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Calvin's Commentaries 
The First Epistle of John (Volume XXI)
1 John 4:7-10  
7. Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  
7. Dilecti, diligamus nos mutuo, quia dilectio ex Deo est; et omnis qui diligit ex Deo genitus est, et cognoscit Deum. 
8. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.  
8. Qui non diligit, non novit Deum; quia Deus dilectio est. 
9. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  
9. In hoc apparuit dilectio Dei in nobis, quod Filium suum unigenituxn misit Deus in mundum, ut per eum vivamus. 
10. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  
10. In hoc est dilectio, non quod nos dilexerimus Deum, sed quod nos ipse dilexit, et misit Filium propitiationem pro peccatis nostris. 

7. Beloved. He returns to that exhortation which he enforces almost throughout the Epistle. We have, indeed, said, that it is filled with the doctrine of faith and exhortation to love. On these two points he so dwells, that he continually passes from the one to the other. 

When he commands mutual love, he does not mean that we discharge this duty when we love our friends, because they love us; but as he addresses in common the faithful, he could not have spoken otherwise than that they were to exercise mutual love. He confirms this sentence by a reason often adduced before, even because no one can prove himself to be the son of God, except he loves his neighbors, and because the true knowledge of God necessarily produces love in us. 

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, ó 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 Apostleís words ought to be noticed, ó 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. 

9. In this was manifested, or, has appeared. We have the love of God towards us testified also by many other proofs. For if it be asked, why the world has been created, why we have been placed in it to possess the dominion of the earth, why we are preserved in life to enjoy innumerable blessings, why we are endued with light and understanding, no other reason can be adduced, except the gratuitous love of God. But the Apostle here has chosen the principal evidence of it, and what far surpasses all other things. For it was not only an immeasurable love, that God spared not his own Son, that by his death he might restore us to life; but it was goodness the most marvelous, which ought to fill our minds with the greatest wonder and amazement. Christ, then, is so illustrious and singular a proof of divine love towards us, that whenever we look upon him, he fully confirms to us the truth that God is love. 

He calls him his only begotten, for the sake of amplifying. For in this he more clearly shewed how singularly he loved us, because he exposed his only Son to death for our sakes. In the meantime, he who is his only Son by nature, makes many sons by grace and adoption, even all who, by faith, are united to his body. He expresses the end for which Christ has been sent by the Father, even that we may live through him, for without him we are all dead, but by his coming he brought life to us; and except our unbelief prevents the effect of his grace, we feel it in ourselves. 

10. Herein is love. He amplifies Godís love by another reason, that he gave us his own Son at the time when we were enemies, as Paul teaches us, in Romans 5:8; but he employs other words, that God, induced by no love of men, freely loved them. He meant by these words to teach us that Godís love towards us has been gratuitous. And though it was the Apostleís object to set forth God as an example to be imitated by us; yet the doctrine of faith which he intermingles, ought not to be overlooked. God freely loved us, ó how so? because he loved us before we were born, and also when, through depravity of nature, we had hearts turned away from him, and influenced by no right and pious feelings. 

Were the prattlings of the Papists entertained, that every one is chosen by God as he foresees him to be worthy of love, this doctrine, that he first loved us, would not stand; for then our love to God would be first in order, though hi time posterior. But the Apostle assumes this as an evident truth, taught in Scripture (of which these profane Sophists are ignorant,) that we are born so corrupt and depraved, that there is in us as it were an innate hatred to God, so that we desire nothing but what is displeasing to him, so that all the passions of our flesh carry on continual war with his righteousness. 

And sent his Son. It was then from Godís goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his blessings has come to us. And as it is necessary to know, that we have salvation in Christ, because our heavenly Father has freely loved us; so when a real and full certainty of divine love towards us is sought for, we must look nowhere else but to Christ. Hence all who inquire, apart from Christ, what is settled respecting them in Godís secret counsel, are mad to their own ruin. 

But he again points out the cause of Christís coming and his office, when he says that he was sent to be a propitiation for our sins. And first, indeed, we are taught by these words, that we were all through sin alienated from God, and that this alienation and discord remains until Christ intervenes to reconcile us. We are taught, secondly, that it is the beginning of our life, when God, having been pacified by the death of his Son, receives us unto favor: for propitiation properly refers to the sacrifice of his death. We find, then, that this honor of expiating for the sins of the world, and of thus taking away the enmity between God and us, belongs only to Christ. 

But here some appearance of inconsistency arises. For if God loved us before Christ offered himself to death for us, what need was there for another reconciliation? Thus the death of Christ may seem to be superfluous. To this I answer, that when Christ is said to have reconciled the Father to us, this is to be referred to our apprehensions; for as we are conscious of being guilty, we cannot conceive of God otherwise than as of one displeased and angry with us, until Christ absolves us from guilt. For God, wherever sin appears, would have his wrath, and the judgment of eternal death, to be apprehended. It hence follows, that we cannot be otherwise than terrified by the present prospect. as to death, until Christ by his death abolishes sin, until he delivers us by his own blood from death. Further, Godís love requires righteousness; that we may then be persuaded that we are loved, we must necessarily come to Christ, in whom alone righteousness is to be found. 

We now see that the variety of expressions, which occurs in Scripture, according to different aspects of things, is most appropriate and especially useful with regard to faith. God interposed his own Son to reconcile himself to us, because he loved us; but this love was hid, because we were in the meantime enemies to God, continually provoking his wrath. Besides, the fear and terror of an evil conscience took away from us all enjoyment of life. Thence as to the apprehension of our faith, God began to love us in Christ. And though the Apostle here speaks of the first reconciliation, let us yet know that to propitiate God to us by expiating sins is a perpetual benefit proceeding from Christ. 

This the Papists also in part concede; but afterwards they extenuate and almost annihilate this grace, by introducing their fictitious satisfactions. For if men redeem themselves by their works, Christ cannot be the only true propitiation, as he is called here. 

1 John 4:11-16  
11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.  
11. Dilecti, si ita Deus nos dilexit, nos quoque debemus invicem diligere.  
12. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.  
12. Deum nemo vidit unquam; si diligimus nos invicem, Deus in nobis manet, et dilectio ejus perfecta est in nobis. 
13. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.  
13. In hoc cognoscimus, quod in ipso manemus, et ipse in nobis, quit ex Spiritu suo dedit nobis. 
14. And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.  
14. Et nos vidimus et testamur, testify, quod Pater misit Filium servatorem mundi. 
15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.  
15. Qui confessus fuerit, quod Jesus est Filius Dei, Deus in eo manet et ipsc in Deo.  
16. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.  
16. Et nos cognovimus et credimus dilectionem quam habet Deus in nobis: Deus charitas est; et qui manet in charitate, in Deo manet, et Deus in eo. 

11. Beloved. Now the Almighty accommodates to his own purpose what he has just taught us respecting the love of God; for he exhorts us by Godís example to brotherly love; as also Paul sets before us Christ, who offered himself to the Father a sacrifice of pleasant fragrance, that every one of us might labor to benefit his neighbors. (Ephesians 5:2.) And John reminds us, that our love ought not to be mercenary, when he bids us to love our neighbors as God has loved us; for we ought to remember this, that we have been loved freely. And doubtless when we regard our own advantage, or return good offices to friends, it is self-love, and not love to others. 

12. No man hath seen God. The same words are found in the first chapter of Johnís Gospel; but John the Baptist had not there exactly the same thing in view, for he meant only that God could not be otherwise known, but as he has revealed himself in Christ. The Apostle here extends the same truth farther, that the power of God is comprehended by us by faith and love, so as to know that we are his children and that he dwells in us. 

He speaks, however, first of love, when he says, that God dwells in us, if we love one another; for perfected, or really proved to be, in us is then his love; as though he had said, that God shews himself as present, when by his Spirit he forms our hearts so that they entertain brotherly love. For the same purpose he repeats what he had already said, that we know by the Spirit whom he has given us that he dwells in us; for it is a confirmation of the former sentence, because love is the effect or fruit of the Spirit. 

The sum, then, of what is said is, that since love is from the Spirit of God, we cannot truly and with a sincere heart love the brethren, except the Spirit puts forth his power. In this way he testifies that he dwells in us. But God by his Spirit dwells in us; then, by love we prove that we have God abiding in us. On the other hand, whosoever boasts that he has God and loves not the brethren, his falsehood is proved by this one thing, because he separates God front himself. 

When he says, and his love is perfected, the conjunction is to be taken as a causative, for, or, because. And love here may be explained in two ways, either that which God shews to us, or that which he implants in us. That God has given his Spirit to us, or given us of his Spirit, means the same thing; for we know that the Spirit in a measure is given to each individual. 

14. And we have seen. He now explains the other part of the knowledge of God, which we have referred to, that he communicates himself to us in his Son, and offers himself to be enjoyed in him. It hence follows, that he is by faith received by us. For the design of the Apostle is to shew, that God is so united to us by faith and love, that he really dwells in us and renders himself in a manner visible by the effect of his power, who otherwise could not be seen by us. 

When the Apostle says, We have, seen and do testify, he refers to himself and others. And by seeing, he does not mean any sort of seeing, but what belongs to faith by which they recognized the glory of God in Christ, according to what follows, that he was sent to be the Savior of the world; and this knowledge flows from the illumination of the Spirit. 

15. Whosoever shall confess. He repeats the truth, that we are united to God by Christ, and that we cannot be connected with Christ except, God abides in us. Faith and confession are used indiscriminately in the same sense; for though hypocrites may wisely boast of faith, yet the apostle here acknowledges none of those who ordinarily confess, but such as truly and from the heart believe. Besides, when he says that Jesus is the Son, of God, he briefly includes the sum and substance of faith; for there is nothing necessary for salvation which faith finds not in Christ 

After having said in general, that men are so united to Christ by faith, that Christ unites them to God, he subjoined what they themselves had seen so that he accommodated a general truth to those to whom he was writing. Then follows the exhortation, to love one another as they were loved by God. Therefore the order and connection of his discourse is this, ó Faith in Christ, makes God to dwell in men, and we are partakers of this grace; but as God is love, no one dwells in him except he loves his brethren. Then love ought to reign in us, since God unites himself to us. 

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

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

1 John 4:17-18  
17. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.  
17. In hoc perfecta est charitas nobiscum, ut fiduciam habaemus in die judicii, quod sieut ille est, nos quoque sumus in hoc mundo. 
18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.  
18. Timor non est in charitate; sed perfecta charitas foras pellit timorem: quia timor tormentum habet; qui autem timet, non est perfectus in charitate. 

17. Herein is our love made perfect. There are two clauses in this passage, ó that we are then partakers of divine adoption, when we resemble God as children their father; and, secondly, that. this confidence is invaluable, for without it we must be most miserable. 

Then in the first place, he shews to what purpose God has in love embraced us, and how we enjoy that grace manifested to us in Christ.. Then, Godís love to us is what is to be understood here. He says it is perfected, because it is abundantly poured forth and really given, that it appears to be complete. But he asserts that no others are partakers of this blessing; but those who, by being conformed to God, prove themselves to be his children. It is, then, an argument taken from what is an inseparable condition. 

That we may have boldness. He now begins to shew the fruit of divine love towards us, though he afterwards shews it more clearly from the contrary effect. It is, however, an invaluable benefit, that we can dare boldly to stand before God. By nature, indeed, we dread the presence of God, and that justly; for, as he is the Judge of the world, and our sins hold us guilty, death and hell must come to our minds whenever we think of God. Hence is that dread which I have mentioned, which makes men shun God as much as they can. But John says that the faithful do not fear, when mention is made to them of the last judgment, but that on the contrary they go to Godís tribunal confidently and cheerfully, because they are assured of his paternal love. Every one, then, has made so much proficiency in faith, as he is well prepared in his mind to look forward to the day of judgment. 

As he is. By these words, as it has been already said, he meant that it is required of us at our turn to resemble the image of God. What God then in heaven is, such he bids us to be in this world, in order that we may be deemed his children; for the image of God, when it appears in us, is as it were the seal of his adoption. 

But he seems thus to place a part of our confidence on works. Hence the Papists raise their crests here, as though John denied that we, relying on Godís grace alone, can have a sure confidence as to salvation without the help of works. But in this they are deceived, because they do not consider that the Apostle here does not refer to the cause of salvation, but to what is added to it. And we readily allow that no one is reconciled to God through Christ, except he is also renewed after Godís image, and that the one cannot be disjoined from the other. Right then is what is done by the Apostle, who excludes from the confidence of grace all those in whom no image of God is seen; for it is certain that such are wholly aliens to the Spirit of God and to Christ. Nor do we deny that newness of life, as it is the effect of divine adoption, serves to confirm confidence, as a prop, so to speak, of the second order; but in the meantime we ought to have our foundation on grace alone. Nor indeed does the doctrine of John appear otherwise consistent with itself; for experience proves, and even Papists are forced to confess, that as to works they always give an occasion for trembling. Therefore no one can come with a tranquil mind to Godís tribunal, except he believes that he is freely loved. 

But that none of these things please the Papists, there is no reason for any one to wonder, since being miserable they know no faith except that which is entangled with doubts. Besides, hypocrisy brings darkness over them, so that they do not seriously consider how formidable is Godís judgment when Christ the Mediator is not present, and some of them regard the resurrection as fabulous. But that we may cheerfully and joyfully go forth to meet Christ, we must have our faith fixed on his grace alone. 

18. There is no fear. He now commends the excellency of this blessing by stating the contrary effect, for he says that we are continually tormented until God delivers us from misery and anguish by the remedy of his own love towards us. The meaning is, that as there is nothing more miserable than to be harassed by continual inquietude, we obtain by knowing Godís love towards us the benefit of a peaceful calmness beyond the reach of fear. It hence appears what a singular gift of God it is to be favored with his love. Moreover from this doctrine, he will presently draw an exhortation; but before he exhorts us to duty, he commends to us this gift of God, which by faith removes our fear. 

This passage, I know, is explained otherwise by many; but I regard what the Apostle means, not what others think. They say that there is no fear in love, because, when we voluntarily love God, we are not constrained by force and fear to serve him. Then according to them, servile fear is here set in opposition to voluntary reverence; and hence has arisen the distinction between servile and filial fear. I indeed allow it to be true, that when we willingly love God as a Father, we are no longer constrained by the fear of punish-merit; but this doctrine has nothing in common with this passage, for the Apostle only teaches us, that when the love of God is by us seen and known by faith, peace is given to our consciences, so that they no longer tremble and fear. 

It may, however, be asked, when does perfect love expel fear, for since we are endued with some taste only of divine love towards us, we can never be wholly freed from fear? To this I answer, that, though fear is not wholly shaken off, yet when we flee to God as to a quiet harbor, safe and free from all danger of shipwreck and of tempests, fear is really expelled, for it gives way to faith. Then fear is not so expelled, but that it assails our minds, but it is so expelled that it does not torment us nor impede that peace which we obtain by faith. 

Fear hath torment. Here the Apostle amplifies still further the greatness of that grace of which he speaks; for as it is a most miserable condition to suffer continual torments, there is nothing more to be wished than to present ourselves before God with a quiet conscience and a calm mind. What some say, that servants fear, because they have before their eyes punishment and the rod, and that they do not their duty except when forced, has nothing to do, as it has been already stated, with what the Apostle says here. So in the next clause, the exposition given, that he who fears is not perfect in love, because he submits not willingly to God, but would rather free himself from his service, does not comport at all with the context. For the Apostle, on the contrary, reminds us, that it is owing to unbelief when any one fears, that is, has a disturbed mind; for the love of God, really known, tranquilizes the heart. 

1 John 4:19-21  
19. We love him, because he first loved us.  
19. Nos diligimus eum, quia prior dilexit nos. 
20. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  
20. Si quis dicit, Deum diligo; et proximum suum odio habeat, mendax est: qui enim non dillgit fratrem suum quem videt; Deum quem non videt, quomodo potest diligere? 
21. And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.  
21. Et hoe praeceptum habemus ab ipso, ut qui Deum diligit, diligat et fratrem suum. 

19. We love him. The verb ajgapw~men may be either in the indicative or imperative mood; but the former is the more suitable here, for the Apostle, as I think, repeats the preceding sentence, that as God has anticipated us by his free love, we ought to return to render love to him, for he immediately infers that he ought to be loved in men, or that the love we have for him ought to be manifested towards men. If, however, the imperative mood be preferred, the meaning would be nearly the same, that as God has freely loved us, we also ought now to love him. 

But this love cannot exist, except it generates brotherly love. Hence he says, that they are liars who boast that they love God, when they hate their brethren. 

But the reason he subjoins seems not sufficiently valid, for it is a comparison between the less and the greater: If, he says, we love not our brethren whom we see, much less can we love God who is invisible. Now there are obviously two exceptions; for the love which God has to us is from faith and does not flow from sight, as we find in 1 Peter 1:8; and secondly, far different is the love of God from the love of men; for while God leads his people to love him through his infinite goodness, men are often worthy of hatred. To this I answer, that the Apostle takes here as granted what ought no doubt to appear evident to us, that God offers himself to us in those men who bear his image, and that he requires the duties, which he does not want himself, to be performed to them, according to Psalm 16:2, where we read, 

ďMy goodness reaches not to thee, O Lord; 
towards the saints who are on the earth is my love.Ē 

And surely the participation of the same nature, the need of so many things, and mutual intercourse, must allure us to mutual love, except; we are harder than iron. But John meant another thing: he meant to shew how fallacious is the boast of every one who says that he loves God, and yet loves not Godís image which is before his eyes. 

21. And this commandment. This is a stronger argument, drawn from the authority and doctrine of Christ; for he not, only gave a commandment respecting the love of God, but bade us also to love our brethren. We must therefore so begin with God, as that there may be at the same time a transition made to men.