Volume 1—Sermon 6
Love to the Godly is a Sign of Grace
"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 3:14).
The Apostle John in this Epistle does much press of grace and duty of love, as the fire that ought to be on the altar of our hearts, for every sacrifice towards God or man; not only the Holy of Holies, and the most inward parts of the temple were covered with gold, but the pavements and outworks also. Thus all our actions whether towards God or man ought to be done in love.
At the 11th verse of this chapter, he commends this duty from the antiquity of it, it's the commandment they heard from the beginning; which is illustrated from a contrary example of Cain, described from his original, He was of that wicked one; and from his actuals, He slew his brother; and this is amplified from the impulsive cause or motive of this, his horrid wickedness, He slew him, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. In Genesis 4 we have the occasion of Cain's envy, God had respect to Abel and not to Cain, which as most judge, was by some extraordinary testimony that God gave to Abel's sacrifice, as the Apostle emphatically expresses it with an article in Hebrews 11:4, it's generally judged by fire suddenly falling from heaven (as God did at other times). But why Abel's sacrifice was better than Cain's is also questioned; Paul in Hebrews 11 says, Abel offered by faith a better sacrifice, which some refer to the quantity, as if Cain took the refuse, and Abel offered the best. Some to the quality, He offered in faith, and the other not. A learned man Clop. de Sacripic. thinks that Cain offered only an eucharistical sacrifice of fruit of the ground, and so did not beg for pardon of sin; but Abel offered an hilastical sacrifice by way of expiation, whereby through Christ he prayed for pardon, and therefore was accepted, so that he resembles Cain to the Pharisee, that only gave thanks to God, and Abel to the Publican, who humbled himself, supplicating for pardon, And so went away justified rather than the other.
Hereupon because every Abel will have a Cain (as the father's proverbial speech is) in verse 13 he comforts the godly against their afflicted condition. It is no wonder if the world hate that which is of heaven; and in verse 14 he returns to another argument for this gracious love, and that is from the profitable effect, it is a sign we have passed from death to life.
In the words, you have two propositions;
First, That the godly even in this life are already passed from death to life. Some render the Greek word translated, and thereupon one observes, because we are passive in this privilege, that it is not to be attributed to our merits, but to the grace of God: Now the Apostle uses the preterperfect [past perfect-denoting an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied] tense, and not the present, because of the certainty of it, and his right to it. By this life some understand the life of grace, and by death, the death of sin, as if the love of the brethren were a sign of our being in the state of grace, and then there is good reason for using the preterperfect tense. But although this may be part, yet it does not comprehend all, for eternal life, and glory is also included herein.
The second proposition is, that Love of the Brethren is that sign and mark whereby we know assuredly, that we are in this happy estate; so that our love is no merit or cause, but a sign only; hence it is good to observe, that this very self-same privilege of passing from death to life, is attributed to faith, (John 5:24), but in a different sense to faith, as that instrumental cause, which puts us into such a condition, to love as an effect or sign only; for though love unites us to Christ as well as faith, yet faith does it by inward receiving of Christ to us, love by going out in our works for him; Hence the union by love is posterior to that of faith; Hence also it is that if love should justify, the dignity of it would arise from the act of love, because it's union consists in doing something out of us, but in faith's union, the dignity is wholly from the object, viz. Christ embraced, because this union is by inward reception and application.
That love of the brethren is a sign of true grace.
As the Apostle makes it here a sign to ourselves, so in other places to others, Hereby shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye love one another; he does not say, if you work miracles, if you cast out devils, but if you love. Hence the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter. 1:7 bids them add to godliness, brotherly kindness. As if we could not have any true comfort from all our religious duties towards God, unless this also be added to it, or with it.
To open this duty of love to the brethren three things are considerable, which we shall speak to, 1. The act itself, love. 2. The object, our brethren, and 3. the effects.
First therefore, this love we speak of, is not a flower growing in nature's garden, we naturally love our parents, our children, but not so the godly, hence love is made the fruit of the Spirit: To love a man, because of the image of God in him, because he is holy, is wrought only by God's Spirit. Naturally we hate God, because he is a holy God, his Law, because it is a holy Law, and his children, because they are a holy people. Hence the schoolmen [scholasticism (schoolmen) began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christian thinkers: to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism] say, that love to God and to our neighbor, because of God, are not two acts of love, no more than the will of the end by means, is a twofold act of the will; and this appears by the command in Matthew 19:37, where we are commanded to love God with all our might, all we have and can do, and yet our neighbor also, which could not be if our love to another in subordination to God be not considered, as the same with the act of loving God; and this is much more true in loving a godly man, whom we do love, not only because of God's command, and for God (as we ought to do all men) but because of God in him, his image there. It is the same motion whereby the soul is carried to the image of species of a thing, and the thing itself, as we see it in the acts of the understanding and of the senses, which rule Aquinas, and other Papists wretchedly abuse, to prove the same religious worship both in kind and degree, to be given unto the image of God, and God himself, but in our instance it is true, when we love God himself, and a godly man, because of God's image in him, this is the same act or motion of the soul, and arises from the same habit of grace, and therefore does this Apostle argue necessarily from the position of the one to the position of the other, and the negation of one to the negation of the other, he that does not love his brother, loves not God. We are not then speaking of a love, which comes by the power of freewill, but of a grace infused into us by God's Spirit, which as its supernatural in its original, so also in its operations and motives; busying and emptying themselves in industry about their souls, and their ends also, because they see God's likeness in them.
Secondly, This love is not verbal or complemental, such as that of the world, which has great veins, but little blood in them, but it is a most inward deep affectionate grace, moving all the bowels within. Thus Romans 12, Be kindly affectionate to one another in love, does imply an inward rooted inclination, such as is in mothers to their tender infants. There are those who seem to love godly men, but it is when the times favor them, if there be any benign constellations for such, then they respect them, otherwise in their heart and inclinations they can no ways endure those that are godly. When therefore we speak of loving godly men, we mean not a fair loving carriage, a kind behavior towards them, which makes you far from all railing or opposing of them, but such an affection as is rooted in your heart.
Secondly, In respect of the object, brethren, this is included,
1. That this love be to them, because they are brethren. We may love godly men for other respects than their godliness, because they may be wise men, learned men, potent men in the kingdom, or men that have loved us, and showed us much kindness, but this is nothing of grace, here is only nature all the while. Hence the Apostle Peter says, Love the brotherhood in the abstract, because it is one brotherhood. The wasps fly about the tradesman's shop, not out of love to him, but for the honey and fruit that is there. The crows and vultures sit by the dying beast, not because they love it, but for themselves. Thus godly men may be loved for carnal ends and advantages, and no wonder at this, seeing such a mercenary and hypocritical love may be proffered to God himself, as we see in the hypocrites of Israel.
2. As to the brethren, because godly, so the more godly, the more we love them; For as the covetous man, the more wealth increases the more he loves it; And the voluptuous man, the more sweetness and delight in lusts, the more greedy is he of them; thus it is here, he loves all the godly, but those that most excel in the purity, power, and practice of it, he loves them most. If godliness be the reason why we love, then the more godliness, the more love. And this is much to be observed, because it discovers much hypocrisy in many men, who fancy to themselves that they love godliness in the idea, in the notion, but when it comes to be practiced by wife, children, or neighbors, then they cannot endure it. As also those, who love godly men in low principles, not walking so exactly and accurately as they ought, better than the godly with high principles, that are always putting on to more godliness.
3. It implies we love all godly men, for so that phrase in the abstract, love the brotherhood, supposes, that is, take every good man, rich as well as poor, despised as well as honored, low and base as well as high and esteemed, you do love all of them. It may be your love is restrained to love godly men only that are of your constitution, condition, or opinion; but then there are others upon whom you cast no favorable aspect at all. The Apostle James does much [to] condemn that practice of differencing the poor godly from the rich, (Jam. 2:1-2), where the Apostle does not absolutely prohibit a civil differencing of men in place from others, but when it is done with an human respect, immoderately regarding wealth more than godliness, and when it's done to the contempt and disgrace, or discouragement of the godly poor; hence he bids them consider that though they be poor, yet God hath chosen them rich in faith: Now this carnal respect of persons the Apostle makes a great sin, both because hereby he says, They become judges of evil thoughts, that is, these thoughts of theirs in judging thus are wicked and sinful, and partly because hereby the name of God is blasphemed; hence in verse 1 he calls Christ, The Lord of glory, implying, that those things which are godly and gracious should be glorious to us. So then as hatred of sin is totius specie [total type or kind], we hate every kind of sin; so is love of the brethren, of all brethren, making no difference in this respect. Indeed there is a love of familiarity which we may show more to one godly man than another; thus Christ loved John more than the other disciples; but we speak of a gracious love; and in this we ought not to attend to human respects but evangelical merely; Therefore the Apostle uses a word which means, when we in judging look to something else than the merits of the person, or the cause. This we are all apt and very prone unto; See we therefore that in gospel love we attend only to gospel considerations.
In the next place, Consider the effects by which this love to the godly discovers itself.
And 1. By not being ashamed to own them as brethren, and join with them in the times of persecution. The Church of God has had many swallow-friends that will stay with her no longer than summer; our Saviour foreseeing this proneness to apostasy, antidotes against it, He that is ashamed of me in the midst of a crooked generation, of him my Father also will be ashamed before the angels. The world that is full of scorns and reproaches, The holy brethren, the holy sisters, now men are through their pride and corruption ashamed of such ways. This argues you have no love to them. It was observed by the heathens how the primitive Christians loved one another. Now then as it is noted of God in Hebrews 11, that he was not ashamed to be the God of believers; thus also may we observe of you, you are not ashamed to be called one of the believers; Your speech, conversation, whole deportment shall betray you to be one that follows Christ. It's observed by some, that there were but few hypocrites comparatively in the first plantation of the churches by Christ and his Apostles, because there was such certain and present danger to all those that embraced their way, and no advantage at all to carnal considerations, yet for all that, some hypocrites there were. It was a weakness in Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night, he dared not publicly own him, because of the Jews. Examine therefore yourself, if you love the godly, then this will appear when godliness is the only scorned, reproached, and persecuted way that is. It is strange to observe how godliness in the power of it does diminish respect in the world a learned man, a wise man, a good man, but only too precise, too puritanical inclining too much to strictness. If it were an heathen that derides all Christianity that said thus, it would be no wonder; but for a Christian, who by his profession is engaged to all this practice of holiness, it is insufferable; if we may have too much godliness, then too much of heaven and happiness.
Secondly, By rejoicing and delighting in other men's godliness and abilities whereby the Kingdom of God is advanced, though it be an umbrage and overshadowing of all our glory, though we be laid aside and accounted as nobody. As in the sweetest fruit sometimes worms do grow; so in the choicest Christians there will be envies, emulations, and repinings at one another's excellencies. Thus the disciples of Christ did twice strive about greatness, John's disciples muttered because all run after Christ; but how graciously does John deal with them, I must decrease and he increase. So that this love of the brethren is a more spiritual and difficult work than we are aware off. You love a godly man that lives remote from you, but how are you to one that is your neighbor of the same profession and calling? Now it may be the immanency of his graces and worth carries away the esteem and repute from you, Can you for all this rejoice in his graces and abilities, praise God for him, and so that his glory be advanced, you care not though God lay thee aside, as a broken vessel? This is a good symptom of grace. Oh (Beloved) if we consider the jealousies, heart-burnings, contentions, envyings, strifes that are among the godly, Does not this demonstrate that they are in a great measure carnal? Are not most of these contentions from the flesh, who shall have most power, whose way shall have most followers and admirers? Whereas true love to godliness manifests itself in this, that it rejoices in the graces of others, praises God for them. It is a high sin to make godliness a fraction, a party, as that whereby I will have carnal advantages. The Apostle contradicts this, when he says, We know no man, no not Christ himself after the flesh. By reason of this self-pleasing it is that at last we enclose godliness, and monopolizing it to our own selves, that none shall be godly but those in our way. Thus the Donatists would call no men Christians but themselves. Thus Tertullian, when he turned Montanist, pretending to revelations of the spirit, wrote a book against the Orthodox, which he called Adversus Psychicos [Against the Materialist], as if they all were but carnal, and natural men. Thus many rigid Lutherans dispute the question, whether Calvinists may be reckoned as brethren, and they determine negatively. Take we heed therefore, how we envy the graces of others that overtop us. Augustine thought this to be the sin against the Holy Ghost, or very near. But it cannot be so, because we have instances even of some godly men who have been tainted this way. It is a hard thing not to look upon godliness and the truths of God, as ours, more than as God's, which does breed carnal and human dispositions in us. Know therefore that so far as you envy and grudge at the excellency of another's godliness overtopping you so far, you have no love to the brethren.
Thirdly, This love to the brethren is manifested by the contrary, viz. a zeal against sinners, an impatiency and holy grief at the wickedness of others. That as the Apostle says Cain hated Abel, because his own works were evil, and Abel's good, so a godly Abel is grieved at the conversation of the wicked, because his own are good, and the others evil. Thus a godly man is described by this character, In whose eyes a vile person is contemned, but he honoureth those that fear the Lord, (Ps. 15:4). You have a notable instance of this in Lot, where righteous Lot is said to vex his soul by hearing and seeing the wicked Sodomites, (2 Pet. 2:8). The Greek word signifies to torment his soul, and it is used of the damned in hell. There is also an emphasis in the phrase, his soul, he does not say himself, but his soul, as if a sword had pierced. Thus God saith, His soul shall have no pleasure in the backslider, when he would express his great abhorring of such an one. Further this torment is amplified in the instruments by which, both in seeing and hearing. Lot was among the Sodomites as the dove among hawks, a sheep among wolves, a rose among thorns, a bright star in a dark night; and this did so much afflict him, that Augustine calls this a persecution, and says, The evil deeds of the Sodomites were a persecution of Lot. Hereupon the same father proves, That the persecutions of godly men's souls by wicked scandals, is worse than that of tyrants killing the bodies. Try your love to the godly, by your grief and trouble that comes to you, through the wickedness of others; for seeing by their evil deeds, God is so much dishonored, how can it be but that with David, Rivers of water should run down thy eyes, because men keep not God's Law? and David said, He hated those who hated God with a perfect hatred, that is, a full, absolute, irreconcilable hatred, which is to be understood of their will, not their persons.
Fourthly, This empties itself in doing and procuring all spiritual good to them. To love is to will good to another, that is, their proper, convenient good. Thus to love the brethren is to pray much for them, to be diligent in the exhorting and provoking of one another to good; for of such a love and hatred which regards spiritual things, the Apostle speaks, as by his instance in Cain's hatred appears, which was from a spiritual consideration, As iron sharpeneth iron, etc, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend, (Prov. 27:17), that is, as the instrument which is rusty, or edge dulled, is made serviceable by the file; so is one godly man quickened up by another. The church is compared to a flock of sheep, whereof everyone brought twins, that is, their fruitfulness, and verse 9 in the same chapter, Christian love is compared to ointment and perfume, which has much sweetness and strengthening in it; yea reproof is sometimes necessary, as David witnesses, when he said, Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be better than oil; yea this love is so far commanded that sometimes it's our duty to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Lastly, This is seen in bearing their burdens, and forbearing their infirmities; Bearing their burdens; hence as members of the same body they are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. They are to be like the strings of an instrument, touch one, and they all sound; And forbearing infirmities, Ye that are spiritual restore such an one, (Gal. 6:1); The word signifies, Set him in joint again, as if a godly man overtaken by sin should cause as much grief to the whole body, as a disjointed member would do; So that to love the brethren (if all things be considered) is a choice and difficult sign of grace; it is not everyone that is thus affected. Now here is a proper question, whether if brethren be fallen into heresies and wicked errors, it be not against the love of brethren, to set against him, to endeavor the suppression of them? And certainly the matter may be so carried, as you may discover not only an hatred of their errors, but their godliness also: again it may be so, that you may most of all discover your love to their godliness, only hatred to their false doctrines: but this is a large field, and many things are said to it, else we cannot give full satisfaction to the point.
Now to all this there is an objection made, Love of the brethren, say they, cannot be a sign of grace, because if it be true love it must have all those properties described, Charity suffereth long, envieth not, (1 Cor. 13) etc. Now who does not find some envyings, some impatiencies?
The answer is easy. We are not seeking for perfect signs, but true signs; and if we find true signs we may gather much comfort, though several defects cleave to us. Will you think there is no honey or milk in Canaan, because Jebusites and wild beasts are left there?
But again they object, Every sect thinks their sect the true brethren. Hence the Papist loves a Papist, thinking him a true brother, and so men may comfort themselves with false signs.
The answer is, True signs are indeed so, though men blinded and deceived are seduced by counterfeit. A true pearl is judged to be true by a skillful artificer, and he knows he is not deceived; though the unskillful takes much counterfeit pearl for true; so a man awake is sure he is awake, although men in a dream think themselves also awake, but are indeed deceived.
Lastly, they say, the Apostle speaks this love as it is a sign to others, not to ourselves.
Thus the Antinomian, and Estius [Willem Hessels van Est—Dutch commentator on the Pauline epistles] to this purpose, the Apostle seeks (saith he) of the whole church as it is a society, not of every particular person. But as the Apostle intends that every particular man should love the brethren, so he also makes this as an argument, because hereby every man in particular may be assured he is translated from death to life.
If love to the brethren demonstrates our spiritual life, then hatred, opposition, scoffs and reproaches of such, demonstrate the actors therein to be of the devil. Oh how many Cains are there that therefore hate and stomach others, because their courses are contrary to their sins! There cannot be a surer symptom of your rotten, yea devilish heart, then to say, I could love such an one, honor such an one, but I cannot abide his strictness. Like delights in like. David's delight is in the saints of the earth; if yours be in swine and dogs who wallow in their vomit and mire, tremble at your disposition; Can you say you love God and hate his image? Hate that which resembles him here upon the earth? The saying is, You may know a man by those he delights and rejoices in, and converses with.
Use 2. To bewail the neglect of this even among the godly, How does this manifest that we have the faith of Christ in respect of persons? Do not abuse godliness to make it an occasion of your carnal pride, envy, or earthly advantage? The Apostle therefore makes heresies and schisms the fruit of the flesh, because these arise from carnal motives one way or other. Yet this is not so to be urged, as if a prudent and godly zeal were not to be urged against the false doctrines of godly men; it is one thing to set against a man because of his godliness, that is devilish; and another thing because of his corruption, whether in practice or opinion. But love like Elijah has left the church, and is carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot.