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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 John 4:16



We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

Adam Clarke Commentary

God is love - See on 1 John 4:8; (note). He that dwelleth in love - he who is full of love to God and man is full of God, for God is love; and where such love is, there is God, for he is the fountain and maintainer of it.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

And we have known and believed … - We all have assurance that God has loved us, and the fullest belief in the great fact of redemption by which he has manifested his love to us.

God is love - Notes, 1 John 4:8. It is not uncommon for John to repeat an important truth. He delights to dwell on such a truth as that which is here expressed; and who should not? What truth is there on which the mind can dwell with more pleasure; what is there that is better fitted to win the heart to holiness; what that will do more to sustain the soul in the sorrows and trials of this life? In our trials; in the darkness which is around us; in the perplexities which meet and embarrass us in regard to the divine administration; in all that seems to us incomprehensible in this world, and in the prospect of the next, let us learn to repeat this declaration of the favored disciple, ““God is love.”” What trials may we not bear, if we feel assured of that! What dark cloud that seems to hang over our way, and to involve all things in gloom, will not be bright, if from the depths of our souls we can always say, “God is love!”

And he that dwelleth in love … - Religion is all love. God is love; he has loved us; we are to love him; we are to love one another; we are to love the whole world. Heaven is filled with love, and there is nothing else there. The earth is filled with love just as far as religion prevails, and would be entirely if it should prevail everywhere. Love would remove all the corrupt passions, the crimes, the jealousies, the wars on the earth, and would diffuse around the globe the bliss of heaven. If a man, therefore, is actuated by this, he has the spirit of the heavenly world reigning in his soul, and lives in an atmosphere of love.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

1 John 4:16

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us

Loving God is but letting God love us

All men living in sin repel or draw back from the love of God, and will not let it come in upon them. We do not say “go thy way,” but we go our own way, and that means just the same thing. Doubtless it is good in God to be tendering Himself in such love, and a certain sensibility is moved by it, still there is a revulsion felt, and no fit answer of returning love is made; where, as we can see, the true account of the matter is, that the love is unwelcome, because there is no want of it, or consentingness of mind towards it; which is the same as to say that the man does not let God love him. As if the artist at his camera were to put in nothing but a plate of glass, prepared by no chemical susceptibility, saying to the light, “Shine on if you will, and make what picture you can.” He really does not let the light make any picture at all, but even disallows the opportunity.

2. Observe how constantly the Scripture word looks to the love of God, for the ingeneration of love in men, and so for their salvation. The radical, everywhere present idea is, that the new love wanting in them is to be itself only a revealment of the love of God to them, or upon them. Thus the newborn life is to be “the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.” “Love is of God, for everyone that loveth is born of God.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” “We love Him because He first loved us.” “In this was manifested the love of God toward us.” The plan is to beget love by love, and nothing is left us to do in the matter, but simply to allow the love, and offer ourselves to it. There is no conception anywhere that we are to make a new love ourselves; we have only to let the love of God be upon us, and have its immortal working in us. That will transform, that will new create, in that we shall live.

3. What tremendous powers of motion and commotion, what dissolving, recomposing forces come upon, or into a soul, when it suffers the love of God. For it is such kind of love as ought to create, and must, a deep, all-revolutionising ferment, in the moral nature. It is the silent artillery of God, a salvation that wins by a dreadful pungency; raising up conviction of sin, to look on Him whom it hath pierced, moving agitations deep, stirring up all mires. So that when the love gets welcome, it has dissolved everything, and the newborn peace is the man new composed in God’s living order. Letting God love us with such love, is adequate remedy therefore and complete, and is no mere nerveless quietism, as some might hastily judge. Or if any doubt on this point may remain, I proceed--

4. To ask what more A sinner of mankind, doing the utmost possible, can be expected or required to do. Can he tear himself away from sin by pulling at his own shoulder? Can he starve out his sins by fasting, or wear them out by a pilgrimage, or whip them out by penances, or give them away in alms? No! All that he can do to beget a new spirit in his fallen nature, is to offer up himself to the love of God, and let God love him. As he can see only by allowing the daylight to stream into his eyes, so he can expel the internal disorder and darkness of his soul, only by letting the light of God’s love fall into it. Furthermore, as he cannot see a whir more clearly than the light enables him, by straining his will into his eyes, so he can do no more in the way of clearing his bad mind than to open it, as perfectly as possible, to the love of God. And now it remains to say--

5. That when we come to accurately understand what is meant by faith, which is the universally accepted condition of salvation, we only give, in fact, another version of it, when we say that the just letting God love us, amounts to precisely the same thing. For if a man but offers himself up trustfully and clear of all hindrance to the love of God in Jesus Christ, saying, though it be in silence, “Be it upon me; let it come and do its sweet will in me”; plainly that is but letting God love him, and yet what is it but faith? In proposing it then as a saving condition, that we let God love us; we do not dispense with faith. We only say “believe” with a different pronunciation. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)

A psalm of remembrance

It is very pleasant to read descriptions of the Holy Land from observant travellers, who in glowing language have depicted its interesting scenes. How much more delightful must it be to journey there one’s self, to stand on the very spot where Jesus preached and prayed, and to kneel upon that blood-stained garden of Gethsemane, in which He sweat that sacred sweat of blood. Now, this law of nature I would transfer to matters of grace. Let me tell you this day what I may concerning the acts of God’s goodness in the souls of His people, my description will be dulness itself compared with the glorious reality. Let me add another figure to render this truth yet more apparent. Suppose an eloquent foreigner, from a sunny clime, should endeavour to make you appreciate the fruits of his nation. He depicts them to you. He describes their luscious flavour, their cooling juice, their delicious sweetness; but how power less will be his oration, compared with your vivid remembrance, if you have yourself partaken of the dainties of his land. It is even so with the good things of God; describe them as we may, we cannot awaken in you the joy and delight that is felt by the man who lives upon them, who makes them his daily food, his manna from heaven, and his water from the rock.

I. The abstract of Christian experience.

1. Sometimes the Christian knows the love of God to him. I will mention two or three particular ways in which he knows it. Sometimes he knows it by seeing it. He goes to his house and he finds it stored with plenty--“his bread is given him, and his water is sure.” He is like Job; the Lord hath set a hedge about him, and all that he possesseth. Now, truly, he can say, “I know the love of God to me, for I can see it. I can see a gracious providence pouring forth out of the cornucopia of providence--an abundance of all that my soul can desire.” This, however, might not completely convince him of God’s love if it were not that he has also a consciousness that these things are not given him as husks are cast to swine, but they are bestowed on him as love tokens from a tender God. His ways please the Lord, and therefore He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Another time in which he knows his Father’s love is, when he sees it after coming out of affliction. In the hour of languishing he cried to the Lord for deliverance; and at last he felt the young blood leaping through his veins anew. New health was restored to him, “The Lord hath heard my cry, like Hezekiah, and has lengthened my days. Now I know the love which God hath to me.” There are other ways in which God’s children know their Father’s love. Besides what they see there is something which they feel. Bitter though we sometimes think that our lives have been, yet have there been periods in them akin to heaven, when we could say, “If this is not glory it is next door to it. If I am not on the other side Jordan, at least my master is on this side of it.” Then could he say, “Now I know the love that God hath towards me.”

2. But times there are of thick darkness, when neither sun nor moon appear for many days; when the tempest rages exceedingly, and two seas meet in dread collision. At such a time, noble is the Christian who can say, “Now it may be I do not know the love that God hath to me, but I believe it.” The first position, that of knowing God’s love, is the sweetest, but that of believing God’s love, is the grandest. To feel God’s love is very precious, but to believe it when you do not feel it, is the noblest.

3. And now, do not these two states make up a summary of Christian experience? “We know and believe the love that God hath to us.” “Ah,” says one, “we have sometimes doubted it.” No, I will leave that. You may insert it in your confession, but I will not put it into my song. Confess your doubts, but write them not in this our psalm of praise. I am sure, in looking back, you will say, “Oh, how foolish I was ever to doubt a faithful and unchanging God!”

II. A summary of the believer’s testimony. Every Christian is to be a testifier. He is to be a witness with heart and lips. All the other creatures speak not with words. They may sing as they shine, but they cannot sing vocally. It is the believer’s part in the great chorus to lift up voice and heart at once, and as an intelligent, living, loving, learning witness, to testify to God.

1. In the first place we have known that God’s love to us is undeserved.

2. Another thing we can bear testimony to, is this--that the love of God is unconquerable. We strove against God’s love, but it conquered us.

3. We can say concerning His love that it has never been diminished by all the sins we have ever committed since we believed. We have often revolted, but we have never found Him unwilling to forgive.

4. We have known and we have believed the love of God to us to be perfectly immutable.

5. I will make but one other remark here, and that is, we can bear our willing witness that the love of God to us has been an unfailing support in all our trials.

III. This great truth is the groundwork of Christian encouragement. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Love is the most essential and the most characteristic of Christian virtues. He who lacks this scarcely deserves the name of Christian at all, while he who possesses this is on the way to possess all. When we ask why such stress is laid upon the importance of possessing this virtue above all others, more than one answer suggests itself to our minds. First, we may observe that some explanation is given in the words of this text. A loveless soul can never be a God like soul; for “God is love.” On the other hand, when we dwell in love, when it is, as it were, the element in which we live and move and have our being, we cannot remain altogether dissimilar to God, just because God is love. For love is one, whether it exists in Him or in us; and wherever it reigns it must needs produce similarity to Him who is its Divine Source. Yet another explanation of the importance assigned to love in the Christian economy is to be found in the fact that love is designed to supply the motive power in all truly Christian conduct and experience. For Christ looks at the quality even more than at the quantity of the work that we do for Him. A little offered as a love offering to Him is worth a great deal done merely because we think we ought to do it, or just because it is expected of us. Nay, we may go further. We may be moved by a feeling of interest in the work for its own sake; and yet there shall be little or no pleasure occasioned to the heart of God, just because the true motive has been wanting. When we ask why faith, not love, should be the condition of salvation, it is not difficult to give a reasonable answer, as we contemplate the two side by side, and notice the difference between them. Love, we observe, is a condition of our emotional nature, a state of passive consciousness, or a moral habit formed within the soul. Faith, on the other hand, is a definite moral attitude, voluntarily assumed towards a definite object as the result of our intellectual apprehension of the characteristics of that object. It follows from this that love cannot be directly induced by an act of our will, and that we are therefore only indirectly responsible for its possession. But it may occur to some to object: if we cannot directly produce love, how can we be responsible for having it? and how can God find fault with us, as He seems to do, if we have it not? If we cannot make ourselves love ore’ fellow man by trying, how can we force ourselves to love God? To this it may be replied, love is not so capricious as at first sight it might appear to be. It springs from a combination of causes, which, however, it frequently happens that we never think of stopping to analyse. When, however, we carefully look into the matter, we soon find that our love has owed its existence either to some definite cause, or, as is more frequently the case, to some combination of causes. Now these causes may be, to a consider able extent, under our control; we may either avoid their influence, or put ourselves in the way of being influenced by them; and here, of course, moral responsibility comes in. Admiration either of appearances, or of physical or intellectual or moral qualities, frequently has much to do with the genesis of love, and this admiration may extend to the smallest things; indeed, I believe that it is more frequently by little things than by great that it is usually elicited. Intimacy again may have much to do with the genesis of love. Gratitude, too, frequently induces affection. We love because we owe so much, and love seems the only way of repaying what we owe. There are, no doubt, many other causes which may contribute to produce love; such as sympathy, affinity of tastes, or disposition, or unity of interest; but, after all, nothing is so likely to cause love as love itself discovered to be pre-existent on the part of another. How often do we love because we find we are loved! How often does love, already supreme in our human heart, exert a species of irresistible fascination on the heart of another! Now it is clear that most of these various causes of love as existing amongst us men in our relations with each other, and as contributing to the genesis of a reciprocal affection, either exist in a much greater degree in the Divine Object than in any human being, or may be brought into existence as between us and Him. If we desire the Holy Spirit to work upon us efficiently in this respect, our wisdom lies in surrendering ourselves to His influence; and when we do He will always lead us up to the contemplation of those facts about the Divine Object and His relation to us, or to the apprehension of those experiences which tend to generate love. No gardener in the world can produce fruit; only the life within does that; yet how much does the fruit tree depend for its fruitfulness upon human skill! Man must see to it that the tree shall be planted where the sunshine can fall upon it, and the dew and the rain can water it. He must take care that it is not exposed to unduly trying conditions. And even so love, being a fruit of the Spirit of God, can only be produced by His presence and mighty operations within our nature; but though we cannot produce or manufacture it, still we are indirectly responsible for its production. The tree cannot cultivate itself, and here the figure fails us. Man, on the other hand, is a free agent, and therefore responsible for his own culture. It is not for us to attempt directly to induce this all-important fruit of the Spirit, but it is for us to see to it that we comply with the conditions of fruitfulness. Let us expose ourselves to the spiritual sunshine; let us live in the presence of God; let us see to it that we do not strike our roots down into earth, lest the cold clay of worldly mindedness check all our higher aspirations; let us guard against self-seeking and self-assertion; let us avoid exposing ourselves voluntarily to unfavourable influences as some Christians do, thinking more of worldly profit than of their spiritual interests; and let us cleanse off carefully the blight of impure thoughts and unholy desires, and then the Spirit of Love will be able to induce the fruit of love within our hearts. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)

God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him--

True love

How then did Christ love us?

1. It is, as opposed to mere natural love, an all-embracing love, not swayed by feelings or emotions or preferences, but loving all who can be loved, all who may become such as can be loved, or in order that they may be loved.

2. True love must be a self-denying love.

3. True love, like the love of God, “seeks not its own.”

4. True love, like the love of God, must be ceaseless. That passing, capricious love, love and unlove, ebbing and flowing, laid dry because it has just seemed full, loving one and not another, grudging fresh acts of love because it has just shown what it thinks such, soon “wearied of well-doing,” such is not the love which reflects the love of God. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The love of God, as displayed in the economies of providence and grace

I. In the cares of his universal providence. In the exercise of the love of benevolence He has not only conferred existence on a great variety and number of creatures, but He has bestowed on them countless properties and advantages, to minister to their utility and their welfare. For us, the sun shines, the rain falls, the air breathes, the seasons change, the harvests ripen, and all nature seems put in requisition to minister to our well-being. This love is impartial; for our heavenly Father makes His sun to rise on the righteous and the wicked, the rain to descend on the just and unjust, and is kind to the unthankful and the evil. It is constant. “His mercies are new every morning and every evening,” and He crowns successive years with His goodness. It is universal. The bounties which flow from its exercise are dispensed to the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fishes which pass through the paths of the seas, and to the smallest insect which floats in the breeze, and the meanest reptile which creeps on the face of the earth. It will be perpetual. For we are assured that the ordinances of heaven and earth shall stand fast so long as the earth continues. “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest.”

II. Is the merciful provisions of His grace. And this is the love of compassion. Look at this “love” in the gradual preparatives for the full development of its displays. See it in the first promise, which raised the prostrated hopes of our sinful pro genitors; in the numerous and expressive types which were to usher in the bright day of discovery; in the accurate and splendid predictions of that long line of holy men “who testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow.” At length the predicted time arrived for the full disclosures of the love of God to man. Does this close the exhibition of this scene of love? Did God give His Son to die the just for the unjust, to restore to us the favour which we had lost? Are we left to shift for ourselves as we passed through the wilderness of this world? “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?” What innumerable blessings flow down to us, from the exaltation and the advocacy of the Saviour! How rich are the results of the communication of the Holy Spirit, with His gifts and graces! And what shall we say of Divine ordinances, which are the mediums, the organs of conveyance of all spiritual good, to the souls of men?

III. In the processes of His afflictive discipline.

1. The most painful trials of life have often proved the means of conversion.

2. The procedures of His disciplinary providence have contributed to sanctification. They have proved the means of repressing or of extirpating corruption from the heart. They have quickened in your bosom the spirit of prayer.

IV. In that home of rest and joy, which He has prepared for the reception of the family of His redeemed (Ecclesiastes 12:3-5). Happy, thrice happy they, who fall asleep in Jesus! (John Clayton.)

General and particular manifestation of the love of God

I. The declaration made concerning God himself, “God is love.” The Greek philosopher Aristotle defines love in this way, “The desire of anyone for whatsoever things a person supposes Co be good for his friend’s sake, but not for his own, and the procuring of those things for the person beloved according to one’s power.” This he conceives to be love. The theory is fine, as unquestionably were many of the notions found in the schools of philosophers, and in the shades of academical retirement; but a grand question meets us at the threshold of the inquiry, Where is to be found the individual who is the subject of this love? It is easy to give the definition, but where, in our fallen race, shall we discover an individual with his heart thus disinterestedly affectionate? But that which is not in man by nature, is found in God--“God is love.” He is the fountain from which love must have flowed wheresoever it is found. The very imposition of labour is a proof that God is love. A world of men and women unemployed, and with hearts so depraved, and characters altogether so alienated from the life of God as ours naturally are, would really be a hell upon earth, since men would have nothing to do except to torment one another. And what shall we say of the mystery of redemption--eternal redemption?

II. The peculiar cause why the redeemed of the earth, in particular, can bear witness to this truth, that God is love. What reason have we to believe, that instead of perishing with the majority, we shall be in the minority of those who are saved? No general declaration of God’s love will answer this purpose. We have known the love which God hath to us--it is not a matter of conjecture, but of demonstration: “We have known, we have believed the love that God hath to us.”

III. The specimen introduced of the character of those who have found God to be love. “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” And what do we behold in this declaration? First of all, the certain continuance of that spirit of love, whereby the Lord’s people are called. There is no fear of this love waxing cold and being dried up in the redeemed, when we know that they live in God by a life of faith, and that God by His Spirit lives in them. But farther, what do we behold in this declaration, “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him”? Why, the security of those souls who are thus distinguished by the love of God, and by being the temples of the Holy Ghost. They dwell in God, and God dwells in them. (W. Borrows, M. A.)

God embodied and manifested in infinite love to man

Did we only give credit to the text--did we but view God as “love”--there would be the translation into another character--there would instantly emerge a new heart and a new nature. For let us attend in the first place, to the original conception of humanity, constituted and placed as it now is, in reference to that great and invisible Being revealed unto us in the Scriptures. There are two reasons why we should conceive God to be so actuated as to inspire us with terror, or at least with distrust, instead of conceiving Him to be actuated by that love which the text ascribes to Him, and which were no sooner believed than it would set us at ease, and inspire us with delightful confidence in Him. The first of these reasons may be shortly stated thus: When ever we are placed within the reach of any being of imagined power, but withal of unknown purposes, that being is an object of dismay to us. If such, then, be the effect on human feelings of a power that is known, associated with purposes that are unknown, we are not to wonder that the great and invisible God is invested, in our eyes, with the imagery of terror. It is verily because He is great and at the same time invisible, that we so invest Him. It is precisely because the Being who has all the energies of nature at command is at the same time shrouded in mystery impenetrable, that we view Him as tremendous. But in what way could more palpable exhibition have been made of Him, than when the eternal Son, enshrined in humanity, stepped forth on the platform of visible things on the proclaimed errand “to seek and to save” us? But there is still another reason, and many may think, perhaps, a more substantial reason than the former, why, instead of viewing God as love, we should apprehend Him to be a God of severity and displeasure. It is not conjured up by fancy from a distant land of shadows, but drawn from the inferences of man’s own consciousness. The truth is, that by the constitution of humanity there is a law of right and wrong in every heart, which each possessor of that heart knows himself to have habitually violated. But more than this, along with the felt certainty of such a law there is the resistless apprehension of a lawgiver--of a God offended by the disobedience of His creatures, and because of which we are disquieted with the thought of a reckoning and a vengeance yet to come. Now as, in counteraction to our first reason for viewing God with apprehension, and thus, losing sight of Him as a God of love, we adduced one particular doctrine of Christianity, so, in counteraction to our second reason, we now adduce another peculiar doctrine of Christianity, and that by far the noblest and most precious of its articles. The one was the doctrine of the incarnation; the other is the doctrine of the atonement. By the former--the doctrine of the incarnation--a conquest has been made over the imaginations of ignorance; by the latter--the doctrine of the atonement--a conquest has been made over, not the imaginations, but the solid and well-grounded fears of guilt. By the one, or through the means of a Divine incarnation, we are told of Deity embodied, and thus the love of God has been made the subject, as it were, of ocular demonstration; by the other, or through the means of a Divine sacrifice, we are told of the Deity propitiated; and thus the love of God has been made to shine forth in the midst of the law’s sustained and vindicated honours. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a halo of all the attributes of God, and yet the preeminent manifestation there is of God as love; for it is love, not only rejoicing over all His works, but enshrined in full concentration, when shedding enhanced lustre over all, and amidst all, the perfections of the Divine nature. Before I leave this part of the subject, I should like, in as plain a way as possible, to meet a question which I consider of very great practical importance in Christianity. You may make out the demonstration that “God is love;” you may make that out as a general attribute; but then the question, in which each of us is personally interested, is to be asked still--How are we to be satisfied that this love of God is directed personally and individually to ourselves? Christ is set forth as “a propitiation for the sins of the world!” and “God so loved the world, as to send His Son into it.” Let me, therefore, who, beyond all doubt, am in “the world,” take the comfort of these gracious promulgations: for it is only if out of the world, or away from the world, that they do not belong to me. The blessings of the gospel are as accessible to all who will, as the water, or the air, or any of the cheap and common bounties of nature. The element of heavenly love is in as universal diffusion among the dwellings of men as the atmosphere which they breathe, and which solicits admittance at every door. This brings me to the third head of discourse. If we could only work this apprehension of God into your minds--if we could only prevail on you to believe that “God is love,” then it would have this effect on your feelings towards Him--the effect, in fact, of giving you altogether a different feeling with regard to God. It would be the instrument of completely regenerating you: by its giving you a different view of God you would acquire a different feeling with regard to Him; and it would, in fact, throw within the constitution of your soul the great master principle of all morality; and thus it is that it would be the elemental principle of what is called in the Bible regeneration. Faith would work by love. You would love the God who first loved you, and this low would yield all manner of obedience. In the first place, the way to call into your heart the love of God, and to keep it there, is to think on the love of God as manifested in the gospel, and to dwell upon the thought. It is only by thinking rightly, or believing rightly, that you can be made to feel rightly; and could we only prevail on you to dwell habitually, and with confidence, on God’s love to you, then should we feel ourselves on the sure highway to the result of your habitually loving Him back again. But, secondly and lastly, you will perceive from this the mighty importance of a free gospel, and of your so understanding it that you may embark upon it, each individual for himself, all your hopes and all your dependence. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Divine beneficence defended

A part from revelation there are, I conceive, two main evidences of the goodness of God. The one is to be found in the material universe, the other in the nature and capabilities of man. When man first begins to observe and reflect on the vast universe of which he forms a part, he can hardly fail to be struck with its order, its beauty, and its sublimity. But hardly has man formed to himself this grand conception of the unbounded power and the universal goodness of his Creator, before another aspect of the phenomena forces itself upon his attention. If on one side there is the fertile field or the smiling valley, on the other there is the howling wilderness or the raging sea. If here we find a man rejoicing in health and strength and prosperity, the happy peasant who has no wants which he cannot satisfy, the successful warrior, the gifted statesman, or the powerful monarch; there we find a man bowed down with disease, or sunk in misfortune, the captive in the hands of his enemies, the father bereft of his children, the beggar seeking his bread. How to account for this double aspect of nature and of human life has ever been one of the great problems which the curious intellect of man has set itself to solve. Is God really good, or is He a capricious Being, at one time dealing good and at another evil, selecting arbitrarily His friends and enemies, while He showers blessings on the one and inflicts vengeance on the other? “The wilder Bedouins,” says an Eastern traveller, “will inquire where Allah is to be found.” When asked the object of the question they will reply, “If the Eesa could but catch Him they would spear Him upon the spot,--who but He lays waste their houses, and kills their cattle and wives?” Others, in order to solve the difficulty, have imagined a coordinate, or almost coordinate Being, the author of evil, as God is the author of good; others, like the Platonists, believe that there are material obstacles which God can only partially overcome; whilst others, again, have supposed that God permits the existence of a subordinate but powerful spirit, who is engaged in marring the work which, as being of Divine origin, would otherwise be absolutely perfect. It may be of service to those who, amidst all the perplexities of modern speculation, would fain retain their hold on this fundamental principle of religious faith, the supreme goodness of God, if I attempt to point out certain considerations suggested to us by the study of nature and of human life which, amidst all our darkness and ignorance, may be regarded as, at least, indications of its truth. The question, then, is not whether evil is to be found in this world, for we cannot even conceive its absence, but whether, on a general survey of nature and life, good would seem to be, as it were, the rule, and evil the exception, or evil the rule and good the exception. Suppose, for a moment, the present constitution of things to be fixed, and let it be granted that the world proceeds from an omnipotent and intelligent Creator; the argument, as stated by Paley and others, that this omnipotent and intelligent Being is also a Being of infinite goodness, if not absolutely convincing, is, at least, one of very considerable force. There is much evil in the world. Granted; but good can only be understood by contrast with evil, and the good in the world, so far as we can make out, far counterbalances the evil. Those who, to the outside observer, seem to be subjected to the most cheerless and most sordid conditions, without, apparently, a ray of hope or of comfort, often, it is a matter of common remark, appear to cling to life with greater tenacity than those whom we deem the most prosperous. Even for them, therefore, life has its charms, and, whether they believe in a future world or not, at all events they are unwilling to quit this. Truly man has a marvellous power of adapting himself to the circumstances in which he is placed. Transport yourself, if it were possible, for a few hours, into the most unpromising position in human life, and you would probably find that it has its compensating advantages. A certain amount of happiness, in fact, seems invariably to result from the adaptation of the organism to the medium, whatever the organism and whatever the medium may be. Not only, therefore, do we probably vastly overestimate the amount of misery which there is in the world, but we are apt altogether to overlook the educating influences of pain. Let anyone think within himself of what a vast amount of enjoyment he would be deprived if his pleasures came unsought, if they supervened on no previous desire, want, or pain. Let him think, too, what he would have been in character and attainments if he had never had any obstacles to overcome, any difficulties to grapple with, or wants to gratify. Self-denial, temperance, patience, industry--where would these be if we had been created beings without wants, without the capacity of pain, without the necessity of effort? Sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, tenderness, all these finer traits of our nature, where would they be if there were no sufferings to be compassionated, no pains to be alleviated? Morality and intelligence alike, at least as they exist in man, seem to be the result of a long struggle with the powers of nature, of an unceasing effort to accommodate himself to the exigencies of his condition. But after all, it may be said, this is only a roseate view of human life and of the causes which determine it, a theory which prosperous men have not unnaturally framed in order to account for their own prosperity. Go into the stifling alleys of a crowded city, pass through the sordid dwellings, look at the haggard forms famishing for want of food, and then say whether you can believe in a moral government of the universe, in the existence of a God of love from whom all these men and women have their being, from whose original disposition of events the circumstances in which they are now placed have proceeded! Is it not a cruel mockery to tell such as these of the love of their Creator? If they believe in a God, will they not turn round and curse Him? No! Amongst the oppressed, the suffering, and the afflicted are often found those who have the most intense faith in the love of God. It is in their prosperity rather than their adversity that men forget their Maker. And do these men, as I have said before, cling to life with less tenacity than we do? For them too, then, life has some secret charm; they, too, have a power of adapting themselves to circumstances, and their existence is not all that dreary, cheerless waste which to us it seems to be. But, before we blame God for this mass of human suffering, and consider it an argument against His beneficence and love, shall we not do well to look more closely into its causes, to ask how far it is unavoidable and how far avoidable, how far it is due to the actions of laws of nature, whose effects we cannot escape, and how far to the wickedness, the carelessness, or the ignorance of man? That man should be able to determine his own actions and to influence his fellows is surely not a defect but an excellence in the constitution of human nature. But we, at least, in the present constitution of our faculties, cannot see how we can have this power without the possibility of exercising it for evil as well as for good. Here, then, we encounter the same difficulty as before. As in the individual it would seem as if there must be alternations of pleasure and pain, so in society it will seem as if there must be a mixture of good and evil, of suffering and enjoyment, of prosperity and adversity. But part of this evil and suffering we have said is avoidable, and part unavoidables--that is to say, part is due to man himself, and part to the inexorable forces of nature. Now, so far as man’s lot admits of being modified by himself, we find, if we take a sufficiently wide retrospect, that the improvement in his condition has been almost incalculable; in comfort and security, even in refinement and intelligence. The laws which govern the evolution of society seem, with some few exceptions not difficult to be accounted for, to have an invariable tendency to improve man’s condition. And if this has been the effect of advancing civilisation in the past, is there any reason to suppose that the process will be arrested in the future? May we not hope that, as the sympathies of men expand and their knowledge increases, many of the more glaring inequalities which now exist between man and man will be gradually removed? Of all the characters which God has stamped upon His creation, physical and human, none is more patent to our observation than the capacity of progress. Man has undoubtedly even still much evil to contend with, but this evil he has an almost indefinite power of diminishing, and by struggling with it his faculties are enlarged, his character is strengthened, and he is being gradually prepared (so by an irrepressible instinct we divine) for a sphere far transcending this in dignity, in freedom, in knowledge, and in love. (Prof. T. Fowler.)

God is love

God’s world might teach us hope--God’s Word alone can give us the immoveable certainty that He is love.

I. “God is love”--a truth unknown to the wisdom of the world.

1. One cause of the failure must be sought for in the spirituality and elevation of the idea itself.

2. In the scale of reason the question of God’s love must often seem a balanced one. Whatever love in God is, it is not a love which cannot both do and look upon things which are very terrible; it is not a love which is regardless of law; it is not a love which cannot punish.

3. The workings of an evil conscience.

II. God is love--a truth revealed and certified in Christ.

1. It is a love not out of harmony with the sterner aspects of God’s government, as seen in the world around us. There was a certain granitic sternness in the character of Christ, as well as soft and gentle words and smiles. And as for pain, think of the bitter Cross, and of God not sparing His own Son there.

2. The place to which the gospel raises love in the character of God. It identifies love with God’s essence, with the very root of His character and life. A pagan said, “When God was about to make the world He transformed Himself into love.” But the Christian gospel goes beyond this, and declares that God eternally is love.

3. The gospel is preeminently a revelation of God’s love to sinners. (J. Orr, B. D.)

God is love

“The idea which men have of God,” said a thoughtful writer, “is the most important of all influences on their religious character and tone of mind. They become as what they worship. If justice, Jews; if goodness, Christians. When men think of God chiefly as the Supreme Mind, they are philosophic; when chiefly as the Supreme Will, they are superstitious; regarding Him as a Sovereign, they strive to be His servants; as a Father, His sons.” We can feel the truth of this view.

I. It is inevitable that our main thought of God should colour our religious life, and through it our ordinary life among men. The quality of our service will differ with the relationship we bear to those we serve. If we are afraid of them, we shall be timid, scrupulous in all work which comes under their eye, and along with our dread we shall cherish a subtle dislike. If we expect to win something from them, we shall be ostentatious in little acts of exaggerated service, and we shall catch ourselves acting as though we were challenging attention to the quality or quantity of our service. If we love them, all timidity and artifice will pass away. Simplicity of feeling will help forward single mindedness of conduct. We shall serve with zeal, completeness, and trustworthiness because we love. It is true that love exercises a purifying influence over service. It is, therefore, no small influence for good upon the human character when the relationship between God and man is that of love. We do not render service to a taskmaster. We do not seek to be good out of fear, which means that we have no real love for good. We do not seek to be good for the sake of reward, for love’s service is given for love’s sake, and not for fee or gain. To know, therefore, that God is Love is to have in possession a thought and truth which, if we give it full play, tends to purify the dispositions, desires, and motives of our nature. The same thought may reach us in another way. God is love. God therefore desires for us the very best that can be. “Love worketh no ill to its neighbour,” said St. Paul. And Love worketh no ill to its children. Therefore God can only seek man’s highest good, and man’s highest good is in character. Wealth is only good in seeming, knowledge is only good in transition; but character abides. And this abiding good, called character, is the good which God desires for His children. Thus we reach the same thought--God who is Love seeks the purifying and elevation of our characters. To understand that God is Love, and to realise that His love seeks and must seek our highest good, and that this good is in our spiritual resemblance to God our Father, is to take hold of a principle which enlightens our eyes as we look out on life.

II. The enlightenment of life through love. It need not be denied that there are many enigmas in life. There are dark vicissitudes whose meaning we seek to penetrate. Who can understand why pain falls on the innocent, and, as it sometimes seems, the heaviest penalty on those who have not sinned the most? Who can explain why disease should descend from generation to generation? Two things need to be remembered, which, if they do not give answers to these hard questions, yet lift somewhat their burden.

1. Love must seek the highest good. The highest good is greatness, purity, goodness of character. The highest good is therefore spiritual, not physical, not intellectual. Now, the bulk of the difficult questions touch physical or intellectual problems. The ills that flesh is heir to and the mental perplexities awakened by strange questions press heaviest upon us. But meanwhile the opportunities of goodness, kindness, and truth lie at our door. It is not possible to escape the boundaries of the flesh or to break the bars of thought; but it is possible to cherish good and loving thoughts. Body and mind may complain that their scope is limited, but love’s hour is always present. Now, love’s scope is best seen in hours of trial and pain. Then the capricious and wayward woman becomes a ministering angel. Similarly the nobler qualities of character reveal themselves in hours of emergency and danger. Courage asserts itself in the hour of peril--on the battlefield and on the sinking deck; humanity and presence of mind in the midst of panic and risk--in the outbreaking of the fire or in the hospital ward. Does it not seem as though the finer aspects of character would have had little scope except in a world where pain and peril existed? Now these finer qualities do not appear only in moments of sudden heroism. They are sometimes and more often seen in the quiet fidelity and prolonged patience of love, in the ministry of devoted and self-denying lives. Lifelong tests are more severe, though perhaps not so brilliant, as momentary tests. And it is on fields like these that tenderness and pity and such high qualities have shown themselves. As stars on the background of the midnight sky, the higher qualities of human nature have been seen among the dark mysteries of life. When we remember, then, that dark things not only reveal but call forth the better and higher dispositions of man, may we not see that the burden of some perplexing problems is somewhat lightened? Love seeks the highest good, and therefore love sets out the field of life in such a sort that the best qualities of life may be called forth.

2. Love seeks the freest good. God, who loves freely, wants our love as freely in return. He therefore will not enforce our love or compel our faith. The possession of freedom is a responsibility which plays a part in human education. But freedom is not the same as immunity from conditions. When we play the game, we are free to play our own game, but according to the rules. Life is like a game of chess. We may move our pieces where we please, but each piece has its assigned move. Out of the combination of our freedom and the fixed powers of the men come our discipline and skill in playing the game. The laws of life are like the rules of the game. Break the chess rules and we only provoke disappointment. Break the laws of life and we only meet grief. It is no part of true love, therefore, to relax laws or alter rules in order to please our fancy. The character could not ripen save under clear and well-defined conditions which gave scope to freedom and yet checked caprice. Love which is weak and foolish tries to spare its children pain. Love which is wise and strong knows that experience must play a large, perhaps the largest, share in education. To check the education by experience is often to tamper with the freedom. The fulness of life’s lesson is not otherwise learned. And God, who is Love, leaves His children to learn through experience. His laws safeguard much and yet provide the sphere of education. It needs, however, an eye akin with God’s to perceive His will and His way. Then, when we perceive how love is at the back of all life’s discipline and pain, we are like those who have hold of the silver thread which leads through the labyrinth. We may not understand all, but we know that the thread of which we have hold will lead us to the heart of the mystery. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter)

God is love

I. By what right of reason do we say “god is love”? One only caution we must bear in mind, that in the very necessity of the case the terms we use are inadequate; they convey considerably less than the reality for which they stand. When we speak of the mind, will, or heart of God, we know all the while that the terms “mind,” “will,” and “heart” are to be understood in a sense infinitely higher than that in which we speak of the mind, will, and heart of man. With this caution, let us proceed at once to the consideration of the question, By what right of reason do we say that God is love? This is the last step of a climax of sound reasoning of which the following is an outline. Having granted the existence of a God, we infer some of His attributes from objects which we perceive, and which we call His “works.” These, for convenience, may be divided into two classes--the phenomena of the outer world and the phenomena of human nature. Both must be observed in order to form any approximately true conception of Him who is the cause of both. The observation of the outer world by itself, e.g., would furnish little if any conception of the moral attributes of God. All it teaches is the presence and activity of vast forces acting not in an irregular and chaotic, but in an orderly and steadfast manner according to fixed principles or laws. The recognition of these laws compels us to call their author intelligent, and to attribute to Him mind or reason. But how do we know anything about mind or reason except through the previous observation of a part of our own human nature? We first feel and know what reason, mind, or intelligence is in ourselves, and then we recognise it on a grander scale in the production, preservation, and control of the outer world. Thus we get hold of the first attribute of God--intelligence. Next we find in ourselves what we call the moral sense. This must not be confounded, as it too often is, with the list of duties to be done and of evil things to be not done. The conscience is the sense of being bound to do what we know or believe to be right, and not to do what we know to be wrong. This moral sense has been universally associated with the idea that our Creator or Divine Ruler is on the side of our consciences. Thus we arrive at once at the second attribute of God, viz., His righteousness. But here again we no more dream of limiting His righteousness to our small conceptions and experience of it than of limiting His intelligence to our small conceptions and experience of mind. If man is intelligent and moral, a fortiori God must be intelligent. The foregoing argument leads at once to the consideration of another and nobler feature in man’s nature, viz., his love. That this is a higher and nobler faculty than the reason, and even higher than the conscience, is universally admitted. Love is conscience in an ecstacy; it is a perfect enthusiasm of goodness, because it does not stop to reason with itself and to balance the pros and cons of right and wrong, but with eager bound rushes to its goal--the slave of inspiration. Conscience says, “Do this because it is right”; love says, “I will do this for you.” Among the faculties of man love holds the highest place. It is the instinct of doing the best possible good. While reason is our guide to what our duty is, and conscience is our authority for doing it, love leaps into the act without needing any sanction at all. I have, then, only to urge that as man is the noblest product known to us in the universe, and as love is the noblest part of man, so we must infer that God must be at least as loving as the most loving of men. Thus we reach a third attribute and say “God is love.” He may be, and to our adoring eyes of faith He surely is, far and high exalted above His noblest creature: but less than that He cannot be.

II. On what ground of experience have we any right to assume that there is any community of nature between our highest selves and God? The first and most obvious ground is the knowledge gained by experience that we are possessed of a two-fold nature, one the material, and the other, which, for want of a better term, we call the spiritual. Under the spiritual are of course included thought, conscience, and emotion. Possessing this spiritual nature as human beings we naturally believe in its likeness to, if not identity with, the nature of Him who is the Author and cause of all. The highest outcome of theological speculation is “God is a Spirit,” by which we mean emphatically to deny that He is matter and has dimensions and can be located in space; and emphatically to affirm that, like thought itself, He is distinct from matter and does not share its properties or limitations. God is Spirit and we are spirit too. But our ground of experience is wider and deeper still when we view the obvious purpose for which the spiritual part of our nature is given. That purpose includes the attainments of all kinds of knowledge--knowledge of the world outside of us, and knowledge of ourselves, and as a fruit of our honest search, a knowledge of God. We cannot avoid the conclusion that the faculty by which it is possible to perceive and understand a given law must be similar to the faculty by which the law was ordained. So by experience of scientific knowledge we prove some degree of community of nature between ourselves and the Author of the world around us. Much more do we discern this, when we go higher still in the range of our spiritual nature. I will not expatiate on the functions of conscience and of love which are spiritual faculties bestowed for the moral government of ourselves and of the race and for the supreme and noblest kind of happiness attainable on earth. In these regions of experience we discern the moral nature of Him who endowed us with a moral nature; and still more clearly and blissfully do we discern the Divine love, full of compassion and mercy, in the human love wherewith He has blest our own hearts. If we may with any reason ascribe to Him the faculty of knowledge, with much greater reason may we assure ourselves that He is infinite goodness and infinite love. (C. Voysey.)

The revealed Deity

There is a manner of Divinity in such a saying as this! It prepossesses the mind in favour of its supernal origin. And happy is it for us if such a statement as this--the very identification of the Godhead--fully agrees with our most fixed sentiments and easily coalesces with our most intimate feelings. For it is averse from all that man, left to his mere reason and arguing upon his naked information, ever entertained. Enter the Pagan temple, olden or extant. How merciless, how vindictive, how greedy of victims, how defiled with blood stains, are the idols of all! These are but the speculations we have formed of the Almighty Being who has made us. Our mind hates its own creations, but cannot paint them in any fairer hues. In opposition to these conjectures of an unconscious negligence and of a sanguinary malignity, God is love. And do you not feel the tender distinctiveness of this designation? It is not an appellative, it is not an epithet, it is not a quality. It is not only His name and His memorial. It is His nature! It is His being! It is Himself!

I. Love may be considered to subsist in the Divine nature under the following modifications.

1. Goodness. This is the disposition to communicate happiness. It displays its earliest effect in creating objects for itself. It calls into existence all whom it wills to bless. It adapts them to the means of enjoyment provided for them.

2. Complacency. This is the disposition which dwells in the mind of the Framer of all things to delight in whatever He has done. His works are great, and reflect back upon Him, in proportion to their kind and purpose, all His different perfections.

3. This Love not only includes goodness and complacency, but, as it now exists, and is now revealed, it takes the form of “the kindness and philanthropy of God our Saviour.” This supposes certain dispositions of favour towards sinful men.

II. In dwelling upon Divine love in this order of its particular affections and operations, some important doctrines of Scripture must be maintained.

1. God is love, contemplated in Trinity. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!” “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The love of the Spirit.” “He that sitteth on the throne.” “The Lamb in the midst of the throne.” “The seven-fold Spirit before the throne.”

2. God is love, regarded in Covenant. A purpose is revealed as reigning in the Uncreated Mind which supposes engagements and stipulations. The Father seals the Mediator. Jesus is sent. The Holy Ghost is given. There is inauguration into office. There is subordination of trust.

3. God is love, engaged in special redeeming acts. To save the sinner He has not only to will. An immense arrangement must be contrived and established to give that will efficiency. The redemption of the soul is most precious and most difficult. It can be saved, but merely because with God all things are possible. He only can save it by means absolutely infinite.

III. A necessary conception of Divine love is, that it is the love of God primarily to himself.

1. The original law illustrates this truth by presuming that He is love. For if this be “the first and great commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” then those qualities are to be found in Him which should be thus esteemed.

2. All the Divine perfections resolve themselves into love. If God were not faithful, righteous, holy, He could not be love: for that cannot be love which must only provoke whatever is contrary to itself. We, therefore, knowing that God is love because tie is most holy, cry to Him, “How excellent is Thy loving kindness!” “How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!”

3. If God be love, He cannot introduce, nor act upon, any opposite principle. He is love in being the adversary of all that interrupts its exercise and diffusion.

4. The love of God cannot, therefore, be justly disputed if He leave unremitted the consequences of sin. To carry out a benevolent plan must be as benevolent as the plan itself. Any act of mercy, being extra-judicial, being of a different order from the case supposed, cannot enter into our present vindication of essential love.

IV. Let us now attempt to refute certain objections which are commonly raised against the theme of the text.

1. God was pleased to create man an intelligent and reasonable being.

2. God could not endow a creature with such mental gifts without including in them natural liberty.

3. God must, in the event of such a creation, hold the subject of it responsible for the exercise of his liberty.

4. God must, in rendering the creature accountable, promulgate a law.

5. God has so constituted us that we must always feel that we are free.

6. God can only treat the individual creature in agreement with the general welfare.

7. God has intimated to us that our planet dwelling does not include all His intelligent family, and that His system towards us is very imperfectly developed.

8. God may not be blamed for the consequences which He has forewarned, which are wilfully incurred, and which He has given His creatures the fullest liberty, and urged them by the strongest remonstrance, to avoid.

V. Let us now exhibit the monuments and demonstrations of this love. The love of God in the gift, the humanity, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, stands not apart from efficient results. There is no scheme of good but it avails to uphold and operates to secure. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)

The heart of God

The nearest approach to a definition of the Deity is found in the sayings, “God is Spirit,” “God is Light,” “God is Love.” The last saying declares to us that, considered in relation to moral beings, God’s essential nature is love--that the Eternal has a heart, and is not without sensibilities and emotions. Thus God meets the deep yearnings of our hearts for a personal love to respond to our own. We must have “something to love, to clasp affection’s tendrils round.” If there were nothing in God to which our hearts could appeal, we should retire within ourselves and become encased in icy selfishness. A biting frost would wither our affections, and each soul would become like a barren tree, having but a starved existence in solitude and shade. Now, that we may know that in this case the wish is not father to the thought, let us listen while reason, Scripture, and experience utter their joint protest against the notion that God is without feeling. Reason compels us to conclude that all the love in the universe is Divine in its origin, and that He who is the source of love must Himself possess it. We are forced to think that, as the sap in branch and leaf has all flowed up from the roots, so all those streams of beautiful affection which redeem human life from barrenness have gushed warm from the heart of God. As the sea is the source from which every blade of grass gets its own drop of dew, and the thirsty earth gets refreshment through gentle rains, so all kindliness, generous impulses, beneficent ministries that gladden the parched and weary hearts of men, have their origin in that “ocean of love without bottom or shore,” which lies in the depths of the nature of God. As every ray of light that warms the atmosphere and makes the day beams from the face of the sun, so all the glow and beauty that are felt and seen in filial affection and the amenity of family life, in leal-hearted friendship and goodwill amongst men, are the reflection of the light of love that streams from our God in the sky. Some may, however, object that it is profane to speak of God’s love as a passion. But the text loses its charm if the word “love” does not mean in it what it means when applied to ourselves. Besides, let it be remembered that the passions are not in themselves sinful; it is the use they are put to, and the objects upon which they are expended, that determines whether or not they should be called sinful. Scripture shows that in God is a love which not only lives while it is reciprocated, but survives rebuffs, and it is not quenched by ingratitude. His is a love that “suffereth long and is kind, is not easily provoked, beareth all things, and never faileth.” Experience unites with reason and Scripture to emphasise the text. We have had many proofs that God is interested in our welfare, and feels intensely for us. There have been times when we have felt the rapture of living, and there were lyric poems within us struggling for expression. In such seasons the truth has been borne in upon us that our creation was an act of pure benevolence--an expression of the Creator’s love. And when the sunshine gave place to shade, and rapture to pain, our God caused us to nestle in His arms, and charmed our griefs to rest. (James T. East.)

The love of God revealed by Jesus Christ

There was a day in history when a man of genius discovered the law of attraction which connects the worlds. Through the unlimited course of ages that law had always existed, ever the same, ever unaltered, ever acting, before men had learned to spell its familiar formula. What attraction is in the physical world, such is the love of God in the moral world. God is immutable. God is love. He has ever been so. But there was a day when that love of God was revealed to mankind by Jesus Christ, and it is through Him alone that the world has known it.

I. The first feature of the love of Christ for man is its disinterestedness. It is not for Himself, but for them that He loves them.

II. I remark next that the love of Christ for man kind is void of illusion. He knew what the disciples were; nevertheless, such as they were, He loved them.

III. A third feature of the love of Christ for His own is faithfulness.

IV. The love of Jesus for His own is a sanctifying love. There are affections which weaken, enervate, and degrade the soul. Love is the most energetic auxiliary of the will.

V. The love of Christ is universal. The heart that beats in His breast is that of the High priest of mankind.

VI. And nevertheless, that universal love is at the same time an individual love. (E. Bersier, D. D.)

The love of God

All men believe in the existence of God. But what is God or what God is, is a question differently answered. As many words are substituted for the predicate as there are systems, if not men.

I. An explanation of the text. “God is love,” says John. John does not mean that love is the essence of Deity--the substratum of all His moral character; or that all the attributes of God are simply modifications of His love, as the different colours of the rainbow are simply modifications of the pure sunray, or as light itself and heat and sound are simply modifications of the same material element. He does not mean that God is love, to the exclusion of justice, holiness, or truth. I take the text to mean that the love of God is manifested in a most striking manner in the history of our world; but most of all in the subject which the apostle has been discussing--the salvation of the lost and sinful through the mediation of Christ.

II. A demonstration of its truth. The first development of individual character is thought. Thought ever precedes action, or a mental act is prior to a physical one. To understand, then, the Divine character, we are led first to the Divine thoughts or plans, and then to the Divine actions or the development of those plans. God’s actions may be momentary or continuous. The momentary is seen in creation, and the continuous in the government of the world or Providence. In all these various manifestations of the Divine character, we find evidence of the text, “God is love.” Consider, then--First: The plans or thoughts of God. God’s works were known to Him from eternity. He never had any need to plan or contrive. He ever knew what was best, how He should act, and what He should do, without any previous meditation or thought. We cannot see these thoughts or plans in the Divine mind; we see them as they are developed, in time. Secondly: The actions or works of God. What could have been the primary object which the Creator had in view in the works of creation? The replies to these questions are three--

He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God--

Dwelling in love

It is a very strong and eloquent term, “to dwell in love”--a home of love. And the promise of that home of love is more wonderful still--that God shall be our home. And then more stupendous beyond it--and we shall be God’s home. What is it to “dwell in love”? The first thing, it is quite clear, is that it must not be a mere negative state. It is not only that there be no dislikes, no variance. Love is a positive thing, showing itself in positive feelings, positive words, positive acts, without which a person cannot be said to “dwell in love.” Another eminent first principle is that the love which is here spoken of must include the love of souls. And, again, all love is one love, just as all light is one light. It is not love in God’s sense unless it be a reflection of God’s love to us. You must begin by being sure that there is no exception. We are not called to love all equally--our Lord Himself made distinctions in His love--but there should be no one who does not feel you friendly. The next thing to which the very language of the text leads us on is home. Our home should be a home of love. You must carry a word, a thought, a look of gentleness and cheerfulness and tenderness wherever you go. This may bring love into every room. All will feel it, consciously or unconsciously. It will create its own atmosphere. The Christ in you may make everything lovely. But there are other circumstances of life which every man has to occupy. There is the Church, and in the Church a communion--a blessed communion of hearts, visible and invisible; and to “dwell in love” is to go up and down continually conversant with that union of saints. And the world--the world about us--is a world which sadly needs our love. And you are called, and your privilege is to go about in the world an element of comfort. Therefore has God kindled a heavenly fire in your breast, that He may warm the world you live in! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The soul dwelling in God

The words embody one of the manifold aspects of the Christian ideal. They suggest the inwardness and exaltation of Christian life.

1. The love, dwelling in which is one with dwelling in God, is not any love; it is not all that passes by the name of love: it is that love only which has been poured forth in Christ for the salvation of the world. Our readiest entrance into the experience of a soul meditating on that love will be to think of the soul as a disciple bending himself to the study of it, brooding over it as a vision from God, and telling his thoughts and admirations forth upon it daily. A young soul’s first admiration of a great book, a beautiful picture, or a heroic deed, draws all its thoughts towards that object. Far more is this the case with a mature soul’s admiration of some far-reaching principle in nature or art. It is a fascination. A great principle rises like an Alp to the clear heavens, and spreads itself in countless heights and hollows over the world of thought. It seems to become more and more fertile, more filled with springs and streams of new thought, more glorious with dawns and sunsets of vision and human hope, the oftener it is visited. Just in that way rises overhead and around the Christian soul the vision, the thought and memory of the love of God in Christ. It is a real home for the spirit, a real dwelling place for thought. It is joy, strength, and new life to let the feelings of the heart flock to it. The better it is known the more it is frequented by the meditating spirit. It is the spirit’s promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, where the King of the spirit is to be seen in His beauty.

2. But the love in which in this way the soul finds a home is much more than an object of thought; it is life, power, law as well; it is the life that stirs at the heart of Providence, the power that causes all things to work together for good, the unseen law behind events, which Christian faith searches for, and in which at last, in sunshine or cloud, it rests. In this very way the Divine love reveals itself to us. It is a shelter within which the soul finds safety. In this sacred enclosure all things work together for good: even things evil do not come to us with power to hurt. Nothing can hurt or destroy in the fastnesses where love dwells, not even sin itself.

3. But now we have come to that step in the ascent of our inquiry at which we are face to face with the wonder we have been preparing from the outset to understand. It is not enough to know that a soul, by meditation and trust, can dwell in love: how should its dwelling in love be at the same time a dwelling in God? And in what practical sense are we to receive the statement that a soul dwells in God? The love of God in which the Christian spirit dwells is not an impersonal thing. It is the very life of God, the very outflow of His personality. Love is the life of God in the same sense that a mother’s love is the outflow of a mother’s life. And it depends as much on its being the outflow of a living person as a mother’s love does. Love is not only the element in which God works, but what works in that element is love. The motives, acts, and purposes of the Divine life are love. Wherever love is, God is; wherever God is, He manifests Himself by love. The world we think of and enter when we take refuge in the love of God is a world in which everything is of God, a world whose inhabitants live and move and have their being in God. What breathes in the government, What pulses in its acts, what is expressed in its laws, is the very life of God. It is this which makes the Divine love so fitting a home for spiritual thought and a refuge for spiritual anxiety. The beauty we behold in the love is the very beauty of God: the strong fortress we flee to is God Himself. The everlasting arms to which the soul confides itself are the arms of God.

4. But now, having ascended this third step, and being face to face with the fact that our life is a life in God, that, in the most vital sense, we are encompassed by God, we are like timid people who find themselves for the first time on the ridge of a mighty mountain; we tremble, we are afraid to remain in the position, we shrink from the transcendent vision. Is it an ideal from everyday life--for life’s duties, burdens, sorrows? Or is it a dream far above us--a cloudland, mocking us with its gorgeous colours? I can best reply to these questions by recalling two or three facts familiar to our Christian life. And first of all this, that the life we are called to imitate was the fulfilment of this very ideal. Christ dwelt in God. I will take two qualities of His human life--the qualities of insight and power--and I will show you in their exercise the contact and influence of the life of God. Christ’s insight is a great manifestation of a human life dwelling in God. He not only saw as God sees, but what He saw was God. He saw the possibilities of better life, the gleams of the buried image of God, the ruins of the once glorious temple of the soul, the witnesses at once of the glory from which the souls He had to address had fallen and of the life to which they might yet be brought back. The same manifestation of a human life dwelling in God is to be discovered in Christ’s exercise of power. It was to foreshadow the great future awaiting our race, as much as to reveal God, that His miracles were wrought. In the light of this fact we see at once how the life from which they proceeded must have been first of all a human life, and next a human life in God. The hand which touched the blind to sight was human, but it would have been powerless if it had not moved in the stream of the power of God. The words of tenderness spoken to the healed were from human lips; but the love which informed them, and the life by which they had power to heal, were Divine.

5. I observe next that the elements in Christ’s life which reveal this dwelling of the soul in God are present, however dimly, in all Christian life. Let us take the element of insight first. A Christian eye, like the Master’s, sees possibilities of penitence, of well-doing, and salvation in outcasts, heathen people, and embruted slaves, in whom other eyes see nothing but material for wrath and scorn. Better still, this eye sees Christ in every human being. As with insight so with power. We are set to subdue the evil which is in the world. In what way, other than by the descent of Divine power through the life which God’s people live, can this evil be subdued, and the wide kingdom it usurps be reclaimed to God? In this work our action at every step must be miraculous, for it is the going forth from us of an influence absolutely invisible and spiritual, whose force to be effective must be the force of God.

6. The soul who is dwelling in love is, up to the measure of his indwelling, already in possession of the future. The blessedness which awaits us in the future is but the unfolding of the present life of the soul. It will be happiness then to dwell in the memory of Christ’s love, to think of its sacrifices, its beautiful unfoldings, and its mighty victories. But just that is our happiness, as redeemed creatures, now. The gladness of a life redeemed is the first fruits of the fuller gladness of heaven. The spiritual insights to which dwelling in love admits us are foregleams of the vision we shall behold in heaven. The Christian activities, tendernesses, and mercies to which love impels us, are earnests of the as yet unimaginable activities and tendernesses of the world to come. The very form of our earthly experience is a suggestion and type of the experience of the future. It is a dwelling in God here: it will be a dwelling in God there. I must not conclude without saying that it is only one half of a two-fold mystery I have attempted to set before you. The other and still greater half I do not attempt to describe. Who, indeed, is sufficient to tell how God enters into us and dwells in us? But this much ought to be said, that the two parts of the mystery are but one in experience. No soul can dwell in love into whom first the Holy Spirit has not descended bringing the love. (A. Macleod, D. D.)

At home in God’s love

To “dwell” in love--what is this? What but to make it our element, to reside in it, to make it our permanent resting place, to make it our home. Home is the place where we dwell, where we abide, where our joys nestle and sing, where the springs of our comfort are. There is the place, No. 48 in such a street. To another man who passes by, it is simply a house; to us it is home. We make many journeys from it, north, south, east, west; but we always return home. We hurry thither when the cold storm beats on us, and we run with as quick steps when we have some joy to tell of. How well we know that iron gate, that step, that door!--it is our home. Now let us grasp a great truth. You, Christians, are to make your home in the love of God, to live in it as your element, to abide in it as your rest, to dwell in it as the home of your soul. Mark, “in the love of God”: not the dread--you have done with that now you are His children; not the fear, though God is greatly to be feared, and that fear of God is to be ever before your eyes; not the favour, though that is your glorious heritage now; but the love, the love. (I. E. Page.)

Fellowship with God begets love

We must be like God--all love--love to those who have hurt us--love even to our enemies. How can we grow like God? By thinking of Him, and keeping near Him, and listening to Him, and talking to Him. Why does the sea shine in the sun? Because it is shone upon. The little hare turns white when it is taken to the arctic regions and lives in the snow. We must live in God’s love. Love is the reflection of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Living in love

It is said that all organic germs cease a few miles out at sea. Air taken from the streets or the warehouse of the city yields large numbers of these germs. The air circulating through the ship in dock is charged with them. After the shore has been left behind, the air taken from the deck is pure; but they are still found in air taken from the hold. After a few days at sea the air on deck and in the hold alike yields no trace of these microscopic spores that are closely connected with disease. Let us be ever breathing the spirit of God’s love. Let us get away from the din and dust and turmoil of life, out upon that infinite sea of love that is without length or breadth or depth, and our worst faults will vanish away, and we shall by and by stand without offence in the presence of God’s glory. (T. G. Selby.)

God in us and we in Him

How, it may be asked, can Christ be in us, and we, at the same time, be in Him? An infidel once attempted to embarrass an unlettered but very intelligent coloured man by putting to him this very question. The reply of the coloured man was amusing, but very impressive and pertinent. “Well, dat are,” he replied, “don’t trouble me. You take dat are poker and put it in de fire. In a little while de fire will be in de poker, and de poker in de fire.” (Asa Mahan, D. D.)

Dwelling in love

I could not tell what was the matter with my beautiful fern that had hung on my window and grown so beautifully all the season. The leaves were drying and turning white. I took it down, and to my great surprise found that the soil had been all washed from the roots. It had actually nothing to grow in. I immediately procured fresh soil, and while pressing it to the bare roots I thought how easily the soil may get washed away from the roots of our spiritual being. A human heart must have soil to grow in, and that soil is love. Paul prayed that he might be rooted and grounded in love. Now, life may have washed from you that which you felt you needed--human love--and you may feel that you are bare; but there is abundance of soil in the love of God for you to grow in. Some of the grandest plants in God’s conservatory have no other soil. And nothing can wash God’s love away. (Mrs. M. Bottome.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 4:16". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.

Know and have believed the love which God hath in us ... As Morris declared, "Believing and knowing the love is certainly a very unusual expression."[43] It is perhaps John's way of referring to one's knowing and believing the whole thesis and system of Christianity, which might be summed up, really, as "knowing and believing the love of God." What a beautiful way to express it!

Abideth in love ... is in this verse equated to "abideth in God," making the expressions synonymous. It is an exercise in futility to attempt to make some kind of distinction between those and a dozen other similar expressions in the word of God. Note: It is undeniable that the New Testament teaches that Christians are in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in love (in the sense of abiding in love); and at the same time the New Testament reveals that each of these: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and love all abide, indwell, or reside in Christians. There are other significant additions to this list, such as "the mind of Christ" (Philippians 2:5), and "the word of Christ" (Colossians 3:16), both of which are flatly represented as dwelling "in Christians." It is the conviction repeated several times in this series of commentaries, that it is absolutely impossible to distinguish such expressions as indicating different states or conditions of the soul; on the other hand, they are clearly multiple designations of a single condition, that is, the saved condition, that which belongs to every Christian.


[43] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1268.

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Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And we have known and believed,.... Or have a full assurance and knowledge of, and faith in,

the love that God hath to us; shown as in many instances, so more especially in sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins, to be the Saviour of us, and that we might live through him.

God is love; See Gill on 1 John 4:8,

and he that dwelleth in love; who dwells by faith upon the love of God as displayed in Christ, and abides in the exercise of love to God and to the saints:

dwelleth in God, and God in him; See Gill on 1 John 4:13; the last clause, "and God in him", is left out in the Syriac version.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. 12 God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

(12) A fourth reason: God is the fountain and wellspring of charity indeed charity itself: therefore whoever abides in it, has God with him.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

And weJohn and his readers (not as 1 John 4:14, the apostles only).

known and believed — True faith, according to John, is a faith of knowledge and experience: true knowledge is a knowledge of faith [Luecke].

to usGreek, “in our case” (see on 1 John 4:9).

dwellethGreek, “abideth.” Compare with this verse, 1 John 4:7.

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

We know (εγνωκαμενegnōkamen). Perfect active indicative, “we have come to know and still know” as in John 6:9, only there order is changed (πεπιστευκαμενpepisteukamen coming before εγνωκαμενegnōkamen). Confession (ομολογεωhomologeō) follows experimental knowledge (γινωσκωginōskō) and confident trust (πιστευωpisteuō). Believers are the sphere (εν ημινen hēmin in our case) in which the love of God operates (Westcott). See John 13:35 for “having love.”

God is love (ο τεος αγαπη εστινho theos agapē estin). Repeated from 1 John 4:8. So he gathers up the whole argument that one who is abiding in love is abiding in God and shows that God is abiding in him. Thoroughly Johannine style.

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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

The love which God hath

On this use of ἔχειν tohave, see on John 16:22. Compare John 8:35.

To us ( ἐν ἡμῖν )

Rev., in us. Compare God abideth in Him.

Dwelleth in love, etc.

See John 15:9, John 15:10. Rev., abideth.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

And we know and believe — By the same Spirit, the love that God hath to us.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

16And we have known and believed It is the same as though he had said, “We have known by believing;” for such knowledge is not attained but by faith. But we hence learn how different, is an uncertain or doubtful opinion from faith. Besides, though he meant here, as I have already said, to accommodate the last sentence to his readers, yet he defines faith in various ways. He had said before, that it is to confess that Jesus is the Son of God; but, he now says, We know by faith God’s love towards us. It hence appears, that the paternal love of God is found in Christ, and that nothing certain is known of Christ, except by those who know themselves to be the children of God by his grace. For the Father sets his own Son daily before us for this end, that he may adopt us in him.

God is love This is as it were the minor proposition in an argument; for from faith to love he reasons in this way: By faith God dwells in us, and God is love; then, wherever God abides, love ought to be there. Hence it follows that love is necessarily connected with faith.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’

1 John 4:16

It is a distinction between Christians and all others, that whereas the heathen and unbelieving world knows not or heeds not the Gospel, they who are Christ’s know and believe the love of God, rejoice in its manifestations, and reap its benefits.

I. The fact of God’s love to us.—Our Father in heaven is not only good, bountiful, forbearing, but He is loving.

(a) A wonderful fact. It appears such when we consider how great and holy God is, and when we consider how unworthy we are of the love of such a Being.

(b) A revealed fact. Revelation is largely occupied with the declaration of this fact. There has been revelation in words, in the dispensations which Divine wisdom has established, in the interpositions which Divine grace has effected on behalf of men.

(c) A proved fact. Deeds confirm declarations. Love, as an emotion, is in the heart of God; but it has been evidenced supremely in the gift of His only and beloved Son. No proof so convincing as this could possibly have been given. He who believes the Gospel cannot doubt the love of God.

II. The experimental knowledge of this love.—The love is a fact; but to know and believe this fact is the distinguishing privilege of the Christian.

(a) Observe the terms in which this experimental acquaintance with Divine love is described. ‘Knowledge’ and ‘belief’ are terms which indicate the personal appropriation and appreciation of this incomparable love of God.

(b) Observe who are the possessors of this knowledge. ‘We’ in this passage must be understood to signify not simply the Apostles and their colleagues, but all who are taught by the Spirit and truly receive the good tidings concerning the Lord Jesus.

III. The fruits and evidences of such acquaintance with the love of God.—Such experience cannot be without influence upon the heart and life.

(a) Love is the great response to love. ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’

(b) Obedience is the most convincing proof of love. In fact, God has revealed His love in order to impart to men the highest and purest motive to accept and obey His law.

(c) Testimony to that love will be the natural expression of grateful affection. The Christian regards it as his privilege, and feels it to be the impulse of the Spirit of Love within him, to bear witness to the love which God hath, and which He revealed through His Son.


‘Only think for a moment what it is to have this indwelling of God in your own hearts. What a fountain is within us of holiness and happiness and strength. What an exceeding thing it is—what an assurance of our election—what a warrant of prayer—what a pleasant foretaste of eternal life and happiness! To carry God not only with you but within you, wherever you go; to feel and know that He is there; to be sure of it by the feeling of your conscience, which is working there to make you love everybody and everything as His child—what more could you wish? It is the insignia of the child of the King of kings—the royalty of heaven—the crown! And because it is the badge of Sonship, and the Father’s likeness, therefore it makes you so love that all else is a nonentity.’

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

Ver. 16. And we have known and believed] That is, we know by believing. {See Trapp on "John 6:69"}

God is love] Pellican tells of some in his time that used to read this piece of Scripture to their friends at their feasts. A pious practice surely, and well beseeming those that feast before the Lord. The primitive Christians had at such times their kiss of love, 1 Peter 5:14. And St Austin had these two verses written on his table,

" Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere famam,

Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi."

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 John 4:16

I. God is love. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." So we read in an earlier verse. It is worth noticing who it was through whom the Holy Spirit spoke these words. St. John is the writer in the New Testament to whom the Church gave the title by pre-eminence of the divine, the theologian, the Apostle in whose mind dwelt more than in others his Master's deeper sayings as to Divine things, who set forth the doctrinal aspect of the Christian revelation more than others. He understood and explained more clearly than others the true Divine nature of Christ. Theology is the knowledge—if such a term is possible or lawful in such a relation—the scientific knowledge—that is, the methodised and exact knowledge—of the things of God. It seems, it is often treated as, a matter purely for the intellect, for study, thought, and reading. The words of the greatest of theologians, of him to interpret whose words is the highest task of the greatest of uninspired theologians, give us a new view of the limits within which this is true: "He that loveth not knoweth not God." Surely that sentence is a key to a great deal. It makes us understand why St. John was the divine. The loving nature was the most receptive. The disciple whom Jesus loved was the one who loved Jesus; and, therefore, he understood his Master best.

II. "God is love; he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." See the words once more as setting forth the Divine ideal of human life—he that dwelleth in love, as in a home, as the atmosphere in which he can breathe and live, without which he would die. They describe in their full sense a few rare souls: the St. John of the apostolic age, the Francis of Assisi of the Middle Ages; but they describe also an ideal of life, a hope, a principle, not beyond the aspirations and efforts of all of us. Perhaps the "life of love" sounds to us too lofty and presumptuous a title. It seems to imply a fervour of feeling which we shrink from claiming for ourselves even in hope and aim. It is this instinct, not, surely, an improper one, which makes us prefer rather when we are speaking of our own ideal, and even of beautiful human lives that we have known, the phrase which I used just now: the unselfish life. It is a negative phrase, but as a moral guide it helps us even more than the positive one, for it suggests to us what it is that is the great drawback, the great rival, in the way of the life of love. Love is God's gift to us, to all of us; it springs spontaneously in every human heart; it is as natural to a child as to breathe. And God gives us objects for love, and He changes and widens them, leads us on from circle to circle, helping us at every stage at once to look further and to feel more deeply.

III. We are God's children; and He has given us of His Spirit, so that it comes naturally to us in a sense to love—to love even as He loves, unselfishly, instinctively. It is not a new affection to be painfully won for ourselves, if such a thing were possible. Yet it must be cherished. The world kills it; it preaches selfishness to us in every form and through every channel, laughs at enthusiasm, bids us distrust, despair, think first of ourselves; and still more surely our own selfish nature would kill it. It is something, some help, to remember now and then what God has told us: how beautiful, how Divine, that simple affection of loving is, the best thing in life, the most like God, that which puts us at once in sympathy with Him, makes it possible for us to understand Him, makes a link between us and Him which no ignorance or mistake can wholly break. Every kind, thoughtful, affectionate act, every unselfish thought for others, is dear to God. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." God make us all dwell in Him!

E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 132.

The Soul Dwelling in God.

These words embody one of the manifold aspects of the Christian ideal. They suggest the inwardness and exaltation of the Christian life.

I. The love dwelling in which is one with dwelling in God is not any love; it is not all that passes by the name of love; it is that love only which has been poured forth in Christ for the salvation of the world. There rises overhead and around the Christian soul the vision, the thought and memory, of the love of God in Christ. It is a real home for the spirit, a real dwelling-place for thought. It is joy, strength, and new life to let the feelings of the heart flock to it.

II. The love in which in this way the soul finds a home is much more than an object of thought: it is life, power, law as well; it is the life that stirs at the heart of Providence, the power that causes all things to work together for good, the unseen law behind events which Christian faith searches for, and in which at last, in sunshine and cloud, it rests.

III. It is not enough to know that a soul, by meditation and trust, can dwell in love; how should its dwelling in love be at the same time a dwelling in God? The love is really God manifest; the love which is a wall of fire around us is nothing other than God. He that dwells in love dwells in that which is the life of God; he has come into a world whose sunlight is Divine, where Divine paths open before the feet, where Divine love breathes in the air and fills the hollows of life as a sea.

IV. The life we are called to imitate was the fulfilment of this very ideal. Christ dwelt in God. His earthly, human life was, so to speak, a life immersed in the life of God. It is to no unrealised ideal, therefore, that we are pointed when we are called to dwell in God.

V. The elements in Christ's life which reveal this dwelling of the soul in God are present, however dimly, in all Christian life. They are—(1) insight and (2) power.

VI. The soul who is dwelling in love is, up to the measure of his indwelling, already in possession of the future. The blessedness which awaits us in the future is but the unfolding of the present life of the soul.

A. Macleod, Days of Heaven upon Earth, p. 240.

The Love of God in the Atonement.

I. The mission of Christ to redeem and save mankind is not indeed here for the first time connected with the love of the Triune God. It is uniformly in Scripture traced up to that principle as its supreme ultimate source. The Saviour's Passion is always declared to be a demonstration of the Father's charity to man, and the apprehension of it by faith is everywhere bound up with the shedding abroad of that love by the Holy Ghost in the heart. But the peculiarity of our text, the last revelation on the subject, is that these three are brought together in the most impressive and affecting manner. The Persons of the Holy Trinity shed their distinct mediatorial glory on the work of our salvation.

II. "We love Him because He first loved us." By constantly keeping alive in our hearts the memorials of Christ's dying charity, celebrating there an eternal sacrament, we must nourish our love to the God of all grace. There is no duty more binding, none that we so much forget. Here is the secret of all spiritual strength. "The love of Christ constraineth us," suppressing every alien affection and growing by its own internal constraining influence. The true Christian lives, and moves, and has his being in love, the love awakened by redemption.

III. God's love is the agent of our holiness, and makes us perfect in love. It is, in the administration of the Spirit, the energy that carries us onward to perfection; and all the glory is His. Thus the indwelling presence of the Spirit proves its power; the God of atoning charity perfects the operation of His love within us. It accomplishes all His will; it strengthens obedience unto perfection; it expels every sinful affection, rendering entire the consecration of the heart; and it raises the new nature to a full conformity to Christ and preparation for heaven.

W. B. Pope, Sermons and Charges, p. 193.

References: 1 John 4:16.—G. Gilfillan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 4; W. M. Statham, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 248; H. Goodwin, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 329; S. Leathes, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 80; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 253. 1 John 4:16-18.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 341. 1 John 4:17.—J. M. Neale, Sermons to Children, p. 148; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 358.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



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.].]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

1 John 4:16. The beginning of this verse: καὶ ἡμεῖς, is indeed of the same import as the beginning of 1 John 4:14; but ἡμεῖς here does not merely mean the apostles (Myrberg), for otherwise ἐν ἡμῖν also would have to be referred to them, and a contrast, here inappropriate, would be drawn between the apostles and the readers, but it is used in its more general sense (as most commentators take it), which is also indicated by the connection of this verse with the preceding one.

With ἐγνώκαμεν καὶ πεπιστεύκαμεν, comp. John 6:69. As the object of faith must have been previously made known to us, and hence made the subject of knowledge before we can take hold of it in faith, and as, on the other hand, it is only through faith that knowledge becomes the determining principle of our life, and these two elements mutually condition each other continually in the Christian life, knowledge, therefore, can be put before faith, as here, and faith can also be put before knowledge, as in John 6:69.(269)

τὴν ἀγάπην, ἣν ἔχει θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν] is not, with Wilke (Hermeneutik des N. T. II. 64), to be interpreted: “the love which God has in us, i.e. as a love dwelling in us,” or, with Ebrard: “God’s love which He has kindled in us, by means of which, as by His own nature, He works in us,” for the verbs ἐγνώκαμεν and πεπιστεύκαμεν show that the subject here is not something subjective, and therefore not our love (which only in so far as it is the outcome of the divine love is described as the love which God has in us), but something objective, and therefore the love of God, which has manifested itself in the sending of His Son for the propitiation for our sins. ἐν is used here just as in 1 John 4:9. The following words: θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστὶ κ. τ. λ., which are closely connected with what immediately precedes, form the keystone of the foregoing, inasmuch as the particular ideas of the previous context are all embraced in them.

On θεὸς ἀγ. ἐστί, see 1 John 4:8.

καὶ μένων κ. τ. λ. is the inference from the thought that God is love, in this way, namely, that all true love springs from Him. The idea of love here is not to be restricted to brotherly love (1 John 4:12, ἐὰν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους), but (as also Düsterdieck, Braune, and Weiss remark)(270) is to be understood quite generally.(271) The idea of fellowship with God is here expressed just as in 1 John 4:15. If John makes it at one time dependent on knowledge, and at another dependent on love, this is explained by the fact that to him both knowledge and love are the radiations of that faith by means of which the new birth operates.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

1 John 4:16. καὶ ἡμεῖς, and we) A repetition [in beginning a fresh sentence], by the figure Anaphora [See Append.] Comp. 1 John 4:14, note. There is also an increase of the force by Epitasis [See Append.]: wherefore ἐν ἡμῖν, shortly afterwards, properly means in us [not to us, as Engl. Vers.], as appears by a comparison with the end of the verse.—[ ἐν τῇ ἀγαπῇ, in love) viz. the Divine love.—V. g.]

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Inasmuch as the transformative efficacy of God’s love upon us depends upon our certain apprehension of it, he doubles the expression of that certainty:

We have known and believed, i.e. we are assured of it, both by experimented effects, and by faith; implying, that by having this conception of God thoroughly settled in our souls, that he is love, ( as was also said, 1 John 4:8), we shall be so thoroughly changed into his very nature and image, as to

dwell in love, as in our own element, or a thing now become wholly con-natural to us. Which will indeed be (by consequence) to be so intimately united with God, that he and we may truly (though in a sense most remote from identification, or being made the same, a horrid notion! Not only not inferred by what is here said, but inconsistent with it and refused by it, for things united are thereby implied to be distinct) be said to indwell one another.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture



Isaiah 33:14 - Isaiah 33:15. - 1 John 4:16.

I have put these two verses together because, striking as is at first sight the contrast in their tone, they refer to the same subject, and they substantially preach the same truth. A hasty reader, who is more influenced by sound than by sense, is apt to suppose that the solemn expressions in my first text, ‘the devouring fire’ and’ everlasting burnings,’ mean hell. They mean God, as is quite obvious from the context. The man who is to ‘dwell in the devouring fire’ is the good man. He that is able to abide ‘the everlasting burnings’ is ‘the man that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly,’ that ‘despiseth the gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.’ The prophet has been calling all men, far and near, to behold a great act of divine judgment in which God has been manifested in flaming glory, consuming evil; now he represents the ‘sinners in Zion,’ the unworthy members of the nation, as seized with sudden terror, and anxiously asking this question, which in effect means: ‘Who among us can abide peacefully, joyfully, fed and brightened, not consumed and annihilated, by that flashing brightness and purity?’ The prophet’s answer is the answer of common-sense-like draws to like. A holy God must have holy companions.

But that is not all. The fire of God is the fire of love as well as the fire of purity; a fire that blesses and quickens, as well as a fire that destroys and consumes. So the Apostle John comes with his answer, not contradicting the other one, but deepening it, expanding it, letting us see the foundations of it, and proclaiming that as a holy God must be surrounded by holy hearts, which will open themselves to the flame as flowers to the sunshine, so a loving God must be clustered about by loving hearts, who alone can enter into deep and true friendship with Him.

The two answers, then, of these texts are one at bottom; and when Isaiah asks, ‘Who shall dwell with the everlasting fire?’-the perpetual fire, burning and unconsumed, of that divine righteousness-the deepest answer, which is no stern requirement but a merciful promise, is John’s answer, ‘He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.’

The simplest way, I think, of bringing out the force of the words before us will be just to take these three points which I have already suggested: the world’s question, the partial answer of the prophet, the complete answer of the Apostle.

I. The World’s Question.

I need only remind you how frequently in the Old Testament the emblem of fire is employed to express the divine nature. In many places, though by no means in all, the prominent idea in the emblem is that of the purity of the divine nature, which flashes and flames as against all which is evil and sinful. So we read in one grand passage in this book of Isaiah, ‘the Light of Israel shall become a fire’; as if the lambent beauty of the highest manifestation of God gathered itself together, intensified itself, was forced back upon itself, and from merciful, illuminating light turned itself into destructive and consuming fire. And we read, you may remember, too, in the description of the symbolical manifestation of the divine nature which accompanied the giving of the Law on Sinai, that ‘the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain,’ and yet into that blaze and brightness the Lawgiver went, and lived and moved in it.

There is, then, in the divine nature a side of antagonism and opposition to evil, which flames against it, and labours to consume it. I would speak with all respect for the motives of many men in this day who dread to entertain the idea of the divine wrath against evil, lest they should in any manner trench upon the purity and perfectness of the divine love. I respect and sympathise with the motive altogether; and I neither respect nor sympathise with the many ferocious pictures of that which is called the wrath of God against sin, which much so-called orthodox teaching has indulged in. But if you will only remove from that word ‘anger’ the mere human associations which cleave to it, of passion on the one hand, and of a wish to hurt its object on the other, then you cannot, I think, deny to the divine nature the possession of such passionless and unmalignant wrath, without striking a fatal blow at the perfect purity of God. A God that does not hate evil, that does not flame out against it, using all the energies of His being to destroy it, is a God to whose character there cleaves a fatal suspicion of indifference to good, of moral apathy. If I have not a God to trust in that hates evil because He loveth righteousness, then ‘the pillared firmament itself were rottenness, and earth’s base built on stubble’; nor were there any hope that this damnable thing that is killing and sucking the life-blood out of our spirits should ever be destroyed and cast aside. Oh! it is short-sighted wisdom, and it is cruel kindness, to tamper with the thought of the wrath of God, the ‘everlasting burnings’ of that eternally pure nature wherewith it wages war against all sin.

But then, let us remember that, on the other side, the fire which is the destructive fire of perfect purity is also the fire that quickens and blesses. God is love, says John, and love is fire, too. We speak of ‘the flame of love,’ of ‘warm affections,’ and the like. The symbol of fire does not mean destructive energy only. And these two are one. God’s wrath is a form of God’s love; God hates because He loves.

And the ‘wrath’ and the ‘love’ differ much more in the difference of the eyes that look, than they do in themselves. Here are two bits of glass; one of them sifts out and shows all the fiery-red rays, the other all the yellow. It is the one same pure, white beam that passes through them both, but one is only capable of receiving the fiery-red beams of the wrath, and the other is capable of receiving the golden light of the love. Let us take heed lest, by destroying the wrath, we maim the love; and let us take heed lest, by exaggerating the wrath, we empty the love of its sweetness and its preciousness; and let us accept the teaching that these are one, and that the deepest of all the things that the world can know about God lies in that double saying, which does not contradict its second half by its first, but completes its first by its second-God is Righteousness, God is Love.

Well, then, that being so, the question rises to every mind of ordinary thoughtfulness: ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ A God fighting against evil; can you and I hope to hold familiar fellowship with Him? A God fighting against evil; if He rises up to exercise His judging and His punishing energies, can we meet Him? ‘Can thy heart endure and thy hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?’ is the question that comes to each of us if we are reasonable people. I do not dwell upon it; but I ask you to take it, and answer it for yourselves.

To ‘dwell with everlasting burnings’ means two things. First, it means to hold familiar intercourse and communion with God. The question which presents itself to thoughtful minds is-What sort of man must I be if I am to dwell near God? The lowliest bush may be lit by the divine fire and not be consumed by it; and the poorest heart may be all aflame with an indwelling God, if only it yield itself to Him, and long for His likeness. Electricity only flames into consuming fire when its swift passage is resisted. The question for us all is-How can I receive this holy fire into my bosom, and not be burned? Is any communion possible, and if it is, on what conditions? These are the questions which the heart of man is really asking, though it knows not the meaning of its own unrest.

‘To dwell with everlasting burnings’ means, secondly, to bear the action of the fire-the judgment of the present and the judgment of the future. The question for each of us is-How can we face that judicial and punitive action of that Divine Providence which works even here, and how can we face the judicial and punitive action in the future?

I suppose you all believe, or at least say that you believe, that there is such a future judgment. Have you ever asked yourselves the question, and rested not until you got a reasonable answer to it, on which, like a man leaning on a pillar, you can lean the whole weight of your expectations-How am I to come into the presence of that devouring fire? Have you any fireproof dress that will enable you to go into the furnace like the Hebrew youths, and walk up and down in the midst of it, well and at liberty? Have you? ‘Who shall dwell amidst the everlasting fires?’

That question has stirred sometimes, I know, in the consciences of every man and woman that is listening to me. Some of you have tampered with it and tried to throttle it, or laughed at it and shuffled it out of your mind by the engrossments of business, and tried to get rid of it in all sorts of ways: and here it has met you again to-day. Let us have it settled, in the name of common-sense {to invoke nothing higher}, once for all, upon reasonable principles that will stand; and do you see that you settle it to-day.

II. And now, look next at the prophet’s answer.

It is simple. He says that if a man is to hold fellowship with, or to face the judgment of, the pure and righteous God, the plainest dictate of reason and common-sense is that he himself must be pure and righteous to match. The details into which hid answer to the question runs out are all very homely, prosaic, pedestrian kind of virtues, nothing at all out of the way, nothing that people would call splendid or heroic. Here they are:-’He that walks righteously,’-a short injunction, easily spoken, but how hard!-’and speaketh uprightly, he that despiseth the gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, that shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.’ Righteous action, righteous speech, inward hatred of possessions gotten at my neighbour’s cost, and a vehement resistance to all the seductions of sense, shutting one’s hands, stopping one’s ears, fastening one’s eyes up tight so that he may not handle, nor hear, nor see the evil-there is the outline of a trite, everyday sort of morality which is to mark the man who, as Isaiah says, can ‘dwell amongst the everlasting fires.’

Now, if at your leisure you will turn to Psalms 15:1 - Psalms 15:5 and Psalms 24:1 - Psalms 24:10, you will find there two other versions of the same questions and the same answer, both of which were obviously in our prophet’s mind when he spoke. In the one you have the question put: ‘Who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?’ In the other you have the same question put: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?’ And both these two psalms answer the question and sketch the outline {and it is only an outline} of a righteous man, from the Old Testament point of view, substantially in the same fashion that Isaiah does here.

I do not need to remark upon the altogether unscientific and non-exhaustive nature of the description of righteousness that is set forth here. There are a great many virtues, plain and obvious, that are left out of the picture. But I ask you to notice one very special defect, as it might seem. There is not the slightest reference to anything that we call religion. It is all purely pedestrian, worldly morality; do righteous things; do not tell lies; do not cheat your neighbour; stop your ears if people say foul things in your hearing; shut your eyes if evil comes before you. These are the kind of duties enjoined, and these only. The answer of my text moves altogether on the surface, dealing only with conduct, not with character, and dealing with conduct only in reference to this world. There is not a word about the inner nature, not a word about the inner relation of a man to God. It is the minimum of possible qualifications for dwelling with God.

Well, now, do you achieve that minimum? Suppose we waive for the moment all reference to God; suppose we waive for the moment all reference to motive and inward nature; suppose we keep ourselves only on the outside of things, and ask what sort of conduct a man must have that is able to walk with God? We have heard the answer.

Now, then, is that me? Is this sketch here, admittedly imperfect, a mere black-and-white swift outline, not intended to be shaded or coloured, or brought up to the round; is this mere outline of what a good man ought to be, at all like me? Yes or no? I think we must all say No to the question, and acknowledge our failure to attain to this homely ideal of conduct. The requirement pared down to its lowest possible degree, and kept as superficial as ever you can keep it, is still miles above me, and all I have to say when I listen to such words is, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

My dear friends, take this one thought away with you:-the requirements of the most moderate conscience are such as no man among us is able to comply with. And what then? Am I to be shut up to despair? am I to say: Then nobody can dwell within that bright flame? Am I to say: Then when God meets man, man must crumble away into nothing and disappear? Am I to say, for myself: Then, alas for me! when I stand at His judgment bar?

III. Let us take the Apostle’s answer.

God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.’ Now, to begin with, let us distinctly understand that the New Testament answer, represented by John’s great words, entirely endorses Isaiah’s; and that the difference between the two is not that the Old Testament, as represented by psalmist and prophet, said, ‘You must be righteous in order to dwell with God,’ and that the New Testament says, ‘You need not be.’ Not at all! John is just as vehement in saying that nothing but purity can bind a man in thoroughly friendly and familiar conjunction with God as David or Isaiah was. He insists as much as anybody can insist upon this great principle, that if we are to dwell with God we must be like God, and that we are like God when we are like Him in righteousness and love.

‘He that saith he hath fellowship with Him, and walketh in darkness, is a liar!’ That is John’s short way of gathering it all up. Righteousness is as essential in the gospel scheme for all communion and fellowship with God as ever it was declared to be by the most rigid of legalists; and if any of you have the notion that Christianity has any other terms to lay down than the old terms-that righteousness is essential to communion-you do not understand Christianity. If any of you are building upon the notion that a man can come into loving and familiar friendship with God as long as he loves and cleaves to any sin, you have got hold of a delusion that will wreck your souls yet,-is, indeed, harming, wrecking them now, and will finally destroy them if you do not got rid of it. Let us always remember that the declaration of my first text lies at the very foundation of the declaration of my second.

What, then, is the difference between them? Why, for one thing it is this-ISAIAH tells us that we must he righteous, John tells us how we may be. The one says, ‘There are the conditions,’ the other says, ‘Here are the means by which you can have the conditions.’ Love is the productive germ of all righteousness; it is the fulfilling of the law. Get that into your hearts, and all these relative and personal duties will come. If the deepest, inmost life is right, all the surface of life will come right. Conduct will follow character, character will follow love.

The efforts of men to make themselves pure, and so to come into the position of holding fellowship with God, are like the wise efforts of children in their gardens. They stick in their little bits of rootless flowers, and they water them; but, being rootless, the flowers are all withered to-morrow and flung over the hedge the day after. But if we have the love of God in our hearts, we have not rootless flowers, but the seed which will spring up and bear fruit of holiness.

But that is not all. Isaiah says ‘Righteousness,’ John says ‘Love,’ which makes righteousness. And then he tells us how we may get love, having first told us how we may get righteousness: ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ It is just as impossible for a man to work himself into loving God as it is for a man to work himself into righteous actions. There is no difference in the degree of impossibility in the two cases. But what we can do is, we can go and gaze at the thing that kindles the love; we can contemplate the Cross on which the great Lover of our souls died, and thereby we can come to love Him. John’s answer goes down to the depths, for his notion of love is the response of the believing soul to the love of God which was manifested on the Cross of Calvary. To have righteousness we must have love; to have love we must look to the love that God has to us; to look rightly to the love that God has to us we must have faith. Now you have gone down to the very bottom of the matter. Faith is the first step of the ladder, and the second step is love and the third step is righteousness.

And so the New Testament, in its highest and most blessed declarations, rests itself firmly upon these rigid requirements of the old law. You and I, dear brethren, have but one way by which we can walk in the midst of that fire, rejoicing and unconsumed, namely that we shall know and believe the love which God hath to us, love Him back again ‘with pure hearts fervently,’ and in the might of that receptive faith and productive love, become like Him in holiness, and ourselves be ‘baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’ Thus, fire-born and fiery, we shall dwell as in our native home, in God Himself.

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Loving God and good men unites the soul to him in a most intimate, endearing, elevated, ennobling, and blissful union; the joy of which, even in its foretaste on earth, is often unspeakable and full of glory. 1 Peter 1:8.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

16. καὶ ἡμεῖς. This is perhaps the Apostolic ‘we’ again, as in the Prologue and 1 John 4:6; 1 John 4:14.

ἐγνώκ. καὶ πεπιστ. τὴν ἀγάπην. The accusative shews that ἑγνώκαμεν is the leading verb: we have come to know the love and have believed it. The Vulgate has cognovimus et credidimus caritati, as if S. John had written τῇ ἀγάπῃ, and adds Dei as in 1 John 3:16. Obviously knowledge, when it precedes, is the main thing. Faith then follows as a matter of course: and this is the natural order—progressive knowledge (γινώσκειν) leading up to faith. But sometimes faith precedes knowledge (John 6:69). In either case each completes the other. Sound faith is intelligent; sound knowledge is believing. We must be ‘ready always to give answer to every man that asketh a reason concerning the hope that is in us’ (1 Peter 3:15). This verse is a fulfilment of the conclusion of Christ’s High-Priestly prayer; ‘I made known unto them Thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou lovedst Me may be in them, and I in them’ (John 17:26). With ἀγάπην ἔχειν (here and John 13:35) comp. ἐλπίδα ἔχειν (1 John 3:3).

ἐν ἡμῖν. In us, as in 1 John 4:9, not ‘to us’. Note the characteristic repetition of the characteristic verb μένειν; thrice in one verse, like ὁ κόσμος in 1 John 4:5 : comp. 1 John 2:24. Cyprian (according to the best authorities) translates; Deus agape est, et qui manet in agape in Deo manet, et Deus in eo (Test. III. 2). So also in some MSS. Quomodo agape Dei manet in illo (1 John 2:17 quoted Test. III. 1). Was agape the original African rendering, afterwards altered to caritas or dilectio?

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"Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

16.] a) And we (not now the apostolic body only, but communicative, the Apostle and his readers. This is evident and necessary (against Episcopius, Huther, al.), because on the other view the ἐν ἡμῖν which follows, interpreted as it must necessarily be of the same persons, would fit awkwardly on to the repeated general proposition with which the verse concludes) have known and have believed (the two roots which lie at the ground of ὁμολογεῖν, ἐγνώκαμεν and πεπιστεύκαμεν, are in St. John’s language, most intimately connected. “True faith is, according to St. John, a faith of knowledge and experience: true knowledge is a knowledge of faith.” Lücke. Cf. John 6:69) the love, which God hath in regard to us ( ἐν ἡμῖν as above, 1 John 4:9; not “towards us,” as Beza (and E. V.), Estius, Luther, Socinus, Grot., &c. b) God is Love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God (abideth) in him (this is the solemn and formal restatement of that which has been the ground-tone of the whole since 1 John 4:7. And here, as there, ἀγάπη is in its widest abstract sense. Its two principal manifestations are, love to God, and love to one another: but this saying is of Love absolute).

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

16. Known—Not by direct, literal sight of God, (1 John 4:12,) but by consciousness of his divine love, by which we feel that he is love.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘And we know and have believed the love which God has in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.’

John wants there to be no doubt about the love that God has for His own, and how it affects us. We who are His, know and believe the love that God has in us. Note that it is in us as well as for us. We have come to the Saviour of the world and experienced and come to appreciate that love, and rejoice that it is within us, resulting in an outflowing of love for God and love for our brothers. We know further that God is holy love, and therefore that to abide in the love with which He surrounds us, which we enjoy in Christ, and which he has placed within us, is to abide in God Himself, and to know that God abides in us. We live within the sphere of the love of God, as well as in the light of God. We thus seek to live in purity.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

This verse summarizes this section ( 1 John 3:24 to 1 John 4:16; cf. John 6:69). John was speaking of intimate knowledge ("come to know") and intimate fellowship ("abides"). "We" includes the readers with the apostles. "For us" should be "among us," as in 1 John 4:9.

"No body of believers will really be any stronger than the extent to which they manifest God"s love by loving one another." [Note: Hodges, The Epistles . . ., p197.]

"The stages in John"s thought at this point have now emerged clearly. Faith (acknowledging Jesus as God"s Song of Solomon , 1 John 4:15; and trusting in the love which God has for us, 1 John 4:16 a) leads to mutual indwelling between God and the believer. Such a personal relationship is consequently expressed in and perpetuated by "living in love" ( 1 John 4:16 b). The believer"s love, for God and for other people (or for God in other people, cf. 1 John 4:12), is to be active and sustained." [Note: Smalley, p256.]

John"s point was that his readers had seen God in a sense similar to the sense in which the apostles had seen Him. The apostles had seen God in that they had seen Him in His Song of Solomon , Jesus Christ. God had revealed His love to the apostles through Jesus Christ. The readers had seen God in that they had seen Him in His Spirit-indwelt abiding believers who loved one another. Consequently John"s readers could bear witness to the truth as the apostles did, and they could enjoy the same intimate fellowship with God that the apostles did.

"Too much "witnessing" today is a mere mouthing of words. People need an expression of love." [Note: Wiersbe, p520.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

1 John 4:16. ἡμεῖς, here “you and I,” we believers. Observe the three stages: (1) “get to know” ( γινώσκειν), (2) “believe” ( πιστεύειν), (3) “confess” ( ὁμολογεῖν). ἐν ἡμῖν, see note on 1 John 4:9.

Another incentive to love: it casts out fear. τῇ ἀγάπῃ, “the love just mentioned”. Cf. τὸν φόβον, φόβος (1 John 4:18).

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

believed = have believed. App-150.

to = in. App-104. Compare 1 John 4:9.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

And we - John and his readers (not as 1 John 4:14, the apostles only).

Known and believed. True faith is a faith of knowledge and experience: true knowledge is a knowledge of faith (Luecke).

To us , [ en (Greek #1722) heemin (Greek #2254)] - 'in our case' (note, 1 John 4:9).

Dwelleth - `abideth' (cf. 1 John 4:7).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
9,10; 3:1,16; Psalms 18:1-3; 31:19; 36:7-9; Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9
God is love
and he
12; 3:24

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

The Bible Study New Testament

And we ourselves know. The apostles saw Christ-on-the-cross! They believe (see note on James 2:19) God's love! John's language points to a knowledge and belief that began in the past and continues up to the present (and will continue in the future). Unless you believe that the Logos came as a human being to be the Savior of the world, you cannot understand God's unique love!!!

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Known. and bclieved. There is no conflict between these words as might be concluded because of the difference technically between them. The things that were known were the evidences, and what they be-lieved was based on those evidences, namely, that God had a great love for man. The latter part of the verse has been explained in a number of the preceding verses.

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible

1 John 4:16

"God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him." 1 John 4:16

Love is communicative. This is a part of its very nature and essence. Its delight is to give, and especially to give itself; and all it wants or asks is a return. To love and to be beloved, to enjoy and to express that ardent and mutual affection by words and deeds—this is love"s delight, love"s heaven. To love, and not be loved—this is love"s misery, love"s hell. God is love. This is his very nature, an essential attribute of his glorious being; and as Hebrews , the infinite and eternal Jehovah, exists in a Trinity of distinct Persons, though undivided Unity of Essence, there is a mutual, ineffable love between Father, Song of Solomon , and Holy Spirit. To this mutual, ineffable love of the three Persons in the sacred Godhead the Scripture abundantly testifies—"The Father loves the Son;" "And have loved them as you have loved me;" "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." And as the Father loves the Song of Solomon , so does the Son love the Father—"But that the world may know that I love the Father," are his own blessed words. And that the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son is evident not only from his divine personality in the Godhead, but because he is essentially the very "Spirit of love" ( Romans 15:30), and as such "sheds the love of God abroad in the heart" of the election of grace.

Thus man was not needed by the holy and ever-blessed Trinity as an object of divine love. Sufficient, eternally and amply sufficient, to all the bliss and blessedness, perfection and glory of Jehovah was and ever would have been the mutual love and intercommunion of the three Persons in the sacred Godhead. But love—the equal and undivided love of Father, Song of Solomon , and Holy Spirit—flowed out beyond its original and essential being to man; and not merely to man as Prayer of Manasseh , that is to human nature as the body prepared for the Son of God to assume, but to thousands and millions of the human race, who are all loved personally and individually with all the infinite love of God as much as if that love were fixed on only one, and he were loved as God loves his dear Son. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," is spoken to each individual of the elect as much as to the whole Church, viewed as the mystical Bride and Spouse of the Lamb.

Thus the love of a Triune God is not only to the nature which in due time the Son of God should assume, the flesh and blood of the children, the seed of Abraham which he should take on him ( Hebrews 2:14-16), and for this reason viewed by the Triune Jehovah with eyes of intense delight, but to that innumerable multitude of human beings who were to form the mystical body of Christ. Were Scripture less express, we might still believe that the nature which one of the sacred Trinity was to assume would be delighted in and loved by the holy Three-in-One. But we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the point, that puts it beyond all doubt or question. When, in the first creation of that nature the Holy Trinity said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," and when, in pursuance of that divine council, "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living, soul," God thereby uniting an immortal soul to an earthly body, this human nature was created not only in the moral image of God, but after the pattern of that body which was prepared for the Son of God by the Father.

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Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 4:16". Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible.

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