1 John 4:2
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
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1 John 4:2. Hereby — By the following plain mark; know ye the Spirit of God — In a teacher. Every spirit — Of a teacher; that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God — Doddridge, with many other commentators, reads this clause, Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ, who is come in the flesh, is of God: that is, that confesseth him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, and that both with heart and voice, sincerely believing him to be such, and behaving to him and confessing him as such, though this might expose them to the loss of all things, even of their property, liberty, and lives. This must be acknowledged to be a perfectly Scriptural and very proper mark of trial, proving those in whom it was found to be possessed of the Spirit of God and of Christ. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged, though the original words, ο ομολογει Ιησουν Χριστον εν σαρκι εληλυθοτα, might bear this rendering, they much more favour the sense given them in our translation, signifying, literally and exactly, that confesseth Jesus Christ hath come in the flesh. This imports two things: 1st, That Jesus is the Christ, whose coming was foretold by the Jewish prophets, in opposition to the unbelieving Jews; a truth which those who confessed, whether in Judea or in the Gentile countries, exposed themselves to the danger of having their goods spoiled, and their bodies imprisoned, if not also tortured and put to death. So that those who voluntarily made this confession, manifested that they preferred Christ and his gospel to all other things whatever. The clause imports, 2d, That this great personage, the Messiah, the Son of God, had really come in the flesh, and had a real human nature, in opposition to a sect which arose very early in the Christian Church, called the Docetæ, who would not allow that Christ had a real body, and that he really suffered, died, and rose again. This sect St. John seems to have had in his eye throughout this epistle. Hence, in the very beginning of it, he speaks of seeing, hearing, and handling Christ; and here, to the fundamental article of Jesus’s being the Messiah, he adds, that he came in the flesh; with which doctrine his atoning for sin by the sacrifice of himself, and his rising from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep, were closely and necessarily connected, and therefore the acknowledgment of it was a point of the greatest importance.

The Socinians indeed contend, that to confess Jesus Christ hath come in the flesh, means simply to confess that he was a mere man: and from this they infer that he had no existence before he was conceived of his mother. In proof of their sense of the clause, they cite Hebrews 2:14, where the writer says he partook of our flesh and blood. Now, though it may be true that these words import nothing more than that Christ was a man, like other men, St. John’s words, hath come in the flesh, have evidently a more extensive meaning. For, as Bishop Horsley observes, the sense of a proposition ariseth, not from the meaning of a single word contained in it, but from the union of the whole into one sentence, especially if that union suggests any circumstance by which the sense of the proposition is modified. This is the case of the clause, hath come in the flesh; words which, while they specify the manner of his coming, imply that he might have come in a different manner if he had pleased. Accordingly the apostle hath used the verb to come in that sense 1 John 5:6. This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by the water and the blood. For his meaning plainly is, that Jesus came attested as the Christ by water and blood jointly, although he might have come attested by either of these separately; and that Jesus existed as the Christ before he came attested by the water and the blood. Thus the clause, hath come in the flesh, implies that he might have come in another manner than in the flesh, namely, in the form of God, as mentioned Php 2:6-7. It implies that he existed before he came in the flesh, and chose to come in that manner, rather than in any other; consequently that he is more than a mere man. That Jesus Christ might have come in another manner, was the opinion of Clemens Romanus, one of the apostolical fathers mentioned Php 4:3 : for in his epistle to the Corinthians, he saith, “The sceptre of the majesty of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the pride of pomp and arrogance, although he had it in his power; but in humility, as the Holy Spirit spake concerning him.” See Macknight, and Bishop Horsley’s 5th letter to Priestley.

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?Hereby - Greek, "By this;" that is, by the test which is immediately specified.

Know ye the Spirit of God - You may discern who are actuated by the Spirit of God.

Every spirit - Everyone professing to be under the influence of the Spirit of God. The apostle uses the word "spirit" here with reference to the person who made the claim, on the supposition that everyone professing to be a religious teacher was animated by some spirit or foreign influence, good or bad. If the Spirit of God influenced them, they would confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh; if some other spirit, the spirit of error and deceit, they would deny this.

That confesseth - That is, that makes a proper acknowledgment of this; that inculcates this doctrine, and that gives it a due place and prominence in his instructions. It cannot be supposed that a mere statement of this in words would show that they were of God in the sense that they were true Christians; but the sense is, that if this constituted one of the doctrines which they held and taught, it would show that they were advocates of truth, and not apostles of error. If they did not do this, 1 John 4:3, it would be decisive in regard to their character and claims.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh - Benson and some others propose to render this, "That Jesus, who came in the flesh, is the Christ." But this is liable to serious objections.

(1) it is not the obvious interpretation.

(2) it is unusual to say that Jesus "had come in the flesh," though the expression "the Son of God has come in the flesh," or "God was manifested in the flesh," would be in accordance with the usage of the New Testament.

(3) this would not, probably, meet the real point in the case. The thing denied does not appear to have been that Jesus was the Messiah, for their pretending to be Christian teachers at all implied that they admitted this; but that the Son of God was "really a man," or that he actually assumed human nature in permanent union with the divine. The point of the remark made by the apostle is, that the acknowledgment was to be that Christ assumed human nature; that he was really a man as he appeared to be: or that there was a real incarnation, in opposition to the opinion that he came in appearance only, or that he merely seemed to be a man, and to suffer and die. That this opinion was held by many, see the Introduction, Section III. 2. It is quite probable that the apostle here refers to such sentiments as those which were held by the "Docetae;" and that he meant to teach that it was indispensable to proper evidence that anyone came from God, that he should maintain that Jesus was truly a man, or that there was a real incarnation of the Son of God. John always regarded this as a very important point, and often refers to it, John 19:34-35; John 20:25-27; 1 John 5:6. It is as important to be held now as it was then, for the fact that there was a real incarnation is essential to all just views of the atonement. If he was not truly a man, if he did not literally shed his blood on the cross, of course all that was done was in appearance only, and the whole system of redemption as revealed was merely a splendid illusion. There is little danger that this opinion will be held now, for those who depart from the doctrine laid down in the New Testament in regard to the person and work of Christ, are more disposed to embrace the opinion that he was a mere man; but still it is important that the truth that he was truly incarnate should be held up constantly before the mind, for in no other way can we obtain just views of the atonement.

Is of God - This does not necessarily mean that everyone who confessed this was personally a true Christian, for it is clear that a doctrine might be acknowledged to be true, and yet that the heart might not be changed; nor does it mean that the acknowledgment of this truth was all which it was essential to be believed in order that one might be recognised as a Christian; but it means that it was essential that this truth should be admitted by everyone who truly came from God. They who taught this held a truth which he had revealed, and which was essential to be held; and they thus showed that they did not belong to those to whom the name "antichrist" could be properly given. Still, whether they held this doctrine in such a sense, and in such connection with other doctrines, as to show that they were sincere Christians, was quite another question, for it is plain that a man may hold and teach the true doctrines of religion, and yet have no evidence that he is a child of God.

2. Hereby—"Herein."

know … the Spirit of God—whether he be, or not, in those teachers professing to be moved by Him.

Every spirit—that is, Every teacher claiming inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

confesseth—The truth is taken for granted as established. Man is required to confess it, that is, in his teaching to profess it openly.

Jesus Christ is come in the flesh—a twofold truth confessed, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He is come (the Greek perfect tense implies not a mere past historical fact, as the aorist would, but also the present continuance of the fact and its blessed effects) in the flesh ("clothed with flesh": not with a mere seeming humanity, as the Docetæ afterwards taught: He therefore was, previously, something far above flesh). His flesh implies His death for us, for only by assuming flesh could He die (for as God He could not), Heb 2:9, 10, 14, 16; and His death implies His LOVE for us (Joh 15:13). To deny the reality of His flesh is to deny His love, and so cast away the root which produces all true love on the believer's part (1Jo 4:9-11, 19). Rome, by the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, denies Christ's proper humanity.

He here gives them the general rule, both affirmative and negative, which would suffice them to judge by in their present case; this being the great controversy of that time with the Jews: Whether Jesus were the Messiah? And whether the Messiah were as yet come or no? And with the Gnostics: Whether he were really come in the flesh, in true human nature? Or were not, as to that appearance, a mere phantasm? And he affirms: They that confessed him so come, were of God; i.e. thus far they were in the right, this truth was of God. Of the two litigating parties, this was of God, the other not of God; this took his side, that was against him. Yea, and they that not only made this true confession, but did also truly confess him, i.e. sincerely, cordially, practically, so as accordingly to trust in him, subject and devote themselves to him, were born of God, his very children, acted and influenced hereunto by his own Holy Spirit, as 1Jo 5:1,5 Mt 16:16,17 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God,.... This is a rule by which believers may know whether a man professing to have the Spirit of God, and to be called and sent by him, and whether the, doctrine he preaches, is of him or not:

every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,

is of God; or of the Spirit of God; that is, every doctrine which carries this truth in it; or every man that owns, and professes, and publishes this doctrine concerning Christ, is on the side of God and truth; and which contains several articles in it, respecting the person and office of Christ; as that he existed before he came in the flesh, not in the human nature, or as man, or as an angel, but as the Son of God, as a divine person, being truly and properly God; so that this confession takes in his divine sonship, and proper deity, and also his true and real humanity; that the Messiah was incarnate, against the Jews, and was God and man in one person; and that he was really man, and not in appearance only, against the heretics of those times: and it also includes his offices, as that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, which the Jews denied, and that he was the anointed prophet, priest, and King; and so is a confession or acknowledgment of all the doctrines of the Gospel, which came by him, as a prophet; and of his satisfaction, sacrifice, and intercession, as a priest; and of all his ordinances and commands as a King; and that he is the only Saviour and Redeemer of men. Now, whoever owns and declares this system of truth, "is of God"; not that everyone that assents unto this, or preaches it, is born of God; a man may believe, and confess all this, as the devils themselves do, and yet be destitute of the grace of God; but the spirit, or doctrine, which contains these things in it, is certainly of God, or comes from him; or whoever brings these truths with him, and preaches them, he is, so far as he does so, on the side of God and truth, and to be regarded.

{2} Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: {b} Every spirit that confesseth that {c} Jesus Christ is come in the {d} flesh is of God:

(2) He gives a certain and perpetual rule to know the doctrine of antichrist, that is, if either the divine or human nature of Christ, or the true uniting of them together is denied: or if the least jot that may be, be detracted from his office who is our only king, prophet and everlasting high priest.

(b) He speaks simply of the doctrine, and not of the person.

(c) The true Messiah.

(d) Is true man.

1 John 4:2. Statement of the token by which the πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ is to be recognised.

ἐν τούτῳ refers to the following sentence: πᾶν πνεῦμα κ.τ.λ.

γινώσκετε is imperative, comp. πιστεύετε, δοκιμάζετε, 1 John 4:1.

πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα] It is arbitrary not only to change the participle ἐληλυθότα into the infinitive ἐληλυθέναι, but also to change ἐν into εἰς (so Luther, Calvin, Piscator, Sander); by ἐν σαρκί the flesh, i.e. the earthly human nature, is stated as the form of being in which Christ appeared. The form of the object is explained by the polemic against Docetism; it is to be translated either:Jesus Christ as come in the flesh” (Lücke, de Wette, Düsterdieck, Ebrard, etc.); or: “Jesus, as Christ come in the flesh;” the last interpretation has this advantage, that it not only brings out more clearly the reference to the Cerinthian Docetism,[254] but it makes it more easy to explain how the apostle in 1 John 4:3 can designate the object simply by ΤῸΝ ἸΗΣΟῦΝ. It might, however, be still more suitable to take ἸΗΣΟῦΝἘΛΗΛΥΘΌΤΑ as one object = “the Jesus Christ who came in the flesh,” so that in this expression the individual elements on which John here relied in opposition to Docetism have been gathered into one; so perhaps Braune, when he says: “the form is that of a substantive objective sentence,” and “in ἐν σ. ἐλ. it is not a predicate, but an attributive clause that is added.” That the apostle has in view not only the Cerinthian, but also the later Docetism, which attributed to the Saviour only a seeming body, cannot be proved from the form of expression used here. The commentators who deny the reference of the apostle to Docetism find themselves driven to artificial explanations; thus Socinus, who expands the participle by quamvis, and Grotius, according to whom ἐν σαρκί refers to the status humilis in which Christ appeared, in contrast to the regia pompa in which the Jews expected the Messiah.[255] To exact unbelievers there can here be no reference, as, according to chap. 1 John 2:2, the false prophets had previously belonged to the Church itself.[256] That John brings out as the token of the Spirit, that is, of God, just the confession of this particular truth, has its ground in the circumstances that have been mentioned; while it is also so very much the fundamental truth, that, as Lücke on ch. 1 John 2:22 with justice says: “every ψεῦδος is contained in this and amounts to this, the denial of that truth in any sense.”[257]

[254] In the first interpretation the antithesis to the Corinthian Docetism lies not merely in the combination of Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν as one name (Ebrard), but also in this, that this subject so described, which contains in it the idea Χριστός, is more particularly defined as having come in the flesh.

[255] Socinus: Qui confitetur Jesum Christum i.e. eum pro suo servatore ac domino et denique vero Christo habet, quamvis is in carne venerit h. e. homo fuerit, non modo mortalis, sed infinitis malis obnoxius. Without any ground, Baumgarten-Crusius asserts: “If any force were to be assigned to the predicate: come in the flesh, the infinitive would have been used.”—Brückner thinks that if in ver. 3 the shorter reading (without the apposition) be the correct one, the reference to Docetism is here uncertain and unnecessary; but the uncertain expression is plainly to be interpreted in accordance with the more certain, and not, contrariwise, the latter in accordance with the former.

[256] Comp. with this passage Polycarp, ep. ad Philipp.: πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, ἀντίχριστός ἐστι καὶ ὃς μὴ ὁμολογῇ τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ σταυροῦ ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστί.

[257] Augustine peculiarly turns this sentence against the Donatists, whom he reproaches with a denial of their love, on account of their separation from the Catholic Church, when he says that John speaks here of a denial of Christ not merely by word, but also by deed: quisquis non habet charitatem negat Christum in carne venisse; so Bede: ipse est Spiritus Dei, qui dicit Jesum Christum in carne venisse, qui dicit non lingua, sed factis, non sonando, sed amando.

2. Hereby know ye] Or, Herein ye know: the verb may be either indicative or imperative (comp. 1 John 2:27; 1 John 2:29). The indicative is preferable, in spite of the imperatives in 1 John 4:1 : comp. 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:19; 1 John 3:24, which are very closely parallel to this. ‘Ye know’ is literally ‘ye come to know, perceive, recognise’: ‘herein’ refers to what follows: see on 1 John 3:19.

every spirit that confesseth] This idea of ‘confessing’ one’s belief is specially frequent in S. John: John 2:23; John 4:15; 2 John 1:7; John 9:22; John 12:42; comp. Romans 10:9.

that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh] See on 2 John 1:7. This is the crucial test, and one which would at once expose ‘the spirits’ of Cerinthian and Docetic teachers. We are not to suppose that all other articles of faith are unimportant; or that to deny this truth is the worst of all denials (see on 1 John 2:22); or that such denial involves every kind of doctrinal error. But against the errors prevalent in that age this was the great safeguard. The confession must of course be not with the tongue only but in truth, and in deed as well as in word (1 John 3:18): non lingua sed factis, non sonando sed amando (Bede).

The sentence may be taken in more ways than one: (1) as both A. V. and R. V.; (2) more accurately, and with some difference of meaning; confesseth Jesus Christ as come in the flesh; (3) confesseth that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh. Remark that S. John does not say ‘come into the flesh’, but ‘in the flesh’: Christ did not descend (as Cerinthus said) into an already existing man, but He came in human nature; He ‘became flesh’. Moreover he does not say that the confession is to be of a Christ who came (ἐλθόντα), but of a Christ who is come (ἐληλυθότα). This ‘coming’ is not an exhausted fact: He is come and abides in the flesh.

S. Paul gives almost exactly the same test: ‘I give you to understand that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:3).

is of God] Proceeds from Him as its source: comp. 1 John 3:10. “To confess that Jesus the anointed is come in the flesh, is to confess that there is a medium of spiritual communications between the visible and the invisible world, between earth and heaven. It is to confess that there is one Mediator for all men” (Maurice).

1 John 4:2. Γινώσκετε,[13] ye know) Respecting the heresies of that age there are recent and easily accessible writings: the Apostolic Church of Buddeus, and the Disputations of Lange, etc.—πᾶν, every) The discourse is respecting the spirits of that time: for at other times false prophets also impugned other heads of doctrine respecting Jesus Christ.—πᾶν πνεῦμα, every spirit) The Spirit of God is one only: but from Him every true teacher has his own peculiar inspiration, which is called πνεῦμα, spirit.—ὁμολογεῖ, confesses) with the assent of the heart and mouth. By this word the doctrine is presupposed as already ratified and confirmed.—ἐν σαρκὶ, in the flesh) He Himself, therefore, is something more than flesh. The heresies, which deny the truth of the flesh of Jesus Christ, presuppose, and by this very thing confirm, His Deity, since they were not able to reconcile with this His flesh, as worthy of it.—ἐληλυθότα, who is come) On this advent the whole doctrine respecting Christ depends; for that advent partly presupposes, partly embraces, and partly draws after it, this doctrine: 1 John 4:15, note.

[13] The reading γινώσκεται (is to be known), which in the margin of both Ed. is left to the decision of the reader, is preferred in the Germ. Vers.—E. B.

Γινώσκεται is read by Vulg. and Syr. of the oldest authorities; but γινώσκετε, by ABC Memph. Theb. later Syr. Iren. and Lucifer, the weightest authorities.—E.

Verse 2. - This verso contains the main subject of the section. To confess the Incarnation is to prove that one draws one's inspiration from God through his Spirit. Know ye; or, recognize ye γινώσκετε, may be either imperative, in harmony with "believe" and "prove" (verse 1), or indicative, in harmony with "we know" (1 John 3:16, [19,] 24). 1 John 4:2Hereby (ἐν τούτῳ)

See on 1 John 2:3.

Know ye (γινῶσκετε)

Perceive. See on John 2:24.

Confesseth (ὁμολογεῖ)

See on Matthew 7:23; see on Matthew 10:32.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (Ἱησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα)

Lit., Jesus Christ having come, etc. The whole phrase forms the direct object of the verb confesseth.

Of God

Compare 1 Corinthians 12:3.

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