A GODLY MAN IS A LOVER OF THE SAINTS
The best way to discern grace in oneself is to love grace in others:
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3.14). What is religion but religation – a knitting together of hearts? Faith knits us to God and love knits us one to another. There is a twofold love to others:
1. A civil love. A godly man has a love of civility to all: ‘Abraham ,stood up, and bowed to the children of Heth’ (Gen. 23.7). Though they were extraneous and not within the pale of the covenant, yet Abraham was affable to them. Grace sweetens and refines nature:
be courteous’ (1 Pet. 3.8). We are to have a love of civility to all:
(i) Because they are the same clay, of the same lump and mould with ourselves and are a piece of God’s intricate needlework.
(ii) Because our sweet deportment towards them may be a means to win them over and put them in love with the ways of God. Morose, rude behaviour often alienates the hearts of others and hardens them most against holiness, whereas loving behaviour is very obliging and may be like a lodestone to draw them to religion.
2. A pious and a holy love. This, a godly man has chiefly for those who are ‘of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6.10). The first was a love of courtesy, this of delight. Our love to the saints (says Augustine) should be more than to our natural relations, because the bond of he Spirit is closer than that of blood. This love to the saints which shows a man to be godly must have seven ingredients in it:
(i) Love to the saints must be sincere: ‘Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3.18). The honey that drops from the comb is pure; so love must be pure, without deceit. Many are like Naphtali: ‘He giveth goodly words’ (Gen. ^9.21). Pretended love is like a painted fire, which has no heat in it. Some hide malice under a false veil of love. I have read of Antoninus the Emperor that where he made a show of friendship, .he intended the most mischief.
(ii) Love to the saints must be spiritual. We must love them because they are saints, not out of self-respect because they are affable or have been kind to us.
But we must love them from spiritual considerations, because of ‘he good that is in them. We are to reverence their holiness, else it is a carnal love.
(iii) Love to the saints must be extensive; we must love all who bear God’s image:
(a) Though they have many infirmities. A Christian in this life is like a good face full of freckles. You who cannot love another because of his imperfections have never yet seen your own face in the mirror. Your brother’s infirmities may make you pity him; his graces must make you love him.
(b) We must love the saints though in some things they do not coalesce and agree with us. Another Christian may differ from me in lesser matters, either because he has more light than I, or because he has less light. If he differs from me because he has more light, then I have no reason to censure him. If because he has less light, then I ought to bear with him as the weaker vessel. In things of an indifferent nature, there ought to be Christian forbearance.
(c) We must love the saints though their graces outvie and surpass ours. We ought to bless God for the eminence of another’s grace, because hereby religion is honoured. Pride is not quite slain in a believer. Saints themselves are apt to grudge and repine at each other’s excellences. Is it not strange that the same person should
hate one man for his sin and envy another for his virtue? Christians need to look to their hearts. Love is right and genuine when we can rejoice in the graces of others though they seem to eclipse ours.
(iv) Love to the saints must be appreciating. We must esteem their persons above others: ‘He honoureth them that fear the Lord’ (Psa. 15.4). We are to look upon the wicked as lumber, but upon the saints as jewels. These must be had in high veneration.
(v) Love to the saints must be social. We should delight in their company: ‘I am a companion of all them that fear thee’ (Psa. 119.63). It is a kind of hell to be in the company of the wicked, where we cannot choose but hear God’s name dishonoured. It was a capital crime to carry the image of Tiberius, engraved on a ring or coin, into any sordid place. Those who have the image of God engraved on them should not go into any sinful, sordid company. I have only ever read of two living people who desired to keep company with the dead, and they were possessed by the devil (Matt. 8.28). What comfort can a living Christian have from conversing with the dead (Jude 12)? But the society of saints is desirable. This is not to walk ‘among/ the tombs’, but ‘among beds of spices’. Believers are Christ’s garden; their graces are the flowers; their savoury discourse is the fragrant scent of these flowers.
(vi) Love to the saints must be demonstrative. We should be ready to do all offices of love to them, vindicate their names, contribute to their necessities and, like the good Samaritan, pour oil and wine into their wounds (Luke 10:34,35). Love cannot be concealed, but is active in its sphere and will lay itself out for the good of others.
(vii) Love to the saints must be constant: ‘he that dwelleth in love’ [1 John 4.16). Our love must not only lodge for a night, but we must dwell in love: ‘let brotherly love continue’ (Heb. 13.1). As love must be sincere without hypocrisy, so it must be constant, without deficiency. Love must be like the pulse, always beating, not like those Galatians who at one time were ready to pluck out their eyes for Paul (Gal. 4.15) and afterwards were ready to pluck out his eyes. Love should expire only with our life. And surely if our love to the .saints is thus divinely qualified, we may hopefully conclude that we are enrolled among the godly. ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13.35).
* Extracted from The Godly Man’s Picture. First published in 1666, reprinted by The fanner of Truth Trust in 1992.