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1 John 4:1 - 1 John 5:12
(2) The source of son-ship. Possession of the Spirit.
1 John 4:1-6
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 John 4:1
Beloved (as in 1 John 2:28 and 1 John 3:18, 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. "The spirits" are principles and tendencies in religion: these need to be tested, for earnestness and fervour 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 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. This is no useless precaution; because, as Christ has come forth ἐχελήλυθε from God (John 16:28; comp. John 8:42; John 13:3; John 16:27), ninny false prophets have come forth ἐζεληύθασι 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" (1 John 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 Ephesus, for they were known as "Ephesian letters." Apollonius of Tyana was eagerly welcomed at Ephesus, and it is not impossible that his visit took place during St. John's lifetime.
1 John 4:2
This verso 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, may be either imperative, in harmony with "believe" and "prove" (1 John 4:1), or indicative, in harmony with "we know" (1 John 3:16, [19,] 24).
1 John 4:3
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 Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα being a spurious addition from 1 John 4:1. As so often, St. John states the ease 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 ̓Ιησοῦν it gives λύει τὸν ̓Ιησοῦν, 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 1 John 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 probably means "the spirit of antichrist," understanding πνεῦμα from the preceding clause rather than (quite vaguely) "the characteristic of antichrist" (see on 1 John 2:18, to which passage, however, ἀκηκόατε does not refer, (but to Christian teaching in general). And now it is in the world already. This is an independent statement; St. John does not say that they had heard this previously.
1 John 4:4
Ye are of God. The ὑμεῖς is in emphatic opposition to the false teachers. 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." St. 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." 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 St. John's "little children" overcome them? He may be speaking by anticipation; confident of the victory, he writes of it as an accomplished fact (comp. John 16:33). But it is better to take the statement literally. By refusing to listen to the false teachers (John 10:8) the sheep have conquered them: the seducers have "gone out" (1 John 2:19), unable to hold their own within the fold. Nor is this wonderful: the one side have God with them, the other Satan. Ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ here is equivalent to ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (Luke 12:31). Just as God is in believers and they in God, so the world is in the evil one (1 John 5:19) and the evil one in it.
1 John 4:5
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 1 John 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).
1 John 4:6
The opposite ease stated again, but not in the same form as in 1 John 4:4. 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 St. John's meaning seems rather to be that he who acquires knowledge ὁ γινώσκων of God is ready to listen to further apostolic instruction. From this ἐκ τούτου need not be confined to verse 6; it may apply to the whole passage. For the Spirit of truth, comp. John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13.
1 John 4:7-21
God is Love, and love is the surest test of birth from God. From 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:12 St. John renews his exhortations to love, this time at greater length and in closer connexion with the other great subject of this second half of the Epistle, the birth from God.
1 John 4:7
Beloved (see on 1 John 4:1) 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, see Trench's 'Synonyms of New Testament.')
1 John 4:8
In giving the opposite, St. John again varies the thought, this time very remarkably. Instead of "love is of God" (verse 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 (John 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 St. 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?
1 John 4:9
The verse is very similar to 1 John 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. It means 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 St. John's Gospel. The word μονογενής as applied to Christ is peculiar to St. John; it and ζήσωμεν 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."
1 John 4:10
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 in 1 John 4:9 expresses the permanent results of the mission; ἀπέστειλεν here states the mission as an accomplished fact complete in itself. (For ἱλασμός, see on 1 John 2:2.)
1 John 4:11
Beloved introduces a solemn exhortation, as in 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:7. The "if" implies no uncertainty (see on 1 John 5:9); it puts the fact more gently, but not more doubtfully, than "since." The "so" οὕτως covers both the quality and the quantity of the love. Καὶ belongs solely to ἡμεῖς: "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 1 John 4:12 he shows how loving God involves loving one's fellow-men.
1 John 4:12
No one hath ever yet beheld God. Θεόν 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, stronger than ἑώρακεν. Why does St. 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 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 1 John 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.
1 John 4:13
Almost identical with 1 John 3:24. In 1 John 3:1-7 the apostle says that confession of the Incarnation proves possession of the Spirit; and in 1 John 3:12 that love of the brethren proves the indwelling of God. He now (1 John 3:13) goes on to say that possession of the Spirit proves the indwelling of God; and (1 John 3:15) 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. St. John does not say, "He has given us his Spirit," but "of his Spirit ἐκ τοῦ Πνεύματος αὐτοῦ." 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 (comp. John 12:3).
1 John 4:14
And we have beheld, and do bear witness. The emphatic ἡμεῖς clearly means "we apostles;" and "beheld" τεθέαμεθα implies contemplation with bodily eyes, as in 1 John 4:12. 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 1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:3, would be strained and rather unreal in one who had not seen the Christ in the flesh. Note that σωτῆρα has no article, and is not in mere apposition, but is a second predicate: "The Father hath sent [see on 1 John 1:10] the Son as Saviour," i.e., to be such. "The world," as commonly in St. John's writings, is specially the unregenerate among the human race.
1 John 4:15
Whosoever confesseth ὅς ἂν ὁμολογήση. 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." 1 John 4:14 gave the ease of the apostles; this gives that of those who accept their witness. In the next verse we have that of both together.
1 John 4:16
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 1 John 4:9 ἐν ἡμῖν 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.
1 John 4:17
This verse raises various questions which can scarcely be answered with certainty. Does "herein" ἐν τούτῳ look back to 1 John 4:16? or forwards to "that" ἵνα? or forwards to "because" ὅτι? Again, does "with us" μεθ ̓ ἡμῶν belong to "is made perfect" τετελείωται? or to "love" ἡ ἀγάπη? 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, introduces the reason for this confidence: its basis is our likeness to Christ. especially in being united to the Father (John 17:21, John 17:23, John 17:26). Compare "even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3), and "even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7): καθὼς ἐκεῖνος in all three cases.
1 John 4:18
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, as Bede points out, which prepares the way for love, and which comes only to depart again when its work is done. Because fear hath punishment. Κόλασις must not be rendered indefinitely "suffering'' or "torment" (Matthew 25:46; Ezekiel 43:11; Wisd. 11:14; 2 Macc. 4:38). But κόλασιν ἔχει 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 and the δέ, 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.
1 John 4:19
We love. The αὐτόν is spurious, and is not to be understood: the love is again quite general. "We have this principle of love." To take ἀγαπῶμεν as subjunctive in the sense "let us love" is less forcible. St. 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."
1 John 4:20
Ebrard and others make a new section begin here; but 1 John 4:21, 22 are in intimate connexion with what precedes. 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." Note the negative, μή not ου). St. John has no definite person in view as ὁ οὐκ ἀγαπῶν, but any one who may happen to be of such a character, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπην. As before, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν and ὁ μισῶν are treated as equivalent; there is no neutral term between "love" and "hate."
1 John 4:21
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, Matthew 22:39; 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.
1 John 4:1-3
Tests of true or false prophets.
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—firstly, that we are of the truth; and 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.
I. 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.
1. 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 candour, 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.
(1) His character (John 8:46).
(2) His works (John 14:10, John 14:11).
(3) Prophecy (Luke 24:27).
(4) Testimony (John 8:17, John 8:18).
(5) His resurrection (John 2:19).
(6) The promise of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:4).
2. 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, John 20:31).
3. The reception of Christ as a living and reigning Saviour had been followed by a new and. regenerated social life.
4. 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.
II. THERE IS ONE UNIFORM TEST TO WHICH THE " SPIRITS " ARE TO BE BROUGHT. Note here:
1. The point to be tested—"whether they are of God."
2. 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 honour 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:
(1) 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.
(2) The claims of Christ are so vast that they stand absolutely alone.
(3) Some point of invalidity in them must be shown before those claims can be displaced.
(4) This never has been, never will be, never can be done.
(5) Hence any "spirit" that would relegate Christ to an inferior place, is to be rejected forthwith.
III. APPLYING THIS TEST, WE HAVE THE EXTENT AND THE LIMIT OF THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD.
1. 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 "of God."
2. 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 1:11.
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:
1. It may surely be contended that, through prepossession on the part of 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 riser 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:
2. We admire Christ extremely; we honour him as the Prince of teachers. In 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 asked:
3. Is there, then, to be no progress in the course of the ages? is all other science to advance and Christian knowledge remain stationary, so that in the nineteenth 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. lie 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." Hence at any point of time, however distant, whoever withholds from him his due, cannot be "of God."
1. The "trying the spirits," as prophets and teachers, is not by any means to 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.
2. At the same time, any one who comes to teach with a view of displacing 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.
3. In repelling attacks on the Christian faith, our wisdom lies in
(1) setting minor matters in due relation to the rest, and then
(2) remaining calmly in our stronghold, compelling an onset there, if any be ventured on at all.
4. Our attitude, perpetually, must be this: "We know we have a Saviour, who has saved us, who is saving others by us, and who is perpetually proving what he is by causing the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the dead to live; and you must displace these facts before you attempt to disturb our faith."
1 John 4:1-6
The power of trying the spirits.
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 ψευδοπροφῆται rather than as πνεύματα. 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—the point from whence they started, the mission on which they are sent, the region to which they are bound, and the spirit with which they are inspired. 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.
I. THOUGH SPIRITS ARE VISIBLE AS SUCH, THEY MAY 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 (cf. 1 Kings 22:20-24; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 Timothy 4:1). Note: It is by clearly apprehending the teachings of the Word of God concerning the spiritual world that we shall host be guarded against the prying and unholy pretensions of a spurious spiritualism (see homily on Deuteronomy 18:1-22).
II. THE INRUSH OF FALSE PROPHETS FROM TIME TO TIME IS THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANTICHRIST. "This is that [spirit] of antichrist" (1 John 4:3); see homily on 1 John 2:18. "This is that whole power and principle of the antichrist" ('Speaker's Commentary,' in loc., where see also a valuable historical note on 1 John 2:1).
III. THESE FALSE PROPHETS ARE COME FROM AFAR ON A MISSION TO THIS WORLD. The apostle says of them, they "are gone out into the world"—"on a mission of evil from their dark home" (Westcott). 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 theatre and the witness. The struggle is between
(1) the serpent and Eve;
(2) Christ and the tempter;
(3) Christ and the world;
(4) the tempter and the individual;
(5) error and truth;
(6) the Church and the world;
(7) the Church and the evil one;
(8) the antichristian embassy and the body of believers.
IV. THIS ANTICHRISTIAN MISSION TO EARTH IS INSPIRED BY A SPIRIT OF ERROR. And the apostle shows us here, as before (see homily on 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 legion!
V. THESE ERROR-INSPIRED SPIRITS OWE THEIR INSPIRATION TO A PERSONAL LEADER. 1 John 2:4, ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. 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. 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 (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; John 8:44). 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.
VI. GREAT AS IS THE POWER OF EVIL WHICH IS IN THE WORLD, THERE IS A GREATER POWER IN BELIEVERS. Μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν. Satan is mighty, but there is a Mightier. The strong one has been vanquished by a Stronger (Matthew 12:28, Matthew 12:29; Matthew 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. 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."
VII. THIS GREATER POWER IS "OF GOD." The Divine Spirit may 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.
1. 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).
2. By regenerating grace. When a man is born of God, that wicked one toucheth him not.
3. By the unction from above (1 John 2:20; see homily on 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27). This imparts spiritual discernment.
4. By the ardour and courage of a holy combativeness (Ephesians 6:10-17).
VIII. WHERESOEVER THIS DIVINE POWER IS GIVEN, THE POWER OF ANTICHRIST IS GONE. Νενικήκατε αὐτούς. "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 (1 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
(1) to perceive,
(2) to receive, and
(3) to hold fast the truth.
He will be enabled
(1) to detect,
(2) to expose,
(3) to combat, and
(4) to overcome the error.
1. It is an unspeakable mercy to have the Spirit dwelling within 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, as the late Rev. J.A. James expressed it, the surest preservative against the snares of infidelity and the seductions of a false philosophy.
2. It is by means of the conflict that the believer is himself confirmed in the 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 learnt a lesson of priceless worth in the power of Christ and the impotence of antichrist!
1 John 4:7-12
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.£
I. GOD IS LOVE. In John 4:24 we have "God is Spirit." In John 1:5 "God is Light." Here "God is Love." The first indicates the substance of the Divine nature—personal, conscious, intelligent Spirit. The second declares the perfection of that nature in knowledge and in purity. 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 his grace. These three 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 nature, providence, and grace. The three spheres give us the triple unfolding of infinite love, and nothing else.
II. THAT LOVE HAS BEEN MANIFESTED TO OUR RACE. (John 1:9, John 1:10.) 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.£
III. SUCH A PROPITIATION REVEALS A LOVE ALTOGETHER UNIQUE. (John 1:9, John 1:10.) "In this," etc. "Herein is love ;" as if it were seen nowhere ease. All other love fades away in comparison herewith. This will appear as we study:
1. Its origin. God's own love, self originated and sustained, unbought, spontaneous.
2. Its method. The bestowment of the greatest possible gift, and that as a sacrifice.
3. Its objects. lie loved us sinners, traitors, alienated ones.
4. Its extent. "The whole world;" i.e., all the race on the globe through all time!
5. Its intent. That we might live. That all who believe might be made heirs of glory.
IV. SUCH A LOVE, SO MANIFESTED, CREATES A NEW DUTY OF LOVE ON OUR PART.£ (John 1:11.) 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 John 1:11 ought to be irresistibly felt.
V. GOD'S AMAZING LOVE TO MAN IS ATTENDED WITH A NEW CREATIVE POWER. (John 1:7.) "Every one that loveth is born of God."£ "It should never be forgotten," says Trench, "that ἀγάπη is a word born within the bosom of revealed religion; it occurs in the LXX, 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."
VI. WHEN BEING BORN OF GOD, WE LOVE LIKE HIM, WE ARE BROUGHT INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM. (John 1:12, John 1:13.) 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.£
VII. IN PROPORTION AS THIS IS THE CASE, WE KNOW GOD. (John 1:12.) 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 (cf. 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.
VIII. THE HEART THAT LOVETH NOT CANNOT KNOW GOD. (John 1:8.) 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. "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, fueling 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 God of love!
1 John 4:13
God-likeness the seal of a Divine indwelling.
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 1 John 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.
I. HERE IS A FACT ASSERTED. "He hath given us of his Spirit." Both 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 redemptive economy. The Father sends the Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father plans the redeeming work. The Son carries it out objectively for man. The Spirit applies it subjectively in man. It is the last-named act which is specified here.
1. 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; John 14:16, John 14:17).
2. 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;" and the entire direction of the new life is in his gracious hands.
3. 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 us.
II. THIS TRANSFORMATION TO THE DIVINE LIKENESS IS THE PROOF AND SEAL OF A DIVINE INDWELLING. This may be set in two ways.
(1) This dwelling of God in the heart is what is promised (John 14:23).
(2) This is the conscious experience (Romans 5:5).
(3) 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 and increased.
2. Negatively. This life of love cannot be attributed to any other cause; for:
(1) It is not natural to us.
(2) We did not get it from man.
(a) Not from the world; for there man turneth "every one to his own way."
(b) Not from the Church; for no one has power to impart the grace of love.
(3) We never caught sight of such love till it was shown us in Christ.
(4) 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!
III. THE FACT, SO ACCOUNTED FOR, HAS IN IT MANIFOLD TEACHINGS.
1. For the unregenerate. They should learn what it is they need. Life, life within them!
2. For the inconsistent professors. They want reality, not a sham life.
3. 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.
4. For those seeking after the evidences of Christianity. They will find them in men filled with the Spirit of God.
5. 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 our God.
1 John 4:14
The historic basis of the Christian testimony.
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. "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 τεθεάμεθα, and are bearing witness μαρτυροῦμεν, that the Father hath sent [perfect] the Son as the Saviour of the word.' One of the numerous loops that bind the Epistle to the Gospel" (comp. John 1:32, John 1:34; 1 John 1:1-3; John 19:35).
I. THE RECORD BEFORE US IS THAT OF THOSE WHO WERE EYE-WITNESSES OF THE FACTS OF THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:16; John 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—
II. THAT THE EYE-WITNESSES OF THE EXTERNAL FACTS OF 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.
1. 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.
2. That he was "sent" by the Father.
3. That he was sent to save—to save from sin.
4. That his mission was for the race. "The Saviour of the world."
III. THAT TO BEAR WITNESS TO THESE FACTS WAS THE 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:
1. It rests on a clear and distinct historical basis.
2. It is given by men who were eye-witnesses of the main facts they relate.
3. 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.
4. 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 (comp. John 4:42).
5. 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 (1 John 5:9-12).
IV. TO HAVE SUCH TESTIMONY BEFORE US INVOLVES US IN 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
(1) to hear devoutly and thoughtfully;
(2) to receive it believingly and lovingly;
(3) to use it (a) for the purpose of being saved by him who has come that he might save, and (b) for the purpose of joining in the witness-bearing, and so co-operating with Jesus in saving others. His name is called "Jesus," for he saves his people from their sins.
1 John 4:15, 1 John 4:16
Divine love a home for the soul, and a force within it.
Connecting link: There is a connection between the several verses on which we are now dwelling (1 John 4:7-19). 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 1 John 4:15, 1 John 4:16 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. £
I. HERE ARE TWO GENERAL STATEMENTS, CONCERNING A BLESSED CONDITION AND THOSE TO WHOM IT BELONGS.
1. Here is a supremely happy condition. It is twofold.
(1) The soul full of God. "God dwelleth in him" (cf. John 6:56; John 14:23; Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 2:22; Ephesians 5:18; Revelation 3:20). In some passage 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!
(2) 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 harpy, holy service.)
2. To whom does this twofold blessedness belong? See footnote to homily on 1 John 3:4-12. 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.
(1) 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 ἀάπη should be noticed here, as defining the love. Following, too, on the phrase, ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστί, 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 of love."
(2) The twofold indwelling is realized also by him who "confesses that Jesus is the Son of God." This sentence probably is suggested by 1 John 3:14, 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 concurrent? (not coincident, as the writer in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' by a strange oversight of logic, remarks). They are concurrent. Thus
(a) that "Jesus is the Son of God," and as such the Revealer of love, is the message addressed to faith.
(b) Faith receives him, and with him the love which he reveals.
(c) Confession constantly rings out the faith, and by so doing vastly increases faith's realizing power.
(d) This, through the energy of the Holy Ghost (1 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" (1 John 3:16). Thus the two conditions differ only as the terminus a quo from the terminus ad quem. Confession is the former; dwelling in love is the latter. 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."
II. THE APOSTLE MAKES A SPECIFIC APPLICATION OF THIS TO 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." Not "toward us" or "to us," as if it were εἰς ἡμᾶς. The miserable 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." The following order of thought might develop this. Divine love is:
1. A manifestation amongst us, ἐν ἡμῖν (1 John 3:9).
2. An impartation realized in us (Romans 5:5).
3. A reciprocated love, as ours has been called forth thereby (1 John 3:19).
4. A transforming love, causing us to love as God loves (1 John 3:12).
5. 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 ἐστὶν ἐν ἡμῖν.
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 wilt 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?
1 John 4:17, 1 John 4:18
Love's boldness in the day of judgment.
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 and the κρίσις, 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 παῤῥησία 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 depends thereon.
1. "Herein is the love made perfect with us." "The love," i.e., God's love which (1 John 4:12) 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 man" (Westcott).
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.
I. THE PRESENT PERIOD IS BUT A TRANSITION ONE. This is the 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 25:1-46.; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 13:24, Luke 13:25; Luke 18:8; Luke 21:36; John 14:3; Acts 2:20, Acts 2:21; Romans 14:9-12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 1:6, Philippians 1:10; Col 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Timothy 1:12.
II. THE DAY TO WHICH WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD IS "THE 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 is ready to be revealed at the last time. 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 judged. If, e.g., any one is unlawfully bound, judgment would be liberation. If any one be deprived of a right, his judgment would mean restoration. If unjustly accused, vindication. If misunderstood or misinterpreted, manifestation. If good and evil are mixed up together, judgment would be separation; and as the result, for the bad condemnation, and for the righteous glorification. 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 (cf. Acts 17:31).
III. IF THAT DAY BE DREADED ON OUR PART, IT IS EVIDENT 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: εὐλαβεία (Hebrews 12:28) is very different from φόβος. 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.
IV. CONSEQUENTLY, OUR GREAT CONCERN SHOULD BE TO BE PERFECTED IN LOVE. We may take this in either or both of two ways.
1. Let it be our concern that God's own love may be so richly communicated to us as to transform us to his likeness.
2. 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 has no door of entrance whatever.
V. WHEN PERFECTED IN LOVE WE SHALL HAVE παῤῥησία IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. "Confidence," "boldness," "freedom of speech" (cf. 1Jn 2:1-29 :38; 1 John 3:21, Greek). Dread seals the lips. Love opens them. 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.
VI. CONSEQUENTLY, as the apostle of love shows us here, EACH OF US MUST FACE THE SOLEMN 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:
1. The "punishment" is corrective. We suggest three replies.
(1) If it be, is that any reason for being content with needing correction, when we ought to be awaiting honour?
(2) It is folly to urge the plea, unless men are very sure of its accuracy. But are they?
(3) 1 Corinthians 11:32 is totally against any such plea. Or it may be said:
2. There is no knowing when the judgment may come (cf. 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).
1 John 4:19 - Creed and life: the relation between them.
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—
I. IN RELIGION THERE, IS A CREED. "He first loved us." Here, in 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 with us. (For an opening up of the wonders of God's love, see homily on 1 John 4:7-12.)
"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.
II. IN RELIGION THERE IS A LIFE. "We love." Although we hold fast 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 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?
1. We love God. He is our love's supreme Object.
2. We love each other as fellow-believers.
3. 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.
(1) 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.
(2) So that we see a man has just as much religion as he has love, and no more.
(3) 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.
III. IN RELIGION THERE IS A LIFE BECAUSE THERE IS A 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 grounds.
1. 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. 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.
2. We set it on the ground of history. Take:
(1) 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 dreamt of a god who loved them. And as to love to man, the heathen world, even at its best, was a world without love.
(2) 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.
(3) 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," 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.
3. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 favour 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.
4. 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 return!
5. 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." Here are theology, religion, and philosophy in one sentence. Theology: God loves. Religion: we love. 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.
1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21
Love to man the expression of love to God.
Connecting link: The apostle has just declared that the love which pervades believers is owing to God's love to them. He now advances to another and, indeed, to the final step in this paragraph on love, in which he sets forth more powerfully than ever the truth which he has thrice before (1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:17; 1 John 4:8£) indicated, that love to God and love to man are inseparably connected together; that if any man declares that he loves God, while yet he is unconcerned about his brother, "he is a liar;" for adds the apostle, "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen." Hence our topic—Love to God and love to man inseparable. Three lines of remark are suggested by the verses before us.
I. HERE IS A DIFFICULTY WHICH WE WILL ENDEAVOUR TO REMOVE. What, indeed, may seem a difficulty to A may net prove so to B, and vice versa. To some, at any rate, there lies a difficulty here. The apostle says, "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen," etc.; as if it were so much easier and simpler to do that, and as if his meaning were, "If he cannot do the easier, he cannot do the harder; if he does not love him who is nearest, he cannot love him who is further removed; if he does not love one whom he sees, he cannot love one whom he cannot see," etc. On this Canon Westcott remarks, "It is necessarily easier to love that which is like ourselves than that which we cannot grasp in finite form." True, on the supposition that our brother possessed all moral and spiritual excellences, and that his kindness towards us were at all the counterpart of the love of God; then it would obviously be easier to love the nearer than the more remote. But supposing (as is too often the case) that our "brother" is the reverse of lovable—is hard, cruel, selfish, lustful, bitter; it is very much harder to love him with all his visible vices than to love God with all his glorious perfections, unseen though he is. Is it true in such a ease, if a man love not a vicious brother he cannot love an unseen Being who is Love? We answer, Undoubtedly; for:
(1) We are not right if we set the question only thus—Whether is easier per se? but—Is it possible, looking at the matter all round?
(2) The question is not that of the love indicated by the word φίλος, but rather that of ἀγαπὴ.
(3) Seeing that God commands us to love our brother (1 John 4:21), and that love to God is nothing if it be not loyalty, then if we do not in such a case love ἀγαπᾷν our brother, it is certain that we cannot be loving God. (Note the change of rendering in the Revised Version and a corresponding change in the Greek.)
II. HERE IS A STATEMENT WHICH IT BEHOVES US CAREFULLY TO PONDER, viz. that God's command to love our brother is so emphatically the command of the gospel that, if it is neglected, God is not loved at all, however profuse the verbal declaration of love may be. "My love must go forth towards those whom I see, as God saw me when he first loved me. And my love must be what his love is—no idle sentiment or barren sympathy, but a love that seeks them, and hears long with them, and waits and longs and prays for their salvation; a love that gives freely and without upbraiding; a love self-sacrificing, self-denying; a love that will lay down life itself to save them. And when they become by grace what by grace I am, I must love them as God loves me, for what I see in them; yes, and in spite of what I see in them,£ too." The love of God is that we keep his commandments (1 John 5:3); but his command is that we love as he loved us. The only being, however, whom we can love with such a love is our brother, whom God has placed before us; one whom we have seen. "And the title 'brother' brings out the idea of that which is God-like in man to which love can be directed. He, therefore, who fails to recognize God as he reveals himself through Christ in man (Matthew 25:40) cannot love God. He has refused the help which God has provided for the expression of love in action" (Westcott, 'Commentary,' in loc.). Let us, then, formulate the statement of the text thus:
1. The love which has God for its supreme Object is an element pervading the whole being, and radiating towards surrounding objects. It is not a capricious sentimentalism; it is a love which is not only towards God, but from him, and like his own.
2. I am to love compassionately and with a view to redeem another, as God has loved me. But the only being whom I can thus love is he who is before me—my brother.
3. It is a command from God that my love to him, the great Unseen, should be shown in this way—by loving the brother who is seen.
4. Therefore there is no other way of practicing love to God than this—loving the seen brother; i.e., not simply our natural brother in the home, nor even our redeemed brother in the Church, but our fallen, sinking, perishing brethren in the "wide, wide world."
III. HERE IS, CONSEQUENTLY, A DUTY SPECIFIED, WHICH WE ARE BOUND TO DISCHARGE. "That he who loveth God love his brother also." And, lest we should be content with vague generalities, we are supplied elsewhere with two other specific directions to the working of this love—in 1 John 3:18 and in 1 John 3:16. According to the first, our love to man ought to be an intensely practical one. According to the second, we should be such enthusiasts therein as to be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. Now, if any one earnestly desired to fulfill all this in his own life, he would go very far towards succeeding if he adopted and carried out the following principles of action:
1. "I will, by God's help, for God's sake, lay out myself to be the helper of mankind in any way in which I can advance their interests; and this plan in life shall take precedence of my own ease, comfort, and wealth; desiring to carry out the apostolic motto, 'As poor, yet making many rich.'"
2. The most truly Christ-like way to help others is to lead them to gain the power of so helping themselves that they no more may need another's aid, but may become themselves, in their turn, helpers of others (Acts 3:6). That is not true love which so doles out charities as to keep the recipients in a perpetual state of dependence, if by wiser methods they could be raised above it.
3. In pursuing this method diligent inquiry must be made as to what evils afflict the people and retard their progress. We must ascertain whether they come from within or from without, and, in either case, what they are and how they come.
4. These causes of ill being ascertained, they must be traced to their source; whether health, or wealth, or morals, or religion be imperiled: whether they are traceable to the covetousness, greed, and love of power on the part of men in the higher ranks, or to lack of self-respect, of aim, of hope, of faith, and of a sense of right in the lower ranks.
5. Some specific external ills require an equally specific and special remedy, such as sanitary ills, overcrowding, etc.
6. In every case Christian philosophy requires that we attack the evils at their root, which is sin, however varied the forms in which it may rear its head.
7. Hence the supreme work of the Christian philanthropist who would lay himself out to help his brother man is to bring the love of God in Christ to bear upon his heart and conscience. In God's love the desolate soul
(1) finds a home;
(2) learns its own worth;
(3) begins to love others;
(4) lives to help others.
And thus—thus, in letting God's love in us work out effectively, Christian people have the one and only cure for all the ills of our race. In this direction much more remains to be done than Christians have ever yet attempted. May God make us loving and wise enough to work with him in blessing our age and race!
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
1 John 4:4
The victory of the Christian over antichristian teachers.
"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 (1 John 4:2); as having been born of him, and being his offspring morally and spiritually, they were of God. The text suggests the following observations.
I. THAT CHRISTIANS ARE EXPOSED TO THE ASSAULTS OF HERETICAL TEACHERS. It was so in St. 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" (Ebrard). Christians are still assailed by the teachers of grave errors, many of which relate to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. THAT CHRISTIANS MAY OVERCOME THE ASSAULTS OF HERETICAL TEACHERS. St. 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 (cf. 1 John 2:14, 1 John 2:19). 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 hook 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."
III. THAT CHRISTIANS MAY OVERCOME THE ASSAULTS OF 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."
1. God dwells in his people.
(1) By his Word. The author whose works have been sympathetically and diligently studied may be said to be in the student. The student knows the views and opinions, the thoughts and theories, the principles and convictions, of his favourite author, and sympathizes with them. The godly soul knows God in his Word (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 119:97); and by means of his Word is filled with his thoughts, feelings, and principles.
(2) 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.
(3) By their love to him (cf. verses 12, 13, 16; John 14:23). There is no real spiritual indwelling apart from love.
(4) By his Spirit (cf. verse 13; John 14:16, John 14:17).
2. God is greater than Satan. "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world."
(1) God is independent, but Satan is dependent. Satan cannot do anything except by permission of the Most High (cf. Job 1:12; Job 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?"
(2) 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.
(3) God is the God of truth, hut 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.
(4) "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 spirit.
3. 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," etc.; "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," etc. (Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14); "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 - W.J.
1 John 4:9-11
The supreme manifestation of love.
"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 St. 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.
I. IN ITS GREAT ORIGIN. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us"
1. 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." 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 pity.
2. God is the Fountain of all love. Love flows from the essential nature of the Divine Being. "Love is of God… God is Love" (verses 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—
II. IN THE GREAT MESSENGER WHICH HE SENT UNTO US. "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 him." Notice:
1. The pre-existence of Jesus Christ. This is clearly implied in the expression, "God hath sent his Son into the world" (cf. John 17:4, John 17:5; John 3:17, John 3:34).
2. 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). St. Paul writes of him as "God's own Son" (Romans 8:3). And St. John styles him "the Only Begotten of the Father.… the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:14, John 1:18); "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (John 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 infinite 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!
3. 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 (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).
III. IN THE BLESSING WHICH HE DESIGNS FOR US. "That we might live through him." Notice:
1. 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.
2. 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!
IV. IN THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS BLESSING IS OBTAINED 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 St. Paul, in Romans 3:24-26. Two remarks only do we offer concerning the propitiation.
1. It was not anything offered to God to render him willing to bless and save us.
2. 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 sins!
V. IN THE EXAMPLE WHICH IT PRESENTS TO US. "Beloved, if 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" (Romans 3:7) 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, Ephesians 5:2). If we are "partakers of the Divine nature," we should imitate the Divine example.
1. 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, Matthew 5:45). 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 sins.
2. In relation to the Christian brotherhood in particular. (Cf. Romans 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 - W.J.
1 John 4:14
The great mission of Christ.
"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.
I. IN ITS RELATION TO THE WORLD. "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." Notice.
1. 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 St. John's day, or of our own day, in confirmation of this.
2. 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.
3. 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 (cf. 1 John 2:2; John 3:16). He saves men from sin by the influence of his life and work upon earth, of his sacrificial death, his glorious resurrection, and 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?" 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.
II. IN ITS RELATION TO THE FATHER. "The Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
1. 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; Matthew 17:5; John 1:14, John 1:18; John 17:24; Romans 8:3; and Romans 8:9).
2. The Saviour is the Sent of the Father. "The Father hath sent the Son." This is affirmed again and again in the writings of St. John (John 3:17, John 3:34; John 7:16; John 10:36; John 16:5; John 17:3, John 17:4, John 17:5, John 17:18, John 17:21, John 17:23, John 17:25). Being thus sent by the Father, the Son's mission as a Saviour is Divine in its 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, John 12:50). The apostles made the same claim on his behalf (see Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38).
III. IN ITS RELATION TO THE APOSTLES. "And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent," etc.
1. Their knowledge of the Saviour. St. 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."
2. Their testimony concerning the Saviour. "We have beheld and bear witness that the Father," etc. They testified to the facts which we have already noticed:
(1) That Jesus Christ was the Son of God.
(2) That he was the Sent of God.
(3) 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 Jesus Christ
(1) meets man's deepest need;
(2) rests upon the supreme authority; and
(3) is attested by competent and trustworthy witnesses.
Therefore let us believe their testimony, and turn heartily to the Son of God as our Saviour - W.J.
1 John 4:16
The love of God.
"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—
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS GLORIOUS TRUTH.
1. 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." Paley states the argument with clearness and force: "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 duet 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. 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. 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. Autumn, with its maturity and mellowness and plenty, proclaims the fidelity and bountifulness of God. 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.
2. 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.
(1) In the Bible, God appears as the Giver of every good, the Fountain of all blessings. "He giveth us richly all things to enjoy." "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above," etc. Material, mental, and spiritual good we derive from him. Restoration to the lost, pardon to the guilty, sanctification to the sinful, glory to the degraded, he gives. Through Christ he bestows all good here, and eternal and glorious life hereafter to all who believe in him.
(2) 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," etc. Not only are we undeserving; we are ill-deserving; we have merited his wrath; yet he imparts to us the gifts of his love.
(3) 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.
(4) And Jesus was given, not to those who waited to receive and honour him, but to those who despised and rejected him. He was given to labour and suffer and die for men, in order that they might have life and joy (cf. 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10; 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" (Dr. Joseph Parker). 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." All the love of the Saviour's life was the love of God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." 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."
II. THE VINDICATION OF THIS GLORIOUS TRUTH. The terrible 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?
1. 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," etc. 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.
2. 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," suffering would disappear from our world almost entirely.
3. 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." This is an arrangement of love.
4. 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.
5. 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." 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 Romans 8:18, Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2, James 1:3, James 1:12). "You must cut the diamond," said Thomas Jones, "to understand its value, and to behold the play of its tremulous colours 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."—W.J.
1 John 4:17, 1 John 4:18
The victory of love over fear.
"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, etc. Our text authorizes the following observations.
I. THAT A GREAT DAY OF JUDGMENT AWAITS US IN THE FUTURE. St. John speaks of "the day of judgment." The evidence for the coming of such a day is various and strong.
1. 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 St. 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 (Psalms 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 (Psalms 73:16-20).
2. 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.
3. The Bible declares the coming of such a day. (See Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 12:36; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10, Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Jude 1:14, Jude 1:15; Revelation 20:11-13.)
II. THAT THE SOLEMN TRANSACTIONS OF THAT DAY ARE 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." Two things in connection with the day of judgment are likely to lead to fear.
1. 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.
2. 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 (Psalms 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?
III. PERFECT LOVE WILL BANISH SUCH FEARS AND INSPIRE 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 neighbour, but the principle of love, or, as Ebrard expresses it, "the love which subsists between God and us; thus that simple relation of love of which the apostle had spoken in verse 12, and just now again in verse 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," says Afford, "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."
1. Perfect love expels servile fear. There is a reverent fear which increases as our love increases. "O fear the Lord, ye his saints," etc. (Psalms 34:9); "Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord," etc. (Psalms 115:11, Psalms 115:13). 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," etc. 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.
2. 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." Since this relation of love subsists between God and us, and since God is what he is, viz. "love" (verse 16) and "light" (1 John 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.
IV. THE CONFIDENCE WHICH PERFECT LOVE INSPIRES IS 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 - W.J.
1 John 4:19
God's love and ours.
"We love, because he first loved us."
I. GOD LOVES. He is not an impassive, unemotional, passionless Being. 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.
II. GOD LOVES MAN. He loves not only his equal Son, or the Holy 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. (1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10); "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, Ephesians 2:5); "God so loved the world," etc.
III. GOD'S LOVE TO MAN IS THE ORIGINATING CAUSE OF 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;… Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him;" "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us," etc. 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, Isaiah 49:16); "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." A husband's love is perfect only in God. "Thy Maker is thine Husband; the Lord of hosts is his name." 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;" "Abraham was called the friend of God." Jesus Christ, the Revealer of God, is the "Friend that sticketh closer than a brother." "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." 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, labour, 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 endeavour to love him more and know him more, to know him more and love him more, and so become increasingly like unto him - W.J.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
1 John 4:1-6
The spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
I. NEED FOR TESTING. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the 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 neighbourhood, as they are in all neighbourhoods 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 in proconsular Asia, is described by 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.
II. THE TEST TO BE APPLIED. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God."
1. 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 favour. 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 nineteen 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 1 John 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. 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.
2. 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" (Stepford Brooke). 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 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'" (F. Ferguson). 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.
III. SUCCESS IN APPLYING THE TEST.
1. 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 honour. 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 John 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.
2. 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." As the hour approaches, he announces his victory for the encouragement of his followers: "Be of good cheer; I have conquered the world." 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.
3. The manner of victory.
(1) 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.
(2) 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." 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 the darkness - R.F.
1 John 4:7-21
Threefold recommendation of the duty of loving one another.
I. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED, FROM LOVE HAVING ITS 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" (Westcott) 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.
1. Divine origin of love.
(1) 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 it 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.
(2) 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 M. Monod of Paris, in which he supposes an almost effaced bit of paper to have been found among the ruins of Herculaneum. After great difficulty, the assembled men of letters succeed in deciphering the first two words, "God is." There is dreadful suspense, while they labour 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, 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. 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" (Westcott). "We must not, therefore, think merely of the love of God to the creature, but also of the inner Divine Trinitarian love in God" (Ebrard). 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.
2. 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. When the foundations of the earth were fastened, and the cornerstones thereof laid, it was love that was operating; and "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." "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 begotten 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."
3. 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 want 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.
II. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED FROM LOVE BEING NECESSARY 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.
1. 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.
2. Participation in the Spirit is the sign of fellowship with God. "Hereby know we that we abide in him, and be in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." The thought is similar in 1 John 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.
3. There can be no fellowship with God apart from the Incarnation.
(1) 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 he 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." 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.
(2) 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," says Channing, "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.
4. Experience of love in which there is fellowship with God.
(1) 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 lodgment 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.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
III. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED FROM LOVE WORKING TOWARD BOLDNESS.
1. 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." 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.
2. Imperfection on the way to the consummation. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; add 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?" 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.
3. 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 he 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? 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 way? Not by the manifestations of his power, not by the manifestations of his wisdom, not by the manifestations of his righteousness; 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; 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. 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 event 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." 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 evermore felt.
4. 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 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." 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 fervour, 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. 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. 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," 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.
(1) 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. 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. 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 honouring 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 honour. 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 to a certain extent youth, serve the purpose of God in cultivating the affections, that they are thrown so much on the kindly help of others, and take up so large a proportion of our brief lifetime. The filial affection seems to be the special care of God. While there is yet no reflection, no power of resistance, no reasoning about anything, it comes into existence under parental nurturing. It gets the start of all else that has a place or a power in our nature. And for a time it has all the sway. It is allowed time silently to operate and to deepen, and to become an ineradicable habit of the nature. To the young novitiate, the parent is very much in the place of God—is supposed to know everything, to be able to do everything. But by-and-by in many little things his finitude is discovered. It is then that the thought of God breaks in upon the child, and in the form most congenial to his training, viz. as the earthly parent raised out of all imperfection. Mark here the beautiful illustration of the apostolic principle, that it is through the love of the seen that we are to rise into the love of the unseen. The child does not need a new class of feelings, does not need to part with the old, when God is first thought of. It is not the seen against the unseen; for if it were, then, the feelings with which we regard the seen being already deeply rooted, there would be no inlet for the unseen. But herein magnify and adore the wise and good providence of God, that, in giving such strength and vitality and advantage to the filial feelings, he is thereby recommending and fortifying religion; he is giving it the start; he is unfolding and putting forward the great truth of his Fatherhood, and winning over the young heart to it before the entrance of a heartless world. If we would understand the love of the seen parent, strong and overmastering, we must connect it with the love of the unseen Parent. The one naturally passes into the other, when wants arise too deep for that which is finite to supply. "If ye love not the seen," says the apostle, "how can ye love the unseen?" implying that it is by loving the seen that we are to learn to love the unseen. There is a lesson to be learned here regarding the education of children. There must be a proper representation and interpretation of fatherhood made to them. There must be gentle, wise, and firm dealing, signifying this, "As I the earthly father love you, so does the heavenly Father love you." For, more than we think, the our Father in heaven depends on the our father on earth. How much parents have it in their power to make religion attractive, or to make it repellent, to their children! The family affections are, to some extent, connected with trying experiences. "When father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up." And there is a forsaking by father and mother before there may be a forsaking by death. The child, as he grows up, becomes more and more independent of his parents; but it should not be to be cut loose from all supports, but only to be more thrown upon and taken up by the heavenly Parent. And then, when the total forsaking by father and mother takes place, he is not so desolate, having a Father upon whom to lean, who has promised, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." Again, when a youthful member of a family is put into the furnace of affliction, what an effulgence and concentration of affection! It was strong before, but, in the effort to relieve the sufferer, it is wonderfully intensified. And when is it strongest? when does it pass all bounds? Is it not in the last dark lone hour? This is the method of the Divine working. And, without doubt, one end is effectually attained—affection does break forth in all its strength; it does shine with more than a sevenfold luster, the darkness only making it more refulgent. But may it not be charged with severity? Strange, some one may say, that the child should so charm the parent's heart, should be placed so as to secure the tenderest affection, should be suffered to remain until being is inseparably blended with being, and then be taken to the altar! Strange that Abraham should be sent into the land of Moriah, to have his affection toward an only and a peculiar son cut to the quick! Strange that there should be such lamentation in Ramah—Rachel weeping for her children, and not to be comforted because they are not! Were it not better to love the seen less? were it not better to be divested of all affection, or, at least, to limit its sphere? were it not better to retire into a convent, there to forget all earthly relationships, there to escape all heart-breakings and sad farewells, there to love God purely and uninterruptedly? But that would be to fight against nature—and nature is strong. We must love the seen, and must love passionately when the seen threatens to leave us. Now, there is reason, and very weighty reason, that the seen should be loved, and should be taken away so as to bruise love; there is reason for the breaking up of families, as well as for the institution of families; and in both cases the reason is substantially the same. We have a family education on earth, that we may be early familiarized with the truth of God's Fatherhood. Now, what is the Bible representation of that truth? We find that earthly things are indeed made after the heavenly things. We find a home in Godhead; we find the relationship of Father and Son existing in eternity. How very strong, how very affecting, the expression of home feeling and experience—the Father delighting in the Son, and the Son rejoicing in the Father's works (Proverbs 8:1-36)! How true to human nature, we should say, looking from our standpoint, or, rather, how very like the human and the Divine, the seen and the unseen! We find, further, such words as these, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son;" "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us;" "He who spared not his Son, but delivered him up for us all." There was sacrifice, then, on the part of God—the sacrifice of the Son of his love; and, in thinking of it, away with all callousness. It is a sacred theme, and is not to be approached with common feeling. There was no cessation, no diminution of affection—no, not for a moment. But what shall we say? We must, indeed, beware of ascribing to God human imperfection; but are we to think of him as an uninterested onlooker at Calvary? Would not these words, "God so loved the world," and other kindred words, be emptied of their vast meaning if, in our way of thinking, we are not allowed to take into account the strong paternal affection? It is because the relation between Father and Son was so very close, so very intimate, that the straining of it for a time, in a human atoning life and death, was so very high and so very mysterious a manifestation of Divine love. And how shall we understand how God felt in contemplating the cross? How shall we understand the meaning of his not sparing his Son, his not holding him back even from the altar of sacrifice, better than by such an experience as that of Abraham, or that of David when he uttered the lamentation, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son"? To gain this high end, viz. to enter into sympathy with God in the highest act and manifestation of his Godhead, is it not fitting that the family relations are made so close and tender, and should we not be willing to bear the dismemberment of the family with all its hallowed associations? He in whose hands all these arrangements are is not severe or austere, as some say; he is the God of families, very tender and very compassionate; and in every home there should be an altar erected for his worship.
(2) The brotherly feelings as connected with excellence in others. It is in this line that the apostle's thought chiefly moves. How are we helped to the conception of the Divine excellence? Partly by what of excellence we find in ourselves; but, beyond that, by what of excellence we find in others. It is in the Christian circle that true excellence is to be found. Friendship is not placed on a proper basis unless it is associated with Christian elements. Our conception of excellence is enriched from the past. We are greatly helped in this respect by the excellence exhibited by those two men—Paul and John. But there is additional help when we have actual experience of excellence in our own circle. We feel it to be more of a reality, we can lay more definite hold upon it, and our love is called forth into actual operation in all befitting forms. Divine excellence is the varied excellence apprehended in a wide circle, infinitely purified and heightened. And our love to God is more real, more definite, and flows forth more naturally, when we rise from excellence that is seen to excellence that is unseen. Let us, then, love our brethren sincerely, with appreciation, and within no narrow circle, that our love to God may have reality, definiteness, richness. "If ye love not the seen," says the apostle, "how can ye love the unseen?"
(3) The missionary feelings. We mean those feelings which we are to cherish toward a sinner, or toward a fellow-Christian who has fallen into sin. It is the element of sin in their object that broadly distinguishes them from those feelings with which we regard kindred or friends. Here, too, as formerly, it holds true that the love of our brother-man, whom we see, is a medium through which we are helped to rise into the love of our Father-God, whom we do not see. What are the feelings with which we are to regard the sinner? There are some—and the thought of it is saddening—there are some who actually rejoice in the existence and prevalence of sin. A second class look upon sin as a weakness, or, what is the same thing, lay the blame upon circumstances. A third class treat it with utter indifference. The dust they tread under their feet gives them as little concern. A fourth class, strange to say, find in it occasion for bitter, irreconcilable hatred. The man who has fallen from respectability is to be branded and cast out, never to be received back. If we belong to any of these four classes, then we are not true Christians. For the Christian, by all holy memories, by all sacred associations, is a philanthropist. By this he should be known in his private walk and in the public arena. On his banner the device is, "One lifted up to the cross by men, and yet drawing all men to him." Let us inquire for a little into the nature of Christian sympathy. It is often misrepresented or misunderstood. The creed of some is of this nature, "We must take up a certain moral position; we must, indeed, be humane when suffering comes in our way; but to go down to the fallen is, forsooth, to compromise our moral position." It is the old Pharisaic feeling: "He is the Friend of publicans and sinners: he sits down with those, therefore he countenances their wicked practices. It is safe to keep the leprous at a distance." But Christian sympathy is not at variance with the highest moral position. The truth is, it is only to be found in conjunction with the very severest view of sin. It may be said to have its origin, its exciting, stimulating cause in self-condemnation We ourselves must feel the darkness, the isolation, the insupportable sorrow of heart occasioned by an awakened conscience. For it is only when we have realized what sin is in ourselves that we can feel for those who are under its power. Were sin a light thing, we might let it pass, we might suffer it to lie upon a neighbour; but seeing it is so heinous a thing, so subversive of law, so dishonouring to God, so ruinous in its consequences, how can we but deplore it wherever and in whatever form it exists? And is it not when such a view of sin is brought home most strongly to our minds that we feel greatest sympathy with the erring? Is it not in this way, too, that we cast off uncharitableness? There is a providence in our having faults, if, by keeping our eves upon them, we are led to pass a charitable judgment upon the conduct of others. What pleasure can it be to see a neighbour plagued as we are? So is it with forgivingness. It is well that we ourselves stand in perpetual need of forgiveness, if thereby we are led to forgive others. So is it with active benevolence. Does it never seem strange that the Christian life is so very difficult? The young Christian imagines it is to be all victory: his faith shall never waver, his Father's countenance shall never be turned away; and so, when he turns to his neighbour and says, "Come with us, and we will show you good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel," he is not prepared for a refusal; he expects the devil to go out of the possessed at once; he lacks patience, which is a sure sign that his sympathy is not yet deep. But he does not go far ere a change comes over himself. As it is put, the old Adam is too much for the young Melancthon. Satan is not yet cast out of his own heart; but continues to molest in formidable strength, and it is only too apparent that there must be many a struggle and many a fall. Mark now how this produces a very material change in his treatment of others. Sin is a greater evil than he supposed it to be, and he feels for it a deeper sorrow. Shall he not sorrow the more for those who are under its power, but who do not see it as he sees it? Shall he not be more patient when abuse and obloquy are heaped upon him, or when he receives the stolid look of the indifferent? It is not to be overlooked that the simple manifestation of a genuine, warm-hearted sympathy is sometimes sufficient. There are many souls in the world, ay, in the sphere in which we move, that are waiting to be comforted, that are waiting to be lifted up out of the dust. All that they need is a kind Christian word. Tell them that we forgive them—we, a brother and a sinner once like them. Assure them by all we hold most dear that God forgives them for his Son's sake—forgives them, the vile, the outcast; and that will be as life from the dead; the hope of the gospel will take possession of them, and shed a mild, benign luster over their dark world. But there are others who are not so easily dealt with. There must be a prolonged, more laborious, and, in the end, perhaps, a sharper treatment. But, seeing that it may be got, shall we, who are the messengers of God, refuse the needful assistance? A physician finds that there are some diseases more malignant and more intricate than others; but shall he therefore confine himself to cases in which the cure is safe and easy? Why, if he has a remedy and refuses to apply it, because he is appalled at the danger or grudges the labour, he would be counted- a disgrace to his profession; he would lack the element which is next in importance to skill—that which gives life and form and beauty to skill—sympathy with the distressed. And shall we who have a simple and universal remedy hold it back from those who have the worst kind of distemper, or from those who are the most virulent against ourselves? Shall we not the rather extend to them our warmest sympathy? shall we not the rather extend to them the largest share of our earnest, prayerful, thoughtful consideration, regardless of consequences, regardful only of him whose Name we bear, and whose honour we would by no means tarnish? This may be put on various grounds. We put it here on this ground—that it is by thus loving sinners that we are to be brought into sympathy with that God who loves sinners. "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That is one great feature of the Divine love—very mysterious, if we think of it, very repugnant to all our preconceptions—that God should love those who were so opposed to him. There is something here that startles us; there is something here that quite overwhelms us. The truth is, we do not wonder enough at it; we give our wonder to lesser things. Is it not often with us so low as this—only a vacant look as he passes before us? But say, all ye that pass by, have ye seen anything like to this in your experience, anything so really wonderful as God's love to sinners? If we would realize it, if we would breathe the atmosphere of the cross, if we would feel with God in his love to sinners, we must love sinners even as he loves them. True, it is a hard thing to conceive an interest in a sinner, a hard thing to retain that interest when all the romance is gone, a hard thing to undertake some definite direct line of procedure for his reclamation; but that is the Divine arrangement, and Divine grace is offered. "If ye love not the seen," says the apostle, "how can ye love the unseen?" implying that it is by loving the seen that we are to learn to love the unseen. If we do not know the forbearance and patience which need to be exercised towards sinners, how can we know the Divine forbearance and patience that need to be exercised toward us? It is to be borne in mind that love to our Father-God has an important influence on love to our brother-man. The latter would soon wither and decay if it were not fed from a higher source. He who commands here, spake from Sinai; he now speaks from Calvary. Here him speaking from Calvary. His first word to the sinner is not "Love your brother," but, "Believe on me." Should not an ordinary gratitude prompt to instantaneous obedience to the command?—R.F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 John 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent