Love's Constraint

2 Cor. 5:14.---' For the love of Christ constraineth us.'

This is the Apostle's answer to one charge of his detractors. They could not deny the passion and enthusiasm and unwearied zeal with which he lived. These qualities were the wonder of the Church, as they have been the wonder of succeeding ages. What did it? ' He is beside himself,' said his enemies. They could not deny facts, but they could interpret them so that they became not virtues but weaknesses. The unusual, either in conduct or in character, can always be put down as madness, deep feeling as unbalanced excitement, and great zeal as fanaticism. ' He is beside himself,' was said of Paul's Master, when His friends heard of the multitudes who gathered about Him, and to save Him from Himself wished to lay hold of Him and restrain Him. It is the refuge of the plain character to explain what is beyond their own experience, and beyond their own little fluttering of feeling.

And here Paul simply and humbly admits that he did and said and felt things that might be easily misinterpreted. He claims that, after all, such were between God and himself. ' Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God,' he declares. And he goes on to give what is the real explanation of the motive that impels him. If he has parted with all selfish ends and thinks only of the good of the Church; if he has no place for some other things that reign supreme in men's hearts; if he labors and suffers and is burdened with the care of all the churches, what is the cause? This: ' For the love of Christ constraineth me.'

It is not love to Christ of which St. Paul is thinking, but Christ's love to men; for he goes on to show that the proof of that love is Christ's death. This is to Paul the constraining power of Christ,s love: ' Because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.' Of course, we cannot separate except in form the two kinds of love. It is the love of Christ first of all, but that could have no power, no foothold, in the will or conscience or heart, until it found some response. ' We love him because he first loved us.'

The word which the Apostle uses for the operation of the love of Christ is a strong one. He says the love of Christ constraineth me.' He means that he is held tight, a power gripping him together, concentrating every energy, moving him in one course. He has resigned himself to that love, which now has taken control of his being, and of his life. It is nothing to him whether men think him beside himself. This is what he must be, and must do by a love that will not let him go.

Love is something which we can never properly analyze or define. The people who know most about it---the tenderest women, the deepest-hearted men---are least able to say in precise words how much love means. Yet everybody knows something about it. For love is one of those elemental things---like sunshine and daily bread and death and immortality---which belong to us all.

Now Christianity is built on this overwhelming paradox---that God Himself is nothing less than pure and perfect love, that the Creator cares passionately for each single soul which He has made. It is hard to believe: perhaps because it is almost dreadful to believe. Nothing smites selfish men with such awe as the truth that God Almighty loves them, and always will. But the New Testament never deals with love as a mere abstraction. There in the gospel we see how God's love was made flesh and dwelt among us, and became a Man with men, and bore our griefs and carried our sorrows and put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The gospel shows us Divine Love, pierced and wounded and bleeding, and yet victorious---rejoicing with unutterable joy to pour itself out for us men and for our salvation.

In a curious and fantastic novel entitled The Romance of Two Worlds, written many years ago, Marie Corelli has one chapter called " A Miniature Creation." Its aim was in imagination to put a human being in God's place, and to show how a Deity, who would take upon himself the limitations of the creatures whom he had made and live their life and at last die for them, would capture their minds, and seize upon their imagination, and win their hearts in a way which would be absolutely impossible without this great sacrifice.

And what was it about Jesus Christ that kindled His disciples into flame as well? Was it not the union in one Person of supreme power and glory with utter self-forgetfulness? The unsearchable riches which He renounced, side by side with the unsearchable agony which He embraced, the nameless humiliation of such a life and death, this measureless sacrifice for the sake of selfish, sinful men---here is the context and quality of the love of Christ which fills it with such virtue to constrain and to subdue.

Not in soft speech is told the earthly story, Love of all Loves! that showed thee for an hour; Shame was thy kingdom, and reproach thy glory, Death thine eternity, the Cross thy power.

Ah with what bitter triumph had I seen them, Drops of redemption bleeding from thy brow! Thieves, and a culprit crucified between them, All men forsaking him,---and that was thou!

All through the New Testament one fact is beyond dispute: those early disciples felt that Christ had laid them under infinite and endless obligation. He had done for them what they could never do for themselves, what all their devotion could never repay. This sense of an incalculable dept breaks out in impassioned language as often as they face the perpetual question, "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?" And the history of the Church proves how in all generations the most genuine Christians have realized this love of Christ most vividly, have yielded themselves to it most absolutely and unreservedly. Through every age we recognize them by this token. In the great Communion of saints they speak many dialects, but they all share one common secret of experience. They are all dominated by the same overwhelming motive.

What transforms Augustine the sensualist into a saint, and lures Francis to take poverty for his bride? The love of Christ constrains them. What nerves Luther to defy wickedness in high places? What launches the Pilgrim Fathers on their strange venture across the sea? What leads John Howard down into half the dungeons of Europe? What carried David Livingstone across the swamps and forests of Africa? The love of Christ constrains them. Yes, and the same spell is still working, for its charm never wears out. Each missionary and martyr enshrined in the Church's memory, each humble, patient cross-bearer whom everyone but God forgets, and the workers in grimy back-streets, and the Sunday-school teachers gathering their children round them---they all witness the same confession and tell the same tale.

It is one hall-mark of greatness to be dominated by a single ruling passion. We recognize that hall-mark on the lives of outstanding men of genius---the poets and prophets and captains of mankind. We may say, for instance, that the love of Nature constrained Wordsworth, the love of Italy constrained Mazzini, and love of science constrained Darwin. But this checkered world common men and women obey various conflicting emotions, and so their lives are swayed along many devious paths for well-being or woe. The strangers whom we jostle in the streets, if they told the truth, would confess that they are governed by strangely different impulses. They would say: "The routine of custom constraineth me"; or "The fear of being found out constraineth me"; or "The craving for excitement constraineth me"; or "The hope of reputation and applause constraineth me." Some of us who call ourselves by the Holy Name, if we were to utter what lies in our hearts, would have to admit that we are impelled by mingled motives, not in themselves base or shameful yet still falling below the noblest of all. Direct, personal devotion to Christ, as it was felt by His first followers, is become a rare thing among modern Christians. Much of our religion remains poor and sickly and barren, sinks into a formal service, because we dare not say in sincerity, ' The love of Christ constraineth me.' How miserably we represent the gospel! We let men think of the Christian life as though it were a painful restraint---a pallid, scrupulous existence, robbed of those high passions and heroic joys which make life worth living. But the key-note of the Christian life is love: and love is the inward secret of liberty and energy and rapture.

The final question which Jesus Christ puts to every would-be follower is the question He put to that disciple who had denied Him in the hour of His bitter need. He asks each of us, ' Lovest thou me?' He does not say, ' Understandest thou me?' but only ' Lovest thou me?' He makes all else hinge upon this. In His eyes the one thing needful is that we should be bound by passionate personal attachment to Himself. The Son of God reduces religion and morality to their simplest terms. He Himself is the supreme test and touchstone of human character. In His judgment nothing else seriously matters but this. ' Lovest thou me?'---will there be any other challenge for us to answer at the Last Query?

In Christ, Timothy. maranatha