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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 John 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

IV.

(6) NOT ALL SPIRITS ARE THE RESULT OF THE SONSHIP: NECESSITY OF EXAMINING THEM (1 John 4:1-6).

(a) The difference among spirits (1 John 4:1).

(b) The measure (1 John 4:2-3).

(c) The encouragement (1 John 4:4).

(d) The condemnation (1 John 4:5).

(e) Inference and conclusion (1 John 4:6).

The mention of faith in 1 John 3:23 had reminded St. John of the danger of intellectual, as well as of moral error. The mention of God’s Spirit at the conclusion of the last paragraph gave him a form in which to clothe the discussion of truth and falsehood in its human manifestations. By “spirits” he means those tendencies towards good and evil (here especially with regard to thought and opinion) which may be considered as coming from the supreme power of God, on the one hand, and from the inferior power of the devil, on the other. Into the question what these influences are, whether, like the Holy Spirit, they are personal or not, he does not enter. Where one quality, or opinion, shows itself in different individuals, he identifies it and calls it a spirit. Religious fervour might take a form quite antagonistic to the real will and law of God. For Christians there was but one standard by which to measure all claims on their religious allegiance: confession that the man Christ Jesus was the Word. All that demurred to that plain fact, and the loyalty implied by it, belonged to the spirit of antichrist. His hearers, however, if he understood them rightly, need not fear. By virtue of their adherence to the truth, God was in them. In Him they had conquered the spirits of the world, and had but to claim their victory. The false teachers might be known, and must be condemned by the savour of the world that was in their method and their message, and by their popularity with what was opposed to God. The Apostles and those who taught with them could confidently before God put forward the grand claim that theirs was the spirit that came from Him, because they had held undeviatingly to the truth as manifested in Jesus.

(6 a.) (1) Beloved.—Whenever St. John uses this word, he has a strong and earnest exhortation in hand. (Comp. 1 John 3:2-21; 1 John 4:7.)

Try the spirits.—Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:10; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21. It is most important to notice that this examination of truth and error is inculcated on all alike, not merely on an ordained and materially separate class.

Prophets, in the New Testament, preach rather than predict. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 14:24; Ephesians 4:11.)

Are gone out into the world, either “from us,” or else “have appeared in order to give their message.” (Comp. John 6:14; John 16:28; John 18:37.)

(6 b.) Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:3. The real humanity of the Saviour is the truth here specially emphasised.

(2) Jesus Christ is taken to imply all His history. (Comp. 1 John 3:23, and 1 John 4:6.)

Come is used of Christ in St. John’s language for His mission and manifestation. (Comp. John 5:43; John 6:14; John 7:28-29; John 8:42; John 16:28; John 18:37.)

(3) Every spirit that confesseth not.—There is a curious old reading mentioned by Socrates, the historian, viz., “every spirit that destroyeth” (or, dissolveth) “Jesus Christ.” It is, however, evidently a gloss, written against the Gnostics, which crept into the text. It is clear that this verse presupposes an evangelistic presentation of Christ before refusal to confess His historical person could be made. (Comp. 1 John 2:18.)

(6 c.) This consolation is in the same manner as that in 1 John 2:12, and is introduced by the same endearing phrase. He is sure they have held to the truth, and have the Sonship. (Comp. 1 John 3:1-2; 1 John 3:13-14.) God is in them, and therefore the victory is already theirs. Although they may still have to struggle, they have only to claim Christ’s strength, and they have won. In making their choice between light and darkness, love and hate, good and evil, God and the devil, they became of the victorious party.

(4) Them—i.e., the antichrists, the false prophets, the spirits that are not of God. (Comp. 1 John 2:13-14.)

He that is in the world—i.e., “the prince of this world,” the devil.

(6 d.) As usual, a contrast. The reason of their success is at once their distinguishing mark and their condemnation. (Comp. John 8:37; John 8:43; John 8:47; John 18:37.)

(5) Hearing them.—This implies listening with attention and pleasure.

(6 e.) (6) We are of God.—The first side of the antithesis repeated, after St. John’s manner, with a difference, we being substituted for ye, and meaning “the Apostles and those who taught with them.” St. John feels the grave duty, in condemnation of Cerinthus and other opponents, to assert the genuine truth and divine authority of the apostolic gospel. There could be no spiritual pride in this; it was a conscientious obligation. God spoke in them, and their loyalty for bade alike disclaimer and accommodation. (Comp. John 18:37.) When heretics said, “Christ ought to have said this or that,” the Apostles had only to reply, “But He did not say it.”

Hereby know we.—The criterion here is much the same as in 1 John 4:2-3, but regarded from a different point of view: attention to false innovators, or faithful adherence to the Jesus Christ of history.


Verse 7

The Bond of Brotherhood

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God.—1 John 4:7.

1. The religion of the New Testament differs from all others in this: it affects and appeals to and governs the heart. Other systems have laid hold upon other powers of our nature, but the Gospel is distinctive in constraining the affections, in seizing the motive and controlling forces of the soul, and in bringing them into subjection to its loving claims. It is true, indeed, that the Divine revelation is not neglectful of any part of our being. Though it appeals to reason, enlightened and instructed by truth, it often addresses the imagination, bringing up before it the most lively images of good and evil, of blessing and cursing for time and eternity. Not infrequently it addresses itself to the sentiment of fear on the one hand, and of hope on the other, portraying the hour of death with its solemn realities, depicting judgment with its dread scenes, and unveiling heaven and hell with the objects which should awaken desire and aversion in every human soul. But all this is done only as a means to an end; it is to move the heart, to draw the soul away from things of sense and sin, to introduce it into the love and fellowship of God, and to produce in it that holy sympathy with the Divine nature which shall cause it to dwell in love as it dwells in God.

2. Of this love there could be no more illustrious example than was St. John himself. It was undoubtedly the loving nature of St. John that drew towards him the sympathetic affection of Jesus Christ. Between the two there existed a harmony of character, which bound them necessarily to each other. In both there was the humility and calmness of that highest kind of love which is as far removed from the vehemence of passion as it is elevated above the changes inherent in passionate affection.

These is a tradition that, when St. John was too old to walk, he used to be carried by his friends to the Christian Assembly in Ephesus. Then followed a hush among those who were present. The Apostle who had leaned on the breast of Jesus, the Apostle who had been with Him through His ministry, who knew more of His mind than others, was about to speak to them, and when he did speak it seemed that time after time the only word which he uttered to them was, “Beloved, let us love one another”: “Little children, love one another.”1 [Note: Archbishop W. Alexander.]

I

Love in its Origin

Henry Drummond has described love as the greatest thing in the world. But in that definition he has set forth only half the truth, because love is the greatest power in the heavens above as well as in the earth beneath, Almighty God Himself being Love perfect, infinite and eternal. Heaven is the fulness of joy unspeakable, not on account of streets of gold, and gates of pearl, and walls of sapphire, but because it is the presence and home of Divine love. Angels are angels because therein they have absorbed and radiate everlastingly the rays of this Divine light of love. Men and women are angelic so far as they have received and reflect this sublime grace. The earth is like to heaven in proportion to the love that is in it.

1. God is love.—This is the first fact in the universe—first in time, and first in significance. Man cannot be the only or the highest thing that loves in this vast universe. There is—there must be—in it some great, deep heart of sympathy, the infinite counterpart of our faint and feeble human love; for we could not be so moved and awed by unreality and deadness; and till we feel this—till we feel that the holy tenderness which comes over us at the sight of boundless oceans or setting suns or starry skies, that the strong sympathies which seize us when we think of human sufferings and wrongs, and will not let us rest till we have done our utmost to relieve and redress them, cannot be explained by any curious network of nerves and fibres, by any laws of chemistry or mechanics, but is a living breath from the Omnipresent Love, working unseen but ever active beneath the material veil of things—we do not truly believe; the cold inference of reason is not yet quickened into a living faith; God is still a name rather than a power, a force than an agent, an operation than a person.

There is a gem which is called the flystone gem. To the naked eye there is no peculiarity to differentiate it from other like gems; but place it under a microscope and you will see in the midst of its luminous brilliancy a tiny insect, perfect in all its proportions, even to the minute framework of its gauze-like wings and the network of facets on its tiny eyes. Diamond-enclosed, diamond-protected, it is a riddle in the book of Nature. How it came there no one knows, and no human skill could remove it. Whoso would touch that fly must first crush the wall of adamant around it. It is hid in the bosom of the gem, and the natural eye perceiveth it not, for it is microscopically discerned. The analogy fails, for it is dead, and we speak of life. But there is in man that which can call God Father, and which can never cease to be Divine, for it is similarly buried in the heart of the Omnipotent.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Feeling after Him, 130.]

Love is the mightiest power in the heavens above or in the earth beneath, pure and overflowing at the heart of the universe. How marvellously it is akin to another most attractive force in Nature—gravitation. Remove this single binding influence, and worlds with all they contain instantly dissolve into chaos. Remove the single bond of spiritual love, and society melts into a social chaos. And just as the sun is the principal seat of gravitation, and the planets are the inferior seats of gravity, so God is the central source of love, and His angels and children are subordinate sources of love. Then, again, as gravitation is extended equally everywhere, so also the love of God. No matter to what depths of sin the heart of man has sunk, be it steeped in degradation and vice, or paralysed by carelessness and indifference, God’s love is ever-present, able and ready to save. No man is beyond its reach and secret influence. Its force never fails or decreases. Love can never die: it is infinite and eternal as God Himself. And because He reigns and directs, and lovingly takes measures unceasingly for the betterment of His children, this world of His is daily and hourly progressing and improving. To-day the world is better than yesterday. To-morrow it will be better than to-day. Let then our fixed resolve and maxim ever be: “God, Thou art love. I take my stand on that.” “Love’s faith in love is the surest anchor amid the waves of this troublesome world.”1 [Note: D. S. Govett, in The Church Family Newspaper, Oct. 13, 1911, p. 764.]

When I found Him in my bosom,

Then I found Him everywhere,

In the bud and in the blossom,

In the earth and in the air.


And He spake to me with clearness

From the quiet stars that say,

As ye find Him in His nearness

Ye shall find Him far away.

2. Love had its supreme manifestation in Christ.—What sort of deity is Cupid, the pagan God of love? A mischievous boy, a winged and beautiful shape, a troubler of men’s hearts, a fugitive and irresponsible visitor, who sets the nerves tingling with passion, but does not touch, and cannot touch, the moral nature. The God of love in Christianity is Christ, who went about doing good, and pleased not Himself, but gave His life a ransom for many. Compare these two visions, if comparison be possible, and mark how vast the difference. What wonder is it that love, as described by the ancients, is always a bitter heritage, a golden apple of passionate contention, and that its records are all of the ardour, the distress, and the unavailing sorrow of the individual? But the love which Christianity presents to us is something that forgets itself and is lost in a renunciation which is beatitude. It is not limited, personal, or egotistic; it overleaps all common human relationships, and finds higher relationships with all loving hearts. It comes with no purple wings, beating a delicate and perfumed air, and stirring the mere nerves of a man with passionate delight; it comes as a Divine power, which enters his heart and transforms it; it creates a brother in every man and a sister in every woman. It binds a golden girdle round the globe, and claims all those within it in the name of the love of God. It enters every avenue of human life, and sanctifies it. It is mercy when it meets the criminal, sympathy when it meets the fallen, compassion when it meets the suffering, labour when it meets the lost, renunciation when it meets the poor, sacrifice when it meets the sinful, and it is in all a Divine power which men cannot help recognizing to be Divine. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the love of God—love itself incarnated and embodied in the flesh—and those who would learn what love is must learn of Him.

“I see,” he said to me, “the revelation of God to man in the history of the world, and in the individual experience of each of us, in the progressive triumph of God, and the working of the law by which wrong works out its own destruction. I cannot resist the conviction that there is something more in the world than Nature. Nature is blind. Her law works without regard to individuals. She cares only for the type. To her, life and death are the same. Ceaselessly she works, pressing ever for the improvement of the type. If man should fail her, she will create some other being; but that she has failed with man I am loathe to admit, nor do I see any evidence of it. It would be good for us,” he added thoughtfully, “if we were to take a lesson from Nature in this respect, and cease to be so wrapped up in individuals, to allow our interests to go out to the race. We should all attain more happiness, especially if we ceased to care so exclusively for the individual I. Happiness is usually a negative thing. Happiness is the absence of unhappiness.”1 [Note: W. T. Stead, article on Meredith in Review of Reviews, March 1904.]

If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living,

Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot;

For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving,

If love is not:


And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot,

And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving,

And vanity of vanities is all our lot.


Better than life’s heaving heart is death’s heart unheaving,

Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot,

For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving,

If love is not.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 127.]

3. The love of God in Christ to us is the motive of our love to one another.—“We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” “We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” That is the assurance, that is the ground Jesus Christ has disclosed for the love of God. Those who believe in the evidence of Divine love are tuned to the sufficient pitch, and the motive in them works sufficiently. If God so loved us. we ought also to love one another; we ought because we can; for God Himself in us, through that act of the loving Christ, enables us to do so. By trying to love one another we find ourselves putting out the energies lodged in us by God Himself; we are bringing into fuller use the force wherewith God has loved us. If we love one another God dwells in us, and we discover that it is His love that is perfected in us. Robert Browning has found in this theme the indisputable proof of the reality of the Gospel story. Our recognition of God as love, and of love as the final principle of life, which now seems to us so habitual, so familiar, has been created in us so easily solely by the force of Christ’s recorded passion; that historic manifestation of God has endowed us with our present capacity for love and for belief in love.

God’s love is reflected in His children. The veriest beam of light passing through the vault of heaven and smiling in through your windows is exactly the same as the great surging ocean of light in the distant sun. Catch that slender beam, split it open on your prism, and it will tell you what the sun is made of. The difference between the beam and the sun is only one of degree. One drop of water on the palm of your hand has in it all the tides and motions of the sea; it is smaller, but the same.1 [Note: J. M. Gibbon, The Gospel of Fatherhood, 30.]

There is an Eastern legend of a rose so sweet that even the earth which lies around its roots becomes permeated with fragrance and little bits of it are sold as amulets and worn by princes. You and I are but common clay, but if we will lie close to Jesus Christ, His sweetness will flow through our very lives and make them fragrant and precious for ever.2 [Note: H. van Dyke, The Open Door, 121.]

Faces, loving faces,

Lifting up their light,

With a thousand graces,

Shining in the night;


Lighting up with glory

All this darkened earth,

Telling us the story

Of our heavenly birth.


For, in holy faces,

Faces full of love,

We may find the traces

Of our God above.


So to all the races,

So to us and all,

By these loving faces

God to us doth call.1 [Note: R. H. Story, in The Sunday Magazine, 1881, p. 788.]

4. Love can be readily learned in Christ’s school.—The dullest scholar may be a very master of this art, and the most unlettered may read aright the signs and mysteries of love.

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?” And then, having perfected them in love, He said: “Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Having learned to love, their education was complete, their training ended. They could go everywhere and do all things.2 [Note: J. M. Gibbon, The Gospel of Fatherhood, 20.]

Some one showed me the other day one of the advertisements of a professional athlete, in which it was stated that the average man keeps himself in inferior health because he uses only a small proportion of his lung capacity; there is an infinity of good air around him, but he is not breathing it. Moreover, he does not know how greatly he could enlarge the capacity he already possesses; the more air he can use the more fully he lives. I dare say this is quite true of our physical organization, and it is true of our spiritual organization too. The more fully we breathe the more fully we live. Inhale as deeply as you can of the infinitude of Divine love that is everywhere around and within you, inexhaustible, potent, free. Breathe it forth again in blessing upon the world. You cannot retain it for yourself; you must breathe it forth in order to live; everybody must; there is not a being on the face of God’s earth who does not exhale something of eternal love in his relations with his fellows; the great difference between one person and another is the difference in spiritual lung capacity, so to speak.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell, in The Christian Commonwealth, xxx. 533.]

II

Love in its Issues

1. Love is the chief of the Christian graces.—It is the keystone of the arch which gives beauty and symmetry and permanency to the others. It is the crowning glory of the Christian character, the essential element of Christian perfectness, the highest exhibition of Christian excellence. It is opposed to envy, to jealousy, to pride, to haughtiness, to injustice, to evil thoughts, to wrong desires, to unkind and ungenerous words, to sharp and offensive acts. It thinks no evil. It wishes no harm. It does no wrong. It is not given to falsehood, to fault-finding, to suspicion. It is not apt to mark the infirmities of others; to dwell with pleasure upon their weaknesses, foibles, and sins; to give currency to statements which will be damaging to the good name or peace of its neighbours. It is not concerned to stir up strife, to intermeddle with other people’s affairs, to disseminate injurious rumours, to promote dissension, to alienate friendship, or to create trouble. It is neither hasty nor vindictive; lustful nor grasping; litigious nor severe; but is kind, gentle, and peaceable; considerate of the good of others, forbearing to their faults, forgiving their injuries, casting the mantle of charity over their infirmities; it promotes their welfare, and does them all the good which it is in its power to render. Love heals divisions, softens asperities, removes alienations, promotes friendships, binds human hearts together in sweet and pleasant union, cherishes amiability and gentleness of temper, puts far away unholy feelings, and brings Christians to associate together as members of a common brotherhood—as a holy band, living and labouring for the glory of God.

Far above all other motives was his love to Christ. That was the root of his life, and the life of all his effort. It was a conscious, personal, realized devotion. It was too hallowed a feeling for him to speak much of. It coloured and pervaded every thought; was an unceasing presence with him; lay at the foundation of every endeavour, and was brought to bear on every action in life, on every book he read, and almost on every word he spoke.1 [Note: S. A. Brooke, Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 164.]

Nature had done much for Coxe, but grace did more. The personal Religion of the man it was,—the lingering of the dew of the morning,—which kept him so fresh and green. Such a character would else have been spoiled by popularity. The humour would have degenerated into caustic wit, the courtesy, into mere worldliness, the sense of beauty, into æsthetic selfishness. The one only safeguard of a disposition exposed to so many and such various temptations was clearly the love of God. It was this which harmonized his character; preserved him from running into extremes; saved him from secularity; kept his faculties fresh and youthful. He really loved all God’s works, because he loved their Author.2 [Note: J. W. Burgon, Lives of Twelve Good Men, ii. 143.]

2. 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. When we love anyone we are sure to judge him more fairly, to make more sound and proper excuses for him and to give all the credit due to his better motives. And even when he has deserved just condemnation, true love will not shut its eyes to his fault or close the lips of just reproach. 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, for it is not true love that is ever blind to real faults. 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.

How can one man, how can all men,

How can we be like St. Paul,

Like St. John, or like St. Peter,

Like the least of all

Blessed Saints? for we are small.


Love can make us like St. Peter,

Love can make us like St. Paul,

Love can make us like the blessed

Bosom friend of all,

Great St. John, though we are small.


Love which clings, and trusts, and worships,

Love which rises from a fall,

Love which, prompting glad obedience,

Labours most of all,

Love makes great, the great and small.

3. It is love that gives value and charm to all our actions.—For the love spoken of here is not merely a sentiment. It is a pure and holy affection, a controlling principle of action, a consuming, abiding life. It would be a great mistake to regard Christian love as a passion, as a state or quality of heart unconnected with activity, as a mere negation of enmity or dislike. A large part of its force consists in its positive aspects, of the exhibition of active energy in outward conduct. Its full measure is realized only when, besides restraining us from its opposite vices, it impels and directs us into that course of conduct which is consistent with its high and imperious claims.

“It seems to me,” remarked Isabel, “that love is the leaven that leavens the whole lump. It is only when people begin to care for each other that the fineness of human nature is seen. I was horribly selfish myself till I really cared for somebody, and then I gradually became quite nice.

“As long as you don’t love anybody much your character is like a garden in winter; one virtue is under a glass shade, and another is covered over with straw, and all of them are dreadfully pinched and sickly. Then love comes by, and it is summer; and your garden rejoices and blossoms like the rose, without your bothering about it at all.”1 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Isabel Carnaby, ch. xxiv.]

It is hard now to represent adequately the extraordinary personal charm which so many of his contemporaries felt in John Henry Newman. The letters convey much of it, but not all. Yet the tradition of this charm is a fact which must be set down in his biography. It was a charm felt by intellectual minds and even sceptical minds, and by simple and practical men. Blanco White, Mark Pattison, Henry Wilberforce, Frederick Rogers, R. W. Church, and Ambrose St. John were all among his most intimate friends. The almost unique combination of tenderness, brilliancy, refinement, wide sympathy, and holiness doubtless went for much. He had none of the repellent qualities which sometimes make asceticism forbidding. He had an ample allowance of those human sympathies which are popularly contrasted with asceticism. Again, he seemed able to love each friend with a peculiarly close sympathy for his mind and character and thoughtfulness for the circumstances of his life. The present writer’s father—never one of the most intimate of the circle which surrounded Newman at Oxford—used to say that his heart would beat as he heard Newman’s step on the staircase. His keen humour, his winning sweetness, his occasional wilfulness, his resentments and angers, all showed him intensely alive, and his friends loved his very faults as one may love those of a fascinating woman; at the same time many of them revered him almost as a prophet. Only a year before his death, after nearly twenty years of misunderstandings and estrangement, W. G. Ward told the present biographer of a dream he had had—how he found himself at a dinner party next to a veiled lady, who charmed him more and more as they talked. At last he exclaimed, “I have never felt such charm in any conversation since I used to talk with John Henry Newman, at Oxford.” “I am John Henry Newman,” the lady replied, and raising her veil showed the well-known face.1 [Note: W. Ward, The Life of Cardinal Newman, ii. 348.]

III

Love in its Insight

Is God knowable? No, answers the agnostic; God may exist, but we cannot know Him, for we cannot see Him, and knowledge is of the senses. Yes, answers the Apostle John; for the deepest knowledge is not of the senses, but of the heart; the deepest knowledge is through the operation of the affections, the choices, the will. We may choose, be affectioned toward, will, what is utterly impalpable to sense; and these things are more real than anything that can be perceived by the senses. By this organ, then, by the organ of love, a man may know God, whom the organs of sense can never find. The man with the retort and the microscope knows not God; but the man with a right heart, a loving heart, knows Him: “for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God.”

Love is the clue to the knowledge of God. Men grub and toil in dust and mud, they explore the depths of the ocean, and sweep the breadths of heaven: they analyse all things, and, baffled at last, they say: “Here is law; where is God? There is no God in the world.” Now, is this wise? Is it thus we come to know men? God is not among the gases! Why seek ye the living among the dead? You cannot by searching find out God. “God is not any one of these things, nor the sum of all, nor the mere maker of all”—God is love, and he that loveth, to the extent that he loveth, knoweth God.

The sun can mirror his glorious face

In the dew-drop on the sod;

And the humblest human heart reflect

The light and love of God.1 [Note: J. M. Gibbon, The Gospel of Fatherhood, 27.]

Standing the other day on the topmost ridge of Leith Hill, and looking where I had been told to look, through a small gap in the South Downs, more than thirty miles away, I could dimly perceive the shining sea. It was little more than a bright speck on the horizon, but I knew that if I made towards it that gap would open and let me through, and I could sail round the whole world upon the bosom of the deep represented by that shimmering patch of silver. It is not a perfect figure, but it does something to illustrate the mode or approach to perfect knowledge of God. Where love is, God stands revealed, small and restricted though our capacity for Him may be. But that shining spot is not a cloud, not a delusion; it is the real thing; follow it up and you shall see.2 [Note: R. J. Campbell, in The Christian Commonwealth, xxx. 533.]

A child has very few notions in regard to his mother, expressible or inexpressible,—not nearly as many as he will have later on. The faculties whose business it is to manufacture ideas are not yet fairly at work in him. But he knows his mother a great deal better than any psychological expert from the university knows her or can know her unless he gets into some other relation toward her than that of an expert. Thinking goes round and never gets there; love makes a cross cut and arrives.3 [Note: C. H. Parkhurst, The Sunny Side of Christianity, 116.]

The Bond of Brotherhood

Literature

Benson (E.), Fishers of Men, 33.

Binney (T.), Sermons in King’s Weigh-House Chapel, 1st Ser., 191.

Buckland (A. R.), Text Studies for a Year, 162.

Calthrop (G.), in Sermons for the People, v. 47.

Carter (T. T.), The Spirit of Watchfulness, 206.

Chadwick (W. E.), Social Relationships, 173.

Deshon (G.), Sermons for the Ecclesiastical Year, 254.

Dyke (H. van), The Open Door, 109.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 14, 22.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Sundays after Trinity, i. 223.

Moberly (R. C.), Sorrow, Sin, and Beauty, 179.

Newman (J. H.), Parochial Sermons, ii. 51.

Scott (M.), Harmony of the Collects, Epistles and Gospels, 148.

Stevens (W. B.), Sermons (1879), 1.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), ii. (1870), No. 92.

Voysey (C.), Sermons, iv. (1881), No. 42.

Christian Commonwealth, April 20, 1910, p. 533 (Campbell).

Christian World Pulpit, xxii. 72 (Butler); xxxii. 178 (Beach); liv. 20 (Alexander); lvi. 107 (Holland).

Churchman’s Pulpit: First Sunday after Trinity, 450 (Farquhar), 454 (Lawrence), 456 (Taylor).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., vii. 358 (Candlish).

Homiletic Review, xxxii. 315 (Mcllwaine).


Verses 7-21

(7) THE PERFECT LOVE THE SUREST TEST (1 John 4:7-21).

(a) Fraternal love the necessary product of the true knowledge of God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

(b) The grand recent historical exhibition of God’s love (1 John 4:9-10).

(c) Our consequent duty (1 John 4:11).

(d) God’s abode in us, the perfecting of His love in us, and the proof of His presence through the Spirit, are the equivalent for seeing Him (1 John 4:12-13).

(e) All this is grounded on the strong, undeniable truth of the Apostolic witness to Christ (1 John 4:14-16).

(f) The fearlessness which is the result of perfect love (1 John 4:17-18).

(g) The cause of our love to God, and the necessary connection of that love with love to our fellows (1 John 4:19-21).

This may be considered the central portion of the second half of the Epistle. Nothing could be more significant of St. John’s teaching. Here many trains of thought which have occurred before are gathered together in one grand treatise on love, divine and human—the complement of the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The thought of (a) was suggested, though not in so complete and concise a form, in 1 John 3:10-11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:6; that of (b) in 1 John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; that of (c) also in 1 John 3:16; that of (d) in 1 John 2:5; 1 John 3:24; that of (e) in 1 John 1:1-2; that of (f) in 1 John 2:28; that of (g) in 1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:17. The connection with the paragraph on the trial of the spirits is very obvious: “every one that loveth is born of God;” so that the quality and quantity of our affection will be the best gauge whether we have the spirit of truth or of error. The absence of love is ignorance of God, for real knowledge of Him imparts His nature. And if any ask how we know of His love, the answer is that it was seen in His Son. In sending Him, He loved us without any love on our part. Our relation to God reminds us that we must have the same love to each other. The fact that God cannot be seen is an additional reason for mutual affection among us; for brotherly love is the demonstrable proof of His presence, and of the growing completeness of the work wrought by His love in us. The Spirit Himself, through whom our love would come, confirms the reality of God’s indwelling. And these spiritual emotions and developments are not illusory, for they are guaranteed by the ocular and oral evidence of the Apostles to the historical Person of Christ. So the result of all this will be perfect and fearless confidence. To sum up (1 John 4:19): our love to God springs from His to us; hatred of our brother (or the absence of love for him) is the denial of all love for God; and for this duty we rest not on our own deductions only, however true, but on His plain command.

(7 a.) (7) One another.—As God loved the world, so we are to love mankind, not merely Christians. (Comp. 1 John 3:13.)

For love is of God.—He who is truly alive shares the life of God, which is love. All true love is part of His being.

(8) Knoweth not.—Rather, never knew. Real knowledge of God has a convincing practical effect; without such an effect it is not knowledge, but a mere mental deception.

God is love.—In the early part of the Epistle St. John had defined God as light, and the thoughts had been grouped round and in relation to that central idea. It would of course be impossible ever to exhaust all the definitions of God; but just as our nature may be roughly classified as intellectual and moral, mind and heart, thought and emotion, so, when we have thought of God as Light (embracing all such attributes as truth, knowledge, purity, health, power, and justice), we shall not have traversed in outline all that we can know of His nature, or all that concerns us to know, until we have also thought of Him as Love, the author and source of all true affection, kindness, pity, friendliness, rejoicing in the creation of infinite life for the sake of its infinite happiness, and offering eternal bliss to all His human family, that He may be for ever surrounded by inexhaustible illustrations of the joy and glory of perfection.

(7 b.) (9) In this was manifested.—St. John echoes his beloved Lord (from John 3:16).

In us.—(Comp. John 9:3.) “In our case.”

Only begotten.—In contrast to us, His adopted sons.

That we might live.—Human life is regarded as no true living, but a mere existence, until “Christ be formed in the heart” and we become “partakers of the divine nature.”

(10) Herein is love.—What love is this, that, distasteful, uncongenial, unloving, unlovely as we must have been in His sight, He did this great thing for us! (Comp. John 15:16; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:10; Titus 3:4.) On Propitiation, see 1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:16.

(7 c,) (11) Beloved.—An impulse moves St. John’s mind corresponding to that in 1 John 4:7.

We ought.—As God has bestowed his affection so gratuitously on us, and we benefit by it in such an inconceivable degree, and can make Him no return, we can only pay the debt by bestowing our poor equivalent on our fellow men. Although our happiness depends strictly on God, still He has allowed us to be stewards for Him in some small degree for the happiness of those about us.

(7 d.) (12) No man . . .—St. John quotes his Gospel (John 1:18). This is simply the general proposition, “God is invisible,” and has no reference to spiritual sight. (Comp. Exodus 33:20; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16.) The appearances of God to Abraham or Moses would be like the Shechinah in the Temple, but no material glimpse of Him who is a Spirit. St. John mentions the fact as an admission of the limits of human nature and the condition of faith, but only in order to state the richness of the substitute, which is the presence of God within the soul, verified and substantiated by the historical Person of Christ.

His love is perfected in us.—Its operation in us has full scope and sway.

(13) Hereby know we.—Comp. 1 John 3:24.

(7 e.) A second antithesis to the opening words of 1 John 4:12. The Apostolic witness to the person of Christ is again and again insisted on as the foundation of Christian theology. (Comp. 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:14; Acts 4:20; Acts 22:15; Acts 26:16.)

(14) Saviour of the world.—Comp. 1 John 2:2.

(15) Whosoever shall confess—i.e., receives the Apostolic witness as beyond dispute. (Comp. 1 John 2:23, and 1 John 4:6; Romans 10:9.) The noble width of this declaration is most remarkable, in opposition to human inventions of narrow and sectarian communions.

Son of God, in the sense of “only begotten,” as in 1 John 4:9.

(16) And we have known and believed.—This has the effect of a reflective repetition of 1 John 4:14, “Yes. we have known and believed.” This time, however, the “we” includes those who have heard and accepted the testimony of the eye-witnesses.

God is love.—In this meditative recapitulation St. John cannot help summing up everything again in the boundless formula of 1 John 4:8. Knowledge is here the process that leads to conviction; belief, the result of conviction.

He that dwelleth in love.—St. John’s whole purpose is none other than to raise man to his highest possible development by demonstrating the reality and nature of fellowship with the Divine. Here he arrives at the very central position of all: that as God is Love itself, so he that allows nothing to trouble that atmosphere of pure love (here neither specially towards God or man) which God would enable him to breathe, if his own wilfulness did not turn him away from it, will be bathed in the light of God, animated with His life, and one with Him. It is a combination of 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:15.

Us has the same width as 1 John 4:15.

(7 f.) (17) Herein is our love made perfect.—Rather, In this love is perfected with us. “Love,” as in 1 John 4:16, is the disposition to be attracted towards what is worthy of sympathy, whether it be God or man.

That we may have boldness.—The day of judgment, whether near or remote, is regarded as so certain that it is a present fact influencing our conduct. Love will be more or less perfect in us in proportion as it gives us more or less just and reasonable grounds for confidence were we suddenly placed before the great white throne. (Comp. 1 John 2:28.)

Because as he is, so are we in this world.—If we live in this serene atmosphere of pure sympathy with God and man, Christ is in us and we in Him, because God is Love itself. Sharing His nature, therefore, we must be like Him, and the more completely we allow this Divine love towards our Father and our brothers to transform our whole being, the more we shall be like our Judge, and the less cause we shall have for dread.

In this world merely indicates our present place of habitation.

(18) There is no fear.—The more perfect this disposition of serene sympathy becomes, the less share can any form of anxiety have in it. Even if regarded as directed to an earthly object, if it be pure and divine in its character, not even want of reciprocity can disturb its equanimity. Where it is a well-grounded sympathy with a perfect being, its serenity is all the more complete in proportion to its sincerity. When love is perfect, fear dwindles to nothing, is absolutely expelled. Love, seeking to be perfect, and finding fear alongside of it, will diligently seek out the cause of the fear, perfect itself by getting rid of the cause, and so get rid of the fear. Fear in such a connection implies some ground for alarm, and suffers punishment (not “torment”) by anticipation. The presence of such a ground for alarm would imply a proportionate imperfection of love. (Comp. 1 John 3:19-21.)

(7 g.) The cause of our love to God, and the necessary connection of that love with love to our fellows (1 John 4:19-21).

(19) We love him, because he first loved us.—God’s loving us made it possible for us to love Him: otherwise we should not have known Him, or had the faculty of loving Him even had we known Him. To suppose that St. John is putting a mere case of gratitude is to rob him of the dignity and depth of his meaning.

(20) These last three verses are a recapitulation in a vivid form, of the truth and the duty contained in 1 John 4:10-11. God made it possible for us to love Him, and the very first result of our feeling this power within us, and allowing it to put itself into force will be seen in pure and devout sympathy for all whom we can help. As usual, hating, and not loving, are put as interchangeable members of the class of malevolence. St. John argues on the ground that it is much easier for human nature to be interested by what comes before its eyes than by that about which it has to think. Gregory the Great says, “In love the eyes are guides;” and Œcumenius, “Sight leads on to love.” (Comp. 1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:17; and 1 John 4:12.)

(21) However this may be, there is a still stronger position: the simple command of God in Christ. (Comp. Luke 10:27; John 13:34-35; John 14:21; John 15:9-10; John 15:12.)


Verse 8

God

God is love.—1 John 4:8.

1. It is significant that we have these words not from Jesus but from John. Jesus did not say in so many words, “God is love.” He taught by the inductive method. He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” John looked at Him, leaned on His breast, stood beside His cross, gazed into His empty tomb, listened to His words when He had risen from the dead, and said “God is love.” He knew, because he had seen Christ. This knowledge of Christ’s character is the primary source of John’s knowledge of God. He leaned on Jesus’ bosom and learned His spirit, and in after years he thought of that spirit as a manifestation of the very life of God. Then he sought for a name for it, and there was no name good enough. He thought of Him who went about doing good; of His self-denial and poverty for man’s sake; of His compassion on the multitude; of His sympathy for the bereaved; of His kindness towards the outcast; of His tears at the grave of Lazarus; of His message of forgiveness to the sin-stricken; of His words such as never man’s sake; of His washing His disciples’ feet; of His death in pity for human sin; of His resurrection into immortality and glory, John thought of all this as setting forth the life of God in its fundamental meanings. He knew what spirit was in Jesus; he knew by what word to characterize His life. He knew that whatever of God’s life was manifest through Jesus of Nazareth was eternally true of the Almighty Father, and he told it all in three sublime and immortal words, “God is love.”

Here, then, we have three words which are three syllables, and they are greater words than all the piled words of the most elaborate dictionary ever constructed. These are the words out of which all the other words come. No man invented these words. They have become so familiar now that we do not know their meaning; but if we could throw ourselves back mentally and spiritually to the right standpoint, we should know that it did not lie within the compass of human genius to invent any of these words. We take the words for granted; we speak the word “God” as if we knew all about it, and the great verb “is,” as if it were one of a dozen verbs of equal merit; and “love,” which the boldest lexicographer has never successfully defined, we roll glibly off our tongue. We have all things in three syllables. Here is the Bible reduced to the smallest possible verbal scale, and yet losing nothing of the stellar glory and the infinite compass of the evolution of the Divine idea.

If I were asked what has most contributed to human progress and human happiness, even as philosophers measure those terms; what it is, more than any other element of knowledge, that has set free the intellect; more than any other principle of conduct, has instructed the conscience; more than any other object of desire, has elevated the affections; I should say unhesitatingly that it is the unveiling of the face of our Father which is in heaven; the revelation, all the more pregnant and influencing from the way in which it was made, that “God is love.”1 [Note: J. Fraser, University Sermons, 288.]

Bengel says: “This brief sentence gave John, even during the mere time he took to write it, more delight than the whole world can impart.” And, indeed, one can well believe it; for, you must remember, John really and deeply cared about God; and if we really care about God and men, this text, if we believe it, will assuage our sorrow, lighten our hearts, and brighten our lives.

You are in perfect health, for instance, and you don’t think about health. You cannot go into ecstasies over such a commonplace thing as health. But some day you go into a hospital—you see long ward after ward filled with sick folk—with pale cheeks, lustreless eyes, sad, anxious faces, young and old, men and women. The light is dim, and as you pass you see they are carrying one poor patient out of the common ward, and you know they are carrying him where he may die alone, without disturbing the others; and then, when you go out into the open air, and the light and shine of the sun, and feel the spring of health in your limbs, the simple thought that you are well thrills you! Health is no longer commonplace, and you thank God that you are not like other men, who are sick, and weak, and dying.

“God is love,” I say.

“Of course!” you say. “How commonplace your sermon is! What a hackneyed text you have taken!”

But look here—look into all old creeds, where God is said to be Cruelty, and Lust, and Caprice. Look into Catholicism, where God is a Burning Anger, kept from destroying the world only by a continual sacrifice. Look into modern philosophy, where God is Force without heart, and Law without pity. Look at your own lives, at the records on the pages of memory, and think of the still fuller entries on the book of judgment. Think of your sins, yea even of your virtues, and as you reflect how bad your worst deeds were, and how poor your best, are you not glad for your own sakes that God is love?1 [Note: J. M. Gibbon, The Gospel of Fatherhood, 11.]

When Mr. Moody built his tabernacle in Chicago, he was so anxious that every one that came there should learn one truth, namely, that “God is love,” and so fearful that some day some preacher might stand in the pulpit and forget to tell the people that God is love, that he had these three words put into gas jets over the pulpit. So every night when the gas was lighted, there it blazed away over the preacher’s head, “God is love.” Whether the preacher told it to the people or not, they could see it for themselves in letters of fire.

One night the tabernacle was lighted but the people had not yet gathered for the evening service. A poor drunkard coming up the street saw the door a little ajar and saw the light, and then stumbled up the steps hoping to find warmth and cheer within. As he pushed the door a little wider, his attention was directed to the sentence in the letters of fire above the pulpit, “God is love.” He turned away, pulled the door to, went down the steps and went up the street muttering, “It is not so. That is not true. God is not love. If God were love, He would love me, and God does not love a miserable wretch like me. It is not true.” But all the time, the words were burning down into his soul, “God is love. God is love.”

After a while he turned about and retraced his steps, entered the church again, and took a seat behind the stove over in the corner. The people gathered and Mr. Moody ascended the platform and began to preach. All the time that Mr. Moody preached, the man was weeping in the corner. Mr. Moody’s quick eye caught sight of him, and at the close of the service he hurried to him and sat down beside him. “What are you crying about, my friend?” he said gently. “What was it in the sermon that touched you?” The man replied, “There was nothing in the sermon that touched me. I did not hear a word of your sermon.” “Well, what was it then that touched you?” asked Mr. Moody. “That sentence,” pointing to the words in fire, “that sentence, ‘God is love.’” Mr. Moody opened his Bible and showed the man from the Bible how God loved him, and how Jesus was an all-sufficient Saviour for all who take Him. The man listened and accepted Christ, and went away that night a saved Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 [Note: R. A. Torrey.]

Love came to me when I was young;

He brought me songs, he brought me flowers;

Love wooed me lightly, trees among,

And dallied under scented bowers;

And loud he carolled: “Love is King!”

For he was riotous as spring,

And careless of the hours,—

When I was young.


Love lingered near when I grew old;

He brought me light from stars above;

And consolations manifold;

He fluted to me like a dove;

And Love leaned out of Paradise,

And gently kissed my faded eyes,

And whispered, “God is love,”—

When I grew old.2 [Note: Francis H. Williams.]

I

Love in the Being of God

1. Love is the central emotion in God.—When the Apostle tells us that God is love, he means to say, not that God has this attribute and no other, and not that He has this attribute paramount to others; for, as the attributes of any mind must partake of the character of the mind which exercises them, so the attributes of God must partake of the essence of God, and be in all aspects, therefore, infinite and Divine; none, therefore, can be more than infinite, none less than Divine. Each attribute—His truth, His power, His wisdom, and the like—must stand on the same footing as His love, and be equally great and glorious. But, by the expression “God is love,” St. John evidently wishes to convey to us the idea that love is the great motive power of the Divine Being. Love is that which shapes and guides all His attributes; so that each is manifested under the working of love, and each directed to the securing of love.

All God’s attributes are inflections or phases of love. Love is not one of His attributes; it is all of them. His holiness is the wholeness of His love. His righteousness is the eternal conformity of His life to love. His justice is love looking out on the great mass of His creatures. His beneficence is love showing itself in deeds which we recognize as helpful. His pity is love toward the sorrowing. His mercy is love toward the sinful. But whether He be merciful or beneficent or just or righteous or holy, He is love.1 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]

The old Greeks, whose civilization developed along the line of architecture, and painting, and the decorative arts, said, “God is beauty.” The Romans, led by the Cæsars on a hundred battlefields to victory, until they boasted that the Roman eagles never turned backward, said, “God is strength.” The Jew, inheriting from Moses, the great law-giver, said, “God is law.” It was not until John had laid his head upon the Saviour’s bosom and communed with Jesus Christ that any man was able to say with confident heart, “God is love.”2 [Note: L. A. Banks.]

2. Love implies fellowship.—Love means an outpouring; it cannot exist without an object. Strictly, there cannot be self-love, for selfishness is the negation of love. It is no answer to say that the capacity to love was in God before by creation He found an object for His love. The capacity to love is not love; it does but accentuate the void. Is it conceivable that through an eternity the Infinite Perfection should have been yearning in unsatisfied longing for something to love? In the light of the Trinity, however, the difficulty vanishes. In the love of the Eternal which Jesus reveals to us there is the fulness of life, perfect fellowship, infinite and eternal love. Love is the very constitution and law of God’s Being. God only exists as a threefold relation of lover, beloved, and love—the Father for ever outpouring Himself in love to the Son; the Son for ever in complete self-surrender returning that love to the Father; the Spirit ceaselessly uniting Father and Son, Himself the Bond of love.

The Love of the Trinity is nameless: human tongue has no words to express it; no creature may inquisitively look into its eternal depths. It is the great and impenetrable mystery. We listen to its music and adore it; but when its glory has passed through the soul the lips are still unable adequately to describe any of its features. God may loose the tongue so that it may shout and sing to the praise of eternal Love, but the intellect remains powerless.

Before God created heaven and earth with all their inhabitants, the Eternal Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shone with unseen splendour in the Divine Being. Love exists, not for the sake of the world, but for God’s sake; and when the world came into existence, Love remained unchanged; and if every creature were to disappear, it would remain just as rich and glorious as ever. Love exists and works in the Eternal Being apart from the creature; and its radiation upon the creature is but a feeble reflection of its being.

Love is not God, but God is love; and He is sufficient to Himself to love absolutely and for ever. He has no need of the creature, and the exercise of His love did not begin with the creature whom He could love, but it flows and springs eternally in the Love-life of the Triune God. God is love; its perfection, Divine beauty, real dimensions, and holiness are not found in men, not even in the best of God’s children, but scintillate only around the Throne of God.1 [Note: A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 515.]

There is a pretty story of St. Augustine. He had announced to his people that he would explain the doctrine of the Trinity next Lord’s Day. In the week, as he walked by the shore pondering his discourse, he came upon a child at play. The lad had dug a hole in the sand, and was running backwards and forwards with his bucket, bringing water from the sea and pouring it into the hole which he had dug. “Why do you do that, my lad?” said the Saint. “I am trying to empty the sea.” “Silly child,” said St. Augustine, “you can never empty the sea with your little bucket.” “As well may I try,” said the child, “as you seek to explain with your finite mind the infinite Being of God.”2 [Note: C. Hepher, The Revelation of Love, 38.]

II

Love in Creation

Love has been active everywhere. Love built heaven. Love made earth. Love made hell; and its pains are the measure of God’s love for goodness, its flames are love on fire. He “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.” And by the kiss or the rod; by caress or correction; by “gentle gales from the wings of angels that fan His Mercy-seat,” or by hot blasts from the burning marl of hell; by the blood of Christ, and pleading love, or by fire and brimstone of punitive love, God seeks to overthrow all evil in all men and beings, and will not rest until the Holy Spirit shall say of the New Creation, “It is finished”: for “God is love.”

1. Love created the world.—Why did God create the world for which He had no need? You might ask the same question as the builder cuts down the tree, the sculptor carves the marble, or the painter daubs the canvas. For answer to your question you must wait till you see the use made of the productions. You will then know the end and will be able to find the reason. The builder sees the mast of a ship in the growing tree, the painter a landscape on the canvas; in the marble cold the sculptor sees an angel’s form. God saw the end before He began; and we can find the reason of His action only in the use He makes of His creation. The end will give the motive of His action. Nothing that is incidental will answer for His work. If new emotions fill His heart, as one by one His works are done, that is but incidental, and not the object of His toil. The work was not done to create the emotion; neither was the emotion solely on account of the work, but because of its adaptability to the far-off end. The unborn man was in His thought as day by day “God saw that it was good.”

There are many books in God’s world, on every page of which is inscribed, “He is love.” The beauty of the landscape, the wonderful provision for every creature’s want, which meets them every moment, the happiness of family life, each man’s own little history, the inner fountain of pleasant thoughts that plays in the bosom, the exquisite adjustment of providences, the tenderness and care of an Almighty Father, which we can trace everywhere, the patience of that Father’s pity, our bright and happy homesteads, our full cups—they all teach it, but they teach it only to those who have learnt it first in a higher school.1 [Note: James Vaughan.]

God is love—the heavens tell it

Through their glorious orbs of light,

In that glad and golden language

Speaking to us, day and night,

Their great story,

God is love, and God is might!


And the teeming earth rejoices

In that message from above;

With ten thousand thousand voices,

Telling back from hill and grove,

Her glad story,

God is might, and God is love!

2. Love is the bedrock of the moral universe.—Science has told us of a struggle for existence in which the race is to the swift and the battle to the strong, and God gives the verdict to the stronger. History has told us that God is on the side that has the heaviest battalions. Political Economy has told us that the law of supply and demand is final in trade, and that an enlightened self-interest is the highest motive which commerce can know. Students of Nature, not a few, have called our attention to the truth that God sends not only the grateful warmth of the sun, but also the parching heat; not only the cooling shower, but also the tempest. But deeper students of Nature will not let us rest till we discern that storm and sunshine, calm and cloud are all manifestations of solar energy; that if one is good, the other cannot be fully bad. There is not, even if we deify natural forces, one God of sun, and another of wind, since sun and wind manifest the same power. To say that we live in a universe is to unify our conception of the underlying thought of creation, and more careful students of history and of science have a better word to say than that the world is a strife and a tangle. It cannot be wholly bad, and it cannot be mixed; it is then good, though sometimes our faith must stand on tiptoe to reach the truth—the world is good, and life is good, and “God is love.”

Is there not such a thing as the struggle for the existence of others? Did you ever start a quail from her nest, and follow her as she flew low and with only one wing, almost within your reach? Did you follow her till you were well away from the nest, and then see the helpless wing come into play, and the mother bird fly cheerfully back to the nest? Some mother quails have lost their lives in that way, no doubt, but they have saved the nest. What has made the quail a persistent type? Strength? Yes. Ability to fly? Yes. Colour like the turf and dead grass? Yes. But these are not all. Your list of forces will not be complete till you include love, love that can imperil its life for love’s sake. Did you ever see a little mother hen spread her feathers and give defensive battle to a hawk? Sometimes by the courage that love gives she actually drove the hawk away; sometimes she laid down her life for her brood; in either case it was love that saved the little ones. The love of the mother was stronger than the hunger of the hawk. So Nature gives eloquent witness to the power of the law of love.1 [Note: W. E. Barton.]

When Mungo Park was in Africa, he felt at one time very weary and alone, and he thought he should perish. He lay down on the ground, and he saw a little bit of moss. Did you ever examine a little bit of moss? It is so beautiful. And Mungo Park saw this beautiful little bit of moss; and it said to him, “God is love”; and he was not afraid, for he saw, even in the little bit of moss, “God is love.”2 [Note: James Vaughan.]

O plenteous grace that nerved my soul to raise

So fixt a look on the Eternal Light,

That I achieved the object of my gaze!

Within its depth I saw that by the chains

Of love, in one sole volume was confined

Whate’er the universal world contains;—

Substance, and accident—their properties,

Together in such wondrous manner joined,

One glimpse is all my utmost skill supplies.

Methinks I saw the universal mould

Of all this globe;—such thrilling ecstasy

Expands my heart, as I the sight unfold.3 [Note: Dante, Paradiso, xxxiii. 58 (trans. by Wright).]

III

Love in Christ

1. It was in Christ that love reached its full manifestation.—Christ was not the originator of love. He simply disclosed it to the world. You do not say that dawn makes the sun? Nor that the incoming ships cause the flow of the tide? Nor that the flowers create the summer? No! The dawn is the sign that the sun is coming; it is caused by the sun. The ships are carried in by the tide, and only reveal its current. The summer makes the flowers, and they declare its glory. Why, then, do you say that Christ made, or bought, or in any way procured the love of God, when it was God’s love that sent Him forth on His mission? The love of God has no shallows. It is equally deep everywhere—Calvary deep wherever you try it. As far as God’s love is concerned, the Cross might be placed in Genesis as well as in John, in Leviticus as well as in Luke.

Especially in Christ is there fathomless beauty and glory. St. Paul’s heart was overwhelmed with loving enthusiasm as he thought of his privilege of preaching “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The more we ponder these riches, the richer will our own love be. And so it happened in the case of the poor native dying in the Mengo Medical Mission in Uganda. The Missionary asked him if he knew who Jesus Christ was, and he received the beautiful reply, “He is a strong bridge over which I pass through the gate.”1 [Note: J. A. Clapperton, Culture of the Christian Heart, 64.]

Young Scott, the son of Dr. Scott of Greenock, is with us. He is a highly gifted man. May the mighty God bless him, and strengthen him for the work that he may be called to! He preached last night in Dundee. There was one thing which he said upon the universality of the love of God to sinners which I shall repeat to you. When God was manifested in Christ, in the man Christ Jesus, that man fulfilled the whole law, of which the second great division is, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. If there had been any single man upon earth whom He did not love as Himself, He would have been a breaker of the law. But He fulfilled the whole law, and loved every man, as He loved Himself—ay and more; and as He thus fulfilled the law, He said, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father”; that is to say, My love to men is the very image of My Father’s love to them.2 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen (1800–1840), i. 143.]

2. The love of God finds its free expression in Christ.—“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” His love had been given to men since the creation, but men shut their hearts and contracted their lives, and the love of God had no free course. When Christ came God was glorified in Him.

Robert Browning has an exquisite little poem which he calls “One Word More.” The idea of the poem is this. One of the greatest, perhaps the greatest Italian artist, who is already a painter, feels that there is more in him than painting can express, and from sheer necessity he takes to sculpture. Not that he gives up painting; but he adds sculpture to it, in order to relieve his own soul, that he might put into marble what he could not put on the canvas. Browning compares himself to that artist in addressing the wife whom he loved with such adoring self-abandonment. He had addressed her in verse, but what verse could express the love that was his? And he longs for some other art than poetry to tell the one word more that was in him. And so here. God had served man, created a perfect home for man—served his intellect, quickened it by the problems which He had set him to solve; but He still needed the “one word more” to tell all that was in Him. None of these things could tell His love—tell the depth of it; the necessity that man was to Him.1 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 148.]

Why comes this fragrance on the summer breeze,

The blended tribute of ten thousand flowers,

To me, a frequent wanderer ’mid the trees

That form these gay, though solitary bowers?

One answer is around, beneath, above;

The echo of the voice, that God is Love!


Why bursts such melody from tree and bush,

The overflowing of each songster’s heart,

So filling mine, that it can scarcely hush

Awhile to listen, but would take its part?

’Tis but one song I hear where’er I rove,

Though countless be the notes, that God is Love!


Why leaps the streamlet down the mountain’s side,

Hastening so swiftly to the vale beneath,

To cheer the shepherd’s thirsty flock, or glide

Where the hot sun has left a faded wreath,

Or, rippling, aid the music of the grove?

Its own glad voice replies, that God is Love!


In starry heavens, at the midnight hour,

In ever-varying hues at morning’s dawn,

In the fair bow athwart the falling shower,

In forest, river, lake, rock, hill, and lawn,

One truth is written: all conspire to prove,

What grace of old reveal’d, that God is Love!


Nor less this pulse of health, far glancing eye,

And heart so moved with beauty, perfume, song,

This spirit, soaring through a gorgeous sky,

Or diving ocean’s coral caves among,

Fleeter than darting fish or startled dove;

All, all declare the same, that God is Love!


Is it a fallen world on which I gaze?

Am I as deeply fallen as the rest,

Yet joys partaking, past my utmost praise,

Instead of wandering forlorn, unblest?

It is as if an unseen spirit strove

To grave upon my heart, that God is Love!


Yet would’st thou see, my soul, this truth display’d

In characters which wondering angels read

And read, adoring; go, imploring aid

To gaze with faith, behold the Saviour bleed!

Thy God, in human form! O, what can prove,

If this suffice thee not, that God is Love?


Cling to His cross; and let thy ceaseless prayer

Be, that thy grasp may fail not! and, ere long,

Thou shalt ascend to that fair Temple, where

In strains ecstatic an innumerous throng

Of saints and seraphs, round the Throne above,

Proclaim for evermore, that God is Love!1 [Note: Thomas Davis.]

3. In Christ love stooped to infinite sacrifice.—Nowhere else but on the Cross could it fully utter itself. In Christ the Divine love comes to us, and, mounting, towers far above any conception of love the world has ever known before. The friend dies for the foe, the pure for the impure, the Creator for the creature. Up and up it mounts, until the highest peak is reached that human life offers footing to. The Divine love plants itself upon the cruel cross, returning love for hatred, a prayer for a blow, a crown for a cross, and with bleeding body and breaking heart the God-Man gives Himself for us. If the cross of Jesus speaks at all it speaks in tones of love. In Genesis God works for His innocent child; in Christ He suffers for a guilty one. If the gift is love what can the giver be? No one but a God of love could send the loving Christ.

O Blessed well of love, O flower of Grace,

O glorious Morning-starre, O lampe of light,

Most lively image of Thy Father’s Face,

Eternall King of glorie, Lord of might,

Meeke lambe of God before all worlds behight,

How can we Thee requite for all this good?

Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?1 [Note: Spenser.]

IV

God’s Love in Human Life

1. God’s love is personal: it is not mere compassion for the multitude; it is an infinite affection for the individual. The sun cannot shine upon the just, and not upon the unjust, for the sun is light, and it cannot help shining. God cannot love one and withhold His love from another, for God is love, and He cannot help loving. He loves us when we are good; and when we are bad He loves us still. He loves some with the love of pity, and others with the love of pride; He loves some with the love of compassion, and others with the love of complacency. But He loves us all, and will never cease from loving us, no matter how far we stray from Him. If some are lost, it is because they will become so estranged from good, so loveless, that God’s love no longer affects them; but it will still be theirs, and will follow them even down to doom.

God’s love is like His sunlight, diffused throughout the heaven, catching the heights of the hills and crowning them with ruddy gold and clothing them in purple. So it seems to us an easy and a natural thing for God to love some people; outstanding men and women whose goodness might make them dear to Him. But this is not all that the sun does. It climbs higher that it may creep lower—down the hill-sides further and further, until it lifts the mists of the valley and covers the meadows with its glory, and kisses the daisy and fills its cup with gold and puts energy and strength into its very heart. God loves the good, the true, the pure, but His love rises higher that it may come down lower; and He loves me—me. I can wrap this love of His about me and claim it all as my own.2 [Note: M. G. Pearse, Short Talks for the Times, 15.]

We are told of a painter who chose to remain unknown; the man of genius, the born painter, who refused to paint because men would not understand, would not properly appreciate his work. He shrank, as every sensitive man would shrink, from having his work bought by vulgar men, to be hung up in their galleries or on their dining-room walls, not because they cared for art, but because it was the fashionable thing to patronize art, and prove your wealth by the pictures with which you lined your walls. He shuddered at the thought. He would never degrade the genius that was in him by pandering to vulgar wealth. He would go on holding fellowship with his own soul’s visions in the soul’s private sanctuary; but he would not demean himself by selling his soul to the man who merely could pay the highest price for it. But that is not the noblest genius. Real genius must express itself, even for its own sake. May we not say that God must express Himself for His own sake? God has poured out the wealth of His redemption. We may reject it or receive it: God must give it. God must sing the song of His own heart. He wrote it in the lives of heroes; spoke it from the lips of prophets; told the wealth of it in the life and death of Jesus. He has been telling it unweariedly through the ages. Men have rejected it, scorned it, treated it with contempt. It matters not; to God to tell Himself was a necessity, for “God is love.”1 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 162.]

2. God’s love is redemptive and persists in spite of our unworthiness.—A man had fallen into a deep dark pit, and lay at its miry bottom, groaning and utterly unable to move. Confucius, passing by, approached the edge of the pit, and said, “Poor fellow, I am sorry for you; why were you such a fool as to get in there? If you ever get out do not get in again.” The man said, “I cannot get out.” That is Confucianism. A Buddhist priest next came by, and said, “Poor fellow, I am pained to see you down there. I think that if you could climb up two-thirds of the way or even half, I could reach you and lift you out.” But the man was utterly helpless and unable to rise. That is Buddhism. Next the Saviour came by, and, hearing his cries, went to the brink of the pit, reached down and laid hold of the man, brought him up and said, “Go and sin no more.” That is Christianity. God in Christ takes man from the horrible pit and the miry clay, and sets his feet upon the rock, and establishes his goings, and puts a song of praise into his mouth.

There is a story of a lad who was devoted to his father, and who stole some money from his employer’s till. He was detected in the act, sent to prison, and brought a stain upon the family name. Before serving his sentence, he was allowed to see his sister, who came to visit him in gaol.

“What does mother say?” asked the lad.

“Mother washes her hands of you,” was the reply.

“What do the others say?”

“They never mention your name.”

And then came the question, “What does father say?”

And the answer was, “Father sends his love and a kiss.”

This reached home as nothing else did. Is it not a parable of the All-Father’s love? Man fell and went wrong; was—he always is—detected; brought a stain on the family name; and to man, just as he was (“while we were yet sinners”), came the message, “Father sends you His Love, and a Kiss.” Jesus was the Love of the Father, and an old and beautiful name for the Holy Ghost was “the Kiss of God,” the reconciling Power which brings pardon and peace to poor prodigal humanity.1 [Note: E. E. Holmes, The Days of the Week, 45.]

Love, love that once for all did agonize,

Shall conquer all things to itself! if late

Or soon this fall, I ask not nor surmise,—

And when my God is waiting I can wait!2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

3. God’s love is a wise love, a watchful love, a faithful love: there is nothing it will not do for us, except wrong; there is nothing it will not endure for us, except sin; and there is nothing it will not be very careful to spare us, in order to turn us from the evil of our way. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” If we are chastened, therefore, it is not for His pleasure, but for our profit, “for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not?” As the sun calls forth the very clouds that hide his face for a season till the tender rain falls that brightens the earth anew, so also His love, at times, may darken the face of heaven to us till the bitter-sweet tears of repentance restore the light to us again. But through all and in all His love abides unchanged, and is at the root of our sorrows as well as our joys, often hidden, but never absent, the same yesterday and to-day and forever.

We see Jesus Christ, without losing His belief in God’s love, stripped of everything except being what He was and doing what He believed it His work to do. His character and His service, these were left to Him, and in His calling to these He recognized that God loved Him. Whatever came to Him, however painful it was, still did not contradict God’s love, if it enabled Him to finish His work. Even His death was the cup which His Father gave Him to drink, and though it was bitter, it was yet a love-token. God’s love to Jesus was more seen in giving Him that cup to drink, that so He might be the Saviour of men, than it would have been in snatching Him from the brink of death into heaven, His work all unfinished. We are taught by the life of Jesus Christ to see God’s love not in the gifts of fortune, or in health and outward happiness, but in the supreme gift of making us sons of God, and giving us the work of sons to do.1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan, The Gospel View of Things, 175.]

I was standing not long ago by a child’s sick-cot; and if there is any sight which it is hard to look upon, it is that of the little one, to whom it is all such a mystery, racked and tortured with pain. But the brave little heroine whispered, “Father, give me your hand”; and holding her father’s hand, though riddled with pain, she never moaned. And so I. I do not know what others may not be able to do; I criticize no one, think hard thoughts of no one; I only say that in my bewilderments, sorrows, heartaches, struggles, I cannot rest upon ideas, visions, aspirations, strivings. I say, “Father, give me Thine hand.” I can be patient and brave then. Father! Thy name is Love.2 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 142.]

4. God’s love is the key to the mystery of pain and sorrow.—This epigrammatic sentence fits all graves, it fits all cemeteries; it is the word that is written on the portals of the churchyard, “God is love.” I have seen a strong man reel over his son’s grave as if he would plunge himself into it, for there was nothing worth living for after that one boy had gone. He was not in a mood to hear any preaching, he was not in a condition to hear even the gentlest tone; he must be watched, we must wait for him; he must feel it like a man before he answers it like a man. It will be no use speaking to him to-day; he sups sorrow; no, he does not sup it, he gulps it, he drains the cup of grief at one great gulp. We must call upon this man to-morrow; we must be remote, we must learn in God’s grace how to touch a wound without hurting it. Next week perhaps we may meet him, and even then we must hold ourselves remote, and yet be near at hand, and when the lull comes, the only sentence the man can bear—and at first he may receive it with unbelief and partial scorn—is, “God is love.” It does not seem like it. No, it does not. I feel inclined to deny it. I do not wonder; your grief is exceeding great; but—God is love. Who says so? I do. On what authority? My own experience; I have dug a grave as deep as you, and I thought just as you are thinking now; I said there are a thousand happy families, and one of the children might have been taken, but I had only one. That was a thousand strokes in one laceration, and I, brother in grief, fellow-mason in tears, I say, God-is-love.1 [Note: J. Parker, The City Temple Pulpit, iii. 239.]

I was at Doulton’s wonderful art works the other day, and saw one superb specimen of art—an illustration of a dream of Dante’s. I was admiring the figure of Beatrice—the exquisite workmanship, the pose and grace of the figure. “Ah,” said the gentleman who was showing it to me, “that has to be fired three times yet; those colours must be made permanent.”2 [Note: J. M. Jones, The Cup of Cold Water, 165.]

5. God’s love is a sufficient guarantee for the future.—Our immortality is a necessity to God. Love cannot let us die. Man is God’s child. Therefore God has set His heart upon him, and visited him every day. In the house of the rich man there are many treasures—rare books, costly pictures, splendid marbles, shining gems; but the little child who bears his image and likeness, and who looks up into his face with smiling love, and who answers to his affections with tender heart, is the dearest jewel of them all. And there is no man or woman who would not see the great house blotted out by fire, and every treasure absolutely destroyed rather than that harm should come to one hair of that golden head. In the great house of God there are many treasures and jewels—stars and planets, suns and moons; but above them all God values His human child.

The sole hope of man is God. The sole hope of retaining God is in the absoluteness and the universality of the Divine love. His righteousness must be the righteousness of love. His wrath must be the holy wrath of love. His retribution must be the recompense of love. They are all determined, limited, described, if God is love, by love. If God is an eternal being, and if God is love, then the love of God is nothing less than an eternal thing. If God is universal and in communication with every human soul, then, when you bring these things together, it yields the truth that the eternal love of God extends eternally to every saint and sinner of the human race. There is no other issue, if it is true that God is love. The love of the Eternal for every human soul is an eternally enduring love. Its universality in space and time means its eternal endurableness, not only for poor and rich, for white and black, but for every sinner as well as for every saint, for the child who is the prodigal in the far country as well as for the brother obedient in the home. The door of hope is never closed by the Father’s hand.

Yea God is love! and this I trust,

Though summer is over and sweetness done,

That all my lilies are safe, in the dust,

As they were in the glow of the great, glad sun.


Yea God is love, and love is might!

Mighty as surely to keep as to make;

And the sleepers, sleeping in death’s dark night,

In the resurrection of life shall wake.

In Watts’ picture entitled “Love Triumphant,” Time and Death have companioned together throughout the ages; and they are at length overthrown and lie prostrate at the feet of Love. They appear as two vague figures wrapped in clouds; the man half recumbent, the woman lying prone on the ground; time in the form of the woman illumined with a bright light; death in the form of a man overshadowed by his own form, and knowing nothing of the secrets that are hidden in his stern keeping. Love appears as a mystic angel with hands outstretched and mighty wings lifted upwards, and a waving robe blown across his body by a strong wind, and clouds of glory round about him, mounting into the empyrean.1 [Note: H. Macmillan, G. F. Watts, 258.]

The manifestation of unselfish affection, or even the expression of it, is a token of a higher nature in man and a presage of immortality. Where there is a love stronger than death there must be a soul stronger also.2 [Note: John Ker, Thoughts for Heart and Life, 7.]

God

Literature

Banks (L. A.), Sermons which have Won Souls, 429.

Barton (G. A.), The Roots of Christian Teaching, 15.

Campbell (R. J.), A Truth for To-day, 53.

Carter (T. T.), The Spirit of Watchfulness, 206, 218.

Cooper (T. J.), Love’s Unveiling, 1.

Deshon (G.), Sermons for the Ecclesiastical Year, 254.

Drummond (J.), Spiritual Religion, 115.

Fowler (G. H.), Things Old and New, 29.

Fraser (J.), University Sermons, 288.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 1, 33.

Illingworth (J. R.), Sermons Preached in a College Chapel, 130.

Jeffs (H.), The Art of Exposition, 243.

Jones (J. M.), The Cup of Cold Water, 155.

Lewis (E. W.), Some Views of Modern Theology, 83.

Macfarland (C. S.), The Infinite Affection, 23.

Maclagan (P. J.), The Gospel View of Things, 165.

McLean (A.), Where the Book Speaks, 200.

Macleod (D.), The Sunday Home Service, 9.

Mauro (P.), Love and Light, 3.

Moore (A. L.), God is Love, 1.

Moule (H. C. G.), Christ is All, 149.

Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 123.

Parker (J.), City Temple Pulpit, iii. 233.

Pearse (M. G.), Short Talks for the Times, 1, 10.

Smith (W. C.), Sermons, 1.

Stockdale (F. B.), The Divine Opportunity, 25.

Story (R. H.), Creed and Conduct, 156.

Westcott (B. F.), Historic Faith, 29.

Wheeler (W. C.), Sermons and Addresses, 125.

Wilberforce (B.), Feeling after Him, 105.

Wilberforce (B.), Speaking Good of His Name, 197,

Examiner, Aug. 20, 1903, p. 180 (Jowett).


Verse 18

Love Casting Out Fear

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18.

1. St. John’s name does not call up before us the fiery zeal that stirs some to noble deeds, or the unfaltering faith that nerves others to meet danger, or the calm endurance that lifts others above pain and trial; though zeal, and resolution, and endurance are each and all so commonly the offspring and the evidence of love in the hearts of men. What St. John, for the most part, represents to our minds is love in its softer aspect. We often forget that he was Boanerges. We picture him to ourselves as the tenderest of men, and the most unselfish; at once the most ready to sympathize with and comfort others in distress and the most quickly responsive to affection shown by others for him. And so it is, not only with St. John, but with other characters also; we are apt to forget that other side, the necessary complement, of love—namely, courage, and resolution, and all that is akin to these. Often, when we see men soft and gentle, like St. John, we fail to remember that there must be a stronger side to their characters; just as, on the other hand, when we see men who are evidently cast in a sterner mould, we frequently forget that there may be—often, indeed, that there must be—warm springs of feeling within their hearts which we cannot see, to account for that strict or even rigid performance of duty which we can see.

2. But the love which he commends in this Epistle is not an emotion based upon mere feeling and impulse, or a passion having its roots and energy in the lower nature of man; it is a love entirely in subordination to principle, and sanctified by its hearty consecration to God. According to the Apostle, therefore, Christian love is elevated into the very highest type of spiritual chivalry. It is emphatically an affection based upon a reasoning perception of worth in the object of its choice, and hence it is a moral power, and not an unintelligent emotion of instinct or habit. In the fulness of its strength it has power to call forth forms of spiritual beauty more thrilling than any manifestation of mere animal passion. In Christian life it is a profound reality, being the true secret of man’s happiness and well-being.

Such is the love which the Apostle puts in opposition to fear. It is the “perfect love”—the love which is fostered with the truest sincerity, and from a purely unselfish motive—that has power to cast out fear. There is no fear in that great passion of the human soul which is called “the love of God”; for, on the contrary, it is instrumental in producing in the heart that beats and burns with it a blessing which surpasses all human anticipation. It is the prize and glory of the spiritual life, the master grace that enriches the fellowship of a soul with heaven. The modes of its action and the forms of its life are such as give it free and glorious course, and show, in proportion to its sincerity and intensity, how pre-eminently it is the conqueror of all fear.

In heaven, love will absorb fear; but in this world, fear and love must go together. No one can love God aright without fearing Him; though many fear Him, and yet do not love Him. Self-confident men, who do not know their own hearts, or the reasons they have for being dissatisfied with themselves, do not fear God, and they think this bold freedom is to love Him. Deliberate sinners fear but cannot love Him. But devotion to Him consists in love and fear, as we may understand from our ordinary attachment to each other. No one really loves another, who does not feel a certain reverence towards him. When friends transgress this sobriety of affection, they may indeed continue associates for a time, but they have broken the bond of union. It is a mutual respect that makes friendship lasting. So again, in the feelings of inferiors towards superiors. Fear must go before love. Till he who has authority shows he has it and can use it, his forbearance will not be valued duly; his kindness will look like weakness. We learn to contemn what we do not fear; and we cannot love what we contemn. So in religion also. We cannot understand Christ’s mercies till we understand His power, His glory, His unspeakable holiness, and our demerits; that is, until we first fear Him. Not that fear comes first, and then love; for the most part they will proceed together. Fear is allayed by the love of Him, and our love is sobered by our fear of Him.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, i. 303.]

3. The Apostle had just spoken of a day of judgment. To his mind there was something very real in that judgment, very decisive too. But the reality—the force of such reality—lay in this, that he did not project it into some distant future, else it would have lost much of its terribleness by such distance. He saw—and we, too, may see if we will—the judgment already set, and the books opened. There are days of our inner experience which are to us days of judgment, when we seem to stand at the bar of conscience, and meet face to face with God, who sits enthroned there. The secrets of our hearts are revealed to ourselves, and the searching eye of a Divine truth is set upon us. What strength or what boldness can we reach compared with that which comes from love? This appears to be the innermost thought of our writer. Love on the throne and in the heart gives fearlessness in every day of judgment. The soul finds shelter, not simply in its own affection, but in the Divine affection. It becomes a solace to us when most unfriended. Here is the perfection of Love, that it meets God with fearlessness. With all the dreadful things we may be able to trace in ourselves, and even at a time when most of all we feel we must be true to God, to be able to stand in the Eternal Light: this is the perfection of Love.

The most perfect example of love is our Lord Jesus Christ. And the most complete example of a being whose ruling disposition and principle is fear and hate, is the devil. Here are the two models—and we are all growing more like to one or the other of them. We are all, as the years go on, growing more loving, more trustful, more kindly in disposition, more liberal in almsgiving; or we are growing more fearful and suspicious, more grudging and mechanical in our performance of duty, money-loving and miserly, ruling ourselves in our daily life, not by love, but by fear.2 [Note: Literary Churchman, xxiv. 235.]

Mr. Robert E. Speer stopped from a British India steamer at Muscat to visit the Rev. Peter Zwemer, who was working there alone. Mr. Zwemer took his visitor up to his house, where, he said, his family were staying. There, sitting on benches about the room, were eighteen little black boys. They had been rescued from a slave-ship that had been coming up the eastern coast of Arabia with those little fellows, to be sold on the date plantations along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The British consul had seized them from the traders, and Mr. Zwemer had undertaken to keep them until they were eighteen years old, when they would be given their manumission papers.

“When I got them,” said Mr. Zwemer, “the whole eighteen huddled together in the middle of the floor, like jack-rabbits, and every time I came close, they huddled a little nearer. They mistrusted every one. On each little cheek-bone was the brand of the slave’s iron, and for months and months they had known nothing but hatred and beatings, and had been shut down in the hold of the slaveship, in order that they might make no noise and betray their presence.”

When Mr. Speer saw them they looked happy and confident, and they sang for him, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” looking as if the realization that all their blessings had come from that Divine Source had already sunk deep into their hearts.

I

The Inevitableness of Fear

1. There are different meanings attached to this word fear, which we must take account of. Let us remember that in its highest sense it is reverence, and the love that does not reverence is a coarse earthly thing. Worship is one of the essential attributes of a true love. Heavenly love is always a reverence for the object loved. It lays its ample treasure at the feet of the beloved. But fear also suggests alarm, disquiet, suspicion. Perfect love does not know, cannot reckon upon, these. How does this description apply to the spiritual affection about which St. John writes? Let the heart love God, and it cannot dread Him. Let the heart love, and it will cling where it loves. You cannot cling without sympathy.

Our love to God is full of clinging confidence in Him and sympathy with all His purposes. But love has to take some things upon trust. It cannot always read the meaning when it trusts the purpose of the beloved. Still less does it suspect. You cannot call that a perfect love in any of the human relationships which looks suspiciously, which is full of forebodings. Love trusts—trusts always.

Augustine speaks of fear as the needle, sharp and painful, but bringing in the thread; the needle passes, and the pain is gone, and then comes the thread which forms the union and joins the soul to God. So fear may begin the blessing to the soul; love perfects it, and then—fear all gone—it rises to filial confidence.1 [Note: J. B. Figgis, The Anointing, 76.]

2. In a world where everything has to struggle for existence fear is inevitable. One of the strangest things in the organization of this world is the prevalence of a universal destructiveness. We are taught, and we believe, that God is a God of benevolence. We are taught, and we believe, that the world was ordained for the production of happiness. Yet, when the Apostle says that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” every one who is conversant with history agrees with him. Every one who looks out into life and takes cognizance of the things that are going on—the silent sufferings, the secret mischiefs, the wastes, and the wails that spread throughout the whole human family—must feel that some defence is needed to make life tolerable or even possible. Now fear is the best defence of all the passions that are committed to men. If the world were all peaceful, fear would be a torment; but on the supposition that the world is full of antagonisms and destroying influences, and that life is to be maintained and developed in spite of the difficulties and dangers which surround everything and everybody, fear is a preservation.

Wherever there is evil to be seen, there is fear or the seed of fear; and evil is around us, and in us, on all sides, in this world of ours. Who can look around at the state of the world at any moment and not feel anxious at what we and our children may have to go through? Who has not things which he values as the apple of his eye, things to which he has always been accustomed—things which he believes to be bound up with all that is good and precious in life, things whose removal would make days for ever dark and unbearable—and yet does not see that they hang but on a thread; perhaps that what is to bring their ruin and overthrow has already begun to work? Who does not feel that change is the law and order of the world, and never more so than in our own days; and who does not feel that a change might easily come—in his circumstances, in his friends, in the neighbours among whom he dwells—which would make things very wretched to him? Every one who thinks and looks forward to what may be in the world, and in the country where he lives, must sometimes feel fear and anxiety coming over him, taking possession of him, and distressing him. What may I not live to see? What may I not live to see overthrown or set up? What calamities such as I hear of on all sides may I not have to taste of? Who can tell? To-day for one, to-morrow for the other, is the rule of fortune. And when these thoughts come into the mind, of the judgments and trials of God’s providence meeting us, we understand what is meant by the saying that “fear hath torment.”1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, iii. 258.]

3. Fear arises necessarily from our ignorance. A person altogether unacquainted with the operations of a machine, a steam-engine or the like, would fear to meddle with it, because it might do him injury in some way which he would have no reason to expect; an engineer by profession would have no such fear as this. What is the difference between the two? Clearly this, that one understands the action of the machine with which he has to do, and the other does not; the machine must be spoken of as dangerous or not dangerous, according to the training of the person concerned. So an honest man is in no fear of a judge, provided only that he knows the judge to be himself an honest man and a competent judge; if by any misfortune an innocent man were placed upon his trial, and he was well assured of the integrity and intelligence of his judge, he could not dread the result; but suppose that the judge, either from ignorance, or ill-temper, or party-spirit, or any other cause, were well known as a capricious man, one whose judgments could never be anticipated, because he would not be guided by the high rules of honour and the laws of evidence—who would not fear to stand before such a judge? The good and the bad must tremble alike; there could be no confidence, no one would be able to guess whether a man would be punished for an alleged crime or not. Let a ruler be as stern as he pleases in enforcing laws, yet if those laws be just, and the penalties of them known, no one need fear for his safety; but if the ruler be a tyrant, and if instead of acting according to law he act according to his own fancy, and treat his subjects in an arbitrary manner, then indeed he may well be feared (as all tyrants are) with that fear which has torment, which breeds hatred, and which can never be united with love.

The little pilgrim of the dawn has now the freedom of what Professor Sully calls “the realm of fancy.” In his active brain he has a magic wand which makes him master of creation. He fills the blank spaces between the zenith and the nadir with his imaginings; makes the woods fearful with wolves, discovers the haunts of fairies and tree-folk in holes under the tree roots, and associates the church, the barn, the lane, the brook, the gate, with the people and places of his story-books.

This realm is not only the land of fancy, but that of fetish. To one little fellow, born in Siberia, the great god Pan was a reality. At night he would say, “Bye-bye, Poo-ah!”—“Goodnight, Out-of-doors!” Another went in mortal dread of a feather from the eider-down or a fluff of the wool in which a banana had been packed, and he would flee with a yell when it moved towards him on a breath of air. Boy Beloved had an unpseakable horror of an indiarubber hot-water bottle, but if he had to pass near it, he would propitiate it with “Nice water-bottle!” and, watching it carefully, sidle out of danger.1 [Note: W. Canton, Children’s Sayings, 20.]

4. Fear is stirred by our wrong-doing. When we sin we cower before offended justice and regard God as a foe more terrible than Odin with his trenchant sword. Our thoughts of God grow darker as we grow in sin; and the awful aspect He seems to present to conscience darkens us like a shadow or deadens us like a pall. Human life is often like one of those great tragedies where, in the earliest scenes, a suspicion is infused of the darkness that is to deepen round the close. Unless the principles of Divine light and the powers of Divine love have wrought their influence upon the sinful heart, men carry about with them, everywhere and always, the consciousness of those dark secrets which linger from the earliest age of responsibility in the inmost recesses of the heart. Such a fear, always changing, always undermining, the joys and hopes of life, plants upon conscience its own growth, until sometimes it becomes an inquisitor with a whip of scorpions. To such men the very name of the God who governs the world is fear.

Of the state of his mind and heart in regard to religion at Harrow Cardinal Manning has left the following record:—“It was not a good time with me. I do not think I ever ceased to pray all through my time at Harrow. I said my prayers, such as I had learned, I suppose, from my mother. I had always a fear of judgment and of the pool burning with fire. The verse in Apocalypse Revelation 21:8 was fixed in my whole mind from the time I was eight or nine years old, confixit carnem meam timore, and kept me as boy and youth and man in the midst of all evil, and in all occasions remote and proximate; and in great temptations; and in a perilous and unchecked liberty. God held me by my will against my will. If I had fallen I might have run the whole career of evil. In the midst of everything I had a veneration for religion. The thought of it was sweet to me, and I lived in the hope and temptation of being religious one day before I died. I never went to church unwillingly; and I always liked hearing sermons, which was my state when I went to Oxford.1 [Note: E. S. Purcell, The Life of Cardinal Manning, i. 27.]

In darkest days and nights of storm,

Men knew Thee but to fear Thy form;

And in the reddest lightning saw

Thine arm avenge insulted law.


In brighter days, we read Thy love

In flowers beneath, in stars above;

And in the track of every storm

Behold Thy beauty’s rainbow form.


And in the reddest lightning’s path

We see no vestiges of wrath,

But always wisdom,—perfect love,

From flowers beneath to stars above.


See, from on high sweet influence rains

On palace, cottage, mountains, plains;

No hour of wrath shall mortals fear,

For their Almighty Love is here.2 [Note: Theodore Parker.]

5. Fear has an educative function. Fear of punishment, either as imminent or as distant, is not a false or bad principle of action in its own place, and for its own time. It is appropriate for the earlier stage of spiritual training. It is commonly called “servile”; but until a soul can realize its sonship, the servant’s position is the one it must occupy, and has at any rate the assurance of “bread enough” for present needs. A Psalmist could draw an illustration from the wistful looking up of slaves under chastisement, and the fear which “has punishment,” although in this sense “servile” is disciplinary; it marks a stage in the moral progress through which the supreme Educator, divinely equitable and patient, conducts His children by slow steps, in consideration of hearts not fully softened, and consciences not thoroughly enlightened, which, as yet, are unfit for a high religious standard.

The beginnings of morality and virtue are in fear; for, although men may finally be organized so highly that they shall work for the love of working, as men do that are in health of both body and mind, yet, in the beginnings, among low and rude people, men do not work because they like it. They bask lazily in the sun, and gorge themselves with food when they have it, and suffer the pangs of famine when they have it not. They learn to build houses, that they may not be exposed to the severity of the weather. They learn to cultivate the fields, that they may have food in winter. They are brought to habits of foresight and industry and regularity by the stimulus of fear. They are stimulated by the fear of suffering in themselves, and then by the fear of suffering in their households, when they begin to love them. It is fear that develops the human race in its earlier stages. It is fear that in the beginning promotes civilization. Fear is the strongest impulse towards improvement on the lower range in the scale of human life. Love is the highest element; but this is at the other extreme.

The filial relation is seen in its perfect shape only where a discipline is maintained and obeyed. Fear is the parent of love in the work of education. Such fear does not cast out love; it cherishes it and makes it a reasonable and a worthy love, based like all love worthy of the name upon reverence and honour. But this love in turn casts out that other fear of which St. John speaks—a fear which is born not of faith but of distrust; the fruit of ignorance, not of knowledge. “I know,” says the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” This is the calm and humble conviction of one in whom fear had been cast out by a perfect love. In Jesus Christ he had seen death abolished; for he had seen a sinful world reconciled to the Father; he had seen in Him life and immortality brought to light through the Gospel; and it had banished fear for ever.

It is said that the son of that profligate French prince Louis who is branded with the name of the “godless Regent” was, in his boyhood, deeply impressed by what his tutor told him about the punishments reserved for obstinate sinners. He grew up into manhood, serious, conscientious, pure in life, devout towards God, compassionate towards men. The fear of hell, as such, had done its work at the right time; it fairly burned out the germs of sinful passion; it prepared him, we cannot doubt, for a better spiritual condition at last attained. It may be so with many a youth who is not yet accessible to higher motives, but who believes that wicked ways lead to hell, and who therefore, in his own phrase, “keeps himself straight.” Is not this “fear” worth something? Bishop Andrewes, alluding to it, observes that it is “as the base-court to the temple”; and adds that a man must do his duty “for fear of punishment, if he cannot get himself to do it for love of righteousness.”1 [Note: William Bright, Morality in Doctrine, 215.]

The genial Principal of Glasgow University, in the course of a public speech a year or two ago, told this story. An old couple in his country parish had taken with them to church their stirring little grandson, who behaved all through the service with preternatural gravity. So much was the preacher struck with the good conduct of so young a listener that, meeting the grandfather at the close of the service, he congratulated him upon the remarkably quiet composure of the boy. “Ay,” said the old man with a twinkle in his eye, “Duncan’s weel threetened afore he gangs in.”2 [Note: Sir Archibald Geikie, Scottish Reminiscences, 88.]

Wouldst thou abolish quite strongholds of self and sin?

Fear can but make the breach for Love to enter in.3 [Note: R. C. Trench, Poems, 124.]

II

The Antagonism of Fear and Love

1. Love and fear are antagonistic passions, and the tendency of the one is to overshadow and extinguish the other. The love of God is declared in this text to be the victorious antagonist of that fear of sin which has torment in it. In general we can see without difficulty how the two, love and fear, do exclude one another. Pear is entirely based on a consideration of some possible personal evil consequence coming down upon us from that clear sky above us. Love is based upon the forgetfulness of self altogether. The very essence of love is, that it looks away from itself. It is thus free from that torturing and anxious thought, What will become of me? which makes the torment of fear as the sister of selfishness. It is because love is the going out of my heart, out of itself altogether, that it frees me at one sweep from all the torturing anxieties and trembling anticipations of personal consequences. Fill the heart with love, and there is an end to the dominion of fear.

There is no exorcist of fear like love. Longing for the good of another will carry one through fire and water.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 20.]

Our love wakes in the morning, unafraid

To meet the little worries of the day;

And if a haggard dawn, dull-eyed and grey,

Peers in upon us through the window shade,

Full soon love’s finger, rosy tipped, is laid

Upon its brow, and gloom departs straightway.

All outer darkness melts before that ray

Of inner light, whereof all love is made;

Each petty trouble and each pigmy care.

And those gaunt-visaged duties which so fill

Life’s path by day, do borrow of love’s grace.2 [Note: E. W, Wilcox, Poems of Love and Life, 7.]

2. “Fear hath torment,” says the Apostle. Some artists have taken pleasure in painting monstrous forms—beings that never existed save in their own deranged imagination—things hideous to behold. Similar to this is the genius of fear; it opens its sombre canvas, spreads it out before the mind, covers it with phantoms of evils to come, filling the soul with anguish and misery. Thus it was with Job. When he could believe in the Divine goodness, hope dawned upon him, and he spoke cheerful words: “I know that my redeemer liveth.” “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” “When he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” But when he could not see God or realize His goodness, when his light was turned into darkness, fear returned, producing “torment,” by which it is always accompanied. Sometimes he is like a forsaken child, wandering hopelessly and alone at midnight in a desolate place, far from the habitations of men. He sighs for the light, but it comes not; feels after God, but He evades his touch. “O that I knew where I might find him!… I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him.” Again and again does the image of his great affliction pass before his mind, like the spectre in the vision of Eliphaz, creating a depth of misery which he endeavours in vain to express.

We have met with some who ought to have been bathing in the depths of the Divine love and sufficiency, suffering such torments as are described in Dante’s Purgatorio or Inferno. To what is this torment due? To an untrusting fear of God. They do not find any comfort in their thought of God; always speculating as to what God will think of this or that, they know not the blessed joy of an uncareful, God-delivered soul. One would say to such, do not think that God saves you only upon condition that you carry about with you in your very breast the torment of hell. As you believe the Divine love, cast this torment from you and come at once into the more perfect enjoyment of that Divine grace, which does not extend its favour to you because you are so good, but that it may make you better.1 [Note: G. J. Proctor.]

3. Love, unlike fear, inspires confidence. Love enlightens, purifies, and elevates the soul. We are influenced by the objects of our love. We cannot love a noble human character without in some degree becoming like that character; and if we love Christ, and God in Christ, we shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory. Love is fruitful in good works; it inspires the mind to keep the commandments of Christ, and imparts power to surmount the greatest difficulties, while fear takes away our strength, enervates the soul, and deprives us of our moral and spiritual energy. The marvellous labours and self-denial of the apostles are accounted for by the love that constrained them. It is, moreover, essential to acceptable service, for there is no virtue in that which is done from mere fear. A man doing his duty simply because he is afraid to leave it undone, resembles the crouching slave who works because the lash of the taskmaster hovers over his head, and is ready to descend the moment he desists; but he who obeys from love is like an affectionate child who hastens to do his father’s will because obedience is to him a real delight.

On a lonely moorside, far from any other habitation, dwells a weakly woman, the wife of a powerfully built crofter. They live alone in their humble cot, the weakly wife entirely in the power of her strong husband. If he so willed he could do her grievous harm, but does she ever think of that? No, for perfect love casts out all fear. She rejoices in his strength because she has perfect confidence in his love, she cannot fear because she knows and believes fully the love that he has for her. All this you say is perfectly natural. Certainly, and is it not just as natural that we should, when we are joined in covenant relationship with God, trust Him as fully and realize that any feeling of fear is simply impossible, because we know and believe the love which He hath toward us?1 [Note: C. O. Eldridge, in The Preacher’s Magazine, 1894, p. 318.]

4. The love which casts out fear is not a vague emotion towards an unknown God; nor is it the result of a man’s willing that he will put away from himself his hatred and his indifference, and will set himself in a new position towards God and His mercy: but it rises in the heart as a consequence of knowing and believing the love which God hath to us. Hence, again, it is the conqueror of fear. That flowed from conscience trembling before the half-seen face of the Divine Judge. This comes when the eyes are opened to behold the full Divine mercy in the face of Jesus Christ and there to see that God hath no anger, but is infinite Love. It is not by any power in our love to appease the stingings of sin that we get rid of the fear. We lose it because our love comes from apprehending that great Gospel and blessed hope, that God’s love is ours, ours in His Son, ours that our love may be perfectly fixed upon it, ours without disturbance from any of His awful attributes, ours without fear of loss or harm from any events. Believing this, the heart fills with a mighty tide of calm responding love which sweeps away on the crest of its rejoicing wave, the vileness, the sorrows, the fears, which once littered and choked the channels. They are flooded out, and the heart is delivered.

A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. There are hundreds of professing Christians who know very little indeed of that joyous love of God which swallows up and makes impossible all dread, who, because they have not a loving present consciousness of a loving Father’s loving will, tremble when they front in imagination, and still more when they meet in reality, the evils that must come, and who cannot face the thought of death with anything but shrinking apprehension. There is far too much of the old leaven of selfish dread left in the experience of many Christians. “I feared thee, because thou wert an austere man, and so, because I was afraid, I went and hid my talent, and did nothing for thee” is a transcript of the experience of far too many of us. The one way to get deliverance is to go to Jesus Christ and keep close by Him.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, 303.]

5. The love which casts out fear heightens reverence. There is a fear which is the foundation of all religion, and which is the abiding duty of Christian men. And it is worth noticing how love, which casts out dread, and makes us cease to be afraid of God, perfects reverence and makes us venerate with holy awe far deeper than ever subsisted by the side of terror, and yet makes us stand much nearer to God than when we were slaves, and crouched before the image of Him which conscience set up. A man who is trembling about personal consequences has no eye to appreciate the thing of which he is afraid. There is no reverence where there is desperate fear. He that is trembling lest the lightning should strike him has no heart to feel the grandeur and to be moved by the solemn awfulness of the storm above his head. And a man to whom the whole thought, or the predominant thought, when God rises before him, is, How awful will be the incidence of His perfections on my head! does not and durst not think about them and reverence Him. Perfect love takes out of the heart all that bitter sense of possible evil coming on one and leaves one at liberty, with thankful, humble heart, and clear eye, to look into the centre of the brightness and see there the light of His infinite mercy. Love destroys slavish fear, and perfects that fear which is reverence.

He seemed to bear about with him a certain hidden, isolating, constraining, and ennobling fear, which quenched the dazzling light of many things that attract most men; a fear which would have to be clean got rid of before time-serving or unreality could have a chance with him. Whatever that fear was it told upon his work in many ways; it helped him, probably, in great things to be unworldly; it sustained with an imperious and ever-present sanction his sense and care for perfect justice, in act and word, in his own life and in his verdicts on the past: and it may well have borne part in making his style what it was: for probably few men have ever written so well and stayed so simply anxious to write truly.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Dean Church, xxii.]

III

The Expulsion of Fear

1. One way of trying to banish fear is levity or indifference. There is nothing more striking than the power we have of forcing ourselves to forget because we know that it is dangerous to remember—that strange power which a man has of refusing to think of a subject because he knows that to think of it would be torture and terror. It is a strange faculty that we all have of forgetting unwelcome thoughts and shutting our eyes to the things that we do not want to see, like Nelson when he put the telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen because he would not obey the signal of recall. But surely it is an ignoble thing that men should ignore or shuffle out of sight with inconsiderateness the real facts of their condition, like boys whistling in a churchyard to keep their spirits up, and saying “Who’s afraid?” just because they are so very much afraid.

One of our poets gives a grim picture of a traveller on a lonely road, who has caught a glimpse of a frightful shape close behind him,

And having once turned round walks on,

And turns no more his head.

The dreadful thing is there on his very heels, its breath hot on his cheek; he feels it though he does not see, but he dare not face round to it, he puts a strong compulsion on himself, and with rigidly fixed face, strides on his way, a sickening horror busy with his heart. An awful image that, but a true one with regard to what many men do with their thoughts of God! They know that that thought is there, close behind them. They feel sometimes as if its hand were just coming out to be laid on their shoulders, and to top them. And they will not turn their heads to see the Face that should be the love, the blessedness, the life of their spirits, but is—because they love it not—the terror and freezing dread of their souls.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

2. It is “perfect” love that casts out fear. The more devotedly the heart clings to God the more complete will be its victory over fear. The more we love God the more we grow like God. He that loveth not knoweth not God. He that is born of God loveth. He that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. “If there were not something sunny in the eye,” says Goethe, “it could not see the sun”; so if there be no love within our hearts, we can never know God, for He is love, and we can know Him only as we love Him. If our love is not a reflection of His love, if it is so weak and feeble that, when the cloud passes over it and darkens the sunlight, it cannot keep our heart from failing because of fear; then let us look up to Him who is our life, and seek that gift of love which He alone can bestow, and the dominion of fear will end.

The most effectual and permanent remedy for any passion is to give power enough to its opposite to control it. We see empirical cases of this. For instance, mirthfulness stands over against combativeness. A man who has humour and sees things in a mirthful light escapes destructiveness and combativeness more easily than anybody else. A child is angry and hateful, and strikes back; but the nurse sets a little monkey jumping, and he laughs; and that minute the child’s temper is all gone. The two elements cannot reign together. The nurse, empirically, has fallen upon the right philosophy. In the whole range of life, over against the causes of fear are the opposites; and by keeping them alive and in full play a man can control fear more easily than by direct and specific acts of the will.

We find that medicine acts in the same way. If a person is under the influence of overwhelming grief the physician orders a change of place, or association, or occupation. A new class of influences is brought into play, and they cure or medicate the trouble. So all the things that tend to courage, to hope, to trust, to mirthfulness, to gaiety, whatever elements are radiant in the human mind, are the natural born doctors of the things in the human mind that are dusky, low-browed, and care-pierced.2 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]

3. The way to perfect love and freedom from fear is the old way of obedience. Before we can love God truly we must first have learned to obey His will even in the smallest duties of our life. We so often begin the other way. We look right away from the little duties, from the common everyday work, which we ought to love, from the friendships which we ought to be making here, and think we can know at once what is meant by loving God. And how often, as the years go on, we fail; and know that the reason for our failure was that we had not yet learned the meaning of Christ’s words, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”—those words which should teach us that we cannot know what perfect love is until we know something of love in its simplest form, as love for our work and love for those around us. Only that love which has its roots in perfect obedience and simple trust is strong enough to cast out fear.

I remember the instance of a pale woman who taught a village school in summer. One rude boy tried her very soul, and there was a strife of some weeks before she gained the ascendancy; and some months passed by before her spirit conquered his, and he became, not an abject servant, but the servant of love; so that, although he was stronger than a dozen of her physically, though he had the power rudely to discompose her spirit, and stamp out the order of the school, not her shadow moved more obediently to her movements than he did to her wishes; for he loved her. That which in the beginning she compelled him to do, and which he did very poorly, he afterwards did with eagerness and a great deal better. For the inspiration of love, when men are prepared for it, is a nobler inspiration than that of fear. It is more comprehensive, more fruitful, more beneficent. And while it has its efficiency in this life, it has the promise, the signet, the earnest of the life which is to come.1 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]

4. Perfect love rests on the bosom of Christ, and looks forward to the day of judgment without apprehension. That is the particular thought which this text enshrines. Love God, and fear not, the Apostle seems to say, for now we know to what inconceivable lengths God’s love for us has gone. The crown and perfect work of our love of God is shown in this, that it enables us to look forward even to the dreadful day of judgment with courage and boldness. The terrors and sufferings which may come upon us here in our mortal life, are light and trifling compared with the horror which must fall upon all things in that closing day of doom. But even of that, the soul which loves and cleaves to God can face the thought, can wait for it with calmness and quiet. For why? Because as He is, so are we in this world. Because we are here on the side of God. Because they who love God are, as God is, on the side of good, of truth, of holiness, which God must and will one day make victorious.

Think of St. John himself, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the disciple whose one hope and longing in the world was to see the Kingdom of his Master, and to rejoice with Him in glory, whom he had loved in the bitter day of defeat and shame. He was the disciple who felt his whole heart beat with the heart of his Master; who knew that what Jesus Christ loved, he loved too; that what Jesus Christ worked for, he himself was ready to die for; that what Jesus Christ counted sin and abomination, that he himself loathed as an accursed thing. He felt that after having known Jesus Christ and His love, all that this world could offer him was not worth a thought; he lived in the mind of Jesus Christ about eternity and the things of time, and felt that all the greatness, and glory, and beauty of this world was only that which his Master had despised and trampled on. With what thoughts of things to come would such a man live? What would he fear of sorrow, or perplexity, or loss, or pain, or death? What would the worst evils which can visit man be to him who lived in the love of Jesus Christ, on whose bosom he had leaned at supper—who was now at God’s right hand? What to St. John, personally, would be all the woes and plagues which—when in the isle of Patmos he saw the vision of the future—he beheld gathering upon the world of the ungodly? He might tremble, he might pity, he might weep for others; but in the earthquake, and pestilence, and storm, and death, what fear for himself? To him the day of judgment was the day of Christ, it was the coming back and appearance of his beloved and departed Lord, the beginning of that kingdom of glory for which he daily waited and daily prayed. Awful as it was, he could have boldness when it came. He was ever abiding in Christ and His love, that, as he says elsewhere, when his Master should appear, he might have confidence, “and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, iii. 262.]

O thou that walkest with nigh hopeless feet

Past the one harbour, built for thee and thine,

Doth no stray odour from its table greet,

No truant beam from fire or candle shine?


At his wide door the host doth stand and call;

At every lattice gracious forms invite;

Thou seest but a dull-grey, solid wall

In forest sullen with the things of night!


Thou cravest rest, and Rest for thee doth crave,

The white sheet folded down, white robe apart.—

Shame, Faithless! No, I do not mean the grave!

I mean Love’s very house and hearth and heart.

Love Casting Out Fear

Literature

Ainger (A.), Sermons in the Temple Church, 101.

Banks (L. A.), John and his Friends, 143.

Bright (W.), Morality in Doctrine, 209.

Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, iii. 258.

Cox (S.), Expositions, i. 364.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, ii. 247.

Figgis (J. B.), The Anointing, 67.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 43.

Goodwin (H.), Parish Sermons, iv. (1856) 48.

Gregory (B.), Perfect in Christ Jesus, 104.

Hart (H. G.), Sermons Preached in Sedbergh School Chapel, 20.

Kingsley (C.), Village, Town and Country Sermons, 341.

Lushington (F. de W.), Sermons to Young Boys, 9.

Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 194.

Maclaren (A.), Triumphant Certainties, 296.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 161.

Temple (F.), Sermons Preached in Rugby School Chapel, ii. 47; iii. 212.

Trench (R. C.), Westminster and Other Sermons, 32.

Christian World Pulpit, ii. 355 (Bainton); iii. 212 (Beecher); xiv. 195 (Proctor); xxi. 84 (Beecher).

Church of England Magazine, xxiii. 112 (Ayre); xliv. 67 (Morris).

Literary Churchman, xxiv. (1878) 235.

Preacher’s Magazine, v. (1894) 317 (Eldridge).


Verse 19

The Ray and the Reflection

We love, because he first loved us.—1 John 4:19.

Some truths, when we have learned them, are to us like precious jewels which we keep in caskets, hidden most of the time from sight, our great satisfaction regarding them being simply their possession, simply that they are ours. Other truths, when we have learned them, are like new countries into which our lives have entered, and in which they thenceforth constantly live. There is a new sky over our head and a new earth under our feet. They fold themselves about us and touch every thought and action. Everything that we do or think or are is different because of them. Of this second sort is the truth of the priority of God’s love.

I think I might say of this sentence what the poet says of prayer: it is “the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try,” and yet it is one of the “sublimest strains that reach the majesty on high.” Take a little believing child and ask her why she loves the Saviour, and she will reply at once, “Because He loved me and died for me”: then ascend to heaven where the saints are perfect in Christ Jesus and put the same question, and with united breath the whole choir of the redeemed will reply, “He hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” When we begin to love Christ we love Him because He first loved us; and when we grow in grace till we are capable of the very highest degree of spiritual understanding and affection, we still have no better reason for loving Him than this, “Because he first loved us.”1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

I

God’s Love to us

1. God is first.—Unless God had been first, we—our whole human race in general and each of us in particular—never would have been at all. We are what we are because He is what He is. Everything that we do God has first made it possible for us to do. Every act of ours, as soon as it is done, is grasped into a great world of activity which comes from Him; and there the influence and effect of our action is determined. Everything that we know is true already before our knowledge of it. Our knowing it is only the opening of our intelligence to receive what is and always has been a part of His being who is the universal truth. Every deed or temper or life is good or bad as it is in harmony or out of harmony with Him. Everywhere God is first; and man, coming afterward, enters into Him and finds in God the setting and the background of his life. If we love, He loved first.

It is as when up the morning sky, all coldly beautiful with ordered ranks of cloud on cloud, is poured the glow of sunrise, and every least cloud, still the same in place and shape, burns with the transfiguring splendour of the sun. So is it when the priority of existence is seen to rest in a Person, and the background of life is God. Then every new arrival instantly reports itself to Him, and is described in terms of its relationship to Him. Every activity of ours answers to some previous activity of His. Do we hope? It is because we have caught the sound of some promise of His. Do we fear? It is because we have had some glimpse of the dreadfulness of getting out of harmony with Him. Are we curious and inquiring? It is that we may learn some of His truth. Do we resist evil? We are fighting His enemies. Do we help need? We are relieving His children. Do we love Him? It is an answer of gratitude for His love to us. Do we live? It is a projection and extension of His being. Do we die? It is the going home of our immortal souls to Him.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, The Light of the World, 45.]

2. The love of God to us precedes our love to God.—From all eternity the Lord looked upon His people with an eye of love, and as nothing can be before eternity, His love was first. He loved us before we had any being, before we had any desire to be loved, before any repentance on our part was possible. Divine love is its own cause, and does not derive its streams from anything in us whatsoever. It flows spontaneously from the heart of God, finding its deep wellsprings within His own bosom. This is a great comfort to us, because, being uncreated, it is unchangeable. If it had been set upon us because of some goodness in us, then when the goodness was diminished the love would diminish too. If God had loved us second and not first, or had the cause of the love been in us, that cause might have altered, and the supposed effect, namely, His love, would have altered too; but now, whatever may be the believer’s condition to-day, however he may have wandered, and however much he may be groaning under a sense of sin, the Lord declares, “I do earnestly remember him still.”

Strictly speaking, the words of the Apostle only declare the priority of the Divine love towards us over ours towards Him. But we may fairly give it a wider meaning, and say—first of all, before creation and time, away back in the abysmal depths of an everlasting and changeless heart, changeless in the sense that its love was eternal, but not changeless in the sense that love could have no place within it—first of all things was God’s love; last to be discovered because most ancient of all. The foundation is disclosed last when you come to dig, and the essence is grasped last in the process of analysis. So one of the old psalms, with wondrous depth of truth, traces up everything to this, “For his mercy endureth for ever.” Therefore, there was time; therefore, there were creatures—“He made great lights, for his mercy endureth for ever.” Therefore, there were judgments—“He smote great kings … for his mercy endureth for ever.” And so we may pass through all the works of the Divine energy, and say, “He first loved us.”

We may say of the silvered sea that it shines because the moon sheds upon it its silvery light. We may say of the full-orbed moon that she shines in soft beauty because she reflects the glory of the far-absent sun. But of the sun we can only say that it shines because it shines. We know of no eternal sources from which it draws its glory. So it is with the great heart of God. He loves, because He loves. “He first loved us.”1 [Note: W. E. Burroughs.]

If you look on the buds on the trees in the spring-time you will see they are all covered over with a gummy hard case, which keeps them from opening out. Well, there was a little bud like this and its little heart was dark and cold and uncomfortable. But one day the sunshine came streaming upon it, and it felt the hard case melt away from round it, and as the light grew brighter and warmer the case all melted away and the bud opened out into a beautiful blossom, and the fine, rich sunbeam found its way right into the little bud’s heart, then, when the bud saw the light it smiled and said, “See! see!—I have made the sun!” “Nay, nay, my child,” said a little sunbeam passing by, “you didn’t make the sun—it was the sun which made you. It was the sun which nourished you and cherished you, and opened your leaves and touched your heart. You should love the sun because the sun first loved you.”1 [Note: J. Reid Howatt, The Children’s Angel, 16.]

3. The love of God begets love in us.—One thing may be first and another second, and yet the first may not be the cause of the second, there may be no actual link between the two: but here we have it unmistakably, “We love, because he first loved us”; which signifies not merely that this is the motive of which we are conscious in our love, but that this is the force, the Divine power, which created love in us.

The meeting-point of God and man is love. Love, in other words, is, for the poet, the supreme principle both of morality and of religion. Love, once for all, solves that contradiction between them which, both in theory and in practice, has embarrassed the world for so many ages. Love is the sublimest conception attainable by man; a life inspired by it is the most perfect form of goodness he can conceive; therefore, love is, at the same moment, man’s moral ideal, and the very essence of Godhood. A life actuated by love is Divine, whatever other limitations it may have … God is Himself the source and fulness of love.

’Tis Thou, God, that givest, ’tis I who receive:

In the first is the last, in Thy will is my power to believe.

All’s one gift.


Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst Thou—so wilt Thou!

So shall crown Thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown—

And Thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave up nor down

One spot for the creature to stand in!2 [Note: Henry Jones, Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher, ch. vi.]

It is with love exactly as with life. You know that there has been a controversy in the field of science about the origin of life, which has raged for a considerable part of this century, and has only lately been settled. One school said that life was born of itself; the other that life must come from a Life without. One school, to take an illustration that makes it plainer, took an infusion of air, heated it to a very high temperature, put it into a flask, sealed it hermetically, put it aside. A few weeks after the flask was opened; there was life inside it. Now, you see, they claimed this as spontaneous generation. The other side said, “It is not conclusive. You did not apply enough heat.” They heated it several degrees higher till there could not possibly have been any existing germs of life within the flask. They opened it after a lapse of time; there was no life. And now they accept this truth, life alone can propagate life. Life cannot spring into existence, it must be communicated. It is exactly the same thing with regard to love. You cannot make the black coals on your hearth burst into flame until you apply a light. If you want to love, you must wait till love comes from without. There is just one source of love, and that is God. And there can be no love in the human heart till the love of God comes in and creates it there. It must come by a genesis, not by spontaneous generation. We love because God has first loved us.1 [Note: J. Watson, in The Contemporary Pulpit, ii. 296.]

He seeks for ours as we do seek for His;

Nay, O my soul, ours is far more His bliss

Than His is ours; at least it so doth seem,

Both in His own and our esteem.


His earnest love, His infinite desires,

His living, endless, and devouring fires,

Do rage in thirst, and fervently require

A love ’tis strange it should desire.


We cold and careless are, and scarcely think

Upon the glorious spring whereat we drink.

Did He not love us we could be content:

We wretches are indifferent!


’Tis death, my soul, to be indifferent;

Set forth thyself unto thy whole extent,

And all the glory of His passion prize,

Who for thee lives, who for thee dies.2 [Note: Thomas Traherne.]

(1) But in order that the love of God may beget love in us there must be sufficient evidence of His love. What evidence have we? We have evidence enough of God’s love—at least for the ordinary experience of life—in the beauty of the world, the beneficence of nature, and all the joy of human intercourse.

Mazzini crossed the St. Gotthard with some danger. “The scene,” he wrote back to England, “was sublime, Godlike. No one knows what poetry is, who has not found himself there, at the highest point of the route, on the plateau, surrounded by the peaks of the Alps in the everlasting silence that speaks of God. There is no atheism possible on the Alps.”1 [Note: Bolton King, Mazzini, 116.]

One who went with Dr. McLaren to the Isle of Wight writes: “I saw during our walks on one or two lovely mornings that wonderful light in his eyes, his lips slightly parted, his face almost transfigured, a look of ecstasy as he gazed lovingly (no other word will do) at the minute flowers covering the merest cranny in the moss-grown walls by the roadside. He said no word, but one could see that he was worshipping at the ‘Temple’s inner shrine.’”2 [Note: Dr. McLaren of Manchester, 46.]

Wilberforce did not do things by halves. What he did, he did with all his might. His likes and dislikes were strong. He felt strongly, and so he spoke and acted strongly. There were three things for which he evidently had an intense love: the Truth, Nature, Home. And if we were permitted to look for the underlying cause we should probably find it in a perfectly simple belief in the Fatherhood of God as revealed to us by our Lord. The truth was God’s truth. The world was God’s world. The home was God’s home.3 [Note: J. B. Atlay, Bishop Ernest Wilberforce, 234.]

(2) It is only when we come to the dark sad side of life that our faith begins to fail. And here the Incarnation takes up the thread of proof, not by removing the problem of the mystery of sorrow from our minds, but by revealing God Himself as willing to bear it with and for us, and so enabling our hearts to feel it the crowning testimony of His love. The soul that has reached this certitude needs no other motive to ensure its obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” But there are many who have not attained it, from fearing to make the initial venture of taking up their cross. With all their disbelief in miracles, they still seek after a sign. A sign, they must remember, cannot produce conviction; for conviction comes by obedience, and by that alone. But a sign may arrest attention, and lead to obedience in the end. And there is a sign which outsoars all other miracles, and grows only more wonderful as the ages pass along, and that is the empire of Jesus Christ over human hearts. He claimed it, and history has justified the claim. No other founder of religions, patriot, martyr, king, or saint, has ever claimed it or received it. In all history it is unique. Critics tell us that the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount were not original, and the suffering of Calvary no greater than what other men have borne, and even that the Gospel narratives are in many points inaccurate. But all these things, if granted, only force into stronger relief the wonder of the fact that Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, more than eighteen centuries ago, has inspired in every age, and among wholly diverse nations, in thousands after thousands of sinful and saintly hearts alike, not merely reverence for His memory, or sympathy for His sufferings, or enthusiasm for His cause, but a personal, passionate, living adoration, passing the love of woman; and characterized by a finality, a restfulness, a peace, which finite objects of affection never can afford. That this is so is a fact beyond the reach of controversy, and a fact which defies explanation on any other view than that Jesus Christ is God—the Infinite and therefore adequate Object of human love, the desire of all nations, who alone could say, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.”

Like the skilfully painted portrait which seems to look at each individual in a crowded room, the Saviour on the Cross appears to gaze on me. I listen in the silence, and He, as it were, addresses me, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love,” and as I look I reply in wonder, “He loved me, and gave himself for me!” And this love becomes a double bond, uniting with his Lord and Master the Christian’s heart and life.

Love has a hem to its garment

That touches the very dust,

It can reach the stains of the streets and lanes,

And because it can, it must.

(3) But if the highest manifestation of the love of God is seen in the cross of Christ, then God loves us not because of our deserving but of His grace. In our natural desire to ascertain the cause of things, we can generally give a good reason why we love this person or that. A relationship—husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend—is quite enough to account for it; or it may be in his nature or conduct that we see what causes our love to go out to another. These reasons may be often inadequate, sometimes even unworthy, but they satisfy our desire to trace the emotion to its originating cause. And when we are asked to believe that God loves us, even us, we are led at once to ask, Why? Why should God love me? And if we know even a little of Him or of ourselves—His greatness and our littleness, His glory and our poor estate, His holiness and our sinfulness—we have ample ground for doubting the fact. We fail entirely to account for it, and so we disbelieve it. If we were good, we say, the good God would love us. If we were holy, the Holy One would love us. Perhaps this is the earliest theology most children learn: “If you are not good God will not love you!” “If you do that God will not love you!” As if sin, the child’s or the man’s, placed the sinner outside the sphere of the love of God. This heresy lies at the root of all false religions, and of all hypocrisies, that we must by our goodness win the love and favour of God; till we are “good” God will have nothing to say to us!

We are amongst savages of the very lowest type, caring for nothing but what satisfies the cravings of their fleshly lusts. Nevertheless, I love them, not because of any virtue in them, but for the sake of Him who died for them, as well as for us. And although it is not my lot to preach, and a thing I cannot do, yet I hope, while working with and among them, that my life and example will help to mould them to the likeness of our Lord and. Master.1 [Note: J. MacConnachie, An Artisan Missionary on the Zambesi, 77.]

“I love poverty,” says Pascal, “because He loved it. I love goods, because they enable me to succour the needy. I keep faith with all the world, I do not return evil for evil; and I would that those who wish me harm had reached a state like mine beyond the power of men to make or mar. I try to be true and just to all, and I feel peculiar tenderness for those to whom God has more closely bound me. In all my actions, public and private, I keep in view Him who will one day judge them, and to whom they are all offered up beforehand. Such are my feelings. Every day of my life I bless my Redeemer, who has implanted them within me. Out of a mass of weakness and misery, pride, ambition, and ill-will He has made a man freed from all these evils by the power of grace.”2 [Note: Viscount St. Cyres, Pascal, 229.]

II

Our Love to God

The Revised Version omits “him” in the first clause, and simply says “we love,” without specifying the object. That is to say, for the moment John’s thought is fixed rather on the inward transformation effected, from self-regard to love, than on considering the object on which the love is expended. When the heart is melted, the streams flow wherever there is a channel. The river, as he goes on to show us, parts into two heads, and love to God and love to man are, in their essence and root-principle, one thing.

1. Our love is the heart’s response to God’s love.—We love, because He first loved us. Our love is secondary, His is primary; ours is reflection, His the original beam; ours is echo, His the mother-tone. Heaven must bend to earth before earth can rise to heaven. The skies must open and drop down love, before love can spring in the fruitful fields. And it is only when we look with true trust to that great unveiling of the heart of God which is in Jesus Christ, only when we can say, “Herein is love—that he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” that our hearts are melted, and all their snows are dissolved into sweet waters, which, freed from their icy chains, can flow with music in their ripple, and fruitfulness along their course, through our otherwise silent and barren lives.

As the sun holds our planet in the strong grasp of its attraction, while the earth by its own very weak gravitation is also held in its place, so does the consciousness of God’s great love grasp and sustain my soul and my life; and then my own weak and feeble love to Him (itself the “first-fruits of the Spirit”) serves to “bind my wandering heart” to Him. I apprehend, though with poor and trembling hand, Him by whom I am apprehended with a hold which no other power can destroy. It is to this love that our Lord appeals as the motive of all obedience. Hence the tender, anxious, repeated inquiry, “Lovest thou me?” This love will account sufficiently for single actions and for whole lives. The perfumes which the woman poured upon the Saviour’s feet, and the “spikenard very precious” which the sister of Bethany lavished on her Divine Master, were prompted by a like love. The grandest human life of service and of suffering ever lived on earth is explained and accounted for in the words, “the love of Christ constraineth us.” “We love, because he first loved us.”

How all reasoning and arguing fails where one word of love softens, and influences, and does the work! and it is, as ever, by dwelling on the good rather than driving out the evil that the right thing is brought about.1 [Note: A. P. Stanley, Memoirs of Edward and Catherine Stanley, 308.]

The Holy Spirit cries in us with a loud voice and without words, “Love the love which loves you everlastingly.” His crying is an inward contact with our spirit. This voice is more terrifying than the storm. The flashes which it darts forth open the sky to us and show us the light of eternal truth. The heat of its contact and of its love is so great that it well-nigh consumes us altogether. In its contact with our spirit it cries without interruption, “Pay your debt; love the love which has loved you from all eternity.” Hence there arises a great inward impatience and also an unlimited resignation. For the more we love, the more we desire to love; and the more we pay of that which love demands, the greater becomes our debt to love. Love is not silent, but cries continually, “Love thou love.” This conflict is unknown to alien senses. To love and to enjoy, that is to labour and to suffer. God lives in us by His grace. He teaches us, He counsels us, He commands us to love. We live in Him above all grace and above our own works, by suffering and enjoying. In us dwell love, knowledge, contemplation, and possession, and, above them, enjoyment. Our work is to love God; our enjoyment is to receive the embrace of love.2 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, Ruysbroeck and the Mystics, 95.]

O eyes that strip the souls of men!

There came to me the Magdalen.

Her blue robe with a cord was bound,

Her hair with Lenten lilies crowned.


“Arise,” she said, “God calls for thee,

Turned to new paths thy feet must be.

Leave the fever and the feast,

Leave the friend thou lovest best:

For thou must walk in barefoot ways,

To give my dear Lord Jesus praise.”


Then answered I—“Sweet Magdalen,

God’s servant, once beloved of men,

Why didst thou change old ways for new,

That trailing red for corded blue,

Roses for lilies on thy brow,

Rich splendour for a barren vow?”


Gentle of speech she answered me:—

“Sir, I was sick with revelry.

True, I have scarred the night with sin,

A pale and tawdry heroine;

But once I heard a voice that said

‘Who lives in sin is surely dead,

But whoso turns to follow me

Hath joy and immortality.’”


“O Mary, not for this,” I cried,

“Didst thou renounce thy scented pride.

Not for a taste of endless years

Or barren joy apart from tears

Didst thou desert the courts of men,

Tell me thy truth, sweet Magdalen!”


She trembled, and her eyes grew dim:—

“For love of Him, for love of Him.”1 [Note: J. E. Flecker, Forty-Two Poems, 58.]

2. Our love is the necessary and moral result of our persuasion of God’s love to us.—It is a part of the ordinary constitution of our nature that we should love those who, we believe, love us. Sometimes far out at sea the sailor sees the sky grow tremulous and troubled. The cloud seems to be all unable to contain itself; its under surface wavers and stretches downwards toward the ocean. It is as if it yearned and thirsted for the kindred water. A great grasping hand is reached downward and feels after the waves. And then the sailor looks beneath, and lo, the surface of the waves is troubled too; and out from the water comes first a mere tremble and confusion, and then by and by a column of water builds itself, growing steadier and steadier, until at last it grasps the hand out of the cloud, and one strong pillar reaches from the sea into the heavens, from the heavens to the sea, and the heavens and the sea are one. So you must make man know that God loves him, and then look to see man love God.

What will you do if you are sent to carry the Gospel to your friend, your child? Will you stand over him and say, “You must love God; you will suffer for it if you do not”? When was ever love begotten so? “Who is God?” “Why should I love Him?” “How can I love Him?” answers back the poor, bewildered heart, and turns to the things of earth which with their earthly affections seem to love it, and satisfies itself in loving them. Or perhaps it grows defiant, and says, “I will not,” flinging back your exhortation as the cold stone flings back the sunlight. But you say to your friend, your child, “God loves you,” say it in every language of yours, in every vernacular of his, which you can command, and his love is taken by surprise, and he wakes to the knowledge that he does love God without a resolution that he will.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, The Light of the World, 49.]

It was early in his career that he happened one day to be alone for a few minutes with a young lady, who afterwards became the wife and active helpmate of a devoted minister of Christ in Edinburgh. In early life she had felt her need of a Saviour, and tried to become a Christian, but failed in finding the sinner’s Saviour. She looked too much into her own heart, and sought there, and sought in vain, for that kind and degree of conviction of sin which she thought to be necessary to fit her for coming to Jesus. As a natural result, she was almost reduced to despair. Mr. North, guided by the Spirit, on whose direction he constantly relied, and with that aptitude to understand the exact position of an anxious soul with which he was gifted, asked her if she was saved, and on her replying that she was not, he asked her, Why? and she answered, “Because I do not feel that I love Jesus.” He then said simply, “That does not matter, He loves you.” No other word was spoken, but this was enough, and was the means of leading her to trust in the Saviour’s dying love to sinners. She was enabled henceforth to rest in that love, and to follow Christ, and after a useful and happy life, closed it, in the beginning of 1877, by a very triumphant death.2 [Note: K. Moody-Stuart, Brownlow North, 406.]

3. And our love to God is the best evidence to ourselves that we are passed from death into life.

Robert Hall charmed the most learned by the majesty of his eloquence, but he was as simple as he was great, and he was never happier than when conversing with poor believers upon experimental godliness. He was accustomed to make his journeys on horseback, and having been preaching at Clipstone he was on his way home, when he was stopped by a heavy fall of snow at the little village of Sibbertoft. The good man who kept the “Black Swan,” a little village hostelry, came to his door and besought the preacher to take refuge beneath his roof, assuring him that it would give him great joy to welcome him. Mr. Hall knew him to be one of the most sincere Christians in the neighbourhood, and therefore got off his horse and went into the little inn. The good man was delighted to provide for him a bed, and a stool, and a candlestick in the prophet’s chamber, for that rustic inn contained such an apartment. After Mr. Hall had rested awhile by the fire the landlord said, “You must needs stop here all night, sir; and if you do not mind I will call in a few of my neighbours, and if you feel that you could give us a sermon in my taproom they will all be glad to hear you.” “So let it be, sir,” said Mr. Hall, and so it was: the taproom became his cathedral, and the “Black Swan” the sign of the gospel banner. The peasants came together, and the man of God poured out his soul before them wondrously. They would never forget it, for to hear Mr. Hall was an event in any man’s life. After all were gone Mr. Hall sat down, and there came over him a fit of depression, out of which he strove to rise by conversation with his host. “Ah, sir,” said the great preacher, “I am much burdened, and am led to question my own condition before God. Tell me now what you think is a sure evidence that a man is a child of God.” “Well, Mr. Hall,” said the plain man, “I am sorry to see you so tried; you doubt yourself, but nobody else has any doubt about you. I hope the Lord will cheer and comfort you, but I am afraid I am not qualified to do it.” “Never mind, friend, never mind, tell me what you think the best evidence of a child of God?” “Well, I should say, sir,” said he, “if a man loves God he must be one of God’s children.” “Say you so,” said the mighty preacher, “then it is well with me; I do love Him.”1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1876, p. 343.]

The opening paragraphs of Wesley’s Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion are perhaps the finest epitome of the ruling purpose of the Great Revival. The lifeless, formal religion of the time was a sad contrast to that religion of love which they had found. The love of God and of all mankind “we believe to be the medicine of life, the never-failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world, for all the miseries and vices of men. Wherever this is, there are virtue and happiness going hand in hand. There is humbleness of mind, gentleness, long-suffering, the whole image of God, and at the same time a peace that passeth all understanding, and joy unspeakable and full of glory.”2 [Note: J. Telford, The Life of John Wesley, 112.]

III

Our Love to Man

1. Man’s life expands when God’s love possesses it. It becomes as the universe. God is everywhere its occupant, and yet excludes not one particle of His infinite productions. We are not bidden to abstract all affections from the creature when bidden to love God “with all the heart, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and with all the mind.” It is a principle laid down by St. John—“Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” And therefore the way to increase in that love which alone deserves the name as being anything better than a development of selfishness, is to increase in love to God. Piety will produce charity. The more we love God the more will we love man.

Those thinkers who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it.1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles.]

2. We can show our love by loving service. Where the love of the Almighty has been excited, it will become a ruling principle, and manifest itself in every department of conduct. If we love God, it will necessarily follow that we will desire to please Him; that we will delight in contemplating His glories; that the sense of His favour will be our choicest treasure; and that, consequently, obedience to His will, and earnestness in winning others from their enmity, will be evident in our actions.

I think that it was at this time of his life that he used to go down every night of the week to the Grassmarket and convoy a man home past the public-houses.2 [Note: G. A. Smith, The Life of Henry Drummond, 114.]

But still, the main lesson which her lady-pupils carried away from Walsall was not how to dress wounds or how to bandage, or even how to manage a hospital on the most popular as well as the most economical method, but rather the mighty results which the motive-power of love towards God, and, for His sake, towards mankind, might enable one single woman to effect. Sister Dora said to a friend who was engaging a servant for the hospital, “Tell her this is not an ordinary house, or even hospital; I want her to understand that all who serve here, in whatever capacity, ought to have one rule, love for God, and then I need not say love for their work. I wish we could use, and really mean, the word Maison-Dieu.”1 [Note: M. Lonsdale, Sister Dora, 102.]

One night she was sent for by a poor man who was much attached to her, and who was dying of what she called “black-pox,” a violent form of small-pox. She went at once and found him almost in the last extremity. All his relations had fled, and a neighbour alone was with him, doing what she could for him. When Sister Dora found that only one small piece of candle was left in the house, she gave the woman some money, begging her to go and buy some means of light, while she stayed with the man. She sat on by his bed, but the woman, who had probably spent the money at the public-house, never returned; and after some little while the dying man raised himself up in bed with a last effort, saying, “Sister, kiss me before I die.” She took him, all covered as he was with the loathsome disease, into her arms, and kissed him, the candle going out almost as she did so, leaving them in total darkness. He implored her not to leave him while he lived, although he might have known she would never do that. It was then past midnight, and she sat on, for how long she knew not, until he died. Even then she waited, fancying, as she could not see him, that he might be still alive, till in the early dawn she groped her way to the door, and went to find some neighbours.2 [Note: Ibid. 52.]

3. The more we love others and make our love manifest in our life, the more will we persuade them of the reality of love and therefore of the love of God. Our age is remarkable for triumphs of mercy, and not the least of the blessings which the merciful have rendered to us is that they have shown disinterested virtue to be possible. He who ennobles himself ennobles his race, draws away many a wavering recruit from the seat of the scorner, giving him an ideal and a hope in life. Ask those who have thus elevated their generation whence they drew their inspiration, and they will one and all reply: “We love, because he first loved us.” They will say: If we have taught our soldiers and sailors to keep their bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity; if we have cleansed and clothed the waifs and strays of our modern Babylons and sent them forth as welcome colonists to subdue the virgin lands of our empire; if we have rescued woman from corruption and slavery; if we have carried thrift and peace and purity into the lowest dens of misery—we were but following Him who promised rest to the weary and heavy-laden. If our light shines before men, if they see any good works in us, let them glorify not us, but our Father which is in heaven, the Sun of all our day, from whom every good and perfect gift descends. We are unprofitable servants: we have done but a scantling of our duty. We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. If He, the Lord and Master, washed our feet, we also ought to wash one another’s feet. It is the part payment of a debt.

To many a man the strongest force for good has come by his finding out that some one loves him and trusts him far more than he has ever deserved. He discovers or slowly realizes that some one better, purer, nobler than himself cares for him, believes in him, loves him; and the discovery makes him ashamed of his unworthiness and ingratitude: it gives him a new hope, a higher standard for life. He has been content, perhaps, to be no better than the most easy-going, the least particular of his set; and then he finds out that a pure, true heart—his mother’s, it may be, or his wife’s, or his child’s, or his friend’s—is pouring out on him its wealth of love and trust, thinking him good, expecting great things of him, ready to wait or toil or suffer for his sake: some special occasion, it may be, or some side-light lets him see how deeply and generously he is cared for; and he begins to say to himself that it’s rather a shame to go on as he does. There must be some hope for him, some power or way for him to grow better, if people care for him, believe in him like that; anyhow, it’s a shame not to try to be a bit more like what their love makes them think he is. And so he tries; and, because they first loved him, he learns to love; he begins to live a steadier, purer, more unselfish and dutiful life: a life in which love springs up higher, stronger, happier, like a tree growing in the soil that suits it.1 [Note: F. Paget, The Redemption of War, 58.]

It was in the fall of 1859 that my future husband, then a young man of about twenty-one years, came to our section to teach school, where he used his talents and influence for the good of all with whom he came in contact. He was an excellent teacher, loved and respected by parents and pupils alike. He soon found his way to my father’s and mother’s home, for the former teachers had not been strangers there. He said afterwards that when he saw me for the first time that day in my own home, he determined that I should be his. The task proved to be not as easy as may have seemed; but he had made up his mind, and, as in after-years in more important matters, when he won in spite of difficulties, so it was then. He poured forth his wealth of love and affection and compelled me to love him in return as I had never loved before. Of course we had to wait, but the time did not seem long. It was unalloyed bliss. Three years of school, of walks and talks, and when he left for college there were the letters, the visits, the hopes and aspirations and preparations, and with all at times a tinge of sadness lest I was not quite worthy of it all.1 [Note: Mrs. Robertson, in The Life of James Robertson, 25.]

So they began to show him every possible kindness, and one after another helped him in his daily tasks, embracing every opportunity of pleading with him to yield to Jesus and take the new path of life. At first he repelled them, and sullenly held aloof. But their prayers never ceased, and their patient affections continued to grow. At last, after long waiting, Nasi broke down, and cried to one of the Teachers,—“I can oppose your Jesus no longer. If He can make you treat me like that, I yield myself to Him and to you. I want Him to change me too. I want a heart like that of Jesus.”2 [Note: John G. Paton, ii. 278.]

There was one case of awful despair in a poor dying woman who refused to listen to any words of the mercy of God, saying only “too late, too late.” To her, Mr. Marriott devoted much care and many prayers. It seemed as though no impression could be made upon her. The cry went on—“too late, too late, too late for me.” But Mr. Marriott’s tender fervour to bring her to faith and trust in her Saviour prevailed at last. He said,—“But you do believe in the love of those around you, now that Jesus sends it to you?” With what seemed the last effort of life, she raised herself,—clasped her arms round the neck of the sister who was attending to her,—and kissing her answered,—“Yes, it is love.” The last struggle followed almost immediately and we heard her say, “Jesus, save me,”—the words he had entreated her to use. So his prayers had been heard. She died in hope and faith.3 [Note: J. W. Burgon, Lives of Twelve Good Men, i. 327.]

Upon the marsh mud, dank and foul,

A golden sunbeam softly fell,

And from the noisome depths arose

A lily miracle.


Upon a dark, bemired life

A gleam of human love was flung,

And lo, from that ungenial soil

A noble deed upsprung.1 [Note: L. M. Montgomery.]

The Ray and the Reflection

Literature

Banks (L. A.), John and his Friends, 152.

Brooks (P.), The Light of the World, 40.

Campbell (R. J.), City Temple Sermons, 122.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, v. 342.

Davies (J. Ll.), The Work of Christ, 205.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 54.

Girdlestone (A. G.), The Way, the Truth, the Life, No. 6.

Gregory (B.), Perfect in Christ Jesus, 104.

Gregory (J. R.), Scripture Truths made Simple, 64.

Howatt (J. R.), The Children’s Angel, 14.

Illingworth (J. R.), University and Cathedral Sermons, 87.

Jeffrey (R. T.), Visits to Calvary, 347.

Jones (T.), The Divine Order, 226.

Kingsley (C.), All Saints Day Sermons, 151.

Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 51.

Maclaren (A.), Sermons, ii. 216.

Maclaren (A.), Triumphant Certainties, 305.

Mayor (J. E. B.), Twelve Cambridge Sermons, 117.

Paget (F.), The Redemption of War, 58.

Pusey (E. B.), Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, 439.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvii. (1871) 481; xxii. (1876) 337; xlvii. (1901) 265.

Stockdale (F. B.), Divine Opportunity, 40.

Temple (F.), Sermons Preached in Rugby School Chapel, iii. 57.

Thomas (J.), The Dynamic of the Cross, 52.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons, 1st Ser. (1869), 227.

Voysey (C.), Sermons (1876), No. 36; (1884) No. 34; (1907) No. 10.

Walpole (G. H. S.), Life’s Chance, 81.

Christian World Pulpit, liv. 168 (Scott Holland).

Churchman’s Pulpit: 1st Sunday after Trinity: xxi. 481 (Grimley), 483 Moore; 18th Sunday after Trinity, xxxviii. 402 (Melvill).

Church of England Magazine, li. 80 (Burland).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., ii. 294 (Watson).

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-john-4.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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