1 John 4:1
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
IV.

(6) NOT ALL SPIRITS ARE THE RESULT OF THE SONSHIP: NECESSITY OF EXAMINING THEM (1John 4:1-6).

(a)The difference among spirits (1John 4:1).

(b)The measure (1John 4:2-3).

(c)The encouragement (1John 4:4).

(d)The condemnation (1John 4:5).

(e)Inference and conclusion (1John 4:6).

The mention of faith in 1John 3:23 had reminded St. John of the danger of intellectual, as well as of moral error. The mention of God’s Spirit at the conclusion of the last paragraph gave him a form in which to clothe the discussion of truth and falsehood in its human manifestations. By “spirits” he means those tendencies towards good and evil (here especially with regard to thought and opinion) which may be considered as coming from the supreme power of God, on the one hand, and from the inferior power of the devil, on the other. Into the question what these influences are, whether, like the Holy Spirit, they are personal or not, he does not enter. Where one quality, or opinion, shows itself in different individuals, he identifies it and calls it a spirit. Religious fervour might take a form quite antagonistic to the real will and law of God. For Christians there was but one standard by which to measure all claims on their religious allegiance: confession that the man Christ Jesus was the Word. All that demurred to that plain fact, and the loyalty implied by it, belonged to the spirit of antichrist. His hearers, however, if he understood them rightly, need not fear. By virtue of their adherence to the truth, God was in them. In Him they had conquered the spirits of the world, and had but to claim their victory. The false teachers might be known, and must be condemned by the savour of the world that was in their method and their message, and by their popularity with what was opposed to God. The Apostles and those who taught with them could confidently before God put forward the grand claim that theirs was the spirit that came from Him, because they had held undeviatingly to the truth as manifested in Jesus.

(6 a.) (1) Beloved.—Whenever St. John uses this word, he has a strong and earnest exhortation in hand. (Comp. 1John 3:2-21; 1John 4:7.)

Try the spirits.—Comp. 1Corinthians 10:15; 1Corinthians 11:13; 1Corinthians 12:10; Ephesians 5:10; 1Thessalonians 5:21. It is most important to notice that this examination of truth and error is inculcated on all alike, not merely on an ordained and materially separate class.

Prophets, in the New Testament, preach rather than predict. (Comp. 1Corinthians 14:1-4; 1Corinthians 14:24; Ephesians 4:11.)

Are gone out into the world, either “from us,” or else “have appeared in order to give their message.” (Comp. John 6:14; John 16:28; John 18:37.)

(6 b.) Comp. 1Corinthians 12:3. The real humanity of the Saviour is the truth here specially emphasised.

(2) Jesus Christ is taken to imply all His history. (Comp. 1John 3:23, and 1John 4:6.)

Come is used of Christ in St. John’s language for His mission and manifestation. (Comp. John 5:43; John 6:14; John 7:28-29; John 8:42; John 16:28; John 18:37.)

(3) Every spirit that confesseth not.—There is a curious old reading mentioned by Socrates, the historian, viz., “every spirit that destroyeth” (or, dissolveth)Jesus Christ.” It is, however, evidently a gloss, written against the Gnostics, which crept into the text. It is clear that this verse presupposes an evangelistic presentation of Christ before refusal to confess His historical person could be made. (Comp. 1John 2:18.)

(6 c.) This consolation is in the same manner as that in 1John 2:12, and is introduced by the same endearing phrase. He is sure they have held to the truth, and have the Sonship. (Comp. 1John 3:1-2; 1John 3:13-14.) God is in them, and therefore the victory is already theirs. Although they may still have to struggle, they have only to claim Christ’s strength, and they have won. In making their choice between light and darkness, love and hate, good and evil, God and the devil, they became of the victorious party.

(4) Themi.e., the antichrists, the false prophets, the spirits that are not of God. (Comp. 1John 2:13-14.)

He that is in the worldi.e., “the prince of this world,” the devil.

(6 d.) As usual, a contrast. The reason of their success is at once their distinguishing mark and their condemnation. (Comp. John 8:37; John 8:43; John 8:47; John 18:37.)

(5) Hearing them.—This implies listening with attention and pleasure.

(6 e.) (6) We are of God.—The first side of the antithesis repeated, after St. John’s manner, with a difference, we being substituted for ye, and meaning “the Apostles and those who taught with them.” St. John feels the grave duty, in condemnation of Cerinthus and other opponents, to assert the genuine truth and divine authority of the apostolic gospel. There could be no spiritual pride in this; it was a conscientious obligation. God spoke in them, and their loyalty for bade alike disclaimer and accommodation. (Comp. John 18:37.) When heretics said, “Christ ought to have said this or that,” the Apostles had only to reply, “But He did not say it.”

Hereby know we.—The criterion here is much the same as in 1John 4:2-3, but regarded from a different point of view: attention to false innovators, or faithful adherence to the Jesus Christ of history.

1 John 4:1. Because the Gnostics and other heretics, in the first age, to gain the greater credit to their erroneous doctrines, assumed to themselves the character and authority of inspired teachers, John put his disciples in mind, (1 John 2:27,) that they had an unction from the Holy Spirit, by which they were enabled to judge with certainty, both of teachers and of their doctrine. He therefore, in this chapter, commands them not to believe rashly every teacher who pretended to be inspired, but to try the inspiration by which any preacher professed to speak, whether it was from God or from evil spirits; that after trial they might know whom it was their duty to attend to, and whom they ought to disregard and reject. And to secure them, as far as possible, from being deceived, he especially desires them to consider whether the teacher, who came to them, pretending to inspiration, held the great and fundamental doctrines of the gospel, which all the teachers, really inspired of God, regularly and uniformly maintained. His words may be paraphrased as follows: Believe not every spirit — By which any teacher is, or professes to be, actuated: or, believe not every teacher who pretends to be inspired by the Spirit of God; but try the spirits — Namely, whether they are of God — By the rule which God hath given. We are to try all spirits by the written word: To the law and to the testimony! If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God. Because many false prophets — Or false teachers; are gone forth into the world — With an intention to draw disciples after them. 4:1-6 Christians who are well acquainted with the Scriptures, may, in humble dependence on Divine teaching, discern those who set forth doctrines according to the apostles, and those who contradict them. The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it. The true doctrine as to the Saviour's person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is, the more likely to be of God; nor can we by any other rules try the spirits whether they are of God or not. And what wonder is it, that people of a worldly spirit should cleave to those who are like themselves, and suit their schemes and discourses to their corrupt taste?Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not confide implicitly in everyone who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Compare Matthew 24:4-5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because anyone claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to divine inspiration, or to being authorised teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.

But try the spirits whether they are of God - There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of "discerning spirits," (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 12:10), but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, 1 John 4:6, they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No one should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See the Isaiah 8:20 note, and Acts 17:11 note.

Because many false prophets are gone out into the world - The word prophet is often used in the New Testament to denote religious instructors or preachers. See the notes at Romans 12:6. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:1. Such false teachers evidently abounded in the times here referred to. See the notes at 1 John 2:18. The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:3.

CHAPTER 4

1Jo 4:1-21. Tests of False Prophets. Love, the Test of Birth from God, and the Necessary Fruit of Knowing His Great Love in Christ to Us.

1. Beloved—the affectionate address wherewith he calls their attention, as to an important subject.

every spirit—which presents itself in the person of a prophet. The Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error, speak by men's spirits as their organs. There is but one Spirit of truth, and one spirit of Antichrist.

try—by the tests (1Jo 4:2, 3). All believers are to do so: not merely ecclesiastics. Even an angel's message should be tested by the word of God: much more men's teachings, however holy the teachers may seem.

because, &c.—the reason why we must "try," or test the spirits.

many false prophets—not "prophets" in the sense "foretellers," but organs of the spirit that inspires them, teaching accordingly either truth or error: "many Antichrists."

are gone out—as if from God.

into the world—said alike of good and bad prophets (2Jo 7). The world is easily seduced (1Jo 4:4, 5).1Jo 4:1-6 The apostle warneth to try by certain rules the

spirits that pretend to come from God.

1Jo 4:7-21 He presseth the obligation of mutual love upon

Christians from the example and commandment of God.

Believe not every spirit; i.e. not every one

pretending to inspiration, or a revelation; spirit, whether good

or bad, being put for the person acted thereby.

But try the spirits; there being a judgment of discretion or discerning,

common to Christians, de jure, and which they ought to endeavour

for and to use upon such occasions, Acts 17:11 Philippians 1:9,10 1 Thessalonians 5:21;

and the attainment and exercise whereof is, in reference to the great

essentials of religion, more facile and sure: as when heretofore among

the Jews, any should attempt the drawing them off from the true God,

as Deu 13:1,2; and so when with Christians it should be

endeavoured to tempt them away from Christ, as the

false prophets

or teachers did, now gone out into the world.

Beloved, believe not every spirit,.... The apostle having mentioned the word "spirit" in the latter part of the preceding chapter, takes an occasion from thence to return to what he had been suggesting in the "second" chapter, concerning the many antichrists that then were, and whom he points out, and here cautions against. By "every spirit" he means, either every doctrine that is pretended to come from the Spirit of God, or every teacher, who professes to be qualified and sent by him, and to have his light, knowledge, and doctrine from him. Every true minister of the Gospel has the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit, more or less, to qualify him for his work; he is separated, and called to it by him, and receives his spiritual light find knowledge from him; it is he that teaches him sound doctrine, and leads him into all truth, as it is in Jesus, and brings every necessary truth to his remembrance; and who succeeds his ministrations to the good of souls: but there are some who call themselves the ministers of the Gospel, who, though they may have some natural abilities, and a share of human learning, and a notional knowledge of things, yet have never received either grace or gifts from the Spirit; nor have they been ever called by him; nor are their ministrations according to that divine word which is inspired by him, nor attended with his demonstration and power; wherefore, though some professing to have the Spirit of Christ are to be believed, yet not everyone; and though the Spirit is not to be quenched in any, nor prophesying to be despised, yet care should be taken what is heard and received: some persons are so obstinate and incredulous as not to believe anything that is declared, be the evidence what it will; as the Jews would not believe Christ and his apostles, though what they said agreed with Moses and the prophets, and was confirmed by miracles; and others are too credulous; at once receive every teacher, and embrace every upstart doctrine: this they should not do,

but try the spirits whether they are of God; not by human reason, especially as carnal and unsanctified; for though the doctrines of the Gospel are not contrary to true reason, they are above it, and not to be judged of by it, and are disapproved of and rejected by carnal reason; but by the word of God, which is the standard of all doctrine; and whatever agrees with that is to be received, and what does not should be rejected. And so to do is very commendable, as appears from the instance of the Beraeans, who on this account are said to be more noble than those of Thessalonica, Acts 17:11; and from the commendation of the church at Ephesus, Revelation 2:2. And this is what every believer, every private Christian should do; to them it belongs to read and search the Scriptures, and prove all things, and judge for themselves of the truth of doctrine; and to such a probation or trial of the spirits, spiritual light, knowledge, judgment, sense, experience, and divine guidance are necessary, which should be asked of God, and an increase thereof; and all such diligent searchers, and humble inquirers, are capable of making judgment of persons and doctrines, whether they are from the Spirit of God or not, for the Spirit of God never speaks contrary to his word: and the reason why such a trial should be made is,

because many false prophets are gone out into the world: such who pretended either to a revelation of future things, and to foretell things to come; or rather to a gift of prophesying, or preaching in Christ's name, to be "prophets" and spiritual men, and ministers of the word, but were "false" ones; who either predicted what did not come to pass, or rather preached false doctrine, by corrupting the word, and handling it deceitfully, and so imposed upon and ruined the souls of others, as well as deceived their own: and there were not only one, or two, or a few of these, but "many", as our Lord had foretold, Matthew 24:11; and which makes the reason the stronger for not believing every spirit, but trying them; and the rather, since they were not sent of God, hot called out by his churches, but were "gone out" of themselves; of their own heads, and without any mission from God or man: and "into the world" too; they were in every part of it, and especially where there were any churches of Christ; into which they first crept in privily, and at unawares, but afterwards became public preachers of the word, and then separating from them, set up openly in the world for themselves.

{1} Beloved, believe not every {a} spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

(1) Taking occasion by the name of the Spirit, lest love and charity should be separated from the worship of God, which chiefly depends on his true knowledge, he returns to that which he spoke of in the second chapter concerning the taking heed of antichrists: He will have us here take heed of two things, the one is, that seeing there are many false prophets, we should not trust every man: the other is, that because many men teach false things, we should not therefore believe any. We must then observe, that we may be able to discern the spirits of God which are to be followed, from impure spirits which are to be avoided.

(a) This is spoken by metonymy and it is as if he had said, Believe not every one who says that he has a gift of the Holy Spirit to do the office of a prophet.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 John 4:1. The apostle first exhorts them not to believe παντὶ πνεύματι. The idea πνεῦμα is in closest connection with ψευδοπροφῆται. The true prophets spoke, as we read in 2 Peter 1:21 : ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι; the source of the revelations which they proclaim (πρόφημι) is the πνεῦμα ἅγιον or πν. τοῦ Θεοῦ, by which is meant not an affection of their mind, but the power of God, distinct from their own personality, animating and determining them (δύναμις ὑψίστου, synonymous with πνεῦμα ἅγιον, Luke 1:35). This πνεῦμα speaks through the prophet, penetrating into his πνεῦμα and communicating to him the truth to be revealed; thus the πνεῦμα of the prophet himself becomes a πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ. As every prophet has his own πνεῦμα, there exists, though the πνεῦμα ἅγιον is a single being, a plurality of prophetic spirits. The same relationship holds good, on the other hand, in the case of the false prophets. These also are under the influence of a spirit, namely, of the πνεῦμα which ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι, of the πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης; this similarly is a single being, but inasmuch as with its lie it penetrates the πνεύματα of the false prophets and makes them like itself, it is true of the πνεῦμα of every individual prophet that it is not of God, not a πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, but a πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. As John speaks here of a plurality of spirits (παντὶ πνεύματι, τὰ πνεύματα), we are to understand by πνεῦμα in this passage not the higher spirit different from the human spirit, but this spirit itself, penetrated, however, and filled with the former[253] (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:32, and Meyer on this passage). This spirit, however, may be spoken of, not merely in plurality, but also in unity, that is, in collective sense, for on each of the two sides all πνεῦματα, being animated by one and the same spirit,—whether the divine or that which is against God,—are of one nature, and so form together one unity. It is incorrect to understand by πνεῦμα here by metonymy, “the prophets” themselves (= ΛΑΛΟῦΝΤΕς ἘΝ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΙ, Lücke, de Wette, Calvin: pro eo, qui spiritus dono se praeditum esse jactat ad obeundum prophetae munus; so also Erdmann, Myrberg, etc.), or “their inspiration” (Socinus, Paulus), or even “the teaching of the prophet, his inspired word” (Lorinus, Cyril, Didymus, etc.).

ἈΛΛᾺ ΔΟΚΙΜΆΖΕΤΕ ΤᾺ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΑ] The appearance of the ΨΕΥΔΟΠΟΡΟΦῆΤΑΙ, i.e. such teachers as, moved by the ungodly spirit, proclaimed instead of the truth the antichristian lie, under the pretext of speaking by divine inspiration, necessitated in the Christian Church a trial of the spirits (a διάκρισις of them, 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29); comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; in order to know ΕἸ ἘΚ ΤΟῦ ΘΕΟῦ ἘΣΤΙΝ, i.e. (if ἐκ is to be retained in its exact meaning), if they originate in and proceed from God.

This trial is to be exercised by all (comp. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13), for “alloquitur (apostolus) non modo totum ecclesiae corpus, sed etiam singulos fideles” (Calvin); against which Lorinus arbitrarily says: non omnium est probare; unum oportet in ecclesia summum judicem quaestionum de fide moribusque; is est sine dubio Pontifex Maximus.

The necessity of the trial John establishes by the words: ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται κ.τ.λ. These ΨΕΥΔΟΠΡΟΦῆΤΑΙ are the same as in chap. 1 John 2:18 are called ἈΝΤΙΧΡΊΣΤΟΙ; comp 1 John 4:2-3. The name ΨΕΥΔΟΠΡΟΦῆΤΑΙ indicates that the teachers proclaimed their doctrine, not as the result of human speculation, but as a revelation communicated to them by the ΠΝΕῦΜΑ of God. The expression: ἘΞΕΛΗΛΎΘΑΣΙΝ ΕἸς ΤῸΝ ΚΌΣΜΟΝ, does not merely signify their public appearance (Socinus: existere et publice munus aliquod aggredi; Grotius: apparere populo), nor is “ἐξ οἰκῶν αὐτῶν to be mentally supplied” (Ebrard), but it is to be explained by the fact that the prophets, as such, were sent (comp. John 17:18), and therefore go out from Him who sends them. It is He, however, that sends them, who through His πνεῦμα makes them prophets. The idea of ἘΞΈΡΧΕΣΘΑΙ is accordingly different here from what it is in chap. 1 John 2:19 (contrary to Lorinus, Spener, etc.); a going out of the false prophets from the Church of the Lord is not here alluded to. With ΕἸς ΤῸΝ ΚΌΣΜΟΝ, compare John 6:14; John 10:36.

[253] Düsterdieck considers the expression as describing “the superhuman principle animating the man who prophesies,” and explains the plural in this way, that “those different principles reveal themselves differently in their different instruments;” but with this interpretation the plural would be used in a very figurative signification. Braune correctly: “The question is not about a dual, but about a plural; we must therefore understand the spirits of men, to whom the Spirit bears witness.”

1 John 4:1-6. Resumption of the warning against the false teachers; comp. chap. 1 John 2:18 ff. The connecting link is formed by ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος, chap. 1 John 3:24; the object is to distinguish between the πνεῦμα which is of God and the πνεῦμα which is not of God (1 John 4:2-3), between the πν. τῆς ἀληθείας and the πν. τῆς πλάνης: the distinguishing mark is the confession; the former confesses, the latter denies Jesus; the former is mightier than the latter; therefore the believers have overcome the ψευδοπροφήτας; the words of the former spring ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, and are pleasing to the κόσμος; the words of the latter are accepted by him who is ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ.1 John 4:1-6. The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone forth into the world. Herein ye get to know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth Jesus as Christ come in flesh, is from God; and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus, is not from God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, whereof ye heard that it is coming, and now it is in the world already. Ye are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. They are from the world; therefore from the world they talk, and the world hearkeneth to them. We are from God; he that is getting to know God hearkeneth to us; one who is not from God, hearkeneth not to us. From this we get to know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error.”

1. The Apostle has just said that the Spirit begets in us the assurance that God abideth in us. And this suggests a warning. The Cerinthian heresy also had much to say about “the spirit”. It boasted a larger spirituality. Starting with the philosophical postulate of an irreconcilable antagonism between matter and spirit, it denied the possibility of the Incarnation and drew a distinction between Jesus and the Christ (see Introd., p. 157). Its spirit was not “the Spirit of Truth” but “a spirit of error,” and thus the necessity arises of “proving the spirits”. δοκιμάζειν, of “proving” or “testing” a coin (νόμισμα). If it stood the test, it was δόκιμον (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18); if it was found counterfeit (κίβδηλον), it was ἀφόκιμον (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7). Cf. Jeremiah 6:30 LXX: ἀργύριον ἀποδεδοκιμασμένονὅτι ἀπεδοκίμασεν αὐτοὺς Κύριος. ἐκ, here of commission, not parentage; “from God,” as His messengers. Cf. John 1:24; John 18:3; Soph., O.C., 735–737: ἀπεστάληνοὐκ ἐξ ἑνὸς στείλαντος. πολλοί: Cerinthus had a large following. ἐξεληλ. εἰς τ. κόσμ., a monstrous reversal of John 17:18. They went forth from the Church into the world not to win but to deceive it.

2. The Test of the Spirits. γινώσκετε, as in 1 John 2:29, may be either indicat. (“ye recognise”) or, like πιστεύετε, δοκιμάζετε, imperat. (“recognise”). The former seems preferable. ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, “confesseth Jesus as Christ come in flesh,” an accurate definition of the doctrine which the Cerinthian heresy denied. The argument is destroyed by the false variant ἐληλυθέναι, “confesseth that Jesus Christ hath come,” confitetur Jesum Christum in carne venisse (Vulg.)1–6. The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error

1–6. This section is an amplification of the sentence with which the preceding chapter ends. We certainly have the Holy Spirit as an abiding gift from God, for otherwise we could not believe and confess the truth of the Incarnation. As usual, S. John thinks and teaches in antitheses. The test which proves that we have the Spirit of God proves that the antichrists have not this gift but its very opposite. In chap. 2 the antichrists were introduced as evidence of the transitoriness of the world (1 John 2:18): here they are introduced as the crucial negative instance which proves that every true believer has the Spirit of God.

Beloved] See on 1 John 3:2.

believe not every spirit] This exhortation does not give us the main subject of the section, any more than ‘Marvel not, brethren, if the world hate you’ (1 John 3:12) gave us the main subject of the last section (1 John 3:12-24). In both cases the exhortation is introductory and momentary. Having spoken of the Spirit by which we know that God abides in us, the Apostle goes on to speak of other spiritual influences which indubitably exist, and of which every one has experience, but which are not necessarily of God because they are spiritual. “He does not discredit the fact that spiritual influences were widely diffused; he does not monopolize such influences for the Christian Church. How could he discredit this fact? How can we? Are there not myriads of influences about us continually, which do not act upon our senses but upon our spirits, which do not proceed from things which may be seen and handled, but from the spirits of men?” (Maurice). But besides ordinary spiritual influences, S. John probably has in his mind those extraordinary and supernatural powers which at various periods of the Church’s history persons have claimed to possess. Such claims exhibit themselves in professed revelations, prophecies, miracles, and the like. About all such things there are two possibilities which must put us on our guard: (1) they may be unreal; either the delusions of fanatical enthusiasts, or the lies of deliberate impostors: (2) even if real, they need not be of God. Miraculous powers are no absolute guarantee of the possession of truth.

try the spirits] Or, as R. V., prove the spirits. There are two words in N. T. meaning ‘to try, test, prove’; the one which we have here (δοκιμάζειν), and the one which is used where the Jews try or tempt Christ (Mark 8:11; Mark 10:2, &c.), and of the temptations of Satan (Matthew 4:1; Matthew 4:3, &c.). The former occurs about 20, the latter about 40 times in N. T. Neither are common in S. John’s writings: he nowhere else uses the word which we have here, and the other only 4 times (John 6:6; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:10). The A. V. is very capricious in its renderings of the former; ‘allow’ (Romans 14:22), ‘approve’ (Romans 2:18), ‘discern’ (Luke 12:56), ‘examine’ (1 Corinthians 11:28), ‘like’ (Romans 1:28), ‘prove’ (Luke 14:19), ‘try’ (1 Corinthians 3:13); while the latter is rendered ‘examine’ (2 Corinthians 13:5), ‘prove’ (John 6:6), ‘tempt’ (Matthew 22:18), ‘try’ (Revelation 2:2). The Revisers have somewhat reduced this variety. In the one case ‘allow’ has been changed to ‘approve’; ‘examine’ and ‘try’ to ‘prove’: in the other case ‘examine’ has been changed to ‘try’. The difference between the two words (which are found together 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Psalm 26:2) is on the whole this, that the one here used commonly implies a good, if not a friendly object; to prove or test in the hope that what is tried will stand the test: whereas the other often implies a sinister object; to try in the hope that what is tried will be found wanting. The metaphor here is from testing metals. Comp. ‘Prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

whether they are of God] Whether their origin (ἐκ) is from God: comp. 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:12.

A verse such as this cuts at the root of such pretensions as the Infallibility of the Pope. What room is left for Christians to ‘prove the spirits’, if all they have to do is to ask the opinion of an official? The Apostle’s charge, ‘prove ye the spirits’, may be addressed to Christians singly or to the Church collectively: it cannot be addressed to an individual. Comp. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13. The verse also shews us in what spirit to judge of such things as the reported miracles at Lourdes and the so-called ‘manifestations’ of Spiritualism. When they have been proved to be real, they must still further be proved to see ‘whether they are of God’. We are not to judge of doctrine by miracles, but of miracles by doctrine. A miracle enforcing what contradicts the teaching of Christ and His Apostles is not ‘of God’ and is no authority for Christians. Comp. Galatians 1:8; Deuteronomy 13:1-3.

because many false prophets] The caution is against no imaginary or merely possible danger; it already exists. Warnings respecting the coming of such had been given by Christ, S. Paul, S. Peter, and S. Jude; and now S. John tells his readers that these prophecies have been fulfilled. These ‘false prophets’ include the antichrists of 1 John 2:18, and what is here said of them seems to indicate that like Mahomet, Swedenborg, the Irvingites, and others, they put forth their new doctrine as a revelation.

are gone out into the world] This probably has no reference to their ‘going out from us’ (1 John 2:19). Possibly it means no more than that they have appeared in public; but it perhaps includes the notion of their having a mission from the power that sent them: comp. John 3:17; John 6:14; John 10:36; John 11:27; John 12:47; John 12:49, and especially John 16:28. We need not confine these ‘many false prophets’ to the antichrists who had left the Christian communion. There would be others who, like Apollonius of Tyana, had never been Christians at all: and others even more dangerous who still professed to be members of the Church. The difficulties in the Church of Corinth caused by the unrestrained ‘speaking with tongues’ point to dangers of this kind.1 John 4:1. Παντὶ) every spirit, which presents itself.—πνεύματι) spirit, by which any teacher is influenced.—δοκιμάζετε, try) according to the rule, which is given in 1 John 4:2-3.—πολλοὶ) many, as at other times, so in that age also. A dreadful crop of heresies sprung up in those times. John zealously contends against them. If he were alive at this day, he would be called by some too severe.—ψευδοπροφῆται, false prophets) 2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24.—ἐξεληλύθασιν, have gone out) from their places. They have entered into the world: 2 John 1:7.—κόσμον, the world) which is easy to be deceived: 2Jn 1:4-5.Verse 1-1 John 5:12. - (2) The source of son-ship. Possession of the Spirit. Verses 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. Verse 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 ἐξελήλυθε 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. Beloved

Again the recognition of danger from false spirits prompts this affectionate address. Compare 1 John 3:21.

Try (δοκιμάζετε)

Better, as Rev., prove. See on 1 Peter 1:7; see on Luke 12:55. Compare the phrase discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Of God (ἐκ)

Out of: proceeding from.

False prophets (ψευδοπροφῆται)

The term is applied in the New Testament to rivals of true prophets under the old dispensation (Luke 6:26; 2 Peter 2:1), and to rivals of the apostles under the gospel economy (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). In Revelation to "the embodied power of spiritual falsehood" (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10). The false prophet supports his claims by signs and portents (Matthew 24:24; Acts 13:6; Revelation 19:20) and is thus distinguished from the false teacher. See 2 Peter 2:1, where the two terms occur together.

Are gone out (ἐξαληλύθασιν)

The perfect tense indicates that the influence of their going out on their false mission is in operation at the present.

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