7. Let's Talk About Love
Obedience to God is the most natural and normal life for any human being.
Conversion or regeneration is not like Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth, then--ZAP--stepping out as Superman.
Remember, the change in becoming a Christian is not physical or metaphysical. It is a moral change, a change in choice, supreme choice.
"Entire obedience does not imply any change in the substance of the soul or body.... Entire obedience is the entire consecration of the powers, as they are, to God." 39
"Nor does it imply...continual calmness of mind. Christ was not in a state of continual calmness. The deep peace of his mind was never broken up, but the surface...emotions...were often in a state of great excitement....
Nor does it imply perfect knowledge. Nor does it imply freedom from mistake on any subject whatever.
"Nor does it imply exemption from sorrow or mental suffering. It was not so with Christ. "Nor does it imply moroseness of temper and manners.... Cheerfulness is certainly the result of holy love." 40
Many people have strange ideas about what it means to be a Christian. Even knowledgeable people can have wrong ideas about what is implied and what is not implied in morality or true religion. They include things that have nothing to do with moral obligation, and exclude the very things that are essential to moral obligation.
In this way the world often gets the idea that the Christian life is something unreal, impractical.
But the life of obedience to God--the Christian life--is the only truly natural life. Love is normal and natural; selfishness is abnormal and unnatural. It is the sinner who is "out of whack."
Living in moral harmony with God is a wonderful life. The love of God rules the heart and all that the heart influences. "For all the law is fulfilled in one word...love" (Gal. 5:14). In other words, it all adds up to love.
When we speak of such virtues as love, compassion, patience, humility, etc., we are referring to choices. But in everyday language we frequently use the same words to describe our feelings.
For that reason it is absolutely essential that we understand the difference between the two. Love as a choice or motive is far deeper than "love" as a mere feeling or emotion. The same is true of all the various expressions and characteristics of love.
Real love--the essence of true morality and religion--is a fundamental commitment of the soul. This commitment usually results in feelings, but it does not consist in feelings. Love is not just an emotion.
Here is where many people make a big mistake. They judge their morality and religion by how they feel, rather than by what they are living for.
Remember, feelings are neither holy nor sinful in themselves. They are involuntary. Thoughts produce feelings. And many feelings are common to both Christians and sinners.
For example, when thinking about someone who is suffering, many sinners can feel the same emotions of pity that a Christian would feel. Think about suffering, and you feel pity. Think about injustice, and you feel indignation. This does not mean that you are religious or good. It just means that you are human. A gangster can murder a man one day, and cry the next day when he hears that the little girl next door was injured by a car.
Some sinners assume that they must love God a little bit because they have good feelings toward Him once in a while. In fact, some sinners have their warmest religious feelings when they are drunk. This is sentimentality, not love.
Everybody, saint and sinner, can have "good" feelings and "bad" feelings. And so, thinking that morality and religion are in the feelings, sinners believe that they have a lot of good in them along with the bad, just because they have some "good" feelings. Likewise, Christians can be led to believe that they have a lot of bad in them along with the good, just because they experience "bad" feelings.
"Bad" feelings make it easier to make wrong choices and harder to make good ones, and "good" feelings make it easier to make right choices and harder to make wrong ones. But moral character is in the choices, not in the feelings.
And morality is not a matter of following "good" feelings, either. Obeying "good" feelings does not make us good. It is still obeying our feelings, not God, and so it is nothing but a self-righteous form of self-gratification.
Whenever people do anything through emotion that they would not do through reason without emotion, they are being motivated by the emotion and not by love. Remember 1 Corinthians 13. It is possible to give all of one's goods to feed the poor just for the self-gratification that comes from doing it and not out of real love. This is a very subtle, self-deceiving, yet highly respectable form of selfishness.
All sinners are voluntary slaves to their desires. The sinner is ruled by the desire that is the dominant one at the moment, whatever that desire might be. Today he feels generous, so he contributes liberally to charitable causes or to friends. Tomorrow he feels miserly, so he reprimands himself for "letting his feelings run away with him" the day before. One day he feels lust and commits adultery; the next day he feels affectionately toward his family, has a spasm of conscience, and resolves to be faithful.
Because he follows "good" feelings and "bad" feelings, he thinks that he is both good and bad at the same time. He does not realize that as long as he chooses to be ruled by his desires, whatever they are, there is not a particle of goodness in him. He is ruled by self-gratification, not love.
Love is a fundamental choice--the choice of the highest good to God and man. This choice has many qualities. These qualities of love are expressions of love in various relationships and situations. Love is intelligent and reasonable. It is soft-hearted, but not soft-headed.
Love is a unit, a whole, and all of its parts harmonize. Every characteristic of love is consistent with every other characteristic of love. They all work together, balance each other, reinforce each other. The result is beautiful.
"Every virtue is only benevolence viewed...in certain relations.... This is true of God's moral attributes. They are...only attributes of benevolence.... This is and must be true of every holy being." 41
Let us look at the qualities or characteristics of love. What can be said about love?
Love is voluntary. It is a free choice, made in the full knowledge that the opposite choice (selfishness) is always possible. It is an intelligent choice. The heart knows what it is choosing, why it is choosing, and that the choice is reasonable and pleasing to God. It knows that what it is choosing is really valuable and that it is being chosen on that account. It knows that it is the right choice, a holy choice.
Love is unselfish. It reaches out beyond the things that self has an interest in, or that self will ultimately benefit from.
Love is impartial.
"It is no respector of persons.... Selfish love is partial,...has its favorites, its prejudices, unreasonable and ridiculous.... But benevolence knows neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, white nor black.... The fact that a man is a man, and not that he is of our party, of our complexion, or of our town, state, or nation--that he is a creature of God, that he is capable of virtue and happiness, these are the considerations that are seized upon by this divinely impartial love." 42
Love is universal. It excludes no one from its concern. Wherever good can be done, there love reaches out. It does not stop at the boundaries of our personal family, our community, or nation. It endeavors to gain the highest good of the greatest number, wherever they are, according to our ability and opportunity.
Love is productive. Love is an active, positive choice of the highest good of God and the universe. Certainly the choice of such tremendous values must put us into action! What a high and holy calling! We have the Almighty God to glorify, and a world of good to be done. Such a commitment will mobilize us and all of our resources for its accomplishment. Love cannot possibly be lazy.
Love delights in holiness. And it is opposed to all sin.
"Benevolence is...willing the highest good of being as an end. Now there is nothing in the universe more destructive of this good than sin. Benevolence cannot do otherwise than be forever opposed to sin...." 43
Remember, anything that is a virtue is an act of the will. Choice is where moral action is. Real opposition to sin, therefore, must be from the heart or will.
Many sinners are opposed to sin in their mind and in their feelings, while they continue to practice sin. Practically everybody disapproves of wrong, and sometimes even sinners will feel so deeply opposed to some particular form of evil that they will crusade passionately against it.
Because they feel so strongly opposed to the evil, and act so vigorously against it, they suppose that they have a certain amount of virtue in them. At the same time they know that they are committing sins of their own. Thinking that virtue consists in having good feelings, or in obeying "good" feelings, they conclude that they are partly good and partly bad at the same time.
But real love is opposed to all sin. This opposition is a choice. It includes the rejection of all sin, the renunciation of all sin. The heart cannot be truly opposed to sin and continue to hold on to sin at the same time. The two choices are mutually exclusive.
Sinners hold onto their sins because they love the pleasure that their unreasonable indulgences give them. They do not sin because they love "sin" itself. They do not choose their sinful indulgences because the indulgences are sinful, but in spite of the fact.
For example, the thief does not say, "I crave sin tonight. I just must have some sin." Of course not. He craves the pleasure that the object he steals will bring him, and perhaps the pleasure the act of stealing will bring. But he does not steal because it is sinful, but in spite of the fact that it is sinful.
Many sinners "hate" what they are doing, but they keep on doing it anyway because it gives them the most pleasure and pleasure is what they are after. They are not truly opposed to sin. If they were, they would quit sinning.
Love is compassionate. It chooses to lift the miserable out of misery and into happiness. Now, even sinners can feel compassion or pity when they see or hear of suffering and misery. They consider this feeling to be a sign of goodness in themselves.
James speaks of some who say to a brother or a sister in need, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," but do nothing about it (Jas. 2:15,16). They are content just to "feel" sympathetic. Others will act, but only because their feeling of pity is their overriding desire at the moment.
Finney makes this comment on the subject:
"A man of compassionate heart will also be a man of compassionate sensibility. He will feel and he will act. Nevertheless, his actions will not be the effect of his feelings, but will be the result of his sober judgment.
"Three classes of persons suppose themselves, and are generally supposed by others, to be truly compassionate. The one class exhibit much feeling of compassion, but their compassion does not influence their will.... These content themselves with mere desires and tears.
Another class feel deeply, and give up to their feelings. Of course, they are active and energetic in the relief of suffering. But being governed by feeling...they are not virtuous, but selfish.... A third class feel deeply, but are not governed by blind impulses of feeling. They take a rational view of the subject, act wisely and energetically.... These last are truly virtuous, and altogether the most happy of the three." 44
Love is merciful. It seeks to pardon. But love cannot exercise mercy at the expense of the greater public good. This would be a denial of itself, as love is a choice to seek the greatest good.
"No one attribute of benevolence is or can be exercised at the expense of another, or in opposition to it.... This would be a contradiction to will good...out of regard to its intrinsic value, and then choose injurious means to accomplish this end." 45
Mercy, too, is more than just a feeling. The feeling of mercy by itself would pardon, regardless of the attitude of the guilty and regardless of what has or has not been done to make his pardon safe and reasonable.
Real mercy is a choice to do everything possible to bring about the conditions that will make the pardon of the guilty safe and reasonable, and therefore morally possible.
Universalism has made its fundamental mistake on this very point. God is merciful. So then, universalism rationalizes, because God is merciful, He will forgive sinners. And because He will forgive sinners, everybody will be saved. But the conclusion does not necessarily follow.
Yes, God is love; love is merciful; and mercy will forgive sinners. But love cannot exercise mercy in violation of its other qualities.
Love is also just, and it is wise. These qualities of love demand that certain conditions be fulfilled before mercy is exercised--conditions that will make the exercise of mercy safe and just. That is why love requires repentance and a sacrifice for sin as preconditions for mercy.
"As mercy is an attribute of benevolence, it will naturally and inevitably direct the attention of the intellect to devising ways and means to render the exercise of mercy consistent with the other attributes of benevolence. It will employ the intellect in devising means to secure the repentance of the sinner, and to remove all obstacles out of the way of its free and full exercise.... This attribute of benevolnce led the Father to give his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, and it led the Son to give himself to die, to secure the repentance and pardon of sinners.... It is an amiable attribute. All its sympathies are sweet, and tender, and kind as heaven." 46
Love is just. The world is cursed with an eruption of phony activism for "justice."
When feeling is allowed to get hold of people, havoc can result. People look at the injustices in the world and get mad. But instead of doing something constructive and consistent to meet the need, many let anger get control of them.
What happens? Out they go into the streets to protest, riot, sometimes even to wreck and destroy. Some can plant explosives that maim and kill innocent victims, and then sit back in their twisted self-righteousness, having satisfied the cruel mandate of their personal sense of justice. Horrible!
Yes, some sinners will do something practical. But if they act only because their feelings demand it of them, they are really serving their emotions, not God and society. Self-gratification motivates them, not love. People motivated by love will feel deeply, and they will act. But they will act reasonably within the light they have, and not merely out of obedience to their emotions.
"Justice as an attribute of benevolence is virtue and exhibits itself in the execution of the penalties of the law, and in support of public order, and in various other ways for the well-being of mankind.... Public justice is modified in its exercise by the attribute of mercy.... Mercy cannot...extend a pardon but upon conditions of repentance, and an equivalent being rendered to the government [a substitutionary sacrifice]. Justice is conditioned by mercy, and cannot...take vengeance when the highest good does not require it, when punishment can be dispensed with without public loss. Thus these attributes limit each other's exercise and render the whole character of benevolence perfect, symmetrical and heavenly.
"Benevolence without justice would be anything but morally lovely and perfect.
"Let any one attribute of benevolence be destroyed...[and] you have in fact destroyed benevolence.
"This attribute...says to violence, disorder, and injustice, Peace, be still, and there must be a great calm." 47
Justice is not something distinct from love. How often we have heard the statement, "God is a God of justice as well as a God of love."
That statement is faulty.
God's justice is not the antithesis, the opposite, of His love. It is not something to be placed over against His love, as something to balance His love.
God is a God of justice because He is a God of love. Justice is a vital part of His love, a part of His total commitment to the highest good.
True, justice balances mercy, but both justice and mercy are expressions of God's love.
And here is another thought:
"Where true benevolence is, there must be exact commercial justice, or business honesty and integrity.... This attribute of benevolence must secure its possessor against every species and degree of injustice; he cannot be unjust to his neighbor's reputation, his person, his property, his soul, his body, nor indeed be unjust in any respect to man or God." 48
Where justice is missing, love is missing.
Look at the sinner who takes pride that he pays all his debts. He would never cheat anybody out of a dime. Never! He gives an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
But look at the way he is treating people's souls! He is extremely unjust to his family by refusing to be the spiritual head of his house. He commits a cruel injustice to is children by keeping them out of Sunday School and church week after week. He lures them away with Sunday fishing trips and camp-outs, thus depriving them of their priceless right to know God and His Word, and their right to eternal life.
He might be "Honest Abe" around town.... But is he really just? No. His actions show he has not a particle of real justice in him.
Love is truthful.
Becoming a Christian means the acceptance of the truth. It implies a willingness to face the truth, acknowledge the truth, obey the truth. Love is honest. Love seeks the highest good as its end, and knows that truth is the necessary means to secure that end.
A Christian cannot lie for the glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Truth, and every falsehood is a denial of Him. All who truly love our Lord Jesus Christ love the truth, and will not knowingly misrepresent the facts.
Where truth is absent, virtue is absent. A liar is in complete disobedience to moral law.
Love is patient.
Patience is the steadfastness of the heart in its love for God and for others, in spite of everything.
Calmness is not patience. It comes as the result of patience. You are exercising greater patience when you are upset than when you are calm--if you hold steady.
Trials, adversities, provocations, and things like that test your patience and give it a chance to get some exercise. But if the heart gets discouraged and gives up, love stops.
Love is meek.
Meekness is "taking it on the chin," a refusal to retaliate in any way when mistreated. If you love the person who mistreats you, you cannot retaliate or try to get even. Are you mistreated, persecuted, the object of provocation? Accept it as an opportunity to develop and demonstrate meekness. Jesus did.
Meekness is not weakness. It takes real strength to be kind and gentle toward those who mistreat you.
Love is humble.
Sometimes even sinners can feel humble. When deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, they can feel very ashamed of themselves and their sins, and yet at the same time refuse to surrender to God.
When the prodigal son came home, he confessed to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son" (Luke 15:21).
And listen to the words of the publican in Luke 18:13-- "God be merciful to me a sinner." That is genuine humility.
"Humility, considered as a virtue, consists in the consent of the will to be known, to confess, and to take our proper place in the scale of being...to pass for no other than we really are." 49
Love is self-denying.
If we love God more than we love ourselves, we will deny ourselves whenever we see that our own desires conflict with His interests. If we do not, we do not love Him. Love puts self in its proper place. Love refuses to let self be first in the heart. Nothing else is true self-denial.
A person might give up smoking during Lent, give up a meal and send the cost of the meal to the hungry, or go through all kinds of ascetic self-mortifications, and still refuse to take self off the throne of the heart. There is no love, no real self-denial, no virtue in that.
"A monk immures himself in a monastery; a hermit forsakes human society, and shuts himself up in a cave;...and a martyr goes to the stake. Now if these things are done with an ultimate reference to their own glory and happiness, although apparently instances of great self-denial,...they are in fact only a spirit of self-indulgence and self-seeking." 50
Giving up one indulgence for the sake of another is not true self-denial. Sometimes two sins conflict. For example, a selfish person cannot be a miser and a spendthrift at the same time. The desire that gives the most pleasure to self rules and the other desire gives in.
"One man will deny all his bodily appetites and passions for the sake of a reputation with men.... Another will...sacrifice everything else to obtain an eternal inheritance, and be just as selfish as the man who sacrifices to the things of time, his soul and all the riches of eternity." 51
It is also important to emphasize that self-denial is not self-rejection. Self-denial does not mean that we refuse to give ourselves any place, but only that we refuse to give ourselves first place or to put self above others. Self-denial is the choice to make whatever sacrifices that are called for by the greater good of God and of others. It certainly must be one of the characteristics of love, and can be expressed by the rich as well as by the poor. In fact, the greater one's advantages, the greater the opportunities for self-denial.
The most glorious example of self-denial is found in the gospel. God gave His Son, and the Son gave Himself to die in agony and blood to secure our salvation. We can only begin to comprehend the amount of self-denial involved in God's great redemptive act.
And love is condescending. It is willing to reach down as far as necessary to meet the need.
"Condescending...consists in a tendency to descend to the poor, the ignorant, or the vile, for the purpose of securing their good. This attribute is called by Christ 'lowliness of heart.' This is a lovely modification of benevolence. It seems to be entirely above the gross conceptions of infidelity. Condescension seems to be regarded by most people, and especially by infidels, as rather a weakness than a virtue. Skeptics clothe their imaginary God with attributes in many respects the opposite of true virtue. They think it entirely beneath the dignity of God to come down even to notice...the concerns of men.
"The Bible represents God as clothed with condescension.... Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without him. No creature is too low, too filthy, or too degraded for him to condescend to--this places his character in a most ravishing light. He is infinitely above all creatures. For him to hold communion with them is infinite condescension." 52
The self-righteous think it to be beneath their dignity and their moral standing to associate with sinners. Theirs is a hard, cold, loveless "morality." It wraps its proud robes around itself and snubs "that class of people."
"Benevolence cannot...be above any degree of condescension that can affect the greatest good. Christ could condescend to be born in a manger, to be brought up in humble life, to mingle with and seek the good of all classes, to be despised in life and die between two thieves on a cross." 53
Love is stable.
Remember, love is not just a set of feelings that come and go. It is a choice, a fundamental commitment of the soul to the greatest values possible--the highest happiness of God and of others.
"Stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this. It is a new birth, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guarantee of its stability. What then shall we conclude of those...who are soon hot and soon cold, whose religion is a spasm? We must conclude that they never had the root of the matter in them. They are stony ground hearers." 54
Love is morally pure and holy.
To be happy, we must be holy. That is, we must have a pure heart and a pure life. Love seeks to make people truly happy. But to make them happy, they must be holy and pure in heart. Therefore, love puts the highest priority on holiness, because it is absolutely necessary to the happiness and well-being of all.
"The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks to make its object happy only by making him holy." 55
So then, to add it all up, every virtue is love expressed in some form. It is love in action, love revealed.
This love is not the shortsighted so-called "love" promoted by situational ethics. Rather, it is a commitment to the highest good in the long run, to be achieved only by means consistent with its own pure nature.
It all adds up to love.