PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On the Love of our Neighbor and of ourselves.
WE proceed now to the consideration of a subject, naturally flowing out of that of the foregoing Chapter, viz. that of love to our neighbor, and of created and inferior beings in general. And the first proposition, which we lay down is this. If our love to God be disinterested and pure, and at the same time exist in a degree suitable to the object, viz. in the highest degree, then all other love, and the love of all other creatures will be entirely subordinate to this, and will exist only in relation to it. If we possess pure and perfect love to God, we shall perfectly sympathize with Him in his love towards whatever He has made; and shall, according to our capacity, love just as He does. Our love will naturally, and perhaps we may say of necessity, flow in the same channel. And whatever things He takes an interest in, whether material or immaterial, whether of greater or less consequence, will possess precisely the same interest for us, so far as we possess an equal knowledge of their nature and an equal capacity of love. The devout recollection of the great Architect will impart a degree of sacredness and value to whatever is the work of his hands. In his woods, his rivers, his mountains, his burnished sky and his boundless ocean, we shall see the indistinct reflection of himself, and join to our perception of beauty in the object a still higher admiration of the wisdom and goodness of its Maker. We shall recognize in the birds of the air, in the cattle of the verdant hills, and even in the heedless insect that hums around our path, the agency of Him, who doeth all things well. And we shall feel here, as in other things, that we can never be indifferent to any thing, which our Heavenly Father has made and takes an interest in.
As we rise in the scale of beings to those, which have a rational and moral nature, to those, who are kindred in race and are perhaps kindred by the nearer relationship of family ties, we shall experience the exercise of love on the same principle. We do not deny, that we shall be susceptible of a natural love. We know that we shall be. But what we mean to say is, that our love, whether purely natural and founded on the relations we sustain to the object, or whether an acquired love and resting wholly upon the deliberate perception of its amiable qualities, will be perfectly subordinate to the love of God and will be regulated by it. It would perhaps be a concise expression of the fact to say, whatever specific modifications our love may assume under the operation of natural causes, that we shall love all things IN AND FOR GOD. And if we are required in the first instance to love God with ALL our heart, it does not clearly appear when we fulfill the divine requisition, how we can love our neighbor or anything else in any other way than this.
"But what is," says a certain writer, "loving any creature only IN and FOR God? It is when we love it only; as it is God's work, image and delight; when we love it merely as it is God's, and belongs to Him. This is loving it IN God. And when all that we wish, intend or do to it, is done from a love of God, for the honor of God, and in conformity to the will of God. This is loving it FOR God. This is the ONE LOVE that is, and must be the spirit of all creatures, that live united to God. Now this is no speculative refinement or fine spun fiction of the brain; but the simple truth, A FIRST LAW OF NATURE and a necessary bond of union between God and the creature. The creature is not in God, is a stranger to him, has lost the life of God in itself, whenever its love does not thus begin and end in God." [Law's Spirit of Prayer, Pt. I, Ch. II.]
And in this way, under the great law of supreme love to God, we may not only love, as we ought to, our friends, our relatives, and our fellow men universally; but, under the same law and in the same manner, we may love ourselves, and may love and seek our own happiness. God is willing that we should. He has made us so that we cannot do otherwise. He requires us to do it. But what is our happiness? It is to love God with all our heart, and to hold all other love in subordination; or what seems to be the same thing, to love God supremely, to exercise and measure all other love with a reference to that supreme and perfect standard of measurement. It is to feel the full power of that divine attraction, which silently draws us from the circumference to the centre; it is to experience the restoration of the broken bond of union with the Divine Mind; to be lost, as it were, in the great ocean of the infinite fulness. In other words, our happiness is to renounce ourselves entirely, in order that God, in whom alone is all goodness, may resume that throne in the heart, from which He has been banished. And accordingly we love ourselves and our own happiness, even our frail bodies as well as our immortal souls, because God made us; because He takes care of us and desires our happiness, and recognizes the propriety of our exercising the same desire; because He has designed us, under the operations of his grace, to be mirrors of his own image and the temples of the Holy Ghost; and not because we have a desire, or could for a moment have a desire, a purpose, or a love adverse to, or even not coincident with his. So that all subordinate love of his creatures, whether it have relation to ourselves or others may truly and properly resolve itself into the love of God.
(1.) — In connection with what has been said, we may properly make one or two remarks. The first is, that this doctrine makes the exercise of love to our neighbors, in the same degree in which we love ourselves, an easy thing. We love ourselves, only as we love God. In other words, if we love God with perfect love, the love of ourselves will be subordinated and restricted by the controlling desire, THAT GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED IN US. We can seek nothing, desire nothing, love nothing for ourselves, but what is subordinate to and has a tendency to God's glory. So that the love of self, whatever it may be, is merged and purified in the encircling and absorbing love of God. The love of our neighbor is properly measured, on the principles of the Scriptures, by the love of ourselves. And as we can love ourselves only in subordination to God's will and glory; so we can love our neighbor only in the same manner and the same degree. In other words both the love of ourselves and of our neighbor are only rills and drops from the mighty waters of love to God. And on the supposition, that we are filled with the love of God, the love of our neighbor flows out from the great fountain of divine love, in the various channels and in the degree which God chooses, as easily and as naturally, as a stream flows from its lake in the mountains over the meadows and valleys below. There is no need of effort. Only let God in his providence furnish the occasion; and in a moment the heart will open, and the streams will gush out. Hence the remarks, which are found in various places of the writings of Augustine, Thauler, and Fenelon to this effect, (and some eminent theologians of this country appear decidedly to favor this view,) that the love of God is capable of animating and regulating all those affections, which we owe to his creatures, that the true manner of loving our neighbor, is to love him in and for God; and that we never love him so purely and so much, as when we love him in this way.
(2.) — We observe further, that the love of our neighbor, flowing from this divine source, and equalling in degree the love of ourselves, meets and adapts itself with a wonderful flexibility, to all the ordinary occasions and demands of life. It leads us to the humble residences of the poor, and the chambers of the sick. And while it sympathizes in the sufferings, it also rejoices in the consolations of others, just as it would in its own. "Such souls," says Fenelon, "as are really detached from themselves, like the saints in heaven, regard the mercies distributed to others, with the same complacency as those they receive themselves; for, esteeming themselves as nothing, they love the good pleasure of God, the riches of his grace, and the glory he derives from the sanctification of others, as much as that which He derives from them. All is then equal, for the personal self or ME is lost. The ME is no more ME, [that is, relatively to the exercise of the affections on their appropriate occasions,] than another person. It is God alone, that is ALL IN ALL. It is God, whom they love and admire; and who, in the exercise of this disinterested or pure love, causes all the joy of their hearts."
(3.) We remark again, that, on the principles which have been laid down, we see how we may fulfill the command of our Savior to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, and to do good to them that hate and persecute us. Instead of being a very difficult thing, as is commonly supposed, and as it would undoubtedly be on natural principles, it becomes easy, because, in the language of Francis De Sales, "We cannot love God as we ought, without adopting his sentiments and LOVING WHAT HE LOVES." Now we know that God loves those who do not love Him. He loved us, even when we were his enemies. He so loved a rebellious and disobedient world, as to give his Son to die for it. And if we are in the same spirit, loving only what He loves and hating what He hates, we shall find no difficulty in loving our enemies, and in praying for those who "despitefully entreat us." No matter how unlovely they may be in themselves, no matter how cruel and unjust their treatment be to us, the consideration, that our heavenly Father loves them and requires us to love them, lays all things even, and opens the full channels of the heart, as if there were no obstacles existing.
Finally, when we love our fellow-men in this way, we love with a perseverance and constancy, which could not be realized under other circumstances. Our love is not subject to those breaks and variations, which characterize it when it is based upon the uncertainties of the creature, instead of the immutability of the divine will. On the contrary, it continually flows on and flows on, whether it meets with any favorable return or not, partaking, in no small measure, of the unchangeableness of the divine nature.