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THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF JOHN - Chapter 4 - Verse 1
ANALYSIS OF CHAPTER IV.
THERE are two principal subjects discussed in this chapter:—
I. The method by which we may determine that we have the Spirit of God, 1 Jo 4:1-6. The apostle had said (1 Jo 3:24) that it could be determined that God dwells in them by the Spirit which he has given them; but as it is probable that the teachers of error, the persons whom John regarded as "antichrist," (1 Jo 2:18,19,) would lay claim to the same thing, it was important to know how it could be ascertained that the Spirit of God had been really given to them, or how it could be determined that the spirit that was in them was not the spirit of antichrist, the very thing against which he would guard them. In doing this, he
(1.) cautions them against trusting to every kind of spirit, or supposing that every spirit which animated even the professed friends of religion was the Spirit of God, 1 Jo 4:1; and
(2.) he shows them how it might be determined that they had really the Spirit of God, or what would, be the effect of the influences of the Spirit on the mind. This evidence consisted of the following things:
(a.) they had the Spirit of God who confessed that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, 1 Jo 4:2;
(b.) they who denied that, had not the Spirit of God, and the denial of this was the real spirit of antichrist, 1 Jo 4:3;
(d.) they who had the Spirit of God would hear those who were his apostles, or who were sent by him, 1 Jo 4:6.
II. The duty, power, and influence of love, 1 Jo 4:7-21. This is a favourite subject with John, and he here considers it at length, as a subject that was essential in determining the evidences of piety. The duty and value of love are enforced by the following considerations:
(2.) God has shown his great love to us by having given his Son to die for us; and as he has so loved us, we ought also to love one another, 1 Jo 4:9-11.
(3.) If we love one another, it furnishes the best evidence that God dwells in us, 1 Jo 4:12-15.
(4.) God is love, and if we have true love we dwell in him, and he dwells in us, 1 Jo 4:16.
(5.) Love will furnish us great advantage in the day of judgment, by giving us confidence when we come before him, 1 Jo 4:17.
(6.) Love will cast out all fear, and will make our minds calm in view of the events which are to come, 1 Jo 4:18.
(7.) The very fact that he has first manifested his love to us should lead us to the exercise of love, 1 Jo 4:19
(8.) A man cannot truly love God and yet hate his brother, 1 Jo 4:20; and
(9.) it is the solemn command of God that he who loves God should love his brother also.
Verse 1. Beloved, believe not every spirit. Do not confide implicitly in every one who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Comp. Mt 24:4,5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because any one claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to Divine inspiration, or to being authorized teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.
But try the spirits whether they are of God. There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of "discerning Spirits," (See Barnes "1 Co 12:10,) but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, (1 Jo 4:6,) they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No man should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See Barnes "Isa 8:20, and See Barnes "Ac 17:11".
The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 Jo 4:3.
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