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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

1 John 4

 

 

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Verse 4

DISCOURSE: 2453

GOD AN EFFECTUAL HELP

1 John 4:4. Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

CONSIDERING the opposition made to Christianity in the apostolic age, it is surprising that it gained so speedy, so extensive, and so permanent a footing in the world. That its establishment was effected through miracles, there is no doubt: but miracles, unless attended with a divine power to the hearts of the beholders, could effect nothing. The very raising of Lazarus from the dead served only to embitter the minds of many against him who had effected it. That which gave energy to the word, and caused it to work effectually for the conversion of men, was the power of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, after that men had embraced the Gospel, every possible method that Satan could devise was used to turn them from it: but millions maintained their steadfastness, even to the end: for, as St. John informs us, “greater was He that was in them than he that was in the world.”

This truth being still as important as ever, I shall,

I. Confirm the assertion as relating to former times—

“Great,” it must be confessed, “is he who is in the world”—

[“Many false prophets,” even whilst the Apostles were yet living, “had gone out into the world:” and great were the efforts which they made to turn men from the faith of Christ. Our blessed Lord had foretold that such persons would arise, and that their efforts would be productive of incalculable injury to his Church and people. “Many prophets shall arise, and deceive many.” “For there shall be false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before [Note: Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24-25.].” In accordance with this prediction, we find that “the faith of many was overthrown [Note: 2 Timothy 2:18.];” “whole houses were subverted [Note: Titus 1:11.];” and great multitudes were “turned back unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:39.].” At a future period we expect still more extensive ravages of the flock, through these wolves in sheep’s clothing [Note: Matthew 7:15.]: for the Spirit speaketh expressly, “that in the latter times some will depart from the faith; giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron [Note: 1 Timothy 4:1-2.].”

But it is Satan, in reality, that is the great agent in all these transactions: and the men who are more immediately engaged, are his instruments. In “these false apostles, these deceitful workers, who transform themselves into the Apostles of Christ, it is Satan himself transformed into an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.].” It is “the prince of the power of the air, even the evil spirit himself, who worketh in all those children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 2:2.].”]

But “greater far is He who is in the Church”—

[“The strong man armed keepeth his palace, and his goods, for a time, in peace. But there is a stronger than he, who comes upon him, and overcomes him, and takes from him his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils [Note: Luke 11:21-22.].” He rescued millions from the dominion of that wicked one, and preserved them from the assaults of their cruel adversary. And “greater He still is,” than that wicked fiend, and all his adherents.

He is greater in wisdom: for though the “devices” of Satan are inconceivably numerous, and “his wiles” beyond all conception subtle, yet he discerns them all, and knows how to counteract and defeat them all. He is greater also in power: for though Satan is “an angel that excels in strength,” and has millions of wicked spirits, like unto himself, acting in confederacy with him, and under his special controul, He who sitteth in the heavens laugheth him to scorn; and says to him, “Hither shall thou go, and no further.” Earnest as Satan’s desire was to destroy Job, he could effect nothing, till permitted by the Deity; and then could he not move an hair’s breadth beyond his appointed bounds. Not even the herd of swine could he destroy, till he was liberated from the restraint which our Lord’s superior power had imposed upon him.]

That we may improve the assertion for our own use, I will,

II. Confirm it as applicable to the present day—

The same wicked spirit works mightily in the world at this time—

[Various are the instruments he employs, and incessant are his exertions to destroy the souls of men.

He works by open infidelity. It is well known what efforts he has made throughout the whole of Europe, and with what prospects of success; insomuch that his agents boasted that they should soon crush our blessed Lord, and extinguish his religion. And in our own country, if the legal authorities had not interposed to uphold the laws, there is reason to fear that impiety and blasphemy would have filled every corner of our land.

He works, too, by secret discouragements. In every place, he assaults the souls of those who are desirous of being liberated from his dominion. He would persuade them that they are, on some ground or other, excepted from the general invitation to accept of mercy. They are not among the elect; or are too unworthy to obtain God’s favour; or have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, so that their day of grace is passed. All such suggestions are for the purpose of effecting that in individual characters, which, by infidel principles, he endeavours to accomplish on the community at large.

He works also by specious admixtures; mutilating and debasing the true Gospel, by confounding it with the law, and introducing into it terms subversive of its fundamental principles. It matters little to him, how he effects his purpose: if it be by a bold denial of all religion, or a desponding rejection of proffered mercy, or a perversion of the Gospel under a pretended zeal for good works, he equally attains his end: and therefore he varies his assaults according to the diversified characters of men, if by any means he may draw them from Christ, and finally effect their ruin.]

But a mightier power is in us also—

[God is still with his Church and people; and still worketh in them, “mighty to save.”

He is greater to instruct, than Satan is to deceive. The deepest of Satan’s devices he can unveil, to the very weakest of his people; and can overrule them for the accomplishing of his own gracious purposes towards them. Satan hoped, by destroying the Messiah, to subvert his kingdom: but God made it the very means of establishing that kingdom. It was “by death that our Lord overcame him that had the power of death;” and on the very cross he spoiled principalities and powers, “triumphing over them openly in it.”

He is greater also to uphold, than Satan is to cast down.— The efforts which Satan made to intimidate the Apostle Paul were such as appeared sufficient to daunt the strongest mind: but observe how God enabled his servant to triumph in every assault: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

He is greater too to save, than Satan is to destroy.—Satan would have “sifted Peter as wheat:” but God would “not suffer his faith to fail [Note: Luke 22:31-32.].” In the Epistle to the Church of Smyrna, it is said, “Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried: and ye shall have tribulation ten days [Note: Revelation 2:10.].” Mark how Satan is here restrained. If he could have had his own will, he would have cast, not “some,” but all; not “into prison,” but into hell; not for “ten days” but for ever. No “tribulation” short of that would satisfy his malignant mind. But “whereinsoever he, or his emissaries, deal proudly, our God is above them:” and the very means which he uses for our destruction will God make use of for the promoting and effecting of our salvation.]

Two questions, we may suppose, you will be ready to ask:

1. How shall I know by which spirit I am moved?

[This question is easily answered from the preceding context. We are bidden to “try the spirits, whether they be of God.” And this shews the propriety of suggesting the question before us. We have also the answer given: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God [Note: ver. 1–3.].” Here, then, is a plain test, by which the matter may be tried. Whoever, or whatever, would keep you from a total surrender of your souls to Christ, is from the devil: and whatever would lead you to it, is from God. All the false prophets before spoken of are antichrists: for “there are many anti-christs [Note: 1 John 2:18.]:” and whatever be the particular line they adopt, their object is the same; namely, to keep you from glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. But whatever means our God is pleased to use, his object is, that Christ should be glorified in us. This is the matter contested between God and Satan; as St. Paul also explicitly declares: “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto us. But God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” This exactly accords with the testimony of St. John, and completely answers the question that has been proposed. Know then, that if infidelity would pervert you, or despondency discourage you, or self-righteousness deceive you, they have “the mark of the beast upon them, as clear and visible as the sun at noon-day. The object of them all is, to keep you from Christ. But, whatever leads you to Christ, to believe in him, and serve him, and glorify him, you need no other evidence of its being from God. Reject therefore, with abhorrence, every anti-christian spirit: and receive with gratitude every motion which bears upon it the character and impress of your heavenly Father.]

2. How may I secure the final victory?

[This also it is easy to answer: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” “They were of God,” and relied altogether upon him: and therefore they overcame. Do ye the same; and the victory shall be yours also. Never will God forsake those who trust in him: never will he suffer Satan to “pluck one of them out of his hands.” He may leave them to endure many conflicts: but he will be with them, and succour them with great might, and make them “more than conquerors” over all their enemies. No one need to be discouraged on account of his weakness; for “God will perfect his own strength in their weakness.” “His hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear.” Still is he as able, and as willing, to save his people as ever; “nor shall one of his little ones ever perish.” Look on your enemies then, my dear children, (that is the meaning of the word translated “little children:” it does not here refer to age or stature, but is a term of endearment, and is so used by our Lord himself to his disciples [Note: John 13:33.];) and say to every one of them, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].” Only “be ye of God;” and all the powers of darkness shall fall before you, and “Satan himself be bruised under your feet shortly [Note: Romans 16:20.].”]


Verse 6

DISCOURSE: 2454

THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, AND THE SPIRIT OF ERROR

1 John 4:6. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

IN matters of eternal moment, every man must think for himself. We should take nothing upon trust; but bring to the test of Scripture the doctrines we hear, and the persons who profess to instruct us in the mind of God. This may appear presumptuous, in persons who have not made theology their peculiar study: but it is not presumptuous in any one who has the Scriptures in his hands, and a Divine Instructor to apply to. It was to the Church at large, and not to any particular person, that St. John said, “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they be of God.” Even in the apostolic age, “many false prophets had gone out into the world:” and certainly there are not a few at this day, who, whilst they profess to preach the Gospel, hold forth an extremely erroneous standand of truth and duty. But the Gospel itself affords us a sufficient test, whereby to try whatever is set before us. Moreover we should feel the same jealousy respecting ourselves, and use the same precautions in estimating our own character. There is “a spirit of truth;” but there is also “a spirit of error:” and the two may easily be mistaken for each other; and, through that mistake, a most erroneous judgment be formed of our conduct. To keep you from any such mistakes, I will shew,

I. The different spirits by which men are actuated—

There is, in some, “a spirit of truth”—

[In some there is a simplicity of mind, that desires nothing but what is right and true. They are open to conviction: they will weigh with candour whatever is set before them: they will not knowingly harbour any prejudices or prepossessions. They take pains to acquire knowledge: they, in particular, search into the fountain of all knowledge, the book of God: and, conscious of their need of divine instruction, they will look up to God for the teachings of his Spirit, and readily submit to whatever they find to be his revealed will. They are like Cornelius, who, though a heathen, hesitated not to send for Peter, who was a Jew, and to receive without gainsaying all that that divine instructor was commissioned to reveal.]

There is, in others, “a spirit of error”—

[There is in some a perverseness of mind, which, instead of affecting truth, loves rather paradox and disputation. There is in them an inaptitude to receive instruction. They have certain principles in their mind, which bias them on all subjects; and they have a certain pleasure in being singular. Things which are plain and obvious to others are not so to them, because their minds are fertile in supplying objections: to find which, they will travel far out of their road; and, having found them, they will lay a far greater stress on them than such trifling difficulties can in any way deserve. Hence, on almost all subjects, they are at issue with their nearest friends, unless indeed they have prevailed to draw others into the same vortex with themselves.]

But, as these imagine themselves to be influenced by a very opposite spirit, it will be proper for us to inquire,

II. How we are to discriminate between them—

As in natural substances we may, by a chemical process, discover of what they are compounded; so may we, by the application of certain tests, find how far the foregoing ingredients enter into the composition of our minds. In the context, two tests are proposed; namely, the world, and the Gospel; and by these “we may know” the two different spirits which we have been considering.

1. Take the world, then, as a test—

[If we have “a spirit of truth,” there will be a readiness to see and acknowledge the vanity of all things here below. The whole world, and all that it contains, will appear to us lighter than vanity itself. Its views will appear erroneous in the extreme: its habits, altogether contrary to the mind of God. Eternity will be taken into the account in every estimate of the things of time; and every thing be viewed with a direct reference to that.

On the other hand, let the world be brought as a test to one who is blinded by “a spirit of error;” and how manifest will be the delusion under which he is labouring! He cannot see that the world is so vain or so mistaken as enthusiasts imagine: there is nothing so evil in its ways: its pursuits are highly rational; its pleasures altogether innocent; its friends and votaries in a state of acceptance with God. Nothing in it is to be condemned, except its excesses and its crimes. In a word, as the Pharisees “derided our Lord” when he spake of covetousness, because “they were covetous,” so the man who is led by “a spirit of error” shuts his eyes against the plainest truths, and will admit nothing which thwarts his own worldly and carnal inclinations.]

2. Take the Gospel as a test—

[This is still more calculated to try the hidden dispositions of the soul. If we are actuated by a spirit of truth, we shall receive whatever God has spoken in his word, as little children. We shall not dispute against it, because it does not accord with our pre-conceived opinions; but shall rather form our opinions from it, than presume to sit in judgment upon it. The deepest truths which are there revealed will not offend us. It will be no stumbling-block to us, to find that God himself has become incarnate, and died upon the cross under the guilt of his creatures’ sins: our only inquiry will be, Is this revealed? if it be, then is it true, whether we can understand it or not. Nor shall we be averse to the way of obtaining salvation simply by faith in Christ; because, if it be pointed out as the only way of access to God, and the only means of obtaining blessings from him, then is it with all readiness and humility to be complied with, nor will a thought be suffered to rise against it. This is “the honest and good heart,” which our blessed Lord commends as the proper soil wherein to sow the seed of life, and as the principle which we must cultivate with all possible care.

But far different will be the conduct of one who is carried away by “a spirit of error.” The blessed word of God to him is rather a field wherein to exercise and display his own ingenuity. Nothing is acceptable to him that does not commend itself to his reason: he sits in judgment upon every thing, pronouncing this reasonable, and that unreasonable; and the great mystery of redemption, through the blood and righteousness of our incarnate God, he regards as foolishness. This is the spirit of Arians, and Socinians, and numberless others, who, instead of receiving the sacred oracles with the simplicity of a little child, deal with them as they would with a merely human composition; receiving what they like, merely because it accords with their own views, and rejecting all the rest as erroneous and absurd.

Thus by these tests we may distinguish “what spirit we are of.” They call into action the hidden principles of the heart; and give occasion for the manifestation of them, in a way that is clear, and that admits of no doubt.]

Let me now proceed to mark,

III. The importance of distinguishing them aright—

A just discernment of these spirits will enable us,

1. To account for the conduct of others—

[It appears strange, at first sight, that a religion so worthy of God, and so suitable to man, as Christianity is, should not be readily received, and universally obeyed. How can it be, that its principles should be so generally controverted, and its practice so generally condemned? Is there any want of evidence, that the religion itself is from God? or, is there any thing really unreasonable in a life of faith and holiness? No: the fact is, that the pride of human nature is averse to receive a free salvation; and the corruption of human nature knows not how to bear the restraints which the Gospel imposes on it. Hence the spirit of man rises against the Gospel itself; and either fashions it to a standard of his own, or rejects it altogether, as unworthy to be received. Here then, at once, we see whence it is that worldlings continue worldly, and infidels retain their infidelity. They say in their hearts, “Who is lord over us? They hate to be reformed: “they hold fast deceit:” they shut their eyes against the light: they “cast God’s word behind them;” and say, in effect, “We will not have this man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reign over us.” This explains that phenomenon which proves such a stumbling-block to Jews and Gentiles. They say, ‘If your religion be so clear, whence is it that there is such a diversity of opinions respecting it?’ The answer is, ‘Amongst those who are humble and contrite, there is no difference as to any fundamental part of doctrine, or practice: and, if there be amongst others, it is because they are led away by a “spirit of error,” and “blinded by the god of this world.”]

2. To form a correct judgment of our own—

[To attain a knowledge of ourselves, we must diligently mark our own motives and principles of action. We see in others a bias; and we must observe how far there may be any undue influence upon our own minds. If we will candidly examine ourselves, we shall see that, in ten thousand instances, there is a leaning to self, through the workings of pride, or interest, or passion; and that, to be perfectly impartial in our views and actions, is an attainment of no common magnitude. To have no wish but to conform ourselves to the will of God, is a measure of grace that is but rarely found; so rare is “a spirit of truth” in its full extent, and so prevalent “a spirit of error.” Hence there is no man who has not occasion to humble himself for his defects; nor any who has not to watch continually against the deceitfulness of his own heart.]

Let me further IMPRESS this subject on your minds, by adding,

1. A word of caution—

[The persons who most need to have this subject brought home to their own hearts, are the most backward to bestow a thought upon it; so blinded are they by the very evil against which they ought to guard. But I would affectionately remind them, that confidence in error will not make error cease to be what it is; and that a pertinacity in error may cause God to give them over to judicial blindness and hardness. We read, that “God gives over some to a strong delusion, to believe a lie, that they may be damned, because they believe not the truth, but obey unrighteousness [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.].” Their “believing a lie” does not make it true; nor does its being “a delusion” prevent their being “damned” for yielding to it. O brethren! provoke not God so to abandon you; but beg of him to give you more simplicity of mind, and to put “truth in your inward parts.”]

2. A word of advice—

[You know, that in natural substances there are a great variety of component parts, which are hidden from the natural eye; but which, as we have before hinted, may, by a chemical process, be brought to view. By the application of certain tests, the parts may be separated, and new combinations of them be formed. In like manner, by the application of tests to your souls, you may discover the hidden principles of your hearts. See what it is to which your mind has an affinity: mark what it embraces; and what, on coming into contact with some other thing, it is disposed to relinquish. There are both “flesh and spirit” in the renewed man; and, by diligent observation of the way in which they are called into action, and of the degree in which they operate, you may ascertain your real character before God. If the world drives out spiritual considerations, and more tenaciously occupies the mind, you will see reason for self-abasement before God. If, on the contrary, the blessed truths of the Gospel readily fill your mind, and exclude the world, then have you reason for gratitude and thanksgiving. We are assured that “they who are after the flesh, do mind, and savour, the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” “Try then yourselves” by these tests, and “examine” carefully your state before God [Note: δοκιμάζετε, 2 Corinthians 13:5 and again 1 Thessalonians 5:20.]: for, “if your own heart condemn you, God is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things; but if your heart condemn you not, then have you confidence towards God.”]


Verse 9-10

DISCOURSE: 2455

THE LOVE OF GOD IN GIVING HIS SON FOR US

1 John 4:9-10. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

OF all the endearing characters that are given us of God, that by which he is designated in the words immediately preceding our text, is the most comprehensive and most glorious; “God is love.” It might seem indeed that this appellation but ill-accorded with the sterner attribute of justice: but in the execution of his wrath against impenitent transgressors, his love to the whole creation appears, no less than in his dispensations of grace and mercy to the penitent: even as the love of a judge towards the whole community appears in condemning a murderer, as much as in protecting the weak, or acquitting the innocent. There is however one exercise of his love which infinitely exceeds all others; and that is, the gift of his only-begotten Son to die for us. This is the subject set before us in the text, and which the return of this day [Note: Christmas-day.] calls more especially to our remembrance.

Let us consider,

I. The love of God as it is here exhibited—

Instead of entering at large into the subject of our Saviour’s incarnation, we shall confine ourselves strictly to the consideration of the Father’s love in the different steps of it, as mentioned in the text. How astonishing is it,

1. That he should desire the restoration of our souls to life!

[Why should he ever entertain such a thought as this? Could we profit him at all? or would he suffer any loss by leaving us to perish? If he chose to have human beings to behold and participate his glory, could he not in an instant call forth millions into existence, and communicate to them the blessings we had forfeited? Had he determined that we should never fall, and that he would impose on us a necessity to continue in our primeval state, we should have the less wondered at his love: but that he should foresee our fall, and yet determine to restore us; that he should behold us actually fallen, and yet pity us; that, when our first parents fled from him, he should follow them with invitations to accept of mercy; and that, when they shifted off all blame from themselves, and cast it eventually even upon God himself, he should still retain his desire to save them; how amazing was this love! Had he proposed only to remit their punishment, and to blot out their existence, this had been a wonderful act of love: but to desire the restoration of such creatures to his favour, that they might live with him in glory for evermore, is truly such an exhibition of love, as far surpasses the utmost stretch of our conceptions. How differently did he act towards the angels, when they fell! He never entertained a thought of restoring them [Note: Hebrews 2:16.]: but, when man fell, then, as if he himself could not be happy without us, he concerted with his eternal Son to deliver us, and to save us with an everlasting salvation [Note: Zechariah 6:13.].]

2. That he should send his only-begotten Son into the world to effect this!

[What ways of accomplishing this object God might have found, it is not for us to say: but it is reasonable to believe, that nothing less than the incarnation of his only-begotten Son could effect it. And how wonderful it was that he should ever adopt such a measure as that! that he should spare his only dear Son from his bosom, and send him into a world that was already cursed by sin! that he should send him to assume our very nature; to be “made in the likeness of sinful flesh;” yea, to be made in all points like as we are, sin only excepted! However he might desire our recovery, it seems absolutely incredible that he should ever condescend to use such means to effect it: yet we are told that he actually did so; and that he sent, not an angel, not all the hosts of angels, but even “his only-begotten Son, into the world, that we might live through him [Note: John 3:16.].”]

3. That, in order to the effecting of it, he should make Him a propitiation for our sins!

[For the honour of God’s moral government, it was necessary that his hatred against sin should be made manifest, and that, if mercy were exercised towards fallen man, it should be only in a way that would consist with the rights of justice, and preserve the honour of God’s broken law. This could only be done by a vicarious sacrifice, a sacrifice of equal value with the souls of all mankind. Such a sacrifice could be made by none but our incarnate God; who therefore assumed our nature, that he might expiate sin by the sacrifice of himself, and make himself “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” What love then was here; that God should send his only-begotten Son into the world for such an end as this! Had he sent him to instruct us by his doctrine and example, it had been a stupendous act of love: but to send him on purpose that he might bear our sins in his own body on “the tree,” and die in our stead, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God;” this is a love that is utterly incomprehensible: it has heights and depths that can never be explored.]

To confirm this view of our subject, we need only call your attention to that assertion of St. Paul, that “in this God commendeth his love to us;” and to that pious reflection of his, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things [Note: Romans 5:8; Romans 8:32.]?” These passages abundantly prove, that, as the gift of Christ to us was the fruit of the Father’s love, so it was an instance of his love, that infinitely outweighs all else that he ever has done, or ever can do, for sinful man.

Let us now consider,

II. Our love to God as put in competition with it—

It is evidently supposed in our text that some might be blind and impious enough to ascribe their salvation rather to the love which they bore to God, than to that which, of his own free and sovereign grace, he bore to them. Hence the Apostle says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” It is indeed surprising that any child of man should ever entertain such an idea as this which the Apostle explodes: but experience proves, that there is no merit so great, but man will arrogate it to himself; and no tribute so just, but he will refuse it to his God. We proceed then to notice this sentiment in a two-fold view:

1. The erroneousness of it—

[Let us for a moment inquire, What is the state of fallen man? Has he of himself any love to God? So far from it, we are told, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; and that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Note: Romans 8:7.].” There is not any one thing relating to God, which the natural man loves: not his perfections; not his word; not his ordinances; not his people; not his ways: he is in his heart adverse to them all. But it may be said, that many are brought to love God at last. True: but how is this effected? by any power in man? or by any previous good inclination in man? No: “It is God that gives us both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure [Note: Philippians 2:13.]:” it is “he, and he alone, that makes us to differ,” either from others, or from our former selves: we neither have any thing, nor can have any thing, but what we receive from him [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. How then can that which we receive from God be the cause or ground of his conferring it upon us?

The text, it is true, speaks of God’s sending his Son into the world to die for us: and it may be thought, that no one would ascribe that gift to any merit of his own. We grant it: but, if men do not ascribe to their own merits the gift of a Saviour, they ascribe to their own merits the gift of salvation itself: yea, exceeding vehemently do they arrogate to themselves this honour: and when they are constrained to acknowledge, that in their unregenerate state they have done no good works to deserve salvation, they will maintain, that God has respect to some good which he has foreseen in them, and makes some natural or acquired excellence in them the reason and the measure of his favour towards them. But we can scarcely conceive any expressions more strong than those by which God cautions his people against this vain conceit. Hear what he said respecting it to his chosen people the Jews [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6 and Ezekiel 36:22; Ezekiel 36:32.] — — — Hear also what Jesus said to his own immediate Disciples, who had certainly as good ground for boasting as any of us can have [Note: John 15:16.] — — — Hear further what St. John says in a few verses after our text, and which is applicable, not to one age or people, but to the saints of God in every age; “We love him, because he first loved us [Note: ver. 19.].” But indeed it is the voice of Scripture from one end to the other [Note: Jeremiah 31:3. Ephesians 2:8-9. 2 Tim. 1, 9.], that “God has mercy on whom he will have mercy [Note: Romans 9:11; Romans 9:15-16.],” and that “there is a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: Romans 11:5.].” To be making this truth a constant subject of our ministrations, as some do, is highly injudicious; but, when it comes fairly in our way, we must maintain it, as necessary for the abasing of man’s pride, and for the exalting of God’s honour and glory.]

2. The impiety of it—

[God is a jealous God: his very “name is Jealous [Note: Exodus 34:14.],” and “his glory he will not give to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.]. Now the great end for which he has redeemed man, was the advancement of his own glory. St. Paul, in the space of a few verses, repeats this almost to satiety, if we may so speak [Note: Ephesians 1:5-7; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11-12; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 3:10-11.] — — — But to ascribe the gift of a Saviour, or of salvation, either in whole or in part, to our love to him, is to rob him of his glory; and to establish a ground for glorying in ourselves, when he has declared, “that no flesh shall glory in his presence [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.].” Now, in reference to ourselves, we are backward to acknowledge that there is any great sin in this. Let us then transfer our thoughts to the fallen angels, and contemplate them as acting in this manner. They have sinned, as we have: and are as incapable of restoring themselves to the Divine favour, as we are: Let us then suppose God to say, ‘I will send my only-begotten Son into those regions of misery, to bear their punishment, and to expiate their guilt: and I will send my Holy Spirit into their hearts, to change their natures, to renew them after my image, and to fit them for my presence.’ Suppose, when God, of his own sovereign grace and mercy had done this, those wicked fiends should arrogate the glory to themselves, and say, ‘God has saved us, because he foresaw what holy dispositions we should exercise, and how richly we should merit his favour;’ What should we think of them? Should we not say, that their guilt was augmented ten-fold; and that the punishment they might expect would be proportionably severe? Where then is the difference between them and us? What have we, more than they, to merit the Divine favour? Or what can we have more than they, except it be given us from above? Know then, that, if God would burn with indignation against them for such pride and ingratitude, so will he against us, if we refuse to give him the glory due to his name. If Herod was made a monument of wrath for accepting from others a tribute due only to his God, much more shall we, if we, reversing what he has spoken, shall presume to say, “Herein is love, not that God loved us, but that we loved him, and earned by our love an interest in his favour.”]

We conclude with some suitable advice:

1. Contemplate frequently this love of God to you—

[The angels are not interested in the wonders of redemption as we are, and yet are ever “desiring to look into them.” Shall we then be regardless of them? Shall we not search into them; and meditate upon them; and speak of them; and glory in them; and make them “all our salvation, and all our desire?” Shall we not especially consecrate to the contemplation of them this season which has been set apart by our Church for that express purpose? O make not this a time for carnal feasting, but for holy meditation, and for delight in God!]

2. Get your hearts filled with love to him—

[If our love be not the cause, it nevertheless should be the consequence, of his love to us. Of this, none can entertain a doubt. Who that is in the smallest degree impressed with the Saviour’s love to us, does not see the reasonableness of that awful denunciation, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha [Note: 1 Corinthians 16:22.]?” Yes, on whomsoever that curse may fall, we must all acknowlege the justice of it; and in the day of judgment, when it shall be yet more awfully denounced on the enemies of Christ, there will not be a saint or angel in the universe who will not add his Amen to it. O let us now muse on his love to us, till the fire of Divine love kindle in our hearts, and we speak with our tongues the high praises of our God!]

3. Seek to abound in love to each other—

[This is the improvement which the Apostle suggests in the words following our text [Note: ver. 11.].” In the love of Christ to us is both the reason and the model, for our love to each other. Was his love to us unmerited? we also should freely exercise love even to the evil and unthankful. Did his love lead him to forego the glory and felicity of heaven, and to submit to the accursed death of the cross for us? such should be our love to our fellow-creatures: there should be no measure of labour or self-denial which we should not willingly exercise for the good of others; yea, even to the laying down of our life for them [Note: 1 John 3:16.]. Here then we see the proper duty of this season: search out the poor, the sick, and the afflicted, that you may administer to them the consolations they stand in need of: and especially exert yourselves to see what you can do for the souls of men — — — This is the work that will most assimilate you to Christ, and will best prove the sincerity of your love to him.]


Verse 14

DISCOURSE: 2456

CHRIST THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD

1 John 4:14. We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

WERE it announced to us, in a time of war, that the enemies of our country were vanquished, that those who had menaced us with utter destruction were all taken captive, and that we might henceforth enjoy an honourable and lasting peace; our first inquiry would be, What ground is there for crediting the report? If we were assured, that several persons, who had been present at the battle and had seen the captive enemies, were sent by the conqueror on purpose to make known to us the glad tidings, we should be filled with transports of joy, and congratulate one another on the glorious event. Such tidings, and thus authenticated, we have to declare unto you; not indeed in reference to an earthly enemy, but in reference to our great adversary, the devil; whom Christ, our Almighty Deliverer, has subdued. The Apostles were sent by their victorious Lord to proclaim the news: and they have come to us, affirming that they were eye-witnesses of the truths which they have been commissioned to declare. They acknowledge, indeed, that “Satan bruised his heel; but they affirm, that he bruised Satan’s head.” Satan so far prevailed as to have him crucified: but by his very death our blessed Lord overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; yes, “on the cross itself he triumphed openly over that wicked adversary, and spoiled all the principalities and powers of hell;” and in his ascension “he led captivity itself captive.”

But that we may ascertain more correctly the nature and truth of their testimony, we shall shew,

I. What evidence we have of the fact reported in the text—

It would divert us too far from our subject to enter into the question of the credibility of the Apostles; suffice it to say, that, as they had no possible inducement to deceive us, so they have never, on any occasion, betrayed the smallest wish to deceive us. Their veracity is unimpeached, and may fully be relied on.

But, it may be asked, Were they themselves well-informed on the points whereof they affirm? We answer, They saw the things which they attest: they did not receive them from the report of others, but were assured of them by ocular demonstration. They saw all which they affirm concerning Christ: they saw,

1. His personal glory—

[Others, even his bitterest enemies, beheld him as a man like unto themselves; but some of his Apostles had ocular proofs of his Godhead: they saw him transfigured on Mount Tabor, his face shining brighter than the meridian sun, and his garments all illumined by the radiant effulgence of his Deity; and they heard the Father’s voice from heaven attesting him to be his only, his beloved Son [Note: Matthew 17:2. Mark 9:2; Mark 9:7.]. This vision was vouchsafed to them for their more perfect satisfaction: and they record the circumstance in proof, that what they reported concerning him they knew to be true [Note: John 1:14. 2 Peter 1:16-18.].]

2. His matchless perfections—

[Not they only, but his very enemies, were astonished at his wisdom, and constrained to confess, that “never man spake like him.” His power and goodness were alike manifest in the authority which he exercised over diseases, devils, and the very elements. Hence, on different occasions, his Disciples expressed their full conviction that he was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world: “We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ the Son of the living God [Note: Matthew 16:16. John 6:69.].”]

3. His shameful death—

[His crucifixion was seen by all: but there were some circumstances connected with his death, which tended very strongly to corroborate the opinion which his Disciples had formed of him. The effusion of blood and water from his wounded side in two distinct streams, particularly impressed them with the idea, that he died to cleanse men, not only from the guilt, but also from the power and pollution, of sin [Note: John 19:34-37. with 1 John 5:6]. And the prodigies preceding and following his dissolution were such, that the Centurion who attended the crucifixion exclaimed, Truly this was a righteous man, this was the Son of God [Note: Matthew 27:54. Mark 15:39. Luke 23:47.].]

4. His triumphant resurrection—

[At the precise moment of his resurrection, none were present except the soldiers who were placed to guard his tomb: but within a few hours he was seen by several of his Disciples: and for the space of forty days he appeared to them on a great variety of occasions [Note: Acts 1:3.]. By these manifestations of himself, the incredulity of the Apostles was overcome [Note: John 20:24-28.]: and much stress was laid upon them by the Apostles in confirmation of their word [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Acts 10:40-41.].]

5. His glorious ascension—

[Many were permitted to behold this glorious event: and this, together with the descent of the Holy Spirit whom Christ had promised to send down, convinced the Disciples, beyond a possibility of doubt, that Jesus was the Christ. From this time, (the time of the Spirit’s descent,) the Apostles began to preach Christ as the Saviour of the world: and they constantly founded their testimony upon the fact of their having been eye-witnesses of every thing that they declared [Note: Acts 2:32-33; Acts 2:36.]. Indeed, such stress did they lay on this circumstance, that, in choosing a successor to Judas in the apostleship, they took care to have one who was on a par with themselves in this particular [Note: Acts 1:21-22.]: and, in speaking of Christ, they dwell on this circumstance with most triumphant satisfaction [Note: 1 John 1:1-3.]. It was for the purpose of qualifying Saul to bear the same convincing testimony, that the Lord Jesus appeared personally to him in the way to Damascus [Note: Acts 26:16.]: and, when his ministry was undervalued on account of his supposed inferiority in these respects, he triumphantly appealed to his opposers, “Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:1.]?”

If then such a number of faithful witnesses, all concurring in the same testimony, and all qualified to give their testimony from a personal inspection of the things attested, can establish any truth whatever, we must confess that the fact asserted in the text is established beyond the possibility of doubt, and that “God the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.”]

The fact being proved, we proceed to shew,

II. For what end we bear our testimony respecting it—

To set forth Christ as the Saviour of the world was the one labour of all the Apostles. The same also is our blessed employment; and we make that our constant theme, or, at least, the sum and substance of our discourses;

1. That you may have just views of the Father’s love—

[We behold the goodness of our God in every thing around us: but not all the creation can exhibit it in so bright a view as the cross of Christ: there, even in the face of a crucified Jesus, shines all the glory of our God. Love, in particular, is there portrayed in its most endearing colours. The gift of God’s only dear Son to die for man, was the most stupendous effort of love that ever was, or can be, exhibited [Note: John 3:16. Romans 5:8. ver. 9, 10.] — — — It is greater love than was ever shewn even to the angels themselves [Note: Hebrews 2:16.]: and, while it brings us nearer to the throne of God than they [Note: Revelation 7:11.], it will furnish us with everlasting songs in which they can never join [Note: Revelation 5:9-10.] — — —]

2. That you may renounce all erroneous methods of seeking acceptance with him—

[If this glorious truth had never been revealed, we might well have made the same inquiries as Balak [Note: Micah 6:6-7.]. But what room is there for such inquiries now? Do we despise this unspeakable gift of God? or do we conceive that we shall be able to establish a firmer foundation for our hope, than that which is laid in the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ? — — — O reject not the proffered mercy of your God! Say not, ‘The Saviour of the world shall not save me.’ This is what you do, in fact, say, when you go about to “establish any righteousness of your own [Note: Romans 10:3.].” To guard you against so fatal an error, St. Paul testified with all the energy he could express [Note: Galatians 5:2-4.]: and we also testify, that there is no other foundation to be laid [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.], nor any other name to be trusted in [Note: Acts 4:12.], but that of Jesus Christ.]

3. That you may embrace the Lord Jesus with your whole hearts—

[View him as sent down from heaven, even from the bosom of the Father: view him as dying in your place and stead [Note: Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:6. 1 Peter 3:18.]: view him as saving a ruined world. Can you forbear to love him? Can you refrain from seeking an interest in him? Are you not ready to cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Hosanna in the highest?” Behold him, I say; admire him; adore him; trust in him; “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart;” “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.” Alas! you are but too little affected with his love; and need to be reminded of it continually: “we determine, therefore, with God’s help, to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and to set before you his love, till it constrains you to love him, and to live to him.]

Conclusion—

[Hear once more our testimony. We testify, that Christ is indeed the Son of God, even “Emmanuel, God with us.” We testify, that the one errand on which he came, was to save a ruined world. We testify, that he has done all that was necessary for the salvation of our souls; and that “he is both able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him” — — — O compel us not to complain, as he did, “We testify of that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness [Note: John 3:11.]!” but let us behold you inquiring after him, till ye can say with the Samaritan converts, “we have seen (‘heard’) him ourselves, and believe that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world [Note: John 4:42.].” It is true, you cannot now see him, as the Apostles did, face to face; but by faith you may “see him that is invisible:” and if only you behold him now by faith, you shall one day see him, as you are seen, and “know him, as you are known.”]


Verse 16

DISCOURSE: 2458

GOD IS LOVE

1 John 4:16. God is love.

THE character of Jehovah is drawn in a great variety of expressions in Holy Writ: He is represented as great and good, and just and merciful, and by every other attribute that is worthy of his Divine Majesty. But, in the words before us, which are twice repeated in this chapter, all his perfections are concentrated in one abstract idea, as if they were all but one, and that one was “love.” Now, there is no light in which men so rarely conceive of the Deity as this. In truth, it is more as an object of terror than of love that he is viewed at all, especially by the generality; the desire of their hearts being, for the most part, like that of the Jews of old, “Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” Let us, however, collect our minds for the contemplation of the subject before us, whilst I endeavour to exhibit God in the character which is here ascribed to him, and to shew you that “he is wholly and altogether love.” He is so,

I. In the perfections of his nature—

What shall we say of his wisdom?

[It is love, concerting measures for the communicating of his own nature and blessedness to creatures that should be formed for this very end. It was for this end that he created myriads of holy angels in heaven. It was for this end that he formed the earth; and placed upon it beings endowed with faculties capable of knowing, loving, serving, and enjoying him. He would have been equally happy and glorious, though no creature had ever existed, to behold his glory, or participate his bliss. As he was eternally self-existent, so he would have been eternally self-sufficient: nor was it possible for any creatures, however numerous or exalted, to add any thing to him. But, from the fulness of love that was in him, he determined to form creatures susceptible of all the blessedness which he had ordained for them: and in the execution of this office his wisdom engaged with great delight.]

And in what light must we view his power?

[This also was love, putting forth all its energies to accomplish the things which wisdom had devised. No other object had it in view, than the adapting of all things to their proper ends, that nothing might be wanting to any creature in the universe; but that every thing, from the highest archangel to the meanest insect, might, according to its capacity, enjoy a fulness of bliss. The whole inanimate creation, the celestial bodies which move in their orbits, and this terrestrial globe with all its diversified accommodations, are all subservient to this end; and all evince, that the power which called them into existence was only a modification of love.]

In no other view can we conceive of his holiness

[This also was love, making known to his creatures what was his mind and will, and shewing them the precise path in which they must walk, in order to enjoy the happiness which be had ordained for them. On their conformity to him their happiness must, of necessity, depend: and God, in order that no creature might be at a loss to know his will, proclaimed it to them, and enjoined the observance of it as a law; thus constraining them to seek their own happiness, not from self-love only, but as an act of obedience to him.]

Even his justice, too, must be regarded in the same light—

[This enforced the law with sanctions; with a promise of eternal life, if it were obeyed; and with a threatening of eternal death, if it were transgressed. And what was this, but love, shutting up his creatures to a necessity of preserving the happiness for which they were formed; and rendering it, as might have been supposed, impossible that they should ever decline from it?

If these provisions have failed in producing the blessedness for which they were designed, that, as we shall see presently, makes no difference in the design of God, or in the real character of all the Divine perfections. They all had one object in view, and all were exercised for one end; and all, if justly viewed, were love—love in the first conceptions; and love operating for the happiness of all, in whose behalf those conceptions had been formed, and those powers had been called forth into activity.]

We will yet further trace the same blessed character,

II. In the dispensations of his grace—

Hitherto we have seen God as shewing kindness to his creatures in a state of innocence: but now we must contemplate him as acting towards them in their fallen state. And, O! what love will now be opened to our view! View him in,

1. The gift of his only-begotten Son—

[When all the purposes of his grace towards us had been frustrated by man’s transgression, what, O! what did love suggest for our recovery? “He sent his only-begotten Son into the world, to stand in our place and stead;” and to “die,” he “the just, for us the unjust,” that he might restore us to God, in a way consistent with all the perfections of the Deity. This wonderful act is, in the former part of this chapter, traced to the very source of which we speak: “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Our blessed Lord also teaches us to regard the love of God as the one source of this unspeakable gift [Note: John 3:10.]: and St. Paul speaks of Jehovah himself referring to it, as the most stupendous display of his love that ever was, or ever could be, exhibited to fallen man: “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [Note: Romans 5:8.].”]

2. The gift of his Holy Spirit also—

[In vain would Christ himself have died for us, if the Holy Spirit also had not come down to reveal that Saviour to us, and, by the mighty working of his power, to draw us to him. But shall this be wanting to us? No: the very same love which sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to redeem our souls, sends the Holy Spirit also, to apply that redemption to us: so that here is a concurrence of all the Three Persons of the Godhead in this labour of love; each occupying a part in this mysterious work; and contributing, according to their respective offices, to effect this great salvation. Say, brethren, whether it be possible ever to comprehend the heights and depths of this love? No, verily, it is altogether incomprehensible, far exceeding the utmost conceptions of any finite capacity.]

3. The gift of his ordinances—

[This, it is true, appears as nothing, in comparison of the gifts before-mentioned. But yet, methinks, it should by no means be overlooked. For the ordinances are indeed the golden pipes by which the golden oil is conveyed to us from the two fore-mentioned olive-trees, in which all fulness is treasured up for us [Note: Zechariah 4:11-14.]. It is by stated ordinances that you are gathered together to hear the word of God, and to receive the communications of his grace: and it is by the appointment of an order of men to minister in holy things, that you derive advantages for the instruction of your souls in divine knowledge. True, indeed, ministers are but earthen vessels: but the treasure which they convey to your souls is that which you would have but little leisure or inclination to search after for yourselves. Say, brethren, have not some of you often come to the house of God merely to observe a form which common decency required, and yet been so favoured as to find there “the pearl of great price,” in comparison of which all earthly things are as dross and dung? And say, whether you have not reason to adore the love which has provided for you such means of grace, such advantages for glory?

But on these things it is needless to insist, because they carry their own evidence along with them.]

The same may be seen,

III. In the whole administration of his moral government—

Here, doubtless, through our self-love, we are less apt to see the love of God. But it really exists; and to a humble mind it is as clearly visible, in the execution of his judgments, as in the dipensations of his grace.

Let the nature and end of God’s law be first considered—

[We have already said, that his law was a transcript of his mind and will; and that its proper use was, to shew to all the intelligent creation, how God was to be served, and their own happiness secured. We have also already shewn, that the sanctions which were added to this law had the same tendency; namely, to secure the observance of it amongst free agents, who were left at liberty to obey or disobey, as they should feel disposed. And all this, we conceive, will readily be acknowledged to have been the fruit of love.]

Now, the law itself being approved, the enforcement of it must partake of the same character—

[As for those who suffer the penalty of transgression, as millions both of angels and men do at this moment in hell; and as millions who are yet unborn will, it is to be feared, to all eternity; we readily grant, that they cannot enter into the subject before us. The men who suffer for transgressing human laws are ready to entertain hard thoughts, both of the laws themselves, and of those who enforce them. But they cannot be considered as competent judges: they are partial; and their self-love blinds them. The community at large, who reap the benefit of the laws, see their excellence; and are thankful that they live under the protection of laws, wisely enacted, justly executed, and impartially enforced. There is not, in any civilized nation upon earth, a considerate man who does not account it a rich blessing to have his life and liberty and property secured against the assaults of rapacious robbers and blood-thirsty murderers. And the very persons who violate the laws, and for their transgressions pay the forfeit of their lives, might have received as much benefit from the laws as others, if they would themselves have yielded subjection to them: so that, whilst suffering the penalties of transgression, they have no reason to complain of the laws; but only of themselves, for having wantonly and wickedly transgressed them. Now thus it is with those who are suffering the vengeance of everlasting fire for their violations of God’s law. The enactments themselves were intended for their benefit; and the penal sanctions would have conduced to their comfort, as much as to the comfort of any other person in the universe, if they would have yielded obedience to them. It is their own fault that they have brought out evil from good; and rendered that an occasion of misery, which was intended by God to be a source of bliss. Of themselves they may complain; but of the laws they must speak with unqualified approbation and gratitude. If a doubt exist on this point, let any man ask himself, how he would like to live in any place where the authority of all laws, human and divine, was set aside, even for the space of three days? Who would not, long before the expiration of that time, be crying out for the domination and government of equal laws?

I say then, that, as the law of God was made equally for all, and all may receive equal benefit from it, all ought to regard it as the fruit of love; and to honour it in their hearts, as “holy, and just, and good.”

It is possible that because, in the present state of the world, far more are lost than saved, some may object that God has loved the few at the expense of the many. But though this is the case at present, there will, at no distant period, be multitudes far more numerous than all that have already existed; and “they will all be righteous,” from the least to the greatest of them. If Israel, in the space of about two hundred years, multiplied from seventy-six to two millions, when so many efforts were made to destroy them; how shall they not multiply during the millennium, when the command “Increase and multiply,” shall meet with no impediments; and when life will be so prolonged, that a “person dying an hundred years old will appear” to have been cut off under “a judicial curse?” Carry on this annual augmentation, not for ten or twenty years, but for a thousand years; and you will clearly see, that the numbers who have lived previous to that day will bear no proportion to those who shall then come upon the earth; and, consequently, that the number of those who will perish will bear no proportion to that of those who shall be ultimately saved. But, if the objection were true as to the comparative numbers of those who shall be saved, and of those who shall perish, I would still say, that this would not at all invalidate the declaration in my text. The law is equally good, even though every transgressor of it should perish; and the loss of every soul must be ascribed, not to any want of love in God, but to the wicked obstinacy of man, who will not avail himself of the salvation which God has offered him. Before there existed a creature in the universe, God was love: and after he had created both angels and men, he still continued love: and love he will be, when he shall judge the world: and one of the most painful considerations, which will corrode the minds of those in hell, will be, that it is love that condemns them, love that punishes them, and love that consigns them to the fate they have deserved; yea, that love to the whole universe demands their ruin. For supposing only that God should from this moment promise impunity to the transgressors of his law, where is there one who would not find a speedy relaxation in his efforts to obey it, and a consequent diminution of his happiness? But sinners cannot be so received. If God could admit to his bosom the violators of his law, the enemies of his Son, and the contemners of his grace, heaven itself would cease to be a place of happiness; and God himself (I speak it with reverence) would cease to be an object worthy of our esteem. But these things, I say, cannot be; and therefore cannot be, because “God is love”.]

Let us then learn, from this exalted subject,

1. What should be the disposition of our minds towards God—

[Is he love; and that too in all his diversified perfections, and in all his mysterious dispensations? Surely then we should love him, and see nothing but love in all his ways. No commandment of his should ever be accounted grievous; but we should fly, like the angels themselves, to obey the very first intimation of his will. As for any difficulties or dangers that may lie in our way, they should only be regarded as opportunities afforded us to shew our love to God, and our zeal in his service. When trials of the most afflictive nature arise (for “we are all born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards”), we must bear in remembrance, that they are sent by a God of love, and that they are nothing but blessings in disguise. We must remember, that “whom he loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth: and that, if we be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are we bastards, and not sons: for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?” We know that our own children do not exactly appreciate our motives, whilst they are suffering under our displeasure, or when restraints are imposed upon them for their good. We must be content, therefore, to consider the darkest of God’s dispensations as fruits of his love; and must feel assured, that, however “clouds and darkness may be round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne.” In a word, we must ever bear in mind, that God is deserving of all our love; and we must endeavour to love, and serve, and glorify him, with every faculty we possess.]

2. What should be the disposition of our minds towards each other?

[This is the point particularly insisted upon in the former part of this chapter; and, indeed, it is founded upon the very truth before us: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love [Note: ver. 7, 8.].” And in another place, the Apostle yet more expressly deduces from it the lesson I am inculcating: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another [Note: ver. 11.].” Let me then call you, brethren, to be “imitators of God as dear children [Note: Ephesians 5:1. the Greek.].” And in what would ye so much wish to resemble him as this? To have your every act, your every disposition love, what could more tend to the perfection of your nature, and the happiness of your souls, than this? In truth, love, if carried to a due extent, would make a heaven upon earth. O! cultivate it, my brethren, from your inmost souls; and, to whatever extent you have carried it, learn to “abound more and more.” Yet mistake not the proper offices of love. It is not necessary that love should always be exercised in a way of approbation, or in a way that shall be pleasing to those who are the objects of it. God corrects his children, and is displeased with them when they act amiss: and you also may manifest your displeasure in a way of correction towards those who are under your authority, when the occasion fairly calls for it. But love must be your governing principle in all things; and its influence must regulate your whole life. It must shew itself in the suppression of every thing that is selfish, and in the exercise of every thing that is amiable and endearing: you must shew it, by “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.” O that I knew what to say, that should prove effectual for this blessed end! This I will say, that by this disposition you must be known as God’s children: for, if you possess it not, whatever else you may possess, you are in heart no better than murderers: “He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death: whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him [Note: 1 John 3:14-15.].” On the other hand, “if you dwell in love, God dwelleth in you, and you in him.” And, when you have this evidence of a transformation into God’s image, then may you “have boldness in reference to the day of judgment.” Let it only be said, that “as He is, so are ye in this world;” and we will predict, without fear of disappointment, that, as He is, so shall ye be also in the world to come [Note: ver. 16, 17.].]


Verse 16-17

DISCOURSE: 2459

THE BELIEVER’S RESEMBLANCE TO GOD IN LOVE

1 John 4:16-17. He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

THAT “God is love,” is a truth that can admit of no doubt. The proper improvement to be made of this truth is also obvious: if he be love, we should love him, trust in him, serve him, submit to him. But there is one improvement of this subject which does not readily occur to the mind: it is this: If God be love, we should be careful to imitate and resemble him. Now this, though less obvious than the other deductions, is the point on which St. John principally dwells: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: FOR God is love [Note: ver. 7, 8.].” The same line of argument he pursues in the words before us; shewing that our conformity to God, in this great character of love, will be the measure of our nearness to him, and of our confidence before him.

The words before us will lead me to mark,

I. The resemblance which the believer bears to God in love—

The Apostle having said that “God is love,” adds, “As he is, so are we in this world.” Now, in his nature we cannot resemble the Supreme Being; but in his operations we may. We must therefore mark,

1. The operations of God’s love—

[Love, though a simple idea, may be profitably considered under a threefold distinction: a love of benevolence, a love of beneficence, and a love of complacency. This distinction will lead us to make some discriminations which are of great importance to a full understanding of the subject. “We say then of God, that his benevolence is universal. There is not a creature in the universe which he did not originally form for happiness; and to which he does not wish happiness, so far as it is capable of enjoying it. The fallen angels are gone beyond the reach of happiness; as are all those also who have brought upon themselves the final sentence of God’s righteous indignation. But there is not a sinner whom he is not willing to save; and whom he would not save, provided he repented of his sins, and sought for mercy in God’s appointed way. God has sworn to this; saying, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner; but rather that he turn from his wickedness, and live. Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” So far is God from desiring the death of a sinner, that “he willeth that all should come to repentance, and live:” and when any will not repent, he takes up a lamentation over them; saying, “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways [Note: Psalms 81:13.]!” Our blessed Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem, even after that it was given up to final desolation, gives us a just picture of Jehovah’s mind towards the most abandoned of the human race [Note: Luke 19:41-42.].

As God’s benevolence is universal, so is his beneficence unbounded: “He opens his hand, and fills all things living with plenteousness.” Of his common bounties all partake, in rich abundance: “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust.” That greatest of all mercies, the gift of his only dear Son, was bestowed on all, as is the gift also of his Holy Spirit: for, as Christ died for all [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.], so does the Holy Spirit strive with all [Note: Genesis 6:3.]; there not being a good desire in the heart of any man, which has not been formed there by his all-powerful agency; and formed there in order to the bestowment of still greater good, if those first motions had been duly improved. Nor should all the glory and blessedness of heaven itself be withheld from a human being, if only he would humble himself before God, and seek for mercy, and grace, and strength, in God’s appointed way.

In respect of complacency, however, God’s love is personal and partial. It is not possible that a holy God should find delight in unholy creatures: for, he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” without the utmost abhorrence. “He is angry with the wicked every day:” and, though he would still have compassion on them if they would turn unto him, he contemplates with satisfaction the judgments which their impenitence will bring upon them: “I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith [Note: Deuteronomy 32:20; Deuteronomy 32:22-23; Deuteronomy 32:40-42. See also Isaiah 1:24.]” — — — It is his faithful and obedient people alone in whom he can take any pleasure. On them he does look with sweet complacency; as the prophet says: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save: he will rejoice over thee with joy: he will rest in his love: he will joy over thee with singing [Note: Zephaniah 3:17.]:” “As a bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so will thy God rejoice over thee [Note: Isaiah 62:5.].” In a word, he esteems them as “his peculiar treasure above all the people upon earth,” and as composing the brightest jewels of his crown.]

2. The resemblance which the believer’s love bears to it—

[His benevolence also is universal, extending to all, whether friends or enemies, whether known or unknown: he has learned to “bless those who curse him, to do good to them that hate him, and to pray for those who despitefully use him and persecute him.” In his beneficence too, so far as his circumstances will admit of it, he is unbounded. The first object of his attention will, doubtless, be those of his own household, and his more immediate neighbourhood: but he will not rest there; he will take an interest in the welfare of all mankind, so far as to pray for them, and to assist in conveying to them the blessings of salvation. He feels himself a debtor to the whole human race; and he pants to discharge his debt to the very utmost of his power. But in the objects of his complacency he is more confined and partial. He cannot possibly take those for his friends who are the enemies of God. He comes out from an ungodly world, and is separate from them. And this he does, not from any idea of his own superior goodness, but because he is afraid of being drawn into temptation; and because he is told, on infallible authority, that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.” He has a different taste from the world around him, and lives in a different element; so that it. would be repugnant to his nature to occupy himself as they are occupied. This is the ground upon which St. Paul interdicts all unnecessary communion with them: “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.]?” This shews clearly that the household of faith have a claim on his regards, beyond any other people upon earth [Note: Galatians 6:10.]; and that, if his love be of a proper kind, the saints will have a decided preference in his estimation, and the “excellent of the earth will be all his delight [Note: Psalms 16:3.].”]

Such is the believer, whilst sojourning in this world: he is actuated by love, even as Almighty God is; so far, at least, as he is under the influence of divine grace. But his love varies in its exercise, as the love of Jehovah himself varies according to the circumstances or qualities of the object beloved.]

To encourage this godlike disposition, I proceed to shew,

II. The blessedness of him in whom this resemblance is found—

This is set forth by the Apostle in very exalted terms. But it must first be remembered, that the believer is here supposed to “dwell in love:” he does not put it forth only on some particular occasions, but cherishes it habitually in his bosom, and maintains it as the constant habit of his mind. Now, where a person dwells in it, he will be happy;

1. In his enjoyment of the present—

[There is a mutual in-dwelling between him and God; “he dwelling in God,” by faith and love; and “God dwelling in him,” by the abiding influence of his good Spirit.

But these expressions are far too weighty to be passed over with so slight a notice. The believer “dwells in God!” We know what ideas we associate with a house in which we dwell: we regard it as our own: we go to it with freedom at all times: in it we expect to find whatever is suited to our daily necessities, and sufficient for our daily wants: we are at ease in it, and feel ourselves secure from the tempests that rage around us. There, after all the troubles and fatigues of life, we lay us down to rest, and find that repose which fits us for the duties of every succeeding day. Now, familiar as this illustration may appear, it is that which the Scriptures employ as peculiarly fitted to convey to our minds the truth which we are considering: “O Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations [Note: Psalms 90:1.]:” and again; “Because thou hast made the Lord, even the Most High, thine habitation, there shall no evil befall thee [Note: Psalms 91:9-10.].” This confidence the believer feels: he looks to God as his God: he has access to him at all times; goes to him without restraint; “enters into the inmost chambers [Note: Isaiah 26:20.] of his divine perfections; and shuts the door about him; hiding himself from every storm” which may beat around him; and finding in him that rest, and those supplies of grace, which his necessities require.

At the same time, “God dwells in him,” as in his temple. Frequently does God designate his believing people by this gracious appellation; and promise them his presence, as in his temple of old: “What agreement,” says he, “hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.].” Now this exactly marks the favours which God will vouchsafe to the truly loving soul. You remember that God abode in his temple by a visible symbol of his presence: that there, on the day of annual expiation, the high-priest entered into his immediate presence, and beheld his glory: thither the prayers of all his people were addressed: there were all their sacrifices accepted: and from thence were all his answers given. Behold, then, under this image, the exalted privilege of the believing soul! God is with him in a way that he is not with any other creature in the universe. To him is the glory of God revealed: his every sacrifice of prayer or praise comes up with acceptance before God; and rich communications of grace and peace descend from God to him. Take these two ideas—the believer dwelling in God, as in his house; and God dwelling in him, as in his temple—and you have a complete view of his felicity, as it is enjoyed from day to day.]

2. In his anticipations of the future—

[Love, exercised in the way before described, is “perfect;” that is, it is of the most perfect kind, and has attained a growth which marks a high measure of excellence: or, as the text expresses it, “Herein is our love made perfect, or manifested to be perfect [Note: τετελείωται. See 2 Corinthians 12:9. the Greek.].” And where such love is, there is, and will be, a sweet assurance of our acceptance in the day of judgment. The latter verse of my text, as it stands in our translation, is so obscure, as scarcely to admit of explanation: but with a very slight alteration it is extremely clear. It may be read thus: “Herein is our love made perfect: so that we have boldness in (i. e. in reference to) the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world [Note: ἵνα ἔχωμεμ. Doubtless the usual sense of ἵνα is that which our translators have adopted. But St. John uses it repeatedly in the sense which I have here assigned to it. See 1 John 1:9; and especially Revelation 13:13. where a precisely similar expression occurs, and is translated in this very way.].” And this is a blessed truth. The man who has attained this measure of love, has within himself a most decisive evidence of his own conversion [Note: 1 John 3:14.]. None but God could accomplish within him such a blessed work; as the Apostle says, “Love is of God [Note: ver. 7].” Hence, though he well knows his own remaining imperfections, he cannot but regard God as his Father: and he is perfectly assured, that a God of love will never cast away one who pants and labours constantly for a conformity to the Divine image: and hence “he has boldness in reference to the day of judgment;” being fully assured, that the Saviour, in whom he has believed, and by the operation of whose grace he has become what he is, will “confess him before his Father,” and “present him faultless before the presence of his Father’s glory with exceeding joy.” This is the disposition which infallibly “accompanies salvation;” as St. Paul has said: “Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end [Note: Hebrews 6:9-10.].” My dear brethren, be diligent in this work, and this blessedness shall be yours. Only take care, that, in the habit of your minds, and in your daily walk, ye “be in the world as God himself is;” and then you may look forward with comfort to the future judgment, assured that “you shall not be ashamed before him, at his coming.”]

In reflecting on this subject, we cannot but see,

1. What enemies to themselves they are, who indulge unhallowed tempers!

[I will not say, they are enemies to God, whose law they violate; or to their fellow-creatures, whose peace they disturb: but I will say, they are enemies to themselves; for they actually drive God from them; and cause him, who would dwell in their hearts as their Comforter and their God, to become their enemy: as it is said, “If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:17.].” And what must be their prospects in relation to the eternal world? Can they enjoy any of the true Christian’s confidence? or, if they possess any confidence at all, is it not a horrible delusion? Religious professors speak much about their doubts and fears: and truly many of them have abundant reason to doubt and fear; for their tempers bear no resemblance whatever to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ:” yea, many of these professors have less self-government than the ungodly world; and they make all unhappy that are about them. As to their fears, they are right enough; but as to their doubts, it may well be questioned whether they are right: for if they were Christ’s, they would “put on Christ,” and “crucify those affections and lusts” which are so abhorrent to his religion [Note: Galatians 3:27; Galatians 5:24.]. They may talk of their faith: but if their faith do not work by love, it is no better than the faith of devils. The fruit of the Spirit is, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:” and if these fruits do not characterize our life and conversation, I hesitate not to say, that “our religion is vain:” for St. James says, “If any man (high or low, rich or poor, old or young)—if any man among you seem to be religious (and make ever so fair a profession), and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain [Note: James 1:26.].” I must therefore warn all, but religious professors in particular, that “what they sow, they shall reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he alone who soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].”]

2. What a noble ambition has the true Christian!

[It is no inferior pattern that he is content to follow. He looks to see what God himself is to his creatures; and that would he be to the utmost extent of his power. “He would be an imitator of God himself [Note: Ephesians 5:1. the Greek.];” and “as God is, so would he be in this world.” Is God love? He would be love also; he would act nothing but love, and breathe nothing but love. O noble ambition! blessed object! sweet end of life! What a heaven would earth be, if all were of this mind and spirit! Come, beloved, and rise to the occasion. See what God is to the world at large: and be ye, according to your power, alike benevolent, alike beneficent — — — See also what God is to his Church in particular: and be ye towards every member of that Church, so far as the individual himself is worthy of it, alike complacent and affectionate [Note: If this be a subject for a Charity Sermon, this clause, or the preceding, may be amplified, according as the object of the Charity is of a temporal or spiritual nature.] — — — In a word, let your endeavour be, not only to be godly, but God-like; “holy as he is holy;” and “perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”]


Verse 18

DISCOURSE: 2460

INFLUENCE AND IMPORTANCE OF LOVE

1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

THE essence of all true religion is love—love to God, working by love to man. Both tables of the law are fulfilled in this: and to bring us to such a state of mind is no less the intent of the Gospel, than of the law itself. St. John, than whom no inspired writer more fully unfolds the glories of the Gospel, abounds, more than any other Apostle, in exhortations to love. The preceding context more particularly insists on love to man: but the words before us, with the following context, speak rather of love to God. “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God, love his brother also [Note: ver. 19–21.].” Were we to interpret the text as speaking of love to man, it would not admit of any satisfactory explanation: but, as referring to God, it sets love before us in a very instructive point of view, in that it marks,

I. Its influence, as a principle—

“Fear” is that passion which is chiefly dominant in the breast of fallen man—

[Adam, before his fall, knew nothing of it: but, after his transgression, he fled from the face of God, and hid himself amongst the trees of the garden: and from that time, all the appearances of God or of angels to men have generated fear in the first instance; so that the persons most favoured with such visions, have needed to be encouraged by that reviving expression, “Fear not [Note: Luke 1:12-13; Luke 1:29-30.].” Indeed, the whole religion of the heathen world has its foundation in fear: love to their deities is never an operative principle in their hearts. Even amongst ourselves, till we are truly converted to God, the Supreme Being is rather an object of fear than of love; insomuch that we love not to hear of him, or to reflect on our future appearance before him. It is on this account that all which relates to God, his perfections, his purposes, yea, and even the mysteries of his grace and the wonders of his love, are, by universal consent, banished from our mutual intercourse and daily conversation: and, however cheerful a society may have been in their communications with each other, the introduction of such topics as death, judgment, heaven, and hell, would cast a damp upon it, and induce a gloom, or a contemptuous smile, on every countenance. The Scripture tells us, that this is the case with all; that “men, through the fear of death, are all their life-time subject to bondage [Note: Hebrews 2:15.]:” and that they are “like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,” utterly destitute of any solid peace or rest [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.].

There may, indeed, be in men a thoughtless indifference: but this is only whilst they can shake off reflection. No man can think of God and of eternity without many fears and misgivings: and the very efforts which men use to dissipate all serious thought, clearly shew, that they do not dare to think, and that God is to them an object of dread, and not of love.]

But “love will cast out fear”—

[The two passions are opposed to each other, and counteract each other, as light and darkness: “there is no fear in love,” nor any love in fear: if love arise in the soul, fear will be dispelled, like the clouds of the morning: but if fear prevail again, it will draw over the soul the curtains of night. Fear is excited by a view of God, as formidable in himself, and as hostile to us: but love views him as altogether lovely in himself, and as loving to us; and, consequently, banishes from the soul the sensations which a different view of the Deity had produced. Love regards him as a Father, a Friend, a Saviour, “a Portion,” an “eternal great reward.” What room is there for fear, when such views are realized in the soul? I speak not, indeed, of a filial fear; because that is a very essential part of love: but a slavish fear, a “fear that has torment,” can find no place in a bosom that is filled with love. To a person who truly loves God, the thought of him will be sweet to the soul: and the more intimate he feels his access to God, the more sublime will be his joy. As for death, to such an one it has lost its sting: it is even numbered amongst his richest treasures: “All things, says he, are mine, whether life or death [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.].” And so far is he from dreading the approach of the eternal state, that “he looks for, and hastes unto, the coming of the day of Christ [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.];” and “longs to be dissolved, that he may be with Christ [Note: Philippians 1:21.].” I say not, that this feeling is constant, or without any alloy; but that to effect this is the proper influence of love; and that it will be effected in proportion as love abounds in the soul.]

This view of love naturally leads us to consider,

II. Its importance as a test—

It is our privilege to be “made perfect in love”—

[Love, like every other grace, is weak in its beginnings. But it should not be always so: like patience, it should “have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The command of God is, that we should “love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.” And if we owe to him this measure of love as our Creator, much more do we as our Redeemer. After this, therefore, we should aspire: and, whatever our attainments in it be, we should be labouring daily to increase more and more; having more of a Spirit of love; and more of that “Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”]

Of its precise measure we may judge, by the remains of fear abiding in us—

[Examine with what feelings you contemplate God: examine what it is that chiefly operates to keep you from offending him, and what it is that chiefly stimulates you to duty: examine what your views are of death and judgment; whether they be dreaded as objects of fear, or desired as completing and consummating your bliss.

As for that horror to which some persons are subject at the sight of a reptile or an insect, it has nothing to do with the present subject: it is a mere constitutional weakness, to which a child of God may be exposed as well as others. Love will not produce much effect on that, except as it will habituate the mind to confide in God, and to commit every thing to him. But in all things that are the proper objects of faith, love has full scope for exercise; and will present them to the mind in so favourable a view, as to cast out all fear in relation to them.

Behold then, I say, the two emotions are like the scales of a balance: where fear preponderates, love will be found but light: but where love abounds, fear will in vain strive for an ascendant. To judge of love by its own direct workings, may not be easy; because the warmth of our feelings towards God may depend, in a measure, on the constitutional temperament of our minds: but by its influence in dissipating and dispelling our fears, we may attain a correct judgment respecting it: if it be “perfect, it will cast out our fears;” but “if we fear, we are not yet made perfect in love.”]

Address—

1. Those who have neither love nor fear—

[We have before said, that there may be persons of this character, who have so hardened their hearts, and seared their consciences as to have contracted an insensibility to God and eternal things. And I am constrained to acknowledge, that many are found in this state even in a dying hour. But if they be deaf to the voice of conscience here, it will be heard at the instant of their departure hence. Could we but behold the obdurate sinner, or the scoffing infidel, on his first entrance into the presence of his God; does his boldness continue there? No: he cries to “the rocks to fall upon him, and the hills to cover him from the face of the Lamb,” whose warnings he disregarded, and whose threatenings he despised. Yes, beloved; though now more fearless than the devils (for they believe and tremble), you will then know what “a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But is it fear that I wish to excite in your minds? Certainly not, except as a preparatory work. I wish your religion to begin with fear: but God forbid that it should end there. No: it must be carried on by love, if ever it shall terminate in joy. Yet, till we are made sensible of our lost condition as sinners, we shall in vain hope to attain the peace and happiness of saints.]

2. To those who are under the influence of both fear and love—

[These opposite feelings are compatible with each other, in the earlier period of our conversion. The day springs not forth at once in the natural world; nor does piety arrive at its meridian height at once in the spiritual world. But, to imagine that the entertaining of doubts and fears is a mark of humility, is quite erroneous: such a doubtful state of mind is rather an indication of ignorance and pride, than of true humility. For, granting that the progress which we have made in the divine life may be very small, still our duty is to lay hold on the divine promises, and to cast ourselves altogether on the Lord Jesus Christ as the appointed Saviour of the world. The smallness of our attainments, or the strength of our corruptions, may well beget humility: but they should never lead us to doubt the sufficiency of Christ to save us. Were we in the lowest state to which a sinner can be reduced, our duty would be to believe in Christ, and to flee to him as to the refuge set before us. It is faith which is the parent of love; and not unbelief: and therefore I say to all, Limit not the mercy of your God; but “against hope, believe in hope.” It is worthy of observation, that the language of doubts and fears is confined to the Old-Testament dispensation. Such bondage becomes not our happier lot: it is dishonourable to God, and injurious to ourselves. Cast it off then; and seek to enjoy the full liberty of the Gospel. “The Son who has made you free, would have you free indeed.”

I would, indeed, guard you against that kind of confidence which is founded on vain delusions. There are some who, from impulses, or visions, or other delusive imaginations, attain a confidence which they will not for a moment suffer to be questioned. But this is not the confidence of love. Love is jealous of itself; and is glad to have its actings scrutinized with the utmost exactness. Love affects the honour of God; and is infinitely more anxious that he should be glorified, than that its own defects should be concealed. The getting rid of fear is not at all the object of love, but the effect of it. Let the one endeavour of your souls be to glorify your God; and with the growth of your love shall your peace and joy be multiplied, both in time and in eternity.]


Verse 19

DISCOURSE: 2461

GOD’S LOVE THE SOURCE OF OURS

1 John 4:19. We lore Him, because He first loved us.

THERE is, as there ought to be, a great and visible difference between the Lord’s people and others. But no one of them has any ground for glorying in himself: for, to every one of them may that question be applied, “Who made thee to differ? and what hast thou which thou hast not received?” Verily, whatever attainments any man may have made, he must say, with the Apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” To this effect St. John speaks in the words before us; in which we are taught to trace the love which the saints bear to their God, not to any superior qualities in their own nature, but to God’s free and sovereign grace: “We love Him, because He first loved us.”

Now, this being a truth indispensably necessary to be known and felt, I will endeavour to point out—

I. Its doctrinal use—

Our love to God springing from, and being founded on, God’s love to us, it is,

1. An indispensable evidence of his love to us—

[Supposing a person to affirm that God loves him as one of his peculiar people, I ask, What evidence have you of that fact? Your mere assertion is not sufficient to satisfy my mind: nor should a mere persuasion of it be sufficient to satisfy your mind. If God has really loved you, wherein has he manifested that love? What has he done for you? Has he revealed himself to you as reconciled in the Son of his love? Has he poured out his Spirit upon you, as “a Spirit of adoption, enabling you to call him Abba, Father?” And has he enabled you to surrender up yourself to him in all holy obedience to his will? In a word, Has he brought you to “love him,” and to serve him in truth? If, in “his loving-kindness, he has drawn you” to himself, then you may be satisfied that “he has loved you with an everlasting love [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.]:” but without this evidence, your persuasion, how confident soever it may be, is a fatal delusion. The Jews of old affirmed that God was their Father: but our blessed Lord said to them, “If God were your Father, ye would love me.” So I say to you, “It God have loved you, you must of necessity have been brought to love him.”]

2. A decisive proof of his love to us—

[Suppose now a different character to be manifesting from day to day his love to God, and yet to be doubting and questioning God’s love to him; I would ask, Whence did you obtain those dispositions which you manifest? Were they natural to you? or did you form them in your own heart? or did any fellow-creature implant them there? By nature, you are as much a child of wrath as any other person in the universe. So corrupt are you by nature, that “every imagination of the thoughts of your heart is evil, only evil, continually.” If there be only a good desire towards him, it has been imparted to you by God himself; who, of his own good pleasure, has wrought in you both to will and to do. If you behold the heavens and the earth, you conclude that they have been formed by an Almighty power: and the same conclusion must you form from every thing which you see in the new creation. If you can say from your heart, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee,” you may without hesitation add, “He that hath wrought me to the self-same thing, is God.”]

To appreciate this truth aright, we must consider,

II. Its practical importance—

Verily, it is of the utmost importance,

1. For the forming of our judgment—

[It is well known, that confidence in God is our bounden duty: nor is it less clear that we are called to cherish in our bosoms a diffidence respecting ourselves. But professors of religion are very apt to separate these habits, instead of combining them; and to carry both the one and the other to an undue extreme. One indulges confidence, and carries it to presumption: another affects diffidence, and extends it to despondency. But from both these extremes we should flee; maintaining no confidence which is not warranted by God’s word; and never carrying our diffidence so far as to invalidate his truth. We must have a scriptural foundation for our hopes: and with God’s promises before us, we must moderate our fears. Hope and fear have each its appropriate place in the believer’s bosom, and should both be called into action in his experience. They should be like the scales of a balance, rising or falling according to our secret walk before God. If we are really living nigh to God, in the enjoyment of his presence and in the performance of his will, our hope may grow to assurance, yea, and to “a full assurance.” On the other hand, if we are far from God in secret, and harbouring any lust in our bosom, our fear ought to preponderate, and to be within us a friendly and faithful monitor. Yet, again I say, that whether we “rejoice or tremble,” extremes must be avoided: for we never can have such ground for joy, but that we have reason for trembling; or such ground for trembling, but that we have reason to rejoice. The person most confident of God’s love should search and try his ways, to see whether he be requiting God aright, and walking worthy of his profession: and the person who is most doubtful of God’s love should be careful not to write bitter things against himself, as though he were an outcast from God: for, if his attainments may justify a fear, his desires most assuredly justify a hope. And, after all, the doubting Christian has the advantage of his presumptuous brother: for, though he has less of present comfort, he has, through God’s abounding mercy, a greater measure of security.]

2. For the directing of our ways—

[Here it is taken for granted, that every Christian loves his God. In that, we cannot err. Whether we have a greater or less persuasion of God’s love to us, our duty is plain in reference to him. His love to mankind at large is clear enough: for “he has so loved us, as to give his own Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” Here then is ground enough for our love to him, and our affiance in him. Let all, then, stand upon this broad basis. I deny not but that personal favours call for love and gratitude: but I say, that the mercies we all enjoy in common with each other, are grounds of love; and I call every one of you to devote yourselves to God with all possible fidelity and affection. Esteem him above all — — — Desire him above all — — — Delight in him above all — — — And, if our Lord put the question to you which he put to Peter, “Lovest thou me?” let your whole life and conversation testify in your behalf, so that you may appeal to him and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 4:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/1-john-4.html. 1832.

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