Monday, November 16, 2009

Charity, the Sum of All Virtues - Part Two


Charity and Its Fruits
(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Application" portion of Lecture 1. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Two in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below will follow Edwards' own outline directly, with my commentary inserted in green. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even to those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

Application

In the application of this subject, we may use it in the way of self-examination, instruction, and exhortation. And,

1. In view of it, let us examine ourselves, and see if we have the spirit which it enjoins....

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him." 1 John. 5:1
"Have we this love to all who are the children of God?"
"And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
"Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."
Rev. 15:2-4
"Do we thus delight in God, and rejoice in his worship, and in magnifying his holy name?"
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him..." 1 John 3:16-19
"Is this the spirit, which dwelt in Jesus Christ, the spirit that reigns in our hearts, and is seen in our daily life?"

2. In the way of instruction.
  • First,"This doctrine shews us what is the right Christian spirit.
"...it is plain that this spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit that the gospel revelation does especially hold forth motives and inducements to; and this is especially and eminently the Christian spirit - the right spirit of the gospel."
"...the spirit of divine and Christian love...is much more insisted on in the New Testament, than anything that concerns either our duty or our moral state....This spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit that God holds forth greater motives in the gospel to induce us to, than to any other thing whatever. The work of redemption which the gospel makes known, above all things affords motives to love; for that work was the most glorious and wonderful exhibition of love that ever was seen or heard of. Love is the principal thing that the gospel dwells on when speaking of God, and of Christ. It brings to light the love eternally existing between the Father and the Son, and declares how that same love has bee manifested in many things....There it is revealed how the Father and Son are one in love, that we might be induced, in the like spirit, to be one with them, and with one another, agreeable to Christ's prayer in John 17:21-23....The gospel also declares to us that the love of God was from everlasting, and reminds us that he loved those that are redeemed by Christ, before the foundation of the world; and that he gave them to the Son; and that the Son loved them as his own....And all this love is spoken of as bestowed on us while we were wanderers, outcasts, worthless, guilty, and even enemies...."
[See also John 15:13 and Romans 5:7-10]
  • Second, "If it is indeed so, that all that is saving and distinguishing in a true Christian, is summarily comprehended in love, then professors of Christianity may in this be taught as to their experiences, whether they are real Christian experiences or not. If they are so, then love is the sum and substance of them."
In other words, we can evaluate our experience as Christians both on the large scale, judging whether we have reason to believe we are truly Christians at all, and on the small scale, evaluating particular behaviors and relationships to discover whether they are the product of Christian love, some lesser motive.

"If persons have the true light of heaven let into their souls, it is not a light without heat. Divine knowledge and divine love go together. A spiritual view of divine things always excites love in the soul, and draws forth the heart in love to every proper object. True discoveries of the divine character dispose us to love God as the supreme good; they unite the heart in love to Christ; they incline the soul to flow out in love to God's people, and to all mankind. When persons have a true discovery of the excellency and sufficiency of Christ, this is the effect....When persons experience a true trust and reliance on Christ, they rely on him with love, and so do it with delight and sweet acquiescence of soul....When persons experience true comfort and spiritual joy, their joy is the joy of faith and love. They do not rejoice in themselves, but it is God who is their exceeding joy."
  • Third, "This doctrine shews the amiableness of a Christian spirit. A spirit of love is an amiable spirit.  It is the spirit of Jesus Christ - it is the spirit of heaven."
Is your behavior amiable? Would your attitude and behavior seem out of place in heaven?



  • Fourth, "This doctrine shews the pleasantness of a Christian life...a life of love is a pleasant life."
"Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding..." Prov. 3:13
"Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace." Prov. 3:17
  • Fifth, "Hence we may learn the reason why contention tends so much to the ruin of religion.
Scripture teaches the danger of contention:

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." James 3:16
"But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice,have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." Titus 3: 9-11

Experience also teaches its dangers:
"When contention comes into a place, it seems to prevent all good. And if religion has been flourishing before, it presently seems to chill and deaden it; and everything that is bad begins to flourish....religion and contention cannot live together."
  • Sixth, "Hence, then what a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy, and malice, and every kind of bitterness of spirit towards their neighbors! For these things are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity.




    "They should suppress the first beginnings of ill-will and bitterness and envy; watch strictly against all occasions of such a spirit; strive and fight to the utmost against such a temper as tends that way; and avoid, as much as possible, all temptations that may lead to it. A christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God.
    An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!"




  • Seventh, Hence it is no wonder that Christianity so strongly requires us to love our enemies, even the worst of enemies? For love is the very temper and spirit of a Christian: it is the sum of Christianity." 
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Mt. 5:44

3. Our Subject exhorts us to seek a spirit of love; to grow in it more and more; and very much to abound in the works of love.

Take some time to meditate on the series of questions Edwards poses here. How are you doing in your labor of love? Where do your most glaring failures lie? Are there particular individuals for whom you find love hard to come by? What do you think needs your most attention at this time in your life? Make these particular issues matters for focused prayer during the time of our study.
  • If you call yourself a Christian, where are your works of love?
  • Have you abounded, and do you abound in them?
  • If this divine and holy principle is in you, and reigns in you, will it not appear in your life in works of love?
  • Consider, what deeds of love have you done?
  • Do you love God?
  • What have you done for him, for his glory, for the advancement of his kingdom in the world?
  • And how much have you denied yourself to promote the Redeemer's interest among men?
  • Do you love your fellow-men? 
  • What have you done for them?
"Consider your former defects in these respects, and how becoming it is in you, as a Christian, hereafter to abound more in deeds of love. Do not make excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water, it will send forth streams. Consider that as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labor of love is the main business of the Christian life." (emphasis mine)

Anyone who has ever been in love, or held their newborn child in their arms, knows the truth of these words. Our love for that one will occupy our thoughts. Our concern will be for them. Our desire will be to spend our time with them and help them in any way we can. Often what we do for them will be done with sheer delight and without a sense of obligation. (Though obligation does exist, it will seem like nothing at all, completely unnecessary.)
Since becoming a Christian, is there a difference in your love for others - a marked improvement? Do your see the self-sacrificing love of Christ (even for His enemies) as beautiful? Is it so lovely in your eyes that you wish to emulate it?  Is that your heart's desire? Are you growing in love?

 (Text in black is quoted directly from Edwards.  Scripture is quoted in red.  My thoughts are rendered in green.)

4 comments:

Jessica Watson said...

"If you heart is full of love, it will vent." What a radical, revolutionary doctrine!

Lisa notes... said...

The questions challenge me, as does your analogy of how we love our babies. I think I too often do good things out of guilt instead of out of love. I "know" it's the right thing to do, and I want to do the right thing, so I do it.

But I don't necessarily "delight" in some of those things I do. Granted, I realize I need to keep doing good things anyway, but I want my heart's motive to be more from that sense of sheer delight instead of from obligation.

Even when my babies were small and I didn't "delight" in getting up in the middle of the night, I didn't complain about it as an "obligation." There's a difference. So I recognize I have lots of room for growth in the area of loving others with a purer heart.

As always, a very thorough summary. Thanks, Laurie. And thanks for your comment on my post. I struggled more than usual in putting in into simple terms.

Moving on to Chapter 2...

Estelle Lobban said...

Jonathan Edward's notes (application) and then your summary really stretched me in regard to the most important principle of love, Laurie.
I made up my mind to be as honest as possible in the excercise of evaluation and testing. Also, to repent, rather than to lose heart. One of your questions was something like this: "Do I love all the children of God?" Some Christians are dead easy to love, but I met someone at church on Sunday and it was a struggle - as I'm sure it is sometimes a struggle for others to love me. My question is: do we have to love all Christians with the same amount of love?

Laurie M. said...

Estelle,
Perhaps we should revisit your question toward the end of the reading. I don't think it's humanly possible to have the same feelings toward every person. Each person evokes different responses from us. I think as long as we are in this flesh that will be unavoidable. I can't say I have a total grasp of how exactly this love will look or feel.

I do think, though, that our goal should be to love one another in such a way that in spite of how they make us feel we always want the best for them - to see them cared for and full of the hope that comes from the Gospel. We will want to see them grow in grace. We will want to like them and care for them more, even when we don't. I know, as a mother, that there have been times when I have not liked one or the other of my children, and even not wanted to be in the same room with them. All the while, however, I've loved them - although not perfectly - and hoped desperately for things to improve.

I also have had to deal with individuals in my Christian life who I've admittedly sometimes wanted no part of - ever. I know that attitude, the not caring if they repent or not, or whether they grow in Christ or not, is a sinful one. That is no kind of love at all. When I find myself that way I have to turn back to the Gospel, and the wretch that I was before the grace of God invaded my heart.

The reason I undertook this particular study is because I recognize my need for growth in this area. My prayer is that we will all grow together as we study and will have stories to tell, when all is said and done, of changed attitudes, renewed joy in Christ, and revitalized testimonies toward the world.