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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

In this chapter, the Apostle cautions the faithful against embracing, too readily, any doctrine proposed to them, or against attaching themselves, without due consideration, to every teacher that may pretend to a divine inspiration; because, many false teachers even in his day, went forth to deceive the people (verse 1). He gives a special mark for distinguishing true doctrine or true teachers from the false, derived from the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation (2, 3).

He attributes the stability of the faithful, and their resistance to the false teachers, to the grace and power of God dwelling in them (4). He next accounts why these false teachers have followers in the world, on the ground, that they please the world in their preaching (5). He assigns a general note, accommodated to all times, for distinguishing true and false teachers, viz., their rejecting or receiving the doctrine of the Church, and submitting to the authority of her chief Pastors (6).

The Apostle resumes the subject of brotherly love, from which he digressed (3:2, 3), and while exhorting them to love one another, shows the advantages of loving our neighbour (7), and the evils of not loving him; and how incompatible the hatred of our brother is with the love of God (8). He extols the charity of God for us, on account of the great sacrifice it involved (9), and on account of its utter gratuitousness, being wholly unmerited on our part (10); from this he draws a conclusion containing an exhortation to us, after the example of the great love of God for us (11). He says that, although no one ever saw God; and hence, no one could either love him as he deserves, or make him a return of love; still, God dwells in us intimately, if we love our brethren (12). God has given another proof of his love, and of his abiding in us, in the spiritual gifts bestowed on the Church (13).

From the testimony of the senses, he demonstrates the certainty of God having sent his Son to redeem us: this point, and the necessity of believing it, he dwells on particularly, owing to its great importance (14, 15). The Apostle again refers to the great charity of God in sending his Son to redeem us, and asserts that God is himself the increated charity, from which all created charity flows (16). He shows the effect of charity, viz., to give us confidence in the day of judgment (17). He shows how this charity excludes all servile or perplexing fear (18).

He next exhorts us to love God, and assigns the reason of this (19), and proves that no one can love God and hate his neighbour—first, because the thing is impossible (20); and, secondly, because the man who hates his neighbour, violates God’s precepts, and, therefore, cannot love God (21).

Paraphrase

1. Dearly beloved, beware of lending too ready an assent to every doctrine proposed to you as inspired by God—or to every teacher who pretends to a divine inspiration; but, in every case of this sort, try and examine if such persons or doctrines be from God or from the devil; for, many false teachers pretending to a knowledge of the secrets of God, have gone forth into the world

2. There is one sign or test, whereby you may know at the present day, whether a person or doctrine be from God or not, viz., every doctrine or person that proposes the true faith regarding the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus Christ, is from God.

3. While, on the other hand, every doctrine or person (that does not confess that Jesus came into the flesh); and, therefore, dissolveth Jesus by expressing an error, regarding either his divine or human nature, such a doctrine or person is not from God; and such is either the doctrine or the forerunner of Antichrist, of whom you have heard it said, that he is on the eve of coming (this being the last stage of the world), and that he is already in the world, in the persons of his precursors; for even now there are many Antichrists—(chap. 2:18).

4. But you, my dearly beloved children, are sons of God, and, therefore, have conquered this wicked one in his precursors, whose efforts to pervert your faith you have frustrated, owing to the grace and assistance of God, whose spirit, impressing on your minds the truths of faith, is more powerful than the spirit of the devil who dwells in and rules the impious.

5. These false teachers are of the number of worldlings, whose hopes and aspirations are confined to this world; and, therefore, they propose things pleasing to the world, and in a style accommodated to the wisdom of worldlings, and hence it is that the world hears them and attends to them.

6. But, we, Apostles and divinely inspired teachers, are of God. Whosoever belongs to God by faith operating through charity hears us. And he that is not of God, does not hear us. By this general test, then, accommodated to all times and all circumstances, can we know who the person or what the doctrine is, that is from God; and who the person or what the doctrine is, that comes from the devil, viz., by their conformity with the doctrine of the Catholic Church or otherwise.

7. Dearly beloved brethren, let us love one another, for this fraternal charity is of God—it is a singular gift emanating from his grace; it has God for author, who unites in one common bond of charity all the members of the Church, militant and triumphant, and is a work singularly pleasing to him; every one that loveth his neighbour is a son of God and co-heir of Christ, and has that affective knowledge of God, which is the fruit of his adoption.

8. And he that loveth not his neighbour has not the affective or practical saving knowledge of God; for, God is the increated fountain of charity from which all created charity in creatures, like so many rivulets, flows.

9. In this, has the boundless charity of God the Father been singularly conspicuous towards mankind, viz., in his having sent his consubstantial and only begotten Son into the world, that we, who were in a state of spiritual death, might live through him.

10. His charity also has another distinguishing quality, viz., its gratuitousness. In this also is his charity much commended, that he did not love us by way of return for our having loved him; for, it was he who first loved us, and, in consequence thereof, sent his Son into the world to be a victim of propitiation for our sins.

11. If, then, my dearest children, God loved us even when we were his enemies, to the extent of delivering up his Son for us; we ought, in imitation of him, love one another, not even excepting our enemies.

12. No one has ever in this life seen God, nor his adorable perfections as they are, and as they merit our love; hence, no one can have the motives of sensible presence and familiarity to excite him to love God as he has in reference to his fellow-creatures; but if we love one another from the proper motive of charity, God abides in us by the communication of his grace, and makes us his dwelling place, and the charity by which we love him is fully and perfectly accomplished in us.

13. And by this we know that we abide in God by the close union of charity and love, and he in us, by sanctifying grace, viz., by the abundance of spiritual gifts which he has poured forth on the Church to which we belong—or by the spirit of charity for one another, which can only be the fruit of his grace and Holy Spirit.

14. And we, Apostles, have seen it with our eyes, and we bear testimony to the fact, that God the Father hath sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.

15. Whosoever, then, shall confess, that Jesus is the Son of God, and the Saviour sent by him into this world, such a person abides in God, is united to him in friendship, and God abides in him by sanctifying grace.

16. And we have all known, from undoubted proofs, and we have believed in, the great charity of God, manifested towards us in sending his Son to redeem us. God is the essential uncreated charity, from whom, as from its fountain, all created charity flows; and he who abides in created charity, and through it, adheres to uncreated charity, abides in God, and God in turn abides in him, through the medium of sanctifying grace and in the bonds of mutual friendship.

17. In this is the charity by which we love God, perfected in us—a charity which will have the effect of begetting in us confidence on the day of judgment—viz., that as he is showering down his blessings on all, enemies as well as friends, so we also are in this world doing good to all, not excepting our enemies.

18. True and genuine charity begets confidence on the day of judgment, and, is therefore, incompatible with that servile fear, which dreads God’s justice on account of past sins, and is so opposed to confidence; perfect or genuine charity excludes every such fear; because, this fear has joined to it an anxiety and torture of mind quite incompatible with the calm peace and confidence, which accompany charity. He, then, that is agitated and influenced by this fear, has not true and genuine charity.

19. Let us, then, love God, since he first loved us, even when we were his enemies, having sent his Son to redeem us.

20. The best proof that we love God, is the love of our neighbour. If any person say, or even think in his mind, that he has the prescribed love for God, and at the same time hate his brother and exclude him from his affection; such a man is a liar and grossly deceives himself; for, he that loveth not the visible image of God, viz., his brother, whom he sees—whose wants he knows—with whom he shares the same common nature—on whom he depends for mutual aid and assistance—how can he love God whom he seeth not, who lies far beyond the reach of the senses? The thing is impossible.

21. Moreover, no one can love God and violate his commandments; now, it is a commandment of God, that we should love our brother. Hence, no one can hate his brother and love God.

Commentary

1. “Every spirit,” may regard either doctrine or preachers of doctrine, as coming from God; “but try the spirits,” by comparing them with the general test given (v. 6) by examining whether their teaching be in accordance with the doctrine of the Church, “if they be of God.” In this there is no license given to the faithful to subject to examination, the defined doctrines of faith proposed to them by their pastors; for, here there is question of new doctrines not hitherto propounded, or of teachers not commissioned by the Apostles. “Because many false prophets are gone out,” &c. By “prophets” are frequently meant in Scripture, not persons who can predict future events (the strict meaning of the word), but persons who pretended to a knowledge of the Divine mind, and to the faculty of explaining the doctrines of revelation, under the influence of Divine inspiration.—(1 Cor. 12, 13, 14) Hence, by “false prophets,” here are meant, men who propounded their own private errors, as doctrine divinely inspired.

2. “By this is known.” The Greek is γινωσκετε, “know ye.” The Vulgate, however, is supported by many manuscripts and versions. Here is assigned, a particular mark accommodated to the circumstances of the time and the errors then broached, viz.:—“Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God,” that is, every doctrine that propounds the true faith regarding the Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ, or every teacher that holds this faith, is from God.

OBJECTION.—Would not the Calvinists or Protestants, in general, admit this?

ANSWER.—The Apostle gives this note merely in reference to the errors of the early heretics, who either erred regarding the Divinity (as Ebion and Cerinthus), or the Humanity of Jesus Christ (as was done by Simon Magus, and many heretics in after days); it is in reference to such only, that this note holds; just in the same way as, talking of heretics now-a-days, pastors of the Church, referring to leading modern errors, might give as a mark of the orthodox believers: “Whosoever admits Transubstantiation, or the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff is of God.” It might, however, be truly said that the note now given by the Apostle applies, in a certain sense, to all times; for all heretics err in something connected with either the Divinity or Humanity of Jesus Christ. His Divinity is asserted in the words, “is come.” Hence, he must have been previously existing; and the reality of his flesh in the words, “come into the flesh.”

3. In this verse, he gives the same remark, negatively “and every spirit that dissolveth Jesus.” In the Greek it is, “and every spirit that confesses not Jesus,” (to which is added, in the ordinary Greek text, “to have come in the flesh), is not of God.” St. Augustine employs both readings, the reading of the Vulgate, and that of the Greek copies; it is probable both readings were originally found in the sacred text. They have the same meaning expressed in different words. He is said to “dissolve Jesus,” who either denies his Humanity, or Divinity, or his unity of Person, and the distinction of natures in him; in one word, he who broaches any error regarding his Humanity or Divinity, “is not of God,” and, therefore, to be rejected. “And this is Antichrist” (in Greek, το του αντιχριστου, this is that of Antichrist), or, this is the spirit of Antichrist, either his doctrine or forerunner, according to the meaning given to the word “spirit.” “Of whom you have heard that he cometh;” or, is on the eve of coming, as the “last hour” has arrived (2:18), “and is now already in the world,” in the persons of his precursors. “Even now there are become many Antichrists,” (2:18). The fame of Antichrist’s coming was known throughout the entire Church (St. John, chap. 5 verse 45; 2 Thes. 2). In the Greek, for, of whom you have heard, it is, ὁ ακηκοατε, which (spirit) you have heard; the meaning of which would be, of which spirit of Antichrist, you have heard that it has come and is in the world, in the person of his precursors.

4. You have nothing in common with such, having been born of God, “and have overcome him” in his precursors. The Greek expresses this more clearly, you have overcome them. “Because greater is the spirit,” &c. He refers their victory to the proper source, viz., the grace of God’s spirit residing in them.

5. “They are of the world.” These false teachers belong to the rank of worldlings, whose hopes and aspirations are centred in the goods of this world. “Therefore of the world they speak”—they propound doctrines pleasing to flesh and blood, discarding the more difficult and austere—or, the words may regard their mode of treating religious and sublime truths of faith. They treat of them in a philosophical way, reducing them to the rules of human reason, to suit the incredulity of worldlings.

“And the world heareth them.” therefore, because religion is made to suit their corrupt passions and intellectual caprices.

6. “We,” Apostles, and our successors in the government of the Church, “are of God,” aided by his grace, and divinely commissioned by him, we propound to you the doctrine which he has revealed to us. “He that knoweth God” practically, and is united with him, “heareth us”—obeys us, and assents to the doctrine which we propose. “He that is not of God, heareth us not.” “By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error,” viz., by their receiving or rejecting our doctrine.

In this verse, the Apostle gives a second note, and a general one, for distinguishing true from false teachers; a note accommodated to all circumstances, and true to the end of the world. It is this: the teacher who obeys the voice of the chief Pastors of the Church, the successors of the Apostles, is a true teacher; or, the doctrine which is comfortable to the doctrine of the Church is true doctrine; while on the other hand, he who obeys not the Church, and is not sent by the supreme Pastors, with whom Christ promised to remain, “to the end of the world,” is a false teacher, and one inspired by the spirit of error. He who hears you, hears me, and he who despises you, despises me.—(Luke, 10 verse 16)

7. The Apostle now resumes his favourite subject of fraternal charity, of which he had been treating (3:23), and from which he had digressed at the commencement of this. “Let us love one another, for charity is of God;” fraternal charity is of God—(vide Paraphrase). “And every one that loveth is born of God,” is a son of God, and co-heir of Christ—absolutely so, if he be already in sanctifying grace, but only remotely and so far as this love of his neighbour, under the influence of actual grace, disposes for justification, if he be not already justified. “And knoweth God” practically, with the affective knowledge joined to love.

8. “He that loveth not” his neighbour—for there is question of the love of our neighbour—“knoweth not God,” has not the affective, saving knowledge of God, joined with the divine love; although such a person may have true and divine faith.—“For God is charity.” He is that increated charity, the source of charity in us—the fountain from which all created charity flows.

From this, it by no means follows, as Peter Lombard, commonly called “The Master of Sentences,” maintains, that charity is not a created habit, but the increated love of God residing in the soul, as in his temple; because he resides there through the medium of created charity, expressed in the clearest terms by St. Paul (Rom. 5): “Charitas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per spiritum sanctum qui datus est nobis.” Hence, it is distinct from the Holy Ghost.

9. The greatest proof of his boundless charity for man, that “God who is charity” (verse 8), has given us, is, “his having sent his only begotten Son into the world.” It is thought by many interpreters, that the Apostle here gives Christ the title of “Only Begotten Son,” in refutation of the errors of Ebion and Cerinthus, who held that Christ was not the natural, but, like other good men, the adoptive Son of God. “That we may live by him”—we who before were dead in sin, and liable to eternal death, might receive through him spiritual life, and a title to an eternal inheritance. The words of this verse are similar to those addressed by our Redeemer to Nicodemus (John, 3), “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son,” &c.—(3:16).

10. Another distinguishing feature of God’s love for us, whereby it is most commended, is, its gratuitousness; he did not love us by any way of return for a love beforehand shown him, thus challenging him to love us in turn. “Not as though,” might be more clearly rendered from the Greek, ουχ ὅτι, not that. “Because he hath first loved us,” even when we were his enemies by sin; “and sent his Son to be a propitiation,” may either mean, a victim of propitiation, or a propitiator “for our sins,” these sins, so many rebellions against himself. By them we hurled defiance at him in Heaven. Oh! blessed be his boundless goodness and charity for ever. Similar is the idea conveyed in the words of St. Paul (Rom. 5:8, 9): “God commendeth his charity towards us, because when as yet we were sinners … Christ died for us.” “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”

11. In this verse, is drawn a conclusion and exhortation, founded on the preceding verses: If God loved us to the extent of dying for us when we were his enemies, we ought, after his example, love one another, not excepting our enemies. Similar is the exhortation (Ephes. 5:1): “Be ye imitators of God, and walk in love,” &c.

12. “No man hath seen God at any time.” The connexion of this with the preceding appears to be, no mortal has ever, in this life, seen God “facie ad faciem,” such as he is in himself; and so, has not seen his adorable perfections, which would force men to make a return of love in the most exalted degree; nor has any man the motive of sensible presence and familiarity to excite him to love God, as he has in reference to the love of his neighbour. Hence, no one can love God as he deserves to be loved, or make a return of love to him in this life. The inference from which is, that he should be loved, and a return made to him in our brethren, whom we see, as is expressed (verse 20).

“If we love one another, God abideth in us”—that is, if we make to one another a return of the love which we owe, and of which we cannot, in this life, make a return, to the invisible God. He will abide in us as intimately by sanctifying grace, as if we felt him palpably present. “And his charity,” or the charity we owe him, “is perfected in us;” because, unless we loved our neighbour, our love would be imperfect, and would not fully extend to all the objects contemplated by the precepts of charity. Again, by loving our neighbour, we perfect the love of God; for, by loving our neighbour supernaturally, we wish for him the greatest spiritual goods; and hence, we wish him to enjoy the knowledge and love of God, the greatest of spiritual advantages; and we, thereby, wish that God would be loved and known by his creatures, which is nothing else than an act of the love of God on our part. Hence, the love of God, and the love of our neighbour, have the same formal motive; the former is perfected by the latter.

“No man hath seen God at any time.” It is disputed whether Moses, or St. Paul saw him in the sense of these words of the Apostle; and if they did, we can only say that their case was an exception to the general assertion here made. Similar are the words of the Apostle in the 1st chapter of his Gospel (verse 18), “no man hath seen God at any time;” but in the Gospel, his words have reference to the perfect knowledge of God; here, they have reference to the perfect love of him.

13. “Because he hath given us of his spirit,” is referred by some, among the rest by Estius, to the spiritual gifts, or gratiæ gratis datæ (v.g.) miracles, tongues, &c., abundantly poured forth on the first Christians—which is a proof, that they belonged to God’s Church, and that his sanctifying spirit resided in some of them—or, on the Apostles themselves. Others understand the words of the spirit, which he imparted to them, whereby they were enabled to love one another. This opinion is very much in accordance with the context, as it contains an encomium on the excellence of fraternal charity, which is a proof of the presence of God’s Spirit.

14. This has reference to verse 9. St. John here proves what might be questioned, regarding God’s sending his Son to save the world, from the very evidence of the senses on the part of the Apostles themselves. The words, “we have seen,” &c., are the same as those of the 1st chapter (verses 1, 2). He insists on this point particularly, because it was called in question by the early heretics; and besides, it is the basis and foundation of all Christian faith and charity.

15. “Abideth in God, and God in him.” Of course, the Apostle speaks of that faith and confession of Jesus Christ, which is animated by charity and has the other conditions accompanying it. In the same way, St. Paul says, “Christ dwells by faith in your hearts.”—(Ephes. 3:17). In these and other such affirmative propositions, it is supposed, that all the other requisites are not wanting, the attribute of an affirmative proposition being always employed particularly.

16. “And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us.” The Apostle again repeats what he had said in the preceding verses. The charity of God, or, “the charity which God hath to us,” regards the exhibition of his charity in sending his Son to redeem us. The Apostle is not tired of repeating the great charity of God for us, in order to induce us, after his example, to love one another. Some say that in the words, “we have known,” &c., he speaks in the person of all the faithful in general, who, from the preaching and testimony of the Apostle, and the abundant gifts of the Holy Ghost, have known of the great love of God in sending his Son. “God is charity,” the uncreated fountain, from which all created charity flows, “and he that abideth in charity,” that is, adheres to uncreated charity, through the bond of created charity, which is a gift “poured by the Holy Ghost into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5), “abideth in God,” is united to him by sanctifying grace and friendship, “and God in him,” making his soul his habitation and the dwelling place of his Spirit.

17. “In this is the charity of God perfected in us.” The words, “of God,” are not in the Greek; by “charity of God,” some understand the charity God has for us, the effect of which is, the confidence we shall have in appearing before him on the day of judgment. Others, more probably, understand it of the charity or love we bear him, or rather bear our neighbour on his account; and it is also disputed, what the words, “in this,” refer to, whether to the words immediately following, “that we may have confidence,” as if he said, the sincere and genuine love of our neighbour for God’s sake will have this effect, viz., that it will beget confidence on the day of judgment—similar is the idea (chap. 3:21); or, to the words, “because as he is,” &c., as if he had said, in this is the charity by which we love God, or rather our neighbour for his sake, perfected in us, viz., that as he does good to all, “raining on the just and unjust,” so we also should love our neighbour, and do good to our very enemies. This perfect beneficent charity shall afford us confidence on the day of judgment. The latter construction (which has been adopted in the Paraphrase), seems more in accordance with the Greek reading of the text, ὅτι καθῶς ἑκεινος ἑστιν καὶ ἡμεῖς εσμεν ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ τουτῳ.

18. The object which the Apostle has in view in this verse, is to prove that charity gives us confidence in the day of judgment (verse 17). “Fear is not in charity.” The word “fear,” may be understood either of human fear, produced by the apprehension of bodily punishment, loss of goods, &c., or of perplexing fear, which makes us dread the justice of God, on account of our past or present state of sin: or of servile fear, which makes men avoid sin, solely from the dread of punishment. Now, charity excludes all such fear, but particularly the perplexing fear of God’s judgment on account of our sins; for, those who are in charity have no such fear, exclusive of confidence, hanging over their heads. “Perfect charity,” real, genuine charity, whether initial or more perfect, “casteth out fear, because fear hath pain,” that is a torture and anxiety of mind, incompatible with the calm and peace which charity carries with it. Others understand the words, “hath pain,” to mean, hath pain, or punishment, for object. “And he that feareth, is not perfected in charity,” that is, the man who observes God’s commandments, solely from fear of punishment, and acts under the influence of servile fear, such a person has not that genuine and perfect charity, which the Christian Law requires, and cannot “have confidence in the day of judgment” (verse 17).

The question which the Apostle here considers, does not regard how far fear may influence those who are perfected in charity, in avoiding the offence of God; but it regards either the avoidance of sin, solely from fear of punishment, or the fear and anxiety regarding God’s judgment, on account of past and present sins. Of course, the Apostle does not here consider filial fear, or, the fear of displeasing God; for, the more we love God, the more we reverence him and fear to offend him. The very powers tremble, and are seized with reverential awe, in his presence; are we not all recommended to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling?”

19. “Let us, therefore, love God.” The Greek has not “therefore,” nor “God,” it runs thus: “let us love him, because he first loved us.” The Alexandrian MS. supports the Vulgate. According to our reading, the Apostle now addresses to us the same exhortation to love God, which, in verse 11, he addresses to us, regarding the love of our neighbour, grounded on the same reason, viz., the pure and gratuitous love of God for us, manifested, in a special manner, in the Incarnation of his Son—“Because he first loved us,” which shows the inseparable connexion that exists between the love of God and of our neighbour The Greek for, “let us love,” αγαπῶμεν, may be also rendered, we love.

20. In this verse, the Apostle points out the test which God requires of our love for himself, and he shows by an argument, a minore ad majus, that no one can love God and hate his brother.

“If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother,” if he say it, either in word, or conceive it in his mind, such a man “is a liar,” he both says and conceives what is perfectly untrue; he imagines two things to co-exist, which are perfectly incompatible, “for he that loveth not his brother whom he sees,” (the Apostle puts loving not—when and where it is a matter of duty to manifest our love for our neighbour—and hating him, on the same footing), if a man cannot love the visible image of God, viz., “his brother whom he sees,” whom the knowledge of his wants, together with a sense of mutual dependence, as well as the participation of the same common nature, should induce him to love and relieve in his necessities; if, in one word, he cannot comply with the more easy, and to him, the more natural branch of the precept of charity, how can he discharge the more difficult, in loving “God whom he sees not,” who is placed far beyond the reach of the senses? And, although the supernatural love of our neighbour be not more easy than the love of God, since it is on account of God we love our neighbour, and hence, the supernatural love of him involves the love of God; still, as natural affection would appear to precede in the mind the love of charity, the man who has not natural affection proves that he is wholly indisposed for the love of charity.

21. Another reason why a man cannot love God and hate his neighbour, is that the best proof we can give of our love of God is, the observance of his commandments. “If you love me,” says our blessed Lord, “keep my commandments.” Now, it is one of God’s commandments, that we should love our brethren, as we love ourselves. The man, therefore, who hates his brother, or does not love him as he ought, that is to say, “in deed and truth,” or relieve him in his necessities, such a man violates the commandments; and, therefore, cannot love God.








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