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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
We must not believe every teacher who professes to have a Divine commission to preach, but try such, whether they be of God; and the more so because many false prophets are gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1. Those who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh have the spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3. The followers of God have been enabled to discern and overcome them, 1 John 4:4-6. The necessity of love to God and one another shown, from God's love to us, 1 John 4:7-11. Though no man hath seen God, yet every genuine Christian knows him by the spirit which God has given him, 1 John 4:12, 1 John 4:13. The apostles testified that God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world; and God dwelt in those who confessed this truth, 1 John 4:14, 1 John 4:15. God is love, 1 John 4:16. The nature and properties of perfect love, 1 John 4:17, 1 John 4:18. We love him because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19. The wickedness of pretending to love God while we hate one another, 1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21.
1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not be forward to believe every teacher to be a man sent of God. As in those early times every teacher professed to be inspired by the Spirit of God, because all the prophets had come thus accredited, the term spirit was used to express the man who pretended to be and teach under the Spirit's influence. See 1 Corinthians 12:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1.
Try the Spirits - Δοκιμαζετε τα πνευματα· Put these teachers to the proof. Try them by that testimony which is known to have come from the Spirit of God, the word of revelation already given.
Many false prophets - Teachers not inspired by the Spirit of God, are gone out into the world - among the Jewish people particularly, and among them who are carnal and have not the Spirit.
2Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God - We know that the man who teaches that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, and that he is come in the flesh, is of God - is inspired by the Divine Spirit; for no man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.
3And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Every spirit - Every teacher, that confesseth not Jesus, is not of God - has not been inspired by God. The words εν σαρκι εληλυθοτα, is come in the flesh, are wanting in AB, several others, both the Syriac, the Polyglot Arabic, Ethiopic, Coptic, Armenian, and Vulgate; in Origen, Cyril, Theodoret, Irenaeus, and others. Griesbach has left them out of the text.
Spirit of antichrist - All the opponents of Christ's incarnation, and consequently of his passion, death, and resurrection, and the benefits to be derived from them.
Ye have heard that it should come - See 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
Even now already is it in the world - Is working powerfully both among the Jews and Gentiles.
4Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
Ye are of God - Ye are under the influence of the Divine Spirit, and have overcome them - your testimony, proceeding from the Spirit of Christ, has invalidated theirs which has proceeded from the influence of Satan; for greater is the Holy Spirit which is in you, than the spirit which is in the world.
5They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
6We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
We are of God - We, apostles, have the Spirit of God, and speak and teach by that Spirit. He that knoweth God - who has a truly spiritual discernment, heareth us - acknowledges that our doctrine is from God; that it is spiritual, and leads from earth to heaven.
Hereby know we the Spirit of truth - The doctrine and teacher most prized and followed by worldly men, and by the gay, giddy, and garish multitude, are not from God; they savor of the flesh, lay on no restraints, prescribe no cross-bearing, and leave every one in full possession of his heart's lusts and easily besetting sins. And by this, false doctrine and false teachers are easily discerned.
7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
Beloved, let us love one another - And ever be ready to promote each other's welfare, both spiritual and temporal.
For love is of God - And ever acts like him; he loves man, and daily loads him with his benefits. He that loveth most has most of God in him; and he that loveth God and his neighbor, as before described and commanded, is born of God, εκ του Θεου γεγεννηται, is begotten of God - is a true child of his heavenly Father, for he is made a partaker of the Divine nature; and this his love to God and man proves.
8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
He that loveth not - As already described, knoweth not God - has no experimental knowledge of him.
God is love - An infinite fountain of benevolence and beneficence to every human being. He hates no thing that he has made. He cannot hate, because he is love. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He has made no human being for perdition, nor ever rendered it impossible, by any necessitating decree, for any fallen soul to find mercy. He has given the fullest proof of his love to the whole human race by the incarnation of his Son, who tasted death for every man. How can a decree of absolute, unconditional reprobation, of the greater part or any part of the human race, stand in the presence of such a text as this? It has been well observed that, although God is holy, just, righteous, etc., he is never called holiness, justice, etc., in the abstract, as he is here called Love. This seems to be the essence of the Divine nature, and all other attributes to be only modifications of this.
9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
In this was manifested the love of God - The mission of Jesus Christ was the fullest proof that God could give, or that man could receive, of his infinite love to the world.
That we might live through him - The whole world was sentenced to death because of sin; and every individual was dead in trespasses and sins; and Jesus came to die in the stead of the world, and to quicken every believer, that all might live to him who died for them and rose again. This is another strong allusion to John 3:16 : God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; where the reader is requested to see the note on John 3:16.
10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Not that we loved God - And that he was thereby induced to give his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. No: we were enemies to God, and yet Christ died for our ungodly souls. (See Romans 5:6-11, and the notes there.) So it was God's love, not our merit, that induced him to devise means that his banished might not be expelled from him.
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
If God so loved us - Without any reason or consideration on our part, and without any desert in us; we ought also, in like manner, to love one another, and not suspend our love to a fellow-creature, either on his moral worth or his love to us. We should love one another for God's sake; and then, no unkind carriage of a brother would induce us to withdraw our love from him; for if it have God for its motive and model, it will never fail.
12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
No man hath seen God at any time - The very words, with the change of ἑωρακε for τεθεαται, of this apostle in his gospel, John 1:18. We may feel him, though we cannot see him; and if we love one another he dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us - it has then its full accomplishment, having moulded us according to its own nature.
13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Hereby know we, etc. - See the note on 1 John 3:24.
14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
And we have seen - Jesus Christ manifested in the flesh; see 1 John 1:1, etc.; and do testify - bear witness, in consequence of having the fullest conviction, that the Father sent the son to be the Savior of the world. We have had the fullest proof of this from his doctrine and miracles, which we heard and saw during the whole time that he sojourned among men.
15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
Whosoever shall confess - Much stress is laid on this confession, because the false teachers denied the reality of the incarnation; but this confession implied also such a belief in Christ as put them in possession of his pardoning mercy and indwelling Spirit.
16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
God is love - See on 1 John 4:8 (note). He that dwelleth in love - he who is full of love to God and man is full of God, for God is love; and where such love is, there is God, for he is the fountain and maintainer of it.
17Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
Herein is our love made perfect - By God dwelling in us, and we in him; having cast out all the carnal mind that was enmity against himself, and filled the whole heart with the spirit of love and purity. Thus the love is made perfect; when it thus fills the heart it has all its degrees; it is all in all; and all in every power, passion, and faculty of the soul.
May have boldness in the day of judgment - Παρῥησιαν· Freedom of speech, and liberty of access; seeing in the person of our Judge, him who has died for us, regenerated our hearts, and who himself fills them.
As he is - Pure, holy, and loving; so are we in this world; being saved from our sins, and made like to himself in righteousness and true holiness. No man can contemplate the day of judgment with any comfort or satisfaction but on this ground, that the blood of Christ hath cleansed him from all sin, and that he is kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation. This will give him boldness in the day of judgment.
18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
There is no fear in love - The man who feels that he loves God with all his heart can never dread him as his Judge. As he is now made a partaker of his Spirit, and carries a sense of the Divine approbation in his conscience, he has nothing of that fear that produces terror or brings torment. The perfect love - that fullness of love, which he has received, casteth out fear - removes all terror relative to this day of judgment, for it is of this that the apostle particularly speaks. And as it is inconsistent with the gracious design of God to have his followers miserable, and as he cannot be unhappy whose heart is full of the love of his God, this love must necessarily exclude this fear or terror; because that brings torment, and hence is inconsistent with that happiness which a man must have who continually enjoys the approbation of his God.
He that feareth - He who is still uncertain concerning his interest in Christ; who, although he has many heavenly drawings, and often sits with Christ some moments on a throne of love, yet feels from the evils of his heart a dread of the day of judgment; is not made perfect in love - has not yet received the abiding witness of the Spirit that he is begotten of God; nor that fullness of love to God and man which excludes the enmity of the carnal mind, and which it is his privilege to receive. But is the case of such a man desperate? No: it is neither desperate nor deplorable; he is in the way of salvation, and not far from the kingdom of heaven. Let such earnestly seek, and fervently believe on the Son of God; and he will soon give them another baptism of his Spirit, will purge out all the old leaven, and fill their whole souls with that love which is the fulfilling of the law. He who is not yet perfect in love may speedily become so, because God can say in a moment, I will, be thou clean; and immediately his leprosy will depart. Among men we find some that have neither love nor fear; others that have fear without love; others that have love and fear; and others that have love without fear.
1. Profligates, and worldly men in general, have neither the fear nor love of God.
2. Deeply awakened and distressed penitents have the fear or terror of God without his love.
3. Babes in Christ, or young converts, have often distressing fear mixed with their love.
4. Adult Christians have love without this fear; because fear hath torment, and they are ever happy, being filled with God. See Mr. Wesley's note on this place.
1. We must not suppose that the love of God shed abroad in the heart is ever imperfect in itself; it is only so in degree. There may be a less or greater degree of what is perfect in itself; so it is with respect to the love which the followers of God have; they may have measures or degrees of perfect love without its fullness. There is nothing imperfect in the love of God, whether it be considered as existing in himself, or as communicated to his followers.
2. We are not to suppose that the love of God casts out every kind of fear from the soul; it only casts out that which has torment.
1. A filial fear is consistent with the highest degrees of love; and even necessary to the preservation of that grace. This is properly its guardian; and, without this, love would soon degenerate into listlessness, or presumptive boldness.
2. Nor does it cast out that fear which is so necessary to the preservation of life; that fear which leads a man to flee from danger lest his life should be destroyed.
3. Nor does it cast out that fear which may be engendered by sudden alarm. All these are necessary to our well-being. But it destroys,
1. The fear of want;
2. The fear of death; and
3. The fear or terror of judgment. All these fears bring torment, and are inconsistent with this perfect love.
19We love him, because he first loved us.
We love him because he first loved us - This is the foundation of our love to God.
1. We love him because we find he has loved us.
2. We love him from a sense of obligation and gratitude.
3. We love him from the influence of his own love; from his love shed abroad in our hearts, our love to him proceeds. It is the seed whence our love springs.
The verse might be rendered, Let us therefore love him, because he first loved us: thus the Syriac and Vulgate.
20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother - This, as well as many other parts of this epistle, seems levelled against the Jews, who pretended much love to God while they hated the Gentiles; and even some of them who were brought into the Christian Church brought this leaven with them. It required a miracle to redeem St. Peter's mind from the influence of this principle. See Acts 10.
Whom he hath seen - We may have our love excited towards our brother,
1. By a consideration of his excellences or amiable qualities.
2. By a view of his miseries and distresses.
The first will excite a love of complacency and delight; the second, a love of compassion and pity.
Whom he hath not seen? - If he love not his brother, it is a proof that the love of God is not in him; and if he have not the love of God, he cannot love God, for God can be loved only through the influence of his own love. See on 1 John 4:19 (note). The man who hates his fellow does not love God. He who does not love God has not the love of God in him, and he who has not the love of God in him can neither love God nor man.
21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
This commandment have we - We should love one another, and love our neighbor as ourselves. The love of God and the love of man can never be separated; he who loves God will love his brother; he who loves his brother gives this proof that he loves God, because he loves with a measure of that love which, in its infinitude, dwells in God.