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Love and Its Correlatives

Category Articles
Date January 23, 2020

 It was our Lord who said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:30, 31). It was his apostle who said, ‘Love is the fulfilment of the law’ (Rom. 13:10). It would, therefore, be a distortion of both Christian faith and ethic to displace love from its position of primacy. We are commanded to love. God’s commandments are the transcript of his own perfection. God is love. So we must love, love God supremely and our neighbour as ourselves.

To fail to give love the primacy is distortion. But it is just as true that to put love out of focus, to abstract love from its relations, is equally distortion. And this is the error rampant today.

The apostle John is sometimes called the apostle of love. It is not improper so to describe him. There is a marked emphasis upon love in his writings. It is John who penned the best known text in Scripture and it is the message of God the Father’s love — John 3:16. It is John, likewise, who wrote: ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). And we may not forget that to John we owe the proposition, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16), as to him we owe the propositions, ‘God is spirit’, and ‘God is light’. It is John who records for us the words of the Saviour: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:34, 35). John had learned the lesson well. It is a refrain in his epistles. ‘Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God’ (1 John 4:7). ‘And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another’ (2 John 5).

There are, in John’s writings, two other emphases. They are pervasive though too often forgotten. Those I have in mind are correlatives of love.

It is all the more significant that these should be so prominent in the writings of John.

1. The first is the criterion or expression of love. It is even the definition of love and it is distasteful to many. John again records our Lord’s words: ‘If ye love me keep my commandments’ (John 14:15); ‘If a man love me he will keep my words . . . He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings’ (John 14:23, 24). John had learned this message of his Master and Lord well. He reproduced this teaching with his characteristic incisiveness and decisiveness. ‘Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him’ (1 John 2:3-5). ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). ‘And this is love that we walk after his commandments’ (2 John 6).

So our Lord and his apostles made no disjunction. But this is not the whole truth. The truth is that they made the keeping of the commandments the proof, the criterion of love, yes, even construed love as consisting in the keeping of the commandments. As I heard a preacher say recently, they did not say, ‘Love God and your neighbour and then do what love tells you’. They said ‘Love God and keep his commandments’. ‘Love is motivation, but it is not direction’.

We hear a great deal of the ‘new morality’. There is nothing new about it. It is the old immorality with the attempt to make it respectable by calling it ‘morality’ and attaching the word ‘new’. It is the old antinomian bias that began in Eden, dictated by satanic deceit, and rebels against commandments that prescribe conduct negatively and positively. ‘The law is variable’! Nothing better demonstrates and exposes the apostasy of professed Christian thought.

The invariableness of God’s law resides in its perfection as the trans­cript of God’s character. The laws of men, even though good and necessary, are not perfect and hence they may be violated under compelling circumstances. But the law of the Lord is perfect and for that reason inviolable.

2. The second correlative of love is jealousy for the truth. John is again our teacher. We read: ‘The elder unto the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father’ (2 John 1-4). ‘The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius whom I love in the truth. . . For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth’ (3 John 1-4).

John was not writing thus in the abstract. The situation gave it point and urgency. ‘For many deceivers have gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh’ (2 John 7). ‘Many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1).

An erstwhile prominent minister in this city is reported by his biographer to have said: ‘Rather let error live than love die’. It is to this false antithesis that John, the apostle of love, gives no quarter. There is a severity to love. It brooks no deviation from the whole truth as it is in Jesus and from apostolic teaching. Love in us is derived from God’s love and after God’s love it is patterned. Where there is disloyalty to Christ, tolerance is not love but perverted sentiment. This is the severity that John demands. ‘Whoso goes beyond [cf. 1 Col. 4:6] and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son’ (2 John 9; cf. vv 10-11). It is the intolerance the exalted Jesus commends. It is ‘he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks’ who says to the church of Ephesus: ‘I know thy works and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars’ (Rev. 2:2).

Brethren, we are too ready to confuse a vacillating and sentimental charity with love. The love Scripture enjoins is love in the truth and it is this love that will not tolerate in fellowship and cooperation those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ. ‘If any come unto you and bring not this doctrine receive him not into your house: neither bid him God speed, for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ (2 John 10, 11).

This article was first published in the December 1976 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.

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