1 John 4 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 1 John 4)

Verse 1

[1] Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Believe not every spirit — Whereby any teacher is actuated.

But try the spirits — By the rule which follows. We are to try all spirits by the written word: "To the law and to the testimony!" If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God.

Verse 2

[2] Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

Every spirit — Or teacher.

Which confesseth — Both with heart and voice.

Jesus Christ, who is come in the flesh, is of God — This his coming presupposes, contains, and draws after it, the whole doctrine of Christ.

Verse 3

[3] 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 have heard — From our Lord and us, that it cometh.

Verse 4

[4] 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.

Ye have overcome these seducers, because greater is the Spirit of Christ that is in you than the spirit of antichrist that is in the world.

Verse 5

[5] They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

They — Those false prophets.

Are of the world — Of the number of those that know not God.

Therefore speak they of the world — From the same principle, wisdom, spirit; and, of consequence, the world heareth them - With approbation.

Verse 6

[6] 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.

We — Apostles.

Are of God — Immediately taught, and sent by him.

Hereby we know — From what is said, 1 John 4:2-6.

Verse 7

[7] Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

Let us love one another — From the doctrine he has just been defending he draws this exhortation. It is by the Spirit that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. Every one that truly loveth God and his neighbour is born of God.

Verse 8

[8] He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

God is love — This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.

Verse 12

[12] No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

If we love one another, God abideth in us — This is treated of, 1 John 4:13-16.

And his love is perfected — Has its full effect.

In us — This is treated of, 1 John 4:17-19.

Verse 14

[14] And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

And in consequence of this we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son - These are the foundation and the criteria of our abiding in God and God in us, the communion of the Spirit, and the confession of the Son.

Verse 15

[15] Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Whosoever shall, from a principle of loving faith, openly confess in the face of all opposition and danger, that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him.

Verse 16

[16] 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.

And we know and believe — By the same Spirit, the love that God hath to us.

Verse 17

[17] 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.

Hereby — That is, by this communion with God.

Is our love made perfect; that we may — That is, so that we shall have boldness in the day of judgment - When all the stout-hearted shall tremble.

Because as he — Christ.

Is — All love.

So are we — Who are fathers in Christ, even in this world.

Verse 18

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

There is no fear in love — No slavish fear can be where love reigns. But perfect, adult love casteth out slavish fear: because such fear hath torment - And so is inconsistent with the happiness of love. A natural man has neither fear nor love; one that is awakened, fear without love; a babe in Christ, love and fear; a father in Christ, love without fear.

Verse 19

[19] We love him, because he first loved us.

We love him, because he first loved us — This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one say less, or less intelligibly?

Verse 20

[20] If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

Whom he hath seen — Who is daily presented to his senses, to raise his esteem, and move his kindness or compassion toward him.

Verse 21

[21] And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

And this commandment have we from him — Both God and Christ.

That he who loveth God love his brother — Every one, whatever his opinions or mode of worship be, purely because he is the child, and bears the image, of God. Bigotry is properly the want of this pure and universal love. A bigot only loves those who embrace his opinions, and receive his way of worship; and he loves them for that, and not for Christ's sake.