1 John 4


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.

Those who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh have the

spirit of antichrist, 2, 3.

The followers of God have been enabled to discern and overcome

them, 4-6.

The necessity of love to God and one another shown, from God's

love to us, 7-11.

Though no man hath seen God, yet every genuine Christian knows

him by the spirit which God has given him, 12, 13.

The apostles testified that God sent his Son to be the Saviour

of the world; and God dwelt in those who confessed this truth,

14, 15.

God is love, 16.

The nature and properties of perfect love, 17, 18.

We love him because he first loved us, 19.

The wickedness of pretending to love God while we hate one

another, 20, 21.


Verse 1. 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 1Co 12:1-12; 1Ti 4:1.

Try the Spirits] δοκιμαζετεταπνευματα. 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


Verse 2. 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.

Verse 3. Every spirit] Every teacher, that confesseth not

Jesus, is not of God-has not been inspired by God. The words εν

σαρκιεληλυθοτα, is come in the flesh, are wanting in AB, several

others, both the Syriac, the Polyglot Arabic, AEthiopic, 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 2Th 2:7.

Even now already is it in the world.] Is working powerfully

both among the Jews and Gentiles.

Verse 4. 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.

Verse 6. 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 savour 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


Verse 7. 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 neighbour, as before

described and commanded, is born of God, εκτουθεουγεγεννηται,

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.

Verse 8. 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,

&c., he is never called holiness, justice, &c., 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.

Verse 9. 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 Joh 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.

Verse 10. 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 Ro 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.

Verse 11. 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.

Verse 12. No man hath seen God at any time.] The very words,

with the change of εωρακε for τεθεαται, of this apostle in his

gospel, Joh 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.

Verse 13. Hereby know we, &c.] See Clarke on 1Jo 3:24.

Verse 14. And we have seen] Jesus Christ manifested in the

flesh; see 1Jo 1:1, &c.;

and do testify-bear witness, in consequence of having the fullest

conviction, that the Father sent the son to be the Saviour 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.

Verse 15. 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.

Verse 16. God is love] See Clarke on 1Jo 4:8.

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.

Verse 17. 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] παρρησιαν. 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.

Verse 18. 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 fulness 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 fulness

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 fulness. 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.

Verse 19. 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.

Verse 20. 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 Clarke on 1Jo 4:19. 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.

Verse 21. This commandment have we] We should love one

another, and love our neighbour 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.

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