It is a great thing to be a prophet like Daniel, or Isaiah, or Elijah, or Elisha; but it is a greater thing, we are told here, to be full of love than to be filled with the spirit of prophecy. Mary of Bethany, who was so full of love, held a higher position than these great prophets did.
"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. Love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease: whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
The enemy had got into that little Church at Corinth established by Paul, and there was strife among the disciples. One said, "I am of Apollos;" another, "I am of Cephas;" and another, "I am of Paul." Paul saw that this sectarian strife and want of love among God's dear people would be disastrous to the Church of God, and so he wrote this letter. I have often said that if every true believer could move into this chapter and live in the spirit of it for twelve months, the Church of God would double its numbers within that time. One of the great obstacles in the way of God's work to-day is this want of love among those who are the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we love a person we will not be pointing out his failings all the time. It is said: "Many rules of eloquence have been set forth, but, strange, to say, the first and most essential of all has been overlooked, namely, love. To address men well they must be loved much. Whatever they may be, be they ever so guilty, or indifferent, or ungrateful, or however deeply sunk in crime, before all, and above all, they must be loved. Love is the sap of the Gospel, the secret of lively and effectual preaching, the magic power of eloquence. The end of preaching is to reclaim the hearts of men to God, and nothing but love can find out the mysterious avenues which lead to the heart. If then you do not feel a fervent love and profound pity for humanity, be assured that the gift of Christian eloquence has been denied you. You will not win souls, neither will you acquire that most excellent of earthly sovereignties -- sovereignty over human hearts. An Arab proverb runs thus -- 'The neck is bent by the sword, but heart is only bent by heart.' Love is irresistible."
Look at these words: "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not." How often it happens that if one outshines another there is apt to be envy in our hearts toward that one; we want a great deal of grace to keep it down. "Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up." One of the worst enemies that Christians have to contend with is this spirit of rivalry -- this feeling, "Who shall be the greatest?"
Some years ago I read a book that did me a great deal of good. It was entitled, "The Training of the Twelve." The writer said that Christ spent most of His time during the three years He was engaged publicly about His Father's business in training twelve men. The training He gave them was very different from the training of the schools at the present day. The world teaches men that they must seek to be great; Christ taught that His disciples must be little; that in honor they must prefer one another; that they are not to be puffed up, not to harbor feelings of envy, but to be full of meekness and gentleness, and lowliness of heart.
When an eminent painter was requested to paint Alexander the Great so as to give a perfect likeness of the Macedonian conqueror, he felt a difficulty. Alexander, in his wars, had been struck by a sword, and across his forehead was an immense scar. The painter said: "If I retain the scar, it will be an offense to the admirers of the monarch, and if I omit it it will fail to be a perfect likeness. What shall I do?" He hit upon a happy expedient; he represented the Emperor leaning on his elbow, with his forefinger upon his brow, accidentally, as it seemed, covering the scar upon his forehead. Might not we represent each other with the finger of charity upon the scar, instead of representing the scar deeper and blacker than it really is? Christians may learn even from heathendom a lesson of charity, of human kindness and of love.
This spirit of seeking to be the greatest has nearly ruined the Church of God at different times in its history. If the Church had not been Divine it would have gone to pieces long ago. There is hardly any movement of reform to-day that has not been in danger of being thwarted and destroyed through this miserable spirit of ambition and self-seeking. May God enable us to get above this, to cast away our conceit and pride, and take Christ as our teacher, that He may show us in what spirit His work ought to be done.
One of the saddest things in the life of Christ was the working of this spirit among His disciples even in the last hours of His intercourse with them, and just before He was led away to be crucified. We read in the gospel by Luke: "But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth Me is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed! And they began to inquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing. And there was also a strife among them which of them should be accounted the greatest. And He said unto them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as He that serveth."
Right there, on that memorable night when He had instituted the Last Supper, after they had been eating of the Passover Lamb, and the Saviour was on His way to the Cross, -- even there this spirit arose among them: Who should be the greatest!
There is a charming tradition connected with the site on which the temple of Solomon was erected. It is said to have been occupied in common by two brothers, one of whom had a family -- the other had none. On this spot was sown a field of wheat. On the evening succeeding the harvest -- the wheat having been gathered in separate shocks -- the elder brother said to his wife: "My younger brother is unable to bear the burden and heat of the day, I will arise, take of my shocks, and place with his without his knowledge." The younger brother being actuated by the same benevolent motives, said within himself: "My elder brother has a family, and I have none. I will arise, take of my shocks, and place it with his."
Judge of their mutual astonishment, when, on the following day, they found their respective shocks undiminished. This course of events transpired for several nights, when each resolved in his own mind to stand guard and solve the mystery. They did so; when, on the following night, they met each other half way between their respective shocks with their arms full. Upon ground hallowed by such associations as this was the temple of Solomon erected -- so spacious and magnificent -- the wonder and admiration of the world! Alas! in these days, how many would sooner steal their brother's whole shock than add to it a single sheaf!
If we want to be wise in winning souls and to be vessels meet for the Master's use we must get rid of the accursed spirit of self-seeking. That is the meaning of this chapter in Paul's letter. He told these Corinthians that a man might be full of faith and zeal; he might be very benevolent; but if he had not love he was like sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. I believe many men might as well go into the pulpit and blow a tin horn Sabbath after Sabbath as go on preaching without love. A man may preach the truth; he may be perfectly sound in doctrine; but if there is no love in his heart going out to those whom he addresses, and if he is doing it professionally, the Apostle says he is only a sounding brass.
It is not always more work that we want so much as a better motive. Many of us do a good deal of work, but we must remember that God looks at the motive. The only tree on this earth that can produce fruit which is pleasing to God is the tree of love.
Paul in writing to Titus says: "Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, (or love) in patience." What is the worth of a sermon, however sound in doctrine it may be, if it be not sound in love and in patience? What are our prayers worth without the spirit of love? People say: "Why is it that there is no blessing? Our minister's sermons and prayers are very good." Most likely you will find it is because the whole thing is done professionally. The words glisten like icicles in the sun, and they are as cold. There is not a spark of love in them. If that is the case there will be very little power. You may have your prayer-meetings, your praise meetings, your faith and hope meetings; you may talk about all these things; but if there is no love mingled with them, God says you are as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
Now a man may be a very good doctor and yet have no love for his patients. He may be a very clever and successful lawyer and yet have no love for his clients. A merchant may prosper greatly in business without caring at all about his customers. A man may be able to explain the wonderful mysteries of science or theology without any love. But no man can be a true worker for God, and a successful winner of souls without love. He may be a great preacher in the eyes of the world and have crowds flocking to hear him, but if love to God and to souls is not the motive power, the effects will all pass away like the morning cloud and the early dew.
It is said when the men of Athens went to hear Demosthenes they were always moved, and felt that they must go and fight Philip of Macedon. There was another orator of that day who could carry them away by his eloquence at the time, but when the oration was over, all the influence had gone; it was nothing but fine words. So a man may be very eloquent and have a great flow of language; he may sway the multitudes while they are under his influence; but if there is no love at the back of what he says, it will all go for nothing. It was Demosthenes' love for his country that stirred him, and then he stirred the people.
When we get on to the higher plane of love it will not be hard for us to work for the Lord. We will be glad to do anything, however small. God hates the great things in which love is not the motive power; but He delights in the little things that are prompted by a feeling of love. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in the spirit of love, is of far more value in God's sight than the taking of a kingdom, done out of ambition and vain glory.
I am getting sick and tired of hearing the word, duty, duty. You hear so many talk about it being their duty to do this and do that. My experience is that such Christians have very little success. Is there not a much higher platform than that of mere duty? Can we not engage in the service of Christ because we love Him? When that is the constraining power it is so easy to work. It is not hard for a mother to watch over a sick child. She does not look upon it as any hardship. You never hear Paul talking about what a hard time he had in his Master's service. He was constrained by love to Christ, and by the love of Christ to him. He counted it a joy to labor, and even to suffer, for his blessed Master.
Perhaps you say I ought not to talk against duty; because a good deal of work would not be done at all if it were not done from a sense of duty. But I want you to see what a poor, low motive that is, and how you may reach a higher plane of service.
I am thinking of going back to my home soon. I have in my mind an old, white-haired mother living on the banks of the Connecticut river, in the same little town where she has been for the last eighty years. Suppose when I return I take her some present, and when I give it to her I say: "You have been so very kind to me in the past that I thought it was my duty to bring you a present." What would she think? But how different it would be when I give it to her because of my strong love to her. How much more she would value it. So God wants His children to serve Him for something else than mere duty. He does not want us to feel that it is a hard thing to do His will.
Take an army that fights because it is compelled to do so; they will not gain many victories. But how different when they are full of love for their country and for their commanders. Then nothing can stand before them. Do not think you can do any work for Christ and hope to succeed if you are not impelled by love.
Napoleon tried to establish a kingdom by the force of arms. So did Alexander the Great, and Caesar, and other great warriors; but they utterly failed. Jesus founded His kingdom on love, and it is going to stand. When we get on to this plane of love, then all selfish and unworthy motives will disappear, and our work will stand the fire when God shall put it to the test.
Another thing I want you to bear in mind. Love never looks to see what it is going to get in return. In the Gospel by Matthew we read of the parable of the man who went out to hire laborers that he might send them to work in his vineyard. After he had hired and sent out some in the morning, we are told that he found others standing idle later in the day, and he sent them also. It so happened that those who went out last got back first. Those that went out early in the morning supposed they would get more wages than those that went at the eleventh hour, and when they found they were only to get the same, they began to murmur and complain. But what was the good man's answer: "Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last." I have generally found that those workers who are all the time looking to see how much they are going to get from the Lord are never satisfied. But love does its work and makes no bargain. Let us make no bargains with the Lord, but be ready to go out and do whatever He appoints.
I am sure if we go out cherishing love in our hearts for those we are going to try and reach, every barrier will be swept out of the way. Love begets love, just as hatred begets hatred. Love is the key to the human heart. Some one has said: "Light is for the mind, and love is for the heart." When you can reach men's hearts then you can turn them toward Christ. But we must first win them to ourselves.
You may have heard of the boy whose home was near a wood. One day he was in the wood, and he thought he heard the voice of another boy not far off. He shouted, "Hallo, there!" and the voice shouted back, "Hallo, there!" He did not know that it was the echo of his own voice, and he shouted again: "You are a mean boy!" Again the cry came back, "You are a mean boy!" After some more of the same kind of thing he went into the house and told his mother that there was a bad boy in the wood. His mother, who understood how it was, said to him: "Oh, no! You speak kindly to him, and see if he does not speak kindly to you." He went to the wood again and shouted: "Hallo, there!" "Hallo, there!" "You are a good boy." Of course the reply came, "You are a good boy." "I love you." "I love you," said the other voice.
You smile at that, but this little story explains the secret of the whole thing. Some of you perhaps think you have bad and disagreable neighbors; most likely the trouble is with yourself. If you love your neighbors they will love you. As I said before, love is the key that will unlock every human heart. There is no man or woman in all this land so low and so degraded but you can reach them with love, gentleness and kindness. It may take years to do it, but it can be done.
Love must be active. As some one has said: "A man may hoard up his money; he may bury his talents in a napkin; but there is one thing he cannot hoard up, and that is love." You cannot bury it. It must flow out. It cannot feed upon itself; it must have an object.
I remember reading a few years ago of something that happened when we had the yellow fever in one of the Southern cities. There was a family there who lived in a strange neighborhood where they had just moved. The father was stricken down with the fever. There were so many fatal cases happening that the authorities of the city did not stop to give them a decent burial. The dead-cart used to go through the street where the poor lived, and the bodies were carried away for burial.
The neighbors of this family were afraid, and no one would visit the house because of the fever. It was not long before the mother was stricken down. Before she died she called her boy to her, and said: "I will soon be gone, but when I am dead Jesus will come and take care of you." She had no one on earth to whom she could commit him. In a little while she, too, was gone, and they carried her body away to the cemetery. The little fellow followed her to the grave. He saw where they laid her, and then he came back to the house.
But he found it very lonely, and when it grew dark he got afraid and could not stay in the house. He went out and sat down on the step and began to weep. Finally he went back to the cemetery, and finding the lot where his mother was buried, he laid down and wept himself to sleep.
Next morning a stranger passing that way found him on the grave, still weeping. "What are you doing here, my boy?" "Waiting for the Savior." The man wanted to know what he meant, and the boy told the story of what his mother had said to him. It touched the heart of the stranger, and he said, "Well, my boy, Jesus has sent me to take care of you." The boy looked up and replied: "You have been a long while coming."
If we had the love of our Master do you tell me that these outlying masses would not be reached? There is not a drunkard who would not be reached. There is not a poor fallen one, or a blasphemer, or an atheist, but would be influenced for good. The atheists cannot get over the power of love. It will upset atheism and every false system quicker than anything else. Nothing will break the stubborn heart so quickly as the love of Christ.
I was in a certain home a few years ago; one of the household was a boy who, I noticed, was treated like one of the family, and yet he did not bear their name. One night I asked the lady of the house to explain to me what it meant. "I have noticed," I said, "that you treat him exactly like your own children, yet he is not your boy." "Oh no," she said, "he is not. It is quite true I treat him as my own child."
She went on to tell me his story. His father and mother were American missionaries in India; they had five children. The time came when the children had to be sent away from India, as they could not be educated there. They were to be sent to America for that purpose. The father and mother had been very much blessed in India, but they felt as though they could not give up their children. They thought they would leave their work in the foreign field and go back to America.
They were not blessed to the same extent in working at home as they had been in India. The natives were writing to them to return, and by and by they decided that the call was so loud the father must go back. The mother said to him: "I cannot let you go alone; I must go with you." "But how can you leave the children? You have never been separated from them." She said: "I can do it for Christ's sake." Thank God for such love as that.
When it was known they wanted to leave their children in good homes, this lady with whom I was staying said to the mother if she left one of them with her she would treat the child as her own. The mother came and stayed a week in the house to see that everything was right. The last morning came. When the carriage drove up to the door the mother said: "I want to leave my boy without shedding a tear; I cannot bear to have him think that it costs me tears to do what God has for me to do." My friend saw that there was a great struggle going on. Her room was adjoining this lady's, who told me she heard the mother crying: "O God, give me strength for the hour; help me now." She came downstairs with a beautiful smile on her face. She took her boy to her bosom, kissed him, and left him without a tear. She left all her children, and went back to labor for Christ in India; and from the shores of India she went up, before very long, to be with her Master. That is what a weak woman can do when love to Christ is the motive power. Some time after that dear boy passed away to be with the mother.
I was preaching in a certain city a few years ago, and I found a young man very active in bringing in the boys from the street into the meetings. If there was a hard case in the city he was sure to get hold of it. You would find him in the Inquiry Room with a whole crowd round him. I got to be very deeply interested in the young man and much attached to him. I found out that he was another son of that grand and glorious missionary. I found that all the sons were in training to go as foreign missionaries, to take the place of the mother and father, who had gone to their reward. It made such an impression on me that I could not shake it off. These boys have all gone to tell out among the heathen the story of Christ and His love.
I am convinced of this: When these hard-hearted people who now reject the Savior are thoroughly awake to the fact that love is prompting our efforts on their behalf, the hardness will begin to soften, and their stubborn wills will begin to bend. This key of love will unlock their hearts. We can turn them, by God's help, from the darkness of this world to the light of the Gospel.
Christ gave his disciples a badge. Some of you wear a blue ribbon and others wear a red ribbon, but the badge that Christ gave to his disciples was LOVE. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one toward another." Love not only for those who are Christians, but love for the fallen. The Good Samaritan had love for the poor man who had fallen among thieves. If we are filled with such love as that, the world will soon find out that we are the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will do more to upset infidelity and rebellion against God than anything else.
Speaking about hard cases being reached, reminds me that while I was in a home in London a young lady in that home felt that she was not doing as much for Christ as she would like, and she decided she would take a class of boys. She has now some fifteen or twenty of these lads, from thirteen to sixteen years of age -- a very difficult age to deal with. This Christian young lady made up her mind that she would first try and win for herself the affection of these boys, and then seek to lead them to the Savior. It is a beautiful sight to see how she has won their young hearts for herself, and I believe she will win them all to a pure and Godly life. If we are willing to take up our work among the young with that spirit, these boys will be saved; and instead of helping to fill our prisons and poorhouses, they will become useful members of the Church of God, and a blessing to society.
I have a friend who has a large Sabbath-school. He made up his mind when he began that if a boy did not have a good training in his own home, he could not get it anywhere else except in the Sabbath-school; and he resolved that, if possible, when a boy was refractory he would not turn him adrift.
He had a boy come to the school whom no teacher seemed able to manage. One after another would come to the Superintendent and say: "You must take him out of my class; he is demoralizing all the others; he uses profane language, and he is doing more harm than all the good I can do." At last my friend made up his mind he would read the boy's name out and have him expelled publicly.
He told a few of the teachers what he was going to do, but a wealthy young lady said: "I wish you would let me try the boy; I will do all I can to win him." My friend said to himself he was sure she would not have patience with him very long, but he put the boy in her class as she requested. The little fellow very soon broke the rules in the class, and she corrected him. He got so angry that he lost his temper and spat in her face. She quietly took a handkerchief and wiped her face. At the close of the lesson she asked him if he would walk home with her when school was over. No, he said, he didn't want to speak to her. He was not coming back to that old school any more. She asked if he would let her walk along with him. No, he wouldn't. Well, she said, she was sorry he was going, but if he would call at her house on Tuesday morning and ring the front door bell, there would be a little parcel waiting for him. She would not be at home herself, but if he asked the servant he would receive it. He replied: "You can keep your old parcel; I don't want it." However she thought he would be there.
By Tuesday morning the little fellow had got over his mad fit. He came to the house and rang the door bell; the servant handed him the parcel. When he opened it he found it contained a little vest, a necktie, and, best of all, a note written by the teacher. She told him how every night and every morning since he had been in her class she had been praying for him. Now that he was going to leave her she wanted him to remember that as long as she lived she would pray for him, and she hoped he would grow up to be a good man.
Next morning the little fellow was in the drawing-room waiting to see her before she came downstairs from her bedroom. She found him there crying as if his heart would break. She asked him kindly what was the trouble. "Oh," he said, "I have had no peace since I got your letter. You have been so kind to me and I have been so unkind to you; I wish you would forgive me." Said my friend, the Superintendent, "There are about eighteen hundred children in the school, and there is not a better boy among the whole of them."
Can we not do the same as that young lady did? Shall we not reconsecrate ourselves now to God and to his service?
Had I the tongues of Greeks and Jews,
Were I inspired to preach and tell
Should I distribute all my store
If love to God and love to men