Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
I. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED, FROM LOVE HAVING ITS ORIGIN IN GOD. The duty enjoined. "Beloved, let us love one another." John has a winning way of urging duty, addressing his readers as objec
Beloved, let us love one anotherI. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE NEW BIRTH. "Everyone that loveth is born of God." To begin to love deeply, truely, purely — that is to be born again, for he that loveth is born of God.
II. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. "Everyone that loveth, knoweth God." Not in creeds but through love shall come true knowledge of God.
III. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ATONEMENT. "Herein is love," etc.
(B. J. Snell, M. A.)I. "Love is of God." This does not mean merely that love comes from God, and has its source in God; that He is the author or creator of it. All created things are of God, for by Him all things were made, and on Him they all depend. But love is not a created thing. It is a Divine property, a Divine affection. And it is of its essence to be communicative and begetting; to communicate itself, and, as it were, beget its own likeness. "Love is of God." It is not merely of God, as every good gift is of God. It is of God, as being His own property, His own affection, His own love. It is, wherever it is found, the very love wherewith God loveth. If it is found in me, it is my loving with the very love with which God loves; it is my loving with a Divine love, a love that is thus emphatically of God. "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."
1. None but one born of God can thus love with the love which, in this sense, is of God; therefore, one who so loves must needs be one who is born of God.
2. Being born of God implies knowing God. How it is the manner of God to love; what sort of love His is; love going out of self; love sacrificing self; love imparting and communicating self; love unsought and unbought; unconditional and unreserved; what kind of being, in respect of love, God is; you who are born of God know, even as the only begotten Son knows.
II. The opposite statement follows as a matter of course — "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." To love with the love which is of God, is to know God; not to love thus, is not to know God; for God is love. In this view, the proposition, "God is love," really applies to both of the alternative ways of putting the case; the positive and the negative alike. It assigns the reason why it may be said on the one hand, "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God"; and why it may also be said on the other hand," He that loveth not, knoweth not God." "God is love." It is a necessity of His nature, it is His very nature to love. He cannot exist without loving. "God is love" before all creation; love in exercise; love not possible merely but actual; love forthgoing and communicative of itself; from the Father, the fountain of deity, to the Son; from the Father and the Son to the Holy Ghost. In creation, this love is seen forthgoing and communicative in a new way towards new objects. Sin enters, and death by sin; all sin, and all are doomed. Still "God is love"; the same love as ever. And "in this now is manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent," etc. This is its crowning glory; the saving mission from God of His only begotten Son. It is consummated in our "living through Him," through His "being the propitiation for our sins." For now, effectual atonement being made for our guilt, our redemption and reconciliation being righteously and, therefore, surely effected by His being the propitiation for our sins; we, living through Him, are His brethren indeed. The love wherewith God loves Him dwells in us. God loves us even as He loves Him. And so at last the love which, from all eternity, it is of the very nature of God's essential being to feel and exercise, finds its full fruition in the "mighty multitude of all kindreds, and peoples, and nations, and tongues, who stand before the throne and give glory to Him who sitteth thereon, and to the Lamb forever and ever."
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
(Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
(H. M. Butler, D. D.)I. The title "beloved." It comes most naturally from John. He was old, and yet the ardent affection of youth still animated his soul. It is a noble triumph of grace to see this spirit maintained and manifested to the last. John had seen and felt much to disappoint and distress him. How he must have been exercised when he wrote 3 John 1:9, 10. All this, and much of the same kind, did not cool his warm heart. Its love still came gushing forth as it had done in the days of his Divine Master.
II. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING BROTHERLY LOVE implied in the exhortation, "Let us love one another." While love is natural to the gracious soul, and cannot be suppressed, it is yet very susceptible of culture, and may be much strengthened by the exercise of the duty. Love may be increased by contemplating its object. In the present case that object is the believer. Suppose, then, that we consider him thoughtfully, what will be the effect? We think of his position and what is peculiar to it. His advantages and temptations, and duties and responsibilities present themselves to us. As we think of these we cannot help sympathising with him, and praying for him, and helping him as we have the opportunity. Again, as we are in the presence of a loved object, so is our affection increased. Hence arises the duty of cultivating the society of the godly. Acquaintance will secure many common advantages, and prevent many evils. How often have we cherished a prejudice against some one until it was dissipated by one friendly interview! We may add, the more we serve the object we love, the greater will be our attachment to it. It is not merely that habit confirms and increases the grace; but while this is true, every act of kindness we render draws out the heart in greater kindliness.
III. MANY COGENT REASONS are assigned by the apostle for the exercise of this duty, which we proceed to consider.
1. "Love is of God." It has its origin in Him. The more we possess it, the more we resemble Him. To have loved, therefore, is to be Godlike.
2. "Everyone that loveth is born of God." Such love as He cherishes is not natural to man. It is contrary to the spirit and habit of a sinner. It exists only in the renewed heart. It is inspired by the Holy Ghost. In all its exercises, its gracious nature and source are conspicuous. It is directed mainly to the people of God.
3. "Everyone that loveth knoweth God."
4. "He that loveth not knoweth not God." This is said in the way of warning and confirmation. Let no man deceive himself. If there be not love there cannot be the knowledge of God.
5. But the weightiest reason of all yet remains, "God is love." The essence of God is love. Power is a perfection. Wisdom is a perfection. Truth is a perfection. But it would not be sufficient to say love is a perfection. It lies as the substratum of the Divine character beneath all the perfections of God. It stimulates and employs them all.
(J. Morgan, D. D.)
I. Let us employ this truth as A CRITERION OF HUMAN CHARACTER. The law of God is the only thing by which we can measure a character. That law, set forth for man's obedience, is Thou shalt love the Lord thy God supremely, and thy fellow man as thyself. Now let us apply this test. Does any man live that does not violate this command of God, "Thou shalt love"? Let us look inward for one single moment. Did you ever know a man who could say, I have never, from the hour of conscious intelligence, carried my intellect so that in its operations I have violated the law of love? Let a man summon to the bar of his own conscience, pride. What a man would be physically without a backbone, that he would be mentally without the element of pride. And yet, has this element been so controlled in any man that it can rise up and say, "I have never disregarded, either negatively or positively, the supreme law of love"? Summon that most lithe and nimble feeling — the love of praise — and what man can say, "I have so carried my vanity, my approbativeness, that it has always been in subordination to the law of love"? Can any man say, "My imagination has so acted as never to infract the law of love"? Or, can any man say, "My moral sentiments have so acted as never to overstep the law of love"? What, then, shall we say of the lower feelings? What of the business, executive powers? What of the passions and appetites? Go through the soul, and look at every one of the faculties, and is there one that has not violated this law? I go still further. The action of each element in the soul has been such that its obedience to the law of love has been occasional, has been rare. There are spots where almost everybody, first or last, has felt some glow and warming of love; but to the greatest number of men that ever dwelt on earth, love has been just what Northern days are, when the sun stands above the horizon only one short hour, is sunk below it for the other twenty-three, and is growing worse and worse toward the six-months night. Is not the whole of our outer life, is not our daily conduct, are not our ambitions, are not our secular ends, is not our treatment of men, organised and solidly constructed upon a selfish motive? Thus the inward life and the outward conduct of men both come to one and the same testimony. They are both of them built up not only outside of God's law, but right over against it, and in antagonism with it. These being the facts: God's command of love being neglected, and your character and whole history turning on the infraction of it, ought I not to lay this terrible truth before you, and roll it again and again upon you? In my own case, the belief of this doctrine, instead of being an injury, has been a benefit. My charity for men has been augmented in the proportion in which my opinion of their goodness has been lowered. When I deal with men on the supposition that they are good, I am roused with impatience at the manifestations of their wickedness; and when I deal with them on the supposition that they are altogether sinful, I expect nothing from them, and I find myself prepared beforehand to treat them with charity and forbearance.
II. This truth affords, also, A CRITERION OF CONVERSION. There are such loose notions of what religion is, that we cannot too urgently hold attention to the fact that in Christ's kingdom love is a characteristic element of piety; and that when a man is converted genuinely, he must be converted to the spirit of love. There may be other things with this spirit, but it is this that makes piety in Christ's kingdom. Let us make some discriminations. A man may come to a certain state of great and sudden joy, and of relish for religious exercises, and yet not be a Christian. Religious inspirations and great fertility of feeling, of fancy, fervour of emotion, and elegant utterance, are not evidences, in themselves, of piety. They are blessed concomitants of it often; but they may exist separately from and independently of piety. Your piety is to be tested by its consistency with God's law of love. The power of right ideas, the clearness with which you take hold of them, the aptness with which you are able to state them, your zeal for them — all these, while they are desirable in piety, are not characteristic of it; and a man may have them and not be a Christian. God's orthodoxy is of the heart always. That will make the head correct. A man, also, may have great faith and not be a Christian. I go further, and say that a man may be a very generous, good fellow, a very agreeable, companionable man, and yet not be a Christian. A man, likewise, may have an unflinching zeal in religion, and constancy in its service, even to martyrdom, and yet not be a Christian. How many there are that are wardens and doorkeepers of God's house, who have no love, no benevolence, no conscience, no fidelity. Zeal they may have, but summer in the soul they have not. I go still further, and say that religiousness is not piety. Far be it from me to say a word to discourage reverence, devoutness, awe, in the presence of God. But that alone, that without love, is not enough. With love, it makes piety broader and deeper, and life more massive and noble; but unless there be, first, intermediate, and last, the spirit and the law of love, there is no piety. When a man is converted, therefore, it is very important that he should be converted to the right thing. No man is a Christian till he is converted to the law of love. Since you made a profession of religion, are you kinder in the various relations of life? Is your life more full of the fruits of love? Have you a more comprehensive benevolence toward all mankind? Every year do you less and less accept the service of loving men as a task, and do you more and more accept it with cheerfulness? Do you find that the currents of your thought and feeling are setting outward instead of inward? Are you more full of the sweetness of true Christian's love? In this direction you must measure to know whether you are growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
(H. W. Beecher.)
I. Such is Christian love, and that we may understand and appreciate it, we must CONTRAST IT WITH OTHER FORMS AND DEGREES OF THAT AFFECTION OF THE SOUL WHICH WE CALL LOVE.
1. It is not the love of the parent for the child, nor of the child for the parent. This is, doubtless, God emplanted.
2. Christian love is not the love of friend for friend, nor what is called sexual love. This often springs from the most trivial causes — caprices of fancy.
3. It is not the love of complacency, which in its first and highest sense belongs to God, or His love for all men, which bears with sin, defiance, rebellion, and suspends penalty.
4. It is not to be confounded with even the finest intellectual apprehensions of the perfect and glorious attributes of God.
5. Nor is it identical with profound admiration for the work of God, with that easy and prevalent sentimentalism which is the creature of sublimity, magnitude, and natural beauty.
II. LET US REACH IT BY DEGREES — POSITIVELY —
1. With respect to God as its object, it is an affection largely independent of extensive and accurate knowledge. A man may be a sage or philosopher, and know it not. The savage or boor may know its meaning, feel its power.
2. It flows out toward man in the proportion that he is like God.
3. It is elective — knows by a singular instinct the true and the false.
4. It is unselfish and disinterested.
5. Christian love is charitable.
6. It is operative and practical.
7. It is progressive.
(J. C. French.)
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
I. A VERY TENDER APPEAL: "Beloved."
1. The cold, stoical nature is a power, but it is a power that repels from it, it never draws, it has not the least attractive force in it. If we would win men and persuade them to act as brethren, let us use tenderness. We need not use it to the exclusion of the light, purity, and truth of religion.
2. The sweet reasonableness of the appeal would have great force with those to whom the apostle wrote. Did they not owe everything in a religious sense to love, for had they not been told over and over again that "God so loved the world?" etc. The hardest and most solid ice will yield to the genial influences of the sun, and the most hardened and stubborn hearts will yield to the gracious power or love when every other force will fail to influence them.
3. It was a consistent appeal. John's tender words came from a large and loving heart; it was because his heart felt that his lips spake the soft and gentle word.
II. AN ARGUMENT. "For love is of God." Fire is found in many objects very dissimilar one from the other. It is found in coal in considerable quantity, it abounds in wood, it is contained in iron, and it is locked up in the flint; and it appears that there is some little measure of it in water even. It would seem that the sun cannot touch any object without imparting to some degree its own nature to that object; for, as you are aware, the sun is the inexhaustible source of fire wherever it is found, whether in the coal, or flint, or water. And wherever we meet with love, whether in the husband to the wife, or the wife to the husband, the brother to the sister, or the sister to the brother, the friend to the friend, or in one Christian to another; wherever we meet with it, God is the source of it, "for God is love." In this argument John appeals to one of the most powerful instincts in man — the desire to be like the great. To imitate the great is a universal passion in men. To paint like the great masters is the one all-consuming passion of artists. If we carefully considered the thought in our calmer moments that to love is to be like God, the very sublimity of the idea would be enough to inspire us to "love one another," even if every other motive failed. Where there is brotherly love, there is sure to be generous help if it be needed.
III. TWO IMPORTANT SIGNS OF LOVE.
1. Divine sonship — "And everyone that loveth is begotten of God." These are very encouraging words. Almost all Christian people are sorely tried with dark and crushing doubts at one time or other in their history. In such moments of spiritual experience one of the most effectual ways of removing the wretched doubt is to ask ourselves the question, "Do I love God and my brethren?" If the answer be "Yes," then we may console ourselves that we possess one of the most unmistakable signs of sonship.
2. A power to recognise God. "And everyone that loveth...knoweth God." The great intellect may recognise Him in His works and dealings with men, but much, if not everything, in regard to our knowledge of God depends upon the state of the heart. It is not of a mere superficial acquaintance with God that the apostle is speaking, such as we obtain of an object or a person by just seeing him a few times; he is speaking of that knowledge which is the grand result of apprehending God as the Father of our spirits and the Author of salvation — it is the knowledge that ripens into a firm faith and a calm trust in God as our unfailing Friend, who is reconciling the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
(D. Rhys Jenkins.)
1. That love is an instinct or property of human nature needs little or no illustration.
2. There is a word to say also about the difference between love and the conscience. There is no conflict of claims here. Love and conscience both alike demand that we shall do our duty. But love will often discern what that duty is before the reason has a chance to be heard or the conscience has uttered its call. Love leaps up to enjoy doing what the colder and more sluggish conscience only says we ought to do.
3. That we depend largely on knowledge for a right indulgence of our love. Just as conscience requires us to do our best and to take pains to discover what is right, so true love demands still more anxiety. A mother bending over the sick bed of her son is racked with feverish anxiety to know what will do him good. With no less anxiety does a truly loving heart long to know and try to discover what is best to be done for the dear one's benefit. Love is an active, not a passive principle. It is self-sacrifice, not self-will or the worship of crotchets. True love begins at home, and if she is allowed her due rights there, she will not be wanting when we go abroad, nor fail us in our dealings with strangers or with the lower creation.
4. Love is the parent of many virtues. In the first place, love begets justice. Not only justice of deed but justice of thought, of which we all stand even more in need. You cannot be just to anyone whom you dislike or hate, you cannot be just and true to anyone for whom your love is not pure and true. True love then adds to justice the quality of mercy, not sparing in the condemnation of the sin, but tender, merciful, and forgiving to the sinner. Then we find love the faithful parent of patience, forbearance, humility, and meekness, all elements of the highest humanity and sources of unspeakable blessing and peace. When we truly love, we show all these virtues in their lustre. But I pass over them to lay emphasis on the healing and purifying effects of love upon our own sinful hearts. Nothing but love can make us truly repent. Just as we all have some unkindness to repent of, so we all have something to forgive. And love alone can teach us how to forgive right nobly and generously. We know also how love is the parent of the commonest virtues, diligence in business, honesty, trustworthiness — all such virtues are a thousand times over begotten and preserved by the love we bear to those dependent on us. For them we toil and work and keep our hands clean from dishonesty. For them we strive to preserve our character and the confidence of the world. And love is the mother of truthfulness. We all know and feel that the most. cruel act we can do is to deceive one who trusts us. Never can we deceive or cheat one whom we truly love. And lastly, love begets courage and heroism. Time would fail me to recount the long and glorious catalogue of those who have given their lives for others — aye, for the undeserving.
For love is of God
1. Take the first love which one human being ever felt for another — conjugal love — and mark how that is of God. In making the woman out of the rib of man — in uniting them, by the act of God Himself, in holy wedlock; in inspiring prophets and apostles to urge men to love their wives as their own bodies; and in likening the union of husband and wife to the mystical union which exists between Christ and the Church — God has indicated, by the most direct and authoritative way, that He was the author and giver of conjugal affection.
2. Take the second love which grew up on earth — parental love — and see how this is of God. We say, in common parlance, that it is natural for a man to love his child. But what constitutes the naturalness of this love, other than the fact that God implanted it in parents' hearts, as a part of their moral constitution?
3. Take the third kind of affection, which, in the order of time, rises in the human breast — the love of children for parents — and we shall find the same truth holds here also. What would a household be, devoid of children's love? What would a parent's heart be if its outgoings of affection found no response in prattling boys and gentle girls? And how much of the sunlight of home would become darkness if filial love were blotted out from mind and memory and heart? Filial love constitutes a large part of human happiness, and pervades every class and condition of our race, and as it could never, by its very nature, create itself, because it is begotten before reason and judgment begin their workings, it must be Divine.
4. The same line of remark applies also to that love of kindred which Constitutes a part of man's moral being. He it is "who setteth the solitary in families," who groups men into social circles, and, bestowing upon His creatures affections, calls out these affections in the various forms of social and domestic life.
5. Once more, look at love in the form of philanthropy. Here we behold it breaking over the dikes and channels of conjugal, family, or social affection, and spreading away like the Nile in its overflow, until it covers the entire lowlands of our race. This earth-encompassing and man-elevating love is of God. It is because the Bible tells us that we have one common Father, one common Saviour, one common Comforter, one common salvation, and one common earthly destiny. Now, what would earth be without these various kinds of love? What without philanthropy? It would be a mass of conglomerate selfishness, a world of war, of social discord, and of domestic misery. What would earth be without this love of kindred? The interlacing bonds of family with family would be sundered; society would be disintegrated, save only when force or interest made a union of what was else repulsive and undesired. What would the world be without filial or parental love? A family where there was parental authority without parental love, and where filial obedience was required without filial affection rendered, would not be a home but a prison. And above all, what would earth be without conjugal love — if there was no heart union between man and wife; no love to cheer, soften, and irradiate the lot of woman; no responsive affection to nerve and lift up and make happy the soul of man; if the marriage tie was only a bond of interest or of lust — a bond galling as the manacle of the convict? It would be as if some angel of the pit should pass through this world and turn its green fields into sand wastes, its forest-crowned and picturesque hills into bald rock, its floral kingdom into bramble land, its dancing, leaping, silvery waters into asphaltic streams, its exquisitely tinged clouds and its brilliant sunsets into Cimmerian gloom, its thousand bird melodies into discordant screams. Seeing, then, that with all man's sins and ill-doings, with all God's punishments and curses, He has continued to us this love, the question arises, Have you ever seriously thought how much you ought to love God, who has given you the inestimable boon of human affection? Can you sum up your debt to Him for this one gift? Yet, when man rebelled against God, and cast off His sway, and virtually said to Him, "We desire not a knowledge of Thy ways," God might most justly have stripped him of love and left him to the curse of the loveless and the unloved. It was His love to us which caused Him to continue love in us, There is no love in hell. There is one other aspect of the subject which I must touch upon. Wondrous as is the fact that, notwithstanding our sins, God still continued to us human love, and highly exalting as that fact is of His grace and mercy, it is not so great a display of His love as that manifested in providing for man's redemption.
Everyone that loveth is born of God
I. The Bible answers this immense question by the doctrine that God and man stand to each other in the relation of Father and child, This fact gives to human sin its crimson dye, and to human sorrow its peculiar pathos. Human sin is the sin of Absalom — of a son against his father. Here is a fall from heaven!
II. But the phrase "begotten of God" means much more than this. It answers the question, What is religion? "Religion is orthodox belief," say some; a "cult," say others; "morality fired with emotion," say others. But the New Testament says that "Except a man be born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God." So far as man is a son by nature only, he may grow up to be dissatisfied with his father's mode of life, and with the law of his father's house. He may also adopt a course of action so widely divergent from his father's that the natural bond between them shall serve only to reveal the widening gulf of character that separates them. To become truly a son he must be born again — must of his own choice accept as his father the parent Providence gave him, and must by his own love and conduct make the house in which Providence placed him a home. To be then fully "born of God" is for the soul, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to accept the salvation that is in Christ by faith in His blood, to acknowledge God's fatherly authority, accept God's law, live His life, do His work; or, in one word, to love God — "he that loveth is born of God."
III. Religion, then, is love. Love is not something elementary, something for little children and babes in Christ. Love is final, infinite. It is both Alpha and Omega in religion. "But what," you ask, "of life and conduct?" Well, a holy life is the natural outcome of love to God. If a man love God, he will avoid all sin and do all the good he can. It is related of an eminent singer that his teacher kept him day after day, and even month after month, practising the scales, in spite of the pupil's entreaties for something more advanced. At last the master told him to go forth as the best singer in Europe, having mastered the scales. Not otherwise did our Lord teach His first disciples. For three years He taught them "to love" by miracle and parable, by prayer and sermon. He grounded them in love. When seated with them at the last supper He said: "A new commandment I give unto you," and behold it was the old one, "That ye love one another." After His resurrection He met the disciples on the beach, and He took the repentant Peter and put him through the scales: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" Having learnt to love, their education was complete, their training ended. They could go everywhere and do all things. So, if we truly love God, and love all men in God, we are truly religious.
(J. M. Gibbon.)
And knoweth God
I. Yes, HEAVEN HAS SECRETS. The soul, by the necessity of its constitution, must look for God; and its prayer is, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." Now the text meets this desire of the soul to know God by the emphatic declaration that everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. Love knows God, serves God, possesses God.
II. Well, everyone that loveth KNOWETH the men that have been, understandeth that which history saith of them. Love is very old. Love came in with Adam and Eve. Here is an old picture of love: "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." He that loveth knoweth. He that loveth knoweth the love that Jonathan had for David, and his own heart is his best commentary on the verse.
III. Move one step further: "He that loveth knoweth God." Love is the clue to human love. Love is the clue to the love of God. Wouldst thou know God? Have love in thine heart, and when thine heart is full of love, look into it, and the image thou shalt see will be a likeness of the face of God. Wouldst thou know God's feeling for thy sin? Look how sensitive a thing is love — how easily wounded! Wouldst thou know the joy of love? Then look at thine own joy at the recovery of a loved one, or the reclamation of an erring one. All faults are forgotten. And wouldst thou know something of the life beyond the veil, of the things that are to be? Go to your own home. See how, out of your love, you provide all things good for those you love most. See how love works, and watches, and prays — how tenderly it cares for the sick and the weak I Oh! what would not human love do had it the power? Well, God is love with wealth, love with knowledge, love with power.
(J. M. Gibbon.)
I. I remark THAT KNOWLEDGE IS VERY VARIOUS, AND IN EVERY DEPARTMENT MUST BE SECURED BY ITS OWN METHODS, IN ITS OWN DIRECTION, BY ITS OWN APPLIANCES, AND FOR ITS OWN USES. If I wish to know an object that is near, I must use my eyes; an object that is remote, I call for a field glass or a telescope; an object that is minute, a microscope. If I would test the texture of an object, I touch it with my hands; the solidity, I strike it with a hammer. If I want to know the chemical or medicinal properties, I have my chemical tests, my medicinal tests. The most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of things with reference to their uses; with reference to what we can do with them by combining them with other things; with reference to how we can make them serve us. This is the dominion which God intended for man. If with reference to things immaterial, to things not seen and eternal, scientific men have sometimes said they are unknowable, it is because they have tried to test them by material appliances, with microscopes and telescopes and hammers, which cannot be done. Men have proposed a prayer gauge on the principle of the rain gauge.
II. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAY BE JUST AS VARIOUS AS OUR KNOWLEDGE OF MATERIAL THINGS, for He has put Himself variously into material things; but, like all other scientific knowledge, IT MUST ALWAYS BE RECOGNISED BY ITS OWN APPROPRIATE TESTS. The knowledge can come only in its own correspondent way. There is an intellectual knowledge of God — that is, if God is a thinker, an architect, a builder, man, who is made in God's image, may think God's thoughts over after Him, may trace his achievements to His plans and make inferences as to His wisdom and power — that is, may thus know Him. God is thus revealed in what we call nature. This is natural theology. If we want to know God as a thinker, we must use our thinking powers, employ our thinking processes. As a thinker, God reveals Himself to our thinking. Geology reveals to us God as an architect and builder; so does astronomy. One of the methods of intellectual culture is to think over the thoughts of other thinkers. When you say, "That man knows Shakespeare, is a good Shakespearean scholar," I understand this, that he has thought over Shakespeare's thought in all of his great dramas, knows Shakespeare through these thoughts. In one passage, for example, he has felt the power of Shakespeare's imagination has felt it in his own imagination, by yielding his Imagination up to the control of Shakespeare's imagination, as a sparrow might try the same flight as an eagle. Thus only can he feel it. There is an ethical knowledge of God — a knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself to the human conscience. When Coleridge says that the Bible finds him in deeper depths of his nature than any other book, he refers to this revelation of God which He has there made of Himself to man's moral sense. It is not the book, but the Author, who finds him there. It is this ethical revelation of God in the Bible which gives its grip upon man's nature. The conscience is man's deepest part, the essential man. There is an ethical knowledge of Shakespeare which is quite as real as our intellectual knowledge. To his treatment of our moral sense we respond with perfect unanimity. Hamlet's uncle and Lady Macbeth feel just as you and I should feel had we the conscience of a murderer. They both break down in their three-fold nature under the burden of their guilt; go utterly to pieces in body, soul, and spirit. This ethical character of the Bible and of Shakespeare is revealed only to our moral sense. That this ethical character of the Bible appears to us so marked and prominent is partly owing to our own moral attitude toward its Author, to the moral hurt of our own nature. We feel as though a surgeon were dressing a wound which we dread to have disturbed. A creature of sinless nature would be very differently affected, would not find this ethical character at all offensive, even if he consciously recognised it.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD SPOKEN OF IN THE TEXT IS NEITHER INTELLECTUAL NOR ETHICAL, although it requires both the intellect and the conscience in order to reach it, to prepare the way for it. Those who do not go beyond the Sermon on the Mount stop with the intellectual and ethical in Christianity. They know God only so far as that. There is a higher mountain than that on which this sermon was delivered — namely, Mount Calvary. There is something beyond them that is distinctively Christian. God is the Creator; He is the moral Sovereign; but He is more, and Christianity shows it. The text reads, "Everyone that loveth is born of God, for God is love." It is a charmed circle, to be entered only thus. It is very evident that the knowledge of God here spoken is not intellectual. Nor is it ethical knowledge. It does not imply any disrespect to the law of conscience to say this. They are both preparatory to something higher and better. If the views already presented are correct, if knowledge must come through methods correspondent to that knowledge, this other knowledge of God cannot come through the intellect or through the conscience. It is impossible. God is. Is what? He is a Creator. Yes. He is a Sovereign. Yes. These are what He does. God is. Is what? Is love! How can I know Him? By loving Him. There is no other way. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." It is just like saying, He that will not think God's thoughts shall not know God intellectually; he who will not observe the working of God in his conscience shall not know God morally. So, here, he who will not love shall not know God essentially, for God is love. Love understands love. Nothing else does. This is the solution, and God has adopted it. If you begin by asking how the Son of God knows God, He Himself has told us: by loving Him. "I and My Father are one." The teachings of the Saviour are thrown into the simplest intellectual form. Indeed it would be a strong epithet to apply to them to call them intellectual at all. Intellect is not prominent in them, does not preponderate there; truth is there; life is there. It is just so as to the conscience. Ethics are not prominent in them. He Himself has said, "For I came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved." Humanity already carries its great burden of condemnation. How can the burden be relieved? Lifted? By showing humanity that God is love. The love which reveals to us God, is love which we are taught by experiencing it and trying to imitate it. We learn to know God by loving as God loves; loving Him, loving man, and entering into God's purposes to save him. We find God's love in the Bible. The Bible is the record of God's patience with men and nations. How are we to know God, who is love? Only by loving Him and walking in the footsteps of the Being who says, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." God, who is love, has taken this pains to show us Himself. By studying this life for the sake of making our lives like it, for the sake of putting into our lives the mind and spirit of it, we may come to know God. True knowledge of God can come only as we are like Him. You can come to an intellectual knowledge of the love of God as you see its exercise in the man Christ Jesus. Many a student of the Bible does that. You can bring yourself to know God in the sense of the text only as you try to do as Christ did, and from the motives that actuated Him. There is a proper emphasis to be put upon what are called good works. They have their place in the Christian system; but it is not in the light of present merit or of future reward that we are chiefly to regard them. They will have their suitable recognition when He shall come whose reward is with Him. But in good works — and that is of more practical importance — in imitation of the Son of Man in our lives, are we to find the sphere where we are to know God, since only thus do we become like Him. A great deal is said, and rightly said, about the necessity of being practical Christians in order to keep our Christianity alive; but it is the only way also in which we can keep vivid our knowledge of God, which is the basis of all our Christianity. Every such effort brings one into closer sympathy with that God who is love. The reformed man is urged to try to save other men who need the same change. It is his only safety.
(J. E. Rankin, D. D.)
Christian Weekly.The question is as to God revealing Himself, making Himself known to us as a loving Father. How can it be done? God is love, and love cannot be seen or handled or anatomised. It is even beyond the reach of the subtlest chemical tests. A spiritual test is needed to discover its presence. What is that test? It is love in our own hearts. Suppose some philosopher had been brought up from his birth by himself, apart, on the most rigid system of intellectual training, as, e.g., John Stuart Mill, only still more apart than he or anyone else could be, so that his heart could be utterly destitute of natural affection, so that he has plenty of logic but not a particle of love. Suppose that he is fully trained in scientific method, so that everything of the nature of an emotion has been rigidly suppressed. He can therefore approach every subject with the utmost impartiality. Well, one day he goes out to the world to spy its learning. He sees a mother fondling her babe. What can it mean? It is quite familiar to you; it is new and strange to our scientific critic. He proceeds by the true inductive method. And after he has noted all carefully down he goes home to discover what it all means. A plain, simple woman who never heard of induction has also witnessed the performance. She has taken no notes, made no calculations, and yet she knows a great deal more about it than a scientific man does after spending a year about it. What is her advantage? There is something in her heart which answers to the mother love in the heart of the other woman, and there is nothing in the man's heart. He may apply every test and every method of inquiry that science knows without getting nearer. There are some cases in which an ounce of heart is worth more than a ton of intellect for the purposes of investigation. It is as true as ever that only love can understand love. It cannot possibly be discovered by any process of induction. It is the function, not of the critical faculty, but of the heart. It is a loving, longing heart that recognises the presence of Him whose name is Love.
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