George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Perfecting Power of Love
Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness--Col 3:14
Paul, an Apostle of Love
We are accustomed to think of Paul as a dogmatic writer, never so happy as when immersed in argument, but we must not forget with what affecting tenderness he has written of the grace of love. Great intellectual strength like that of Paul is often intolerant of tender feeling. Moving along the lines of demonstration, it disdains the heart as a true source of knowledge; but from that temptation Paul is entirely free for while he is the very prince of reasoners, he insists with ever increasing emphasis on the power and the primacy of love. It is not John, it is Paul who tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law. It is Paul who writes that wonderful hymn of love which we find in the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians. So here it is Paul who, after a noble passage describing our death and life in Jesus Christ, bids us put on the bond of charity.
Love Beautifies and Perfects Every Other Grace
Now a word or two will explain to us the figure which the apostle uses to convey his meaning: "Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." The picture in the apostle's mind is that of one who is putting on his raiment. He sees a man throwing around his body the loose and flowing garments of antiquity. And then it occurs to him that these loose garments, no matter how fine or beautiful they be, can never be worn with comfort or grace unless they are clasped together with a girdle. Without that girdle drawing all together, they hamper and hinder a man at every turn. It is the perfect bond of robe and tunic, the final touch that makes them serviceable. And so, says Paul, is it with love; it is the girdle of every other grace; it is the final touch that beautifies the whole and makes every garment of the spirit perfect. Under the figure, then, there lies one thought--it is the thought of the perfecting of love. Love is the girdle binding all together and giving to everything its proper beauty. On that, then, I want to dwell a little; on love, not in its inherent qualities but in its singular and incommunicable power of perfecting everything that clothes our being.
Love Is Needed for the Perfecting of Gifts
How true this is of spiritual gifts we learn from the first epistle to the Corinthians. That church at Corinth was very rich in gifts; so rich, that there was trouble over them. One had the gift of prophecy and one of prayer; one had the gift of tongues and one of healing; and every man in the ardor of the spirit was claiming for his own gift a proud preeminence until at last the danger grew so great and the scandal of bickering so soul-destroying that the Corinthian Christians wrote to Paul begging him for his advice and guidance. What was the counsel which the apostle gave? First, he said, covet earnestly the best gifts. Remember, he means, that though all gifts are of God, yet all are not equal in spiritual value. But then immediately he turns from that as though it were too hard for these Corinthians, and he says "and yet I show you a more excellent way"--and that more excellent way is love. It is thus that Paul introduces that great chapter in which he glorifies the powers of love. There will be no more trouble about spiritual gifts if love is the girdle which includes them all. Without love, the graces of the spirit will irritate like flowing garments in the gale. Love is the perfect bond which makes them serviceable, keeping each in its peculiar place.
Not only is this true of spiritual gifts; it is true of artistic and intellectual gifts. Over them all a man must put on love, for love is the final touch that perfects them. Take for example the happy gift of song which God has bestowed so freely on His children. We have all listened, I take it, to some singers who have set us wondering at their perfect art. Artistically there was not a flaw to find; there was consummate mastery and perfect execution, and yet the song somehow failed to move us or to strike a responsive chord within our breast. The gift was there--that no one would deny--and it had been trained with splendid perseverance, but there was one thing lacking to complete it and that was the perfecting impress of the heart. You can arrest and dazzle without love, but without love you cannot charm or win. You cannot open these ivory and golden gates that lead to the secret places of the soul. Hence a poor gift, if there be love behind it, will set the eye glistening with tears while the most brilliant gift, flit be loveless, will leave us wondering and leave us cold. I have heard preachers whose intellectual gifts were such that any man might covet them. Yet they never moved me to abhor the wrong or kindled me to joy in what was fair. But I have heard others whose gifts were not remarkable but who were on fire with love to God and man, and there was a power about their simplest word that made a man ashamed of his poor life. My brother and sister, whatever be your gift, over that gift put on the belt of love. Covet earnestly the best gifts, but covet love to beautify them all. Study is noble, and discipline is good, and perseverance is a heroic virtue; but in all the range of gifts there is not one that does not call for love to perfect it.
Love Perfects Service
If one were asked to explain what life is, it might be difficult to give an answer. Perhaps we get nearest to life's deepest meaning when we interpret it in terms of service. All life is service. We all must serve to live. Obedience is the first condition of all progress. Hence Christ, the consummation of humanity, was among men as one who serveth.
Service of Necessity
Now I think that when we look at service, we can distinguish three ascending stages in it. In the first place, and on the lowest stage, we discover the service of necessity. There are many things which we are forced to do and which we would never dream of doing were we free. They meet us in the performance of our work perhaps, and we would gladly shirk them if we could. But we cannot shirk them if we wish to live, they are part of the terms on which we have our being; they are the very condition of existence and not to render them would be suicide. Such service to which we are compelled is the poorest and the lowest form of service. True, it is dignified when it is bravely borne and carried through in an unmurmuring way. But the very fact that it is forced upon us and would be at once rejected were we free, invests it with a certain meanness and robs it of liberty and of delight.
Service of Duly
The next stage is the service of duty--all that we do because it is our duty. It is the service we render not because we must. It is the service we give because we ought. It, too, may be uncongenial service--not at all what we should have chosen for ourselves, and we may think it hard that we should have been summoned to bear such burdens or carry through such tasks. But conscience tells us it is the path for us, and so we pray to God to strengthen us and then, with whatever manhood we possess, we go quietly forward on the path of duty. There is always something noble in that service, yet it is hardly the highest kind of service. There is a lack of joy in it--a lack of music--there is not the gladsomeness as of a happy child. Something is wanting to make the service perfect, to make it a thing of beauty and a joy forever, and what it lacks to crown it with delight is the final touch of love. It is love that makes every service perfect. It is love that turns the task into delight. Love never asks how little can I do. Love always asks how much. And that is why in all the range of service there is no service like that inspired by love, whether the love of a mother for her children or that of Jesus Christ for all mankind.
I might illustrate this ascending scale of service by an imagined case from our old customs. Think, then, of some young man a hundred years ago drafted into the service of the navy. Caught by the draft and torn away from home, how intolerable that service must have seemed! For a time, it would be the bitterest of drudgery performed with many a muttering and curse. There was no escape--it had to be performed--the lash and the irons followed disobedience; that, in the harshest and extremist sense, was the service of necessity. But can we not imagine that young man rousing himself into a worthier mood? At the call of danger he would forget his bondage and think of the peril of his native land. And patriotic feelings would arise and his duty to his country would awake, and now his service would be a nobler thing because it was the service of his duty. But now suppose that a young man like that had sailed in the same vessel with Lord Nelson and had learned to love Nelson with that devoted love which filled the breast of every man who sailed with him. How different would his service now become! How gladly would he toil and fight and die! The thought of duty would be absorbed in love, and love would make his service perfect.
Love Perfects Relationships
Once more, I want you to observe that love is needed for the perfecting of relationships.
If you were to ask me what it is that makes life rich, I should answer that chiefly it is life's relationships. It is in the ties which link it to the lives of others that life enlarges to its greatest measure. Just think how poor your life would be today if the cords were cut which bind you to your friends. Son, father, sister, brother, friend and comrade--what would life be without such words as these? For no man liveth to himself--when he attempts it he is no longer living. It is in its wide and various relationships that life is ennobled and enriched.
Now when you come to think of it, you find there are three great enemies of a sweet relationship. The first is selfishness, the second pride, and the third destroyer of life's ties is fear. No man or woman who is selfish can ever know the joy of a deep relationship. If you are selfish you cannot be a friend. If you are selfish you cannot have a friend. For we never tell our secrets to the selfish nor open our hearts to them in confidence nor lean upon them with that confiding hope that calls for, and is always sure of, sympathy. Then in pride is a strange power of isolation. We say of the man who is proud that he is cold. No one is warmed by him in this chill world. No warmth of other lives dispels his iciness. The proud man is the solitary man and so always is the man who is afraid, whether it be the savage in the forest or the fearful sultan upon an Eastern throne. Where there is selfishness, then, or pride or fear, you never can have the fullness of relationship. Something is lacking in every human tie so long as these are mighty in the heart. And it takes a power that can conquer these and whose empire means the killing out of these if the relationships that make our lives are to come slowly to a perfect growth.
The Power That Conquers
It takes a power that can conquer these--you know as well as I do what that power is. Nothing but love, possessing all the heart, is able to dispossess these enemies. Love is the sworn enemy of selfishness, for it sets a crown upon the other. Love is the sworn enemy of pride, for love is ever warm and humble. And as for fear, there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, for fear hath torment. It is thus that love is imperatively needed for the perfecting of every human tie. Like a girdle you must clasp it on, if you would wear the garment of relationship. It and it only is the bond of perfectness between one life and every other life. Without it we may eat and drink and sleep. But with it in our daily life, we live.
Love Perfects Religion
So love is needed for the perfecting of gifts, for the perfecting of service and relationship. Now in closing and in a word or two, it is needed for the perfecting of religion.
It is a matter of infinite debate where precisely religion begins. Is it in fear of the darkness, in dread of the unknown; is it in some dim feeling of dependence? Brethren, we may have our own thoughts on that matter as a fascinating question of psychology, but wherever religion begins in the heart of man, it can never be perfect till it reaches love. If no relationship of earth is perfect till love has entered with its benediction, how can a man's relationship to God be perfect, if love is wanting there? For true religion is not a thing of doctrine nor of eager and intellectual speculation: it is the tie that binds the life on earth to the infinite and eternal life beyond the veil. I grant you that the distance is so vast there that you cannot gauge it by any earthly tie. I do not like that form of pious speech that is too familiar and has no place for awe. Yet the fact remains that every earthly tie is but a shadow of our tie with God, and if these cannot be perfect without love, no more, you may be sure of it, can that. Only when a man can lift his eyes and say with a cry of victory, "God loves me"; only when he believes though all be dark that the God who reigneth is a God of love; only then does his religion become a real, a very present help in time of trouble, a well of water in the burning desert, a cooling shadow in a weary land.
It is just that and nothing else which makes ours the perfect religion. For the perfecting of religion love is needed, and that love has been revealed in Christ. God commendeth His own love to us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish. When we have gazed upon the face of Christ, there are a thousand things we still may doubt; but there is one thing we can never doubt again, and that is the love of God. Love is the perfect bond between man and man. Love is the perfect bond between man and God. How shall we win it where everything is dark and a thousand divine providence's so baffling? Blessed Savior, we turn our hearts to Thee. We gaze upon Thy pierced hands and feet. He that hath seen Thee hath seen the Father. We rest at last upon the love of God.
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