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"The love of Christ constraineth us."—2 Cor. 5:14 .
THE WORD constrain has the double thought of drawing together, holding together. The Apostle had been recounting his own activities in the Lord's service, and had stated that with some his course seemed to indicate an unbalanced mind. He explained that this was not so; that he had a sounder mind than ever before. He felt himself bound to Christ, constrained by love of Christ to love Him and all who were His with a pure heart.
Why should this love constrain? For this reason: If we reckon that all are dead, then all need the service of the Life-Giver; and if Christ died for all, and if we now have come to life through Him, we should hereafter live not according to, or after, the flesh. We should give up the flesh entirely and live the new life which we have received from Christ. St. Paul would say, I am not mad; but I am so closely drawn to Christ that I have the same sympathetic love for others that He had. As He had laid down His life for the brethren, so would I.
Our Lord's love was specially manifested toward His disciples, and chiefly toward those who were the most zealous and energetic—Peter, James and John having the particular love of the Lord. Similarly the Church is thus instructed. There is no exhortation to lay down our lives in the service of the world, but specially for those of the household of faith. We see that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are to reach the whole world of mankind, every member of Adam's race.
Assuming, however, that the Lord knew from the very beginning who would betray Him, and that Divine discernment would know all who would go into the Second Death, we could not think that the Lord would do anything on their behalf. In other words, the blessing of God is only for the "Israelites indeed." Only those who will come into harmony with Him will have the rich blessing and favor of the Lord. These are included in the redemptive work, not because of anything in themselves, but because of the love of the Lord, which is broad enough and deep enough for all who will receive it. But God cannot love wicked characters. His blessings are only for those who are His children now, or who will be, under the blessings and privileges which He later on will grant. It is our duty to bless all to the extent of our ability.
The work of grace for the Church during this Gospel Age is the transforming of our perverted characters and the re-establishing of them in the likeness of the Divine character, Love. Whoever fails to attain this transformation [R4837 : page 182] fails to attain God's will concerning him, and must, necessarily, fail to win the prize set before us in the Gospel. We are, to begin with, very poor material out of which to form likenesses of God's dear Son. We were "children of wrath, even as others." (Eph. 2:3.) The original likeness of God, possessed by Father Adam before he transgressed, has been sadly lost in the six thousand years intervening. Hence, instead of finding ourselves in the Divine likeness of love, we find that we were "born in sin and shapen in iniquity" to such a degree that instead of love being the natural, ruling principle in our characters, it is in many instances almost entirely obliterated; and what remains is largely contaminated with evil, self-love and carnal love—perversions which are in direct antagonism with the wholly unselfish love which is the essence of the Divine character.
"This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God"—the God who is Love. (John 17:3.) To know God means more than to know something of His loving Plan and character; it means to know God in the sense of personal acquaintance and intelligent appreciation of His character; and no one can have this except as he partakes of the Spirit of God, the spirit of holiness, the spirit of love. And this spirit of holiness and love cannot be acquired instantly; it is a growth; and its development is the chief business (and should be the chief concern) of all who hope to know God in the complete sense which will be rewarded with life eternal.
But since our transformation of mind or will is not accompanied by a physical transformation, or restitution, it follows that so long as we are in the flesh we shall have to contend against its inherited weaknesses and disposition to selfishness and sin. But this sharp and continual conflict not only selects a special, overcoming class, but serves to develop the desired character more quickly than will the more easy processes of the Millennial Age. In consequence, while it will require nearly a thousand years for the world's perfecting, the perfecting of the saints in character may be accomplished in a few years, under the special training of sharp discipline and the special course of instruction designed for the "little flock." But whether in a few years or many years, and whether with little or much friction with adversity, the transformation and polishing of character must be accomplished. This love-likeness of our wills to the will of God is the end to be sought, if we would finish our course with joy and with good hopes for the eternal glory.
If we possess the love of God in our hearts it will rule all the affairs of our lives and will make us God-like in thoughts, actions and words. In the School of Christ, the great lesson which the Master is teaching us [R4837 : page 183] day by day is the lesson of love, which we must learn thoroughly if we would attain "the mark for the prize of our high calling."
In the School of Christ, all the instructions of the Divine Word and providences are intended to develop our hearts and influence our conduct in harmony with the lines of love. While the fruits and graces—meekness, gentleness, patience, etc.—are manifestations of the Spirit, yet the Holy Spirit must be present before these manifestations could appear at all; and while the spirit might be perfect, its manifestations might be imperfect. The vine may be good, but for a season the grapes will be immature. So with these graces of the Spirit. They are outward manifestations of the inward condition of the heart, which may attain perfection before these graces are perfect. Indeed, these graces may never be perfect on this side of the veil.
At the moment of making consecration, before we had borne any fruits of the Spirit, we were not at the mark of perfect love. We were consecrated and had the right spirit, so far as we had knowledge. But we had not a sufficiency of knowledge to recognize what would be expected of us. For this we needed some development, some instruction in the School of Christ. The knowledge of what it would cost to follow Christ came gradually. If the will kept up with the knowledge, one would reach the mark of perfect love in the heart. The manifestations of the graces of character which this condition of heart produces may never be fully perfect in the present life, but only when we have the perfect bodies. The heart which shall have reached this condition will be in perfect tune with the conditions which will obtain on the other side.
We must recognize each other, in the good professions which we make to each other and in the evidences of these professions which are manifest. As a gardener might go to his vine and look through the different branches for grapes, so the Lord knows whether the heart is in the proper attitude to bring forth fruit. Of those who have openly professed a thorough consecration to the Lord, all those whose lives do not contradict their profession, and who are walking, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, may be known and recognized by us in the same way by which they will recognize us. "By their fruits we shall know them"—by the outward obedience, but not by the full fruit-development. We know each other, therefore, not by the full development of the fruits, but by the measure of the obedience and striving to obey the Lord.
Absolute perfection would mean perfection of thought, word and deed, which is not our condition at the present time. The most that any of us can have now is perfection of love in our hearts; that is, a perfect love for God, for the Truth and for the brethren. Perfect love leads to sacrifice. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15.) Those who have perfect love will fulfil their sacrifices. But at any time one may pass from the stage of perfect love to that of alienation and opposition. The person might come into such a condition of heart that the fervency of his love would become cool. Gradually he would become estranged from the Lord, and might become identified with the "great company" class. Then, if the chastisements of the Time of Trouble did not lead to a thorough reformation, he would pass on to the Second Death.
After Love's provision of the Lamb of God (the Ransom-price for all mankind laid down by Him, and the imputation of His merit to the Church, all the various steps for our deliverance from sin are along the line of developing us in the character of love, the character of God, which alone, according to the Divine standard, will make us acceptable before the Father and bring to us His grace of everlasting life. How important, then, that we should be "taught of God" and develop this character!
The work of grace for the world, during the Millennial Age, will be to make known to all mankind the gracious character of God and His provision for the salvation of all; and to transform all who are willing, from the depravity of sin to perfection of character—Love; making mankind once more images of God. This transformation of their wills, accompanied by a gradual physical transformation, will remove from them all the blemishes of sin and all hereditary inclinations thereto and leave them in the likeness of God, with a recollection of the undesirability of sin and its evil consequences.