1. If to those Greeks who came to see Jesus (John 12:20), he had said that the greatest obligation, or, as they would have put it, the most fitting thing, was for man to love God, they would have been amazed. They would have been prepared to render services and sacrifices to their deities, but to love God with all the heart was beyond their most active imagination.
2. If Christ had uttered this truth to the Roman procurator before whom he appeared, he would have been equally astonished.
3. This truth was far in advance of the Jew, as well as of the Greek and the Roman. It is true that it was to be found in his Law (see Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 30:20). But it was not in his mind, in his heart, in his cherished convictions, in his life. He "tithed mint and rue and all manner of herbs, but passed over... the love of God" (Luke 11:42). Even the worthies of Old Testament times were men who were more constantly and profoundly affected by the sentiment of holy fear than fervent love. "I fear God," rather than "I love God," was the summary of their religious character. How do we account for this?
I. THE JEW HAD REVERENCE ENOUGH FOR GOD TO BE ABLE TO LOVE HIM. The Roman, the Greek, had not. We must respect those whom we love, and the beings they worshipped could not be respected; they were unworthy of regard. Not so he whom the Jew worshipped. He was the Just, the Righteous, the Faithful, the Holy One. The Jew honored, he revered, God enough to be able to love him.
II. HE HAD A VERY CONSIDERABLE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GRACE AND MERCY OF GOD. For we find in Old Testament Scripture passages affirming the kindness, the pity, the patience, the mercy, of God, well worthy to be placed by the side of any we find in the New (Exodus 34:6, 7; Psalm 103:8-14; Psalm 145:8, 9; Micah 7:18, etc.). It was surely possible for him to let reverence ascend to love.
III. TO SOME EXTENT THE JEW DID LOVE GOD. Abraham was "his friend." David could exclaim, "Oh, love the Lord, all ye his saints!" "I love the Lord, because," etc. Yet it was not love but fear that was the central, commanding, regulating element of his inner life. This need not surprise us when we consider -
IV. THE JEW DID NOT KNOW GOD AS REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST.
1. He had not heard Jesus speaking of the Divine Father hating sin but pitying and yearning over the sinner, determining at his own great cost to redeem him, as we have done.
2. He had not witnessed the Savior's life as we have followed it; had not seen the Father's character and spirit reflected in that of the Son, with his tender affection, his inexhaustible patience, his matchless condescension, his generous forgiveness.
3. He did not know the story and the meaning of his death; had not had, like us, a vision of the love of God paying that great price for our redemption, bearing that burden on our behalf, pouring itself out in pain and shame and sorrow for our sake. It is at Calvary, far more than elsewhere, that we learn the blessed secret of the love of God - his love for us, our love for him. We learn:
(1) That to love God is the highest heritage of our manhood. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he;" as we think, we are; a man is great or small, noble or ignoble, according as he thinks and feels; the height of our love is the stature of our soul, is the measure of ourselves. God invites us to love him, the Highest One, and by so doing he immeasurably enriches and ennobles us. If he filled our house with gold he would only give us something pleasant to have; but in inviting us to love him he confers on us that which is blessed and noble to be.
(2) That not to have loved God is the most condemning fact of our lives. Do we say," All these [prohibitions] have we kept from our youth up: what commandment have we broken?" We reply, "The first and great commandment. Have you loved God with all your heart?" We may well bow our head in shame as we realize the poor and pitiful response we have made to the Fatherly love of God.
(3) That the fact that we can at once return to God, in filial devotion, is the best of all glad tidings. Our return to him begins in humility, goes on in faith, is completed and perfected in love.
(4) That the fact that we shall continue to love God is the brightest of all good prospects. Other things will fail us sooner or later, but "the love of God which is in Jesus Christ" in our hearts will take us everywhere, will be our refuge and defense in all emergencies, will sanctify our joy and our prosperity, will be with us at the last scenes, will cross the river with us and will be with us and in us on the other side, will be our passport to and our qualification for the brightest and broadest spheres in the heavenly kingdom. - C.
How readest thou?
(H. W. Beecher.)I. In following out this question to a satisfactory reply, we may, in the first place, inquire, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW, AND HOW WE SHOULD READ, ON THE SUBJECT OF FAITH, IN THE GOSPEL? Does not the law of God tell you what the faith of the gospel is, especially all that God has revealed respecting His Son
II. But, in the second place, we must not only TAKE WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW, IN ORDER TO OUR BELIEF, BUT IN ORDER TO OUR PRACTICE. The "law" holds out, not only testimony to be believed, but precepts to be obeyed.
III. But, in the third place, let us inquire, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING THOSE FEELINGS WHICH WE OUGHT TO CULTIVATE?
IV. But again, there is another important subject, on which it is our duty to be informed. WHAT IS WRITTEN OF THOSE ENJOYMENTS HELD OUT IN THE GOSPEL?
V. Then, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW ON THE SUBJECT OF TRUST IN THE LORD?
VI. For again, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE WORD OF GOD CONCERNING DANGER? It states, the only danger to be apprehended is, the danger arising from sin.
VII. Let us inquire, however, further, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING HOPE?
VIII. But next, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING THE TIME WHEN THE MIND SHOULD THUS GIVE ITSELF WHOLLY TO GOD?
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