Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
LOVE THE PRINCIPAL THING
"Now abide faith, hope and love; but the greatest of
these is love."
The value of resolution or decision of character is generally acknowledged. All proper instruction aims to have the youth of our land accept some high ideal, some high standard of character and course in life, and to seek to attain that ideal. Those who are without purpose, aim, ideality in life are the shiftless and unhappy; and the success of each life in respect to its happiness or failure and in respect to the happiness or misery it will bring to others in contact with it, will be in accordance with the character of the ideal accepted.
Moreover, the active, energetic, rushing people who have ideals, and are striving to attain them, frequently with advancing years experience a change of sentiment.
Often they find that their ideals have proven unsatisfactory.
Indeed, there is no doubt about it that this is the experience of the majority of the wisest people of the world. Hence by common consent the beginning of a New Year is considered a favorable time, not only for the youth of the land to make new resolutions and to start energetically to pursue an ideal, but also for those who have failed of their ideals in the past, through weakness and difficulties, to take a fresh start of resolution and determination. Additionally this is admittedly a favorable time for discarding ideals which have proven unsatisfactory, and for the seeking and acceptance of higher, nobler, better ones. Furthermore, it is a favorable time for putting into effect good resolutions. Those who fail to make such resolutions make very little progress in character-building.
What we have been considering is applicable to all mankind, but to the true Christian these things are still
more important than to the world, because the aim and the hope set before him in the Scriptures are so much higher and so much more valuable than that recognized by the world in general. And here we must differentiate between the nominal Christian and the true one. The name Christian has become synonymous with civilization in general usage, but not so in Biblical usage; and our standpoint must be that of the Scriptures. The true Christian, then, according to the Bible, is one who has recognized himself as a sinner by nature, "a child of wrath even as others," and who desires to flee from his sins and imperfections and to attain unto righteousness and eternal life. He has seen in Divine providence that our Lord Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, by whom alone he may return to Divine fellowship and love and to the gift of God, eternal life. The true Christian is one who has accepted Christ as his Redeemer, and who, while striving for righteousness and in opposition to sin within and without, is not deceived into thinking that he can do perfectly; but realizing the imperfections of his very best endeavors, he relies upon the merit of the great Redemption-sacrifice of Christ to make up for his unwilling blemishes. Because of his faith in the precious blood he is reckoned a member of the "Household of Faith," and is styled one of the "brethren."
But a Christian, in the still higher sense that the Scriptures set forth, is one who goes beyond such faith, such righteous endeavors, and hearkens to the words of the Apostle, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God, and your reasonable service." (
.) This sacrifice that the Apostle speaks of is a matter that few even of the Household of Faith understand experimentally. It means much more than to strive against sin. It means a voluntary surrender of the will, and hence of all that we possess, to the service of God and His Message of Grace. It means such
a complete revolution that those who take this step are called in the Scriptures "New Creatures in Christ Jesus," "members in particular of the Body of Christ."
Such are the "begotten again" ones, styled by the Apostles a "Royal Priesthood," a "holy nation," a "peculiar people." These enter into covenant relationship with God, by which they surrender all their rights and privileges as men that they may have the higher riches and greater privileges as spirit beings. These greater privileges will be fully entered upon at their resurrection change, but are reckonedly entered into from the time of their covenant. Of such the Apostle says, "Old things have passed away, all things have become new." (
.) The worldly aims and ambitions which once they held as their ideals have been exchanged for new ideals, Heavenly hopes, Heavenly ambitions. If once they looked upon Caesar, Napoleon or Alexander the Great, as their ideals for courage, or if once they regarded Socrates or Plato or Confucius or Shakespeare as their literary ideals, or if they looked upon a Carnegie, a Rothschild, a Rockefeller or Croesus as their financial ideals, these things have changed. They have new standards, new ideals, and new representatives of these. Not that they have lost an appreciation of wealth or honor or power or literature, but that they have gained a new standpoint of appreciation.
THINGS ONCE LOVED NOW DESPISED
So lofty are the new ideals of these "New Creatures in Christ Jesus" that their former standards are greatly depreciated. When they now think of greatness, of victories and of power, they think not of Caesar, but of Jesus—His greater victory and high exaltation to the power, glory, honor and immortality of the Heavenly Kingdom, which soon is to establish itself and rule over the world of mankind—not for selfish objects, but to the intent that all the families of the earth may be blessed.
Taking this higher ideal, and hearing the promises of the Lord through the Scriptures, these New Creatures now aspire to be "heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ their Lord." (
.) And they have the assurance of attaining a share in His glory, honor and immortality if they are but faithful—even unto death.
.) Instead of losing their appreciation of riches they get the higher appreciation, hearing the Word of the Lord, "All things are yours...for ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s." (
.) They aspire then in harmony with the Divine invitation, not only to the possession of all power but to all riches—not for selfish uses, but that they may lavish Divine favors and blessings during the Millennial Age upon the whole world of mankind, which then will enter the blessed epoch of Restitution—"Times of Restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy Prophets since the world began."—
Nor does their love for knowledge abate one whit, but rather increases, though it takes a different turn and relies for guidance upon Divine revelation rather than upon human guesswork, speculation and philosophy.
Content to admit ignorance of many things, these have an assurance that by and by they shall know even as they are known—perfectly; and that in the present time, by following the counsels of the Divine Word, they are really wise toward God, however foolish they may appear to the worldly wise. They are content to believe that the outcome will show that God is true, and will prove many so-called wise men to have been in error in many of their guesses respecting Truth.—
Still confining ourselves to the true Christian class addressed in the Scripture we find that because of difference of mental structure and varying experiences, some are inclined to put one feature of living grace in advance of another, so that there is some perplexity and difference of opinion. One tells us that his highest conception of
a consecrated life is represented by activity in the service of others in preaching or mission work. Others tell us that their highest conception of privilege as New Creatures is in providing things honest and in doing benevolent works, helping the poor with an open hand. Others tell us that their highest conception of the duty of the New Creature is the study of the Word of God, that they may understand the Divine Plan and teach it to others.
As a matter of fact, all of these are good purposes, and under certain circumstances proper enough; but none of these recognize what the Scriptures point out to be the very highest of Christian ideality.
GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT
Considering our text in connection with its context, we perceive that the Apostle has been discussing the miraculous gifts enjoyed by the early Church—granted to them of the Lord with a view to their instruction and establishment. The Apostle discusses the various gifts that were then granted to believers. One would rise in meeting possessed of power to speak in an unknown tongue which he had never studied. Another was gifted with ability to interpret or translate the message of the unknown tongue into the vernacular of the congregation.
The message thus came through two persons; and the company of the Lord’s people, not then having the Bibles and helps which we now possess and enjoy and use profitably, were drawn together by these operations of the Lord’s Holy Spirit for their instruction. Others had gifts of healing or of knowledge or of oratory.
The Apostle found the brethren of that time inclined to think of these gifts of the Spirit too highly, attaching too much importance to them. Some of them seemed to take pride especially in the gift of tongues. The Apostle assured them that he spoke in more tongues than any of them—that he had more of the various gifts than any of them; but that he did not esteem these his highest
treasures nor the most noble marks of his being the servant of the King of kings. He says in substance, It is proper enough for you to esteem these gifts and to seek to use them and to desire the most useful of them. He tells them that the gift of prophecy or public speaking would be the most useful of all gifts, because its opportunity for influencing others would be the greatest.
Hence he advised them that amongst the gifts they would choose this rather than the unknown tongue. Pointing out that all the gifts of God are good, he declares that God has set some in the Church, first Apostles; secondarily prophets, orators; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles; then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversity of tongues. He thus ranks the gift of tongues, which they thought so much of, as the very last of all the gifts, and says, "Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts, and yet I show unto you a more excellent way"—something better than any of these gifts.
FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT SUPERIOR TO GIFTS
The fruits of the Spirit are those developments which come to us as New Creatures in Christ, gradually growing daily, yearly. The fruits of the Spirit are manifest, namely, Faith, Hope, Meekness, Patience, Gentleness, Long Suffering, Brotherly Kindness, Love. These are gifts in one sense of the word, but fruits in another. As the fruit of the tree is the gift to its owner and caretaker, so is the fruitage of the new nature. These fruits of the Spirit represent a development of character under Divine guidance and by Divine assistance, and are therefore far superior to those miraculous gifts of the early Church which indicated no special character development but were merely to be witnesses and encouragements.
Seeking to discourage a too great appreciation of the gifts in the early Church, and to encourage an appreciation of the higher things, the Apostle contrasts the
two, saying that the gifts would pass away but that the developed fruits would remain, prophecies would cease, the gift of tongues would cease, knowledge would vanish away as greater knowledge would come, but faith and hope and love, these three would abide, would continue.
And it has been so; miraculous gifts imparted through the laying on of the hands of the Apostles necessarily ceased when the last of the Apostles had died and when those died who had received these special gifts through them. But all down through the Gospel Age, for centuries, faith has persisted, hope has persisted, love has persisted, and these three we still have; and whoever has these three—with what they include—is rich in grace beyond all comparison with those who had the gifts of the Spirit at the beginning of this Gospel Age.
FAITH, HOPE, LOVE
We yield to no one in our appreciation of the value of faith—a correct faith, faith in God, faith in the precious blood, faith in the Bible as the Word of God, faith in the exceeding great and precious promises. We realize that without such a faith we could never be conquerors, overcomers, but would succumb either to the wiles of the Adversary or to the spirit of the world or to the weakness of our own flesh. The proper faith is an anchor to our souls, sure and steadfast, entering in within the veil and holding us serene in all the storms and difficulties of the journey to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Hope also is a necessary element of Christian character; it is built upon our faith. Without faith we cannot have hope. Hope is faith in activity; it is the anchor within the veil. Faith is the cable by which we are held firmly to it. Who does not see the importance of holding fast, being well anchored in the hopes and promises given us by our Lord directly and through the Apostles and Prophets. Ah! we must hold both to our faith and hope—nothing can persuade us that these are unimportant,
trivial. As the Apostle declares, these have abode throughout the Age.
But when he speaks of love, the Apostle declares that it is the greatest of all. Why? we ask. Indeed many would be inclined to suppose that love would be much less important than any other quality. They speak of rugged, rude faith and hope, and of rugged characters whose lives represent little of love. Where shall we set our standards, our ideals as New Creatures? What shall we strive for most particularly? The Apostle’s declaration is that love is the greatest of these great qualities; but his advice is very contrary to the sentiment of the world. It tells us that if we have love, we cannot be successful, that the quality would interfere with us whatever our ideals might be. From the world’s standpoint love would hinder a politician from crushing down others that he might rise to prominence himself; love would hinder the merchant from crushing his competitors that he might amass the larger fortune. Large love for others, they tell us, would lead us to esteem others better than ourselves, and mean that we would be hindered in the great race that is going on amongst men for riches and honor and power. Shall we heed to the world’s advice or shall we follow the Divinely inspired testimony of the Apostle?
The two standpoints are totally different. The New Creatures cannot follow the advice of the world; to do so would be to renounce and deny all the new ideals we have accepted, and toward which we have been laboring.
If as New Creatures we would gain the great prize of our calling in Christ Jesus, we must hearken to Him that speaketh from Heaven; we must hearken to the words of the Lord through the Apostles and Prophets; we must note our Master’s testimony, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another"; "Herein shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one for another." (
further message through the Apostle is, "Love is the fulfilling of the Law"; and again, in our text, "Love is the principal thing," the greatest thing in the world.
The New Creature must attain this character of love; for all of his hopes depend upon his attaining this character-likeness of his Lord. Otherwise he will not be fit for the Kingdom or be granted a place in the elect Little Flock, which is to inherit it and to be used of the Lord during the Millennium for the blessing and uplifting of the world in general out of sin, degradation and death. Love is the principal thing, then; for whatever knowledge we might gain, whatever talents we might possess, whatever faith, whatever hope, none of these could bring us to the Kingdom. They can all merely assist us in developing this love-character which is the Kingdom test—the fulfilling of the Law. Nor do we mean that the perfection of love-character can be manifest in our fallen flesh. Its weakness, its kinks, its peculiarities are hindrances so that the Apostle declares, "We cannot do the things that we would." (
.) But our hearts must be up to this love standard; we must will lovingly. In our hearts we must love the Lord supremely, we must love the brethren, we must love our neighbors, we must love our enemies; and if we so do, the effect will be that so much as lieth in us this love will be manifested to others in our words, in our looks, in our tones, in our actions. Whatever imperfection there is in the matter must not be of the heart but merely of the flesh, and such imperfection because of heredity is counted a part of what our Lord redeemed us from and the merit of His sacrifice is counted as covering all those unwilling blemishes so that the love of our hearts carried out in our lives to the extent of our ability is counted of the Lord as perfect love—perfection of character.
Such are counted copies of God’s dear Son, who was in turn a copy of the Father, an image of God—"the express image of His glorious person."—
WHAT IS LOVE?
We answer that love is perfection of character. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God" —is fully in accord with God, and hence in the condition pleasing to the Father, the condition the Father is pleased to recognize and bless with eternal life. According to His covenant with those who have become the followers of Jesus, He is pledged to give them upon demonstration of this character, glory, honor and immortality in association with their Redeemer.—
Let us take the analysis of love that is given by the Apostle. One of its elements is meekness. There is a difference between meekness and weakness; Moses was a meek man but a very strong character. He was humble-minded, not boastful, not proud or haughty. So with the New Creatures who have this quality of meekness, from the Divine standpoint. Gentleness is another element of love. It does not signify weakness or fear. The Christian man is, therefore, the true gentleman, the Christian woman the true gentlewoman—the highest ideals of these. The world may feign a gentleness which it does not really possess, but the gentleness of the Christian is a part of his character of love. It is because he thinks lovingly, considerately, of others that he is gentle towards all, seeking to walk with soft tread that he may not disturb others, to touch not rudely, but gently that he may avoid the giving of pain to others, to speak not rudely or harshly, but kindly and gently that he may not wound others.
Patience is another element of love and a part of the true Christian character. True, we often see great patience in merchants, clerks, etc., exercised merely for policy’s sake—for fear a good customer might be offended and dollars be missed. But the Christian’s patience is of an unselfish kind; for it is a part of love, a part of his disposition. In proportion as he has sympathy and kindness, love, he is disposed to wait, to assist
with patience those who at first fail to come up to his ideals. He remembers his own trials and difficulties along these lines; and his broad, sympathetic love enables him to exercise much patience with those who are out of the way and who have not yet seen and have not yet learned to overcome difficulties and hindrances.
Brotherly kindness is another element of love. It is the kindness that ought always to prevail amongst true brethren, but in the Christian this kindness so appropriate to a brother is to be such a heart condition that it will be applied to all men. In this he is copying the Lord, who is kind to the unthankful, the ungrateful. All these qualities the Apostle sums up in the one word, Love, because love includes every kind of gentleness and kindness imaginable—and love must be the basis of such conduct in order that it may have value in God’s sight.
"WITHOUT LOVE I AM NOTHING"
Emphasizing the importance of love in the forepart of the chapter from which our text is taken, the Apostle declares that if he could speak all the languages known amongst men and the angelic tongue as well, and if he used these talents in preaching, if his preaching were not inspired by love, it would be nothing—God would esteem it no more than the sound proceeding from cymbals or any brass instrument. God has not glory, honor and immortality for brass horns and brass cymbals; and if a man should preach the whole Truth in all its grandeur, yet without the spirit of love he would be, nevertheless, as unfit for Divine favor and a share in the Kingdom as the brass horn would be. No place in the Kingdom would be found for such. What a lesson for us all as we attempt to sound forth the praises of Him who hath called us from darkness to light! How necessary it is that we shall speak the Truth in the love of it, with hearts full of devotion and appreciation!
Taking another illustration, the Apostle suggests that if he had mountain-moving faith, if his knowledge of
Divine mysteries and all other mysteries were very great, superior to those of all other men, and even if in his zeal for man or for God he should become a martyr and permit his body to be burned, yet, notwithstanding all this, if the primary influence in these matters were not love, all the sacrifice, all the self-denials, all the labors, even the burning, would profit nothing. Ah, dear friends, when we come to get the Divine standpoint of things we find indeed that it is very high; and yet our judgment assures us that it is right, that it is just, that it is proper, that God should thus set the standard of love as the only standard by which we shall ultimately be measured. But whoever thinks to have this perfect love for God and for man and make no manifestations of it is equally mistaken.
Wherever love is in the heart words, works, thoughts and looks will testify to it, so that he who loves much will serve much. If we love the Lord we shall delight in His service regardless of failures, regardless of fame, regardless of any earthly consideration; yea, even though the service of the Lord should cause us the loss of human approbation, fellowship, etc. The language of love is well expressed in our dear Redeemer’s words, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within in my heart." (
Hence every true Christian may link the two words love and service, and be sure that his love will manifest itself in zeal. Similarly, love of the brethren will mean a desire to serve the brethren; love of the home and family will mean a desire to do good to them; love of our neighbor will signify a desire to do for his interests according to our knowledge and limitations.
THE RESTRAINTS OF LOVE
The Apostle points out some of the restraints of love.
It cannot be quick, irascible; for "Love suffereth long and is kind." He who is loving cannot be envious of others, nor covetous of the blessings and favors they are enjoying; for "Love envieth not." He who is loving cannot be boastful and proud; for "Love vaunteth not itself, is not
puffed up." He who is controlled by the spirit of love will not be ungracious, unkind, rude; for "Love doth not behave itself unseemly." He who is full of the spirit of love will not be selfish, grasping, neglectful of the interests of others; for "Love seeketh not her own" merely.
The truly loving one will not be quickly angered, will not be easily offended; for "Love is not easily provoked."
The one controlled by the spirit of love will not be imagining unkindness and rudeness nor seeking to interpret the words or conduct of others unkindly; for "Love thinketh no evil."
He who has the spirit of love will have no satisfaction in the adversities coming upon those who are even his enemies; for "Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." He who has the spirit of love regulating his heart, his words, his thoughts, his actions, the Apostle declares will be ready to "bear all things" and ready to believe everything that is favorable and all that is possible of good, and will be disposed to hope always for the best outcome in respect to all with whom he may have to do. He will be ready also to "endure all things," to submit to many unkindnesses and to credit these largely to weakness or poor judgment or fallen nature.
"LOVE NEVER FAILETH"
Faith will fail in the sense of ceasing when the present time of limitations of knowledge has passed; for then, instead of faith, we shall have sight. Hope will then also reach a glorious consummation; for instead of the hope for the things God has promised us we shall then have them. But "love never faileth," will never cease. Whoever then attains this glorious character of love has a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It will beautify his own character, make him lovely in the sight of his Lord and be the quality that will bring him the Master’s words, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord; thou hath been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things." Thou
hast faithfully developed My spirit of love in the little things of life. I can therefore now give you greater things to do in My service in glory, in the blessing of others. This character of love, essential to Divine favor, will be essential to the eternal life and eternal happiness of the individual. For God to give eternal life to any others than those who have the perfection of this His own character would be to permit an element in Heaven which sooner or later would be in danger of working mischief and bringing in works of selfishness, sin and injury.
This love-standard of character, which is now being developed in the saints in the few short years of the present trial time, must be developed also in the world of mankind—in all who will ever attain to eternal life during the Millennial Age. One difference is that they will have a thousand years for the development of such character while we of the present time have a much shorter period in which to make our calling and election sure by such character development. But then, if our trial is briefer and therefore more rigorous, it also has attached to it the still greater reward of a share in the Divine nature—glory, honor, immortality. Let us, then, dear friends, resolve for this year that we will strive for the principal thing; that the love of God may more and more be shed abroad in our hearts and that we may come more and more into heart-likeness to Him and so far as possible exemplify this character in our outward words, deeds and looks. Thus we shall attain the highest ideals, God’s ideal, and the greatest blessing—God’s blessing.
Finish, Lord, Thy New Creation; Pure and spotless let us be; Show us all Thy great salvation— Thine shall all the glory be.
Changed from glory into glory, Till we see Thine own dear face; Till we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise.