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Love That Can Hate

by Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910)

‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which Is evil; cleave to that which is
good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in
honour preferring one another.’ — Romans 12:9-10

THUS far the Apostle has been laying down very general precepts and
principles of Christian morals. Starting with the one all-comprehensive
thought of self-sacrifice as the very foundation of all goodness, of
transformation as its method, and of the clear knowledge of our several
powers and faithful stewardship of these, as its conditions, he here
proceeds to a series of more specific exhortations, which at first sight seem
to be very unconnected, but through which there may be discerned a
sequence of thought.

The clauses of our text seem at first sight strangely disconnected. The first
and the last belong to the same subject, but the intervening clause strikes a
careless reader as out of place and heterogeneous. I think that we shall see
it is not so; but for the present we but note that here are three sets of
precepts which enjoin, first, honest love; then, next, a healthy vehemence
against evil and for good; and finally, a brotherly affection and mutual

I. Let love be honest.
Love stands at the head, and is the rental source of all separate
individualised duties. Here Paul is not so much prescribing love as
describing the kind of love which he recognises as genuine, and the main
point on which he insists is sincerity. The ‘dissimulation’ of the Authorised
Version only covers half the ground. It means, hiding what one is; but there
is simulation, or pretending to be what one is not. There are words of love
which are like the iridescent scum on the surface veiling the black depths of
a pool of hatred. A Psalmist complains of having to meet men whose
words were ‘smoother than butter’ and whose true feelings were as ‘drawn
swords’; but, short of such consciously lying love, we must all recognise as
a real danger besetting us all, and especially those of us who are naturally
inclined to kindly relations with our fellows, the tendency to use language
just a little in excess of our feelings. The glove is slightly stretched, and the
hand in it is not quite large enough to fill it. There is such a thing, not
altogether unknown in Christian circles, as benevolence, which is largely?192
cant, and words of conventional love about individuals which do not
represent any corresponding emotion. Such effusive love pours itself in
words, and is most generally the token of intense selfishness. Any man who
seeks to make his words a true picture of his emotions must be aware that
few harder precepts have ever been given than this brief one of the
Apostle’s, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy.’

But the place where this exhortation comes in the apostolic sequence here
may suggest to us the discipline through which obedience to it is made
possible. There is little to be done by the way of directly increasing either
the fervour of love or the honesty of its expression. The true method of
securing both is to he growingly transformed by ‘the renewing of our
minds,’ and growingly to bring our whole old selves under the melting and
softening influence of ‘the mercies of God.’ It is swollen self-love,
‘thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think,’ which impedes
the flow of love to others, and it is in the measure in which we receive into
our minds ‘the mind that was in Christ Jesus,’ and look at men as He did,
that we shall come to love them all honestly and purely. When we are
delivered from the monstrous oppression and tyranny of self, we have
hearts capable of a Christlike and Christ-giving love to all men, and only
they who have cleansed their hearts by union with Him, and by receiving
into them the purging influence of His own Spirit, will be able to love
without hypocrisy.

II. Let love abhor what is evil, and cleave to what is good.
If we carefully consider this apparently irrelevant interruption in the
sequence of the apostolic exhortations, we shall, I think, see at once that
the irrelevance is only apparent, and that the healthy vehemence against
evil and resolute clinging to good is as essential to the noblest forms of
Christian love as is the sincerity enjoined in the previous clause. To detest
the one and hold fast by the other are essential to the purity and depth of
our love. Evil is to be loathed, and good to be clung to in our own moral
conduct, and wherever we see them. These two precepts are not mere
tautology, but the second of them is the ground of the first. The force of
our recoil from the bad will be measured by the firmness of our grasp of
the good; and yet, though inseparably connected, the one is apt to be easier
to obey than is the other. There are types of Christian men to whom it is
more natural to abhor the evil than to cleave to the good; and there are
types of character of which the converse is true. We often see men very?193
earnest and entirely sincere in their detestation of meanness and
wickedness, but very tepid in their appreciation of goodness. To hate is,
unfortunately, more congenial with ordinary characters than to love; and it
is more facile to look down on badness than to look up at goodness.
Bat it needs ever to be insisted upon, and never more than in this day of
spurious charity and unprincipled toleration, that a healthy hatred of moral
evil and of sin, wherever found and however garbed, ought to be the
continual accompaniment of all vigorous and manly cleaving to that which
is good. Unless we shudderingly recoil from contact with the bad in our
own lives, and refuse to christen it with deceptive euphemisms when we
meet it in social and civil life, we shall but feebly grasp, and slackly hold,
that which is good. Such energy of moral recoil from evil is perfectly
consistent with honest love, for it is things, not men, that we are to hate;
and it is needful as the completion and guardian of love itself. There is
always danger that love shall weaken the condemnation of wrong, and
modern liberality, both in the field of opinion and in regard to practical life,
has so far condoned evil as largely to have lost its hold upon good. The
criminal is pitied rather than blamed, and a multitude of agencies are so
occupied in elevating the wrong-doors that they lose sight of the need of
Nor is it only in reference to society that this tendency works harm. The
effect of it is abundantly manifest in the fashionable ideas of God and His
character. There are whole schools of opinion which practically strike out
of their ideal of the Divine Nature abhorrence of evil, and, little as they
think it, are thereby fatally impoverishing their ideal of God, and making it
impossible to understand His government of the world. As always, so in
this matter, the authentic revelation of the Divine Nature, and the perfect
pattern for the human are to be found in Jesus Christ. We recall that
wonderful incident, when on His last approach to Jerusalem, rounding the
shoulder of the Mount of Olives, He beheld the city, gleaming in the
morning sunshine across the valley, and forgetting His own sorrow, shed
tears over its approaching desolation, which yet He steadfastly
pronounced. His loathing of evil was whole-souled and absolute, and
equally intense and complete was His cleaving to that which is good. In
both, and in the harmony between them, He makes God known, and
prescribes and holds forth the ideal of perfect humanity to men.

III. Let sincere and discriminating love be concentrated on Christian men.
In the final exhortation of our text ‘the love of the brethren’ takes the place
of the more diffused and general love enjoined in the first clause. The
expression ‘kindly affectioned’ is the rendering of a very eloquent word in
the original in which the instinctive love of a mother to her child, or the
strange mystical ties which unite members of a family together, irrespective
of their differences of character and temperament, are taken as an example
after which Christian men are to mould their relations to one another. The
love which is without hypocrisy, and is to be diffused on all sides, is also to
be gathered together and concentrated with special energy on all who ‘call
upon Jesus Christ as Lord, both their Lord and ours.’ The more general
precept and the more particular are in perfect harmony, however our
human weakness sometimes confuses them. It is obvious that this final
precept of our text will be the direct result of the two preceding, for the
love which has learned to be moral, hating evil, and clinging to good as
necessary, when directed to possessors of like precious faith will thrill with
the consciousness of a deep mystical bond of union, and will effloresce in
all brotherly love and kindly affections. They who are like one another in
the depths of their moral life, who are touched by like aspirations after like
holy things, and who instinctively recoil with similar revulsion from like
abominations, will necessarily feel the drawing of a unity far deeper and
sacreder than any superficial likenesses of race, or circumstance, or
opinion. Two men who. share, however imperfectly, in Christ’s Spirit are
more akin in the realities of their nature, however they may differ on the
surface, than either of them is to another, however like he may seem, who
is not a partaker in the life of Christ.

This instinctive, Christian love, like all true and pure love, is to manifest
itself by ‘preferring one another in honour’; or as the word might possibly
be rendered, ‘anticipating one another.’ We are not to wait to have our
place assigned before we give our brother his. There will be no squabbling
for the chief seat in the synagogue, or the uppermost rooms at the feast,
where brotherly love marshals the guests. The one cure for petty jealousies
and the miserable strife for recognition, which we are all tempted to engage
in, lies in a heart filled with love of the brethren because of its love to the
Elder Brother of them all, and to the Father who is His Father as well as
ours. What a contrast is presented between the practice of Christians and
these precepts of Paul! We may well bow ourselves in shame and contrition
when we read these clear-drawn lines indicating what we ought to be, and
set by the side of them the blurred and blotted pictures of what we are. It is?195
a painful but profitable task to measure ourselves against Paul’s ideal of
Christ’s commandment; but it will only be profitable if it brings us to
remember that Christ gives before He commands, and that conformity with
HIS ideal must begin, not with details of conduct, or with emotion,
however pure, but with yielding ourselves to the God who moves us by His
mercies, and being ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’ and’ the
indwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith.’


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