(6) NOT ALL SPIRITS ARE THE RESULT OF THE SONSHIP: NECESSITY OF EXAMINING THEM (1 John 4:1-6).
(a)The difference among spirits (1 John 4:1).
(b)The measure (1 John 4:2-3).
(c)The encouragement (1 John 4:4).
(d)The condemnation (1 John 4:5).
(e)Inference and conclusion (1 John 4:6).
The mention of faith in 1 John 3:23 had reminded St. John of the danger of intellectual, as well as of moral error. The mention of God's Spirit at the conclusion of the last paragraph gave him a form in which to clothe the discussion of truth and falsehood in its human manifestations. By "spirits" he means those tendencies towards good and evil (here especially with regard to thought and opinion) which may be considered as coming from the supreme power of God, on the one hand, and from the inferior power of the devil, on the other. Into the question what these influences are, whether, like the Holy Spirit, they are personal or not, he does not enter. Where one quality, or opinion, shows itself in different individuals, he identifies it and calls it a spirit. Religious fervour might take a form quite antagonistic to the real will and law of God. For Christians there was but one standard by which to measure all claims on their religious allegiance: confession that the man Christ Jesus was the Word. All that demurred to that plain fact, and the loyalty implied by it, belonged to the spirit of antichrist. His hearers, however, if he understood them rightly, need not fear. By virtue of their adherence to the truth, God was in them. In Him they had conquered the spirits of the world, and had but to claim their victory. The false teachers might be known, and must be condemned by the savour of the world that was in their method and their message, and by their popularity with what was opposed to God. The Apostles and those who taught with them could confidently before God put forward the grand claim that theirs was the spirit that came from Him, because they had held undeviatingly to the truth as manifested in Jesus.
(6 a.) (1) Beloved.--Whenever St. John uses this word, he has a strong and earnest exhortation in hand. (Comp. 1 John 3:2-21; 1 John 4:7.)
Try the spirits.--Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:10; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21. It is most important to notice that this examination of truth and error is inculcated on all alike, not merely on an ordained and materially separate class.
Prophets, in the New Testament, preach rather than predict. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 14:24; Ephesians 4:11.)
Are gone out into the world, either "from us," or else "have appeared in order to give their message." (Comp. John 6:14; John 16:28; John 18:37.)
(6 b.) Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:3. The real humanity of the Saviour is the truth here specially emphasised.
(2) Jesus Christ is taken to imply all His history. (Comp. 1 John 3:23, and 1 John 4:6.)
Come is used of Christ in St. John's language for His mission and manifestation. (Comp. John 5:43; John 6:14; John 7:28-29; John 8:42; John 16:28; John 18:37.)
(3) Every spirit that confesseth not.--There is a curious old reading mentioned by Socrates, the historian, viz., "every spirit that destroyeth" (or, dissolveth) "Jesus Christ." It is, however, evidently a gloss, written against the Gnostics, which crept into the text. It is clear that this verse presupposes an evangelistic presentation of Christ before refusal to confess His historical person could be made. (Comp. 1 John 2:18.)
(6 c.) This consolation is in the same manner as that in 1 John 2:12, and is introduced by the same endearing phrase. He is sure they have held to the truth, and have the Sonship. (Comp. 1 John 3:1-2; 1 John 3:13-14.) God is in them, and therefore the victory is already theirs. Although they may still have to struggle, they have only to claim Christ's strength, and they have won. In making their choice between light and darkness, love and hate, good and evil, God and the devil, they became of the victorious party.
(4) Them--i.e., the antichrists, the false prophets, the spirits that are not of God. (Comp. 1 John 2:13-14.)
He that is in the world--i.e., "the prince of this world," the devil.
(6 d.) As usual, a contrast. The reason of their success is at once their distinguishing mark and their condemnation. (Comp. John 8:37; John 8:43; John 8:47; John 18:37.)
(5) Hearing them.--This implies listening with attention and pleasure.
(6 e.) (6) We are of God.--The first side of the antithesis repeated, after St. John's manner, with a difference, we being substituted for ye, and meaning "the Apostles and those who taught with them." St. John feels the grave duty, in condemnation of Cerinthus and other opponents, to assert the genuine truth and divine authority of the apostolic gospel. There could be no spiritual pride in this; it was a conscientious obligation. God spoke in them, and their loyalty for bade alike disclaimer and accommodation. (Comp. John 18:37.) When heretics said, "Christ ought to have said this or that," the Apostles had only to reply, "But He did not say it."
Hereby know we.--The criterion here is much the same as in 1 John 4:2-3, but regarded from a different point of view: attention to false innovators, or faithful adherence to the Jesus Christ of history.
but try the spirits whether they are of God; not by human reason, especially as carnal and unsanctified; for though the doctrines of the Gospel are not contrary to true reason, they are above it, and not to be judged of by it, and are disapproved of and rejected by carnal reason; but by the word of God, which is the standard of all doctrine; and whatever agrees with that is to be received, and what does not should be rejected. And so to do is very commendable, as appears from the instance of the Beraeans, who on this account are said to be more noble than those of Thessalonica, Acts 17:11; and from the commendation of the church at Ephesus, Revelation 2:2. And this is what every believer, every private Christian should do; to them it belongs to read and search the Scriptures, and prove all things, and judge for themselves of the truth of doctrine; and to such a probation or trial of the spirits, spiritual light, knowledge, judgment, sense, experience, and divine guidance are necessary, which should be asked of God, and an increase thereof; and all such diligent searchers, and humble inquirers, are capable of making judgment of persons and doctrines, whether they are from the Spirit of God or not, for the Spirit of God never speaks contrary to his word: and the reason why such a trial should be made is,
because many false prophets are gone out into the world: such who pretended either to a revelation of future things, and to foretell things to come; or rather to a gift of prophesying, or preaching in Christ's name, to be "prophets" and spiritual men, and ministers of the word, but were "false" ones; who either predicted what did not come to pass, or rather preached false doctrine, by corrupting the word, and handling it deceitfully, and so imposed upon and ruined the souls of others, as well as deceived their own: and there were not only one, or two, or a few of these, but "many", as our Lord had foretold, Matthew 24:11; and which makes the reason the stronger for not believing every spirit, but trying them; and the rather, since they were not sent of God, hot called out by his churches, but were "gone out" of themselves; of their own heads, and without any mission from God or man: and "into the world" too; they were in every part of it, and especially where there were any churches of Christ; into which they first crept in privily, and at unawares, but afterwards became public preachers of the word, and then separating from them, set up openly in the world for themselves.