The Object to Be Pursued
James Smith, 1865
"Follow after love" Corinthians 14:1
The religion of Jesus — is the religion of love. It originated in the love of God to us — his free, infinite, and eternal love; and it produces love in us first toward himself, and then toward his beloved people. Love is the standard of real religion, and we have just as much religion — as we have love. Love is the bond of union in the church of Christ, and should, therefore, be zealously cultivated, and carefully guarded. The peace, the purity, and the prosperity of the church — depends very much upon the love of its members. A loving church is sure to be a peaceful, prosperous, and happy church; but if they have not love, though there may are members, wealth, and quietness — there is no true prosperity.
The Corinthian church abounded in gifts — but it was deficient in love; hence its divisions, and the cry, "I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas, and I am of Christ." To cure this sad state of things, and bring the whole church into a truly healthy condition, Paul proposes that every man should set his eye and his heart upon love. That this should be the object of pursuit. This he calls the more excellent way, and would lead the Lord's people to prefer it to gifts, however splendid, useful, or valuable they may be. Brethren, nothing is to be preferred — to love in the church of Christ; and one of our greatest defects in the present day — is the lack of love. Many rest satisfied if there are no strifes, or divisions, or gross immoralities; they think the church is in a good state, though there is little or no warm-hearted, zealous, self-denying love. But this is a mistake. Let us briefly consider Paul's kind exhortation, and let us endeavor to reduce it to practice.
WHAT are we to seek?Love to the brethren. Love, similar to that which Jesus felt. Love, strong, active, and determined, as displayed by the apostle himself. Love to all saints for Jesus' sake, and love to all saints under all circumstances. Love to the poorest, the weakest, and the most imperfect of the Lord's family. Though they differ from us in doctrine, in discipline, in many other things — yet if they belong to Christ, we should love them. Every one should have a place in the warm affections of our hearts, if they prove that they have a place in the heart of Christ. To live in the neglect of love — is to live in sin. To be cold and indifferent toward one another, is contrary to the law of Christ. He says, "Love one another — as I have loved you." It is practically neglecting the admonition of the Holy Spirit, who says, "See that you love one another, with a pure heart, fervently."
Love adorns the Christian character, silences the church's foes, makes the loving one happy, and brings honor to the Savior's name. Vain is our profession of Christ, vain our costly alms-deeds, vain our mighty faith, vain our painful sufferings, and vain our splendid gifts — if we are destitute of holy love! Let us ponder deeply and prayerfully the testimony of the Holy Spirit, by the apostle, upon this point. Paul places himself before us with all his costly endowments, with all his wondrous works, with all his varied sufferings, and that he may impress and deeply affect our minds, he says, "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!" How solemn, how interesting, how affecting is this statement! Can we wonder that he should urge his beloved friends, and while urging them, urge us — to "follow after love?"
Love sometimes seems to take its flight from the church; it even appears to take its flight from our bosoms. We can look at people whom we believe to be Christians, and feel no love to them. Nay, at times, we have no desire to love them. We can pass them without speaking, or speak without sincere affection. This must be wrong. This never ought to be tolerated by us for one hour. We should go upon our knees, and confess it before God as a sin against the Savior's own commandment. We should plead with God to fill our hearts with his own sweet love, to give us the Spirit of love, power, and of a sound mind. We should carry our unloving and unlovely spirits and tempers to the cross of Jesus — and seek that our old man may be crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed. We should carefully watch against what is opposed to love, realize it as a sin, and deeply deplore it before our Heavenly Father's throne. We should diligently cultivate a loving spirit, remembering that it is the very image of God — and our nearest assimilation to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Does love seem to evade us, to fly from us? Let us follow it with determined step, with patient perseverance, with strong cries and tears to God for help. Is it opposed to our natural disposition? Let us yield up ourselves unto God, that he may sanctify us wholly in body, soul, and spirit.
Love is humble; it is never proud of itself, nor will it allow its possessor to boast, or to undervalue others, in order to exalt himself.
Love is patient; it will not fly at every supposed insult, or be provoked by every appearance of neglect.
Love is active; it will do, or give, or go, to comfort, or relieve, or benefit, any of its objects.
Love is self-denying; it looks away from itself, it loses sight of itself, and wishes to do others good, and make others happy.
Love is liberal; it will allow others to think differently, to act differently, without being prejudiced or offended, except God be dishonored, and his cause injured.
"Love," says the Holy Spirit, "is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
Let us, therefore, heartily, earnestly, and constantly follow after love. It is the object of Satan's special hatred, consequently, he makes the most determined opposition to its exercise, and endeavors by all means to prevent its cultivation. It is also opposed to all the selfish principles of our fallen nature, and is, therefore, opposed by them all. But we should ever remember that God requires it, not only in his law — but also in his gospel. Nor can he be pleased with us, if we neglect, or trifle, or run counter to this his holy and necessary commandment. He sent his own Son to set us the example, to show us that love may be cultivated, and constantly manifested even in a world like ours, and under the most unfavorable circumstances.
The church deeply needs the exercise of love. Her many imperfections — her unseemly divisions — the unfounded prejudices of one part of the body against the other — her low condition — her sorrows and sufferings — all these call for love. They unite, and with one strong, energetic, and solemn voice they cry, "Follow after love!"
All admire love. It is the most powerful instrument we can wield. Would we spread the truth? Would we conquer the enemies of the gospel? Would we win over the young to the cause of God? Would we silence gainsayers? Would we close the mouths of infidels? Would we effectually conquer Rome? In one word, would we honor God, exalt Jesus, sow to the Spirit, heal the wounds of the church, make a good impression on the world, or be really happy ourselves — it must be effected by love! We must, one and all, in public and private, by searching the heart, by pleading with God, by denying self, by using all the means which God has appointed, or the gospel furnished, "follow after love."
Reader, is love an object of admiration with you? Does it appear as most desirable, not only in others — but also in yourself? Do you sigh, cry, pray, and pant for it? Are you mourning over the lack of it in others — but especially in yourself? Is it the object of your pursuit? Or, can you indulge in unlovely tempers, use and sanction harsh and uncharitable expressions, and live in a state of alienation from God's people because they have at some time offended you? Is this the case? If so, how does the love of God dwell in you? How can you expect to enjoy nearness to God, or sweet communion with God! How can you wonder, if thus grieving the Holy Spirit, he leaves you to yourself, and your heart grows hard, your evidences are beclouded, and your religion dwindles into a mere form? Would the Scriptures be true if it were otherwise?
You are a backslider in heart, and unless you repent, the Lord will leave you to be filled with your own ways. You are sowing the seeds of wormwood, and it will be bitterness in the latter end. True religion is love. Love to God and love to man. We have just so much religion — as we have love, and no more. If we have no love — we have no true religion. May the Holy Spirit shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, and lead us to love every one who loves God with tender affection; and to love all others with pity and compassion. Then shall we prove that we are the children of God, by loving him and keeping his commandments; then shall we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things; then shall we allure sinners from the paths of sin and death; and then shall we be the ornaments of the church, and the glory of Christ. Let us, therefore, "follow after love!"