What is true religion? It is to love God with all the heart, and our neighbors as ourselves. This is the whole duty of man. To reach this high standard of character should be the absorbing purpose of every soul. How shall I love God with all my heart? What means are provided for fixing my affections on high and heavenly things? Love to God must be cultivated daily, by calling to mind the great love that God has manifested toward us in giving us his well-beloved Son.
We should try to comprehend the wonders of this amazing sacrifice. We should dwell on the marvelous love of our Redeemer till our stony hearts are melted in contrition and gratitude. The love that stirred his bosom enabled him, the spotless Lamb of God, to become an offering for the guilty transgressor of his Father's law. It sustained him in his purpose to save the fallen race, amid their heartless ingratitude and scorn. It strengthened him for temptation, reproach, torture, poverty, shame, and death. Oh, the unfathomable depths of redeeming love! who can sound this mighty deep?
When we make redemption the subject of our meditation, and try to comprehend the vastness of the plan of salvation, and to realize the unutterable love of Him who has died for us, our hearts will be subdued and softened, and we shall yield them wholly to our Saviour. We shall fall at his feet in adoration, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” A more than human love is wakened in the soul, through the knowledge of the wonderful love of Christ to one who has rebelled against his rule and grieved him by transgression. The sinner who has felt the power of Christ's cleansing blood, has a deep and abiding sense that he owes his all to that Saviour who has purchased him with his own precious life. All who have this consciousness and appreciation of the love of Christ, will esteem it the highest privilege of their lives to devote every power of their being to his service. The transforming grace of Christ moulds the desires of the heart, and there is a ready willingness to make any sacrifice for the truth's sake.
Those who love their Redeemer will rejoice at every opportunity to share with him in humiliation, shame, and reproach. The love they bear their Lord makes suffering, for his sake, sweet; and they know that if they suffer with him they shall also reign with him in his glory. This experience of suffering for Christ's sake is absolutely essential to the spiritual life of the Christian. There can be no true, vital godliness without seasons of trial and grief. We are chosen in the furnace of affliction, and the trial of our faith is more precious than gold.
Many claim to love God while they fail to cherish love toward their brethren; but genuine love to God will testify to its real existence by love to our fellow-men. Those who love God will reveal the tender, compassionate spirit of Jesus to all that are around them. They will love their brethren, because they are the members of the body of Christ. They will love the sinner, because he is the purchase of the blood of Christ; and this love, abiding in the heart, will display itself by earnest labor to benefit and bless all with whom they associate. They will yearn for the salvation of men, and will lead others to the fountain that has refreshed their own souls.
The love of Christ will not make us less fit for actual life, but will enable us to adapt ourselves to the wants of others, and will develop highly practical fruit in our daily experience. It is not a weak sentimentalism. It is not of that cheap order that is earthly and sensual, leading to debasement of the soul and defilement of the character. It is not of earthly, but of heavenly origin. This love is elevating in its nature, enduring and ennobling, shedding rays of beneficence upon all within the circle of its influence. God, through his Son, has sent down this heavenly love to unite us with himself. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Let us ponder this divine love, that we may become changed, and may reflect this precious attribute of the character of our Redeemer. We shall be in less peril of placing our affections on unworthy objects.
The disciple John became a possessor of this divine love. The regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit renewed his heart. He came under the power of the love of Christ, and the knowledge of this love awakened a depth of affection that, by its infusion through his heart, wrought a transformation of character. The warm affection of John was not the cause of Christ's love for him. The Saviour had loved him before this affection had an existence; but the unmerited kindness of his Lord had kindled love in the breast of the disciple.
John's natural character was marked with imperfections. He was impetuous, and resentful under injuries. When the Samaritans refused to entertain his Lord because they thought he favored the Jews more than he did them, John wanted the insult to receive immediate retribution. His spirit was stirred with revenge, and he said to his Master, “Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” Jesus looked upon John, and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:54-56
Revengeful thoughts and words are contrary to the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus. It is not always easy to bring our feelings under control. The human heart needs to be guarded continually, that we may not cherish a spirit unlike that of our divine Lord. It will be impossible for us to bear insult and harshness with loving forbearance and patience unless we drink of the spirit of Him “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again.” It is natural for us to think when we are falsely accused that we must retaliate and show our contempt of the traducers, but this is foreign to the meekness of our Redeemer. We must not allow one revengeful thought to arise. Sorrow and indignation may fill our hearts for a season, because souls are deceived and misled by these falsehoods; but it will not help matters to cherish unholy anger, and it will not be cherished where the forgiving love of Christ has imbued the soul.
The prevalent opinion that John was naturally of a meek and yielding character is proved, by a study of his life, to be erroneous. He had high ambitions to be first in the kingdom of Christ. He had decidedly rebuked one who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus, because he was not in their company. He had strong traits of character, not weak and vacillating, but self-assertive and ambitious for honor. Jesus taught the needed lessons of humility and patience. He manifested in contrast to John's violent spirit, calm consideration and forbearance. John was a learner in the school of Christ. As the character of the divine One was manifested to him, he saw his own deficiency and was humbled by the knowledge. The strength and the patience, the power and tenderness, the majesty and the meekness, that he beheld in the daily life of the Son of God, filled his soul with admiration and love; but he was not simply an admirer; he showed his appreciation by imitating the divine characteristics of his Lord. His revengeful, ambitious temper he yielded to the moulding power of the Spirit of Christ. He set his soul to copy the lovely Pattern and become like Him who is meek and lowly of heart.
We must arm ourselves with the Spirit of Christ, stand in defense of the truth, and yet do this whole work of honoring God and resisting evil without having a spirit of retaliation arise in our hearts.
This is the sure result of association with Jesus. As we meditate upon his character our hearts are drawn out in love, desire awakens to become like him whom we love, and, by beholding, we become changed. When Christ abides in the heart, the whole nature is transformed. Everything that defileth is banished from the soul's temple. Lust, base passions, impure thoughts, pride, inordinate affections, revenge, retaliation, covetousness, envy, all these are prohibited; and what we once loved, now we hate; for we become new creatures in Christ Jesus. Christ's Spirit, Christ's love, softens the heart, subdues the soul, and raise the thoughts and desires toward God and Heaven.
The truth we claim to believe should make us better men and women in our home life, in our church relations, in our business, and in our intercourse with our friends and neighbors. Unless this result is manifested, we should examine ourselves to see what is hindering the sanctifying influence of the truth from accomplishing its work of purification in our lives. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” Our characters must be moulded after the divine model, that we may have an elevating influence on all with whom we associate. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Romans 8:9
Had Peter practiced the lessons that Christ presented during his ministry, he would never have apostatized and denied his Lord; but we thank God that, although in his weakness he did forsake his Master, he thoroughly repented and was forgiven. The lessons which he had failed to take to heart were learned and made practical in his life, and at last he who had deserted his Lord counted it too great an honor that he was permitted to suffer shame and death for his sake.
How different it was with Judas. He had been in the society of the great Teacher. The same privileges were granted to him as were bestowed on Peter and John; but how did he respond to the light? Like many of this day, he professed to be a follower of Christ, but failed to identify his interests with the cause of his Lord. He listened to the lessons of Christ, but he made no change in his character. He did not seek to rid himself of his selfish penuriousness by sacrificing for the advancement of the cause he claimed to espouse. He cultivated a spirit of greed, till the desirableness of Christ and Heaven was eclipsed. This plague-spot in his soul spread, like a destroying leprosy, till the whole man was corrupted. Noble liberty was left to wither. Every unselfish purpose was darkened, until the hope of obtaining a few paltry dollars led him to betray his Saviour.
How many are repeating these mistakes, because they do not profit by the example of those who have followed this course in the past! They are not doers of the words of Christ. They do not conform their lives to his divine instruction. Those who have the greatest deformities of character, may have the greatest grace. The highest seat will be awarded to those who, through appropriating the promises of God to themselves, attain the greatest likeness to Christ.
A longing, hungering desire takes possession of the soul that is conforming to the divine standard. Oh, to be filled with the knowledge of the will of God! Oh, that heavenly light may illumine the pathway! Oh, for deeper draughts of the well of salvation! This is the constant cry of the heart to God, and the promise is that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled.
It is the love of Jesus in the soul that enables the Christian to count all things as loss, to endure toil, to rejoice in sacrifice, and to suffer reproach for the truth. Love for Jesus is the motive power of the life-work, and the sustaining strength for every duty.
While the love of God makes its possessor meek and lowly of spirit, and eradicates all hatred and revenge, and all that is unholy, it will not leave the Christian without power to oppose wrong and rebuke sin. If dangerous errors threaten the faith, through the efforts of deceived church-members or false shepherds, they will be met and opposed with decision. The soldiers of Christ must be like sentinels on guard, watching on the walls of Zion. They must defend the faith once delivered to the saints, and press back the powers of moral darkness with determined energy and will.
The disciple John, while he has written many chapters on the subject of love, speaks very decidedly to his brethren on the duty of rebuking error. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God,” is his decision; and he instructs them not to receive such a one into their houses or bid him Godspeed.
We must arm ourselves with the Spirit of Christ, stand in defense of the truth, and yet do this whole work of honoring God and resisting evil without having a spirit of retaliation arise in our hearts. Every warning in the word of God is to be heeded, every instruction followed, that we may keep our souls in the love of God. We must oppose error for Christ's sake and for the sake of the purchase of his blood, that God may be honored, his ways vindicated, and souls saved from the fast-hastening ruin that is to overwhelm the world. Christ is our example in all things. We must consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we be weary and faint in our minds. We must go forward, exemplifying in our lives the principles of true religion, that we may be living epistles, “known and read of all men;” that we may love God with all our heart, and our neighbors as ourselves.
The sings of the Times, vol. 2, 178-179 (January 13, 1888)