Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.1 John 4:1This text shows (1) that the highest pretensions may be hypocritical, and therefore mere profession amounts to nothing; (2) that all pretensions should be submitted to trial, and therefore to shrink from trial is to confess incompetence and immorality; (3) that God Himself is the true standard by which to try all men. One man is not to be compared with another; each man is to be judged before God. The fulfilment of this exhortation would be followed by three results: (1) Spiritual adventurers would meet with proper condemnation. All lackadaisical sympathy would be destroyed, etc. (2) The highest piety would be realised, the piety which lives upon God, and seeks truth at all costs, etc. (3) The multiplication of needless and vexatious sects would be arrested. Little nests of quacks and mutual flatterers would be broken up. Men who live in God despise the concealment of obscure theories and the ostentation of pretentious technicalities. The fulfilment of this exhortation would not, on the other hand, secure monotonous and insipid uniformity of thought, expression, and social development. God's ministry in nature is various, yet nature is one. The illustration applies to the highest life.
Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 60.
1 John 4:1I. There are questions relating to spiritual influence in which we all, each for himself, ought to have the very deepest interest. For the most persistent sceptic that ever lived cannot deny the fact of spiritual influence. All the influences which proceed from mind to mind are spiritual influences. By certain spiritual or, if you like, mental influences, our conduct is determined, and our characters formed. The Spirit of life, and order, and growth to perfection; which works in the world of matter and also in the mind and soul of man, in the Bible is said to be the Spirit of God; and, on the other hand, all that is evil, and degrading, and dividing is said to be the working of a spirit of disobedience. So that the saving and destroying forces of the world are in perpetual activity.
II. Let me give you one test by which you may try the spirits whether they are of God. We are told in the Bible that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption. And this is the uniting and converting power of the world. (1) It is the converting Spirit, not the spirit of fear and intimidation, not the spirit of the devil and his angels, not the unprincipled spirit of management and of making things easy all round, so that under all circumstances self may be triumphant, but the Spirit which rises up now and then with its saving regeneration in the heart of the cold and bad, the seducer and the faithless, saying, "I am a child of God; shame on me that I have stooped so low and forgotten who I am and what is my birthright," the Spirit which stirs in a man, and floods him over with penitence, and from his crossness and cruelty, his deep commonness and sinfulness, makes him get up and shake himself free. (2) And the same Spirit is the Spirit of unity. The Spirit which tells us we are sons of God tells also that we are brethren, and its word of command is, "Let brotherly love continue."
W. Page Roberts, Law and God, p. 89.
References: 1 John 4:1.—W. L. Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 309; J. Kennedy, Ibid., p. 206; A. M. Brown, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 152; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 391. 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:2.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 331. 1 John 4:2.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 49. 1 John 4:3-7.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 195. 1 John 4:6.—E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 328; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 297.
1 John 4:7The Source of Love.
I. Essentially and eternally, all love is of God, and all God is love. To reveal this to man, that stream of paradise was parted, and became into three heads. There was the electing love of God the Father, which gave His Son to the world, and the world to His Son; and there was the love of Jesus to the death, by which He gave Himself, the innocent Sufferer for a guilty race; and there was the love of the patient Spirit in sevenfold offices, and all to comfort those who were unhappy because they were wicked, and wicked because they were unhappy.
II. What do we mean when we say, "Love is of God"? (1) We mean, it is of the nature of God. All love is first in God. (2) Love is of God because it is His gift. Whoever wants real love must ask for it as a creation. It does not spring up here in the lower ground, but it comes down from heaven. If you find it hard to love anybody, you must remember that love is a fruit; and before there can be fruit there must be seed. (3) Love is of God because it is an emanation always flowing. This is the reason why those who live nearest to God grow the most loving. They catch the droppings; they get imbued with that with which they are in contact.
III. The shortest road to almost every good thing is through love. You will have to meet, and to do battle with, many strong things; and not very long hence you will have to meet death, that mighty conqueror death. There is only one thing strong enough to be antagonistic to death—you must take it out of God's armoury—"Love is strong as death."
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 267.
1 John 4:7Love of Relations and Friends.
There have been men before now who have supposed Christian love was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals, so that we ought to love all men equally. And many there are who, without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the love of many is something superior to the love of one or two, and neglect the charities of private life while busy in the schemes of expansive benevolence or of effecting a general union and conciliation among Christians. Now I shall here maintain, in opposition to such notions of Christian love, with our Saviour's pattern before me, that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.
I. It has been the plan of Divine providence to ground what is good and true in religion and morals on the basis of our good natural feelings. What we are towards our earthly friends in the instincts and wishes of our infancy, such we are to become at length towards God and man in the extended field of our duties as accountable beings. To honour our parents is the first step towards honouring God, to love our brethren according to the flesh the first step towards considering all men our brethren. The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences and trying to copy them—thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.
II. Further, that love of friends and relations which nature prescribes is also of use to the Christian in giving form and direction to his love of mankind at large, and making it intelligent and discriminating. By laying a good foundation of social amiableness, we insensibly learn to observe a due harmony and order in our charity; we learn that all men are not on a level, that the interests of truth and holiness must be religiously observed, and that the Church has claims on us before the world. Those who have not accustomed themselves to love their neighbours whom they have seen will have nothing to lose or gain, nothing to grieve at or rejoice in, in their larger plans of benevolence. Private virtue is the only sure foundation of public virtue; and no national good is to be expected (though it may now and then accrue) from men who have not the fear of God before their eyes.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 51.
References: 1 John 4:7.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 26; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 223. 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8.—M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 72.
1 John 4:7-10Love is of God; God is Love.
I. "Love is of God." This does not mean merely that love comes from God and has its source in God, that He is the Author or Creator of it. All created things are of God, for by Him all things were made, and on Him they all depend. But love is not a created thing; it is a Divine property, a Divine affection; and it is of its essence to be communicative and begetting, to communicate itself and, as it were, beget its own likeness. "Love is of God." It is not merely of God as every good gift is of God. It is of God as being His own property, His own affection, His own love. (1) None but one born of God can thus love with the love which in this sense is of God; therefore one who so loves must needs be one who is born of God. (2) Being born of God implies knowing God. It is a knowledge of God altogether peculiar, belonging exclusively to the relation constituted by, and realised in, your being born of God. It is the very knowledge of God which His Son has—His only-begotten Son, whom He sent into the world to manifest His love.
II. Every one that loveth knoweth God; he that loveth not knoweth not God: these are the antagonistic statements. The fact of a man not loving plainly proves that he knows not God; and his not knowing God explains and accounts for the fact of his not loving. How, indeed, can he know God—know Him as being love? To know God thus, as being love, implies some measure of congeniality, sympathy, and fellowship. There must be community of heart and nature between Him and me. I must be "born of God." (1) We are to love as He loves His only-begotten Son. Our thus loving Him is one primary criterion and touchstone of our being born of God. (2) Then we are to love, as God loves it and because God loves it, the world which He sent His Son to save. We are to love thus one another, with what intensity of longing, like God's own longing and yearning, for one another's salvation, that all may turn and live.
R. S. Candlish, Lectures on First John, Part III., p. 104.
References: 1 John 4:7-10.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 219. 1 John 4:7-11.—N. Beach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 178. 1 John 4:7-16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 444.
1 John 4:8I. In perfect love there are three elements, which may best be seen by examining the three states of life in which they are respectively most prominent: the filial; the fraternal; the parental. (1) The first form of love in the history of each of us is that of a child to his parent, and, as a rule, it is the weakest form; but it contains and exhibits in an exceptional degree the first and essential element in all true love: reverential trustfulness. (2) But with the passing away of childhood a new need dawns upon the spirit of man: the wish to be one in whom others can rest, as he finds rest in them; the need for reciprocity of affection, such as is found in a brother, a friend, a wife. It is this reciprocity that is, in the common opinion, the chief characteristic of love; and as in all natural reciprocity, so too here, the more distinct are the elements, the closer is the union; and in ordinary cases and for ordinary men, therefore, the love of friend is closer than the love of brother, and the love of woman than the love of friend. (3) And yet there is a height above the reciprocity of wedded love. "Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends," which I have called parental love, or the parental element in love, because, again speaking of the average of cases and the average of men, it is in parents that such love is oftenest and earliest seen. Such, then, are the three elements which go to make up love, reverence, desire, sacrifice, inextricably intertwined into a new something which is none of them, and yet all of them together—the whiteness of the prism, the trinity in unity of love.
II. Consequently, if God is love, that love must exist and be exhibited as possessing in fulness this trinity of elements; and if to dwell in love is to dwell in God, that love in which we dwell must have its full development, and we must pass in our spiritual history from trust through desire to sacrifice, just as in our natural history we pass from filial through wedded to parental love. "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God." Then, but not till then, will love enter upon its highest stage, and put on the crown of sacrifice; for sacrifice is the language of love, its only adequate expression, the last effort of the spirit whom no union with the object of its love can satisfy short of the self-annihilation that shall make that object all in all. This is a goal very far from us, the love of saints, the love of the men whom God in His turn reverences; but it has been realised by one and another lonely soul along the ages, living afar upon the mountains in the air we cannot breathe, to remind us that after all sacrifice is an element in love, and an element that will be present in proportion as love is stronger—that if God is love, there must be eternal sacrifice in Him, and that we cannot dwell in love without partaking of that sacrifice.
J. R. Illingworth, Sermons, p. 130.
The Revelation of God's Love the Distinctive Characteristic of the Gospel.
What has Christianity done to make good its claim to the proud title of the Gospel—the one good message of glad tidings to mankind?
I. It were easy to enumerate many eminent social blessings, many conspicuous instances of individual happiness, which can be traced distinctly to the Christian dispensation as their only authentic source; but if I were asked to name what is its greatest gift of all, I should say unhesitatingly that it is the unveiling of the face of our Father who is in heaven—the revelation, all the more pregnant and influencing from the way in which it was made, that "God is love."
II. God, having spoken in time past partially and variously by the prophets, in the last days, when the time was full, spoke unto the world by His Son. The darkness passed away; the true light shone: the day broke, and the shadows fled away. One who had lived under that darkness and felt it, described in vivid and emphatic language the change that came over the spirit of his mind when, as one of the Israel of God, he found himself blessed with light in his dwelling. Christ, says Clement of Rome, was taught His message of glad tidings by the Father, and the Apostles were taught theirs by Christ. The Gospel was not only an atonement: it was a revelation. Not only was God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, but God also was in Christ making Himself known unto the world. The Son, by whom He spoke to men in the last days, was the "brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."
III. The doctrine of the love of God when imbibed, not speculatively or conventionally, but really and practically, not as the badge of a party, but as a conviction of the soul, is little liable to perversion. Antinomianism in a religious mind seems to me to be an impossible moral phenomenon. For whom are we more likely to obey—one whom we love, and whom we know to love us, or one whom we simply fear? Who renders the more willing service—a son or a slave? Surely, under a law of liberty, all obedience freely paid becomes by that very freedom more hearty, more trustworthy, more true.
Bishop Fraser, University Sermons, p. 288.
References: 1 John 4:8.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 157; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 327; J. J. S. Perowne, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 109; Homilist, 1st series, vol. v., p. 333; F. Wagstaff, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 398; J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 328; F. W. Farrar, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 385; E. Hatch, Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 385; G. W. McCree, Ibid., vol. xxxvi., p. 182. 1 John 4:8-12.—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 106.
1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16I. God is love. The text takes us up, as it were, above the veil; we are caught up through the door of this vision to the sanctuary of God's throne. We are suffered to know something, not of His working only, but of His being. We are led to the fountain of all good and joy. And that fountain is this, says St. John: "God is love." Is there not something to grasp, to embrace, in these words, "God is love," when within the glory of the Godhead we see the revealed love of God for God, the infinite, embosomed tenderness of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father? Yes, there is something here which meets the human soul in its longings more lovingly, more warmly, than the God of mere philosophy, the God of mere Deism, the God of man's own inventing. In revealing the truth of the Trinity, God does much more than show to us an abstract doctrine: He unveils to us Himself.
II. God is love. Such is the fountain, worthy of its stream. This love of the being of God came forth unasked, unmerited, in the love of His actings. He, this God, loved the world, so loved it that He gave His only-begotten Son for the sinner's life. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Here is indeed the point of contact between the sublime truth of the Holy Trinity and the humblest, smallest, most trying claims which one poor, suffering human being may lay upon another, if this other is a Christian, a child and servant of this God. Here descends this great ladder of light from the throne above all heavens to the stones of the desert road. If God is this God, if this God hath thus loved us, then we cannot own His tenderness to us, we cannot see this glorious depth of lovableness in Himself, and yet remain cool, calculating, and selfish in our thoughts and wills towards our suffering brethren.
H. C. G. Moule, Christ is All, p. 151.
References: 1 John 4:10.—C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 15; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 268; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 69. 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1707.
1 John 4:11Sacrifice and Service.
I. The sacrifice of love. It is of this that St. John speaks when he says, "In this was manifested the love of God toward us." True, the visible world teems with illustrations of God's love, but this surpasses them all; true, our houses are filled with proofs of God's love, but this transcends them all. For "herein is love, not that we loved God." No: we had apostatised from Him; we had cast off His allegiance; we were in arms against Him; yet in this was manifested the love of God, that He gave His Son for us. Love, then, was the great mission of our Redeemer, to restore, reclaim, sanctify, save. And that love is the theme of the song which St. John heard in heaven, and which he calls a new song, the language of redeemed men. It was never heard there till the soul of Abel, the first martyr for God, leaving its murdered body on the field below, came up and sang it alone, and every harp was hushed to hear. And we, too, can share this song of love now. It will not sound like presumption from our lips. We are come to the innumerable company of angels; we, though still on earth, stand within the circle of salvation, and join in the everlasting song. They understand its meaning better; they utter it out of a fuller heart, and with a deepened gratitude. Not so many are the drops of dew at night that distil on every plant, not so many the blades of grass that quiver on ten thousand fields, not so many the particles of golden light that flood the world, as God's thoughts of love toward us in the gift of His Son. And Christ has given us the grandest example of sacrifice, for "He loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood."
II. Out of sacrifice flows service. For such service as this we live in days of wonderful opportunities. Opportunities come to all. Like the stones, they lie at our feet; and he shall gather most who stoops the lowest, like Him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to "give His life a ransom for many." Our responsibilities will be measured by our capacity to do good. Many indeed and splendid are the opportunities of service in our day. Never was the Church so powerful in numbers, in wealth, in influence, in organisation. There is a work for every man and woman, and a place for every little child. What we want is more quiet consecration in all our work, more of the spirit of love in all our religion.
J. Fleming, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 723.
References: 1 John 4:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 145. 1 John 4:13.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 36. 1 John 4:14.—Ibid., p. 127; G. S. Barrett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 305; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 259.
1 John 4:16I. God is love. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." So we read in an earlier verse. It is worth noticing who it was through whom the Holy Spirit spoke these words. St. John is the writer in the New Testament to whom the Church gave the title by pre-eminence of the divine, the theologian, the Apostle in whose mind dwelt more than in others his Master's deeper sayings as to Divine things, who set forth the doctrinal aspect of the Christian revelation more than others. He understood and explained more clearly than others the true Divine nature of Christ. Theology is the knowledge—if such a term is possible or lawful in such a relation—the scientific knowledge—that is, the methodised and exact knowledge—of the things of God. It seems, it is often treated as, a matter purely for the intellect, for study, thought, and reading. The words of the greatest of theologians, of him to interpret whose words is the highest task of the greatest of uninspired theologians, give us a new view of the limits within which this is true: "He that loveth not knoweth not God." Surely that sentence is a key to a great deal. It makes us understand why St. John was the divine. The loving nature was the most receptive. The disciple whom Jesus loved was the one who loved Jesus; and, therefore, he understood his Master best.
II. "God is love; he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." See the words once more as setting forth the Divine ideal of human life—he that dwelleth in love, as in a home, as the atmosphere in which he can breathe and live, without which he would die. They describe in their full sense a few rare souls: the St. John of the apostolic age, the Francis of Assisi of the Middle Ages; but they describe also an ideal of life, a hope, a principle, not beyond the aspirations and efforts of all of us. Perhaps the "life of love" sounds to us too lofty and presumptuous a title. It seems to imply a fervour of feeling which we shrink from claiming for ourselves even in hope and aim. It is this instinct, not, surely, an improper one, which makes us prefer rather when we are speaking of our own ideal, and even of beautiful human lives that we have known, the phrase which I used just now: the unselfish life. It is a negative phrase, but as a moral guide it helps us even more than the positive one, for it suggests to us what it is that is the great drawback, the great rival, in the way of the life of love. Love is God's gift to us, to all of us; it springs spontaneously in every human heart; it is as natural to a child as to breathe. And God gives us objects for love, and He changes and widens them, leads us on from circle to circle, helping us at every stage at once to look further and to feel more deeply.
III. We are God's children; and He has given us of His Spirit, so that it comes naturally to us in a sense to love—to love even as He loves, unselfishly, instinctively. It is not a new affection to be painfully won for ourselves, if such a thing were possible. Yet it must be cherished. The world kills it; it preaches selfishness to us in every form and through every channel, laughs at enthusiasm, bids us distrust, despair, think first of ourselves; and still more surely our own selfish nature would kill it. It is something, some help, to remember now and then what God has told us: how beautiful, how Divine, that simple affection of loving is, the best thing in life, the most like God, that which puts us at once in sympathy with Him, makes it possible for us to understand Him, makes a link between us and Him which no ignorance or mistake can wholly break. Every kind, thoughtful, affectionate act, every unselfish thought for others, is dear to God. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." God make us all dwell in Him!
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 132.
1 John 4:16The Soul Dwelling in God.
These words embody one of the manifold aspects of the Christian ideal. They suggest the inwardness and exaltation of the Christian life.
I. The love dwelling in which is one with dwelling in God is not any love; it is not all that passes by the name of love; it is that love only which has been poured forth in Christ for the salvation of the world. There rises overhead and around the Christian soul the vision, the thought and memory, of the love of God in Christ. It is a real home for the spirit, a real dwelling-place for thought. It is joy, strength, and new life to let the feelings of the heart flock to it.
II. The love in which in this way the soul finds a home is much more than an object of thought: it is life, power, law as well; it is the life that stirs at the heart of Providence, the power that causes all things to work together for good, the unseen law behind events which Christian faith searches for, and in which at last, in sunshine and cloud, it rests.
III. It is not enough to know that a soul, by meditation and trust, can dwell in love; how should its dwelling in love be at the same time a dwelling in God? The love is really God manifest; the love which is a wall of fire around us is nothing other than God. He that dwells in love dwells in that which is the life of God; he has come into a world whose sunlight is Divine, where Divine paths open before the feet, where Divine love breathes in the air and fills the hollows of life as a sea.
IV. The life we are called to imitate was the fulfilment of this very ideal. Christ dwelt in God. His earthly, human life was, so to speak, a life immersed in the life of God. It is to no unrealised ideal, therefore, that we are pointed when we are called to dwell in God.
V. The elements in Christ's life which reveal this dwelling of the soul in God are present, however dimly, in all Christian life. They are—(1) insight and (2) power.
VI. The soul who is dwelling in love is, up to the measure of his indwelling, already in possession of the future. The blessedness which awaits us in the future is but the unfolding of the present life of the soul.
A. Macleod, Days of Heaven upon Earth, p. 240.
The Love of God in the Atonement.
I. The mission of Christ to redeem and save mankind is not indeed here for the first time connected with the love of the Triune God. It is uniformly in Scripture traced up to that principle as its supreme ultimate source. The Saviour's Passion is always declared to be a demonstration of the Father's charity to man, and the apprehension of it by faith is everywhere bound up with the shedding abroad of that love by the Holy Ghost in the heart. But the peculiarity of our text, the last revelation on the subject, is that these three are brought together in the most impressive and affecting manner. The Persons of the Holy Trinity shed their distinct mediatorial glory on the work of our salvation.
II. "We love Him because He first loved us." By constantly keeping alive in our hearts the memorials of Christ's dying charity, celebrating there an eternal sacrament, we must nourish our love to the God of all grace. There is no duty more binding, none that we so much forget. Here is the secret of all spiritual strength. "The love of Christ constraineth us," suppressing every alien affection and growing by its own internal constraining influence. The true Christian lives, and moves, and has his being in love, the love awakened by redemption.
III. God's love is the agent of our holiness, and makes us perfect in love. It is, in the administration of the Spirit, the energy that carries us onward to perfection; and all the glory is His. Thus the indwelling presence of the Spirit proves its power; the God of atoning charity perfects the operation of His love within us. It accomplishes all His will; it strengthens obedience unto perfection; it expels every sinful affection, rendering entire the consecration of the heart; and it raises the new nature to a full conformity to Christ and preparation for heaven.
W. B. Pope, Sermons and Charges, p. 193.
References: 1 John 4:16.—G. Gilfillan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 4; W. M. Statham, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 248; H. Goodwin, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 329; S. Leathes, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 80; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 253. 1 John 4:16-18.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 341. 1 John 4:17.—J. M. Neale, Sermons to Children, p. 148; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 358.
1 John 4:17The Fear of Death.
I. Is not the bondage to the fear of death the one heavy burden of life? I do not mean that the fear of our own individual death is a constantly present fear. It may but seldom occur consciously to the mind. But though the prospect and the thought be banished, the bondage abides still. The hunger of a soul is felt, though the attention be distracted from its existence. A life occupied only upon the things which perish feels resting heavily upon it a burden; and that burden is the bondage to the fear of death. The weariness of a worldly life is in part bodily and mental fatigue, but it is more than this: it is the protest of a spirit which was meant for other things. To have forgotten death, to have put it out of sight, out of our reckoning, is itself the completest death. The enemy is not to be conquered by closing the eyes upon him. He is a conqueror, who is only to be cast out by another conqueror.
II. St. John in our text declares that fear has a conqueror's power; it can inflict torment. It is a power which requires another stronger power to exorcise it. This power of grace is "perfect love." In this Epistle St. John does not speak vaguely and sentimentally about love. He connects it directly with God's goodness to us, and with our duties as children of the Father. And as love grows, fear, the fear that has torment—the fear, that is, of finding Him a God of hate in the next world whom we have found, by blessed experience, to be a God of love in this—becomes no longer tenable. It is forced out of the soul by the spreading roots of affection and trust, for while it abides it is the lingering shadow of unfaithfulness. Love is not the grace which has made obedience superfluous; it is a feeling which, like Aaron's serpent, has swallowed up all the rest, which has taken up into itself, absorbed, duty and obedience, as unconscious and spontaneous offerings of the will.
A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church, p. 101.
1 John 4:18I. We can scarcely conceive how anything could live in such a world as this that had not the element of fear. For surely every part of life, not alone of the human family, but down to the lowest animated particles, has to struggle for its existence. One of the strangest things in the organisation of this world is the prevalence of a universal destructiveness. We are taught, and we believe, that God is a God of benevolence. We are taught, and we believe, that the world was ordained for the production of happiness. And yet, when the Apostle says that "the whole creation groans and travails in pain until now," every one who is conversant with history says, "Amen." Every one who looks out into life and takes cognisance of the things that are going on—the silent sufferings, the secret mischiefs, the wastes, and the wails that spread throughout the whole human family—every such one must feel that that which has been is, and will be.
II. Fear was the lowest and earliest condition in the human development. As men rise in knowledge and virtue, they lose the need of fear. It still remains; it may exist in some external relations as long as we live upon the globe; but, in regard to our affections and moral sentiments, that fear which is indispensable in the development of a higher life grows less and less. Men take the first steps in their development because they fear; but afterwards their development is carried on by other influences. Civilisation progresses from a state of fear toward a state of tranquillity. It works through a realm of the lower appetites and passions, filled with pain, up toward a condition in which peace, and tranquillity, and quiet predominate, and are the characteristic elements. As society develops and as men grow stronger and larger, terrors cease, and the impact of overwhelming fear becomes less and less frequent. But fear is not gone. It has taken on a latent form. That is, it has associated itself with other faculties. It acts now as an auxiliary to all the different feelings. In the beginning it acts by itself, but by-and-by it acts with the higher qualities of the mind; and then come all the solicitudes and vigilances of love, for fear working with love produces vigilance and solicitude. Fear and love acting in conjunction create apprehensiveness. Blended together, they go to make a state of mind not without its charm, and oftentimes quite indispensable to the purposes of life.
III. And when at last men have, by culture and training, passed out of the lower and voluntary states into the higher and involuntary ones; when habits have been formed, and have clustered themselves into groups, covering the whole circle of the mind, so that character is the result; when pain has done its work, and men are set upon that which is right because they love right, and not because they are afraid of penalty; when fear has wrought out its negative fruits, and inspired such growth that men come to the positive side, and love brightness because the sense of brightness is gratified, and love truth because there is that in them which is attracted by truth, and seek goodness with their whole social and moral being, because they are so lifted up that they hunger and thirst for it, then fear has no longer any function. Now they have risen to such a state of purity, and of beneficence, and of likeness to God that they live in a higher sphere and on a nobler plane, and work by the positive attractions of good, and not by the fear of the mischiefs of evil. But this is a long course. It is the final result. It is not the beginning, but the ending, of our training in life.
H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 212.
I. Consider the truth, "There is no fear in love." There is no fear (1) of God's majesty. God's grandeur gives not birth to dread within the Christian's soul. There is enough majesty to overawe a universe, but not too much for the weakest saint to joy in. He knows his God, and love has cast out fear. Nor is he afraid (2) of Divine power. Though he knows that God's right hand hath omnipotence, yet does he not dread its power. Nay, it is just because God has unlimited power that he triumphs in Him. The very might of God, instead of being a thought to crush with terror, becomes one of the themes of his daily song. (3) There will be no dread, either, in approaching Him in prayer. The soul that is filled with love cannot come to God trembling like a slave. It comes with reverential, but delightful, awe; it comes with its spirit bowed, and oftentimes with its face veiled with shame, yet with holy confidence.
II. Let us seek to know a little more of this by experience. The sad thing is that there are so many who seem content with a low, dull level of mediocrity in love for Christ. How few there are who seem to climb the mount of love until they attain a sublime, position. Let us daily ask the Lord to cause love to Him to become an all-absorbing passion, until this text shall be true in our own experience.
A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 1088.
Fear and Love.
I. Scripture assigns to fear a considerable place in the apparatus, so to speak, of religious motives and forces. Fear of punishment, either as imminent or distant, is not a false or bad principle of action in its own place and for its own time. It is appropriate for the earlier stage of spiritual training. It is commonly called "servile"; but until a soul can realise its sonship the servant's position is the one which it must occupy, and it has, at any rate, the assurance of bread enough for present needs. Bishop Andrewes, alluding to fear, observes that it is "as the base-court to the temple"; and adds that a man must do his duty "for fear of punishment, if he cannot get himself to do it for love of righteousness." So long as we are still under probation, there must be the possibility of ultimate failure even on the part of the grey-haired saint, as Bunyan in his dream saw that there was a way to hell from the gate of heaven as well as from the City of Destruction, as before now men have fallen from God at their very last hour, as once, according to a most impressive story, an ail-but martyr became through unforgivingness an apostate. And that possibility involves a fear which dwells not on the mere pain of future punishment, but on that which is the essential and central misery of hell: the forfeiture of the life-giving love of God.
II. A religion which professes to dispense with this kind of fear, on the ground that Christianity has discarded it as a permanent motive and that rational piety involves an assurance which makes it needless, may be very attractive and become widely popular, but it is not the religion of Scripture and the Church. One may suspect that its estimate of sin is gravely defective. Let our fear of grieving and quenching the Spirit, of wounding the heart of Jesus Christ, of losing our place in the house of our Father, be steadfast and perpetual in companionship with love.
W. Bright, Morality in Doctrine, p. 209.
1 John 4:18I. The Apostle here contemplates a universal dominion of fear wherever there is not the presence of active love. Of course he is speaking about the emotions which men cherish with regard to God. It is not fear and love generally that he is talking about, but it is the relation in which we stand to our Father in heaven; and of that he says universally, Those that do not love Him fear Him. Is that true? It is not difficult, I think, to establish it. (1) This universal dominion of fear rests on a universal consciousness of sin. (2) This truth is not made in the least degree doubtful by the fact that the ordinary condition of men is not one of active dread of God. There is nothing more striking than the power we have of forcing ourselves to forget, because we know that it is dangerous to remember.
II. Note the fearlessness of love, how perfect love casts out fear. Love is no weak thing, no mere sentiment. It does not ally itself most naturally with feeble natures, or with the feeble parts of a man's nature. It is the bravest of all human emotions. It makes heroes as its natural work. The spirit of love is always the spirit of power, if it be the spirit likewise of a sound mind. The love of God entering into a man's heart destroys fear. All the attributes of God come to be on our side. He that loves has the whole Godhead for him. The love of God casts out the fear of God; the love of God casts out all other fear. Every affection makes him who cherishes it in some degree braver than he would have been without it. It is not self-reliance which makes the hero. It is having the heart filled with passionate enthusiasm, born of love for some person or for some thing. Love is gentle, but it is omnipotent, victor over all. It is the true hero, and martyr if need be, in the human heart. Note these lessons: (1) they that love ought not to fear; (2) they that fear ought to love.
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, vol. i., p. 200.
References: 1 John 4:18.—G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 355; G. J. Proctor, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 195; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 332; Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 84.
1 John 4:19Originating Love.
The love of all who love God is a consequence of God's love to them.
I. By an act of creative power. All love in the heart is a creation; and whom God loves, in them He creates love to Him. It might be enough to see that, but we may trace the creation. First, by moral cause and effect. There is always an inclination to love those who we believe love us. If you believe God loves you, it is a sure effect that you will try to love Him; it is a part of the ordinary constitution of our nature. It is so wonderful a thing that the great God should indeed love a poor miserable sinner that whenever it is really brought home to the heart and conscience it awakens heavenly affections.
II. And now mark, it must be believed and felt. Many have a general sense of the love of God, but they cannot believe that He personally loves them; and yet till this is done nothing is done. You will not love God until you are quite sure that God specially and individually loves you.
III. But then this feeling cannot be produced by any natural process, by any reasoning whatever. Therefore the way by which God's love produces our love is altogether spiritual. Where God loves the Holy Ghost comes and shows us that love of God.
IV. Hence we arrive at the fourth reason of mutual love in a believer's heart. It is a necessity: the love of God has shone there, and it must reflect itself. And the reflection of God's love to the soul is that soul's love—first to God, then to the Church, and then to every creature.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 8th series, p. 188.
References: 1 John 4:19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 229; vol. xvii., No. 1008; vol. xxii., No. 1299; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 163; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 114; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 5. 1 John 4:21.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 414. 1 John 5:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 979.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.
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?
And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.