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LOVE THE ESSENCE OF OBEDIENCE.
THEREFORE love is the fulfilling of the law.
ROMANS, xiii. 10.
It appears from the words to which this passage refers, that the apostle is here speaking, not of the ceremonial law, which ceased at the death of Christ, but of the moral law, which still remains in its full force and obligation. This law, which is founded in the nature of things, and which is level to every capacity, has been very generally misunderstood and perverted. The Scribes and Pharisees, and even Paul himself before his conversion, totally misapprehended its proper meaning. Nor is it much better understood now, than formerly. This, however, is very easy to be accounted for. Those who are unwilling to do their duty, are always unwilling to become acquainted with it. An undutiful child is disposed to misunderstand his father's commands; an unfaithful servant is apt to mistake his master's orders; a rebellious subject is prone to misconstrue the laws of the state; and the same spirit of disobedience inclines all classes of sinners to misunderstand the first and fundamental rule of duty. But a clear knowledge of the nature and extent of the law of love seems to be very necessary, in order to understand the doctrines and duties of the gospel, and to reconcile them with each other. It is a matter of real importance, therefore, to set the declaration of the text in a clear and consistent light. And in order to this, it is proposed,
I. To describe the nature of love in general.
If we turn our attention inwardly and examine the operations of our own minds, we shall be convinced that love is something very different from either perception, reason, or conscience. These are natural faculties, which do their office independently of the will
. It depends upon our perception, not upon our will, whether an object shall appear either black or white. It depends upon our reason, not upon our will, whether a proposition shall appear either true or false. It depends upon our conscience, not upon our will, whether an action shall appear either good or evil. But it depends entirely upon our choice, whether we shall love either a white or a black object, either a true or false proposition, either a good or an evil action. Hence we intuitively know that love is a free, voluntary affection, which is entirely distinct from every natural faculty of the mind. It is neither a power nor a principle of action, but rather an act or exercise itself. And in this respect, it totally differs from every bodily and mental taste; in which we are altogether passive. We cannot help tasting the sweetness of honey, nor relishing the beauties of nature and of art. But we are under no natural necessity of loving a beautiful flower, nor an amiable character. It is, therefore, the voice of universal experience, that love is a free, voluntary exercise, which essentially differs from any natural power, principle, taste, or sensation, of the human mind. Freedom and activity are essential to love in general. The next thing is,
II. To describe the nature of true love in particular.
Since we are free and voluntary in loving, there is a just ground of distinction between true love and false. And agreeably to this distinction, God requires one kind of love and forbids another. He requires us to love himself supremely, but forbids us thus to love ourselves, or any other created object. These two kinds of love are essentially different. The one is true love, and the other false; the one is pure benevolence, and the other is real selfishness; the one is the fulfilling, and the other the transgression, of the law. It appears, therefore, to be necessary to point out the peculiar properties of true love, by which it is distinguished from false.
1. True love is universal, extending to being in general, or to God and all his creatures. “ The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast." The primary object of true benevolence is being, simply considered, or a mere capacity of enjoying happiness and suffering pain. It necessarily embraces God, and all sensitive natures. Though the man of true benevolence has a peculiar complacency in God and in all other benevolent beings, yet he wishes well to creatures that have no benevolence, and even to such as are incapable of all moral exercises. It is, therefore, the nature of true benevolence to run parallel with universal being, whether uncreated or created; whether rational or irrational; whether holy or unholy. And in this respect, it essentially differs from that selfish and false affection which centres in one individual, and terminates in personal happiness.
2. True love is impartial. It regards every proper object of benevolence according to its apparent worth and importance in the scale of being. It regards God according to his greatness and goodness, and of course more than all created beings. And among created beings, it prefers the great to the small, and the good to the great. The truly benevolent man measures his affections towards every being, according to its capacity and disposition of doing and of receiving good; and not according to the relation which it bears to his own private interest. As he values the happiness of the whole universe more than the happiness of a particular part, so he values the happiness of each part in exact proportion to its intrinsic and comparative worth. Such impartiality distinguishes true love from that tender mercy of the wicked which is real malevolence and cruelty, to all who oppose their private, personal interest.
3. True love is not only universal and impartial, but disinterested. Mercenary love can never form a virtuous character. This Cicero demonstrates in his treatise concerning moral ends. This all dramatic writers acknowledge, by forming their amiable characters upon the principle of disinterested benevolence. And this God himself maintains, in his controversy with Satan about the sincerity of Job. If there be any such thing as virtue, therefore, it must consist in disinterested love. Accordingly, the scripture represents all holy and virtuous affections as disinterested. David says of the citizen of Zion, " He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not." Paul says of himself, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Why is charity so superlatively excelsent, and so absolutely essential to a virtuous character? The apostle tells us in the next verse but one. It is because “charity seeketh not her own.” Such disinterested love the gospel every where inculcates, and especially in the following precepts. “ If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with
good.” “ Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth." “ Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” According to the plain and obvious meaning of these passages, true love is disinterested, and essentially different from every selfish and sinful affection. It only remains to show,
III. That true love is the fulfilling of the law. The spirit of this proposition is, that pure, genuine benevolence is the essence and comprehension of all the obedience which God requires in his word. To establish this great and fundamental doctrine of religion, I would observe,
1. That true benevolence conforms the heart to God. God is love. His whole moral character consists in the various exercises and expressions of pure benevolence. Those, therefore, who feel and express a truly benevolent spirit, are conformed to God, the standard of moral perfection. So our Saviour taught his disciples. “ Ye have heard, that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your
Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others ? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” If the moral perfection of man consists in conformity to the moral perfection of God, and the moral perfection of God consists in love, then love must be the fulfilling of the law. Certainly God cannot require man to be more holy or perfect than himself.
2. It appears from express declarations of scripture, that love answers the full demand of the law. When a certain man asked our Saviour, " Which is the great commandment in the law ?” he replied, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This last clause fixes our Lord's meaning, and leaves no room to doubt that true love fulfils, not only the first and second, but every other precept of the law. The apostle James, speaking on the same subject, says, “ The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart.” By this he declares that charity or true love fully answers the spirit and design of the law. And he
conveys the same sentiment by a different mode of expression. “ If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.” The apostle Paul, having exhorted believers to exercise a variety of holy affections, concludes by saying, “ Above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” By this he intimates that true love comprises and links together all the christian graces and virtues, which form a perfect moral character. And he says the same thing again in plainer terms. “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this ; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." These passages, taken in their most easy and natural sense, plainly teach us that love answers all the demands of the law.
3. It is the nature of true love to make us feel and act in every respect just as God requires. So far as we possess true benevolence, we shall both internally and externally obey every divine command. We shall not only feel properly towards God, our neighbor and ourselves, but also express our feelings by all proper external actions. Are we commanded to rejoice that the Lord reigneth? If we love God we shall sincerely rejoice in his supreme and universal dominion. Are we commanded to pray without ceasing? If we love God, we shall take pleasure in pouring out our hearts before him in prayer. Are we commanded to do every thing to the glory of God? If we love God, we shall do every thing heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men. Are we commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? If we esteem him the chiefest among ten thousand, we shall naturally exercise that faith which worketh by love. Are we exhorted to do to others as we would that others should do to us? If we love others as ourselves, we shall as really seek their interest as our own. Are rulers required to promote the good of their subjects? If they love their subjects, they will exert all their power and abilities to promote their peace and prosperity. Is it the duty of subjects to obey their rulers? If they love their rulers they will obey thern, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. Does it become the rich to be kind to the poor? If the love of God be shed abroad in their hearts, they cannot see proper objects of charity, and yet shut up their bowels of compassion from them. In a word, if there be any other commandment which has not been mentioned, love will prompt men to obey it.
This natural tendency of love to produce every virtuous feeling and action, is beautifully illustrated by the apostle's description of charity; which, he says, “ suffereth long, and is kind, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Such patience, kindness, candor and self