As the Spirit of truth is known by doctrine (thus spirits are to be tried), it is known by love likewise; and so here follows a strong fervent exhortation to holy Christian love: Beloved, let us love one another, 1 John 4:7. The apostle would unite them in his love, that he might unite them in love to each other: “Beloved, I beseech you, by the love I bear to you, that you put on unfeigned mutual love.” This exhortation is pressed and urged with variety of argument: as,
I. From the high and heavenly descent of love: For love is of God. He is the fountain, author, parent, and commander of love; it is the sum of his law and gospel: And every one that loveth (whose spirit is framed to judicious holy love) is born of God, 1 John 4:7. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love. The new nature in the children of God is the offspring of his love: and the temper and complexion of it is love. The fruit of the Spirit is love, Gal. 5:22. Love comes down from heaven.
II. Love argues a true and just apprehension of the divine nature: He that loveth knoweth God, 1 John 4:7. He that loveth not knoweth not God, 1 John 4:8. What attribute of the divine Majesty so clearly shines in all the world as his communicative goodness, which is love. The wisdom, the greatness, the harmony, and usefulness of the vast creation, which so fully demonstrate his being, do at the same time show and prove his love; and natural reason, inferring and collecting the nature and excellence of the most absolute perfect being, must collect and find that he is most highly good: and he that loveth not (is not quickened by the knowledge he hath of God to the affection and practice of love) knoweth not God; it is a convictive evidence that the sound and due knowledge of God dwells not in such a soul; his love must needs shine among his primary brightest perfections; for God is love (1 John 4:8), his nature and essence are love, his will and works are primarily love. Not that this is the only conception we ought to have of him; we have found that he is light as well as love (1 John 1:5), and God is principally love to himself, and he has such perfections as arise from the necessary love he must bear to his necessary existence, excellence, and glory; but love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty: God is love. This is argued from the display and demonstration that he hath given of it; as, 1. That he hath loved us, such as we are: In this was manifest the love of God towards us (1 John 4:9), towards us mortals, us ungrateful rebels. God commandeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Rom. 5:8. Strange that God should love impure, vain, vile, dust and ashes! 2. That he has loved us at such a rate, at such an incomparable value as he has given for us; he has given his own, only-beloved, blessed Son for us: Because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him, 1 John 4:9. This person is in some peculiar distinguishing way the Son of God; he is the only-begotten. Should we suppose him begotten as a creature or created being, he is not the only-begotten. Should we suppose him a natural necessary eradication from the Father’s glory or glorious essence, or substance, he must be the only-begotten: and then it will be a mystery and miracle of divine love that such a Son should be sent into our world for us! It may well be said, So (wonderfully, so amazingly, so incredibly) God loved the world. 3. That God loved us first, and in the circumstances in which we lay: Herein is love (unusual unprecedented love), not that we loved God, but that he loved us, 1 John 4:10. He loved us, when we had no love for him, when we lay in our guilt, misery, and blood, when we were undeserving, ill-deserving, polluted, and unclean, and wanted to be washed from our sins in sacred blood. 4. That he gave us his Son for such service and such an end. (1.) For such service, to be the propitiation for our sins; consequently to die for us, to die under the law and curse of God, to bear our sins in his own body, to be crucified, to be wounded in his soul, and pierced in his side, to be dead and buried for us (1 John 4:10); and then, (2.) For such an end, for such a good and beneficial end to us—that we might live through him (1 John 4:9), might live for ever through him, might live in heaven, live with God, and live in eternal glory and blessedness with him and through him: O what love is here! Then,
III. Divine love to the brethren should constrain ours: Beloved (I would adjure you by your interest in my love to remember), if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another, 1 John 4:11. This should be an invincible argument. The example of God should press us. We should be followers (or imitators) of him, as his dear children. The objects of the divine love should be the objects of ours. Shall we refuse to love those whom the eternal God hath loved? We should be admirers of his love, and lovers of his love (of the benevolence and complacency that are in him), and consequently lovers of those whom he loves. The general love of God to the world should induce a universal love among mankind. That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust, Matt. 5:45. The peculiar love of God to the church and to the saints should be productive of a peculiar love there: If God so loved us, we ought surely (in some measure suitably thereto) to love one another.
IV. The Christian love is an assurance of the divine inhabitation: If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, 1 John 4:12. Now God dwelleth in us, not by any visible presence, or immediate appearance to the eye (no man hath seen God at any time, 1 John 4:12), but by his Spirit (1 John 4:13); or, “No man hath seen God at any time; he does not here present himself to our eye or to our immediate intuition, and so he does not in this way demand and exact our love; but he demands and expects it in that way in which he has thought meet to deserve and claim it, and that is in the illustration that he has given of himself and of his love (and thereupon of his loveliness too) in the catholic church, and particularly in the brethren, the members of that church. In them, and in his appearance for them and with them, is God to be loved; and thus, if we love one another, God dwelleth in us. The sacred lovers of the brethren are the temples of God; the divine Majesty has a peculiar residence there.”
V. Herein the divine love attains a considerable end and accomplishment in us: “And his love is perfected in us, 1 John 4:12. It has obtained its completion in and upon us. God’s love is not perfected in him, but in and with us. His love could not be designed to be ineffectual and fruitless upon us; when its proper genuine end and issue are attained and produced thereby, it may be said to be perfected; so faith is perfected by its works, and love perfected by its operations. When the divine love has wrought us to the same image, to the love of God, and thereupon to the love of the brethren, the children of God, for his sake, it is therein and so far perfected and completed, though this love of ours is not at present perfect, nor the ultimate end of the divine love to us.” How ambitious should we be of this fraternal Christian love, when God reckons his own love to us perfected thereby! To this the apostle, having mentioned the high favour of God’s dwelling in us, subjoins the note and character thereof: Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit, 1 John 4:13. Certainly this mutual inhabitation is something more noble and great than we are well acquainted with or can declare. One would think that to speak of God dwelling in us, and we in him, were to use words too high for mortals, had not God gone before us therein. What this indwelling imports has been briefly explained on 1 John 3:24. What it fully is must be left to the revelation of the blessed world. But this mutual inhabitation we know, says the apostle, because he hath given us of his spirit; he has lodged the image and fruit of his Spirit in our hearts (1 John 4:13), and the Spirit that he hath given us appears to be his, or of him, since it is the Spirit of power, of zeal and magnanimity for God, of love to God and man, and of a sound mind, of an understanding well instructed in the affairs of God and religion, and his kingdom among men, 2 Tim. 1:7.
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