1 John 4 Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
1 John 4
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Chap. 4:1-6.] Warning against, and criteria whereby to distinguish, false teaching. This passage takes up again, with reference to this portion of the Epistle, the similar warning given in the former portion, ch. 2:18 ff. It is intimately connected with what has immediately preceded. By brotherly love we are to know that we are of the truth, ch. 3:19,—and the token that He abideth in us is to be the Spirit which He gave us. This Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, it becomes then all-important for us to be able to distinguish, and not to be led astray by any false spirits pretending to his character and office. Such false spirits there are, which are not of God, but of the world, and which make up that spirit of antichrist, of which prophecy had already spoken.

1.] Beloved (so verse 7, and ch. 3:2, 21, marking a transition to a subject on which the Apostle affectionately bespeaks their earnest attention), believe not every spirit (the expressions πᾶν πνεῦμα, τὰ πνεύματα, indicating plurality of spirits, are to he explained by the fact that both the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error speak by the spirits of men who are their organs. So we have, in reference to prophecy, 1Corinthians 14:32, πνεύματα προφητῶν προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται. By the nature of the testimony of the human spirits, we shall know whether they are of God or not; whether they are organs of the πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας or of the πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. It will be observed that this interpretation of πᾶν πνεῦμα, and the Apostle’s way of speaking, rest on the assumption of there being One Spirit of Truth, from God, and one spirit of error, from the world; as opposed to all rationalizing interpretations, such as “sensus hominis aliquo modo inspiratus,” Socinus; “doctrina,” Episcopius: as opposed also to all figurative understanding of the word, as Calv., “metonymice accipio pro eo qui spiritus dono se præditum esse jactat ad obeundum prophetiæ munus,” Beza, Grot., Whitby, Wolf, and even Lücke, who explains it by λαλοῦντες ἐν πνεύματι. It is not the men themselves, but their spirits as the vehicles of God’s Spirit or the spirit of antichrist, that are in question.

In πιστεύετε some have seen a figure drawn from the physical meaning of πνεῦμα; so Corn.-a-lap.,—“Respicit ad nautas, qui non credunt omni spiritui, id est, vento.” But this is far fetched and unlikely, in the universal acceptance of the spiritual meaning of both words), but try the spirits (this δοκιμάζειν is enjoined not on the “ecclesia in suis prælatis,” as Estius and the R.-Cath. expositors, but on all believers, as even he reluctantly admits: and the test is one of plain matter of fact, of which any one can be judge. The Church by her rulers is the authoritative assertor of this δοκιμασία in the shape of official adoption or rejection, but only as moved by her component faithful members, according to whose sense those her formularies are drawn, of which her authorities are the exponents) whether they are of God (bear the character of an origin from Him): because (ground for the necessity of this trial) many false-prophets (= ἀντίχριστοι πολλοί, ch. 2:18: προφῆται, not as foretelling future things, but as the month-pieces of the πνεῦμα which inspires them. Cf. 2Peter 2:1, where the N. T. false teachers are called ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι, and compared to the O. T. ψευδοπροφῆται) are gone forth (scil. from him who sent them: even as Jesus Himself is said, John 8:42, John 8:13:3, John 8:16:27, John 8:28, ἐξεληλυθέναι from God. Or we may take it as in ch. 2:19, ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθον,—from the Church: but the other is more likely. Socinus and Grotius take it of “prodire ad munus suscipiendum:” but it certainly means more than this) into the world (cf. John 16:28, which tends to fix the ἐξεληλύθασιν above).

2, 3 a.] Test, whereby the spirits are to be tried. In this (see above, ch. 3:10, &c.) ye know (apprehend, recognize. γινώσκετε is taken as imperative, on account of the preceding πιστεύετε and δοκιμάζετε, by Huther, De Wette, Lücke (most Commentators do not touch it). But on account of the very frequent ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν, I should let analogy prevail, and take it as indicative) the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit, present, inspiring, and working in men’s spirits). Every spirit which confesseth (“spiritui tribuitur actio quæ hominis est per spiritum.” Schlichting. The confession is necessarily, from the context here, not the genuine and ascertained agreement of lips and life, but the outward and open profession of faith: see 2John 1:7-10, where ταύτην τὴν διδαχὴν.… φέρειν is its equivalent) Jesus Christ come in the flesh (Ἰ. χρ. primary predicate: ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, secondary predicate: = Ἰ. χρ. ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί, 2John 1:7. Cf. the same arrangement of predicates 1Corinthians 1:23, κηρύσσομεν χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον: 2Corinthians 4:5, κηρύσσομεν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν κύριον. In all these cases it is important to observe, that the construction is not equivalent to an accusative with an infinitive, Ἰ. χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθέναι. If it were, the confession, or the preaching, would be simply of the fact announced: whereas in each case it is the Person who is the object or primary predicate: the participle carrying the attributive or secondary predicate. This is abundantly shewn here, by the adversative clause, where it is simply μὴ ὁμολογοῦν τὸν Ἰησοῦν. The confession required is, “Jesus Christ come in the flesh:” ἐληλυθώς here standing midway between the ἐρχόμενος of 2John 1:7, which is altogether timeless, and the ἐλθών of ch. 5:6, which is purely historical. This perfect gives the present endurance of a past historical fact.

If we enquire what that fact is, we are met by two widely divergent interpretations. On the one side we have the Socinian view, which, while it keeps to the strict philological sense of the words, ἐν σαρκί and ἔρχεσθαι (see below), distorts the meaning to bring the Apostle into accord with the tenets of that school: e. g. Socinus: “Jesum Christum, i. e. Jesum qui dicitur Christus, non modo mortalem hominem fuisse, sed etiam innumeris malis et denique ipsi cruentæ morti obnoxium:” and Grotius,—“non cum regia pompa et exercitibus, sed in statu humili, abjecto, multisque malis ac postremum cruci obnoxio.” But no such sense of ἐν σαρκί can be or has been attempted to be adduced. On the other hand we have many of the orthodox expositors, who strive to make the words not implicative only, but directly assertive of the Incarnation. So Piscator, who plainly asserts that ἐν σαρκί = εἰς σάρκα: so others who waver between ἐν and εἰς, e. g. Hunnius,—“tunc venire in carne dicitur Jesus Christus, quando λόγος ex sua velut arcana sede prodiens assumta visibili carne se in terris manifestat:” so Bengel (apparently), al. And among this number must proximately be reckoned Augustine, who introduces in the train of the Incarnation the death and redeeming love of Christ, and makes the confession or denial depend on “caritatem habere:” “Deus erat et in carne venit: Deus enim mori non poterat, caro mori poterat: ideo ergo venit in carne ut moreretur pro nobis. Quemadmodum autem mortuus est pro nobis? Majorem hac caritatem nemo habet, quam ut animam suam ponat pro amicis suis. Caritas ergo illum adduxit ad crucem. Quisquis ergo non habet caritatem, negat Christum in carne venisse.” As between these two, the recent Commentators, Lücke, De Wette, Düsterd., Huther, appear to have taken the right path, in keeping ἐν strictly to its proper meaning, ‘in,’ ‘clothed with,’ = διὰ, ch. 5:6: and ἔρχεσθαι also to its proper meaning, to “come forward,” “appear,” “prodire:” and in interpreting the words as directed against the Docetæ, who maintained that the Son of God had only an apparent, not a real human body.

I cannot however agree in Huther’s view, that Ἰησοῦν is here to be taken alone as the object, and χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλ. together as predicate: Jesus as Christ come in the flesh. For first, it would be against the usage of our Apostle, see ch. 5:1, in this case, to leave out the article before χριστόν: secondly, Ἰησοῦν χριστόν thus in conjunction, could hardly but express the joint Name so well known: and thirdly, the sense required, that Jesus is the Christ, is assumed, by the very juxtaposition of the names. The words imply the præ-existence and incarnation by their very terms: but they do not assert these doctrines, only the verity of our Lord’s human nature), is of God (has its origin and inspiration from Him by His Spirit):

3 a.] ex adverso: and every spirit which does not confess (as Huther rightly remarks, μή sets forth, not only the non-confession as matter of fact, but the opposition to, the denegation of the confession: q. d. “refuseth to confess”) Jesus (τὸν Ἰησοῦν, in the complex of all that He is and has become, involved as it is in His having come in the flesh), is not of God. Some notice must be taken of the remarkable reading ὃ λύει τὸν Ἰησοῦν. The words of Socrates (see Digest) hardly seem to amount to an absolute assertion that the reading was found in any mss. extant in his time, and it appears to have been regarded rather as an interpretation against the Nestorians than as a part of the ancient text. Bengel says well of it, “humanam potius artem quam apostolicam redolet sapientiam.” The appearance of it in the vulgate is remarkable, seeing that not one of our present mss. has it, and not one version besides.

3 b.] This has been already virtually explained on ch. 2:18. And this is the (spirit) (so nearly all the Commentators supply the ellipsis, and rightly. Episcopius, Valla, Zeger, the R.-Cath. Mayer, and Huther, render it, this is “proprium antichristi.” But this would not surely be τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, but τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου only. None of the passages cited by Huther touch the point, Matthew 21:21, τὸ τῆς συκῆς, “this of the fig-tree;” 1Corinthians 10:24, τὸ τοῦ ἑτέρου, “that which belongs to his brother;” 2Peter 2:22, τὸ τῆς παροιμίας, “that of the proverb;” James 4:14, τὸ τῆς σὔριον, “the event of to-morrow.” In every one of these the genitive belongs to the subject: but Huther would attach it to the predicate, “hoc est proprium antichristi,” in which case I cannot see how the article could be there. Besides, the ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται would be awkwardly said as applied merely to an abstract fact, the τὸ μὴ ὁμολογεῖν τὸν Ἰησοῦν, to which it must be referred if τοῦτο is subject, and the genitive imports proprium antichristi) of antichrist (of) which ye have heard (the reference is not to ch. 2:18 (ἠκούσατε), but to the course of their Christian instruction in which this had been taught them) that it cometh (the present used as so often of that which is a thing fixed and determined, without any reference to time: “that it should come” of the E. V. is in sense very good, but does not quite suit the perf. ἀκηκόατε, which seems grammatically in English to require “that it shall come;” “that it must come” would perhaps be better), and now it is (not, now is: this ἐστίν is not dependent on the preceding ὅτι, but introduces a fresh assertion) in the world already (viz., in the person of these ψευδοπροφῆται, who are its organs).

4.] Ye (so we had ὑμεῖς ch. 2:24, 27: his readers clearly and sharply set against the antichristian teachers) are of God, little children (thus he ever speaks to his readers, as being children of God, see ch. 3:1 ff.), and have overcome (there need not be any evading or softening of this perfect: see ch. 2:14. It is faith outrunning sight: the victory is certain in Him who said ἐγὼ νενίκηκα τὸν κόσμον, Joh_16 ult. The ground of this assurance follows) them (αὐτούς, the false prophets, thus identified with antichrist. The vulg. has the unjustified reading eum, which is naturally referred to antichrist (, , and the R.-C. expositors generally); to the world, “devincendo concupiscentiam,” by Lyra; to “antichrist and the world,” by Erasmus), because greater is He (that is) in you than he (that is) in the world.

ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν is most naturally understood of God, seeing that ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστέ preceded; for he who is ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ has God dwelling in him. Though, as Düsterd. remarks, it matters not much whether we take it thus, or of the indwelling of God by His Spirit, or of the life of Christ in believers. The former of these is taken by Lücke, al., the latter by Aug., Bede, Grot., Corn.-a-lap., al.

ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ is the devil, the prince of this world. Having said this, he proceeds in the next verse to identify these false prophets with the κόσμος of which he has spoken.

5.] They are of the world (this description is not ethical, as Socinus and Grot.,—“affectus habent, quales habet mundus, i. e. pars longe maxima humani generis: amant splendorem hujus vitæ, opulentiam et voluptates:”—but betokens the origin and source of that which they are and teach, as ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστέ did on the other side. That origin and source is the world, unregenerate human nature, ruled over and possessed by the devil, the prince of this world): for this cause they speak of (not concerning, but of, as out of and from; the material of what they say being cosmic: “ex mundi vita et sensu sermones suos promunt,” Bengel) the world, and the world heareth them (loving as it does its own, who aro of it, John 15:19, from which our verse is mainly taken: see also John 8:47, John 18:37).

6.] contrast. We (emphatic, as opposed to them: but who are meant? The Apostles and their companions in the ministry, or all believers? Or again, all teachers of God’s truth, the Apostles included? It is hardly likely that the wider meaning has place here, seeing that 1) he has before said ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστέ, and 2) he is here opposing one set of teachers to another. On the other hand, it is not likely that he should confine what is said to the Apostles only: such as are mentioned with praise in 3John 1:5-8 would surely be included) are of God (see above): he that knoweth (pres.: apprehendeth: hath any faculty for the knowledge of. The Apostle sets ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεόν in the place of ὁ ὢν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, as belonging more immediately to the matter in hand, the hearing, and receiving more knowledge. This γινώσκειν τὸν θεόν, the apprehension and recognition of God, is the peculiar property of God’s children, not any natural faculty in which one unrenewed man differs from another. All rationalistic interpretations of these words, e. g., that of Socinus, Schlichting, al. “animi probitas et studium ea faciendi quæ Deo probantur,” are quite beside the purpose) God heareth us: he who is not of God doth not hear us (here we must remember carefully, what the context is, and what its purpose. The Apostle is giving a test to distinguish, not the children of God from those who are not children of God, but the spirit of truth from the spirit of error, as is clear from the words following. And this he does by saying that in the case of the teachers of the truth, they are heard and received by those who apprehend God, but refused by those who are not of God. It is evident then that these two terms here, ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεόν, and ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, represent two patent matters of fact,—two classes open and patent to all: one of them identical with the κόσμος above: the other consisting of those of whom it is said above, ἐγνώκατε τὸν πατέρα, … ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, ch. 2:13, 14. How these two classes are what they are, it is not the purpose of this passage to set forth, nor need we here enquire: we have elsewhere tests to distinguish them, ch. 3:9, 10, and have there gone into that other question. We have a striking parallel, in fact the key to these words, in the saying of our Lord to Pilate, John 18:37). From this (viz., not, as Düsterd., al., the whole foregoing train of circumstances; nor, those tests proposed in vv. 2, 3: but the facts set forth in vv. 5, 6: the reception of the false teachers by the world the reception of the true teachers by those that apprehend God, and their rejection by those who are not of God: as Schlichting, who however means the words in his rationalistic sense, “ex assensu et dissensu proborum et improborum.” The same point is touched by our Lord in John 10:8, ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἤκουσαν αὐτῶν τὰ πρόβατα) we know (in this unemphatic first person the Apostle includes his readers: we, all God’s children. γινώσκομεν, distinguish, recognize, as so often) the Spirit of truth (the Spirit that cometh of God and teacheth truth: see reff.) and the spirit of error (the spirit that cometh of the devil, teaching lies and seducing men into error: see ch. 1:8, 2:26).

7-21.] The Apostle again takes up his exhortations to brotherly love, but this time in nearer and deeper connexion with our birth from God, and knowledge of Him who is Himself Love, vv. 7, 8. This last fact he proves by what God has done for us in and by His Son, vv. 9-16: and establishes the necessary connexion between love to God and love to man, vv. 17-21.

The passage is in connexion with what went before, but by links at first sight not very apparent. The great theme of the whole was enounced ch. 2:29. The consideration of that has passed into the consideration of that δικαιοσύνη in its highest and purest form of love, which has been recommended, and grounded on His love to us, in ch. 3:11-18, where the testimony of our hearts came in, and was explained—the great test of His presence in us being the gift of His Spirit, ch. 3 ult. Then from the necessity of distinguishing and being sure of that His Spirit, have been inserted the foregoing tests and cautions respecting truth and error. And now he returns to the main subject. The γινώσκει τὸν θεόν, ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν and γεγέννηται, the taking up again of God’s love to us in Christ at ver. 9 from ch. 3:16, the reiteration of the testimony of the Spirit in ver. 13, all serve to shew that we are reading no collection of spiritual apophthegms, but a close and connected argument, though not in an ordinary style.

7, 8.] Beloved (as before, marks the fervency and affection of the Apostle turning to his readers with another solemn exhortation. Here the word is especially appropriate, seeing that his own heart is full of that love which he is enjoining), let us love one another: because (he at once rests the exhortation on the deepest ground) love (ἡ ἀγάπη, abstract, in the widest sense, as the following words shew) is from God (has its origin and source in God: He is the wellspring and centre of all love. No such weakening as “Deo maxime placet” (Grot.) must be thought of. It is remarkable that Didymus understood ἀγάπη here of Christ,—ἥντινα οὐκ ἄλλην εἶναι νομιστέον ἢ τὸν μονογενῆ, ὥσπερ θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ, οὕτω καὶ ἀγάπην ἐξ ἀγάπης ὄντα:—and Augustine, fitting together “Dilectio est ex Deo,” and “Dilectio est Deus,” infers that “Dilectio est Deus ex Deo,” which comparing with Romans 5:5, he infers that love is the Holy Spirit: Tract, vii. 6, vol. iii. p. 2032): and every one that loveth (there is no need to supply an object after ἀγαπῶν, as τὸν θεόν in A, “his brother” as some latt., and Lücke: indeed to do so would be to narrow the general sense of the Apostle’s saying: all love is from God: every one that loveth, taking the word of course in its pure ideal sense in which the assertion follows from the former), hath been begotten of God (has truly received within him that new spiritual life which is of God: see note on ch. 2:29), and knoweth (pres.: in his daily walk and habit, recognizes and is acquainted with God: by virtue of that his divine birth and life) God:

8.] (Contrast, but with some remarkable variations) he that loveth not (general, as before: no object: he that hath not love in him) hath never known God (aor.: hath not once known: has never had in him even the beginnings of knowledge of God: as Lücke, “noch gar nicht kennen gelernt hat.” So that the aorist makes a far stronger contrast than the present οὐ γινώσκει would. That is excluded, and much more); because (reason why he who loveth not can never have known God. ὅτι cannot well be “that,” dependent on ἔγνω, as e. g. Tirinus (cited by Düsterd.) seems to make it: “non novit, saltem practice non ostendit se nosse et agnoscere, Deum esse … caritatem:” in that case it would be either οὐκ ἔγνω, ὅτι ὁ θεός … or οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ἀγ. ἐστίν) God is love (ἀγάπη, not ἡ ἀγάπη: love is the very essence, not merely an attribute, of God. It is co-essential with Him: He is all love, love is all of Him: he who has not love, has not God.

It is not the place here to enter on the theological import of this weighty and wonderful sentence. It will be found set forth in Augustine, de Trinitate, ix. 2 ff., vol. viii. p. 961 ff.: in Sartorius, die Lehre von der heiligen Liebe, i. 1, and in the first of my Sermons on Divine Love, which are founded on Sartorius’s work. Düsterd. refers also to Nitzsch, über die wesentliche Dreieinigkeit Gottes, in the Studien u. Kritiken for 1841, 2, p. 337: and Liebner, Christologie, p. 135.

But it may be necessary to put in a caution against all inadequate and shallow explanations of the saying: such as that of Grotius (after Socinus), “Deus est plenus caritate,”—Benson, “God is the most benevolent of all beings: full of love to all His creatures,”—Whitby, “The Apostle intends not to express what God is in his essence … but what He is demonstrativè, ἐνεργητικῶς, shewing great philanthropy to men:”—Hammond, “God is made up of love and kindness to mankind:”—Calvin, “hoc est quod ejus natura sit, homines diligere … de essentia Dei non loquitur, sed tantum docet qualis a nobis sentiatur:” &c. &c. In all these,—in the two last by supplying an object, “homines,” which is not in the sacred text,—the whole force of the axiom as it stands in the Apostle’s argument is lost. Unless he is speaking of the essential being of God, quorsum pertineat, to say that he that loveth not never knew God, because “God is love?” Put for these last words, “God is loving,” and we get at once a fallacy of an undistributed middle: He that loveth not never knew what love is: God is loving: but what would follow? that in as far as God is loving, he never knew Him: but he may have known Him in as far as He is just, or powerful. But take ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν of God’s essential being,—as a strict definition of God, and the argumentation will be strict: He that loveth not never knew love: God is love (the terms are co-essential and co-extensive): therefore he who loveth not never knew God).

9, 10.] Proof of this as far as we are concerned, in God’s sending His Son to save us. In this (viz. which follows: the ὅτι is the apodosis, as in ch. 3:16) the love of God was manifested in regard to us (ἐν ἡμῖν must be taken with the verb, not with ἡ ἀγάπη, which in this case (pace Huther: being the case of a particular manifestation of that which has been before generally stated. The combination of anarthrous predicatory clauses only takes place when the whole will bear running together into one idea, as τοῖς κυρίοις-κατὰ-σάρκα) would require the article ἡ ἐν ἡμῖν. Many Commentators have thus wrongly connected it, and in consequence have been compelled to distort ἐν into εἰς: so Luther, Seb.-Schmidt, Spener, Beza, Socinus, Schlichting, Episcop., Grot., Benson, Neander, al. Bengel has fallen into the former fault, though not into the latter: “amor Dei qui nunc in nobis est, per omnem experientiam spiritualem.” This is upheld also by Sander, who defends it by Galatians 1:16, where a totally different matter is treated of.

Connected then with the verb, it must not be taken as = εἰς, but as in reff., especially John 9:3, where the same phrase occurs: “in,” i. e. “in the matter of,” in regard of: cf. ver. 16 below: the manifestation not being made to us as its spectators, but in our persons and cases, as its “materies.” ἡμῖν, communicative, believers in general), that God hath sent (perf. The manifestation is regarded as one act, done implicitly when God sent His Son: but the sending is regarded in its present abiding effects, which have changed all things since it took place) His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (no words can be plainer than these and need less explanation to any one acquainted with St. John. The endeavours of the old rationalists, Socinus, Schlichting, Grotius, to escape from the assertion of Christ’s præexistence, by rendering εἰς τὸν κόσμ. “ad mundum,” μονογ., “dilectissimum,” &c., may be seen in Düsterd. He well remarks, “Such expositors may naturally be expected to give an answer to the question, how a Christ so understood could be our life (ver. 9), our atonement (ver. 10), or our salvation (ver. 14).”

The two emphatic words in the sentence are μονογενῆ and ζήσωμεν. This was the proof, that such a Son of God was sent, that we might live).

10.] The same proof particularized in its highest and noblest point, the atonement: and at the same time this brought out, that the love manifested by it was all on God’s side, none on ours: was love to us when we were enemies, Romans 5:8, and therefore all the greater. Ch. 3:16 is very similar: except that there it is Christ’s personal love to us: here the Father’s, in sending His Son. In this is love (“in this case,” “in this matter,” “herein,” is, ‘is found,’ ‘exists,’ ἡ ἀγάπη, Love; in the abstract: “herein is Love,” as E. V. This interpretation is necessary, on account of the disjunction which follows. If ἡ ἀγάπη meant, the love of God just spoken of, then it would be irrelevant to subjoin that this love was not our love to Him but His to us. Œc.’s comment is in the main right, though inaccurately expressed: ἐν τούτῳ δείκνυται ὅτι ἀγάπη ἐστὶν ὁ θεός), not that (the ὅτι is the usual one, introducing the apodosis for which the ἐν τούτῳ prepares us: and οὐκ denies this. “In this is love, not in the fact that …, but in the fact that”.… Thus taken, there is no difficulty whatever in the sentence: cf. John 12:6, 2Corinthians 7:9. Some Commentators have missed this, and thus found a difficulty. “οὐχ ὅτι (non quasi) pro ὅτι οὐκ (quasi non),” says Grotius: but does not make his meaning very plain. Rosenm., who takes the transposition, explains it, “Quod, quamvis nos non amavissemus Deum, ille tamen amaret nos.” Justiniani takes ὅτι as “because” both times, and regards the apodosis as beginning at καὶ ἀπέστειλεν) we loved God (the aor., corresponding to the aor. below, marks the verb as referring to an indefinite time past—no act of love of ours to God at any time done furnishes this example of love, but an act of His towards us. It is not the nature of our love to God, as contrasted with His to us, of which the clause treats, but the non-existence of the one love as set against the historical manifestation of the other. Again that “He loved us, though we did not love Him,” is so far in the words as it is given by the context (see above), but is not the meaning of the words themselves), but that He loved us (aor., referring again to an act of Love, which is now specified), and (proved this love in that He) sent His Son a propitiation (see on ch, 2:2) for (see ibid.) our sins (His death being therein implied, by which that propitiation was wrought, Ephesians 1:7: and that, God’s giving His own Son to death for us, being the greatest and crowning act of divine Love).

11.] Application to ourselves of this example, as a motive to brotherly love. Strictly parallel with the latter part of ch. 3:16, where the same ethical inference is drawn with regard to the example of Christ Himself. Beloved (the Apostle’s usual introduction of a fervent and solemn address, vv. 1, 7, al.), if (this εἰ with an indicative is very difficult to give exactly in English. It is not on the one hand any expression of uncertainty: but neither on the other is it = “since,” or “seeing that.” We may call it a certainty put in the shape of a doubt, that the hearer’s mind may grasp the certainty for itself, not take it from the speaker. “If (it be true that) …” is perhaps the nearest English filling up of the sense) God so loved us (so namely as detailed in ver. 10, which and which alone, by the catch-word ἠγάπησεν in the aorist, is pointed at), we also ought to love one another (the καί does not belong to the ὀφείλομεν, but purely to the ἡμεῖς,—“we, on our side.” But on what does the obligation, asserted in ὀφείλομεν, rest? Clearly, on that relation to God and one another implied by being children of God, ἐκ θεοῦ γεγεννῆσθαι, which runs through all this section of the Epistle. If we are of God, that love which is in Him, and which He is, will be in us, will make us like Him, causing us to love those who are begotten of Him, ch. 5:1, 2. And of this love, our apprehension of His Love to us will be the motive and the measure).

12.] God hath no one ever beheld (what is the connexion of these words, so suddenly and startlingly introduced? It is evident that ver. 12 is connected with ver. 11, by the words ἐὰν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, taking up again ὀφείλομεν ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾷν. But it is also evident that it is connected with ver. 13 by the ἐν ἡμῖν μένει, κ.τ.λ. And it is further plain, that these words, θεὸν οὐδεὶς πώποτε τεθέαται, must have some close reference to ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾷν, seeing that they stand between those words in ver. 11, and the resumption of them in ver. 12. It would appear by this, that the idea of connecting them with ἡμεῖς τεθεάμεθα, ver. 14, in the sense, “but we have truly beheld,” &c., as Carpzov., is a mistake. Œc. (and similarly Thl. and Aretius) takes it as if some objector were introduced,—ἀκόλουθον δʼ ἦν εἰπεῖν τινα, καὶ πόθεν τοῦτο λέγεις περὶ πραγμάτων ἀθεάτων καὶ ἀνεφίκτων, καὶ διαβεβαιοῖς ἡμᾶς οἷς μήπω τις ἔγνωκε; and that the Apostle, συντρέχων τοῖς οὕτω λέγουσι φησὶ καὶ αὐτὸς ὅτι θεὸν μὲν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακε πώποτε, σύμφημι καὶ αὐτός. ἀλλʼ ἐκ τῆς εἰς ἀλλήλους ἀγάπης φησὶ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν ἐστι. But of this objection there is not the slightest trace in the text: and had the Apostle intended to adduce such an one, he would, as Düsterd. well observes, have replied to it not from the effect of our love to one another, but from the facts of the mission and ministry of the Son of God. Of the remaining Commentators, there are two great divisions. The first consists of those who take the axiom as referring forward to ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει: i. e. our inner communion of life with God whom we have not seen must be realized and will be realized, by love towards one another: so the Scholl., I.,—ὁ ἀόρατος θεὸς κ. ἀνέφικτος διὰ τῆς εἰς ἀλλήλους ἀλάπης ἐν ἡμῖν μένει, and II.,—τοῦτο οὖν κατορθώσει, φησίν, ἡ ἀγάπη, τὸ ἔνοικον ἡμῖν γενέσθαι θεόν, ὃν οὐδεὶς πώποτε τεθέαται. And so Hunnius, Seb.-Schmidt, Spener, Joach. Lange, Socinus, Grot., Rosenm., Baumg.-Crus., Rickli, Neander, De Wette, Sander, Düsterd., Huther, al. Düsterd. quotes Rickli’s representation of this view as the best: “To behold God,—to perceive Him immediately and according to His infinite divine essence, is given to no man here: we cannot apprehend God: but then in the highest and the best manner do we perceive Him inwardly, as His true children, if we love one another, for then God abideth in us.” And all this is most true. But I would submit that although it might explain ver. 12 and what follows, it does not explain the place of ver. 12 in the context at all. How comes the Apostle thus suddenly to introduce this axiom and what follows it? Clearly, vv. 11 and 14 are connected: the same strain of argument is going on, and it is most improbable that a thought thus foreign to that argument would be introduced into the midst of it. Obviously, this is a great defect in this interpretation. Let us turn to the other, and see whether we have it supplied. It takes the words as saying this: “We cannot immediately return to the invisible God the love which He has shewn to us: for no man has ever seen Him: i. e. He is not to be seen by any. But if we love our brethren, whom we do see, God abides in us, we are His children, objects of His love, and so, by love to our brethren, love to God is perfected in us.” (Lücke.) And thus or nearly thus, Corn.-a-lap., Mayer, Schlichting, Episcopius, Bengel, Whitby, G. Lange, Jachmann.

Now this interpretation, as above given, has the merit of being linked to what went before, by our inability to return God’s love: but I must feel that Düsterd.’s objection to it is fatal: it gives a sense wholly alien from St. John’s habit of thought, in alleging that we cannot return God’s love, and further alien in giving as a reason for this inability, that He is invisible. It would be a most unjustifiable use of ver. 20, to convert it thus and make it say that we cannot love God whom we have not seen.

Thus it appears that each view has something to recommend it, each something to discommend it. Is there no third way to be found? In examining ver. 11, we find an unexpected substitution, εἰ οὕτως ὁ θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν (not τὸν θεόν, but) ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾷν. Why so? Here, ver. 20 will guide us to an answer, if rightly used. Not, because we cannot love God whom we have not seen: but because the exponents of God whom we have not seen are our brethren whom we do see. And the Apostle, in substituting ἀλλήλους, does not for a moment drop or set aside the higher τὸν θεόν, but in fact leads up to it by putting its lower and visible objects before us. And then ver. 12 comes in as an explanation, an apology as it were, for this substitution, in the following manner: ἀλλήλους ἀλαπᾷν, I say: for the love to God, which is our ὀφειλή, is love towards one whom we have never seen, and cannot exist in us (as ver. 20) unless by and with its lower degrees as manifested towards our brethren whom we have seen. By our love to them are we to know, how far we have love to Him: if that be present, He dwelleth in us, and ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ τετελειωμένη ἐστὶν ἐν ἡμῖν. And thus (see below) the way is prepared for vv. 15, 16, which take up and bring to a conclusion the reasoning): if we love one another, God abideth in us (for the reason already stated in ver. 8, and restated in immediate connexion with this very matter in ver. 16, that God is Love, and every one that loveth is born of God, knows God, abides in God and God in him), and (simply the copula: not as Calvin, “copulam accipit causalis particulæ loco”) the love of Him (i. e. ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ, as in ch. 2:5, where we had the same expression, our love to Him, not, as Beza, Bengel, Sander, al., His love to us. This is evident not merely from ch. 2:5, but from the context here: see it explained above, and remember that it is our love to God which is here the subject, as evinced by our love to our brethren. This is further shewn by the recurrence of the same expression in ver. 17, ἐν τούτῳ τετελείωται ἡ ἀγάπη μεθʼ ἡμῶν, and ver. 18, ὁ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ. And so the majority of Commentators. Calvin proposes as a possible alternative, “caritas, quam nobis inspirat.” Socinus renders “dilectio quam ipse Deus nobis præscripsit.” But both these are forced, and agree neither with usage nor with the context) is perfected (see note ch. 2:5. Here, as there, it signifies, has reached its full maturity: the ἀγαπᾷν ἀλλήλους being the token and measure of it. The form τετελειωμένη ἐστίν, like all resolved forms of verbal tenses, brings out more strongly the peculiar temporal force of the verb substantive united with the import of the participle as a predicate. Hence in this case, the present sense always contained in the perfect, predominates, and there is more reason than ever for rendering “is,” not “hath been”) in us (on the view above maintained of ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ, ἐν ἡμῖν keeps its primary and obvious sense, “in us,” “within us,” as in ch. 2:5).

13.] In this we know that we are abiding in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit (nearly repeated from ch. 3:24. But why introduced here? In the former verse, the fact of His abiding in us was assured to us, if we love one another. Of this fact, when thus loving, we need a token. Him we cannot see: has He given us any testimony of His presence in us? He has given us such a testimony, in making us partakers of His Holy Spirit. This fact it is to which the Apostle here calls our attention, as proving not the external fact of the sending of the Son (ver. 14), but one within ourselves—the indwelling of God in us, and our abiding in Him. It is obvious that all inferences from the expression ἐκ τοῦ πν. against the personality of the Holy Ghost are quite beside the purpose: compare Acts 2:17 with Joel 2:28 (Heb. and E. V.). We each have the indwelling of one and the same personal Spirit, but each according to our measure, 1Corinthians 12:4, 1Corinthians 12:11. One only had the Spirit without measure, in all His fulness: even Christ; John 3:34. And the presence of the Holy Spirit is most aptly adduced here where love is in question, His first fruit being love, and His presence being tested by His fruits).

14, 15, 16.] The connexion seems to be this: the inward evidence of God’s abiding in us and we in Him, is, the gift of His Spirit. But this is not the only evidence nor the only test which we have. This internal evidence is accompanied by, nay, is itself made possible (see ver. 19) by, our recognition of the Father’s love in sending His Son as our Saviour: which last is a fact, testified by human evidence. This recognition of God’s love is a condition of abiding in Him and He in us: in a word, is the μένειν ἐν τῇ ἀλάπῃ, which is equivalent to abiding in Him. And we (this ἡμεῖς brings up in sharp relief the apostolic body whom Christ appointed His witnesses, John 15:27, Acts 1:8. The assertion is of the same kind as that in ch. 1:1) have beheld (τεθεάμεθα is joined closely to μαρτυροῦμεν, and in common with it belongs to the ὅτι following. No object must be supplied after it, as “Deum ejusque virtutes imprimis caritatem.” Piscator. The construction of θεᾶσθαι with ὅτι is found John 6:5) and do testify that the Father hath sent (not merely to the historical fact as a thing past, but to its abiding influence as implied by σωτῆρα τ. κόσμου below: q. d., that the Father sent the Son, and that the Son is the Saviour of the world) the Son (better here than “His Son:” ὁ πατήρ, τὸν υἱόν, are termini theologici) as Saviour of the world (σωτῆρα, anarthrous, is not appositive but predicatory = in meaning “to save the world,” but one degree removed back from it in telic force: σώζειν τὸν κόσμον would express more strongly the ultimate view of His mission; σωτῆρα τοῦ κόσμου gives the mediate aim, leaving it possible that another may be yet behind. τοῦ κόσμου here, as in ch. 2:2, John 3:16, in its widest sense: no evasion of this sense, such as the “electorum in omnibus populis” of Piscator and Aretius, is to be endured).

15.] And recognition of this fact is a condition and proof of the life of God. Whosoever confesseth (the aorist can only be given by the English present and an exegesis,—viz. that this present betokens not a repeated act and habit, but a great act once for all introducing the man into a state of ὁμολογῆσαι. All futures, “shall confess,” and futuri exacti, “shall have confessed,” are objectionable; the one as losing the retrospective tinge, the other as making it unduly prominent, and indeed imparting a slight hue of transitoriness, which least of all belongs to the word.

The same remark holds good of this confessing, as before with regard to denying, ch. 2:23: viz., that we must not bring into it more than the Apostle intends by it: it is not the “confession of the life” which is here spoken of, but that of the lips only. Of course it would be self-evident that this is taken by the Apostle as ruling the life: but simply as a matter of course. He speaks of the ideal realized) that Jesus is the Son of God (i. e. receives the testimony in the last verse as true), God abideth in him, and he in God.

16.] a) And we (not now the apostolic body only, but communicative, the Apostle and his readers. This is evident and necessary (against Episcopius, Huther, al.), because on the other view the ἐν ἡμῖν which follows, interpreted as it must necessarily be of the same persons, would fit awkwardly on to the repeated general proposition with which the verse concludes) have known and have believed (the two roots which lie at the ground of ὁμολογεῖν, ἐγνώκαμεν and πεπιστεύκαμεν, are in St. John’s language, most intimately connected. “True faith is, according to St. John, a faith of knowledge and experience: true knowledge is a knowledge of faith.” Lücke. Cf. John 6:69) the love, which God hath in regard to us (ἐν ἡμῖν as above, ver. 9: not “towards us,” as Beza (and E. V.), Estius, Luther, Socinus, Grot., &c. b) God is Love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God (abideth) in him (this is the solemn and formal restatement of that which has been the ground-tone of the whole since ver. 7. And here, as there, ἀγάπη is in its widest abstract sense. Its two principal manifestations are, love to God, and love to one another: but this saying is of Love absolute).

17, 18.] These verses, which are parallel with ch. 3:19-21, set forth the confidence with which perfect love shall endow the believer in the great day of judgment. In this is love perfected with us (for ἐν τούτῳ, see below. ἡ ἀγάπη, not, as Luther, Calv., Spener, Grot., Calov., Bengel, Sander, al., God’s love to us: this is forbidden by the whole context: our verse is introduced by ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, and continued by φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ: it is love dwelling and advancing to perfection in us. And again, not love to God merely, nor love to our brethren merely; these are concrete manifestations of It: but love itself in the abstract—the principle of love, as throughout this passage. This sense of ἀγάπη will point out that of μεθʼ ἡμῶν, which belongs not to ἡ ἀγάπη but to the verb, as in ver. 12. Love is considered as planted in us; its degrees of increase take place μεθʼ ἡμῶν—not merely “bei uns,” “chez nous,” πρὸς ἡμᾶς, but as concerned with us; in a sense somewhat similar to that in which ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετʼ αὐτῆς, Luke 1:58. See 2John 1:2, where however the idea of dwelling with is more brought out than here), that we have confidence in the day of judgment (ἵνα gives not the purpose of the τετελείωται, but the apodosis to the ἐν τούτῳ, as in reff.: “in this love is perfected in us, viz. that we, &c.” So most, and nearly all the best Commentators. Beza (and E. V.), Socinus, Grot., Mayer, give ἵνα its telic force, regarding ὅτι as the apodosis (not so E. V.), and assuming a trajection: the objection to which is, not the transposition, but the sense so gained, as belonging to the context. On this view, the aim given by the ἵνα comes in altogether disjointed from the context, and the perfection of love in us is stated to be found in a fact which is objective, not subjective. It is only necessary to cite Grotius’s exegesis to shew the incongruity, even in his understanding of ἡ ἀγάπη. “Hic est summus gradus dilectionis Dei erga nos, si qualis in hoc mundo Christus fuit, i. e. mundi odiis et propterea plurimis malis expositus tales et nos simus (John 15:18; 1Peter 2:19, 1Peter 4:16). Ideo hoc Dens ita disponit, ut cum bona fiducia appareamus in die judicii. Nam constans perpessio malorum ad exemplum Christi efficit, ut a Christo optima exspectemus, quippe ipsi similes.” Can any thing be more broken and farfetched than such a connexion? to say nothing of its “si simus” for ὅτι ἐσμέν.

On the right interpretation, the confidence which we shall have in that day, and which we have even, now by anticipation of that day, is the perfection of our love; grounded on the consideration (ὅτι καθὼς κ.τ.λ.) which follows: casting out fear, which cannot consist with perfect love, ver. 18): because even as He (Christ, see below) is, we also are in this world (this is the reason or ground of our confidence: that we, as we now are in the world, are like Christ: and in the background lies the thought, He will not, in that day, condemn those who are like Himself. In these words, the sense must be gained by keeping strictly to the tenses and grammatical construction: not, as e. g. Œc. ὡς ἐκεῖνος ἦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, by changing the tenses (so also Thl., Tirin., Corn.-a-Iap., Mayer, Grot., Luther, Calov., Rickli, al.), nor by referring the words ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ to Christ, as several of the above, and Socinus. And when we have adhered to tense and grammar, wherein is the likeness spoken of to be found? Clearly, by what has been above said, not in our trials and persecutions. Nor by our being not of the world as He is not of the world (Sander, who however adds, ‘clothed with His righteousness’): nor in that we, as sons of adoption through Him, are beloved of God, even as He is beloved (Tirinus, Neander); nor as Huther, in that we live in Love, as He lives in Love: but in that we are righteous as He is righteous, ch. 2:29, 3:3 ff., 10, 22: this being evinced by our abiding in Love. And so mainly (Œc., Thl., with the mistake pointed out above), Beza, Corn.-a-lap., Mayer, Socinus, Lücke, De Wette, Rickli, Düsterd., al. Many indeed of these approach to Huther’s view impugned above, and make it to be love in which we are like Christ: but Düsterd. brings rightly this logical objection,—that St. John does not say that Love is perfected in confidence in us, because we resemble Christ in Love; but he refers to the fundamental truth on which our Love itself rests, and says; because we are absolutely like Christ, because we are in Christ Himself, because He lives in us, for without this there cannot be likeness to Him; in a word, because we are, in that communion with Christ which we are assured of by our likeness to Him in righteousness, children of God, therefore our love brings with it also full confidence. Essentially, the reason here rendered for our confidence in the day of judgment is the same as that given ch. 3:21 f. for another kind of confidence, viz., that we keep His commandments. This also betokens the δικαιοσύνη, of which Christ is the essential exemplar and which is a necessary attribute of those who through Christ are children of God).

18.] Confidence in (or as understood, as to) that terrible day presupposes the absence of fear: and this casting out of fear is the very work of love, which in its perfect state cannot coexist with fear. Fear (φόβος, abstract and general: anarthrous, on account of the negative predication) existeth not in love (τῇ ἀγάπῃ, abstract and general also, as in ver. 17: not “God’s love to us,” as Calv., Calov., Spener, al.: nor “brotherly love,” as Lücke, al.), nay perfect (see on τετελείωται in ver. 17) love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment (see below): but he that feareth hath not been perfected in (his) love. The points here to be noticed are, 1) the emphatic οὐκ ἔστιν, which is better rendered as above, than “There is no fear in love,” in order to keep φόβος, which is the subject in the Greek, also the subject in the English:

2) ἀλλά, which is not here the mere adversative after a negative clause, in which case it would refer to something in which fear is, e. g. φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, ἀλλʼ (ἐστιν) ἐν τῷ μίσει: but it is the stronger adversative, implying “nay far otherwise:” “tantum abest ut … ut:”

3) the argument in ἀλλʼ … ἔχει, which is doubly enthymematic, having in it two assumptions or suppressed premisses, α) that nothing having κόλασις can consist with perfect love: β) that fear is in us by nature and needs casting out in order to its absence:

4) the meaning of κόλασιν ἔχει. There are two opinions: a) that κόλασις is merely pain or torment; so Aug. (“tormentum habet”), Erasmus (“punitionem seu potius cruciatum habet”), Tirinus (“parit animi perturbationem cruciatum et tormentum, ob impendens, quod metuit, malum seu pœnam”), Luther, Calvin, Schlichting, Beza (and E. V.), Piscator, Aretius, Episcopius, Rosenm., Bengel (“nam diffidit, omnia inimica et adversa sibi fingit ac proponit, fugit, odit”), Joach. Lange (who interprets it, compunction at the preaching of the law), Sander, al.:

b) that κόλασις is properly punishment. So Lyra (but mistaking κ. ἔχει; “debetur pœna timori servili”), Corn.-a-lap., Estius (well: “pœnam, quam commeruit, semper animo versat”), Mayer, Seb.-Schmidt, Calov., Spener, Benson, Whitby, Baumg.-Crus., Neander, Lücke (includes in itself punishment, i. e. consciousness of deserving it), De Wette, Düsterd., Huther. And this last is certainly the sense, both from the usage of the word (reff.), and from the context, in which the day of judgment is before us. Fear, by anticipating punishment, has it even now; bears about a foretaste of it and so partakes of it:

5) the last clause, ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, is intimately connected with what follows (see on ver. 14) as well as with what went before. The δέ is adversative to the whole preceding sentence, ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη κ.τ.λ., and mainly to the idea of τελεία ἀγάπη therein expressed.

As regards the absence of fear from the love of the Christian believer, it has been well observed by Œcum., that there are two kinds of godly fear, φόβος προκαταρκτικός, which afflicts men with a sense of their evil deeds and dread of God’s anger, and which is not abiding: and φόβος τελειωτικός, of which it is said, “The fear of the Lord is clean and endureth for ever,” Psa_19, and which δέους τοιούτου ἀπήλλακται. And Bengel says in his brief pointed manner, “Varius hominum status: sine timore et amore: cum timore sine amore: cum timore et amore: sine timore cum amore.” The difference is finely wrought out by Augustine, in loc. Tract. ix. 5-8, vol. iii. p. 2048 ff.

19.] I am sorry to be obliged here to differ from the best modern Commentators, Lücke, De Wette, Düsterdieck, Huther, as well as from Episcop., Grot., Luther, Calov., Spener, al., and the Commentators on the vulgate, in holding firmly that ἀγαπῶμεν is indicative, not imperative (i. e. hortative). This I do not merely on account of the expressed ἡμεῖς, though that would be a strong point in the absence of stronger, but on account of the context, which appears to me to be broken by the imperative. He that feareth is not perfect in love. Our love (abstract, not specified whether to God or our brother) is brought about by, conditioned by, depends upon, His love to us first: it is only a sense of that which can bring about our love: and if so, then from the very nature of things it is void of terror, and full of confidence, as springing out of a sense of His love to us. Nor only so: our being new begotten in love is not only the effect of a sense of His past love, but is the effect of that love itself: We (emphatic—one side of the antithesis) love (see above. The indic. is taken by Calvin, Beza, Aretius, Socinus, Schlichting, Seb.-Schmidt, Whitby, Bengel, Rickli, Neander, al. Most Commentators supply αὐτόν or ἀλλήλους, but unnecessarily. It is of all love that he is speaking; of love in its root and ideal), because He (God: see the parallel, ver. 10) first loved us (viz. in the sending of His Son).

20.] The connexion is most close: and the error great of those who, as e. g. Erdmann, have made a new section begin here. This ἀγάπη is universal, necessarily manifested in both of the two great departments of its exercise. Love, living and working in the heart as a principle, will fix first upon objects at hand and seen: those objects being natural objects for it to fix on. How then can a man love God, the highest object of love, who is removed from his sight, and at the same time refuse to love his brother, bearing the mark of a child of God, before his eyes from day to day? Put in a brief form, the argument, as connected with the last verse, is this: His love has begotten us anew in love: in this us are included our brethren; objects of our daily sight: if therefore we do not love them, we do not love Him. If any say (aor. “have said;” i. e. at any time: the saying once, rather than the habit, is the hypothesis) I love God, and hate (pres. of habit) his brother, he is a liar: for (here again the argument is enthymematic, and we must supply from our common sense ἐφελκυστικὸν γὰρ ὅρασις πρὸς ἀγάπην, Œc.: “oculi sunt in amore duces,” &c.) he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen (perf.: and continues to feel the influence of that sight. We do not say “I have seen him” of the dead, but of the living only), cannot love God whom he hath not seen (St. John does not say that there is no love without sight; nor that we love all we see better than any thing we do not see: his argument rests on a deeper and truer position: viz. on that assumed in the word ἀδελφόν, which carries with it the consideration that he of whom it is said is begotten of God. Both ὁ ἀδελφός and ὁ θεός are used within the limits of the Christian life, of which that is true, which is unfolded ch. 5:1, that this ἀδελφός as begotten of God is a necessary object of love to one that loves Him that begat him. Here, a lower step of the same argument is taken; but without this great truth, lying beneath the word ἀδελφός, it would carry no conviction with it).

21.] And besides this argument from common sense, there is another most powerful one, which the Apostle here adds. “Quomodo diligis eum, cujus odisti præceptum?” as Aug. And this commandment we have from Him (God: not, Christ: see below), that he who loveth God, love also his brother (where have we this commandment? In the great summary of the law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, … and thy neighbour as thyself,” so often cited by our Lord; see Matthew 22:37-39).

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

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