THE LAW OF LOVE.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." -- Rom. 13:8, 9.
IN our last two lessons we have considered the law of faith, and the law of life, with an especial emphasis on the word law. In this lesson we will take up the law of love, and consider it in a similar manner. That is, we will try to get at the law of love's working, the essence or nature of love, as it were; its inherent and inevitable processes. Love is, I believe, as much a law as gravitation, and, if only we understand the way of its working, may be reckoned on as certainly as gravitation to produce its desired results.
The first law we would notice is that it is in itself the fulfilling of all other laws. "If there be any other commandment," Paul says, after enumerating some of the principal commandments given from Sinai, "if there be any other, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself." All laws, therefore, are included and fulfilled in the law of love; and it is, consequently, of the utmost importance to every one of us to discover what this supreme and all-inclusive law is.
"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. 5:14).
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).
The most essential law of love is here stated, that characteristic of it which makes it inclusive of all other laws, namely, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." It is the very nature of love that it cannot by any possibility work ill to its neighbor, knowing it to be ill. It is as impossible as it would be for the sun to give darkness instead of light. Love loves, and cannot therefore do anything contrary to love. It is not that it will not or ought not, but simply and only that it CANNOT. It is an absolutely inevitable law.
We must remember, however, that a great deal of what is called love ought really to be spelled s-e-l-f-i-s-h-n-e-s-s. People love their own enjoyment of their friends more than they love the friends themselves, and consider their own welfare in their intercourse with those they profess to love, far more than the welfare of the so-called loved ones. It has been said that we never really love any one until we can do without them for their good; and, measured by this test, how few there are who really love. How many lives are marred and made miserable by the selfishness of some relative or friend (too often, alas! a parent), who, under the plea of exceeding love, will not allow the least liberty of action in the loved ones, and will do everything possible to hinder their development in every line that does not conduce to their own personal pleasure, or is not agreeable to themselves. Surely such a course, however it may be disguised, can spring from nothing but pure unadulterated selfishness.
The law of love can never be a cherishing of self at the expense of the loved one, but must always be the cherishing of the loved one at the expense of self.
"Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (1 Cor. 10:24).
In considering the law of love, therefore, we must settle this fact first of all, that real love has no selfishness in it whatever. It never "seeks its own" good, but the good of the loved one. It forgets self; or, in other words, it reckons self to have no claims, and no rights, except the right to love, and to spend itself on those it loves. This is the way a true mother loves, with a self-forgetfulness that leads her to lay down her very life itself, if need be, for her children. This is the way Christ loved us while we were yet sinners, when He died for us. This is the sort of love the poet meant when he said --
"Love of God, of such great loving
Only mothers know the cost;
Cost of love, that, all love passing,
Gave itself to save the lost."
With this understanding of the "law of love," we will now consider that law in two aspects, namely, as it affects God's relations to us, and as it affects our relations to our fellow-men.
And, first, I would say that it is absolutely impossible for us to know God at all, unless we know something of what love is; for "God is love." He is as it were made out of love. Therefore, the Apostle says: --
"Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7, 8).
God is love; therefore love is the key to the mystery of God. He is not only loving, but He is infinitely more than that; He is love itself. The sun not only gives light, but it is light, the source, and centre, and very being of light itself; and this always, although the fact may be hidden from our eyes by clouds, or misrepresented by coloured or smoked glass.
We have all used the expression, "God is love," hundreds of times, no doubt; but I am afraid it has conveyed to our minds no more real idea of the facts of the case than if we had said, "God is wood."
If we would know God, therefore, we must know what love is; and then we must apply to God all the best and highest that we know of love. For God is absolutely under the law of love; that is, He is under an inevitable constraint to obey it. He alone of all the universe, because His very essence or nature is love, cannot help loving. We, alas! whose natures are not altogether composed of love, but are mixed up with a great many other things, can help loving, and very often do help it. And because this is the case with ourselves, we think it must also be the case with Him; and we torment ourselves with imagining that, because of our own especial unworthiness, He will surely fail to love us. What a useless torment it is! How little common-sense there is in it!
"And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).
More than anything else, we need to find out "the love that God hath to us." All difficulties, all anxieties, all fears, all perplexities, disappear when the soul has made this discovery. I say "find out," because the love exists just the same whether we know it or not, but we do not get the comfort of it, though we may get the good, unless we find it out.
This is plain common-sense. But I fear a great many people have an idea that they are obliged to create God's love themselves; and they try, therefore, in every possible way to accomplish the impossible feat. This mistake lies at the root of all asceticism and of all legal efforts. We are simply trying by these means to create love towards ourselves in the heart of God; forgetting in our foolishness that all love "is of God," and cannot come from any other source.
"For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7, 8).
One of the laws of love is that it loves for love's sake only, and not because of anything lovable in the object. How often we have seen mothers lavishing a wealth of love upon children who did not seem to others to possess one single lovable quality. One of my children once said to me, in a fit of remorse after a spell of naughtiness, "Oh, Mother, I do not see how thee can love such a naughty little girl as I am." And I replied, "Ah, darling, thee cannot understand. I do not love thee for what thee is, but I love thee for what I am. I am thy mother, and I love thee because of my mother-heart of love; and I should love thee just the same no matter what thee did. I should not love thy naughty, but I should love thee."
"The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bond-men, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:7, 8).
The Lord has not "set His love" upon us because of anything we are, nor because of anything we have done or can do. He has set His love upon us simply and only because it is a law of love to love that which it creates. He cannot help loving us. His love flows out of His own divine heart of love, exactly as a mother's love flows out of her mother heart upon her little helpless child. It is the "law of love" that it shall love for "love's sake only."
"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5).
Notice the order here. He loves first, and then He washes. He did not love us because we were washed, but He washes us because He loves us. This is the law of love.
If a darling child should be stolen from its mother, and carried by tramps into a life of dirt, and misery, and rags, and if that mother should one day discover it by the wayside, ragged and dirty, would she draw back in disgust and say, "Oh, do not ask me to love such a dirty child as that! Let it get washed; and then bring it to me, and I will love it." Ah, dear mothers, we know better than that! We know how we would rush to our child and clasp it in our arms, regardless of its dirt, and take it home to wash it and make it clean; and, although we might take more comfort in it after it was washed, we would not love it one bit better than we did while it was covered with rags and dirt.
"The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3).
Another law of divine love is, that it is everlasting. It has had no beginning, and can have no end. So little is this understood, that many people have a rooted conviction that God only begins to love them after they have shown Him that they love Him; and that He ceases to love them the moment they in any way displease Him. They look upon His love as a fickle sort of thing, not in the least to be depended upon, and are always questioning whether they may reckon it to be theirs or not.
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
Could we but really "perceive the love of God," we should never again know a moment of "fear," let the outlook be as dark or dangerous as it might. There is no fear in love; there cannot be in the very nature of things. Such is the "law of love."
We have in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians a wonderful exposition of the "law of love."
If we translate the word "charity" here, as it really is in the original, by the word "love," we shall more clearly understand these laws.
Love suffereth long.
Love is kind.
Love envieth not.
Love vaunteth not itself.
Love is not puffed up.
Love doth not behave itself unseemly.
Love seeketh not her own.
Love is not easily provoked.
Love thinketh no evil.
Love rejoiceth not in iniquity.
Love rejoiceth in the truth.
Love beareth all things.
Love believeth all things.
Love hopeth all things.
Love endureth all things.
Love never faileth.
This sort of love could not be spelled s-e-l-f-i-s-h-n-e-s-s!
Let us apply each one of these laws, then, in two ways: first, to define God's relations to us, and, second, to teach us what ought to be our relations to one another.
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35).
We all have an ideal as to what love between human beings ought to be, and we realise a sense of condemnation whenever we fail to come up to our standard. Now if it is true that we are to love one another as Christ loves us, the converse must be true also, that Christ must love us as we know we ought to love one another. In other words, the law of love from God to us is exactly the same as the law of love from us to one another; and what love demands from me to my brother or sister, is what love demands from God to me. This is a far more vital point than might appear at first, for wrong views of the love of God lie, I am convinced, at the root of most of our spiritual difficulties. We take the worst elements in our own characters, our selfishness, our impatience, our suspiciousness, our hard thoughts of one another, as the key to interpret God, instead of taking our best elements, of love, and self-sacrifice, and patience, as the key. And so we subverse every single law of love in our interpretation of God, who is love itself.
It is one of the laws of love that it suffereth long and is kind. Some of us understand this law in human relations, and will suffer and be kind toward our loved ones all our lives long. But when it comes to God, we think that, although we ought to suffer long, He cannot, and that He very easily gets impatient with our waywardness and our sin. As if such a thing were possible of God who is love!
Another law of love is, that it vaunteth not itself, and seeketh not its own; and wherever we see these elements manifested, we say of such so-called love that it is not really love at love, but only and wholly selfishness. And yet, by the strange perversion of things that seem to have somehow crept into our ideas of God, we think it all right to look upon Him as always seeking to vaunt Himself, and as being continually on the lookout for His own glory. We seem to think that self-seeking, which is so hateful in ourselves, is somehow all right in Him; forgetting that the "law of love" must be the same both for ourselves and for Him, and that what would be contrary to this law in us, would also be contrary to it in Him.
Still another law of love is, that it is not easily provoked, and that it thinks no evil, but beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things. We mothers understand this law, and are always thinking the best of our children, believing, and hoping, and enduring, until the end of our lives. If the child is naughty, we say, "Poor darling, she is sick;" or, "Poor boy, we must remember his temptations." But the same mother perhaps will think of God as if He were always looking out with an unfriendly eye for the least imperfection in herself, and were even putting the worst possible construction upon her motives, thinking evil of her even when she has really meant all right.
Another law of love is, that it never faileth. All other things are unstable, and are liable to fail at the critical moment; but love never. Nothing baffles it, nothing wears it out, nothing overcomes it. It is all-conquering and all-embracing.
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned" (Cant. 8:7).
We know that sometimes the love of poor human mothers is of this unquenchable sort, but have we ever really believed the love of God was? Could anything trouble us, if we did so believe?
Ah, dear friends, if we only knew it, the love of God is sweeping toward us in an all-victorious, unfailing flood of mighty tenderness, that is achieving for each one of His children magnificent results, whether they know it or not. It is one of the laws of love that it is absolutely compelled to do the very best it can for its loved ones. God then, because He is love, must be at this very moment doing the very best He can for each one of us, and must always have been doing so, and must always continue to do so. He is absolutely compelled to do it, because He is love. Things may look as hard or as disastrous as they please, but we, who know something of the "law of love," KNOW that all things are working together for our good, and are all ordered by tenderest love.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35-39).
Oh! let us be certain about God's love for us! I know that we are poor, weak, failing creatures, and that often we are so disgusted with ourselves as to feel as if God also must be disgusted with us. But we must not let in such thoughts. That is not the way of love in mothers, nor the way of love in God either. "Nothing can separate" love from its object. It is one of the laws of love that instead of being driven away, it is drawn closer by the needs of its loved ones. It takes their sins and sorrows upon itself, and cannot help doing so.
"In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isa. 63:9).
What a motherly God is here revealed to us! Have we ever half appreciated Him?
Having thus seen what the "law of love" is as it affects God's relations to us, let us now consider it in its application to our relations with one another.
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour" (Eph. 5:1, 2; see also John 15:12; 1 John 4:11, 12).
All we have said about the law of love applies here. We must "walk in love as Christ hath loved us." That "as" is a word of tremendous import. Do we know anything of its meaning experimentally?
"He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:9-11; see also 1 John 3:10-15).
Let us turn back to the sixteen laws of love given to us in 1 Cor. 13:4-8, and test our love for one another by them. For it is very evident that this love is an exceedingly vital matter in our soul-life. "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." Tested by the laws of love that we have been considering, who of us can say that he really loves?
All other gifts or graces are valueless in the sight of God, if this one grace of love is wanting. "Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." What becomes then of all the fine sermons preached from unloving hearts, or the eloquent discourses uttered by bitter lips?
But there is more than this. "Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing." Then what about the stern sectarian whose zeal for the Cause (with a capital C) leads him into such unloving words and actions?
But there is still even more. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." What then are we to think of a large part of the charities and so-called martyrdoms of Christians now-a-days, whose hearts seem set rather on judging than on loving one another?
It is of no use to shirk the question, dear reader. We must love our brethren with this divine, unselfish love, or, in spite of all our gifts, we are nothing but "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
Neither is it our brethren only that we are to love.
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).
The perfection here spoken of is the perfection of love. In order to be the "children of our Father," in the only true sense of this expression, namely, oneness of nature and character, we must love our enemies, for He loves His enemies. This exhortation of our Lord's would of course lose all its point if God did not love His enemies. To my mind no more tremendous assertion of God's universal love to all mankind, even to those who are His enemies, is made throughout the whole Bible than is incidentally contained in this passage. I am to love my enemies because God loves His. If He does not love His enemies, than I need not love mine. It is as clear as daylight.
But this is only by the way. The point of the passage is, that if I would be perfect in my measure, as God is in His, I must love. Love is the sign-manual and the test.
"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in Him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 4: 7, 8, 11, 12; 3:10-16).
Did we but love after this fashion all victories would be possible to us. Love is as irresistible as dynamite. No barriers can withstand its overcoming power. The cruellest enemy or the hardest sinner must bow before it. I once heard of a woman who was like a wild beast in her brutal ferocity. No one, at the risk of their lives, dared approach her, unless they were armed with a revolver. But a Christian woman, who loved sinners, went into her cell, armed only with words and looks of love, and stooping over her, as she crouched in a corner like a tiger ready to spring, kissed her forehead, and said, "My dear sister." In a moment the fountains of that poor sinner's heart were unsealed, and she poured out floods of tears and sobs of penitent anguish. She was saved by the "law of love."
I seem to get glimpses now and then of what life would be for all of us, if we but knew and lived by this "law of love;" what infinite rest Godward, and what mighty power man-ward would be ours! God grant it speedily!
"I say to thee -- do thou repeat
To the first man thou mayest meet
In lane, highway, or open street --
"That he, and we, and all men move
Under a canopy of love,
As broad as the blue sky above;
"That doubt and trouble, fear, and pain,
And anguish, all are shadows vain;
That death itself shall not remain;
"That weary deserts we may tread,
A dreary labyrinth may thread,
Through dark ways underground be led;
"Yet if we will our Guide obey,
The dreariest path, the darkest way
Shall issue out in heavenly day.
"And we, on divers shores now cast,
Shall meet, our perilous voyage past,
All in our Father's house at last.
"And ere thou leave him, say thou this
Yet one word more, -- They only miss
The winning of that final bliss,
"Who will not count it true, that Love,
Blessing, not cursing, rules above,
And that in it we live and move.
"And one thing farther make him know, --
That to believe these things are so,
This firm faith never to forego,
"Despite of all that seems at strife,
With blessing, all with curses rife,
That this is blessing, this is life."
--R. C. TRENCH
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