“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John iii. 18.
None of the divinely inspired writers of the holy scriptures had dwelt so much upon the subject of love as this beloved disciple of apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, and perhaps none had more fully experienced and exemplified its power and excellency than he had; yet all the apostles whose writings have been given to us fully agree with him and exhorting the saints to “let brotherly love continue,” and that it be without dissimulation, and have spoken of its origin, its power, and of its effects in keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Although the law which was given to Israel commanded those to whom it was given to love their neighbor as themselves, yet the command of Christ to his disciples to love one another is a new commandment; for it is not to be observed in the old miss of the latter, as a duty only, or legal obligation, but in the newness of the spirit, as the law of Christ, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, by which they are made free from a law of sin and death. The love of God, which is shed abroad in the heart of all who are born from above, is far superior to that passion of our earthly nature which is called love. That love is natural, and consequently imperfect; but this of which our apostle speaks is spiritual. The one is of the earth, earthy, and is common, as an element of our nature, to man, a passion, and to brutes as an instinct. It differs widely in its nature and origin from the natural passion of our earthly nature, for the apostles speak of as being born of God, not of the flesh. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that love of th is born of God, and knoweth God.” “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.” – 1 John iii. 7, 16. It is not an improvement of the carnal passion of our fleshly nature, but a special gift of God, and a fruit of his spirit. In the commencement of the chapter to which we have referred we are called to “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” It differs in manner, as well as in nature and quality, from all other love, and transcends all earthly love as heaven is higher than the earth. This transcendently high and holy love which God has bestowed upon his people, and by which they know that they have passed from death unto life, and by the manifestation of which one to another all men shall know that we are the disciples of the loving Savior, who has loved us in giving himself for us, is the love wherewith God, who is rich in mercy, hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, and by its existence in our hearts we are distinguished from all others of mankind. The beloved apostle, in verse eleven, very justly infers, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” And as another apostle says, “Seeing that ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto on feigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently; been born again,” &c. – 1 Peter i. 22, 23.
But we designed to speak more particularly in regard to the manner in which this fraternal of should not, and in what manner it should, be cherished and manifested by those whom John recognizes as his “little children.” This admonition and instruction is not addressed to aliens, or to any outside of the family in household of God; but to children born of the same heavenly parentage, whose Father is God in Christ, and his mother is Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and which is the mother of all who are, as Isaac was, the children of the free woman. – Gal. iv. 26, 28. Not to great children who fill able to care for themselves, and need not the admonition; but little children, humbled under the mighty hand of God, too small to be self-reliant or to feel independent; those who feel their weakness, and need to be taken by the hand and led step by step. Larger children may feel able to venture more; but these “new-born babes,” who desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby, and appreciate the privilege of the counsels and instructions, admonitions and exhortations of those who were called in qualified of God to be as nursing fathers in the family and household of God. To all such little children the admonition of our text comes, first in his native form, instructing them how they should not love: “not in word, neither in town.” But what can the apostle mean? Happy indeed is that little child in the kingdom of Christ, or that child of God of more mature age and experience, that has never been betrayed by the device of Satan to love in word or in town. Examples are given in the connection immediately preceding our text: “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother had need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth a profit?” – James ii. 15, 16. This describe the case of loving in word, and a very cheap way of loving in town, but fails to shall hold dwelleth the love of God in him who is sown liberal of his good wishes that the poor and needy sufferer may be warmed and filled, but not at his expense. There is undoubtedly too much of this heartless but wordy show of love and benevolence among professors of religion at this day, and even among some of the saints of God.
To profess a love for the people of God, for his institutions, his truth and his government, when the power in spirit of that love is not felt drawing us with its silken cords to an act of obedience to the law of Christ, is but a hypocritical dissimulation, which is forbidden; it may sound well upon the towns of dissemblers, but are reaches not down into the heart. But as the admonition of our text is addressed to those who are recognized by the apostle as little children, as new-born babes, who had tasted that the Lord is gracious, may we not infer that even the saints of god may to some extent be tempted to dissimulate and their professions of christian love, or at least fell to manifest the love which really exists in their hearts in acts of brotherly kindness and christian faithfulness one to another? It really seems that if no such liability existed, the apostles would not so earnestly exhort the saints to let brotherly love continue; it cannot continue where it has not begun, nor were it does not already exist. But where it does really exist, it is not enough that we declare its existence in word or in tongue; there is a more scriptural and practical way to demonstrate its existence, its nature, its heavenly origin and divine excellence than mere words and fruitless profession.
When we consider the importance of the indwelling of the love of God in our hearts, not only in its uniting, cementing and heavenly power to bring the saints in sweet and joyful bonds of fellowship, and of its tendency to glorify God, and as the indispensable ground of all our acts of obedience to the laws of Christ, but also as the most grip shall and reliable evidence that we have passed from death unto life, its vital importance can not be overrated. And the manner of its demonstration will up here in a clear enforceable light when we are referred to the example to which the holy apostles have with one voice directed our attention. We are told not only that Christ loved the church, but that he actually gave himself for it. And this is given as an example to the saints; for as Christ has loved and laid down his life for the church, “even so ought we to lay down our lives for one another.” The love of Christ was in deed and in truth. God our Savior has commanded his love to us, not alone by loving, but in the active manner in which its power was demonstrated in due time, when Christ died for us.
Our professions of love may be expressed in words and utterances of the tongue, which do not reach down into the heart, which move not the bowels of compassion, inclining us to deeds of benevolence and brotherly kindness. Such sounding professions are what the apostle calls loving in word and in town; but such demonstrations are fruitless when unaccompanied by deeds of active kindness, as shown by the apostles in the verse preceding our text. What does it profit our needy, suffering brother if we tell him to be warmed in filled, and lavish on him our good wishes, if we shut up the bowels of compassion and fail to relieve his suffering to the extent of our ability? The Godlike example is presented in the context (verse 16): “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If God’s love to us had been only in word or in tongue, unaccompanied by deeds of mercy and grace, we must have perished in our sins. If the same love of God which was commanded to us in the wonderful sufferings of the Savior for our salvation is shed abroad in our hearts, surely it will be this to suffer, and if we need be, to die, for our brethren. We will not only take joyfully the spoiling of our goods to minister comfort to our destitute and suffering brethren, but we will cheerfully brave even the terrors of death and the grave, if called to do so, for the good of the cause and people of our God.
Let us call attention a little further to the distinction between loving in word and tongue, and that love which is indeed an in truth. May we not with word and tongue profess to love our brethren, and even when they do not need to share with us our worldly treasure, fail to show our love and faithfully watching over them, telling them their faults, and laboring to reclaim them? If instead of telling our brethren their faults and meekness and love, we publish them to others, calling the attention of others to their failings, although we may profess to love them, and to be grieved that they have erred, yet such love is rather in word and tongue than in deed and in truth. A profession of love to God, to his truth and to his people maybe expressed by word with a tongue, as in the case of Joab to Amasa, “Art thou in health, my brother?” (2 Sam. xx. 9) while the instruments of cruelty and death are concealed. And David complained of one whose words were smoother than butter, while war was in his heart; and his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.” – Psa. lv. 21.
When we profess our love for the assembling of the saints for the social worship of God and comfort and edification of the saints, and solemnly covenant that we will not for sake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, and solemnly addressed to God our songs, in the words of the poet,
“Might I enjoyed the meanest place
Within thy courts, O God of grace,
Not tents of ease, nor thrones of power,
Should tempt our feet to leave thy door.”
and then allow things of much smaller magnitude to prevent us from attending the meetings of the church, where is then the blessedness we once spake in sang of? Our love for the house of prayer should be in deed and in truth, if we adhere to the admonition of our text. How frequently have some of the saints brought sorrow and barrenness of mind upon themselves by selling their birthright privileges in the church for some momentary carnal gratification. In word and tongue they say they prefer Jerusalem above their chief joy; but in deeds they shall a lamentable preference for the allurements of time and sense.
Again, there are other expenses to be provided for, besides that of ministering to the poor, which demand of us faithful stewards of our temporal things, as those who believe that all things belong to the lord, and that he required of us that according as he hath prospered us in putting us in trust, that we should communicate to whenever is needed to sustain the order of his house, and hold ourselves accountable to him, whose we are, and whom we profess to serve. The nature of our love to him, to his people into his cause is tested by our faithfulness or delinquency in giving or withholding. “The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.” – Isa. xxxii. 8. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that witholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” – Proverbs xi. 24, 25. All our worldly possessions should lie at the apostles’ feet, to be used or disposed of as God by his inspired apostles has commanded. The terrible judgment which fell on Ananias and Saphira for dissembling and lying to the Holy Ghost in this matter, should be a warning to all whose covetousness would lead them in a like manner to dissemble. Can we who profess to know the love of God sing to the Lord the following stanzas,
“All that I am and all I have
Shall be forever thine;
All that my duty bids me give,
My cheerful hands resign.
“Yet if I might make some reserve,
And duty did not call,
I love my God with zeal so great
That I would give him all,”
and at the same time refuse to bear an equitable share of the expenses which are required in providing a suitable place to meet for the worship of God, or to support his ministers, whose time and labor are devoted to the feeding of the flock of God, which he has purchased with his own blood? Can we do this, and not lie to the Holy Ghost? We solemnly say we would give him all that we have and all we are, when a very small part of what he has made us stewards of is either withheld or grudgingly given. On this very subject an apostle reminds us that “God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” How vain are loud professions of love to God, to his people, to the ministry which he has raised up, if our love is only in word or in tongue. If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted, according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. – 2 Cor. viii. 12.
Where little is given, but little will be required; and where much is given, and held in trust by the stewards, more will be required. It is too frequently the case, so far as our observation extends, that those who are the least able bear more than their just proportion of the burden of supplying the necessary expenses of our churches. We do not mean to exempt the ministers from a just share of responsibility; for they are men of like passions with others, and may, from an undue anxiety to serve their own avarice, run greedily after the error of Balaam, and make merchandise of their sacred calling, by watching more vigilantly to find out and occupy the most lucrative places, rather than watch the hand that points out the places where their labors are more needed. Nor do we call attention to this subject on our own account, for our course is nearly finished; and in more than sixty years in the ministry our lines have fallen to us in comparatively pleasant places, and our lot has been cast among faithful and kind brethren, whose love generally has been in deed and in truth. At our advanced age we feel a good degree of assurance that our brethren will bear with us, when for the sake of those we soon shall leave behind us, both ministers and brethren, and for the general prosperity of the church of Christ, we call attention to this important but exceedingly delicate subject. Covetousness, whether in the church or in the ministry, is idolatry, and is classified with the most reprehensible abominations. It is a sly fox that spoils the vines, and often gets a strong hold of us before we are aware that we are at all under its pernicious influence, or in any degree controlled by it.
Let us carefully review the admonition, as presented by the apostle in its legitimate connection. In verse 14 of this chapter, our knowledge that we have passed from death unto life rests upon the existence of this love in our hearts, which is not in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth; for he that loveth not his brother abideth in death. In verse 15 we are informed how the love of God is perceived, in distinction from that profession of love which is only in word and in tongue. It is clearly perceptible in this, that the love of God in Christ Jesus was demonstrated as the pure love of God in his laying down his life for us; and we, if that same love of God dwells in us, will be by it ready to lay down our life for the brethren. Hence, in verse 17, he demands how this love of God, which can be perceived in no other way than by sacrificing even life, if need be, for the brethren, can dwell in him who, having this world’s good, will shut up the bowels of compassion from his brother who is in need of substantial aid. And in verse 19 he shows that “Hereby,” that is, by loving in deed and in truth, and shall assure our hearts before him,” that is, before God.
What greater desire can any child of God have than that he may assure his heart before God that he knows the truth, and that in deed and in truth the love of God dwells in him, giving infallible evidence that he is born of God?
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 6
March 15, 1881