Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


"Love does not rejoice in iniquity—but rejoices in the truth."

Keeping up the personification of love as presented by the apostle, we may observe that it has its joys and its sorrows; and that its smiles and its tears are the expressions of good will—the tokens of benevolence.

We are first told in what love does NOT take delight in—"Love does not rejoice in INIQUITY."

Sin is, in itself, an evil of enormous magnitude. As committed against a Being whom we are under infinite obligation to love, and serve, and glorify, it must partake of infinite degrees of demerit. It is a violation of that law, which as an emanation from the perfection of God, is itself perfect, and well deserves the eulogy pronounced upon it by the apostle, when he declares it to be "holy, and just, and good." As this is the rule of government to the moral universe, and intended to preserve its order, dependence, and harmony—sin, by opposing its authority, disturbs this order, breaks this dependence, and seeks to introduce the reign of confusion and misery.

None but the infinite mind of God is competent to calculate the mischief which is likely to be produced by a single act of sin—if left to itself without a remedy, or without a punishment. We have only to see what sin has done, to judge of its most evil and hateful nature. All the misery which either is or ever will be on earth, or in hell, is the result of sin. It is the greatest evil—the only evil in the universe. It is the opposite, and the enemy to God; the contrast of all that is pure and glorious in his divine attributes and ineffably beautiful perfections; and as such it is that which he cannot but hate with a perfect hatred. It is not merely the opposite of his nature—but the opponent of his government—the rebel principle that disputes with him for his seat of majesty and the dominion of the universe, saying to him, "Thus far shall you go, and no farther," seeking to cast him down from the throne which he has prepared in the heavens, and to rise with impious usurpation into the holy place of the high and lofty One. Sin would thus stop the fountain of life and blessedness, by ending the reign of infinite beneficence; and is therefore the enemy of everything that constitutes the felicity of the various orders of rational existence. The happiness of angels and archangels, of cherubim and seraphim, and of the spirits made perfect above, as well as of those who are renewed by the grace of God on earth—arises from holiness—separate from holiness, there can be no happiness for an intellectual being. Now sin is the contrary of holiness, and thus the enemy of happiness. How, then, can love delight in iniquity? If love wills the felicity of rational beings, it must hate that which directly resists and extinguishes it.

And as love cannot delight in SIN in the abstract, so neither can it take pleasure in committing it; for whoever commits it, in so far approves of it—upholds its dominion—extends its reign—diffuses its mischief, and does all he can to recommend it. If his transgression be a common one, he gives the patronage of his example to all of the same kind; and if it be a new one, he becomes an inventor and propagator upon earth of a fresh curse and tormentor. That many do delight in committing iniquity cannot be doubted; they follow it with greediness, and drink it in as the thirsty ox drinks in water. The Scripture speaks of the joys of fools, and of the pleasures of sin. Horrid as is the association between sin and gratification, it certainly exists. Some men have gone so far as to be self-murderers—but who ever took pleasure in the act of destroying themselves? Who ever drank the poison as he would wine, with a merry heart? Who ever dallied in sportive pleasure with the pistol or the dagger, or wound the rope in jocularity round his throat, before he strangled himself with it? Who ever went skipping with a light elastic step to the edge of the precipice, or the brink of a river, from which he was about to plunge into eternity? And yet sinners do all this in reference to their souls. They commit self-murder, the murder of their immortal spirits—to the song of the drunkard, the noise of music, the smile of a harlot, and the laugh of a fool. They sin, and not only so—but delight in iniquity. But "love does not rejoice in iniquity."

Nor can it delight in the sins of OTHERS. It cannot do as fools do, "make a mock of sin." It is most horrid to find pastime and sport in those acts of transgression by which men ruin their souls. Some laugh at the reeling gait, and idiot looks, and maniac gestures—of the drunkard, whom perhaps they have first led on to intoxication, to afford them merriment. Or they are amused by the oaths of the swearer, whose malice and revenge are at work to invent new forms of profanity. Or they are made merry by the mischief with which the persecutors of the righteous often oppose and interrupt the solemnity of worship. Or they attack with raillery and scorn the tender consciences of the saints, and loudly applaud the wit which aims its sharpened arrows against true religion. But love weeps over sin, as that which brings the greatest misery.

"SIN is the greatest and highest infelicity of the creature. Sin depraves the soul within itself, vitiates its powers, deforms its beauties, extinguishes its light, corrupts its purity, darkens its glory, disturbs its tranquility and peace, violates its harmonious joyful state and order, and destroys its very life. Sin alienates the soul from God, severs it from him, engages his justice, and influences his wrath against it. What! to rejoice in sin, that despites the Creator, and has wrought such tragedies in creation! Sin turned angels out of heaven, man out of paradise! Sin has made the blessed God so much a stranger to our world—broken off the communion in so great a part between heaven and earth—obstructed the pleasant commerce which had otherwise probably been between angels and men—so vilely debased the nature of man, and provoked the displeasure of his Maker towards him! Sin once overwhelmed the world with a deluge of water, and will again ruin it by a destructive fire! To rejoice in so hateful a thing as sin, is to do that mad part, to cast about firebrands, arrows, and death, and say, 'Am I not in sport?'—it is to be glad that such a one is turning a man into a devil! a reasonable, immortal soul, capable of heaven, into a fiend of hell!—to be glad that such a soul is tearing itself off from God, is blasting its own eternal hopes, and destroying all its possibilities of a future well-being. Blessed God! how opposite a thing is this to love—the offspring of God! Love is the birth of heaven, as it is here below, among mortals; the beauty and glory of it, as it is there above, in its natural seat. Love is the eternal bond of living union among the blessed spirits who inhabit there, and which would make our world, did it universally obtain here, another heaven." (Howe "On Love in reference to other Men's Sins.")

No! Sin is the sport of devils! It is not for men who feel the influence of love, to delight in sin. We justly condemn the cruelty of the Romans, in glutting their eyes with the scenes of the amphitheater, where the gladiators were torn in pieces by the fangs of lions and tigers; but theirs was innocent recreation compared with that of the perverted and wicked mind, which can be gratified by seeing an immortal creature ruining and damning his most precious soul! Go, laugh at the agonies of the wretched man tortured upon the rack, and make merry with his distorted features, and strange and hideous cries—go, laugh at the convulsive throes of the epileptic—go to the field of battle, and mock the groans of the wounded and dying—all this is more humane and merciful than delighting in sin! Could we look down upon the burning lake, and see there how the miserable spectres are tossed upon the billows of the burning deep, and hear their dreadful exclamations, "Who can dwell with devouring fire? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?"—would we then amuse ourselves with sin? Love does thus look upon their misery, so far as her imagination goes, and feels a cold horror and a shivering dread. She mourns over sin wheresoever she sees it, and weeps for those who never weep for themselves. This is her declaration, as she looks around upon the sins of mankind—"Rivers of water run down my eyes, because they keep not your law."

Love cannot delight in the misconduct of an enemy or a rival. This perhaps is the precise meaning of the apostle, in the expression we are now illustrating. Few of us are without some one or more who are considered by us, or who consider themselves, in the character of an opponent or a competitor; and in such cases there is great danger of our being pleased with their moral failures. It is not often that any, except those who are more than ordinarily depraved, will allow themselves to go so far as to tempt an enemy to sin, in order to gain the advantage over him. Yet there are some who will lay snares for his feet, and watch with eager hope for his halting—and when unable to accomplish this by their own personal exertions, will not scruple to engage accomplices in the work. Weaker and junior agents, who probably may know nothing, or know but little of the purpose for which they are employed, may be drawn by the 'master spirit of mischief' into the confederacy, and be made the instrument of tempting an immortal creature to sin against God, and ruin his own soul. This is the climax of revenge, the highest pitch of wickedness, and the greatest intensity of human malice. It is to extend the mischief of revenge to another world; to call in the aid of devils and the quenchless fire to supply the defects of our ability to inflict misery in proportion to our wishes, and to perpetuate our ill will through eternity. To tempt men to sin against God, with a view to serve ourselves by degrading them before the world—unites much of the malevolence of a devil, with as much of his ingenuity.

But if we cannot go to such a length as to tempt an opponent or a rival to sin, yet if we feel a delight in seeing him fall by other means; if we indulge a secret delight in beholding him rendering himself vile, blasting his reputation, destroying his popularity, and ruining his cause; if we inwardly exclaim, "Ah! so would I have it—now it is all over with him—this is just what I wished and wanted"—then we delight in iniquity. And, oh, how inexpressibly dreadful to be seen with a smiling countenance—or a countenance which, if it relaxes not into a smile, is sufficiently indicative of the joyful state of the heart, to run with eagerness to proclaim the news of that act of another which endangers his salvation—how contrary is all this to the love which delights in happiness!

Perhaps we only go so far as to be pleased that the object of our dislike has been himself injured in a way similar to that in which he has injured us. Although we may not allow ourselves to inflict any direct injury in the way of revenge, nor engage others to do it for us—yet if we see him ill treated by another person, and rejoice; if we exclaim, "I do not pity him, he has deserved it all for his behavior to me; I am glad he has received what he has deserved; "this is contrary to the law of love—it is a delight in sin.

Nor is the case altered, if our joy be professedly felt on account of the consequences which the sin has brought upon him. We may sometimes attempt to deceive ourselves by the supposition that we do not rejoice in the iniquity that is committed—but only because it has been succeeded by those bitter fruits which the misconduct has merited. We interpret it into a proof that God has taken up the cause of injured innocence, and avenged us of our adversary.

There are many circumstances and situations which more particularly expose us to the violation of this law of love. In the case of two different denominations in religion, or two congregations of the same party in a town, between whom a misunderstanding and schism have been permitted to grow up and to operate, there is imminent danger of this unchristian spirit. Alas! alas! that the bosom of men should be liable to such sentiments! Oh! shame, deep and lasting shame, upon some professing Christians, that such unhallowed emotions should ever be excited in their bosoms! "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice; lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." Let it not be known that the bad passions of the human heart build their nests, like obscene birds, around the altar of the Lord; or, like poisonous weeds, entwine their baneful tendrils around the pillars of his house.

We do not mean to say that any good man can rejoice in the open immorality and vice of an opponent; but are there not many, in all large communities, who, though of Israel in one sense, belong not to it in reality? And where the failure does not proceed to the length of a more awful delinquency—but consists merely of some minor breaches of the law of propriety, are not even the best of men sometimes exposed to the temptation of rejoicing over them, if their cause is promoted by them? The weaker party, especially if they have been ill-used, treated with pride and scorn, oppression and cruelty, are very apt to take delight in those instances of misconduct by which their opponents have brought upon themselves, the prejudices of the public.

Rival candidates for fame, or power, or influence—whether in ecclesiastical or secular affairs—are liable to the sin of rejoicing in iniquity. Hard, indeed, is it for such hearts as ours to repress all feelings of secret delight in those acts of a competitor by which he sinks—and we are raised in public esteem. That man gives himself credit for more virtue than he really possesses—who finds it easy to rejoice over the follies and miscarriages of the rival who contends with him—or the sins of an enemy who has deeply injured him. Job mentions it as a convincing proof of his integrity, and a striking display of good conduct—that he did not rejoice at his enemy's misfortune, or gloat over the trouble which came to him. (Job 31:29). And it was a fine manifestation of the generosity of David, that instead of rejoicing over those sins which brought on the catastrophe of Saul—which elevated him to the throne of Israel—he bewailed them with as sincere and pungent grief as he could have done had Saul been the kindest of fathers. That we are in danger of the sin we are now considering, is also evident from the exhortation of Solomon—"Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."

Love, if it had full possession of our hearts, and entire sway, would not only repress all outward exhibitions of this delight—but all inward emotions; would make us dread lest an opponent should fall into sin; would not allow us to see him go unwarned to transgression—but compel us to admonish him of his danger; and would make us cheerfully forego the greatest advantage to our cause or reputation, which we might gain by his misconduct. This is the holiness of love, and the proof of a general hatred for sin; for if we mourn only for our own sins, or the sins of our friends, or of our party—there may be something selfish in our grief after all. But to mourn over iniquity, when though it does harm to another, it may, in some sense, promote our cause—is indeed to hate sin for its own sake, and for the sake of Him by whom it is condemned.

We go on now to show, what love DOES rejoice in—"Love rejoices in the TRUTH."

By the truth we are not to understand veracity as opposed to falsehood. The apostle is not speaking of this subject. The truth means the doctrine of the Word of God. This is a very common way of describing the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. "Sanctify them by your truth," said our Lord—"your word is truth." The truth itself is the object of delight to love. Truth is the most glorious thing in the universe, next to God and holiness. It has been the great object of mental pursuits since the creation of the world; millions of minds have traveled in quest of it; philosophers profess to be so enamored even with the very term, that they have worshiped it as a mere abstraction, which, after all, they could not understand. What contentions has it originated—to what systems has it given rise—what dogmatism has it been the occasion of! And yet, after all, apart from Scriptural revelation, what is it but a mere name! This gives it reality and form—this tells us where it is, what it is, and how it is to be obtained. Here we learn that the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, and all the doctrines it includes or implies, IS THE TRUTH. The question is answered, proposed by Pilate to the illustrious prisoner at his bar, and the oracle of heaven has declared that the Scriptures are the truth. And the truth is the object of delight to love; the bright star, yes, the full-orbed sun, that enlightens love's eye, and points out the resting place of its heart. And it can rejoice in nothing else. Falsehood, and error, and the devices of the human mind, are the objects of its disgust and abhorrence.

It is evident, then, as we have already shown, that love differs essentially from that vague kind of sentimentalism which is so much cried up at present, both without and within the pale of the church; which scorns to proceed upon the Scripture ground of the truth and its genuine influence; reviling, as narrow-mindedness, and an uncharitable intolerant spirit, all regard to particular doctrines—but which extends its indiscriminate embrace, and pays its idle and unmeaning compliments to all people, of whatever religious persuasion, presuming that they are all serious and mean well, however much they differ from each other, or from the Scripture, in sentiment or in practice. One of the maxims of this spurious toleration, as we have already considered, is, that there is no moral turpitude in mental error; and that everything is non-essential which does not relate to the interests of morality. How widely this 'counterfeit liberality' differs from the apostolic love, is evident from the fact which we are now considering, and by which we are told that love delights in the truth. For the truth, love will be zealous, as for an object dearer than life itself. For the truth, love will be ready to set the seal of blood, and not resign or betray it through fear of the gloom of the captive's dungeon, or dread of the martyr's stake. Truth is its joy in love's life—its support in death. Truth is the dear companion of love's pilgrimage on earth, and its eternal associate in the felicities of heaven.

But as the truth is here opposed to iniquity—the apostle especially intended to state that HOLINESS is the object of delight to love. Holiness is the natural and appropriate effect of the truth believed. No man can receive the truth—in the love of it—without bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory of God. It is the delight of this pure and heavenly grace of love, to contemplate holiness wherever it is to be found. Ascending to the celestial world, it joins the choirs of the cherubim, to look upon the spotless One, and with them to give utterance to its ecstasies, in the short but sublime anthem, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" Undismayed by the roar of thunder, and the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words; by the thick darkness, and the vivid lightnings, and the agitation of the quaking earth—love ventures near the base of Sinai, and, for the delight that it has in holiness, rejoices in the LAW which is the rule of righteousness. The ANGELS are pleasant to behold, because they are clad in garments of unsullied purity.

The crown of glory which Adam wore before his fall was his innocence; and the deep degradation into which he fell by his apostasy, was loss of holiness, in which consisted the image of God. The ceremonial LAW has an excellence in the eye of love, because it teaches the value of holiness in the view of God, and the necessity of it for man. The PROPHETIC VISIONS are all delighted in, because they are distinguished by the beauties of holiness; and the whole GOSPEL of Jesus is dear to the heart of love, because it is intended to purify unto Christ a church—which he will present to the Father, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. MEN are esteemed and loved on earth, as they have this moral excellence of holiness, enstamped upon their souls; and in looking for a HEAVEN which shall satisfy all its desires, it can think of nothing higher and better, than a state of sinless purity!

So ardent and so uniform is love's regard to holiness, that it rejoices in it when it is found—even in an enemy or a rival. Yes; if we are under the influence of this divine virtue of love—as we ought to be, we shall desire, and desire very fervently too, that those who have displeased or injured us—may be better than they are. We shall wish to see every 'speck of imperfection' gone from their conduct, and their whole character standing out to the admiration of the world, and receiving the approbation of those by whom they are now condemned. We shall be willing to do anything by which they may conciliate to themselves the favor of the alienated multitude; and also raise themselves to the vantage ground on which their misconduct has placed us above them. This is love—to rejoice in those moral excellences, and gaze upon them with gratitude and delight, which invest the character of one that opposes us with loveliness and beauty—and by which his cause is promoted, in some degree to the detriment of ours.

Men of little virtue may sometimes join from social policy—in those commendations of another's goodness, the justice of which they cannot dispute, and the harmony of which they cannot disturb. But it is only the Christian, who is far advanced in the practice of all that is difficult in religion—who can secretly rejoice, without envy or jealousy, in those very virtues which draw away the public attention from himself—and cause him to pass into eclipse and to sink into shadow.

"O LOVE! this is your work, and this your glory—a work too rarely performed—a glory too rarely seen—in this region of selfishness, in this world of imperfection; where, of the multitudes who profess to submit to your sway—there are still so few who are really governed by your laws, and inspired by your influence!"