We love Him because He first loved us. If a man say, I lore God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. (1 S. John iv. 19, 20)
THE Apostle S. John asserts three propositions in these words. Firstly, he exhorts us to love: We love Him. Secondly, he assigns the cause of our love. Because He first loved us. Thirdly, he exhorts us to the love of our neighbour If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother…
- On the first head it is to be noted that we ought to love God in three ways.
First, that our whole heart may be filled with His love: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. (Deut. Vi. 5)
Firstly, we must pray that we might love the Lord our God as completely as possible. Of course, we cannot love Him perfectly since we are imperfect. But we can desire to love Him more perfectly as our love for Him is grown, made better, and refined. So we pray that the Holy Ghost will grow the love of God in us. We pray we might love Him above all things. We pray that our love might be made better as we pray for the imperfect to be perfected. God does not allow us to love Him perfectly yet since we must be humbled, and thus acknowledge that our love for Him has been weak, fragile, wavering, and competing with the love for other things. In this way we become more dependent upon God alone because His love alone can always be made better in us. Our love for Him must be refined as we begin to love all others things as if we loved them not.
Second, that we should love nothing except for His sake. St. Augustine says, He loves Thee less, who with Thee loves anything else, which he loves not for Thy sake.
Secondly, we must love all things in and for God. Thus we love all other creatures in so far as they enhance and strengthen our love for God. If we love anyone or anything more than God, then we are fools. Other men and things are perishable commodities. They cannot promise us lasting happiness and joy. The happiness we derive from them derives from a repetition of their indulgence. They are relative goods. And thus we must love God in all things and all things in God. So when we love other men, we love the image and likeness of God in them, and we pray that they might join us in loving God above all things.
Third, that no enemy should turn us away from His love. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,” &c. (Rom. viii. 35)
It is a simple fact that those who threaten to destroy our love for God most are our enemies. This is because our anger, resentment, bitterness, and desire for vengeance against them tend to unhinge, move, and distract us from our love of God. For this reason, we must always place those who are our enemies on the tops of our prayer lists. We must pray for them. We must pray that the image and likeness of God will be perfected in them. We must pray, that if possible, we might be reconciled to them. If we are not able to be reconciled to them in this life, we must pray that we might meet and greet them in the arms of Jesus in the end times. So we must love our enemies in God and God in our enemies. Now we must remember that there are three kinds of enemies. There are those whom we have made enemies through our sins against them. Thus we must confess that we have failed to honor the Image and Likeness of God in them. Then we should pray that they might be led to forgive us. There are those who have made themselves our enemies, and we must simply forgive them. There are those whom we have made enemies and who have made themselves our enemies simultaneously because both we and they have been sinning against each other in equal degrees. With regard to this latter group, we must pray for healing and merciful reconciliation. Now, just to note, there are also those whom we think are our enemies, but in point of fact, are not. Sometimes we imagine things because of our insecurity and paranoia. We must pray the Lord to rid us of such narcissistic and vain phantoms that we may truly love those who do not need to be forgiven since their offence against us has been a pipe-dream.
- On the second head is to be noted that there are three reasons why we ought chiefly to love God.
First, on account of His goodness. S. Bernard says, Good is the cause of our loving God. For so great is the goodness of God, that if He never had done or never willed to do any good to man, nevertheless he ought ever to love Him.
God Himself is pure goodness. He need not do anything to us or for us for us to cause our love for Him. He being, knowing, and loving in Himself are worthy always of our love. We ought to love Him because He is good. Goodness is worthy of love because it is what we behold when we have a vision of God. God is simply Himself, and His goodness ought to be loved. Now we love Him in Himself, but we love Him also because He is the cause of love. So His goodness causes love since every love that we express, be it ever so imperfect, comes from Him. When we love anything, we are participating in God’s goodness. So God’s goodness commands our love.
Second, on account of His love as in text, We love God because He first loved us. St. Augustine writes, I, wretched man that I am, as much as possible, ought to love my God, Who made me what I was not ; Who redeemed me when I was about to perish ; Who when I was sold on account of my sins, gave Himself for me, and Who loved me so much that He gave the price of His blood for me.
We must love God because His goodness moves Him to love us. His goodness is His Grace that desires and longs to make us what we were not before He decided that His love should remake us. So He makes us what we were not. He redeemed us when we were about to perish and die in our sins. His redemption of the world is in our Lord Jesus Christ. So in and through Jesus alone we are redeemed, made right with God, and justified. Because of our sins, we were sold to Satan for a season. In this state we were powerless, hopeless, and lost. But God’s Word of Love was made flesh and took it upon Himself to pay the price for our sins, to buy us back, by shedding His blood and dying for us. And so we were repurchased by God with the cost of Christ’s blood and His forfeited life. And thus He insinuated Himself into our human nature that out of that condition’s potential limitations, He might reconcile us to God. He has died the death we could never die so that we might live the life that we could never merit. So this is the love of God for us expressed in His Word of Love made flesh that loves us so much that He has died for us, in order that we might live to the Father through Him forever.
Third, we ought to love God on account of our profit, for He has prepared good things which are not able to be spoken of for those who love Him. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So God has prepared for us ‘such good things as pass our understanding.’ God’s goodness is imparted to us as His love. His Love is expressed for us in the Word made flesh that died once for all that we might live forever. And so God desires to share His eternal goodness with us in a knot of unbreakable communion with Himself. And we love God because of that Love which not only overcomes our self-willed alienation from Him, but rewards us with a Love that surpasses anything we could either deserve or desire. Oh the depth, the length, the height, the breadth of God’s love for us is too great to every imagine or understand. He has such love for us that He will grow and perfect it beginning even here and now in us through His Holy Spirit. We need only say “yes” to His love and embrace His presence in our hearts. And so we must love with His love, make good returns on His love for us, and love all others in that same Love, that they too might be awakened to its presence in our sin-sickened world.
III. On the, third head it is to be noted that we ought to love our neighbour for three reasons.
First, on account of the command. A new commandment I give unto you. (St. John xiii. 34)
First we are to love our neighbours because God in Christ has commanded it. If we are going to enjoy the love of God forever there are certain preconditions that must lay the groundwork for the growth of God’s love in our souls. We must love all men. If we do not, then false gods vie for our attention and love. The commandment to love one another is simply an absolute condition without which we cannot be saved. God will fill us with His love only if we first obey Him. Obedience to God is not impossible. Countless numbers of theologians have led many astray by squinting and straining their eyes on the gnat of obedience. God made us with the ability to obey. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we can obey Him. Jesus says, ‘If ye love me keep my commandments.’ (St. John xiv. 15) And so obey Him we must if we are to discover the purely gratuitous motions of His love in our lives. The condition for the Holy Spirit’s entry into our hearts is obedience.
Second, on account of the example of nature, for we see that all things naturally love similar things. Every beast loveth its like, so also every man him that is nearest to himself : all flesh shall consort with the like to itself. (Eccl. xiii. 15, 16)
Now we must love our neighbors as ourselves because our neighbour ‘is another self’ (Nic. Ethics: IX) Both we and our neighbours are made in the Image and Likeness of God. And so because we share a nature we ought to extend love for one another. We are all made by God for God –to know Him, to know all things in the light of His intelligence, and to use all things to ensure our deeper love of Him. Thus when we love our neighbours, we are loving what we share with them. Now Augustine says that ‘we should love our neighbours even more than our own bodies.’ (De. Doctr. Chr. I, 27) What this means is that we should love the Image and Likeness of God in all others. Thus we must love the perfection of other men’s souls before we love our own bodies. It may come to pass that we must offer our bodies to burned for the sake of our brethren’s souls. So be it. We will die in body having loved the good of our neighbours’ souls. This is a good thing, since we shall love ourselves as Christ has loved us, who gave His body a living sacrifice for our sins. So we must imitate Christ in this expression of love.
Third, on account of the evil which follows him who does not love his neighbour, because he incurs the death of sin and hell. ‘He that loveth not his brother abideth in death’. (1 St. John iii. 14) from which death may He deliver us, &c.
Now if we do not love our neighbours as ourselves, we shall not be reconciled to God’s love in eternity. Many a Christian has gone down to his grave failing to forgive just one person. And for this singular reason that man enters into utter and perfect alienation from God’s love. There is no other reason for a man to be damned save that he has failed to forgive just one other man. To love is to forgive. To forgive is to hope. When we fail to forgive, we fail to embrace hope for our enemy’s conversion and salvation. Then we have decided to return to playing at being God. But we are a poor actors and imitators indeed. For if we would play God, we should know that we must embrace His all-loving, all-forgiving, all-hoping nature for all men. No offense against God or man is so great that it cannot be forgiven. So we must forgive. And we must remember that the only sin that will land us in Hell is the refusal to forgive and earnestly desire and hope for every man’s salvation. It is a sure sign that we have not felt the unmerited, undeserved, and unearned gift of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ, if we have not forgiven our enemy. So let us today share the forgiveness of God with all others, and in so doing keep God’s commandments and allow our souls to be changed truly through His love. Let us remember that the proof that the love and forgiveness of God has sanctified us, is our determination to share it with all men. Amen.