Love is of God!
William Bacon Stevens
"Love is of God." 1 John 4:7
No writer gives us such lofty ideas of love as John. His First General Epistle is an epitome of the whole philosophy of love, human and divine; and all that subsequent authors have done has been to amplify and interpret the principles enunciated by the beloved disciple.
Love is the most powerful and influential of human passions. It has been analyzed and described by more minds, and has engrossed more hearts, than any other affection. Yet the majority of writers have failed to apprehend the true character of love, and have busied themselves in describing some of its turbid and earth-polluted streams, flowing between the banks of human selfishness--instead of rising to the fountain-source of the passion, and showing us its existence as it fills the bosom of the eternal God.
John takes us up to this fountain-head, and, in the words of the text, shows us the origin of all love, when he says, "Love is of God."
The point which I wish to illustrate is--that all the love in the universe is the gift of God. The proposition, as thus stated, is a very simple one; but it involves consequences of the most interesting and responsible character. Let us first unfold the principle, and then ascertain some of its resulting consequences.
In another part of this love-filled epistle, John utters the sublime truth, "God is love"; and, by many, this has been considered as equivalent to the declaration of the text, "Love is of God." This, however, is not so. When the apostle tells us that "God is love," he designs to say, not that God has had this attribute and no other--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: no one attribute, therefore, can be 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," 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.
We can imagine, indeed, that God might possess certain attributes without that of love--as, for example, power, wisdom, holiness, truth. But what a fearful God would He be--if almighty power was not guided by love; if infinite wisdom, in its contrivings and legislations, was not pervaded by infinite love; if perfect holiness was only a cold and ice-like purity, devoid of the warmth and redolence of love; if truth was the mere mechanical utterance of right by lips on which sat no law of kindness, from a heart which had in it no pulsation of love!
Love, then, is the affection of the Divine Being, which, not operating by itself, permeates and influences each attribute, moves them in harmony, throws over them the beauty of holiness, and thus quickens into action, controls in motion, and guides to its destined end--all the workings of Jehovah. And, because every attribute is thus set in motion by love, hence we say, "God is love."
But when the apostle says, "Love is of God," he means something different from the truth just unfolded. He looks at love from another standpoint. He marks it in its human manifestations; and beholding it not so much as a great and original attribute of the Most High--but as seen in daily life, ramifying through all the grades and conditions of society, and observing its power, its workings, its sway in man's heart--he traces the affection to its source, and says, "Love is of God."
When God created man, He made him in His own likeness--not in the likeness of His power to do all things, or His wisdom to know all things; but of His love and of His holiness--those purely moral qualities in which he could alone be fashioned in the divine likeness; and so man was created lovely, lovable, loving, and pure.
In the fall which brought in sin and death upon our race, and a curse upon the ground--man was morally wrecked. He lost the image of God, in which he was made; and he no longer was, to the extent which he had been--lovely, lovable, loving, and pure. He was a guilty and a polluted being; and all his powers of mind and heart were perverted and debased by sin.
While, however, man made a total loss of holiness--there was not a total loss of love. In mercy to our race, God permitted this affection to continue--not, indeed, in its original beauty or force or purity--but still to exist, though shorn of its glory, as the great happiness-creating power of mankind; so that to the exercise of this one affection, more than to any other, is the world indebted for all that remains to it of Eden's bliss, before man was driven from Eden's bower.
A few familiar illustrations will fully establish this point.
Take the first love which one human being ever felt for another--marital love--and mark how that is of God.
When God formed Eve, He brought her to Adam; and He implanted in them such love for each other, that not only did Adam say, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh," but henceforth it was ordained that the twain united by this marital relation, should be one flesh; that is, that they should live and act and feel as a moral unit, having one interest, one heart, one aim. Thus also Paul writes: "So ought men to love their wives, as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church."
In making the woman out of the rib of man; in uniting them, by the act of God himself, in holy wedlock; in proclaiming, that, by such a relation, the man and the woman are no more twain--but one flesh; in inspiring prophets and apostles to urge men to love their wives as their own bodies; and in likening the union of husband and wife to the mystical union which exists between Christ and the Church--God has indicated, by the most direct, solemn, and authoritative way which infinite wisdom could devise--that He was the author and giver of marital affection; and therefore, in respect of that emotion of the heart which is . . .
the source of more joy,
the light of more dwellings,
the comforter of more sorrows,
the strengthener of more weakness,
the sustainer of more hope--
than any other passion, we say that it springs direct from Heaven; so that, in very truth, this marital love is of God.
Take the second love which grew up on earth--parental love--and see how this is of God. We say, in common parlance, that it is natural for a man to love his child, and that it is unnatural for him to dislike him. But what constitutes the naturalness of this love, other than the fact that God implanted it in parents' hearts, as a part of their moral constitution? A parent's heart is the peculiar workmanship of God. He has so fitted it up with sensibilities and affections, and so adjusted these to the necessities of infancy and childhood--that all the needs, physical, mental, and moral, of the babe and the youth--are fully provided for in the love which God has placed, as a controlling power, in the father's and the mother's heart.
What mightiness of affection is lodged in a father's love! How it nerves him to toil, and to spend and be spent, for his children! How it fills him with glad thoughts of home, and proud hopes of the future! And who can speak aright of a mother's love?--its depth, its force, its purity, its unselfishness, its long-suffering, its self-sacrificing character. Poets have essayed to portray it in verse, and sentimentalists to describe it in prose; but words feebly illustrate its nature, or enable us to compute its worth. Yet all the happiness which is spread over the face of society by parental love; which permeates each family group, each home; which links heart with heart, though sundered by continents and oceans; which draws out and gives back affection, like the sun which exhales the vapor from the earth, only to return it in dew and rain to beautify and fertilize it; all the joy and peace and comfort which springs from parental affection--is the direct gift of our heavenly Father; for this love is of God.
Take the third kind of affection, which, in the order of time, rises in the human breast--the love of children for parents--and we shall find the same truth holds here also. Before the infant mind can reason, or understand its relations, or even appreciate the kindness shown to it, there is felt the goings-forth of love; and the little delicate fibers of affection, each as slender, perhaps, as the gossamer thread that "floats idly in the summer air," strengthen with the growth of days, become interlaced and braided with others. And thus the child, the youth, the adult, is moored to the parent's heart by cables of love, which only life-wrecking tempests can part or loosen.
Suppose that there was no love in children's hearts for parents until they came to years of discretion, what a dreary waste of unrewarded toil and self-sacrificing drudgery would be the season of childhood and youth! What would a household be, devoid of children's love? What would a parent's heart be, if its outgoings of affection found no response in prattling boys and gentle girls? And how much of the sunlight of home would become darkness, if the indescribable ways and means which evince filial love were blotted out from mind and memory and heart? Filial love constitutes a large part of human happiness, and pervades every class and condition of our race; and as it could never, by its very nature, create itself, because it is begotten before reason and judgment begin their workings--it must be divine. And so we say of this elevating affection--filial love--this love is of God.
The same line of remark applies also to that love of kindred which constitutes a part of man's moral being. The hundred social circles which this love of kindred creates, and which, like so many togged wheels, catch into and rotate each other, diffusing joy and happiness over the habitations of men--are the product of this kindred love. And this love is of God; for He it is "who sets the solitary in families," who groups men into social circles; and, bestowing upon His creatures affections, calls out these affections in the various forms of social and domestic life.
Once more: look at love in the form of philanthropy. Here we behold it breaking over the dikes and channels of marital, family, or social affection, and spreading away, like the Nile in its overflow, until it covers the entire lowlands of our race. This love of man for his race is mostly the product of the religion of Jesus Christ. Before that era, the Jew loved the Jew, the Persian loved the Persian, the Roman loved the Roman; but, beyond the boundaries of one's nation, all were considered as barbarians, dogs, and enemies. There was no expansive, world-embracing love in the heart of man; there were no broadly devised and widely applied schemes for the amelioration of woe, ignorance, and sin; there were no projects for spreading knowledge, civilization, and religion to regions benighted, savage, and idolatrous; there were no outgoing affections of men, throwing their tendrils of mercy around the world, and clasping the debased and the vile in the arms of its heart-throbbing philanthropy.
This earth-encompassing and man-elevating love is of God. It is because the Bible tells us that we have one common Father, one common Savior, one common Comforter, one common salvation, and one common earthly destiny--the grave; it is because the Bible puts us all on one platform, as sinners, and seeks to raise us all to one common Heaven, and puts into our hands the instrumentalities and agencies for this lifting-up of our race, and bids us to use them in the name and strength of Jehovah--that we find stirring within us this love of our race, this desire for its advancement, this putting forth of effort for their regeneration, this Bible-spreading and Christ-preaching and gospel-publishing spirit, which seeks to enclose the world in the meshes of the gospel-net, and then draw it to the land, where Jesus stands waiting to receive and bless it.
Every blessing, then, which has flowed to our race through the building of hospitals, asylums, and benevolent institutions; through societies for the diffusion of education and wholesome knowledge; through the agencies of the Church, in its manifold institutions for the circulation of the Bible and tracts, the establishment of schools and colleges, the publishing of papers and religious books, and the preaching of the Word--dates its origin in the influence of the constraining love of Christ upon the heart; and thus, in very deed, this love of our race, this philanthropy, is of God.
Now, what would earth be without these various kinds of love? What, without philanthropy? It would be a mass of conglomerate selfishness--a world of war, antagonistic states, of cruel governments, of social discord, and of domestic misery! There would be no hospitals and infirmaries; no asylums for the orphan, the widow, the outcast; no retreats for the aged and destitute; no homes for friendless children and disabled industry; no associations for charity and mutual aid; no societies for the amelioration of crime, disease, suffering, and the many ills which afflict our race; no boards of missions, spreading their network of divine truth over our own and foreign lands; no institutions for the circulation of Bibles, tracts, and a sanctified literature; no churches; no Sunday-schools. But all would be blotted out--and intense selfishness, with its consequent envyings, jealousies, and hatreds, would rule in the ascendant!
What would earth be without this love of kindred, so that, along the ties of affinity and blood--there thrilled no electric sensations of social love? The interlacing bonds of family with family would be sundered; society would be disintegrated, and resolved into its individual elements, except only when force or self-interest made a union of what was else repulsive and undesired.
What would the world be without filial or parental love? A family where there was parental authority without parental love, and where filial obedience was required without filial affection rendered--would not be a home--but a prison! The parents would be jailers; the children would be as felons; and the law of brute force alone would bind them in one household of domestic tyranny!
And above all, what would earth be without marital love? What if there was no heart-union between man and wife; no love to cheer, soften, and irradiate the lot of woman; no responsive affection to nerve and lift up and make happy the soul of man--if the marriage tie was only a bond of self-interest or of lust--a bond as galling as the manacle of the convict in the chain-gang, and each day made more chafing by the bickerings of hate and the collisions of selfishness?
It is scarcely possible even to imagine a world devoid of love, where all that is congenial and loving and sympathetic; all that welds together households and families and society; all that imparts the highest earthly pleasure; all that . . .
and soothes care,
and comforts sorrow,
and solaces bereavement;
all that raises man above lust and sordidness, and a mere sensuous existence; all that typifies and illustrates, feebly indeed, yet truly--the purity and bliss of Heaven--should be completely blotted out!
It would be as if some demon from the pit should pass through this world, and turn . . .
its green fields--into sand-wastes,
ts forest-crowned and picturesque hills--into bald rock,
its floral kingdom--into bramble-land,
its dancing, leaping, silvery waters--into asphaltic streams,
its exquisitely tinged clouds and its brilliant sunsets--into black gloom,
its thousand bird-melodies--into discordant screams;
and, rending into tatters the robe of beauty, which, like a bridal veil, covers without concealing, and covers only to enhance--the loveliness of nature, should force its divinely-molded form into a tunic of sackcloth, and cover its face with a hood of darkness!
No, not even this would be as sad, as full of misery, as would this world be--if each fountain of affection were sealed up, and no love were to pervade, warm, cheer, beautify, ennoble, or make godlike, the human race.
Seeing, then, that with all man's sins and ill-doings, with all God's punishments and curses, He has continued to us this love, the question arises: Have you ever seriously thought how much you ought to love God, who has given you the inestimable blessing of human affection? Can you sum up your debt to Him for this one gift? Can you ever sufficiently praise Him for its continuance and blessing?
Yet, when man rebelled against God, and cast off His sway, and virtually said to Him, "We desire not a knowledge of Your ways!"--God might most justly have stripped him of love, and left him to the curse of the loveless and the unloved. It was His love to us--which caused Him to continue love in us. There is no love among the fallen angels. There is no love in Hell. There is authority there; and fear, and servile obedience, and defiance, and tongue-gnawing pain, and smoke of endless torment, there--but there is no love there. And God, who cleansed the old world's sins by a deluge, and purged the foul cities of the plain with fire and brimstone, and stayed the heaven-climbing aims of the Babelites by a confusion of tongues--could as easily have plucked out love from man's heart, and left him to his sins and his love-shorn existence, as He could have inflicted any other punishment! But He did not! He continued love to him; and hence all the love that exists, and which blesses man in every relation and condition of life, is of God.
This is a truth but little considered; yet it presents an aspect of God's character which is full of mercy, and which demands boundless thanks. We revel in this love--yet how heedless of its Author! We expend this love upon our fellow-creatures--yet how little is given to God! And it is a grave question, which I put to the conscience of each person: How can you refuse to exercise towards God the affection which is His by right of creation, and which, in its outgoings, constitutes the supreme felicity of earth? Can you give a good reason for not loving God? He is a God of love; and, as you love earthly beings in proportion to their loveliness--so should you love Him who is all love, and who has manifested His love by the most wonderful displays and the most marvelous sacrifices. If it is dishonorable to refuse gratitude for services rendered; if it is base to be the recipients and users of continual favors--and yet make no acknowledgments--then must you condemn yourselves, for turning away from the love of God, for using the affections He bestows for selfish ends, and giving no thanks or glory to Him who made you a being susceptible of loving and being loved.
It was a most forcible appeal which Paul made to the Romans, when he asked, "Do you despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" It was an equally strong appeal which he made to the same Church, when He said, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God--that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." And it is in the spirit of these apostolic appeals, that I ask: Can such exhibitions of love on the part of God--call out from you no love to Him?
There is one other aspect of the subject which I must touch upon, though only touch.
As wondrous as is the fact, that, notwithstanding our sins, God still continued to us human love; and highly exalting as that fact is of His grace and mercy--it is not so great a display of His love as that manifested in providing for man's redemption.
In those few but majestic words of John, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish--but have everlasting life"--we have the faint outline of a love which we can never fully understand, because it is an eternal love, an infinite love, a love which only God can feel, and only God describe.
So impressed was the apostle with this, that he says, "Herein is love, not that we loved Him--but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." As if He had said: It matters not where else you see love, or what else you see of love--herein is love. And the love herein displayed, in this prior love to us, in this sacrifice made for us, in this gift bestowed upon us, in these blessings offered to us--this love takes precedence of all other love, even as God, who shows it is higher than all the gods of heathen mythology, or than all the imaginings of heathen philosophy.
We have not time now to give even a linear sketch of this divine love, as seen in the reciprocal affection of God the Father and God the Son; as beheld in the love evinced in the gift of the Holy Spirit; as shown in the life and sufferings and death of the Son of God; as witnessed in the mighty preparation whereby was ushered in this work of love; as viewed in the love of Christ to the Church; or as heard of in God's Word, in connection with those provisions of glory and greatness with which He endows His saints in the kingdom of Heaven.
This love of God has provided an atonement for sins; the full and eternal benefit of which, in bestowing pardon and peace, are offered to you on the terms of faith in Jesus. Will you reject this blood-bought reconciliation? This love has given you a divine Savior, to save you from your sins, and to be . . .
the Prophet to teach you,
the Priest to sacrifice for you,
and the King to reign over you;
so that your salvation is complete in Him. Will you slight this Redeemer?
This love has bestowed upon you the Holy Spirit . . .
to convict you of sin,
to guide you to Christ,
to bow your else unbending will,
to teach you all truth,
to sanctify your soul, and
to be the Comforter of your heart.
Will you do despite to this Spirit?
This love has revealed for you the Word of truth--the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation. Will you heed its holy teachings?
This love has surrounded you with the means of grace--the Church, which is Christ's mystical body; the ministry, which is of Christ's ordaining; the sacraments, which are of Christ's institution; the preached word, which is the testimony of Jesus. Will you misimprove these instrumentalities of grace, and go down to eternal death from under the very droppings of the sanctuary?
There is nothing which your soul needs for its peace and happiness on earth--for which this divine love has not made ample provision. And there is nothing which it can ask for or require, to its full enjoyment in the world to come--which has not been stored up for it in those mansions which the pierced hands of the loving Savior have prepared for his redeemed in Heaven.
Would that I could impress upon all those who are unreconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ, that they are fighting, not against God's stern decrees of justice, not against His almighty power, not against His infinite wisdom--but against His love; that the warfare of their souls discharges itself into the heart of Jehovah; and that the enmity of the unrenewed man is directed against the love of the God of love!
Remember also, that one of the most fearful elements in the condemnation of the lost, is . . .
not that God's justice smites them with legal power,
not that omnipotence holds them in its almighty grasp,
not that wisdom approves the decision which consigns them to eternal woe,
nor that holiness requires their eternal exclusion from Heaven
--but that they rejected the overtures of love! That its divine movings in the grace of God the Father, in the death of Christ, in the pleadings of the Spirit--were in vain; that the mighty affections of God were so slighted; and that they dared to trample under foot God's beloved Son, and do despite unto the Spirit of His grace.
And, as the remembrance of a slighted love, will be one of the most fearful instruments of eternal sorrow--so an accepted love of God in Christ, will be one of the most joyous elements of eternal bliss. The happiness of Heaven lies not primarily in freedom from pain and want and woe; not in exemption from change and death; nor does it consist in its exultant songs, its perpetual day, its mental enlargement, its intellectual satisfaction, its lofty tone of thought, its companionship with the angels and archangels. The great bliss of Heaven lies in the presence of perfect love! The saints' hearts are full of love; the angels' hearts are full of love. Everything that is done there, and said there, and thought there--is influenced by love. Love pervades that world, and enfolds it in an atmosphere of divine affection; for He whose name is love sits upon the throne, and pours out, from the fountain of His infinite affection, all the love which warms the inhabitants of that land of glory! For there is not an affection manifested by saint or seraph, which is not traceable up to this fountain, and of which we can not say, "This love is of God!"