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Wherefore Our Neighbor Is To Be Loved.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.—Rom. 13:8.
“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?—He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Micah 6:6-8.
2. By this question, and the answer to it, the prophet teaches us, wherein the true worship of God properly consists; not in ceremonies and sacrifices, since we are not able to give anything to God, because all is his own already; not in offering up human sacrifices, which he does not require at our hands, but detests and abhors, because they are injurious to Jesus Christ, the great propitiatory oblation which God appointed to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29): but the true worship of God consists in pure faith, which, from the visible effect of it, the prophet here describes, by “doing justly,” that is by the exercise of faith in righteousness, in charity and mercy, (which is more pleasing than all sacrifices); and in true humility and contrition, as it is said: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Ps. 51:17.
3. To this divine worship, founded within the heart, and proceeding from faith, love, and humility, St. Paul powerfully exhorts us in Rom. 13:8-10. His admonition contains in it both the praise of Christian love, and the perpetual duty in which we stand engaged to our neighbor, and without which it is impossible to serve God aright. For truly there is no other way of serving God, except by that which he himself works in our hearts: so that to serve God, is nothing else but to serve our neighbor, and to do him all the offices of Christian love and humanity which we are able to perform.
4. The apostle calls love a summary of all virtues, and the “fulfilling of the law.” Rom. 13:10. Not that we are able by any acts of charity, to fulfil perfectly the divine law, or that consequently we can merit eternal life thereby; (which cannot possibly be, except our love were complete in every respect, and arrived to a consummate 86 perfection): but the apostle desires to suggest thereby the wonderful excellency of this virtue, and to incline us, at the same time, to an unfeigned love. As to our righteousness, it is not grounded on any work of ours, but only on the merits of Christ applied to us by faith.
5. From this righteousness of Christ, apprehended by faith, springs love to our neighbor, together with the whole train of Christian virtues, called by the apostle “fruits of righteousness, which are to the glory and praise of God.” Phil. 1:11. But since the dignity of this virtue is so very eminent, it will be proper to set forth further motives by which the practice of it may be endeared to us.
6. The first and strongest of all motives, is that which St. John uses: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). For who would not wish to be in God, and to remain in Him; and that God should be and remain in him? And who, on the contrary, would not abhor to be in Satan, and to have Satan dwelling in him? And yet this is the ordinary consequence, as often as charity is repulsed, and unnatural animosities are admitted into the heart. For as God is a lover of men, ready to save them from eternal destruction, so the devil is a hater of men. This is further explained by St. John: “He that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God.” 1 John 4:7. And again: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” 1 John 3:10. Now, can there be anything more desirable than to be ranked among the children of God, to be begotten of God, and to know God truly and experimentally? But whoever has his heart void of this love, and has never felt its force and energy, nor tasted its goodness and gentleness, long suffering and patience, this man knows not God, who is pure love. For the knowledge of God must proceed from enjoyment and experience. And how is it possible that a man should know Christ, whilst he is a stranger to love, and to that loving intercourse which subsists betwixt Christ and the soul? Hence it follows, that he that is without love, is without Christ also. But he who is earnest in the exercise of love, shall not be left barren in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ: “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Pet. 1:8.
7. The second motive is found in what our Lord himself says: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35. Now, in order to be a disciple of Christ, it is not enough to be a Christian in name, or by a mere verbal profession; but to be a disciple of Christ implies much more. Such a one must believe in his name; must love him, imitate him, live in him. He must, in a peculiar manner, adhere to him; must feel the love of Christ infused into his soul, and freely partake of all the gifts and benefits purchased by him. Whoever has not this love of Christ abiding in him, is not Christ's disciple, nor can he pretend to have any share in his merits. For how is it possible that Christ should know a man who has neither faith in, nor any love to him? As a flower is known by its fragrance, and fruit by its flavor, so a true disciple of Christ is known by his love.87
8. Hence, St. Paul does not hesitate to affirm, that “all gifts without charity are nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2); which is a third motive why we should desire this excellent gift. In truth, neither the knowledge of divers tongues, nor the gift of miracles, nor the understanding of high and sublime mysteries, nor any extraordinary endowments, are sufficient marks by which to know a Christian; this prerogative being entirely reserved to “faith, which worketh by love.” Gal. 5:6. Nor does God require any hard things at our hand (such as the working of miracles), but to exercise love and humility; virtues that may be apprehended by the meanest capacity. Nor will it be demanded of thee in the day of judgment, whether thou hast been versed in arts, tongues, and sciences, or what great parts thou hast possessed in this world; but whether thou hast exercised thyself in faith and love. “I was a hungered,” saith our Saviour, “and ye gave me meat, etc.” Matt. 25:35, etc. And St. Paul says to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision (no gifts, no parts, no endowments, no respect of persons); but faith which worketh by love.” Gal. 5:6.
9. Add to these, as a fourth motive, that passage of St. John: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God, love his brother also.” 1 John 4:20, 21. This all the inspired writers teach, that love towards God cannot possibly exist in the soul without love to our neighbor. For he that hates his neighbor must be an enemy to God; because God is a lover of men, and requires us to be of the same mind.
10. A fifth motive is, that love is the great law of nature, and attended with many things beneficial to mankind, without which we would not be able to live. When any good thing happens to man, it certainly proceeds from divine love. Hence, St. Paul calls love, the “bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14); and describes, in Rom. 12:9, 10, the excellent fruits that grow upon this stock. And our Saviour himself teaches to the same effect: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matt. 7:12. And this is so universal a truth, that the heathens themselves were, by the very law of nature written in their hearts, convinced of it. Hence they said: “That which you would not should be done to yourself, do not the same to another.” This excellent sentence, the Emperor Severus, a prince adorned with many virtues, had daily in his mouth, and enacted it into a law for the good of the country.
11. A sixth motive is, that love is a beautiful image and a foretaste of eternal life; when the saints shall love each other sincerely; when they shall delight in one another, and converse together with wonderful and ineffable concord, in an inexpressible sweetness, in unfeigned affection, cheerfulness, and joy. Whoever, therefore, would conceive to himself an image of that marvellous love and harmony, and obtain some foretaste of the exquisite pleasures of the eternal beatitude, let him study this love, in which he will find a singular pleasure, with much peace and tranquillity of mind.
12. The more pure and fervent our 88 charity is, the nearer it approaches to the divine nature. This is a seventh motive. In God, in Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, there resides the most pure, fervent, and transcendent love. It is then that our love becomes pure, when we love one another, not for the sake of private interest, but for the sake of the love of God, which is the great and unerring pattern which we ought carefully to follow. For God loves us with a disinterested love: but if any man loves his neighbor for his own private profit and interest, his love is not pure at all, nor does it, in any degree, come up to that sublime example which is set us by God Almighty. This makes also the difference betwixt heathen and Christian charity. A Christian loves his neighbor in God and in Christ, disinterestedly and generously, without debasing himself by any ignoble or selfish design. Thus is his love preserved pure and sincere, free from dissimulation, falsehood, and any counterfeit. Whereas the heathens polluted their deeds with self-honor and interest, and other sinister ends, which mingled with the best of their actions. This Christian love, when it becomes a habit in the mind, produces a true fervency of spirit, to perform still greater acts of love and benignity. And it is then that love is truly fervent, when it inspires the lover with great mercy and tenderness towards his fellow-creatures, and prompts to vigorous efforts to relieve their necessity. When he has the affairs of his neighbor as much at heart as his own, then he is ready even to “lay down his very life for the brethren” (1 John 3:16), if need be, or, after the example of Moses and Paul, to be “accursed” for the brethren, and to be “blotted out of the book of God,” if this possibly could be done. Exod. 32:32; Rom. 9:3.
13. Hence it follows (which is the eighth motive), that we ought also to love our enemies, according to the Lord's precept: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not the publicans the same?” Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:32, etc. Herein consist the excellency and prerogative of a true Christian; namely, to subject nature to this divine principle, to tame flesh and blood, and to overcome the world, and the evil therein with goodness. Rom. 12:21. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him.” Rom. 12:20. It is not enough for a Christian not to hurt his neighbor or enemy; but he is commanded to do him good, and to support him with such aids, as are convenient for him (Exod. 23:4, etc.); whoever refuses to comply with these terms, cannot be a child of God, or a disciple of Christ.
14. The ninth motive is, that whoever does not practise Christian love and charity, separates himself from the spiritual body of Christ, that is, the Church; and forfeits all the privileges of this body, and even the merits of Christ; there being but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Eph. 4:5. For as the members when cut off from the body, no longer partake of the life and power of the head, but are dead; so those that do not live in the practice of love and charity, are separate from Christ, the sole Head of the Church, and can receive no power and vital influence out of his fulness. Therefore, St. John says, 89 “He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death.” 1 John 3:14.
15. Lastly, we ought to love one another, because on the wings of this love the prayer of a Christian ascends to heaven. By prayer, all good gifts are to be obtained; and without prayer, all helps and consolations are expected in vain. But then our prayer must spring from the evangelical principle of love; since God gives ear to no prayers, but to those that are grounded on faith and Christian charity: “If two of you agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 18:19.
16. Come then, O man! let this sweet agreement and harmony be established among us upon earth. Let us live in the spirit of love, that peace and union may dwell among us; for where peace is, there is the God of peace (2 Cor. 13:11; Rom. 15:33); and where He is, there “he hath also commanded his blessing and life for evermore.” Ps. 133:3.
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