Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


A distinction has been introduced into the subject of true religion, which, although not wholly free from objection, is sufficient to answer the purpose for which it is employed. I mean the distinction between essentials and non-essentials. It would be a difficult task to trace the boundary line by which these classes are divided; but the truth of the idea of "essentials and non-essentials" cannot be questioned. There are some things, both in faith and practice, which we may neglect, and yet not be destitute of true religion. While there are other things in faith and practice—the absence of which necessarily implies an unrenewed heart. Among the essentials of true piety must be reckoned the disposition we are now considering—Christian love.

Christian love is not to be classed with those observances and views, which, though important, are not absolutely essential to salvation. We must possess true Christian love, or we are not Christians now, and shall not be admitted into heaven hereafter. The apostle has expressed this necessity in the clearest and the strongest manner. He has put an hypothetical case of the most impressive kind, which I shall now illustrate. "Though I speak with the tongues of men or of angels—and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."—verse 1.

By the tongues of men and of angels, we are not to understand the powers of the loftiest eloquence—but the miraculous gift of tongues, accompanied by an ability to convey ideas according to the method of celestial beings. Should a man be invested with these stupendous endowments, and employ them in the service of the gospel; yet if his heart were not a partaker of Christian love—he would be no more acceptable to God than was the clanging of the brazen instruments employed in the idolatrous worship of the Egyptian Isis, or the noise of the tinkling cymbals which accompanied the orgies of the Grecian Cybele. Such a man's profession of religion is not only worthless in the sight of God—but disagreeable and disgusting! The comparison is remarkably strong, inasmuch as it refers not to soft melodious sounds, as of the flute or of the harp, not to the harmonious chords of a concert—but to the 'harsh dissonance' of instruments of the most inharmonious character. And if, as is probable, the allusion be to the noisy clank of idolatrous musicians, the idea is as strongly presented as it is possible for the force of language to express it.

"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains—and have not Love, I am nothing."—verse 2.

Paul still alludes to miraculous endowments. Prophecy in the Scripture use of the term is not limited to the foretelling of future events, but means to speak by inspiration of God; and its exercise in this instance, refers to the power of explaining without premeditation or mistake—the typical and predictive parts of the Old Testament dispensation, together with the facts and doctrines of the Christian economy.

"The faith that could remove mountains," is an allusion to an expression of our Lord's, which occurs in the gospel history; "Verily I say unto you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place—and it shall remove." This faith is of a distinct nature altogether from that by which men are justified and become the children of God. It has been called the 'faith of miracles', and seems to have consisted in a firm persuasion of the power or ability of God to do any miraculous thing for the support of the gospel. It operated two ways—the first was a belief on the part of the person who wrought the miracle, that he was the subject of a divine impulse, and called at that time to perform such an act; and the other was a belief on the part of the person on whom a miracle was about to be performed, that such an effect would be really produced. Now the apostle declared, that although a man had been gifted with prophecy, so as to explain the deepest mysteries of the Scripture, and in addition possessed that miraculous faith by which the most difficult and astonishing changes would have been effected—he was nothing, and less than nothing, without love.

"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned—and have not Love, it profits me nothing."—Verse 3.

This representation of the indispensable necessity of Christian love is most striking. It supposes it possible that a man may distribute all his substance in acts of apparent beneficence—and yet after all be without true religion! Actions derive their moral character from the motives under the influence of which they are performed. Therefore, many actions which are beneficial to man, may still be sinful in the sight of God, because they are not done from a right motives! The most diffusive generosity—if prompted by pride, vanity or self-righteousness—is of no value in the eyes of the omniscient Jehovah! On the contrary, it is very sinful!

It is too evident to be questioned, that many of the charities of which we are the witnesses, are done from any motives but the right ones. We readily see that multitudes are lavish in their monetary contributions, who are at the same time totally destitute of love to God, and love to man—and if destitute of these sacred virtues, they are, as it respects real religion, less than nothing, although they should spend every penny of their property in relieving the needs of the poor. If our munificence, however great or self-denying, be the operation of mere selfish regard to ourselves, to our own reputation, or to our own safety, and not of pure love, it may do good to others, but will do none to ourselves!

"And though I give my body to be burned," that is, as a martyr to true religion, "and have not love, it profits me nothing." Whether such a case as this ever existed we know not—it is not impossible, nor improbable. But if it did, not the tortures of an agonizing death, nor the courage which endured them, nor the seeming zeal for religion which led to them—would be accepted in lieu of true love to man. Such an instance of self-devotedness must have been the result either of that self-righteousness, which substitutes its own sufferings for those of Christ; or of that 'love of fame' which scruples not to seek it even in the fires of martyrdom! In either case it partakes not of the nature, nor will receive the reward, of true religion.

It will help to convince us, not only of the necessity of true Christian love, but of the importance of this temper of mind—if we bring into a narrow compass the many and various representations of it, which are to be found in the New Testament.

1. Love is the object of the Divine decree in predestination. "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."

2. True Christian love is the end and purpose of the moral law. "The end of the commandment is love." "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it—You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." "Love is the fulfilling of the law."

3. True Christian love is the evidence of regeneration. "Love is of God, and everyone who loves, is born of God."

4. True Christian love is the necessary operation and effect of saving faith. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love."

5. True Christian love is that grace by which both personal and mutual edification is promoted. "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." "Makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love."

6. True Christian love is the proof of a mutual inhabitation between God and his people. "If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him."

7. True Christian love is declared to be the greatest of all the Christian virtues. "The greatest of these is love!"

8. True Christian love is represented as the perfection of true religion. "Above all these things put on love—which is the bond of perfectness."

What eulogies are these! What striking proofs of the supreme importance of Christian love! Who has not been guilty of some neglect of it? Who has not had his attention drawn too much from it? Who can read these passages of Holy Writ, and not feel convinced that not only mankind in general, but the professors of spiritual religion also, have too much mistaken the nature of true piety? What are clear and orthodox views—what are strong feelings—what is our faith—what our enjoyment—what our freedom from gross immorality—without this spirit of pure and universal Christian love?

Whether an instance, we again repeat, ever existed of an individual whose circumstances answered to the supposition of the apostle, we cannot determine; the statement certainly suggests to us a most alarming idea of our liability to self-deception in reference to our personal religion. Delusion on the nature of true piety prevails to a

truly appalling extent! Millions are in error as to the real condition of their souls, and think that they are journeying to celestial bliss; when in reality they are traveling to perdition! Oh fearful mistake! Oh fatal delusion! What terrible disappointment awaits them! What horror, and anguish, and despair, will take eternal possession of their souls, in that moment of truth, when instead of awaking from the sleep of death amid the glories of the heavenly city—they shall lift up their eyes, "being in torment!" No pen can describe the overwhelming anguish of such a disappointment! The imagination shrinks with amazement and horror. from the contemplation of her own faint sketch of the unendurable scene!

To be led on by the 'power of delusion' so far as to commit an error of consequence to our temporal interests; to have impaired our health, our reputation, or our property—is sufficiently painful, especially where there is no prospect, or but a faint one, of repairing the harm. Yet, in this case, true religion opens a balm for the wounded spirit, and eternity presents a prospect, where the sorrows of time will be forgotten! But, O! to be in error on the nature of true religion itself, and to build our hope of immortality on the sand, instead of the rock; to see the lamp of our deceitful profession, which had served to illume us in life, and even to guide us in false peace through the dark valley of the shadow of death, suddenly extinguished as we cross the threshold of eternity, and leaving us in rayless, endless night—instead of quietly expiring amid the blaze of everlasting day! What horror!

Is such a delusion possible? Has it ever happened in one solitary instance? Do the annals of the unseen world record one such case, and the prison of lost souls contain one miserable spirit that perished by delusion? Then what deep solicitude ought the possibility of such an event to circulate through the hearts of all—to avoid the error of a self-deceived mind. Is it possible to be mistaken in our judgment, of our eternal state? Then how deeply anxious ought we all to feel, not to be misled by false criteria in forming our decision. But what if, instead of one case, millions should have occurred—of souls irrecoverably lost by self-deception? What if delusion should be the most crowded avenue to the bottomless pit? What if self-delusion should be the common infatuation, the epidemic blindness, which has fallen upon multitudes of the inhabitants of Christendom?

What if this 'moral insanity' should have infected and destroyed very many who have made even a stricter profession of true religion than others? How shall we explain, much more justify—that lack of concern about their everlasting welfare—that destitution of care to examine into the nature and evidences of true piety—that willingness to be deluded, in reference to eternity—which many exhibit? Jesus Christ does tell us that "MANY, in that day, shall say, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?" to whom he will say, "Depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity!" He says that "MANY are called, but few chosen." He says that of the four classes of those who hear the word, only one hears it to advantage. He says that of the ten virgins, to whom he likens the kingdom of heaven, only five were wise, while the other five were deceiving themselves with the oil-less lamp of a deceitful profession! He intimates most plainly that self-deception in religion is fearfully common—and common among those who make a more serious profession than others!

It is Jesus who has sounded the alarm to awaken slumbering professors of religion from their carnal security. It is he who has said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." "I know your works, how that you have a name that you live—but are dead." How careful, then, ought we to be, not to be deluded by false evidences of religion, and to conclude that we are Christians—while we are destitute of those things which the Word of God declares to be essential to genuine piety. We must possess true Christian love, therefore—or all else is insufficient.

1. Some conclude, that because they are regular in their ATTENDANCE upon church services—that they are true Christians. They go punctually to church or to meetings—they receive the Lord's supper—they frequent the meetings for prayer—they perhaps repeat prayers in secret, and read the Scriptures. All this is well—if it be done with right views—and in connection with right dispositions of the heart. But it is the 'whole' of their religion? Is it a mere abstraction of devotional exercise? Is it a thing separate and apart from the heart, and temper, and conduct? Is it a 'formal business' of the closet, and of the sanctuary? Is it a sort of penance paid to the Almighty, to be released from all the other demands of Scripture, and obligations of piety? Is it an expression of their willingness to be devout in the church, and on the Sabbath—provided they may be as earthly-minded, as selfish, as malicious, and as unkind, as they please, in all other places and all other times? This is not true religion!

2. Others are depending upon the clearness of their views, and their attainments in biblical KNOWLEDGE. They have a singular zeal for the truth, and are great sticklers for the doctrines of grace, of which they profess to have an acquaintance, little short of inspiration! They look upon all, besides a few of their own class, as mere babes in knowledge, or as individuals who, like the man in the gospel, have their eyes only half open, and who see "men as trees walking." They are the eagles who soar to the sun, and bask in its beams, while the rest of mankind are the moles that burrow, and the bats that flutter in the dark. Doctrine is everything; clear views of the gospel are their great desire—and in their zeal for these things, they suppose they can never say things extravagant enough, nor absurd enough, nor angry enough, against good works, practical religion, or Christian temper. Puffed up with pride, selfish, unkind, irritable, censorious, malicious—they manifest a total lack of that humility and kindness which are the prominent features of true Christianity.

Let it be known, however, that clear views of Scripture—even where they have no resemblance to the monstrous caricatures and frightful deformities of modern Antinomianism—are of themselves no evidence of true religion—any more than right theoretical notions of the constitution, are the proofs of patriotism. And as a man with these notions in his mind, may be a traitor in his heart—so may a professor of religion be an enemy to God in his soul—with an evangelical creed upon his tongue!

Many profess to be very fond of the 'lamp of truth'—grasp it firmly in their hands, admire its flame—and pity or blame those who are following the delusive and meteoric fires of error. But after all, they make no other use of the 'lamp of truth', than to illuminate the path that leads them to perdition! Their religion begins and ends in adopting a form of sound words for their creed, approving an evangelical ministry, admiring the popular champions of the truth, and joining in the criticism of error. As to any spirituality of mind, any heavenliness of affection, any Christian love—in short, as to any of the natural tendency, the appropriate energy, the vital, elevating influence, of those very doctrines to which they profess to be attached—they are as destitute as the greatest worldling; and like him, are perhaps as selfish, revengeful, implacable, and unkind!

This is the religion but too common in the present day, when evangelical sentiments are becoming increasingly popular; a religion but too common in our churches—a cold, heartless, and uninfluential religion; a sort of lunar light, which reflects the beams of the sun, but not its warmth.

3. On the other hand, some are satisfied with the vividness and the intensity of their FEELINGS. Possessed of much excitability and warmth of temperament, they are, of course, susceptible of deep and powerful impressions from true religion. They are not without joy, for even the stony-ground hearers rejoiced for awhile; and they are not without their religious sorrows. Their tears are plentiful, and their smiles in proportion. See them in the house of God, and none appear to feel more under the preaching of the word than they do. The sermon exerts an influential power over their affections, and the preacher seems to have their hearts at command. They talk loudly of "happy frames," "precious seasons," "comfortable opportunities."

But follow them from the house of God to their own homes—and, O, how changed the scene! The least offence, perhaps an unintentional one, raises a storm of passion, and the man who looked like a seraph in the sanctuary—seems more like a demon at home! Follow them from the Sabbath into the days of the week, and you will see the man who appeared all for heaven on the Sunday—all for earth on the Monday! Follow them from the assembly of the saints to the chief places of business, where they buy, and sell, and get gain—and you will see the man who looked so devout, now irritated and quarrelsome, selfish and unfair, crude and insulting, envious and malicious, untrusting and defamatory! Yes! And perhaps in the evening of the same day, you will see him at a prayer meeting, enjoying, as he supposes, the holy season. Such is the delusion under which many are living. Their religion is, in great part, a mere susceptibility of impression from religious subjects! It is a selfish religious voluptuousness!

It is certain, that more importance is oftentimes attached to "sensible enjoyment," as it is called—to lively frames and feelings—than belongs to them. There is a great variety in the constitution of the human mind, not only as it respects the power of thinking, but also of feeling; some feel far more acutely than others—this is observable even in natural things.

The grace of God, in conversion, operates a moral, not a physical change. The grace of God, in conversion, gives a new direction to the faculties, but leaves the faculties themselves as they were. Consequently, with equal depth of conviction and equal strength of principle, there will be various degrees of feeling in different people. The susceptibility of the mind to strong emotions, and its liability to vivid feeling—were there before conversion—and they remain after it. And oftentimes the lively emotion produced by affecting scenes, or seasons, or sermons, is partly an operation of nature—and partly of grace! A man may feel but little, and yet if that little leads him to do much—it is great piety notwithstanding!

Two people are listening to a sad and touching account—one is seen to weep profusely, and is overwhelmed by the story. The other is attentive and thoughtful, but neither weeps nor sobs. They retire—the former, perhaps, to wipe her tears, and to forget the misery which caused them; the latter to seek out the sufferer and relieve him. Which had most 'feeling'? The former! Which had most 'true benevolence'? The latter! The conduct of one was the result of an emotional nature! The conduct of the other the effect of pious principle.

Take another illustration, still more in point. Conceive of two real Christians listening to a sermon, in which the preacher is discoursing from such a text as this—"Beloved; if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another," or this—"You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich." His object, as that of every man should be, who preaches from such a text—is to show that a sense of divine love to us, should fill us with benevolence towards others. In order to bring the heart to feel its obligations, he gives a vivid description of God's love to man; and then, while his hearers are affected with God's mercy, he calls upon them (in imitation of Jehovah's love to them), to relieve those who are in poverty; to bear with those who are vexatious; to forgive those who have injured them; to lay aside their wrath, and abound in all expressions of genuine affection to their fellow-Christians.

One of the individuals is deeply interested and affected by the first part of the discourse, sheds many tears, and is wrought up to a high pitch of feeling—while the preacher paints in glowing colors the love of God. The other person hears with fixed attention, with genuine faith, the whole sermon, but his emotions are not powerful—he feels, it is true, but it is a tranquil feeling, unattended by either smiles or tears. They both go home; the latter perhaps in silence, the former exclaiming to his friends, "Oh what a delightful sermon! what a precious season! did you ever hear the love of God so impressively, so beautifully described?" With all his feeling, however, he does not go forth to relieve one child of poverty, nor does he attempt to extinguish one angry or implacable feeling towards an individual who has offended him. He is as angry and unforgiving, as unkind and selfish, after the sermon—as he was before he heard it!

The other person retires with more of calm reflection, than of strong emotion. Hearken to his soliloquy—"The preacher has given us a most astonishing idea of the love of God to us, and most clearly and effectually deduced from it our obligations to love one another. Am I saved this great love? What! has this ineffable grace lavished all its benefits on me, a rebel against God—upon me, a sinner? And shall I not feel this love constraining me to relieve the needs, to heal the sorrows, to forgive the offences of my fellow-creatures? I will bear ill-will no longer! I will put out the kindling spark of revenge! I will go in a spirit of meekness and of love, and forgive the offender, and be reconciled to my brother." By that grace on which he depended, he is enabled to act up to his resolution. He becomes, upon principle, upon conviction—more merciful, more meek, more affectionate. Which has most 'feeling'? The former. Which has most 'true religion'? The latter!

Any emotion, however pleasurable and intense, that does not lead to action, is 'mere natural feeling', not holy piety. While that emotion, however feeble it may seem, which leads us to do the will of God—is sincere piety. In order to ascertain our degree of true religion, we must not merely ask how we feel under sermons—but how this feeling leads us to act afterwards. The operative strength of our principles—and not the contemplative strength of our feelings—is the test of godliness. All that imaginative emotion, produced by a sense of God's love to us, which does not lead to a cultivation of the virtue considered in this treatise—is one of the delusive fires—which, instead of guiding aright, misleads the souls of men.

4. It is to be feared that many, in the present day, satisfy themselves that they are Christians, because of their ZEAL in the cause of religion. Happily for the church of God, happily for the world at large—there is now a great and general eagerness for the diffusion of biblical knowledge. Throwing off the torpor of ages, the friends of Christ are laboring to extend his kingdom in every direction. Almost every possible object of Christian philanthropy is seized upon; societies are organized; means adapted to every kind of plan; instruments are employed; the whole mass of the religious world is called out—and Christendom presents an interesting scene of benevolent energy. Such a state of things, however, has its dangers in reference to personal religion, and may become an occasion of delusion to many.

It does not require genuine piety to associate us with these religious movements and societies. From a natural liberality of disposition, or regard to reputation, or a desire of influence, or by the compulsion of example—we may give our money.

And as to personal exertions, how many inducements may lead to this, without a sincere and an ardent love to Christ in the heart! An inherent fondness for activity, a love of display, a party-spirit, the persuasion of friends—may all operate—and unquestionably do operate in many cases—to produce astonishing effects in the cause of religious benevolence— there is a total absence of genuine piety!

The mind of man, prone to self-deception, and anxious to find some reasons to satisfy itself in reference to its eternal state, short of the true evidence of a renewed heart—is too apt to derive a false peace from the contemplation of its zeal. In proportion as the cause of the delusion approximates to the nature of true religion—is its power to blind and to mislead the judgment. If the mind can perceive anything in itself, or in its operations—which bears the semblance of godliness—it will convert it into a means of lulling the conscience, and removing anxiety! To many people the fatal opiate—the soul-destroying delusion—is their activity in the cause of Christian zeal! None are more diligent in their devotedness to the duties of committees—none are more constant in their attendance upon public meetings—others again weary themselves in their weekly rounds to collect the contributions of the rich, or the offerings of the poor.

These things, if they do not lead them coolly to reason, and to conclude that they are believers—take off their attention from the real condition of their souls—leave them no leisure for reflection—repress the rising fear, and either stifle the voice of conscience, or enable them to drown its remonstrances in the eloquence of the platform, or in the discussions of the committee room. We doubt not that some unworthy professors of religion in the present age resort to public meetings for the same reason as many a guilty votary of pleasure does, to public amusements—to forget his own condition, and to turn away his ear, for a short season, from the voice that speaks to him from within. Individuals are known to us all, who, amid the greatest zeal for various public institutions, are living in malice and all uncharitableness, in the indulgence of a predominant selfishness and uncontrolled wrath. But it will not do. This is not Christian piety. Could we support the whole expenditure of the Missionary Society by our affluence, and direct its counsels by our wisdom, and keep alive its energy by our ardor, and yet at the same time were destitute of love—we would perish eternally, amid the munificence of our liberality.

And of those who have the grace of love, and who are real believers, some are far more deficient in its influence and activity than they should be—and endeavor to quiet an accusing conscience with the wretched sophistry, "that as a Christian cannot be supposed to excel in everything, their forte lies in the active virtues of true religion, more than in the passive graces; and that, therefore, any little deficiency in the latter is made up by their greater abundance of the former." This reasoning is as false in its principle, as it is frequent, we fear, in its adoption. Where, in all the Word of God, is this species of moral composition of duties taught or sanctioned? This is really carrying the Popish error of indulgences into our own private concerns, and creating a surplus stock of one virtue to be available for the deficiencies of another.

It is to be apprehended, that as every age is marked with a peculiar tendency, either to some prevailing error or defect, the tendency of the present age is to exalt the active virtues of piety, at the expense of the passive ones; and, while the former is forced into an increasing luxuriance, to permit the latter to wither in their shade; or, at least, there is a disposition to devote all that time and attention to the culture of one, which ought to be shared between both. It cannot be denied that our love of activity and of display, will generally incline us to prefer the cultivation of public spirit, rather than the more private and self-denying tempers of meekness, humility, and forbearance; for it is inconceivably more easy, and more pleasant, to float upon the tide of public feeling toward the objects of religious zeal, than to wade against the stream of our own corrupt tendencies, and to accomplish an end which He only who sees in secret will duly appreciate.

5. May it not be said, that in many cases a PROFESSION of 7religion seems to release some individuals from all obligation to cultivate the dispositions which it necessarily implies; who, instead of deriving from this circumstance a stimulus to seek after the Christian temper, find in it a reason for general negligence?

They have been admitted as members of a dissenting church, and have thus received, as it were, a certificate of personal religion; and instead of being anxious from that moment to excel in every virtue that can adorn the doctrine of God their Savior, they sink into carelessness and lukewarmness. A profession of religion, unsupported by Christian love, will only increase our guilt here, and sink us immeasurably lower in the bottomless pit hereafter. Woe, eternal woe, will be upon that man who bears the name of our Lord Jesus—without his image. Woe, eternal woe, will be upon those members of our churches who are content to find their way into the fellowship of the faithful, without adding to their character the luster of this sacred virtue.

Thus have we shown how many things there are, which, though good in themselves, when performed from right motives, and in connection with other parts of true religion, cannot, in the absence of love, be depended upon as unequivocal evidences of personal piety. Let us beware of self-deception in this awfully important business; for it will be dreadful beyond the power of imagination to conceive of, to find ourselves the next moment after death amid the horrors of the infernal pit, instead of the felicities of the celestial city!

Love is required by God as an essential part of true religion; and the total absence of it as necessarily prevents a man from being a true Christian, as the lack of temperance or purity. Besides, love is the temper of heaven. Love is the unvarying state of mind in the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Love is the heart of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the image of God, the Judge of all. Without love, there would be no fitness for the society of paradise, no fitness for an association of which the bond of fellowship is love. Without love, there can be no grace here—and therefore no glory hereafter!