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THE UNITY OF LOVE.
ST. MATT. xxii. 37-40.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
BY these words our Lord teaches us the unity of the kingdom of God.
All the commandments of the Law, written in ten divine precepts on two tables of stone, expounded by an inspired lawgiver, and recorded in sacred books; all the precepts and commands of God’s prophets, the greater and the less, and of all whose names and words pass before us in the history of Israel;—all this manifold body of divine injunctions for the government of man and for the worship of God, run up at last into these two 286 simple and divine precepts: to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves.
For these two commandments have the same end and scope as all the law of Moses and all the words of the prophets; they contain the whole motive of universal obedience.
And these two commandments in turn run up into a higher unity. For love is one and indivisible, a principle and gift of God. In these two commandments it is parted, indeed, into two heads, as two rays of light issuing from a common fount: two only in direction and relation, one altogether by an absolute unity of origin and nature.
Let us see, then, how this manifold scheme of divine commands and of universal obedience has, at last, but one principle and law.
And first, because “God is love.” There is a divine depth in these words. They not only mean that God is loving, as when we say that He is wise or merciful, but that Love is God. For all that is in God is God. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are not three names, but three Persons. Paternity, Filiation, and Procession is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. The Intelligence of God is His very Being; so also His Love, for God is a pure and perfect energy of love and knowledge.
He said of Himself, “I am that I am.” And 287our blessed Lord says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He means not only, “I will quicken and raise mankind from the dead,” but “I am the Resurrection, and all rise in Me: I am ‘the Life,’ and all live in Me.” So the Eternal Love is the Eternal God.
And further, God’s love is God’s law. From all eternity He dwelt in His everlasting rest; not solitary, though with no like or second; for there are not two uncreated, nor two eternals: not alone, though in perfect oneness; for in one Godhead dwelt the ever-blessed Three in mutual love and bliss; the Father in the Son, the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost proceeding from both, dwelling in the Father and the Son, being the love of the Father and of the Son, the bond of the eternal Three.
So dwelt the Eternal in His everlasting rest, until the uncreated Love, unmoved of any,—for there was none other,—moved only by Himself, began to create, that is, to give life of His life, and to inscribe the law of love upon the creatures of His will. Therefore He created “the heavens . . . and all the host of them;”166166 Gen. ii. 1. that is, holy angels, spirits of love and spirits of knowledge, and all the companies of the heavenly kingdom; thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers; and surrounded 288 Himself with an hierarchy of blessed intelligences. These dwell in the depths of the inaccessible light, in the folds of the eternal love, loving, adoring, and ministering; and the law of their Creator is the law of their existence. They love God with all their strength, with all the energy of angelic natures; they love each other as themselves, with a perfect equality of pure and heavenly love. They are filled with the light of God’s countenance, and they cleave to Him with a perfect adherence of their whole being. They are united in a mutual joy, and their delight is in the depth of an universal bliss. Such is the unity of God’s law in His eternal kingdom.
And that same love moved Him further to create the earth, and mankind upon the face of it. Man was made to love his Maker and his kind. God, in like manner, impressed on him this same law as the law also of his being. When man sinned against God, love moved Him again to redeem the world. God gave the Son of His love to be made man: the Son gave Himself to die. He gave also His Spirit to dwell in His redeemed. The whole work of the Spirit upon earth is a work of love, “gathering together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad,” bringing them back once more to the unity of the heavenly kingdom. There is a throne in heaven, and above it 289is the glory of the ever-blessed Three; and in the midst of the throne is the Word made flesh; and round about the throne, saints for whom He died; and round about the saints, angels who never were redeemed. And all that heavenly fellowship is ruled by this same one law: all are united by love to the King of saints, all are united to each other. Their whole being cleaves to Him. Every one loves the other as himself; the outermost in that blessed company loves the innermost with a love more perfect as each is nearer to the uncreated Love, and more beloved by Him.
And this law holds not in heaven alone, but also upon earth; for we “are come,” now in this present life, “unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”167167 Heb. xii. 22. What is this but the company of heavenly hosts, at unity in itself? All the faithful upon earth, all believing, hoping, loving, penitent hearts in all lands, are gathered by this one law into the unity of the mystical body, and “grow up into Him . . . which is the Head.”168168 Eph. iv. 15. The laws of the city of God run down to us. The unity of the heavenly Jerusalem is the source of the unity of the visible Church. It is one on earth, because it is one in heaven. It is one in heaven and earth, because it is united 290 in one law.169169 “Quae est civitas Dei, nisi sancta Ecclesia? Homines enim amantes se invicem, et amantes Deum suum, qui in illis habitat, faciunt civitatem Deo. Quia lege quadam civitas continetur, lex ipsa eorum, caritas est, et ipsa caritas, Deus est.”—S. Aug. Enarr. in Psalm, xcviii. 4.Love is one of the names of Christ, and of His Church. Its visible body is the earthly clothing, the mystical impersonation of the love of God, in which all, whether visible or invisible, are united to Him as the Father is in the Son. The unity of love is a type of the unity of nature. Our Divine Redeemer prayed “that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them;”—what glory, but the glory of love and unity?—“that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me.”170170 St. John xvii. 21-23.
1. Let us learn, then, from this great mystery of life, that a soul without love is dead: for a soul without love is a soul without God; and as God is love, so is He life. By nature we were born dead in sin, because without love to God; 291but in baptism God gave us a capacity to love Him, an infused and passive habit, making us capable of love. Fallen spirits have lost this capacity, angels possess it in perfection. The regenerate receive it again in a passive disposition by the gift of the Holy Ghost. But that which is passively received must be actively unfolded. A capacity is not an active habit. The spiritual capacities of our regenerate nature, such as faith, hope, and love, are powers subject to the will, and depending on the will for their development into energy and act. But the soul in which the regenerate life is quenched or stifled has no love, and for lack of love is dead. It is parted from God by all the severance of moral and spiritual contradiction. It is cast out of the kingdom of love. As Adam, when he was driven forth out of Eden, had no more any lot in paradise, so the unloving soul is parted from God and Christ, from holy angels and from all saints, both in heaven and earth. Though all the companies of heaven are about him, he is solitary; for a loveless soul has no fellow. He has no inheritance in the city of God, no sympathy in the fellowship of the redeemed. They are united by love, and in that unity the unloving cannot abide. By love the souls of the faithful hang upon God, as the Psalmist says, “It is good for me to hold me fast by God;” 292 “my soul hangeth upon Thee.”171171 Ps. lxxiii. 27; lxiii, 9. The soul that does not love looses its hold, and falls from the Divine Presence. As it recedes from God, it loses the light of His countenance. It for ever falls lower and lower; becomes darker and darker; grows colder and colder. First it falls under the dominion of self, next under the power of Satan; then it is bound over into the throng and thraldom of fallen angels. Take any example we will, and we shall find it always true: for instance, pride, anger, sullen jealousy, or a stubborn will; these sins drive the Spirit of God away. So, again, love of the world most surely makes men fall from Him: for “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Sloth also, and pampering of self, wastes away the soul; it brings on fearful departures, and great losses of God’s gifts and presence. What are all the tokens and ministries of grace to slothful hearts? They read holy Scripture, but it is a bare letter; they see the surface of the page, but not the light which lies beneath. Though they are sometimes moved with its sublimity and beauty, its power and pathos, yet it is only in the sensitive will and by the animal emotions. Feeling is not love; and with all this seeming religion, the spiritual life of such souls towards God is cold and dark. The same 293is true of their prayers, which are estranged and formal; and still more of their communions. An unloving heart before the altar is a sight of fear. All is empty, without form and void; and darkness is upon the face of it; but the Spirit of God does not move upon the face of those waters. Plain truths of the Spirit to such cold hearts are parables; parables are incomprehensible; mysteries have no significance, sacraments no meaning. All is darkness or formality, a hollow, heartless custom. Such a soul is truly and deeply parted from Christ, and under the apostolic sentence: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.”
And if such be the state of loveless Christians in this life, what shall it be in the life to come? Shall they be near God there, who are far from Him here? Shall they be united to Him in eternity, who have cut themselves off from Him now in time? The separation which now is, shall then bring the doom of eternal loss. From the coldness and darkness of a loveless life, they fall still further from God into “the outer darkness.” As the sight of God to them that love Him is the blessedness of heaven, so the loss of the beatific vision is the nethermost hell. Even in this life it begins to veil itself from unloving souls, but there they must be cast out from before His face for 294 ever. And why is the lack of love so heinous in guilt, and a sin so fearfully avenged? Because a soul without love rebels against the whole law of God. As “love is the fulfilling of the law,” so not to love is to break all the commandments at a blow.
2. And we may hence also learn, that the least beginning of love in the soul is the seed of eternal life. As the least spark has the whole nature of fire, its intense heat and its perfect brightness, so the least pulse of love has in it, by virtue and principle, the whole nature of perfect love. There is no measure of ardent charity to which it may not be kindled. The love of the highest saint in the kingdom of heaven, where love is the law of order and exaltation, was once a faint beat, a weak motion of the soul. The fervent and active devotion of prophets and apostles was once but an infused capacity of spiritual life. So it may be with you. As the greatest have once been among the least, so the least may one day be among the greatest. The germ of a perfect love which shall adhere to the beatific vision in perpetual adoration, is, by God’s gift, in every regenerate soul. As we will, so we shall live; and as we live, so we shall love. It is our life, the activity and direction of our living powers, that unfolds and perfects this divine capacity. And as love is a principle indivisible in 295its nature, so it is in its working and expansion. This shews us what is the law of its growth and development. The love of God, which has its centre in His eternal Being, spreads itself abroad with an even, all-embracing, universal fulness. All created beings are encompassed within the circles of its expanse; every sphere is replenished by it; heaven and earth are enfolded in its circuits; all in its own measure and degree, without disturbance or inequality. So with the love which He implants in His elect. As a spark swells into flame, and as its spire of light ascends, expands into a body of fire, full, even, and continuous, enlarging its reach and presence, ever moving outwards on all sides, yet ever flowing together in one equable symmetry and outline, preserving always its perfect unity; so love, which begins in the soul, at once moves upward and outward, to God and to our neighbour; growing with an even, simultaneous expansion; encircling first our kindred in blood, then our kindred in the spirit,—first father and mother, brethren and sisters, then neighbours and friends, members and servants of Christ, strangers and enemies; always ascending towards God, drawing the soul upward to His presence; uniting it to the person of our Redeemer, and through Him to all His elect. Love has no law but God’s love. As He loves, so must we. They are the 296 chiefest objects of our love who are the chiefest objects of His. All the love of His heavenly court is the reflection and response of His own. In the heavenly country they love even now as He loves: every one in his own order, in the measure of service, nearness, likeness, kindred to the King of saints. And to us wayfarers still on earth, there is no other law than that which descends from the eternal kingdom. “As He is, so are we in this world.”
3. And from this we may learn one more truth, that the unity and expansion of love is the cause and the law of unity and communion to the visible Church. This unity had its beginning upon earth in Him who is Love incarnate; from Him it spread and embraced His disciples, binding them in one visible fellowship, to which He imparted His divine commission. When He ascended into heaven, love was shed abroad in fulness by the coming of the Holy Ghost. The Love of the Father and of the Son was thenceforward manifest, not in a natural, but in a mystical body, which, from age to age, perfects itself by the inward working of its own principle of life. Its unity and growth are properties of its very being, descending from “the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, 297according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”172172 Eph. iv. 15, 16. It is, therefore, by its very nature and law, one and indivisible, ever enlarging, all-embracing; gathering in all nations, fusing all races, harmonising all tongues, blending all thoughts, uniting all spirits: making the earth once more of “one lip,” of one speech, of one heart, and of one will. All the order of the Church; the spiritual relations of fatherhood and sonship, of brotherhood and mutual service; the communion of all grace and gifts, of sacraments and sympathies—all this is either the effect or the bond of an indivisible life. “There is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism,”173173 Ibid. 4, 5. one altar, one holy sacrifice, one divine tradition of corporate identity and living consciousness, sustaining the illumination of truth, seen by love alone, and itself sustained by the Holy Ghost. Therefore are all the members of Christ united in one visible family under “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”174174 Ibid. 6.
Hence comes the sinfulness of schism: it is a sin against the indivisible love of God. To separate from the Church is to forfeit love; for 298 love cannot be divided. Schisms do not rend it, but are rent from it.175175 “Erat ibi tunica, dicit Evangelista, desuper texta. Ergo de coelo, ergo a Patre, ergo a Spiritu Sancto. Quae est ista tunica, nisi caritas, quam nemo potest dividere? Quae est ista tunica, nisi unitas? In ipsam sors mittitur, nemo illam dividit. Sacramenta sibi haeretici dividere potuerunt, caritatem non diviserunt. Et quia dividere non potuerunt, recesserunt: illa autem manet integra.”—S. Aug. in Psalm. xxi. Enarr. ii. 19.As the life retires into the living trunk when branches are cut away, so love still dwells undivided in the life of the Church when members fall from its communion.
And this shews also the sinfulness of an unloving spirit within the visible fold of the Church. I am not speaking only of strife, malice, and contention, but of the likes and dislikes, the estrangements and differences, by which the equable and calm spirit of love is grieved within the communion of the Church. We could as easily divide the daylight, and give to it uncertain and capricious inclinations, as divide the love which God implants by partialities and unequal distributions. As the sight of the eye, though intently fixed on one object out of all, yet embraces the whole visible horizon; so divine love in the soul, though it be fixed with all its force on God alone, yet embraces all around. Its very nature is expansion. It cannot exclude: to exclude any, is to destroy itself. 299Where love is at all, it will act always and every where, towards all persons, and under all circumstances of advantage or disadvantage, help or hindrance, at home or abroad. It is the very life of the soul. We could as well live by fragments, as love by partialities. Love can no more vary and change, come and go, single out one and slight others, be fervent afar off and cold at home, than life can exist by freaks and caprices towards this person or that, in this or that place, at this or that season. As our life pervades our whole nature, in body, soul, and spirit, all our actions and movements, all our thoughts and words; so love is the one ever-present, ever-active, informing, sustaining, quickening life which orders our whole spiritual being. If we love God, we shall love our neighbour. “He that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” If we love not our neighbour, we love not God: “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?”176176 1 St. John iv. 20. If we think to love one and hate another, we deceive ourselves; for “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer:” a heart that can hate even one soul, can love no one. If we love them that love us, “sinners also love those that love them.” No 300 man can truly love God who does not love his friends; no man can truly love his friends who loves not strangers; and no one can love distant or indifferent persons who does not love his enemies.
And this will give us a test which enters into our every-day life, our inmost heart and home. The first step in the ascent of love rises in our own dwelling. From our very threshold it goes up to the eternal throne. There too is “the house of God,” and there “the gate of heaven.” A heart unloving among kindred has no love towards God’s saints and angels. If we have a cold heart towards a servant, or a friend, why should we wonder if we have no fervour towards God? Let us not deceive ourselves. It is very sweet and flattering to self to imagine ourselves in great works of devotion and charity; living at the foot of the cross, content with scanty fare and raiment, and the love of Christ alone: but if we are cold in our private prayers, we should be earthly and dull in the most devout religious order; if we shrink from the sick-bed of a servant, we should have no charity to turn the pallet of Christ’s poor; if we cannot bear the vexations of a companion, how should we bear the contradiction of sinners? if a little pain overcomes us, how could we endure a cross? if we have no tender, cheerful, affectionate love to those with whom our daily 301hours are spent, how should we feel the pulse and ardour of love to the unknown and the evil, the ungrateful and repulsive? In all this we should be simply deceiving our own souls. What we are in one place, we should be everywhere; as uncertain and fastidious, as sensitive and capricious, as full of likings and dislikings, which are the leprosy of the heart, fretting its life away.
The law of love had its perfect and uniform fulfilment in our blessed Lord, who is both man and God. In His words and works, His tones and accents, His calmness and majesty, His gaze and countenance, His obedience and patience towards all who loved or hated, served or thwarted, blessed or reviled Him; in all things, great and small, in all seasons of peace or agony, His love neither failed nor fainted. It was never chilled nor clouded: no ear ever heard His voice sharpened, no eye ever saw His brow grow dark.
And how shall we fulfil this great law of two precepts, but by likeness to His Heart of love? and how shall we be likened to it, but by union with Himself?
He shews us the perfection of divine charity: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The perfection of love is sacrifice; the beginning of sacrifice is self-denial. “He pleased not Himself.” He loved 302 us, and gave Himself for us. He loved us even more than Himself. Let us pray Him to unite us to His own spirit, that His love may flow down into our hearts, and make us as He is. It is by spiritual contact and communion with Him that love is kindled; and the oftener we come to this fountain of heavenly fire, the more we shall be inflamed, and “His love perfected in us,” until that day when, from this jarring and conflicting world, the Eternal Love shall gather in His own to that unity where there is no variance, to that communion which shall be for ever visible and one. In that world of light and peace all shall be loving, all beloved, all blessed in themselves, and doubly blessed, each in the other’s bliss, in the pure sphere of joy where Love uncreated dwells, of whose boundless overflow all created life shall be filled eternally.303
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