1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
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1 John


1 John 4:18.

John has been speaking of boldness, and that naturally suggests its opposite--fear. He has been saying that perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment, because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the Judge. In my text he explains and enlarges that statement. For there is another way in which love produces boldness, and that is by its casting out fear. These two are mutually exclusive. The entrance of the one is for the other a notice to quit. We cannot both love and fear the same person or thing, and where love comes in, the darker form slips out at the door; and where Love comes in, it brings hand in hand with itself Courage with her radiant face. But boldness is the companion of love, only when love is perfect. For, inconsistent as the two emotions are, love, in its earlier stages and lower degrees, is often perturbed and dashed by apprehension and dread.

Now John is speaking about the two emotions in themselves, irrespective, so far as his language goes, of the objects to which they are directed. What he is saying is true about love and fear, whatever or whosoever may be loved or dreaded. But the context suggests the application in his mind, for it is ‘boldness before him’ about which he has been speaking; and so it is love and fear directed towards God which are meant in my text. The experience of hosts of professing Christians is only too forcible a comment upon the possibility of a partial Love lodging in the heart side by side with a fellow-lodger, Fear, whom it ought to have expelled. So there are three things here that I wish to notice--the empire of fear, the mission of fear, and the expulsion of fear.

I. The empire of fear.

Fear is a shrinking apprehension of evil as befalling us, from the person or thing which we dread. My text brings us face to face with that solemn thought that there are conditions of human nature, in which the God who ought to be our dearest joy and most ardent desire becomes our ghastliest dread. The root of such an unnatural perversion of all that a creature ought to feel towards its loving Creator lies in the simple consciousness of discordance between God and man, which is the shadow cast over the heart by the fact of sin. God is righteous; God righteously administers His universe. God enters into relations of approval or disapproval with His responsible creature. Therefore there lies, dormant for the most part, but present in every heart, and active in the measure in which that heart is informed as to itself, the slumbering, cold dread that between it and God things are not as they ought to be.

I believe, for my part, that such a dumb, dim consciousness of discord attaches to all men, though it is often smothered, often ignored, and often denied. But there it is; the snake hibernates, but it is coiled in the heart all the same; and warmth will awake it. Then it lifts its crested head, and shoots out its forked tongue, and venom passes into the veins. A dread of God is the ghastliest thing in the world, the most unnatural, but universal, unless expelled by perfect love.

Arising from that discomforting consciousness of discord there come, likewise, other forms and objects of dread. For if I am out of harmony with Him, what will be my fate in the midst of a universe administered by Him, and in which all are His servants? Oh! I sometimes wonder how it is that godless men front the facts of human life and do not go mad. For here are we, naked, feeble, alone, plunged into a whirlpool, from the awful vortices of which we cannot extricate ourselves. There foam and swirl all manner of evils, some of them certain, some of them probable, any of them possible, since we are at discord with Him who wields all the forces of the universe, and wields them all with a righteous hand. ‘The stars in their courses fight against’ the man that does not fight for God. Whilst all things serve the soul that serve Him, all are embattled against the man that is against, or not for, God and His will.

Then there arises up another object of dread, which, in like manner, derives all its power to terrify and to hurt from the fact of our discordance with God; and that is ‘the shadow feared of man,’ that stands shrouded by the path, and waits for each of us.

God; God’s universe; God’s messenger, Death--these are facts with which we stand in relation, and if our relations with Him are out of gear, then He and all of these are legitimate objects of dread to us.

But now there is something else that casts out fear than perfect love, and that is--perfect levity. For it is the explanation of the fact that so many of us know nothing of this fear of which I speak, and fancy that I am exaggerating, or putting forward false views. There is a type of man, and I have no doubt there are some of its representatives among my hearers, who are below both fear and love as directed towards God; for they never think about Him, or trouble their heads concerning either Him or their relations to Him or anything that flows therefrom. It is a strange faculty that we all have, of forgetting unwelcome thoughts and shutting our eyes to the things that we do not want to see, like Nelson when he puts the telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen, because he would not obey the signal of recall. But surely it is an ignoble thing that men should ignore or shuffle out of sight with inconsiderateness the real facts of their condition, like boys whistling in a churchyard to keep their spirits up, and saying, ‘Who’s afraid?’ just because they are so very much afraid. Ah, dear friends, do not rest until you face the facts, and having faced them, have found the way to reverse them! Surely, surely it is not worthy of men to turn away from anything so certain as that between a sin-loving man and God there must exist such a relation as will bring evil and sorrow to that man, as surely as God is and he is. I beseech you, take to heart these things, and do not turn away from them with a shake of your shoulders, and say, ‘He is preaching the narrow, old-fashioned doctrine of a religion of fear.’ No! I am not. But I am preaching this plain fact, that a man who is in discord with God has reason to be afraid, and I come to you with the old exhortation of the prophet, ‘Be troubled, ye careless ones.’ For there is nothing more ignoble or irrational than security which is only made possible by covering over unwelcome facts. ‘Be troubled’; and let the trouble lead you to the Refuge.

II. That brings me to the second point--viz., the mission of fear.

John uses a rare word in my text when he says ‘fear hath torment.’ ‘Torment’ does not convey the whole idea of the word. It means suffering, but suffering for a purpose; suffering which is correction; suffering which is disciplinary; suffering which is intended to lead to something beyond itself. Fear, the apprehension of personal evil, has the same function in the moral world as pain has in the physical. It is a symptom of disease, and is intended to bid us look for the remedy and the Physician. What is an alarm bell for but to rouse the sleepers, and to hurry them to the refuge? And so this wholesome, manly dread of the certain issue of discord with God is meant to do for us what the angels did for Lot--to lay a mercifully violent hand on the shoulder of the sleeper, and shake him into aroused wakefulness, and hasten him out of Sodom, before the fire bursts through the ground, and is met by the fire from above. The intention of fear is to lead to that which shall annihilate it by taking away its cause.

There is nothing more ridiculous, nothing more likely to destroy a man, than the indulgence in an idle fear which does nothing to prevent its own fulfilment. Horses in a burning stable are so paralysed by dread that they cannot stir, and get burnt to death. And for a man to be afraid--as every one ought to be who is conscious of unforgiven sin--for a man to be afraid and there an end, is absolute insanity. I fear; then what do I do? Nothing. That is true about hosts of us.

What ought I to do? Let the dread direct me to its source, my own sinfulness. Let the discovery of my own sinfulness direct me to its remedy, the righteousness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, can deal with the disturbing element in my relation to God. He can ‘deliver me from my enemies, for they are too strong for me.’ It is Christ and His work, Christ and His sacrifice, Christ and His indwelling Spirit that will grapple with and overcome sin and all its consequences, in any man and in every man; taking away its penalty, lightening the heart of the burden of its guilt, delivering from its love and dominion--all three of which things are the barbs of the arrows with which fear riddles heart and conscience. So my fear should proclaim to me the merciful ‘Name that is above every name,’ and drive me as well as draw me to Christ, the Conqueror of sin, and the Antagonist of all dread.

Brethren, I said I was not preaching the religion of Fear. But I think we shall scarcely understand the religion of Love unless we recognise that dread is a legitimate part of an unforgiven man’s attitude towards God. My fear should be to me like the misshapen guide that may lead me to the fortress where I shall be safe. Oh, do not tamper with the wholesome sense of dread! Do not let it lie, generally sleeping, and now and then waking in your hearts, and bringing about nothing. Sailors that crash on with all sails set--stunsails and all--whilst the barometer is rapidly falling, and boding clouds are on the horizon, and the line of the approaching gale is ruffling the sea yonder, have themselves to blame if they founder. Look to the falling barometer, and make ready for the coming storm, and remember that the mission of fear is to lead you to the Christ who will take it away.

III. Lastly, the expulsion of fear.

My text points out the natural antagonism, and mutual exclusiveness, of these two emotions. If I go to Jesus Christ as a sinful man, and get His love bestowed upon me, then, as the next verse to my text says, my love springs in response to His to me, and in the measure in which that love rises in my heart will it frustrate its antagonistic dread.

As I said, you cannot love and fear the same person, unless the love is of a very rudimentary and imperfect character. But just as when you pour pure water into a bladder, the poisonous gases that it may have contained will be driven out before it, so when love comes in, dread goes out. The river, turned into the foul Augean stables of the heart, will sweep out all the filth and leave everything clean. The black, greasy smoke-wreath, touched by the fire of Christ’s love, will flash out into ruddy flames, like that which has kindled them; and Christ’s love will kindle in your hearts, if you accept it and apprehend it aright, a love which shall burn up and turn into fuel for itself the now useless dread.

But, brethren, remember that it is ‘perfect love’ which ‘casts out fear.’

Inconsistent as the two emotions are in themselves, in practice, they may be united, by reason of the imperfection of the nobler. And in the Christian life they are united with terrible frequency. There are many professing Christian people who live all their days with a burden of shivering dread upon their shoulders, and an icy cold fear in their hearts, just because they have not got close enough to Jesus Christ, nor kept their hearts with sufficient steadfastness under the quickening influences of His love, to have shaken off their dread as a sick man’s distempered fancies. A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. There are hundreds of professing Christians who know very little indeed of that joyous love of God which swallows up and makes impossible all dread, who, because they have not a loving present consciousness of a loving Father’s loving will, tremble when they front in imagination, and still more when they meet in reality, the evils that must come, and who cannot face the thought of death with anything but shrinking apprehension. There is far too much of the old leaven of selfish dread left in the experiences of many Christians. ‘I feared thee, because thou wert an austere man, and so, because I was afraid, I went and hid my talent, and did nothing for thee’ is a transcript of the experience of far too many of us. The one way to get deliverance is to go to Jesus Christ and keep close by Him.

And my last word to you is, see that you resort only to the sane, sound way of getting rid of the wholesome, rational dread of which I have been speaking. You can ignore it; and buy immunity at the price of leaving in full operation the causes of your dread--and that is stupid. There is only one wise thing to do, and that is, to make sure work of getting rid of the occasion of dread, which is the fact of sin. Take all your sin to Jesus Christ; He will--and He only can--deal with it. He will lay His hand on you, as He did of old, with the characteristic word that was so often upon His lips, and which He alone is competent to speak in its deepest meaning. ‘Fear not, it is I,’ and He will give you the courage that He commands.

‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ ‘Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father,’ and cling to Him, as a child who knows his father’s heart too well to be afraid of anything in his father, or of anything that his father’s hand can send.

1 John 4:18-19. There is no fear in love — No slavish or tormenting fear, diffidence, or distrust, can be where love reigns; but perfect, mature love casteth out such fear, because such fear hath torment — And so is inconsistent with the happiness of love. He that feareth is not made perfect in love — In the sense above explained. Study therefore to increase more and more in that noble affection of love to God, and you will find your happiness increasing in proportion to it. Observe, reader, a mere natural man has neither the fear nor love of God; one that is awakened and convinced of sin, has fear without love; a babe in Christ, love and fear; a father in Christ, love without fear. We love him, because he first loved us — This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more; why should any one say less, or speak less intelligibly?

4:14-21 The Father sent the Son, he willed his coming into this world. The apostle attests this. And whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. This confession includes faith in the heart as the foundation; makes acknowledgment with the mouth to the glory of God and Christ, and profession in the life and conduct, against the flatteries and frowns of the world. There must be a day of universal judgment. Happy those who shall have holy boldness before the Judge at that day; knowing he is their Friend and Advocate! Happy those who have holy boldness in the prospect of that day, who look and wait for it, and for the Judge's appearance! True love to God assures believers of God's love to them. Love teaches us to suffer for him and with him; therefore we may trust that we shall also be glorified with him, 2Ti 2:12. We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master's anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God, are many. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at his love. He sent his word to invite sinners to partake of this great salvation. Let them take the comfort of the happy change wrought in them, while they give him the glory. The love of God in Christ, in the hearts of Christians from the Spirit of adoption, is the great proof of conversion. This must be tried by its effects on their temper, and their conduct to their brethren. If a man professes to love God, and yet indulges anger or revenge, or shows a selfish disposition, he gives his profession the lie. But if it is plain that our natural enmity is changed into affection and gratitude, let us bless the name of our God for this seal and earnest of eternal happiness. Then we differ from the false professors, who pretend to love God, whom they have not seen, yet hate their brethren, whom they have seen.There is no fear in love - Love is not an affection which produces fear. In the love which we have for a parent, a child, a friend, there is no fear. If a man had perfect love to God, he would have no fear of anything - for what would he have to dread? He would have no fear of death, for he would have nothing to dread beyond the grave. It is guilt that makes people fear what is to come; but he whose sins are pardoned, and whose heart is filled with the love of God, has nothing to dread in this world or the world to come. The angels in heaven, who have always loved God and one another, have no fear, for they have nothing to dread in the future; the redeemed in heaven, rescued from all danger, and filled with the love of God, have nothing to dread; and as far as that same loves operates on earth, it delivers the soul now from all apprehension of what is to come.

But perfect love casteth out fear - That is, love that is complete, or that is allowed to exert its proper influence on the soul. As far as it exists, its tendency is to deliver the mind from alarms. If it should exist in any soul in an absolutely perfect state, that soul would be entirely free from all dread in regard to the future.

Because fear hath torment - It is a painful and distressing emotion. Thus men suffer from the fear of poverty, of losses, of bereavement, of sickness, of death, and of future woe. From all these distressing apprehensions, that love of God which furnishes an evidence of true piety delivers us.

He that feareth, is not made perfect in love - He about whose mind there lingers the apprehension of future wrath, shows that love in his soul has not accomplished its full work. Perhaps it never will on any soul until we reach the heavenly world, though there are many minds so full of love to God, as to be prevailingly delivered from fear.

18. Fear has no place in love. Bold confidence (1Jo 4:17), based on love, cannot coexist with fear. Love, which, when perfected, gives bold confidence, casts out fear (compare Heb 2:14, 15). The design of Christ's propitiatory death was to deliver from this bondage of fear.

but—"nay" [Alford].

fear hath torment—Greek, "punishment." Fear is always revolving in the mind the punishment deserved [Estius]. Fear, by anticipating punishment (through consciousness of deserving it), has it even now, that is, the foretaste of it. Perfect love is incompatible with such a self-punishing fear. Godly fear of offending God is quite distinct from slavish fear of consciously deserved punishment. The latter fear is natural to us all until love casts it out. "Men's states vary: one is without fear and love; another, with fear without love; another, with fear and love; another, without fear with love" [Bengel].

That he proveth from the contrary natures of fear and love. The fear which is of the baser kind, viz. that is servile, and depresses the spirit, hath no place with love, but is excluded by it, by the same degrees by which that love grows up to perfection, and shall be quite excluded by that love fully perfected: inasmuch as love is a pleasant, fear a tormenting, passion, which, as such, while it remains, shows the imperfection of love.

There is no fear in love,.... In the love of the brethren; where that is, there is no fear: so far as that prevails and gains ground, fear removes; not the filial fear of God, the new covenant grace of fear, which is the beginning of wisdom, and is consistent with faith, hope, love, and spiritual joy; but either the fear of men, which brings a snare: those that truly love Christ, his Gospel, and his people, they are not afraid of men; the spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind, is opposite to a spirit of fear, nor can they stand together; and such strength there is sometimes in brotherly love, that the saints are not afraid of death itself, but freely lay down their lives for one another; see 1 John 3:16; or it may be rather, that they are not afraid of the day of judgment, and of hell and damnation; where hatred of the brethren has place, there is a fear and dread of these things, as were in Cain; but those that love the brethren, they know they are passed from death to life, and shall not enter into condemnation, and therefore are in no fear of any of these things:

but perfect love casteth out fear; when love to the brethren appears to be perfect, that is, genuine and sincere, and a man knows that from the bottom of his heart he sincerely loves the saints, he concludes from hence, as he may, the truth of his faith, which works in this way; and this frees him from the fears of men and devils, and of the future judgment and wrath to come. The Jews have a saying (w),

"worthy is his portion that rules over the place of fear, for lo, there is nothing that rules over the degree of "fear" but "love".''

Because fear hath torment: it distresses a man, fills him with anguish, and makes him restless and uneasy, and keeps him in servitude; through the fear of men, of the devil, death, judgment, and hell, he is all his lifetime, or as long as this fear lasts, subject to bondage: or "fear has punishment", as it may be rendered, and is by the Vulgate Latin version; it is a punishment itself to a man; and its being criminal deserves punishment, and is punishable; see Revelation 21:8;

he that feareth is not made perfect in love; or "by love"; that is, he that is possessed, and under the power of a servile fear of punishment, is one who is not, by the love to the brethren, made to appear to himself to be a sincere lover of God, and true believer in Christ; for was he, he would not be in fear of destruction and death, since whoever truly loves God, and believes in Christ, shall certainly be saved; though such persons, at times, may not be without their doubts and fears.

(w) Zohar in Exod. fol. 87. 1.

There is no {k} fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

(k) If we understand by love, that we are in God, and God in us, that we are sons, and that we know God, and that everlasting life is in us: he concludes correctly, that we may well gather peace and quietness by this.

1 John 4:18 serves to establish the preceding thought, that love has its perfection in παῤῥησία.

φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ] The thought is quite general in its character: “where love is, there is no fear” (Ebrard); φόβος is therefore not specially the fear of God, and by ἀγάπη we are not to understand specially love to God, but at the same time this general thought is certainly expressed here in reference to the relationship to God. It is quite erroneous to explain ἀγάπη here, with Calvin, Calovius, Flacius, Spener, etc., as “the love of God to us;”[280] but it is also incorrect, with Lücke and others, to understand by it, specially, brotherly love.[281]

The preposition ἐν is not = with (à Mons: ne se trouve avec la charité); Luther correctly: “Fear is not in love;” i.e. it is not an element in love, it is something utterly foreign to it, which only exists outside it. By the following words: ἀλλʼ ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, the preceding thought is confirmed and expanded: love not only has no fear in it, but it does not even endure it; where it enters, there must fear completely vanish. Beza inadequately paraphrases the adjective τελεία by: sincera, opposita simulationi; it is not love in its first beginnings, love which is still feeble, but love in its perfection, that completely casts out fear. The reason why love does not suffer fear to be along with it is: ὅτι ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει. The word κόλασις (besides here, only in Matthew 25:46; comp. Wis 11:14; Wis 16:2; Wis 16:24; Wis 19:4) has always the meaning of “punishment” (also LXX. Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 14:7; Ezekiel 18:30; Ezekiel 44:12, as incorrect translation of מִכְשַׁוֹל); if we adhere to this meaning, that expression can only mean: fear has punishment, in which case that which it has to expect is regarded as inherent in it, just as on the other hand it could be said: Ἡ ἈΓΆΠΗ ἜΧΕΙ ΖΩῊΝ ΑἸΏΝΙΟΝ (this being considered as future happiness, as in Matthew 25:46); this idea has nothing against it, for fear, as rooted in unbelief, is in itself deserving of punishment, and therein lies the reason (ὍΤΙ) why perfect love casteth out fear.[282] Several commentators, however, explain κόλασις by “pain,” thinking that “here causa is put pro effectu” (Ebrard), or, in more correspondence with the thought, by “pain of punishment” (Besser, Braune, so also previously in this comm.); similarly Lücke explains κόλασις = “consciousness of punishment.” The thought that then results is indeed right in itself, for “certainly this having of κόλασις does actually show itself in the consciousness or the pain of the expectation of punishment” (Brückner); but such a change in the meaning of the idea κόλασις cannot be grammatically justified. The following sentence: ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, which is not connected with the subordinate clause ὅτι ὁ φόβος κ.τ.λ., but with the preceding principal clause, does not contain a conclusion from this (δέ is not = οὖν), but (as Braune also thinks) expresses the same thought in negative form (hence the connection by δέ); only with this difference, that what was there expressed in an objective way, here receives a subjective aspect. It needs no proof that the apostle has in view in this verse no other fear than that of which Paul says, Romans 8:15 : οὐκ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον, and therefore not the childlike awe of God arising from the consciousness of God’s glory, which forms an essential element of love to God.[283] The conjectures of Grotius, instead of κόλασιν: κόλουσιν (i.e. mutilationem; so that the sense is: “metus amorem mutilat atque infringit, aut prohibet, ne se exserat”), and instead of φοβούμενος: κολουόμενος (“qui mutilatur aut impeditur in dilectione, is in ea perfectus non est”); and that of Lamb. Bos: instead of κόλασιν, κώλυσιν, are not merely useless, but even rob the thought of the apostle of its peculiar force.

[280] Calovius interprets: charitas divina, quae apprehensa per fidem, omnem servilem timorem expellit, whereby a reference foreign to the context is plainly introduced.

[281] For justification of this interpretation Lücke refers to the words: ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, and remarks: “it cannot be said of the love of God in its perfection, that it casts out fear of God, for it has not got any.” But John does not say that love casts out fear out of itself; the idea rather is: it drives fear out of the heart in which it dwells before it (love) obtains its entrance. If ἀγάπη and φόβος ere meant to have different references, the apostle would certainly have indicated this.

[282] It is unnecessary to take the abstract (ὁ φόβος) for the concrete (ὁ φοβούμενος), as de Wette and Düsterdieck do; de Wette incorrectly interprets ἔχει by “receives,” and Baumgarten-Crusius by “keeps, tenet, thinks of … punishment” (so that the sense is: “Fear knows nothing of mercy, of love”).

[283] That the fear which the apostle means has its necessary place also in the development of the spiritual life, Augustine strikingly expresses thus: Timor quasi locum praeparat charitati. Si autem nullus timor, non est qua intret charitas. Timor Dei sic vulnerat quomodo mediei ferramentum. Timor medicamentum, charitas sanitas. Timor servus est charitatis. Timor est custos et paedagogus legis, donee veniat charitas.—The different steps are thus stated by Bengel: varius hominum status: sine timore et amore; cum timore sine amore; cum timore et amore; sine timore cum amore.

1 John 4:18. Bern.: “Amor reverentiam nescit”. φόβος, the opposite of παρρησία. κόλασιν ἔχει, “implies punishment,” the portion of slaves. The portion of slaves is punishment (κόλασις) and their spirit fear; the portion of sons is chastisement (παιδεία) and their spirit boldness (παρρησία). Cf. Hebrews 12:7, Clem. Alex.: “Perfectio fidelis hominis caritas est”. Aug.: “Major charitas, minor timor; minor charitas, major timor”. Bengel has here one of his untranslatable comments: “Varius hominum status: sine timore et amore; cum timore sine amore; cum timore et amore; sine timore cum amore”.

18. Proof of the preceding statement that perfect love will give us boldness, by shewing the mutually exclusive nature of love and fear. Love moves towards others in the spirit of self-sacrifice: fear shrinks from others in the spirit of self-preservation. The two are to be understood quite generally; neither love of God nor fear of God is specially meant. In all relations whatever, perfect love excludes fear, and fear prevents love from being perfect. And the two vary inversely: the more perfect the love, the less possibility of fear, and the more the fear, the less perfect the love. But, though as certain as any physical law, the principle, that perfect love excludes all fear, is an ideal that has never been verified in fact. Like the first law of motion, it is verified by the approximations made to it. No believer’s love has ever been so perfect as entirely to banish fear; but every believer experiences that as his love increases his fear diminishes. It is worthy of note that S. John here abandons his antithetic method. He does not go on to state anything about him that feareth not. And rightly, for the absence of fear proves nothing: it may be the result of ignorance, or presumption, or indifference, or unbelief, or inveterate wickedness.

Tertullian quotes this verse in insisting on the duty of suffering martyrdom, adding “What fear would it be better to understand than that which gives rise to denial (of Christ)? What love does he assert to be perfect, but that which puts fear to flight, and gives courage to confess (Christ)? What penalty will he appoint as the punishment of fear, but that which he who denies is to pay, who has to be slain, body and soul, in hell” (Scorp. xii.). Simon Magus is said to have “freed his disciples from the danger of death” by martyrdom, “by teaching them to regard idolatry as a matter of indifference” (Origen c. Celsum VI. xi).

because fear hath torment] Better, as R. V., because fear hath punishment. The word for ‘punishment’ (κόλασις) occurs nowhere else in N. T., excepting Matthew 25:46, but it is not uncommon in LXX. nor in classical Greek. Its radical signification is ‘pruning’, and hence it gets the notions of ‘checking, correcting, punishing’. ‘Torment’ as distinct from ‘punishment’ is expressed by a different word (βάσανος), which occurs Matthew 4:24; Luke 16:23; Luke 16:28. Both words are found together in Wis 19:4; ‘That they might fulfil the punishment which was wanting to their torments.’ Wiclif has ‘peyne’ representing poena in the Vulgate: other English Versions have ‘painfulness’. ‘Fear hath punishment’ is true in two ways; (1) fear involves the idea of punishment; (2) fear is a foretaste of punishment.

He that feareth] With Wiclif we must prefix ‘but’, or with Genevan, Rhemish, and R. V. ‘and’, to represent the Greek conjunction: and he that feareth (ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος). The main sentence is here resumed, ‘but perfect love … punishment’ being parenthetical. The present tense indicates a constant condition: the habitual fearer is necessarily imperfect in his love.

S. Paul teaches the same doctrine; ‘Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). The servile fear, which perfect love excludes, is therefore altogether different from the childlike awe, which is a necessary element in the creature’s love for its Creator. Even servile fear is necessary as a preparation for perfect love. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’; and it is also the beginning of love. The sinner must begin by fearing the God against whom he has sinned. Bengel gives the various stages thus: ‘neither love nor fear; fear without love; both fear and love; love without fear’. Fear is the child of bondage; love of freedom. In this case also the bondwoman and her son must be cast out (Galatians 4:30).

1 John 4:18. Φόβος, fear) which shrinks from God and the day of judgment. The condition of men is varied: without fear and love; with fear without love; with fear and love; without fear with love.—ἀγάπῃ, love) towards God.—τελεία, perfect) To this refers, is brought to its consummation.—κόλασιν ἔχει, has torment) For it distrusts: it imagines to itself and sets forth all things as unfriendly and opposed to it; it flees from and hates them.

Verse 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 4:18There is no fear in love (φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ)

Lit., fear is not. It has no existence. The fear is that spoken of in 1 Peter 1:17; Hebrews 12:28; godly fear; filial reverence; not slavish fear, as Romans 8:15. In love, lit., the love, that perfected love of which John has been speaking.

Perfect (τελεία)

Not perfected, as 1 John 4:17 but perfect as the result of having been perfected. Compare Hebrews 5:14; James 1:4; James 3:2.

Casteth out (ἔξω βάλλει)

A strong expression: turneth out of doors. Fear is cast out of the sphere of the fellowship of love. See the phrase in John 6:37; John 9:34, John 9:35; John 12:31; John 15:6.

Hath torment (κόλασιν ἔχει)

Torment is a faulty translation. The word means punishment, penalty. It occurs in the New Testament only here and Matthew 25:46. The kindred verb, κολάζομαι to punish, is found Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. Note the present tense, hath. The punishment is present. Fear by anticipating punishment has it even now. The phrase hath punishment (see on John 16:22) indicates that the punishment is inherent in the fear. Fear carries its own punishment. Augustine, commenting on the expulsion of fear by love, says: "As in sewing, we see the thread passed through by the needle. The needle is first pushed in, but the thread cannot be introduced until the needle is brought out. So fear first occupies the mind, but does not remain permanently, because it entered for the purpose of introducing love." The words because fear hath punishment are parenthetical.

He that feareth

The A.V. omits and (δὲ), which is important as closely connecting this clause with there is no fear in love, etc. That is an abstract statement; this is personal; two modes of stating the same truth. Rev. "and he that feareth."

Is not made perfect

"Men's condition is varied; without fear and love; with fear without love; with fear and love; without fear with love" (Bengel).

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