1 John iv.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. Try the spirits; i.e. every doctrine that you hear: for now are many false teachers, false doctors, and false prophets. (Witham) — Try, &c. viz. by examining whether their teaching be agreeable to the rule of the Catholic faith and the doctrine of the Church. For, as he says, (ver. 6) “He that knoweth God, heareth us: (the pastors of the Church) …by this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (Challoner) — The Church only, not every private man, hath to prove and discern spirits.

Ver. 2. By this is the Spirit of God known. He gives the new converts first this general mark, by which they might have good grounds to think that the teachers they met with in those days had a good spirit, were of God, if they confessed and acknowledged Jesus Christ to have come from heaven and to have been made flesh, or made man; i.e. to be truly God and truly man. But if (ver. 3) they met with teachers of such a spirit as dissolveth Jesus,[1] by denying him either to be the Messias or to be truly God, or to be a true man, they might conclude for certain that such men had not a true spirit, but were heretics, antichrists, and forerunners of the great antichrist. Such, even in St. John’s time, was Simon the magician, who, according to St. Epiphanius, (hær. xxi. p. 55. Ed Petav.) pretended among his countrymen, the Samaritans, that he himself was God the Father, and among the Jews that he was God the Son, and that Jesus suffered death in appearance only. His disciple also, Menander, said he was sent from heaven for the salvation of men. See St. Epiphanius, hær. xxii. p. 61. 3. Cerinthus, as also Carpocras, held that Jesus was a mere man, born of Joseph and Mary, and also different from Christ. See St. Epiphanius, hær. xxxvii. and xxix. p. 102. and 110. 4. Ebion held much the same. See the same St. Epiphanius, hær. xxx. p. 142. These heretics and divers of their followers divided Jesus, and destroyed the faith and mystery of the incarnation. (Witham) — Every spirit which confesseth, &c. Not that the confession of this point of faith alone, is at all times and in all cases sufficient; but that with relation to that time, and for that part of the Christian doctrine, which was then particularly to be confessed, taught, and maintained against the heretics of those days, this was the most proper token by which the true teachers might be distinguished from the false. (Challoner)

Ver. 3. That dissolveth Jesus, viz. either by denying his humanity or his divinity. (Challoner) — This is antichrist;[2] i.e. such is the spirit of antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, or is to come in the latter times. — And he is now already in the world, not the chief and great antichrist, but his precursors, in whom he may be said to come. (Witham) — And he is now already in the world. Not in his person, but in his spirit and in his precursors. (Challoner)

Ver. 4. You….little children, born anew in Christ by baptism, have overcome him, (i.e. every such antichrist) not by your own strength, but by the grace of Christ, because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world; i.e. the Spirit of God in you is above all your enemies. (Witham)

Ver. 5. They are of the world. Such antichrists and heretics are guided by a worldly spirit, teaching men to follow the corrupt customs and inclinations of the world and the flesh, therefore the world heareth them, and men are more easily seduced by them. (Witham)

Ver. 6. We (Christians) are of God, have received the Spirit; we, the apostles of Christ, were lawfully sent by him. — He that knoweth God, heareth us, &c. That is, they who love and serve God, and comply with the doctrine of his Son, Jesus Christ, hear and follow the doctrine which we were commissioned by him to teach. — He that is not of God, heareth us not. They are not of God, who refuse to hear and obey the voice of the Church and those whom Christ appointed to govern his Church, as hath been observed elsewhere. — By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Here St. John gives them the second general mark and rule, to preserve them and all Christians from errors and heresies to the end of the world. He that knoweth God, heareth us Apostles, whom he sent, and heareth our successors, invested with the same mission and authority, whom Christ sent, as his heavenly Father sent him, whom he appointed to govern his Church, and with whom he promised to remain to the end of the world. (Witham)

Ver. 7. Let us love one another. This is the repeated admonition of St. John, the evangelist, both in this epistle and to the end of his life, as St. Jerome relates in his Epist. ad Galat. (cap. vi. tom. 4, part 1, p. 414) that the apostle being very old, and when carried to Church meetings of the Christians, being desired to give them some exhortation, he scarce said any thing, but “love one another;” and it being tedious to his disciples to hear always the same thing, they desired some other instruction, to whom (says St. Jerome) he gave this answer, worthy of St. John: that this was the precept of our Lord, and that if complied with, it was sufficient. — Charity is of God, is love, is the fountain and source of all goodness and mercy, infinitely good in himself, and in his love and mercy towards mankind. This love and charity of God hath appeared by his sending his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. See John i. 14. — Thus God having first loved us, (ver. 10) when we were sinners, and his enemies, let us not be so ungrateful as not to love him, and to love one another after his example. (Witham)

Ver. 12. No man hath seen God at any time. No mortal man hath seen God and the perfections of his divine Majesty in such a manner as the blessed in heaven, but we have powerful motives to love and serve him, and to love our neighbour for his sake. (Witham)

Ver. 17. The charity of God (which may either signify the love by which we love God, or by which God loves us) perfected with us, or in us, and so possesseth our souls, as to give us an humble confidence of our salvation, when we shall appear before his tribunal at the day of judgment: because as he is, we also are in this world. These words are differently expounded. They may signify, that as God is always loving us, and giving us marks and effects of his love, so we in this world by his grace are always loving him and our neighbour, and increasing in this love, which gives us a confidence of our salvation. Or they may bear this sense, that as Jesus Christ was suffering in this world for us, so we are suffering for his sake. (Witham)

Ver. 18. Fear is not in charity, &c. By the fear, which a perfect charity and love of God excludes, we may understand a fear of temporal losses in this world, of the loss of goods, of banishment, of torments, of death itself, which the love of God made so many glorious martyrs contemn; or an anxious servile fear of punishment in the next world, for the more perfect charity and the love of God is, so much the more doth it banish this imperfect and servile fear; but as perfect charity does not exclude a love, and constant desire of loving God as our last end, for whose enjoyment we were created, so it does not exclude a fear of displeasing, offending, and losing him by sin. (Witham) — Perfect charity, or love, banisheth human fear, that is, the fear of men; as also all perplexing fear, which makes men mistrust or despair of God’s mercy; and that kind of servile fear, which makes them fear the punishment of sin more than the offence offered to God. But it no way excludes the wholesome fear of God’s judgments, so often recommended in holy writ, nor that fear and trembling with which we are told to work out our salvation. (Philippians ii. 12.) (Challoner)

Ver. 20. He that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? By this is signified, that it is more easy and natural to love the things that we see, and that enter by the senses. Pretend not then to love the invisible God, whose perfections are hidden from you in this life, unless you love your brother whom you see. But he adds another reason to prove that no man can love God unless he love his brother; because saith he, (ver. 21.) this is God’s express command, that he who loveth God love also his brother: so that a man cannot love God unless he also love his neighbour. (Witham)


[1] Ver. 2. Qui solvit Jesum. Kataluei is read in some manuscripts and must have been the reading which the Latin interpreter followed. We read the same in St. Irenæus, lib. 3. chap. xviii. p. 197. Ed. Feuardentii; in Tertullian, lib. 5. contra Marcion. chap. xvi. p. 481. Ed. Rigaltii; in St. Augustine in his commentary on these words, trac. 6, p. 871.

[2] Ver. 3. Et hic est antichristus, kai touto (pneumato tou antichristou. By the Greek hic cannot agree with the man, and so the construction in Latin must be, hic est ille spiritus antichristi.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

What spirits are of God, and what not. We must love one another, because God has loved us.

1 Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

2 By this is the spirit of God known: every spirit which confesseth Jesus Christ to have come in the flesh, is of God:

3 And every spirit, that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God, and this is antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.

4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome him, because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

5 *They are of the world: therefore of the world they speak, and the world heareth them.

6 We are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us: He that is not of God, heareth us not: by this we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

7 Dearly beloved, let us love one another: for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God.

8 He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity.

9 *By this hath appeared the charity of God in us, because God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live by him.

10 In this is charity: not as if we had loved God, but because he first loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins.

11 Dearly beloved, if God hath so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

12 *No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him, and he in us: because he hath given us of his Spirit.

14 And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father hath sent his Son, the Saviour of the world.

15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God.

16 And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us. God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.

17 In this is the charity of God perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment: because as he is, we also are in this world.

18 Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear; because fear hath pain: and he that feareth is not perfect in charity.

19 Let us, therefore, love God, because God first hath loved us.

20 If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?

21 *And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother.



5: John viii. 47.

9: John iii. 16.

12: John i. 18.; 1 Timothy vi. 16.

21: John xiii. 34. and xv. 12.; Ephesians v. 2.