LOVE pervades and characterises the life of our LORD still more deeply and extensively than the spirit of mortification, and therefore needs yet more earnestly to be studied in the endeavour to follow His steps. Moreover the spirit of mortification itself, though so blessed, would be harsh and intolerable, unless the grace of love pervaded it. Throughout our LORD'S deepest mortifications love so predominates, that it softens all their terrible features. We could indeed scarcely bear to contemplate the bitterness and shame of the Passion, unless it were thus alleviated. Love ever absorbs the mind, as we dwell on the dreadfulness of the several incidents of the Passion. Thus, e.g., the exceeding tenderness of the prayer supposed to be uttered as the nails were being driven through His Flesh,--"FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do,"--rivets our thoughts more than even the terrible laceration then being inflicted. And so throughout our LORD'S suffering life, the austerities, the painfulness of His humiliation, are softened by the engrossing love, that draws the soul beyond all the other mysterious attractions of His Presence.
Love so prominently characterises the Divine Nature in comparison with the other attributes of the GODhead, that Holy Scripture declares, "GOD is Love;" a mode of expression never applied to any other feature of the Divine character, as though GOD and love were in some deep mystery identical. The same reasons which cause this predominance of love in the Divine Nature, will account likewise for the similar predominance of this grace in the Son of Man, Who is the express image of the FATHER. His Humanity is thus specially characterised, because His Divine Nature is thus characterised.
But Divine Love is too wide a subject, and has too great a variety of features, to be fully treated of within the limits of this discourse. It would be impossible in so short a compass to take any adequate view of such a subject, as a whole. I can only attempt to unfold certain prominent features of this great grace. Two such features may be related; one, our LORD'S desire to sacrifice Himself to save the world; the other, His sympathy with all true human feeling, whether of joy or sorrow, a sympathy extending to the minutest details of life.
1. Isaiah carries us back into the ages which preceded the Incarnation, and shows how the purpose of self-sacrifice even then possessed the mind of our LORD. The Prophet is describing the vision of a Man Whom he sees coming "from Edom with dyed garments from Bozrah," "glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength." The Prophet asks, Who He is? The mysterious Form answers; "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Again the Prophet inquires, "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel?" Then the Voice speaks of the Sacrifice of Blood which, when all help had failed, and no creature could avail to save, a deep movement of love impelled Him to offer at such amazing cost to Himself; "I looked, and there was none to help, and I wondered that there was none to uphold, therefore Mine own Arm brought salvation unto Me, and My fury it upheld Me." The words imply an intense inward force constraining His whole nature, as with a deep passionate yearning, a mighty torrent of feeling, which Holy Scripture expresses as His "fury," pouring itself forth upon His enemies, but with ardent desires towards His own elect for whose deliverance He had been thus deeply stirred. That the Prophet is speaking of our LORD, and of what was brooding in His mind in the ages past, is evident from a verse that shortly afterwards follows; "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love, and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old."
This same intense desire of self-sacrifice our LORD expresses to His Apostles, when He says: "I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened, till it be accomplished." "Straitened," the word denotes a yearning suppressed with pain. The same absorbing feeling is revealed again, only, if we may so speak, more calmly, when the time of its fulfilment was at hand. It breathes throughout the opening passages of His intercessory prayer, uttered the same night in which He was betrayed. "JESUS lifted up His eyes to Heaven and said, FATHER, the hour is come, glorify Thy SON, that Thy SON also may glorify Thee." The "glory" which He so anticipated was to be accomplished in His Passion; for thus Himself explained the word, when He revealed to S. John the martyrdom of S. Peter; "This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify GOD." The whole intercessory prayer is instinct with this idea which then absorbed the Soul of our LORD, the thought of pouring Himself forth in sacrifice for His creatures, so as to accomplish through His Passion a mutual joy between Himself and them. The closing verse expresses this predominant idea. "And I have declared unto them Thy Name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me, may be in them, and I in them." The love out of which this deep desire of self-sacrifice grew, once broke forth in a terrible denunciation against S, Peter, who would have deterred our LORD from His purpose. Our LORD had begun "to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, LORD; this shall not be unto Thee." The intended remonstrance drew from our LORD a reproof such as never elsewhere passed His lips, in His intercourse with His disciples; "He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of GOD, but those that be of men." It was the breaking forth of the consuming fire of self-devotion, that could not brook even the thought of the hindrance which a false self-love would have raised up in His way.
2. Connect with this great feature of our LORD'S love, the other characteristic point mentioned, His sympathy with all pure human feeling. Consider how His sympathy with human sorrow gushed out, as He drew near to the grave of Lazarus. Can we doubt, when JESUS, "seeing Mary weeping, and the Jews weeping who came with her, groaned in spirit, and was troubled;" and He came to the grave and "wept,"--that before His mind at that hour were plainly visible all the graves that would ever open on this wide earth; that He was then drawing near to all hearts that would ever bleed; that He was weeping for all bereavements, which would ever cast their cold lonely shadows over bright homes, and fond embraces of love; that He was placing Himself as near as possible to the sources of human grief, and by sharing them understanding by a personal experience what they are to the sufferer, and thus opening within Himself eternal sources of a responsive sympathy with all forms of trial? Though it was only in the case of one human family, and one sad loss, that His feelings were thus stirred to their depths; yet this was but bringing out the great truth of the individuality of His sympathy, showing how each separate sadness, within each separate home, awakens at once the response of His sacred Heart, and how each one may lean the burden of his individual sorrow on His sure unfailing tenderness.
We are ready to acknowledge this truth at once in the case of human sorrow. We are slow to apprehend it in the case of human joy. But no greater dishonour could be done to religion than by supposing that pure human joy finds no sympathy in GOD. When our LORD was present at the Marriage Feast at Cana, it had no doubt a symbolical meaning, applicable to His bridal union with elect souls, and with His Church; but it had also its direct and proper meaning. It was placing Himself at the fountain head of all pure domestic joy, from whence flow the purest streams of all natural earthly joy. And by thus sharing in it, and entering into its sources. He diffused Himself through all its channels, and established an eternal relation between Himself and all innocent mirth, all true gladness, even all pure festivity. When He made the first outgoing of miraculous energy, in changing the water into wine, minister to the prolonging of that festal gladness, supplying the passing desire felt by the guests, He was showing how minute a care watches over, understands, and feels for, each natural impulse of the heart's joyousness and desires of prolonged happiness, which He wills should even in our fallen state, in its season, intermingle with the deep tides of human sorrow, and which He would sanctify by His Presence, even as He sanctifies our seasons of trial.
Consider, again, into what minute points His sympathy enters, as it was manifested in incidents recorded in the Gospels, and which may be regarded as instances of our LORD'S habitual thought. When, e.g., He raised to life the son of the widow of Nain, it is added at the conclusion of the miracle; "He delivered him to his mother." It might have seemed enough to have restored life. We might have expected that our LORD would have then passed on. But no, He stops to witness and share the mother's joy, while He places the hand of her risen child in her hand. Again, after He had raised to life the daughter of Jairus, "He commanded that something should be given her to eat;"--as though He feared lest, in the excitement of the resurrection of their child, even her parents should forget her need.
The individualizing affection with which our LORD manifested His love is part of this same minuteness of detail which marks His sympathy. Witness the remarkable scene at the Last Supper, where S. John is lying on his Master's Bosom. What a reality does the picture convey of the mutual love of the Incarnate GOD and His redeemed creature, resting together in a common consciousness of love, given and returned as the beating of the heart of the one is felt by the other, and thrills through both in a mutual fulness of rest. The desire of our LORD for human love to repose itself in Him, and His own rest in feeling His elect thus resting on Himself, are here exemplified, as the perfect accomplishment of His mission, the satisfaction of His mysterious yearning to save, the longed-for fruit of His awful Passion.
Further, I desire not merely to point out these two great features of our LORD'S human love,--His self-sacrifice and His sympathy,--as separately remarkable and ineffably beautiful in themselves, but, what seems still more marvellous, their combination, their common adherence in the same nature. One could scarcely have dared to expect it. The intense longing of the Creator to save His creature from utter loss, might seem naturally to flow from infinite Love; but who would have looked to find also in GOD a gushing forth of tenderness which overlooks not a single impulse of pure humanity, which responds to all the movements of the sensitive human heart, alike in sorrow, or in joy, alike in the deeper pangs of broken hearts, or in a child's passing mirth. Observe that this sympathy is a superadded mercy beyond the love of the Atonement. There might have been the one without the other. Our LORD might have saved us, without manifesting any fellow-feeling with us. His sympathy is a personal tenderness added over and above to His sacrifice of love.
Let us now pass to some practical lessons, which our LORD'S example in this particular respect brings home to us. And here, as it was impossible within our limits to give more than a few features of our LORD'S love, so neither is it possible to touch even cursorily on more than a few selected points in which His love is an example for ours. Nor in thus seeking to apply His example can I attempt to embrace the twofold idea of love, as manifested both towards GOD and man. Let us then confine our view to some features of the higher, the primary grace--love to GOD; but inasmuch as this is the true source of love to man, in considering the one, we shall see at the same time the true pattern of the other.
It is necessary to observe the broad distinction existing between the love of GOD, which in the future state will thrill through human hearts, and that love of which we are capable in our present state. There are, we cannot doubt, hereafter to be developed in our nature, sensations of love which will embrace GOD, sensibly entrancing the soul,--feelings typified, as it were, by what we now experience towards our fellow-creatures. A similar sensible passion of love there will be in us towards GOD, absorbing every other sense. We can hardly doubt this, for how could the relations of bridegroom and bride, of mother and child, be used as they are in Holy Scripture, as fit and expressive representations of the relations existing between GOD and man, unless the sensations, the sensible passions of the one, were to have their supernatural realisation in the other? They are not experienced in our present state; they will be felt in their fulness of bliss within the veil. The love of GOD in our souls now is rather a feeling after it, if haply we may find it; is rather of the spirit, than of the senses; is not, as it will assuredly be, the unchanging perfection of an intense exquisite joy, but rather a grace slowly nurtured by faith.
The character which that perfected love will assume hereafter, is to be traced in its rudimentary forms in our present state of being. What we shall be in our consummation of bliss, that we must be in some measure, though altogether imperfect, here on earth; and therefore we may judge by existing marks and features, whether we are growing onward towards that matured grace which in its consummation will be the fulness of our hope. The two following features may be regarded as sure tests, of the existence of a true love towards GOD, and they are easy to be understood, because love manifests itself in the same way, whether towards GOD Himself, or in our relations one towards another.
1. True love is ever marked by great and generous ideas of service. I do not mean the having great powers of service. These are infinitely various, as GOD pleases, Who divides to every man severally as He wills. We all differ one from another, in powers of mind, of fortune, of strength, of station, of health, of opportunity. Love is wholly independent of these differences. But wherever there is love, there will be greatness and largeness of heart, which desires, which plans, which resolves to give all it has, all it is, to the loved person. To be lavish for self, to be niggard for GOD, is the fallen creature's impulse; and simply for this reason, that love centres on self, and love is always lavish and grand in its conceptions. Let the love of GOD take the place of the love of self, and this lavishness and grandeur of idea will with it be transferred likewise. Only consider how generous, how large, your thoughts have been towards any one object of real love, however passing. Consider how eager you have been for any one of your own plans; how sensitive of your own honour, how keenly alive to its wounds; how unsparing of time, of expense, it may be of health, in pursuit of any gratification of your own; how we have gathered around us objects to please the eye, to delight the fancy; what a spirit of competition excites us; how one edges on another; how earthly desires tend to enlarge, and expectations to multiply; how the energies of intellect, of imagination, of taste, extend themselves, and how much of the daily thought is drawn out in intense interest for what is merely of the day.
Behold in all such tendencies the lavishness, the largeness of self-love and the love of the world, acting and reacting on each other! Now to reverse all this, to turn the tide, to direct the mighty waters of the heart's love, the passionate desires of the soul, into a channel of which GOD is the end, is surely, if aught else is, a feature of the example of JESUS CHRIST, in which "ye should follow His steps."
There is a question which may be asked, and on the answer to which a man's view as to his entire life will turn. Is it needful for all persons alike to aim at what are known as the counsels of perfection? Is so entire a self-sacrifice necessary for a high and pure love of GOD? All religious persons alike admit, that the highest line of moral duty, and a consistent carrying out of the commandments of GOD in all details, and at all times, and in all stations, is essential to love, is in fact a necessary embodiment of love. But are the counsels of perfection, is poverty, is the single life given to GOD, is a life of toil, is a complete self-surrender, is literally the having nowhere to lay one's head but on the bosom of GOD'S will,--is this necessary for all who aim at perfectness in the love of GOD? The answer is this; it is not necessary for all to choose voluntarily such forms of life, but it is necessary for all to be prepared for them. For what may not GOD call any of us to meet? what loss, what bereavement, what trial, what loneliness, what labours, as a dark shadow, may He not at any hour cast across the path of any one of us? And if love be not prepared to bear the strain of the storm that may corae down any day, and perhaps suddenly, upon our bark, shaking it to its very foundations, how can it be "perfect love which casteth out fear?" May not some dispensation of GOD, wholly irrespective of oneself, force on us the necessity of practising some counsel of perfection in domestic homes, as well as in the cloister; in the world's society, as well as in solitude? Or grant, that the waters that bear up our bark are to flow on in uninterrupted smoothness till we reach the haven where we would be, is there not amidst the softnesses, the refinements, even of a blameless social life, need to chasten every sense, to keep under the body, to raise our nature to a higher level than that of surrounding visible objects, unless we are content to let the love of GOD wax cold in us, and the attachment to the creature, which is perishing, grow more binding on us day by day. If unavoidable circumstances do not teach us to be large-hearted in what we do or suffer for GOD, we need to teach it to ourselves by voluntary acts of self-denial, by self-imposed discipline chastening natural desires, by cherishing in communion with GOD the love of the boundless magnificence of thought and act, the lavishness of self-sacrifice, which nature shadows out, and Scripture reveals, as characteristic marks of His Infinite Being.
2. The desire of an intimate communion with GOD is another feature of true love. It is of the very essence of love to desire the companionship of the loved person, to draw to him as closely as possible, to seek the warmth of the touch, to thrill through and through with the mutual response of mind and heart. It was one purpose, as we have seen, of our LORD'S love, in taking the flesh, that there might be the touch, the embrace, of a common nature. It was His prayer for His own elect, "that they may be one, as Thou, FATHER, art in Me, and I in Thee," "that they may be made perfect in one." Most striking also is the view which our LORD gives of Himself under the Name of Wisdom; "Rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and My delights were with the sons of men." And so our love, if it be ever following in His steps, will be a perpetual desire to be conscious of His Presence, the cherishing of an intimate communion, destined by degrees to absorb the whole life in all its manifold spheres of interest, of energy, or sensation.
But it is needful here to guard against the despondency which may tempt even to despair in the consciousness of defect in this great grace. Observe, it is not said that the necessary mark of the soul's true feeling is a conscious communion with GOD sustained at all times, but a desire after it; not so much a felt delight in such communion, but rather a longing for the delight to be felt. Natural love flows spontaneously, through the senses, and must always seem warmer, because we judge by the senses. We can hardly tell with certainty by any inward feeling whether we love GOD, but if this inward consciousness fail us, we can tell whether we love what cherishes it. The love of GOD grows by the study of His Word and His will, by cultivating a pure heart in which alone Divine love can grow, by nurturing faith which lives in GOD as its only true end, by participation of the Sacraments, by prayer, by meditation, by frequent sighs, by upward glances of the heart, by habitual ejaculations of desire, by frequent acts of hope and love, by silence, by retirement. Does the love of these means .of intimate communion with GOD grow within us? Then assuredly there is also growing the love of Him, for Whose sake alone these means of approach are loved. And in this consciousness the soul may surely rest, and trust that love is there; for the breathing of the desire is love, and the love of the means of its growth is the desire of ever increasing love; and He Who regards even the "smoking flax," recognises and accepts even the offering of the desire, the faintest longings, and will enlarge this His own gift, which by its own inherent fertility must, if continually cherished, grow finally into its ordained fulness. But what will it be, not to have grown in this desire? What if, when we meet Him, face to face, we shall not have loved Him, Whom, though unseen, we have known, Who all the while has loved us, and for the sake of our love which He desired, became Man like unto oneself? What will it be not to have loved the very Essence of love, the very Source of life; not to have loved Infinite Beauty, uncreated Purity, ineffable Tenderness, inexhaustible Compassion, perfect Joy, Eternal Truth; to have loved the face of the creature, but to have no heart for Him, of Whom this fair creation is but the faintest, darkest shadow?
What must the soul be, that has felt no response to these true objects of love, or feeling a response, has turned away to imaginings of its own, or lost itself in its earthly attachments, spending its "money on that which is not bread, and its labour for that which satisfieth not." If it is miserable to contemplate such a soul now, what will such a soul be, when translated into the transcendent light of a higher world, into the full "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of "the love of CHRIST which passeth knowledge?" What then will it be to feel the actual truth, which S. Augustine spoke of as the greatest marvel; "GOD has loved man, and man does not love GOD?"