Now, what are the elements of this love of Christians towards all men? They are obviously not the same as in the case of brotherly kindness. This is not the love of approbation or of complacential esteem; for a Christian cannot approve of, cannot delight in, worldly and wicked men. Its leading element is good-will–a sincere and ardent wish for their true happiness, especially in the form of cordial commiseration–deep pity, for the hazardous and miserable condition in which their guilt and depravity have placed them.
As to the appropriate manifestations of this love, I begin with remarking, that it must be manifested in abstaining from everything like injury to any man. “Love works no ill to his neighbor.” It cannot work ill to him. He who loves his neighbor cannot injure him, either in his person, or in his property, or in his relatives, or in his reputation.
But this love is not a mere negation–the absence of hatred producing the absence of injury. It is positive good-will–kind regard producing benefits. This love is manifested in thinking of, and feeling towards, all men, as kindly as possible, even though obviously not belonging to the Christian brotherhood. In human nature unchanged by divine influence, there is indeed no spiritual good; but there may be much that is amiable, much that is morally estimable in unrenewed men. Some of these qualities are perhaps, in all men. It were absurd to deny that there are candor and truthfulness, and honor, and kindness, in some men plainly irreligious; and an enlightened Christian loves these men for such qualities just as his Lord loved the young man who had not yet entered, and would not enter, into the kingdom of God. The love which Christians should cherish to unconverted men ought to be manifested chiefly in earnest, persevering endeavors to relieve their wants and miseries, and bring them into the possession of true happiness. Their endeavors to relieve the miseries of poverty and disease are not to be confined to the brotherhood. It is enough that the victim of poverty and disease be a man, to give him a resistless claim on the kind regard of a Christian, who has added charity to brotherly kindness and godliness.
“Not to the good alone we owe good-will: In good or bad, distress demands it still.”1
The wants and miseries of men, as guilty, depraved, wretched already, and in danger of becoming much more and irreparably wretched, are those which chiefly bulk in the eye of an enlightened Christian man, and call out his love, in the form of pity, to active exertions in order to their removal. It is love that makes him desire and endeavor to save souls from death. To provide for the ignorant the means of instruction, especially religious instruction; to seek the prevention or cure of humoral habits; to send the blessed Bible and the glorious gospel to benighted nations, that they may be turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Christ:” these are the appropriate manifestations of Christian love. For these and similar objects Christian love labors; and, sensible how little human labor can do, love prays fur all men “that they may be saved, and come to the acknowledgment of the truth.”
As to the characteristic qualities of this love, they may all be described in one word. This love to the world of mankind, should resemble God’s. It should be sincere and universal. God does not, cannot love the world, as He loves His own. Christians do not, cannot, love the world as they love the brotherhood. But God does love the world; He loves man as man; His love is philanthropy–the love of man; and so should be the Christian’s. That a man is wicked, is no reason that I should not love him: when men were sinners, Christ, God’s Son, died for them. He makes His sun to shine, and His rain to fall, on the unthankful and evil. It is no reason why I should not love a man, that he is my enemy: when men were enemies, they were reconciled to God through the death of His Son. God’s love to the world is an active love. What human being does not enjoy innumerable fruits of His love? And this is the most remarkable fruit of His love–He gave His only-begotten Son to suffer and die, that any man–every man, however guilty and depraved, believing in Him, “might not perish but have everlasting life.” Our love to man should be fruitful love, and one of its chief fruits should be the carrying to all men the soul-saving truth–that God loves the world, and that whosoever believes in His Son who died, the just in the room of the unjust, shall not perish. God’s love to the world is patient, long-suffering love. Had it been otherwise, where would our guilty race have been?–Not in the land of the living, not in the place of hope. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” Our love to a perishing world should “suffer long and be kind;” our compassions should not fail. No obstinacy nor ingratitude should induce us to relinquish, or even to abate, our labors of love among our guilty, depraved, perishing brethren. They never can try us as we have tried God–we never can bear with them as He has borne with us.
John Brown, Parting Counsels: An Exposition of the First Chapter of the Second Epistle of the Apostle Peter, (Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Sons, 1861), 116-118.