Brethren Beloved: – It is in my heart to write to you of love and obedience, that we may see the relation between them, and so the better appreciate the love of God in Christ, and magnify his holy name for his love bestowed upon us.
Text: “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” – John xiv. 23. The Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us, thus spoke to the apostles. It was when they were separated from all the multitudes of men, the dark night of his betrayal, in his last discourse with his loving disciples before his death on the Roman cross for their sins the next day. He had just given them his new commandment of love to one another, and had said to them, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”
Our blessed Lord in these brief words (the Father’s word) which they heard or received, blessedly enlightens and instructs his disciples; and that they might understand the true and spiritual meaning of this word, he adds, “But the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” This should be fulfilled to them in and “at that day,” after the Lord should come up out of the legal night, the dark wilderness of sin and death, with his bride leaning upon him. Hence, says the beloved John, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” In this “glorious day “the resurrected Son of God is “the Sun of righteousness,” “the life and the light” of all his disciples, in whom he is, and they are in him. This is a most sacred union, holy and everlasting and blessed. The Son, now risen from the dead, to die no more, is in the Father, and the living and loving disciples are in the Son, and he is in them. Herein is the source, the origin and fountain of all divine life and love and obedience to the commandments of Jesus. In this is found the nature and the fulfillment of his new commandment to his disciples. Divine love is the foundation, the springing fountain, the “good ground,” the constraining power and holy motive, which underlies and prepares the obedient heart and active life unto keeping the commandments of Jesus. Nothing else is pleasing to God, nor accepted of him, but is only “a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof.” It is drawing nigh unto God with the mouth, and honoring him with the lips, while the heart is far from him. Such professed service and formal obedience is selfish, self-honoring and self-pleasing, and its prompting motive and incentive is the reward to be received for such work and service. Jesus says of all such workers, “Verily, they have their reward.” For they serve for the reward, the pay, the good they shall receive for their good service. This reward or pay they call “time salvation,” which, they say, is a conditional reward for conditional obedience or service, which they either voluntarily perform, or let alone. Who cannot see that all this is of self, and for self? Remove this actuating motive of conditional reward, and deny this selfish, legal principle, and those who hold to it will at once say that your doctrine leads to saying, “Let us do evil, that good may come;” and, “Let us sin, that grace may abound.” For they seem to see and feel no sufficient motive and incentive in the grace of God’s love shed abroad in the heart, the powerful motive that Paul felt, saying, “For the love of Christ constraineth us,” to constrain them to obey from the heart, or keep the commandments of Jesus because they love him. So they labor to establish another principle as a motive to prompt to religious service, and this thing they have named, “conditional time salvation,” which “depends upon themselves,” and which salvation consists in “conditional rewards,” or payment for conditional works of obedience. That this is the underlying principle and actuating motive of the entire religious world in their professed service and formal obedience to God, from the pope of Rome to Brigham Young and the Mormons, there can be no question; but for any of the Old Baptists to teach and try to enforce this slavish or servile, legal and selfish principle, is passing strange, and its very nature and only tendency is to undervalue and deny the power and sufficiency of the grace of God, and the efficiency of the constraining love of Christ. This legal principle of conditionalism in salvation, whether it be everlasting or time salvation, turns away from the divine love and grace as not sufficiently powerful to save and lead to righteous and godly living in this present world, and substitutes the creature-pleasing motive of conditional rewards, and the creature-terrorizing goad or spur of punishments, as more successful in “winning souls to Christ,” or causing christians to keep his commandments. It is a snare and a cheating delusion, which, while it may honor and please the self-serving sinner, dishonors the Savior and his grace and love. His true and precious word is, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Thus he teaches that keeping his commandments springs out of love to him, as the pure water from its living fountain, and the good fruit from the good tree. This is the principle and law of God in grace as in nature. “God is love.” “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is love. * * * We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John iv.) Our love, then, is of God, and he is the fullness and cause of our divine love: “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom. v.) So then, any religious work or service which does not spring from this divine love, as the manifest effect and fruit of love, is not obedience to the commandments of our loving Lord, though it may be immersion and joining a church, praying and preaching. On the other hand, Jesus says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” This is the certain fruit of love to him; this love inspires and moves that man or one to keep his words, and this willing keeping of his words is the active power and expression of love to the Lord Jesus. How shameful and slanderous to charge that this heart-given obedience and service of love, which is the reigning grace of God, reduces the loving servant of Christ to a mere irresponsible and passive machine. So far from it, the most sacred responsibility, the dearest obligations and the most self-sacrificing, consecrated and devoted obedience known to angels or men, in heaven or on earth, arise from and exist in Love. Without this, all religious sacrifice, service and work is merely a heartless, hollow form, a mocking hypocrisy, and so far from being pleasing to the Lord and rewarded by him, he says, “He that loveth me not keopeth not my sayings.” However zealous he may be in religious work, he does not keep the commandments of Jesus, only as he yields the self-denying and true obedience of love. And this unbribed, unbought service of love finds its blessed and full recompense and reward in thus laying the heart’s best devotions upon the altar of love. And with such sacrifices God is well pleased. The sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit is honoring to him, and to this one he hath respect.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous,” says the loving John. This is like the word of Jesus in the text, showing that keeping his commandments cannot be separated from the love of God, and they bear the close relation to each other of cause and effect.
It is regarded by all good people naturally and morally, that the self-sacrificing service of human love, which makes willing martyrs of thousands of mothers especially, and of fathers and children, wives and husbands, who do all and suffer all for love’s sake, is the most beautiful and potent and sacred sentiment and motive in human life, compared with which any service or obedience which is prompted by the hope of self-reward, or the fear of punishment, is unworthy, sordid and mean. A service that is bought, or done for hire or reward, is servile and selfish, for the one who performs such service does so for the benefit he shall receive, and the reward is the motive and impelling cause. This principle makes the world extremely selfish and sordid. It has corrupted and blighted the best governments of men, and it has vitiated all the religions of the entire religious world. It entered the temple of God itself, polluted and debased it, so that his holy Son told this very religious people, who professed to be serving God in their devotions, that they had made his Father’s house a den of thieves. More lamentable still, this principle and motive for religious service and formal obedience to the Lord’s commandments has crept into the church of God. So that even here, where the new commandment of love should be the only law, the one sweetly constraining motive, wherein the loving voice of him who “loved the church and gave himself for it,” should be lovingly heeded, saying, “If ye love me, keep my commandments;” alas! in this sacred sanctuary of loving worship to the God of love, this corrupting principle of serving for reward has entered, and makes its appeals to the selfishness of man, saying, Come and join the church and serve the Lord, for the reward you shall receive. The fruit of this is, just as it was in the church at Antioch, and the churches of Galatia, confusion and trouble. It is nothing more nor less than sowing to the flesh, and of the flesh reaping corruption. This principle of conditional rewards for conditional obedience and service, as a motive and incentive in religious service and worship, is displeasing to the holy God, who looks not at the outward appearance, but sees the heart as it is, and it is corrupting to those who thus serve. They serve not the Lord, but themselves. The children of the loving Father in heaven should never be tempted by this flesh-pleasing motive, as the devil thus tempted the holy Son of God, holding out to him a big reward. It is an appeal to selfishness and self love; therefore it is worldly and legal in its nature, and it is the motive principle in all worldly or carnal religion and service.
“If a man love me, he will keep my words,” is the infallible doctrine of the loving and obedient Son of God. Love to the adored Savior gives the loving soul the good will to keep his words, and it is the divine power and pure motive which causes him to believe in the Lord with the heart, and to obey him from the heart. By the Holy Ghost is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, and so with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Thus and in this way do the loving and willing and obedient children of God worship him in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. There is nothing in true worship and service which love will not sweetly move the loving heart to do; no sacrifice too hard or great for pure love to make. Even “faith worketh by love and purifieth the heart.” Remember, “love is of God,” and the love of God is the most holy and powerful and active of all powers and principles and motives. The faith that is born of love is the only principle and motive by which it is possible to truly obey and please God. It is this that is dearer than life, and stronger than death. It made Abraham willing to quit his kindred and become a stranger in a strange land. It led his willing feet up Mount Moriah, to offer up his Son, whom he loved more than his own life. It led the obedient feet of the suffering Son of God up Mount Calvary, to give himself a willing and all-sufficient sacrifice of compassionate and devoted love. O blessed obedience of all-consuming, holy, deathless love! May I thus love and obey, serve and please God. The meek and lowly service of one such loving heart, though it be given in tears and self-sacrifice and suffering, is infinitely more pleasing and glorifying to God, who is rich in mercy and great in love, than all that has ever been offered in formal worship to him by countless human souls from any other principle or motive.
In conclusion, then, if we keep the commandments of God, it is his love in our hearts as the single and sacred cause and motive by which we do so. If any other principle or persuasion actuates our obedience or service, we are not keeping the commandments of God, which can only be kept in the singleness of the pure love of God in the heart. The hope of reward as an incentive to keeping his commandments, has no place in the service of love. Neither is the fear of punishment an incentive in keeping the loving Father’s commandments, and such a notion is slavish and a reproach to love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love,” is the lovely sentiment of the loving John. The love of the Father and Son and Spirit is the blessed and infinite motive and active cause of all the great and infinite sacrifice and obedience and service of the holy ThreeOne for us; and all the blessings and joys of salvation which we receive, on earth and in heaven, are the unmerited and unbought rewards of the love of God, the riches of his grace. Now, the love of God is not conditional love, neither is his grace conditional. So, then, salvation from sin, from any sin or all sin, is not conditional, for the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin, and his atoning blood is not conditional. It is grace, then, that saves us from all sin. Our entire service of obedience is the service of love, and “love is of God;” it is the gift or grace of God, and he has bestowed it upon us so richly as to call us his children. So our obedience is neither the bought service of a hired servant, nor the coerced service of a slave, but it is the heart-given service of a loving child. The motive in keeping the Lord’s commandments, therefore, is neither the hope of reward, nor the fear of punishment, but because we love him. This, dear brethren, is like his obedient and self-sacrificing service for us, for it was because he loved us that he gave his obedient life of suffering for us.
“If a man love me, he will keep my words.” “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” “Love is the fountain whence all true obedience flows.” “The christian loves the God he knows, and serves the God he loves.” Love sanctifies and beautifies all devotional service, and makes it acceptable, honoring and pleasing. No other principle or motive can. God will accept no other. “If ye love me,” is the only fitting or qualifying principle, the only “wedding garment” in which we can enter into our Lord’s holy service and keep his commandments. Unless his love is the consecrating motive and prompting principle or sentiment in the heart of the worshiper, he does not, be cannot enter here, but is an intruder in this sacred place, and has no right to the holy commandments of the blessed Lord. His commandments are kept and done in love to him. Nothing else but love will keep them. O, that we all more perfectly knew and realized this sacred truth.
“Do not I love thee, O my Lord?
Behold my heart and see,
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival thee.”
Crawfordsville, Ind., July 28, 1899.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 17
SEPTEMBER 1, 1899.