SINCE ALL MANKIND are alienated from their Creator through sin and its condemnation, the application of the text by any individual implies that previously he has come to a knowledge of God’s grace in Christ, and has accepted his share of the same through faith and has thus had access to the love of God, as one of the sons of God, begotten by the holy spirit. This is an important matter overlooked by very many who think to keep themselves in divine love and under divine protecting care without first complying with the conditions of admission to membership in the Lord’s family. There is but one doorway of entrance “into this grace wherein we stand and [as sons of God] rejoice in the hope of the coming glory,” and that is the doorway of faith in and acceptance of the atonement, accomplished for us by our Redeemer at the cost of his own sacrifice at Calvary. Anyone attempting to climb into the family of God otherwise “the same is a thief and a robber” – a rejector of the only way and name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. – Rom. 5:1,2; Acts 4:12.
But our text, like all of the holy Scriptures, is addressed to the Lord’s people, who once were “children of wrath even as others,” but have come into divine favor through the appointed way; and it calls our attention to something that is necessary to us beyond, after our full conversion or consecration to the Lord. It implies that getting into God’s love is by no means the end of the Christian way, but merely the beginning of it: after we are in the way the Lord gives us commandments as his sons, and expects us to manifest the spirit of loyal sonship by obedience; – full obedience so far as the heart or intention is concerned, and as complete obedience as possible so far as the control of the flesh is concerned. Whoever neglects either to learn or to obey the commandments of the Lord, thereby manifests a lack of the true spirit of sonship, and thus condemns himself as unworthy to be longer reckoned or treated as a son of God. Thus seen the commandments of the Lord to those who have consecrated themselves and enter his spirit-begotten family, are tests, proving them either worthy or unworthy of the divine favors and promises assured to the faithful overcomers.
The object of these tests is manifest from the time we come to understand the divine plan of the ages – to comprehend how the Lord is now making selection of a royal priesthood to be joint-heirs with Christ the great King, and to join in the work of succoring, ruling, blessing and uplifting the world of mankind in God’s due time, the world’s “day of judgment,” the Millennial age. We can readily see that divine law is necessary, in heaven and in earth, in order that God’s will may be done – that righteousness, truth and love shall prevail; and it is manifest that whoever is not sufficiently in sympathy with the principles of righteousness expressed in the Lord’s commandments, so as to will and to strive to obey them, would not be a fit person to be used of the Lord in enforcing the divine laws during the Millennial age, and assisting mankind in discerning their righteousness and the blessing which will follow their observance.
Properly, we inquire, What are these commandments, the keeping of which is attended with such momentous results, and the neglect of which would mean the loss of our Redeemer’s love and favor, – and hence, the loss of all the blessings specially prepared for those who love him? We answer, that our Lord’s statement of these commandments briefly comprehends them all in one word, Love. Dividing the matter, we find that it has two parts – love for God and love for our fellows. Without this quality or characteristic, of Love, being so developed in us as to be the controlling influence of our minds, we cannot hope to abide in the Lord’s favor. True, he does not expect to gather ripe grapes from the new vineshoot when first it makes its appearance; rather, the great Husbandman (I Cor. 3:9) waits for the gradual development of the fruit, if after the shoot has come forth he sees upon it the bud of promise, which quickly develops, manifesting itself as the flower of the grapes. Nevertheless, manifestations of a coming fruitage of love are expected of the Lord, quickly after our union with him; and any smallness of development of this fruitage would indicate a corresponding lack of love and appreciation on our part, and would mean correspondingly small love for the truth and its principles: hence, the Lord’s love for us would be correspondingly less than if more rapid progress were made.
Love would, necessarily mean the according of justice; because the law or requirements of the Lord are based upon justice, “the foundation of his throne.” We are to view the commandments of the Lord from this standpoint, therefore, and to see first that our love for God is just, – must recognize that we owe him love, devotion, appreciation, because of what he has done and promises yet to do for us. Justice calls for our loving, reverential obedience to the Lord. It is the same with respect to our love for our fellowmen. Justice, as well as respect for our Heavenly Father’s regulations, calls on us to do right to our neighbor, – to do toward him as we would have him do toward us. This is not more than absolute justice, and yet it is the very essence and spirit of the divine law of love. But while justice is the first feature of the commandment of love, it is not the end of its requirements: it requires that going beyond strict justice, our love shall prompt us to the exercise of mercy and forgiveness. And in thus exercising mercy, we are again but copying divine love; for our Heavenly Father not only deals with all his creatures according to justice but going beyond the lines of justice, in great compassion and mercy he provided in Christ Jesus a Redeemer for sinners. True, he did not provide this in violation of his justice; yet so far as we are concerned it is just the same as though, out of love and compassion, he had overridden justice in our assistance. Hence in our dealings with others, who like ourselves, are fallen and imperfect, we are to remember this feature and not only be just toward them but additionally to be merciful, generous, kind, even to the unthankful, – that thus we may be children of our Father in heaven.
The Lord through the Prophet expresses this thought of how the law of love is divisible and covers all the requirements of Christian character; he says, “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8.) That these are very reasonable requirements will be conceded by all; that God could not require less from those whom he is educating for the future judging of the world, is evident: and, yet, all three of these qualities specified through the Prophet, are comprehended in the one word love. Love requires that we shall deal justly with our neighbors, with the brethren, with our families, with ourselves; that we shall seek to cultivate our appreciation of the rights of others, – their physical rights, their moral and intellectual rights, their liberties; and that, appreciating these, we shall in no sense of the word, seek to abridge or deny them.
To “love mercy” is to go even beyond loving justice, and signifies a delight in yielding personal rights and privileges in the interest of others, where no principles are involved. It implies readiness to forgive the faults of others – a disinclination to be too exacting in respect to others, as well as a desire to be very exacting in respect to our treatment of others. The humble walk with God is included, also, in the commandment of love; because, whoever loves his Creator and appreciates his provisions for his creatures, in natural and in spiritual things, will love and appreciate God in return. And having such a proper conception of the greatness of the Almighty and of his own littleness and insufficiency, except by divine grace, he will be disposed indeed, to walk humbly with the Lord – not seeking paths of his own, but, trustingly, seeking to walk in the path which the Lord has marked out – in the footsteps of Jesus.
The same Apostle John who recorded our Lord’s words of our text, commented further upon this subject of the love of God and of Christ, saying, “This is the love of God [i.e., proves or demonstrates our love of God], that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” (I John 5:3.) This gives us the suggestion that the Lord not only expects us to keep his commandments of love to him and to the brethren, but that he expects also that in keeping these we should become so filled with an appreciation of the commandments and the principles that underlie them, that we would delight therein; not merely because they are God’s commandments, but, additionally, because they are right, good, proper. This thought the Apostle expresses in the words, “And his commandments are not grievous.” It is one thing to keep the divine commands or to seek to do so, all the while feeling more or less of restraint, lack of liberty, compulsion, duty, etc.; it is another thing to obey joyfully.
It is not improper to expect something of this spirit at the beginning of our experience as the Lord’s people, seeking to keep his commandments; but we should expect, also, that as we grow in grace and grow in knowledge and grow in love, all these feelings of constraint, duty, etc., would disappear; so that, instead, we should delight to do the Lord’s will, delight to keep his commandments of love, delight to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, – and that there should be a total absence of the feeling that the Lord’s commandments are grievous, burdensome, irksome. This is the higher Christian development, and can only be found where the individual has become truly “a copy of God’s dear Son,” where the Father’s spirit has developed and brought forth the ripe fruits of the spirit in abundant measure – meekness, patience, gentleness, brotherly kindness, love.
Recurring to our text, we note that our Lord’s words also imply the same thing; – the necessity for obedience to the commandments of love, and to such a growth ultimately as would separate them from any feeling of bondage or grievousness. Our Lord’s words, showing this, are in the latter part of the text – “even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
As we look back at the beautiful character of our Lord Jesus and see his love for righteousness, for truth, and his willingness to be obedient to his Father’s arrangements – even unto death – we can perceive readily that our dear Master had a love for the principles which lie back of the Father’s commandments. He obeyed the Father, not through restraint, not through fear, but from a perfect love. Recognizing the Father’s commandments, but not as being grievous, using the language put by the Prophet into his mouth, his sentiment was, “I delight to do thy will, O my God, thy law is in my heart.” (Psalm 40:8.) We are to understand the Lord, therefore, to mean, that in order to abide in his love we must reach such a heart condition as this which he had; – a love for the Father’s ways, for the principles of righteousness and truth. We may abide in his love at first under other conditions, feeling through our love the restraints of his commandment of love, but as we grow in knowledge, we must grow in grace, and outgrow those sentiments, and grow up into the Lord’s spirit and sentiment in this matter; so that obedience to the Lord will be the delight of our hearts, and any failure to do his will would cause a pain, a shadow, an earth-born cloud, to hide us from the Father’s smile.
Seeing the depths of our Lord’s requirements, many will be inclined to say, Ah, yes, it is true that we must attain to such character-likeness of our Lord, but that transformation and renewing of the mind is not our part of the work but the Lord’s: He must do this for us, else it will never be done. Partly right and partly wrong, we answer. It is true that when we consider ourselves, how weak and imperfect we are according to the old nature, according to the flesh, we have good cause for despairing and deciding that we never could accomplish such a great transformation from selfishness to love, in our own strength. It is true, also, that the Lord proposes to work in us – “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13.) But it is just as true that we have a burden of responsibility in respect to this matter of overcoming. It is the Lord’s part to provide the way, the truth, the life, – the means by which we may attain unto the condition to which he has called us; but it is our part to use the means and thus to attain the prize.
The Lord has provided for our justification, our reconciliation to himself, our acceptance to sonship, our anointing with the holy spirit, our instructions with the word of his grace, the word of promise: He works in us, to will and to do, through these exceeding great and precious promises and the glorious prospects and rewards that attach to them; but the amount that he will work in us and the results that will be worked out through these promises, depend upon us. As it depended upon us whether or not we would come into the grace which he has provided for us, and as we could have kept ourselves out of the love of God by refusing or neglecting the offer of his mercy and love, so we could neglect the word of his promise, neglect the various means of grace which he provides for our strengthening, establishing and upbuilding in the knowledge and grace of the truth. And thus neglecting his provisions we would proportionately fail to abide in his love – fail to obtain the promised favors. The Apostle intimates this, saying: –
What, then is the essence of what we have foregoing found to be the divine instruction upon this subject? It is this.
(2) The exceeding great and precious promises must be studied, earnestly, that we may thus have them constitute in us “the power of God” for good – keeping us in the knowledge of the Lord and, through obedience, in his love.
(3) This knowledge will profit us only as we put it in practice and seek to regulate our minds, our thoughts, our words, and so far as possible all our actions of life, according to this standard which God through his Word, established before us as an ideal. We are to remember that if we had all knowledge yet had not love, it would profit us nothing, but we are to remember, also, that in the divine arrangement it seems to be impossible that our knowledge should progress much in advance of our obedience to what we already know.
(4) We are to appreciate every evidence which we find, in ourselves or others, of such growth in obedience to the law of God, – the law of love with its connections of justice and mercy and reverence.
(5) We are not to expect the full results of joy in doing the Father’s will in the beginning of our experiences, nor are we to feel discouraged if in the beginning the motive be, to a considerable extent, duty-love instead of a love for principles. We are to seek at the Lord’s hand further blessing and further filling of his spirit of love. We are to seek to study and to appreciate the basic principles upon which the Lord governs the universe, and are to seek to bring our hearts into sympathetic accord with that law and principle and spirit of righteousness. We are to remember that much of our lack of appreciation of the principles of righteousness is due to our ignorance; and we are to expect that as we come to know the Lord and to understand his plan better, the eyes of our understanding will open the wider so that it will be possible for us not only “to comprehend with all saints,” but to appreciate with all saints, the principles underlying and constituting the divine law of love.
Thus we may daily and hourly keep ourselves in the Lord’s love by obedience to, and a growing love for, the principles of righteousness. And we are to rejoice in every experience in life, – its trials, difficulties, sorrows, disappointments, etc., no less than in its pleasures, if by any or all of these means the Lord shall instruct us and give us clearer insight into our own deficiencies, and a still clearer insight into that perfect law of liberty and love which he has established, and to which he requires our full and loyal heart-submission.