve as a summary of John’s Gospel. The word μονογενής - monogenaes –
only begotten; only generated – as applied to Christ is peculiar to John; it and
ζήσωμεν – zaesomen – we might live - are the key-words of the passage.
“This is love indeed; it is His only Son whom He has sent, and He has sent
Him to give us life.” Note the double article — “His Son, yes, His Only Begotten.”
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.” Let no man think that any higher
manifestation of love than this can be found. It is not in any love of man to his
Maker, but in His Maker’s love to him, that the real nature of love can be perceived.
Note the change from perfect to aorist; ἀπέσταλκεν – apestalken – has sent; has
dispatched - in v. 9 expresses the permanent results of the mission; ἀπέστειλεν –
apesteilen – sent; dispatches; commissions - here states the mission as an
accomplished fact complete in itself. (For ἱλασμός, - hilasmos – propitiation - see
on ch. 2:2.)
11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
Beloved introduces a solemn exhortation, as in vs. 1, 7. The “if” implies no
uncertainty (see on ch.5:9); it puts the fact more gently, but not more doubtfully,
than “since.” The οὕτως – houtos – so; thus – covers both the quality and the
quantity of the love. Καὶ - kai – also; and - belongs solely to ἡμεῖς – haemeis –
we - “we also on our part ought to love one another.” We should have expected
as the apodosis, “we also ought to love God.” But this link in the thought
the apostle omits as self-evident, and passes on to state what necessarily
follows from it. In v. 12 he shows how loving God involves loving one’s
fellow-men (compare ch. 2:5 for a similar passage over an intermediate link).
The Supreme Manifestation of Love (vs. 9-11)
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us,” etc. Our text does not
speak of the only manifestation of the Divine love. In many things is the
love of God manifested to us — in the beauty, the utility, and the fertility
of our world; in the exquisite structure of our souls and bodies; in the apt
relations of the outer world to our nature. Nor does our text mention the
manifestation to angelic beings of the love of God. But John sets forth
the richest and most glorious exhibition in regard to us of the love of God.
We see here several aspects of the Divine love.
that He loved us”
Ø God’s love to man originated entirely with Himself. This love in its
beginning was all on God’s part, and none on ours. We did not love
Him. There was nothing in us to awaken His love to us. We were not
beautiful, or amiable, or meritorious, or good. “But God commendeth
his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ
died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It was our sin and suffering and deep need
that called forth His compassion toward us; and ere He could love us with
the love of complacency, He loved us with the love of tender and Divine
Ø God is the Fountain of all love. Love flows from the essential nature of
the Divine Being. “Love is of God… God is Love” (vs. 7-8). As light
and heat from the sun, so all true love everywhere flows from Him, or
took its rise from Him. And seeing that He is love, that love is of His
essence, the flowing forth of His love to us is the giving of Himself
to us. But the love of God was manifested in our case:
“Herein was the love of God manifested in us [or, ‘in our case’], that God
hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through
Ø The pre-existence of Jesus Christ. This is clearly implied in the
expression, “God hath sent his Son into the world” (compare
John 3:17,34; 17:4-5).
Ø The endearing relation of Jesus Christ to God the Father. He is “His
only begotten Son.” The word “Son” alone would suggest that their
relation is one of deep affection; but other terms are added, which
intensify and strengthen this idea. The Father speaks of Him as
“my- beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Paul
writes of Him as “God’s own Son” (Romans 8:3). And John styles Him
“the Only Begotten of the Father.… the only begotten Son, which is in
the bosom ofthe Father” (John 1:14, 18); “The Father loveth the Son,
and hath given all things into His hand” (ibid. ch.3:35). And our Saviour
said, “Father, thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world”
(John 17:24). It is impossible for us to comprehend this ineffable and
nfinite love subsisting between the Father and His only Son, or the deep
and unutterable joy of their communion. In sending such a Messenger
to our world, what a revelation we have of the love of God!
Ø The subordination of Jesus Christ to God the Father in the work of
redemption. “God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” “As thou
didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world” (John
17:18). The Divine Son cheerfully became a servant that His Father’s
authority might be vindicated, and His Father’s glory be promoted in the
redemption of the human race (compare Philippians 2:6-8).
might live through Him.” Notice:
Ø The condition in which the love of God finds man. “Dead by reason of
trespasses and sins.” There is a resemblance between a dead body and
the state into which the soul is brought by sin. In both there is the absence
of vision, of hearing, of sensibility, and of activity.
Ø The condition into which the love of God aims to bring man. “That we
might live through him.” His design is to quicken men into spiritual life -
the life of true thought, pure affection, righteous and unselfish activity,
and reverent worship. This life is eternal in its nature. It is not perishable
or decaying, but enduring and progressive. And it is blessed. Life in the
text comprises salvation in all its glorious fullness. How clear is the
manifestation to us of the Divine love in this!
FOR US. “He sent His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins.” The best
commentary on Christ the Propitiation that we know, is that found in the
words of Paul, in Romans 3:24-26. Two remarks only do we offer
concerning the propitiation.
Ø It was not anything offered to God to render Him willing to bless and
Ø It was designed to remove obstructions to the free, flowing forth of the
mercy of God to man. How splendid the expression of the love of God
in sending His Son, only and well-beloved, to be the Propitiation for our
God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The obligation to
copy the Divine example in this respect is grounded upon our relation to
Him as his children. Because we are “begotten of God” (v.7) we should
seek to resemble Him. The argument of the Apostle Paul is similar: “Be ye
therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love,” etc.
(Ephesians 5:1-2). If we are “partakers of the Divine nature,” we
should imitate the Divine example. (II Peter 1:4)
Ø In relation to mankind in general. “I say unto you, Love your enemies,
and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father
which is in heaven,” etc. (Matthew 5:44-45). He loved us with the love
of compassion before He could love us with the love of complacency. Let
us imitate Him in this respect in our relation to those who are yet in their
Ø In relation to the Christian brotherhood in particular. (Compare ch.
3:10-18.) Let us evince our relation to the Father, who is infinite Love,
by our unfeigned love to our Christian brethren. Let the supreme
manifestation in regard to us of His love thus produce its appropriate
effect in us.
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.” No one hath ever yet beheld
God. Θεόν – Theon – God stands first for emphasis. and without the article,
as meaning the Divine Being rather than the Father in particular: “With regard
to God — no one hath ever yet beheld Him” τεθεάται – tetheatai – hath gazed;
hath seen – (view attentively; to see with admiration; desire or regard) -
stronger than ἑώρακεν – heoraken – hath seen (mentally). Why
does John introduce this statement here? Not, of course, as implying that to
love an invisible Being is impossible; but that the only security for genuine and
lasting love in such a case is to love that which visibly represents Him.
Seeing that God is invisible, His abiding in us can be shown only by His
essential characteristic being exhibited in us, i.e., by our showing similar
self-sacrificing love Ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ - Hae agapae autou – His love; the
love of Him - can scarcely mean God’s love for us; for how can our loving
one another make His love perfect? Nor yet vaguely, “the relation of love
between us and God;” but, as in ch.2:5, our love for Him. Our love towards
God is perfected and brought to maturity by the exercise of love towards
our brethren IN HIM!
Love (vs. 7-12)
Connecting link: The apostle here seems to begin a new paragraph; yet it is
one by no means disconnected from that which precedes. If antichrist plies
its seductive arts without, it is for those who are “of God” to cleave closer
together; knit by the bonds of a holy love, which is of itself born of Him
who is love. Topic — Love’s fount, channel, stream, and outlet. We have
more than once had occasion to remark that both the matter and the style
of the Apostle John are peculiarly his own. The matter, for it gathers round
a few key-words — “light,” “life,” “love.” The style, for it is not like
Paul’s, cumulative; it is rather radiative. We have no specimens of
prolonged and closely connective argument; but a series of rich and
beautiful teachings throughout a paragraph, on one of his key-words. Here
the keyword is — LOVE. Respecting it we have eight distinct assertions.
1:5 “God is Light.” Here “God is Love.”
Ø The first indicates the substance of the Divine nature — personal,
conscious, intelligent Spirit.
Ø The second declares the perfection of that nature in knowledge and
Ø The third shows the benevolence of the Divine nature in its regard
for those who are the creatures of His power and the subjects of
words contain more information about God than all the sacred
books of the East put together. They are a revelation. We are taught how
to think about God, and if we keep within the lines marked out by these
three words, we cannot go far wrong.
Note: This light thrown on God’s nature gives us the clue to the meaning of
His works and ways in:
Ø providence, and
The three spheres give us the triple unfolding of infinite love, and nothing else.
Through whom? “His only begotten Son.” How? “A Propitiation.”
For what? “For our sins.” With what intent? That we might live through
Him. No true life of peace, joy, and fellowship with God was possible for us
until sin was put away. No one could do this but One in and of the race,
yet over it — One who by His humanity could represent earth, and who yet
as the eternal Son could represent the Father; HE ALONE could take this
place, and by offering Himself to the Father, for us, on account of our sin,
He revealed how sin burdened the heart of God, and gave BY HIS OWN
SACRIFICE such an expression to man of the Divine holiness and rectitude,
that, on the ground thereof, the infinitely Pure One might receive the
penitent lovingly to His embrace, yet make no compromise with sin.
UNIQUE. (vs. 9-10) “In this,” etc. “Herein is love ;” as if it were seen
nowhere else. All other love fades away in comparison herewith. This will
appear as we study:
Ø Its origin. God’s own love, self originated and sustained, unbought,
Ø Its method. The bestowment of the greatest possible gift, and that
as a sacrifice.
Ø Its objects. He loved us sinners, traitors, alienated ones.
Ø Its extent. “The whole world;” i.e., all the race on the globe through
Ø Its intent. That we might live. That all who believe might be made
heirs of glory.
LOVE ON OUR PART. (v. 11.) Nothing ever threw so much light
on the value of man in God’s eye as the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on
his behalf. Nothing else ever disclosed what God meant to do with us. But,
it once being shown how great are the possibilities opening up to man
through Christ, all the relations between man and man come to be invested
with new meaning; and the self-evidencing force of the appeal of v. 11
ought to be irresistibly felt.
CREATIVE POWER. (v. 7.) “Every one that loveth is born of God.”
It should never be forgotten that ἀγάπη – agapae – love - is a word born
within the bosom of revealed religion; it occurs in the Septuagint, but there
is no example of its use in any heathen writer whatever. The pure and holy
parental love, the love of children as we understand it, the fondest ,and
purest affections of husband and wife, are the birth of Christianity, i.e., of
DIVINE LOVE AS REVEALED IN CHRIST! Men cannot know how
truly and how largely this is the case till they examine into the state of the
pagan world at the time of Christ. The apostle himself declares, “We love,
because He first loved us.”
BROUGHT INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM. (vs 12-13.) When
God hath given us of His own Spirit of love, so that we in our measure
come to love like God, then we know that “we dwell in Him, and He in us.”
There is a loving and abiding intercommunion. We, being in full sympathy
with God, must needs yearn to pour forth ourselves to others, as God hath
given Himself to us. And this outgoing of ourselves to our brother is a sure
pledge of God being in us, and we in Him.
(v.12.) The first and second clauses of this verse are very closely
connected together. “No man hath seen God at any time, [but] if we love
one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us;” and so we
come to know God, though no one hath ever seen Him. We know Him
through love whom we cannot behold by the sight (compare Matthew 5:8).
Only love can possibly read love. A cold heart can never understand a
warm one, but one warm heart can read another. So we come to know
God through learning from Him to love as He loves. And the more
complete our devotion to man for God’s sake, the fuller and richer will be
our knowledge of GOD’S INFINITE LOVE!
(v. 8.) The love of God is so vast that it embraceth “a great multitude
which no man can number.” It is so minute that it yearns for “one sinner”
to repent. It is so active that it sent its noblest embassy to invite the
wanderers to return. It is so tender that it would not that “one of these
little ones should perish.” How can, a man who does not love understand
all that? It is not that God closes His heart against the man; it is the man
that steels his heart against God. And until the warmth of Divine love melts
the thick-ribbed ice of his frozen soul, no stream of love will ever flow
from him to gladden and fertilize a world.
Note: See what it is will estrange a man for ever from his God, and will
shut him up in hopeless ignorance of God — unlovingness; simply this.
Objection: But are you not reasoning in a circle? You say man does not
love till God’s love kindles his, and yet that he cannot know God till he
loves! Which is first? Surely here is vicious circle. No; not at all. God’s
love goes out first. That love is manifested in the work of Christ. When we
were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) “He that would be warm must
keep near the fire,” said Matthew Henry. Even so, let the cold frozen heart stay
near the cross, till, feeling the warmth of love there, it is set aglow. Then,
being set aglow by learning of the love of God, he will at once begin to
understand THE LOVE OF GOD!
13 “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He
hath given us of His Spirit.” Almost identical with ch.3:24. In vs. 1-7 the
apostle says that confession of the Incarnation proves possession of the
Spirit; and in v. 12 that love of the brethren proves the indwelling of
God. He now (v. 13) goes on to say that possession of the Spirit proves
the indwelling of God; and (v. 15) that confession of the Incarnation
proves the same. So that these four facts:
· confession of the Incarnation,
· possession of the Spirit,
· love of our fellow-men, and
· indwelling of God
mutually involve one another. John does not say, “He has given us His
Spirit,” but - ἐκ τοῦ Πνεύματος αὐτοῦ - ek tou Pneumatos autou –
of His Spirit! It is impossible for us to receive more than a portion; the fullness
of the Spirit is possessed by Christ alone. In John 1:16 we have a similar use of
ἐκ (out of; i.e; the Spirit -)(compare John12:3).
God-likeness the Seal of a Divine Indwelling (v. 13)
Connecting link: This verse is closely allied to the verse preceding. Though
no one has at any time seen God, yet God is within us if His love is
reproduced in us by the new birth of the Holy Ghost. Hence our present
topic — Conformity to God the proof that God is the Life of our lives.
There is in some respects a considerable resemblance between this verse
and ch.3:24. But the student desiring to be exact in his unfolding of
the writer’s words will note:
(1) that the complexion of words is much modified by their connection; and
(2) that often as the apostle seems to use approximately the same words,
yet what seems at first sight to be but a very slight variation will, when he
catches the precise hue of each clause, start him on a distinctly different
line of thought and teaching. Here, set in relation to the context, the
apostle’s teaching manifestly is this — In possessing, and in being
possessed by, a spirit of love, we are conscious of a life that is from God
Himself, who is Love.
the Gospel and the Epistles of John are Trinitarian. The Father, the Son,
the Holy Spirit, all are there, each fulfilling His own part in the saving work.
The Father the Origin, the Son the Channel, the Spirit the Agent, in the
o The Father sends the Son.
o The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
o The Father plans the redeeming work.
o The Son carries it out objectively for man.
o The Spirit applies it subjectively in man.
It is the last-named act which is specified here.
Ø The Spirit of God comes within man, freely. “Given.” The gift of the
Spirit within is as gratuitous on God’s part as the gift of His dear Son.
He is bestowed by the Son, as the Gift of the Father’s love (Luke 11:13;
John 1:33; 14:16-17).
Ø The Spirit of God, when within us, controls us. We are “led by the
Spirit;” we “live in the Spirit;” we “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians
5:16-18); and the entire direction of the new life is in His gracious hands.
Ø The Spirit of God, by controlling us, transforms us. We come to love as
God loves. We come to be, in our measure, as the governing force of our
spirits is. And since that is love, we love; we catch the holy impulse of
the self-sacrificing zeal; and yearn to lay ourselves out for those around
PROOF AND SEAL OF A DIVINE INDWELLING. This may be set in
o This dwelling of God in the heart is what is promised (John 14:23).
o This is the conscious experience (Romans 5:5).
o This is the actual power (Galatians 2:20).
The living on another, drawing our life, joy, love, might, all from another,
is as real to us as the air we breathe. And if we have any likeness to God,
it is to God Himself we owe it, and by fellowship with Him it is nourished
Ø Negatively. This life of love cannot be attributed to any other cause; for:
o It is not natural to us.
o We did not get it from man.
§ Not from the world; for there man turneth “every one to
his own way.” (Isaiah 53: 6)
§ Not from the Church; for no one has power to impart the
grace of love.
o We never caught sight of such love till it was shown us in Christ.
o Even then we never shared it till He who died for us breathed
the new life within. Oh, if we have come to love like God, it
can only be through the gracious indwelling of the God of love!
Ø For the unregenerate. They should learn what it is they need. Life, life
Ø For the inconsistent professors. They want reality, not a sham life.
Ø For those who do not know where they are in religion. Let them not
waste time in “feeling their pulse;” let them open their hearts to
receive God; they will soon know their state then.
Ø For those seeking after the evidences of Christianity. They will find
them in men filled with the Spirit of God.
Ø For the students of history. They wilt find a new world of love, slowly
yet surely forming, under the power of the cross and of the Spirit of
14 “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be
the Savior of the world.” And we have beheld, and do bear witness. The emphatic
ἡμεῖς – haemeis – we - clearly means “we apostles;” and τεθέαμεθα – tetheametha –
have seen; beheld; have gazed – implies contemplation with bodily eyes, as in v.12.
The invisible God can be only “invisibly seen” by the pure heart. But the incarnate
Son has been visibly contemplated; and to bear witness of this fact was the very
office of an apostle (John 15:27; Acts 1:8). The language of this verse, as of
ch. 1:1, 3, would be strained and rather unreal in one who had not seen
the Christ in the flesh. Note that σωτῆρα – sotaera – Saviour - has no article, and
is not in mere apposition, but is a second predicate: “The Father hath sent [see on verse
10] the Son as Saviour,” i.e., to be such. “The world,” as commonly in John’s writings,
is specially the unregenerate among the human race.
The Historic Basis of the Christian Testimony (v. 14)
Connecting link: The mutual indwelling of God in us and of our spirits in
God is the result of a Divine revelation of love made to us on God’s part,
and of the reception of that love on our part. That love, which has been
and is still the object of our adoring contemplation, and to speak it out
among the people is the business of our lives. “The Lord gave the Word:
great was the company of those that published it.” (Psalm 68:11) “We have
seen,” etc. We may be permitted here to quote in full a note of unusual value
from the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’ upon this verse: “‘We have seen with adoring
wonder, and the impression of the sight abides with us τεθέαμεθα – tetheametha –
have seen; beheld;, and are bearing witness μαρτυροῦμεν – marturoumen –
are testifying, that the Father hath sent [perfect] the Son as the Saviour of the world.’
One of the numerous loops that bind the Epistle to the Gospel” (compare
ch.1:1-3, John 1:32, 34; 19:35).
EYE-WITNESSES OF THE FACTS OF THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST.
(John 1:16; 19:35.) In this Epistle (and in the Gospel by the same
apostle) we have the history of our Lord’s life given us by one who had
followed with Him, and who understood the meaning of that life at least as
well as any other of the apostles. But we note:
THE LIFE OF CHRIST LOOKED ALSO BENEATH THE SURFACE,
AND BEHELD THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FACTS. Four distinct
and leading features thereof are given here.
Ø That Jesus Christ was “the Son” of God. Not merely a Son.
Not a Son merely in the same sense that others may become.
But the only begotten Son; of the same nature with the Father.
Ø That He was “sent” by the Father.
Ø That He was sent to save — to save from sin.
Ø That His mission was for the race. “The Saviour of the world.”
GREAT BUSINESS OF THEIR LIVES. “We do testify.” They lived for
this. They suffered for this. If need be, they were prepared to die for it. To
assert it over and over again they gave up all that earth calls dear; they
encountered opposition and fiery persecution; they counted not their lives
dear unto them. So that their testimony was of such a kind as could not
possibly be false. We say this, well weighing our words, and fully assured
that the scientific value of the testimony to the facts of our Lord’s life,
death, and resurrection cannot be overestimated, and that it is a question
which demands more careful study from the unbeliever than many will
consent to give to it. The testimony stands thus:
Ø It rests on a clear and distinct historical basis.
Ø It is given by men who were eye-witnesses of the main facts they relate.
Ø The meaning of the facts was directly opposed to their national
expectations and prepossessions, and such as they could only have been
induced to give when all their prejudices were overborne by a Power
from on high.
Ø In such a life and work, so full of Divine meaning, there was a message
presented to the people for them to believe (John 20:31). The reception
of the message was intended to lead up to a living faith in Jesus as the
Saviour of the lost (compare John 4:42).
Ø Such faith in Jesus would ensure the privileges of sonship (John 1:12).
With sonship would come fellowship, with fellowship knowledge of
God. In this knowledge would be the eternal life (ch. 5:9-12).
GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. Such a testimony, so given, with such a
purpose, cannot leave us where it found us. We are responsible to God for
the use we make of such a message as this. We are bound:
Ø to hear devoutly and thoughtfully;
Ø to receive it believingly and lovingly;
Ø to use it
o for the purpose of being saved by Him who has come that
He might save, and
o for the purpose of joining in the witness-bearing,
and so co-operating with Jesus in saving others. His name is
His name is called “Jesus,” for He saves His people from their sins.
The Great Mission of Christ (v. 14)
“And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son,” etc. The
mission of Jesus Christ appears here in a threefold relation.
the Saviour of the world.” Notice.
Ø The world’s need of a Saviour. It was in a morally lost and undone
condition. It was perishing by reason of its sins. Take the world of
John’s day, or of our own day, in confirmation of this.
Ø The world’s inability to provide for itself a Saviour. Many times and in
various ways it has made the attempt, but IT HAS ALWAYS FAILED!
Schemes of political organization, or liberal education, or social
amelioration, or even moral reformation, do not reach the central depths
of the need of our race. Man needs SALVATION, REDEMPTION!
Ø The son of God came to the world as ITS SAVIOUR! “The Saviour of
the world.” The expression “the world” is to be understood in its plain,
natural meaning (compare ch. 2:2; John 3:16). He saves men from sin by
o of His life and work upon earth,
o of His sacrificial death,
o His glorious resurrection, and
o His effectual intercession.
How benevolent is this mission! He might have come to judge, condemn,
and destroy our rebellious race. But “God sent not His Son into the
world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be
saved?” (John 3:17) How stupendous is this mission! Creation is a great
and glorious work. The Divine agency in upholding the universe, and
presiding over its vast and infinitely diversified affairs, baffles our every
attempt to comprehend it. The immensity of its extent, the minuteness of
its attention, the infinity of its wisdom, the almightiness of its power,
immeasurably transcend our utmost thought. But the salvation of lost men
is God’s greatest and most glorious work. In the Divine Son
accomplishing His redemptive mission we have the clearest and fullest
manifestation of God.
to be the Saviour of the world.”
Ø The Saviour is the Son of the Father. Frequently is this relationship
expressed in the sacred Scriptures, and in a way which indicates its
ineffable sacredness and dearness (see Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John
1:14, 18; 17:24; Romans 8:3; and v. 9).
Ø The Saviour is the Sent of the Father. “The Father hath sent the Son.”
This is affirmed again and again in the writings of John (John 3:17, 34;
7:16; 10:36; 16:5; 17:3-5, 18, 21, 23, 25). Being thus sent by the
Father, the Son’s mission as a Saviour is DIVINE IN AUTHORITY!
He claimed this Himself: “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father
which sent me, He gave me a commandment,” etc. (John 12:49-50).
The apostles made the same claim on His behalf (see Acts 2:22; 10:38).
do testify, that the Father sent,” etc.
Ø Their knowledge of the Saviour. John, writing of himself and his
fellow-apostles, says, “We have beheld,” etc. They had seen their Lord
in the exercise of His miraculous powers, and in wondrous glory on the
Mount of Transfiguration; they had beheld the perfect purity and beauty
of His daily life; they had seen Him dead upon the cross, and His sacred
body laid in its rocky sepulcher; they had afterwards repeatedly seen Him
living; and they beheld Him as “He was taken up; and a cloud received
Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9-12)
Ø Their testimony concerning the Saviour. “We have beheld and bear
witness that the Father,” etc. They testified to the facts which we have
o That Jesus Christ was the Son of God.
o That He was the Sent of God.
o That He was sent of God as the Saviour of the world.
Their Lord had appointed them to be witnesses for Him (John 15:27;
Acts 1:8). And this may fairly be said to be the sum of their
testimony: “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
And it is beyond reasonable question that their testimony is “worthy
of all acceptation.” Thus we have seen that the great mission of
§ meets man’s deepest need;
§ rests upon the SUPREME AUTHORITY; and
§ is attested by competent and trustworthy witnesses.
Therefore let us believe their testimony, and turn heartily to THE SON OF
GOD AS SAVIOUR!
15 “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him,
and he in God.” Whosoever confesseth - ὁς ἄν ὁμολογήση – hos an homologaesae –
whosoever confesseth - This rendering seems preferable to “whosoever shall confess”
or “shall have confessed.” The exact meaning is, “Whosoever has once for all taken
up the position of confessing.” V. 14 gave the case of the apostles; this gives that of
those who accept their witness. In the next verse we have that of both together.
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.”
And we have come to know and believe. Both perfects are virtually presents,
expressing the present continuance of a condition begun in the past: “We know
and continue to believe.” Experience and faith are intimately connected; and
sometimes the one precedes, sometimes the other (John 6:69). As in v. 9, ἐν ἡμῖν –
en haemin – should be rendered in us, not “to us” or “toward us;” and here also
the interpretation, “in our case,” is certainly possible, and perhaps safer. But the
meaning may be that the object of our knowledge and faith is that portion of His
own love which God has in us. It is “in us,” and is exercised towards Him and our
brethren, but in reality it is His — it is Himself abiding in us. In either case love is
the object of our faith. Thus love is not only the true note of the Church (John 13:35),
it is also the Church’s creed. The second half of the verse restates the main proposition
of this section with a view to further development.
Divine Love a Home for the Soul, and a Force Within It. (vs. 15-16)
Connecting link: There is a connection between the several verses on
which we are now dwelling (vs. 7-19). But it is not so much a
connection of thoughts that follow consecutively one from another, as a
connection such as exists between glowing sparks that follow one after
another, from the same mass, when struck upon the same anvil, by the
same hammer, wielded by the same arm. The apostle gives us here a
startlingly beautiful succession of truths concerning love — Divine love —
revealed in Christ, and laying hold of men. Obviously, in vs. 15-16
there are two statements concerning believers generally — “Whosoever
shall confess,” etc.; “He that dwelleth in love,” etc. There is also one
statement concerning the apostle and his fellow-workers — “We have
known,” etc. Let us take these in their order.
BLESSED CONDITION AND THOSE TO WHOM IT BELONGS.
Ø Here is a supremely happy condition. It is twofold.
o The soul full of God. “God dwelleth in him” (compare
John 6:56; 14:23; Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20;
II Corinthians 13:5; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 2:22; 5:18;
Revelation 3:20). In some passages the Dweller in the heart
is spoken of as “Christ,” sometimes as “the Spirit,” sometimes
as “the Father with the Son,” sometimes as “God
by the Spirit.” In all cases the meaning is that there is a
Divine Energy within the man, quickening, inspiring, and
controlling him — a new directing and strengthening force,
leading on to all holy action, to patient endurance, to final
victory. Man moves not upward and heavenward by a
self-elicited force, but soars thither by a Divine power
imparted and sustained from above!
o The soul at home in God. “He dwelleth in God.” God is not
only a new life in him, but a new home for him, in which He
abides, and from which He cannot be dislodged. His wanderings
are over. He has a settled rest, an everlasting home. It is in the
Father’s house, nay, in the Father’s heart, the heart of boundless
love. He is seated now in “the heavenly places in Christ
Jesus.” Happy, happy home!
§ It is heaven.
§ It will never break up.
§ No foe can invade it.
§ Sin shall not mar it.
§ Death cannot disturb it.
Oh, to have found already a home like this! It is well worth
our while to ask to whom it belongs. (Note: The two indwellings
complete each other. God dwelling in the soul ensures the soul
continuously dwelling in its true home; and the soul, being always
at home, has entire repose, leaving all its force free for
happy, holy service.)
Ø To whom does this twofold blessedness belong? There are here two
statements in reply to this question. The apostle says, “Whosoever
shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God” is thus blessed; and that
“he that dwelleth in love” is so also. We must elucidate this by offering,
first, a word or two on each phrase, and then by showing the connection
that exists between them.
o The twofold indwelling is realized by him who “dwells in love,”
i.e., whose whole being is, as it were, bathed in an atmosphere
of love; who lives, moves, thinks, acts, in that sphere, and never
out of it. Such a one “dwells in God,” etc. The definite article
ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ - en tae agapae – in the love - should be noticed
here, as defining the love. Following, too, on the phrase,
Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν – Ho Theos agapae estin – God is love,
its force is equivalent to “God is love, and he that lives and
moves in that love of God has his abiding home in the God
o The twofold indwelling is realized also by him who “confesses
that Jesus is the Son of God.” This sentence probably is
suggested by v. 14, indicating that the continuous witness-
bearing for Christ caused them to realize more fully than
ever their heavenly privilege, a privilege which the
apostle seems to say, “Every confessor will share with us.”
It is very remarkable, however, that the apostle should attribute
a like blessedness to such apparently different (but not
contradictory) conditions. The reciprocal indwelling is realized
by him who lives and moves in love, and also by him
who openly and continuously avows a certain “dogma” (to use
a common mode of expression). The former is clear enough.
Not so, perhaps, the latter. But what if the two should be
§ that “Jesus is the Son of God,” and as such the
Revealer of love, is the message addressed to faith.
§ Faith receives Him, and with Him the love which He
§ Confession constantly rings out the faith, and by so
doing vastly increases faith’s realizing power.
§ This, through the energy of the Holy Ghost
(I Corinthians 12:3), makes the love of God in Christ
so real to the faithful confessor, that he actually dwells
in love, and so reaches the state specified as “dwelling
in love” (v. 16). Thus the two conditions differ only
as the terminus a quo from the terminus ad quem.
Confession is the former; dwelling in love is
Note: This is verified by the order of the phrases being in the one case,
“God dwelleth in him, and he in God;” and in the other, “dwelleth in
God, and God in him.”
HIMSELF AND HIS FELLOW-BELIEVERS. He has not been writing at
random, nor has he been moving in a region so transcendental that
experience cannot verify it. He can verify it from his own experience.
Those to whom he is writing can verify it from theirs. The difference
between the Authorized Version and the Revised Version should be noted
here: “We have known and believed the love that God hath in us ἐν ἡμῖν –
en haemin – in us,.” Not “toward us” or “to us,” as if it were ἐν ἡμᾶς –
en haemas. The marginal rendering in the Revised Version should also be
carefully avoided: “in our case” (!). The believer has gone much further
than to know the love of God to him. He knows it in him, as a reviving,
cheering, glowing, inspiring, life-giving power. It is in him as the “living
water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) The following order
of thought might develop this. Divine love is:
Ø A manifestation amongst us, ἐν ἡμῖν (as above and in v.9).
Ø An impartation realized in us (Romans 5:5).
Ø A reciprocated love, as ours has been called forth thereby (v.19).
Ø A transforming love, causing us to love as God loves (v. 12).
Ø A self-consummating love, fulfilling its own ends in and through
us, and causing its outworking to be perfected in us, as its newly
opened channel, through which it is flowing on to the boundless
ocean of everlasting life and glory ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ τετελειωμένη
ἐστιν ἐν ἡμῖν – hae agapae autou teteleiomenae estin en haemin –
His love is perfected in us.
Who, who is equal to the adequate unfolding of thoughts so sublime? In
writing this homily we feel as if human words were an intrusion; and such
they are, if irrelevant or superfluous. But if they are such as we aim to
make them — illustrative of the thoughts in the text — then the gracious
Spirit will deign to own them, however far they fall short of what the
writer’s largest wishes could desire. With three queries for the conscience
and the heart we close.
(1) Who can adequately extol the greatness of the Divine condescension, in
choosing us as vehicles through which His love may be conveyed, and so
taught to others?
(2) Who can but wonder at the dignity conferred on man, in making him
the means of manifesting such a love?
(3) Who would not open his heart to God that He may dwell therein and sanctify
it, having expelled the sin which would have corrupted and destroyed it?
The Love of God (v.16)
“God is Love.” “God is.” To this almost all peoples assent. The belief in a
Supreme Being is nearly coextensive with the human race. Very different
are the attributes ascribed to Him and the names applied to Him; but as to
the fact of His existence well-nigh all are agreed. But what is God? Many
and various are the answers to this inquiry. To some He is unintelligent and
irresistible Fate. To others, Nature. To others, the beautiful Order and
stupendous Forces of nature. To others, “the Something, not ourselves,
which makes for righteousness.” To others, “an Infinite and Eternal Energy
from which all things proceed.” To others, the Creator, Sustainer, and
Sovereign of the universe. But what saith the Supreme concerning Himself?
“God is Light;” “God is Love.” A complete apprehension of what God is,
is unattainable by us. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite. “God is
Love;” we can understand that. But GOD IS INFINITE! Combine the two
statements. “God is Infinite Love.” Here we are lost. The highest and
mightiest of created beings cannot comprehend the infinite love. The
knowledge which holy spirits have of God will go on increasing for ever;
but at no period in the everlasting future will any one be able fully to know
Him. Yet as to His being and character we may each attain such a
knowledge as will enable us to confide in Him, and to enter upon the
blessed and unending career of moral assimilation to Him. Though we
cannot comprehend Him who is Infinite Love, yet through Christ we may
apprehend Him, trust Him, love Him, commune with Him, and become one
with Him. “God is Love.” Let us consider:
Ø In creation. The machine is a revelation of the mechanist; the building,
of the architect; the painting, of the painter; the poem, of the poet. So the
universe is an embodiment of the ideas of the Divine mind, a revelation
of the thought and feeling of the Creator. A careful survey of God’s
work will lead to the conclusion that “God is good to all, and his tender
mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:9) Contrivance proves
design; and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the
disposition of the desirer. The world abounds with contrivances; and all
the contrivances which we are acquainted with are directed to beneficial
purposes.… We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an
evil purpose. No anatomist ever discovered a system of organization
calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the
human body, ever said, ‘This is to irritate, this to inflame, this duct is to
convey the gravel to the kidneys, this gland to secrete the humour which
forms the gout. Viewed from this standpoint, the universe appears to be
a grand outflow of the love of God, a convincing witness of His delight
in promoting the well-being and the gladness of His creatures. The
seasons of the year supply evidence of this truth.
o Spring, with its gradual unfolding of young life and verdant
beauty, its quickening and joy-giving influence, is a revelation
of God’s tenderness and grace.
o Summer, with its rich light and heat, its abounding life and glory,
is a revelation of the inexhaustible beauty and glory and
munificence of God.
o Autumn, with its maturity and mellowness and plenty, proclaims
the fidelity and bountifulness of God.
o But what shall we say of winter, with its storms and tempests,
its somber clouds and stern colds? Even this — that it is not
without its beauties, and in its bleak and trying months nature
is silently and secretly preparing the beauties of the coming
spring, the glories of summer, and the bounties of autumn.
Rightly regarded, even winter testifies that “God is Love.” But man,
with guilty conscience, and a dread of God, and viewing Him only
through the distorted medium of his own sinful soul, fails to read the
revelation of Him in nature correctly. And even if he should do so,
there arises the inquiry — Is God love in His relation to the sinful?
To this, nature has no satisfactory response. Creation may have been
a sufficient revelation of God for unfallen men, but for sinful men
it is very insufficient.
Ø In the Bible. The Bible is the revelation of God in His relation to man as
a sinner. And this revelation reaches its clearest, fullest, and most
influential development in JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD!
o In the Bible, God appears as the Giver of every good, the Fountain
of all blessings. “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
(I Timothy 6:17) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from
above,” etc. (James 1:17) Material, mental, and spiritual good
we derive from Him. He gives:
§ Restoration to the lost,
§ pardon to the guilty,
§ sanctification to the sinful,
§ glory to the degraded!
Through Christ, He bestows all good here, and eternal and glorious
life hereafter TO ALL WHO BELIEVE IN HIM!
o God confers these blessings upon those who are entirely
undeserving of them. It is not to His loyal subjects alone that these
gifts are bestowed, but also to rebels against His authority. “He
maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (Matthew
5:45) Not only are we undeserving; we are ill-deserving;
we have merited His wrath; yet He imparts to us the gifts of
o In order to bestow these gifts upon us, He gave us a Gift of greater
value than all the others. “He gave his only begotten Son.” This
Gift immeasurably transcends all the others. Without this they
would not have reached us. They flow to us through THE
MEDIATION OF JESUS!
o And Jesus was given, not to those who waited to receive and honor
Him, but to those who despised and rejected Him. He was given
to labor and suffer and die for men, in order that they might have
life and joy (compare vs. 9-10; Romans 5:8; John 3:16). “God so
loved the world, that He gave,” etc. Who can declare the sweep
and intensity of that little adverb “so”? It indicates an infinity
of love, a shoreless, bottomless ocean of love. “Love, Divine
love, Divine love giving, Divine love giving its only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth — not ‘payeth,’ not ‘worketh,’ not
‘putteth out some external strength,’ but ‘believeth’ — should
not perish, but have everlasting life!” Great as was the love
between the Father and the Son, the Father “spared not His
own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” (Romans 8:32)
All the love of the Saviour’s life was the love of God. “God
was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” (II
Corinthians 5:19) In all the life of our Lord I read our text,
and in His death it is proclaimed with an almost irresistible
fullness and force that “GOD IS LOVE!”
presence of sin and suffering in the world tends to make men doubt the
love of God. If God is love, how is it that there is so much evil amongst
men? If He is omniscient, He must have foreseen it; and, foreseeing it, if He
is omnipotent, He might have prevented it. Why did He not do so? Why
does He allow it to remain?
Ø In relation to the existence of sin, or moral evil, amongst us, observe this
— the moral consciousness of men ever charges sin upon themselves,
not upon God. The weak and depraved reason of man may be so perverted
as to charge or implicate the Almighty with the origin and presence of sin;
but the heart and conscience never do so. Conscience brings the guilt
home to the sin-doer, and under its influence he cries, “Against thee,
thee only, have I sinned,” (Psalm 51:4) Remorse, penitence, prayer
for pardon, efforts to repair wrongs which have been done, — all
these prove that man feels himself, and not God, to be chargeable
with sin. And in relation to the origin of evil, whatever dark
suggestions may be presented to our mind, we always feel that it
cannot be of God, but is against Him. The presence of evil He
permitted and still permits; but it did not originate with Him.
All His works and ways are utterly opposed to sin. His material
creation, His universal providence, His moral laws, and the
redemptive mission of His Son, are all resolutely set against evil.
He is not darkness, but light; not malignity, but love.
Ø Suffering, or natural evil, as it is sometimes called, is the result of sin,
or moral evil. Whence come war and slavery, distress and poverty, pain
and sorrow, disease and “the bitterness of death”? If men would “cease
to do evil, and learn to do well” (Isaiah 1:16-17), suffering would
disappear from our world almost entirely.
Ø Much of our suffering is self-inflicted. We violate the laws of God’s
universe, and we suffer in consequence. “Whoso breaketh an hedge, a
serpent shall bite him.” (Ecclesiastes 10:8) This is never so realized
as by those who break the hedge or fence of God’s Ten Commandments!
CY – 2015) This is an arrangement of love.
Ø The sufferings of the world are small when compared with its
enjoyments. Pain is the exception, not the rule, in human life. The joy
that is in the world is far greater than the sorrow. The sufferings of
our race are only like one dark and stormy day in a whole year of
smiling and joyous sunshine.
Ø The suffering that is in the world is often the means of goodness and
joy. In itself evil is and ever must be evil; in itself suffering is ever
painful and bitter. But through the goodness of God evil is not an end,
but is often used and overruled for the promotion of good. “All
chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous:
yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been
exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Severe suffering is like a great thunderstorm which sweeps over a
country, and, by its flashing flames and awful booms and pelting rain,
fills the minds of men with terror; but it passes away, and leaves the
air purer and the heavens brighter. Therefore “let us rejoice in
our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh patience,” etc.
(Romans 5:3-5; also 8:18, 28; II Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2-3,12).
You must cut the diamond to understand its value, and to behold
the play of its tremulous colors when the sun-rays fall upon its surface.
Thus do afflictions bring to light what was latent in the heart. The
strongest faith, the intensest love, the profoundest gratitude, and the
sublimest moral and spiritual power have been manifested, not by
men in the clear day of their prosperity, but by the children of
affliction in the dark night of sorrow. Thus even suffering and
trial, when received and borne in a right spirit, witness to this
glorious truth, that “GOD IS LOVE!”
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.”
This verse raises various questions which can scarcely be answered with certainty.
Does “herein” ἐν τούτῳ - en touto – in this; herein - look back to v.16?
or forwards to “that” ἵνα (that)? or forwards to “because” ὅτι (because; seeing
that)? Again, does “with us” μεθ ἡμῶν – meth haemon – (with us; our) belong to
“is made perfect” τετελείωται – teteleiotai – (made perfect; has been perfected)?
or to ἡ ἀγάπη – hae agapae - love? John 15:8 inclines us to refer “herein” to “that”
ἵνα; and “with us” or “among us” goes better with the verb than with the
subject: “Herein has love reached its perfection among us Christians, i.e.,
in the Church, that we have confidence in the day of judgment.” This is the
perfection of love to have no fear. The ὅτι (because), introduces the reason for this
confidence: its basis is our likeness to Christ, especially IN BEING UNITED
UNTO THE FATHER! (John 17:21, 23, 26) Compare “even as He is pure”
(ch. 3:3), and “even as He is righteous” (ch.3:7): καθὼς ἐκεῖνος – kathos ekeinos –
even as He is - in all three cases.
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.
Love implies attraction, fear repulsion; therefore fear exists not
in love. Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be
limited to God’s love to us, or our love to God, or our love of the
brethren. Love and fear coexist only where love is not yet perfect. Perfect
love will absolutely exclude fear as surely as perfect union excludes all
separation. It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has
no fear. Yet nothing but perfect love must be allowed to cast out fear.
Otherwise this text might be made an excuse for taking the most
unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God. To cease to fear without
attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous. Hence the
apostle is once more pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire,
but to which no one attains in this life. There is a fear which prepares the
way for love, and which comes only to depart again when its work is done.
Because fear hath punishment. κόλασιν – kolasin – chastening - must
not be rendered indefinitely “suffering’’ or “torment” (Matthew 25:46;
Ezekiel 43:11). But κόλασιν ἔχει – kolasin echei – chastening is having –
does not mean “deserves” or “will receive punishment,” but quite literally
“has it.” It is the day of judgment and fear in reference to that day that is
under consideration; and fear of punishment is in itself punishment by
anticipation. Note the ἀλλά - alla – but - and the δέ - de – yet, introducing
a contrary and then a contrast back again: “There is no fear in love; nay,
perfect love casteth out fear: but he that habitually feareth [present participle]
is not made perfect in love.” The dread of punishment may deter men from sin;
but it cannot lead them to righteousness. For that we need either the sense of
duty or the feeling of love.
Love’s Boldness in the Day of Judgment. (vs. 17-18)
Connecting link: The apostle had been speaking of God’s love being
perfected in us. He now glances forward to the outlook of believers, as
bounded by the παρουσία – parousia – coming - and the κρίσις – krisis –
judgment, and in so doing he shows that, as love attains its perfection, all
dread which might otherwise attend on the prospect is removed; so that the
believer may have παρρησίαν – parraesian – boldness - even on the
judgment-day. As, however, in these verses there is some room for
differences of interpretation, we must first state what appears to us to be
the meaning of some of its clauses, since the entire structure of this homily
1. “Herein is the love made perfect with us.” “The love,” i.e., God’s love
which (v. 12) is perfecting itself in the soul that loves. “With us.” With
whom? “With us, as believers, one towards another?” or “with believers
and God?” We adopt the latter view — God’s own love consummating
itself in working through believers; and their love consummating itself also
in laying hold of God’s. It is difficult not to feel that there is some subtle
reference to the idea of God with us. Love is not simply perfected in
man by an act of Divine power, but in fulfilling this issue God works with
2. “Because as He is, so are we in this world.” In what sense are believers
in the world as Christ is? or rather, what is the sense in which it is so
intended here by the apostle? Is it not this — we are looking forward to the
day of judgment as the consummation of our hope, and the Redeemer is
working in the world with a view to the day of judgment as the
consummation of his mediatorial work? In this view we are confirmed by a
remark of Canon Westcott: “‘This world’ as distinguished from ‘the world’
emphasizes the idea of transitoriness.” Just so, Christ, in His redeeming
work, and we in our believing hope, are working with the same goal in
view — “the day of judgment.” This world is but a passing phase of things.
3. “Fear hath punishment [Authorized Version, ‘torment’].” There is
nothing here to suggest that “fear” has any disciplinary effect in inducing
love. The apostle views it simply as the ever-attendant penalty of
unlovingness. He whose nature is out of harmony with God’s must dread
Him everywhere and always. Spirits in league with evil will seek rest in
vain. They will tremble. But in the perfecting of love all this is done away.
day in which our Lord Jesus is carrying on His saving work in the world,
and His educating process in the Church; and all with a view to “THE
GREAT DAY!” Believers, too, are only in the preliminary period of their
training, and hence they too believe and hope and love with a view to
“the great day.” As their Lord is, so are they in this passing world, looking to
and preparing for what lies above and beyond it. Hence such passages as these:
Matthew 25.; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 13:24-25; 18:8; 21:36; John 14:3;
Acts 2:20-21; Romans 14:9-12; I Corinthians 4:5; II Corinthians 5:10;
Philippians 1:6, 10; Colossians 1:28; I Thessalonians 5:23; II Timothy 1:12.
DAY OF JUDGMENT.” It is the day of the Lord, when He shall be
manifested. It may be as lengthened a period as the present one, which is
“the day of salvation.” As the day of judgment, it will close the probation
of the race; while for those who are looking for our Lord it will bring in THE
SALVATION WHICH SHALL BE REVEALED AT THE LAST TIME!
(I Peter 1:5) In the word “judgment,” however, much more is included than
at first sight appears. “Judgment” is indeed a rectification, an adjustment;
but then what that may mean in detail depends on the person or thing to be
Ø If, e.g., any one is unlawfully bound, judgment would be liberation.
Ø If any one be deprived of a right, his judgment would mean restoration.
Ø If unjustly accused, vindication.
Ø If misunderstood or misinterpreted, manifestation.
Ø If good and evil are mixed up together, judgment would be
separation; and as the result, for the bad condemnation, and for the
Judgment is, in fact, the restitution of all things, not necessarily in the sense
attributed to that phrase by advocates of universal restoration, but in a far
higher sense, even that of rendering to every man according as his work
shall be (compare Acts 17:31).
THERE IS SOME DEFICIENCY IN OUR LOVE. That aught so solemn
as the final destinies of a race can be contemplated without a feeling of awe
— an awe that is sometimes overwhelming — is not desirable, even were it
possible. Reverence, indeed, forbids it otherwise. But this holy, reverent
awe must not be confounded with the servile dread referred to in the text:
εὐλαβείας - eulabeias – godly fear; piety - (Hebrews 12:28) is very different
from φόβος – phobos - fear. The fear which is inconsistent with perfect love
is the fear of the slave dreading the lash, or the culprit dreading the verdict.
But if the love of God is within us, sweetly subduing us with its tenderness,
and if through that love sin is pardoned and destroyed, why, there is no
lash to dread, there is no adverse verdict to fear (John 5:24, Revised Version);
for in such a case, to see the Judge upon the throne will be to look upon the
face of an infinite Vindicator and Friend, in whose love we have lived here,
and the enjoyment of whose love is the highest heaven for ever! And so far
as the judgment will bear on others, the man of love will be more than content
with the decisions of the Son of God and Son of man, and will desire
nothing more than that the entire race should be dealt with by Christ as He
sees fit. Evidently, if this be not our state of mind, there must be deficiency
in love in exactly the same degree as there is any restless fear.
BE PERFECTED IN LOVE. We may take this in either or both of two
Ø Let it be our concern that God’s own love may be so richly
communicated to us as to transform us to His likeness. (ch. 3:2)
Ø Let it be our concern to have so clear an apprehension and knowledge
of God, that we shall see in Him and in all His attributes only pure
and perfect love. In the former case there can be nothing to dread
for ourselves. In the latter case we shall dread nothing in Him,
φόβος (fear) has no door of entrance whatever.
THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. “Confidence,” “boldness,” “freedom of
speech” (compare ch.2:38; 3:21, Greek). Dread seals the lips. Love
opens them (Luke 21:36; Romans 14:12; Mark 6:30). The
“salvation” which will serve then is not an artificial plucking out of a
burning ruin, irrespectively of character; it is being made perfect by Divine
grace, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
QUESTION — What will the judgment-day bring to me — “boldness” or
“punishment”? One or the other must be. Which? There may be an attempt
to lessen the weight of these thoughts by objections or pleas; e.g.,
it may be said:
Ø The “punishment” is corrective. We suggest three replies.
o If it be, is that any reason for being content with needing
correction, when we ought to be awaiting honor?
o It is folly to urge the plea, unless men are very sure of its
accuracy. But are they?
o I Corinthians 11:32 is totally against any such plea. Or it may
Ø There is no knowing when the judgment may come (compare Ezekiel
12:27). But men forget that the judgment is but the manifestation of
that which is going on now and ever. A spirit out of harmony with
God must be ill at ease ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE! Fear hath
torment, NOW; and can never be separated from it, any more than
a man can flee from his own shadow (Job 15:21-35).
The Victory of Love over Fear (vs. 17-18)
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of
judgment, etc. Our text authorizes the following observations.
FUTURE. John speaks of “the day of judgment.” The evidence for the
coming of such a day is various and strong. (Acts 17:31)
Ø The administration of moral government in this world requires it. In
this present state the distribution of good and evil, of prosperity and
adversity, among men is not in harmony with their respective characters.
We find Paul in prison, and Nero on the throne; the infamous Jeffreys
on the bench, the sainted Baxter at the bar. This aspect of the Divine
government occasioned sore perplexity to Asaph (Psalm 73:2-14), and
from that perplexity he obtained deliverance by the recollection of the
truth that a time of judgment and retribution awaits our race in the
future (ibid. vs.16-20).
Ø Conscience anticipates the coming of such a day. The “dread of
something after death” has been felt by most men at some time or
other. The voice within testifies to the solemn truth that after
death cometh JUDGMENT!
Ø The Bible declares the coming of such a day. (See Ecclesiastes 11:9;
12:14; Matthew 12:36; 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; 14:10,12
II Corinthians 5:10; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 20:11-13.)
FITTED TO AWAKEN HUMAN FEARS. Very clearly is this implied in
the text. The awakened conscience cries, “Enter not into judgment with thy
servant; for before thee no man living is righteous.” (Psalm 143:2) Two
things in connection with the day of judgment are likely to lead to fear.
Ø The consciousness of our sins. No human being can stand before the
great tribunal and plead “Not guilty.” In relation to man we may be
guiltless; that is possible. But in relation to the holy God and His
perfect Law, we have each sinned, and brought ourselves into
condemnation, and merited punishment. Hence the prospect of the
day of judgment may well awaken our fear.
Ø The Omniscience and Holiness of the Judge. He knows our every sin.
Even our sinful thoughts and feelings are manifest unto Him. He has
set our iniquities before Him, our secret sins in the light of His
countenance (Psalm 90:8). And He cannot excuse any sin. Sin is the
abominable thing which He hates (Jeremiah 44:4). He is “of purer
eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13).
Who, then, can stand before Him in that day?
HOLY CONFIDENCE. “Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may
have boldness in the day of judgment,” etc. “Love” here is not merely our
love to God, or our love to our neighbor, but the principle of love, the love
which subsists between God and us; thus that simple relation of love of
which the apostle had spoken in v. 12, and just now again in v. 16.” And
its being perfected cannot mean that it is so fully developed as to be
incapable of further increase or improvement. In that sense love will never
be altogether “made perfect with us.” One meaning of “to be made perfect”
is “to attain its end.” And one of the designs of God is that love should
inspire us with holy boldness in the day of judgment. The confidence
which we shall have in that day, and which we have even now by
anticipation of that day, is the perfection of our love; grounded on the
consideration which follows;” viz. “Because as He is, even so are we
in this world.”
Ø Perfect love expels servile fear. There is a reverent fear which increases
as our love increases. “O fear the Lord, ye His saints,” etc. (Psalm
34:9); “Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord,” etc. (ibid. ch. 115:11,
13). But servile fear, the fear which hath torment, is incompatible with
Holy love. “There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear,”
(v. 18) What countless fears agitate the hearts of those who are not in
sympathy with God! Some men are dreading secular poverty; others,
painful and lingering illness; others, death; others, judgment; others,
God Himself. Such fears agitate and distress souls; they have torment.
Perfect love will expel each and all of these tormentors. It clothes our
life and its experiences in new aspects, by enabling us to regard them
in a different spirit. This love is of God; it proceeds from Him and
returns to Him, and it cannot dread Him or His appointments in
relation to us. In this way it banishes from the heart the dread of
death and of the judgment.
Ø Perfect love inspires holy confidence. It will impart “boldness in the
Day of judgment.” Holy love is a most courageous thing. “Love is
strong as death.… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the
floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7) Since this relation of love
subsists between God and us, and since God is what He is, viz. “love”
(v. 16) and “light” (ch.1:5), we can do no other than trust Him, and
even now look forward with confidence to the day of judgment.
Perfect love not only expels servile fear, but inspires victorious
trust in God.
WELL-GROUNDED. “Because as he is, even so are we in this world.”
“God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth
in him;” and in a measure he is like unto God. Moreover, love is a
transforming principle and power; and they who abide in love are ever
growing into more complete likeness to God in Christ; and for this reason
they may be well assured that in the day of judgment they will be accepted
of Him. If we are in this relation of holy love, we have communion with
our Lord and Saviour, He dwells in us, we dwell in Him, and we may
rejoice in the assurance that, because we morally resemble Him, He will
not condemn us in that day.
19 “We love Him, because He first loved us.” We love. The αὐτόν – auton –
Him - is spurious, and is not to be understood: the love is again quite general.
“We have this principle of love.” To take ἀγαπῶμεν – agapomen – love; are
loving - as subjunctive in the sense “let us love” is less forcible. John
states as a fact what ought to be a fact. We Christians do not fear, but
love. Yet this is no credit to us. After God’s love in giving His Son for us
it would be monstrous not to love.
Creed and Life: The Relation Between Them. (v. 19)
Connecting link: The apostle had shown that only as love is perfected in us
can we be free from the fear which has torment, and so have boldness in
the day of judgment. The verse before us declares that, as matter of fact,
this love is being inwrought, and the sole cause thereof is that God first
loved. “We love, because He first loved us.” The verse is one of peculiar
beauty and value. “It is the sanctuary of my soul,” said an aged Christian to
the writer, referring to this text. And well it may be. We propose its
homiletic exposition here, as a verse which sets forth with striking, yea,
almost startling, clearness the relation between creed and life. Often have
we been pained by the statement, “Religion is not a creed, but a life.”
There is enough truth in those words to make them attractive, and enough
error to make them deceptive. Let us rather say, “Religion is not only a
creed, but also a life,” and then we shall be nearer the truth. Following the
words of our text, observe:
these four short words, is the first creed of the Christian Church — a creed
which it had before even the New Testament existed; and through all the
Christian centuries, with all their perplexing entanglements and sharp
controversies, these words have run like a golden thread through the faith
of the Church. “He first loved us.” What is love? It is righteousness and
benevolence acting in harmony. Now, here is love’s origin. He first loved.
That is, God loved. Note: The word “love” is current coin throughout the
universe of God, AND MEANS WITH HIM WHAT IT MEANS FOR
US! (For an opening up of the wonders of God’s love, see homily on
“All my life I still have found,
And I will forget it never —
Every sorrow hath its bound,
And no cross endures for ever.
After all the winter’s snows
Comes sweet summer back again
Patient souls ne’er wait in vain:
Joy is given for all their woes.
All things else must have their day;
God’s love only lasts for aye.”
But that does last — the constant wealth, life, and joy of believers. This,
this is their creed; not held, indeed, as a dead dogma, but as a living and
inspiring faith through the energy of the Spirit of God.
to the principle that the word “love” means the same as applied to God and
to us, yet we cannot shake off a sense, even painful, of the wide contrast in
degree. “God loves… we love.” That is from sunlight to rushlight (a type
of candle) in a moment. They are both lights, it is true; but what a space
between them! Again, God’s love is a self-kindled fire. Our hearts are like
fuel in a grate, needing the spark from without ere it will burn. Still, in our
measure “we love.” But what? whom?
Ø We love God. He is our love’s supreme Object.
Ø We love each other as fellow-believers.
Ø We love man as man.
If this is the word in which our Christian life is summed up, three additional
matters should be noted ere we pass on to the next main division.
o Almost every Christian grace which can be named is love in
some form or other.
§ Repentance is love grieving.
§ Faith is love leaning.
§ Hope is love anticipating.
§ Courage is love daring, etc.
o So that we see a man has just as much religion as he has love,
and no more.
o And, further, if more energy is wanted in any one of the graces,
let a man love more, and every grace will be the stronger.
“Yes,” it may be said, “that is true enough. But how are we to love more?”
Let us now look into the Christian philosophy of loving.
CREED. We love because He loved. God first loved. Even so. There is the
spark, and there only, which kindles ours. We may set this truth on several
Ø We set it on the ground philosophy. We do not believe it possible for
any created being to learn to love except through being loved. (This
seems to be evident by the terrible plight of the modern family – CY –
2015) We do not believe any angel in heaven would have ever come
to love God had he not known that God was love. Nor could we.
Ø We set it on the ground of history. Take:
o Paganism. We read of the pagans dreading their gods, seeking to
propitiate them, being very much obliged to their gods for giving
them a good harvest, and such like; but nowhere do we read of a
pagan loving his god. Why? Because they never dreamed of a god
who loved them. And as to love to man, the heathen world, even
at its best, was a world without love.
o Judaism. The command of Moses was that the Hebrew should
love God. But — a God who did not care for them? By no means.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, who brought thee up,” etc.
Their love was called for as a response to God’s.
o Christianity. What evoked, nay, what created, the ardent love of
the first Christians? What has sustained the impassioned preachers,
missionaries, and philanthropists ever since? Love, Divine love;
nothing but that. The truth, “by His stripes we were healed,”
(Isaiah 53:5) has more power to create love than all the moralists
in the world could call forth. Take the cross away, and humanity
would revert to a glacial age.
o We set it on the ground of experience. What first moved us to
love? What moves us still? What revives us when we are
sluggish? Is it not this
“Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend”?
It is this — it is this which kindles us to a flame. If we love, it is because
He first loved us.
Ø It is quite intelligible how some men should come to hate what they call
dogma. If a man accepts a form of sound words, and is dead withal, he
must not be surprised if his words are thought to be “an empty sound.”
Can anything be more unutterably offensive than a bundle of dead
creeds avowed by dead men? Men ought to hate them. But if a man
says, “My religion is this — ‘I love God and man because God
loves me;’“ and if he shows it while he says it, men will not despise
him or his doctrine either. He will redeem dogma from discredit by
inspiring it with life.
Ø Whoever expects a living Church without a creed, expects an
impossibility. If we let go our faith, we put out our fire. If any Church
lets go its hold on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, its life
will not be worth twenty years’ purchase.
Ø If God first loves, then we should consent to let God’s love be first.
What is the use of trying to work ourselves into favor with God? The
very effort is sin. If God did not love us out of the promptings of His
own nature, nothing that we can ever do would be good enough to
induce Him to love.
Ø If God first loves us, and seeks “the love of poor souls,” how
ungrateful and unjust will it be on our part if we do not love in
Ø Here is a glorious object on which we may set our gaze — Divine love.
Yea, it is a staff on which we can lean, a pillow on which we may
repose; nay, more, it is a vast and gorgeous cathedral in which we
can worship and adore; it is the soul’s home and joy and rest. Here
is “the simplicity which is in Christ.” (II Corinthians 11:3) Here are
theology, religion, and philosophy in one sentence:
o Theology: God loves.
o Religion: we love.
o Philosophy: we love because he loves.
Here is that which is simple enough for the child, yet so grand that
not the wisest philosopher as such has found, or ever will find, aught
worthy to be compared with it.
God’s Love and Ours (v. 19)
“We love, because He first loved us.”
From all eternity there was a tender, infinite, ineffable love between the
Father and the Son. When the Scriptures represent God as having a heart,
as pitying, sorrowing, repenting, loving, hating, there is a true meaning in
the representations. If we take the corresponding emotion in ourselves,
purge it from evil, elevate and sublime it as much as possible, then we have
that which in its character resembles the emotion which is predicated of
God. God truly loves.
Spirit, or great and good angels, but man — weak, frail, and sinful. Yes,
“sinful;” for He loves man as man; not merely the pure and lovable, but the
sinful and morally deformed. If God loved only those whose hearts had
some love toward Him, He would love none; for all are estranged from Him
by sin. But “He first loved us.” “In this was manifested the love of God
towards us,” etc. (vs. 9-10); “For when we were yet without strength,
in due season Christ died for the ungodly,” etc. (Romans 5:6-8); “God
who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when
we were dead through our trespasses,” etc. (Ephesians 2:4-5); “God so
loved the world,” etc.
MAN’S LOVE. “We love, because He first loved us.” The love of God to
us is the source of all our love. The flowers that slumber in the earth
during winter do not start forth in spring and woo the sun’s warm return;
but the sun comes bathing their beds with light and warmth until they feel
his genial influence and respond thereto. So is it with God’s love and ours.
“Love begets love;” and so God’s love to us begets love in us. It follows
from this that our love, in its character, though not in its degree, must
resemble that of God. There is something in us which has an affinity to His
love, and therefore responds to it. We were made in His image, and thus
our love is like unto His. Every form or expression of human love finds its
archetype and its perfect expression in God. Take the love of a father for
his child. A noble thing is a father’s love. It is, however, perfect only in
God. “A Father of the fatherless is God in His holy habitation” (Psalm
68:5) … Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that
fear him;” (Psalm 103:13) “Behold what manner of love the Father hath
bestowed upon us,” (ch. 3:1`) A mother’s love is one of the most holy and
beautiful things in the universe; but it is perfect only in God. “Can a woman
forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son
of her womb?” etc. (Isaiah 49:15-16); “As one whom his mother comforteth,
so will I comfort you.” (ibid. ch. 66:13) A husband’s love is perfect only in
God. “Thy Maker is thine Husband; the Lord of hosts is his name.” (Isaiah
54:5) His fidelity is steadfast, His protection is constant and adequate, etc.
The love of friends is found in perfection only in God. “The Lord spake unto
Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend;” (Exodus 33:11)
“Abraham was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23) Jesus Christ, the
Revealer of God, is the “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
(Proverbs 18:24) “Having loved His own which were in the world, He
loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1) The love of a child for its parents
also finds perfect expression in the Divine nature. Jesus Christ as the Son
of God and as the Son of Mary is the perfect pattern of such affection.
Thus every aspect of true human love is beautiful, sacred, DIVINE!
God has them all in all perfection in Himself. He has manifested them,
and still manifests them to us. Our Lord Jesus is the completest, brightest
manifestation of love. Behold it in Him. Condescension, labor, humiliation,
patient submission, and uttermost self-sacrifice for sinners. Can you conceive
any manifestation of love more complete, more sublime, more Divine? The
personal realization of a love such as this must beget love in us. Its nature or
ours must be changed ere it can be otherwise. If you love Him not, you are
really not fully persuaded that He loves you. Behold in Jesus Christ the love
of God towards you. Did He not love you? Is He not love? Then, why not
love Him? Gratitude should constrain you to do so. Some can adopt the
language of the text as their own: “We love, because He first loved us.”
And others have advanced to love Him because of what He is in Himself.
Let us endeavor to love Him more and know Him more, to know Him more
and love Him more, and so BECOME INCREASINGLY LIKE HIM!
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?” What is this love of which the apostle has been speaking?
Is it the love of God or of our fellow-men? Both; love of our brethren is
organically bound up with love of God. To love God and hate one’s brother is
impossible. Sight, though not necessary to affection, aids it; and it is therefore
easier to love men than God. If a man fails in the easier, will he succeed in the
harder? Moreover, to hate one’s brother is to hate God. “Whoso rejecteth you
rejecteth me, and whoso rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me.” (Luke
10:16) Note the negative, μή - mae - not οὐ - ou.. John has no definite person
in view as ὁ οὐκ ἀγαπῶν – ho ouk agapon - but any one who may happen to be
of such a character, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπην – ho mae agapon – he who loveth not.
As before, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν (one who loves not) and ὁ μισῶν – ho mison –
one who hates - are treated as equivalent; there is no neutral term between
“love” and “hate.”
21 “And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth
God love his brother also.” That he who loveth God love his brother also. This is
the great commandment, on which hang all the Law and the prophets
(Matthew 22:37, 39; Luke 10:27; John 13:34), and, whatever we may think
of the relation between seeing and loving, there is the Divine command to love,
not only the invisible God, but the visible brother in whom the invisible God
dwells. Sight may hinder as well as help; it is hard to love what is squalid and
hideous. In such cases let us remember the Divine command; let us remember
the Divinity which even the most debased humanity contains.
Threefold Recommendation of the Duty of Loving One Another. (vs. 7-21)
ORIGIN IN GOD. The duty enjoined. “Beloved, let us love one another.”
John has a winning way of urging duty, addressing his readers as objects of
his affection, and desiring himself to be stirred up to duty. He has in view
the absolute type of love in the Christian circle. There are considerations
adduced which go beyond brotherly love, which suggest rather compassionate
love. But it is to be remembered that love to child, to friend, to sinner, is intended
to have its outcome and complete satisfaction within the, Christian circle.
Ø Divine origin of love.
o Positive. “For love is of God; and every one that loveth is
begotten of God, and knoweth God.” It is true of all physical
force that there is in the world, that it is of God, in this sense —
that love came originally from the creative energy of God. In
the same way, love is of God, inasmuch as we have been created
with a capacity of loving. But that will not meet the requirement
of the thought here. Love is of God in the sense that, as an actual
spiritual force, it has come from a fountain of love in God. Every
one that loveth, then, is begotten of God, i.e., has had a nature
imparted to him like God’s, and so that he is a child of God. He
also knoweth God, i.e., has daily and growing acquaintance with
God, through which there is communicated to him more of the
force of Divine love.
o Negative. Statement. “He that loveth not knoweth not God.”
There is not derivation in this case; but there is the singling out
of a person in whom love is not a force, and it is said of him
(passing over nature) that he knoweth not God. The difference
of tense, which is not brought out in the translation, seems to be
aimed at apparent knowledge. When he said, at his baptism or at
any other time, that he knew God, looking to the absence of love
as a force in his life, John is confident that he never knew him.
Reason. “For God is Love.” This is the way in which the most
sublime statement of Scripture is the first time introduced. One
of the most striking introductions to a sermon is that by the late
of paper to have been found
among the ruins of
After great difficulty, the assembled men of letters
succeed in deciphering the first two words, “God is.” There is
dreadful suspense, while they labor to decipher the third word.
What is God? is a question upon the answer to which human
destiny very much depends. There is a glow of satisfaction when,
at last, they make out letter by letter 1-o-v-e. God is Love. It was
left to the disciple of love to make this late, but fully satisfying,
announcement about God, if from his own consciousness, also
from the spirit of inspiration. God is a Spirit — that is
a statement of cur Lord’s recorded by John (John 4:24),
describing the Divine nature as above all limitations of space and
time. God is Light — that is a statement already made in this
Epistle, describing the Divine nature as purity with no
limit to its diffusiveness. God is Love — that is a statement the
excellence of which lies in its bringing out the personal element
in the Divine nature. (Is it not wonderful that God is a One on
one God! – CY – 2015) This God is essentially, apart from all
thought of creation. But how are we to think of Him as love in
the depths of His own being? Love involves a subject and an
object, and that which unites both. We must not, therefore, think
merely of the love of God to the creature, but also of the
inner Divine Trinitarian love in God. There is the outgoing of
infinite love in the Father which finds an infinite response in
the Son, and this is maintained through the Spirit. That
language is vague; but it may serve to mark the loving
intercommunication that there is within Godhead.
It is because God essentially realizes love, without going
outside of His own being, that He is Self-blessed.
Ø The love of God was manifested in the Incarnation. “Herein was the
love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent His only begotten Son
into the world, that we might live through Him.” There is the full
satisfaction of love within Godhead; and yet there was a movement
of love with an object beyond Godhead. It was love that moved God
to create — the desire to communicate of the riches of His own Being.
It can be said that, even from eternity, we lay in the thoughts of God,
with the clearness of the Divine intentions and the kindling of the
Divine affection around us. And so the place of all beings and of all
things in His world lay before Him, as that in which, anticipatively,
He took delight. When angels were brought into being, it was love
that was operating, and, there being none other, God Himself
rejoiced over them. (Just as He sings over us! Zephaniah 3:17 – CY –
2015) When the foundations of the earth were fastened, and the
2016) cornerstones thereof laid, it was love that was operating;
and “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted
for joy.” (Job 38:7) “Herein was the love of God manifested.” Creation,
in all its lines, has been drawn by love, and so it is essentially a glad
study, calling forth, from the students of its many parts, the symphonious
song, and the common shout of joy. But it is not to this manifestation
that John calls attention. His mind has been filled, from the beginning
of his letter, with that which is the manifestation of love by pre-eminence.
It is the Incarnation that he cannot leave out of sight. “Herein was the
love of God manifested.” The manifestation is said to be in us, i.e., in
believers; for it is in them that the Incarnation reaches its end. The
Incarnation is described as God sending His only begotten Son into
the world. We start from the thought of HIS DIGNITY as the only
begotten Son of God, besides whom the Father had none in whom
the Father’s love found an adequate object. He found the condition
appointed for Him in the world. That is, without ceasing to be the
only begotten Son, He became a man among men, even sharing
the evil of their condition, yea, suffering death at the hands of
sinners. What was the meaning of this strange manifestation?
It was not that God took delight in the evil condition of His Son.
But IT WAS LOVE GOING OUT TOWARD MEN! We were in
a dead state, in relation to the vindication of Law, and in relation to
our true life; and we had not yet come to the worst. God did not blot
out the fair page of creation, He did not part with one son out of
many; but HE PARTED WITH HIS ONLY BEGOOTEN SON!
— THE MOST GLORIOUS OF ALL BEINGS perfectly reflecting
His own majesty, that we might LIVE THROUGH HIM! He
made the sacrifice in which His feelings were the most deeply involved,
that our interests might be advanced to the highest point. “Herein was
the love of God manifested.”
Ø The Incarnation is proof that love was not first in us, but in God.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent
His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins.” Whence has love sprung?
Was it first in our hearts, and then, by contact with love in our hearts,
was it kindled in the Divine heart? Ah! no; love has its eternal dwelling-
place in God. It was not that we loved God; any movement of love in us
was necessarily subsequent to the movement of the Divine love in
creating us. It was not that we loved God; we were not actually lovers
of God in our characters. We were laden with sins, those sins being
all love of self and lack of love toward God. It was that HE LOVED
US and He created us that He might make us SHARERS WITH
HIM IN HIS BLISS! It was that He loved us; and, when we had
frustrated the end of His love, He did not leave us in our sins.
He acted without prompting from without, He acted with absolute
spontaneity, He acted out of the infinite freedom of His own will;
and what did He do. He sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our
sins; i.e., sent Him into our nature to remove all the obstacles that
our sins presented to our enjoying the blessings of Divine fellowship.
Love is free, and yet it has an inner law of righteousness. Our sins
could not be removed in any way, they could not be removed by
Divine fiat, they could not be removed without adequate satisfaction.
And, when righteousness demanded that the satisfaction should be
given in our nature, Divine love proved equal to the emergency.
The Son, breathing forth the Father’s love, did not eschew our
nature, and, IN IT DYING, made infinite satisfaction for our sins.
Such is love, in all the glory of its freedom and of its power.
TO FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. The duty inferred from the Incarnation.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” John
again adopts the affectionate form of address. He proceeds on the manner
of love brought out in the preceding verse. “If so [the emphatic position]
God loved us.” It is implied that we have been brought into the position of
God’s children, and should act as God does. The conclusion then follows,
that we should love one another. As for the manner of our love, it should
be love that can go the length of sacrifice, and love that can conquer
obstacles of sin. But as for the object of our love, why is it loving one
another? It is to this point that John directs himself.
Ø To love one another is the way to have fellowship with the invisible
God. “No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another,
God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” The fact of the
invisibility of God is also stated in John 1:18, “No man hath seen
God at any time.” The verb is different here, conveying the idea of
seeing intently, seeing so as to image to the mind what God is through
the sense of sight. In John 1:18 the invisibility of God is regarded as
relieved by the Incarnation. Here the invisibility of God is regarded in
connection with fellowship with God, and there is brought into view,
not the visible Mediator, but our visible brethren. How are we to have
(not to prove that we have) fellowship with the invisible God? The way
is to have visible objects for our love, especially to love one another in
the Christian circle. Loving one another, on the one hand, “God abideth
in us,” so as to be nearer to us for fellowship, than if we beheld Him.
Loving one another, on the other hand, His love, i.e., our love to Him,
is perfected. It cannot be brought to perfection unless with the help
of love to the brethren. This thought receives further expression at the
close of this chapter.
Ø Participation in the Spirit is the sign of fellowship with God. “Hereby
know we that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He hath given
us of His Spirit.” The thought is similar in ch.3:24. Loving one another
leads to mutual abiding. But how is this to be discovered? It is by the
distribution to us of the Spirit. He cannot be communicated to us in the
full flood of His influence, but only according to our nature and
disposition. It is evident that the Spirit is the common element on which
our fellowship with God proceeds. But another question at once arises —
How do we know that we participate in the Spirit? The answer, given
in what follows, is, our appreciation of the Incarnation.
Ø There can be no fellowship with God apart from THE INCARNATION!
o The Incarnation historically attested. “And we have beheld and
bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour
of the world.” Strictly speaking, what the apostles beheld was
what Christ was in the flesh. There was thus a good historical basis
for their testimony. They knew, at first hand, that Christ was
baptized, wrought miracles, was transfigured, died, rose again,
and that He claimed to be the Son of God. But the testimony
is carried here beyond the actual facts to the meaning of the facts.
As here expressed, it is that “the Father hath sent the Son to be
the Saviour of the world.” The apostles, carefully observing the
facts, gave this as their only rational explanation. He with whom
they had been thrown into closest contact, was no mere man,
but the Son of God. He was the object of the Father’s infinite
love; but the Father, in a wondrous manner, sent Him forth on
a mission of a saving nature and wide as the world in its reach.
John here echoes the Samaritans, of whom he records that they
said to the woman with whom Christ had a conversation,
“Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have
heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour
of the world.” (John 42) It is well to have a title that sets
forth so clearly the impartiality, the universality, of Christ’s
mission. It is implied that His mission is lasting. He is still to
be thought of as sent into the world as its Saviour. Every
unsaved person has a right to claim Him as his Saviour; and
that is the simple fact with which we have to do. There is
hint here of a love that oversteps love of the brethren.
o The test of confession. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is
the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God.” It underlay
the apostolic attestation that Jesus is the Son of God. This, then,
is the form which the test takes, in agreement with forms in which
it has already been put. The Unitarians escape the application
of the test, by retaining the language while taking away from the
meaning. To us, He is the first of the sons of God, the Son by
peculiar nearness and likeness to the Father. In this mighty
universe, framed to be A MIRROR OF ITS AUTHOR, we turn
to Jesus as the brightest Image of God, and gratefully yield Him a
place in our souls, second only to the infinite Father, to whom He
Himself directs our supreme affection. But the whole aspect of
the Incarnation is changed if we think of Jesus as only an
exalted creature, humbling himself to a lower creaturely condition,
and not as the uncreated Son, humbling Himself to what was
infinitely below Him. As an exhibition of love, the one
humbling is not to be compared with the other. The Son is to
be taken as absolutely as the Father, i.e., One in whom the Father
sees His perfect image. Where the Spirit of God works, there is
prompting to the confession of the mysterious entering of the
Divine Son into our nature; and it is only in the line of this
thought that we can maintain fellowship with God.
Ø Experience of love in which there is fellowship with God.
o Experience of love. “And we know and have believed the love
which God hath in us.” The comfort of the Incarnation is that it
is infinite love finding a lodging in our nature, and especially in
our hearts as believers. According as we believe, have we
experience of the love: and, however much we have experience
of it, there is still room for the exercise of faith.
o Restatement regarding the nature of God. “God is Love.” In
neither case is the statement made to stand out; it is introduced
as though it were a familiar thought to the writer. “Pure,
universal Love thou art.” One bearing of this is that God
cannot love partially, loving one and not loving another.
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”
Another bearing of it is that God cannot love feebly. Even in His
reserve there is strength. He rests in His love (Zephaniah 3:17);
but it is because He is conscious of His strength. He had infinite
repose in view of the entrance of sin into the world; but it was
because He was conscious of His power to defeat it for His own
glory on the cross. And we must think of Him as having infinite
repose in view of the final issue of things. That He is Love means
this to us — that all means will be used to overcome the evil
of our hearts.
o Inference regarding fellowship with God. “And he that abideth
in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.” If God is
Love, as the Spirit gives us to see in the Incarnation, then he
who moves habitually in love as the sphere of his being, keeps
up fellowship with God.
Ø Consummation. “Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have
boldness in the day of judgment; because as he [that One] is, even so are
we in this world.” It is a most solemn thought that there is before us all
the day of judgment. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after
this cometh judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) There is a final and authoritative
judgment to be pronounced on the value of our life. What has there been
in it of obedience to God? How far have we received Christ into it?
Upon that the sentence must turn. Love is now with us; i.e., joined
to us as an influence in our life. What is the greatest thing that it
can do for our future? It is this, to inspire us with boldness that day
when we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. The ground of
our present confidence is likeness to Christ. That One who is to be
on the judgment-seat was once in this world in bodily form; He is
still in the world in spirit, loving those who are His people, and
seeking to embrace all others within the number of His people.
According as we are in sympathy with the movements of His love —
love His people, and seek to embrace others within the number of
His people — can we assure our hearts in view of the day of judgment.
Ø Imperfection on the way to the consummation. “There is no fear in
love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment;
and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.” The opposite of
boldness is fear: this is excluded from love. It is of the nature of fear
to shrink back from a person; it is of the nature of love to be attracted
toward a person. There is naturally fear in us to be cast out. According
as love takes possession of us does it cast out fear. Men may have a
certain fear of each other on first acquaintance; but let love be drawn
out, and fear is gradually expelled. So we have a feeling of fear
toward God, while our relations to Him are not satisfactorily
determined, while we have not satisfactorily discovered His
feelings toward us. We are startled when we think of our sin,
when we think of the Divine indignation against sin. But when
we think of God as in infinite compassion making provision for
us as sinners, we are emboldened. “He is near that justifieth me;
who is he that will contend with me?” (Isaiah 50:8) And as
we realize more of the greatness of redeeming love, there is less
room left for fear. There is a punitive office fulfilled by fear. It is
God in a painful manner dealing with us for our imperfect love,
and telling us that we must love better.
Ø Love that is operative is caused by anticipative love. “We love, because
He first loved us.” There is an affirmation here, and an explanation. The
affirmation is, “We love” (without definition of object), There are
multitudes who, without untruthfulness and without presumption, can
say, “We love.” Can we say this? The love of parents to their children is
acknowledged to be real. We are not long in a home before we see that
love is, in no feigned manner, operating. The parents cannot suffer their
children to be long out of their sight. They have doubts and fears about
them in many ways. And they are always planning for their well-being.
Do we love all round in the same way? Would we be conscious of a great
blank in our existence if we had not a God to love? Would the light of our
eye, the joy of our heart, be gone? Do we delight in fellowship with God?
Do we form plans for advancing the glory of God? Does love, too,
operate toward our brethren? Have we a real interest in them, rejoicing
with them when they rejoice, and weeping with them when they weep?
(Romans 12:15) Does our love operate toward those who are not yet
brethren, leading us to make sacrifices for them, and to form plans
for their being brought into the fold of the Redeemer? But there is
also an explanation. “We love, because He first loved us.” What is the
origin of love in us? It is God exercising influence over us; but in what
o Not by the manifestations of His power,
o not by the manifestations of His wisdom,
o not by the manifestations of His righteousness;
o but by the manifestations of HIS LOVE!
Like produces like! God loved us before we had the opportunity of
loving. He loved us in creating us, in putting it into the hearts of parents
to care for us in infancy and childhood. He thus anticipated us with
goodness. And then He was ready with a scheme of mercy for our
coming into the world. We are not long in the world before we learn
that we have got evil hearts, that we are in the midst of sin and misery;
(“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:
who can know it?” - Jeremiah 17:9) and sometimes the prospect seems
dreary enough. But, on the other hand, it is true that God has made
the world warm for our coming into it. There is love in it as well as sin;
and thus God has been beforehand with us. He did not wait until we
sinners returned to Him. (“But God commendeth His love toward
us, in that, while we were yet sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US!”
(Romans 5:8) That was impossible by an act of our own will, even
by an act of the Divine will, as sheer force. It needed some powerful
influence to bear upon our hearts; and that was found in the anticipative
love of God IN REDEMPTION! It is the greater love that ever
comes first. Two persons have a quarrel. The one comes to the other,
and desires a reconciliation; the other is overcome, and loves in return.
That was the greater love which took the initiative, and broke down the
alienation. So God’s love is the greater, for He speaks the first word
of reconciliation. And what makes it all the greater is that the fault
was entirely on our side. We had wronged Him; He regarded our sin
with the utmost displeasure; and yet He loved us. The love with which
He anticipated us was greater than any of which we were capable;
GREAT AS HIS OWN NATURE! That love has received ample
manifestation. There was once a poor Man in this world. He was brought
up in an insignificant little town. He received no education but what that
little town could afford Him. He at first worked as a carpenter, eating his
bread in the sweat of His brow. Then He began to work miracles as with
Divine power, and to teach as with Divine wisdom. His public career was,
however, cut short; for men did not like His teaching, and plotted His
death. He was crucified as a malefactor at the age of thirty-three. This
poor Man was none other than THE SON OF GOD!. What was the
meaning of this humiliation? It was anticipative love. “God commendeth
His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for
us.” (Repetition is the way we learn! – CY – 2015) Of this love we
can give no account, no explanation; it is a mystery, before which we
must bow. But our love is capable of explanation. “We love, because
He first loved us.” Let the pressure of anticipative love upon us be
Ø Love that is operative rises from the seen to the unseen. “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, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.
And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love
his brother also.” It is declared in the most emphatic manner that love to
God cannot exist apart from love to our brother, on the ground that
there is a close connection between loving the seen and loving the unseen,
and further, on the ground that this connection is embodied in a positive
Divine command. A first noticeable thing is that love should form the
subject of a command. It seems strange that we should be commanded
to love. Love is supposed to have a freedom, an immunity of its own.
And yet it must be with the affections as with other parts of our nature.
They must be placed under government and discipline. There must, in
the first instance, be the voice of God, the voice of conscience,
authoritatively prescribing their course, directing them to proper objects,
and keeping them in just harmony. This would be necessary, even if the
affections were naturally pure. The authority of conscience would need
to be exercised over them in order to give them character. It is, therefore,
all the more necessary, seeing their most fine gold has become changed.
They (we) are not naturally Christian. Christ is the very last Person
round whom they would center. For “He hath no form nor comeliness;
and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire
Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) And HOW HARD IT IS TO Christianize the
affections, to give them the genuine, unmistakable Christian stamp
and temper; to give them Christ’s steadiness, and tenderness, and
fervor, and catholicity! How hard for us, who are beset with sin, to
reach to that! A first love, a youthful enthusiasm, is beautiful, as youth
always is. But it is not true to Christ, as the needle to the pole; it is
notoriously erratic. Neither is it strong and enduring, as the feeling
of him who has been accustomed to the storm; it soon waxes faint.
And when youth is past, how dull and sluggish the affections, how
unexcitable even before the cross, and in presence of human sin and
sorrow! how unseemly, and perhaps malicious, when they come
unexpectedly out in the conflict of opinion and interest! They need to
be treated with severity; they need to be dragged at the heels of duty.
It is only by superintendence and watchfulness and chastening that
they can be brought into loving obedience to Christ Jesus, THE
ALTOGETHER LOVELY! (Song of Solomon 5:16) A
commandment, then, is reasonable; it is urgently needed, and shall be
needed until love is the law of our being — until love shall perform
every function in the body of Christ, with all the quickness and all
the regularity of an instinct. A second noticeable thing is the manner
in which John issues the command. There were two commands from
Him, i.e., from God. The first and great commandment is that we
should love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul,
and with all our mind, and with all our strength. (Mark 12:30)
It might seem, then, that we should not love others at all. But Christ,
going beyond the lawyer’s question, brings into view the second
commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” (ibid.
v. 31) connecting it by declaring it to be like unto the first.
John, in the line of the Master’s thought, brings the two more closely
together, calling them one commandment. The broad principle here is
this — that the love of our brother man, whom we see, is a help to the
love of our Father-God, whom we do not see.
o The family affections. What does the family institution teach us
regarding God? Nature gives us an idea of God as the great and
inexhaustible Creator. To the magnitude and beauty of His
working there no one has yet discovered the limit. Every
augmentation of optical power, every improvement in the
science of seeing, only brings fresh worlds into view — a truth
which holds not merely in astronomy, but in the whole circle of
the sciences. (I highly recommend Fantastic Trip on You Tube –
CY – 2015) And yet the distance between God and nature is
very great — all the distance there is between a workman and
his work, between an author and his book. Nature, after all
that can be said of it, is only a work, a production, a thing made.
Society gives us a higher idea of God; for here, under a variety
of forms, we have the relation of governing and governed. The
state, especially, is the great governing institution. It gives us the
idea of God as the righteous Governor; One ruling in right,
and backed by power. This brings God nearer to us; for the
distance between a ruler and his subjects is much less than
between a workman and his work. But the family gives us a
still higher, and the very highest, conception of God; for it is to
be regarded as the revelation of His Fatherhood. (With the
low estate of the modern family, this is for the broken family
a very hard row to hoe because there is no father figure in
many homes and God has chosen to work through the home
and fathers, therefore many have no frame of reference – CY –
2015) We are more than creatures, we are more than subjects; we
are sons. We stand in the most intimate relation to God: a more
intimate relation we do not know. And we take it that God has
founded the family, has instituted the relationship of father and
son among men, just to show us HOW CLOSELY RELATED
WE ARE TO HIM! The family is full of spiritual interest and
meaning. Traces of infinite benevolence and wisdom are to be
found in all its arrangements. The first significant fact is that the
opening period of each human life is marked by helplessness.
This is not peculiar to man; for the same arrangement is found in
other creatures. In the human economy, however, it is most
strongly marked. In comparison with other creatures, man is but
slowly furnished with the knowledge and strength needful for
self-subsistence. The period of his pupilage or dependence may
be said to extend to a third or a fourth of his lifetime. At first
sight this does not seem to be honoring to man. Would it not be
better for him to spring at once into self-subsistence, with powers
not needing to be matured? But the true explanation is greatly to
his honor. Among the lower creatures, it is those that in infancy
are most dependent that show THE GREATEST NATURAL
AFFECTION! And so it is because infancy and childhood, and