That Ye Love One Another
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).
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12
That solemn form of expression, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” may be applied with peculiar force to the consolatory speeches of the dying Saviour. Much sweetness is laid up here; but it is a sweetness sealed up from the unbelieving world. None can intermeddle with these consolations, but the broken-hearted disciples of Christ. Happy is that man, whose ears have been opened to catch the vital sound of the compassionate, holy voice of Jesus, in these discourses with which the text stands connected.
The springs of consolation, here opened to the disciples of Christ, are principally these three: — The prospect of being with Christ eternally, in the immediate presence of God; The superior excellence of Christ’s presence, by the abundant influences of his Spirit, after his glorification, above whatever comfort could be derived from his bodily presence, in a humbled state; And the glorious victory of his cause, and enlargement of his spiritual kingdom, by the thorough conversion of many souls.
In subserviency to all these joyful prospects, we find the holy Redeemer, in the preceding chapter, insisting much on the importance of obedience to his commandments, as the genuine proof of sincere love to his Person. But, that the disciples might not hesitate, from consideration of the difficulty of the service of Christ, and might not take occasion, from these exhortations, to entertain high imaginations of their own strength, he turns his discourse into another channel; and, in the first seven verses of this chapter, gives them very clear and solemn instruction, as to the mysterious way of their attaining to that pure obedience which he so much inculcates. Having done this, he returns to his former strain of pressing exhortations on this subject. And, that their humble endeavours might take a particular aim, he selects one particular precept, which, in the text, he impresses with all that dignity, authority, and force of persuasion, which the lips of such a Master, in such circumstances, could give it: “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” As though he had spoken thus: “My dear disciples and friends, I have dealt very familiarly with you. These years past, you have been admitted to intimate acquaintance with me. Much you have seen of what I am, and of what is in my heart towards you. Now I am going to the cross to die, and to heaven to plead for you. I have been healing your sorrows, and showing you the consolations which shall flow from my departure. I have also warned you of the necessity of your aspiring after higher degrees of love to me, and obedience to my words, than hitherto you have attained. Are you not willing to comply with my counsels? Here, then, is one injunction, which it will be your wisdom specially to regard. I am leaving you behind me; and you are to be exalted to situations of high trust in my kingdom. This is my dying charge to you, my bereaved family, ‘Love one another’: Be closely cemented together: Beware of divisions: Let the whole extent of my expanded kingdom be knit together in your persons: Let your union be of a superior nature to the combinations of worldly men: Love one another, not as the world loveth, but ‘as I have loved you’: Transmit the example of love like mine, to all after generations of my people.”
Such, my brethren, is the general sense of the passage. But, I hope, you are desirous to enter more minutely and fully into this subject. Come, then, and let us be at some pains about the following things: — First, Let us inquire into the peculiar nature of that mutual love, which unites true Christians together. Second, Let us consider, how this love should be influenced by the authority and example of Jesus himself. Third, Let us endeavour to make a practical improvement of the truths which shall here present themselves to our view.
Let us begin with an inquiry into the nature — the peculiar nature — of that mutual love which is the bond of union among sincere Christians.
Will it be accounted strange, if I say that there is a mystery here, — a mystery into which the unbelieving world cannot penetrate? Yes, my friends, it is so: Those ligaments, those ties, which connect the members of Christ’s mystical body, are of a mysterious nature. But why should this seem strange, when we are baffled if we attempt to explain how the various parts of the human body, in union with the same soul, are united with one another, so that they cannot be separated without exquisite pain?
“Are you going, then, to preach mysteries?” Yes; I cannot preach a word of the Gospel — I cannot preach of what some reckon the low, trite subject of brotherly love among Christians — without attempting to unfold a mystery which angels look into with wonder.
My brethren, our chief difficulty on this subject is at the very entry of it. Here is the difficulty, — to ascend to the Source and Spring of this divine affection. Are you acquainted with God? Can you climb up into the secret of His presence, into the holiest of all? Then you will be enabled to understand the origin, the nature, the symptoms, and the properties of Christian love.
Let me borrow a similitude from a subject which has lately excited some public attention. We have heard a great deal about the source of the river Nile. I will compare Christian love to this glorious river. It was known long ago, that the source of that river lay far remote, in a country seldom visited — a country not to be explored without difficulty and danger. There, secreted from ordinary eyes, in a high-seated plain, burst forth the springs of the Nile. Gradually fed from the earth and skies, it pursues a long, winding, intricate, and sometimes dreadful course, through mountains, rocks, and valleys. At length, though guarded by many ridges of mountains, it finds a little gradually-extending plain, over which, as far as nature will permit it, at proper seasons, it diffuses its fertilizing overflow of waters. Then, as if conscious of its beneficence, it rides on in calm triumph, till, by a number of magnificent mouths, it reaches its parent ocean. Like to this river is that holy stream of Christian affection, of which we now speak. Its source is high and secret, in those regions of celestial truth which are seldom really visited, and which the eye of the mere philosophical vulture never saw. Springing from the high source, the stream of Christian love holds on its course, through many intricacies of temptation; sometimes through dreadful cataracts, till it reaches the valley of deep humiliation. Then the ridges of worldly lusts, which confined its course, gradually retire; and the Christian’s benevolence, swelled by floods of heavenly influence, overflows, and enriches a neighbourhood, more or less extensive according to the disposal of the sovereign God. At last, having finished its beneficent course, with calm triumph, and with many acclamations of praise, it rests in the bosom of that God who is the ocean of love.
But let me speak in more plain language.
I. The love of true Christians to each other originates in their peculiar knowledge of God.
It originates in such a knowledge of the glorious God, and in such a faith towards him, as at once delights, humbles, and purifies the heart. To this view of the subject the following passages direct us: I John 4:7: “Love is of God; and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God.” Verse 16: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” I Peter 1:22-23: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren: see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently, being born again — . Col. 3:12: “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”
The love of Christians rises in their breasts in a Godlike manner. Think a moment of the love of the blessed God. The primary idea of the Godhead is self-existence. What is next? The possession of an unbounded beauty, glory, and felicity within itself. Here is the fountain of that holy benevolence which belongs to God. God, being infinitely rich in spiritual glory, and full of just admiration of himself and delight in his own beauty, is gloriously inclined, to make an eternal display of his own excellence, to impart to other beings a likeness of his own purity and felicity, and to delight therein. This is the origin of all that love, which shines in the works of creation and redemption. The goodness of God is the rich overflowing of infinite perfection, and infinite happiness.
But, can the love of mean, dependent beings spring forth in so exalted a manner? Yes, my friends: according to the state, measure, and capacities of a creature, the benevolence of every true Christian is like that of God; for it springs up thus: — His mind is enlightened to look into the transcendent glories of the divine being; with these glories his heart is deeply enamoured: He seeks for a way of access to God; and he finds it in the Gospel: The love of God in Christ emboldens him to draw near: On the footing of the blood and righteousness of Jesus, he appropriates — what? The Godhead; the vast treasures, the all-sufficiency of Jehovah. God is now his. Can his heart remain any longer little and contracted? No, surely: His spirit now acquires a prince-like, or rather a God-like dignity. Do worldly objects appear great in his eyes? No; their luster is gone; and with it all the mad lusts of the flesh and of the eye. But doth this exalted creature look big in his own eyes? No. “What am I?” “Whence is this to me?” “I am a man of unclean lips”; “I am the chief of sinners: I, as a sinner, have no dignity to descend from, like that from whence God hath come down to me. But let the deepest humility show that I have known his majesty and his condescension: Let me meet with transport every shadow of his glory in my brethren around me.”
Do you, my friends, understand and believe these things? I hope you do: If so, you will not be surprised that I ascribe to the love, whose origin I have marked out, the following properties:
II. A peculiar delicacy, purity, sweetness, expansion, strength, and permanency. Let me explain a little these terms.
I say of Christian love, It hath a peculiar delicacy. It is not a promiscuous fondness. There is in a Christian’s heart a good-will which takes a very wide range. But I now speak of the mutual affection of Christians to each other as Christians. And of this I say, it is delicate. There must be more in its object than a mere saying, “Lord, Lord.” There must be probably symptoms of real grace. “Grace,” said Paul, “be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” “When Barnabus came to Antioch, and had seen,” says the historian, “the grace of God, he was glad.”
This love hath in its nature a heavenly purity. Worldly men sometimes love one another. But their love is carnal, it is sordid, it grovels in the dust. They can wish others to be happy, in no higher way than they make choice of for themselves. The worldly man, when in a good humor, wishes well to his neighbors; that is, he wishes them good health, riches, honors, pleasures of this life. But what is the breath of Christian love, in reference to its objects? Let the public benedictions of the Old and New Testament declare it. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” “Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied unto you.”
Is it saying too much of love like this, to say that it is sweet; that it hath a heavenly sweetness in its bosom, that it hath raptures and ecstasies? Yes, my dear brethren, this holy affection can produce sweeter ecstasies than the voluptuary ever felt. Did Paul feel no rapture, when he said, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open to you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are in our hearts, to die and live with you: great is my glorying of you. I am filled with comfort, I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation”? Felt he no rapture, when he thus addressed the Thessalonians: “What thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?” Felt he no rapture, when he wrote thus to the master of a fugitive slave: “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: thou therefore receive him that is mine own bowels?” I pity the man whose heart says: “How can these things be?”
The Christian’s love is capacious. There is room in his heart for all the saints, and for millions more; yea, for as many worlds of holy beings, as the philosopher can imagine from inspecting the starry heavens, were God pleased to create and to sanctify so many.
The principle which I describe is strong; strong to conquer discouragement, from much unkindness, from many blemishes; strong to meet the frown of the proud world, and to cleave to God’s people amidst disgrace and danger. “This love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it.”
The principle which I describe is permanent, “In summer and in winter shall it be.” It shall out-last the course of day and night. It shall survive the ruins of nature. It shall rise in fresh luster from the grave. It shall bloom in the Paradise of God, for ever and ever.
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12
Such is Christian love; such is its origin; such are its properties! Is it necessary to add,
III. That it is prolific of the noblest fruits? He who carries about in his breast this sacred fire cannot loiter, he cannot trifle. It will rouse him to beneficent activity. He will not spare his sweat or his money, who is disposed to pour out his blood “for the brethren.” Their sorrows and joys he makes his own. Such fruits will spring forth from this well-cultivated principle; they will spring forth naturally, with abundant luxuriancy, and with delicious fragrancy. “Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard; spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices: a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.” Or, in the plainer, but not less fervid language of the apostle, “Love suffereth long and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
I have given a very imperfect, but, I hope, a true and just representation of the love which genuine Christians cherish and express towards each other. And now, are you not sensible, my brethren, that it was worthy of the great Redeemer, even in those awful circumstances, to spend some of his precious moments and words on this subject, and to rouse his disciples to the study of this holy affection, by his authority and his example?
What must be the power of the commanding voice of Jesus, and of his attracting pattern, on souls that know him? For such I have already supposed those souls to be, in which this love of the brethren is seated. They have known the glories of his Person as the Incarnate God; they have felt the charms of his love; how then must they feel the weight and power of these words, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you?”
The school of Christ is the school of love.
But can love be taught; can love be influenced by authority? Is it not an unforced, spontaneous effusion of the heart?
I grant there is a kind of lawless love, which depends on the wild motions of an ungovernable fancy, which often disdains all control. And miserable are those deformed souls, which are hurried forward by the caprices of love, or rather, lusts of that kind. But the love of Christians to each other is capable of law. And though it is at once an effect of divine influences, and a spontaneous effusion of the heart, yet it is cherished and exercised suitably to the regular order of the faculties of the soul. Therefore, this, as well as other graces, is not only promised and bestowed, but also enjoined and inculcated on the minds of Christians.
And among the motives which impel believers to the study of this grace, those pointed out in the text hold a principal place. The law of love is justly denominated the “law of Christ.” Never was such love to men exhibited by created beings, in heaven or earth, as was displayed by the man Christ Jesus.
A gracious sense of this authority and example will promote the exercise of love, in Christian souls:
I. Because it will fire them with a generous ambition to excel and abound in this exercise. Who is the Judge, who is the pattern of excellence? He, who in the text requires Christians to love one another. To whom, O Christian, owest thou thine all? Who, what is it that hath saved thee? Jesus Christ and his love. Away, then, with thy coldness and languor: rest not in thy present attainments; look to this high standard; be ashamed of thyself, and press forward.
II. But, if thou groanest under the pressure of a corrupted nature, and feelest the sentence of death in thyself, in this, as in all other respects, consider the commandment and example of Christ as warranting and inviting thee to apply to his inexhaustible fullness of grace. Thy heart is cold, dead, barren, and perverse. But there is in Christ life and fire enough to transfuse his likeness into thy soul. His command is designed to press thee on, to make application to himself as the Author and Finisher of love.
III. But thou feelest not only a want, an indisposition — thou laborest under the forcible opposition of contrary temptations. The low state of religion among the people of God, their obstinacy in courses of backsliding, perhaps their ingratitude, frowardness, and injurious behavior towards thyself, together with the subtle indifference of the accursed parent hatred, concur to damp thy affections and alienate thy heart from many of thy Christian brethren. Is it so with thee? And wilt thou thus lie down, overcome of evil? Think of thy Redeemer’s patience and free compassion; think of his authority; think of his power. Do violence to the remains of thy corrupted nature. Gain a fresh victory over these oppositions: and then I should be glad to be near thee, to feel the fragrance of that consolation and sweetness, with which Christ will soon perfume thy victorious soul.
IV. And when, according to the measure of an imperfect state, thy love begins to be perfect, and to cast out servile dread, and to assure thy heart before him; then fear not to indulge a humble self-approbation. The command and example of thy Judge secures his approbation of every step thou advancest in this path. He, the Judge of worlds, the Prince of eternity, will say, “Well done, inasmuch as thou didst it to one of the least of these my brethren, thou didst it to me.” Thou shalt receive a full reward, — a reward, in kind, suited to the nature of this holy affection. Thy love itself shall be made perfect in heaven. There shalt thou feel a warm return of love, from Christ himself and the assembly of the righteous. There shalt thou see, there shalt thou feel, throughout eternity, the happiness of those excellent ones of the earth, in whom was all thy delight.
And now, ye Christ-like lovers of the brethren, what application shall we make of this subject?
I. Will it be improper to take a humbling view of the matter, and to open afresh the springs of godly sorrow? What was each one of us before grace arrested us? Were we not enemies of God, and enemies of his people? The tender heart of Paul was often dissolved in contrition, when he reflected on his cruel opposition to the children of God, whom he afterwards so much esteemed. How moving are those words of his! “Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.” I doubt not but his cheeks did run down with tears, in the midst of his enemies, when he repeated these words.
But it may be this thought is rising in someone’s breast: “God be thanked, I never was an enemy to God’s people.” Sayest thou so? Then I must take up the fan of the sanctuary, and endeavor to make a separation between the precious and the vile.
II. Hear, then, the word of the Lord. There is such a thing as a false, a feigned, a spurious love to the brethren. A man may think he loves the children of God, and yet may be deceiving himself. “Let us not,” saith John, “love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” There is, then, a falsely pretended love to the saints. And this flows out very plentifully, while it costs nothing: it is less worth than money, even in the possessor’s estimation. But there is a still more alarming view of the subject. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love: — Though I understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love: — Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” Yes, my friends, there may be not only much speculation, but there may be such liberality, and such heroism in the cause of religion, as these last expressions imply, where there is not the least spark of true Christian love. We have heard of a proud Roman holding his hand in the fire till it was burnt off, to impress a foreign king with high ideas of the Roman valor. We have heard of other Romans voluntarily devoting themselves to instant death, for what they called “the public good.” And may not a carnal zeal in the cause of religion operate as powerfully as in a cause merely worldly?
You will say then, “What shall we do? Is it possible, at this rate, to know sincerity from hypocrisy?” It is possible. It is possible for a Christian to be firmly assured of the sincerity of his love. But it is possible only in one way; in the way of a close and impartial self-examination, attended with earnest cries for the special light of the Spirit of grace. Let us, then, now bring the matter to a trial.
“We know,” saith the apostle, “that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” If, then, thou art a true lover of the children of God, thou hast entered into this, as well as other graces, “by the strait gate”: And it hath cost thee a sharp struggle to get into it. Say, then, didst thou ever feel in thyself an entire want of all good, and a fullness of all evil; and consequently a real reigning opposition of heart to God and his people? Feeling thyself thus, didst thou ever groan as one utterly helpless, in extreme misery? Didst thou ever, with a trembling heart, condemn thyself, as one worthy to be cast forth into the lowest hell? Thus, self-condemned, and unable to move towards Christ, unable to spin faith, like the spider, out of thine own bowels, hast thou waited on the sovereign God for a saving pull of his arm? And hast thou found a new, supernatural power opening thy heart, changing thy inmost powers, and drawing thee with a sweet violence to the glorious Savior? Having come to Jesus, hast thou received from him the spirit of love? Hast thou found that spirit kindling in thy breast a new celestial warmth of affection? Dost thou habitually esteem these divine influences, and the holy affections thereby produced, far above gold and silver, and all the best things of this world? Is thy love to the saints kept alive, cherished, and revived, from time to time, by power not thine own? Dost thou bewail the imperfection of thy love, and humbly renounce all dependence thereon in the matter of justification? Deal faithfully with thyself: and if thou canst give a fair answer to those questions, I will undertake to prove by Scripture that thou art no hypocrite, but one who doth sincerely love God and his children. For this purpose, I briefly rehearse the following Scripture expressions: “The Lord hath anointed me, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are they who mourn. Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness. The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. The fruit of the Spirit of love. Ye are taught of God to love one another.”
But if, after all, any person here present will deceive himself, “his blood be upon his own head”: I hope the Lord will not require it at my hand.
On the contrary, if any one now begins to fall under a well-founded conviction of hypocrisy, I entreat that person not to resist or stifle that conviction. Consider that you may yet be pulled up out of the horrible pit. The outlines of the way in which an unrenewed sinner may be brought into a gracious state have been marked out in the questions which I just now proposed.
But I return to those who are indeed the people of God. You have been with Jesus at his table. Let this be manifest in the fresh fervor, sweetness and spirituality of your affections towards each other. You have seen the dying love of Christ. Are you not ravished with it? Are you not ashamed of your distance from perfect likeness to him? Are you not longing for that period when you shall feel flames of love, like to those which were in the heart of Jesus upon the cross — which are now in his heart, in the midst of the throne? Hasten forward, my friends, to your own country. Pity those who are strangers to these matters, and strive for their recovery.
That we may all meet hereafter in the kingdom of perfect light and love, and that, while sojourning on earth, we may exemplify the love of Christ, may God grant; and for this purpose, may he bless what hath been now spoken. Amen!