A GODLY MAN IS A LOVER OF THE SAINTS
The best way to discern grace in oneself—is to love grace in others: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). What is religion—but a knitting together of hearts? Faith knits us to God—and love knits us one to another. There is a twofold love to others:
A civil love. A godly man has a love of civility to all: “Abraham stood up, and bowed to the children of Heth” (Gen. 23:7). Though they were extraneous and not within the pale of the covenant—yet Abraham was affable to them. Grace sweetens and refines nature. “Be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pet. 3:8). We are to have a love of civility to all:
(1) Because they are of the same clay, of the same lump and mold with ourselves and are a piece of God’s intricate needlework.
(2) Because our sweet deportment towards them may be a means to win them over and put them in love with the ways of God. Morose, crude behavior, often alienates the hearts of others and hardens them most against holiness, whereas loving behavior is very obliging and may be like a loadstone to draw them to true religion.
A pious and a holy love. This, a godly man has chiefly for those who are “of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). The first was a love of courtesy, this of delight. Our love to the saints (says Augustine) should be more than to our natural relations, because the bond of the Spirit is closer than that of blood. This love to the saints which shows a man to be godly must have seven ingredients in it:
(1) Love to the saints must be SINCERE. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue—but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). The honey that drops from the comb is pure; so love must be pure, without deceit. Many are like Naphtali: “He gives goodly words” (Gen. 49:21). Pretended love is like a painted fire, which has no heat in it. Some hide malice under a false veil of love. I have read of Antoninus the Emperor that where he made a show of friendship, he intended the most mischief.
(2) Love to the saints must be SPIRITUAL. We must love them because they are saints, not out of self-respect because they are affable or have been kind to us.
But we must love them from spiritual considerations, because of the good that is in them. We are to reverence their holiness, else it is a carnal love.
(3) Love to the saints must be EXTENSIVE. We must love all who bear God’s image:
(a) We must love the saints, though they have many infirmities. A Christian in this life is like a good face full of freckles. You who cannot love another because of his imperfections, have never yet seen your own face in the mirror. Your brother’s infirmities may make you pity him; his graces must make you love him.
(b) We must love the saints, though in some things they do not agree with us. Another Christian may differ from me in lesser matters, either because he has more light than I, or because he has less light. If he differs from me because he has more light, then I have no reason to censure him. If he differs from me because he has less light, then I ought to bear with him as the weaker vessel. In things of an indifferent nature, there ought to be Christian forbearance.
(c) We must love the saints, though their graces outvie and surpass ours. We ought to bless God for the eminence of another’s grace, because hereby religion is honored. Pride is not quite slain in a believer. Saints themselves are apt to grudge and repine at each other’s excellences. Is it not strange that the same person should hate one man for his sin and envy another for his virtue? Christians need to look to their hearts. Love is right and genuine, when we can rejoice in the graces of others though they seem to eclipse ours.
(4) Love to the saints must be APPRECIATING. We must esteem them above others: “He honors those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 15:4). We are to look upon the wicked as chaff—but upon the saints as jewels. These must be had in high veneration.
(5) Love to the saints must be SOCIAL. We should delight in their company: “I am a companion of all those who fear you” (Psalm 119:63). It is a kind of hell to be in the company of the wicked, where we cannot choose but hear God’s name dishonored. It was a capital crime to carry the image of Tiberius, engraved on a ring or coin, into any sordid place. Those who have the image of God engraved on them should not go into any sinful, sordid company. I have only ever read of two living people who desired to keep company with the dead, and they were possessed by the devil (Matt. 8:28). What comfort can a living Christian have from conversing with the dead (Jude 12)? But the society of saints is desirable. This is not to walk “among the tombs”—but “among beds of spices.” Believers are Christ’s garden; their graces are the flowers; their savory discourse is the fragrant scent of these flowers.
(6) Love to the saints must be DEMONSTRATIVE. We should be ready to do all offices of love to them, vindicate their names, contribute to their necessities and, like the good Samaritan, pour oil and wine into their wounds (Luke 10:34,35). Love cannot be concealed—but is active in its sphere and will lay itself out for the good of others.
(7) Love to the saints must be CONSTANT. “He who dwells in love” (1 John 4:16). Our love must not only lodge for a night—but we must dwell in love: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). As love must be sincere, without hypocrisy; so it must be constant, without deficiency. Love must be like the pulse, always beating, not like those Galatians who at one time were ready to pluck out their eyes for Paul (Gal. 4:15) and afterwards were ready to pluck out his eyes. Love should expire only with our life. And surely if our love to the saints is thus divinely qualified, we may hopefully conclude that we are enrolled among the godly. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you have love one to another” (John 13:35).
What induces a godly man to love the saints is the fact that he is closely related to them. There ought to be love among relations; there is a spiritual kinship among believers. They all have one head, therefore should all have one heart. They are stones of the same building (1 Pet. 2:5), and shall not these stones be cemented together with love?
Use 1: If it is the distinguishing mark of a godly man to be a lover of the saints, then how sad it is to see this grace of love in eclipse! This characteristic of godliness is almost blotted out among Christians. England was once a fair garden where the flower of love grew—but surely now this flower is either plucked, or withered. Where is that amity and unity which there should be among Christians? I appeal to you—would there be that censuring and despising, that reproaching and undermining one another—if there were love? Instead of bitter tears, there are bitter spirits. It is a sign that iniquity abounds when the love of many grows cold. There is that distance among some professing Christians as if they had not received the same Spirit, or as if they did not hope for the same heaven. In primitive times there was so much love among the godly—that it set the heathen wondering; and now there is so little love—that it may set Christians blushing.
Use 2: As we would be written down for saints in God’s calendar, let us love the brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17). Those who shall one day live together, should love together. What is it that makes a disciple, but love (John 13:35)? The devil has knowledge—but that which makes him a devil is that he lacks love. To persuade Christians to love, consider:
(1) The saints have that in them which may make us love them. They are the intricate embroidery and workmanship of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:10). They have those rare lineaments of grace that none but a pencil from heaven could draw. Their eyes sparkle forth beauty, “their breasts are like clusters of grapes” (Song 7:7). This makes Christ himself delight in his spouse: “The king is held in the galleries” (Song 7:5). The church is the daughter of a prince (Song 7:1). She is waited on by angels (Heb 1:14). She has a palace of glory reserved for her (John 14:2), and may not all this draw forth our love?
(2) Consider how evil it is for saints not to love:
(a) It is UNNATURAL. The saints are Christ’s lambs (John 21:15). For a dog to worry a lamb is usual—but for one lamb to worry another is unnatural. The saints are brethren (1 Peter 3:8). How barbarous it is for brethren not to love!
(b) Not to love is a FOOLISH thing. Have not God’s people enemies enough, that they should fly in the faces of one another? The wicked confederate against the godly: “They have taken crafty counsel against your people” (Psalm 83:3). Though there may be a private grudge between such as are wicked—yet they will all agree and unite against the saints. If two greyhounds are snarling at a bone and you put a hare between them, they will leave the bone and chase the hare. So if wicked men have private differences among themselves, and the godly are near them, they will leave snarling at one another and chase the godly. Now, when God’s people have so many enemies abroad, who watch for their halting and are glad when they can do them a mischief, shall the saints fall out and divide into parties among themselves?
(3) Not to love is very UNSEASONABLE. God’s people are in a common calamity. They all suffer in the cause of the gospel, and for them to disagree is altogether unseasonable. Why does the Lord bring his people together in affliction, except to bring them together in affection? Metals will unite in a furnace. If ever Christians unite, it should be in the furnace of affliction. Chrysostom compares affliction to a shepherd’s dog, which makes all the sheep run together. God’s rod has this loud voice in it: “Love one another.” How unworthy it is when Christians are suffering together, to be then striving together.
(4) Not to love is very SINFUL.
(a) For saints not to love, is to live in contradiction to Scripture. The apostle is continually plucking this string of love, as if it made the sweetest music in religion: “This commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). (See also Romans 13:8; Col. 3:14; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11). Not to love is to walk contrary to the Word. Can he who goes against the rules of medicine, be a good physician? Can he who goes against the rules of piety, be a good Christian?
(b) Lack of love among Christians greatly silences the spirit of prayer. Hot passions make cold prayers. Where animosities and contentions prevail, instead of praying for one another, Christians will be ready to pray against one another, like the disciples who prayed for fire from heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54). And will God, do you think, hear such prayers as come from a wrathful heart? Will he eat our leavened bread? Will he accept those duties which are soured with bitterness of spirit? Shall that prayer which is offered with the strange fire of our sinful passions, ever go up as incense?
(c) These heart-burnings hinder the progress of piety in our own souls. The flower of grace will not grow in a wrathful heart. The body may as soon thrive, while it has the plague—as a soul can thrive, which is infected with malice. While Christians are debating, grace is abating. As the spleen grows, health decays. As hatred increases, holiness declines.
(5) Not to love is very FATAL. The differences among God’s people portend ruin. All mischiefs come in at this gap of division (Matt. 12:25). Animosities among saints may make God leave his temple: “the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood upon the threshold” (Ezek. 10:4). Does not God seem to stand upon the threshold of his house, as if he were taking wings to fly? And woe to us if God departs from us (Hos. 9:12)! If the master leaves the ship, it is nearly sinking indeed. If God leaves a land, it must of necessity sink in ruin.
Question: How shall we attain this excellent grace of love?
Answer 1: Beware of the devil’s couriers—I mean such as run on his errand, and make it their work to blow the coals of contention among Christians, and render one party odious to another.
Answer 2: Keep up friendly meetings. Christians should not be shy of one another, as if they had the plague.
Answer 3: Let us plead that promise: “I will give them one heart, and one way” (Jer. 32:39). Let us pray that there may be no contests among Christians, except as to who shall love most. Let us pray that God will divide Babylon—and unite Zion.
Use 3: Is it a mark of a godly man to love the saints? Then those who hate the saints must stand indicted as ungodly. The wicked have an implacable malice against God’s people, and how can antipathies be reconciled? To hate the holy children of God, is a brand of the reprobate. Those who malign the godly, are the curse of creation. If all the scalding drops from God’s vial will make them miserable—they shall be so! Never did any who were the haters and persecutors of saints thrive at that trade. What became of Julian, Diocletian, Maximinus, Valerian, Cardinal Crescentius and others? They are standing monuments of God’s vengeance! “Calamity will surely overtake the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. ” (Psalm 34:21).