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Of The Noble Virtue Of Love, And Of Its Power, Soundness, And Purity.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.—1 John 4:8.
Love, says St. Paul, is the greatest of all virtues, and without it all gifts are unprofitable (1 Cor. 13:13); therefore he admonishes us, saying, “Let all your things be done with charity.” 1 Cor. 16:14. Accordingly we are to pray with charity, as our Lord says: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother.” Matt. 5:23, 24. And in the Lord's Prayer, our forgiving our neighbor's debts, or trespasses, is strictly 246 joined to God's forgiving ours. Matt. 6:12, 14, 15.
2. Love is, however, so singular a virtue, that a man may mistake therein as easily as in anything else. Therefore nothing ought to be looked upon with a more suspicious eye than love; for there is nothing which can so powerfully incline, force, or restrain, and so thoroughly penetrate the mind, as love. Therefore, if love be not ruled by the true light, the Holy Ghost, it precipitates the soul into a thousand calamities.
3. And this I do not say with respect to the love of evil; for this, as a diabolical thing, is by all Christians to be avoided; but I speak of that love which is betwixt God, and man, and his neighbor. Love, when not regulated by divine wisdom, can easily be deceived, misled, and thrust out of its due order, so as not to reach the true end. Many think they have the love of God in their souls, and yet have the love of the world, or their own love, nay, it may be the love of Satan.
4. Take an instance of this fact: any one that loves the Lord God only for the sake of temporal things, that he may be preserved by him from temporal misfortunes, loves himself more than God, and prefers his own welfare before God. This is called inordinate love. He ought to love God more than himself, nay, love him above all things; and all things, both good and evil days, he ought to love for the sake of God.
5. But when man prefers himself to the love of God, he surely makes himself God, by loving himself more than God; and whilst he loves not God as God, for his sake, but merely for his own private interest, he has a false and deceitful love. He that has such a love, loves all things for his own sake, for the profit and honor which he reaps from them. He loves also holy men, nay, the very word of God, for this reason only, that it may afford him a show and name of holiness, but not for the sake of that excellent Good which lies hid therein.
6. And because such a love is impure, it brings forth impure fruits, which are self-interest, self-honor, self-lust; all which are carnal and earthly, not heavenly and spiritual fruits. Thus many love great skill and learning, that they may be preferred to others, and may rule over them; not from a principle of love to God and their neighbor, but from a love to themselves, thinking thereby to gain great honors and preferments.
7. There are others also who love God that he may spare them, and not punish them for their sins in dreadful severity; nay, that he may be bountiful to them in this present time; but this, alas! is a very weak love. For these love God for their own profit, and not for his own sake, or not by reason of his being the most excellent and highest Good.
8. Others love God that he may bestow upon them many gifts in understanding and wisdom, whereby they might gain a great reputation.
9. Some also love virtue, not for the sake of virtue itself, but that they may obtain a great name, and be looked upon as brave, virtuous men, and men famous for their honesty and piety. All this is not true love, for it tends not to the right end.
10. There is often also love betwixt some persons uniting themselves by a love of their own, which increases in them so much that they are pleased with everything done by him whom they love. For love always follows its beloved, and cleaves wholly unto him. And thereby one is often involved 247 and drawn aside into evil; or even the lover himself allures his beloved to it, because he knows that so it pleases him; and by this false and deceitful love he is hindered from prayer and all other Christian virtues.
11. Therefore it is highly necessary that our love should be guided and ruled by the Holy Spirit, and by our meditations on the whole life of Christ and his holy sufferings, out of which nothing but pure love shines forth. He loved God purely, above all things, and not himself. He loved man with a pure, undefiled love, and not himself. He did and spake nothing for his own sake, but all for ours. Whatsoever he did and spoke was for our benefit; he was not profited by it, but we were. All his pains and labors, nay; his greatest torments and afflictions, were not too hard or heavy for him, that we might be benefited and saved thereby; nay, his very cross was joy unto him, that he might fulfil the will of God his Father.
12. That is a pure, undefiled love for which nothing is too difficult, which complains of nothing, nay, which spares not itself, but gives itself for the beloved's sake, even unto death. Whatsoever crosses and sufferings God sends, this love regards as good. It sees that it is the holy will of God, and therefore it would rather suffer much more for the same, and is very well contented with everything that God willeth; for it knows that God orders all things right and well.
13. And as love unites itself to the beloved, it learns also his manners, follows him for his love's sake, and does that which is well-pleasing unto him: so he that loves Christ rightly learns of him his manner of life and his virtues, for he knows it is well-pleasing unto him. He conforms himself to his image, and remains all his life under the yoke and cross of Christ, even as Christ, during his whole life, bore the cross of poverty, contempt, and pains. And although no man in this frail state can attain unto perfect love, yet every Christian is to labor, that his love be not false, but as pure as possible, according to what St. Paul says, “Love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” 1 Tim. 1:5.
14. This pure love, derived from Christ and the Holy Ghost, works in man every good thing, and is never idle. It is its joy to do good, for it can do nothing else; even as the Lord God says, “I will rejoice over them to do them good.” Jer. 32:41. Why? Because God is love itself, which can do nothing else but that which it is in its own being. And this is a sign of pure and true love. For this love does not say, “I am not obliged to do this or that;” but where it has no law, there it is a law unto itself, only that it may do much good; for otherwise love would not continue to be love.
15. Hence it is plain why God Almighty is never weary of doing good; and why he is that infinite Good which never ceases to be. He is everlasting love, which cannot desist from doing good, or else he would cease to be love. Therefore, even when he punishes and chastises, he draws all good out of evil, directing it to a good end, even to our salvation.
16. This pure love of God causes us to pray aright. For as a friend has his friend at his disposal in all things, so also such a lover of God is a friend of God, and obtains from him that for which he prays. Therefore, because Lazarus's sister knew the Lord Jesus to be not only a friend, but also the Son of God, she said, “I know that 248 even now whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (John 11:22); and because Mary loved Jesus, she was heard by the Lord, and he restored her brother unto her. Of such a love as obtains from God all things, holy David saith, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Ps. 37:4.
17. But in order that thou mayest have a characteristic mark of this love, observe these four properties of true love. 1. Love submits itself to the will of the beloved. 2. True love abandons all friendship which is contrary to its beloved. 3. One friend reveals his heart unto the other. 4. A true lover endeavors to be made conformable to his beloved, in his manners, and in all his life. Is the beloved poor, the lover will be poor with him. Is the beloved despised, the lover also bears his contempt. Is he sick, the lover is sick too. Thus love makes an equality between them, so that they have the same prosperity and adversity. For there must be such a communion between the lover and the beloved, as that each of them shall be made partaker of the other's good as well as ill. This, then, is not only a communion, but a union or uniting of two minds like each other, and of two hearts which are alike.
18. After such a manner our Lord Jesus Christ is become our Friend. For, 1. His love submitted itself to the will of man, and was obedient unto the cross: nay, for the sake of man he submitted his will to every one, even to his enemies. 2. He neglected all other friendship that he could have had in the world; nay, he even forgot himself, and spared not his own body and life for our sakes. 3. He revealed in his Gospel, his heart unto us; therefore he says, “Henceforth I call you not servants; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.” John 15:15. 4. He was made alike unto us in all things, sin only excepted. Phil. 2:7. He became poor as we are, and mortal even as we.
19. If now we will be his true lovers, we must also do all these things. And seeing he was made like unto us in all things, and in all our misery, why would not we strive to be made like unto Him? If we thus love him, we shall obtain from him all things by prayer, according to his saying, “Unto him that loveth me, I will manifest myself.” John 14:21. O what a friendly and delightful manifestation in the heart is there, when we experience heavenly joy, wisdom, and understanding! Here is the only right way to acquire understanding and wisdom, which are so highly praised by king Solomon in the Proverbs.
20. We are, therefore, naturally led to the conclusion, that genuine prayer cannot be offered without love.
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