1 John 4:12
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
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4:7-13 The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love. He that does not love the image of God in his people, has no saving knowledge of God. For it is God's nature to be kind, and to give happiness. The law of God is love; and all would have been perfectly happy, had all obeyed it. The provision of the gospel, for the forgiveness of sin, and the salvation of sinners, consistently with God's glory and justice, shows that God is love. Mystery and darkness rest upon many things yet. God has so shown himself to be love, that we cannot come short of eternal happiness, unless through unbelief and impenitence, although strict justice would condemn us to hopeless misery, because we break our Creator's laws. None of our words or thoughts can do justice to the free, astonishing love of a holy God towards sinners, who could not profit or harm him, whom he might justly crush in a moment, and whose deserving of his vengeance was shown in the method by which they were saved, though he could by his almighty Word have created other worlds, with more perfect beings, if he had seen fit. Search we the whole universe for love in its most glorious displays? It is to be found in the person and the cross of Christ. Does love exist between God and sinners? Here was the origin, not that we loved God, but that he freely loved us. His love could not be designed to be fruitless upon us, and when its proper end and issue are gained and produced, it may be said to be perfected. So faith is perfected by its works. Thus it will appear that God dwells in us by his new-creating Spirit. A loving Christian is a perfect Christian; set him to any good duty, and he is perfect to it, he is expert at it. Love oils the wheels of his affections, and sets him on that which is helpful to his brethren. A man that goes about a business with ill will, always does it badly. That God dwells in us and we in him, were words too high for mortals to use, had not God put them before us. But how may it be known whether the testimony to this does proceed from the Holy Ghost? Those who are truly persuaded that they are the sons of God, cannot but call him Abba, Father. From love to him, they hate sin, and whatever disagrees with his will, and they have a sound and hearty desire to do his will. Such testimony is the testimony of the Holy Ghost.No man hath seen God at any time - See the notes at John 1:18, where the same declaration occurs. The statement seems to be made here in order to introduce a remark to show in what way we may know that we have any true knowledge of God. The idea is, "He has never indeed been seen by mortal eyes. We are not, then, to expect to become acquainted with what he is in that way. But there is a method by which we may be assured that we have a true knowledge of him, and that is, by evidence that we love another, and by the presence of his Spirit in our hearts. We cannot become acquainted with him by sight, but we may by love."

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us - Though we cannot see him, yet there is a way by which we may be assured that he is near us, and that he even dwells in us. That way is by the exercise of love. Compare the notes at John 14:23-24.

And his love is perfected in us - Is carried out to completion. That is, our love for each other is the proper exponent of love to him reigning in our hearts. The idea here is not that we are absolutely perfect, or even that our love is perfect, whatever may be true on those points, but that this love to others is the proper carrying out of our love toward him; that is, without this our love to him would not have accomplished what it was adapted and designed to do. Unless it produced this effect, it would be defective or incomplete. Compare 1 John 4:17. The general sense is this: "We claim to have the love of God in our hearts, or that we are influenced and controlled by love. But however high and exalted that may seem to be as exercised toward God, it would be defective; it would not exert a fair influence over us, unless it led us to love our Christian brethren. It would be like the love which we might profess to have for a father, if it did not lead us to love our brothers and sisters. True love will diffuse itself over all who come within its range, and will thus become complete and entire." This passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to demonstrate the doctrine of sinless perfection, or to prove that Christians are ever absolutely perfect in this life. It proves only that love to God is not complete, or fully developed, unless it leads those who profess to have it to love each other. See the notes at Job 1:1. On the meaning of the Greek word here used, (τελειόω teleioō,) see the notes at Philippians 3:12. Compare the notes at Hebrews 2:10.

12. God, whom no man hath seen at any time, hath appointed His children as the visible recipients of our outward kindness which flows from love to Himself, "whom not having seen, we love," compare Notes, [2645]1Jo 4:11, [2646]1Jo 4:19, 20. Thus 1Jo 4:12 explains why, instead (in 1Jo 4:11) of saying, "If God so loved us, we ought also to love God," he said, "We ought also to love one another."

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us—for God is love; and it must have been from Him dwelling in us that we drew the real love we bear to the brethren (1Jo 4:8, 16). John discusses this in 1Jo 4:13-16.

his love—rather, "the love of Him," that is, "to Him" (1Jo 2:5), evinced by our love to His representatives, our brethren.

is perfected in us—John discusses this in 1Jo 4:17-19. Compare 1Jo 2:5, "is perfected," that is, attains its proper maturity.

The essence of God is to our eyes invisible, incomprehensible to our minds; but by yielding ourselves to the power of his love, so as to be transformed by it, and habituated to the exercise of mutual love, we come to know him by the most pleasant and most apprehensible effects, experiencing his indwelling, vital, operative presence and influences, whereby he is daily perfecting this his own likeness and image in us. This is the most desirable way of knowing God, when, though we cannot behold him at a distance, we may feelingly apprehend him nigh us, and in us.

No man hath seen God at any time,.... The same is said by the Evangelist John, John 1:18; but here it is observed with a different view, and upon another account; there it signifies that no man has seen and looked into the counsels and designs of God, and been able to make a discovery and declaration of his mind and will, his love and grace, and which is there ascribed to the Son of God; see Gill on John 1:18; but here the sense is, that whereas God is invisible in his nature, and incomprehensible in his being and perfections, so that there is no coming to him, and seeing of him, and conversing with him in a familiar way, and so not of loving him as he is in himself, and ought to be loved, as one friend sees, converses with, and loves another, and finds his love increased by sight and conversation; then we ought to love the saints and people of God, who are visible, may be seen, come at, and conversed with, see 1 John 4:20; for this clause stands among the arguments and reasons for brotherly love:

if we love one another God dwelleth in us; not as he does in his Son, by union of nature; nor as in heaven, by the displays of his glory; nor as in the whole world, by his omnipresence and power; but by his Spirit, and the communications of his love, and by his gracious presence and communion, which he indulges the saints with; for such who love one another, as they appear to have the Spirit of God, of which that grace is a fruit, so they are by the Spirit built up a fit habitation for God, and by which Spirit he dwells in them; and such may expect the presence of God, for they who live in peace, the God of love and peace shall be with them:

and his love is perfected in us; not that love of God, with which he loves his people; for that admits of no degrees, and is not more or less in itself, or in his heart; but is always invariably and unchangeably the same, and is full, complete, and perfect in his own breast, as it was from all eternity; and does not pass by degrees, or gradually rise from a love of benevolence to a love of complacency and delight, or increase as our love does to him and to one another, on which it has no dependence: nor is this love perfected in the saints in this life; that is to say, they have not perfect knowledge and enjoyment of it; nor have they all the effects of it bestowed upon them, and applied unto them; the perfection of it, in this sense, will be in heaven: but the love with which God is loved is here designed; and it is called his, because he is both the object and the author of it; and this is no effect as to degrees; yea, sometimes, instead of abounding and increasing, it goes back, it is left, and waxes cold; and it will not have its completion till the saints come to heaven, and then it will be in its full perfection and glory, when faith and hope shall be no more: but the sense is, that this grace of love is sincere and hearty, and without dissimulation; it is unfeigned love; and it is in deed and in truth, and not in word and in tongue only; and this appears to be so, by the love which is shown to the brethren, the children of God; so that love to God in the saints is perfected by love to the brethren, just in such sense as faith is made perfect by works, James 2:22, that is, is made to appear to be genuine, right, and true.

{10} No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is {g} perfected in us.

(10) A third reason: Because God is invisible, therefore by this effect of his Spirit, that is, by charity, he is understood to be not out of us, but united with us and in us, in whom he is so effectually working.

(g) Is surely in us indeed, and in truth.

1 John 4:12. The blessing of brotherly love is perfect fellowship with God.

Θεὸν οὐδεὶς πώποτε τεθέαται] comp. 1 John 4:20 and Gospel of John 1:18. In opposition to Rickli’s view, that these words were spoken in polemic reference to the false teachers who pretended to see God, i.e. to know Him fully, Lücke rightly asserts that in that case the apostle would have more definitely expressed the polemic element; τεθέαται does not here at all denote spiritual seeing or knowledge (Hornejus, Neander, Sander, Erdmann), but seeing in the strict sense of the word (de Wette, Düsterdieck, Braune). John, however, does not here emphasize this invisibility of God (in which He is infinitely exalted above man; comp. 1 Timothy 6:16) in order to suggest that we can reciprocate the love of God, not directly, but only through love to our visible brethren (Lücke, Ebrard; similarly Hornejus, Lange, etc.), but in order thereby to emphasize still more the following: ὁ Θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει κ.τ.λ. as the Scholiast in Matthiae indicates by paraphrasing: ὁ ἀόρατος Θεὸς καὶ ἀνέφικτος διὰ τῆς εἰς ἀλλήλους ἀγάπης ἐν ἡμῖν μένει; a Lapide correctly interprets: licet eum non videamus, tamen, si proximum diligamus, ipse invisibilis erit nobis praesentissimus (so also de Wette, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Myrberg, Braune). The πώποτε which is added shows that τεθέαται is regarded as the simple perfect, and does not “include past and present” (Lücke); nevertheless with the thought: “no one has seen God at any time,” the further thought: “no one can see Him,” is tacitly combined. That the apostle had in view the passage Exodus 33:20 (Sander), is the more improbable, as both thought and expression are different. In reference to the appearances of God which the O. T. in Genesis 12:7; Genesis 17:1, and elsewhere, relates, Spener rightly remarks: “All such was not the seeing of the Divine Being Himself, but of an assumed form in which His being manifested itself.”

ἐὰν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, ὁ Θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει] In these words the blessing of brotherly love is stated: With brotherly love fellowship with God is associated, because, indeed, love is of God. The explanation of several commentators: “if we love one another, then it may thereby be known that God is in us,” weakens the thought of the apostle.[267] God’s dwelling in us is certainly not meant to be represented here as a result or fruit of our love to one another (as Frommann, p. 109, interprets); and just as little is it the converse relation; but it is the inseparable co-dependence of the two elements, which mutually condition each other (so also Braune).

ΚΑῚ Ἡ ἈΓΆΠΗ ΑὐΤΟῦ ΤΕΤΕΛΕΙΩΜΈΝΗ ἘΣΤῚΝ ἘΝ ἩΜῖΝ] Ἡ ἈΓΆΠΗ ΑὐΤΟῦ is not here “the love which God has to us” (Calovius, Spener, Russmeyer, Sander, Erdmann, etc.), for the idea ΤΕΤΕΛΕΙΩΜΈΝΗ ἘΣΤΊΝ does not agree with this, comp. 1 John 4:18, but the love which the believer has; ΑὐΤΟῦ may, however, be either the objective genitive (so most commentators) or the subjective genitive; but in the latter case we must not interpret, with Socinus: “ea dilectio, quam ipse Deus nobis praescripsit,” nor, as Calvin thinks probable: “caritas, quam Deus nobis inspirat,” but “the love which is inherent in God” (which is His nature and ἐξ αὐτοῦ); this, however, considered as dwelling in believers (ἘΝ ἩΜῖΝ) as the soul of their life (so also Brückner and Braune). This explanation, in which no object which would restrict the general idea of love has to be supplied (comp. 1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 4:16; 1 John 4:18), deserves the preference, because the specific love to God is first mentioned in 1 John 4:19. Quite unjustifiably Ebrard asserts that Ἡ ἈΓ. ΑὐΤΟῦ denotes “the mutual loving relationship between God and us; comp. 1 John 2:5.”

[267] Weiss insists on this interpretation, because “it is meant to be shown how we have in brotherly love the visible evidence of an existence of God who is in Himself invisible;” incorrectly, for (1) Christians need no visible proof of the existence of the invisible God, and, besides, it is not the existence of God, but God’s dwelling in us, etc., that is the subject here; (2) the conjunction ἐάν shows that the subordinate clause states the condition under which what is stated in the principal clause takes place; (3) the supplement of a γινώσκομεν is purely arbitrary.

1 John 4:12. “God—no one hath ever yet beheld Him”. By and by “we shall see Him even as He is” (1 John 3:2), but even now, if we love, we are no strangers to Him: He abides and works in us. τετελειωμένη, “carried to its end”; see note on 1 John 2:5.

12. No man hath seen God at any time] Better, as R. V., No man hath beheld God at any time: a different verb (τεθέαται) is used here from that used in 1 John 4:20 and in John 1:18 (ἑώρακαν) where we have exactly the same statement. The verb used here implies something of gazing and contemplation: our word ‘theatre’ comes from it. Comp. ‘Whom no man hath seen, nor can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16).

Once more (see on 1 John 4:7) the connecting lines of thought are not on the surface, and cannot be affirmed with certainty. What follows seems to give the clue to what otherwise looks like an abrupt transition. ‘I say we must love one another, for by so doing we have proof of the presence of the invisible God. No amount of contemplation ever yet enabled any one to detect God’s presence. Let us love one another, and then we are sure, not only that He is with us but in us, and not merely is, but abides’. Here, as in John 1:18, ‘God’ stands first for emphasis: God no one hath ever yet beheld.

God dwelleth in us] Better, as R. V., God abideth in us (see on 1 John 2:24): He is not a momentary visitant but a permanent friend and guest.

his love is perfected in us] Or, the love of Him is perfected in us. ‘His love’ to us can scarcely be meant; for in what sense would our loving one another perfect that? Moreover, as already noticed, ‘the love of God’ in this Epistle commonly means man’s love to Him, not His to man (1 John 2:5, 1 John 3:17, 1 John 5:3). ‘His love’ might possibly mean the love which characterizes Him, or the love which He has implanted in us; but the other is simpler. Our love to God is developed and perfected by our loving one another. We practise and strengthen our love of the Unseen by shewing love to the seen. See on 1 John 2:5.

1 John 4:12. Ὁ Θεὸς, God) otherwise invisible. Comp. 1 John 4:20.—ἐν ἡμῖν μένει, dwelleth in us) This is treated of in 1 John 4:13-16.—τετελειωμένη ἐστὶν, is perfected) accomplishes all things, which follow upon the expiation of sins. This is treated of, 1 John 4:17-19.

Verse 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 4:12God

Beginning the sentence emphatically, and without the article: God as God. "God hath no man ever yet seen." Compare John 1:18.

His love

Not our love to Him, nor His love to us, but the love which is peculiarly His; which answers to His nature.

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