SPIRITUAL AND NATURAL LOVE.
41″Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (LUKE VII. 41-43.)
A man’s character depends upon the quality of his ruling-love. He, whose love is high in quality, rises to a high and heavenly condition of practical life ; while he whose love is low in quality, cannot enter into higher, or greater, actual states of life than his ruling-love fits him to receive. This is the principle illustrated in the parable, which can be understood best when read in connection with its context. Verses 36-47.
NATURAL MEN MISUNDERSTAND.
The natural-minded man, like Simon, the Pharisee; always misunderstands, and misjudges, the character and the purpose of the man who is moved by spiritual affection. Spiritual men and natural men live in different mental worlds of affection and thought, worlds essentially different in quality, or kind.
The parable was addressed to Simon, as a natural-minded man, to show him that there are different kinds, or qualities, of love; and that the external life does not always indicate the quality of the inward character, except to those who can look through the outward man, and see the inward man. A self-righteous man is very apt to despise men who are inwardly better than himself although their outward conduct may have been, in the past, disorderly and even sinful.
We remember another Pharisee, who went up to the temple, to pray, and who thanked God that he was righteous, and not like the sinful publican, who also knelt in the temple. And yet, as the Lord said, “This man [the publican] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. “
THE CREDITOR AND THE DEBTORS.
The creditor is the Lord, to whom all are indebted, for all that they have. Two debtors are mentioned, one of whom owed a large debt, and the other a small debt. But, in interpreting spiritual things, we are to regard quality, rather than quantity. Everyone owes the Lord all that he is and has. But all do not recognize their debt, nor acknowledge it. Those who, in representative language, are said to owe the Lord much, are those who see and acknowledge the greatness of their debt to the Lord; who know that the Lord has done much for them, and that they owe everything to Him, And those who are said to owe the Lord but little, are those who think they owe Him but little; who, to a small extent, see what they owe the Lord.
The man who owed the creditor five hundred pence represents those for whom the Lord has done much ; and the man who owed fifty pence, represents those who allow the Lord to do but little for them ; not that the Lord gives to men unequally; but that men are unequal in their reception of what the Lord can do for them. “Are not My ways equal, saith the Lord? Are not your ways unequal.”
DIFFERENCE IN MEN.
In this parable, as in “The Talents,” the different amounts lent to men, or put in their charge, represent the different states of men, as to their willingness to receive what the Lord gives freely to all men, The Lord gives good and truth to all men, as freely as He gives physical heat and light, And the man who opens his heart to the Lord, in love, and allows the Lord to fill him with a heavenly quality of love is the one who owes the Lord much ; for much has been done for him, and within him.
But the man who, in his selfishness, prefers to love himself, and who will not open his heart to the Lord, cannot have the great work of regeneration done within him, The Lord can penetrate but little into the man’s conscious mind and life. And, hence, the man has no living experience of his great debt to the Lord.
The language of the parable is according to natural appearances: it speaks of the Lord as forgiving one man more than the other, because, apparently, the former’s debt was larger. But what is forgiveness, as applied to the Lord? It is not merely a release from the penalty of a certain act. The penalty that is attached to sin was not externally affixed to sin, by the Lord, as a legislature attaches a penalty to the breach of a civil law. The law that sin breaks is a law of man’s own being, inherent in his mental constitution. And the penalty is an inseparable result of the breaking of the law ; just as physical suffering and disease are the necessary consequences of the breaking of the laws of physical health, which are laws of our own bodily constitution.
As far as any ill-will, or arbitrary punishment, is concerned, the Lord always forgives every man. “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”
In the true sense, then, in which we are to understand forgiveness, that man is forgiven, who sees and acknowledges his sins, and ceases to do them ; i. e., he makes practical use of the Divine forgiveness, which is extended to every man. But the fact that the Lord does not intentionally punish men, does not remove the actual penalty which is inherent in all sin, and inseparable from it, as long as the man continues in sin. Therefore, the only practical way to use the Divine forgiveness, is to cease sinning, and thus to escape the penalty.
PAYING THE DEBTS.
Thus, in the parable, the man whose debt seemed to be the larger, and to whom the creditor forgave more, is the man who, by more earnestly ceasing to sin, attains a greater degree of regeneration, and more fully sees and appreciates the Divine goodness, in saving him from his own evils. Neither of these men had anything with which to pay the debt; i. e., they had no goodness of their own, with which to off-set their sins. All that they had was a free gift from the Lord. So it is, spiritually; the Lord asks no other, payment of our debt, than its acknowledgment by us, and our willing reception of His bounties. For, to receive His blessings, men must cease to do evil, and they must live
according to His commandments. The measure of a man’s capacity to receive from the Lord, is the measure of his acknowledgement of what he owes the Lord. He who does not acknowledge any indebtedness to the Lord, is not in mental condition to receive spiritual blessings.
MAN’S NATURAL CONDITION.
In our natural-minded condition, our affections are selfish. We love our family and friends, as parts of ourselves. The unregenerate man does not rise above a selfish quality of love. Even his most devoted love is merely a form of self-love. He loves others for his own sake. We may make great personal sacrifices for those whom we love naturally, and yet our love may be utterly selfish in its inward motive. And, in our natural-minded condition, our affections are narrow and limited; we love those who love us, or who gratify our natural desires.
But, as we begin to be regenerated, our love undergoes a change in character; for our change is a change in the quality, or character, of our affections. As we progress in regeneration, our love expands, going out more fully to others and regarding the character, or quality, of others; and being interested in them for their own sakes, rather than for our sake. Our love gradually includes the whole human race. The purer our love becomes, the broader it becomes, and the more freely it extends to all men.
In an unregenerate state, we hate those who seem to oppose us. We regard everything from its apparent attitude towards our own desires and plans. But, by regeneration, we gradually learn to regard others from their stand-point, also. And we learn to love them, not merely for what they have been to us, but rather for what they are, in themselves, in quality and life.
CHANGE OF VIEWS.
Naturally, we regard those as good, who are apparently good to us; but, spiritually, we know those to be good, who are good to the Lord; i. e., who keep His commandments, in a useful life. As we learn to love our Lord we learn, also, to love men according to how much of the Lord’s life they have in them, And we learn to love the spiritual interests of all men, and to seek means and opportunities to help all men to be regenerated. We pity the sinner, while we hate the sin.
Thus, self-love is exclusive, but regenerate love is inclusive. The Lord loves all men, even the devils; and He seeks to make all happy; and He succeeds in doing so, as far as they will receive happiness.
LOVE AND WORK.
It is the case with all things of our life, that the more we love them, the more we are interested in their welfare, and the more we will do for them. And more than this: the quality of our love for them is measured by the quality of what we do for them, We must be careful not to mistake quantity for quality. Those whose love may be greater in quantity, may be very selfish in qualify.
Take, for instance, the states of mind in a lover, towards a maiden whom he loves. Possibly he makes great professions, and in sentimental language, proclaims himself unable to live without her. And yet, his love may be utterly selfish. Spiritual love is chiefly interested in spiritual life. As to externals, it trusts in the Divine Providence, even when its own plans are thwarted, No healthy, or spiritual, love ever leads to despair, or to suicide.
And, in married life, the quality of love is seen in its modes of expression. The merely natural man lives for this world, and is satisfied to have things so ordered that he will have a pleasant time, and nothing to annoy or criticise him. Self-indulgence may go on, under his eyes, without any rebuke from him, unless it interferes with his own self-indulgence. His selfish love for his children permits him to indulge them, as well as himself But the love of a spiritual man is spiritual in quality ; and it looks to spiritual ends. It regards all children as the Lord’s children, and it trains them by His laws. And it regards a married partner, not merely as a companion in the externals of worldly life, but more especially as a spiritual being, preparing for the eternal life of the spiritual world.
Externally, the sensuous, selfish, indulgent parent, or married-partner, may seem to be much more pleasant and comfortable. But, in the depths of his nature, his self-love is his ruling power. He does not love anything, spiritually; and, hence, he cannot love anything unselfishly. And, on the other side, the spiritual man, loving with a spiritual love looks at life from a spiritual stand-point, and works for spiritual ends. And, very naturally, in the eyes of children, and of natural-minded adults, he may seem to be somewhat severe and unsympathetic, because the plane of his work is above their comprehension. He is working for their spiritual life; and, to do this, he must work against their evils. And they cannot appreciate the quality of his love, until they, themselves, come under the influence of spiritual affections.
LOVE TO THE LORD.
And in regard to the Lord, at first, a man loves God for what God has done for him. He loves God for a selfish reason, and for his own (the man’s) sake. But, as regeneration progresses within him, he learns to distinguish the quality of the Lord’s love, and to see that God is love. And then the man learns to love the Lord for the Lord’s own sake; and for what the Lord is, in character.
And as we follow the Lord, in the regeneration, keeping His commandments, we become more and more like Him, in the quality of our love. We change our mental states; we outlive our old and selfish states, and live ourselves into new conditions. And the better we become, the more the Lord can do for us, and in us. As we learn, by personal experience, how much the Lord does for us, in lifting us above evil, we grow more and more opposed to evils of all kinds, especially our own evils.
Thus, in the true sense of the parable, the more we love, the more we are forgiven; i. e., the more we come into a condition of mind and of life, in which the Lord can save us from evils, and thus give us the practical results of His constant forgiveness. Men who have little love, have little capacity to use the Lord’s forgiveness; they have little openness to heavenly life.
Spiritually, a man’s strength of character is in the quality and quantity of his love. A powerful love of good necessarily includes a correspondingly powerful hatred of evil, especially the evil that is in ourselves. As we come into conjunction with the Lord, in spirit, the Divine influences come down, and withhold us from evils, even in our external life. This they do, by our co-operation, in keeping the commandments. For, as we love the Lord, it becomes our spiritual meat and drink to do His will.
SPIRITUAL AND NATURAL.
Thus, in one sense, we may say that the man, in the parable, who was the greater debtor, and who was forgiven more, represents the spiritual man, who attains a high degree of regeneration; while the one who owed less, and was forgiven less, represents the natural-minded man, who, though seeking literally to obey the commandments, has not yet attained a spiritual-minded state.
The quality of the love is different, in the two men, And the quality of a man’s love to the Lord is the quality of the love which he has been willing to receive from the Lord. For every man receives love of such quality as he is willing to work for, by putting away his evils. And the quality of his hatred of evil, measures the quality of his love of good.
The Lord enters into the man’s heart, with the love of good, and the hatred of evil; and the man makes this love his own, when, under its influence, he ceases to do evil, and does good, in the name of the Lord. Thus, the quality of a man’s love to the Lord is tested by the quality of the love which he, himself exercises towards other men. John, the apostle, was called “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” because John was. one who by loving Jesus, opened his heart, and allowed the Lord’s love to enter into him, and to bless him.
When a man loves much, in quality, as well as in quantity, he rises into a higher spiritual character, because he repudiates the sins of his past life; and he hates the evils which took form in those sins. As he lives himself out of evil, and into good, the sins of his past life do not adhere to him, They are no longer a part of him, because he no longer cherishes the evils which produced such sins. “Love is the fulfilling of the law,” because love keeps the law, and thus comes under the protection of the law,
LOVE AND FORGIVENESS.
The law is fulfilled, or filled full of life, to him who lives by it. Thus, because of the woman’s fulness of love to the Lord, the Lord said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” For, by the strength of her love, and according to its quality, she entered into a new life. In her present state of heart, she would not again commit such sins. Sins are the outward expression and embodiment of evil affections and false thoughts. Thus, our sins remain with us, as long as our character remains the same, But, when our character changes, we outgrow the things. that belonged to our former character; as, in returning to health, after illness, ee outgrow the sick conditions.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die;” not as a punishment, but as a result of sin. “But, if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” For the Lord’s effort is not to punish men, but to save them, ((For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”
The Father is the Divine Love, and the Son is the Divine Truth, which the Father, or the Divine Love, has sent to men, to teach them the way back into the blessings of the Divine Love. And the Father and the Son are one God in one person. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.”
THE EVIDENCE OF OUR LOVE.
And, as to the evidence that we love the Lord, the Lord, Himself, declares, “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.” Our love to the Lord is not, then, to be measured by our gushing sentimentality at prayer-meetings, nor by our demonstrative external piety. The measuring-rod of heaven penetrates more profoundly than these superficial things. The evidence of our love to God is to be found in the measure in which we shun evils, because they are sins against God, and do good, in our practical daily life. If we love the Lord, we shall, fur His sake, restrain our tendencies to evil.
And so, in regard to our fellow-men. He has the greatest love for his friends, who for their sake, restrains his own tendencies to evil, and seeks to influence his friends to restrain their evil tendencies.
Who, then, is full of genuine sympathy? Not the man who makes the greatest display of external pitifulness over your outward troubles, but the man who, rising high above external effects, throws his strength into sympathy for your soul, and seeks to help you to put away your evils, which result in sorrows; who does not merely cry over the fall of man, but goes resolutely to work, to lift him up.
He whose tears are always on the surface, ready to flow at a moment’s notice, often has his bad temper equally ready to break out upon you. But that man has genuine sympathy, who, for the sake of your regeneration, is willing to do the unpleasant work of rebuking your evils; who, in the strength of a spiritual love, is willing to break up the sensuous pleasantness of indulgence, and to have, instead, natural struggle and, sorrow, in order that you may have a higher quality of life, in the world to come; who is willing to incur even your dislike, if, thereby, you may be led to see your evils, and to put them away.
This is love; this is sympathy, broad and high enough to look over the few years and low conditions of this external life, and to fix its attention upon the real and eternal world, beyond. This is loving sympathy, towards whose profound depths and heights, the paltry, pitiful, sensuous sympathy, which forgets the Divine Providence, and encourages self-love, is as dross to pure gold, tried in the fire.
How often it is the case, that the very things that trouble us, and which are the real causes of our sorrow, are the very things that we are unwilling to give up; while the things that seem to be the origin of our troubles, are the Lord’s providential means of our regeneration. The Lord’s love looks to our spiritual good; to the up-building of a regenerate character within us.
And when a heavenly quality of love fills the heart of a man, he will work as the Lord works, for spiritual ends, and by rational means. And he will do this, in his association with his friends, and with all his fellow-men, as well as with himself. He dare not do otherwise, acknowledging all good to be from the Lord, and the Lord’s way to be the only right way. He knows that the Lord has done much for him, and he longs to induce all others, (particularly those who are bound to him by especially tender ties,) to open their hearts more fully to the Lord, that He may do more for them, to their eternal happiness. On all planes, and in all degrees of life, he feels a vigorous love, and a tender sympathy for all. And he exhibits his affections in such ways as will be most conducive to the spiritual good of all.
But, as with the Lord, so with men, their spiritual affection is not appreciated, except by spiritual men, Natural-minded men, like the man with one talent, in the parable of “The Talents,” regard the Lord as “a hard man.”
Our work, then, is to cultivate spirituality of character, that we may love the Lord, and, in the contented usefulness of a good life, learn to appreciate His infinite love. “Whoso are wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887