"Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I showunto you a more excellent way."— 1 Cor. 12:31.
THE Apostle James has declared that every good and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness or shadow of turning. Hence every gift from God would be a blessing. Even those upon whom God will execute the sentence of the Second Death may be said to receive something that is not really an injury to their best interests.
In thinking over these different gifts of God, the Apostle Paul enumerates some of those that were given to the Church in the beginning of this Gospel Age. We read in the Psalms: "Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell amongst them." (Psalm 68:18.) Some of those gifts were given to the men who became followers of the Lord Jesus. After Jesus had ascended, all His followers were to particularly wait until He would send them, from the Father, the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, which was to come to each sincere believer, and which was to be accompanied by gifts—by some outward gift and manifestation, useful and to be used.
In our context the Apostle enumerates some of these gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, pastors; others received gifts of tongues, healings, power to perform miracles, power to cast out Satan, power to interpret tongues, power to discern spirits. Some received one of these and some another; some received several. St. Paul had various gifts, and declared that he spoke more tongues than they all. (I Cor. 14:18.) It would appear that the early Church thought very highly of the gift of tongues. They became very anxious to have God give them this particular gift.
But the Apostle tells them that God had still more valuable blessings than this of speaking with tongues, which they so earnestly desired. They were to distinguish between the different gifts, and they were to desire, were to prefer, the best—to exercise discrimination of mind as to which would be the best gift. He declares that he would rather speak five words in a known tongue than to speak ten thousand in an unknown tongue, and not be able to interpret. He told them that they should pray for interpretation—that they should not only desire to speak in unknown tongues, but also desire to give the interpretation, or the proper meaning in order to be understood. In his letter to the Church at Corinth, chapters 12 and 14, he expressed the thought that these different tongues and gifts were all intended to minister to the Church for their benefit as a whole.
PURPOSE SERVED BY THE GIFTS
The gift of tongues was given at that time to supply their lack otherwise. The early Church had no Bible. Being put out of the synagogues, they had no access to the Old Testament, and the New Testament was not yet written. Therefore God's people without these gifts would have had very little to help them—to teach them. None were qualified to teach the brethren. Only the power of God could give them this ability to teach. Therefore the Apostle Paul urged them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. As they saw the great Day of Christ drawing on, they should have great desire to come together and to discuss these things of God's Plan.
And when they were assembled, it was of great advantage to them that some one should rise to speak. And they might desire, or pray, as the case might be, that God would send them some interpretation. In this way the Church was drawn together and held together. They did not know what Message would come in this way from the Lord.
We are not to suppose that God would thus give any very deep doctrinal matters. But it does appear that in this way He gave His people some milk of the Word, until the New Testament should be arranged—written and collected in an available form. The Apostle Paul led off with these gifts to the Church. The gifts of tongues, nevertheless, were surpassed by higher gifts, some higher arrangements for them. St. Paul would rather that they should be orators, public speakers, or have an interpretation of an unknown tongue. This would mean more of personal contact with the Lord. Therefore they should desire such a gift in preference to one of less importance.
Then the Apostle proceeds: "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way!" something still better than those special gifts which he had been discussing—better than speaking with tongues, better than working miracles, better than interpreting. He goes on to show that these things would pass away, and be no longer necessary to the Church, but he was going to tell them of things that would never pass away. Therefore they should discern and seek especially the best gift. They should not only discriminate amongst these gifts and choose the best, but they should be looking beyond these to a developed condition of heart which would be specially pleasing to the Lord, and would bring them into closer relationship with Him.
He proceeds to explain that this is Love. They might have the gift of prophesying, of working miracles, of healing the sick, of speaking with tongues, of interpretation, and yet come short of ever attaining the highest blessing of the Lord, unless they should incorporate into their lives this better thing—LOVE. No matter how well able they might be to speak with tongues or to interpret or to work miracles, etc., this Love was a far more important thing for them to have. Then he enumerates the various qualities of Love—meekness, patience, brotherly kindness, etc. The sum of them all is Love. It is love for the brethren, love for friends, love for neighbors, love for our enemies, which would do them good, and not at all wish to see them suffer injury. This, then, is the more excellent thing.
Though the elements of Love are developed qualities and may, therefore, properly be called fruits, they may be called gifts also. From the apple-tree we get gifts of apples; from the peach-tree we get gifts of peaches; from the pear-tree, gifts of pears, etc. Since we have to do with the development of these qualities of the Spirit, they are styled fruits of the Spirit. And they are far more excellent and far more to be desired than the merely mechanical gifts, which at the first came to all of God's people, because of their special need, but many of which passed away shortly after the Apostles died.
LOVE—VARYING IN KIND
The question naturally and properly arises, What is Love? The Bible answers, "God is Love." As it is impossible to fully describe God in all His greatness, so it seems impossible to fully describe all that would be comprehended in the word Love. Love is the most powerful thing in the world; therefore Love most nearly represents God, because He is the Supreme, Almighty One. We might say that God is not this, not that, not the other. And so with Love—we might describe it by saying what it is not. Nothing can be right that is out of harmony with Love, as nothing can be right that is out of harmony with God. The Apostle says, in describing Love, that it does not think evil, does not vaunt itself, has not the disposition to be puffed up, is not easily provoked, does not take pleasure in iniquity, etc.
We may, of course, remember that our word love is made to cover a variety of sentiments; for instance, the love of a hen for her chickens, her care over them; the love of a father and mother for their children, and their care over them. Love, then, includes this interest in all that are under one's care. God has this quality of sympathy which leads Him to look out for the whole universe—all sentient creatures, all that have life. He is bound by Love to look out for all these.
In human love—natural love—we find sympathy a very strong quality. Then we have a higher than mere sympathetic love—we have esteem, appreciation of some admirable quality. We say that we love certain traits in the character of some one. Again we have something more than mere sympathy and esteem; we have affectionate love. That is a very real and deep interest in every affair of the one we love—a deep, sympathetic love which would stop at nothing—even though it is an earthly love. The only thing that could be superior to it would be our love for the Almighty, which should dominate us as superior to this affectionate love.
Later comes in the spiritual love for the Lord's people which seeks to avoid all fleshly preferences, seeking merely to live as a New Creature, and to look after the welfare of the New Creature. Thus doing, we become closely united to the things of God and to all who are associated with us in the work of this Gospel Age. This is the highest type of love on any plane of being—this into which we have entered. God is Love. The more we grow up into this proper, spiritual Love, the more we are growing up into the character-likeness of our Father, of which we read, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."—Matt. 5:48.
This love does not stop with those who are appreciative of it, but also goes out to those who are unappreciative, knowing that something is hindering them from attaching any value to such love. Love, then, is so much of God's likeness, the thing to be most appreciated, the thing without which all else in life is useless. To be devoid of love is to be devoid of God-likeness. And so the Apostle goes on to enumerate the characteristics of this love—meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, brotherly kindness, godliness [God-likeness]—Love. All of these are merely parts or streams of Love flowing from the inexhaustible Fountain. These characteristics all proceed from Love, and are strong in proportion as our love is strong.
JUSTICE THE BASIS OF LOVE
Next we inquire as to the way in which Love fulfils the Divine Law. Divine Law is not necessary as respects restraint from good deeds. There is no need of a law to say, "You shall not do too much for your brother, or give him too much money." No law is necessary along these lines. But Divine Law steps in and says, "You shall not come short of a certain standard." So the Law calls merely for justice.
The Apostle Paul points out that since the Law calls for justice, we shall not murder our neighbor either by our act or by our tongue. We must be perfectly just in everything pertaining to our neighbor. Every thought of our mind must be just, absolutely just. This is the standard of the Divine Law. We are violators of the Law if we give less than justice to anybody. Therefore the Law as set forth to the Jews, told them what they should not do. "Thou shalt not bear false witness." "Thou shalt not steal," etc.—telling them merely the things that they should not do. Whoever loves his brother would not wish to steal from him either his property or his good name. Hence love fulfils everything that the Law could demand.
Love has no limit in its capacity; as, for instance, God's sympathetic love was exercised toward mankind after He had pronounced the sentence of death. That death sentence must stand, yet
"'Twas Love contrived the way To save rebellious man; And all the steps that Love display, Which drew the wondrous plan."
Love has done this by providing for the satisfying of the Law in respect to Adam, so that Adam can be freed from the Law sentence. Justice could not lay this obligation upon the Logos; therefore God could not command. The only thing He could do was to set before Jesus certain incentives. God set before Him the joy of being the savior of men, and the additional joy of high exaltation in God's Love and favor and to the glorious Kingdom privileges. So Love might use various inducements.
Love with us must also be just. We can never take what belongs to one and give it to another. The sympathy may be there, but Love cannot act in violation of Justice. Hence the advantage that Christians have who are students of God's Word. The Bible gives us the true conception of what justice is. It gives us the balance of a sound mind. The Heavenly Father has sympathy and love, but He exercises these qualities according to the principles of justice. We are not limited to justice. It was not our law that condemned our brother, but God's Law of Justice. So we are at liberty to exercise our love beyond mere justice.
Jesus gave the example of one who owed his master a large sum of money; and when he could not pay, his master forgave him. Then this man went out to one who owed him a few pence, and, because he could not pay the debt at once, began to inflict punishment. We ourselves cannot render perfect justice, and we cannot rightfully require it of others. God, who is perfect and just, has a right to demand justice.
EVIL SURMISING NOT OF LOVE
Love, as we have seen, is that great and grand quality which more fully than any other quality represents our Heavenly Father. Love includes a great many things—not merely generosity and affection. It seems to include every good quality—things that can be appreciated outside of justice.
The Apostle's statement, "Love thinketh no evil," is not to be understood to signify that Love is blind to evil, or that those who have the spirit of love are blind to evil. On the contrary, Love is wounded every day by contact with evil influences, and Love cannot help knowing that it is an evil thing that is doing the wounding. Love is not, therefore, to be blind, and say that there is no evil thing—no such thing as sin, selfishness and meanness; all these various things exist. Love is in contention with all these unlovely things.
Love thinketh that there is evil, and our quotation from the Apostle does not contradict this. The imperfection in the translation may perhaps be charged with the apparent difficulty. "Love does not surmise evil," would seem to be the proper thought. What is it to surmise evil? We answer that we have various means for arriving at conclusions. We see some things. We gain knowledge in various ways, direct or indirect. And for Love to have knowledge of evil is not wrong. But to surmise evil—to imagine evil when we do not have the knowledge—is wrong. Love does not surmise evil.
If we saw some one do an evil deed or knew in some way that the evil deed were committed, and it came under our jurisdiction, Love would not hinder us from punishing the guilty person. Suppose the matter is mere hearsay and the report not well founded; then Love would be prompt to say, "I do not know that this is so. I will need to have proof." Love would wish to think well of every circumstance, every condition. If we saw that murder was committed, we would not be justified in surmising who did it. We might think who were the most probable ones, in order to make an investigation. We would think of the persons who had less love, but we should not hastily decide who is the murderer, simply because he or she has an unsavory character, an unloving character. We are to give him the full benefit of the doubt. We are to make investigation.
It would seem that some of the most serious wrongs have been committed by surmising evil. Evil has been surmised against people without a shadow of proof. It is not for us to say that any are totally depraved. Very few are totally depraved. But whoever surmises evil, even a little, shows that he is lacking in the quality of Love. Whoever surmises evil much shows that he has a very small degree of Love. Evil surmising makes countless thousands mourn. Surmising evil of others has caused more suffering in the world than all the battles that wereever fought!
The Lord's people are being taught of God, and hence are learning more and more to control their thoughts and words and acts. Our thoughts are to be kind! Our thoughts are to be generous! Our thoughts are to be just! We are not to allow an evil suspicion to lodge in our minds against anybody. The common law of man decides that no judgment shall be passed against any one until the thing be proven against him. Those who have done the most evil and caused the most difficulty are those who have surmised evil against others. But it is better if we learn this as a precept from the Lord's Word, and happy are we if we see the degrading power of evil-speaking and evil-thinking and entirely refrain therefrom.
"LOVE YOUR ENEMIES"
The basis of this instruction—that we love our enemies—is evidently that our characters may be developed. Retaliation is a natural element of the mind, and particularly of the fallen mind—the fleshly mind. The more selfish we are, the more inclined we are to render evil for evil, slander for slander, blow for blow.
Our Lord taught the very reverse spirit. We are to love even our enemies, doing them good in return for their hatred, and ever sympathizing with their condition and desiring blessings upon them from the Lord, while they are feeling the very opposite toward us, as indicated by the persecutions they practise upon us. The Lord says that we are to do this in order that we may be the children of our Father who is in Heaven. We have been begotten of the Holy Spirit, and by practising along these lines we become more and more like Him in character.
Possibly at the beginning of our experience we may not see why we should do this. We must practise along this line in order that we may develop His character. Some one might ask, Will not God punish His enemies? Yes! "All the wicked will God destroy." Does not God punish those who sin? Yes, all who sin will suffer. Then why should not we practise along this same line? Because we are not yet qualified to do so. In time, we shall be judges of mankind, but we shall not be prepared for this until we have first learned the lesson of love. We would be too severe, and would not be inclined to do them all the good that God would have us do them.
Does God require us to love where He does not love? Oh, no! "God so loved the world"—when they were yet sinners! Has God then not a love for mankind? Yes, He has a certain love for all mankind. He will see that every righteous act will have a just recompense of reward. And He will make reasonable allowance for all with whom He deals. He has a broad, sympathetic love, and wishes to make allowance for these in the way which He sees to be best for them.
When we practise this love to our enemies, we are developing a side of our character which is much unbalanced. If we get this side balanced, the other side will become balanced also. Naturally we wish to see that everything wrong is punished, and everything right rewarded. In other words, justice stands nearer to us in our imperfect condition than does love. Therefore, in order to be used of God we must cultivate this quality of love. We see why God is sympathetic with mankind. To all the wicked He is a consuming fire; that is to say, He is so opposed to everything that is impure that it will be destroyed, sooner or later.
It is because the Lord sees in our human family, the human race, certain elements of Godlikeness that He is dealing with them at all, we may be sure. If from God's standpoint He had seen that men were only evil, continually evil, we may feel sure that He would not have made any arrangement for Restitution in the next Age. It is because God sees that some of the human family would rather be right than wrong that He is going to all this trouble of redemption, taking all this time, etc., to give these everlasting life. In the meantime He is granting the experiences of the present, which will be helpful to them through all eternity.
OUR PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD ENEMIES
We do not suppose that God has a love for Satan, although at first He did have a love for him. But since Satan is now of an evil, vicious character, it would be wrong for God to love him, and it would be wrong for us to love him. Even the worldly condition we must not love. We cannot serve God and Mammon. We cannot love God and Mammon, because they are opposite. But as regards Satan, it is not our part to slander him, nor to express vituperative sentiments toward him. He is God's enemy. And God is able to attend to that case much better than we. So we are not to judge Satan nor to revile him. We read that even Michael would not bring a railing accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee."—Jude 9.
We are to do all the good we can, and be as helpful as possible. We are not competent to judge, to decree. It is therefore our duty to be fully submissive, and in due time the Lord will manifest the principles of righteousness, as in contrast with the principles of error. He will render His just verdict in due time, through His appointed Channel.
In respect to those who ignorantly seem to be adversaries of the Church at the present time, we are to have a sympathetic love—not the love of a brother. God refuses to accept any of these as His children; He merely exercises toward them sympathetic love. He does not wish to do them any harm. Rather He is preparing to assist them. By and by He will provide for them everything that will be helpful in bringing them out of their sinful condition. We would rather assume that all of the human family are what they are because of the fall and not because of wilful love of sin. To take any other viewpoint would be judging, and we are not authorized to be judges now.
Taking this viewpoint, we recognize that some of our race fell more in one direction, and some more in other directions, and that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"—the glorious standard which God has set. We ourselves need Divine sympathy, and we ought to be glad to render sympathy to others.
PART II—PHILOSOPHY OF THE ATTITUDE OF SYMPATHY
BE ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." "For if ye do not forgive those who trespass against you, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you." This means that if we would insist upon having from others abject acknowledgement of everything that is wrong, and if we carry this matter of judgment to an extreme, it would indicate that our own hearts are in a wrong condition. And then the best thing that could be done for us by the Lord would be to give us some of our own medicine. By this He would be teaching us a corrective lesson, that thus we might become sympathetic toward others.
This matter, then, of forgiveness and sympathy toward the world, is one that God inculcates or enjoins upon His children after they come into His family. And this is in order to give us education. "For what son is he whom the father correcteth not?" "For if we be without chastisement, … then are...we not sons." These lessons are intensified to us as we grow in grace and in knowledge.—Hebrews 12:7, 8.
As our knowledge increases, we see how all fell through one man's disobedience. And this gives us a basis for sympathy. And our sympathy increases as we become more mature children of God. God desires this, that by the time we are ready to graduate, we will be very helpful. This should become the pleasure of our hearts—to be sympathetic with our enemies, no matter how they treat us. We know that they are doing these things because of the Adversary's influence over them. And we should desire to bless them and to do them all the good we can. The fact that they have done evil to us should not alter our attitude toward them—to do good unto all men as we have opportunity, praying for those who despitefully use us and persecute us.
The thought would not be that we should especially devote our prayers to our enemies and persecutors, but rather that we should pray for them instead of against them. Some who are immature in spiritual things might think, "I will pray to God to punish them." But Jesus says we are not to do that. "Pray for your enemies." What shall we ask for them? He does not tell us this. The best thing we could ask for them would be that we might be used, or useful, if possible, in breaking this superstition upon them, that the eyes of their understanding might be opened. That is the very best thing we could ask for them. We may pray for them along that line, and God will bless us. And if it is possible for us to be helpful to them, God will show us how to do it.
JUSTICE FIRST, LOVE FOLLOWED
God is very great. We are very small. It is a wonderful thing to be informed that God loves us! The heathen religions seem to recognize nothing of this kind. The thought that pervades their votaries is that their gods need to be placated, or they will do them injury. And as for a God of love—that is a thought peculiar to the teachings of the Bible, and this feature of His character is not clearly exhibited in the Old Testament Scriptures—in His dealings with the Israelites. God manifested most plainly His Justice, and allowed the penalty to come upon the sinner. We are sure that He loves the angels. But man God placed under a ban and sentence. And year by year and century by century that sentence was executed.
Then the proposition was made by the Lord that Israel might come back into His favor, if they would keep the Law; and it again looked favorable for them. But Israel failed. When man became degraded, sick, dying, humanity lost their beauty in God's sight. Man lost the gem—like qualities that made him pleasing to God. "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God."
We come down to the New Testament times, and find a new thing brought in—a double testimony—that God loved the whole world, even while they were sinners, and also the testimony that He loves the Church. "God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The penalty upon mankind was to perish, as being unfit to live and enjoy God's blessing. God had a sympathetic love for all His creatures who were under such condemnation. How was this love shown? We make inquiries and find out that the first manifestation of His Love was that He gave His Son to die for the world. Here He was merely beginning to show us how great He is and how great is His Love.
THE BASIS OF GOD'S LOVE
The Scriptures assure us that the great difficulty with mankind is that they are weak, fallen, ignorant, under bonds of superstition and misled by the Adversary. It is because God saw that the hearts of humanity are not really in that deplorable condition intentionally or deliberately that He has provided the way of escape. If we were wilfully, intentionally wicked, then the Lord would have no sympathy for us at all. When God looks at us as a race, He perceives that only very few have any knowledge of Him and of His character of Justice, Wisdom, Mercy and Love, and of the principles of His Government. And so God said, I will see what can be done with these creatures; I will make a Plan by which every one of them may be recovered through the gift of My beloved Son, the Logos. They shall be lifted up out of sin and degradation, and it will be the only lesson of the exceeding wickedness of sin that they will need throughout eternity. I will make the provision broad enough to include Adam and all his race.
THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD'S LOVE
The first feature of this Plan began to be manifested when our Lord Jesus came into the world. So the Scriptures say that Christ "brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." What good tidings did He bring? Blessings for all of humanity who would seek Him in honesty and earnestness of heart! He brought the good tidings that all who would manifest their love for Him should have eternal life; and that a special class, who would manifest special love for the Lord, might become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ His Son. "So great salvation began to be spoken by our Lord."—2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:3.
Not all can hear this Message, because some are so stupid through the blinding of the Adversary that they cannot believe it. To such it is not good tidings at all, but foolishness. Such have no ears to hear, the Bible says. Others can hear a little, and say that there is one chance in a million of escaping eternal torment. Others have their eyes and ears more widely open, and these are able to hear something, to appreciate something more than the majority. The Apostle tells us that "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not."—2 Cor. 4:4.
Looking back to the days of Jesus we find that, when He preached, many of the people delighted to hear His words. They said, "Never man spake like this man." He told the people that God loved them. And the people said, The Scribes and Pharisees will not have anything to do with us; but this man loves us and tells us that God loves us, that God does not despise even us poor miserable sinners! Oh, "never man spake like this man"!
But their minds not being free, they were not able to appreciate all that He said. They thought that this Message which He brought them might be fabrication, and they dared not believe it. They asked, Have any of the Scribes and Pharisees believed and become Jesus' disciples? And when they learned that not many of them had, they said: Perhaps we are incompetent to judge; these are our leaders, we must follow them.
But there were some who were able to take in the matter more fully. And to these Jesus said, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear." Then to these who could see and hear Jesus gave certain special lessons applicable to them—and not only to them, but to a certain like company, or class, all the way down through the Age. He told them that because they manifested a responsiveness of heart they were pleasing to Him. He told them that in proportion as they would make progress in imitating Him, in that same proportion they would come into fellowship with the Father and become participants in His Love.
And when some took this step of consecration, Jesus told them, "The Father Himself loveth you"—He loves you because you have taken a stand for righteousness; because when you saw these principles of righteousness you were willing to do in accordance therewith. And the Father loves you because you are seeking to walk in the narrow way—the way which is difficult. The other way is a broad way, leading now to death and destruction. But this narrow way that I am pointing out to you, My dear disciples, is the way to life. It will cost you a great deal to be My disciples. But the Father will love you, and I will love you, and We will manifest Ourselves to you. And although you will have trials and difficulties you will have the peace of God ruling in your hearts. Then the disciples said they would leave all to follow Him.
HOW TO KEEP OURSELVES IN GOD'S LOVE
The Apostle Jude admonishes, "Keep yourselves in the Love of God." Here the Apostle is addressing those who have passed from the condition of the world into this special love of God—those whom He has brought into His family, as His children by adoption, through Christ Jesus. God does not love us because we are doing great and wonderful things. His special love for us began when He begat us, because of the consecration we had made—because we had entered into the Covenant of Sacrifice. And the Father delights in all those who desire to be sealed with His Spirit—who desire to become His children. He began thus to love us as babes in Christ, and He loves us as we grow stronger, and He will love us to the end!
The Apostle intimates that there is a growth in us. We are babes at first, and then children, then young men, then more fully developed. As we learn the principles of justice which permeate the Heavenly Father's character, we are to rejoice in these, and to have no other standards before our mind. We are to say, That is our Father's instruction, our Father's standard. So we become transformed more and more, and all standards other than those of the Heavenly Father become more and more displeasing to us.
As we journey along, we need to keep ourselves in the Love of God. It is necessary as babes that we should keep ourselves in His Love; it is necessary as children; it is necessary when still further developed. How can we do this? By keeping His commandments. Thus we bring the body into subjection to the perfect will of God in Christ. Whoever does this finds himself growing. Day by day we are to grow and increase and become more and more Godlike; so we are more and more transformed as the days go by. Thus are we to keep ourselves in His Love.
But if at any time during the race we should drop out and cease to cultivate these qualities, cease to be obedient to God, then we would cease more and more to have His Love, until finally we would cease to be in His Love, and the curse, the wrath of God, would abide on us. Thus we would be in a far worse condition than at first, because in the second case it would be a matter of knowledge, whereas in the first case it was a matter of ignorance, a matter of heredity. In this worse condition God would have no sympathy for us at all.
Thus it will be with the world in the future, when they will be brought in God's providence to a full knowledge and full opportunity, when they shall come to understand God and His righteousness. If they do not seek to be in harmony with Him, they will be destroyed in the Second Death.—I Tim. 2:4; Acts 3:22, 23.
OUR HIGHEST AMBITION
The Lord Jesus said, "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." Our love for God and God's Love for us are two different matters, of course. We reverence God even before we love Him. We do not know enough about Him at first to love Him. We know that we have very little power of ourselves, that we are surrounded by difficulties here, and that the Adversary has beset us on every side. And so this is the beginning of Wisdom, that we should have a reverential fear of God.
As we come to know God more and more, we see that He would not wish to do harm to any creature. And as we grow in our knowledge of God, our love for Him increases accordingly. We grow in our knowledge of how much He loves us. We did not know this at first. God is not pleased to reveal Himself to any except those who have His Spirit; therefore the very highest ambition any of us could have would be that we might know Him, that we might know more of His wonderful Love, His wonderful peace, because to have this knowledge draws us nearer to God. As St. Jude says, we must continue to keep ourselves in the Love of God.
Whoever would come to a full knowledge of God must first come to an appreciation of His Word and must follow a line of obedience such as would enable him to love the Lord and to appreciate His Plan. And all things working together—love, appreciation, desire to be obedient—lead onward and upward to the goal which the Lord has set before us.
WHAT CONSTITUTES GOD'S LOVE
The expression Word of God is sometimes used when speaking of the Bible, and sometimes when meaning a message of God. Our allegiance is due to the One from whom we have received every good and every perfect gift. There is an eminent fitness in the thought that the One who has given us life should have our attention to His Word, our obedience to it. Some are disposed to be self-willed; some disposed to regard the words of man, the creeds of man. Such do not pay sufficient attention to the Word of God.
God's Word is the great Standard by which all of His people should regulate their lives. We might have some thought respecting the Divine Plan, or others might make suggestions to us respecting God's will. But any suggestions, whether from ourselves or others, are all to be subject to investigation in the light of God's Word. Of course, we are first to ascertain that the claim of the Bible to be the Word of God is supported by really good evidence; then we are also to notice whether various portions are interpolations, or additions, that we may have the Word of God as pure as possible. But having found the Word of God, we should keep it, in the sense of reverencing it and obeying it. We should strive to regulate our lives and all of our doings by that Word. Whoso keepeth God's Word will as a result find that God's Love is perfected in Him.—I John 2:5.
The question then arises, What is God's Love? and in what sense can it be perfected in us? The Apostle John evidently refers to that love which is most perfectly represented in God—that love which is pure, free from all selfishness, from all stain—God's Love, because it is the right principle, the very underlying principle of His character. And all those who are keeping God's Word must have the same kind of love that He has.
At first we had a duty love. We knew that God had done great things for us, for which we should be very thankful. There was a debt of obligation on us in that respect. Then, too, we loved God because He has indicated that He will give His favor to those who love Him. Therefore a measure of selfishness would be in our love for a time. But we believe it is possible for us to have this perfect love of God. If it were perfect works of the flesh that were required, we might doubt our ability to have perfection. But since it is a matter of the heart, it is possible for us to attain it; for we can be pure in heart. So as our hearts become more and more free from selfishness and sin, more and more will this proper, high standard of Love be appreciated by us and perfected in us. Our minds will be influenced by this Love; and all of our conduct, our thoughts, will come under the same regulation.
To have, then, this Love of God perfected in us, would seem to indicate that we would have the very highest ideal—that we love as God loves. We love our neighbor—we realize that he has certain rights which we are glad to respect. We would rather help our neighbors forward than to do anything which might hinder their progress in any way. God is not an envious, jealous, hateful God, but the God of Love. God is the true God, and not the one who is set up in our creeds.
As we appreciate the Word of God, it gives us the necessary instruction and guidance. All sin is selfishness, and all selfishness is sin. As the child of God comes to see the character of God more clearly, as he is desirous of being taught of God, he will come under the influence of God's Spirit. And he will study the Word and get clearer insight into it. Thus we grow in the knowledge of God. It is a progressive matter. God wishes all of His intelligent creatures to be animated by the spirit of His Word—Love.
LOVE BASED ON FAITH
We see that the love above described would not be a love based on ignorance. On the contrary, it is a love based on a clear knowledge of God, on an undissembled faith, a faith fully appreciating what He has said. For instance, one might have a certain love for God, and by and by a clearer understanding of God's character might shake that kind of love. God's intention is that mankind shall understand His arrangements thoroughly; and if they then appreciate His character, they will have the undissembled faith, and a love that appreciates all the features of His Plan.
We all see that in our experiences God gives us instruction respecting Himself. As we come to know Him, and to love Him because we know Him, we are proportionately getting this faith in Him of the undissembled kind. It is a faith based on a knowledge of God's character and Plan. An angel may be said to have faith—a well rounded out faith. "The Father seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth." And God wishes that all of His intelligent creatures shall worship Him from this standpoint of undissembled faith—a faith that is genuine, a faith that is well rounded out, knitted together, a consistent faith. Therefore God wishes to have all men come to the knowledge of the Truth.—I Tim. 2:4.
God's arrangement is that we first make use of what truth we have, and thus have more appreciation; then more knowledge, and then more appreciation. A wellrounded out knowledge is not yet possessed by any except the Church, and we do not have full knowledge. But it is God's will that we shall all come to an appreciation of the Truth. It is not to be merely a knowledge, but a full entering into it that we may the more appreciate it. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee," that we should become personally and intimately acquainted with the Lord. In order to this, it is necessary that we apply our hearts to this Wisdom, that we grow in grace, grow in knowledge, that we may know His Love.
This will also be the procedure in the next Age. The object of Christ's Kingdom will be to bring mankind to a full, clear appreciation of God's character. Such as attain this and sympathetically enjoy God's character will appreciate the principles of Justice, Love and Mercy represented in Him. Only as one appreciates these qualities in his own heart can he appreciate them in God. Only those who appreciate them will have everlasting life. Even though such should enjoy the full thousand years, they still might not be of the class to whom God would give everlasting life.
THE END OF THE LAW IS LOVE
It is not merely faith that is necessary—not even the well rounded out faith—there must be a pure heart also. We could not get the well rounded faith unless we had a pure heart. A pure heart would be a fully consecrated heart—the whole mind given up to the Lord's will. Such a condition is necessary before we can enter into and make progress in the Lord's way. God would not accept us at all unless we had love and purity of heart. And even more than this is necessary. We must maintain it with a good conscience. Our consciences must be able to say, "I have not only a good wish respecting the right, but I have good endeavors." We should not only be able to say, "I did right," but our consciences should be able to say, "I did the very best I was able to do." Anything short of this would not be pleasing to God.
So, then, the end, or intention, of the Divine Law is to develop in us this love—a love fully consecrated to the Lord, a love like His, a love that will be in accord with a good conscience and an undissembled faith—a faith that is well founded on the teachings of God's Word, a faith that is anxious to know God's will, and that searches the Scriptures and delights in God's Law, and that can say as the Psalmist has expressed it prophetically, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God!"
A man may discern the principle of justice and say, "There is the standard one must go by." Another sees love, and says, "There is the best standard! Is not that grand? I wish to conform to that fully!" A third recognizes that perfection is the standard of the Divine Law, and having consecrated himself unreservedly to do the will of God, says, "Thy Law, O God, is my delight." This one delights in God's Justice, he delights in God's Love. He sees more than merely, Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not. He sees things from God's standpoint. He sees the principles of God's character which govern the universe. So all who will ever come to an appreciation of everlasting life must learn to view matters from the standpoint of Love.
WATCH AND PRAY!
Watch and pray, the storm clouds hover over, Fierce billows gather near with threat'ning shock; Watch and pray, no harm can e'er come nigh thee If thou art safely anchored to the Rock.
Watch and pray, the powers of night and darkness Determine to engulf thee in their sway; But swift the answer cometh from our Tower, "I still am with thee, loved one—watch and pray."
Watch and pray, temptations round thee gather, Cling to the Rock—its shelter hideth thee. Tho' thousands fall, thou'rt safe if thou art watching, Safe, in its shelter, from the angry sea.
Watch and pray, trust fully, thou wilt never Be swept away, then, by the seething foam. A little while, the storms will all be over, Then, child, a loving God will take thee Home.