The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 4:7-21 (1 John 4:7-21)

God is Love, and love is the surest test of birth from God. From 1 John 3:11 , 1 John 3:12 St. John renews his exhortations to love, this time at greater length and in closer connexion with the other great subject of this second half of the Epistle, the birth from God.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 4:18 (1 John 4:18)

Love implies attraction, fear repulsion; therefore fear exists not in love. Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be limited to God's love to us, or our love to God, or our love of the brethren. Love and fear coexist only where love is not yet perfect. Perfect love will absolutely exclude fear as surely as perfect union excludes all separation. It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has no fear. Yet nothing but perfect love must be allowed to cast out fear. Otherwise this text might be made an excuse for taking the most unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God. To cease to fear without attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous. Hence the apostle is once more pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire, but to which no one attains in this life. There is a fear, as Bede points out, which prepares the way for love, and which comes only to depart again when its work is done. Because fear hath punishment. κόλασις must not be rendered indefinitely "suffering'' or "torment" ( Matthew 25:46 ; Ezekiel 43:11 ; Wisd. 11:14; 2 Macc. 4:38). But κόλασιν ἔχει does not mean "deserves" or "will receive punishment," but quite literally "has it." It is the day of judgment and fear in reference to that day that is under consideration; and fear of punishment is in itself punishment by anticipation. Note the ἀλλά and the δέ , introducing a contrary and then a contrast back again: "There is no fear in love; nay, perfect love casteth out fear: but he that habitually feareth [present participle] is not made perfect in love." The dread of punishment may deter men from sin; but it cannot lead them to righteousness. For that we need either the sense of duty or the feeling of love.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 4:17-18 (1 John 4:17-18)

Love's boldness in the day of judgment.

Connecting link: The apostle had been speaking of God's love being perfected in us. He now glances forward to the outlook of believers, as bounded by the παρουσία and the κρίσις , and in so doing he shows that, as love attains its perfection, all dread which might otherwise attend on the prospect is removed; so that the believer may have παῤῥησία even on the judgment-day. As, however, in these verses there is some room for differences of interpretation, we must first state what appears to us to be the meaning of some of its clauses, since the entire structure of this homily depends thereon.

1 . "Herein is the love made perfect with us." "The love," i.e., God's love which ( 1 John 4:12 ) is perfecting itself in the soul that loves. "With us." With whom? "With us, as believers, one towards another?" or "with believers and God?" We adopt the latter view—God's own love consummating itself in working through believers; and their love consummating itself also in laying hold of God's. "It is difficult not to feel that there is some subtle reference to the idea of God with us." £ "Love is not simply perfected in man by an act of Divine power, but in fulfilling this issue God works with man" (Westcott).

2 . "Because as he is, so are we in this world." In what sense are believers in the world as Christ is? or rather, what is the sense in which it is so intended here by the apostle? Is it not this—we are looking forward to the day of judgment as the consummation of our hope, and the Redeemer is working in the world with a view to the day of judgment as the consummation of his mediatorial work? In this view we are confirmed by a remark of Canon Westcott: "'This world' as distinguished from 'the world' emphasizes the idea of transitoriness." Just so, Christ, in his redeeming work, and we in our believing hope, are working with the same goal in view—"the day of judgment." This world is but a passing phase of things.

3 . "Fear hath punishment [Authorized Version, 'torment']." There is nothing here to suggest that "fear" has any disciplinary effect in inducing love. The apostle views it simply as the ever-attendant penalty of unlovingness. He whose nature is out of harmony with God's must dread him everywhere and always. Spirits in league with evil will seek rest in vain. They will tremble. But in the perfecting of love all this is done away.

I. THE PRESENT PERIOD IS BUT A TRANSITION ONE . This is the day in which our Lord Jesus is carrying on his saving work in the world, and his educating process in the Church; and all with a view to "the great day." Believers, too, are only in the preliminary period of their training, and hence they too believe and hope and love with a view to "the great day." As their Lord is, so are they in this passing world, looking to and preparing for what lies above and beyond it. Hence such passages as these: Matthew 25:1-46 .; Mark 13:35-37 ; Luke 13:24 , Luke 13:25 ; Luke 18:8 ; Luke 21:36 ; John 14:3 ; Acts 2:20 , Acts 2:21 ; Romans 14:9-12 ; 1 Corinthians 4:5 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Philippians 1:6 , Philippians 1:10 ; Colossians 1:28 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ; 2 Timothy 1:12 .

II. THE DAY TO WHICH WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD IS " THE DAY OF JUDGMENT ." It is the day of the Lord, when he shall be manifested. It may be as lengthened a period as the present one, which is "the day of salvation." As the day of judgment, it will close the probation of the race; while for those who are looking for our Lord it will bring in the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the last time. In the word "judgment," however, much more is included than at first sight appears. "Judgment" is indeed a rectification, an adjustment; but then what that may mean in detail depends on the person or thing to be judged. If, e.g., any one is unlawfully bound, judgment would be liberation. If any one be deprived of a right, his judgment would mean restoration. If unjustly accused, vindication. If misunderstood or misinterpreted, manifestation. If good and evil are mixed up together, judgment would be separation; and as the result, for the bad condemnation, and for the righteous glorification. Judgment is, in fact, the restitution of all things, not necessarily in the sense attributed to that phrase by advocates of universal restoration, but in a far higher sense, even that of rendering to every man according as his work shall be (cf. Acts 17:31 ).

III. IF THAT DAY BE DREADED ON OUR PART , IT IS EVIDENT THERE IS SOME DEFICIENCY IN OUR LOVE . That aught so solemn as the final destinies of a race can be contemplated without a feeling of awe—an awe that is sometimes overwhelming—is not desirable, even were it possible. Reverence, indeed, forbids it otherwise. But this holy, reverent awe must not be confounded with the servile dread referred to in the text: εὐλαβεία ( Hebrews 12:28 ) is very different from φόβος . The fear which is inconsistent with perfect love is the fear of the slave dreading the lash, or the culprit dreading the verdict. But if the love of God is within us, sweetly subduing us with its tenderness, and if through that love sin is pardoned and destroyed, why, there is no lash to dread, there is no adverse verdict to fear ( John 5:24 , Revised Version); for in such a case, to see the Judge upon the throne will be to look upon the face of an infinite Vindicator and Friend, in whose love we have lived here, and the enjoyment of whose love is the highest heaven for ever! And so far as the judgment will bear on others, the man of love will be more than content with the decisions of the Son of God and Son of man, and will desire nothing more than that the entire race should be dealt with by Christ as he sees fit. Evidently, if this be not our state of mind, there must be deficiency in love in exactly the same degree as there is any restless fear.

IV. CONSEQUENTLY , OUR GREAT CONCERN SHOULD BE TO BE PERFECTED IN LOVE . We may take this in either or both of two ways.

1 . Let it be our concern that God's own love may be so richly communicated to us as to transform us to his likeness.

2 . Let it be our concern to have so clear an apprehension and knowledge of God, that we shall see in him and in all his attributes only pure and perfect love. In the former case there can be nothing to dread for ourselves. In the latter case we shall dread nothing in him. φόβος has no door of entrance whatever.

V. WHEN PERFECTED IN LOVE WE SHALL HAVE παῤῥησία IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT . "Confidence," "boldness," "freedom of speech" (cf. 1 John 2:1-29 :38; 1 John 3:21 , Greek). Dread seals the lips. Love opens them. The "salvation" which will serve then is not an artificial plucking out of a burning ruin, irrespectively of character; it is being made perfect by Divine grace, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.

VI. CONSEQUENTLY , as the apostle of love shows us here, EACH OF US MUST FACE THE SOLEMN QUESTION —What will the judgment-day bring to me—"boldness" or "punishment"? One or the other must be. £ Which? There may be an attempt to lessen the weight of these thoughts by objections or pleas; e.g., it may be said:

1 . The "punishment" is corrective. We suggest three replies.

2 . There is no knowing when the judgment may come (cf. Ezekiel 12:27 ). But men forget that the judgment is but the manifestation of that which is going on now and ever. A spirit out of harmony with God must be ill at ease always and everywhere. Fear hath torment, now; and can never be separated from it, any more than a man can flee from his own shadow ( Job 15:21-35 ).

1 John 4:19 - Creed and life: the relation between them.

Connecting link: The apostle had shown that only as love is perfected in us can we be free from the fear which has torment, and so have boldness in the day of judgment. The verse before us declares that, as matter of fact, this love is being inwrought, and the sole cause thereof is that God first loved. "We love, because he first loved us." The verse is one of peculiar beauty and value. "It is the sanctuary of my soul," said an aged Christian to the writer, referring to this text. And well it may be. We propose its homiletic exposition here, as a verse which sets forth with striking, yea, almost startling, clearness the relation between creed and life. Often have we been pained by the statement, "Religion is not a creed, but a life." There is enough truth in those words to make them attractive, and enough error to make them deceptive. Let us rather say, "Religion is not only a creed, but also a life," and then we shall be nearer the truth. Following the words of our text, observe—

I. IN RELIGION THERE , IS A CREED . "He first loved us." Here, in these four short words, is the first creed of the Christian Church—a creed which it had before even the New Testament existed; and through all the Christian centuries, with all their perplexing entanglements and sharp controversies, these words have run like a golden thread through the faith of the Church. "He first loved us." What is love? It is righteousness and benevolence acting in harmony. Now, here is love's origin. He first loved. That is, God loved. Note: The word "love" is current coin throughout the universe of God, and means with him what it means with us. (For an opening up of the wonders of God's love, see homily on 1 John 4:7-12 .)

"All my life I still have found,

And I will forget it never—

Every sorrow hath its bound,

And no cross endures for ever.

After all the winter's snows

Comes sweet summer back again

Patient souls ne'er wait in vain:

Joy is given for all their woes.

All things else must have their day;

God's love only lasts for aye."

But that does last—the constant wealth, life, and joy of believers. This, this is their creed; not held, indeed, as a dead dogma, but as a living and inspiring faith through the energy of the Spirit of God.

II. IN RELIGION THERE IS A LIFE . "We love." Although we hold fast to the principle that the word "love" means the same as applied to God and to us, yet we cannot shake off a sense, even painful, of the wide contrast in degree. "God loves… we love." That is from sunlight to rushlight in a moment. They are both lights, it is true; but what a space between them! Again, God's love is a self-kindled fire. Our hearts are like fuel in a grate, needing the spark from without ere it will burn. Still, in our measure "we love." But what? whom?

1 . We love God. He is our love's supreme Object.

2 . We love each other as fellow-believers.

3 . We love man as man.

If this is the word in which our Christian life is summed up, three additional matters should be noted ere we pass on to the next main division.

III. IN RELIGION THERE IS A LIFE BECAUSE THERE IS A CREED . We love because he loved. God first loved. Even so. There is the spark, and there only, which kindles ours. We may set this truth on several grounds.

1 . We set it on the ground philosophy. We do not believe it possible for any created being to learn to love except through being loved. We do not believe any angel in heaven would have ever come to love God had he not known that God was love. Nor could we.

2 . We set it on the ground of history. Take:

3 . We set it on the ground of experience. What first moved us to love? What moves us still? What revives us when we are sluggish? Is it not this

"Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,

Which before the cross I spend"?

It is this—it is this which kindles us to a flame. If we love, it is because he first loved us.


1 . It is quite intelligible how some men should come to hate what they call dogma. If a man accepts a form of sound words, and is dead withal, he must not be surprised if his words are thought to be "an empty sound." Can anything be more unutterably offensive than a bundle of dead creeds avowed by dead men? Men ought to hate them. But if a man says, "My religion is this—'I love God and man because God loves me;'" and if he shows it while he says it, men will not despise him or his doctrine either. He will redeem dogma from discredit by inspiring it with life.

2 . Whoever expects a living Church without a creed, expects an impossibility. If we let go our faith, we put out our fire. If any Church lets go its hold on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, its life will not be worth twenty years' purchase.

3 . If God first loves, then we should consent to let God's love be first. What is the use of trying to work ourselves into favour with God? The very effort is sin. If God did not love us out of the promptings of his own nature, nothing that we can ever do would be good enough to induce him to love.

4 . If God first loves us, and seeks "the love of poor souls," how ungrateful and unjust will it be on our part if we do not love in return!

5 . Here is a glorious object on which we may set our gaze—Divine love. Yea, it is a staff on which we can lean, a pillow on which we may repose; nay, more, it is a vast and gorgeous cathedral in which we can worship and adore; it is the soul's home and joy and rest. Here is" the simplicity which is in Christ." Here are theology, religion, and philosophy in one sentence. Theology: God loves. Religion: we love. Philosophy: we love because he loves. Here is that which is simple enough for the child, yet so grand that not the wisest philosopher as such has found, or ever will find, aught worthy to be compared with it.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 4:17-18 (1 John 4:17-18)

The victory of love over fear.

"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, etc. Our text authorizes the following observations.

I. THAT A GREAT DAY OF JUDGMENT AWAITS US IN THE FUTURE . St. John speaks of "the day of judgment." The evidence for the coming of such a day is various and strong.

1. The administration of moral government in this world requires it. In this present state the distribution of good and evil, of prosperity and adversity, among men is not in harmony with their respective characters. We find St. Paul in prison, and Nero on the throne; the infamous Jeffreys on the bench, the sainted Baxter at the bar. This aspect of the Divine government occasioned sore perplexity to Asaph ( Psalms 73:2-14 ), and from that perplexity he obtained deliverance by the recollection of the truth that a time of judgment and retribution awaits our race in the future ( Psalms 73:16-20 ).

2 . Conscience anticipates the coming of such a day. The "dread of something after death" has been felt by most men at some time or other. The voice within testifies to the solemn truth that after death cometh judgment.

3 . The Bible declares the coming of such a day. (See Ecclesiastes 11:9 ; Ecclesiastes 12:14 ; Matthew 12:36 ; Matthew 25:31-46 ; Acts 17:31 ; Romans 2:16 ; Romans 14:10 , Romans 14:12 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Jude 1:14 , Jude 1:15 ; Revelation 20:11-13 .)

II. THAT THE SOLEMN TRANSACTIONS OF THAT DAY ARE FITTED TO AWAKEN HUMAN FEARS . Very clearly is this implied in the text. The awakened conscience cries, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for before thee no man living is righteous." Two things in connection with the day of judgment are likely to lead to fear.

1 . The consciousness of our sins. No human being can stand before the great tribunal and plead "Not guilty." In relation to man we may be guiltless; that is possible. But in relation to the holy God and his perfect Law, we have each sinned, and brought ourselves into condemnation, and merited punishment. Hence the prospect of the day of judgment may well awaken our fear.

2 . The omniscience and holiness of the Judge. He knows our every sin. Even our sinful thoughts and feelings are manifest unto him. He has set our iniquities before him, our secret sins in the light of his countenance ( Psalms 90:8 ). And he cannot excuse any sin. Sin is the abominable thing which he hates ( Jeremiah 44:4 ). He is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity" ( Habakkuk 1:13 ). Who, then, can stand before him in that day?

III. PERFECT LOVE WILL BANISH SUCH FEARS AND INSPIRE HOLY CONFIDENCE . "Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment," etc. "Love" here is not merely our love to God, or our love to our neighbour, but the principle of love, or, as Ebrard expresses it, "the love which subsists between God and us; thus that simple relation of love of which the apostle had spoken in verse 12, and just now again in verse 16." And its being perfected cannot mean that it is so fully developed as to be incapable of further increase or improvement. In that sense love will never be altogether "made perfect with us." One meaning of "to be made perfect" is "to attain its end." And one of the designs of God is that love should inspire us with holy boldness in the day of judgment. "The confidence," says Afford, "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 which follows;" viz. "Because as he is, even so are we in this world."

1 . Perfect love expels servile fear. There is a reverent fear which increases as our love increases. "O fear the Lord, ye his saints," etc. ( Psalms 34:9 ); "Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord," etc. ( Psalms 115:11 , Psalms 115:13 ). But servile fear, the fear which hath torment, is incompatible with holy love. "There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear," etc. What countless fears agitate the hearts of those who are not in sympathy with God! Some men are dreading secular poverty; others, painful and lingering illness; others, death; others, judgment; others, God himself. Such fears agitate and distress souls; they have torment. Perfect love will expel each and all of these tormentors. It clothes our life and its experiences in new aspects, by enabling us to regard them in a different spirit. This love is of God; it proceeds from him and returns to him, and it cannot dread him or his appointments in relation to us. In this way it banishes from the heart the dread of death and of the judgment.

2 . Perfect love inspires holy confidence. It will impart "boldness in the day of judgment." Holy love is a most courageous thing. "Love is strong as death.… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Since this relation of love subsists between God and us, and since God is what he is, viz. "love" (verse 16) and "light" ( 1 John 1:5 ), we can do no other than trust him, and even now look forward with confidence to the day of judgment, Perfect love not only expels servile fear, but inspires victorious trust in God.

IV. THE CONFIDENCE WHICH PERFECT LOVE INSPIRES IS WELL - GROUNDED . "Because as he is, even so are we in this world." "God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him;" and in a measure he is like unto God. Moreover, love is a transforming principle and power; and they who abide in love are ever growing into more complete likeness to God in Christ; and for this reason they may be well assured that in the day of judgment they will be accepted of him. If we are in this relation of holy love, we have communion with our Lord and Saviour, he dwells in us, we dwell in him, and we may rejoice in the assurance that, because we morally resemble him, he will not condemn us in that day - W.J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 4:7-21 (1 John 4:7-21)

Threefold recommendation of the duty of loving one another.

I. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED , FROM LOVE HAVING ITS ORIGIN IN GOD . The duty enjoined. "Beloved, let us love one another." John has a winning way of urging duty, addressing his readers as objects of his affection, and desiring himself to be stirred up to duty. He has in view the "absolute type of love" (Westcott) in the Christian circle. There are considerations adduced which go beyond brotherly love, which suggest rather compassionate love. But it is to be remembered that love to child, to friend, to sinner, is intended to have its outcome and complete satisfaction within the, Christian circle.

1 . Divine origin of love.

2 . The love of God was manifested in the Incarnation. "Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." There is the full satisfaction of love within Godhead; and yet there was a movement of love with an object beyond Godhead. It was love that moved God to create—the desire to communicate of the riches of his own Being. It can be said that, even from eternity, we lay in the thoughts of God, with the clearness of the Divine intentions and the kindling of the Divine affection around us. And so the place of all beings and of all things in his world lay before him, as that in which, anticipatively, he took delight. When angels were brought into being, it was love that was operating, and, there being none other, God himself rejoiced over them. When the foundations of the earth were fastened, and the cornerstones thereof laid, it was love that was operating; and "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." "Herein was the love of God manifested." Creation, in all its lines, has been drawn by love, and so it is essentially a glad study, calling forth, from the students of its many parts, the symphonious song, and the common shout of joy. But it is not to this manifestation that John calls attention. His mind has been filled, from the beginning of his letter, with that which is the manifestation of love by pre-eminence. It is the Incarnation that he cannot leave out of sight. "Herein was the love of God manifested." The manifestation is said to be in us, i.e., in believers; for it is in them that the Incarnation reaches its end. The Incarnation is described as God sending his only begotten Son into the world. We start from the thought of his dignity as the only begotten Son of God, besides whom the Father had none in whom the Father's love found an adequate object. He found the condition appointed for him in the world. That is, without ceasing to be the only begotten Son, he became a man among men, even sharing the evil of their condition, yea, suffering death at the hands of sinners. What was the meaning of this strange manifestation? It was not that God took delight in the evil condition of his Son. But it was love going out toward men. We were in a dead state, in relation to the vindication of Law, and in relation to our true life; and we had not yet come to the worst. God did not blot out the fair page of creation, he did not part with one son out of many; but he parted with his only begotten Son—the most glorious of all beings, perfectly reflecting his own majesty, that we might live through him. He made the sacrifice in which his feelings were the most deeply involved, that our interests might be advanced to the highest point. "Herein was the love of God manifested."

3 . The Incarnation is proof that love was not first in us, but in God. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins." Whence has love sprung? Was it first in our hearts, and then, by contact with love in our hearts, was it kindled in the Divine heart? Ah! no; love has its eternal dwelling-place in God. It was not that we loved God; any movement of love in us was necessarily subsequent to the movement of the Divine love in creating us. It was not that we loved God; we were not actually lovers of God in our characters. We were laden with sins, those sins being all love of self and want of love toward God. It was that he loved us; and he created us that he might make us sharers with him in his bliss. It was that he loved us; and, when we had frustrated the end of his love, he did not leave us in our sins. He acted without prompting from without, he acted with absolute spontaneity, he acted out of the infinite freedom of his own will; and what did he do. He sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins; i.e., sent him into our nature to remove all the obstacles that our sins presented to our enjoying the blessings of Divine fellowship. Love is free, and yet it has an inner law of righteousness. Our sins could not be removed in any way, they could not be removed by Divine fiat, they could not be removed without adequate satisfaction. And, when righteousness demanded that the satisfaction should be given in our nature, Divine love proved equal to the emergency. The Son, breathing forth the Father's love, did not eschew our nature, and, in it dying, made infinite satisfaction for our sins. Such is love, in all the glory of its freedom and of its power.

II. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED FROM LOVE BEING NECESSARY TO FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD . The duty inferred from the Incarnation. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." John again adopts the affectionate form of address. He proceeds on the manner of love brought out in the preceding verse. "If so [the emphatic position] God loved us." It is implied that we have been brought into the position of God's children, and should act as God does. The conclusion then follows, that we should love one another. As for the manner of our love, it should be love that can go the length of sacrifice, and love that can conquer obstacles of sin. But as for the object of our love, why is it loving one another? It is to this point that John directs himself.

1 . To love one another is the way to have fellowship with the invisible God. "No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us." The fact of the invisibility of God is also stated in John 1:18 , "No man hath seen God at any time." The verb is different here, conveying the idea of seeing intently, seeing so as to image to the mind what God is through the sense of sight. In John 1:18 the invisibility of God is regarded as relieved by the Incarnation. Here the invisibility of God is regarded in connection with fellowship with God, and there is brought into view, not the visible Mediator, but our visible brethren. How are we to have (not to prove that we have) fellowship with the invisible God? The way is to have visible objects for our love, especially to love one another in the Christian circle. Loving one another, on the one hand, "God abideth in us," so as to be nearer to us for fellowship, than if we beheld him. Loving one another, on the other hand, his love, i.e., our love to him, is perfected. It cannot be brought to perfection unless with the help of love to the brethren. This thought receives further expression at the close of this chapter.

2 . Participation in the Spirit is the sign of fellowship with God. "Hereby know we that we abide in him, and be in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." The thought is similar in 1 John 3:24 . Loving one another leads to mutual abiding. But how is this to be discovered? It is by the distribution to us of the Spirit. He cannot be communicated to us in the full flood of his influence, but only according to our nature and disposition. It is evident that the Spirit is the common element on which our fellowship with God proceeds. But another question at once arises—How do we know that we participate in the Spirit? The answer, given in what follows, is, our appreciation of the Incarnation.

3 . There can be no fellowship with God apart from the Incarnation.

4 . Experience of love in which there is fellowship with God.

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all."

Another bearing of it is that God cannot love feebly. Even in his reserve there is strength. He rests in his love ( Zephaniah 3:17 ); but it is because he is conscious of his strength. He had infinite repose in view of the entrance of sin into the world; but it was because he was conscious of his power to defeat it for his own glory on the cross. And we must think of him as having infinite repose in view of the final issue of things. That he is Love means this to us—that all means will be used to overcome the evil of our hearts.


1 . Consummation. "Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he [that One] is, even so are we in this world." It is a most solemn thought that there is before us all the day of judgment. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment." There is a final and authoritative judgment to be pronounced on the value of our life. What has there been in it of obedience to God? How far have we received Christ into it? Upon that the sentence must turn. Love is now with us; i.e., joined to us as an influence in our life. What is the greatest thing that it can do for our future? It is this, to inspire us with boldness that day when we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. The ground of our present confidence is likeness to Christ. That One who is to be on the judgment-seat was once in this world in bodily form; he is still in the world in spirit, loving those who are his people, and seeking to embrace all others within the number of his people. According as we are in sympathy with the movements of his love—love his people, and seek to embrace others within the number of his people—can we assure our hearts in view of the day of judgment.

2 . Imperfection on the way to the consummation. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; add he that feareth is not made perfect in love." The opposite of boldness is fear: this is excluded from love. It is of the nature of fear to shrink back from a person; it is of the nature of love to be attracted toward a person. There is naturally fear in us to be cast out. According as love takes possession of us does it cast out fear. Men may have a certain fear of each other on first acquaintance; but let love be drawn out, and fear is gradually expelled. So we have a feeling of fear toward God, while our relations to him are not satisfactorily determined, while we have not satisfactorily discovered his feelings toward us. We are startled when we think of our sin, when we think of the Divine indignation against sin. But when we think of God as in infinite compassion making provision for us as sinners, we are emboldened. "He is near that justifieth me; who is he that will contend with me?" And as we realize more of the greatness of redeeming love, there is less room left for fear. There is a punitive office fulfilled by fear. It is God in a painful manner dealing with us for our imperfect love, and telling us that we must love better.

3 . Love that is operative is caused by anticipative love. "We love, because he first loved us." There is an affirmation here, and an explanation. The affirmation is, "We love" (without definition of object), There are multitudes who, without untruthfulness and without presumption, can say, "We love." Can we say this? The love of parents to their children is acknowledged to be real. We are not long in a home before we see that love is, in no feigned manner, operating. The parents cannot suffer their children to he long out of their sight. They have doubts and fears about them in many ways. And they are always planning for their well-being. Do we love all round in the same way? Would we be conscious of a great blank in our existence if we had not a God to love? Would the light of our eye, the joy of our heart, be gone? Do we delight in fellowship with God? Do we form plans for advancing the glory of God? Does love, too, operate toward our brethren? Have we a real interest in them, rejoicing with them when they rejoice, and weeping with them when they weep? Does our love operate toward those who are not yet brethren, leading us to make sacrifices for them, and to form plans for their being brought into the fold of the Redeemer? But there is also an explanation. "We love, because he first loved us." What is the origin of love in us? It is God exercising influence over us; but in what way? Not by the manifestations of his power, not by the manifestations of his wisdom, not by the manifestations of his righteousness; but by the manifestations of his love. Like produces like. God loved us before we had the opportunity of loving. He loved us in creating us, in putting it into the hearts of parents to care for us in infancy and childhood. He thus anticipated us with goodness. And then he was ready with a scheme of mercy for our coming into the world. We are not long in the world before we learn that we have got evil hearts, that we are in the midst of sin and misery; and sometimes the prospect seems dreary enough. But, on the other hand, it is true that God has made the world warm for our coming into it. There is love in it as well as sin; and thus God has been beforehand with us. He did not wait until we sinners returned to him. That was impossible by an act of our own will, even by an act of the Divine will, as sheer force. It needed some powerful influence to bear upon our hearts; and that was found in the anticipative love of God in redemption. It is the greater love that event comes first. Two persons have a quarrel. The one comes to the other, and desires a reconciliation; the other is overcome, and loves in return. That was the greater love which took the initiative, and broke down the alienation. So God's love is the greater, for he speaks the first word of reconciliation. And what makes it all the greater is that the fault was entirely on our side. We had wronged him; he regarded our sin with the utmost displeasure; and yet he loved us. The love with which he anticipated us was greater than any of which we were capable; great as his own nature. That love has received ample manifestation. There was once a poor Man in this world. He was brought up in an insignificant little town. He received no education but what that little town could afford him. He at first worked as a carpenter, eating his bread in the sweat of his brow. Then he began to work miracles as with Divine power, and to teach as with Divine wisdom. His public career was, however, cut short; for men did not like his teaching, and plotted his death. He was crucified as a malefactor at the age of thirty-three. This poor Man was none other than the Son of God. What was the meaning of this humiliation? It was anticipative love. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Of this love we can give no account, no explanation; it is a mystery, before which we must bow. But our love is capable of explanation. "We love, because he first loved us." Let the pressure of anticipative love upon us be evermore felt.

4 . Love that is operative rises from the seen to the unseen. "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, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also." It is declared in the most emphatic manner that love to God cannot exist apart from love to our brother, on the ground that there is a close connection between loving the seen and loving the unseen, and further, on the ground that this connection is embodied in a positive Divine command. A first noticeable thing is that love should form the subject of a command. It seems strange that we should be commanded to love. Love is supposed to have a freedom, an immunity of its own. And yet it must be with the affections as with other parts of our nature. They must be placed under government and discipline. There must, in the first instance, be the voice of God, the voice of conscience, authoritatively prescribing their course, directing them to proper objects, and keeping them in just harmony. This would be necessary, even if the affections were naturally pure. The authority of conscience would need to be exercised over them in order to give them character. It is, therefore, all the more necessary, seeing their most fine gold has become changed. They are not naturally Christian. Christ is the very last Person round whom they would center. For "he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." And how hard it is to Christianize the affections, to give them the genuine, unmistakable Christian stamp and temper; to give them Christ's steadiness, and tenderness, and fervour, and catholicity! How hard for us, who are beset with sin, to reach to that! A first love, a youthful enthusiasm, is beautiful, as youth always is. But it is not true to Christ, as the needle to the pole; it is notoriously erratic. Neither is it strong and enduring, as the feeling of him who has been accustomed to the storm; it soon waxes faint. And when youth is past, how dull and sluggish the affections, how unexcitable even before the cross, and in presence of human sin and sorrow! how unseemly, and perhaps malicious, when they come unexpectedly out in the conflict of opinion and interest! They need to be treated with severity; they need to be dragged at the heels of duty. It is only by superintendence and watchfulness and chastening that they can be brought into loving obedience to Christ Jesus, the altogether Lovely. A commandment, then, is reasonable; it is urgently needed, and shall be needed until love is the law of our being—until love shall perform every function in the body of Christ, with all the quickness and all the regularity of an instinct. A second noticeable thing is the manner in which John issues the command. There were two com mands from him, i.e., from God. The first and great commandment is that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. It might seem, then, that we should not love others at all. But Christ, going beyond the lawyer's question, brings into view the second commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," connecting it by declaring it to be like unto the first. John, in the line of the Master's thought, brings the two more closely together, calling them one commandment. The broad principle here is this—that the love of our brother man, whom we see, is a help to the love of our Father-God, whom we do not see.

- The Pulpit Commentary