LOVE ABOUNDING IN KNOWLEDGE1
This is one of those prayers which reveal to us Paul's heart. That was a vast range of affection which could embrace at the same time thousands of converts scattered over Europe and Asia, yet bring the wants of each with ardent desire and minute particularity before the throne of the heavenly grace. The profound thoughtfulness of these petitions is no less remarkable; no random praying here, no good wishes for the sake of compliment, but a keen perception of real needs, followed by that concentrated pressure of supplication which Coleridge declared to be the intensest exercise of the human understanding.
There were reasons why the apostle should pray for this church with peculiar earnestness. It was the child of persecution and many stripes. He remembered that fearful, blessed night at Philippi when, amid the shock of earthquake and the bursting open of prison doors, the church was born. He could not forget that when other friends had deserted him the loving care of these Philippian disciples had never failed, and their ministrations had lightened his toils and sorrows not only at Corinth, but also in his dungeon at Rome. To think of Philippi was a rest and refreshment to his soul, for no church
1 A sermon before the Ohio Baptist Education Society, on the text, Philippians 1:9, 10: "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent."
to which he wrote during his whole ministry presented so many features for praise and so few for blame.
Yet all this only made Paul long more fervently for the completeness of their Christian character. Nothing to his mind was done so long as anything yet remained to be done. Will it seem almost ungracious for him to speak of their long-tried love as needing in any respect correction? Paul can do even this for their sakes. There is a defect in that love as yet; it lacks balance and steadiness; it is incautious, impulsive, undiscriminating. They need a broader and clearer view of truth, a more practised wisdom, a more delicate spiritual perception, and the great burden of his prayer is that these gifts may be added to their rich endowments of love and zeal. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent." Here is a theme somewhat out of the line of our common thought, but abounding in important practical applications, namely: The Relation Of Christian Love To Christian Knowledge. A few main points will give us at least an outline of the subject which may be filled up by subsequent reflection.
The first thought implicitly contained in the passage is this, that love, though it is the essential element in all virtue and the very motive power of religion, is not rightfully independent of the other faculties, but is subject to regulation and control. Nothing can be more true than that love is the central principle of a religious life. We shall all agree that any obedience which does not proceed directly or indirectly from love is of no moral worth, however perfect it may seem to be; while, on the other hand, true love involves in itself every other grace and virtue as the flower is contained in the seed, so that love is the very fulfilling of the law.
And yet you see at once that we do not ascribe this degree of excellence to every kind of love. The man who loves a dog more than all the world besides attracts no admiration. The passionate devotion that wastes itself in insane idolatry of a mean and loathsome character is a disgrace to the man or woman who cherishes it. Love has no moral value except as it is placed upon a proper object and bestowed in some due proportion to the worth of that object. The affections and sympathies of our nature are worthy of approbation in just the degree that they are regulated and controlled by reason and principle. Mere possession of a fund of generous, enthusiastic feeling is not sure evidence of a right heart, for that feeling sometimes responds as quickly to the seductions of vice as to the sober attractions of virtue.
We sometimes say that religion consists in love, and we mean that it puts a love into the soul so high and pure and grand that all minor and selfish loves are crowded out of sight; but it would be more strictly true to say that religion consists in a new direction of our love, a turning of the current toward God which once flowed toward self. There was love of a poor sort in our hearts before; religion creates no new faculty, it only teaches us a new and rational application of one we had already. Christianity rectifies the affections, before excessive, impulsive, lawless,—gives them worthy and immortal objects, regulates their intensity in some due proportion to the value of the things they rest upon, and teaches the true methods of their manifestation.
In other words, the essence of Christianity is not simply love, but "love abounding in knowledge and in all judgment."
In true religion love forms a copartnership with reason. The idea of an infinite holiness and beauty and goodness furnishes the mind for the first time with a correct standard of judgment; it begins to estimate the worth of things according as they affect the interests of God and the soul. So there is an order restored in the realm of the affections, an order which constitutes a part of our original likeness to God; for God's love is no arbitrary, wild, passionate torrent of emotion, rushing any whither without reason or method, but a calm, deep river, flowing on in the perfect peacefulness of infinite wisdom. God's love is never wasted or misdirected, but expended under supervision of an unerring intelligence and holiness, and we become like God by bringing our emotions, sympathies, affections under the dominion of reason and conscience.
If religion did nothing for us but to increase our power of loving, that love might be the sport of every impulse, blown about by every chance suggestion, and drifting hither and thither like a balloon at the mercy of the winds. Religion does better for us than this. While it gives us love as the motive power of a new and holy life, it furnishes an instructed reason as a balance-wheel to guard this inward energy from selfdestruction. Having reconstructed the machinery, it sets man's nature on the right track, and starts it on the straight and even road for a noble and symmetrical and life-long progress. For the work is endless. Finite knowledge has always room for growth, and so the Christian's task is to exhibit a wiser and wiser love, more thoroughly regulated affections, more discriminating sympathies, so long as life endures. Thus permanent is the demand for a regulative principle to control and direct the motive power of our nature.
Yet there are those who, consciously or unconsciously, hold that religion has no necessary connection with knowledge. The second thought suggested by the text is therefore this: Any theory which makes religion consist wholly in affection, sympathy, impulse, sentiment, unreasoning and uncontrolled, is fatal to correct views of Christian doctrine and in practice cuts at the root of all morality. I fear that some of our modern theology, in its reaction from the old Puritan and legal conceptions of righteousness, is preaching a gospel of mere emotion. It is claimed not only that love is the fundamental attribute of God, but that love is the all-inclusive and only attribute of God; that righteousness is but a form of benevolence, a method of showing God's kindness, which has no value in itself apart from its tendency to produce happiness, and the inference is sometimes drawn that God would himself as readily be unrighteous if unrighteousness would only lead to as pleasurable emotions as those which flow from righteousness. Righteousness is held to be simply God's selflove, and self-love only love in one form of its manifestation.
After what has been already said, I hardly need to point out that any scheme of the divine attributes which reduces them all to love, fails to supply any standard by which this love is to be regulated. An attribute which is conditioned is conditioned by that which is higher
than itself. If love is to abound in knowledge and in all judgment, then there is some higher principle to which love is bound to conform. In God the impulse to self-communication is ever under control of the impulse to self-affirmation. Even Jonathan Edwards, who held virtue to be the love of being in general, declared that God must find his supreme end in himself.
It is like the relation of the sun to the planets of the solar system. The sun must first be its own center, if it would be the center to the system. The sun could not revolve around the planet without bringing the planet to destruction and the whole system to confusion. So God's righteousness is the regulative principle of God's love. Love cannot be the supreme attribute in our theology, because love always operates under the regulation and control of an attribute still higher, namely, the righteousness or holiness of God, and a love that is uncontrolled by reason and justice furnishes no proper basis for law or responsibility or sin or atonement or retribution—in short, no proper basis for Christian theology.
We have another illustration of the fruits of a religion of mere emotion and impulse, in the later phases of our modern spiritualism. We may call spiritualism a religion, for its most advanced advocates claim it to be an improvement upon all religions the world has seen. The critical question with every religion is, of course, this: What constitutes its authority? Spiritualism speaks slightingly of the Bible as good enough for its day, but as worn out and behind the age. New revelations from the spirit-world are supposed to take its place, and as these revelations often thoroughly contradiet each other, each man's feeling must determine what to accept and what to reject. The actual result is that each has revealed to him just what he wishes to believe; his own erratic inclinations are his religious authority. Leaving the safe anchorage of Scripture, he floats about a credulous pursuer of the wildest vagaries, until he makes utter shipwreck of his faith.
Well for him if he always stopped even here. But there is a still darker abyss of ruin ready to engulf him. He who trusts his own wishes as to Christian doctrine, rather than accept the authority of God's word, easily comes to accept impulse as supreme authority in matters of common morality. Woe to the man to whom impulse is law and religion, for Satan has control of impulses, and he sometimes puts into men's hearts impulses to lying, adultery, and murder. Woe to the man to whom love has come to mean the darting from cloud to cloud of an inevitable lightning, who knows nothing of affection but desire, who justifies lawlessness on the plea that the feelings are irresistible. Oh, how many a home has this religion of impulse turned into a haunt of defilement and shame! how many a fold of domestic peace has it desolated! how many a soul has it beguiled into a living death here and hereafter!
Hold thou the good: define it well:
For fear divine philosophy
Should push beyond her mark, and be
Procuress to the lords of hell.
Such are the results of any theory of religion which deprives the affections of their regulative principle. And yet we scarcely realize the extent to which false
views upon this fundamental question pervade our social and family life. A deluge of passionate romances is flooding the land and insidiously undermining the foundations of popular morals. The innermost idea of them is this: that love, the master-passion, is uncontrollable and irresponsible, subject to no rules, bending all laws into subserviency to itself, and justifying any course of conduct which only promises to insure its gratification and triumph. No wonder that the young people who read these novels in the weekly periodicals come to believe that affection is a wayward, arbitrary thing, to be conceived at a moment's notice and to be put aside as quickly when the humor turns. Nothing is more needed among the young than the conviction that God has not left the emotions and passions out of the range and control of law, and that for the proper regulation of the affections we are accountable.
Our family life shows the same great lack. The parent excuses his over-indulgence of his child on the plea of love—winks at disobedience instead of reproving it— cannot bear to restrain because of excessive desire to please. Such love as this is only another form of selfishness—unwillingness to endure a little present pain and struggle for the sake of the child's soul and the child's future. The growing laxity of family government in our day shows that love does not yet abound in knowledge and in all judgment. And the church too often shows the same weak tolerance of evil among its number, when the safety of its growing members and the honor of Christ in the community demand the exercise of its discipline and the separation from it of the unworthy.
If it is a duty then to direct and control the sympathies and affections, it must be a possible thing, and the common idea that it is hopeless to think of enlarging or repressing, modifying or regulating our emotions must be false. This then is the third point of importance, viz:—Love, though it cannot be controlled directly by a simple effort of will, may yet be controlled by indirect means. Am I bound, for example, by my peculiar relation to another person in the family or in the church, to cherish for him love? Then certain faults of his do not absolve me from that obligation. Am I bound by my peculiar relations to repress a tendency to excessive regard which I find growing up within me? Then no consideration of my own comfort absolves me from that obligation.
For there are two ways by which I may foster or check the growth of my affections, one by directing the train of my thoughts to or from those features of character that tend to excite my affection, the other by the performance of such acts of duty as may tend to increase or destroy my love. Such acts of duty form habits, and habits react upon our inward feelings. Our acts of duty may be imperfect, our feelings may not entirely correspond to them, yet by their means the desired end is steadily promoted. If we cannot wholly succeed, we can at least improve, and it is duty to do what we can. We can learn to love even our enemies, we may conquer our most inveterate passions, if we only take the steps of thought and action which I have suggested, and with the help of God use these means conscientiously and persistently.
Persons of an ardent temperament, under the presTHE HABIT OF REFLECTION
sure of disappointment or mental questioning, are often strangely attracted and fascinated for a time by the offer of a haven of rest for their weariness, which they know God has interdicted to them and which conscience itself forbids. There are many long, heroic contests in this world over which no paeans are ever sung,—lifelong contests between duty and inclination. Many a man has fought over and over again an unworthy affection which seemed to rise again as often as it was conquered, —many a woman has struggled for years against the temptation to sell her soul for relief from the care and pressure of poverty, or to fly from the world to the seclusion of convent walls and to fancied repose in the bosom of an infallible church, while yet her reason told her that there was no bosom but Christ's on which her soul could ever truly rest. It is a greater, nobler, happier thing to fight this long fight of faith than to yield to such impulses, however ardent. And God blesses such struggle to the development of magnificent characters, who like Christ can succor the tempted because they have suffered through temptation. Such do find that love comes to abound in knowledge and in all judgment, through this indirect influence of acts of duty habitually performed and thoughts of the right habitually cherished.
One of the aphorisms of the "Aids to Reflection" reads as follows: "An hour of solitude passed in sincere and earnest prayer, or the conflict with and conquest over a single passion or subtle bosom-sin, will teach us more of thought, will more effectually awaken the faculty and form the habit of reflection, than a year's study in the schools without them." It is surprising to see how soon religion will break up the wasteful wicked habit of reverie and give the power of real genuine meditation. Many and many a young person can scarcely be called a rational creature until he learns from Christ the exercise of his reason. There is nothing like Christianity to develop manhood and womanhood,—for nothing like Christianity creates the habit of moral thoughtfulness. And this introduces the fourth and last thought of my text, viz: This habitual control over our affections and impulses which Paul enjoins tends ever to a state of freedom in the right, in which our emotional nature is no longer bound by the rules of knowledge as by cords of compulsion, but instinctively knows and loves and chooses the right.
This thought is indicated in the word translated "judgment," but better rendered moral tact, spiritual perception, Christian instinct. It is the word from which our terms aesthetic and aesthetics are derived. The apostle is not content to have love abound in external knowledge,—he would have that knowledge converted from an outward rule into an inward principle; love must abound in intuitive discernment also. We know how the youthful artist works laboriously inside the rules of his art, as within prison walls, never losing the sense of restraint, and we know too how that same artist with growing practice and skill loses all thought of his rules, not because he disregards them, but because they have come to be a second nature to him and he observes them in perfect freedom. Just so the growing Christian finds by slow degrees that the law of God becomes to him a law of liberty.
To this goal of practised and instinctive wisdom
Paul would have us aspire. He does not expect to have us attain it perfectly at once—our love is to abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgment. But he does expect progress toward it, and constant discipline of all our powers that our progress may become more marked and rapid. The perfect union of love and wisdom is not a dream of fancy. Its ultimate realization is the great hope and prize of the future to all the renewed and adopted sons of God. As Wordsworth has beautifully said in his Ode to Duty:
Serene will be our days and bright,
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security!
Stern Lawgiver, yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
And the most ancient heavens through thee are firm and strong!
To humbler functions, awful Power,
I call thee; I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from this hour—
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise.
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And, in the light of truth, thy bondman let me live!
The poet's words are true. We must be sometimes bondmen of duty at the first. So long as the outward rules of right given in God's word are not inwrought into our being and followed as by instinct, we must follow them from principle. "What!" says one. "Is there any virtue in a half-hearted obedience?" There is more virtue in it, I reply, than in a whole-hearted disobedience. There is more virtue in a long, persistent struggle to bend our feelings into conformity with God's will, than there is in ignoble tolerance of wrong. There is, for example, a certain false liberality, which for the sake of worldly repute and pleasant feeling is willing to ignore the distinctive features of Christian doctrine and even Christ's positive commands. There are those who think, most unwisely as I believe, that our Christian charity ought to lead us as a denomination to admit to the Lord's table those whom we believe to be unbaptized,—in other words, that Christian charity ought to lead us to ignore Christ's own appointed order in the celebration of his sacraments and to suppress the only effective protest we can utter against a perversion of Christ's ordinance of baptism. If love were all that Christ requires of us, the demand might seem plausible; but we remember that our love is to abound in knowledge and all judgment; that we are to love our brethren of other beliefs not less, but the truth more; that we are to act not simply for the gratification of our own feelings of Christian sympathy, but for the purity and ultimate interests of Christ's church.
So too in the delicate matter of amusements and fashions, we are to beware that liberality does not degenerate into license, that Christian freedom does not become looseness of manners, that our religion does not assume that easy-going type which acts from worldly
policy rather than from principle. When we are admonished to let our love abound in knowledge and in all judgment, that we may approve things that are excellent, or better, that we may distinguish things that differ, it is but a poor apology for injustice or laxity to say that our disposition and aim are right, though we may be thoughtless and injudicious in the means we employ to secure it. The very thing demanded is moral thoughtfulness, the exercise of a love according to knowledge, the careful judging of all things by the test of everlasting principle. True religion aims to bring all things, our friendships, our charities, our manners, our praise and blame of others, out from the dominion of unthinking impulse under the firm and even sway of God's eternal truth.
It is only when we consider this need of disciplining and purifying the affections, that we get any proper conception of the dignity and office of God's revelation. So wayward and fallible are our sympathies, that without some authentic declaration of the truth by God himself, we might fall into fatal delusion both with regard to matters of faith and matters of practice. If there is any lesson which history teaches more clearly than another it is this: the absolute necessity of a fixed standard of doctrine and of duty, set up by God himself, to rectify our perverse judgments and regulate the erratic tendencies of our emotional natures.
Do you tell me that human reason is capable of discovering truth by its own unaided powers ? that an honest heart may follow its own instincts? that the only standard men need is their own inward ideal of truth and duty? I point you to a single illustration of the
utter futility of such claims. Look at that body of men, under whatever name, who have cast aside the Scriptures as final authority, and who follow no light but that of their own inner sense. No two of them agree together,—no one of them agrees with himself at different times. We want certainties with regard to the soul and God, death and hell, judgment and eternity, and the preacher gives us pleasantly his private impressions for that week. We want none of his impressions,—our own impressions are as good as his; we want some word of God that shall be authoritative and decisive.
The truth which reason could never evolve has come to us from God. Though we never could discover the truth of ourselves, we recognize it, now that it is revealed to us, just as the inexperienced traveler can recognize the path through the woods when the guide once shows him the marks blazed upon the trees, though he never could discover the way alone. In this word of God then we have the only infallible communication of religious truth, and the only authoritative summary of human duty. Needing, as we ever do, to have our wayward instincts and partial views rectified by comparison with some divine standard, we have this need met and supplied in the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation.
Thus God has provided the means for our lifelong progress in Christian love, by giving us the means of an ever-increasing knowledge. We cannot safely neglect God's chosen means of strengthening and developing Christian character. Since it is by the truth that the Spirit of all grace effects the renewal and
sanctification of the heart, we see how indispensable is the constant pondering of the words of God, and the assiduous use of all means for a thorough understanding of them. We can only grow in grace as we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and there never can be growth in knowledge of Christ except through diligent and prayerful study of those inexhaustible treasures of divine wisdom which God has laid up in his holy word.
And so Christianity is a life-work and a life-school. We are being educated for high stations in God's great empire. We are to be rulers over many things in the government of the universe, if we are only faithful over a few things here. We have all seen how quick progress in spiritual knowledge and perception even the beginner in Christ's school may make, if there be only deep love for the Saviour and an honest will. I have seen a rough, untutored young man waked from intellectual lethargy by Christ's light shining into his mind. Surprised at finding himself in a new spiritual world, I have seen him bend all his energies to learn something of himself and nature and God. I have seen him discover, with all the joy of a Columbus, whole continents of truth in God's word, and I have seen him put that truth to immediate use in his own henrt and in his influence over others. I have seen, as the fruit of this unremitting practice, a moral tact, a delicate judgment developing itself, until few men among older Christians seemed so intuitively to perceive the first approaches of evil and so instinctively to repel and reject it. From time to time I have noted how larger views of God's great plans have led to larger sympathies and more open-handed liberality, until sometimes he has seemed to take the whole world and all future generations into the arms of his faith and prayer. And as I have seen his mind growing in knowledge, and his heart keeping even pace with his understanding, and both together lifting themselves up toward God, I have rejoiced in the power of God's grace here, and in the magnificent prospect that stretches away through all coming ages before that ever-developing mind and heart.
I have thought how much better this soul-growth was than growth in poor earthly wealth or poor earthly comfort, and while I have seen him putting his talent to interest and compound interest for his Master, and others, as largely endowed as he, only hiding theirs in a napkin, while I have seen him in Christian activity and zeal and usefulness far outstripping those who began the race before him, I have asked myself what was the reason of all this difference. Ah! it was this: they never had comprehended that the fire of love in the heart of religion could never keep on burning unless it was fed with the fuel of knowledge; that when the means of grace were neglected—the Bible, the closet, the prayer meeting, the sanctuary—the fuel of knowledge was unsupplied, the fire of love must go out, and the man who began his Christian course most fervently must inevitably stop on the track, as dead and useless as the locomotive whose boilers have become icy cold. Another conception of the Christian life—another spirit in the prosecution of his Christian work—had animated him. He had felt that the beginnings of a Christian life were nothing unless that life continued to the end; he had felt that nothing but constant supplies of knowlTHE DAY OF DECISION
edge from God's word and from living fellowship with Christ's church could keep the fire of love glowing in his heart for a single day; and in that conviction he had given all diligence to add to his faith virtue, and to his virtue, knowledge.
The result has already shown which was wise and which were foolish. But there is a grander day of decision yet to come. I have looked on in imagination to the great day of award and doom and have thought of the difference of their reception then, the one presenting the ten talents he has gained by diligent and faithful use of God's appointed means, while the others come up almost empty-handed, the one welcomed with the plaudits of the great King, the others saved so as by fire, if they are saved at all. And then I have thought that through whatever difficulties one may have to struggle, and whatever sacrifice of time, business, pleasure, one may have to make to attain it, still the wise man's words are true: "Wisdom is better than riches." "Wisdom is the principal thing,—therefore get wisdom!" And how can I better express my desire for you all, young and old, than in the words of Paul's petition: "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all discernment, that you may distinguish the things that differ, that you may be pure and without offense unto the day of Christ, being filled with the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."