He That Dwelleth in Love
Love (1757-1825) was a Church of Scotland minister at London and Glasgow, and an organizer of the modern foreign missions movement. John Macleod wrote of him, “In his early spiritual experience he was very thoroughly searched by the teaching of Jonathan Edwards and the men of the older New England introspective school. This left its mark on his teaching in turn.” When “Rabbi” John Duncan was ordained at Milton Church, Glasgow, in 1836, those who had admired Love’s ministry turned to Duncan as “the Elisha on whom the mantle of their master had fallen.” These two sermons are dated 1799, Greenock, Scotland, and were published in Love’s Discourses on Select Passages of Scripture (Edinburgh 1829).
“And he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” I John 4:16
It is the testimony of the Spirit of God that, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” This is usually acknowledged in words by those who profess the gospel. But nothing is farther from the hearts of many professors of religion, than a deep and solid persuasion of the badness and treachery of their own hearts. Therefore they “hold fast deceit, and refuse to return.” Jer. 17:9; 8:5; 9:6; 13:25.
This treachery of the heart may be said to be infinite. For it is strong enough to spread a veil over the infinite glories of the Godhead, to annihilate them in the sinner’s apprehension, and so to make it seem a small thing to trample upon the majesty and authority of God.
Therefore, it is not to be wondered at that the heart should be deceitful enough to make void, and to turn into a thing of nought, the great distinctions of character betwixt persons regenerate and unregenerate. But they who attempt to do so, might as well attempt to set fire to the everlasting throne of God.
In this epistle (the divine authority of which shall hereafter be vindicated, at the cost of many who fancy themselves too evangelical to regard it), the connection between the other parts of Christianity and the spiritual love of mankind is often and variously inculcated. In this chapter, this doctrine is resumed immediately after treating of the distinction between truth and error.
Whence we may infer that true and false doctrine may be distinguished, from their tendency to influence and promote or destroy Christian love. That which destroys this grace is from beneath: That which promotes it is from heaven.
Error undermines Christian love, by darkening the glory of a Christian state and character, and so removing the fuel of this holy flame.
For how can any remarkable mutual love subsist among Christians, if they see or believe nothing remarkably glorious about the state and character of each other?
We have formerly treated this subject; but it is proper to renew our inquiries into it, because of its practical and sublime nature.
It is insisted upon in this epistle, as connected with faith and the love of God. For hypocrites are not easily moved with charges concerning the love of God, because they see him not, nor their obligations to him. And saints, seeing the glory of God, might neglect that part of the law which respects the love of mankind.
It is manifest from the 7th, 13th, and 20th verses of this chapter, that it is our love to others, and not to God, which is here directly spoken of. I shall consider the text in this view, and shall,
First, make some general observations concerning the nature of Christian love to others. Second, show what is implied in this description of a Christian’s exercise respecting it, when he is said to be one “who dwelleth in love.” Third, I shall consider the nature of that intimacy with God, intended by these expressions, “he dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Fourth, illustrate the connection between Christian love and this intimate fellowship with God.
For understanding the nature of Christian love:
I. Love in general is of two kinds, or hath two chief ways of working, namely, benevolence and complacency. The first of these is most strictly of the nature of love, having in it less regard to ourselves than the other.
II. The nature of love is distinguished from the kind of good which is desired in behalf of the object of our benevolence, and the kind of beauty which is delighted in, in the object of our complacency.
III. Christian benevolence hath respect to a peculiar kind of good. It hath respect to that infinite fullness of beauty, sweetness, and joy, which is in God. This is a dictate of the light of nature, that the highest beauty — the highest source of delight — must be in God himself. Surely they who reckon this too deep have not yet learned the first principles of the oracles of God. The infinite fullness of beauty and amiableness in the Eternal Godhead is the center of all religious truths, whether known by the light of nature or by the Scripture. Therefore, it is not strange that Christian benevolence should have respect thereto. Consider how the benevolence of the apostle Paul vents itself in his prayers for the churches. Col. 2:1-2, Eph. 1:3, Romans 1.
The benevolence of a worldly, sensual, ambitious man will respect those things which his own heart chiefly values. He will desire that his children or friends may possess that sort of good which he chooses for himself.
A Christian desires the same good part for others, which he hath chosen for himself. Ps. 119:111. “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” Ps. 34:8. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Acts 26:29. “And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”
IV. The love of complacency in a Christian is distinguished by its having respect to a peculiar kind of beauty. This is that sort of beauty which primarily consists in the soul’s being well-affected to the infinite beauty of God above mentioned; for this is the very essence of moral beauty, as existing in creatures. Their holiness doth not consist in their having the same sort of beauty which God hath, — which is impossible, — but it doth consist in their having a peculiar disposition of heart towards that infinity of glory which resides in God. Ps. 91:14. “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.”
The love of benevolence, among Christians, is more intense than the love of complacency. The good which they wish to one another is immensely greater than that which they see in each other.
Such is the general nature of that sublime and peculiar love, which is in true Christians, and which is declared, in this epistle, to be a sure evidence of “being born of God,” “knowing God,” “having passed from death to life,” 4:7, 3:14. And of which the unregenerate are said not only to have little, but none at all, 4:8, 3:14.
A Christian is described, in the text, as one who not only hath this sort of love, but who “dwelleth in it.” To show what is implied in a Christian’s dwelling in love, is the second thing proposed to be done. “He that dwelleth in love.” The expression is metaphorical. But it is a metaphor chosen by the Holy Spirit of God, the author of this love. We must therefore beware of enervating or perverting it. I offer these following remarks, for the explication of this expression: —
I. A Christian may be said to dwell in love, because he is familiarly and habitually accustomed to this exercise, in like manner as a man is used with the house which he resides in.
II. Because he is restless, uneasy, and out of his proper element, when he doth not sensibly feel this exercise; in like manner as a man is, when shut out from his own house, called his resting-place. Prov. 24:25.
III. Because this exercise of love to others hath such a grandeur and largeness in it, as to occupy and engage the whole soul in all its faculties. This arises from the infinite greatness of the good respected in it; so as a man’s house contains his whole person, a Christian dwells in his love to others.
IV. The propriety of this expression will farther appear, if we consider the number of the objects of this Christian love. It goes out towards all, known and unknown; so that a Christian lies compassed about with the objects of love; therefore dwells in it.
V. Our intercourse with others is a considerable part of our business in this world. Therefore, he may be said to dwell in love, whose conversation with mankind is seasoned with this love. This is the character of a Christian.
VI. All the internal actions of a Christian are mingled with love to others. Much of the exercise of a Christian’s heart relates directly to God. But no sooner doth he see the glory of God in his most secret thoughts, than his heart naturally flows out toward others, that they may partake of that divine joy.
VII. All his external actions, about the things of this world, are animated by this love.
VIII. A Christian may be said to dwell in love, because he habitually seeks, desires, pursues, hopes, and prepares for an eternity of the perfection of this love. This is essential to the idea of heaven. Heb. 12:22-23. “Ye are come to mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven.”
Application. 1. For examination. Consider, if you have known this heart-filling benevolence. If you know it not, — if you do not esteem and covet it, — you are in the gall of bitterness.
If you are not vigorously pursuing the increase of it, you are not fit for the Lord’s table, though you should have the root of grace in you. If you have any branch of fitness, you will have this.
2. For direction. This is to be cultivated. This is a part of the wedding garment for the Lord’s table. “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness.” Col. 3:12.
3. For conviction. At the day of Christ, the least grain of this will be precious. Matthew 25. If you have not this love, you have the contrary enmity. Of this, perhaps, you are not sensible: Because you see not the true nature of the holiness of the saints. Are there not some, whom you must acknowledge to be saints, whom you cannot away with; and that because of their strictness — because they are not loose and carnal enough? Is not this to hate holiness for its own sake? You would hate one of the holy angels much more, if he were near you. But, how great would be your enmity, if the glory of the infinite holiness of God were manifested to your consciences, which it will be hereafter, so as to discover that enmity, which now seems to be asleep. If you desire to be saved, pray for a discovery of your character, as enmity against God and his creatures. Till then, you are among the whole, who need not a physician and who cannot truly relish, embrace or partake of the redemption which is in Christ.
“And he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” I John 4:16
The deceitfulness of sin appears in perverting and wresting the oracles of God, so as to make those words, which natively tend to the salvation of men, to be the occasion of their destruction. So, when a contentious sinner hears such a description of God as in the verse where the text lies, “God is love,” he is disposed to make this inference from it, That, surely, under the government of such a God, there can be no such thing as hell. But they who understand the nature of that love which is here ascribed to God, will see that in proportion as it is true, so there must be in God an opposition to whatever is contrary to his infinitely benevolent nature. Therefore, he must hate and punish enmity against himself and his creatures. The more glorious and amiable that his nature is, the more inexcusable and hateful must all such enmity be. On the other hand, he who is love must be disposed to befriend, honor, and patronize that love to himself and to his creatures, which is the resemblance of what is in himself. Therefore, as to the love of God himself, this saying, “God is love,” must be as a seal to that declaration, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” And, in the text, it is applied for enforcing the precepts concerning the love of mankind.
We have formerly made some observations concerning the nature of Christian love, and shown what is signified by dwelling in it. And now, we are to consider the nature of that intimacy with God ascribed to such a person: “He dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
For understanding this, it must be observed, I. That sin is represented, in the Scripture, as occasioning a separation of the soul from God.
This is not to be understood absolutely and universally. For, an entire separation of the soul from God, in all respects, cannot be effected, unless its being were wholly destroyed. The soul, in a sinful state, is not separated from God as to his upholding power and wisdom, and his surrounding omnipresence. Nor, as to his moral excellency, is it so separated from him as to have no apprehensions of it at all. Wherein, then, doth this separation consist? It consists in being deprived of all beneficial and joyful knowledge of God in his moral perfection and glory. For, in a state of wrath, the face of God is powerfully discovered, so as to torment and terrify, but not so as to refresh and comfort the soul.
II. Christians are restored to the beneficial and joyful knowledge of God in his moral excellency.
They not only have some knowledge of God in general, which the devils have; nor have they only some knowledge — or very strong and deep apprehensions — of God, in his moral excellency, which the devils also have; but they have that kind of knowledge of God, in his moral excellency, which produces rest, joy, and refreshment.
This knowledge, to which Christians are restored, is to be considered as respecting God, 1. As to his moral excellency, absolutely in itself. 2. Relatively to the state of the Christian.
These discoveries of God begin in new ideas of God, as he is in himself, particularly of that fullness of divine beauty which is in him. The soul has a new and ravishing apprehension, of an unsearchable splendor of divine beauty, existing and shining forth in the Godhead, from everlasting to everlasting. And this diffuses luster over all that is in God. This exalts and expands the ideas of the goodness of God, which is now seen, not as limited by the scanty circle of created benefits, but expatiating in the immense treasures of uncreated good. This opens the glory of the justice of God, in requiring and rewarding obedience, and punishing transgression.
He who hath thus seen God as an object infinitely amiable is led on to inquire concerning himself, What reason have I to hope for so vast a good, as the eternal sight and fellowship of this God of glory? The more glorious that God is in the eyes of the soul, the more earnest are its inquiries after an interest in him.
Therefore, before the joy and rest of the soul, in the sight of God, can be complete, his infinite glory must appear as wearing an infinite luster and aspect towards the Christian himself, and that without having its splendor impaired or defiled. For the person who thus sees God would rather perish, so as to preserve unspotted the glory of this infinite brightness, than be saved at the expense of tarnishing its sacred luster.
And here are introduced the ideas of the electing, redeeming, and sanctifying love of God. This love is seen as glorious in its own nature and worthy of God. And the person is farther led, in the due order, to apprehend this divine love as particularly directed towards himself, according to the words spoken by Jeremiah: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.”
Thus, a Christian is restored to the beneficial and joyful knowledge of the living God.
III. Those who have been brought to this knowledge of God, dwell in him as to the permanent longings, aspirations, endeavours, and pursuits of their hearts, after preserving, recovering and increasing such knowledge of him.
They are so pleased and satisfied with this infinite good, that from thenceforth their desires, aims, and pursuits are directed in this channel. According to the words of David, Ps. 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” And, according to the words of Christ to the Samaritan woman, John 4:14, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
It is not so with those who have only a common, superficial knowledge of God, tending rather to discover than to destroy their enmity against him. They do not take up their everlasting abode in God; they do not dwell in him, as their only resting place; but gradually steal away from him, because their enmity against him still remains in its main strength. Hosea 6:4. “Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew, it goeth away.” Heb. 6:1-8.
IV. The sensible presence of God, while it is obtained and enjoyed, is of a heart-filling nature; so that the soul sensibly dwells in God, encompassed with his infinite glory and love, as in a vast and glorious palace.
There are times when a Christian is not only pursuing, but enjoying; not only in motion after God, but at rest in him. And, on account of the abundance and fullness of this divine joy, he is said to dwell in it, — or rather in God, the fountain of it. The understanding, the conscience, the heart and affections, the imagination and invention, are all full of God. This is spoken of, Ps. 36:8, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.”
And this plentiful satisfaction is derived, 1st, From the exalted and glorious nature of the glory manifested to the soul; and, 2nd, From the apprehension of boundless and eternal treasures of the same sort of excellency, — or of that which is equally precious, — to be enjoyed more and more.
V. There is a peculiar complacency and delight, on the part of God, as to these enjoyments of a Christian. God is said to forsake and abandon, and turn away from that which he hates. He is said to dwell where he loves, and finds complacency. So it is said, Ps. 132:13-14, “The Lord hath chosen Zion, he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” And thus, while a Christian is admitted to dwell in God, God dwells in him; having infinite complacency in that holy delight of the renewed soul. And this is most nearly allied to that ineffable delight which God hath in his own glory and blessedness. Zeph. 3:17, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” Deut. 32:9-14.
VI. There is a peculiar presence of the power of God, in producing these enjoyments of a Christian, and in protecting him in them.
When God dwelt in the ancient tabernacle and temple, it was understood to be the seat of his power; and they who were with him in it were under peculiar protection. Ps. 132:8, “Arise, O Lord, into thy rest, thou and the ark of thy strength.” Ps. 96:6, “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”
So it is said of the church in general. Isa. 25:10, “And in this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest.” Zech. 2:5, 8, “I will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her. He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of his eye.”
VII. There are divine effects, bearing the stamp of God upon them, which remain in the soul, as to which it may be said that God dwells in a Christian even after the sensible overflowing of divine consolation is withdrawn.
The connection between Christian love and this intimate fellowship with God may appear by comparing what was said of the nature of Christian love and fellowship with God. The closeness of this connection may be traced in the following ways:
I. No person can exercise true Christian love who hath not experienced this fellowship with God. For what is Christian love? Is it not a desire after the blessedness of others in the enjoyment of God? But how can we desire an unknown blessedness in behalf of others: or how can we desire for others a blessedness which we hate? And this is the case of every one who is utterly estranged from this fellowship with God.
II. This love to others excites a Christian to cultivate this fellowship with God. For the desire of the spiritual blessedness of others leads a Christian to delight in seeing the glory of God; for he is then, as it were, surveying the inheritance of those whom he loves; he rejoices to see how much is laid up for them. Ps. 31:19, “O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them who fear thee!” Ps. 22:26, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.” And, because nearness to God qualifies a Christian actively to promote the good of others, therefore he desires and seeks it.
III. Christian love is connected with an increase of the fellowship of God, in the way of reward and recompense.
It is dangerous to be more evangelical than the Scriptures, or to enervate the expressions of the Holy Ghost, in representing the glory and importance of his own fruits in the hearts and lives of the saints. The Scripture speaks of this love as a subject of reward from God, as Heb. 6:10, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” But what sort of reward is suited to the taste of such persons? Is it not more of this fellowship?
IV. An increase of Christian love is an effect of greater intimacy with God. And thus it proceeds in a circle, which ends in the state of glory, in which both are perfected.
V. The exercise of Christian love is connected with the eternal fellowship of God in heaven, as an essential part of preparation for it. They only who dwell in this love on earth are meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, — for the society of angels and glorified saints, — and for the presence of Jesus Christ, and of God the Judge of all.
Application. I. We see here what is aimed at as the substance of religion. God is jealous in this matter. Woe to them who prefer earthly treasures, or human learning, or speculative notions, or eloquence, or a show of duties, to those things of which we have now spoken.
II. And we may here take one view of the eternal woe of those who perish. That fullness of beauty which is in God shall, through the impiety of their hearts, glare upon them, so as to blast and torture their spirits in an unquenchable fire. They shall have no part in this mutual love.
They who have never felt themselves as outcasts from God and his people; who have not trembled at the thoughts of this excommunication, shall thus perish far from God; unless they submit to the convincing and awakening work of the Spirit of God; unless they justify God in their present condemnation, and flee for refuge to take hold of the hope which is set before them.
III. We may here see whence arises the atrocious guilt of unworthy communicating, because it is a contempt of this fellowship with God, and this love of mankind manifested in the body and blood of the Lord, as exhibited in the sacrament, in the highest glory.
IV. Those who have been at the Lord’s table may know their sincerity or hypocrisy, by examining these following things: 1. What were their leading aims in going to that table? If you have gone ignorantly, or in presumptuous enmity as to these things which we have spoken of, — or if you have sought them slightly and indifferently, — you have been guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 2. Whether have you sensibly felt this fellowship with God, and love to others, with such peculiar strength, solemnity, and assurance, as is suited to the nature of the sacrament? 3. Or, if you have felt a deep, solemn, tender mourning for the want or weakness of these things in you; the Lord will interpret this favorably; if it hath been, not in the way of carelessness, before, or at the time, but in the way of sovereignty, or correction, that you have been thus wanting in the sensible exercise of grace. 4. Consider the abiding fruit and effect of this service in your heart and ways; if thou hast a stronger edge of appetite habitually since you sat at that table, after fellowship with God, renewed visitations of his presence, and increase of love to others, in strength, purity, constancy, and activity. Or is all quite gone like a morning cloud, and that without deep mourning, or rather with joy at being rid of it?
V. Let those who have these things beware of backsliding, ingratitude, and slackening of diligence. It is little you have had, in comparison of what is before you. I shall conclude with these words of Christ to his disciples, John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”