Verses 17–21

The apostle, having thus excited and enforced sacred love from the great pattern and motive of it, the love that is and dwells in God himself, proceeds to recommend it further by other considerations; and he recommends it in both the branches of it, both as love to God, and love to our brother or Christian neighbour.

I. As love to God, to the primum amabile—the first and chief of all amiable beings and objects, who has the confluence of all beauty, excellence, and loveliness, in himself, and confers on all other beings whatever renders them good and amiable. Love to God seems here to be recommended on these accounts:—1. It will give us peace and satisfaction of spirit in the day when it will be most needed, or when it will be the greatest pleasure and blessing imaginable: Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, 1 John 4:17. There must be a day of universal judgment. Happy they who shall have holy fiducial boldness before the Judge at that day, who shall be able to lift up their heads, and to look him in the face, as knowing he is their friend and advocate! Happy they who have holy boldness and assurance in the prospect of that day, who look and wait for it, and for the Judge’s appearance! So do, and so may do, the lovers of God. Their love to God assures them of God’s love to them, and consequently of the friendship of the Son of God; the more we love our friend, especially when we are sure that he knows it, the more we can trust his love. As God is good and loving, and faithful to his promise, so we can easily be persuaded of his love, and the happy fruits of his love, when we can say, Thou that knowest all things knowest that we love thee. And hope maketh not ashamed; our hope, conceived by the consideration of God’s love, will not disappoint us, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given to us, Rom. 5:5. Possibly here by the love of God may be meant our love to God, which is shed abroad upon our hearts by the Holy Ghost; this is the foundation of our hope, or of our assurance that our hope will hold good at last. Or, if by the love of God be meant the sense and apprehension of his love to us, yet this must suppose or include us as lovers of him in this case; and indeed the sense and evidence of his love to us do shed abroad upon our hearts love to him; and thereupon we have confidence towards him and peace and joy in him. He will give the crown of righteousness to all that love his appearing. And we have this boldness towards Christ because of our conformity to him: Because as he is so are we in this world, 1 John 4:17. Love hath conformed us to him; as he was the great lover of God and man, he has taught us in our measure to be so too, and he will not deny his own image. Love teaches us to conform in sufferings too; we suffer for him and with him, and therefore cannot but hope and trust that we shall also be glorified together with him, 2 Tim. 2:12. 2. It prevents or removes the uncomfortable result and fruit of servile fear: There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18); so far as love prevails, fear ceases. We must here distinguish, I judge, between fear and being afraid; or, in this case, between the fear of God and being afraid of him. The fear of God is often mentioned and commanded as the substance of religion (1 Pet. 2:17; Rev. 14:7); and so it imports the high regard and veneration we have for God and his authority and government. Such fear is constant with love, yea, with perfect love, as being in the angels themselves. But then there is a being afraid of God, which arises from a sense of guilt, and a view of his vindictive perfections; in the view of them, God is represented as a consuming fire; and so fear here may be rendered dread; There is no dread in love. Love considers its object as good and excellent, and therefore amiable, and worthy to be beloved. Love considers God as most eminently good, and most eminently loving us in Christ, and so puts off dread, and puts on joy in him; and, as love grows, joy grows too; so that perfect love casteth out fear or dread. Those who perfectly love God are, from his nature, and counsel, and covenant, perfectly assured of his love, and consequently are perfectly free from any dismal dreadful suspicions of his punitive power and justice, as armed against them; they well know that God loves them, and they thereupon triumph in his love. That perfect love casteth out fear the apostle thus sensibly argues: that which casteth out torment casteth out fear or dread: Because fear hath torment (1 John 4:18) --fear is known to be a disquieting torturing passion, especially such a fear as is the dread of an almighty avenging God; but perfect love casteth out torment, for it teaches the mind a perfect acquiescence and complacency in the beloved, and therefore perfect love casteth out fear. Or, which is here equivalent, he that feareth is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18); it is a sign that our love is far from being perfect, since our doubts, and fears, and dismal apprehensions of God, are so many. Let us long for, and hasten to, the world of perfect love, where our serenity and joy in God will be as perfect as our love! 3. From the source and rise of it, which is the antecedent love of God: We love him, because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19. His love is the incentive, the motive, and moral cause of ours. We cannot but love so good a God, who was first in the act and work of love, who loved us when we were both unloving and unlovely, who loved us at so great a rate, who has been seeking and soliciting our love at the expense of his Son’s blood; and has condescended to beseech us to be reconciled unto him. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at such love! His love is the productive cause of ours: Of his own will (of his own free loving will) begat he us. To those that love him all things work together for good, to those who are the called according to his purpose. Those that love God are the called thereto according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28); according to whose purpose they are called is sufficiently intimated in the following clauses: whom he did predestinate (or antecedently purpose, to the image of his Son) those he also called, effectually recovered thereto. The divine love stamped love upon our souls; may the Lord still and further direct our hearts into the love of God! 2 Thess. 3:5.

II. As love to our brother and neighbour in Christ; such love is argued and urged on these accounts:—1. As suitable and consonant to our Christian profession. In the profession of Christianity we profess to love God as the root of religion: “If then a man say, or profess as much as thereby to say, I love God, I am a lover of his name, and house, and worship, and yet hate his brother, whom he should love for God’s sake, he is a liar (1 John 4:20), he therein gives his profession the lie.” That such a one loves not God the apostle proves by the usual facility of loving what is seen rather than what is unseen: For he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? 1 John 4:20. The eye is wont to affect the heart; things unseen less catch the mind, and thereby the heart. The incomprehensibleness of God very much arises from his invisibility; the member of Christ has much of God visible in him. How then shall the hater of a visible image of God pretend to love the unseen original, the invisible God himself? 2. As suitable to the express law of God, and the just reason of it: And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also, 1 John 4:21. As God has communicated his image in nature and in grace, so he would have our love to be suitably diffused. We must love God originally and supremely, and others in him, on the account of their derivation and reception from him, and of his interest in them. Now, our Christian brethren having a new nature and excellent privileges derived from God, and God having his interest in them as well as in us, it cannot but be a natural suitable obligation that he who loves God should love his brother also.