NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXVII) 07/22/22
4:18 Where God’s love is, there is no fear because God’s perfect love takes it away. On the contrary, it is His punishment that makes a person afraid.
Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) notes that the Apostle John writes that where God’s agápē is, there is no fear because God’s perfect love takes away all anxiety. His punishment (“torment” – KJV) makes a person afraid. So, His agápē is unperfected in the one who is still apprehensive. The dread of penalty arising from conscious guilt shows us not to be perfect in love. Here, we have something of a subjective measure of what is sometimes called “Christian perfection.” When there exists within our hearts the consciousness of the total divine acceptance, so complete that we have no uneasiness at the thought of meeting Him at the judgment, we may trust that our love is perfected, maintaining this consciousness, and justified by the external life, is the highest aim of life.
Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), better known as Dean Vaughan of Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, Wales, says that fear has a place in the Gospel if we look for it. The object of dismay may be either a thing or a person. For one thing, we become uneasy over something which, being possible, is also undesirable or dreadful. We do not become scared of that which is impossible; we are not distressed over that which is pleasant or neutral. Our Prayer Book, commenting in the Catechism upon the Lord’s Prayer, bids us to call three things evil, not pain, not sickness, not loss, not grief, not even natural death, but just these only: (1) sin and wickedness; (2) our ghostly enemy; (3) everlasting death. These three things then, are the proper objects of Gospel reverence.
Another thing, the fear of God as a Spirit, even the dread of God as a Person, is essential to one of a high order. To feel that there is One above me, a living Being, to Whom I am accountable if it be but as my Judge, to Whom I am something if it be but as a malefactor and a victim – something is elevating in the very conception. But this, if it stops here, is the religion of nature, of fallen nature, of the thing, made and corrupted crouching beneath the hand of its maker. Though this kind of fright is a higher thing than indifference, it is no part of the Gospel. From this kind of misgiving, the convinced person, if they yield themselves to the Anointed One’s teaching, will pass on into a higher.
Charles Ellicott (1819-1904) mentions that at first, John’s name does not call up before us the fiery zeal that stirs some followers of the Anointed One to noble deeds, or the steadfast faith that worries others about meeting danger, or the calm endurance that lifts others above pain and trial. Mostly, John represents love in its softer aspect to our minds. We often forget that he was a Boanerges (son of thunder). We picture him to ourselves as the tenderest of disciples and the most unselfish; at once, the readiest to sympathize with and comfort others in distress and the most quickly responsive to the affection shown by others for him.
Like John, when we think of the other Apostles, we tend not to look at all sides of their character. There are the necessary complements to courage and resolution. So often, when we see people being soft and gentle, like John, we fail to remember that there must be a stronger side to their characters; just as, on the other hand, when we see men who are cast in a sterner mold, we frequently forget that there may often be, indeed, that there must be warm springs of feeling within their hearts which we cannot see, to account for that strict or even rigid performance of duty which we can see. This is true not only of the Apostles but also of our fellow believers. So, when loving our brothers and sisters in the Anointed One, look at all sides before judging or complimenting, but never look when loving them.
Ellicott also concludes that the more perfect this disposition of sympathy becomes, the less anxiety can share in it. Even when directed to an earthly object, if it is pure and divine in its character, not even the thought of tradeoffs can disturb its composure. Where it is a well-grounded sympathy with a perfect being, its serenity is complete in proportion to its sincerity. When love is perfect, fear dwindles to nothing and is expelled. Love, seeking to be perfect, and finding doubt alongside it, will diligently seek out the cause of anxiety, perfect itself by getting rid of the reason, and thereby getting rid of apprehension. A persistent concern often implies grounds for alarm and anticipation of punishment (not “torment”). Such a ground for terror would imply a proportionate imperfection of love.
Dr. John Neville Figgis (1866-1919) says that this principle, that “perfect love drives out fear,” is a universal principle and belongs to all human beings. It is shown most completely in spiritual matters, but despair indeed has no place wherever love rules. Our ability to have love drives out suspicion and is measured in proportion to our love being steadfast and strong. It begins with trust and confidence in Him. This is true worship, even though we do not say a word or do any action because it is an acknowledgment of His goodness and kindness, an expression of the soul’s feeling of safety when under His care.
So, think how sweet this confidence in God is; how it sheds new light and a new glory over our exhausting duties in this world; how much more firmly we can plant our feet in difficult times of trial. This life is a very weary thing at times for us all. There is so much hardness in the world, so much meanness and dishonesty, so much suffering – and to express it all that in one word is difficult, so much sin – that even the most contented believer is tempted sometimes to murmur, to ask what good are they to the world, and what will face them when leaves.
Therefore, unless we have complete confidence and belief in God’s care for us and His power and wisdom in caring for us; unless we can always fall back, in times of trial, upon the sure belief that God has brought us into the world for our good and His glory; that He is guiding us through the world for the same interest and wise reasons, we cannot have complete peace of mind.
Nevertheless, it is amazing how few Christians know how little and how weakly they trust in God. Most believers take it for granted that they have a sure trust and confidence in Him that they never even ask themselves the question. But delay no longer. It’s too important. Look into the depth of your emotions and assess your feelings towards God. You should look to Him with trust and confidence to eliminate any fear for yourself – any panic arising from the past – and dim apprehensions for the future. Whether, like a happy child, your souls dwell in faith and trust on what little we know of God; whether it is so with you – or otherwise; whether you think of Him with discomfort; whether you turn away from the idea as unwelcome of one day being brought face to face with Him; whether like a thundercloud in a calm sky the thought of God and of a judgment to come flies by in your mind before you can stop it.
It would be very unwise to turn away from the question simply, says Nisbet. But, if you decline to question yourself, remember it is a matter that will not be continually put off. It is a question that waits for an answer – but not forever. On the contrary, the longer the time goes by, the more difficult it will be when you come to answer before the Judgement Seat of God, as you must do one day!
Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) says that the thought of boldness necessarily calls up its opposite, fear. There is natural uneasiness in humans, but love tends to expel it. dismay finds no place in love and cannot co-exist with perfect love, which occupies the “whole heart.” The Apostle John expressed these ideas generally and remain faithful, but they must be processed mentally from the context. Human love is the simple desire for the highest good of another or others and the expression of a spirit of self-surrender. Worry, therefore, – the shrinking from another – cannot be an essential element in love. Here the reader at once feels that the abstract principle has found a typical embodiment in the self-sacrifice of the Anointed One, towards the imitation of which Christians strive through His Spirit.
William Lincoln (1825-1888) states that God’s agápē, if we are Christians at all, has gotten hold of us, has reached us; and then as He is, so are we, but we still do not fully accept that. There is no need to discuss the word perfection here. The word perfection is used invariably in the First and Final Covenants for a response of the soul to any revelation of God. Here in John’s epistle is the revelation of God’s agápē and, therefore, perfection, the complete comprehension of that characteristic of God. When we see that God loves us as much as He loves His Son Jesus the Anointed One, how can I be afraid of anything?
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) says that the love which drives out any alarm is not some emotional situation towards an unknown God; nor is it the result of human willingness to put away from themselves their hatred and alienation and set themselves in a new position towards God and His mercy. On the contrary, it rises in the heart due to knowing and believing God’s love for us. As such, it is the conqueror of distress. Whatever comes our way, nothing can separate us from God’s agápē. We are bound to Him by that everlasting loving kindness He drew us to Himself. The heart is freed from the burden of “a fearful time of waiting for the judgment”, and from the dark thought, God is mighty and righteous; therefore, God may strike! We forgot that “It was our suffering He took on Himself; He bore our pain.”
Therefore, says Maclaren, we must remember that “perfect love drives out fear.” As inconsistent as love and apprehension are in themselves, in practice, they may be united because of love’s imperfection. Many professing Christian people live all their days with a burden of dread shivering on their shoulders and icy cold dismay in their hearts just because they are not close enough to the warm love of Jesus the Anointed One. They could have kept their hearts comfortable by remaining steadfast under the quickening influences of His agápē, to have shaken off their dread as a sick person does a minor headache. So be careful; a little love, like a gentle wind, doesn’t have strength enough to drive away thick, blinding fog. You must see that you only choose the sane, sound way of getting rid of irrational Fear – (FALSE EVIDENCE ACCEPTED as REAL).
 Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary of the Bible, op. cit., p. 276
 Cf. Proverbs 28:14
 Vaughan, Charles John: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Fear and its Antidote, Vol. 12, (Inserted in a Revised Version on p. 303)
 Mark 3:17
 Cf. 1 John 3:19-21
 John Ellicott, Charles. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, pp. 16259, 16287
 Nisbet, James: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, p. 303-304
 Westcott, Brooks F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp.159-160
 Lincoln, William: Lectures on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 133-134
 Romans 8:38-39
 Hebrews 10:27
 Isaiah 53:4
 Maclaren, Alexander: The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, pp. 141-142, 148