1 John 4:16
And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
Love is the most essential and the most characteristic of Christian virtues. He who lacks this scarcely deserves the name of Christian at all, while he who possesses this is on the way to possess all. When we ask why such stress is laid upon the importance of possessing this virtue above all others, more than one answer suggests itself to our minds. First, we may observe that some explanation is given in the words of this text. A loveless soul can never be a God like soul; for "God is love." On the other hand, when we dwell in love, when it is, as it were, the element in which we live and move and have our being, we cannot remain altogether dissimilar to God, just because God is love. For love is one, whether it exists in Him or in us; and wherever it reigns it must needs produce similarity to Him who is its Divine Source. Yet another explanation of the importance assigned to love in the Christian economy is to be found in the fact that love is designed to supply the motive power in all truly Christian conduct and experience. For Christ looks at the quality even more than at the quantity of the work that we do for Him. A little offered as a love offering to Him is worth a great deal done merely because we think we ought to do it, or just because it is expected of us. Nay, we may go further. We may be moved by a feeling of interest in the work for its own sake; and yet there shall be little or no pleasure occasioned to the heart of God, just because the true motive has been wanting. When we ask why faith, not love, should be the condition of salvation, it is not difficult to give a reasonable answer, as we contemplate the two side by side, and notice the difference between them. Love, we observe, is a condition of our emotional nature, a state of passive consciousness, or a moral habit formed within the soul. Faith, on the other hand, is a definite moral attitude, voluntarily assumed towards a definite object as the result of our intellectual apprehension of the characteristics of that object. It follows from this that love cannot be directly induced by an act of our will, and that we are therefore only indirectly responsible for its possession. But it may occur to some to object: if we cannot directly produce love, how can we be responsible for having it? and how can God find fault with us, as He seems to do, if we have it not? If we cannot make ourselves love ore' fellow man by trying, how can we force ourselves to love God? To this it may be replied, love is not so capricious as at first sight it might appear to be. It springs from a combination of causes, which, however, it frequently happens that we never think of stopping to analyse. When, however, we carefully look into the matter, we soon find that our love has owed its existence either to some definite cause, or, as is more frequently the case, to some combination of causes. Now these causes may be, to a consider able extent, under our control; we may either avoid their influence, or put ourselves in the way of being influenced by them; and here, of course, moral responsibility comes in. Admiration either of appearances, or of physical or intellectual or moral qualities, frequently has much to do with the genesis of love, and this admiration may extend to the smallest things; indeed, I believe that it is more frequently by little things than by great that it is usually elicited. Intimacy again may have much to do with the genesis of love. Gratitude, too, frequently induces affection. We love because we owe so much, and love seems the only way of repaying what we owe. There are, no doubt, many other causes which may contribute to produce love; such as sympathy, affinity of tastes, or disposition, or unity of interest; but, after all, nothing is so likely to cause love as love itself discovered to be pre-existent on the part of another. How often do we love because we find we are loved! How often does love, already supreme in our human heart, exert a species of irresistible fascination on the heart of another! Now it is clear that most of these various causes of love as existing amongst us men in our relations with each other, and as contributing to the genesis of a reciprocal affection, either exist in a much greater degree in the Divine Object than in any human being, or may be brought into existence as between us and Him. If we desire the Holy Spirit to work upon us efficiently in this respect, our wisdom lies in surrendering ourselves to His influence; and when we do He will always lead us up to the contemplation of those facts about the Divine Object and His relation to us, or to the apprehension of those experiences which tend to generate love. No gardener in the world can produce fruit; only the life within does that; yet how much does the fruit tree depend for its fruitfulness upon human skill! Man must see to it that the tree shall be planted where the sunshine can fall upon it, and the dew and the rain can water it. He must take care that it is not exposed to unduly trying conditions. And even so love, being a fruit of the Spirit of God, can only be produced by His presence and mighty operations within our nature; but though we cannot produce or manufacture it, still we are indirectly responsible for its production. The tree cannot cultivate itself, and here the figure fails us. Man, on the other hand, is a free agent, and therefore responsible for his own culture. It is not for us to attempt directly to induce this all-important fruit of the Spirit, but it is for us to see to it that we comply with the conditions of fruitfulness. Let us expose ourselves to the spiritual sunshine; let us live in the presence of God; let us see to it that we do not strike our roots down into earth, lest the cold clay of worldly mindedness check all our higher aspirations; let us guard against self-seeking and self-assertion; let us avoid exposing ourselves voluntarily to unfavourable influences as some Christians do, thinking more of worldly profit than of their spiritual interests; and let us cleanse off carefully the blight of impure thoughts and unholy desires, and then the Spirit of Love will be able to induce the fruit of love within our hearts.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.