I have felt these words scorching to write, but it is borne upon me that, in spite of all our hymns and prayers ( so many of them for love), it is possible to be content with the shallows of love, if indeed such shallows should be called love at all.
(Perhaps prayer often needs to be followed by a little pause, that we may have time to open our hearts to that for which we have prayed. We often rush from prayer to prayer without waiting for the word within, which says, “I have heard you, My child.”)
The more we ponder our Lord’s words about love, and the burning words the Spirit gave to His followers to write, the more acutely do we feel our deadly lack.
The Searchlight of the Spirit exposes us to ourselves, and such a discovery leaves us appalled. How can even He who is the God of all patience have patience with us? Like Job we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.
But the light is not turned upon us to rob us of our hope. There is a lifting up. If only we desire to be purged from self with its entangling nets, its subtleties, its disguises (falsehoods truly), its facile showing of brass for gold, as the Tamil says; if, hating unlove from the ground of the heart, we cry to be delivered, then our God will be to us a God of deliverances.
No vision of the night can show, no word declare, with what longings of love Divine love waits till the heart, all weary and sick of itself, turns to its lord and says, “Take full possession.” There is no need to plead that the love of God shall fill our heart as though He were unwilling to fill us: He is willing as light is willing to flood a room that is opened to its brightness; willing as water is willing to flow into an emptied channel. Love is pressing round us on all sides like air. Cease to resist, and instantly love takes possession. As the 15th century poem Quia amore langues says,
Long and love thou never so high,
My love is more than thine may be.
More, far more. For as His abundance of pardon passes our power to tell it, so does His abundance of love: it is far as the East is from the West, as high as the heaven is above the earth. But words fail. Love soars above them all.
To look at ourselves leads to despair. Thank God, the Blood cleanseth.
If thou be foul, I shall make thee clean,
If thou be sick, I shall heal thee,
Foundest thou ever love so real?
Never, Lord, never.
Sometimes, when we are distressed by past failure and tormented by fear of failure in the future should we again set our faces toward Jerusalem, nothing helps so much as to give some familiar scripture time to enter into us and become part of our being. The words “Grace for grace” have been a help to me since I read in a little old book of Bishop Moule’s something that opened their meaning. (Till then I had not understood them.)
He says “for” means simply instead: “The image is of a perpetual succession of supply; a displacement ever going on; ceaseless changes of need and demand.
“The picture before us is as of a river. Stand on its banks, and contemplate the flow of waters. A minutes passes, and another. Is it the same stream still? Yes. But is it the same water? No. The liquid mass that passed you a few seconds ago fills now another section of the channel; new water has displaced it, or if you please replaced it; water instead of water. And so hour by hour, and year by year, and century by century, the process holds; one stream, other waters, living, not stagnant, because always in the great identity there is perpetual exchange. Grace takes the place of grace (and love takes the place of love); ever new, ever old, ever the same, ever fresh and young, for hour by hour, for year by year, through Christ.”
There is no force strong enough to hold us together as a company, and animate all our doings, but his one force of Love; and so there is a constant attack upon the love without which we are sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.
That explains why every now and then those who want to live the life of love seem to be constrained to seek the searchings and the cleansing of the Spirit of God, first (it has happened so) in the secret of our own hearts, and then together; and we know how graciously God has answered us, so that, though our word must always be, “not as though I had already attained,” we do, by His enabling, press onward.
There is another reason why the adversary attacks love. It is this:
Far out on our uttermost rim a thing may occur which is the reflection , so to speak, of something that was nourished in the heart of one who is in the very center. I have often known it to be so. Perhaps, it was never expressed in act or word, the eye did not see it, the ear did not hear it. But spiritual influences move where sight and hearing have no place; and unlove in any one of us, or even an absence of the quality of love of which we have been thinking, is enough to cause the slow stain to spread till it reaches some soul in a moment of its weakness. And irreparable harm may result.
O Lord, forgive: Thy property is always to have mercy. Give me the comfort of Thy help again. Let it be Thy pleasure to deliver me, O Lord my God.
The way of love is never the easy way. If our hearts be set on walking in that way we must be prepared to suffer. “It was the way the Master went; should not the servant tread it still?” It is possible that we may be enclosed in circumstances which drain natural love, till we feel as dry as grass on an Indian hillside under a burning sun.
We have toiled for someone dear to us, but never knew it as toil. We have poured out stores of health never to be recovered, but did not know it, nor would we have cared if we had known it, so dearly did we love. And all our hope was that the one so cherished would become a minister to others. But it was not so.
And then unwillingly we become aware of a strange unresponsiveness in the one for whom nothing had seemed too much to do, of a coldness that chilled, a hardness that pushed away as with hard hands the heart that had almost broken to save that life from destruction.
Then (but only those who have gone through such a bereft hour will understand) a fear worse than any pain has us in its grip: is the love of the years slipping from us? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – is that fading from our memory? “Love never faileth” – is love failing now? Shall we find ourselves meeting lovelessness with lovelessness?
In such an hour a poem, now many years old, that expressed a desperate prayer, burned into words:
Deep unto deep, O Lord,
Crieth in me,
Gathering strength, I come,
Lord, unto Thee.
Jesus of Calvary,
Smitten for me,
Ask what Thou wilt, but give
Love to me.
Yes, ask what Thou wilt, any hopes any joys of human affection, any rewards of love, but let not love depart. Nothing ordinary is equal to this new call; nothing in me suffices for this. O Lord of Love and Lord of Pain, abound in me in love: Love through me, Love of God.
Our dear Lord listens to the prayer that goes not out of feigned lips, and it is written for our comfort that he causes those who love Him to inherit substance, the wonderful “substance” that is “grace instead of grace,” the perpetual gift of His fullness. This grace is no mere “impersonal substance,” but God working in us, the Lord in action in our very springs of thought and will. God is Love; so, for us, Love is this blessed “Substance” that the children of the Father are caused to inherit.
It is the river’s word again. The empty river-bed “inherits” the water that pours through it from the heights; it does not create that water, it only receives it, and its treasuries are filled, its pools overflow for the blessing and refreshment of the land. It is so with us; our treasuries of time, our years with all their months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, are filled with the flowing treasure of love that we may help others. Who could have thought of such joy for us but He whose name is Love? Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory.
Let us end on a very simple note: Let us listen to simple words; our Lord speak simply: “Trust Me, My child,” He says. “Trust Me with a humbler heart and a fuller abandon to My will than ever thou didst before. Trust Me to pour My love through thee, as minute succeeds minute. And if thou shouldst be conscious of anything hindering that flow, do not hurt My love by going away from Me in discouragement, for nothing can hurt so much as that. Draw all the closer to Me; come, flee unto Me to hide thee, even from thyself. Tell Me about the trouble. Trust Me to turn My hand upon thee and thoroughly to remove the boulder that has choked they river-bed, and take away all the sand that has silted up the channel. I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. I will perfect that which concerneth thee. Fear thou not, O child of My love; fear not.”
And now…to gather all in one page:
Beloved, let us love.
Lord, what is love?
Love is that which inspired My life, and led Me to My Cross, and held Me on My Cross. Love is that which will make it thy joy to lay down thy life for thy brethren.
Lord, evermore give me this love.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after love, for they shall be filled.