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THE CROSS THE MEASURE OF LOVE.
“And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”
AFTER three years, spent, day by day, in teaching the faith of the Gospel to the Church in Ephesus, there was still something which St. Paul could not make known. He had declared to them “all the counsel of God.”126126 Acts xx. 27. He had taught all that language could utter; all that intellect could receive. But there was something yet to be taught and learned. And this, all apostle as he was, full of the Holy Ghost, rapt into the third heaven, partaker in the secrets of paradise, he could not teach them. Not that he did not know it. He had learned it at mid-day in the way to Damascus, in the solitudes of Arabia, in all the warfare of a 218life of the Cross, now drawing on towards its crown. Yet though he knew it with this energetic fulness, and burned to make it known, it was among those “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” The utterance of man was too narrow for it. Therefore, after he had forced all the power of speech into one word, language failed him for very weakness: he could only approach to what he would say by contradiction, “to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Words cannot express, for words cannot contain it. There can be no utterance of this love by sounds of this outer world of sense. It must be learned inwardly before the throne of God. Apostles preach, but the book of the Spirit has seven seals; and One alone can open them. The science of the saints has but one Teacher, who is both truth and understanding; both language and power: He both reveals, and gives the capacity to learn; He speaks, and Himself opens the ear to hear. This is what St. Paul could not teach—the surpassing love of Christ. He had no language to express; they had no understanding to receive it. To reveal it is the office of Christ Himself; therefore St. Paul commends his flock by prayer to the one great Teacher: that, as he goes on to say, “ye may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may 219dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”127127 Ephes. iii. 16-19.
This exceeding mystery of love is here shadowed forth in words which suggest the infinite and eternal. St. Paul does not say what this is which has breadth, length, depth, and height. It is no object of sight, no created being; something not to be measured by sense, uttered by words, comprehended by understanding. It is uncreate, and therefore Divine; and because Divine, boundless and everlasting. What is this but the love of the Son of God? What is that Divine mystery which St. Paul does not express, the name of which is secret, but the love of the Word made flesh? In this all things find their source. Its breadth covers all mankind; its length is without beginning or end; its depth reaching to the grave; its height dwelling in the Godhead. Or take these words of Himself: He is God; the mystic circle whose centre is every where, and its circumference no where; He is the Son perfect, everlasting, infinite, immense. Or understand them of His Cross: its breadth, the redemption of all the race of Adam; its length, the eternal predestination; its 220depth, the destruction of death and hell; its height, the beatific vision. Or, if we will so meditate upon it, see in this, His love, election, wisdom, and majesty; or, the perfection of His Mystical Body, the city built four-square, whose length, and breadth, and height, are equal;128128 Rev. xxii. 16. in charity, patience, faith, and contemplation; or, the gifts of every saintly spirit, love, perseverance, fear, and hope. In whatever way we take these words of wisdom and of wonder, they all return again into the fountain from which they issue,—the Cross of the Son of God, of which the arms, the stem, the head, the foot, are a sacrament of His transcendent love who died thereon for us.
This, then, is that great miracle of the Spirit which the Apostle in vain strove to utter.” It was to his speech what the world is to our sight. We can see as far as the horizon, but the world lies all beyond. He spoke all he could, but because it passed all knowledge, it passed all speech; and therefore he could do no more than pray, that He who alone can reveal it, would take up his imperfect work; that when the servant could do no more, the Lord would fulfil the revelation of Himself.
Now let us see what is this Divine language, 221and what this Divine capacity, without which the love of Christ can be neither revealed nor known.
1. What is the language in which Christ reveals His love to us, but His Cross and Passion? The love of God for man had been made known from the beginning by manifold revelations: all creation, all the Divine government, all the powers of nature, declared it. To this God added, yet further, promises, visions, miracles, prophecies, benedictions, effusions of grace; the election of patriarchs; the ministry of angels; the tokens of His perpetual care; deliverance from peril and from bondage; a priesthood, and mysteries; seers and prophets; sacraments of blessings yet to come; inspirations of truth; revelations of goodness and beauty, of peace and pardon; the communion of saints in secret with Himself; the growing light and perpetual assurance, even with an oath, of the revelation of His kingdom upon earth;—all these, in nature, providence, and grace, within and without, to the sense and to the soul of man, were as one complex language, uttering the love of God. But even this was not enough for that “which passeth knowledge.” Something more personal and articulate—something with more intimate expression, more living, in sympathy, persuasion, and power, was needed still. A speech human, and yet Divine; 222co-equal with God, and intelligible to man. And in this Divine language lie spoke to mankind, when “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The words, deeds, and sufferings of the Son of God are but one act—they make up one whole, one eternal word, by which He speaks to us. This is that secret ineffable, which has breadth, length, depth, and height. From the Annunciation to the Ascension is one continuous unfolding of His love: His humiliation as God, and patience as man; His subjection to authority; His endurance of contradictions; His long-suffering of sinners; all the sorrows of His whole life, and all the anguish of His last passion; His night of agony; the cross which wounded His soul more sharply than the Cross which pierced His body; the scourge and the blinding; the reed of mockery, and the crown of thorns; the burden of the Cross, and the sharpness of Calvary; the gall and the vinegar; the scorn and desolation, and after this the humiliation of death, and the dishonour of the grave: He who bare all this being God, and we for whom He bare it sinners,—this is the only tongue mighty to utter that which is beyond the speech of men and angels.
Let us put it to ourselves in words of this world, speaking as men or as fools. Suppose a friend to come and look on us with a gentle, pitying gaze, and say, “I love thee;” it may be, we 223should believe him: it would not cost us much to trust his words of kindness. If he should say, “I will lay down my life for thee;” it may be, we should not believe his words: we might say, “I know you to be good and kind: willing to do much, nay most things for me.” If he should say, “See, then, I have left all that I have for thee. I was rich, I am poor; I was in peace, I am in sorrow; I was in a full home of joy, I am alone; and I am come to put myself between thee and thy death, which, though thou canst not see, is at this hour coming upon thee.” If a friend should come and say this, we should believe him according to the measures of his known goodness, and according to the measures of human speech and human self-denial. That is, we should have many doubts, and say to ourselves, How would this be if the trial were really to come? But, suppose the trial were already come, and that, in the hour of our danger, he should, before our eyes, fulfil his words, and give himself to ward off every weapon, and to receive every blow: if we should see in him our own wounds, hear upon him the strokes of our own punishment, and the anguish of our own just condemnation; and, at the last, see him die before us in our stead; how would our hearts almost break with the fulness of our belief in his love and truth; how would every thought and feeling 224overflow with sorrow, love, and gratitude. We should rebuke ourselves with bitter reproaches for having ever doubted his word or his love a moment. We should need no more words, pledges, or proofs. Pain, wounds, and death, would have testified; and their witness is overwhelming. The memory, the image, the very name of such a friend would be blessed and sacred for ever. His every look and tone of voice, every remembered expression, of wish or will, of guidance or counsel, would be our law: we should be jealous for him as for our own life, and endure no word of slight or coldness to be cast upon him.
What but this is the language with which our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed His love to us? There is only this difference: we have been speaking of a merely human love, but His is divine. When tongues and prophecies, blessings and promises, had done their utmost to reveal the fulness of His eternal love, He came Himself, a child in humility and meekness, a man full of love, grace, gentleness, with works of healing, miracles of mercy; speaking to us through our sight and touch, our sympathies and affections, our needs and our sorrows, our fears and our sins. All the love of God, and all the lowliness of man, united in Him to persuade and win our hearts. On our side were only soils and guilt; on His were agony and 225love, patient and enduring: undeserved, yet never cooled; slighted, yet never turned away; tender, pitiful, changeless, and eternal. Nor is this all. There is this further depth of love. Sin bound us by a necessity to die. But no necessity bound Him to redeem us: least of all by a life of sorrow, and a death of agony. The Almighty knows no necessity: He that is Omnipotent cannot be bound. He might have saved us in ways unknown, without number or measure, Other ways would have revealed His wisdom, power, and sovereignty of grace. But none would so reveal His love , none so satiate, or slake the Divine thirst of love, as humiliation and sorrow, passion and the Cross. There was a necessity upon Him, not external, which is impossible, but internal, which is of Himself. The necessity was His own free choice, and that choice was the utterance of love. Divine power and grace sufficed not to reveal it. Therefore He willed that He should die and reveal His love upon the Cross. Here it is written in a mystic character, the fulness of which shall be interpreted in paradise, and yet never fully known.
2. But further, the language of His love is two-fold, both without and within. He not only reveals it by His passion to us, but also by His presence in us. And this is the divine capacity by which alone we can understand it. Therefore 226St. Paul prays, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” This does not simply mean, that the knowledge of Christ may dwell in the intellect; but that His Spirit, His very presence by the Spirit, may dwell in their hearts: as he further says, being “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” In this way He speaks to us from within, giving us the capacity to hear what cannot enter by the ear, and to understand what the intellect cannot comprehend. Wherefore when He went up into heaven, He poured out upon the Church the gift of the Holy Ghost, who is the love of the Father and of the Son. And in Him, He who is by visible presence in heaven, returned by spiritual presence into His mystical body. From His glorified manhood, as from a fountain, perpetual effusions of life and love descend upon the Church. By His overflowing gifts of grace the whole Church is born again; and into every soul which puts no bar of sin, the fulness of His grace comes down. This, in one word, is the Spirit of love, creating penitents, saints, and martyrs; revealing to all who are sanctified the mystery of the Cross, both that on which He suffered, and that on which they must hang beside Him—the cross of witness and contradiction, of conflict and death, of patience and sorrow, of sickness and affliction, of temptation and 227fiery assaults; and, in the midst of all, revealing the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of His love, which is never so full of life and consolation, as when the Cross is sharpest upon their shoulder, and the thorns run deepest on their brow. This mystery of the Cross has been from the beginning the object of contemplation to all His true servants; before He came, under a veil in hope; since He came, openly by faith. It is set up in the centre of the mystical body. Upon it all eyes of penitents and mourners, of contemplative and solitary spirits; and of all who, in the throng of life, the weariness of toil, the cares of home, serve Him in secret, continually dwell. All alike gaze on that sign as their light and healing—as the great eternal mystery of life, reaching to hell and heaven, and gathering all God’s elect into its world-wide embrace.
“To comprehend” this “with all saints” is to share in the depth of their spiritual vision, and in the love which love kindles in them; to comprehend the greatness of His love and the greatness of our sin, the twofold mystery of goodness and of guilt; and to be changed, as we look upon that which is both the shame and the glory of our Lord, “into the same image” of love and patience, “from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” There is, as it were, a precinct within the visible Church, into 228which all are called, but few enter. For into this interior presence of Divine love no human teaching can lead; no preaching, not even of apostles; no hook, not even inspired; no, not the Epistle to the Church in Ephesus, all kindled as it is with the fire of God; still less can intellect, imagination, or emotion,—all these are weak and cold. It is the office of a Divine Person, of Him “who hath the key of David;” He alone can bring us within His holy place; that is, Christ, by His Spirit, revealing His own love to us, by kindling our love to Him, that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend;” for there is no other sight which sees love, but love; love alone can measure love, can perceive, can feel it. He has been teaching us His love by making us love Him. There is no other way. Till we love Him, all is dark. Even the plainest truths seem shadowy and changeful; the highest doctrines of faith appear remote, and above our sphere; the whole mystery of the Incarnation, and of the Cross; of the Resurrection, and the kingdom of Christ; the unity of His Body, and the glory of the saints; the gifts of the Holy Sacraments, and the universal sympathy of the new creation of God,—all these are realities which surpass the intellect, and are comprehended only by love; that is, by the spiritual reason in the light of charity.229
This inward and divine work of grace is no special gift of certain Christians, but the common heritage of the regenerate. If we do not possess it, the loss is ours, and the sin; for all our life through, whether we have heard or no, He has been speaking to us by this interior voice; sometimes, perhaps, making our hearts to burn within even when we have not understood, and revealing Himself in clearness when we have ever so little turned to Him in love. Wonderful kingdom of love in the soul of man! Who has not seen its tokens? Who has not perceived its presence? He who is in all His mystical body, is whole in every member; not severed or divided, but full, infinite, divine. In each one His presence is the same, revealing in each what He reveals in all. Though He uses many and various ways, yet He makes all that desire it to know His love; bearing with us in our sin, even after baptism; preventing us by His guidance, preserving us from perils we never knew, restraining us from manifold perdition; opening again the eyes we have wilfully blinded, and the ears we have closed in obstinacy; restoring, as by miracles of love, the spiritual gifts we have abused; converting us to Himself. Whensoever we have turned, or inclined towards Him, He has revealed Himself, waiting to be gracious, overwhelming us with a consciousness of tender care, 230and of love that nothing can estrange. In this way He deals with us, that He may root us and ground us in love. When the soul is once kindled with this divine flame, and the sins of flesh and spirit begin to consume away in the fire of His presence, it is as if scales had dropped from our spiritual sight, and the Cross stands visible, bearing the mystery of love. Then all things change their aspect. New lights fall from it on every side. At first they come in strange contradictions, greater joys and greater sorrows, livelier hopes and more trembling fears. After a while the repentance of alarm relaxes into the contrition of a broken spirit, and the rigour of conscience into the tenderness of compunction. Then the whole inward life is turned back upon its true source, and lives by looking upon the Cross. The kingdom of Christ, both in earth and heaven, is then revealed from its true point of sight; that is, from Christ’s presence in a loving heart. It is then seen in its divine unity and perfection, reigning with Him, and suffering, loving, sympathising, interceding, and worshipping; sustained by one life, one bread, one altar, one sacrifice; cleaving to one Cross, quickened by one Spirit, united by one bond of love, holy and universal, under one High Priest, who is at the right hand of God. O “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height”—“the love of 231Christ, which passeth knowledge!” which can be uttered only by the Passion of the Word made flesh, and revealed in us only by the indwelling of Christ Himself. O divine mystery! and language equally divine; ineffable gift of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, ever with us in the Presence of the Eternal Spirit, Himself “the First and the Last,” the Truth and the Teacher, the Light which reveals itself, “the bright and morning Star.”129129 Rev. xxii. 16.
But to whom does He reveal this surpassing love? Are they not chiefly these?
1. First, those who have faithfully obeyed the grace of their regeneration. In them the spiritual life takes the lead and guidance of their whole intellectual and moral being, going before it and leading it in the way of purity and love. They are sheltered from the soils and stains which pierce the souls of such as fall into disobedience; they are never clouded by the dimness and darkness which gather upon a rebellious and uneasy conscience. Their union with Christ is a source of inward light, which sheds abroad a fuller radiance as they grow in love. A sanctified will is in them the root of the illuminated reason. By purity of heart they see the Cross, even in childhood, according to its measures; in youth and in 232the full ripeness of age, with a continual expanse of light filling the whole field of contemplation:—there they behold the signet of love, the law of their will, the purification of their heart, the flame at which their love is kindled, the life of all their soul. Such Christians are in many ways children of light; all brightness within, and like the light, silent, soft, and noiseless; so that this loud busy world takes them for weak and stagnant, without vividness or energy. What the world admires is the visible and audible piety of converts. It cannot conceive a life so tranquil to be fervent; as if the zeal of penitents were more perfect than the ministry of angels. So truly is “the secret of the Lord with them that fear Him;” so hidden is that new name which is known only to him that receiveth it. To those who have been thus signally blessed of God, through the watchfulness and prayer of parents, or sometimes, so far as we can see, even without these secondary agencies, and have been kept within the light of that gift which by nature they could not have—to them what things others learn late and with toil, and, after all, for the most part, with less clear perceptions, are as original truths, axioms of the regeneration, instincts of their spiritual nature. They are unclouded and unchilled, and have a clear transparent purity of heart, quickened by a consciousness of the, presence 233and love of Christ, which neither intellect nor speech can conceive. It is as a part of their own being; it sustains the unity of their own life, derived through the Spirit from Him who is their life. They live more and more in the habitual consciousness of His love to them. The world cannot draw them from Him. It has no sweetness like fellowship with Him; no brightness like the light of His countenance; no fairness like the beauty of His presence. They rest all their weight on Him in loving, confiding trust; and look on without fear to the day of death, as the way that leads, it may be through a narrow and rough pass, but speedy and sure, to the fulness of His love unveiled.
2. And besides these, who are blessed above all, there are others also who are specially strengthened to comprehend with all saints the surpassing love of the Cross; such are all who habitually and devoutly communicate in the sacrament of His passion. Nothing so visibly reveals the Cross to us; nothing so renews before our eyes the language of divine acts and sufferings, by which He has revealed His love. It represents to us the mystery of His humiliation, His incarnation, His self-oblation, His crucifixion, the rending of His body, the shedding of His blood, the whole mystery of His passion. These are set before our very sight. He 234is lifted up visibly before us. And what is so represented to us from without by symbols, is applied to us within by His intimate presence. He makes every devout soul to partake of Himself, to share that love which nailed Him upon the Cross; to share even the Cross, by sharing His love. He makes over to us His atonement and His priceless blood, the infinite merits of His incarnation; and with them His Spirit and His charity. But of these things it is hard to speak in words. They are of that secret which passeth knowledge; which can be comprehended only in the spiritual light by which He reveals Himself at the altar, high and lifted up upon the Cross, radiant with love; then higher still in the throne of God, angels ascending and descending in the ministries of His compassion; and highest of all, in the midst of His heavenly court, ranged around Him in the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, of the eternal glory. These things are only for the inward utterance, which is spiritual and silent; heard always in the still tones of a voice divine, by those who are meet for the heavenly feast. The more meet, the more clear their spiritual sense; and the oftener they feed with devotion on the living bread, the meeter they become. This is the point or centre of light in which obedience, purity of heart, prayer, contemplation, faith, all 235conspire in one; and here He vouchsafes to come down, as it were, to meet the aspirations of His own Spirit in us, and to reveal the eternal love which is Himself.
3. And, lastly, there are, blessed be His mercy, others among whom we may hope to have our lot. If it were only to spirits of love and spirits of knowledge, such as we have spoken of, that the Cross were revealed, where should we have our portion? But here again is the wonderful mystery of His compassion; what the highest attain by grace, is by gift granted to the lowest. In this the first and the last are all alike. It is not only to purified and devout hearts, but also to penitent and broken spirits, that He reveals His Cross: to all who after their sins, whatsoever their past life has been, are now truly and sadly repenting. “There stood by the Cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.”130130 St. John xix. 25. A blessed company: One all pure, that had borne Him in her bosom as a child; one all love, who had lain upon His breast at supper; and one all sorrow, who had pierced Him with her sins. Once they were “not all clean,” but all were clean then; for the Cross had cleansed them all as white as snow. Blessed and healing type of the great grace of repentance; the renewal 236of the new creature, the all but second birth of the regenerate. “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.” The pure in heart see God with a speed and depth of sight which seems given to none beside: but to penitents, even in their tears, is granted an intensity of vision which seems to outstrip all others; yet with what strange intimations of a manifold and diverse perfection. John, in the zeal of love, outran Peter to the grave; but Peter entered first, while John only stooped and looked into the tomb. John first knew the Lord upon the shore, but Peter first hastened to His presence. Love outstripped repentance, and repentance left love behind. Repentance was bid to follow, and love was left to linger without a token of His will. Yet neither was before or after other; for both saw Him, and were full. So it is now. If we be broken in heart: not filled with a clouded and moody self-contemplation, or with a shrinking, unhoping fear, still less with a lukewarm and variable temper, wavering between sin and penitence, but with a loving sorrow; if we have a heart pierced fivefold, bleeding inwardly, issuing in patience, humility, gentleness, trust, and hope; even to us He will reveal His Cross in all the fulness of its perfection, in pardon, in long-suffering love, and in life eternal.237
But let us take great heed, lest we try to ascend the height before we have gone down into the depth of His passion. Let us, as penitents, beware how we think to comprehend it by spiritual strength and intuition, by high devotions, and sensible affections of love and ardour. We shall but turn our heads, and fall from the ascents which are not for us to climb. Our way to the Cross is below, in humiliation and abasement, in conscious poverty of all strength and of all attainments of a devout life. Our path will be safest in shadows and silence; loving the lowest place; and gladly enduring slights, especially when undeserved, as most nearly likening us to Him in His shame. Penitents have need to watch, lest they grow to be strict, cold, upright, blameless, indignant at sinners, unconscious of themselves. Our only hope is to be abased, and kindled with indignation against ourselves, absorbed in the thought of our Blessed Lord, if so be we may be like her whose whole soul flowed with a living stream in the kiss with which she embraced His sacred feet.
This shall reveal all we need to see; and all the changes of life will receive new and unforeseen lights cast upon them from the Cross. Blessings, rebukes, sharp checks, chastisements, and a lowering to-morrow, will all bring out some new aspect of His personal love to us. The deeper we go 238down into the depths of sorrow for our sin, the more will He reveal the Great Sorrow by which our sin was taken away: and the fellowship of sorrow is the fellowship of love; for without love sorrow is not repentance, and without sorrow love dies. These two are united in the Cross. In its unity they fulfilled His passion; they are now the fountains of our repentance.
What but this Love, when sorrow is passed away, shall be the bliss of the redeemed in heaven? What but this shall be the song of the blessed before the Lamb which was slain, when the sealed book is opened; and every one, with harps and golden vials full of odours, shall fall down and sing a new song, “saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood.”131131 Rev. v. 9. It is still and evermore the same hymn of praise, the Cross and the love of the eternal Son, there seen in all its expanse unveiled; and with a perfect capacity of sight, by the vision of uncreated light, where each one shall be more blessed, the more deeply he beholds it. But, for us now, we must begin upon the lowest step, with sorrow for the sin of an unloving heart. Hereafter we shall know, even as we are known; nothing shall pass knowledge 239then, when all shall be taught of God. For this we must wait His time and will. Let us now make sure, if by His grace we may, of the first and lowest elements of this science of all saints. As yet our sin passeth knowledge. Let us learn this first. This is enough for us on earth; and then, when we have learned to know this in a life of compunction, we shall hereafter know the love of Christ without measure in the fulness of eternal peace.240
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