VERY beautifully does the Church at this season continue and carry
on her note of Divine love; taking up her lesson again from St. John, the
disciple of love, and from that part of his Epistle where he seems to be
dwelling in memory on our Lord’s own words at the last Supper before He
left them. “Much,” says St. Augustin, “as the Scripture commends
the power of love, I know not that it ever does so more fully than here.”
(In Joan. Ep. Hom. v.)
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. Our Lord
Himself had said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before
it hated you. Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen
you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (St. John
xv. 18, 19.) By “the world” is meant those who love anything in this
temporal state of things more than they love God, as revealed to us in
Jesus Christ. Whenever we do so in any respect, we hate those who
love God more, because they are witnesses against us; their hearts being
more set on God reproves and condemns us, we envy and dislike them.
For they who love God must necessarily be displeasing to “the prince of
this world ;“ and he will in every way stir up hate against them with all
those whom he sways.
But if the world hate us, what is our comfort? it is this, We know
that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.
“We know,” we have the witness in ourselves, that we are on the right hand
of the Judge, by our conscience within telling us that we have love; it
is a hidden life, a life hid in Christ. It is not seen now, as the
life of a tree is not seen in winter, but it lies hidden in the root; but
when its own appointed spring-time shall have come, it will burst forth
in leaves and fruit, and be seen in glory at the appearance of its Lord,
the Lord of life. But in the dead of winter you can tell whether
the tree has life in the root, and so even now the life of the soul is
known by love. Love is like the light within the house at the Marriage
Supper of the Lamb, while it is all darkness without, the hatred of the
world, men “hateful and hating one another.”
He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. He still
continueth in that state in which he was born, a state of death, and lying
under the wrath of God. He is hid from the face of God, (Gen. iv.
14.) as was Cain, the first-born of Adam. Whosoever hateth his
brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding
in him. The expression seems to allude to our Lord’s own declaration
in the Sermon on the Mount, that His law, by which we shall be judged at
the last day, is spiritual, extending to the thoughts; that therefore he
who is angry with his brother without cause, or uses towards him words
of contempt or provocation, will be condemned of breaking the Sixth Commandment,
(St. Matt. v. 21.) of which the penalty is death.
For the Christian’s conduct must be regulated by the new law of love—the
new law of loving others even as Christ hath loved us; for this, the example
of perfect love, is set before us as the stirring and sanctifying motive
of our love. He states in contrast the lowest condition to which
we can fall, which is of one who hating his brother takes part with him
who was “a murderer from the beginning;" (St. John viii. 44.) and from
this the beloved disciple delights to pass unto the best of all, the fountain
and the sea of all love. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because
He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren. This is the love of God, the perfection of all love;
nothing can ever be higher than this, for it is the crown of all; nothing
deeper than this, for it is the foundation of all; nothing longer than
this, for it is the end of all; nothing broader than this, for it is the
sum and substance of all. It is as the Cross of Christ itself, of
which one part sinks down into the earth below, while another part rises
up towards Heaven above; on the right hand it stretches forth unto boundless
space, and on the left also. Such is the length and breadth, and
depth and height of the love of Christ crucified. This is the pattern
according to which we are to measure ourselves, and apply this Divine test
to the little brotherly charities of life, as that of giving alms to the
poor. But whoso hath this world’s good and seeth his brother have
need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him; how dwelleth the
love of God in him? There can be but little share of this love in him
who spends his money on himself and forgets the poor. Goodness to
the poor is the chief proof of the love of God in Christians, inasmuch
as it receives not earthly requital or return; whereas domestic, or filial,
or parental, or social love, are more of earth, as less close in resemblance
to the love of Christ ; which is described by this analogy, that “though
He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that” we “through His poverty
might be rich.”
And then with all possible tenderness the Apostle appeals to such proofs
of sincerity as are alone availing for the satisfaction and peace of our
own conscience with God. For there may be the appearance of such
love without the reality; men may be gentle and kind in their manners and
conversation, give alms to the poor, and be well known for public charities;
nay more, may seam to be meek and forgiving of injuries, and all this from
a great mixture of self-interest and self-love; and if so, they lose the
blessedness of that life-giving Eye that seeth in secret. It is the
Eye of God in the soul that fills it with life, love, and light. My little children,
says St. John, with more than parental care
and affection, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed
and in truth. The more valuable anything is, the more important
that it should be sincere and without counterfeit. And hereby
we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
The confidence towards God which love gives, of which St. John so often
speaks, and the peace and joy in the soul arising from it, depend entirely
on such love being genuine and true, that self-pleasing and the secret
love of the world be not the motives which influence us. Our conscience
will tell us if this be the case. For if our heart condemn us,
God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. If there
be a secret misgiving, it will destroy our faith in God. Beloved,
if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.
And what are the blessed effects, the infinite value and benefit of
such friendship with God? It is far beyond every other good, every
satisfaction or comfort, which this world can afford; and it consists in
this, that His eyes are upon us with love, and that His ears are open to
our prayers. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Rim, because
we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His
sight. “Whatsoever we ask we receive of Him;” this is a truth
of God, that is, a life-giving truth; for truth may sound in Satan’s words,
a heart-deceiving truth which is unto death; as when he said, “Ye shall
not die,”—conveying in words of seeming truth the worst of falsehoods.
St. Paul asked and received not, when he prayed for “the thorn in the flesh”
to be taken from him; but his prayer was heard and answered in a way beyond
what he thought or desired, and he rejoiced the more in not having that
release for which he asked, in a far better and more blessed fulfilment
of his prayer. Whereas the Israelites often asked, but with hearts
not right towards God, and they received what they prayed for; but their
spiritual salvation was not promoted thereby, for such they desired not.
Rejecting God for their King, they asked for a king like the nations, and
obtained what they asked for; and afterwards, with a like spirit, they
said, “we have no king but Caesar," and rejected Christ. So necessary
is it that our desires should be right towards God, lest He should answer
us according to our desires; for He has promised to answer our prayers,
if we keep His words.
To this St. John then adds, as his custom is, a summary of all Christian
faith and doctrine, every sentence being full of Divine life; for after
having said that our prayers being answered aright depends on our keeping
the commandments of God, he returns again, as our Lord so frequently does
in His last discourse, to the subject of these His commandments.
And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the Name of His
Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
To believe in Jesus Christ contains in it every doctrine with respect
to God; and to love one another, every duty with respect to man.
Moreover, this last, as being the fulfilling of Christ’s commandment, may
be considered to imply the former also; for it is in our lives the fruit
of faith in His Incarnation, and in the mystery of Godliness. Therefore
he adds, And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him and He
in him. Whosoever keepeth His commandments hath the indwelling
of God, and he becomes assured that he has this indwelling from the Spirit
which gives him the power to keep these commandments. Thus all things
are held together as by a chain which reaches to the throne of God, and
connects with it every action of our daily life; for he adds, And hereby
we know that He abideth in us by the Spirit Which He hath given us.
St. Paul’s testimony corresponds with this: The Spirit itself beareth
witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Rom.
viii. 16.) But St. John seems here to be thinking of his Lord’s promise,
that He Himself would come and abide with him; and he felt assured that
this His promise was fulfilled by the Spirit which had given unto him such
love and power.
Now if we have so earnestly considered this striking Epistle from St.
John, as to have made it our own by meditation and prayer, it follows that
we must carry on the same train of thought, and this heart-thrilling lesson
of love and goodness to the Gospel also...
(for the second part, on the Gospel.)