1 John 4:7-14. J. N. Darby.
Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887
J. N. Darby.
Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887
The three tests of true Christianity are now distinctly laid down, and the apostle pursues his exhortations, developing the fulness and intimacy of our relationships with a God of love, maintaining that participation of nature in which love is of God, and he who loves is born of God, partakes therefore of His nature, and knows Him (for it is by faith that he received it) as partaking His nature. He who loves not does not know God. We must possess the nature that loves in order to know what love is. He then who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Such a person has not one sentiment in connection with the nature of God; how then can he know Him? No more than an animal can know what a man's mind and understanding is when he has not got it.
Give especial heed, reader, to this immense prerogative, which flows from the whole doctrine of the epistle. The eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested, and has been imparted to us; thus we are partakers of the divine nature. The affections of that nature acting in us rest by the power of the Holy Ghost in the enjoyment of communion with God, who is its source: we dwell in Him, and He in us. The actings of this nature prove that He dwells in us. The first thing is the statement of the truth, that if we thus love, God Himself dwells in us. He who works this love is there. But He is infinite, and the heart rests in Him; we know at the same time that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. But this passage, so rich in blessing, demands that we should follow it with order.
He begins with the fact that love is of God. It is His nature; He is its source. Therefore he who loves is born of God, is a partaker of His nature. Also he knows God; for he knows what love is, and God is its fulness. This is the doctrine which makes everything depend on our participation in the divine nature.
Now this might be transformed on the one hand into mysticism, by leading us to fix our attention on our love for God, and love in us, that being God's nature, as if it was said, Love is God, not God is love, and by seeking to fathom the divine nature in ourselves; or to doubt on the other, because we do not find the effects of the divine nature in us as we would. In effect he who does not love (for the thing, as ever in John, is expressed in an abstract way) does not know God, for God is love. The possession of the nature is necessary to the understanding of what that nature is, and for the knowledge of Him who is its perfection.
But if I seek to know it, and have or give the proof of it, it is not to the existence of the nature in us that the Spirit of God directs the thoughts of the believers as their object. God, he has said, is love; and this love has been manifested towards us in that He has given His only Son, that we might live through Him. The proof is not the life in us, but that God has given His Son in order that we might live, and further to make propitiation for our sins. God be praised! we know this love, not by the poor results of its action in ourselves, but in its perfection in God, and that even in a manifestation of it towards us, which is wholly outside ourselves. It is a fact outside ourselves which is the manifestation of this perfect love. We enjoy it by participating in the divine nature, we know it by the infinite gift of God's Son. The exercise and proof of it are there.
The full scope of this principle and all the force of its truth are stated and demonstrated in that which follows. It is striking to see how the Holy Spirit, in an epistle which is essentially occupied with the life of Christ and its fruits, gives the proof and full character of love in that which is wholly without ourselves. Nor can anything be more perfect than the way in which the love of God is here set forth, from the time it is occupied with our sinful state till we stand before the judgment-seat. God has thought of all; love towards us as sinners (vv. 9, 10); in us as saints (v. 12); perfect in our condition in view of the day of judgment (v. 11). In the first verses the love of God is manifested in the gift of Christ; first, to give us life - we were dead; secondly, to make propitiation - we were guilty. Our whole case is taken up. In the second of these verses, the great principle of grace, what love is, where and how known, is clearly stated in words of infinite importance as to the very nature of Christianity. "Herein is love, not that we have loved God" (that was the principle of the law), "but in that He has loved us, and has given His Son to make propitiation for our sins." Here then it is that we have learnt that which love is. It was perfect in Him when we had no love for Him; perfect in Him, in that He exercised it towards us when we were in our sins, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for them. The apostle then affirms, no doubt, that he who loves not knows not God. The pretension to possess this love is judged by this means; but in order to know love we must not seek for it in ourselves, but must seek it manifested in God when we had none. He gives the life which loves, and He has made propitiation for our sins.
And now with regard to the enjoyment and the privileges of this love: if God so loved us (this is the ground that He takes) we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God dwells in us. His presence, Himself dwelling in us, rises in the excellency of His nature above all the barriers of circumstances, and attaches us to those who are His. It is God in the power of His nature which is the source of thought and feeling, and diffuses itself among those in whom it is. One can understand this. How is it that I love strangers from another land, persons of different habits, whom I have never known, more intimately than members of my own family after the flesh? How is it that I have thoughts in common, affections powerfully engaged, a stronger bond with persons whom I have never seen, than with the otherwise dear companions of my childhood? It is because there is in them and in me a source of thoughts and affections which is not human. God is in it. God dwells in us. What happiness! What a bond! Does He not communicate Himself to the soul? Does He not render it conscious of His presence in love? Assuredly, yes. And if He is thus in us, the blessed source of our thoughts, can there be fear, or distance, or uncertainty with regard to what He is? None at all. His love is perfect in us. W e know Him as love in our souls: the second great point in this remarkable passage, the enjoyment of divine love in our souls.
The apostle has not yet said, "We know that we dwell in Him." He will say it now. But if the love of the brethren is in us, God dwells in us. When it is in exercise, we are conscious of the presence of God, as perfect love in us. It fills the heart, and thus is exercised in us. Now this consciousness is the effect of the presence of His Spirit as the source and power of life and nature in us. He has given us, not "His Spirit," the proof that He dwells in us, but "of His Spirit." We participate by His presence in us in divine affections through the Spirit, and thus we not only know that He dwells in us, but the presence of the Spirit, acting in a nature which is that of God in us, makes us conscious that we dwell in Him. For He is the infiniteness and perfection of that which is now in us.
The heart rests in this, and enjoys Him, and is hidden from all that is outside Him, in the consciousness of the perfect love in which (thus dwelling in Him) one finds oneself. The Spirit makes us dwell in God, and gives us thus the consciousness that He dwells in us. Thus we, in the savour and consciousness of the love that was in it, can testify of that in which it was manifested beyond all Jewish limits, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
J. N. D.