Amongst the wiles of the devil imitation takes a foremost place. In
the Old Testament, for instance, we find that when God wrought
powerfully through Moses in the presence of Pharaoh, the Egyptian
magicians imitated what was done as far as they could, in order to
nullify the impressions made on the mind of the king. Again we find
that when the sanctuary had been established in Jerusalem with its
ordinances of divine service, Jeroboam easily diverted the ten tribes
from it by the simple device of establishing an imitation religion
connected with Bethel and Dan. The early verses of chapter 4 indicate
that very soon after the faith had been delivered to the saints through
the chosen apostles, Satan commenced his deceptive imitations.
The Apostle John, the last of the apostolic band, lived long enough
to see that, "many false prophets are gone out into the world." The
Apostles whether by word of mouth or in writing, had communicated the
inspired Word of God, manifestly moved and borne along by the Holy
Spirit. Before long other men rose up. They too spoke as those borne
along by the power of a spirit, and consequently their utterances also
But what they said was very different from what the apostles had
taught, though they claimed that their teachings were just an
improvement and amplification of their words. It all sounded rather
attractive, and hence was seductive. But was it true ? How could the
matter be tested?
We have before remarked upon the way in which all pretension is
tested in this epistle, and it is evident that the more we are faced by
imitations the more necessary tests become. The question now is a
supremely important one. How may we distinguish between "the Spirit of
God" and the "spirit of Antichrist;" between "the spirit of truth and
the spirit of error"? The spirits have to be tried: but what is the
criterion by which we may try them?
In the first place, Christ Himself and the truth concerning Him is
the test. Does the spirit confess Jesus Christ, come in flesh? If so,
He is of God: if not so, he is not of God. This is a very simple test,
and if we meditate thereon a little we shall see that it is a very
We cannot rightly speak of ourselves as having "
come in flesh." Long ago the Lord had said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Gen. 6: 3). We
are flesh. And even apart from this consideration we should not speak of ourselves as coming in flesh, for we had
no previous existence, and we had
no option as to how we came. To be of the human race we
found here in bodies of flesh and blood. Now it was otherwise with
Jesus Christ. He had previous existence, and He might have come in
other modes. Indeed we believe He did appear in other modes in Old
Testament days; as "The Angel of the Lord," for instance.
The truth is that Jesus Christ-that Person, the eternal Son of God-
came in flesh, so that He was a true Man amongst us. The antichristian
teachers did not confess this. They were not sound as regards His
Deity, as 1 John 2: 22 showed us. They were not sound as to His
Manhood, as this verse shows. History informs us that one of the first
heresies to afflict the early church is that which John is meeting
here. It is known as Docetism: the teaching being that, as matter was
evil, Christ could not have had a true human body of flesh and blood;
it must only have
appeared to be such, being in
reality a phantasy. Another form of error as to Christ's humanity also
troubled the early church, when men arose who recognized that the seat
of sin is found in the spiritual part of man rather than in his
material body. These denied the spiritual part of His humanity, while
emphasizing the reality of His flesh; but they rose up a century or two
later and there is no reference to them here.
Jesus Christ came in flesh of a perfectly holy kind, and hence there
was in Him that wonderful manifestation of eternal life, of which the
first verse of the epistle speaks. To deny His coming in flesh would
mean the denial not only of the possibility of this dear manifestation
amongst us, but also of there being in Him the Divine fulness to be
manifested. But the matter is put here even more strongly. We need not
wait for a flat denial for even non-confession of the truth betrays the
spirit of antichrist.
In verse 4 we have the contrast between the saints (the word here is
again that for the whole family of God, and not the babes merely) and
these false prophets. The one "of God," the other "of the world." In 1
John 2 we saw how the Father and the world are wholly in contrast: here
we find that there are two families springing respectively from these
two sources; and they are as much in contrast as the sources whence
they spring. Moreover there is in each an indwelling power, though the
mode of indwelling is doubtless different. There is "He that is in
you," and "he that is in the world." The children of God have the
Anointing of the Spirit of God. As for the world it "lies in the wicked
one," (v. 19. New Trans.)-the wicked one is consequently in it.
What an immense encouragement it is to know that the Spirit of God
is greater than all the power of the adversary. Herein lies the secret
of the marvel that the faith of Christ has survived. We have the best
authority for the statement that, "the children of this world are in
their generation wiser than the children of light." We are not a wise
folk judged by ordinary standards; and that, alas, does not exhaust the
story: there has been much unfaithfulness. The greatest and heaviest
blows against the faith have been given by those who have professed it.
Yet the faith has survived all the blows against it struck
by unfaithful believers, as well as all the blows aimed by the wicked one
believers, by reason of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The point here
however is that by Him we overcome the seductive teachings of the
antichrists. In chapter ii. we saw that we overcome them by the Word of
God abiding in us. But then of course it only does abide in us as we
are governed by the Spirit of God. The Spirit and the Word go together.
The first five words of verse 5, "They are of the world," stand in
sharp contrast not only with what goes before, "Ye are of God," but
with what follows in the next verse, "We are of God." The "We" here
evidently means the Apostles and Prophets of the New Testament, through
whom the Word of God has reached us; since the contrast lies in the
utterances of the one and of the other. Those who are of the world
speak of the world; that is, the world characterizes both their own
origin and their utterances. Those who are of God speak as of God.
This fact presents us with another criterion by which we may test
teachings that reach us. The false teachings are "of the world," for
they proceed from worldly principles and bear a worldly stamp. As a
result worldly folk enjoy them, understand them and receive them. They
are flattered and confirmed in their worldliness, instead of being
disturbed and dislodged from it.
The apostolic teaching was of another order altogether. They spoke
of and from God, and the power and authority of their utterances was at
once recognized by those who were of God and knew God, whilst those not
of God did not hear them.
Here we have a third criterion. Do those who come to us as teachers
of truth accept the authority of the Apostles, or do they not? If they
do not "hear" them, we may safely assume they are not of God.
This test, you observe, is the same as that stated by the Lord as
applying to Himself, in John 10. "My sheep hear My voice," whereas
those who were not His sheep did not believe. When the Lord was on
earth those who were of God were marked by hearing
Him with the hearing of faith. When the Apostles were here those who were of God were marked by hearing
the hearing of faith. And now that they are gone, we have the Apostolic
writings, the inspired Scriptures; and those who are of God are marked
them with the hearing of faith. The mode
of communication may be different, but what is communicated is in each
case of equal authority. An earthly king may speak in person, or he may
speak through the lips of his duly accredited ministers, or they may
commit the message to writing: there is difference as to the mode, but
none as to the authority of the message.
It is well to be quite clear on this point for there are not wanting
today those who discredit the Apostles and their inspired writings
under the specious cry of "Back to Christ!" They begin by claiming that
only His direct utterances must be quoted as having full authority; but
they do not long stop there. There is no secure foothold in such a
position, for every recorded utterance of His has been reported to us
through apostolic or prophetic writings. Hence they soon reach the
position of only "hearing" so much of His reported teaching as they
wish. They end therefore, by believing in their own powers of
discrimination and selection, that is to say,
in themselves. How exceedingly dull and commonplace is all this high-sounding modern infidelity when subjected to a little analysis.
We may indeed be thankful that God over-ruled the uprising of these
early heresies to the giving us of these simple tests, which are still
as valid as in the day they were first propounded. Hereby indeed we may
know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. If we are wise, when
confronted with doubtful teachings, we will at once apply these tests
instead of leaning to our own understanding.
With verse 7 we come back again to the main line of the Apostle's
thought. It is necessary now and again to digress in order to guard
against evil, but we are mainly concerned with that which is good and
of God. Now love is of God, and as children of God our first business
is to love one another. Thereby we display the Divine nature, and make
it evident that we are born of God and know Him. He who is born of God
loves after this divine sort. He who loves after this divine sort is
for a certainty born of God. Both statements are true; the only
difference being that in the former we reason from the source to the
outflow, and in the latter back from the outflow to the source.
On the contrary, he who does not love after this divine sort does
not know God; for the simple reason that God is love. At the outset of
the epistle we heard that God is light. That fact lies at the very
basis of all that has come to light in Christ. In our chapter we get
twice over the companion fact that God is love. On the surface there
may seem to be a clash between the two. Sin was introduced by the devil
in order that there might be a clash between light and love in God. The
whole of Scripture may be regarded as the working out of the answer of
God to the challenge-the story of the wonderful way in which both light
and love move harmoniously to the establishment of His glory and our
God is love. This is indeed a dogmatic statement; and if men seek
confirmation of this dogma, in the sinful and disordered world that
surrounds them, they will fail to find it. We must look in the right
direction. There has been a perfect manifestation of God's love, but
only in one direction, as verses 9 and 10 so plainly state. The sending
of the Son, and all that was therein involved, completely manifested
it. The Son was sent into the world, where we lay under the weight of
our sins spiritually dead. He came with the object that we might live
through Him, and to this end He made propitiation for our sins. Life
was the objective, but if we were to live propitiation was a necessity.
Life and propitiation-two immense things! When just converted the
second mainly engages our thoughts. We have been convicted of our sins
and know how we needed forgiveness; and how great has been the relief
of discovering the propitiation wrought by the Son, who was sent into
the world as the gift of God's love. Then presently we begin to realize
that propitiation has opened the door to life for us, and that God's
purpose is that we should live through His Sent One.
Here the great fact is stated in a general way: we live
He has brought it to pass. In the next chapter we find that the life we
have is in Him: it is because we are in Him that we have it. In
Galatians 2 we find that in a practical way our life is by Him, for He
is the object of it. In 1 Thessalonians 5: 10, we learn that our life
is to be
with Him for ever. We may well be filled
with praise and thanksgiving that He came into the world that we might
live through Him; especially when we consider what His coming involved
both to Him and to the God who sent Him. It was love indeed!
This marvellous love imposes upon us an obligation. The word which indicates obligation is, "ought." It is not that we
may, or even that we
do, but that we
love one another as having received such great love. Let us not shirk
the thought of obligation. It is not legal obligation; something which
must be, if we are to establish our standing before God.
It is an obligation based upon grace, and upon the nature which is
ours as born of God. As children of God it is our nature to love, but
that does not alter the fact that we ought to do it.
We ought to love one another because, as verse 12 says, the love of
God is thereby perfected as regards us. The love has flowed forth upon
us, and its end is completely, or perfectly, reached when it flows out
through each saint to all the rest. Then indeed God dwells or abides in
us-for He is love-and He can be seen as reflected in His children. This
verse should be compared with John 1: 18. Both verses begin in the same
way. In the Gospel, God is declared in the Son. In the Epistle, He is
to be seen as dwelling in His children. That is clearly inferred in
If God dwells in us He will certainly be seen in us, but our
knowledge of His dwelling is by the Spirit which He has given us.
Compare verse 13 with the last verse of the previous chapter. There it
was His abiding in us. Here it is our abiding in Him and He in us. But
in both cases our knowing these great realities is said to be by the
Spirit having been given to us. Being born of Him, we have His nature
which is love; but in addition to this He has given us of His Spirit;
and by this anointing we know that we abide in Him and He in us.
Moreover the Spirit is the power for testimony, and hence that which
is the characteristic testimony of the children of God comes before us
in verse 14. The "we" of this verse may again be, primarily at least,
the Apostles. They had seen Him as the Saviour of the world in a way
that the rest of us have not. But in a secondary sense we can all say
it. We know that the Father sent the Son with no smaller design in view
than that. It has often been pointed out how the Gospel of John leads
our thoughts away from everything that was limited to the Jew to the
larger designs connected with the world.
In John 1, for instance, He is announced not as the Deliverer of Israel, but as the One who "taketh away the sin of
the world." In John 4 the Samaritans hear Him for themselves and discover Him to be "the Christ, the Saviour of
the world." Now, what they discovered we all have discovered and having made the discovery, it has become the theme of our testimony.
How wonderful is the sequence of all that we have been considering.
God is love. His love was manifested in the sending of the Son. We live
through Him. The Spirit is given to us. We dwell in God. God dwells in
us. We love one another. God, who is invisible, is reflected by us
before men. We testify to men that the Father has sent the Son as the
Saviour of the world. All hinges upon love-Divine love-made known to us
and now operative in us.
And the more love is operative in us, the more effective will be our testimony to the Saviour of the world.
When John wrote his epistle it was a matter of common knowledge that
a man-Jesus of Nazareth-had appeared in the world and died on the
cross. There was no particular need to testify as to that. The
testimony that had to be rendered concerned the truth as to
who He really was and
came to do. Hence we declare that He was the Son, sent of the Father,
with the salvation of the world in view. All those who receive the
Christian witness believe on Jesus as the Son of God, and confess Him
as such. Now, whosoever does so confess Him, "God dwelleth in him, and
he in God."
We have before remarked how this word-variously translated as,
abide, dwell, remain, continue-characterizes the epistle. In 1 John 2,
from verse 6 onwards, we have four references to our abiding in Him.
There is a fifth reference to this in 1 John 3: 6, and a sixth in 1
John 3: 24. But in this sixth reference the corresponding fact of His
abiding in us is introduced: and we know that He does abide in us by
the Spirit who is given to us.
In chapter 4 this second thought of His abiding in us comes into
prominence-verses 12, 13, 15, 16. It is not disconnected from our
abiding in Him, but evidently it is the truth now emphasized. But the
order observed is c]ear and instructive. We must first be established
as to our abiding in Him, and then, as flowing out of that, He abides
in us. In these four verses His abiding in us is connected with (1) our
loving one another; (2) the gift to us of His Spirit; (3) the
confession of Jesus as Son of God; (4) our abiding in love, God Himself
being love. He abides in us in order that His character, His love, His
truth, may be manifested through us.
We may observe in passing how all this runs parallel with the
teaching of the Apostle Paul. We read the opening chapters of the
Epistle to the Ephesians, and find, "in Christ" to be that which
characterizes everything. We are in Him. Turning to the Epistle to the
Colossians, "Christ in you," is the theme. We are in Christ in order
that Christ may be in us. There is this difference however: with Paul
it is more a question of our standing and our state; with John it is
more a question of life and nature.
Another thing worthy of note in our epistle is that when we read of
"abiding in Him," the "Him" refers sometimes to Christ and sometimes to
God. For instance, in 1 John 2: 6, 1 John 2: 28, 1 John 3: 6, the
reference pretty clearly is to Christ. In 1 John 3: 24, 1 John 4: 13,
15, 16, it is to God. In 1 John 2: 24, it is abiding "in the Son and in
the Father." In 1 John 2: 27, it would be difficult to say which is in
view. The whole treatment of this matter here is surely intended to
teach us how truly the Son is one with the Father, so that we cannot be
in the Son without being in the Father, and we can only be in the
Father by being in the Son. For that reason the Son comes first in 1
John 2: 24.
But in our verse it is God who is in question. We abide in Him, and
He is to abide in us. In the Epistle to the Colossians we are seen as
the body of
He is to be manifested in us. Here we are the children of
God, forming His family, deriving from Him our life and nature, hence
He who is Father is
to abide in us, and be displayed. God is love, and he who dwells in
love is dwelling in God, and the God who is love will be seen as
abiding in him.
A wonderful thing this-to be abiding in love! Any kind of vessel,
flung into the ocean, and remaining in the ocean, is full of ocean: so
the child of God, immersed in the love of God, is filled with it.
Depend upon it, this is the thing that is needed if our testimony as to
the Father sending the Son is to be effectual. That we testify by word
of mouth is necessary and good; but when in addition to this God, in
the fulness of His love, is seen as abiding in His children, then the
testimony is bound to have effect. A Christian full of the love of God
wields a power, which though unconscious is most effective.
In verse 17, "our love" is literally "love with us" as the margin
shows. Love has been perfected with us: that is to say, the love of God
as regards ourselves has been carried to its full end and climax. And
it has been perfected "herein," or "in this," referring no doubt to
what has just been stated. He who dwells in God because dwelling in
love, and in whom consequently God dwells, must of necessity have
boldness in the day of judgment. Indeed he will have boldness as to the
day of judgment before it arrives-at the present moment.
It is a most wonderful thing that the love of God should shine upon
us at all: but that we should be brought to dwell in it, so that God,
who is love, should dwell in us, carries us to the very climax of the
story. It means this, that "as He is so are we in this world." This
short statement composed of nine monosyllables is very profound in its
meaning. It is perfectly true if we read it in connection with our
standing and acceptance before God. But that is an application of it,
and not the interpretation of it in its context. When the Son became
incarnate, there was found
the perfect Man, who dwelt
in God and in whom God dwelt, whether in His sojourn here, or in His
present glory above. And now again we have to say, "Which thing is true
in Him and in you" (1 John 2: 8). Here are the children of God, and 1
John dwell in God and God in them. They are as He is, and they are that
Very marvellous, this climax of love! If we apprehend it, though
only in a very small degree, we shall certainly have boldness in the
day of judgment. Though that day means the terror of the Lord to
those-that know not God, it can have no terror for the heart of the one
who at the present moment and in this world is dwelling in God, and God
dwelling in Him.
This is what verse 18 tells us. There is in truth "no fear in love."
This perfect love on God's side-for all proceeds from Him-must of
necessity cast out fear with all its torment. It is contemplated
however, that there may be found some who entertain fears, whether in
regard to the day of judgment or anything else. Such are not made
perfect in love. On God's side love has been perfected in regard to us:
on our side we may not be made perfect in regard to it. We may quite
believe that God loves us, and yet not be so consciously abiding in
love that fear finds no place in our hearts.
The love of God, known and enjoyed by us, not only casts all fear
out of our hearts but also produces love by way of a response to
itself. We have no capacity for love of a divine sort apart from the
inflow of the love of God. In this matter we are only like tiny
cisterns. He is the ever-flowing Fountain. Brought into connection with
the Fountain it is possible for love to flow forth from us.
We are warned by John, in verse 20, that we must be practical in
this matter. A man may say, "I love God," a general sort of way. He may
even say it in a highly elaborated style: he may address God as though
in the spirit of worship, expressing beautiful thoughts and using
endearing words. Still, it must all be tested; for God is unseen, and
to some active minds beautiful thoughts and words come easily and
cheaply. What will test the genuineness of such a profession as this?
Why, there is the brother who can be seen! If I myself am born of
God, every other who is also born of God is a brother to me. The God
whom I cannot see is presented to me in the one who is begotten of Him,
this brother whom I can see. That being so, the test propounded by
John's question is quite irresistible-"He that loveth not his brother
whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" The same
test is stated in a positive and dogmatic way in the first verse of the
next chapter, "Every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also
that is begotten of Him."
This is the third time in this comparatively short epistle that this
matter of the believer's attitude towards his brother has come up. In 1
John 2: 9-11 were occupied with it; in 1 John 3: 10-23. So it is
evidently a matter of very great importance. We deduce this not only
from the amount of space that is given to it, but from the fact that
again in verse 21 of our chapter it is spoken of as a commandment. That
we should love one another as brethren is not only the
message "that ye heard from the beginning," (1 John 3: 11), but "His [God's]
commandment, . . . as He [His Son Jesus Christ] gave us
John 3: 23). It is the commandment of the Lord Jesus ratified and
endorsed by God. A commandment therefore of the utmost solemnity.
The sad history of the church shows how much it has been needed. Far
more dishonour to the Name of God, and disaster to the saints, has been
brought about by dissension, and even hatred, within the Christian
circle than by all the opposition, and even-persecution, from the world
without. Had love been in active exercise with us, we should not have
escaped difficulties but we should have met them in a different spirit,
and instead of being defeated by them we should have prevailed. Are we
not told elsewhere that "Love never faileth"?