A TREATISE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE. John xiii. 35.
Chapter III. I may briefly reduce the chief persuading motive to this so needful and so much…
I may briefly reduce the chief persuading motive to this so needful and so much desiderated grace into some three or four heads. All things within and without persuade to it, but especially the right consideration of the love of God in Christ, the wise and the impartial reflection on ourselves, the consideration of our brethren whom we are commanded to love, and the thorough inspection into the nature and use of the grace itself.
In consideration of the First, a soul might argue itself into a complacency with it and thus persuade itself, "He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love," 1 John 4:8. And since he that hath known and believed the love that God hath to us, must certainly dwell in love, since these two have such a strait indissoluble connexion, then, as I would not declare to all my atheism and my ignorance of God, I will study to love my brethren. And that I may love them, I will give myself to the search of God's love, which is the place, locus inventionis,(414) whence I may find out the strongest and most effectual medium to persuade my mind, and to constrain my heart to Christian affection.
First then, when I consider that so glorious and great a Majesty, so high and holy an One, self sufficient and all sufficient, who needs not go abroad to seek delight, because all happiness and delight is enclosed within his own bosom, can yet love a creature, yea and be reconciled to so sinful a creature, which he might crush as easily as speak a word, that he can place his delight on so unworthy and base an object, O! how much more should I, a poor wretched creature, love my fellow creature, ofttimes better than myself, and, for the most part, not much worse? There is an infinite distance and disproportion betwixt God and man, yet he came over all that to love man. What difficulty should I have then to place my affection on my equal at worst, and often better? There cannot be any proportionable distance betwixt the highest and lowest, between the richest and poorest, between the most wise and the most ignorant, between the most gracious and the most ungodly, as there is between the infinite God and a finite angel. Should then the mutual infirmities and failings of Christians, be an insuperable and impassable gulf, as between heaven and hell, that none can pass over by a bridge of love to either? "If God so loved us," should not we love one another? 1 John 4:11. And besides, when I consider that God hath not only loved me, but my brethren who were worthy of hatred, with an everlasting love, and passed over all that was in them, and hath spread his skirt over their nakedness, and made it a time of love, which was a time of loathing, how can I withhold my affection where God hath bestowed his? Are they not infinitely more unworthy of his than mine? Since infinite wrongs hath not changed his, shall poor, petty, and light offences hinder mine? That my love concenter with God's on the same persons, is it not enough?
Next, That Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, who was the Father's delight from eternity, and in whom he delighted, yet, not withstanding, could rejoice in the habitable places of the earth, and so love poor wretched men, yet enemies, that he gave himself for them, that God so loved that he gave his Son, and Christ so loved that he gave himself a sacrifice for sin, both for me and others, O! who should not or will not be constrained, in beholding this mirror of incomparable and spotless love to love others? (1 John 4:9, 10, 11.) "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Ephesians 5:2. "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," especially when he seems to require no other thing, and imposes no more grievous command upon us for recompence of all his labour of love. John 13:34, 35. "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." If all that was in me did not alienate his love from me, how should any thing in others estrange our love to them? If God be so kind to his enemies, and Christ so loving that he gives his life for his enemies to make them friends, what should we do to our enemies, what to our friends? This one example may make all created love to blush and be ashamed. How narrow, how limited, how selfish is it!
Thirdly, If God hath forgiven me so many grievous offences, if he hath pardoned so heinous and innumerable injuries, that amount to a kind of infiniteness in number and quality, O how much more am I bound to forgive my brethren a few light and trivial offences? Colossians 3:13. "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." Ephesians 4:32. "And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." With what face can I pray, "Lord, forgive me my sins," when I may meet with such a retortion, thou canst not forgive thy brethren's sins, infinitely less both in number and degree? Matth. vi.15. "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses." What unparalleled ingratitude were it, what monstrous wickedness, that after he hath forgiven all our debt, because we desired him yet we should not have compassion on our fellow servants even as he had pity on us! O! what a dreadful sound will that be in the ears of many Christians, "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all thy debt, because thou desiredst me! Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servants, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses," Matth. xviii.32, 33, 34, 35. When we cannot dispense with one penny, how should he dispense with his talents? And when we cannot pardon ten, how should he forgive ten thousand? When he hath forgiven my brother all his iniquity, may not I pardon one? Shall I impute that which God will not impute, or discover that which God hath covered? How should I expect he should be merciful to me, when I cannot shew mercy to my brother? Psal. xviii.25. "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful." Shall I, for one or few offences, hate, bite, and devour him for whom Christ died, and loved not his life to save him? Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11.
In the next place. If a Christian do but take an impartial view of himself, he cannot but thus reason himself to a meek, composed, and affectionate temper towards other brethren. What is it in another that offends me, when if I do search within, I will not either find the same, or worse, or as evil in myself? Is there a mote in my brothers eye? Perhaps there may be a beam in my own; and why then should I look to the mote that is in my brother's eye? Matth. vii.3. When I look inwardly, I find a desperately wicked heart, which lodges all that iniquity I beheld in others. And if I be not so sensible of it, it is because it is also deceitful above all things, and would flatter me in mine own eyes, Jeremiah 17:9. If my brother offend me in some things, how do these evanish out of sight in the view of my own guiltiness before God, and of the abominations of my own heart, known to his holiness and to my conscience? Sure I cannot see so much evil in my brother as I find in myself. I see but his outside. But I know my own heart; and whenever I retire within this, I find the sea of corruption so great, that I wonder not at the streams which break forth in others. But all my wonder is that God hath set bounds to it in me or in any. Whenever I find my spirit rising against the infirmities of others, and my mind swelling over them, I repress myself with this thought, "I myself also am a man," as Peter said to Cornelius when he would have worshipped him. As he restrained another's idolizing of him, I may cure my own self idolizing heart. Is it any thing strange that weak men fail, and sinful men fall? Is not all flesh grass, and all the perfection and goodliness of it as the flower of the field? Isaiah 40:6. Is not every man at his best estate altogether vanity? Psal. xxxix.5. Is not man's breath in his nostrils? Isaiah 2:22. And am not I myself a man? Therefore I will not be high minded but fear, Romans 11:20. I will not be moved to indignation, but provoked to compassion, knowing that I myself am compassed with infirmities, Hebrews 5:2.
Secondly, As a man may persuade himself to charity by the examination of his own heart and ways, so he may enforce upon his spirit a meek and compassionate stamp, by the consideration of his own frailty, what he may fall into. This is the Apostle's rule, Galatians 6:1. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual," and pretend to it, "restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." Do not please yourselves with a false notion of zeal, thinking to cover your impertinent rigidity by it. Do as you would do if your own arm were disjointed. Set it in, restore it tenderly and meekly, considering yourselves that ye also may be tempted. Some are more given to reproaching and insulting than mindful of restoring. Therefore their reproofs are not tempered with oil that they may not break the head, but mixed with gall and vinegar to set on edge the teeth. But whenever thou lookest upon the infirmities of others, then consider thyself first, before you pronounce sentence on them, and thou shalt be constrained to bestow that charity to others which thou hast need of thyself. Veniam petimusque damusque vicissim.(415) If a man have need of charity from his brother, let him not be hard in giving it. If he know his own weakness and frailty, sure he may suppose such a thing may likely fall out that he may be tempted and succumb in it. For there needs nothing for the bringing forth of sin in any but occasion and temptation, as the bringing of fire near gunpowder. And truly he who had no allowance of love to give to an infirm and weak brother, he will be in mala fide, in an evil capacity, to seek what he would not give. Now the fountain of uncharitable and harsh dealing is imported in the 3d verse, "If any man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Since all mortal men are nothing, vanity, altogether vanity, and less than vanity, he that would seem something, and seems so to himself, deludes himself. Hence is our insulting fierceness, hence our supercilious rigour. Every man apprehends some excellency in himself beyond another. Take away pride, and charity shall enter, and modesty shall be its companion. But now we mock ourselves, and deceive ourselves, by building the weight of our pretended zeal upon such a vain and rotten foundation, as a gross practical fundamental lie of self conceit of nothing. Now the Apostle furnishes us with an excellent remedy against this in the 4th verse, "Let a man prove himself and his own work, and then he shall have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another."—a word worthy to be fastened by the Master of assemblies in the heart of all Christians! And indeed this nail driven in would drive out all conceit. Hence is our ruin, that we compare ourselves among ourselves, and in so doing we are not wise, 2 Corinthians 10:12. For we know not our own true value. Only we raise the price according to the market, so to speak. We measure ourselves by another man's measure, and build up our estimation upon the disesteem of others, and how much others displease, so much we please ourselves. But, says the Apostle, let every man prove his own work, search his own conscience, compare himself to the perfect rule; and then, if he find all well, he may indeed glory of himself. But that which thou hast by comparison with others is not thine own. Thou must come down from all such advantages of ground, if thou would have thy just measure. And indeed, if thou prove thyself and thy work after this manner, thou wilt be the first to reprove thyself, thou shalt have that glory due unto thee, that is none at all. For every man shall bear his own burden, when he appears before the judgment seat of God. There is no place for such imaginations and comparisons in the Lord's judgment.
Thirdly, When a Christian looks within his own heart, he finds an inclination and desire to have the love of others, even though his conscience witness that he deserves it not. He finds an approbation of that good and righteous command of God, that others should love him. Now hence he may persuade himself—Is it so sweet and pleasant to me to be loved of others, even though I am conscious that I have wronged them? Hath it such a beauty in my eye, while I am the object of it? Why then should it be a hard and grievous burden to me to love others, though they have wronged me, and deserve it no more than I did? Why hath it not the same amiable aspect, when my brother is the object of it? Certainly no reason for it, but because I am yet carnal, and have not that fundamental law of nature yet distinctly written again upon my heart, "What ye would that others should do to you, do it to them," Matth. vii.12. If I be convinced that there is any equity and beauty in that command, which charges others to love me, forgive me, and forbear me, and restore me in meekness, why should it be a grievous command that I should pay that debt of love and tenderness to others? 1 John 5:3. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous."
In the third place. Consider to whom this affection should be extended. More generally to all men, as fellow creatures, but particularly and especially to all who are begotten of God, as fellow Christians. "And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him," 1 John 4:21, and chap v.1. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith," Galatians 6:10. "O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord, my goodness extendeth not to thee: but unto the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent in whom is all my delight," Psal. xvi.2, 3. And this consideration the Holy Ghost suggests to make us maintain love and unity. Love towards these runs in a purer channel—"Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto the unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently, being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever," 1 Pet. i.22, 23. We are begotten of one Father, and that by a divine birth, we have such a high descent and royal generation! There are so many other bonds of unity between us, it is absurd that this one more should not join all. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, one spirit, called to one hope, one God and Father of all," Ephesians 4:2-6. All these being one, it is strange if we be not one in love. If so many relations beget not a strong and warm affection, we are worse than infidels, as the apostle speaks, 1 Timothy 5:8. "If a man care not for his own house, his worldly interests, he is worse than an infidel," for he has a natural affection. Sure then this more excellent nature, a divine nature we are partakers of, cannot want affection suitable to its nature. Christianity is a fraternity, a brotherhood, that should overpower all relations, bring down him of high degree, and exalt him of low degree; it should level all ranks, in this one respect, unto the rule of charity and love. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. There all differences of tongues and nations are drowned in this interest of Christ, Colossians 3:11. "Thou hast hid those things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes," Luke 10:21. And "God hath chosen the weak and foolish to confound the mighty and wise," 1 Corinthians 1:27. Behold all these outward privileges buried in the depths and riches of God's grace and mercy. Are we not all called to one high calling? Our common station is to war under Christ's banner against sin and Satan. Why then do we leave our station, forget our callings, and neglect that employment which concerns us all, and fall at odds with our fellow-soldiers, and bite and devour one another? Doth not this give advantage to our common enemies? While we consume the edge of our zeal and strength of our spirits one upon another, they must needs be blunted and weakened towards our deadly enemies. If our brother be represented unto us under the covering of many faults, failings, and obstinacy in his errors, or such like, if we can behold nothing but spots on his outside, while we judge after some outward appearance, then, I say, we ought to consider him again under another notion and relation, as he stands in Christ's account, as he is radically and virtually of that seed, which hath more real worth in it than all worldly privileges and dignities. Consider him as he once shall be, when mortality shall be put off. Learn to strip him naked of all infirmities in thy consideration, and imagine him to be clothed with immortality, and glory, and think how thou wouldest then love him. If either thou unclothe him of his infirmities, and consider him as vested now with the robe of Christ's righteousness, and all glorious within, or adorned with immortality and incorruption a little hence; or else, if thou clothe thyself with such infirmities as thou seest in him, and consider that thou art not less subject to failing, and compassed with infirmities, then thou shalt put on, and keep on, that bond of perfection, charity.
Lastly. Let us consider the excellent nature of charity, and how it is interested in, and interwoven with all the royal and divine gifts and privileges of a Christian. All of them are not ashamed of kindred and cognation with charity. Is not the calling and profession of a Christian honourable? Sure to any behoving soul it is above a monarchy; for it includes an anointing both to a royal and priestly office, and carries a title to a kingdom incorruptible and undefiled. Well then, charity is the symbol and badge of this profession, John 13:35. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Then, what is comparable to communion with God, and dwelling in him? Shall God indeed dwell with men, said Solomon? That exalts the soul to a royalty, and elevates it above mortality. Quam contempta res est homo si supra humana se non exerat! "How base and contemptible a thing is man, except he lift up his head above human things to heavenly and divine!" And then is the soul truly magnified while it is ascending to its own element, a divine nature. What more gracious than this, for a soul to dwell in God? And what more glorious than this, God to dwell in the soul? Charitas te domum Domini facit, et Dominum domum tibi. Felix artifex charitas quae conditori suo domum fabricare potest! "Love makes the soul a house for the Lord, and makes the Lord a house to the soul. Happy artificer that can build a house for its master!" Love bringeth him, who is the chief among ten thousand, into the chambers of the heart. It lays him all night between its breasts; and is still emptying itself of all superfluity of naughtiness, and purging out all vanity and filthiness, that there may be more room for his Majesty. And then love dwells in God, in his love and grace, in his goodness and greatness. The secret of his presence it delights in. Now this mutual inhabitation, in which it is hard to say whether the Majesty of God does most descend, or the soul most ascend, whether he be more humbled or it exalted, this brotherly love, I say, is the evidence and assurance of it. "If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him," 1 John 4:12, 16. For the love of the image of God in his children, is indeed the love of God whose image it is, and then is the love of God perfected, when it reacheth and extends from God to all that is God's, to all that hath interest in God—his commandments, (1 John 5:3. "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous," 1 John 4:21, "And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also,") his children, (1 John 5:1, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten of him,") his creatures, (Malachi 2:10, "Hath not one God created us, why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?") The love of God being the formal, the special motive of love to our brethren, it elevates the nature of it, and makes it divine love. He that hath true Christian love, doth not only love and compassionate his brother, either because of its own inclination towards him, or his misery and necessity, or his goodness and excellency. These motives and grounds do not transcend mere morality, and so cannot beget a love which is the symptom of Christianity. If there be no other motives than these, we do not love so much for God as for ourselves; for compassion interesting itself with another man's misery, finds a kind of relief in relieving it. Therefore the will and good pleasure of God must be the rule of this motion, and the love of God must begin in it and continue it. And truly charity is nothing else but divine love in a state of condescent,(416) so to speak, or the love of a soul to God manifested in the flesh. It is that love moving in a circle from God towards his creatures, and unto God again, as his love to the creatures begins in himself and ends in himself, 1 John 3:17. Is it not a high thing to know God aright? "This is life eternal to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent," John 17:3. That is a high note of excellency put on it, this makes the face of the soul to shine, now brotherly love evinceth this, that we know God, "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. Love is real light, light and life, light and heat both. "When your fathers did execute judgment, and relieve the oppressed, &c. was not this to know me? saith the Lord," Jeremiah 22:15, 16. The practice of the most common things, out of the love of God, and respect to his commands, is more real and true religion than the most profound and abstracted speculations of knowledge. Then only is God known, when knowledge stamps the heart with fear and reverence of his Majesty and love to his name, because then he is only known as he is a true and living God.
Love is real light and life. Is it not "a pleasant thing for the eye to behold the sun?" Light is sweet, and life is precious. These are two of the rarest jewels given to men. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now, and knoweth not whither he goeth; because darkness hath blinded his eyes, but he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him," 1 John 2:9-11. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren; he that loveth not his brother, abideth in death," 1 John 3:14. The light of Jesus Christ cannot shine into the heart, but it begets(417) love, even as intense light begets heat, and where this impression is not made on the heart, it is an evidence that the beams of that Sun of righteousness have not pierced it. O how suitable is it for a child of light to walk in love! And wherefore is it made day light to the soul, but that it may rise up and go forth to labour, and exercise itself in the works of the day, duties of love to God and men? Now in such a soul there is no cause of stumbling, no scandal, no offence in its way to fall over. When the light and knowledge of Christ possesses the heart in love, there is no stumbling block of transgression in its way. It doth not fall and stumble at the commandments of righteousness and mercy as grievous, "therefore love is the fulfilling of the law," Romans 13:10. And so the way of charity is the most easy, plain, expedient, and safe way. In this way there is light shining all alongst it, and there is no stumbling block in it. For the love of God and of our brethren hath polished and made it all plain, hath "taken away the asperities and tumours of our affections and lusts." Complanavit affectus. "Great peace have all they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them." Love makes an equable and constant motion, it moves swiftly and sweetly. It can loose many knots without difficulty, which other more violent principles cannot cut, it can melt away mountains before it, which cannot be hauled away. Albeit there be many stumbling blocks without in the world, yet there is none in charity, or in a charitable soul. None can enter into that soul to hinder it to possess itself in meekness and patience. Nothing can discompose it within, or hinder it to live peaceably with others. Though all men's hands be against it, yet charity is against none. It defends itself with innocence and patience. On the other hand, "He that hateth his brother is in darkness even till now." For if Christ's light had entered, then the love of Christ had come with it, and that is the law of love and charity. If Jesus Christ had come into the soul, he had restored the ancient commandment of love, and made it new again. As much of the want of love and charity, so much of the old ignorance and darkness remains. Whatsoever a man may fancy of himself that he is in the light, that he is so much advanced in the light, yet certainly this is a stronger evidence of remaining darkness, for it is a work of the darkest darkness, and murdering affection, suitable only for the night of darkness. And such a man knows not whither he goes, and must needs incur and fall upon many stumbling blocks within and without. It is want of love and charity that blinds the mind and darkens the heart, that it cannot see how to eschew and pass by scandals in others, but it must needs dash and break its neck upon them. Love is a light which may lead us by offences inoffensively, and without stumbling. In darkness men mistake the way, know not the end of it, take pits for plain ways, and stumble in them. Uncharitableness casts a mist over the actions and courses of others, and our own too, that we cannot carry on either without transgression. And this is the misery of it, that it cannot discern any fault in itself. It knows not whither it goeth, calls light darkness and darkness light. It is partial in judgment, pronounces always on its own behalf, cares not whom it condemn, that it may absolve itself.
Is there any privilege so precious as this, to be "the sons of God?" 1 John 3:2. What are all relations, or states, or conditions, to this one, to be the children of the Highest? It was David's question, "Should I be the king's son in law?" Alas! what a petty and poor dignity in regard of this, to be "the sons of God," partakers of a divine nature? All the difference of birth, all the distinction of degrees and qualities amongst persons, besides this one, are but such as have no being, no worth but in the fancy and construction of them. They really are nothing, and can do nothing. This only is a substantial and fundamental difference. A divine birth carries along with it a divine nature, a change of principles, from the worst to the best, from darkness to light, from death to life. Now, imagine then, what excellency is in this grace, which is made the character of a son of God, of one begotten of the Father, and passed from death to life? 1 John 3:10, 14. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren, he that loveth not his brother, abideth in death." 1 John 4:7. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." And truly it is most natural, if it be so, that the children of our Father love each other dearly. It is monstrous and unnatural to see it otherwise. But besides, there is in this a great deal of resemblance of their Father, whose eminent and signal property it is, to be good to all and kind even to the unthankful, and whose incomparable glory it is to pardon iniquity, and suffer long patiently. A Christian cannot resemble his Father more nearly than in this. Why do we account that baseness in us which is glory to God? Are we ashamed of our birth, or dare we not own our Father? Shall we be ashamed to love them as brethren whom he hath not been ashamed to adopt as sons, and whom Christ is not ashamed to call brethren?