John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. 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. 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. Ye have heard - From our Lord and us, that it cometh.
Verse 4. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. And we know and believe - By the same Spirit, the love that God hath to us.
Verse 17. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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