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THE CREATION OF CULTURE AND AFFECTION
Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from a clean heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, All flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: but the word of the, Lord abideth for ever.
IN the very heart of this passage there lies a fair and exquisite flower—the flower of an in tense and fervent affection. Its surroundings reveal to us the means of its production. The earlier clauses of the passage describe the mode of its growth; the later clauses describe the cause of its growth. The first part is descriptive of the rootage and the preliminary life of the flower of love; the second part proclaims the all-enswathing atmosphere in which growth is rendered possible and sure. On the one hand, there are revealed to us the successive and progressive stages of spiritual culture; on the other hand, we are introduced to the all-pervading 57power which determines their evolution. The earlier part centres round about “obedience”; the latter part gathers round about “the word of God.” The first half emphasises the human; the second half emphasises the Divine. The human and the Divine combine and co-operate, and in their mingled ministry create the sweet and unpolluted flower of love.
“Love one another from a clean heart fervently.” [Verse 22] How can I grow this sweet, white flower of love? Its creation is not the immediate result of volition; it is the issue of a process. We cannot command it; we can grow it. It is not an “alpha “but an “omega,” the “amen” in a spiritual succession. If I want the flower, I must begin at the root. If I want the love, I must begin with obedience. The first stage towards a fervent affection is “obedience to the truth” If a soul yearns to be crowned and beautified by the grace of a delicate love, it must put itself in the posture of “obedience to the truth.” Ay, but what is this truth to which we are to pay obeisance? Just as I penned the question, the sun, which had been concealed behind a cloud, broke from its hiding, and a broad, wealthy tide of light flowed over the garden, and revealed the young leaves in resplendent glory. The word “tree” obtains a new significance when you see the branches 58swaying in the golden light. It is even so with the familiar word “truth.” To one man the word is suggestive of a dim, dull, cloudy quantity, having little or nothing of arresting radiance or beauty. To another man “truth “is a gloriously unclouded light, suggesting the hallowed beauty of the eternal God. What do we mean by the term “hill”? That depends upon where we have lived. The word “hill” has one significance at Snowdon, another at Ben Nevis, another at Mont Blanc, and another amid the gigantic heights of Northern India. What do we mean by “the truth”? Where have we lived? The apostle has not used the word “truth” before. He seems to have kept it in abeyance until by some preliminary thought he has prepared our minds to give it adequate content. He has been leading us through a pilgrimage of contemplation, and at the end of the journey he utters the word “truth,” and if we would enter into his conception we must pack the word with the experiences of the previous way. We have been peering into the Fatherhood of God. The apostle has been pointing out to us elements which we were inclined to forget. We looked into the Father hood for sweetness; He pointed out whiteness. We looked for gentleness; He pointed out holiness. We looked for tender yearnings towards 59the sinner; He would not permit us to overlook the Divine hostility to sin. Wherever the apostle turns in the contemplation of the Father hood, it is the “whiteness” that arrests him. He looks into the Father’s judgments, and he beholds the whiteness of holiness. He glances behind the veil into the mysteries of redemption, and even amid the sacrifices of love he beholds the glory of “the great white throne.” Wherever he turns his wondering gaze, it is the perception of a character “without blemish and without spot” that brings him to his knees. When, therefore, we emerge from the solemn sight-seeing, as we do in the twenty-second verse, and I hear the apostle use the word “truth,” I know that he inserts into the word the content of superlative whiteness, and that while he uses it he bows before the holiness of the Fatherhood of God. Here, then, we must begin the culture of affection. We must begin with the contemplation of whiteness, with a steady, steadfast gazing upon the holiness of the Fatherhood of God. We must let holiness tower in our conception of God, as the dazzling snow abides on the lifted heights of the Alps. The “truth” is the unveiled face of the Holy Father. The first step in the creation of pure affection is the contemplation of a Holy God.
The apostle uses a very graphic word to 60further describe the healthy pose of a soul in reference to “the truth.” We are to be in “obedience to the truth.” There is a stoop in the word. It is a kneeling at attention. It is an eager inclining of the ear to catch the whisper of the Holy God. But it is more than that. It is the attention of a soul that is girt and ready for service. The wings are plumed for ministering flight. It is a listening, for the purpose of a doing. “Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them.” It is a soul waiting consciously and eagerly upon the Holy Father with the intent of hearing and doing His will. This is “obedience to the truth,” and this is the preliminary step in the creation and culture of God.
Now, let us pass to the vital succession described in the text. We enter a second stage of this progressive gradation. “Ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth.” [Verse 22] While ye were doing the one, ye were accomplishing the other. Obedience to truth is the agent of spiritual perfection. Homage to holiness is the minister of refinement. To bow to the august is to enlarge the life. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” To listen in waiting attention for the expression of the will of holiness is to fill the life with cleansing and refining ministry. We bleach our fabrics by exposing them to the light. We whiten 61our spiritual garments by dwelling in the hallowed glory of the Light of Life. We “purify our souls” by our “obedience to the truth.” We purify them. We make them chaste in all the varied meaning of that wealthy word. We rid them of secret defilements, washing quite out of the grain the soaking filth of selfishness and of impure ambition. We free them of all the uncouthness, the rudeness, and the rough discourtesies of the unhallowed life. We deliver them from the meretricious, the tawdry graces that are made to do duty for the fair realities of the sanctified life. The soul is made grandly simple, endowed with the winsome naturalness and grace of an unaffected child. This is the way of the eternal. When we dwell in the light, the powers of the soul are being rarefied, touched, and moulded into ever finer discernments. The organic quality of the life is enriched, and possibilities awakened of which we hardly dreamed. We transform our spiritual sub stance when we change our spiritual posture. We “purify our souls by our obedience to the truth.”
Now, mark the next stage in this brightening sequence. “Ye have purified your souls . . . unto unfeigned love.” [Verse 22] We are rising into finer issues. We have passed from hallowed obedience to purified spirit, and now we go on to unfeigned affection! The rarest issue of the rose-tree is 62the perfume of the rose. From root to perfume you ascend a gradation of increasing refinements until you come to its subtle and bewitching breath. And here in my text we have arrived at the sphere of fragrance, the realm of sentiment, the haunt of affection. “Ye have purified your souls . . . unto unfeigned love.” Mark the directive force of the preposition—“purified unto love”; as though the purification of the soul made straight, as by a gracious destiny, for the birth and revelation of love. The spirit can be so chastened, so refined by “obedience to the truth,” that love will emerge from it as naturally and spontaneously as perfume distils from a rose. “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth!” He cannot help loving; his love is a spontaneous affluence, and he can no more restrain it than the rose can imprison her fragrance when she is tossed by the playful breeze. A fine sentiment is the offspring of a fine spirit. The posture of the soul determines the quality of the disposition. If the soul; “live and move and have her being” in the presence of the Holy Father, revealed in Christ our Saviour, and shape her course in “obedience to the truth,” she will be sublimed, and all her ministries will be attended by a gracious affection, diffusing itself as fragrance about the 63common ways of men. “Ye have purified your soul unto unfeigned love of the brethren.”
But now it may occasion a little surprise that, having reached this apparent climax in the thought, the affluence of a spontaneous affection, the apostle should add the injunction, “love one another from a clean heart fervently!” [Verse 22] What is the purpose of the apparently needless addition? We have watched the ascending stages in the spiritual processes that issue in love; what if there are ascending stages in the refinement of love itself? There may be degrees of riches even in perfumes. Even love itself may be refined into more and more exquisite .quality. That, I think, is the meaning of the apostle’s counsel. He urges them to seek for the superlative in the sweet kingdom of love, ever to set their minds on “the things above,” and to fix their yearnings upon still finer issues. We get a clear glimpse into the apostle’s mind through the vivid word in which he urges the counsel, “love one another . . . fervently.” There is a suggestion of increased tension in the word, as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a higher note. That is the apostle’s figure—a little more tension, that you may reach a little higher note. There are heights of love unreached. Tighten the strings 64of your devotion, that your soul may yield the entrancing strains. Be vigilant against all laxity, and stretch yourselves to the uttermost in the endeavour to compass the manifold music of the marvellous scales of love. When, there fore, the apostle enjoins a more fervent love, I feel that he drives me back to the first preliminary stage of spiritual growth. When he appeals for higher notes of love, he is really counselling a deeper holiness. If my love is to be more intense, I must seek a “closer walk with God.” I must tighten my holiness if I would enrich my music. There will come a more discerning love when there is a more devoted obedience. I shall pass from finer homage to rarer spiritual purity, and from rarer spiritual purity to increasing exquisiteness in love. “Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from a clean heart fervently.”
How can we depend upon this succession in the processes? How can we be assured that one stage will lead to another in inevitable spiritual gradation? What is the nature of the bond and the quality of the guarantee? What is our assurance that “obedience to truth” will issue in chaste refinement of spirit, and that spiritual refinement will be crowned by a rare 65and fervent affection? The basis of our reliance is “the word of God.” [Verse 23] It was through the word of God there was given to us the seed of a regenerated life. We were “begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God.” That word, through which there came the first, faint seminal beginnings of a holy life, remaineth sure through all the stages of subsequent growth. We may rely upon “the word of God.” It “liveth and abideth,” an energising all-enveloping atmosphere, in which the beautiful young growth will be matured. If the centre of love depended upon the power of any human ministry, the issue would assuredly fail. Our dependence would then be built upon a thing enduring only through a transient season. Human aid is but “as the grass”; and the best of human aid, the very glory of it, only as “the flower of grass” [Verse 24 ] In the fierce, scorching noontide, the time of feverish strain, when we are most in need of enriching rest, “the grass withereth, and the flower falleth,” and there is barrenness where we yearned to find a soft and healing peace. No; not upon flesh must we depend for the evolution of the spiritual life. “Our hope is in God.” The Lord Himself pervades the processes and determines the line of ascending growth. “The word of the Lord abideth for ever.” [Verse 25]66
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