Love Thy Neighbor

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

— Matthew 22:39

When once to a man the human face is the human face divine, and the hand of his neighbor is the hand of a brother, then will he understand what St. Paul meant when he said, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” But he will no longer understand those who, so far from feeling the love of their neighbor an essential of their being, expect to be set free from its law in the world to come. There, on the battlements of safety in the narrow circle of their heaven, they will regard hell from afar and say to each other, “Listen to their moans. But do not weep, for they are our neighbors no more.” St. Paul would be wretched before the throne of God, if he thought there was one man beyond the pale of his mercy, and that as much for God’s glory as for the man’s sake. Who that loves his brother would not, upheld by the love of Christ, arise from the company of the blessed and walk down into the dismal regions of despair to sit with the last of the unredeemed, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell than in the glories of heaven? Who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?

But it is a wild question. God is, and shall be, All in all. Father of our brothers and sisters, thou wilt not be less glorious than we, taught of Christ, are able to think thee. It is because we hope not for them in thee, not knowing thee, not knowing thy love, that we are so hard and heartless to the brothers and sisters whom thou hast given us.

Commentary

The God Who Is Not Willing...

Stephen Carney

MacDonald, in this portion of of his sermon Love Thy Neighbor, begins to talk of the Apostle Paul's “I could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.”  When the human heart begins to beat with the Divine, thenthere will come to us the same desire that motivated Christ.  He who died to break the power of death, to deliver us from its tyranny over us, not only ascended but also descended to the lower parts of the earth. (Eph. 4:9)  And so does the soul that truly loves his neighbor as he loves God. 

One of the great mistakes ofmodernity is the idea that people are disposable and can be done away with.  Social Darwinism believed that people were subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals.  Though discredited as a theory today, its ideas still prevail.  It was the basis for the Nazi extermination of the Jews, for that only the superior races should survive was the mantra of the twisted cross.  It was practiced in various forms by Chairman Mao, Stalin, and others, and it can appear in more subtle forms in our politics and philosophies of health care. For instance, in the early twentieth century, the sterilization of African-Americans and of the mentally disabled, can be directly linked to the philosophy of Social Darwinism.  But it is odd that any Christian could think that some people are disposable.  God made man in his own likeness and image, and it is not likely that God would value his highest creation so cheaply.

I cannot think of this sermon without thinking of a lecture that Phillips Brooks gave on the “Value of the Human Soul.”  This lecture was delivered to the Yale divinity students in 1877 as part of Brooks' lectures on preaching.  He began with these words, “There is a power which lies at thecentre of all success in preaching...Without this power, preaching is almost sure to become either a struggle of ambition or a burden of routine.  With it, preaching is an ever fresh delight.  The power is the value of the human soul, felt by the preacher, and inspiring all his work.”  How we value the human soul plays the biggest part in how we love our neighbor and whom we consign to heaven or hell.  As a pastor, I have found it interesting when at a funeral, no matter how rigid the faith of the family, they always want to believe their loved one made it into Heaven.  When it comes to those we love, we want to believe that God somehow found a way to redeem them and people hold on to every tiny bit of hope.  But this is only because we value the soul of those we love.  When we don't love people we don't value their souls.  We don't regard them from a distance and say, to paraphrase MacDonald, “They are our family no more.”  Love brings everyone close and “believes all things and hopes all things and endures all things.” 

When it comes to loving and valuing the human soul, we must look beneath to the battle going on for the human heart.  As Brooks writes, “You must see something deeper.  You must discern in all those men and women some inherent preciousness for which even the marvel of the Incarnation and the agony of Calvary was not too great, or it is impossible that you should keep your faith in those stupendous truths which Bethlehem and Calvary offer to us.”  When our theology is dominated by the Agape of God, then souls will come into view as the primary focus of all theology, and especially of the redemptive work of Christ.  We will then not cast off souls so easily and forget the care that God takes in regards to those souls.  The redemption of Christ bears witness to the unbreakable love of God, but also to the value that lies beneath the sin of man, which makes mankind worth saving. 

All of the work of the Holy Spirit who has been sent into the world to convict the world of sin, with judgment and righteousness, is working and bearing down upon humanity with the love of God and his desire to “draw all men unto Himself.”  God shall work, as any true Father would, to call and woo hearts until his dear children are home.  God is everywhere, and though some of us should try to run away from him, we can only run so far till we run into him again.  There is no escaping the Love of God in Christ.