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THESE are the chief elements of all the religions in the world. The principal ingredient in all pagan systems is dread of the gods. The only religion on earth, the essence of which is love, came down from heaven in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. John, speaking from experience under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out all fear that hath punishment," or foreboding of future ill in consequence of wrongdoing. Until conscience is seared there is always distress in view of the broken law of God. It is in the Scriptures described as servile, the slave's dread of his stern master, as distinguished from filial fear, the reverence of an obedient son for his affectionate father. This respect for dignity and rightful authority always attends Christian love. But young converts and all partially developed disciples of Christ are not completely emancipated from fear, because the love of God inspired in their hearts is mingled with remaining evil propensities, which while not dominant, resist the new principle of love divine. It is quite evident that John's perfect love is love so eloquently portrayed by Paul, especially in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, that magnificent eulogy of love, styled by Henry Drummond, "The Greatest Thing in the World," the title of a volume with which he enriched English literature and blessed mankind. Love even in a regenerate soul may be imperfect and weak. There was a time when John loved Jesus enough to forsake his fishing nets and to follow Him, but not enough to save himself from an unworthy ambition to steal a march on his brethren to seize the highest seat in the Messiah's kingdom next to the King. He did not then have the "love which seeketh not her own." From this mixed state of love John was saved on the day of Pentecost, when the hearts of the disciples were purified by faith. (Acts xv. 8, 9.)

There are four quite distinct possible combinations and permutations of love and fear, forming four different characters: First, some people have neither. We do not refer to pagans, but men in a certain sense worse than ordinary heathen — Gospel hardened unbelievers. They do not love God, and they have become so callous through resistance to the alarming truths of His word that they have lost all susceptibility to fear. This is the most hopeless character this side of perdition. The thunderings of Sinai have lost their power to alarm, while Calvary has no power to draw and to melt into penitent love. This is a growing class. It is made up of multitudes who walk in chosen darkness or wallow in sensual vices. They have trampled on God's law till they have no respect for its Author, and no fear of its penalties. They have grown hard in our Sunday-schools and Sabbath assemblies under the story of the Father's great love in the gift of His Son. To this permanence of religious irresolution and indifference all rejection of light steadily tends. All efforts to save men are attended by the possibility of their becoming worse and worse, the more the truth is focalized on the conscience.

The second class is made up of those who fear without love. They have been awakened to an apprehension of the Divine justice, and have not yet by faith cast themselves upon the Divine mercy, as impersonated in the Son of God dying for sinners. They have been brought under conviction for sin by the preaching of the law, the neglect of which is one of the great practical errors of the modem pulpit. The whole gospel should be preached, its threatenings addressing the fears of sinners, and its promises inspiring hope in the penitent. John Wesley said that there were so-called gospel services held in his day, but that all his meetings were law and gospel services. This may be one of the secrets of the rapid spread and converting power of early Methodism. The very first step toward benefiting this class is to bring them to see that their fear is the effect of conviction for sin, and to induce in them a loathing of sin. One great practical error of modern preaching is found in the slight emphasis upon sin and its dreadful penalty as revealed in the Word of God. I believe in a tearful and tender, but faithful, announcement of the terrors of the Lord as a preparation for proclaiming salvation through faith in Christ. The law is still the child-leader or tutor (Gal. iii. 24, R. V.) to bring us unto Christ. In patrician families in Rome the boy was intrusted to the care of a servant called a
paidagogos who took him by the hand and led him, willing or unwilling, to school, guarding him against loitering and truancy by the way. Only those sin-sick souls who have learned by experience with the law that they cannot commend themselves to God by their works eagerly welcome the offer of pardon through faith in the atonement made by the Son of God. Hence we have always admired the brief yet comprehensive homiletics of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church. "The best general method of preaching is, 1. To convince; 2. To offer Christ; 3. To invite; 4. To build up. And to do this in some measure in every sermon. The most effectual way of preaching Christ is, to preach Him in all His offices and to declare His law, as well as His Gospel, both to believers and unbelievers. Let us strongly insist upon inward and outward holiness in all its branches."

The third class consists of those who have both fear and love. The impulse to service in their case is largely fear of the law, and not a mighty, resistless love to the Lawgiver moving them as upon angels' wings. They are not "free from the law," or "dead to the law," in the Pauline sense, but they are still "under the law," inasmuch as they derive from it, and not solely from love to Christ, the motive power to service. While all moral intelligences are under the law as the rule of life, all truly regenerate souls are free from the law as the ground of justification, and all the entirely sanctified are free from the law as the impulse to obedience and the instrument of holiness. In the one case the new basis of pardon is faith in Jesus Christ, and in the other the instrument of complete cleansing and the impellent to service is the love of God fully shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. (Rom. v. 5.) We do not work ourselves up into love. But it comes down from heaven, when with an all-surrendering faith we magnify the promise of our risen and glorified Christ to send the abiding Comforter in the fullness of His offices as the purifier and the inward revealer of Christ.

If the census of the whole Christian Church were taken by an enumerator endowed with omniscience, it is probable that a majority of even evangelical Protestants would be found in the mixed condition of fear and love. They are more or less legal. Their motive to serve God is largely fear, and not the spontaneous energy of love bearing them onward as upon the wings of the seraphim.

The Oberlin theology denies the existence of any such complexity of spiritual impulse as love and fear, and insists on the unity and simplicity of every moral act, deriving, as it is alleged, its character solely from the attitude of the will. Not only philosophy, but universal human experience, strongly testifies against this doctrine which admits of no degrees in holiness and in wickedness, and makes every person, at any given moment, either a perfect saint or a perfect Satan. Since moral character lies not wholly in the will, but in the trend of the sensibilities and affections back of the will, the experience of the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a frequent phenomenon in the natural man, as that in Gal. v. 17, is in the regenerate man, before he has reached the point of the crucifixion of the flesh with the passions and lusts (verse 24). If there may be persons partly spiritual and partly carnal (1 Cor. iii. 1-4), there may exist both fear and love in the same person, servile fear and Christian love. While this state is much better than no love, it is vastly inferior to "perfect love." When St. John uses this phrase, he is describing not an ideal above the reach of mortals, but a reality in Christian experience this side of the grave. The test of its possession is boldness, not only in the day of judgment, but boldness here and now in view of that day. (Alford.)

The fourth class comprises believers who are so far advanced as to have love without fear. I do not think that John was contemplating imaginary beings, or angels, or the spirits of good men escaped from their earthly prison, when he said, "There is no fear in love." He was describing the highest possibilities of grace in men dwelling in houses of clay, men of like passions with himself, oppressed with life's ills, and harassed by the devil's fiery darts. Such as these may be so filled with unmixed love as to have boldness in view of the day of judgment long before the Judge shall descend. The secret of this boldness is told in the same sentence, "Because as He is, so are we in this world." (I John iv. 17.)

"The sense of our text must be gained," says Dean Alford, the great English scholar, "by strictly keeping to the tenses of the text," especially the passage which I have just read: "Because as He is so are we in this world." Some people alter the text and make it read thus: "Because as He was so are we in this world." It is a great truth that we are as Jesus was in this world. He was abused, misunderstood, persecuted, vilified, maligned, and at last hung up between two thieves. He says Himself, "As they have persecuted me, they will persecute you." It is a great truth that we are in this world very much as Jesus Christ was when He was here, misunderstood and persecuted as He was.

But that is not the utterance of John here. John uses the present tense and not the past. Suppose we alter another verb here in the text, we shall have a great truth, but not a truth that John announces. Because as He is we shall be hereafter. As He is glorified we shall be hereafter; we shall stand a row of glorified brothers with Jesus at the head. Splendid truth! But John does not announce it in this text. And Dean Alford insists that we shall cling to the exact tenses in order to get the meaning. And the tense is this: Because as He is, to-day, in heaven, so are we in this world. In what respect is the likeness? I will give you Dean Alford's note on this subject. He was not considered a holiness fanatic. He was considered a very level headed man, a very proper and conservative Church of England man. So I give you his note upon it that you may see that I am not straining the passage at all. This is his note. He asks the question: Wherein is the likeness? As Jesus is to-day enthroned on the throne of the Father, so are we in this world. He says the likeness is not in the fact of trials and persecutions through which we are passing. It is not in the fact that we are the adopted sons of God, or beloved of God as He, the only begotten Son, is loved of God. In the third place, it is not by our being not of the world, as Christ is not of the world. In the fourth place, it is not in the fact that we live in love as He lives in love; but in the fact that we are righteous as He is righteous. This is the note of Dean Alford upon that subject — that we are righteous in this world as He is righteous. And he confirms that position by quoting several passages in this very Epistle to show that that is a favorite thought with John. He refers to the 2d chapter and 29th verse. "If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him." And in the 3d chapter and 3d verse you will find: "And every one that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." Dean Alford goes on to say that John refers to the fundamental truth on which our love rests, namely, likeness to Christ, "because we are absolutely like Christ, because we are in Christ Himself, because He lives in us — without this there can be no likeness to Him." Hence we must now in this life have the moral image of Christ, righteousness and true holiness, not imputed, but imparted and inwrought, making us facsimiles of the Son of God.

We here note the exact language of John. He does not say that perfect love diminishes or represses fear, but casts out, separates it from the soul. The Vulgate says, "casts it out of doors." Let us thank God for the possibility of living on the earth in this blessed condition, divested of all painful dread of God, or His law, all fear of death and of eternity.

Is there any certain token by which a Christian may know that he has been perfected in love? As there are several proofs of sunrise obviating the need of a tallow candle, so there are many proofs of perfect love. Apply this test: Were the roof above you to be suddenly removed, and were you to see Jesus descending on the great white throne to judge the quick and the dead, what emotion would this awaken in your bosom? Do you shrink away at the very thought, or would you hail the Judge with joy, and if possible, meet Him halfway? When a magnet is passed over the floor of a blacksmith shop every particle of iron will spring up and cleave to it, while not a particle of dirt will be attracted. The one has an affinity for magnetism and the other has not. Such an affinity has perfect love for Christ that when He, the central magnet of all loyal hearts, angelic and human, shall personally descend at His second coming, He will draw even the bodies of the saints out of their graves to meet Him in the air. It is not possible to love with all the heart, and to dread the same person with a tormenting fear. Such fear may consist with an imperfect or mixed love. Hence the sudden cessation of fear in a regenerate soul, aspiring after the fullness of love, is a proof of its experience.

The fourth class we have already described — those who love without fear.

As a writer, St. John was not so much a reasoner demonstrating propositions, as he was an intuitionalist announcing truths which he sees with the mind's eye. When he attempts to reason, his intellect so rapidly, darts through the process, that he omits one of the premises and comes to his conclusion, leaving us to find the missing link in the syllogism. Let us try to find the omitted premise in 1 John iv. 17: "Herein is our love made (proved to be) perfect, in the fact that we have boldness as to the day of judgment, because even as He is, so are we in this world."

  • The Judge will not condemn those who are like Himself;
  • We, while in this world, are facsimiles of Jesus Christ
  • Therefore, we have no fear that He will condemn us.

We have found and restored the major premise, which is the first proposition.

"The sense of this text must be gained," says Alford, "by strictly keeping to the tenses. And when we have done so, wherein is the likeness to Christ found? Clearly not in our trials and persecutions; nor by our being not of the world as He is not of the world, nor in that we, as sons of adoption through Him, are beloved of God, even as He is beloved; nor in that we live in love, as He lives in love; but in that we are righteous as He is righteous, ch. ii. 29, iii. 3 ff., 10, 22."

That Alford is not speaking of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us is evident from his assertion, that "there can be no likeness to Christ unless He lives in us." Then, and then only, are we in Him.

John's meaning is plainly this: As Jesus is in holy character today, enthroned with the Father, so are we on the earth, if we have entered into the full heritage of believers, the indwelling of the Divine Comforter and Sanctifier. The beloved apostle was not idealizing when he penned these words, "As He is so are we in this world." He was not portraying imaginary beings. He was speaking out of the depths of his own consciousness, illumined by the Spirit of Truth. He was enjoying love without fear; love filling the vessel to the brim, and overflowing in streams of gladness; love the sole impulse to service and sacrifice. As fear is the first-born of sin (Gen. iii. 10), it logically follows that when the child is banished from the inward paradise restored, her hateful mother must accompany the outcast child. Hence perfect love and entire sanctification are interchangeable phrases.

Note the absence of any condemnation of those who have not passed out of the third class into the fourth, those in whom love is mingled with tormenting fear. St. John does neither depreciate nor castigate them. In this respect he is a model for all who preach or write on this glorious theme. He points the fearful saint to the serene heights of love made perfect, up which the lion's whelp never climbed. What John implies is that it is better further on and higher up. He does not throw stones down upon the heads of Christians on lower levels, where the tormentor rages and roars. By describing the beauty and blessedness of that holy summit, the mount of beatitudes, he lovingly invites them to ascend and permanently to abide in pure love, surrounded by the various temptations of human probation, but "kept by the power of God through faith."

Perfect love is to be preached, "not by driving, but by drawing," says Wesley. There are no threatenings in the Word of God against the children of God. "If children, then heirs."