God Is Love
Sermon by Elder James W. Gillen
Given at Old Church near Lamoni, Iowa, December 31, 1882
|James W. Gillen
Quorum of Twelve Apostles
I call your attention to the reading of the third chapter of the First General Epistle of John [verses 1–24]:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever continueth in sin hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that continueth in sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin; for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; and he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received that holy Spirit of promise. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of Christ, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue only; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then we have confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
I thought this morning what time I might occupy, to call your attention to two passages of scripture. I shall not tell you where they are, but shall quote them: "God is love," connected with another passage, "Perfect love casteth out all fear, for there is no fear in love."
Whether I shall be able to do justice to the text that I have quoted or not is very doubtful. Still, if I shall have that assistance from Him who is love, perhaps I shall be able to say something that may be for your edification, and this is the only object that I have in view. My desire is that I may be able to assist and encourage, and build up the faith of the Saints, and if possible to induce them to a closer walk with God, that they may become more like Him. And while my efforts shall be to endeavor to encourage others, and induce a closer walk with God, I too feel admonished of the necessity of endeavoring to practice that which I set forth unto others as obligatory upon them.
"God is love." You will discover that in the Scriptures, nowhere is an effort made to prove the existence of a God. It is assumed. And the first declaration we have in the Scriptures is, "In the beginning God."
I do not know that it will be necessary for me to set forth some of the reasons why we believe in the existence of a God; why we accept of a supreme, overruling, governing power. But it seems to me to be quite evident to every thinking mind, to every reasoning individual, that there must be a Power superior to man. That there must be some Being in existence who is the cause of all things that we behold around us. And it seems to me that present existence argues an eternal existence. Something now exists, and we think that reasoning from this standpoint, we are irresistibly driven to the conclusion that something must have always existed—for nothing cannot produce something. For everything there is, it is evident there must be an adequate cause. We examine ourselves, and we see that we are organized and beautifully arranged, and everything seeming to be adapted to the end in view. Perhaps man is the most intricate piece of machinery in existence; and when we discover a mechanism, an adaptation of means to an end, we certainly conclude that there must have been a Designing Mind, there must have been a Mechanic, an intelligent one too, that understood the arrangement of parts, and understood the end for which the individual thing that is constructed was adapted. We look forth upon the visible world, and as the Psalmist declares: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork" [Psalm 19:1].
Now we cannot say that law is the cause of this. That is, we cannot say that law, separate and apart from intelligence, possibly could produce these things; for we understand law at best to be but a rule of action, or a rule for action. You may define it either way, a rule of action or a rule for action—I care not which way you have it. If it is a rule, there must have been Someone to lay down this rule. To simply refer to law, or to chance, or to the working of a law without an Individual working by this law, it seems to me is to abandon all claim to being a philosopher.
But some who are willing to admit the argument from design, that is from effect to cause, still desire to carry that same argument to the Deity Himself. But we think there is one thing lacking. There is one link missing here. Because before we look for a cause of an effect, we must first come to the conclusion, and be satisfied, that that thing is an effect, that it had a beginning. We must certainly prove that it had a beginning, or else we have no right to look for a cause for the Originator of that thing. We have no right to look for a cause if it always existed. If it never had a beginning, it is not an effect, and does not need a cause. When we are arguing from effect to cause, the first thing is to ascertain whether this thing we are examining had a beginning. If there was a time when it did not exist, there must have been an adequate cause to produce this effect.
When we examine the earth and all there is upon it, we are driven to the conclusion that there was a time in the history of this earth when man did not exist. Nay, if we are to accept the deductions of science, there was a time when man could not exist upon it. Not only man, but the present race of animals—there was a time when they could not exist, that the earth was not in a condition for them to subsist upon it, and they could not live there. That the conditions were such that it was not adapted to life upon it at all at one period of its existence. And we go down still further, if we accept the deductions of science, and we find a time in the history of the earth when it was in its embryotic state—when not only the animals that are now upon it did not exist, nor man nor any living thing. There was a time when life was not upon the planet. We pass down through one strata after another, and we find one graveyard after another, and we pass down below the era of life, and find a time when no living things subsisted upon this earth. Hence all that live, whether past or present, at one time were not. They are effects. Then there must be an adequate cause for them.
The Scriptures tell us too, that "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork." If we accept this declaration as it reads, as truth, then we are irresistibly driven to the conclusion that all that we behold of the various planets is the workmanship of God's hands. And if so we ask, What law, what power it was that placed them in such orderly arrangement by which they move in their orbits, obedient to the laws that govern them?
Law—what is it? The laws of nature—we hear men talking very learnedly about them. We hear men who have never stopped to inquire what is meant by the laws of nature. Why do you use the term just as flippantly as though you understood all about nature and nature's laws? Men talk as though they had gone into the laboratory of nature, and there discovered the secret workings of it, the mainsprings, and the causes that have produced all these things. Why you say, What do you mean by a law of "• nature? I apprehend that there is not one in ten of those who use this term that can tell you anything about it. Suppose we should have to give a definition of a law of nature. What should we say it is? Simply a fixed, stated, uniform law. A law that acts constantly, uniformly. If anyone is able to give us a better definition than that, I have failed to discover what that definition can be. I cannot for the life of me tell. I have thought about it, and studied about it. When I have heard individuals talk so learnedly about the laws of nature, I have studied in regard to it, and I have used my weak powers to endeavor to find a better definition of the phrase, laws of nature, than this: that they are firmly fixed, universal laws. Some power acting constantly, if you will.
The moment we talk about law, or about the existence of law, certainly it refers us to the Originator of this law. If law is a rule of action, or a rule for action, I care not which, then there must have been Someone who laid down this rule. I care not whether they are the laws of nature, or what we might term the laws of God, or laws for the government of nature, or for the government of man; we hold that all law is the one and the same thing.
We understand that if law is eternal, then the Individual making this law must be as eternal, and indeed if there is any difference, must be prior to the law. That if the laws of nature are eternal, then the Individual who formed those laws must be eternal also. We inquire, What is law? I understand it to be simply the will of God, and that all law is referable to God, to God's will.
We ask, Why does the earth move in its orbit? Why does it have its annual and diurnal motion? Why does it revolve in its elliptic? We answer, Because it is God's will. God has placed it there, and it is His will that it should thus revolve. Can you tell us any better reason for it? Can there be any better reason for it? All law is the will of God, and upon this hypothesis we argue that all law is eternal, because God Himself is eternal; and that everything exists by the will of God, and everything is governed by the will of God. We find that wherever God's law is acting without the agency of man, that law acts in a uniform manner. There is harmony, there is no disorder there. Everything moves forward in its proper order, obedient to the laws that govern it, and everything moves in harmony. But whenever man has anything to do with this law, whenever man is brought into relation to it, whenever he becomes a factor, then we find imperfection. We find things do not move in harmony with the will of God. But all inert matter, all matter, or all bodies that are not possessed of intelligence, that are not endowed with rational powers, all that act as mere machines acted upon, then the law acts constantly, uniformly, without deviation, because they move obedient unto God's will. And therefore they move in harmony.
We understand then, that all law is referable to the will of God. Therefore, when we come to ask the question in regard to positive law, or moral law—whether God commanded certain things because they are right, or whether they are right simply because they are commanded—we are led to the conclusion at once, that if all law is referable to the will of God, then all law must have been and existed eternally. God does not command today things simply because they are right, and that other things are right because they are commanded. This question has been agitated very much: whether certain laws that were given to us were given because they were right, that is, according to the eternal fitness of things; or whether their right and rectitude simply consists in their being a commandment of God.
Now if we take the position that God is eternal, and that all law is the will of God and referable thereto, then we can see that all law has existed from eternity, and that those laws must have been enacted, must have been given expression to, so far as man is concerned—and we hold that all law is equal so far as intelligent creatures are concerned.
There are only three classes of intelligences with which we are acquainted other than God, so far as I know anything about it: angels, devils, and men. Angels, we understand, rejoice in doing the will of God. We find that they rejoice in executing His commands. Devils were not always devils it appears, but became such by the violation of some law. Now mark you, "Sin is the transgression of the law." If we take the scriptural view of the matter, we will say that devils rebelled, these certain spirits rebelled, and are "reserved now in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day"—that they are undergoing a certain punishment, and are held in reserve for a punishment. If we take this ground, then we are certainly irresistibly driven to the conclusion that law existed there, and that they violated that law.
The angels kept the law, whoever they are. No matter who they are, or what they are, whether they came into existence at a certain period of time, or whether they always existed, what they are has nothing to do with the inquiry this morning. But we simply say, that according to the Scriptures there was a certain class of spirits which rebelled. We care not when they had a beginning, or how they had a beginning, or what the character of their rebellion was. It simply appears that there was a law, and that they failed to keep that law, whatever it was.
Now our object is to show that this law is binding upon man; that is, upon all intelligences—that it is universal. Why? Because we claim that this law is love—the law of love. And we hold that this law has been in existence always, from all eternity. We hold, inasmuch as God is love, that everything that He has made, that everything that He has formed, was formed in love and for the benefit of His creatures.
Should it be proven, or should it be taken for granted, or should they accept the statement made in the revelation, that there are thousands of worlds like this, and there are intelligences living upon them. You may accept this statement, or you may reason by analogy and say that other planets are surrounded by atmospheres, and adapted to man equally as well as the one upon which we live. You may go still further and reason from analogy, or take the revelation as a statement of fact, that there are other worlds, and that they are peopled with intelligences. Let that be as it may. We hold that this law of love is universal. We hold that it is adapted to all intelligences, whether there be men upon the other planets, or whether there be angels—that all are governed by the one general law, and that law is love. And we hold that when the Savior said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself," He referred to the relation of the creature with the Creator, of one individual with another; and we see it is adapted to individuals who may live in communities. It presents our duty to our neighbors, as well as the creature's duty to God.
We find when we look at it in this manner, that the law is eternal; that it existed from all eternity, and that it is universal. And that the will of God to Adam, and the law of God to other individuals, are but expressions, are but single enactments or manifestations of this particular law— or rather particular manifestations of this law—expressions of it.
We hold that all laws are alike; they are but simple expressions of the one grand law. That each expression is but a particular manifestation of this law. That the law existed before the enactment.
Now in regard to the government of man, we understand that in the far, distant past when these spirits rebelled, whenever it was, we understand that they failed to keep the law of God, whatever the particular nature of the rebellion was, that the principle of it was that they sinned in not loving God. Had they loved God they would have obeyed Him, no matter what the particular requirement was, no matter what they were commanded to do, I care not what it was. The principle that they transgressed was love to God. It was not a particular enactment that they transgressed; they did not keep this general law—love to God. And I think too, that the love to their fellow creature, or their fellow spirit, was violated too. Because not satisfied with their own transgression, they sought to lead others into a like rebellion, and sin from their allegiance and their duty to God. And therefore, not only did they fail to love God themselves, but they held out inducements to others to ignore, or to set aside this love to God, to turn away from it. So that both love to God and love to man, upon which "hangs all the law and the prophets," was violated by them, and because of this violation they were cast out, and are reserved unto chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
God is love, and we hold that whatever laws He gives to man are given in love, and for the good of man. In the Garden of Eden God gave to man a law. Now I understand that the general law had existed before, from all eternity. But this particular expression of it was then given: "Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it." Why? Simply because God has commanded it, if you will; and you as the creature, owing love to God, ought cheerfully and willingly to observe whatever law God has given you.
Why? It seems reasonable when we come to the conclusion that God is our Creator, that He has fitted up the earth for our abode; that He has adorned it with everything that is to gratify our best feelings, if you will; and to satisfy our love for the beautiful, and satisfy our wants and provide for our necessities and supply us with everything necessary; surely if we love God as we ought to love Him, with all our hearts—had Adam done this, he certainly never would have allowed any mere curiosity or love to the woman to turn him aside from his love to God. It is evident that the woman, in partaking of the fruit, forgot her love, forgot her duty to God. She could not have loved Him as she ought, else she would not have allowed any power to influence her, or turn her aside from keeping this law of love to Him. We understand it was a violation of this grand law, this moral law, if you please; this law upon which all other laws rest—upon which all other laws hang; for upon these two commandments the Son of God declares, "hang all the law and the prophets."
We take it then, that although law has its exactions, those exactions that attach to law are given in love, and for man's good. There are some who seem to think that it is unjust, and that there is no love in punishing man, or in God punishing His creatures because of their transgressions. We hold, it is in love. We hold, that when the parent corrects the child with a view to the reformation and the ultimate good of the child, when he does it in a proper spirit, in a proper manner, he is manifesting more love for the child than he possibly can do to neglect that proper correction. We hold, that a parent is not faithful to his trust, that he does not discharge the duties resting upon him as he ought to do, if he sees his children do that which is wrong and fails to correct them for it. So we consider when man departs from God, and God attaches a certain punishment to the transgression of the law, that it is done in love, and the object is man's ultimate good. We hold, that all punishment, whether here or hereafter—and we cannot look at it in any other way from the standpoint that God is love— has for its object the reformation and ultimate good of man. Why? Because "God is love." Yes, says one, God is just, too. So He is. We admit that. But there can be no love without justice. That is a perverted love which is not just. Justice belongs with love. That love is not a pure love that ignores justice. We understand where there is love, with that love is justice—is impartiality too. It is uniform, too. Whatever corrections may come in for the transgression of this general law of love to God, they are in mercy to man and with the ultimate good of man in view. We claim that inasmuch as God is love, that all His acts to man are in love. They are because of His love to man.
You will discover that before the foundation of the earth was laid, He knew what would be the consequence of placing man upon it. He knew that man would depart, would fall from his original state of innocence; therefore God provided Himself with a means for the recovery of man. He devised a plan, if you will, whereby man could be restored, after suffering pain, sickness, and sorrow. That He would ultimately, provided man should keep this law of love, that although he had fallen, yet if he would make use of the means that He had prepared whereby he might reinstate himself with God, that God would restore him— not only to that from which he had fallen, but to a higher degree of exaltation than man could possibly have enjoyed had he not fallen. I claim then, that man is benefitted, if I might be allowed the expression, by the Fall. That every individual that keeps God's law, and is governed in his individual actions by love—love to God and love to man—that it will be a benefit to him. In other words, he shall attain to a higher degree of glory, a higher degree of enjoyment, and be placed in a higher sphere than he possibly could have been, had man not fallen. I do not say that the Fall was altogether for man's benefit, but that the promise is made by God Himself, that "All things shall work together for good." And I accept the statement just as it is written, if we love God, if we will accept the means that God has placed within our reach, that God in love has given us, that is, if we will accept of the gift of His Son, for in love He gave Him, and the Son was prompted by love to come and offer Himself, and work out man's salvation, to pay the debt for him. And that therefore we hold, that inasmuch as an individual loves God, he would be willing, not only willing, but anxious, and not only anxious, but he will rejoice in the opportunity of doing whatever God commands him to do.
Now we hold this to be a fact, that it is not simply because it is a duty, simply because it is required that we should perform anything, but we ought in everything that we do, to be glad, rejoice, and be thankful; yea, our hearts ought to swell with love and gratitude to God, that we have the opportunity of showing our love to God, of doing just what He commands, no matter what it may be. We ought to ever rejoice in doing the will of God whatever it may be. Therefore we understand that there is one part of the scripture that tells us to live above the law, all special enactments of the law, above anything except the one perfect law, because "perfect love casts out all fear." There is no fear of transgressing God's law. There is no fear of being cast out into endless darkness. There is no fear in those who love God with all the heart, that they will be ultimately cast off. There is no fear of a failure to ultimately attain the end they are making for. There will be no fear. Why? "Perfect love casts out all fear." We hold, if we love God with all our hearts, our mights, and our minds, and our strength, and if that love reaches out towards man, as God's love reaches out towards us, as the Son's love reaches out towards us—we claim that if this love to God dwells in the heart of man, it is the Spirit of God dwelling there, for this love comes from the Spirit of God, for "God is love." And the more we love God the more we have of His Spirit, and this begets in us a desire to make our fellowmen partakers of this good. We not only desire to love God ourselves, but we desire that everybody else should love Him. Suppose they do us wrong, suppose an injury is done to us. Does our love abandon us? No, it ought to come out in pity, in sympathy for them, in commiseration for their weakness; for I hold that perfect love is the fulfilling of the law, and that "perfect love casts out all fear."
Where the love of God dwells in the heart of a man, he will not perform certain requirements that are made at his hands because it is a duty simply—he will not go out to preach simply because it is a duty; he will not seek out his fellowman because it is a duty simply—he will not go and labor to sustain the cause of Christ because it is a duty, because the law says he shall. He will stop looking at what the law says in regard to the matter. If he loves the Lord his God with all his heart and mind, he will work for Him, and will take pleasure in working for Him. It will cause his heart to reach out towards his fellowman, and to do all things in his power that are for their good.
But says one, This is all well enough if we knew that everything was all right. But it has to pass through other hands, and whether these use it for this purpose or whether they do not, we do not know. Here comes in the scripture now, "Perfect love casts out all fear." It is evident we may be loving God, but there is something else lacking. We cannot have kept the other part. Remember one part of the love is to God and the other is to man. We may have kept the love we had to God but we have lost our love for our fellowman. We cannot love our brother as God has commanded us to love him—our love is deficient, it is not perfect, His law is not observed in its entirety when there is this fear. Our duty to God we may be performing. We may perhaps be loving God with all our hearts, but this is not possible, because the Apostle says, "How shall we love God whom we have not seen, and hate"—mistrust, misjudge, be suspicious of, be fearful of—"our brother whom we have seen." Shall I put for the word "hate"—mistrust, suspicion, misjudge, be fearful of "our brethren whom we have seen"? It follows that according to the Apostle's reasoning, we cannot love God whom we have not seen, if we hate or despise or suspicion or are afraid of or misjudge our "brethren whom we have seen." Are these terms admissible here? If they are, then it is evident that there is something wrong in our hearts, or we have discovered something that is wrong in our fellowman.
What ought to be our course towards such individuals? Suppose this is the case—what does the law require of us? That we shall hold them off in the distance? Is this the way the father does with the son whom he loves? Is this the way a mother does with her child because it has transgressed the law; does she for that reason hold it off at a distance, and never give it an opportunity of redeeming itself? Is this the course that a mother pursues towards her child? Is this the course that a father pursues towards his son or daughter? No. Why not? Simply because they love their children with a purer affection than that with which we as brethren love one another. Hence our love is not as perfect as theirs. For there is no fear in love. "Perfect love casts out all fear." "Love is the fulfilling of the law."
What I want to get at this morning is to show that no matter what is required of us by special enactments, by certain laws, they are all based upon this one fundamental law of love to God and love to man. That is the substrata, if you will, upon which everything else rests. If we keep these two laws we will do whatever God requires of us, whatever Christ requires of us. Whatever our duty to God is, we will do it willingly and cheerfully, not because God commands us simply, not simply as a cold duty, not simply because we feel that we are obliged to do it; but we do it heartily because we love to do something for God, because He has done so much for us. We love to serve Him. Why? Because He loves us. And because we are so wholly and entirely dependent upon Him for all that we have and are, that we ought to rejoice in having the opportunity of showing our gratitude to God in serving Him, in loving Him, and doing whatever He requires of us in regard to the great work.
God's law we understand to be the will of God. That is, the laws of God are the will of God. For instance, we are told that Jesus Christ came to do the will of the Father. We are told that if we are obedient to the truth, the truth shall make us free. We are told that God's word is truth. We are told that the commandments of God are truth. God's laws are truth. We are told that Christ came to bear witness to the truth, and He says, "Thy word is truth." Well surely the word of God is the will of God, is it not? Then the will of God is man's law, whatever that will is. Whatever God's will is, man is to do. That is God's law to man, and is obligatory upon him. Hence all these various expressions of God's will in the various enactments in the Gospel are but special enactments, particular expressions of this one great general law of love.
I remark now, that so far as this is concerned, we pray that the will of God may be done. "Thy will be done." What do we mean by this? That God's will shall be done. What is God's will? The salvation of man, is it not? "God willeth that all men should be saved," does He not? Verily, if God's will is that all men should be saved, if we desire God's will to be done upon the earth, if we desire it to be universally kept as it is kept by the angels in Heaven—we understand they rejoice in doing His will, take pleasure in doing it—if we desire God's will to be done, and we take pleasure in doing it, and obeying His law because we love to do it, what is our duty now to our fellowman, if we love our neighbor as ourselves? Do you love the truth? Yes. Are you anxious to have the human family all obey the truth? Is it good for you? If it is good for you, if it is good for me, if we are made happy in the truth, if we love the truth and rejoice in it, if we find that we have been better men because we have obeyed the truth, if we have found more happiness because we have obeyed the truth, if we find it brings the spirit of life from God, if we find that it brings happiness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, shall we who love our neighbors as ourselves withhold this great blessing from them? This is the great question for us. If we have love to God and love to man, if the angels rejoice over one sinner that repenteth, if there is joy in Heaven over it, ought we not to have joy also?
I inquire right now, if we keep these two commandments, love to God and love to our fellowman, is there any obstacle, is there anything that lies in our way that should hinder us from doing all that lies within our power to bring this good to our fellowman also? I say, if we love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves, we will want to impart it to them, we will want them to have the same good that we ourselves have. If it has brought joy and gladness to us, if we love them we shall want to bring joy and gladness to them. We will not stop at simple things; we will not stop at little obstacles; we will not stop because this one does not do just as we think he ought to do, or because someone else is not doing just as we think he ought to do, or because someone else is not acting just as we think he ought to act. Perhaps they are acting conscientiously. Perhaps they are acting sincerely. Perhaps they are living up to the best light which they have. Perhaps they view it from a different standpoint from what you do. Perhaps they have canvassed the ground much better than you have. Perhaps they are doing the very best that according to their understanding can be done. And if they are, and you are keeping the commandments, then there is no fear there. Because there is no fear in love. "Perfect love casts out all fear." The great difficulty seems to be this: that we have not that love in our hearts that we ought to have, and not that confidence in Him that we ought, and it is our privilege to have.
But says one, This is all practicable—it is easy to love God and have faith in Him. But have you implicit confidence in Him? The child that loves its parents with all its heart just thinks that whatever father does, whatever mother does is all right. Do we not think sometimes when certain things take place, that if God loves us as He is represented to do, or as much as He ought to do, that He would let us pass over these afflictions? Do we not sometimes think that His afflictions are not altogether in love? When we are prostrate upon a bed of sickness and affliction, and are suffering pain and anguish, do we not sometimes think that God might have done a little better and have saved us from this suffering from these pains? Does not that thought sometimes cross our minds? Hence you discover there is something lacking. You do not love God, you are not joying and rejoicing in the will of God. You are not willing that God's will should be done. There is fear there. There is not perfect love there. Love is not fulfilled there, for love is the fulfilling of the law, and whenever that law is not fulfilled in its entirety, whenever we allow ourselves to depart from the path of rectitude, and the path of duty, from the path that Christ marked out for us, perfect love is not there, and the law is not fulfilled I say, in its entirety—there is something lacking.
When we withhold the means that we have that might be used for the purpose of carrying this great good to our fellowmen, setting forth God's great love to man, spreading it abroad upon the earth; when we fail to put forth proper efforts, it matters not whether it is I or you or somebody else. If he allows love to family, to children, to wife, to father or mother, or anyone to stand between him and his God, that moment perfect love is not there. We do not keep the commandment. There must be fear there. There must be doubts there, there must be misgivings there, for perfect love casts out all fear. There will be no fear there if our love is perfect. You know Christ says, "Anew commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another."
When we keep His commands simply from a standpoint of duty, simply because it is a duty, it seems to me that the general law is broken. If I do a certain thing because I am commanded to do it, because it is my duty to do it; if I do it simply because it is a duty, because I am required to do it, I have failed to keep the law. I may discharge duty, but where is my love to God? The law of love is not kept; and, we hold, the Scriptures teach that whatever we are required to do by God, if we love God we will rejoice in the privilege of doing it, we will be glad to do it, and will rejoice in doing it whenever that will is made known unto us. If we love God we will be willing to err rather on the side of love than to act simply because stem duty requires us to act.
Says one, If I could avoid it, I would let it go. Then we do not want to do any more than we can help; we do not wish to do any more than we are compelled to do, than we are required to do, than it is our bounden duty to do.
One revelation tells us that we ought to bring to pass much righteousness of ourselves; that he that waiteth to be commanded in all things is a slothful servant. Why? Because if we love God and our fellowmen we will put forth efforts for their good, for their well-being, for their happiness, for their comfort, that the law does not require of us, that is the strict letter of the law. Therefore, whenever we see that we can work a good for the cause of God, that we can do anything to bring man to love God; that is, when we can put forth any effort that will induce man to love God, or do anything to roll forth the work of God, wherever we see an opportunity, wherever the privilege is given unto us of benefitting our fellowman, of relieving misery, of comforting and alleviating the distressed, there our duty is. As it was in regard to the neighbor, Who is my neighbor? Now it is a certain fact that the law had no hold upon this Samaritan who passed by to relieve the distresses of this man who fell among thieves. There was no law binding him to do it, but he did it of his own accord. He did it willingly, freely, without any compulsion, without any influence being brought to bear upon him. His own goodness of heart and love to his fellowman was what prompted him. He saw misery. He saw need. He saw where he could do some good, where he could be of some benefit to his fellowman. And he did it. Hence the saying, "Go thou and do likewise." Do not stop to ask the question, "Who is my neighbor?" There was a case of suffering; there was a case of want; there was a case of need. Whenever there is such a case presented, I say there is our neighbor, wherever it is. Love, the general law of love, I say, underlies all other law and requires us to do this—love to God and love to man.
I do not know that I shall occupy any more time. My thoughts have been rambling and rather disjointed; but if I have said anything that will induce anyone to think more upon this matter, and will induce anyone to greater efforts in keeping the great fundamental law of love to God and love to man, then I shall be fully satisfied. I desire to see love in every heart. I wish to see an increase of love towards one another. I desire less listening to fears and doubts towards one another. I want, if I possibly can, to induce more confidence in one another. If I can get us to love one another more, if anything I can say will get us to love one another more, it will banish doubt and distrust—unless we have good reasons for it. We ought to have good grounds for it before we ever allow it a place in our hearts. There is no fear in love. "Perfect love casts out all fear."
Remember this, that "God is love." The more we become godlike, the more pure love we will have in our hearts. Remember that charity, which is the pure love of God in the heart, "Thinketh no evil, is not easily provoked, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth. But whether there be prophecies they shall fail." They are only for time. "Whether there be tongues they shall cease." They are only for time. "Whether there be knowledge," so far as worldly knowledge is concerned, "it shall vanish away." But love that binds the heavenly hosts together, pure love, will continue through all eternity. It has been from eternity, and it will continue. It is the general, fundamental law governing all creatures, pointing their duty out the one towards the other, and their duty to God their Creator. It is the chain that binds all intelligences together. It never fails.
Now the more we get of love to God in our hearts, and love to our fellowman, the better we are prepared to enter into that community of love, to enter into the presence of Him who is love; into the presence of those who are obeying the law of love and who are rejoicing over the repentance of every sinner upon earth.
May God help us to thus cultivate the spirit of love. And let me say that those who love most come nearest to God, they are most godlike. If we do make mistakes, let us make them on the side of love. Let us be found erring in that direction, if error be found. May God help us then, to love one another with a pure heart, fervently. Let us allow nothing to step in between God and us. Let us allow nothing to cause us to cast aside or to obstruct or hinder our love to God. Let love to God be supreme; then love to our fellowmen. May God help us to cultivate this spirit of love, is my prayer.
(The Saints' Herald 30 [Lamoni, Iowa, May 19, 1883]: 313–318; Joseph Smith III, Editor)