1Th_3:12-13. The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
THE grace which is most generally spoken of in the Holy Scriptures as establishing the souls of men, is faith: “If ye believe not,” says the prophet, “ye shall not be established [Note: Isa_7:9.]:” and again, “Believe in the Lord your God, and so shall ye be established [Note: 2Ch_20:20.].” It is by faith that we lay hold on the word of God; and by faith that we commit our every concern to God; and by faith that we expect the accomplishment of all that God has promised: and therefore the composing and establishing of our minds in relation to all future events is properly represented as the fruit of faith. But there is a sense in which love also establishes the heart, as the Apostle intimates in the passage before us; where he prays, that God would make the Thessalonian Christians to abound in love, in order to the establishment of their hearts in universal holiness. In this view love is sometimes united with faith, as concurring with it to strengthen and fortify the soul; as when Christians are said to “have on the breastplate of faith and love.”
But this effect of love not being generally understood, we will enter the more carefully into the subject, and point out,
The influence of love on universal holiness—
Love is an extremely powerful principle in the heart of every one that is truly born of God: it is the great wheel which sets the whole machine in motion, and gives a vital energy to every part. In that chiefly does the new man consist; and from it does every Christian grace derive its strength.
It rectifies all the powers of the soul—
[Self has usurped an entire dominion over the whole race of mankind. It has pervaded and debased all their faculties. The understanding is so blinded by it, as to be incapable of seeing any thing in its true light: and the judgment is so perverted, that men universally “call evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter [Note: Isa_5:20.].” The will is altogether indisposed for exertion, except in that line where self may be gratified, and our own ease, or pleasure, or interest, or honour may be advanced. Even conscience itself is an unfaithful guide, having no sensibility at all, except in concurrence with the corrupt dictates of a perverted judgment and a carnal will.
But let love come into the heart, and assume that ascendency over it which God has ordained, and all these faculties will receive a new direction,—I had almost said, a new power. Now as soon as truth is proposed to the mind, its beauty and excellence shall be discerned, and its superiority to every adverse principle shall be acknowledged. Now also, notwithstanding the yet remaining bias of the corrupt nature towards what is evil, the prevailing and dominant inclination will be towards what is good; the Divine nature within us counteracting the motions of the old man, and not suffering it any longer to retain the mastery over us; and the conscience continually impelling us to greater measures of conformity to God’s revealed will.
This process will be best seen by some examples placed before our eyes. The Apostle Paul, previous to his conversion, had all the advantages which a man could have for the improvement and direction of all his faculties: but yet every faculty of his soul was entirely engaged on the side of sin. Not having love in his heart, notwithstanding his fancied rectitude, he was no better than a savage beast in his conduct towards the Christian Church: “he breathed out nothing but threatenings and slaughter against them,” and thought all the while he was acting in the path of duty, and rendering to God an acceptable service [Note: Act_26:9-10.]. But when once he was converted to God, and brought under the influence of a principle of love, he condemned all which he had before approved [Note: 1Ti_1:13.]; and was willing to die for those, whom he had just before laboured to destroy. We may behold the same effect in those who were converted on the day of Pentecost. Compare the state of their minds when they came together that morning, and when they separated, and our subject will have all the elucidation that can possibly be desired [Note: Compare Act_2:13 with Acts 5:44.].]
It enters into every action of the life—
[It is as the soul, which pervades, and operates in, every part of the body. We are apt to view it only in some particular act; but it enters into, and forms, the very habit of the soul. St. Paul’s description of it will serve us as a rule whereby to judge of its office, and as a clew whereby to discover its most hidden operations. “Love (or ‘charity,’ as it is called,) suffereth long, and is kind; it envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things [Note: 1Co_13:4-7.].” Here we see, that not only our actions towards others, but the dispositions of our own minds in secret, are most materially affected by it; and consequently, that its influence extends to every branch of universal holiness [Note: 1Jn_2:10.].]
It prepares the soul for heavenly communications—
[Dispositions that are contrary to love, bar the soul against God: they shut out good, from whatsoever quarter it might come. If a man under their influence read the Bible, what is it but “a sealed book?” If he attempt to pray, the heavens to him are as brass: his prayers have no power to ascend: they have no warmth in them: they freeze upon his very lips [Note: 1Pe_3:7.]. If he enter into conversation, there is no savour in any thing he says, nor any capacity to receive good from any thing he hears. In the public ordinances, and in his private chamber, he is alike dull and formal. Go where he will, or do what he will, he neither communicates good, nor receives good.
But when love comes into his soul, his heart is expanded and enlarged towards both God and man. To God he goes with holy confidence, and finds access even to his very bosom [Note: 1Jn_3:18-19.]: and “God, who is love” itself, delights in his own image as reflected from the suppliant’s face, and rejoices to communicate to him all the blessings of grace and peace. A soul filled with love is just such an habitation as God delights in; and he will not fail to descend and dwell in it [Note: Joh_4:16.]. Nor is it in relation to this life only that a person under the influence of love enjoys this confidence; he looks forward, even to the day of judgment, with a sweet assurance, that that God, whose image he so earnestly desires to bear, will not cast him into outer darkness [Note: 1Jn_4:17. These words in our translation are scarcely intelligible. The sense of them, in the Author’s apprehension, is, “Herein is our love perfected: so that we have boldness in [reference to] the day of judgment; because as be is, so are we in this world, [we bearing his image, who is love itself.]” This makes a clear and important sense of the passage. For such a construction of
. See also Mar_4:12.
compared with Mat_13:13. where the word used is
. See also how
(a yet stronger expression) is used, Rom_3:4; and see a precisely similar construction. Rev_13:13.
.]. Let the same person now go into company, or attend the public ordinances, or take up the blessed word of God, he has new eyes, new ears, new feelings altogether. There is an unction of the Spirit upon his soul, that enables him to derive edification from every thing [Note: 1Jn_2:20; 1Jn_2:27.], and to diffuse, wherever he goes, “a sweet savour of the knowledge of Christ.” His love is like “the ointment of the right-hand which bewrayeth itself,” refreshing both himself and all around him with its sweet odours. In a word, there is no limit to the communications which such an one may expect from “God, who doth already dwell in him, and whose love is, and shall be, perfected within him [Note: 1Jn_4:12.].”]
Seeing then that love is of such fundamental importance, let us notice,
The attention due to it under this particular consideration—
Love, for its own sake, should be cultivated to the uttermost: but when we consider its vast influence both on our present and eternal welfare, we should seek it with all our might. This appears from the solicitude which the Apostle expressed for the growth of the Thessalonians in this heavenly virtue. In reference then to his expressions, we say,
Let us seek to abound in it—
[Whatever advancement any persons may have made in this virtue, they should still press forward for higher attainments in it, desiring to “increase and abound in it more and inure.” The Thessalonians were eminently distinguished in this respect, so as not to need from the Apostle any instructions on the subject: yet even them did he exhort to “increase more and more [Note: 1Th_4:9-10.],” imitating and emulating his love to them [Note: The text.]. Consider for a moment the Apostle’s love to them, the ardour, the tenderness, the efficiency of it: he compares his feelings with those of a father, yea, and of a nursing mother towards her infant offspring. And such was his anxiety about them, that he could scarcely endure his existence, till he was assured of their spiritual welfare; and he was us willing to lay down his life for them, as a mother was to draw forth the breast to her sucking child [Note: 1Th_2:7-8; 1Th_2:11; 1Th_3:1; 1Th_3:5-7.]. Now such is the love that we should all aspire after: for nothing short of this is required of us by Almighty God [Note: 1Jn_3:16.].]
Let us entreat God to work it in us—
[“Love is of God [Note: 1Jn_4:7.]:” nor can any but. God create it in the heart. We may attempt to stir up in others this heavenly flame, but we shall never succeed, till God himself shall send down fire from above, and create the vital spark in the soul. Solomon justly observes, that “if a man would give all the substance of his house for love it would be utterly contemned [Note: Son_8:7.].” We may labour and toil to the uttermost; but our efforts will only be like those of the Disciples, when they strove in vain to row their ship to shore, till Jesus entered into their vessel; and then they were immediately at the land whither they wished to go [Note: Joh_6:18-21.]. In many cases, the “more abundantly we endeavour to testify our love, the less we shall be loved [Note: 2Co_12:15.];” yea, we shall only be “casting our pearls before swine, that will turn again and rend us [Note: Mat_7:6.].” But God can in one moment kindle the sacred flame, even in the soul that has indulged the most inveterate malignity. Behold the jailor: one hour he executed his commission against Paul and Silas with savage and needless cruelty; the next, he washed their stripes with all imaginable tenderness and love [Note: Act_16:24; Act_16:33.]. Let us cry then to him for the gracious influences of his Spirit, to create us anew, and to form and fashion us after his blessed image.]
Let us be stirred up to this especially from the consideration before us—
[Shortly is the Lord Jesus Christ coming with all his glorified saints to judge the world: and then will an inquiry be instituted, not after this or that particular grace, but after universal holiness. This consideration surely ought to weigh with us, and to make us thoroughly in earnest in the pursuit of love. Many grounds of confidence we may appear to have; but they will all fail us in that awful day: “Our knowledge may be so extensive, as to embrace all the mysteries of religion; our faith so strong, as to remove mountains; our liberality so great, as to give all our goods to feed the poor; and our zeal so ardent, as to give our bodies to be burned;—and yet, for want of a radical principle of love in our souls, it may profit us nothing; and we may be, in God’s estimation, no better than sounding brass or tinkling cymbals [Note: 1Co_13:1-3.].” O, how carefully should we examine ourselves as to the existence of this principle within us, and how ardently should we seek its increase! “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he:” if he be altogether under the influence of love, “he fulfilleth the law,” and is approved of his God: but, if this be not the reigning principle in his soul, whatever he may be, or whatever he may do, “he is in darkness even until now [Note: 1Jn_2:9; 1Jn_2:11.],” and will be consigned to everlasting darkness at the last day [Note: 1Jn_3:14-15.].]
With those who feel the importance of this subject, two questions will naturally arise;
How shall I know whether my love increases?
[This question deserves an attentive consideration: for, if we form our judgment on inadequate and erroneous grounds, we shall only deceive ourselves to our everlasting destruction. Let not any then imagine that their love increases, because they feel an increased attachment to any particular individual or party, or have a general desire to do good. If we would form a correct estimate of our love, we must examine what difficulties it surmounts, what sacrifices it makes, and what victories it gains over every selfish inclination or corrupt affection? “If we love those only who love us, what do we more than others? do not even the Pharisees the same?” We must “love them that hate us, and bless them that curse us, and do good to them that despitefully use us and persecute us:” and it is in this way only that we can approve ourselves “children of our heavenly Father.” Enter then deeply into the workings of your own hearts: see how far pride, and anger, and malice, and envy are mortified within you; and how far humility, and meekness, and forbearance, and forgiveness, and a disposition to prefer others in honour above yourselves, are risen up in their stead, and are brought, though under the most trying circumstances, into easy and habitual exercise. Real love has, if I may so say, an intuitive and instinctive operation. See it in the mother of the child which Solomon ordered to be divided between the claimants: she did not need to reason upon the matter; but love, instantly operating in her soul, inclined her to sacrifice her own interests for the good of her child. So it is that love will evidence itself, wherever it exists: it will rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion be; it will “heap coals of fire on the bead” of those whom it cannot otherwise soften; and, “instead of being overcome of evil, it will overcome evil with good.” Try yourselves by this standard, and you will soon see what the state of your souls is before God.]
What shall I do to get an increase of it?
[Many directions here might be given: but we will content ourselves with only one. Nothing but love will beget love: nor will any thing but a sense of God’s love to us prevail to create in us any real love towards our fellow-creatures: we must know what he has done in laying down his life for us, before we can feel any disposition to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if by grace we are enabled to “comprehend in some good measure the height and depth and length and breadth of Christ’s love,” then shall we be transformed by it into his image, yea, and “be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Eph_3:18-19.].” Contemplate then this stupendous mystery: dwell upon it, as it were, incessantly in your minds: muse upon it, till the fire of divine love kindle in your souls: and from thus “beholding his glory, you shall be changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2Co_3:18.].”]