I. To make some remarks on the nature of love. II. To show that love is the whole of religion. III. Some things that are not essential to perfect love. IV. Some things that are essential. V. Some of the effects of perfect love.
I. I am to make some remarks on the nature of love.
1. The first remark I have to make is, that there are various forms under which love may exist.
The two principal forms, so far as religion is concerned, are benevolence and complacency. Benevolence is an affection of the mind, or an act of the will. It is willing good, or a desire to promote the happiness of its object. Complacency is esteem, or approbation of the character of its object. Benevolence should be exercised towards all beings, irrespective of their moral character. Complacency is due only to the good and holy.
2. Love may exist either as an affection or as an emotion.
When love is an affection, it is voluntary, or consists in the act of the will. When it is an emotion, it is involuntary. What we call feelings, or emotions, are involuntary. They are not directly dependent on the will, or controlled by a direct act of will. The virtue of love is mostly when it is in the form of an affection. The happiness of love is mostly when it is in the form of an emotion. If the affection of love be very strong, it produces a high degree of happiness, but the emotion of holy love is happiness itself.
I said that the emotion of love is involuntary. I do not mean that the will has nothing to do with it, but that it is not the result of a mere or direct act of the will. No man can exercise the emotion of love by merely willing it. And the emotion may often exist in spite of the will. Individuals often feel emotions rising in their minds, which they know to be improper, and try by direct effort of will to banish them from their minds; and finding that impossible, therefore conclude that they have no control of these emotions. But they may always be controlled by the will in an indirect way. The mind can bring up any class of emotions it chooses, by directing the attention sufficiently to the proper object. They will be certain to rise in proportion as the attention is fixed, provided the will is right in regard to the object of attention. So of those emotions which are improper or disagreeable; the mind may be rid of them, by turning the attention entirely away from the object, and not suffering the thoughts to dwell on it.
3. Ordinarily, the emotions of love towards God are experienced when we exercise love towards him in the form of affection.
But this is not always the case. We may exercise good will towards any object, and yet at times feel no sensible emotions of love. It is not certain that even the Lord Jesus Christ exercised love towards God, in the form of emotion, at all times. So far as our acquaintance with the nature of the mind goes, we know that a person may exercise affection, and be guided and be governed by it, constantly, in all his actions, without any felt emotion of love towards its object at the time. Thus a husband and father may be engaged in laboring for the benefit of his family, and his very life controlled by affection for them while his thoughts are not so engaged upon them as to make him feel any sensible emotions of love to them at the time.
The things about which he is engaged may take up his mind so much, that he has scarcely a thought of them, and so he may have no felt emotion towards them, and yet he is all the time guided and governed by affection for them. Observe here, that I use the term, affection, in the sense of President Edwards, as explained by him in his celebrated Treatise on the Will. An affection in his treatise is an act of the will or a volition.
4. Love to our neighbor naturally implies the existence of love to God, and love to God naturally implies love to our neighbor.
The same is declared in the 8th verse, "Owe no man my thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Here it is taken for granted that love to our neighbor implies the existence of love to God, otherwise it could not be said that "he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." The apostle James recognizes the same principle, when he says, "If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well." Here love to our neighbor is spoken of as constituting obedience to the whole law. Benevolence, that is, good will to our neighbor, naturally implies love to God. It is love to the happiness of being. So the love of complacency towards holy beings naturally implies love to God, as a being of infinite holiness.
II. I am to show that love is the whole of religion.
In other words, all that is required of man by God consists in love, in various modifications and results. Love is the sum total of all.
1. The first proof I shall offer is, that the sentiment is taught in the text, and many other passages of scripture.
The scriptures fully teach, that love is the sum total of all the requirements, both of the law and gospel. Our Savior declares that the great command, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum total of all the law and the prophets, or implies and includes all that the whole scriptures, the law and the gospel require.
2. God is love, and to love is to be like God, and to be perfect in love is to be perfect as God is perfect.
All God's moral attributes consist in love, acting under certain circumstances and for certain ends. God's justice in punishing the wicked, his anger at sin, and the like, are only exercises of his love to the general happiness of his kingdom. So it is in man. All that is good in man is some modification of love. Hatred to sin, is only love to virtue acting itself out in opposing whatever is opposed to virtue. So true faith implies and includes love, and faith which has no love in it, or that does not work by love, is no part of religion. The faith that belongs to religion is an affectionate confidence in God. There is a kind of faith in God, which has no love in it. The devil has that kind of faith. The convicted sinner has it. But there is no religion in it. Faith might rise even to the faith of miracles, and yet if there is no love in it, it amounts to nothing. The apostle Paul, in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, says, "Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."
Just so it is with repentance. The repentance that does not include love is not "repentance towards God." True repentance implies obedience to the law of love, and consequent opposition to sin.
III. I will mention some things that are not essential to perfect love.
1. The highest degree of emotion is not essential to perfect love.
It is manifest that the Lord Jesus Christ very seldom had the highest degree of emotion of love, and yet he always had perfect love. He generally manifested very little emotion, or excitement. Excitement is always proportioned to the strength of the emotions as it consists in them. The Savior seemed generally remarkably calm. Sometimes his indignation was strong, or his grief for the hardness of men's hearts; and sometimes we read that he rejoiced in spirit. But he was commonly calm, and manifested no high degree of emotion. And it is plainly not essential to perfect love, that the emotion of love should exist in a high degree.
2. Perfect love does not exclude the idea of increase in love or growth in grace.
I suppose the growth of the mind in knowledge, to all eternity, naturally implies growth in love to all eternity. The Lord Jesus Christ, in his human nature, grew in stature, and in favor with God and man. Doubtless, as a child, he grew in knowledge, and as he grew in knowledge, he grew in love toward God, as well as in favor with God. His love was perfect when he was a child, but it was greater when he became a man. As a human being, he probably always continued to increase in love to God as long as he lived. From the nature of mind, we see that it may be so with all the saints in glory, that their love will increase to all eternity, and yet it is always perfect love.
3. It is not essential to perfect love, that love should always be exercised towards all individuals alike.
We cannot think of all individuals at once. You cannot even think of every individual of your acquaintance at once. The degree of love towards an individual depends on the fact that the individual is present to the thoughts.
4. It is not essential to perfect love, that there should be the same degree of the spirit of prayer for every individual, or for the same individual at all times.
The spirit of prayer is not always essential to pure and perfect love. The saints in heaven have pure and perfect love for all beings, yet we know not that they have the spirit of prayer for any. You may love any individual with a very strong degree of love, and yet not have the spirit of prayer for that individual. That is, the Spirit of God may not lead you to pray for the salvation of that individual. You do not pray for the wicked in hell. The spirit of prayer depends on the influences of the Holy Ghost, leading the mind to pray for things agreeable to the will of God. You cannot pray in the Spirit, with the same clergy of fervor and faith, for all mankind. Jesus Christ said expressly, he did not pray for all mankind: "I pray not for the world." Here has been a great mistake in regard to the spirit of prayer.
Some suppose that Christians have not done all their duty when they have not prayed in faith for every individual, as long as there is a sinner on the earth. Then Jesus Christ never did all his duty, for he never did this. God has never told us he will save all mankind, and never gave us any reason to believe he will do it. How then can we pray in faith for the salvation of all? What has that faith to rest on?
5. Perfect love is not inconsistent with those feelings of languor or constitutional debility, which are the necessary consequence of exhaustion or ill health.
We are so constituted, that excitement naturally and necessarily exhausts our powers. But love may be perfect, notwithstanding. Though one may feel more disposed to lie down and sleep than to pray, yet his love may be perfect The Lord Jesus Christ often felt this weariness and exhaustion, when the spirit was still willing, but the flesh was weak.
IV. What is essential to perfect love.
I. It implies that there is nothing in the mind inconsistent with love.
No hatred, malice, wrath, envy, or any other malignant emotions that are inconsistent with pure and perfect love.
2. That there is nothing in the life inconsistent with love.
All the actions, words, and thoughts, continually under the entire and perfect control of love.
3. That the love to God is supreme.
The love to God is completely supreme, and so entirely above all other objects, that nothing else is loved in comparison with God.
4. That love to God is disinterested.
God is loved for what he is; not for his relation to us, but for the excellence of his character.
5. That love to our neighbor should be equal, i.e. that his interest and happiness should be regarded by us of equal value with our own, and he and his interests are to he treated accordingly by us.
V. I am to mention some of the effects of perfect love.
1. One effect of perfect love to God and man will certainly be, delight in self-denial for the sake of promoting the interests of God's kingdom and the salvation of sinners.
See affectionate parents, how they delight in self-denial for the sake of promoting the happiness of their children. There is a father; he gives himself up to exhausting labor, day by day, and from year to year, through the whole of a long life, rising early, and eating the bread of carefulness continually, to promote the welfare of his family. And he counts all this self-denial and toil not a grief or a burden, but a delight, because of the love he bears to his family. See that mother; she wishes to educate her son at college, and now, instead of finding it painful it is a joy to her to sit up late and labor incessantly to help him. That is because she really loves her son. Such parents rejoice more in conferring gifts on their children, than they would in enjoying the same things themselves. What parent does not enjoy a piece of fruit more in giving it to his little child, than in eating it himself? The Lord Jesus Christ enjoyed more solid satisfaction in working out salvation for mankind than any of his saints can ever enjoy in receiving favors at his hands. He testified that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was the joy set before him, for which he endured the cross and despised the shame.
His love was so great for mankind, that it constrained him to undertake this work, and sustained him triumphantly through it. The apostle Paul did not count it a grief and a hardship to be hunted from place to place, imprisoned, scourged, stoned, and counted the offscouring of all things, for the sake of spreading the gospel and saving souls. It was his joy. The love of Christ so constrained him, he had such a desire to do good, that it was his highest delight to lay himself on that altar as a sacrifice to the cause. Other individuals have had the same mind with the apostle. They have been known who would be willing to live a thousand years, or to the end of time, if they could be employed in doing good, in promoting the kingdom of God, and saving the souls of men, and willing to forego even sleep and food to benefit objects they so greatly love.
2. It delivers the soul from the power of legal motives
Perfect love leads a person to obey God, not because he fears the wrath of God, or hopes to be rewarded for doing this or that, but because he loves God and loves to do the will of God. There are two extremes on this subject. One class make virtue to consist in doing right, simply because it is right, without any reference to the will of God, or an influence from God. Another class makes virtue to consist in acting from love to the employment, but without reference to God's authority, as a Ruler and Law-giver. Both of these are in error. To do a thing simply because he thinks it right, and not out of love to God is not virtue. Neither is it virtue to do a thing because he loves to do it, with no regard to God's will. A woman might do certain things because she knew it would please her husband, but if she did the same thing merely because she loved to do it, and with no regard to her husband, it would be no virtue as it respects her husband. If a person loves God, as soon as he knows what is God's will, he will do it because it is God's will. Perfect love will lead to universal obedience, to do God's will in all things, because it is the will of God.
3. The individual who exercises perfect love will be dead to the world.
I mean by this that he will be cut loose from the influence of worldly considerations. Perfect love will so annihilate selfishness, that he will have no will but the will of God, and no interest but God's glory. He will not be influenced by public sentiment, or what this and that man will say or think. See that woman! what is she not willing to do from natural affection to her husband? She is willing to cut loose from all her friends, as much as if she was dead to them, and not pay the least regard to what they say, and leave all the riches, and honors, and delights they can offer, to join the individual whom she loves, and live with him in poverty, in disgrace, and in exile. Her affection is so great that she does it joyfully, and is ready to go from a palace to any cottage or cave in earth, and be perfectly happy. And all that her friends can say against the man of her affection has not the least influence on her mind, only to make her cling the more closely to him. This one all-absorbing affection has actually killed all the influences that used to act on her. To attempt to influence her by such things is in vain. There is only one avenue of approach to her mind only one class of motives move her, and that is through the object of her affection.
So far as the philosophy of mind is concerned, the perfect love of God operates in the same way. The mind that is filled with perfect love, it is impossible to divert from God, while love continues in exercise. Take away his worldly possessions, his friends, his good name, his children, send him to prison, beat him with stripes, bind him to the stake, fill his flesh full of pine knots and set them on fire; and then leave him his God and he is happy. His strong affection can make him insensible to all things else. He is as if he were dead to all the world but his God. Cases have been known of martyrs who, while their bodies were frying at the stake, were so perfectly happy in God, as to lose their sense of pain.
Put such a one in hell, in the lake of fire and brimstone, and as long as he enjoys God, and the love of God fills his soul, he is happy.
Who has not witnessed or heard of cases of affection, approaching in degree to what I have described, where a person is in fact dead to all other things, and lives only for the loved object. How often do you see fond parents, who live for an only child, and when that child dies, wish themselves dead. Sometimes a husband and wife have such an absorbing affection for each other, that they live for nothing else; and if the husband dies, the wife pines away and dies also. The soul-absorbing object for which she lived is gone, and why should she live any longer? So, when an individual is filled with the perfect love of God, he wishes to live only to love and serve God; he is dead to the world, dead to his own reputation, and has no desire to live for any other reason, here, or in heaven, or any where else in the universe, but to glorify God. He is willing to live, here or any where else, and suffer and labor a thousand years, or to all eternity, if it will glorify God.
I recollect hearing a friend say, often, "I don't know that I have one thought of living a single moment for any other purpose than to glorify God, any more than I should think of leaping right into hell." This was said soberly and deliberately, and the whole life of that individual corresponded with the declaration. He was intelligent, sober-minded, and honest, and I have no doubt expressed what had been the fullest conviction of his mind for years. What was this but perfect love? What more does any angel in heaven do than this? His love may be greater in degree, because his strength is greater. But the highest angel could not love more perfectly, than to be able to say in sincerity, "I should as soon think of leaping into hell as of living one moment for any other object but to glorify God." What could Jesus Christ himself say more than that?
4. It is hardly necessary to say that perfect joy and peace are the natural results of perfect love.
But I wish to turn your attention here to what the apostle says in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, speaking of charity, or love. You will observe that the word here translated "charity" is the same that is in other places rendered love. It means love. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." He might have even the faith of miracles, so strong that he could move mountains from their everlasting foundations, and yet have no love. "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." You see how far he supposes a man may go without love. "Charity suffereth long." Long-suffering is meekness under opposition or injury. This is one of the effects of love, to bear great provocations, and not retaliate or revile again. Love is kind, or affectionate in all intercourse with others, never harsh or rude, or needlessly giving pain to any.
Love envieth not, never dislikes others because they are more thought of or noticed, more honored or useful, or make greater attainments in knowledge, happiness or piety. Is not puffed up with pride, but always humble and modest. Doth not behave itself unseemly, but naturally begets a pleasant and courteous deportment towards all. However unacquainted the individual may be with the ways of society, who is actuated by perfect love, he always appears well, it is natural to him to be so kind and gentle and courteous. Seeketh not her own, or has no selfishness. Is not easily provoked. This is always the effect of love. See that mother, how long she bears with her children, because she loves them.
If you see an individual that is testy, or crusty, easily flying into a passion when anything goes wrong he is by no means perfect in love, if he has any love. To be easily provoked is always a sign of pride. If a person is full of love, it is impossible to make him exercise sinful anger while love continues. He exercises such indignation as God exercises, and as holy angels feel, at what is base and wrong, but he will not be provoked by it. Thinketh no evil. Show me a man that is always suspicious of the motives of others, and forever putting the worst construction on the words and actions of his fellow men, and I will show you one who has the devil in him, not the Holy Ghost. He has that in his own mind which makes him think evil of others. If an individual is honest and simple-hearted himself, he will be the last, to think evil of others. He will not be always smelling heresy or mischief in others. On the contrary, such persons are often liable to be imposed on by designing men, not from any want of good sense, but from the effect of love. They do not suspect evil, where the exterior appears fair, nor without the strongest proof.
Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. See a man who exults at his neighbor's fall, or cries out, I told you so; and I tell you, that man is far enough from being perfect in love. Beareth all things, all provocations and injuries, without revenge, Believeth all things, instead of being hard to be convinced of what is in favor of others, is always ready to believe good wherever there is the least evidence of it. Hopeth all things; even where there is reason to suspect evil, as long as there is room for hope, by putting the best construction upon the thing which it will bear. Where you see an individual that has not this Spirit, rest assured, he is by no means sincerely in love. Nay, he has no love at all.
I might pursue this course of thought farther, but have not time. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor. Mark that, no ill! Perfect love never overreaches, nor defrauds, nor oppresses, nor does any ill to a neighbor. Would a man under the influence of perfect love, sell his neighbor rum? Never. Would a man that loved God with all his heart, perfectly, hold his neighbor as a slave? Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; slavery denies him the wages that he has earned, and perhaps sells him, and tears him away from his family, deprives him of the Bible, and endeavors as far as possible to make him a brute. There cannot be greater falsehood and hypocrisy, than for a man who will do that, to pretend that he loves God, now that light is shed upon this subject, and the attention of men turned upon it. Will a man hate his own flesh? How can he love God that hates or injures his neighbor?
I designed to remark on one other effect of perfect love. It uniformly shows itself in great efforts for the sanctification of the church and the salvation of souls. Where a person is negligent or deficient in either of these, he is by no means perfect in love, whatever may be his pretensions.
I. You see why it is true, what the apostle James says, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." The man that professes to be religious, and yet allows himself to speak against his neighbor with an unbridled tongue, to injure his neighbor, deceives himself, if he thinks he loves his neighbor as himself. Strange love!
II. There may be much light in the mind concerning religion, without love.
You often see individuals, who understand a great deal, intellectually, about religion, and can spread it out before others, while it is plain they are not actuated by the spirit of love. They have not the law of kindness on their lips.
III. Those individuals who have much religious knowledge and zeal, without love, are most unlovely and dangerous persons.
They are always censorious, proud, heady, high-minded. They may make a strong impression, but do not produce true religion. They zealously affect you, but not well.
IV. The drift of a man's zeal will determine the character of his religion.
It will show whether the light in his mind is accompanied with love. If it is, his zeal will not be sectarian in its character. Show me a man full of jealously towards all that do not belong to his sect or party, and there is a man far enough from perfect love.
True love in never denunciatory or harsh. If it has occasion to speak of the faults of others, it does it in kindness, and with sorrow. Perfect love cannot speak in a rough or abusive manner, either to or of others. It will not lay great stress on the mere circumstantials of religion, nor be sticklish for particular measures or forms. Many will contend fiercely either for or against certain things, as for or against new measures; but if they were full of love they would not do it. The zeal that is governed by perfect love will not spend itself in contending for or against any forms in religion, nor attack minor errors and evils. Love leads to laying stress on the fundamentals in religion. It cleaves to warm-hearted Christians, no matter of what denomination they may be, and loves them, and delights to associate with them.
This zeal is never disputatious, or full of controversy. Find a man who loves to attend ecclesiastical meetings, and enters into all the janglings of the day, and that man is not full of love. To a mind filled with holy love, it is exceedingly painful to go to such meetings, and see ministers dividing into parties, and maneuvering, and caucussing, and pettifogging, and striving for the mastery. Find an individual who loves controversy in the newspapers, he is not full of love. If he was, he would rather be abused, and reviled, and slandered, either in person or by the papers, than turn aside to defend himself or to reply. He would never return railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing. And as much as possible, he would live peaceably with all men.
V. How much that is called religion has no love.
How much of what passes for works of religion, is constrained by outward causes and influences, and not by the inward power of love. It ought to be better understood than it is, that unless love is the mainspring, no matter what the outward action may be, whether praying, praising, giving, or anything else, there is no religion in it.
How much excitement that passes for religion, has no love. How much zeal has no religion in it. See that man always full of bitter zeal, and if reproved for it, flying to the example of Paul, when he said, "Thou child of the devil." If he was under the influence of perfect love, he would see that his circumstances are so different as not to justify the exercise of such a spirit.
VI. Those religious excitements which do not consist in the spirit of love, are not revivals of religion.
Perhaps the church may be much excited, and bustle about with a great show of zeal, and boisterous noise, but no tenderness of spirit. Perhaps, those who go about may show a spirit of insolence, and rudeness, and pick a quarrel with every family they visit. I once knew a young man who acknowledged that he aimed at making people angry, and the reason he assigned was, that it often brought them under conviction, and so issued in conversion. And so it might if he should go in and utter horrid blasphemies in their presence, until they were frightened into a consideration of their own character. But who would defend such a conduct on the ground that such was now and then the result? And if this be the character of the excitement, it may be a revival of wrath, and malice, and all uncharitableness, but it is not a revival of religion. I do not mean that when some or many are filled with wrath, it is certain proof that there is no revival of religion; but that when the excitement has this prevailing character, it is not a true revival of religion. Some among them may have the spirit of love, but certainly those who are filled with a bitter disputatious zeal are not truly religious. Religion may be in some persons revived, but in the main, in such cases, it is a revival of irreligion.
VII. When persons profess to be converted, if love is not the ruling feature in their character they are not truly converted.
However well they may appear in other respects, no matter how clear their views, or how deep their feelings, if they have not the spirit of love to God, and love to man, they are deceived. Let no such converts be trusted.
VIII. See what the world will be, when mankind are universally actuated by a spirit of love.
We learn that the time will come, when there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy, and when the spirit of love will universally prevail. What a change in society! What a change in all the methods of doing business, and in all the intercourse of mankind, when each shall love his neighbor as himself, and seek the good of others as his own. Could one of the saints of the present day revisit the earth at that period, he would not know the world in which he had lived, all things would be so altered. Is it possible, he would exclaim, "that this is the earth; the same earth that used to be so full of jailing, and oppression, and fraud?"
IX. The thing on which the Lord Jesus Christ is bent, is to bring all mankind under the influence of love.
Is it not a worthy object? He came to destroy the works of the devil; and this is the way to do it. Suppose the world was full of such men as Jesus Christ was in his human nature compare it with what it is now. Would not such a change be worthy of the Son of God? What a glorious end, to fill the earth with love.
X. It is easy to see what makes heaven.
It is love perfect love. And it is easy to see what makes heaven begun on earth, in those who are full of love. How sweet their temper; what delightful companions; how blessed to live near them: so full of candor, so kind, so gentle, so careful to avoid offense, so divinely amiable in all things!
And is this to be attained by men? Can we love God, in this world with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind? Is it our privilege and our duty to possess the Spirit of Christ and shall we exhibit the spirit of the devil? Beloved, let our hearts be set on perfect love, and let us give God no rest till we feel our hearts full of love, and till all our thoughts and all our lives are full of love to God and love to man. O, when will the church come up to this ground? Only let the church be full of love, and she will be fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible to all wickedness, in high places and low places, as an army with banners.