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
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.
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:
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
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;
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. ΄είζων 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
He will be enabled
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
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