1 John 4:20
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
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1 John 4:20-21. If any man say, I love God — And even say it with the utmost confidence; and hateth his brother — Which he will do more or less, if he do not love him; he is a liar — He affirms what is false, although, perhaps, he may not know it to be so; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen — Who is daily presented to his senses to raise his esteem, or move his kindness or compassion toward him; how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? — Whose excellences are not the objects of his senses, but are discovered imperfectly from his works of creation, providence, and grace, or from the declarations and promises of his word; his invisible nature being an obstacle to our loving him, which our weak and carnal minds cannot be expected easily to conquer. Indeed, we never could love him unless, as the apostle observes, his love were shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us. And this commandment have we from him — Both from God and Christ; that he who loveth God, love his brother in Christ also — That is, every one, whatever his opinions or modes of worship may be, purely because he is the child and bears the image of God. Bigotry is properly the want of this pure and universal love. A bigot only loves those who embrace his opinions, and he loves them for that, not for Christ’s sake.

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.If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother - His Christian brother; or, in a larger sense, any man. The sense is, that no man, whatever may be his professions and pretensions, can have any true love to God, unless he loves his brethren.

He is a liar - Compare the notes at 1 John 1:6. It is not necessary, in order to a proper interpretation of this passage, to suppose that he "intentionally" deceives. The sense is, that this must be a false profession.

For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen ... - It is more reasonable to expect that we should love one whom we have seen and known personally, than that we should love one whom we have not seen. The apostle is arguing from human nature as it is, and everyone feels that we are more likely to love one with whom we are familiar than one who is a stranger. If a professed Christian, therefore, does not love one who bears the divine image, whom he sees and knows, how can he love that God whose image he bears, whom he has not seen? Compare the notes at 1 John 3:17.

20. loveth not … brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen—It is easier for us, influenced as we are here by sense, to direct love towards one within the range of our senses than towards One unseen, appreciable only by faith. "Nature is prior to grace; and we by nature love things seen, before we love things unseen" [Estius]. The eyes are our leaders in love. "Seeing is an incentive to love" [ŒCUMENIUS]. If we do not love the brethren, the visible representatives of God, how can we love God, the invisible One, whose children they are? The true ideal of man, lost in Adam, is realized in Christ, in whom God is revealed as He is, and man as he ought to be. Thus, by faith in Christ, we learn to love both the true God, and the true man, and so to love the brethren as bearing His image.

hath seen—and continually sees.

The greater difficulty here is implied, through our present dependence upon sense, of loving the invisible God, than men that we daily see and converse familiarly with. Hence, considering the comprehensiveness of these two things, the love of God, and of our brother, that they are the roots of all that duty we owe to God and man, the fulfilling of the whole law, Matthew 22:37-39, he lets us see the falsehood and absurdity of their pretence to eminent piety and sanctity, who neglect the duties of the second table.

If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother,.... Than which profession nothing can be more contradictory, not black and white, or hot and cold in the same degree:

he is a liar; it is not truth he speaks, it is a contradiction, and a thing impossible:

for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen; his person, which might have drawn out his affection to him; and something valuable and worthy in him, which might have commanded respect; or his wants and distresses, which should have moved his pity and compassion:

how can he love God whom he hath not seen? it cannot be thought he should; the thing is not reasonable to suppose; it is not possible he should; See Gill on 1 John 4:12.

{15} If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: {16} for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

(15) As he showed that the love of our neighbour cannot be separate from the love with which God loves us because this last gives rise to the other: so he denies that the other kind of love with which we love God, can be separate from the love of our neighbour: of which it follows, that they who say they worship God, and yet do not regard their neighbours lie shamelessly.

(16) The first reason taken from comparison: why we cannot hate our neighbour and love God, that is, because he that cannot love his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he cannot see?

to 1 John 5:11 John 4:20 to 1 John 5:1. Proof of the necessary co-existence of love to God and love to the brethren. The absence of the latter is evidence of the absence of the former; where love to God is, brotherly love also cannot be wanting.

1 John 4:20. This verse divides itself into two parts, the second part confirming the thought of the first.

ἐάν τις εἴπῃ] The same form of thought as in chap. 1 John 1:6 ff.

ὅτι ἀγαπῶ τὸν Θεόν] ὅτι is used, as frequently, at the commencement of the direct oration.

καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὑτοῦ μισῇ] With μισῇ corresponds the subsequent ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν, comp. chap. 1 John 3:14-15. Spener: “not only with actual hatred towards him, but even not loving him in perfect truth.” To hate is the positive expression for “not to love” (so also Braune).

ψεύστης ἐστίν] see chap. 1 John 1:6. The truth that he who hates (or, does not love) his brother, also does not love God, the apostle confirms by the contrast between ὃν ἑώρακε and ὃν οὐχ ἑώρακεν, in which the visibility of the brother is contrasted with the invisibility of God. The perfect indicates the permanent state; comp. 1 John 4:12, Gospel of John 1:18. Lücke: ἑωρακέναι = “to have before one’s eyes;” a Lapide: “vidit et assidue videt.” Socinus incorrectly lays a certain emphasis on the preterite when he says: quandoquidem satis est ad amorem per cognitionem alicujus erga illum excitandum, quod quis ipsum aliquando viderit; nee necesse est, ut etiam nunc illum videat. The premiss for the conclusion of the apostle is, that the visible—as the object directly presented to the sight—is more easily loved than the invisible. Even the natural man turns with love to the visible,[285] whereas love to God, as the Unseen, requires an elevation of the heart of which only the saved are capable. Hence brotherly love is the easier, love to God is the more difficult. In him who rejects the former, the latter has certainly no place. The truth that love to God is the condition of Christian brotherly love, is not in contradiction with this; for that love, as the glorification of natural love, has its necessary basis in the natural inclination which we have to our visible brother, who is like us. It is therefore unnecessary to attach any importance to elements which the apostle here leaves quite untouched, as is the case with Calvin (with whom Sander, Ebrard, etc., agree) when he says: Apostolus hic pro confesso sumit, Deum se nobis in hominibus offerre, qui insculptam gerunt ejus imaginem; Joannes nil aliud voluit, quam fallacem esse jactantiam, si quis Deum se amare dicat, et ejus imaginem, quae ante oculos est, negligat;[286] and with de Wette in his interpretation: “the brother is the visible empiric object of love; whereas God, the ideal invisible object, can really be loved only in him.” By the interrogative: πῶς δύναται ἀγαπᾷν (comp. chap. 1 John 3:17), and by placing the object τὸν Θεόν first, the expression gains in vivacity and point.

πῶς δύναται must not be taken: “how can he attain to that?” but: “how can we suppose that he loves?” (Baumgarten-Crusius). Bengel: sermo modalis: impossibile est, ut talis sit amans Dei, in praesenti.

[285] Oecumenius: ἐφελκυστικὸν γὰρ ὅρασις ἀγάπην. Hornejus: Sicut omnis cognitio nostra communiter a sensu incipit, ita amor quoque, unde facilius et prius amatur, quod facilius et promptius cognoscitur. Similarly Luther, Calovius, etc. Compare also the statement of Gregory (Homil. XI. in Evang.): Oculi sunt in amore duces; and Philo (ad Decalog.): ἀμήχανον εὐσεβεῖσθαι τὸν ἀόρατον ὑπὸ τῶν εἰς τοὺς ἐμφανεῖς καὶ ἐγγὺς ἀσεβούντων.

[286] The objection of Ebrard, that “it is not easier to love a person who stands visibly before me, and has, for instance, injured me, than a person whom I have not seen at all,” is overthrown by the fact that the apostle does not here make the slightest reference to the conduct of persons standing in visible opposition to us, by whom the natural feeling of love towards our equals is destroyed and turned into hate. As the apostle is contrasting the elements of visibility and invisibility, it is so much the more arbitrary to introduce here a reference to the imago Dei, as this is not something visible, but something invisible,—the object, not of sight, but of faith.

1 John 4:20. Lest the vagueness of the objectless ἀγαπῶμεν encourage false security, St. John reiterates the old test: Love for the invisible Father is manifested in love for the brother by our side, the image of the Father. Cf. Whittier:—

“Not thine the bigot’s partial plea,

Nor thine the zealot’s ban;

Thou well canst spare a love of thee

Which ends in hate of man”.

ψεύστης, see note on 1 John 1:6.

20. If a man say] We return to the form of statement which was so common at the beginning of the Epistle (1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). The case here contemplated is one form of the man that feareth not. His freedom from fear is caused, however, not by the perfection of love, but by presumption. He is either morally blind or a conscious hypocrite. Comp. 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:9.

loveth not] As we have seen already (1 John 3:14-15), S. John treats not loving as equivalent to hating.

whom he hath seen] S. John does not say ‘whom he can see’, but ‘whom he has continually before his eyes’. The perfect tense, as so often, expresses a permanent state continuing from the past. His brother has been and remains in sight, God has been and remains out of sight. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a saying which holds good in morals and religion as well as in society. And if a man fails in duties which are ever before his eyes and are easy, how can we credit him with performing duties which require an effort to bear in mind and are difficult? And in this case the seen would necessarily suggest the unseen: for the brother on earth implies the Father in heaven. If therefore even the seen is not loved, what must we infer as to the unseen? The seen brother and the unseen God are put in striking juxtaposition in the Greek; ‘He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, the God whom he hath not seen cannot love’. But in English this would be misunderstood.

how can he love] With אB against AKL we should probably read cannot love: the ‘how’ is perhaps a reminiscence of 1 John 3:17; comp. John 3:4; John 3:9; John 5:44; John 6:52; John 9:16; John 14:5. In a similar spirit Philo says parents may be regarded as ‘visible gods’, and ‘it is impossible that the Invisible should be revered by those who have no reverence for the visible’.

1 John 4:20. Ὅν ἑώρακε, whom he hath seen) In this life we are held enthralled by the external senses.—πῶς δύναται, how can he) A modal expression [See Append. on MODALIS SERMO): It is impossible that such a man should love God, in the present.

Verse 20. - Ebrard and others make a new section begin here; but verses 21, 22 are in intimate connexion with what precedes. What is this love of which the apostle has been speaking? Is it the love of' God or of our fellow-men? Both; love of our brethren is organically bound up with love of God. To love God and hate one's brother is impossible. Sight, though not necessary to affection, aids it; and it is therefore easier to love men than God. If a man fails in the easier, will he succeed in the harder? Moreover, to hate one's brother is to hate God. "Whoso rejecteth you rejecteth me, and whoso rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me." Note the negative, μή not οὐ. St. John has no definite person in view as ὁ οὐκ ἀγαπῶν, but any one who may happen to be of such a character, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπην. As before, ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν and ὁ μισῶν are treated as equivalent; there is no neutral term between "love" and "hate." 1 John 4:20He that loveth not his brother, etc.

Note the striking inversion of the clauses: He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, God whom he hath not seen cannot love.


The best tests omit, and give the direct statement cannot love. So Rev.

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