NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXV) 08/03/22
4:19We love because God first loved us.
William Birch (1703-1756), in his sermon on “Love God and Humanity,” begins by saying that loving God is essential to the Christian life for the following reasons:
1. The Lord is not satisfied unless He obtains our love.
2. Unless we love the Lord, there cannot be complete personal union.
3. Love to Him makes our obedience sweet.
4. Love for God is an irresistible magnet to draw us from sin.
5. The mutual love between the Christian and his Lord is the heart music of life.
Therefore, God’s agápē is the great motivating power in the Christian life in the following respects:
1. God’s agápē is the fountain of our love for each other. To do good to those who need our active sympathy merely because it is our duty is swimming upstream, and the best of us would soon tire of it. But blessing others because we love them constrains us to be faithful in active goodness unto death.
2. God’s agápē is needful to inspire us to noble deeds. In olden times the maiden promised her hand to the knight if he did some valiant act of warfare; in our case, the Lord loves us first, and that love is the impulse of a noble life.
3. God’s agápē to us is a sure foundation for our faith.
4. God’s agápē to the world is an ever-present rainbow of hope to the Christian. Why? Because God will support your efforts. He loves them and therefore lets us hope for the worst of men.
All this is why God commands us to love our fellow brothers and sisters because:
1. This agápē oils the wheels of service.
2. Love for our fellowman is the motive of self-denial for his sake. Pure love is its own exceeding great reward.
This should remind us why we are to love God.
1. We love Him because He loved us first.
2. We also love Him because He laid down His life for us.
3. We love Him because His agápē is unchangeable.
John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) says that we should remember that our love for Him and His children is kindled by the fruit of His agápē for us, which is from eternity in His great salvation plan and was manifested at the appointed time by His gracious proclamations and works prior to, and the immediate cause of, all our love for Him by loving our fellow believers in the same way.
Charles Simeon (1759-1836) states that there ought to be a tremendous and visible difference between the Lord’s children and worldly people. But no believer has any grounds for glorying in themselves. Everyone should be able to answer the questions: “Who made you so different? What spiritual gifts do you have that God did not give you?” Whatever achievement any Christian may have accomplished, they must say, with the Apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” To this effect, the Apostle John speaks in the words here in verse nineteen, in which we are taught to trace the love which the saints bear to their God, not to any superior qualities in their nature, but to God’s free and sovereign grace: “We love Him, because He started loving us first.”
There’s a fascinating story about the young British preacher and theologian Adam Clarke (1762-1832), born in Ireland, who was only twenty years old and had given talks before but only by reading a manuscript but never felt he was called to preach the Gospel. He did not want to go until God sent him. Methodist minister John Bredin, schoolmaster at New Buildings, near Londonderry, England, wrote Clarke and asked him to spend a week or two. Clarke had just been appointed by John Wesley to Bradford, Wiltshire, and had to walk thirty miles to New Buildings since there was no public transportation in that area.
Before starting his walk early on Monday, June 17, 1782, he opened his Bible and prayed, “Lord, direct me to some portion of Your Word that will give me something to meditate on while I’m on my way.” He opened his Bible, and the first words that jumped out at him were these: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you.” He arrived on Tuesday evening, June eighteenth. Immediately, Minister Bredin asked him to take his place Wednesday night, the nineteenth of June, in the village of New Buildings, some five miles away. Clark agreed. Minister Bredin then said, “You must take a text and preach from it.” “Oh, no,” stammered Clarke, “that I cannot do.”
To make a long story shorter, Clarke finally selected a text, “We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Then, after he gave an introduction, he expounded on it this way:
- The Apostle states that the whole world lies in wickedness.
- It is only by the power of God that people are saved from this state of corruption; those who are converted are influenced and employed by Him — We are of God.
- Those converted this way know it, not only from its outward effects in their lives but from the change made in their hearts – We know that we are of God.
The people were delighted; they gathered around him and begged him to preach to them again in a place just over a mile away at five in the morning before they went to work. He consented, and there he chose as his text. 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” What a fantastic sequel to his first sermon about living in a wicked world but still holding on to the change in their lives that occurred through the hearing of the Gospel.
As a follow-up to this story, a Conference was being held in Bristol; Clarke had no thought of attending until a letter came on Friday, August 1, 1783, requiring him to attend: the next day, Saturday, he set off; and reached Bristol the same day. How he spent the next day, which was the Sabbath, may be seen in the following entry in his Journal. “Sunday, August 3, 1783. At five this morning, I heard a very useful sermon from Mr. Mather, at the chapel Broad Mead, On Isaiah 35:3, 4. I then went to Guinea Street chapel, where I heard Mr. Bradburn preach on Christian perfection, from 1 John 4:19. This was, without exception, the best sermon I had ever heard on the subject.”
Albert Barnes (1798-1870) mentions that this passage is susceptible to two explanations; either (1) that the fact that He first loved us is the ground or reason why we love Him, or (2) that we have been moved to love Him as a consequence of the love He manifested towards us. If the former is the meaning, and if that were the only ground of love, then it would be mere selfishness, and it cannot be believed that John meant to teach that this is the only reason for our love for God.
It is true, indeed, that that is a proper ground for love, or that we are bound to love God in proportion to the benefits which we have received from His hand; but still, genuine love for God is something which the mere fact cannot explain that we have received favors from Him. The actual, original ground of love to God is the excellence of His character, apart from the question of whether we are to be benefited or not. There is that in His Divine nature which a holy being will love, apart from the benefits they receive and any thought even of their destiny.
It seems to me, therefore, says Barnes, that what John must have meant here, by the second interpretation suggested above, the fact that we love God, is to be traced to the means which He used to draw us to Himself, but without saying that this is the sole or even the main reason why we love Him. It was His agápē manifested to us by sending His Son to redeem us, which will explain the fact that we now love Him, but still, the natural ground or reason why we love Him is the infinite excellence of His character. It should be added here, notes Barnes, that many suppose that the Greek pronoun and verb hēmeis agapaō rendered “we love” are not indicative but in the subjunctive mood. This is John’s appeal – “Let us love Him because He first loved us.”
 Birch, William: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 162-163
 Brown, John of Haddington: Self-Interpreting Bible, op. cit., p. 1328
 1 Corinthians 15:10
 Simeon, Charles: Hor Homileticæ, op. cit., Discourse 2461, p. 513
 John 15:16
 1 John 5:19
 Clarke, Adam: Life of Adam Clarke (1772-1832) (1819), Trinity College, Cambridge, published in New York, 1833, Bk. 3, pp. 130-131
 Ibid. pp. 172-173
 Matthew 5:46-47
 An indicative mood is a verb form that makes a statement or asks a question
 The subjunctive mood is for expressing wishes, suggestions, or desires
 Barnes, Albert: Notes on the N.T., op. cit., pp. 4869-4870