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WE are endeavouring to shew you, that their pretence to the love of God is both untrue and absurd, who love not their brother. And as to this we proposed to shew in, the
I. Place, how we are to understand the duty of loving our brother; that is, in what extent and latitude, and also with what restriction and limitation.
II. Whence it is that persons pretend to the love of God, who never loved their brother. We now proceed,
III. To shew the falsehood and absurdity of that pretence; or to evince to you, that the pretence of love to God, where there is no love to our brother, is both false and absurd. That it is false is expressly enough said in this very verse, and we need go no further for the proof of it. “If a man say he loveth God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” What need we more to prove this pretence false? That it is also absurd, is to be evinced to you from the considerations we shall give you for that purpose, which are especially two: namely, the necessary connexion that there is between the love of God, and the love of our brother, in the nature of things; and the greater 138 difficulty of loving God whom we have not seen, than our brother whom we have seen. So that it is absurd for a man to pretend, that he has mastered the greater difficulty, who has not overcome the less.
1 The absurdity of this pretence may be evinced from the necessary strict connexion there is between the love of God, and the love of our brother, even in the nature of the things themselves. And here we shall shew you that there is a four fold connexion between them—they are connected in respect of their object—in respect of their root and principle—in respect of their rule, and—of their end.
(1.) They are connected in respect of their object. Love to God and love to our brother, will be found to have in some sort the same object. I would not go about to prove any great affinity between the things themselves, but it is plain, I say, they have in some sort the same formal object. That is, our love to our brother if it be right and true, falls in with our love of God; so as that our love of God must be the very formal reason of our loving our brother, whom we can never truly love, if we do not love him for God’s sake and because we primarily love God.
The truth is, whatever specimens of beauty or excellence we find any where in the creature, we are then only said to love them duly, when our love is pitched upon them as so many rays and beams from the first and supreme Good. And so it is the original primary Goodness which we rightfully love, even in this or that creature. It is true indeed, goodness in its original, and in its descent and derivation are not univocally the same. Nothing can be univocally common to God and the creature. But they are analogically the same. Goodness is primarily in God, and so descends, and is imparted to this or that creature. But it is only there by dependance upon him, from whom and in whom it originally is. And our love to our brother, in the strictest sense of that expression, is exerted, when it meets with that goodness, which is the most express and vivid image of God’s own. We there love the representation of God in that subject wherein he has proposed himself to us as our pattern, even the excellency and glory of his holiness.
They that are in the strictest sense our brethren, as you have heard, are God’s own regenerate sons; and because v>e are to love him that begat, we are to love them that are begotten of him. 1 John v. 1. And it is therefore to be observed, that elsewhere in this epistle, our states Godward are to be measured by this one thing, namely, our love to the brethren. “We know that we have passed from death 139unto life, because we love the brethren.” 1 John iii. 14. So that if we compare place with place, it is very plain that the measure here is but mensura mensurata; that is, it is itself to be measured by a supreme measure, namely, our love to God. It is a mark or character, which itself is tried by a higher mark. “By this,” says the apostle, “we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments.” 1 John v. 2. So that no man may depend further upon this as a mark and trial of his state with respect to God, that he loves such and such his children, than as he is able to evince the love of them to be for God’s own sake, and as they bear his image and likeness. And so the trial finally and ultimately resolves in this, “Am I a lover of God, yea or no?”
It is very true, that I may first and more sensibly have the perception perhaps of my love to this or that particular man. But I must run the matter higher, and particularly inquire, what is the reason I love this man? Is it because he is a good man? taking goodness in the strictest and most noble sense. Is it because he hath participated of the divine goodness? and is a follower, imitator, representer of God’s moral goodness, which is his holiness? We must be capable of concluding ourselves lovers of our brethren, as they are holy ones, as they bear, or appear to us to bear, the image of God. And hereby, and not otherwise, can we conclude our love to our brother to be of the right kind, by our being able to evince that we love God primarily and above him, that is, that we love him for God’s sake. And whatever is to be said of any thing for such a reason, and only upon that account, is much more to be said of that reason itself. We do not therefore love our brother aright, if God be not loved much more; our love to God being the very reason, why we truly and aright do love our brother.
Thus they stand connected in their object. You see they cannot be severed; and that a man cannot possibly love his brother aright, if he love not God: therefore the love of God must needs draw in the love of our brother, as a thing in separably connected with it.
(2.) They are connected also in the root and principle, which in both is one and the same; namely, that very spirit of love, which is mentioned by Paul to Timothy, and which God has given us, as well as that of power, and of a sound mind. 2 Tim. i. 7. We must know that love to our brother is a fruit of the Spirit as well as love to God. We have an enumeration of the several fruits of the Spirit in the epistle to the Galatians, “and love is 140 set in the front of them all.” Gal. v. 22. Now if you consider what fruits of the flesh those of the Spirit do stand in opposition to, you will find yourselves necessitated to admit and conclude, that love there, is not meant of love to God alone, but of that love which diffuses and spreads itself duly according as the objects are presented or do invite; in which the divine goodness is found, in himself primarily, and derived to this or that creature, and especially to such as bear, as was said, the more lively image and representation of his goodness.
We are not therefore to think, that love to God is one gracious principle, and love to our brother is another gracious principle: but we must know, that it is one and the same gracious principle of holy love which works towards this or that object, according to the excellency and amiableness thereof; that is, proportionably to what I see of divine goodness in it, which is the formal reason of my love. Holy love is the affection of love sanctified; which affection is not many but one, but yet turns itself towards this or that object according as the object claims and requires.
And therefore we find expressly that love to our brethren is resolved into the spirit of holiness, as its original cause, which is the thing that I would mainly, and principally inculcate, that so it may not be looked upon as a thing of an inferior nature; since we are too apt to look with a diminishing eye upon this duty of love to our brethren. It is really one of the fruits of the Spirit of holiness, a part of its production in renewed souls. See how expressly the apostle Peter speaks to this purpose. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren; see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” 1 Pet. i. 22. So again we are told, that “the end of the commandment is charity (or love, for it is the same word that is rendered sometimes one way and sometimes another) out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” 1 Tim. i. 5. By the end of the commandment is meant the perfection, the top, the sum of it; or that which does virtually include all that lieth within the whole compass of the commandment. And what we are to understand by the word commandment, which is expressed indefinitely, we may see in what follows; namely, that it is the same thing with the law, “The law,” says the apostle, “is not made for a righteous man; but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, &c.” ver. 9. which supposes the commandment and law here to be meant of the law in its extent, as it comprehends both tables; not only our 141duty to God, but to our brother also. And therefore that love which is the coronis and very sum of it, goes to both. Now it is said concerning this love, taken thus extensively, that it must proceed out of a pure heart, and faith unfeigned. It must proceed from that faith, which is peculiar to the regenerate sons of God. “They that believe are born of God.” 1 John v. 1. “And as many as received him to them gave he power to be come the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John i. 12, 13. Now this same faith is the immediate production of the Spirit in the work of regeneration. It works out into love, and even into that love, which exercises itself upon our brother. Love to him, I say, must proceed from faith unfeigned. Therefore when the exercise of love was required by our Saviour, in forgiving an offending brother; and the question was put, how often they should forgive? and he replies, “unto seventy times seven;” presently the disciples, as knowing the great need and exigency of the case, said, “Lord increase our faith.” Luke xvii. 5. There needs much faith in order to the exercise of such love.
Wherefore this love is in most necessary connexion with what is intimate to the new creature, and what most essentially belongs unto the constitution of it. It is part of the work of regeneration, and of that holy creature, which is, when produced, called the new creature. You find therefore in that scripture, 2 Pet. i. 5, 6, 7. where several graces of the Spirit are mentioned together, that brotherly kindness comes among the rest, in conjunction with faith, patience, and the like.
Yea, and to evince this a little further, you find that in this very epistle in which is our text, love to our brother, even an indigent brother, is called by the name of love to God; that is, not with reference to him considered as the object (though in some respects, as was said before, God may be considered as the object too) but in reference to him as the Original and Author of this love. “He that hath this world’s good,” saith the apostle, “and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” 1 John iii. 17. It is as if he had said, it is plain, that this divine love, which God is the Author of, and of which this poor indigent brother is an object, is not in him, if he has no bowels of compassion towards him at such a time, when the exigency of his case calls for relief.
The apostle Paul tells the Thessalonian christians, that concerning 142 brotherly love they needed not that he should write unto them, “for (saith he) you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” 1 Thess. iv. 9. Sure we are not strangers to the import of that expression in Scripture, or what it is to be taught of God. The expression is paralleled by those which represent men as drawn by him, efficaciously moved, and acted by his almighty Spirit. “Every one,” saith our Saviour, “that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” John vi. 45. That hearing and learning of the Father, is expounded by that of being drawn, or powerfully attracted by the Father. Therefore the meaning of this expression, “You have been taught of God,” is this; your hearts have been powerfully drawn by God into the exercise of this love to one another. “You need not that I write to you concerning this matter, for ye are taught of God.” As in another case it is said, (the passage is taken from the prophet Jeremiah xxxi. 34.) “They shall not teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me from the least to the greatest.” Heb. viii. 11. The same form of expression you see is used here, and must be taken in the same sense.
In the second chapter of the same epistle of John, ver. 20. we read of an unction of the Holy Ghost, by which the spirits of those who belong to God are so seasoned, and tinctured, that they are even connaturalized unto the truth; and this is the way of God’s teaching, even to love, as well as any thing else. It is a mighty, potent work of that Spirit of holiness, by which men are taught to love. He teaches so as none besides does. His way of teaching is by working in us the things that we are taught. And therefore they who think that whatsoever is required of goodness and holiness, may be the product only of human endeavour and acquisition, are to understand that we cannot do so much as this, without being taught so to do by the mighty power and Spirit of God; not so much, I say, as truly to love men as such, upon whom the stamp and impression of God’s holy image is to be found. And indeed, they who think that all may be the effect of our own endeavour which is herein required of us, or of moral suasion, might learn better Christianity even from some heathens of Plato’s school. A heathen philosopher, I remember, in one of his dialogues discusses this question, Whether virtue is to be taught or not? And he undertakes to demonstrate, that it is not a thing to be taught, but is infused, or inspired by God himself. Particularly he says as to this virtue of love, love to good men, that it is a divine thing infused by God. And he gives the reason of 143this general assertion, namely, that whatsoever virtue any do partake of, it is not taught by men, but infused from heaven above: “For, (saith he,) if it were a thing to be got by mere human teaching, then certainly good men might easily teach others to be good and virtuous; and only they must do it, be cause they alone have virtue, and so are alone capable of teaching it. But if they were capable of teaching it to others, nothing could hinder it but their envy and ill-nature; or unwillingness that any should fare as well as themselves. But a good man cannot be envious. Therefore (he concludes upon the whole) virtue is a thing not to be taught, a thing that cannot be got by teaching.” We see then how it is to be understood, when love, which is so great a part of it, is said to be taught of God. So that love to God and the brethren agree in their root and principle. They have there a firm connexion; so as that it is impossible they should be severed, or that a man can be a lover of God who is not a lover of his brother.
(3.) They are connected also in their rule, which is one and the same law: for indeed the whole law of God is summed up in love. “Love is the fulfilling of the law,” as we had occasion to shew formerly. Rom. xiii. 10. And you see what the apostle means there by law, from the occasion of this discourse. “And this commandment have we from him, that he that loveth God, should love his brother also.” 1 John iv. 21. He hath laid this law upon us, that we should thus dispense our love; that if we pretend to exercise our love to him, we must do it to our brother too. He will never otherwise take us into the census, or account, of lovers of himself.
And when the apostle James insists upon it, that “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” pray look back there, and see upon what occasion, and with what reference he says this. “If ye fulfil the royal law, according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” James ii. 8, 10. You find he has reference to this very thing, our love to our brother; which is what he calls the royal law. The law enjoined us is this, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And if we be found peccant as to this, and obey it not, nor comply with the authority of the law and the Lawgiver in this instance, we make ourselves rebels throughout; we break the whole law, and all that we do besides signifies nothing. Therefore he gives an instance. The same law that hath said, “Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill.” ver. 11. The law doth equally and alike forbid144inordinate love and unjust hatred: inordinate lust and impure love, as that which offends against one command; and inordinate hatred and ill-nature which equally offends against the other, as it is the root of murder. In opposition to which this law stands, as the summary of all that duty, which we must under stand to be implicitly enjoined in that law.
(4.) Love to God, and our brother concentre and agree in one end; that is, the glory of God, and our own felicity: which two, you know, do make up the end of man. We ought to love God, in order to our glorifying him; and we ought also to love our brother, for the same reason. So we ought to love God in order to our enjoying him, and being happy and blessed in him; and in like manner ought we to love our brother, in order to our enjoying God, and being happy and blessed in him.
The glory of God first depends upon our loving him, but it also as truly depends upon our loving our brother. Yea this glory of God which is the end, and some way ought to be the effect of our actions, shines a great deal more, sometimes, in the exercise of love to men. Thus saith David, “My Goodness extendeth not unto thee, but unto the saints, that are upon the earth, in whom is all my delight.” Ps. xvi. 2, 3. As if he had said, Thou art never the better for it, but they may be. Here it is that we make the glory of God to shine forth in our course and practice when we do visibly exemplify the goodness of his nature in our own goodness, that is, in doing good; in those continual fruits and acts of goodness, which issue and flow from the principle of divine love (with which our souls are possessed) to those that are related unto God, according as their relation to him is larger or more special, as we have formerly shewed.
It is by our doing good that we shew to whom we belong, though that goodness of ours can reach only to men and saints. “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness:” (Eph. v. 9.) namely, that goodness which can flow and diffuse itself according as we have objects here below, upon which it may be continually pouring itself forth, and spreading itself. Herein we bear testimony to God, that we are the very children of his love. We do, as it were, herein justify and honour our great Father. We own our Father, and own ourselves his children. “Love, that ye may be the children of God, says our Saviour, who doth good both to the evil and the good;” that is, that ye may appear to be his children. Matt. v. 44, 45. And again, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” John xiii. 35. This refers to that more special 145love which we ought to settle upon nobody but those, who are particularly related and united to Christ. “You will own me in the world, and your relation to me; and I shall be owned and honoured among men by you, if ye love one another.” And this was the character of Christians in the primitive times of the Christian church, “See how these Christians love one another, and refuse not to die for one another.”
Yea, and again, our own felicity is promoted (which is another part of our end) by the love of our brother. For though God himself be the supreme felicitating object, yet he intends to be enjoyed by his in a community. He gathers them all unto himself in one body, of which body love is the common, bond, the unitive thing which as it were embodies and holds the members together; being the same bond of perfectness the apostle speaks of, or the most perfect bond which, says he, is charity. Col. iii. 14.
And the case is plain and manifest, that where there is a languor and deficiency of Christian or brotherly love, the way of access to God is obstructed and barred up. Such persons have no free converse with God. A spirit that is full of rancour, under a distemper, filled with animosity though but to this or that one particular person, knows not how to go to God. The new creature is starved and famished this way. The soul cannot heartily enjoy God, hath no liberty towards God. Therefore our Saviour considering the state of the case gives this general law and rule: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar (he speaks in the phrase and language of the Jews under the Old Testament administration, designing the instruction of christians under the New) and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way (thou hast nothing to do at the altar, there can be no commerce between God and thee except thou go) and be reconciled first to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt. v. 23, 24. Love must flow, and have a free course between thy brother and thee, or it can have none between God and thee. And if it were possible how monstrous would it be, if in a man’s natural body all the nutriment should be drawn to one side! Would any one think fit to feed and cherish but one side of himself? Especially, would the new creature cherish only a love to God, and at the same time famish what may be called the other side, a love to his brother? He attempts a thing impossible to be done; and it were extremely monstrous if it could be done, or should ever take place.
Thus far you see then, that by an inseparable connexion 146 which there is, in these four respects, between love to God and love to our brother, it must needs be an absurd pretence that men make of love to God, who exercise not love to their brother also.
2. I proceed to speak briefly (and so shall shut up for the present) to a further consideration, whence the absurdity of such a pretence ariseth; which is drawn from the greater difficulty of loving God whom we have not seen, than our brother whom we have seen. It must needs be an absurd thing for a man to pretend that he hath mastered the greater difficulty, who hath not overcome the less. Which you see is the plain and full sense and meaning of the apostle’s reasoning here.
But here it may perhaps be said, that “These two considerations do seem to contradict one another, or that the latter is repugnant to the former. For if love to God and to our brother be so connected as hath been shewn, then how can it be that love to our brother should be less difficult than love to God? Yea and if there be such a connexion, as it appears there is, it may rather be said that love to our brother seems more difficult: for we can never truly love him, till we have first been brought to love God; and so we love our brother secondarily, that is, upon his account and for his sake.” For the clearing of this I shall briefly say two or three things to you.
(I.) That when we say, love to God is more difficult than love to our brother, we speak not (as formerly you may have taken notice) of implanting the principle of this love; but we speak of the exercise of it. It is God that implants the principle, and all things are equally easy to him; but it is we that are to exercise it.
(2.) Whereas we cannot exercise it neither without his concurrence, we are to consider that concurrence of his with reference not to his absolute, but to his ordinary power. Not, I say, according to the extraordinary, but the ordinary workings of the power of God. And though it be true, that according to the extraordinary working of his power he can make it equally facile to love himself and any creature in which his image shines, and more facile or easy many times; yet according to his ordinary working, his people find by their own sad experience, that they have more to do in getting their hearts to act that way, than towards the creature, according to that degree of divine goodness which they can take notice 147of. But though this be clear enough, yet we answer further.
(3.) There are many persons, who in some degree love Christians and good men upon lower and less sufficient motives; and not upon the account of what peculiarly respects godly men as such. And we are principally to understand the apostle as speaking to such persons, as pretended to love their brethren, professed Christians, upon these lower motives. As if he had said, “You are not yet arrived so far as to love your brother upon motives sufficient to establish your love, though you see him as one, with whom you have sensible converse. Are you then got so high as to love God? Is it a credible thing you should be able to love an unseen God?” So that the pretence carries the same absurdity with it, as if one should pretend this or that more difficult thing to be easy and facile, when many things that are unspeakably more easy he cannot do or effect. As if a man should pretend it easy to fly to the stars, who cannot walk upright on his feet. Or as if another were vaunting to be able to outface the sun, whose eyes are perpetually dazzled with the light of a candle. A likely thing you should love God, whom you have not seen; who cannot so much as love your brother, whom you have seen, but upon the lowest motives! Wherefore these things have a connexion, and it appears from these considerations, that true love to our brother must be inseparable from the love of God. And so we have sufficiently seen the falsehood, and absurdity of such a pretence as this is.
The Use of all remains; and for the present it concerns us to bethink ourselves and reflect, that whereas all of us profess and pretend to love God (I presume there are none here but will avow themselves to be lovers of God, for to profess any religion is virtually to profess love to God; I say, we are concerned to bethink) whether our want of love to our brother carries not in it a conviction of the falsehood of that pretence. The languishing of this love shews a deficiency of the exercise of that noble principle of love to God. Love to God cannot be fervent, when love to Christians is so cool and feeble. And we have not only reason to complain that love is cold, but that envy and hatred are flagrant and burning hot. So far from loving one another are Christians now-a-days, that they cannot endure one another, nor tell how to live by one another!148
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