Verse 18. "There is no fear in love" - The man who feels that he loves God with all his heart can never dread him as his Judge. As he is now made a partaker of his Spirit, and carries a sense of the Divine approbation in his conscience, he has nothing of that fear that produces terror or brings torment. The perfect love - that fullness of love, which he has received, casteth out fear - removes all terror relative to this day of judgment, for it is of this that the apostle particularly speaks. And as it is inconsistent with the gracious design of God to have his followers miserable, and as he cannot be unhappy whose heart is full of the love of his God, this love must necessarily exclude this fear or terror; because that brings torment, and hence is inconsistent with that happiness which a man must have who continually enjoys the approbation of his God.
"He that feareth" - He who is still uncertain concerning his interest in Christ; who, although he has many heavenly drawings, and often sits with Christ some moments on a throne of love, yet feels from the evils of his heart a dread of the day of judgment; is not made perfect in love - has not yet received the abiding witness of the Spirit that he is begotten of God; nor that fullness of love to God and man which excludes the enmity of the carnal mind, and which it is his privilege to receive. But is the case of such a man desperate? No: it is neither desperate nor deplorable; he is in the way of salvation, and not far from the kingdom of heaven. Let such earnestly seek, and fervently believe on the Son of God; and he will soon give them another baptism of his Spirit, will purge out all the old leaven, and fill their whole souls with that love which is the fulfilling of the law.
He who is not yet perfect in love may speedily become so, because God can say in a moment, I will, be thou clean; and immediately his leprosy will depart. Among men we find some that have neither love nor fear; others that have fear without love; others that have love and fear; and others that have love without fear.
1. Profligates, and worldly men in general, have neither the fear nor love of God.
2. Deeply awakened and distressed penitents have the fear or terror of God without his love.
3. Babes in Christ, or young converts, have often distressing fear mixed with their love.
4. Adult Christians have love without this fear; because fear hath torment, and they are ever happy, being filled with God. See Mr. Wesley's note on this place.
1. We must not suppose that the love of God shed abroad in the heart is ever imperfect in itself; it is only so in degree. There may be a less or greater degree of what is perfect in itself; so it is with respect to the love which the followers of God have; they may have measures or degrees of perfect love without its fullness. There is nothing imperfect in the love of God, whether it be considered as existing in himself, or as communicated to his followers.
2. We are not to suppose that the love of God casts out every kind of fear from the soul; it only casts out that which has torment.
1.A filial fear is consistent with the highest degrees of love; and even necessary to the preservation of that grace. This is properly its guardian; and, without this, love would soon degenerate into listlessness, or presumptive boldness.
2. Nor does it cast out that fear which is so necessary to the preservation of life; that fear which leads a man to flee from danger lest his life should be destroyed.
3.Nor does it cast out that fear which may be engendered by sudden alarm. All these are necessary to our well-being. But it destroys, 1. The fear of want; 2. The fear of death; and 3. The fear or terror of judgment. All these fears bring torment, and are inconsistent with this perfect love.
Verse 19. "We love him because he first loved us." - This is the foundation of our love to God. 1. We love him because we find he has loved us. 2. We love him from a sense of obligation and gratitude. 3. We love him from the influence of his own love; from his love shed abroad in our hearts, our love to him proceeds. It is the seed whence our love springs. The verse might be rendered, Let us therefore love him, because he first loved us: thus the Syriac and Vulgate.
Verse 20. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother" - This, as well as many other parts of this epistle, seems levelled against the Jews, who pretended much love to God while they hated the Gentiles; and even some of them who were brought into the Christian Church brought this leaven with them. It required a miracle to redeem St. Peter's mind from the influence of this principle. See Acts 10.
"Whom he hath seen" - We may have our love excited towards our brother, 1. By a consideration of his excellences or amiable qualities. 2. By a view of his miseries and distresses. The first will excite a love of complacency and delight; the second, a love of compassion and pity.
"Whom he hath not seen?" - If he love not his brother, it is a proof that the love of God is not in him; and if he have not the love of God, he cannot love God, for God can be loved only through the influence of his own love. See on ver. 19. The man who hates his fellow does not love God. He who does not love God has not the love of God in him, and he who has not the love of God in him can neither love God nor man.
Verse 21. "This commandment have we" - We should love one another, and love our neighbour as ourselves. The love of God and the love of man can never be separated; he who loves God will love his brother; he who loves his brother gives this proof that he loves God, because he loves with a measure of that love which, in its infinitude, dwells in God.