Love Does Not Seek Her Own
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"Love does not seek her own." 1 Corinthians 13:5
This is one of the attributes of charity — of that love which "is the fulfilling of the law," that love to God and man on which "hang all the law and the prophets," that love which is the soul of all religion.
"Love does not seek her own." Love seeks the happiness of its object, and not mere self-interest. I do not say that all religion is employed about the interest of others. Love for character is a love for that which regards our own interest as well as that of others. Some of the exercises of religion transact with God directly about our own interest, and contemplate God as standing related to our own interest, and consist in those feelings of gratitude, trust, hope, and dependence — which have immediate reference to our own interest.
But if love constitutes the soul of religion — then there is in religion a principle of unselfish regard to the happiness of others.
There are many religions in the world — and among them all, there is but one that came from Heaven. That religion consists in loving God above every other object, in regarding His law and Gospel with supreme delight and gratitude, and in loving our neighbor in some measure as ourselves.
Exposed as we are to fatal mistakes in this infinitely important concern — it is of immense importance to us to form right ideas on the subject. One may have a great deal of religion — and yet possess nothing but selfishness and other natural affections. Thousands and millions, we must believe, have no other religion than this, while they cherish a confident hope of salvation. Dreadful must be their disappointment when they awake in the eternal world! Lend me then your whole attention while I endeavor to set before you some of the leading attributes of true religion.
Its vital principle consists in that love which "seeks not her own." Although it has more to do with personal concerns than with the concerns of any other individual — yet so far as the interest of others comes into view, it does, when perfect, love a neighbor as one's self. It respects all beings according to their moral excellence. Of course it delights in the character of God more than in that of all created beings, and it regards His happiness more than theirs.
Here then you have the picture of a real Christian. His care is more for the honor of God and the interest of His kingdom — than for his own happiness. He really loves God better than himself. What a noble and lovely temper is this! How vast the difference between such a man and the sordid wretch who cares not what becomes of God or His kingdom — provided he is safe! By the side of this heavenly charity — how base does such selfishness appear! If you gather up all the filth of the moral world, you will see nothing in it worse than selfishness, nothing but a temper to sacrifice the glory of God and His kingdom — to gratify and aggrandize self. But heavenly charity regards the glory of God and the happiness of His kingdom, more than self-interest. How lovely is this temper! How generous and exalted is the man who possesses it!
This will let you into a view of the character of God. Such love fills His heart. Look again at that interesting man who says, "I desire the happiness of God and of His kingdom, more than my own." You feel that you could press him to your heart. Enlarge this temper to infinity — and that is God. His whole heart is fixed on the public good. His own happiness consists in promoting that and in enjoying that. He has no malice towards His enemies, and would make devils happy — if justice and the public good allowed it. Because He is benevolent, He cannot bear to see His creatures rise up against each other in rage and war, to destroy each other's peace. His benevolence therefore hates sin and takes the form of holiness.
It was benevolence which founded a moral government, to secure the holy order and happiness of the creation. Had He left creatures to their own spontaneous course, without law and without a King — then He would have stood aloof from them, and had no more sensible connection with them than the supreme god of the Brahmins is supposed to have. And then all exhibitions of His glory and all fellowship with Him, which together constitute the happiness of the universe — would have been lost.
And what then would have prevented creatures from rising up against each other in everlasting war and confusion and wretchedness? Do you say — His sanctifying power could have prevented it? And would not that have converted the whole creation into mere machines? No obligation imposed or felt, no call for the exertion of their rational faculties in a way of duty — only they are propelled to certain feelings and actions by a secret influence. Where is the operation of their reason or conscience? Where is their sense of right and wrong? Where is their holiness? Nothing rising above mere instinct.
You say — He might have told them what was right, without command or penalty. But that would have left them without obligation — certainly without the infinite obligations resulting from His authority. It would have left them altogether loose from Him, without any chance for the exhibitions of His glory or for fellowship and communion with Him.
And if there must be a law — then there must be a penalty; otherwise it is no law — but mere advice. And if there must be a penalty — then that penalty must be executed, or it is nothing. Let it be given out that the penalty is never to be executed — and the law is turned into mere advice. There must be a Hell — or there is no moral government.
Of course sin must be permitted. Without a moral government and sin and a liability to punishment — there would have been no opportunity for all that wonderful manifestation of God, and that unspeakable happiness to creatures, which result from the work of redemption. The benevolence of God was therefore engaged to execute the penalty of the law, by an eternal Hell. I say eternal, for if at any future time punishment should terminate, and it should be given out that the penalty of the law would no more be executed, that moment the moral government of God would cease.
Now the execution of the penalty of the law — is the exercise of God's justice. If then the support of government by the punishment of sin is benevolent — then His justice is only another exercise of benevolence. Thus His holiness and justice are both comprehended in this glorious truth, "God is love." Because He loves the welfare of His kingdom — He delights in that holiness in creatures which tends to promote it, and abhors that selfishness which would sacrifice the universe to serve a private end. He hates selfishness because it is the enemy of public happiness; and He will punish it for the same reason that a father would slay an assassin who was breaking in to murder his family.
He has no unjust fondness that will screen any — when the public good demands their punishment. How glorious does the King of Israel appear in this light! And this is the God whom a wicked world oppose, and then ask — How can I love Him? They hate Him because He is so lovely, and then ask — How can I repent? Is it any wonder that a Hell is provided for such creatures? Was it not necessary that a Savior should die to redeem from guilt like this?
From this view of the character of God, we may discover the different motives which excite the Christian and the hypocrite to love Him.
The Christian loves Him because he sees Him to possess just such a character as has been described; because He is love, and has set His heart on the happiness of the universe. He delights in God's wisdom and power — because it is their nature to contrive and execute glorious purposes for the general happiness. He delights in God's holiness, justice, faithfulness, and truth — because they have the same tendency. He is affected with God's mercies to our race, and particularly to himself — because mercies thus applied he can more sensibly apprehend. And so he verifies the words of the apostle: "We love him — because he first loved us."
But the selfish man loves God only because He has done him good, and, as he hopes, intends to save him. He loves to meditate on God's milder attributes, because he regards them as pledges and agents of his salvation. And now he is full of joy and praise and love, and is melted into tears by a sense of God's mercies to him, and is willing to do many things for his heavenly Friend. But his love is worthless — because it is merely selfish. "For if you love those who love you — then what reward do you have? Do not even the publicans the same?"
When such a man enters eternity and finds God to be his eternal enemy — he will, without any change of nature for the worse, rise up against Him with the fury of a devil.
We may also see from what different motives the Christian and the hypocrite rejoice that God reigns.
The Christian rejoices that all things are under the divine direction, because in this he sees a security that all things will be conducted for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.
The hypocrite rejoices that God reigns, because if his Friend has the management of affairs, he trusts it will fare well with him.
Suppose that I and a dozen more heirs, differ about the division of an estate. It is proposed to leave the decision to a certain man. I consent with joy, not because I think him wise or just, but because he is my particular friend, and I expect he will decide in my favor.
There is no reason to doubt that a selfish man may rejoice in the doctrine of election — from a confidence that he is one of the elect. Only take away his hope, and he will hate this doctrine as much as ever!
Thus, in the political world, men out of office are accustomed to complain that rulers have too much power. But put them into office, or into any condition in which they will be gainers by the strength of government — and they are well satisfied without a change.
The view we have taken of the nature of charity, will help us to discover the excellent nature of the divine law. Look again at that amiable man who loves the interest of God's kingdom better than his own; who would cheerfully sacrifice all that he has in the world, to save his greatest enemy from perdition; who is ready to throw himself between a poor orphan and its merciless oppressor; who pities and relieves the hungry and the naked; whose heart is under the dominion of justice and universal benevolence. You fall in love with the very image as I draw it.
Well, this is the model which the law of God has formed. Were the law universally obeyed — then it would fill the world with just such characters. It enjoins nothing but love and its fruits.
And what does it forbid? Here is a selfish wretch who would burn a house and send a whole family to perdition — for the sake of robbing it of a few shillings. Here is another who would demolish the throne of God and bury the universe under its ruins — for the sake of being independent.
What a satanical temper is this! Well, this, and nothing but such as this, the divine law forbids: and it is so earnest in the prohibition, that it forbids it upon penalty of eternal death. How clear it is that this law is the friend of the universe.
Weigh, if you can, the eternal death of a sinner; and you have ascertained the zeal with which the law protects the rights of God and the creation. On the basis of this law, rests the happiness of God, angels, and men; for if the temper of the law were banished from the universe, the bond of union would be dissolved, the whole system would be disjointed, and one infinite Hell would swallow up all!
And this is the law which an ungodly world abhor. I ask again, Is it any wonder that a Hell is provided for such creatures? How can they help dying with shame and self-loathing?
Here again the true character of God comes out to view. This law, as lovely as it is, is nothing but the effusion of His heart. I seem to see Him, like an infinite fountain on the top of the universe, pouring out this law from His very soul. This spirit must be in Him, or it could not flow forth in His law. It must be His own temper, or He would not take such infinite pains to promote it in creatures. And yet this is the God whom a wicked world hate and blaspheme!
We now see how certain it is that a godly man will love the divine law. He has the very temper of the law in his heart, and he sees that the happiness of the universe rests on the principles which the law contains. He therefore heartily thanks God for publishing a law so holy, just, and good. A thousand worlds would not tempt him, as he generally feels, to rise up in disobedience to this law. But the selfish man renders nothing but outward obedience, and that only from fear of punishment and hope of reward.
We may now see from what different motives the Christian and the hypocrite oppose sin. The godly man abhors sin as being what it is, a transgression of the divine law, an enemy of God and His kingdom. But the selfish man, having connected together the ideas of sin and misery, resists sin merely as an enemy to himself.
I cannot help exclaiming: What a glorious temper is that of the Christian — and what a sordid temper is that of the lost sinner! That men, at the same time that they strive by a thousand polite attentions to appear interested in the happiness of others, and not altogether selfish, should be ashamed to be really religious — is among those strange inconsistencies which sin and folly have introduced. It can arise from nothing else than hostility within, and known hostility in others, against that God whose service religion is.
We are now prepared to discover how charity will regard the atonement and mediation of Christ. It is necessary here to premise, that the atonement was intended to answer the purpose of our punishment by showing, for the support of the law, that the penalty of that law would be executed on future offenders. Had sin been pardoned without an atonement — then it would have declared that the penalty of the law was set aside, which would have annihilated the law.
A king makes a law against murder. Ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand subjects transgress — yet no punishment is inflicted. Who will believe after this that the law is anything more than simple advice, which every one is at liberty to regard or reject as he pleases? Who will believe that the king is in earnest to protect his subjects against murder? Who will believe that he holds murder in any great abhorrence, or that he cares much for his law?
If then the sinner is to be delivered from the stripes which the divine law would inflict — then another must cover his body with his own, and take the punishment in his stead. That substitute must be one infinitely dear to God.
If a hundred subjects commit murder, and a worthless slave offers to die in their stead, and the king accepts the offer — who will see in that sacrifice any strong determination of the king to support the law by executing its penalty on future offenders? But if a number of subjects have committed murder, and the king's only son offers to die for them; if the king will not let sin escape to save his son from death — then all must see that he is determined, notwithstanding the pardon of the present culprits, to execute the penalty of the law on future transgressors. When they see these penitent murderers escape — none will infer that they may now transgress the law with impunity.
Thus by the atonement, every lovely principle in the universe — from this, "You shall not oppress that poor orphan," up to this, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" — was sanctified and forever established.
I cannot help adding here, that the death of Christ lays no foundation for the hope of the universalist, but utters directly the contrary doctrine. Had it proclaimed that the penalty should never be executed, it would have ruined the law, and the divine Sufferer might better have remained in Heaven. But it pronounced exactly the opposite truth. The whole efficacy of the atonement consisted in declaring the doctrine of universalists to be false, and assuring the universe, just as the punishment of the damned will do, that God will continue to execute the penalty of the law on future offenders.
The obedience of Christ likewise honored the law. It was a principle on which God set out among the angels and in Eden, never to bestow a positive blessing — but as the reward of a perfect obedience. From the moment obedience ceased or became imperfect — all blessings were forfeited. This principle, so honorable to the law, he has never relinquished. Christ's obedience gave God an opportunity to bestow all spiritual blessings intended particularly for believers, in this very way. And every positive blessing, from the gift of the Holy Spirit to the least crumb of bread — is in fact bestowed as the reward of Christ's obedience to the law, and comes to us as a part of the mediatorial estate, earned and obtained in this way.
When Christ had finished His obedience and atonement, He entered into Heaven, there "to appear in the presence of God for us"; that all blessings being bestowed in answer to His public intercession, the full influence of His atoning sacrifice and righteousness might appear. And now when pardon comes to sinners in consequence of that intercession — it is publicly known that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."
And when all positive blessings are bestowed upon the Church in answer to that intercession, none can fail to see the fulfillment of such texts as these: "By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous." "By the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes;" "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." "Though he were a Son — yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." "You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows;" has made you "heir of all things," that believers might be "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ."
Let us now examine the general grounds on which a benevolent man will approve of this way of salvation. He wishes well to the universe, and is prepared to approve of any measure which is conducive to the public happiness. He loves God and longs to enjoy His friendship forever. He loves the holy law which he has broken, and bitterly laments his transgressions, and feels that he deserves eternal death.
But how can he be pardoned, without impairing the authority of the law? There is the doubt. He could not bear to have that law set aside for him. In this state, the Gospel finds him. He hears that God has designs of mercy. Well, this is joyful news, for he longs to live with God. But how can he be saved without destroying the law? At last he hears the glorious news, that Christ has borne the curse for him, and that he can be saved in a way even to glorify the law. Now his heart is filled with joy.
"I cannot consent," says he, "that my sins should be winked at by God. I wish to have it declared before the universe that I am a vile monster for transgressing such a law. I would willingly make the declaration myself in the hearing of three worlds. I wish to have it publicly understood that my sins did not escape the frown of God — but were condemned on the cross. I rejoice in receiving every blessing through the obedience and intercession of my Savior — that being the only ground honorable to the law, and being highly honorable to Christ. And I rejoice the more in this way of salvation, because it glorifies God. How did His love for His law shine forth on Calvary! How did His unequaled love shine forth for a rebellious world! How do all His perfections blaze forth in the Gospel! Therefore it is that I rejoice in this way of salvation, and choose it above all others."
Now, the happy man admires his Savior's character, and thanks Him that He would die to honor His Father's law and to save a world of enemies. He has firm confidence in the truth of God, and is assured that He will accept the mediation of His Son in behalf of sinners. He sees Christ to be just such a Savior as he needs — all-glorious and all-sufficient. He casts his soul upon Him and trusts in Him for every part of his salvation. He depends on His intercession to introduce him and all his offerings to God — and dares not approach immaculate purity in any other way. The more he examines this plan, the more he admires it as a grand measure for supporting the empire of Jehovah, for promoting His glory and the eternal interests of the universe.
These are some of the ways in which that love which seeks not her own — will act towards God, His government, His law, and towards sin and the Gospel. I pray you, my brethren, to bring your religion to this test. If it does not agree with this, cast it from you as a viper that will sting you to death! Without this charity, the most distinguished gifts and splendid works are nothing. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."
Let me exhort you all, my dear hearers, to exercise this love. Become the friends of God, and cast yourselves on the Gospel of Christ. Come and embrace this glorious way of salvation, so honorable to God — and so happy for the universe. Could any other way so glorious have been devised? Were you the friends of God and man — could you wish for any other? And yet this is the Gospel which a selfish world reject — while they grope in the dark to find another way to Heaven. How just that they should sink to a deeper damnation than the devils!
Once more the voice of mercy invites you. "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Amen.