Here are contained Commands to try the Spirits, and Rules given for discovering of them. Some blessed Things are spoken of Christ. The Chapter concludes with an Account of God's Love.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (2) Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: (3) And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (4) Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (5) They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (6) We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
This is a very blessed direction of God the Holy Ghost, by John. The Reader should recollect, as he reads it, that the Lord the Spirit is about to close the sacred canon of scripture. And as the latter-day heresies, of which the Spirit had spoken expressly by Paul, (1 Timothy 4:1) were now beginning to appear in a more daring and open manner in the world, the Holy Ghost here gives one infallible mark, by which the child of God may try all. I pray the Reader to attend to it with that diligence it demands. There never was a day that needed it more. Never more false spirits coming forward with an impudent face, under the pretence of converting the whole earth, while multitudes of them openly deny the Godhead of Christ, and disown the person and work of God the Holy Ghost.
Let the Reader attend to what God the Spirit here saith, of the method whereby the Church is to try the truth from error. Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God. And, on the contrary, every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. Surely, a volume could not have decided the point more plainly. And what is the confession of Jesus Christ's being come in the flesh, but the conviction wrought in the soul, by the regenerating power of God the Holy Ghost, that He, who in his divine nature is One with the Father, over all God blessed forever, is, in his human nature, One with his Church and people, and in the fulness of time, hath, come and tabernacled among them. Which expression corresponds to the whole purport of revelation on this point, and which the same beloved Apostle hath most sweetly declared, in a single verse of the Gospel which bears his name. The Word (saith he) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth; John 1:14
Reader! when you hear these very plain words of God the Holy Ghost, concerning the person and coming of the Son of God, in substance of our flesh, and behold the whole body of scripture, in both Testaments, bearing testimony to the same; perhaps you are astonished how it is, that such men should arise, who deny Christ's Godhead, and the Holy Ghost's Person and Ministry! So am not I! The word of God, in many parts, informs the Church of such heresies, and especially in the last times. And the same blessed word tells also of the heretics which shall bring them, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; Jude 1:4. Hence, therefore, I am on the lookout for them. And if such heresies were not to arise, I should lose a blessed testimony in the Word of God, which hath foretold the Church of them, and armed the Church against them. And if such heretics were not to come forth among us, we should be at a loss to discover what false spirits they are, which the Church hath to expect, and to contend with.
But still perhaps you will say, by what specious arguments do such men support their wretched cause, so as to give even a plausibility to their system of infidelity? The answer is at hand. The spirit (which another Apostle elsewhere speaks of; Ephesians 2:2) that now worketh in the children of disobedience, can, and doth easily furnish them with weapons for the cause. By compliments to human reason, and by flattery to the pride of human learning, they work upon minds like their own, to deny the Lord that bought them; (2 Peter 2:1) and bring upon themselves swift destruction. Hence, by giving different interpretations to those scriptures, which speak too plainly against them to the main points of truth, and by charging others with being interpolations, and the like; they give a covering to their heresy, and lull infidels, like themselves, asleep, to their eternal ruin.
But, while neither the heresies themselves, nor the heretics which bring them ought to excite any surprise to the faithful, who are taught to expect them, it is, I confess, matter of astonishment with me, that any should be found, of the truly regenerated believers in Christ, which can manifest so little regard to the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, as to mingle with those who openly contemn both, in the denial of his Godhead. This was a peculiarity of conduct reserved for the nineteenth century. And, whatever plausible reasons may be held forth for such a junction, certain it is, that it is in direct disobedience to the positive command of the Lord, on the subject of heresy; I heard another voice from heaven, saying, come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues; Revelation 18:4
But, what is the great and infallible security against being led away by the heresies around, and the discovery of the false spirits which come forth to deceive? There is but one, and a sure one it is, which never hath failed, neither can fail, amidst all the present errors of the day, or all that may arise; namely, the regeneration of the heart, or the being born of God. Where God the Spirit hath quickened a sinner, which was before dead in trespasses and sins, this precious child of God hath in himself a full testimony to his sonship, in being born of God, and a confirmation also, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, being God and Man in One Person, the Christ of God.
Reader! look into your own heart, and see whether it be not a most firm and unquestionable security against this, and every other error, of either ancient or modern heresy or heretics. If so be the Lord the Holy Ghost hath regenerated you, and the Spirit witnesseth with your spirit, that you are born of God. For then hath he taught you the plague of your own heart. And what artifice of men, or devils, can bear up against this divine teaching, when you yourself also daily feel, and know how that heart is forever interrupting your spiritual pursuits, and warring against 'your soul! So, in like manner, when God the Holy Ghost hath taught you who Christ is, and the efficacy of his blood and righteousness; when you have felt the sovereignty of his grace, the compleatness and fulness of his finished salvation; have known the love of God, the sweetness and suitableness of his promises, and been fed by them from day to day, can an host of heretics persuade you that these precious things are false, and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not come in the flesh? Oh! how gracious hath our God been, to provide such blessed securities for his people against all perilous times like the present!
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. (8) He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (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. (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. (11) Beloved, if God 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 dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (13) Hereby know we that we dwell 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 sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. (15) Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (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. (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. (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. (19) We love him, because he first loved us. (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? (21) And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
I include all these under one reading, that in a Poor Man's Commentary I may not trespass. The two great points here dwelt upon are, first, the love of God to his people. And, secondly, our love to him, and to each other, the members of Christ's body the Church, as flowing from it God's love the cause. Our love the effect. A word or two I would beg to offer upon each.
And, first. God's love to the Church in Christ. In which is included the love of the whole Persons of the Godhead. Put as the source is in God, and wholly resulting from himself; it is impossible to trace it but in the effects. What the Apostle here saith, of our ignorance of God, is very highly in proof. No man hath seen God at any time. And how then shall he describe the source of God's love? Indeed, it is never attempted to be shewn, but by effects. In this was manifested the love of God. In what? He gave his only begotten Son. Herein is love. Not that we loved him; but that he loved us. So that the first thing laid down for our contemplation, is the love of God. God is love. And, from all eternity, he hath been giving out demonstrations of that love, in the streams and effects of it Christ is the first edition of that love: and all the subsequent works are with him, and in him, and through him, and by him. Our Adam - fall gave occasion for the greater display of that love. But Christ and his Church were one in the womb of God's love, before the Adam - fall, or even the foundation of the earth was laid.
There are two verses in scripture, one in the Old Testament, and the other in the New, which, if read together, will shew more of this love of God in its antiquity and eternity, and in all its bearings through time and eternity, than all the wisdom of men in all ages of the world can come up to in description, if they were to unite together, to furnish volumes for this purpose. The first is Jeremiah 31:3. The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, Saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee: or as the margin renders it therefore have I extended loving kindness unto thee. Here, we have God himself declaring, that his love to the Church hath been from everlasting; that is as God himself. For his love, as is himself, is everlasting. No space could have been before either; for in that case it could not be said to have been from everlasting. So that God himself, and his love to the Church, are expressed by the same words, from everlasting. The second verse is in Ephesians 2:7. That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. Here we have declared, the ultimate object of that love; and which proves, that as it began from everlasting, so it hath ran through, and still continues to run through, the whole time-state of the church, to everlasting; like rivers, arising out of the ocean, and running back into it again, everlastingly connected, and forever flowing. By uniting these glorious scriptures in one view, they for a complete circle, to shew, that God's love to the Church in Christ from everlasting, hath been one and the same; and his first design, and last execution, is to shew forth that love, or, as it is here called, the exceeding riches of his grace, in that glory resulting from that love, into which the Church is to be brought, and continue in everlastingly. Well might the Apostle say: Herein is love! for all other, in comparison, is nothing!
Secondly. Our love to God in Christ, and to the Church on Christ's account. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that all that we can call love or affection in us, either to God or his people, are but the mere effects from him, and his love to us as the cause. We love him, (saith the Apostle in this very scripture), because he first loved us. Yea, it is not simply because he loved us, that we love him; for this alone would never have made our stoney hearts susceptible of love; but the Lord accomplished it by his quickening grace, shedding abroad that love in our hearts, in taking away the heart of stone, and giving us a heart of flesh; Ezekiel 36:26. It is by His warming our frozen affections, subduing, and absolutely conquering our natural enmity against him, and winning us over with the cords of love, and the bands of a man, that we are brought over to love him who hath first loved us; or we should have remained enemies, to God, by wicked works, to all eternity. Reader! pause over the wonderful mercy and grace, yea, the exceeding riches of his grace; and mark in the whole, in the Father's everlasting purpose, counsel, will, and pleasure, the Son's love, in betrothing and redeeming mercy; and the Holy Ghost's regenerating, renewing favor; how infinitely great must be the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love of God, which passeth knowledge!
What a relief is it to the child of God, amidst all the antichrists, and false prophets and teachers, which the latter day dispensation is to bring forth, that Jesus hath said, though if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect; yet this assurance confirms their safety in Jesus, they shall not. Whither but for this, might a believer be tossed about, with every wind of doctrine, and the cunning craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive? Blessed God the Spirit! be thou everlastingly praised, and loved, and adored, for what thou hast taught the Church in this precious Chapter! Here from thee, thy regenerated people learn, that the knowledge of Christ being come in the flesh, having proclaimed redemption in his blood, and regenerating the souls of his redeemed, by his holy Spirit; becomes an infallible security, against all the awful heresies abounding, in this Christ-despising generation. Lord! let thy children know, and especially thy little children, that we have overcome the whole enemies of our salvation in our new birth. Greater is he that is in us, than all that is in the world. And oh! for the Lord to shed, abroad his love in our hearts, that we may love him who hath first loved us. And, do thou grant, gracious God, that in thy strength we may have boldness, looking forward to that great day of our God, that when he shall appear, who is our life our portion, our righteousness, and complete justification; we may confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. For as he is, so are we in this world!