PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Some marks or characteristics of Perfection of Love.
IF the doctrine, which is variously termed sanctification, evangelical holiness, and evangelical or christian perfection, be true, or if the related and equivalent doctrine, which is denominated assurance of faith, be true, then it will follow, that it is our duty and privilege, even in the present life, to realize in our own souls the fulfillment of that great command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," In other words, it is our duty and privilege to possess what may properly be called "perfect love." Accordingly it becomes a very important and interesting inquiry, When can our love properly be said to be perfect? It will be our object in the remarks which follow in this chapter, to endeavor to answer this inquiry.
But before proceeding, it may be proper to premise here, that perfection of love implies the removal or extinction of all selfishness. In other words, perfect love is always PURE love. We may probably conceive of love, which is pure in its nature; but is deficient, and therefore not perfect in its degree or intensity. But we cannot conceive of love which is acceptable to God, and is perfect in degree, which has any intermixture of selfishness.
Another remark, which may properly be made here, is this. Perfection of love is necessarily relative to the capacity of the subject of it. In other words, what would be perfection of love in one would not be in another, whose capacity of loving is greater. That precise amount or degree of love in man, which would be characterized as perfect in consequence of being all his capacity could render, would be imperfect in an angel or other being of greater capacity.
With these remarks in recollection, we proceed to inquire, when our love to God may be regarded as PERFECT. In other words, when shall we know, or at least have reasonable grounds to believe, that we fulfill in our own hearts that great and excellent command, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength? — Love to a human object is generally understood to embrace two things; FIRST, a pleasure or complacency in the object, and SECOND, a desire to do good to that object. When speaking of God, who sustains to us a relation higher and different from that sustained by human beings, we may with propriety alter the form of expression slightly, although with essentially the same idea at the bottom, and say that love to God embraces two things, FIRST, a pleasure or complacency in his character, and SECOND, a desire to promote his glory. The characteristics of entireness or perfection of love, which we shall proceed to mention, are based, in part, upon this distinction.
FIRST.— Accordingly the first mark of perfect love to God is an entire approbation of and delight in his character in all respects. In other words, approving and complacent emotions, without the least intermixture of doubt and dissatisfaction, arise in view of his power and justice, as well as of his goodness and mercy, so that we delight truly and continually in his whole character, and in all the exhibitions of his character, as they are actually made known to us in the Holy Scriptures or in any other way. The least want of trust and complacency in the divine character will necessarily be a vicious ingredient or element in the affection of love, which cannot fail to diffuse weakness and imperfection throughout.— This is one point, then, on which it is important to examine ourselves. If we find, that the character of God, as it presents itself to notice in all its varieties, appears to us exceedingly pure and lovely; if we contemplate it with a perfect conviction, that all its manifestations will be in accordance with truth, mercy, and righteousness, and with no other emotions in any respect, than those of entire complacency, then we have reason to think, that we have one of the marks or characteristics of perfection of love. Not, in all probability, the leading and decisive, but still an indispensable one.
SECOND.— A second mark of perfect love to God is the existence of a desire to promote his glory, which is the other higher and more decisive characteristic of this complex mental state, in such a degree, that we are not conscious of having any desire or will at variance with the will of God.
In other words, it is our sincere and constant desire to do and suffer in all things the will of God. When such is the case, when there is an entire and cordial acquiescence of our own in the will of God both to do and to suffer, we have the second mark, and we may add also, the most important and satisfactory one, that our love is perfect. The nature of the human mind is such, that we never can have an entire and cordial acquiescence in the will of God in all things, without an antecedent approval of and complacency in his character and administration.— Accordingly the second mark, viz, a will entirely accordant with and lost in the will of God, is of itself sufficient, inasmuch as it necessarily includes and embraces the first. And by this mark alone, as I suppose, we might know, whether our love is or is not perfect.
We may, perhaps, illustrate this view of the subject, by what we sometimes notice in the various forms and degrees of filial love. We will take, in the first place, the case of a child, who is sincerely attached to his father, but who, as we sometimes express it, exhibits a "will of his own." This child, undoubtedly, loves his father very much; but at the same. time he does not always do, with entire pleasure and readiness, what his father wishes him to do. He sometimes hesitates, exhibits a clouded brow, or utters an impatient expression when certain things are required of him. He has certain little objects of his own, which he is very much attached to; and if his father's plans happen to cross and oppose them, he exhibits, in a greater or less degree, a disposition to set up for himself and to rebel. And when he outwardly obeys, it is found that he does it reluctantly, and not with a will harmonizing and blending with the paternal will. Now we may say very truly, that this child loves his father — perhaps he loves him very much — and yet it is clear he does not love him perfectly. But when we see a child who is happy only when he sees his father happy; whose delight it is to anticipate the father's wishes; whose will, by a sort of instinctive tendency, is invariably and powerfully united and blended with the paternal will, so that the least opposition between the two wills is a source of the greatest grief to him, we at once feel, and cannot help feeling, that the love of such a child may properly be called perfect. And in accordance with this view, it is said to have been one of the sayings of the devout Francis Xavier, that "the perfection of the creature consists in willing nothing but the will of the Creator."
What other idea of perfection of love can we have than this? The heart of such a person is made one with another heart, and what could we ask for more? This, then, more than any thing else, is the decisive mark of perfection in Christian love, viz. an entire coincidence of our own wills with the divine will; in other words, the rejection of the natural principle of life, which may be described as love terminating in self and constituting self-will; and the adoption of the heavenly principle of life, which is love terminating and fulfilled in the will of God. And this view, which is practically, as well as theologically, a very important one, seems to be confirmed by what the Savior says of himself in a number of passages. John 6. 38, "For I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." John 4. 34, "Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." Heb. 10. 9, "Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." The same idea, viz. that perfection of Christian love exists, and exists only in connection with a will united to and perfectly coincident with the will of God, is conveyed in that interesting passage, Mark 3. 34, 35, "And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." Matt. 7. 21, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
THIRD.— As closely connected with what has been laid down, as the second characteristic of perfect love, we remark again, that perfect love excludes, in a great degree, and perhaps entirely, any reflections upon self, (or "reflex acts," as they are sometimes termed,) which are of a self-interested or selfish character, In other words, perfect love, when in actual exercise, implies a forgetfulness of self. Whenever our thoughts return upon ourselves; whenever in the exercise of "reflex acts" we begin to inquire into the specific nature of our feelings, for the purpose of estimating the amount of their enjoyment; whenever we experience a jealousy, that God does not give to us all those returns and caresses of love which we should be pleased with; we may be assured, that although we may possibly love much, we might love much more. In other words, our love, whatever other terms may be applied to it, cannot be regarded as perfect. It is the nature of perfect love, in its forgetfulness of self, to array the object, towards which it is directed, in every possible excellence. To that object, so far as it is truly worthy of its attachment, it gives the strength of its affections, without reservation and without limits. It is perfectly self-sacrificing; and it would account itself dishonored and degraded, if it turned back on itself for a moment, to estimate its own reward. It has its reward, it is true. Perfect love is necessarily its own rewarder. But the reward comes without seeking. And is enjoyed so entirely without notice, that it does not turn the mind away a moment from the object of its affections.
A number of inferences easily follow from these general views, and which may be regarded as furnishing some additional or secondary marks of perfected love.
(1.) — A person who has perfect love, will love his Bible above all other books. It will be dear to his heart, an inexpressible treasure. And the reason is obvious. It is because in the Bible he learns the will of God, which he delights in, more than in any thing else. And hence it is one of the artifices of Satan, who is no friend of the Bible, to endeavor to detach devout minds from the study of the Divine Word under the plausible pretense that the inward teachings of the Spirit are of more value, than the outward letter. An artifice, which he, who desires a close walk with God, will carefully guard against; remembering that God cannot consistently, and will not, neglect and dishonor his own divine communications; that the Holy Spirit operates in a peculiar manner, in connection with the written Word; and that he, who deserts the Word of God, may reasonably expect to be deserted by the Spirit.
(2.) — Perfect love will exhibit a trait of permanency and perseverance under the most trying circumstances. Our fears and hopes vary; our joys and sorrows vary; but we may reasonably expect that the love, which is pure in its nature and perfect in its degree, will continue the same. There is no reason why it should change, since the object at which it aims is the same with the immutable will of God. The will of God is its true life. Accordingly, when in the providence of God we are afflicted, our joys will be less, but there will be no diminution of love. Joy flourishes in the sunshine, but love grows and flourishes in the storm also. God may hide his face from us, but hearts of love still look in that direction where his face is. The Savior, on a certain occasion, was greatly afflicted. His language was, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." His joy was taken from him, but his love remained. He could still say, while he prayed that the cup might, if possible, pass from him, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
(3.) — We remark, in conclusion, that those, in whom the love of God is perfected, will love the children of God with peculiar strength. Perfect love is the image of Christ in the soul; and wherever we see that image, in whatever denomination of Christians, and in whatever persons, our hearts will recognize the divine relationship, and rejoice in it. Without this strong love to those who bear the divine image, we may be sure that our love is not perfect. It is God's great work, and highest delight, to create this image in the hearts of men; and if our will is swallowed up in his will, we shall rejoice in it in some degree as he does, and shall know the delightful meaning of those numerous passages of Scripture which speak of the love of Christians to each other.
"Tis Love unites what sin divides;
The centre, where all bliss resides;
To which the soul once brought,
Reclining on the first Great Cause,
From his abounding sweetness draws
Peace, passing human thought."
[Francis de Sales, at the end of his religious Maxims, relates the following conversation, as having taken place between Tauler, a learned and popular preacher of the fourteenth century, and an obscure beggar. It is introduced here, as having some connection with a portion of the foregoing chapter.]
"A great Divine prayed to God, during the space of eight years that he would be graciously pleased to direct him to a man who might teach him the true way to heaven. It was said to him at length, 'Go to such a church porch, and there thou shalt find a man, who will instruct thee in the spiritual life.' Accordingly he went, and found a poor beggar very meanly clad. He saluted him in these words, 'God give you a good day, my friend.' The poor man answered, 'Sir, I do not remember that I ever had an evil day.' The doctor said to him, 'God give you a good and happy life.' 'Why say you that?' replied the beggar; 'I never was unhappy.' 'God bless you, my friend,' said the doctor, 'Pray, tell me what you mean.' He replied, 'That I shall willingly do. I told you first, I never had an evil day; for when I have hunger, I praise God; if it rain, hail, snow or freeze, be it fair or foul; or if I am despised or ill-used, I return God thanks; so I never had an ill day: nor have I ever been unhappy, since I have learned always to resign myself to his will, being very certain of this, that all his works are perfectly good; and therefore I never desire any thing else but the good pleasure of God.' Then said the doctor, 'But what if the good pleasure of God should be to cast you hence into hell?' If he would de so,' replied the other, 'I have two arms to embrace him with; the one whereof is a profound humility, by which I am united to his holy humanity; the other is love or charity, which joins me to his divinity. Embraced with these two arms he would descend with me thither, if thither he ordered me: and there I had infinitely rather be with him, than in paradise without him.' Hereby the doctor learned that a true resignation to the divine will, accompanied with profound humility of heart, is the shortest way to attain God's love.
After that, he asked him again from whence he came. The poor man answered, God sent him. The doctor inquired of him where he found God'? He replied, 'I found him where I had renounced all the creatures.' 'And where did you leave him?' said the doctor. He replied, 'With the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, and men of charity.' 'But who are you? says the divine. 'I am a king,' says the beggar. 'Where is your kingdom?' says the former. 'In my soul,' says the latter; 'I have learned to bring into subjection, and to govern my senses, as well outward as inward, with my affections and passions, which kingdom is undoubtedly superior to all the kingdoms of this world.' The doctor then asked him by what means he had attained to such perfection. He answered, 'By silence, watchfulness, meditation, prayer, and the union I have with God. I could find no sure repose, or comfort, in any creature of the world; by means whereof I found out my God, who will comfort me world without end.' "