Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


"Love endures all things."

Christian love is not fickle, unsteady, or easily discouraged. Love is not soon disheartened, or induced to relinquish its object. Love is persevering, patient, and self-denying in the pursuance of its design to relieve the needs, assuage the sorrows, reform the vices, and allay the animosities—of those whose good it seeks. Love is as patient in bearing—as it is active in doing. Christian love unites the uncomplaining submission of the lamb, the plodding perseverance of the ox, with the courage of the lion!

Christian love is no frivolous and capricious affection, relinquishing its object from a mere love of change. Nor is love a feeble virtue, which weakly lets go its purpose in the prospect of difficulty. Nor is love a cowardly grace, which drops its scheme, and flees from the face of danger. No, Christian love is the union of benevolence with strength, patience, courage, and perseverance. It has feminine beauty—gentleness, and sweetness—united with masculine energy, and power, and heroism. To do good, it will meekly bear with the infirmities of the lowest, or will brave the scorn and fury of the mightiest. But let us survey the opposition, the difficulties, the discouragements, the provocations—which Christian love has to bear—and which, with enduring patience, it can resist.

Sacrifices of ease, of time, of feeling, and of property, must all be endured—for it is impossible to exercise Christian love without making these. He who would do good to others without practicing self-denial, does but dream. The way of philanthropy is ever up hill, and not infrequently over rugged rocks, and through thorny paths. If we would promote the happiness of our fellow-creatures, it must be by parting with something or other that is dear to us. If we would lay aside revenge when they have injured us, and exercise forgiveness, we must often mortify our own feelings. If we would reconcile the differences of those who are at variance, we must give up our time, and sometimes our comfort. If we would assuage their griefs, we must expend our property. If we would reform their wickedness, we must part with our ease. If we would, in short, do good of any kind, we must be willing to deny ourselves, and bear labor of body and pain of mind. And love is willing to do this—it braces itself for labor, arms itself for conflict, prepares itself for suffering—it looks difficulties in the face, counts the cost, and heroically exclaims, "None of these things move me, so that I may diminish the evils, and promote the happiness of others." It will rise before the break of day, linger on the field of labor until midnight, toil amid the sultry heat of summer, brave the northern blasts of winter, submit to derision, give the energies of body and the comfort of mind—all to do good.

Misconstruction is another thing that love endures. Some men's minds are ignorant, and cannot understand love's schemes; others are contracted, and cannot comprehend them; others are selfish, and cannot approve them; others are envious, and cannot applaud them; and all these will unite, either to suspect or to condemn—but this virtue of love, "like the eagle, pursues its noble, lofty, heaven-bound course, regardless of the flock of little pecking, caviling birds, which, unable to follow, amuse themselves by twittering their objections and ill-will in the hedges below." Or to borrow a Scriptural allusion, love, like its great Pattern when he was upon the earth, goes about doing good, notwithstanding the malignant perversion of its motives and actions on the part of its enemies. "I must do good," she exclaims—"if you cannot understand my plans, I pity your ignorance; if you misconstrue my motives, I forgive your malignity; but the clouds that are exhaled from the earth may as well attempt to arrest the career of the sun, as for your dulness or malevolence to stop my attempts to do good. I must go on, without your approbation, and against your opposition."

Envy often tries the endurance of love, and is another of the ills which it bears, without being turned aside by it. There are men who would enjoy the praise of benevolence, without enduring its labors; that is, they would wear the laurel of victory without exposing themselves to the peril of war—they are sure to envy the braver, nobler spirits, whose generous conquests having been preceded by labor, are followed by praise. To be good and to do good, are alike the objects of envy with many people. "A man of great merit," says a French author, "is a kind of public enemy. By engrossing a multitude of applauses, which would serve to gratify a great many others, he cannot but be envied—men naturally hate what they highly esteem, yet cannot love." The feeling of the countryman at Athens, who upon being asked why he gave his vote for the banishment of Aristides, replied, "Because he is everywhere called the just"—is by no means uncommon. The Ephesians expelled the best of their citizens, with the public announcement of this reason, "If any are determined to excel their neighbors, let them find another place to do it." Envy is that which love hates and prohibits; and in revenge, envy hates and persecutes love in return. But the terror of envy does not intimidate love, nor its malignity disgust it; it can bear even the perversions, misrepresentations, and opposition of this fiend-like passion—and pursues its course, simply saying, "Get behind me, Satan."

Ingratitude is often the hard usage which love has to sustain, and which it patiently endures. Into such a state of turpitude is man fallen, that he would bear any weight rather than that of obligation. Men will acknowledge small obligations—but often return malice for such as are extraordinary; and some will sooner forgive great injuries than great services. Many people do not know their benefactors, many more will not acknowledge them, and others will not reward them, even with the cheap offering of thanks. These things are enough to make us sick of the world. Yes—but they ought not to make us weary of trying to mend it; for the more ungrateful it is, the more it needs our benevolence. Here is the noble, the lofty, the godlike temper of love; it pursues its course like the providence of Jehovah, which continues to cause its sun to rise, and its rain to descend, not only upon the irrational creatures, who have no capacity to know their benefactor—but upon the rational ones, many of whom have no disposition to acknowledge him.

Derision is often employed to oppose the efforts of love, by all the artillery of scorn. Spiritual religion, and especially that view of it which this subject exhibits, has ever been an object of contempt to ungodly men. Banter and ridicule are brought to stop its progress—the greatest profaneness and buffoonery are sometimes employed to laugh it out of acceptance—but it has learned to treat with indifference even the cruel mockings of irony, and to receive upon its shield-arm, all the arrows of the most envenomed wit.

Opposition does not disgust, nor persevering obstinacy weary true Christian love. It can endure to have its schemes examined and sifted by those who cannot understand them, caviled at by those who cannot mend them, and resisted by those who have nothing to offer in their place. It does not throw all up in a fit of passion, nor allow the tongue of petulance, nor the clamor of envy, to stop its efforts.

Lack of success, that most discouraging consideration to activity—is not sufficient to drive it from the field; but in the expectation of the future harvest, it continues to plough and to sow in hope. Its object is too important to be relinquished for a few failures; and nothing but the demonstration of absolute impossibility can induce it to give up its benevolent purpose.

If instances of this view of Christian love be necessary to illustrate and enforce it by the power of example, many and striking ones are at hand. Let the history of Paul be studied, and his suffering career be traced, and his declarations heard concerning his varied and heavy tribulations. "Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you are so wise! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are well thought of, but we are laughed at. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, without enough clothes to keep us warm. We have endured many beatings, and we have no homes of our own. We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash—right up to the present moment." 1 Cor. 4:10-13. "They say they serve Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along." 2 Cor. 11:23-28.

Nor did these sufferings come upon him without his being previously apprized of them, for the Holy Spirit had witnessed to him that bonds and afflictions awaited him. Yet neither the prospect of his varied tribulations, nor the full weight of them, made him for a moment think of relinquishing his benevolent exertions for the welfare of mankind. His was the love that "endures all things."

And a greater, far greater, than even the great apostle of the Gentiles, might be also introduced, as affording by his conduct a most striking illustration of this property of Christian love. Who can conceive of what the Son of God endured while he sojourned in this world? Who can imagine the magnitude of his sufferings, and the extent of that opposition, ingratitude, and hard usage, amid which those sufferings were sustained, and by which they were so greatly increased? Never was so much mercy treated with so much cruelty—the constant labor he sustained, and the many privations to which he submitted, were little, compared with the malignant contradiction, resistance, and persecution, he received from those who were the objects of his mercy. The work of man's redemption was not accomplished, as was the work of creation, by a mere fiat delivered froth the throne, on which Omnipotence reigned in the calm repose of infinite majesty. No! The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. The wrath of God, the fury of devils, the rage of man, the malignity of enemies, the wayward follies and fickleness of friends, the baseness of treachery, the scorn of official rank, and the many stings of ingratitude, calumny, and fickleness—all poured their venom into that heart which glowed with affection to mankind. Nothing turned him from his purpose—nothing abated his ardor in the work of our salvation. His, above all others, was indeed a love which "endures all things."

Such is the model we are to copy. In doing good we must prepare ourselves for opposition, and all its attendant train of evils. Whether our object be the conversion of souls, or the well-being of man's bodily nature—whether we are seeking to build up the temporal, or to establish the eternal interests of mankind, we must remember that we have undertaken a task which will call for patient, self-denying, and persevering effort. In the midst of difficulties, we must not utter the vain and cowardly wish that we had not set our hand to the plough; but press onward in humble dependence upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, and animated by the hope of either being rewarded by success, or by the consciousness that we did everything to obtain it. And we shall do this, if we possess much of the power of love; for its ardor is such, that many waters cannot quench it. Its energies increase with the difficulty that requires them; and like a well constructed arch, it becomes more firm and consolidated by the weight it has to sustain. In short, it is "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as it knows that its labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."