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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 John 4:8



The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Adam Clarke Commentary

He that loveth not - As already described, knoweth not God - has no experimental knowledge of him.

God is love - An infinite fountain of benevolence and beneficence to every human being. He hates no thing that he has made. He cannot hate, because he is love. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He has made no human being for perdition, nor ever rendered it impossible, by any necessitating decree, for any fallen soul to find mercy. He has given the fullest proof of his love to the whole human race by the incarnation of his Son, who tasted death for every man. How can a decree of absolute, unconditional reprobation, of the greater part or any part of the human race, stand in the presence of such a text as this? It has been well observed that, although God is holy, just, righteous, etc., he is never called holiness, justice, etc., in the abstract, as he is here called Love. This seems to be the essence of the Divine nature, and all other attributes to be only modifications of this.

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These files are public domain.

Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

He that loveth not, knoweth not God - Has no true acquaintance with God; has no just views of him, and no right feelings toward him. The reason for this is implied in what is immediately stated, that “God is love,” and of course if they have no love reigning in their hearts, they cannot pretend to be like him.

For God is love - He is not merely benevolent, he is benevolence itself. Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 13:11. Never was a more important declaration made than this; never was more meaning crowded into a few words than in this short sentence - “God is love.” In the darkness of this world of sin - in all the sorrows that come now upon the race, and that will come upon the wicked hereafter - we have the assurance that a God of infinite benevolence rules over all; and though we may not be able to reconcile all that occurs with this declaration, or see how the things which he has permitted to take place are consistent with it, yet in the exercise of faith on his own declarations we may find consolation in “believing” that it is so, and may look forward to a period when all his universe shall see it to be so. In the midst of all that occurs on the earth of sadness, sin, and sorrow, there are abundant evidences that God is love.

In the original structure of things before sin entered, when all was pronounced “good;” in the things designed to promote happiness, where the only thing contemplated is happiness, and where it would have been as easy to have caused pain; in the preservation of a guilty race, and in granting that race the opportunity of another trial; in the ceaseless provision which God is making in his providence for the wants of unnumbered millions of his creatures; in the arrangements made to alleviate sorrow, and to put an end to it; in the gift of a Saviour more than all, and in the offer of eternal life on terms simple and easy to be complied with - in all these things, which are the mere expressions of love, not one of which would have been found under the government of a malignant being, we see illustrations of the sublime and glorious sentiment before us, that “God is love.” Even in this world of confusion, disorder, and darkness, we have evidence sufficient to prove that he is benevolent, but the full glory and meaning of that truth will be seen only in heaven. Meantime, let us hold on to the truth that he is love. Let us believe that he sincerely desires our good, and that what seems dark to us may be designed for our welfare; and amidst all the sorrows and disappointments of the present life, let us feel that our interests and our destiny are in the hands of the God of love.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

1 John 4:8

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love

The love of God: the God of love

Is God knowable?
The answer is no--and yes. No, He is not knowable to the intellect, with its prying and searching; provable, perhaps, but not knowable. Yes, He is knowable indeed to the heart. It is a poor kind of love that depends for its proof upon the skill of the logician. The love is lost by default that must hire counsel to take up its case and eloquently contend for its existence. Love must tell its own story, and carry its own proof. This loftiest knowledge dwells not with intellectual strength. See how the Lord Jesus Christ recognises this truth, and bases all prayer upon it. “Our Father which art in heaven.” The relationship which is the strongest possible claim upon help and love is to be transferred to God. “Our Father”--what does it mean but that He is bending over us to pity us and to help us; to teach us and to make us good; glad indeed when we do well? This is the first step and beginning of the know ledge of God. Let us try to think how otherwise we can know God. Tell me of Him as the Omniscient--the All-wise. How can I know what that means? I know only by what I am conscious of in myself, or by what I see about me. But within me or about me what is there that can teach me of the All-wise? I am only bewildered as I hear of such an One--I know Him not. I hear of the Almighty, but what does it mean? I judge of strength by my own arm, or by the winds and angry seas; or by the power of human mechanism. In all these I can see only matter overcoming matter. I have nothing by which to know the Omnipotent. I hear of the Self-existent, the Independent. What is that? I see all things depending alike for their source and their sustenance upon others. What then can I know of Him whose name is “I Am”? And if I turn from these aspects to the moral character of God, I am yet more bewildered. Tell me of the righteousness of God. Sin has put out the eyes by which I can see true righteousness; and perhaps as much in mercy as in punishment. But think again. If I did know all this about God, I should not know Him. Vastness, immensity, knowledge, power, leave me as utterly as ever a stranger to God. But tell me that He is love--that what love is, that is God--then I know Him. I know now how He feels and thinks and acts. I know now how to come to Him, and to speak to Him. Now do I know Himself when I know that He is love. He that loveth knoweth God--look at this faculty within us by which we know God. Love is ours as nothing else is ours. The slow and irksome toil of learning is not needful for love. The dullest scholar may be a very master of this art, and the most unlettered may read aright the signs and mysteries of love. (
Mark Guy Pearse.)

The loving heart the faculty for knowing God

I. The loving heart, not the inquiring intellect.

II. The loving heart, not the creative imagination. Imagination has swept the universe, and yet failed to discover God.

III. The loving heart, not the excited conscience. The excited conscience has formulated a God, but it has been a God of vengeance, wrath, and fury. God is only known to the loving. If I know the controlling feelings of a being, I know him, though I may be ignorant of his person and his history. Profoundly philosophical, therefore, is the statement that “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” (Homilist.)

The love of God manifested by the sending of His Son

There is singular force in the expression “God is love.” He does not say that God is benevolent, or kind, or merciful, or compassionate, or affectionate: he does not say that God is a Being of infinite goodness, or mercy, or loving kindness: but, as if he intended to magnify above measure this most adorable of the Divine attributes, he pronounces Him to be the quality in the abstract, and thus, as it were, identifies the Godhead with love.

I. With respect to that Being whom we call God, infinite as He is in all His perfections, our limited understandings can comprehend only a very small portion of His excellence. “The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him”: still less can His nature be compassed by the little span of the human mind. Yet of this much we are assured, that His power is such, as to be incapable of being controlled, and that His happiness is such, that nothing can enhance or augment it. And these are two of the Divine attributes which, when we reflect on the Godhead by Himself, tend most satisfactorily to prove His benevolence in condescending to interfere for the salvation of mankind.

II. From the Sender, let us turn our thoughts to Him who was sent. “God sent His only begotten Son.” The greatest trial which human nature can sustain is perhaps the loss of a son, of an only son.

III. And whither was He sent? He was sent into a world which was altogether “lying in wickedness.” How unbounded, in this respect again, how great, how disinterested appears the love of God!

IV. Let us not forget the purpose for which He was sent, as a farther testimony that God is love. “He was sent that we might live through Him”: for us men, and for our salvation He came down from heaven. And as the love of God is thus manifested, in that we were His enemies, for whose salvation His Son was sent, so is it, more over, manifested by the greatness of the salvation, which was wrought by His coming: a salvation great in every particular respect; great in respect to its extent; great in respect of the deliverance which it affords; great in respect to the means of grace which it now affords us, and of the all-sufficient aid of Christ’s Holy Spirit to overcome our natural weakness and corruption; and great in respect of the hope of everlasting glory which it reveals to those who shall hereafter be admitted into His presence. (Bp. Mant.)

Our salvation intelligible in the light of God’s love

I. In the sight of God man is a being of unspeakable worth. And the fact is only intelligible in the light of this first fact, “God is love.” It is very easy to prove the insignificance of man. The scientist, for instance, traces him to the ape, and says, “This is where he came from”; or he dissects his brain, and says, “Thought, emotion, love, imagination, poetry, worship--see the marks of every one of them upon this material tablet, which we call the brain.” And this gospel story the cynic indulges in cheap sneers at it, and asks if you are going to make an angel out of this sorry being with his vulgar appetites and animal lusts. The sober-minded Deist, out of pure reverence for God, he thinks, refuses to believe the story. That the infinite God should concern Himself with man and his paltry destiny is incredible. And it is incredible. Man is so small, mean, ignoble, unworthy, until you read his story with the eyes of love; until you remember this--“God is love.” But every mother will waste the wealth of her brave heart upon the boy in whom no one but herself can see one sign of grace or virtue. But it is a luxury to her to serve him. The man who believes in no prophet but the political economist thinks that Christian philanthropy is sheer infatuation, sheer waste of human energy. And so it is to everything but love. Love sees worth in what to every other eye is contemptible. The poorest, most sin-sodden is to God a mirror in which He sees Himself. Beautiful, of infinite worth to Him! Divine in Him, for “God is love.”

II. God seeks for every man the most perfect destiny; the most perfect good.

1. The good of man includes the whole man. It includes the body. To preach the gospel of health is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. God intended us to die as the ripe fruit falls from the tree. The physician is God’s servant, as well as the preacher. It includes the mind. God claims every pure-minded writer as His workman. It includes the sunniest as well as the gloomiest sides of human life. The frosts of winter work for the harvest.

2. But these things are preliminaries. They exist merely for the sake of a greater thing than themselves. Beyond these there is something still sacreder and more precious--the spirit. Here man finds his most perfect good, and God works through every other good to this. There lies the difference between Divine love and human love. We ignore the highest for the sake of the lowest. We ruin our children in the name of the vulgarest and ignoblest thing in them, and we imagine that to be love. The child’s native indolence grumbles against the drill and what he calls the hard work of the school. “Poor overtaxed boy!” says the mother; “I must not permit it”; and he grows up with a flabby mind that is not fit for such a world as this. I often saw in Upper Egypt an ancient temple pulled to pieces to build a village of hovels. I have seen a band of roving gypsies tear down the exquisitely carved panels of an old palace to light a fire to boil their kettle with. And I have seen young people take the studies in which they had been long immersed, and with them light the fires of sordid pleasures and the many foolishnesses of fashionable life. We Use the highest to light the lowest. Not so God. God also has His fire; and the fire is your religious life. And God uses your whole soul, your whole nature, to supply fuel for that fire. Your intellectual life; you read, you think; but you read and think that you may have fuel for the fire. You go through the drill of your daily work, you wrestle with temptations; it is fuel for the fire. You join hands with others in the joy of worship. The Word of God feeds you, the common hymn and the common prayer thrill you; it is all fuel for the fire. This is man’s highest good as God reads it; this God feeds, for “God is love.”

III. God has made sufficient provision to secure every man’s highest good. There is a very famous English poem--of course you know who wrote it--it is called “Pictor Ignotus,” the painter who chose to remain unknown; the man of genius, the born painter, who refused to paint because men would not understand, would not properly appreciate his work. He would never degrade the genius that was in him by pandering to vulgar wealth. But that is not the noblest genius. Real genius must express itself, even for its own sake. Forgive the illustration. God must express Himself for His own sake. God has poured out the wealth of His redemption. We may reject it or receive it: God must give it. He has been telling it unweariedly through the ages. Men have rejected it, treated it with contempt. It matters not: to God to tell Himself was a necessity, for “God is love.”

1. In the redemption of man God has found a work by which He manfully express Himself. Men talk of the wonders of nature. They often become so absorbed in nature that they have no wish to look beyond it. But these were the mere trifles of God’s works. God had never been able to tell Himself in these. But Christ came; Calvary came. This is God; this was the solution of the world’s problem: God had told Himself at last. Pardon, hope, life, for all the world; the break of the eternal day. This is God.

2. The love of God makes it all credible. It would be impossible to believe it did we not know that “God is love.” Everyone believes the Bible to be a marvellous book. It is when you speak of the Cross, when you speak of the “Lamb of God,” of the sins of the world being laid upon Him, that men begin to hesitate and stammer. “No, no; that is incredible; that can never be,” they say. But love--the love of God--makes even that--makes every item of the story credible. I have seen the miracles that love works. The Cross shall be forever the symbol of love’s perfect triumph. It was love, it was love that did it. “God is love.”

IV. God will work out the provisions that He has made so that they shall not miss what they aim at. Set it down as a certainty that God’s love will win, that the gospel of love will tell. This love often uses terrible means to secure its purpose. Do not miss that. Not terrible means for the sake of using them, but terrible means because it will not submit to be beaten. Terrible disasters require terrible remedies; but he who can use terrible remedies, loves. So is it with some of you. You have been sore tried; hut God set so much store upon the design He is cutting into you, that He may set you in the fire even yet. He will not miss His aim; for “God is love.” (J. Morlais Jones.)

Affections essential to the moral perfection of the Deity

God is perfect love, all His affections are pure and clear as the crystal stream.

1. Benevolent affections form the moral beauty of the Divine character. God is love. His independence, almighty power, and unerring wisdom are mere natural perfections; but His benevolent feelings are moral beauties.

2. Men are required to imitate their heavenly Father. Power, wisdom, and all the natural perfections of the Deity are above imitation. There is nothing in the nature of God which any of His creatures can imitate, except His benevolent feelings.

3. The Scriptures ascribe affections to God in the most plain and unequivocal terms.


1. This subject may give us some faint conceptions of the strength and ardency of the Divine affections.

2. In the view of this subject we may discover what it was which moved God to the work of creation.

3. It appears from what has been said that God is pleased with the existence of everything which takes place in the universe. His heart is in all His works.

4. This subject suggests matter of great consolation to those who are interested in the Divine favour.

5. This subject warns sinners to flee from the wrath to come. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

God and love

I. In the first place, I think we should take this text as it stands--as being literally and completely true. It needs no qualification, admits of no complement. That “God is love” is not one side of the truth, but the whole truth, about God. No addition is possible. The leaf, we are told, is the stem expanded--the stem is the leaf closed. This text is theology closed. All theology is this text expanded.

II. We are to take it as true of God at all times and in all places. Nothing but love has ever reigned on the throne of creation; nothing but love ever will reign. Christ did not create, He revealed, the love of God. The love of God has no shallows. It is equally deep everywhere--Calvary deep Wherever you try it.

III. “God is love.” When? Always. “God is love!” Where? Everywhere. Love built heaven. Love made earth. Love made hell; and its pains are the measure of God’s love for goodness--its flames are love on fire.

IV. Now, one word as to the effect this revelation ought to have on us. One effect is joy. This text, if we believe it, will assuage our sorrow, lighten our hearts, and brighten our lives. “God is love,” I say. “Of course!” you say. How commonplace! But look into old creeds, look into modern philosophy, where God is Force without heart, and Law without pity. Look at your own lives, at the records on the pages of memory. Are you not glad for your own sakes that God is love? (J. M. Gibbon.)

The love of the eternal

I. Love the dominant quality.

II. Man’s presumptuous criticism. St. John’s statement does not imply that love’s activities are necessarily in accordance with human conceptions of love. Who art thou, O man, with thy limited perception, blind to all the future--who art thou, that thou darest to say what infinite, omniscient, eternal love ought to do? As well expect the fly that crawls on the dome of this majestic cathedral to interpret the purposes and methods, the disposition and attributes of the architect. Do not expect that because God is love you are going to understand all that God is doing around you and for you. It may be a token of the greatest love that you know nothing of it.

III. Indulgence not love. It is the office of love to seek the final good of its object; to bless the object rather than pamper it; to raise and ennoble and glorify it rather than minister to its passing whims and caprices. Does not this thought interpret some of the mysteries of life to us? Does it not let in daylight and sunlight upon the dark experiences of this sorrowing earth? (W. J. Hocking.)

Originating love

God has many attributes, and we see Him and adore Him under many aspects; but the essence of Deity is single, and His being is “love”! Other things He does, but this He is. And observe the power of the present tense. It is not, “God was,” or “God will be,” but now,--in an eternal and unchanging now,--“yesterday, today, and forever,”--“God is love!” Take the sweetest moment of your whole life,--take the moment of the greatest manifestation of God’s goodness that has ever been seen in this world, and it is the very same now, unshaded, undimmed; no sins of yours will alter it. Doubtless there are difficulties. The brightest lights throw the deepest shadows. But the mists which cloud the summer morning are only made to melt into the sweeter noonday brightness. “Was it love,” a man says, “to make man, and then let him fall into sin and misery?” The answer is two-fold. First, man was made a free agent. This was a first principle in the creation of this world. Secondly, man, the whole race of man, is better for the fall. Had man not fallen, Christ would not have come to this world. But another objects:--“See all the suffering and wretchedness there is now in this world--how is that consistent with the Divine government of love?” First, all the suffering, in the main, is man’s own fault. The suffering is the result, directly, or indirectly, of voluntary sin, which might have been avoided. But secondly, this world, having fallen, is now passing under discipline and training for another and better world; and the suffering is the discipline essential to the educating processes of the present life. Thirdly, if there are degrees in glory, the degree of the glory must depend on the degree of the grace; and, to a great extent, the degree of the grace is dependent on the degree of the schooling. But I hear it said again, “Why has God left such a vast proportion of the inhabitants of this earth ignorant of Christ, and of the way of salvation?” God has not left them ignorant. He willed and provided that “all should know Him.” He commanded His people from the very first, to “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Had we done our duty, all would have been right, and this whole world have been evangelised. And we believe that the heathen who have not known God will not be judged as we shall be. Everyone will be judged according to his knowledge and his conscience. But, leaving all these cavils, let us look at this matter very practically. At this moment there is not a person--whatever his past might have been, or whatever his present is--who might not, this very day, be freely and perfectly forgiven, and be quite happy. He might have the sweetest peace, and perfect assurance in his mind. He might be quite confident of the love, the infinite love of God. He has a Father, a tender, loving Father in heaven. Treat God as “Love,” and you will find Him “Love.” But remember “love” is sensitive. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way/’ If you wish a picture of God in your mind, study the “father” in the parable of the prodigal. If “God is love,” may I not say, “Love is God”? The highest characteristic of our religion is “love.” If you have no love, you have no God! The measure of the “love” is the measure of the “God.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The love of God

I. This emphatic description refers to the nature, as well as to the operations of God.

II. The truth of the assertion, that God is love, appears in His providential dealings with the children of men.

III. In the redemption of mankind our Lord has displayed the full glories of His love.

IV. The truth of the assertion appears with peculiar evidence, by tracing the dealings and methods of His grace towards every individual who has interest in the Saviour. Conclusion:

1. Let me address careless sinners in the language of warning and reproof.

2. Let me address those who, drawn by the attractions of Divine love and redeeming grace, are saying in sincerity, “Whatever others do, we will serve the Lord.”

“God is love”

A briefer sentence it would be difficult to find; yet how infinitely vast and wonderful is the truth which lies within its compass! The very centre and source of all things. Although this is the one truth about God which we can know, yet it is the last truth which we accept. Most men believe in the existence of God, in His power, in His wisdom. There are others who vaguely believe that He is good and kind. But there are few men who really think of God as love. And very many spend their time in putting up fences and limits to the love of God, as if it were beset with statutes, and thoughts of precedents, and dread of presumption. Would that we believed it as God has taught it in His Word! The great power in the world to redeem men, to uplift, to ennoble men, is the power of love. To love, to be loved, is a restraint, a constraint, a transformation. Love is the true salvation. And yet what can it avail to tell of love? Words may do for some things, but to hold love they are too little, too shallow, too coarse, too cold. And even if words could tell of it, who were the richer for hearing them? What avails to tell a hungry man of a banquet? To see and not to have may be an agony. A sermon about the love of God, if it be a sermon only, is a stone that mocks one’s hunger. The love of God is ours not in words only, but ours in deed and in truth; ours to accept it; to rest in it; to delight in it. How then may we make it ours? Well, take the words and brood over them until the very Spirit of God speaks them to the heart. “God is His own interpreter”--and only love can tell of love. To its anointed eye all things are revelations and emblems, and to its tuned heart every breath is music. Love is not to a crowd; compassion, pity there may be for a multitude, but love is separate; it is personal; it is distinct and peculiar. God’s love is like His sunlight, diffused throughout the heaven, catching the heights of the hills and crowning them with ruddy gold and clothing them in purple. So it seems to us an easy and a natural thing for God to love some people; outstanding men and women whose goodness might make them dear to Him. But this is not all that the sun does. It climbs higher that it may creep lower--down the hillsides further and further, until it lifts the mists of the valley and covers the meadows with its glory; and kisses the daisy and fills its cup with gold, and puts energy and strength into its very heart. God loves the good, the true, the pure, but His love rises higher that it may come down lower; and He loves me--me. Do not grieve Him any longer by doubting it. God is love. Is--eternity lies within the compass of that little word. (M. G. Pearse.)

God’s love unfathomable

I know what it means to love; but I have no conception what love is when it rolls in the bosom of an infinite God. I know what light is as it shines from my candle, but do I know what the sun is from that? I know what water is when I take a drop of it in my tumbler, but do I know the thunder of the ocean from that? I know that when I see God He will be wise; but how little do I know of the wisdom of God? I know that He will be a God of love, but oh! how little do I know of the extent and grandeur of that love! How imperfect are my slender ideas as means by which to fashion this supremest attribute of the infinite and eternal God. It is by these qualities that I know my God; but I know Him only by specimens--by small samples. My conceptions of Him are imperfect. (H. W. Beecher.)

God always love

“God is love,” was the motto on a weathercock. The owner on being asked “if he meant to imply that the love of God was as fickle as the wind?” replied, “No, I mean which ever way the wind blows, God is love; if cold from the north, or biting from the east, still God is love as much as when the warm south, or genial west wind refreshes our fields and flocks.” Yes, so it is; our God is always love.

God’s love changeless

You have seen the stream that in summer was broad and flowing, in winter covered with a thick coating of ice; but God’s love is a stream that never freezes. You have seen the fountains that in winter, when the springs were active, had an abundant supply of water, but when summer came with its drought, were dry; God’s love, however, is a fountain that never becomes dry. You have seen the sun pour a flood of golden beams upon the earth through the live long day, and set in darkness as night approached; but God’s love is a sun that never sets. You shall see the world burning, and the stars drop from their orbits, and the heavens be rolled up like a scroll; but God’s love lasts forever and ever. (W. G. Pascoe.)

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 4:8". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

God is love ... This profoundly beautiful and encouraging statement about the Father must rank, along with others, as one of the grandest in all Scripture. Wesley said, "Love is God's reigning attribute that sheds an amiable glory upon all of his other perfections."[26] Barclay called this, "probably the single greatest statement about God in the whole Bible ... It is amazing how many doors that single statement unlocks and how many questions it answers."[27]

However, Wilder cautioned that, "God's nature is not exhausted by the quality of love."[28] God is light (1 John 1:5), and spirit (John 4:24), and (considering the oneness of the Father with the Son) he is life, and truth (John 14:6). Moreover, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

It is a failure to recognize that no single word is capable of describing the ineffable God which leads to a gross perversion of this marvelous text in the popular mind. Some hail this verse, as if it said, "Love is God; and here is a God we can all handle; bring on the love!" Many who read these precious words of John do not seem to be aware of the holy and self-sacrificing love about which John wrote. God's love for mankind and his glorious attribute of love do not in any manner alter or negate the revelation that "the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18), nor the revelation concerning God that he "will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31). Furthermore, there is no conflict between John and Paul on this point. John's description of the final judgment in Revelation 6:15-17 is as soul-shaking a view of the wrath of God in judgment as any in the whole Bible. The proper view of God's love must be big enough to understand that his final judgment and overthrow of wickedness will be, in itself, a mark of eternal love.

And yet such thoughts should not detract from the unique glory of this text. No one in the whole world ever knew that God is love until it was revealed from heaven and written in the New Testament. "It is here, and nowhere else; it is not found in all the literature of mankind."[29]

[26] John Wesley, op. cit., p. 914.

[27] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 98.

[28] Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 280.

[29] H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Epistles of John (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1931), p. 138.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "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

He that loveth not, knoweth not God,.... If a man loves not the children of God, those that are born of him, he does not know, so as to love God, the Father of them; for to pretend love to God, the begetter of them, whom he sees not, and not love those who are begotten by him, and are visible objects of respect, is a contradiction, and cannot be reconciled: see 1 John 4:20. This clause is left out in the Ethiopic version, and is transposed in the Syriac version, which reads the text thus, "for God, is love, and whoever loveth not, knoweth not God". By which reading, the following reason stands in close connection with 1 John 4:7.

For God is love; he loves himself; there is an entire love between the three divine Persons, who are in the strictest, and in the most inconceivable and inexpressible manner affected to each other; their love is natural and essential: God loves all his creatures as such, nor does he hate any of them, as so considered; and he bears an everlasting, unchangeable, and invariable love to his elect in Christ Jesus; of which an instance is given in the following verses, and is a reason why the saints should love one another; that they might be like their heavenly Father, by whom they are begotten, and of whom they are born, and whose children they are; seeing he is love itself, and in his breast is nothing else but love. So the Shekinah is, by the Cabalistic JewsF20Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 15. 1. & Lex. Cabal. p. 43, 44. , called אהבה, "love".

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

He that loveth not knoweth not God; 8 for God is love.

(8) A confirmation: for it is the nature of God to love men, of which we have a most manifest proof above all other, in that of his only free and infinite good will towards us his enemies, he delivered to death, not a common man, but his own Son, indeed his only begotten Son, to the end that we being reconciled through his blood might be partakers in his everlasting glory.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

knoweth notGreek aorist: not only knoweth not now, but never knew, has not once for all known God.

God is love — There is no Greek article to love, but to God; therefore we cannot translate, Love is God. God is fundamentally and essentially LOVE: not merely is loving, for then John‘s argument would not stand; for the conclusion from the premises then would be this, This man is not loving: God is loving; therefore he knoweth not God IN SO FAR AS GOD IS LOVING; still he might know Him in His other attributes. But when we take love as God‘s essence, the argument is sound: This man doth not love, and therefore knows not love: God is essentially love, therefore he knows not God.

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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 4:8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

8.] (Contrast, but with some remarkable variations) he that loveth not (general, as before: no object: he that hath not love in him) hath never known God (aor.: hath not once known: has never had in him even the beginnings of knowledge of God: as Lücke, “noch gar nicht kennen gelernt hat.” So that the aorist makes a far stronger contrast than the present οὐ γινώσκει would. That is excluded, and much more); because (reason why he who loveth not can never have known God. ὅτι cannot well be “that,” dependent on ἔγνω, as e. g. Tirinus (cited by Düsterd.) seems to make it: “non novit, saltem practice non ostendit se nosse et agnoscere, Deum esse … caritatem:” in that case it would be either οὐκ ἔγνω, ὅτι ὁ θεός … or οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ἀγ. ἐστίν) God is love ( ἀγάπη, not ἡ ἀγάπη: love is the very essence, not merely an attribute, of God. It is co-essential with Him: He is all love, love is all of Him: he who has not love, has not God.

It is not the place here to enter on the theological import of this weighty and wonderful sentence. It will be found set forth in Augustine, de Trinitate, ix. 2 ff., vol. viii. p. 961 ff.: in Sartorius, die Lehre von der heiligen Liebe, i. 1, and in the first of my Sermons on Divine Love, which are founded on Sartorius’s work. Düsterd. refers also to Nitzsch, über die wesentliche Dreieinigkeit Gottes, in the Studien u. Kritiken for 1841, 2, p. 337: and Liebner, Christologie, p. 135.

But it may be necessary to put in a caution against all inadequate and shallow explanations of the saying: such as that of Grotius (after Socinus), “Deus est plenus caritate,”—Benson, “God is the most benevolent of all beings: full of love to all His creatures,”—Whitby, “The Apostle intends not to express what God is in his essence … but what He is demonstrativè, ἐνεργητικῶς, shewing great philanthropy to men:”—Hammond, “God is made up of love and kindness to mankind:”—Calvin, “hoc est quod ejus natura sit, homines diligere … de essentia Dei non loquitur, sed tantum docet qualis a nobis sentiatur:” &c. &c. In all these,—in the two last by supplying an object, “homines,” which is not in the sacred text,—the whole force of the axiom as it stands in the Apostle’s argument is lost. Unless he is speaking of the essential being of God, quorsum pertineat, to say that he that loveth not never knew God, because “God is love?” Put for these last words, “God is loving,” and we get at once a fallacy of an undistributed middle: He that loveth not never knew what love is: God is loving: but what would follow? that in as far as God is loving, he never knew Him: but he may have known Him in as far as He is just, or powerful. But take ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν of God’s essential being,—as a strict definition of God, and the argumentation will be strict: He that loveth not never knew love: God is love (the terms are co-essential and co-extensive): therefore he who loveth not never knew God).

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

He that loveth not (ο μη αγαπωνho mē agapōn). Present active articular participle of αγαπαωagapaō “keeps on not loving.”

Knoweth not God (ουκ εγνω τον τεονouk egnō ton theon). Timeless aorist active indicative of γινωσκωginōskō has no acquaintance with God, never did get acquainted with him.

God is love (ο τεος αγαπη εστινho theos agapē estin). Anarthrous predicate, not η αγαπηhē agapē John does not say that love is God, but only that God is love. The two terms are not interchangeable. God is also light (1 John 1:5) and spirit (John 4:24).

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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Knoweth not ( οὐκ ἔγνω )

The aroist tense: did not know, from the beginning. He never knew.

Is love ( ἀγάπη ἐστίν )

See on God is light (1 John 1:5), and the truth (1 John 1:6); also God is spirit (John 4:24). Spirit and light are expressions of God's essential nature. Love is the expression of His personality corresponding to His nature. See on love of God (1 John 2:5). Truth and love stand related to each other. Loving is the condition of knowing.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

God is love — This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

He also sets in opposition to this, according to his usual manner, the contrary clause, that there is no knowledge of God where there is no love. And he takes as granted a general principle or truth, that God is love, that is, that his nature is to love men. I know that many reason more refinedly, and that the ancients especially have perverted this passage in order to prove the divinity of the Spirit. But the meaning of the Apostle is simply this, — that as God is the fountain of love, this effect flows from him, and is diffused wherever the knowledge of him comes, as he had at the beginning called him light, because there is nothing dark in him, but on the contrary he illuminates all things by his own brightness. Here then he does not speak of the essence of God, but only shews what he is found to be by us.

But two things in the Apostle’s words ought to be noticed, — that the true knowledge of God is that which regenerates and renews us, so that we become new creatures; and that hence it cannot be but that it must conform us to the image of God. Away, then, with that foolish gloss respecting unformed faith. For when any one separates faith from love, it is the same as though he attempted to take away heat from the sun.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘God is love.’

1 John 4:8

This Epistle was an Epistle General, that is, it was not directed to any local Church. St. John was now a very old man. St. Peter, St. James, and St. Paul had all gone ‘to be with Christ,’ and St. John survived them all. The beginning of the Epistle is much the same as the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.

‘God is love.’ That is one of the golden sentences only to be found in the Book of God. It is ‘an ocean of thought in a drop of language.’ Bengel says, ‘This brief sentence gave St. John, even during the mere time he took to write it, more delight than the whole world can impart.’ They were written by him who at the Last Supper lay on his Master’s breast.

I. Here is the source of salvation.

(a) God sent His Son. That was love.

(b) Christ came. That was love.

(c) The Holy Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in the heart (Romans 5:5). That is love.

So every soul that is saved is saved by love.

II. Here is the fountain of comfort.—‘How refreshing to be able to fall back upon this truth in a world in which there is so much to make us welcome it—tears, difficulties, anxieties, burdens, clouds, heart-achings, heart-breakings, sick-beds, death-beds, graves—but “God is love.”’ Every believer may say—

Not a single shaft can hit,

Till the God of Love sees fit.

III. Here is our hope for the future.

(a) Heaven is rest.

(b) Heaven is light. ‘Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’

(c) But above all, heaven is love, for ‘God is Love.’

Rev. F. Harper.


‘We feel almost under a moral compulsion not to leave Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Whitsuntide, Trinity, till we have placed upon all its own proper crown. The whole subject grows up so naturally to its grand, simple apex, that every thought can find expression in no other words but these, “God is love.” Therefore, in part, for this very reason, this little, inimitable, most eloquent sentence was reserved for almost the last book in the Bible. We do not find it in the Old Testament; nor till the whole scheme of our salvation was finished and revealed; and then, on the entire temple of truth, this was placed as the top-stone—“God is love.” And it was only right his hand should set it up who had been admitted into the closest intimacy with that dear Saviour Who had brought that “love” to us, and Whose whole life was only its embodiment; and therefore it was reserved for St. John to lay the pinnacle, “God is love.”’



‘God is love.’ Doubtless there are difficulties. The brightest lights throw the deepest shadows. But the mists which cloud the summer morning are only made to melt into the sweeter noonday brightness.

I. ‘Was it love,’ a man says, ‘to make man, and then to let him fall into sin and misery?’—The answer is twofold.

(a) First, man was made a free agent. This was a first principle in the creation of this world. It was a necessity. Why we are not informed. But man could not be a free agent without the capability of falling.

(b) Secondly, and by far the best answer, man, the whole race of man, is better for the fall. Had man not fallen, Christ would not have come to this world; and if Christ had not come, there would have been no heaven for man. As much therefore, as the heaven we have gained is better than the paradise we have lost, by so much are we the better and the happier for Adam’s fall. ‘God is love.’

II. But another objects:—‘See all the suffering and wretchedness there is now in this world. How is that consistent with the Divine government of love?’

(a) First, all the suffering, in the main, is man’s own fault. The suffering is the result, directly or indirectly, of voluntary sin, which might have been avoided. Man is responsible for it, not God.

(b) But secondly, this world, having fallen, is now passing under discipline and training for another and a better world; and the suffering is the discipline essential to the educating processes of the present life.

(c) Thirdly, if there are degrees in glory, the degree of the glory must depend on the degree of the grace; and, to a great extent, the degree of the grace is dependent on the degree of the schooling. And thus it may be that the more suffering for a little while the more happiness for ever and ever. And so the suffering all turns to reward, and the compensation is abundant! My own experience of dying beds would lead me to say that many in their sickness and last days regret their too sunny prosperity in the world; none regret their trials and sorrows in life in the retrospect. Take away all suffering, and you have very nearly emptied heaven! What a proportion of the saints owe all their happiness to suffering! ‘God is Love!’

III. But I hear it said again: ‘Why has God left such a vast proportion of the inhabitants of this earth ignorant of Christ and of the way of salvation?’

(a) God has not left them ignorant. He willed and provided that ‘all should know Him.’ He commanded His people from the very first to ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’

(b) Had the Church done her part, the earth would by this time have been enlightened. But we have not done it. The Church is responsible.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘The Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is contained in the truth that God is love. Love is self-sacrifice, and the death of Calvary is the self-sacrifice of God. Take away the Divinity of Christ, and it cannot be maintained that God is love; because there is wanting to His nature, so far as we know it, and there is absent from the manifestations of Himself which He has made, love in its highest form, in its most wonderful character. Men say that by the Divinity of Christ, and by His death considered as an atonement for sin, we destroy this aspect of the Divine nature. But it may surely be replied that to deny the Divinity of Christ, and to deny that the sacrifice of the Cross was God’s own act as man and for man, is also to deny that God is love; because thereby love of the highest kind is excluded from the Divine nature and the Divine manifestation.’

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Ver. 8. Knoweth not God] If moral virtue could be seen with mortal eyes, saith Plato, it would draw all hearts unto it. If God were well known, he could not but be best beloved, and all that are his, for his sake.

For God is love] Not formally, but causally, say schoolmen; he is the fountain of love, and draws all hearts that have any knowledge of him. See 1 John 4:16; Song of Solomon 1:3. {See Trapp on "1 John 4:16"} {See Trapp on "Song of Solomon 1:3"}

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 John 4:8

I. In perfect love there are three elements, which may best be seen by examining the three states of life in which they are respectively most prominent: the filial; the fraternal; the parental. (1) The first form of love in the history of each of us is that of a child to his parent, and, as a rule, it is the weakest form; but it contains and exhibits in an exceptional degree the first and essential element in all true love: reverential trustfulness. (2) But with the passing away of childhood a new need dawns upon the spirit of man: the wish to be one in whom others can rest, as he finds rest in them; the need for reciprocity of affection, such as is found in a brother, a friend, a wife. It is this reciprocity that is, in the common opinion, the chief characteristic of love; and as in all natural reciprocity, so too here, the more distinct are the elements, the closer is the union; and in ordinary cases and for ordinary men, therefore, the love of friend is closer than the love of brother, and the love of woman than the love of friend. (3) And yet there is a height above the reciprocity of wedded love. "Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends," which I have called parental love, or the parental element in love, because, again speaking of the average of cases and the average of men, it is in parents that such love is oftenest and earliest seen. Such, then, are the three elements which go to make up love, reverence, desire, sacrifice, inextricably intertwined into a new something which is none of them, and yet all of them together—the whiteness of the prism, the trinity in unity of love.

II. Consequently, if God is love, that love must exist and be exhibited as possessing in fulness this trinity of elements; and if to dwell in love is to dwell in God, that love in which we dwell must have its full development, and we must pass in our spiritual history from trust through desire to sacrifice, just as in our natural history we pass from filial through wedded to parental love. "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God." Then, but not till then, will love enter upon its highest stage, and put on the crown of sacrifice; for sacrifice is the language of love, its only adequate expression, the last effort of the spirit whom no union with the object of its love can satisfy short of the self-annihilation that shall make that object all in all. This is a goal very far from us, the love of saints, the love of the men whom God in His turn reverences; but it has been realised by one and another lonely soul along the ages, living afar upon the mountains in the air we cannot breathe, to remind us that after all sacrifice is an element in love, and an element that will be present in proportion as love is stronger—that if God is love, there must be eternal sacrifice in Him, and that we cannot dwell in love without partaking of that sacrifice.

J. R. Illingworth, Sermons, p. 130.

The Revelation of God's Love the Distinctive Characteristic of the Gospel.

What has Christianity done to make good its claim to the proud title of the Gospel—the one good message of glad tidings to mankind?

I. It were easy to enumerate many eminent social blessings, many conspicuous instances of individual happiness, which can be traced distinctly to the Christian dispensation as their only authentic source; but if I were asked to name what is its greatest gift of all, I should say unhesitatingly that it is the unveiling of the face of our Father who is in heaven—the revelation, all the more pregnant and influencing from the way in which it was made, that "God is love."

II. God, having spoken in time past partially and variously by the prophets, in the last days, when the time was full, spoke unto the world by His Son. The darkness passed away; the true light shone: the day broke, and the shadows fled away. One who had lived under that darkness and felt it, described in vivid and emphatic language the change that came over the spirit of his mind when, as one of the Israel of God, he found himself blessed with light in his dwelling. Christ, says Clement of Rome, was taught His message of glad tidings by the Father, and the Apostles were taught theirs by Christ. The Gospel was not only an atonement: it was a revelation. Not only was God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, but God also was in Christ making Himself known unto the world. The Son, by whom He spoke to men in the last days, was the "brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."

III. The doctrine of the love of God when imbibed, not speculatively or conventionally, but really and practically, not as the badge of a party, but as a conviction of the soul, is little liable to perversion. Antinomianism in a religious mind seems to me to be an impossible moral phenomenon. For whom are we more likely to obey—one whom we love, and whom we know to love us, or one whom we simply fear? Who renders the more willing service—a son or a slave? Surely, under a law of liberty, all obedience freely paid becomes by that very freedom more hearty, more trustworthy, more true.

Bishop Fraser, University Sermons, p. 288.

References: 1 John 4:8.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 157; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 327; J. J. S. Perowne, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 109; Homilist, 1st series, vol. v., p. 333; F. Wagstaff, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 398; J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 328; F. W. Farrar, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 385; E. Hatch, Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 385; G. W. McCree, Ibid., vol. xxxvi., p. 182. 1 John 4:8-12.—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 106.

I. God is love. The text takes us up, as it were, above the veil; we are caught up through the door of this vision to the sanctuary of God's throne. We are suffered to know something, not of His working only, but of His being. We are led to the fountain of all good and joy. And that fountain is this, says St. John: "God is love." Is there not something to grasp, to embrace, in these words, "God is love," when within the glory of the Godhead we see the revealed love of God for God, the infinite, embosomed tenderness of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father? Yes, there is something here which meets the human soul in its longings more lovingly, more warmly, than the God of mere philosophy, the God of mere Deism, the God of man's own inventing. In revealing the truth of the Trinity, God does much more than show to us an abstract doctrine: He unveils to us Himself.

II. God is love. Such is the fountain, worthy of its stream. This love of the being of God came forth unasked, unmerited, in the love of His actings. He, this God, loved the world, so loved it that He gave His only-begotten Son for the sinner's life. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Here is indeed the point of contact between the sublime truth of the Holy Trinity and the humblest, smallest, most trying claims which one poor, suffering human being may lay upon another, if this other is a Christian, a child and servant of this God. Here descends this great ladder of light from the throne above all heavens to the stones of the desert road. If God is this God, if this God hath thus loved us, then we cannot own His tenderness to us, we cannot see this glorious depth of lovableness in Himself, and yet remain cool, calculating, and selfish in our thoughts and wills towards our suffering brethren.

H. C. G. Moule, Christ is All, p. 151.

References: 1 John 4:10.—C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 15; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 268; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 69. 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1707.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 John 4:8. For God is love. God is the most benevolent of all beings, full of love to his depending creatures; so that in him there is nothing wanting to the highest perfection of love. See 1 John 4:9-16, &c. He is the great fountain and exemplar of love; he recommends it by his law, and produces and cherishes it by his influences; and the due contemplation of him, will of course inflame our hearts with love to his Divine Majesty, and to our fellow-creatures for his sake, whose creatures they are, but especially to our fellow-christians.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

1 John 4:8. οὐκ ἔγνω, knoweth not) Is not born of God, and knoweth not God.— θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστὶν, God is love) ἀγάπη, without the article, as in 1 John 4:16. This brief sentence imparted to John, even during the mere time which he took in writing it, more delight than the whole world can impart.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Yea, since love is his very nature, and that God is love, those that love (upon the account and in the way above expressed) are born of him, partake from him that excellent and most delectable nature, know him by a transformative knowledge: but they that love not, they are mere strangers to him, and never had to do with him.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Knoweth not God; has no true acquaintance and fellowship with him.

God is love; this is the sum of his moral nature. To have communion with God we must be like him in love.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

8. ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν. For the μἡ comp. 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 2:4. οὐκ ἔγνω. Literally, knew not God, i.e. never attained to a knowledge of Him. Comp. 1 John 3:1; John 16:3. We have here a remarkable instance of S. John’s habit of not making the second part of an antithesis the exact counterpart of the first, but an advance beyond. Instead of saying ‘is not born of God’ he says ‘never knew God’, which is much stronger. Not to have known love is not to have known God.

ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. This is the third of S. John’s great statements respecting the Nature of God: ‘God is Spirit’ (John 4:24); ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5), and ‘God is love’. See on 1 John 1:5. Here, as in the other cases, the predicate has no article, and expresses not a quality which He possesses, but one which embraces all He is. This is clear from S. John’s argument. It does not follow, because God is full of love, that one who does not love cannot have known God: all that follows from this is that his knowledge of God is very incomplete. Only if God is love, i.e. if love is Himself, is the statement true, that to have no personal knowledge of love is to have no personal knowledge of God. And here we may remark that to attain by experience to a knowledge of God (γινώσκειν τὸν Θεόν) is a very different thing from knowing something about Him (εἰδέναι τι περὶ αὐτοῦ). The Gnostics knew a good deal about God, but they did not know Him; for instead of loving those brethren who did not share their intellectual attainments, they had an arrogant contempt for them. They had recognized that ‘God is spirit’, and to some extent that ‘God is light’; for they knew Him to be an immaterial Being and the highest Intelligence: but they had wholly failed to appreciate that ‘God is love’. And yet of the three great truths this is the chief. The other two are incomplete without it. The first, ‘God is spirit’, is almost more negative than positive: God is not material; ‘He dwelleth not in temples made with hands’. The second might seem in making our idea of Him more definite to remove Him further away from us: God is perfect intelligence, perfect purity, perfect holiness. The third not only makes His Nature far more clearly known, but brings Him very close to us. The spirit is shewn to be personal, the light to have warmth and life.

If no previous religion, not even the Jewish, had attained to the truth that ‘God is light’, still less had any attained to the truth that ‘God is love’. To the heathen world God is a powerful, a terrible, and often a cruel being; one whose fierce wrath needs to be deprecated and whose ill-will needs to be propitiated, rather than one on whose love men may rely. To the Jews He is a just and a jealous, if also a merciful God, of whose inmost being all that was known was I AM THAT I AM. To the Christian alone He is known as LOVE.

As already stated, this truth, God is love, dominates the second main division of the Epistle. In no Book in N.T. does the substantive ‘love’ (ἀγάπη) occur so often as in these two and a half chapters (1 John 3:1 to 1 John 5:12); and in no Book in N.T., excepting the Fourth Gospel, does the verb ‘to love’ (ἀγαπᾷν) occur half so many times as here. No wonder that the writer of this Epistle has been known in the Church as ‘the Apostle of Love’. “If nothing were said in praise of love throughout the pages of this Epistle, if nothing whatever throughout the other pages of the Scriptures, and this one thing only were all we were told by the voice of the Spirit of God, For God is Love; nothing more ought we to require” (S. Augustine).

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"Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

8. Loveth not, knoweth not God—It is the true heart that truly knoweth God. Without that blessed medium he is, after all, an “unknown God.” It is the pure in heart that “see God.”

God is love—This blessed truth truly realized delivers from all atheism, all pessimism, all despondency at the evil in the world. When our hearts are right all is right.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Absence of love shows that a person does not have intimate fellowship with God. It does not necessarily show that he was never born of God. Because God is light those who abide in Him walk in His light ( 1 John 1:5; 1 John 1:7). Because God is righteous those who abide in Him practice righteousness ( 1 John 2:29). Just Song of Solomon , God is love and those who abide in Him manifest His loving character. God is also light ( 1 John 1:5), spirit ( John 4:24), and fire ( Hebrews 12:29). These are all metaphors that emphasize certain characteristics of God.

"All His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He Judges , He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, Isaiah -to love." [Note: Dodd, p110.]

""God is love" is rightly recognized as one of the high peaks of divine revelation in this Epistle. Logically the statement stands parallel with "God is light" ( 1 John 1:5) and "God is spirit" ( John 4:24) as one of the three great Johannine expression of the nature of God.... "God is spirit" describes his metaphysical nature, while "God is light" and "God is love" deal with his character, especially as he has revealed himself to men." [Note: Marshall, p212.]

"The absence of the article (God is the love) indicates that love is not simply a quality which God possesses, but love is that which he is by his very nature. Further, because God is love, love which he shows is occasioned by himself only and not by any outside cause. The word God is preceded by an article, which means that the statement is not reversible; it cannot read, "Love is God."" [Note: Ryrie, "The First . . .," p1475.]

"John does not say that love is God, but only that God is love." [Note: Robertson, 6:232.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

1 John 4:8. Conversely, a stranger to love is a stranger to God. οὐκ ἔγνω, “did not get to know,” i.e., at the initial crisis of conversion. On μὴ see note on 1 John 2:4.

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Knoweth not , [ egnoo (Greek #1097), aorist] - not only knoweth not now, but never has once for all known God.

God is love. There is no article to love, but to God; therefore we cannot translate, Love is God. God is essentially LOVE: not merely loving; for then John's argument would fall: for the conclusion from the premises then would be, This man is not loving; God is; therefore he knoweth not God IN SO FAR AS GOD IS LOVING: still he might know Him in His other attributes. But when we take love as God's essence, the argument holds: This man doth not love; therefore knows not love: God is essentially love; therefore he knows not God.

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

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


God is love.—1 John 4:8.

1. It is significant that we have these words not from Jesus but from John. Jesus did not say in so many words, “God is love.” He taught by the inductive method. He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” John looked at Him, leaned on His breast, stood beside His cross, gazed into His empty tomb, listened to His words when He had risen from the dead, and said “God is love.” He knew, because he had seen Christ. This knowledge of Christ’s character is the primary source of John’s knowledge of God. He leaned on Jesus’ bosom and learned His spirit, and in after years he thought of that spirit as a manifestation of the very life of God. Then he sought for a name for it, and there was no name good enough. He thought of Him who went about doing good; of His self-denial and poverty for man’s sake; of His compassion on the multitude; of His sympathy for the bereaved; of His kindness towards the outcast; of His tears at the grave of Lazarus; of His message of forgiveness to the sin-stricken; of His words such as never man’s sake; of His washing His disciples’ feet; of His death in pity for human sin; of His resurrection into immortality and glory, John thought of all this as setting forth the life of God in its fundamental meanings. He knew what spirit was in Jesus; he knew by what word to characterize His life. He knew that whatever of God’s life was manifest through Jesus of Nazareth was eternally true of the Almighty Father, and he told it all in three sublime and immortal words, “God is love.”

Here, then, we have three words which are three syllables, and they are greater words than all the piled words of the most elaborate dictionary ever constructed. These are the words out of which all the other words come. No man invented these words. They have become so familiar now that we do not know their meaning; but if we could throw ourselves back mentally and spiritually to the right standpoint, we should know that it did not lie within the compass of human genius to invent any of these words. We take the words for granted; we speak the word “God” as if we knew all about it, and the great verb “is,” as if it were one of a dozen verbs of equal merit; and “love,” which the boldest lexicographer has never successfully defined, we roll glibly off our tongue. We have all things in three syllables. Here is the Bible reduced to the smallest possible verbal scale, and yet losing nothing of the stellar glory and the infinite compass of the evolution of the Divine idea.

If I were asked what has most contributed to human progress and human happiness, even as philosophers measure those terms; what it is, more than any other element of knowledge, that has set free the intellect; more than any other principle of conduct, has instructed the conscience; more than any other object of desire, has elevated the affections; I should say unhesitatingly that it is the unveiling of the face of our Father which is in heaven; the revelation, all the more pregnant and influencing from the way in which it was made, that “God is love.”1 [Note: J. Fraser, University Sermons, 288.]

Bengel says: “This brief sentence gave John, even during the mere time he took to write it, more delight than the whole world can impart.” And, indeed, one can well believe it; for, you must remember, John really and deeply cared about God; and if we really care about God and men, this text, if we believe it, will assuage our sorrow, lighten our hearts, and brighten our lives.

You are in perfect health, for instance, and you don’t think about health. You cannot go into ecstasies over such a commonplace thing as health. But some day you go into a hospital—you see long ward after ward filled with sick folk—with pale cheeks, lustreless eyes, sad, anxious faces, young and old, men and women. The light is dim, and as you pass you see they are carrying one poor patient out of the common ward, and you know they are carrying him where he may die alone, without disturbing the others; and then, when you go out into the open air, and the light and shine of the sun, and feel the spring of health in your limbs, the simple thought that you are well thrills you! Health is no longer commonplace, and you thank God that you are not like other men, who are sick, and weak, and dying.

“God is love,” I say.

“Of course!” you say. “How commonplace your sermon is! What a hackneyed text you have taken!”

But look here—look into all old creeds, where God is said to be Cruelty, and Lust, and Caprice. Look into Catholicism, where God is a Burning Anger, kept from destroying the world only by a continual sacrifice. Look into modern philosophy, where God is Force without heart, and Law without pity. Look at your own lives, at the records on the pages of memory, and think of the still fuller entries on the book of judgment. Think of your sins, yea even of your virtues, and as you reflect how bad your worst deeds were, and how poor your best, are you not glad for your own sakes that God is love?1 [Note: J. M. Gibbon, The Gospel of Fatherhood, 11.]

When Mr. Moody built his tabernacle in Chicago, he was so anxious that every one that came there should learn one truth, namely, that “God is love,” and so fearful that some day some preacher might stand in the pulpit and forget to tell the people that God is love, that he had these three words put into gas jets over the pulpit. So every night when the gas was lighted, there it blazed away over the preacher’s head, “God is love.” Whether the preacher told it to the people or not, they could see it for themselves in letters of fire.

One night the tabernacle was lighted but the people had not yet gathered for the evening service. A poor drunkard coming up the street saw the door a little ajar and saw the light, and then stumbled up the steps hoping to find warmth and cheer within. As he pushed the door a little wider, his attention was directed to the sentence in the letters of fire above the pulpit, “God is love.” He turned away, pulled the door to, went down the steps and went up the street muttering, “It is not so. That is not true. God is not love. If God were love, He would love me, and God does not love a miserable wretch like me. It is not true.” But all the time, the words were burning down into his soul, “God is love. God is love.”

After a while he turned about and retraced his steps, entered the church again, and took a seat behind the stove over in the corner. The people gathered and Mr. Moody ascended the platform and began to preach. All the time that Mr. Moody preached, the man was weeping in the corner. Mr. Moody’s quick eye caught sight of him, and at the close of the service he hurried to him and sat down beside him. “What are you crying about, my friend?” he said gently. “What was it in the sermon that touched you?” The man replied, “There was nothing in the sermon that touched me. I did not hear a word of your sermon.” “Well, what was it then that touched you?” asked Mr. Moody. “That sentence,” pointing to the words in fire, “that sentence, ‘God is love.’” Mr. Moody opened his Bible and showed the man from the Bible how God loved him, and how Jesus was an all-sufficient Saviour for all who take Him. The man listened and accepted Christ, and went away that night a saved Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 [Note: R. A. Torrey.]

Love came to me when I was young;

He brought me songs, he brought me flowers;

Love wooed me lightly, trees among,

And dallied under scented bowers;

And loud he carolled: “Love is King!”

For he was riotous as spring,

And careless of the hours,—

When I was young.

Love lingered near when I grew old;

He brought me light from stars above;

And consolations manifold;

He fluted to me like a dove;

And Love leaned out of Paradise,

And gently kissed my faded eyes,

And whispered, “God is love,”—

When I grew old.2 [Note: Francis H. Williams.]


Love in the Being of God

1. Love is the central emotion in God.—When the Apostle tells us that God is love, he means to say, not that God has this attribute and no other, and not that He has this attribute paramount to others; for, as the attributes of any mind must partake of the character of the mind which exercises them, so the attributes of God must partake of the essence of God, and be in all aspects, therefore, infinite and Divine; none, therefore, can be more than infinite, none less than Divine. Each attribute—His truth, His power, His wisdom, and the like—must stand on the same footing as His love, and be equally great and glorious. But, by the expression “God is love,” St. John evidently wishes to convey to us the idea that love is the great motive power of the Divine Being. Love is that which shapes and guides all His attributes; so that each is manifested under the working of love, and each directed to the securing of love.

All God’s attributes are inflections or phases of love. Love is not one of His attributes; it is all of them. His holiness is the wholeness of His love. His righteousness is the eternal conformity of His life to love. His justice is love looking out on the great mass of His creatures. His beneficence is love showing itself in deeds which we recognize as helpful. His pity is love toward the sorrowing. His mercy is love toward the sinful. But whether He be merciful or beneficent or just or righteous or holy, He is love.1 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]

The old Greeks, whose civilization developed along the line of architecture, and painting, and the decorative arts, said, “God is beauty.” The Romans, led by the Cæsars on a hundred battlefields to victory, until they boasted that the Roman eagles never turned backward, said, “God is strength.” The Jew, inheriting from Moses, the great law-giver, said, “God is law.” It was not until John had laid his head upon the Saviour’s bosom and communed with Jesus Christ that any man was able to say with confident heart, “God is love.”2 [Note: L. A. Banks.]

2. Love implies fellowship.—Love means an outpouring; it cannot exist without an object. Strictly, there cannot be self-love, for selfishness is the negation of love. It is no answer to say that the capacity to love was in God before by creation He found an object for His love. The capacity to love is not love; it does but accentuate the void. Is it conceivable that through an eternity the Infinite Perfection should have been yearning in unsatisfied longing for something to love? In the light of the Trinity, however, the difficulty vanishes. In the love of the Eternal which Jesus reveals to us there is the fulness of life, perfect fellowship, infinite and eternal love. Love is the very constitution and law of God’s Being. God only exists as a threefold relation of lover, beloved, and love—the Father for ever outpouring Himself in love to the Son; the Son for ever in complete self-surrender returning that love to the Father; the Spirit ceaselessly uniting Father and Son, Himself the Bond of love.

The Love of the Trinity is nameless: human tongue has no words to express it; no creature may inquisitively look into its eternal depths. It is the great and impenetrable mystery. We listen to its music and adore it; but when its glory has passed through the soul the lips are still unable adequately to describe any of its features. God may loose the tongue so that it may shout and sing to the praise of eternal Love, but the intellect remains powerless.

Before God created heaven and earth with all their inhabitants, the Eternal Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shone with unseen splendour in the Divine Being. Love exists, not for the sake of the world, but for God’s sake; and when the world came into existence, Love remained unchanged; and if every creature were to disappear, it would remain just as rich and glorious as ever. Love exists and works in the Eternal Being apart from the creature; and its radiation upon the creature is but a feeble reflection of its being.

Love is not God, but God is love; and He is sufficient to Himself to love absolutely and for ever. He has no need of the creature, and the exercise of His love did not begin with the creature whom He could love, but it flows and springs eternally in the Love-life of the Triune God. God is love; its perfection, Divine beauty, real dimensions, and holiness are not found in men, not even in the best of God’s children, but scintillate only around the Throne of God.1 [Note: A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 515.]

There is a pretty story of St. Augustine. He had announced to his people that he would explain the doctrine of the Trinity next Lord’s Day. In the week, as he walked by the shore pondering his discourse, he came upon a child at play. The lad had dug a hole in the sand, and was running backwards and forwards with his bucket, bringing water from the sea and pouring it into the hole which he had dug. “Why do you do that, my lad?” said the Saint. “I am trying to empty the sea.” “Silly child,” said St. Augustine, “you can never empty the sea with your little bucket.” “As well may I try,” said the child, “as you seek to explain with your finite mind the infinite Being of God.”2 [Note: C. Hepher, The Revelation of Love, 38.]


Love in Creation

Love has been active everywhere. Love built heaven. Love made earth. Love made hell; and its pains are the measure of God’s love for goodness, its flames are love on fire. He “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.” And by the kiss or the rod; by caress or correction; by “gentle gales from the wings of angels that fan His Mercy-seat,” or by hot blasts from the burning marl of hell; by the blood of Christ, and pleading love, or by fire and brimstone of punitive love, God seeks to overthrow all evil in all men and beings, and will not rest until the Holy Spirit shall say of the New Creation, “It is finished”: for “God is love.”

1. Love created the world.—Why did God create the world for which He had no need? You might ask the same question as the builder cuts down the tree, the sculptor carves the marble, or the painter daubs the canvas. For answer to your question you must wait till you see the use made of the productions. You will then know the end and will be able to find the reason. The builder sees the mast of a ship in the growing tree, the painter a landscape on the canvas; in the marble cold the sculptor sees an angel’s form. God saw the end before He began; and we can find the reason of His action only in the use He makes of His creation. The end will give the motive of His action. Nothing that is incidental will answer for His work. If new emotions fill His heart, as one by one His works are done, that is but incidental, and not the object of His toil. The work was not done to create the emotion; neither was the emotion solely on account of the work, but because of its adaptability to the far-off end. The unborn man was in His thought as day by day “God saw that it was good.”

There are many books in God’s world, on every page of which is inscribed, “He is love.” The beauty of the landscape, the wonderful provision for every creature’s want, which meets them every moment, the happiness of family life, each man’s own little history, the inner fountain of pleasant thoughts that plays in the bosom, the exquisite adjustment of providences, the tenderness and care of an Almighty Father, which we can trace everywhere, the patience of that Father’s pity, our bright and happy homesteads, our full cups—they all teach it, but they teach it only to those who have learnt it first in a higher school.1 [Note: James Vaughan.]

God is love—the heavens tell it

Through their glorious orbs of light,

In that glad and golden language

Speaking to us, day and night,

Their great story,

God is love, and God is might!

And the teeming earth rejoices

In that message from above;

With ten thousand thousand voices,

Telling back from hill and grove,

Her glad story,

God is might, and God is love!

2. Love is the bedrock of the moral universe.—Science has told us of a struggle for existence in which the race is to the swift and the battle to the strong, and God gives the verdict to the stronger. History has told us that God is on the side that has the heaviest battalions. Political Economy has told us that the law of supply and demand is final in trade, and that an enlightened self-interest is the highest motive which commerce can know. Students of Nature, not a few, have called our attention to the truth that God sends not only the grateful warmth of the sun, but also the parching heat; not only the cooling shower, but also the tempest. But deeper students of Nature will not let us rest till we discern that storm and sunshine, calm and cloud are all manifestations of solar energy; that if one is good, the other cannot be fully bad. There is not, even if we deify natural forces, one God of sun, and another of wind, since sun and wind manifest the same power. To say that we live in a universe is to unify our conception of the underlying thought of creation, and more careful students of history and of science have a better word to say than that the world is a strife and a tangle. It cannot be wholly bad, and it cannot be mixed; it is then good, though sometimes our faith must stand on tiptoe to reach the truth—the world is good, and life is good, and “God is love.”

Is there not such a thing as the struggle for the existence of others? Did you ever start a quail from her nest, and follow her as she flew low and with only one wing, almost within your reach? Did you follow her till you were well away from the nest, and then see the helpless wing come into play, and the mother bird fly cheerfully back to the nest? Some mother quails have lost their lives in that way, no doubt, but they have saved the nest. What has made the quail a persistent type? Strength? Yes. Ability to fly? Yes. Colour like the turf and dead grass? Yes. But these are not all. Your list of forces will not be complete till you include love, love that can imperil its life for love’s sake. Did you ever see a little mother hen spread her feathers and give defensive battle to a hawk? Sometimes by the courage that love gives she actually drove the hawk away; sometimes she laid down her life for her brood; in either case it was love that saved the little ones. The love of the mother was stronger than the hunger of the hawk. So Nature gives eloquent witness to the power of the law of love.1 [Note: W. E. Barton.]

When Mungo Park was in Africa, he felt at one time very weary and alone, and he thought he should perish. He lay down on the ground, and he saw a little bit of moss. Did you ever examine a little bit of moss? It is so beautiful. And Mungo Park saw this beautiful little bit of moss; and it said to him, “God is love”; and he was not afraid, for he saw, even in the little bit of moss, “God is love.”2 [Note: James Vaughan.]

O plenteous grace that nerved my soul to raise

So fixt a look on the Eternal Light,

That I achieved the object of my gaze!

Within its depth I saw that by the chains

Of love, in one sole volume was confined

Whate’er the universal world contains;—

Substance, and accident—their properties,

Together in such wondrous manner joined,

One glimpse is all my utmost skill supplies.

Methinks I saw the universal mould

Of all this globe;—such thrilling ecstasy

Expands my heart, as I the sight unfold.3 [Note: Dante, Paradiso, xxxiii. 58 (trans. by Wright).]


Love in Christ

1. It was in Christ that love reached its full manifestation.—Christ was not the originator of love. He simply disclosed it to the world. You do not say that dawn makes the sun? Nor that the incoming ships cause the flow of the tide? Nor that the flowers create the summer? No! The dawn is the sign that the sun is coming; it is caused by the sun. The ships are carried in by the tide, and only reveal its current. The summer makes the flowers, and they declare its glory. Why, then, do you say that Christ made, or bought, or in any way procured the love of God, when it was God’s love that sent Him forth on His mission? The love of God has no shallows. It is equally deep everywhere—Calvary deep wherever you try it. As far as God’s love is concerned, the Cross might be placed in Genesis as well as in John, in Leviticus as well as in Luke.

Especially in Christ is there fathomless beauty and glory. St. Paul’s heart was overwhelmed with loving enthusiasm as he thought of his privilege of preaching “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The more we ponder these riches, the richer will our own love be. And so it happened in the case of the poor native dying in the Mengo Medical Mission in Uganda. The Missionary asked him if he knew who Jesus Christ was, and he received the beautiful reply, “He is a strong bridge over which I pass through the gate.”1 [Note: J. A. Clapperton, Culture of the Christian Heart, 64.]

Young Scott, the son of Dr. Scott of Greenock, is with us. He is a highly gifted man. May the mighty God bless him, and strengthen him for the work that he may be called to! He preached last night in Dundee. There was one thing which he said upon the universality of the love of God to sinners which I shall repeat to you. When God was manifested in Christ, in the man Christ Jesus, that man fulfilled the whole law, of which the second great division is, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. If there had been any single man upon earth whom He did not love as Himself, He would have been a breaker of the law. But He fulfilled the whole law, and loved every man, as He loved Himself—ay and more; and as He thus fulfilled the law, He said, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father”; that is to say, My love to men is the very image of My Father’s love to them.2 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen (1800–1840), i. 143.]

2. The love of God finds its free expression in Christ.—“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” His love had been given to men since the creation, but men shut their hearts and contracted their lives, and the love of God had no free course. When Christ came God was glorified in Him.

Robert Browning has an exquisite little poem which he calls “One Word More.” The idea of the poem is this. One of the greatest, perhaps the greatest Italian artist, who is already a painter, feels that there is more in him than painting can express, and from sheer necessity he takes to sculpture. Not that he gives up painting; but he adds sculpture to it, in order to relieve his own soul, that he might put into marble what he could not put on the canvas. Browning compares himself to that artist in addressing the wife whom he loved with such adoring self-abandonment. He had addressed her in verse, but what verse could express the love that was his? And he longs for some other art than poetry to tell the one word more that was in him. And so here. God had served man, created a perfect home for man—served his intellect, quickened it by the problems which He had set him to solve; but He still needed the “one word more” to tell all that was in Him. None of these things could tell His love—tell the depth of it; the necessity that man was to Him.1 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 148.]

Why comes this fragrance on the summer breeze,

The blended tribute of ten thousand flowers,

To me, a frequent wanderer ’mid the trees

That form these gay, though solitary bowers?

One answer is around, beneath, above;

The echo of the voice, that God is Love!

Why bursts such melody from tree and bush,

The overflowing of each songster’s heart,

So filling mine, that it can scarcely hush

Awhile to listen, but would take its part?

’Tis but one song I hear where’er I rove,

Though countless be the notes, that God is Love!

Why leaps the streamlet down the mountain’s side,

Hastening so swiftly to the vale beneath,

To cheer the shepherd’s thirsty flock, or glide

Where the hot sun has left a faded wreath,

Or, rippling, aid the music of the grove?

Its own glad voice replies, that God is Love!

In starry heavens, at the midnight hour,

In ever-varying hues at morning’s dawn,

In the fair bow athwart the falling shower,

In forest, river, lake, rock, hill, and lawn,

One truth is written: all conspire to prove,

What grace of old reveal’d, that God is Love!

Nor less this pulse of health, far glancing eye,

And heart so moved with beauty, perfume, song,

This spirit, soaring through a gorgeous sky,

Or diving ocean’s coral caves among,

Fleeter than darting fish or startled dove;

All, all declare the same, that God is Love!

Is it a fallen world on which I gaze?

Am I as deeply fallen as the rest,

Yet joys partaking, past my utmost praise,

Instead of wandering forlorn, unblest?

It is as if an unseen spirit strove

To grave upon my heart, that God is Love!

Yet would’st thou see, my soul, this truth display’d

In characters which wondering angels read

And read, adoring; go, imploring aid

To gaze with faith, behold the Saviour bleed!

Thy God, in human form! O, what can prove,

If this suffice thee not, that God is Love?

Cling to His cross; and let thy ceaseless prayer

Be, that thy grasp may fail not! and, ere long,

Thou shalt ascend to that fair Temple, where

In strains ecstatic an innumerous throng

Of saints and seraphs, round the Throne above,

Proclaim for evermore, that God is Love!1 [Note: Thomas Davis.]

3. In Christ love stooped to infinite sacrifice.—Nowhere else but on the Cross could it fully utter itself. In Christ the Divine love comes to us, and, mounting, towers far above any conception of love the world has ever known before. The friend dies for the foe, the pure for the impure, the Creator for the creature. Up and up it mounts, until the highest peak is reached that human life offers footing to. The Divine love plants itself upon the cruel cross, returning love for hatred, a prayer for a blow, a crown for a cross, and with bleeding body and breaking heart the God-Man gives Himself for us. If the cross of Jesus speaks at all it speaks in tones of love. In Genesis God works for His innocent child; in Christ He suffers for a guilty one. If the gift is love what can the giver be? No one but a God of love could send the loving Christ.

O Blessed well of love, O flower of Grace,

O glorious Morning-starre, O lampe of light,

Most lively image of Thy Father’s Face,

Eternall King of glorie, Lord of might,

Meeke lambe of God before all worlds behight,

How can we Thee requite for all this good?

Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?1 [Note: Spenser.]


God’s Love in Human Life

1. God’s love is personal: it is not mere compassion for the multitude; it is an infinite affection for the individual. The sun cannot shine upon the just, and not upon the unjust, for the sun is light, and it cannot help shining. God cannot love one and withhold His love from another, for God is love, and He cannot help loving. He loves us when we are good; and when we are bad He loves us still. He loves some with the love of pity, and others with the love of pride; He loves some with the love of compassion, and others with the love of complacency. But He loves us all, and will never cease from loving us, no matter how far we stray from Him. If some are lost, it is because they will become so estranged from good, so loveless, that God’s love no longer affects them; but it will still be theirs, and will follow them even down to doom.

God’s love is like His sunlight, diffused throughout the heaven, catching the heights of the hills and crowning them with ruddy gold and clothing them in purple. So it seems to us an easy and a natural thing for God to love some people; outstanding men and women whose goodness might make them dear to Him. But this is not all that the sun does. It climbs higher that it may creep lower—down the hill-sides further and further, until it lifts the mists of the valley and covers the meadows with its glory, and kisses the daisy and fills its cup with gold and puts energy and strength into its very heart. God loves the good, the true, the pure, but His love rises higher that it may come down lower; and He loves me—me. I can wrap this love of His about me and claim it all as my own.2 [Note: M. G. Pearse, Short Talks for the Times, 15.]

We are told of a painter who chose to remain unknown; the man of genius, the born painter, who refused to paint because men would not understand, would not properly appreciate his work. He shrank, as every sensitive man would shrink, from having his work bought by vulgar men, to be hung up in their galleries or on their dining-room walls, not because they cared for art, but because it was the fashionable thing to patronize art, and prove your wealth by the pictures with which you lined your walls. He shuddered at the thought. He would never degrade the genius that was in him by pandering to vulgar wealth. He would go on holding fellowship with his own soul’s visions in the soul’s private sanctuary; but he would not demean himself by selling his soul to the man who merely could pay the highest price for it. But that is not the noblest genius. Real genius must express itself, even for its own sake. May we not say that God must express Himself for His own sake? God has poured out the wealth of His redemption. We may reject it or receive it: God must give it. God must sing the song of His own heart. He wrote it in the lives of heroes; spoke it from the lips of prophets; told the wealth of it in the life and death of Jesus. He has been telling it unweariedly through the ages. Men have rejected it, scorned it, treated it with contempt. It matters not; to God to tell Himself was a necessity, for “God is love.”1 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 162.]

2. God’s love is redemptive and persists in spite of our unworthiness.—A man had fallen into a deep dark pit, and lay at its miry bottom, groaning and utterly unable to move. Confucius, passing by, approached the edge of the pit, and said, “Poor fellow, I am sorry for you; why were you such a fool as to get in there? If you ever get out do not get in again.” The man said, “I cannot get out.” That is Confucianism. A Buddhist priest next came by, and said, “Poor fellow, I am pained to see you down there. I think that if you could climb up two-thirds of the way or even half, I could reach you and lift you out.” But the man was utterly helpless and unable to rise. That is Buddhism. Next the Saviour came by, and, hearing his cries, went to the brink of the pit, reached down and laid hold of the man, brought him up and said, “Go and sin no more.” That is Christianity. God in Christ takes man from the horrible pit and the miry clay, and sets his feet upon the rock, and establishes his goings, and puts a song of praise into his mouth.

There is a story of a lad who was devoted to his father, and who stole some money from his employer’s till. He was detected in the act, sent to prison, and brought a stain upon the family name. Before serving his sentence, he was allowed to see his sister, who came to visit him in gaol.

“What does mother say?” asked the lad.

“Mother washes her hands of you,” was the reply.

“What do the others say?”

“They never mention your name.”

And then came the question, “What does father say?”

And the answer was, “Father sends his love and a kiss.”

This reached home as nothing else did. Is it not a parable of the All-Father’s love? Man fell and went wrong; was—he always is—detected; brought a stain on the family name; and to man, just as he was (“while we were yet sinners”), came the message, “Father sends you His Love, and a Kiss.” Jesus was the Love of the Father, and an old and beautiful name for the Holy Ghost was “the Kiss of God,” the reconciling Power which brings pardon and peace to poor prodigal humanity.1 [Note: E. E. Holmes, The Days of the Week, 45.]

Love, love that once for all did agonize,

Shall conquer all things to itself! if late

Or soon this fall, I ask not nor surmise,—

And when my God is waiting I can wait!2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

3. God’s love is a wise love, a watchful love, a faithful love: there is nothing it will not do for us, except wrong; there is nothing it will not endure for us, except sin; and there is nothing it will not be very careful to spare us, in order to turn us from the evil of our way. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” If we are chastened, therefore, it is not for His pleasure, but for our profit, “for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not?” As the sun calls forth the very clouds that hide his face for a season till the tender rain falls that brightens the earth anew, so also His love, at times, may darken the face of heaven to us till the bitter-sweet tears of repentance restore the light to us again. But through all and in all His love abides unchanged, and is at the root of our sorrows as well as our joys, often hidden, but never absent, the same yesterday and to-day and forever.

We see Jesus Christ, without losing His belief in God’s love, stripped of everything except being what He was and doing what He believed it His work to do. His character and His service, these were left to Him, and in His calling to these He recognized that God loved Him. Whatever came to Him, however painful it was, still did not contradict God’s love, if it enabled Him to finish His work. Even His death was the cup which His Father gave Him to drink, and though it was bitter, it was yet a love-token. God’s love to Jesus was more seen in giving Him that cup to drink, that so He might be the Saviour of men, than it would have been in snatching Him from the brink of death into heaven, His work all unfinished. We are taught by the life of Jesus Christ to see God’s love not in the gifts of fortune, or in health and outward happiness, but in the supreme gift of making us sons of God, and giving us the work of sons to do.1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan, The Gospel View of Things, 175.]

I was standing not long ago by a child’s sick-cot; and if there is any sight which it is hard to look upon, it is that of the little one, to whom it is all such a mystery, racked and tortured with pain. But the brave little heroine whispered, “Father, give me your hand”; and holding her father’s hand, though riddled with pain, she never moaned. And so I. I do not know what others may not be able to do; I criticize no one, think hard thoughts of no one; I only say that in my bewilderments, sorrows, heartaches, struggles, I cannot rest upon ideas, visions, aspirations, strivings. I say, “Father, give me Thine hand.” I can be patient and brave then. Father! Thy name is Love.2 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 142.]

4. God’s love is the key to the mystery of pain and sorrow.—This epigrammatic sentence fits all graves, it fits all cemeteries; it is the word that is written on the portals of the churchyard, “God is love.” I have seen a strong man reel over his son’s grave as if he would plunge himself into it, for there was nothing worth living for after that one boy had gone. He was not in a mood to hear any preaching, he was not in a condition to hear even the gentlest tone; he must be watched, we must wait for him; he must feel it like a man before he answers it like a man. It will be no use speaking to him to-day; he sups sorrow; no, he does not sup it, he gulps it, he drains the cup of grief at one great gulp. We must call upon this man to-morrow; we must be remote, we must learn in God’s grace how to touch a wound without hurting it. Next week perhaps we may meet him, and even then we must hold ourselves remote, and yet be near at hand, and when the lull comes, the only sentence the man can bear—and at first he may receive it with unbelief and partial scorn—is, “God is love.” It does not seem like it. No, it does not. I feel inclined to deny it. I do not wonder; your grief is exceeding great; but—God is love. Who says so? I do. On what authority? My own experience; I have dug a grave as deep as you, and I thought just as you are thinking now; I said there are a thousand happy families, and one of the children might have been taken, but I had only one. That was a thousand strokes in one laceration, and I, brother in grief, fellow-mason in tears, I say, God-is-love.1 [Note: J. Parker, The City Temple Pulpit, iii. 239.]

I was at Doulton’s wonderful art works the other day, and saw one superb specimen of art—an illustration of a dream of Dante’s. I was admiring the figure of Beatrice—the exquisite workmanship, the pose and grace of the figure. “Ah,” said the gentleman who was showing it to me, “that has to be fired three times yet; those colours must be made permanent.”2 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 165.]

5. God’s love is a sufficient guarantee for the future.—Our immortality is a necessity to God. Love cannot let us die. Man is God’s child. Therefore God has set His heart upon him, and visited him every day. In the house of the rich man there are many treasures—rare books, costly pictures, splendid marbles, shining gems; but the little child who bears his image and likeness, and who looks up into his face with smiling love, and who answers to his affections with tender heart, is the dearest jewel of them all. And there is no man or woman who would not see the great house blotted out by fire, and every treasure absolutely destroyed rather than that harm should come to one hair of that golden head. In the great house of God there are many treasures and jewels—stars and planets, suns and moons; but above them all God values His human child.

The sole hope of man is God. The sole hope of retaining God is in the absoluteness and the universality of the Divine love. His righteousness must be the righteousness of love. His wrath must be the holy wrath of love. His retribution must be the recompense of love. They are all determined, limited, described, if God is love, by love. If God is an eternal being, and if God is love, then the love of God is nothing less than an eternal thing. If God is universal and in communication with every human soul, then, when you bring these things together, it yields the truth that the eternal love of God extends eternally to every saint and sinner of the human race. There is no other issue, if it is true that God is love. The love of the Eternal for every human soul is an eternally enduring love. Its universality in space and time means its eternal endurableness, not only for poor and rich, for white and black, but for every sinner as well as for every saint, for the child who is the prodigal in the far country as well as for the brother obedient in the home. The door of hope is never closed by the Father’s hand.

Yea God is love! and this I trust,

Though summer is over and sweetness done,

That all my lilies are safe, in the dust,

As they were in the glow of the great, glad sun.

Yea God is love, and love is might!

Mighty as surely to keep as to make;

And the sleepers, sleeping in death’s dark night,

In the resurrection of life shall wake.

In Watts’ picture entitled “Love Triumphant,” Time and Death have companioned together throughout the ages; and they are at length overthrown and lie prostrate at the feet of Love. They appear as two vague figures wrapped in clouds; the man half recumbent, the woman lying prone on the ground; time in the form of the woman illumined with a bright light; death in the form of a man overshadowed by his own form, and knowing nothing of the secrets that are hidden in his stern keeping. Love appears as a mystic angel with hands outstretched and mighty wings lifted upwards, and a waving robe blown across his body by a strong wind, and clouds of glory round about him, mounting into the empyrean.1 [Note: H. Macmillan, G. F. Watts, 258.]

The manifestation of unselfish affection, or even the expression of it, is a token of a higher nature in man and a presage of immortality. Where there is a love stronger than death there must be a soul stronger also.2 [Note: John Ker, Thoughts for Heart and Life, 7.]



Banks (L. A.), Sermons which have Won Souls, 429.

Barton (G. A.), The Roots of Christian Teaching, 15.

Campbell (R. J.), A Truth for To-day, 53.

Carter (T. T.), The Spirit of Watchfulness, 206, 218.

Cooper (T. J.), Love’s Unveiling, 1.

Deshon (G.), Sermons for the Ecclesiastical Year, 254.

Drummond (J.), Spiritual Religion, 115.

Fowler (G. H.), Things Old and New, 29.

Fraser (J.), University Sermons, 288.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 1, 33.

Illingworth (J. R.), Sermons Preached in a College Chapel, 130.

Jeffs (H.), The Art of Exposition, 243.

Jones (J. M.), The Cup of Cold Water, 155.

Lewis (E. W.), Some Views of Modern Theology, 83.

Macfarland (C. S.), The Infinite Affection, 23.

Maclagan (P. J.), The Gospel View of Things, 165.

McLean (A.), Where the Book Speaks, 200.

Macleod (D.), The Sunday Home Service, 9.

Mauro (P.), Love and Light, 3.

Moore (A. L.), God is Love, 1.

Moule (H. C. G.), Christ is All, 149.

Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 123.

Parker (J.), City Temple Pulpit, iii. 233.

Pearse (M. G.), Short Talks for the Times, 1, 10.

Smith (W. C.), Sermons, 1.

Stockdale (F. B.), The Divine Opportunity, 25.

Story (R. H.), Creed and Conduct, 156.

Westcott (B. F.), Historic Faith, 29.

Wheeler (W. C.), Sermons and Addresses, 125.

Wilberforce (B.), Feeling after Him, 105.

Wilberforce (B.), Speaking Good of His Name, 197,

Examiner, Aug. 20, 1903, p. 180 (Jowett).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
2:4,9; 3:6; John 8:54,55
God is
1:5; Exodus 34:6,7; Psalms 86:5,15; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 2:4; Hebrews 12:29

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

The Bible Study New Testament

Whoever does not love. "One who is a stranger to love, is a stranger to God also!" Compare 1 Corinthians 2:9 and note.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

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

On the basis of the affirmative as shown in the preceding verse, if a man does not have love as a predominant factor in his life, it is proof that he has not yet become acquainted with God.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 John 4:8". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

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