Divine Love and its Practical Effect

The practical effect of knowing God's love is to lead us to love. The apostle John delighted to speak of himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. And in his first epistle he says, "We love, because He first loved us." (N.T.) Here we see its practical effect in him, and the same should be true of every believer. Is it not of immense importance to see that the effect of the revelation God has given of Himself is to produce the divine nature in us? And yet are we not all conscious in how small a measure this is attained? If there was one thing pressing upon the heart of the blessed Lord ere He left this world, it seemed to be the desire that His followers should love one another. He had loved His own; this is what had characterized Him, and now He desires that it should characterize them. And thus He says, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Why is there so little love seen in us? It must be because we have failed in our apprehension of divine love. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Nothing at all to commend us to God; but what God did for us then commends His love. How wonderful to witness the whole world lying in wickedness, not one righteous, no, not one, and then to see God outside it all acting in love towards sinners, and all because of what He is in Himself. "God so loved the world."

It brings us back to God, and gives us to see what He is in Himself - that He is love; and not all the force of evil in man, though it could go the length of crucifying His Son, can ever alter what God is. It is no longer a question then of our commending ourselves to God; but He commends His love toward us. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; and when we believe in Christ, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. When this is known and enjoyed in the soul, it must have a practical effect. We love God, and we love one another. This must be the result if we are able to say "we have known and believed the love that God hath to us." And if we love one another, the love of God is perfected in us.

Can any of us rest satisfied until this is accomplished in us? Christ came down from heaven not only to save us from hell, but that those who had once been hateful and hating one another should be characterized henceforth by love to each other. Many accept Christ as a means of escape from hell, and nothing more. To them the Saviour is only a passport to a better world when they leave this. Is it any wonder such a theory has little or no effect upon their present conduct? But this is far from being the only evil resulting from such ideas. The world is totally unaffected by Christians of that stamp. How different the end set before us in the Word of God! If we study the epistles, we shall find they all, more or less, lead up to this - the reproduction of the divine nature in us.

Let us begin, then, and see from the different epistles how it is the summum bonum - the supreme good. In Romans, where we have the gospel of God presented, God's love is made known in order to produce love in us; and accordingly, when we come to chapter 13:8, we read, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." It is here put in a very striking way, as what we owe to every man. Are we daily discharging this debt? In 1 Corinthians 13 we get a fuller unfolding of love. Much has been said upon this wonderful chapter, and no attempt is made to expound it here. The passage in Romans is more individual and general, but here it is shown to be the one thing that is needed to make things work smoothly amongst the children of God. Love is our measure, and without it we are nothing. There is one very peculiar and striking thing about it. The description is not so much of what love does, as what it does not do, showing that the very essence of love is self-abnegation and self-effacement. How easy comparatively it is to engage in active and even arduous service rather than to suffer, and yet the very first thing mentioned is, "Love suffereth long, and is kind." How little we like to suffer at the hands of others, and how prone we are to retaliate. Oh, how this humbles us, "Love suffereth long, and is kind!" Measured by this standard, how small our love is, and, consequently, how small we are!

If we turn to Galatians 5:22, we find the first fruit of the Spirit is love. All the other fruits grow out of that one. If that is lacking, the rest are only like artificial fruit tied on a tree - it never grew there. Where there is love there is no effort. The next on the list is joy. Our joy will ever be in proportion to our love. This is an unfailing principle. And so it is with the next, peace. If, in all we do and say and think, we are actuated by love, we shall enjoy a peace which nothing can disturb. This does not imply a servile agreement with everybody and everything; love may sometimes have to stand almost alone, because there is so little of it in the world; but should this trying position be experienced, the mind will be in perfect peace, if only love is allowed to govern. And this will bring in, too, next long-suffering. Love will often be misunderstood. Men, and even Christians, are so accustomed to be directed by motives of self-interest and personal advantage, they misinterpret and misjudge the disinterestedness of love. And so there is need of long-suffering. This will lead to gentleness. If we confound gentleness with weakness we make a serious mistake. The great need of the hour is Christians who are gentle. It is love, and not social status, makes the true gentle man. It has been said of one of low degree that he was qualified to enter any society, and the reason was very simple - he loved everything, and "love doth not behave itself unseemly." "Goodness": love always seeks the welfare, and not the harm, of others. "Faith": love believeth all things. And then follow "meekness, temperance," and the apostle adds, "Against such there is no law." You cannot put love under law; it is its own law. It worketh no ill, only good. And "love is of God."

Now let us go on to Ephesians. In chapter 1:4 we read, "That we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." And in order to be this we are going to be conformed to the image of His Son. But is God's thought merely that we should be loved by Him? If we turn on to chapter 5 of the same epistle we shall find something further. "Be ye therefore imitators 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." Christ covered us with His own acceptability, instead of leaving us exposed to what we justly deserved. This is precisely how we are to act. Instead of exposing the delinquencies of others, we are to seek to remove them, and our spirituality is discerned, not in condemnation, but in recovery. "Love covers the multitude of sins." It does not make light of sin, but diminishes every opportunity of the contagion spreading. In this way "love covers the multitude of sins."

It is only as we attain to this love that we can edify one another. We cannot effect this by the mere statement of doctrines, however clearly presented. The reason our preaching has so little effect upon others is because we have been so little affected ourselves. The body can only edify itself in love. (Eph. 4:16.)

To the Philippians the apostle Paul writes, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more"; to the Colossians he says, "Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." It completes all the rest, and without it there is a lack for which no combination of other qualities can atone. Writing to the Thessalonians, he speaks of their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope." Faith is always active; without works it is dead. It can accomplish much, for it knows a God with whom nothing is impossible - a God of ceaseless activity. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." And so faith works. But to be of much value it must be a labour of love. Love must be behind it all and in it all. It must be begun, continued, and ended in love. If we look for recognition or reward here we may be disappointed. The more it is a work of faith, the less, probably, will it be understood; but if at the same time it is a labour of love, we shall be sustained, for love is its own reward. Let us see to it that every work we undertake is a work of faith - that is, given to us by God, undertaken for God, and done to God - and, in addition, that it is carried out in love, for the service of love is perfect freedom. And the patience of hope crowns all. For, as we have said, the work of faith may not always get its due here, but we wait for the time when everything will be valued at its true estimate. Further on we get the desire expressed: "The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you." (Chap. 3:12.) How we see that again and again throughout the epistles the same thing is emphasized, showing us clearly enough that without love we are nothing. The apostle would have us increase and abound; and another apostle exhorts us to "love one another with a pure heart fervently." Must we not all say how little we know of this?

If we have learnt to love, there can be only one result - that is, holiness. There is a difference between holiness and righteousness. Holiness has more to do with nature; righteousness with acts. Righteousness is doing a thing because you know it to be right; holiness is doing right because you love to do it. Without love, therefore, it is impossible to be holy; and the more holy we are, the more we shall act simply from love. Holiness is often said to be by faith. This is only partly true. Really, holiness is by love. The way it works is: faith leads to love, and love to holiness. Lust is the very essence of sin; love, the essence of holiness. Lust is self-gratification - the desire to have; love forgets itself in its desire to benefit others - "it seeketh not her own."

Let us look at a few illustrations as to the practical effect of love. Take Moses as an example. He was on the mount enjoying communion with the Lord, and he received from His hand the two tables of stone; but when he came down he found the people dancing round the golden calf. We read, his "anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount," and he destroyed the golden calf, and made the children of Israel drink of the powder. But directly after he can say to them, "I will go up unto the Lord, peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin." And he prayed, for the sake of these very people, that God would blot him out of His book. "Oh, this people," he says, "have sinned a great sin. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written."

Paul had the same spirit. He could say, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9:2-3.) And again, to the Corinthian saints who had not shown much appreciation of him he writes, "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."

Why could these two devoted servants manifest a spirit so sublime? Because the love of God had touched their hearts. And this same love will produce similar results in us in proportion as we know it.

May the Lord give us to see that "the end of the commandment is love out of a pure-heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned"; and again, "This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment." R. E.